The Road Virus Heads North
|"The Road Virus Heads North"|
|Genre(s)||Horror, fantasy short story|
|Published in||999 (1st release),
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
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"The Road Virus Heads North" is a short story by Stephen King. The story first appeared in 999, an anthology published in 1999 and edited by Al Sarrantonio. In 2002, it was collected in King's Everything's Eventual.
King wove the story around a painting he has at his home, which is disliked by his family. King himself is a fan of "moving picture" stories, which inspired him to write this tale.
The story follows a successful horror writer named Richard Kinnell as he drives back from Boston to his home in Derry, Maine. Along the way, he comes across a yard sale, where he notices and is captivated by a bizarre painting of a sinister-looking man with filed teeth driving his car on Boston's Tobin Bridge. The painting, which is apparently titled "The Road Virus Heads North," was painted by a tortured genius who had burned all his other paintings prior to killing himself, leaving a cryptic note that he couldn't stand what was happening to him. Kinnell, a collector of such oddities, has no hesitation in buying the painting from the woman running the sale.
As Kinnell travels north, he stops at his aunt's house to show her the painting... and notices that some of the details in the painting have changed. At first he dismisses this by assuming he hadn't examined it closely, but he soon realizes that the painting is continuing to change. Deeply unsettled by this fact, he discards the painting at a rest stop.
When he arrives at his home, he finds to his horror that the painting has somehow followed him, and hangs from his wall. It has changed again, this time depicting a bloody aftermath at the yard sale where he had purchased it. He hears on the news that the woman running the yard sale was brutally murdered. He realizes that the man in the painting somehow really exists, and the ever-changing painting shows him getting closer and closer to his home. Kinnell lights a fire in the fireplace, and tosses in the painting. Confident this will destroy it once and for all, he decides to take a shower, where he passes out and has a nightmare about the various things he's encountered that day.
When he awakens, he realizes that the artist who created The Road Virus burned all his paintings, including this one, which means that the painting survived his attempt to burn it, and the man in the painting has arrived and is walking through the house. Kinnell tries to escape, but ultimately fails, and the painting gets him as well; the book's final passage describes Kinnell seeing the latest change to the painting, with fresh blood on the driver's seat of the car, and realizes the painting is showing what is about to happen to him.