Friday, July 1, 2011

"N."- A Short Story of O.C.D., Different Dimensions, and Stonehenge

File:Stonehenge LomografĂ­a.jpgStephen King is the author of countless short stories. Two of his most famous short story collections are Nightmares and Dreamscapes and Just After Sunset. Recently, he released another set of short stories titled, Full Dark, No Stars. Many people that have reviewed Full Dark, No Stars have said it is a book of dark stories with dark endings. While that may be true, perhaps one of his most strange and terrifying short stories would be "N.".

"N." was featured in Just After Sunset and is longer than most of the stories in the book. The length of the story is part of the allure; it is a long enough story to build the story and characters, but the reader is relieved the story ends because of how truly disconcerting it is. "N." is a told from the perspective of different patient-case studies written down by N.'s psychiatrist. N. used to be a regular man with a boring job as an accountant. When passing by Ackerman's Field one day, he is drawn to explore the field by a force he cannot name. Once at the field, he is changed by what he finds there. He realizes Ackerman's Field is a "thin" spot in reality, where demons are trying to break through to the human world.

In order to protect the world, he feels he has to go through obsessive compulsive behavior (OCD) rituals to keep balance in the world. After completing each OCD task, N. believes he has kept the monsters at bay by maintaining the rituals that a sane world needs in order to function. It is his newly-acquired OCD symptoms that prompt N. to see a psychiatrist. Yet, by sharing his discovery of the field, N. passes the torch on to someone new after he commits suicide. Suicide, as N. believes, is the only way to end the guardianship of the field. Though the psychiatrist is not sure whether to believe N.'s fantastical story of Ackerman's Field, he was also wants to see the existence of the field for himself.

File:Field.JPGDue to the increased demonic presence in the field during summer months (after the Summer Solstice), the psychiatrist also cannot handle the immense responsibility that comes with merely knowing about Ackerman's Field. He too commits suicide. His sister finds his patient transcripts from his sessions with N., though they are labeled "BURN THIS". Curiosity drives the sister to visit the field as well, even as it is only implied that she does so through her letter to a friend, warning said friend not to go to Ackerman's Field. The last few pages of the story show that the guardianship of the field is ceremoniously passed down by a cycle of discovery, insanity, and suicide.

Ultimately, "N." perfectly sums up the feelings behind OCD behavior. Indeed, many people afflicted with OCD feel that their monotonous rituals "right the world", and that if they don't carry them out, it would put their whole world out of balance. Those who have OCD repeatedly wash their hands, check the locks, or touch a surface to assure themselves that the world is still there, and that the world is okay. N. feels the same way: "I had to keep renewing the protection [of the field] with symbolic acts," (King p.316).

Ackerman's Field is a loose representation of Stonehenge. King even has N. refer to Stonehenge in comparison with the field: "[Stonehenge could be] protecting something  [...] Locking out an insane universe that happens to lie right next to ours," (King p.317). N. knows that without the formation of the stones at both Stonehenge and the field, the other universe would be allowed to come into the human world. The problem with the stones is that there has to be a specific number of them to keep the protection going strong, eight total (a good and even number, as far as OCD N. is concerned). When human eyes look at the field, there are only seven stones, and that's bad. Only a camera or anything else with a lens can restore the eighth stone. Even then, the stone is only replaced temporarily. The guardian of the field has to keep coming back to the field to restore the stone, because the eighth stone sometimes winks out of existence by pure will of the demons that are trying to get through.

"N." is comparable to stories like "The Ring" or "The Grudge", as they are all similar stories depicting an entity that infects, kills, and spreads. However, "N." is a much scarier story because of the monsters N. describes seeing in the field, and because of King's trademark in being able to manipulate such a simple setting (Ackerman's Field) into a horrifying one.


  1. Awesome write up Red! I love Lovecraftian tales of imminent dread!

  2. It's such a great short story. I hope they make it into a movie someday, preferably directed by the great Frank Darabont.