Title: Strange Matter – Last Stand, a.k.a. “Mid-Afternoon of the Living Dead”
Author: Dustin DiBattista
I’m so happy I finally get to talk about this one! This particular search happens to be one of the most delightful I’ve had, and I’m thrilled to share the story with all of you.
My investigation into “Last Stand” was only pulling up one, just one, Dustin DiBattista. I was unable to go further than that, but some finagling led me to a store called Arttista Accessories. Now, I try not to dial phone numbers I find when I’m doing these searches. I’m not willing to go that far just to look for a story. Usually. But with no other leads, and since the store number was freely advertised, I figured the worst that could happen was an awkward phone call.
I called Arttista Accessories back in December. When they answered, I explained who I was and that I was trying to see if there was a Dustin DiBattista on the premises who submitted a story to a contest held by Strange Matter in 1996. I then hear someone bringing the phone over to someone, and the words “Something about a Strange Matter contest?” Followed by “That was like 40 years ago!”
You’ve NO idea how thankful I was that my boss wasn’t in the comic store because I flipped my shit.
Now, I’m talking to Dustin DiBattista. I explain who I am, what I’m doing for Devil’s Elbow, how I’ve been trying to find the stories from the Strange Matter contest. Dustin talked about how he saved pretty much everything he had back then when he was a fan of the series. He even remembered the plot of his story, which I kept to myself until now because I didn’t want to spoil it before the recap. That he referred to his story as “Last Stand” before I ever said it just proved beyond a doubt he was the guy. He said he’s even been on Point Horror a couple of times looking at some of the Christopher Pike recaps.
Dustin offered to look for “Last Stand” but said it might take a while. I appreciated that he was willing to look and even sent a Christmas card to Arttista Accessories to say thank you.
Well after some careful digging around, Dustin was able to successfully relocate his original draft for “Last Stand,” put it in a word document, and emailed it to me. I’ll share with you all Dustin’s thoughts and comments about crafting the story at the end of the post.
Scott was trapped. He’d been trapped for a long, long time. His house, though very large, had once been very beautiful. Trouble is, ever since the monsters came, the house was a mess. Scott had needed to board up all the windows and doors. Now Scott’s home was more like a fortress.
The monsters were still out there. They swarmed the town. Scott and his sister Rose had been the lucky ones. Though they managed to survive inside their house, their mother and all their siblings hadn’t been so lucky. All Scott had left to remember them was the portrait hanging over the fireplace.
Unfortunately, Scott and Rose were in trouble. The monsters were converging outside their house, and more were coming. They needed to get more boards up. It looked like the kids would have to fight if the monsters got in. Armed with a gun, Scott was terrified but willing to fight.
What was that?
Oh shit the monsters got inside!
Rose screamed and ran up the stairs to get to her brother, when the monsters fired her on! Scott watched as his sister was obliterated in a hail of gunfire.
It ended just as quickly as Scott, who couldn’t even get one shot when the monsters took him down.
The monsters assessed Scott’s body.
His one eyeball dangling out of his socket.
His rotting flesh practically hanging off his bones.
Yeah, the townspeople were glad to be rid of him. Him and all the other ghouls that had overrun the town.
Scott and Rose’s bodies were ordered to be burned, alongside the portrait over the fireplace. They didn’t want any reminders of the witch who’d been reanimating the town’s dead.
Short, sweet, and to the point. I love it. Dustin had already told me about the twist when I first spoke to him, so I knew what to expect. Still, this was a delightfully dark and upsetting little story that’s keeping pace with all the other surprisingly twisted tales submitted to the Strange Matter contest.
[Wing: I legit did not see that twist coming! It’s a trope I love, and it still surprised me here. Sharp, to the point, and a lot of fun in such a short amount of words.]
And here’s what Dustin himself has to say about it!
Hi Jude, here’s the story. I haven’t read it in decades, but, overall, it’s not terrible. I’m only slightly embarrassed by it. It’s definitely dark in tone. I would say it’s a product of its time (mid 90s).
As to its origins, I remember watching the original Night of the Living Dead with my dad and brother shortly before writing this story. We always seemed to watch nothing but horror movies growing up. I thought it would make an unexpected twist to have the zombies barricading themselves in a house while humans tried to get in.
I actually wrote the story as a submission for the Strangers newsletter. I didn’t even know there was a story contest! I deliberately kept the story short at 300 words or so, expecting that a shorter story would have a better chance at getting printed in the newsletter. Had I known about the contest, I would have made it longer.
I also remember writing a second, longer story and submitting it for the next story contest, but this one was returned to me shortly thereafter with a handwritten note saying that while they liked the story, they were “holding off on the story contest for now”. This was only a few months before Strange Matter ceased publication as I recall.
I received a package as a runner up, which contained several books autographed by Marty Engle and Johnny Ray Barnes, and also some Strange Matter merchandise. It was a huge thrill for me, and was probably one of the things that inspired my love of writing. It’s also one of the things that makes the series so special to me. I kept all the books.
I still write fiction, though I haven’t tried to get anything published. I love writing, and will always write fiction, even if only for myself. The business keeps me really busy, though, so I don’t have nearly as much time to write as I would like.
Thanks again, Dustin!
[Wing: Aw, Dustin, I hope you do try to get things published someday, or make them available for people to read. Your writing was a delight back then, I think it would be fun to read now, too.]