Pet Sematary  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Pet Sematary (1983) is a horror novel by Stephen King, with a similar storyline to The Monkey's Paw.


Louis Creed, a doctor from Chicago, is appointed director of the University of Maine's campus health service. He moves to a large house near the small town of Ludlow with his wife Rachel, their two young children, Ellie and Gage, and Ellie's cat, Winston Churchill (Church for short). From the moment they arrive, the family runs into misfortune: Ellie hurts her knee after falling off of a tire swing, and Gage is stung by a bee. Fortunately their new neighbor, an elderly man named Jud Crandall, comes to help. He warns Louis and Rachel about the highway that runs past their house; it is constantly used by big trucks from a nearby chemical processing plant.

Jud and Louis quickly become close friends. Since Louis's father died when he was three, his relationship with Jud takes on a father-son dimension. A few weeks after the Creeds move in, Jud puts the friendship on the line when he takes the family on a walk in the woods behind their home. A well-tended path leads to a pet cemetery (misspelled "sematary") where the children of the town bury their deceased animals. This provokes a heated argument between Louis and Rachel the next day. Rachel disapproves of discussing death and she worries about how Ellie may be affected by what she saw at the "sematary". (It is explained later that Rachel was traumatised by the early death of her sister, Zelda, from spinal meningitis).

Louis himself has a traumatic experience during the first week of classes when Victor Pascow, a student who has been fatally injured by being hit by an automobile, addresses his dying words to Louis personally, even though the two men have never met. On the night following Pascow's death, Louis experiences what he believes is a very vivid, very real dream in which he meets Pascow, who leads him to the "sematary" and refers specifically to the "deadfall," a dangerous pile of fallen-over trees that form a barrier at the back of the "sematary". Pascow warns Louis not to "go beyond, no matter how much you feel you need to." Louis wakes up in bed the next morning convinced it was only a dream, until he discovers his feet and the bedsheets covered with dirt and pine needles. Louis still dismisses the dream as the product of the stress he experienced during Pascow's death, coupled with his wife's lingering anxieties about the subject of death. He thinks of the pine needles and dirt getting there as sleepwalking.

Louis is forced to confront the subject of death at Halloween, when Jud's wife, Norma, suffers a near-fatal heart attack. Thanks to Louis's immediate attention, Norma makes a quick recovery. Jud is grateful for Louis's help and decides to repay him after the Creeds' cat Church is run over outside his home at Thanksgiving. Rachel and the kids are visiting Rachel's parents in Chicago, but Louis frets over breaking the bad news to Ellie. Sympathizing with Louis, Jud takes him to the pet "sematary", supposedly to bury Church. Instead of stopping there, Jud leads Louis farther on a frightening journey past the deadfall at the rear of the Pet Sematary to "the real cemetery": an ancient burial ground that was once used by the local Micmac Native Americans. Louis buries the cat on Jud's instruction.

Not really believing, Louis thinks that the subject is finished until the next afternoon, when the cat returns home. However, it is obvious that Church is not the same as before. While he used to be vibrant and lively, he now acts ornery and "a little dead", in Louis's words. Church instinctively hunts for mice and birds much more often, but he rips them apart without eating them. The cat also smells so bad that Ellie no longer wants him in her room at night. Jud confirms that this condition is the rule, rather than the exception, for animals who have been resurrected in this fashion. Louis is deeply disturbed by Church's resurrection and begins to wish that he had never done it.

Tragically, Gage is run over by one of the speeding trucks several months later. Overcome with despair, Louis considers bringing his son back to life with the power of the burial ground. Jud, guessing what Louis is planning, attempts to dissuade him by telling him the horrifying story of Timmy Baterman, a young man from Ludlow who was killed in World War II. After his body was sent back to Maine, his father, Bill, put Timmy's body in the pet sematary, where he came back to life, soon being seen by the terrified townsfolk. Jud and three of his friends went to the Baterman house to confront the pair, but "Timmy" confronted each of the men with indiscretions they committed. They left, and Bill soon shot his son and burned his house to the ground, killing himself. To this, Jud alludes that "sometimes, dead is better." Jud concludes that "the place has a power" and that this power caused Gage's death because Jud introduced Louis to it. There are hints that the burial ground was reserved by the Micmac Indians for victims of cannibalism, and that the ground behind the pet cemetery has become the haunt of the Wendigo, a terrible and fascinating creature of the forest, spawning, among other things, cannibalism.

Despite this, and his own reservations about his idea, Louis's grief and guilt spur him to carry out his plan. Louis has Rachel and Ellie visit Chicago once more to visit her parents, not telling them about his true intentions. Louis digs up his son's grave and steals his body (nearly being discovered by the police patrolling the streets around the cemetery) and hikes to the burial site. Along the trail, the Wendigo monster of the forest nearly frightens him away, but Louis's own determination keeps him moving.

Meanwhile, Ellie has a terrifying dream featuring Victor Pascow on the flight to Chicago. Because of this, and an agreement between Rachel and her daughter as to Louis' behavior before they left, Rachel decides to fly back to Maine. She is forced to drive a part of the way after she misses a connecting flight in Boston. Along the way, Rachel contacts Jud Crandall, who agrees that something terrible is happening concerning Louis, but that he feels he can take care of it. He also instructs Rachel to come to his house the following morning after laying-over for the night.

Louis buries Gage at the burial ground, but his child returns from the dead as a monstrous, demonic shadow of his former self, able to talk like an adult. He first breaks into Jud's house taunts Jud about his wife's implied infidelity, then kills Jud with one of Louis's surgical scalpels. When Rachel arrives at Jud's house, Gage kills her also (and, it is implied, partially eats her corpse). Louis confronts his son and kills him again with a lethal injection of morphine from his medical supply stock before "seeing the face of his son, his real son, in pain." Gage's last word to Louis is "Daddy!"

Soon after, Louis burns down Jud Crandall's house. A colleague of Louis', Steve Masterton, arrives at the scene and discovers Louis, wizened to an old age and carrying Rachel's body. He has apparently failed to learn from his mistakes and plans to bury Rachel at the burial ground, saying that he "waited too long" with Gage but is confident that Rachel will come back same as before. Steve hears the loud chuckle of the Wendigo, and, frightened, flees. That night, Louis is playing solitaire when he feels a cold hand fall upon his shoulder and hears the voice of Rachel cooing (though sounding gravelly and hideous), "Darling...".

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