For those of us who love to read, we can remember the awe and wonderment we felt as children picking up an author for the first time and discovering a world of magic wardrobes or phantom tollbooths or tesseracts. This would undoubtedly prompt a return trip to the library to check out every other book ever written by the same author, and weeks of immersion into a new amazing world.
I can remember running my fingers lightly over the pages of Steven Kellogg’s spectacular illustrations of great danes and mice; imagining myself in the world of Maud Hart Lovelace’s trio of best friends (in my mind, I was Tib); closing my eyes and trying to feel the wind on my cheeks as I rode to Wild Island on my father’s dragon with Ruth Stiles Gannett. I fell in love with all three of these authors and many others: deeply, unconditionally, fearlessly, with no worries that any of them would break my heart.
As an adult, I fell in love less frequently. I suppose the more we learn about life and the craft of writing, the more critical we become. Though John Irving, Larry McMurtry, and Augusten Burroughs won my heart, all three of them occasionally . . . disappointed me. My love was no longer unconditional. I found myself saying things like stick to his early works or she’s been known to drop the occasional clunker. I’d become cynical. Cautious. Sometimes caustic and bitter. I missed the days when I’d give my heart freely to anyone who came along with an upside-down house and an Interrupting Cure.
I missed the magic of new love.
I’d been wandering through the library stacks one sunny afternoon, unable to make a decision—I was hungry for something, but didn’t know what—when a message rolled in from a writer friend of mine. Hellbound Heart is only 99 cents on Kindle today, the message read.
Though I often write horror, I don’t read it as expansively as I probably should. I’ve read a lot of King, sure, and Koontz, Straub, and Bloch. I’ve read the occasional Hill, Ketchum, and Matheson, and of course, covered the classics: Poe, Bradbury, Lovecraft, Shelley, and Stoker. But I’d steadfastly avoided Clive Barker. Maybe I was afraid to allow myself to get involved, to risk heartache. I’d held back from cracking a Barker book like a girl insisting she didn’t want to go to the prom anyway. But . . . ninety-nine cents. For the novella that launched the Hellraiser series.
I’d been burned before, but it was time to move on and take a chance on someone new. I bought the book. And fell so quickly, so completely, it left me breathless.
It was an adult love this time: I marveled at the descriptive, hellish nuances of taste and sound and touch; sighed in unabashed appreciation as Barker painted a picture with words of muscle without flesh; ran my fingers over the cover illustration, gaping at the visceral detail. Barker was . . . brilliant. Beautiful and smart and witty and so amazing I ached in both admiration and jealousy of his talent. I felt it then—the cynicism that had solidified into shackles around my heart and mind over the years shattered and fell away as I scrolled through the pages, my eyes and brain and very soul hungry for more, more, more. Within twenty-four hours, my Kindle was filled with fifteen other Barker titles. Work and food and laundry became secondary in importance to the new man in my life. Every waking moment, I wanted to be with Clive.
Once the initial puppy-love phase passed, I calmed down. After all, there was only so much I could read: eventually, I’d hit that wall where I’d gone through everything he’d done, and would find myself sitting at home, alone, checking and re-checking my email to see if Amazon had sent me any notification that Barker’s next book was available for pre-purchase. I didn’t want to be that woman. Hungry. Desperate. I needed to be more mature about this. Rational.
I started parceling out Barker stories like a dieter indulging in a single chocolate at the end of a long, calorie-counting week. I needed to value the time I did have with him instead of panting for more like a lovelorn, lusty teenager. Whenever I was tired, burned out, or uninspired, I’d allow myself a treat: just one story from Books of Blood. Once that satisfying morsel had soothed my soul, I’d get back to the real world. If it’d been a particularly rough day, two stories. No more.
Every day seems brighter; there’s a bounce to my step and a fresh new excitement in my eyes when I enter a used bookstore. Life has purpose and meaning again. Laughter comes easier these days, my smile more genuine. And whenever someone talks about what they’re reading, I can’t help but babble at length about the new man in my life.
It feels wonderful to be in love again.
Stacey Longo is the author of Ordinary Boy (nominated for a Pushcart Prize) and Secret Things: Twelve Tales to Terrify. Most recently, her novella “Brando and Bad Choices” appeared in Triplicity: The Terror Project, Volume 1. Her stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including Shroud, Shock Totem, and the Litchfield Literary Review.
She is a past Hiram Award winner, and was a featured author on the 2014 Connecticut Authors Trail. A former humor columnist for the Block Island Times, she maintains a weekly humor blog at www.staceylongo.com.