Saturday, November 21, 2009

Death by Stephen King

About 20 years ago, I had to make a series of trips across the state of New Mexico for business. I forget how many times I drove up and down I-25 from one end to the other. This is beautiful country, but after you have seen it a few times, you are mostly aware of the long periods of time with nothing out there.

It was at the end of the summer, and I was getting a late start as I headed north in my pickup. By the time I passed the chili fields of Hatch, it was very dark. The night sky in New Mexico is always fantastic, either the lack of lights make the constellations seem to leap out at you or as it was that night, the summer storms produce unbelievably beautiful lightning.

If you have never seen desert lightning, the blackness suddenly pierced by blinding flashes that reveal the mountains and valleys… well, you probably live someplace where you should stay. We don’t need any more damn Yankees living here. Don’t move here, you wouldn’t like it anyway. You wouldn’t believe how many square miles we have without a Starbucks. Hell, the entire state only has a single Costco, and its 200 miles away.

Somewhere north of the town of Truth or Consequences, I began to notice that my headlights were getting dim, evidently my alternator had died and the truck was running off the battery. Miles from a town, all I could really do was select the spot where I would spend the night. I couldn’t even pull the pickup very far off the road, but I stopped on the top of hill where when the lightning cooperated, I could see Elephant Butte Lake off in the distance with the mountains behind.

Too far to walk to the next town, well out of cell phone range in those days, all I could do was sit and wait for the highway patrol to find me. I raised the hood, tied a white rag to the hood, moved over to the passenger seat and tried to get comfortable. I like to drive off road, and in case of trouble, I carry a lot of gear in my truck, I had more than everything I needed, I even had a book to read.

I have and will read anything, behind the seat I had stowed a Stephen King novel. Horror books aren’t my usual style, but since I had never read one of King’s books, I was looking forward to trying one. I positioned a candle on the opened glove compartment door, lit it and began to read the book. Wow, that was a great book.

Each truck that went down that highway rattled the truck. Every few minutes I would get so absorbed into the book that I would forget where I was, but a sudden flash of lightning through the high desert air would bring me back to my senses. Stephen, you are a master, I was scared silly. If someone had walked up to my truck and knocked on the window, I probably wouldn’t have lived long enough to write this. Death by Stephen King.

At one point, either the thunder or the passing of one of those eighteen wheelers shook my tiny pickup so violently that the candle fell over. The fall didn’t put the candle out and I didn’t even notice this until the dash caught fire and the fumes from the burning plastic got my attention.

I never got any sleep that night; I spent the entire night reading that book, finishing a few hours after the sun came up. The highway patrol had been busy with a wreck on another highway, all together; I spent about 14 hours before they found me and arranged for a tow truck to take me back to Truth or Consequences. The highway patrolman felt bad about the delay in finding me, he didn’t seem to understand why I was happy about the night I spent on the side of the road or why I wouldn’t have wanted to have been found any sooner.

Horror books will never be my favorite, but I have read several Stephen King books since then. And though he’s a great author, I don’t think he can write a book that will compare with the first one I read.

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