“Cross the tracks and you’ll be at the intersection of Main and Lisbon. After that, buddy, the world is yours.”

Indeed. And this is why I’m all over downtown Lisbon Falls, wandering in the late-day shadow of the old Worumbo mill.

I try this door and then that one. I measure the distance between Worumbo and the smaller buildings across the street. It should be right here. Or possibly over there, next to the bank.

Somewhere amid this cluster of storefronts, beneath the old mill building that looms like a bully, I should find a time machine that exists in the pantry of a diner. I know it’s here because I’ve been reading Stephen King’s newest novel “11/22/63” and so many things from the book have already proven to exist in the real world.

Like the Kennebec Fruit Company, known locally as The Moxie Store. Like Frank Anicetti, the store proprietor who sits on a bar stool waiting for a friend – or more recently, strangers – to come by.

About a week ago, Frank Anicetti became unequivocally the coolest person I know. Not because of the stories he tells or the Moxie memorabilia he sells at his store, but because he appears – as himself, mind you – in King’s latest novel.

“The proprietor of the Fruit Company,” King writes at the start of the book, “an elderly sweet-natured man named Frank Anicetti, had once told me the world’s population divided naturally (and probably by genetic inheritance) into two groups: the tiny but blessed elect who prized Moxie above all other potables . . . and everybody else.”

I found Frank Anicetti and discovered him to be all of those things. And if he is real, then maybe the time machine is, too. And so I find myself once more prowling the landscape of a Stephen King novel in search of that weird place where fiction and the real world blend so beautifully.

Like the time I found myself with a compass, a map and a wooden stake out in the woods of Cumberland (or possibly Yarmouth) in search of the real ‘Salem’s Lot.

Like the time I spent an entire afternoon at the Food City in Bridgton, never buying a single thing, because this was the main setting for King’s crawly novella “The Mist.”

Like the time I ended up in a crack house while trying to pin down a place mentioned in the television mini-series “Storm of the Century” (which is actually set on an island off Machias).

“Fellow’s in one of those walk-ups on Canal Street, right behind Lisbon,” the menacing (yet charming) Andre Linoge says to an islander in the screenplay. “He lies in bed late at night and listens to the cars on Lisbon Street and the live bands from the bottle clubs, the ones that can play anything as long as it’s ‘Louie Louie’ or ‘Hang On Sloopy,’ and he prays to St. Andrew to bring back the sight in his left eye.”

If you live in Maine – particularly in Lewiston, Durham, Lisbon Falls or Bangor – you are constantly moving across the landscape of King’s bad dreams.

This time, it’s “11/22/63,” the story of Lisbon Falls English teacher Jake Epping, who steps into that diner pantry and finds himself in 1963.

That diner, of course, “was housed in a silver trailer across the tracks from Main Street, in the shadow of the old Worumbo mill.”

Which is why I’m here making a nuisance of myself while the good people of Lisbon Falls are trying to go about their business.

King ‘did a good job.’ — Anicetti

Nobody – not even King, who grew up across the bridge in Durham – knows this part of Lisbon Falls like Frank Anicetti, who had no idea that he was about to be immortalized by Maine’s most celebrated resident. A Moxie drinker in New Hampshire read an excerpt from the new book in Entertainment Weekly. He called Anicetti at once.

“He said, ‘Did you know you’re in this book?'” Anicetti recalls. “I said, ‘You’re kidding me.'”

Nope. Not kidding. And to get his hands on his own copy of Entertainment Weekly, Anicetti had to go to – where else? – Lewiston, where he found one at Lisbon Street News.

“He did a good job,” Anicetti says of King’s descriptions of the Moxie man. “He took a little literary license, but he did pretty good. With me and with the whole town.”

Anicetti was a little stunned by his appearance in a King work, but it wasn’t a completely foreign idea. He knew King back when he was just Steve, an odd, imaginative kid who went to Lisbon High School.

“There were many days when he’d come in and wait for his ride after school,” Anicetti says. “He was a good kid. A little weird, you might say.”

From where Anicetti sits, there is a good view of the slice of Maine that might as well be called Stephen King Land. How about “Carrie,” King’s first published novel set in the town of Chamberlain, Maine? Chamberlain bears a striking resemblance to Lisbon Falls or Durham and so do the characters that populate the tale, including Carrie the outcast (based on a girl King rode to school with) and her insanely devout mother.

“I doubled over laughing at that one,” Anicetti says. “Because of all those stereotypes. I knew all of those people.”

King moved to Durham as an 11-year-old in 1958, living in a small, two-story house near Methodist Corner. The nearby Shiloh Church may have been the inspiration for The Marsten House, the epicenter of evil in “‘Salem’s Lot.” There’s little doubt that the woods, railroad tracks and even the local junkyard influenced King when he wrote “The Body,” which later became the film “Stand by Me.”

“Although most people in Durham looked around and saw only its rural plainness,” George Beahm writes in his book “Stephen King Country,” “King felt its seasonal rhythms, its slow pulse, and captured it all in his fiction.”

Lewiston’s ‘charms

If Durham was Maine’s quintessential small town that would become King’s main milieu, Lewiston was its ghetto, a place of knife fights and honky-tonks and all varieties of shadowy figure. In his fiction, King comes to Lewiston often. Which is surprising because it’s so damn hard to get here. At least according to Pop Merrill, who, in the short story “The Sun Dog” “. . . took himself up to Lewiston, a city he hated because it seemed to him that there were only two streets in the whole town (maybe three) that weren’t one-ways.”

Lewiston has small parts in a lot of King’s work. Interestingly, though, not a lot of it is actually happening here, in spite of what the Chamber of Commerce tells us. When Lewiston is mentioned, it’s often because someone is from there. Or is going there. Or had a bad experience there.

“It seems mostly as though King uses Lewiston as an existing frame of reference for his characters’ travel and lives,” says Michelle Souliere, owner of “The Green Hand” bookstore in Portland and Strange Maine blog.

Souliere sees this as an odd thing. Lewiston, as it exists in the real world, is a city that needs no embellishment. Not even King-style.

“Why ‘make up’ Lewiston?” she wonders. “In parts, it seems fictional as is!”

In fairness to King, he isn’t making it all up. Sometimes, he’s only blending.

Fetch a cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts on Main Street and you overlook the mammoth hospital across the street. It’s real, all right — a massive complex of brick and concrete. But is that Central Maine Medical Center, where you had your tonsils out as a kid? Or is it Kingdom Hospital, the troubled medical facility constructed on the site of a Civil War-era mill?

One thing we know is that the hospital is in Lewiston. In the television miniseries “Kingdom Hospital,” King makes no bones about that. It wasn’t Derry or Castle Rock, two of his favorite fictional towns. It was Lewiston, one half of Maine’s Twin Cities. Fictional cops who appeared in the 13-episode series wore authentic LPD patches on their shoulders. Police Chief Michael Bussiere knows this for sure because it was his department who granted permission to King’s people to use the patches.

In “Ride the Bullet,” a King novella, UMO student Alan Parker hitchhikes to that very same hospital to visit his mother who has suffered a stroke.

Though Kingdom Hospital was a make-believe place, it was based on the real building that looms over all of us, a building in which King himself once lie aching and bleeding after he was hit by a van in Lovell.

Inspired by the Ritz

So, we’re leaving CMMC. We don’t have to go far, though, to find more of King’s oversized footsteps. A short drive down Main Street and a left onto Park will take you to Maple Street, former site of the Ritz Theater. As a kid, King used to hitchhike to Lewiston to catch sci-fi flicks at the Ritz. According to some biographies, King was so tall, the ticket clerks tried to charge him as an adult. King got around that by carrying his birth certificate whenever he went to the movies.

When he went to the Ritz, King wasn’t looking for the glossy movies, the kinds that win awards. His tastes tended toward horror, sci-fi and, as the author himself puts in “On Writing,” “movies about teenage gangs on the prowl, movies about losers on motorcycles . . .

“The place to get all of this was not at the Empire, on the upper end of Lisbon Street, but at the Ritz, down at the lower end, amid the pawnshops and not far from Louie’s Clothing, where in 1964 I bought my first pair of Beatle boots. The distance from my house to the Ritz was fourteen miles, and I hitchhiked there almost every weekend during the eight years between 1958 and 1966, when I first got my driver’s license.”

It was at the Ritz that King first saw gems like “I Married a Monster from Outer Space” and “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.”

When I first came to Lewiston, I was told about King’s fondness for that theater on the bad end of town. And since I was after anything that inspired King, I got myself right down there. But what I found wasn’t a movie theater with gaudy posters on the walls.

“I found a playhouse, and the only thing nearby called The Ritz was a bar. And a seedy one at that.”

King, like so many others, seems unwilling to let go of Lewiston’s reputation as a shabby, hardscrabble place. It drives the mayors and city administrators nuts, but for an author? Gold.

“Lewiston is seldom famous,” police Chief Bussiere observes, “but almost always infamous. And that makes a good backdrop for fiction.”

Sure it does. And King can’t resist its shabby charms.

Consider: The Maine Turnpike is 305-miles long, running from the New Hampshire border at Kittery way up to Houlton in Aroostook County. King could have chosen any spot along that highway for his new Kindle book venture. Just about all of I-95 is a little bit spooky at night, after all. But where did King place this newish story about a man-eating station wagon?

Behold “Mile 81,” an e-book set in a weed-choked lot that used to be a Burger King and gasoline rest stop between Lewiston and Sabattus.

In “Bag of Bones,” a sort of romantic horror story that takes place near the fictional Dark Score Lake (where Jessie Burlingame found herself handcuffed to a bed in “Gerald’s Game”) the main character correctly guesses that a lawyer named Romeo Bissonette is from Lewiston. Why?

“Because in Maine, especially around Lewiston, that can be a real name.”

As a reader, I get a peculiar chill when I come across a line like that in one of King’s novels. Here I am, a reporter at the Lewiston Sun Journal, walking streets the big man has obviously studied and pondered at length. Imagine, then, how I feel when I read “The Dead Zone” for the 10th or 11th time.

The 1979 novel is set mostly around Bangor, although it weaves its way through our area eventually to hunt for a serial killer. But roughly a third of the way through, a reporter gets a jolt when he witnesses up close and very personal the psychic abilities of Johnny Smith, who has recently awakened from a coma.

“Mr. Smith,” the nosy newsman says at the start of the scene, “my name is Roger Dussault from the Lewiston Sun . . .”

Something familiar about Castle Rock?

If King is clinging to the old idea of Lewiston as a rough and tumble place, maybe it’s because he never lived here. But he did live in Bridgton – at RFD#2, Kansas Road, to be exact. It was the first house he owned, according to Beahm, a ranch that stood quite close to Long Lake. Its an area memorable to horror fans as the backdrop to “The Mist,” in which the aftermath of a freak storm finds a group of people stranded in Federal Foods Supermarket as a mist crawling with terrors sweeps across the town.

The supermarket — owners later changed the name to Food City — is near the corner of Main Street and Route 302. You can go in there any time during business hours and try to re-enact the horrors of that novella (also a movie), but I should warn you that you’ll probably get kicked out.

There really isn’t much of Maine that King has left unsullied. Castle Rock, where King does some of his greatest damage, may as well be all of Lisbon, Lewiston, Auburn, Sabattus and Mechanic Falls, for instance. Most of the tales set in the fictional town put it at roughly 37 miles north – slightly west or east, depending on the tale – of Portland.

Some of the locations are ambiguous – where exactly is Joe Camber’s garage anyway? The one with the crazy St. Bernard? (“Cujo.”) Other times, you can stick a pin in the map and say “this is where it happened.”

There’s a classic scene in “The Body” (or “Stand by Me” if you’re more of a film fan) where the four boys suffer a harrowing brush with pond leeches during their trek to see a corpse. Those leeches, according to Beahm, and that pond are entirely real. King, Beahm says in his book, drew on his own experience with leeches at Runaround Pond in Durham.

In “The Body,” Castle Rock feels a lot like Durham, Pownal and Lisbon Falls. Just ask Frank Anicetti back at the Moxie store.

“I laughed at that one, too,” he says. “Those kids? The guy in the bib overalls at the junkyard? I knew all of them.”

Anicetti is enjoying a little bit of fame after the release of “11/22/63.” As he puts it: “I’m not making any money, but I’m having a lot of fun.”

The bitter, terrible irony of all of this is that Anicetti himself is not a Stephen King fan. Not like the rest of us, anyway. He did read the new novel, though, and found that he liked it quite a lot.

“I would have had it finished in two weeks,” he says, “if the library hadn’t called to tell me there was a new James Patterson book out.”

Or maybe that’s just talk – a big talker is Frank Anicetti. And anyway, he says, King doesn’t mind a bit of ribbing or criticism. Why would he? He’s among the most successful novelists the reading world has ever known. With 350 million books sold to date, King is the extreme version of local-boy-makes-good.

It’s fine if Frank Anicetti doesn’t hang on his every word the way most of us do.

“I’ve told him all of this before,” Anicetti says. “And it’s OK because, you know what? Stephen King doesn’t like Moxie.”

Read all about it

Reading recommendations from Michelle Souliere of Strange Maine.

“Stephen King is an ace at using settings, especially those in Maine, to add atmosphere to his books. This is a stand-out quality of his fiction, causing at least two books to be written about the effect: “Landscape of Fear: Stephen King’s American Gothic” by Tony Magistrale (very good, by the way) and “Stephen King Country: The Illustrated Guide to the Sites and Sights That Inspired the Modern Master of Horror” by George Beahm.”

‘Bag of Bones’ airs tonight

Stephen King’s novel “Bag of Bones,” set in western Maine and published in 1998, will premiere as a two-episode miniseries on A&E tonight, Sunday, Dec. 11, at 9 p.m.

The four-hour event, “Bag of Bones: Beware the Lake,” starring Pierce Brosnan, depicts the struggle of best-selling author Mike Noonan as he mourns the sudden death of his wife after moving into their summer cottage on the shores of fictional Dark Score Lake.

Other cast members include Melissa George, Annabeth Gish, Anika Noni Rose, William Schallert, Jason Priestly and Caitlin Carmichael. For more information, including trailer clips, go to www.aetv.com/bag-of-bones/

Facebook comments