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Hellblazer: Canary in a Coal Mine

It was a misty day outside, and John Constantine couldnt see a damn
thing. No rolling hills, no quaint valley towns, no bloody sheep. As the
carriage rattled and swayed, carrying him through the grey haze that
marked the invisible Welsh countryside, he felt like he was on a train to
nowhere. The carriage was half-full of nobodies, doing nothing, going
nowhere. The only sign of life was some badly scrawled graffiti on the
wall, saying nothing. The conductor had taken his ticket and his fag in
disgust, then taken his second fag and threatened to kick him off in the
middle of un-fucking-pronounceable, all double Ls and spittle. So he
wasnt in the best of moods already, and he hadnt even arrived yet.
He kicked his feet back on the seat in front and tried to doze through it,
highly aware of the pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket. He couldnt
sleep, but snored loudly anyway to fool the conductor and make everyone
else on the carriage hate him. Welcome to my world. He thought. Dont
let the door hit you on the way out.
He had his first fag in his mouth before the doors had even opened on
Cardiff station, and he gave the conductor a cheeky wink before lighting
up. His first breath of fine Welsh air was delicious. So was the second. He
had to have a couple of smokes before he felt able to continue, and only
when fully fumigated did he hail the cab. It was raining, and the city
centre was obscured behind the drizzle on the taxi window. Still nowhere.
So you visiting family then mate?
Nah, business.
Oh yeah, youre gunna love Splott. Estate agents call it Splow, of course.
The cabby did his best impression of a posh accent.
Full of Victorian elegance and charm, innit.
It was a shithole. He didnt expect anything else. Rows and rows of
uniform, terraced houses full of screaming babies and shrill voices
screaming back. Bikes and toys littered the street they arrived at, some
with and some without children attached. Housewives in floral aprons
smoked on the doorsteps, watching him take his suitcase out the boot
while occasionally making a minimal effort to mind their wandering, sticky
toddlers.
The house before him was like any other in the row, but he would wager
that the occupants were unlike anyone else in the world. Before he could
raise his hand to knock on the door it swung open, and a young woman
gestured him inside with that petulant look only the newly teenaged could
produce. She looked no older than fourteen, and another small girl clung
to the bottom of her skirts, hand in mouth.
Inside the living room the whole family was gathered around the telly,
watching some political broadcast. No-one seemed surprised to see John,

nor inclined to greet him. After a few awkward seconds a man came out
the kitchen brandishing a spatula and a broad smile.
John! Johnny boy, come in. Abbu, dinners ready. He threw some food at a
grey-haired old man, who mumbled something in thanks while the
fourteen-year-old helped him sit up.
Dont bother us now, me and Johnny boy got some work to do.
They locked out the noise and bustle of the family and sat smoking in the
garden. A portable TV propped up on the garden table showed various
politicians in various states of distress.
Mo, its good to see you.
Mo smiled, scratched his wiry black beard and shrugged.
Its good you came. I wasnt sure you would, but I could hear you coming
all the way from London.
He winked at John and tugged on one of his ears. They were larger than
average, slightly pointy and curved. At the back of the garden were what
looked like stacked rabbit hutches, but the mesh was fine gauze and every
so often a big, bulbous crimson bug would land on the netting.
Disgusting, arent they?
Constantine shrugged. Hed seen worse, as magical creatures go, but
there was a special place in hell for insects.
Know your enemy, John. There is nothing on this earth that could kill my
Noor back there, such a good girl, except the blood of these creatures.
They are the last ones left.
So why keep them? Why not just squash them all and be done with it?
Mo laughed and shook his head.
Johnny boy, they did not ask for this, they are innocents. Just another of
Gods creatures, and they dont deserve death for that. Know your enemy,
John. In this case, to give in to fear and take innocent life, no matter how
small... then who is your enemy?
Well at least you know where they are.
Indeed. They are the last of their kind, just as we were the last of ours.
Were?
Were.
Mo stubbed out his cigarette and turned to face John fully.
We got a problem with Maggie.
Yeah, havent we all.
No, not like that. He gestured to the TV where the Prime Minister was
giving a speech. Video reels of angry miners with placards played.
Fucking Thatcher, ranting on and on about the mines closing. Fair pay for
all, and fair living, plus freedom from an angry, choking death.
Surely one of the better things shes done, innit? I mean, give the girl a
medal like, because who wants to die down a dirty hole anyway?
Except.
Except?
Except now theres no-one down there to keep watch. The old magicks
need a perceiver, an onlooker, a believer. No-one these days gives a shit

about those men down in those holes, but they will once they discover
they needed them all along. They were a living wall, a human boundary
that never let down its vigil. My God, John, this makes King Arthur Scargill
here a bloody saint.
John furrowed his brows, remembering all the things hes seen that lived
deep beneath the earth. He couldnt remember many that needed such a
strong barrier though, one that needed the pumping blood of living men to
keep it effective. Humanity, for all its faults, was in many ways more
magical than any of the other supernatural creatures. Especially when
used as an ingredient, rather than as the cook. Adding human to a spell
was like adding the dash of salt needed to finish a dish, or the roux behind
the sauce. That is, if the salt was laced with cocaine and the roux was
pure hellfire. Cooking with humans wasnt easy; it took a special someone
to get the right results. These miners had no idea that their main purpose
was no different, and no more important, than that of the canaries they
once kept on site.
So... what is it?
You dont know?
Constantine shrugged.
Thats okay, you dont need to know. You just need to seal it up again
before it gets out.
There was a scratching sound from the fence, and a panting.
Oi, stop it! Gerroutofityalilbastard!
A tall, white dog raised its head on the other side of the fence and cocked
its reddish ears at this.
Fuck off, you litt-
And it was gone.
God damn it, I swear. I think thats the neighbours new dog, gotta have a
word with him about it. Wont leave me alone for a second. Bit like the
neighbours, really. Probably taught the dog to go for blacks.
Constantine didnt have to think hard to imagine how it must be being the
only brown guy with a funny name on the street. It was hard to be black in
a community that came home from work in the pit covered head to toe in
pitch black coal dust that never quite came off. It was hard having a funny
name in Wales, the Holy Roman Empire of funny fucking names. The world
just didnt make sense sometimes, but that was probably for the best.
After all, it would be far worse if humanity actually gave a damn.
Constantine knew from experience that evil was best served with a slice of
moral bigotry.
John sighed and pushed his chair back, rolling up his sleeves.
Right, lets get to it then.
+

Constantine stood on the hilltop overlooking the mine entrance, his coat
flapping in the wind. It was deserted. With a massive march happening in
London the mine was closed. He has taken the train again, this time north
out of the city and into the valleys.
He sighed and pulled on his I heart Cymru baseball cap, hung Mos
borrowed camera around his neck and began to walk down to meet the
security guard.
Oh, Hi, er...
Fuck off.
The man didnt look up from his paper.
Mines closed.
Well, you see, Im from London, jus sightseeing like... He pointed to his
cap and raised his camera to take a photo of the guards surly face.
Bugger off, I said were closed. John was sure he heard him mutter
something else under his breath, something that was surely a kind and
insightful comment about the English.
John cocked his head and put on a grin that stretched from ear to ear. If
the old cons dont work, its time to pull out the big guns. Before the guard
could turn the page John punched him smack dab in the middle of his
face.
Arg, damn, god...
This only served to break the guys nose and send him into a rage. As it
happens, its actually quite hard to knock out a man with a punch,
especially if youre the kind of bloke used to slithering out of situations
with a glib tongue without ever needing to resort to violence.
Well, fuck.
Constantine ran. He vaulted the short fence into the mine area but caught
his trailing coat on the top wire. Shrugging it off and looking behind him,
he was already well ahead of the stunned guard, who seemed more likely
to phone for backup than actually get up off his chubby arse. A pity then,
as thanks to some interference from Mos sonic abilities, his radio would
never broadcast to anyone else. Despite being miles away in Cardiff, his
sense of sound and control of radio waves was so precise, like the
accuracy in the wings of a hunting hawk, he could pluck sounds from the
air and manipulate them like a true artisan.
He did what now? John, hiding behind a cheap plywood hut, couldnt help
smiling hearing Mo impersonate a police officer.
Yeah some crazy twll tin with a hat had a go at me.
Ah... Yes. We have had reports that an escaped mental patient is in the
area that matched your description. Do not approach him, we will send
someone over. Hes mostly harmless if you see him again just give him a
fag and hell be as good as gold.
This was enough to appease the guard who went back to his paper, but
this time locked in his guardhouse, either unwilling to share his smokes
with the crazy twll tin or scared of what might happen if he didnt have

any. He was probably just glad that it was now someone elses problem.
John mused on Mos choice of words, and a voice whispered in his ear like
smoke curling from a candle flame.
Remember Johnny boy, I can hear everything. Now dont mess up again.
John just shrugged at this, a gesture which was carried by the wind.
The entrance to the mine was easy to find with the map he had in his
trouser pocket. He was expecting damp, dark and narrow crevasses but
what greeted him instead at the end of the elevator was a high, brightly lit
tunnel complete with sign boards, coat hooks and a break room off to the
side. This was the main tunnel, which circled the majority of the mine. No
doubt the working tunnels were much smaller and less level. But he didnt
need to go that far, this was the boundary right here. He assumed that
whatever was being kept here was somewhere in the centre, down
another elevator shaft.
He buttoned up his sleeves and took out the razor blade from his wallet.
Without a sound, he made a cut into his palm. Walking slowly around the
central shaft, holding his bloody arm with his hand, making sure every last
drop that landed in the dirt connected with another. In some ways, he
supposed he could take it as a compliment. Its not everyone who has
blood equal to an entire workforce of miners. Then again, not everyone
had a demons taint running through their veins. After a while, the cut ran
dry, and he made a new one slightly higher, closer to his wrist. Only a few
drops were reaching the ground. It was surprising how little blood you
really needed to make a magic circle.
When he reached the end he looked back over his handiwork. It was more
of a wavy oval than a true circle, but itll do. He hated this next part more
than cutting his own hand open.
Duo vermes duo dracones sunt.
He fumbled with the piece of paper Mo had given him with the correct
incantation.
Vermis uhh... Vermis rufus draco tuus est et stagnum figura huius mundi
est.
Fuck his fucking handwriting.
At ille albus draco illius gentis, quae occupavit gentes et regiones
plurimas in Brittannia.
His blood, once a fresh crimson, had turned first a milky pink, and finally
white like spilt milk. He touched it with the palm of his hand. The dripping
cut mixed colours with the white for a split second, and then it was gone.
Not a trace left of white or red. But he could feel it. It was his blood after
all. He sighed, and walked back to the exit.
Right, time for a pint.
He got back into the elevator cage, and slammed the scissor gate behind
him.
Maybe if I act crazy enough I can scab a fag from that security guard too.

Leaning back onto the metal grate he began to wrap up his hand with a
bandage he borrowed from the miners first aid box. The shadows and
light played over his skin, until the electric lights disappeared down the
shaft and instead, the faint light of the dreary day above illuminated his
face in the darkness.
+
Mo had probably heard his success from afar, he had heard nothing from
him since the mineshaft. The coast looked clear then to find a cheap hotel
and get some much-needed rest. His muscles were crying out from
walking miles under the earth, and the loss of blood didnt help either. No,
he needed to replenish lost fluids and nutrients. A pint and some chips
coming up, then.
He found a local pub which offered decent, edible food and a live rugby
match. He settled down in the corner, as far away from the ruckus around
the TV screen as he could manage, and shrouded himself in smoke.
There was already a haze around the bar, but through the mist something
gleamed. A crimson spark of light unaffected by the fading gloom. A
bloody vision appeared among the grey and dreary ghosts. The red light
of a burning cigarette, nicotine and musky perfume.
Is this seat taken?
Constantine shrugged, and the apparition sat at his table and turned into
a woman.
You look far away, hon.
Her red lipstick formed these words while she stole a burning hot chip off
his plate. She was older than him, into her late forties maybe, but she still
had it. It, whatever it was, was something that had only improved with her
age, he was sure. But she was hungry. A fire burned behind her eyes, and
all he could think of what that she was the only real living creature in this
place. Hell, he even questioned his own grasp onto life when staring into
those deep, depthless eyes.
Oh, fuck. He thought.
Yeah well, I am far away.
Ooh, a Londoner? My, how exotic. She blew smoke up into the air in a
curling arch.
My names Rhiannon, and your names John.
He smiled.
Good guess.
Its no guess, hon, I know a John when I see one. She reached out and
drank from his half-empty pint glass, downing it all. When she finished she
took another drag from her cigarette and smile mischievously as smoke
curled from her nostrils.
Did you want to order another?
Nah.

Well then, lets go. She stood up in a flurry, cutting the hanging smog
with her red dress and even redder hair. He took her hand and let her lead
him.
+
When he woke up next morning, she was already gone. He had vague
memories of a fading dream. He was blowing a large horn, and as he blew
the sound ricochet over the hills and stripped the flesh from anyone who
could hear it. No, not everyone. Only his friends.
Her room was simple, with barely any decorations or furnishings. The only
thing of hers that he could see in the entire apartment was her dress lying
over the end of the bed. Even the fridge was empty. With the possibility
that this wasnt even her house hanging over his head, he pulled on his
clothes and made his way out. Hed skip breakfast, say goodbye to Mo
and head straight for Englands green and pleasant lands.
It wasnt that simple. Things were never that simple. He had pushed open
the slightly ajar front door, he had moved gingerly across the gorestridden carpet, he had passed the desiccated corpses of Mos father and
family, and he now stood next to his friend as he lay face-down in the
garden. There was a slight hissing sound, and a bloody red bug crawled
from his ear. John stamped on it. And stamped again, and again, long after
he knew it was dead. Until he couldnt feel his foot.
Mohammed Shirani Sheikh was Mucuous Membranes number one fan, he
never came to see a concert and yet he never missed a single one. He
and Constantine struck it up after Mo let on that he was a Coraniaid. Being
the cock-sure bastard he was back then, he was proud to gather a group
of supernatural roadies, with Mo as their leader. Of course, with his betterthan-average hearing he knew early on that Constantine dabbled, shall we
say, in occult material.
And now he was dead. Of course he was dead, he was a friend of John
Constantine. And, disgustingly, he was now melting into a purplish ooze.
Not eager to give the Welsh Police more ammunition to stalk immigrant
communities (Theyre bloody purple, its just not right) he began to
bundle his friend and his family into some bin liners. He was hours into his
work before he realised that the little girl - what was her name again?
was not among the dead.
Alright I know you can hear me, wherever you are. He whispered. No
need to be scared, its just Uncle John.
A million tiny voices screamed in his ears.
Im NOT going back there.
Alri-
NO.
The airwaves went dead.

Just stay safe, kid. Listen, go to the train station, and Ill meet you there
when I can.
No answer. Well, at least she was alive.
Someone knew the one way that Mos family could be killed, and one day
after he did the binding ceremony. Fuck fuck fuck. He should have been
more prepared, and this never would have happened. Would it? Maybe. At
least now he can sit down and do his homework, and sort out this mess. It
wasnt like the death of yet another friend would send him over the edge
into some kind of raging bender now, was it?
+
He struggled to his feet and laughed as the rush went to his head.
Oi, watchit mate.
Oh s-sorry, so sorry, aha
He pushed his way through the rugby crowd and slammed himself down
onto his corner table, trying to place his fifth pint carefully on the
beermat, and failing. Watching it trickle off the table sadly, a familiar voice
assaulted his ears.
You look like youre having fun, hon. She was wearing the same dress.
He smiled at her and signalled to the bartender for two more.
I am now.
She loved to drink. He had a hunch she might do. This was just what he
needed after a day shovelling purple shit into bags. What should he do
with it anyway? What do Muslims even do with their dead monsters? He
decided the answer would come after another drink.
She was giggly, tipsy and all smiles when he ordered then a cab and
slipped the driver a twenty.
Are we heading back to your place this time?
Nah, yours again love.
She just smiled more and lounged like a happy cat against his shoulder,
drifting. He could drift too, but now wasnt the time. She slept for hours
before the sudden stop of the taxi and the cold air outside jolted her out of
her reverie.
Hmm, hon, are we-
Cmon, theres a good girl this way.
They stumbled out like drunken lovers, and as he passed through the wire
gate he flashed the old security guard a smile and a wink. The guard
groaned and held his head in his hands, but didnt say anything.
Wher Where are we, hon?
Why, your place, my love.
No no silly She giggles. This is is
And the penny dropped. Luckily though, she was drunker than she
thought. He had tipped the bartender handsomely to lace her beer with
some 80 proof brandy.

YOU John Constantine are a naughty man. She slurred, not keeping
it together well. He had hoped for that, but hadnt anticipated that she
wouldnt be able to keep it ALL together. A slithery, scale-tipped tail
wrapped itself around his leg. She giggled again.
I will trip you then rip you, hon
Alright girl thats enough
He manoeuvred them into the mineshaft elevator.
I will fuck you up Con- Consta- John.
He used all his willpower not to fall head first into the alcohol in his
system. She knew his name, he knew, because she had been there. The
thing he was meant to bind, but on the wrong side of the seal.
When the elevator landed he kicked the dirt on the floor until the red,
slithering creature he was escorting could move through the invisible
barrier.
What a waste of blood he thought as he performed the ritual again, with
drunk dragon tied sleeping to a minecart. He had to hurry, her true form
was apparently much larger than a small human body, and new ligaments
and muscles were ripping through her tiny red dress. As he looked back,
the last of her shredded clothes caught fire, and steam rose from her
nostrils. As he turned back, blood flowing from his arm, he heard her roar.
I guess enough booze to make a human female blackout isnt enough to
keep an angry dragon sedated.
He neednt have worried, however. He completed the circle and stood on
the other side as she howled and thrashed and tore through her bonds.
She hurled big gouts of flame at him, but it only curled around the solid
barrier. Unable to speak anymore, she just roared and screamed.
After tending to his cut arm as best he could, he watched on with pity. Too
many of his old lovers were dead. I guess she will be one of the lucky
ones. He lent forward, and lit his cigarette in the flames in front of him.
Well, youre still good for something love.
He moved back to the elevator and punched the buttons to get him the
hell out of there. But in a sudden flash of memory for his lost friend, he
added.
I hope you rot, you alcoholic murdering bitch.
Two dragons, one red and proud and native, and one white, the invader,
foreign and cruel. They fought, they drank, and they succumbed to the
earth. Only this time, the white dragon walked free and got a taxi back to
the station. Out of the window, he blew billowing plumes of smoke.
+
As he waited for his train, a small hand took his. He looked down at the
tear-stained face of Mos daughter.
You dont want to come with me.
Yeah, I do.
Listen, kid, people around me, they

I heard what you did to the dragon. And Im not a kid, Im fifteen.
Constantine shrugged. He could find someone to drop her off with, its
true that it would be tricky letting her go with social services what with
her condition. He heard sobs.
And my name is Noor. She wiped her runny nose on the sleeve of her
jilbab, but thats all she was able to say before crying overcame her.
Noor, eh? Noor Shirani Sheikh Its a strong name, I like it.
The train pulled up to the platform, and two people got on, holding hands
tightly.

Trivia:
-

The title comes from a song by The Police, whose leader singer Sting
was the physical inspiration for Constantines looks.
The Coraniaid were one of three plagues upon Wales in the myth of Lludd

and Llefelys. Triad 36 of the Welsh Triads also adds that they came from
Asia.
The dog is a Cn Annwn hellhound as described in Welsh lore, with red

ears.
In the Historia Brittonum, the red dragon is subdued by making it drunk
with mead and throwing it into a deep pit.

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