Manion knows how to fix the women in his life in ‘Companions’
I wrote this story back in 1993.
The editor of Crossroads, a small press magazine, invited me to submit a story, and one does not turn down an invitation from an editor.
Crossroads was a themed publication, the requirement being that every story had to involve a crossroad. Very well. I’d written enough stories to meet specifications that I felt I could easily handle this assignment.
The organization of a story around a crossroad, however, was not as easy as I’d thought. The story did have a crossroad, but it wasn’t integral to the theme. But it occurred to me that the viewpoint character had reached a crossroad in his sanity, and that’s how I pitched it to the editor.
I wanted to write a story about the toll of being gay. I have a theory: Because of our culture’s disapproval of homosexuality, gay people live under stresses that heterosexuals can’no’t imagine – the stress of hiding and pretending to be somebody else, the scorn and threat of physical harm. We react the way anybody would – sometimes with depression, other times with anti-social behavior. Drug and alcohol abuse, risky sexual behavior, mental illness and suicide are ever-present threats to the gay population. Perhaps if we weren’t always being told that we’re defective, or evil, this wouldn’t be true.
I also think I was working out some anger over a relationship, but who knows?
So I wrote “Companions,” a story about one man’s refusal to own up to his orientation.
Part of the story came from a dream. I don’t often use imagery from dreams in stories, but this dream frightened me so badly I remembered it long after waking. The initial segment about the couples touring the house – that was the dream. It played out almost exactly as I’ve described it here.
“Companions” was published in Crossroads, and later I had the idea to submit it to Karl Edward Wagner, editor of the annual Year’s Best Horror Stories anthology. Surprise of surprises, he accepted it. I was so happy I sent him a bottle of tequila.
Later I got to meet Wagner. He attended a convention here in my hometown. I went to his panel, and the audience sat there stone-faced. So I began asking questions and soon he was chatting animatedly and the panel became a success. Afterwards I introduced myself and he was not only pleased to meet me but thanked me for keeping the conversation going. That was the last time I saw him.
A few years after that I learned of his death, and it saddened me. He had paid $100 for the story, and when his estate was settled his brother sent me another check for $100, saying it looked like I hadn’t been paid. So I sent the check back. His brother insisted Wagner’s records indicated I hadn’t been paid. So I donated the money to the Horror Writers Association’s hardship fund.
That’s how “Companions” came to be.
(Cover image courtesy of Ann W. of Flickr via Creative Commons license.)
”Companions”: Revised, updated and enhanced with additional content.
Manion is dreaming. In his dream, he sees shadows capering against an opposite wall, framed by the sun, a living fresco of light and dark. And one of those shadows … he sees horns, and the shimmer of heat baking from its leathery skin. …
And then he awakens to Nina, who is angry. Nina, who is leaving. Nina, who cannot be satisfied with their relationship and never will, just like all the others. They all left like Nina left, angry and frustrated.
Because there is something wrong with them, Manion decides. Something that defies mere flesh, and blood. Something with horns, and leathery skin.
But Manion can fix them. Yes, he can do that. He can fix them.
Just like he fixed all the others. The ones who were hot to the touch.
The ones with horns, and leathery skin.
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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@example.com. He is also on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, TikTok, Ello and Instagram. Visit his website at delstonejr.com .
About this book:
“Companions” is a 2,500-word short story and was written in 1993. It was originally published in Crossroads, 1993, and reprinted in “The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXIII,” Donald A. Wolheim Books, 1995. Copyright © 1993, 1995, 2021, Del Stone Jr.
The book’s total length is 4,034 words.