“You’re at the library where you trip over a chair and drop the book you were carrying, landing inside the story. What book were you carrying and how do you escape?”
Rather than use the writing prompt precisely by referencing a book I was carrying, I’m going to use the book I am currently reading. Right now I am about 60% of the way through Stephen King’s classic “Cujo”, for the first time ever. My initial fear upon landing in the book is simple: uh-oh!
It has been made clear by this point in the book that Cujo is not one to be reckoned with, no matter who you are! However, by the knowledge I have gained of him at this point of my reading, I think I could stand against him quite well.
Cujo is a loveable Saint Bernard who innocently chases a rabbit into a cave, then gets bit by a bat in the cave, and eventually becomes rabid. The book does a long slow-burn before he fully turns vicious, which helps set up the shock value of when he finally snaps. Quickly piling up the bodies, a mother and her young son become trapped in their vehicle while stranded at the farmhouse Cujo resides. It then becomes a fight of life and death as they struggle to come up with a plan while hiding in their car as the rabid Cujo stalks outside.
Cujo is one of Stephen King’s most simple stories, yet one of his most horrific. This is thanks to realism. There are no Stephen King clichés here, i.e. where there are supernatural powers at work or hidden evils pulling strings. This is just straight-up realistic terror because animals can and do get rabies and they can and do become insane due to the sickness. Sure, the story is exaggerated to make it as graphic and over-the-top as possible, but what story isn’t?
So let’s say I get thrown into this story. Right now, based on where I am in the book, Cujo’s killing spree has just started. He has two victims and now has the woman and her son trapped in their car. Thanks to this knowledge and the fact that I know the story is set in 1980, I am a lot more prepared than one would be by just getting thrown into the very beginning of the story.
The book is set in Castle Rock, Maine but doesn’t take place in the actual town. Cujo’s reign of terror all takes place outside the city limits, as he lives on a farm and visits other nearby farmhouses. This adds to the terror due to the fact that, even though he has the entire countryside to roam, he keeps his focus on what properties he knows. Because he is so localized, this helps me form a defense against him. If I am in the story, I know Cujo won’t bother with me unless I happen upon one of these farmhouses, most especially his own.
The problem is: I like to think I am a hero at heart. Based on where I am in the story, I know there is an innocent woman, and her even more innocent young son, trapped , terrified, and slowly being tortured by this dog from Hell. If I was to get thrown into this story, even if I am in the safe-zone that is Castle Rock city limits, the hero in me is going to want to go save them. Thankfully, by being aware of the situation – compared to everyone else in the story that has no idea this is going on at this farmhouse – I can march right out there and find them.
I can also properly defend myself against this unholy beast of an animal. Cujo may have viciously attacked multiple people at this point, but those people were unarmed and caught off guard. I would grab a formidable weapon – most likely a baseball bat given my history of being a baseball player and the comfortable-ness I would possess by being armed with it – and march right up to him on the farm and go to town once he started attacking me.
The book has mentioned guns a few times, but none of the characters had time to grab one to try and defend themselves. Yes, I could just take a gun myself, but truth be told I’m not a big fan of guns. I’ve shot them plenty in my life, and while I’m a very good shot with a .22 rifle, I wouldn’t trust myself in that scenario. Attempting to gun down an attacking rabid Saint Bernard would not allow me much leeway in the form of error. Every bullet I have would have to count and the risk of me missing as he continues moving toward me would grow with each pull of the trigger.
However, if I have a baseball bat, I can employ the method used by Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) at the end of the 2002 sci-fi thriller “Signs” and “swing away.”
If Cujo ducks, I can dodge. If Cujo dodges, I can duck. I can keep swinging and keep connecting until he is defused. I don’t want to harm an animal, and have never done so in my life. I love animals (often more than humans!) but this is life-or-death we are talking about! I am going to swing and swing and swing until Cujo can’t stand, and then swing some more until I know he is out of his misery for good! Then I am going to grab the mother and her son and we are going to run until we hit city limits and the safety of other members of society, most importantly the police officers of Castle Rock.
I think this is a pretty formidable plan, but I will say that if I was to get thrown into a book I am not reading, it will be a whole different story.
What story would you end up in if you dropped your current book?