Christine, p.1
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       Christine, p.1

           Stephen King
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Christine


  Christine

  ALSO BY STEPHEN KING

  FICTION

  Carrie

  'Salem's Lot

  The Shining

  Night Shift

  The Stand

  The Dead Zone

  Firestarter

  Cujo

  Different Seasons

  NONFICTION

  Danse Macabre

  Copyright (c) 1983 by Stephen King All rights reserved Published by The Viking Press 40 West 23rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10010 Published simultaneously in Canada by Penguin Books Canada Limited A special limited first edition of 1000 numbered and signed copies of this book has been published by Donald M. Grant, Publisher, Rhode Island.

  All of the song lyrics which appear in these pages are separately copyrighted, and all rights in such lyrics are reserved to such copyright proprietors. If there are any questions about song titles, copyright proprietors, and/or copyright dates, please submit such questions in writing and The Viking Press will promptly forward the same to the appropriate copyright proprietor for response.

  AUTHOR'S NOTE:

  Lyrics quoted in this book are assigned to the singer (or singers, or group) most commonly associated with them. This may offend the purist, who feels that a song lyric belongs more to the writer than the singer. What you have done, the purist might argue, is akin to ascribing the works of Mark Twain to Hal Holbrook. I don't agree. In the world of popular song, it is as the Rolling Stones say: the singer, not the song. For those who want to know the names of the writers, they are here. And I thank them all--most particularly Chuck Berry, Bruce Springsteen, Brian Wilson . . . and Jan Berry, of Jan and Dean. He did come back from Deadman's Curve.

  Getting the necessary legal permissions to use lyrics is hard work, and I'd like to thank some of the people who helped me remember the songs and then make sure it was okay to use them. They include: Dave Marsh, rock critic and rock historian; James Feury, a.k.a. "Mighty John Marshall," who rocks my little town on WACZ; his brother, Pat Feury, who throws oldies hops in Portland; Debbie Geller; Patricia Dunning; and Pete Batchelder. Thanks to all you guys and may your old Coasters records never warp so bad you can't play 'em.

  --S.K.

  Printed in the United States of America

  This is for George Romero and Chris Forrest Romero.

  And the Burg.

  Contents

  Prologue

  PART I: DENNIS-TEENAGE CAR-SONGS

  1 First Views

  2 The First Argument

  3 The Morning After

  4 Arnie Gets Married

  5 How We Got to Darnell's

  6 Outside

  7 Bad Dreams

  8 First Changes

  9 Buddy Repperton

  10 LeBay Passes

  11 The Funeral

  12 Some Family History

  13 Later That Evening

  14 Christine and Darnell

  15 Football Woes

  16 Enter Leigh, Exit Buddy

  17 Christine on the Street Again

  18 On the Bleachers

  19 The Accident

  PART II: ARNIE--TEENAGE LOVE-SONGS

  20 The Second Argument

  21 Arnie and Michael

  22 Sandy

  23 Arnie and Leigh

  24 Seen in the Night

  25 Buddy Visits the Airport

  26 Christine Laid Low

  27 Arnie and Regina

  28 Leigh Makes a Visit

  29 Thanksgiving

  30 Moochie Welch

  31 The Day After

  32 Regina and Michael

  33 Junkins

  34 Leigh and Christine

  35 Now This Brief Interlude

  36 Buddy and Christine

  37 Darnell Cogitates

  38 Breaking Connections

  39 Junkins Again

  40 Arnie in Trouble

  41 The Coming of the Storm

  42 The Storm Breaks

  PART III: CHRISTINE-TEENAGE DEATH-SONGS

  43 Leigh Comes to Visit

  44 Detective Work

  45 New Year's Eve

  46 George LeBay Again

  47 The Betrayal

  48 Preparations

  49 Arnie

  50 Petunia

  51 Christine

  Epilogue

  Prologue

  This is the story of a lover's triangle, I suppose you'd say--Arnie Cunningham, Leigh Cabot, and, of course, Christine. But I want you to understand that Christine was there first. She was Arnie's first love, and while I wouldn't presume to say for sure (not from whatever heights of wisdom I've attained in my twenty-two years, anyway), I think she was his only true love. So I call what happened a tragedy.

  Arnie and I grew up on the same block together, went to Owen Andrews Grammar School and Darby Junior High together, then to Libertyville High together. I guess I was the main reason Arnie didn't just get gobbled up in high school. I was a big guy there--yeah, I know that doesn't mean donkeyshit; five years after you've graduated you can't even cadge a free beer on having been captain of the football and baseball teams and an All-Conference swimmer--but because I was, Arnie at least never got killed. He took a lot of abuse, but he never got killed.

  He was a loser, you know. Every high school has to have at least two; it's like a national law. One male, one female. Everyone's dumping ground. Having a bad day? Flunked a big test? Had an argument with your folks and got grounded for the weekend? No problem. Just find one of those poor sad sacks that go scurrying around the halls like criminals before the home-room bell and walk it right to him. And some-limes they do get killed, in every important way except the physical; sometimes they find something to hold onto and they survive. Arnie had me. And then he had Christine. Leigh came later.

  I just wanted you to understand that.

  Arnie was a natural out. He was out with the jocks because he was scrawny--five-ten and about a hundred and forty pounds soaking wet in all his clothes plus a pair of Desert Driver boots. He was out with the high school intellectuals (a pretty "out" group themselves in a burg like Libertyville) because he had no specialty. Arnie was smart, but his brains didn't go naturally to any one thing . . . unless it was automotive mechanics. He was great at that stuff. When it came to cars, the kid was some kind of a goofy born natural. But his parents, who both taught at the University in Horlicks, could not see their son, who had scored in the top five percent on his Stanford-Binet, taking the shop courses. He was lucky they let him take Auto Shop I, II, and III. He had to battle his butt off to get that. He was out with the druggies because he didn't do dope. He was out with the macho pegged-jeans-and-Lucky-Strikes group because he didn't do booze and if you hit him hard enough, he'd cry.

  Oh yes, and he was out with the girls. His glandular machinery had gone totally bananas. I mean, Arnie was pimple city. He washed his face maybe five times a day, took maybe two dozen showers a week, and tried every cream and nostrum known to modern science. None of it did any good. Arnie's face looked like a loaded pizza, and he was going to have one of those pitted, poxy faces forever.

  I liked him just the same. He had a quirky sense of humor and a mind that never stopped asking questions, playing games, and doing funky little calisthenics. It was Arnie who showed me how to make an ant farm when I was seven, and we spent just about one whole summer watching those little buggers, fascinated by their industry and their deadly seriousness. It was Arnie's suggestion when we were ten that we sneak out one night and put a load of dried horseapples from the Route 17 Stables under the gross plastic horse on the lawn of the Libertyville Motel just over the line in Monroeville. Arnie knew about chess first. He knew about poker first. He showed me how to maximize my Scrabble score. On rainy days, right up until the time I fell in love (well, sor
t of--she was a cheerleader with a fantastic body and I sure was in love with that, although when Arnie pointed out that her mind had all the depth and resonance of a Shaun Cassidy 45, I couldn't really tell him he was full of shit, because he wasn't), it was Arnie I thought of first, because Arnie knew how to maximize rainy days just like he knew how to maximize Scrabble scores. Maybe that's one of the ways you recognize really lonely people . . . they can always think of something neat to do on rainy days. You can always call them up. They're always home. Fucking always.

  For my part, I taught him how to swim. I worked out with him and got him to eat his green vegetables so he could build up that scrawny bod a little. I got him a job on a road crew the year before our senior year at Libertyville High--and for that one we both battled our butts off with his parents, who saw themselves as great friends of the farm workers in California and the steel-workers in the Burg, but who were horrified at the idea of their gifted son (top five percent on his Stanford-Binet, remember) getting his wrists dirty and his neck red.

  Then, near the end of that summer vacation, Arnie saw Christine for the first time and fell in love with her. I was with him that day--we were on our way home from work--and I would testify on the matter before the Throne of Almighty God if called upon to do so. Brother, he fell and he fell hard. It could have been funny if it hadn't been so sad, and if it hadn't gotten scary as quick as it did. It could have been funny if it hadn't been so bad.

  How bad was it?

  It was bad from the start. And it got worse in a hurry.

  1 / First Views

  Hey, looky there!

  Across the street!

  There's a car made just for me,

  To own that car would be a luxury . . .

  That car's fine-lookin, man,

  That's somethin else.

  --Eddie Cochran

  "Oh my God!" my friend Arnie Cunningham cried out suddenly.

  "What is it?" I asked. His eyes were bulging from behind his steel-rimmed glasses, he had plastered one hand over his face so that his palm was partially cupping his mouth, and his neck could have been on ball-bearings the way he was craning back over his shoulder.

  "Stop the car, Dennis! Go back!"

  "What are you--"

  "Go back, I want to look at her again."

  Suddenly I understood. "Oh, man, forget it," I said. "If you mean that. . . thing we just passed--"

  "Go back!" He was almost screaming.

  I went back, thinking that it was maybe one of Arnie's subtle little jokes. But it wasn't. He was gone, lock, stock, and barrel. Arnie had fallen in love.

  She was a bad joke, and what Arnie saw in her that day I'll never know. The left side of her windshield was a snarled spiderweb of cracks. The right rear deck was bashed in, and an ugly nest of rust had grown in the paint-scraped valley. The back bumper was askew, the trunk-lid was ajar, and upholstery was bleeding out through several long tears in the seat covers, both front and back. It looked as if someone had worked on the upholstery with a knife. One tire was flat. The others were bald enough to show the canvas cording. Worst of all, there was a dark puddle of oil under the engine block.

  Arnie had fallen in love with a 1958 Plymouth Fury, one of the long ones with the big fins. There was an old and sun-faded FOR SALE sign propped on the right side of the windshield--the side that was not cracked.

  "Look at her lines, Dennis!" Arnie whispered. He was running around the car like a man possessed. His sweaty hair flew and flopped. He tried the back door on the passenger side, and it came open with a scream.

  "Arnie, you're having me on, aren't you?" I said. "It's sunstroke, right? Tell me it's sunstroke. I'll take you home and put you under the frigging air conditioner and we'll forget all about this, okay?" But I said it without much hope. He knew how to joke, but there was no joke on his face then. Instead, there was a kind of goofy madness I didn't like much.

  He didn't even bother to reply. A hot, stuffy billow of air, redolent of age, oil, and advanced decomposition, puffed out of the open door. Arnie didn't seem to notice that, either. He got in and sat down on the ripped and faded back seat. Once, twenty years before, it had been red. Now it was a faded wash pink.

  I reached in and pulled up a little puff of upholstery, looked at it, and blew it away. "Looks like the Russian army marched over it on their way to Berlin," I said.

  He finally noticed I was still there. "Yeah . . . yeah. But she could be fixed up. She could . . . she could be tough. A moving unit, Dennis. A beauty. A real--"

  "Here! Here! What you two kids up to?"

  It was an old guy who looked as if he was enjoying--more or less--his seventieth summer. Probably less. This particular dude struck me as the sort of man who enjoyed very little. His hair was long and scraggy, what little there was left of it. He had a good case of psoriasis going on the bald part of his skull.

  He was wearing green old man's pants and low-topped Keds. No shirt; instead there was something cinched around his waist that looked like a lady's corset. When he got closer I saw it was a back brace. From the look of it I would say, just offhand, that he had changed it last somewhere around the time Lyndon Johnson died.

  "What you kids up to?" His voice was shrill and strident.

  "Sir, is this your car?" Arnie asked him. Not much question that it was. The Plymouth was parked on the lawn of the postwar tract house from which the old man had issued. The lawn was horrible, but it looked positively great with that Plymouth in the foreground for perspective.

  "What if it is?" The old guy demanded.

  "I"--Arnie had to swallow--"I want to buy it."

  The old dude's eyes gleamed. The angry look on his face was replaced by a furtive gleam in the eye and a certain hungry sneer around the lips. Then a large resplendent shit-eating grin appeared. That was the moment, I think--then, just at that moment--when I felt something cold and blue inside me. There was a moment--just then--when I felt like slugging Arnie and dragging him away. Something came into the old man's eyes. Not just the gleam; it was something behind the gleam.

  "Well, you should have said so," the old guy told Arnie. He stuck out his hand and Arnie took it. "LeBay's the name. Roland D. LeBay. U.S. Army, retired."

  "Arnie Cunningham."

  The old sport pumped his hand and sort of waved at me. I was out of the play; he had his sucker. Arnie might as well have handed LeBay his wallet.

  "How much?" Arnie asked. And then he plunged ahead. "Whatever you want for her, it's not enough."

  I groaned inside instead of sighing. His checkbook had just joined his wallet.

  For a moment LeBay's grin faltered a little, and his eyes narrowed down suspiciously. I think he was evaluating the possibility that he was being put on. He studied Arnie's open, longing face for signs of guile, and then asked the murderously perfect question:

  "Son, have you ever owned a car before?"

  "He owns a Mustang Mach II," I said quickly. "His folks bought it for him. It's got a Hurst shifter, a supercharger, and it can boil the road in first gear. It--"

  "No," Arnie said quietly. "I just got my driver's license this spring."

  LeBay tipped me a brief but crafty gaze and then swung his full attention back to his prime target. He put both hands in the small of his back and stretched. I caught a sour whiff of sweat.

  "Got a back problem in the Army," he said. "Full disability. Doctors could never put it right. Anyone ever asks you what's wrong with the world, boys, you tell em it's three things: Doctors, commies, and nigger radicals. Of the three, commies is the worst, closely followed by doctors. And if they want to know who told you, tell em Roland D. LeBay. Yessir."

  He touched the old, scuffed hood of the Plymouth with a kind of bemused love.

  "This here is the best car I ever owned. Bought her in September 1957. Back then, that's when you got your new model year, in September. All summer long they'd show you pictures of cars under hoods and cars under tarps until you were fair dyin t'know what they looked
like underneath. Not like now." His voice dripped contempt for the debased times he had lived to see. "Brand-new, she was. Had the smell of a brand-new car, and that's about the finest smell in the world."

  He considered.

  "Except maybe for pussy."

  I looked at Arnie, nibbling the insides of my cheeks madly to keep from braying laughter all over everything. Arnie looked back at me, astounded. The old man appeared to notice neither of us; he was off on his own planet.

  "I was in khaki for thirty-four years," LeBay told us, still touching the hood of the car. "Went in at sixteen in 1923. I et dust in Texas and seen crabs as big as lobsters in some o them Nogales whoredens. I saw men with their guts comin out their ears during Big Two. In France I saw that. Their guts was comin out their ears. You believe that, son?"

  "Yessir," Arnie said. I don't think he'd heard a word LeBay said. He was shifting from foot to foot as if he had to go to the bathroom bad. "About the car, though--"

  "You go to the University?" LeBay barked suddenly. "Up there at Horlicks?"

  "Nosir, I go to Libertyville High."

  "Good," LeBay said grimly. "Steer clear of colleges. They're full of niggerlovers that want to give away the Panama Canal. 'Think-tanks,' they call em. 'Asshole-tanks,' say I."

  He gazed fondly at the car sitting on its flat tire, its paintjob mellowing rustily in the late afternoon sunlight.

  "Hurt my back in the spring of '57," he said. "Army was going to rack and ruin even then. I got out just in time. I came on back to Libertyville. Looked over the rolling iron. I took my time. Then I walked into Norman Cobb's Plymouth dealership--where the bowling alley is now on outer Main Street--and I ordered this here car. I said you get it in red and white, next year's model. Red as a fire-engine on the inside. And they did it. When I got her, she had a total of six miles on the odometer. Yessir."

  He spat.

  I glanced over Arnie's shoulder at the odometer. The glass was cloudy, but I could read the damage all the same: 97,432. And six-tenths. Jesus wept.

  "If you love the car so much, why are you selling it?" I asked.

  He turned a milky, rather frightening gaze on me. "Are you cracking wise on me, son?"

  I didn't answer, but I didn't drop my gaze either.

 
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