Page 15

  Now, however, the sun was out again and the sky was brilliant once more. That sun had heat as well as brilliance - he could feel it on his face and hands as he sat here. The icicles along the barn were dripping again. He thought briefly of his car in the snow, and then picked up a piece of paper and rolled it into the Royal. He typed the words MISERY'S RETUR in the upper left-hand comer, the number I in the upper right. He banged the carriage-return lever four or five times, centered the carriage, and typed CHAPTER I. He hit the keys harder than necessary, so she would be sure to hear he was typing something, at least.

  Now there was all this white space below CHAPTER I, looking like a snowbank into which he could fall and die, smothered in frost.


  As long as they played fair.

  That bird came from Africa.

  There was a parachute under his seat.


  Now I must rinse.

  He was drifting off and knew he shouldn't - if she came in here and caught him cooping instead of writing she would be mad - but he let himself drift anyway. He was not just dozing; he was, in an odd way, thinking. Looking. Searching.

  Searching for what, Paulie?

  But that was obvious. The plane was in a power-dive. He was searching for the parachute under the seat. Okay? Fair enough?

  Fair enough. When he found the parachute under the seat, it was fair. Maybe not all that realistic, but fair.

  For a couple of summers his mother had sent him to day-camp at the Malden Community Center. And they had played this game. . . they sat in a circle, and the game was like Annie's chapter-plays, and he almost always won. . . What was that game called?

  He could see fifteen or twenty little boys and girls sitting in a circle in one shady corner of a playground, all of them wearing Malden Community Center tee-shirts, all listening intently as the counsellor explained how the game was played. Can You?, the name of that game was Can You?, and it really was just like the Republic cliff-hangers, the game you played then was Can You?, Paulie, and that's the name of the game now, isn't it?

  Yes, he supposed it was.

  In Can You? the counsellor would start a story about this guy named Careless Corrigan. Careless was lost in the trackless jungles of South America. Suddenly he looks around and sees there are lions behind him. . . lions on either side of him. . . and by-God lions ahead of him.

  Careless Corrigan is surrounded by lions. . . and they a starting to move in. It's only five in the afternoon, but that is no problem for these kitties; as far as South American lions are concerned, that dinner-at-eight shit is for goofballs.

  The counsellor had had a stopwatch, and Paul Sheldon's dozing mind saw it with brilliant clarity, although he had last held its honest silver weight in his hand more than thirty years ago. He could see the fine copperplate of the numbers the smaller needle at the bottom which recorded tenths of seconds, he could see the brand name printed in tiny letters: ANNEX.

  The counsellor would look around the circle and pick one of the day-campers. "Daniel," he would say. "Can you?" The moment Can you? was out of his mouth, the counsellor would click the stopwatch into motion.

  Daniel then had exactly ten seconds to go on with the story. If he did not begin to speak during those ten seconds, he had to leave the circle. But if he got Careless away from the lions, the counsellor would look at the circle again and ask the game's other question, one that recalled his current situation clearly to mind again. This question was Did he?

  The rules for this part of the game were Annie's exactly. Realism was not necessary; fairness was. Daniel could say, for instance: "Luckily, Careless had his Winchester with him and plenty of ammo. So he shot three of the lions and the rest ran away. " In a case like that, Daniel did. He got the stopwatch and went on with the story, ending his segment with Careless up to his hips in a pool of quicksand or something, and then he would ask someone else if he or she could, and bang down the button on the stopwatch.

  But ten seconds wasn't long" and it was easy to get jammed up. . . easy to cheat. The next kid might well say something like "Just then this great big bird - an Andean vulture, I think - flew down. Careless grabbed its neck and made it pull him out of that quicksand. " When the counsellor asked Did she?, you raised your hand if you thought she had, left it down if you thought she had blown it. In the case of the Andean vulture, the kid would almost surely have been invited to leave the circle.

  Can you, Paul?

  Yeah. That's how I survive. That's how come I'm able to maintain homes in both New York and L. A. and more rolling iron than there is in some used-car lots. Because I can, and it's not something to apologize for, goddammit. There are lots of guys out there who write a better prose line than I do and who have a better understanding of what people are really like and what humanity is supposed to mean - hell I know that. But when the counsellor asks Did he? about those guys, sometimes only a few people raise their hands. But they raise their hands for me. . . or for Misery. . . and in the end I guess they're both the same. Can I? Yeah. You bet I can. There's a million things in this world I can't do. Couldn't hit a curve ball, even back in high school. Can't fix a leaky faucet. Can't roller-skate or make an F-chord on the guitar that sounds like anything but shit. I have tried twice to be married and couldn't do it either time. But if you want me to take you away, to scare you or involve you or make you cry or grin, yeah. I can. I can bring it to you and keep bringing it until you holler uncle. I am able. I CAN.

  The typewriter's insolent gunslinger-voice whispered into this deepening dream.

  What we got here, friends, is a lot of two things - big talk and white space.

  Can You?

  Yes. Yes!

  Did he?

  No. He cheated. In Misery's Child the doctor never came. Maybe the rest of you forgot what happened last week, but the stone idol never forgets. Paul has to leave the circle. Pardon me, please. Now I must rinse. Now I must -


  " - rinse, " he muttered, and slid over to the right. This dragged his left leg slightly askew, and the bolt of pain in his crushed knee was enough to wake him up. Less than five minutes had gone by. He could hear Annie washing dishes in the kitchen. Usually she sang as she did her chores. Today she was not singing; there was only the rattle of plates and the occasional hiss of rinse-water. Another bad sign. Here's a special weather bulletin for residents of Sheldon County - a tomado watch is in effect until 5. 00 P. M. tonight. I repeat, a tomado watch - But it was time to stop playing games and get down to business. She wanted Misery back from the dead, but it had to be fair. Not necessarily realistic, just fair. If he could do it this morning, he could just maybe he could derail the depression he sensed coming on before it could get a real start.

  Paul looked out the window, his chin on his palm. He was fully awake now, thinking fast and hard, but not really aware of the process. The top two or three layers of his conscious mind, which dealt with such things as when he had last shampooed, or whether or not Annie would be on time with his next dope allotment, seemed to have departed the scene entirely. That part of his head had quietly gone out to get a pastrami on rye, or something. There was sensory input, but he was not doing anything with it - not seeing what he was seeing, not hearing what he was hearing.

  Another part of him was furiously trying out ideas, rejecting them, trying to combine them, rejecting the combinations. He sensed this going on but had no direct contact with it and wanted none. It was dirty down there in the sweatshops.

  He understood what he was doing now as TRYING TO HAVE AN IDEA. TRYING TO HAVE AN IDEA wasn't the same thing as GETTING AN IDEA. GETTING AN IDEA was a more humble way of saying I am inspired, or Eureka! My muse has spoken!

  The idea for Fast Cars had come to him one day in New York City. He had gone out with no more in mind than buying a VCR for the townhouse on 83rd Street. He had passed a parking lot and had seen an attendant trying to jimmy his way in
to a car. That was all. He had no idea if what he had seen was licit or illicit, and by the time he had walked another two or three blocks, he no longer cared. The attendant had become Tony Bonasaro. He knew everything about Tony but his name, which he later plucked from a telephone book. Half the story existed, full-blown, in his mind, and the rest was rapidly falling into place. He felt jivey, happy, almost drunk. The muse had arrived, every bit as welcome as an unexpected check in the mail. He had set out to get a video recorder and had gotten something much better instead. He had GOTTEN AN IDEA.

  This other process - TRYING TO HAVE AN IDEA - was nowhere near as exalted or exalting, but it was every bit as mysterious. . . and every bit as necessary. Because when you were writing a novel you almost always got roadblocked somewhere, and there was no sense in trying to go on until you'd HAD AN IDEA.

  His usual procedure when it was necessary to HAVE AN IDEA was to put on his coat and go for a walk. If he didn't need to HAVE AN IDEA, he took a book when he went for a walk. He recognized walking as good exercise, but it was boring. If you didn't have someone to talk to while you walked, a book was a necessity. But if you needed to HAVE AN IDEA, boredom could be to a roadblocked novel what chemotherapy was to a cancer patient.

  Halfway through Fast Cars, Tony had killed Lieutenant Gray when the lieutenant tried to slap the cuffs on him in a Times Square movie theater. Paul wanted Tony to get away with the murder - for awhile, anyway - because there could be no third act with Tony sitting in the cooler. Yet Tony could not simply leave Gray sitting in the movie theater with the haft of a knife sticking out of his left armpit, because there were at least three people who knew Gray had gone to meet Tony.

  Body disposal was the problem, and Paul didn't know how to solve it. It was a roadblock. It was the game. It was Careless just killed this guy in a Times Square movie theater and now he's got to get the body back to his car without anyone saying "Hey mister, is that guy as dead as he looks or did he just pitch a fit or something?" If he gets Gray's corpse back to the car, he can drive it to Queens and dump it in this abandoned building project he knows about. Paulie? Can You?

  There was no ten-second deadline, of course - he'd had no contract for the book, had written it on spec, and hence there was no delivery date to think about. Yet there was always a deadline, a time after which you had to leave the circle, and most writers knew it. If a book remained roadblocked long enough, it began to decay, to fall apart; all the little tricks and illusions started to show.

  He had gone for a walk, thinking of nothing on top of his mind, the way he was thinking of nothing on top right now. He had walked three miles before someone sent up a flare from the sweatshops down below: Suppose he starts a fire in the theater?

  That looked like it might work. There was no sense of giddiness, no true feeling of inspiration; he felt like a carpenter looking at a piece of lumber that might do the job.

  He could set afire in the stuffing of the seat next to him, how's that? Goddam seats in those theaters are always tom up. And there'd be smoke. Lots of it. He could hold off leaving as long as possible, then drag Gray out with him. He can pass Gray off as a smoke-inhalation victim. What do you think?

  He had thought it was okay. Not great, and there were plenty of details still to be worked out, but it looked okay. He'd HAD AN IDEA. The work could proceed.

  He'd never needed to HAVE AN IDEA to start a book, but he understood instinctively that it could be done.

  He sat quietly in the chair, chin on hand, looking out at the barn. If he'd been able to walk, he would have been out there in the field. He sat quietly, almost dozing, waiting for something to happen, really aware of nothing at all except that things were happening down below, that whole edifices of make-believe were being erected, judged, found wanting, and torn down again in the wink of an eye. Ten minutes passed. Fifteen. Now she was running the vacuum cleaner in the parlor (but still not singing). He heard it but did nothing with the hearing of it; it was unconnected sound which ran into his head and then out again like water running through a flume.

  Finally the guys down below shot up a flare, as they always eventually did. Poor buggers down there never stopped busting their balls, and -he didn't envy them one little bit.

  Paul sat quietly, beginning to HAVE AN IDEA His conscious mind returned - THE DOCTOR IS IN - and picked the idea up like a letter pushed through the mail-slot in a door. He began to examine it. He almost rejected it (was that a faint groan from down there in the sweatshops?), reconsidered, decided half of it could be saved.

  A second flare, this one brighter than the first.

  Paul began to drum his fingers restlessly on the windowsill.

  Around eleven o'clock he began to type. This went very slowly at first - individual clacks followed by spaces of silence, some as long as fifteen seconds. It was the aural equivalent of an island archipelago seen from the air - a chain of low humps broken by broad swaths of blue.

  Little by little the spaces of silence began to shorten, and now there were occasional bursts of typing - it would have sounded fine on Paul's electric typewriter, but the clacking sound of the Royal was thick, actively unpleasant.

  But after a while Paul did not notice the Ducky Daddles voice of the typewriter. He was warming up by the bottom of the first page. By the bottom of the second he was in high gear.

  After awhile Annie turned off the vacuum cleaner and stood in the doorway, watching him. Paul had no idea she was there - had no idea, in fact, that he was. He had finally escaped. He was in Little Dunthorpe's churchyard, breathing damp night air, smelling moss and earth and mist; he heard the clock in the tower of the Presbyterian church strike two and dumped it into the story without missing a beat. When it was very good, he could see through the paper. He could see through it now.

  Annie watched him for a long time, her heavy face unsmiling, moveless, but somehow satisfied. After awhile she went away. Her tread was heavy, but Paul didn't hear that, either.

  He worked until three o'clock that afternoon, and at eight that night he asked her to help him back into the wheelchair again. He wrote another three hours, although by ten o'clock the pain had begun to be quite bad. Annie came in at eleven. He asked for another fifteen minutes.

  "No, Paul, it's enough. You're white as salt. " She got him into bed and he was asleep in three minutes. He slept the whole night through for the first time since coming out of the gray cloud, and his sleep was for the first time utterly without dreams.

  He had been dreaming awake.



  By Paul Sheldon

  For Annie Wilkes




  For a moment Geoffrey Alliburton was not sure who the old man at the door was, and this was not entirely because the bell had awakened him from a deepening doze. The irritating thing about village life, he thought, was that there weren't enough people for there to be any perfect strangers instead there were just enough to keep one from knowing immediately who many of the villagers were. Sometimes all one really had to go on was a family resemblance - and such resemblances, of course, never precluded the unlikely but hardly impossible coincidence of bastardy. One could usually handle such moments - no matter how much one might feel one was entering one's dotage while trying to maintain an ordinary conversation with a person whose name one should be able to recall but could not; things only reached the more cosmic realms of embarrassment when two such familiar faces arrived at the same time, and one felt called upon to make introductions.