Been a while since I’ve done one of these, but this is another story I wrote in an hour based on a visual prompt. Many of these prompted one-hour stories go on to publication, and others, like this one, well, don’t. So instead of letting the piece collect dust on my hard drive, I’m gonna inflict, er, I mean share it with all of you. That said, this one is a bit different than the others. More on that after the story.
Here’s “My Hero”
Azazel shook the file folder at Baal and pounded his fist on the elder demon’s desk. “I am not doing this.”
“Like you have a choice.” Baal laughed and propped his feet on his desk. He wore the body of an older male human, a perfect fit for the gaudy high-rise offices currently housing the Infernal Bureaucracy’s earthly headquarters.
“Save a bunch of orphans? Come on. What will . . . what will the others think?” Azazel said, pleading.
Baal took his feet down and leaned forward. “We have credible intel that one of those little bastards might grow up to be you-know-who. So, yes, you will go to that orphanage and make sure it does not burn down. Understood?”
Azazel groaned. “I’ll never live this down.”
“Is that understood?” The room grew dark as Baal’s anger literally devoured the light.
“Yes, Lord Baal,” Azazel said, and blew out a resigned sigh. “His dark will be done.”
The darkness receded and Baal smiled. His presence in his host’s body had rotted all the man’s teeth, and Azazel was treated to the sight of blackened stubs and decayed gums. “Good. Now get to work.”
Saint Laurent’s Home for Wayward Children sat on the corner of Union and Third, a stately three-story stone building that had once been a church. Azazel’s skin began to itch within three blocks of the place. It stood on holy ground, which meant most of his demonic powers would be nullified.
The file said the fire was arson–Hell’s Department of Oracular Pronouncements was usually right about these things–so Azazel came prepared with a revolver stuffed into his coat pocket. If he killed the firebug before the blaze started, he could get back to proper demon work.
The fire would start at 2:45 a.m. on the third floor in a maintenance closet. Azazel checked his watch–2:30. Plenty of time. He went to the back of the building and found a fire door ajar beneath the pooled shadows of an overhang. The security light above the door had been disabled.
“Damnation,” Azazel said under his breath. The fire-starter was already in the building. He drew his pistol and hurried inside. The pain of actually standing on holy ground hit him like a tidal wave and buckled his knees. He double over, gagging, and trying to breathe. The pain subsided, but he had to invest considerable demonic mojo to make that happen. That kind of thing was sure to burn out his human vessel. He could already feel the meat rotting around him.
Beyond the fire door were stairs, and Azazel climbed them until he reached the third floor. That door was also open.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” Azazel stepped out into a wide corridor. It was dark but he spotted the soft glow of fire light beneath a closed door at the end of the hall. He sprinted toward it, the smell of gasoline filling his nostrils.
Pistol in hand, Azazel opened the door and saw a tall figure standing over a pile of rags in a utility closet, a tiny spear of flame from a Bic lighter turning mops and brooms into flickering, man-like forms.
“Put that away, asshole,” Azazel said and thumbed back the hammer on his revolver.
The figure turned, his handsome features pinched with pain. “I can’t do it,” he said. The voice was musical . . . heavenly.
Azazel wasn’t the only one on the job tonight. “Hey, man, then don’t. Make both our lives easier.”
“I must,” the angel said. Tears of blood leaked down his chiseled features. “There is an eighty percent chance the enemy, the great evil, is one of these children.”
“That high, huh? Our people only put it at sixty-four percent.”
“Sixty-four?” the angel said.
“Yeah, hardly worth it to burn up a bunch of rug rats on less than two-to-one odds, right?” Azazel said.
The angel’s eyes narrowed. “Then why are you here?”
“The job, same as you,” Azazel said. He lowered his gun, but the angel still had his lighter flicked and ready. “What’s your name?”
“Nuriel,” the angel replied. “You?”
“Azazel. I don’t think you and I have, uh, crossed swords before, so to speak, so let’s keep this nice and civilized.”
Nuriel seemed to relax some. “What do you have in mind?”
“What say we get out of here, get ourselves a drink, and, I don’t know, relive the good times? We were both angels once, right? That way you get to not torch a bunch of orphans, and I get to stay in the good graces of my bosses.”
The angel brows furrowed. He was desperate for an out, and that little lapse of attention was what Azazel had been waiting for. The angel took his thumb off the lighter, and the little flame snuffed out. Azazel snapped the pistol up and fired, point blank, catching the angel–well, his host, anyway–square in the forehead. Blood and brains splattered the brooms and mops.
Freed from his human host, the angel exploded outward in wave of blinding light. Azazel shrunk away from the heavenly sunburst, but no angel or demon can remain on the earthly realm without a human body, and the light winked out as the angel was yanked back into heaven.
Azazel breathed a sigh of relief, then heard people stirring on the floor. The gunshot would have woken the entire building. He shoved the gun in his pocket and hurried down the stairs and out into the night.
The next morning, Baal stormed into Azazel’s office before he could finish his first cup of coffee. The elder demon slapped the morning paper on Azazel’s desk. The front page read: Mysterious Hero Slays Would-Be Arsonist at Local Orphanage.
“Oh, no,” Azazel whispered, horrified.
Baal grinned, black, toothless, and gummy. “My hero.”
Usually, after these failed one-hour stories, I tell you what’s wrong with them. In this case, I actually think “My Hero” is a pretty solid story. Not earthshattering or anything, but it’s got a full arc, and I think it’s pretty entertaining. So why am I not submitting it (anymore)? Well, because I’ve written too many stories like it, and the markets I’d send it to have already published a story of mine a lot like this. The point is that sometimes you can get stuck in a rut with your work and end up writing stories that are just kinda samey. On their own, in a vacuum, they might be fine, but if you’ve already published a bunch like them, it’s gonna make selling another one more difficult. For me, writing about wisecracking demons is like breathing. It’s easy and comes naturally, but I’ve gone to that well, especially with flash fiction, too many times. So, I’ll put it here, and maybe it’ll end up in another flash collection down the line.
Want to see more failed flash? Check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series.
That’s def something to watch for all of us writers – repating the same rhythms and patterns and characters. God, it’s hard work being a writer!