“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” —Stephen King, On Writing
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” —Stephen King
The Coronavirus lockdown has provided a unique opportunity to revisit old books and movies as well as time to dive into some new ones. Indeed, many of us have been able to leverage this unusual moment, and binge-watch several addictive TV shows like Ozark, Billions, Breaking Bad, and The Sopranos. Another positive aspect of shelter in place is the opportunity to catch up on overdue reading. In my case, old forgotten books have been picked up again and revisited after many years. For example, several of Malcolm Gladwell’s classics like “Blink” and “Outliers” provide even greater insights the second time around. But for us at Turtle Garage, the real content surprise of the Covid19 lockdown has been Stephen King’s masterpiece book, Christine. (Feature photo courtesy of CNET)
Many know the story of Christine—mostly because of the infamous 1983 film. In the movie, a possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury kills people—starting day one as she is rolling down the assembly line in Detroit. The film fast forwards twenty years to a dilapidated used-up Fury rotting in a field with a for sale sign in the window. The cherry red car catches the eye of young Arnie Cunningham while he and his friend Dennis are driving past. Arnie becomes enthralled with the car and buys the 58′ Plymouth on the spot. The seller is the creepy brother of the deceased original owner. He gives them a brief history of the Fury and tells them that her name is Christine. Arnie wastes no time and spends hours fixing her up. The restoration process progresses quickly because of Christine’s ability to heal herself. Arnie becomes consumed by Christine, and the car becomes more important to him than anyone or anything. The rest of the story is one of mystery, drama, horror, and death. If you happen to be into both horror and cars, Christine is the movie for you.
After re-watching the film last week, curiosity got me, and I downloaded the book. I began browsing chapter one and immediately found it far more detailed and exciting than the opening of the movie. I kept going and going and going. The book was so vivid and accurately captured adolescence and late 1970’s American high school life. The character development is sophisticated and the plot complex. Not a fan of horror, I have never gravitated towards King’s books—until now. King is a masterful writer and has produced almost 100 books, including a critically acclaimed guide to writing called On Writing. Christine is a unique masterpiece because of its plot, writing style, character development, and sheer creativity. Christine envelopes the reader by making fiction feel like a terrifying reality—a scary car with an evil spirit. Nothing like Christine has been written before or since. If you have already read Christine, it might be worth dusting off your copy for another drive.
For TG readers, we have posted chapter 30 of this 500-plus page magnum opus, which gives a flavor of the style and flair of King’s writing. In this gruesome chapter, Christine has taken matters into her own hands and is chasing down Mooch Welch, a member of the sinister clique that tried to destroy her. The following chapter will surely leave you wanting more.
REPRINTED FROM SIMON & SCHUSTER EBOOK OF SCRIBNER’S CHRISTINE
Chapter 30: Moochie Welch
The Thursday after Thanksgiving was the last day of November, the night that Jackson Browne played the Pittsburgh Civic Center to a sellout crowd. Moochie Welch went up with Richie Trelawney and Nickey Billingham but got separated from them even before the show began. He was spare-changing, and whether it was because the impending Browne concert had created some extremely mellow vibes or because he was becoming something of an endearing fixture (Moochie, a romantic, liked to believe the latter), he had had a remarkably good night. He had collected nearly thirty dollars’ worth of “spare change.” It was distributed among all his pockets; Moochie jingled like a piggy bank. Thumbing home had been remarkably easy too, with all the traffic leaving the Civic Center. The concert ended at eleven-forty, and he was back in Libertyville shortly after one-fifteen. His last ride was with a young guy who was headed back to Prestonville on Route 63. The guy dropped him at the 376 ramp on JFK Drive. Moochie decided to walk up to Vandenberg’s Happy Gas and see Buddy. Buddy had a car, which meant that Moochie, who lived far out on Kingsfield Pike, wouldn’t have to walk home. It was hard work, hitching rides, once you got out in the boonies—and the Kingsfield Pike was Boondocks City. It meant he wouldn’t be home until well past dawn, but in cold weather a sure ride was not to be sneezed at. And Buddy might have a bottle.
He had walked a quarter of a mile from the 376 exit ramp in the deep single-number cold, his cleated heels clicking on the deserted sidewalk, his shadow waxing and waning under the eerie orange streetlamps, and had still perhaps a mile to go when he saw the car parked at the curb up ahead. Exhaust curled out of its twin pipes and hung in the perfectly still air, clouding it, before drifting lazily away in stacked layers. The grille, bright chrome highlighted with pricks of orange light, looked at him like a grinning idiot mouth. Moochie recognized the car. It was a two-tone Plymouth. In the light of the maximum-illumination streetlamps the two tones seemed to be ivory and dried blood. It was Christine.
Moochie stopped, and a stupid sort of wonder flooded through him—it was not fear, at least not at that moment. It couldn’t be Christine, that was impossible—they had punched a dozen holes in the radiator of Cuntface’s car, they had dumped a nearly full bottle of Texas Driver into the carb, and Buddy had produced a five-pound sack of Domino sugar, which he had funnelled into the gas tank through Moochie’s cupped hands. And all of that was just for starters. Buddy had demonstrated a kind of furious invention when it came to destroying Cuntface’s car; it had left Moochie feeling both delighted and uneasy. All in all, that car should not have moved under its own power for six months, if ever. So this could not be Christine. It was some other ’58 Fury.
Except it was Christine. He knew it.
Moochie stood there on the deserted early-morning sidewalk, his numb ears poking out from beneath his long hair, his breath pluming frostily on the air. The car sat at the curb facing him, engine growling softly. It was impossible to tell who, if anyone, was behind the wheel; it was parked directly beneath one of the streetlights, and the orange globe burned across the glass of the unmarred windshield like a waterproof jack-o’-lantern seen deep down in dark water.
Moochie began to be afraid.
He slicked his tongue over dry lips and looked around. To his left was JFK Drive, six lanes wide and looking like a dry riverbed at this empty hour of the morning. To his right was a photography shop, orange letters outlined in red spelling KODAK across its window. He looked back at the car. It just sat there, idling. He opened his mouth to speak and produced no sound. He tried again and got a croak. “Hey. Cunningham.” The car sat, seeming to brood. Exhaust curled up. The engine rumbled, idling fat on high-test gas. “That you, Cunningham?” He took one more step. A cleat scraped on cement. His heart was thudding in his neck. He looked around at the street again; surely another car would come, JFK Drive couldn’t be totally deserted even at one-twenty-five in the morning, could it? But there were no cars, only the flat orange glare of the streetlights. Moochie cleared his throat. “You ain’t mad, are you?”
Christine’s duals suddenly came on, pinning him in harsh white light. The Fury ripped toward him, peeling out, the tires screaming black slashes of rubber onto the pavement. It came with such sudden power that the rear end seemed to squat, like the haunches of a dog preparing to spring—a dog or a she-wolf. The onside wheels jumped up on the pavement and it ran at Moochie that way, offside wheels down, onside wheels up over the curb, canted at an angle. The undercarriage scraped and shrieked and shot off a swirling flicker of sparks.
Moochie screamed and tried to sidestep. The edge of Christine’s bumper barely flicked his left calf and took a chunk of meat. Warm wetness coursed down his leg and puddled in his shoe. The warmth of his own blood made him realize in a confused way just how cold the night was.
He thudded hip-first into the doorway of the photo shop, barely missing the plate-glass window. A foot to the left and he would have crashed right through, landing in a litter of Nikons and Polaroid One-Steps.
He could hear the car’s engine, suddenly revving up. That horrible, unearthly shrieking of the undercarriage on the cement again. Moochie turned around, panting harshly. Christine was reversing back up the gutter, and as it passed him, he saw. He saw. There was no one behind the wheel.
Panic began to pound in his head. Moochie took to his heels. He ran out into JFK Drive, sprinting for the far side. There was an alley over there between a market and a dry-cleaning place. Too narrow for the car. If he could get in there—Change jingled madly in his pants pockets and in the five or six pockets of his Army-surplus duffel coat. Quarters, nickels, dimes. A jingling silver carillon. He pumped his knees almost to his chin. His cleated engineer boots drummed the pavement. His shadow chased him.
The car somewhere behind him revved again, fell off, revved again, fell off, and then the motor began to shriek. The tires wailed, and Christine shot at Moochie Welch’s back, crossing the lanes of JFK Drive at right angles. Moochie screamed and could not hear himself scream because the car was still peeling rubber, the car was still shrieking like an insanely angry, murderous woman, and that shriek filled the world. His shadow was no longer chasing him. It was leading him and getting longer. In the window of the dry-cleaning shop he saw great yellow eyes blossom. It wasn’t even close. At the very last moment Moochie tried to jig left, but Christine jigged with him as if she had read his final desperate thought. The Plymouth hit him squarely, still accelerating, breaking Moochie Welch’s back and knocking him spang out of his engineer’s boots. He was thrown forty feet into the brick siding of the little market, again narrowly missing a plunge through a plate-glass window.
The force of his strike was hard enough to cause him to rebound into the street again, leaving a splash of blood on the brick like an inkblot. A picture of it would appear the next day on the front page of the Libertyville Keystone.
Christine reversed, screeched to a skidding, sliding stop, and roared forward again. Moochie lay near the curbing, trying to get up. He couldn’t get up; Nothing seemed to work. All the signals were scrambled. Bright white light washed over him. “No,” he whispered through a mouthful of broken teeth. “N—” The car roared forward and over him. Change flew everywhere. Moochie was pulled and rolled first one way and then the other as Christine reversed into the street again. She stood there, engine revving and falling off to a rich idle, then revving again. She stood there as if thinking. Then she came at him again. She hit him, jumped the curb, skidded around, and then reversed again, thumping back down. She screamed forward. And back. And forward. Her headlights glared. Her exhaust pipes jetted hot blue smoke. The thing in the street no longer looked like a human being; it looked like a scattered bundle of rags. The car reversed a final time, skidded around in a half-circle, and accelerated, roaring over the bleeding bundle in the street again and going down the Drive, the blast of its engine, still winding up to full rev, racketing off the walls of the sleeping buildings—but not entirely sleeping now; lights were beginning to flick on, people who lived over their stores were going to their windows to see what all the racket had been about, and if there had been an accident.
One of Christine’s headlights had been shattered. Another flickered unsteadily off and on, bleared with a thin wash of Moochie’s blood. The grille had been bent inward, and the dents in it approximated the shape and size of Moochie’s torso with all the gruesome perfection of a deathmask. Blood was splashed across the hood in fans that spread out as windspeed increased. The exhaust had taken on a heavy, blatting sound; one of Christine’s two mufflers had been destroyed. Inside, on the instrument panel, the odometer continued to run backward, as if Christine were somehow slipping back into time, leaving not only the scene of the hit-and-run behind but the actual fact of the hit-and-run. The muffler was the first thing. Suddenly that heavy, blatting sound diminished and smoothed out. The fans of blood on the hood began to run toward the front of the car again in spite of the wind—as if a movie film had been reversed. The flickering headlight suddenly shone steadily, and a tenth of a mile later the deadlight became a headlight again. With an unimportant tinkling sound—no more than the sound of a small boy’s boot breaking the thin scum of ice on a mudpuddle—the glass reassembled itself from nowhere.
There was a hollow punk! punk! punk! sound from the front end, the sound of denting metal, the sound you sometimes get when you squeeze a beer-can. But instead of denting, Christine’s grille was popping back out—a bodyshop veteran with fifty years’ experience in putting fender-benders right could not have done it more neatly.
Christine turned onto Hampton Street even before the first of those awakened by the screaming of her tires had reached Moochie’s remains. The blood was gone. It had reached the front of the hood and disappeared. The scratches were gone. As she rolled quietly toward the garage door with its HONK FOR ENTRY sign, there was one final punk! as the last dimple—this one in the left front bumper, the spot where Christine had struck Moochie’s calf—popped back out. Christine looked like new. The car stopped in front of the large garage door in the middle of the darkened, silent building. There was a small plastic box clipped to the driver’s side sun-visor. This was a little doodad Will Darnell had given Arnie when Arnie began to run cigarettes and booze over into New York State for him—it was, perhaps, Darnell’s version of a gold key to the crapper. In the still air the door-opener hummed briefly, and the garage door rattled obediently up. Another circuit was made by the rising door, and a few interior lights came on, burning weakly. The headlight knob on the dashboard suddenly went in, and Christine’s duals went out. She rolled inside and whispered across the oil-stained concrete to stall twenty. Behind her, the overhead door, which had been set on a thirty-second timer, rolled back down. The light circuit was broken, and the garage was dark again.
In Christine’s ignition switch, the keys dangling down suddenly turned to the left. The engine died. The leather patch with the initials R.D.L. branded into it swung back and forth in decreasing arcs . . . and was finally still. Christine sat in the dark, and the only sound in Darnell’s Do-It-Yourself Garage was the slow tick of her cooling engine.