Kisses in the Dark: My Review of the Bad Little Kid

SK short story

As a child, I was a victim of bullying.  I was tormented pretty often.  I must say, I think there are some kids that are just born bad…

But luckily, I was able to escape my small town and the bullying, and I have become the happy, health well-adjusted adult who spends way too much time blogging about Stephen King.

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Although that is probably why I was lucky…I am not a character in a Stephen King novel, so I was able to escape my tormentors!

King has written extensively about childhood and bullying.  Works such as It, Sometimes They Come Back, Low Men in Yellow Coats and Dreamcatcher all deal with characters who are bullies, and characters who must fight off the bullies, as their survival literally depends on it.

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Well, King has added another story to his canon on childhood and bullies: Bad Little Kid, which is one of the stories in King’s latest collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.  And this story is proof, that yes, childhood is hell, and that some people literally do not ever escape their demons.

childhood is hell


 

Synopsis

Bad Little Kid begins with a man named Leonard Bradley, who is visiting someone who is in prison.  That person is a man named George Hallas, who has been jailed for some unnamed crime and will soon be executed for the unnamed crime.  Bradley is actually Hallas’ attorney, and is fighting so that Hallas’ life may be spared.  We then learn that Hallas is on death row for killing a child, but that Bradley has some major questions as to why this crime was committed.  Hallas then proceeds to tell Bradley the events that led him to commit the most awful crime of all:  the murder of a child.

Hallas grew up without a mother, who died shortly after his birth.  Hallas was raised by his father and housekeeper, Nona McCarthy.  The family moved several times during his childhood.  One of the towns that the family lived in was Talbot, Alabama, where Hallas befriends a mentally handicapped young girl named Marlee Jacobs.

Marlee and Hallas would walk to school together every day.  One day, Marlee was upset because she could not find her lunchbox.  Hallas comforts her, and Marlee temporarily forgets about her lunchbox.

However, when the children are walking home from school, they hear someone tormenting them.  Hallas sees a young boy who is short and chubby with red hair, and who also wears a beanie on his head with a plastic propeller.  Hallas does not recognize him from either his neighborhood or his school.  The boy torments Hallas and Marlee, who try to ignore him and head home.  However, the little boy has Marlee’s lunchbox, and continues to torment her.

The little boy throws the lunchbox out into the street, and tells Hallas that it is his fault.  Marlee runs out into the street and is hit by a car driven by one of the teachers who works for the school that she attends with Hallas.  The accident proves fatal for Marlee, who dies almost immediately.

Bradley listens to the story, but is skeptical that there even was a little kid, and thinks that Hallas may have imagined his tormentor.  Hallas says that he spent the next several years dreaming about that kid, but passes it off as a childhood tragedy.

Hallas attends college, where he majors in drama.  He finds some success, and also begins dating a young woman named Vicky.  Vicky is high-strung and ambitious, and also has a tendency to abuse prescription drugs.

Vicky and Hallas both try out for roles in a production of The Music Man.  Hallas gets a lead role, but Vicky becomes nervous and her audition is a disaster.  Hallas tries to comfort Vicky, and they walk down the sidewalk.  Hallas then hears someone tormenting him, and it is the same little kid he saw as a child.  The little kid has not aged a day.  Hallas starts to chase him, but Vicky stops him and tells him that the boy is not worth it.

Hallas then drops Vicky off at her apartment.  This is the last time he sees Vicky alive, as Vicky commits suicide by hanging herself.  Hallas finds out from Vicky’s distraught roommate Carla that Vicky believed that he put the little kid up to tormenting her.  Hallas assures Carla that the little kid was indeed real, and that Carla is not at fault for Vicky’s suicide.

Carla and Hallas later marry, and Hallas turns to accounting for a career, rather than the theater.  We also learn the little continues to torment Hallas’ loved ones, including his former housekeeper, Nonie.  Hallas’ father had died in a mining accident, and the little boy tries to convince Nonie that the boots she had given Hallas’ father were responsible for the accident.  Nonie also passes away from a heart attack, and Hallas believes the little boy to be responsible,  After Nonie’s funeral, Hallas receives a package in the mail that contains the little boy’s hat.  He then burns the hat, believing it to be cursed.

Carla becomes pregnant, and she and Hallas begin attending church on Sundays again.  One Sunday, Hallas sees his tormentor on the church steps.  A firecracker is thrown in Carla’s direction, and she falls down the steps, suffering a miscarriage and losing the baby.

Hallas’ marriage suffers after the loss of their child, and he throws himself into volunteering at his church.  He pays special attention to young boys who need a mentor.  He is able to raise funds for a boy named Ronnie to have the surgery needed to correct his vision.  Hallas then uses Ronnie as bait to trap the little boy who has been tormenting him.

He is successful in trapping the little boy, and chases him out into the street.  Hallas then shoots the little in the back, as revenge for the all deaths he has caused.  He almost believes that he has killed an ordinary child, but sees a dark presence in the little boy’s eyes before he passes away.  Hallas is arrested immediately, and found guilty of murdering.  He also receives the death penalty.

Bradley lets Hallas finish his story, but he is still skeptical.  He asks Hallas why the creature picked him, but Hallas cannot answer that question.  Hallas also points out that no one has been able to identify the little boy, and no family members ever claimed the body.  Bradley promises Hallas that he will attend his execution.

Six days later, Hallas is executed.  Bradley is attendance, along with Hallas’ priest.  Before his death, Hallas warns Bradley that evil will disguise itself as a child.

Bradley leaves the prison after Hallas is executed.  He sees movement from the corner of his eye.  He also notices that his car has been vandalized.  Bradley opens his car door, and finds a beanie with a propeller on top of it.  There is a note stating:  Keep it, I have another one.  The note also states that Bradley is next.  In the distance, Bradley hears a child’s laughter.


 

My Thoughts

So.  Wow.

Uncle Stevie is known for his creepy stories, and Bad Little Kid did not disappoint in that department.  Uncle Stevie is also good at taking what should be innocent, and corrupting it.  Again, this story did not disappoint in that department, either.

Take the title character for instance…

First, my mind went here:

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Yeah, if Opie Taylor went bad, and somehow all the lessons from his dad didn’t stick…

Maybe this creature is some evil Twinner to Opie Taylor, then…

But of course, my mind went here too:

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Ah, yes.  Danny Bonaduce.  And I don’t think this is a case of an evil Twinner.  Mr. Bonaduce is capable of being bad all on his own, thank you!  Now I will never look at a partridge in a pear tree the same way again!

So yes, this was one seriously creepy story.  Some people literally can never escape their demons.  Hallas is one of those people.  His demon followed him everywhere and he was only able to get away from it by dying.  The demon takes away everything that matters to Hallas:  his childhood friend. his first love, his family, his marriage and eventually his life.  The only way that Hallas was able to escape the creature that was tormenting him was through death.  And no reason was ever give why Hallas was chosen, he just was.  Often, the lottery of life will throw you some bad stuff, and there is nothing you can do but take what is dealt to you, and hope that you can somehow survive it.

And the ending to this one…oh boy..

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King has some endings that are bleak (Revival and Pet Sematary immediately come to mind), and Bad Little Kid was no different.

Nobody really won at the end of the story.  Hallas died at the hands of the state.  Most of Hallas’ family and friends were dead.  And then there was Bradley.

I would say the Bradley was the biggest loser at the end.  Not only did his client die, Bradley inherited the sin of client.  Of course, evil does not die.  It will continue to live on, even if in a different form.  So now Bradley is condemned to live with the evil, and the question is not will the evil win, but when it will win.  For it will win, as the scales are tipped in its favor for eternity.

 

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Kisses in the Dark: My Review of Summer Thunder

SK short story

For some reason, I just love books, short stories, movies, television show, you name it, that make me cry.  And the uglier the cry, the better.  And don’t ask me why this is the case, although my monthly Netflix subscription fee that allowed me to binge-watch Sons of Anarchy over several weeks could be argued (well, actually it is) to be much cheaper than a therapist’s hourly bill.

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And along with Kurt Sutter, Stephen King has been one of my therapists over the years.  He is probably the doc I have spent the most time with…

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Divorce got you down?  Uncle Stevie to the rescue!  Job sucks?  Uncle Stevie has the best cure for that!  You just need to shut out the world for a bit and ignore all other living beings?  You guessed, Stephen King has a cure for that!

And his short story, Summer Thunder, part of the collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, provides exactly the kind of cathartic release I needed (I didn’t know I needed it actually, but who am I to question The Master):  it is short and sweet, but still packs a power punch.  In other words, the ugly cry you have been looking for is right here in this story.

 


Synopsis

Summer Thunder centers around a man named Robinson, who is a survivor in a post-nuclear war.  Robinson has lost his wife and only child to the nuclear disaster, and has only a stray dog named Gandalf for company.  Robinson rescued Gandalf sometime after the great disaster, and caring for another living creature has given him something to live for, even though he knows that he will eventually die from radiation sickness, like the rest of the population.

Periodically, Robinson and his dog visit a man named Howard Timlin, the only man who chose to stay in lakeside cottage that he lives in.  The rest of inhabitants fled for Canada, and are presumably dead or will die soon from radiation sickness.  Robinson notices that animals in the surrounding woods are dying off, likely victims of the radiation.

On Robinson’s visits to Timlin, Timlin would pull at Gandalf’s fur, and marvel that the dog did not seem to be affected by radiation sickness.  Robinson and Timlin also talk about a motorcycle that is still in Timlin’s possession, that he was supposed to give up the next summer, on his 50th birthday.

Finally, on one of his visits, Timlin notices that Gandalf is beginning to lose his fur.  Robinson denies that his dog is ill, although he has to carry Gandalf back to his house.  However, Gandalf’s symptoms worsen, and it is clear that he is a victim of radiation sickness.

Robinson drives into the nearby town of Bennington to pick up a battery for his motorcycle.  Robinson then visits his neighbor Timlin, who has become very ill with radiation sickness.  He tells Robinson that he plans to end his own life so that he does not have to experience the pain of radiation sickness, and gives Robinson a hypodermic needle so that he may end Gandalf’s life humanely.  Robinson also realizes that he himself is beginning to suffer from radiation sickness.

After Robinson returns home, he struggles with the decision to euthanize Gandalf, but follows through in the end, so that his friend will not suffer.  Robinson hears a gunshot in the distance, and knows that Timlin has ended his life as well.  When he awakens the next day, Robinson notices more symptoms of radiation poisoning on himself.

The next day turns out to be a beautiful one.  Robinson gears up his motorcycle for his final ride and remembers better times before the nuclear holocaust.  Robinson shakes his fist at the sky, in a moment of final exultation, and travels to a sign marked Dead Man’s curve at a deadly speed.  He is able to just hit fifth gear on his bike before he perishes.


 

My Thoughts

Whew…

Three days later and this story is still stuck with me.  And that is a sign of some good writing right there!

This story really got to me, so let me try to talk about why it did.

First of all, the subject matter.

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I am not a child of the 1950’s like my parents.  My parents (and probably King, as well) grew up in the shadow of the Cold War.  My parents recall the drills, and the propaganda films that they were subjected too as children.  I, myself, grew up at the tail end of that era, and was a mere child when the United States boycotted the Olympics.

So, as you can imagine, I heard a lot about nuclear war as a child.  It was the subject of more than a few popular movies, and it seemed that almost every YA book I read as a kid dealt with the subject in some manner (Judy Blume in particular stands out, and there was also the book Z for Zachariah, which frightened me more than anything Stephen King ever wrote).

As you can imagine, I had (and still have) a horrified fascination with the subject.  In fact, when reading about the symptoms of radiation poisoning in this story, my stomach did a little flip-flop (gee, thanks, Uncle Stevie) and I felt compelled to make sure that I didn’t have any funny rashes on my person…and here I was thinking that only Web MD, and not The Master, was responsible for hypochondria!

And yes, Gandalf

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No, not that Gandalf.  I am talking about the dog in the story…

Yeah…

Remember that ugly cry that I didn’t know I needed?  Well, the story of Gandalf life with Robinson, and his death gave me that, and then some.

ugly cry

I really had hope, at the beginning at any rate, that Gandalf would make it.  But then his fur fell out.  And the tears fell out of my eyes.

And Robinson having to do that final act of compassion for his friend…don’t even get me started.  I had to do a final act of compassion on my friend, Igloo, earlier this year.  Like Robinson, I knew it was right thing.  I knew it was the best thing.  And I was glad that she was no longer suffering, as Gandalf was suffering.

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But it hurt.  Did it ever hurt.  I knew that it would, don’t get me wrong.  But you can know something in an academic sense.  That does not prepare you for the actual experience.  Like Robinson, I was unprepared.  And like, Robinson, I felt my life was being ripped from me, and that I was truly alone now.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Sons of Anarchy.

Yes, Sons of Anarchy.  It is a well known secret that Kurt Sutter and Stephen King are fans of one another, and it shows in this story.  I loved it.

Some would say to go out with a bang.  Pull out all the stops.  And all that.  Robinson certainly did pull out all the stops, just like my hero, Jax Teller.  I can’t say that I blamed him…after all, like Jax, what did he have to lose?

Sometimes, the finale can be a bit sad.  But it can also be glorious.  It can be beautiful, as there is often beauty in pain.  And if it absolutely must end, then it should end gloriously, so that we forget the pain of it ending, at least momentarily.

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Kisses in the Dark: My Review of the Little Green God of Agony

SK short story

As I have stated before, I like to be scared.  I like to be creeped out.  I like to read a story that makes me shudder, close the book for a minute and then still open it back up, because I JUST HAVE to find out what happens next…will the monster be bested somehow, or will it feed?

And what better way to be scared…than…you guessed it…read a Stephen King book (hey, it’s this blog, don’t act surprised)?

Stephen King

Stephen King is scary.  Water is wet and the sun sets in the west.  So duh, in other words.  Stephen King is a great writer, creates great characters and is able to hook his Constant Reader to his tale.  And one of the ways he hooks someone into a story is by scaring them into a change of pants (or is that just me?)

And more than a few of the stories in King’s latest collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, are exactly that:  scary.  Frightening.  May make one leave the lights on at night.  Disturbing and terrifying, even.

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In other words, just what the (creepy) doc ordered.

The short story The Little Green God of Agony would be part of that creepy doctor’s prescription.  It may be a quick read, but it is definitely packed with lots of vitamin F (vitamin Fear, for the uninitiated).  And there is nothing like a good dose of vitamin F to get you up and going in the morning (although this guy yapping in your face will also do the trick, but I digress).

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I know, how frightening!


 

Synopsis

The Little Green God of Agony tells of a woman named Katherine McDonald, who is an in-home nurse for a man named Newsome.  About two years ago, Newsome was involved in an accident that injured him horribly, leaving him in a massive amount of pain.  Katherine cares for Newsome and attempts to involve him physical therapy that she believes will help him recover and manage his pain.  However, Newsome is not cooperative in these efforts, which leads Katherine to think that he is weak.  Newsome is also very rich and compensating his staff very well (including Katherine), so Katherine stays silent on the subject, and also stays silent when Newsome tries alternative forms of therapy, which Katherine believes to be fake therapies.

Newsome has invited a preacher named Reverend Rideout to help him deal with his pain, in his latest attempt to cope with his injuries.  Rideout tells Newsome that he is actually possessed by a demon, and that is what is actually causing him the pain.  Katherine believes that this is another charlatan, but Newsome offers the reverend $10 million to cure his of his injuries.  The reverend refuses the $10 million and tells Newsome that he will take $750,000 so that he may rebuild his church, which was destroyed by a fire.  Rideout then tells Newsome that he will perform an expulsion of sorts, right then and there.

The reverend begins the ritual, and tells Newsome to describe his pain.  Newsome begins to do so, telling Katherine, Rideout and his other staff that his pain is a green ball of agony.  Katherine interrupts the ritual, and tells Newsome that he is weak and that the reverend is a charlatan.  Newsome tries to tells Katherine that she is fired, but Rideout intervenes, telling Katherine that she had become jaded, and therefore no longer able to recognize which patients are faking their pain, and which are not (with Newsome falling into the latter category).

Rideout then proceeds with the ritual, giving Katherine a can of pepper spray to fend the “demon” off with.  He also tells Newsome’s cook, Tonya, to grab a broom she that she may use it as a weapon.

The reverend cajoles the demon to leave the body of Newsome.  A bulge appears in Newsome’s throat, and the electricity powers off.  A window shatters, and the electricity powers back on.  A creature that resembles a tennis ball with green spikes for legs emerges from the body of Newsome.  Katherine swipes at the creature with a broom, and misses.  The creature then attempts to possess the body of Melissa, Newsome’s housekeeper.  However, Katherine hits Melissa in the face with a broom, and the creature leaves Melissa’s body.  Katherine and the rest of Newsome’s staff believe that they have defeated the creature.

Newsome tells Katherine that he feels better, but it appears that the reverend has died in the struggle.  The electricity then powers off again, and Katherine feels something crawl onto the back of her hand.


 

My Thoughts

So, yeah…

Um, shudder?  Or ick?  Maybe shudder ick (to coin a new term)?

In other words, this was one creepy ass story…let me count the ways!

And, in the style of Stephen King, it was creepy in more ways than one…

First of all, chronic pain.  I know that’s not a supernatural horror, but it is a “human” horror.  King writes very well about the horrors of the everyday world.  Pain is one of those horrors.  And it is one that I understand.  I am sure that King understands it much better than I do, given the horrific accident he suffered on June 19th, 1999.

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So I could understand where Newsome was coming from, to a point.  Living with pain is not fun, and it can really feel like a non stop horror movie.  And it will make a person desperate, willing to try almost anything to get relief from it.

But I could also understand how Katherine felt.  Caring for someone who suffers from chronic pain is not an easy task (my husband would testify to this, I am sure).  Chronic pain often affects more than one person, and is indeed an every day horror.

But of course, this is Stephen King.  So let’s talk about the supernatural horror already…after all, this is Stephen King!

First of all, the description of the demon, or whatever it was…

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So, thanks to Stephen King, I will never look at green koosh balls in the same way again.  Thanks, Uncle Stevie, and maybe I should thank Obama for good measure, while I am at it!

Yep, first it was St. Bernards and clowns…now we can add green kooshballs to the list!

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The build-up before the demon revealed itself was also terrifying.  King’s description of it being flushed out of Newsome and looking like a a goiter (ew much?) was just…nasty.  I can think of no other word for it.  The reverend cajoling the creature out of Newsome also created some terrifying imagery, making me think of movies like The Exorcist, although we were (thankfully) spared of green vomit coming out of people.

The ending of this story was unsettling as well.

First of all, the “good” guy, Reverend Rideout, lost his life in the fight.  I do believe that he was one of the good guys, because of his refusal to accept an excessive amount of money from Newsome, and the fact that he did give his life in the fight.  So that part was a downer.

And the ending!  The creature, whatever it was, was not defeated.  And it went on to claim its next victim in Katherine, who, ironically, was skeptical of the ritual to flush it out, and also skeptical of Newsome’s complaints.  However, I did not consider Katherine to be “bad”.  Her skepticism was understandable, and so was her impatience with her employer.  So seeing her (ostensibly) become the next victim was disturbing.  It was just further proof that monsters do not care who their victims are, only that they victims are there for the taking.

The ending reminds us that often, the monsters live.  And they continue to commit evil deeds.  And sometimes, the only thing standing between someone, and whether or not that person is victimized by the evil, is simply pure, dumb luck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kisses in the Dark: My Review of Morality

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Sometimes, a good story can horrify without any hints of anything remotely supernatural.  After all, man is a wolf to his fellow man (and woman).  Anyone who watches the evening news will realize this almost immediately.

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And anyone who reads a Stephen King book.  The Master is known for his monsters.  Pennywise the Clown, Randall Flagg, and Tak are all scary, but they are not human.  Henry Bowers, Norman Daniels, Eldred Jonas and Charles Burnside are also scary, but they are not supernatural creatures, but are “human”, at least in appearance.  And often, the “human monsters” make for the more intriguing story line.  When I read a book like It, Pennywise the Clown has the ability to scare me into a change of pants, no doubt.  But that book, along with most other King books, is also filled with intriguing “human monsters”, most of which make a clown living in the sewers seem like small potatoes by comparison.  And that is some good writing right there!

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And once again, in his collection Bazaar of Bad Dreams, King has created a story, Morality, where humans are pitted against their fellow humans, with nary a supernatural creature in sight.  And this story is guaranteed to be as unsettling as King’s tales of clowns that live in sewers.  Perhaps more so.

Here is my recap and review of Morality.


 

Synopsis

The story centers around Chad and Nora, a couple living in New York City.  Chad works as a substitute teacher while he attempts to write his first book.  Nora works as an in-home nurse to a man known as Reverend George Winston, or “Winnie.”  Winnie has suffered stroke and needs constant, round-the-clock care.  Chad and Nora’s financial situation is precarious, as they often struggle to make ends meet and are also seriously in debt to several credit card companies.

Nora has let her employer know of her financial situation, and comes home one night to tell Chad that Winnie has a proposal for her:  Nora will commit an act of transgression, and if she can give evidence to Winnie that this act has been performed, she will receive at least $200,000.  We are not told what the act is, but it is clear that she struggles with the decision, as does Chad.  Winnie tells Nora that no matter what happens, there will be no hard feelings and he will give her an excellent reference.  Winnie also tells Nora that he wishes to commit sin because he has (in his own mind) lived a life of virtue and is curious about what it is like to commit sin.  We also learn that Winnie is extremely rich, as he has inherited wealth from his father.

Nora continues to struggle with decision, as does Chad.  Chad tells Nora that his book may help them out of their financial struggles, but there is no guarantee.  Nora does not like the decision, but decides that she will commit the act of sin for Winnie.  She tells Winnie of this, but is not happy.  Nora worries about the legal implications, but Winnie says that she would likely only receive probation if caught.

Chad obtains a video camera to record evidence of the sin, and Nora dyes her hair so that she will not be caught.  They go to a park in the city, and Chad records Nora committing the sin.  Nora hops into a cab, per their pre-arranged plans, and meets Chad at their apartment once the deed is committed.

We learn that the sin Winnie wanted Nora to commit was to punch as child in the face.  And Nora has committed that sin, which Chad has record of because he has recorded it on the video camera.  Almost immediately, Chad and Nora make love.  Nora demands that Chad hit her in the mouth while they make love, and becomes aroused by the act of violence.

Nora gives the video tape to Winnie, and immediately receives the money from him.  She also immediately resigns from the position, and takes another job as a nurse to a woman in her building.  Chad is also able to cut back on his hours as a substitute teacher, and begins to work on finishing his book.  Nora also receives a visit from a police officer, but it is in regards to an overdue library book, not the incident that was filmed for Winnie.

Chad and Nora’s love life begins to take on a violent twist, as Nora becomes aroused when Chad hits her.  They also prepare to move to Vermont, and are able to purchase a house with the proceeds from the act of sin.  Nora is also unfaithful to Chad, sleeping with the police officer who had paid her the visit in regards to the overdue library book.

The marriage of Chad and Nora begins to dissolve, even after the couple moves to Vermont.  Nora also finds out that Winnie has passed away.  Nora believes that Winnie actually committed suicide, even though the autopsy states that he suffered from kidney failure.  Nora also worries about the video and whether or not she will be incriminated in the act.

Nora also receives a postcard after she and Chad move to Vermont.  The postcard is from Winnie and dated the day before his death.  Chad’s book is published, but Nora mocks him, and Chad punches her in the face.  The couple soon divorce, and Chad returns to New York.  He does not ask Nora for any of her money in the divorce settlement.

The following summer Nora finds a full-time job at the local hospital and takes up gardening as a hobby.  She finds a book titled “The Basis of Morality”, which is a book she had seen in Winnie’s study when she was employed by him.  Nora spends the summer reading the book cover to cover, but finds no new useful information.


Dear Sai King,

What the actual fuck?  What the fucking fuck?

Morality has to be one of the most fucked up pieces of writing I have ever read.  And I have been reading you for over 25 years now!

Keep up the good fucking work, sir!

Sincerely,

Your (delighted) Constant Reader .

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Seriously, I just do not have words for this story…

Again, this story got to me, and there were no supernatural elements at all.

Stephen King's Pet Sematary (1985)

First of all, I identified with Chad and Nora.  I have said it before, and I will say it again:  Stephen King is a master at including elements of reality in all of his stories, both supernatural and “real.”  Chad and Nora’s situation is something I identify with.  I have lost my job, my husband has lost his job, and yet we still had bills to pay.  When money gets tight, things get scary really quickly.  Almost as scary as a Stephen King book…

Another thing about this story.  The bad guys…

As in, I really don’t think there was one.  I can’t call Nora and Chad “bad”.  Sure, they engaged in doing something that was pretty bad (slapping a kid is not cool, even if it’s one of Bebe’s offspring), but they didn’t kill anybody.  I would not say there were any lasting effects on the victim.  The ones who were actually hurt the most (other than the kid and his mom), were actually Chad and Nora.  After that incident, their lives took a downward turn and they did NOT get a happy ending (in typical King fashion).

And I don’t even think that I can call Winnie a bad guy either.  It appeared that he had spent much of life his life trying to do good deeds. He used his money for humanitarian causes as well.  I think that he was perhaps a bit jaded, or maybe even a bit naive, but he did not strike me as “bad”, either.  And it appeared that he suffered after the incident as well, as he committed suicide.

As stated before, this story did not have a happy ending.  But I still thought that the ending was great.  It was realistic ending.  Pretty much everything I expected happened:  Nora got the money, she and Chad moved and she and Chad divorced.  So it was a little predictable, but I enjoyed it.  I was also not surprised that Nora developed the odd “fetish” that she did.  Again, I enjoy the realism in King’s stories, and this one delivered on that front.

I also liked that Nora read a book that had actually been a part of Winnie’s collection on the subject of morality, but was not able to find any satisfying answers in it.  After all, is life ever really that simple?  Like Nora, even if you can write a book on a particular subject, does that really mean that the book will contain all the answers that you seek?  But reality is never that cut and dried anyway, as much as we wish it was.

 

 

 

Kisses In The Dark: My Review of Afterlife

SK short story

 

This is a place where eternally
Fire is applied to the body
Teeth are extruded and bones are ground
And baked into cakes which are passed around

Hell, Squirrel Nut Zippers

Naturally, humankind is curious about death.  After all, it is the final frontier.  And it is one that we may never fully conquer.  After all, we can return from outer space with our observations.  Death, not so much.

And death is something that is of much interest to Stephen King.  For one thing, he is a horror writer, and it’s pretty hard to write a horror story without at least one death (and perhaps someone becoming Undead, a ghost or something else unsettling, but I digress).

Cleaner 3

The Master is not young either (although he is still young at heart, I am sure.  Killing off beloved main characters strengthens the soul, I hear).  King has also had his near brushes with death, in his battle with addiction, and also his near deadly vehicle several years ago.  In other words, death is no stranger to my favorite writer.

And this has become evident in King’s works, especially the later ones.  Death has been explored in previous works, such as that nasty piece of work otherwise known as Pet Sematary.  However, as King ages, he seems to almost explore the topic with a vengeance in novels such as Dr. Sleep and Revival, both of which discuss death, but contain strikingly different views on the subject.

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Now, we have the short story “Afterlife“, from the collection Bazaar of Bad Dreams.  And it is just one more interesting take on the final frontier of death.

Pet Sematary 2

So here is my recap and review of this little gem, “Afterlife.”


 

Synopsis

Afterlife centers around a man named Bill Andrews.  Bill is a middle aged man dying of colon cancer.  As Bill crosses over from life to death, he sees a bright white light, and assumes that he is headed to the afterlife.

However, Bill does not end up in the traditional Heaven or Hell.  Bill ends up in a hallway, and his body appears to be in perfect health, with no signs of the cancer that killed him.  Bill also sees photographs of various, familiar people from the year of 1956, the year he was born.  These people range from old girlfriends to neighbors, and one of the people is Ronald Reagan.

Bill sees a door with the name of Isaac Harris on it, and walks through the door.  He meets a man wearing baggy, high-waisted pants held up by suspenders.  According to the calendar on the wall, the year is 1911.

Bill introduces himself to the man, who tells Bill that he has been there before.  Bill asks if he is really dead, and if he is being reincarnated.  Mr. Harris tells him that he is not, and that Bill has asked this question before.

Harris refreshes himself on Bill’s background, reminding Bill that he was investment banker in life with a wife and two children.  Harris says that he means to get organized, but no one has sent him any help.  He also tells Bill that he receives all of his communications via a tube that runs on compressed air.  Harris gives some information on his background to Bill: in life, he owned a shirtwaist factory that caught on fire.  Harris and his partner were responsible for the deaths of 146 women, as they trapped the women in the factory while it was on fire, in order to punish them for various transgressions.  Harris and his partner were tried for manslaughter and acquitted.  Harris tells Bill how sorry he is for the deaths, but Bill tells him he needs to take responsibility for his actions.

Bill then asks Harris what his options are.  Harris tells him that if he leaves through the left door, he gets live his life over again.  If Bill leaves through the right door, he winks out of existence.  Bill contemplates his options, wondering if he could change aspects of life, such as an accident that hurt his brother and a questionable night with a drunk girl in a fraternity house.  He also wonders if he can beat his cancer, by requesting a colonoscopy earlier and perhaps prolonging his life.

Harris tells Bill that there are no second chances.  If he chooses the door on the left, he will be reborn with no memories, and his life will play out in the same manner as it has many, many times before, even though he may be struck with a sense of deja vu, as he has actually experienced these events before.  Harris recommends that Bill take the door on the right and save himself the trouble.  Bill wonders what the point of living life is, when there is no possibility of improvement, but receives no answer.  Harris tells Bill that all human souls are born knowing the secrets of the universe, but that upon birth, an angel touches the baby’s philtrum, taking away that knowledge.

Bill chooses the door on the left, vowing that he will hold on to at least one piece of knowledge so that his life will be different this time.  He is then re-born as a baby to a mother who thinks that he is not just a new life, but a universe of possibilities.


 

My Thoughts

So.

Wow…

Again, you got to me, Uncle Stevie.  So, again, good job!

I have mentioned that I have rainbow days sometimes, where I laugh and cry on the same day.

Well, “Afterlife” is a rainbow short story.  On one hand, I rejoiced.  We are not winked out of existence if we don’t want to be!

But, like Bill, I wondered what the point was, if it was just going to turn out the same as it did the time before that (and before that, and before that…well you get the picture).  So then I wanted to cry.  But it’s ok, I like rainbows!

And again, Uncle Stevie’s sense of humor came through on this story.  I was amused by it.  I was amused by the fact that Isaac Harris kept getting Bill’s name wrong, kind of like the people you may see at your company Christmas party that you have to make nice with, even though you don’t really interact with them very much, and they see so many people that they can’t keep the name straight either.  I was amused by the fact that purgatory seems to be in a nondescript office building, where I am sure the temperature is either as hot as the pits of Mordor, or sub Arctic.  After all, we are talking about purgatory here.

mordor 1

Oh, I would be remiss to say I was not amused by the picture of Ronald Reagan on the wall.  Although I thought we were talking about purgatory, not Hell, Sai King!

purgatory 1

I did find certain concepts of this story fascinating.  To me, this story said that we choose our own fates, because we choose to be re-born, even though we have no memory of our previous cycle.  Humans are futile, yet hopeful creatures in that regard.

I also find it fascinating that we make the same mistakes over and over again, but yet we are powerless to stop, as we choose to be reborn.  So I keep marrying my ex husband over and over again…what a horrific thought, I am sure it would be make a good Stephen King book or something!  But then again, reliving the good moments is not a bad thing.  Not a bad thing at all.  To think, I have met my current husband countless times and kissed him for the first time countless times…what a sweet thought!

Of course, my mind went here after I read this story:

Tower 3

Which makes sense, if you think about it.

Like this guy, we are all doomed to repeat our quest, over and over again.  We will never see any redemption.  If we don’t forget the Horn on this trip, we will forget something else.  No matter how small the detail that we forgot this time, nothing will ever make difference.  But like Roland, we never give up hope, and we vow to ourselves that this time it will be different, and we will do the impossible: achieve redemption.

Roland and horn 1

Kisses in the Dark: My Review of Batman and Robin Have an Altercation

SK short story

When most people hear the name Stephen King, the first thing they think of is (well, besides “that clown scared me shitless”) is long.

Pennywise 9

As in long books, you pervert!  What else would you be thinking of???

But yes, Stephen King is known for writing some long books.  The first book of his that I read was It, which clocks in at almost 1100 pages.  The Stand is over 1100 pages.  11/22/63 is somewhere around 800 pages.  His most recent full length novel, Revival, was only a little over 400 pages.  For King, that is light reading.

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However, King is one of the greats.  And like one of the greats, he is versatile.  In other words, he does not have to write a 1000+ page novel (although I appreciate those as much as the next Constant Reader) to be great.  He can write shorter books, like Carrie and Dolores Claiborne, and still tell a fantastic story.

And The Master can condense himself even further.  King has a large collection of short stories, from N, to The Reaper’s Image, to The Little Sisters of Eluria, to Popsy, that are simply gems.  And there are countless more to choose from, even if horror does not strike your fancy (1922 and Big Driver immediately come to mind).

1922 1

And King’s latest collection of short stories, titled Bazaar of Bad Dreams, does not disappoint.  There is a little something for everybody, and even the pickiest shopper will probably walk away satisfied.

With that being said, I have chosen to review the stories in the collection that have jumped out at me, for whatever reason.  So all both  of my readers will be able to indulge in their voyeuristic tendencies, and will be treated to multiple close-ups of those kisses in the dark.

I am reviewing in no particular order, just reviewing what may strike me at the moment.  And Batman and Robin Have an Altercation struck me in a few places, so sit back and get ready to analyze one of those kisses up close.

 

 


Synopsis

Batman and Robin Have an Altercation centers around Dougie Sanderson, and his elderly father, known as Pop.  Pop is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and lives in nursing home.  Dougie is one of his main caretakers, and tries to spend as much quality time with his father as possible.

Every Sunday, Dougie takes his father to lunch at Applebee’s.  Pop pretends to study the menu, even though he can no longer read, but always orders the same thing for lunch.  Some days are better than others in terms of Pop’s memory, as he is given to confusing Dougie with his brother Reggie, who was killed by an errant driver 40 years ago.  Pop has also become somewhat of a kleptomaniac, stealing items such as knives and other eating utensils when he thinks that no one is looking.

On one of their outings, Pop recalls a time in Dougie’s childhood when he and Dougie dressed up as Batman and Robin, respectively, and Pop took Dougie trick-or-treating.  Both father and son recall the memory as a happy one, even though Pop’s costume was makeshift.  Pop also reveals that he was unfaithful to his wife that night, reminding Dougie of the double-edged sword that is Alzheimer’s Disease:  the memory becomes unreliable, but can still be relied upon to remember what may best be forgotten.

Dougie and his father leave the restaurant, and Dougie drives his father back to his nursing home.  On the way back to the nursing home, Dougie is involved in a car accident.  A driver attempts to change lanes, but carelessly hits Dougie instead.  The driver tells Dougie that he is uninsured and his vehicle is not registered, and tries to convince Dougie to not call the authorities or his insurance company.  Dougie refuses, and the driver attacks him, beating Dougie badly.

Dougie sees blood and fears that it is his blood.  However, it is the blood of the other driver (referred to as Tat Man).  Dougie sees his father standing over the other driver, and realizes that his father has come to his defense and stabbed Tat Man.  He also realizes that his father had distracted him earlier at the restaurant, having him look at the birds outside, while Pop stole a steak knife.  Pop almost immediately forgets where he is and who the other driver was, and demands to go back home and take his nap, leaving Dougie to deal with the authorities who have finally arrived.


 

My Thoughts

So, whoa…

Um, thanks for the throat punch, Uncle Stevie?  For once in my life (and mark your calendars, this is rare indeed), I am having trouble finding the words to express my feelings on this story…

Stephen King

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, sometimes a good story can hit you in just the right place!

First of all, Batman.  Batman is the alpha and the omega…I mean, he’s the goddamn Batman!

batman 2

Yeah, I am a fan of Batman, if that wasn’t obvious.  And I love that this story referred to Batman.  I mean, Stephen King and Batman.  Kind of like peanut butter and jelly.  Or bacon and Kool Aide (sorry, private joke between me and some other crazy Stephen King nerds).

batman_27198

But, as much as I like Batman (and if you don’t like Batman, we are not friends!), the inclusion of Batman in this story was not responsible for the throat punch.  Like almost everything else The Master has ever written, this story was…unexpected…I think that’s the word I want.

Dougie’s father is an Alzheimer’s patient in this story.  My beloved grandmother is also an Alzheimer’s patient.  She has been suffering from the disease for nearly 4 years now.

King often writes about “human horrors”, such as domestic violence, child abuse, addiction and even unemployment.  And all of those are definitely horrors, and give his stories that touch of realism that makes them believable.

Well, now we can add Alzheimer’s disease to that list.  Seeing my grandmother suffer from the disease is truly one of the most horrific things I have endured.  She calls out for my grandfather, who died over 13 years ago, and we have to tell her that he is on his way.  Of course, she cannot remember our names any more.  She wants to go home, even though her home was sold last year, and she does not understand why she lives in a nursing home, and not the home where I spent so much of my childhood.  Horrific, indeed.

But one of the biggest throat punches in regards to Alzheimer’s Disease is that the person who suffers from it will emerge and convince you that he/she is his/her “old self.”  This has happened with my grandmother on more than one occasion:  she will remember names, places, dates and hold a conversation with us that is not one-sided.  And this happened with Dougie’s father as well:  Pops remembered the Halloween he dressed up as Batman with his son, and took him trick-or-treating.  And Pops put on that Batman costume once again, when Dougie was under attack from the enraged motorist and literally fighting for his life.  And it was beautiful:  Batman was there when needed, and he defeated the bad guy, just like how he was supposed to.  We don’t always get rescued by heroes.  People let us down, and they are not there when needed.  But this was Batman, and he did the job admirably.

joker and harley

But, unlike some super heroes, Batman is human.  He is fallible.  And even he can’t beat all the bad guys, all of the time.  Like the rest of us, Batman must eventually come back to earth.  But even as he falls, he is still the glorious hero, the caped crusader who looks out for the little guy.  After all, he is the goddamn Batman.

batman and robin