Urban Fantasy

supernatural creatures in the real world

Fossil Fire

I learned the secret of Justin’s fossilized fire shortly after I realized I wasn’t in love with Melissa anymore. We were drinking on the hill over Shenecker’s farm in the evening, like when we were kids. I wanted to tell him I didn’t know why I was married, that I had been playing along for the past few years, hoping things would fall together, only to realize pretending wasn’t going to make it real. Instead I asked him about the fire.

He sold shards in bottles at the flea market. They stood out from the homemade jewelry, blankets, and wooden ducks. The red and orange pieces curled about themselves, thin as leaves, but hard as stone, like twisted sheets of mica, a flame trapped in a single moment, never changing.

He wouldn’t tell anyone how he made them. If you asked his wife, she’d mention his workshop in the basement, but knew nothing else. I’d been in Justin’s basement, seen his hobbies. He had no kiln, no way of blowing glass. Besides, his flames looked nothing like glass.

They were his secret. So maybe it was the alcohol that loosened his tongue, or our friendship, or both.

“If you know where to look and how to look, you can see it–the second sun.” He stared across the fields and spoke with a seriousness that should have been mine, discussing my marriage. The grass was a few inches high, but would be a few feet come summer. Beech and maple trees grew behind us, but in front headlights drifted down two lane roads around plowed fields.

“Where is it?” I asked. “The other sun?” He didn’t make any sense, but this was the first time he ever said anything about the flames.

“Look to the right of the sun. It’s there.” He pointed to the sky with the hand that held his bottle of lager.

“You’re gonna make me go blind.” I smiled and took a swig from my beer.

“Then don’t worry about it. I’m the only one who can see it, and I’m fine with that.” He finished his beer and placed the empty bottle in the cardboard six-pack. “Where’s the bottle opener?”

“You’re full of shit.” I handed him my keys. “We all know you make them in your basement.”

“Keep on knowing then.” Justin popped the cap off another bottle. He always looked in need of a haircut, and random tufts stuck out of the back of his head.

We didn’t say anything for a few minutes. The sun was behind the hills in the distance. We still had enough light to see without the glare being annoying. Spring peepers chirped in the trees, growing louder, replacing the overbearing light of the setting sun with the overbearing cries of frogs.

“I don’t think I’m in love with Melissa,” I said.

Instead of responding Justin sipped his beer, and then, “It’s too late for that.”

“I know. I don’t dislike her. I just don’t…she’s just another person, and I always thought a wife should be someone I feel passion for.” I looked at the homes below, some lit, some not, spread out among the farms.

“Are you cheating on her?” As secretive as he was about himself, Justin was blunt with everyone else.

“No. I haven’t replaced her with someone else. I feel like I’ve lost something.”

Despite the frogs, I lowered my voice. Justin stayed monotone. “When did this start?”

“I realized it about a month ago, but I think I’ve felt this way since Sarah was born. I’ve been too busy thinking about her and trying to support them to notice.”

“What are you going to do about it?”

“I don’t know. I seriously don’t know.”

Justin took another drink. “That sucks.”

“Yeah. Thanks for listening to me.”

“Don’t tell anyone about the sun. Okay?”

I smiled. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone how crazy you are.”

Four Leaf Clovers

First inning.

Her name was Polly, or Brandy, Savannah maybe. The name didn’t matter as long as she did what she was supposed to do. They had warned: do it or we’ll make you.

The field lights were on, illuminating her feigned search. She fished through green stalks and petals. Her eyelids were red, her nose pink from torrents of furious tears. Even if she saw one, she wasn’t going to pick it.

Popcorn steam and grill smoke perfumed the humid summer air. Children with blue popsicle mustaches giggled in step with their running legs as they darted under bleacher beams and up and down sloping hills. One of them tripped. A man dressed in a pressed polo and fine posture helped the child up with his free hand.

Old Lady Joe spotted him first. His simple dress didn’t fool her; he was a reporter, one of dozens at the game who came to write some witty four-paragraph chain about a small town with big town clovers that would launch his career from one made of local featurettes to one of national features.

This one had a good eye, however, as he spotted Old Lady Joe at the same time she spotted him. She was about the right age, he judged. Subtracting the years, she would have been a teenager when the field of clovers became infamous Clover Field. That and she was town royalty, complete with secret guard eyeing her every move—a man and a woman at the top of the stands, an older lady three seats down, and two men standing at the fences. The old woman might as well have been wearing a crown, wielding a scepter.

“Excuse me,” he said, sitting beside her. He tried to sound casual, but his voice said formal, and there was always that posture, one that only big-city animals had. “I’m from a couple towns over. I was wondering about the story of this field, and you look like the one to ask. Were you here when the phenomena first began, Miss—”

“Call me Mrs. Joe.” She was a stickly thing with whole landscapes of wrinkles and a voice rough and phlegmy from chain smoking. She raised her voice half an octave to speak to this man, and opened her eyes a bit wider, smiling with greater frequency, folding her hands as if she wasn’t dangerous.

“Mrs. Joe,” the reporter complied.

“Which paper are you with?”

He hesitated. “How’d you know?”

“Burg has had almost a hundred newspapers profile Clover Field over the years. Considering I’ve been here for all of those years, I think I know what a reporter looks like. Now, which paper?”

“The Chicago Sun-Times. My name is Tyler Feld.” Old Joe forgot his name, but giddied at the rest—the kind of publicity that could counteract, just a bit, the damage the girl had done to the field’s prestige.

“Nice to meet you. So, where shall I begin? With that first day so many years ago? Or are you interested in my theories as to why the luck stopped two games ago?”

“The former, if you don’t mind, Mrs. Joe.”

Old Joe liked the reporter because of his hungry eyes. They were like hers, long before, when she and Willa had stepped on the field and first imagined what was to come. Her skin was smooth then, and voice not so gravelly. She’d held up the lucked clover that kept her niece from choking and asked, “Are there others, Willa? Are there others?” And Willa said yes, that she could help one see them. For a price. “If you pay enough, you can get enough.”

“You got it,” Joe told the reporter.

She dulled her eyes and smiled sweeter, hiding her cunning and craft, and weaved yet another story of the night luck became pluckable. Just the night and nothing more, and even then Old Joe stripped down the tale to the truest lie it could be, altering small details to suit her mood.

Tonight she was twenty, not eighteen, and she sat on the knoll when the first one was plucked, not the wooden bleachers by third base. Her hair was up not down, her skirt deep green not violet. She ate a hot dog during the second inning, when the man two blankets over started speculating on the girl, the girl of that time. He was balding, his wife wore a polka dot skirt. Their two children worked at a puzzle. The boy cried for juice.

But the rest was the same. Her soon-to-be husband, Gerald, spilled soda on her ankle. Before she had a chance to level her eyes and curse at him, she felt the aftershock. Luck had been claimed.

The crowd couldn’t have been more silent. Only their shallow breaths dared, their beating hearts and rising goosebumps. Those visiting could not feel it, but knew: a weight had shifted. The verdant magic zipped across the field from the plucker’s feet, hitting the home team first and strongest and then the locals who’d touched field soil as youngsters, breathed in field air as teens. It tingled from their feet to their foreheads. Young Joe exhaled swiftly then. The baby in her belly stretched and kicked. She had won; her plan would work.

China Island

I’d already saved Laurence Saunders a number of times over the years, small insignificant salvations. On December nineteenth, I managed to save him twice.

That last day, Laurence slipped unnoticed from his home sometime between noon and three p.m., the three hour space between the meals-on-wheels delivery by Mrs. Heflin and the arrival of the nurse’s aide. Despite the tragic circumstances, no blame was ever cast on either woman. After all, Mr. Saunders had been found wandering numerous times before.

No one considered my involvement, not even once: not the police officer who coordinated the search and rescue, not the other neighbors on our street, not even the dogs they eventually brought in from the mainland, though, perhaps, they would have if they’d bothered to check my boots.

Laurence was my closest neighbor, his front porch no more than forty feet from mine. Five years ago I’d watched his wife’s coffin carried down the steps of that front porch after the wake. Later I’d watched him sit on that same porch for hours, alone, day after day, only the fraying of his bathrobe marking the passage of time.

With his wife, Suzie, gone, I was his only companion. Laurence and I were separated by forty feet, two walls, and a growing silence that neither of us could shake. For me, the silence shouldn’t have felt any different from when Suzie was alive. But it did.

I had never been one of the Saunders’ flock of visitors. The August barbeques with the overflow of pick-up trucks and coolers full of beer had always seemed like just so much unnecessary noise. Since Suzie’s death, that kind of noise had gradually ceased. Laurence started losing people’s names about three years ago. Started losing other words about a year after that. Now that the silence had infected his house, few visited anymore.

I watched, I listened, and, at night when Laurence fell asleep in front of his flickering TV, I slipped in and turned out the lights. It felt good to be needed.

Ten years ago I’d left my husband, Peter and his three basset hounds back in Portland and moved across the bay to China Island and Aunt Eveline’s old clapboard house. The twin occurrences of Aunt Eveline’s death and the demise of my marriage felt somehow linked. My true path finally revealed.

“Good luck, Sarah,” My ex-husband had said on that last day, shaking my hand as we stood outside the courthouse. He seemed almost relieved to see me go.

Eveline’s death offered me a new beginning. Between the house and an old savings account, she’d left me enough to almost squeak by. And somehow or other the island always provided.

Then December nineteenth arrived and Laurence Saunders wandered into the woods.

A Fairy Tale

The chorus of “Happily ever after” roused me from my stupor. Even from the living room I could hear the bored edge in Elise’s voice; it was as predictable as Kari’s enthusiasm or Allan’s singsongy tone, and as strained.

Storytime was finished. I headed to Kari’s room to say goodnight, but paused outside the door when I heard her speak. “Daddy,” she said, “is that how it was for you and mommy?”

I held my breath, sincerely wondering how Allan would answer. But it was Elise who answered: “Of course not. Mom’s not a princess.”

Kari laughed, but Allan didn’t miss a beat. “She is to me,” he said.

I crept away as quietly as I could, unsure whether the sound I suppressed was a sob or something more like bitter laughter.

Feeding the Dragon

I have to say, it was easier than I expected to exhume Keith. We were able to drive my parents’ station wagon right into the cemetery, parking just a few feet from the grave. The soil was still loose and we managed to frantically shovel our way through the six feet to the coffin in under an hour. I had insisted on both Eric and I wearing all black, including ski masks over our faces, but no one came by. No night watchman on patrol or even any kids looking for an out of the way place to make out or smoke pot.

There wasn’t enough room in the back of the station wagon for the casket, even with the seats down. We knew that before we got there, but I don’t think what it meant had really registered for either of us until we were in the hole, crouched over the casket and holding

Eric turned his gaze from the coffin to me. “I don’t want to do this, Ian,” he said, his voice quavering.

“Me neither,” I said, but I wedged the crowbar under the lid and leaned on it. After a second, Eric did too. We bounced up and down, jimmying the lid until the wood shattered and it sprung open. And there was Keith.

I started to dry heave and Eric turned away, audibly hyperventilating. Somehow we communicated enough to grab hold of Keith—me under his armpits, Eric by his ankles—and carefully lift him above our heads to the grass. We closed the casket and climbed back out, then placed Keith in the back of the car, covered him with a white sheet and two army blankets, and hastily shoveled the soil back into the hole. All the while, we wore the ski masks, and by the time we were finished they were crusty with dirt and sweat. When we got into the car, the stench caused me to dry heave again. I hoped it was Eric and I and not Keith. He couldn’t be decomposing already. Would the dragon even want to eat him if he was so clearly dead?

I drove for the first leg of the trip, until we got far enough away from the cemetery that we weren’t worried that we were being followed. At a truck stop three hours west, somewhere in western Massachusetts, we finally stopped to shower. Neither of us had spoken a word the entire time.

Scoring Seraphim

I left the health department at the end of another scoreless day. Worried, I didn’t at first notice the young demon on Church Street.

“Hey.” He was scruffy and slouched against a sculpture of two kids playing leapfrog. “Hold on. I know you.”

His horns barely poked out from his dreads. A low demon. The entire town was below my talents. I was only here at my overseer’s insistence that I transfer from Atlantic City. She said it would give me some breathing room to rethink my commitment to the divine host.

I continued walking. After a long day in heels, I wanted to get home to give my feet a break and let my wings stretch out.

“No wait!” the man called out, grabbing my edge of my blouse. “Remember me? I’m the son of your mom’s demon friend.” Not wanting to be rude, even to a dark one, I remained silent but picked up the pace in the hope he would drift away.

“Your mom invited mine to her book club, trying to branch out and be more inclusive and all,” he said, trotting alongside me. “Hey, so I know you’re all about helping people and stuff, and see, I’m kind of down on my luck. My boss is a real tightwad and I need the bus fare to get to Plattsburgh. Could you help me with, like, an Andrew Jackson?”

I turned and stared. He was dressed Burlington-style, with ratty cargo pants, a “Climb High” t-shirt under an unbuttoned flannel shirt. Lots of hemp jewelry draped around his neck.

“My mother is the Angel of Truth. There’s no way she’d have anything to do with a demon,” I told him. “Or a book club, for that matter.”

He laughed. “Okay, got me,” he said. “But I do need to get to Plattsburgh.”

Unlike seraphim, demons easily mix falsehoods with verity. While he was obviously lying about my mother, I wasn’t sure whether he spoke truthfully about wanting to travel to Plattsburgh. It was the kind of town where people still washed their dishes with phosphate-filled detergent, burned leaves when the danger of forest fires was high and knocked out their neighbors’ teeth on the weekends. With the population already so rotten, it was scorched territory for dark ones looking to get their talons into humans.

But it was also where my predecessor in Burlington, Urizel, was transferred. The feathers along my shoulder blades rippled with irritation.

“I miss the big guy,” he said.

“Urizel?” I asked. “I never thought demons were fond of seraphim.”

“Honestly, it’s more of a competitive issue.” He sighed quietly but stopped his breath suddenly, noticing I was watching him intently. “There’s nothing better than a day up against the dude. What you see here — ” he swept his hand down Church Street, indicating Girl Scouts planting flowers around a tree and a group of college students handing out brochures supporting healthcare reform “— didn’t exist before him. So I’m going to Plattsburgh. Gotta go where the power is.”

“So the demons are already writing me off?” I asked. Not that I blamed them. My accomplishments so far included convincing a graduate student not to plagiarize and dissuading an old woman from stealing her neighbor’s doorstep-delivered newspaper. In Atlantic City, my clients were murderers and drug dealers.

“Oh, don’t take it the wrong way,” the demon said with a sheepish smile. “You know us demons. Always up for a challenge.”

“I’m not against challenges myself,” I said. The demon smiled at me ingratiatingly, believing he was scoring one for the dark team by convincing me to hand over a piddling $20, but he was giving me a glimmer of an idea.

Seraphim focus on humans. At the end of each day, we log into SCALE to report our successes in getting people to make divinely inspired decisions. For each positive outcome, we receive one point.

How many points would one earn for influencing a demon to our side? I wasn’t sure, but it must be enough to wrangle a transfer to a city with even more problems than Atlantic City. Like Cleveland or Detroit.

My feathers, cloaked from his eyes, smoothed against my back. I would stymie this demon from traveling to Plattsburgh and work him over to our side. He would be my ticket out of this town.

“I’ve heard wonderful things about Urizel. Of course, I’ve got $20 for you,” I said, the sound of helpfulness ringing in my voice.

But then my tongue suddenly felt cold and my saliva congealed like refrigerated oil. I was about to lie, something I had never tried before. Even though I realized my falsehood would achieve a greater good by bringing this demon to the light, the words fell thick and muffled from my mouth.

“But I- I don’t have it on me,” I stammered. My skin turned to gooseflesh and the urge to tell the truth nearly overwhelmed me, but the impulse skittered away when I remembered my failing score.

The demon didn’t appear to notice my stumble and cocked his head at me hopefully.

“Meet me tomorrow at 9 a.m,” I told him, and scribbled an address on a piece of paper.

The demon took the slip with a sly look. His black eyes carried flecks of silver in them, something I had never seen before in a dark one.

“What’s your name?” I asked.


I started to laugh. Joshua, as in God is Salvation. “You’re kidding me.”

“Helps me fit in,” he said, smiling. “I already know your name — every demon in Vermont knows who you are.” A thrill traveled down my arms and through my wings. He gave me a wave as he sauntered toward the steeple rising above the end of Church Street.

Desert Song

The Chevy truck looked like it had been painted by a team of monkeys on acid. Its front was bright green, the rear a muddy brown and the camper stuck on its back sported daubs of pink and yellow in no apparent pattern.

“Bought it from a hippie,” Ray yelled as he passed the kitchen window. We still said things like that in 1982.

I left the dishes in the sink and bolted out the back door in time to see the truck struggle around the corner into what passes for our backyard but looks more like a car cemetery. The thing looked even worse standing still. The passenger door was hanging on one hinge with a single strand of rope preventing it from peeling off entirely. The windshield was cracked from what looked like a bullet hole. It had no front fender and one headlight. When Ray shut off the motor, it kept running for about a minute. I thought it whimpered a couple of times too, but that might have been me. Ray said that he’d gotten it for “almost nothing” which seemed about right.

Ray doesn’t get enough auto repairing to suit him at his job at the Ford dealer downtown, so it’s not unusual for him to show up with stray vehicles that he fixes up to sell. It brought in extra money that we needed to survive in San Francisco, even though we lived in a rundown flat in the fog belt a block from Ocean Beach, so close to the zoo you we heard the lions roaring at night. I didn’t mind him working on his vehicles on the weekends, but when I saw that truck, I thought he had gone too far. If you’d told me then I was going to set out across the western plains in that heap and be chased by a skeleton to boot, I would have called you crazy.

“The engine isn’t bad,” Ray said. “Transmission seems okay. All it needs is a muffler, brakes, maybe a new carburetor and a little body work.”

“More than a little. That’s the sorriest-looking vehicle I’ve ever seen.”

He gave me a hug, crushing me against his chest. “I know it looks bad, Franny, but the engine’s sound. And I can fix up the camper so it’ll be just like home. You’ll see.”

I didn’t say anything.

“So, are you mad?”

“No. But don’t get too busy on it today. We’re having dinner with Rita and Jake. Six sharp.”

“Aw, Franny. Why don’t you let me barbecue up something right here?”

“Because we promised we’d come.”

“Aw, Franny,” he said again, but a smile was threatening to break out on his solemn face as he went into the shed to look for the right tool to start working on the truck.

Diffusion – Part 2

Chapter 6

Billy watched as his clone looked down into the car. It felt as if time had stopped, as if the hail had become suspended in the cold gray air. Then the soldier looked away and disappeared.

A few minutes later Jude was back in the car.

They drove in silence for twenty minutes before she pulled over and let him out of his hiding space.

“That was close, dude.” She said. She was still shaking.

“You could’ve been shot right there,” he said as he climbed into the front.

“No kidding.”

They sat in silence as she drove. Eventually the hail dissipated and she brought the car into the air again.

“I felt so… helpless,” said Billy. “Like a coward. Hiding while you took all the risk.”

“We were both taking a risk. You did what you had to do.”

“Like I’ve been doing ever since Ethiopia,” he said. “Running.”

“As opposed to what? Dying with the rest of your platoon? You did right. You couldn’t go up against the entire military.”

He didn’t feel like it was right. He felt as if he’d abandoned part of himself, left his clones behind. The silence in his head was unbearable.

Jude asked him softly: “What exactly did happen, Billy.”

He sighed. “I can’t remember it all. It was dark and I think I blacked out. All I know is that everybody went crazy. There were faces all around; my faces, lit up in the firefight. We were just shooting each other—I mean ourselves—to pieces.” He shook his head. “It was insane. We chewed each other up. I panicked and ran. I guess it was just luck that I found the mission where your people sedated me and smuggled me back to New York.”

“It sounds like you were infected by a hacker virus that imbedded a suicidal compulsion. Why would the military do that?”

Billy shrugged. “Maybe we’d been infected with something else and the suicide bombing was clean up.”

“Maybe,” Jude said uncertainly. “A viral infection can cause one bad thought to rip through the entire conglomerate. The Pentagon would look at your platoon’s destruction like they were lancing out a tumor, a sick cell. It’s horrible, but I understand the logic.”

Dread had trickled from Billy’s chest out through the veins in his arms; he flexed his fists uncomfortably. He turned to watch her drive.

“Tell me something,” he said. “What’s this to you? Why do you care?”

“I’m a clone,” she said. “The Underground saved me, too.”

Darkness had begun to settle like ink and the hills slowly sequined with lights. Jude flipped on the headlights.

“Military?” said Billy.

“Academic.” She snorted. “My original was a biophysicist at MIT who got involved in the free clone movement, a group of intellectuals who believed the technology should be shared regardless of class. Immortality for all, they said.”

“It was hardly a movement. A few utopian cranks who were silenced pretty quickly, the way I heard it. All their illicit clones were destroyed.”


She stared straight ahead, and Billy felt his face flush. “Sorry.”

“Change of subject, huh? Tell me about your girl.”

Billy closed his eyes and pictured Angelica.

Diffusion – Part 1

Chapter 1

It began with images of death.

Not from the outside—like the time he had nightmares for a month after he’d watched a Sudanese terrorist lob off his clone’s head with a machete and it bounced off a rock into the brown sludge of the Nile. Or the time in the Khartoum market when the suicide bomb sent steel and glass and mortar through five of his clones… and three of them almost survived. The nightmares hadn’t lasted as long that time; instead Billy lay awake nights worrying if he was getting too used to that kind of thing and wondering what that might mean about him.

No, these images were from the inside, through his clones’ eyes, evoking a different kind of terror. Some hit suddenly—a bright flash of light, a burst of pain shearing mercifully off into nothing. Others took time. His heart thumping out blood like a cavitating oil pump. Trembling so hard his elbows dug into the dirt. Light slowly leeching out of his vision. Trying to scratch his nose and wondering why his hand wouldn’t move, or why it was two yards away. The exact moment of death felt different every time.

There was supposed to be a firewall against those images. The quantum non-locality of thought should shutter closed, the group consciousness break, before you could feel them. Yet he sank into them now as if drowning in a bottomless ocean. He could barely hear his own screams under their cold weight.

Jude had warned him. “I wish I knew a way around it,” she said. “But once I’ve injected you with the virobots all the military’s programming falls apart and the shunted memories hit you hard before there’s been time to cut you off from the other minds. Just remember it will end.”

And it did. Only after he’d come to an end a hundred times. He spent the night gasping. Waves of loneliness rocked his body; he floated on them, nauseous and trembling. Jude tried to soothe him in the dark, but he wouldn’t allow it. This was the kind of deep, pure loneliness that couldn’t be disturbed and he resented anyone’s attempt to do so—especially some filthy Neo-Weather Underground hippie like Jude.

In the morning things were different. He rose from the cot, pulled on his fatigues and stumbled through the camp Jude used as her lab, smelling coffee in the kitchen. The front door was open. Pouring himself a cup, he considered the silence stretching out around him in an ever expanding ring. His throat caught and tears welled in his eyes. He sipped and walked out to the narrow deck overlooking the pond. It was mid-autumn and the air was a contradicting crisp and warm. The trees down the bank had exploded in gold and umber and vermillion.

Billy set his cup on the wood railing and was about to call Jude’s name when he saw her at the bottom of the crooked stairs, her jeans and tie dye abandoned on the half-rotten dock. Red hair fell across her narrow back and the meat of her ass twitched slightly under those cotton panties as she stepped toward the edge. Then she slid like a pale needle into the stillness of the pond. Billy hardly heard a splash, and the golden leaves scattering the water’s surface barely moved in the expanding circles where she’d disappeared.

Then her head broke the surface and she blew spray out her nostrils. As she dragged herself back up to the dock Billy couldn’t help watching how she filled out her bra, how she quivered, and what the cold water had done to her. He watched as she wrung out her hair and dried off her thin legs with the t-shirt. Asian women and redheads, Billy always said. Always stunningly beautiful or really homely; there’s no continuum. As Jude pulled worn denim up her long legs he tried to decide which of the two extremes she fell into. And reminded himself he didn’t like hippies.

He must have moved because she looked up, all freckles and fly away ears in a ray of sun that made it through the dappling trees.

“Spying on me, perv boy?” she said.

He watched her decide not to be offended.

“I swim whenever I come here no matter how cold it is.” She twisted water out of her shirt and pulled it over her head. “This is one of the last almost natural places in the world. I like to appreciate it.”