Thanks to Stephen King, I was convinced that I would die an early, tragic death. And possibly come back from the grave.
I read my first Stephen King novel in 7th grade at the urging of my best friend Denise, and even though that damn rabid dog heightened the fear I already felt when big, unleashed canines sauntered in my direction, upon completing Cujo I immediately put myself on the public library's waiting list for the novel that had started it all for my friend: Pet Sematary.
I devoured that book in three days flat, coming home after school and shooing off Guiding Light and homework so that I could get to the final, grim conclusion.
The soil of a man's heart is stonier; a man grows what he can and tends it.
I was haunted by this book. So haunted that I dare not pick up another Stephen King for a few months. I was haunted by Victor Pascow. And Church. And Gage. And Timmy Baterman and Rachel and the Wendigo.
But mostly I was haunted by the dream.
To this day it remains the clearest, most vivid dream I have ever had. So real did it seem that when I woke I leaped out my bed, felt my limbs to make sure they were, indeed, intact, and burst into tears of relief that I had lived to see another sunny day.
In the dream, I found myself walking across my side yard at night. I felt dew on my feet and looked down to see that I was wearing a frilly, ruffled pink dress that looked very unlike me; pantyhose; no shoes. I went to my own front door and instead of opening it, knocked quietly.
My mother answered. But she was not happy to see me.
"Oh, you're not supposed to be here. This isn't right."
But she let me in anyway, and before I could ask her why I wasn't supposed to be here, I saw my reflection in the gold-veined full-wall mirror of our living room:
I wasn't supposed to be there because I was very clearly dead.
My face was overly-rouged but still a lifeless white. The first stages of rot discolored my lips and created soft hollows below my cheekbones. I realized my teeth were loose in their sockets. I could even smell a cloying, sweet smell that I knew was decay. I had walked out of my own grave, still in a young girl's funeral attire. Right down to a lack of shoes.
In the dream I listened to my broken-hearted mother tell me about my funeral, and how all my friends were there, and how so many people cried. She told me she didn't know how she would go on without me.
"But I know you're not supposed to be here like this, and I know you have to go," she said, over and over.
Finally I raised myself up and went to my front door, where I could not see other houses, or lights, or cars. I only saw darkness. And very sadly, not wanting to leave, I walked into it.
And then I woke up. For days, even weeks after, I was certain of one thing: I was going to die. Soon.
I grieved for myself. It's not easy to be 13 and perfectly healthy and still know you're going to die. I hadn't realized until that moment that death really was final; I thought if I died young I could be an angel watching over my family, or be reincarnated like Audrey Rose in the TV movie. It destroyed me that in the dream I just walked out the door into nothingness.
I wrote up a last will and testament and tucked it into a dresser drawer. I didn't have much of worth, but I decided to leave my treasured hardback copy of To Kill a Mockingbird to Denise; her choices in literature had just changed my life, the least I could do was return the favor. I hugged my family and friends a lot just in case I never saw them again. I cried after watching TV sitcoms that made me laugh because I would really, really miss laughing.
Yeah, I was sort of a mess.
Mom was no dummy and knew something was going on after catching me wipe tears away after The Cosby Show.
"What's the matter with you? Are you on drugs?"
"No, but I think I'm going to die."
The floodgates opened, and while Mom patiently listened, I started with Pet Sematary and ended with my own rotten corpse sitting on her couch in a dream that didn't feel remotely like a dream. After listening, and handing me tissues, and rubbing my back when I sobbed too hard to speak, she gave me sage words of wisdom:
"That sounds like you just got too wrapped up in that crazy old book. Don't read those things if they're going to do that to you. But just in case it means something, you better make sure your life is in order. You still accept Jesus as your savior, right?"
I rolled my eyes, because dying or not, I was still a 13-year-old. And I just realized I was mostly being an idiot.
I eventually went on to read many more Stephen Kings, and later some Anne Rices, and Thomas Harrises, and watched many horror movies in between. Nothing ever led to quite the nervous breakdown Pet Sematary did.
A couple of years ago, my library's copy of Pet Sematary wandered out and I had to order a new one. As I got the book ready for the shelves, I flipped through the pages, reading the highlights. I got to Gage's funeral, and could take no more. I was a parent at that time; the greatest horror was no longer my own death, but the death of my child. I made a mental note to never, ever allow myself to browse that book again. The nightmares I could face this time would be much worse than seeing my own zombified face in my mother's living room mirror.
Sometimes, dead is better.
Happy belated Halloween, y'all.