Authors: Stephen King
Praise for STEPHENâKING and
HEARTS IN ATLANTIS
“This is wonderful fiction.Â .Â .Â . [King's] take on the '60sâincluding the effects of Vietnamâis scarily accurate.”
THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON
“Impressive.Â .Â .Â . A wonderful story of courage, faith, and hope.Â .Â .Â . It is eminently engaging and difficult to put down.”
BAG OF BONES
“Contains some of [King's] best writing.Â .Â .Â . This is King's most romantic book, and ghosts are up and about from the get-go.Â .Â .Â . The big surprise here is the emotional wallop the story packs.”
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For Kirby McCauley
Special thanks are in order to Russ Dorr and Steve Wentworth of Bridgeton, Maine. Russ provided medical information and Steve provided information on American funeral and burial customs and some insight into the nature of grief.
Here are some people who have written books, telling what they did and why they did those things:
John Dean. Henry Kissinger. Adolph Hitler. Caryl Chessman. Jeb Magruder. Napoleon. Talleyrand. Disraeli. Robert Zimmerman, also known as Bob Dylan. Locke. Charlton Heston. Errol Flynn. The Ayatollah Khomeini. Gandhi. Charles Olson. Charles Colson. A Victorian Gentleman. Dr. X.
Most people also believe that God has written a Book, or Books, telling what He did and whyâat least to a degreeâHe did those things, and since most of these people also believe that humans were made in the image of God, then He also may be regarded as a personÂ .Â .Â . or, more properly, as a Person.
Here are some people who have not written books, telling what they didÂ .Â .Â . and what they saw:
The man who buried Hitler. The man who performed the autopsy on John Wilkes Booth. The man who embalmed Elvis Presley. The man who embalmedâbadly, most undertakers sayâPope John XXIII. The twoscore undertakers who cleaned up Jonestown, carrying body bags, spearing paper cups with those spikes custodians carry in city parks, waving away the flies. The man who cremated William Holden. The man who encased the body of Alexander the Great in gold so it would not rot. The men who mummified the Pharaohs.
Death is a mystery, and burial is a secret.
When I'm asked (as I frequently am) what I consider to be the most frightening book I've ever written, the answer I give comes easily and with no hesitation:
. It may not be the one that scares readers the mostâbased on the mail, I'd guess the one that does that is probably The Shiningâbut the fearbone, like the funnybone, is located in different places on different people. All I know is that Pet Sematary is the one I put away in a drawer, thinking I had finally gone too far. Time suggests that I had not, at least in terms of what the public would accept, but certainly I had gone too far in terms of my own personal feelings. Put simply, I was horrified by what I had written, and the conclusions I'd drawn. I've told the story of how the book came to be written before, but I guess I can tell it one more time: last time pays for all.
In the late seventies, I was invited to spend a year at my alma mater, the University of Maine, as the writer in residence, and also teach a class in the literature of the fantastic (my lecture notes for that course formed the spine of
which was published a year or two later). My wife and I rented a house in
Orrington, about twelve miles from the campus. It was a wonderful house in a wonderful rural Maine town. The only problem was the road we lived on. It was very busy, a lot of the traffic consisting of heavy tanker trucks from the chemical plant down the road.
Julio DeSanctis, who owned the store across the road from us, told me early on that my wife and I wanted to keep a close watch on our children, and on any pets our children might have. “That road has used up a lot of animals,” Julio said, a phrase that made its way into the story. And the proof of how many animals the road had used up was in the woods, beyond our rented house. A path led up through the neighboring field to a little pet cemetery in the woodsÂ .Â .Â . only the sign on the tree just outside this charming little makeshift graveyard read PETâSEMATARY. This phrase did more than just make it into the book; it became the title. There were dogs and cats buried up there, a few birds, even a goat.
Our daughter, who was eight or so at the time, had a cat named Smucky, and not long after we moved into the Orrington house, I found Smucky dead on the lawn of a house across the road. The newest animal Route 5 had used up, it seemed, was my daughter's beloved pet. We buried Smucky in the pet sematary. My daughter made the grave marker, which read
SMUCKY: HE WAS OBEDIANT.
(Smucky wasn't in the least obedient, of course; he was a cat, for heaven's sake.)
All seemed to be well until that night, when I heard a thumping from the garage, accompanied by weeping and popping sounds like small firecrackers. I went out
to investigate and found my daughter, furious and beautiful in her grief. She had found several sheets of that blistered packing material in which fragile objects are sometimes shipped. She was jumping up and down on this, popping the blisters, and yelling, “He was
cat!” Let God have his own cat! Smucky was
cat!” Such anger, I think, is the sanest first response to grief that a thinking, feeling human being can have, and I've always loved her for that defiant cry:
Let God have his own cat!
Right on, beautiful; right on.
Our youngest son, then less than two years old, had only learned to walk, but already he was practicing his running skills. On a day not long after Smucky's demise, while we were out in the neighboring yard fooling around with a kite, our toddler took it into his head to go running toward the road. I ran after him, and damned if I couldn't hear one of those Cianbro trucks coming (Orinco, in the novel). Either I caught him and pulled him down, or he tripped on his own; to this day, I'm not entirely sure which. When you're really scared, your memory often blanks out. All I know for sure is that he is still fine and well and in his young manhood. But a part of my mind has never escaped from that gruesome
Suppose I hadn't caught him? Or suppose he had fallen in the middle of the road instead of on the edge of it?
I think you can see why I found the book which rose out of these incidents so distressing. I simply took existing elements and threw in that one terrible what if. Put another way, I found myself not just thinking the unthinkable, but writing it down.
There was no writing space in the Orrington house, but there was an empty room in Julio's store, and it was there that I wrote
On a day by day basis, I enjoyed the work, and I knew I was telling a “hot” story, one that engaged my attention and would engage the attention of readers, but when you're working day by day, you're not seeing the forest; you're only counting trees. When I finished, I let the book rest six weeks, which is my way of working, and then read it over. I found the result so startling and so gruesome that I put the book in a drawer, thinking it would never be published. Not in my lifetime, anyway.
That it was published was a case of mere circumstance. I had ended my relationship with Doubleday, the publisher of my early books, but I owed them a final novel before accounts could be closed completely. I only had one in hand that wasn't spoken for, and that one was
I talked it over with my wife, who is my best counselor when I'm not sure how to proceed, and she told me that I should go ahead and publish the book.âShe thought it was good. Awful, but too good not to be read.
My early editor at Doubleday, Bill Thompson, had moved on by then (to Everest House, as a matter of fact; it was Bill who first suggested, then edited and published
), so I sent the book to Sam Vaughn, who was one of the editorial giants of the time. It was Sam who made the final decisionâhe wanted to do the book. He edited it himself, giving particular attention to the book's conclusion, and his
input turned a good book into an even better one. I've always been grateful to him for his inspired blue pencil, and I've never been sorry that I did the book, although in many ways I still find it distressing and problematic.
I'm particularly uneasy about the book's most resonant line, spoken by Louis Creed's elderly neighbor, Jud. “Sometimes, Louis,” Jud says, “dead is better.” I hope with all my heart that that is not true, and yet within the nightmarish context of
it seems to be. And it may be okay. Perhaps “sometimes dead is better” is grief's last lesson, the one we get to when we finally tire of jumping up and down on the plastic blisters and crying out for God to get his own cat (or his own child) and leave ours alone. That lesson suggests that in the end, we can only find peace in our human lives by accepting the will of the universe. That may sound like corny, new-age crap, but the alternative looks to me like a darkness too awful for such mortal creatures as us to bear.
September 20, 2000
Jesus said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go, that I may awake him out of his sleep.”