A HeAd Full OF GHOsts

Read the mind-bend­ing tale of mod­ern psy­cho­log­i­cal hor­ror that ter­ri­fied stephen King. Merry Bar­rett’s fam­ily is torn apart when her older sis­ter Mar­jorie begins to dis­play signs of acute schizophre­nia. One night, she tells Merry a story…

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - First Read - by Paul Trem­blay

Mar­jorie sat on her bed with an open book in her lap. She was still dressed in her sweats, and her chin was still stained red with spaghetti sauce. Her hair was dark, greasy, and heavy, weigh­ing down her head. She said, “Come on, I’m just teas­ing. Come sit next to me, Merry. I have your new story.”

I du­ti­fully sat next to my sis­ter and said, “I didn’t like your let­ter, you know.” I imag­ined Mar­jorie sneak­ing into my room and pinch­ing my nose shut while I slept, and it scared me. Then I imag­ined do­ing the same right back to her, and it was thrilling. “You can’t sneak into my room any­more, or I’ll tell Mom. I’ll show her the note.” I felt brave say­ing such things, and my brav­ery puffed up my chest as it light­ened my head.

“Sorry. I don’t know if I can promise you any­thing like that.” Mar­jorie turned her head abruptly from side to side, as though she was lis­ten­ing for the sounds of my par­ents walk­ing out of their room and into the hall­way. “That’s not fair.” “I know. But I have your new story.” She opened the book on her lap. It was my book, of course, the one she stole from my room: All Around the World. She flipped to a page with a car­toon New York City. The build­ings were brick red and sea blue, and they crowded the page, el­bow­ing and wrestling one an­other for pre­cious space. The streets and side­walks, and the peo­ple on the streets and side­walks, were scrib­bled over with green ropey lines. She must’ve used the same green crayon with which she wrote my note.

She said, “New York City is the big­gest city in the world, right? When the grow­ing things” – Mar­jorie paused and ran her hands over the green lines she’d drawn in my book – “started grow­ing there, it meant they could grow any­where. They took over Cen­tral Park, pok­ing through the ce­ment paths and soak­ing up the park’s ponds and foun­tains. The stuff just came shoot­ing up, crowd­ing out the grass and trees, and the flower boxes in apart­ment win­dowsills, and then filled the streets. When peo­ple tried cut­ting the grow­ing things down, they grew back faster. Peo­ple didn’t know how or why they grew. There was no soil un­der the streets, you know, in the sew­ers, but they still grew. The vines and shoots broke through win­dows and build­ings, and some peo­ple climbed the grow­ing things so they could break into apart­ments and steal food, money, and HD TVs, but it quickly got too crowded for peo­ple, for ev­ery­thing, and the build­ings crum­bled and fell. They grew fast there, like a foot an hour, just like ev­ery­where else.” She kept on talk­ing about how in the sub­urbs the grow­ing things swal­lowed up ev­ery­one’s pretty lawns and gar­dens and their drive­ways and side­walks. And in the coun­try and the farms, the grow­ing things over­ran the corn, wheat, soy, and all the other crops. They couldn’t stop the grow­ing things so peo­ple poured and sprayed mil­lions of gal­lons of weed killer, which didn’t work. Peo­ple quickly grew des­per­ate and dumped bot­tles of Liq­uid-Plumr, lye, and bleach. None of it worked on the stuff and all the chem­i­cals and poi­sons leached into the ground­wa­ter and poi­soned ev­ery­thing else.

I was trac­ing the green loops on the New York City page, my head fill­ing with those snaking vines and thorns and leaves, when I

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