Misery, p.8
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       Misery, p.8

           Stephen King
 
Page 8

  She had stolen a rare bird with beautiful feathers - a rare bird which came from Africa.

  And what would they do if they found out?

  Why, put her up on the stand again, of course. Put her up on the stand again in Denver. And this time she might not walk free.

  He took his arm away from his eyes. He looked at the interlocking W's swaying drunkenly across the ceiling. He didn't need his elbow over his eyes to see the rest. She might hang on to him for a day or a week. It might take a follow-up phone-call or visit to make her decide to get rid of her rara avis. But in the end she would do it, just as wild dogs begin to bury their illicit kills after they have been hunted awhile.

  She would give him five pills instead of two, or perhaps smother him with a pillow; perhaps she would simply shoot him. Surely there was a rifle around somewhere - almost everyone living in the high country had one - and that would take care of the problem.

  No - not the gun.

  Too messy.

  Might leave evidence.

  None of that had happened yet because no one had found the car. They might be looking for him in New York or in L. A. , but no one was looking for him in Sidewinder, Colorado.

  But in the spring.

  The W's straggled across the ceiling. Washed. Wiped. Wasted.

  The throbbing in his legs was more insistent; the next time the clock bonged she would come, but he was almost afraid she would read his thoughts on his face, like the bare premise of a story too gruesome to write. His eyes drifted left. There was a calendar on the wall. It showed a boy riding a sled down a hill. It was February according to the calendar, but if his calculations were right it was already early March. Annie Wilkes had just forgotten to turn the page.

  How long before the melting snows revealed his Camaro with its New York plates and its registration in the glove compartment proclaiming the owner to be Paul Sheldon? How long before that trooper called on her, or until she read it in the paper? How long until the spring melt?

  Six weeks? Five?

  That could be the length of my life, Paul thought, and began shuddering. By then his legs were fully awake, and it was not until she had come in and given him another dose of medicine that he was able to fall asleep.

  Chapter 5

  23

  The next evening she brought him the Royal. It was an e model from an era when such things as electric typewriters, color TVs, and touch-tone telephones were only science fiction. It was as black and as proper as a pair of high-button shoes. Glass panels were set into the sides, revealing the machine's levers, springs, ratchets, and rods. A steel return lever, dull with disuse, jutted to one side like a hitchhiker's thumb. The roller was dusty, its hard rubber scarred and pitted. The letters ROYAL ran across the front of the machine in a semicircle. Grunting, she set it down on the foot of the bed between his legs after holding it up for his inspection for a moment.

  He stared at it.

  Was it grinning?

  Christ, it looked like it was.

  Anyway, it already looked like trouble. The ribbon was a faded two-tone, red over black. He had forgotten there were such ribbons. The sight of this one called up no pleasant nostalgia.

  "Well?" She was smiling eagerly. "What do you think?"

  "It's nice!" he said at once. "A real antique. " Her smile clouded. "I didn't buy it for an antique. I bought it for second-hand. Good second-hand. " He responded with immediate glibness. "Hey! There ain't no such thing as an antique typewriter - not when you come right down to it. A good typewriter lasts damn near forever. These old office babies are tanks!" If he could have reached it he would have patted it. If he could have reached it he would have kissed it.

  Her smile returned. His heartbeat slowed a little.

  "I got it at Used News. Isn't that a silly name for a store? But Nancy Dartmonger, the lady who runs it, is a silly woman. " Annie darkened a little, but he saw at once that she was not darkening at him - the survival instinct, he was discovering, might be only instinct in itself, but it created some really amazing shortcuts to empathy. He found himself becoming more attuned to her moods, her cycles; he listened to her tick as if she were a wounded clock.

  "As well as silly, she's bad. Dartmonger! Her name ought to be Whoremonger. Divorced twice and now she's living with a bartender. That's why when you said it was an antique - "

  "It looks fine," he said.

  She paused a long moment and then said, as if confessing: "It has a missing n. "

  "Does it?"

  "Yes - see?" She tilted the typewriter up so he could peer at the banked semicircle of keys and see the missing striker like a missing molar in a mouthful of teeth worn but otherwise complete.

  "I see. " She set it back down. The bed rocked a little. Paul guessed the typewriter might weigh as much as fifty pounds. It had come from a time when there were no alloys, no plastics. . . also no six-figure book advances, no movie tie-in editions, no USA Today, no Entertainment Tonight, no celebrities doing ads for credit cards or vodka.

  The Royal grinned at him, promising trouble.

  "She wanted forty-five dollars but gave me five Because of the missing n. " She offered him a crafty smile. No fool she, it said.

  He smiled back. The tide was in. That made both smiling and lying easy. "Gave it to you? You mean you didn't dicker?" Annie preened a little. "I told her n was an important letter," she allowed.

  "Well good for you! Damn!" Here was a new discovery. Sycophancy was easy once you got the hang of it.

  Her smile grew sly, inviting him to share a delicious secret.

  "I told her n was one of the letters in my favorite writer's name. "

  "It's two of the letters in my favorite nurse's name. " Her smile became a glow. Incredibly, a blush rose in her solid cheeks. That's what it would look like, he thought, if you built a furnace inside the mouth of one of those idols in the H. Rider Haggard stories. That is what it would look like at night.

  "You fooler!" she simpered.

  "I'm not!" he said. "Not at all. "

  "Well!" She looked off for a moment, not blank but just pleased, a little flustered, taking a moment to gather her thoughts. Paul could have taken some pleasure in the way this was going if not for the weight of the typewriter, as solid as the woman and also damaged; it sat there grinning with its missing tooth, promising trouble.

  "The wheelchair was much more expensive," she said. "Ostomy supplies have gone right out of sight since I -" She broke off, frowned, cleared her throat. Then she looked back at him, smiling. "But it's time you began sitting up, and I don't begrudge the cost one tiny bit. And of course you can't type lying down, can you?"

  "No. . . "

  "I've got a board. . . I cut it to size. . . and paper. . . wait!" She dashed from the room like a girl, leaving Paul and the typewriter to regard each other. His grin disappeared the moment her back was turned. The Royal's never varied. He supposed later that he had pretty well known what all this was about, just as he supposed he had known what the typewriter would sound like, how it would clack through its grin like that old comic-strip character Ducky Daddles.

  She came back with a package of Corrasable Bond in shrink-wrap and a board about three feet wide by four feet long.

  "Look!" She put the board on the arms of the wheelchair that stood by his bed like some solemn skeletal visitor. Already he could see the ghost of himself behind that board, pent in like a prisoner.

  She put the typewriter on the board, facing the ghost, and put the package of Corrasable Bond - the paper he hated most in all the world because of the way the type blurred when the pages were shuffled together - beside it. She had now created a kind of cripple's study.

  "What do you think?"

  "It looks good," he said, uttering the biggest lie of his life with perfect ease, and then asked the question to which he already knew the answer. "What will I write there, do you think?"

  "
Oh, but Paul" she said, turning to him, her eyes dancing animatedly in her flushed face. "I don't think, I know! You're going to use this typewriter to write a new novel! Your best novel! Misery's Retum!"

  24

  Misery's Return. He felt nothing at all. He supposed a man who had just cut his hand off in a power saw might feel this same species of nothing as he stood regarding his spouting wrist with dull surprise.

  "Yes!" Her face shone like a searchlight. Her powerful hands were clasped between her breasts. "It will be a book just for me, Paul! My payment for nursing you back to health! The one and only copy of the newest Misery book! I'll have something no one else in the world has, no matter how much they might want it! Think of it!"

  "Annie, Misery is dead. " But already, incredibly, he was thinking, I could bring her back. The thought filled him with tired revulsion but no real surprise. After all, a man who could drink from a floor-bucket should be capable of a little directed writing.

  "No she's not," Annie replied dreamily. "Even when I was. . . when I was so mad at you, I knew she wasn't really dead. I knew you couldn't really kill her. Because you're good. "

  "Am I?" he said, and looked at the typewriter. It grinned at him. We're going to find out just how good you are, old buddy, it whispered.

  "Yes!"

  "Annie, I don't know if I can sit in that wheelchair. Last time - "

  "Last time it hurt, you bet it did. And it will hurt next time, too. Maybe even a little more. But there will come a day - and it won't be long, either, although it may seem longer to you than it really is - when it hurts a little less. And a little less. And a little less. "

  "Annie, will you tell me one thing?"

  "Of course, dear!"

  "If I write this story for you - "

  "Novel! A nice big one like all the others - maybe even bigger!" He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them. "Okay - if I write this novel for you, will you let me go when it's done?" For a moment unease slipped cloudily across her face, and then she was looking at him carefully, studiously. "You speak as though I were keeping you prisoner, Paul. " He said nothing, only looked at her.

  "I think that by the time you finish, you should be up to the. . . up to the strain of meeting people again," she said.

  "Is that what you want to hear?"

  "That's what I wanted to hear, yes. "

  "Well, honestly! I knew writers were supposed to have big egos, but I guess I didn't understand that meant ingratitude, too!" He went on looking at her and after a moment she looked away, impatient and a little flustered.

  At last he said: "I'll need all the Misery books, if you've got them, because I don't have my concordance. "

  "Of course I have them!" she said. Then: "What's a concordance?"

  "It's a loose-leaf binder where I have all my Misery stuff," he said. "Characters and places, mostly, but cross-indexed three or four different ways. Time-lines. Historical stuff. . . " He saw she was barely listening. This was the second time she'd shown not the slightest interest in a trick of the trade that would have held a class of would-be writers spellbound. The reason, he thought, was simplicity itself. Annie Wilkes was the perfect audience, a woman who loved stories without having the slightest interest in the mechanics of making them. She was the embodiment of that Victorian archetype, Constant Reader. She did not want to hear about his concordance and indices because to her Misery and the characters surrounding her were perfectly real. Indices meant nothing to her. If he had spoken of a village census in Little Dunthorpe, she might have shown some interest.

  "I'll make sure you get the books. They're a little dog-eared, but that's a sign a book has been well read and well loved, isn't it?"

  "Yes," he said. No need to lie this time. "Yes it is.

  "I'm going to study up on book-binding," she said dreamily. "I'm going to bind Misery's Return myself. Except for my mother's Bible, it will be the only real book I own. "

  "That's good," he said, just to say something. He was feeling a little sick to his stomach.

  I'll go out now so you can put on your thinking cap," she said. "This is exciting! Don't you think so?"

  "Yes, Annie. I sure do. "

  "I'll be in with some breast of chicken and mashed potatoes and peas for you in half an hour. Even a little Jell-O because you've been such a good boy. And I'll make sure you get your pain medication right on time. You can even have an extra pill in the night if you need it. I want to make sure you get your sleep, because you have to go back to work tomorrow. You'll mend faster when you're working, I'll bet!" She went to the door, paused there for a moment, and then, grotesquely, blew him a kiss.

  The door closed behind her. He did not want to look at the typewriter and for awhile resisted, but at last his eyes rolled helplessly toward it. It sat on the bureau, grinning. Looking at it was a little like looking at an instrument of torture - boot, rack, strappado - which is standing inactive, but only for the moment.

  I think that by the time you finish, you should be. . . up to the strain of meeting people again.

  Ah, Annie, you were lying to both of us. I knew it, and you did, too. I saw it in your eyes.

  The limited vista now opening before him wag extremely unpleasant: six weeks of life which he would spend suffering with his broken bones and renewing his acquaintance with Misery Chastain, nee Carmichael, followed by a hasty interment in the back yard. Or perhaps she would feed his remains to Misery the pig - that would have a certain justice, black and gruesome though it might be.

  Then don't do it. Make her mad. She's like a walking bottle of nitroglycerine as it is. Bounce her around a little. Make her explode. Better than lying here suffering.

  He tried looking up at the interlocked W's, but all too soon he was looking at the typewriter again. It stood atop the bureau, mute and thick and full of words he did not want to write, grinning with its one missing tooth.

  I don't think you believe that, old buddy. I think you want to stay alive even if it does hurt. If it means bringing Misery back for an encore, you'll do it. You'll try, anyway - but first you are going to have to deal with me. . . and I don't think I like your face.

  "Makes us even," Paul croaked.

  This time he tried looking out the window, where fresh snow was falling. Soon enough, however, he was looking at the typewriter again with avid repulsed fascination, not even aware of just when his gaze had shifted.

  25

  Getting into the chair didn't hurt as much as he had feared, and that was good, because previous experience had shown him that he would hurt plenty afterward.

 
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