The Christmas Angel, A Paranormal Tale is now available to read for free in the blog. A Christmas story about a paranormal detective, a medium, and a magical mirror. Silas Black gets a strange message, from a Christmas angel? Read it here, in the blog. All stories can be found in the STORIES page.
The Christmas Angel
A Paranormal Tale
by Adam Casalino
Silas Black didn’t like the woman very much. He thought it might have been her nose. No, it wasn’t that. It was her smile. She had a wry smile. It made her look smug. Silas didn’t like people who were smug. Some people called him smug. But they confused smugness with knowing stuff.
This woman knew stuff. Too much stuff.
People flocked from all over the city to see her. From the outer boroughs, even. She had started in a small tea shop. Now she appeared in an off-off Broadway theater. Soon, people from outside New York would be flying in to see this medium. As the city’s only paranormal detective, it bothered Silas.
It could hurt business.
The woman sat in a chair in center stage. Her audience was silent as they waited. For an hour and a half, she rattled off predictions, messages, or sometimes just words. Not all of it made sense. But people claimed the messages were meant for them. Some even said the experience was deeply meaningful. For that, they paid three hundred dollars a ticket.
Silas waited in the back for the show to end. Once the throng was thinned, he was escorted to a dressing room. It was just him and the medium, alone.
“You know, I met a medium once,” he said. “He passed through town when I was in college. Wasn’t very impressive.”
“How unfortunate for you,” she said.
“What can you expect from a man who wore his suspenders outside his coat?”
The woman didn’t crack a smile. She watched Silas quietly from her chair. It was awkward, as she was looking at him in the reflection of her mirror. Silas had never seen a mirror like it. It filled the room, touching the ceiling. The ornate, golden frame sparkled in the dressing room light.
“Beatrice, can I call you Beatrice?” he said.
“My name is Gloria.”
“Oh,” Silas said. “Why did I think it was Beatrice? I’m usually good at names.”
“You are wondering why I invited you here,” she said.
“You are clairvoyant.”
“I am intrigued by you,” Gloria said. “A young man in the prime of his life. Graduate of a prestigious university. Yet you choose the life of a private eye.”
“Somebody’s been reading up on me,” he said.
She tilted her head as she watched him through the mirror. “Why do you do it?”
“You know what they say, the profession chooses you,” Silas said. “Is that all you wanted from me? It’s two days from Christmas, you know.”
“Have a family you need getting back to?” she said.
“A pity. I never had time for a family, myself. My gift has kept me busy for so many years.”
“You’re new to New York,” Silas said. “Have you been doing this long?”
“Twenty years,” she said. “Since I was a child. I’ve been all over the world. Do you know how it works–how I receive my revelations?”
“A bottle of Scotch and a wild imagination?” he said.
Again, she didn’t see the humor. “No. I have someone. Someone who speaks to me.”
“An otherworldly informant,” Silas said. “Convenient. I’d be careful, though. Supernatural entities aren’t known for their honesty.”
“Mine is,” she said. Her face lit up. “He’s my Christmas angel.”
Silas thought for a moment. “First the shepherds and now you.”
“I call him that because I see him most often during this time of year,” she said.
“And does this Christmas angel have a name?” he said.
“Balthazar,” she said.
“A bit on the nose. And how does he appear to you?” Silas said. “Dreams?”
“Through the mirror.”
Silas stepped back and studied the mirror. “This is new.”
“I can only see him in the reflection of this mirror,” Gloria said. “It is a family heirloom. Passed down to me. His appearances can last from a few moments to hours. I can see him now.”
Silas looked into the mirror. He glanced around the room. There was nothing.
“You didn’t drag this mirror out on stage,” Silas said.
“He appears to me before my show. I write down the messages,” she said. “I started the show because people used to bother me at all hours of the day. This way, I can control when and where I share the messages.”
“He has given me a message for you,” Gloria said.
“Is that right?” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to an angel before.”
“You will not speak with him,” she said.
“Balthazar appeared to me,” Gloria said. “I have written down what he told me.” For the first time she turned around. She got up from her chair and walked over to Silas.
“Although you’ve already battled many enemies, there are many more to come. You must be prepared.” She put something into his hands. It was a sealed envelope.
“Open it Christmas Day,” she said.
“That is all I have for you, Silas Black,” Gloria said. “My time here is growing short.”
“Oh. Are you leaving New York for the holiday?”
The medium grew silent. She sat back in her chair. “Goodbye.”
Silas slipped the envelope into his coat. Nodding to the woman, he said, “Merry Christmas.”
Gloria sat silently as the detective left her dressing room. She stared into the mirror, watching.
“Balthazar, are you there? Do you have any encouraging word?”
There was no sign of Balthazar. The image in the glass grew dark. Red smoke collected at the corners. Abruptly, Gloria stood up. Running over to the couch, she grabbed a blanket and threw it over the mirror. Without delay, she changed clothes, put on her coat and left the theater.
It was late. Cold air and rumors of snow kept people off the street. Gloria held tight her bag as she hurried home. She only got a block from the theater when it found her. Her cries echoed through the night as the darkness fell.
Silas was waking up. As usual, it was taking a while. The first thing his eyes fell on was Gloria’s envelope. He had left it on the mantle the night before, forgotten about it, and fell asleep in a chair. He considered opening it now, despite the fact it was only Christmas Eve. What would one day matter? It’s not as if Gloria would know. How would the message differ, twenty-four hours later?
Thus decided, Silas sprung his chair and snatched the envelope from the mantle. He was about to open it, when the phone rang. It was the police. Gloria Starling was dead.
“We found her body here.” Detective McClelland pointed to the obvious chalk outline, hemmed in by police tape. “Nothing was taken. Purse, wallet, jewelry–all intact as far as we could tell.”
Silas knelt down and examined the crime scene. There was very little there. Gloria’s body had already been removed.
“How did she die?” he said.
“That’s the damnedest thing,” McClelland said. “No signs of struggle, no defensive wounds. No injuries, period. From all appearances it looks as if she just dropped dead. However, scans showed something else.”
Silas stood up and turned to the police detective. “Don’t leave me in suspense.”
“Her heart was gone.”
“Gone? You said there were no injuries,” Silas said.
“There were none,” McClelland said. “No cuts or incisions. It was as if the heart was–” he made a popping noise with his mouth, “zapped out of her chest. M.E. has never seen anything like it.”
“You’re hoping I have,” Silas said.
The police detective adjusted his considerable girth as he straightened his belt. His grey trench coat did a poor job of hiding his hulking frame. “An attendant from Gloria’s theater mentioned you were at the show last night. You spoke with her afterward. Turns out, you were the last person to speak with her before she died.”
“And here I thought you needed me for my expertise,” he said.
“Two for one,” McClelland said.
“Am I a suspect?” Silas said.
“Of course not,” the police detective said. “But I need to know what you spoke to her about.”
Silas shrugged. “Nothing that would indicate her imminent demise.”
“She didn’t say anything to lead you to believe she was in danger?” the police detective said.
“Gloria said something to the effect of, ‘my time is short.’ I assumed she was planning to leave New York.”
The cop grunted. “I guess, as a medium, she would have foreseen her own death. Too bad she couldn’t have prevented it.”
“No one lives forever,” Silas said, “not even mediums.”
“What about the missing ticker?” McClelland said. “Ever seen that before?”
“The removal of the heart is a common ritual among cults and primitive religions,” Silas said. “You’ve seen Temple of Doom. But to remove a heart without cutting the victim open–that’s fancy.”
“So you don’t know how it happened?” the police detective said.
“Oh ye of little faith,” Silas said. “Obviously, it has something to do with her line of work. She did tell me about how she got her messages.”
“How’d she pull it off?” McClelland said.
“Gloria had a contact,” he said. “Someone–or something–that provided her with mystical information.”
“Is this something a goodie or a baddie?” the police detective said.
“I think it’s time we found out. Can you get me into her dressing room?”
“I’d like to see someone stop me,” McClelland said.
The dressing room appeared untouched. The police had yet to inspect it, stilling combing the street and body for evidence. Silas was grateful for that. McClelland shooed away uniform cops from the adjoining hallway and shut the door behind them. Only Silas and McClelland were in the room.
Even with all the lights on, the dressing room felt gloomy. A heady scent was in the air, the last traces of Gloria’s perfume. There was a couch, wardrobe, and dressing table. A small stool served as a stand for a record player. Beside it was a milk crate full of albums. Looming against the wall behind the desk was the mirror. A blanket covered it.
“Help me with this, will ya?” McClelland helped Silas move the dressing table away, revealing the full size of the mirror. It extended from floor to ceiling. Silas removed the blanket and both men stared at their reflections. McClelland let out a low whistle.
“Who needs a mirror this big?”
“She didn’t use it to put on makeup,” Silas said. “It was her conduit to the other world.” He ran his fingers over the golden frame. It was cold to the touch. Silas felt a subtle current of electricity run through his skin.
“She told me this was in her family for years,” Silas said. “The patterns on this frame looks Byzantine.”
“Huh,” McClelland said. “Can’t be that old.”
“Probably not,” Silas said. “But it does look at least a hundred and fifty.”
“Hey, doesn’t your dad collect old stuff like this?” the cop said.
“He’s an antiquarian, yes,” Silas said, his voice curt.
“Maybe we should call him.”
“Henry’s probably on his fifth Scotch of the day,” Silas said.
“Still daylight out,” McClelland said.
Silas rapped a knuckle against the glass. It rang deep and sonorous. “Do you know mirrors used to be painted silver on the back? Silver is a powerful substance. It can be a ward for evil, but it’s also a conduit.”
“What for?” McClelland said.
Silas looked at the edges of the glass. He had thought the dark spots were just imperfections in the old mirror. But they were growing. A red, murky fog filled the mirror. The reflection of the dressing room disappeared. The detective could see a large figure looking back at him.
“What are you?” Silas said.
The thing moved closer. Silas saw a pair of horns. He heard a distinct snort, like that of a bull. Teeth clattered together as a voice spoke.
“I am the keeper of the mirror.” The voice was deep. It curled with mischief.
“Are you the Christmas angel?” Silas said.
“It is so.”
“Funny, you don’t look like an angel. At least, not any angel I’d like to meet.”
The creature snorted again. Silas got a glimpse of yellow eyes and a goat-like face.
“What are you doing here?” Silas said.
“You summoned me,” it said.
“Did I? Alright. You killed Gloria Starling. Took the heart from her chest.”
“I was collecting on a debt,” it said.
“Gloria owed you?” Silas said.
“One hundred years ago, her great-great-grandmother contacted me through this mirror,” it said. “We made a pact. She received wealth and power. In return, I would have her descendant.”
“What do you want with her?” Silas said.
The creature’s voice rose mockingly. “That is none of your concern.”
“It doesn’t sound like Gloria had a say in the matter,” he said. “That’s hardly fair.”
“She has eluded me for years,” it said. “All her life she ran from me. But she could not deny the debt forever.”
It raised a dark, hoof-like hand. In it glowed a bright, red gem. It was large, the size of a human heart.
“I don’t understand,” Silas said. “And believe me, that’s a rarity. How could you be the one giving her messages–if she was running from you?”
The creature did not respond. It snorted again.
“Ah, now we’re getting at it. You’re a big liar,” the detective said. “Typical. Never trust a monster in a mirror.”
McClelland crept up beside Silas. “What’s going on, kid?”
“This isn’t Gloria’s Christmas angel,” Silas said.
“Huh, no kidding.”
“You doubt what you see with your own eyes?” the creature said.
“Absolutely,” Silas said. “Never trust the eyes. They’re tricky. And I’m happy to tell you I’m taking Gloria’s heart.”
“You cannot return her to life,” it said.
“Maybe not,” Silas said, “but she’s not staying your property.”
The creature snarled. Fiery light filled the mirror. For one brief moment, Silas could see the monster entirely.
“Boy, you’re an ugly one.” He turned away from the mirror. “How are we going to get Gloria out of there?”
“You’re asking me?” McClelland said. “We are up a creek.”
“There has to be a way to undo her grandma’s pact,” Silas said. “Gloria can’t be bound to something set years before she was born.”
The police detective shrugged. “You think you can convince the monster?”
“You are a fool,” the creature said. Silas turned back to the mirror. “You know nothing of these things. Do you really think you can defy my power? I was worshipped for centuries. Blood was shed in my name. Virgins danced naked in my presence long before your race crawled out of the slime. The woman was long sold to me and I will not be denied my bounty–”
The creature sputtered. It slunk back from the glass in obvious disgust. Silas realized music was playing. McClelland was standing beside the record player.
“Silent Night,” the cop said. “Had to drown out that thing.”
“You might be on to something,” Silas said. “Turn it up.”
The creature snorted as it grew small in the mirror. It disappeared. Something else appeared. Silas ran to the mirror to see Gloria. She was in pain, but she seemed to recognize the detective. Her mouth was moving, but he couldn’t hear her.
“I want to help you,” he said. “I’m trying.”
There was a frantic look in her eyes. When she realized he could not hear her, she started to gesture with her hands. She repeated the movements over and over again. Silas studied her until he understood.
“Are you sure that will work?” he said.
She closed her eyes and nodded. The song ended. Gloria disappeared. The creature filled the mirror. It frothed with rage.
“I WILL NOT BE CHALLENGED.”
“Merry Christmas, Balthazar.”
“That’s not my–”
Silas grabbed the side of the hulking mirror. McClelland ran and gripped it on the other end. They strained against its weight until it began to tip. Both men covered their faces as the glass crashed to the floor. It shattered with a roar. The golden frame splintered into pieces. Silas wasn’t sure, but he thought he heard a faint growl of defeat.
Detective McClelland crunched on broken glass as he surveyed the wreckage.
“If anyone asks, you did this by yourself.”
The rest of Christmas Eve blurred by. Silas accompanied McClelland to the morgue, where Gloria’s body rested. She did not return to life. But–upon the insistence of the police detective–the medical examiner ran another scan. To his amazement the woman’s heart had returned.
It was evening and Silas found himself in a small diner. He was alone. Sitting in a booth, he stared at what was left of his meal and milky coffee. His mind methodically recounted the steps of the case. He filed away everything new he learned. Once finished, he normally flushed a case from his mind. But his thoughts kept drifting to Gloria. Perhaps, he was feeling a sense of satisfaction from saving the woman from her horrible fate.
No, that wasn’t it.
A waitress brought over his check. He got up from his booth and walked over to the cash register. Silas flipped through his wallet for cash. From the corner of his eye, he saw someone watching him. Silas glanced up, but only saw his own reflection in the mirror behind the counter.
He left the restaurant and walked the few short blocks to his apartment. Passing by a row of storefronts, he gazed at their displays. Most had long closed up for the impending Day. Silas caught a glimpse of the reflection of someone behind him. Someone large. Spinning around, he discovered no one was there.
Silas reached his house and climbed the front steps. Keys in hand, he reached for the knob. For a moment, the plain, iron door knocker changed. The ghost of the broad, square face of a man overlaid it.
“Oh, we’re doing this routine?” Silas said.
It was a knocker again. He unlocked the door and stepped inside.
Midnight came and Silas was asleep in his armchair. He was jolted awake by the striking of a chime. A window was open and the sound of church bells had leaked in. Shivering, Silas shut the window. Crossing the living room, he caught sight of the envelope on the mantle. It was Christmas Day. Snatching it up, he stared at it.
A face appeared in the mirror above the mantelpiece.
“Balthazar, I presume?” Silas said, looking into the mirror. the man was a head taller than the detective. He was broad, with a thick black beard. What Silas saw of his body, he knew he wore a golden cloak. He stood behind Silas, looking over his left shoulder. Balthazar didn’t speak. He simply smiled and nodded.
“Let’s be honest here,” Silas said. “You’re not really an angel. My guess: you’re an interdimensional being, maybe from another planet. You wanted to share your knowledge with a human. But there are limitations, hence communicating through a mirror. Sound about right?”
The man smiled, but did not respond.
“Not so far-fetched,” Silas said. “If you exist outside of our space-time, you probably can see into our future. Makes giving out predictions easier.”
Balthazar was still silent.
“I don’t know what to make of that other guy,” Silas said. “It’s amazing what some people would make a pact with.”
The man in the reflection looked at Silas’ hands.
“Is that why you paid me a visit,” Silas said. “You want me to read this? Why are you so interested in communicating with me? Are you trying to help?”
The detective turned over the card in his hands.
“Why her? Why did you visit Gloria for all those years?”
Balthazar finally spoke. His voice thrummed like a gong. “Because she was willing to listen.”
“Unlike the rest of us, huh?” Silas stuck a thumb under the envelope flap and ripped it open. He pulled out a simple, white Christmas card. On the front was a silver star. Opening it, he read the thin handwriting of Gloria Starling.
“Hmm,” Silas said. “Not what I was expecting. What do you want me to do about this?”
“He glanced back up at the mirror. Balthazar was gone.”
“I’m kind of relieved,” he said. Silas started a fire in his hearth. Carefully, he placed the card in the heart of the glowing embers.
“Merry Christmas, Balthazar. Whatever you are.” He crawled back into his armchair and fell asleep, the heat from the fireplace rolling over him like a blanket.
Or: How to make people believe your lies
There are a lot of resources out there on how to write stories. Far too many. And, as Stephen King once said, they’re mostly b-s.
I’m not here to teach you how to write. Nor do I claim to be an expert in the craft; some kind of guru that will definitely, without a doubt, reveal to you the secrets of being an amazing writer.
Most blog posts that promise that are only after one thing: your precious clicks.
But I am a writer. And I do know how to put one word after another, until I have something that resembles a story. I’ve done that enough to know a thing or two about that craft. So, if I feel so inclined to share a little bit of my wisdom with you, why not?
Maybe it will help you write. Maybe it will be a little bit entertaining. Maybe we both can get something out of it.
Writing Convincing Stories
Today I want to talk about writing convincing stories. What does “convincing” mean? Convincing means believable, i.e.: your reader buys that the events in your story could happen. For reader to believe that, they are willing to stick with your story all the way to the end. They will probably end up liking your story, recommending it to other people, and perhaps read other things you write (or draw or publish online).
But how do you make a story convincing? What are the most important details that make a story believable to a reader? What are those terrible, disastrous, mind-numbly awful things that make bad stories utterly unconvincing?
It has nothing to do with the believability of your story’s setting or genre. Even the most radical sci-fi and fantasy tales can be alarmingly convincing. People do know how to suspend their disbelief. In fact, they readily do so, in the hopes of escaping into a fun, imaginative, fantasy world. They do that every day when they read books, watch TV shows, and play copious amounts of video games (what do you think those kids are doing every day?).
In order for a fantasy/sci-fi story to be convincing, there are many guidelines you have to follow. Notice, I didn’t say rules. Rules are meant to be broken. And, as Neil Gaiman once said, you can break any rule you like if you do so with confidence.
Guidelines are different. They are simply tips or instructions to help a fledgling writer when they lose their way. You don’t have to follow them religiously, but they can be a beacon of hope in the midst of a miry storm (like when you’re in the middle of your story).
I can spend plenty of time discussing valuable guidelines for making convincing sci-fi and fantasy. But I want this article to be a little more universal. Suffice it to say, for now, if you want convincing sci-fi and fantasy, establish clear limitations and boundaries in which your characters can dwell. Magic and incredible technology can’t do everything. Establish those boundaries and stick to them, so your audience won’t feel cheated.
Or: How to avoid the first-person trap.
I’m not much of a “literary critic.” Oh sure, I have my opinions. And unlike yours, mine are always right.
But I don’t get much into the business of critiquing other books or comics. It’s a lot of work, and I’d rather devote my energy to creating my own things. Things like the above webcomic, the Robert Ash occult detective stories, and novels.
Despite that, I do read a lot. I try to read books from a wide spectrum of genres, styles, and topics. That’s a pro tip right there for creative types: Don’t just read the genre you like (or are working in). Read broadly, read lots of things. You never know what might spark something that changes your work. Pursuing a medieval cookbook might give you an idea for the next great children’s novel. I don’t know. But it never hurts to explore.
After reading so many different kinds of books—and after spending a considerable amount of time learning the craft myself—I can say that I have developed a nimble taste for good writing and bad writing.
I’ve also learned what kinds of books make me so furious, I want to throw them across the room (full disclosure: I’ve done this).
Today, I’m not going to write a review about a bad book, but highlight something I’ve discovered that can really spoil a potentially great story. Maybe you’re an aspiring writer. Or perhaps a cartoonist. Maybe you just love reading Sci-Fi/Fantasy stuff. Or maybe you just found this by accident.
Whatever the case may be, this blurb of text might help you recognize a very bad problem in your story. Avoiding this just might save your life!
Okay, maybe not that. But it will prevent you from embarrassing yourself.