This short story, from the compilation of Stephen King's 'Just after Sunset', is the best story from the lot and deserves AAA. It begins with a letter from Sheila Bonsaint Le Claire writing to her crush from high school days, Charlie Keen. The letter is about her brother Johnny who died under mysterious circumstances recently and his death being labelled as an 'accidental death'. Johnny was a therapist and treating a patient known in the case study file as 'N' and Sheila suspects that there are forces working here beyond her comprehension.
One of the passages in her letters reveals 'It's as if the patients' woes are a kind of acid, eating away at the psychic defenses of their therapists". She encloses a case file from the therapist for Charlie to study. The deeper part of this is that not long before Johnny's death, his patient N dies of a fall in similar conditions echoing Johnny's death. Sheila warns Charlie to burn the case file soon after studying it.
N, the patient of Johnny, was 48 years old. He was a partner in a large Portland Maine accounting firm. He was divorced and father of two daughters. He had been suffering from insomnia since the past ten months. He had recently developed an obsessive compulsive disorder that was rapidly controlling and ruining his mental peace. For example, he used to tie his laces with the left tied at the top and the right at the bottom.
He was also obsessed with numbers. "When I load the dishwasher, I count plates. If there's an even number above ten in there, all is well. If not, I add the correct number of clean ones to make it right".
Johnny Bonsaint describes his patient N as pale man being pecked to pieces by invisible birds. N asks Johnny, "Have you ever read 'The Great God Pan' by Arthur Machen ? As it's the most terrifying story ever written!"
"But Doc, are you sure? Even if it puts you at risk of winding up like I am now?"
The place that is the centrepoint of the story in case is 'Ackerman's Field'.
"I am an accountant by trade, a photographer by inclination". "Reality is a mystery, Dr. Bonsaint, and the everyday texture of things is the cloth we draw over it to mask its brightness and darkness. I think we cover the faces of corpses for the same reason. We see the faces of the dead as a kind of gate. But there are places where the cloth gets ragged and reality is thin."
"I took another four shots which makes a total of nine, another bad number, although slightly better than five and when I lowered the camera and looked again with my naked eye, I saw the faces in the hills, leering and grinning and grunting. Some human, some bestial. I counted seven stones. But when I looked into the viewfinder again, there were eight. I started to feel dizzy and scared".
"The eighth stone fucking grinned at me and its teeth were heads. Living human heads".
"something spoke. Not English. Something that sounded like,'Cthun, cthun, deeyanna, deeyanna.. but then.. Christ,then it said my name. It said,'Cthun,N,; deeyanna, N. I think I screamed, but I'm not sure, because by then the wind had become a gale that was roaring in my ears".
' In the next session, I tell him that he looks better although this is far from true". 'He prints CTHUN in large capital letters. He shows it to me and when I nod, he tears the sheet to shreds, counts the shreds - to make sure the number is even, I suppose- and then deposits them in the wastebasket near the couch.'
'I could hear the wind that sometimes blows out of there, turning in its own private cyclone. and I knew it was coming. The thing with the helmet-head. He gestures again to the scraps in the wastebasket'.
"At least I'll get a break come winter. If I make it that far".
'I called his home number when I saw the obituary. Got C, the daughter who goes to school here in Maine. She knew who I was. Talked freely'.
Johnny Bonsaint makes notes: 'I am afraid but this fear is completely irrational. Back-trailing a patient' mental illness to its source is never comfortable. I stood at the chain, asking myself if I really wanted to do this- if I wanted to trespass, not just on land that wasn't mine but on an obsessive compulsive fantasy that had very likely killed its possessor'.
'I looked at the stones dead-on. Eight.' 'It's April Fool's and the fool is me. I woke from a dream of Ackerman's Field.'
'Took longer today to make 7 into 8.' 'There it was - the thing with the helmet head, born out of living insane darkness.''The screaming faces in the stones .. CTHUN'.
Johnny Bonsaint also ends up the same way as N, falling rom Ackerman's Field in the valley below and dying. There is a twist in the end when Charlie Keen receives another letter from Sheila saying.'There's nothing out there. Just some rocks. I saw with my own eyes. I swear there's nothing out there, so stay away'. Few days later, he reads another obituary in the paper,'Woman jumps from bridge, mimics brother's suicide.'
In the epilogue, Charlie Keen is writing a note to his secretary, Chrissy, asking her to cancel all appointments for the next week. He says, 'Two old friends, brother and sister have committed suicide under peculiar circumstances.. and in the same fucking place.. I don't mean to be a Philistine about it, but there might be a story in this. On obsessive compulsive disorder. Not as big a blip on radar as cancer, maybe, but sufferers will tell you it's still some mighty scary shit.'
This short storywill haunt your imagination.