Most people who encounter Salem’s Lot (book or film) never forget this image:
Something had awakened him.
He lay still in the ticking dark, looking at the ceiling.
A noise. Some noise. But the house was silent.
There it was again. Scratching.
Mark Petrie turned over in bed and looked through the window and Danny Glick was staring in at him through the glass, his skin grave-pale, his eyes reddish and feral.
Think of something. Quick! Quick!
“The rain,” he whispered hoarsely. “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. In vain he thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.”
In It, stutterer Bill Denbrough uses this tongue-twister as a tool, first as speech therapy, then as a ward against evil.
In Danse Macabre, King discusses Curt Siodmak’s novel Donovan’s Brain, and we see when this verse may have waded into King’s writing pool:
At the end of the book, the scientist attacks the tank with an ax, resisting the endless undertow of Donovan’s will by reciting a simple yet haunting mnemonic phrase – He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.
The complete verse:
Amidst the mists and fiercest frosts
With barest wrists, and stoutest boasts,
He thrusts his fists against the posts,
And STILL insists he sees the ghosts!
It seems to have cropped in in the 1800s as an elocution exercise or tongue twister. There’s a thread on Straight Dope that gives more examples of its history and use in popular culture (Stephen Colbert, Beastie Boys).
“He knows a great deal about the poets of our so-called golden age – Whittier, Longfellow, Russell, Holmes, that lot.”
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807 – 1892) was an American Quaker poet. Whittier is remembered particularly for his anti-slavery writings as well as his long narrative poem Snow-Bound (1866).
From context (taking “our” golden age to mean 19th century American poets or, more specifically, New England poets), the Russell referenced is most likely:
James Russell Lowell (1819 – 1891) was an American Romantic poet, critic, editor, and diplomat. He is associated with the Fireside Poets, a group of New England writers who were among the first American poets who rivaled the popularity of British poets. (He is usually referred to as “Lowell,” not “Russell” or “Russell-Lowell” though.)
Oliver Wendell Homes Sr. (1809 – 1894) was a member of the Fireside Poets and acclaimed as one of the best writers of the day (as well as being a physician, professor, lecturer, etc). He was friends with Longfellow and Lowell.
 Fact check:
“Aspirin is very close in chemical composition to LSD.”
King is sometimes guilty of passing along folklore/urban legends as “fact” (see this story from The Stand that I referenced in End of Watch, note ). “Aspirin is close to LSD” was likely a folk belief he heard but didn’t verify before using in his fiction.
“White magic. Bene gris-gris.”
noun – an African or Caribbean charm or amulet.
the use of charms, especially in voodoo.
 Fact check:
“The hair (…) continues to grow for an amazing period of time [after death].”
In a continuation of , this is one of those pieces of “common knowledge” that is BS (like “Humans only use 10% of their brain!”; End of Watch, note ). Hair and nails may appear longer after death because the skin around them retracts and shrinks.
“This is beginning to seem like a paranoid’s dream,” Jimmy said, “or a Gahan Wilson cartoon.”
Gahan Wilson (b.1930) is an American author, cartoonist and illustrator known for his cartoons depicting horror-fantasy situations. His official site has some great examples of his work.
A paper company most renowned for asking patrons not to squeeze their toilet paper.
Charmin toilet paper had an advertising campaign from 1964 to 1985 starring a fictional supermarket manager who admonished customers not to “squeeze the Charmin.”
What in God’s name could happen to you in sight of your own house?
But still: the fear.
It rose suddenly, emotion overspilling logic and the bright Formica reason of the cerebrum, filling her mouth with a taste like black copper.
And she knew someone was behind her even before the hand fell on her shoulder.
There was the hot and porcine smell of burning flesh.
adjective – of, affecting, or resembling a pig or pigs.
“The guy was wearing a dark CPO coat, maybe blue, maybe black.”
A CPO jacket is a casual woolen men’s jacket based on the design of a Navy chief petty officer’s jacket. It is styled like a shirt with buttons down the front and on the cuffs.
“You ought to write books with better sense. Like the guy who writes those Travis McGee stories.”
Travis McGee is a fictional investigator, created by prolific American mystery writer John D. MacDonald (1916 – 1986). He appeared in 21 novels.
He came up out of sleep with no pause, no intervening period of drowsiness or orientation. The insanities of sleep and waking had become remarkably similar.
He read the titles aloud as he put them back (…)
“Peter Kurtin [sic], Monster of Dusseldorf.”
Peter Kurten (1883 – 1931) was a German serial killer known as The Vampire of Dusseldorf and the Dusseldorf Monster, who committed a series of murders and sexual assaults between February and November 1929. He was considered a vampire because he drank the blood of a killed swan in December 1929 and he also made attempts to drink the blood of some of his human victims.
“A parish in Cornwall (…) along the so-called Tin Coast.”
The Tin Coast is a stretch of West Penwith coastline between Pendeen and St. Just. Part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site. It has been a mining site for tin and copper for over 2000 years and stretches for approximately seven miles.
“She broke it off quite suddenly during the week before the banns were to be cried for a second time.”
noun – a notice read out on three successive Sundays in a parish church, announcing an intended marriage and giving the opportunity for objections.
“If I should proceed to make your investigations in a neat Harris tweed with nothing under my arm but a copy of Sybil Leek’s The Sensual Exorcist or whatever, that would be between you and me.”
Sybil Leek (1917 – 1982) was an English witch, astrologer, occult author and self-proclaimed psychic. She wrote many books on occult and esoteric subjects, getting dubbed as “Britain’s most famous witch” by the BBC. (She never wrote a book called The Sensual Exorcist; this is a joke on Father Callahan’s part.)
The night the kudzu gets your fields, you sleep like the dead.
Who wrote that? Dickey?
Yes. This is a line in James Dickey’s poem “Kudzu,” which was published in The New Yorker in 1963.
 Reference (this is only credited as an “Old rock’n’roll song” at the beginning of Part Three):
I heard a voice, crying from the deep:
Come join me, baby, in my endless sleep.
The song is “Endless Sleep” by Don Williams (b.1939), an American country singer and songwriter.
“According to several of the standard references on folklore and the supernatural, one way to frighten a vampire away is to paint white ‘angel eyes’ over the real eyes of a black dog.”
In Wikipedia’s “List of vampire traits in folklore and fiction” (a very cool page), this bit of mythology is only associated with Salem’s Lot. Though, the jiangshi (the Chinese “hopping” vampire) can be countered with the blood of a black dog.
“I suspect his origins may have been Romanian or Magyar or Hungarian.”
A member of people who originated in the Urals and migrated westward to settle in what is now Hungary in the 9th century AD.
“Was it Carlyle who said that if a man dethrones God in his heart, then Satan must ascend to His position?”
Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881) was a Scottish essayist, satirist, and history, whose work was hugely influential during the Victorian era.
His mind whirling, his thoughts inchoate.
adjective – just begun and so not fully formed or developed; rudimentary.
(law) – (of an offense, such as incitement or conspiracy) anticipating a further criminal act.
Callahan withdrew from the door, trembling. He looked down at the cross in his hand. “This is, without a doubt, the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me in my life,” he said. He glanced up at the sky, as if to see the very face of God, but the sky was indifferent.
“It’s as old as Macedonia,” Father Callahan said. “Hanging the body of your enemy or betrayer upside down so his head faces earth instead of heaven. St. Paul was crucified that way, an x-shaped cross with his legs broken.”
The New Testament does not say how or when Paul died. Father Callahan’s reference is to St. Peter, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. Peter’s death is not specified in the Bible but Jesus tells him: “When you are old you will stretch your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go,” and this is interpreted by some to mean crucifixion.
The idea of St. Peter being crucified upside-down comes from Origen in his Commentary on the Book of Genesis III: “Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downwards, as he himself had desired to suffer.” The Cross of St. Peter inverts the Latin cross based on this refusal, and claim of unworthiness, to die the same way as his Savior.
So instead of the punishment Father Callahan suggests the inversion was, mythology suggests St. Peter asked for it. I don’t know where King/Callahan is getting the “x-shape” with his “legs broken” part.
“He’s filled with pride. It must be vaunting indeed.”
verb – boast about or praise (something), especially excessively.
A white, grinning face like something out of a Frazetta painting.
Frank Frazetta (1928 – 2010) was an American fantasy and science fiction artist, noted for comic books, paperback book covers, paintings, posters, LP record album covers and other media.
Mark spit in his face.
Barlow’s breath stopped. His brow darkened with a depth of fury that made his previous expressions seem like what they might well have been: mere play-acting. For a moment Callahan saw a madness in his eyes blacker than the soul of murder.
 Fact Check:
“There had been a schoolhouse fire in New Hampshire two or three years before-”
“I remember,” Jimmy murmured. “In Cobb’s Ferry, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. Three children were burned to death.”
Not a location or event in New Hampshire.
You could read it in their eyes. He had learned that standing guard at the repple depple in the war.
A replacement depot or repple depple is a military unit containing reserves or replacements for troops in front-line formations. The U.S. Army slang term “repple depple” came into vogue during World War II.
At three in the morning the blood runs slow and thick, and slumber is heavy. The soul either sleeps in blessed ignorance of such an hour or gazes about itself in utter despair.
Corey looked back over his shoulder and grinned at Reggie, a huge and moony grin, like that offered to tourists by cow skulls in the desert. Bonnie was holding her arms out. They trembled. Over her face, terror and lust seemed to pass like alternating flashes of sunshine and shadow.
“Darling?” she said.
We have a still-living woman saying “Darling” to her undead (vampire) lover. Pet Sematary ends with a mirror-echo of this; an undead (zombie) woman saying “Darling” to her still-living husband:
A cold hand fell on Louis’s shoulder. Rachel’s voice was grating, full of dirt.
“Darling,” it said.
This smell was plangently like that – sickish sweet and decayed sour, mixed together and fermenting wildly.
adjective – (literary) – (of a sound) loud, reverberating, and often melancholy.
A hitching, Cheyne-Stokes type of respiration had begun as soon as the light struck the body.
Cheyne-Stokes respiration is an abnormal breathing pattern characterized by progressively deeper and sometimes faster breathing, followed by a gradual decrease that results in a temporary stop in breathing called apnea. The condition was named after John Cheyne (1777 – 1836) and William Stokes (1804 – 1878), the physicians who first described it in the 19th century.
Sonny James (who exploited his country-music namesake with a huge color poster in the window beside a pyramid of oil cans) came out to wait on them himself.
James Hugh Loden (1928 – 2016), known professionally as Sonny James, was an American country music singer and songwriter best known for his 1957 hit “Young Love.”
“I see them M.D. plates and it always makes me think of this movie I seen, this story about a bunch of crooks and one of them would always steal cars with M.D. plates because-”
I thought this would be easy to track down but after digging through imdb keywords for twenty minutes, I’m coming up short. Anyone know what movie this is?
The church was cool and gray and filled with the endless pregnant pause that all empty altars of faith, white and black, have in common.
An image came to mind, an old rock’n’roll album with a picture of a transvestite on the front, profile shot against a black background, the strangely masculine face bleeding with rouge and paint; title: “They Only Come Out at Night.”
The third studio album by The Edgar Winter Group, released in 1972. It features two of the band’s biggest songs: “Frankenstein” and “Free Ride.”
A record about a man who was going to jump off a water tower for love.
I can’t figure out what song this could be.
He took a package of Pall Malls from his pocket, looked at the emblem thoughtfully – in hoc signo vinces.
Latin: in this sign you will conquer
Also sometimes rendered in English as “in this sign thou shalt conquer.” The phrase has a long history of use, dating back to ~300 AD.
If you enjoy Stephen King, you’ll find your way to Salem’s Lot at some point. It’s also worth a look for fans of classic horror and vampire lore. King echoes many beats from Dracula in Salem’s Lot and it’s satisfying to pick up on those while seeing vampire mythology set in modern America (well… rural 1970s America). I wouldn’t recommend this as a first King experience, though (I still say Night Shift is the best place to start).
Next week… heck, let’s stick with King but switch to non-fiction with Danse Macabre.