Title: Night Shift.
Author: Stephen King.
Genre: Fiction, short stories, horror.
Publication Date: 1968, 1975, 1976, 1978, (this collection 1978).
Summary: A collection of 20 short stories. (Stories 11-20 in this post, refer to PART 1 for 1-10). In Strawberry Spring (1968), a man recalls the last time he saw a strawberry spring, when a serial killer called Springheel Jack began his murderous career, and now, eight years later, he believes the killer is back, on the heels of another strawberry spring. In The Ledge (1976), a man trying to run away with a millionaire's wife is instead forced into a terrifying ordeal of having to traverse a skyscraper around on a thin ledge many stories above the ground. In The Lawnmower Man (1975), a man hires a man to mow his lawn, but the man is not a man, and his methods of mowing the lawn are nothing short of horrifying. In Quitters, Inc. (1978), Dick Morrison is referred to a clinic that gives him a 100% guaranteed freedom from his cigarette addiction through their program, but he quickly finds their methods of making such a promise comes with some very unorthodox methods. In I Know What You Need (1976), a young college student begins to suspect that her boyfriend's uncanny ability to preempt her every want and desire may come through supernatural means, and may be manipulating her feelings for him as well. In Children of the Corn (1977), a couple's exploration of a strange town and their encounters with its denizens after their vacation is sidelined by a car accident gets increasingly more alarming when all the adults seem to be missing, and there may just be something lurking in the corn fields. In The Last Rung on the Ladder (1978), when a man finds out his estranged sister has committed suicide by jumping off a building, he recalls their childhood growing up on a farm called Hemingford Home (appearing in It, 1922, and The Children of the Corn), and the game they used to play by jumping from a high loft into soft hay, which ends only with an accident that requires him to save his sister's life. In The Man Who Loved Flowers (1977), a young man with a bouquet of flowers touches everyone he passes with the clear puppy-love written all over his face and posture, and though he says he's on the way to meet a girl he loves, his true purpose and mental state turn out to be darker than any passerby can even begin to imagine. In One for the Road (1977) (a sequel to the novel Salem's Lot, connected to the story Jerusalem's Lot (see Part 1 of this compendium)), a couple of local men drinking in a tavern are terrified when a man bursts in during the night and asks them to help retrieve his family, stuck in a car in the middle of a blizzard in the neighbouring town - the infamous Jerusalem's Lot. The Woman in the Room (1978) is narrated from the perspective of a man burdened with deep remorse, pain, and his demons, and concerns his decision to euthanize his terminally ill mother with painkillers.
My rating: 7.5/10.
♥ My mother just wanted me to come home. But I didn't want to come home. I was enchanted.
Enchanted by that dark and mist-blown strawberry spring, and by the shadow of violent death that walked through it on those nights eight years ago. The shadow of Springheel Jack.
In New England they call it a strawberry spring. No one knows why; it's just a phrase the old-timers use. They say it happens once every eight or ten years. What happened at New Sharon Teachers' College that particular strawberry spring... there may be a cycle for that, too, but if anyone has figured it out, they've never said.
♥ And when night came the fog came with it, moving silent and white along the narrow college avenues and thoroughfares. The pines on the mall poked through it like counting fingers and it drifted, slow as cigarette smoke, under the little bridge down by the Civil War cannons. It made things seem out of joint, strange, magical. The unwary traveler would step out of the juke-thumping, brightly lit confusion of the Grinder, expecting the hard clear starriness of winter to clutch him... and instead he would suddenly find himself in a silent, muffled world of white drifting fog, the only sound his own footsteps and the soft drip of water from the ancient gutters. You half expected to see Gollum or Frodo and Sam go hurrying past, or to turn and see that the Grinder was gone, vanished, replaced by a foggy panorama of moors and yew trees and perhaps a Druid-circle or a sparkling fairy ring.
The jukebox played "Love Is Blue" that year. It played "Hey, Jude" endlessly, endlessly. It played "Scarborough Fair."
And at ten minutes after eleven on that night a junior named John Dancey on his way back to his dormitory began screaming into the fog, dropping books on and between the sprawled legs of the dead girl lying in a shadowy corner of the Animal Sciences parking lot, her throat cut from ear to ear but her eyes open and almost seeming to sparkle as if she had just successfully pulled off the funniest joke of her young life—Dancey, an educational major and a speech minor, screamed and screamed and screamed.
♥ Yes... yes... oh yes, I
We all knew her. Her name was Gale Cerman (pronounced Kerr-man), and she was an art major. She wore granny glasses and had a good figure. She was well liked but her roommates had hated her. She had never gone out much even though she was one of the most promiscuous girls on campus. She was ugly but cute. She had been a vivacious girl who talked little and smiled seldom. She had been pregnant and she had had leukemia. She was a lesbian who had been murdered by her boyfriend. It was strawberry spring, and on the morning of March 17 we all knew Gale Cerman.
♥ The fog came again that night, not on little cat's feet but in an improper silent sprawl. I walked that night. I had a headache and I walked for air, smelling the wet, misty smell of the spring that was slowly wiping away the reluctant snow, leaving lifeless patches of last year's grass bare and uncovered, like the head for sighing old grandmother.
For me, that was one of the most beautiful nights I can remember. The people I passed under the haloed streetlights were murmuring shadows, and all of them seemed to be lovers, walking with hands and eyes linked. The melting snow dripped and ran, dripped and ran, and from every dark storm drain the sound of the sea drifted up, a dark winter sea now strongly ebbing.
I walked until nearly midnight, until I was thoroughly mildewed, and I passed many shadows, heard many footfalls clicking dreamily off down the winding paths. Who is to say that one of those shadows was not the man or the thing that came to be known as Springfield Jack? Not I, for I passed many shadows but in the dog I saw no faces.
♥ I walked to my afternoon classes like everyone else, nodding to people I knew and saying hi with a little more force than usual, as if that would make up for the close way I studied their faces. Which was the same way they were studying mine. There was someone dark among us, as dark as the paths which twisted across the mall or wound among the hundred-year-old oaks on the quad in back of the gymnasium. As dark as the hulking Civil War cannons seen through a drifting membrane of fog. We looked into each other's faces and tried to read the darkness behind one of them.
♥ The days continued warm and overcast. People clustered in small groups that had a tendency to break up and re-form with surprising speed. Looking at the at the same set of faces for too long gave you funny ideas about some of them.
♥ Twilight came and the fog with it, drifting up the tree-lined avenues slowly, almost thoughtfully, blotting out the buildings one by one. It was soft, unsubstantial stuff, but somehow implacable and frightening. Springheel Jack was a man, no one seemed to doubt that, but the fog was his accomplice and it wads female... or so it seemed to me. It was as if our little school was caught between them, squeezed in some crazy lovers' embrace, part of a marriage that had been consummated in blood.
♥ "It's going to snow soon," he said.
I turned around and looked at him. "Does the radio say that?"
"No," he said. "Who needs a weatherman? Have you ever heard of a strawberry spring?"
"Maybe," I said. "A long time ago. Something grandmothers talk about, isn't it?"
He stood beside me, looking out at the creeping dark.
"Strawberry spring is like Indian summer," he said, "only much more rare. You get a good Indian summer in this part of the country once every two or three years. A spell of weather like we've been having is supposed to come only every eight or ten. It's a false spring, a lying spring, like Indian summer is a false summer. My own grandmother used to say strawberry spring means the worst norther of the winter is still on the way—and the longer this lasts, the harder the storm."
"Folk tales," I said. "Never believe a word." I looked at him. "But I'm nervous."
♥ For a long time after he was gone, I could only look out the window. And even after I had opened my book and started in, part of me was still out there, walking in the shadows where something dark was now in charge.
♥ Why she had been out and alone is forever beyond knowing—she was a fat, sadly pretty thing who lived in an apartment in town with three other girls. She had slipped on campus as silently and as easily as Springheel Jack himself. What brought her? Perhaps her need was as deep and as ungovernable as her killer's. And just as far beyond understanding. Maybe a need for one desperate and passionate romance with the warm night, the warm fog, the smell of the sea, and the cold knife.
♥ Of course I knew it was here. I knew it yesterday morning when I got up and heard the mysterious sound of snowmelt running down the gutters, and smelled the salt tang of the ocean from our front porch, nine miles from the nearest beach. I knew strawberry spring had come again when I started home from work last night and had to turn on my headlights against the mist that was already beginning to creep out of the fields and hollows, blurring the lines if the buildings and putting fairy haloes around the streetlamps.
This morning's paper says a girl was killed on the New Sharon campus near the Civil War cannons. She was killed last night and found in a melting snowbank. She was not... she was not all there.
My wife is upset. She wants to know where I was last night. I can't tell her because I don't remember. I remember starting home from work, and I remember putting my headlights on to search my way through the lovely creeping fog, but that's all I remember.
I've been thinking about that foggy night when I had a headache and walked for air and passed all the lovely shadows without shape or substance. And I've been thinking about the trunk of my car—such an ugly word, trunk—and wondering why in the world I should be afraid to open it.
I can hear my wife as I write this, in the next room, crying. She think I was with another woman last night.
And oh dear God, I think so too.
♥ He was smoking a Turkish cigarette in an onyx holder. The air-circulation system allowed me just a dry whiff of the tobacco and then whipped it away. He was wearing a silk dressing gown on which a dragon was embroidered. His eyes were calm and intelligent behind his glasses. He looked just like what he was: an A-number-one, 500-carat, dyed-in-the-wool son of a bitch. I loved his wife, and she loved me.
♥ "What's the bet?"
He looked genuinely pained. "Wager, Mr. Norris, wager. Gentlemen make wagers. Vulgarians place bets."
♥ "What guarantee do I have that you won't double-cross me? Maybe I'd do it and find out you'd called Tony and told him to go ahead anyway."
He sighed. "You are a walking case of paranoia, Mr. Norris. I don't love my wife. It is doing my storied ego no good at all to have her around. Twenty thousand dollars is a pittance to me. I pay four times that every week to be given to police bagmen. As for the wager, however..." His eyes gleamed. "That is beyond price."
♥ When I thought I had it, I looked down.
The building sloped away like a smooth chalk cliff to the street far below. The cars parked there looked like those matchbox models you can buy in the five-and-dime. The ones driving by the building were just tiny pinpoints of light. If you fell that far, you would have plenty of time to realize just what was happening, to see the wind blowing your clothes as the earth pulled you back faster and faster. You'd have time to scream a long, long scream. And the sound you made when you hit the pavement would be like the sound of an overripe watermelon.
♥ "A bet," I repeated. "Not a wager. Just a plain old bet. I'll bet you can't walk around this building on the ledge out there."
His face went dead pale. For a moment I thought he was going to faint. "You..." he whispered.
"These are the stakes," I said in my dead voice. "If you make it, I'll let you go."
..But he wouldn't move until I had put the muzzle of the gun against his forehead. Then he began to shuffle to the right, moaning. I glanced up at the bank clock. It was 11:29.
I didn't think he was going to make it to the first corner. He didn't want to budge at all, and when he did, he moved jerkily, taking risks with his center of gravity, his dressing gown bellowing into the night.
He disappeared around the corner and out of sight at 12:01, almost forty minutes ago. I listened closely for the diminishing scream as the crosswind got him, but it didn't come. Maybe the wind had dropped. I do remember thinking the wind was on his side, when I was out there. Or maybe he was just lucky. Maybe he's out on the other balcony now, quivering in a heap, afraid to go any farther.
But he probably knows that if I catch him there when I break into the other penthouse, I'll shoot him down like a dog. And speaking of the other side of the building, I wonder how he likes that pigeon.
Was that a scream? I don't know. It might have been the wind. It doesn't matter. The bank clock says 12:44. Pretty soon I'll break into the other apartment and check the balcony, but right now I'm just sitting here on Cressner's balcony with Tony's .45 in my hand. Just on the off chance that he might come around that last corner with his dressing gown billowing out behind him.
Cressner said he's never welshed on a bet.
But I've been known to.
♥ Harold stood helplessly aside and the lawnmower man tromped ahead of him down the hall, through the living room and kitchen, and onto the back porch. Now Harold had placed the man and everything was all right. He had seen the type before, working for the sanitation department and the highway repair crews out on the turnpike. Always with a spare minute to lean on their shovels and smoke Lucky Strikes or Camels, looking at you as if they were the salt of the earth, able to hit you for five or sleep with your wife anytime they wanted to. Harold had always been slightly afraid of men like this; they were always tanned dark brown, there were always nets of wrinkles around their eyes, and they always knew what to do.
♥ "No sweat, buddy. No strain. Great-great-great." The lawnmower man grinned at him with a thousand traveling-salesman jokes in his eyes. "The taller, the better. Healthy soil, that's what you got there, by Circe. That's what I always say.
♥ He opened his paper to the financial section and cast a judicious eye at the closing stock quotations. As a good Republican, he considered the Wall Street executives behind the columned type to be at least minor demigods—
—and he had wished many times that he could better understand the Word, as handed down from the mount not on stone tablets but in such enigmatic abbreviations as pct. and Kdk and 3.28 up 2/3.
♥ It was obscene.
It was a travesty.
The aged red power mower the fat man had brought in his van was running on its own. No one was pushing it; in fact, no one was within five feet of it. It was running at a fever pitch, tearing through the unfortunate grass of Harold Parkette's back lawn like an avenging red devil straight from hell. It screamed and bellowed and farted oily blue smoke in a crazed kind of mechanical madness that made Harold feel ill with terror. The overripe smell of cut grass hung in the air like sour wine.
But the lawnmower man was the true obscenity.
The lawnmower man had removed his clothes—every stitch. They were folded neatly in the empty birdbath that was at the center of the back lawn. Naked and grass-stained, he was crawling along about five feet behind the mower, eating the cut grass. Green juice ran down his chin and dripped onto his pendulous belly. And every time the lawnmower whirled around a corner, he rose and did an odd, skipping jump before prostrating himself again.
"Stop! Harold Parkette screamed. "Stop that!"
But the lawnmower man took no notice, and his creaming scarlet familiar never slowed. If anything, it seemed to speed up. Its nicked steel grill seemed to grin sweatily at Harold as it raved by.
Then Harold saw the mole. It must have been hiding in stunned terror just ahead of the mower, in the swath of grass about to be slaughtered. It bolted across the cut band of lawn toward safety under the porch, a panicky brown streak.
The lawnmower swerved.
Blatting and howling, it roared over the mole and spat it out in a string of fur and entrails that reminded Harold of the Smiths' cat. The mole destroyed, the lawnmower rushed back to the main job.
The lawnmower man crawled rapidly by, eating grass. Harold stood paralyzed with horror, stocks, bonds, and bisonburgers completely forgotten. He could actually see that huge, pendulous belly expanding. The lawnmower man swerved and ate the mole.
That was when Harold Parkette leaned out the screen door and vomited into the zinnias. The world went gray, and suddenly he realized he was fainting, had fainted. He collapsed backward onto porch and closed his eyes...
♥ The man waved benignly at the lawn. "This? Well, it's a new thing the boss has been trying. It works out real good. Really good, buddy. We're killing two birds with one stone. We keep getting along toward the final stage, and we're making money to support our other operations to boot. See what I mean? Of course every now and then we run into a customer who doesn't understand—some people got no respect for efficiency, right?—but the boss is always agreeable to a sacrifice. Sort of keeps the wheels greased, if you catch me."
Harold said nothing. One word knelled over and over in his mind, and that word was "sacrifice." In his mind's eye he saw the mole spewing out from under the battered red mower.
He got up slowly, like a palsied old man. "Of course," he said, and could only come up with a line from one of Alicia's folk-rock records. "God bless the grass."
♥ Harold stuck a finger in his free ear and said, "My name is Harold Parkette. My address is 1421 East Endicott Street. I'd like to report..." What? What would he like to report? A man is in the process of raping and murdering my lawn and he works for a fellow named Pan and has cloven feet?
~~The Lawnmower Man.
♥ "I told you we were pragmatists here. As pragmatists, we have to start by realizing how difficult it is to cure an addiction to tobacco. The relapse rate is almost eighty-five percent. The relapse rate for heroin addicts is lower than that. It is an extraordinary problem. Extraordinary."
Morrison glanced into the wastebasket. One of the cigarettes, although twisted, still looked smokeable.
♥ "For the first month of the treatment, our operatives will have you under constant supervision," Donatti said. "You'll be able to spot some of them. Not all. But they'll always be with you. Always. If they see you smoke a cigarette, I get a call."
"And I suppose you bring me here and do the old rabbit trick," Morrison said. He tried to sound cold and sarcastic, but he suddenly felt horribly frightened. This was a nightmare.
"Oh, no," Donatti said. "Your wife gets the rabbit trick, not you."
Morrison looked at him dumbly.
Donatti smiled. "You," he said, "get to watch."
♥ Morrison, driven beyond the point of rational consideration, lunged over the desk at Donatti. Donatti moved with amazing speed for a man who had apparently been completely relaxed. He shoved the chair backward and drove both of his feet over the desk and into Morrison's belly. Gagging and coughing, Morrison staggered back.
"Sit down, Mr. Morrison," Donatti said benignly. "Let's talk this over like rational men."
When he could get his breath, Morrison did as he was told. Nightmares had to end sometime, didn't they?
♥ The ninth step would be the breaking of his son's arms.
"And the tenth?" Morrison asked, his mouth try.
Donatti shook his head sadly. "Then we give up, Mr. Morrison. you become part of the unregenerate two percent."
"You really give up?"
"In a manner of speaking." He opened one of the desk drawers and laid a silenced .45 on the desk. He smiled into Morrison's eyes. "But even the unregenerate two percent never smoke again. We guarantee it."
♥ Hugging his son tightly, realizing what Donatti and his colleagues had so cynically realized before him: love is the most pernicious drug of all. Let the romantics debate its existence. Pragmatists accept it and use it.
♥ "I hope you rot in hell," he told Donatti.
Donatti sighed. "If I had a nickel for every time someone expressed a similar sentiment, I could retire. Let it be a lesson to you, Mr. Morrison. When a romantic tries to do a good thing and fails, they give him a medal. When a pragmatist succeeds, they wish him in hell."
♥ "..Hammer is able to do things the rest of us only dream about. He got his father a stake at roulette and made him rich playing the stock market. He seems to be able to will winning. Maybe he's some kind of low-grade psychic. Maybe he's got precognition. I don't know. There are people who seem to have a dose of that. Liz, hasn't it ever occurred to you that he's forced you to love him?"
Liz turned to her slowly. "I've never heard anything so ridiculous in my life."
"Is it? He gave you that sociology test the same way he gave his father the right side of the roulette board! He was never enrolled in any sociology course! I checked. He did it because it was the only way he could make you take him seriously!"
"Stop it!" Liz cried. She clapped her hands over her ears.
"He knew the test, and he knew when Tony was killed, and he knew you were going home on a plane! He even knew just the right psychological moment to step back into your life last October."
Elizabeth pulled away from her and opened the door.
"Please," Alice said. "Please, Liz, listen. I don't know how he can do those things. I doubt if even he knows for sure. He might not mean to do you any harm, but he already is. He's made you love him by knowing every secret thing you want and need, and that's not love at all. That's rape."
♥ I know what you need.
No. No. No. I do love him!
Did she? Or was she simply delighted at being with someone who always ordered the right thing, took her to the right movie, and did not want to go anywhere or do anything she didn't? Was he just a kind of psychic mirror, showing her only what she wanted to see? The presents he gave were always the right presents. When the weather had turned suddenly cold and she had been longing for a hair dryer, who have her one? Ed Hamner, of course. Just happened to see one on sale in Day's, he had said. She, of course, had been delighted.
That's not love at all. That's rape.
♥ The doll was on top. The Elizabeth doll.
She looked at it and began to shudder.
The doll was dressed in a scrap or red nylon, part of a scarf she had lost two or three months back. At a movie with Ed. The arms were pipe cleaners that had been draped in stuff that looked like blue moss. Graveyard moss, perhaps. There was hair on the doll's head, but that was wrong. It was fine white flax, taped to the doll's pink gum-eraser head. Her own hair was sandy blond and coarser than this. This was more the way her hair had been—
When she was a little girl.
She swallowed and there was a clicking in her throat. Hadn't they all been issued scissors in the first grade, tiny scissors with rounded blade, just right for a child's hand? Had that long-ago little boy crept up behind her, perhaps at nap time, and—
♥ In a queer, twisted way she felt sorry for him—a little boy with a huge power crammed inside a dwarfed spirit. A little boy who tried to make humans behave like toy soldiers and then stamped on them in a fit of temper when they wouldn't or when they found out.
And what was she? Blessed with all the things he was not, through no fault of his or effort of her own? She remembered the way she had reacted to Alice, trying blindly and jealously to hold onto something that was easy rather than good, nor caring, not caring.
When your looks go and men stop trying to give you anything you want, you'll wish for me!... I know what you need.
But was she so small that she actually needed so little?
Please, dear God, no.
~~I Know What You Need.
♥ He was gripping the steering wheel so hard his knuckles were white. He decided he was holding it that tightly because if he loosened up, why, one of those hands might just fly off and his the ex-Prom Queen beside him right in the chops. We're saving our marriage, he told himself. Yes. We're doing it the same way us grunts went about saving villages in the war.
♥ "HOLY JESUS!" the evangelist shouted, and now the words came in a powerful, pumping cadence, almost as compelling as a driving rock-and-roll beat: "When they gonna know that way is death? When they gonna know that the wages of the world are paid on the other side? Huh? Huh? The Lord has said there's many mansions in His house. But there's no room for the fornicator. No room for the coveter. No room for the defiler of the corn. No room for the hommasexshul. No room—"
Vicky snapped it off. "That drivel makes me sick."
"What did he say?" Burt asked her. "What did he say about corn?"
♥ They stepped out onto the sidewalk, and Burt was struck afresh with the town's silence, and with the smell of fertilizer. Somehow you never thought of that smell when you buttered an ear and salted it and bit in. Compliments of sun, rain, all sorts of man-made phosphates, and a good healthy dose of cow shit. But somehow this smell was different from the one he had grown up with in rural upstate New York. You could say whatever you wanted to about organic fertilizer, but there was something almost fragrant about it when the spreader was laying it down in the fields. Not one of your great perfumes, God no, but when the late-afternoon spring breeze would pick up and waft it over the freshly turned fields, it was a smell with good associations. It meant winter was over for good. It meant that school doors were going to bang closed in six weeks or so and spill everyone out into summer. It was a smell tied irrevocably in his mind with other aromas that were perfume: timothy grass, clover, fresh earth, hollyhocks, dogwood.
♥ She looked. Neatly pegged white letters under glass read: THE POWER AND GRACE OF HE WHO WALKS BEHIND THE ROWS.
♥ The space behind the pulpit was dominated by a gigantic portrait of Christ, and Burt thought: If nothing else in this town gave Vicky the screaming meemies, this would.
The Christ was grinning, vulpine. His eyes were wide and staring, reminding Burt uneasily of Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera. In each of the wide black pupils someone (a sinner, presumably) was drowning in a lake of fire. But the oddest thing was that this Christ had green hair... hair which on closer examination revealed itself to be a twining mass of early-summer corn. The picture was crudely done but effective. It looked like a comic-strip mural done by a gifted child—an Old Testament Christ, or a pagan Christ that might slaughter his sheep for sacrifice instead of leading them.
♥ There was a large Bible on the lectern, opened to the thirty-eighth chapter of Job. Burt glanced down at it and read: "Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?... Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding." The lord. He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Declare if thou hast understanding. And please pass the corn.
♥ He grimaced at the words stamped on the cover, done inexpertly in gold leaf: "THUS LET US THE INIQUITOUS BE CUT DOWN SO THAT THE GROUND MAY BE FERTILE AGAIN SAITH THE LORD GOD OF HOSTS.
♥ Standing behind the pulpit, Burt thought about it.
Something had happened in 1964. Something to do with religion, and corn... and children.
Dear God we beg thy blessing on the crop. For Jesus' sake, amen.
And the knife raised high to sacrifice the lamb—but had it been a lamb? Perhaps a religious mania had swept them. Alone, all alone, cut off from the outside world by hundreds of square miles of the rustling secret corn. Alone under seventy million acres of blue sky. Alone under the watchful eye of God, now a strange green God, a God of corn, grown old and strange and hungry. He Who Walks Behind the Rows.
Burt felt a chill creep into his flesh.
Vicky, let me tell you a story. It's about Amos Deigan, who was born Richard Deigan on September 4, 1945. He took the name Amos in 1964, fine Old Testament name, Amos, one of the minor prophets. Well, Vicky, what happened—don't laugh—is that Duck Deigan and his friends—Billy Renfrew, George Kirk, Roberta Wells, and Eddie Hollis among others—they got religion and they killed off their parents. All of them. Isn't that a scream? Shot them in their beds, knifed them in their bathtubs, poisoned their suppers, hung them, or disemboweled them, for all I know.
Why? The corn. Maybe it was dying. Maybe they got the idea somehow that it was dying because there was too much sinning. Not enough sacrifice. They would have done it in the corn, in the rows.
And somehow, Vicky, I'm quite sure of this, somehow they decided that nineteen was as old as any of them could live. Richard "Amos" Deigan, the hero of our little story, had his nineteenth birthday on September 4, 1964—the date in the book. I think maybe they killed him. Sacrificed him in the corn. Isn't that a silly story?
But let's look at Rachel Stigman, who was Donna Stigman until 1964. She turned nineteen on June 21, just about a month ago. Moses Richardson was born on July 29—just three days from today he'll be nineteen. Any idea what's going to happen to ole Mose on the twenty-ninth?
I can guess.
Burt licked his lips, which felt dry.
One other thing, Vicky. Look at this. We have Job Gilman (Clayton) born on September 6, 1964. No other births until June 16, 1965. A gap of ten months. Know what I think? They killed all the parents, even the pregnant ones, that's what I think. And one of them got pregnant in October of 1964 and gave birth to Eve. Some sixteen- or seventeen-year-old girl. Eve. The first woman.
He thumbed back through the book feverishly and found the Eve Tobin entry. Below it: "Adam Greenlaw, b. July 11, 1965."
They'd be just eleven now, he thought, and his flesh began to crawl. And maybe they're out there. Someplace.
But how could such a thing be kept secret? How could it go on?
How unless the God in question approved?
♥ "Vicky," he whispered. "Oh, Vicky, my God—"
She had been mounted on a crossbar like a hideous trophy, her arms held at the wrists and her legs at the ankles with twists of common barbed wire, seventy cents a yard at any hardware store in Nebraska. Her eyes had been ripped out. The sockets were filled with the moonflax of cornsilk. Her jaws were wrenched open in a silent scream, her mouth filled with cornhusks.
♥ That was when Burt heard it coming: not the children but something much larger, moving through the corn and toward the clearing. Not the children, no. The children wouldn't venture into the corn at night. This was the holy place, the place of He Who Walks Behind the Rows.
Jerkily Burt turned to flee. The row he had entered the clearing by was gone. Closed up. All the rows had closed up. It was coming closer now and he could hear it, pushing through the corn. He could hear it breathing. An ecstasy of superstitious terror seized him. It was coming. The corn on the far side of the clearing had suddenly darkened, as if a fantastic shadow had blotted it out.
He Who Walks Behind the Rows.
It began to come into the clearing. Burt saw something huge, bulking up to the sky... something green with terrible red eyes the size of footballs.
Something that smelled like dried cornhusks years in some dark barn.
He began to scream. But he did not scream long. Some time later, a bloated orange harvest moon came up.
♥ And that night all of those now above the Age of Favor walked silently into the corn and went to the clearing, to gain the continued favor of He Who Walks Behind the Rows.
"Goodbye, Malachi," Ruth called. She waved disconsolately. Her belly was big with Malachi's child and tears coursed silently down her cheeks. Malachi did not turn. His back was straight. The corn swallowed him.
Ruth turned away, still crying. She had conceived a secret hatred for the corn and sometimes dreamed of walking into it with a torch in each hand when dry September came and the stalks were dead and explosively combustible. But she also feared it. Out there, in the night, something walked, and it saw everything... even the secrets kept in human hearts.
Dusk deepened into night. Around Gatlin the corn rustled and whispered secretly. It was well pleased.
~~Children of the Corn.
♥ There was only a single sentence below the "Dear Larry." But a sentence can mean enough. It can do enough.
♥ I was ten that year, and thin as Scratch-the-demon, about ninety pounds. Kitty was eight, and twenty pounds lighter. The ladder had always held us before, we though it would always hold us again, which is a philosophy that gets men and nations in trouble time after time.
♥ At last I stood above the safety of the hay. Now looking down was not so much frightening as sensual. There was a moment of anticipation. Then I stepped off into space, holding my nose for effect, and as it always did, the sudden grip of gravity, yanking me down brutally, making me plummet, made me feel like yelling: Oh, I'm sorry, I made a mistake, let me back up!
Then I hit the hay, shot into it like a projectile, its sweet and dusty smell billowing up around me, still going down, as if into heavy water, coming slowly to rest buried in the stuff. As always, I could feel a sneeze building up in my nose. And hear a frightened field mouse or two fleeing for a more serene section of the haymow. And feel, in that curious way, that I had been reborn. I remember Kitty telling me once that after diving into the hay she felt fresh and new, like a baby. I shrugged it off at the time—sort of knowing what she meant, sort of not knowing—but since I got her letter I think about that, too.
♥ She looked at me so long and so lovingly that I was uncomfortable. Then she said, "Hay. You put down hay."
"Course I did," I blurted. "What else would I do? Once the ladder broke there was no way to get up there."
"I didn't know what you were doing," she said.
"You must have! I was right under you, for cripe's sake!"
"I didn't dare look down," she said. "I was too scared. I had my eyes shut the whole time."
I stared at her, thunderstruck.
"You didn't know? Didn't know what I was doing?"
She shook her head.
"And when I told you to let go you... you just did it!"
"Kitty, how could you do that?"
She looked at me with those deep blue eyes. "I knew you must have been doing something to fix it," she said. "You're my big brother. I knew you'd take care of me."
♥ It was the end, but somehow not the end. Somehow it never ended until nine days ago, when Kitty jumped from the top story of an insurance building in Los Angeles. I have the clipping from The L.A. Times in my wallet. I guess I'll always carry it, not the good way you carry snapshots of people you want to remember or theater tickets from a really good show or part of the program from a World Series game. I carry that clipping the way you carry something heavy, because carrying it is your work. The Headline reads: CALL GIRL SWAN-DIVES TO HEAR DEATH.
♥ We grew up. That's all I know, other than facts that don't mean anything.
♥ I answered all of her letters. But I could never really believe that it was really Kitty who was writing them, you know, no more than I could really believe that the hay was really there... until it broke my fall at the bottom of the drop and saved my life. I couldn't believe that my sister and the beaten woman who signed "Kitty" in a circle at the bottom of her letters were really the same person. My sister was a girl with pigtails, still without breasts.
♥ The letter was postmarked two weeks before she died. It would have gotten to me a long time before, if not for the forwarding addresses. She must have gotten tired of waiting.
I've been thinking about it a lot lately... and what I've decided is that it would have been better for me if that last rung had broken before you could put the hay down.
Yes, I guess she must have gotten tired of waiting. I'd rather believe that than think of her deicing I must have forgotten. I wouldn't want her to think that, because that one sentence was maybe the only thing that would have brought me on the run.
But not even that is the reason sleep comes so hard now. When I close my eyes and start to drift off, I see her coming down from the third loft, her eyes wide and dark blue, her body arched, her arms swept up behind her.
She was the one who always knew the hay would be there.
~~The Last Rung on the Ladder.
♥ She passed on her way, thinking: He's in love.
He had that look about him. He was dressed in a light gray suit, the narrow tie pulled down a little, his top collar button undone. His hair was dark and cut short. His complexion was fair, his eyes a light blue. Not an extraordinary face, but on this soft spring evening, on this avenue, in May of 1963, he was beautiful, and the old woman found herself thinking with a moment's sweet nostalgia that in spring anyone can be beautiful... if they're hurrying to meet the one of their dreams for dinner and maybe dancing after. Spring is the only season when nostalgia never seems to turn bitter, and she went on her way glad that she had spoken to him..
♥ Spring trembled on the edge of summer, and in the city, summer is the season of dreams.
♥ "Norma," he whispered, and pulled the short-handled hammer out of his coat pocket where it had been all along. "They're for you, Norma... it was always for you... all for you."
She backed away, her face a round white blur, her mouth an opening black O of terror, and she wasn't Norma, Norma was dead, she had been dead for ten years, and it didn't matter because she was going to scream and he swung the hammer to stop the scream, to kill the scream, and as he swung the hammer the spill of flowers fell out of his hand, the spill spilled and broken open, spilling red, white, and yellow tea roses beside the dented trash cans where cats made alien love in the dark, screaming in love, screaming, screaming.
He swung the hammer and she didn't scream, but she might scream because she wasn't Norma, none of them were Norma, and he swung the hammer, swung the hammer, swung the hammer. She wasn't Norma and so he swung the hammer, and he had done five other times.
Some unknown time later he slipped the hammer back into his inner coat pocket and backed away from the dark shadow sprawled on the cobblestones, away from the litter of tea roses by the garbage cans. He turned and left the narrow lane. It was full dark now. The stickball players had gone in. If there were bloodstains on his suit, they wouldn't show, not in the dark, not in the soft late spring dark, and her name had not been Norma but he knew what his name was. It was... was...
His name was love, and he walked these dark streets because Norma was waiting for him. And he would find her. Someday soon.
He began to smile. A bounce came into his step as he walked on down Seventy-third Street. A middle-aged married couple sitting on the steps of their building watched him go by, head cocked, eyes far away, a half-smile on his lips. When he had passed by the woman said, "How come you never look that way anymore?"
"Nothing," she said, but she watched the young mam in the gray suit disappear into the gloom of the encroaching night and thought that if there was anything more beautiful than springtime, it was young love.
~~The Man Who Loved Flowers.
♥ It was the tenth of January, just about the time most folks are learning to live comfortably with all the New Year's resolutions they broke, and there was one hell of a northeaster blowing outside.
♥ It was Missus Tookey that was responsible for most of the place, which had been written up in Down East and the Sunday Telegram and even once in the Sunday supplement of the Boston Globe. It's really more of a public house than a bar, with its big wooden floor, pegged together rather than nailed, the maple bar, the old barn-raftered ceiling, and the monstrous big fieldstone hearth. Missus Tookey started to get some ideas in her head after the Down East article came out, wanted to start calling the place Tookey's Inn or Tookey's Rest, and I admit it has sort of a Colonial ring to it, but I prefer plain old Tookey's Bar. It's one thing to get uppish in the summer, when the state's full of tourists, another thing altogether in the winter, when you and your neighbors have to trade together. And there had been plenty of winter nights, like this one, that Tookey and I had spent all alone together, drinking scotch and water or just a few beers. My own Victoria passed on in '73, and Tookey's was a place to go where there were enough voices to mute the steady ticking of the deathwatch beetle—even if there was just Tookey and me, it was enough. I wouldn't have felt the same about it if the place had been Tookey's Rest. It's crazy but it's true.
♥ I pulled the crucifix out of my shirt and showed him. I was born and raised Congregational, but most folks who live around the Lot wear something—crucifix, St. Christopher's medal, rosary, something. Because two years ago, in the span of one dark October month, the Lot went bad. Sometimes, late at night, when there were just a few regulars drawn up around Tookey's fire, people would talk it over. Talk around it is more like the truth. You see, people in the Lot started to disappear. First a few, then a few more, then a whole slew. The schools closed. The town stood empty for most of the year. Oh, a few people moved in—mostly damn fools from out of state like this fine specimen here—drawn by the low property values, I suppose. But they didn't last. A lot of them moved out a month or two after they'd moved in. The others... well, they disappeared. Then the town burned flat. It was at the end of a long dry fall. They figure it started up by the Marsten House on the hill that overlooked Jointner Avenue, but no one knows how it started, not to this day. It burned out of control for three days. After that, for a time, things were better. And then they started again.
I only heard the word "vampires" mentioned once. A crazy pulp truck driver named Richie Messina from over Freeport way was in Tookey's that night, pretty liquored up. "Jesus Christ," this stampeder roars, standing up about nine feet tall in his wool pants and his plaid shirt and his leather-topped boots. "Are you all so damn afraid to say it out? Vampires! Just like a bunch of kids scared of the movies! ..Why, for eighty bucks I'd go up there and spend the night in what's left of that haunted house you're all so worried about. Well, what about it? Anyone want to pout it up?"
But nobody would. Richie was a loudmouth and a mean drunk and no one was going to shed any tears at his wake, but none of us were willing to see him go into 'Salem's Lot after dark.
"Be screwed to the bunch of you," Richie says, "I got my four-ten in the trunk of my Chevy, and that'll stop anything in Falmouth, Cumberland, or Jerusalem's Lot. And that's where I'm goin'."
He slammed out of the bar and no one said a word for a while. Then Lamont Henry says, real quiet, "That's the last time anyone's gonna see Richie Messian. Holy God." And Lamont, raised to be a Methodist from his mother's knee, crossed himself.
"He'll sober off and change him mind," Tookey said, but he sounded uneasy. "He'll be back by closin' time, makin' out it was all a joke."
But Lamont had the right of that one, because no one ever saw Richie again. His wife told the state cops she thought he'd gone to Florida to beat a collection agency, but you could see the truth of the thing in her eyes—sick, scared eyes. Not long after, she moved away to Rhode Island. Maybe she thought Richie was going to come after her some dark night. And I'm not the man to say he might not have done.
♥ We looked at each other for a moment longer, and then he reached out and gripped my shoulder. "You're a good man, Booth." That was enough to buck me up some. It seems like when you pass seventy, people start forgetting that you are a man, or that you ever were.
♥ Maine blizzard—ever been out in one?
The snow comes flying so thick and fine that it looks like sand and sounds like that, beating on the sides of your car or pickup. You don't want to use your high beams because they reflect off the snow and you can't see ten feet in front of you. With the low beams on, you can see maybe fifteen feet. But I can live with the snow. It's the wind I don't like, when it picks up and begins to howl, driving the snow into a hundred weird flying shapes and sounding like all the hate and pain and fear in the world. There's death in the throat of a snowstorm wind, white death—and maybe something beyond death.
♥ So we started to wade through the snow after Lumley as best we could. But he kept getting further and further ahead. He had his youth to spend, you see.
♥ I still have bad dreams about that stormy night we went out there. Not about the woman so much as the little girl, and the way she smiled when she held her arms up so I could pick her up. She she could give me a kiss. But I'm an old man and the time comes soon when dreams are done.
You may have an occasion to be traveling in southern Maine yourself one of these days, Pretty part of the countryside. You may even stop by Tookey's Bar for a drink. Nice place. They kept the name just the same. So have your drink, and then my advice to you is to keep right on moving north. Whatever you do, don't go up that road to Jerusalem's Lot.
Especially not after dark.
There's a little girl somewhere out there. And I think she's still waiting for her good-night kiss.
~~One for the Road.
♥ The house is still running; the refrigerator runs and shuts off, the furnace kicks in and out, every now and then the cuckoo bird pokes grumpily out of the clock to announce an hour or a half. He supposed that after she dies it will fall to Kevin and him to break up housekeeping. She's gone, all right. The whole house says so.
♥ The walls up here are two-tone: brown on the bottom and white on top. He thinks that the only two-stone combination in the whole world that might be more depressing than brown and white would be pink and black. Hospital corridors like giant Good 'n' Plentys. The thought makes him smile and feel nauseated at the same time.
♥ The patients remind him of a horror movie called The Night of the Living Dead. They all walk slowly, as if someone had unscrewed the tops of their organs like mayonnaise jars and liquids were sloshing around inside. Some of them use canes. Their slow gait as they promenade up and down the halls is frightening but also dignified. It is the walk of people who are going nowhere slowly, the walk of college students in caps and gowns filing into a convocation hall.
♥ He had discovered on that day and for all time that there is nothing in the world so perfect to get a twelve-year-old's impression of his place in the scheme of things into proper perspective as being beaten across the back with a wet grandmother-diaper. It had taken four years after that day to relearn the art of smarting off.
♥ Getting into the elevator he thinks that the word "doctor" becomes a synonym for "man" after a certain degree of proficiency in the trade has been reached, as if it was an expected, provisioned thing that doctors must be cruel and thus attain a special degree of humanity.
♥ "She's paralyzed."
"Does it matter at this point?"
"Of course it matters! he bursts out, thinking of her legs under the white ribbed sheet.
"John, she's dying."
"She's not dead yet." This in fact is what horrifies him. The conversation will go around in circles from here, the profits accruing to the telephone company, but this is the nub. Not dead yet. Just lying in that room with a hospital tag on her wrist, listening to phantom radios up and down the hall. And
she's going to have to come to grips with time, the doctor says.
♥ Perhaps it is his fault anyway. He is the only child to have been nurtured inside her, a change-of-life baby. His brother was adopted when another smiling doctor told her she would never have any children of her own. And of course, the cancer now in her began in the womb like a second child, his own darker twin. His life and her death began in the same place. Should he not do what the other is doing already, so slowly and clumsily?
♥ Part of it is the combination of drugs they are trying on her. They make the bennies he occasionally dropped in college look like Excedrin. You can have your pick from the locked drug cabinet at the end of the corridor just past the nurses' station: ups and downs, highs and bummers. Death, maybe, merciful death like a sweet black blanket. The wonders of modern science.
~~The Woman in the Room.