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       Misery, p.13

           Stephen King
 
Page 13

  "Paul?" she asked softly. "Paul, why are you holding your hands like that?" He began to cry. It was guilt he cried from, and he hated that most of all: in addition to everything else that this monstrous woman had done to him, she had made him feel guilty as well. So he cried from guilt. . . but also from simple childish weariness.

  He looked up at her, tears flowing down his cheeks, and played the absolute last card in his hand.

  "I want my pills," he said, "and I want the urinal. I held it all the time you were gone, Annie, but I can't hold it much longer, and I don't want to wet myself again. " She smiled softly, radiantly, and pushed his tumbled hair off his brow. "You poor dear. Annie has put you through a lot, hasn't she? Too much! Mean old Annie! I'll get it right away. "

  36

  He wouldn't have dared put the pills under the rug even if he thought he had time to do so before she came back - the packages were small, but the bulges would still be all too obvious. As he heard her go into the downstairs bathroom, he took them, reached painfully around his body, and stuffed them into the back of his underpants. Sharp cardboard corners poked into the cleft of his buttocks.

  She came back with the urinal, an old-fashioned tin device that looked absurdly like a blow-dryer, in one hand. She had two Novril capsules and a glass of water in the other.

  Two more of those on top of the ones you took half an hour ago may drop you into a coma and then kill you, he thought, and a second voice answered at once: Fine with me.

  He took the pills and swallowed them with water.

  She held out the urinal. "Do you need help?"

  "I can do it," he said.

  She turned considerately away while he fumbled his penis into the cold tube and urinated. He happened to he looking at her when the hollow splashing sounds commenced, and he saw that she was smiling.

  "All done?" she asked a few moments later.

  "Yes. " He actually had needed to urinate quite badly - in all the excitement he hadn't had time to think of such things.

  She took the urinal away from him and set it carefully on the floor. "Now let's get you back in bed," she said. "You must be exhausted. . . and your legs must be singing grand opera. " He nodded, although the truth was that he could not feel anything - this medication on top of what he'd already given himself was rolling him toward unconsciousness at an alarming rate, and he was beginning to see the room through gauzy layers of gray. He held onto one thought - she was going to lift him into bed, and when she did that she would have to be blind as well as numb not to notice that the back of his underwear happened to be stuffed with little boxes.

  She got him over to the side of the bed.

  "Just a minute longer, Paul, and you can take a snooze. "

  "Annie, could you wait five minutes?" he managed. She looked at him, gaze narrowing slightly. "I thought you were in a lot of pain, buster. "

  "I am," he said. "It hurts. . . too much. My knee, mostly. Where you. . . uh, where you lost your temper. I'm not ready to be picked up. Could I have five minutes to. . . to. . . " He knew what he wanted to say but it was drifting away from him. Drifting away and into the gray. He looked at her helplessly, knowing he was going to be caught after all.

  "To let the medication work?" she asked, and he nodded gratefully.

  "Of course. I'll just put a few things away and come right back. " As soon as she was out of the room he was reaching behind him, bringing out the boxes and stuffing them under the mattress one by one. The layers of gauze kept thickening, moving steadily from gray toward black.

  Get them as far under as you can, he thought blindly. Make sure you do that so if she changes the bed she won't pull them out with the ground sheet. Get them as far under as you. . . you. . .

  He shoved the last under the mattress, then leaned back and looked up at the ceiling, where the W's danced drunkenly across the plaster.

  Africa, he thought.

  Now I must rinse, he thought.

  Oh, I am in so much trouble here, he thought. Tracks, he thought. Did I leave tracks? Did I - Paul Sheldon fell unconscious. When he woke up, fourteen hours had gone by and outside it wa snowing again.

  Part II Misery

  Chapter 1

  Writing does not cause misery, it is born of misery.

  - Montaigne

  1

  MISERY'S RETURN

  By Paul Sheldon

  For Annie Wilkes

  CHAPTER 1

  Although Ian Carmichael would not have moved from Little Dunthorpe for all the jewels in the Queen's treasury, he had to admit to himself that when it rained in Cornwall it rained harder than anywhere else in England.

  There was an old strip of towelling hung from a hook in the entryway, and after hanging up his dripping coat and removing his boots, he used it to towel his dark-blonde hair dry.

  Distantly, from the parlor, he could hear the rippling strains of Chopin, and he paused with the strip of towel still in his left hand, listening.

  The moisture running down his cheeks now was not rainwater but tears.

  He remembered Geoffrey saying You must not cry in front of her, old man - that is the one thing you must never do!

  Geoffrey was right, of course - dear old Geoffrey was rarely wrong - but sometimes when he was alone, the Gearless of Misery's escape from the Grim Reaper came forcibly home to him, and it was nearly impossible to hold the tears back. He loved her so much; without her he would die. Without Misery, there would simply be no life left for him, or in him.

  Her labor had been long and hard, but no longer and no harder than that of many other young ladies she had seen, the midwife declared. It was only after midnight, an hour after Geoffrey had ridden into the gathering storm to try and fetch the doctor, that the midwife had grown alarmed. That was when the bleeding had started.

  "Dear old Geoffrey!" He spoke it aloud this time as he stepped into the huge and stuporously warm West Country kitchen.

  "Did ye speak, young sair?" Mrs. Ramage, the Carmichaels" crotchety but lovable old housekeeper, asked him as she came in from the pantry. As usual, her mobcap was askew and she smelled of the snuff she still firmly believed, after all these years, to be a secret vice.

  "Not on purpose, Mrs. Ramage," Ian said.

  "By the sound o" ye coat a-drippin" out there in the entry, ye nairly drowned between the sheds and the hoose!"

  "Aye, so I nearly did," Ian said, and thought: If Geoffrey had returned with the doctor even ten minutes later, I believe she would have died. This was a thought he tried consciously to discourage - it was both useless and gruesome - but the thought of life without Misery was so terrible that it sometimes crept up on him and surprised him.

  Now, breaking into these gloomy meditations, there came the healthy bawl of a child - his son, awake and more than ready for his afternoon meal. Faintly he could hear the sound of Annie Wilkes, Thomas" capable nurse, as she began to soothe him and change his napkin.

  "The wee bairn's in good voice today," Mrs. Ramage observed. Ian had one moment to think again, with surpassing wonder, that he was the father of a son, and that his wife spoke from the doorway: "Hello, darling. " He looked up, looked at his Misery, his darling. She stood lightly poised in the doorway, her chestnut hair with its mysterious deep-red glints like dying embers flowing over her shoulders in gorgeous profusion. Her complexion was still too pallid, but in her cheeks Ian could see the first signs of returning color. Her eyes were dark and deep, and the glow of the kitchen lamps sparkled in each, like small and precious diamonds lying upon darkest jewellers" felt.

  "My darling!" he cried, and ran to her, as he had that day in Liverpool, when it seemed certain that the pirates had taken her away as Mad Jack Wickersham had sworn they would.

  Mrs. Ramage suddenly remembered something she had left undone in the parlor and left them together - she went, however, with a smile co her face. Mrs. Ramage, too, had her moments when she could not
help wondering what life might have been like if Geoffrey and the doctor had arrived an hour later on that dark and stormy night two months ago, or if the experimental blood transfusion in which her young master had so bravely poured his own life's blood into Misery's depleted veins had not worked.

  "Och, girrul," she told herself as she hurried down the hall. "Some things dinna bear thinkin" a". " Good advice - advice Ian had given himself. But both had discovered that good advice was sometimes easier to give than receive.

  In the kitchen, tall hugged Misery tightly to him, feeling his soul live and die and then live again in the sweet smell of her warm skin.

  He touched the swell of her breast and felt the strong, and steady beat of her heart.

  "If you had died, I should have died with you," he whispered.

  She put her arms about his neck, bringing the firm of her breast more fully into his hand. "Hush, my darling," Misery whispered, "and don't be silly. I'm here. . . right here. Now kiss me! If I die, I fear it will be with desire for you. " He pressed his mouth against hers and plunged his hands deeply into the glory of her chestnut hair, and for a few moments there was nothing at all, except for the two of them.

  2

  Annie laid the three pages of typescript on the night-table beside him and he waited to see what she would say about them. He was curious but not really nervous - he had been surprised, really, at how easy it had been to slip back into Misery's world. Her world was corny and melodramatic, but that did not change the fact that returning there had been nowhere near as distasteful as he had expected - it had been, in fact, rather comforting, like putting on a pair of old slippers. So his mouth dropped open and he was frankly and honestly flabbergasted when she said: "It's not right. "

  "You - you don't like it?" He could hardly believe it. How could she have liked the other Misery novels and not like this? it was so Misery-esque it was nearly a caricature, what with motherly old Mrs Ramage dipping snuff in the pantry, Ian and Misery pawing each other like a couple of horny kids just home from the Friday-night high-school dance, and - Now she was the one who looked bewildered.

  "Like it? Of course I like it. It's beautiful. When Ian swept her into his arms, I cried. I couldn't help it. " Her eyes actually were a bit red. "And you naming baby Thomas's nurse after me. . . that was very sweet. " He thought: Smart, too - at least, I hope so. And by the way, toots, the baby's name started out to be Sean, in case you're interested; I changed it because I decided that was just too fucking many n's to fill in.

  "Then I'm afraid I don't understand - "

  "No, you don't. I didn't say anything about not liking it, I said it wasn't right. It's a cheat. You'll have to change it. " Had he once thought of her as the perfect audience? Oh boy. Have to give you credit, Paul - when you make a mistake, you go whole hog. Constant Reader had just become Merciless Editor.

  Without his even being aware that it was happening, Paul's face rearranged itself into the expression of sincere concentration he always wore while listening to editors. He thought of this as his Can I Help You, Lady? expression. That was because most editors were like women who drive into service stations and tell the mechanic to fix whatever it is that's making that knocking sound under the hood or going wonk-wonk inside the dashboard, and please have it done an hour ago. A look of sincere concentration was good because it flattered them, and when editors were flattered, they would sometimes give in on some of their mad ideas.

  "How is it a cheat?" he asked.

  "Well, Geoffrey rode for the doctor," she said. "That's all right. That happened in Chapter 38 of Misery's Child. But the doctor never came, as you well know, because Geoffrey's horse tripped on the top rail of that rotten Mr Cranthorpe's toll-gate when Geoffrey tried to jump it - I hope that dirty bird gets his comeuppance in Misery's Retum, Paul, I really do - and Geoffrey broke his shoulder and some of his ribs and lay there most of the night in the rain until the sheep-herder's boy came along and found him. So the doctor never came. You see?"

  "Yes. " He found himself suddenly unable to take his eyes from her face.

  He had thought she was putting on an editor's hat - maybe even trying on a collaborator's chapeau, preparing to tell him what to write and how to write it. But that was not so. Mr Cranthorpe, for instance. She hoped Mr Cranthorpe would get his comeuppance, but she did not demand it. She saw the story's creative course as something outside of her hands, in spite of her obvious control of him. But some things simply could not be done. Creativity or the lack of it had no bearing on these things; to do them was as foolish as issuing a proclamation revoking the law of gravity or trying to play table-tennis with a brick. She really was Constant Reader, but Constant Reader did not mean Constant Sap.

  She would not allow him to kill Misery. . . but neither would she allow him to cheat Misery back to life.

  But Christ, I DID kill her, he thought wearily. What am I going to do?

  "When I was a girl," she said, "they used to have chapter-plays at the movies. An episode a week. The Masked Avenger, and Flash Gordon, even one about Frank Buck, the man who went to Africa to catch wild animals and who could subdue lions and tigers just by staring at them. Do you remember the chapter-plays?"

  "I remember them, but you can't be that old, Annie - you must have seen them on TV, or had an older brother or sister who told you about them. " At the corners of her mouth dimples appeared briefly in the solidity of flesh and then disappeared. "Go on with you, you fooler! I did have an older brother, though, and we used to go to the movies every Saturday afternoon. This was in Bakersfield, California, where I grew up. And while I always used to enjoy the newsreel and the color cartoons and the feature, what I really looked forward to was the next installment of the chapter-play. I'd find myself thinking about it at odd moments all week long. If a class was boring, or if I had to babysit Mrs Krenmitz's four brats downstairs. I used to hate those little brats. " Annie lapsed into a moody silence, staring into the corner. She had become unplugged. It was the first time this had happened in some days, and he wondered uneasily if it meant she was slipping into the lower part of her cycle. If so, he had better batten down his hatches.

  At last she came out of it, as always with an expression of faint surprise, as if she had not really expected the world to still be here.

  "Rocket Man was my favorite. There he would be at the end of Chapter 6, Death in the Sky, unconscious while his plane went into a power dive. Or at the end of Chapter 9, Fiery Doom, he'd be tied to a chair in a burning warehouse. Sometimes it was a car with no brakes, sometimes poison gas, sometimes electricity. " Annie spoke of these things with an affection which was bizarre in its unmistakable genuineness.

 
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