Read an Excerpt
FIRST, THE NEWS
From the East Oregonian, June 25th, 1947
FIRE CONTROL OFFICER SPOTS
Kenneth Arnold Reports 9 Disc-Shaped Objects
"Shiny, Silvery, Moved Incredibly Fast"
From the Roswell (N.M.) Daily Record, July 8th, 1947
AIR FORCE CAPTURES "FLYING SAUCER"
ON RANCH IN ROSWELL REGION
Intelligence Officers Recover Crashed Disc
From the Roswell (N.M.) Daily Record, July 9th, 1947
AIR FORCE DECLARES "SAUCER"
From the Chicago Daily Tribune, August 1st, 1947
USAF SAYS "CANNOT EXPLAIN"
850 Additional Sightings Since
From the Roswell (N.M.) Daily Record, October 19th, 1947
SO-CALLED SPACE WHEAT A HOAX,
ANGRY FARMER DECLARES
Andrew Hoxon Denies "Saucer Connection"
Red-Tinged Wheat "Nothing but a Prank," He Insists
From the (Ky.) Courier Journal, January 8th, 1948
AIR FORCE CAPTAIN KILLED CHASING UFO
Mantell's Final Transmission:
"Metallic, Tremendous in Size"
Air Force Mum
From the Brazilian Nacional, March 8th, 1957
STRANGE RINGED CRAFT CRASHES
IN MATO GROSSO!
2 WOMEN MENACED NEAR PONTO PORAN!
"We Heard Squealing Sounds from Within,"
From the Brazilian Nacional, March 12th, 1957
MATO GRASSO HORROR!
Reports of Gray Men with Huge Black Eyes
Scientists Scoff! Reports Persist!
VILLAGES IN TERROR!
From the Oklahoman, May 12th, 1965
STATE POLICEMAN FIRES AT UFO
Claims Saucer Was 40 Feet Above Highway 9
Tinker AFB Radar Confirms Sightings
From the Oklahoman, June 2nd, 1965
"ALIEN GROWTH" A HOAX,
FARM BUREAU REP DECLARES
"Red Weeds" Said to Be Work
of Spray-Gun, Teenagers
From the Portland (Me.) Press-Herald, September 14th, 1965
NEW HAMPSHIRE UFO SIGHTINGS MOUNT
Most Sightings in Exeter Area
Some Residents Express Fear of Alien Invasion
From the Manchester (N.H.) Union-Leader, September 19th, 1965
ENORMOUS OBJECT SIGHTED NEAR EXETER
WAS OPTICAL ILLUSION
Air Force Investigators Refute State Police Sighting
Officer Cleland Adamant: "I Know What I Saw"
From the Manchester (N.H.) Union-Leader, September 30th, 1965
FOOD POISONING EPIDEMIC IN PLAISTOW
Over 300 Affected, Most Recovering
FDA Officer Says May Have Been
From the Michigan Journal, October 9th, 1965
GERALD FORD CALLS
FOR UFO INVESTIGATION
Republican House Leader Says "Michigan Lights"
May Be Extraterrestrial in Origin
From the Los Angeles Times, November 19th, 1978
CALTECH SCIENTISTS REPORT SIGHTING
HUGE DISC-SHAPED OBJECT IN MOJAVE
Tickman: "Was Surrounded by Small Bright Lights"
Morales: "Saw Red Growth Like Angel Hair"
From the Los Angeles Times, November 24th, 1978
STATE POLICE, USAF INVESTIGATORS FIND
NO "ANGEL HAIR" AT MOJAVE SITE
Tickman and Morales Take, Pass, Lie Tests
Possibility of Hoax Discounted
From the New York Times, August 16th, 1980
"ALIEN ABDUCTEES" REMAIN CONVINCED
Psychologists Question Drawings of So-Called Gray Men
From the Wall Street Journal, February 9th, 1985
CARL SAGAN: "NO, WE ARE NOT ALONE"
Prominent Scientist Reaffirms Belief in ETs
Says, "Odds of Intelligent Life Are Enormous"
From the Phoenix Sun, March 14th, 1997
HUGE UFO SIGHTED NEAR PRESCOTT
DOZENS DESCRIBE "BOOMERANG-SHAPED" OBJECT
Switchboard at Luke AFB Deluged with Reports
From the Phoenix Sun, March 20th, 1997
"PHOENIX LIGHTS" REMAIN UNEXPLAINED
Photos Not Doctored, Expert Says
Air Force Investigators Mum
From the Paulden (Ariz.) Weekly, April 9th, 1997
FOOD POISONING OUTBREAK UNEXPLAINED
REPORTS OF "RED GRASS" DISCOUNTED AS HOAX
From the Derry (Me.) Daily News, May 15th, 2000
MYSTERY LIGHTS ONCE AGAIN REPORTED
IN JEFFERSON TRACT
Kineo Town Manager: "I Don't Know What They Are,
but They Keep Coming Back"
Copyright © 2001 by Stephen King
1993: Pete Helps a Lady in Distress
Pete sits behind his desk just off the showroom of Macdonald Motors in Bridgton, twirling his keychain. The fob consists of four enameled blue letters: NASA.
Dreams age faster than dreamers, that is a fact of life Pete has discovered as the years pass. Yet the last ones often die surprisingly hard, screaming in low, miserable voices at the back of the brain. It's been a long time since Pete slept in a bedroom papered with pictures of Apollo and Saturn rockets and astronauts and space-walks (EVAs, to those in the know) and space capsules with their shields smoked and fused by the fabulous heat of re-entry and LEMs and Voyagers and one photograph of a shiny disc over Interstate 80, people standing in the breakdown lane and looking up with their hands shielding their eyes, the photo's caption reading THIS OBJECT, PHOTOGRAPHED NEAR ARVADA, COLORADO, IN 1971, HAS NEVER BEEN EXPLAINED. IT IS A GENUINE UFO.
A long time.
Yet he still spent one of his two weeks of vacation this year in Washington, D.C., where he went to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum every day and spent nearly all of his time wandering among the displays with a wondering grin on his face. And most of that time he spent looking at the moon rocks and thinking, Those rocks came from a place where the skies are always black and the silence is everlasting. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took twenty kilograms of another world and now here it is.
And here he is, sitting behind his desk on a day when he hasn't sold a single car (people don't like to buy cars when it's raining, and it has been drizzling in Pete's part of the world ever since first light), twirling his NASA keychain and looking up at the clock. Time moves slowly in the afternoons, ever more slowly as the hour of five approaches. At five it will be time for that first beer. Not before five; no way. You drank during the day, maybe you had to look at how much you were drinking, because that's what alcoholics did. But if you could wait...just twirl your keychain and wait...
As well as that first beer of the day, Pete is waiting for November. Going to Washington in April had been good, and the moon rocks had been stunning (they still stun him, every time he thinks about them), but he had been alone. Being alone wasn't so good. In November, when he takes his other week, he'll be with Henry and Jonesy and the Beav. Then he'll allow himself to drink during the day. When you're off in the woods, hunting with your friends, it's all right to drink during the day. It's practically a tradition. It
The door opens and a good-looking brunette comes in. About five-ten (and Pete likes them tall), maybe thirty. She glances around at the showroom models (the new Thunderbird, in dark burgundy, is the pick of the litter, although the Explorer isn't bad), but not as if she has any interest in buying. Then she spots Pete and walks toward him.
Pete gets up, dropping his NASA keychain on his desk-blotter, and meets her at the door of his office. He's wearing his best professional smile by now two hundred watts, baby, you better believe it and has his hand outstretched. Her grip Is cool and firm, but she's distracted, upset.
"This probably isn't going to work," she says.
"Now, you never want to start that way with a car salesman," Pete says. "We love a challenge. I'm Pete Moore."
"Hello," she says, but doesn't give her name, which is Trish. "I have an appointment in Fryeburg in just" she glances at the clock which Pete watches so closely during the slow afternoon hours "in just forty-five minutes. It's with a client who wants to buy a house, and I think I have the right one, there's a sizeable commission involved, and..." Her eyes are now brimming with tears and she has to swallow to get rid of the thickness creeping into her voice. "...and I've lost my goddam keys! My goddam car keys!"
She opens her purse and rummages in it.
"But I have my registration...plus some other papers...there are all sorts of numbers, and I thought maybe, just maybe, you could make me a new set and I could be on my way. This sale could make my year, Mr. " She has forgotten. He isn't offended. Moore is almost as common as Smith or Jones. Besides, she's upset. Losing your keys will do that. He's seen it a hundred times.
"Moore. But I answer just as well to Pete."
"Can you help me, Mr. Moore? Or is there someone in the service department who can?"
Old Johnny Damon's back there and he'd be happy to help her, but she wouldn't make her appointment in Fryeburg, that's for sure.
"We can get you new car keys, but it's liable to take at least twenty-four hours and maybe more like forty-eight," he says.
She looks at him from her brimming eyes, which are a velvety brown, and lets out a dismayed cry. "Damn it! Damn it!"
An odd thought comes to Pete then: she looks like a girl he knew a long time ago. Not well, they hadn't known her well, but well enough to save her life. Josie Rinkenhauer, her name had been.
"I knew it!" Trish says, no longer trying to keep that husky thickness out of her voice. "Oh boy, I just knew it!" She turns away from him, now beginning to cry in earnest.
Pete walks after her and takes her gently by the shoulder. "Wait, Trish. Wait just a minute."
That's a slip, saying her name when she hasn't given it to him, but she's too upset to realize they haven't been properly introduced, so it's okay.
"Where did you come from?" he asks. "I mean, you're not from Bridgton, are you?"
"No," she says. "Our office is in Westbrook. Dennison Real Estate. We're the ones with the lighthouse?"
Pete nods as if this means something to him.
"I came from there. Only I stopped at the Bridgton Pharmacy for some aspirin because I always get a headache before a big presentation...it's the stress, and oh boy, it's pounding like a hammer now..."
Pete nods sympathetically. He knows about headaches. Of course most of his are caused by beer rather than stress, but he knows about them, all right.
"I had some time to kill, so I also went into tile little store next to the pharmacy for a coffee...the caffeine, you know, when you have a headache the caffeine can help..."
Pete nods again. Henry's the headshrinker, but as Pete has told him more than once, you have to know a fair amount about how the human mind works in order to succeed at selling. Now he's pleased to see that his new friend is calming down a little. That's good. He has an idea he can help her, if she'll let him. He can feel that little click wanting to happen. He likes that little click. It's no big deal, it'll never make his fortune, but he likes it.
"And I also went across the street to Renny's. I bought a scarf...because of the rain, you know..." She touches her hair. "Then I went back to my car...and my son-of-a-damn-bitch keys were gone! I retraced my steps...went backward from Renny's to the store to the pharmacy, and they're not anywhere! And now I'm going to miss my appointment!"
Distress is creeping back into her voice. Her eyes go to the clock again. Creeping for him; racing for her. That's the difference between people, Pete reflects. One of them, anyway.
"Calm down," he says. "Calm down just a few seconds and listen to me. We're going to walk back to the drugstore, you and I, and look for your car keys."
"They're not there! I checked all the aisles, I looked on the shelf where I got the aspirin, I asked the girl at the counter "
"It won't hurt to check again," he says. He's walking her toward the door now, his hand pressed lightly against the small of her back, getting her to walk with him. He likes the smell of her perfume and he likes her hair even more, yes he does. And if it looks this pretty on a rainy day, how might it look when the sun is out?
"My appointment "
"You've still got forty minutes," he says. "With the summer tourists gone, it only takes twenty to drive up to Fryeburg. We'll take ten minutes to try and find your keys, and if we can't, I'll drive you myself."
She peers at him doubtfully.
He looks past her, into one of the other offices. "Dick!" he calls. "Hey, Dickie M.!"
Dick Macdonald looks up from a clutter of invoices.
"Tell this lady I'm safe to drive her up to Fryeburg, should it come to that. "
"Oh, he's safe enough, ma'am," Dick says. "Not a sex maniac or a fast driver. He'll just try to sell you a new car."
"I'm a tough sell," she says, smiling a little, "but I guess you're on."
"Cover my phone, would you, Dick?" Pete asks.
"Oh yeah, that'll be a hardship. Weather like this, I'll be beatin the customers off with a stick."
Pete and the brunette woman Trish go out, cross the alley, and walk the forty or so feet back to Main Street. The Bridgton Pharmacy is the second building on their left. The drizzle has thickened; now it's almost rain. The woman puts her new scarf up over her hair and glances at Pete, who's bare-headed. "You're getting all wet," she says.
"I'm from upstate," he says. "We grow em tough up there."
"You think you can find them, don't you?" she asks.
Pete shrugs. "Maybe. I'm good at finding things. Always have been."
"Do you know something I don't?" she asks.
No bounce, no play, he thinks. I know that much, ma'am.
"Nope," he says. "Not yet."
They walk into the pharmacy, and the bell over the door jingles. The girl behind the counter looks up from her magazine. At three-twenty on a rainy late-September afternoon, the pharmacy is deserted except for the three of them down here and Mr. Diller up behind the prescription counter.
"Hi, Pete," the counter-girl says.
"Yo, Cathy, how's it going?"
"Oh, you know slow." She looks at the brunette. "I'm sorry, ma'am, I checked around again, but I didn't find them."
"That's all right," Trish says with a wan smile. "This gentleman has agreed to give me a ride to my appointment."
"Well," Cathy says, "Pete's okay, but I don't think I'd go so far as to call him a gentleman."
"You want to watch what you say, darlin," Pete tells her with a grin. "There's a Rexall just down 302 in Naples." Then he glances up at the clock. Time has sped up for him, too. That's okay, that makes a nice change.
Pete looks back at Trish. "You came here first. For the aspirin."
"That's right. I got a bottle of Anacin. Then I had some time to kill, so "
"I know, you got a coffee next door at Christie's, then went across to Renny's."
"You didn't take your aspirin with hot coffee, did you?"
"No, I had a bottle of Poland water in my car." She points out the window at a green Taurus. "I took them with some of that. But I checked the seat, too, Mr. Pete. I also checked the ignition." She gives him an impatient look which says, I know what you're thinking: daffy woman.
"Just one more question," he says. "If I find your car keys, would you go out to dinner with me? I could meet you at The West Wharf. It's on the road between here and "
"I know The West Wharf," she says, looking amused in spite of her distress. At the counter, Cathy isn't even pretending to read her magazine. This is better than Redbook, by far. "How do you know I'm not married, or something?"
"No wedding ring," he replies promptly, although he hasn't even looked at her hands yet, not closely, anyway. "Besides, I was just talking about fried clams, cole slaw, and strawberry shortcake, not a lifetime commitment."
She looks at the clock. "Pete...Mr. Moore...I'm afraid that at this minute I have absolutely no interest in flirting. If you want to give me a ride, I would be very happy to have dinner with you. But "
"That's good enough for me," he says. "But you'll be driving your own car, I think, so I'll meet you. Would five-thirty be okay?"
"Yes, fine, but "
"Okay." Pete feels happy. That's good; happy is good. A lot of days these last couple of years he hasn't felt within a holler of happy, and he doesn't know why. Too many late and soggy nights cruising the bars along 302 between here and North Conway? Okay, but is that all? Maybe not, but this isn't the time to think about it. The lady has an appointment to keep. If she keeps it and sells the house, who knows how lucky Pete Moore might get? And even if he doesn't get lucky, he's going to be able to help her. He feels it.
"I'm going to do something a little weird now," he says, "but don't let it worry you, okay? It's just a little trick, like putting your finger under your nose to stop a sneeze or thumping your forehead when you're trying to remember someone's name. Okay?"
"Sure, I guess," she says, totally mystified.
Pete closes his eyes, raises one loosely fisted hand in front of his face, then pops up his index finger. He begins to tick it back and forth in front of him.
Trish looks at Cathy, the counter-girl. Cathy shrugs as if to say Who knows?
"Mr. Moore?" Trish sounds uneasy now. "Mr. Moore, maybe I just ought to "
Pete opens his eyes, takes a deep breath, and drops his hand. He looks past her, to the door.
"Okay," he says. "So you came in. His eyes move as if watching her come in. "And you went to the counter..." His eyes go there. "You asked, probably, 'Which aisle's the aspirin in?' Something like that."
"Yes, I "
"Only you got something, too." He can see it on the candy-rack, a bright yellow mark something like a handprint. "Snickers bar?"
"Mounds." Her brown eyes are wide. "How did you know that?"
"You got the candy, then you went up to get the aspirin..." He's looking up Aisle 2 now. "After that you paid and went out...let's go outside a minute. Seeya, Cathy."
Cathy only nods, looking at him with wide eyes.
Pete walks outside, ignoring the tinkle of the bell, ignoring the rain, which now really is rain. The yellow is on the sidewalk, but fading. The rain's washing it away. Still, he can see it and it pleases him to see it. That feeling of click. Sweet. It's the line. It has been a long time since he's seen it so clearly.
"Back to your car," he says, talking to himself now. "Back to take a couple of your aspirin with your water..."
He crosses the sidewalk, slowly, to the Taurus. The woman walks behind him, eyes more worried than ever now. Almost frightened.
"You opened the door. You've got your purse...your keys...your aspirin...your candy...all this stuff...juggling it around from hand to hand...and that's when..."
He bends, fishes in the water flowing along the gutter, hand in it all the way up to the wrist, and brings something up. He gives it a magician's flourish. Keys flash silver in the dull day.
"...you dropped your keys."
She doesn't take them at first. She only gapes at him, as if he has performed an act of witchcraft (warlock-craft, in his case, maybe) before her eyes.
"Go on," he says, smile fading a little. "Take them. It wasn't anything too spooky, you know. Mostly just deduction. I'm good at stuff like that. Hey, you should have me in the car sometime when you're lost. I'm great at getting unlost."
She takes the keys, then. Quickly, being careful not to touch his fingers, and he knows right then that she isn't going to meet him later. It doesn't take any special gift to figure that; he only has to look in her eyes, which are more frightened than grateful.
"Thank...thank you," she says. All at once she's measuring the space between them, not wanting him to use too much of it up.
"Not a problem. Now don't forget. The West Wharf, at five-thirty. Best fried clams in this part of the state." Keeping up the fiction. You have to keep it up, sometimes, no matter how you feel. And although some of the joy has gone out of the afternoon, some is still there; he has seen the line, and that always makes him feel good. It's a minor trick, but it's nice to know it's still there.
"Five-thirty," she echoes, but as she opens her car door, the glance she throws back over her shoulder is the kind you'd give to a dog that might bite if it got off its leash. She is very glad she won't be riding up to Fryeburg with him. Pete doesn't need to be a mind-reader to know that, either.
He stands there in the rain, watching her back out of the slant parking space, and when she drives away he tosses her a cheerful car-salesman's wave. She gives him a distracted little flip of the fingers in return, and of course when he shows up at The West Wharf (at five-fifteen, just to be Johnny on the spot, just in case) she isn't there and an hour later she's still not there. He stays for quite awhile just the same, sitting at the bar and drinking beer, watching the traffic out on 302. He thinks he sees her go by without slowing at about five-forty, a green Taurus busting past in a rain which has now become heavy, a green Taurus that might or might not be pulling a light yellow nimbus behind it that fades at once in the graying air.
Same shit, different day, he thinks, but now the joy is gone and the sadness is back, the sadness that feels like something deserved, the price of some not-quite-forgotten betrayal. He lights a cigarette in the old days, as a kid, he used to pretend to smoke but now he doesn't have to pretend anymore and orders another beer.
Milt brings it, but says, "You ought to lay some food on top of that, Peter."
So Pete orders a plate of fried clams and even eats a few dipped in tartar sauce while he drinks another couple of beers, and at some point, before moving on up the line to some other joint where he isn't so well-known, he tries to call Jonesy, down there in Massachusetts. But Jonesy and Carla are enjoying the rare night out, he only gets the baby-sitter, who asks him if he wants to leave a message.
Pete almost says no, then reconsiders. "Just tell him Pete called. Tell him Pete said SSDD."
"S...S...D...D." She is writing it down. "Will he know what "
"Oh yeah," Pete says, "he'll know."
By midnight he's drunk in some New Hampshire dive, the Muddy Rudder or maybe it's the Ruddy Mother, he's trying to tell some chick who's as drunk as he is that once he really believed he was going to be the first man to set foot on Mars, and although she's nodding and saying yeah-yeah-yeah, he has an idea that all she understands is that she'd like to get outside of one more coffee brandy before closing. And that's okay. It doesn't matter. Tomorrow he'll wake up with a headache but he'll go in to work just the same and maybe he'll sell a car and maybe he won't but either way things will go on. Maybe he'll sell the burgundy Thunderbird, goodbye, sweetheart. Once things were different, but now they're the same. He reckons he can live with that; for a guy like him, the rule of thumb is just SSDD, and so fucking what. You grew up, became a man, had to adjust to taking less than you hoped for; you discovered the dream-machine had a big OUT OF ORDER sign on it.
In November he'll go hunting with his friends, and that's enough to look forward to...that, and maybe a big old sloppy-lipstick blowjob from this drunk chick out in his car. Wanting more is just a recipe for heartache.
Dreams are for kids.
Copyright © 2001 by Stephen King
from Chapter 6: Duddits, Part Two
When they get to the driveway not much of a driveway, weeds are growing even in the gravelly wheelruts now Beaver is in the lead. Beaver is, indeed, almost foaming at the jaws. Henry guesses that Pete is nearly as wrought-up, but Pete is holding it in better, even though he's a year younger. Beaver is...what's the word? Agog. Henry almost laughs at the aptness of it, and then the Beav stops so suddenly Pete almost runs into him.
"Hey!" Beaver says. "Fuck me Freddy! Some kid's shirt!"
It is indeed. Red and white, and not old and dirty, as if it had been there a thousand years. In fact, it looks almost new.
"Shirt, schmirt, who gives a shit?" Jonesy wants to know. "Let's just "
"Hold your horses," the Beav says. "This is a good shirt."
Except when he picks it up, they see that it isn't. New, yes a brandnew Derry Tigers shirt, with 19 on the back. Pete doesn't give a shit for football, but the rest of them recognize it as Richie Grenadeau's number. Good, no not anymore. It's ripped deeply at the back collar, as if the person wearing it had tried to run away, then been grabbed and hauled back.
"Guess I was wrong," the Beav says sadly, and drops it again. "Come on."
But before they get very far, they come across something else this time it's yellow instead of red, that bright yellow plastic only a kid could love. Henry trots ahead of the others and picks it up. It's a lunchbox with Scooby-Doo and his friends on it, all of them running from what appears to be a haunted house. Like the shirt it looks new, not anything that's been lying out here for any length of time, and all at once Henry is starting to have a bad feeling about this, starting to wish they hadn't detoured into this deserted driveway by this deserted building at all...or at least had saved it for another day. Which, even at fourteen, he realizes is stupid. When it comes to pussy, he thinks, you either go or you don't, there's no such thing as saving it for another day.
"I hate that fuckin show," Pete says, looking over Henry's shoulder at the lunchbox. "They never change their clothes, did you ever notice that? Wear the same fuckin thing, show in and show out,"
Jonesy takes the Scooby-Doo lunchbox from Henry and turns it to look at something he's seen pasted on the end. The wild look has gone out of Jonesy's eyes, he's frowning slightly, and Henry has an idea Jonesy is also wishing they'd just gone on and played some two-on-two.
The sticker on the side reads: I BELONG TO DOUGLAS CAVELL, 19 MAPLE LANE, DERRY, MAINE. IF THE BOY I BELONG TO IS LOST, CALL 949-1864. THANKS!
Henry opens his mouth to say the lunchbox and the shirt must belong to a kid who goes to The Retard Academy he's sure of it just looking at the sticker, which is almost like the tag their fucking dog wears but before he can, there is a scream from the far side of the building, over where the big kids play baseball in the summer. It's full of hurt, that scream, but what starts Henry running before he can even think about it is the surprise in it, the awful surprise of someone who has been hurt or scared (or both) for the very first time.
The others follow him. They run up the weedy right rut of the driveway, the one closest to the building, in single file: Henry, Jonesy, the Beav, and Pete.
There is hearty male laughter. "Go on and eat it," someone says. "Eat it and you can go. Duncan might even give you your pants back."
"Yeah, if you " Another boy, probably Duncan, begins and then he stops, staring at Henry and his friends.
"Hey you guys, quit it!" Beaver shouts. "Just fucking quit it!"
Duncan's friends there are two of them, both wearing Derry High School jackets realize they are no longer unobserved at their afternoon's entertainment, and turn. Kneeling on the gravel amid them, dressed only in underpants and one sneaker, his face smeared with blood and dirt and snot and tears, is a child of an age Henry cannot determine. He's not a little kid, not with that powdering of hair on his chest, but he has the look of a little kid just the same. His eyes have a Chinese tilt and are bright green, swimming with tears.
On the red brick wall behind this little group, printed in large white letters which are fading but still legible, is this message: NO BOUNCE, NO PLAY. Which probably means keep the games and the balls away from the building and out in the vacant lot where the deep ruts of the basepaths and the ragged hill of the pitcher's mound can still be seen, but who can say for sure? NO BOUNCE, NO PLAY. In the years to come they will say this often; it will become one of the private catch-phrases of their youth and has no exact meaning. Who knows? perhaps comes closest. Or What can you do? It is always best spoken with a shrug, a smile, and hands tipped up to the sky.
"Who the fuck're you?" one of the big boys asks the Beav. On his left hand he's wearing what looks like a batting glove or maybe a golf glove...something athletic, anyway. In it is the dried dog-turd he has been trying to make the mostly naked boy eat.
"What are you doing?" Jonesy asks, horrified, "You tryin to make him eat that? The fuck's wrong with you?"
The kid holding the dog-turd has a wide swatch of white tape across the bridge of his nose, and Henry utters a bark of recognition that is half surprise and half laughter. It's too perfect, isn't it? They're here to look at the pussy of the Homecoming Queen and here, by God, is the Homecoming King, whose football season has apparently been ended by nothing worse than a broken nose, and who is currently passing his time doing stuff like this while the rest of the team practices for this week's game.
Richie Grenadeau hasn't noticed Henry's look of recognition; he's staring at Jonesy. Because he has been startled and because Jonesy's tone of disgust is so completely unfeigned, Richie at first takes a step backward. Then he realizes that the kid who has dared to speak to him in such reproving tones is at least three years younger and a hundred pounds lighter than he is. The sagging hand straightens again.
"I'm gonna make him eat this piece of shit," he says. "Then he can go. You go now, snotball, unless you want half"
"Yeah, fuck off," the third boy says. Richie Grenadeau is big but this boy is even bigger, a six-foot-five hulk whose face flames with acne. "While you got the "
"I know who you are," Henry says.
Richie's eyes switch to Henry. He looks suddenly wary...but he also looks pissed off "Fuck off, sonny. I mean it."
"You're Richie Grenadeau. Your picture was in the paper. What do you think people will say if we tell em what we caught you doing?"
"You're not gonna tell anyone anything, because you'll be fuckin dead," the one named Duncan says. He has dirty-blond hair falling around his face and down to his shoulders. "Get outta here. Beat feet."
Henry pays no attention to him. He stares at Richie Grenadeau. He is aware of no fear, although there's no doubt these three boys could stomp them flat; he is burning with an outrage he has never felt before, never even suspected. The kid kneeling on the ground is undoubtedly retarded, but not so retarded he doesn't understand these three big boys intended to hurt him, tore off his shirt, and then
Henry has never in his life been closer to getting good and beaten up, or been less concerned with it. He takes a step forward, fists clenching. The kid on the ground sobs, head now lowered, and the sound is a constant tone in Henry's head, feeding his fury.
"I'll tell," he says, and although it is a little kid's threat, he doesn't sound like a little kid to himself. Nor to Richie, apparently; Richie takes a step backward and the gloved hand with the dried turd in it sags again. For the first time he looks alarmed. "Three against one, a little retarded kid, fuck yeah, man, I'll tell. I'll tell and I know who you are!"
Duncan and the big boy the only one not wearing a high-school jacket step up on either side of Richie. The boy in the underpants is behind them now, but Henry can still hear the pulsing drone of his sobs, it's in his head, beating in his head and driving him fucking crazy.
"All right, okay, that's it," the biggest boy says. He grins, showing several holes where teeth once lived. "You're gonna die now."
"Pete, you run when they come," Henry says, never taking his eyes from Richie Grenadeau. "Run home and tell your mother." And, to Richie: "You'll never catch him, either. He runs like the fucking wind."
Pete's voice sounds thin but not scared. "You got it, Henry."
"And the worse you beat us up, the worse it's gonna be for you," Jonesy says. Henry has already seen this, but for Jonesy it is a revelation; he's almost laughing. "Even if you really did kill us, what good would it do you? Because Pete does run fast, and he'll tell."
"I run fast, too," Richie says coldly. "I'll catch him."
Henry turns first to Jonesy and then to the Beav. Both of them are standing firm. Beaver, in fact, is doing a little more than that. He bends swiftly, picks up a couple of stones they are the size of eggs, only with jagged edges and begins to chunk them together. Beav's narrowed eyes shift back and forth between Richie Grenadeau and the biggest boy, the galoot. The toothpick in his mouth jitters aggressively up and down.
"When they come, go for Grenadeau," Henry says. "The other two can't even get close to Pete." He switches his gaze to Pete, who is pale but unafraid his eyes are shining and he is almost dancing on the balls of his feet, eager to be off "Tell your ma. Tell her where we are, to send the cops. And don't forget this bully motherfucker's name, whatever you do." He shoots a district attorney's accusing finger at Grenadeau, who once more looks uncertain. No, more than uncertain. He looks afraid.
"Richie Grenadeau," Pete says, and now he does begin to dance. "I won't forget."
"Come on, you dickweed," Beaver says. One thing about the Beav, he knows a really excellent rank when he hears it. "I'm gonna break your nose again. What kind of chickenshit quits off the football team cause of a broken nose, anyhow?"
Grenadeau doesn't reply no longer knows which of them to reply to, maybe and something rather wonderful is happening: the other boy in the high-school jacket, Duncan, has also started to look uncertain. A flush is spreading on his cheeks and across his forehead. He wets his lips and looks uncertainly at Richie. Only the galoot still looks ready to fight, and Henry almost hopes they will fight, Henry and Jonesy and the Beav will give them a hell of a scrap if they do, hell of a scrap, because of that crying, that fucking awful crying, the way it gets in your head, the beatbeat-beat of that awful crying.
"Hey Rich, maybe we ought to " Duncan begins.
"Kill em," the galoot rumbles. "Fuck em the fuck up."
This one takes a step forward and for a moment it almost goes down. Henry knows that if the galoot had been allowed to take even one more step he would have been out of Richie Grenadeau's control, like a mean old pitbull that breaks its leash and just goes flying at its prey, a meat arrow.
But Richie doesn't let him get that next step, the one which will turn into a clumsy charge. He grabs the galoot's forearm, which is thicker than Henry's bicep and bristling with reddish-gold hair. "No, Scotty," he says, "wait a minute."
"Yeah, wait," Duncan says, sounding almost panicky. He shoots Henry a look which Henry finds, even at the age of fourteen, grotesque. It Is a reproachful look. As if Henry and his friends were the ones doing something wrong.
"What do you want?" Richie asks Henry. "You want us to get out of here, that it?"
"If we go, what are you gonna do? Who are you going to tell?"
Henry discovers an amazing thing: he is as close to coming unglued as Scotty, the galoot. Part of him wants to actually provoke a fight, to scream EVERYBODY! FUCKING EVERYBODY! Knowing that his friends would back him up, would never say a word even if they got trashed and sent to the hospital.
But the kid. That poor little crying retarded kid. Once the big boys finished with Henry, Beaver, and Jonesy (with Pete as well, if they could catch him), they would finish with the retarded kid, too, and it would likely go a lot further than making him eat a piece of dried dog-turd.
"No one," he says. "We won't tell anyone."
"Fuckin liar," Scotty says. "He's a fuckin liar, Richie, lookit him."
Scotty starts forward again, but Richie tightens his grip on the big galoot's forearm.
"If no one gets hurt," Jonesy says in a blessedly reasonable tone of voice, "no one's got a story to tell."
Grenadeau glances at him, then back at Henry. "Swear to God?"
"Swear to God," Henry agrees.
"All of you swear to God?" Grenadeau asks.
Jonesy, Beav, and Pete all dutifully swear to God.
Grenadeau thinks about it for a moment that seems very long, and then he nods. "Okay, fuck this. We're going."
"If they come, run around the building the other way," Henry says to Pete, speaking very rapidly because the big boys are already in motion. But Grenadeau still has his hand clamped firmly on Scotty's forearm, and Henry thinks this is a good sign.
"I wouldn't waste my time," Richie Grenadeau says in a lofty tone of voice that makes Henry feel like laughing...but with an effort he manages to keep a straight face. Laughing at this point would be a bad idea. Things are almost fixed up. There's a part of him that hates that, but the rest of him nearly trembles with relief.
"What's up with you, anyway?" Richie Grenadeau asks him. "What's the big deal?"
Henry wants to ask his own question wants to ask Richie Grenadeau how he could do it, and it's no rhetorical question, either. That crying! My God! But he keeps silent, knowing anything lie says might just provoke the asshole, get him going all over again.
There is a kind of dance going on here; it looks almost like the ones you learn in first and second grade. As Richie, Duncan, and Scott walk toward the driveway (sauntering, attempting to show they are going of their own free will and haven't been frightened off by a bunch of homo junior-high kids), Henry and his friends first move to face them and then step backward in a line toward the weeping kid kneeling there in his underpants, blocking him from them.
At the corner of the building Richie pauses and gives them a final look. "Gonna see you fellas again," he says. "One by one or all together."
"Yeah," Duncan agrees.
"You're gonna be lookin at the world through a oxygen tent!" Scott adds, and Henry comes perilously close to laughing again. He prays that none of his friends will say anything let done be done and none of them do. It's almost a miracle.
One final menacing look from Richie and they are gone around the corner. Henry, Jonesy, Beaver, and Pete are left alone with the kid, who is rocking back and forth on his dirty knees, his dirty bloody tearstreaked uncomprehending face cocked to the white sky like the face of a broken clock, all of them wondering what to do next. Talk to him? Tell him it's okay, that the bad boys are gone and the danger has passed? He will never understand. And oh that crying is so freaky. How could those kids, mean and stupid as they were, go on in the face of that crying? Henry will understand later sort of but at that moment it's a complete mystery to him.
"I'm gonna try something," Beaver says abruptly.
"Yeah, sure, anything," Jonesy says. His voice is shaky.
The Beav starts forward, then looks at his friends. It is an odd look, part shame, part defiance, and yes, Henry would swear it part hope.
"If you tell anybody I did this," he says, "I'll never chum with you guys again."
"Never mind that crap," Pete says, and he also sounds shaky. "If you can shut him up, do it!"
Beaver stands for a moment where Richie was standing while he tried to get the kid to eat the dog-turd, then drops to his knees. Henry sees the kid's underwear shorts are in fact Underoos, and that they feature the Scooby-Doo characters, plus Shaggy's Mystery Machine, just like the kid's lunchbox.
Then Beaver takes the wailing, nearly naked boy into his arms and begins to sing.
Copyright © 2001 by Stephen King