Fantasy Horror Author A.F. Stewart and I talk Deviltry, Noveltry, Shipbuilding, Agony and Ecstasy

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A.F. Stewart, aka @Scribe77, did me.

Interviewed me, I mean.

 
We talked about

  • The differences between writing short stories and novels (not much from a crafting standpoint, me thinks)
  • Creating sympathetic villains (even the worst person has one humanizing detail)
  • Genre writing (I don’t believe I write in a genre. My regular readers tell me my genre is “Joseph”)
  • My incredible anthology, Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires
  • Being able to do amazing things with words when you’re an author
  • The link between Satan and Hamilton Burger
  • Getting kudos from your readers
  • Ritchie and Phyl, my incredible work in progress
  • How writing Flash fiction is like building a ship in a bottle
  • Great Opening Lines
  • My incredible scifi/military/thriller, The Augmented Man
  • Writing about characters rather than genre (the story comes first, the genre comes second)
  • Empty Sky and my standing offer; read the book, leave a review, and I’ll send you an autographed copy of the rewrite when it’s published.
  • Children growing up
  • Stories that grew out of my anthropology studies – Mani He and The Goatmen of Aguirra
  • Getting kudos from editors and publishers
  • Writing almost fantastic fantasies (okay, the story’s fantastic. It uses almost fantasy elements – The Weight)

So, yeah, we covered a few things.

Enjoy!

Empty Sky Chapter 11 – Shem

(Getting feedback from proofreaders now, all good. You can read the previous version here)

Read Empty Sky Chapter 10 – Poppie

Creator and above level members can download a PDF of this chapter to read offline

Two men, one shaved bald, tall, thin, and quick like a whip, and the other a fireplug on legs with a jet black ponytail halfway down his broad back, both in tailored, navy-blue pinstripe suits and wearing hand-made, alligator-skin shoes so polished they reflected the lights marking the aisle, made their way from the locomotive through the tender to the back of the train. The whip would walk a few long, waspish steps, wait, then spin the gold and diamond pinky ring on his right hand until the fireplug caught up. When the fireplug reached him the whip would walk a few more long, waspish steps, wait and spin his ring again.

The fireplug strolled, his hands clasped in front of his chest as if in prayer, his eyes skimming over his knuckles as they evaluated, the bands of the two turquoise rings he wore — one on each ring finger — clicking sometimes as he walked. He passed no one without reaching out to their carotid and checking for a pulse; conductors, stewards, clerks, passengers. It didn’t matter.

The fireplug’s slow methodicity and attention to detail frustrated the whip who released his frustration by aiming a small but powerful ruby laser into the lens of the security cameras while he waited for his partner to catch up.

“Christ, look at this place. What did The Boss use again?”

“Ambien. That’s what he had us dump in the food service trucks. It makes you sleep and wake up without feeling groggy. ‘Far as everyone on the train is concerned, they’ll all think they probably had too much to drink.”

“Do you have to test every mother’s son?” The whip broke protocol and used names in an attempt to make the fireplug move faster. “We’re supposed to get MacPherson to Pangiosi before morning, you know.”

The fireplug stopped and stared at the whip who turned away before the fireplug answered. “We have plenty of time. Besides, we find one dead person, we got trouble.”

“Didn’t you tell me once something about your grandfather teaching you to help people die?”

The fireplug nodded as he worked. “Not exactly. He taught me to sing them from this world to the next, to carry the souls of the dead so they’d find peace.”

“Happy hunting ground stuff?”

“Something like that.”

“You believe in that stuff?”

“I don’t believe in much of anything anymore.”

“Yeah. Ditto that.”

The fireplug continued his slow inspection. The whip tapped his foot at the rear door to the car.

The fireplug stopped and looked up. “I wonder if these people dream.”

The whip broke protocol a second time. “John, who gives a shit. Pangiosi gave us an order. We carry it out.”

John stopped. His arms folded over an expansive chest.

The whip looked out a window and spun his gold and diamond pinky ring. “Sorry.”

John’s prayerful hands went back to work.

Shem twitched himself awake. His head rose up and he sniffed the air. A scent, something from deep dog memory, canine memory, canid memory, canis memory. He leapt off the bunk and growled. A door opened in the bedroom suite, a door only dogs, only canines, only the line that first walked before man then behind then beside could see, sworn under the first full moon to watch for such doors because humans, the canids knew, would grow to forget.

The door closed. Whatever had been there had been warned away by flashing eyes, by baring teeth.

He jumped back on the bunk. As he circled to lay down he remembered the Little Master had gone. He looked across the suite to the other cot. The Great Master snored lazily like an old Alpha in the tall grass on a hot summer day.

Shem scratched his ear with a hind paw then sniffed his genitals. He rested his head over his paws, flopped to his side and stretched on the mattress. The entire bed was his!

Glorious His!

A few minutes later he, like the Great Master, snored like an Alpha in the tall grass.


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Empty Sky Chapter 10 – Poppie

Some fathers only realize their potential when they’re with their children

(Getting feedback from proofreaders now, all good. You can read the previous version here (note it had a different title).

Read Empty Sky Chapter 9 – One Great Truth

Creator and above level members can download a PDF of the first ten chapters to read offline

Dr. Capoçek Lupicen sat at his desk in the dark, an oversize computer screen’s dim afterglow lighting his face. His left hand arched over the keyboard, his long, thin fingers resting on a large red trackball. A switching panel stood to the right of the screen, its red lights reflecting off his glasses making it appear that an ovoid headed demon with large red eyes stared at him from his workstation. Other labs had virtual displays and keyboards. Dr. Lupicen preferred the human touch physical keyboards, screens, and trackballs afforded him.

A small, old, worn, black and white photograph in a silver frame held pride of place on his desk, standing between his keyboard and screen. The photograph showed two boys with similar features, one about ten years older than the other. He’d check something on his screen then look at the two boys smiling out of the photograph, gently tap the older boy’s face, smile then return his gaze to the computer screen, as if confirming the screen’s information with the boy in the picture.

He cupped his narrow chin in his right hand and reread what he entered in his journal, evaluating every sentence, every thought. He released his chin and cupped his ear, letting his fingers beat a mindless staccato on his short gray hair as words were considered, phrases whispered, accuracy determined. A passage dissatisfied him. He lifted his glasses from underneath and massaged his sharply etched pince-nez. Often he adjusted himself on his seat as if a slightly different position clarified his thoughts. The sharp citrus and pine aromas of laboratory cleaning solvents tinctured his nose and he exhaled sharply. The scent of stronger, industrial solvents wafted through his lab and he pulled back, hurrying to pull a handkerchief out of his pants pocket before he sneezed. He wiped his nose, absently returned the handkerchief to his pocket and continued writing and editing.

Each night he came here to enter the day’s events into his journal. Each night, after all the postdocs and grad students and assorted degree candidates and research associates had left and the sun had set, he quietly unlocked the door and tiptoed in as if he had no right to enter the lab his research funded. He would look right then left then right again, looking first through then over his glasses as if the clear vision they granted might prove a lie. He never turned on a light, all old habits from an older part of the world, from a place and time when silence and stealth were the secrets to life itself.

Satisfied with his entry, he sat back and put his hands in his lap.

Footsteps approached in the hall. That would be Mr. William Murphy — the janitor the students referred to as “Wild Bill” because he was often slightly drunk, dressed like a woodsman regardless of season or weather, and sang to himself quietly but offkey — working slowly, methodically, intentionally, all things Dr. Lupicen admired and approved of. Sometimes, when he’d finished making his entries early, he would invite Mr. Murphy in to chat, to sit and share some tea. Mr. Murphy was a good listener, smiled and nodded at things he couldn’t understand, then said thank you, cleaned, dried and replaced his cup on the shelf above the sink, shook hands and went about his ways.

Lupicen appreciated the quiet friendship.

But not tonight. Dr. Lupicen sat motionless until the casters under Wild Bill’s wringer bucket, the sloshing water, swishing mop, Wild Bill’s own nasally singsong voice and the sharp smells of his cleansing chemicals echoed away.

Lupicen turned his chair to look out his lab’s western facing windows. His lab was the largest in Vail Hall, in the last cluster of academic buildings on the north side of the Dartmouth campus, and occupied the entire west side of the second floor.

A few cars could be seen under the lights of the parking lot behind the building. Trees created a small woods extending past the parking lot down several hundred yards past some roads and eventually to the Connecticut River. Across the river he saw the glow of Norwich and Thetford, Vermont, and beyond them the eastern faces of the central Green Mountains.

The faces were lit by the moon rising in the east. On the nights his staff worked late he would take a moment from observing the people sleeping in the chambers he’d designed to watch the moon slide down behind those mountains.

The moon in the mountains.

Turning back to his workstation, he tapped the trackball and the screen flickered to life. He logged out of his desktop then pressed his thumb against a small scanner on his keyboard. The screen’s connection, along with the connections to the trackball and keyboard, went from his desktop to the APS System 70v3 computer resting like a plexus between the sleep chambers, its cables like the webbing of a fat, dark spider in the center of his lab.

His fingers moved the trackball as if he were cracking a safe. The screen lit up and a blue door appeared centered in a deep ocean background. He opened a drawer and pulled out a HUVRSA, a Heads Up Virtual Reality Sensory Accumulators helmet, two cybergloves and a cybersuit. He undressed and slid his mantis-thin body into the tight fitting head-to-toe cybersuit. His cybergloved left hand made a knocking motion in the air. On the computer screen his knocking became a cartoon balloon with the word “knock” repeated three times on the surface of the door.

“Ann? May I come in, my girl? Hmm? May I come in?”

Nothing happened. He looked at the ’70’s dark display, then spoke directly into the HUVRSA’s voicelink. “Are you awake, Ann?”


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Empty Sky Chapter 9 – One Great Truth

All Mysteries Resolve to One Great Truth

(final edit before the proofreaders (he said). You can read the previous version here (note it had a different title).

Read Empty Sky Chapter 8 – Earl Pangiosi

Creator and above level members can download a PDF of the first nine chapters to read offline

Tom, Jamie, and Shem followed Jack through the upper level of the Lake Shore Limited’s SuperLiner Snack Coach. “Come on, gang, it’s not much further to the Viewliner. That’s where we’re sleeping.” Some five steps behind them, a nurse and two attendants followed sipping rootbeers and munching potato chips from crinkling cellophane bags.

Tom sneezed at a sudden whiff of diesel fumes. Everyone stopped. With no rhyme or reason to his narcolepsy, everyone prepared for another cascade.

“I’m fine, I’m fine.” His head fell forward and his eyelids fluttered. The attendants hurried forward as Tom straightened up. “Ha! Gotcha!”

The attendants smiled. Jack shook his head and rolled his eyes. Tom held his fists face level and moved them in a circle while singsonging “I gotCHA I gotCHA.” Shem wagged his tail at the sudden activity.

Jamie remained silent.

Jack reserved the last Viewliner rooms for the seven of them. The one closest to the rear door and the diaphragm-engulfed platform between cars — Jack explained it prevented people jumping or falling from the train when they moved between the cars — was a bedroom suite for the attendants, base medical and ambulance grade EMT supplies and equipment. Jack took the furthest in-train of the four, a standard bedroom. Jamie, Shem and Tom shared the next in-train, another bedroom suite. The nurse had the bedroom suite between the MacPhersons and the attendants. The suite also contained a Lexicor MedTech NeuroSearch-24, 19 AC-coupled amplifiers, an Autonomy’s Frontalis recorder and more dedicated neuro diagnostics than most hospitals could afford.

Jack refused to take chances. When Tom slept he demonstrated intermittent trains of rhythmic spiked morphology waves. Tom’s body slept but not his brain. He closed his eyes and his fronto-orbital regions lit up like aircraft landing lights desperately seeking safe ground. When no such place appeared Tom’s brain turned the lights on brighter, intent that it existed and waiting to be found. That much neural horsepower required his autonomic nervous system to take over body functions completely. No distractions, nothing to interfere with making the search. Not Jack, his team nor anyone he shared the data with had seen anything like it.

Tom stopped at the door to his suite while Jamie and Shem walked in. He smiled at Jack. “Alas, to sleep. Perchance to dream.”

Jamie, already in bed with Shem beside him, watched Tom clean up and get under the covers. He listened for changes in his father’s breathing as Tom drifted off, wanting to be sure his father was there when he woke up, until the train’s steady ruddaRump ruddaRump ruddaRump rocked him to sleep, Shem curled up beside him.


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Empty Sky Chapter 8 – Earl Pangiosi

Evil is made. It doesn’t come naturally.

(final edit before the proofreaders (he said). You can read the previous version here.

Read Empty Sky Chapter 7 – Joni and Honey Fitz

Creator and above level members can download a PDF of the first eight chapters to read offline

Earl Pangiosi sat in the Empire Builder‘s Superliner Snack Coach’s upper level, a pillow behind his head and a blanket covering his legs, peering through dark, wraparound sunglasses at people’s reflections in the round, full length domed windows. When someone nodded off, he’d dip down his glasses and peer at them briefly, purse his lips then shove the glasses back up his face. Once in a while he’d catch his own red-haired, high colored reflection as he followed people walking past.

Earl liked being around people so he could practice. He had his own car — disguised as two back-to-back LandSea containers on a flatcar and marked “US Mail” — further back in the train. It brought a brief smile, the change in rail regulations that allowed all trains to transport freight and passengers simultaneously. It made his private car’s subterfuge possible.

But people were Earl’s focus. He tolerated the miasma of greasy hamburgers and soggy fries, too strong coffee and unwashed bodies, screaming children and louder screaming parents, and the occasional whiffs of diesel to indulge in a pastime he enjoyed since his childhood: watching people’s reflections in glass.

He first noticed his gift on an early Fall night much like this one.

Dad, suit and tie and freshly shaved and mustache neatly trimmed, drove their new, ’59 burgundy Lincoln Continental back to the old neighborhood. Mom sat opposite dad, wrapped in her furs, wearing her best clothes. Dad told her she wore clothes too tight sometimes but she told him to never mind, didn’t he want everybody to know what he had every night?

Mom and Dad left the old neighborhood a year before and never told Earl why. But once a month, maybe twice, he and Mom and Dad would get in the car and go back north to the old neighborhood with presents for everybody. Dad was in the meat business and he’d hand out steaks and chops and roasts and cutlets and hotdogs in summer and hamburger and ground pork if somebody wanted to make meatballs. Everybody was so grateful and Mom would smile and nod as she stood beside Dad, his hands reaching deep into the coolers in the dark of the trunk, coming back into daylight, his hands full of brown paper wrapped meats neatly tied with butcher’s twine. They asked questions about the new car and Dad would tell them it was a Lincoln and Mom would correct him with “Lincoln Continental.”

They drove home, the coolers empty and tucked in the trunk, heading south on a clear, moonless Sunday night. Earl saw the Rhode Island border sign. Soon Dad would slow for the Providence traffic and take the Federal Hill exit.

An only child, Earl had the entire backseat to himself. He could lie down and take naps if he wanted to. Now he sat behind Mom, his hands folded and face pressed against the rear passenger’s window, his knees pulled together and tucked under him because he had to pee but Dad said they weren’t going to stop, they only had a little further to go and Earl was a big man and could hold it, couldn’t he?

Sure, Dad.

Except Earl really had to pee. The leather seat sent shivers of cold up through his bare knees and that didn’t help. He had bare knees because he wore shorts. Shorts, a winter jacket and a hat Mom made him wear even though his cousins all wore long pants.

They already laughed at him because he had different color eyes: the right brown, the left blue. Mom didn’t say much and his cousins and some aunts and uncles said that made him a freak. She made him wear dark sunglasses and told everyone Earl had sensitive eyes.

His cousins would dance around him. “Earl has sen-si-tive eye-eyes. Earl has sen-si-tive eye-eyes.”

He caught his reflection in the window as his exhalations frosted the glass. Mom’s and Dad’s reflections, too.

He’d never noticed them before. Maybe reflections were something you only got in a Lincoln Continental? The dashboard gave off so much light.

He watched his father’s profile as they drove. Mother said things and Dad occasionally winced on the side mom couldn’t see as if somebody jabbed him with a little knife.

Mom would go ya ya ya and Dad’s nose would twitch and his mustache would rise a little then go back down. Mom would go da da da and Dad’s eye would wink shut quick and then back open to watch the cars on the road. Mom would go sa sa sa and Dad’s lips would move forward and back like he wanted to spit something out.

Earl watched his father and something happened in Earl’s head. His father stopped being a person and became a book, a map, a reference, something to be read. He tasted what his father felt. He did not know the word but he understood the emotion: despair.

“You don’t like what Mom’s saying, do you, Dad.”

His dad stared at him in the rearview mirror. He could almost feel his father’s thought; Are you asking me or telling me, son?

Earl opened his mouth to answer but Mom said, “Where does he get that, I wonder?” and looked out her own window the rest of the way home.

“That’s not a nice thing to say, Earl,” his father said. “You know that’s not true.”

Earl’s eyes left the reflection and looked at his Dad direct.

He knew what his father thought. Maybe not the exact words but he knew the feelings.

He was sure of it.

What he was most sure of, especially sure of, as sure of as he was sure it was cold and night and he had to pee, was that what he said was true: Dad didn’t like what Mom said.

He also knew that if he questioned Dad about it he would get a spanking when they got home, maybe before.

That’s when he saw the Void. He’d seen one once before but didn’t have a name for them back then, didn’t know they were just his and that no one else could see them. A little wink in the darkness of night.

The dashboard lit his father and mother and didn’t light the seat between them. He should’ve seen his mother’s purse pulled up tight against her and his father’s gloves on the seat beside him but there was nothing there. No seat, no gloves, no purse, just a child-sized bubbling hole where everything should be.

No face, no eyes, no hands or arms or legs, just a roiling blackness.

Yet he was sure it looked up at him. It knew he was there and it knew he knew it was there.

And it did nothing about it.

That made Earl glad. Finally a friend who accepted him. Oh, joyous day. Oh, happy, happy day.

“What’re you smiling about, son?”

“I like our new Lincoln, dad.”

Mom said, “Lincoln Continental.”

Dad said, “Good, son.”


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