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       Misery, p.5

           Stephen King
Page 5

  "She can't be dead!" Annie Wilkes shrieked at him. Her hands snapped open and hooked closed in a faster and faster rhythm. "Misery Chastain CANNOT BE DEAD!"

  "Annie - Annie, please - " There was a glass water-pitcher on the table. She seized it up and brandished it at him. Cold water splashed his face. An ice-cube landed beside his left ear and slid down the pillow into the hollow of his shoulder. In his mind ("So vivid!") he saw her bringing the pitcher down into his face, he saw himself dying of a fractured skull and a massive cerebral hemorrhage in a freezing flood of ice-water while goose-pimples formed on his arms.

  She wanted to do it; there was no question of that.

  At the very last moment she pivoted away from him at d flung the water-pitcher at the door instead, where it shattered as the soup-bowl had the other day.

  She looked back at him and brushed her hair away from her face - two hard little spots of red had now bloomed the white - with the backs of her hands.

  "Dirty bird!" she panted. "Oh you dirty birdie, how could you!" He spoke rapidly, urgently, eyes flashing, riveted on her face - he was positive in that moment that his life might depend on what he was able to say in the next twenty seconds.

  "Annie, in 1871 women frequently died in childbirth. Misery gave her life for her husband and her best friend and her child. The spirit of Misery will always - "

  "I don't want her spirit!" she screamed, hooking her fingers into claws and shaking them at him, as if she would tear his eyes out. "I want her! You killed her! You murdered her!" Her hands snapped shut into fists again and she drove them down like pistons, one on either side of his head. They punched deep into the pillow and he bounced like a ragdoll. His legs flared and he cried out.

  "I didn't kill her!" he screamed.

  She froze, staring at him with that narrow black expression that look of crevasse.

  "Of course not," she said, bitterly sarcastic. "And if you didn't, Paul Sheldon, who did?"

  "No one," he said more quietly. "She just died. " Ultimately he knew this to be the truth. If Misery Chastain had been a real person, he knew he might very well have been called upon "to aid the police in their inquiries", as the euphemism went. After all, he had a motive - he had hated her. Ever since the third book, he had hated her. For April Fools" Day four years ago he'd had a small booklet privately printed and had sent it to a dozen close acquaintances. It had been called Misery's Hobby. In it Misery spent a cheerful country weekend boffing Growler, Ian's Irish Setter.

  He might have murdered her. . . but he hadn't. In the end, in spite of his having grown to despise her, Misery's death had been something of a surprise to him. He had remained true enough to himself for art to imitate life however feebly - to the very end of Misery's hackneyed adventures. She had died a mostly unexpected death. His cheerful capering had in no way changed the fact.

  "You lie," Annie whispered. "I thought you were good, but you are not good. You are just a lying old dirty birdie. "

  "She slipped away, that's all. Sometimes that happens. It was like life, when someone just - " She overturned the table by the bed. The one shallow drawer spilled out. His wristwatch and pocket-change spilled out with it. He hadn't even known they were in. there. He cringed back from her.

  "You must think I was born yesterday," she said. Her lips drew back from her teeth. "In my job I saw dozens of people die - hundreds, now that I think about it. Sometimes they go screaming and sometimes they go in their sleep - they just slip away, the way you said, sure.

  "But characters in stories DO NOT just slip away! God takes us when He thinks it's time and a writer is God to the people in a story, he made them up just like God made us up and no one can get hold of God to make Him explain, all right, okay, but as far as Misery goes I'll tell you one thing you dirty bird, I'll tell you that God just happens to have a couple of broken legs and God just happens to be in MY house eating MY food and. . . and. . .

  She went blank then. She straightened up with her hands hanging limply by her sides, looking at the wall where an old photograph of the Arc de Triomphe was hung. She stood there and Paul lay in his bed with round marks in the pillow beside his ears and looked at her. He could hear the water which had been in the pitcher dripping on the floor, and it came to him that he could commit murder. This was a question which had occurred to him from time to time, strictly academic, of course, only now it wasn't and he had the answer. If she hadn't thrown the pitcher, he would have shattered it on the floor himself and tried to shove one of the broken pieces of glass into her throat while she stood there, as inert as an umbrella-stand.

  He looked down into the spillage from the drawer, but there was only the change, a pen, a comb, and his watch. No wallet. More important, no Swiss Army knife.

  She came back a little at a time, and the anger, at least, was gone. She looked down at him sadly.

  "I think I better go now. I don't think I better be around you for awhile. I don't think it's. . . wise. "

  "Go? Where?"

  "It doesn't matter. A place I know. If I stay here, I'II do something unwise. I need to think. Goodbye, Paul. " She strode across the room.

  "Will you be back to give me my medication?" he asked, alarmed.

  She grasped the doorknob and pulled the door shut without answering. For the first time he heard the rattle of a key.

  He heard her footsteps going off down the hall; he winced as she cried out angrily - words he couldn't understand and something else fell and shattered. A door slammed. An engine cranked over and then started up. The low, crunching squeal of tires turning on packed snow. Now the motor-sound began to go away. It dwindled to a snore and then to a drone and was finally gone.

  He was alone.

  Alone in Annie Wilkes's house, locked in this room. Locked in this bed. The distance between here and Denver was like. . . well, like the distance between the Boston Zoo and Africa.

  He lay in bed looking at the ceiling, his throat dry and his heart beating fast.

  After awhile the parlor clock chimed noon and the tide began to go out.


  Fifty-one hours.

  He knew just how long because of the pen, the Flair Fine-Liner he had been carrying in his pocket at the time of the crash. He had been able to reach down and snag it. Every time the clock chimed he made a mark on his arm - four vertical marks and then a diagonal slash to seal the quintet. When she came back there were ten groups of five and one extra. The little groups, neat at first, grew increasingly jagged as his hands began to tremble. He didn't believe he had missed a single hour. He had dozed, but never really slept. The chiming of the clock woke him each time the hour came around.

  After awhile he began to feel hunger and thirst - even through the pain. It became something like a horse race. At first King of Pain was far in the lead and I Got the Hungries was some twelve furlongs back. Pretty Thirsty was nearly lost in the dust. Then, around sun-up on the day after she had left, I Got the Hungries actually gave King of Pain a brief run for his money.

  He had spent much of the night alternately dozing and waking in a cold sweat, sure he was dying. After awhile he began to hope he was dying. Anything to be out of it. He'd never had any idea how bad hurting could get. The pilings grew and grew. He could see the barnacles which encrusted them, could see pale drowned things lying limply in the clefts of the wood. They were the lucky things. For them the hurting was over. Around three he had lapsed into a bout of useless screaming.

  By noon of the second day - Hour Twenty-Four - he realize that, as bad as the pain in his legs and pelvis was, something else was also making him hurt. It was withdrawal. Call this horse Junkie's Revenge, if you wanted. He needed the capsules in more ways than one.

  He thought of trying to get out of bed, but the thought of the thump and the drop and the accompanying escalation of pain constantly deterred him. He could imagine all too well ("So vivid!") how it would feel. He might have tried anyway, b
ut she had locked the door. What could he do besides crawl across to it, snail-like, and lie there?

  In desperation he pushed back the blankets with his hands for the first time, hoping against hope that it wasn't as bad as the shapes the blankets made seemed to suggest it was. It wasn't as bad; it was worse. He stared with horror at what he had become below the knees. In his mind he heard the voice of Ronald Reagan in King's Raw, shrieking "Where's the rest of me?" The rest of him was here, and he might get out of this; the prospects for doing so seemed ever more remote, but he supposed it was technically possible. . . but he might well never walk again - and surely not until each of his legs had been rebroken, perhaps in several places, and pinned with steel, and mercilessly overhauled, and subjected to half a hundred shriekingly painful indignities.

  She had splinted them - of course he had known that, felt the rigid ungiving shapes, but until now he had not known what she had done it with. The lower parts of both legs were circled with slim steel rods that looked like the hacksawed remains of aluminum crutches. The rods had been strenuously taped, so that from the knees down he looked a bit like Im-Ho-Tep when he had been discovered in his tomb. The legs themselves meandered strangely up to his knees, turning outward here, jagging inward there. His left knee a throbbing focus of pain - no longer seemed to exist at all. There was a calf, and a thigh, and then a sickening bunch in the middle that looked like a salt-dome. His upper legs were badly swollen and seemed to have bowed slightly outward. His thighs, crotch, even his penis, were all still mottled with fading bruises.

  He had thought his lower legs might be shattered. That was not so, as it turned out. They had been pulverized.

  Moaning, crying, he pulled the blankets back up. No rolling out of bed. Better to lie here, die here, better to accept this level of pain, terrific as it was, until all pain was gone.

  Around four o'clock of the second day, Pretty Thirsty made its move. He had been aware of dryness in his mouth and throat for a long time, but now it began to seem more urgent. His tongue felt thick, too large. Swallowing hurt. He began to think of the pitcher of water she had dashed away.

  He dozed, woke, dozed.

  Day passed away" Night fell.

  He had to urinate. He laid the top sheet over his penis, hoping to create a crude filter, and urinated through it into his cupped and shaking hands. He tried to think of it as recycling and drank what he had managed to hold and then ticked his wet palms. Here was something else he reckoned he would not tell people about, if he lived long enough to tell them anything.

  He began to believe she was dead. She was deeply unstable, and unstable people frequently took their own lives. He saw her ("So vivid") pulling over to the side of the road in Old Bessie, taking a. 44 from under the seat, putting it in her mouth, and shooting herself. "With Misery dead I don't want to live. Goodbye, cruel world!" Annie cried through a rain of tears, and pulled the trigger.

  He cackled, then moaned, then screamed. The wind screamed with him. . . but took no other notice.

  Or an accident? Was that possible? Oh, yes, sir! He saw her driving grimly, going too fast, and then ("He doesn't get it from MY side of the family!") going blank and driving right off the side of the road. Down and down and down. Hitting once and bursting into a fireball, dying without even knowing it.

  If she was dead he would die in here, a rat in a dry trap.

  He kept thinking unconsciousness would come and relieve him, but unconsciousness declined; instead Hour Thirty came, and Hour Forty; now King of Pain and Pretty Thirsty merged into one single horse (I Got the Hungries had been left in the dust long since) and he began to feel like nothing more than a slice of living tissue on a microscope slide or a worm on a hook - something, anyway, twisting endlessly and waiting only to die.


  When she came in he thought at first that she must be a dream, but then reality - or mere brute survival - took over and he began to moan and beg and plead, all of it broken, all of it coming from a deepening well of unreality. The one thing he saw clearly was that she was wearing a dark-blue dress and a sprigged hat - it was exactly the sort of outfit he had imagined her wearing on the stand in Denver.

  Her color was high and her eyes sparkled with life and vivacity. She was as close to pretty as Annie Wilkes ever could be, and when he tried to remember that scene later the only clear images he could fix upon were her flushed cheeks and the sprigged hat. From some final stronghold of sanity and evaluative clarity the rational Paul Sheldon had thought: She looks like a widow who just got fucked after a ten-year dry spell.

  In her hand she held a glass of water - a tall glass of water.

  "Take this," she said, and put a hand still cool from the out-of-doors on the back of his neck so he could sit up enough to drink without choking. He took three fast mouthfuls, the pores on the and plain of his tongue widening and clamoring at the shock of the water, some of it spilling down his chin and onto the tee-shirt he wore, and then she drew it away from him.

  He mewled for it, holding his shaking hands out.

  "No," she said. "No, Paul. A little at a time, or you'll vomit. " After a bit she gave it back to him and allowed two more swallows.

  "The stuff," he said, coughing. He sucked at his lips and ran his tongue over them and then sucked his tongue. He could vaguely remember drinking his own piss, how hot it had been, how salty. "The capsules - pain - please, Annie, please, for God's sake please help me the pain is so bad - "

  "I know it is, but you must listen to me," she said, looking at him with that stern yet maternal expression. "I had to get away and think. I have thought deeply, and I hope I've thought well. I was not entirely sure; my thoughts are often muddy, I know that. I accept that. It's why I couldn't remember where I was all those times they kept asking me about. So I prayed. There is a God, you know, and He answers prayers. He always does. So I prayed. I said, "Dear God, Paul Sheldon may be dead when I get back. " But God said, "He will not be. I have spared him, so you may shew him the way he must go. "" She said shew as shoe, but Paul was barely hearing her anyway; his eyes were fixed on the glass of water. She gave him another three swallows. He slurped like a horse, burped, then cried out as shudder-cramps coursed through him.

  During all of this she looked at him benignly.

  "I will give you your medication and relieve your pain, she said, "but first you have a job to do. I'll be right back. " She got up and headed for the door.

  "No!" he screamed.

  She took no notice at all. He lay in bed, cocooned in pain, trying not to moan and moaning anyway.


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