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The Monkey

Stephen King

  The Monkey

  Stephen King

  Stephen King: The Monkey

  ELECTRONIC VERSION 1.0 (Apr 04 00). If you find and correct errors in the text, please update the version number by 0.1 and redistribute.

  When Hal Shelburn saw it, when his son Dennis pulled it out of a moulderlng Ralston-Purina carton that had been pushed far back under one attic eave, such a feeling of horror and dismay rose in him that for one moment he thought he would scream. He put one fist to his mouth, as if to cram it back ... and then merely coughed into his fist. Neither Terry nor Dennis noticed, but Petey looked around, momentarily curious.

  "Hey, neat," Dennis said respectfully. It was a tone Hal rarely got from the boy anymore himself. Dennis was twelve.

  "What is it'?" Peter asked. He glanced at his father again before his eyes were dragged back to the thing his big brother had found. "What is it, Daddy?"

  "It's a monkey, fartbrains," Dennis said. "Haven't you ever seen a monkey before'?"

  "Don't call your brother fartbrains," Terry said automatically, and began to examine a box of curtains. The curtains were slimy with mildew and she dropped them quickly. "Uck."

  "Can I have it, Daddy'?" Petey asked. He was nine.

  "What do you mean?" Dennis cried. "I found it!"

  "Boys, please," Terry said. "I'm getting a headache."

  Hal barely heard them. The monkey glimmered up at him from his older son's hands, gnnning its old familiar grin. The same grin that had haunted his nightmares as a kid, haunted them until he had--

  Outside a cold gust of wind rose, and for a moment lips with no flesh blew a long note through the old. rusty gutter outside. Petey stepped closer to his father, eyes moving uneasily to the rough attic roof through which nailheads poked.

  "What was that, Daddy'?" he asked as the whistle died to a guttural buzz.

  "Just the wind," Hal said, still looking at the monkey. Its cymbals, crescents of brass rather than full circles in the weak light of the one naked bulb, were moveless, perhaps a foot apart, and he added automatically, "Wind can whistle, but it can't carry a tune." Then he realized that was a saying of Uncle Will's, and a goose ran over his grave.

  The note came again, the wind coming off Crystal Lake in a long, droning swoop and then wavering in the gutter. Half a dozen small drafts puffed cold October air into Hal's face--God. this place was so much tike the back closet of the house in Hartford that they might all have been transported thirty years back in time.

  I won't think about that.

  But now of course it was all he could think about.

  In the back closet where I found that goddammed monkey in that same box.

  Terry. had moved away to examine a wooden crate filled with knickknacks, duck-walking because the pitch of the eaves was so sharp.

  "I don't like it," Petey said, and felt for Hal's hand. "Dennis can have it if he wants. Can we go, Daddy?"

  "Worried about ghosts, chickenguts'?" Dennis inquired.

  "Dennis, you stop it," Terry said absently. She picked up a waferthin cup with a Chinese pattern. "This is nice. This--"

  Hal saw that Dennis had found the wind-up key in the monkey's back. Terror flew through him on dark wings. "Don't do that!"

  It came out more sharply than he had intended, and he had snatched the monkey out of Dennis's hands before he was really aware he had done it. Dennis looked around at him, startled. Terry had also glanced back over her shoulder, and Petey looked up. For a moment they were all silent, and the wind whistled again, very low this time, like an unpleasant invitation.

  "I mean, it's probably broken," Hal said.

  It used to be broken . . . except when it wanted not to be.

  "Well, you didn't have to grab," Dennis said.

  "Dennis, shut up"

  Dennis blinked and for a moment looked almost uneasy. Hal hadn't spoken to him so sharply in a tong time. Not since he had lost his job with National Aerodyne in California two years before and they had moved to Texas. Dennis decided not to push it ... for now. He turned back to the Ralston-Purina canon and began to root through it again, but the other stuff was nothing but junk. Broken toys bleeding springs and stuffings.

  The wind was louder now, hooting instead of whistling. The attic began to creak softly, making a noise like footsteps.

  "PleaseĀ· Daddy'?" Petey asked, only loud enough for his father to hear.

  "Yeah," he said. "Terry, let's go."

  "I'm not through with this "

  "I said let's go."

  It was her turn to look startled.

  They had taken two adjoining rooms in a motel. By ten that night the boys were asleep in their room and Terry was asleep in the adults' room. She had taken two Valiums on the ride back from the home place in Casco. To keep her nerves from giving her a migraine. Just lately she took a lot of Valium. It had started around the time National Aerodyne had laid Hal off. For the last two years he had been working for Texas Instruments it was $4,000 less a year, but it was work. He told Terry they were lucky. She agreed. There were plenty of software architects drawing unemployment, he said. She agreed. The company housing in Arnette was every bit as good as the place in Fresno, he said. She agreed, but he thought her agreement to all of it was a lie.

  And he was losing Dennis. He could feel the kid going, achieving a premature escape velocity, so long, Dennis, bye-bye stranger, it was nice sharing this train with you. Terry said she thought the boy was smoking reefer. She smelled it sometimes. You have to talk to him, Hal. And he agreed, but so far he had not.

  The boys were asleep. Terry was asleep. Hal went into the bathroom and locked the door and sat down on the closed lid of the john and looked at the monkey.

  He hated the way it felt, that soft brown nappy fur, worn bald in spots. He hated its grin. that monkey grins just like a nigger, Uncle Will had said once, but it didn't grin like a nigger or like anything human. Its grin was all teeth, and if you wound up the key. the lips would move. the teeth would seem to get bigger, to become vampire teeth, the lips would writhe and the cymbals would bang, stupid monkey, stupid clockwork monkey, stupid, stupid

  He dropped it. His hands were shaking and he dropped it. The key clicked on the bathroom tile as it struck the floor. The sound seemed very loud in the stillness. It grinned at him with its murky amber eyes, doll's eyes, filled with idiot glee, its brass cymbals poised as if to strike up a march for some band from hell. On the bottom the words MADE IN HONG KONG were stamped.

  "You can't be here," he whispered. "I threw you down the well when I was nine."

  The monkey grinned up at him.

  Outside in the night, a black capful of wind shook the motel.

  Hal's brother Bill and Bill's wife Collette met them at Uncle Will's and Aunt Ida's the next day. "Did it ever cross your mind that a death in the family is a really lousy way to renew the family connection'?" Bill asked him with a bit of a grin. He had been named for Uncle Will. Will and Bill, champions of the rodayo, Uncle Will used to say, and ruffle Bill's hair. It was one of his sayings ... like the wind can whistle but it can't carry a tune. Uncle Will had died six years before, and Aunt Ida had lived on here alone, until a stroke had taken her just the previous week. Very sudden, Bill had said when he called long distance to give Hal the news. As if he could know; as if anyone could know. She had died alone.

  "Yeah," Hal said. "The thought crossed my mind."

  They looked at the place together, the home place where they had finished growing up. Their father, a merchant mariner, had simply disappeared as if from the very, face of the earth when they were young; Bill claimed to remember him vaguely, but Hal had no memories of him at all. Their mother had died when Bill was ten and Hal eight. Aunt Ida had brought them here on a Greyhound bus which left from Hartford,
and they had been raised here, and gone to college from here. This had been the place they were homesick for. Bill had stayed in Maine and now had a healthy law practice in Portland.

  Hal saw that Petey had wandered off toward the blackberry tangles that lay on the eastern side of the house in a mad jumble. "Stay away from there, Petey," he called.

  Petey looked back, questioning. Hal felt simple love for the boy rush him ... and he suddenly thought of the monkey again.

  "Why, Dad?"

  "The old well's back there someplace," Bill said. "But I'll be damned if I remember just where. Your dad's right, Petey --it's a good place to stay away from. Thorns'll do a job on you. Right, Hal?"

  "Right," Hat said automatically. Petey moved away, not looking back, and then started down the embankment toward the small shingle of beach where Dennis was skipping stones over the water. Hal felt something in his chest loosen a little.

  Bill might have forgotten where the old well was, but late that afternoon Hal went to it unerringly, shouldering his way through the brambles that tore at his old flannel jacket and hunted for his eyes. He reached it and stood there, breathing hard, looking at the rotted, warped boards that covered it. After a moment's debate, he knelt (his knees fired twin pistol shots) and moved two of the boards aside.

  From the bottom of that wet, rock-lined throat a drowning face stared up at him, wide eyes. grimacing mouth. A moan escaped him. It was not loud, except in his heart. There it had been very loud.

  It was his own face in the dark water.

  Not the monkey's. For a moment he had thought it was the monkey's.

  He was shaking. Shaking all over.

  I threw it down the well. I threw it down the well, please God don't let me be crazy, I threw it down the well.

  The well had gone dry the summer Johnny McCabe died, the year after Bill and Hal came to stay with Uncle Will and Aunt Ida. Uncle Wilt had borrowed money from the bank to have an artesian well sunk, and the blackberry tangles had grown up around the old dug well. The dry well.

  Except the water had come back. Like the monkey.

  This time the memory would not be denied. Hal sat there helplessly, letting it come, trying to go with it, to ride it like a suffer riding a monster wave that will crush him if he falls off his board, just trying to get through it so it would be gone again.

  He had crept out here with the monkey late that summer, and the blackberries had been out, the smell of them thick and cloying. No one came in here to pick, although Aunt Ida would sometimes stand at the edge of the tangles and pick a cupful of berries into her apron. In here the blackberries had gone past ripe to overripe, some of them were rotting, sweating a thick white fluid like pus, and the crickets sang maddeningly in the high grass underfoot, their endless cry: Reeeeee--

  The thorns tore at him, brought dots of blood onto his cheeks and bare arms. He made no effort to avoid their sting. He had been blind with terror so blind that he had come within inches of stumbling onto the rotten boards that covered the well, perhaps within inches of crashing thirty feet to the well's muddy bottom. He had pinwheeled his arms for balance, and more thorns had branded his forearms. It was that memory that had caused him to call Petey back sharply.

  That was the day Johnny McCabe died--his best friend. Johnny had been climbing the rungs up to his treehouse in his backyard. The two of them had spent many hours up there that summer, playing pirate, seeing make-believe galleons out on the lake, unlimbering the cannons, reefing the stuns'l (whatever that was), preparing to board. Johnny had been climbing up to the treehouse as he had done a thousand times before, and the rung just below the trapdoor in the bottom of the treehouse had snapped off in his hands and Johnny had fallen thirty feet to the ground and had broken his neck and it was the monkey's fault, the monkey, the goddam hateful monkey. When the phone rang, when Aunt Ida's mouth dropped open and then formed an O of horror as her friend Milly from down the road told her the news, when Aunt Ida said, "Come out on the porch, Hal, I have to tell you some bad news--" he had thought with sick horror, The monkey! What's the monkey done now?

  There had been no reflection of his face trapped at the bottom of the well the day he threw the monkey down, only stone cobbles and the stink of wet mud. He had looked at the monkey lying there on the wiry grass that grew between the blackberry tangles, its cymbals poised, its grinning teeth huge between its splayed lips, its fur rubbed away in balding, mangy patches here and there, its glazed eyes.

  "I hate you," he hissed at it. He wrapped his hand around its loathsome body, feeling the nappy fur crinkle. It grinned at him as he held it up in front of his face. "Go on!" he dared it, beginning to cry for the first time that day. He shook it. The poised cymbals trembled minutely. The monkey spoiled everything good. Everything. "Go on, clap them! Clap them!" The monkey only grinned.

  "Go on and clap them!" His voice rose hysterically. "Fraidycat, fraidycat, go on and clap them/ I dare you! DOUBLE DARE YOU/"

  Its brownish-yellow eyes. Its huge gleeful teeth.

  He threw it down the well then, mad with grief and terror. He saw it turn over once on its way down, a simian acrobat doing a trick, and the sun glinted one last time on those cymbals. It struck the bottom with a thud, and that must have jogged its clockwork, for suddenly the cymbals did begin to beat. Their steady, deliberate, and tinny banging rose to his ears, echoing and fey in the stone throat of the dead well: jang-jang jang-jang--

  Hat clapped his hands over his mouth, and for a moment he could see it down there, perhaps only in the eye of imagination . . . lying there in the mud, eyes glaring up at the small circle of his boy's face peering over the lip of the well (as if marking that face forever), lips expanding and contracting around those grinning teeth, cymbals clapping, funny wind-up monkey.

  Jang-jang-jang-jang, who's dead? Jang-jang-jang-jang, is it Johnny McCabe. falling with his eves wide. doing his own acrobatic somersautt as he falls through the bright summer vacation air with the splintered rung still held in his hands to strike the ground with a single bitter snapping sound, with blood flying out of his nose and mouth and wide eyes? Is it Johnny, Hal? Or is it you'?

  Moaning. Hal had shoved the boards across the hole, getting splinters in his hands, not caring, not even aware of them until later. And still he could hear it, even through the boards, muffled now and somehow all the worse for that: it was down there in stone-faced dark, clapping its cymbals and jerking its repulsive body, the sound coming up like sounds heard in a dream.

  Jang-jang-jang-jang, who's dead this time?

  He fought and battered his way back through the blackberry creepers. Thorns stitched fresh lines of welling blood briskly across his face and burdocks caught in the cuffs of his jeans, and he fell full-length once, his ears still jangling, as if it had followed him. Uncle Will found him later, sitting on an old tire in the garage and sobbing, and he had thought Hal was crying for his dead friend. So he had been: but he had also cried in the aftermath of terror.

  He had thrown the monkey down the well in the afternoon. That evening, as twilight crept in through a shimmering mantle of ground-tog, a car moving too fast for the reduced visibility had run down Aunt Ida's Manx cat in the road and gone right on. There had been guts everywhere, Bill had thrown up, but Hal had only turned his face away, his pale, still face, hearing Aunt Ida's sobbing (this on top of the news about the McCabe boy had caused a fit of weeping that was almost hysterics, and it was almost two hours before Uncle Will could calm her completely) as if from miles away. In his heart there was a cold and exultant joy. It hadn't been his turn. It had been Aunt Ida's Manx, not him, not his brother Bill or his Uncle Will just two champions of the rodayo). And now the monkey was gone, it was down the well, and one scruffy Manx cat with ear mites was not too great a price to pay. If the monkey wanted to clap its hellish cymbals now, let it. It could clap and clash them for the crawling bugs and beetles, the dark things that made their home in the well's stone gullet. It would rot down there. Its loathsome cogs and
wheels and springs would rust down there. It would die down there. In the mud and the darkness. Spiders would spin it a shroud.

  But... it had come back.

  Slowly, Hal covered the well again, as he had on that day, and in his ears he heard the phantom echo of the monkey's cymbals: Jang-jang-jang-jang, who's dead, Hal? Is it Terry? Dennis? Is it Petey, Hal? He's your favorite, isn't he? Is it him? jang-jang-jang--

  "Put that down/"

  Petey flinched and dropped the monkey, and for one nightmare moment Hal thought that would do it, that the jolt would jog its machinery and the cymbals would begin to beat and clash.

  "Daddy, you scared me."

  "I'm sorry. 1 just... I don't want you to play with that." The others had gone to see a movie, and he had thought he would beat them back to the motel. But he had stayed at the home place longer than he would have guessed; the old, hateful memories seemed to move in their own eternal time zone.

  Terry was sitting near Dennis, watching The Beverly Hillbillies. She watched the old, grainy print with a steady, bemused concentration that spoke of a recent Valium pop. Dennis was reading a rock magazine with Culture Club on the cover. Petey had been sitting cross-legged on the carpet goofing with the monkey.

  "It doesn't work anyway," Petey said. Which explains why Dennis let him have it, Hat thought, and then felt ashamed and angry at himself. He felt this uncontrollable hostility toward Dennis more and more often, but in the aftermath he felt demeaned and tacky . . . helpless.

  "No," he said. "It's old. I'm going to throw it away. Give it to me."

  He held out his hand and Peter, looking troubled, handed it over.

  Dennis said to his mother, "Pop's turning into a friggin schizophrenic."

  Hal was across the room even before he knew he was going, the monkey in one hand, grinning as if in approbation, He hauled Dennis out of his chair by the shirt. There was a purring sound as a seam came adrift somewhere. Dennis looked almost comically shocked. His copy of Rock Wave fell to the floor.