Snapshots Of A Stray Parade

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The streets allowed a ghostly grey limousine to invade their labyrinth. The car swung wide around tight corners, slowing every time a pack of vibrant revelers crossed its path. Shiny tires crunched to a stop in a parking lot on the neighborhood’s edge.

“Are you sure this is the place?” Sorcha rapped on the smoked glass until it disappeared. “I said I missed the French Quarter, but actually being here makes me…”

“For years, not a soul on earth could pry you out of this district.” The blond man squinted at a handwritten note. “Ivori and Charmaine are waiting in the lobby.” 

“Feels lonely.” Sorcha gazed down the tapered alley at snapshots of a stray parade. “Or empty? Might just be me.”

“It’s positively hollow.” He tossed the crinkled paper to the only other person in the car. “I’ve deciphered that scribble correctly, Lock?”

“Indeed you have, sir.” Lock kicked the car door open and grabbed for Sorcha’s hand. “Leave that dreadful device here.”

“It’s brand new.” Sorcha pulled her phone away from Lock, just to have it plucked away again. “Seriously, Draven?”

Draven flung Sorcha’s phone to the farthest corner of the car. “Doesn’t the incessant, social connection exhaust you?”

“Nothing feels like the old days, except the weather.” Sorcha peeled off her sweater and glared into the dark limousine before tossing the garment. “But, what if?”

“Anyone you’re looking for…” Lock pulled her away. “Has no need for that.”

The trio crossed the gravel lot, rounded a saltwater pool and stopped in the middle of a checkerboard floor. They found two girls drumming their fingers on a mahogany desk. Disguised in the realm of the concierge, a hidden door admitted them to tunnels below the building.

“It’s a sauna down here.” Sorcha swept the hair off her neck and twisted it into a loose knot.

“When you mentioned an Equinox reunion, Ivori, I assumed you meant something spectacular.” Draven touched the muddy wall and cringed. “Or at least, uplifting.”

“Nights of grand balls and original dresses are history.” Ivori walked into the pitch black. “Y’all took your sweet time getting here.”

“We were in opposite corners of the earth.” Lock’s frown was unveiled when Charmaine struck a match and lit her torch.  “I was hoping for an enchanted courtyard.”

“Me.” Sorcha raised her hand. “The cathedral bell tower.”

“This will be better.” Ivori stopped so short, everyone crashed into her back. “None of your supernatural eyes saw the big door?”

Charmaine pulled chalk from her pocket and began to write. She waited for each letter to disappear before she scripted the next. When the jumble was finished, a steel barrier slid open. Ivori strutted past and snapped her fingers.

“Aren’t you coming with?” Sorcha tugged on Charmaine’s sleeve.

“I’m playing gatekeeper tonight.” Charmaine handed her the torch. “I need to be here when the spell is complete.”

“Just lovely.” Draven growled when Ivori disappeared into the maze of shadows.

“Let’s humor her.” Lock tucked dark hair behind his ear and urged them forward.

“Bar noise, coffee-shop racket.” Draven pointed to the corridor’s grimy ceiling. “Is that traffic?”

“We’re under Decatur Street,” Ivori said, “Clueless fool.”

“Your creepy friend has grown nastier over the years.”

“Draven, calling her my friend is a bit—” Sorcha howled and dropped to her knees.

“That would be the railroad tracks.” Ivori scampered back and yanked Sorcha to her feet. “Suck it up.”

Sorcha took a deep breath and slammed across the barrier. She turned back to see Lock and Draven stroll past the same spot, unaffected. “What the hell?”

“That steel is the boundary of your city, girl. Not theirs.” Ivori dragged her forward. “Now that we’re on the fringe, maybe we can send some messages.”

“Infernal drumming.” Sorcha clamped her hands over her ears.

“That, even I can hear.” Draven clenched his jaw. “Can we get to the bloody point before we all go deaf?”

“It’s the river,” Ivori said, “Just swallow to equalize the pressure—like in your private jet.”

 The tunnel flared into chamber with solid walls and a tile floor. Crude benches surrounded a round fire pit.

“This is unexpected.” Draven ran his fingers over glittering gems set at regular intervals in cut stone.

“Sit down, it’s nearly midnight. The currents are whispering.” Ivori loomed over the fire pit and emptied her deep pockets. She arranged an array of sachets, vials and boxes onto a low altar. “Sorcha, center bench.”

Draven whispered in Sorcha’s ear. “Creepy enough?”

Sorcha choked back a giggle and Lock smacked her shoulder.

Ivori glared at them until the room was dead still. She tipped her head side to side in the heavy air and motioned to Sorcha’s hair. “Take it down, glamour girl. That’s where all your power hides.”

 

To be continued…

Where The Power Hides

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When Angels Weep

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Dearest Sorcha,

     Last night, I saw the splendor of our future. Not in the glow of the bursting full moon or the blaze of crackling fire, but in the halo of my protégé.

     In a tiny room, bathed in the glow of a rose-glass lamp, one of our dearest and loveliest patients received the Lord’s call. Reaching for the light, the elderly woman’s fingers trailed the air as if a loved one’s grasp fell short, time and time again. The hand she finally found belonged to you—her lifeline between the realms of heaven and earth.

     Then tonight, I discovered you alone and grieving in our private chapel. Your tears fell to the stone floor with the weight of time’s relentless march, reminding me of all the life lights we’ve watched flicker out and the spirits we’ve had the privilege to set free. While we share what some call the curse of immortality, in your hands it’s a miraculous blessing. You, the youngest of old souls, soar closer to the flame than most of us dare—ever vulnerable to the heart-wrenching pain of human tragedy. Dignity and grace in the face of death…that is a talent born into your blood.

    So, on this year’s darkest and deepest of winter nights, I implore you to celebrate the ritual of Solstice with our family. We will feed well, drink deeply, and unite our energies until the veil separating us from the ancestors falls away.

    Mourning and respect offered for those lost, will heal your heart. Joy that transcends time and restores hope for the new year, will grant you wings.

               Until tomorrow night then, my brave angel,

               Carry on,

            Raimond

 

The Grand Escape

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Each footstep down the winding stairs is part of a choreographed dance. I’ve memorized every board and nail that creaks under my weight. The iron balcony veiled by tropical plants makes my Vieux Carré apartment a gem. Only drawback…the landlady is a nosey bitch.

Forsaking the refuge of shade from the galleries, I walk down the middle of the narrow street, cloaking myself in vicious sunlight. At the moment of dusk, my escape will become dangerous, if not impossible. If they won’t change me, what choice do I have? The monsters prowl this labyrinth at night, flaunting their power and toying with me like a lab rat on the wheel to oblivion.

The beat up convertible is parked close to where I left it. Fishing the key from under the seat, I pump the gas and the engine turns over. Fuel gauge is a little lower that I remember. In spite of the heat, driving with the top down is the perfect disguise.

Damn seat belt is still jammed and useless.

Long after I make the final turn out of the cramped neighborhoods, I allow my lungs their first full breath. The brackish air tastes of rusty mud and angry fish. All that remains between me and freedom is the gauntlet of an old bridge over a sea, masquerading as a lake. The pedal under my foot sinks to the floor and the little jalopy leaps into the fading light. Tapping my finger on the glowing screen of my phone, I glance at the GPS, then glue my eyes back to the rickety road and aim for the dotted line.

Grim shadows loom in the dangling mirror. Adjusting the wobbly reflection does nothing to make me feel safer from clouds that roil behind me like a tsunami of evil. I toss my phone in the back seat and slam both feet on the gas pedal until the sign comes into view.

Liberty, salvation, the threshold of a new life.

New Orleans City Limits

The figure appears in front of me, out of thin air. No fog, no flash…just a man in the road where there was none a second ago. Before I can hit the brakes, the car flips through the air as if thrown by the hand of Zeus. Steel collapses into a death cage around me, right before the car careens through the guardrail. Instead of plunging into the dark water, my face collides with crumbling pavement.  

Nausea from the metallic taste in my throat hits right before the burn of road rash ignites every inch of my body. I force my eyes open to find a phantom standing over me.

The man rakes one hand through his jet black hair. “Think you’d get away so easily?”

“Aren’t you?” Blood gurgles from my mouth, spilling into a puddle under my chin. “The doctor from—”

“Chief of staff at the trauma center where you work.” He answers.

“So, you can save me.”

“Oh, I will.” The doctor rubs the salt and pepper of his goatee. “And grant you what you’ve been searching for.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“The magic. If you still desire it.”

“It’s been the ultimate tease…all this time. It was either leave town or go insane.”

The doctor unsnaps his cufflinks. “That’s part of the test, young lady.”

“How did you find me?” Through an explosion of searing pain, I turn onto my back and stare at the moon’s silver ring. “I took every precaution.”

“Look at yourself.”

Blinking back tears, I lift mangled hands in front of my face. Flecks of color sparkle through blood and grime.

Dr. Monster rolls up his sleeves. “The glitter of our city is all over you.”

 

 

 

 

In case you missed the beginning,

The Grand Plan  

https://monstersnangels.com/2016/10/26/souvenir/

 

 

 

 

 

The Grand Plan

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The afternoon alarm rattles the roots of my teeth. I flail for my phone to end the noise, but throwing it across the room isn’t an option. Without that little GPS, the escape plan doesn’t have a prayer of success. My hand brushes across a cut above my eye…the dawn of an ugly scar. Somehow, I managed to fight off last nights’ attacker, but it was the last straw.

The final sign—time to move on.

Years ago, I arrived in the Crescent City for a long weekend. Seduced by a thinly veiled promise of magic, I never left. The quest for a spell to make me like the ancient guardians, immune, immortal, forever beautiful…remains unfulfilled.

Tonight’s the night. It’s been lurking on the horizon. Despite every cell in my body screaming in protest, I’m breaking off this love affair with a city that’s been nothing but pain and heartbreak. The heat and the storms are scary enough. Now, even the monsters need to watch their backs on the street.

The clock ticking in my stuffy apartment echoes the hammering pulse in my ears. One peek through the crooked shutters reveals heat rising from the cobbled streets like roiling fog. I twist damp strands of hair and pin them high off my neck.

Get out now, leave everything behind.

My eyes scan the apartment and land on a mahogany armoire with dangling doors. A flash of color from the top shelf sends me rummaging for jewelry. Natural clumsiness knocks everything else down on my head. Carrying stuff could drag me down, but leaving these masks is a crime. Each one is a piece of local art bought for a specific holiday. Jammed in the back, the blue mask calls my name. I climb over the pile of costumes to grab sapphire beads and tassels. 

Just this one…to remember it all, and hold on to the fringe of my shattered dreams.

 

To be continued…

 

From the cutting room floor…

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The original prologue for Monsters and Angels…long since rewritten and blended into the story…

Holy men, healers and horn players—unlikely allies in society, yet brothers in the unique glory of Crescent City royalty. Villains, artists and creatures of the night flipped their collars up and bowed their heads to Mother Nature, driven into hiding by rare frost in the Deep South.

All, except one.

Raimond ignored the glare of the bar lights and the bite of the wind. His commanding stride propelled him to a decaying house just past the point where the sidewalk turned dangerously dark.

Dangling gutters and crippled railings blended one home into the next for blocks at a time. He found the decline of the area tragic, yet the beauty remained visible in lace ironwork and stained glass… if one looked past the ruined surface, into the elegant disrepair.

Black doctor’s bag in hand, Raimond rapped an ancient knocker against the warped oak door. Tonight’s mission would be specific, an act of compassion in sharp contrast to the excess and debauchery that made the city famous. This visit served as the first step in his recommitment to an oath taken decades ago; complacency and apathy had derailed him for long enough.

If he was completely honest with himself, his actions were selfish. After all, the endurance of his own kind was directly linked to humanity’s survival. He took a wistful look at the crisp, full moon before he entered the sagging house, once the most glamorous jewel in the neighborhood.

 

Casting Call

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Sometimes, I forget how it happened…the rush of being swept away by characters that didn’t exist until the moment they stepped out of the smoke and took the stage.

Three years ago this month, in a January darkened by the aftermath of a different storm, the first story was born.

It was intense, exhausting, addictive, and I’ve discovered…incredibly elusive. The newest cast members have a mind of their own.

While I wait, my mind wanders…to stained glass windows and dangling shutters that framed strange faces…along alleys lined with crooked doorways, when haunting footsteps echoed next to mine. Back to the shadowy labyrinth where I met the monsters…

A doomed commander, blessed with the heart of a savior,

A blood slave, hiding her exotic appetite,

A perfect prince, arrogant and viciously flawed,

A trained healer, born to be a killer,

A legendary warrior, incapable of simple trust,

A second son, unwilling to be held hostage,

A brilliant politician, searching for courage to love,

A city behind walls, glittering and moody, ravaged and reborn,

And a fledgling nurse with the soul of an angel, carrying a spirit fierce enough to make them all family.

La nuit sans fin…