Out there in the dark, there are things like ‘Animal’

Photo courtesy of ph.

I say this story was written in 1988 but I wouldn’t quote me on that.

It was written in the 1980s, I’m sure. It has the tone of my ’80s fiction – bleak sketches usually set in a rural back road or bar. I worked the night shift at our local newspaper and afterwards, we night-shifters would venture out in search of a cheap watering hole or, if not a bar, a convenience store with cold beer, and off we’d go, into the hinterlands, because it was there a beer-drinker was not likely to be pulled over by the boys with the blue-and-red lights on their cars.

Out there in the rural dark – the real dark folks don’t see these days because cities are too lit up these days – I found a mysterious tint to the world, what Yeats might have called that rosy afterglow of the realm which lies beside this one, visible only to young children who have not had their senses dulled by maturity and experience. Except this glow was of a darker variety, and I wonder if Yeats could have appreciated that, given his musings about the nature of the new messiah.

To me, there were mysteries to be discovered in the unyielding dark of the countryside, mysteries to be glimpsed not articulated but sensed in the way you know to stay out of that abandoned house in the woods, the one that looks something terrible might have happened there years ago, resulting in it being scorned by humanity. Your ability to sense hidden dangers depended on your willingness to believe.

Which is what this story is about.

Photo courtesy of ph.

When I was a kid there were mysteries in the world, things we did not understand and places we had not seen. But we wondered about them. There might be jungles and dinosaurs on Venus, or spindly, water-starved creatures struggling to survive on Mars. Who knew what lay in that jungle heart of darkness, or the deep ocean trench? Were flying saucers winging overhead, always when we’d left the camera sitting on the table by the front door?

But as time went by and we learned more, the world began to grow smaller and the mystery fade, replaced with cold facts (or hot facts in the case of Venus, a roasting hell hole of carbon dioxide). Poor Mars became an icy desert with air so thin you could not reasonably call it air. Flying saucers became swamp gas and ocean trenches were filled with nothing but silt and a scattering of weird, glow-in-the-dark shrimp.

Think “Excaliber,” and the world of magic giving way to a world of men.

I liked life better when I didn’t know so much about it, just as I liked my friends better when their thoughts weren’t paraded across a panoply of social media. Didn’t we all get along better before we found out so-and-so voted for that evil bastard Trump?

The lack of knowing every stinking detail about every stinking thing – and the curious imaginings that filled those gaps – made life magically delicious, to borrow a breakfast cereal jingle. And that’s what this story is about, in a darkly roundabout way.

Maybe there’s still a bit of mystery – and magic – left in this world.

Lord, I hope so.

“Animal” is available only on Amazon’s Kindle, but remember: You don’t need a Kindle device to read a Kindle book. Download the free Kindle app to your phone or tablet.

Order a copy of “Animal” by following this link.

(Cover image courtesy of ph.)

From Amazon

Animal: Revised, updated and enhanced with additional content, “Animal” asks the question, “If larks, and katydids, can dream, then can I?”

Billy Stafford would rather be home, in his bed, grabbing a few winks because tomorrow will bring a special challenge at his job and he’ll need his wits about him and. …

And here he is, at Earl’s Tavern and Package Store, listening to Bob Decker go on and on in a drunken stupor about crazy things – monsters in a lake, or Bigfoot, or UFOs. Worse, he’s forcing Billy to get drunk with him, which means tomorrow Billy will wake up with a headachy brain fog and everything will be for s**t.

Across the bar, two men are teasing the lady bartender about something they’ve got in their Jeep, something they shot out in the woods that day, something that nobody has ever seen before. Billy thinks Bob should be talking to them, not him. It’s all a crock of you-know-what and truth be told, Billy just wants to go home and sleep.

He finally disentangles himself from Bob and heads out the door, and the night should have ended there. But it doesn’t.

Because he sees something.

In the Jeep.

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, Ello and Instagram. Visit his website at delstonejr.com .

About this book:

“Animal” is a 3,555-word short story and was written in 1988. It has never been published. Copyright © 2022, Del Stone Jr.

The book’s total length is 5,691 words.

Image courtesy of Paramount.

“A Quiet Place” Starring Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe. Directed by John Krasinski. 90 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Del’s take

“A Quiet Place” is relentlessly tense. To be honest, I was relieved when the movie ended because throughout, my stomach was cinched into a knot. It has a couple of problems, but overall it’s a good value for your entertainment dollar and I recommend it.

It’s directed by John Krasinski of  “The Office” fame, but Emily Blunt, who plays his wife both on and offscreen, has been getting top billing. Krasinski also directed the film. I’ve always wondered how that works. If you screw up a scene, do you get mad and yell at yourself?

The story is about a family trying to survive the emergence of a blind super predator that hunts by sound. I was a little unclear as to where the predators came from. Are they extraterrestrials? Demons? Genetic mutations? I don’t think the movie made that clear, but reviewers are calling them aliens so I’ll go with that.

The Abbott family lives on an abandoned farm in the countryside, never speaking, never wearing shoes, never doing anything that might reveal their presence to the monsters. They communicate through sign language and scatter sand along their footpaths to muffle the sound of their tread.

The first anecdote of the movie ratchets up the tension to an unbearable level. The family is scavenging for supplies in a nearby town. Their youngest, a little boy named Beau, finds a battery-operated space shuttle toy and wants to play with it, but Krasinski takes it away from him and removes the batteries, explaining the toy is too loud. Later, Beau’s big sister Regan (Simmonds) gives him the toy, and as they’re leaving Beau grabs the batteries.

As they’re walking back to the farmhouse the boy falls behind – because he’s loading the batteries into the toy. When he turns it on it begins to emit loud sounds, and what you fear might happen … well … it actually happens.

Cut to a year later. Blunt is pregnant. Otherwise, nothing has changed. Well, not quite. Regan blames herself for her little brother’s death. She thinks her father hates her. She doesn’t feel welcome in the family, even after her dad tries to invent a turbocharged hearing aid that might repair her deafness. The Abbotts’ other son, Marcus (Jupe), is more terrified of the monsters than the rest of the family and doesn’t think his father will keep them safe. Turns out he should be afraid.

I won’t say anything more about the plot. I don’t want to spoil it for you. Suffice it to say everything that follows cranks up the tension to the point you will be breaking for the bathroom or snack bar just to get your heart back in sync, like I did during a certain scene involving a nail.

But yes, in my opinion the movie had a few problems. The story supposedly takes place between one and two years after the creatures arrive, yet the town the Abbotts raid for supplies looks like it’s been abandoned for many years. By the same token, the farm where they hide is surrounded by lovingly cultivated fields of corn, which could not have been accomplished without the use of heavy – and loud – machinery.

And what’s with this baby thing? Why would they bring a baby into this world? And aren’t babies loud? I mean, really, really loud?

If the monsters are attracted to sound, why couldn’t Krasinsky set up some speakers in the middle of that corn field, crank up the Iggy Pop and blast the monsters to smithereens when they show up?

Details, details.

Apart from those gripes, “A Quiet Place” is a super tense, super scary movie that should appeal to both fans and non-fans of horror. See it in a movie theater. Don’t wait for it to show up on Netflix or Prime.

While I’m at it, let me recommend the smartphone app MoviePass. You pay $7 a month for one theatrical release – per day. Thirty-one movies for $7? I don’t know how they make money at it, but somehow they must.

That’s how we got to see “A Quiet Place.”

I give it a B+.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

“Pacific Rim: Uprising” Starring John Boyega, Scott Eastwood and Cailee Spaeny. Directed by Steven S. DeKnight. 111 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Del’s take

I had great hopes for the original “Pacific Rim” and came away greatly disappointed, so my expectations of “Pacific Rim: Uprising” were minimal. But what the hell. It was a rainy Sunday afternoon and while I had a crap-ton of stuff that needed doing, I didn’t feel like doing any of it. “Uprising” it was.

And hey, guess what? It didn’t suck as bad as I thought it would. Let’s face it: You don’t go to a “Transformers” or “Pacific Rim” movie for the social commentary or existential angst. You go to see giant monsters and robots beat the shit out of each other, destroying cities in the process. In that meager capacity “Uprising” did not disappoint.

The movie stars John Boyega as Jake Pentecost, son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost from the original movie. Stacker was the marshal of the Jaeger corps, giant robots built to defend humanity from the Kaiju, equally giant monsters from another dimension that entered this world through a breach in the Pacific Ocean floor. Stacker is revered for his role in sealing the breach and saving the world.

Jake, once a promising Jaeger pilot himself, has given up his career to become a petty criminal. During a theft gone wrong he meets young Amara Namani (Spaeny), who has built her own Jaeger called Scrapper. Because it is against the law to own unregistered Jaegers, Amara and Jake are hauled in by the authorities. Instead of being jailed they’re sent to the Jaeger corps, where Jake is to resume his old job and Amara becomes a cadet.

The Shao Corporation has a plan to replace Jaegers with huge, robotic drones, and I won’t say any more about that because it would spoil the movie for you. Suffice it to say “Uprising” becomes more action-oriented with the second act and continues through the third.

John Boyega does a good job with his role and shows he can act outside of “Star Wars.” He manages to bring a little more oomph to his role, which is saddled with clichés. I last saw Scott Eastwood in “The Fate of the Furious” and he was about as wooden as a ventriloquist’s dummy. His acting has improved and at times he seems almost human, so there’s hope. Spaeny is a natural for the screen. I think we’ll be seeing a lot of her in the future.

I think this movie was better written than the original. The dialogue was an improvement. It didn’t strike me as silly and fanboyish as del Torro’s script.

The flaws? I’m sure there were plenty. The premise itself is the biggest flaw of all. But I turned off that part of my brain before I walked into the theater. Again, you don’t watch a “Transformers” or “Pacific Rim” to appreciate the logic or scientific accuracy. The movie panders to a Chinese audience so if you have a problem with that, be prepared.

“Uprising” sets up a sequel, and I initially thought that wouldn’t happen until I checked the overseas grosses. Domestically it has earned just south of $60 million, with a budget of $150 million. But worldwide? A whopping $275 million for a $333 million cume, so I guess we can expect a “Pacific Rim: Domination.” Way to go, Chinese audience.

Don’t get me wrong: “Uprising” is an entertaining and even fun movie if your expectations aren’t too high. But don’t expect much in the way of depth.

I give it a B-.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Monsters-movie-image

Image courtesy of Magnet.

“Monsters” Starring Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able. Directed by Gareth Edwards. 94 minutes. Rated R.

Del’s take

Late in the movie “Monsters” there comes a moment a literary book reviewer might call “luminous.” Ever notice how literary book reviewers always bring the word “luminous” into play, as if to excuse the lack of plot, the unfolding of dreary characterization and the trendy massacre of clearly wrought prose? You will never hear a Larry Bond novel called “luminous.”

This illuminating moment takes place when our two protagonists, Andrew (Scoot McNairy) and Samantha (Whitney Able), witness two 300-foot tall walking squids engage in making out, foreplay, maybe actual intercourse – with all the flailing tentacles, bioluminescent pulsing and noble whale song-like groaning it’s hard to tell what’s going on. Andrew and Samantha watch in awe as these two leviathans perform the vertical bop and you expect them to whisper, “Beautiful” as they gaze adoringly at each other.

I was whispering “Will somebody please BLOW THESE THINGS UP?”

To paraphrase my friend Kari: “Monsters” is what happens when an indie filmmaker, the cinema equivalent of a literary writer, tells himself, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself … and monsters.”

“Monsters” isn’t about monsters, that’s for sure. The monsters are metaphors for Andrew and Samantha, or illegal immigration, or existential angst. But it is more about the message getting lost in a stew of competing thematic imperatives.

The story goes like this: NASA discovers evidence of life elsewhere in our solar system and dispatches a probe to recover a sample. The probe crashes somewhere in Mexico and shortly thereafter weird creatures begin disrupting the flow of cocaine to America. Andrew, a jaded photojournalist, goes into the “infected zone” to document the mayhem. But he somehow becomes responsible for escorting his publisher’s daughter, who has been in the area, back to the States. They try by land, sea and air but due to a series of setbacks, mostly caused by their own stupidity, they fail and must travel directly through the infected zone to reach the gigantic wall America has constructed along its border with Mexico. Along the way Andrew, who has a kid but not a wife, and Samantha, who is to marry a fellow she doesn’t love, discover a growing affinity for each other. Can you guess how this is going to end?

I will give Edwards credit: “Monsters” is ambitious. It is not another “Godzilla,” “The Mist” or “Cloverfield.” What I didn’t like about it, however, was the plodding pace, the incompetence of the characters and their forced transformations, which did not encourage me to suspend my disbelief.

Characterization is shaky. We are expected to dislike Andrew at first because of his cynicism, then bond to him as he realizes there’s more to life than shooting a prize-winning photo. In reality Andrew is a scummy opportunist who shacks up with prostitutes when Samantha won’t sleep with him, something he pursues with such diligence that Samantha could have had him arrested for sexual harassment. And Samantha, as the poor little rich girl, is a cipher with no real purpose for existence other than serving as an object of desire for Andrew.

At every critical juncture in their journey they pause, undecided, then embark on some irrelevant and unrealistic conflict that jeopardizes their success. For instance, at one point they must get off a boat and travel overland under the watchful eye of armed guards – except Andrew doesn’t want to because the guards are carrying guns. Um, excuse me, but what part of “armed” did he not understand? And in a land occupied by 300 foot-tall squids who like to squash human beings, would you rather your guards be armed with Nerf Frisbees?

And once they reach the wall, well. It’s every Tea Partier’s dream, a cement monolith designed to keep out “illegal aliens.” Except the aliens, as we see in the scene I referenced above, are nothing more than noble, benighted creatures who want nothing more out of life than a brief interlude of happiness amidst an uncaring world. Except they are 300 feet tall and like to squash humans. I say, “Will somebody please BLOW THESE THINGS UP?”

“Monsters” is an interesting movie but it has problems. On a scale of A to F I would rate it a C+.

Mladen’s take

Let’s start with a list.

They’re 300-foot-tall walking octopi, or is it octopuses? Get your mollusks straight, Del.

They do get blown up, you savage, it’s just not witnessed, and,

“Monsters” the movie has one of loveliest, mournfully serene soundtracks ever pasted to celluloid.

For me, the best way to characterize “Monsters” is this: The movie is deeply satisfying, but superficially disappointing.

It took me about 20 minutes to realize that the film was unlike a Godzilla smashfest, “Cloverfield,” or “The Mist.”

After that, I shed the expectation of carnage and allowed the movie to chart its own course. The story is about man’s inhumanity to man and our reckless belief that we can corral nature.

Samantha and Andrew are likable tools used to teach us a lesson. They do a good job leading us through the Infected Zone, where the alien creatures have established a sanctuary after being brought to Earth by a NASA probe that crashed.

Once in the zone, the duo exists to draw attention to the look of civilization as it’s consumed by its own folly.

Vines overtake hotels built for tourists.

An F-15 emerges from the depths of a river, playfully pulled through the black water by one of the tentacled beasts. It never bothers Samantha, Andrew, or the crew of the longboat hired at an exploitative price to help get the Americans back to America.

When the couple finally reaches the U.S.-Mexico border, it discovers that the zigzagging walled fortress separating one country from the other has been abandoned. The aliens had breached its ramparts. The fight has come to the Homeland.

Agreed, there’s some hokey symbolism in “Monsters.” Del already gave examples, but you have to give the director of the film credit for trying to create something original.

“Monsters” is an artsy film with a liberal message, which ain’t gonna play too good in these parts.

Sit back and enjoy the film, paying attention to events and scenes framing the relationship between Samantha and Andrew because that’s the movie’s strength.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of United Artists.

“The Magnetic Monster” Starring Richard Carlson, King Donovan, Jean Byron, and others. Directed by Curt Siodmak and Herbert L. Strock. Writers Curt Siodmak and Ivan Tors. 76 minutes. Rating: Approved. Amazon Prime.

Mladen’s take

The Atomic Age fuses with a quark-y idea, valent script writing, and energetic performances to form the nucleus of “The Magnetic Monster.”

This elemental gem of a sci-fi movie is only 76 minutes but tells the story, and captures the fear of the unknown about radioactivity, in 1953 with panache.

There are no goofy sound effects in “The Magnetic Monster.” No overdone dumbing-down of science. There are no mad scientists, though there’s one not-too-bright physicist, in the film. There’s gentlemanly sexism. Dare not there be a woman engineer or researcher. Instead, we get a clever pregnant wife, a diligent switchboard operator, and a very athletic store clerk with one helluva body.

Now that I irritated, or is it irradiated, Del long enough by withholding a film summary, here you go.

An appliance and hardware store near a Government facility populated by “A-men” (atomic men) is magnetized. Watch out for the engineless push lawnmower with some dastardly looking blades bolting at you because you’re in the way of the pull of the polarized attractor with thirst for pure energy. A-men Drs. Jeffrey Stewart (Carlson) and Dan Forbes (Donovan) are dispatched by the Office of Scientific Investigation chief scientist to uncover the facts and cure the problem. Geiger counters tick. A man is found dead in a secret, makeshift laboratory. Off go Stewart and Forbes to get to the bottom of the incident.

The disaster that unfolds isn’t a nuclear reactor going China syndrome. The disquiet and radioactivity haven’t been released by a detonating A-bomb. “The Magnetic Monster” menace is tough to find and, when found, tough to throttle. It has to be fed to keep contained. Each subsequent feeding requires magnitudes more food and, in one instance, takes blacking out a city to provide the needed electricity. The magnetic monster grows after it eats like the Republican party bloats as it chews our democracy. That means the next monster feeding will require a bigger source of power. How long before the Earth, the solar system, the galaxy, the constellation, or the universe are consumed because the beast needs matter converted to energy to stay satiated? Oh, Einstein, what have you caused with that E=mc2 thing.

I loved this black-and-white movie for its effort to pay attention to science. For showing us wavy lines on cathode ray tubes. For demonstrating how fast those new-fangled jet-powered airplanes with straight wings can fly. For the cool, realistic explosion of a volt-injecting machine the size of a building. Thank you for at least making the effort to show that decaying metals are heavy, literally. And, dadgum, you made a block of gray material smaller than a breadbox the plausible villain.

A-, Del. “The Magnetic Monster” is an A-. Need a rationale? If you think “The Haunting” is an A-, there’s no way you can think anything less of “The Magnetic Monster.”  

Del’s take

A- my ass.

“The Magnetic Monster” is at best a C. It has a couple of things going for it and a lot of things that don’t, so let’s touch on the positives first.

Number 1, forget the story. “The Magnetic Monster” is a time capsule of life in the 1950s, and while much of that life is better left to history, other aspects invoked a pleasant nostalgia for conduct and commodities that I wish existed today.

For instance, the cars. The cars are behemoths of chrome and steel, fitting of all the old nicknames – land yachts, battle cruisers and road hogs. No doubt they got crappy gas mileage and polluted the environment, but man, they sure were nice to look at. Designers back then were still trying to create art, not aerodynamically efficient blob mobiles. We all could use a little more art in our lives.

Men and women dressed for work. The ladies wore dresses and skirts with hats and gloves, while the men were clad in suits and ties. Call me old-fashioned but I think a more formal workplace dress code imparts a more formal manner of job conduct and thinking. Much of the work today seems like it was done by somebody wearing a bathrobe and house slippers.

People back then – at least in the movies – seemed more articulate. Their speech was almost patrician, with a whiff of an English accent in some – a welcome departure from the onslaught of slurred, mispronounced vulgarities we are subjected to these days.

From there “The Magnetic Monster” sleds downhill.

I’ll be first to point out life in the ’50s might have been grand for white males but not many others. Women, as illustrated in “The Magnetic Monster,” occupied the lower rungs of the corporate ladder or were kept at home in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. In many of these movies you don’t see people of color unless they’re about to be devoured by the title threat.

Value judgments aside, the movie makes a laudable attempt to sell a scientific plausibility, and unlike many B movies of the ’50s you never see an actual “monster.” That’s because the monster is radiation, though I was confused about the relationship between magnetism and radioactive particles that sicken and kill people.

From what I’ve read, much of the “science” in “The Magnetic Monster” is nonsense, which is not necessarily a cause for dismissing the movie. The science in virtually all science fiction movies these days is nonsense. Don’t get me started on “Star Wars.” Still, while it must have sounded impressive to an audience of that era, I heard mostly nonsense.

The movie itself relies on special effects “borrowed” from a German science fiction film of the 1930s called “Gold.” It also features brief cameos by a computer called “M.A.N.I.A.C.,” which are good for a chuckle. I’d wager an Apple Watch has millions of times more computing power. Such is the march of technology.

“The Magnetic Monster” was the first movie of a trilogy, which included “Riders to the Stars” and “Gog,” both shot in the mid-1950s.

I mentioned two things in the movie’s favor. The other is that it’s short, a hair over an hour.

I enjoyed some aspects of “The Magnetic Monster” but mostly I thought it was boring. The ’50s produced some wonderful science fiction movies – “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Forbidden Planet,” but this is not one of them. It’s a product of the days when people feared the atom, the Russians and the unknown. Now, we know that climate change, incompetent politicians, corporate greed and evolving pathogens present a much greater threat.

Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind returning to those simpler days. At least in some ways.

Sorry, Mladen. C.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.