pain medication she took. By then the ticking had grown very loud, and when Ralph lay in bed beside her on those hot summer nights when even a single sheet seemed to weigh ten pounds and he believed every dog in Derry was barking at the moon, he listened to it, to the deathwatch ticking inside Carolyn, and it seemed to him that his heart would break with sorrow and terror. How much would she be required to suffer before the end came? How much would he be required to suffer? And how could he possibly live without her?
By Stephen King and published by Hodder & Stoughton FICTION: Carrie 'Salem's Lot The Shining Night Shift The Stand The Dead Zone Firestarter Cujo Different Seasons Cycle of the Werewolf Christine The Talisman (with Peter Straub) Pet Sematary It Skeleton Crew The Eyes of the Dragon Misery The Tommyknockers The Dark Half Four Past Midnight Needful Things Gerald's Game Dolores Claiborne Nightmares and Dreamscapes Insomnia Rose Madder Desperation Bag of Bones The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon Hearts in Atlantis Dreamcatcher Everything's Eventual From a Buick 8
Cell Lisey's Story The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower Duma key Just After Sunset Under the Dome Stephen King Goes to the Movies By Stephen King as Richard Bachman Thinner The Running Man The Bachman Books The Regulators Blaze NON-FICTION: Danse Macabre On Writing (A Memoir of the Craft)
Grateful acknowledgement is made for permission to reprint excerpts from the
following copyrighted material: 'White Rabbit' lyrics and music by Grace Slick. (c) 1967 Irving Music, Inc. (BMI).
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
'The Pursuit' from Cemetery Nights by Stephen Dobyns. Copyright (c) Stephen Dobyns, 1987.
By permission of the author and Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.
'You Can't Sit Down' by Delecta Clark, Cornell Muldrow, and Kal Mann. (c) 1960 (renewed),
1968 Conrad Music, a division of Arc Music Corp. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, Copyright (c) 1965 by J. R. R. Tolkien (c) renewed 1993 by Christopher R. Tolkien, John F. R. Tolkien, and Priscilla M. A. R. Tolkien.
Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Co. and HarperCollins Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved.
'Your Baby,' words and music by P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri. (c) Copyright 1965 by MCA Music Publishing, a Division of MCA Inc. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.
'Lantern' by Michael McDernott (c) 1993 EMI Blackwood Music, Inc., and Wanted Mann Music. All rights reserved for Wanted Man Music controlled and administered by EMI Blackwood Music, Inc. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission
Copyright (c) 1994 by Stephen King
First published in Great Britain in 1994 by Hodder and Stoughton
An Hachette Livre UK company The right of Stephen King to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data King, Stephen
Epub ISBN 978 1 84894 072 7
Book ISBN 978 0 340 95279 5
Hodder and Stoughton
An Hachette Livre UK company
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
Also by Stephen King
About the Author
For Tabby . . . and for Al Kooper,
who knows the playing-field.
No fault of mine.
Old age is an island surrounded by death.
No one - least of all Dr Litchfield - came right out and told Ralph Roberts that his wife was going to die, but there came a time when Ralph understood without needing to be told. The months between March and June were a jangling, screaming time inside his head - a time of conferences with doctors, of evening runs to the hospital with Carolyn, of trips to other hospitals in other states for special tests (Ralph spent much of his travel time on these trips thanking God for Carolyn's Blue Cross/Major Medical coverage), of personal research in the Derry Public Library, at first looking for answers the specialists might have overlooked, later on just looking for hope and grasping at straws.
Those four months were like being dragged drunk through some malign carnival where the people on the rides were really screaming, the people lost in the mirror maze were really lost, and the denizens of Freak Alley looked at you with false smiles on their lips and terror in their eyes. Ralph began to see these things by the middle of May, and as June set in, he began to understand that the pitchmen along the medical midway had only quack remedies to sell, and the cheery quickstep of the calliope could no longer quite hide the fact that the tune spilling out of the loudspeakers was 'The Funeral March'. It was a carnival, all right; the carnival of lost souls.
Ralph continued to deny these terrible images - and the even more terrible idea lurking behind them - all through the early summer of 1992, but as June gave way to July, this finally became impossible. The worst midsummer heatwave since 1971 rolled over central Maine, and Derry simmered in a bath of hazy sun, humidity, and daily temperatures in the mid-nineties. The city - hardly a bustling metropolis at the best of times - fell into a complete stupor, and it was in this hot silence that Ralph Roberts first heard the ticking of the deathwatch and understood that in the passage from June's cool damp greens to the baked stillness of July, Carolyn's slim chances had become no chances at all. She was going to die. Not this summer, probably - the doctors claimed to have quite a few tricks up their sleeves yet, and Ralph was sure they did - but this fall or this winter. His longtime companion, the only woman he had ever loved, was going to die. He tried to deny the idea, scolding himself for being a morbid old fool, but in the gasping silences of those long hot days, Ralph heard that ticking everywhere - it even seemed to be in the walls.
Yet it was loudest from within Carolyn herself, and when she turned her calm white face toward him - perhaps to ask him to turn on the radio so she could listen while she shelled some beans for their supper, or to ask him if he would go across to the Red Apple and get her an ice-cream on a stick - he would see that she heard it, too. He would see it in her dark eyes, at first only when she was straight, but later even when her eyes were hazed by the
It was during this strange, fraught period that Ralph began to go for increasingly long walks through the hot summer afternoons and slow, twilit evenings, returning on many occasions too exhausted to eat. He kept expecting Carolyn to scold him for these outings, to say, Why don't you stop it, you stupid old man? You'll kill yourself if you keep walking in this heat! But she never did, and he gradually realized she didn't even know. That he went out, yes - she knew that. But not all the miles he went, or that when he came home he was often trembling with exhaustion and near sunstroke. Once upon a time it had seemed to Ralph she saw everything, even a change of half an inch in where he parted his hair. No more; the tumor in her brain had stolen her powers of observation, as it would soon steal her life.
So he walked, relishing the heat in spite of the way it sometimes made his head swim and his ears ring, relishing it mostly because of the way it made his ears ring; sometimes there were whole hours when they rang so loudly and his head pounded so fiercely that he couldn't hear the tick of Carolyn's deathwatch.
He walked over much of Derry that hot July, a narrow-shouldered old man with thinning white hair and big hands that still looked capable of hard work. He walked from Witcham Street to the Barrens, from Kansas Street to Neibolt Street, from Main Street to the Kissing Bridge, but his feet took him most frequently west along Harris Avenue, where the still beautiful and much beloved Carolyn Roberts was now spending her last year in a haze of headaches and morphine, to the Harris Avenue Extension and Derry County Airport. He would walk out the Extension - which was treeless and completely exposed to the pitiless sun - until he felt his legs threatening to cave in beneath him, and then double back.
He often paused to catch his second wind in a shady picnic area close to the airport's service entrance. At night this place was a teenage drinking and makeout spot, alive with the sounds of rap coming from boombox radios, but during the days it was the more-or-less exclusive domain of a group Ralph's friend Bill McGovern called the Harris Avenue Old Crocks. The Old Crocks gathered to play chess, to play gin, or just to shoot the shit. Ralph had known many of them for years (had, in fact, gone to grammar school with Stan Eberly), and was comfortable with them . . . as long as they didn't get too nosy. Most didn't. They were old-school Yankees, for the most part, raised to believe that what a man doesn't choose to talk about is no one's business but his own.
It was on one of these walks that he first became aware that something had gone very wrong with Ed Deepneau, his neighbor from up the street.
Ralph had walked much farther out the Harris Avenue Extension than usual that day, possibly because thunderheads had blotted out the sun and a cool, if still sporadic, breeze had begun to blow. He had fallen into a kind of trance, not thinking of anything, not watching anything but the dusty toes of his sneakers, when the four forty-five United Airlines flight from Boston swooped low overhead, startling him back to where he was with the teeth-rattling whine of its jet engines.
He watched it cross above the old GS&WM railroad tracks and the Cyclone fence that marked the edge of the airport, watched it settle toward the runway, marked the blue puffs of smoke as its wheels touched down. Then he glanced at his watch, saw how late it was getting, and looked up with wide eyes at the orange roof of the Howard Johnson's just up the road. He had been in a trance, all right; he had walked more than five miles without the slightest sense of time passing.
Carolyn's time, a voice deep inside his head muttered.
Yes, yes; Carolyn's time. She would be back in the apartment, counting the minutes until she could have another Darvon Complex, and he was out on the far side of the airport . . . halfway to Newport, in fact.
Ralph looked up at the sky and for the first time really saw the bruise-purple thunderheads which were stacking up over the airport. They did not mean rain, not for sure, not yet, but if it did rain, he was almost surely going to be caught in it; there was nowhere to shelter between here and the little picnic area back by Runway 3, and there was nothing there but a ratty little gazebo that always smelled faintly of beer.
He took another look at the orange roof, then reached into his right-hand pocket and felt the little sheaf of bills held by the silver money-clip Carolyn had given him for his sixty-fifth. There was nothing to prevent him walking up to HoJo's and calling a cab . . . except maybe for the thought of how the driver might look at him. Stupid old man, the eyes in the rear-view mirror might say. Stupid old man, walked a lot further than you should on a hot day. If you'd been swimming, you woulda drownded.
Paranoid, Ralph, the voice in his head told him, and now its clucky, slightly patronizing tone reminded him of Bill McGovern.
Well, maybe it was and maybe it wasn't. Either way, he thought he would chance the rain and walk back.
What if it doesn't just rain? Last summer it hailed so hard that one time in August it broke windows all over the west side.
'Let it hail, then,' he said. 'I don't bruise that easy.'
Ralph began to walk slowly back toward town along the shoulder of the Extension, his old high-tops raising small, parched puffs of dust as he went. He could hear the first rumbles of thunder in the west, where the clouds were stacking up. The sun, although blotted out, was refusing to quit without a fight; it edged the thunderheads with bands of brilliant gold and shone through occasional rifts in the clouds like the fragmented beam of some huge movie-projector. Ralph found himself feeling glad he had decided to walk, in spite of the ache in his legs and the steady nagging pain in the small of his back.
One thing, at least, he thought. I'll sleep tonight. I'll sleep like a damn rock.
The verge of the airport - acres of dead brown grass with the rusty railroad tracks sunk in them like the remains of some old wreck - was now on his left. Far in the distance beyond the Cyclone fence he could see the United 747, now the size of a child's toy plane, taxiing toward the small terminal which United and Delta shared.
Ralph's gaze was caught by another vehicle, this one a car, leaving the General Aviation terminal, which stood at this end of the airport. It was heading across the tarmac toward the small service entrance which gave on the Harris Avenue Extension. Ralph had watched a lot of vehicles come and go through that entrance just lately; it was only seventy yards or so from the picnic area where the Harris Avenue Old Crocks gathered. As the car approached the gate, Ralph recognized it as Ed and Helen Deepneau's Datsun . . . and it was really moving.
Ralph stopped on the shoulder, unaware that his hands had curled into anxious fists as the small brown car bore down on the closed gate. You needed a key-card to open the gate from the outside; from the inside an electric-eye beam did the job. But the beam was set close to the gate, very close, and at the speed the Datsun was going . . .
At the last moment (or so it seemed to Ralph), the small brown car scrunched to a stop, the tires sending up puffs of blue smoke that made Ralph think of the 747 touching down, and the gate began to trundle slowly open on its track. Ralph's fisted hands relaxed.
An arm emerged from the driver's side window of the Datsun and began to wave up and down, apparently haranguing the gate, urging it to hurry it up. There was something so absurd about this that Ralph began to smile. The smile died before it had exposed even a gleam of teeth, however. The wind was still freshening from the west, where the thunderheads were, and it carried the screaming voice of the Datsun's driver.
'You son of a bitch fucker! You bastard! Eat my cock! Hurry up! Hurry up and lick shit, you fucking asshole cuntlapper! Fuck
ing booger! Ratdick ringmeat! Suckhole!'
'That can't be Ed Deepneau,' Ralph murmured. He began to walk again without realizing it. 'Can't be.'
Ed was a research chemist at the Hawking Laboratories research facility in Fresh Harbor, one of the kindest, most civil young men Ralph had ever met. Both he and Carolyn were very fond of Ed's wife, Helen, and their new baby, Natalie, as well. A visit from Natalie was one of the few things with the power to lift Carolyn out of her own life these days, and, sensing this, Helen brought her over frequently. Ed never complained. There were men, he knew, who wouldn't have cared to have the missus running to the old folks down the street every time the baby did some new and entrancing thing, especially when the granny-figure in the picture was ill. Ralph had an idea that Ed wouldn't be able to tell someone to go to hell without suffering a sleepless night in consequence, but--
'You fucking whoremaster! Move your sour shit-caked ass, you hear me? Butt-fucker! Cunt-rammer!'
But it sure sounded like Ed. Even from two or three hundred yards away, it certainly sounded like him.
Now the driver of the Datsun was revving his engine like a kid in a muscle-car waiting for the light to turn green. Clouds of exhaust smoke farted up from the tailpipe. As soon as the gate had retracted enough to allow the Datsun passage, the car leaped forward, squirting through the gap with its engine roaring, and when it did, Ralph got a clear look at the driver. He was close enough now for there to be no doubt: it was Ed, all right.