Misery

Misery

By Stephen King

 

Ah, Misery. Stephen King has always been my favorite author. I love his subtleties and themes. His characters are so lifelike and realistic that I am drawn in by the end of the first page. I know he is a master on a level few will ever obtain but I am going to approach this review in the most honest and unbiased way that I can. Not as his “number one fan” but as a fellow writer who has studied his craft and found both genius and some petty mistakes as well.

There is no doubt in my mind that much of Paul Sheldon is King’s fictional alter ego. A prolific and successful writer who wants to dabble outside his designated genre and gets punished for it. And who else could write about the psychological terrors of addiction better than a man going through it himself. I think, when you look at King’s characters, there is often some autobiography in them, which is what makes his ability to turn them into real people so effective.

What King does well is analogy. Sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant his analogies are often both in one. For instance, Paul recalls a time in his childhood when he would go to the beach and watch the tide ebb and flow around wooden pylons. He remembers the ugliness of the portions that become exposed when the tide goes out. Soon, his mind uses these images as a meditation on his pain. As more and more of the pylon in his mind’s eye is exposed, so is his pain. The tide is the relief he receives from his pain meds. Later, as I read on, I wondered if King used those ugly stumps as a foreshadowing of Paul’s amputation at the hands of Annie.

Paul’s mind uses a lot of analogies to help him through his experience. The African bird trapped in a cage, Annie Wilkes as a goddess, immortal, powerful and all knowing, and Scheherazade. Although I do have an issue with the Scheherazade reference because first of all, it was too easy a connection (Scheherazade being the storyteller in One Thousand and One Nights who used her storytelling to save her life from the king who planned to kill her) and secondly King used it way too much. Constantly making reference to it until I was so sick of having it shoved in my face I wondered if King thought all his readers were stupid and wouldn’t get it. I got it before he mentioned it and certainly didn’t need it rehashed as a theme over and over. Yeah, obviously Paul is using his revival of Misery Chastain to prolong his own life.

Looking at the book as a whole, I also wondered if the entire tale itself was not an analogy of the task of writing a novel. The pain, the pressure to do it well, distractions, an alter ego that tells you it’s not good enough. Sometimes we need that sort of thing to drive us; that demon on our backs pushing and pushing. Paul ends up with the best book he ever wrote under those conditions. Maybe I should hire a dominatrix to help keep me in check.

Something that I often struggle with in my first draft is description. King is a writer of little sprinkles of it only when necessary and I love that. If you’ve ever read his book On Writing, he discusses that very thing. When I first read Misery, it was before seeing the movie, and it is funny to me that when I reread it again, I still saw the home I concocted in my head the first time I read it and not the movie’s scenes. That maybe why I thought to make this point. I bet those who have seen the movie before reading the book don’t necessarily notice King’s paucity of description. He only describes the things that are absolutely necessary for you to know and the rest he leaves up to your own imagination. So many Stephen King stories in my head took place at the farmhouse my Step-father grew up in. That was a scary place to me and so that’s the home I always saw in my head, the layout and everything. I like that we have a good idea of what Annie looks like, a vague idea of Paul and just a general idea of everything else. Because that’s all we need. We don’t need pages of boring description of the house, the room he is in. Just little details here and there and those almost give a feeling not a look to the room. The guy is a master with this and I think it is a big reason his books are so readable and catch you so quickly.

Now, I did promise you something petty so here it is. There is a scene after Annie takes Paul into the basement to stay and she brings a couple Pepsis and a bottle opener. “There were three bottles of Pepsi on the collapsed TV tray. She opened two of them, using the opener on her keyring, and handed him one.” Bottle opener=glass bottles, right? You wouldn’t need a bottle opener for a plastic bottle with a screw top, would you? But then, two pages later “Annie came back and took a third bottle of Pepsi…She twisted the cap off the bottle and drank deeply.” Ok, so two glass bottles opened with the opener on her keyring and one plastic bottle with a screw cap. A few pages later we are told the bottle is indeed plastic. “She drained her second Pepsi and held the empty plastic bottle…”

I told you, petty stuff, right? But hey, this is Stephen King we’re talking about. He is allowed a dumb mistake here and there. You’d think his editor might have picked that up, but one little thing in a sea of gold, is not all that bad. So, I’ll just end with this shout out to Mr. Stephen King—if you ever want or need a gal like me to hang around and pick out petty mistakes like this feel free to give me a call. I’ll move into your guest room, I’ll read each page as it comes off the printer. I’m a doc too, so I can always offer health related services as needed. Come on, Mr. King, I’m harmless and I just happen to be your biggest fan.

 

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Liar, Liar, Blood Denier

Prompt Day #115 Cast a gypsy curse on a character which forces them to bleed whenever they lie

 

Liar, Liar, Blood Denier

 

The girl standing on his porch holding a baby in her arms looked vaguely familiar to Kyle. She hadn’t said a word yet, just stood staring at him, the baby bundled tightly against her breast. He could hear his own children tiptoeing up behind him to have a peek at the strange young woman in long, layered skirts who had used the decorative knocker rather than the more modern bell to announce her arrival.

Finally, Kyle could stand it no longer. “Can I help you?”

“I have brought your baby for you to see.” The girl said; her affect remained flat and expressionless. Kyle laughed nervously and turned around. His wife was upstairs showering, but would be down soon enough. The girl did look familiar, and it was quite possible that he had slept with her as he had a propensity to do that when out on business trips. He always joked that the best thing about wedding rings was that they were removable. But it was quite impossible that the baby was his because he was a liar and a cheat, yes but he wasn’t stupid. He always used protection. Always.

“I’m sorry to tell you but I think you have the wrong address. You have a beautiful baby and I’m sure it’s father would be happy to see it.” He shut the door, gently, on her. Shooing the children away, he started up the stairs to ensure Jennifer was still occupied and hadn’t heard any of the interchange. The knock came again. He hurried back down. Opening the door he found her leaning into the space now, nearly falling in when the door opened.

Closer inspection of her face led to instant recognition. He did know her. He’d met her a year ago at an impromptu party he and a few of his buddies had after the droll office Christmas party. In their drunken revelry, they’d stumbled on a small neon sign advertising palm and tarot card readings. Deciding they would all find out what the next year would hold. That was where he had met Crystabell, the girl now standing on his porch step declaring him a father.

“Listen,” he started, turned around to check on Jennifer’s whereabouts, stepped outside, shut the door, and continued “Crystabell, right? I do remember you. I was very drunk that night and I probably did some things I am not proud of, but one thing I know for sure is that I always where a condom so that baby is not mine.” The girl turned the baby around. Kyle saw the resemblance immediately. This child looked just like his other two, its auburn hair and light green eyes could only be his. Its mother was a gypsy of Mediterranean descent. He didn’t know what to say. “It’s not mine. I’m sorry. Please don’t come back” He opened the door, but she reached out and grasped his wrist.

“You deny your blood and for that, blood shall remind you of all your deceit for the rest of your days on this earth.” She let go of him then and walked away. Kyle let himself back into the house where Jennifer was standing, arm outstretched about to open the door.

“Who was that?” She asked, leaning to look around him. “The kids said it was a lady with a baby?”

“Yeah, some beggar girl. She wanted me to give her money. Said her baby was cold and hungry. But it was just a baby doll. The girl was obviously a little deranged. I sent her away, then she knocked again, so this time I gave her five bucks and told her not to come back. That seemed to make her happy and she left. Weird, right?” Kyle could lie in the most convincing way. A gift he had perfected since childhood.

“Oh God, Kyle!” She said, eyes widening as he spoke “Your nose is bleeding…from both sides! Here come sit down” She ran to the kitchen and he reached up to feel the blood which was now running down his lips. Crystabell’s words about blood echoed in his head and then he promptly dismissed it. The bloody nose was likely a reaction to elevated blood pressures from her impromptu visit and accusation of paternity.

It took thirty good minutes before the bleeding stopped. He needed a drink. He needed to get away from this house and have a few drinks, then he could shake the loop running through his head that included a memory of drunken sex with the girl in the shower of her apartment and a failed attempt at “pulling out” followed by the image of the baby who stared at him with a pair of his own eyes. The only thing to treat this was a double shot of scotch followed by about six coronas.

“Hey Jen, I told Scott we’d get together tonight and work on Monday’s big proposal. Are you good with the kids if I head out for a bit?” He said standing up and wrapping his arms around her from behind. He nuzzled against her neck. He’d found that acting as if he would much rather be snuggling with her rather than heading out with his work buddies softened her up and made it a lot easier to go. When he pulled his head back, he saw blood smeared on her neck. He didn’t need to reach up, he could feel it now, working its way down his face.

“Oh, Geez.” He said and used the half soaked rag he’d been holding pressure with and wiped her neck clean. He put it back up to his nose. She furrowed her brow.

“Do you think it’s a good idea? This nose bleed is pretty bad. You might need to go to the ER.” She worried.

“No. I don’t think it’s a good idea, but if we don’t get the proposal accepted, we can say good bye to that bonus. Look, I’ll call Dr. Wright’s office tomorrow, first thing.” He smiled at her. She smiled back and then, the smile faltered. She reached up just as he felt the tickle on his ear.

“Your ears are bleeding too. Kyle. You need to let me take you to the ER! Something is wrong.”

“No, Jen. Really. I feel fine. And honestly, I need a drink. Between that girl showing up and the nose bleed, I could use a drink. I’ll meet up with Scott, have a couple drinks, talk a little about work and come home. And if at any point, I get another bleed, I will go tonight to the ER, but I promise I will call the doc tomorrow.” He pleaded. She was wiping at his ears, face, and nose as he spoke. She stepped back surveying him. The bleeding had stopped. She nodded.

“Ok then. Go, do what you need to do but promise me you will come back early. I’m worried about you.” She said and kissed his cheek.

He was on his second glass of scotch when Scott showed up. He was Kyle’s go to guy when he wanted to go out drinking. Scott was single and had yet to grow out of the frat-boy phase of his life so he never said no to a night out; weekday or otherwise. Kyle filled Scott in on that day’s visitor and the strange blood comment followed by the bleeding nose and ears.

“Oh man, a gypsy curse! Like that one Stephen King story. Thinner” He whispered in a scratchy old voice and stroked Kyle’s arm. Kyle punched him in return and Scott broke down into hysterics.

“What you need is some stripper-time to get your mind off all this Twilight Zone shit, let’s get out of here.” Scott declared. Kyle thought about it for not nearly long enough before agreeing. Scott had a knack for convincing strippers to accompany them to a hotel where he managed to get a lot of bonus lap dances for free. Those bonus dances typically included a lot more than what they would have paid for at the club. Kyle forgot about his promise to Jen, put his wedding ring in the glove compartment, and slid into Scott’s passenger seat.

“Dude, don’t bleed all over my car.” Scott said watching Kyle settle into the car. Kyle gave him an inquisitive look and Scott nodded his head to Kyle’s left hand. “You must have caught a hand nail on something. Grab some tissues out of the console.” Kyle was indeed bleeding from around the nail on the ring finger of his left hand. He wrapped a Kleenex around it and held pressure until they pulled into the club.

At two am Scott, Kyle, Amber and Sparkle were on their way to a Motel Six.

“So,” Amber asked “Are you two married?”

“Do we look married?” Scott asked

“I don’t really care, just making small talk” she said and giggled. Kyle turned around to her.

“No. We aren’t” he said and winked at her. She wrinkled her nose and he knew immediately that he had another nose bleed. She pointed. “I know. Sorry about that.” He said grabbing more tissues.

“It’s that bad coke habit” Scott joked trying to lighten the mood. His wing man was off his game and was going to mess this up for both of them.

“Ooh, you got some with you?” Sparkle asked.

“Sorry, I, uh, used it all up before coming in to the club” Kyle said from under the wad of tissues.

“Your ears are bleeding too. You got some weird disease or something?” Amber asked.

“No. I told you, it’s the coke. You know how it can make your blood pressure go up? That can break blood vessels and shit. That’s all. He could use some more. You know where we could score some?” Scott asked trying to keep his irritation with the current situation to a minimum. Sparkle did indeed know where they could score some.

In the hotel bathroom, Scott insisted Kyle do a line or two because it would help with his bleeding. It did seem to help until Amber asked why two handsome, successful guys like the two of them were not married just before she commenced with a blow job. Kyle wasn’t sure what he was saying, words just seemed to be falling out of his mouth all on their own. As they fell, so did the drops of blood from his nose, his ears and to Amber’s horror, his penis. Blood pooled on the floor between her knees, drips were on her breasts, in her hair and she’d had enough.

Kyle got a cab back to the club and drove himself home; crawling into bed, just as the light of dawn began to creep over the horizon. Jen woke up immediately.

“Oh my God, Kyle where have you been? I’ve been texting and calling you all night! I was worried sick” She flipped on the bedside lamp and shrieked. Kyle could only imagine what he looked like. He could feel the blood stuck on his face and neck, legs and groin. “Kyle, let’s go right now. I’m taking you to the ER.”

“That’s where I’ve been all night” he said, gently pushing her back into the bed. “That’s why I couldn’t answer your calls. They did a bunch of lab work and gave me some medicine that is supposed to help control the bleeding. I have to follow up with Dr. Wright tomorrow. Sorry, Honey. I should have called, but Scott basically forced me to go and after that it was a blur.” He coughed, blood sprayed out onto her face. “Oh God, Jen. I’m sorry. I guess the medicine takes a while to start working.” Wiping the blood from her face, Jennifer stared at him, unsure what to make of the story he was telling her. He looked far worse than he had when he’d left to go out last night. She could see a blood stain spreading out on their sheets down near his groin, blood dripped silently from his nose and ears.

“I’m calling an ambulance. You have to go back in” She said decidedly.

“No! Please. I just need some sleep. They said they couldn’t do anything more until all the tests were back. They said to just come home and rest and call Dr. Wright later this morning. So, please Jen, I don’t want to go back to the hospital, just let’s do what they said and let me sleep, ok?” He was coming down off the coke and had probably lost a lot of blood. He needed her to leave him alone. The more he had to lie to her, the worse the bleeding became. Jen watched him talk, his teeth red with blood oozing from his gums. His eyes were tearing up with blood as well. It certainly seemed that the more upset he got, the worse he bled. Maybe he was right. She would let him rest and she would call Dr. Wright as soon as his office opened and then, when it was time for his appointment, she could wake him up.

“Ok, Hon. You rest. I’ll leave you be. But I’m calling Dr. Wright and you’re going in to see him today.” He was already asleep before she finished. She pulled the covers over him and got into the shower. When Jen got out of the shower, she checked on him.

Kyle lay dead on the bed. Blood ran out of his mouth in a thick, red foam on which he had choked to death. Somewhere, across town, a little green-eyed baby boy woke up crying for the daddy he would never know.