In 1977, Stephen King's The Shining gave us a new kind of horror novel--one that played out in the mind of a psychically gifted young boy, Danny Torrance, and his alcoholic father, in the corridors of a snowbound hotel.
Now, Dan Torrance has grown up. So have his demons. . . .
"Almost 40 years later, I've changed, the world has changed, the planet has changed--and Stephen King is still scaring the hell out of me. . . . I could hardly find the courage to turn the page."
--Alan Cheuse, NPR
The acclaimed sequel to The Shining "King's inventiveness and skill show no sign of slacking: Doctor Sleep has all the virtues of his best work. . . . King is right at the center of the American literary taproot that goes all the way down . . . to Hawthorne, to Poe, to Melville, to the Henry James of The Turn of the Screw, and then to later exemplars like Ray Bradbury. What will King do next? Perhaps Abra will grow up, and become a writer, and use her 'shining' talents to divine the minds and souls of others. For that, of course, is yet another interpretation of King's eerie, luminescent metaphor."
--Margaret Atwood, The New York Times Book Review "King at his best . . . thoroughly terrifying. It's impossible to close the cover on Doctor Sleep and not immediately yearn for a sequel to this sequel."
--New York Daily News
"A gripping, taut read."
"King found there was indeed a reason to revisit Daniel Torrance in adulthood. . . . The temptation toward the bottle that destroyed his father--and the Overlook Hotel--remains at all times, adding remarkable tension. . . ."
--The Toledo Free Press
"Chilling scenes. . . . Doctor Sleep has its own trajectory and cast of characters, and they come fully alive. As with so many of King's characters over the years, we root for them, love them, hate them, fear them, and remember them. . . . It's not simple horror King is after, but thematic resonance: the manacles of the past, the fear of death, the brutality of alcoholism, and the remorse that lingers from bad choices. King offers hope that good can outweigh evil, with some work, commitment, and a little (lots and lots of) blood and guts."
--The Cleveland Plain Dealer "Doctor Sleep has its own vivid frightscape . . . the red mist secreted by the dying is terrifying to imagine. And the steam of those who shine is one of Mr. King's best surreal inventions."
--Janet Maslin, The New York Times "Doctor Sleep doesn't disappoint."
--The Wall Street Journal
"Like Poe, King works at the blurry boundary between supernatural horrors and psychological ones. King is excellent on addiction and its attendant dysfunctions: deception, self-justification, disregard of others, new-leaf fantasies and their near-instant collapse, the next fix as the North Star. . . . As for Doctor Sleep: It refers to Dan Torrance, hospice worker--who, in his sober, shining kindness, comforts his elderly patients as they're dying. Stephen King has given us a work of horror that promises, of all things, a good night's sleep."
--New York Magazine
"A master storyteller."
--Los Angeles Times
"The most wonderfully gruesome man on the planet."
"Stephen King knows exactly what scares you most. . . ."
"An undisputed master of suspense and terror."
--The Washington Post
"King probably knows more about scary goings-on in confined, isolated places than anybody since Edgar Allan Poe."
"America's greatest living novelist."
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When I was playing my primitive brand of rhythm guitar with a group called the Rock Bottom Remainders, Warren Zevon used to gig with us. Warren loved gray t-shirts and movies like Kingdom of the Spiders. He insisted I sing lead on his signature tune, "Werewolves of London," during the encore portion of our shows. I said I was not worthy. He insisted that I was. "Key of G," Warren told me, "and howl like you mean it. Most important of all, play like Keith."
I'll never be able to play like Keith Richards, but I always did my best, and with Warren beside me, matching me note for note and laughing his fool head off, I always had a blast.
Warren, this howl is for you, wherever you are. I miss you, buddy.
We stood at the turning point. Half-measures availed us nothing.
--The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. [It is] the dubious luxury of normal men and women.
--The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
FEAR stands for fuck everything and run.
--Old AA saying
On the second day of December in a year when a Georgia peanut farmer was doing business in the White House, one of Colorado's great resort hotels burned to the ground. The Overlook was declared a total loss. After an investigation, the fire marshal of Jicarilla County ruled the cause had been a defective boiler. The hotel was closed for the winter when the accident occurred, and only four people were present. Three survived. The hotel's off-season caretaker, John Torrance, was killed during an unsuccessful (and heroic) effort to dump the boiler's steam pressure, which had mounted to disastrously high levels due to an inoperative relief valve.
Two of the survivors were the caretaker's wife and young son. The third was the Overlook's chef, Richard Hallorann, who had left his seasonal job in Florida and come to check on the Torrances because of what he called "a powerful hunch" that the family was in trouble. Both surviving adults were quite badly injured in the explosion. Only the child was unhurt.
Physically, at least.
Wendy Torrance and her son received a settlement from the corporation that owned the Overlook. It wasn't huge, but enough to get them by for the three years she was unable to work because of back injuries. A lawyer she consulted told her that if she were willing to hold out and play tough, she might get a great deal more, because the corporation was anxious to avoid a court case. But she, like the corporation, wanted only to put that disastrous winter in Colorado behind her. She would convalesce, she said, and she did, although back injuries plagued her until the end of her life. Shattered vertebrae and broken ribs heal, but they never cease crying out.
Winifred and Daniel Torrance lived in the mid-South for awhile, then drifted down to Tampa. Sometimes Dick Hallorann (he of the powerful hunches) came up from Key West to visit with them. To visit with young Danny especially. They shared a bond.
One early morning in March of 1981, Wendy called Dick and asked if he could come. Danny, she said, had awakened her in the night and told her not to go in the bathroom.
After that, he refused to talk at all.
He woke up needing to pee. Outside, a strong wind was blowing. It was warm--in Florida it almost always was--but he did not like that sound, and supposed he never would. It reminded him of the Overlook, where the defective boiler had been the very least of the dangers.
He and his mother lived in a cramped second-floor tenement apartment. Danny left the little room next to his mother's and crossed the hall. The wind gusted and a dying palm tree beside the building clattered its leaves. The sound was skele
Well, she closed it by accident, that's all.
He knew better, even then (he was possessed of powerful hunches and intuitions himself ), but sometimes you had to know. Sometimes you had to see. This was something he had found out at the Overlook, in a room on the second floor.
Reaching with an arm that seemed too long, too stretchy, too boneless, he turned the knob and opened the door.
The woman from Room 217 was there, as he had known she would be. She was sitting naked on the toilet with her legs spread and her pallid thighs bulging. Her greenish breasts hung down like deflated balloons. The patch of hair below her stomach was gray. Her eyes were also gray, like steel mirrors. She saw him, and her lips stretched back in a grin.
Close your eyes, Dick Hallorann had told him once upon a time. If you see something bad, close your eyes and tell yourself it's not there and when you open them again, it will be gone.
But it hadn't worked in Room 217 when he was five, and it wouldn't work now. He knew it. He could smell her. She was decaying.
The woman--he knew her name, it was Mrs. Massey--lumbered to her purple feet, holding out her hands to him. The flesh on her arms hung down, almost dripping. She was smiling the way you do when you see an old friend. Or, perhaps, something good to eat.
With an expression that could have been mistaken for calmness, Danny closed the door softly and stepped back. He watched as the knob turned right . . . left . . . right again . . . then stilled.
He was eight now, and capable of at least some rational thought even in his horror. Partly because, in a deep part of his mind, he had been expecting this. Although he had always thought it would be Horace Derwent who would eventually show up. Or perhaps the bartender, the one his father had called Lloyd. He supposed he should have known it would be Mrs. Massey, though, even before it finally happened. Because of all the undead things in the Overlook, she had been the worst.
The rational part of his mind told him she was just a fragment of unremembered bad dream that had followed him out of sleep and across the hall to the bathroom. That part insisted that if he opened the door again, there would be nothing there. Surely there wouldn't be, now that he was awake. But another part of him, a part that shone, knew better. The Overlook wasn't done with him. At least one of its vengeful spirits had followed him all the way to Florida. Once he had come upon that woman sprawled in a bathtub. She had gotten out and tried to choke him with her fishy (but terribly strong) fingers. If he opened the bathroom door now, she would finish the job.
He compromised by putting his ear against the door. At first there was nothing. Then he heard a faint sound.
Dead fingernails scratching on wood.
Danny walked into the kitchen on not-there legs, stood on a chair, and peed into the sink. Then he woke his mother and told her not to go into the bathroom because there was a bad thing there. Once that was done, he went back to bed and sank deep beneath the covers. He wanted to stay there forever, only getting up to pee in the sink. Now that he had warned his mother, he had no interest in talking to her.
His mother knew about the no-talking thing. It had happened after Danny had ventured into Room 217 at the Overlook.
"Will you talk to Dick?"
Lying in his bed, looking up at her, he nodded. His mother called, even though it was four in the morning.
Late the next day, Dick came. He brought something with him. A present.
After Wendy called Dick--she made sure Danny heard her doing it--Danny went back to sleep. Although he was now eight and in the third grade, he was sucking his thumb. It hurt her to see him do that. She went to the bathroom door and stood looking at it. She was afraid--Danny had made her afraid--but she had to go, and she had no intention of using the sink as he had. The image of how she would look teetering on the edge of the counter with her butt hanging over the porcelain (even if there was no one there to see) made her wrinkle her nose.
In one hand she had the hammer from her little box of widow's tools. As she turned the knob and pushed the bathroom door open, she raised it. The bathroom was empty, of course, but the ring of the toilet seat was down. She never left it that way before going to bed, because she knew if Danny wandered in, only ten percent awake, he was apt to forget to put it up and piss all over it. Also, there was a smell. A bad one. As if a rat had died in the walls.
She took a step in, then two. She saw movement and whirled, hammer upraised, to hit whoever
was hiding behind the door. But it was only her shadow. Scared of her own shadow, people sometimes sneered, but who had a better right than Wendy Torrance? After the things she had seen and been through, she knew that shadows could be dangerous. They could have teeth.
No one was in the bathroom, but there was a discolored smear on the toilet seat and another on the shower curtain. Excrement was her first thought, but shit wasn't yellowish-purple. She looked more closely and saw bits of flesh and decayed skin. There was more on the bathmat, in the shape of footprints. She thought them too small--too dainty--to be a man's.
"Oh God," she whispered.
She ended up using the sink after all.
Wendy nagged her son out of bed at noon. She managed to get a little soup and half a peanut butter sandwich into him, but then he went back to bed. He still wouldn't speak. Hallorann arrived shortly after five in the afternoon, behind the wheel of his now ancient (but perfectly maintained and blindingly polished) red Cadillac. Wendy had been standing at the window, waiting and watching as she had once waited and watched for her husband, hoping Jack would come home in a good mood. And sober.
She rushed down the stairs and opened the door just as Dick was about to ring the bell marked TORRANCE 2A. He held out his arms and she rushed into them at once, wishing she could be enfolded there for at least an hour. Maybe two.
He let go and held her at arm's length by her shoulders. "You're lookin fine, Wendy. How's the little man? He talkin again?"
"No, but he'll talk to you. Even if he won't do it out loud to start with, you can--" Instead of finishing, she made a finger-gun and pointed it at his forehead.
"Not necessarily," Dick said. His smile revealed a bright new pair of false teeth. The Overlook had taken most of the last set on the night the boiler blew. Jack Torrance swung the mallet that took Dick's dentures and Wendy's ability to walk without a hitch in her stride, but they both understood it had really been the Overlook. "He's very powerful, Wendy. If he wants to block me out, he will. I know from my own experience. Besides, it'd be better if we talk with our mouths. Better for him. Now tell me everything that happened."
After she did that, Wendy took him into the bathroom. She had left the stains for him to see, like a beat cop preserving the scene of a crime for the forensic team. And there had been a crime. One against her boy.
Dick looked for a long time, not touching, then nodded. "Let's see if Danny's up and in the doins."
He wasn't, but Wendy's heart was lightened by the look of gladness that came into her son's face when he saw who was sitting beside him on the bed and shaking his shoulder.
(hey Danny I brought you a present)
(it's not my birthday)
Wendy watched them, knowing they were speaking but not knowing what it was about.
Dick said, "Get on up, honey. We're gonna take a walk on the beach."
(Dick she came back Mrs. Massey from Room 217 came back)
Dick gave his shoulder another shake. "Talk out loud, Dan. You're scarin your ma."
Danny said, "What's my present?"
Dick smiled. "That's better. I like to hear you, and Wendy does, too."
"While we're gone, you might want to give the bathroom a cleaning," Dick said to her. "Have you got kitchen gloves?"
"Good. Wear them."
The beach was two miles away. The parking lot was surrounded by tawdry beachfront attractions--funnel cake concessions, hotdog stands, souvenir shops--but this was the tag end of the season, and none were doing much business. They had the beach itself almost entirely to themselves. On the ride from the apartment, Danny had held his present--an oblong package, quite heavy, wrapped in silver paper--on his lap.
"You can open it after we talk a bit," Dick said.
They walked just above the waves, where the sand was hard and gleaming. Danny walked slowly, because Dick was pretty old. Someday he'd die. Maybe even soon.
"I'm good to go another few years," Dick said. "Don't you worry about that. Now tell me about last night. Don't leave anything out."
It didn't take long. The hard part would have been finding words to explain the terror he now felt, and how it was mingled with a suffocating sense of certainty: now that she'd found him, she'd never leave. But because it was Dick, he didn't need words, although he found some.
"She'll come back. I know she will. She'll come back and come back until she gets me."
"Do you remember when we met?"
Although surprised at the change of direction, Danny nodded. It had been Hallorann who gave him and his parents the guided tour on their first day at the Overlook. Very long ago, that seemed.
"And do you remember the first time I spoke up inside your head?"
"I sure do."
"What did I say?"
"You asked me if I wanted to go to Florida with you."
"That's right. And how did it make you feel, to know you wasn't alone anymore? That you wasn't the only one?"
"It was great," Danny said. "It was so great."
"Yeah," Hallorann said. "Yeah, course it was."