Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Skip Week 3: Writer's Notes for December 2009

A little later than normal due to shoveling yet more snow but here is the audio file of writer's notes:


As savvy as I sometimes think I am, I still haven't figured out how to embed a flash player instead of taking you out to open the link somewhere else. That's something I really need to work on for the coming year. I hope it's not too much trouble for you to click this and listen. (If you right click on the link, you should be able to download it, too, if you feel the need.)

It's the end of 2009 and as I noted in the audio, it's been a good year and I've gotten a lot done. 2010 should build on the small successes I've achieved. Thanks to everyone who's been reading and taken the time to comment. It means a lot. Special thanks to my new friend Wendy (Quillfeather) Morrell who's pushed me to be a better blogger. Thank you, ma'am.

And now I shuffle off into the Kansas winter to continue editing the November novel to ready for release into the world. Theoretically, anyway.

Have a happy new year and I hope to see you all in 2010 with the continuation of The Long Range as well as some new, longer work, too. Ciao!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

...Like They Are 4


The room a thousand miles wide with the little red living area was silent despite the four creatures there.

“I didn’t want to be dead,” Carina Arecibo said. “Before I died I met Leonard and he helped gather the Sparks I need to make the transition back to Life.”

“Spark, my dear,” Leonard Burroughs said. “Spark.”

Strangiato scowled. “You would trade the futures of others to benefit yourself.”

Carina shook her head and turned away from Strangiato and walked away from him. She laughed and then faced him again. “I have a purpose, Seeker.”

The demonic director of the Divine Spark Exchange pulled a golden watch on a chain from his vest. “As I suggested, Mrs. Arecibo, you owe the Seeker no explanation and you have refused his request,” it said then looked at the watch. “I must be Elsewhere.” He looked expectantly at everyone.
“Gremory,” Strangiato said, “you will sit and do as you are told. My office being superior to yours requires your cooperation.

“Burroughs, you will be quiet.” The dark-eyed man whirled on the little Spark trader and glared him into a seat on one of the dining room chairs in the little assemblage of chairs. He took one step toward the little man and didn’t show the pleasure he felt at making him cower.

Carina Arecibo tried to hide her nervousness. “You have no power over me,” she said, her voice trembling just a little. “You can’t hurt me, you can’t stop me. I answer to none.”

“Actually…” Burroughs said.

Gremory finished the thought. “Yes, he can. Strangiato’s mandate encompasses the deeds of those he Seeks, and once engaged, well,” the demon stood up, “let’s say that one wouldn’t want to get in his way. Knowingly or not, your husband has put in you the proverbial space between rock and hard place.”

“Leonard?” Burroughs shook his head. Gremory stared off into the distance to avoid making eye contact with her. “All my efforts…” She began to cry.

She ran away, her hands to her face. Strangiato watched her leave the seating area then looked at Gremory. The laugh that erupted from the dark-eyed man rolled around the room with a terrifying echo. Carina Arecibo tried to open the door she had come through. “No!”

“This sort of low deception is unworthy of you, Director,” Strangiato said. “I expected something better. Demons have never had that wide-ranging of imaginations, have they?”

Burroughs stood and grabbed the dining room chair he’d been sitting on by the top. He swung it up over his head and brought it down as hard as he could across Strangiato’s shoulders. The wood splintered and the cloth-bound seat dangled from the skeleton that fell quickly from the little man’s hands. The dark-eyed man turned slowly and his arm shot out with preternatural speed to grasp Burroughs’ neck. Strangiato lifted the Spark trader from the floor and squeezed.

Burroughs’ hands grabbed at Strangiato’s arm. He kicked his feet and flailed helplessly until his eyes closed and the Seeker let him slip to the floor of the room a thousand years wide. Strangiato faced the demonic Gremory.

“I have no wish to fight you,” the director said. “I will not be intimidated, though.” It loosened its tie, pulling it free of the collar of its shirt and undid its cufflinks, depositing them in a pocket of the jacket. The demon then stood ready to fight. “You will find me more formidable than they. I am made of fire and you of clay.”

Strangiato’s squinted his eyes. “I see,” he said and raised his left hand, made a quick gesture in the air. The words he spoke were ancient when the universe was young. The air moved in ways that it didn’t want to and the stress of changing course so quickly made it howl through the room.

“What are you doing?” Gremory stood up straight and began to look quickly around itself. “No, you can’t!”

The dark-eyed man smiled, an awful thing that seemed to crack his face in half, and Gremory shouted with desperation in its native language words that had no meaning anywhere but in a city like Abbadon or New Hades. Pockets of air exploded and snapped. There were clanking sounds and groaning as of the masts of a big sailing ship in the wind and Gremory tried run back towards the door. Hooks and chains, hands and ropes, nets and obscure implements of binding shot from the floor of the room and enveloped the demon, dragging it screaming through the far wall.

The echo of its screams rippled across the room, breaking on the furniture and Strangiato so that by the time they reached Carina Arecibo they were the merest of whispers.

The dark-eyed man had not moved, still stood amongst the splinters of the chair that had broken over his back. Carina Arecibo tried the door again and gave up quickly. “All right,” she said to the floor, her eyes closed. “You win.” She turned to him: straight and proud as she smoothed her flower-print dress over her thighs. She walked to Strangiato and waited.

He broke Burroughs’ neck with a vicious twist of his wrist and dropped the limp body to the floor, pausing only a moment to ensure that the Divine Spark was snuffed out. Then he gave all his attention to Mrs. Arecibo who stood in front of him as proud as could be.

* * *

The train’s furnace hissed and the engine chugged as it sat at the tumbledown station. The night was clear, the trees gently swaying in the chill fall breeze. In the palace car, Fyodor Arecibo sat opposite Strangiato where a day before he’d sat with his friend, the adventurer Eyre. “For my own part,” the dark-eyed man said, “I am sorry.”

Arecibo was withdrawn and tears stained his cheeks. “She’s gone, then.”

“Yes,” Strangiato said. “Director Gremory shared that there have been many attempts to return to life and that all have resulted in the destruction of the Divine Spark, the Soul, that attempted to cheat the system.”

“I am sad that Carina was so much like them that she couldn’t let go, couldn’t move on with me.” Arecibo stood up. “Do you think,” he said without looking at Strangiato, “that I might vacate my Office? I would wish to search for her in the Marches.”

Strangiato raised his eyebrows and Arecibo took a step backward. “That is,” Arecibo said, “if it’s possible.”

“The Margreave and his Marches are beyond my Purview,” Strangiato said. “I cannot help you if you choose to take that course.”

“I understand that I would be completely on my own and at His mercy,” Arecibo said. “As much as he may have.”

Strangiato stood up and offered his hand. “I wish you the best, Senor Arecibo. I do not envy you your quest.”

Arecibo shook Strangiato’s hand and then left the palace car.

The paneling didn’t reflect any light, and the sound of the door clicking shut behind Arecibo was barely audible where the Seeker sat. He nodded imperceptible and quick, then reached inside his jacket pocket to pull out a pocket cigar keeper. He cut the tip carefully and lit the finely rolled tobacco with a wooden match from his left hand vest pocket. The blue smoke was heavy in the air.

Strangiato felt his train pull forward and looked out a window to see the former Shepherd walking off the platform and turning southeast to cross the tracks. Straightening, the dark-eyed man went to his desk and sat behind it. When the phone there rang, he sighed and picked it up.

“There’s an opening for a Shepherd,” he said.

Thanks for reading …Like They Are. Click Here for Don't Take Me Alive
 Come back next Wednesday for Writer's Notes!

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

You can buy the whole story, and any story from this website for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

...Like They Are 3


The dark-eyed man stepped over track beds in the west bottoms of Kansas City and made his way towards the Livestock Exchange building. He saw indications still of the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express lines that were once the center of the stockyards, and felt the chill of doomed parties that had passed through when the Oregon Trail was the main route through Kansas City. There were other trapped souls from the various floods that had eventually killed the vital business that straddled state lines between Kansas and Missouri. The power of the place could have been overwhelming if he hadn’t been focused on his goal.

There was a steady, though spread out, stream of beings bypassing the old livestock buildings and heading for the slaughterhouse. Strangiato set his jaw, squinted and changed direction.

The guard at the door didn’t want to let him in. “Not on list,” it said to him then turned its attention to another behind him.

“You do not recognize me?” The creature, a Salac demon, scowled. “My card, then,” Strangiato said. The Salac studied it, then looked back up at Strangiato and shook its head.

“You no power here,” it said with a sneer. “You nothing to any here. Enter at risk.” It handed the card back and hooked a thumb over its shoulder then acknowledged the entity behind Strangiato again, dismissing him.

Entering the dark building, the decaying smell of ancient livestock, animal and human, was overwhelming.

“Greetings, Seeker.”

Strangiato turned to face the speaker. “Hail,” he said in return. “I am come to find Carina Arecibo, a human.”

“Would this entity be Special Reserve or General Stock?” The demon came into the light. Its skin was a red-orange, and though it appeared humanoid and male, Strangiato made no assumptions. It was dressed in a black suit and wore a purple tie. The demon had an air of authority to it, but that was natural to demons, but this was more.

“Special Reserve, I should think,” Strangiato said. “Would you be the Director of the DSE?”

The demon smiled at being recognized. “Gremory. This way, if you please, and we will see what can be seen.” They left the main entrance and Strangiato walked beside the demon Gremory down a faintly lit hall, passing smaller demons, clerks and functionaries, who shrank from their Director as they walked.

After several minutes of walking through hall after hall, Strangiato said, “Have a care that you do not waste my time, Director. I am on business for the Chondria.”

“Seeker, I would not waste your time,” Gremory said. He appeared apologetic. “I am being an amiable host and taking you to where your question on the entity can be best answered. So many souls pass through the Pit that I cannot keep track of them all.”

“The Pit? Ah, I see,” Strangiato said. “Your clever nickname for the Exchange.”

Gremory smiled with condescension and stopped at a heavy oaken door. They were deep in the heart of the Exchange now. “We are here,” it said. “You must open the door of your own free will.”

Strangiato pushed the door. It swung open on well-oiled hinges that sussed with the weight of the door turning them, and he stepped into the room. He turned to look back at Gremory, who was staring in surprise. “Your tricks won’t work, Director Gremory, you should have known that.”

“You have no soul?”

“I do not.” Strangiato said. “You cannot trap me. Must I invoke my Office for you to be of any real assistance? Your Lord and mine have deeply intertwined agreements that must be honored.”

Gremory pushed past the dark-eyed man and clapped its hands. The room was immediately lighted and the oaken door closed with an echoing thud then disappeared. The demon was walking fast away from Strangiato across a white tile floor, its heels clicking madly. “Follow me, Seeker. Your information is this way, now.”

The soulless Seeker and the demon Director of the Divine Spark Exchange crossed the infinite white room until they came to a wall that barely was distinguishable from the floor. The Director snapped its fingers and the door opened. “Through here,” Gremory said. When Strangiato didn’t move, the demon sighed and said, “Follow me.”

Inside was a simple office. Gremory sat behind the desk and tapped on the laptop. There was nothing else on the desk. “What was the entity’s name again?”

“Carina Arecibo,” Strangiato said and spelled the name. He did not sit, but noted that the window behind the demon had a view that couldn’t have been Kansas City. “Your view,” he said, “is that Abbadon?”

The demon frowned as his screen changed. “Hm,” Gremory said then turned to look out the window. “New Hades.”

Strangiato nodded acknowledgement. “Did you find her?”

“Yes,” the demon said. “She’s not in General Stock, nor in Special Reserve.”

“But she’s here?”

Gremory nodded slowly. “As a trader, with,” he tapped quickly on the laptop, “Leonard Burroughs. I saw him earlier today, but he was alone.”

“I met him as well,” Strangiato said. “Has he stated intention for trades?”

“We don’t do it quite that way any more,” Gremory said, closing the laptop. “Spark is traded now on a weekly basis as the supply has boomed. Diligence is expected of the buyer, not the seller. With that boom has come an enormous burden in tracking and so when I assumed my Office the policy was examined and changed. No one has to claim intent.”

Strangiato shook his head. “You are trading the Divine Spark as energy and not caring to whom it is sold, nor how it is intended to be used.”

“There are just too many souls to track, Seeker,” Gremory said as though in apology, its hands spread wide, palms up. “Yes we have Staff,” it indicated the window, “but the quality of worker has dramatically declined in the last three decades. It’s simply impossible to track every trade, every trader.”

“Mrs. Arecibo,” Strangiato said. “May I see her?”

* * *

The room was windowless and bare of decoration. There was a settee, a recliner, several dining room chairs, and a sofa all covered in the brightest reds. The floor was carpeted with deep blue shag and there was an air of transience to the whole place. Director Gremory took a seat on one of the dining room chairs and crossed its legs. “She’ll be here in a moment, Seeker. Please make yourself comfortable.”

Strangiato didn’t move. “Suit yourself,” the demon said. It turned its attention to its nails and left the dark-eyed man to his thoughts.

A door far behind Strangiato opened and admitted Carina Arecibo followed by Leonard Burroughs. Strangiato turned to Gremory. “You know that he’s a cheat, don’t you? That he trades in the Lost?”

Gremory smiled a powerful, knowing smile. “I am a demon sir, I appreciate a good cheat. It gains extra attention when we finally get our hands on him.”

“Hello,” Mrs. Arecibo said as she approached the little living room. “Director.” The demon nodded.

Strangiato bowed at the waist and held out a calling card. “I am engaged by your husband to see if you would return to him and the responsibilities of being a Shepherd’s assistant.”

Carina Arecibo examined the calling card and turned it over to see the back. She ran her lithe fingers over the raised ink and smiled when she looked at Strangiato. She appeared to be happy. “No,” she said.

“I see,” Strangiato said. “Fyodor will be very disappointed. He loves you more than you might know.” The gentle rumbling of his voice emphasized his sincerity.

“I know how much my husband loves me, Seeker, make no mistake about that,” Carina Arecibo said. “He misunderstands how little I love him back. He’s a good man, but he wasn’t my type then, and won’t ever be.” She walked around the arranged furniture and ran her hands across the top of the sofa as she passed, acting very coy and conspiratorial. “You could tell him that you never found me.”

“I am not in the habit of lying.”

A thin smile, and a short nod. “I understand.”

“Why wouldn’t you return? He offers stability and love.”

Gremory stood up and pulled its suit coat straight down. “You are under no obligation to continue this conversation, Mrs. Arecibo. He has presented himself and you have refused to go along with him.”

“It’s okay, Director, I’ll tell him,” she said. Burroughs was silent and looked around as if waiting for something.

“Fyodor died twenty years before I did, and I had a very good life after he died.” Carina stood in front of Strangiato and looked up at him, still smiling. “I enjoyed many things I hadn’t been able to before. Things he would never have permitted, things I’d only dreamed of.

“I made plans for my immediate afterlife.” She stood on tiptoe to get her face as close to his as she could. “I wanted to live again.”

Thanks for reading …Like They Are. Come back next Wednesday Click Here for the conclusion!

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

You can buy the whole story, and any story from this website for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

...Like They Are 2


Strangiato’s train puffed its way east. The dark-eyed man sat in his palace car away from his desk, smoking a cigar and sipping from an elegantly deco glass whose twin was in the hands of a woman across from him. She was dressed as stylishly as her host though in gray instead of black. Her face was long and thin, youthful up to her eyes. No wrinkles, no crow’s feet betrayed her age. Her eyes, though, spoke volumes about things she’d seen and experienced in a long life.

“Thanks for the ride,” she said. “You know I could have made it back on my own power?”

“Of course,” Strangiato said. “However, chivalry isn’t quite dead in this day and age.”

“Don’t look so hurt,” Eyre said. She stood and walked to the bar, took a decanter of dark liquid and poured her glass half full. “You never had a sense of humor, did you?” She turned to face him with her glass to her lips.

Strangiato puffed on his cigar, breathed out the thick blue smoke and swirled his drink. “No, I did not.”

“I’m grateful to you for taking me back to the city.” She raised the glass in a toast and sipped at it again. She looked at the liquid in the glass and smiled. “And for the drink. I don’t think I’ve had this fine a cognac in forever.”

“Merci,” Strangiato said. “Vous êtes bienvenu.”

Eyre strolled back to her chair and stood next to it, trailing a hand across the back. “What can I do for you? You mentioned a client.”

“Carina Arecibo,” the dark-eyed man said. “Her dossier is on my desk.” He related the conversation with Fyodor Arecibo and his station. “I suspect she’s connected with the DSE.”

“Oh?” Eyre went to his desk and began casually leafing through the information on Carina Arecibo. She wrinkled her nose once and then frowned. The lady flipped through the entire dossier and closed it before coming back to sit across from Strangiato again.

“Do you have any insight?” he puffed slowly, the thick smoke swirling around him.

“Are you staying in Chicago?”

Strangiato shrugged.

“If you were going to stay for a day or so,” Eyre said coming back to her chair, “I would put you in touch with Leonard Burroughs.” She crossed her legs at the knees, resting her drink hand across her lap. “He’s a dealer in Spark paraphernalia.”

“Then I will be staying in Chicago.” Strangiato almost smiled.

* * *

Walking north on Damen Avenue in Bucktown, Strangiato abhorred the clacking and electricity of the Blue Line El as it clattered above him. “Best to walk the last six blocks or so. It’s a nice neighborhood at least,” Eyre had advised him. Crossing Shakespeare and heading towards Webster, Strangiato wondered if Eyre had played some kind of joke on him. “You should fit right in,” she’d said.

The girl who came out of the falafel house looked around wildly and when she saw Strangiato in his black suit, she screamed. He stopped. She continued to scream until he held out one hand to her, unmoved by her emotion. “Child,” he said.

The girl was shocked into silence then drawn to him. Quiet, she took his hand and immediately relaxed. “I,” she said. Strangiato nodded.

“You will come with me,” he said. “You will be safe.”

The dark-eyed man was calm and his lips barely moved as he spoke to her. The girl let go his hand and hung her head. “There is no shame,” Strangiato said as he began to walk and she fell into step beside him. “It’s a common enough mistake and one that has served me well enough in the past.”

The pair walked farther up Damen and turned left at Webster. The girl did not speak but stared at the mingled buildings, hundred year-old houses and newly constructed industrial lofts side by side. When Strangiato turned right to cross Webster to Seeley, she didn’t notice.

He was waiting across the street when she caught up to him. “Jest to Kozie Prery?”

Strangiato nodded. “They call it Bucktown now. Stay close and do not speak unless I ask you to.” They proceeded up Seeley to the point where it became Avondale Avenue and stopped at a well-kept brownstone. He looked again at the girl, whose eyes were wide. He put a hand on her shoulder and they ascended the stairs and she rang the bell on the right side of the green and red double doors when he indicated she should.

The bell was audible through the door and soon enough the locks were turning and the right side door opened enough to allow a small man to come into view and step out onto the stoop. “Yes?” He smiled at the girl.

When the small man’s gaze rose to Strangiato, he blanched. “Oh, no,” he said and stumbled backward into the barely open door. He fell through the threshold and scrambled backward. The dark-eyed man walked slowly through the door and the girl trailed behind.

“You have nothing to fear from me, Leonard Burroughs,” Strangiato said. “I am here only to gain information.”

Burroughs crab-walked as far as he could until he banged his head into a wall. The girl followed the two men inside, looked around and then quietly shut the door to the street. She turned and watched Burroughs try to melt into the wall at his back. She cocked her head. “Tell her to stop looking at me like that,” he said, squeaking. “Tell her to stop.”

Strangiato turned and squinted at the girl, then stepped forward and put out a hand again to help Burroughs to his feet. “Stand up and speak as a man does,” he said. “I have little patience.”

Burroughs nodded, took the hand and climbed to his feet. “What,” he said quietly, “what can I do for you?”

“The DSE.”

“What about it?” Burroughs was as flat against the wall as he could be. Strangiato scowled. “The DSE,” Burroughs said. “I trade there sometimes.”

“How?” Strangiato was now taken aback, but recovered his demeanor quickly. “You are neither ---“

“Angelic? Demonic?” Burroughs sniffed and stood out from the wall as straight as he could. “I have Dispense. I trade the Lost if no one claims them.”

Strangiato stood back from Burroughs, narrowed his eyes at the little man. “I see now,” he said. Long moments passed. “From Brahmen.”

Burroughs nodded. “So --- what do you want?”

“Carina Arecibo,” Strangiato said. “Do you know her?”

Burroughs smoothed his shirt and stepped out from in front of Strangiato, more at ease in his surroundings. “The name’s not familiar. Do you have a likeness?”

Strangiato handed over a picture. “Mmm. No,” Burroughs said and handed it back. “She’s pretty though. Do you claim her?”

“Where is the next Exchange?” Strangiato put his hands in the pockets of his jacket.

“Ah,” Burroughs said. “That would be telling.”

Strangiato stepped close to the little man, looming, his face darkening with rage. “Where,” the big man said, “is the next Exchange?”

Burroughs, trapped, put a hand to his chin and cringed. “Kansas City. The Divine Spark Exchange will be in Kansas City tomorrow at 1900 Greenwich. Near the Bottoms, I don’t have the exact address yet.” Burroughs, shaking, tried to push past the dark-eyed man and failed. “Let me go, please.”

Strangiato stood back. “My card.”

Burroughs reached out and took the card from Strangiato, trembling. He nodded slightly.

“Come, child,” Strangiato said turning to the girl. “We shall leave Mr. Burroughs to his thoughts.”

* * *

Back on Strangiato’s palace car, the girl was eating an ice cream cone and standing next to Eyre in the dim light.

“Of course,” she said. “Anything to help.”

Strangiato nodded and looked at the girl. “Miss Eyre will take you to the Shepherd, who will guide you from there.” He tried to smile, but it was a painful thing and the girl shrank from him as he did it. “Take care, Emily.” He straightened and adjusted his cufflinks.

“You’re off to Kansas City, then?”


Eyre swooped over and kissed him on the cheek. Strangiato, surprised, frowned. “Be careful,” Eyre said. She whipped around and took Emily’s hand, led her out of the palace car without a backward glance.

“Evans,” Strangiato thumbed the intercom at his desk. “Kansas City, please.”

The train whistled and chugged its way south and west.

* * *

The wood floor of the Exchange creaked. The man and the woman stood in the center of the arena-sized room. “Are you sure?” She began pacing. “I’m so close now.”

“I’ve put some special measures in place,” the man said and watched her walk back and forth. “There will be no problems.”

“I can’t go back,” she said, still pacing. “I can’t. I won’t.”

“Your husband must love you very much to engage the Seeker,” the man said.

“I never loved him the way he did me,” Carina said, her back to the man. “There’s no going back.”

Thanks for reading …Like They Are. Come back next week Click Here for Part Three, guaranteed to post on Wednesday!

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

You can buy the whole story, and any story from this website for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Briefest of Interludes: Tagged

As my hometown is getting socked with snow, I'm on the road at an Institute of Learning for my day job. In my rush to prepare for the institute and then pack and get out the door, I failed to ensure that part two of "...Like They Are" was ready to go. I'll get it posted by noon CST on Thursday.

In the meantime, I've been 'tagged' by my friend and fellow writer W.M. Morrell to answer an internet meme about my manuscript. I'll tag this here as FAQ and Writer's Notes for the future in case I want to come back and look at them again. So, from the comfort and warmth of my hotel room, here are my answers.

1a. What's the last thing you wrote?

I've been engaged in plotting four short stories since finishing my second NaNoWriMo novel ten days ago or so. This week I'm writing things related to my day job.

1b. What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?

A rather amusing little fifteen-chapter story about a drunken swordsman that was actually a collaboration with co-workers one night at a fast food joint I was employed at. I have a typed 'clean' copy and the actual handwritten pages which were the backs of paper bags we put the burgers and fries in. I was 18 or 19.

2. Write poetry?

Not any more. I was never good at it. I wrote songs instead that were better.

3. Angst poetry?

Um, what? I'll have to look that up when I get a minute, but no.

4. Favorite genre of writing?

SF/Fantasy. I love the wide-open spaces and endless possibilities of creating worlds.

5. Most annoying character you've ever created?

According to my friend Marlan, Strangiato is annoying. He pops in, pops out, drops pronouncements on the other characters whenever I need him to. For me, my superhero The Peanut (who was actually a reworking of a character of the same name that my friend Chris devised in grade school) was annoying until I gave him some more interesting traits. He appeared in my run of mini comics ca 2000 - 2001.

6. Best plot you've ever created?

The first one that gets me published. Until then, it's my current work and that's the NaNoWriMo novel.

7. Coolest plot twist you've ever written?

If you're reading the stories here, I don't want to ruin it for you.

8. How often do you get writer's block?

After a long burst of writing, like NaNo, it's come up. In April and May of 2009, I'd written about one short story a month and had really struggled with the last one. I wasn't necessarily blocked, I think it was that I wasn't interested in going further with that particular story. It took a massive amount of will to get to the end and then I took a month off from writing. I had ideas and I wrote stuff down, but I didn't do any writing during that time. I just needed to recharge the engines, I guess.

But how often do I get writer's block? I have to say I don't. At least not yet. I've got ideas, it's the time that's challenging at this point.

9. Write fan fiction?

No, but I was tempted to. Once.

10. Do you write by hand?

Not seriously. I plot by hand so that I can have the satisfaction of scratching stuff out and keeping track of all the ideas that I'm playing with for a story.

11. Do you save everything you write?

Moreso now than before. I'm a pack rat by nature, though. Well, okay, I have stuff everywhere. Yeah.

12. Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?

Some times. I'm looking at doing that next year for the longer works I want to write for the web.

13. What's your favorite thing you've written?

"I love you" on every note I leave for my wife. "The Receivers" for myself.

14. What's everyone else's favorite story that you've written?

The Receivers by a lot.

15. Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?

I wrote and drew a romance comic called "The Stone Man" and I will adapt and finish it in 2010 on the web here. It's not a typical romance, though.

16. What's your favorite setting for your characters?

Any room where they can talk.

17. How many writing projects are you working on right now?

I'm writing stories for The Long Range, I will be going back to actively edit the novel I just 'finished' and then plotting out and starting to write the new set of stories for the site here. So, three. Plus the stuff I have to do for the job that pays the bills.

18. Have you ever won an award for your writing?

Not for the actual writing. However, I was just yesterday awarded a very nice prize from a random drawing of NaNo participants in my town. More on that to come.

19. What are your five favorite words?

"What the fuck?" and "Well, hello". Does that count?

20. What character have you created that is most like yourself?

Walt from The Stone Man is a lot like me. In the future. And a lot more curmudgeonly.

21. Where do you get ideas for your characters?

People I encounter, conversations I overhear, radio and TV programs. All of them, of course, filtered through my own experiences to make them different and unrecognizable from the original.

22. Do you ever write based on your dream?

I have. If you read the stories here you can probably figure out which ones.

23. Do you favor happy endings, sad endings or cliff-hangers?

I like happy endings, or at least endings that resolve the main problem and then leave me asking "I wonder what would happen if you continued the story?"

My approach to storytelling right now is that I want the reader to think for oneself what's going on. I don't like telling the reader every single detail, so there are some endings that should leave one with a "Huh? What the --- was that?" kind of feeling. I realize this puts me in a much smaller niche, but it makes me happy as I'm writing. Somebody somewhere will get it.

24. Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?

Sometimes. Sometimes not. Depends on my mood and my time limit.

25. Does music help you write?

Sometimes. Sometimes not. Depends on my mood. I'm comfortable without it when I'm writing, but it's helped me when I needed a little push and then it fades into the background when I'm in my writer zone.

26. Quote something you've written. Whatever pops into your head.

"Armstrong Story's future was not what he thought it would be."

And there's the end of the meme. I'll field questions and comments as they come in, so feel freed to stop in down below and speak what's on your mind. Remember that "...Like They Are" will return on Thursday and thanks to Wendy for tagging me. This was fun.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

...Like They Are 1


Fyodor Arecibo walked from the bedroom to the bathroom calling his wife’s name as he made his way down stairs. The house was dark: the full moon shone like the sun through the break in the curtains in the front hall, the little windows in the front door, casting ominous shadows everywhere.

She wasn’t there.

He padded down the hall calling her name again and again. No answer from the living room. Nor was she in the kitchen, the spare bedroom, or on the deck outside the back door.

“Carina?” His voice was plaintive, barely audible. His wife was nowhere to be found in the house and Arecibo was beginning to get very worried. “Carina, where are you?”

There was no reply. But for Fyodor Arecibo standing back in the living room in his pajamas, the house was empty.

His wife was gone.

* * *

The train whistled its way across the prairie under the same full moon as Arecibo’s. The steam puffing out of the smokestack was ghostly white, smearing across the tops of the maples, oaks and poplars lining the tracks. The nocturnal creatures of the forest noted the train’s passage with little interest, and quiet fell immediately after it had gone.

The engine was pulling three cars: one sleeper, a dining car and a Pullman Palace where an elegantly dressed dark-eyed man sat behind a large oaken desk in the stateroom. The car’s décor was simple, Spartan and reflected the dark-eyed man’s constant mood. With his elbows on the desk, he held a telephone receiver to his ear and his opposite hand at his temple.

“The Exchange moves too often, keeps too erratic a schedule, it is difficult to track,” he said. He listened, his eyes closed. The hand at his temple balled into a fist.

“I am pursuing every whisper, every intimation,” he said, keeping his voice even. “Patience is the best course.” More listening and the dark-eyed man opened his fist, put it on his forehead and pulled his hand down his face, staring at the back of the car where his sleeping quarters were. He noted the passing countryside outside the windows and waited for a chance to speak again.

He took a breath and let it out slow and quiet. “Yes, my Lord,” he said at last, the words clipped and sharp as daggers. “Tomorrow, then. Yes. Your will be done.” He nodded and returned the handset to its cradle on the desk now both hands curling and uncurling, drawing them to his lap. He set his jaw and turned to his right.

Pressing an intercom button on the wall next to his desk, the elegantly dressed dark-eyed man waited for a response. “Mr. Strangiato?” the voice came across the tinny little speaker.

“Evans,” he said, pressing the button again. “What is our next stop?”

“The Shepherd. About twenty minutes. Client’s already there.”

“I will be ready to meet him in half an hour.” He thumbed the button off and put his elbows on the desk, his folded hands under his jaw. Strangiato was a big man, wide and square from top to bottom with short, dark hair. He sighed and closed his eyes as the train raced towards its destination under the full moon.

* * *

The depot was a ramshackle affair: it’s sign upside down in the dirt in front of the platform, windows broken out, boards missing on the stairs. The man waiting on the platform itself was dressed in a black suit with a white shirt and blue tie. He shifted weight from right foot to left as the train approached, blowing its whistle and puffing steam, slowing to meet him. He stuck his hands in his pants pockets then pulled them out, rubbed them then put them in the pockets of his suit coat and finally folded them in front of him.

The squeal of metal on metal braking pierced the night. The man rolled his neck and tried to loosen up as the train slowed and the last car stopped in front of him. A whistle and a puff of steam from the engine anticipated a door on any of the passenger cars opening.

Fyodor Arecibo looked up toward the engine and then down the line of cars. The gold paint around the windows was bright and shiny, the curtains brilliant crimsons and greens, the sides of the cars were a light brown all combining in an air of elegance. Arecibo waited, but no one came and no door opened. He straightened his tie.

The engine chugged and belched every so often, letting steam escape with a hiss as well. The man looked toward the engine, then back down the line of cars. When he turned his attention to the end of the palace car, he saw an old man, a conductor, standing on the platform near the back of the car.

“Mr. Arecibo,” the conductor said.

“Si,” the man on the platform said. “I am he.” He walked toward the conductor.

“Please come with me,” the conductor said with a thin smile. Arecibo followed and stepped up between the palace and dining cars with a few quick steps.

The interior of the palace car was dark and it took him a moment to adjust to the low light provided by two small banker’s lamps. The room seemed to go on forever. Arecibo hesitated.

“Please go in, sir,” the conductor said from behind him. “The Seeker will be with you momentarily.” Arecibo stepped in and heard the door close behind him. Slow, hesitant steps took him deeper into the room and he touched the red leather of a visitor’s chair, turned and saw a bar stocked with four crystal decanters, each filled with a different colored liquid, smelled the smoke of cigars. Arecibo peered ahead of him.

“Good day, Senor Arecibo.”

Strangiato was standing behind his desk, grim and dark, and held his hand out, palm forward, indicating that his visitor should sit in front of him. “If you’ll sit we can get started.”

Arecibo made his way to the proffered chair as though walking through quicksand, a roaring in his ears. Trying to keep his composure, he shook with fear and anticipation. He cleared his throat and swallowed before speaking. “Gracias, Senor,” he said.


Realizing he’d expressed his gratitude in a bare whisper, Arecibo said thank you again so that he could be heard.

Strangiato looked his visitor in the eye and nodded almost imperceptibly, then sat in his chair. The dark-eyed man opened a folder to scan its contents. Arecibo sat timidly in the chair opposite, wringing his hands.

“You are the Shepherd for region seven?”

Arecibo nodded.

“Have you had any troubles in the last six months? The last year?”

“No, senor.”

“Hm.” Strangiato closed the folder. He sat back in his chair with a small creak. “Tell me about your wife.”

Arecibo smiled, thin and strained, and cleared his throat again. “She is very beautiful, senor, very elegant and one of the finest ladies I ever. We were married very young and when I first took this position we were apart for a very long time. I sent her messages whenever I could, and sometimes she would reply.

“When her replies came farther and farther apart, I despaired ever seeing her again, but then,” Arecibo said and puffed up with pride. “Then she joined me here and we have been together again these past dozen years, nearly thirteen.”

“How near?” The dark-eyed man leant forward a little and his eyes narrowed.

A puzzled look crossed Arecibo’s face. He glanced at the ceiling of the palace car and counted. “Four more days, senor. Our wedding anniversary.”

“I see,” Strangiato said. “How would you characterize your marriage, Senor Arecibo? Would you say that you were in love with each other? Did you fight?”

“Oh,” Arecibo said with a little laugh. “There was one fight every week for many years, but none since she arrived here.” Arecibo confided now in Strangiato. “The truth, senor? She liked to fight so that the making up would be full of fireworks. I looked forward to the fights for the making up afterwards.”

“But no fighting since she’s joined you in your current position?”


“And fireworks?”

Arecibo sighed. “Some, senor. Not as many as there used to be.”

“But she loved you.” Strangiato was leaning back in his chair again.


The dark-eyed man opened the folder again and flipped three or four pages. “What did your wife talk about after she arrived here?” He didn’t look up.

“The old days,” he said. “She said they were better times.”

Strangiato closed the folder and clasped his hands on top of it. “I will find your wife, Senor Arecibo.”

“Can you bring her back?” Arecibo was hopeful, sitting on the edge of his chair.

“I cannot force her return,” Strangiato said. “Is there any reason why she wouldn’t?”


“Then we will see what happens. I’ll be in touch soon.”

Thanks for reading …Like They Are. Come back next week Click Here for Part Two!

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

You can buy the whole story, and any story from this website for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Insulated Man 4


The house was still devoid of books but for him and the heavyset, dark-eyed man across the room from him who wore a red kimono, and stood in the door to the hallway. “I can help if you want to escape. Brahmen isn’t looking for you, since he believes you contained. You have to decide now.”

The Scribe unfolded himself, standing slowly, feeling the muscles in his legs stretch and hearing the creak of the floorboards underneath. “Escape,” he said. His voice was strange, dusty and cracked from disuse. He looked at the man with the dark eyes a little more closely. There was something familiar about him, about his eyes.

“Come with me,” the dark-eyed man said. He turned and went to the kitchen and opened the door that would have been at the back of the house had it been tethered to its former position. “Through here.”

The Scribe, docile and aching, stepped through the door into a night full of stars, tree limbs and leaves and fresh air. A comet streaked across the indigo sky, trailing flames. The path they walked was filled with white gravel and sand and felt good on his bare feet. Ahead of him was a grey chalet with roofs pitched at steep angles and lit with color and life. “Welcome to the Altneu Mittelmark,” the dark-eyed man said, stopping at the gate to the property. “You will be safe here in my home.”

Overwhelmed by the smells and sights and sounds of night, the Scribe followed the heavyset man in his red silk kimono up the smooth path. Sculpture, large potteries, flowers, fountains and bushes were new things to him though familiar as recalled through the cobwebs of ancient memories. He remembered sand, heat, trees and grass from their smells. Rocks, sharp and white in the moonlight ringing the inner high walls of the property, were also familiar. He stayed to the path behind the dark-eyed man and absorbed as much as he could.

Inside the chalet (another word that sounded familiar and new at the same time) the Scribe collapsed. The dark-eyed man came and helped him back to his feet. “Sensory overload,” he said. “You will acclimate yourself soon enough. The chalet is welcoming if you’re expected.”

Back on his feet, the Scribe was shown by the dark-eyed man through hallways decorated with small portraits of unfamiliar people to an apartment that was larger than the house of books had ever been. His host bowed to the five women waiting there. “You are in good hands, Scribe,” he said. “I will visit with you come the morning after you have slept.” He left the apartment, sliding a door closed behind him. The Scribe faced the women and felt warm.

He was bathed by Myoki and Anna; dressed by Lispeth and Ingrid; fed by Selannah. The women all made small talk after introducing themselves but did not ask him any questions. Each one was attentive and devoted to his comfort and he did his best to be a gracious guest. He had been such a creature of habit in his role as Scribe, he could not sleep when Ingrid and Selannah put him to bed until they crawled in on either side of him and held him until he gave into his fatigue. He did not dream at all.

* * *

“I trust that everything has been satisfactory?”

The Scribe nodded. A magnificent breakfast was laid out for him and he had been trying one of every item on the table when the dark-eyed man had entered his apartments. Then he smiled and said, “Yes, thank you.” He stood and offered his hand in greeting. “I know I have another name that I cannot recall, but I am Brahmen’s Scribe. Formerly of the House of Books.”

The smile that crossed the dark-eyed man’s face like a shadow across the sun fled quickly. “I am Strangiato, a Seeker for the Powers that Be,” he said taking the Scribe’s hand. “I also had another name, as do we all who serve the Chondria in the battle against Brahmen’s evil.”

The Scribe started to speak but stopped.

“Go ahead,” Strangiato said.

The insulated man smiled, a wan thing he wasn’t used to doing. “When will Brahmen take me back?”

Strangiato’s laughter was not comforting in the least, but it was genuine and filled the room. “Never, if the Chondria have anything to say about it, and we do. You are my guest for the duration of the war between the states of being.”

“Guest is perhaps another word for prisoner,” the Scribe said. They sat now at the breakfast table as equals.

Strangiato said, “You are not a prisoner. I have transportation to take you wherever you would like to go, whenever you would like to go.”


Strangiato did not answer, only looked impassive.

The Scribe leaned forward. “What states of being? What does that mean?”

“The thinking mind and the feeling mind are two very different states, yes?”

The Scribe nodded.

“Without consciousness, one cannot be said to feel,” Strangiato said. “Are we only defined by our positions, our roles? You, for instance, are the Scribe, I am a Seeker, but that is not all that we are, is it?”

“I have only been the Scribe for as long as I can remember.”

“Did you feel that some things you have experienced here are familiar? You admitted that you had a name that you could not remember, so even though you were Brahmen’s Scribe, you were someone else before.

“Continuing to imagine that you are only Brahmen’s Scribe is one state of being, but not the only one you can imagine, surely.”

“I am confused,” the Scribe said. He sat back in his chair and frowned.

Strangiato said, “The states of being are many and varied, as are the creatures of the universe. Brahmen seeks to usurp the natural order of all that has been and should be. He, for lack of a better definition, is Evil and the Chondria are Good. There are many more entities involved who fall on one side or the other.”

The chalet suddenly lurched under the two men, tossing the Scribe to the floor. Strangiato stood and left the room more quickly than his size might suggest he could move. There was shouting in the hallway outside the Scribe’s apartment, and he stood at the door afraid to go through.

Steeling himself, he put his hand on the door handle and felt nothing but the cold brass and scrollwork as he thumbed the latch and opened the door. Emboldened, he ran toward the clamor that kept rising.


The Wolf’s voice chilled him. He was feeling and hearing and was exhilarated at the prospect of finding a new state of being. He came to the courtyard where Strangiato was, complemented by a brace of women and men, some of whom he’d seen in the chalet. All were looking over the top of the wall at the silver eyes of Brahmen’s enforcer scanning them.

“You have no power here, Wolf,” Strangiato said. “This house is well-defended.”

A wolf’s laugh is terrible to hear. “WHERE IS THE SCRIBE? HIS MASTER WOULD HAVE HIM BACK.”

The Scribe drew in a deep breath and held it. Memory suddenly crashed on the rocky shoals of his mind, whitewater spraying high into the air and he shivered with the second wave, the third. He remembered the nets, the traps, the pain of the torture that had taken his memory. He remembered Brahmen's laughter and taunting. The Scribe closed his eyes and stretched his neck. The sound of his memories crashing in on him invigorated him. Refreshed, he narrowed his eyes.

“I am here, Wolf,” he said in a quiet voice. “I have been a slave long enough.” His voice became stronger, more sure, commanding. He stepped out into view of the wolf looking over the high walls of the chalet. The Scribe shucked off his kimono and stood facing the wolf. Naked and radiating strength, he began to work his fingers and hands in patterns that Strangiato and the household staff knew well. “You cannot take me back.

“Your master is not mine. This house is protected by the Chondria and wards of my own devising.” Strangiato and his entire retinue looked at the Scribe, recognizing his power and his office.

He worked sigils and signs, spoke words not designed for the human vocal system and a golden glow traced his movements. The Scribe’s fingers wrote elements in the air, his eyes rolled over white and the Wolf began to shrink.

“Open the gate,” the Scribe said to Lispeth, who ran to do as instructed. “Bring the wolf inside.” She swung the double gate wide and stepped outside, careful to stay on the path. Lispeth took the smaller wolf’s nape in her thin hand and guided the trembling animal into the chalet. Selannah and Ingrid rushed behind her to close the gate.

The Scribe stood in front of the Wolf and the wolf’s silver eyes looked up at him. “How dare you?”

“Brahmen dares, sorcerer.”

The Scribe smiled, crouched down to meet the wolf's eyes as an equal. “You are a pale thing, wolf, in my eyes now. I have my mind, my life and Brahmen will beware.”

He stood and looked at Strangiato. "Kill him and send me the creature's blood. I will make ink of it. Send the head to Brahmen." The Scribe turned his back to the wolf and walked back into the chalet toward his future.

Confused? It's okay, the Scribe's story will continue in Sender, which will appear early in 2010 and conclude in June of 2010 with all the other characters that have been introduced here in The Long Range. I promise it all pays off in the end!

Thanks for reading The Insulated Man. Come back next week Click Here for ...Like They Are

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

You can buy the whole story, and any story from this website for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Insulated Man 3

A note about this week's episode: Towards the end there is a lot of blank space, this is intentional. Please keep scrolling downward to get to the end. You'll know when you get there. Thanks, Jason


Back to work: order must be reestablished and space must be made for the next delivery. Jimmy was gone, the house was a shambles and most certainly all sorts of alarms were going off in regions of the Plemora that he had no wish to ever see again. Sorting the charred books from the ones that were still in good condition, the Scribe was grateful to get back to his routine. He was relaxed and feeling content piling the third stack of books back in its place when he felt another rumbling.

This was different, more like giant steps. He made his way to the window and opened the heavy curtain to look out.

On the hill above the house of books was a supernaturally large grey wolf with glowing silver eyes. It moved closer in flashes, a time-lapse hiccup. Six steps brought it to the front porch. He could hear the wolf’s breath on the door, rushing through the cracked weather-stripping around the jamb. The room was getting hot and he undid one button on his shirt.

“WHO HAS BEEN HERE?” The wolf’s voice was gravel and glass tossed carelessly across corrugated aluminum in a hail storm. It echoed in the tiny house, in his head. The man in the house of books fell to his knees. The wolf snorted and stepped off the porch with the impact of a train wreck. Heavy thuds around the side, around the entire house. The wolf was sniffing everything.

The man in the house of books got back up. He stumbled to look out the bathroom window and saw the wolf’s grey back and tail. Following to the next window in his bedroom, the insulated man saw the wolf’s eyes glaring through the glass. “A CRIME AGAINST BRAHMEN HAS BEEN COMMITTED,” the wolf said. “YOU WILL BE PUNISHED.”

The Scribe stumbled and fell. Breathing heavily, he tried to regain his feet. He had no desire to return to those darkest marches of the Underworld, he would have to make a stand of some kind. The wolf’s unearthly howl unnerved him.

He ran towards the front door and grabbed the doorknob, holding on despite the heat and needles that stabbed through his hand, up his arm, across his back. He grunted, trying to turn the doorknob with all his might. The pain and strain was too much and he let go, falling again to the floor. His hand, his arm, his shoulders and back were screaming in agony. He passed out without a sound.

* * *

The buildings are dark on either side; bullets are spinging concrete shards all around. You see her across the street. You take a step towards her and a bullet rips through your shoulder, sending you to the ground. You shout her name and crawl to your hands and knees.

The sniper above and behind you is picking his shots now, aiming directly ahead of you as you make your way to the opposite curb. The spray of pavement hits you in the face and you’re bleeding but you’re standing up, walking. She’s still there, frightened and hugging herself. You call her name again.

A figure comes out of the shadows and stands next to her. You know him. You shout her name and run until the sniper’s bullet drives hard into your foot. You spin head over heels, landing hard on your back. Angry, scared, you remember you have a pistol of your own and you draw it, aiming at the sniper who is now in full view. One shot startles him, the second kills him. You roll and turn to the shadows across the street.

She’s gone, but he’s still there.

You’ll never get her back, he says with a smile. you’ll never get out,

You fire your weapon in anger, something you’ve never done. You squeeze the trigger until there are no more bullets to send into the shadows. Only laughter comes back to you.

You struggle to your feet. When you step on the foot with the bullet in it and you scream and fall again. You grit your teeth and push up; get to standing and keep as much weight off the foot as you can, limping on the heel.

Making it across the street, you find no one in the shadows. You limp into the alleyway and see dumpsters, abandoned cars, posters for Russian films, porn magazines littering the gutter, one sock and a bra. In silhouette at the far end of the alleyway, two figures are walking around the corner to the right. There’s no blood on the ground.

You gimp down the alleyway at the best speed you can manage, gritting your teeth from the pain. When you gain the corner, you stop to catch your breath and take a quick look and duck back. They are going up the winding stairs toward the museum. You have to hurry. There’s blood in your mouth now and you look at your left shoulder: your shirt is stained red all the way down the sleeve and your side. You’re getting cold, time is running out.

Fast as you can you limp/run to the concrete stairs that will take you to the museum’s mezzanine. Halfway up you stumble, creasing your skull, finishing your chase. He comes to the top of the stairs.

Don’t fuck with me, he says. I tried to warn you. You should have listened.

Let her go, you say. She’s nothing to do with this.

He shakes his head and laughs. Fool.

* * *

The house of books was grave quiet when he woke. He ached: his joints creaked and groaned in protest as he rolled to his hands and knees, then sat against the door. The Scribe’s head spun. He closed his eyes, tried to regain composure. Opening his eyes, he saw the books were gone. The stacks of books, the carefully arranged piles in neat rows that he could navigate throughout the house were all gone.

He could hear the emptiness of the house: the creak of floorboards, the wind blowing outside, a window gently rattling. The Scribe stood, carefully, painfully, and walked through the only home he could remember.

They were all gone, his books.

He hadn’t written in half of them, but he had always thought of the books as his and there had never been anyone different to correct this thought. The occasional delivery never brought interaction with anyone, only books and the ink he needed to write in them. They always appeared inside the front door and never on a regular schedule. They were all gone now.

The char marks of Jimmy’s escape were still in the living room, but no other sign there had ever been anything else in the house. His bedroom was devoid of furniture and his clothes. The kitchen still had a chair but no food in the cupboards, the refrigerator, or the pantry.

He was being punished.

The light was leaving. He flipped a wall switch and nothing happened, no light came on. He went to the faucet and turned the coldwater tap and nothing came out. He heard his footsteps as he ran to the front door and tried the knob, but it didn’t budge. He pounded an impotent fist on the door and he breathed in gulps now. He turned back and ran back to the kitchen and stopped: he hadn’t heard his footsteps back. He opened a cupboard door then slammed it shut: nothing. He couldn’t hear his breathing, either. He punched a wall and felt nothing, heard nothing. No sound, no feeling.

This wasn’t just punishment, this was retribution.

He couldn’t affect the environment. He went to the windows again and realized it wasn’t just dusk, it was dark. There was nothing out beyond the glass, only void.

The house had been moved. How, when were irrelevant questions. All he had now was the interior of the house, the only home he’d known for so many long years. Fear was beyond him, now, so were despair, helplessness and every other emotion. He was completely cut off from everything.

He sat down on the floor, crossed his legs and closed his eyes. The Scribe couldn’t feel his heart, couldn’t hear his breathing but was still alive in the house. Devoid of its books, he knew his chances of surviving this were slim. He would try, knowing that was all he could do: survive.

He sat and waited.

Breathing as slowly as he could, unable to hear, to feel, he waited some more.

The house held him close, hermetically sealed in the blackness of Void.

Something. Something on the edge of his attention.

A sound.

Faint and whirling as though sloshing through deep water and coming closer, rhythmic.

It swirled toward him and over him, enveloped him, lifting him and he could hear. In and out came the sound until he knew it was a voice, a man’s deep voice.

“Do you want to escape?”

The man in the house devoid of books opened his eyes, licked his lips and said, “Yes.”

Thanks for reading The Insulated Man. Come back next week Click Here for the conclusion!

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Can't wait? You can buy the whole story for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Insulated Man 2


All the man inside the house of books had known was solitude. He did his job, tended his books and outside of the very occasional delivery of new books by train, no one ever visited. The sound of a strange voice in the hallway after such devastation, the sound of any voice for that matter, was cause for alarm.

“Where the FUCK am I?” the voice said again. He stood as still as he ever had in his life, unsure. A string of curses and shouts flew from the hallway. Deciding to take some kind of action, he moved as quietly as possible through the carnage of the living room.

“Is someone there?” came the voice from the hall. The man in the house of books continued slowly, towards uncertainty. The world tilted away from him, his certain future of living out his days in this house now in doubt. A floorboard creaked. The voice from the hall said, “Is someone there?”

The man in the house of books put a hand into the open doorway facing the hall, waved and carefully followed until he could see into the hall. The man was wearing what could only kindly be referred to as rags, had long hair past his shoulders and a beard that reached his belly. The ragged man’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Are you the Scribe?” The man in the house of books nodded. The ragged man looked around and breathed heavily through his nostrils.

“How long?” The ragged man looked around the house, taking in the damage. “This place…” He walked in a small circle, avoiding books. “If I survived, where’s Esme? Where’s her book? Where’s her book!”

The ragged man began opening books and tossing them aside. Languages he’d never seen before were written on the front pages of these books; names he didn’t and would never recognize were tossed carelessly aside. “No, no, no, no,” he said. He opened and tossed more and more books. The man in the house of books tried to pick them up and begin restacking them, but the ragged man’s mania was taking over the room. “Where is she!”

The ragged man stalked through the house of books, randomly opening and tossing books away when he didn’t know the name in them, the tenant of the house of books following. Making his way to the living room he found the tome that had formerly held him. A red book the size of a dictionary, the thin vellum pages were filled with words arranged in two columns, but more than half the book was burned away, charred and still smoking. The ragged man could only stare at it. There were other books nearby - some barely held together - most charred to greater or lesser degrees, loose pages fluttering here and there. “Esme,” the ragged man said and collapsed.

The man in the house of books could only watch the newcomer wail and cry.

At last, a silence between the two men stretched and snapped when a pile of books fell over behind them. The ragged man met the other’s questioning stare.

“I’m one of the Chondria’s longlifers,” he said. “The book ran out of pages. It had to let me go. There’s no such thing as ‘to be continued’ in Brahmen’s world, is there?”

The man in the house of books considered this and nodded.

“Glad you agree,” the ragged man said. “Is it okay if I call you Scribe?” The ragged man’s erstwhile host shrugged.

“Good,” the ragged man said and reached out a hand. “I’m Jimmy.” They shook hands. “Where can I clean up?”

* * *

There’s a roaring in your ears. You can’t think, you’re angry beyond anything you’ve ever felt before. The roaring is just white noise, as loud as you’ve ever heard. You scream, raging at the darkness.

You’re wet. You realize that the floor you’re standing on is rock and it’s wet, too. The roaring is not just in your ears --- it’s in the air to your left. You turn right and the roaring is behind you and you can feel the spray of water on your back. You close your eyes tight as you can and open them, hoping they’ve adjusted to the lack of light now.

You can see dim shapes in the darkness. People? You can’t tell so you walk forward, slow and methodical, feeling your way with your bare toes. You run your hands over your torso and realize you’re bereft of clothes but you’re not cold. The roaring is lessened a little as you walk. Your eyes are letting in all the light there is and you’re confident you can see.

Your right foot is dangling in the air and you nearly fall forward. Instinctively, you twist your body to fall backwards. You land heavily on your hands and knees, then your elbow gives and you roll to your right. Scraped and bruised, you try to catch your breath. You tell yourself you’re safe. You think your heart will pound out of your chest.

You feel for the edge you nearly toppled over, patting your hands carefully in front of you until you find it. It seems to go for dozens of feet in either direction, so you decide to go back toward the roaring.

You realize it’s a waterfall and when you get there you can’t see through it, you can’t see around it or under it. It’s a perfect wall of rushing water so loud that it shakes you to your feet. You take a deep breath, feeling the atomized water slipping into your lungs, then take ten steps backwards. You run at the wall, shouting.

The water slams into you and you don’t go forward as you hit it, you go down. You are bashed with the force of ten gravities for a hundred feet into the churning pool at the bottom of the waterfall. Shouting was a bad idea because now you have no air in your lungs and you’re turning over and over in the pool. You don’t know which way is up so you can’t swim.

You see a face in your mind, the love of your life and you kick and flail your arms in an approximation of swimming. The current pulls you along and what you hope is upward and your lungs burn. You push, you pull and finally you’re on the surface, treading water, floating on the current downstream.

Catching your breath again, you see the gibbous moon above and a light on the shore to your right. You swim for the bank and the house with the light on.

* * *

“Hey, Scribe. Hey, wake up.” Jimmy was waving his hand in front of his host’s face. Startled, the man in the house of books fell off the dining room chair he always sat in. The formerly ragged man stood up straight and looked down at the human heap. “Wow, sleeping with your eyes open,” he said. “You’re stranger than your predecessor.” Jimmy bent now to help the man in the house of books to his feet. “Upsy-daisy’s how it goes.”

The house of books had only ever known silence since the insulated man’s arrival. He’d never seen anything, other than the volumes lining the walls, to indicate that anyone else had ever occupied this space. To have some sort of confirmation that at least one other person had been imprisoned this way was a small comfort.

The two men looked at each other, the Scribe embarrassed. The formerly ragged man was dressed and much more presentable. Jimmy had shaved off the beard and kept a mustache, his hair barely touched the tops of his ears.

The man in the house of books had sat down for only a moment when sleep had come upon him. He had meant to clean up more of the mess while the former prisoner had showered and shaved. He’d picked out a shirt, pants and shoes for the escapee then tried to re-establish order in the house.

Jimmy said, “Show me the outside door.”

The man was nonplussed, reassembling himself as much as possible, frowned a question to Jimmy. “Yeah,” he said in answer. “I’m leaving. I need you to show me the right door. I know you know which one it is.”

* * *

They walked to the front hall facing the door that led outside. “There are all sorts of alarms going off now,” Jimmy said. “The Wolf is on his way.”

The Scribe shrugged.

“Hm. I’d invite you along, but I’ve got business in --- well, elsewhere, anyway. I hope you understand. I can send help when I get a chance if you want.” A nod. “Okay,” Jimmy said. “Here goes, then.”

He put his hand on the doorknob tentatively, then firmly grasped it and turned it, heard the latch clack open. “It’s that easy?” The man in the house of books nodded. Jimmy stepped through without looking back. The Scribe closed the door behind his friend and smiled.

Thanks for reading The Insulated Man. Come back next week Click Here for part three!

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Can't wait? You can buy the whole story for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Insulated Man 1


The road that reached up the hill was thin, comprised of a few stray bits of gravel and a great deal of red dirt. Rainwater had carved worry lines in rivulets on either side. A single oak tree shaded the house at the end of the drive during summer days, the full shrubbery at its base was immaculately trimmed, and the gutters were straight and clean. It was a good house: not so large as to attract attention, not too small go completely unnoticed and painted a shade of green that fit in with every season.

None of this was strange.

There were never any deliveries to the house; no one had ever seen the man who lived there coming or going, on his porch or in the yard. There was no mailbox at the bottom of the hill and no wires ran from the highway to connect it to the rest of the world. There was no car parked in front, no trashcan ever appeared on Wednesdays to be emptied into blue Defenbaugh trucks. This was eccentric, even odd, but not strange.

Lights could be seen behind the heavy, always-drawn curtains at night. Occasionally the shadow of a man passed by one of the three windows facing the main road. A lost motorist once came to the front door of the house to find that there was no bell, no knocker, not even a knob on the door. It was a simple flat panel that shone in the sunlight as though it were new. The motorist knocked anyway and shouted his predicament through the door when a knock answered from the other side. A slip of paper appeared at his feet that gave him directions to his destination. The motorist took the paper and drove away.

Once back on the highway, the paper faded away and the motorist didn’t recall where he’d been but knew how to get where he was going.

Stranger still, inside the house, the man who had directed the motorist returned to his books. Towers of them lined each wall, crowded every walkway from floor to ceiling in every room on all available flat spaces. Leather, vellum, cloth; some with boards others not, all arranged carefully by size and stacked spine out. He knew them all despite the lack of titles and he touched some of them as he passed, feeling a little quiver here and there or remembering some little phrase.

He walked through the overcrowded house to the bedroom. The man inside the house of books lay on his bed and closed his eyes. He felt a wind hot on his cheek and rolled over to stare at a stack of books, some red, others green, many black. He moved his eyes from top to bottom counting the books in the stack until he fell asleep.

* * *

The interior of your hut is so dark that when you step outside you have to shade your eyes. The sky is clear and a happy kind of azure. Your village is small, nestled comfortably in the foothills near the river. You are the Hunter, your people’s champion and second only to the wise man in status. You stretch your muscles in the clear light of the day and make your way toward the river.

The cold water you splash over your face shocks you more awake and you put your head completely under the flowing water. Your long black hair mats across your face, shoulders and neck. You drink the clear water, strip off your loincloth and dive into the river swimming for the deepest point in the middle.

You stay under until your lungs near to burst and you count four large rainbow-colored fish swim past. Smiling, you are refreshed and your morning has begun.

There is a man-shaped shadow on the bank of the river, between you and your sword in your hut. Your dark eyes narrow, squinting against the sun’s brightness and you walk closer to the shore until you are only knee deep.

Calm and not intimidated by your size nor apparent strength, the foreigner is dressed in black and carries a sword of a design you’ve never seen before, not in all your years of fighting for the Romans. He stoops and picks up your loincloth, tosses it to you.

The stranger turns and walks from you.

He goes to your hut, looks inside the door and then stands away, waiting for you to catch up.

You can see that the girls from last night are still asleep inside the hut. You suddenly look around and notice that no one in the village is up and around. The stranger is smiling again when you look back at him. He is as large as you are, his blue eyes sunk deep in their sockets, and the cords of his neck ripple as he places himself between you and your hut.

“Your weapons are not necessary,” he says. “I am offering you a chance to live a long life of interest and service. You are a worthy Hunter and I am tired. I have watched you for these last ten years, since you left Hannibal’s service.”

“You speak no language I know,” you say. “How do I understand you?”

The foreigner smiled again, a habit that irritates you.

“I have never encountered such as you.”

“Nor are you likely to, ever again,” the man in black says. His dagger moves so quickly to your throat that you never have a chance. He’s grabbed your hair and exposed your neck.

“A long and interesting life or a quick pointless death,” he says in your ear. His hot breath stinks. “Choose.” The dagger breaks the skin at your throat and you can feel it move toward your ear, slowly.

* * *

Darkness outside, and heat still in the house. Rising from the bed, shaking his head the man put a hand to his throat to check for blood. Nothing. The man inside the house of books made his way to the bathroom and closed the door behind him with a quiet click.

When he came out, he ground the coffee beans he kept in a jar on the counter, poured water into the maker and pressed the start button. While that was brewing, he went to a cupboard and pulled out a box of cereal then to another cupboard to get a bowl. The rumbling started then.

He had never heard a rumbling like this before in the house of books. This was unlike the rumble of the train, and even less like the low booming of the jets that sometimes passed overhead. This rumbling was akin to an earthquake. Making his way through the maze of books, he heard some toppling over. Wending his way through the maze of tomes, he made for the living room.

Stacks of books were shaking, teetering on the verge of collapse. He rushed forward to pick fallen books up and try to replace them, but it was futile. All the man in the house of books could do was brace as many as he could with back and body. He was pelted, as the rumbling grew, by books falling on him. Sharp corners dug into arms and shoulders, even cut him, and he grimly held fast.

An explosion in the center of the room spilled outward in a rush of air that created a vacuum instantly filled by more air creating a thunderclap six feet from him. The pressure change made his eyes water, his ears ring. Everything he knew was crashing in around him.

There was a flash of light; a wind hurricaned around the living room. He thought he could hear a howl that wasn’t just the wind and might not have been human. It seemed far away, from outside the house but close. Coming closer.

Books tumbled down in sheets, an avalanche of boards and papers. He could see some of them tearing as they fell, spines breaking, covers bending. The man in the house of books could feel them snap and tear. He didn’t make a sound.

The wind shot books across the room like cannon balls cratering the plaster and lath walls, sending plumes of white dust and debris into the swirling air stinging his eyes and skin. He gave up trying to brace the stack and crouched down, covering his head. Falling books, their leaves flapping like mad crows, fell like hard sleet. A second thunderclap boomed over his head.
Then it was over.

Another stack in the hall avalanched downward in the sudden silence. He climbed to his feet and brushed himself off. The damage was considerable and would require time to clean and re-sort. He would have to sleep less, and that would be good given his dreams of late. Resolved, he began to pick up volumes and restore some semblance of order.

The voice came from deep in the hallway, surprised and angry. “Where the fuck am I?”

Thanks for reading The Insulated Man. Come back next week Click Here for part two!

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Can't wait? You can buy the whole story for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Two Hands 4



Their life became a comfortable routine and they were happy. Brad grew used to Marion getting up in the middle of the night and she accustomed herself to his little eccentricities. Officially married in the eyes of the law and their friends a month after Marion’s return, the remainder of that year and the next were the happiest either had ever known.

One Saturday afternoon Beatrice Chandler burst through the front door and stomped down the stairs. Brad was sitting on the porch, his usual position when she visited. She reached the sidewalk before turning to acknowledge him. “She’s stubborn, Bradley.” Brad nodded as the old woman disappeared up the tree-lined street.

He waited for Marion (his habit when it was nice and Mrs. Chandler came over) by reading more on super string theory. Marion was fuming when she finally came out. Brad closed his book and counted six times she paced the entire length of the porch before sitting next to him. “Infuriating,” she said.

“Anything I can do?”

“No,” she said. “I’m just frustrated with her. She won’t let me go.”

“Ah,” Brad said not understanding. The long silence was accompanied by the sounds of the neighborhood.

Finally, Marion relaxed. “Wanna fool around?”


The house was still dark when Brad woke and he looked at the clock: 3:47. She was almost never up this late. “Marion?” he said. “You out there?” No answer. He got out of bed and padded to the hall: dark there, too. The living room was empty, the kitchen, the dining room were all bereft of his wife. Something out of the corner of his eye on the wall behind him caused him to jump. When he looked again it was just shadow of the elm tree’s leaves in the wind. Calm, he went to the basement door.

Downstairs in the light of the moon filtered through the window wells he found Marion seated, cross-legged, next to the bloodstain still on the carpet. “Marion?” She looked up at him through the murk and he gasped and sat on the stair. Her eyes were completely black, a little point of white where her pupils were supposed to be. She tilted her head and said something in an alien language, then closed her eyes and bowed her head.

When she looked at him again, her eyes were back to normal and she tried to smile at him. “Sorry to wake you, sweetheart,” she said. “I was talking with a counterpart, asking advice.”

“What sort of advice?”

Marion stood up and put her hands on her hips. “Bea is demanding I take on a student. Like I haven’t done enough for her and the Chondria.”

“Do you have to go away again?”

Marion came over to Brad and put her hands on his shoulders. “No, sweetie, I don’t. I won’t ever have to go away like that again.” She gently pulled him to his feet. “Come on, let’s go back to bed.”


The following week, Brad came home from the garage to find a young woman in his dining room with his wife. He smiled, kissed Marion on the cheek and went upstairs to shower off the day’s grime. When he came back downstairs, Marion was fixing dinner and the girl was gone. As she stood at the stove stirring the soup he put his arms around her and nuzzled her neck, pulled as close as he could to her. She laughed. “Stop it,” she said. “I’m trying to get your dinner here.”

“Need any help?”

“Not the kind you’re offering. Sit down and keep me company.”

“How was your day?”

Marion sighed. “All right. No real excitement, except for my visitor.”

“She was cute.”

“Nice of you to notice,” Marion said. “She’s the student Beatrice wanted me to take on. Today was my first meeting with her. She’s smart, and already knows a lot. I’ll introduce you.”

“What’s the commitment?”

“Quite a lot. More than I want it to be.”

“So,” Brad said. “You gonna take her on? Teach her?”

Marion pulled the spoon out of the soup and set it on the ceramic rest she kept in the middle of the stovetop. Opening the refrigerator, she pulled out a head of lettuce, a cucumber and two tomatoes. She washed the vegetables and set them next to the sink before reaching into a cupboard to pull out a cutting board, then into a drawer to grab a chef’s knife and a serrated knife, both of which she placed next to the cutting board. Everything was carefully arranged. She crossed her arms and leaned against the sink.


“I’m going to have to, Brad. I’m training my replacement when I take her on. It means we can have a normal life once I’m done.”


“Normal. Kids and everything. You know, when you’re ready to have kids.”

Brad stood up and grabbed her, full of joy. They kissed and laughed until she put her hand on his chest. “Two years, at least, maybe a little less but you should count on two years.” He frowned at her. “I’m sorry,” she said. Brad pulled away and turned his back to her.

“I don’t understand,” he said.

Pained, Marion turned toward the counter where the salad makings were so carefully laid out. “It’s pretty involved,” she said. “I can’t explain it all. I wish I could”

“I put up with a lot, Marion,” he said looking straight ahead and not at her.

The silences that usually followed such conversations were awful for them both. This one was terrible. It lasted for days and resulted in an uneasy, unspoken acceptance.


Six months later, Brad woke alone in the night. He didn’t look at the clock and lay in the bed staring at the ceiling. Shadows from the trees played in the full moonlight across the walls and the ceilings. Brad got up and went to the window. The enormous white disk hung in the western sky lighting up the landscape as though it were the sun.

A shadow, huge, mercurial and black, ran across the face of the moon from south to north, followed by a shattering, stabbing pain behind his eyes. Brad fell backwards, half on the bed when Marion’s voice called his name softly, weakly. Panicked, he ran to the basement door. In the kitchen he saw the elm’s shadow on the wall, but there was something else: letters, words in a strange language he didn’t recognize, arranged in phrases or sentences that moved across the walls like a news ticker. Even more frightened, he grabbed the doorknob, barely noticing the heat or the resultant burn and dashed downstairs.

At the bottom of the stairs he saw Marion, covered in blood. She was crawling towards their spot, struggling to breathe. Stunned, Brad forced himself to go to her. “Need to get,” Marion said, took a huge gasp of air and coughed. “There.”

He helped her to the stain on the carpet and cradled her head in his lap. Her throat was spurting blood out of a short, ragged gash and there were cuts to her chest and hands. Her breathing was shallow, punctuated by deep hucking sounds. Marion rolled on her left side and put her right hand on the spot, spread her fingers over the center of it and slapped at the space. “No,” she whispered. “Damn it. No.” She collapsed backward into Brad’s lap. Her eyes were closed.


“She’s --- killed me,” Marion said. The words were slow and nearly silent. “Emily. Bitch --- killed me.”

“I should call an ambulance,” Brad said. “I need to get you help.”

“Fooled --- me. Love you --- Bradley,” she said. Marion’s eyes misted over and she smiled a sad smile. “I love --- you.”

His left hand was on her heart; she brought her right hand up to lay on his and tried to squeeze. “What can I do?”

“N – nothing,” she said. “It’s ah – already done. Love finds,” she gasped. “Find me.” The last vowel rode the breath out of her body. Her hand fell away, her eyes unfocused, she went limp; he shouted her name over and over until a neighbor called 911 about the noise and police and an ambulance came.


Beatrice Chandler was at the funeral: Dale Crown was there, all their friends came and more. Standing together were a dark-eyed, heavyset man in an elegant suit and a handsome man with flowing chestnut brown hair and a goatee. They approached Brad after the graveside ceremony, a short, strange affair conducted exactly according to Marion’s will.

“My name is Strangiato,” the dark-eyed man said. “Marion was a --- colleague of mine and a friend.” Brad looked suspiciously at him. “I can help you find her.”

Brad nodded slowly.

Thanks for reading Two Hands. Come back next week Click Here for The Insulated Man..

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

You can buy the whole story for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.