I personally think the end of the world is an intriguing idea. Hell, I like the end of the world. I love it even, find it downright fascinating. I've read a lot of Stephen King in my time, a nasty habit passed on to me by my mother and my aunt, who are die-hard fans. My first experience was The Stand when I was twelve or thirteen years old. Admittedly, I was frightened of its size, and rightly so; after I'd finished it I was exhausted and didn't ever want to read a novel again. I needed something shorter so I asked my aunt, "What do you got that's shorter, shorter, shorter than The Stand? With a devious twinkle in her eye she said, "Step in to my parlour, sir," referring to her linen closet.
On the second or third shelf, beside the guest linen, were stacks of Stephen King novels. There were even one or two Dean Koontz novels. To this day I'm not sure if there were any other books in the house... all I'd ever seen her read was Stephen King. Recently she confided in me that she "tries to read The Stand twice a year." She showed me Dolores Claiborne and Gerald's Game, but her brief synopses didn't interest me in the least. She gave up, telling me there were plenty of King books on the shelf and even a special few in her room under her bed, were I to find the wherewithal required to make such a painstaking decision.
Under her bed, I happened upon a book entitled Nightmares & Dreamscapes. Liking the title, I plopped myself on her worn, ugly-brown, yet impossibly comfortable loveseat, and took a look. To my great delight I found that it was a book of some twenty-three short stories, and even one poem thrown in for good measure. To this day I have not read all of the stories, having left a half-dozen or so unread, for whatever reason. The second short story, entitled "The End of the Whole Mess," has always spooked me, far worse than any scrap of writing that King has put to paper--and that's no small bit of paper, I'll hasten to add. Let's hear what the narrator says the story's about in its first line:
"I want to tell you about the end of war, the degeneration of mankind, and the death of the Messiah..."
Pretty direct, but that's the way King works. Like any decent reading material, decent fiction should grab the reader's attention at the outset. This opening is very correct, too: the narrator's brother, Bobby, attempts to save the world, which we find out in the next two paragraphs, but he failed. The reasons for this are not totally clear, but King writes:
"My name is Howard Fornoy. I was a freelance writer. My brother, Robert Fornoy, was the Messiah. I killed him by shooting him up with his own discovery four hours ago."
I feel I should inform the reader at this point that the rest of this writeup does indeed contain spoilers great and small. If you want maximum enjoyment of this story (if you decide to go read it, that is) I'd suggest reading it, then coming back here and completing your read. Otherwise, please continue. You've been warned.
The focus of the story is an interested science-fiction approach to the end of all violence on earth, through super-genius Robert Fornoy's discovery of a cure for it. He says, "I think it's the water...Something in the water." He finds a well just outside Waco, Texas, in the center of a town which is, for the most part, completely calm in an near-future world where Albanians attempted to airspray London with the AIDS virus. Throughout the story we are told of Bobby's incredibly vaunted intelligence, and we find a pattern: he never quite gets it (whatever itis) exactly right. It is a subtle yet excellent theme: he never settles on any one school of learning, never completes university; he builds an airplane out of a wagon and crashes it; he creates a makeshift radio station and gets scolded and his allowance taken away. Saving the world from itself is no different: he doesn't bother testing his "cure" on a small group. Naturally, as this is a Stephen King story, something goes wrong: Bobby concentrates his efforts into releasing an extremely potent version of "The Calmative" into the atmosphere, and only later does it appear that high incidences of premature senility and death occur, thus destroying humanity utterly. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.
No one is safe, not even the narrator or his brother, the "Messiah". This is clearly and frighteningly apparent in King's writing over the last three pages of the novel. Howard Fornoy, our narrator and voice throughout the entire telling of the story, loses his mind as he writes. The following passage is located near the very end of the story, but if I were to add [sic] to every misspelling, there would be one between every word, and I don't want to do that.
"we...wor big long sleekers in the ran, so no war and everybobby started to get seely we din and I came back here because he my brother what his name
Think that's good? Very rarely, I think, an author can structure a sentence so well and so perfectly within the context of the story that it will stick out forever in your mind, scare the reader, make the reader cry, cause near-hysterical gales of laughter. I will give one more line of this excellent story away, the one that cause my hands to tremble years after I lost interest in Stephen King, years after I lost my need to be scared. This one is also near the end of the book, and it scared the shit out of me.
"I see wurds but dont know what they mean"
I pulled Nightmares & Dreamscapes
out from under my bed a few months ago, and instantly, I wanted to be scared. So I opened to page
57, and read. I read until the pages began to quiver
. I sat for a few moments afterward
, staring. A slow smile
crept across my face, and I said to no one in particular
, "Holy shit
." Stephen King
has sold millions
of books--he is in the business of scaring people
. It's what he does, and does it well. As with most author
s, he is hit
. The mark of a good author is to leave the reader wondering, marvelling and maybe even shivering at the tale told. I will never, ever forget
this story, and I think that was the point