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1922

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About The Book

The chilling novella featured in Stephen King’s New York Times bestselling collection Full Dark, No Stars, 1922 is about a man who succumbs to the violence within—setting in motion a grisly train of murder and madness.

Wilfred James owns eighty acres of farmland in Nebraska that have been in his family for generations. His wife, Arlette, owns an adjoining one hundred acres. She wants to sell her land but if she does, Wilfred will be forced to sell as well. James will do anything to hold onto his farm, and he'll get his son to go along.

Betrayal, murder, madness, rats, 1922 is a breathtaking exploration into the dark side of human nature from the great American storyteller Stephen King.

Excerpt

1922
I watched by the gate until our old truck disappeared into a ball of its own dust. There was a lump in my throat that I couldn’t swallow. I had a stupid but very strong premonition that I would never see him again. I suppose it’s something most parents feel the first time they see a child going away on his own and face the realization that if a child is old enough to be sent on errands without supervision, he’s not totally a child any longer. But I couldn’t spend too much time wallowing in my feelings; I had an important chore to do, and I’d sent Henry away so I could attend to it by myself. He would see what had happened to the cow, of course, and probably guess what had done it, but I thought I could still ease the knowledge for him a little.

I first checked on Achelois, who seemed listless but otherwise fine. Then I checked the pipe. It was still plugged, but I was under no illusions; it might take time, but eventually the rats would gnaw through the canvas. I had to do better. I took a bag of Portland cement around to the house-well and mixed up a batch in an old pail. Back in the barn, while I waited for it to thicken, I poked the swatch of canvas even deeper into the pipe. I got it in at least two feet, and those last two feet I packed with cement. By the time Henry got back (and in fine spirits; he had indeed taken Shannon, and they had shared an ice-cream soda bought with change from the errands), it had hardened. I suppose a few of the rats must have been out foraging, but I had no doubt I’d immured most of them—including the one that had savaged poor Achelois—down there in the dark. And down there in the dark they would die. If not of suffocation, then of starvation once their unspeakable pantry was exhausted.

So I thought then.

In the years between 1916 and 1922, even stupid Nebraska farmers prospered. Harlan Cotterie, being far from stupid, prospered more than most. His farm showed it. He added a barn and a silo in 1919, and in 1920 he put in a deep well that pumped an unbelievable six gallons per minute. A year later, he added indoor plumbing (although he sensibly kept the backyard privy). Then, three times a week, he and his womenfolk could enjoy what was an unbelievable luxury that far out in the country: hot baths and showers supplied not by pots of water heated on the kitchen stove but from pipes that first brought the water from the well and then carried it away to the sump. It was the showerbath that revealed the secret Shannon Cotterie had been keeping, although I suppose I already knew, and had since the day she said, He’s sparked me, all right—speaking in a flat, lusterless voice that was unlike her, and looking not at me but off at the silhouettes of her father’s harvester and the gleaners trudging behind it.

This was near the end of September, with the corn all picked for another year but plenty of garden-harvesting left to do. One Saturday afternoon, while Shannon was enjoying the showerbath, her mother came along the back hall with a load of laundry she’d taken in from the line early, because it was looking like rain. Shannon probably thought she had closed the bathroom door all the way—most ladies are private about their bathroom duties, and Shannon Cotterie had a special reason to feel that way as the summer of 1922 gave way to fall—but perhaps it came off the latch and swung open partway. Her mother happened to glance in, and although the old sheet that served as a shower-curtain was pulled all the way around on its U-shaped rail, the spray had rendered it translucent. There was no need for Sallie to see the girl herself; she saw the shape of the girl, for once without one of her voluminous Quaker-style dresses to hide it. That was all it took. The girl was five months along, or near to it; she probably could not have kept her secret much longer in any case.

Two days later, Henry came home from school (he now took the truck) looking frightened and guilty. “Shan hasn’t been there the last two days,” he said, “so I stopped by Cotteries’ to ask if she was all right. I thought she might have come down with the Spanish Flu. They wouldn’t let me in. Mrs. Cotterie just told me to get on, and said her husband would come to talk to you tonight, after his chores were done. I ast if I could do anything, and she said, ‘You’ve done enough, Henry.’?”

Then I remembered what Shan had said. Henry put his face in his hands and said, “She’s pregnant, Poppa, and they found out. I know that’s it. We want to get married, but I’m afraid they won’t let us.”

“Never mind them,” I said, “I won’t let you.”

He looked at me from wounded, streaming eyes. “Why not?”

I thought: You saw what it came to between your mother and me and you even have to ask? But what I said was, “She’s 15 years old, and you won’t even be that for another two weeks.”

“But we love each other!”

O, that loonlike cry. That milksop hoot. My hands were clenched on the legs of my overalls, and I had to force them open and flat. Getting angry would serve no purpose. A boy needed a mother to discuss a thing like this with, but his was sitting at the bottom of a filled-in well, no doubt attended by a retinue of dead rats.

“I know you do, Henry—”

Hank! And others get married that young!”

Once they had; not so much since the century turned and the frontiers closed. But this I didn’t say. What I said was that I had no money to give them a start. Maybe by ’25, if crops and prices stayed good, but now there was nothing. And with a baby on the way—

“There would be enough!” he said. “If you hadn’t been such a bugger about that hundred acres, there’d be plenty! She would’ve given me some of it! And she wouldn’t have talked to me this way!”

At first I was too shocked to say anything. It had been six weeks or more since Arlette’s name—or even the vague pronounal alias she—had passed between us.

He was looking at me defiantly. And then, far down our stub of road, I saw Harlan Cotterie on his way. I had always considered him my friend, but a daughter who turns up pregnant has a way of changing such things.

“No, she wouldn’t have talked to you this way,” I agreed, and made myself look him straight in the eye. “She would have talked to you worse. And laughed, likely as not. If you search your heart, Son, you’ll know it.”

“No!”

“Your mother called Shannon a little baggage, and then told you to keep your willy in your pants. It was her last advice, and although it was as crude and hurtful as most of what she had to say, you should have followed it.”

Henry’s anger collapsed. “It was only after that… after that night… that we… Shan didn’t want to, but I talked her into it. And once we started, she liked it as much as I did. Once we started, she asked for it.” He said that with a strange, half-sick pride, then shook his head wearily. “Now that hundred acres just sits there sprouting weeds, and I’m in Dutch. If Momma was here, she’d help me fix it. Money fixes everything, that’s what he says.” Henry nodded at the approaching ball of dust.

“If you don’t remember how tight your momma was with a dollar, then you forget too fast for your own good,” I said. “And if you’ve forgotten how she slapped you across the mouth that time—”

“I ain’t,” he said sullenly. Then, more sullenly still: “I thought you’d help me.”

“I mean to try. Right now I want you to make yourself scarce. You being here when Shannon’s father turns up would be like waving a red rag in front of a bull. Let me see where we are—and how he is—and I may call you out on the porch.” I took his wrist. “I’m going to do my best for you, Son.”

He pulled his wrist out of my grasp. “You better.”

He went into the house, and just before Harlan pulled up in his new car (a Nash as green and gleaming under its coating of dust as a bottlefly’s back), I heard the screen door slam out back.

The Nash chugged, backfired, and died. Harlan got out, took off his duster, folded it, and laid it on the seat. He’d worn the duster because he was dressed for the occasion: white shirt, string tie, good Sunday pants held up by a belt with a silver buckle. He hitched at that, getting the pants set the way he wanted them just below his tidy little paunch. He’d always been good to me, and I’d always considered us not just friends but good friends, yet in that moment I hated him. Not because he’d come to tax me about my son; God knows I would have done the same, if our positions had been reversed. No, it was the brand-new shiny green Nash. It was the silver belt buckle made in the shape of a dolphin. It was the new silo, painted bright red, and the indoor plumbing. Most of all it was the plain-faced, biddable wife he’d left back at his farm, no doubt making supper in spite of her worry. The wife whose sweetly given reply in the face of any problem would be, Whatever you think is best, dear. Women, take note: a wife like that never needs to fear bubbling away the last of her life through a cut throat.

He strode to the porch steps. I stood and held out my hand, waiting to see if he’d take it or leave it. There was a hesitation while he considered the pros and cons, but in the end he gave it a brief squeeze before letting loose. “We’ve got a considerable problem here, Wilf,” he said.

“I know it. Henry just told me. Better late than never.”

“Better never at all,” he said grimly.

“Will you sit down?”

He considered this, too, before taking what had always been Arlette’s rocker. I knew he didn’t want to sit—a man who’s mad and upset doesn’t feel good about sitting—but he did, just the same.

“Would you want some iced tea? There’s no lemonade, Arlette was the lemonade expert, but—”

He waved me quiet with one pudgy hand. Pudgy but hard. Harlan was one of the richest farmers in Hemingford County, but he was no straw boss; when it came to haying or harvest, he was right out there with the hired help. “I want to get back before sundown. I don’t see worth a shit by those headlamps. My girl has got a bun in her oven, and I guess you know who did the damn cooking.”

“Would it help to say I’m sorry?”

“No.” His lips were pressed tight together, and I could see hot blood beating on both sides of his neck. “I’m madder than a hornet, and what makes it worse is that I’ve got no one to be mad at. I can’t be mad at the kids because they’re just kids, although if she wasn’t with child, I’d turn Shannon over my knee and paddle her for not doing better when she knew better. She was raised better and churched better, too.”

I wanted to ask him if he was saying Henry was raised wrong. I kept my mouth shut instead, and let him say all the things he’d been fuming about on his drive over here. He’d thought up a speech, and once he said it, he might be easier to deal with.

“I’d like to blame Sallie for not seeing the girl’s condition sooner, but first-timers usually carry high, everyone knows that… and my God, you know the sort of dresses Shan wears. That’s not a new thing, either. She’s been wearing those granny-go-to-meetin’ dresses since she was 12 and started getting her…”

He held his pudgy hands out in front of his chest. I nodded.

“And I’d like to blame you, because it seems like you skipped that talk fathers usually have with sons.” As if you’d know anything about raising sons, I thought. “The one about how he’s got a pistol in his pants and he should keep the safety on.” A sob caught in his throat and he cried, “My… little… girl… is too young to be a mother!”

Of course there was blame for me Harlan didn’t know about. If I hadn’t put Henry in a situation where he was desperate for a woman’s love, Shannon might not be in the fix she was in. I also could have asked if Harlan had maybe saved a little blame for himself while he was busy sharing it out. But I held quiet. Quiet never came naturally to me, but living with Arlette had given me plenty of practice.

“Only I can’t blame you, either, because your wife went and run off this spring, and it’s natural your attention would lapse at a time like that. So I went out back and chopped damn near half a cord of wood before I came over here, trying to get some of that mad out, and it must have worked. I shook your hand, didn’t I?”

The self-congratulation I heard in his voice made me itch to say, Unless it was rape, I think it still takes two to tango. But I just said, “Yes, you did,” and left it at that.

“Well, that brings us to what you’re going to do about it. You and that boy who sat at my table and ate the food my wife cooked for him.”

Some devil—the creature that comes into a fellow, I suppose, when the Conniving Man leaves—made me say, “Henry wants to marry her and give the baby a name.”

“That’s so God damned ridiculous I don’t want to hear it. I won’t say Henry doesn’t have a pot to piss in nor a window to throw it out of—I know you’ve done right, Wilf, or as right as you can, but that’s the best I can say. These have been fat years, and you’re still only one step ahead of the bank. Where are you going to be when the years get lean again? And they always do. If you had the cash from that back hundred, then it might be different—cash cushions hard times, everyone knows that—but with Arlette gone, there they sit, like a constipated old maid on a chamberpot.”

For just a moment part of me tried to consider how things would have been if I had given in to Arlette about that fucking land, as I had about so many other things. I’d be living in stink, that’s how it would have been. I would have had to dig out the old spring for the cows, because cows won’t drink from a brook that’s got blood and pigs’ guts floating in it.

True. But I’d be living instead of just existing, Arlette would be living with me, and Henry wouldn’t be the sullen, anguished, difficult boy he had turned into. The boy who had gotten his friend since childhood into a peck of trouble.

“Well, what do you want to do?” I asked. “I doubt you made this trip with nothing in mind.”

He appeared not to have heard me. He was looking out across the fields to where his new silo stood on the horizon. His face was heavy and sad, but I’ve come too far and written too much to lie; that expression did not move me much. 1922 had been the worst year of my life, one where I’d turned into a man I no longer knew, and Harlan Cotterie was just another washout on a rocky and miserable stretch of road.

“She’s bright,” Harlan said. “Mrs. McReady at school says Shan’s the brightest pupil she’s taught in her whole career, and that stretches back almost 40 years. She’s good in English, and she’s even better in the maths, which Mrs. McReady says is rare in girls. She can do triggeronomy, Wilf. Did you know that? Mrs. McReady herself can’t do triggeronomy.”

No, I hadn’t known, but I knew how to say the word. I felt, however, that this might not be the time to correct my neighbor’s pronunciation.

“Sallie wanted to send her to the normal school in Omaha. They’ve taken girls as well as boys since 1918, although no females have graduated so far.” He gave me a look that was hard to take: mingled disgust and hostility. “The females always want to get married, you see. And have babies. Join Eastern Star and sweep the God damned floor.”

He sighed.

“Shan could be the first. She has the skills and she has the brains. You didn’t know that, did you?”

No, in truth I had not. I had simply made an assumption—one of many that I now know to have been wrong—that she was farm wife material, and no more.

“She might even teach college. We planned to send her to that school as soon as she turned 17.”

Sallie planned, is what you mean, I thought. Left to your own devices, such a crazy idea never would have crossed your farmer’s mind.

“Shan was willing, and the money was put aside. It was all arranged.” He turned to look at me, and I heard the tendons in his neck creak. “It’s still all arranged. But first—almost right away—she’s going to the St. Eusebia Catholic Home for Girls in Omaha. She doesn’t know it yet, but it’s going to happen. Sallie talked about sending her to Deland—Sal’s sister lives there—or to my aunt and uncle in Lyme Biska, but I don’t trust any of those people to carry through on what we’ve decided. Nor does a girl who causes this kind of problem deserve to go to people she knows and loves.”

“What is it you’ve decided, Harl? Besides sending your daughter to some kind of an… I don’t know… orphanage?”

He bristled. “It’s not an orphanage. It’s a clean, wholesome, and busy place. So I’ve been told. I’ve been on the exchange, and all the reports I get are good ones. She’ll have chores, she’ll have her schooling, and in another four months she’ll have her baby. When that’s done, the kid will be given up for adoption. The sisters at St. Eusebia will see to that. Then she can come home, and in another year and a half she can go to teachers’ college, just like Sallie wants. And me, of course. Sallie and me.”

“What’s my part in this? I assume I must have one.”

“Are you smarting on me, Wilf?? I know you’ve had a tough year, but I still won’t bear you smarting on me.”

“I’m not smarting on you, but you need to know you’re not the only one who’s mad and ashamed. Just tell me what you want, and maybe we can stay friends.”

The singularly cold little smile with which he greeted this—just a twitch of the lips and a momentary appearance of dimples at the corners of his mouth—said a great deal about how little hope he held out for that.

About The Author

© Shane Leonard

Stephen King is the author of more than sixty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes the short story collection You Like It DarkerHollyFairy TaleBilly SummersIf It BleedsThe InstituteElevationThe OutsiderSleeping Beauties (cowritten with his son Owen King), and the Bill Hodges trilogy: End of WatchFinders Keepers, and Mr. Mercedes (an Edgar Award winner for Best Novel and a television series streaming on Peacock). His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller. His epic works The Dark TowerItPet SemataryDoctor Sleep, and Firestarter are the basis for major motion pictures, with It now the highest-grossing horror film of all time. He is the recipient of the 2020 Audio Publishers Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2018 PEN America Literary Service Award, the 2014 National Medal of Arts, and the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (November 12, 2019)
  • Length: 144 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982136079

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Raves and Reviews

PRAISE FOR FULL DARK, NO STARS:

“The master of horror is often at his scariest when writing stories of real life frights, like the ones in his new story collection, Full Dark, No Stars. Though these four, long stories probably won't cause too many nightmares - well, maybe about rats - it's still not a good idea to read these alone at night because they are very disturbing, and they will stay with the reader long after the lights are dimmed…King's characters are well-drawn in relatively few words, although the first two stories are long enough to stand on their own as short novels. Even Tess proves true, although it took a statistic quoted on the penultimate page of her tale to make her initial reactions to the pain she suffers seem logical. But as in his other novels and stories, the narrative is the star. King's writing keeps the reader eagerly turning pages, even while feeling horrified and disgusted by what's happening. And he always seems to sneak in a surprise at the end. King never disappoints.”—Colleen O’Dea, Asbury Park Press

“Here’s how King describes his latest offering: ‘The stories in this book are harsh.’ Believe him. The unifying theory is that we’re all capable of horrific acts – like the farmer in ‘1922’ who murders his wife to protect his property’s value – and that we deny this grim reality at our own peril. Whether or not you agree, Full Dark is gripping storytelling.”—People

“For a writer whose books need a big stage, Stephen King also can turn out shorter stories just as gripping as his epic novels. All four stories in Full Dark, No Stars are about the dark turns taken in relationships between men and women. Uneven in length, they also are ambiguous in morality, which is one of the delights of this book…In all four of his stories, King leaves readers to think about how they might react under similar circumstances. And while we might do as the characters did, the suspense is in the uncertainty.”—Amanda St. Amand, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“King just keeps writing, and his stories don't suffer one bit. If anything, they're better, deepened by his maturity. Full Dark, No Stars, the latest offering from one of our great masters of popular fiction, is a prime example… All of these stories are a kind of tribute to some aspect of our culture, a dark snippet of something we've all thought about, but likely never lived… King's knack for storytelling is alive even amid these apparently predictable scenarios. Each of the stories finds a way to be surprising, even shocking. Each of them has something new to offer beyond the subgenres they appear to inhabit. All are woven together by tight, honest prose that is the stuff of great short fiction. Yes, King has written novels so thick that teams of oxen are needed pull them off the shelf, but he's also a master of briefer forms, and not a word is wasted here. Full Dark, No Stars is proof that King has not yet faded into the great literary beyond. He's still a great storyteller, and still a great read.”—Matthew Jackson, The Hunstville Item

“A quartet of previously unpublished tales that more than satisfy their prolific author’s stated criteria for good fiction. Propulsive? Check. Assaultive? Don’t ask. The stories in Full Dark, No Stars are for the most part only slightly supernatural and deal, instead, with the unlovelier aspects of merely human behavior...What’s amazing, and maybe a little unsettling, about King is the consistency of his purpose and his manner over a long stretch of time. He’s essentially the same grab-you-by-the-lapels literary showman he was…King still writes with the verve and glee and heedless ease of a very young man…When you’re reading Full Dark, No Stars, carried along by his rollicking, vivid prose, you think (if you’re thinking at all: ‘God help him, this man is having fun.’ This naked pleasure is King’s secret ingredient: it makes his work weirdly irresistible, even addictive.”—Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times Book Review

“Another collection of satisfying short stories… While not as subtle as some of King's other fiction, these novellas offer dark humor and to-the-point gore. This quick and more brutal King installment will be in high demand for horror/thriller readers and dedicated King fans.”—Library Journal

“King begins his afterword by stating, ‘The stories in this book are harsh.’ The man ain’t whistlin’ Dixie. Returning to the novella—possibly his brightest canvas—King provides four raw looks at the limits of greed, revenge, and self-deception…Rarely has King gone this dark, but to say there are no stars here is crazy.”—Booklist, Starred review

“Eerie twists of fate drive the four longish stories in King's first collection since Just After Sunset…As in Different Seasons, King takes a mostly nonfantastic approach to grim themes. Now, as then, these tales show how a skilled storyteller with a good tale to tell can make unsettling fiction compulsively readable.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred review

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