Black hole in the soul

Black hole in the soul

''An ungrateful child is like a serpent’s tooth, but a nagging and ungrateful wife is ever so much sharper than that''. This quote from the Bible sets the tone for one of the four short stories in this volume.

‘1922’ takes you back in time but the dark goings-on could happen in any age. A wife who wants to sell a part of their farm is killed and dumped into a well by her husband with the son becoming a tool in his hands. Written as a confessional, ‘1922’ is about how Wilfred Leland James makes his own hell on earth.

It’s a ghost story, but the ghost was there even before the woman it belonged to died. The man discovers what most people never have to learn: murder is sin; murder is damnation of one’s own mind and spirit — even if there were no afterlife. Even if you are not caught, you remain a condemned man lifelong. But then, murder is also hard work: You kill and sweat it out to cover your tracks before nemesis catches up.

Secrets are terrible, and keeping them is even more terrible. This is a thread that runs through the other stories as well. As James says: “You realise that you are in a hell of your own making, but you go on nevertheless. Because there is nothing else to do.”

King guarantees creepy crawly stuff. Rats as bloodsuckers, especially when they latch on to the udders of cows, can be as scary as it gets. What happens when a mystery writer herself is beaten, raped and robbed on her way back home from a public disappearance? She goes after the perpetrator using her research skills as an author. Apart from the tools of the trade, a gun comes in handy. And there is always ‘google earth’ to guide you around. Such is the diabolical plot that does Tess in, one must ask if the whole thing is in her writer’s head or something that’s being played out there in real life. She discovers that there is no limit to the dark deeds of the human heart. The trauma of rape can leave lifelong scars on the mind. But this is one story she will never write.

‘Big Driver’ is littered with corpses. One of these is just a skeleton, stretching out its bony hand, as if in supplication. The other might have been a department store mannequin, except that it has bulging eyes and a protruding tongue.  What happens to ordinary people in extraordinary situations is further explored in the next novella, ‘Fair Extension’.
George Elvid, a street vendor, offers a life extension to cancer-stricken Streeter who will be gone shortly. Soon after the encounter, Streeter’s health condition undergoes a miraculous transformation. He starts eating well. A scan reveals that his tumours have shrunk and the lungs have become clear. His doctor declares him cancer-free. Then horror strikes: Tom, who had been his best friend and all along been healthy, is now afflicted with deadly diseases. What did Elvid do to Tom? Tom had stolen Streeter’s girlfriend and narrates the betrayal to Elvid. Tom has been leading a happy and prosperous life. After the Streeter-Elvid meeting, a series of unfortunate incidents rock him and his family. One even chokes to death on a piece of apple. His daughter is delivered of a dead baby. “I have offended God,” Tom tells Streeter. Things have a way of balancing out in the end.

The human condition is further explored in ‘A Good Marriage’, the pick of the book. What happens if after a quarter of a century of being happily married, you discover that your husband is a psychopathic serial killer? Darcy Madsen stumbles upon hubby Bob Anderson’s dark deeds after 27 years. One day, while looking for batteries for her TV remote control, she finds a carton full of books and papers in the garage. Tucked away is a plastic ID card of a woman. A web search throws up shocking stuff. The sweet dream of one more ordinary evening, in an ordinary life, had been swallowed by a nightmare. Bob, who has been away, sneaks in and discovers what his wife has uncovered. A look at the history in ‘firefox’ on his wife’s laptop tells him what Darcy has been up to. The skeletons in the man’s mind start tumbling out. The killer, he tries to reason, is not him but a buddy of his, who has got into his head and soul. Despite the divided self, he continues to see himself as a responsible family man with a good home, a good wife and two beautiful children who are all grown-up and starting their own lives. Faced with the horrible truth, Darcy wonders what she should do. Wreck the family by going to the police, or just clam up and burden her conscience? In any case, the police would say she has been an accomplice all these years.  

King’s afterword is really the icing on the cake. He tells us that each of the stories is based on some real life incident or the other. And, signs off the master story-teller: most people are essentially good. “It’s you, I’m not entirely sure of.” As cheeky as it can get! One of the most readable literary pieces to have come out in a long time.

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