Misery Page 37

The eye of the outside world, which had slipped away from the Dragon Lady these last few years, had now returned with a vengeance.

Paul rolled backward quickly, hoping he had been in time.

Well, if you want to know for sure, just check the six o'clock news, he thought, and then had to raise both hands to his mouth to plug up the giggles.

The screen door banged open and shut.

"Get the hell out of here!" Annie screamed. "Get the hell off my land!" Dimly: "Ms Wilkes, if we could have just a few - "

"You can have a couple of loads of double-ought buck up your cockadoodie bumhole if you don't get out of here!"

"Ms Wilkes, I'm Glenna Roberts from KTKA - "

"I don't care if you're John O. Jesus Johnnycake Christ from the planet Mars! Get off my land or you're DEAD!"

"But - " KAPOW!

Oh Annie oh my Jesus Annie killed that stupid broad - He rolled back and peeked through the window. He had no choice - he had to see. Relief gusted through him. Annie had fired into the air. That seemed to have done quite well. Glenna Roberts was diving head-first into the KTKA newsmobile. The camera-man swung his lens toward Annie, Annie swung her shotgun toward the camera-man; the camera-man, deciding he wanted to live to see the Grateful Dead again more than he wanted to roll tape on the Dragon Lady, immediately dropped into the back seat again. The wagon was reversing down the driveway before he got his door all the way closed.

Annie stood watching them go, the rifle held in one hand, and then she came slowly back into the house. He heard the clack as she put the rifle on the table. She came down to Paul's room. She looked worse than he had ever seen her, her face haggard and pate, her eyes darting constantly.

"They're back," she whispered.

"Take it easy."

"I knew all those brats would come back. And now they have."

"They're gone, Annie. You made them go."

"They never go. Someone told them that cop was at Dragon Lady's house before he disappeared. So here they are."

"Annie - "

"You know what they want?" she demanded.

"Of course. I've dealt with the press. They want the same two things they always want - for you to fuck up while the tape's running and for someone else to buy the martinis when Happy Hour rolls around. But, Annie, you've got: to settle d- " I "This is what they want," she said, and raised one hooked hand to her forehead. She pulled down suddenly, sharply, opening four bloody furrows. Blood ran into her eyebrows, down her cheeks, along either side of her nose.

"Annie! Stop it!"

"And this!" She slapped herself across the left cheek with her left hand, hard enough to leave an imprint. "And this!" The right cheek, even harder, hard enough to make droplets of blood fly from the fingernail gouges.

"STOP it!" he screamed.

"It's what they want!" she screamed back. She raised her hands to her forehead and pressed them against the wounds, blotting them. She held her bloody palms out toward him for a moment. Then she plodded out of the room.

After a long, long time, Paul began to write again. It went slowly at first - the image of Annie pulling those furrows into her skin kept intruding - and he thought it was going to be no good, he had just better pack it in for the day, when the story caught him and he fell through the hole in the paper again.

As always these days, he went with a sense of blessed relief

33

More police came the next day: local yokels this time. With them was a skinny man carrying a case which could only contain a steno machine. Annie stood in the driveway with them, listening, her face expressionless. Then she led them into the kitchen.

Paul sat quietly, a steno pad of his own on his lap (he had finished the last legal pad the previous evening), and listened to Annie's voice as she made a statement which consisted of all the things she had told David and Goliath four days ago. This, Paul thought, was nothing more than blatant harassment. He was amused and appalled to find himself feeling a little sorry for Annie Wilkes The Sidewinder cop who asked most of the questions began by telling Annie she could have a lawyer present if she wanted. Annie declined and simply re-told her story. Paul could detect no deviations.

They were in the kitchen for half an hour. Near the end one of them asked how she had come by the ugly-looking scratches on her forehead.

"I did it in the night," she said. "I had a bad dream."

"What was that?" the cop asked.

"I dreamed that people remembered me after all this time and started coming out here again," Annie said.

When they were gone, Annie came to his room. Her face was doughy and distant and ill.

"This place is turning into Grand Central," Paul said.

She didn't smile. "How much longer?" He hesitated, looked at the pile of typescript with the ragged stack of handwritten pages on top, then back at Annie. "Two days," he said. "Maybe three."

"The next time they come they'll have the search warrant," she said, and left before he could reply.

34

She came in that evening around quarter of twelve and said: "You should have been in bed an hour ago, Paul." He looked up, startled out of the story's deep dream Geoffrey - who had turned out to be very much the hero of this one - had just come face to face with the hideous queen bee, whom he would have to battle to the death for Misery's life.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "I'll turn in after awhile. Sometimes you get it down or it gets away." He shook his hand, which was sore and throbbing. A large hard growth, half callus and half blister, had risen on the inside of his index finger, where the pencil pressed most firmly. He had pills, and they would take away the pain, but they would also blur his thoughts.

"You think it's good, don't you?" she asked softly. "Really good. You're not doing it just for me anymore, are you?"

"Oh no," he said. For a moment he trembled on the edge of saying something more - of saying, It was never for you, Annie, or all the other people out there who sign their letters "Your number-one fan." The minute you start to write all those people are at the other end of the galaxy, or something. It was never for my ex-wives, or my mother, or for my father. The reason authors almost always put a dedication on a book, Annie, is because their selfishness even horrifies themselves in the end.

But it would be unwise to say such a thing to her.

He wrote until dawn was coming up in the east and then fell into bed and slept for four hours. His dreams were confused and unpleasant. In one of them Annie's father was climbing a long flight of stairs. He had a basket of what appeared to be newspaper clippings in his arms. Paul tried; to cry out to him, to warn him, but every time he opened his mouth nothing came out but a neatly reasoned paragraph of narration - although this paragraph was different each time he tried to scream, it always opened the same way: "One day, about a week later... " And now came Annie Wilkes, screaming, rushing down the hall, hands out-stretched to give her father the killing push... only her screams were becoming weird buzzing noises, and her body was rippling and humping and changing under her skirt and cardigan sweater, because Annie was changing into a bee.

35

No one official came by the following day, but lots of i unofficial people showed up. Designated Gawkers. One of the cars was full of teenagers. When they turned into the driveway to reverse direction, Annie rushed out and screamed at them to get off her land before she shot them for the dirty dogs they were.

"Fuck off, Dragon Lady!" one of them shouted.

"Where'd you bury him?" another yelled as the car backed out in a boil of dust.

A third threw a beer-bottle. As the car roared away, Paul could make out a bumper sticker pasted to the rear window. SUPPORT THE SIDEWINDER BLUE DEVILS, it read.

An hour later he saw Annie stalk grimly past his window, drawing on a pair of work-gloves as she headed for the barn. She came back some time later with the chain. She had taken the time to interlace its stout steel loops with barbed wire. When this prickly knitting was padlocked across the driveway, she reached into her breast pocket, and took out some red pieces of cloth. These she tied to several of the links to aid visibility.

"It won't keep the cops out," she said when she finally came in, "but it'll keep the rest of the brats away."

"Yes."

"Your hand... it looks swollen."

"Yes."

"I hate to be a cockadoodie pest, Paul, but... "

"Tomorrow," he said.

"Tomorrow? Really?" She brightened at once.

"Yes, I think so. Probably around six."

"Paul, that's wonderful! Shall I start reading now, or - "

"I'd prefer that you wait."

"Then I will." That tender, melting look had crept into her eyes again. He had come to hate her most of all when she looked that way. "I love you, Paul. You know that, don't you?"

"Yes," he said. "I know." And bent over his pad again.

Chapter 5

36

That evening she brought him his Keflex pill - his urinary infection was improving, but very slowly - and a bucket of ice. She laid a neatly folded towel beside it and left without saying a word.

Paul put his pencil aside - he had to use the fingers of his left hand to unbend the fingers of his right - and slipped his hand into the ice. He left it there until it was almost completely numb. When he took it out, the swelling seemed to have gone down a little. He wrapped the towel around it and sat, looking out into the darkness, until it began to tingle. He put the towel aside, flexed the hand for awhile (the first few times made him grimace with pain, but then the hand began to limber up), and started to write again.

At dawn he rolled slowly over to his bed, lurched in, and was asleep at once. He dreamed he was lost in a snowstorm, only it wasn't snow; it was flying pages which filled the world, destroying direction, and each page was covered with typing, and all the n's and t's and e's were missing, and he understood that if he was still alive when the blizzard ended, he would have to fill them all in himself, by hand, deciphering words that were barely there.

37

He woke up around eleven, and almost as soon as Annie heard him stirring about, she came in with orange juice, his pills, and a bowl of hot chicken soup. She was glowing with excitement. "It's a very special day, Paul, isn't it?"

"Yes." He tried to pick up the spoon with his right hand and could not. It was puffy and red, so swollen the skin was shiny. When he tried to bend it into a fist, it felt as though long rods of metal had been pushed through it at random. The last few days, he thought, had been like some nightmare autographing session that just never ended.

"Oh, your poor hand!" she cried. "I'll get you another pill! I'll do it right now!"

"No. This is the push. I want my head clear for it."

"But you can't write with your hand like that!"

"No," he agreed. "My hand's shot. I'm going to finish this baby the way I started - with that Royal. Eight or ten pages should see it through. I guess I can fight my way through that many n's, t's, and e's."

"I should have gotten you another machine," she said. She looked honestly sorry; tears stood in her eyes. Paul thought that the occasional moments like this were the most ghastly of all, because in them he saw the woman she might have been if her upbringing had been right or the drugs squirted out by all the funny little glands inside her had been less wrong. Or both. "I goofed. It's hard for me to admit that, but it's true. It was because I didn't want to admit that Dartmonger woman got the better of me. I'm sorry, Paul. Your poor hand." She raised it, gentle as Niobe at the pool, and kissed it.

"That's all right," he said. "We'll manage, Ducky Daddles and I. I hate him, but I've got a feeling he hates me as well, so I guess we're even."

"Who are you talking about?"

"The Royal. I've nicknamed it after a cartoon character."

"Oh..." She trailed away. Turned off. Came unplugged. He waited patiently for her to return, eating his soup as he did so, holding the spoon awkwardly between the first and second fingers of his left hand.

At last she did come back and looked at him, smiling radiantly like a woman just awakening and realizing it was going to be a beautiful day. "Soup almost gone? I've got something very special, if it is." He showed her the bowl, empty except for a few noodles stuck to the bottom. "See what a Do-Bee I am, Annie?" he said without even a trace of a smile.

"You're the most goodest Do-Bee there ever was, Paul and you get a whole row of gold stars! In fact... wait! Wait till you see this!" She left, leaving Paul to look first at the calendar and then at the Arc de Triomphe. He looked up at the ceiling and saw the intertinked W's waltzing drunkenly across the plaster. Last of all he looked across at the typewriter and the vast, untidy pile of manuscript. Goodbye to all that, he thought randomly, and then Annie was bustling back in with another tray.

On it were four dishes: wedges of lemon on one, grated egg on a second, toast points on a third. In the middle was a larger plate, and on this one was a vast (oogy) gooey pile of caviar.

"I don't know if you like this stuff or not," she said shyly. I don't even know if I like it. I never had it." Paul began to laugh. It hurt his middle and it hurt his legs and it even hurt his hand; soon he would probably hurt even more, because Annie was paranoid enough to think that if someone was laughing it must be at her. But still he couldn't stop. He laughed until he was choking and coughing, his cheeks red, tears spurting from the corners of his eyes. The woman had cut off his foot with an axe and his thumb with an electric knife, and here she was with a pile of caviar big enough to choke a warthog. And for a wonder, that black look of crevasse did not dawn on her face. She began to laugh with him, instead.

38

Caviar was supposed to be one of those things you either loved or hated, but Paul had never felt either way. If he was flying first class and a stewardess stuck a plate of it in front of him, he ate it and then forgot there was such a thing as caviar until the next time a stewardess stuck a plate of it in front of him. But now he ate it hungrily, with all the trimmings, as if discovering the great principle of food for the first time in his life.

Annie didn't care for it at all. She nibbled at the one dainty teaspoonful she'd put on a toast point, wrinkled her face in disgust, and put it aside. Paul, however, plowed ahead with undimmed enthusiasm. In a space of fifteen minutes he had eaten half of Mount Beluga. He belched, covered his mouth, and looked guiltily at Annie, who went off into another gay gust of laughter.

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