Diving into Stephen King’s world means making a lot of sacrifices. Peace of mind, a full night’s sleep, inability to walk by a sewer manhole cover without shuddering in fear—you give up all these things when you read his books. Upon reflection (and I have an actual reflection, in a mirror, because I’m not a vampire, trust me because I check all the time thanks to Salem’s Lot) it’s apparent to me that I am on permanent terror alert because Stephen King has messed with my head.
King’s body of work is rife with brilliant examples of benign takedowns: surface perfection lulls you in, seduces you, then tries to steal your soul or hijack your brain or at the very least disfigure you. He’s so good at it, and he’s scared me so many times, that I have diagnosed myself with Post-Traumatic King Disorder. It, where an bucolic all-American small town is a front for a hungry spider. The efficient, banal government officials destroying minds and lives in Firestarter. The solid New England Victorian-house-with-a-view in Pet Sematary. King will jack with what you trust and laugh while he does it and he probably has a really creepy laugh and now I have to go make sure there’s nothing waiting to bite my legs off hiding under the table one sec BRB.
Mechanical Terror I honestly don’t know what happened to Stephen King when he was learning to drive because in the Kingverse, cars are out to get you. When I took Driver’s Ed I practiced going over railroad tracks and finding the hazard lights button on the dashboard. In Stephen King’s Driver’s Ed class, apparently he practiced cyborg mechanics and demon possession. Is that what you have to know to operate a Class I Vehicle in Maine? I haven’t trusted a car since Christine, the novel about a car who goes on a vendetta-fueled killing spree to punish her owner’s tormentors. Or the short story “Trucks” (vehicles come to life and try to make the world a better place HAHAHAHA just kidding they drive over people for sport and turn survivors into fuel slaves). Thanks to Stephen King every car I see has a distinct air of menace. If I see headlights flicker, forget it. I need a drink and a nap to recover from the trauma. Stephen King is the reason that I lobby AAA to add a Roadside Demon Exorcism service.
AAA: hi, what is your car emergency?
Me: my Ford Focus keeps going to karaoke bars
AAA: that seems pretty harmless
Me: IT’S ALL MICHAEL BOLTON SONGS
AAA: a Lounge Demon! we’re sending a team immediately
Furry Terror In the Kingverse, there’s lots of wonderful animals who aren’t trying to eat and/or kill you. And then there’s the mutated rat kingdom in “Graveyard Shift”, which absolutely is trying to eat and/or kill you. Since reading this story, if I make eye contact with a rat I try to smile in a way that says “Please don’t come into my house, restrain me, and drag me to your underground lair so you can eat my extremities.” Thanks a lot, Stephen King. You’ve turned me into a crazy person who tries to make reassuring, non-edible eye contact with rats. My other King-induced animal trauma is a reasonable post-Cujo reaction: AVOID ST. BERNARDS. Naturally, I cancelled all my ski trips to the Swiss Alps.
Switzerland: hello, what is your Alps emergency?
Me: tell the Matterhorn I’m out
Switzerland: what if we offer you free Gruyere
Me: no deal my fondue pot is broken
Switzerland: a Cheese Demon! we’re sending a team immediately
Invisible Terror You know how sometimes you get an itchy patch and you scratch it and it turns out you’re the host for a murderous alien life form, hahaha? That is the kind of hilarity you can expect out of the short story collection Night Shift. Or the laugh riot that is The Stand, where Stephen King forces you to ponder the question “What if everyone gets the exact same virus cold thing at the exact same time and dies, torpedoing key planet infrastructure?” Y’all—I did NOT pay attention that one semester I took Home Ec. I don’t know how to can or sew or color my own hair. I don’t have any viral apocalypse grooming skills actually. Therefore, I have a mild anxiety attack every time I sneeze. Or if anyone sneezes or feels tired or behaves slightly out of character. As an alert citizen, I make sure that the authorities always know about suspicious situations.
CDC: hi, what is your disease emergency?
Me: i just saw a viral video
CDC: can’t actually make you sick
Me: IT WAS HOTLINE BLING
CDC: Drake! we’re sending a team immediately
Indiscriminate Terror This is actually a terror PSA for you. This is the seemingly harmless, but actually near-fatal scenario: You run into me at the grocery store. It’s July and you notice I’m wearing fuzzy snowflake-patterned pajama pants and an old Hootie and the Blowfish tshirt. You greet me heartily. I answer you, but you sense something is just a little off. A small, uneasy feeling takes root in your stomach. Glancing into my basket, you see barbeque potato chips, a vat of french onion dip, a 6-pack of Lima-A-Ritas and a jumbo box of Tampax.
You. Are. In. Danger. Follow your instincts. Don’t make eye contact. Back away slowly. Abandon your cart and get the hell out. Shit is about to get real in a Godzilla-Tokyo kind of way.
Godzilla: Mothra hold my earrings
Mothra: ‘Zilla why you trippin
Godzilla: I ate four cupcakes and I feel bloated and Tokyo looked at me funny
Mothra: PMS makes women so irra-
Godzilla: (eats Mothra)(burps fire)
Stephen King’s son Joe Hill is also very good at scaring the hell out of you. Read Heart-Shaped Box but don’t say I didn’t warn you.