This is the saga of Jeff’s tree

Image courtesy of Flickr user atomicules by way of a Creative Commons search.

All that digging today reminded me of a Sunday long ago when I went to Jeff Newell’s house to help his friend Dave get rid of a dead tree in Jeff’s front yard.

Jeff was struggling with cancer so he couldn’t do the work himself; we decided to do it for him.

The tree wasn’t especially big – only about 30 or 40 feet tall – but it was unusually wide. You couldn’t put your arms around the trunk. I think it was a maple.

Dave brought two chainsaws, one gas, the other electric. He climbed the tree and began cutting the limbs. When they fell, I’d drag them off to the side, cut them into smaller pieces and put them out to the curb. In short order we had the tree down.

With some trepidation I asked Jeff what he wanted to do about the trunk. He looked at me as if I should’ve known the answer and said, “I want you to get rid of it.”

I slogged over to the stump, picked up my shovel and got to work. My side had a perverse number of roots. In some places I couldn’t dig between them. I finally found a spot where I could least carve out a wedge and was able to cut through a couple of roots, giving me room to dig.

Meanwhile, Dave was making good progress on his side – and making me look like a piker.

Once we got all the side roots cut, Dave’s wife climbed aboard the stump and wiggled it back and forth, snapping the tap root.

Then, the question became: how to get the stump out of the crater we’d dug. Dave suggested using the backfill method, where we filled in part of the crater, maneuvered the stump on top of it, then filled in the rest and proceeded from there. Dave had used the hose to wash off the roots so he could cut them without dulling his chainsaw blade. The crater had filled with water and had become a festering mud pit.

We finally got the stump high enough that we could conceivably roll it out of the crater. Jeff’s brother and his wife and son had stopped by after church and were dressed in their Sunday finest. They stood nearby, watching us struggle. I splooshed into the pit and began trying to roll the stump out. I got it mostly over the edge but my strength began to ebb and I shouted “I can’t hold it! I’m losing it!”

Jeff’s nephew, who looked like he was all of 14 or 15, jumped into that mud pit in his church clothes and shoes, and helped me push it over the edge. I was SO grateful!

We rolled it out to the curb and filled in and smoothed the crater.

When I got home, I was covered in mud and every muscle in my body was screaming. I have a bad back, so I was expecting the worst – I took a super hot shower, slathered my back in Aspercreme and swallowed two Motrins. Apart from a little soreness, I was fine.

But I sure am glad that kid jumped in there to help me. I don’t know how things would’ve turned out if that stump had rolled back on me.

About the author:

Del Stone Jr. is a professional fiction writer. He is known primarily for his work in the contemporary dark fiction field, but has also published science fiction and contemporary fantasy. Stone’s stories, poetry and scripts have appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories, Eldritch Tales, and Bantam-Spectra’s Full Spectrum. His short fiction has been published in The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXII; Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine; the Pocket Books anthology More Phobias; the Barnes & Noble anthologies 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, Horrors! 365 Scary Stories, and 100 Astounding Little Alien Stories; the HWA anthology Psychos; and other short fiction venues, like Blood Muse, Live Without a Net, Zombiesque and Sex Macabre. Stone’s comic book debut was in the Clive Barker series of books, Hellraiser, published by Marvel/Epic and reprinted in The Best of Hellraiser anthology. He has also published stories in Penthouse Comix, and worked with artist Dave Dorman on many projects, including the illustrated novella “Roadkill,” a short story for the Andrew Vachss anthology Underground from Dark Horse, an ashcan titled “December” for Hero Illustrated, and several of Dorman’s Wasted Lands novellas and comics, such as Rail from Image and “The Uninvited.” Stone’s novel, Dead Heat, won the 1996 International Horror Guild’s award for best first novel and was a runner-up for the Bram Stoker Award. Stone has also been a finalist for the IHG award for short fiction, the British Fantasy Award for best novella, and a semifinalist for the Nebula and Writers of the Future awards. His stories have appeared in anthologies that have won the Bram Stoker Award and the World Fantasy Award. Two of his works were optioned for film, the novella “Black Tide” and short story “Crisis Line.”

Stone recently retired after a 41-year career in journalism. He won numerous awards for his work, and in 1986 was named Florida’s best columnist in his circulation division by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. In 2001 he received an honorable mention from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for his essay “When Freedom of Speech Ends” and in 2003 he was voted Best of the Best in the category of columnists by Emerald Coast Magazine. He participated in book signings and awareness campaigns, and was a guest on local television and radio programs.

As an addendum, Stone is single, kills tomatoes and morning glories with ruthless efficiency, once tied the stem of a cocktail cherry in a knot with his tongue, and carries a permanent scar on his chest after having been shot with a paintball gun. He’s in his 60s as of this writing but doesn’t look a day over 94.

Contact Del at [email protected]. He is also on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, TikTok, and Instagram. Visit his website at .

Image courtesy of Marvel Studios.

“Thor” Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. 114 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Del’s take

(Note: Mladen Rudman could not make the screening of “Thor.”)

“Thor” puts the hammer down on Marvel Entertainment’s canon of superhero tentpoles with a heaping helping of sound and fury that will take your breath away, if not your eardrums.

When my friend Dusty finally wheedled me into committing to “Thor” by dangling the carrot of IMAX and 3-D, I expected to hate the movie but love the look. With the possible exceptions of the original “Jason and the Argonauts” with Ray Harryhausen’s magnificent claymation effects, and Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, movies based on mythologies are annoying and distracting. They’re hard to follow, character names are impossible to figure out and the story is one big cliche.

In “Thor” the cliché is rendered moot by terrific action sequences, spectacular special effects and really top-notch acting by its A-list cast.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the god of thunder and heir to the throne of Asgard, mounts a raid on the ancient enemy the Frost Giants without his father Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) permission. For his indiscretion Thor is banished to Earth where he meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a scientist investigating atmospheric disturbances created by the comings and goings of the gods. Meanwhile Thor’s brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) plots to hold the crown for himself as Odin lapses into dream sleep. Part of that plan involves dispatching The Destroyer, an unkillable machine that shoots energy blasts from his eyes (reminiscent of Cyclops in The X-Men) to forever rid the universe of Thor.

The movie oscillates between absolute seriousness and absolute hilarity as the pieces fall into place. In one scene Thor wolfs down a meal at a dinner and hoists a coffee cup, draining it. He finds the drink to his liking and demands another, smashing the mug to the floor in true Viking style. In another Foster’s assistant, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), admires the ripped abs of an unconscious Thor and observes, “Does he need CPR? Because I totally know CPR.”

It’s all great fun but the universe hangs in the balance as Thor must somehow get back to Asgard and foil the evil Loki’s plans to enable the Frost Giants to murder Odin. At the same time he must learn humility and wisdom if he is to become heir to Asgard’s throne. A budding romance between Thor and Foster assures that of happening.

Yet that romance seems unconvincing. While it is clear Foster is smitten by the hunky Norseman from the outset, Thor’s interest strikes the viewer as remote and indifferent until the third act. And Loki’s evil intent waxes and wanes throughout, again until the third act.

Still, the virtues of “Thor” vastly outweigh its liabilities. Hemsworth turns in a breakout performance as the arrogant god who discovers his kindler, gentler facet, while Portman radiates humor and vulnerability in a way I have never seen in her career. Hopkins is his usual, larger-than-life self and Hiddleston effectively manages the vulnerabilities and ambitions of second-fiddle Loki. Special effects are top notch and the sound will rattle your ribcage, depending on how high the theater has the volume turned up.

On a scale of A to F “Thor” rates an A minus. It’s great escapist fun and more than adequately supports the upcoming “Captain America” and “Avengers.”

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.