Spooky Places and Strange Characters
By J. Arlene Culiner
Bored? Who me? Are you joking? I’m not fazed by dull dinner parties, or awful waiting rooms, or even chilly bus shelters. Here’s why: I simply go off on journeys, travel into the secret places inside my own head Yes, people realize I’m not one hundred percent there, that I’m not paying attention to dull monologues, but do I care? No way.
I haven’t invented my secret places. I’ve been to all of them, I swear I have (although my imagination does add a few interesting details.) My wandering higgledy-piggledy life has led me to clapboard, rusty trailer ghost towns decorated by bullet holes; to rundown rooms where ceilings soar high, and lumpy wallpaper is a century old; to nowhere communities where wooden doors tap in the wind, and bare stalks scratch; to dreary bars where eccentrics dish up tall tales, and suspicion. Am I scared? Well…sometimes. Even when I think I’m alone, there could be someone watching from a hidey-hole. That’s the risk: ghostly locations always come equipped with thrills and chills.
Once, on a bus from Los Angeles to Oklahoma, I mentioned to the driver that I’d crossed whole European countries on foot and was always on the lookout for oddities.
“Well,” he said, “if you don’t mind walking in deserted places, you’ll find the crankiest, finest community just a few miles from here. When you get off the bus, take the dirt road heading north.”
Caught by his enthusiasm, I didn’t ask normal questions such as, “how far north do I have to walk?” or “is there anywhere to stay in the area?” or “when does the next bus come through?” I simply disembarked, then headed for a lone restaurant, the only building for miles around.
“Restaurant’s closed,” said a waitress when I entered.
“Don’t tell me that.”
“Well, I just did,” she said with unpleasant satisfaction.
“Okay, then. Where can I get something to eat?”
She looked at me as if I were very strange. “No place.”
“The bus driver mentioned a community not far away. To the north. Walking distance.”
She harrumphed. “It’s a pretty big walk.”
“Ah. How about a place to sleep? A motel, a room somewhere.”
“Nothing like that out this way.”
“And out at that community?”
I chewed over the information for a few minutes, then optimism abandoned me. “When does the next bus come through?”
“Tomorrow afternoon. Five o’clock.”
Outside, the sun sank with alarming speed. Now what? I had to find a place to sleep, somewhere safe. I thought of hungry cougars, wolves, giant killer ants, and zombies: all were waiting for a victim. I thought of the armed, dangerous two-legged cranks who roam through the night. I heard teeth grinding and saliva dripping. I began to see strange shapes. “Cut it out,” I ordered myself (but not too loudly.)
I found a little hollow far from the road, curled into it, pulled all the clothes out of my bag and hoped they would be as warm as a good blanket. I also hoped I would be able to sleep. That I would survive.
When I next opened my eyes, it was early morning. Amazing! Evil had passed me by. I headed north, taking the dirt road over a perfectly empty desert plain. It was a very lonely road. Still, I kept walking: whatever was going to get me, would get me coming, or going.
I reached the community an hour or so later — it wasn’t really all that far. It was a wonderful place. There was a clapboard bar run by two wild ladies; there were old timers and cranks; there was great conversation; there was food and drink; it was — albeit too briefly — home.
“Come back,” the locals said to me. “There are lots of empty shacks. Come and live here with us.”
“I will,” I answered. I meant it too.
I haven’t been back, although who knows: I might return someday. In the meantime, that locale has been filed away in my memory, alongside abandoned Hungarian manor houses, mauve moorland, and empty Turkish caravanserai. And all those places rescue me when life gets dull.
Share them? Of course, I do. I put them into my books and stories. For example, that particular rusty trailer, clapboard forgotten community has become Blake’s Folly, the setting for two of my new contemporary romances, Desert Rose, and All About Charming Alice:
This place was a rusty trailer, scrapyard, abandoned car, clapboard shack, sagging old house community: a dead end if there ever was one. This was nowhere. This was the end of the line, socially speaking. This was a has-been. This was home.
But, then again, all my books — romances, mysteries, or non-fiction works — have strange settings. So do come along, visit.
Long ago, J. Arlene Culiner set out to have a life of adventure, not one of security and comfort. She has crossed much of Europe on foot, traveled, by bus, train, car, or truck throughout North and Central America, Europe, and the Sahara, has lived in a Hungarian mud house, a Bavarian castle, a Turkish cave dwelling, on a Dutch canal, in a haunted stone house on the English moors, and presently in a 400-year-old former inn in a French village. Her experiences in out-of-the-way communities with their strange characters and very odd conversations are incorporated into all her stories.
Storytelling Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/j-arlene-culiner
Romance in Blake’s Folly # One: Desert Rose
Men love Rose Badger, and if the other inhabitants of dead-end Blake’s Folly, Nevada, don’t approve, she couldn’t care less. With a disastrous marriage far behind her, settling down is the last thing she intends to do.Isn’t life for fun? Doesn’t a stable relationship always mean predictability and boredom? Well… perhaps things might be different with Jonah Livingstone, but he isn’t available. So, why fret? Rose has another, quite secret life, and she’ll never give that up for any man.
The last person Jonah Livingstone expected to meet in a semi-ghost town is Rose Badger. She’s easy-going, delightfully spontaneous, and Jonah is certain their attraction is mutual. But Rose is always surrounded by a crowd of admirers and doesn’t seem inclined to choose a favorite. No problem: Jonah is too independent to settle into a permanent relationship again. He’s leading his own, very secretive life, and secrets are an excellent protection against love.
Romance in Blake’s Folly # Two: All About Charming Alice
Alice Treemont has given up hope of meeting the right man and falling in love. Living in Blake’s Folly, a semi-ghost town of rusting cars, old trailers, clapboard shacks, and thirsty weeds, she spends her time cooking vegetarian meals, rescuing unwanted dogs, and protecting the most unloved creatures on earth: snakes. What man would share those interests?
Jace Constant is in Nevada, doing research for his new book, but he won’t be staying long. As far as he’s concerned, Blake’s Folly is hell on earth. He’s disgusted by desert dust on his fine Italian shoes, and dog hair on his cashmere sweaters. As for snakes, he doesn’t only despise them—he’s terrified by them. He can hardly wait to get back to Chicago’s elegant women, fine dining, and contemporary art exhibitions.
So how is it possible that each time Alice and Jace meet, the air sizzles? That she’s as fascinated by him as he is by her? That they know their feelings go deeper than raw desire? Still, it looks like this relationship is doomed before it even starts.
In need of juicy gossip, the other 52 residents of Blake’s Folly have decided Alice has been alone for long enough. The attraction between her and Jace is obvious, so why worry about essential differences? If you trust in love, solutions do appear. But don’t those solutions call for too many compromises, too much self-sacrifice?