Donovan's Reviews > Four Past Midnight

Four Past Midnight by Stephen King
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Feb 14, 2012

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bookshelves: thriller, horror
Read in August, 1995

This is a book of 4 short stories. I found these to be fresh and an interesting read - especially The Langoliers which is one of my fav's. Although a bit dated in the writing style they will keep you entertained and as they are short, you'll find you will finish them quickly. As with good Stephen King, they do leave you thinking about how you would react in a similar situation and reflecting on how you know people in real life that are similar to the characters (they are just so well written). I must admit I had a chuckle as I read other novels to find some characters (and villains) appear in other novels.

The stories are:-
The Langoliers
Secret Window, Secret Garden
The Library Policeman
The Sun Dog

Plot ***Spoilers***
The Langoliers
On a cross-country red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Boston, ten passengers awaken to find that the crew and most of their fellow passengers have disappeared.

The ten remaining passengers are Brian Engle, an off-duty airline pilot traveling to Boston to attend his ex-wife's funeral; Dinah Bellman, a young blind girl with minor psychic powers; fifth-grade teacher Laurel Stevenson, who takes to watching over Dinah; Nick Hopewell, a junior attache & "mechanic" for the British Embassy; Don Gaffney, a retired tool-and-die engineer on a trip to see his grandchild; Rudy Warwick, a businessman; Albert Kaussner, a talented teen violinist heading to a prestigious school of the arts; Bethany Simms, a teenager being sent by her family to rehab; Bob Jenkins, a mystery author who acts as the voice of logic; and Craig Toomey, an irritable investment banker on the verge of a psychotic breakdown. They realize only those sleeping are now left on the plane. Engle takes control and lands the plane in Bangor, Maine for safety reasons, despite Toomey's protests.

Upon arrival, the airport is abandoned with no signs of life. There are no odors, electricity, or echoes. Food and drinks are tasteless and matches simply sputter out. They soon hear "radio static" in the distance. Craig believes it is "The Langoliers", monsters he was afraid of as a child who go after those who waste time.

Unable to get to his business meeting, Craig snaps, hallucinating his angry, Type A personality father, and takes Bethany as a hostage. He shoots Albert, who escapes injury since the bullet has no energy. Craig is then subdued and tied up.

Bob begins to theorize that they have flown through a time rip, resembling the aurora borealis, that the airline spotted over the Mojave Desert. Bob declares that the world they are in is the past, a place that forbids time travelers to observe or interfere with past events, instead being a deserted world that "time" and everything else has left behind. To get back, Bob theorizes, they must fly back through the aurora.

The survivors work together to refuel the plane. Since it still holds "present time", which Albert discovers by noting how much brighter the plane appears compared to the rest of the world, fuel will burn properly, unlike the combustible materials in the gun and matches.

Craig, now completely insane, escapes and rampages through the airport. Believing the others to be manifestations of the Langoliers, he stabs Dinah in the chest and kills Don. Albert subdues Craig and leaves him badly injured on the airport floor.

While the plane is in its final preparations Dinah telepathically communicates with Craig and persuades him that his board meeting is being held on the runway. Craig makes his way outside and hallucinates arriving at the meeting, but has a breakdown before his boss and screams that he deliberately cost the company millions, ensuring his eventual firing and disgrace as a way of getting even with his father & putting his demons to rest.

It turns out that Craig is right, in a way. Two creatures, followed by hundreds more, emerge from the forest and head for the plane, consuming everything in their path. Brian describes them in horror as large dark beach ball-like monsters expanding and contracting with semicircular caves as mouths and gnashing blurring teeth leaving trails of black nothingness in their wake. Craig flees in terror and heads for the refuge of the terminal. The first two Langoliers follow him past the plane, leaving Engle enough time to get the plane moving towards the runway.

In the plane, Bob theorizes that the Langoliers are the timekeepers of eternity, and that their purpose is to clean up what is left of the past by eating it. The plane takes off, and as they fly the passengers watch the rest of the land below falling into a formless, black void. As the aircraft heads for Los Angeles, they discuss their pasts. Nick reveals himself as a specialist in the British Army, on a mission to assassinate the girlfriend of a Boston politician funding the IRA. Dinah speaks to Laurel about how her life is ending happily, then quietly succumbs to her injuries. Nick confesses his feelings for Laurel and his hopes of a romance with her after returning home. Albert and Bethany reveal a similar attraction to each other. All the characters realize that they have considerable regrets in their pasts, and that the trip through the rift has allowed them to come to terms with their actions.

Bob soon realizes that they must be asleep to survive going through the rift again. Nick volunteers to manipulate the controls, knowing full well this will cost him his life. He takes a moment to ask Laurel to pass a message to his father, telling that he, Nick, was going to leave the "business." The cabin pressure is decreased and all fall into a deep sleep. Nick vanishes as the plane passes through the rift, leaving only the fillings from his teeth and an artificial knee behind. (In the TV version, only his watch remains.)

The survivors awaken unharmed, with the exception of nosebleeds caused by the pressure drop. Seemingly, nothing has changed. The plane lands in a deserted Los Angeles. When they check outside, the passengers again hear a noise. It is not the ominous sound of the Langoliers, but a relaxing hum. Inside the airport, sounds echo and food has taste. Bob & Albert conclude that the time rift brought them into the future and that this is not a dead world, but one waiting for the present to catch up. The group takes shelter against the wall to avoid the soon-to-appear human traffic in the airport. They begin to see colors with holograms of people and activity going on. A flash hits them and they find themselves in the present again. Happy to be back, the group goes outside for some fresh air.

Secret Window, Secret Garden
Mort Rainey is a successful novelist in Maine. One day, he is confronted by a man from Mississippi named John Shooter, who claims Mort plagiarized a story he wrote. Mort vehemently denies ever plagiarizing anything. Shooter leaves, but not before leaving his manuscript, "Secret Window, Secret Garden". Mort notices that Shooter left without his story; he drops it in the trash can. When Mort's housemaid recovers the manuscript—thinking it belongs to Mort—he finally reads Shooter's story, discovering that it is almost identical to his short story "Sowing Season". The two differ, but very slightly; they share the same plot elements. The only differences are the title, the character's name, the diction, and the ending. Mort becomes disturbed by these findings.

Shooter returns a few days later. Having learned that "Sowing Season" was published two years before Shooter claimed to have written "Secret Window, Secret Garden", Mort confronts Shooter with this information. An enraged Shooter accuses Mort of lying and demands proof, giving Mort three days to show him his published story. Overnight, he kills Mort's cat and burns down the house of Mort's ex-wife, which contained the magazine issue in which "Sowing Season" was published. Mort orders a new copy of the magazine; he also asks his caretaker Greg Carstairs to tail Shooter and to talk to a man named Tom, who drove past Mort and Shooter. Shooter, angry that Mort has involved other people in their business, kills both men and plants evidence framing Mort for the murders. Upon receiving the magazine and returning home, Mort finds that "Sowing Season" has been removed.

Mort realizes that John Shooter is really his own split personality. Tom had not seen Shooter while driving by—he saw Mort, by himself. Mort realizes he burned down his own home, killed his own cat, and murdered two people. He blacks out; fifteen minutes later he awakens, only to hear who he believes to be Shooter pulling into his driveway, at the time they'd arranged to meet. Desperate for any sign of his own sanity, he rushes outside only to find his ex-wife, Amy. Devastated, he loses control of his body and mind to Shooter. Amy discovers that Mort has gone insane, having written the word "Shooter" all over the house. She goes to Mort's study, where "Shooter" attempts to kill her in an ambush; she manages to escape. "Shooter", chasing Amy outside, is shot by her insurance agent. Mort becomes himself again, addresses Amy, and dies.

Later, Amy and Ted—a man she had an affair with before divorcing Mort—discuss her ex-husband's motives; she insists that Mort had become two people, one of them a character so vivid it became real. She then recalls something Tom witnessed; when he drove past Mort alone, he took a look in his rear view mirror...and saw Shooter with Mort, although transparent. Amy then reveals that while digging through Mort's house, she found Shooter's trademark hat; she took it out to the trash, and planted it right-side up on a trash bag. When she returned, she found a note from Shooter inside the overturned hat, revealing that he has travelled back to Mississippi. Amy remarks that Mort had created a character so vivid, he actually came to life.

The Library Policeman
Sam Peebles is asked to give a speech to the Rotary Club. An office assistant (Naomi) directs him to the public library to check out two books that might help with speech writing. In doing so he runs across Ardelia Lortz, the librarian. He checks out two books with the warning that they must be returned or he should beware of the Library Policeman. Naomi eventually informs us that Ardelia Lortz is not living and is not spoken of any more. Through a series of events we are introduced to Dave Duncan "Dirty Dave" a former lover of Ardelia's. He finds that Ardelia is not a person but a being which feeds on fear and that Duncan was a sometimes unwilling companion/conspirator in helping her feed from the fear of children. We find that Ardelia had "died" in 1960 after killing two children and a Police Officer. She is now back and Duncan believes she seeks revenge and a new host. The Library Policeman turns out to be a recreation by Ardelia of a man Peebles had run into as a child at his local library who had raped and threatened him. The Library Policeman however is not just a recreation but also an embodiment of Ardelia who sought access to Sam as her new host. Dave dies defending them from Ardelia. They appear to have beaten the Library Policeman/Ardelia, only to discover at the end that she has already attached to Naomi. Sam removes her from Naomi's neck and destroys her under the wheels of a passing train.

The Sun Dog
Kevin Delevan receives a Sun 660 Polaroid camera for his fifteenth birthday. He soon notices that there is something strange about the camera: the only photographs it produces are of a malicious, feral black dog that seems to move closer with each shot as though to attack the person who is taking the pictures. On a recommendation, Kevin seeks help from Reginald "Pop" Merrill, the wealthy and unscrupulous owner of a junk shop in the town of Castle Rock, Maine. While just as unsettled by the phenomenon as Kevin, Merrill sees an opportunity to further his own interests; namely, selling the camera to a paranormal enthusiast for a great deal of money. He manages to switch out the camera for another of the same model, which Kevin destroys. Much to his dismay, however, Merrill cannot rid himself of the Sun as prospective buyers either dismiss it outright as a fake or decline to purchase it due to the discomfort and unease they feel upon viewing the photographs. Furthermore, Merrill finds himself increasingly compelled to use the Sun – the dog slowly advancing as it transforms into something more savage and monstrous with every picture he takes.

In the meantime, Kevin is plagued by recurring nightmares about the dog. Realizing that Merrill tricked him and the Sun was not destroyed, he sets out to prevent Merrill from taking any more pictures for fear that the dog will "break through" into the real world. By this point, the camera's influence over Merrill has caused him to lose his grip on sanity. After waking up in the middle of the night to find himself holding the Sun and repeatedly pressing its trigger, he resolves to smash it in the morning. However, he hallucinates that one of the cuckoo clocks hanging on the wall of his store is really the camera and smashes it instead. Guided by the illusion that he is repairing a clock at his workbench, Merrill starts taking pictures again. At this moment, Kevin and his father arrive to confront Merrill, but they are too late to stop him. The dog begins to tear its way out of the final photograph, killing Merrill in the process. Inspired by a scene from one of his nightmares, Kevin has brought another Sun along with him, and just as the dog is about to release itself, he takes its picture, trapping it once more in the "Polaroid world".

In the epilogue, Kevin gets a computer for his following birthday. In order to test its word processor function, he types "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy sleeping dog." Rather than a printout of this text, the page reads, "The dog is loose again. It is not sleeping. It is not lazy. It's coming for you, Kevin. It's very hungry. And it's VERY angry."

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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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Rohan Stewart Loved the Sun Dog. Your reviews are terrific.

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