Tag: supernatural (page 1 of 6)

Impala Nights: Part 1

I’m not the kind of guy who likes surprises very much.

I never had much in the way of birthday parties to begin with, but surprise parties in particular always rubbed me the wrong way. I mean, you want to celebrate my life by trying to scare me to death? No, thank you. It’s really difficult to prepare for that sort of thing if your friends are any good at keeping secrets.

And for a wizard, especially a professional one like myself, preparation is the name of the game.

The old house creaks under my feet as I make my way through it. I whisper a word to light the wick inside of the lantern I’m carrying, and pale orange light spills out into a circle in front of my on the floor. It’s something Bob the Skull helped me whip up, an old “bullseye” style lantern, with a minor enchantment that let me see ghosts and pierce minor veils. The word is that there have been a bunch of disappearances around the house, which is in a run-down neighborhood situated between downtown Chicago and one of its suburbs. It’s one of those areas you just keep driving past if you know what’s good for you.

But when you’re Harry Dresden, and someone pays you to look for their lost child in a place the police are unwilling or unable to go, you really don’t have that choice.

I make a face as the heat from the lamp starts cooking some of the dust on the floor and in the air. There’s a musty smell about the place in general, and the sudden heat source doesn’t help to abate that. I’m used to foul smells, but I wish I wasn’t. I’d much rather be back in my lab, helping Molly do some research into her father’s sword, Amoracchius, and trying to coordinate some of the activities of the Gray Council of which I was now apparently a founding member. I have a lot of things to deal with in my world, from vengeful vampire lords to ancient magical conspiracies, and this is taking time away from them.

All thoughts of the world outside of the house go flying out of my brain, though, when I step into the basement.

The world goes… weird. I feel off-balance, sick to my stomach, and get a headache, all at once. It lasts for a few interminable moments. Then, it’s gone. I blink, shake my head to clear it, and raise the lantern to look around.

The basement’s a basement. Cobwebs, mostly empty shelves, creepy corners. I turn, and look at the stairs I just walked down.

The stairs are collapsed.

They hadn’t made a noise. I shine the lantern into the threshold. There’s just enough room for me to step back through. I do, and the vertigo slams into me again. Once I recover, I’m looking up the stairs I’d just walked down, whole and intact. My brain finally gets through its warm-up cycle and I realize where I’d felt those things before.

The first time I’d ever used a Way into the Nevernever.

This was different, though. The Nevernever has a very particular feel to it. Stepping through (retch) a second time, it still feels like the real world once I recover. I walk through the basement to the storm doors, up the stairs and out, and look around. It’s the same neighborhood, still a Chicago no-mans-land, and nothing in my natural or wizardly senses tells me it’s an illusion or a construct. It’s real. Just… different.

“I hate surprises,” I say to myself.

As if in response (me and my big mouth), a engine rumbles up the drive on the other side of the house.

I stay low, and I Listen. The night’s relatively quiet, with just a couple of crickets that were silenced when the big car, some classic muscle-style beast, rumbles to a stop on the driveway. The engine sputters to silence, and I hear two doors open and close.

“Look, I don’t want to talk about your anger issues, okay?” The first voice is on the gruff side, and clearly annoyed. “I’m not your damn therapist.”

“No, you’re not.” The second voice is more refined, collegiate, but also exasperated. “You’re my brother, Dean. And you’re the only one I can talk to about this sort of thing.”

“You really want to keep doing this? Huh? In case you’ve lost track because you’ve been too busy flying over the cuckoo’s nest, we have a fucking Apocalypse to stop.”

There’s a pause.

“Then what are we doing here, Dean?”

“The last place we stayed at said that this house is where people have been disappearing. Come on, Sam. Some classic, old-school monster-hunting. Just what you need to put that anger to use. It’s what I do.”

“Yeah. And you’re so well-adjusted.”

There’s an audible shrug. “At least I’m not bitchin’ about it constantly.”

“And that’s healthy.” Sam sighs. “All right, come on.”

They come around the corner, flashlights in hand. Guess who’s standing there out in the open.

“Hi,” I say conversationally. “You boys lost?”

I lift my lantern to get a look at them. One’s tall, over six feet, with a lanky build, stylishly long dark hair, and a somewhat pained expression, probably from the end of that conversation. The other, shorter guy is built more like a boxer, all compact muscle and attitude, with close-cropped hair and narrowing, suspicious eyes. I know what they’re seeing, too – the silhouette of a guy in a leather duster holding a bullseye lantern in his right hand, and leaning on a large staff held in his left.

“Um. No.” The shorter one’s eyes narrow even more. His voice pegs him as Dean. “We’re… just passing through.”

“We saw your light,” says Sam. “We got curious.”

I make a face. One of those you boys are full of it faces. Molly says I’d make a good parent, with faces like that. I shudder to think what I’d be like as a parent.

“Well, then, you can keep passing. This isn’t something you guys want to be involved in.”

“Really?” Sam looks incredulous. I don’t blame him – I would, too.

“Really. There are monsters out here. Ghosts, at the very least.”

Dean nods in my direction, smirking. I can smell the smartass comment coming before he speaks. “So you, ah, watch that Ghostfacers show?”

“I don’t own a TV,” I say. “All I know is, I walked out of that basement in a city that isn’t mine, with my car nowhere in sight, and Goofus and Gallant rolling up here talking about the Apolcalypse.”

The young men stare at me.

“So,” I continue into the silence. “How about you leave the monster-hunting business to the professional wizard, get back in your car, and drive on down the road.”

“Wizard,” Dean repeated. “So… you’re a he-witch?”

I blink. “A what?”

Dean doesn’t let me clarify further.

Instead, he shoots me.

DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fan fiction. Harry Dresden and all attendant characters, locations, and creatures are property of Jim Butcher. Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester, and all attendant characters, locations, and creatures are property of Supernatural. Please support the official releases of both properties.

Writer Report: Supernatural Inspiration

Courtesy Warner Bros

Cold Streets is closer than ever to the end of the first draft. I have a few changes I think I’ll be making before test readers are contacted, so I guess they’ll be seeing a second draft, or perhaps draft 1.5 – either way, I’m on the cusp of switching gears between writing and editing, which is an exciting and terrifying time in the life of any project.

The bulk of my free time lately has been consumed with getting caught up on Supernatural. We’re up the fifth season as of today. Serial storytelling is interesting to me, as the longer a series goes on, the more danger it is in of rattling on its rails, if not jumping off completely. Thus far, this show seems to keep its focus on its interesting and very human characters while raising the stakes for the protagonists. It would be very easy to make the show all about the threat or the creatures or the special effects, but for the moment, the emphasis is on the people we’ve been with along the way, which to me is a good sign for things to come.

Some have said that later seasons do rattle along the rails, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m hoping to get more done in Cold Streets over the weekend, considering it’s a holiday and it’s a good time to be writing. Then again, any time is a good time to be writing. Unless you’re driving or something.

Movie Review: Hellboy – Blood & Iron

I’m not sure what it is about tales of the occult and the supernatural that fascinate me so deeply. It could be the notion that the things that go bump in the night are more than just settling houses and gusts of wind; that right in front of us, just out of sight and barely beyond our reach, is a world full of wonders, horrors, secrets, and history both enlightening and terrifying to behold. What’s especially interesting are those who choose to, as some would say, “bump back”. Characters like Abraham Van Helsing, the Ghostbusters, Sam & Dean Winchester, and a demon child raised by American soldiers and scientists in the 40s who goes by the name Hellboy. Mike Mignoal’s creation has been in two feature films after many graphic novel appearances, and he’s also been animated. Available on Netflix, Hellboy: Blood and Iron is one of those animated adventures.

Courtesy New Line Cinema

Hellboy was summoned by the Nazis to win World War 2. Instead, he was found by Professor Trevor Bruttenholm and raised normally, or as normal as a boy can be when he’s red-skinned, bears a tail, and has a right hand that’s made of stone. Bruttenholm and others gathered around the boy, and formed the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, or BPRD. Today, the BPRD is a subsidiary of the government, and one of its government friends wants the BPRD to check out a supposedly haunted house. Despite the assignment apparently being a publicity stunt, Professor Bruttenholm convinces Hellboy and his friends Abe Sapien and Liz Sherman to accompany him to the house, saying nothing of his memories of a vampire hunt from his youth.

The style of the characters and their surroundings are most definitely inspired by Mignola’s dark graphic novels. Shadows are long, darkness is deep, and moments of horror are surprisingly chilling at times. That said, some of the animation feels a little choppy, even in comparison to some television series. The occasional dip in quality can strain the immersion of the audience, but it’s never enough to fully break it. Some of this can be chalked up to stylistic choices, and the overall quality of the presentation doesn’t suffer, but it’s enough to warrant a mention. Those more interested in the art composition than the story or characters may find it hard to ignore.

Courtesy New Line Cinema
Even vampires need a spa day.

However, I think most people interested in Hellboy: Blood & Iron would not be checking it out for its artwork. The appeal of Hellboy tales, regardless of their venue, lies in the characters. Hellboy himself has a down-to-earth attitude and general sense of snarky self-awareness that makes him very endearing and defies his demonic appearance. Abe works as an intellectual foil to “Big Red”‘s more straightforward “punch it until it behaves” mentality, Liz Sherman has a good relationship with the big guy, and for all of his strength and devil-may-care attitude, Hellboy pretty much dotes on Professor Broom. The fact that their film cast counterparts appear as voices is a huge help, as well: It’s hard to imagine Hellboy at this point being portrayed by anybody but Ron Perlman.

The other major pillar holding up this and many other tales of Hellboy is the storytelling. The tale is well-paced, operates several facets at once, and does not short-change any of its characters. Even minor roles are shaded to provide depth and nuance, the myths have a good feeling of authenticity, and the nature of the threat feels appropriate given the protagonists involved. I do want to avoid spoilers, but suffice it to say that whole the characters are the focus of the story, the story itself is still interesting enough to justify the film’s running time.

Courtesy New Line Cinema
They’re here to help. Believe it or else.

Stuff I Liked: I’m a sucker for myths of the old world, incarnations of old gods, and protagonists willing to punch both of them in the face. The diversity of the BPRD crew is appealing in and of itself. The multi-faceted nature of the threat is interesting, as wel.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: The artist kept adding what felt like an extra line to the noses of some characters. It was more an odd annoyance than anything else. Some of the animation felt a bit choppy.
Stuff I Loved: A fantastic cast of interesting characters voiced by talented people with good chemistry. That should sell it in and of itself, if you ask me.

Bottom Line: Hellboy: Blood & Iron is a story worthy of its predecessors. Its run time may be short, at just over an hour, but its packed with good character moments, a balanced mix of action and terror, and more than its share of humor. I would definitely recommend it.

Characters vs. Icons

Courtesy Marvel Studios

There’s another Marvel movie due out before the end of the summer. I’m cautiously optimistic about The Wolverine. Many (some might say all) of Logan’s most interesting stories come from his time in Japan, a time that has not happened in the films until now. I can understand why some might be trepidatious given the abyssmal misfire that was X-Men: Origins – Wolverine. But I keep coming back to Marvel’s track record, and the overall good quality of their recent films, and the more I see of the new film, the more I think they’re keeping with the mentality of better titles such as The Avengers and Iron Man 3. The key, I think, is the focus on characters, rather than events.

I’ve said in the past that Marvel’s heroes are characters, while DC’s heroes are icons. Other examples of the difference exist, but this one comes to mind most easily. Icons are mythological creatures, as much as gorgons and pegasi and kraken are, fulfilling their roles in epic tales and illustrating ideals to whatever audience happens to be handy. The tradition of using such constructs as a vehicle to move a story from beginning to middle to end is ancient and, for the most part, respectable, even if it is a bit simplistic at times.

It’s entirely possible to make your tale with icons. I’ve watched the Justice League animated series in both of its incarnations, and they were enjoyable, for the most part. But even as I watched Batman being generally awesome, Superman act upstanding and unstoppable, and applauded the valiant efforts to characterize and flesh out so-called second stringers like Hawkgirl and Green Arrow, I was bothered in that I was never really surprised by any character turns or plot points. It always felt like the characters were reacting to the plots involved and moving forward at the pace of the storyline rather than taking much time to be their own people. While a good story can still be told in this way, I find a lot more investment, enjoyment, and fulfillment comes from a tale that studies its characters rather than its outline.

Courtesy the WB. Or CW. I don't even know.

Take the television show Supernatural. The original plan was to create a “monster of the week” series involving all sorts of creatures born from folklore, myth, legend, and nightmares. But the creators quickly realized they had a much better resource for storytelling in the characters of Sam and Dean Winchester. Between the natural chemistry and charisma of the leads, the depth of the issues in the characters’ psyches and histories, and their connections to the world in which they operate, many more interesting developments have occurred over the course of eight seasons that might have been possible with the otherwise simplistic original intent of the series. Creatures like ghosts, vampires, and demons are, after all, iconic. Breaking them free of their iconic or stereotypical natures can be difficult. Even so, I doubt that the show would still be going if it focused on the iconic creatures and not the interesting, flawed, fascinating, hysterical, and very human characters at the center of it.

Do you prefer characters, or icons? Can a story function well with both? What examples do you reach for of either? Or both?

Flash Fiction: The Last Saloon

Courtesy Fotopedia

After an unfortunate false start last night, I re-rolled for Chuck’s flash fiction challenge “Another Roll of the Dice“. The new rolls gave me the “Grindhouse” genre, with the elements “a troublesome dog” and “a hidden compartment”.


The road stretched out into the inky darkness, pierced only by the headlights of the purring 1960 DeSoto Adventurer plunging into it. Deke knew he had to get out of town, and fast, before the law came down hard on him. It didn’t matter that the bullets they took out of the poor guy were all silver; they’d see it as murder, not the supernatural pest control that it was. Still, a wife (well, widow now) and kids were safe, as was their town, and they’d never have to fear a full moon again.

Zeke perked up from his place in the passenger seat, looking out the window. Deke put his foot on the brake, just a little.

“What is it, boy?”

Zeke’s tail thumped the leather seat, and he began to pant. He was excited by something. Long years on the road had taught Deke to trust the bull terrier’s instincts, and he pulled into the saloon parking lot. The Adventurer rattled to a stop, and Deke stepped out, followed quickly by the dog. Deke looked down at Zeke, his hands on his hips.

“Can I count on you to stay on the porch?”

Zeke cocked his head to one side.

“Yeah… I thought so. Just don’t be a menace, okay? Be nice.”

Zeke responded with a short, upbeat bark.

Inside, the saloon was lit mostly with neon lights. Pool balls clacked on their table in one corner. Deke found an empty table near the back wall and sat where he could see the rest of the saloon. His waitress, tall and curvy with long dark hair, walked up moments later.

“Get you something to drink, sugar?”

“A cold bottle of beer, miss, if you don’t mind.” He put a few bills on the table, and she took them to the bar. Deke had to pull his eyes away from what her hips were doing to focus on the rest of the saloon. His thumbs tapped the buckle of his belt idly, and he took a deep breath.

You’re just keyed up from the werewolf fight. Calm down. It could just be a seedy bar.

He heard the bikes outside moments before the riders entered. Three men, all broad-shouldered under their leather jackets, and a woman walked right up to the bar. Deke’s waitress returned, and he could see her smile was a bit less natural this time.

“What’s your name?”

“Rachel.”

Deke smiled. “That’s a good and lovely name, for a good and lovely lady. Rachel, what can you tell me about the foursome that just walked in?”

Rachel glanced nervously at the bar. “It’s best if you don’t ask.”

Deke leaned forward. “If it’s trouble, I might be able to help.”

Rachel took another glance, then leaned over to whisper to Deke. He tried to ignore how she looked.

“They tore up a lawman who came ’round here a few months ago. All he did was ask about a few missing person cases. Next thing you know…”

She shook, visibly. Deke laid his hand on her wrist, the silver rings on his first and third fingers catching the neon lights.

“Outside there’s a white DeSoto. I want you to go and open the passenger side door, then the glove compartment. Don’t do anything else, and do not get in the car. Do you understand?”

“Not… really.”

He smiled. “It will be all right. Just trust me.”

“Rachel!” The bartender’s bellow was unpleasant. “Flirt on your own time!”

Biting her lip, Rachel nodded at Deke, then dropped off her tray as she said she was taking a break. Deke watched the bikers more closely. The moon was still full, and their arrival was on physical vehicles. That narrowed the possibilities considerably. He finished his beer, stood, and approached the bar to hear what was being said.

“I’m telling you,” the female biker was saying to the bartender, “now that the furball’s gone, there’s nothing to stop us now. His territory’s ours for the taking.”

Deke whispered a quick prayer, then tapped the closest biker on the shoulder. “Pardon me.”

The burly man whirled, clearly ready for a fight. Deke’s fingers flicked the clasp of the hidden compartment on his belt, and the vial dropped into his hand. His thumb popped the tiny cork, and a snap of his wrist put the contents in the biker’s face. The hissing was immediate, and the biker fell back, screaming.

“Holy water,” the woman said, looking Deke up and down. He smiled, and he heard Zeke barking outside.

“I had a feeling. You lot always squabble with werewolves over good hunting grounds.”

She lunged for him, and he stepped back, but not far enough to avoid having his shirt clawed open. His silver cross spilled out into the air, and the trio still standing stepped back. Zeke bounded into the bar, grabbing one of the bikers by the ankle in his powerful jaws. Deke grabbed a nearby chair and smashed it against the bar. The one unfettered male biker came at him, fangs out, a deadly undead missile. Years of training and less than favorable scraps put Deke on his back, a shard of wood aiming up. The improvised stake found its target and the biker rolled away, grabbing the wood protruding from his chest.

“Zeke! Fire!”

The dog let go of the ravaged throat of his victim and shot outside. The female hissed, stalking Deke as he stood.

“You won’t leave here alive, holy man.”

“Who said I was alive in the first place?” Deke pulled at the hole in his shirt, showing the scars across his chest. “One of your kind killed me a long time ago. God brought me back to make sure your kind never rules the earth.”

“I’ll send you back to your god right now.”

Zeke returned, a can of lighter fluid in his jaws, his tail wagging. Deke smiled, producing his matches.

“Ma’am, with all due respect, I think you’ll be getting to where you’re going first.”

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