Misery

Page 7

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She put me in it while I was conked out, he thought. Lifted me. Dead weight. Christ she must be strong.

"Finished!" she said. "I'm pleased to see how well you took that soup, Paul. I believe you are going to mend. We will not say "Good as new" - alas, no - but if we don't have any more of these... these contretemps... I believe you'll mend just fine. Now I'm going to change your nasty old bed, and when that's done I'm going to change nasty old you, and then, if you're not having too much pain and still feel hungry, I am going to let you have some toast."

"Thank you, Annie," he said humbly, and thought: Your throat. If I can, I'll give you a chance to lick your lips and say "Goodness!" But only once, Annie.

Only once.

21

Four hours later he was back in bed and he would have burned all his books for even a single Novril. Sitting hadn't bothered him a bit while he was doing it - not with enough shit in his bloodstream to have put half the Prussian Army to steep - but now it felt as if a swarm of bees had been loosed in the lower half of his body.

He screamed very loudly - the food must have done something for him, because he could not remember being able to scream so loudly since he had emerged from the dark cloud.

He sensed her standing just outside the bedroom door in the hallway for a long time before she actually came in, immobile, turned off, unplugged, gazing blankly at no more than the doorknob or perhaps the pattern of lines on her own hands.

"Here." She gave him his medication - two capsules this time.

He swallowed them, holding her wrist to steady the glass.

"I bought you two presents in town," she said, getting up.

"Did you?" he croaked.

She pointed at the wheelchair which brooded in the corner with its steel leg-rests stuck stiffly out.

"I'll show you the other one tomorrow. Now get some sleep, Paul."

22

But for a long time no sleep came. He floated on the dope and thought about the situation he was in. It seemed a little easier now. It was easier to think about than the book which he had created and then uncreated.

Things... isolated things like pieces of cloth which may be pieced together to make a quilt.

They were miles from the neighbors who, Annie said, didn't like her. What was the name? Boynton. No, Roydman. That was it. Roydman. And how far from town? Not too far, surely. He was in a circle whose diameter might be as small as fifteen miles, or as large as forty-five. Annie Wilkes's house was in that circle, and the Roydmans", and downtown Sidewinder, however pitifully small that might be...

And my car. My Camaro's somewhere in that circle, too. Did the police find it?

He thought not. He was a well-known person; if a car had been found with tags registered in his name, a little elementary checking would have shown he had been in Boulder and had then dropped out of sight. The discovery of his wrecked and empty car would have prompted a search, stories on the news...

She never watches the news on IV, never listens to the radio at all - unless she's got one with an earplug, or phones.

It was all a little like the dog in the Sherlock Holmes story - the one that didn't bark. His car hadn't been found because the cops hadn't come. If it had been found, they would have checked everyone in his hypothetical circle, wouldn't they?

And just how many people could there be in such a circle, here close to the top of the Western Slope? The Roydmans, Annie Wilkes, maybe ten or twelve others?

And just because it hadn't been found so far didn't mean it wouldn't be found.

His vivid imagination (which he had not gotten from anyone on his mother's side of the family) now took over. The cop was tall, handsome in a cold way, his sideburns perhaps a bit longer than regulation. He was wearing dark sunglasses in which the person being questioned would see his own face in duplicate. His voice had a flat Midwestern twang.

We've found an overturned car halfway down Humbuggy Mountain which belongs to a famous writer named Paul Sheldon. There's some blood on the seats and the dashboard, but no sign of him. Must have crawled out, may even have wandered away in a daze - That was a laugh, considering the state of his legs, but of course they would not know what injuries he might have sustained. They would only assume that, if he was not here, he must have been strong enough to get at least a little way. The course of their deductions was not apt to lead to such an unlikely possibility as kidnapping, at least not at first, and probably never.

Do you remember seeing anyone on the road the day of the storm? Tall man, forty-two years old, sandy hair? Probably wearing blue jeans and a checked flannel shirt and a parka? Might have looked sort of bunged up? Hell, might not even have known who he was?

Annie would give the cop coffee in the kitchen; Annie would be mindful that all the doors between there and the spare bedroom should be closed. In case he should groan.

Why, no, officer - I didn't see a soul. In fact, I came back from town just as quick as I could chase when Tony Roberts told me that bad old storm wasn't turning south after all.

The cop, setting down the coffee cup and getting up: Well, if you should see anyone fitting the description, ma'am, I hope you'll get in touch with us just as fast as you can. He's quite a famous Person. Been in People magazine. Some other ones, too.

I certainly will, officer!

And away he would go.

Maybe something like that had already happened and he just didn't know about it. Maybe his imaginary cop's actual counterpart or counterparts had visited Annie while he was doped out. God knew he spent enough time doped out. More thought convinced him it was unlikely. He wasn't Joe Blow from Kokomo, just some transient blowing through. He had been in People (first best-seller) and Us (first divorce); there had been a question about him one Sunday in Walter Scott's Personality Parade. There would have been rechecks, maybe by phone, probably by the cops themselves. When a celebrity - even a quasi-celebrity like a writer disappeared, the heat came on.

You're only guessing, man.

Maybe guessing, maybe deducing. Either way it was better than just lying here and doing nothing.

What about guardrails?

He tried to remember and couldn't. He could only remember reaching for his cigarettes, then the amazing way the ground and the sky had switched places, then darkness. But again, deduction (or educated guesswork, if you wanted to be snotty) made it easier to believe there had been none. Smashed guardrails and snapped guywires would have alerted roadcrews.

So what exactly had happened?

He had lost control at a place where there wasn't much of a drop, that was what - just enough grade to allow the car to flip over in space. If the drop had been steeper, there would have been guardrails. If the drop had been steeper, Annie Wilkes would have found it difficult or impossible to get to him, let alone drag him back to the road by herself.

So where was his car? Buried in the snow, of course.

Paul put his arm over his eyes and saw a town plow coming up the road where he has crashed only two hours earlier. The plow is a dim orange blob in the driving snow near the end of this day. The man driving is bundled to the eyes; on his head he wears an old-fashioned trainman's cap of blue-and-white pillowtick. To his right, at the bottom of a shallow slope which will, not far from here, deepen into a more typical upcountry gorge, lies Paul Sheldon's Camaro, with the faded blue HART FOR PRESIDENT sticker on the rear bumper just about the brightest thing down there. The guy driving the plow doesn't see the car; bumper sticker is too faded to catch his eye. The wing-plows block most of his side-vision, and besides, it's almost dark and he's beat. He just wants to finish this last run so he can turn the plow over to his relief and get a hot cup of joe.

He sweeps past, the plow spurning cloudy snow into the gully. The Camaro, already drifted to the windows, is now buried to the roof-line. Later, in the deepest part of a stormy twilight when even the things directly in front of you look unreal, the second-shift man drives by, headed in the opposite direction, and entombs it.

Paul opened his eyes and looked at the plaster ceiling. There was a fine series of hairline cracks up there that seemed to make a trio of interlocked W's. He had become very familiar with them over the endless run of days he had lain here since coming out of the cloud, and now he traced them again, idly thinking of w words such as wicked and wretched and witchlike and wriggling.

Yes.

Could have been that way. Could have been.

Had she thought of what might happen when his car was found?

She might have. She was nuts, but being nuts didn't make her stupid.

Yet it had never crossed her mind that he might have a duplicate of Fast Cars.

Yeah. And she was right. The bitch was right. I didn't.

Images of the blackened pages floating up, the flames, the sounds, the smell of the uncreation - he gritted his teeth against the images and tried to shut his mind away from them; vivid was not always good.

No, you didn't, but nine out of ten writers would have - at least they would if they were getting paid as much as you have been for even the non-Misery books. She never even thought of it.

She's not a writer.

Neither is she stupid, as I think we have both agreed. I think that she is filled with herself - she does not just have a large ego but one which is positively grandiose. Burning it seemed to her the proper thing to do, and the idea that her concept of the proper thing to do might be short-circuited by something so piddling as a bank Xerox machine and a couple of rolls of quarters... that blip just never crossed her screen, my friend.

His other deductions might be like houses built on quicksand, but this view of Annie Wilkes seemed to him as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. Because of his researches for Misery, he had rather more than a layman's understanding of neurosis and psychosis, and he knew that although a borderline psychotic might have alternating periods of deep depression and almost aggressive cheerfulness and hilarity, the puffed and infected ego underlay all, positive that all eyes were upon him or her, positive that he or she was staffing in a great drama; the outcome was a thing for which untold millions waited with held breath.

Such an ego simply forbade certain lines of thought. These lines were predictable because they all stretched in the same direction: from the unstable person to objects, situations, or other persons outside of the subject's field of control (or fantasy: to the neurotic there might be some difference but to the psychotic they were one and the same).

Annie Wilkes had wanted Fast Cars destroyed, and so, to her, there had been only the one copy.

Maybe I could have saved the damn thing by telling her there were more. She would have seen destroying the manuscript was futile. She - His breathing, which had been slowing toward sleep, suddenly caught in his throat and his eyes widened.

Yes, she would have seen it was futile. She would have been forced to acknowledge one of those lines leading to a place beyond her control. The ego would be hurt, squealing - I have such a temper!

If she had been clearly faced with the fact that she couldn't destroy his "dirty book", might she not have decided to destroy the creator of the dirty book instead? After all, there was no copy of Paul Sheldon.

His heart was beating fast. In the other room the clock began to bong, and overhead he heard her thumping footfalls cross his ceiling. The faint sound of her urinating. The toilet flushing. The heavy pad of her feet as she went back to bed. The creak of the springs.

You won't make me mad again, will you?

His mind suddenly tried to break into a gallop, an overbred trotter trying to break stride. What, if anything, did all this dime-store psychoanalysis mean in terms of his car? About when it was found? What did it mean to him?

"Wait a minute," he whispered in the dark. "Wait a minute, wait a minute, just hold the phone. Slow down." He put his arm across his eyes again and again conjured up the state trooper with the dark sunglasses and the overlong sideburns. We've found an overturned car halfway down Humbuggy Mountain, the state trooper was saying, and blah-de-blah-de-blah.

Only this time Annie doesn't invite him to stay for coffee. This time she isn't going to feel safe until he's out of her house and far down the road. Even in the kitchen, even with two closed doors between them and the guest-room, even with the guest doped to the ears, the trooper might hear a groan.

If his car was found, Annie Wilkes would know she was in trouble, wouldn't she?

"Yes," Paul whispered. His legs were beginning to hurt again, but in the dawning horror of this recognition he barely noticed.

She would be in trouble not because she had taken him to her house, especially if it was closer than Sidewinder (and so Paul believed it to be); for that they would probably give her a medal and a lifetime membership in the Misery Chastain Fan Club (to Paul's endless chagrin there actually was such a thing). The problem was, she had taken him to her house and installed him in the guest-room and told no one. No phone-call to the local ambulance service: "This is Annie up on the Humbuggy Mountain Road and I've got a fellow here, looks a bit like King Kong used him for a trampoline." The problem was, she had filled him full of dope to which she was certainly not supposed to have access - not if he was even half as hooked as he thought he was. The problem was, she had followed the dope with a weird sort of treatment, sticking needles in his arms, splinting his legs with sawed-off pieces of aluminum crutches. The problem was, Annie Wilkes had been on the stand up there in Denver... and not as a supporting witness, either, Paul thought. I'd bet the house and lot on that.

So she watches the cop go down the road in his spandy-clean cruiser (spandy-clean except for the caked chunks of snow and salt nestled in the wheel-wells and under the bumpers, that is), and she feels safe again... but not too safe, because now she is like an animal with its wind up.

Way, way up.

The cops will look and look and look, because he is not just good old Joe Blow from Kokomo; he is Paul Sheldon, the literary Zeus from whose brow sprang Misery Chastain, darling of the dump-bins and sweetheart of the supermarkets. Maybe when they don't find him they'll stop looking, or at least look someplace else, but maybe one of the Roydmans saw her going by that night and saw something funny in the back of Old Bessie, something wrapped in a quilt, something vaguely manlike. Even if they hadn't seen a thing, she wouldn't put it past the Roydmans to make up a story to get her in trouble; they didn't like her.

The cops might come back, and next time her house-guest might not be so quiet.

He remembered her eyes darting around aimlessly when the fire in the barbecue pot was on the verge of getting out of control. He could see her tongue sticking her lips. He could see her walking back and forth, hands clenching and unclenching, peeking every now and then into the guest-room where he lay lost in his cloud. Every now and then she would utter "Goodness!" to the empty rooms.

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