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The literary world is rejoicing today at the announcement that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, will be releasing a sequel this year. The new novel, Go Set a Watchman, was actually the first novel written by Lee, but was not initially published. Her editor advised her against the publication of the book, which focused on To Kill a Mockingbird‘s heroine, Scout Finch, as an adult. Instead, flashback scenes of Scout’s childhood were reworked into the classic novel we know. According to initial press, the sequel will follow a now-grown Scout returning home to visit her father, Atticus. July 14th is the current planned release date for Go Set a Watchman, and frankly, I can’t wait to see it.

I haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird since I was in junior high, in Mrs. Crocker’s English class. It’s been far too long since I watched Gregory Peck star in the film adaptation as Atticus. I need to make another trip to Maycomb, Alabama, because it’s tragically clear that the prejudices Lee wrote about in 1960 are just as present today.

In 1977, Stephen King chilled readers with a tale of a young couple and their son, and the worst winter to ever pass in a hotel in Colorado. That book, The Shining, was King’s third novel, and thanks in part to the brilliant work of Jack Nicholson and Stanley Kubrick, is widely remembered as the basis for one of the greatest horror films ever. Now, almost forty years have passed since The Shining first hit shelves, and we are granted a rare treat from the master of horror. On September 24th, 2013, Stephen King released Doctor Sleep, a sequel to one of his earliest and most famous novels.

One winter, long ago, one of Colorado’s finest hotels burned to the ground after the aging boiler exploded. Four people were at the Overlook Hotel at the time. Jack Torrance (the recently hired winter caretaker), his wife, Wendy, and their son, Danny (a young boy gifted with the titular “shining”, a type of psychic power), were living in the hotel for the season. Also on location was Dick Halloran, head cook of the Overlook, who had returned from vacation in Florida because of a growing concern for the safety of the Torrance family. Mr. Torrance was killed in the blast while the other three escaped with relatively minor injuries. Torrance had reportedly returned to the hotel’s basement in an heroic attempt to relieve the pressure in the boiler, albeit regrettably too late to save the hotel and himself. The truth of that winter is known only to the survivors.

Years later, Danny Torrance is a grown man struggling with ghosts, both literal and metaphorical. Having inherited his father’s propensity for alcohol, Dan tries to hide from his past, locking away the memories of the Overlook and drinking to numb his psychic abilities, always on the move from town to town. After a time on the road, bouncing from bottle to job and back again, Dan realizes that he has to get his life back together. In a small town in New England (surprise!), Dan finds an AA sponsor and gainful employment at a local hospice. Before long, he’s learning to use his shining to help those who are near death to cross over to the other side, earning the nickname “Doctor Sleep.”

Far across the country, a group of people known as The True Knot are stalking people with shining, feeding off of their powers and extending their lives. They soon set their sights on a young girl named Abra, whose latent shining is a blazing fire next to the flickering match that is Dan Torrance’s power. The True intend to find the girl, torture her to death, and feast and rejuvenate on her power, or “steam.” When she learns of their existence and their plans, Abra reaches out via the shining, attempting to find someone who can help her stand against the True, and finds Dan. Soon the two are communicating, planning a way to defend Abra from those who would do her harm and simultaneously lay Dan’s ghosts to rest once and for all.

King has crafted a delightful tale with Doctor Sleep, continuing the story of a tormented young boy as he passes into adulthood. He skillfully weaves new and old, tying details of The Shining into the present-day narrative. It’s not The Shining all over again, but rather a different, more mature type of horror. Dan is sympathetic, and overwhelmingly human, struggling to flee from the gifts that saved his life when he was a child. Abra is a bright spot in his life, reminding him of the hope his family once had.

If you’re a Stephen King fan, odds are that you’ve already at least considered giving Doctor Sleep a read. I devoured it, and as always, I wanted more when I was done. It’s a fascinating opportunity to see the evolution of King’s writing style and technique, and a great story in its own right.

This week’s writing challenge from the delightful Mr. Wendig has given me an opportunity to revisit an older piece. Back in August of 2011, I wrote a short story entitled “A Ball of Light in One’s Hand” for a writing challenge hosted by Sonia M. The story was a 500 word microfiction piece for a prompt that asked us to write about doorways. I obliged, and you can read part one at the link above. Today, I’m sharing a piece written for Chuck’s latest challenge over at Terrible Minds. We were given a link to The Secret Door and told to write a 1,000 word microfiction story based on the location we found on the other side of the door. I’m very pleased to be able to share this with you. This is Damien’s Return.

“Damien’s Return”

Damien landed on all fours on a blindingly white surface. Blinking, he stood only to stumble again as he realized he couldn’t find any sort of visible horizon. Everything around him was the same dazzling absence of anything that resembled anything. He shook his head in an attempt to orient himself, finally managing to stand on what he forced himself to consider the floor.

Wherever that last door had taken him, he was able to breathe, and the bookseller was nowhere in sight. “Phew… She must not have been able to follow me here. Wherever the hell ‘here’ even is.” It hadn’t been like any of his jumps before, no matter where or when any of the doors had taken him. She’d always been able to find him, track him somehow, but then all of the other doors he’d passed through had been real, physical ones. It was sheer desperation that had made him try for the picture in the book. No other door had been in sight, and her last words had chilled him. “Give me the book, boy, and I’ll kill you quickly.”

It hadn’t been an idle threat, and he knew it. He’d lost friends in the weeks since leaving her shop, the book clutched to his chest. She’d come for it, no regard for any who stood in her way. His cousin Ari had been found outside of Damien’s apartment, his blood pooling on the pale green hallway tile. Two of his coworkers the week after, dead in their cubicles with words carved over and over again into their skin: “The book.” Damien was well acquainted with the smells of paper and ink, but the bookseller taught him the smell of death, and it mingled with the more familiar scents. Here, though, only paper and ink remained. Paper and ink…

“I’m in the book,” he whispered. He took a hesitant step and heard the familiar crinkle of a crisp sheet of paper. “All of this white… I’m on a damn page.”

“Indeed, you are, young Damien.”

The boy whirled to see who had spoken. As he spun, a thin line of black began to spread, a horizon drawing itself across the white. “Who said that?”

“I did.” The black continued to crawl across the white until it had completely encircled Damien. The new horizon yawned and an elderly man stepped forth out of the black. “My name is Rhu, and I am the author of the book in which you have taken refuge. I must say, you’re the first one to think about hiding in here. Well done, Damien.”

“How did I get here, Rhu, and how do I get back out?”

“Do you really want to go back, my boy? After all, she’s in a fine temper, what with having lost you again. I’m sure that she suspects that you’ve made it here, but that scares her as well. You see, outside she controls the doors, but here in the book my power is absolute.”

“You haven’t answered my questions yet.”

“Very well. You got here the same way you’ve gotten everywhere and everywhen else you’ve ever gone since picking up this book. You learned the secrets of door travel that I originally mastered, thanks to my writings. When you needed an escape from her, the book responded to your need and gave you a way out. In, rather. As far as getting back out, I can send you away from here, if that’s what you desire. I can send you back to the real world, but there is no guarantee that you’ll be safe from her. Her power grows by the day.”

“Who is she?”

“A former student of mine, I’m afraid. She thought that by locking me away in my own book, she’d get rid of me. Instead, I’ve managed to get the book into the hands of those who might be able to defeat her. That’s why you found her bookshop that day, Damien. You have the ability to stop her once and for all, but the first thing you need is time. I can give that to you, if you wish to avenge the deaths of your friends.”

“I…What do I have to do?”

“Trust me, Damien. She can’t have sole control, and the number of people who might stand against her is dwindling. There is a place far from her. As I said, I can’t guarantee your safety, but I can grant you a bit of time. You see, I’ve been writing in here when she doesn’t have the book, adding to what I know, what I’ve learned. It might give you enough of an edge to win, but you’ll have to follow the instructions exactly as they are written. Can you do this?”

“I can.” If it meant stopping the woman who smelled of paper and ink and death, he would give it everything. A grim smile appeared on his face. “I just have to read?”

“Yes. The book will return to your hand as soon as you leave here.” Rhu grasped the black horizon, lifted it, and shaped it. A moment later a door appeared, black and inky at first, but gradually coming into shape as a heavy oaken door with a large silver knocker in form of a lion’s head. “Your door, Damien. Thank you, and goodbye.”

The old man vanished. Damien stepped toward the door, took a deep breath, and opened it. The noise was overwhelming, a deafening roar of wind and a clash of steel on steel. He was at the back of a train, winding along the side of a mountain. A small village sat in the valley below him, tranquil in comparison.

“This is the place,” he said, bracing against the railing. “But where’s the book?” As he spoke, a glow appeared above him. Damien stretched out his hand, and the light coalesced into the familiar black leather-bound volume that smelled of paper and ink. He opened the book and began to read.

To be continued…