[ skip to the story ] The second story for Creative Writing had to get a little more complicated. We had to use footnotes. And employ specific tactics for this story (once again stolen straight from my Instructor's page):
STORY TWO: Character
Your story should be an original work of fiction that:
• uses at least two of the character-construction techniques that we have discussed in class. (Use footnotes inside your story to show the technique in question and to discuss what you hope to accomplish with it). • employs free indirect style or first person as the primary narrative mode. • constructs a scene (or sequence of scenes), using summary and commentary as a supplement to the scene(s). • is a new story that you have not worked on before the beginning of this semester. • is well-developed and substantial, at least 1500 words. (Please note that this is a minimum. I expect that many of you will write 2000 or more words). • is honed, polished, and proofread. Not a rough draft.
I wrote the first-ish draft and gave it to my classmate to edit it: heavily. Since I only had a partial story by that point, they weren't able to edit as much as perhaps my teacher would have preferred. I kept as many edits as I agreed with (which were most).
Sadly I've managed to misplace my copy with my classmates handwritten notes on them. If I find it, I'll come back and add it to the post. It's really nice to get the entire experience recorded.
by Michelle Brumley
James wasn't the demon's real name—but he'd been a denizen of Earth so long, he had forgotten what it really was. He may have had an otherworldly name like the angel did but he preferred James. Something about it rolled off his golden tongue like sin. James had spent the last three hundred years serving a sentence on Earth and he was two days away from returning to Hell. All he had to do was wait. And make banana bread.
“I'm out of nutmeg.” He set down his mixing bowl, exasperated. When Gabriel didn't stop reading the newspaper, James dropped the carton of eggs on the floor. “And eggs.” He added with a nod. Gabriel lowered his newspaper, carefully refraining from showing irritation. Gabriel smiled, his angelic features sharp as knives; he could cut a piece of paper with his perfect cheekbones. His beauty always gave James a hard-on, which he generally announced loudly, to the embarrassment of his warden. Luckily Gabriel was spared an announcement due to James and his lack of nutmeg.
“What do you need nutmeg for?” Gabriel smiled and looked at the floor. Sunny yellow egg yokes made a sad face on the tile.
“I killed our neighbor last week. Now I can't go and see her to get more nutmeg. Or eggs.” James wiped his hands across his apron. His favorite apron: the one that made Gabriel blush the most. The angel averted his eyes from the apron and James caught a flash of red on his cheeks.
“Can you really say 'murdered'? I mean—”
“Alright. I was there when the neighbor lady died suddenly of natural causes. I like to exaggerate. And I mean I'm really out of nutmeg and eggs, it's now a matter of life or death.”
The angel carefully folded his newspaper and sighed. Before he could answer—the oven dinged and James busied himself with an oven mitt. When James had discovered Ebay, many of the items in their apartment were methodically replaced with inappropriate versions. Oven mitts once covered in chickens, for example, were now covered in naked women or swastikas. Gabriel was just thankful that James had given up knitting.
“You only have two days left in your sentence. Wait it out. Don't take any unnecessary risks to getting your sentence extended—like irritating me.” A thinly veiled threat; the last time James' sentence had been extended had been a year ago: a day extension for convincing an elderly neighbor to play a game of Strip Cribbage. James hadn't forgotten. He looked at the skin on his left arm: a long, washed-out row of black tally marks stained his skin. Each one faded from black to light gray, like an old sliver beneath his flesh, each day his sentence drew to a close. Two splinters remained. Two days of perfect behavior and he'd be in Hell eating banana bread with Lucifer himself. If he could get nutmeg and eggs in time. It had been three hundred years after all. James wanted to make a good impression.
James pushed a tray of hot cookies toward the angel.1
“I understand your incessant need to make banana bread—but I have my orders.” Gabriel reached forward and took a cookie. “Three hundred years hasn't dulled my senses yet.”
“You don't understand. Banana bread is his favorite. Do you really want to be responsible for that?”2
Gabriel ate his cookie in silence. James waited.
“What does the neighbor have to do with this?”
“She was my nutmeg dealer.”
“I don't think that's what you call her. Neighbor is fine.”
“Well, she's dead. So now I can't ask her for ingredients. I don't have any other choice. If I'm going to make this banana bread in less than two days—you have to let me leave to get nutmeg.”3
“Why two days?” Gabriel asked, pretending to forget. He arched a gorgeous eyebrow. For an angel, he looked convincingly innocent.4
“Why do we even have a calendar if you can't read it? Two days. Two days is all I have left of my sentence." James knew quite well why Gabriel didn't read the calendar he had placed prominently in the kitchen: it was full of muscle bound glistening firefighters. Gabriel knew exactly where the calendar was and refused to check.
“Who is really being punished here?” Gabriel looked toward the spackled ceiling.
“Do you have to talk to Him in front of me? It makes my skin itch.”
Before Gabriel could answer—his head dropped heavily to the kitchen counter. An extremely poisonous cookie rolled from his limp fingers. The neighbor lady had died of natural causes, that much was true. But not before James had filled his lunchbox with her prescription drugs. The cookies would have killed a mortal man—being over-saturated with a mix of Comet and Prozac but Gabriel was an immortal with a terrible sense of taste. He'd wake up in a few hours, just long enough for James to catch the afternoon bus.5
“OF ALL THE CRUEL, MISGUIDED AND HORRIBLE THINGS TO INFLICT UPON MANKIND,” James shouted nasally, “and He decides to make hay fever.” Snot dripped down his beautiful nose and had crusted over his lips.
“Bless you—” “DAMN IT.” A vein flared up across James’ forehead; he felt his left eye twitch involuntarily. Of course, the idiot woman hadn’t meant it, it was only a customary response. To anyone else, it would most certainly not have exorcised a demon—but to a demon, it was much worse.
He felt the skin on his wrist burn. He rolled up the loose sleeve of his dress shirt and watched as an ugly black scar wriggled beneath his skin like a snake. When it died, another tally mark had been added to the two remaining. He now had three days left for his sentence on Earth. The careless woman had just added another.
Nutmeg. He reminded himself, and rolled his sleeve back down with a sigh. He sneezed again. “Bless—” “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.” His wings unfurled with his words but only one passenger on the bus saw him—the man jacked up on meth. The old woman looked startled, her gray, spotted hands shook from the sound of his voice. She turned to her sleeping husband.
“He didn’t have to be so rude.”
James sighed. Bus rides made him irritable at best, but he hadn't calculated hay fever into his plan to get nutmeg. How did these mortals deal with such trivial things? Torture, screams of agony, asphyxiation—James found those tasks preferable to being stuck on a bus sneezing the entire time. Everyone wanted to make small talk. James just wanted them all to go away. The tweaker in the seat in front of him rolled his eyes to the back of the head, muttered something inaudible, and turned away. James folded his wings back beneath his jacket. It had been a good twenty-five years since he'd ridden the bus. The seats had gotten smaller, the people pressed in closer. It reminded him of a sardine can or the sixth circle of Hell reserved for people who disliked banana bread. Luckily, he was a top-tier demon and would never see anything lower than the second or third. Unless, perhaps, he lost his patience and killed everyone on the bus.
The drug addict had turned back around in his seat. James considered reminding the man to wear his seat belt.6 Spittle and blood dripped down the side of the addict's mouth.
“Three more days left, James.”
By the time James reached the end of the afternoon bus route: his bout of hay fever had added another six days to his sentence on Earth. Despite his loud, angry warnings to anyone and everyone who kept blessing him. The old woman had gotten off at the very next stop, and the tweaker had been forcibly removed after vomiting on his fellow passengers. James had laughed until he discovered he had been included in the series of victims.
James' had discarded his dress shirt and jacket into a trash can at the bus station and stolen a jacket from a homeless man. It smelled slightly less than his previous vomit-covered shirt. A mix somewhere between stale beer and marijuana. Seven days now and his knuckles hurt from the effort of punching the man in the face. He may have loosened a few of the man's teeth and, as far as James was concerned, did him a favor.
The last time he had ridden the afternoon bus had been over a decade ago and the city had looked different then. The supermarket where he last purchased nutmeg was gone: replaced by a Vietnamese Nail Salon and a Vapor Shop. The homeless man had been able to tell him where a source for nutmeg could be found: some center of evil, called “Walmart.”7 It sounded lovely. The homeless man hadn't given clear directions through a bloodied, broken jaw—but James got the feeling it was about a ten-minute walk. He straightened his shoulders, flexed his hand—if he was unable to mix a bowl of banana bread batter, he made a mental note to kill that homeless man—and began walking in the direction of Walmart.
“Excuse me, sir.” A male's voice cracked behind James. “Do you have your receipt?” James couldn't hear over the sound of the door alarm. He adjusted the brown paper bag under one arm, careful not to crush the dozen eggs.
“Receipt?” James asked, yelling over the sound of the alarm.
“Y-yes, sir.” The young male stuttered and pointed towards the grocery bag. James raised his eyebrows. He was going to regret it, but he had technically stolen the groceries. At least, by the time he left the building, they'd be technically stolen. What was one more day if he could get out of Walmart? The place was insufferable. So many people coughing, suffering from such obesity that they needed mechanized carts to push their bloated mortal coils around. Lucifer himself could have designed the entire place. James' decided next time he would try a different store.
“No, I don't have my receipt.” James' used his demonic charm, hammering each word into the mind of the weak-willed human. “And you don't care. Step aside.” It would cost him another day for misusing his supernatural abilities; but all he wanted to do was get home and start baking. He didn't have time for this. He felt his skin prickle as the young man nodded slowly and stepped away from the door. A uniformed security guard began talking to the young man just as James' left the building. He walked to the bus stop and waited.
The door to the apartment was ajar.
“I just need two hours,” James' insisted, rushing up the front stairs and flinging open the door. He knew Gabriel would be mad, but surely he'd understand how important this was—
But it wasn't Gabriel that waited for him. A tall, slender man in skinny jeans and a red-flannel shirt sat cross-legged on the couch. Thick-rimmed glasses slid down the man's nose as he held out a Bible in front of him, the corner of his mouth twisted in to a wry smile. The edges of his fingertips were smoking.
“By my estimation, you have twenty-one days left. That bus ride home must have been Hell.” A cell phone buzzed in the man's pocket and he set the Bible down, face first, into an ashtray. “Hold on, I have to reply to this.”
“My Prince,” James fell to his knees but was careful to lower the grocery bag first. He set the eggs down and pressed his forehead to the carpet. With his head turned to the side, he saw Gabriel was also lying on the floor—hands tied behind his back, eyes wide with fear. His wings were bound and bloodied feathers fell to the carpet.
Lucifer tapped manicured fingernails across the screen of his red-lacquered iPhone. He smiled to himself and then turned his smoldering gaze upon James.
“I'm in a bargaining mood,” Lucifer said and stood from the couch gracefully. “Stand.”
James stood, lifting the grocery bag along with him.
“I'll tell you what,8” Lucifer paced the living room floor. His footsteps burned tracks into their Oriental rug. “You make me the best damn banana bread you can manage, and I'll forgive—” He paused then, closing his eyes. He counted on one hand, then another until he ran out of fingers. “The numerous and various sins you committed while you were gone. And Gabriel will forget, too.” The forgotten angel nodded his head against the carpet. A glittering tear slid down his cheek.
James tried to conceal his excitement. He shifted to the left slightly.
“An hour, my Prince, and you'll have the best damn banana bread you can imagine.”
1 This is James' first direct action towards escaping confinement and getting what he wants: nutmeg. He pushes the cookies towards Gabriel, suggesting he eat them. (Technique #2: characters who want something and whose actions grow out of those objectives.)
2 (Technique# 3: Construct characters by putting them in scenes where they interact with other characters actively, in pursuit of their objectives. James' is intentionally upsetting Gabriel to distract him from the act of eating cookies.
3 (Technique #2) James' repeats his intention to leave.
4 (Technique# 3) Gabriel knows why, but he's not completely innocent, either. He's provoking James here.
5 (Technique #2) The end result of James' labors: he couldn't make banana bread, but he could make poisoned cookies. A nefarious action to get what he needs, he incapacitates his captor and leaves the house.
6 This could be a (Technique #4) if I had given James' a reason to change his behavior yet. However, you'll see his behavior doesn't improve, it gets worse, when he gets off the bus. If I were re-writing, I'd work this in somewhere.
7 (# 2) James' has requested information from a homeless man about where he can find nutmeg.
8 (Technique# 3) The Devil wants his banana bread. So much so that he's willing to forgive his demon for his transgressions in order to get it. He's bargaining, and he knows that James' won't resist.
The first draft of my story looked like this, full of rambling notes and snippets of dialogue. Dialogue seems to be how I start all of my stories.
When demons have hay fever A.K.A. Satan loves banana bread
“Bless you.” “DAMN IT.”
Sometimes demons have to go into the big city, there are some spells and incantations these hick folk can’t conjure up. So a trip to the inner city is necessary. But hay ever...
We’re so conditioned to automatically say “Bless you,” when we hear someone sneeze. Hell, even as an atheist, I say it out of habit, even if I don’t believe it at all.
There is a joke that goes something like: “If you sneeze once, I’ll say ‘bless you,’ but after the third time I have to assume it’s not working and you’re a demon.”
Most demons are surprised to find they are, in fact, demons. Many of us die as terrified, angry atheists, and as a joke (I can only assume it’s a joke) we’re sent back to Earth. A short story
Beginning, middle and end.
“I’m out of nutmeg. I killed the neighbor last week. Force of habit. Now I have to go to town to get more nutmeg.”
“Can you really say ‘killed’? I mean--” “Alright, I was there when the neighbor died suddenly of natural causes. I like to exaggerate.” “What’s the big problem?” “I have hay fever.”
“And?” “And if I waited three more days, I’d be free to return. I’ve been watching the calendar. Three days.”
“Then wait three days.” “But. Banana bread. He loves banana bread.” “You’re going to bring the Son of Perdition--banana bread.” “Not if I don’t have any nutmeg I’m not. He has standards. He loves good banana bread, not just the shit you can buy in the stores. Who knows what they put in that stuff. With my luck, it’d probably be for some Christian fundraiser and would taste like shit.”
A.K.A. “The Devil Loves Banana Bread.”
We’ll meet the demon, who is cheerily mixing ingredients for banana bread and checks his calendar. Three more days is all that’s left! The demon--who can’t remember his actual name, so he has taken to call himself James--realizes he’s out of nutmeg.
His guard, an angel who has distinctly not forgotten their name (it’s something pretentious sounding), watches over him. The angel is another man, so beautiful that James can never look him in the eyes without getting a hard on. Which only pisses the angel off because, you know, homosexuality.
The two have a tense relationship (of which James exploits often to the angel’s irritation, ie: wearing an inappropriate apron) but James finally finds a way to convince the angel to let him leave the house for a few days. “I only have 3 days left here, let me go and explore. I need nutmeg, anyways. You wouldn’t want me to fuck up Satan’s banana bread, would you? Do you really want to be responsible for that?”
“If it means you’ll take off that disgusting apron, yes. Of course I want you to leave. I have my orders.”
James may have been out of nutmeg, but he wasn’t out of (something that makes people sleep). His addict friend had visited yesterday and, after a long conversation where his addict friend rambled incessantly (during which James changed his shape to a ginger-haired woman and a rabbit, just to fuck with him), he managed to steal a dram of (sleepy stuff). The entire bottle of which was now in the cookies he had just given to the angel.
Once the angel is asleep, James will tie him up--naked, probably--excuse himself for the evening, and head in to town for some much-needed nutmeg.
“OF ALL THE CRUEL, MISGUIDED AND HORRIBLE THINGS TO INFLICT UPON MANKIND,” James shouted nasally, “and He decides to make hay fever.” Snot was dripping down his beautiful nose and had crusted over his lips while he slept.
“Bless you--” “DAMN IT.”
A vein flared up across James’ forehead; he felt his left eye twitch involuntarily. Of course, the idiot woman hadn’t meant it, it was only a force of habit that she recounted the [origin of the phrase] without a second thought. To anyone else, it would most certainly not have exorcised a demon--but to a demon, it was much worse.
He felt the skin on his wrist prickle and burn. He rolled up the loose sleeve of his dress shirt and watched as an ugly black scar wriggled beneath his skin like a snake. When it died, another tally mark had been added to the three remaining. He now had four days left in his sentence to Earth, and the careless woman had just added it for him.
Nutmeg. He reminded himself, and rolled his sleeve back down with a sigh. He sneezed again.
“Bless--” “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.”
His wings had unfurled with his words but only one passenger on the bus saw him--the man so jacked up on meth he was seeing two demons. The old woman looked startled, her gray, spotted hands shaking from the sound of his voice. She turned to her husband.
“He didn’t have to be so rude.”
James sighed. ##
The Demon Attempts To Buy Nutmeg
“Did you pay for that?”
“WHY? DO I LOOK THE KIND OF PERSON WHO WOULD STEAL NUTMEG?” ##
Not sure where this story is going yet, he may very well get a job at Walmart instead.
Or see a flyer that says, “Speak with the Dead, volunteers needed!”
Lucifer stood in the doorway, pale skin slick with blood and sweat. He had lost weight. And he was wearing skinny jeans.
“Is that banana bread?” He asked, perfect lips curving in to a more-devilish-than-normal smile. “My favorite.”