About H.J. Ash

Reader, writer, and all around great gal.

Vintage Horror: Rick Hautala’s Night Stone

Over the pandemic I decided to revisit some of my favorite vintage horror from high school. There were several titles that I remembered as being pretty scary, and a few that I couldn’t even remember the title or author for and had to do a little investigative work to figure it out. One of the latter was Rick Hautala’s Night Stone, which I vaguely remembered as having something to do with stones that a guy would see in his yard when he was dreaming, and as a book that had been creepy enough to kind of stick around in my head over the years. Once I figured out who had written it and the title, I managed to secure a reasonably priced copy online. It even has the original creepy cover that goes between little girl face and skull that I remembered!

Cover of Night Stone

Night Stone has everything: a house deal that seems too good to be true, a creepy haunted doll, a possessed horse, underground terror (that is possibly from a Native American burial ground or sacrificial site), family drama with distracting sexual indiscretions, and some bloody deaths orchestrated by the presence haunting the land.

Don decides to move his family – wife Jan and daughter Beth – out to the country and into an older family-owned house that his sister has been taking care of for years. We learn that his mother hadn’t wanted anyone in the family to live in the house and that his sister hadn’t been able to sell it (never a good sign). Problems start immediately as Beth has some type of seizure as they are driving past the large gateposts of the house, and then escalate when she finds a creepy old doll and becomes obsessed with it. Jan becomes bored with the new situation almost immediately and takes a job waiting tables at a pretty sleazy sounding bar and grill in town, and Don becomes increasingly obsessed with the house and with a large stone that he uncovers in the yard. Archaeologists are called in, additional unsanctioned digging is conducted, weird noises and dreams start taking place, and Beth begins talking to her doll and letting it influence her personality. Beth finally gets the horse she’s been begging for and it turns out to be a nightmare on four legs. And, as we’ve seen before in these cases, Don increasingly becomes more unhinged, and the wheels completely come off of the entire enterprise by the end of the book.

The main things I noticed re-reading this book about 30 years later were that it was a lot more crazy than I had remembered. Dolls always creep me out, but the idea of a girl Beth’s age carrying some monstrosity like this around with her everywhere and whispering to it continuously is just a big “nope” for me. (The doll described in the book looks nothing like the somewhat normal one pictured on the cover, so be fair warned!) Also, the entire horse aspect of the plot was both crazier and sadder than I had remembered. All the girl wanted was a sane horse that she could ride around on the farm, and instead she got Goblin, the horse from hell. Lastly, the size of the huge, sacrificial stone in the front yard that Don keeps digging up, along with the underground tunneling aspects of the story, were parts I had completely forgotten. I am not a big fan of tight, underground places, so this part definitely gave me the creeps.

If you are looking for a vintage horror read that delivers nicely on a lot of the typical tropes we think of from the ’70s and ’80s, then I recommend checking out Night Stone. Rick Hautala has also written some other books and short stories that terrified me over the years, such as Mountain King. He’s definitely a horror author worth checking out!

The Twisted Ones: A Dark Fantasy that Leaves You in Knots

The_Twisted_Ones
Then I made faces like the faces on the rocks, and I twisted myself about like the twisted ones, and I lay down flat on the ground like the dead ones…

This is the quote, taken originally from Arthur Machen’s “The White People” and used frequently in The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher, that has wormed its way into my brain. There is something haunting about it. Rocks don’t have faces, or at least they shouldn’t. Twisting oneself about is not a typical behavior, and just who are the “twisted ones” that are referred to here, since rocks, also, are not something typically considered to be “twisted”? T. Kingfisher tackles these questions and comes up with some answers that you may find you wish you didn’t know. The protagonist, Mouse, is highly relatable and in a situation that many of a certain age might be familiar with – she has been called home to clean out her deceased grandmother’s house. The job is going to take longer than expected, since her grandmother was a hoarder. Mouse, and her coonhound Bongo, are up for the task and only a little creeped out by the condition of the house and the contents (a whole room full of dolls in itself is a horror story), including a journal from her step-grandfather that includes long passages of quotes from a strange green book he used to possess. This is where she first encounters the information on “the twisted ones” and as she reads further through the journal she begins to question the sanity of the former occupants of the house. (WARNING: Many spoilers ahead.)

Mouse and Bongo spend their first days making friends with the “hippies” across the road, hanging out a lot at the coffee shop in town, and taking some rambling walks in the woods – which is where things start to get strange. On one walk, they encounter an “effigy” hanging from a tree – something that has been constructed partially of deer bones and skin, and partially of other things like sticks and stones. The construct has clearly been hung in the trees by someone (or something). The effigy was terrifying enough as a depraved ornament in the woods, but later that night Mouse is horrified to hear it, somehow enlivened, on the porch and attempting to get into the house. This attack by something so unreal is terrifying, but it doesn’t end there – it proceeds to continue on a nightly basis.

When walking on the other side of the property, Mouse and Bongo come across a path through bushes and branches that form a tunnel, which leads them to the top of a hill – only there shouldn’t be any hills anywhere nearby. The top of this hill is where we really get started learning more about the stones and the twisted ones. The hilltop is filled with a variety of carved white stones, similar to one that Mouse had previously seen near the house, and the atmosphere of the place seems to have a strange effect on her. The further she walks away from the entrance, the less realistic things become, and she finds herself thinking more and more about the strange entries in the journal. She begins to feel like maybe she should make the faces on the rocks, and twist herself like the twisted ones…until Bongo helps snap her out of it and escape back down the hill into safety.

Things just continue to go “downhill” from there. Bongo disappears and Mouse must engage the help of her new neighbors to track him down before she can leave grandmother’s house firmly in the rearview. The journey that is required in order to do this, though, includes returning to that strange hilltop – and beyond – and is one of the most original explorations of dark fantasy that I have read in a very long time.

In addition to the creepiness of the quotes from the green book, I found the idea of the effigies in this novel to be terrifying. The hodgepodging together of dead animal and found materials into something that could locomote and menace was terrifying. It brought to mind the Estonian film November, where a similar concept of “krafts”, constructs made of tools and other materials and then infused with a spirit, was used. In this film, as in Kingfisher’s book, the constructs also function as servants, but they are something sought out by humans and mostly subservient to them. For this reason, the overall effect is not nearly as terrifying as what T. Kingfisher has done with the effigies in her book, which are most definitely not something that humans have requested.

Kingfisher’s use of Machen’s work as a basis for her story works well. I went back and read “The White People” and while it is a disturbing piece of fiction, the expansion that Kingfisher provides for the concepts that Machen is discussing lends them more weight and reality. She effectively constructs history and rationale and detail that incorporates his ideas in what I found to be a more approachable fashion, which also serves to increase the dread and horror. There is a definite reason why this book has been celebrated and anyone with a love of dark fantasy will likely find something here to love.

More from T. Kingfisher

If you’re a fan of this type of literature, you may also want to check out The Hollow PlacesIn this book, Kingfisher uses a similar technique of inspiration from Ambrose Bierce’s classic “The Willows” to create another dark fantasy adventure. While I found this book to be a little less effective than The Twisted Ones, it’s still a fun read, and you will find a similarly voiced protagonist – and their pet – to love in this book.