"I was eight years old the first time I heard his name." Shifting in the hard plastic seat, my wrists are shackled to a metal chain link at the center of the table, limiting my mobility.
The officer observes my discomfort passively, already impatient and annoyed with my recollection of events.
"I was thinking a little more recent, Miss Clark. Like why you were caught standing outside his home with a bloody—"
"No, no, you don't understand. I need to start at the beginning. So you can understand," I enunciate, not trusting Officer Dougher, an overworked, underpaid, exhausted, dispassionate cop, to actually comprehend the beauty of my tale.
A tired sigh escapes me, not from lack of sleep but disappointment. Officer Dougher waves his fingers, gesturing for me to continue. I don't trust him, but this is the end of the line. The metal handcuff digs into my wrist as I adjust in my seat so I can really get into the story. Ignoring the pinching skin, I lean forward, welcoming him into my world.
I think back to that day, so many years ago now. Curled up in a ball on the lumpy, plaid couch, the edges of the cushions fraying, made worse when I ran my fingers along the seams. Shivering as the winds howled and rattled the single-pane glass windows of my friend's tiny cabin on Cliff Island, off the coast of Maine.
The day started bright and sunny, and like all the other kids who lived temporarily or year-round on the island, we spent every second playing in the ocean and cutting away debris through the woods like explorers and marauders. My best friend Ella had a neighbor, a boy who was older than us, maybe only a year or two, but at the time, the schism of our ages felt enormous.
He was tall. He spoke confidently and made fewer stupid jokes than the boys Ella and I went to school with on the mainland. Something about that island boy consumed me, and he was all I could think about as we explored the island that summer. I followed him bravely as we climbed up trees and leaped, clutching the makeshift swing as we flung ourselves into the water below.
As that particular day came to an end, I followed Ella, reluctant but resigned, back to her camp; the first dewy drops of rain wet our shoulders, and the shadows cast amongst the trees expanded. A storm was coming, you could smell it in the air.
By the time night fell, it was like a hurricane descended upon the island. Everything shook and howled and whistled, but the adults weren't concerned, and neither was Ella, so I forced myself to pretend I wasn't scared, too.
We curled up on the couch in the small den—Ella called it the inside-outside room because although there were four walls and a roof, the floor-to-ceiling rattling glass windows still made you feel like you were outside. Hovering together under mounds of blankets, Ella's parents flipped through the channels of their old TV—at that time, they could only get basic cable, and it sat like a gargantuan box on the floor, surrounded by towers of VHSs and DVDs—and landed on a movie. A lime-green light and eerie music set the first scene.
Ella's parents argued over whether they should let us watch it or not. In the end, her mom sighed and told her dad he could be the one to deal with us girls if we were up all night crying from nightmares.
That's not what happened, though. Because I was eight years old and about to learn the name of the man who would change my life forever.
'What's this movie called?' I whispered to Ella, who loudly reiterated my question to her parents.
Her dad responded between chews of soggy popcorn, 'Tommyknockers.'
It was a weird movie. I felt like my mind was being twisted and warped and corrupted, then pet gently to rest when the movie came to an end.
'It's a Stephen King. You girls've heard of 'im, right? He's a Mainer,' her dad announced proudly. As if we had a claim to him. As if we should know him.
"That was when my obsession started," I return to the present, explaining to the officer in front of me. His pen lifts off the yellow-lined notebook, sparking my curiosity. Why wouldn't he use a laptop to take my statement? Surely that would be easier?
I like the drama of the pen and yellow-lined pages. Like we're back in the fifties, and he's trying to get me to talk by making the room a little too hot and the light too bright. Any second now, his partner, the good cop, will come in here and offer me a cigarette and a whiskey.
"Miss Clark," Officer Dougher prods, annoyed that I keep getting lost in my head.
"I didn't play with the other kids the next day. I didn't care about the tall, handsome boy next door. After the movie ended, I asked Ella's parents about Stephen King, and her mom casually explained, while folding musty old blankets and picking up remnants from our slumber party in the inside-outside room, that she had a few of his books lying around somewhere. I just had to dig around and find them." I tell the story like I'm writing it down, with nuance and interiority.
"You see," I tell the cop—or is he a detective? His plain clothes point to the latter, but he's the same man who caught me outside the tall, gothic red mansion, handcuffing and stuffing me into the back of his cruiser. "I spent that whole summer, hell, the entire next year reading The Dark Towers. I didn't understand half of what I was reading, needing a dictionary to help me translate nearly every line. But it was nothing like the books we were reading in school. I became obsessed."
Dougher reacts to this word. Obsessed. It's a trigger word, a small point against me, an indication that I wasn't quite right in the head.
"That led me to other authors, of course. Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Clive Barker, Douglas Adams. Then, as I got older, it became Atwood and Nin, Vonnegut and Palahniuk and Bukowski. I lost myself in—"
A gruff throat clearing interrupts my train of thought, and I glance up, wide-eyed and mystified, suddenly immersed in all those unspent feelings of my youth, trapped in a miasma of misanthropy and bibliophilic lust.
But Officer Dougher and his graying, whiskery, late-shaven face is disinterested in my passions. He wants the crux of the story, the meat of it, the spoilers. He doesn't want the prose or tension. Just give it to me, his eyes scream. Just admit what you did!
He would truly hate reading Tom Robbins.
He releases a long, suffering sigh when the door creaks open behind him, and a second officer, this one clad in standard blues, enters the room, holding a clear plastic evidence bag.
I wince when I see the contents.
The new cop drops the bag unceremoniously on the table between Dougher and me, then turns to leave. I look up, making eye contact with the camera in the corner of the room near the ceiling, the little red dot trained on me, recording my every move.
They'll later use the footage as evidence of my guilt; they'll tell people I bared myself open on the table, as raw and exposed as the smashed plastic and metal drone, now covered in dried blood in the plastic evidence bag, the camera above capturing my every thought and memory.
My erratic behavior, the evidence bag, and a signed confession are all Dougher wants from me, though, so I relax; he's only got two out of three.
Ignoring his impatience, I smile wistfully. "That was when I began writing. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I took creative writing classes, I got a degree in English and Communications. But I kept getting rejection letters. Over and over again. And then one day," I lean forward, lowering my voice, pleased when Dougher mimics my posture, finally intrigued.
"Then one day, I was in Bridgton at a Walgreens, and who's up at the prescription counter but Stephen fucking King."
Dougher lifts his eyebrows, not getting it. Not understanding.
I grunt. His ineptitude is exhausting. "Anyway, when he walked past me, I couldn't help it; I tried to talk to him and I was so awkward, stumbling over my words. But he was so kind and polite. I told him I was writing horror, like him, and that he was my inspiration. That I fell in love with writing because of him, but I just couldn't get published. And do you know what he said?"
"What did he say?"
"He said, 'Not everyone can be scary.' And then he smiled that stupid, toothy smile and left."
Finally, finally, understanding dawns, the doughy man’s cracked lips pressing together thoughtfully.
"And that hurt your feelings? You wanted revenge? That's why you flew—"
"No, of course it didn't hurt my feelings. It motivated me."
Dougher's pen stills on the yellow paper once more, glancing at me beneath his lashes. He's trying not to spook me or slow my momentous storytelling, but he also doesn’t want to admit he’s still confused.
"Look. I was his biggest fan. But his last few books," I lift my palm, bound as it was to the table, and made a 'so-so' gesture with my hand. "I think he just needed a little inspiration. It was kind of poignant, too, don't you think? Very Annie Wilkes of me." I smile proudly, but this idiot still looks confused.
"Misery?" Still, nothing. "Kathy Bates?"
Recognition passes his face, and I don't resist the eye-roll.
"That's the one about the woman who's obsessed with the author, and she kidnaps him and makes him rewrite the story, right?"
"Very good, Dougher, even if you did get that from the movie. But did you know that Misery was inspired by another short story of a similar premise?"
"I did not. So… you identify with this… Annie Wilkes character, then?"
"Miss Clark… what I really want to know is… what happened when you arrived at Mr. King's Bangor home at 12:36 AM this morning?"
I glance back at the evidence bag, the broken drone, which I lost control of, and the smattering of blood on the plastic casing.
On the one hand, I could tell him the story of how it all went so sideways, not at all according to my plan.
Or, I could tell him what actually transpired while adding narrative, a creation of my own making.
"Alright, Mr. Dougher. Here's the story of what happened last night when I arrived at Stephen King's mansion…"