“1922” -Story #1 from Stephen King’s “Full Dark, No Stars”

Santa brought me this:

“There on the great high-backed carved oak chair by the right side of the fireplace sat an enormous rat, steadily glaring at him with baleful eyes.”

Stephen King’s knowledge of the canon of horror literature cannot be disputed. I learned this years ago when I read his non-fiction effort, Danse Macabre, a sweeping review of the horror genre. It’s not surprising, then, that I found many elements of this new story that recalled to me several of the horror classics. The quotation above, for instance, isn’t from “1922”, but instead from a classic Bram Stoker (yeah, the Dracula one) short story entitled The Judge’s House. I was also, on other occasions during reading, reminded of The Monkey’s Paw and The Tell-Tale Heart.

Stephen King’s Danse Macabre

***Spoiler Alert*** A quick summary of the plot: the story is presented as a written confession (told eight years later, in 1930) of a man who murdered his wife. Wilfred James was a contented farmer. He had a wife, Arlette, and an almost fifteen year old son, Henry. (I guess that would make the murderer “the father of Henry James”… Not sure if that has hidden meaning or not) Anyway, Arlette is NOT a contented farmer’s wife and wants to sell the farmland and move to The Big City (as in Omaha or St. Louis). Wilfred is legally powerless to stop her, as she owns the majority of “their” land herself. He calls upon his inner, so-called “conniving man” and decides to kill her and dump her down an old well on his property, planning on explaining her absence by saying she “ran off” to The Big City. Somehow he convinces his son (who also loves and doesn’t want to leave the farming life) to become complicit in the murder.

They figuratively (and literally!) make a mess of it though, and returning to the well a couple days after the deed find her body seemingly animate (turns out it’s rats(!) though, who have already begun to feast on her) and with her head in an odd position which seems turned upwards to laugh and mock Wilfred. Poor Henry struggles to deal with the secret of their crime and begins to view Wilfred with contempt. His life speeds “down the tubes” after he follows a neighbor girl (who he’s gotten “in trouble”) to an Omaha “home for girls” where her parents have sent her.

Wilfred struggles on alone, but is haunted by Arlette’s spirit (or her literal corpse, if we assume he’s not hallucinating) and her minions (rats!). Her visit to the house is eerily reminiscent of the W.W. Jacobs story, “The Monkey’s Paw,” and his guilty-conscience-driven hallucinations of seeing rats everywhere reminded me of Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart.” All in all a great short story/novella (it’s 130 pages) in classic Stephen King style. Of her corpse’s visit he writes:

“I can see it now, as I write. I told myself to die, but my heart kept pounding. Her hanging face slid alongside mine. I could feel my beard-stubble pulling off tiny bits of her skin, could hear her broken jaw grinding like a branch with ice on it.”

Wow, doesn’t get much creepier than that.

P.S. Reading this alone at night is not recommended.

Horror master Stephen King:

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