The denizens of Destiny, a small town in the American midwest are not quite what you'd expect, which is okay, cause no human being has ever seen them. Read this excerpt from Steve's brand new book, Dream Sequence and other Tales from Beyond
Brimstone and Nitro
Inspired by the art of Stanley Pratt
The sky above town was a deeper shade of blue than it had any right to be. The sun, already beginning its slow descent toward the horizon, hung in the heavens, a pure golden orb showering the plain below with light and heat. The grass, which might have been vivid green under more forgiving conditions, leaned to brown. In spite of the lack of healthy vegetation, the colors were so vibrant, it was as if a layer had been peeled off reality to reveal the true nature of the universe lying just underneath. And no human being had ever seen it.
The town was named Destiny and the denizens that wandered its sun-baked streets were of all shapes, sizes and colors. They dressed as they willed, for heat had little power over creatures such as these. The men wore suits or denim, the dames dresses or slacks. Some were naked, but no one paid them any mind.
The main street of Destiny, which they had never bothered to name, was an area of great activity. If there was anything unusual about the town, it was the number of garages, which, by the laws of probability, should have been fewer.
At one end of the broad avenue stood a small wooden building, slightly separated from the strip. Three faded wooden steps led up to the porch area, upon which sat an empty bench. Beyond was an outer door with a ripped screen and a second one that remained opened, leading to a seldom used office.
Raphael preferred his garage. All the angels did.
Today however, he sat leaning over a wooden desk that many years before might have been considered a valuable antique. He ignored the uncomfortable way his wings felt, folded as they were around the back of the chair. Before him, standing almost eight feet tall, stood a humanoid figure. He was muscular, yet perfectly proportioned in spite of his massive build. He stood inflexibly, his brownish-red skin standing out in stark contrast to the faded wooden backdrop, a pair of large leathery wings folded neatly behind his back.
Raphael spoke, his voice a trumpet's blare, a normal tone for him. "Then you still want to go through with it, Asmodeus?"
The demon roared with laughter. "I care? Why should I? If I lose that miserable piece of land, will it stop the spread of evil? I think not."
Raphael sighed, imitating the human gesture so perfectly, it was sometimes hard for Asmodeus to remember he was an archangel.
"You are correct, of course. It is tomorrow's contest that holds my attention."
For a moment, two flames appeared briefly in the demon's eyes. He snorted and shook his head. "As well it should. But that territory is ours by tradition. You have no driver to compare with my Lilith." He leered at the angel, displaying a row of pointed teeth. Raphael was not impressed.
"Perhaps, but I may yet have a surprise for you." Raphael had not wanted to tip his hand so early, but that damned demon was so smug. "I can't wait for you to meet him."
Asmodeus looked thoughtful, but did not reply. He stared into the face of the archangel. Their eyes met and locked. After a long while, Asmodeus broke the gaze. He might have continued indefinitely, but such a contest of wills did little more than waste his time.
"Well, I best be off. If I leave them for too long, they start rutting like animals. You know how demons can be."
Raphael smiled in acknowledgment. He did know.
Just before sunset, when the orb in the sky was almost orange, the street began to empty as it always did. At the opposite end of town from Raphael's office, a small crowd began to gather. On the north side of the avenue, half a dozen angels, most wearing denim coveralls, stood in a tight group, speaking in whispers. Across the way stood a knot of eight demons, awaiting the arrival of the drivers. As soon as the first car entered the street, conversations came to a halt.
Often there were more spectators attending the nightly races, but tonight's match was for a small area in the north of Texas. The population of the territory was so trivial, it almost wasn't worth competing over. Still, if it weren't for this type of contest, many of the greats would have never gotten their start. A '75 Ford Torino, camouflage green, rolled out of the garage. The demons strained to see who was driving, but only one of their number recognized him. "Well if it isn't Saint Theodore," he exclaimed, loud enough for all to hear."
The driver turned to regard him. "Is that you, Barbariccia? I thought I saw the last of you in tenth century England. And a merry chase you led me on, let me tell you."
The demon's eyes sparkled remembering. "Ah, were those not the days? So many more virgins in the world, just ripe for the taking." This comment was met with howls of approval from his compatriots.
Saint Theodore shrugged. "Of course, in the end I did win. Just as I shall tonight."
That was enough to silence the opposition, until a garage door opened and a royal blue '63 Chevrolet Nova pulled into the street. The demon behind the wheel stuck his head out the window.
"Not if I can help it." He grinned, revealing his fangs, though the display would not intimidate an angel, of course.
"Go get 'im, Cagnazzo," yelled one of the demons. Soon they picked up the chant. "Sa-tan, Sa-tan, Sa-tan," louder and louder until nothing else could be heard.
The angels, not to be outdone, summoned celestial music to drown out the evil cheer. Then Lilith walked out onto the street and silence ensued. She moved slowly, languorously, as if she had all the time in the world. The demons leered at her and the angels averted their gaze, only barely immune to her inhuman charms. Occasionally, she had succeeded in seducing one, which pleased Asmodeus greatly.
She wore a leather thong that covered little of her red lithe body and only the thinnest strip of material held her voluptuous breasts in place. Her long black hair fell loosely about her shoulders. The corners of her full lips, a shade redder than her skin, shifted into the slightest of smiles. Her eyes sparkled with the demonic mischief for which she was famous. When she reached the center of the street, she stopped.
"Tonight's bout is to the end of town and back." She looked at the angel. "Are you ready?"
Saint Theodore nodded, sharply. She turned to the demon.
"Are you ready?"
Cagnazzo smiled assent. She held up her index finger and spoke a word. A small fireball shot into the air and the race was on.
She turned to watch, though her mind was not on it. She was only vaguely aware the angel was pulling ahead, but it was tomorrow's race that tugged at her mind. Archangel Raphael had told Asmodeus he had a surprise and angels never lied. The cars had already turned and were on the way back. She noticed the demon was now in the lead, but only by a hair. The angel slammed into him, trying to run him off the road. For a few moments, Cagnazzo was able to control the vehicle. Then, the Chevy went into a spin. The Ford shot around him, winning the race with ease.
The hoots of angelic victory did not disturb her. In fact, had they asked and it were up to her, she'd have given the forgotten tract of land away, for all the good it would do them.
Cherubs, flying above, recorded the conquest as they always did, but there would be no celebration for such a small victory. Already the angels had parked the Torino and were walking away into the setting sun. Lilith considered following them to test their angelic resolve, but decided against it. Tomorrow would be a big day for her.
Eddie October pulled his collar closed against the chill wind. His short jacket was too thin for the season as was most of his wardrobe. It was not surprising he often had the sniffles.
Not far away, the sound of a passing train invaded his thoughts. His mood was not lightened by the fact it was probably his. He stopped at a newsstand to buy a quart of Colt 45. He never acknowledged the fact he was a drinker. He was just trying to stay warm.
He reemerged on the street, feeling more comfortable after the first few swallows. Perhaps, he'd pick up a slice on the way home. At least, he always thought he would. Yet strangely, by the time he reached his neighborhood in New York City's South Bronx, he was never all that hungry.
He made his way to the train, already feeling the effects of mild inebriation. So what if he got drunk? Who cared? The cops didn't. Certainly not his ex-wife. He thought about her then, half longingly, as he often did during periods of melancholy. He'd have called her, talked to the kids, if only he knew the bitch's number. She hadn't exactly left a forwarding address.
If he missed nothing else, it was his kids. The way she ran off with that other guy, you'd think he never gave her nothing. He heard a train approaching and increased his pace, out of breath before he got ten steps. He fumbled in his pocket for a token he knew was there, while the screeching of brakes informed him his time was running out. At last he found it, dropped it into the slot, pushed through the turnstile and ran for the stairs. By the time he made it to the platform, he was huffing and puffing.
Across the tracks, the downtown train pulled out. It hadn't been his after all. He collapsed on the dilapidated bench and shivered. He took a pull from his bottle.
The sound of heels drew his attention to the stairway. Two teenage girls stepped onto the platform. He smiled at them, thought about saying something, but didn't. One of them, probably the older, tugged at her friend's arm, leading her in the opposite direction. He was so lonely he wanted to curse and cry at the same time, but it would do no good. If ya didn't have money, ya didn't have pussy. That's all there was to it.
It wasn't long before the 4 arrived. Like most trains, it was so covered with graffiti you couldn't see into the windows. He stumbled through the doors, ignoring the disdainful glances from the handful of respectable workers, who had stayed late at the office. Apparently HE was the problem with the Transit Authority they were always bitchin' about. He sneered at them, turned and sat.
He stretched out his tired muscles and took another swig from his bottle, no longer feeling the individual warmth of each swallow. A middle-aged woman sitting nearby, rose and moved away from him. He raised his drink and saluted her. "Probably religious," he mumbled under his breath.
He almost slept through his stop, but awoke just in time. He lurched off just a moment before the doors slid shut. After the heat of the train, it was suddenly cold again in spite of what he'd consumed. He walked passed the pizza parlor, never giving it a glance and made his way down the block.
The area looked like he felt; rundown, forgotten and not worthy of rebuilding. Large cars, Pontiacs, Fords, Chevys and an occasional beat up Cadillac, were parked on the street. Across the way, one of the buildings had been condemned by the city council as uninhabitable. Now only heroin addicts lived there. He wasn't certain it was much worse than his own apartment.
The glass on the front door of his building had a spider web of cracks running through it that had been in place when he'd first moved in five years earlier. The concept of heat must have been unknown to the landlord, for he certainly never gave any. October walked up two flights to his third floor apartment, trying, as he slowly climbed the stairs, to ignore the smell of urine. Finally he reached his door and, after only the third try, managed to fit his key into the lock.
He groped in the darkness for the light switch. A single bare bulb came to life, illuminating the foyer. He made his way to the living room, where he knelt down to plug in an old lamp. One day, he vowed, he'd have someone fix it so he could turn it on the right way. As he got older, it became harder to bend. He was still on his knees when the phone rang.
Bleary eyed, he searched until he located the cord under a pile of dirty clothes. He followed it until he found the device and lifted the receiver. "October," he said.
"Eddie, man, listen, it's me, Hector. It's all set up, ju hear me. Tomorrow, after the boss goes to make the bank drop, we're gonna hit him."
Eddie nodded, too stoned to realize the other man couldn't see him. "I'm a security guard," he mumbled.
There was a pause on the line. "You been drinkin? I need you sober for tomorrow, man. Don't fuck this up. We've been waiting a long time for this. All you have ta do is nothin'."
Eddie's vision swam out of focus. "Do nothin'. Got it."
"All right. I gotta run. See ya." The line went dead.
Eddie stared at the phone until it started to blare, informing him he'd yet to hang up. He replaced the receiver, almost hard enough to crack it. Fuck. He hated that shit more than anything. He didn't want to be a bad guy, but society had left him no choice. It wasn't his fault.
He lay down on his torn sofa, but no longer felt high. Tomorrow, he'd back off and let his boss get beaten, if not killed. And he had agreed to stand by and watch. Shit.
It was a long time before he drifted off to sleep.