The claret everywhere
Everything's Eventual (2001) is an uneven collection, but the excellence of most of the stories means this book recalls the strengths of Night Shift, not the aesthetic fire-sale agglomeration of Nightmares and Dreamscapes.
Autopsy Room Four (1997)
Minor King doing minor Bierce in the lugubrious I'm-not-dead subgenre.
The Man in the Black Suit (1994)
Simply superb. I've read it twice in two weeks. In 2002 when I first read it, I thought the tale suffered from vulgarities that ruined its verisimilitude. Now I take it to be flawless.
All That You Love Will Be Carried Away (2001)
An oddly satisfying little tale about a travelling salesman who keeps a notebook of mens' room graffiti and is afraid it may complicate the aftermath of his anticipated suicide.
The Death of Jack Hamilton (2001)
The last hours of a member of the Dillinger gang.
"....Time to get you out of that coat and see how bad it is, partner," Johnnie said.
It took us five minutes. By the time he was down to his undershirt, all three of us were soaked with sweat. Four or five times I had to put my hands over Jack's mouth to muffle him. I got blood all over my cuffs.
There was no more than a rose on the lining of his overcoat, but his white shirt had gone half red and his undershirt was soaked right through. Sticking up on the left side, just below his shoulder blade, was a lump with a hole in the middle of it, like a little volcano....
In the Deathroom (1999)
....The woman saw the news of her death in his eyes and began to talk faster, pressing her butt and back and palms harder and harder against the metal door as she talked. It was as if she believed she could somehow melt herself through the door and come out whole on the other side if she just pushed hard enough. She had papers, she said, papers in his name, and she would give him these papers. She also had money, a great deal of money, also gold; there was a Swiss bank account which he could access by computer from her home. It occurred to Fletcher that in the end there might only be one way to tell the thugs from the patriots: when they saw their own death rising in your eyes like water, patriots made speeches. The thugs, on the other hand, gave you the number of their Swiss bank account and offered to put you on-line.
"Shut up," Fletcher said.
Everything's Eventual (1997)
A very fine story, brilliantly organized and executed. Class society turns to tragedy any human attempt to have our cake and eat it, too.
L.T.'s Theory of Pets (1997)
A modest tale about the woe that is in marriage. A slice-of-life, a modest anecdote, carefully balanced.
...."I don't like him. That's all. I don't, and I never have."
"Yeah," I said. I guess that's clear."
"And I didn't like the way he looked at Holly."
Which meant, as I found out eventually, that she hadn't liked the way Holly looked at him. When she wasn't looking down at her plate, that is.
"I'd prefer you didn't ask him back to dinner," she said.
I kept quiet. It was late. I was tired. It had been a hard day, a harder evening, and I was tired. The last thing I wanted was to have an argument with my wife when I was tired and she was worried. That's the sort of argument where one of you ends up spending the night on the couch. And the only way to stop an argument like that is to be quiet. In a marriage, words are like rain. And the land of a marriage is filled with dry washes and arroyos that can become raging rivers in almost the wink of an eye. The therapists believe in talk, but most of them are either divorced or queer. It's silence that is a marriage's best friend.
After a while, my best friend rolled over on her side, away from me and into the place where she goes when she finally gives up the day. I lay awake a little while longer, thinking of a dusty little car, perhaps once white, parked nose-down in the ditch beside a ranch road out in the Nevada desert not too far from Caliente. The driver's side door standing open, the rearview mirror torn off its post and lying on the floor, the front seat sodden with blood and tracked over by the animals that had come in to investigate, perhaps to sample.
There was a man - they assumed he was a man, it almost always is - who had butchered five women out in that part of the world, five in three years, mostly during the time L.T. had been living with Lulubelle. Four of the women were transients. He would get them to stop somehow, then pull them out of their cars, rape them, dismember them with an axe, leave them a rise or two away for the buzzards and crows and weasels. The fifth one was an elderly rancher's wife. The police call this killer the Axe Man. As I write this, the Axe Man has not been captured. Nor has he killed again; if Cynthia Lulubelle Simms DeWitt was the Axe Man's sixth victim, she was also his last, at least so far. There is still some question, however, as to whether or not she was his sixth victim. If not in most minds' that question exists in the part of L.T.'s mind which is still allowed to hope.
The blood on the seat wasn't human blood, you see; it didn't take the Nevada State Forensics Unit five hours to determine that. The ranch hand who found Lulubelle's Subaru saw a cloud of circling birds half a mile away, and when he reached them, he found not a dismembered woman but a dismembered dog. Little was left but bones and teeth; the predators and scavengers had had their day, and there's not much meat on a Jack Russell terrier to begin with. The Axe Man most definitely got Frank; Lulubelle's fate is probable, but far from certain....
The Road Virus Heads North (1997)
....Had it changed? If it had, if the blond kid's arm had moved enough so he, Kinnell, could read a tattoo which had been partly hidden before, then he could write a column for one of Sally's magazines. Hell, a four-part series. If, on the other hand, it wasn't changing, then . . . what? He was suffering a hallucination? Having a breakdown? That was crap. His life was pretty much in order, and he felt good. Had, anyway, until his fascination with the picture had begun to waver into something else, something darker.
"Ah, fuck, you just saw it wrong the first time," he said out loud as he got out of the car. Well, maybe. Maybe. It wouldn't be the first time his head had screwed with his perceptions. That was also a part of what he did. Sometimes his imagination got a little . . . well . . .
"Feisty," Kinnell said, and opened the trunk. He took the picture out of the trunk and looked at it, and it was during the space of the ten seconds when he looked at it without remembering to breathe that he became authentically afraid of the thing, afraid the way you were afraid of a sudden dry rattle in the bushes, afraid the way you were when you saw an insect that would probably sting if you provoked it.
The blond driver was grinning insanely at him now—yes, at him, Kinnell was sure of it—with those filed cannibal-teeth exposed all the way to the gumlines. His eyes simultaneously glared and laughed. And the Tobin Bridge was gone. So was the Boston skyline. So was the sunset. It was almost dark in the painting now, the car and its wild rider illuminated by a single streetlamp that ran a buttery glow across the road and the car's chrome. It looked to Kinnell as if the car (he was pretty sure it was a Grand Am) was on the edge of a small town on Route 1, and he was pretty sure he knew what town it was—he had driven through it himself only a few hours ago.
"Rosewood," he muttered. "That's Rosewood. I'm pretty sure."
The Road Virus was heading north, all right, coming up Route 1 just as he had. The blond's left arm was still cocked out the window, but it had rotated enough back toward its original position so that Kinnell could no longer see the tattoo. But he knew it was there, didn't he? Yes, you bet.
The blond kid looked like a Metallica fan who had escaped from a mental asylum for the criminally insane.
"Jesus," Kinnell whispered, and the word seemed to come from someplace else, not from him. The strength suddenly ran out of his body, ran out like water from a bucket with a hole in the bottom, and he sat down heavily on the curb separating the parking lot from the dog-walking zone. He suddenly understood that this was the truth he'd missed in all his fiction, this was how people really reacted when they came face-to-face with something which made no rational sense. You felt as if you were bleeding to death, only inside your head.
"No wonder the guy who painted it killed himself," he croaked, still staring at the picture, at the ferocious grin, at the eyes that were both shrewd and stupid.
There was a note pinned to his shirt, Mrs. Diment had said. "I can't stand what's happening to me." Isn't that awful, Mr. Kinnell?
Yes, it was awful, all right.
He got up, gripping the picture by its top, and strode across the dog-walking area. He kept his eyes trained strictly in front of him, looking for canine land mines. He did not look down at the picture. His legs felt trembly and untrustworthy, but they seemed to support him all right. Just ahead, close to the belt of trees at the rear of the service area, was a pretty young thing in white shorts and a red halter. She was walking a cocker spaniel. She began to smile at Kinnell, then saw something in his face that straightened her lips out in a hurry. She headed left, and fast. The cocker didn't want to go that fast, so she dragged it, coughing, in her wake.
The scrubby pines behind the service area sloped down to a boggy acre that stank of plant and animal decomposition. The carpet of pine-needles was a road-litter fallout zone: burger wrappers, paper soft-drink cups, TCBY napkins, beer cans, empty wine-cooler bottles, cigarette butts. He saw a used condom lying like a dead snail next to a torn pair of panties with the word TUESDAY stitched on them in cursive girly-girl script.
Now that he was here, he chanced another look down at the picture. He steeled himself for further changes—even for the possibility that the painting would be in motion, like a movie in a frame—but there was none. There didn't have to be, Kinnell realized; the blond kid's face was enough. That stone-crazy grin. Those pointed teeth. The face said, Hey, old man, guess what? I'm done fucking with civilization. I'm a representative of the real generation X, the next millennium is right here behind the wheel of this fine, high-steppin' mo-sheen.
Aunt Trudy's initial reaction to the painting had been to advise Kinnell that he should throw it into the Saco River. Auntie had been right. The Saco was now almost twenty miles behind him, but . . .
"This'll do," he said. "I think this'll do just fine."
He raised the picture over his head like a guy holding up some kind of sports trophy for the postgame photographers and then heaved it down the slope. It flipped over twice, the frame catching winks of hazy late-day sun, then struck a tree. The glass facing shattered. The picture fell to the ground and then slid down the dry, needle-carpeted slope, as if down a chute. It landed in the bog, one corner of the frame protruding from a thick stand of reeds. Otherwise, there was nothing visible but the strew of broken glass, and Kinnell thought that went very well with the rest of the litter.
He turned and went back to his car, already picking up his mental trowel. He would wall this incident off in its own special niche, he thought . . . and it occurred to him that that was probably what most people did when they ran into stuff like this. Liars and wannabees (or maybe in this case they were wannasees) wrote up their fantasies for publications like Survivors and called them truth; those who blundered into authentic occult phenomena kept their mouths shut and used those trowels. Because when cracks like this appeared in your life, you had to do something about them; if you didn't, they were apt to widen and sooner or later everything would fall in.
Kinnell glanced up and saw the pretty young thing watching him apprehensively from what she probably hoped was a safe distance. When she saw him looking at her, she turned around and started toward the restaurant building, once more dragging her cocker spaniel behind her and trying to keep as much sway out of her hips as possible.
You think I'm crazy, don't you, pretty girl? Kinnell thought. He saw he had left his trunk lid up. It gaped like a mouth. He slammed it shut. But I'm not crazy. Absolutely not. I just made a little mistake, that's all. Stopped at a yard sale I should have passed up. Anyone could have done it. You could have done it. And that picture—
"What picture?" Rich Kinnell asked the hot summer evening, and tried on a smile. "I don't see any picture."
He slid behind the wheel of his Audi and started the engine. He looked at the fuel gauge and saw it had dropped under a half. He was going to need gas before he got home, but he thought he'd fill the tank a little farther up the line. Right now all he wanted to do was to put a belt of miles—as thick a one as possible—between him and the discarded painting.
Lunch at the Gotham Café (1995)
King on marriage woes is a can't-miss. He does superbly exactly those situations in which husbands and wives feel the earth shifting under their feet, sense and logic and all proportion fleeing away from them down a black tunnel to doom. Very tightly observed, and then the narration gets t-boned when all hell breaks loose.
....For me the worst times were late at night. I think (but I'm not sure; all my thought processes from around the time Diane left are very blurry in my mind) I had an idea that I would sleep better if I quit, but I didn't. I lay awake some mornings until three, hands laced together under my pillow, looking up at the ceiling, listening to sirens and to the rumble of trucks headed downtown.
At those times I would think about the twenty-four-hour Korean market almost directly across the street from my building. I would think about the white fluorescent light inside, so bright it was almost like a Kubler-Ross near-death experience, and how it spilled out onto the sidewalk between the displays which, in another hour, two young Korean men in white paper hats would begin to fill with fruit. I would think about the older man behind the counter, also Korean, also in a paper hat, and the formidable racks of cigarettes behind him, as big as the stone tablets Charlton Heston had brought down from Mount Sinai in The Ten Commandments. I would think about getting up, dressing, going over there, getting a pack of cigarettes (or maybe nine or ten of them), and sitting by the window, smoking one Marlboro after another as the sky lightened to the east and the sun came up. I never did, but on many early mornings I went to sleep counting cigarette brands instead of sheep: Winston… Winston 100s… Virginia Slims… Doral… Merit… Merit 100s… Camels… Camel Filters… Camel Lights....
That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French (1998)
Another married couple who face the eternal recurring of a final wrong turn.
Bestselling investigator of haunted sites plans to spend the night in a hotel room of sinister repute. He lasts about seventy minutes. #learnsbetter
Riding the Bullet (2000)
....Around seven o'clock we breasted a hill in West Gates and my chauffeur cried, "Lookit, son! The moon! Ain't she a corker?"
She was indeed a corker—a huge orange ball hoisting itself over the horizon. I thought there was nevertheless something terrible about it. It looked both pregnant and infected. Looking at the rising moon, a sudden and awful thought came to me: what if I got to the hospital and my Ma didn't recognize me? What if her memory was gone, completely shot, and she didn't know aye, yes, no, nor maybe? What if the doctor told me she'd need someone to take care of her for the rest of her life? That someone would have to be me, of course; there was no one else. Goodbye college. What about that, friends and neighbors?
...."I'm a kind of messenger," Staub said. "Fuckin FedEx from beyond the grave, you like that? Guys like me actually come out pretty often—whenever the circumstances are just right. You know what I think? I think that whoever runs things—God or whatever—must like to be entertained. He always wants to see if you'll keep what you already got or if he can talk you into goin for what's behind the curtain. Things have to be just right, though. Tonight they were. You out all by yourself . . . mother sick . . . needin a ride . . ."
Luckey Quarter (1995)
One of my favorite King stories. What it's like to face the everyday carnage of life as a member of the multinational US working class.
28 March 2020