Misery Page 31

The last letter had been simply, stiffly signed Mrs Roman D. Sandpiper. The invitation (however parenthetically made) to call her "Virginia" had been withdrawn.

This woman's feelings, obsessed though they might have been, had never evolved into Annie's paranoid fixation, but Paul understood now that the wellspring had been the same. The Scheherazade complex. The deep and elemental drawing power of the gotta.

His floating deepened. He slept.

10

He dozed off these days as old men doze off, abruptly and sometimes at inappropriate times, and he slept as old men sleep - which is to say, only separated from the waking world by the thinnest of skins. He didn't stop hearing the riding mower, but its sound became deeper, rougher, choppier: the sound of the electric knife.

He had picked the wrong day to start complaining about the Royal and its missing n. And, of course, there was never a right day to say no to Annie Wilkes. Punishment might be deferred... but never escaped.

Well, if it bothers you so much, I'll just have to give you something to take your mind off that old n. He heard her rummaging around in the kitchen, throwing things, cursing in her strange Annie Wilkes language. Ten minutes later she came in with the syringe, the Betadine, and the electric knife. Paul began to scream at once. He was, in a way, like Pavlov's dogs. When Pavlov rang a bell, the dogs salivated. When Annie came into the guest bedroom with a hypo, a bottle of Betadine, and a sharp cutting object, Paul began to scream. She had plugged the knife into the outlet by his wheelchair and there had been more pleading and more screaming and more promises that he would be good. When he tried to thrash away from the hypo she told him to sit still and be good or what was going to happen would happen without the benefit of even light anesthesia. When he continued to pull away from the needle, mewling and pleading, Annie suggested that if that was really the way he felt, maybe she just ought to use the knife on his throat and be done with it.

Then he had been still and let her give him the injection and this time the Betadine had gone over his left thumb as well as the blade of the knife (when she turned it on and the blade began to saw rapidly back and forth in the air the Betadine flew in a spray of maroon droplets she seemed not to notice) and in the end of course there had been much redder droplets spraying into the air as well. Because when Annie decided on a course of action, she carried it through. Annie was not swayed by pleas. Annie was not swayed by screams. Annie had the courage of her convictions.

As the humming, vibrating blade sank into the softweb of flesh between the soon-to-be-defunct thumb and his first finger, she assured him again in her this-hurts-Mother-more-than-it-hurts Paulie voice that she loved him.

Then, that night...

You're not dreaming, Paul. You're thinking about things you don't dare think about when you're awake. So wake up. For God's sake, WAKE up!

He couldn't wake up.

She had cut his thumb off in the morning and that night she swept gaily into the room where he sat in a stupid daze of drugs and pain with his wrapped left hand held against his chest and she had a cake and she was bellowing "Happy Birthday to You" in her on-key but tuneless voice although it was not his birthday and there were candles all over the cake and sitting in the exact center pushed into the frosting like an extra big candle had been his thumb his gray dead thumb the nail slightly ragged because he sometimes chewed it when he was stuck for a word and she told him If you Promise to be good Paul you can have a piece of birthday cake but you won't have to eat any of the special candle so he promised to be good because he didn't want to be forced to eat any of the special candle but also because mostly because surely because Annie was great Annie was good let us thank her for our food including that we don't have to eat girls just wanna have fun but something wicked this way comes please don't make me eat my thumb Annie the mom Annie the goddess when Annie's around you better stay honest she knows when you've been sleeping she knows when you're awake she knows if you've been bad or good so be good for goddess" sake you better not cry you better not pout but most of all you better not scream don't scream don t scream don't scream don't He hadn't.

And now, as he awoke, he did so with a jerk that hurt him all over, hardly aware that his lips were pressed tightly together to keep the scream inside, although the thumbectomy had happened over a month ago.

He was so preoccupied with not screaming that for a moment he didn't even see what was coming into the driveway, and when he did see it, he believed at first that it must be a mirage.

It was a Colorado State Police car.

11

Following the amputation of his thumb there had been a dim period when Paul's greatest single accomplishment, other than working on the novel, had been to keep track of the days. He had become pathological about it, sometimes spending as long as five minutes lost in a daze, counting back, making sure he hadn't somehow forgotten one.

I'm getting as bad as she is, he thought once.

His mind had returned wearily: So what?

He had done pretty well with the book following the loss of his foot - during what Annie so mincingly called his convalescent period. No - pretty well was false modesty if ever there was such a thing. He had done amazingly well for a man who had once found it impossible to write if he was out of cigarettes or if he had a backache or a headache a degree or two above a low drone. It would be nice to believe he had performed heroically, but he supposed it was only that escape thing again, because the pain had been really dreadful. When the healing process finally did begin, he thought the "phantom itch" of the foot which was no longer there was even worse than the pain. It was the arch of the missing foot which bothered him the most. He awoke time after time in the middle of the night using the big toe of his right foot to scratch thin air four inches below the place where, on that side, his body now ended.

But he had gone on working just the same.

It wasn't until after the thumbectomy, and that bizarre birthday cake like a left-over prop from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, that the balls of crumpled-up paper had begun to proliferate in the wastebasket again. Lose a foot, almost die, go on working. Lose a thumb and run into some kind of weird trouble. Wasn't it supposed to be the other way around?

Well, there was the fever - he had-spent a week in bed with that. But it was pretty minor-league stuff; the highest his temperature had ever gone was 100.7, and that wasn't exactly the stuff of which high melodrama was made. The fever had probably been caused more by his general run- down condition than any specific infection, and an oogy old fever was no problem for Annie; among her other souvenirs, Annie had Keflex and Ampicillin up the old kazoo. She dosed him and he got better... as better as it was possible to get under such bizarre circumstances, at any rate. But something was wrong. He seemed to have lost some vital ingredient, and the mix had become a lot less potent as a result. He tried to blame it on the missing n, but he'd had that to contend with before, and, really, what was a missing n compared to a missing foot and now, as an extra added attraction, a missing thumb?

Whatever the reason, something had disturbed the dream, something was whittling away the circumference of that hole in the paper through which he saw. Once - he would have sworn it was so - that hole had been as big as the bore of the Lincoln Tunnel. Now it was no more than the size of a knothole which a sidewalk superintendent might stoop to snoop through on an interesting piece of building construction. You had to peer and crane to see anything at all, and more often than not the really important things happened outside your field of vision... not surprising, considering the field of vision was so small.

In practical terms, what had happened following the thumbectomy and ensuing bout of fever was obvious. The language of the book had grown florid and overblown again - it was not self-parody yet, not quite, but it was floating steadily in that direction and he seemed helpless to stop it. Continuity lapses had begun to proliferate with the stealth of rats breeding in cellar corners: for a space of thirty pages, the Baron had become the Viscount from Misery's Quest. He'd had to go back and tear that all out.

It doesn't matter, Paul, he told himself again and again in those last few days before the Royal coughed up first its t and then its e, the damned thing is almost done. So it was. Working on it was torture, and finishing it was going to mean the end of his life. That the latter had begun to look slightly more attractive than the former said all that probably needed to be said about the worsening state of his body, mind, and spirit. And the book moved on in spite of everything, seemingly independent of them. The continuity drops were annoying but minor. He was having more problems with the actual make-believe than he ever had before - the game of Can You? had become a labored exercise rather than simple good fun. Yet the book had continued to roll in spite of all the terrible things Annie had subjected him to, and he could bitch about how something - his guts, maybe - had run out of him along with the half-pint or so of blood he'd lost when she took his thumb, but it was still a goddam good yarn, the best Misery novel by far. The plot was melodramatic but well constructed, in its own modest way quite amusing. If it were ever to be published in something other than the severely limited (first printing: one copy) Annie Wilkes Edition, he guessed it might sell like a mad bastard. Yeah, he supposed he would get through it, if the goddam typewriter held together.

You were supposed to be so tough, he had thought once, after one of his compulsive lifting exercises. His thin arms were trembling, the stump of his thumb aching feverishly, his forehead covered with a thin oil of sweat. You were the tough young gunsel looking to make a rep off the tired old turd of a sheriff, right? Only you've already thrown one key and I see the way some of the others - the t, the e, and the g, for instance, are starting to look funny... sometimes leaning one way, sometimes leaning the other, sometimes riding a little high on the line, sometimes dipping a little low. I think maybe the tired old turd is going to win this one, my friend. I think maybe the tired old turd is going to beat you to death... and it could be that the bitch knew it. Could be that's why she took my left thumb. Like the saying goes, she may be crazy, but she sure ain't dumb.

He looked at the typewriter with tired intensity.

Go on. Go on and break. I'll finish anyway. If she wants to get me a replacement, I'll thank her kindly, but if she doesn't I'll finish on the goddam legal pads The one thing I won't do is scream.

I won't scream.

I.

I won't

12

I won't scream!

He sat at the window, totally awake now, totally aware that the police car he was seeing in Annie's driveway was as real as his left foot had once been.

Scream! Goddammit, scream!

He wanted to, but the dictum was too strong - just too strong. He couldn't even open his mouth. He tried and saw the brownish droplets of Betadine flying from the blade of the electric knife. He tried and heard the squeal of axe against bone, the soft flump as the match in her hand lit the Bernz-O-matiC.

He tried to open his mouth and couldn't.

Tried to raise his hands. Couldn't.

A horrible moaning sound passed between his closed lips and his hands made light, haphazard drumming sounds on either side of the Royal, but that was all he could do, all the control of his destiny he could seem to take. Nothing which had gone before - except perhaps for the moment when he had realized that, although his left leg was moving, his left foot was staying put - was as terrible as the hell of this immobility. In real time it did not last long; perhaps five seconds and surely no longer than ten. But inside Paul Sheldon's head it seemed to go on for years.

There, within plain sight, was salvation: all he had to do was break the window and the dog-lock the bitch had put on his tongue and scream Help me, help me, save me from Annie! Save me from the goddess!

At the same time another voice was screaming: I'll be good, Annie! I won't scream! I'll be good, I'll be good for goddess" sake! I promise not to scream, just don't chop off any more of me! Had he known, before this had he really known how badly she had cowed him, or how much of his essential self - the liver and lights of his spirit - she had scraped away? He knew how constantly he had been terrorized, but did he know how much of his own subjective reality, once so strong he had taken it for granted, had been erased?

He knew one thing with some certainty - a lot more was wrong with him than paralysis of the tongue, just as a lot more was wrong with what he had been writing than the missing key or the fever or continuity lapses or even a loss of guts. The truth of everything was so simple in its horridness; so dreadfully simple. He was dying by inches, but dying that way wasn't as bad as he'd already feared. But he was also fading, and that was an awful thing because it was moronic.

Don't scream! the panicky voice screamed just the as the cop opened the door of his cruiser and stepped out, adjusting his Smokey Bear hat as he did so. He was young, no more than twenty-two or -three, wearing sunglasses as black and liquid-looking as dollops of crude oil. He paused to adjust the creases of his khaki uniform pants and thirty yards away a man with blue eyes bulging from his white and whiskery old-man's face sat staring at him from behind a window, moaning through closed lips, hands rattling, uselessly on a board laid across the arms of a wheelchair.

don't scream (yes scream) scream and it will be over scream and it can end (never never going to end not until I'm dead that kid's no match for the goddess) Paul oh Christ are you dead already? Scream, you chicken-shit motherfucker! SCREAM YOUR FUCKING HEAD OFF!!!

His lips pulled apart with a minute tearing sound. He hitched air into his lungs and closed his eyes " He had no idea what was going to come out or if anything really was... until it came.

"AFRICA!" Paul screamed. Now his trembling hands flew up like startled birds and clapped against the sides of his head, as if to hold in his exploding brains. "Africa! Help me! Help me! Africa!"

13

His eyes snapped open. The cop was looking towards the house. Paul could not see the Smokey's eyes because of the sunglasses, but the tilt of his head expressed moderate puzzlement. He took a step closer, then stopped.

Paul looked down at the board. To the left of the typewriter was a heavy ceramic ashtray. Once upon a time it would have been filled with crushed butts; now it held nothing more hazardous to his health than paper-clips and a typewriter eraser. He seized it and threw it at the window. Glass shattered outward. To Paul it was the most liberating sound he had ever heard. The walls came tumbling down, he thought giddily, and screamed: "Over here! Help me! Watch out for the woman! She's crazy!" The state cop stared at him. His mouth dropped open.

He reached into his breast pocket and brought out something that could only be a picture. He consulted it and then advanced to the edge of the driveway. There he spoke the only four words Paul ever heard him say, the last four word s anyone ever heard him say. Following them he would make a number of inarticulate sounds but no real words.

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