Image credit: From the Mark Talbot-Butler collection on pota.goatley.com.
The sun sags in its low October arc, eclipsed now and then by the Douglas Firs that line the rural two-lane highway in Washington’s Snohomish Valley. Our destination: Bob’s Corn, a working farm that annually transforms into a fall-themed amusement park.
Hundreds of cars park haphazardly in a gravel lot. When I open the car door, the dizzying aromas of autumn’s harvest tease my senses. Corn and hay, apples and pumpkins, hot cider rich as syrup.
In this ultra-safe era of face masks and helicopter parents, it’s refreshing to watch children grab burlap sacks, climb to the top of a two-story mountain of hay bales, and belly-flop down what looks like a hand-made steel slide. Steel permeates Bob’s, from the whimsical metal cars of the Cow Train to the adult-size welded tricycles. Bob’s was not ordered from amazon, it was forged by blacksmiths and artisans.
As the sun surrenders to the horizon, we dare to spend twilight in a twelve-acre corn maze. We board a wagon, and the tractor backfires as it lurches forward. The steel wagon benches lack seat belts. We hold onto whatever we can, and each other, as if in a minimalist ATV. The ad hoc steel tailgate clangs over each bump. The ride alone terrifies me more than any ghost or zombie.
We exit the wagon at the edge of a twelve-acre cornfield. Under the canopied entrance, my daughter takes one of the maps from the friendly staff, then we enter a seemingly endless cornographic labyrinth.
Maize was cultivated in Central America as early as 6000 years ago, with each plant bearing a single inch-long ear of corn. Today’s plants are gargantuan mutants in comparison. Ten-foot stalks tower above us, with multiple long, fat ears branching from each. Though we hear voices around us, the growth is thick enough to hide their sources. We won’t be taking any shortcuts.
After two minutes of fun, I reach into the paper sack my daughter is carrying and extract a donut. We had watched them cook in oil, then bathe in sugar and cinnamon. After a half hour, they’ve cooled to a temperature that won’t blister my fingertips. Each bite dissolves into sugary syrup on my tongue.
“Mm. Delicious,” I say. “The only thing better would be Soylent G—”
“Okay, boomer.” Yes, my daughter’s response is that fast.
The crowds thin out. For a while, we see no one, hear only distant voices. The maze is profoundly peaceful, almost meditative. We walk, we turn, we walk some more.
My daughter slows, and looks from the map back to the turns we just executed. “Okay, I have no idea where we are.” She shoves the map into her hoodie pocket.
At a fork in the maze, my son-in-law reads a sign. “How many daughters does Bob have? Five, go right. Three, go left.”
This is what it has come to. Our survival depends on our knowledge of local trivia.
“Five.” My grandson pulls his dad to the right. My daughter and I follow.
🌽 🌽 🌽
In the fading twilight, we approach another fork, but something dark lies on the path—a body.
“Is he dead?” my grandson asks.
“I’m afraid so.” My son-in-law kneels between the tall dry corn. “Poor bugger couldn’t find his way out. Nothing left but a skeleton.”
I study the desiccated remains—The classic European bone structure, the disintegrating pelt tunic, the runes etched into his metal helmet. “Hey! I know who this is! It’s Arne Saknussemm, the doomed Icelandic explorer from the 1959 film adaptation of Journey to the Center of the Earth. Know what was cool about that movie? One word—Dimetrodon! …”
The pale light of my daughter’s cell phone illuminates a bony arm, its finger pointing down the left branch. “He’s showing us the way out,” she says, and one by one, they leave, until only I remain.
“Thank you, Arne.” I place a single donut by his skeletal hand, then follow my family.
🌽 🌽 🌽
Near Saknussem, a rustling disturbs the corn. Zira, a chimpanzee, and Dr. Zaius, an aging baboon, step bare-pawed onto the dirt path. Zira studies Saknussemm, her head tilted inquisitively. She turns to face the fork’s left branch. “What will he find out there, Doctor?”
Dr. Zaius, his long baboon arms nearly brushing the dirt, stares ominously after me. “His destiny.”
🌽 🌽 🌽
Voices filter through the thick corn, and after a final turn, our path opens to a large cleared area with several dozen people. Wood piles promise bonfires to come. A helpful staff member lets us know we can proceed to the second half of the maze, or exit through the wall of corn. We opt for the early exit.
As we make our way to the tractor and wagon, a gas burner ignites and rumbles overhead. Above us, a hot air balloon—a dark silhouette against the deep azure twilight. It’s coming in low over the maze, which spells out BOB’S CORN.
Yes, It’s My Fall 2022 Update
Besides my visit to Washington, I attended the 2022 RMFW Gold Conference right here in the Denver area. I had a sensational time networking with other writers and honing my craft. As promised last quarter, I’ve included a full recap.
In other news, the much-anticipated Wild audiobook is now available from Audible. I read this two years ago as a Kindle eBook, but the human narration adds a new dimension to these stories.
Also in this update, be sure to read Memories of Saturdays Past, in which I dive deep into the caverns of my childhood brain to regurgitate summaries of classic creature films.
That’s a pretty beefy quarterly update, so I opted to cut Filling the Wastebasket and What I’m Reading, but they will return in the Winter update. Look for it in about three months.
Wild Audiobook Now Available
Wild: Uncivilized Tales is now available as an audiobook from Audible.com. This 2020 anthology from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers contains my first published short story.
The Re-creation of Sahmik Ghee Is my science fiction retelling of the classic poem by Robert W. Service. On a colonized planet where bioprinting is commonplace, two traders brave sub-zero polar temps to hunt the vicious Snowshade for its crystalline fangs. What could go wrong?
Mark Graham narrated my story. What a treat to hear him breathe life into my characters and world.
Besides Sahmik Ghee, Wild is full of several wonderful stories. Be sure to listen to R.J. Rowley’s Bread in Captivity and Schrödinger’s Mouse by Amy Drayer.
2022 RMFW Gold Conference
The RMFW Gold conference was held at the Hyatt Regency Aurora convention center September 9-11.
Spec Fic Writers co-leader Matthew Cushing won the Gold Rush competition in the Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Spec Fiction, and Horror category with his entry, The Osect Indiscretion. Rachel Delaney Craft won in the Young Adult, Middle Grade category with her entry, Every Color of My Blood.
Linda LV Ditchkus was kind enough to sign every copy of the four books in her Sasquatch series, which took first place in the 2021 Colorado Author’s League Writing Awards for science fiction. Linda has a short story in the new RMFW anthology, Bizarre Bazaar, along with Kelley J.P. Lindberg, Natasha Watts, and Rachel Delaney Craft. The photo was taken at the anthology author panel discussion.
At Friday’s open mic event, I did my first public reading, the first page of my short story, Another Green World. Blindness makes live readings a real challenge, but I believe I’ve got a technique that works. The reading was well-received.
Saturday evening featured a session called Cross-Train Your Creativity, with multiple stations designed to exercise your right hemisphere. I’ll be honest, I went straight for the Theremin. It will take a lot of practice before I can play Good Vibrations or Over The Rainbow, but I had a ton of fun regardless. I could’ve played with that thing for an hour.
Memories of Saturdays Past
Saturdays in the 1970s were designed for kids. After an all-morning binge watch of Looney Tunes, Land of the Lost, and Scooby Doo, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich lunch energized me for the Creature Feature, broadcast each Saturday afternoon from WKBD, Detroit’s channel 50. It was must-watch TV for any fifth-grade boy. Missing it was a sure way to be left out of Monday’s lunch room conversation.
The closest thing we have in the 2020’s is Svengoolie. I appreciate his well-researched backstory on each film’s production, effects, and cast, but my low tolerance for lengthy commercial breaks and awkward edits makes watching his movies challenging. Nonetheless, when Svengoolie recently aired It, The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), I was a ten-year-old again, drawn to my TV like a magnet. You may never have heard of It, but you’re probably familiar with the remake it inspired some twenty years later: Alien.
With childhood memories flooding my head, I made a list of all the Creature Feature movies I could recall. Here they are, with comments that pale in comparison to Svengoolie’s expertise. Follow the links to watch the original theatrical trailer on YouTube.
- Abbot and Costello Meet the Mummy, 1955. A vaudeville parody that cashed in on the horror movie craze of the 1950s.
- The Andromeda Strain, 1971. Film adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel, in which a spacecraft returns to Earth with a deadly alien virus.
- The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, 1953. This was the first atom-bomb-awakens-monstrous-creature film, and directly inspired Godzilla and others. Stop-motion effects by Ray Harryhausen. Inspired by Ray Bradbury’s short story The Foghorn.
- The Birds, 1963. Nature turns against mankind in this suspenseful Hitchcock film. With Suzanne Pleshette.
- The Blob, 1958. This is the kind of classic you speak about in hushed, reverent tones. With Steve McQueen.
- Creature from the Black Lagoon, 1954. My memories of watching this iconic black and white horror feature are vague. I don’t think the Beauty-and-the-Beast storyline captured my attention.
- The Day of the Triffids, 1962. Carnivorous plants terrorize a couple trapped in a lighthouse. Based on the novel by John Wyndham.
- The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951. Klaatu and Gort land in DC with an ultimatum for humanity: “join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration.” With Patricia Neal.
- Dracula, 1931. I read the Bram Stoker novel, and seem to recall this Bela Lugosi classic being a faithful adaptation.
- Fantastic Voyage, 1966. Miniaturized surgeons explore the inside of a patient’s body. Definitely one of my favorites. Based on the novel by Isaac Asimov. With Raquel Welch.
- The Fly, 1958. Warning: Do not teleport in non-sterile environments. With Vincent Price.
- Forbidden Planet, 1956. Robby the Robot in a film inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest. With Walter Pidgeon and Leslie Nielsen.
- Frankenstein, 1931, along with sequels Bride of Frankenstein and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. This film turned Boris Karloff into a movie monster icon. And by foregoing Mary Shelley’s arctic ending, it created the long-lasting trope of a mob of angry villagers with pitchforks and torches.
- The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, 1966. Equal parts scary and hilarious. With Don Knotts and Dick Sargent.
- Godzilla, 1956. Gotta love any movie that inspires a Blue Oyster Cult hit. A hydrogen bomb test rouses a 400-foot tall monster, who, a little cranky after waking, proceeds to terrorize Tokyo. This 1956 version is the Americanization of the original 1954 kaiju film, with Raymond Burr. Much later in life, I saw the original Gojira with subtitles, which I highly recommend.
- House of Wax, 1953. Mix one part Vincent Price, one part missing bodies, and one part wax museum full of sculptures that are just a bit too realistic, and the result is a recipe for horror. With Carolyn Jones.
- House on Haunted Hill, 1959. An eccentric millionaire offers $10,000 to his guests if they can spend the night. Like all haunted houses, this one sports a vat of acid in the basement. With Vincent Price.
- I was a Teenage Werewolf, 1957. An angst-ridden Michael Landon turns lupine after receiving a therapist’s experimental serum.
- The Invisible Man, 1933. Based on the novel by H. G. Wells. An experimental drug turns Dr. Griffin invisible, then drives him mad. With Claude Rains.
- Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1959. Like the Jules Verne novel upon which it’s based, they don’t quite get to the exact center. But it’s an excellent adventure film with nice special effects. With James Mason and Pat Boone.
- King Kong, 1933. A giant ape comes to New York City, climbs the Empire State Building, and swats at aircraft. With Fay Wray.
- The Mummy, 1932. Egyptologists succumb to an ancient curse. With Boris Karloff.
- One Million Years B.C., 1966. Raquel Welch in a fantasy world where dinosaurs and humans co-exist, with societal themes of peace and cooperative living. Stop-motion effects by Ray Harryhausen.
- Planet of the Apes, 1968, and a bevy of sequels: Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (Channel 50’s Creature Feature typically aired the series over five sequential weeks). An astronaut crashes on a planet ruled by primates. Spoiler alert: it’s Earth. Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle. With Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, and James Whitmore.
- Rodan, 1956. A volcanic eruption in Japan unleashes a Pteranodon and other kaiju. Good psychological terror in this one.
- Silent Running, 1972. Greenhouses in orbit around Saturn house Earth’s remaining plant life. I swear these robots inspired R2D2. With Bruce Dern.
- Soylent Green, 1973. A dystopian look at overpopulation set in the far-future year of 2022. Today, some of the scenes would be dark humor, such as the machine that takes dead bodies in one end and spits green crackers out the other. Based on the novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison. With Charlton Heston, Chuck Connors, and Edward G. Robinson.
- Them!, 1954. An atom bomb test creates giant ants. With James Whitmore and James Arness.
- The Thing, 1951. Scientists find a flying saucer beneath the North Pole ice cap and unwittingly unleash its occupant. With James Arness.
- The War of the Gargantuas, 1966. Giant kaiju duke it out in Tokyo.
- War of the Worlds, 1953. A wonderful adaptation of H. G. Wells’s novel.
- The Wolf Man, 1941. Larry Talbot needs a shave after he is afflicted by a gypsy curse. With Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, and Bela Lugosi.
Did I miss your favorite? Post your classic creature film memories in the comments!
Changes at PaulMartz.com
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Thanks for reading!
2 thoughts on “Journey to the Center of the Planet of the Apes”
What a fantastic post. Your best ever!
I felt like I was right there in the corn maze. Which is as close to doing one of them as I will ever get. A friend’s husband, who is a fireman, advises never to enter one of those when the stalks are dry. Can’t get that image out of my head, so it’s an activity I will do only vicariously. But patting myself on the back. I only missed 3 of the films. 🙂