Stephen King’s new book Revival, in stores on November 11th, is a modern-day Frankenstein story about a electricity-obsessed minister that turns on God after his family dies and his five-decade relationship with a drug-added rock guitarist. “I’ve had the idea for this book since I was a kid,” says King. “I drew a lot of inspiration from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I wanted to make the story as warm as possible, because the best way to scare people is to really make the reader care about these characters.” Listen to the audio version of the excerpt here, too, and don’t miss our extensive interview with King — one of the few print Q&As he’s done since a van accident nearly killed him 15 years ago — in the current issue of Rolling Stone.
Chapter VI – The Electrical Treatment. A Nighttime Excursion. One Pissed-Off Okie. A Ticket on the Mountain Express.
Jacobs’s electrical workshop was in West Tulsa. I don’t know what that part of town is like now, but in 1992 it was a forlorn industrial zone where a lot of the industries seemed to be dead or dying. He pulled into the parking lot of an all-but-destitute strip mall on Olympia Avenue and parked in front of Wilson Auto Body.
“It was standing empty for a long time, that’s what the Realtor told me,” Jacobs said. He was dressed in faded jeans and a blue golf shirt, his hair washed and combed, his eyes sparkling with excitement. Just looking at him made me nervous. “I had to take a year’s lease, but it was still dirt cheap. Come on in.”
“You ought to take down the sign and put up your own,” I said. I framed it with hands that were only shaking a little. “‘Portraits in Lightning, C. D. Jacobs, Proprietor.’ It would look good.”
“I won’t be in Tulsa that long,” he said, “and the portraits are really just a way of supporting myself while I conduct my experiments. I’ve come a long way since my pastoral days, but I’ve still got a long way to go. You have no idea. Come in, Jamie. Come in.”
He unlocked a door and led me through an office that was empty of furniture, although I could still see square clean patches on the grimy linoleum, where the legs of a desk had once stood. On the wall was a curling calendar with April 1989 showing.
The garage had a corrugated metal roof and I expected it to be baking under the September sun, but it was wonderfully cool. I could hear the whisper of air conditioners. When he flicked a bank of switches—recently modified, judging from the makeshift way the wires stuck out of the uncovered holes where the plates had been—a dozen brilliant lights came on. If not for the oil-darkened concrete and the rectangular caverns where two lifts had once been, you would have thought it was an operating theater.
“It must cost a fortune to air-condition this place,” I said. “Especially when you’ve got all those lights blazing.”
“Dirt cheap. The air conditioners are my own design. They draw very little power, and most of that I generate myself. I could gener- ate all of it, but I wouldn’t want Tulsa Power and Light down here, snooping around to fifind out if I was volt-jacking, somehow. As for the lights . . . you could wrap a hand around one of the bulbs with- out burning yourself. Or even heating your skin, for that matter.”
Our footfalls echoed in all that empty space. So did our voices. It was like being in the company of phantoms. It just feels that way because I’m strung out, I told myself.
“Listen, Charlie — you’re not messing with anything radioactive, are you?”
He grimaced and shook his head. “Nuclear’s the last thing I’m interested in. It’s energy for idiots. A dead end.”
“So how do you generate the juice?”
“Electricity breeds electricity, if you know what you’re doing. Leave it at that. Step over here, Jamie.”
There were three or four long tables at the end of the room with electrical stuff on them. I recognized an oscilloscope, a spectrom- eter, and a couple of things that looked like Marshall amps but could have been batteries of some kind. There was a control board that looked mostly torn apart, and several stacked consoles with darkened dials. Thick electrical cords snaked every whichway. Some disappeared into closed metal containers that could have been Craftsman tool chests; others just looped back to the dark equip- ment.
This could all be a fantasy, I thought. Equipment that only comes alive in his imagination. But the Portraits in Lightning weren’t make- believe. I had no idea how he was making those, his explanation had been vague at best, but he was making them. And although I was standing directly beneath one of those brilliant lights, it really did not seem to be throwing any heat.
“There doesn’t seem to be much here,” I said doubtfully. “I expected more.”
“Flashing lights! Chrome-plated knife-switches sticking out of science fiction control panels! Star Trek telescreens! Possibly a tele- portation chamber, or a hologram of Noah’s Ark in a cloud cham- ber!” He laughed cheerily.
“Nothing like that,” I said, although he had pretty much hit the nail on the head. “It just seems kind of . . . sparse.”
“It is. I’ve gone about as far as I can for the time being. I’ve sold some of my equipment. Other stuff—more controversial stuff— I’ve dismantled and put in storage. I’ve done good work in Tulsa, especially considering how little spare time I have. Keeping body and soul together is an annoying business, as I suppose you know.”
I certainly did.
“But yes, I made some progress toward my ultimate goal. Now I need to think, and I don’t believe I can do that when I’m turning half a dozen tips a night.”
“Your ultimate goal being what?”
He ignored the question this time, too. “Step over here, Jamie. Would you like a small pick-me-up before we begin?”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to begin, but I wanted a pick-me-up, all right. Not for the first time, I considered just snatching the little brown bottle and running. Only he’d probably catch me and wrest it away. I was younger, and almost over the flu, but he was still in better shape. He hadn’t suffered a shattered hip and leg in a motor- cycle accident, for one thing.
He grabbed a paint-spattered wooden chair and set it in front of one of the black boxes that looked like a Marshall amp. “Sit here.”
But I didn’t, not right away. There was a picture on one of the tables, the kind with a little wedge on the back to prop it up. He saw me reach for it and made a move as if to stop me. Then he just stood there.
A song on the radio can bring back the past with fierce (if mercifully transitory) immediacy: a first kiss, a good time with your buddies, or an unhappy life-passage. I can never hear Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” without thinking of my mother’s last painful weeks; that spring it seemed to be on the radio every time I turned it on. A picture can have the same effect. I looked at this one and all at once I was eight again. My sister was helping Morrie set up dominos in Toy Corner while Patsy Jacobs played “Bringing in the Sheaves,” swaying on the piano bench, her smooth blond hair shifting from side to side.
It was a studio portrait. Patsy was wearing the sort of billowy, shin-length dress that went out of fashion years ago, but it looked good on her. The kid was on her lap, wearing short pants and a sweater vest. A cowlick I remembered well stuck up at the back of his head.
“We used to call him Tag-Along-Morrie,” I said, running my fingers lightly over the glass.
I didn’t look up. His unsteady voice made me afraid of what I might see in his eyes. “Yeah. And all of us boys were in love with your wife. Claire was, too. I think Mrs. Jacobs was what she wanted to be.”
At the thought of my sister, my own eyes began to fill up. I could tell you it was just because I was physically low and full of craving, and it would be the truth, but not the whole truth.
I swiped an arm across my face and set the picture down. WhenI looked up, he was fiddling with a voltage regulator that didn’t look like it needed fiddling with. “You never remarried?”
“No,” he said. “Never even close. Patsy and Morrie were all I wanted. Needed. There’s not a day when I don’t think of them, not a month when I don’t have a dream that they’re okay. It was the accident that was the dream, I think. Then I wake up. Tell me something, Jamie. Your mother and your sister. Do you ever wonder where they are? If they are?”
“No.” Any scraps of belief that survived the Terrible Sermon had withered away in high school and college.
“Ah. I see.” He dropped the regulator and turned on the thing that looked like a Marshall amp — the kind of amp the bands I played with could rarely afford. It hummed, but not like a Marshall. This sound was lower, and almost musical. “Well, let’s get on with it, shall we?”
I looked at the chair, but didn’t sit on it. “You were going to give me a little hit first.”
“So I was.” He produced the brown bottle, considered it, then
handed it to me. “Since we can hope this will be your last, why don’t you do the honors?”
He didn’t have to ask twice. I took two heaping snorts, and would have doubled down if he hadn’t snatched the small bottle away. Nevertheless, a window on a tropic beach opened in my head. A mellow breeze wafted in, and I suddenly no longer cared about what might become of my brainwaves. I sat down in the chair.
He opened one of several wall cabinets and brought out a pair of battered, taped-up headphones with crisscrosses of metal mesh over the earpads. He plugged them into the amp-like device and held them out to me.
“If I hear ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,’ I’m gone,” I said.
He smiled and said nothing.
I put the headphones on. The mesh was cool against my ears.
“Have you tried this on anyone?” I asked. “Will it hurt?”
“It won’t hurt,” he said, not answering the first question at all. As if to contradict this, he gave me a mouthguard of the type basketball players sometimes wear, then smiled at my expression. “Just a precaution. Pop it on in.”
I popped it on in.
From his pocket he took a white plastic box no bigger than a doorbell. “I think you’ll—” But then he pressed a button on the little box, and I lost the rest.
There was no blackout, no sense of time passing, no discontinuity at all. Just a click, very loud, as if Jacobs had snapped his fingers beside my ears, although he was standing at least five feet away. Yet all at once he was bending over me instead of standing beside the thing that wasn’t a Marshall amp. The little white control box was nowhere to be seen, and my brain had gone wrong. It was stuck.
“Something,” I said. “Something, something, something. Happened. Happened. Something happened. Something happened, happened, something happened. Happened. Something.”
“Stop that. You’re all right.” But he didn’t sound sure. He sounded scared.
The headphones were gone. I tried to get up and shot one hand into the air instead, like a second-grader who knows the right answer and is dying to give it.
“Something. Something. Something. Happened. Happened, happened. Something happened.”
He slapped me, and hard. I jerked backward and would have fallen over if the chair hadn’t been placed almost directly against the metal side of his workshop.
I lowered my hand, stopped repeating, and just looked at him. “What’s your name?”
I’ll say it’s something happened, I thought. First name Something, last name Happened.
But I didn’t. “Jamie Morton.”
“Charles Jacobs. Charles Daniel Jacobs.”
He produced the little bottle of heroin and gave it to me. I looked at it, then handed it back. “I’m good for now. You just gave me some.”
“Did I?” He showed me his wristwatch. We had arrived at mid- morning. It was now quarter past two in the afternoon.
He looked interested. “Why’s that?”
“Because no time passed. Except . . . I guess it did. Didn’t it?” “Yes. We spoke at great length.”
“What did we talk about?”
“Your father. Your brothers. Your mother’s passing. And Claire’s.” “What did I say about Claire?”
“That she married an abusive man and kept quiet about it for three years because she was ashamed. She finally opened up to your brother Andy, and—”
“His name was Paul Overton,” I said. “He taught English at a fancy prep school in New Hampshire. Andy drove down there and waited in the parking lot and when Overton showed up, Andy beat the living shit out of him. We all loved Claire—everybody did, I suppose even Paul Overton did in his way—but she and Andy were the oldest, and they were especially close. Is that what I told you?”
“Almost word for word. Andy said, ‘If you touch her again, I’ll kill you.'”
“Tell me what else I said.”
“That Claire moved out, got a protection order, and sued for divorce. She moved to North Conway and got another teaching job. Six months after the divorce became final, Overton drove up there and shot her dead in her classroom while she was correcting papers after school. Then he killed himself.”
Yes. Claire dead. Her funeral had been the last time what remained of my big, brawling, usually happy family was together. A sunny day in October. When it was over, I drove to Florida just because I had never been there. A month later I was playing with Patsy Cline’s Lipstick in Jacksonville. Gas prices were high, the cli- mate was usually warm, and I traded my car for a Kawasaki. Not a good decision, as it turned out.
In one corner of the room was a small fridge. He opened it and brought me a bottle of apple juice. I drank it down in five long gulps.
I rose from the chair and staggered. Jacobs caught me by the elbow and steadied me.
“Good so far. Now walk across the room.”
I did, at first weaving like a drunk, but when I came back, I was okay. Steady Eddie.
“Good,” he said. “Not a sign of a limp. Let’s go back to the fair- grounds. You need to rest.”
“Something did happen,” I said. “What?”
“A minor restructuring of your brainwaves, I believe.”
“But you don’t know?”
He considered this for what seemed like a long time, although it
“See if you can stand up.”
might only have been seconds; it was a week before anything like a real sense of time returned to me. At last he said, “I’ve found certain important books very difficult to obtain, and I have a long way to go in my studies as a result. Sometimes that means taking small risks. Acceptable ones only. You’re fine, aren’t you?”
I thought it was too early to tell, but didn’t say so. After all, the thing was done.
“Come on, Jamie. I’ve got a long night’s work ahead of me, and I need rest myself.”
When we got to his Bounder, I tried to reach for the door and once more stuck my hand straight up in the air instead. The elbow locked; it was as if the joint had turned to iron. For one terrifying moment I thought it would never come down, that I was just going to spend the rest of my life with one hand raised in that Teacher, teacher, call on me gesture. Then it let go. I lowered my arm, opened the door, and got in.
“That will pass,” he said.
“How can you know, if you don’t know exactly what you did?” “Because I’ve seen it before.”
When he was parked in his usual spot at the fairgrounds, he showed me the little bottle of heroin again. “You can have this if you want it.”
But I didn’t. I felt like a man looking at a banana split minutes after polishing off a nine-course Thanksgiving dinner. You know that sugar-loaded treat is good, and you know that under certain circumstances you would gobble it greedily, but not after a heavy meal. After a heavy meal, a banana split is not an object of desire but just an object.
“Later, maybe,” I said, but later hasn’t come yet. Now, as a going- on-elderly man with a touch of arthritis writes of those old days, I know it never will. He cured me, but it was a dangerous cure, and he knew it—when one speaks of acceptable risks, the question is always acceptable to whom? Charlie Jacobs was a Good Samaritan. He was also a half-mad scientist, and that day in the abandoned auto body shop I was his latest guinea pig. He could have killed me, and sometimes—many times, actually—I wish he had.
I slept the remainder of the afternoon. When I woke up, I felt like an earlier version of Jamie Morton, clearheaded and full of pep. I swung my legs over the side of his bed and watched him put on his show clothes. “Tell me something,” I said.
“If it’s about our little adventure in West Tulsa, I’d rather not discuss it. Why don’t we just wait and see if you remain as you are now, or if you relapse into craving . . . damn this tie, I can never get it right and Briscoe is utterly useless.”
Briscoe was his assistant, the fellow who mugged and distracted the audience when it needed distracting.
“Hold still,” I said. “You’re making a mess of that. Let me.”
I stood behind him, reached over his shoulders, and tied the tie. With the shakes gone from my hands, it was easy. Like my walk once the brain shot had worn off, they were Steady Eddie.
“Where did you learn to do that?”
“After my accident, when I could stand up and play for a couple of hours without falling down, I worked with a group called the Undertakers.” It hadn’t been much of a group. Any band where I was the best player wasn’t. “We wore frock coats, stovepipe hats, and string ties. The drummer and the bass player got into a fight over a girl and the group broke up, but I came out of it with a new skill.”
“Well . . . thank you. What did you want to ask me?”
“About the Portraits in Lightning gig. You only take pictures of women. It seems to me that you’re losing fifty percent of your business that way.”
He grinned his boyish grin, the one he’d worn when he was lead- ing the games in the parsonage basement. “When I invented the portrait camera—which is actually a combined generator and pro- jector, as I’m sure you know—I did attempt to do both men and women. This was at a little seaside amusement park in North Carolina called Joyland. Out of business now, but it was a lovely place, Jamie. I enjoyed it greatly. During my time on the midway — which was called Joyland Avenue—there was a Rogues’ Gallery next to Mysterio’s Mirror Mansion. It featured life-size cardboard figures with cutouts where the faces belonged. There was a pirate, a gangster with an automatic, a tough Jane with a tommygun, the Joker and Catwoman from the Batman comics. People would put their faces in and the park’s traveling photographers — Hollywood Girls, they were called—would snap their pictures.”
“That gave you the idea?”
“Yes. At the time I was styling myself Mr. Electrico — an homage to Ray Bradbury, but I doubt if any of the rubes knew it—and although I had invented a crude version of my current projector, it had never crossed my mind to feature it in the show. Mostly I used the Tesla coil and a spark generator called Jacob’s Ladder. I demon- strated a small Jacob’s Ladder to you kids when I was your minister, Jamie. I used chemicals to make the rising sparks change color. Do you remember?”
“The Rogues’ Gallery made me aware of the possibilities inherent in my projector, and I created Portraits in Lightning. Just another gaff, you’d say . . . but it also helped me to advance my studies, and still does. During my stint at Joyland, I used a backdrop featuring a man in expensive black tie as well as the beautiful girl in the ball gown. Some men took me up on it, but surprisingly few. I believe their shitkicker friends laughed at them when they saw them dressed to the nines like that. Women never laugh, because women love dressing to the nines. To the tens, if possible. And when they see the demonstration, they line up.”
“How long have you been gigging?”
He calculated, one eye squinted shut. Then he opened them both wide in an expression of surprise. “It’s almost fifteen years now.”
I shook my head, smiling. “You went from preaching to huckstering.”
As soon it was out of my mouth I realized it was a mean thing to say, but the idea of my old minister turning tips still boggled my mind. He wasn’t offended, though. He just gave his perfectly knot- ted tie a final admiring look in the mirror, and tipped me a wink.
“No difference,” he said. “They’re both just a matter of convincing the rubes. Now please excuse me while I go and sell some lightning.”
He left the heroin on the little table in the middle of the Bounder. I glanced at it from time to time, even picked it up once, but I had no urge to use any. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t understand why I’d trashed so much of my life over it in the first place. All that crazy need seemed like a dream to me. I wondered if everyone felt that way when their compulsions passed. I didn’t know.
I still don’t.
From REVIVAL by Stephen King. Copyright © 2014 by Stephen King. Published by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Reprinted by permission.