October 31, 2020: “A Death” by Stephen King

Happy Halloween, Story366!

Today we decide on what exactly Halloween 2020 is going to be. We have costumes, trick-or-treating is legal, and our kids—especially the youngest—is looking forward to it. But do we do it? I think we’re going to, with some restrictions. We’d rather not take any candy from anyone’s hands. We’re not going to go to crowded neighborhood, get stuck in a group. We’re not going to let our kids dig into their jack-o’-lanterns on the way. We’re going to store their candy, in said lanterns, for a couple of days, just in case. We’re not going to be out very long. We’re going to wear masks, and not just the adorable or horrifying kind that go with the costumes.

It almost sounds like this won’t be very much fun, this COVID-unit version of tricks and treats. But really, we’re think this is reasonable. COVID cases are up in Springfield, alarmingly so, and what better way to contract the virus than to knock on every door, asking people to touch food before handing it over to us to eat? It’s cold outside, our kids have limited a attention span, and they possess little or no ambition for serious candy collection (if I were a kid nowadays, in this town, I’d … probably weigh fifty pounds more than I do). So, we’ll have limited fun, pick up something for dinner, then come home and eat the candy we bought in the store. Sounds like 2020 to me.

Today is Halloween and I’ve had Stephen King‘s The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (Scribner, 2015) in hand for a while, waiting for today. I actually went to find this book four years ago, stopping in a suburban St. Louis Barnes & Noble on my way back from Chicago (from World Series Game 5, to be exact). That store didn’t have any King story collections, and I settled on Neil Gaimen instead. This year, I got a jump on it, making sure I could cover him here today (and in general, as I never have at Story366 before). I’ve liked everything I’ve read by King—which isn’t a lot, compared to most readers—so I was looking forward to reading this book today.

“Batman and Robin Have an Altercation” is about Dougie Sanderson, whose dad, Pop, is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s. Dougie takes his dad out to Applebee’s once a week or so, where the two talk and have a good meal. Sometimes Pop knows who Dougie, is, and sometimes he doesn’t, often thinking he’s Dougie’s dead brother, Reggie, who was killed in a fist fight fifty years earlier. On the way home one night, a big pickup truck cuts them off at an intersection, causing a wreck. Dougie makes the mistake of flipping the other driver off, a big dude with his sleeves torn off his shirt and lots of tattoos. This guy doesn’t take kindly to the gesture, or his truck being totaled, and takes it out on Dougie, who insists on exchanging info. Lo and behold, the other guy doesn’t have insurance and wants nothing to do with the police, so he starts to beat on Dougie, at least until he’s rescued by an unlikely champion.

“The Dune” is about Judge Harvey Beecher, a ninety-year-old retiree who sets out to update his will. He visits his lawyer, Anthony Wayland, who wants to know what the hurry is, why Beecher is needing this done today. Beecher tells him a story, reminding him that this is under lawyer-client confidentiality, the story of a small island that’s been in his family his entire life. The island sports a small beach dune, and on that dune, the judge has, since he was a boy, found the names of people edged into the sand. Not coincidentally, the person whose name he finds in the sand ends up dead within a few day, without fail. Wayland, believing the judge by the end of the story, assumes the judge has seen his own name in the sand, but the judge corrects him, implying there’s another reason Wayland needs to do this job today.

Today I’ll focus on “A Death,” set in Kansas just before it became a state (1861). The story starts with Jim Trusdale sitting on the porch outside his shack, set on his senile father’s ranch, next to a cold stove. A posse, led by Sheriff Barclay, approaches, launching the story.

Barclay questions Trusdale about his hat, which seems to be important, and Trusdale doesn’t know where it is. Despite this, Barclay arrests him, telling him a ten-year-old girl, Rebecca Cline, has been murdered, and they believe he did it. The posse loads Trusdale onto the back of the hearse (which was a big wagon, back then), and takes him back into town.

Once there, it’s clear everyone, include the Clines, want blood. A trial is thrown together, though there aren’t any real lawyers to defend Trusdale, so the store owner, who spent a couple of years in school in a big city, gets the job. The mayor becomes both the judge and prosecutor. Everyone wants Trusdale to hang, but Barclay wants to make sure they go through due process, statehood looming, and also because he’s a decent man.

Trusdale never admits to killing Rebecca Cline. The only evidence the town has against him is his hat, which was found under Rebecca’s petticoat when they discovered her body in an alley. Trusdale was in town that day, oo, drinking at the bar, but otherwise, there’s no evidence.

He’s found guilty, anyway, but along the way, Barclay starts to believe him. He has nothing to lose and the sheriff knows they have no real evidence, so it weighs on him when the verdict is rendered, all the way through Trusdale’s hanging. Because King knows what he’s doing, there’s more to the story than this, but I won’t reveal that here.

I liked all three of the stories I read from this book, Stephen King’s eye for detail and focus on characters overwhelming any sense of horror or dread that I might have been expecting. I’m sure I’ll read the rest of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, as these are great stories from one of the masters, stories good for any day of the year.

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One thought on “October 31, 2020: “A Death” by Stephen King

  1. Pingback: November 1, 2020: “Shame” by Iris N. Schwartz – Story366

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