News From the Dead Zone #130

“Things are happening and they are happening fast,” Stephen King says about recent news articles about developments in a possible Dark Tower adaptation. “Any reports you see might be taken with a grain of salt for the next couple of weeks. You will know the news from the official source as soon as we are able to post it,” the official source being www.stephenking.com, of course. The announced plan has Ron Howard directing a movie or movies for Universal, scripted by Akiva Goldsman, produced by Brian Grazer, that would then lead into a TV series.

Mick Garris will be directing a four-hour miniseries adaptation of Bag of Bones that might air on network television sometime next year. “Bag of Bones is something we tried to do as a feature for two or three years,” Garris tells Dread Central. “But the way features are now, if it’s not about teenagers or a sequel or a remake, forget it. We wanted to do something much more adult and passionate than studios are making now. It’s a ghost story for grown-ups. Television is the only place you can do that.” Check out a video of his conversation with Dread Central.

Speaking of video, here’s an hour long video of King at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County, Florida. As part of his appearance, he reads the short story “The Old Dude’s Ticker,” which is only available in The Big Book of NECON.

Did you see a familiar name in the early pages of Blockade Billy? One “Ben Vincent,” who hits one out of the park? Hey, people have fared far worse in Stephen King novels. I was thrilled to be Tuckerized this way. By the way, the Scribner edition of this story will also contain the Shirley Jackson Award nominated “Morality,” originally published in Esquire. The audio version is narrated by Craig Wasson, to whom King devoted his April 23/30 Entertainment Weekly column. You can hear an excerpt from the story here.

The SyFy TV series Haven is in production in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada. There’s a brief teaser here. The pilot is directed by Adam Kane and stars Emily Rose,  Lucas Bryant, Eric Balfour, Richard Donat and John Dunsworth. The show premieres on July 9.

News from the Dead Zone #129

Of course the big news is the pending publication of Blockade Billy, a novella or novelette or novelesque, or something like that. It’s a baseball story with a twist, published by CD Publications this month. Of the book King says, “”I love old-school baseball, and I also love the way people who’ve spent a lifetime in the game talk about the game. I tried to combine those things in a story of suspense. People have asked me for years when I was going to write a baseball story. Ask no more; this is it.” The story reveals the secret life of William “Blockade Billy” Blakely, a man who may have been the greatest player the game has ever seen, although today no one remembers his name. He was the first — and only — player to have his existence completely removed from the record books. Even his team is long forgotten, barely a footnote in the game’s history. As you read the story, be on the lookout for a character with a very familiar name…

Scribner plans to release an audio version of the story in May. Publishers Weekly says (in part): this suspenseful short is a deftly executed suicide squeeze, with sharp spikes hoisted high and aimed at the jugular on the slide home.

The four stories contained in King’s next book, Full Dark, No Stars are:  1922 (The story opens with the confession of Wilfred James to the murder of his wife, Arlette, following their move to Hemingford, Nebraska onto land willed to Arlette by her father),  Big Driver (Mystery writer, Tess, has been supplementing her writing income for years by doing speaking engagements with no problems. But following a last-minute invitation to a book club 60 miles away, she takes a shortcut home with dire consequences), Fair Extension  (Harry Streeter, who is suffering from cancer, decides to make a deal with the devil but, as always, there is a price to pay), and A Good Marriage (Darcy Anderson learns more about her husband of over twenty years than she would have liked to know when she stumbles literally upon a box under a worktable in their garage).

King says that he “originally used Hemingford Home in The Stand because I wanted to put Mother Abigail in the American heartland. That’s Nebraska. Hemingford was in the right place. … I love Nebraska and keep going back to it in my fiction — when I’m not in Maine, that is.”

Haven, the new SyFy series inspired by The Colorado Kid, will premiere on Friday, July 9. “It’s definitely based on the characters of ‘The Colorado Kid, but I would say it’s about a girl named Audrey [Parker], who’s an orphan and becomes an FBI agent,” star Emily Rose says. “She ends up getting sent on this case up in Maine. When she goes up there, she kind of starts having these things happen to her, and she sort of starts feeling like she’s been called home. Paranormal things happen, and some exciting things happen for her, and it’s not only her unraveling this murder case, but kind of unraveling the case of herself, honestly. It’s pretty fascinating.” Lucas Bryant and Eric Balfour also star in the series.

Dolan’s Cadillac is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. My advice: rent it or skip it. I’ll have a full review in an upcoming issue of CD magazine.

Recent Entertainment Weekly columns: Stephen King on the Academy Awards, and Stephen King on the Kindle and the iPad. You might also be interested in Stephen King’s scary list: commercial radio, contemporary country music

News from the Dead Zone #128

News From the Dead Zone

King’s 2010 book from Scribner will be a collection of four previously unpublished novellas. Full Dark, No Stars will be out in November, possibly on November 9.  (Update: One of the novellas is about Hemingford Home.)

Mick Garris’s adaptation of Bag of Bones has switched gears. Previously planned as a feature film, it will now be turned into a television miniseries. Screenwriter Matt Venne is converting his film script into the miniseries format. Though no details about the network have emerged, Garris says that  the deal is being finalized and he hopes to start shooting in the late spring to early summer.

He is Legend, the Richard Matheson tribute anthology Christopher Conlon edited in 2009 for Gauntlet Press, will be reprinted by Tor in trade hardcover this fall, with the paperback appearing sometime after that. The book contains the King/Joe Hill collaboration “Throttle.” There will also be a Japanese reprint.

SyFy  announced it has cast Emily Rose as the lead in its upcoming series Haven, inspired by The Colorado Kid, which the network said will premiere later this year. Production begins this spring in Canada. Rose will play FBI agent Audrey Parker, who investigates a murder in the small town of Haven, Maine, and finds herself caught up in a web of supernatural activity among its citizens.

In Entertainment Weekly: Stephen King on J.D. Salinger: ‘The last of the great post-WWII American writers’ and Stephen King Talks About “The Jay Leno Show”

News from the Dead Zone #127

News from the Dead Zone

Greetings and a belated Happy 2010! There hasn’t been a whole lot brewing lately, but there are some current and upcoming publications you might be interested in knowing about. There’s been no official word yet on what novels King will release in 2010, but word is that he has completed two since finishing Under the Dome so there will definitely be something this year.

The second part of King’s essay for Fangoria is in issue #290, which is reportedly on news stands now. This piece will be included in a reissue of Danse Macabre, which is also being released in audio for the first time.

The March/April issue of Playboy should be out soon. It contains the new King poem “Tommy.”

The TimesTalks event that King did in New York on November 10th is now available for viewing in the Multimedia section of King’s website.

Amazon now has a free PC version of the Kindle program so you can read Kindle-only content like “Ur” your computer. Here’s a preview of the audio version and a website dedicated to the story.

In this interview with See magazine, Elvis Costello discusses his character in Ghost Brothers of Darkland County.

Here’s an article about King’s participation in Shooter Jennings’ forthcoming album. King is the voice of Will O’ The Wisp, a radio talk-show host being phased out due to government censorship. He spends his last hour on the air delivering a diatribe about the decline of America, and playing the music of an important band — which happens to be Jennings’ new band, Hierophant. You can hear a clip from the album, including King’s narration at Jennings’ web site.

Entertainment Weekly: Best of TV 2009, Top 10 Films of 2009, Decoding Movie Blurbs

Two works about King were nominated for an Edgar award this year. Lisa Rogak’s Haunted Heart and my own The Stephen King Illustrated Companion. Here’s an interview I did recently that covers both this book and The Road to the Dark Tower.

Glenn Chadbourne Commissioned Artwork

Last year, several customers placed custom artwork orders with us for the “Glenn Chadbourne Haunts Your House” and “Your Zombie Family Portraits” by Glenn Chadbourne promotions. Everyone was thrilled with the results and we wanted to show off just a few samples of what Glenn came up with. Some customers ask Glenn to mix and match the ideas, so there were a few Haunted Families and Zombie Houses, etc. All in all, everyone had a ton of fun with these promotional offers.

You can click on these images to load the larger scan in another window, but please note that these pieces were so large we had to scan them in sections and then piece those sections back together so we could show them off.

Glenn Chadbourne Artwork

Glenn Chadbourne Artwork

Glenn Chadbourne Artwork

Glenn Chadbourne Artwork

Glenn Chadbourne Artwork

Glenn Chadbourne Artwork

Glenn Chadbourne Artwork

Glenn Chadbourne Artwork

Glenn Chadbourne Artwork

Glenn Chadbourne Artwork

Glenn Chadbourne Artwork

Glenn Chadbourne Artwork

Glenn Chadbourne Artwork

Glenn Chadbourne Artwork

News From the Dead Zone #126

News from the Dead Zone

The schedule for the graphic novel adaptation of N. has finally been announced. Issue 1 (of 4) goes on sale in March. The creative team of Marc Guggenheim and Alex Maleev, also responsible for the Motion Comic version, tell the story of something terrifying hidden in Ackerman’s Field. “It’s absolutely thrilling for Marvel to be working on ‘N.’ again and having the honor to publish it as a comic book miniseries,” said said Ruwan Jayatilleke, Marvel Senior Vice President, Development & Planning, Print, Animation and Digital Media. “Both as a fan of the story and a producer on the ‘N.’ motion comic, I am absolutely psyched for the terrifying ride that Marc, Alex, and the editors have planned for readers!”

John Mellencamp has virtually completed recording and “assembling” the Ghost Brothers of Darkland County musical theater collaboration with King. They have edited the initial three-hour program down to two hours and 10 minutes—with a bit more editing still to come before producer T-Bone Burnett completes the tracks. When finished, the recording will be available in a novel book package containing the full text, two discs featuring the entire production of the spoken word script and songs performed by the cast, and a third CD of the songs only. The cast is led by Kris Kristofferson, in the role of Joe, the father, and Elvis Costello, as the satanic character The Shape. Rosanne Cash plays Monique, the mother, with the sons enacted by Will Daily (Frank), Dave Alvin (Jack), Alvin’s real-life brother Phil Alvin (Andy) and John (Drake). Sheryl Crow stars as Jenna and Neko Case is Anna, with boxing legend Joe Frazier playing caretaker Dan Coker and King himself in the role of Uncle Steve. The narrator is “24” star Glenn Morshower. Mellencamp stressed that the three-disc package is not a traditional audio book, but offers an experience more akin to listening to an old radio show with music; he further emphasized the challenge inherent in making such a project work. See Mellencamp’s official web site for more.

Twitter update: From Peter Straub “In about a year SK and I will begin planning a new book.”

The jig is up — I was Scarecrow Joe in the ARG promotion for Under the Dome. Read more about my experience here.

The March issue of Playboy will contain King’s poem “Tommy,” an eerie yet touching reminiscence of childhood friendships and the ways innocence and experience intertwine.

According to Producer Dan Lin, writer Dave Kajganich is expected to turn in a draft of his script for the planned remake of It over Christmas.

Here is streaming audio of King’s appearance in Portsmouth, NH, featuring a reading from Under the Dome followed by a discussion. A couple of articles relating to his appearance in Manchester, VT here and here. And check out this great local news report on NECN about King’s visit to Bridgton and the connections between that town and Chester’s Mill. Finally, here is the episode of the Colbert Report on which King was a guest.

Gauntlet Press is releasing Stephen King’s Battleground in 2010. The volume contains King’s short story, Richard Christian Matheson’s script for the TNT adaptation, storyboards and other material.

Entertainment Weekly: King’s top 10 books of 2009.

News From The Dead Zone #125

When’s the last time you got a say in what book Stephen King is going to write next? Never! But now King is asking for people to express their preferences between two possible novels. Voting is open at his official web site until Jan 1, 2010. Here is his message on the matter:

Hey, you guys–I saw a lot of you Constant Readers while I was touring for Under the Dome, and I must say you’re looking good. Thanks for turning out in such numbers, and thanks for all the nice things you’ve said about Under the Dome. There’ll be another book next year. It’s a good one, I think, but that’s not why I’m writing. I mentioned two potential projects while I was on the road, one a new Mid-World book (not directly about Roland Deschain, but yes, he and his friend Cuthbert are in it, hunting a skin-man, which are what werewolves are called in that lost kingdom) and a sequel to The Shining called Doctor Sleep. Are you interested in reading either of these? If so, which one turns your dials more? Ms. Mod will be counting your votes (and of course it all means nothing if the muse doesn’t speak). Meanwhile, thanks again for 2009.

According to Ms. Mod, this isn’t an either/or proposal–King may write both of these books. It’s more a matter of which one you’d like to see first.

The Torontoist has this summary of King’s discussion of Dr. Sleep: “Seems King was wondering whatever happened to Danny Torrance of The Shining, who when readers last saw him was recovering from his ordeal at the Overlook Hotel at a resort in Maine with fellow survivors Wendy Torrance and chef Dick Halloran (who dies in the Kubrick film version). King remarked that though he ended his 1977 novel on a positive note, the Overlook was bound to have left young Danny with a lifetime’s worth of emotional scars. What Danny made of those traumatic experiences, and with the psychic powers that saved him from his father at the Overlook, is a question that King believes might make a damn fine sequel. So what would a sequel to one of King’s most beloved novels look like? In King’s still tentative plan for the novel, Danny is now 40 years old and living in upstate New York, where he works as the equivalent of an orderly at a hospice for the terminally ill. Danny’s real job is to visit with patients who are just about to pass on to the other side, and to help them make that journey with the aid of his mysterious powers. Danny also has a sideline in betting on the horses, a trick he learned from his buddy Dick Hallorann.”

In the aftermath of that statement, numerous news sources assumed that King was committed to writing the novel, which caused him to issue a sort of retraction via Entertainment Weekly. “It’s a great idea, and I just can’t seem to get down to it,” says the author in an e-mail. “People shouldn’t hold their breath. I know it would be cool, though. I want to write it just for the title, Dr. Sleep. I even told them [at the book signing], ‘It will probably never happen.'” Still, King — whose most recent novel is this month’s Under the Dome — can’t quite shut the door on the Shining sequel, adding, “But ‘probably’ isn’t ‘positively,’ so maybe.” The poll appeared on his website a few days later.

Concerning the next book (before he tackles either of these two), he said this in Toronto: “I have one (story) that’s kind of like Under the Dome, that I tried to write when I was 22 or 23 years old and I’m going to try to go back to that after this tour. I’d like to write that one. Beyond that, I have things that bounce around in my head. Dome bounced around a long time. I don’t keep a writer’s notebook of ideas because I’ve felt all my life that if I get a really good idea, it will stick.”

King’s appearance on The Hour can be found on the CBC website. Here is a one-minute clip of King and Cronenberg on stage in Toronto. Here are three video snippets from Talking Volumes in Minneapolis:

King reviews Raymond Carver’s Life and Stories in the NY Times. His latest Entertainment Weekly column is My Ultimate Playlist.

SyFy has ordered 13 episodes of Haven, the weekly TV series inspired by The Colorado Kid. Haven centers on a spooky town in Maine where cursed folk live normal lives in exile. When those curses start returning, FBI agent Audrey Parker is brought in to keep those supernatural forces at bay — while trying to unravel the mysteries of Haven. Producer Lloyd Segan talks about the show in this interview.

Casting has commenced for the reboot of Carrie: The Musical. The cast will feature Sutton Foster as gym teacher Ms. Gardner, Marin Mazzie as Margaret White, Molly Ranson as Carrie and Jennifer Damiano as Sue. Also revealed in the cast are “American Idol” finalist Diana DeGarmo (Hairspray, The Toxic Avenger) as Chris, Matt Doyle as Tommy and John Arthur Greene as Billy. The Carrie ensemble includes Corey Boardman, Lilli Cooper, Katrina Rose Dideriksen, Benjamin Eakeley, Emily Ferranti, Kyle Harris, Philip Hoffman, Kaitlin Kiyan, Max Kumangai, Mackenzie Mauzy, Preston Sadleir, Jonathan Schwartz, Bud Weber and Sasha Weiss. Producer Seller has reunited composer Michael Gore, lyricist Dean Pitchford and book writer Lawrence D. Cohen, whom took a crack at the stage show back in 1988 to reprise their roles for this update.  You can actually check out an official Carrie: The Musical website with plenty of tid-bits on the original show, as well as info on the new one right here.

News From The Dead Zone #124

More Under the Dome reviews:

Here is the video of King’s appearance on Good Morning America. He will be on The View tomorrow, Friday the 13th, and in Atlanta in the evening for his signing appearance, which I will be attending.

Here are some photos of the Limited Edition and the last words of Under the Dome pictured in London. Here’s an interview with the winner of the UK contest for hiding snippets from the book. He won a limited edition printer’s proof. Also, an ABC reporter discovers he’s in Under the Dome.

Here’s a report on King’s appearance in NYC. The video should be available at King’s website in the coming days. King did a 10 minute Q&A before his signing in Dundalk, MD and YouTube has the video and the Baltimore Sun has this article: Attention, shoppers: Stephen King in Aisle 2.

Lilja’s Under the Dome week features the following fascinating interviews:

Among the news items arising from King’s public appearances this week:

  • Under the Dome may be an HBO miniseries. The rights to the novel were acquired by Steven Spielberg’s production company
  • King has written a screenplay for Cell, so he thinks that’s going to happen. He said that he had gotten so many complaints about the ending of the book that he changed everything.
  • He still plans to work on a sequel to Black House, though nothing is definite at this point
  • He wonders what became of Danny Torrance
  • He has an idea for a new Dark Tower book, the working title of which will be THE WIND THROUGH THE KEYHOLE. He has not yet started this book and anticipates that it will be a minimum of eight months before he is able to begin writing it.

King talks about his 10 longest novels in this combination print interview/podcast at Time.com. Note that the print section is shorter than what he actually says on the individual audio files.

The folks at McSweeney’s are producing a celebration of newsprint, a reimagined newspaper for their next issue. The 380-page San Francisco Panorama will be out in early December, and features an essay by King about the World Series. Check out the tease here.

JJ Abrams reinforces an earlier statement that he and Damon Lindelof are not working on a Dark Tower movie adaptation.”The ‘Dark Tower’ thing is tricky,” he said. “It’s such an important piece of writing. The truth is that Damon and I are not looking at that right now.” [read more]

Feature Review: Under the Dome by Stephen King

Under the Dome by Stephen King
reviewed by Bev Vincent

Let’s get this out of the way: Under the Dome is not the second coming of The Stand. Both novels have impressive page counts and huge casts; however, there are fundamental differences between them.

Under the DomeKing used the entire continental US as his tableau in The Stand, whereas in Under the Dome he is confined to Chester’s Mill, Maine. The Stand was a chess game, with King taking months of story time to maneuver his characters into position.  Under the Dome is a rapid-paced game of checkers—with one piece in the back row already crowned before the start of play.

The books explore good and evil, but in The Stand these concepts were taken to an absolute level. God does not appear in the Dramatis Personae of Under the Dome. The most sincere “religious” character is a minister who doesn’t even believe in Him any more. The town leaders loudly proclaim their faith and “get knee-bound” in times of crisis, but are corrupt and decidedly un-Christian. Not Evil; merely evil.

The mysterious Dome that descends over Chester’s Mill on a sunny Saturday morning in mid-October somewhere between the years 2012 and 2016 is semi-permeable. People can communicate through it, but it is unmovable and, apparently, unbreakable. It isn’t really a dome; it has the same sock-shaped perimeter as the town’s borders with places like Castle Rock and TR-90, and extends upward over eight miles. There is limited air exchange, and a jet of water directed at the outside produces a fine mist inside. The electric lines are down but—thanks to the prevalence of generators in Western Maine—cell phones, cable TV and the Internet all work.

The world is aware of the town’s plight. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper report on the phenomenon from outside the Dome and, later, from Castle Rock after armed forces establish a perimeter.

Though the town’s residents feel like ants under a magnifying glass, they have more pressing worries, like how long will their food and propane last, how will the Dome affect their weather, and when will the air no longer be safe to breathe? Those trapped by the Dome aren’t so different from people stranded in New Orleans after Katrina or on Little Tall Island in Storm of the Century.

There’s price gouging for commodities and a storeowner sells his overstock of questionable, stale-dated frozen food to unsuspecting customers.

These badly behaved people are small potatoes, though, compared to Big Jim Rennie, used car dealer, town selectman and operator of one of the largest meth labs in the country. When (if) the Dome is breached, Chester’s Mills will fall under intense scrutiny. He needs to dismantle the drug lab and return the town’s reserve propane tanks, which he appropriated for his illicit purposes. Like Flagg in The Eyes of the Dragon, Rennie is the power behind the throne, allowing a weak man to take the leadership position on the town council, and forcing through a malleable replacement when the sheriff’s pacemaker explodes after he gets too close to the Dome. He surrounds himself with stupid people who won’t question his orders or motives.

The book’s hero, Dale “Barbie” Barbara, an Iraq war veteran employed at the town diner, was already persona non grata in Chester’s Mill after a run-in with Rennie’s son and other punks. Recognizing his situation as untenable, he was hitchhiking out of town when the Dome appeared. Colonel James Cox, his former commanding officer, reactivates him to duty, and they share intelligence about the situation in the town and external efforts to penetrate the Dome.

One of the book’s themes can be found in the lyrics of a James McMurtry song: Everyone in a small town is supposed to know his place, and everyone supports the home team. When the President declares martial law in Chester’s Mill and installs Barbie as the interim leader, Rennie’s diseased heart goes into palpitations. Outside forces can’t implement this directive, though, so Rennie starts discrediting Barbie while turning the town into a municipal dictatorship. To discourage resistance, he beefs up the police department with ruffians and thugs. He stages riots to demonstrate the necessity of his actions. He also seizes the opportunity to settle old grudges.

Tempers fray as days pass and efforts to break through the Dome fail. People commit suicide. Others die in accidents and altercations, or are murdered when they threaten Rennie’s plans.

A small group of rebels forms around Barbie, including Julia Shumway, owner/editor of the town newspaper. Not only did she not vote for Rennie, she editorialized against him during election campaigns. The previous sheriff’s widow and the Congregationalist minister are co-conspirators. As the situation degrades, other people begin to question their allegiance to Rennie.

King uses the metaphor of addiction to explain the townspeople’s behavior. Anyone can become a drug addict after an injury because the body and the brain conspire to create imaginary pain to rationalize taking more painkillers. Rennie is the town’s brain and most residents go along with his deception. This is the way people like Rennie are allowed to take power, King says. On a larger scale, he might have turned into another Pol Pot or Hitler.

The book is populated with fascinating, three-dimensional characters, including a trio of precocious and resourceful children, two out-of-towners forced to become surrogate parents, a physician’s assistant pressed into running the hospital when the town’s only doctor dies, the owner of a megastore that stocks everything imaginable, an unstable man suffering from a brain tumor, and a few dogs who offer more than comic relief.

Crossovers to other King novels are slight, except for a symbol that should inspire discussions about the true nature of the Dome. Children experience visions of the near future, but there are few other supernatural elements—beyond the Dome itself.

One character with literary ambitions muses about the risks involved in writing a novel. “What if you spent all that time, wrote a thousand-pager, and it sucked?”

King need have no such fears. This thousand-plus-pager most definitely does not suck. For such a massive book it is an incredibly fast and breezy read. It has the urgent pace of Cell without the wonky pseudoscience, and the insightful depiction of small town politics of Needful Things—except the characters in Under the Dome are sympathetic.

It’s not The Stand II, but people who liked that book—or Desperation or ‘Salem’s Lot—will love this one.

•••

Bev Vincent has been writing News from the Dead Zone since 2001. His first book, The Road to the Dark Tower, an au­thorized companion to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, was published by NAL in 2004 and nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. He contributes a monthly essay to the Storytellers Unplugged, contributed to the serial novellas Looking Glass and The Crane House, and has published hundreds of book reviews and over 50 short stories, including appear­ances in Shivers (vols II and IV), Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Tesseracts Thirteen, Doctor Who: Destination Prague, and this magazine. His latest book is The Stephen King Illustrated Companion, available in November at Barnes & Noble. Visit him on the web at www.bevvincent.com

First Look Photos: Under the Dome Limited Edition from Simon & Schuster

We received a copy of the brand new Under the Dome by Stephen King Limited Edition from Simon & Schuster today and we thought our readers might enjoy seeing a few photos:

The package the book arrived in.
The package the book arrived in.
Opening the package!
Opening the package.
the front cover of this mammoth volume
the front cover of this huge volume
the package that held the artwork playing cards
the package that held the artwork playing cards
the full color endpaper at the front of the book
the full color endpaper at the front of the book
Stephen King's signature
Stephen King’s signature
The title page and the first exclusive drawing
The title page and the first exclusive drawing

The drawing of the woodchuck

Madness, Blindness, Astonishment of Heart artwork
Madness, Blindness, Astonishment of Heart artwork
The character artwork playing cards.
The character artwork playing cards.
The back of the cards have descriptions of the depicted character.
The back of the cards have descriptions of the depicted character.

News From The Dead Zone #123

Breaking News from the Dead Zone

Just a few more days until Under the Dome arrives in stores. The signed, limited edition is already winging its way into the hands of buyers; some people have received their copies already. Next week will be a publicity-heavy week for King, with several televised and live appearances. He will be on Good Morning America on publication day (Tuesday, November 10), The Colbert Report (unschedules) and on The View (Friday, November 13) to help Whoopi Goldberg celebrate her birthday.

An excerpt from the novel is in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly. Here is his Barnes & Noble interview from last week. Check out the new Multimedia section at King’s website for other interviews, a 30-second promo commercial, and to see and hear King reading from the book.

The reviews are already starting to come out. Here are the ones I’ve noticed so far:

  • San Jose Mercury News
  • Bloomberg
  • Newsday
  • City a.m.
  • Financial Times
  • Telegraph
  • NY Times
  • Also, check out this opinion piece from Esquire: Why Stephen King Is the Most Underrated Literary Novelist of Our Time.

    The new short story, Premium Harmony, is now available at the New Yorker website.

    Celebrated short story writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael  Albuquerque will launch a new monthly comic book series from Vertigo in March 2010 with a unique contribution from King. The new ongoing series, American Vampire, will introduce readers to a new breed of vampire-a more muscular and vicious species of vampire with distinctly American characteristics. The series’ first story arc, to be told over the course of five issues, will feature two different stories, one written by Snyder, the other by King. King’s story provides the origin of the very first American vampire:Skinner Sweet, a bank robbing, murdering cowboy of the 1880s. Skinner is stronger and faster than previous vampires; he has rattlesnake fangs and is powered by…. the sun? Check out this article about the project at Newsarama. Here’s an interview with the artist.

    Here’s a blog entry by Jay Franco, the editor of the 2010 Stephen King Library Desk Calendar, which contains contributions from a number of people that will be familiar to you. My essay is called “The Eyes Have It.”

    King will have an article about this year’s world series in the next McSweeney’s, which is designed to look like a newspaper. Here is a full, mouthwatering tease for the issue.

    Here’s an interview with Tony Shasteen: Young Artist Draws for a Literary “King” in THE TALISMAN

    Latest EW column: The Secret to Pop Culture Snacking.

    The Final Question: Special Halloween Online Edition!

    finalquestionThanks to everyone who took the time to email in their feedback on “The Final Question” in Cemetery Dance magazine.  If you have any comments or even a suggestion for a question you’d like to see answered by your favorite authors, feel free to email me directly: brianfreeman@cemeterydance.com.

    If you’re new to the magazine or if you haven’t ordered your copy of Cemetery Dance #61 yet, the premise of “The Final Question” is simple: each issue we’ll ask a handful of authors to answer the same question and then we’ll publish their responses exactly as we receive them.

    Normally this feature is limited to the magazine, but we wanted to do something special for our website visitors this Halloween, so here you go!

    The special Halloween question is: What is your earliest Halloween memory?

    Ray Bradbury:
    One Halloween was a big mistake for me. I had a bunch of my friends over, and I put on my Houdini manacles. I was supposed to break free from them, to show my friends what a good magician I was, and I couldn’t get out of the goddamn things. So I fell down on the floor and writhed around, and all my friends gathered and looked down at me and laughed. I got mad at them, and I said, “Get the heck out of the house! You’re not wanted here now.” So I sent them all home.

    Elizabeth Massie:
    My earliest Halloween memory – the year I was five – is all the more clear in my mind because my father had bought a home movie camera to record all the important moments in the lives of his kids. Christmases. Birthday parties. Easter Egg hunts. And, of course, Halloween. The camera was one of those Keystone 8 MM silent wind-up dealios with the excruciatingly bright lights that turned every documented event into a cheerful marathon squint-fest. My mother, a very creative soul, always made our costumes. This was the year my older sister was a witch, I was a fairy princess, and my younger sister was a bunny. My younger brother was stuck in the playpen, squinting and watching his older siblings in the pre-Trick or Treat parade of costumes back and forth across the living room floor, grinning for the camera. I envied my older sister’s excellent, bright yellow yarn witch wig and my younger sister’s gloriously full white yarn bunny tail, but I love-love-loved my glitter-covered star wand.

     

    Rick Hautala:
    I wrote about my most vivid (and scary) Hallowe’en memory for CD’s October Dreams, but my clearest first memory of Hallowe’en is rather mundane … I remember getting candy corn for the first time and trying then (as I still do today) to bite each triangular piece into thirds on the lines where the colors change. How mundane is that?

     

    Jack-o-lantern 2Al Sarrantonio:
    I was obsessed with skeletons.  When I got older, my brother and I would use face paint and make-up and take great joy in rummaging through my father’s box of old clothes for hobo getups — but my very first costume, when I was perhaps five, was an out-of-the-box, store-bought skeleton costume (the only one I ever had) that I never forgot.  The mask alone scared hell out of me (and, I hoped, everyone else): bone-white with large hollow eye holes and a set of grinning bone-teeth that were nothing short of creepy.  The mask was too large for my head, of course — but the body of the costume was the kicker, satin-black to blend with the night, with printed white bones right down to the splayed bony feet.  I looked, and felt, like a vintage jointed cardboard skeleton come to life.  They don’t make them like that anymore.  At least I hope so — if I saw me coming, I’d run the other way!

     

    Trent Zelazny:
    I was no older than four or five.  After Trick-or-Treating, my folks went out to a party.  My kindergarten teacher, Cathy Cavanagh, was watching my brother and me for the evening.  We scooped the brains out of an overdue yet innocent pumpkin while the original Halloween played on TV.  Needless to say, the movie scared the crap out of me.  Jack-O-Lantern finished, movie over and a couple of games later, I went to my bed, which was right up against my bedroom window, for a long stretch of nightmares.  I was just drifting off when a tap came at the glass.  I opened my eyes and screamed at the horrific sight of a bleeding Frankenstein snarling at me from outside.  My brother got in some trouble for that one.

     

    Peter Crowther:
    In England, we tended to concentrate on Mischief Night and Bonfire Night  (4th and 5th of November) but there were some kids — particularly those whose world existed within the four-color confines of the American comicbook and the stories of Ray Bradbury — who were aware that there was something else to be had . . . another special day; one with something more than mere firecracker mayhem to entice and inveigle. That special day was All Hallows Eve . . . when witches rode the cool winds on brooms and the dead left their soily resting places to walk the night-time streets once again.

    Of course, my childhood imagination created all manner of spectral happenings and I’ve written about many of them. But the first real memory I have comes from much later . . . when I was in my early 30’s. For it was then, armed with thermoses of coffee and hot milk and little packs of sandwiches and chocolate biscuits, that Nicky and I took the boys — then aged seven and five — up to nearby Knaresborough Rocks to watch for witches.

    I write this stuff for a living, of course (at least, I do when PS Publishing lets me have an hour or two off for good behaviour!) . . . so I’m probably not a good judge. But I reckon the best rush you will ever get out of Hallowe’en is through the eyes of a child alongside you. It could be your child, could be someone else’s — doesn’t matter. Just watch their eyes, wide like saucers, their mouths dry with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Unbeatable.

    We repeated that excursion other years — in fact, it became a staple in the Crowther household — until the commercial side of Hallowe’en took over and Olly and Tim went out trick-or-treating. But, you know, for a long time after — all the time we were in Harrogate, in fact, years after the kids had left home — Nicky and I still went out to Knaresborough Rocks, scanning the dark skies . . . looking for witches. I think I even saw one once or twice. . .

    Simon Clark:
    My parents, for a Halloween treat, allowed me to stay up late to watch a TV ghost story. Possibly, I was aged five or six. I don’t remember the show’s title now (it might have been from the Mystery & Imagination series; if I’m misremembering then I might be combining childhood Halloween memories, which for me adds to the emotional potency of that night). The series graphics were of a frantically beating dove, shown in ghostly negative, then an ominous thudding heartbeat would begin. And then….

    ….and then I’d had enough. Terrified, I scrambled off to bed before the film had even properly started. Oh, but the dreams – and the nightmares – those opening credits triggered…

    jokerBev Vincent:
    I grew up in rural Eastern Canada, where the houses were spread out along the main highway. We set out in a group of five or six and wandered abroad for hours, covering three or four miles in each direction. Because of the latitude, it got dark early. Our parents didn’t appear to worry about the fact that we were gone until eight or nine o’clock.

    Since it was a small community, everyone knew everyone else, so part of the game was to guess who the masked visitors were. At some places, every young person in the community had a specially prepared treat with his or her name on it. Usually the treats in those places were homemade: fudge, Rice Krispie squares, things like that. Nobody had to worry about apples with razor blades or candy with needles, though we knew those things happened in far-away places. We all coveted nickel bags of potato chips, though. That was the barometer of the evening’s success: how many bags of chips we acquired.

    We had plenty of time for shenanigans. We had fights with ripe cat-tails, which could be thrown like hand grenades and would explode to cover you with seeds that looked like feathers. Setting off fire crackers and soaping windows were the standard tricks. Hiding or knocking over yard implements. One member of a political organization had his garage wallpapered with posters for the opposition party, I recall. It was all good clean fun and the night seemed to last forever. In my memory, it now seems straight out of a Ray Bradbury story and I regret that my daughter wasn’t able to share that magical experience, since Halloween in the suburbs in the 1990s was a different creature altogether.

    Ronald Kelly:
    I reckon one of my earliest Halloween memories was in 1966. I was six years old and the Batman TV show with Adam West was the big thing that year. Every kid in our neighborhood was Batman crazy. Dozens of Caped Crusaders were running around, leaping across ditches and climbing up porches. I guess the neighbors were a little confused, wondering if they were handing out candy to the same kid over and over again. I don’t think there was a single Robin in the bunch. Who wanted to be stinking Robin anyway?

    I remember I had my mom cut the bottom half of my plastic mask off — the man face part — leaving only the cowl. All the other kids thought I was kinda weird because of that. But at least I wasn’t huffing and puffing and sweating under my mask. At least I could breathe!

    Thomas Tessier:
    I was 5 or 6, had never really been out after dark on the streets in the neighborhood.  A perfect Halloween night — cool, blustery breeze, leaves hissing in the maples and scuttling down the streets.  I was a “hobo,” complete with a beat-up old fedora and a mascara stubble, applied by my mother.  What I remember most is the thrill of being out at that time of day, how the neighborhood seemed so different, the taste of the autumn night air.  I got a lot of Mounds and Almond Joy bars — at that time, they were all made at the Peter Paul factory in town, long before it was taken over by Cadbury, and eventually moved, just a few years ago, to some other location.  I didn’t think of Halloween as necessarily scary then, just different, fun and once-a-year unique.  Scary came later.

    Excerpt from Invisible Fences by Norman Prentiss

    Excerpt from
    Invisible Fences
    by Norman Prentiss

    There’s an invention for today’s dog owners called an invisible fence. It’s basically a radio signal around the perimeter of the yard, and if the dog steps too close to the signal, it triggers a device in the animal’s collar and delivers a small electrical shock. Perfect Pavlov conditioning, just like I learned back in ninth grade psychology class. But it seems a bit cruel to me. The dog’s bound to be zapped a few times before it catches on. Dogs aren’t always as quick as we are. Hell, growing up we had a mongrel lab that would probably never have figured it out: Atlas would have barked at air, then -zap!-. Another bark and charge then -zap!- again. I loved that sweet, dumb animal.

    Still, I guess for most dogs the gadget would work eventually. Inflict a little pain and terror at the start, and then you’re forever spared the eyesore of a chain-link fence around your front lawn.

    #

    “The Big Street”

    When I was growing up, my parents invented their own kind of invisible fence for me and my sister. All parents build some version of this fence—never talk to strangers, keep close to home after sundown, that kind of thing. But my parents had a gift with words and storytelling that zapped those lessons into my young mind with a special permanence.

    My father taught Shop—excuse me, Industrial Arts—at Kensington High School, so I guess that’s where he built up his skills with the cautionary tale: don’t feed your hand into the disc sander; keep your un-goggled eyes away from the jigsaw blade, and other Greatest Hits. But listen to his rendition of that old stand-by, “The Big Street”:

    He walked me and my sister Pam to the divided road on the north end of our community. I was six, and Pam was three years older. He stopped us at the curb of McNeil Road, just close enough where we could hear the cars zip by, feel the hot wind of exhaust or maybe get hit by a stray speck of gravel tossed up by a rear wheel. A half-mile down, on the other side of McNeil, was a small shopping center: a single screen movie theater, Safeway grocery, People’s Drugs, and a Dairy Queen, among other highlights. In the other direction visible from the top of this hill was Strathmore Park, with swings, monkey bars, and a fiberglass spider with bent-ladder legs. We could visit these wondrous places anytime dad drove us there, but we were never, ever, to cross the Big Street on our own.

    “Now, let me tell you about a boy who used to live the other side of the road,” our father said. “About your age, Nathan. He crossed back and forth over this Big Street all the time.” He swung his arm in front of him, parallel to the road. “Looks like a pretty good view of the road in both directions, doesn’t it?”

    We both craned our necks and followed the swing of his arm. Pam nodded first, and I did the same.

    “Well, you’d be wrong. Some of those cars come up faster than you think.” As if to confirm his point, a blue truck rattled past. “When you do something a lot, you get pretty confident. Over-confident. This boy, he’d run across early that morning without a hitch, like usual. On his way back, he was standing right where we are now. Looked both ways, I imagine, or maybe he forgot that one time—we don’t know for sure. What we do know . . .”

    Dad dropped to one knee, the toe of his right sneaker perfectly aligned with the edge of the curb.

    “See right there, where the gutter doesn’t quite match the road? Not too close, now, Nathan.” He stretched his arm out like a guard rail, and I leaned against it to peer over. The blacktop of the road had a rounded edge, about an inch higher than the cement gutter, but the asphalt was cracked or split in a few places. One spot, it looked almost like somebody’d taken a bite out of it. I guessed that was where Dad wanted me to look.

    “His foot likely got caught in that niche, and the boy tripped into the road. The black van might have been speeding, might not. But it wasn’t entirely the driver’s fault, was it?”

    I swallowed hard, my throat dry. I’d have loved a Misty or a dip cone from Dairy Queen, but I sure didn’t plan on crossing the Big Street to get it.

    “See that dark patch in the road?”

    I leaned forward again, and my T-shirt felt sweaty where my chest pressed against Dad’s outstretched arm.

    “County trucks cleaned things up, best they could, but you can’t always wash away every trace of blood.”

    A shadowy stain appeared beneath the rumbled flashes of painted steel, chrome, glass, and rubber tires, a stain wet and blacker than the grey-black asphalt, in which I could almost distinguish the outline of a boy, just my size.

    #

    “I’d heard the story before,” Pam told me that afternoon. We had separate bedrooms in our small house on Bel Pre Court—a luxury a lot of our friends didn’t enjoy—but I was in and out of my sister’s room all the time. She even let me use the bottom shelf of her bookcase to store a few Matchbox cars, a robot, and a plastic astronaut.

    “Really? Did you know the kid who got hit?”

    “No, I heard it before from Dad. Two years ago.”

    Pam had fanned baseball cards in front of her on the bedspread. She’d invented this game of solitaire: traded players, constructed her own all-star teams, grouped them in batting orders, then shuffled the cards to start again. Often she waited long minutes between each shift of card, as if the game required intense, chess-like concentration. She never could quite explain the rules to me, but I didn’t mind: I wasn’t that keen on sports like Pam was, and I was happy she still managed to talk with me while she played.

    “The kid wouldn’t need to cross the road,” Pam said.

    “Huh?”

    “All the good stuff’s already on his side. Movie theater, playground, burgers and ice cream. Why cross?”

    I hadn’t thought about that. “Maybe he had friends over here.”

    “Nope. The friends would all be visiting his side, where the fun stuff is. They’d be the ones who got whacked by the black van.”

    She said “black van” in a sing-song voice. I didn’t understand why she’d make a joke, go so far as to imagine more kids killed while crossing McNeil Road.

    “I saw the stain on the road,” I said.

    Pam switched two baseball cards, then flipped another one face down. “Probably a car broke down on the side of the road, leaked a little oil. Check our own driveway, and you’ll find a few stains there, too.”

    “Not like that stain,” I said.

    “Okay.”

    “He showed us where it happened, Pam.”

    “Okay.”

    Pam had pretty much destroyed our father’s story with logic. She was three years older, obviously a little more worldly than I was. But I don’t think I was naive to side with my Dad. More than logic, it was the story that convinced me. The confirming details of the cracks in the asphalt, the boy-shaped stain on the road, summer’s heat and the rushing cars making me dizzy—just like must have happened to the careless young pedestrian in Dad’s account. Maybe it wasn’t true, okay, but it could be true if somebody didn’t follow the rules. Accidents happen. We may not all have friends who’ve chopped off a digit or two with the buzz-saw in Industrial Arts class, but if a couple circles of red marker on the shop tile, scrubbed into faded realism after hours, help the teacher point the next day and shout, “There! There’s where the fingers rolled off and bounced like link sausages onto the floor!”—well, strictly true or not, such lessons are worth learning.

    No way was I going to cross the Big Street on my own.

    #

    “Dope Fiends”

    The next summer, Mom staked a claim to her own span of our invisible fence. Dad came up with most of the stories, so in retrospect I’m grudgingly proud of Mom for thinking this one up.

    A deep stretch of woods formed a natural barrier behind our house. Dad had a few gems about kids getting lost, bitten by snakes, or swollen and itchy from a patch of poison ivy—all of which generally kept us from setting up camp in there. We wandered into the woods sometimes, peeling bark off trees, flipping logs to look for ants or pill bugs, poking a stick at a rock to make sure it’s not a bullfrog. As long as we didn’t go near Stillwater Creek, we didn’t get in trouble. The creek had its own persuasive power: it was muddy, shallow, and stank of sulfur, so Pam and I steered clear without being prompted.

    But Mom, overcautious, decided we shouldn’t venture into the woods at all. One rainy day, she called us into the living room where she typically sprawled out on the sofa and watched her “plays” on CBS. “Turn down the television, would you? I’ve got something serious to talk with you kids about.”

    With the rain outside, and the shades pulled down, the living room was pretty dark. The main light source was the television, which reflected a kind of campfire glow on Mom’s face as she talked. “There are dope fiends in the woods,” she told us. “I heard about them from Mrs. Lieberman.”

    #

    I have to explain a few things about my Mom before I go any further.

    When I was three years old, my baby sister was born. I remember playing with her, in particular a game where Pam and I lined up plastic bowling pins around the rim of Jamie’s crib. She’d wait for us to finish, then knock them over with her tiny fists, and laugh and laugh. That’s mostly what I remember, the laughing.

    Jamie had to go to the hospital when she was about fourteen months old, after a really bad cough developed into something more serious. Apparently they put her in a croup tent, a plastic covering that kept away germs and allowed doctors to regulate her oxygen. I never visited her in the hospital, but my parents later told me how much Jamie hated that tent. I imagined her beating at the plastic covering with her fists, but too weak to laugh or even breathe.

    I don’t remember what my parents said the last night they returned from the hospital. I know they must have agonized over how they’d break the news to us, my Dad no doubt holding back his natural tendency towards the grisly, giving us the soft version of Jamie drifting painlessly off to sleep and never waking up; how babies were innocent and always went to heaven, so she’s with God now, and we’ll always have our memories; Mom convincing us that we’re all right, that we’d never get that sick, and Mommy and Daddy would always be there to protect us, and nobody’s dying, not anytime soon that’s for sure, we promise; and all the time both of them trying not to cry themselves, knowing if they messed this moment up it could haunt me or Pam for the rest of our lives.

    I know they worked really hard on what to say, and I’m sad I don’t remember any of it. But I was only four, and memory keeps its own protective agenda for a child that age. Just the bowling pins, and the laughter.

    There’s a Polaroid of me and Pam taken the day of Jamie’s funeral. Pam’s in a frilly peach dress, holding a small bouquet of daffodils. I’m wearing a tan suit—a handsome little gentleman, in a heart-breakingly tiny clip-on tie. We’re standing next to the grave marker, which has a hole in the center where Pam will soon place the daffodils. According to my father, before Pam had the chance to fit the stems into the grave marker, I kneeled down to peer deeply into the hole. “Jamie’s down there,” I said, then waved. “Hi, Jamie!”

    #

    But I was talking about my mother.

    After Jamie’s death, not right away, but gradually, my Mom became more and more withdrawn. She didn’t have a job, and never learned to drive, but she used to go shopping with my father, or went with us on day trips to visit relatives in Silver Spring or Tacoma Park. She also maintained a small garden out front, and played bridge twice a week with neighboring housewives. After the tragedy, she told Dad she didn’t feel like talking with family about Jamie, not for a while at least, and somehow that ended her drives to the grocery store, as well. The bridge games slipped to once a week, and then just the gardening. And then not even that.

    Agoraphobia roughly translates to “fear of open spaces,” but that’s not exactly right. It’s a kind of depression that, in my mother’s case, at least, was more about avoiding interaction with other people. Dad and Pam and I were the notable exceptions. She didn’t want to see anyone else, and she didn’t want anybody else looking in—which explained why she lowered the living room shades, even during the middle of the day. Eventually she refused to leave the house for any reason—certainly not for the psychiatrist visits that probably would have helped her, if people hadn’t frowned so much on therapy in those days, or if my Dad had been strong enough to force her into treatment. His version of “strong” was letting her have her way, adding cooking and cleaning to his breadwinning duties, with Mom on occasional assist with the child care when absolutely necessary.

    But more often than not, it was us kids doing things for her. Mom spent most of her time on that sofa, to the point that it’s hard for me to recall her in motion. Certainly she must have moved from the bedroom to the living room on occasion, definitely needed to use the bathroom like the rest of us. But mostly things were brought to her: a cup of water with ice and a bendable straw; Diet Rite Cola in the tall glass bottle; two peanut butter and banana sandwiches for lunch, the crust removed; and a small plate of Oreo cookies with a mug of milk for her afternoon snack. She had a remote for the television, but mostly watched the soaps and local news on channel 9, and if either Pam or I were passing nearby when she wanted to switch, she’d have us turn the channel.

    Mom’s other entertainment was newspapers, with a special fondness for the crossword puzzle and the Word Jumble. She’d store the day’s puzzle folded over like a napkin on her TV tray, next to a plate of food, and worked during the commercials or during an especially slow-moving plot on As the World Turns or The Edge of Night. Some days she didn’t finish the puzzles, or didn’t skim her way through the rest of the newspaper sections. Stacks of newspaper piled next to her beside the sofa, beneath the TV tray, and at her feet; Mom could never keep straight which stack was the most current, so when Pam asked for today’s Sports page or I wanted to read the comics, we each had to choose a pile to sort through.

    Dad taught summer courses. Even between terms he went to school on a nine-to-four schedule to use their shop equipment for woodworking projects he solicited via purple, mimeographed ads stapled to telephone poles throughout our neighborhood. All for the extra money, of course, but just as likely because the day-dark house bothered him in ways it wouldn’t bother little kids who didn’t know much better.

    At least, not usually. But that overcast, rainy day when Mom told us about the dope fiends, the bleak, shadowy living room gave her words the chilly certainty of a midnight-whispered campfire ghost story.

    #

    “The police found needles in the woods,” Mom said. We stood next to the couch and Mom sat up, a striking change from her usual horizontal posture. “Just thrown on the ground where kids like you could step on them in your bare feet. They found rubber tubing, also. These dope fiends tie tubes around their arm to make the veins stand out, then use the needles to inject drugs into their bloodstream.” She lifted her crossword-puzzle pencil and mimed jabbing it into her forearm.

    Due to my twice-yearly doctor visits, I was already plenty scared of needles. I never escaped without some vaccination or another—for polio, German Measles, chicken pox, whatever. After losing Jamie, Mom wasn’t taking chances with me or Pam. I hated the awful tension when the nurse squirted a faint arc of fluid over the sink before she plunged the stinging needle beneath my rolled-up sleeve. The needle was too long and thin; I worried it could snap off inside my arm and hurt forever.

    The idea of tying a tube around your arm sounded even more complex and painful to me. Who would do something like this on purpose?

    Fiends, of course. A much better word than “addict” for kids. The word addict scares adults, because it’s all about loss of control—our fears that we’d drink or gamble or screw against logic, throw money we don’t have into greedily programmed machines or wake up late mornings with a monstrous hangover and an even more monstrous bedroom companion. Kids don’t fear addiction (they don’t have much control over anything to begin with); better for them to visualize some tangible bogeyman, like the monster under the bed or evil trolls who live beneath storybook bridges.

    “I know you kids would never be foolish enough to try drugs,” my mother continued. “But if you run across a group of dope fiends, they may force their drugs on you. Chase you down, and whoosh!” She jabbed her pencil in the air towards Pam for emphasis, then towards me; I jumped back in nervous reaction.

    “The police haven’t caught any of the dope fiends yet, so they’re still out there.” She pointed at her main sources of information: the television, in its rare moment of flickering silence; disorganized towers of newsprint; and the end table telephone, her daily link in epic half-hour conversations with her two remaining friends, Mrs. Lieberman and my Aunt Lora. “If I hear anything more, I’ll let you know. Until then, I want you both to stay out of those woods.”

    I nodded first, without waiting to see Pam’s response.

    This was before a president’s wife told us to “Just Say ‘No’,” before “Your Brain” sizzled sunny-side-up in an MTV frying pan. But even then, in the post-hippie 1970s, drugs were dialed pretty high on a kid’s panic-meter. I was too young to grasp the concept fully, of course, and stirred my own fears into the mixture. When my mother mentioned the “paraphernalia” found in the woods—hypodermic syringes, rubber tubes, empty glass vials of medicine—she may have said something about medicine caps. Or maybe the “dope” idea was suggestive enough. My third grade mind somehow latched onto caps, conflated it with the image of a cartoon child in the corner of a schoolroom, a pointed dunce or dope cap rising from his head. I imagined predatory older boys donning these caps as the proud symbol of their gang. They patrolled the woods behind our house, seeking new initiates—would toss syringes like darts at your exposed arms or neck, then would force you to the ground and press their ignorance into you, lowering it like a shameful cap onto your struggling head. Ignorance was even more terrifying to me than needles. I was a slightly

    overweight boy, uncoordinated at sports and generally unpopular at school. To be stupid—to be unattractive and awkward and picked-on and stupid—was the worst fate I could imagine. Smart was all I had.

    #

    And yet I was stupid enough, later that summer, to let Aaron Lieberman and my sister talk me into visiting those woods to search for abandoned needles.

    Click here to read more about this book!

    Click here to read an interview with the author about this book!

    Excerpt from Catching Hell by Greg F. Gifune

    Excerpt from
    Catching Hell (Novella Series #20)
    by Greg F. Gifune

    “Keep your voice down, they’re probably still on our asses.” Billy struggled to his feet and did his best to force the emotion and fear away.

    “Let’s go, get up. We’ve got to keep moving.”

    They followed the stream a while, running when they had the wind and walking when they grew too tired. Although they neither saw nor heard any sign of the townspeople, they continued on without stopping for close to half an hour.

    Just when it seemed the forest was endless, they reached a break in the trees and found themselves standing before an enormous field of tall,
    untamed grass, the waist-high blades swaying gracefully in the rain and wind. Perhaps two hundred yards away, an old and obviously abandoned barn stood rotting in the middle of the field. Beyond it and the far side of the field was more forest.

    With jagged spears of lightning stabbing the ever-darkening sky and thunder throttling the earth, they ran across the field. Into the open. Into the rain. Wading through the grass, their legs grew weaker, their chests burned and they were barely able to breathe. But still, they forced themselves forward until they’d reached the barn.

    The building, long deserted, was rotted and littered with numerous wounds in the roof and walls. Rain trickled through the openings, running in constant currents through the cracks and spattering the dirt floor to form small pockets of puddles throughout.

    Billy and the others scrambled through an opening where the main door, a large sliding panel, had once stood. It now hung to the side and had nearly broken free of the building altogether. They collapsed to the ground in unison, their labored breath audible above the sounds of the mounting storm, pounding rain and constant trickling and dripping.

    After a moment, Billy regained his feet and inspected their surroundings. Although the barn hadn’t been used in some time, it retained something of a livestock and manure smell, and remnants of hay and old bags of feed lay scattered about the dirt floor and in the corners of a few dilapidated stalls. He looked next to the high roof, squinting as raindrops splashed his face. Glimpses of the darkening sky shown through the multiple fractures, but otherwise it looked intact and would provide sufficient sanctuary, albeit temporarily. He moved to the remains of the door. Outside, the field they’d crossed was empty. If the townspeople had followed them, they were either hidden in the forest or crawling unseen through the tall grass.

    “Are they coming?” Alex asked breathlessly.

    Billy ran to the opposite wall, found a hole and checked the hundred or so yards of field in the other direction. It too was empty, the forest beyond it dark and blurred by rain. “I don’t see them anywhere, but we can’t stay here long, there’s no way to defend or secure this place. Too many breaks in the walls and roof, too many ways in, too many directions to keep an eye on. Hurry up and catch your breath.”

    Stefan pulled his loafers off and rubbed his bare feet. Hardly conducive to running, the shoes had already caused the beginnings of several blisters. “And where, exactly, do you suggest we go?”

    “There must be something beyond those woods.”

    “Right. More woods.”

    “Sooner or later they’ve got to come out somewhere.”

    “I don’t care how far we have to go,” Alex said, “just so long as we stay ahead of those crazy freaks.”

    Suddenly, from a dark corner of the barn came a deep but quiet male voice, barely discernable over the relentless rain and occasional thunder.

    “They’re not crazy,” the voice told them. “They’re damned.”

    Click here to read more about this book!