the lost children

Brett Rutherford
Zebra Books
1988

Once in a while, one of those “direct-to-paperback” horror books that seemed to clog up book bins in the 80s catch me off guard with an actual good story. Nothing to crow about, mind you…but a story that’s a bit different from the standard follow-the-numbers pap of horror lit. Let me try to describe The Lost Children without confusing you too much…

First off, the cover itself is totally misleading- a blindfolded skeleton cradling a decapitated doll in a ratty blanket. Even after reading this thing, I have no clue as to the significance of the cover artwork. Perhaps the publishers were hard-pressed to come up with a suitable image from the story itself, and thought “Screw it”, and went with a generic idea for the express purpose of catching the eye of the consumer. You know, like those TV commercials that seem to be nothing but couples making out, until you realize at the end that the spot was advertising paint thinner…

Anyway, once you got the story itself, it starts off as kind of a techno-horror: Four children with above-average intelligence in a small town (it’s always a small town, isn’t it?)- two from well-off families, and two from, let’s say, the wrong side of the tracks- are chosen to receive computers from a mysterious charity group, with the assumed intent of helping them with their school work. Once the reader stops snickering from the obviously dated techno-decrypt of the computers (there’s more sophisticated technology in most phones nowadays, but I digress), we learn that, obviously, the computers have a collective sinister motive. In a manor that’s a high-tech method of flashing something shiny in front of the kids, the computers hypnotize the children to do…bad things in their sleep. Turning them against their parents, killing, blowing stuff up…you know, the usual stuff evil computers get you to do. Then all four kids are abducted by mysterious men dressed in beekeeper outfits driving an unmarked van, and taken to a remote farm.

Here’s where The Lost Children shifts from being techno-horror to a Sci-Fi Channel’s Movie Of The Week. Seems there’s an ancient alien creature dwelling inside its massive craft underneath the barn of said farm. It’s recruited some humans to lure children there via the computers (isn’t there an easier way…like candy?), for worker drones, and in the case of some of the girls, to mate with (the method of which is described in one part rather graphically) to create blue-skinned hybrids with a severe aversion to bugs. Anyway, without getting too long-winded: One of the kids can’t be brainwashed because he’s color-blind; a rescue pose’ consisting of Color Blind Boy’s father, the children’s science teacher, a computer-savvy social deviant, the old preacher who gave the kids the computers to begin with (don’t ask), and a bunch of gun-toting Viet Nam vets ride in to rescue the kids; the children launch a rebellion of their own, lead by Color Blind Boy; two nuns escape from an insane asylum; a local yokel gets his brains sucked out; and the big-bad Alien turns out to just “hang around” all the time and look nasty. Oh, and a sadistic head doctor of the nearby insane asylum has a two-sided conversation with his penis. Gads, I wish I made that last one up…

Anyway, the big bad Alien defeated, the Computer Savvy Social Deviant and Color Blind Boy decide to rip off the ending of Stephen King’s Tommyknockers and fly off into the sunset- literally- and leave the gaggle of survivors and FBI agents to end the book with a song-and-dance number. Okay, I actually did make that last one up, but after everything else, I wouldn’t have been surprised…

Actually, The Lost Children is more linear than you think, and I actually enjoyed the tale immensely, as it bucked the usual horror conventions and did its own thing. Too bad not every book is like this…

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