Authors: Stephen King
Tags: #Horror, #Fiction, #Horror Fiction, #General, #Psychological, #Psychological Fiction, #Murderers, #Cellular Telephones, #Cell Phones
“I know what he is,” the cop replied, and Clay saw the cop had his service automatic in his hand. He had no idea if the cop had drawn it after kneeling or if he’d had it out the whole time. Clay had been too busy being grateful to notice.
The cop looked at the lunatic. Leaned close to the lunatic. Almost seemed to
himself to the lunatic. “Hey, buddy, how ya doin?” he murmured. “I mean, what the haps?”
The lunatic lunged at the cop and put his hands on the cop’s throat. The instant he did this, the cop slipped the muzzle of his gun into the hollow of the lunatic’s temple and pulled the trigger. A great spray of blood leaped through the graying hair on the opposite side of the lunatic’s head and he fell back to the sidewalk, throwing both arms out melodramatically:
Look, Ma, I’m dead.
Clay looked at the little man with the mustache and the little man with the mustache looked at him. Then they looked back at the cop, who had holstered his weapon and was taking a leather case from the breast pocket of his uniform shirt. Clay was glad to see that the hand he used to do this was shaking a little. He was now frightened of the cop, but would have been more frightened still if the cop’s hands had been steady. And what had just happened was no isolated case. The gunshot seemed to have done something to Clay’s hearing, cleared a circuit in it or something. Now he could hear other gunshots, isolated cracks punctuating the escalating cacophony of the day.
The cop took a card—Clay thought it was a business card—from the slim leather case, then put the case back in his breast pocket. He held the card between the first two fingers of his left hand while his right hand once more dropped to the butt of his service weapon. Near his highly polished shoes, blood from the lunatic’s shattered head was pooling on the sidewalk. Close by, Power Suit Woman lay in another pool of blood, which was now starting to congeal and turn a darker shade of red.
“What’s your name, sir?” the cop asked Clay.
“Can you tell me who the president is?”
Clay told him.
“Sir, can you tell me today’s date?”
“It’s the first of October. Do you know what’s—”
The cop looked at the little man with the mustache. “Your name?”
“I’m Thomas McCourt, 140 Salem Street, Maiden. I—”
“Can you name the man who ran against the president in the last election?”
Tom McCourt did so.
“Who is Brad Pitt married to?”
McCourt threw up his hands. “How should
know? Some movie star, I think.”
“Okay.” The cop handed Clay the card he’d been holding between his fingers. “I’m Officer Ulrich Ashland. This is my card. You may be called on to testify about what just happened here, gentlemen. What happened was you needed assistance, I rendered it, I was attacked, I responded.”
“You wanted to kill him,” Clay said.
“Yes, sir, we’re putting as many of them out of their misery as fast as we can,” Officer Ashland agreed. “And if you tell any court or board of inquiry that I said that, I’ll deny it. But it has to be done. These people are popping up everywhere. Some only commit suicide. Many others attack.” He hesitated, then added: “So far as we can tell,
the others attack.” As if to underline this, there was another gunshot from across the street, a pause, then three more, in rapid succession, from the shadowed forecourt of the Four Seasons Hotel, which was now a tangle of broken glass, broken bodies, crashed vehicles, and spilled blood. “It’s like the fucking
Night of the Living Dead.”
Officer Ulrich Ashland started back toward Boylston Street with his hand still on the butt of his gun. “Except these people aren’t dead. Unless we help them, that is.”
“Rick!” It was a cop on the other side of the street, calling urgently. “Rick, we gotta go to Logan! All units! Get over here!”
Officer Ashland checked for traffic, but there was none. Except for the wrecks, Boylston Street was momentarily deserted. From the surrounding area, however, came the sound of more explosions and automotive crashes. The smell of smoke was getting stronger. He started across the street, got halfway, then turned back. “Get inside somewhere,” he said. “Get under cover. You’ve been lucky once. You may not be lucky again.”
“Officer Ashland,” Clay said. “Your guys don’t use cell phones, do you?”
Ashland regarded him from the center of Boylston Street—not, in Clay’s opinion, a safe place to be. He was thinking of the rogue Duck Boat. “No, sir,” he said. “We have radios in our cars. And these.” He patted the radio in his belt, hung opposite his holster. Clay, a comic-book fiend since he could read, thought briefly of Batman’s marvelous utility belt.
“Don’t use them,” Clay said. “Tell the others.
Don’t use the cell phones.”
“Why do you say that?”
were.” He pointed to the dead woman and the unconscious girl. “Just before they went crazy. And I’ll bet you anything that the guy with the knife—”
the cop on the other side shouted again.
“Hurry the fuck up!”
“Get under cover,” Officer Ashland repeated, and trotted to the Four Seasons side of the street. Clay wished he could have repeated the thing about the cell phones, but on the whole he was just glad to see the cop out of harm’s way. Not that he believed anyone in Boston really was, not this afternoon.
“What are you doing?” Clay asked Tom McCourt. “Don’t touch him, he might be, I don’t know, contagious.”
“I’m not going to touch him,” Tom said, “but I need my shoe.”
The shoe, lying near the splayed fingers of the lunatic’s left hand, was at least away from the exit-spray of blood. Tom hooked his fingers delicately into the back and pulled it to him. Then he sat down on the curb of Boylston Street—right where the Mister Softee truck had been parked in what now seemed to Clay like another lifetime—and slipped his foot into it. “The laces are broken,” he said. “That damn nutball broke the laces.” And he started crying again.
“Do the best you can,” Clay said. He began working the butcher knife out of the portfolio. It had been slammed through with tremendous force, and he found he had to wiggle it up and down to free it. It came out reluctantly, in a series of jerks, and with ugly scraping sounds that made him want to cringe. He kept wondering who inside had gotten the worst of it. That was stupid, nothing but shock-think, but he couldn’t help it. “Can’t you tie it down close to the bottom?”
“Yeah, I think s—”
Clay had been hearing a mechanical mosquito whine that now grew to an approaching drone. Tom craned up from his place on the curb. Clay turned around. The little caravan of BPD cars pulling away from the Four Seasons halted in front of Citylights and the crashed Duck Boat with their gumballs flashing. Cops leaned out the windows as a private plane—something midsize, maybe a Cessna or the kind they called a Twin Bonanza, Clay didn’t really know planes—came cruising slowly over the buildings between Boston Harbor and the Boston Common, dropping fast. The plane banked drunkenly over the park, its lower wing almost brushing the top of one autumn-bright tree, then settled into the canyon of Charles Street, as if the pilot had decided that was a runway. Then, less than twenty feet above the ground, it tilted left and the wing on that side struck the façade of a gray stone building, maybe a bank, on the corner of Charles and Beacon. Any sense that the plane was moving slowly, almost gliding, departed in that instant. It spun around on the caught wing as savagely as a tetherball nearing the end of its rope, slammed into the redbrick building standing next to the bank, and disappeared in bright petals of red-orange fire. The shockwave hammered across the park. Ducks took wing before it.
Clay looked down and saw he was holding the butcher knife in his hand. He had pulled it free while he and Tom McCourt were watching the plane crash. He wiped it first one way and then the other on the front of his shirt, taking pains not to cut himself (now
hands were shaking). Then he slipped it—very carefully—into his belt, all the way down to the handle. As he did this, one of his early comic-book efforts occurred to him… a bit of juvenilia, actually.
“Joxer the Pirate stands here at your service, my pretty one,” he murmured.
“What?” Tom asked. He was now beside Clay, staring at the boiling inferno of the airplane on the far side of Boston Common. Only the tail stuck out of the fire. On it Clay could read the number
. Above it was what looked like some sports team’s logo.
Then that was gone, too.
He could feel the first waves of heat begin to pump gently against his face.
“Nothing,” he told the little man in the tweed suit. “Leave us boogie.”
“Let’s get out of here.”
Clay started to walk along the southern side of the Common, in the direction he’d been heading at three o’clock, eighteen minutes and an eternity ago. Tom McCourt hurried to keep up. He really was a
short man. “Tell me,” he said, “do you often talk nonsense?”
“Sure,” Clay said. “Just ask my wife.”
“Where are we going?” Tom asked. “I was headed for the T.” He pointed to a green-painted kiosk about a block ahead. A small crowd of people were milling there. “Now I’m not sure being underground is such a hot idea.”
“Me, either,” Clay said. “I’ve got a room at a place called the Atlantic Avenue Inn, about five blocks further up.”
Tom brightened. “I think I know it. On Louden, actually, just
“Right. Let’s go there. We can check the TV And I want to call my wife.”
“On the room phone.”
“The room phone, check. I don’t even
a cell phone.”
“I have one, but I left it home. It’s broken. Rafe—my cat—knocked it off the counter. I was meaning to buy a new one this very day, but… listen. Mr. Riddell—”
“Clay, then. Are you sure the phone in your room will be safe?”
Clay stopped. He hadn’t even considered this idea. But if the landlines weren’t okay, what
be? He was about to say this to Tom when a sudden brawl broke out at the T station up ahead. There were cries of panic, screams, and more of that wild babbling—he recognized it for what it was now, the signature scribble of madness. The little knot of people that had been milling around the gray stone pillbox and the steps going below-ground broke up. A few of them ran into the street, two with their arms around each other, snatching looks back over their shoulders as they went. More—most—ran into the park, all in different directions, which sort of broke Clay’s heart. He felt better somehow about the two with their arms around each other.
Still at the T station and on their feet were two men and two women.
Clay was pretty sure it was they who had emerged from the station and driven off the rest. As Clay and Tom stood watching from half a block away, these remaining four fell to fighting with each other. This brawl had the hysterical, killing viciousness he had already seen, but no discernible pattern. It wasn’t three against one, or two against two, and it certainly wasn’t the boys against the girls; in fact, one of the “girls” was a woman who looked to be in her middle sixties, with a stocky body and a no-nonsense haircut that made Clay think of several women teachers he’d known who were nearing retirement.
They fought with feet and fists and nails and teeth, grunting and shouting and circling the bodies of maybe half a dozen people who had already been knocked unconscious, or perhaps killed. One of the men stumbled over an outstretched leg and went to his knees. The younger of the two women dropped on top of him. The man on his knees swept something up from the pavement at the head of the stairs—Clay saw with no surprise whatever that it was a cell phone—and slammed it into the side of the woman’s face. The cell phone shattered, tearing the woman’s cheek open and showering a freshet of blood onto the shoulder of her light jacket, but her scream was of rage rather than pain. She grabbed the kneeling man’s ears like a pair of jughandles, dropped her own knees into his lap, and shoved him backwards into the gloom of the T’s stairwell. They went out of sight locked together and thrashing like cats in heat.
“Come on,” Tom murmured, twitching Clay’s shirt with an odd delicacy. “Come on. Other side of the street. Come on.”
Clay allowed himself to be led across Boylston Street. He assumed that either Tom McCourt was watching where they were going or he was lucky, because they got to the other side okay. They stopped again in front of Colonial Books (Best of the Old, Best of the New), watching as the unlikely victor of the T station battle went striding into the park in the direction of the burning plane, with blood dripping onto her collar from the ends of her zero-tolerance gray hair. Clay wasn’t a bit surprised that the last one standing had turned out to be the lady who looked like a librarian or Latin teacher a year or two away from a gold watch. He had taught with his share of such ladies, and the ones who made it to that age were, more often than not, next door to indestructible.
He opened his mouth to say something like this to Tom—in his mind it sounded quite witty—and what came out was a watery croak. His vision had come over shimmery, too. Apparently Tom McCourt, the little man in the tweed suit, wasn’t the only one having trouble with his waterworks. Clay swiped an arm across his eyes, tried again to talk, and managed no more than another of those watery croaks.
“That’s okay,” Tom said. “Better let it come.”
And so, standing there in front of a shop window filled with old books surrounding a Royal typewriter hailing from long before the era of cellular communications, Clay did. He cried for Power Suit Woman, for Pixie Light and Pixie Dark, and he cried for himself, because Boston was not his home, and home had never seemed so far.
Above the Common Boylston Street narrowed and became so choked with cars—both those wrecked and those plain abandoned—that they no longer had to worry about kamikaze limos or rogue Duck Boats. Which was a relief. From all around them the city banged and crashed like New Year’s Eve in hell. There was plenty of noise close by, as well—car alarms and burglar alarms, mostly—but the street itself was for the moment eerily deserted.
Get under cover,
Officer Ulrich Ashland had said.
You’ve been lucky once. You may not be lucky again.