He turned the page and looked at the last clipping - at least so far - and suddenly his breath was gone. It was as if, after wading grimly through the almost unbearable necrology in the foregoing pages, he had come face to face with his own obituary. It wasn't quite, but...
"But close enough for government work," he said in a low, hoarse voice.
It was from Newsweek. The "Transitions" column. Listed below the divorce of a TV actress and above the death of a Midwestern steel potentate was this item:
REPORTED MISSING: Paul Sheldon, 42, novelist best known for his series of romances about sexy, bubbleheaded, unsinkable Misery Chastain; by his agent, Bryce Bell. "I think he's fine," Bell said, "but I wish he'd get in touch and ease my mind. And his ex-wives wish he'd get in touch and ease their bank accounts." Sheldon was last seen seven weeks ago in Boulder, Colorado, where he had gone to finish a new novel.
The clipping was two weeks old.
Reported missing, that's all. Just reported missing. I'm not dead, it's not like being dead.
But it was like being dead, and suddenly he needed his medication because it wasn't just his legs that hurt. Everything hurt. He put the book carefully back in its place arid began rolling the wheelchair toward the guest room.
Outside, the wind gusted more strongly than it had yet done, slapping cold rain against the house, and Paul shrank away from it, moaning and afraid, trying desperately hard to hold himself together and not burst into tears.
An hour later, full of dope and drifting off to sleep, the sound of the howling wind now soothing rather than frightening, he thought: I'm not going to escape. No way. What is it Thomas Hardy says in Jude the Obscure? "Someone could have come along and eased the boy's terror, but nobody did... because nobody does." Right. Correct. Your ship is not going to come in because there are no boats for nobody. The Lone Ranger is busy making breakfast-cereal commercials and Superman's making movies in Tinsel Town. You're on your own, Paulie. Dead flat on your own. But maybe that's okay. Because maybe you know what the answer is, after all, don't you?
Yes, of course he did.
If he meant to get out of this, he would have to kill her.
Yes. That's the answer - the only one there is, I think. So it's that same old game again, isn't it? Paulie... Can You?
He answered with no hesitation at all. Yes, I can. His eyes drifted closed. He slept.
The storm continued through the next day. The following night the clouds unravelled and blew away. At the same time the temperature plummeted from sixty degrees down to twenty-five. All the world outside froze solid. Sitting by the bedroom window and looking out at the ice-glittery morning world on that second full day alone, Paul could hear Misery the pig squealing in the barn and one of the cows bellowing.
He often heard the animals; they were as much a part of the general background as the chiming parlor-clock - but he had never heard the pig squeal so. He thought he had heard the cow bellow like that once before, but it had been an evil sound dimly heard in an evil dream, because then he had been full of his own pain. It had been when Annie had gone away that first time, leaving him with no pills. He had been raised in suburban Boston and had lived most of his life in New York City, but he thought he knew what those pained cow-bellows meant. One of the cows needed to be milked. The other apparently didn't, possibly because Annie's erratic milking habits had already dried her up.
And the pig?
Hungry. That was all. And that was enough.
They weren't going to get any relief today. He doubted if Annie would be able to make it back even if she had wanted to. This part of the world had turned into one big skating rink. He was a little surprised at the depth of sympathy he felt for the animals and the depth of his anger at Annie for how she had, in her unadmitting and arrogant egoism, left them to suffer in their pens.
If your animals could talk, Annie, they would tell you who the REAL dirty birdie around here is.
He himself was quite comfortable as those days passed. He ate from cans, drank water from the new pitcher, took his medication regularly, napped each afternoon. The tale of Misery and her amnesia and her previously unsuspected (and spectacularly rotten) blood kin marched steadily along toward Africa, which was to be the setting of the novel's second half. The irony was that the woman had coerced him into writing what was easily the best of the "Misery" novels. Ian and Geoffrey were off in Southampton outfitting a schooner called the Lorelei for the run. It was on the Dark Continent that Misery, who kept slipping into cataleptic trances at the most inconvenient moments (and, of course, if she were to be stung by another bee - ever, in her entire life - she would die almost instantly), would either be killed or cured. For a hundred and fifty miles inland from Lawstown, a tiny British-Dutch settlement on the northernmost tip of the Barbary Coast's dangerous crescent, lived the Bourkas, Africa's most dangerous natives. The Bourkas were sometimes known as the Bee-People. Few of the whites who dared to venture into Bourka country had ever returned, but those who did had brought back fabulous tales of a woman's face jutting from the side of a tall, crumbling mesa, a merciless face with a gaping mouth and a huge ruby set in her stone forehead. There was another story - only a rumor, surely, but strangely persistent - that within the caves which honeycombed the stone behind the idol's jewelled forehead there lived a hive of giant albino bees, swarming protectively around their queen, a jellylike monstrosity of infinite poison... and infinite magic.
During the days he diverted himself with this pleasant foolishness. In the evenings he sat quietly, listening to the pig squeal and thinking about how he would kill the Dragon Lady.
Playing Can You? in real life was quite different from playing it in a cross-legged circle as a kid or doing it in front of a typewriter as a grown-up, he discovered. When it was just a game (and even if they gave you money for it, a game was still all it was), you could think up some pretty wild things and make them seem believable - the connection between Misery Chastain and Miss Charlotte Evelyn-Hyde, for instance (they had turned out to be half-sisters; Misery would later discover her father down there in Africa hanging out with the Bourka Bee-People). In real life, however, the arcane had a way of losing its power.
Not that Paul didn't try. There were all those drugs in the downstairs bathroom - surely there was some way he could use them to put her out of the way, wasn't there? Or to at least render her helpless long enough so he could do it? Take the Novril. Enough of that shit and he wouldn't even have to put her out of the way. She would float off on her own.
That's a very good idea, Paul. I tell you what to do. You just get a whole bunch of those capsules and stick them all through a pint of her ice-cream. She'll just think they're pistachio nuts and gobble them right down.
No, of course that wouldn't work. Nor could he pull a cutie like opening the capsules and mixing the powder into some pre-softened ice-cream. He had tasted it and knew. Novril in the raw was fabulously bitter. It was a taste she would recognize at once in the midst of the expected sweetness... and then woe is you, Paulie. Woe to the max.
In a story it would have been a pretty good idea. In real life, however, it simply did not make it. He wasn't sure he would have taken the chance even if the white powder inside the capsules had been almost or completely tasteless. It wasn't safe enough, it wasn't sure enough. This was no game; it was his life.
Other ideas passed through his mind and were rejected even more quickly. One was suspending something (the typewriter came immediately to mind) over the door so she would be killed or knocked unconscious when she came in. Another was running a tripwire across the stairway. But the problem was the same as the old Novril-in-the-ice-cream trick: in both cases neither was sure enough. He found himself literally unable to think of what might happen to him if he tried to assassinate her and failed.
As dark came down on that second night, Misery's squealing went on as monotonously as ever - the pig sounded like an unlatched door with rusty hinges squealing in the wind - but Bossie No. 1 abruptly fell silent. Paul wondered uneasily if perhaps the poor animal's udder had burst, resulting in death by exsanguination. For a moment his imagination so vivid!
tried to present him with a picture of the cow lying dead in a puddle of mixed milk and blood, and he quickly willed it away. He told himself not to be such a numbnuts - cows didn't die that way. But the voice doing the telling lacked conviction. He had no idea if they did or not. And, besides, it wasn't the cow that was his problem, was it?
All your fancy ideas come down to one thing - you want to kill her by remote control, you don't want her blood on your hands. You're like a man who loves nothing better than a thick steak but wouldn't last an hour in a slaughterhouse. But listen, Paulie, and get it straight: you must face reality at this point in your life if at no other. Nothing fancy. No curlicues. Right?
He rolled back into the kitchen and opened drawers until he found the knives. He selected the longest butcher-knife and went back to his room, pausing to rub away the hub-marks on the sides of the doorway. The signs of his passage were nevertheless becoming clearer.
Doesn't matter. If she misses them one more time, she misses them for good.
He put the knife on the night-table, hoisted himself into bed, then slid it under the mattress. When Annie came back he was going to ask her for a nice cold glass of water, and when she leaned over to give it to him he was going to plunge the knife into her throat.
Paul closed his eyes and dropped off to sleep, and when the Cherokee came whispering back into the driveway that morning at four o'clock with both its engine and its lights shut off, he did not stir. Until he felt the sting of the hypo sliding into his arm and woke to see her face leaning over his, he hadn't the slightest idea she was back.
At first he thought he was dreaming about his own book, that the dark was the dream-dark of the caves behind the huge stone head of the Bourka Bee-Goddess and the sting was that of a bee - "Paul?" He muttered something that meant nothing - something that meant only get out of here, dream voice, get gone.
"Paul." That was no dreamvoice; it was Annie's voice.
He forced his eyes open. Yes, it was her, and for a moment his panic grew even stronger. Then it simply seeped away, like fluid running down a partly clogged drain.
What the hell -?
He was totally disoriented. She was standing there in the shadows as if she had never been away, wearing one of her woolly skirts and frumpy sweaters; he saw the needle in her hand and understood it hadn't been a sting but an injection. What the fuck - either way it was the same thing. He had been gotten by the goddess. But what had she -?
That bright panic tried to come again, and once again it hit a dead circuit. All he could feel was a kind of academic surprise. That, and some intellectual curiosity about where she had come from, and why now. He tried to lift his hands and they came up a little... but only a little. It felt as if there were invisible weights dangling from them. They dropped back onto the sheet with little dull thumps.
Doesn't matter what she shot me up with. It's like what you write on the last page of a book. It's THE END.
The thought brought no fear. Instead he felt a kind of calm euphoria.
At least she's tried to make it kind... to make it...
"Ah, there you are!" Annie said, and added with lumbering coquettishness: "I see you, Paul... those blue eyes. Did I ever tell you what lovely blue eyes you have? But I suppose other women have - women who were much prettier than I am, and much bolder about their affections, as well." Came back. Came creeping in the night and killed me, hypo or bee-sting, no difference, and so much for the knife under the bed. All I am now is the latest number in Annie's considerable body-count. And then, as the numbing euphoria of the injection began to spread, he thought almost with humor: Some lousy Scheherazade I turned out to be.
He thought that in a moment sleep would return - a more final sleep - but it did not. He saw her slip the hypo into the pocket of her skirt and then she sat down on the bed... not where she usually sat, however; she sat on its foot and for a moment he saw only her solid, impervious back as she bent over, as if to check on something. He heard a wooden thunk, a metallic clunk, and then a shaking sound he had heard some place before. After a moment he placed it. Take the matches, Paul.
Diamond Blue Tips. He didn't know what else she might have there at the foot of the bed, but one of them was a box of Diamond Blue Tip matches.
Annie turned to him and smiled again. Whatever else might have happened, her apocalyptic depression had passed. She brushed an errant lock of hair back behind her ear with a girlish gesture. It went oddly with the lock's dull dirty half-shine.
Dull dirty half-shine oh boy you gotta remember that one that one ain't half-bad oh boy I am stoned now, all the past was prologue to this shit hey baby this here is the mainline oh fuck I'm tucked but this is crystal top-end shit this is going out on a mile-high wave in a fucking Rolls this is - "What do you want first, Paul?" she asked. "The good news or the bad news?"
"Good news first." He managed a big foolish grin. "Guess the bad news is that this is THE END, huh? Guess you didn't like the book so great, huh? Too bad I tried. It was even working. I was just starting to... you know... starting to drive on it." She looked at him reproachfully. "I love the book, Paul. I told you that, and I never lie. I love it so much I don't want to read any more until the very end. I'm sorry to have to make you fill in the n's yourself, but... it's like peeking." His big foolish grin stretched even wider; he thought soon it would meet in the back, tie a lover's knot there, and most of his poor old bean would just topple off. Maybe it would land in the bedpan beside the bed. In some deep, dim part of his mind where the dope hadn't yet reached, alarm bells were going off. She loved the book, which meant she didn't mean to kill him. Whatever was going on, she didn't mean to kill him. And unless his assessment of Annie Wilkes was totally off the beam, that meant she had something even worse in store.
Now the light in the room did not look dull; it looked marvellously pure, marvellously full of its own gray and eldritch charm; he could imagine cranes half-glimpsed in gunmetal mist standing in one-legged silence beside upland lakes in that light, could imagine the mica flecks in rocks jutting from spring grasses in upland meadows shining with the shaggy glow of glazed window-glass in that light, could imagine elves shucking their busy selves off to work in lines under the dew-soaked leaves of early ivy in that light...
Oh BOY are you stoned, Paul thought, and giggled faintly.