Sunday, June 8, 2014

"Pigeons and the Plunder"

Note: while this is a blog about Stephen King, I'll also post non-related stuff from time to time, if only to keep things from getting too monotonous. This is a short story I wrote today. There was a small outbreak of spiders in my bedroom last night, and this story was born soon after. I hope you enjoy! 

"Pigeons and the Plunder"  

After the toys were placed in the cabinets and the baby spiders were finally eradicated from the boy's wall, the darkness swelled around a lone lamp and his father told him everything was going to be okay.
"There are no more spiders, Bradley-boy," the man told his frightened seven-year-old. "Not ever again." 
The boy had gotten up to use the bathroom, and saw a slight movement on the wall by his bed. He flipped the lamp on and immediately shrieked at the sight before him - a trail of small insects were crawling in neat formation from the upper corner of the small door to the crawl-space that led, eventually, down to below the house. Bradley had always hated sharing a room with that door - he sometimes wondered, in the clutches of night when sleep was nowhere to be found, if a monster lived down there. Down below the house. 

His mommy had left daddy with nothing more than a few hundred dollars, the Pinto, and their son. 

"But you're all I need," his father had said a few times following the divorce, and the sentiment was usually followed by a tousling of the young boy's fine blond hair. "We don't need a fancy house or new car to be happy." 
In short, this old house was all they could afford. Usually it was okay, and Bradley had even found a few neat old crooks and crannies to explore, but the small door leading to the crawl-space gave him the creeps. Yes sir. 

After daddy had sprayed some smelly gunk around the door that smelled pretty P.U. to Bradley, he inspected the wall closely to make sure all the bugs were killed, gave his son a hug, and told him there was nothing else to be scared of. 
"What if more come out?" he asked, his blue eyes large with fear and anxiety. He didn't believe in things that didn't exist; at seven he was already a precarious boy with an incredible depth of mental perception. He knew it was silly and a waste of time to fear things like Big Foot and Dracula and things in the closet, but he'd prefer never finding out if he was wrong about their existence or not. As well, it wasn't so much what was BEHIND the small door in his bedroom that scared him so badly; it was the thought of the door itself. 

"I think I got 'em all, but if you see anything else, you can come get me. You'll be safe, big guy."
The father tucked his son back into bed, reached over, and turned off the lamp. 
"Goodnight, son."
"Goodnight, dad." 
Daddy moved toward the bedroom door in the darkness. Out of the corner of his eye, Bradley saw a quick flash of red dart from in front of his closet door to his father. It looked like eyes - wild, nearly feral eyes. Clean air left the small bedroom and was replaced with a stench, like cow flop in August and animal fur. An angry, beastly roar like none Bradley had ever heard or dreamed of mixed with his daddy's cries of pain and shock. The young boy was paralyzed in bed. He couldn't move. He could only watch. 
Then: silence.

Bradley was taken in by his daddy's younger sister Kathy, a fat woman who became a church freak in despair of her big brother's death. The coroner reported the cause of death was a heart attack, and the boy never said a word about it otherwise. No one ever believes a kid, anyway. 
Kathy had two boys, and they were both unbearable. They were a little older than Bradley and used every opportunity to beat up on the younger boy, rip his homework, call him names. They once stuck gum in his hair and the fine blond his father had once lovingly tousled was now gone. The shaved head made Bradley look older, but that didn't matter to Twiddle-Dee and Twiddle-Dum - they still harassed him to no end. At least his aunt and uncle had a big house, so the boy could hide away from his cousins occasionally and work on his studies or his stories. He loved writing, but never seemed to find the time to write. 
And in the years that went by, he almost never thought of the animal 
(a monkey it was a monkey i think) 
that had been in his room. Or the spiders, for that matter. 

His aunt loved her God and forced her whole family to participate in the loving, too. Despite her boys' (and sometimes husband's) arguments against church, they were always one of the first in the church-house and one of the last to leave. Right side, third pew from the front. It was like clock-work. 
During worship one morning, Bradley had to pee. He tugged on his aunt's dress-sleeve, whispered in her ear his problem, and she grudgingly let him out of the pew to go to the bathroom. The boy, now ten, shambled awkwardly to the door that gave on the foyer, and to the left the mens'. Already unzipping his fly, he threw the door open and almost slipped in something. For a moment, he thought it was urine, but even a passing glance proved it to be red - almost maroon, but not quite yet. There was a man lying in front of the urinal. His eyes were glazed over, staring at nothing, but the rest of his face was gone, as well as his throat and left arm. 
The monkey was in the stall. He could hear what sounded like chewing. 

Bradley immediately stumbled out, trying to be silent but failing miserably. He hasn't thought of the animal - this THING - in a while, almost a day. But here it was, in the living flesh. From within the bathroom, the boy heard the squeak of the stall door and he found the strength to run. He ran out the front doors into the parking lot, and threw himself beneath the first car he saw. He wanted to stay hidden because he knew the monkey was after him. He had to be! 
From inside the church, among the sound of the organ and the choir proclaiming how they'll fly away o glory, the panting, sweaty boy who's church suit was now ruined from crawling around under this car but didn't care that much heard popping noises . . . a whoosh of flame . . . and the sudden explosion of the church falling in on itself. He closed his eyes, counted to three, and opened them again, praying that had just been in his imagination. 
It wasn't. 
He knew it was dangerous to crawl out from under the car because of possible flying shrapnel or his aunt discovering what had happened to his suit, but he had to know. He had to SEE. 
The church, or what remained of it, was aflame. 
From in the distance, the warbling of a fire-truck siren. One of the neighbors must have called and reported the tragedy. 
Color and sound swam away from Bradley in a rush. He was out before he hit the pavement. 

The actor president gave way to the guy from Texas, and he gave way to the saxophone player from Arkansas. Bradley, the small boy who once witnessed his father's death and the deaths of his aunt, uncle, cousins, and an entire congregation, drifted. He would live with a family member, things wouldn't work out (Bradley's sullen attitude usually had a lot to do with that), and he'd eventually be carted off to someone else. He became withdrawn and made merely average grades in school. He graduated high school with nearly straight C's on his last report card. He had his fair share of girlfriends - his fine blond hair that had once again grown in, his blue eyes, and muscular, toned body made him a hit with the ladies. Unfortunately, he was a bit repulsed by the thought of sex and usually broke things off when things got too heated. He was too introverted and world-wary to let people in, especially girls. 

He started school at the local community college using his father's insurance money, and even sometimes still wrote stories, but only when he was really drunk. He had had dreams once of becoming a famous author or maybe an English teacher, but his job at K-Mart was getting him by just fine. 

He rented a run-down apartment in the lower end of town, the town that he had never wanted to stay in but couldn't seem to leave. The apartment brought back memories of the old house, his small bedroom, his father, the spiders, the
way his father still took the time to tuck him in even after the divorce and he felt like he would always be alone. No worries, dad. Looks like the monkey took care of ya. He got your back. Good thing he didn't rip it off.

Speaking of the monkey, he hadn't seen that joker in quite a while. It had been years! He might have seen him in the shadows behind a street-lamp one night when Bradley had to thumb it home because the transmission in his bucket of bolts had gone to auto heaven. But he had blinked a few times, and the beast was gone. He hadn't been there at all. Bradley was a little disappointed, tell the truth and shame the devil. That monkey was perhaps his only friend in the world - the only link he had to his childhood - and it was high time he came back. Bradley wanted to chat with him. He wanted to talk about the old days - the days before the crappy apartment in this run-down town and the dead-end job. 

These thoughts weren't completely alien. Usually when they snuck in, Bradley drowned them out with booze. Sometimes he even found happiness at the bottom of the bottle, but happiness is fleeting. The drifter soon dropped out of college, became a regular face in the honky tonks on the dark street corners, and a made a friend. Her name was Mandy. She hooked Bradley up with cocaine, and soon he became hooked on the stuff. He hoped one day his mind would finally skitter over the edge and his heart would take a flying leap out of his chest. He had a monkey on his back 
(ha-ha I know all about monkeys that's a riot) 
 It would be worlds better than this eternal loneliness and almost thinking he could see the monkey on buses and in crowds. 

Bradley eventually made it out if his home-town and somehow drifted up to New York City. He sometimes thought about tracking down his mother, but figured it'd be better to let sleeping dogs lie. He found friends in the pigeons - they talked to him, and most importantly, they listened. They never scrutinized or treated him like a bum, even if he sorta knew he was one. 

Over the next few weeks and months, tales of people getting murdered began to circulate. It was happening nearby, sometimes in the park where Bradley spent most of his nights. Days, too, for that matter. Cops began hanging around more, and if he could still afford dope, Bradley would certainly have bugged out. Sadly, the having no money method of rehabilitation had turned him into a bitter, paranoid, and yet, sober man. His face was cracked with age, he was balding, and a permanent cloud of stench always hung around him. He was a long call away from the guy who had attracted so many girls in the late 80s and early 90s. 

Women were strangled, raped, and killed. Men were robbed and mauled. They were found stuffed in ditches, buried in landfills. One elderly woman's severed head was found by her neighbor in his garbage can outside. The body count rose into the hundreds in only a few short months. The NYCPD was frantic, trying to grab the case by the tail. Who could do such a thing? It surely wasn't just one person - it must be a group of people, but all with specific instructions - each murder had similar enough characteristics that they couldn't NOT be related. The investigation went on, energized but seemingly more hopeless with each slaughtered body that was recovered.

The new millennium was rung in and the Twin Towers fell. Bradley watched from a couple of miles away. He hadn't felt such a rush since his drug years, and was therefore held rapt by the flying shrapnel and people visibly jumping from the burning buildings. He could almost smell cooking flesh in the air, and it made him crave barbeque. It was at that moment Bradley felt a light tapping on his shoulder. He turned and stared into the hideous, ageless monkey. What once would have been unbridled fear was now calm tranquility. It felt like a homecoming. 
He smiled. 
"Hey, old friend. Been up to your old tricks again?" 

The now-middle-aged man blinked once, only because the morning sun was in his eyes. He opened them and saw the monkey wasn't there, had never been there after all. 
But Bradley sure was.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Cell: Initial Thoughts

Yesterday was a slow day at work, so I began my first re-read of Stephen King's 2006 novel Cell. (Don't worry - reading at work is allowed!) I remembered me thinking after finishing my initial reading of it that I thought it was kinda crappy, which is something I hate feeling about any SK book . . . but no author is perfect. However, I had just finished Mr. Mercedes and wanted another fast-paced thriller from my main man Sai King, so Cell was up.

I'm happy to report I'm enjoying it much more this time around.

I guess I wasn't in the right frame of mind when I first read it - I was in eleventh grade, and in the middle of stressing over finals, if I remember correctly. Definitely not the right time to delve into any book. I was able to plow through 150 pages yesterday almost uninterrupted, and it was nice - who doesn't like being paid to read their favorite author? Ha. The characters are coming off the page a little more for me, whereas last time they just seemed like caricatures. That is especially true for Alice, the teenage girl in the story - last time, she got in the way for me, but now I see the point of her being.

I'll probably post a full-length review of Cell this weekend if I finish reading tonight, and if I get time to write it up before my vacation. I can definitely say that while the story is kind of cheesy b-movie horror material, it's a good deal of fun and I can't wait to tell you all about my experience with Clay, Tom, Jordan, Alice, The Head, and all those phone-crazies.

Mr. Mercedes: A Tastey Treat from the King of Horror

I guess I'll never finish my analysis of Hearts in Atlantis . . . oh, well. Maybe someday. Let it be known that it was a good reread, and maybe I'll finish writing about it for all of you.

Anyway, I'm here today to talk about the latest novel from Stephen King, my favorite author (obviously). Here's the full American book-jacket:

Pretty neat, isn't it? I especially dig that ice cream truck - I might have to make an edit of that for this blog's banner! 

You can check out the summary of the story on the book's jacket, so I'm not going to rehash that. This is a post for my initial thoughts on the story. I might come back later and edit some stuff, because my views and opinions of King novels tend to change in the time between first read and second read. Fair warning to any and all who haven't finished it yet: this might get a bit spoiler-y. I'll try to be considerate, but some stuff's gonna slip out - maybe I won't put my foot in my mouth or embarrass myself in the process, but that simply comes with the territory! 

So, did I like this book? Oh, yes. I liked it a LOT. 

The opening chapter is rather downbeat and pessimistic - in an unnamed city in the mid-west, out-of-work hopefuls line up for the opening of a job fair in the wee hours of the morning. While the crowd swells into the hundreds and thousands, we meet three immediately likeable people: Augie Odenkirk (what a name!), Janice Cray, and her baby Patricia. The characters are drawn with King's usual deftness and loving touch, and the reader is immediately drawn in - who are these people? Why do they not have jobs? One immediately begins to hope things turn up for all three as they interact with one another. Their thoughts about the economy are thoughts we've all had, albeit they've been hit harder by it than a lot of people, including myself. However, we truly relate to these people, and we wanna see 'em win one. 

I knew before-hand what the beginning of the novel consisted of, hence why it's called Mr. Mercedes. But I didn't want it to happen to these three! In only a few pages, King illustrates these characters astoundingly, bringing them to life in the way only truly talented authors can. Surely they won't be killed. Maybe injured, but not killed. Sadly, that is not the case. Soon after we meet these people, out of the fog comes a gray Mercedes. Without any warning, it plows into the large crowd of desperadoes, killing or injuring many. That includes Augie, Janice, and Patrcia.

What an opening. 

Immediately after, we are introduced to Detective Hodges, a retiree who now spends his days planted in front of daytime television, getting fat, and occasionally holding his father's gun or putting it in his mouth. He was the main detective on the Mercedes Killer case, and it was never solved. He retires soon after, only to live a life of meaninglessness. The mail arrives, and it includes a letter from said killer. "Dear Detective Hodges," it reads, "I have to tell you how much fun it was." The letter, written by the "perk", is meant to push Hodges into committing suicide, but it instead has the opposite impact - it drives Hodges to do something, which is more than he's done in quite a while. After having lunch with his old investigation partner, he begins to investigate. 

Who is the "perk", anyway? That, ladies and gentlemen, is Brady Hartsfield - one of King's scariest and most effective villains. Perhaps he's so chilling because he's so . . . normal. He has two jobs - one at an electronics store and one as the ice cream man (he uses the ice cream truck as a means to spy on Hodges in the retired man's own home). His physical features are described as "ordinary" - he's someone you'd pass on the street without a second glance. Aside from the fact that he has a sexual relationship with his mother, killed his little brother when they were young children with the assistance of good 'ole Mom, used a Mercedes to run down a crowd of defenseless people, let his mom choke on her own vomit and die, and has plans to kill literally thousands of people (including himself), he's pretty much just like any average Joe. 

What's most fascinating about this guy is he's crazy and he knows it. He uses that to his advantage. He's not afraid of risks, and if something he plans happens to fail . . . he doesn't really let it faze him. He's cold and calculating, and I think he might be King's scariest villain since Annie Wilkes. It might be too early to make such a statement, but that's how I feel in my gut. 

Another interesting thing about the novel is the usage of technology for good and evil. In the 70s and 80s, all of King's stories that had technology as the focus (The Tommyknockers, "Trucks", "The Mangler", Maximum Overdrive) were paranoid and distrusting. Heck, even Cell and Under the Dome were like that. In recent years, however, King seems to be more willing to write about the usage of technology for good, which is fitting - his stories are like time-capsules, and we've never used technology more than we do right now. The villain uses an internet site for anonymous chatting to talk to Hodges, and that's how the two communicate. Computer and cell phone usage really help propel the story forward, and unlike in Doctor Sleep, it doesn't feel quite so intrusive - it feels much more natural. I've read some reviewers refer to this novel as a "techno-thriller", and that's a good term for it, I'd say.

So, what about the peripheral characters? Sure, the main characters are definitely Hodges and Brady, and they are the most interesting, but the other characters are worth looking at, too. I particularly like Jerome, Hodge's lawn-care boy/computer expert guy/friend (Hodges is a bit slow with technology, which I can kind of relate to!). Jerome is a near-brilliant seventeen-year-old headed for Harvard, and he has a heart of gold to boot. He might be King's best-realized African American character, if only for the fact that Jerome acknowledges he's black, isn't afraid to be self-deprecating about it, and doesn't let his skin color define him. Other characters I quite enjoyed reading about were Holly (basically an improved second-run at Amanda from Lisey's Story) and her cousin (and Hodge's love interest) Janey, who you just can't help but love. These characters are a bit two-dimensional, but that's okay with me - this novel is all about story story story! Too much character development could have very possibly ruined the book.

I would like to say more, but I fear I've spoiled enough as it is. I'm afraid someone who hasn't finished the book yet might stumble across this, so I suppose I'll wrap it up. This is one of King's fastest-paced stories - it seems to reward quick reading. I got it after work on Tuesday and finished it Wednesday night. Keep in mind I had class on Wednesday and also visited with family, so I hope that tells you something. Once this book is picked up, it's hard to put it down. I had to occasionally, but I couldn't wait to pick it up again! A story that starts with a brutal mass murder in a car and ends with people you've grown to know and love, this one shows King firing on all cylinders forty years into his incredible career. While there have been crime elements in several of his novels throughout the years, this is Sai King's first true cat-and-mouse suspense thriller, and it's a genre he does swimmingly in. From the Mercedes Killer's letter to Hodges to the nail-biting climax (one of King's tensest moments EVER!!!!!!) to the ending that resolves everything quite well, this is a winner worth every penny you'll spend on it. I wasn't sure if I'd love Mr. Mercedes, but I was left satisfied.

That's what she said.