Misery

Page 32

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"Oh, shit!" the cop exclaimed. "It's you!" Paul's attention had been so fiercely focused on the trooper that he did not see Annie until it was too late. When he did see her, he was struck by a real superstitious horror. Annie had become a goddess, a thing that was half woman and half Lawnboy, a weird female centaur. Her baseball cap had fallen off. Her face was twisted in a frozen snarl. In one hand she held a wooden cross. It had marked the grave of the Bossie - Paul didn't remember if it was No. 1 or No. 2 which had finally stopped bawling.

That Bossie had indeed died, and when spring had softened the ground enough, Paul had watched from his window, sometimes dumbstruck with awe and sometimes overcome with shrieking attacks of the giggles, as she first dug the grave (it had taken her most of the day) and then dragged Bossie (who had also softened considerably) out from behind the barn. She had used a chain attached to the Cherokee's trailer-hitch to do this. She had looped the other end of the chain around Bossie's middle. Paul made a mental bet with himself that Bossie would tear in half before Annie got her to the grave, but that one he lost. Annie tumbled Bossie in, then stolidly began refilling the hole, a job she hadn't finished until long after dark.

Paul had watched her plant the cross and then read the Bible over the grave by the light of a new-risen spring moon.

Now she was holding the cross like a spear, the dirt darkened point of its vertical post pointed squarely at the trooper's back.

"Behind you! Look out!" Paul shrieked, knowing he was too late but shouting anyway.

With a thin warbling cry, Annie plunged Bossie's cross, into the trooper's back.

"AG!" the cop said, and walked slowly onto the lawn, his pierced back arched and his gut sticking out. His face was the face of a man either trying to pass a kidney stone or having a terrible gas attack. The cross began to droop toward the ground as the trooper approached the window in which Paul sat, his gray invalid's face framed by jags of broken glass. The cop reached slowly over his shoulders with both hands. He looked to Paul like a man trying very hard to scratch that one itch you can never quite reach.

Annie had dismounted the Lawnboy and had been standing frozen, her tented fingers pressed against the peaks of her breasts. Now she lunged forward and snatched the cross out of the trooper's back.

He turned toward her, groping for his service pistol, and Annie drove the cross point-first into his belly.

"OG!" the cop said this time, and dropped to his knees, clutching his stomach. As he bent over Paul could see the slit in his brown uniform shirt where the first blow had gone home.

Annie pulled the cross free again - its sharpened point had broken off, leaving a jagged, splintery stump - and drove it into his back between the shoulderblades. She looked like a woman trying to kill a vampire. The first two blows had perhaps not gone deep enough to do much damage, but this time the cross's support post went at least three inches into the kneeling trooper's back, driving him flat.

"THERE!" Annie cried, wrenching Bossie's memorial marker out of his back. "HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT, YOU DIRTY OLD BIRD?"

"Annie, stop it!" Paul shouted.

She looked up at him, her dark eyes momentarily as shi ay as coins, her hair fungus-frowzy around her face, the corners of her mouth drawn up in the jolly grin of a lunatic who has, at least for the moment, cast aside all restraints. Then she looked back down at the state trooper.

"THERE!" she cried, and drove the cross into his back again. And his buttocks. And the upper thigh of one leg. And his neck. And his crotch. She stabbed him with it half a dozen times, screaming "THERE!" every time she brought it down again. Then the cross's upright split.

"There," she said, almost conversationally, and walked away m the direction from which she had come running. Just before she passed from Paul's view she tossed the bloody cross aside as if it no longer interested her.

14

Paul put his hands on the wheels of the chair, not at all sure where he intended to go or what, if anything, he meant to do when he got there - to the kitchen for a knife, perhaps? Not to try to kill her with, oh no; she would take one look at the knife in his hand and step back into the shed for her.30-30. Not to kill her but to defend himself from her revenge by cutting his wrists open. He didn't know if that had been his intention or not, but it surely did seem like a hell of a good idea, because if there had ever been a time to exeunt stage left, this was it. He was tired of losing pieces of himself to her fury.

Then he saw something which froze him in place. The cop.

The cop was still alive.

He raised his head. His sunglasses had fallen off. Now Paul could see his eyes. Now he could see how young the cop was, how young and hurt and scared. Blood ran down his face in streams. He managed to get to his hands and knees, fell forward, and then got painfully back up again. He began to crawl toward his cruiser.

He worked his way halfway down the mild slope of grass between the house and the driveway, then overbalanced and fell on his back. For a moment he lay there with his legs drawn up, looking as helpless as a turtle on its shell. Then he slowly rolled over on his side and began the terrible job of getting to his knees again. His uniform shirt and pants were darkening with blood - small patches were slowly spreading, meeting other patches, growing bigger still.

The Smokey reached the driveway.

Suddenly the noise of the riding lawnmower was louder.

"Look out!" Paul screamed. "Look out, she's coming!" The cop turned his head. Groggy alarm surfaced on his face, and he grappled for his gun once more. He got it out something big and black with a long barrel and brown woodgrips - and then Annie reappeared, sitting tall in the saddle and driving the Lawnboy as fast as it would go.

"SHOOT HER!" Paul screamed, and instead of shooting Annie Wilkes with his big old Dirty (birdie) Harry gun, he first fumbled, then dropped it.

He stretched out his hand for it. Annie swerved and ran over both his reaching hand and his forearm. Blood squirted from the Lawnboy's grass-exhaust in an amazing jet. The kid in the trooper uniform screamed. There was a sharp clang as the mower's whirling blade struck the pistol. Then Annie was swerving up the side lawn, using it to turn, and her gaze fell on Paul for one second and Paul felt sure he knew what that momentary gaze meant. First the Smokey, then him.

The kid was lying on his side again. When he saw the mower bearing down on him he rolled over on his back and dug frantically at the driveway dirt with his heels, trying to push himself under the cruiser where she couldn't get him. He didn't even come close. Annie throttled the riding lawnmower up to a scream and drove it over his head.

Paul caught a last glimpse of horrified brown eyes, saw tatters of brown khaki uniform shirt hanging from an arm raised in a feeble effort at protection, and when the eyes were gone, Paul turned away.

The Lawnboy's engine suddenly lugged down and there was a series of fast, strangely liquid thudding sounds.

Paul vomited beside the chair with his eyes closed.

15

He only opened them when he heard the rattle of her key in the kitchen door. His own door was open; he watched her approach down the hall in her old brown cowboy boots and her blue-jeans with the keyring dangling from one of the belt-loops and her man's tee-shirt now spotted with blood. He cringed away from her. He wanted to say: If you cut anything else off me, Annie, I'm going to die. It won't take the shock of another amputation, either. I'll die on purpose. But no words came out - only terrified chuffing noises that disgusted him.

She gave him no time to speak anyway.

"I'll deal with you later," she said, and pulled - his door closed. One of her keys rattled in the lock - a new Kreig that would have defeated even Tom Twyford himself, Paul thought - and then she was striding down the hall again, the thud of her boot-heels mercifully diminishing.

He turned his head and looked dully out the window. He could see only part of the trooper's body. His head was still under the mower, which was, in turn, canted at a drunken angle against the cruiser. The riding mower was a small tractor-like vehicle meant for keeping larger-than-average lawns neat and clipped. It had not been designed to keep its balance as it passed over jutting rocks, fallen logs, or the heads of state troopers. If the cruiser hadn't been parked exactly where it was, and if the trooper hadn't gotten exactly as close to it as he had before Annie struck him, the mower would almost surely have tipped over, spilling her off. This might have caused her no harm at all, but it might have hurt her quite badly.

She has the luck of the devil himself, Paul thought drearily, and watched as she put the mower in neutral and then pushed it off the trooper with one hard shove. The side of the mower squalled along the side of the cruiser and took off some paint.

Now that he was dead, Paul could look at him. The cop looked like a big doll that has been badly treated by a gang of nasty children. Paul felt a terrible aching sympathy for this unnamed young man, but there was another emotion mixed with that. He examined it and was not much surprised to find it was envy. The trooper would never go home to his wife and kids, if he had had them, but on the other hand, he had escaped Annie Wilkes.

She grabbed a bloody hand and dragged him up the driveway and through the barn doors, which stood ajar on their tracks. When she came out, she pushed them along their tracks as far as they would go. Then she walked back down to the cruiser. She was moving with a calm that was almost serenity. She started the cruiser and drove it into the barn. When she came out again she closed the doors almost completely, leaving a gap just wide enough for her to slip in and out.

She walked halfway down the driveway and looked around, hands on her hips. Again Paul saw that remarkable expression of serenity.

The bottom of the mower was smeared with blood, particularly around the grass-exhaust, which was still dripping. Little scraps of khaki uniform lay in the driveway or fluttered in the freshly cut grass of the side lawn. There were daubs and splashes of blood everywhere. The trooper's gun, with a long slash of bright metal now scarring its barrel, lay in the dust. A square of stiff white paper had caught on the spines of a small cactus Annie had set out in May. Bossie's splintered cross lay in the driveway like a comment on the whole filthy mess.

She moved out of his field of vision, heading toward the kitchen again. When she came in he heard her singing. "She'll be driving six white horses when she COMES!... she'll be driving six white horses when she COMES! She'll be driving six white HORSES, driving six white HORSES... she'll be driving six white HORSES when she COMES!" When he saw her again, she had a big green garbage bag in her hands and three or four more sticking out of the back pockets of her jeans. Big sweatstains darkened her tee-shirt around her armpits and neck. When she turned, he saw a sweatstain that looked vaguely tree-like rising up her back.

That's a lot of bags for a few scraps of cloth, Paul thought, but he knew that she would have plenty to put in them before she was done.

She picked up the shreds of uniform and then the cross. She broke it into two pieces, and dropped it into the plastic bag. Incredibly, she genuflected after doing this. She picked up the gun, rolled the cylinder, dumped the slugs, put hem in one hip pocket, snapped the cylinder back in with a practiced flick of her wrist, and then stuck the gun in the waistband of her jeans. She plucked the piece of paper off the saguaro and looked at it thoughtfully. She stuck it into the other hip pocket. She went to the barn, tossed the garbage bags inside the doors, then came back to the house.

She walked up the side lawn to the cellar bulkhead which was almost directly below Paul's window. Something e se caught her eye. It was his ashtray. She picked it up and handed it politely to him through the broken window.

"Here, Paul." Numbly, he took it.

"I'll get the paper-clips later," she said, as if this was a question which must already have occurred to him. For one moment he thought of bringing the heavy ceramic ashtray down on her head as she bent over, cleaving her skull with it, letting out the disease that passed for her brains.

Then he thought of what would happen to him - what could happen to him - if he only hurt her, and put the ashtray where it had been with his shaking thumbless hand.

She looked up at him. "I didn't kill him, you know."

"Annie - "

"You killed him. If you had kept your mouth shut, I would have sent him on his way. He'd be alive now and there would be none of this oogy mess to clean up."

"Yes," Paul said. "Down the road he would have gone, and what about me, Annie?" She was pulling her hose out of the bulkhead and looping it over her arm. "I don't know what you mean."

"Yes you do." In the depth of his shock he had achieved his own serenity. "He had my picture. It's in your pocket right now, isn't it?"

"Ask me no questions and I will tell you no lies." There was a faucet bib on the side of the house to the left of his window. She began to screw the end of the hose onto it.

"A state cop with my picture means someone found my car. We both knew someone would. I'm only surprised it took so long. In a novel a car might be able to float right out of the story - I guess I could make people believe it if I had to - but in real life, no way. But we went on fooling ourselves just the same, didn't we, Annie? You because of the book, me because of my life, miserable as it has become to me."

"I don't know what you're talking about." She turned on the faucet. "AR I know is you killed that poor kid when you threw the ashtray through the window. You're getting what might happen to you mixed up with what already happened to him." She grinned at him. There was craziness in that grin, but he saw something else in it as well, something that really frightened him. He saw conscious evil in it - a demon capering behind her eyes.

"You bitch," he said.

"Crazy bitch, isn't that right?" she asked, still smiling.

"Oh yeah - you're crazy," he said.

"Well, we'll have to talk about that, won't we? When I have more time. We'll have to talk about that a lot. But right now I'm very busy, as I think you can see." She unreeled the hose and turned it on. She spent nearly half an hour hosing blood off the mower and driveway and the side lawn, while interlinked rainbows glimmered in the spray.

Then she twisted the nozzle off and walked back along the hose's length, looping it over her arm. There was still plenty of light but her shadow trailed long behind her. It was now six o'clock.

She unscrewed the hose, opened the bulkhead, and dropped the green plastic snake inside. She closed the bulkhead, shot the bolt, and stood back, surveying the puddly driveway and the grass, which looked as though a heavy dew had fallen upon it.

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