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

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