They walked into the living room of a movie director.
At least, it looked like the interior of a movie director’s house in Los Angeles: white tiled floor, white leather couches, glass and chrome accents, plain white walls. Beyond a sliding glass door, a black-haired angel with large gray wings and white gi pants leaned on a chrome rail while looking out on a red sky.
Lucifer turned his face. “Come in, lads,” he said.
While Asmodeus walked out to the balcony, Freddie stayed behind near the sliding glass door, more for observational reasons than out of fear. Lucifer turned, tucking his wings in such a way that it seemed hard to believe they had any large span. Leaning on one elbow, he said, “Asmodeus, is this your newest scam? Bringing me Freddie Mercury? No offense.”
“He came to me, actually. I figured it was one of your schemes.”
“Seems we have ourselves an anomaly,” Lucifer said. “Freddie, you look like you’d rather be back home.”
Before Freddie could say anything, Asmodeus said, “He wants to give a concert.”
Lucifer gave the demon a look. “He does, or you do?”
“I do,” Freddie said. “For you. Whatever you’d like to hear.”
Asmodeus almost looked like a puppy the way his face changed so quickly.
“Come here, Freddie,” Lucifer said. “Asmodeus, go play or something.”
The demon looked absolutely dejected.
Freddie walked to the railing, looking out over what looked like any city on Earth: buildings, skyscrapers, even houses further out. Except all covered in blood, with a soundtrack of screams. How could these souls be mobilized? They were going to have to leave it to Lucifer.
“Listen,” Lucifer said. “I was supposed to build this place out of frustration of being out of God’s sight. That means my rules apply. It’s like I was allowed to create my own version of the Matrix for all these souls.” Freddie looked at him. “Right, you’ve never seen that movie. Let me explain this simply: I’m in charge of how this world works, not God. I realize this place is punishment; that’s why I left most of it to my fellow fallen angels. But here? You are a reflection of your sin. You killed someone? You have to kill someone everyday here, only you get to hear their story first before you kill them. So you can learn something from your time here. I create the world for them to take their punishment. Does this make sense?”
“This also means that I can give them a ‘day off,’ so to speak. I also would absolutely love to see you sing. Do you still have your singing voice? I know some people lose it when they get down here.”
“Good. Now. I’ll make you a deal. You give this concert. I’ll provide the band, and make sure they’re just like playing with Queen. You sing all the songs I want. In fact, I’m considering you singing all of them. I haven’t decided yet. I’ll decide if you get to go back home or not. Don’t think that a good concert will guarantee that.”
“Perhaps you’d like to be my manager if I get back home?”
“Let me ponder. Now, I suppose that if Asmodeus brought you here, he’s got a coup on his mind. He’s done this before, and it never works. He likes to think he’s hot shit.” Lucifer chuckled. It seemed very human.
Freddie crossed his arms. Oh dear.
“Come back here,” Asmodeus said, waving Freddie to the room behind the bedroom. The demon snapped, and the choral music came back on while a small herd of skinny bodies shuffled out of the room and promptly jumped out of the windows. The line started shuffling forward, people jumping from alternate windows.
The room was made of smooth stones, and bare except for two deck chairs and a large panoramic window looking out over a vast desert. “Please, sit,” Asmodeus said.
Freddie sat on the windowsill. The stone was cool under his ass.
“So,” Asmodeus said as he pulled a white chair over to face him. It was one of those old plastic deck chairs, with the annoying straps across the seat and back. “Tell me: why do you want to see Lucifer?”
For a moment, Freddie thought about telling him it was none of his business, but he didn’t feel like getting defensive. “I’d like to get out of here, darling.”
“I can do that.”
“How do you plan on that happening?”
“If you can get the souls to help me overthrow him, I can take over and let you leave.”
Freddie looked out over Asmodeus’s little slice of Hell. Doesn’t he ever get bored of this, or does he just want the power? Both, probably. There was no chance of Freddie getting out if Asmodeus was in charge, but it was all he had right now. “So what’s your idea, then?”
“Do to him what you just did here. Sing them to rebellion against Lucifer so I can take over. I take charge, you get to go home. All are happy. Well, except for the souls still down here, of course.”
He figured that was the plan, but looked out over the desert to look like he was thinking about it.
“We can leave to Lucifer’s realm any time you like,” the demon said. “Or, if you’d like a little fun before we head out, we–”
Freddie looked at him. Asmodeus’s smile faded. He looked back out over the desert, thinking of songs to sing that would get him out of Hell. None of them were his, or the band’s.
He felt sorry for Asmodeus. In life, he used to act like this demon, all these bodies everywhere, pleasure nowhere. But Asmodeus was made for this place, made not to love, but to lust constantly and take pleasure in pain. All Freddie used to do was make music out of pain, and he still ended up here. Even if he went back to the way things were, it was still better than here. At least he’d found love before all this death, even if it was fleeting. He’d seen the world and wanted to go back to it.
“Does Lucifer know you’re trying to overthrow him?”
“What demon isn’t trying to overthrow Lucifer? That old dog just wants to see God again. God can have him if he wants.”
“Fair enough. Let’s go.”
And with a snap of fingers, they were in Lucifer’s realm.
I get flack from people about being a Pittsburgh fan. “Shitsburgh.” “What’s there do in that town?” “That place sucks.”
This week over at the Clarion Blog, alumni are sharing their 5 things they learned at the workshop. I have had a couple of friends query me on what it’s like and if they should apply and the only thing I can say is YES. DO IT. Because when they ask me what it’s like, I can’t really describe it. It will change your whole life: from your process, to how you look at the industry, even to how you live outside of your writing life.
1. Even if you’re not really a sprinter, you really can do it every so often. I hesitated applying for Clarion, only because short stories aren’t my strong suit. I don’t tend to write a lot of them (except for yearly projects). I’m more of a marathoner with novel-writing. But for 6 weeks, I went to town on writing new stories and looking at a couple of old things with new eyes. Don’t be afraid to write a short story, even if you feel like it’s not really your thing. Trust me on this.
2. Writing pretty is fine. It’s when you get too abstract that’s the problem. As a poet who writes fiction, I was a little scared as to how my stories would be read. There were points when I wrote some great stuff, but then I’d get too poetic on the page and would leave people cold. If you’re going to be literal, be literal. Sometimes just plain English works.
3. Read the stories over and over and over again. And when you get up before workshop, read them again. When I’m critiquing, I like to read stories over and over again, because I’ll get something different every time (except for flash fiction, but that’s different, you know?), and most of the time I miss things. My first read will always be for “enjoyment,” or at least getting an idea from a reader’s perspective what I liked and didn’t. Then I’ll go into deeper readings after that. Try to get as much out of the story (good and bad) as you possibly can.
4. Just because you’re a funny person doesn’t mean you can write funny stories. I like to make people laugh, and love to riff with other people about funny things. That doesn’t translate so well when it comes to writing humor in fiction. For me, it comes out forced. The funny moments are great when you aren’t thinking about it.
5. When you miss your friends, you’re doing the right thing. I was getting texts from my friends while they were out and about having a fabulous time back in Vegas without me, and my 29 year-old butt actually got homesick. It was horrible. But then I thought, “This is what I want to do. My friends will be there when I get back.” And I write everything about Vegas, so why not take that feeling and turn it into a story?
If you’re thinking about it, you have just over a month to apply– they’re taking applications until March 1st. GO. DO IT.