The first collaboration from Stephen King and son Owen King is a chilling novel that asks: What would happen in a world without women?
“You cannot believe how nice it is to have somebody that you raised come to you and say: ‘Let’s work together,’ ” said Stephen King, who has previously collaborated with his older son Joe on two books.
For their first joint effort, he and Owen dreamed up Sleeping Beauties (out Sept. 26), a horror tale set in a remote Appalachian town where women lie down to sleep and never awaken, their bodies shrouded in gossamer webs. And as their sons and husbands and brothers soon learn, disturbing those mysterious cocoons comes with consequences. Below, EW can exclusively share an excerpt from Sleeping Beauties, as well as two corresponding clips from the audiobook.
Excerpt from Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King
Magda Dubcek, mother of that handsome young pool-polisher-about town known as Anton the Pool Guy (he had incorporated, too, so please make out your checks to Anton the Pool Guy, LLC), tottered into the living room of the duplex she shared with her son. She had her cane in one hand and a morning pick-me-up in the other. She flumped into her easy chair with a fart and a sigh and fired up the television.
Normally at this hour of the day she would have tuned in the second hour of Good Day Wheeling, but this morning she went to NewsAmerica instead. There was a breaking story that interested her, which was good, and she knew one of the correspondents covering it, which was even better. Michaela Coates, Michaela Morgan she called herself now but little Mickey to Magda, forever and always, whom she had babysat all those years ago. Back then Jan Coates had just been a guard at the women’s lockup on the south end of town, a widowed single mom only trying to hang in there. Now she was the warden, boss of the whole shebang, and her daughter Mickey was a nationally known news correspondent working out of DC, famous for her tough questions and short skirts. Those Coates women had really made something of themselves. Magda was proud of them, and if she felt a flicker of melancholy because Mickey never called or wrote, or because Janice never stopped in to chew the fat, well, they had jobs to do. Magda didn’t presume to understand the pressures that they operated under.
The news anchor on duty this morning was George Alderson. With his glasses and stooped shoulders and thinning hair, he didn’t look anything like the matinee idol types that usually sat behind the big desks and read the news. He looked like a mortuary attendant. Also, he had an unfortunate voice for a TV person. Sort of quacky. Well, Magda supposed there was a reason NewsAmerica was number three behind FOX and CNN. She was eager for the day when Michaela would move up to one of those. When it happened, Magda wouldn’t have to put up with Alderson anymore.
“At this hour we’re continuing to follow a breaking story that began in Australia,” Alderson said. The expression on his face attempted to combine concern with skepti- cism but landed closer to constipated.
You should retire and go bald in the com- fort of your home, Magda thought, and toasted him with the first rum and Coke of the day. Go Turtle Wax your head, George, and get out of the way for my Michaela.
“Medical officials in Oahu, Hawaii, are reporting that the outbreak of what some are calling Asian Fainting Sickness and oth- ers are calling Australian Fainting Flu continues to spread. No one seems to be sure where it actually originated, but so far the only victims have been women. Now we’re getting word that cases have popped up on our shores, first in California, then in Colorado, and now in the Carolinas. Here’s Michaela Morgan with more.”
“Mickey!” Magda cried, once more toast- ing the television (and slopping some of her drink onto the sleeve of her cardigan). Mag- da’s voice held only a trace of Czech this morning, but by the time Anton got home at five PM, she would sound as if she had just gotten off the boat instead of living in the Tri-Counties for almost forty years. “Little Mickey Coates! I chased your bare ass all around your mother’s living room, both of us laughing fit to split our sides! I changed your poopy diapers, you little kook, and look at you now!”
Michaela Morgan née Coates, in a sleeveless blouse and one of her trademark short skirts, was standing in front of a rambling building complex painted barn red. Magda thought those short skirts served Mickey very well. Even big-deal politicians were apt to become mesmerized by a glimpse of upper thigh, and in such a state, the truth sometimes popped out of their lying mouths. Not always, mind you, but sometimes. On the issue of Michaela’s new nose, Magda was conflicted. She missed that sassy stub that her girl had when she was a kiddo, and in a way, with her sharp new nose, Mickey didn’t look so much like Mickey anymore. On the other hand, she did look terrific! You couldn’t take your eyes off her.
“I’m here at the Loving Hands Hospice in Georgetown, where the first cases of what some are calling the Australian Fainting Flu were noticed in the early hours of the morning. Almost a hundred patients are housed here, most geriatric, and over half of them female. Administrators refuse to confirm or deny the outbreak, but I talked to an orderly just minutes ago, and what he had to say, although brief, was disquieting. He spoke on condition of anonymity. Here he is.”
The taped interview was indeed brief — little more than a sound bite. It featured Michaela speaking to a man in hospital
whites with his face blurred and his voice electronically altered so he sounded like a sinister alien overlord in a sci-fi movie.
“What’s going on in there?” Michaela asked. “Can you fill us in?”
“Most of the women are asleep and won’t wake up,” the orderly said in his alien overlord voice. “It’s just like in Hawaii.”
“The men are dandy. Up and eating their breakfast.”
“In Hawaii there have been some reports of—growths, on the faces of the sleeping women. Is that the case here?”
“I . . . don’t think I should talk about that.”
“Please.” Michaela batted her eyes. “Peo- ple are concerned.”
“That’s it!” Magda croaked, saluting the television with her drink and slopping a bit more on her cardigan. “Go sexy! Once they want to stir your batter, you can get any- thing out of em!”
“Not growths in the tumor sense,” the overlord voice said. “It looks more like they’ve got cotton stuck to em. Now I gotta go.”
“Just one more question—”
“I gotta go. But . . . it’s growing. That cot- ton stuff. It’s . . . kinda gross.”
The picture returned to the live shot. “Disquieting information from an insider . . . if true. Back to you, George.”
As glad as Magda was to have seen Mickey, she hoped the story wasn’t true. Probably just another false scare, like Y2K or that SARS thing, but still, the idea of something that not only put women to sleep but caused stuff to grow on them . . . like Mickey said, that was disquieting. She would be glad when Anton got home. It was lonely with only the TV for company, not that she was one to complain. Magda wasn’t about to worry her hardworking boy, no, no. She’d loaned him the money to start the business, but he was the one who’d made it go.
But now, for the time being, maybe one more drinky, just a little one, and then a nap.
When he entered the bedroom and saw Magda lying under the covers, masked in what looked sort of like Marshmallow Fluff, Anton dropped to his knees beside her, banged the jar with his shake down on the nightstand and, spying the trimmers—probably she had been clipping her eyebrows using her iPhone camera again—went right to work cutting it off.
Had someone done this to her? Had she done it to herself? Was it some kind of bizarre accident? An allergic reaction? Some crazy beauty treatment gone wrong? It was confounding, it was scary, and Anton didn’t want to lose his mother.
Once the webbing was sliced open, he cast the bathroom trimmers aside, and dug his fingers into the opening in the material. It was sticky, but the stuff peeled, stretching and separating from Magda’s cheeks in gummy white whorls. Her worn face with its choppy wrinkles around the eyes, her dear face that Anton had momentarily been cer- tain would be melted beneath the weird white coating (it was kind of like the fairy handkerchiefs he saw glistening in the grass in the dawn yards of the first couple of pools each day), emerged unharmed. The skin was a bit flushed and warm to the touch, but otherwise she appeared no different than before.
A low grumble began to come from inside her throat, almost a snore. Her eyelids were working, trembling from the movement of her eyes beneath the skin. Her lips opened and shut. A little spittle dripped from the corner of her mouth.
“Mama? Mama? Can you wake up for me?”
It seemed she could, because her eyes opened. Blood clouded the pupils, wafting across the sclera. She blinked several times. Her gaze shifted around the room.
Anton slipped an arm under his mother’s shoulders and raised her to a sitting position in the bed. The noise from her throat grew louder; not a snore now but more like a growl.
“Mama? Should I call an ambulance? You want an ambulance? You want me to get a glass of water for you?” The questions came out in a rush. Anton was relieved, though. She continued to look around the bedroom, seeming to regain her bearings.
Her gaze stopped on the nightstand: faux Tiffany lamp, half-drunk jar of power shake, Bible, iPhone. The growling noise was louder. It was like she was building up to a yell or maybe a scream. Was it possible she didn’t recognize him?
“That’s my drink, Mama,” Anton said, as she reached out and grabbed hold of the jar with the shake. “No thanks to you, ha-ha. You forget to make it, you goose.”
She swung it, belting him across the side of his head, the connection a dull bonk of plastic finding bone. Anton tumbled back- ward, feeling pain and wet and bafflement. He landed on his knees. His sight focused on a green splatter on the beige carpet beneath him. Red dripped into the green. What a mess, he thought, just as his mother hit him with the jar again, this time flush against the back of his skull. There was a sharper crack upon impact — the thick plastic of the blender jar splitting. Anton’s face slammed forward into the shake splatter on the bristly mat of the beige carpet. He inhaled blood and shake and carpet fiber, and threw out a hand to pull himself away, but every part of him, every wonderful muscle, had gone heavy and limp. A lion was roaring behind him and if he was going to help his mother get away from it, he needed to get up and find the back of his head.
Excerpted from SLEEPING BEAUTIES by Stephen King and Owen King. Copyright © 2017 by Stephen King and Owen King. Reprinted with permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.