The Road Virus Heads North

Stephen King’s Everything’s Eventual is loaded with great stories. In addition to the one I’m about to discuss, the collection contains “1408,” “Lunch at the Gotham Cafe,” and a cool entry into the Dark Tower canon called “The Little Sisters of Eluria.”

So in a collection packed with great stories, why’d I choose to blog about “Virus”?

The Road Virus Heads North
The Tom Berenger Version I've Never Seen

Let me try to explain…

First of all, like Stephen King—and I’ll shamelessly seize any opportunity  to be like my favorite writer ever—I love stories about pictures. Specifically, I love stories about pictures that change. King has worked in this shadowy corner before, notably in “The Sun Dog,” and it’s a territory into which other great authors (T.E.D. Klein‘s unforgettable novella “Petey” comes to mind) have ventured as well. So is this tale King’s most original?

I don’t give a crap. Sure, sometimes it’s dazzling to find an author blazing a completely new trail, but for me it’s just as exciting to see a master take a tattered old idea and breathe new life into it.

Like “The Road Virus Heads North.”

It’s about a horror author who finds a rather…arresting painting at a garage sale. The painting has a macabre backstory that I don’t want to ruin here, but as we’d expect from a horror author (a bizarre species prone to excessive curiosity), he purchases the piece and continues, well, north.

The name Richard Kinnell reminds me of both Richard Bachman (King’s pseudonym) and Dr. Richard Kimble of The Fugitive fame; whether or not either of these connections are intentional, they both add texture to the character for me. I don’t want to give away what happens in this story, but if you’ve been reading, you’ll already know that the painting changes. How it changes and where it changes and how Richard reacts to these changes and what these changes mean for Richard and those with whom he comes into contact…all of these are what make the tale so elegant and ghastly.

As has been pointed out by people far smarter than I, horror is the only genre named after an emotion (although I felt a bit “men’s adventury” today when I attempted to parallel park in a space two inches longer than my car). That’s because horror can affect the reader in a very unique way. And man, did this tale affect me. I felt dread when the first layers of the mystery peeled away to reveal just how sinister the painting might be. I felt terror when Richard Kinnell realized that the picture could defy physics and reason. And I felt horror during those last few pages when…

Read the story. It’s a darn good one. And just so you’ll be as haunted tonight as I’m going to be, here’s one last image for you:

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