Colonel Katann stood with his arms folded, a look of deep concern written across his hard features as he watched the medidroid fuse the bone in the young man’s upper arm. Picked up by a routine patrol around the perimeter, the boy was found, arm broken and lying unconscious in the lower sands on-route to the Republic command outpost. He was immediately brought to the medical tent and the Colonel was alerted.
The truth was, nobody knew who the boy was or where he came from. He wore the robes of a Jedi, but he was almost unrecognisable with all the scratches, splinters and desert dust that covered his body. Lord Kaan’s spies are everywhere, Katann reminded himself, trust is indeed a rare jewel in these dark times. The robot’s metallic arm whirred and ticked as it passed the laser back and forth across the skin. The slightest smell of singed hair mixed with the dusty humidity inside the tent and the Colonel lifted a gloved finger to his nose.
Captain Abunka came over and joined him, his wiry figure dwarfed by Katann’s heavy frame as they both stood there looking at the figure lying motionless on the bed. “I don’t like this Colonel,” Abunka muttered behind his hand as he also covered his nose from the odour, “what was he doing wandering alone in the desert? I tell you, he was lucky we found him on long range scanners when we did, this merciless desert will eat you up and spit you out before long.” Abunka took his hand away and turned to the Colonel. “And where’s his weapon?” He asked, staring at the side of Katann’s face, “did they find one when they picked him up?”.
Ignoring him, the Colonel grunted routinely and scratched his chin. Abunka became jittery when mystery presented itself, and it made Katann nervous to be around him. But dark rumours of the Brotherhood had found their way into the ears of many soldiers like Abunka in recent days, and Katann knew the pressures of battle all too well. The war of attrition that had fallen upon Ruusan’s dry plains and scorched forests was taking its toll on both sides. Apparently the Order were planning a big offensive with Supreme Command to finally break the deadlock, but the Colonel felt it may just come too late. Something has to give soon, he mused, as he watched the droid continue its work.
Abunka opened his mouth to ask another question, but before he could the door to the tent was thrown open and Master Jenai Sharill appeared in the sunlight. Long dark hair covered most of her azure features as the harsh winds tore through the base outside. Both men turned their heads and watched the Zabrak stoop slightly before stepping inside, the Jedi’s tall thin frame filling the air as she stood up straight.
“Still no contact with Outpost 6, nor the tertiary bunker in the East Forest,” Jenai announced quietly to Colonel Katann, blinking gently as the desert sand fell from her eyes. “But Captain Shilm still believes it could be a transmitter failure. The low pressure dust storms of this region are, after all, quite random and severely disruptive to communications”.
“Very good Master Sharill”, Katann replied, nodding at the Jedi.
Jenai spotted Needa lying in the bed, his arm now being wrapped in heavy bandages, and furrowed her brow.
“Do you know this boy?,” the Colonel demanded.
“I do” Jenai replied softly. “His name is Needa Ghul, a young padawan of Master Cyyala.” She gracefully walked over to Needa and laid a hand gently on his brow. “Cyyala was stationed at Outpost 6, was he not Colonel?”
“Yes Jenai”, said Katann slowly, his eyes widening,”he was”.
The Jedi leaned closer and placed her other hand on Needa’s dusty cheek. He shifted slightly at her touch and murmured to himself. Closing her eyes Jenai bowed her head, a look of deep concentration appearing on her face as her ebony hair fell gently over her cheeks. Katann and Abunka watched intently as the Jedi master did her work, her ability to attune to another’s force was renowned throughout the Galaxy. The medidroid paused its programme and the tent fell silent as all eyes looked at Jenai.
Suddenly the Jedi quickly pulled her hands away and inhaled sharply, her eyes flying open-wide as she stepped back.
“What is it?!”, Katann whispered sharply.
When she did not respond the Colonel moved over and placed a firm hand on her shoulder. Jenai flinched and spun her head around, staring back intently. “I believe we may have a problem,” she said.
Click here for Part One: The Ruusan Pursuit!
Survival instinct forced Needa’s eyes open at the electric sound of the galaxy’s deadliest weapon. Shaking with unfettered emotion from the guilt of letting his comrades fall, Needa looked up through tear-stained eyes and saw the silhouette of a hooded figure running up the side of the hill toward him. Black and as thin as a ghost, the Sith’s unmistakable dark robes flapped against the wind as it sped up the slope, holding its blood red lightsaber out to the side as it ran.
Frozen with fear, Needa glanced down unrecognisably for a moment at his own weapon, sitting idly in the sand only inches from where he sat. In that brief moment he knew as a Jedi he had already lost. With all his hope drained, all his belief in the light had dissipated and stretched so thin, it had fallen out of his mind’s grasp. Perhaps a Jedi Master may have been able to fight back against this new enemy and retain the light, but not him. The Sith had left him no choice. He knew what he must do.
Needa’s green eyes turned from light to dark, glazing over as he focussed inwards and began to embrace his recent loss. Fresh guilt clawed at his mind as he channelled his raw anger and a hidden dark energy began to flow and vibrate in his blood. An energy that without Sith training ran unchecked wildly throughout his body. Being suddenly both free of fear and a slave of hate, he quickly grasped his weapon without even looking down. The enemy may have stolen his Jedi training on a mental level, but his combat skills were still fresh in his muscles from the tough last year at the Academy of Light. Full of rage and gritting his teeth, he sprang to his feet and ignited his blue saber in one quick motion, lifting his head to face this new and cruel foe.
But his eyes widened in surprise and horror as he saw that the Sith was already twenty feet off the ground, flying deadly and silent through the air towards him. For a moment, Needa first saw the face of his enemy. Barely visible under his hood, the Sith’s thin features grinned almost casually as he soared through the hot air toward him, the back of his robe violently vibrating against the hot breath of the Ruusan desert. Holding his own breath, Needa gripped the hilt of his lightsaber and swiftly turned the blade into a horizontal position at the last moment, before the full impact of the Sith’s downward charge came crashing upon him. The clash of weapons let out a loud hissing sound, sending a mixture of sparks from Needa’s blue weapon and the Sith’s red. The Sith’s jagged features were now much more visible as the two enemies glared at each other from across the crossed blades. Bathed in his saber’s red light, the Sith licked his lips and leaned in, putting unbearable pressure onto the young Jedi.
But by allowing the new feelings of hate and anger to rise within, Needa grimaced and slowly stood to his full height until he was glowering menacingly down at the Sith’s deceivingly slightly diminutive figure. Using this to his advantage, the Sith slowly crouched down and swept Needa’s legs out from under him, breaking the lethal embrace. The Jedi came crashing down on to his back, the wind instantly knocked out of his lungs and leaving him facing the sky, blinded by the glare of Ruusan’s double suns. The light was immediately blocked out by the silhouette of the Sith leaning over him, weapon held high above his head, ready to smash down on Needa again.
Just in time, Needa spun away along the ground, a cloud of dust left in his wake. More sparks covered his cloak as the Sith’s blade made a muffled hiss as it missed and hit the ground. Needa scrambled back to his feet, panting and sweating profusely. The raw and unrecognisable emotion poured through his veins, leaving him breathless and drained. Seeing this, the Sith turned to face him, grinning slightly and swinging his saber in a figure of eight as he casually strode back towards the Jedi, the weapon emitting a pulsating hum with each rotation.
Sweat dripped into Needa’s eyes and he wiped his brow and tried desperately to assess his enemy, looking for logic lost within the swirl of anger that coursed through his veins. But the Sith simply smiled back, looking relaxed and untouched. Needa then realised the true desperation of his position. He’s playing with me, he thought. Suddenly, the Sith stopped, cocking his head slightly to one side, as if listening. A look of satisfaction spread across its face, and he stopped advancing and instead began pacing back and forth, waiting for Needa to make the next move.
Needa swallowed hard. His throat felt scratchy in the dry air and his breathing had become sporadic. Not only this, but the blood in his veins felt, poisoned, somehow. I cannot control this, he thought. He felt exposed, raw and vulnerable. Yet there was something else, Needa thought. I feel….
“More powerful?” the Sith finished, that soulless smile again appearing through the shadow on his face.
Needa froze and the assassin stopped pacing. They stood for a moment, only meters apart, but separated by leagues of experience and oceans of control. In the heat of the desert and in the midst of war, Needa began to understand what this creature was. Everything a Jedi could fear, this thing, this Sith, could harness the power to read minds. And control them, Needa thought.
But he can’t take my allegiance. That’s a choice…
In this last thought, Needa suddenly realised that he could not embrace the dark side if it might lead him to the Brotherhood of Darkness. He still believed in the Army of Light and he would rather be dead than join their ranks of evil. I have always believed in the cause of the Jedi. This creature cannot take that away from me, I must retain the light…
Focus Needa… His master’s voice whispered in the darkness of his mind. Do not forget your destiny as a Jedi. It is your chosen path.
With the dark side still running relentlessly through his veins, Needa furrowed his brow and focussed his mind back to the light once more, gathering the last remnant from his mind as he tried desperately to reach back to his training and his master’s words. But the moment he did, it caused a blinding pain in his head, which spread across his face and made his mouth fill with blood. The Sith watched quietly, its grin widening as he saw the first trickle of blood fall from Needa’s lip.
Grimacing, the young Jedi wiped his mouth with his free hand before spitting his blood onto the sand. “Enough”, he said. Standing up straight, he extinguished his weapon and stared at the Sith. “This will not work my friend” he said in a certain but shaky voice, “for I am a child of the light, and only it can guide my hand.”
Its smile fading for a moment, the Sith paused and looked back at Needa, scanning the features of the Jedi. Needa’s skin crawled as he felt the Sith’s eyes move over his body and face, feeling his dark power working its way through his body and his mind. The Sith’s face went placid as his eyes moved back and forth, as if looking for something hidden away. Silence hung in the air for a moment, and the wind whipped Needa’s hair onto his face as the wind whipped across the top of the hill.
Suddenly, as if finding the key to a lock, the Sith smiled again and whispered:
“Your master wept in his final moments. Like a child”. He grinned again, his teeth glinting in the sunlight. “Can you see…?”
Needa’s mind suddenly filled with the cries of his comrades once again. His master wailing and holding out his hand, his face burning alive as his fingers reached out in unbearable desperation. “No!”, Needa screamed as his feelings filled with anger and loss once more. But it was too late. His face contorted, unrecognisable from the hopeful young man that had walked into the academy. Seething red with rage, he ignited his weapon again, his young face bathed in the cool blue of the light saber, before screaming in rage and charging at the Sith.
But the dark figure simply grinned satisfactorily at the Jedi’s sudden change of emotion before leaping deftly up into the air, high above the arcing slice of the Jedi’s lightsaber as Needa came running in for an overhand swipe. The Sith landed in the dust behind the Jedi, kicking up a cloud of yellow mist. He stood and turned to face Needa: “Good”, he said calmly, “use your fear, do not hesitate as it will be your undoing. Break from the shackles of the Jedi order and become all you can be. For it will set you free.”
Feeling agile and light from the dark side vibrating quickly through his arms and legs, Needa spun round in an instant, flicking his saber back to attack position above his head. This time, he aimed his blade directly at the Sith, before sprinting forward again for another charge.
This time the Sith did not move. “You are a misguided fool who only knows the teachings of foolish priests” he said with distaste. And with that he reached out his free hand and squeezed his fingers together in the empty air.
Needa suddenly felt his throat close shut tight and stopped in mid-run, letting his saber tumble to the ground as his hands instinctively went to his neck. He gasped and struggled, clawing at the invisible fingers that were wrapped around his neck. Panicking, he raked helplessly at his throat as he breathlessly whispered, “please…”
Ignoring his pleas the Sith stepped closer to Needa, pushing his fingers further together as he did so. “There is no pride in defeat”, he said through clenched teeth. Hardly moving the rest of his body, the Sith lifted his arm slowly and with it Needa’s feet also began to rise above the ground. Fresh panic danced across Needa’s face as he looked down at his feet as they dangled helplessly just above the sand.
“Now you will feel the real power of the force” the Sith said, “the real future of the galaxy”. With that he violently threw his arm upwards in the air, splaying his fingers and bursting into cruel laughter. There was a harsh ripping sound as Needa flew upwards through the air, leaving a cloud of Ruusan dust and sand swirling and dancing in his wake.
The wind whistled in Needa’s ears as he continued to climb upwards in the sky, clawing at his neck and treading thin air at the same time. His eyes scanned around and he saw in horror as the desert quickly became distant and out of focus. He must have been a hundred feet in the air as his body continued upwards, his robes flapping wildly as he struggled to breath.
Just as he thought his next breath would be his last, the invisible hand around his neck released and he gasped loudly, sucking in the thin but humid air, colour returning to his face. He hovered momentarily silent in mid-air, before the inevitable decline back to earth began. Panicking again, he looked down as the wind threw his hair upwards as he plummeted down to the planet’s surface. His speeder began to come back into focus below him, as he started falling towards the Russan shelter faster than blaster fire.
Trying desparetly to remember his training, he focussed all his energy and gathered his strength to create a cushion with the force as best he could. But with panic and the dark side still dominating him, he struggled to focus as he closed in on the wooden hut. In a last attempt to save himself, he closed his eyes and held his palms out flat, aiming at the ground. Concentrating hard, he began to feel a force bubble forming in the few remaining feet below him. He felt his body slowing, but he soon realised it was not enough. The last thing he heard before cashing into the wooden hut was the tormenting laughter of his foe. With a thunderous impact, splinters and nails flew in every direction as Needa broke through the roof, breaking his arm against a beam, spinning him in the air before landing on his back, the wind flying out of his lungs once again.
As the dust settled, Needa slowly opened his eyes to see he was laying on his side, looking through piles of rubble and wood. Through the mist and dust, he could see the Sith had stopped laughing and had begun walking back towards his broken body, using its dark powers to pull the splinters and chunks of wood away from Needa, exposing his body in the sun. Piece by piece, the splinters and nails flew away into the air, as the Sith grew ever larger. He could hear the footsteps of this dark enemy crunching the dirt in front of his eyes as the Sith used a gesture with his hand to remove the last of the wood.
Free from the debris, Needa began slowly to get to his feet in a last determined stand against this terrible foe. The Sith stopped for a moment, almost admiring the stubbornness of Needa. The young Jedi got to his feet and drew himself tall despite the pain in his arm. He didn’t know whether the Sith’s influence had loosened or not, or whether pure desperation had forced him to attempt one last stand, but with body broken and without his vital weapon he know there was only one thing he could do.
In one last attempt to survive, Needa reached inwards with the force and focussed his mind. Needa knew a forbidden but powerful tool in the Jedi arsenal. Knowing it could be his last thought, Needa reached into his heart and pulled every single last piece of energy in his body to created a force pulse that would potentially decimate most enemies. Banned by the Army of Light, due to its unpredictability in battle and its exhaustion of the Jedi that used it, it had been secretly taught to Needa by his mentor’s brother, Koorin Unn.
Screaming like a Twilek child without his milk, he extended his arms forward and released all the force in his body and mind. The moment he did, the air in front of Needa began to warp and twitch like fabric, enveloping the gap between them as it grew quickly in size, distorting space like a tidal surge in the seas. Through the pulse, there was a moment when the Jedi saw the distorted image of the Sith grimacing coldly as he saw what was coming, just before the pulse slammed into his enemy with the force of fifty banthas. The collision sent a shockwave back towards Needa, throwing him backwards onto the ground, sending a new wave of pain up his arm as he landed.
Exhausted and finally drained of all force energy, dark and light, Needa, sat up, hoping the Sith was laying there, body broken and torn. But as the air between them returned to normal, he saw the cruel, untouched image of his foe’s smile looking back at him.
“No…” Needa whispered, falling to his knees and shaking his head. Suddenly knowing his final moment had come, he closed his eyes and lowered his head. “Make it quick, I beg of you.”
Holding his breath he waited for the electric hum of the weapon that would end his life. But there was only silence. When there was no reply Needa opened his eyes to see the Sith had instead sat down on the earth, his own eyes also closed. Its weapon was tucked back into its robe and he sat crossed legged, the wind gently whispering between them. A bird flew overhead and the sand danced across the floor. Silence hung in the air for a moment before the Sith spoke again:
“There is no sport left for me here you foolish boy”, the Sith announced dramatically. “Go find your Jedi friends” he sighed, “tell them to prepare for my coming. Move quickly, for it will be soon and I am impatient to find a worthy adversary before the sun sets”.
Needa was stunned by the Sith’s mercy. Or it is pity? he thought. Either way, the idea of abandoning the fight again was terrible to bear, but the force was a dwindling light inside him after using the forbidden pulse and he knew there was still honour left in finding the outpost and warning them of this new danger. And the loss of the outpost, he thought.
Holding his arm, he slowly got back to his feet, the dust from the shelter falling stubbornly from his brown robes. Deciding to leave his weapon behind in case this creature changed his mind and stumbling slightly through exhaustion, he fled across the desert towards Outpost 5.
The Ruusan Pursuit
The speeder gasped its final breath and slowed to a stop on the brow of a hill, next to what looked like an abandoned Ruusanian shelter. Fuel cell warning lights danced across the panel in front of Needa’s eyes and the young Jedi cursed, before leaping out of the vehicle. He breathed heavily as Ruusan’s suns beat their harsh rays onto the smooth metal of the speeder, baking and suffocating the air around him. Flinging the hood of his brown cloak back and squinting against the sky, Needa moved his dark brown hair away from his eyes and wiped his brow. His face and cloak were covered in dust from the journey, and he used his sleeve to wipe his face. His soft features had aged many years in the last hour, and his skin looked worn and caked in the dust of the coarse Ruusan desert.
The young captain had been stationed at an encampment, a final warning system on the edge of the Arkine Forest before the long stretch of desert that led to the main Jedi outpost. But without warning his company had been attacked by a group of mercenaries loyal to the Sith. They were led by a cruel and malicious enemy, who had single handedly torn through their defences, opening the way for his troops to cut through the camp. Needa knew that the encampment was the last line of defence before Outpost 5, which could not, no, must not be lost if the Jedi were to finally eradicate the Brotherhood from the eastern borders. Overrun, their communications were soon destroyed, and his master ordered him into the last remaining speeder to warn Outpost 5 of the Sith betrayal. Needa swallowed hard as he remembered his master’s final order before he himself was cut down. Needa had cried out in pain and anguish before he had turned and fled, abandoning the screams of his friends and comrades. Despite the desperateness of the situation and his master’s final order, Needa regretted not standing and fighting. Even now, as his dark green eyes desperately searched the horizon for signs of the outpost, he knew that the guilt would plague his memories forever. Suddenly a reassuring noise from the speeder’s communications panel interrupted his thoughts:
“…self. Repeat, this is outpost 5 West, please identity yourse…” A dry voice crackled over the radio.
Needa hurried over and pushed down hard on the SEND button: “Outpost 5, this is captain Needa, please come in”. Needa waited for a response, but the speeder just returned static that hung in the dry air. “Outpost 5, do you read? Outpost 6 is down, overrun, repeat overrun. Prepare for imminent assault on your position, do you…” Suddenly a small spark jumped from the panel and Needa fell back, holding his hand up to his face. A small trail of electrified smoke signalled the end of the conversation. If there was one, Needa thought.
Taking a deep breath, Needa reached into the back of the speeder and searched for the long range visor. It was well hidden and beads of sweat ran down the Jedi’s face as he rummaged. He exhaled deeply as his fingers found the cool metal and he gladly pushed himself away from the baking speeder. Walking to the edge of the hill, he turned west, holding the visor to his face. The view he had was of a long uneven track that wound its way through the jagged rocks that scattered the desert, as they reached up to the suns like thirsty tongues. Needa licked his dry lips as he rotated slowly to the left, until he found what he was looking for. He smiled to himself as his eyes locked onto the faint shimmering outline of the Outpost’s entrance. The site itself was not in view, but he knew that the outpost was only a short journey up the hill. At least eight more miles to the entrance he thought. Quickly calculating the time in his head he inhaled deeply and closed his eyes. I can make it there in one hour on foot. But there may be a way to get the speeder working given time. If I just..
Suddenly a small push interrupted his thoughts, like a small and silent change in expression during a conversation. Needa was still a young Jedi, with much to learn, but he recognised the power of a Sith warrior when he felt it. Spinning round he hurried back over to the speeder and lifted the visor to his eyes again, this time facing east back towards the encampment. Through the dust covered lenses, he saw a small trail of yellow smoke moving slowly across the desert, heading straight for his position. What is that? Needa wondered, furrowing his brow. Adjusting the zoom on the visor, Needa focused the view and saw in horror as a small but discernible black figure moved in front of the dust, tearing a line across the yellow sand like a blade on fabric. But he’s moving so kriffin fast! muttered the Jedi aloud. Panicking he ran back to the speeder and punched the start up button whilst grabbing the throttle lever with both hands, frantically trying to get the aged Mark IV started. Forgetting his training he allowed frustration to get the better of him, and after failed attempts he slammed his hand against the display, the pain rushing up his hand, waking him up.
Patience. Said his masters voice in his head. Needa listened and took a calming breath before getting out of the vehicle again. He could not escape. Exposed on the top of a hill he knew what he had to do. Sitting down and crossing his legs, he closed his eyes and and began to gather his thoughts, his mind, allowing the power of the force to flow like a river between all the parts of his body. As he did this, Needa slowly pulled the cool hilt of his lightsaber, given to him by his master, out from under his cloak and allowed it to rest in his hand.
One of the first lessons his master had instilled in Needa was to never allow the trust in his ability to falter. But do not let this be confused with arrogance young Needa, his master would say, for this is an ally of the Sith. Instead, simply remember that your full power and potential can only be found once you shed all of your regret, your remorse. All of your fear.
Patience, said his master’s voice again, this time Needa joined it with his own, moving the word across his lips. He could feel the power of the Sith getting stronger and stronger with each passing moment. But there was something else. The approaching enemy seemed to be using the force to tug and pull at Needa’s thoughts, breaking through his concentration. No, Needa realised, taking something.
Needa ignored it and concentrated on his master’s voice, his teaching, but every time he did the memories were stolen and replaced by an image of his master falling, holding out his hand and reaching for Needa’s help. To the Jedi’s horror, the image also began to fill with all the faces of the others he had left behind and abandoned. Suddenly losing all hope, Needa’s hand opened and his lightsaber tumbled from his grasp onto the sand under his feet, as his eyes filled with the tears of regret. The Sith’s power robbed the young Jedi of his training, stole his hope, replacing it with all that lay suppressed and hidden in the Jedi. Needa’s lip trembled as he became consumed with loss and fear. Lowering his head he covered his face with his hands as he became inexplicably overwhelmed with shame, his resolve weakening to emptiness with every shaking breath.
The next thing that Needa heard was the unmistakable sound of a lightsaber being ignited just metres from where he sat.
Chapter 2 here!
Just thought I would post a quick short story to read on your tea break. It is my own take on classic science-fiction horror episodes such as The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. Hope you enjoy it and let me know what you think…if it pleases you.
Here are some interesting questions: If the knowledge of exactly when you would die was extended to you, would you take it? Would you want to know? If you did and found out it was going to be much sooner than you had hoped, how would you react?
If you found out it was an early exit from this world, but you don’t know how it happens, would you take fewer risks with your life to avoid the inevitable, or live each day like it’s your last because you know it is not yet your time? This of course may be indirectly why you die so soon in the first place, which would create a paradox. Maybe it would change you as a person, maybe it wouldn’t. For many of us go through life secretly harbouring the belief that we will cross the finish line of life old and surrounded by family, happy in the knowledge you had lived a good life. There are many of us, without knowing the truth, that assume longevity. This is probably why life insurance is so difficulty to sell.
But there are some people bouncing around on this floating rock that truly cherish life and treat it with the respect it deserves. These people do not need to know the ‘when’ or the ‘how’ about life. They simply savour the sights and the sounds. They look upon each new day as a world of opportunity, basking in the knowledge that their time on the earth is to be relished and grasped with both hands. They treat their friends and family well and look after their body and take the greatest care over their health.
The man you are about to meet was not one of the above people. Not even close…
“I am telling you, I get a pay cheque at the end of the week!” the customer pleaded, unconvincingly.
“And I’m telling you, I don’t care,” the shopkeeper replied, “I always hear the same story from you man, it’s always the end of the week. You think that when you were born the world started revolving around you? Well it don’t. I have had enough of your lies. It’s always one more pack of cigarettes, one more bottle of Jack…”
The customer in the grubby, coal-black coat held up his hand and closed his eyes, “fine” he sighed, rubbing his hand across his rough, unshaven jaw. He was already holding up the queue and he could feel the old lady behind him burning a hole in his back.
“I’ll take my business elsewhere my friend,” the man said, and turned to leave.
“Sure, business!” the shopkeeper spat. “I have lent you more money then you have spent in here.” He raised his voice as the unwanted man neared the door, “and don’t bother coming back unless you’re here to pay up!”
The man ignored him, opened the shop door and put one foot on the pavement outside.
“Asshole”, the shopkeeper muttered under his breath before turning and smiling at the grey haired lady as she stepped forward.
Outside, the man in the long coat slammed the door and turned to scowl through the shop window. He saw the shopkeeper chatting gaily to the old lady like nothing had happened. He turned back to the street and whipped his scarf around his face before setting off back to his tiny flat around the corner. As he walked, his long legs cast scissor-shadows across the front of the shop windows. It was way past ten and the cold was setting in. He hunched his shoulders and kept his head lowered against the biting cold wind.
As rude and unconstructive as the shopkeeper’s farewell insult was, it wasn’t far from the truth. Peter treated his body like a rubbish tip. He could have grown-up to become a very handsome man. He was tall, tanned and had deceivingly kind features across his face. But he was now way past overweight and his drinking and smoking were competing for the ‘worse habit award’ in his life. He had had many friends and even more lovers at university but the wrong crowd and a lazy attitude meant he failed his course and his parents allowed him to pay for his mistakes. He had been working in a local factory ever since, it was all he could manage in his constantly hung-over state. But even that job was in the air pending the investigation of the recent theft of machinery parts. Peter denied everything of course.
People rarely saw Peter without a cigarette bobbing between his lips as he spoke, and after that argument with the shopkeeper he craved one now more than ever. As he turned down the alleyway leading to his flat, the wind died down and he paused against the wall to light a cigarette, cupping his hand in front of the lighter to keep the flame burning.
“You know, you could probably afford to pay him back,”a low voice said from the other side of the alley.
Peter stopped before the flame touched the end of the cigarette and peered over the edge of his index finger. He saw a figure sitting on top of a rusty blue recycling bin, looking at him with his legs crossed and smiling.
After a moment Peter smiled back and touched the flame to his cigarette. He drew a deep breath, exhaled and regarded the man through a cloud of velvet smoke.
“And you really shouldn’t smoke those things,” the man sitting on the bin continued. “It’ll cut your life short. That, above all, I can guarantee.”
The stranger continued looking at him with an air of unnatural arrogance. Peter had met all sorts of dark characters on his nightly journeys down this alleyway and knew how to deal with them. He saw that this new arrival wore a grey suit and had thick black hair. He could almost be mistaken for a businessman, if he wasn’t sitting on top of a bin. But, despite his precarious and unsanitary position, his clothes seemed untouched by the dirt around him. In fact, Peter thought he looked perfectly comfortable. He also noted the man to be of small build and wiry, so he felt confident if the stranger tried anything untoward.
“I’m sure you’re right,” Peter agreed, “and I’m sure sitting on top of that bin full of broken glass will do the same,” he said whilst nodding towards the man’s seating arrangement.
The stranger said nothing and just smiled back. Peter decided it was time to leave. “You just sit tight my friend”, he shouted, even though he was but feet away, “I’ll go fetch you a chair.” He smugly grinned and turned to leave, taking another drag of his cigarette, rolling his eyes in the process.
“I’ll make you a deal Peter,” the man called after him, “give me a cigarette and I’ll make you rich.”
Two things made Peter stop with his foot hovering just above a drain cover. The first was the mention of money. The second, was the fact the stranger knew his name. He let his foot come down gently, but did not turn around.
“I thought you said smoking would kill you,” Peter said over his shoulder.
“No,” the strange man replied quietly. “I said they would kill you.” He raised his voice, “besides! I’ve smoked over a million of them and I’ve never felt better!” At this he threw his head back and laughed. It was a sick sound and it bounced off the walls before dancing cruelly down the alleyway in both directions.
Peter turned to face him. He saw that the man already had his hand outstretched in anticipation. Peter narrowed his eyes.
“So…if I give you a cigarette,” he said, stepping through his words carefully, “you’ll give me money.”
“Oh, the cigarette doesn’t matter,” the man in the grey suit said with a wave of his free hand. “I would give you the money anyway, as much as you want in fact.”
“Why?” Peter asked.
“Because money means nothing to me,” the man said quickly, shrugging his shoulders, as if he was asked that question all the time. “I’ll offer you something else as well,” he continued, getting excited. “Something just as valuable to you, but in a completely different way.”
Peter narrowed his eyes again and returned to his cigarette. A large part of him felt, no knew, this guy was wrong. But a larger part wanted money, and this guy was crazy. Crazy people did crazy things with money, especially rich ones.
“So what else can you offer me?” Peter asked.
The stranger inhaled sharply before answering, “I’ll tell you when you will die,” he replied.
Peter raised his eyebrows. This is way out of my league, he thought, dragging on his cigarette again before flicking it onto the wall next to a stack of crates. He watched as the shower of glowing embers died away into blackness. Gathering himself he lifted his head up.
“Let’s stick with the money,” he said.
“Most people normally do,” the dark man replied, almost to himself.
Just as Peter was going to say something else, a wooden box was thrown to the side, as a dirty grey cat suddenly leapt up next to the stranger. Peter jumped back and felt his heart skip a beat.
The man on the bin did not even flinch. He just sat there smiling that strange smile, his hand still outstretched. He allowed the cat to rub up against his knee, hardly noticing it, never taking his eyes from Peter’s face.
Peter stood there rubbing his chest from the shock. He was starting to really dislike the situation. He watched the cat using the stranger as a rubbing post, could hear it purring like a small engine from where he was. Now and again it would pause and glance over at him, its ashen face content, yet knowing.
“So?” The stranger asked.
“Huh?” Peter looked from the cat to the stranger, and noticed how the man’s contentment was so similar to that of his feline companion.
“So,” the man repeated, “how much do you want?”
“How much what?” Peter practically whispered.
From somewhere in the stranger’s mouth there came a low clicking noise and he rolled his own eyes. “How much money?” he asked slowly.
Peter glanced down at his own hand still rubbing his chest and suddenly felt foolish. He came back to reality and realised the ridiculousness of the situation. He quickly regained his composure and his natural arrogance came flooding back in a tidal wave.
“Hmmm, let me see,” he mused loudly, “let’s say…a hundred million pounds?” He squashed his mouth together to stop from smiling and nodded to himself in self-approval of the amount.
The stranger’s constant smile suddenly dropped for a cold moment and he stared at Peter, who suddenly glimpsed the face of a man that was not crazy. He was just not the same as the rest of us.
After what felt like an eternity, the stranger simply said: “Are you sure?”
Peter stopped smiling. “Yes,” he replied with certainty.
The stranger then closed his eyes for a moment. If Peter had not been completely glued to the man’s face, he may not have noticed it. “Done,” the man said, the grin returning to his face.
There was a moment of silence as Peter continued to stare dumbfounded at the dark face sitting below the hair that was as black as night.
He suddenly snapped out of his trance and realised where he was, who he was talking to, and what he just asked for. He also remembered how ridiculous it was. Peter’s face suddenly broke out into the biggest grin imaginable. “Well!” he exclaimed, his voice echoing all around. He began to spread his arms out wide and started turning in a slow circle in the alleyway. The stranger watched him doing this, completely happy with the reaction. “Look at all this money!” Peter shouted again, “What shall I buy first!?” he stopped and let his finger rest on his chin as he tilted his head.
“Peter,” the man said.
“Maybe a boat!” Peter said, raising his eyebrows and his finger at the same time.
“Peter,” the stranger repeated.
“No,” Peter corrected, lowering his finger and shaking his head, “forgot I get sea sick”.
“Peter Archibald Garland,” the stranger said again, louder this time and slightly impatiently.
Peter turned his head quickly. Most people who knew his middle name did not dare mention it as it would normally end in the rearrangement of their nose. Instead, he just looked at the elvish man and gave him his hardest stare.
“The money is in your bank,” the man said calmly, “you didn’t want me to leave it in the alleyway here did you?” The stranger paused and tilted his head slightly to the side, “unless that’s what you want?”
A breath of cold wind flew down the alleyway, biting at Peter’s face. His stomach suddenly rumbled and he realised how long he had been talking to this man, and started to come to the conclusion that it was becoming a waste of time. He also realised that his favourite programme on television was starting soon and the combination of a microwaved lasagne and a glass of Jack Daniels beckoned loudly in his head.
That is enough.
“Look,” Peter said, raising a hand. “You clearly have issues my friend.”
The stranger’s head returned back to level, facing him.
“And,” Peter continued cautiously, “If you can’t show me some money right now, I’m outta here.”
The stranger suddenly clapped his hands together so loudly that the cat hissed and leapt back into the boxes below. He sat bolt upright and his hair lifted briefly from his face, his grin widening more than ever.
“A challenge!” the stranger exclaimed, “you never let me down Peter, you really don’t!”
Peter still had his hand raised. He hadn’t expected that.
The stranger re-opened his hands and closed his eyes once again. When he opened them he smiled and nodded towards an old wooden crate, near where the cat had sprung from.
“Open it Peter,” he said, “if it pleases you”.
If it pleases you? Peter thought. He lowered his hand and stood up straight. What the hell is going on here? He looked over at the crate and noticed that it was very close to the stranger’s throne and Peter wanted to make sure the man was not able to take advantage of the elevated position on top of the recycling bin. He hesitated for a moment and looked back up at the grey suit and black hair. The stranger resembled the Cheshire Cat in the darkness, his teeth outshining everything around him.
Peter swallowed and stepped over to the crate. It was old and broken and had a hinge lid. It looked like it used to hold kids toys or clothes. Curiosity and desperation drove Peter forward, and he looked up again at the man above him just before reaching over to open the lid. The stranger was looking down at him, his eyes almost popping out of his head in excitement. It looked as if this was his favourite part. The man continued to simply stare as Peter reached over and lifted the lid and looked inside.
Peter’s eyes widened and his heart started racing as he scanned the neat piles of fifty pound notes lining the bottom of the crate.
“Jesus Christ,” he whispered.
“Nowhere near as inventive, I assure you,” a voice said from above him.
Peter ignored the stranger and threw the lid open the rest of the way, allowing his favourite sin to dictate his actions: greed. He suddenly didn’t care how the man knew the money was in there and whether it was his to give away. He just knew he had deep pockets in his coat.
The stranger watched on with childish glee as Peter began stuffing his pockets with shaking hands, occasionally glancing up at the stranger with an almost fearful expression that seemed to please the stranger even more.
There must be a couple of thousand in here, Peter thought.
Once he was sure all the money was gone he stood up straight and started backing slowly away from the open lid and the man on the bin, who kept watching him intently.
“So have you changed your mind about wanting to know when you will die?” the stranger suddenly asked.
Peter stopped walking backwards for a moment. He had forgotten all about that.
“When I will die?” he asked.
“Yes” the stranger replied, “the age at which you will die”.
Peter looked up and down the alley, with two thousand pounds in his pockets and being a good distance from the stranger still on top of his bin, he suddenly didn’t mind so much about missing his programme or his lasagne. Fuck it, He thought, I’m eating out.
“Sure,” he said, shrugging his shoulders, “I would love to know”.
The stranger raised his eyebrows and his head moved back slightly. For the first time since their meeting, he actually looked surprised.
“Really?” he said.
Peter impatiently adjusted his stance. “Sure, why not?”
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” the man said, his smile fading away, “and that’s my only warning”.
The money in Peter’s pockets suddenly felt like illegal gold bars and he looked again at both ends of the alleyway. He thought he saw a figure turn into the far end. Then it moved on past across the street. He relaxed.
“Just tell me,” he said loudly, turning back and looking the man in the face.
The stranger sat up straight and lifted his chin, “You will be ninety”.
There was a moment of silence as the reply sunk in. Then, for some awful reason Peter thought this was very funny and started laughing. But then immediately stopped as he realised the stranger looked slightly hurt, and annoyed.
“I’m sorry,” Peter said, “I guess I was expecting a car accident, or maybe horse flu”. He started laughing again and clamped his hand on his mouth, his eyes watering.
“No” the stranger replied, “just old age”.
Peter felt as if it was time to conclude this charade. Although he still felt confident about the man’s size, he didn’t like the way he had known his name. He did not just look out of place on top of the bin either, he looked out of place in this world. Peter also just didn’t plain like him. Besides, he wanted to get this money home as soon as possible. He looked down the alleyway. It was only a minute to his flat and he was already thinking about where he was going to stash the money. It was a cliché, but the floorboards were quite loose in the corner by the television. He inflated his chest and turned his attention back to the stranger one last time:
“Well, this has been great,” he said quickly smiling, trying to keep the stranger happy, “thanks again for the money and I hope we see each other again, unfortunately though, I’m going to be busy for a while”.
He turned to leave and took two steps without looking back. He hoped for a brief moment that he would never see the man again.
“Peter?” the stranger called politely after him.
Shit. Peter stopped walking. “Yes?” He said through clenched teeth without turning around.
“Can, I have my cigarette?” the man said.
Peter turned around and saw that the man had leaned forward slightly and had his hand outstretched once more.
His instincts told him to say no and turn and leave. But there was something about this guy, something wrong. He wanted to leave him on as good a note as possible.
Peter smiled. “Of course,” he slowly said.
He started walking slowly back towards the stranger, whilst moving a cigarette out of the packet from inside his pocket. Once his fingers wrapped themselves around a filter, his impulse was to throw the cigarette at the stranger. But he also knew the wind blowing down the alley might catch it. This would mean either the man getting down to fetch it, or worse, Peter himself bending over in front of him, which he didn’t like at all. Instead, he pulled the cigarette out of his pocket, extended his arm and reached the edge of the bin, his senses tingling. The stranger leaned forward painfully slowly and took the cigarette from the filter end. Peter saw the stranger’s face close up and noticed that it was both plain and weathered. He had a wide, large nose and a deep tan, even though it was well into winter.
But it was the eyes. The cold, dark eyes. When the stranger stared at Peter, he seemed to look at parts of him that didn’t even exist.
The stranger continued to lean forwards and stare until their faces were only inches apart. Peter became suddenly repulsed and pulled in at the same time and had to restrain himself from turning away.
“So are you going to pay him back now?” the stranger said quietly.
“Who?” Peter whispered, just as softly.
“The shopkeeper,” the stranger said, lifting his eyebrows.
Peter suddenly let go of the cigarette and took a step back, his foot collapsing a small orange carton as he did so.
“What?” he retorted, “why should I?”
Peter was glad he had taken a step back, for the stranger threw his head back again and laughed like a wolf into the night sky, putting the cigarette into his breast pocket as he did so.
“That’s what I love about you Peter!” he turned his head back down to the man below him and dropped his smile for the last time, “You really do never let me down”. Peter watched as the man’s eyes began to darken and he seemed to actually fill out around the shoulders. His suit became darker in colour and Peter was sure the shadows on the walls were becoming larger. Peter started trembling uncontrollably and he backed away again until he was a good distance from the darkening figure in the shadows.
This time Peter turned to leave and ran. He never looked back.
He had changed his mind about eating out, he didn’t feel hungry. He would stash the money and drink a whole bottle of whiskey, then fall asleep in front of the television.
Tomorrow he would go down to the bank on his lunch break and deposit some of the money. He was sure he would be asked questions if he gave them the whole amount. It wasn’t as if there was ever any money in there anyway.
Except there was.
In fact, there was just under a hundred million pounds in his account. Two thousand pounds under to be exact. Peter thought he was in trouble when the bank manager called him into his office the next day and told him about it. He nearly fainted.
Of course there were questions. In fact the bank’s investigation seemed to last for an eternity. But in the end there was no taking the money away from him, he made sure of that.
To cut a long story short, during the next number of years he spent the money in typical Peter fashion. He abandoned his family and friends and increased the drinking and smoking beyond belief. He even picked up a couple of drug habits along the way for good measure.
He had said before that people with a lot of money go crazy and everybody around him thought he had. No matter how much his health deteriorated he assured everybody that he would live till he was very old. How did he know this? People would ask. Ah! He would say and touch his nose in conspiratorial fashion as he swayed back and forth with his Jack Daniels splashing over the side of his glass. After all, he knew when he would die. He truly believed he must have a super immune system and he would out live them all.
The truth is, he wasn’t far wrong. Considering all the cigarettes he smoked, whiskey he drank and cocaine he shoved up his nose it is a miracle he went on for ten years since his meeting with the stranger. Alas, eventually he was forced into the doctor’s office and told he had lung cancer. The news didn’t go down well and Peter threw his financial weight around the medical world demanding second opinions.
The opinions never changed. His condition did.
Whenever the doctors insisted he start the chemotherapy, Peter immediately stormed out of the office, insisting they were wrong and he would live for many more years. Unfortunately, this just confirmed everybody’s suspicions about his mental state. He had heard how much the therapy made you sick and he wasn’t going to lose his hair (pardon the expression) over somebody’s incorrect opinion about whether he has cancer. He truly believed his body would just reject the disease and he could go back to his life.
He spent his final months in his home, alone, surrounded by his possessions. Without any medical assistance whatsoever, it is surprising he lasted so long. But then again he did have a special immune system. He died in his bedroom from severe cancer of the lungs at the age of forty one.
Five people attended Peter Garland’s funeral, himself included.
Peter opened his (eyes) mind to an empty silence and an invisible darkness.
He opened his (mouth) mind to speak and realised he didn’t have one. He tried to trigger his senses but his (body) mind would not allow it to happen.
Is this death?
Panic wrapped its cold hands around his thoughts and didn’t let go.
Please no. (Forever….Death has been…an eternal loneliness)
His consciousness raced around until it was back full circle. His mind wept at the idea of the next existence being an empty passage alone with just memories and thoughts for company.
His heart would have been beating like crazy by now if he had one. Time passed without his ability to sense it. He began thinking about his life before. Then crazy thoughts started making their way in to his (head) mind and crawling into the foreground. He began to wonder what he would do without a way of making things happen. Without a way of moving. Could he be alone? He would have given anything to talk to someone. He would have given all the money he ever had back just to be with his body again.
He would do anything to be whole.
Or just my head.
Just my head would do.
His thoughts were suddenly interrupted:
Hello stranger, said the stranger.
Peter felt suddenly relieved and horrified at the same instant. Relived to hear another voice but horrified that it came directly into his mind. When the stranger spoke it felt like a burning liquid pouring over his thoughts that he had no way of stopping.
You! He replied.
I didn’t appreciate the way you ran off without saying goodbye last time we met Peter, the stranger said, not at all.
Peter felt trapped and wanted to cry out every time the voice spoke. Each word pushed against his mind.
Where am I? Is this death?
There was no reply and he started to panic again.
The stranger suddenly laughed again. Peter’s whole world suddenly filled up with the sound. He hated that laugh. In this place it sounded even more dreadful and it bounced around in his mind, getting louder each time it echoed.
‘No’ to all your questions I’m afraid, the voice said, you’re not dead yet. This is my own personal creation. A limbo if you will.
Peter’s memory clawed back the image of man on the bin with the grey suit and tried to attach it to the voice that was speaking. It would not fit.
What do you mean a limbo?, He thought aloud.
This, said the stranger, is where people wait between the time they die and the time they were supposed to die. For instance, if somebody gives up instead of fighting a bit harder when they were dying and lost a few hours extra life then they will wait here until the time that they should have lived to.
He could almost picture the man in the grey suit smiling as he spoke, his grin never moving.
Of course, continued the dreadful voice, it would only ever be a little difference, for without intervention it is only ever a matter of hours. Fate is a very fragile thing in these circumstances. You should know.
Peter thought nothing. He was being destroyed by every word the stranger spoke and he could already feel his mind slipping. He started to slur his (words) thoughts.
Intervention, he thought. I was supposed to live till I…was (can’t remember)…very old.
Of course you were, the stranger said. However, you were never meant to receive lots of money. Without that you would have never been able to destroy yourself so easily and you actually would have turned your life around quite nicely.
The stranger’s voice became deeper and much louder. Each syllable was like a sledgehammer in Peter’s already fragile mind.
You were also not supposed to know when you would die. That worked a treat. Because of that you didn’t even fight when you were dying. Like I said before Peter, you really do never let me down. You have been the best yet by far. No one ever wants to know when they will die. Most people don’t even ask for that much money. But you’re ambitious Peter, that’s why I chose you. But even then, you really have surprised me.
Peter started to realise what the voice was saying and how long he would be in this empty place.
His mind cried silent tears that only the stranger could hear.
It’s okay Peter, I think you’ll do well. After all you’re a stubborn chap I’m sure you’ll hang in there as long as possible.
Pl..ease…no, Peter’s mind beckoned.
The stranger’s voice started to fade into the background and a suffocating and strange claustrophobia began to sink in around his mind.
I might pop in again though, called the stranger, to see how you’re getting on. But I can’t promise anything. Things to do, people to see and all that.
Silence filled the void left by the stranger and Peter’s mind wept invisible tears again.
The stranger was wrong about one thing; Peter was not that strong, he did not last long at all.
Losing myself in one of Stephen King’s books has always been one of my favourite pastimes. Whether it is one of his classic short stories from Night Shift , or the epic adventure that is The Dark Tower series, I feel the visual and cinematic style that Mr King writes with makes it even more enjoyable as a fan of film, as I easily picture the horrifying characters and delightful images in my mind. It is no surprise then, that so many of his ideas and stories have been translated to the big and small screen. The source material for these adaptations can be everything from an entire novel, to a tiny seed of an idea caught in the wings of a short story, which can occasionally flower into something really special.
His mainstream prestige aside, King’s famous ability to project images and ideas directly into the mind of the reader, is arguably one of the main reasons that his novels and short stories have been used as the basis for so many films and mini-series. I can hold my hands up and say I have not seen them all, but looking down the list of just under 150 to date, I was reminded just how many have been adapted over his long history of storytelling. Often, the movies that have got it right detract themselves intentionally from some key elements of the story, sometimes avoiding potential banana skins. Others have gone all out to be as true to the book as possible, which can either work tremendously well, or get lost in translation.
As there is such an insurmountable list of films, some of which we all know too well, I have tried to throw a few curve balls in there as to my picks. After all, it is always an interesting surprise to find one of your favourite films was originally just a few pages in a Stephen King short story collection. But watch out for those movies that completely tore the original story apart and did it not even the slightest bit of justice. Not that King can wash his hands of all of these, as you will see. Enjoy, and as always please comment with your ideas.
The Best: The Shining (1980)
Adapted from :The Shining (1977)
Rotten rating: 92% / Directed by: Stanley Kubrick / Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd
Kubrick is one of only a handful of directors to have tackled different genres of film successfully, and his stylistic vision of Jack’s descent into madness is one that has and will live long in film memory. Instead of simply transposing the script and characters from book to film like so many other adaptations, Kubrick focused more on imagery to create a vision, one of loneliness and fear. After his stark portrayal of a patient in One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest , Jack Nicholson was a natural choice to capture the twisted and tortured mind of the character so pivotal to the success of the film.
As with his 2001: Space Odyssey , the lack of dialogue at crucial moments enhances the viewers other senses, so that when we see those lift doors opening, or turn the corner to see those those twin girls standing motionless in the corridor, we are pulled into a world uncannily similar to the one created so vividly in King’s book. A masterpiece of horror, and many people’s first choice, and mine, for best Stephen King adaptation.
The Worst: Thinner (1996)
Adapted from: Thinner (1984)
Rotten rating: 16% / Directed by: Tom Holland / Starring: Robert John Burke, Joe Mantegna and lucinda Jenny
Adapted from a novel published under King’s pseudonym Richard Bachman, Thinner is a story that describes a curse placed on an unsuspecting obese lawyer. The book wasn’t great to begin with, but the film was even more devoid of structure and characters. At times, the film feels closer to Big Momma’s House than it does with the original novel, laughably lacking any real suspense or more importantly, horror.
It does have its moments (the gypsy lifting her skirt being one of them), but as with all King adaptations, it is not enough to simply repeat the plot, as there is so much more to it. The morals and lessons learnt in the film are as shallow as a puddle. For me, it does not do enough to translate the atmosphere of regret and hopelessness found in the original text. Ironically the film is, what its title suggests, much too thin, and needed a smarter way of portraying the evils of greed.
The Best: Dead Zone (1983)
Adapted from: The Dead Zone (1979)
Rotten rating: 90% / Directed by: David Cronenberg / Starring: Christopher Walken,Tom Skerrit and Martin Sheen
As with Kubrick’s The Shining , Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone proves that the really great directors, despite the popularity and success of a novel, are not afraid to stamp their own identity onto the adaptation. Walken is outrageously good as Johnny Smith, a schoolteacher who awakens from a coma to find he has powers of foresight just through the touch of a person’s hand. It all comes together so well, and the vision sequences are both striking and horrifying, pulling you out of your seat and into the mind of Smith.
There is an overriding and ominous tone to the film, of the ilk of Omen , which combines with Walken’s haunted expression to suggest an unseen threat that hides behind the screen. An atmosphere is generated by the bitter cold and dark setting, which mixes with the jovial, political tropes that juxtapose it so well. It is perhaps slightly lacking the insight of internal dialogue so easily portrayed in a novel, which would help the viewer understand how the power of foresight can change the morals of Smith. But any film that has Walken shouting, “the ice…is gonna break!”, has to up there as one of the best adaptations.
The Worst: Needful Things (1993)
Adapted from: Needful Things (1991)
Rotten rating: 27% / Directed by: Fraser Clarke Heston / Starring: Max Von Sydow, Ed Harris and Bonnie Bedelia
I really wanted this film to be great, and when I saw Von Sydow and Harris were playing the two main roles I thought it just might happen. But whereas King’s novels pivots around and explores the psychology of the town-folk, and straddles the line between the supernatural and mere manipulation, Heston’s film simply moves its way through the actions without implementing the necessary symbolism that King so delicately suggests in his novel.
There are some great moments, and Bedelia plays the role of vulnerability well. But the real disaster hits home at the end. All the residents of this sleepy town happen to be conveniently tearing each other to pieces in the middle of the street when Harris’ mediocre speech seems to be enough for them to realise the manipulation. Not only does this incorrectly undermine the intelligence of the characters, but proves that what is between the plot lines in King’s book, is what must be explored in order to translate a novel of this calibre onto the screen.
The Best: The Mist (2007)
Adapted from: The novella The Mist in Skeleton Crew (1985)
Rotten rating: 73% / Directed by: Frank Darabont / Starring: Thomas Jane, Laurie Holden and Toby Jones
I have always loved short story and novella collections, especially from the master of horror. When I read The Mist, in his collection Skeleton Crew, detailing the story of a group taking shelter from a mysterious fog, it did not really stand out as a great story for cinema, as it felt very similar to several other siege scenarios that you would find in many horror stories. This similarity to what has come before may explain why Darabont’s excellent film is so modestly rated, despite its chillingly violent imagery and that unforgettable ending.
Not only does Darabont direct a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere, but his writing intertwines superbly layered characters and dialogue that intelligently creates political microcosms within the space of a small supermarket. Marcia Gay Harden for example stands out as the quintessential religious nut, who drives a stake through reason and creates unwanted hysteria in such a cramped space. What Darabont does above all else, is to recognise that in Stephen King adaptations, it is inevitably the humans that become the real monsters to fear.
The Worst: Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Adapted from: Short story Trucks from the collection Night Shift (1978)
Rotten rating: 17% / Directed by: Stephen King / Starring: Emilio Estevez, Laura Harrington and Pat Hingle
Despite this film being terrible, I have watched it several times, enjoyed the experience and will probably do it again. This might seem to make no sense, but when you consider the premise is a group of people under siege from demonic trucks, hiding out in a pit-stop cafe, it is easy to understand why. King’s directional début was a commendable, but ultimately poor attempt to expand on his short story Trucks , which, as a seed of an idea was very intriguing and I can understand why it was chosen.
As an 80s’ horror flick Maximum Overdrive is funny, exciting and displays a great use of imagery and sound throughout, including the infamous Green Goblin truck, and a kick-ass AC/DC soundtrack. But the lack of character development and the rushed cinematography, delivers the feel of a writer getting a bit carried away with the idea, instead of focusing on the needs of the cinema viewer. King even admitted he was “coked out of his mind” during much of the filming, but maybe knowing that just makes watching the film that little bit more interesting.
The Best: The Running Man (1987)
Adapted from: The Running Man (1982)
Rotten rating: 61% / Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser / Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso and Richard Dawson
Based on another novel written under King’s pseudonym Richard Bachman, this classic Schwarzenegger movie is another example of how taking the basic idea of a novel and stamping your own mark on it is normally much more effective than attempting to completely replicate the style of King’s writing. Saying that, it is a cheesy and slightly predictable guilty pleasure, which is probably remembered more for Arnie’s hyperbolic death-lines than any real presence of acting.
Co-written by Steven E. De Souza, who also wrote other classic 80s action films such as Commando and the first two Die Hard movies, The Running Man is loved for its mix of cheesy charm and dystopian science-fiction. I had to choose this film because despite its lack of real adherence to the literature, it proves that the art of adaptation is not as black and white as first seems. It is so crammed full of hilarity, shock and fun characters (including a great turn by Richard Dawson as Damon Killian), I think King would enjoy it as much as every other fan of science-fiction.
The Worst: Graveyard Shift (1990)
Adapted from: The short story Graveyard Shift from the collection Night Shift (1978)
Rotten rating: 13% / Directed by: Ralph S. Singleton / Starring: David Andrews, Kelly Wolf and Brad Dourif
Another short story adaptation from King’s collection Night Shift . Set in a formerly abandoned textile mill, the story is set around the investigation and concern of mysterious deaths that occur during the “graveyard shift”, which runs parallel to the foreman’s determination to send the workers to their deaths. This is where the similarities to King’s original story ends, as too much focus is placed on the giant creature that lives in the tunnels, when King’s real intent was to explore the limits of fear and greed.
The highlight of the movie has to be Brad Dourif as the exterminator, and I never tire of seeing his pale and haunted expression on screen. But despite this, Graveyard Shift goes down as one of the worst King adaptations ever made and displays how easily such a simple idea can be mistranslated onto the big screen.
The Best: Misery (1990), Shawshank Redemption (1994), The Stand (1994), The Langoliers (1995), The Green Mile (1999), IT (1990), Stand by Me (1986).
The Worst: Sleepwalkers (1992), Cujo (1983), The Tommyknockers (1993), The Night Flier (1997), The Mangler (1995).
Another short story of mine in the same horror vein as the previous entry. I wrote this whilst studying Psychology and English in the south-west of England. It is therefore inspired by my reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s horror stories and numerous psychology text books, so please forgive the gore and heavy-handed symbolism. Enjoy!
Line in the Sand
Although the cold wind was biting at one side of my face like a ravenous canine, the sun was also warming and caressing the other, resulting in a feeling of togetherness that I had not felt in years. I sat leaning lazily on one arm of the bench whilst I watched the children run rings around their parents like spinning tornadoes. The whole scene was slightly blurred and misted by the one eye that I had closed against the bright afternoon sunshine.
Light laughter turned my attention to the left and I saw two young girls whispering covertly to each other, in a seemingly separate world from those around them. Two boys of similar age were on the swing nearby, reaching such dizzy heights, it startled the butterflies into action that lay dormant in the pit of my stomach. All the while their parental guardians stood nearby like wardens on patrol, arms folded, legs taught and tight as if ready to pounce at the first sign of danger.
So picturesque was the scene that it sat in my mind on canvas, with bright hues standing out in the clothes my subjects wore.
Sharp voices pulled my head to the right. A massive shadow had been cast by the huge neighbouring church and as my eyes adjusted to the change in light, I saw a boy being read his rights by a looming father of seemingly massive stature in comparison to the guilty young man cowering under his gaze. An even smaller child was at the boy’s feet crying and cradling his knee. The scene soon dissolved as the scraggy haired miscreant was dragged away by the father; whilst the mother smothered the younger one in what only she believed was much needed attention.
I leaned back against the bench, feeling my back straighten whilst letting my eyes rest on the centre of the playground. I noticed that the shadow being cast by the old church had split the playground exactly in two. Straddling this frontier of light and dark was a metal see-saw, one side smiling and glinting in the sun, the other looking rusty and leaden through lack of colour. Suddenly, as if summoned from the earth, two boys of similar size leapt on and stirred it into action, one boy grabbing his end just in the nick of time before it flew up and caught him in the face. They slowly began to tame the metal giant and dictate a rhythm, and I began to notice that compared to everything else in the playground, it was by far the most obtrusive and nosiest instrument.
As I stared, I found the movement of the see-saw overwhelmingly hypnotic and it turned my stomach all the way over. At the same time the groaning and complaining of the see-saw’s rusty hinges filled my head, causing sickness, forcing me to grimace and close my one open eye, plunging me into darkness. Hoping it would help, I rolled my head to one side, turning away from the moaning, rocking creature. Muffled voices beckoned me to expose my eyes to the light once more and I noticed two women in my eye line, assumed maternal from the miniature coats they clasped in their hands. One woman was gesturing furiously with her free hand whilst the other nodded, just as animated, in response to what was said. As it took my mind from the see-saw, I began to tune into the conversation, my face emotionless and placid as I listened:
“I swear if he touches him again…”
“…It will be the last straw”
I suddenly wished I had not begun the curiosity. I wished that the park was empty. I wished I was somewhere else. Nausea climbed its way back into my bones and my head started ringing. Feeling altogether drained and tired, I let my head slide slowly down against the back of the bench. My body then followed and I lifted my heavy legs from the floor until I was lying flat on the wooden panels. I drew my knees up to my chest and once more closed my eyes. As I did I felt something cold and hard push against my thigh between the bench and my body. Tiredness overcame me and unconsciousness dampened the fire in my head, as the sounds outside soon dissipated into silence and I slipped into slumber…
…I found myself in a playground of my own making. In a world devoid of physical feeling the nausea was gone. It was a world also absent of sound and the previous divisions of light, for my park was trapped in a bubble, cloudy and gray. There seemed to be no colour in anything. I looked for light but the park was empty, silent and frozen, not unlike a lake in the depths of winter.
Although I knew I was trapped in a dream, I was also in control of myself. It was then that I also realised that I was no longer lying down. Instead, my feet rested solidly on the damp grass below and I was sitting, bolt upright, on a seat. It curved upwards in font and behind me and had a small handle at the front that my eyes now rested on. I was sitting on a see-saw.
Fear slipped its cold hands around my neck and my eyes dared not move from where they lay. The temperature around me suddenly plummeted and any light in the playground ebbed away as a thick mist begun to wrap its limbs around all that lay in its path. From an irrational fear of blindness, I built up enough courage to look up and along the frame of the see-saw to the other end. Through the fog I depicted the vague, featureless outline of a child, sitting mirrored to me, motionless.
But the second I laid eyes on the child, gravity abandoned my side of the equation. My end of the see-saw lifted up so violently that I released a soundless scream and tumbled forward from my seat. I began sliding helplessly headfirst down the monster’s spine. I dug my nails as hard as I could into the cold metal, an action both painless and pointless as the fingers held no purchase. As I slid, I lifted my head up to look into the face of that which awaited me and saw that the child, although still mostly featureless through the mist, was smiling, and had his arms opened wide to welcome me.
Euphoria laid its warm blanket over my body, and at that moment I wanted nothing more than to keep sliding, to fall into the child’s arms, to stay in this world that was utterly devoid of pain, to stay asleep, to rest. But as soon as the idea manifested itself, I was pulled out of my dream and abandoned, alone, back into the real world…
…I awoke on the bench to a world only slightly similar to mine. The sun had drifted out of sight behind the church, stealing the light and warmth from the playground. The park sat empty, without purpose and reason. I sat up slowly, raising my head from where it lay. As I did, a flood of pain poured into that side of my face and set up camp right behind my eye. My hand flew to its rescue and applied pressure with the palm. I suddenly wanted to leave this place. The park seemed so unnatural when alone, without that which it was created for.
I planted my feet on to the grass below and stood up straight. What seemed like hibernation sickness seeped through my body and I felt cold, alone and frightened. I began to resent a world, sometimes so beautiful, that was so full of pain.
The pain in the right side of my face had grown unbearable, I couldn’t bear opening my eye so I turned, half blinded, and started walking away from the park. As I reached the start of the tree-lined path that ran alongside the church, I encountered what felt like a shield of ice, as the wind whistled its eerie tune back down the path towards the playground behind me. I shuddered and released my hand from my face in order to thrust my freezing hands into my pockets for respite.
But as I did, pain soared from my right hand, up my arm, to join the pain in my head. Almost at the same time I heard a small rip of cloth and a cold pain burst into life in my thigh under my right pocket. I heard a scream leave me and fly helplessly down towards the playground in the arms of the wind. As a reflex, I pulled my hand out of my pocket, which only seemed to triple the coldness and pain that was now down the entire side of my body.
A second after pulling out my hand I heard, despite the howling wind, the clink of metal on the concrete path below my feet. Dumbstruck, I looked down in horror at the bloodstained kitchen knife that had landed on the ground, and now stared back accusingly into my face. I began to shake my head violently from left to right, as my eyes examined the cold, black handle and hungry teeth still dripping in my blood.
My body began to shake along with my head and I instinctively moved my hand into my eye-line so as to examine it. Fear and disbelief collided as I saw that the knife had severed my hand almost in half and two of the fingers were cut through to the pure, white bone beneath. Looking back down at the unfamiliar blade in the path, I saw that the wind was trying in vain to lift it from its place. It rattled against the concrete as if it too suffered in pain. In its death throes the metallic rattling sounded cruel and appalling as the wind threw the noise around in the air. Every part of me began to feel weak.
I stumbled back and collapsed onto the ground as my wounded right leg gave way beneath me. I lifted my head and looked at my thigh to see that the knife had cut through my clothes and stabbed me hard in the flesh. As I raised my leg, blood poured down to my crotch and soaked it. I yelled in something other than pain and for more than help, which only rekindled the fire behind my eye and my hand instinctively slammed against my face, leaving blood all over my eye and cheek, sending a fresh wave of pain down my arm.
Panicking, I picked myself up, but my head had already begun to lose its grip on my body and I was rapidly losing control. I tried to walk again, weaving down the path, dragging the wounded leg, my arm hanging limp against the side of my body. They both seemed to bleed unnaturally fast and the world swirled and pulsed in front of my eyes.
I heard a deafening groan from the playground behind me and spun around. The things still alive in the park were beckoning me back, and the see-saw’s moans seemed to mimic my own. The wind pushed the swing and spun the roundabout to begin a cacophony of torment. Blood and tears crippled my vision, but I saw the knife on the ground about half way down the path and I looked in horror at the winding river of blood that clearly displayed my route on the ground.
Encased in pain and carrying on down the path I looked around me. The windows from the church looked on in pity. The blood red of the stained glass glowed in the darkness, and the guttering cried in agony. The wind whipped the trees on my right into a frenzy of laughter and I cowered away, waving my good hand in front of my face, trying to drive the branches away. I dropped my hand back to my side as coldness spread to all parts of the body that had now given up saving my life. My mind would soon follow.
I got to the end of the path and with what little strength I had left, I turned onto the path that lead to the front of the church and stopped at the entrance. I let my head tip back slowly and I looked up at the arch over the door. For some reason I was not surprised to see the boy from my dream, arms open wide. I stopped trying to run away and instead let everything that was left me inside reach out. My head returned back to level, and my mouth dropped loosely open as my eyes landed on the glass doors at the entrance to the church.
My reflection stared back with one half of its body covered red in blood.
All feeling rushed out of my head and my body. But before I fell to the ground for the last time, I wondered if I would son return to my playground.
The one that sat empty and silent.
The one without pain.