I’ve decided to steal an idea from Dreadful Tales’ Colum McKnight. He wrote a great post about The Christmas That Started An Obsession, all about getting a huge batch of books by horror author Richard Laymon. It’s quite funny and you should check it out. In my opinion, the only thing that would have made it funnier would have been to change the title to The Christmas That Started My Obsession With Dick, but that’s because I’m about 12 years old, mentally.
So my idea is to document my love affair with Stephen King. Okay, maybe I need to rephrase that to my love affair with the writings of Stephen King. To do that, let me set the stage a bit first.
In 1975, I was a very skinny, very shy and very insecure 13 year old growing up in middle class Oshawa. My mom had remarried three years previous, so I now had a step-father who was a huge reader and encouraged me to read even more than I already had. Up to this point, I’d blown through all of the Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov I could find. I was also building an impressive stack of comic books as well.
Getting the drift of my interest? All science fiction and superheroes. I didn’t want to live in this world all that much because other worlds were so much better. Evil doers were punished by superheroes and smart guys were the heroes of SF.
One summer afternoon, I’d made my usual pilgrimage to Morgan Self Books to get some more back issues of comics. Typically, I’d browse through the bins, pick out a few, add them up and see if I had any extra cash to maybe pick up a paperback or two. This time, I did. And there was this book at sort of intrigued me, primarily because it only had a painting of a woman’s face on the cover. No title, no author. Only the words, “A novel of a girl possessed of a terrifying power.” I’d never seen that before.
So I picked it up and the back cover hinted at a tale of revenge by a misfit outcast girl with a power called telekinesis.
Well, all right then! She’s got a science fictiony type power. And hell, it was only fifty cents. And if I didn’t like it, I could bring it back and likely get half that back.
So that was how I was introduced to Carrie. I took it home and when I read the first few pages, where Carrie gets her first period and is massively humiliated by the other girls in her gym class, I connected with her immediately. How many times had I been humiliated by my peers? Called names? Bullied?
That was enough to hook me. The story, with it’s strange format of future texts, autobiography and storyline, as well as asshole jocks and crazy religious mothers and a protagonist with zits and a weight problem, kept me turning the pages. And the ending? It was so much more than I expected. The payoff was mind-blowing.
The next weekend, I went back and asked the guy at Morgan Self if there were any more Stephen King books. He wasn’t sure who I was talking about (hard to imagine a time when that wasn’t a household name, isn’t it?) but checked and came up with a book that…well, hell, the cover grabbed me again.
This time it was all black, with a girl’s face embossed into it. The only colour was a small red drop of blood from the corner of her mouth. And the back cover? I can’t remember the copy, but it hinted at the horror (remember when they hinted instead of beating you over the head?) and mentioned something about “sucking sounds” which would never be used today due to the oral sex connotations, but it hooked me again.
So again, I took this slightly thicker book home. And this one, Salem’s Lot, was so much better written and spooky as hell and then there was the revelation…oh my God, the town’s infested with vampires! (Remember when vampires were rare and scary?).
I pounded through this book as well, then went back to my trusty source for all things King, Morgan Self. But that was it, the well was dry. So I went to Coles in the Oshawa Centre, surely to God they’d know what was coming. But they didn’t seem to know much about this insanely talented Godlike author and couldn’t tell me anything.
Fast forward a few months. I’m out grocery shopping with my mother and something on the ubiquitous bookracks catches my eye. A paperback, but the cover is silver. And shiny. And it had the barest hint of a boy’s face, really just the shape of the face and the hair. And no type on the cover. When I picked it up, I realized the boy’s face was a die-cut…there was a freaking hole cut into the cover and the face was on the next page in…like a double cover. And inside, when I lifted that cover, I knew I’d find the name Stephen King. I did. And the book was called The Shining.
I damn near shit my pants, right there on the spot.
Yes, I brought that one home. And it was with this book that I experienced the moment that would solidify my lifelong endeavour to read anything and everything the man wrote.
In our house, we’d gotten a Golden Lab puppy name Deena. She was a beautiful dog, but dumb as a post. She had run of the entire house orignally, until my mother found a very large living room plant shredded and partially consumed by said dumb post. At that point, my step-father brought a sheet of wood in and blocked out the doorway to the living room. It stopped the dog and our cat, Mishy, had no problems jumping the barrier whenever she wanted to sit in the living room and stare out the windows.
There was a Friday night when my parents were out. I was delighted because it meant I could continue reading The Shining. Now, I might have been fourteen at this point, but I wasn’t always completely comfortable in the house all by my self, but this didn’t seem horrible.
I set myself up in the living room (okay, I’ll admit it, the basement is where I spent most of the time, but it was too dark and creepy to read a horror novel down there). I set myself up so I could see outside the windows, in case, you know, one of my friends decided to tap on the glass to be asked in…like what happened to Mark Petrie in Salem’s Lot.
So I’m reading The Shining, and Danny Torrance enters the one room he shouldn’t enter. Room 217. The creepiest single scene I’ve ever read. And as I read it, I can feel myself becoming terrified. My heart is thunking in my chest. And yet, there’s another part of me that’s amazed, even at the tender age of 14 to realize that I’m getting scared from words on a page. Not an image or a movie. Words. I think it was then that I actually fell in love with the written word.
So, I’m terrified. The house is dark and quiet. Deena’s napping and Mishy’s…well, Mishy’s not here, so likely napping somewhere too. And, though there’s a part of me that yelling at me to stop frigging reading, because it’s only going to get worse, I keep reading. And it gets worse. The corpse of the woman in the bathtub comes after Danny and gets her hands around his throat and–
And that’s when Mishy decides to jump over the barrier to get into the living room, only she misjudges and hits it and it falls with a resounding thud which lifts me inches off the couch, then she runs up and across the back of the couch which makes me flinch and dive for the floor.
I damn near shit my pants, right there on the spot.
Mishy came to rest at the far end of the living room, her black, white and orange tail fluffed out like a duster. I was on the floor between the couch and the coffee table, the book laying some feet away. From this vantage point, I could figure out what happened. Then Deena came in, sniffed the book, then trotted over and started sniffing my face.
And though there were a lot of books that came afterward, the bulk of which I loved, somehow I know that it was this particular moment when I decided Stephen King was the greatest author on the planet.