An Open Letter to Stephen King

Spring, sometime in the late 1980s, just outside of Los Alamos, New Mexico:

I wasn’t supposed to be there. I knew they didn’t particularly care if I was in asleep, or even in bed… but they didn’t like me hanging around at their dinner parties. I asked weird questions, for one thing. For another, I was too smart for my own good. Adults didn’t seem to appreciate it when I understood the things they spelled out over my head. I found that odd. If I had a daughter, I’d want her to be smart and inquisitive.

Still, I know they’ll be angry if they catch me, so I’m practicing my ninja skills. I’ve crawled down the hall on my stomach, so that the light from the bathroom doesn’t throw my shadow on the walls. I’ve crept slowly, ever so slowly, to the landing that overlooks the dining room. I can’t get too close to the edge, they caught me once when I peeked over, but I can get close enough to listen.

My father is talking about a book. He asks if one of the men at the table has read it. He says it’s his favorite, and goes on to describe it in great detail.

It’s about a car, he says, a car that’s alive somehow. It develops an unhealthy fixation on its owner. It can heal damage from itself, he tells his captive audience . Then he drops his voice for effect. It kills people, he says. One of the women at the table gasps. I am utterly riveted. I have to read that book! But I know better than to ask. It’s not the subject matter, it’s the fact that I’m not allowed in my father’s study and under absolutely positively no circumstances am I allowed to touch any of his things, including books.

I stick around for a while, listening for another mention of the killer car, but it doesn’t come. They’re talking about boring adult things, things that don’t really interest me. I tune them out, a plan already beginning to form.

After a while, I start to nod off. I know better than to risk falling asleep on the stairs, so I make my way back to the room I share with my baby brother. As I curl up in my Jem sleeping bag, my plan solidifies. I’ll enact it the following night.

First thing the next morning, I begin to put my scheme in motion. My daring heist. I search my closet for the blackest clothes I own and pack them into my Tweety bird backpack for safe keeping. I tuck it in the closet, ready to go when I need it.

The day takes forever. I remember that part very clearly. Waiting for it to get dark outside, for my parents to go to sleep, seemed to take an eternity. Somehow, I got through it. Even more astonishing, somehow it’s now thirty years later. But we’ll get to that.

Eventually, the lights downstairs go out. I hear my father coming up the stairs. Mom went to bed a while ago, but I had to wait for him to go to bed. The wait is agonizing.

After I hear their door close, I listen closely for the sounds of his routine. The sink, as he brushes his teeth. The drawer closing before he changes his clothes. The bed springs groaning as he lays down. I count slowly to one hundred, then I do it again. I hope I’ve given him enough time to fall asleep, so he won’t hear me out in the hallway, or slinking down the stairs myself.

Carefully, and in near total darkness, I change out of my pajamas and into what I’ve dubbed my “ninja outfit”: a black long sleeved shirt with a picture of a kitten on it, black socks, dark washed jeans, and a blue bandanna tied around my mouth. I don’t know why I felt like that last item was necessary, but it definitely added to the effect. I was a cat burglar, I was silent and stealthy. I was darkness, I was shadow. I would get that book.

I snuck down the stairs. Patiently, so patiently. I had to be quiet. Even the sound of my breathing set my nerves thrumming. This was an exciting adventure, but there was danger, to be sure. If I was caught, there would be punishment, and I knew from experience that I wouldn’t like it. At all.

When I finally made it downstairs, I felt safe enough to turn on my flashlight. Now I really felt like a burglar. I slowly pushed open the door to my father’s office. His bookshelf was inside, and the prizes it held were well worth the risk I was taking.

It didn’t take long for me to locate the book in question. The title, Christine, was written in big red letters down the spine. It was the brightest thing on that shelf. My eyes were drawn to it immediately. I set my flashlight down and picked up my soon-to-be purloined prize.

It was bigger than I was expecting, and was it ever heavy! I pulled it free of its brothers and – gasp! – dropped it on the carpet with a muffled thud. The book itself had slid free of the dust jacket. I hadn’t been expecting that, either. My heart froze in my chest, my breath stuck fast. I stood there, as still as a statue, listening for stirring upstairs, praying my parents hadn’t heard me. My chest began to burn until at last, I let my breath out in a woosh of relief. I hadn’t awakened them.

I still clutched the flimsy paper book cover. I looked down at it, thinking how weird it was that a book had clothing, like my paper dolls. But It had given me a great idea.

Originally, I’d been planning to open the window and scatter a few of the other books around, as if a real burglar had broken in and stolen that precious tome I clutched in my sweating hands. But when I’d seen that dust jacket come free, inspiration had struck. I had a set of gemstone themed fairy tale books someone had given me on my bookshelf upstairs. They were taller than all my other books, and they were heavy, when you put them all together. They’d be perfect stand ins.

Risking life and limb once more, I darted back upstairs, filled with the renewed vigor and sense of purpose only true inspiration can imbue. I snatched up my backpack and stuffed the fairy tale books inside it, then I made my way back down to the scene of the crime.

I was wrong, the books weren’t quite tall enough, or wide enough, even together… but when I set all five of them into the empty spot on the shelf and wrapped them in the dust jacket, the illusion was close enough. Far better than my fake burglary plan, at least. I’m sure that little bit of inspiration saved me a lot of grief in the form of grounding, if nothing else.

I shoved the red, hard covered book, now denuded of it’s cover art, into my Tweety bird backpack. It was too large to fit, the zipper wouldn’t close. I tugged at it until my fingers were sore, a sensation I’d come to know very well in the years that followed, and slung the heavy burden onto my shoulders. Then I crept back upstairs with aching caution.

My book cave, as I called it, had already been set up. This wasn’t my first rodeo, so to speak, although it was my most daring. I often read late at night, after everyone else had gone to bed.

I tucked myself into the closet and carefully pulled the door shut behind me. Then I set my backpack down, working in total darkness, and shoved some of my clothing underneath the door to block out the light. Once I was sure no one would see me, I flipped the switch and grinned, thrilled at having pulled off my daring robbery. What an adventure!

I curled up with my spoils, excited to dig in. I already had a dictionary in the corner, stacked up with a few volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica, and some of my mother’s Man, Myth, & Magic. They had been useful, nay, necessary, in that winter’s reading of Inherit the Stars by James P. Hogan.

I didn’t finish Christine that summer, or, to be completely honest, that year. But that very night, I became a permanent resident of Castle Rock, Maine. The inhabitants became my friends, sometimes the only constant I had in life. Both parents were military, which meant we moved often. But Castle Rock was always Castle Rock, regardless of whether I was in Ojai, California or Homestead, Florida. That stability was something I was sorely lacking, and it brought me no end of comfort.

From the night of my heist onward, I’ve waited with eager fingers and hungry eyes for each new book you release.  I have smiled inwardly at each of your introductions, imagining that you were speaking directly to me, your humble dear reader. At one point, I even staked out the public library (which would later become almost a second home) because a public service announcement that aired at the time suggested you might show up. I didn’t have a great grasp of geography at the time. I still don’t.

What I’m trying to say, what this whole story has lead up to, is that I owe you part of who I am. My childhood friends were Carrie, Danny Torrance, Bill Denbrough, Charlie McGee, and Cujo, among others.  For that, I thank you. Deeply and sincerely. You provided a weird kid, a loner, a weirdo, with others of her kind. There were so many times when I felt like an honorary member of the losers’ club, when I knew in my heart that Bill or Bev would get it. That Stan would understand what I was going through. That Danny and I could play together and ignore the ghosts and ghouls that clung to the periphery of our vision.

I wanted to tell you this. I needed you to know that your words, your stories, were more than just entertainment. They taught me things, they improved my vocabulary, they made me cautious around strangers, they gave me hope when the rest of the world seemed to want to drain it from me. Your words helped shape the writer I am today.

I don’t know if you’ll ever read this, and if you don’t, that’s OK. I know you’re insanely busy. But I needed to put it out there, just in case.

Ever your faithful reader,

Amber L Fallon

 

 

2 Replies to “An Open Letter to Stephen King”

  1. Wonderful remembrance, Amber. I loved it. It kind of makes me jealous of your childhood (that’s for a face-to-face conversation…not here). I noticed Homestead in there. I was stationed at Homestead from 1981 to 1983. I know, considering our age difference, that you wouldn’t remember those years. When were you there?

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