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Video: He’s the king of horror

TODAY
updated 1/22/2008 11:05:39 AM ET 2008-01-22T16:05:39

Editor's Note: This book excerpt contains numerous profanities and is not suitable for minors.

Stephen King's latest novel, "Duma Key," tells the story of Edgar Freemantle and his recovery from a terrible nightmare-inducing accident that stole his arm and ended his marriage. One reviewer promises it is as truly scary as anything King has ever written. Here's an excerpt.

How to draw a picture
Start with a blank surface. It doesn't have to be paper or canvas, but I feel it should be white. We call it white because we need a word, but its true name is nothing. Black is the absence of light, but white is the absence of memory, the color of can't remember.

How do we remember to remember? That's a question I've asked myself often since my time on Duma Key, often in the small hours of the morning, looking up into the absence of light, remembering absent friends. Sometimes in those little hours I think about the horizon. You have to establish the horizon. You have to mark the white. A simple enough act, you might say, but any act that re-makes the world is heroic. Or so I’ve come to believe.

Imagine a little girl, hardly more than a baby. She fell from a carriage almost ninety years ago, struck her head on a stone, and forgot everything. Not just her name; everything! And then one day she recalled just enough to pick up a pencil and make that first hesitant mark across the white. A horizon-line, sure. But also a slot for blackness to pour through.

Still, imagine that small hand lifting the pencil ... hesitating ... and then marking the white. Imagine the courage of that first effort to re-establish the world by picturing it. I will always love that little girl, in spite of all she has cost me. I must. I have no choice. Pictures are magic, as you know.

My other life
My name is Edgar Freemantle. I used to be a big deal in the building and contracting business. This was in Minnesota, in my other life. I learned that my-other-life thing from Wireman. I want to tell you about Wireman, but first let’s get through the Minnesota part.

Gotta say it: I was a genuine American-boy success there. Worked my way up in the company where I started, and when I couldn’t work my way any higher there, I went out and started my own. The boss of the company I left laughed at me, said I’d be broke in a year. I think that’s what most bosses say when some hot young pocket-rocket goes off on his own.

For me, everything worked out. When Minneapolis–St. Paul boomed, The Freemantle Company boomed. When things tightened up, I never tried to play big. But I did play my hunches, and most played out well. By the time I was fifty, Pam and I were worth forty million dollars. And we were still tight. We had two girls, and at the end of our particular Golden Age, Ilse was at Brown and Melinda was teaching in France, as part of a foreign exchange program. At the time things went wrong, my wife and I were planning to go and visit her.

I had an accident at a job site. It was pretty simple; when a pickup truck, even a Dodge Ram with all the bells and whistles, argues with a twelve-story crane, the pickup is going to lose every time. The right side of my skull only cracked. The left side was slammed so hard against the Ram’s doorpost that it fractured in three places. Or maybe it was five. My memory is better than it used to be, but it’s still a long way from what it once was.

The doctors called what happened to my head a contracoup injury, and that kind of thing often does more damage than the original hit. My ribs were broken. My right hip was shattered. And although I retained seventy per cent of the sight in my right eye (more, on a good day), I lost my right arm.

I was supposed to lose my life, but didn’t. I was supposed to be mentally impaired thanks to the contracoup thing, and at first I was, but it passed. Sort of. By the time it did, my wife had gone, and not just sort of. We were married for twenty-five years, but you know what they say: shit happens. I guess it doesn’t matter; gone is gone. And over is over. Sometimes that’s a good thing.

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When I say I was mentally impaired, I mean that at first I didn’t know who people were — even my wife — or what had happened. I couldn’t understand why I was in such pain. I can’t remember the quality of that pain now, four years later. I know that I suffered it, and that it was excruciating, but it’s all pretty academic. It wasn’t academic at the time. At the time it was like being in hell and not knowing why you were there.

At first you were afraid you’d die, then you were afraid you wouldn’t. That’s what Wireman says, and he would have known; he had his own season in hell.

Everything hurt all the time. I had a constant ringing headache; behind my forehead it was always midnight in the world’s biggest clock-shop. Because my right eye was fucked up, I was seeing the world through a film of blood, and I hardly knew what the world was. Nothing had a name. I remember one day when Pam was in the room — I was still in the hospital — and she was standing by my bed. I was extremely pissed that she should be standing when there was a thing to sit on right over in the cornhole.

“Bring the friend,” I said. “Sit in the friend.”

“What do you mean, Edgar?” she asked.

“The friend, the buddy!” I shouted. “Bring over the fucking pal, you dump bitch!” My head was killing me and she was starting to cry. I hated her for that. She had no business crying, because she wasn’t the one in the cage, looking at everything through a red blur. She wasn’t the monkey in the cage. And then it came to me. “Bring over the chum and sick down!” It was the closest my rattled, fucked-up brain could come to chair.

I was angry all the time. There were two older nurses that I called Dry Fuck One and Dry Fuck Two, as if they were characters in a dirty Dr. Seuss story. There was a candystriper I called Pilch Lozenge — I have no idea why, but that nickname also had some sort of sexual connotation. To me, at least. When I grew stronger, I tried to hit people. Twice I tried to stab Pam, and on one of those two occasions I succeeded, although only with a plastic knife. She still needed a couple of stitches in her forearm. There were times when I had to be tied down.

Here is what I remember most clearly about that part of my other life: a hot afternoon toward the end of my month-long stay in an expensive convalescent home, the expensive air conditioning broken, tied down in my bed, a soap opera on the television, a thousand midnight bells ringing in my head, pain burning and stiffening my right side like a poker, my missing right arm itching, my missing right fingers twitching, no more Oxycontin due for awhile (I don’t know how long, because telling time is beyond me), and a nurse swims out of the red, a creature coming to look at the monkey in the cage, and the nurse says: “Are you ready to visit with your wife?” And I say: “Only if she brought a gun to shoot me with.”

You don’t think that kind of pain will pass, but it does. Then they ship you home and replace it with the agony of physical rehabilitation. The red began to drain from my vision. A psychologist who specialized in hypnotherapy showed me some neat tricks for managing the phantom aches and itches in my missing arm. That was Kamen. It was Kamen who brought me Reba: one of the few things I took with me when I limped out of my other life and into the one I lived on Duma Key.

“This is not approved psychological therapy for anger management,” Dr. Kamen said, although I suppose he might have been lying about that to make Reba more attractive. He told me I had to give her a hateful name, and so, although she looked like Lucy Ricardo, I named her after an aunt who used to pinch my fingers when I was small if I didn’t eat all my carrots. Then, less than two days after getting her, I forgot her name. I could only think of boy names, each one making me angrier: Randall, Russell, Rudolph, River-fucking-Phoenix.

I was home by then. Pam came in with my morning snack and must have seen the look on my face, because I could see her steeling herself for an outburst. But even though I’d forgotten the name of the fluffy red rage-doll the psychologist had given me, I remembered how I was supposed to use it in this situation.

“Pam,” I said, “I need five minutes to get myself under control. I can do this.”

“Are you sure —”

“Yes, now just get that hamhock out of here and stick it up your face-powder. I can do this.”

I didn’t know if I really could, but that was what I was supposed to say. I couldn’t remember the fucking doll’s name, but I could remember I can do this. That’s clear about the end of my other life, how I kept saying I can do this even when I knew I couldn’t, even when I knew I was fucked, I was double-fucked, I was dead-ass-fucked in the pouring rain.

“I can do this,” I said, and God knows how I looked because she backed out without a word, the tray still in her hands and the cup chattering against the plate.

When she was gone, I held the doll up in front of my face, staring into its stupid blue eyes as my thumbs disappeared into its stupid yielding body. “What’s your name, you bat-faced bitch?” I shouted at it. It never once occurred to me that Pam was listening on the kitchen intercom, she and the day-nurse both. Tell you what, if the intercom had been broken they could have heard me through the door. I was in good voice that day.

I began to shake the doll back and forth. Its head flopped and its synthetic I Love Lucy hair flew. Its big blue cartoon eyes seemed to be saying Oouuu, you nasty man! like Betty Boop in one of those old cartoons you can still see sometimes on the cable.

“What’s your name, bitch? What’s your name, you cunt? What’s your name, you cheap rag-filled whore? Tell me your name! Tell me your name! Tell me your name or I’ll cut out your eyes and chop off your nose and rip out your —”

My mind cross-connected then, a thing that still happens now, four years later, down here in the town of Tamazunchale, state of San Luis Potosí, country of Mexico, site of Edgar Freemantle’s third life. For a moment I was in my pickup truck, clipboard rattling against my old steel lunchbucket in the passenger footwell (I doubt if I was the only working millionaire in America to carry a lunchbucket, but you probably could have counted us in the dozens), my PowerBook beside me on the seat. And from the radio a woman’s voice cried “It was RED!” with evangelical fervor. Only three words, but three was enough. It was the song about the poor woman who turns out her pretty daughter as a prostitute. It was “Fancy,” by Reba McEntire.

“Reba,” I whispered, and hugged the doll against me. “You’re Reba. Reba-Reba-Reba. I’ll never forget again.” I did — the following week — but I didn’t get angry that time. No. I held her against me like a little love, closed my eyes, and visualized the pickup truck that had been demolished in the accident. I visualized my steel lunchbucket rattling against the steel clip on my clipboard, and the woman’s voice came from the radio once more, exulting with that same evangelical fervor: “It was RED!”

Dr. Kamen called it a breakthrough. He was excited. My wife seemed a good deal less excited, and the kiss she put on my cheek was of the dutiful variety. I think it was two months later that she told me she wanted a divorce.

Excerpted from “Duma Key” by Stephen King. Copyright © 2008 Stephen King. Excerpted by permission of Simon and Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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