Stephen King Ate My Brain by Richard Thomas
I’ve been working in the plant for three months now, standing at the assembly line, scanning the conveyer belt for bent and damaged microchips. I got promoted fast, since I have a degree, and down here in Conway, Arkansas that’s the way to fail up. It’ll also get you into a lot of random accidents – pool cue in the gut, busted out taillights, and cigarette butts in your beer. I’m not from here; I know that much and I’m not quite sure how this happened. But I find myself in pickup trucks, most every Friday night, consoling drunk girls and filling the cab with the heady musk of sweat and orgasm. I touch the back of my head, the soft spot, the scab, and I can hear his voice, Stephen King. All I wanted to do was say hello, pick his brain a bit. Instead, I ended up here.
On the east coast there is a bookstore, a place called Bett’s. They are the biggest King store in the world. I went there to meet up with some friends, fellow collectors, and to go on a tour of the town. Bangor, Maine. There was the tour of the Standpipe where he created It, books to stare at, and the massive King mansion as well. It was as I expected it. There was wrought iron with elaborate carvings of bats and crescent moons. There were brick pillars and a long yard that fell off the face of the earth. And the house…the house! Three stories high, dark and wide, crooked and pointed and dense. I stared at it long after my friends left me there. Back to the hotel room, they were cold. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it, the one window on the third floor, yellow light seeping out the glass. Was it him? Was he writing the eighth book in the Dark Tower series, or the sequel to Black House? I could hear metal keys clacking, an old Remington QuietWriter, even though I knew he used a Mac. I longed to hear a wolf or coyote, a plaintive howl in the distance. I wanted the clouds to part, the full moon to fill up the night, the cold to freeze me to the spot.
Sometimes when I stand in front of the vending machine, lost in an empty, dull haze, I try to pencil in the details, what he said. I think of the expansive library, the tea, his beard. It comes to me in flashes, these bits, and I grin at the Snickers, I laugh at the Cheetos, forgetting what I wanted to eat. Forgetting I was hungry at all. I made a deal with the man, a trade, and it landed me on a bus driving out into the night. Often my break ends and I go back to work hungry, and yet, filled with the glimmer of something he told me.
The long, black Cadillac eased up to the gate, and I stared at it, in wonder. Maybe it was a friend, or a staff member. Did he have a staff? Was it his wife or son? I knew too many personal details, I knew too much of his life. Tabitha, if you’re wondering. Joe is the one with the talent. I leaned over to stare at the car, the passenger side window sliding down. The man sat inside, full beard and glasses, tired eyes filled with a shimmer.
“Better move along, son,” he said. “Getting late.”
“Oh, sorry, sir, I was just admiring the house. I uh, big fan, long time, I am.”
“Sorry, I didn’t think I’d see you. I’ve read all your books.”
“Thanks,” he said. “What’s your name?”
“Richard. I’m a writer too, trying to break through.”
“That’s tough, man. But I wish you the best. You want me to sign something?”
“Um, sure. I’ve got a copy of The Stand here, my favorite.”
“My favorite too. You sick, got a cold?”
“No,” I said.
“Family history of cancer, mental illness?”
He looked me over, taking in the leather jacket, the jeans, my slowly expanding waistline. He licked his lips, dry from the weather, and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Can you keep your mouth shut?” he asked.
“Uh, sure, I guess.”
“No guessing. Can you keep your mouth shut?”
“Yes sir, I can.”
“Hop in,” he said.
Some nights when my shift is over, I sit in an old gray Taurus out in the parking lot and drink a forty ounce, no hurry to get home. Home, that’s a joke. A one-bedroom apartment over a gas station, cold and sad and the only place I know. I drink it too fast, remembering words like secret and eternity and vomit the foam onto the pavement. He offered me a deal, and I took it. I had a chance to be part of his club, to be a part of the man, and to expedite my own career as well. Career, that’s a joke. I can hardly remember my name, I can’t add very well, and I’m not sure where I’m from. He took too much, that greedy bastard, but that’s why he’s the king.
We sat in his library, a low fire burning, the smell of wood smoke filling the room. We sipped at some tea—since he’d long stopped drinking—but we put it in brandy snifters for fun. He told me how he got his stories, the source of his prolific imagination. He opened a footlocker that sat by the wall, filled with manuscripts, one atop another. There must have been a dozen novels sitting in there. When I turned to him, my mouth open there was a gleam in his eye, white teeth emerging from the hairy beast that wrapped around his jaw.
He offered me a deal. I could pick any one novel out of the batch, and make it my own, for a cost. It was a guaranteed best seller, he told me more than once, and in return, just a bit of myself. He’d done this many times, he intoned, no worries, nothing to fear. Struggling young writers approached him all the time, there was no shortage of proteins to choose from. I placed the novel in my backpack, and he lay me out on his desk.
“No worries, son, I’ve done this lots of times.”
I stared at the floor, lying on my stomach, as the needles pierced the back of my neck.
“The first one is the worst, then it’s a walk in the park,” he said.
Pinpricks, then the electric razor, then the scalpel. The bone saw shot a fine mist into the air, smoke from my very own skull. Something trickled down the back of my neck, and he chuckled to himself. The next smell was garlic and onions in a pan, the kitchen just off his study. My legs trembled and I feared I pissed myself, a twinge at the back of my head. My eyes rolled, fingers twitched, drool pooling under my head.
“Dammit, too much,” I hear him say. “And you’ve pissed on my desk, you ingrate.”
When I come to on the bus, the bandage wrapped around my head, the throbbing in my skull pushing tears out of my eyes, I am nowhere near Maine. The slow vibration of tires underneath me has woken me up. I’m in the middle of the darkness, cornfields and billboards on a bus ride heading someplace south. My backpack is filled with tightly wrapped cash, in bundles of twenties and tens. But no novel, no book. There is only a note. It apologies for ruining me like this, but I’ll be unable to tour, to promote, and quite possibly in time, to tie my shoes. It could all go away at any time, he writes, his apologies for the slip. Get a simple job in a small town and just whittle away the time. He suggests coke and whores and cheap beer, and in the end, I take him up on it all.
Some days when I stand in line at McDonald’s, or at the video store, I get a flash of his bearded face. He tells me of all of the brains he has eaten, just a nip, just a slice, just a bite. And I smile. I could never really write anyway. It’s probably better this way.
Richard Thomas was the winner of the 2009 “Enter the World of Filaria” contest at ChiZine. He has published dozens of stories online and in print, including the Shivers VI anthology (Cemetery Dance) with Stephen King and Peter Straub, Murky Depths, PANK, Pear Noir!, Word Riot, 3:AM Magazine, Dogmatika, Vain and Opium. His debut novel Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications) was released in July of 2010. He does book reviews at The Nervous Breakdown.