Misery, p.18
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       Misery, p.18

           Stephen King
 
Page 18

  7

  He was already nine pages into Chapter 7 - Geoffrey and Mrs Ramage had managed to get Misery out of her grave in the barest nick of time only to realize that the woman had no idea at all who they were, or who she herself was - when Annie came into the room. This time Paul heard her. He stopped typing, sorry to be out of the dream.

  She held the first six chapters at the side of her skirt. It had taken her less than twenty minutes to read his first stab at it; it had been an hour since she had taken this sheaf of twenty-one pages. He looked at her steadily, observing with faint interest that Annie Wilkes was a bit pale.

  "Well?" he asked. "Is it fair?"

  "Yes," she said absently, as if this was a foregone conclusion - and Paul supposed it was. "It's fair. And it's good. Exciting. But it's gruesome, too! It's not like any of the other Misery books. That poor woman who scraped the ends of her fingers off - " She shook her head and repeated: "It's not, like any of the other Misery books. " The man who wrote these pages was in a rather gruesome frame of mind, my dear, Paul thought.

  "Shall I go on?" he asked.

  "I'll kill you if you don't!" she responded, smiling a little. Paul didn't smile back. This comment, which would once have struck him as in a league with such banalities as You look so good I could just eat you up now seemed not banal at all.

  Yet something in her attitude as she stood in the doorway fascinated him. It was as if she was a little frightened to come any closer - as if she thought something in him might burn her. It wasn't the subject of premature burial that had done it, and he was wise enough to know it. No - it was the difference between his first try and this one. That first one had had all the life of an eighth-grader's "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" theme. This one was different. The furnace was on. Oh, not that he had written particularly well the story was hot, but the characters as stereotyped and predictable as ever - but this time he had been able to at least generate some power; this time there was heat baking out from between the lines.

  Amused, he thought: She felt the heat. I think she's afraid to get too close in case I might burn her.

  "Well," he said mildly, " you won't have to kill me, Annie. I want to go on. So why don't I get at it?"

  "All right," she said. She brought the pages to him, put them on the board, and then stepped back quickly.

  "Would you like to read it as I go along?" he asked.

  Annie smiled. "Yes! It would be almost like the chapter-plays, when I was a kid!"

  "Well, I can't promise a cliff-hanger at the end of every chapter," he said. "It just doesn't work that way. "

  "It will for me," she said fervently. "I'd want to know what was going to happen in Chapter 18 even if I7 ended with Misery and Ian and Geoffrey sitting in armchairs on the porch, reading newspapers. I'm already wild to know what's going to happen next - don't tell me!" she added sharply, as if Paul had offered to do this.

  "Well, I generally don't show my work until it's all done," he said, and then smiled at her. "But since this is a special situation, I'll be happy to let you read it chapter by chapter. " And so began the thousand and one nights of Paul Sheldon, he thought. "But I wonder if you'd do something for me?"

  "What?"

  "Fill in these damned n's," he said.

  She smiled at him radiantly. "It would be an honor. I'll leave you alone now. " She went back to the door, hesitated there, and turned back. Then, with a deep and almost painful timidity, she offered the only editorial suggestion she ever made to him. "Maybe it was a bee. " He had already dropped his gaze to the sheet of paper in the typewriter; he was looking for the hole. He wanted to get Misery back to Mrs Ramage's cottage before he knocked off, and he looked back up at Annie with carefully disguised impatience. "I beg pardon?"

  "A bee," she said, and he saw a blush creeping up her neck and over her cheeks. Soon even her ears were glowing. "One person in every dozen is allergic to bee-venom. I saw lots of cases of it before. . . before I retired from service as an R. N. The allergy can show in lots of different ways. Sometimes a sting can cause a comatose condition which is. . . is similar to what people used to call. . . uh. . . catalepsy. " Now she was so red she was almost purple.

  Paul held the idea up briefly in his mind and then tossed it on the scrap-heap. A bee could have been the cause of Miss Evelyn-Hyde's unfortunate live burial; it even made sense, since it had happened in mid-spring; in the garden, to boot. But he had already decided that credibility depended on the two live burials" being related somehow, and Misery had succumbed in her bedroom. The fact that late fall was hardly bee-season was not really the problem. The problem was the rarity of the cataleptic reaction. He thought Constant Reader would not swallow two unrelated women in neighboring townships being buried alive six months apart as a result of bee-stings.

  Yet he could not tell Annie that, and not just because it might rile her up. He could not tell her because it would hurt her badly, and in spite of all the pain she had afforded him, he found he could not hurt her in that way. He had been hurt that way himself.

  He fell back on that most common writers'-workshop euphemism: "It's got possibilities, all right. I'll drop it into the hopper, Annie, but I've already got some ideas in mind. It may not fit. "

  "Oh, I know that - you're the writer, not me. just forget I said anything. I'm sorry. "

  "Don't be s - " But she was gone, her heavy tread almost running down the hallway to the parlor. He was looking at an empty space. His eyes dropped - then widened.

  On either side of the doorway, about eight inches up from the floor, was a black mark - they had been left, he understood at once, by the hubs of the wheelchair when he forced it through. So far she hadn't noticed them. It had been almost a week, and her failure to notice was a small miracle. But soon - tomorrow, perhaps even this afternoon she would be in to vacuum, and then she would.

  She would.

  Paul managed very little during the rest of the day. The hole in the paper had disappeared.

  8

  The following morning Paul was sitting up in bed, propped on a pile of pillows, drinking a cup of coffee, and eyeing those marks on the sides of the door with the guilty eye of a murderer who has just seen some bloody item of clothing of which he somehow neglected to dispose. Suddenly Annie came rushing into the room, her eyes wide and bulging. She held a dustcloth in one hand. In the other, incredibly, she held a pair of handcuffs.

  "What - " It was all he had time for. She seized him with panicky strength and pulled him into an upright sitting position. Pain - the worst in days - bellowed through his legs, and he screamed. The coffee cup flew out of his hand and shattered on the floor. Things keep breaking in here, he thought, and then: She saw the marks. Of course. Probably a long time ago. That was the only way he could account for this bizarre behavior - she had seen the marks after all, and this was the beginning of some new and spectacular punishment.

  "Shut up, stupid," she hissed, and then his hands were pinned behind him, and just as he heard the click of the handcuffs, he also heard a car turning into the driveway.

  He opened his mouth, meaning to speak or perhaps scream again, and she stuffed the rag into it before he could do either. There was some ghastly dead taste on the rag. Pledge, he supposed, or Endust, or something like that.

  "Make no sound," she said, leaning over him with one hand on either side of his head, strands of her hair tickling his cheeks and forehead. "I warn you, Paul. If whoever that is hears something - or even if I hear something and think he might have heard something - I will kill him, or them, then you, then myself. " She stood up. Her eyes were bulging. There was sweat on her face and dried egg-yolk on her lips.

  "Remember, Paul. " He was nodding but she didn't see. She was already running out.

  An old but well-preserved Chevy Bel Air had pulled up behind Annie's Cherokee. Paul heard a door open somewhere off the parlor and then bang shut. It gave off the oddly interrogative sq
ueak that told him it was the closet where she kept her outdoors stuff.

  The man getting out of the car was as old and well preserved as the car itself - a Colorado Type if ever Paul had seen one. He looked sixty-five but might be eighty; he might be the senior partner of a law firm or the semi-retired patriarch of a construction company, but was more likely a rancher or a realtor. He would be a Republican of the sort who would no more put a bumper sticker on his car than he would put a pair of pointy-toed Italian shoes on his feet; he must also be some sort of town official, and here on town business, because it was only on town business that a man like this and a reclusive woman like Annie Wilkes would have occasion to meet.

  Paul watched her hasten down the walk to the driveway, intent not on meeting but intercepting him. Here was something much like his earlier fantasy come true. Not a cop but someone IN AUTHORITY. AUTHORITY had arrived at Annie's, and its arrival here could do nothing but shorten his own life.

  Why not invite him in, Annie? he thought, trying not to choke on the dusty rag. Why not invite him in and show him your African bird?

  Oh, no. She would no more invite Mr Rocky Mountain Businessman in than she would drive Paul to Stapleton International and put a first-class ticket back to New York in his hand.

  She was talking even before she reached him, the breath pluming out of her mouth in shapes like cartoon balloons with no words written inside them. He held out a hand dressed in a narrowly elegant black leather glove. She looked at it briefly, contemptuously, then began to shake a finger in his face, more of those empty white balloons puffing from her mouth. She finished struggling into her coat and stopped shaking her finger long enough to rake the zipper up.

  He reached into the pocket of his topcoat and brought out a sheet of paper. He held it out to her almost apologetically. Although Paul had no way of knowing exactly what it was, he was sure that Annie had an adjective for it. Cockadoodie, maybe.

  She led him along the driveway, still talking. They passed beyond his sightline. He could see their shadows lying like construction-paper cutouts on the snow, but that was all. She had done it on purpose, he realized dully. If he, Paul, couldn't see them, then there was no chance that Mr Rancho Grande might look in through the guest-room window and see him.

  The shadows remained on the melting snowpack of Annie's driveway for about five minutes. Once Paul actually heard Annie's voice, raised in an angry, hectoring shout. Those were a long five minutes for Paul. His shoulders ached. He found he couldn't move to ease the ache. After cuffing his hands together, she had somehow bound them to the bedstead.

  But the dustcloth in his mouth was the worst. The stink of the furniture polish was making his head ache, and he was growing steadily more nauseated. He concentrated grimly on controlling it; he had no interest in choking to death, his windpipe full of vomit, while Annie argued with an elderly town official who got his hair trimmed once a week at the local tonsorial emporium and probably wore rubbers over his black oxfords all winter long.

  Cold sick-sweat had broken on his forehead by the time they reappeared. Now Annie was holding the paper. She followed Mr Rancho Grande, shaking her finger at his back, those empty cartoon balloons issuing from her mouth. Mr Rancho Grande would not look around at her. His face was carefully blank. Only his lips, pressed together so tightly that they almost disappeared, gave away some inward emotion. Anger? Perhaps. Distaste? Yes. That was probably closer.

  You think she's crazy. You and all your poker cronies - who probably control this whole minor-league ballpark of a town probably played a hand of Lowball or something to see who got this shit detail. No one likes to bring bad news to crazy people. But oh, Mr Rancho Grande! If you knew just how crazy she really is, I don't think you'd turn your back on her like that!

  He got into the Bel Air. He closed the door. Now she stood beside the car, shaking her finger at his closed window, and again Paul could dimly hear her voice: " - think you are so-so-so smaa-aart!" The Bel Air began to back slowly down the driveway. Mr Rancho Grande was ostentatiously not looking at Annie, whose teeth were bared.

  Louder still: "You think you are such a great big wheel!" Suddenly she kicked the front bumper of Mr Rancho Grande's car, kicked it hard enough to knock packed chunks of snow out of the wheel-wells. The old guy had been looking over his right shoulder, guiding the car down the driveway. Now he looked back at her, startled out of the careful neutrality he had maintained all through his visit.

  "Well I'll tell you something, you dirty bird! LITTLE DOGS GO TO THE BATHROOM ALL OVER BIG WHEELS! What do you think of that? Hah?" Whatever he thought of it, Mr Rancho Grande was not going to give Annie the satisfaction of seeing it - that neutral expression dropped over his face again like the visor on a suit of armor. He backed out of Paul's sight.

  She stood there for moment, hands fisted on hips, then stalked back toward the house. He heard the kitchen door open and explode shut.

  Well, he's gone, Paul thought. Mr Rancho Grande is gone but I'm here. Oh yes, I'm here.

  9

  But this time she didn't take her anger out on him.

  She came into his room, her coat still on but now unzipped. She began to pace rapidly back and forth, not even looking his way. The piece of paper was still in her hand, and every now and then she would shake it in front of her own nose as if in self-chastisement.

  "Ten-percent tax increase, he says! In arrears, he says! Liens! Lawyers! Quarterly payment, he says! Overdue! Cockadoodie! Kaka! Kaka-poopie-DOOPIE!" He grunted into the rag, but she didn't look around. She was in a room by herself. She walked back and forth faster, cutting the air with her solid body. He kept thinking she would tear the paper to shreds, but it seemed she did not quite dare do this.

  "Five hundred and six dollars!" she cried, this time brandishing the paper in front of his nose. She absently tore the rag that was choking him out of his mouth and threw it on the floor. He hung his head over to one side, dry-heaving. His arms felt as if they were slowly detaching themselves from their sockets. "Five hundred and six dollars and seventeen cents! They know I don't want anyone out here! I told them didn't I? And look! Look!" He dry-heaved again, making a desperate burping sound.

  "If you vomit I guess you'll just have to lie in it. Looks like I've got other fish to fry. He said something about a lie on my house. What's that?"

  "Handcuffs. . . " he croaked.

  "Yes, yes," she said impatiently. "Sometimes you're such a baby. " She pulled the key from her skirt pocket and pushed him even farther to the left, so that his nose pressed the sheets. He screamed, but she ignored him. There was a click, a rattle, and then his hands were free. He sat up

 
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