For the first time, Stephen King will be a featured speaker at BookExpo. Together with his son Owen King, with whom he coauthored his latest novel, Sleeping Beauties (Scribner, Sept.), King will appear in a “Prologue” to today’s Adult Book and Author Breakfast.
The book, about a world in which the women go to sleep and become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze, is set in a small town in Appalachia where the primary employer is a women’s prison. If the gauze is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and violent. One woman, Evie, is immune to the disease. Is she a medical anomaly to be studied or a demon who must be slain?
Here is a sneak peek from chapter four of King’s first father/son collaboration:
The total population of McDowell, Bridget, and Dooling counties amounted to roughly seventy-two thousand souls, fifty-five percent male, forty-five percent female. This was down five thousand from the last full US census, officially making the Tri-Counties an “out-migration area. There were two hospitals, one in McDowell County (“Great gift shop!” read the only post in the comment section of the McDowell Hospital’s website) and a much bigger one in Dooling County, where the largest population—thirty-two thousand—resided. There were a total of ten walk-in clinics in the three counties, plus two dozen so-called “pain clinics” out in the piney woods, where various opioid drugs could be obtained with prescriptions written on the spot. Once, before most of the mines had played out, the Tri-Counties had been known as the Republic of Fingerless Men. These days it had become the Republic of Unemployed Men, but there was a bright side: most of those under fifty had all their fingers, and it had been ten years since anyone had died in a mine cave-in.
On the morning Evie Doe (so recorded by Lila Norcross because her prisoner would give no last name) visited Truman Mayweather’s trailer, most of the fourteen thousand or so females in Dooling County awoke as usual and started their day. Many of them saw the television reports about the spreading contagion that was first called Australian Sleeping Sickness, then the Female Sleeping Flu, and then the Aurora Flu, named for the princess in the Walt Disney retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. Few of the Tri-County women who saw the reports were frightened by them; Australia, Hawaii, and Los Angeles were faraway places, after all, and although Michaela Morgan’s report from that old folks’ home in Georgetown was mildly alarming, and Washington, DC, was geographically close—not even a day’s drive—DC was still a city, and for most people in the Tri-Counties, that put it in an entirely different category. Besides, not many people in the area watched NewsAmerica, preferring Good Day Wheeling or Ellen DeGeneres.
The first sign that something might be wrong even out here in God’s country came shortly after eight o’clock AM. It arrived at the doors of St. Theresa’s in the person of Yvette Quinn, who parked her elderly Jeep Cherokee askew at the curb and came charging into the ER with her infant twin girls crooked in her arms. A tiny, cocoon-swaddled face rested against each of her breasts. She was screaming like a fire siren, bringing doctors and nurses running.
“Someone help my babies! They won’t wake up! They won’t wake up for anything!”
Tiffany Jones, much older but similarly swaddled, arrived soon thereafter, and by three o’clock that afternoon, the ER was full. And still they came: fathers and mothers carrying daughters, girls carrying little sisters, uncles carrying nieces, husbands carrying wives. There was no Judge Judy, no Dr. Phil, and no game shows on the waiting room TV that afternoon. Only news, and all of it was about the mysterious sleeping sickness, the one that affected only those with XX chromosomes.
The exact minute, half-minute, or second when sleeping female Homo sapiens stopped waking up and began to form their coverings was never conclusively determined. Based on the cumulative data, however, scientists were eventually able to narrow the window to a point between 7:37 AM EST and 7:57 AM EST.
“We can only wait for them to wake up,” said George Alderson on NewsAmerica. “And so far, at least, none of them have. Here’s Michaela Morgan with more.”
Excerpted from Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King. Copyright © 2017 by Stephen King and Owen King. Reprinted with permission of Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.