“King’s most mature work.”—St. Petersburg Times
“King is our great storyteller.”—Los Angeles Herald-Examiner
“A great book…a landmark in American literature.”—Chicago Sun-Times
Welcome to Derry, Maine…
It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real….
They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and/b>/b>/i>… See more details below
“A great book…a landmark in American literature.”—Chicago Sun-Times
Welcome to Derry, Maine…
It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real….
They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But none of them can withstand the force that has drawn them back to Derry to face the nightmare without an end, and the evil without a name.
“King’s most mature work.”—St. Petersburg Times
“King is our great storyteller.”—Los Angeles Herald-Examiner
Table of Contents
PART 1 - THE SHADOW BEFORE
CHAPTER 1 - After the Flood (1957)
CHAPTER 2 - After the Festival (1984)
CHAPTER 3 - Six Phone Calls (1985)
DERRY: THE FIRST INTERLUDE
PART 2 - JUNE OF 1958
CHAPTER 4 - Ben Hanscom Takes a Fall
CHAPTER 5 - Bill Denbrough Beats the Devil (I)
CHAPTER 6 - One of the Missing: A Tale from the Summer of ’58
CHAPTER 7 - The Dam in the Barrens
CHAPTER 8 - Georgie’s Room and the House on Neibolt Street
CHAPTER 9 - Cleaning Up
DERRY: THE SECOND INTERLUDE
PART 3 - GROWNUPS
CHAPTER 10 - The Reunion
CHAPTER 11 - Walking Tours
CHAPTER 12 - Three Uninvited Guests
DERRY: THE THIRD INTERLUDE
PART 4 - JULY OF 1958
CHAPTER 13 - The Apocalyptic Rockfight
CHAPTER 14 - The Album
CHAPTER 15 - The Smoke-Hole
CHAPTER 16 - Eddie’s Bad Break
CHAPTER 17 - Another One of the Missing: The Death of Patrick Hockstetter
CHAPTER 18 - The Bullseye
DERRY: THE FOURTH INTERLUDE
PART 5 - THE RITUAL OF CHÜD
CHAPTER 19 - In the Watches of the Night
CHAPTER 20 - The Circle Closes
CHAPTER 21 - Under the City
CHAPTER 22 - The Ritual of Chüd
CHAPTER 23 - Out
DERRY: THE LAST INTERLUDE
Welcome to Derry, Maine. . . .
It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry, the haunting is real. . . .
They were just kids when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But none of them can withstand the force that has drawn them back to Derry to face the nightmare without an end, and the evil without a name.
“It will overwhelm you. . . . Characters so real you feel you are reading about yourself . . . scenes to be read in a well-lit room only!”
—Los Angeles Times
THE BACHMAN BOOKS
—Newport News Daily Press
THE DARK HALF
THE DARK TOWER: THE GUNSLINGER
THE DARK TOWER II: THE DRAWING OF THE THREE
THE DARK TOWER III: THE WASTE LANDS
THE DEAD ZONE
—New York Times Book Review
—San Francisco Chronicle
THE EYES OF THE DRAGON
FOUR PAST MIDNIGHT
—Washington Post Book World
—New York Times Book Review
WORKS BY STEPHEN KING
The Dead Zone
THE DARK TOWER I:
Cycle of the Werewolf
(with Peter Straub)
The Eyes of the Dragon
THE DARK TOWER II:
of the Three
THE DARK TOWER III:
The Waste Lands
The Dark Half
The Green Mile
THE DARK TOWER IV:
Wizard and Glass
Bag of Bones
Hearts in Atlantis
The Girl Who Loved Tom
(with Peter Straub)
From a Buick 8
AS RICHARD BACHMAN
The Long Walk
The Running Man
Four Past Midnight
Storm of the Century
Published by New American Library, a division of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto,
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Penguin Books Ltd. , Registered Offices:
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First Signet Printing, August 1981
Copyright © Stephen King, 1980
All rights reserved
Here constitutes an extension of this copyright page.
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
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This book is gratefully dedicated to my children. My mother and my wife taught me how to be a man. My children taught me how to be free.
NAOMI RACHEL KING, at fourteen;
JOSEPH HILLSTROM KING, at twelve;
OWEN PHILIP KING, at seven.
Kids, fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists.
“This old town been home long as I remember
This town gonna be here long after I’m gone.
East side west side take a close look ‘round her
You been down but you’re still in my bones. ”
—The Michael Stanley Band
“Old friend, what are you looking for?
After those many years abroad you come
With images you tended
Under foreign skies
Far away from your own land. ”
“Out of the blue and into the black. ”
THE SHADOW BEFORE
The perfections are sharpened
The flower spreads its colored petals wide in the sun
But the tongue of the bee misses them
They sink back into the loam crying out
—you may call it a cry that creeps over them, a shiver as they wilt and disappear. . . . ”
—William Carlos Williams, Paterson
“Born down in a dead man’s town. ”
After the Flood (1957)
The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years—if it ever did end—began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.
The boat bobbed, listed, righted itself again, dived bravely through treacherous whirlpools, and continued on its way down Witcham Street toward the traffic light which marked the intersection of Witcham and Jackson. The three vertical lenses on all sides of the traffic light were dark this afternoon in the fall of 1957, and the houses were all dark, too. There had been steady rain for a week now, and two days ago the winds had come as well. Most sections of Derry had lost their power then, and it was not back on yet.
A small boy in a yellow slicker and red galoshes ran cheerfully along beside the newspaper boat. The rain had not stopped, but it was finally slackening. It tapped on the yellow hood of the boy’s slicker, sounding to his ears like rain on a shed roof . . . a comfortable, almost cozy sound. The boy in the yellow slicker was George Denbrough. He was six. His brother, William, known to most of the kids at Derry Elementary School (and even to the teachers, who would never have used the nickname to his face) as Stuttering Bill, was at home, hacking out the last of a nasty case of influenza. In that autumn of 1957, eight months before the real horrors began and twenty-eight years before the final showdown, Stuttering Bill was ten years old.
Bill had made the boat beside which George now ran. He had made it sitting up in bed, his back propped against a pile of pillows, while their mother played Für Elise on the piano in the parlor and rain swept restlessly against his bedroom window.
About three-quarters of the way down the block as one headed toward the intersection and the dead traffic light, Witcham Street was blocked to motor traffic by smudgepots and four orange sawhorses. Stencilled across each of the horses was DERRY DEPT. OF PUBLIC WORKS. Beyond them, the rain had spilled out of gutters clogged with branches and rocks and big sticky piles of autumn leaves. The water had first pried fingerholds in the paving and then snatched whole greedy handfuls—all of this by the third day of the rains. By noon of the fourth day, big chunks of the street’s surface were boating through the intersection of Jackson and Witcham like miniature white-water rafts. By that time, many people in Derry had begun to make nervous jokes about arks. The Public Works Department had managed to keep Jackson Street open, but Witcham was impassable from the sawhorses all the way to the center of town.
But everyone agreed, the worst was over. The Kenduskeag Stream had crested just below its banks in the Barrens and bare inches below the concrete sides of the Canal which channelled it tightly as it passed through downtown. Right now a gang of men—Zack Denbrough, George’s and Bill’s father, among them—were removing the sandbags they had thrown up the day before with such panicky haste. Yesterday overflow and expensive flood damage had seemed almost inevitable. God knew it had happened before—the flooding in 1931 had been a disaster which had cost millions of dollars and almost two dozen lives. That was a long time ago, but there were still enough people around who remembered it to scare the rest. One of the flood victims had been found twenty-five miles east, in Bucksport. The fish had eaten this unfortunate gentleman’s eyes, three of his fingers, his penis, and most of his left foot. Clutched in what remained of his hands had been a Ford steering wheel.
Now, though, the river was receding, and when the new Bangor Hydro dam went in upstream, the river would cease to be a threat. Or so said Zack Denbrough, who worked for Bangor Hydroelectric. As for the rest—well, future floods could take care of themselves. The thing was to get through this one, to get the power back on, and then to forget it. In Derry such forgetting of tragedy and disaster was almost an art, as Bill Denbrough would come to discover in the course of time.
George paused just beyond the sawhorses at the edge of a deep ravine that had been cut through the tar surface of Witcham Street. This ravine ran on an almost exact diagonal. It ended on the far side of the street, roughly forty feet farther down the hill from where he now stood, on the right. He laughed aloud—the sound of solitary, childish glee a bright runner in that gray afternoon—as a vagary of the flowing water took his paper boat into a scale-model rapids which had been formed by the break in the tar. The urgent water had cut a channel which ran along the diagonal, and so his boat travelled from one side of Witcham Street to the other, the current carrying it so fast that George had to sprint to keep up with it. Water sprayed out from beneath his galoshes in muddy sheets. Their buckles made a jolly jingling as George Denbrough ran toward his strange death. And the feeling which filled him at that moment was clear and simple love for his brother Bill . . . love and a touch of regret that Bill couldn’t be here to see this and be a part of it. Of course he would try to describe it to Bill when he got home, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to make Bill see it, the way Bill would have been able to make him see it if their positions had been reversed. Bill was good at reading and writing, but even at his age George was wise enough to know that wasn’t the only reason why Bill got all A’s on his report cards, or why his teachers liked his compositions so well. Telling was only part of it. Bill was good at seeing.
The boat nearly whistled along the diagonal channel, just a page torn from the Classified section of the Derry News, but now George imagined it as a PT boat in a war movie, like the ones he sometimes saw down at the Derry Theater with Bill at Saturday matinees. A war picture with John Wayne fighting the Japs. The prow of the newspaper boat threw sprays of water to either side as it rushed along, and then it reached the gutter on the left side of Witcham Street. A fresh streamlet rushed over the break in the tar at this point, creating a fairly large whirlpool, and it seemed to him that the boat must be swamped and capsize. It leaned alarmingly, and then George cheered as it righted itself, turned, and went racing on down toward the intersection. George sprinted to catch up. Over his head, a grim gust of October wind rattled the trees, now almost completely unburdened of their freight of colored leaves by the storm, which had been this year a reaper of the most ruthless sort.
Sitting up in bed, his cheeks still flushed with heat (but his fever, like the Kenduskeag, finally receding), Bill had finished the boat—but when George reached for it, Bill held it out of reach. “N-Now get me the p-p-paraffin. ”
“What’s that? Where is it? ”
“It’s on the cellar shuh-shuh-shelf as you go d-downstairs, ” Bill said. “In a box that says Guh-Guh-hulf . . . Gulf. Bring that to me, and a knife, and a b-bowl. And a puh-pack of muh-muh-matches. ”
George had gone obediently to get these things. He could hear his mother playing the piano, not Für Elise now but something else he didn’t like so well—something that sounded dry and fussy; he could hear rain flicking steadily against the kitchen windows. These were comfortable sounds, but the thought of the cellar was not a bit comfortable. He did not like the cellar, and he did not like going down the cellar stairs, because he always imagined there was something down there in the dark. That was silly, of course, his father said so and his mother said so and, even more important, Bill said so, but still—
He did not even like opening the door to flick on the light because he always had the idea—this was so exquisitely stupid he didn’t dare tell anyone—that while he was feeling for the light switch, some horrible clawed paw would settle lightly over his wrist . . . and then jerk him down into the darkness that smelled of dirt and wet and dim rotted vegetables.
Stupid! There were no things with claws, all hairy and full of killing spite. Every now and then someone went crazy and killed a lot of people—sometimes Chet Huntley told about such things on the evening news—and of course there were Commies, but there was no weirdo monster living down in their cellar. Still, this idea lingered. In those interminable moments while he was groping for the switch with his right hand (his left arm curled around the doorjamb in a deathgrip), that cellar smell seemed to intensify until it filled the world. Smells of dirt and wet and long-gone vegetables would merge into one unmistakable ineluctable smell, the smell of the monster, the apotheosis of all monsters. It was the smell of something for which he had no name: the smell of It, crouched and lurking and ready to spring. A creature which would eat anything but which was especially hungry for boymeat.
He had opened the door that morning and had groped interminably for the switch, holding the jamb in his usual deathgrip, his eyes squinched shut, the tip of his tongue poked from the corner of his mouth like an agonized rootlet searching for water in a place of drought. Funny? Sure! You betcha! Lookit you, Georgie! Georgie’s scared of the dark! What a baby!
The sound of the piano came from what his father called the living room and what his mother called the parlor. It sounded like music from another world, far away, the way talk and laughter on a summer-crowded beach must sound to an exhausted swimmer who struggles with the undertow.
His fingers found the switch! Ah!
They snapped it—
—and nothing. No light.
Oh, cripes! The power!
George snatched his arm back as if from a basket filled with snakes. He stepped back from the open cellar door, his heart hurrying in his chest. The power was out, of course—he had forgotten the power was out. Jeezly-crow! What now? Go back and tell Bill he couldn’t get the box of paraffin because the power was out and he was afraid that something might get him as he stood on the cellar stairs, something that wasn’t a Commie or a mass murderer but a creature much worse than either? That it would simply slither part of its rotted self up between the stair risers and grab his ankle? That would go over big, wouldn’t it? Others might laugh at such a fancy, but Bill wouldn’t laugh. Bill would be mad. Bill would say, “Grow up, Georgie . . . do you want this boat or not? ”
As if this thought were his cue, Bill called from his bedroom: “Did you d-d-die out there, Juh-Georgie? ”
“No, I’m gettin it, Bill, ” George called back at once. He rubbed at his arms, trying to make the guilty gooseflesh disappear and be smooth skin again. “I just stopped to get a drink of water. ”
“Well, h-hurry up!”
So he walked down the four steps to the cellar shelf, his heart a warm, beating hammer in his throat, the hair on the nape of his neck standing at attention, his eyes hot, his hands cold, sure that at any moment the cellar door would swing shut on its own, closing off the white light falling through the kitchen windows, and then he would hear It, something worse than all the Commies and murderers in the world, worse than the Japs, worse than Attila the Hun, worse than the somethings in a hundred horror movies. It, growling deeply—he would hear the growl in those lunatic seconds before it pounced on him and unzipped his guts.
The cellar-smell was worse than ever today, because of the flood. Their house was high on Witcham Street, near the crest of the hill, and they had escaped the worst of it, but there was still standing water down there that had seeped in through the old rock foundations. The smell was low and unpleasant, making you want to take only the shallowest breaths.
George sifted through the junk on the shelf as fast as he could—old cans of Kiwi shoepolish and shoepolish rags, a broken kerosene lamp, two mostly empty bottles of Windex, an old flat can of Turtle wax. For some reason this can struck him, and he spent nearly thirty seconds looking at the turtle on the lid with a kind of hypnotic wonder. Then he tossed it back . . . and here it was at last, a square box with the word GULF on it.
George snatched it and ran up the stairs as fast as he could, suddenly aware that his shirttail was out and suddenly sure that his shirttail would be his undoing: the thing in the cellar would allow him to get almost all the way out, and then it would grab the tail of his shirt and snatch him back and—
He reached the kitchen and swept the door shut behind him. It banged gustily. He leaned back against it with his eyes closed, sweat popped out on his arms and forehead, the box of paraffin gripped tightly in one hand.
The piano had come to a stop, and his mom’s voice floated to him: “Georgie, can’t you slam that door a little harder next time? Maybe you could break some of the plates in the Welsh dresser, if you really tried. ”
“Sorry, Mom, ” he called back.
“Georgie, you waste, ” Bill said from his bedroom. He pitched his voice low so their mother would not hear.
George snickered a little. His fear was already gone; it had slipped away from him as easily as a nightmare slips away from a man who awakes, cold-skinned and gasping, from its grip; who feels his body and stares at his surroundings to make sure that none of it ever happened and who then begins at once to forget it. Half is gone by the time his feet hit the floor; three-quarters of it by the time he emerges from the shower and begins to towel off; all of it by the time he finishes his breakfast. All gone . . . until the next time, when, in the grip of the nightmare, all fears will be remembered.
That turtle, George thought, going to the counter drawer where the matches were kept. Where did I see a turtle like that before?
But no answer came, and he dismissed the question.
He got a pack of matches from the drawer, a knife from the rack (holding the sharp edge studiously away from his body, as his dad had taught him), and a small bowl from the Welsh dresser in the dining room. Then he went back into Bill’s room.
“W-What an a-hole you are, Juh-Georgie, ” Bill said, amiably enough, and pushed back some of the sick-stuff on his nighttable: an empty glass, a pitcher of water, Kleenex, books, a bottle of Vicks VapoRub—the smell of which Bill would associate all his life with thick, phlegmy chests and snotty noses. The old Philco radio was there, too, playing not Chopin or Bach but a Little Richard tune . . . very softly, however, so softly that Little Richard was robbed of all his raw and elemental power. Their mother, who had studied classical piano at Juilliard, hated rock and roll. She did not merely dislike it; she abominated it.
“I’m no a-hole, ” George said, sitting on the edge of Bill’s bed and putting the things he had gathered on the nighttable.
“Yes you are, ” Bill said. “Nothing but a great big brown a-hole, that’s you. ”
George tried to imagine a kid who was nothing but a great big a-hole on legs and began to giggle.
“Your a-hole is bigger than Augusta, ” Bill said, beginning to giggle, too.
“Your a-hole is bigger than the whole state, George replied. This broke both boys up for nearly two minutes.
There followed a whispered conversation of the sort which means very little to anyone save small boys: accusations of who was the biggest a-hole, who had the biggest a-hole, which a-hole was the brownest, and so on. Finally Bill said one of the forbidden words—he accused George of being a big brown shitty a-hole—and they both got laughing hard. Bill’s laughter turned into a coughing fit. As it finally began to taper off (by then Bill’s face had gone a plummy shade which George regarded with some alarm), the piano stopped again. They both looked in the direction of the parlor, listening for the piano-bench to scrape back, listening for their mother’s impatient footsteps. Bill buried his mouth in the crook of his elbow, stifling the last of the coughs, pointing at the pitcher at the same time. George poured him a glass of water, which he drank off.
The piano began once more-Für Elise again. Stuttering Bill never forgot that piece, and even many years later it never failed to bring gooseflesh to his arms and back; his heart would drop and he would remember: My mother was playing that the day Georgie died.
“You gonna cough anymore, Bill? ”
Bill pulled a Kleenex from the box, made a rumbling sound in his chest, spat phlegm into the tissue, screwed it up, and tossed it into the wastebasket by his bed, which was filled with similar twists of tissue. Then he opened the box of paraffin and dropped a waxy cube of the stuff into his palm. George watched him closely, but without speaking or questioning. Bill didn’t like George talking to him while he did stuff, but George had learned that if he just kept his mouth shut, Bill would usually explain what he was doing.
Bill used the knife to cut off a small piece of the paraffin cube. He put the piece in the bowl, then struck a match and put it on top of the paraffin. The two boys watched the small yellow flame as the dying wind drove rain against the window in occasional spatters.
“Got to waterproof the boat or it’ll just get wet and sink, ” Bill said. When he was with George, his stutter was light—sometimes he didn’t stutter at all. In school, however, it could become so bad that talking became impossible for him. Communication would cease and Bill’s schoolmates would look somewhere else while Bill clutched the sides of his desk, his face growing almost as red as his hair, his eyes squeezed into slits as he tried to winch some word out of his stubborn throat. Sometimes—most times—the word would come. Other times it simply refused. He had been hit by a car when he was three and knocked into the side of a building; he had remained unconscious for seven hours. Mom said it was that accident which had caused the stutter. George sometimes got the feeling that his dad—and Bill himself—was not so sure.
The piece of paraffin in the bowl was almost entirely melted. The match-flame guttered lower, growing blue as it hugged the cardboard stick, and then it went out. Bill dipped his finger into the liquid, jerked it out with a faint hiss. He smiled apologetically at George. “Hot, ” he said. After a few seconds he dipped his finger in again and began to smear the wax along the sides of the boat, where it quickly dried to a milky haze.
“Can I do some? ” George asked.
“Okay. Just don’t get any on the blankets or Mom’ll kill you. ”
George dipped his finger into the paraffin, which was now very warm but no longer hot, and began to spread it along the other side of the boat.
“Don’t put on so much, you a-hole!” Bill said. “You want to sink it on its m-maiden cruise? ”
“I’m sorry. ”
“That’s all right. Just g-go easy. ”
George finished the other side, then held the boat in his hands. It felt a little heavier, but not much. “Too cool, ” he said. “I’m gonna go out and sail it. ”
“Yeah, you do that, ” Bill said. He suddenly looked tired—tired and still not very well.
“I wish you could come, ” George said. He really did. Bill sometimes got bossy after awhile, but he always had the coolest ideas and he hardly ever hit. “It’s your boat, really. ”
“She, Bill said. ”You call boats sh-she. ”
“She, then. ”
“I wish I could come, too, ” Bill said glumly.
“Well . . . ” George shifted from one foot to the other, the boat in his hands.
“You put on your rain-stuff, ” Bill said, “or you’ll wind up with the fluh-hu like me. Probably catch it anyway, from my juh-germs. ”
“Thanks, Bill. It’s a neat boat. ” And he did something he hadn’t done for a long time, something Bill never forgot: he leaned over and kissed his brother’s cheek.
“You’ll catch it for sure now, you a-hole, ” Bill said, but he seemed cheered up all the same. He smiled at George. “Put all this stuff back, too. Or Mom’ll have a b-bird. ”
“Sure. ” He gathered up the waterproofing equipment and crossed the room, the boat perched precariously on top of the paraffin box, which was sitting askew in the little bowl.
George turned back to look at his brother.
“Be c-careful. ”
“Sure. ” His brow creased a little. That was something your Mom said, not your big brother. It was as strange as him giving Bill a kiss. “Sure I will. ”
He went out. Bill never saw him again.
Now here he was, chasing his boat down the left side of Witcham Street. He was running fast but the water was running faster and his boat was pulling ahead. He heard a deepening roar and saw that fifty yards farther down the hill the water in the gutter was cascading into a stormdrain that was still open. It was a long dark semicircle cut into the curbing, and as George watched, a stripped branch, its bark as dark and glistening as sealskin, shot into the stormdrain’s maw. It hung up there for a moment and then slipped down inside. That was where his boat was headed.
“Oh shit and Shinola!” he yelled, dismayed.
He put on speed, and for a moment he thought he would catch the boat. Then one of his feet slipped and he went sprawling, skinning one knee and crying out in pain. From his new pavement-level perspective he watched his boat swing around twice, momentarily caught in another whirlpool, and then disappear.
“Shit and Shinola!” he yelled again, and slammed his fist down on the pavement. That hurt too, and he began to cry a little. What a stupid way to lose the boat!
He got up and walked over to the stormdrain. He dropped to his knees and peered in. The water made a dank hollow sound as it fell into the darkness. It was a spooky sound. It reminded him of—
“Huh!” The sound was jerked out of him as if on a string, and he recoiled.
There were yellow eyes in there: the sort of eyes he had always imagined but never actually seen down in the basement. It’s an animal, he thought incoherently, that’s all it is, some animal, maybe a housecat that got stuck down in there—
Still, he was ready to run—would run in a second or two, when his mental switchboard had dealt with the shock those two shiny yellow eyes had given him. He felt the rough surface of the macadam under his fingers, and the thin sheet of cold water flowing around them. He saw himself getting up and backing away, and that was when a voice—a perfectly reasonable and rather pleasant voice—spoke to him from inside the stormdrain.
“Hi, Georgie, ” it said.
George blinked and looked again. He could barely credit what he saw; it was like something from a made-up story, or a movie where you know the animals will talk and dance. If he had been ten years older, he would not have believed what he was seeing, but he was not sixteen. He was six.
There was a clown in the stormdrain. The light in there was far from good, but it was good enough so that George Denbrough was sure of what he was seeing. It was a clown, like in the circus or on TV. In fact he looked like a cross between Bozo and Clarabell, who talked by honking his (or was it her?—George was never really sure of the gender) horn on Howdy Doody Saturday mornings—Buffalo Bob was just about the only one who could understand Clarabell, and that always cracked George up. The face of the clown in the stormdrain was white, there were funny tufts of red hair on either side of his bald head, and there was a big clown-smile painted over his mouth. If George had been inhabiting a later year, he would have surely thought of Ronald McDonald before Bozo or Clarabell.
The clown held a bunch of balloons, all colors, like gorgeous ripe fruit in one hand.
In the other he held George’s newspaper boat.
“Want your boat, Georgie? ” The clown smiled.
George smiled back. He couldn’t help it; it was the kind of smile you just had to answer. “I sure do, ” he said.
The clown laughed. “ ‘I sure do. ’ That’s good! That’s very good! And how about a balloon? ”
“Well . . . sure!” He reached forward . . . and then drew his hand reluctantly back. “I’m not supposed to take stuff from strangers. My dad said so. ”
“Very wise of your dad, ” the clown in the stormdrain said, smiling. How, George wondered, could I have thought his eyes were yellow? They were a bright, dancing blue, the color of his mom’s eyes, and Bill’s. “Very wise indeed. Therefore I will introduce myself. I, Georgie, am Mr. Bob Gray, also known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Pennywise, meet George Denbrough. George, meet Pennywise. And now we know each other. I’m not a stranger to you, and you’re not a stranger to me. Kee-rect? ”
George giggled. “I guess so. ” He reached forward again . . . and drew his hand back again. “How did you get down there? ” “Storm just bleeeew me away, ” Pennywise the Dancing Clown said. “It blew the whole circus away. Can you smell the circus, Georgie? ”
George leaned forward. Suddenly he could smell peanuts! Hot roasted peanuts! And vinegar! The white kind you put on your french fries through a hole in the cap! He could smell cotton candy and frying doughboys and the faint but thunderous odor of wild-animal shit. He could smell the cheery aroma of midway sawdust. And yet . . .
And yet under it all was the smell of flood and decomposing leaves and dark stormdrain shadows. That smell was wet and rotten. The cellar-smell.
But the other smells were stronger.
“You bet I can smell it, ” he said.
“Want your boat, Georgie? ” Pennywise asked. “I only repeat myself because you really do not seem that eager. ” He held it up, smiling. He was wearing a baggy silk suit with great big orange buttons. A bright tie, electric-blue, flopped down his front, and on his hands were big white gloves, like the kind Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck always wore.
“Yes, sure, ” George said, looking into the stormdrain.
“And a balloon? I’ve got red and green and yellow and blue. . . . ”
“Do they float? ”
“Float? ” The clown’s grin widened. “Oh yes, indeed they do. They float! And there’s cotton candy. . . . ”
The clown seized his arm.
And George saw the clown’s face change.
What he saw then was terrible enough to make his worst imaginings of the thing in the cellar look like sweet dreams; what he saw destroyed his sanity in one clawing stroke.
“They float, ” the thing in the drain crooned in a clotted, chuckling voice. It held George’s arm in its thick and wormy grip, it pulled George toward that terrible darkness where the water rushed and roared and bellowed as it bore its cargo of storm debris toward the sea. George craned his neck away from that final blackness and began to scream into the rain, to scream mindlessly into the white autumn sky which curved above Derry on that day in the fall of 1957. His screams were shrill and piercing, and all up and down Witcham Street people came to their windows or bolted out onto their porches.
“They float, ” it growled, “they float, Georgie, and when you’re down here with me, you’ll float, too—”
George’s shoulder socked against the cement of the curb and Dave Gardener, who had stayed home from his job at The Shoeboat that day because of the flood, saw only a small boy in a yellow rainslicker, a small boy who was screaming and writhing in the gutter with muddy water surfing over his face and making his screams sound bubbly.
“Everything down here floats, ” that chuckling, rotten voice whispered, and suddenly there was a ripping noise and a flaring sheet of agony, and George Denbrough knew no more.
Dave Gardener was the first to get there, and although he arrived only forty-five seconds after the first scream, George Denbrough was already dead. Gardener grabbed him by the back of the slicker, pulled him into the street . . . and began to scream himself as George’s body turned over in his hands. The left side of George’s slicker was now bright red. Blood flowed into the stormdrain from the tattered hole where the left arm had been. A knob of bone, horribly bright, peeked through the torn cloth.
The boy’s eyes stared up into the white sky, and as Dave staggered away toward the others already running pell-mell down the street, they began to fill up with rain.
Somewhere below, in the stormdrain that was already filled nearly to capacity with runoff (there could have been no one down there, the County Sheriff would later exclaim to a Derry News reporter with a frustrated fury so great it was almost agony; Hercules himself would have been swept away in that driving current), George’s newspaper boat shot onward through nighted chambers and long concrete hallways that roared and chimed with water. For awhile it ran neck-and-neck with a dead chicken that floated with its yellowy, reptilian toes pointed at the dripping ceiling; then, at some junction east of town, the chicken was swept off to the left while George’s boat went straight.
An hour later, while George’s mother was being sedated in the Emergency Room at Derry Home Hospital and while Stuttering Bill sat stunned and white and silent in his bed, listening to his father sob hoarsely in the parlor where his mother had been playing Für Elise when George went out, the boat shot out through a concrete loophole like a bullet exiting the muzzle of a gun and ran at speed down a sluiceway and into an unnamed stream. When it joined the boiling, swollen Penobscot River twenty minutes later, the first rifts of blue had begun to show in the sky overhead. The storm was over.
The boat dipped and swayed and sometimes took on water, but it did not sink; the two brothers had waterproofed it well. I do not know where it finally fetched up, if ever it did; perhaps it reached the sea and sails there forever, like a magic boat in a fairytale. All I know is that it was still afloat and still running on the breast of the flood when it passed the incorporated town limits of Derry, Maine, and there it passes out of this tale forever.
After the Festival (1984)
The reason Adrian was wearing the hat, his sobbing boyfriend would later tell the police, was because he had won it at the Pitch Til U Win stall on the Bassey Park fairgrounds just six days before his death. He was proud of it.
“He was wearing it because he loved this shitty little town!” the boyfriend, Don Hagarty, screamed at the cops.
“Now, now—there’s no need for that sort of language, ” Officer Harold Gardener told Hagarty. Harold Gardener was one of Dave Gardener’s four sons. On the day his father had discovered the lifeless, one-armed body of George Denbrough, Harold Gardener had been five. On this day, almost twenty-seven years later, he was thirty-two and balding. Harold Gardener recognized the reality of Don Hagarty’s grief and pain, and at the same time found it impossible to take seriously. This man—if you want to call him a man—was wearing lipstick and satin pants so tight you could almost read the wrinkles in his cock. Grief or no grief, pain or no pain, he was, after all, just a queer. Like his friend, the late Adrian Mellon.
“Let’s go through it again, ” Harold’s partner, Jeffrey Reeves, said. “The two of you came out of the Falcon and turned toward the Canal. Then what? ”
“How many times do I have to tell you idiots? ” Hagarty was still screaming. “They killed him! They pushed him over the side! Just another day in Macho City for them!” Don Hagarty began to cry.
“One more time, ” Reeves repeated patiently. “You came out of the Falcon. Then what? ”
In an interrogation room just down the hall, two Derry cops were speaking with Steve Dubay, seventeen; in the Clerk of Probate’s office upstairs, two more were questioning John
“Webby” Garton, eighteen; and in the Chief of Police’s office on the fifth floor, Chief Andrew Rademacher and Assistant District Attorney Tom Boutillier were questioning fifteen-year-old Christopher Unwin. Unwin, who wore faded jeans, a grease-smeared tee-shirt, and blocky engineer boots, was weeping. Rademacher and Boutillier had taken him because they had quite accurately assessed him as the weak link in the chain.
“Let’s go through it again, ” Boutillier said in this office just as Jeffrey Reeves was saying the same thing two floors down.
“We didn’t mean to kill him, ” Unwin blubbered. “It was the hat. We couldn’t believe he was still wearing the hat after, you know, after what Webby said the first time. And I guess we wanted to scare him. ”
“For what he said, ” Chief Rademacher interjected.
“To John Garton, on the afternoon of the 17th. ”
“Yes, to Webby. ” Unwin burst into fresh tears. “But we tried to save him when we saw he was in trouble . . . at least me and Stevie Dubay did . . . we didn’t mean to kill him!”
“Come on, Chris, don’t shit us, ” Boutillier said. “You threw the little queer into the Canal. ”
“And the three of you came in to make a clean breast of things. Chief Rademacher and I appreciate that, don’t we, Andy? ”
“You bet. It takes a man to own up to what he did, Chris. ”
“So don’t fuck yourself up by lying now. You meant to throw him over the minute you saw him and his fag buddy coming out of the Falcon, didn’t you? ”
“No!” Chris Unwin protested vehemently.
Boutillier took a pack of Marlboros from his shirt pocket and stuck one in his mouth. He offered the pack to Unwin. “Cigarette? ”
Unwin took one. Boutillier had to chase the tip with a match in order to give him a light because of the way Unwin’s mouth was trembling.
“But when you saw he was wearing the hat? ” Rademacher asked.
Unwin dragged deep, lowered his head so that his greasy hair fell in his eyes, and jetted smoke from his nose, which was littered with blackheads.
“Yeah, ” he said, almost too softly to be heard.
Boutillier leaned forward, brown eyes gleaming. His face was predatory but his voice was gentle. “What, Chris? ”
“I said yes. I guess so. To throw him in. But not to kill him. ” He looked up at them, face frantic and miserable and still unable to comprehend the stupendous changes which had taken place in his life since he left the house to take in the last night of Derry’s Canal Days Festival with two of his buddies at seven-thirty the previous evening. “Not to kill him!” he repeated. “And that guy under the bridge . . . I still don’t know who he was. ”
“What guy was that? ” Rademacher asked, but without much interest. They had heard this part before as well, and neither of them believed it—sooner or later men accused of murder almost always drag out that mysterious other guy. Boutillier even had a name for it: he called it the “One-Armed Man Syndrome, ” after that old TV series The Fugitive.
“The guy in the clown suit, ” Chris Unwin said, and shivered. “The guy with the balloons. ”
The Canal Days Festival, which ran from July 15th to July 21st, had been a rousing success, most Derry residents agreed: a great thing for the city’s morale, image . . . and pocketbook. The week-long festival was pegged to mark the centenary of the opening of the Canal which ran through the middle of downtown. It had been the Canal which had fully opened Derry to the lumber trade in the years 1884 to 1910; it had been the Canal which had birthed Derry’s boom years.
The town was spruced up from east to west and north to south. Potholes which some residents swore hadn’t been patched for ten years or more were neatly filled with hottop and rolled smooth. The town buildings were refurbished on the inside, repainted on the outside. The worst of the graffiti in Bassey Park—much of it coolly logical anti-gay statements such as KILL ALL QUEERS and AIDS FROM GOD YOU HELL-BOUND HOMOS!!—was sanded off the benches and wooden walls of the little covered walkway over the Canal known as the Kissing Bridge.
A Canal Days Museum was installed in three empty storefronts downtown, and filled with exhibits by Michael Hanlon, a local librarian and amateur historian. The town’s oldest families loaned freely of their almost priceless treasures, and during the week of the festival nearly forty thousand visitors paid a quarter each to look at eating-house menus from the 1890s, loggers’ bitts, axes, and peaveys from the 1880s, children’s toys from the 1920s, and over two thousand photographs and nine reels of movie film of life as it had been in Derry over the last hundred years.
The museum was sponsored by the Derry Ladies’ Society, which vetoed some of Hanlon’s proposed exhibits (such as the notorious tramp-chair from the 1930s) and photographs (such as those of the Bradley Gang after the notorious shoot-out). But all agreed it was a great success, and no one really wanted to see those gory old things anyway. It was so much better to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, as the old song said.
There was a huge striped refreshment tent in Derry Park, and band concerts there every night. In Bassey Park there was a carnival with rides by Smokey’s Greater Shows and games run by local townfolk. A special tram-car circled the historic sections of the town every hour on the hour and ended up at this gaudy and amiable money-machine.
It was here that Adrian Mellon won the hat which would get him killed, the paper top-hat with the flower and the band which said I ♥ DERRY!
“I’m tired, ” John “Webby” Garton said. Like his two friends, he was dressed in unconscious imitation of Bruce Springsteen, although if asked he would probably call Springsteen a wimp or a fagola and would instead profess admiration for such “bitchin” heavy-metal groups as Def Leppard, Twisted Sister, or Judas Priest. The sleeves of his plain blue tee-shirt were torn off, showing his heavily muscled arms. His thick brown hair fell over one eye—this touch was more John Cougar Mellencamp than Springsteen. There were blue tattoos on his arms—arcane symbols which looked as if they had been drawn by a child. “I don’t want to talk no more. ”
“Just tell us about Tuesday afternoon at the fair, ” Paul Hughes said. Hughes was tired and shocked and dismayed by this whole sordid business. He thought again and again that it was as if Derry Canal Days ended with one final event which everyone had somehow known about but which no one had quite dared to put down on the Daily Program of Events. If they had, it would have looked like this:
Saturday, 9:00 P. M. : Final band concert featuring the Derry High School Band and the Barber Shop Mello-Men.
Saturday, 10:00 P. M. : Giant fireworks show.
Saturday, 10:35 P. M. : Ritual sacrifice of Adrian Mellon officially ends Canal Days.
“Fuck the fair, ” Webby replied.
“Just what you said to Mellon and what he said to you. ”
“Oh Christ. ” Webby rolled his eyes.
“Come on, Webby, ” Hughes’s partner said.
Webby Garton rolled his eyes and began again.
Garton saw the two of them, Mellon and Hagarty, mincing along with their arms about each other’s waists and giggling like a couple of girls. At first he actually thought they were a couple of girls. Then he recognized Mellon, who had been pointed out to him before. As he looked, he saw Mellon turn to Hagarty . . . and they kissed briefly.
“Oh, man, I’m gonna barf!” Webby cried, disgusted.
Chris Unwin and Steve Dubay were with him. When Webby pointed out Mellon, Steve Dubay said he thought the other fag was named Don somebody, and that he’d picked up a kid from Derry High hitching and then tried to put a few moves on him.
Mellon and Hagarty began to move toward the three boys again, walking away from the Pitch Til U Win and toward the carny’s exit. Webby Garton would later tell Officers Hughes and Conley that his “civic pride” had been wounded by seeing a fucking faggot wearing a hat which said I ♥ DERRY. It was a silly thing, that hat—a paper imitation of a top hat with a great big flower sticking up from the top and nodding about in every direction. The silliness of the hat apparently wounded Webby’s civic pride even more.
As Mellon and Hagarty passed, each with his arm linked about the other’s waist, Webby Garton yelled out: “I ought to make you eat that hat, you fucking ass-bandit!”
Mellon turned toward Garton, fluttered his eyes flirtatiously, and said: “If you want something to eat, hon, I can find something much tastier than my hat. ”
At this point Webby Garton decided he was going to rearrange the faggot’s face. In the geography of Mellon’s face, mountains would rise and continents would drift. Nobody suggested he sucked the root. Nobody.
He started toward Mellon. Mellon’s friend Hagarty, alarmed, attempted to pull Mellon away, but Mellon stood his ground, smiling. Garton would later tell Officers Hughes and Conley that he was pretty sure Mellon was high on something. So he was, Hagarty would agree when this idea was passed on to him by Officers Gardener and Reeves. He was high on two fried doughboys smeared with honey, on the carnival, on the whole day. He had been consequently unable to recognize the real menace which Webby Garton represented.
“But that was Adrian, ” Don said, using a tissue to wipe his eyes and smearing the spangled eyeshadow he was wearing. “He didn’t have much in the way of protective coloration. He was one of those fools who think things really are going to turn out all right. ”
He might have been badly hurt there and then if Garton hadn’t felt something tap his elbow. It was a nightstick. He turned his head to see Officer Frank Machen, another member of Derry’s Finest.
“Never mind, little buddy, ” Machen told Garton. “Mind your business and leave those little gay boyos alone. Have some fun. ”
“Did you hear what he called me? ” Garton asked hotly. He was now joined by Unwin and Dubay—the two of them, smelling trouble, tried to urge Garton on up the midway, but Garton shrugged them away, would have turned on them with his fists if they had persisted. His masculinity had borne an insult which he felt must be avenged. Nobody suggested he sucked the root. Nobody.
“I don’t believe he called you anything, ” Machen replied. “And you spoke to him first, I believe. Now move on, sonny. I don’t want to have to tell you again. ”
“He called me a queer!”
“Are you worried you might be, then? ” Machen asked, seeming to be honestly interested, and Garton flushed a deep ugly red.
During this exchange, Hagarty was trying with increasing desperation to pull Adrian Mellon away from the scene. Now, at last, Mellon was going.
“Ta-ta, love!” Adrian called cheekily over his shoulder.
“Shut up, candy-ass, ” Machen said. “Get out of here. ”
Garton made a lunge at Mellon, and Machen grabbed him.
“I can run you in, my friend, ” Machen said, “and the way you’re acting, it might not be such a bad idea. ”
“Next time I see you I’m gonna hurtyou!” Garton bellowed after the departing pair, and heads turned to stare at him. “And if you’re wearing that hat, I’m gonna kill you! This town don’t need no faggots like you!”
Without turning, Mellon waggled the fingers of his left hand—the nails were painted cerise—and put an extra little wiggle in his walk. Garton lunged again.
“One more word or one more move and in you go, ” Machen said mildly. “Trust me, my boy, for I mean exactly what I say. ”
“Come on, Webby, ” Chris Unwin said uneasily. “Mellow out. ”
“You like guys like that? ” Webby asked Machen, ignoring Chris and Steve completely. “Huh? ”
“About the bum-punchers I’m neutral, ” Machen said.
“What I’m really in favor of is peace and quiet, and you are upsetting what I like, pizza face. Now do you want to go a round with me or what? ”
“Come on, Webby, ” Steve Dubay said quietly. “Let’s go get some hot dogs. ”
Webby went, straightening his shirt with exaggerated moves and brushing the hair out of his eyes. Machen, who also gave a statement on the morning following Adrian Mellon’s death, said: The last thing I heard him say as him and his buddies walked off was, “Next time I see him he’s going to be in serious hurt. ”
“Please, I got to talk to my mother, ” Steve Dubay said for the third time. “I’ve got to get her to mellow out my stepfather, or there is going to be one hell of a punching-match when I get home. ”
“In a little while, ” Officer Charles Avarino told him. Both Avarino and his partner, Barney Morrison, knew that Steve Dubay would not be going home tonight and maybe not for many nights to come. The boy did not seem to realize just how heavy this particular bust was, and Avarino would not be surprised when he learned, later on, that Dubay had left school at age sixteen. At that time he had still been in Water Street Junior High. His IQ was 68, according to the Wechsler he had taken during one of his three trips through the seventh grade.
“Tell us what happened when you saw Mellon coming out of the Falcon, ” Morrison invited.
“No, man, I better not. ”
“Well, why not? ” Avarino asked.
“I already talked too much, maybe. ”
“You came in to talk, ” Avarino said. “Isn’t that right? ”
“Well . . . yeah . . . but . . . ”
“Listen, ” Morrison said warmly, sitting down next to Dubay and shooting him a cigarette. “You think me and Chick here like fags? ”
“I don’t know—”
“Do we look like we like fags? ”
“No, but . . . ”
“We’re your friends, Steve-o, ” Morrison said solemnly. “And believe me, you and Chris and Webby need all the friends you can get just about now. Because tomorrow every bleeding heart in this town is going to be screaming for you guys’s blood. ”
Steve Dubay looked dimly alarmed. Avarino, who could almost read this hairbag’s pussy little mind, suspected he was thinking about his stepfather again. And although Avarino had no liking for Derry’s small gay community—like every other cop on the force, he would enjoy seeing the Falcon shut up forever—he would have been delighted to drive Dubay home himself. He would, in fact, have been delighted to hold Dubay’s arms while Dubay’s stepfather beat the creep to oatmeal. Avarino did not like gays, but this did not mean he believed they should be tortured and murdered. Mellon had been savaged. When they brought him up from under the Canal bridge, his eyes had been open, bulging with terror. And this guy here had absolutely no idea of what he had helped do.
“We didn’t mean to hurt im, ” Steve repeated. This was his fallback position when he became even slightly confused.
“That’s why you want to get out front with us, ” Avarino said earnestly. “Get the true facts of the matter out in front, and this maybe won’t amount to a pisshole in the snow. Isn’t that right, Barney? ”
“As rain, ” Morrison agreed.
“One more time, what do you say? ” Avarino coaxed.
“Well . . . ” Steve said, and then, slowly, began to talk.
When the Falcon was opened in 1973, Elmer Curtie thought his clientele would consist mostly of bus-riders—the terminal next door serviced three different lines: Trailways, Greyhound, and Aroostook County. What he failed to realize was how many of the passengers who ride buses are women or families with small children in tow. Many of the others kept their bottles in brown bags and never got off the bus at all. Those who did were usually soldiers or sailors who wanted no more than a quick beer or two—you couldn’t very well go on a bender during a ten-minute rest-stop.
Curtie had begun to realize some of these home truths by 1977, but by then it was too late: he was up to his tits in bills and there was no way that he could see out of the red ink. The idea of burning the place down for the insurance occurred to him, but unless he hired a professional to torch it, he supposed he would be caught . . . and he had no idea where professional arsonists hung out, anyway.
He decided in February of that year that he would give it until July 4th; if things didn’t look as if they were turning around by then, he would simply walk next door, get on a’hound, and see how things looked down in Florida.
But in the next five months, an amazing quiet sort of prosperity came to the bar, which was painted black and gold inside and decorated with stuffed birds (Elmer Curtie’s brother had been an amateur taxidermist who specialized in birds, and Elmer had inherited the stuff when he died). Suddenly, instead of drawing sixty beers and pouring maybe twenty drinks a night, Elmer was drawing eighty beers and pouring a hundred drinks . . . a hundred and twenty . . . sometimes a hundred and sixty.
His clientele was young, polite, almost exclusively male. Many of them dressed outrageously, but those were years when outrageous dress was still almost the norm, and Elmer Curtie did not realize that his patrons were just about almost exclusively gay until 1981 or so. If Derry residents had heard him say this, they would have laughed and said that Elmer Curtie must think they had all been born yesterday—but his claim was perfectly true. Like the with the cheating wife, he was practically the last to know . . . by the time he did, he didn’t care. The bar was making money, and while there were four other bars in Derry which turned a profit, the Falcon was the only one where rambunctious patrons did not regularly demolish the whole place. There were no women to fight over, for one thing, and these men, fags or not, seemed to have learned a secret of getting along with each other which their heterosexual counterparts did not know.
Once he became aware of the sexual preference of his regulars, he seemed to hear lurid stories about the Falcon everywhere—these stories had been circulating for years, but until ’81 Curtie simply hadn’t heard them. The most enthusiastic tellers of these tales, he came to realize, were men who wouldn’t be dragged into the Falcon with a chainfall for fear all the muscles would go out of their wrists, or something. Yet they seemed privy to all sorts of information.
According to the stories, you could go in there any night and see men close-dancing, rubbing their cocks together right out on the dancefloor; men french-kissing at the bar; men getting blowjobs in the bathrooms. There was supposedly a room out back where you went if you wanted to spend a little time on the Tower of Power—there was a big old fellow in a Nazi uniform back there who kept his arm greased most of the way to the shoulder and who would be happy to take care of you.
In fact, none of these things were true. When folks with a thirst did come in from the bus station for a beer or a highball, they sensed nothing out of the ordinary in the Falcon at all—there were a lot of guys, sure, but that was no different than thousands of workingmen’s bars all across the country. The clientele was gay, but gay was not a synonym for stupid. If they wanted a little outrageousness, they went to Portland. If they wanted a lot of outrageousness—Ramrod-style outrageousness or Peck’s Big Boy-style outrageousness—they went down to New York or Boston. Derry was small, Derry was provincial, and Derry’s small gay community understood the shadow under which it existed quite well.
Don Hagarty had been coming into the Falcon for two or three years on the night in March of 1984 when he first showed up with Adrian Mellon. Before then, Hagarty had been the sort who plays the field, rarely showing up with the same escort half a dozen times. But by late April it had become obvious even to Elmer Curtie, who cared very little about such things, that Hagarty and Mellon had a steady thing going.
Hagarty was a draftsman with an engineering firm in Bangor. Adrian Mellon was a freelance writer who published anywhere and everywhere he could—airline magazines, confession magazines, regional magazines, Sunday supplements, sex-letter magazines. He had been working on a novel, but maybe that wasn’t serious—he had been working on it since his third year of college, and that had been twelve years ago.
He had come to Derry to write a piece about the Canal—he was on assignment from New England Byways, a glossy bi-monthly that was published in Concord. Adrian Mellon had taken the assignment because he could squeeze Byways for three weeks’ worth of expense money, including a nice room at the Derry Town House, and gather all the material he needed for the piece in maybe five days. During the other two weeks he could gather enough material for maybe four other regional pieces.
But during that three-week period he met Don Hagarty, and instead of going back to Portland when his three weeks on the cuff were over, he found himself a small apartment on Kossuth Lane. He lived there for only six weeks. Then he moved in with Don Hagarty.
That summer, Hagarty told Harold Gardener and Jeff Reeves, was the happiest summer of his life—he should have been on the lookout, he said; he should have known that God only puts a rug under guys like him in order to jerk it out from under their feet.
The only shadow, he said, was Adrian’s extravagantly partisan reaction to Derry. He had a tee-shirt which said MAINE AIN’T BAD BUT DERRY’S GREAT! He had a Derry Tigers high-school jacket. And of course there was the hat. He claimed to find the atmosphere vital and creatively invigorating. Perhaps there was something to this: he had taken his languishing novel out of the trunk for the first time in nearly a year.
“Was he really working on it, then? ” Gardener asked Hagarty, not really caring but wanting to keep Hagarty primed.
“Yes—he was busting pages. He said it might be a terrible novel, but it was no longer going to be a terrible unfinished novel. He expected to finish it by his birthday, in October. Of course, he didn’t know what Derry was really like. He thought he did, but he hadn’t been here long enough to get a whiff of the real Derry. I kept trying to tell him, but he wouldn’t listen. ”
“And what’s Derry really like, Don? ” Reeves asked.
“It’s a lot like a dead strumpet with maggots squirming out of her cooze, ” Don Hagarty said.
The two cops stared in silent amazement.
“It’s a bad place, ” Hagarty said. “It’s a sewer. You mean you two guys don’t know that? You two guys have lived here all of your lives and you don’t know that? ”
Neither of them answered. After a little while, Hagarty went on.
Until Adrian Mellon entered his life, Don had been planning to leave Derry. He had been there for three years, mostly because he had agreed to a long-term lease on an apartment with the world’s most fantastic river-view, but now the lease was almost up and Don was glad. No more long commute back and forth to Bangor. No more weird vibes—in Derry, he once told Adrian, it always felt like thirteen o’clock. Adrian might think Derry was a great place, but it scared Don. It was not just the town’s tightly homo-phobic attitude, an attitude as clearly expressed by the town’s preachers as by the graffiti in Bassey Park, but that was one thing he had been able to put his finger on. Adrian had laughed.
“Don, every town in America has a contingent that hates the gayfolk, ” he said. “Don’t tell me you don’t know that. This is, after all, the era of Ronnie Moron and Phyllis Housefly. ”
“Come down to Bassey Park with me, ” Don had replied, after seeing that Adrian really meant what he was saying—and what he was really saying was that Derry was no worse than any other fair-sized town in the hinterlands. “I want to show you something, my love. ”
They drove to Bassey Park—this had been in mid-June, about a month before Adrian’s murder, Hagarty told the cops. He took Adrian into the dark, vaguely unpleasant-smelling shadows of the Kissing Bridge. He pointed out one of the graffiti. Adrian had to strike a match and hold it below the writing in order to read it.
SHOW ME YOUR COCK QUEER AND I’LL CUT IT OFF YOU.
“I know how people feel about gays, ” Don said quietly. “I got beaten up at a truck-stop in Dayton when I was a teenager; some fellows in Portland set my shoes on fire outside of a sandwich shop while this fat-assed old cop sat inside his cruiser and laughed. I’ve seen a lot . . . but I’ve never seen anything quite like this. Look over here. Check it out. ”
Another match revealed STICK NAILS IN EYES OF ALL FAGOTS (FOR GOD)!
“Whoever writes these little homilies has got a case of the deep-down crazies. I’d feel better if I thought it was just one person, one isolated sickie, but . . . ” Don swept his arm vaguely down the length of the Kissing Bridge. “There’s a lot of this stuff . . . and I just don’t think one person did it all. That’s why I want to leave Derry, Ade. Too many places and too many people seem to have the deep-down crazies. ”
“Well, wait until I finish my novel, okay? Please? October, I promise, no later. The air’s better here. ”
“He didn’t know it was the water he was going to have to watch out for, ” Don Hagarty said bitterly.
Tom Boutillier and Chief Rademacher leaned forward, neither of them speaking. Chris Unwin sat with his head down, talking monotonously to the floor. This was the part they wanted to hear; this was the part that was going to send at least two of these assholes to Thomaston.
“The fair wasn’t no good, ” Unwin said. “They was already takin down all the bitchin rides, you know, like the Devil Dish and the Parachute Drop. They already had a sign on the Bumper Cars that said ‘closed. ’ Wasn’t nothing open but baby rides. So we went down by the games and Webby saw the Pitch Til U Win and he paid fifty cents and he seen that hat the queer was wearing and he pitched at that, but he kept missing it, and every time he missed he got more in a bad mood, you know? And Steve—he’s the guy who usually goes around saying mellow out, like mellow out this and mellow out that and why don’t you fuckin mellow out, you know? Only he was in a real piss-up-a-rope mood because he took this pill, you know? I don’t know what kind of a pill. A red pill. Maybe it was even legal. But he keeps after Webby until I thought Webby was gonna hit him, you know. He goes, You can’t even win that queer’s hat. You must be really wasted if you can’t even win that queer’s hat. So finally the lady gives im a prize even though the ring wasn’t over it, cause I think she wanted to get rid of us. I don’t know. Maybe she didn’t. But I think she did. It was this noisemaker thing, you know? You blow it and it puffs up and unrolls and makes a noise like a fart, you know? I used to have one of those. I got it for Halloween or New Year’s or some fuckin holiday, I thought it was pretty good, only I lost it. Or maybe somebody hawked it out of my pocket in the fuckin playyard at school, you know? So then the fair’s closin and we’re walkin out and Steve’s still on Webby about not bein able to win that queer’s hat, you know, and Webby ain’t sayin much, and I know that’s a bad sign but I was pretty ‘faced, you know? So I knew I ought to like change the subject only I couldn’t think of no subject, you know? So when we get into the parkin lot Steve says, Where you want to go? Home? And Webby goes, Let’s cruise by the Falcon first and see if that queer’s around. ”
Boutillier and Rademacher exchanged a glance. Boutillier raised a single finger and tapped it against his cheek: although this doofus in the engineer boots didn’t know it, he was now talking about first-degree murder.
“So I goes no, I gotta get home, and Webby goes, You scared to go by that queer-bar? And I go, Fuck no! And Steve’s still high or something, and he says, Let’s go grease some queermeat! Let’s go grease some queermeat! Let’s go grease . . . ”
The timing was just right enough so that things worked out wrong for everyone. Adrian Mellon and Don Hagarty came out of the Falcon after two beers, walked up past the bus station, and then linked hands. Neither of them thought about it; it was just something they did. It was ten-twenty. They reached the corner and turned left.
The Kissing Bridge was almost half a mile upriver from here; they meant to cross Main Street Bridge, which was much less picturesque. The Kenduskeag was summer-low, no more than four feet of water sliding listlessly around the concrete pilings.
When the Duster drew abreast of them (Steve Dubay had spotted the two of them coming out of the Falcon and gleefully pointed them out), they were on the edge of the span.
“Cut in! Cut in!” Webby Garton screamed. The two men had just passed under a streetlight and he had spotted the fact that they were holding hands. This infuriated him . . . but not as much as the hat infuriated him. The big paper flower was nodding crazily this way and that. “Cut in, goddammit!”
And Steve did.
Chris Unwin would deny active participation in what followed, but Don Hagarty told a different story. He said that Garton was out of the car almost before it stopped, and that the other two quickly followed. There was talk. Not good talk. There was no attempt at flippancy or false coquetry on Adrian’s part this night; he recognized that they were in a lot of trouble.
“Give me that hat, ” Garton said. “Give it to me, queer. ”
“If I do, will you leave us alone? ” Adrian was wheezing with fright, almost crying, looking from Unwin to Dubay to Garton with terrified eyes.
“Just give me the fucker!”
Adrian handed it over. Garton produced a switchknife from the left front pocket of his jeans and cut it into two pieces. He rubbed the pieces against the seat of his jeans. Then he dropped them to his feet and stomped them.
Don Hagarty backed away a little while their attention was divided between Adrian and the hat—he was looking, he said, for a cop.
“Now will you let us al—” Adrian Mellon began, and that was when Garton punched him in the face, driving him back against the waist-high pedestrian railing of the bridge. Adrian screamed, clapping his hands to his mouth. Blood poured through his fingers.
“Ade!” Hagarty cried, and ran forward again. Dubay tripped him. Garton booted him in the stomach, knocking him off the sidewalk and into the roadway. A car passed. Hagarty rose to his knees and screamed at it. It didn’t slow. The driver, he told Gardener and Reeves, never even looked around.
“Shut up, queer!” Dubay said, and kicked him in the side of the face. Hagarty fell on his side in the gutter, semiconscious.
A few moments later he heard a voice—Chris Unwin’s—telling him to get away before he got what his friend was getting. In his own statement Unwin verified giving this warning.
Hagarty could hear thudding blows and the sound of his lover screaming. Adrian sounded like a rabbit in a snare, he told the police. Hagarty crawled back toward the intersection and the bright lights of the bus station, and when he was a distance away he turned back to look.
Adrian Mellon, who stood about five-five and might have weighed a hundred and thirty-five pounds soaking wet, was being pushed from Garton to Dubay to Unwin in a kind of triple play. His body jittered and flopped like the body of a rag doll. They were punching him, pummelling him, ripping at his clothes. As he watched, he said, Garton punched Adrian in the crotch. Adrian’s hair hung in his face. Blood poured out of his mouth and soaked his shirt. Webby Garton wore two heavy rings on his right hand: one was a Derry High School ring, the other one he had made in shop class—an intertwined brass DB stood out three inches from this latter. The letters stood for the Dead Bugs, a metal band he particularly admired. The rings had torn Adrian’s upper lip open and shattered three of his upper teeth at the gum line.
“Help!” Hagarty shrieked. “Help! Help! They’re killing him! Help!”
The buildings of Main Street loomed dark and secret. No one came to help—not even from the one white island of light which marked the bus station, and Hagarty did not see how that could be: there were people in there. He had seen them when he and Ade walked past. Would none of them come to help? None at all?
“HELP! HELP! THEY’RE KILLING HIM, HELP, PLEASE, FOR GOD’S SAKE!”
“Help, ” a very small voice whispered from Don Hagarty’s left . . . and then there was a giggle.
“Bum’s rush!” Garton was yelling now . . . yelling and laughing. All three of them, Hagarty told Gardener and Reeves, had been laughing while they beat Adrian up. “Bum’s rush! Over the side!”
“Bum’s rush! Bum’s rush! Bum’s rush!” Dubay chanted, laughing.
“Help, ” the small voice said again, and although the voice was grave, that little giggle followed again—it was like the voice of a child who cannot help itself.
Hagarty looked down and saw the clown—and it was at this point that Gardener and Reeves began to discount everything that Hagarty said, because the rest was the raving of a lunatic. Later, however, Harold Gardener found himself wondering. Later, when he found that the Unwin boy had also seen a clown—or said he had—he began to have second thoughts. His partner either never had them or would never admit to them.
The clown, Hagarty said, looked like a cross between Ronald McDonald and that old TV clown, Bozo—or so he thought at first. It was the wild tufts of orange hair that brought such comparisons to mind. But later consideration had caused him to think the clown really looked like neither. The smile painted over the white pancake was red, not orange, and the eyes were a weird shiny silver. Contact lenses, perhaps . . . but a part of him thought then and continued to think that maybe that silver had been the real color of those eyes. He wore a baggy suit with big orange-pompom buttons; on his hands were cartoon gloves.
“If you need help, Don, ” the clown said, “help yourself to a balloon. ”
And it offered the bunch it held in one hand.
“They float, ” the clown said. “Down here we all float; pretty soon your friend will float, too. ”
“This clown called you by name, ” Jeff Reeves said in a totally expressionless voice. He looked over Hagarty’s bent head at Harold Gardener, and one eye drew down in a wink.
“Yes, ” Hagarty said, not looking up. “I know how it sounds. ”
“So then you threw him over, ” Boutillier said. “Bum’s rush. ”
“Not me!” Unwin said, looking up. He flicked the hair out of his eyes with one hand and stared at them urgently. “When I saw they really meant to do it, I tried to pull Steve away, because I knew the guy might get banged up. . . . It was like ten feet to the water. . . . ”
It was twenty-three. One of Chief Rademacher’s patrolmen had already measured.
“But it was like he was crazy. The two of them kept yelling ‘Bum’s rush! Bum’s rush!’ and they picked him up. Webby had him under the arms and Steve had him by the seat of the pants, and . . . and . . . ”
When Hagarty saw what they were doing, he rushed back toward them, screaming “No! No! No!” at the top of his voice.
Chris Unwin pushed him backward and Hagarty landed in a teeth-rattling heap on the sidewalk. “Do you want to go over, too? ” he whispered. “You run, baby!”
They threw Adrian Mellon over the bridge and into the water then. Hagarty heard the splash.
“Let’s get out of here, ” Steve Dubay said. He and Webby were backing toward the car.
Chris Unwin went to the railing and looked over. He saw Hagarty first, sliding and clawing his way down the weedy, trash-littered embankment to the water. Then he saw the clown. The clown was dragging Adrian out on the far side with one arm; its balloons were in its other hand. Adrian was dripping wet, choking, moaning. The clown twisted its head and grinned up at Chris. Chris said he saw its shining silver eyes and its bared teeth—great big teeth, he said.
“Like the lion in the circus, man, ” he said. “I mean, they were that big. ”
Then, he said, he saw the clown shove one of Adrian Mellon’s arms back so it lay over his head.
“Then what, Chris? ” Boutillier said. He was bored with this part. Fairytales had bored him since the age of eight on.
“I dunno, ” Chris said. “That was when Steve grabbed me and hauled me into the car. But . . . I think it bit into his armpit. ” He looked up at them again, uncertain now. “I think that’s what it did. Bit into his armpit.
“Like it wanted to eat him, man. Like it wanted to eat his heart. ”
No, Hagarty said when he was presented with Chris Unwin’s story in the form of questions. The clown did not drag Ade up on the far bank, at least not that he saw—and he would grant that he had been something less than a disinterested observer by that point; by that point he had been out of his fucking mind.
The clown, he said, was standing near the far bank with Adrian’s dripping body clutched in its arms. Ade’s right arm was stuck stiffly out behind the clown’s head, and the clown’s face was indeed in Ade’s right armpit, but it was not biting: it was smiling. Hagarty could see it looking out from beneath Ade’s arm and smiling.
The clown’s arms tightened, and Hagarty heard ribs splinter.
“Float with us, Don, ” the clown said out of its grinning red mouth, and then pointed with one of its white-gloved hands under the bridge.
Balloons floated against the underside of the bridge—not a dozen or a dozen dozens but thousands, red and blue and green and yellow, and printed on the side of each was I ♥ DERRY!
“Well now, that surely does sound like a lot of balloons, ” Reeves said, and tipped Harold Gardener another wink.
“I know how it sounds, ” Hagarty reiterated in the same dreary voice.
“You saw those balloons, ” Gardener said.
Don Hagarty slowly held his hands up in front of his face. “I saw them as clearly as I can see my own fingers at this moment. Thousands of them. You couldn’t even see the underside of the bridge—there were too many of them. They were rippling a little, and sort of bouncing up and down. There was a sound. A funny low squealing noise. That was their sides rubbing together. And strings. There was a forest of white strings hanging down. They looked like white strands of spiderweb. The clown took Ade under there. I could see its suit brushing through those strings. Ade was making awful choking sounds. I started after him . . . and the clown looked back. I saw its eyes, and all at once I understood who it was. ” “Who was it, Don? ” Harold Gardener asked softly.
“It was Derry, ” Don Hagarty said. “It was this town. ”
“And what did you do then? ” It was Reeves.
“I ran, you dumb shit, ” Hagarty said, and burst into tears.
Harold Gardener kept his peace until November 13th, the day before John Garton and Steven Dubay were to go on trial in Derry District Court for the murder of Adrian Mellon. Then he went to see Tom Boutillier. He wanted to talk about the clown. Boutillier didn’t—but when he saw Gardener might do something stupid without a little guidance, he did.
“There was no clown, Harold. The only clowns out that night were those three kids. You know that as well as I do. ”
“We have two witnesses—”
“Oh, that’s crap. Unwin decided to bring on the One-Armed Man, as in ‘We didn’t kill the poor little faggot, it was the one-armed man, ’ as soon as he understood he’d really gotten his buns into some hot water this time. Hagarty was hysterical. He stood by and watched those kids murder his best friend. It wouldn’t have surprised me if he’d seen flying saucers. ”
But Boutillier knew better. Gardener could see it in his eyes, and the Assistant D. A. ’s ducking and dodging irritated him.
“Come on, ” he said. “We’re talking about independent witnesses here. Don’t bullshit me. ”
“Oh, you want to talk bullshit? Are you telling me you believe there was a vampire clown under the Main Street Bridge? Because that’s my idea of bullshit. ”
“No, not exactly, but—”
“Or that Hagarty saw a billion balloons under there, each imprinted with exactly the same thing as what was written on his lover’s hat? Because that is also my idea of bullshit. ”
“Then why are you bothering with this? ”
“Stop cross-examining me!” Gardener roared. “They both described it the same and neither knew what the other one was saying!”
Boutillier had been sitting at his desk, playing with a pencil. Now he put the pencil down, got up, and walked over to Harold Gardener. Boutillier was five inches shorter, but Gardener retreated a step before the man’s anger.
“Do you want us to lose this case, Harold? ”
“No. Of course n—”
“Do you want those running sores to walk free? ”
“Okay. Good. Since we both agree on the basics, I’ll tell you exactly what I think. Yes, there was probably a man under the bridge that night. Maybe he was even wearing a clown suit, although I’ve dealt with enough witnesses to guess maybe it was just a stewbum or a transient wearing a bunch of cast-off clothes. I think he was probably down there scrounging for dropped change or roadmeat—half a burger someone chucked over the side, or maybe the crumbs from the bottom of a Frito bag. Their eyes did the rest, Harold. Now is that possible? ”
“I don’t know, ” Harold said. He wanted to be convinced, but given the exact tally of the two descriptions . . . no. He didn’t think it was possible.
“Here’s the bottom line. I don’t care if it was Kinko the Klown or a guy in an Uncle Sam suit on stilts or Hubert the Happy Homo. If we introduce this fellow into the case, their lawyer is going to be on it before you can say ‘Jack Robinson.’ He’s going to say those two little innocent lambs out there with their fresh haircuts and new suits didn’t do anything but toss that gay fellow Mellon over the side of the bridge for a joke. He’ll point out that Mellon was still alive after he took the fall; they have Hagarty’s testimony as well as Unwin’s for that.
“His clients didn’t commit murder, oh no! It was a psycho in a clown suit. If we introduce this, that’s going to happen and you know it. ”
“Unwin’s going to tell that story anyhow. ”
“But Hagarty isn’t, ” Boutillier said. “Because he understands. Without Hagarty, who’s going to believe Unwin? ”
“Well, there’s us, ” Harold Gardener said with a bitterness that surprised even himself, “but I guess we’re not telling. ”
“Oh, give me a break!” Boutillier roared, throwing up his hands. “They killed him! They didn’t just throw him over the side—Garton had a switchblade. Mellon was stabbed seven times, including once in the left lung and twice in the testicles. The wounds match the blade. Four of his ribs were broken—Dubay did that, bear-hugging him. He was bitten, all right. There were bites on his arms, his left cheek, his neck. I think that was Unwin and Garton, although we’ve only got one clear match, and that one’s probably not clear enough to stand up in court. And so all right, there was a big chunk of meat gone from his right armpit, so what? One of them really liked to bite. Probably even got himself a pretty good bone-on while he was doing it. I’m betting Garton, although we’ll never prove it. And Mellon’s earlobe was gone. ”
Boutillier stopped, glaring at Harold.
“If we let in this clown story we’ll never bring it home to them. Do you want that? ”
“No, I told you. ”
“The guy was a fruit, but he wasn’t hurting anyone, ” Boutillier said. “So hi-ho-the-dairy-o, along come these three pusholes in their engineer boots and they steal his life. I’m going to put them in the slam, my friend, and if I hear they got their puckery little assholes cored down there at Thomaston, I’m gonna send them cards saying I hope whoever did it had AIDS. ”
Very fiery, Gardener thought. And the convictions will also look very good on your record when you run for the top spot in two years.
But he left without saying more, because he also wanted to see them put away.
John Webber Garton was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to ten to twenty years in Thomaston State Prison.
Steven Bishoff Dubay was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to fifteen years in Shawshank State Prison.
Christopher Philip Unwin was tried separately as a juvenile and convicted of second-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to six months at the South Windham Boys’ Training Facility, sentence suspended.
At the time of this writing, all three sentences are under appeal; Garton and Dubay may be seen on any given day girl-watching or playing Penny Pitch in Bassey Park, not far from where Mellon’s torn body was found floating against one of the pilings of the Main Street Bridge.
Don Hagarty and Chris Unwin have left town.
At the major trial—that of Garton and Dubay—no one mentioned a clown.
Six Phone Calls (1985)
Stanley Uris Takes a Bath
Patricia Uris later told her mother she should have known something was wrong. She should have known it, she said, because Stanley never took baths in the early evening. He showered early each morning and sometimes soaked late at night (with a magazine in one hand and a cold beer in the other), but baths at 7:00 P. M. were not his style.
And then there was the thing about the books. It should have delighted him; instead, in some obscure way she did not understand, it seemed to have upset and depressed him. About three months before that terrible night, Stanley had discovered that a childhood friend of his had turned out to be a writer—not a real writer, Patricia told her mother, but a novelist. The name on the books was William Denbrough, but Stanley had sometimes called him Stuttering Bill. He had worked his way through almost all of the man’s books; had, in fact, been reading the last on the night of the bath—the night of May 28th, 1985. Patty herself had picked up one of the earlier ones, out of curiosity. She had put it down after just three chapters.
It had not just been a novel, she told her mother later; it had been a horrorbook. She said it just that way, all one word, the way she would have said sexbook. Patty was a sweet, kind woman, but not terribly articulate—she had wanted to tell her mother how much that book had frightened her and why it had upset her, but had not been able. “It was full of monsters, ” she said. “Full of monsters chasing after little children. There were killings, and . . . I don’t know . . . bad feelings and hurt. Stuff like that. ” It had, in fact, struck her as almost pornographic; that was the word which kept eluding her, probably because she had never in her life spoken it, although she knew what it meant. “But Stan felt as if he’d rediscovered one of his childhood chums.
. . He talked about writing to him, but I knew he wouldn’t.
. . . I knew those stories made him feel bad, too . . . and . . . and . . . ”
And then Patty Uris began to cry.
That night, lacking roughly six months of being twenty-eight years from the day in 1957 when George Denbrough had met Pennywise the Clown, Stanley and Patty had been sitting in the den of their home in a suburb of Atlanta. The TV was on. Patty was sitting in the love-seat in front of it, dividing her attention between a pile of sewing and her favorite game-show, Family Feud. She simply adored Richard Dawson and thought the watch-chain he always wore was terribly sexy, although wild horses would not have drawn this admission out of her. She also liked the show because she almost always got the most popular answers (there were no right answers on Family Feud, exactly; only the most popular ones). She had once asked Stan why the questions that seemed so easy to her usually seemed so hard to the families on the show. “It’s probably a lot tougher when you’re up there under those lights, ” Stanley had replied, and it seemed to her that a shadow had drifted over his face. “Everything’s a lot tougher when it’s for real. That’s when you choke. When it’s for real. ”
That was probably very true, she decided. Stanley had really fine insights into human nature sometimes. Much finer, she considered, than his old friend William Denbrough, who had gotten rich writing a bunch of horrorbooks which appealed to people’s baser natures.
Not that the Urises were doing so badly themselves! The suburb where they lived was a fine one, and the home which they had purchased for $87, 000 in 1979 would probably now sell quickly and painlessly for $165, 000—not that she wanted to sell, but such things were good to know. She sometimes drove back from the Fox Run Mall in her Volvo (Stanley drove a Mercedes diesel—teasing him, she called it Sedanley) and saw her house, set tastefully back behind low yew hedges, and thought: Who lives there? Why, I do! Mrs. Stanley Uris does! This was not an entirely happy thought; mixed with it was a pride so fierce that it sometimes made her feel a bit ill. Once upon a time, you see, there had been a lonely eighteen-year-old girl named Patricia Blum who had been refused entry to the after-prom party that was held at the country club in the upstate town of Glointon, New York. She had been refused admission, of course, because her last name rhymed with plum. That was her, just a skinny little kike plum, 1967 that had been, and such discrimination was against the law, of course, har-de-har-har-har, and besides, it was all over now. Except that for part of her it was never going to be over. Part of her would always be walking back to the car with Michael Rosenblatt, listening to the crushed gravel under her pumps and his rented formal shoes, back to his father’s car, which Michael had borrowed for the evening, and which he had spent the afternoon waxing. Part of her would always be walking next to Michael in his rented white dinner jacket—how it had glimmered in the soft spring night! She had been in a pale green evening gown which her mother declared made her look like a mermaid, and the idea of a kike mermaid was pretty funny, har-de-har-har-har. They had walked with their heads up and she had not wept—not then—but she had understood they weren’t walking back, no, not really; what they had been doing was slinking back, slinking, rhymes with stinking, both of them feeling more Jewish than they had ever felt in their lives, feeling like pawnbrokers, feeling like cattle-car riders, feeling oily, long-nosed, sallow-skinned; feeling like mockies sheenies kikes; wanting to feel angry and not being able to feel angry—the anger came only later, when it didn’t matter. At that moment she had only been able to feel ashamed, had only been able to ache. And then someone had laughed. A high shrill tittering laugh like a fast run of notes on a piano, and in the car she had been able to weep, oh you bet, here is the kike mermaid whose name rhymes with plum just weeping away like crazy. Mike Rosenblatt had put a clumsy, comforting hand on the back of her neck and she had twisted away from it, feeling ashamed, feeling dirty, feeling Jewish.
The house set so tastefully back behind the yew hedges made that better . . . but not all better. The hurt and shame were still there, and not even being accepted in this quiet, sleekly well-to-do neighborhood could quite make that endless walk with the sound of grating stones beneath their shoes stop happening. Not even being members of this country club, where the maître d’ always greeted them with a quietly respectful “Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Uris. ” She would come home, cradled in her 1984 Volvo, and she would look at her house sitting on its expanse of green lawn, and she would often—all too often, she supposed—think of that shrill titter. And she would hope that the girl who had tittered was living in a shitty tract house with a goy husband who beat her, that she had been pregnant three times and had miscarried each time, that her husband cheated on her with diseased women, that she had slipped discs and fallen arches and cysts on her dirty tittering tongue.
She would hate herself for these thoughts, these uncharitable thoughts, and promise to do better—to stop drinking these bitter gall-and-wormwood cocktails. Months would go by when she did not think such thoughts. She would think: Maybe all of that is finally past me. I am not that girl of eighteen anymore. I am a woman of thirty-six; the girl who heard the endless click and grate of those driveway stones, the girl who twisted away from Mike Rosenblatt’s hand when he tried to comfort her because it was a Jewish hand, was half a life ago. That silly little mermaid is dead. I can forget her now and just be myself. Okay. Good. Great. But then she would be somewhere—at the supermarket, maybe—and she would hear sudden tittering laughter from the next aisle and her back would prickle, her nipples would go hard and hurtful, her hands would tighten on the bar of the shopping cart or just on each other, and she would think: Someone just told someone else that I’m Jewish, that I’m nothing but a bignose mockie kike, that Stanley’s nothing but a bignose mockie kike, he’s an accountant, sure, Jews are good with numbers, we let them into the country club, we had to, back in 1981 when that bignose mockie gynecologist won his suit, but we laugh at them, we laugh and laugh and laugh. Or she would simply hear the phantom click and grate of stones and think Mermaid! Mermaid!
Then the hate and shame would come flooding back like a migraine headache and she would despair not only for herself but for the whole human race. Werewolves. The book by Denbrough—the one she had tried to read and then put aside—was about werewolves. Werewolves, shit. What did a man like that know about werewolves?
Most of the time, however, she felt better than that—felt she was better than that. She loved her man, she loved her house, and she was usually able to love her life and herself. Things were good. They had not always been that way, of course—were things ever? When she accepted Stanley’s engagement ring, her parents had been both angry and unhappy. She had met him at a sorority party. He had come over to her school from New York State University, where he was a scholarship student. They had been introduced by a mutual friend, and by the time the evening was over, she suspected that she loved him. By the mid-term break, she was sure. When spring came around and Stanley offered her a small diamond ring with a daisy pushed through it, she had accepted it.
In the end, in spite of their qualms, her parents had accepted it as well. There was little else they could do, although Stanley Uris would soon be sallying forth into a job-market glutted with young accountants—and when he went into that jungle, he would do so with no family finances to backstop him, and with their only daughter as his hostage to fortune. But Patty was twenty-two, a woman now, and would herself soon graduate with a B. A.
“I’ll be supporting that four-eyed son of a bitch for the rest of my life, ” Patty had heard her father say one night. Her mother and father had gone out for dinner, and her father had drunk a little too much.
“Shh, she’ll hear you, ” Ruth Blum said.
Patty had lain awake that night until long after midnight, dry-eyed, alternately hot and cold, hating them both. She had spent the next two years trying to get rid of that hate; there was too much hate inside her already. Sometimes when she looked into the mirror she could see the things it was doing to her face, the fine lines it was drawing there. That was a battle she won. Stanley had helped her.
His own parents had been equally concerned about the marriage. They did not, of course, believe their Stanley was destined for a life of squalor and poverty, but they thought “the kids were being hasty. ” Donald Uris and Andrea Bertoly had themselves married in their early twenties, but they seemed to have forgotten the fact.
Only Stanley had seemed sure of himself, confident of the future, unconcerned with the pitfalls their parents saw strewn all about “the kids. ” And in the end it was his confidence rather than their fears which had been justified. In July of 1972, with the ink barely dry on her diploma, Patty had landed a job teaching shorthand and business English in Traynor, a small town forty miles south of Atlanta. When she thought of how she had come by that job, it always struck her as a little—well, eerie. She had made a list of forty possibles from the ads in the teachers’ journals, then had written forty letters over five nights—eight each evening—requesting further information on the job, and an application for each. Twenty-two replies indicated that the positions had been filled. In other cases, a more detailed explanation of the skills needed made it clear she wasn’t in the running; applying would only be a waste of her time and theirs. She had finished with a dozen possibles. Each looked as likely as any other. Stanley had come in while she was puzzling over them and wondering if she could possibly manage to fill out a dozen teaching applications without going totally bonkers. He looked at the strew of papers on the table and then tapped the letter from the Traynor Superintendent of Schools, a letter which to her looked no more or less encouraging than any of the others.
“There, ” he said.
She looked up at him, startled by the simple certainty in his voice. “Do you know something about Georgia that I don’t? ”
“Nope. Only time I was ever there was at the movies. ” She looked at him, an eyebrow cocked.
“Gone with the Wind. Vivien Leigh. Clark Gable. ‘I will think about it tomorrow, for tomorrow is anothah day. ’ Do I sound like I come from the South, Patty? ”
“Yes. South Bronx. If you don’t know anything about Georgia and you’ve never been there, then why—”
“Because it’s right. ”
“You can’t know that, Stanley. ”
“Sure I can, ” he said simply. “I do. ” Looking at him, she had seen he wasn’t joking: he really meant it. She had felt a ripple of unease go up her back.
“How do you know? ”
He had been smiling a little. Now the smile faltered, and for a moment he had seemed puzzled. His eyes had darkened, as if he looked inward, consulting some interior device which ticked and whirred correctly but which, ultimately, he understood no more than the average man understands the workings of the watch on his wrist.
“The turtle couldn’t help us, ” he said suddenly. He said that quite clearly. She heard it. That inward look—that look of surprised musing—was still on his face, and it was starting to scare her.
“Stanley? What are you talking about? Stanley? ”
He jerked. She had been eating peaches as she went over the applications, and his hand struck the dish. It fell on the floor and broke. His eyes seemed to clear.
“Oh, shit! I’m sorry. ”
“It’s all right. Stanley—what were you talking about? ”
“I forget, ” he said. “But I think we ought to think Georgia, babylove. ”
“Trust me, ” he said, so she did.
Her interview had gone smashingly. She had known she had the job when she got on the train back to New York. The head of the Business Department had taken an instant liking to Patty, and she to him; she had almost heard the click. The confirming letter had come a week later. The Traynor Consolidated School Department could offer her $9, 200 and a probationary contract.
“You are going to starve, ” Herbert Blum said when his daughter told him she intended to take the job. “And you will be hot while you starve. ”
“Fiddle-dee-dee, Scarlett, ” Stanley said when she told him what her father had said. She had been furious, near tears, but now she began to giggle, and Stanley swept her into his arms.
Hot they had been; starved they had not. They were married on August 19th, 1972. Patty Uris had gone to her marriage bed a virgin. She had slipped naked between cool sheets at a resort hotel in the Poconos, her mood turbulent and stormy—lightning-flares of wanting and delicious lust, dark clouds of fright. When Stanley slid into bed beside her, ropy with muscle, his penis an exclamation point rising from gingery pubic hair, she had whispered: “Don’t hurt me, dear. ”
“I will never hurt you, ” he said as he took her in his arms, and it was a promise he had kept faithfully until May 28th, 1985—the night of the bath.
Her teaching had gone well. Stanley got a job driving a bakery truck for one hundred dollars a week. In November of that year, when the Traynor Flats Shopping Center opened, he got a job with the H & R Block office out there for a hundred and fifty. Their combined income was then $17, 000 a year—this seemed a king’s ransom to them, in those days when gas sold for thirty-five cents a gallon and a loaf of white bread could be had for a nickel less than that. In March of 1973, with no fuss and no fanfare, Patty Uris had thrown away her birth-control pills.
In 1975 Stanley quit H & R Block and opened his own business. All four in-laws agreed that this was a foolhardy move. Not that Stanley should not have his own business—God forbid he should not have his own business! But it was too early, all of them agreed, and it put too much of the financial burden on Patty. (“At least until the pisher knocks her up, ” Herbert Blum told his brother morosely after a night of drinking in the kitchen, “and then I’ll be expected to carry them. ”) The consensus of in-law opinion on the matter was that a man should not even think about going into business for himself until he had reached a more serene and mature age—seventy-eight, say.
Again, Stanley seemed almost preternaturally confident. He was young, personable, bright, apt. He had made contacts working for Block. All of these things were givens. But he could not have known that Corridor Video, a pioneer in the nascent videotape business, was about to settle on a huge patch of farmed-out land less than ten miles from the suburb to which the Urises had eventually moved in 1979, nor could he have known that Corridor would be in the market for an independent marketing survey less than a year after its move to Traynor. Even if Stan had been privy to some of this information, he surely could not have believed they would give the job to a young, bespectacled Jew who also happened to be a damyankee—a Jew with an easy grin, a hipshot way of walking, a taste for bell-bottomed jeans on his days off, and the last ghosts of his adolescent acne still on his face. Yet they had. They had. And it seemed that Stan had known it all along.
His work for CV led to an offer of a full-time position with the company—starting salary, $30, 000 a year.
“And that really is only the start, ” Stanley told Patty in bed that night. “They are going to grow like corn in August, my dear. If no one blows up the world in the next ten years or so, they are going to be right up there on the big board along with Kodak and Sony and RCA. ”
“So what are you going to do? ” she asked, already knowing.
“I am going to tell them what a pleasure it was to do business with them, ” he said, and laughed, and drew her close, and kissed her. Moments later he mounted her, and there were climaxes—one, two, and three, like bright rockets going off in a night sky . . . but there was no baby.
His work with Corridor Video had brought him into contact with some of Atlanta’s richest and most powerful men—and they were both astonished to find that these men were mostly okay. In them they found a degree of acceptance and broad-minded kindliness that was almost unknown in the North. Patty remembered Stanley once writing home to his mother and father: The best rich men in America live in Atlanta, Georgia. I am going to help make some of them richer, and they are going to make me richer, and no one is going to own me except my wife, Patricia, and since I already own her, I guess that is safe enough.
By the time they moved from Traynor, Stanley was incorporated and employed six people. In 1983 their income had entered unknown territory—territory of which Patty had heard only the dimmest rumors. This was the fabled land of SIX FIGURES. And it had all happened with the casual ease of slipping into a pair of sneakers on Saturday morning. This sometimes frightened her. Once she had made an uneasy joke about deals with the devil. Stanley had laughed until he almost choked, but to her it hadn’t seemed that funny, and she supposed it never would.
The turtle couldn’t help us.
Sometimes, for no reason at all, she would wake up with this thought in her mind like the last fragment of an otherwise forgotten dream, and she would turn to Stanley, needing to touch him, needing to make sure he was still there.
It was a good life—there was no wild drinking, no outside sex, no drugs, no boredom, no bitter arguments about what to do next. There was only a single cloud. It was her mother who first mentioned the presence of this cloud. That her mother would be the one to finally do so seemed, in retrospect, preordained. It finally came out as a question in one of Ruth Blum’s letters. She wrote Patty once a week, and that particular letter had arrived in the early fall of 1979. It came forwarded from the old Traynor address and Patty read it in a living room filled with cardboard liquor-store cartons from which spilled their possessions, looking forlorn and uprooted and dispossessed.
In most ways it was the usual Ruth Blum Letter from Home: four closely written blue pages, each one headed JUST A NOTE FROM RUTH. Her scrawl was nearly illegible, and Stanley had once complained he could not read a single word his mother-in-law wrote. “Why would you want to? ” Patty had responded.
This one was full of Mom’s usual brand of news; for Ruth Blum recollection was a broad delta, spreading out from the moving point of the now in an ever-widening fan of interlocking relationships. Many of the people of whom her mother wrote were beginning to fade in Patty’s memory like photographs in an old album, but to Ruth all of them remained fresh. Her concerns for their health and her curiosity about their various doings never seemed to wane, and her prognoses were unfailingly dire. Her father was still having too many stomach-aches. He was sure it was just dyspepsia; the idea that he might have an ulcer, she wrote, would not cross his mind until he actually began coughing up blood and probably not even then. You know your father, dear—he works like a mule, and he also thinks like one sometimes, God should forgive me for saying so. Randi Harlengen had gotten her tubes tied, they took cysts as big as golfballs out of her ovaries, no malignancy, thank God, but twenty-seven ovarian cysts, could you die? It was the water in New York City, she was quite sure of that—the city air was dirty, too, but she was convinced it was the water that really got to you after awhile. It built up deposits inside a person. She doubted if Patty knew how often she had thanked God that “you kids” were out in the country, where both air and water— but particularly the water—were healthier (to Ruth all of the South, including Atlanta and Birmingham, was the country). Aunt Margaret was feuding with the power company again. Stella Flanagan had gotten married again, some people never learned. Richie Huber had been fired again.
And in the middle of this chatty—and often catty—out-pouring, in the middle of a paragraph, apropos of nothing which had gone before or which came after, Ruth Blum had casually asked the Dreaded Question: “So when are you and Stan going to make us grandparents? We’re all ready to start spoiling him (or her) rotten. And in case you hadn’t noticed, Patsy, we’re not getting any younger. ” And then on to the Bruckner girl from down the block who had been sent home from school because she was wearing no bra and a blouse that you could see right through.
Feeling low and homesick for their old place in Traynor, feeling unsure and more than a little afraid of what might be ahead, Patty had gone into what was to become their bedroom and had lain down upon the mattress (the box spring was still out in the garage, and the mattress, lying all by itself on the big carpetless floor, looked like an artifact cast up on a strange yellow beach). She put her head in her arms and lay there weeping for nearly twenty minutes. She supposed that cry had been coming anyway. Her mother’s letter had just brought it on sooner, the way dust hurries the tickle in your nose into a sneeze.
Stanley wanted kids. She wanted kids. They were as compatible on that subject as they were on their enjoyment of Woody Allen’s films, their more or less regular attendance at synagogue, their political leanings, their dislike of marijuana, a hundred other things both great and small. There had been an extra room in the Traynor house, which they had split evenly down the middle. On the left he had a desk for working and a chair for reading; on the right she had a sewing machine and a cardtable where she did jigsaw puzzles. There had been an agreement between them about that room so strong they rarely spoke of it—it was simply there, like their noses or the wedding rings on their left hands. Someday that room would belong to Andy or to Jenny. But where was that child? The sewing machine and the baskets of fabric and the cardtable and the desk and the La-Z-Boy all kept their places, seeming each month to solidify their holds on their respective positions in the room and to further establish their legitimacy. So she thought, although she never could quite crystallize the thought; like the word pornographic, it was a concept that danced just beyond her ability to quantify. But she did remember one time when she got her period, sliding open the cupboard under the bathroom sink to get a sanitary napkin; she remembered looking at the box of Stayfree pads and thinking that the box looked almost smug, seemed almost to be saying: Hello, Patty! We are your children. We are the only children you will ever have, and we are hungry. Nurse us. Nurse us on blood.
In 1976, three years after she had thrown away the last cycle of Ovral tablets, they saw a doctor named Harkavay in Atlanta. “We want to know if there is something wrong, ” Stanley said, “and we want to know if we can do anything about it if there is. ”
They took the tests. They showed that Stanley’s sperm was perky, that Patty’s eggs were fertile, that all the channels that were supposed to be open were open.
Harkavay, who wore no wedding ring and who had the open, pleasant, ruddy face of a college grad student just back from a midterm skiing vacation in Colorado, told them that maybe it was just nerves. He told them that such a problem was by no means uncommon. He told them that there seemed to be a psychological correlative in such cases that was in some ways similar to sexual impotency—the more you wanted to, the less you could. They would have to relax. They ought, if they could, to forget all about procreation when they had sex.
Stan was grumpy on the way home. Patty asked him why.
“I never do, ” he said.
“Do what? ”
“Think of procreation during. ”
She began to giggle, even though she was by then feeling a bit lonesome and frightened. And that night, lying in bed, long after she believed that Stanley must be asleep, he had frightened her by speaking out of the dark. His voice was flat but nevertheless choked with tears. “It’s me, ” he said. “It’s my fault. ”
She rolled toward him, groped for him, held him.
“Don’t be a stupid, ” she said. But her heart was beating fast—much too fast. It wasn’t just that he had startled her; it was as if he had looked into her mind and read a secret conviction she held there but of which she had not known until this minute. With no rhyme, no reason, she felt—knew— that he was right. There was something wrong, and it wasn’t her. It was him. Something in him.
“Don’t be such a klutz, ” she whispered fiercely against his shoulder. He was sweating lightly and she became suddenly aware that he was afraid. The fear was coming off him in cold waves; lying naked with him was suddenly like lying naked in front of an open refrigerator.
“I’m not a klutz and I’m not being stupid, ” he said in that same voice, which was simultaneously flat and choked with emotion, “and you know it. It’s me. But I don’t know why. ”
“You can’t know any such thing. ” Her voice was harsh, scolding—her mother’s voice when her mother was afraid. And even as she scolded him a shudder ran through her body, twisting it like a whip. Stanley felt it and his arms tightened around her.
“Sometimes, ” he said, “sometimes I think I know why. Sometimes I have a dream, a bad dream, and I wake up and I think, ‘I know now. I know what’s wrong. ’ Not just you not catching pregnant—everything. Everything that’s wrong with my life. ”
“Stanley, nothing’s wrong with your life!”
“I don’t mean from inside, ” he said. “From inside is fine. I’m talking about outside. Something that should be over and isn’t. I wake up from these dreams and think, ‘My whole pleasant life has been nothing but the eye of some storm I don’t understand. ’ I’m afraid. But then it just . . . fades. The way dreams do. ”
She knew that he sometimes dreamed uneasily. On half a dozen occasions he had awakened her, thrashing and moaning. Probably there had been other times when she had slept through his dark interludes. Whenever she reached for him, asked him, he said the same thing: I can’t remember. Then he would reach for his cigarettes and smoke sitting up in bed, waiting for the residue of the dream to pass through his pores like bad sweat.
No kids. On the night of May 28th, 1985—the night of the bath—their assorted in-laws were still waiting to be grandparents. The extra room was still an extra room; the Stayfree Maxis and Stayfree Minis still occupied their accustomed places in the cupboard under the bathroom sink; the cardinal still paid its monthly visit. Her mother, who was much occupied with her own affairs but not entirely oblivious to her daughter’s pain, had stopped asking in her letters and when Stanley and Patty made their twice-yearly trips back to New York. There were no more humorous remarks about whether or not they were taking their vitamin E. Stanley had also stopped mentioning babies, but sometimes, when she didn’t know he was looking, she saw a shadow on his face. Some shadow. As if he were trying desperately to remember something.
Other than that one cloud, their lives were pleasant enough until the phone rang during the middle of Family Feud on the night of May 28th. Patty had six of Stan’s shirts, two of her blouses, her sewing kit, and her odd-button box; Stan had the new William Denbrough novel, not even out in paperback yet, in his hands. There was a snarling beast on the front of this book. On the back was a bald man wearing glasses.
Stan was sitting nearer the phone. He picked it up and said, “Hello—Uris residence. ”
He listened, and a frown line delved between his eyebrows. “Who did you say? ”
Patty felt an instant of fright. Later, shame would cause her to lie and tell her parents that she had known something was wrong from the instant the telephone had rung, but in reality there had only been that one instant, that one quick look up from her sewing. But maybe that was all right. Maybe they had both suspected that something was coming long before that phone call, something that didn’t fit with the nice house set tastefully back behind the low yew hedges, something so much a given that it really didn’t need much of an acknowledgment . . . that one sharp instant of fright, like the stab of a quickly withdrawn icepick, was enough.
Is it Mom? she mouthed at him in that instant, thinking that perhaps her father, twenty pounds overweight and prone to what he called “the bellyache” since his early forties, had had a heart attack.
Stan shook his head at her, and then smiled a bit at something the voice on the phone was saying. “You . . . you! Well, I’ll be goddamned! Mike! How did y—”
He fell silent again, listening. As his smile faded she recognized—or thought she did—his analytic expression, the one which said someone was unfolding a problem or explaining a sudden change in an ongoing situation or telling him something strange and interesting. This last was probably the case, she gathered. A new client? An old friend? Perhaps. She turned her attention back to the TV, where a woman was flinging her arms around Richard Dawson and kissing him madly. She thought that Richard Dawson must get kissed even more than the Blarney stone. She also thought she wouldn’t mind kissing him herself.
As she began searching for a black button to match the ones on Stanley’s blue denim shirt, Patty was vaguely aware that the conversation was settling into a smoother groove—Stanley grunted occasionally, and once he asked: “Are you sure, Mike? ” Finally, after a very long pause, he said, “All right, I understand. Yes, I . . . Yes. Yes, everything. I have the picture. I . . . what? . . . No, I can’t absolutely promise that, but I’ll consider it carefully. You know that . . . oh? . . . He did? . . . Well, you bet! Of course I do. Yes . . . sure . . . thank you . . . yes. Bye-bye. ” He hung up.
Patty glanced at him and saw him staring blankly into space over the TV set. On her show, the audience was applauding the Ryan family, which had just scored two hundred and eighty points, most of them by guessing that the audience survey would answer “math” in response to the question “What class will people say Junior hates most in school? ” The Ryans were jumping up and down and screaming joyfully. Stanley, however, was frowning. She would later tell her parents she thought Stanley’s face had looked a little off-color, and so she did, but she neglected to tell them she had dismissed it at the time as only a trick of the table-lamp, with its green glass shade.
“Who was that, Stan? ”
“Hmmmm? ” He looked around at her. She thought the look on his face was one of gentle abstraction, perhaps mixed with minor annoyance. It was only later, replaying the scene in her mind again and again, that she began to believe it was the expression of a man who was methodically unplugging himself from reality, one cord at a time. The face of a man who was heading out of the blue and into the black.
“Who was that on the phone? ”
“No one, ” he said. “No one, really. I think I’ll take a bath. ” He stood up.
“What, at seven o’clock? ”
He didn’t answer, only left the room. She might have asked him if something was wrong, might even have gone after him and asked him if he was sick to his stomach—he was sexually uninhibited, but he could be oddly prim about other things, and it wouldn’t be at all unlike him to say he was going to take a bath when what he really had to do was whoops something which hadn’t agreed with him. But now a new family, the Piscapos, were being introduced, and Patty just knew Richard Dawson would find something funny to say about that name, and besides, she was having the devil’s own time finding a black button, although she knew there were loads of them in the button box. They hid, of course; that was the only explanation. . . .
So she let him go and did not think of him again until the credit-crawl, when she looked up and saw his empty chair. She had heard the water running into the tub upstairs and had heard it stop five or ten minutes later . . . but now she realized she had never heard the fridge door open and close, and that meant he was up there without a can of beer. Someone had called him up and dropped a big fat problem in his lap, and had she offered him a single word of commiseration ? No. Tried to draw him out a little about it? No. Even noticed that something was wrong? For the third time, no. All because of that stupid TV show—she couldn’t even really blame the buttons; they were only an excuse.
Okay—she’d take him up a can of Dixie, and sit beside him on the edge of the tub, scrub his back, play Geisha and wash his hair if he wanted her to, and find out just what the problem was . . . or who it was.
She got a can of beer out of the fridge and went upstairs with it. The first real disquiet stirred in her when she saw that the bathroom door was shut. Not just part-way closed but shut tight. Stanley never closed the door when he was taking a bath. It was something of a joke between them—the closed door meant he was doing something his mother had taught him, the open door meant he would not be averse to doing something the teaching of which his mother had quite properly left to others.
Patty tapped on the door with her nails, suddenly aware, too aware, of the reptilian clicking sound they made on the wood. And surely tapping on the bathroom door, knocking like a guest, was something she had never done before in her married life—not here, not on any other door in the house.
The disquiet suddenly grew strong in her, and she thought of Carson Lake, where she had gone swimming often as a girl. By the first of August the lake was as warm as a tub . . . but then you’d hit a cold pocket that would shiver you with surprise and delight. One minute you were warm; the next moment it felt as if the temperature had plummeted twenty degrees below your hips. Minus the delight, that was how she felt now—as if she had just struck a cold pocket. Only this cold pocket was not below her hips, chilling her long teenager’s legs in the black depths of Carson Lake.
This one was around her heart.
“Stanley? Stan? ”
This time she did more than tap with her nails. She rapped on the door. When there was still no answer, she hammered on it.
Her heart. Her heart wasn’t in her chest anymore. It was beating in her throat, making it hard to breathe.
In the silence following her shout (and just the sound of herself shouting up here, less than thirty feet from the place where she laid her head down and went to sleep each night, frightened her even more), she heard a sound which brought panic up from the belowstairs part of her mind like an unwelcome guest. Such a small sound, really. It was only the sound of dripping water. Plink . . . pause. Plink . . . pause. Plink . . . pause. Plink . . .
She could see the drops forming on the snout of the faucet, growing heavy and fat there, growing pregnant there, and then falling off: plink.
Just that sound. No other. And she was suddenly, terribly sure that it had been Stanley, not her father, who had been stricken with a heart attack tonight.
With a moan, she gripped the cut-glass doorknob and turned it. Yet still the door would not move: it was locked. And suddenly three nevers occurred to Patty Uris in rapid succession: Stanley never took a bath in the early evening, Stanley never closed the door unless he was using the toilet, and Stanley had never locked the door against her at all.
Was it possible, she wondered crazily, to prepare for a heart attack?
Patty ran her tongue over her lips—it produced a sound in her head like fine sandpaper sliding along a board—and called his name again. There was still no answer except the steady, deliberate drip of the faucet. She looked down and saw she still held the can of Dixie beer in one hand. She gazed at it stupidly, her heart running like a rabbit in her throat; she gazed at it as if she had never seen a can of beer in her whole life before this minute. And indeed it seemed she never had, or at least never one like this, because when she blinked her eyes it turned into a telephone handset, as black and as threatening as a snake.
“May I help you, ma’am? Do you have a problem? ” the snake spat at her. Patty slammed it down in its cradle and stepped away, rubbing the hand which had held it. She looked around and saw she was back in the TV room and understood that the panic which had come into the front of her mind like a prowler walking quietly up a flight of stairs had had its way with her. Now she could remember dropping the beer can outside the bathroom door and pelting headlong back down the stairs, thinking vaguely: This is all a mistake of some kind and we’ll laugh about it later. He filled up the tub and then remembered he didn’t have cigarettes and went out to get them before he took his clothes off—
Yes. Only he had already locked the bathroom door from the inside and because it was too much of a bother to unlock it again he had simply opened the window over the tub and gone down the side of the house like a fly crawling down a wall. Sure, of course, sure—
Panic was rising in her mind again—it was like bitter black coffee threatening to overflow the rim of a cup. She closed her eyes and fought against it. She stood there, perfectly still, a pale statue with a pulse beating in its throat.
Now she could remember running back down here, feet stuttering on the stair-levels, running for the phone, oh yes, oh sure, but who had she meant to call?
Crazily, she thought: I would call the turtle, but the turtle couldn’t help us.
It didn’t matter anyway. She had gotten as far as 0 and she must have said something not quite standard, because the operator had asked if she had a problem. She had one, all right, but how did you tell that faceless voice that Stanley had locked himself in the bathroom and didn’t answer her, that the steady sound of the water dripping into the tub was killing her heart? Someone had to help her. Someone—
She put the back of her hand into her mouth and deliberately bit down on it. She tried to think, tried to force herself to think.
The spare keys. The spare keys in the kitchen cupboard.
She got going, and one slippered foot kicked the bag of buttons resting beside her chair. Some of the buttons spilled out, glittering like glazed eyes in the lamplight. She saw at least half a dozen black ones.
Mounted inside the door of the cupboard over the double-basin sink was a large varnished board in the shape of a key—one of Stan’s clients had made it in his workshop and given it to him two Christmases ago. The key-board was studded with small hooks, and swinging on these were all the keys the house took, two duplicates of each to a hook. Beneath each hook was a strip of Mystik tape, each strip lettered in Stan’s small, neat printing: GARAGE, ATTIC, D’STAIRS BATH, UPSTAIRS BATH, FRONT DOOR, BACK DOOR. Off to one side were ignition-key dupes labelled M-B and VOLVO.
Patty snatched the key marked UPSTAIRS BATH, began to run for the stairs, and then made herself walk. Running made the panic want to come back, and the panic was too close to the surface as it was. Also, if she just walked, maybe nothing would be wrong. Or, if there was something wrong, God could look down, see she was just walking, and think: Oh, good—pulled a hell of a boner, but I’ve got time to take it all back.
Walking as sedately as a woman on her way to a Ladies’ Book Circle meeting, she went up the stairs and down to the closed bathroom door.
“Stanley? ” she called, trying the door again at the same time, suddenly more afraid than ever, not wanting to use the key because having to use the key was somehow too final. If God hadn’t taken it back by the time she used the key, then He never would. The age of miracles, after all, was past.
But the door was still locked; the deliberate plink . . . pause of dripping water was her only answer.
Her hand was shaking, and the key chattered all the way around the plate before finding its way into the keyhole and socking itself home. She turned it and heard the lock snap back. She fumbled for the cut-glass knob. It tried to slide through her hand again—not because the door was locked this time but because her palm was wet with sweat. She firmed her grip and made it turn. She pushed the door open.
“Stanley? Stanley? St—”
She looked at the tub with its blue shower curtain bunched at the far end of the stainless steel rod and forgot how to finish her husband’s name. She simply stared at the tub, her face as solemn as the face of a child on her first day at school. In a moment she would begin to scream, and Anita MacKenzie next door would hear her, and it would be Anita MacKenzie who would call the police, convinced that someone had broken into the Uris house and that people were being killed over there.
But for now, this one moment, Patty Uris simply stood silent with her hands clasped in front of her against her dark cotton skirt, her face solemn, her eyes huge. And now the look of almost holy solemnity began to transform itself into something else. The huge eyes began to bulge. Her mouth pulled back into a dreadful grin of horror. She wanted to scream and couldn’t. The screams were too big to come out.
The bathroom was lit by fluorescent tubes. It was very bright. There were no shadows. You could see everything, whether you wanted to or not. The water in the tub was bright pink. Stanley lay with his back propped against the rear of the tub. His head had rolled so far back on his neck that strands of his short black hair brushed the skin between his shoulder-blades. If his staring eyes had still been capable of seeing, she would have looked upside down to him. His mouth hung open like a sprung door. His expression was one of abysmal, frozen horror. A package of Gillette Platinum Plus razor blades lay on the rim of the tub. He had slit his inner forearms open from wrist to the crook of the elbow, and then had crossed each of these cuts just below the Bracelets of Fortune, making a pair of bloody capital T’s. The gashes glared red-purple in the harsh white light. She thought the exposed tendons and ligaments looked like cuts of cheap beef.
A drop of water gathered at the lip of the shiny chromium faucet. It grew fat. Grew pregnant, you might say. It sparkled. It dropped. Plink.
He had dipped his right forefinger in his own blood and had written a single word on the blue tiles above the tub, written it in two huge, staggering letters. A zig-zagging bloody fingermark fell away from the second letter of this word—his finger had made that mark, she saw, as his hand fell into the tub, where it now floated. She thought Stanley must have made that mark—his final impression on the world—as he lost consciousness. It seemed to cry out at her:
Another drop fell into the tub.
That did it. Patty Uris at last found her voice. Staring into her husband’s dead and sparkling eyes, she began to scream.
Richard Tozier Takes a Powder
Rich felt like he was doing pretty good until the vomiting started.
He had listened to everything Mike Hanlon told him, said all the right things, answered Mike’s questions, even asked a few of his own. He was vaguely aware that he was doing one of his Voices—not a strange and outrageous one, like those he sometimes did on the radio (Kinky Briefcase, Sexual Accountant was his own personal favorite, at least for the time being, and positive listener response on Kinky was almost as high as for his listeners’ all-time favorite, Colonel Buford Kissdrivel), but a warm, rich, confident Voice. An I’m-All-Right Voice. It sounded great, but it was a lie. Just like all the other Voices were lies.
“How much do you remember, Rich? ” Mike asked him.
“Very little, ” Rich said, and then paused. “Enough, I suppose. ”
“Will you come? ”
“I’ll come, ” Rich said, and hung up.
He sat in his study for a moment, leaning back in the chair behind his desk, looking out at the Pacific Ocean. A couple of kids were down on the left, horsing around on their surfboards, not really riding them. There wasn’t much surf to ride.
The clock on the desk—an expensive L. E. D. quartz that had been a gift from a record company rep—said that it was 5:09 P. M. on May 28th, 1985. It would, of course, be three hours later where Mike was calling from. Dark already. He felt a prickle of gooseflesh at that and he began to move, to do things. First, of course, he put on a record—not hunting, just grabbing blindly among the thousands racked on the shelves. Rock and roll was almost as much a part of his life as the Voices, and it was hard for him to do anything without music playing—and the louder the better. The record he grabbed turned out to be a Motown retrospective. Marvin Gaye, one of the newer members of what Rich sometimes called The All-Dead Band, came on singing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine. ”
“Oooh-hoo, I bet you’re wond’rin’ how I knew. . . . ”
“Not bad, ” Rich said. He even smiled a little. This was bad, and it had admittedly knocked him for a loop, but he felt that he was going to be able to handle it. No sweat.
He began getting ready to go back home. And at some point during the next hour it occurred to him that it was as if he had died and had yet been allowed to make all of his own final business dispositions . . . not to mention his own funeral arrangements. And he felt as if he was doing pretty good. He tried the travel agent he used, thinking she would probably be on the freeway and headed home by now but taking a shot on the off-chance. For a wonder, he caught her in. He told her what he needed and she asked him for fifteen minutes.
“I owe you one, Carol, ” he said. They had progressed from Mr. Tozier and Ms. Feeny to Rich and Carol over the last three years—pretty chummy, considering they had never met face to face.
“All right, pay off, ” she said. “Can you do Kinky Briefcase for me? ”
Without even pausing—if you had to pause to find your Voice, there was usually no Voice there to be found—Rich said: “Kinky Briefcase, Sexual Accountant, here—I had a fellow come in the other day who wanted to know what the worst thing was about getting AIDS. ” His voice had dropped slightly; at the same time its rhythm had speeded up and become jaunty—it was clearly an American voice and yet it somehow conjured up images of a wealthy British colonial chappie who was as charming, in his muddled way, as he was addled. Rich hadn’t the slightest idea who Kinky Briefcase really was, but he was sure he always wore white suits, read Esquire, and drank things which came in tall glasses and smelled like coconut-scented shampoo. “I told him right away—trying to explain to your mother how you picked it up from a Haitian girl. Until next time, this is Kinky Briefcase, Sexual Accountant, saying ‘You need my card if you can’t get hard. ’ ”
Carol Feeny screamed with laughter. “That’s perfect! Perfect! My boyfriend says he doesn’t believe you can just do those voices, he says it’s got to be a voice-filter gadget or something—”
“Just talent, my dear, ” Rich said. Kinky Briefcase was gone. W. C. Fields, top hat, red nose, golf-bags and all, was here. “I’m so stuffed with talent I have to plug up all my bodily orifices to keep it from just running out like . . . well, just running out. ”
She went off into another screamy gale of laughter, and Rich closed his eyes. He could feel the beginnings of a headache.
“Be a dear and see what you can do, would you? ” he asked, still being W. C. Fields, and hung up on her laughter.
Now he had to go back to being himself, and that was hard—it got harder to do that every year. It was easier to be brave when you were someone else.
He was trying to pick out a pair of good loafers and had about decided to stick with sneakers when the phone rang again. It was Carol Feeny, back in record time. He felt an instant urge to fall into the Buford Kissdrivel Voice and fought it off. She had been able to get him a first-class seat on the American Airlines red-eye nonstop from LAX to Boston. He would leave L. A. at 9:03 P. M. and arrive at Logan about five o’clock tomorrow morning. Delta would fly him out of Boston at 7:30 A. M. and into Bangor, Maine, at 8:20. She had gotten him a full-sized sedan from Avis, and it was only twenty-six miles from the Avis counter at Bangor International Airport to the Derry town line.
Only twenty-six miles? Rich thought. Is that all, Carol? Well, maybe it is—in miles, anyway. But you don’t have the slightest idea how far it really is to Derry, and I don’t, either. But oh God, oh dear God, I am going to find out.
“I didn’t try for a room because you didn’t tell me how long you’d be there, ” she said. “Do you—”
“No—let me take care of that, ” Rich said, and then Buford Kissdrivel took over. “You’ve been a peach, my deah. A Jawja peach, a cawse. ”
He hung up gently on her—always leave em laughing—and then dialed 207-555-1212 for State of Maine Directory Assistance. He wanted a number for the Derry Town House. God, there was a name from the past. He hadn’t thought of the Derry Town House in—what?—ten years? twenty? twenty-five years, even? Crazy as it seemed, he guessed it had been at least twenty-five years, and if Mike hadn’t called, he supposed he might never have thought of it again in his life. And yet there had been a time in his life when he had walked past that great red brick pile every day—and on more than one occasion he had run past it, with Henry Bowers and Belch Huggins and that other big boy, Victor Somebody-or-Other, in hot pursuit, all of them yelling little pleasantries like We’re gonna getcha, fuckface! Gonna getcha, you little smartass! Gonna getcha, you foureyed faggot! Had they ever gotten him?
Before Rich could remember, an operator was asking him what city, please.
“In Derry, operator—”
Derry! God! Even the word felt strange and forgotten in his mouth; saying it was like kissing an antique.
“—do you have a number for the Derry Town House? ”
“One moment, sir. ”
No way. It’ll be gone. Razed in an urban-renewal program. Changed into an Elks’ Hall or a Bowl-a-Drome or an Electric Dreamscape Video Arcade. Or maybe burned down one night when the odds finally ran out on some drunk shoe salesman smoking in bed. All gone, Richie—just like the glasses Henry Bowers always used to rag you about. What’s that Springsteen song say? Glory days. . . gone in the wink of a young girl’s eye. What young girl? Why, Bev, of course. Bev . . .
Changed the Town House might be, but gone it apparently was not, because a blank, robotic voice now came on the line and said: “The . . . number . . . is . . . 9 . . . 4 . . . I. . . 8. . . 2. . . 8. . . 2. Repeat: . . . the. . . number . . . is . . .
But Rich had gotten it the first time. It was a pleasure to hang up on that droning voice—it was too easy to imagine some great globular Directory Assistance monster buried somewhere in the earth, sweating rivets and holding thousands of telephones in thousands of jointed chromium tentacles—the Ma Bell version of Spidey’s nemesis, Dr. Octopus. Each year the world Rich lived in felt more and more like a huge electronic haunted house in which digital ghosts and frightened human beings lived in uneasy coexistence.
Still standing. To paraphrase Paul Simon, still standing after all these years.
He dialed the hotel he had last seen through the horn-rimmed spectacles of his childhood. Dialing that number, 1-207-941-8282, was fatally easy. He held the telephone to his ear, looking out his study’s wide picture window. The surfers were gone; a couple was walking slowly up the beach, hand in hand, where they had been. The couple could have been a poster on the wall of the travel agency where Carol Feeny worked, that was how perfect they were. Except, that was, for the fact they were both wearing glasses.
Gonna getcha, fuckface! Gonna break your glasses!
Criss, his mind sent up abruptly. His last name was Criss. Victor Criss.
Oh Christ, that was nothing he wanted to know, not at this late date, but it didn’t seem to matter in the slightest. Something was happening down there in the vaults, down there where Rich Tozier kept his own personal collection of Golden Oldies. Doors were opening.
Only they’re not records down there, are they? Down there you’re not Rich “Records” Tozier, hot-shot KLAD deejay and the Man of a Thousand Voices, are you? And those things that are opening . . . they aren’t exactly doors, are they?
He tried to shake these thoughts off.
Thing to remember is that I’m okay. I’m okay, you’re okay, Rich Tozier’s okay. Could use a cigarette, is all.
He had quit four years ago but he could use one now, all right.
They’re not records but dead bodies. You buried them deep but now there’s some kind of crazy earthquake going on and the ground is spitting them up to the surface. You’re not Rich “Records” Tozier down there; down there you’re just Richie “Four-Eyes” Tozier and you’re with your buddies and you’re so scared it feels like your balls are turning into Welch’s grape jelly. Those aren’t doors, and they’re not opening. Those are crypts, Richie. They’re cracking open and the vampires you thought were dead are all flying out again.
A cigarette, just one. Even a Carlton would do, for Christ’s sweet sake.
Gonna getcha, four-eyes! Gonna make you EAT that fuckin bookbag!
“Town House, ” a male voice with a Yankee tang said; it had travelled all the way across New England, the Midwest, and under the casinos of Las Vegas to reach his ear.
Rich asked the voice if he could reserve a suite of rooms at the Town House, beginning tomorrow. The voice told him he could, and then asked him for how long.
“I can’t say. I’ve got—” He paused briefly, minutely.
What did he have, exactly? In his mind’s eye he saw a boy with a tartan bookbag running from the tough guys; he saw a boy who wore glasses, a thin boy with a pale face that had somehow seemed to scream Hit me! Go on and hit me! in some mysterious way to every passing bully. Here’s my lips! Mash them back against my teeth! Here’s my nose! Bloody it for sure and break it if you can! Box an ear so it swells up like a cauliflower! Split an eyebrow! Here’s my chin, go for the knockout button! Here are my eyes, so blue and so magnified behind these hateful, hateful glasses, these horn-rimmed specs one bow of which is held on with adhesive tape. Break the specs! Drive a shard of glass into one of these eyes and close it forever! What the hell!
He closed his eyes and said: “I’ve got business in Derry, you see. I don’t know how long the transaction will take. How about three days, with an option to renew? ”
“An option to renew? ” the desk-clerk asked doubtfully, and Rich waited patiently for the fellow to work it over in his mind. “Oh, I get you! That’s very good!”
“Thank you, and I. . . ah . . . hope you can vote for us in Novembah, ” John F. Kennedy said. “Jackie wants to . . . ah . . . do ovuh the . . . ah . . . Oval Office, and I’ve got a job all lined up for my . . . ah . . . brothah Bobby. ”
“Mr. Tozier? ”
“Okay . . . somebody else got on the line there for a few seconds. ”
Just an old pol from the D. O. P. , Rich thought. That’s Dead Old Party, in case you should wonder. Don’t worry about it. A shudder worked through him, and he told himself again, almost desperately: You’re okay, Rich.
“I heard it, too, ” Rich said. “Must have been a line cross-over. How we looking on that room? ”
“Oh, there’s no problem with that, ” the clerk said. “We do business here in Derry, but it really never booms. ”
“Is that so? ”
“Oh, ayuh, ” the clerk agreed, and Rich shuddered again. He had forgotten that, too—that simple northern New England-ism for yes. Oh, ayuh.
Gonna getcha, creep! the ghostly voice of Henry Bowers screamed, and he felt more crypts cracking open inside of him; the stench he smelled was not decayed bodies but decayed memories, and that was somehow worse.
He gave the Town House clerk his American Express number and hung up. Then he called Steve Covall, the KLAD program director.
“What’s up, Rich? ” Steve asked. The last Arbitron ratings had shown KLAD at the top of the cannibalistic Los Angeles FM-rock market, and ever since then Steve had been in an excellent mood—thank God for small favors.
“Well, you might be sorry you asked, ” he told Steve. “I’m taking a powder. ”
“Taking—” He could hear the frown in Steve’s voice. “I don’t think I get you, Rich. ”
“I have to put on my boogie shoes. I’m going away. ”
“What do you mean, going away? According to the log I have right here in front of me, you’re on the air tomorrow from two in the afternoon until six P. M. , just like always. In fact, you’re interviewing Clarence Clemons in the studio at four. You know Clarence Clemons, Rich? As in ‘Come on and blow, Big Man’? ”
“Clemons can talk to Mike O’Hara as well as he can to me. ”
“Clarence doesn’t want to talk to Mike, Rich. Clarence doesn’t want to talk to Bobby Russell. He doesn’t want to talk to me. Clarence is a big fan of Buford Kissdrivel and Wyatt the Homicidal Bag-Boy. He wants to talk to you, my friend. And I have no interest in having a pissed-off two-hundred-and-fifty-pound saxophone player who was once almost drafted by a pro football team running amok in my studio. ”
“I don’t think he has a history of running amok, ” Rich said. “I mean, we’re talking Clarence Clemons here, not Keith Moon. ”
There was silence on the line. Rich waited patiently.
“You’re not serious, are you? ” Steve finally asked. He sounded plaintive. “I mean, unless your mother just died or you’ve got to have a brain tumor out or something, this is called crapping out. ”
“I have to go, Steve. ”
“Is your mother sick? Did she God-forbid die? ”
“She died ten years ago. ”
“Have you got a brain tumor? ”
“Not even a rectal polyp. ”
“This is not funny, Rich. ”
“You’re being a fucking busher, and I don’t like it. ”
“I don’t like it either, but I have to go. ”
“Where? Why? What is this? Talk to me, Rich!”
“Someone called me. Someone I used to know a long time ago. In another place. Back then something happened. I made a promise. We all promised that we would go back if the something started happening again. And I guess it has. ”
“What something are we talking about, Rich? ”
“I’d just as soon not say. ” Also, you’ll think I’m crazy if I tell you the truth: I don’t remember.
“When did you make this famous promise? ”
“A long time ago. In the summer of 1958. ”
There was another long pause, and he knew Steve Covall was trying to decide if Rich “Records” Tozier, aka Buford Kissdrivel, aka Wyatt the Homicidal Bag-Boy, etc. , etc. , was having him on or was having some kind of mental breakdown.
“You would have been just a kid, ” Steve said flatly.
“Eleven. Going on twelve. ”
Another long pause. Rich waited patiently.
“All right, ” Steve said. “I’ll shift the rotation—put Mike in for you. I can call Chuck Foster to pull a few shifts, I guess, if I can find what Chinese restaurant he’s currently holed up in. I’ll do it because we go back a long way together. But I’m never going to forget you bushed out on me, Rich. ”
“Oh, get down off it, ” Rich said, but the headache was getting worse. He knew what he was doing; did Steve really think he didn’t? “I need a few days off, is all. You’re acting like I took a shit on our FCC charter. ”
“A few days off for what? The reunion of your Cub Scout pack in Shithouse Falls, North Dakota, or Pussyhump City, West Virginia? ”
“Actually I think Shithouse Falls is in Arkansas, bo, ” Buford Kissdrivel said in his big hollow-barrel Voice, but Steve was not to be diverted.
“Because you made a promise when you were eleven? Kids don’t make serious promises when they’re eleven, for Christ’s sake! And it’s not even that, Rich, and you know it. This is not an insurance company; this is not a law office. This is show-business, be it ever so humble, and you fucking well know it. If you had given me a week’s notice, I wouldn’t be holding this phone in one hand and a bottle of Mylanta in the other. You are putting my balls to the wall, and you know it, so don’t you insult my intelligence!”
Steve was nearly screaming now, and Rich closed his eyes. I’m never going to forget it, Steve had said, and Rich supposed he never would. But Steve had also said kids didn’t make serious promises when they were eleven, and that wasn’t true at all. Rich couldn’t remember what the promise had been—wasn’t sure he wanted to remember—but it had been plenty serious.
“Steve, I have to. ”
“Yeah. And I told you I could handle it. So go ahead. Go ahead, you busher. ”
“Steve, this is rid—”
But Steve had already hung up. Rich put the phone down. He had barely started away from it when it began to ring again, and he knew without picking it up that it was Steve again, madder than ever. Talking to him at this point would do no good; things would just get uglier. He slid the switch on the side of the phone to the right, cutting it off in mid-ring.
He went upstairs, pulled two suitcases out of the closet, and filled them with a barely glanced-at conglomeration of clothes—jeans, shirts, underwear, socks. It would not occur to him until later that he had taken nothing but kid-clothes. He carried the suitcases back downstairs.
On the den wall was a black-and-white Ansel Adams photograph of Big Sur. Rich swung it back on hidden hinges, exposing a barrel safe. He opened it, pawed his way past the paperwork—the house here, poised cozily between the fault-line and the brush-fire zone, twenty acres of timberland in Idaho, a bunch of stocks. He had bought the stocks seemingly at random—when his broker saw Rich coming, he immediately clutched his head—but the stocks had all risen steadily over the years. He was sometimes surprised by the thought that he was almost—not quite, but almost—a rich man. All courtesy of rock-and-roll music . . . and the Voices, of course.
House, acres, stocks, insurance policy, even a copy of his last will and testament. The strings that bind you tight to the map of your life, he thought.
There was a sudden wild impulse to whip out his Zippo and light it up, the whole whore’s combine of wherefores and know-ye-all-men-by-these-present’s and the-bearer-of-this-certificate-is-entitled’s. And he could do it, too. The papers in his safe had suddenly ceased to signify anything.
The first real terror struck him then, and there was nothing at all supernatural about it. It was only a realization of how easy it was to trash your life. That was what was so scary. You just dragged the fan up to everything you had spent the years raking together and turned the motherfucker on. Easy. Burn it up or blow it away, then just take a powder.
Behind the papers, which were only currency’s second cousins, was the real stuff. The cash. Four thousand dollars in tens, twenties, and fifties.
Taking it now, stuffing it into the pocket of his jeans, he wondered if he hadn’t somehow known what he was doing when he put the money in here—fifty bucks one month, a hundred and twenty the next, maybe only ten the month after that. Rathole money. Taking-a-powder money.
“Man, that’s scary, ” he said, barely aware he had spoken. He was looking blankly out the big window at the beach. It was deserted now, the surfers gone, the honeymooners (if that was what they had been) gone, too.
Ah, yes, doc—it all comes back to me now. Remember Stanley Uris, for instance? Bet your fur I do. . . . Remember how we used to say that, and think it was so cool? Stanley Urine, the big kids called him. “Hey, Urine! Hey, you fuckin Christ-killer! Where ya goin? One of ya fag friends gonna give you a bee jay? ”
He slammed the safe door shut and swung the picture back into place. When had he last thought of Stan Uris? Five years ago? Ten? Twenty? Rich and his family had moved away from Derry in the spring of 1960, and how fast all of their faces faded, his gang, that pitiful bunch of losers with their little clubhouse in what had been known then as the Barrens—funny name for an area as lush with growth as that place had been. Kidding themselves that they were jungle explorers, or Seabees carving out a landing strip on a Pacific atoll while they held off the Japs, kidding themselves that they were dam-builders, cowboys, spacemen on a jungle world, you name it, but whatever you name it, don’t let’s forget what it really was: it was hiding. Hiding from the big kids. Hiding from Henry Bowers and Victor Criss and Belch Huggins and the rest of them. What a bunch of losers they had been—Stan Uris with his big Jew-boy nose, Bill Denbrough who could say nothing but “Hi-yo, Silver!” without stuttering so badly that it drove you almost dogshit, Beverly Marsh with her bruises and her cigarettes rolled into the sleeve of her blouse, Ben Hanscom who had been so big he looked like a human version of Moby Dick, and Richie Tozier with his thick glasses and his A averages and his wise mouth and his face which just begged to be pounded into new and exciting shapes. Was there a word for what they had been? Oh yes. There always was. Le mot juste. In this case le mot juste was wimps.
How it came back, how all of it came back . . . and now he stood here in his den shivering as helplessly as a homeless mutt caught in a thunderstorm, shivering because the guys he had run with weren’t all he remembered. There were other things, things he hadn’t thought of in years, trembling just below the surface.
A darkness. Some darkness.
The house on Neibolt Street, and Bill screaming: You k-killed my brother, you fuh-fuh-fucker!
Did he remember? Just enough not to want to remember any more, and you could bet your fur on that.
A smell of garbage, a smell of shit, and a smell of something else. Something worse than either. It was the stink of the beast, the stink of It, down there in the darkness under Derry where the machines thundered on and on. He remembered George—
But that was too much and he ran for the bathroom, blundering into his Eames chair on his way and almost falling. He made it . . . barely. He slid across the slick tiles to the toilet on his knees like some weird break-dancer, gripped the edges, and vomited everything in his guts. Even then it wouldn’t stop; suddenly he could see Georgie Denbrough as if he had last seen him yesterday, Georgie who had been the start of it all, Georgie who had been murdered in the fall of 1957. Georgie had died right after the flood, one of his arms had been ripped from its socket, and Rich had blocked all of that out of his memory. But sometimes those things come back, oh yes indeedy, they come back, sometimes they come back.
The spasm passed and Rich groped blindly for the flush. Water roared. His early supper, regurgitated in hot chunks, vanished tastefully down the drain.
Into the sewers.
Into the pound and stink and darkness of the sewers.
He closed the lid, laid his forehead against it, and began to cry. It was the first time he had cried since his mother died in 1975. Without even thinking of what he was doing, he cupped his hands under his eyes, and the contact lenses he wore slipped out and lay glistening in his palms.
Forty minutes later, feeling husked-out and somehow cleansed, he threw his suitcases into the trunk of his MG and backed it out of the garage. The light was fading. He looked at his house with the new plantings, he looked at the beach, at the water, which had taken on the cast of pale emeralds broken by a narrow track of beaten gold. And a conviction stole over him that he would never see any of this again, that he was a dead man walking.
“Going home now, ” Rich Tozier whispered to himself. “Going home, God help me, going home. ”
He put the car in gear and went, feeling again how easy it had been to slip through an unsuspected fissure in what he had considered a solid life—how easy it was to get over onto the dark side, to sail out of the blue and into the black.
Out of the blue and into the black, yes, that was it. Where anything might be waiting.
Ben Hanscom Takes a Drink
If, on that night of May 28th, 1985, you had wanted to find the man Time magazine had called “perhaps the most promising young architect in America” (“Urban Energy Conservation and the Young Turks, ” Time, October 15, 1984), you would have had to drive west out of Omaha on Interstate 80 to do it. You’d have taken the Swedholm exit and then Highway 81 to downtown Swedholm (of which there isn’t much). There you’d turn off on Highway 92 at Bucky’s Hi-Hat Eat-Em-Up (“Chicken Fried Steak Our Specialty”) and once out in the country again you’d hang a right on Highway 63, which runs straight as a string through the deserted little town of Gatlin and finally into Hemingford Home. Downtown Hemingford Home made downtown Swedholm look like New York City; the business district consisted of eight buildings, five on one side and three on the other. There was the Kleen Kut barber shop (propped in the window a yellowing hand-lettered sign fully fifteen years old read IF YOUR A “HIPPY” GET YOUR HAIR CUT SOMEWHERES ELSE), the second-run movie house, the five-and-dime. There was a branch of the Nebraska Homeowners’ Bank, a 76 gas station, a Rexall Drug, and the National Farmstead & Hardware Supply—which was the only business in town which looked halfway prosperous.
And, near the end of the main drag, set off a little way from the other buildings like a pariah and resting on the edge of the big empty, you had your basic roadhouse—the Red Wheel. If you had gotten that far, you would have seen in the potholed dirt parking lot an aging 1968 Cadillac convertible with double CB antennas on the back. The vanity plate on the front read simply: BEN’S CADDY. And inside, walking toward the bar, you would have found your man—lanky, sunburned, dressed in a chambray shirt, faded jeans, and a pair of scuffed engineer boots. There were faint squint-lines around the corners of his eyes, but nowhere else. He looked perhaps ten years younger than his actual age, which was thirty-eight.
“Hello, Mr. Hanscom, ” Ricky Lee said, putting a paper napkin on the bar as Ben sat down. Ricky Lee sounded a trifle surprised, and he was. He had never seen Hanscom in the Wheel on a weeknight before. He came in regularly every Friday night for two beers, and every Saturday night for four or five; he always asked after Ricky Lee’s three boys; he always left the same five-dollar tip under his beer stein when he took off. In terms of both professional conversation and personal regard, he was far and away Ricky Lee’s favorite customer. The ten dollars a week (and the fifty left under the stein at each Christmas-time over the last five years) was fine enough, but the man’s company was worth far more. Worthwhile company was always a rarity, but in a honkytonk like this, where talk always came cheap, it was scarcer than hen’s teeth.
Although Hanscom’s roots were in New England and he had gone to college in California, there was more than a touch of the extravagant Texan about him. Ricky Lee counted on Ben Hanscom’s Friday-Saturday-night stops, because he had learned over the years that he could count on them. Mr. Hanscom might be building a skyscraper in New York (where he already had three of the most talked-about buildings in the city), a new art gallery in Redondo Beach, or a business building in Salt Lake City, but come Friday night the door leading to the parking lot would open sometime between eight o’clock and nine-thirty and in he would stroll, as if he lived no farther than the other side of town and had decided to drop in because there was nothing good on TV. He had his own Learjet and a private landing strip on his farm in Junkins.
Two years ago he had been in London, first designing and then overseeing the construction of the new BBC communications center—a building that was still hotly debated pro and con in the British press (the Guardian: “Perhaps the most beautiful building to be constructed in London over the last twenty years”; the Mirror: “Other than the face of my mother-in-law after a pub-crawl, the ugliest thing I have ever seen”). When Mr. Hanscom took that job, Ricky Lee had thought, Well, I’ll see him again sometime. Or maybe he’ll just forget all about us. And indeed, the Friday night after Ben Hanscom left for England had come and gone with no sign of him, although Ricky Lee found himself looking up quickly every time the door opened between eight and nine-thirty. Well, I’ll see him again sometime. Maybe. Sometime turned out to be the next night. The door had opened at quarter past nine and in he had ambled, wearing jeans and a GO ‘BAMA tee-shirt and his old engineer boots, looking like he’d come from no farther away than cross-town. And when Ricky Lee cried almost joyfully “Hey, Mr. Hanscom! Christ! What are you doin here? , ” Mr. Hanscom had looked mildly surprised, as if there was nothing in the least unusual about his being here. Nor had that been a one-shot; he had showed up every Saturday during the two-year course of his active involvement in the BBC job. He left London each Saturday morning at 11:00 A. M. on the Concorde, he told a fascinated Ricky Lee, and arrived at Kennedy in New York at 10:15 A. M.—forty-five minutes before he left London, at least by the clock (“God, it’s like time travel, ain’t it? ” an impressed Ricky Lee had said). A limousine was standing by to take him over to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, a trip which usually took no more than an hour on Saturday morning. He could be in the cockpit of his Lear before noon with no trouble at all, and touching down in Junkins by two-thirty. If you head west fast enough, he told Ricky, the day just seems to go on forever. He would take a two-hour nap, spend an hour with his foreman and half an hour with his secretary. He would eat supper and then come on over to the Red Wheel for an hour and a half or so. He always came in alone, he always sat at the bar, and he always left the way he had come in, although God knew there were plenty of women in this part of Nebraska who would have been happy to screw the socks off him. Back at the farm he would catch six hours of sleep and then the whole process would reverse itself. Ricky had never had a customer who failed to be impressed with this story. Maybe he’s gay, a woman had told him once. Ricky Lee glanced at her briefly, taking in the carefully styled hair, the carefully tailored clothes which undoubtedly had designer labels, the diamond chips at her ears, the look in her eyes, and knew she was from somewhere back east, probably New York, out here on a brief duty visit to a relative or maybe an old school chum, and couldn’t wait to get out again. No, he had replied. Mr. Hanscom ain’t no sissy. She had taken a pack of Doral cigarettes from her purse and held one between her red, glistening lips until he lit it for her. How do you know? she had asked, smiling a little. I just do, he said. And he did. He thought of saying to her: I think he’s the most God-awful lonely man I ever met in my life. But he wasn’t going to say any such thing to this New York woman who was looking at him like he was some new and amusing type of life.
Tonight Mr. Hanscom looked a little pale, a little distracted.
“Hello, Ricky Lee, ” he said, sitting down, and then fell to studying his hands.
Ricky Lee knew he was slated to spend the next six or eight months in Colorado Springs, overseeing the start of the Mountain States Cultural Center, a sprawling six-building complex which would be cut into the side of a mountain. When it’s done people are going to say it looks like a giant-kid left his toy blocks all over a flight of stairs, Ben had told Ricky Lee. Some will, anyway, and they’ll be at least half-right. But I think it’s going to work. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever tried and putting it up is going to be scary as hell, but I think it’s going to work.
Ricky Lee supposed it was possible that Mr. Hanscom had a little touch of stage fright. Nothing surprising about that, and nothing wrong about it, either. When you got big enough to be noticed, you got big enough to come gunning for. Or maybe he just had a touch of the bug. There was a hell of a lively one going around.
Ricky Lee got a beer stein from the backbar and reached for the Olympia tap.
“Don’t do that, Ricky Lee. ”
Ricky Lee turned back, surprised—and when Ben Hanscom looked up from his hands, he was suddenly frightened. Because Mr. Hanscom didn’t look like he had stage fright, or the virus that was going around, or anything like that. He looked like he had just taken a terrible blow and was still trying to understand whatever it was that had hit him.
Someone died. He ain’t married but every man’s got a fambly, and someone in his just bit the dust. That’s what happened, just as sure as shit rolls downhill from a privy.
Someone dropped a quarter into the juke-box, and Barbara Mandrell started to sing about a drunk man and a lonely woman.
“You okay, Mr. Hanscom? ”
Ben Hanscom looked at Ricky Lee out of eyes that suddenly looked ten—no, twenty—years older than the rest of his face, and Ricky Lee was astonished to observe that Mr. Hanscom’s hair was graying. He had never noticed any gray in his hair before.
Hanscom smiled. The smile was ghastly, horrible. It was like watching a corpse smile.
“I don’t think I am, Ricky Lee. No sir. Not tonight. Not at all. ”
Ricky Lee set the stein down and walked back over to where Hanscom sat. The bar was as empty as a Monday-night bar far outside of football season can get. There were fewer than twenty paying customers in the place. Annie was sitting by the door into the kitchen, playing cribbage with the short-order cook.
“Bad news, Mr. Hanscom? ”
“Bad news, that’s right. Bad news from home. ” He looked at Ricky Lee. He looked through Ricky Lee.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Mr. Hanscom. ”
“Thank you, Ricky Lee. ”
He fell silent and Ricky Lee was about to ask him if there was anything he could do when Hanscom said:
“What’s your bar whiskey, Ricky Lee? ”
“For everyone else in this dump it’s Four Roses, ” Ricky Lee said. “But for you I think it’s Wild Turkey. ”
Hanscom smiled a little at that. “That’s good of you, Ricky Lee. I think you better grab that stein after all. What you do is fill it up with Wild Turkey. ”
“Fill it? ” Ricky Lee asked, frankly astonished. “Christ, I’ll have to roll you out of here!” Or call an ambulance, he thought.
“Not tonight, ” Hanscom said. “I don’t think so. ”
Ricky Lee looked carefully into Mr. Hanscom’s eyes to see if he could possibly be joking, and it took less than a second to see that he wasn’t. So he got the stein from the backbar and the bottle of Wild Turkey from one of the shelves below. The neck of the bottle chattered against the rim of the stein as he began to pour. He watched the whiskey gurgle out, fascinated in spite of himself. Ricky Lee decided it was more than just a touch of the Texan that Mr. Hanscom had in him: this had to be the biggest goddamned shot of whiskey he ever had poured or ever would pour in his life.
Call an ambulance, my ass. He drinks this baby and I’ll be calling Parker and Waters in Swedholm for their funeral hack.
Nevertheless he brought it back and set it down in front of Hanscom; Ricky Lee’s father had once told him that if a man was in his right mind, you brought him what he paid for, be it piss or poison. Ricky Lee didn’t know if that was good advice or bad, but he knew that if you tended bar for a living, it went a fair piece toward saving you from being chomped into gator-bait by your own conscience.
Hanscom looked at the monster drink thoughtfully for a moment and then asked, “What do I owe you for a shot like that, Ricky Lee? ”
Ricky Lee shook his head slowly, eyes still on the steinful of whiskey, not wanting to look up and meet those socketed, staring eyes. “No, ” he said. “This one is on the house. ”
Hanscom smiled again, this time more naturally. “Why, I thank you, Ricky Lee. Now I am going to show you something I learned about in Peru, in 1978. I was working with a guy named Frank Billings—understudying with him, I guess you’d say. Frank Billings was the best damned architect in the world, I think. He caught a fever and the doctors injected about a billion different antibiotics into him and not a single one of them touched it. He burned for two weeks and then he died. What I’m going to show you I learned from the Indians who worked on the project. The local popskull is pretty potent. You take a slug and you think it’s going down pretty mellow, no problem, and then all at once it’s like someone lit a blowtorch in your mouth and aimed it down your throat. But the Indians drink it like Coca-Cola, and I rarely saw one drunk, and I never saw one with a hangover. Never had the sack to try it their way myself. But I think I’ll give it a go tonight. Bring me some of those lemon wedges there. ”
Ricky Lee brought him four and laid them out neatly on a fresh napkin next to the stein of whiskey. Hanscom picked one of them up, tilted his head back like a man about to administer eyedrops to himself, and then began to squeeze raw lemon-juice into his right nostril.
“Holy Jesus!” Ricky Lee cried, horrified.
Hanscom’s throat worked. His face flushed . . . and then Ricky Lee saw tears running down the flat planes of his face toward his ears. Now the Spinners were on the juke, singing about the rubberband-man. “Oh Lord, I just don’t know how much of this I can stand, ” the Spinners sang.
Hanscom groped blindly on the bar, found another slice of lemon, and squeezed the juice into his other nostril.
“You’re gonna fucking kill yourself, ” Ricky Lee whispered.
Hanscom tossed both of the wrung-out lemon wedges onto the bar. His eyes were fiery red and he was breathing in hitching, wincing gasps. Clear lemon-juice dripped from both of his nostrils and trickled down to the corners of his mouth. He groped for the stein, raised it, and drank a third of it. Frozen, Ricky Lee watched his adam’s apple go up and down.
Hanscom set the stein aside, shuddered twice, then nodded. He looked at Ricky Lee and smiled a little. His eyes were no longer red.
“Works about like they said it did. You are so fucking concerned about your nose that you never feel what’s going down your throat at all. ”
“You’re crazy, Mr. Hanscom, ” Ricky Lee said.
“You bet your fur, ” Mr. Hanscom said. “You remember that one, Ricky Lee? We used to say that when we were kids ‘You bet your fur. ’ Did I ever tell you I used to be fat? ”
“No sir, you never did, ” Ricky Lee whispered. He was now convinced that Mr. Hanscom had received some intelligence so dreadful that the man really had gone crazy . . . or at least taken temporary leave of his senses.
“I was a regular butterball. Never played baseball or basketball, always got caught first when we played tag, couldn’t keep out of my own way. I was fat, all right. And there were these fellows in my home town who used to take after me pretty regularly. There was a fellow named Reginald Huggins, only everyone called him Belch. A kid named Victor Criss. A few other guys. But the real brains of the combination was a fellow named Henry Bowers. If there has ever been a genuinely evil kid strutting across the skin of the world, Ricky Lee, Henry Bowers was that kid. I wasn’t the only kid he used to take after; my problem was, I couldn’t run as fast as some of the others. ”
Hanscom unbuttoned his shirt and opened it. Leaning forward, Ricky Lee saw a funny, twisted scar on Mr. Hanscom’s stomach, just above his navel. Puckered, white, and old. It was a letter, he saw. Someone had carved the letter “H” into the man’s stomach, probably long before Mr. Hanscom had been a man.
“Henry Bowers did that to me. About a thousand years ago. I’m lucky I’m not wearing his whole damned name down there. ”
Hanscom took the other two lemon-slices, one in each hand, tilted his head back, and took them like nose-drops. He shuddered wrackingly, put them aside, and took two big swallows from the stein. He shuddered again, took another gulp, and then groped for the padded edge of the bar with his eyes closed. For a moment he held on like a man on a sailboat clinging to the rail for support in a heavy sea. Then he opened his eyes again and smiled at Ricky Lee.
“I could ride this bull all night, ” he said.
“Mr. Hanscom, I wish you wouldn’t do that anymore, ” Ricky Lee said nervously.
Annie came over to the waitresses’ stand with her tray and called for a couple of Millers. Ricky Lee drew them and took them down to her. His legs felt rubbery.
“Is Mr. Hanscom all right, Ricky Lee? ” Annie asked. She was looking past Ricky Lee and he turned to follow her gaze. Mr. Hanscom was leaning over the bar, carefully picking lemon-slices out of the caddy where Ricky Lee kept the drink garnishes.
“I don’t know, ” he said. “I don’t think so. ”
“Well get your thumb out of your ass and do something about it. ” Annie was, like most other women, partial to Ben Hanscom.
“I dunno. My daddy always said that if a man’s in his right mind—”
“Your daddy didn’t have the brains God gave a gopher, ” Annie said. “Never mind your daddy. You got to put a stop to that, Ricky Lee. He’s going to kill himself. ”
Thus given his marching orders, Ricky Lee went back down to where Ben Hanscom sat. “Mr. Hanscom, I really think you’ve had en—”
Hanscom tilted his head back. Squeezed. Actually sniffed the lemon-juice back this time, as if it were cocaine. He gulped whiskey as if it were water. He looked at Ricky Lee solemnly. “Bing-bang, I saw the whole gang, dancing on my living-room rug, ” he said, and then laughed. There was maybe two inches of whiskey left in the stein.
“That is enough, ” Ricky Lee said, and reached for the stein.
Hanscom moved it gently out of his reach. “Damage has been done, Ricky Lee, ” he said. “The damage has been done, boy. ”
“Mr. Hanscom, please—”
“I’ve got something for your kids, Ricky Lee. Damn if I didn’t almost forget!”
He was wearing a faded denim vest, and now he reached something out of one of its pockets. Ricky Lee heard a muted clink.
“My dad died when I was four, ” Hanscom said. There was no slur at all in his voice. “Left us a bunch of debts and these. I want your kiddos to have them, Ricky Lee. ” He put three cartwheel silver dollars on the bar, where they gleamed under the soft lights. Ricky Lee caught his breath.
“Mr. Hanscom, that’s very kind, but I couldn’t—”
“There used to be four, but I gave one of them to Stuttering Bill and the others. Bill Denbrough, that was his real name. Stuttering Bill’s just what we used to call him . . . just a thing we used to say, like ‘You bet your fur. ’ He was one of the best friends I ever had—I did have a few, you know, even a fat kid like me had a few. Stuttering Bill’s a writer now. ”
Ricky Lee barely heard him. He was looking at the cartwheels, fascinated. 1921, 1923, and 1924. God knew what they were worth now, just in terms of the pure silver they contained.
“I couldn’t, ” he said again.
“But I insist. ” Mr. Hanscom took hold of the stein and drained it. He should have been flat on his keister, but his eyes never left Ricky Lee’s. Those eyes were watery, and very bloodshot, but Ricky Lee would have sworn on a stack of Bibles that they were also the eyes of a sober man.
“You’re scaring me a little, Mr. Hanscom, ” Ricky Lee said. Two years ago Gresham Arnold, a rumdum of some local repute, had come into the Red Wheel with a roll of quarters in his hand and a twenty-dollar bill stuck into the band of his hat. He handed the roll to Annie with instructions to feed the quarters into the juke-box by fours. He put the twenty on the bar and instructed Ricky Lee to set up drinks for the house. This rumdum, this Gresham Arnold, had long ago been a star basketball player for the Hemingford Rams, leading them to their first (and most likely last) high-school team championship. In 1961 that had been. An almost unlimited future seemed to lie ahead of the young man. But he had flunked out of L. S. U. his first semester, a victim of drink, drugs, and all-night parties. He came home, cracked up the yellow convertible his folks had given him as a graduation present, and got a job as head salesman in his daddy’s John Deere dealership. Five years passed. His father could not bear to fire him, and so he finally sold the dealership and retired to Arizona, a man haunted and made old before his time by the inexplicable and apparently irreversible degeneration of his son. While the dealership still belonged to his daddy and he was at least pretending to work, Arnold had made some effort to keep the booze at arm’s length; afterward, it got him completely. He could get mean, but he had been just as sweet as horehound candy the night he brought in the quarters and set up drinks for the house, and everyone had thanked him kindly, and Annie kept playing Moe Bandy songs because Gresham Arnold liked ole Moe Bandy. He sat there at the bar—on the very stool where Mr. Hanscom was sitting now, Ricky Lee realized with steadily deepening unease—and drank three or four bourbon-and-bitters, and sang along with the juke, and caused no trouble, and went home when Ricky Lee closed the Wheel up, and hanged himself with his belt in an upstairs closet. Gresham Arnold’s eyes that night had looked a little bit like Ben Hanscom’s eyes looked right now.
“Scaring you a bit, am I? ” Hanscom asked, his eyes never leaving Ricky Lee’s. He pushed the stein away and then folded his hands neatly in front of those three silver cartwheels. “I probably am. But you’re not as scared as I am, Ricky Lee. Pray to Jesus you never are. ”
“Well, what’s the matter? ” Ricky Lee asked. “Maybe—” He wet his lips. “Maybe I can give you a help. ”
“The matter? ” Ben Hanscom laughed. “Why, not too much. I had a call from an old friend tonight. Guy named Mike Hanlon. I’d forgotten all about him, Ricky Lee, but that didn’t scare me much. After all, I was just a kid when I knew him, and kids forget things, don’t they? Sure they do. You bet your fur. What scared me was getting about halfway over here and realizing that it wasn’t just Mike I’d forgotten about—I’d forgotten everything about being a kid. ”
Ricky Lee only looked at him. He had no idea what Mr. Hanscom was talking about—but the man was scared, all right. No question about that. It sat funny on Ben Hanscom, but it was real.
“I mean I’d forgotten all about it, ” he said, and rapped his knuckles lightly on the bar for emphasis. “Did you ever hear, Ricky Lee, of having an amnesia so complete you didn’t even know you had amnesia? ”
Ricky Lee shook his head.
“Me either. But there I was, tooling along in the Caddy tonight, and all of a sudden it hit me. I remembered Mike Hanlon, but only because he called me on the phone. I remembered Derry, but only because that was where he was calling from. ”
“But that was all. It hit me that I hadn’t even thought about being a kid since . . . since I don’t even know when. And then, just like that, it all started to flood back in. Like what we did with the fourth silver dollar. ”
“What did you do with it, Mr. Hanscom? ”
Hanscom looked at his watch, and suddenly slipped down from his stool. He staggered a bit—the slightest bit. That was all. “Can’t let the time get away from me, ” he said. “I’m flying tonight. ”
Ricky Lee looked instantly alarmed, and Hanscom laughed.
“Flying but not driving the plane. Not this time. United Airlines, Ricky Lee. ”
“Oh. ” He supposed his relief showed on his face, but he didn’t care. “Where are you going? ”
Hanscom’s shirt was still open. He looked thoughtfully down at the puckered white lines of the old scar on his belly and then began to button the shirt over it.
“Thought I told you that, Ricky Lee. Home. I’m going home. Give those cartwheels to your kids. ” He started toward the door, and something about the way he walked, even the way he hitched at the sides of his pants, terrified Ricky Lee. The resemblance to the late and mostly unlamented Gresham Arnold was suddenly so acute it was nearly like seeing a ghost.
“Mr. Hanscom!” he cried in alarm.
Hanscom turned back, and Ricky Lee stepped quickly backward. His ass hit the backbar and glassware gossiped briefly as the bottles knocked together. He stepped back because he was suddenly convinced that Ben Hanscom was dead. Yes, Ben Hanscom was lying dead someplace, in a ditch or an attic or possibly in a closet with a belt noosed around his neck and the toes of his four-hundred-dollar cowboy boots dangling an inch or two above the floor, and this thing standing near the juke and staring back at him was a ghost. For a moment—just a moment, but it was plenty long enough to cover his working heart with a rime of ice—he was convinced he could see tables and chairs right through the man.
“What is it, Ricky Lee? ”
“Nuh-n-nuh. Nothin. ”
Ben Hanscom looked out at Ricky Lee from eyes which had dark-purple crescents beneath them. His cheeks burned with liquor; his nose looked red and sore.
“Nothin, ” Ricky Lee whispered again, but he couldn’t take his eyes from that face, the face of a man who has died deep in sin and now stands hard by hell’s smoking side door.
“I was fat and we were poor, ” Ben Hanscom said. “I remember that now. And I remember that either a girl named Beverly or Stuttering Bill saved my life with a silver dollar. I’m scared almost insane by whatever else I may remember before tonight’s over, but how scared I am doesn’t matter, because it’s going to come anyway. It’s all there, like a great big bubble that’s growing in my mind. But I’m going, because all I’ve ever gotten and all I have now is somehow due to what we did then, and you pay for what you get in this world. Maybe that’s why God made us kids first and built us close to the ground, because He knows you got to fall down a lot and bleed a lot before you learn that one simple lesson. You pay for what you get, you own what you pay for . . . and sooner or later whatever you own comes back home to you. ”
“You gonna be back this weekend, though, ain’t you? ” Ricky Lee asked through numbed lips. In his increasing distress this was all he could find to hold on to. “You gonna be back this weekend just like always, ain’t you? ”
“I don’t know, ” Mr. Hanscom said, and smiled a terrible smile. “I’m going a lot farther than London this time, Ricky Lee. ”
“You give those cartwheels to your kids, ” he repeated, and slipped out into the night.
“What the blue hell? ” Annie asked, but Ricky Lee ignored her. He flipped up the bar’s partition and ran over to one of the windows which looked out on the parking lot. He saw the headlights of Mr. Hanscom’s Caddy come on, heard the engine rev. It pulled out of the dirt lot, kicking up a rooster-tail of dust behind it. The taillights dwindled away to red points down Highway 63, and the Nebraska nightwind began to pull the hanging dust apart.
“He took on a boxcar full of booze and you let him get in that big car of his and drive away, ” Annie said. “Way to go, Ricky Lee. ”
“Never mind. ”
“He’s going to kill himself. ”
And although this had been Ricky Lee’s own thought less than five minutes ago, he turned to her when the taillights winked out of sight and shook his head.
“I don’t think so, ” he said. “Although the way he looked tonight, it might be better for him if he did. ”
“What did he say to you? ”
He shook his head. It was all confused in his mind, and the sum total of it seemed to mean nothing. “It doesn’t matter. But I don’t think we’re ever going to see that old boy again. ”
Eddie Kaspbrak Takes His Medicine
If you would know all there is to know about an American man or woman of the middle class as the millennium nears its end, you would need only to look in his or her medicine cabinet—or so it has been said. But dear Lord, get a look into this one as Eddie Kaspbrak slides it open, mercifully sliding aside his white face and wide, staring eyes.
On the top shelf there’s Anacin, Excedrin, Excedrin P. M. , Contac, Gelusil, Tylenol, and a large blue jar of Vicks, looking like a bit of brooding deep twilight under glass. There is a bottle of Vivarin, a bottle of Serutan (That’s “Nature’s” spelled backwards, the ads on Lawrence Welk used to say when Eddie Kaspbrak was but a wee slip of a lad), and two bottles of Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia—the regular, which tastes like liquid chalk, and the new mint flavor, which tastes like mint-flavored liquid chalk. Here is a large bottle of Rolaids standing chummily close to a large bottle of Turns. The Turns are standing next to a large bottle of orange-flavored Di-Gel tablets. The three of them look like a trio of strange piggy-banks, stuffed with pills instead of dimes.
Second shelf, and dig the vites: you got your E, your C, your C with rosehips. You got B-simple and B-complex and B-12. There’s L-Lysine, which is supposed to do something about those embarrassing skin problems, and lecithin, which is supposed to do something about that embarrassing cholesterol build-up in and around the Big Pump. There’s iron, calcium, and cod liver oil. There’s One-A-Day multiples, Myadec multiples, Centrum multiples. And sitting up on top of the cabinet itself is a gigantic bottle of Geritol, just for good measure.
Moving right along to Eddie’s third shelf, we find the utility infielders of the patent-medicine world. Ex-Lax. Carter’s Little Pills. Those two keep Eddie Kaspbrak moving the mail. Here, nearby, is Kaopectate, Pepto-Bismol, and Preparation H in case the mail moves too fast or too painfully. Also some Tucks in a screw-top jar just to keep everything tidy after the mail has gone through, be it just an advertising circular or two addressed to OCCUPANT or a big old special-delivery package. Here is Formula 44 for coughs, Nyquil and Dristan for colds, and a big bottle of castor oil. There’s a tin of Sucrets in case Eddie’s throat gets sore, and there’s a quartet of mouthwashes: Chloraseptic, Cépacol, Cēpestat in the spray bottle, and of course good old Listerine, often imitated but never duplicated. Visine and Murine for the eyes. Cortaid and Neosporin ointment for the skin (the second line of defense if the L-Lysine doesn’t live up to expectations), a tube of Oxy-5 and a plastic bottle of Oxy-Wash (because Eddie would definitely rather have a few less cents than a few more zits), and some tetracyline pills.
And off to one side, clustered like bitter conspirators, are three bottles of coal-tar shampoo.
The bottom shelf is almost deserted, but the stuff which is here means serious business—you could cruise on this stuff, okay. On this stuff you could fly higher than Ben Hanscom’s jet and crash harder than Thurman Munson’s. There’s Valium, Percodan, Elavil, and Darvon Complex. There is also another Sucrets box on this low shelf, but there are no Sucrets in it. If you opened that one you would find six Quaaludes.
Eddie Kaspbrak believed in the Boy Scout motto.
He was swinging a blue tote-bag as he came into the bathroom. He set it on the sink, unzipped it, and then, with trembling hands, he began to spill bottles and jars and tubes and squeeze-bottles and spray-bottles into it. Under other circumstances he would have taken them out handful by careful handful, but there was no time for such niceties now. The choice, as Eddie saw it, was as simple as it was brutal: get moving and keep moving or stand in one place long enough to start thinking about what all of this meant and simply die of fright.
“Eddie? ” Myra called up from downstairs. “Eddie, what are you dooooing? ”
Eddie dropped the Sucrets box containing the ’ludes into the bag. The medicine cabinet was now entirely empty except for Myra’s Midol and a small, almost used-up tube of Blistex. He paused for a moment and then grabbed the Blistex. He started to zip the bag closed, debated, and then threw in the Midol as well. She could always buy more.
“Eddie? ” from halfway up the stairs now.
Eddie zipped the bag the rest of the way closed and then left the bathroom, swinging it by his side. He was a short man with a timid, rabbity sort of face. Much of his hair was gone; what was left grew in listless, piebald patches. The weight of the bag pulled him noticeably to one side.
An extremely large woman was climbing slowly to the second floor. Eddie could hear the stairs creak protestingly under her.
“What are you DOOOOOOOOING? ”
Eddie did not need a shrink to tell him that he had, in a sense, married his mother. Myra Kaspbrak was huge. She had only been big when Eddie married her five years ago, but he sometimes thought his subconscious had seen the potential for hugeness in her; God knew his own mother had been a whopper. And she looked somehow more huge than ever as she reached the second-floor landing. She was wearing a white nightgown which swelled, comberlike, at bosom and hip. Her face, devoid of make-up, was white and shiny. She looked badly frightened.
“I have to go away for awhile, ” Eddie said.
“What do you mean, you have to go away? What was that telephone call? ”
“Nothing, ” he said, fleeing abruptly down the hallway to their walk-in closet. He put the tote-bag down, opened the closet’s foldback door, and raked aside the half-dozen identical black suits which hung there, as conspicuous as a thundercloud among the other, more brightly colored, clothes. He always wore one of the black suits when he was working. He bent into the closet, smelling mothballs and wool, and pulled out one of the suitcases from the back. He opened it and began throwing clothes in.
Her shadow fell over him.
“What’s this about, Eddie? Where are you going? You tell me!”
“I can’t tell you. ”
She stood there, watching him, trying to decide what to say next, or what to do. The thought of simply bundling him into the closet and then standing with her back against the door until this madness had passed crossed her mind, but she was unable to bring herself to do it, although she certainly could have; she was three inches taller than Eddie and outweighed him by a hundred pounds. She couldn’t think of what to do or say, because this was so utterly unlike him. She could not have been any more dismayed and frightened if she had walked into the television room and found their new big-screen TV floating in the air.
“You can’t go, ” she heard herself saying. “You promised you’d get me Al Pacino’s autograph. ” It was an absurdity—God knew it was—but at this point even an absurdity was better than nothing.
“You’ll still get it, ” Eddie said. “You’ll have to drive him yourself. ”
Oh, here was a new terror to join those already circling in her poor dazzled head. She uttered a small scream. “I can’t—I never—”
“You’ll have to, ” he said. He was examining his shoes now. “There’s no one else. ”
“Neither of my uniforms fit anymore! They’re too tight in the tits!”
“Have Delores let one of them out, ” he said implacably. He threw two pairs of shoes back, found an empty shoebox, and popped a third pair into it. Good black shoes, plenty of use left in them still, but looking just a bit too worn to wear on the job. When you drove rich people around New York for a living, many of them famous rich people, everything had to look just right. These shoes no longer looked just right . . . but he supposed they would do for where he was going. And for whatever he might have to do when he got there. Maybe Richie Tozier would—
But then the blackness threatened and he felt his throat beginning to close up. Eddie realized with real panic that he had packed the whole damned drugstore and had left the most important thing of all—his aspirator—downstairs on top of the stereo cabinet.
He banged the suitcase closed and latched it. He looked around at Myra, who was standing there in the hallway with her hand pressed against the short thick column of her neck as if she were the one with the asthma. She was staring at him, her face full of perplexity and terror, and he might have felt sorry for her if his heart had not already been so filled with terror for himself.
“What’s happened, Eddie? Who was that on the telephone? Are you in trouble? You are, aren’t you? What kind of trouble are you in? ”
He walked toward her, zipper-bag in one hand and suitcase in the other, standing more or less straight now that he was more evenly weighted. She moved in front of him, blocking off the stairway, and at first he thought she would not give way. Then, when his face was about to crash into the soft roadblock of her breasts, she did give way . . . fearfully. As he walked past, never slowing, she burst into miserable tears.
“I can’t drive Al Pacino!” she bawled. “I’ll smash into a stop-sign or something, I know I will! Eddie I’m scaaarrred!”
He looked at the Seth Thomas clock on the table by the stairs. Twenty past nine. The canned-sounding Delta clerk had told him he had already missed the last flight north to Maine—that one had left La Guardia at eight-twenty-five. He had called Amtrak and discovered there was a late train to Boston departing Penn Station at eleven-thirty. It would drop him off at South Station, where he could take a cab to the offices of Cape Cod Limousine on Arlington Street. Cape Cod and Eddie’s company, Royal Crest, had worked out a useful and friendly reciprocal arrangement over the years. A quick call to Butch Carrington in Boston had taken care of his transportation north—Butch said he would have a Cadillac limo gassed and ready for him. So he would go in style, and with no pain-in-the-ass client sitting in the back seat, stinking the air up with a big cigar and asking if Eddie knew where he could score a broad or a few grams of coke or both.
Going in style, all right, he thought. Only way you could go in more style would be if you were going in a hearse. But don’t worry, Eddie—that’s probably how you’ll come back. If there’s enough of you left to pick up, that is.
Nine-twenty. Plenty of time to talk to her, plenty of time to be kind. Ah, but it would have been so much better if this had been her whist night, if he could have just slipped out, leaving a note under one of the magnets on the refrigerator door (the refrigerator door was where he left all his notes for Myra, because there she never missed them). Leaving that way—like a fugitive—would not have been good, but this was even worse. This was like having to leave home all over again, and that had been so hard he’d had to do it three times.
Sometimes home is where the heart is, Eddie thought randomly. I believe that. Old Bobby Frost said home’s the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. Unfortunately, it’s also the place where, once you’re in there, they don’t ever want to let you out.
He stood at the head of the stairs, forward motion temporarily spent, filled with fear, breath wheezing noisily in and out of the pinhole his throat had become, and regarded his weeping wife.
“Come on downstairs with me and I’ll tell you what I can, ” he said.
Eddie put his two bags—clothes in one, medicine in the other—by the door in the front hall. He remembered something else then . . . or rather the ghost of his mother, who had been dead many years but who still spoke frequently in his mind, remembered for him.
You know when your feet get wet you always get a cold, Eddie—you’re not like other people, you have a very weak system, you have to be careful. That’s why you must always wear your rubbers when it rains.
It rained a lot in Derry.
Eddie opened the front-hall closet, got his rubbers off the hook where they hung neatly in a plastic bag, and put them in his clothes suitcase.
That’s a good boy, Eddie.
He and Myra had been watching TV when the shit hit the fan. Eddie went into the television room and pushed the button which lowered the screen of the MuralVision TV—its screen was so big that it made Freeman McNeil look like a visitor from Brobdingnag on Sunday afternoons. He picked up the telephone and called a taxi. The dispatcher told him it would probably be fifteen minutes. Eddie said that was no problem.
He hung up and grabbed his aspirator off the top of their expensive Sony compact-disc player. I spent fifteen hundred bucks on a state-of-the-art sound system so that Myra wouldn’t miss a single golden note on her Barry Manilow records and her “Supremes Greatest Hits, ” he thought, and then felt a flush of guilt. That wasn’t fair, and he damn well knew it. Myra would have been just as happy with her old scratchy records as she was with the new 45-rpm-sized laser discs, just as she would have been happy to keep on living in the little four-room house in Queens until they were both old and gray (and, if the truth were told, there was a little snow on Eddie Kaspbrak’s mountain already). He had bought the luxury sound system for the same reasons that he had bought this low fieldstone house on Long Island, where the two of them often rattled around like the last two peas in a can: because he had been able to, and because they were ways of appeasing the soft, frightened, often bewildered, always implacable voice of his mother; they were ways of saying: I made it, Ma! Look at all this! I made it! Now will you please for Christ’s sake shut up awhile?
Eddie stuffed the aspirator into his mouth and, like a man miming suicide, pulled the trigger. A cloud of awful licorice taste roiled and boiled its way down his throat, and Eddie breathed deeply. He could feel breathing passages which had almost closed start to open up again. The tightness in his chest started to ease, and suddenly he heard voices in his mind, ghost-voices.
Didn’t you get the note I sent you?
I got it, Mrs. Kaspbrak, but—
Well, in case you can’t read, Coach Black, let me tell you in person. Are you ready?
Good. Here it comes, from my lips to your ears. Ready? My Eddie cannot take physical education. I repeat: he can NOT take phys ed. Eddie is very delicate, and if he runs . . . or jumps . . .
Mrs. Kaspbrak, I have the results of Eddie’s last physical on file in my office—that’s a state requirement. It says that Eddie is a little small for his age, but otherwise he’s absolutely normal. So I called your family physician just to be sure and he confirmed—
Are you saying I’m a liar, Coach Black? Is that it? Well, here he is! Here’s Eddie, standing right beside me! Can you hear the way he’s breathing? CAN you?
Mom . . . please . . . I’m all right . . .
Eddie, you know better than that. I taught you better than that. Don’t interrupt your elders.
I hear him, Mrs. Kaspbrak, but—
Do you? Good! I thought maybe you were deaf! He sounds like a truck going uphill in low gear, doesn’t he? And if that isn’t asthma—
Mom, I’ll be—
Be quiet, Eddie, don’t interrupt me again. If that isn’t asthma, Coach Black, then I’m Queen Elizabeth!
Mrs. Kaspbrak, Eddie often seems very well and happy in his physical-education classes. He loves to play games, and he runs quite fast. In my conversation with Dr. Baynes, the word “psychosomatic” came up. I wonder if you’ve considered the possibility that—
—that my son is crazy? Is that what you’re trying to say? ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY THAT MY SON IS CRAZY? ? ? ?
My son is very delicate.
Mrs. Kaspbrak, Dr. Baynes confirmed that he could find nothing at all—
“—physically wrong, ” Eddie finished. The memory of that humiliating encounter, his mother screaming at Coach Black in the Derry Elementary School gymnasium while he gasped and cringed at her side and the other kids huddled around one of the baskets and watched, had recurred to him tonight for the first time in years. Nor was that the only memory which Mike Hanlon’s call was going to bring back, he knew. He could feel many others, as bad or even worse, crowding and jostling like sale-mad shoppers bottlenecked in a department-store doorway. But soon the bottleneck would break and they would be along. He was quite sure of that. And what would they find on sale? His sanity? Could be. Half-Price. Smoke and Water Damage. Everything Must Go.
“Nothing physically wrong, ” he repeated, took a deep shuddery breath, and stuffed the aspirator into his pocket.
“Eddie, ” Myra said. “Please tell me what all of this is about!”
Tear-tracks shone on her chubby cheeks. Her hands twisted restlessly together like a pair of pink and hairless animals at play. Once, shortly before actually proposing marriage, he had taken a picture of Myra which she had given him and had put it next to one of his mother, who had died of congestive heart-failure at the age of sixty-four. At the time of her death Eddie’s mother had topped the scales at over four hundred pounds—four hundred and six, to be exact. She had become something nearly monstrous by then—her body had seemed nothing more than boobs and butt and belly, all overtopped by her pasty, perpetually dismayed face. But the picture of her which he put next to Myra’s picture had been taken in 1944, two years before he had been born (You were a very sickly baby, the ghost-mom now whispered in his ear. Many times we despaired of your life . . . ). In 1944 his mother had been a relatively svelte one hundred and eighty pounds.
He had made that comparison, he supposed, in a last-ditch effort to stop himself from committing psychological incest. He looked from Mother to Myra and back again to Mother.
They could have been sisters. The resemblance was that close.
Eddie looked at the two nearly identical pictures and promised himself he would not do this crazy thing. He knew that the boys at work were already making jokes about Jack Sprat and his wife, but they didn’t know the half of it. The jokes and snide remarks he could take, but did he really want to be a clown in such a Freudian circus as this? No. He did not. He would break it off with Myra. He would let her down gently because she was really very sweet and had had even less experience with men than he’d had with women. And then, after she had finally sailed over the horizon of his life, he could maybe take those tennis lessons he’d been thinking of for such a long time
(Eddie often seems very well and happy in his physical-education classes)
or there were the pool memberships they were selling at the U. N. Plaza Hotel
(Eddie loves to play games)
not to mention that health club which had opened up on Third Avenue across from the garage . . .
(Eddie runs quite fast he runs quite fast when you’re not here runs quite fast when there’s nobody around to remind him of how delicate he is and I see in his face Mrs. Kaspbrak that he knows even now at the age of nine he knows that the biggest favor in the world he could do himself would be to run fast in any direction you’re not going let him go Mrs. Kaspbrak let him RUN)
But in the end he had married Myra anyway. In the end the old ways and the old habits had simply been too strong. Home was the place where, when you have to go there, they have to chain you up. Oh, he might have beaten his mother’s ghost. It would have been hard but he was quite sure he could have done that much, if that had been all which needed doing. It was Myra herself who had ended up tipping the scales away from independence. Myra had condemned him with solicitude, had nailed him with concern, had chained him with sweetness. Myra, like his mother, had reached the final, fatal insight into his character: Eddie was all the more delicate because he sometimes suspected he was not delicate at all; Eddie needed to be protected from his own dim intimations of possible bravery.
On rainy days Myra always took his rubbers out of the plastic bag in the closet and put them by the coat-rack next to the door. Beside his plate of unbuttered wheat toast each morning was a dish of what might have been taken at a casual glance for a multi-colored pre-sweetened children’s cereal, but which a closer look would have revealed to be a whole spectrum of vitamins (most of which Eddie had in his medicine-bag right now). Myra, like Mother, understood, and there had really been no chance for him. As a young unmarried man he had left his mother three times and returned home to her three times. Then, four years after his mother had died in the front hall of her Queens apartment, blocking the front door so completely with her bulk that the Medcu guys (called by the people downstairs when they heard the monstrous thud of Mrs. Kaspbrak going down for the final count) had had to break in through the locked door between the apartment’s kitchen and the service stairwell, he had returned home for a fourth and final time. At least he had believed then it was for the final time—home again, home again, jiggety-jog; home again, home again, with Myra the hog. A hog she was, but she was a sweet hog, and he loved her, and there had really been no chance for him at all. She had drawn him to her with the fatal, hypnotizing snake’s eye of understanding.
Home again forever, he had thought then.
But maybe I was wrong, he thought. Maybe this isn’t home, nor ever was—maybe home is where I have to go tonight. Home is the place where when you go there, you have to finally face the thing in the dark.
He shuddered helplessly, as if he had gone outside without his rubbers and caught a terrible chill.
She was beginning to weep again. Tears were her final defense, just as they had always been his mother’s: the soft weapon which paralyzes, which turns kindness and tenderness into fatal chinks in one’s armor.
Not that he’d ever worn much armor anyway—suits of armor did not seem to fit him very well.
Tears had been more than a defense for his mother; they had been a weapon. Myra had rarely used her own tears so cynically . . . but, cynically or not, he realized she was trying to use them that way now . . . and she was succeeding.
He couldn’t let her. It would be too easy to think of how lonely it was going to be, sitting in a seat on that train as it barrelled north toward Boston through the darkness, his suitcase overhead and his tote-bag full of nostrums between his feet, the fear sitting on his chest like a rancid Vicks-pack. Too easy to let Myra take him upstairs and make love to him with aspirins and an alcohol-rub. And put him to bed, where they might or might not make a franker sort of love.
But he had promised. Promised.
“Myra, listen to me, ” he said, making his voice purposely dry, purposely matter-of-fact.
She looked at him with her wet, naked, terrified eyes.
He thought he would try now to explain—as best he could; he would tell her about how Mike Hanlon had called and told him that it had started again, and yes, he thought most of the others were coming.
But what came out of his mouth was much saner stuff.
“Go down to the office first thing in the morning. Talk to Phil. Tell him I had to take off and that you’ll drive Pacino—”
“Eddie, I just can’t!” she wailed. “He’s a big star! If I get lost he’ll shout at me, I know he will, he’ll shout, they all do when the driver gets lost . . . and . . . and I’ll cry . . . there could be an accident . . . there probably will be an accident . . . Eddie . . . Eddie, you have to stay home. . . . ”
“For God’s sake! Stop it!”
She recoiled from his voice, hurt; although Eddie gripped his aspirator, he would not use it. She would see that as a weakness, one she could use against him. Dear God, if You are there, please believe me when I say I don’t want to hurt Myra. I don’t want to cut her, don’t even want to bruise her. But I promised, we all promised, we swore in blood, please help me God because I have to do this. . . .
“I hate it when you shout at me, Eddie, ” she whispered.
“Myra, I hate it when I have to, ” he said, and she winced. There you go, Eddie—youhurt her again. Why don’t you just punch her around the room a few times? That would probably be kinder. And quicker.
Suddenly—probably it was the thought of punching someone around the room which caused the image to come—he saw the face of Henry Bowers. It was the first time he had thought of Bowers in years, and it did nothing for his peace of mind. Nothing at all.
He closed his eyes briefly, then opened them and said: “You won’t get lost, and he won’t shout at you. Mr. Pacino is very nice, very understanding. ” He had never driven Pacino before in his life, but contented himself with knowing that at least the law of averages was on the side of this lie—according to popular myth most celebrities were shitheels, but Eddie had driven enough of them to know it usually wasn’t true.
There were, of course, exceptions to the rule—and in most cases the exceptions were real monstrosities. He hoped fervently for Myra’s sake that Pacino wasn’t one of these.
“Is he? ” she asked timidly.
“Yes. He is. ”
“How do you know? ”
“Demetrios drove him two or three times when he worked at Manhattan Limousine, ” Eddie said glibly. “He said Mr. Pacino always tipped at least fifty dollars. ”
“I wouldn’t care if he only tipped me fifty cents, as long as he didn’t shout at me. ”
“Myra, it’s all as easy as one-two-three. One, you make the pickup at the Saint Regis tomorrow at seven P. M. and take him over to the ABC Building. They’re retaping the last act of this play Pacino’s in—American Buffalo, I think it’s called. Two, you take him back to the Saint Regis around eleven. Three, you go back to the garage, turn in the car, and sign the greensheet. ”
“That’s all? ”
“That’s all. You can do it standing on your head, Marty. ”
She usually giggled at this pet name, but now she only looked at him with a painful childlike solemnity.
“What if he wants to go out to dinner instead of back to the hotel? Or for drinks? Or for dancing? ”
“I don’t think he will, but if he does, you take him. If it looks like he’s going to party all night, you can call Phil Thomas on the radio-phone after midnight. By then he’ll have a driver free to relieve you. I’d never stick you with something like this in the first place if I had a driver who was free, but I got two guys out sick, Demetrios on vacation, and everyone else booked up solid. You’ll be snug in your own bed by one in the morning, Marty—one in the morning at the very, very latest. I apple-solutely guarantee it. ”
She didn’t laugh at apple-solutely, either.
He cleared his throat and leaned forward, elbows on his knees. Instantly the ghost-mom whispered: Don’t sit that way, Eddie. It’s bad for your posture, and it cramps your lungs. You have very delicate lungs.
He sat up straight again, hardly aware he was doing it.
“This better be the only time I have to drive, ” she nearly moaned. “I’ve turned into such a horse in the last two years, and my uniforms look so bad now. ”
“It’s the only time, I swear. ”
“Who called you, Eddie? ”
As if on cue, lights swept across the wall; a horn honked once as the cab turned into the driveway. He felt a surge of relief. They had spent the fifteen minutes talking about Pacino instead of Derry and Mike Hanlon and Henry Bowers, and that was good. Good for Myra, and good for him as well. He did not want to spend any time thinking or talking about those things until he had to.
Eddie stood up. “It’s my cab. ”
She got up so fast she tripped over the hem of her own nightgown and fell forward. Eddie caught her, but for a moment the issue was in grave doubt: she outweighed him by a hundred pounds.
And she was beginning to blubber again.
“Eddie, you have to tell me!”
“I can’t. There’s no time. ”
“You never kept anything from me before, Eddie, ” she wept.
“And I’m not now. Not really. I don’t remember it all. At least, not yet. The man who called was—is—an old friend. He—”
“You’ll get sick, ” she said desperately, following him as he walked toward the front hall again. “I know you will. Let me come, Eddie, please, I’ll take care of you, Pacino can get a cab or something, it won’t kill him, what do you say, okay? ” Her voice was rising, becoming frantic, and to Eddie’s horror she began to look more and more like his mother, his mother as she had looked in the last months before she died: old and fat and crazy. “I’ll rub your back and see that you get your pills. . . . I . . . I’ll help you. . . . I won’t talk if you don’t want me to but you can tell me everything. . . . Eddie . . . Eddie, please don’t go! Eddie, please! Pleeeeeease!”
He was striding down the hall to the front door now, walking blind, head down, moving as a man moves against a high wind. He was wheezing again. When he picked up the bags each of them seemed to weigh a hundred pounds. He could feel her plump pink hands on him, touching, exploring, pulling with helpless desire but no real strength, trying to seduce him with her sweet tears of concern, trying to draw him back.
I’m not going to make it! he thought desperately. The asthma was worse now, worse than it had been since he was a kid. He reached for the doorknob but it seemed to be receding from him, receding into the blackness of outer space.
“If you stay I’ll make you a sour-cream coffee-cake, ” she babbled. “We’ll have popcorn. . . . I’ll make your favorite turkey dinner. . . . I’ll make it for breakfast tomorrow morning if you want . . . I’ll start right now . . . and giblet gravy . . . . Eddie please I’m scared you’re scaring me so bad!”
She grabbed his collar and pulled him backward, like a beefy cop putting the grab on a suspicious fellow who is trying to flee. With a final fading effort, Eddie kept going . . . and when he was at the absolute end of his strength and ability to resist, he felt her grip trail away.
She gave one final wail.
His fingers closed around the doorknob—how blessedly cool it was! He pulled the door open and saw a Checker cab sitting out there, an ambassador from the land of sanity. The night was clear. The stars were bright and lucid.
He turned back to Myra, whistling and wheezing. “You need to understand that this isn’t something I want to do, ” he said. “If I had a choice—any choice at all—I wouldn’t go. Please understand that, Marty. I’m going but I’ll be coming back. ”
Oh but that felt like a lie.
“When? How long? ”
“A week. Or maybe ten days. Surely no longer than that. ”
“A week!” she screamed, clutching at her bosom like a diva in a bad opera. “A week! Ten days! Please, Eddie! Pleeeeeee—”
“Marty, stop. Okay? Just stop. ”
For a wonder, she did: stopped and stood looking at him with her wet, bruised eyes, not angry at him, only terrified for him and, coincidentally, for herself. And for perhaps the first time in all the years he had known her, he felt that he could love her safely. Was that part of the going away? He supposed it was. No . . . you could flush the supposed. He knew it was. Already he felt like something living in the wrong end of a telescope.
But it was maybe all right. Was that what he meant? That he had finally decided it was all right to love her? That it was all right even though she looked like his mother when his mother had been younger and even though she ate brownies in bed while watching Hardcastle and McCormick or Falcon Crest and the crumbs always got on his side and even though she wasn’t all that bright and even though she understood and condoned his remedies in the medicine cabinet because she kept her own in the refrigerator?
Or was it . . .
Could it be that . . .
These other ideas were all things he had considered in one way or another, at one time or another, during his oddly entwined lives as a son and a lover and a husband; now, on the point of leaving home for what felt like the absolutely last time, a new possibility came to him, and startled wonder brushed him like the wing of some large bird.
Could it be that Myra was even more frightened than he was?
Could it be that his mother had been?
Another Derry memory came shooting up from his subconscious like a balefully fizzing firework. There had been a shoe store downtown on Center Street. The Shoeboat. His mother had taken him there one day—he thought he could have been no more than five or six—and told him to sit still and be good while she got a pair of white pumps for a wedding. So he sat still and was good while his mother talked with Mr. Gardener, who was one of the shoe-clerks, but he was only five (or maybe six), and after his mother had rejected the third pair of white pumps Mr. Gardener showed her, Eddie got bored and walked over to the far corner to look at something he had spotted there. At first he thought it was just a big crate standing on end. When he got closer he decided it was some kind of desk. But it sure was the kookiest desk he had ever seen. It was so narrow! It was made of bright polished wood with lots of curvy inlaid lines and carved doojiggers in it. Also, there was a little flight of three stairs leading up to it, and he had never seen a desk with stairs. When he got right up to it, he saw that there was a slot at the bottom of the desk-thing, a button on one side, and on top of it—entrancing!—was something that looked exactly like Captain Video’s Spacescope.
Eddie walked around to the other side and there was a sign. He must have been at least six, because he had been able to read it, softly whispering each word aloud:
DO YOUR SHOES FIT RIGHT? CHECK AND SEE!
He went back around, climbed the three steps to the little platform, and then stuck his foot into the slot at the bottom of the shoe-checker. Did his shoes fit right? Eddie didn’t know, but he was wild to check and see. He socked his face into the rubber faceguard and thumbed the button. Green light flooded his eyes. Eddie gasped. He could see a foot floating inside a shoe filled with green smoke. He wiggled his toes, and the toes he was looking at wiggled right back—they were his, all right, just as he had suspected. And then he realized it was not just his toes he could see; he could see his bones, too! The bones in his foot! He crossed his great toe over his second toe (as if sneakily warding off the consequences of telling a lie) and the eldritch bones in the scope made an X that was not white but goblin-green. He could see—
Then his mother shrieked, a rising sound of panic that cut through the quiet shoe store like a runaway reaper-blade, like a firebell, like doom on horseback. He jerked his startled, dismayed face out of the viewer and saw her pelting toward him across the store in her stocking feet, her dress flying out behind her. She knocked a chair over and one of those shoe-measuring things that always tickled his feet went flying. Her bosom heaved. Her mouth was a scarlet O of horror. Faces turned to follow her progress.
“Eddie get off there!” she screamed. “Get off there! Those machines give you cancer! Get off there! Eddie! Eddieeeeeee—”
He backed away as if the machine had suddenly grown red-hot. In his startled panic he forgot the little flight of stairs behind him. His heels dropped over the top one and he stood there, slowly falling backward, his arms pinwheeling wildly in a losing battle to retain his departing balance. And hadn’t he thought with a kind of mad joy I’m going to fall! I’m going to find out what it feels like to fall and bump my head! Goody for me! . . . ? Hadn’t he thought that? Or was it only the man imposing his own self-serving adult ideas over whatever his child’s mind, always roaring with confused surmises and half-perceived images (images which lost their sense in their very brightness), had thought . . . or tried to think?
Either way, it was a moot question. He had not fallen. His mother had gotten there in time. His mother had caught him. He had burst into tears, but he had not fallen.
Everyone had been looking at them. He remembered that. He remembered Mr. Gardener picking up the shoe-measuring thing and checking the little sliding gadgets on it to make sure they were still okay while another clerk righted the fallen chair and then flapped his arms once, in amused disgust, before putting on his pleasantly neutral salesman’s face again. Mostly he remembered his mother’s wet cheek and her hot, sour breath. He remembered her whispering over and over in his ear, “Don’t you ever do that again, don’t you ever do that again, don’t you ever. ” It was what his mother chanted to ward off trouble. She had chanted the same thing a year earlier when she discovered the baby-sitter had taken Eddie to the public pool in Derry Park one stiflingly hot summer day—this had been when the polio scare of the early fifties was just beginning to wind down. She had dragged him out of the pool, telling him he must never do that, never, never, and all the kids had looked as all the clerks and customers were looking now, and her breath had had that same sour tang.
She dragged him out of The Shoeboat, shouting at the clerks that she would see them all in court if there was anything wrong with her boy. Eddie’s terrified tears had continued off and on for the rest of the morning, and his asthma had been particularly bad all day. That night he had lain awake for hours past the time he was usually asleep, wondering exactly what cancer was, if it was worse than polio, if it killed you, how long it took if it did, and how bad it hurt before you died. He also wondered if he would go to hell afterward.
The threat had been serious, he knew that much.
She had been so scared. That was how he knew.
“Marty, ” he said across this gulf of years, “would you give me a kiss? ”
She kissed him and hugged him so tightly while she was doing it that the bones in his back groaned. If we were in water, he thought, she’d drown us both.
“Don’t be afraid, ” he whispered in her ear.
“I can’t help it!” she wailed.
“I know, ” he said, and realized that, even though she was hugging him with rib-breaking tightness, his asthma had eased. That whistling note in his breathing was gone. “I know, Marty. ”
The taxi-driver honked again.
“Will you call? ” she asked him tremulously.
“If I can. ”
“Eddie, can’t you please tell me what it is? ”
And suppose he did? How far would it go toward setting her mind at rest?
Marty, I got a call from Mike Hanlon tonight, and we talked for awhile, but everything we said boiled down to two things. “It’s started again, ” Mike said; “Will you come? ” Mike said. And now I’ve got a fever, Marty, only it’s a fever you can’t damp down with aspirin, and I’ve got a shortness of breath the goddamned aspirator won’t touch, because that shortness of breath isn’t in my throat or my lungs—it is around my heart. I’ll come back to you if I can, Marty, but I feel like a man standing at the mouth of an old mine-shaft that is full of cave-ins waiting to happen, standing there and saying goodbye to the daylight.
Yes—my, yes! That would surely set her mind at rest!
“No, ” he said. “I guess I can’t tell you what it is. ”
And before she could say more, before she could begin again (Eddie, get out of that taxi! They give you cancer!), he was striding away from her, faster and faster. By the time he got to the cab he was almost running.
“King’s most mature work.”—St. Petersburg Times
“King is our great storyteller.”—Los Angeles Herald-Examiner
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