Just got back from my first real vacation in 24 years

All images courtesy of Del Stone Jr.

It was my first real vacation in 24 years.

I’d sneaked in weekends here and there – three days in backwoods Louisiana, where the kudzu is thicker than the Cajun accents, or a weekend of schmoozing at a writers’ convention in Central Florida – but for the first time since my father passed away in 1998 I was leaving the homestead for a week to relax with friends.

The location was a small town called Blue Ridge in northern Georgia, just a white lightning run from the Tennessee border. My friends Richard, Joy and Sarah retired there after a work journey took them from Fort Walton Beach to Virginia, Alabama, and Colorado. I had visited them in Virginia and Alabama – Virginia was my favorite; sorry, Alabama – and now the attraction of mountains, and a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner, was too much to resist.

I was surprised by the amount of crap I felt I had to take with me – my pill organizer with my vitamins and prescriptions; the waist band I wear when I exercise; my pricey enamel-restoring toothpaste. When packing for the trip I promised myself I’d bring only the essentials. Funny how so much stuff has become “essential.”

I worried I’d become drowsy during the hours of monotonous driving on the interstate, but the opposite proved to be true. It had been so long since I’d dealt with finicky cruise controls, near suicidal drivers, inexplicable interstate backups, believing I could make it to the next rest stop before my bladder erupted like Mount St. Helen, and the terror of surviving traffic in a major, and I mean major, metropolitan area like Atlanta, that I remained in a constant state of high alert.

Atlanta taught me that indeed, I am growing older, because in the past I considered the hair-raising driving practices of many Atlantans to be merely irritating. Now, they scared the hell out of me. Bumper-to-bumper at 80 mph? Had I wandered into the Daytona 500? Was I winning?

Also, I managed to get lost and instead of taking the I-575 bypass around the innards of that crazed town I ended up in something called an “express lane,” which means I will now be receiving a ticket in the mail from the Georgia Department of Transportation because I don’t have the special Peachy Keen Pass required to drive on that road. So thank you, Atlanta, for further eroding my meager checking account.

Another driving terror awaited when I reached Richard and Joy’s neighborhood. I shouldn’t call it a “neighborhood” – it’s actually a beautifully laid-out development on the side of a mountain. Gorgeous houses are spaced about 300 yards apart on very steep inclines. Trees and underbrush have been preserved, unlike developments in Florida, where the land is graded down to the earth’s mantel and then trees from Mars are planted to replace the native trees felled by the bulldozer’s blade. Life in Blue Ridge is like living in a treehouse.

The problem lies in reaching those gorgeous houses. The road was a narrow two-lane with very steep inclines and stomach-wrenching declines, with practically no road shoulder and near cliffs approaching the edge of the asphalt – at least that’s what it looked like to this Florida flatlander who lives an average of 12 feet above sea level.

Oh, and another thing. It was cold. Of course it was cold. I was 400 miles farther north than my usual stomping grounds.

And because you’re in the mountains, you’re also in the low layers of clouds, which meant it was often drippy and wet. It rained the first two days I was there and remained cloudy and damp the rest of the time. But then, when I came back home it rained like hell down here, too, so maybe it’s just me. Maybe I attract rain, like PigPen in the Peanuts comic strip attracted dirt.

Blue Ridge appears to be a favored vacation spot for Floridians. I’d say a quarter of the license plates “hailed” from the Sunshine State, if a license plate can hail. That explains the crazed drivers, at least the ones not displaying Cobb County plates.

The Cliff Notes version?

1. Packed too much crap.

2. Big city drivers – scary.

3. Cold – bad.

4. Mountains – also scary.

I hope to get back there in the spring, when I won’t look like such a freak wearing shorts. Spring should be gorgeous. Summer, too. And because you’re in the mountains, it’s cooler. And fall, with all the leaf colors.

Now that I think about it, I chose the one season of the year when maybe it wasn’t so great to visit. I need to get back up there and see what the place really looks like.

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 .