by Stephen King
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, Church. From the moment they arrive, the family runs into trouble: Ellie hurts her knee, and Gage is stung by a bee. 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, which is frequented by speeding trucks.
Jud and Louis quickly become close friends. Since Louis's father died when he was three, he sees Jud as a surrogate father. A few weeks after the Creeds move in, Jud takes the family on a walk in the woods behind their home. A well-tended path leads to a pet cemetery (misspelled "sematary" on the sign) where the children of the town bury their deceased animals. The outing 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 traumatized by the early death of her sister, Zelda, from spinal meningitis—an issue that is brought up several times in flashbacks. Louis empathizes with his wife and blames her parents for her trauma, who left Rachel at home alone with her sister when she died.
Louis himself has a traumatic experience during the first week of classes. Victor Pascow, a student who has been fatally injured in an automobile accident, addresses his dying words to Louis personally, even though the two men are strangers. On the night following Pascow's death, Louis experiences what he believes is a very vivid dream in which he meets Pascow, who leads him to the deadfall at the back of the "sematary" and warns him to not go beyond there. Louis wakes up in bed the next morning, convinced it was, in fact, a dream—until he finds his feet and bedsheets covered with dried mud and pine needles. Nevertheless, Louis 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.
On Halloween, Jud's wife Norma suffers a near-fatal heart attack but makes a quick recovery thanks to Louis's help. Jud is grateful and decides to repay Louis after Church is run over outside his home around 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 "sematary," supposedly to bury Church. But instead of stopping there, Jud leads Louis farther on to "the real cemetery:" an ancient burial ground that was once used by the resurrected and that Jud himself once buried his dog there when he was younger. Louis, deeply disturbed, begins to wish that he hadn't buried Church there.
Several months later, two-year-old Gage is killed by a speeding truck. Overcome with despair, Louis considers bringing his son back to life with the help of the burial ground. Jud, guessing what Louis is planning, attempts to dissuade him by telling him the story of Timmy Baterman, the last person who was resurrected by the burial ground. Timmy Baterman was killed in action during World War II. Timmy's body was shipped back to the United States, and his father Bill buried Timmy in the burial ground. Timmy returned malevolent, terrorizing the people of the town with secrets that Jud asserts he had no earthly way of knowing. Timmy was stopped by his father, Bill, who killed Timmy and set their house on fire before shooting himself. Jud states that he believes that whatever came back was not Timmy, but a "demon" that had possessed his corpse. He concludes that "sometimes, dead is better" and states that "the place has a power... its own evil purpose," and that it may have caused Gage's death because Jud introduced Louis to it.
Despite Jud's warning and his own reservations about the idea, Louis's grief and guilt spur him to carry out his plan. Louis exhumes Gage's body from his grave and inters him in the burial ground. Gage is resurrected, entirely different from when he was alive. Now malicious in both his words and actions, he finds one of Louis's scalpels and kills both Jud and Rachel. Louis kills both Church and Gage with lethal injections of chemicals from his medical supply stock.
After burning the Crandall house down, Louis returns to the burial ground with his wife's corpse, thinking that if he buries the body faster than he did Gage's, there will be a different result. Following all of these tragic events, Louis has also aged in physical appearance, with white hair and wrinkles. One of his colleagues, Steve Masterton, notices him walking into the woods with Rachel's body. Steve, while fearful and concerned, is influenced by the power of the burial ground too, and even considers helping Louis bury Rachel, but he flees in terror and eventually moves away to St. Louis. Later, Louis sits indoors alone, playing solitaire, and Rachel's reanimated corpse walks up behind him and drops a cold hand on his shoulder, while her voice rasps, "Darling."