Misery Page 10

"A good point," he said. "Now, going back to the subject of the paper - "

"I'll get you your cockadoodie paper," she said sullenly. "Just tell me what to get and I'll get it."

"As long as you understand I'm on your side - "

"Don't make me laugh. No one has been on my side since my mother died twenty years ago."

"Believe what you want, then," he said. "If you're so insecure you can't believe I'm grateful to you for saving my life, that's your problem." He was watching her shrewdly, and again saw a flicker of uncertainty, of wanting to believe, in her eyes. Good. Very good. He looked at her with all the sincerity he could muster, and again in his mind he imagined shoving a chunk of glass into her throat, once and forever letting out the blood that serviced her crazy brain.

"At least you should be able to believe that I am on the book's side. You spoke of binding it. I assume that you meant binding the manuscript? The typed pages?"

"Of course that's what I meant." Yes, you bet. Because if you took the manuscript to a printer, it might raise questions. You may be naive about the world of books and publishing, but not that naive. Paul Sheldon is missing, and your printer might remember receiving a book-length manuscript concerning itself with Paul Sheldon's most famous character right around the time the man himself disappeared, mightn't he? And he'd certainly remember the instructions - instructions so queer any printer would remember them. One printed copy of a novel-length manuscript.

Just one.

"What did she look like, officer? Well, she was a big woman. Looked sort of like a stone idol in a H. Rider Haggard story. Just a minute, I've got her name and address here in the files... Just let me look up the carbons of the invoices... "

"Nothing wrong with the idea, either," he said. "A bound manuscript can be damned handsome. Looks like a good folio edition. But a book should last a long time, Annie, and if I write this one on Corrasable, you're going to have nothing but a bunch of blank papers in ten years or so. Unless, of course, you just put it on the shelf." But she wouldn't want that, would she? Christ, no. She'd want to take it down every day, maybe every few hours. Take it down and gloat over it.

An odd stony look had come onto her face. He did not like this mulishness, this almost ostentatious look of obduracy. It made him nervous. He could calculate her rage, but there was something in this new expression which was as opaque as it was childish.

"You don't have to talk anymore," she said. "I already told you I'll get you your paper. What kind?"

"In this business-supply store you go to - "

"The Paper Patch."

"Yes, the Paper Patch. You tell them you'd like two reams - a ream is a package of five hundred sheets - "

"I know that. I'm not stupid, Paul."

"I know you're not," he said, becoming more nervous still. The pain had begun to mutter up and down his legs again, and it was speaking even more -loudly from the area of his pelvis - he had been sitting up for nearly an hour, and the dislocation down there was complaining about it.

Keep cool, for God's sake - don't lose everything you've gained!

But have I gained anything? Or is it only wishful thinking?

"Ask for two reams of white long-grain mimeo. Hammermill Bond is a good brand; so is Triad Modem. Two reams of mimeo will cost less than this one package of Corrasable, and it should be enough to do the whole job, write and rewrite."

"I'll go right now," she said, getting up suddenly.

He looked at her, alarmed, understanding that she meant to leave him without his medication again, and sitting up this time, as well. Sitting already hurt; the pain would be monstrous by the time she got back, even if she hurried.

"You don't have to do that," he said, speaking fast. "The Corrasable is good enough to start with - after all, I'll have to rewrite anyway - "

"Only a silly person would try to start a good work with a bad tool." She took the package of Corrasable Bond, then snatched the sheet with the two smudged lines and crumpled it into a ball. She tossed both into the wastebasket and turned back to him. That stony, obdurate look covered her face like a mask. Her eyes glittered like tarnished dimes.

"I'm going to town now," she said. "I know you want to get started as soon as you can, since you're on my side - " she spoke these last words with intense, smoking sarcasm (and, Paul believed, more self-hate than she would ever know) "and so I'm not even going to take time to put you back in your bed." She smiled, a pulling of the lips that was grotesquely puppet-like, and slipped to his side in her silent white nurse" shoes. Her fingers touched his hair. He flinched. He tried not to but couldn't help it. Her dead-alive smile widened.

"Although I suspect we may have to put off the actual start of Misery's Retum for a day... or two... perhaps even three. Yes, it may be as long as three days before you are able to sit up again. Because of the pain. Too bad. I had champagne chilling in the fridge. I'll have to put it back in the shed."

"Annie, really, I can start if you'll just - "

"No, Paul." She moved to the door and then turned, looking at him with that stony face. Only her eyes, those tarnished dimes, were fully alive under the shelf of her brow. "There is one thought I would like to leave you with. You may think you can fool me, or trick me; I know I look slow and stupid. But I am not stupid, Paul, and I am not slow." Suddenly her face broke apart. The stony obduracy shattered and what shone through was the countenance of an insanely angry child. For a moment Paul thought the extremity of his terror might kill him. Had he thought he had gained the upper hand? Had he? Could one possibly play Scheherazade when one's captor was insane?

She rushed across the room at him, thick legs pumping, knees flexing, elbows chopping back and forth in the stale sickroom air like pistons. Her hair bounced and joggled around her face as it came loose from the bobby-pins that held it up. Now her passage was not silent; it was like the tread of Goliath striding into the Valley of Bones. The picture of the Arc de Triomphe cracked affrightedly on the wall.

"Geeeee-yahhh!" she screamed, and brought her fist down on the bunched salt-dome that had been Paul Sheldon's left knee.

He threw his head back and howled, veins standing out in his neck and on his forehead. Pain burst out from his knee and shrouded him, whitely radiant, in the center of a nova.

She tore the typewriter off the board and slammed it down on the mantel, lifting its weight of dead metal as he might have lifted an empty cardboard box.

"So you just sit there," she said, lips pulled back in that grinning rictus, "and you think about who is in charge here, and all the things I can do to hurt you if you behave badly or try to trick me. You sit there and you scream if you want to, because no one can hear you. No one stops here because they all know Annie Wilkes is crazy, they all know what she did, even if they did find me innocent." She walked back to the door and turned again, and he screamed again when she did, in anticipation of another bull-like charge, and that made her grin more widely.

"I'll tell you something else," she said softly. "They think I got away with it, and they are right. Think about that, Paul, while I'm in town getting your cockadoodie paper." She left, slamming the bedroom door hard enough to shake the house. Then there was the click of the lock.

He leaned back in the chair, shaking all over, trying not to shake because it hurt, not able to help it. Tears streamed down his cheeks. Again and again he saw her flying across the room, again and again he saw her bringing her fist down on the remains of his knee with all the force of an angry drunk hammering on an oak bar, again and again he was swallowed in that terrible blue-white nova of pain.

"Please, God, please," he moaned as the Cherokee started outside with a bang and a roar. "Please, God, please - let me out of this or kill me... let me out of this or kill me." The roar of the engine faded off down the road and God did neither and he was left with his tears and the pain, which was now fully awake and raving through his body.

30

He thought later that the world, in its unfailing perversity, would probably construe those things which he did next as acts of heroism. And he would probably let them - but in fact what he did was nothing more than a final staggering grab for self-preservation.

Dimly he seemed to hear some madly enthusiastic sportscaster - Howard Cosell or Warner Wolf or perhaps that all-time crazy Johnny Most - describing the scene, as if his effort to get at her drug supply before the pain killed him was some strange sporting event - a trial substitution for Monday Night Football, perhaps. What would you call a sport like that, anyway? Run for the Dope?

"I just cannot believe the guts this Sheldon kid is displaying today! the sportscaster in Paul Sheldon's head was enthusing. "I don't believe anyone in Annie Wilkes Stadium - or in the home viewing audience, for that matter - thought he had the sly-test chance of getting that wheelchair moving after the blow he took, but I believe... yes, it is! It's moving! Let's look at the replay!" Sweat ran down his forehead and stung his eyes. He licked a mixture of salt and tears off his lips. The shuddering would not stop. The pain was like the end of the world. He thought: There comes a point when the very discussion of pain becomes redundant. No one knows there is pain the size of this in the world. No one. It is like being possessed by demons.

It was only the thought of the pills, the Novril that she kept somewhere in the house, which got him moving. The locked bedroom door... the possibility the dope might not be in the downstairs bathroom as he had surmised but hidden somewhere... the chance she might come back and catch him... these things mattered not at all, these things were only shadows behind the pain. He would deal with each problem as it came up or he would die. That was all.

Moving caused the band of fire below his waist and in his legs to sink in deeper, cinching his legs like belts studded with hot, inward-pointing spikes. But the chair did move. Very slowly the chair began to move.

He had managed about four feet before realizing he was going to do nothing more useful than roll the wheelchair past the door and into the far comer unless he could turn it.

He grasped the right wheel, shuddering, (think of the pills, think of the relief of the pills) and bore down on it as hard as he could. Rubber squeaked minutely on the wooden floor, the cries of mice. He bore down, once strong and now flabby muscles quivering like jelly, lips peeling back from his gritted teeth, and the wheelchair slowly pivoted.

He grasped both wheels and got the chair moving again. This time he rolled five feet before stopping to straighten himself out. Once he'd done it, he grayed out.

He swam back to reality five minutes later, hearing the dim, goading voice of that sportscaster in his head: "He's trying to get going again! I just cannot be-leeve the guts of this Sheldon kid!" The front of his mind only knew about the pain; it was the back that directed his eyes. He saw it near the door and rolled over to it. He reached down, but the tips of his fingers stopped a clear three inches short of the floor, where one of the two or three bobby-pins that had fallen from her hair as she charged him lay. He bit his lip, unaware of the sweat running down his face and neck and darkening his pajama shirt.

"I don't think he can get that pin, folks - it's been a fan-tas-tic effort, but I'm afraid this is where it all ends." Well, maybe not.

He let himself slouch to the right in the wheelchair, at first trying to ignore the pain in his right side - pain that felt like an increasing bubble of pressure, something similar to a tooth impaction - and then giving way and screaming. As she said, there was no one to hear him anyway.

The tips of his fingers still hung an inch from the floor, brushing back and forth just above the bobby-pin, and his right hip really felt as if it might simply explode outward in a squirt of some vile white bone-jelly.

Oh God please please help me - He slumped farther in spite of the pain. His fingers brushed the pin but succeeded only in pushing it a quarter of an inch away. Paul slid down in the chair, still slumped to the right, and screamed again at the pain in his lower legs. His eyes were bulging, his mouth was open, his tongue straight down between his teeth like the pull on a window-shade. Little drops of spittle ran from its tip and spatted on the floor.

He pinched the bobby-pin between his fingers... tweezed it... almost lost it... and then it was locked in his fist.

Straightening up brought a fresh slough of pain, and when the act was accomplished he could do no more than sit and pant for awhile, his head tilted as far as the unc Compromising back of the wheelchair would allow, the bobby-pin lying on the board across the chair's arms. For awhile he was quite sure he was going to puke, but that passed.

What are you doing? part of his mind scolded wearily after awhile. Are you waiting for the pain to go away? It won't. She's always quoting her mother, but your own mother had a few sayings, too, didn't she?

Yes. She had.

Sitting there, head thrown back, face shiny with sweat, hair plastered to his forehead, Paul spoke one of them aloud now, almost as an incantation: "There may be fairies, there may be elves, but God helps those who help themselves." Yeah. So stop waiting, Paulie - the only elf that's going to show up here is that all-time heavyweight, Annie Wilkes.

He got moving again, rolling the wheelchair slowly across to the door. She had locked it, but he believed he might be able to unlock it. Tony Bonasaro, who was now only so many blackened flakes of ash, had been a car-thief. As part of his preparation for writing Fast Cars, Paul had studied the mechanics of car-thievery with a tough old ex-cop named Tom Twyford. Tom had shown him how to hot-wire an ignition, how to use the thin and limber strip of metal car-thieves called Slim Jims to yank the lock on a car door, how to short out a car burglar alarm.

Or, Tom had said on a spring day in New York some two and a half years ago, let's say you don't want to steal a car at all. You got a car, but you're a little low on gas. You got a hose, but the car you pick for the free donation has got a locking gas-cap. Is this a problem? Not if you know what you're doing, because most gas-cap locks are strictly Mickey Mouse. All you really need is a bobby-pin.

It took Paul five endless minutes of backing and filling to get the wheelchair exactly where he wanted it, with the left wheel almost touching the door.

The keyhole was the old-fashioned sort, reminding Paul of John Tenniel's Alice in Wonderland drawings, set in the middle of a tarnished keyplate. He slid down a bit in the wheelchair - giving out a single barking groan - and looked through it. He could see a short hallway leading down to what was clearly the parlor: a dark-red rug on the floor, an old-fashioned divan upholstered in similar material, a lamp with tassels hanging from its shade.

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