One thing I resolve to do more of each year are things that frighten me. I worry (I’m an excellent worrier, really, I could win trophies) about letting scary things hold me back in life, so I tend to force myself through them whether I enjoy them or not. I just like to know I’ve done the thing, whatever the thing might be.
This year so far, I’ve done a few scary things. I’ve given a talk in front of a room full of highschoolers, I’ve been accepted to do a podcast this summer on a horror show, I’ve had a couple of short stories I wrote that pushed me way out of my comfort zone accepted into anthologies. And there are more scary things on the horizon.
I was doing a book signing at a book store in Flint ( yes, THAT Flint, the one with the water) a couple of months ago, and during a lull in traffic I was wandering the store, checking out the shelves. Came across a shelf chock full of Stephen King novels. Now, I read horror, sure, and I’m a great lover of weird Tim Burton films. I write horror and dark fiction, and readers often feel comfortable telling me my brain is twisted and bizarre. I can’t disagree. But there are some lines even I can’t cross, and one of them has always been the Tommyknockers.
I picked it up that day in the bookstore and stared at the cover for a minute. Then I bought it. Hey, it’s important to do the things that frighten you, right?
I first tried to read the Tommyknockers when I was about fifteen. I remember reading the poem at the beginning, somehow immediately memorizing it, and then taking it back to the library. The poem, just that tiny little poem at the front of the book made me sick with terror, and I can’t even express why it did. The lines just ran through my mind on a loop, infesting my waking hours with things better left to the night. Over the years, I have thought about trying to read it again, but even decades later, I’ve never forgotten that poem. Something about it just makes my spine shiver.
Late last night and the night before
Knocking at the door.
I want to go out, don’t know if I can
‘Cause I’m so afraid
Of the Tommyknocker man.
Honestly, I can look at the words of the poem and see there is nothing even inherently scary in them. That doesn’t make me feel less scared, though. It’s not something I can explain. But I’m all grown up now, nearing up on forty-one and with adult children of my own. I’ve braved my way through marriage, parenting, family deaths, chronic illness, job losses, appliances breaking, bill money shortages, and one night this year I let my husband drag me to a wild game dinner where I ate a piece of kangaroo. I decided this was the year I would go back to that old fear and smack it in the face. So I bought the book, brought it home and shoved it up on one of my many (many, many, many) bookshelves, and there it sat. Laughing at me. Mocking me. For more than a month. I read a couple of the other books I’d picked up that day at the bookstore first, Dreamcatcher and Bag of Bones. And then, despite my lingering reservations, I picked up the Tommyknockers.
I’m a pretty heavy reader, truth be told, and generally a fairly fast one at that. But this book has taken me about a month to read, and I’m not certain why. Adult responsibilities are one thing, I suppose. With a daughter nearing the end of her senior year, there’s been prom, graduation, and the open house to get ready for, and that’s time consuming. There have been deadlines for the anthologies I’ve agreed to be part of, and all the other things that go along with being a parent. Dishes, laundry, bills, work, chauffeuring, etc. But those things are always there, and I usually read about a book a week. This one just took me longer. I like King’s style, and I liked the book. It’s not my most favorite book of all time, but still a good read.
The weird thing is, I’ve always thought this book was about men in a mine. I don’t know why. I’ve read so many books in my life, it must have just gotten mixed up in my head with something else I’d read. But it’s not about that at all. And it isn’t that scary of a book, really. At least to me. All this time, I’ve been afraid of it, but I was much more terrified reading The Things that Keep us Here by Carla Buckley. So the book, itself, is just not the giant terrifying thing I have always believed it to be.
It’s just the damn poem.
I would read it for a bit at night before going to bed, and then lie there in the darkness, with the words again repeating on loop around my brain. An insistent train on a neverending track. Over and over and over. I’d try counting backward from 100, or focusing on the new book I’m writing, or planning costumes to sew for Ren Faire, but the words of the poem simply echoed louder and louder until that was all I could hear.
I finished the Tommyknockers last night. FINALLY. I picked up The Night Manager from the library yesterday and was itching to start reading it. But I had to finish the Tommyknockers first. So I did. It felt a little anti-climactic, like everyone should notice I’ve done a BIG SCARY THING and applaud me, but I didn’t even feel that excited about it myself.
Life is that way sometimes, I guess. These frightening things we make up in our minds just keep getting bigger and bigger and eventually become a mountain so enormous it seems impossible to ever climb. And then we are left with a choice: either we let the mountain of fear continue to grow, or we summon our courage and decide to start climbing only to find it was really just a little hill, after all.
So I’ve conquered the Tommyknocker hill. Now I’m on to the next mountain.