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

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.

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.

Del Stone Jr. is the winner of the International Horror Guild Award for best first novel. His work has also been a finalist for the IHG, Bram Stoker and British Fantasy awards, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His novella “Black Tide” and short story “Crisis Line” were optioned for film.

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.

I can say without equivocation I have never shot a pizza guy for being 13 seconds late with a delivery.

I have never shot anyone for any reason.

But I swear to you I have talked on the phone with people who I thought might be capable of drawing a gun from the waistband of their stretchy-waist Lees and aiming it at my face.

In my former job as a newspaperman I took many calls from irate readers, and some of those folks sounded as if they might apply the same corrective strategy – to me! At least once a person threatened to shoot me. I wasn’t worried – people say lots of things but hardly ever do what they say they will. But the boss was sufficiently worried to call the cops, who counseled the person in question. Problem solved.

But in my mind the voice of the furious caller, the person on the other end who was brooding about a perceived slight, lingered afterward and inspired me to write this story, a kind of gestalt for every angry voice I ever listened to over the telephone.

Only one way to respond:

Thank you and have a nice day.

From Amazon:

13 Seconds: Revised, updated and enhanced with additional content, this flash fiction story will make you think twice about ordering out for pizza!

Quiggly is standing by the door, waiting on his pizza. He has a stopwatch.

William Warby, flickr

And a gun.

Because the world is for shit anymore. Disposable cars, disposable jobs, even disposable people. Back in Quiggly’s day, things were better. Things were real. Things worked.

But not any more. Nobody cared about quality or service. All people wanted was their damn money, and they didn’t want to work very hard for it either.

They said he’d have his pizza within a certain number of minutes, and the pizza delivery boy was 13 seconds late. Thirteen seconds is 13 seconds, or has time changed too? Quiggly isn’t sure, but he knows one thing:

He’s going to get his pizza for free.

Or else.

Del Stone Jr. is the winner of the International Horror Guild Award for best first novel. His work has also been a finalist for the IHG, Bram Stoker and British Fantasy awards, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His novella “Black Tide” and short story “Crisis Line” were optioned for film.

About this book: “13 Seconds” is a 701-word short story. It was originally published in “Horrors! 365 Scary Stories,” 1998, Barnes & Noble.

The book’s total length is 2,498 words.

This is a short story, and it is short even for that. I say up front because I don’t want you to think you’ve been tricked out of your money (pardon the seasonal pun). At 99 cents, “Trick-or-Treat” is priced the lowest Amazon allows. If you don’t think a story of that length is worth a buck, please don’t buy this book.

Now, about “Trick-or-Treat”: I wrote the story back in the ’80s, and you’ll notice dated references to corded telephones and so forth. True story: The first cordless phone I ever saw was in the film “Terms of Endearment.” I remember thinking it was a trendy piece of technology I would never be able to afford, but a few years later I would own, and cherish, a Sony cordless phone.

I present to you the story as I wrote it, warts and all. I have not rewritten it or revised it in any way except to correct typos and misspellings.

Of the story I remember it was my first Halloween away from my parents. I had bought an old house across town and was a little nervous about being a homeowner. Suddenly I was responsible for a monster debt – $45,000 – and a huge obligation of repairs and maintenance. It meant I could not quit my job, nor could I suddenly up and leave for a job in another state. I was home “bound.”

The genesis of the story itself, I’m unsure of. The protagonist, Clifton, bears no resemblance to anyone I know either physically or spiritually. I have never experienced his kind of anger – I wouldn’t want to.

The story is set in the living room of that old house, and when I envision the activities taking  place, they are framed by that house and neighborhood. I can see the yellowish door with the diamond-shaped window. I can see the tan shag carpeting, the sloped driveway, the buggy carport and the paint peeling from the frame.

I can even see Clifton standing in the living room during the climax that, to this day, shocks me and makes me wonder what the heck is wrong with a person who could think of a resolution so diabolical.

If you gave me your 99 cents (of which I get to keep 35; Amazon collects the rest), then I thank you and hope you enjoy “Trick-or-Treat.”

Think of it this coming Halloween.

Order a copy of “Trick-or-Treat” by following this link:

From Amazon

“While short enough to be called flash fiction, this story delivers the impact of a good horror story. Concise with no wasted words. Excellent read for Halloween.”

– Richard A. Bamberg, author of “The Hunters: Monster Hunting 101”

Trick-or-Treat: Revised, updated and enhanced with additional content, this micro-story punches far above its weight.

Clifton’s girlfriend Lisa has told him goodbye and he is not happy about it.

Not happy at all.

She said she needed space, and time. Clifton has no need of space or time, and now that Halloween is here, with all those happy kids ringing his doorbell and demanding candy, Clifton is ever reminded of his girlfriend, and her class of fourth-graders, and her young daughter, all of them gone now … or maybe not.

Because this Halloween, Clifton has a surprise for Lisa, and all the children in her life.

A nasty surprise.

Del Stone Jr. is the winner of the International Horror Guild Award for best first novel. His work has also been a finalist for the IHG, Bram Stoker and British Fantasy awards, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His novella “Black Tide” and short story “Crisis Line” were optioned for film.

About this book: Trick-or-Treat” is a 756-word short story. It has never been published before.

The book’s total length is 3,516 words.