Oracle of Philadelphia
Earthbound Angels –
Carrie works at a diner in South Philadelphia, dispensing advice to humans and angels wise
enough to seek her counsel. But there are some problems that even the best advice can’t solve.
Her latest supplicant, Sebastian, is unique among those who have sought her aid. He sold his soul
to a demon in exchange for his sister’s life, but his heart remains pure.
Carrie has lived for millennia with the knowledge that her immortality is due to the suffering of
others, and she cannot bear to see another good man damned when it is within her power to
In order to renegotiate his contract, Carrie must travel into the depths of hell and parley with the
demons that control its pathways. As the cost of her journey rises, Carrie must determine how
much she is willing to sacrifice to save one good soul.
I felt the mob turn on me, and I tried to flee. I didn’t make it more than a few feet before a
pair of strong hands grabbed me and pulled me back. I wrested my arms away, but as I felt the
first grasp weaken, another villager took hold and twisted me back to face the crowd.
I struggled, but soon the townsfolk had me surrounded, the throng a dozen people thick in
all directions, each soul eager to land at least one blow on my body. A dozen fists assaulted me,
and as each hit, the thoughts of the assailant echoed through my mind.
I wrapped my hands around my middle, anxious to protect the child growing in my
womb. Even as I made the effort, I knew that the assembly would not cease their attack until long
after my death, a release I was no longer sure the gods could grant me.
The first stone struck my temple, and a trickle of blood dripped down my face. I turned
instinctively to see from what direction it came, but even as I did, I felt another rock hit me from
behind. I fell to my knees, unable to stand under the bevy of fists and stones pummeling me. I
looked up to see a large rock descending toward me. I closed my eyes and prayed it might grant
me the peace of unconsciousness.
I sat up straight in bed, a scream dying on my lips as I realized I was in the small
apartment I kept over my diner. I took a deep breath and tried to slow my racing pulse. No matter
how many centuries I put between myself and that rabid crowd, that dream scared me like
I ran my fingers through my sweat-soaked black hair and glanced at the clock on the table
next to the bed. The glowing LED display and first hints of sunshine peeking through my
windows informed me it was almost time for me to get up. I reached a shaking hand out to turn
off the alarm and got out of bed.
I walked to the bathroom and leaned on the sink. I met the gaze of my large brown eyes
in the mirror. The bags underneath them didn’t look too bad. The light brown skin of my face
seemed a little pale, but I was sure a hot shower would fix that right up.
And sure enough, by the time I put on my skirt and cardigan and blow-dried my curls, I
looked like my old self.
The wooden steps creaked as I hurried down them into the main body of the diner. I
flipped the switch and watched as the fluorescent lights flickered to life across the room. The
diner wasn’t much to look at, an ell-shaped room lined with booths with dented metal tables and
teal vinyl benches.
I conducted most of the affairs of the restaurant from behind the silver counter, which
was lined in front with four round teal stools. Or at least I did when I was fully staffed and not
trying to act as manager and waitstaff.
I pushed open the swinging metal doors to the diner’s kitchen. I sorted through the bread
on the shelves and pulled out an English muffin and put it in the toaster. As I waited for it to heat
up, the bell above the front door rang, and a few minutes later, my cook Dwayne stepped into the
“Hi, Carrie.” He pulled the white apron off the hook by the door and put it over his head.
“Do you want me to make you something?”
“Nope. I’m good.” I pointed toward the toaster, which obligingly popped out my
She never lets me make her anything, he thought. I cringed at his disappointment.
Dwayne was a nice guy, but I hired him more because of his desperation for employment than
because of his exemplary skills as a cook. Despite my rejection, he seemed to be in good spirits.
I could tell.
People had asked me any number of times what my power felt like, and I never quite
knew how to describe it. Souls had an aura coming off them, but I could see the light even with
my eyes closed. I felt emotions against my skin like a temperature, but the sensations were more
than just hot or cold.
And I could hear other people’s thoughts.
After I finished my breakfast, I went back into the diner and flipped the sign to “Open.”
As I walked back to the counter, the bell above the door chimed, and I turned to see Madame
Zarita bustle in. The plump woman had strode into my diner a few years ago and claimed that
my recently deceased psychic had spoken to her from beyond the grave and insisted that she
come to my aid. After learning that Madame Zarita devoured the obituary section of the
Philadelphia Inquirer with a voraciousness that most people reserved for Thanksgiving dinners,
I suspected that my last spiritualist’s recent write-up had more to do with Madame Zarita’s
arrival than any supernatural intervention.
But she was quite correct in thinking that I was in need of a decoy psychic. People were
more comfortable with the concept of an all-knowing Oracle than they were with the actuality of
one. I liked to keep my existence on a barely more than mythic level, and Madame Zarita, a
kindly old lady who was almost sure to fail any skeptic’s well-designed tests of her powers,
constituted an excellent disguise.
I poured two cups of coffee and carried one back to Madame Zarita as she settled herself
in her customary booth at the back of the diner. As I started back to the front of the diner, the bell
over the door chimed as a group of students who looked as if I were their last stop after a long
night came in and crowded into a booth.
Throughout the morning, I had what could generously be called a steady trickle of
customers, which was how I could get away with waiting on all the tables myself. We’d had
what passed for a lunch rush—two whole tables occupied at once—and I was clearing off the
tables when I heard the words that were going to change my life:
“I’m here to see the Oracle.”
I dropped the pile of plates I had cleared from a recently vacated table. Not because of the
words themselves, though they were surprising enough, since only someone who had special
knowledge of Heaven or Hell would know to call me by the moniker I hadn’t used in centuries.
And not because of the appearance of the man who had spoken. He was attractive enough, but
not movie-star handsome. His nose was a little too big and his light brown hair a little too curly.
Plus, I had always suspected that Hollywood denied auditions to any men who didn’t have blue
eyes, and the pair looking with dismay at the pile of broken porcelain and ketchup-soaked fries at
my feet were decidedly brown. But he was ordinary-person good-looking, definitely above
average for my clientele.
No, what stood out about him was his blinding goodness.
I had met many people in my eight thousand years, and most of them didn’t fall neatly
into categories of good or evil. Some people performed evil actions because of outside pressure
or a desire to support their families. Others seemed good but quickly burned out or only
bestowed their beneficence on the few they deemed worthy.
In the young man standing before me, there was no such contradiction; without prejudice
or selfishness, he wanted only to make the world a better place for everyone. He might have had
doubts over whether other people or his God would agree with his actions, but he would do what
he believed was right in spite of that. Only once in my long existence had I met a goodness that
could rival the one that stood before me—in one of the most powerful of Heaven’s angels.
“Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry!” the paragon of virtue said as he rushed forward to help me
pick up the fragments of dishes. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
I shook myself from the stupor into which his soul had shocked me. “No, it’s all right.
I’ve got it.” I walked behind the counter to get my broom, but when I turned around, the young
man had already picked up some of the larger fragments and was looking for somewhere to
dump them. I pulled the small garbage can from behind the counter and brought it and my
dustpan over to the mess.
I set the trash can near him. “Thanks for the help.” I grabbed my grimy plaid dishcloth
from where I had left it on the table so I could wipe the grease and ketchup off the brown
He continued to pick up the bigger dish pieces and then held the dustpan as I swept the
remaining mess into it. When we finished, I used the time it took to return my cleaning supplies
behind the counter to gauge my helper’s emotional state.
As I focused on the young man, I sensed an undercurrent of uneasiness about him. I had
missed it in my first impression, either because I had attributed it to concern over the broken
dishes or because I had been too blinded by his integrity. It only made sense, though; people
rarely came to see me if they didn’t have something serious weighing on their minds.
“What can I get for you?” I leaned my elbows on the counter, which I noticed was rather
sticky and could do with a good wipe-down, probably with a cleaner rag than the one I’d been
using on the floor.
“I’m Sebastian Connolly. I’m looking for the Oracle. I heard I might be able to find her
Most people wanted to see “the psychic” or said they had a problem that required special
help. I considered for a moment that Bedlam or Gabriel had sent Sebastian, but finally decided
that was unlikely. The guy’s decision to wear designer black slacks and expensive cologne to a
diner that more commonly smelled of stale coffee and slightly rancid grease suggested that the
hardest decision he’d had to make in the last year was whether to buy a Lexus or to spring for the
BMW. People who came to the angels’ notice usually had something more remarkable about
them. Plus, in most cases, my friends were courteous enough to give me a heads-up before
sending someone to my doorstep.
I glanced toward the back of the diner to see if Madame Zarita was still on the phone. She
often told me that she thought cell phones were ruining America, but that didn’t stop her from
spending half the day cooing at her grandchildren and terrorizing her daughters-in-law.
Madame Zarita was working on a pair of yellow booties for the baby that her neighbor’s
daughter was expecting. Apparently, the daughter was both unemployed and unmarried, creating
a huge scandal. Regardless, when I signaled to Madame Zarita that she had a client, she set her
crochet down next to her on the aqua vinyl bench and gave Sebastian a welcoming smile.
Sebastian thanked me and turned away. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to
absorb as much of the altruism radiating from him as possible. I liked to think I could store up
good emotions and let them out when I was around an unsavory character. It hadn’t worked so
far, but that didn’t stop me from trying.
The young man’s hand trailed along the counter as he walked away, and I noticed a
telltale mark that made me gasp. To the unknowing, the raised flesh could easily have been a
scar from a childhood injury or the remnants of a burn. Someone with the right background,
however, would notice that the careful swirl was too regular to have occurred by accident and
could only mean one thing: Sebastian had sold his soul to a demon.
I had seen many such marks in my time, my own deal with Lucifer, which had led to my
immortality being only the first. The devil and his six archdemons specialized in trading favors
for souls, so at any given time, there were a hundred or so people walking the earth who had
given up their chance of a heavenly reward in exchange for something more tangible on earth.
Many of them became desperate enough to find their way to me.
The last person to walk into my diner in search of a way out of his demonic contract had
been James Pierson, a baby-faced Vietnam veteran whose haggard expression hinted of atrocities
that humans were never meant to see. He had witnessed the massacre of most of his unit and had
sold his soul to Lethe in exchange for an early return home from the combat zone. When he
visited me in the late summer of 1973, my heart had ached for his suffering, though I had to
question the wisdom of trading an escape from one hell for spending an eternity in another. Yet I
did what I had done for centuries: I turned him away. A few days later, I found a picture of
James splashed across the front page of the paper. He stood next to a smiling woman and a little
girl who had his eyes and her mother’s curls. The corresponding article indicated that he had
killed his wife and three-year-old daughter before shooting himself in the head. I tried to console
myself with the thought that even if I had been able to negate his deal with Lethe, I couldn’t have
saved someone who had it in him to commit such a heinous act, but remembering the incident
still brought tears to my eyes.
A hundred similar examples of lost souls paraded through my mind: William, who had
wanted justice when the law failed to apprehend the man who raped and murdered his fiancée;
Gladys, who sought to be the most talented singer in the world; Marcus, who strove to succeed
his father on the elected council. People sold their souls for any number of reasons, some noble
and some selfish, but every one of them had something in common: I didn’t save them.
I used to try. I begged God to reverse the contracts, which He could have done without
blinking, but I never received any evidence that He could even hear my pleas. Once or twice, I
went so far as to attempt to persuade Lucifer to leave the people in peace, but he only laughed.
Eventually, I gave up and accepted that I was powerless.
Just as I reached the conclusion that my wisest course of action would be to forget
Sebastian’s existence, I felt the arrival of a cluttered mind strong enough to overpower the
thoughts from the doomed young man. I turned back to the counter. A black-clad man with black
hair and black eyes had materialized on one of the stools. His grin suggested he had spent the last
several hours wreaking havoc upon innocent passersby, and he wasn’t quite done with his day
“Hey, Khet,” he said. “Have you missed me terribly?”
I rolled my eyes but was unable to help smiling back. “Yes, Bedlam. The last”—I
glanced at the clock on the wall—“thirteen and a half hours that I have spent outside your
company have been absolutely unbearable.”
The demon’s smile widened. “I knew they would be.”
About the Author
Elizabeth Corrigan has degrees in English and psychology and has
spent several years working as a data analyst in various branches of the
healthcare industry. When she’s not hard at work on her next novel,
Elizabeth enjoys singing, reading teen vampire novels, and making Sims
of her characters. She drinks more Diet Coke than is probably optimal for
the human body and is pathologically afraid of bees. She lives in Maryland with two cats and a
purple Smart Car.
Review of The Oracle of Philadelphia
Red Adept Publishing
First of all, the Oracle of Philadelphia really is—an Oracle. She likes to disguise that by keeping a psychic around in her diner, so folks think the psychic is the one issuing the pronouncements. She is also an immortal, just like demons and angels and archangels. The only problem is, Cassia is soulless: she had to sell hers to gain immortality, so she has kind of a soft spot for others who have done the same, for whatever reasons. Sometimes it’s done to achieve fame or wealth or perks; other times out of altruism, to save a loved one’s life, for example. Either way, Lucifer seldom agrees to return any soul, and so no matter how good or negative the life of the one who has sold a soul, eternity is going to be unpleasant.
“The Oracle of Philadelphia” doesn’t just throw that information at us and let us dwell with her in present-day Philadelphia. No, it bounces back and forth through history and prehistory, examining Cassia’s past and her very extensive life span, and then spins her through adventures in the present day. She may be an immortal, but as I wrote above, she does have a soft spot every now and then for those who have made the fateful decision to sell a soul.
Elizabeth Carrigan’s approach is delightfully easy to follow, and her explorations of history and beyond are detailed and impressive. Her cozy view of theological constructs is relaxing, yet appealing. For example, Cassia gets a feeling of surpassing peace in the presence of an angel, such as Gabriel; and the handsome and sort of hyperactive Bedlam, demon of chaos, is constantly on the move, fomenting havoc and then getting bored with it. I highly recommend “The Oracle of Philadelphia” and hope it finds a wide readership.