“Black Angels” started with a picture and a memory, of a statue in an Iowa City graveyard. The rest came to me as I was daydreaming on my commute home from work one day. The statue from the story really does exist, in an Iowa City cemetery. Every freshman learns about it while attending the University of Iowa. The Black Angel is spooky. Especially at night…
Huge thanks to editor David Niall Wilson, who gave me great pointers on the story with the intention of publishing it in an anthology all about vampire cockroaches (long story there!), but the anthology sadly died an early death, and my story was left abandoned. So I put it in my own book.
“Black Angels” first appeared in my story collection from Prime Books, Gunning for the Buddha, which came out from Prime Books in January 2005. It was named an Honorable Mention story in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, volume 19. You can read the whole story at Flames Rising.
In an abandoned graveyard on the outskirts of a small Midwestern city, on his ninety-seventh birthday, a slender man stood in front of a slab of concrete and wished for death. He pulled the hood of his gray coat tighter around his head, hiding his unlined face. Tomorrow the workers would tear out the slab, all that remained of the obsolete cemetery. He stood in front of the statue’s base as the sun turned the cloudy sky red, then purple. All too well he knew the legends surrounding the statue that had once rested on this slab, but that had not kept him from returning for a final visit to the Black Angel.
In the center of the block of cracked concrete, three inches of blackened copper remained, in the shape of bare feet. There, on the outside of what had once been the left foot of the statue, were three tiny white marks. Fingerprints.
The ninety-seven-year-old man reached out and, for the second time in his life, he touched the Black Angel.
Tom Arneson was betting he could get Mercy to the cemetery by telling her the story of the Angel. And unlike his run of bad luck in the past two years, he was positive this bet would pay off for him.
“It came to Iowa City from France,” he said, his voice quivering from a mixture of excitement, nerves, and need. He handed Mercy a beer and stuffed three cans into his jacket. “Took a team of four horses to deliver it to Oakland Cemetery, back in 1911. And get this — the statue had started out white, but it turned black during its first Halloween in the cemetery.”
Mercy gave Tom a long look as she pulled on her leather jacket. Having met her only two days ago, Tom didn’t know her well enough to really understand what that look meant. And after tonight, he would never get another chance to learn its meaning.
You want to go there,” Mercy said. It wasn’t a question. “Tonight.”
“You got it,” Tom grinned.
* * * * *
Read the rest of the story at Flames Rising.