The little town of Castle Rock, Maine has witnessed some strange events and unusual visitors over the years, but there is one story that has never been told… until now.
There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs. Every day in the summer of 1974 twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson has taken the stairs, which are held by strong (if time-rusted) iron bolts and zig-zag up the cliffside.
At the top of the stairs, Gwendy catches her breath and listens to the shouts of the kids on the playground. From a bit farther away comes the chink of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball as the Senior League kids practice for the Labor Day charity game.
One day, a stranger calls to Gwendy: “Hey, girl. Come on over here for a bit. We ought to palaver, you and me.”
On a bench in the shade sits a man in black jeans, a black coat like for a suit, and a white shirt unbuttoned at the top. On his head is a small neat black hat. The time will come when Gwendy has nightmares about that hat…
Whoosh. I read this novella all in one sitting… and I think you will too. Stephen King fans will just eat this up. It’s a quick story that casts an eerie spell, just the right length to sink its unsettling claws into your brain.
I wouldn’t call it horror, exactly. There’s very little outright blood or gore, although bad things do happen. Most of the tension and horror is psychological, as we see what happens to Gwendy after that fateful encounter at the top of Castle View.
The strange man gives Gwendy an oddly beautiful box, with eight differently colored buttons on top and levers on the sides. He shows her the levers: One dispenses a tiny piece of chocolate, which will be absolutely delicious, but which will also eliminate her cravings for junk food. The other lever dispenses a rare old silver dollar in perfect condition. As for the buttons on top, the man provides cryptic explanations, and then entrusts the box into Gwendy’s care.
And soon, her life begins to change. Gwendy at 12 is a little on the heavy side, and she’s determined to reinvent herself before starting middle school in the fall. Between her daily runs up the Suicide Stairs, and her new-found freedom from the lure of desserts and sweets, Gwendy gets in better and better shape. Is it Gwendy’s own effort paying off… or does the box have something to do with it?
Other positive changes soon follow. Gwendy’s vision improves to the point where she no longer needs glasses. She becomes a star athlete and a top student. Boys want to date her and girls want to be her friend. Her parents’ over-indulgence in alcohol seems to dwindle away with any noticeable effort. But the box is still there, hidden away for safe-keeping, and Gwendy never quite manages to get it out of her thoughts or to stop wondering what would happen if she actually pressed any of those colorful buttons.
Man, this is a good story! Even though Gwendy’s life gets better and better, there’s a dangerous undercurrent that plagues her — and us. What’s the price of all this good fortune? And who will pay it?
I don’t want to say much more. It’s a quick novella that can be read in one gulp, which is really what I recommend. There’s something about getting from start to finish without breaking the disturbing mood that lends the story even more power.
Gwendy’s Button Box is a must-read for King fans (which probably goes without saying) — but really, anyone who enjoys a tightly woven plot with an air of mystery and dread should check it out.
Title: Gwendy’s Button Box
Author: Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
Publisher: Cemetery Dance Publications
Publication date: May 16, 2017
Length: 175 pages