Title: In the Tall Grass.
Author: Stephen King and Joe Hill.
Genre: Fiction, novella, horror.
Publication Date: 2012.
Summary: The novella begins with a sister and brother who pull off to the side of the road after hearing a young boy crying for help from beyond the tall grass. Within minutes they are disoriented, in deeper than seems possible, and they’ve lost one another. The boy’s cries are more and more desperate, and the possibility of escape more and more remote. What follows is a terrifying, entertaining, and masterfully told tale.
My rating: 7.5/10.
♥ He wanted quiet for a while instead of the radio, so you could say what happened was his fault. She wanted fresh air instead of the AC for a while, so you could say it was hers. But since they never would have heard the kid without both of those things, you’d really have to say it was a combination..
♥ On their side of the highway there were a few houses, a boarded-up church called the Black Rock of the Redeemer (which Becky thought a queer name for a church, but this was Kansas), and a rotting Bowl-a-Drome that looked as if it might last have operated around the time the Trammps were committing pop-music arson by lighting a disco inferno.
♥ The grass was incredibly tall. (For such an expanse of grass to be over six feet high this early in the season was an anomaly that wouldn’t occur to them until later.).. A scattering of dust-filmed cars was parked here, windshields beetle bright in the glare of the sun. That all but one of these cars appeared to have been there for days—even weeks—was another anomaly that would not strike them until later.
♥ Cal and the road. Cal...and the road.
She came back down, felt a shock of impact jolt up through her heels and into her knees. The squodgy ground under her left foot melted away. She dropped and sat down in the rich black muck with another jolt of impact, a literal whack in the ass.
Becky thought she had walked twenty steps into the grass. Maybe thirty at most. The road should’ve been close enough to hit with a Frisbee. It was, instead, as if she had walked the length of a football field and then some. A battered red Datsun, zipping along the highway, looked no bigger than a Matchbox car. A hundred and forty yards of grass—a softly flowing ocean of watered green silk—stood between her and that slender blacktop thread.
Her first thought, sitting in the mud, was: No. Impossible. You didn’t see what you think you saw.
Her second thought was of a weak swimmer, caught in a retreating tide, pulled farther and farther from shore, not understanding how much trouble she was in until she began to scream and discovered no one on the beach could hear her.
As shaken as she was by the sight of the improbably distant highway, her brief glimpse of Cal was just as disorienting. Not because he was far away, but because he was really close. She had seen him spring up above the grass less than ten feet away, but the two of them had been screaming for all they were worth just to make themselves heard.
The muck was warm, sticky, placental.
♥ If you wanted to be a stickler for accuracy, you could say he was already losing it a little to even think he needed to try such an experiment. But by then reality was starting to feel much like the ground underfoot: liquid and treacherous.
♥ “But we’re going to get out of this, Beck. We just have to keep our heads.” That he had already lost his—a little, only a little—was one thing he’d never tell her. She had never told him the name of the boy who knocked her up, after all, and that made them sort of even. A secret for her, now one for him.
“What about the kid?”
Ah, Christ, now she was fading again. He was so scared that the truth popped out with absolutely no trouble at all, and at top volume.
“Fuck the kid, Becky! This is about us now!”
♥ “The grass has things to tell you. You just need to learn to listen. You need to learn how to speak Tall Weed, honey. The rock knows. After you see the rock you’ll understand. I’ve learned more from that rock in two days than I learned in twenty years of schooling.”
He had her bent backward, her spine arched. She bent like a high blade of grass in the wind. His green breath gushed in her face again.
“Twenty years of schooling and they put me on the gray shift,” he said, and laughed. “That’s some good old rock, isn’t it? Dylan. Child of Yahweh. Bard of Hibbing and I ain’t ribbing. I’ll tell you what. The stone in the center of this field is a good old rock, but it’s a thirsty rock. It’s been working on the gray shift since before red men hunted on the Osage Cuestas, been working since a glacier brought it here during the last Ice Age, and oh girl, it’s so fucking thirsty.”
♥ “Tobin?” Cal whispered.
“That’s me.” The boy raised the crow to his mouth and buried his face in its belly. Feathers crackled. The crow nodded its dead head as if to say That’s right, get right in there, get to the meat of the thing.
Cal would have said he was too tired to spring after his latest jump, but horror has its own imperatives, and he sprang anyway. He tore the crow out of the boy’s muddy hands, barely registering the guts unraveling from its open belly. Although he did see the feather stuck to the side of the boy’s mouth. He saw that very well, even in the gathering gloom.
“You can’t eat that! Jesus, kid! What are you, crazy?”
“Not crazy, Captain Cal, just hungry. And the crows aren’t bad. .. It’s easier to find things in here once they’re dead. The field doesn’t move dead things around.” His eyes gleamed in the fading light, and he looked at the mangled crow, which Cal was still holding. “I think most birds steer clear of the grass. I think they know, and tell each other. But some don’t listen. Crows don’t listen the most, I guess, because there are quite a few dead ones in here. Wander around for a while and you find them.”
♥ Into the red-orange moonlight she raised the child of her body, thinking, It’s all right, women all over the world give birth in fields.
It was Justine.
“Hey, baby girl,” she croaked. “Oooh, you’re so small.”
And so silent.
♥ He reached to the side and lifted up a bundle wrapped in someone else’s T-shirt. She saw a little snub of bluish nose protruding from the shroud. No; not a shroud. Shrouds were for dead bodies. It was swaddling. She had delivered a child here, out in the high grass, and hadn’t even needed the shelter of a manger.
..“Isn’t she wonderful?” Cal asked, showing the boy.
“Scrumptious, Captain Cal,” the boy said.
Becky closed her eyes.
..She opened her eyes for a few moments, later in the morning.
Her brother was holding a doll’s leg in one hand, filthy from the mud. He stared at her with a bright, stupid fascination, while he chewed on it. It was a lifelike thing, chubby and plump looking, but a little small, and also a funny pale-blue color, like almost frozen milk. Cal, you can’t eat plastic, she thought of saying, but it was just too much work.
The little boy sat behind him, turned in profile, licking something off his palms. Strawberry jelly, it looked like.
There was a sharp smell in the air, an odor like a fresh-opened tin of fish. It made her stomach rumble. But she was too weak to sit up, too weak to say anything, and when she lowered her head against the ground and shut her eyes, she sank straight back into sleep.
..“You need to eat,” he said, and put a string of something cold and salty in her mouth. His fingers had blood on them.
If she had been anywhere near in her right mind she might’ve gagged. But it tasted good, actually, a salty-sweet strand of something, with the fatty texture of a sardine. It even smelled a little like a sardine. She sucked at it much as she had sucked at the wet rope of Cal’s shirt.
Cal hiccuped as she sucked the strand of whatever it was into her mouth, sucked it in like spaghetti and swallowed. It had a bad aftertaste, bitter-sour, but even that was sort of nice. Like the food equivalent of the taste you got after drinking a margarita and licking some of the salt off the rim of your glass. Cal’s hiccup sounded almost like a sob of laughter.
“Give her another piece,” said the little boy, leaning over Cal’s shoulder.
Cal gave her another piece. “Yum yum. Snark that li’l baby right down.”
She swallowed and shut her eyes again.
..She whispered: “Did we eat?”
“What did we eat?”
“Something scrumptious. Scrump-tiddly-umptious.”
“Cal, what did we eat?”
He didn’t answer, just pushed aside grass spattered with maroon droplets and walked into a clearing. In the center was a huge black rock. Standing beside it was the little kid.
There you are, she thought. I chased you all over the neighborhood.
Only that hadn’t been a rock. You couldn’t chase a rock. It had been a girl.
A girl. My girl. My responsi—
“WHAT DID WE EAT?” She began to pound him, but her fists were weak, weak. “OH GOD! OH MY JESUS!”
He set her down and looked at her first with surprise and then amusement. “What do you think we ate?” He looked at the boy, who was grinning and shaking his head, the way you do when someone’s just pulled a really hilarious boner. “Beck . . . honey . . . we just ate some of the grass. Grass and seeds and so on. Cows do it all the time.”
..What she had eaten hadn’t tasted like grass. It had tasted like sardines. Like the final sweet-salty-bitter swallow of a margarita. And like...
Like me. Like licking sweat from my own armpit. Or... or...
She began to shriek.
..They escorted her to the rock. It hummed busily. Happily. From inside there came the most wondrous glow. On the outside, tiny stick men and stick women danced with their stick hands held high. There was music. She thought: All flesh is grass.