I came here to kvetch about writers who write about writing, how dull it is, how self-indulgent. I came to do that, then I remembered I have a whole blog category devoted to complaining about my job, which is writing, so…maybe not. A little self-awareness, hm?
It’s not the content of Stephen King’s latest that’s awoken the whiner in me, though he did write about writing. Again. It’s that I’m no longer twelve. I was twelve when I first fell for horror—well, modern horror. Horror that felt possible, even probable. Unavoidable, if you lived long enough. It might not be Cujo slavering at your windshield or pig’s blood raining out your prom, but it’d be something, something close. That shit’s scary when you’re twelve, and more than that, it’s thrilling. You haven’t seen any of it, or come out the other side. You don’t know how it plays out.
The thing is, now I do. When Cujo’s at the door, or COVID, or wildfire season, I wait and see. It’s what’s worked before, or at least, it’s not not worked. I’m alive. So I watch and do nothing, and I entertain myself with promises: if I live, I get potato skins. I get books. I get slippers. I get pearls on a string, or whatever strikes my fancy. I’m a six-year-old at the symphony and I’m my own mother: sit quiet, you’ll get a treat. I don’t fight. I don’t scheme. I wait and see.
It’s the same reading horror now, just waiting and seeing. Resignation instead of roller-coasters. There’s only one kind of story that still works, and this time, Mr. King hit it one shot out of four. He almost got there twice, almost, but not quite.
The stories that still get me are the near-misses and might’ve-beens, the ones that set up a cosy feeling and blast it to absolute zero. And they’ve got to do it with finality, no room for hope. They’ve got to leave you aching to turn back the way you came, but the road’s rolled up behind you. Stephen King managed that in The Life of Chuck, the second of his four latest novellas. In truth, he managed it one-third of the way through. The rest was nice, all sweet and nostalgic, but I could’ve filled that in myself. There was enough in that first bit to know, to feel that sense of loss. Having it spelt out for me, I don’t know. My attention flagged.
Anyway, I said I wasn’t going to complain. Stephen King didn’t get worse, or I don’t think he did. I just got older. My horror-bone got less ticklish. That’s all.
There are a few standard scares that still send a goose over my grave, but on a purely visceral level, like when you see someone get their nails ripped out and stuff your hands in your pockets. Here they are, if you’re curious:
- Hands of glory: a hand of glory‘s a dreadful thing, the preserved hand of a hanged man, cured in all manner of unpleasant substances—piss, I think, and herbs, and saltpeter—then lit like a candelabrum, a flame on each finger…faugh. Why would you make that? Even its name creeps me out: hand of glory. Fuck right off.
- Brocken spectres: literally just shadows. Massive shadows, human shadows, cast on cloudbanks, capped with blazing halos. (Those halos are called glories, like the hands.)
- The idea of someone running at me full-speed, with their eyes fixed on mine and their lips pressed together. Just that. I don’t like that.
I suppose my worst nightmare would be a Brocken spectre holding a hand of glory, charging me full-tilt. (Since Brocken spectres tend to arise from one’s own shadow, I’d have to be running at myself, brandishing the shameful object, but stranger things have happened. Stranger things, indeed.)
I might read The Stand again, one of the first Stephen Kings I picked up. The nostalgia is what I wanted, not the scare. I want to read that first scene again, with Charlie Campion’s mad flight, and remember the movie version…Don’t Fear the Reaper and Randall Flagg’s hot ass…and in my friend’s basement, after, looking at pictures she’d downloaded off the Web. There was a burn victim, and some guy who’d got squashed by a Sherman tank, just trousers and guts, man, trousers and guts—she wanted to be an undertaker, I think. For me, the gore held little interest, but having a friend did, so I oohed and aahed, maybe drew a couple of pictures…I think I drew the burnt guy.
The Stand, though, every chapter’s got memories. I got the hiccups one night, and they wouldn’t go away, and I read from Larry Underwood’s drug binge to his mother’s death, and his escape from New York, creeping through that dark tunnel—I pictured the one under the Welland Canal, which I went through every Monday on my way to music lessons.
Mm…maybe I’ll read Gerald’s Game. That would remind me of summer camp. I brought it one year, and the camp director confiscated it. She gave it back at the end with crumbs between the pages. Scabbing cow.
I have a line in my head now, from Tales from the Crypt —not the comics, the TV show: how I love to suture a girl who has no future…seems apropos, doesn’t it, the way I’m groping for the past?
(Might as well plump for The Wind in the Willows at this point. 1982*, I’m coming home.)
* 1982 is when I first read The Wind in the Willows. I don’t think it was written in 1982. Just, y’know…in case you thought I did.