Misery, p.2
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       Misery, p.2

           Stephen King
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  She had gone into Sidewinder in the four-wheel drive to get feed for the livestock and a few groceries. . . also to check out the paperbacks at Wilson's Drug Center - that had been the Wednesday that was almost two weeks ago now, and the new paperbacks always came in on Tuesday.

  "I was actually thinking of you," she said, spooning soup into his mouth and then professionally wiping away a dribble, from the comer with a napkin. "That's what makes it such a remarkable coincidence, don't you see? I was hoping Misery's Child would finally be out in paperback, but no such luck. " A storm had been on the way, she said, but until noon that day the weather forecasters had been confidently claiming it would veer south, toward New Mexico and the Sangre di Cristos.

  "Yes," he said, remembering as he said it: "They said it would turn. That's why I went in the first place. " He tried to shift his legs. The result was an awful bolt of pain, and he groaned.

  "Don't do that," she said. "If you get those legs of yours talking, Paul, they won't shut up. . . and I can't give you any more pills for two hours. I'm giving you too much as it is. " Why aren't I in the hospital? This was clearly the question that wanted asking, but he wasn't sure it was a question either of them wanted asked. Not yet, anyway.

  When I got to the feed store, Tony Roberts told me I better step on it if I was going to get back here before the storm hit, and I said - "

  "How far are we from this town?" he asked.

  "A ways," she said vaguely, looking off toward the window. There was a queer interval of silence, and Paul was frightened by what he saw on her face, because what he saw was nothing; the black nothing of a crevasse folded into an alpine meadow, a blackness where no flowers grew and into which the drop might be long. It was the face of a woman who has come momentarily untethered from all of the vital positions and landmarks of her life, a woman who has forgotten not only the memory she was in the process of recounting but memory itself. He had once toured a mental asylum - this was years ago, when he had been researching Misery, the first of the four books which had been his main source of income over the last eight years - and he had seen this look. . . or, more precisely, this unlook. The word which defined it was catatonia, but what frightened him had no such precise word - it was, rather, a vague comparison: in that moment he thought that her thoughts had become much as he had imagined her physical self: solid, fibrous, unchannelled, with no places of hiatus.

  Then, slowly, her face cleared. Thoughts seemed to flow back into it. Then he realized flowing was just a tiny bit wrong. She wasn't filling up, like a pond or a tidal pool; she was warming up. Yes. . . she is warming up, like some small electrical gadget. A toaster, or maybe a heating pad.

  "I said to Tony, "That storm is going south. "" She spoke slowly at first, almost groggily, but then her words began to catch up to normal cadence and to fill with normal conversational brightness. But now he was alerted. Everything she said was a little strange, a little offbeat. Listening to Annie was like listening to a song played in the wrong key.

  "But he said, "It changed its mind. "

  "'Oh poop!" I said. "I better get on my horse and ride. "

  ""I'd stay in town if you can, Miz Wilkes," he said. "Now they're saying on the radio that it's going to be a proper jeezer and nobody is prepared. "

  "But of course I had to get back - there's no one to feed the animals but me. The nearest people are the Roydmans, and they are miles from here. Besides, the Roydmans don't like me. " She cast an eye shrewdly on him as she said this last, and when he didn't reply she tapped the spoon against the rim of the bowl in peremptory fashion.

  "Done?"

  "Yes, I'm full, thanks. It was very good. Do you have a lot of livestock?" Because, he was already thinking, if you do, that means you've got to have some help. A hired man, at least. "Help" was the operant word. Already that seemed like the operant word, and he had seen she wore no wedding ring.

  "Not very much," she said. "Half a dozen laying hens. Two cows. And Misery. " He blinked.

  She laughed. "You won't think I'm very nice, naming a sow after the brave and beautiful woman you made up. But that's her name, and I meant no disrespect. " After a moment's thought she added: "She's very friendly. " The woman wrinkled up her nose and for a moment became a sow, even down to the few bristly whiskers that grew on her chin. She made a pig-sound: "Whoink! Whoink! Whuh-Whuh-WHOINK!" Paul looked at her wide-eyed.

  She did not notice; she had gone away again, her gaze dim and musing. Her eyes held no reflection but the lamp on the bed-table, twice reflected, dwelling faintly in each.

  At last she gave a faint start and said: "I got about five miles and then the snow started. It came fast - once it starts up here, it always does. I came creeping along, with my lights on, and then I saw your car off the road, overturned. " She looked at him disapprovingly. "You didn't have your lights on. "

  "It took me by surprise," he said, remembering only at that moment how he had been taken by surprise. He did not yet remember that he had also been quite drunk.

  "I stopped," she said. "If it had been on an upgrade, I might not have. Not very Christian, I know, but there were three inches on the road already, and even with a four-wheel drive you can't be sure of getting going again once you lost your forward motion. It's easier just to say to yourself, "Oh they probably got out, caught a ride," et cetera, et cetera. But it was on top of the third big hill past the Roydmans" and it's flat there for awhile. So I pulled over, and as soon as I got out I heard groaning. That was you, Paul. " She gave him a strange maternal grin.

  For the first time, clearly, the thought surfaced in Paul Sheldon's mind: I am in trouble here. This woman is not right.

  6

  She sat beside him where he lay in what might have been a spare bedroom for the next twenty minutes or so and talked. As his body used the soup, the pain in his legs reawakened. He willed himself to concentrate on what she was saying, but was not entirely able to succeed. His mind had bifurcated. On one side he was listening to her tell how she had dragged him from the wreckage of his "74 Camaro - that was the side where the pain throbbed and ached like a couple of old splintered pilings beginning to wink and flash between the heaves of the withdrawing tide. On the other he could see himself at the Boulderado Hotel, finishing his new novel, which did not - thank God for small favors - feature Miser Chastain.

  There were all sorts of reasons for him not to write about Misery, but one loomed above the rest, ironclad and unshakable. Misery - thank God for large favors - was finally dead. She had died five pages from the end of Misery's Child. Not a dry eye in the house when that had happened, including Paul's own - only the dew falling from his ocularies had been the result of hysterical laughter.

  Finishing the new book, a contemporary novel about a car-thief, he had remembered typing the final sentence of Misery's Child: "So Ian and Geoffrey left the Little Dunthorpe churchyard together, supporting themselves in their sorrow, determined to find their lives again. " While writing this line he had been giggling so madly it had been hard to strike the correct keys - he had to go back several times. Thank God for good old IBM CorrectTape. He had written THE END below and then had gone capering about the room - this same room in the Boulderado Hotel - and screaming Free at last! Free at last! Great God Almighty, I'm free at last! The silly bitch finally bought the farm!

  The new novel was called Fast Cars, and he hadn't laughed when it was done. He just sat there in front of the typewriter for a moment, thinking You may have just won next year's American Book Award, my friend. And then he had picked up - " - a little bruise on your right temple, but that didn't look like anything. It was your legs. . . I could see right away, even with the light starting to fade, that your legs weren't - " - the telephone and called room service for a bottle of Dom Perignon. He remembered waiting for it to come, walking back and forth in the room where he had finished all of his books since 1974; he remembered tipping the waiter with a fifty-dollar bill and as
king him if he had heard a weather forecast; he remembered the pleased, flustered, grinning waiter telling him that the storm currently heading their way was supposed to slide off to the south, toward New Mexico; he remembered the chill feel of the bottle, the discreet sound of the cork as he eased it free; he remembered the dry, acerbic-acidic taste of the first glass and opening his travel bag and looking at his plane ticket back to New York; he remembered suddenly, on the spur of the moment, deciding - " - that I better get you home right away! It was a struggle getting you to the truck, but I'm a big woman - as you may have noticed - and I had a pile of blankets in the back. I got you in and wrapped you up, and even then, with the light fading and all, I thought you looked familiar! I thought maybe - " - he would get the old Camaro out of the parking garage and just drive west instead of getting on the plane. What the hell was there in New York, anyway? The townhouse, empty, bleak, unwelcoming, possibly burgled. Screw it! he thought, drinking more champagne. Go west, young man, go west! The idea had been crazy enough to make sense. Take nothing but a change of clothes and his - " - bag I found. I put that in, too, but there wasn't anything else I could see and I was scared you might die on me or something so I fired up Old Bessie and I got your - " - manuscript of Fast Cars and hit the road to Vegas or Reno or maybe even the City of the Angels. He remembered the idea had also seemed a bit silly at first - a trip the kid of twenty-four he had been when he had sold his first novel might have taken, but not one for a man two years past his fortieth birthday. A few more glasses of champagne and the idea no longer seemed silly at all. It seemed, in fact, almost noble. A kind of Grand Odyssey to Somewhere, a way to reacquaint himself with reality after the fictional terrain of the novel. So he had gone - " - out like a light! I was sure you were going to die. . . I mean, I was sure! So I slipped your wallet out of your back pocket, and I looked at your driver's license and I saw the name, Paul Sheldon, and I thought, "Oh, that must be a coincidence," but the picture on the license also looked like you, and then I got so scared I had to sit down at the kitchen table. I thought at first that I was going to faint. After awhile I started thinking maybe the picture was just a coincidence, too - those driver's-license photos really don't look like anybody - but then I found your Writers" Guild card, and one from PEN, and I knew you were - " - in trouble when the snow started coming down, but long before that he had stopped in the Boulderado bar and tipped George twenty bucks to provide him with a second bottle of Dom, and he had drunk it rolling up I-70 into the Rockies under a sky the color of gunmetal, and somewhere east of the Eisenhower Tunnel he had diverted from the turnpike because the roads were bare and dry, the storm was sliding off to the south, what the hay, and also the goddam tunnel made him nervous. He had been playing an old Bo Diddley tape on the cassette machine under the dash and never turned on the radio until the Camaro started to seriously slip and slide and he began to realize that this wasn't just a passing upcountry flurry but the real thing. The storm was maybe not sliding off to the south after all; the storm was maybe coming right at him and he was maybe in a bucket of trouble (the way you are in trouble now) but he had been just drunk enough to think he could drive his way out of it. So instead of stopping in Cana and inquiring about shelter, he had driven on. He could remember the afternoon turning into a dull-gray chromium lens. He could remember the champagne beginning to wear off. He could remember leaning forward to get his cigarettes off the dashboard and that was when the last skid began and he tried to ride it out but it kept getting worse; he could remember a heavy dull thump and then the world's up and down had swapped places. He had - " - screamed! And when I heard you screaming, I knew that you would live. Dying men rarely scream. They haven't the energy. I know. I decided I would make you live. So I got some of my pain medication and made you take it. Then you went to sleep. When you woke up and started to scream again, I gave you some more. You ran a fever for awhile, but I knocked that out, too. I gave you Keflex. You had one or two close calls, but that's all over now. I promise. " She got up. And now it's time you rested, Paul. You've got to get your strength back. "

  "My legs hurt. "

  "Yes, I'm sure they do. In an hour you can have some medication. "

  "Now. Please. " It shamed him to beg, but he could not help it. The tide had gone out and the splintered pilings stood bare, jaggedly real, things which could neither be avoided nor dealt with.

  "In an hour. " Firmly. She moved toward the door with the spoon and the soup-bowl in one hand.

  "Wait!" She turned back, looking at him with ail expression both stern and loving. He did not like the expression. Didn't like it at all.

  "Two weeks since you pulled me out?" She looked vague again, and annoyed. He would come to know that her grasp of time was not good. "Something like that. "

  "I was unconscious.

  "Almost all the time. "

  "What did I eat?" She considered him.

  "IV," she said briefly.

  "IV?" he said, and she mistook his stunned surprise for ignorance.

  "I fed you intravenously," she said. "Through tubes. That's what those marks on your arms are. " She looked at him with eyes that were suddenly flat and considering. "You owe me your life, Paul. I hope you'll remember that. I hope you'll keep that in mind. " Then she left.

  7

  The hour passed. Somehow and finally, the hour passed.

  He lay in bed, sweating and shivering at the same time. From the other room came first the sounds of Hawkeye and Hot Lips and then the disc jockeys on WKRP, that wild and crazy Cincinnati radio station. An announcer's voice came on, extolled Ginsu knives, gave an 800 number, and informed those Colorado watchers who had simply been panting for a good set of Ginsu knives that Operators Were Standing By.

  Paul Sheldon was also Standing By.

  She reappeared promptly when the clock in the other room struck eight, with two capsules and a glass of water.

  He hoisted himself eagerly on his elbows as she sat on the bed.

  "I finally got your new book two days ago," she told him. Ice tinkled in the glass. It was a maddening sound. "Misery's Child. I love it. . . It's as good as all the rest. Better! The best!"

  "Thank you," he managed. He could feel the sweat standing out on his forehead. "Please my legs very painful. . . "

 
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