• Eric J. Cullen

MY READING EXPERIENCES: I Don't Want to be Buried in a Pet Sematary

Updated: Sep 9, 2021

To pay honor to the new movie and to the horror author himself, I decided to revisit my past and tell my 'Pet Sematary' experience.

The Arizona heat was thick, even in the night and my belly was full from a cheeseburger at Sonic Drive-In. My family was stopped at a Wal-Mart where my mother needed to pick up a few necessities, as we had just picked her up from the airport not more than two hours ago.

Inside the store, my family and I had parted ways near the checkout. Being an avid reader at time, and still am, I was destine for the Publications section. As with any store you could find me in the book section if they had one, usually cross-legged on the floor with my mind lost in a Goosebumps, or a Mad magazine. Wal-Mart had a rather large publication section compared to the grocery stores I would usually frequent though not as large as a B. Dalton. Wal-Mart also had fiction and children's books really close together, right on top of each other. Because of this I happened upon an author whose name I had seen before but whose work I had been told was too 'adult' for an eleven year old.


There were four Stephen King novels at eye level, right next to each other. I don't recall the other three but I do remember 'Salem's Lot because it had a vampire outlined in purple on the cover. I sat reading this book to the side of the aisle. Knowing I didn't have much time to read read, my eyes scanned the pages of what I deemed 'the vampire book' quickly. I didn't realize it at the time but I was merely dipping my toe into the Universe of Stephen King. Days passed in 'Salem's Lot but in reality it had been only twenty minutes there on the floor, off to the side of the aisle. Twenty minutes enough for mother to find all her items and knowing where I was, soon found me to announce our departure.


I wasn't reluctant or upset to leave and I knew mother would buy me a book. Having read enough of 'Salem's Lot, what would have easily been five or six chapters worth of a Goosebumps book, I was not opposed to the story about vampires and a spooky house. Mother gently objected and pointed out the nearby R.L. Stine book instead, noting it would be more suitable for a child my age. Once again I was being told that the book I wanted was too adult for me. Obedient I was and not wanting to go against mother's wishes, I easily folded and switched out 'Salem's Lot for the three story Fear Street book, two rows below the line of Stephen King novels where seconds before I had put 'Salem's Lot back in its place.


Later that year for Christmas, my grandmother had bought me a children's book about a young Amish boy and the community he grows up with. It was a beautifully illustrated book and the story was simple and kind; love one another. It was this story about the young Amish boy that grandmother decided to gift me with and I couldn't be happier. That was until she let slip later in the day that she had chosen my gifted book over another she had purchased. One that she had deemed 'too spooky' and 'too adult'.


It was shortly after Christmas, my brother Brad and I were staying with my grandmother so that we could celebrate the exit of 1996 and the new year of 1997. It wasn't tradition but every few years grandmother would pick my brother and I up to celebrate New Years and watch the Rose Parade the next morning. That New Years Eve and always the snoop, I began my search for the book grandmother thought was 'too spooky'. Knowing grandmother well enough, I knew she kept books that were too old for us children in her room. They were stored away in a night stand that had a shelf below its drawer, nothing significant in it, a lot of empty space from what I remember. The night stand sat next to a large wardrobe that housed grandmother's furs and other luxuries, as well as my collection of Jurassic Park jawbreakers since forgotten about. It was here on the small shelf of the night stand, next to the large non-magical wardrobe, that I would find Stephen King's 'Pet Sematary'.


Farz-n-shit.


According to twelve year old me, farz-n-shit would describe everything I had read before I had found Pet Sematary. Sat in grandmother's room against the wardrobe, I digested a few chapters before making my way to the couch in the front room. Propped up on the arm of the couch, my headphones on and Foo Fighters in my CD player, I became lost in the story of a young family just moved to Maine. Breaking only for dinner when it was served, I ate and I rehydrated. Finishing, I took a breath and exhaled before going back to my reading. Pet Sematary was like no book I had ever been exposed to before. Sure, the Fear Street books had long paragraphs like the ones Stephen King wrote but King's stories, his words and his characters were, dare I say, adult? I read into the night, paying no attention to the movies Brad watched, shutting myself out from the world. I would soon succumb to sleep just before part two. Just as Church comes back home, returning from the MicMac burying ground.


It wouldn't be long before I finished Pet Sematary and I remember the moment quite fondly. I can recall most times when I finished a novel by Stephen King and the few moments of tranquility that followed. I was at home sitting up in the top bunk of my bed and I had the room all to myself. Finishing the epilogue, I remember rereading it and then looking up as I closed the paperback book. I remember slipping my headphones off my head as Foo Fighter's 'Walking After You' continued to play and setting them aside. I can only describe that moment as how one feels after seeing a movie that really impacts them. They don't feel overly emotional one way or another but they do feel. It was that I felt after finishing Pet Sematary and it wouldn't be the last. I was lost in complete awe and while my young mind spent those few tranquil moments coming to grips with the story told, it simultaneously shelved away the madness and horror of Louis and the family Creed, along with my experience, in the growing library of my mind.


Pet Sematary will always be my first, big step into the 'adult' world of books and now with hindsight at 20/20, my first, big step in the direction of being a writer. Goosebumps and Bone Chillers were minor leagues compared to Pet Sematary and the new fiction to follow. I valued my time in the minors with R.L. Stein but Stephen King was my break into the majors, like Jason Varitek going from minor league ball in Seattle and playing for the Boston Red Sox.


No matter how many books I read through out my lifetime Pet Sematary will always be my most treasured read, the most fantastic journey Stephen King has taken me on. When I first heard the new film was being made about the Creed family and the changes that would occur, you could say that I was unphased. Even with what had been announced as changed should not take away from the central story, the story about a young father who only wants to do best by his family and in doing so encounters a supernatural element that changes the family forever. With that said, no matter how many times King's beloved books are turned into films or TV shows, I will always pay my hard earned money and time to tune. It may be a horrible adaptation, hated by King himself even but a bad adaptation of a work by Stephen King will remind me of the journey he took me on and the thousands of printed words we walked.

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