Halloween Treat

I wanted to provide a little treat this Halloween, as its the High Holy Day here on Monsters and Mayhem. I wracked my brain for ideas of what I could offer. What would be worthy? What would be funny? What would be worthy, funny and scary all at the same time?

Then, a brainwave. There’s a man who embodies all three:  The great Christopher Walker, aka the scariest man alive.

For your consideration…Christopher Walken, reading Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are:

(disclaimer: this is a PG-13 version. Just saying…)

 

Happy Halloween!

Scavenger Hunt Postponed

Due to Hurricane Sandy, and all those affected, I’m going to postpone the scavenger hunt (I feel it’s ill-timed on my part). But–watch out for it next year–bigger, badder and, with plenty of time for me to come up with questions, even more impossibly fun. It’s also likely to be an annual thing if enough people wish to play!  Thanks for understanding.

Look for a very special Halloween post tomorrow–Monsters and Mayhem loves Halloween.  Bwa ha ha ha ha….

 

Reading Addiction Blog Tour: October 29 through November 26

Matt Archer is on the road again, this time with the Reading Addiction Blog Tour. I’m really excited about this tour because a number of the bloggers have taken the time to read Monster Hunter and write reviews. There’s also an awesome giveaway–you’ll have plenty of chances to enter to win a Nook and other great prizes. See you on tour!

October 29 – Reading Addiction Blog Tours – Meet and Greet
October 30 Whoopeeyoo! – Review/Giveaway/Excerpt
October 31 – The Adventures Within – Review/Giveaway/Excerpt
November 1 – Winged Reviews – Review/Giveaway/Excerpt
November 2 – Wonderland Reviews – Review/Interview
November 3 – My Seryniti – Review/Interview/Excerpt/Giveaway
November 4 – My Escape – Review/Giveaway/Excerpt
November 5 – Zone Out Mode – Review/Giveaway
November 6 – My Chaotic Ramblings – Excerpt/PROMO
November 6 – Debbie Jean’s Blog – Review/Excerpt/Giveaway
November 7 – The Solitary Bookworm – Review/Giveaway/Excerpt
November 8 – Little Red Reads – Review/Interview/Giveaway/Excerpt
November 9 – Dedicated Readers Only – Review/Giveaway
November 9 – Kinx Book Nook – Review/Excerpt
November 10 – My Cozie Corner – Review/Giveaway
November 11 – How I See It – Review/Giveaway
November 12 – Kimmie’s Bookshelf – Review/Excerpt
November 13 – Words I Write Crazy – Review/Excerpt
November 14 – Book Lover’s Hideaway – Review/Giveaway/Excerpt
November 15 – Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews – Review/Interview/Giveaway/Excerpt
November 16 – Sweet Southern Home – Review/Giveaway
November 17 – Books and Beyond Review/Giveaway
November 18 – Waiting on Sunday to Drown – Giveaway/Excerpt/PROMO
November 19 – Jenn Renee Read – Review/Giveaway
November 20 – Known to Read – Review/Giveaway/Excerpt
November 21 – Moosubi Reviews – Review/Interview/Giveaway
November 22 – Turning the Pages – Review/Excerpt
November 23 – One Page at a Time – Review/Excerpt
November 24 – My Reading Addiction – Giveaway/Excerpt/PROMO
November 25 – Crazy Four Books – Review/Interview/Giveaway
November 26 – Unabridged Ana – Review/Giveaway

Monster of a Tour

Welcome to Monsters and Mayhem, On the Road Edition!

Given the craziness of Matt’s worldwide blog tour (I can say that with a straight face — some of the bloggers are international. One’s even from the Philippines!), I’m going to give y’all a pass on a blog post today. I wouldn’t want to wear out my three whole fans!

Stay, tuned, though. We have a Halloween contest starting up next Tuesday: an internet scavenger hunt!  Bwa ha ha ha! Until then, come check out Matt on tour and I’ll see you next Tuesday.

P.S. Remember to check for monsters under the bed, y’all. Halloween is coming. (Why do I feel like I’m channeling Ned Stark?  “Winter is coming!”)

Boo!

YA Bound Blog Tour October 22-27

 

YA Bound Blog Tour — Come Join Us!   Matt and I will be visiting with a number of great blogs from October 22 — 27. Check it out! There will be great prizes (a Nook is up for grabs!), so don’t miss out!

 

October 22:

 

October 23:

 

October 24:

 

October 25:

 

October 26:

October 27:

Book Nerd Canada

 

Monsters in Pretty Packages

Friday Ramble time here on Monsters and Mayhem…but today I’m going to talk about a monster. One more insidious and persistent than any I could ever create.  One created out of real life and painted as the very image of perfection.

You see her everyday.  In fact, my daughter met her this week.

My lovely nine-year-old came home from school very upset a few days ago. It took me a bit to drag the story out of her, but apparently  a boy in her class called her fat. She’s not–she’s an active little girl with an adorable round tummy. But what broke my heart most was that she went to the mirror and stared at herself, sucking in that adorable little tummy…then asked if she needed to go on a diet.

She’s nine. Nine! What are we teaching our girls?

On the flip side, I recently decided to work really hard on my fitness level and make changes to my diet. With cancer and type II diabetes in my immediate family tree, getting healthy seemed like a good idea. I’ve been really happy with how strong I feel and the fact that I now have biceps. Muscles are cool! That hard work, paired with an illness this summer, caused me to lose a bit a weight.  I”m not what you’d consider frightfully thin, but when I went in for a check-up–right after I’d been sick–my doctor grilled me about my diet and how much I was working out, wearing a worried crease on her forehead.

It wasn’t until I left that I realized she was concerned I was anorexic.  And that was humiliating. Still, given our current climate of what’s “beautiful,” I know she was asking the questions she felt had to ask.

Every day, thousands of images barrage women and girls about what it takes to be perfect. That monster–the one with the windblown hair, crimson nails and airbrushed skin–has been very busy.  She’s everywhere. She’s on the pages of magazines in images that have been altered to make her look unnaturally thin.  She’s on TV and on billboards. She’s even in stores, smiling on packages of make-up. No matter where we go, I can’t shield my daughter from this onslaught.  All I can do is remind her, as much as possible, that it’s what’s inside her mind and heart that matters. She’s beautiful because she’s caring and creative and compassionate. She’s lovely because she plays with the three-year-old girl next door–the one with four brothers and no big sisters.  She’s gorgeous because she asks deep questions about the world and how to fix broken things.  That’s what I need her to remember, especially as she becomes a teen.

So I’m on a new monster hunt. To protect my daughter. To champion women of all shapes and sizes and colors. To remind myself that my worth isn’t measured by my jeans’ size. It’s measured by what I do each day to show integrity, compassion and strength.

We’re all beautiful, no matter what the monster tries to tell us. And I’m in this fight for as long as it takes.

Who’s with me?

 

 

Haunted Houses: A History

Welcome to the Monsters and Mayhem dungeon, my friends. That growling you hear behind you? Oh, it’s nothing, nothing. Now, how about a little tour?

It’s Haunted House week on Monsters and Mayhem. No, don’t mind the cold breeze that just touched your neck.  It’s…just a drafty window. Yes, a draft.  Anyway, haunted houses have been mentioned in literature since Roman times. Ghosts, ghouls, spirits, poltergeists–humans have believed were aren’t alone for all the ages of the world.

So let me tell a little story on myself. The year is 1982, and my parents have taken my sister and me on our first epic trip to Disney World. Of course we had to visit The Haunted Mansion! After trying to scare each other in line for thirty minutes, my sister and I were ushered into a large, square room inside the foyer of the mansion. A regal, austere black man, in tails, gloves and top hat, caught us staring and never broke eye-contact with me while he slowly pulled the door closed behind him.

BAM!

My sister and I jumped three feet off the floor when he slammed that door, screeching like a pair of frightened mice. All the adults cracked up, but as the walls began to grow right before my eyes, I knew I was in for a really creepy ride.

Okay, I know The Haunted Mansion is like the least creepy haunted house on planet earth, but I rode it as an adult–alone, at night–a few years ago, and I walked off that thing looking behind my shoulder. I’m a weenie. Seriously. The few “slasher” haunted houses I went through scared me so badly, I pleaded with the monsters (even though I knew they were college students in bad makeup) to let me go. And they usually did. I don’t know if it was the sheer terror in my eyes, or the loudly spoken threat of, “I’m gonna throw up, I swear!”

Funny, since I love monsters, that it’s the ghosts I’m scared of.  Those whispers of breath that tease the nape of your neck when you come down the hall while alone in the house. Wondering who left that closet light on…even though you swore you turned it off. Doors that randomly slam–or open–by themselves. Seeing something ethereal from the corner of your eye, but it’s gone when you really look?  Yeah…that’s what terrifies me. Ghosts. Things that pop out and go, “boo.” Send me a big, hairy beast any day.

How about you? What gives you the creepy-crawlies?

 

Hunger Games Nation (aka Archery Mania)

It’s Friday Rambles time! Ready for flight?

 Today, I’m sounding off on the popularity of archery. I did, after all, name my main character Matt Archer, but I have more than a passing interest–more on that in a moment. Anyway, the archery events at the 2012 Olympic Summer Games had the most viewers for non-primetime coverage. Millions of kids, some as young as five, are joining archery clubs, while more and more schools are adding archery teams and programs.  It’s always been a cool sport, but it used to be relegated to summer camp and outdoor programs, not school teams. Why this sudden burst of interest? Well, that actually seems to be somewhat simple:

We have Katniss Everdeen (and her creator, Suzanne Collins) to thank. 

According to several news articles, archery is entering a kind of renaissance as a skill kids want to learn. Thanks to the National Archery in the Schools Program (started in the early 2000s), schools had been adding archery classes and teams at an increasing rate. But this interest has exploded in the last three years…about the time The Hunger Games did.

Now, my son’s middle school has had an archery team for 10+ years. It’s one of the things they’ve become known for, and they’ve won state more than once. His coach is a task-master of the first order; he has to be. He’s allowing dozens of 6th-8th graders to handle DEADLY WEAPONS at school on a daily basis. No kidding–if T (the aforementioned son) wants to take his own equipment to school, the bow has to arrive in a padlocked case and be under adult supervision or in a locked storage room at ALL times. If an archer doesn’t comply, he/she could be arrested or expelled.  Ouch. This is serious business.

When T decided he wanted to try out, I balked. Not because of the DEADLY WEAPONS–he started shooting arrows at Cub Scout camp when he was seven. In fact, he was only one of two kids to shoot well enough to earn his archery merit badge at Boy Scout camp this past summer, despite being one of the youngest scouts there. He knows how to shoot, how to shoot safely, and to respect the privilege of handling a bow. Rather, my concern was the time commitment. In addition to attending tournaments across the great state of Texas, T has to be at school before 6:45 every morning for practice. If anyone is late, everyone does a two-minute wall-sit or thirty push-ups. Coach–being a physical education instructor for more than 20 years–wants them to be strong in body and mind for those meets.   As Coach put it, “An archer with an elevated heart rate is gonna lose. Period. You have to be utterly calm to excel in this sport.  We don’t run, bounce or high-five before a flight. We don’t pace. We don’t drink sodas or eat candy, either. And parents, don’t let me catch you jacking up your kid with a pep talk.”  Or, in other words, discipline is King for a competitive archer.  

That’s ultimately what decided it for me. T is already a fairly disciplined kid. But being an archer takes a higher level of self-control. Only shoot on command. Make sure the range is clear. NEVER mess around with the equipment, even if you’re sure no one is in range. Listen to everything the coach says. Follow directions. Practice, practice, practice. Is it regimented? Sure–but he’s having the time of his life.  

Katniss Everdeen is the very picture of discipline and perseverance.  Before the Games, she rose every morning to hunt to ensure her family had food and enough fresh meat to sell to provide for the other things they needed. After taking her sister’s place in the Games, facing near-certain death, she survived the Hunger Games not only because she could shoot an arrow dead on target ninety-nine times out of a hundred, but because she had self-discipline and could take care of herself. Find water, ration food, tie yourself in a tree to sleep out of harm’s way, make a fire at dusk to ensure the smoke is harder to see from a distance. Learning to be an archer may not teach you how to survive in the wilderness, but it will teach you about yourself and the way you approach a new task. For that reason, archery might be a good skill for a writer to practice. Finishing a novel takes some dogged determination. Like any other major skill, you have to work hard in order to master it.

 

 This is T’s practice round at 15 meters yesterday. 

I think he’s learned this lesson pretty well so far.

 

 

How about you? What sport/activity/passion has taught you about perseverance and self-discipline? 

 

 

Matt Archer: Monster Hunter (Chapter One)

When I was fourteen years old, I was forced to make my first kill. Now I’m fifteen and I bagged two more just last week.

My name is Matt Archer. And I hunt monsters.

 * * *

 Four Months Ago

 “Matt! Uncle Mike’s here. Get a move on!”

Mom was always in a hurry. Her job as a lawyer kept food on the table, as she liked to remind us. But it also kept her in motion, saying stuff like “time is money.” My question was, if time was money, then why weren’t we all rich? Smartass comments like that got me grounded though, so I kept my mouth shut and ran down the stairs.

After dumping my backpack and sleeping bag by the front door, I rounded the corner to the living room to greet Uncle Mike.

He rose from the sofa, towering over me, and stretched. The muscles on his arms, neck and shoulders flexed like a pro-wrestler’s. Uncle Mike was a Green Beret, and it showed. “Hey, soldier, what’s up?”

“Nothing, Major.”

“Like I’ve never heard that one before,” Mike said when I laughed at my own joke. “Ready to deploy?”

“Yeah. I decided to wear my camo this time, go in stealth mode.”

Uncle Mike looked down at his own clothes. He was wearing old jeans, a bright red flannel shirt, and a Colorado Rockies cap crammed down over his light-brown hair. “Nice idea,” he said, “but I’m not sure the bears and deer will care much about your camo. Let’s move out.”

The evening sky was streaked with gold and pink, but still light enough for us to make it to the campgrounds before nightfall. One of the advantages of living in Montana—good camping was only thirty minutes from anywhere. I piled my gear into the back of Mike’s Jeep. The car smelled awesome: cigars and gasoline. Mom nagged him to quit with the cigars, but I thought it was cool. Just like Wolverine.

“Hey, can we have the top down?” I asked.

Mike shrugged. “If you don’t mind that the wind chill will be forty degrees, doesn’t bother me.”

We pulled the soft cover off the Jeep and packed it over the camping equipment in the back. The air was scented with pine; our trees were getting their “fall coats,” as Mom put it, and the needles smelled like Christmas. This was my favorite time of year, before winter set in like an unwanted houseguest.

“Hard to believe it’s October. We’ll have to brace for a big snow soon.” Mike put the Jeep in gear and backed out. “Means this is the last jaunt of the year, Chief.”

I nodded, hoping the ache I felt in my chest didn’t show on my face. Camping with Mike was the only special thing I had that my older sibs didn’t. My sister, Mamie-the-brain, was too much of a bookworm to go with us and my brother, Brent-the-football-hero, had his “social engagements.” What it really meant was that I was neither a brainiac, nor popular enough to have other plans on the weekends, so Mike took me camping. Honestly, I loved it, even if it branded me a dweeb with no social life.

Mike glanced at me, a sad smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. “Heard from your Dad?”

He tried to keep the anger out of his voice, but I still heard it, like sandpaper rubbing an old scab. “Brent got a birthday card when he turned seventeen.”

“That was April, man.”

“Yeah, well, that was our summer greeting, I guess,” I said. “You know what he sent Brent for his birthday? A Hooters calendar. Mom had a total fit.”

Maybe he’d send me one, too. Not likely I’d get anything though. Since Dad ditched us while Mom was pregnant with me, I was an afterthought. It seemed like Dad would rather spend what little time he had to give on my popular-athletic-jerk of a brother. Not that I was bitter or anything. Well, not entirely bitter.

“At least he knows what Brent likes,” Mike said, a soft thread of laughter floating through his voice. “Although, I can see how Dan-Dan would be pissed about it.”

“Don’t let Mom hear you calling her ‘Dan-Dan,’” I said, grinning.

“Not my fault I couldn’t say Danielle when I was two.”

Mike was the only person who could get away with calling my mom anything other than Danielle or Counselor Archer. Mom had a real weak spot for her baby brother—and she still called him that, even though he was thirty-eight. He’d stepped in for Dad after he switched from active duty to the reserves. Mike made sure I did Boy Scouts and taught Brent how to throw and catch a perfect spiral. He had even helped Mamie practice dancing with a partner for the sophomore homecoming dance, even though she nearly broke his toes.

He was more family to us than Dad would ever be.

Not that I was bitter or anything.

“So, Uncle Mike, any girlfriends we need to know about?” I asked. “That last one was, um, interesting.”

“Candy was a trip, wasn’t she? Looked great in a bikini, but she was so boring. I should’ve known not to hook up with a woman whose idea of fun is museum hopping,” he said. “Nope, I’m single again, Chief. Good thing.”

Mike paused and shifted in his seat. He had some bad news—I could tell. A hard rock of fear lodged itself in my stomach. I tried to swallow, but the rock in my gut kept the spit in my mouth. Because I knew what was coming. This wouldn’t be the first time we’d had this sucky conversation, and I was really tired of it.

“I’ve been called up.”

I hated it when I was right. “Where? When?”

“Going to Afghanistan for a year. I leave for training in six weeks and deploy in January.” Mike managed another small smile. “So much for ‘reservist’ status, huh?”

I took a shaky breath. No Uncle Mike for a year? “You’ve been on three assignments in the last three years. You should be done by now. Can’t you tell them no or something?”

Mike glanced at me, looking serious. “The military isn’t a ‘pick and choose’ kind of operation. Orders are, well, orders. I have to go, Matt. I’m sorry.”

I stared out my window, trying not to cry like a little kid, but my chin was already shaking. That pissed me off; I was too old to have a little-girl-hissy-fit. “What’ll we do without you here?” I turned back to glare at him, wondering why I was angry with Mike rather than the Army. “We need you more than they do.”

Mike sighed. “We’ll be fine, okay? I’ll be able to email you and call sometimes, and we can even do video conferences. It’s not like we’ll be out of touch for a whole year.” He squeezed my shoulder. “You’ll see. It’ll be fine.”

His voice trailed off at the end. Neither of us said what we were thinking—that maybe it wouldn’t.

We got to the campgrounds at six and Mike put me to work unloading the Jeep before my feet hit the dirt. We only had thirty minutes to set up the tent and start a fire before the sun set, so he was in a rush, ordering me around like we were deploying a military installation. I worked fast, but Mike’s news pressed down on my chest worse than when Brent sat on me.

The wind whispered through the pines and aspen trees lining the back of our campsite. The leaves kept saying, “shush, shush, shush,” like they knew how messed up I felt. It didn’t make me hurt any less, but I did feel calmer about things. Maybe I could get through the weekend without a meltdown.

After the fire was blazing, Uncle Mike tried to pretend nothing had changed in the last hour. “All right! Hot dogs…whoever can catch his on fire first wins!”

I played along and got flameage faster than he did; I was good at burning hot dogs. It tasted like crap that way, though. When I chucked the half-eaten frank into the bushes, Mike’s sly smile told me I’d been punked. Yet again. “You just like to see me try to eat ashes, is that it?”

He raised his eyebrows before going back to his perfectly roasted dinner. Just to spite him, I made two more hotdogs and scarfed down all the chips, too.

Before I had a chance to dig out some marshmallows for s’mores, the air turned sharp and the wind gusted cold into the campfire, sending up sparks. Uncle Mike rose to his feet, with an intense, alert expression I’d never seen before—like he could eat a brick and enjoy the crunch.

Without looking at me, he said, “Weather’s changing; best to get inside the tent, where it’s warmer.”

With nothing else to do, we packed it in for the night. Mike didn’t allow me to bring a cell phone or anything else electronic on our trips. I could’ve played cards or something, but being outside always made me tired and I went to sleep early because, yes, I’m just that exciting. On the plus side, I had the craziest dream: Ella Mitchell ditched her boyfriend for me. That’s not weird—that’s plain, old wishful thinking. The weird part was that she hopped up on stage during assembly and stole the microphone from Principal Stevens to do it. Then I ran down the aisle to thunderous applause, swept her in my arms and….

“Get back!” Mike yelled.

I sat up in surprise to see shadows moving across the tent’s walls. One shadow was Mike’s, distorted in the bright moonlight. The other…heck if I knew what it was. Bulky, taller than Mike by a long shot, it grunted and snorted like an angry pig. Was it a bear? I rubbed my eyes and squinted. No, definitely not a bear. The thing was much too big and shuffled along on two legs.

When it roared, it didn’t sound like any animal I’d ever heard, but more like a bulldozer’s engine. Every hair on my scalp stood up. Whatever this thing was, it wasn’t natural.

The two shadows circled one another, then the beast swiped at Mike’s head and he went down hard. The creature dropped on all fours, snuffling at my uncle. Even in shadowed outline, I could see claws to rival a velociraptor’s as it raised a paw over Mike’s chest.

I clambered to my knees, yanking open the zipper to my sleeping bag. “No!”

It paused and lowered its paw, turning its body toward the tent. Oh crap—now it knew I was here.

I watched the creature’s shadow get bigger and bigger as it headed my way. It didn’t creep. It didn’t barrel toward me. It strolled, like it wasn’t the least bit worried about what it would find inside the tent. Terrified or not, something about its arrogance filled me with cold fury. My muscles burned and my heart beat double-time; I probably didn’t have a prayer, but I wasn’t going down without a fight. I sure as hell wasn’t going to sit by and let this thing kill my uncle.

Uncle Mike usually brought a rifle with him, just in case we met a bear, and he’d made sure I could use it. I dug around in our bags, throwing clothes everywhere, but the rifle wasn’t in the tent. The only thing I came up with was a wicked-looking knife with a smooth bone handle. I pulled it out of the leather sheath, shocked by its weight. It was much heavier than it looked and my fingers buzzed, like the knife was vibrating in my hand. I must’ve been shaking really hard.

I gripped the handle of the knife, hoping I didn’t end up stabbing myself by accident. The blade was longer than most hunting-knives I’d ever used—maybe eight or nine inches—and honed to a sharp edge. I had no idea where Mike would buy something like this, but one thing was for sure: no one would want to be on the receiving end of this weapon. It looked like it could gut a buffalo.

The creature walked the perimeter of the tent, brushing up against the nylon, and a rancid scent wafted through the walls. I gagged and threw up a little in my mouth. The stench reminded me of how the vent in my room smelled after my guinea pig got loose and bought the farm in the air duct. Seriously freaked out, I held still, clutching the knife so hard my knuckles ached. I was planning to let the beast stalk around outside as long as it wanted. One thing Mike taught me during paintball was to make your target do the work. If you could be patient, you’d get the better strike, and I’d only have one shot.

The beast paused and I took a gulp of cold air, knowing I wouldn’t have to wait much longer. With a blur of claws, dark fur and sharp teeth, the thing crashed into the tent, ripping the nylon with one slash. I didn’t have time to think or even get a good look at it. When it pounced on top of me, I thrust the blade into its stomach and twisted. The handle burned in my hand, glowing a faint green.

The beast howled and struggled against me, until I thought I’d drown in the reek of its fur. Somehow, I squirmed out from underneath it just before it collapsed on the floor of the tent. Once it was down, I stabbed it in the back, over and over, swearing at the top of my lungs. Some kind of red-rage took control, and I didn’t stop until the thing shuddered and was still.

In the quiet, I fell to my knees, shaking all over.

When I could finally breathe without wheezing, I gathered up the last shreds of my courage and found our lantern in the wreckage. Scared pissless or not, I wanted to see what attacked me. Squaring my shoulders, I turned on the light.

Then bit my own tongue trying to hold back a scream.

The creature was misshapen, with a huge head, pointy ears and narrow snout, and it had to be at least eight feet tall. Teeth like tusks protruded from its lower jaw. It had brown fur like a grizzly’s and its paws looked like a bear’s too, except bigger, with those brutal, velociraptor claws. If that wasn’t weird enough, the thing’s arms and legs were long, like a man’s. It was like some mad scientist threw a bunch of DNA into a blender and this is what came out.

What the heck could it be? Was it some kind of alien? A scientific experiment gone horribly wrong? Did we have a Dr. Frankenstein living in Billings? Seriously, the creature looked like a resurrected Wookiee made from spare parts.

Utterly creeped out, I pulled the knife out of the beast’s back and dropped it on the ground. My hands had blood on them, dark stains glistening in the moonlight, and now that I wasn’t fighting for my life, I shivered, half-freezing and clueless about what to do next.

Someone groaned outside.

I scrambled out of the tent, fighting my way free of the shredded nylon to find Mike. He lay crumpled in a heap just past the fire ring. Shallow claw marks had ripped through his flannel shirt, but not his undershirt or skin, and his forehead had only a small gash at the hairline. We’d been lucky.

“Uncle Mike, wake up!” I shook him. Fear thudded in my chest at a random thought. What if there were more creatures out here? “Come on, wake up!”

Mike groaned again and rolled onto his side. “I’ll take a quad Venti Latte.”

I shook him again, hoping his brains hadn’t been scrambled by that punch to the head. He blinked, looked around, then sat up and grabbed my arm in a vice grip. “Where is it, Matt? Did it hurt you? How’d you get away?”

“It’s dead, in what’s left of the tent.” I swallowed hard, realizing what I’d just said. “I killed it.”

Mike didn’t freak out; he didn’t even act surprised. “How?”

“I found a knife in your bag,” I said. “I-I stabbed it.”

And with that, I jumped up and ran to the bushes to throw up. Oh, my God…I killed something. I’d never killed anything, except flies, and those don’t count. Holy crap, what was happening out here? What were those things? I heaved again, unable to stop my mind from replaying the scene over and over and over.

When I was done puking, Mike put his hands on my shoulders and steered me toward the Jeep. “Get in; we’re leaving. Be right back.”

I climbed into my seat, staring straight ahead, seeing nothing but the underside of the beast and my hand thrusting the knife into its gut. Flashes of light danced in front of my eyes and I broke out in a cold sweat. Having never fainted, I wasn’t sure if I was about to or not. Either way, better safe than sorry, so I put my head between my knees. I caught a whiff of the creature—its smell was all over my clothes—and I had to pop the door and barf again.

Mike ran to the Jeep and got in. All he had was our backpacks, his GPS and the white-handled knife.

“What about the tent and our gear?” I croaked while wiping puke off my chin with a trembling hand.

“We don’t need anything else, and we’ve got to get out of here. I rolled the carcass down a ravine and threw some dead brush on top of it.” He slammed the Jeep in reverse and laid tread, peeling out from the parking slot. “Hopefully no one will find it before…”

“Before what?” I asked.

Mike shook his head. He drove a few miles, not saying anything, then pulled over at a rest stop. By then, black spots were dancing in front of my eyes again and my skull felt too heavy for my neck. When he parked, Mike reached over and slapped me pretty hard. My head hit the headrest and I brought my hand up to my cheek in a daze.

“Matt! Stay with me. We’ve got a lot to cover and I need you to focus,” he said. He blew out a harsh breath. “I can’t believe the knife let you wield it.”

I blinked fast to clear my vision, not understanding a word he said. “What?”

“You remember when I went on that short mission last year?”

Mike’s voice had a steeliness to it. Freaked out or not, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like where this was headed. I gulped and cleared my throat; my mouth tasted all skanky. It was all I could do to keep from throwing up again, so I just nodded in answer.

“I got sent to South America—to Peru—on a highly classified mission,” he said. “People started disappearing and the local government asked the U.S. to send some specialists down there to check it out. What we found was pretty surprising.”

How this had anything to do with giant beasts in the woods of Montana was beyond me. “What did you find?”

Uncle Mike clamped his hands to the steering wheel. “Turns out monsters are real.”

Greek Gods Get All the Credit

Release the Kraken!

I’ve always wanted to say that. (Okay, Alex and Maria, you can stop laughing now…)

When I was a kid, the original Clash of the Titans hit theaters. Before Percy Jackson, before Sam Worthington and Liam Neeson, even before good special effects, there came the world’s cheesiest, most awesome, monster movie.

Yeah, I said it: MONSTER movie.

See, the Gods were supposed to be the big deal: Lawrence Olivier as Zeus?! Dame Maggie Smith as Thetis?! Ursula Andress, the quintessential Bond girl, as Aphrodite?!  It’s the 1980s version of Harry Potter in terms of the fine British actors brought on board for a “special effects movie.” Add in Burgess Meredith and a young (smokin’ hot!) Harry Hamlin–yes, I know they aren’t Brits–and this was supposed to be the movie of the decade.

But the Gods, with all their scheming and petty slights, bored this nine-year-old to tears. With the exception of Pegasus (flying horse FTW!), the good guys didn’t interest me a bit.  The metal bird thing? Right out. No, I liked the bad guys. Calibos oozed menace and sported a rockin’ set of horns. The Stygian Witches with their shared eye and caldron full of glop? ::shudder:: Medusa gave me nightmares for weeks, and the Kraken? Well, who wouldn’t love a giant, rubberized lizard rising out of the sea to eat a beautiful virgin?

The producers of Clash of the Titans got that, too. The full cast was broken into three groups: Immortals (Gods and Goddesses), Humans (Perseus, Andromeda and the like), and the Mythologicals (Pegasus, the Kraken and Medusa). The fake characters — the special effects! — got their own credits. The story was thin at best, the actors were a little wooden, but Ray Harryhausen’s creations will fire up any Gen X-er faster than an X-wing’s run against the Death Star.  (Fun aside: The sushi restaurant in Monsters, Inc was named Harryhausen’s. Coincidence? I think not!)

There’s just something about a movie that takes its creatures seriously. It’s the only way to suspend disbelief. Have you seen a film advertised as a special effects triumph, but those same effects get in the way so much that you can’t follow the story because you’re picking apart the “fakeness” of it all? I know I have. The mark of a great creature-feature is one that blends in the effects so well, despite their cheesiness, that you are completely and utterly sucked in.

What movies would you add to the list of must-see creature flicks? What does it take to make you suspend disbelief?

(PS…a new Matt Archershort story released last week. Click on the “excerpts” tab from the home page to read a sample!)

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