The only thing darker than the writing was the ink used to print the words on the page.
The girl finished the chapter, closed the book and placed it on the bedside table.
She reached for the light switch. Click. The room was drenched in nothingness.
The book fell from the table and she flinched as the paperback hit the floor with a muffled thud. Burying herself in the blankets and squeezing her eyes shut, she tried to escape her writhing imagination. But shadows licked the walls and the darkness smelt of horror.
She sat up, switched the light back on and snatched the book from the floor.
With her index finger, she traced the cover of the shabby paperback and quietly chanted to herself.
Stephen King. Stephen King. King Stephen. The Dark King.
She opened the book again – but it had changed. It was blank. There were no words or printed stains. The dark marks were not there.
She had heard about Stephen King from her mother, who read every author except for him.
“He’s too scary; too twisted,” her mother said, “His stories are too dark.”
The girl’s curiosity burned; she needed to find things out for herself.
When she spotted his name blazing on the cover of a scruffy paperback in a secondhand bookstore, she did not hesitate to buy it.
The woman behind the cash register had fuzzy grey hair and wore her spectacles halfway down her nose; she looked like she belonged in a story about friendly witches or cynical grandmothers.
The book had a startling red and black cover, and an illustration of skeletons crawling from the pages of an open book. But the girl barely noticed the front cover. The paperback was hardly in her hands before she had turned the first page.
She discovered it was a collection of short stories, and by the time she left the store, she was well into the first chapter of the battered book.
But she hadn’t understood the front cover. She didn’t heed the warning.
She devoured the book.
And the book devoured her.
She turned the dog-eared pages when she was curled up on the sofa in the afternoon sun; while she sat at the dinner table; and hours after crawling into bed. Page after pager after page – she wouldn’t, and couldn’t stop.
As time passed, King’s writing crept from the paperback. The dark marks formed shapes and shadows in her imagination and the words tasted of human truths. The girl swallowed the short stories, one after the other.
She was pulled deeper into the realm of King’s creation by every word and conjured image; into a world of tantalizing trepidation that twisted and writhed in unpredictable ways. She got lost in King’s thoughts and thrown through plot twists that shocked and dropped.
She was charmed into the minds of madmen and monsters by printed words on an aged page. Her skin crawled when the character’s grimaced. Her heart hammered against her ribcage as the villains stalked their prey. She couldn’t keep the book closed because the characters haunted her thoughts and the stories lingered in her mind. She craved the next chapter; the aftertaste of imagined terror.
By the time the sun had set and the moon had sunk into the sky, the unimaginable had taken hold of her mind and even her shadow was curled in despair. She had been turning pages for hours on end and forgotten about the passing time. She needed to go to sleep. Her eyes were heavy coffins and the day had certainly died. But her thoughts were draped and dripping in King’s collection of skeletons dressed in stories.
She tried to close the book, turn off the light, and fall asleep.
But, of course, she couldn’t sleep.
The lights were off and the book was closed, but her imagination was screaming. Every shadow was evil, and every sound was a threat. Something was sure to scratch at her feet or seep from the ceiling. She felt as if she was being crushed by her duvet or drowned in the air.
She turned her bedside lamp back on; electric white light filled the room and she searched for her bookmark. But as she leafed through the yellowed paperback, her heart slowed to a hollow chant.
She was sure the bedside lamp had blinded her; or she had suddenly developed a need for reading glasses. She didn’t want to imagine what could have caused this curse.
The skeletons weren’t on the front cover anymore and all the writing was gone.
The darkness that remained was not on the blank page.
The Dark King. King Stephen. Stephen King.
The printed words had escaped the page and gathered in the girl’s mind. She looked up from the blank book. There was movement on the other side of the room.
A rippling shadow spilled from the ceiling and disappeared through the bedroom floor.
The cracks in the floor filled with black oil; sticky strips of black ink.
A rasping breath rattled beneath her bed.
Wind clawed at the window and nails scratched the door with slow sharp shrieks.
The girl heard silent screams and felt empty eyes staring from the walls.
The blanket wanted to strangle her; a cold breeze pierced her toes and something smelt metallic.
Everything outside the room was dying, dead or dreaded.
The brightness of the blank page was petrifying. It was the absent presence of an unleashed imagination; escaped carcasses; vacant eyes. She slammed the word-less book shut. But as she did so, she noticed a strange stain on her wrist.
Normally, her veins looked like blue lace on a cotton sleeve.
Now, as she held her hand beneath the bedside light, she saw that her blood vessels were no longer pale coloured lines.
Instead, black snakes traced themselves beneath her skin and wriggled between the bones. Something in her veins was venomous and alive; lethal yet living. Something that was slave to the dark king.
I watched her mind shudder and her body thrash in horror as she saw my spell in her skin. I saw the beside lamp leap to the floor in a delightful suicide scene – a shattering light bulb that scattered the light.
I wrapped the girl in my great cloak.
Was I not a good king to comfort the child with a curled shadow and a mind that devoured darkness?