Read an exclusive excerpt from Stephen King's forthcoming novel Fairy Tale
In Stephen King's new novel Fairy Tale a 17-year-old boy named Charlie Reade who inherits the keys to a parallel world where good and evil are at war.
"What could you write that would make you happy?" said King in a statement. "As if my imagination had been waiting for the question to be asked, I saw a vast deserted city — deserted but alive. I saw the empty streets, the haunted buildings, a gargoyle head lying overturned in the street. I saw smashed statues (of what I didn't know, but I eventually found out). I saw a huge, sprawling palace with glass towers so high their tips pierced the clouds. Those images released the story I wanted to tell."
Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid, great at baseball and football, a decent student. But he carries a heavy load. His mom was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was 10, and grief drove his dad to drink. Charlie learned how to take care of himself — and his dad. Then, when Charlie is 17, he meets a dog named Radar and his aging master, Howard Bowditch, a recluse in a big house at the top of a big hill, with a locked shed in the backyard. Sometimes strange sounds emerge from it.
Charlie starts doing jobs for Mr. Bowditch and loses his heart to Radar. Then, when Bowditch dies, he leaves Charlie a cassette tape telling a story no one would believe. What Bowditch knows, and has kept secret all his long life, is that inside the shed is a portal to another world.
Fairy Tale is out Sept. 6, but you can read an exclusive excerpt from it and see the book's cover below.
A hundred and eighty-five stone steps of varying heights, Mr. Bowditch said, and I counted them as I went down. I moved very slowly, with my back planted against the curving stone wall, facing the drop. The stones were rough and damp. I kept the flashlight trained on my feet. Varying heights. I didn't want to stumble. A stumble might be the end of me.
On number ninety, not quite halfway, I heard rustling beneath me. I debated shining my light toward the sound and almost decided not to. If I startled a colony of giant bats and they flew up all around me, I probably would fall.
That was good logic, but fear was stronger. I leaned out a bit from the wall, shone my light along the descending curve of the steps, and saw something black crouching two dozen steps below. When my light hit it, I had just enough time to see it was one of the jumbo roaches before it fled, scuttering into the black.
I took a few deep breaths, told myself I was all right, didn't believe it, and went on. It took nine or ten minutes to reach the bottom, because I was moving very slowly. It seemed even longer. Every now and then I looked up, and it wasn't particularly comforting to see the circle illuminated by the battery lights growing smaller and smaller. I was deep in the earth and going deeper.
I reached the bottom at the hundred and eighty-fifth step. The floor was packed earth, just as Mr. Bowditch had said, and there were a few blocks that had fallen from the wall, probably from the very top, where frost and thaw would have first loosened them and then squeezed them out. Mr. Bowditch had grabbed a crack in one of the spaces from which a block had fallen, and it had saved his life. The pile of fallen blocks was streaked with black stuff that I guessed was roach shit.
The corridor was there. I stepped over the blocks and into it. Mr. Bowditch had been right — it was so tall I didn't even think about ducking my head. Now I could hear more rustling up ahead and guessed they were the roosting bats Mr. Bowditch had warned me about. I don't like the idea of bats — they carry germs, sometimes rabies — but they don't give me the horrors as they did Mr. Bowditch. Going toward the sound of them, I was more curious than anything. Those short curving steps (of varying heights) ringing the drop had given me the fantods, but now I was on solid ground and that was a big improvement. Of course there were thousands of tons of rock and soil above me, but this corridor had been down here for a long time, and I didn't think it would pick this moment to collapse and bury me. Nor did I have to fear being buried alive; if the roof fell in, so to speak, I would be killed instantly.
Cheerful, I thought.
Cheerful I was not, but my fear was being replaced — overshadowed, at least — by excitement. If Mr. Bowditch had been telling the truth, another world was waiting not far up ahead. Having come this far, I wanted to see it. Gold was the very least of it.
The dirt floor changed to stone. To cobblestones, in fact, like in old movies on TCM about London in the nineteenth century. Now the rustling was right over my head and I snapped off the light. Pitch darkness made me fearful all over again, but I did not want to find myself in a cloud of bats. For all I knew, they might be vampire bats. Unlikely in Illinois . . . except I wasn't really in Illinois anymore, was I?
I went on a mile at least, Mr. Bowditch had said, so I counted steps until I lost count. At least there was no fear of my flashlight failing if I needed it again; the batteries in the long-barrel were fresh. I kept waiting to see daylight, always listening to the soft fluttering overhead. Were the bats really as big as turkey buzzards? I didn't want to know.
At last I saw light — a bright spark, just as Mr. Bowditch had said. I walked on and the spark turned into a circlet, bright enough to leave an afterimage on my eyes every time I blinked them shut. I had forgotten all about the lightheadedness Mr. Bowditch had spoken of, but when it hit me, I knew exactly what he'd been talking about.
Once, when I was ten or so, Bertie Bird and I had hyperventilated our stupid selves and then hugged each other, good and tight, to see if we would pass out, as some friend of Bertie's had claimed. Neither of us did, but I went all swimmy and fell on my ass in what felt like slow motion. This was like that. I kept walking, but I felt like a helium balloon bobbing along above my own body, and if the string snapped I would just float away.
Then it passed, as Mr. Bowditch had said it did for him. He said there was a border, and that had been it. I had left Sentry's Rest behind. And Illinois. And America. I was in the Other.
I reached the opening and saw the ceiling overhead was now earth, with fine tendrils of root dangling down. I ducked under some overhanging vines and stepped out onto a sloping hillside. The sky was gray but the field was bright red. Poppies spread in a gorgeous blanket stretching left and right as far as I could see. A path led through the flowers toward a road. On the far side of the road more poppies ran maybe a mile to thick woods, making me think of the forests that had once grown in my suburban town. The path was faint but the road wasn't. It was dirt but wide, not a track but a thoroughfare. Where the path joined the road there was a tidy little cottage with smoke rising from the stone chimney. There were clotheslines with things strung on them that weren't clothes. I couldn't make out what they were.
I looked to the far horizon and saw the skyline of a great city. Daylight reflected hazily from its highest towers, as if they were made of glass. Green glass. I had read The Wizard of Oz and seen the movie, and I knew an Emerald City when I saw one.
This excerpt was reprinted with permission from Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster.
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