Soul Burn

 

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Part I

 

Hell strives with grace for conquest in my breast;
What shall I do to shun the snares of death?

The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, Scene 5.1, Lines 70-71

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Christine Hollingsworth

That would be excellent! Take your time. This new version is miles better anyway! :) (And it's got a better title now.)

Elias Meade

Would you still like me to read and review your book "The Snares of Death?" I know I kind of fell off the grid there for a while. I unfortunately had to focus on other things. I'd really like to read and review your book in whole this upcoming January. In the meantime, I'd like to offer you a spot on my website where your book will be promoted; it'll have a link to your tablo page, a quote from you, your synopsis, and a picture of your book cover! I thank you so much for your patience.

Christine Hollingsworth

Oh gosh yay! I've edited books before, so I tend to care a lot about my sentences. There are probably a few typos buried in there, so if you find any please let me know. :) Enjoy the forthcoming chaos!

Monica S

So I've only read the first chapter so far, but I had to comment because I feel like this is a rare occurrence. I've stopped reading several once-promising stories because the syntax and grammar were less than ideal, but this is practically flawless. And all the characters up to now have been very distinct.
Anyway, now I have to finish reading the rest of the chapters. :D

Chapter 1

Blood pounds in my ears. Air burns my lungs, still hot from running, but the sight of the demon shredding through boxes on the warehouse floor below means I have to stay silent. It walks and moves like a dog except for the extra pair of legs sticking out from its midsection, and scales dance underneath its hair. I found it scrounging around for roadkill outside and followed it into the warehouse. It leaped over the fence by the road with ease, while I had to climb to the top and jump down onto a set of lumber shelving, shoving the toes of my boots into the links like I was climbing into stirrups.

Now I wait, crouched on the catwalk overhead, looking down through the grating to see what it’s going to do next. Demons like this aren’t the most useful. They run without purpose, but also without regard to the damage they cause, which is what I need. I need it to cause destruction. I need it to attract attention.

A foul smell rises up, and I bury my face into my scarf to keep from gagging. Something dead and rotten, now caught between the demon’s face and bell-shaped paws, maybe a rat. I try not to listen as it eats. Breathe in, breathe out. Just not too deep.

It’s warmer in the warehouse than I expected, so I take off my gloves and shove them into my pocket next to a crinkled-up paper napkin from work that I keep forgetting to throw away. It hasn’t even been that cold lately, but sometimes I feel like my body missed the memo about generating heat, so multiple layers it is. The demon has polished off the rat and started nosing around for something else. The adrenaline still keeps me on edge, but I can’t help the feeling of disappointment. I might as well have followed a stray dog for all the good this is doing.

I decide this chase has been a bust and start looking for a way out. It would probably be easy to sneak past it and go back out through the main opening, but I don’t want to find out if it has enough appetite to come after me. There are a few windows around the edges of the catwalk, and a quick glance through the nearest one shows me a floodlight spilling down over the corrugated metal roof of the shed just outside. It’s close enough that I could make the jump.

I suddenly realize the shuffling, scrounging noises have stopped. The echo of the demon’s gurgling breathing is gone. I freeze. I listen, but all I hear is the gentle tap of drizzling rain on the roof. Could it have run outside? Gotten bored and gone to look for something else?

I move only my eyes to the shadows of the ceiling.

The demon crashes into the catwalk with a metal clang, shaking it so violently that it rips my feet out from under me. I get up, horrified by what I see. Its pointed face has no eyes until its four-pronged jaws shriek open and I see the single eyeball in its mouth, its gaze darting back and forth frantically. This was not part of the plan.

I can’t get around it. The catwalk wraps around to the other side of the warehouse, but the creature can obviously move faster than me. I take a quick inventory as it lumbers toward me on its six legs. The window isn’t a good option; I’d never get it open in time. My chances are shrinking rapidly until I look up and see the overhead crane.

The demon shrieks again and lunges. I hide my face behind my arm and dodge, but not in time, and I yelp when something sharp rakes across my hand. I force myself not to look at it as I haul myself up the ladder to the top of the crane’s tracks. There are handrails, but they’re low and narrow and not meant to help you if you’re sprinting across the machinery while outrunning a monster. I try to stay low in case I slip, but the whole thing shakes as I work my way across, and I can already see myself plummeting to the concrete floor with the smack of bone and flesh splitting open. Don’t look back. Don’t think about the pain or the blood leaking from my hand. Keep moving, keep breathing.

The crossbeam suddenly jars sideways under my feet as the demon leaps onto it. I try to balance, but it’s too much – I topple over the railing, scrambling to get my arms looped into it. The demon lumbers toward me like a six-legged bear, indigo slime trailing from its jaws as its one whirling eyeball swivels to land on me.

“H-hey, stay back. Stay away from me.” I give up trying to stay quiet. I only have one chance: the hook of the crane is almost right under me. At least the demon might not be able to get me. I might be able to swing into the stack of cardboard boxes, or the pile of foam tubes directly below might be enough to break my fall. I might not break my neck and both my legs. It’s a lot of might.

I move fast, losing my grip on the railing as the whole bridge quakes under the demon’s weight. It’s a stretch, but I get one hand around the hook, feeling the cracked paint under my fingers. Hot, wet air from the demon’s breath licks at my other hand.

My fingers slip from the railing. For a moment I’m hanging by one hand, about to drop to the dusty concrete below, but then the hook starts to descend. Swallowing the breathless fear, I latch my arm around it tight and curl my whole body into a ball as it drops, sliding like the zipper pull on a jacket as it picks up speed and drags me down. I crash hard into the stack of foil-wrapped rolls of foam and send them spilling out across the floor. My leg is stuck under the hook. The pipe-shaped things crackle as I try to wriggle out from under it. The demon’s snarling groans echo off the walls, reverberating loud enough to make me shake, but I don’t have time to be afraid. I finally get free and sprint for the door.

My hand is gushing, so I fumble around my pocket and find the napkin and crumple it inside my fist as I head for the fence, still listening for the slap of the demon’s feet against the wet asphalt and concrete behind me, listening over the pounding of my own heart in my ears. The sudden dark disorients me, but my gaze latches onto the open gate, and I run for it. Another ghostly shriek explodes through the rain-spattered silence behind me, propelling my steps even faster. I suck in a lungful of air and almost choke from the shocking cold.

One foot slides on loose gravel – I slip – try to recover as a swath of black ground rushes up to meet me – and I crash into something – someone – instead.

Ice rips into me, driving a spike through my coat right into my chest until I’m fighting to breathe. The pain blooming in my hip and leg starts to dull as I lose feeling, like I’ve been dropped into snow. The mirror has worked its way out of my pocket and lands on the ground next to me. I would swear aloud if I didn’t feel numb.

The thing – the person – scrambles away from me, gasping in pain and sounding just as shocked as me. The glow from the floodlight on top of the warehouse doesn’t reach far enough to let me see who it is. There’s a silhouette of someone on hands and knees, clutching at their chest, at their heart.

A sickly, bruised growl behind me brings me back. The demon. Purple slime drips from its open jaws, swinging in time with the heaves of its chest as its single eye finally stops darting around and focuses on something. Me? No. A fraction of movement to the side. The person next to me. I can sense them staring at each other, something stopping the demon from coming any closer. Then it turns and runs.

I get the mirror between my fingers, feeling the wet grit prickle against my skin, and I shove it into my pocket and push myself up to keep running. I’m so lost in thought, so desperate to get away to safety, that I don’t realize I dropped the wad of paper until I get home and find my whole arm soaked in blood.

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Crystal Cherie

This is such an interesting plot line, and I love the cover for your book! :)

Thumb d024b17f d75c 4113 b082 d9143ce9641a
Thank you so much! I'm quite fond of the cover myself. :) I'm still making a few changes here and there, but I hope you'll read and enjoy the rest!

Chapter 2

“Have a good day.” My fake smile evaporates as the elderly couple push their way out the door and hobble down the street, leaving me to follow after them and close the door properly; it always gets stuck about two inches open since the frame is bent, and the last thing I need is more rainy October air reaching in and pulling all the heat outside while I sweep the floors. I yank it shut and hobble to the back closet for the broom, and it takes twice as long as normal since I’m still sore from my little adventure last night. Thankfully, it’s incredibly slow at Spoons, even for a weekday.

The Silver Spoon Frozen Yogurt Company sounds a lot different from how it looks. The name conjures up images of prim pastels and oversized white Alice-in-Wonderland furniture. Instead, everything is ugly plastic and glowing neon colors. I get to wear a stiff, safety-cone-orange t-shirt that’s two sizes too big. I usually keep my hair shoved into the matching baseball cap they gave me, which makes it feel like I’m wearing a disguise, which is just as well, because I’d rather be invisible than be the lighthouse beacon at Crushed Candy Bar Toppings and Cash Register Island.

I finish sweeping the floor and return to my post at the register. The walls are stocked with frozen yogurt dispensers, one of which always leaks no matter what, and one wall is covered in chalkboard paint so we can write the specials on it and let people scribble on their favorite flavor combinations. The chalk dust makes me sneeze.

A worn-out copy of Doctor Faustus waits for me. I flip through it to find where I left off, but I only make it through a few lines when the bell over the door sings the arrival of a customer.

“Hi, welcome to Spoons, I say with half a sigh, not exactly trying to sound excited about it. He looks interesting, about a head taller than me, black hair brushing either side of his chin and following the line of his jaw, pale face centered around a thin grin, band shirt mostly hidden under a jacket. His hands rest comfortably in his pockets, but he seems nervous, like he can’t wait to glance over his shoulder.

He tries to make his smile look easy, but his eyes are intense and worried, constantly searching and flashing dark brass in the light. His smile looks a lot more forced up close. Do you have white chocolate chips?

Better than that. We have white chocolate yogurt. Tastes like cake batter.”

He laughs, barely, and it sounds like a struggle. He makes a point of avoiding eye contact and drifts over to the paper cups sticking out of the wall. I turn away to grab a mountain of tiny sample cups from the stack next to the register.

Doctor Faustus, huh? he asks.

“Mhm. I’m at the part where he hits the Pope. It’s a personal favorite.”

I think I like when he tries to get out of the contract at the end.

I glance at him more directly, a little weirded out. He tries to pretend he’s really concentrating on filling a cup with pomegranate-chocolate sorbet. That’s not really a funny scene.

I know. It’s just one of my favorites. He shrugs as he ladles toppings into each cup, then sets them on the scale.

I punch a few buttons. Total is $8.19. Our credit card thing is busted, though... I probably should’ve mentioned that.

No worries. He fumbles with his wallet, leafing through the bills for longer than average. I can’t help but watch his hands. He’s wearing black gloves, but even including the jacket, they don’t look like they belong with the rest of his clothes. The gloves make it almost impossible for him to pluck out a single bill. He finally snags a 20. Sorry...here.” He hands it to me, but he holds it by the very edge, and his searching, analyzing eyes look almost scared. “Keep the change. Put it towards a better copy, maybe.

My mouth probably gapes a little, because he doesn’t say anything else as he sweeps up the yogurt cups. He’s at least attentive enough to give the door its extra push shut with one foot, but as soon as he’s outside, he shudders violently and practically runs out of view.

By the time the end of my shift rolls around, I'm beyond ready to go home. Late nights plus early mornings don
t do good things for me, but they're a necessity most days if I want to get some answers.

It’s not raining when I go outside, but it’s humid and chilled as ever. The sun has already started to fade behind the angry purple and gray clouds as they prepare to dump another round of rain. I hunch my shoulders forward as I walk. Clumped stripes of hair dart into my face every few seconds, equal parts #2 Beach Blonde and #27 Candy Floss. I’m not normally a huge fan of pink, but it’s not too bright, more like the color of a Starburst wrapper.

A car whirs by, something slick, black, and elegantly curved. It brakes to a halt not too long after it passes me, close enough that I can see a silver pitchfork-shaped badge behind its rear passenger window and read the script lettering on the back. It’s a Maserati. A little fancy for the University district, but it might be heading to one of the nicer parts of town.

I turn right and head up the hill. The car turns and follows me, revving its engine to heave itself up. I look back and briefly see a face leering out at me from the car’s front end, a sinister smile morphing out of the radiator and eye-shaped headlights. I speed up, not daring to look over my shoulder again. The next major intersection isn’t for another three blocks. I haven’t seen anyone else on foot. I glance up and don’t see any security cameras except for at the bank building across the way. I’m not very tall and not very strong. If something happens, who knows how long it would be before anyone even finds out I’m missing?

The car crawls up the hill, passing me again, a gleaming shadow curling up the tree-lined street like solid smoke.

I stop breathing when it pauses at the top, as if it’s waiting for me to catch up.

The light blinks green, and the engine opens its mouth again, whisking the car down the street until it melts into traffic.

I force myself to breathe, to relax, to remember that it’s (sort of) broad daylight on a Tuesday. I chide myself for the paranoia. I faced a demon last night, dammit; you would think I would have it together. But I can’t make my heart slow down, and I hurry home, feeling like I’m about to be run over by a train.

The house is empty. I catch my breath and plod up the stairs to my room, tapping the door frame of Gabe’s room as I go past, and replace my starchy Spoons shirt with a tank top and a zip-up hoodie. I flop down on my bed and stare at the ceiling. Other kids my age would be doing their homework right around now. I haven’t had any homework since January, and I don’t plan on having any. Maybe ever again.

I remember that particular day in January, in fact. It was the last day of the month. A Sunday. Homework due the next day, and I had saved it until the last minute. Gabe was helping me with it, because he has always been good at Chem. I was never very good at most subjects, but especially science. I liked it until things started getting difficult around the third week of sophomore year, and it all went downhill from there.

“It’s not that hard,” he told me as I flung the pencil down with the satisfying smack of wooden stick on paper.

“You’re right. It’s more than that; it’s impossible,” I said.

“No, really. Look.” He grabbed one of his college textbooks from the stack and flipped it open. Rainbow-colored atoms blown up a million times decorated the page. “Molecules are just made of puzzle pieces. And those make bigger puzzle pieces.”

I flushed. He made it sound too easy. “I knew that.”

He grinned, like always. “Well, there are enormous forces that keep the pieces bonded. Some are easier to break apart than others.” He started drawing something on the paper, upside down so I could see it. One of the random skills from his collection. “These ones are the strongest. The cation atom is positive, and the anion is negative. They pull towards each other.”

“...like magnets?”

“Exactly. Everything is held together like that.” He poked me in the arm. “You’re just a big cluster of molecules.”

I think about that a lot. A tangled web of hydrogen and oxygen and carbon, all my atoms crashing into each other, supercharged with electricity. A big sea of science.

I pause by my closet door, where a corner of curled paper sticks out. Sliding the door back reveals a map of Seattle covered in thumbtacks. I make sure to label each one. Above the map are pictures of angels, mostly photocopies from textbooks, photos of paintings, a few sketches, every one marked and named. Layered between them like crisp, fragile leaves are sheets from the Bible. Those I didn’t bother photocopying; I tore them straight out of the book and highlighted the parts I needed.

I search for angels. More specifically, I hunt them.

My hand goes to the mirror in my pocket. Gabe’s mirror, my best defense against them. It barely fits in one of my hands, even with my fingers outstretched, but he could easily hold it in his palm. It doesn’t look much like a mirror, and I can’t really see my reflection in it unless I hold it at just the right angle to let light bounce off the smooth surface, but he always called it a mirror, so that’s what it is. It’s a thin disk of perfect glass that won’t scratch from anything, as if it’s made of pure diamond. When it catches the light, it looks like a faint, iridescent sunset, shifting with threads of pink and blue and orange. My fingerprints dont even stick to it.

There’s no tracking them, not on my own. I just have to go where I think they’ll be and hope I’m right. The most predictable way to find them is to find a demon first. At least that part is easy. I’m not eager to repeat what happened last night, but I can’t just sit around and expect what I want to come to me. I have to keep trying until I can figure out if there’s a pattern. Until I can get what I need.

I check the clock. No one should be home for several hours. I’ll say I went to Vince’s if they ask.

I take the bus into Seattle. The touristy part is too nice, too safe for what I’m trying to find. But the roads winding underneath Pike Place, down by the waterfront, are a lot more promising. I wander away from the shops, toward the shipyards. Walking under the viaduct is always a little creepy, like being in a long, winding concrete hallway where every sound echoes. I’ve found demons here before, looking to cause trouble. Other than that, the industrial area looks more dangerous than it is. There’s a slight risk of drowning, and maybe the chance of getting crushed under a shipping container. And possibly getting arrested for trespassing on private property. But it doesn’t matter. I have a job to do.

I hear voices up ahead, laughing and shouting. The shapes are tough to pick out in the darkness. I spot at least three of them, maybe four. Teenagers. All guys, disappearing from view every time they jump out of the lights. But underscoring their laughs is something else, a combination of hissing and snarling and snapping jaws that sounds like its own language. I dart closer, keeping my footsteps silent against the pavement, ducking behind the parked cars lining the street and the concrete pillars holding up the freeway overhead.

“Hey, hey, watch this.”

The group slows down and stops on the sidewalk. One of them steps away from the rest and stands like he’s going to run across the street. His hair falls completely sideways over his head in a shower of white spikes, and metal gleams up and down his ears.

A semi truck lumbers past me, lugging a China Shipping container and dragging the stink of exhaust with it.

The guy with the white hair does something impossible.

The picture blurs. Something un-melts itself from him. He rises into the air. There’s a loud snap of fabric, like a flag flapping in the wind, and he becomes a smear of white, like slow-moving electricity.

Lights flare on the back of the truck. Tires squeal. My breath hitches. I can already imagine the jackknife, the trailer tipping over with a crash of straining metal, flames and smoke. Instead, the trailer shudders side to side, horn blaring, but the driver gets it back under control and slides around the corner and disappears.

Something hardens in my chest when the guys start laughing and cheering all over again, applauding their white-haired friend, who saunters back across the street with arms open wide, like he just defeated a monster or narrowly escaped the horns of a bull.

“Not bad, not bad. My turn.”

Another one gets ready to go. I can’t see much of him with the red hoodie hiding his face, but he’s tiny and lithe, nothing but ropey muscles wrapped in fabric. He scurries up one of the pillars and clings like Spiderman to a collection of pipes hanging from the bottom of the freeway. I hear the rush of air again as another truck sidles down the road under the viaduct. A flood of icy needles pricks the inside of my heart as the truck nears the waiting demon.

He cackles and lets go of the pipes, falling a few feet so he lands on top of the truck, flat on his back. It would be hard enough to knock the wind out of a person, but he snap-rolls over onto his hands and knees in the same fluid motion and slides his feet underneath him until he slowly rocks into a standing position, howling long and loud into the wind.

Then the truck hits a pothole and flings him into one of the pillars, like a dog shaking off excess water. Bits of concrete flutter down around him like snow when he hits the ground.

His friends are merciless as he stalks back up the road to them.

“I’ve seen stoners surf better than that.”

“Did you even try?”

“Shut it.” He roughly shoves the white-haired kid, and it looks like they’re about to get into it when the third one stops them.

He’s not especially tall, or even that well-built, but something about him is intimidating. He stands silhouetted in the glare from one of the lights, and as I creep closer I feel the cold needles poking at my insides again, wondering what he’s going to do. Like his friend before him, he climbs up the nearest pillar, but he vanishes into the darkness so quickly that I lose track of him.

He doesn’t wait for a truck to come by. He propels himself straight down faster than gravity and slams into the ground with a reverberating crack.

The impact rips my feet out from under me. Windows shatter and spray the sidewalk with glass pebbles. All of the car alarms go off at once, underscored by cackling and high fives.

My jaw hardens. I want to run out and confront them, but if I show myself now, if I let them know I know what they are, I’ll scare them off. I tell myself it’s worth the price of a few annoyed drivers to get the information I need, even as the white-haired kid reaches into the nearest car, looking for stuff to steal. It sucks, but it’s not why I’m here. The demon who did it bows to his friends like he’s about to accept an award. Most Likely to Wreck Shit.

I grip the mirror so tight that my hand sweats in my pocket. I’m so focused on the demons, wondering what they’re going to do next, that I don’t notice the ringing in my ears until I hear their laughter dying down.

It’s the sound air makes when it sizzles, when something sears the molecules with heat and makes them pop and explode. I crouch behind the car to stay hidden as lightning strikes and cuts the air in two.

“Oh, shit.”

The light recedes with a sudden thwip, like it’s been sucked into a vacuum. Between me and the demons stands something that looks like a man, tall and imposing and impossibly muscular, with a bush of brown curls. Rivers of translucent fire wrap around his arms and legs. He wears gladiator armor of milk glass, with enormous studded bands that encircle his bulging upper arms. A huge silver-white war hammer hangs from his waist, cut from pale metal or opaque crystal, humming imperceptibly.

“There will be no further chaos,” he says, accentless.

The demons are stupid. They laugh. “So soon? We haven’t even had any real fun yet.” I can’t see him, but I know it’s the third one talking, the one who hurled himself into the pavement on purpose. He speaks like a leader.

“You will leave this place and harm no one.”

“Psh. We’re not trying to, or we would’ve by now. Right?”

The others make agreement noises. Their voices are starting to morph, letting the snarling and growls take over. My stomach churns when I hear bones crackling and twisting. The demons are changing shape.

“I will offer no further warning.” The angel draws his hammer.

I dive to the side of the next car when one of the demons leaps at his head.

There’s a pained whine and a loud smack. The demon hurtles through the air, right over my head, and lands in a bush. The angel lunges at the other two and swings his hammer in the same moment, leaving a vibrating shockwave in the air as it connects with the leader’s head. He rolls off to the side, but it’s not long before he’s on his feet again, now standing full in the glare of the overhead lights. He has completely changed: fingers into claws, teeth into rows of pointed gray screws, his whole face pulled taut against his skull. Massive wings spread from his back and fill with glowing yellow cracks, matching his eyes, two black hollows of rock with their surfaces split by lava-orange spiderwebs.

The angel is undeterred and heaves him aside with ease.

I can’t wait any longer. He’ll defeat them and be on his way in under a minute.

“Hey!” My voice grabs the demons’ attention before the angel’s. I stand back from them. Demons are unpredictable, especially when they’ve transformed. The snarling doesn’t subside. I hear leaves rustling as the first one crawls out of the bushes where he landed.

The angel barely glances over his shoulder at first, then turns to face me. I shove the fear back down my throat. “Tell me what I want to know.”

“It is not your place to make demands.”

“You know who I’m looking for by now. Tell me where he is.” I keep the mirror out of view, just behind my back. My voice wants to shake. I’m suddenly too hot, and my ears still whine in the angel’s presence.

“You would force my hand.”

I gulp, hard, shoving the tangled ball of nerves and vomit down with a mental fist. “You will tell me who he is and where I can find him. Do that, and I’ll walk away.”

He opens his mouth wide and laughs, echoing in the tunnel, rising all the way up to the roiling clouds far overhead. It stings my ears, and suddenly I’m angry. The cold, muddy fear gripping my insides ignites, and my hand burns around the mirror.

The hammer glides back and forth at his side, loose in his hand and humming a language or a song I can’t understand, taunting me without words, daring me to draw a weapon to rival its strength. “This is your last warning.”

“No. It’s yours.”

Light begins to bud from behind the angel’s back. I should be more afraid. Gabe warned me about their wings, exquisitely beautiful but excruciating to look at in our world, enough to make your eyes bleed.

I hold up the mirror. I keep my arm stiff, even as the light behind the angel freezes, even as he cries out in searing pain, a sound that burns me from the inside out. The ribbons of flame encircling him intensify until his skin glows the red of smelted metal underneath his armor before he vanishes with another sizzling pop of air.

I can barely breathe. Air shakes in my chest, cold rushing in to fill in the gap left by the fire. I barely have time to pocket the mirror before lights encircle me, blinking good old red and blue. I keep my hands up and sigh, aggravated. Before I can even think about running, I’m looking at Seattle’s finest.

 
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