Published March 13, 2017
Published March 13, 2017
Published February 20, 2017
(This profile of Stephen King – written by yours truly – was originally published on my old Examiner.com Profile page, which is since defunct. That’s fine by me – that site had turned into a damned tabloid, and I’m lucky to have salvaged this biography intact. Minor changes have been made since the original 2009 posting.)
Where does one begin to discuss “America’s Favorite Boogeyman,” the man who is a brand-name publishing sensation unto himself? Why at the beginning, of course. But the prospect of cramming this long life and prolific career into a short biography is daunting. Nay, even scary. Then again … Stephen King would probably want it that way.
Stephen Edwin King was born in Portland, Maine on September 21st, 1947 – the only natural child of Donald King, a “door-to-door Electrolux salesman,” and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King, a homemaker. Before Stephen’s birth, the Kings had been told that Ruth could not bear children, so they adopted a boy and named him David. A few years later, they were happily surprised when Ruth became pregnant with Steve. Well … Ruth was happy. Donald, on the other hand, went out for a pack of cigarettes when Steve was two-years-old, and was never seen or heard from again. Ruth had to scramble fast to support her sons, and hence worked a number of jobs.
After moving across the country a few times (Wisconsin, Indiana, Connecticut), the Kings returned to Durham, Maine when Steve was eleven. Steve’s maternal grandparents were becoming too elderly to care for themselves, so Ruth King took it on herself to care for them (which she did until their deaths) – after their passing, she worked in food service at Vineland a local facility for mentally-challenged residents. Always a voracious reader, Ruth King encouraged the same in her sons, and both Dave and Steve were often wont to be seen with their nose buried in a paperback (when, of course, they weren’t down at the local movie house, taking in the latest sci-fi or horror B-picture).
Stephen attended Durham Elementary School and Lisbon High School. It was at the latter where Steve, totally enthralled by the movies he was seeing, decided to write short “novelizations” of them, and sell them to family and friends for a quarter a pop. When a teacher caught him doing this at school, he was stopped immediately, and made to return his profits. Steve had copied the stories on an old manual drum-press that his brother David kept in the basement, and which he “lathered up with the world’s stinkiest, oogiest ink.” Dave cranked out (literally) his own “newspaper” on this erstwhile mimeograph, a combination “family newsletter and small-town bi-weekly” which he called Dave’s Rag. Steve would become a frequent contributor to the homemade publication, doing editorials, movie reviews and serialized short stories. Steve also wrote for the school paper, The Drum, where his unique sense of humor often caused much controversy. Two things were obvious about Steve in early adolescence: A) he was extremely tall for his age, already standing over 6 feet tall. B) Steve was obviously an imaginative writer, but he had yet to find his niche.
When Steve was 13, he visited the nearby house of an aunt and uncle – digging around in their attic, he found something that would forever alter the course of his life: a box filled with old paperbacks, mostly horror and science fiction, left (ironically) by his deadbeat father. While many of the titles were by more antiquated authors like Stoker and Lovecraft, Steve read them all enthralled. He went on to discover these writers’ more contemporary counterparts like Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, who taught Steve that the “things that go bump in the night” were much scarier in contemporary American settings. Steeped in the pulp fiction of the 50s and 60s, everything from TV, movies and EC Comics, Steve had, indeed, found his niche … even though it would be years before his work was printed on anything other than an old mimeograph, and priced higher than a quarter. This moribund interest was also viewed with some disdain, as Steve would later comment, “As a kid growing up in rural Maine, my interest in horror and the fantastic wasn’t looked upon with any approval whatsoever – there went young Steve King, his nose either in a lurid issue of ‘Tales From the Vault’ or an even more lurid paper of some sort or other …” Throughout the rest of his high school years, Steve became increasingly isolated, spending more and more time alone, reading and writing. He felt like an outsider at school – a theme which would show up later in many of his books.
After graduating high school in 1966, Steve attended the University of Maine at Orono. Just like high school, Steve was again utilized for the campus newspaper, where he wrote a column called Steve King’s Garbage Truck. Steve was active in student politics, supported the anti-war movement and, to support his schooling, worked in an industrial laundry (which he would later write about in a short story called The Mangler). While at college, Steve sold a short story, The Glass Floor, to Startling Mystery Stories – it was his first professional sale (not counting I Was a Teenage Grave Robber which appeared in the fanzine Comics Review a few months earlier). Steve graduated in 1970 with a B.A. in English and a certificate to teach high school. However, the most important thing Steve took away from college was Tabitha Spruce, a fellow writer whom he met while working in the campus library. They married in January 1971.
Unable to find work as a teacher, Steve continued to work at the laundry. He also wrote (and was unable to sell) several short novels, including Getting It On (aka Rage), The Long Walk, The Running Man, and the first part of a proposed seven-part epic called The Dark Tower (kind of The Lord of the Rings meets The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly). The rejection slips piled up, and Steve later said of this period: “I began to have long talks with myself at night about whether or not I was chasing a fool’s dream.” Occasionally he sold a short story to men’s magazines like Cavalier, Swank or Dude. By the end of 1971, Steve was hired to teach high school English at Hampden Academy in Hampden Maine – he earned $6,400 per year. The Kings lived in a trailer at this point, and had two kids, a daughter, Naomi, and a son, Joe. Money was tight, to put it mildly, and when the occasional three digit check from the “girlie books” came, it was usually just in time to buy medicine or diapers for the kids.
Discouraged, Steve began work on an unusual story born from two different ideas: adolescent cruelty and telekinesis – the main character, Carrie White, a picked-on girl with no friends and a religious whack-job of a mother, was also possessed of burgeoning extrasensory powers. After only a few pages, Steve, convinced he was writing way out of his element, crumpled it up and threw it away. Later, while Tabitha was cleaning, she discovered the pages, read them, and encouraged Steve to continue. Steve did, and ended up with a 25,000 word novella, too long to sell as a short story, and and too short to be considered a novel. Steve considered the unpublishable book to be “the world’s all- time loser.”
In January of 1973, Steve submitted Carrie to Doubleday Publishing. Within a few months, after rewriting the novel per the suggestions of editor William Thompson, it sold for an advance of $2,500. The Kings did not have a phone, so Thompson had to send a telegram. While wondering what to do next, Steve and Tabitha moved to Bangor. While that publishing advance helped, it was a pittance compared to what happened next. By May of that same year, New American Library purchased the paperback rights to Carrie for $400,000 (half of which went to the original publisher). Of this, Steve later said, “To say that Tabby and I were flabbergasted by this news would be to understate the case – there may be no word in English capable of stating our reactions exactly.”
While waiting for Carrie to be published, Steve sent his editor two other novels in progress: Blaze and Second Coming. Both agreed the latter was the better of the two, and Steve promptly finished it with a new title: ‘Salem’s Lot. During this time, Steve’s mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer the previous year, died on December 18th, 1973. Ruth King never got to see her son’s massive success, but she was able to hold a “galley” copy of Carrie and have it read to her.
After this, the Kings up and moved to Boulder, Colorado, where, after visiting the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Steve was inspired to write The Shining (click the link for much more about this). They stayed there less than a year, before returning to Maine, and Steve finished two more books, The Stand and The Dead Zone. After moving yet again, this time to England, the Kings returned stateside after only three months, where they bought homes in Center Lovell and Orrington (near Bangor), and Steve began a brief tenure teaching creative writing at his alma mater. Their third child, Owen, was born in 1977.
Book sales for Carrie were not stellar, although the reviews were good. It wasn’t until the film rights were sold, and director Brian De Palma turned Carrie into a hit movie in 1976 that Steve got the publishing boost he needed … indeed into the stratosphere. Over the next few years, Steve would redefine what it meant to be a best-selling author. His prolific output during these early years included Carrie (1974), ‘Salem’s Lot (1975), The Shining (1977), The Stand (1978), Night Shift (1978 – short stories), The Dead Zone (1979), Firestarter (1980), Cujo (1981), Danse Macabre (1981 – nonfiction), The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (1982), Different Seasons (1982 – four novellas, including Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption), Christine (1983), Pet Sematary (1983), The Talisman (1984 – cowritten with Peter Straub), Thinner (1984 – as Richard Bachman), Skeleton Crew (1985 – more short stories), The Bachman Books (1985 – four early novels published under the Bachman pseudonym), IT (1986), The Eyes of the Dragon (1987), Misery (1987), The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three (1987), and The Tommyknockers (1988).
After 14 years as a brand name writer, after having film directors as respected as Stanley Kubrick, David Cronenberg, and Rob Reiner turn his books into cinematic masterpieces, and after becoming the richest writer in the world, Stephen King had the world by the tail. He had also, in this time, developed a bad case of alcoholism and drug addiction. According to Steve’s memoir On Writing (2000), his family and friends staged an intervention and, after seeking help, Steve cleaned up. He has remained clean and sober ever since.
Over the next ten years, Steve continued to churn out books like a man possessed. Titles include The Dark Half (1989), The Stand: the Complete & Uncut Edition (1990), Four Past Midnight (1990 – four novellas), Needful Things (1991), The Dark Tower III: The Wastelands (1991), Gerald’s Game (1992), Dolores Claiborne (1993), Nightmares & Dreamscapes (1993 – short stories), Insomnia (1994), Rose Madder (1995), The Green Mile (1996 – originally published as a six-part serial), Desperation (1996), The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass (1997), Bag of Bones (1998), Storm of the Century (1999 – a teleplay), The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999), and Hearts in Atlantis (1999).
Then, on June 19th, 1999, it almost all came to an end. Steve was walking the shoulder of Route 5 in Center Lovell, Maine, when a van driven by Bryan Smith, struck him and knocked him into a ditch about 14 feet away. When help arrived, and Steve was taken to the hospital, his injuries were listed as a collapsed right lung, multiple fractures of his right leg, scalp laceration and a broken hip. Five operations over ten days, and intense physical therapy helped Steve return home – but his hip was still shattered and he couldn’t sit at his computer without experiencing intense pain. Later, after his healing had progressed a bit, Steve purchased Smith’s van for $1,500 (to prevent it from appearing on eBay), and had it crushed at a junkyard after he had beat the crap out of it with a baseball bat. When Steve did return to writing, he began by polishing up a memoir he had almost completed before the accident, entitled On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000), and Dreamcatcher (2000), the latter of which he worked on longhand, with pen and pad.
Following this, Steve published Black House (2001 – sequel to The Talisman, co-written with Peter Straub), From a Buick 8 (2002), Everything’s Eventual (2002 – short stories), The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla (2003), The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah (2004), and The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (2004). In 2003, after finally wrapping up his 30-year Dark Tower saga, Steve announced to the world that he was retiring, and would not publish any more books. Said retirement didn’t last long, however, and the ensuing years brought Cell (2006), Lisey’s Story (2006), Blaze (2007 – another early “Bachman” novel), Duma Key (2008), and Just After Sunset (2008 – short stories).
In 1996, Stephen King won an O. Henry Award for his short story The Man in the Black Suit. In 2003, he received The National Book Foundation Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, where his work was described thusly: Stephen King’s writing is securely rooted in the great American tradition that glorifies spirit-of-place and the abiding power of narrative. He crafts stylish, mind-bending page-turners that contain profound moral truths – some beautiful, some harrowing – about our inner lives. This Award commemorates Mr. King’s well-earned place of distinction in the wide world of readers and book lovers of all ages. Though a few of the elite balked, other authors (such as Orson Scott Card) quickly came to his defense. In his acceptance speech, Steve said, “I salute the National Book Foundation Board, who took a huge risk in giving this award to a man many people see as a rich hack.”
In August of 2007, while Steve was visiting a bookstore in Alice Springs, Australia, he was mistaken for a vandal. Unceremoniously signing his own books, a customer reported that a vandal was scribbling in paperbacks in the fiction section.
Recent works by the author include Full Dark, No Stars (2010), Joyland (2013), Doctor Sleep (2013), Mr. Mercedes (2014), Revival (2014), Finders Keepers (2015), The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (2015), and End of Watch (2016).
Stephen and Tabitha King now divide their time between Maine and Florida – they provide scholarships for local high school students and contribute to many other local and national charities. Of their three children, daughter Naomi Rachel is a minister, and sons Joe Hill and Owen Phillip are both writers. Between them, they have given Steve and Tabby three grandchildren.
With over 70 books published over four decades, an estimated 350 million copies sold, Stephen King holds the record as the best-selling author of the 20th century.
Stephen King quotes:
“I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.”
“I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.”
“People want to know why I do this, why I write such gross stuff. I like to tell them I have the heart of a small boy … and I keep it in a jar on my desk.”
“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”
“The author who influenced me the most as a writer was Richard Matheson.”
“I know writers who claim not to read their notices, or not to be hurt by the bad ones if they do, and I actually believe two of these individuals. I’m one of the other kind – I obsess over the possibility of bad reviews and brood over them when they come. But they don’t get me down for long; I just kill a few children and old ladies, and then I’m right as a trivet again.”
“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
Recommended books about Stephen King:
The Stephen King Companion by George Beahm
Stephen King: America’s Best-Loved Boogeyman by George Beahm
Feast of Fear: Conversations with Stephen King Tim Underwood and Chuck Miller, editors
Published February 20, 2017
Published August 8, 2016
Published July 11, 2013
While I have made excuses for lapses in posting before, as it has been two weeks shy of a YEAR since my last post, I figured I’d better come up with a good one. Which shan’t be hard, because … while prepping my recently-published (2010) novel BROODING for e-readers, I spent the past year and a half revising it again in what turned into more than a polish and less than a full blown rewrite. Given the book’s scope, controversial themes, and wanting to make it accessible to all … I really just wanted another whack at the thing. While some changes were significant, none take the story in any new directions, but simply clarify plot, rectify bad habits, finesse the balance of the disparate subject matter, and better pave the way for Book II – which IS coming.
I have decided to post the first few chapters online for those who wish to sample this novel before laying down $22.95 for an over-sized paperback. (If that price seems high, understand this book is the same size as a hardback, is 664 pages long, and weighs about 3 pounds. You WILL get your money’s worth.) You can check these out by starting with the PROLOGUE.
So THAT’s what I’ve been up to. If I go any significant amount of time before posting again, it is because I am on the road promoting this book. I will let you know when and where.
Until next time, so long, farewell, and – as always – don’t take any shit from anybody!
Published July 11, 2013
Want a taste of BROODING before commiting to a purchase? I have decided to post the first few chapters online to better whet your appetite. I will provide links at the end of each to the next chapter, and to Amazon and my e-Store. Previous chapters can be found here.
Susan Davis was well into her teens before she began to suspect that her home life wasn’t typical. These suspicions were not born from frequent contact with other girls – always home schooled, Susan didn’t have contact with other girls. Since her mother also saw to her religious training (they never again attended any church on a regular basis after Eddie was murdered at Trinity Methodist), Susan had no other examples by which she could compare her existence. Not even TV. Grace was as phobic regarding the negative influence television might have on Susan as she was with the public school system, and controlled what the girl viewed with her trademark dictatorial fervor.
Susan’s first suspicions that her life wasn’t normal were the result of the one real window to the outside world her mother did eventually allow: books. Yet even these were obsessively monitored; God forbid there be any profanity, violence, or – the ultimate taboo – sexuality in these stories. Only works by Grace-approved authors were allowed in the house. It was in this area that Susan committed her first act of rebellion. The only reason she did was that after so many years, even Susan, who coexisted in this vacuum, had to admit that her mother’s mental elevator might not go all the way to the top floor.
Grace Davis may have started to lose her mind before her husband’s death, but after, the woman’s oft-demented behavior increased exponentially. In the wake of Eddie’s murder, Susan never saw her mother shed one tear for him. Given the fact that he had been unfaithful, Grace’s feelings were best summed up by the manner of funeral arrangements she made for him: pine box nouveau.
By the time Susan’s suspicions regarding her mother’s mental health began to kick in, serious damage had already been done to the girl’s psyche. For too many years, by word and by deed, Grace had tattooed Susan’s soul with the assured belief that she was as inconsequential as … well … as one of her dolls.
The Davis home was more lovely than any dollhouse Susan had ever seen. For all of her life – but especially after her father’s passing – Susan saw her mother spare no expense in residential restoration. Even Susan’s room was like something out of a fairy tale or a dream. It was bright, cheery, bursting with dolls, toys, games, and other colorful distractions, and contained a four-poster bed as massive and fluffy as a Neverland cloud. ‘Twas a room fit for a princess. It was many years before the façade began to tatter and fray, but even when Susan was little, she had glimpses of the ugly truth behind the carnival tent.
Once, in her last year of single digits, Susan was playing with one of her dolls in one of her royal dollhouses, when an adult thought occurred to her, so fascinating, she couldn’t wrap her intellect around it. She realized how easy it was to make the plastic angel do her bidding: she could make her skip, play, kiss, hide, sit, get dressed, she could even lock her in her room if she so desired.
She was the one manipulating the little doll. Cocking her head as the insight flirted with her, she realized that her mom was doing the same thing to her. Mommy has got a dollhouse, too, she thought. And … I’m her dolly. She became quite upset after that, and proceeded to punish the doll she held by beating it against her dresser until the head popped off. “Bad, bad dolly,” Susan said. “You’d better put your head back on before people see you. What kind of person will everyone think I am if they see you walking around with your head off?” Susan had laughed at that … but for some reason it sounded like she was crying.
When Susan turned sixteen, Grace took her to a local Driver’s License center so she could get her first license. It wasn’t so Susan could have free reign to come and go as she pleased. Rather, it was so the girl could run errands when Grace didn’t feel like leaving the house; which was much more often as the years passed (Grace was fifty-seven the year Susan got her license).
On Fridays, Grace allowed Susan to drive her Cadillac to three approved places: supermarket, drugstore, and library. Grace knew precisely how many miles this round trip took, and regularly checked the mileage on the DeVille’s odometer before and after Susan’s libertarian jaunts.
A few months later, after Grace realized that her daughter had never once varied from the approved destinations on her errand runs, she allowed one more stop to be added to the previous three at Susan’s request: a used book store between the grocery and pharmacy. Susan could have stopped there without asking, and Grace would have never known the difference. The fact that Susan did ask her, informed Grace that her control over her daughter was complete. Grace told Susan that, yes, she could stop at the book store if she so wished; provided the girl show her what books she’d purchased while she was there.
And that’s where Susan’s first act of defiance took root.
Grace didn’t punish Susan often. She didn’t have to. She’d molded the girl to her whims and fancies from birth, without the nuisance of outside influence, and was capable of manipulating her daughter with naught more than a raised brow or a single tear. If every once in awhile the girl needed to be chastened, Grace found that an afternoon or night locked in the attic usually did the trick. The first time this happened, Susan had cried and cried, begging to be let out of the dark and spooky room. Yet, it wasn’t so much the space that scared her, as it was an utter lack of external stimuli. Grace had taught Susan many methods of disassociation, and the fact that the attic was without anything to distract her from her mind – and the horrors she had stuffed in it since she was little – was the most unbearable part of her punishment. Susan vowed to never again let this happen, and thereafter began secretly stocking the attic with books.
There was a tall bookcase in one corner of the attic, slender enough to fit between two wall studs. It was also illusory because it was two-sided; only by pulling it out did one realize it could hold twice the amount as the front. Susan put Grace-approved titles (Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Nancy Drew) in the front of the shelf, but as her love for reading grew, writers of a decidedly darker bent began to fill the veiled backside. Having had a fascination with thrillers ever since the preacher’s son at Trinity Methodist led her away to The Lux to see North by Northwest on the day of her father’s murder (by far her clearest memory of that day), Susan loved any story laden with suspense. The Nancy Drew adventures had their share of thrills, but as she grew older, Susan wanted stories that appealed to her ever maturing tastes.
As she frequented the used book store, Susan could usually be found sitting cross-legged on the floor in the MYSTERY-HORROR-SUSPENSE aisle, enclosed by paperbacks. While the first titles she added to her secret library were anthologies edited by Alfred Hitchcock and written by Richard Matheson, she quickly became enamored of two authors whose stories so oddly mirrored her own existence that she could not read them fast enough: namely Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Susan would read – nay, devour – these books at night, in secret, by flashlight, under the covers, and then stash them up in the attic. Being the most blatant deception she’d ever committed, she actually got quite a kick out of it.
After reading King’s Carrie, The Dead Zone, and IT (all of which featured religiously wacky mother figures), Susan realized her plight wasn’t so unique. Others had suffered under the reckless rule of parents with loose mental screws, and had thus ended up with poor self-images and other psychological defects. Amazingly, these flawed characters were not bad guys, they were the heroes; worthy of empathy and love. When, as adults, they would face down monsters (often metaphors for emotional demons), Susan found herself caring about them, rooting for them. She started to believe she wasn’t the mousy, worthless, ugly duckling her mother made her believe she was. Maybe she mattered, after all. Yes, the Bible told her that Jesus loved her, but … years spent under the twisted rule and warped theology of her mother had rendered such scripture debatable. That brand name “horror” authors could help restore the certitude of her worth as one of God’s beloved children was hilariously ironic, Susan thought.
After she turned seventeen, Susan began to grasp the terrible extent of her mother’s madness, as well as that of her own intrinsic value. Yet even with this recently confirmed wisdom, she wasn’t nearly aware of all the psychological damage that had already been done to her. If she had been, things might have turned out very differently after the carpet layers showed up at the house.
During the first week of September, Susan was eating lunch (grilled cheese and tomato bisque soup) in her mother’s room, when a knock came at the front door.
Grace hadn’t been feeling well today. Though the meal that Susan now ate had been prepared for her mom – to Susan’s dismay (and relief) – she saw upon entering that her mother had knocked herself out. Susan didn’t know what combination of pills Grace had taken, but the drool running out of the side of the woman’s mouth and wetting the pillow below, told Susan all that she needed to know about how long her mother would be unconscious. Grace likely wouldn’t rouse until late afternoon. It was now pushing 12:00.
Susan put down her sandwich, went downstairs, and answered the door.
The man standing on the veranda couldn’t have looked more out of place. The Davis house received few visitors, but those who had previously come had never resembled the rough character standing before her. He looked to be in his mid-forties, with long blond hair tied back in a ponytail, a short beard, tattoos on his arms, and a clipboard in his hand. His attire was simply a clean white tee shirt, blue jeans, and black boots. Yet despite his unpolished exterior, Susan detected no animosity in his eyes, and so inquired, “Can I help you?”
With a disarming smile, the man asked, “Is this the Davis residence?”
“My name is Ty Morehouse,” the man said. “I’m the owner of Carpet Diem.
I have an appointment to re-carpet a room in this house today.”
“I thought that was next week,” Susan replied, recalling that her mother had briefly mentioned she was having the carpet in the parlor replaced. “Nnnooo, it’s today,” the man said, showing her the date on the invoice.
“If this is a bad time, I can reschedule you for another …”
“No, no, it’s fine,” Susan interrupted. Looking behind Ty, she saw a white van parked in front of the house with the words CARPET DIEM writ on the side. With a small smile, she added, “Clever name for your company.”
“Thanks,” Ty said. “It doesn’t quite translate as seize the carpet, it’s more like carpet the day, but I’m glad you got the reference. Too many clients don’t.”
“Did you make it up?” Susan asked.
“No, my nephew did. He’s also my partner.” Ty turned toward the street and called, “Hey Al, hurry up.”
“Coming!” cried the stocky young man retrieving a toolbox from the back of the van. As he came up the walk, Susan saw he was younger than the man on the step (likely only nineteen or twenty), but was dressed in a similar fashion: faded jeans, motorcycle boots, white tee shirt, and a fitted black leather vest. In addition to his long and wavy brown hair, he had well-shaped sideburns, a chopper mustache, and a soul patch under his bottom lip which Susan thought looked both handsome and cool. As he pranced up the porch steps, she also saw he had sensitive hazel eyes which reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t place who … until she recalled what Ty had said his last name was.
“Hi,” the young man said to Susan, stepping next to his Uncle Ty. “I’m Al.”
As Susan’s eyes shimmered a bit, Ty and Al were taken aback. Al cocked his head at the sweet, petite, and familiar girl. He knew her from someplace.
“Al?” Susan asked, trying to stanch her emotion. “Al Morehouse?”
“Yes,” Al began. “Wait a sec. Davis? Are you … Susan Davis?”
Susan nodded, and – far too emotional to question the decorum – went to Al and wrapped her arms around him. Al hugged her back, also fighting tears.
Ty watched this tender exchange … and smiled. He didn’t know what their previous relationship had been, but it had obviously been important.
Al and Susan held onto each other for almost a full minute, neither saying a word. Finally, Susan pulled away and wiped her face. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t know why I’m crying. I hope I didn’t embarrass you.”
“Of course not,” Al replied. “I’ve thought about you a lot over the years.”
Tongue planted in cheek, Ty said, “Let me guess … you know each other.”
“A little bit,” Al told him, unable to take his eyes off of the lovely girl.
Suddenly remembering something that could ruin this tender reunion, he asked Susan, “Is your mom here?”
“Sleeping,” Susan replied with a little grin. “She’ll be out for hours.”
“I’ll tell you what,” Ty spoke. “Susan, kindly point us to the right room if you would. Al, help me to move the furniture out and the new carpet roll in … and you two can visit to your heart’s content. Deal?”
“Deal,” Susan and Al replied at the same time.
Thirty minutes later (as Ty was laying plush white carpet in the parlor), Al and Susan sat next to each other on the front porch swing, sipping iced tea.
“How long have you worked for your uncle?” Susan asked.
“Since I was seventeen,” Al replied. “I’ve lived with him since then, too.”
“You don’t live with your parents anymore?”
Al shook his head. “That’s kind of a long story. I haven’t gotten along with my folks since they booted my uncle out of our basement years ago. He lived in our house for awhile when I was a kid. Come to think of it … it was the night before we went to the movies that day.”
“I love that day,” Susan sighed. “I mean, it was horrible what happened to my dad, but up until then you made me feel …” Susan blushed and looked down at her lap.
“What?” Al gently asked. “I made you feel what?”
“Safe,” Susan answered. “And special.”
“I’m glad,” Al spoke. “Uncle Ty didn’t live with us long, but his influence on me was pretty profound. He’s the one who made me fall in love with movies. I used to get mad that my Dad’s church took such a self-righteous stance against popular entertainment. Hollywood Babylon, you know? They never went so far as to smash records, or CDs, or videos – which to me is way too close to Nazi book burnings – but their attitude was no less sanctimonious. The church board didn’t want my father attending R-rated movies, so Dad – somehow convinced he was being extra super holy – basically forbade his family from all of them. His condemnation of the medium was absolute. When that’s all it is: a medium. I mean, when Jesus wanted to make a point to His disciples, how did He do it?”
Susan thought for a moment, then said, “He told stories.”
“Exactly. Filmmaking is just a medium for storytelling. And when my dad would pronounce his supreme judgment on it from the pulpit, church turned into a place where I couldn’t even be myself. And if you can’t be yourself at church, what’s the point? My parents laid down such autocratic standards, the only escape I could find was at the movies. Then they condemned me for that, too! After awhile, I couldn’t take it anymore. It all came to a head when I enrolled in a film class during my senior year of high school. The entire grade was dependent on a short film we were supposed to make. My little movie got me an ‘A’ for the course, but also cemented my estrangement from my parents.”
“My film was a montage of images depicting religious hypocrisy through the ages. Some of my examples included the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Bakker and Swaggart sex scandals, molestation in the church, the shooting of abortion doctors, purported Christians at pro-gay rallies holding hate signs, bling-flashing, money-grubbing televangelists, etc. All this set to the strains of They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love. I knew it was controversial. That was my intention. I thought juxtaposing those disparate sights and sounds would make a potent statement about the sorry state of the modern-day church, and how far it’s fallen away from Jesus’ teachings, preachings, and beatitudes. It was absolutely meant to be seen as irony. My parents didn’t see it that way.”
Susan had never heard anybody express so clearly something she’d vaguely felt for so long. She already held a special place in her heart for Al, but the more he spoke, the more fascinated she became. For some reason, Susan didn’t think her mother would hold the same opinion. “Is that when you moved out?”
“Yes. My folks sent my brother to medical school in New England, paying for his tuition out of an account they had built up for years for our education. Around this time – just before graduation – I expressed my desire to attend film school in either Los Angeles or New York. Long story short, they refused. They told me this vocation had too much corruption, sin, and Godlessness – fast cars, hard drugs, and loose women – for them to pay the tab on what would surely be their son’s moral downfall. It was the last straw. So I left. I showed up on my uncle’s doorstep with a duffel bag, and I’ve been living with him ever since.”
“Are you still going to go to film school?”
“Believe me, I’d love to. But I don’t know how I’d afford it. Or even retain what I might learn, given some of my current extracurricular activities.”
Not understanding, Susan was about to ask him to explain, but …
“Besides, I am in film school,” Al went on, “and have been since I was ten. In fact, I’ve got a class tomorrow morning. I’d be honored if you would join me.”
“Join you? Where?”
“Why, The Lux, of course. They’ve got a James Dean fest playing this week. East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant. Uncle Ty said I could have the day off. Care to accompany me?”
As gears whirred and meshed in Susan’s mind, she saw how it could work. “Tomorrow’s Friday,” she replied. “That’s the day I run errands for my mother. I might not be able to watch all three films, but could I come for just one or two?”
“Sure,” Al grinned. “Meet me there a little before eleven o’clock. It’ll be just like … old times.” His voice cracked with emotion on those last two words.
Susan heard it, and – realizing there was a tenderhearted man under this rough exterior – simply took his hand, leaned over, and placed her head on his shoulder. It might have been awkward with anyone else, but the bond between them was as powerful as it was old. They sat that way for a good little while, silence speaking volumes. Al knew he had something he needed to tell Susan, but perhaps this wasn’t the right time.
When Ty came outside, Al and Susan quickly resumed their former posture.
Looking at Susan, Ty had a brief-but-powerful flash in his mind of two simple words: borrowed time. Whether this was simple intuition, or some sort of Godly insight, this was not the first instance of such. It was not unusual for Ty to get feelings about people (and their motives), or events (and their meanings), that were usually as reliable (and eerie) as they were inexplicable. He didn’t talk about it much. Truth told, it made him more than a little uncomfortable. He didn’t know what the words borrowed time had to do with this sweet girl – couldn’t be anything good – but rather than brood on the mystery, he simply said, “All done. Al, will you help me with the furniture?”
“Sure, Uncle Ty.”
After Al and Ty replaced the parlor furnishings, Ty asked Susan what she wanted done with the old carpet (which was still in good shape). Susan asked if they would mind storing it in the attic. They agreed. Going to the second floor – ensuring her mother was still out cold – Susan led Al and Ty to a door at the front end of the house. A narrow staircase, between inner and outer walls, led to the garret. As the men placed the bulky roll against the wall opposite Susan’s bookcase, Al noted, “A person could make a pretty cool studio up here.”
“I concur,” Susan told him.
Later, outside, Ty gave Susan a copy of the invoice he’d shown her before, and said, “Don’t worry about paying us now, I’ll just send your mother a bill.” Susan looked extremely relieved at this. Ty didn’t know why, but Al did.
To Susan, Al said, “Tomorrow. Eleven. The Lux. Yes?”
With a little nod and a sweet smile, Susan replied, “I can’t wait.”
After bidding the lovely girl adieu, Al and Ty hopped in the CARPET DIEM van and drove off to their next appointment.
Smiling more broadly than she had in years, Susan waved vigorously after them, then went back inside the house.
Grace woke up a few hours later. As she came groggily down the staircase in her robe and slippers, she found Susan reclined on the floral-print sofa in the parlor, reading a book. The room was so resplendent with its new white carpet that Grace was nearly blinded by it.
By now Susan was cognizant of her mother’s mental and emotional games, and had only recently begun playing them herself. It could be dangerous, but she figured anything she could do to get her mother’s focus off who actually laid this rug, and on the fact of its undeniable beauty, was a plus. She had staged this scene carefully and – spotting her cue – Susan smiled, put out her arms, and exclaimed, “Taa-daaah! Notice anything different, Mother?”
Grace’s eyes danced confusedly around the room, but … as her lips slowly grew into a smile, she enthused, “Oh my goodness! This is absolutely gorgeous!” She took off her slippers and walked around barefoot on the luxuriant carpet. “As soft as it is pretty,” she practically sang. “I didn’t think the carpet people were coming till next week, but oooohh, what a wonderful surprise!”
“They were quick, courteous, and extremely professional,” Susan explained, wanting to answer the question before it was asked, while her mother was still within the throes of wall-to-wall ecstasy. “The invoice is on the kitchen table. They said they would mail you a bill.”
“Worth every penny!” Grace exclaimed, curling her toes in the plush nap.
Susan breathed a big sigh of relief and began to relax. She didn’t like to be so deceitful and cunning, but – after all – she learned from the best.
WELL, THERE’S THE FIRST 9 CHAPTERS OF BROODING. ONLY 118 MORE TO GO. HA!
(SINCE I HAVE MADE A FEW MAJOR REVISIONS OVER RECENT YEARS ON BROODING, IF YOU GO TO MY AMAZON PAGE, TO ENSURE GETTING THE LATEST VERSION, ALWAYS BUY NEW. THANKS!)
Published July 11, 2013
Want a taste of BROODING before commiting to a purchase? I have decided to post the first few chapters online to better whet your appetite. I will provide links at the end of each to the next chapter, and to Amazon and my e-Store. Previous chapters can be found here.
By the time Al and Susan arrived, hand in hand, back at Trinity Methodist, it was pushing two o’clock. They both knew they were going to have to answer for their irresponsible actions and explain why they’d left church without a word, but before they even set foot on parking lot asphalt, they thought they were in even more trouble than they had anticipated.
There was one ambulance, two paramedics, three police cars, and four cops in the lot. Flashing lights, steel barricades (holding back countless pedestrian rubberneckers), and yellow tape with CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS printed on it surrounded the perimeter. As Al and Susan ducked under it and walked toward the church, Susan asked, “Are we in trouble, Al? Is this because of us?”
“I don’t think so,” Al told her. “I don’t …”
“There they are! Over there!”
Ruth Morehouse came running at top speed toward her son. Just before she plowed over him, she stopped, squatted, and hugged not just Al, but Susan, too. The woman was crying hard, but Al saw they were tears of relief, not sorrow. Squeezing the kids tight, Ruth asked, “Where were you? Where did you go? Are you okay? Tell me you’re okay.”
“We’re okay,” Al and Susan replied in unison.
“Oh, thank God! Thank God! We thought he’d taken you. We thought …”
“Who?” Al asked. “You thought who took us?”
Ruth looked at Susan, crying anew. “Oh, Susan, I’m so sorry. I’m so very …”
“What happened?” Susan asked. “How come there are policemen here? Did we do something bad? Is this because of me and Al?”
“No,” Ruth said. “It’s not because of you. Although they’ve been looking for you, too. Where did you go?”
Susan looked at Al and asked, “Can I tell her?”
Al nodded; the truth had to come out eventually anyway.
Bravely, Susan stated, “After Sunday school, Al saw how sad I was, so he took me on a date to the movies.”
Ruth laughed at that. Hugging both kids, she said again, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re okay.”
“You mean … you’re not mad?” Al asked.
“Of course, I’m not mad. I don’t know what made you get Susan out of here, but in this case … it was a good thing.”
“Why?” Al and Susan asked, once again in chorus.
Just as Ruth was about to answer, Al’s father came running over. He seemed just as relieved as Ruth had been. “Are they okay?” he asked, kneeling down.
“They’re fine,” Ruth said. “Al took her to the movies.”
David Morehouse embraced both kids.
Al – still furious after Uncle Ty’s eviction – grudgingly accepted the hug.
“Do they know?” David asked his wife.
Ruth shook her head.
David took a deep breath, grasped Susan’s little hands in his big ones, and – with heavy heart and choked voice – said, “Honey, I’m afraid I have some terrible news.”
Susan pulled her hands away from the minister, took a step back toward Al, and took his hand instead. “What is it?” she asked.
“There’s no easy way to tell you this,” David answered, “so … I’ll just tell you. A bad man came here today. After church, he snuck up on your Daddy in the parking lot and … hurt him very bad.”
Susan had repressed much of the previous day’s events, but one thing that stuck with her was the menacing, red-eyed figure that she’d seen in the dark classroom. As she looked over by the police cars, Susan saw what she hadn’t before: staining the sun-faded asphalt was what looked like a large spill of dark blood. With an odd lucidity in her eyes, and a voice far more grave than any eight year old’s should sound, she said, “He’s dead, isn’t he?”
“Yes, sweetheart,” David replied, shocked, “I’m afraid he is.”
As Susan processed this, she stated flatly, “It’s because of Nadja, isn’t it?” The Reverend cocked his head. “Kind of. You know about that?”
“I know my Daddy was doing bad things with her. Is that why he’s …?”
“I think so. After the police came, they asked if I had any suspicions about who would do this. I couldn’t think of anybody. Then I remembered that my brother, Ty, had seen a strange car here last night, with the license plate …”
“GRIM-1,” Al finished.
“You saw him, too?” David asked. “When?”
“Right before I took Susan to The Lux. He was out back by the Dumpsters.” “Oh, Al. Oh, thank God He kept you safe.”
“Who was he, Dad?”
“Nadja’s ex-boyfriend. The police just caught him across town. Apparently he’d stalked her for months, even though she’d filed a restraining … I’m sorry, Susan. You don’t need to hear this.”
Still holding Al’s hand, Susan replied bravely, “It’s the truth. I’m glad I don’t have to have a secret anymore. I’m glad Al took me on a date and made me feel safe. I’m glad …” Her eyes rolled up to whites then, and she began to swoon to the ground.
Al moved quickly – bending down and catching her tiny frame in his arms.
Susan was only out for a moment before she came to again. Looking up at Al, she tried to smile, but was interrupted.
From across the parking lot came the wild cry: “Lemme go! Let go of me!”
Near the ambulance, they saw Susan’s mother struggling madly with the paramedics. They were trying to restrain her, and she was swinging at them like a crazy woman.
“Your mom became frantic when she couldn’t find you after church service,” Ruth told Susan. “I got scared, too, when I realized I couldn’t find Al. We were looking for both of you when we found your dad. After the paramedics arrived, Grace was so overwrought, they gave her a mild sedative, and …”
“Let me go!” Grace Davis screamed one last time.
As the mad woman ran toward them, Susan leaned close to Al and placed a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you,” she said softly. “I’ll never forget you.”
“Susan!” Grace shrieked. “Oh, Susan, Susan!” Picking up her daughter, swinging her around and smothering her face with kisses, “Where were you?” she asked.
Once more, Susan said, “After class, Al saw that I was sad, and so he took me to the movies.”
Instantly shooting hate-dipped arrows from her eyes at the insolent boy (and then recalling who else was standing with them), Grace softened quickly, smiled gratefully, and said, “Thank you, Mister Morehouse, for keeping my precious little angel out of harm’s way.”
Al didn’t know how to reply. He hoped that his parents had just seen the appearance of the witch, but – considering their inability to see any worth in the man they’d kicked out the night before – it was doubtful.
“I’m taking Susan home,” Grace told David and Ruth, again wearing her brilliant mask of saintly geniality.
For a moment, David saw that the woman’s eyes were slightly crossed and rapidly vibrating with a micron of movement. Dementia was the clinical word that popped into his mind and … he was suddenly very worried about the little girl in her arms.
“Thank you for everything,” Grace went on, as if she were leaving a party. “I’m sorry for any inconvenience this might have caused you.”
Inconvenience? David thought, trying to process the absurdity of the word. Good Lord, the woman is demented.
As Grace turned away from them and walked back toward her car, she was stopped by a police officer who, seeing her with her little girl, obviously had more questions now that it was obvious they were dealing with just a murder, and not a murder/kidnapping.
David looked at Al and said, “Ordinarily, you’d be very grounded right now for doing what you did. Especially considering where you took that girl. During church, no less. But under the circumstances, maybe God had you get her out of here. You did good, son.” He put his hand on Al’s shoulder.
“Don’t touch me!” Al cried, jerking away. “I don’t care if you do ground me. After what you did last night to Uncle Ty … I don’t care about anything.” Looking over at Susan – tiny and defenseless next to Broom-Hilda – he thought … except maybe that little girl.
After Grace Davis convinced the policeman that she was coherent enough to drive home (the officer agreed to follow her in his squad car), she loaded Susan into her Cadillac Deville, climbed in herself, started it up, and pulled out of the parking lot. As they quickly drove away, Susan looked at Al through the passenger window and gave him a little wave.
Al waved back – his heart aching in a way he couldn’t explain.
He wouldn’t see Susan Davis again for another nine years.
“Aha!” Goodfellow enthuses. “The plot thickens. Grace Davis – now there is a woman after my own black heart.”
Valiant nods and replies, “Yes, I thought you might fancy her.”
“Fancy her? Why, she’s simply to die for. As mad as a hatter. Two hatters. With a cluster of my wicked and warty kinfolk clinging to her like leeches. Wonderful. For a back story, I’m finding this quite the diverting little show.” Clapping his palms together and rubbing them with vigor, he asks, “So, what’s next? Where to now, old friend?”
“We’re skipping ahead about nine years,” Valiant tells him, spreading his powerful wings and ascending toward the electric vortex opening above them. “Come on.”
As two dark, leathery wings sprout through slits in the back of his plush velvet jacket, Nick rises after him, saying, “Right behind you, Val. Working so closely like this almost makes me wistful for old times. Almost.”