Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Rose Madder

Stephen King

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page












  "Vivid, startling . . . a compelling page-turner."

  --Houston Chronicle

  Rose Daniels saw the single drop of blood on the bedsheet--and knew she must escape from her macabre marriage before it was too late.

  But escape was not as easy as fleeing to a new city, picking a new name, finding a new job, lucking out with a new man. Her husband, Norman, was a cop, with a cop's training, a cop's technology, a cop's bloodhound instincts. And even worse, Norman was--well, Norman. Rose knew she had been married to a savage brute. Now she realized she was being tracked down by a terrifying monster--but the only place she found to hide could be the most dangerous of all....

  "A corker, tense and frightening throughout ... Rose is the most richly portrayed female King's ever created."

  --Detroit Free Press

  "A boiling-hot shocker."

  --Cleveland Plain Dealer

  "Rousing ... vivid and sensitive."

  --New York Times

  "One of King's most engrossing horror novels. Relentlessly paced and brilliantly orchestrated.... A phantasmagorical roller-coaster ride, peopled by a broad array of indelibly characterized men and women and fueled by an air of danger immediate and overwhelming."

  --Publishers Weekly

  "Stephen King is a marvelous writer. His style crackles. His storyline skitters along, pausing for the kaboom, then moves to the next terror. His imagination is beyond the edge.... He had me hooked."

  --Baltimore Sun

  "Stephen King can make your heart pound and turn you into a vampire thirsting for blood.... He gets more skillful with every book."

  --Chirs Chase, Books

  "King raises the literary ante ... Rose Madder certainly won't disappoint King's golden horde of fans, but this eerie and remarkably mature work may even win over some readers from literature's garden party district--if they don't mind stepping through a few puddles of gore and goo."

  --Chicago Sun-Times

  "A taut thriller-novel ... about as good as they come."

  --St. Louis Post-Dispatch

  "Disturbing, haunting ... King paints a vivid nightmare."


  "Enjoyable ... the kind of horror and suspense mixed with flights of fantasy King readers relish."

  --Baton Rouge magazine

  "An evocative work ... Rose Madder is best when the author places us inside the twisted circuits of Norman's brain, or reveals the slow blooming of Rose's personality as she moves from fear to a tenuous engagement with the world. Rose is a strong character, one of the pleasures of this book."

  --New York Newsday

  "Masterful ... King is in a league of his own."

  --Richmond Times Dispatch

  "A work filled with terror from the very first page.... Fiction has seldom produced a villain so evil... highly recommended."

  --Montgomery Advertiser

  "A whole lot of horror ... but Stephen King readers aren't a faint lot. They can take it."

  --New York Daily News




  'Salem's Lot

  The Shining

  The Stand

  The Dead Zone




  The Gunslinger


  Pet Sematary

  Cycle of the Werewolf

  The Talisman

  (with Peter Straub)


  The Eyes of the Dragon


  The Tommyknockers


  The Drawing

  of the Three


  The Waste Lands

  The Dark Half

  Needful Things

  Gerald's Game

  Dolores Claiborne


  Rose Madder


  The Green Mile


  Wizard and Glass

  Bag of Bones

  The Girl Who Loved Tom



  Black House

  (with Peter Straub)

  From a Buick 8


  Wolves of the Calla



  The Long Walk


  The Running Man


  The Regulators


  Night Shift

  Different Seasons

  Skeleton Crew

  Four Past Midnight

  Nightmares and


  Hearts in Atlantis

  Everything's Eventual


  Danse Macabre

  On Writing



  Cat's Eye

  Silver Bullet

  Maximum Overdrive

  Pet Sematary

  Golden Years


  The Stand

  The Shining

  Rose Red

  Storm of the Century


  Published by New American Library, a division of

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,

  New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England

  Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2,

  Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)

  Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)

  Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India

  Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

  Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue,

  Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:

  80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England

  Published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Previously published in a Viking edition.

  First Signet Printing, June 1996

  Copyright (c) Stephen King, 1995

  Frontispiece illustration copyright (c) Mark Geyer, 1995

  All Rights Reserved

  Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint from the following copyrighted selections: Lyrics from "Really Rosie" by Maurice Sendak. Copyright (c) Maurice Sendak, 1975.

  "Out of the Sea, Early" from The Complete Poems to Solve by May Swenson. Reprinted with permission of Macmillan Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing division. Copyright (c) The Literary Estate of May Swenson, 1993.

  "Ramblin' Rose" words and music by Noel Sherman and Joe Sherman. Copyright (c) Erasmus Music, Inc., 1962, (renewed 1990). Administered by the Songwriters' Guild of America, Weehawken, New Jersey. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

; "The Race Is On" by Don Rollins. Copyright (c) Tree Publishing Co., IncdGlad Music (renewed), 1964. All rights administered by Sony Music Publishing, 8 Music Square West, Nashville, Tennessee 37203. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

  "The Name Game" words and music by Lincoln Chase and Shirley Elliston. Copyright (c) EMI Music Publishing o/b/o Al Gallico Music Corp., 1964 (renewed 1992). Publications, Inc.

  "Hank Panky" by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Copyright (c) Trio Music Co., Inc. & Alley Music Corp. (renewed), 1962. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

  "Highway 61 Revisited" by Bob Dylan copyright (c) Wamer Bros. Music, 1965. Copyright (c) renewed Special Rider Music, 1993. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

  REGISTERED TRADEMARK-MARCA REGISTRADA Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.


  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

  eISBN : 978-1-10113801-4

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.

  This book is for

  Joan Marks.

  I'm really Rosie, And I'm Rosie Real, You better believe me, I'm a great big deal...

  --Maurice Sendak

  A bloody egg yolk. A burnt hole spreading in a sheet. An enraged rose threatening to bloom.

  --May Swenson



  She sits in the corner, trying to draw air out of a room which seemed to have plenty just a few minutes ago and now seems to have none. From what sounds like a great distance she can hear a thin whoop-whoop sound, and she knows this is air going down her throat and then sliding back out again in a series of feverish little gasps, but that doesn't change the feeling that she's drowning here in the comer of her living room, looking at the shredded remains of the paperback novel she was reading when her husband came home.

  Not that she cares much. The pain is too great for her to worry about such minor matters as respiration, or how there seems to be no air in the air she is breathing. The pain has swallowed her as the whale reputedly swallowed Jonah, that holy draft-dodger. It throbs like a poison sun glowing deep down in the middle of her, in a place where until tonight there was only the quiet sense of a new thing growing.

  There has never been any pain like this pain, not that she can remember--not even when she was thirteen and swerved her bike to avoid a pothole and wiped out, bouncing her head off the asphalt and opening up a cut that turned out to be exactly eleven stitches long. What she remembered about that was a silvery jolt of pain followed by starry dark surprise which had actually been a brief faint ... but that pain had not been this agony. This terrible agony. Her hand on her belly registers flesh that is no longer like flesh at all; it is as if she has been unzipped and her living baby replaced with a hot rock.

  Oh God please, she thinks. Please let the baby be okay.

  But now, as her breath finally begins to ease a little, she realizes that the baby is not okay, that he has made sure of that much, anyway. When you're four months pregnant the baby is still more a part of you than of itself, and when you're sitting in a corner with your hair stuck in strings to your sweaty cheeks and it feels as if you've swallowed a hot stone--

  Something is putting sinister, slippery little kisses against the insides of her thighs.

  "No," she whispers, "no. Oh my dear sweet God, no. Good God, sweet God, dear God, no."

  Let it be sweat, she thinks. Let it be sweat... or maybe I peed myself. Yes, that's probably it. It hurt so bad after he hit me the third time that I peed myself and didn't even know it. That's it.

  Except it isn't sweat and it isn't pee. It's blood. She's sitting here in the comer of the living room, looking at a dismembered paperback lying half on the sofa and under the coffee-table, and her womb is getting ready to vomit up the baby it has so far carried with no complaint or problem whatsoever.

  "No, " she moans, "no, God, please say no."

  She can see her husband's shadow, as twisted and elongated as a cornfield effigy or the shadow of a hanged man, dancing and bobbing on the wall of an archway leading from the living room into the kitchen. She can see shadow-phone pressed to shadow-ear, and the long corkscrew shadow-cord. She can even see his shadow-fingers pulling the kinks out of the cord, holding for a moment and then releasing it back into its former curls again, like a bad habit you just can't get rid of.

  Her first thought is that he's calling the police. Ridiculous, of course--he is the police.

  "Yes, it's an emergency," he's saying. "You're goddam tooting it is, beautiful, she's pregnant." He listens, slipping the cord through his fingers, and when he speaks again his tone is testy. Just that faint irritation in his voice is enough to renew her terror and fill her mouth with a steely taste. Who would cross him, contradict him? Oh, who would be so foolish as to do that? Only someone who didn't know him, of course--someone who didn't know him the way she knew him. "Of course I won't move her, do you think I'm an idiot?"

  Her fingers creep under her dress and up her thigh to the soaked, hot cotton of her panties. Please, she thinks. How many times has that word gone through her mind since he tore the book out of her hands? She doesn't know, but here it is again. Please let the liquid on my fingers be clear. Please, God. Please let it be clear.

  But when she brings her hand out from under her dress the tips of her fingers are red with blood. As she looks at them, a monstrous cramp rips through her like a hacksaw blade. She has to slam her teeth together to stifle a scream. She knows better than to scream in this house.

  "Never mind all that bullshit, just get here! Fast!" He slams the phone back into its cradle.

  His shadow swells and bobs on the wall and then he's standing in the archway, looking at her out of his flushed and handsome face. The eyes in that face are as expressionless as shards of glass twinkling beside a country road.

  "Now look at this," he says, holding out both hands briefly and then letting them drop back to his sides with a soft clap. "Look at this mess."

  She holds her own hand out to him, showing him the bloody tips of her fingers--it is as close to accusation as she can get.

  "I know," he says, speaking as if his knowing explained everything, put the whole business in a coherent, rational context. He turns and stares fixedly at the dismembered paperback. He picks up the piece on the couch, then bends to get the one under the coffee-table. As he straightens up again, she can see the cover, which shows a woman in a white peasant blouse standing on the prow of a ship. Her hair is blowing back dramatically in the wind, exposing her creamy shoulders. The title, Misery's Journey, has been rendered in bright red foil.

  "This is the trouble," he says, and wags the remains of the book at her like a man shaking a rolled-up newspaper at a puppy that has piddled on the floor. "How many times have I told you how I feel about crap like this?"

  The answer, actually, is never. She knows she might be sitting here in the comer having a miscarriage if he had come home and found her watching the news on TV or sewing a button on one of his shirts or just napping
on the couch. It has been a bad time for him, a woman named Wendy Yarrow has been making trouble for him, and what Norman does with trouble is share the wealth. How many times have I told you how I feel about that crap? he would have shouted, no matter what crap it was. And then, just before he started in with his fists: I want to talk to you, honey. Right up close.

  "Don't you understand?" she whispers. "I'm losing the baby!"

  Incredibly, he smiles. "You can have another one," he says. He might be comforting a child who has dropped her ice-cream cone. Then he takes the torn-up paperback out to the kitchen, where he will no doubt drop it in the trash.

  You bastard, she thinks, without knowing she thinks it. The cramps are coming again, not just one this time but many, swarming into her like terrific insects, and she pushes her head back deep into the corner and moans. You bastard, how I hate you.

  He comes back through the arch and walks toward her. She pedals with her feet, trying to shove herself into the wall, staring at him with frantic eyes. For a moment she's positive he means to kill her this time, not just hurt her, or rob her of the baby she has wanted for so long, but to really kill her. There is something inhuman about the way he looks as he comes toward her with his head lowered and his hands hanging at his sides and the long muscles in his thighs flexing. Before the kids called people like her husband fuzz they had another word for them, and that's the word that comes to her now as he crosses the room with his head down and his hands swinging at the ends of his arms like meat pendulums, because that's what he looks like--a bull.

  Moaning, shaking her head, pedaling with her feet. One loafer coming off and lying on its side. She can feel fresh pain, cramps sinking into her belly like anchors equipped with old rusty teeth, and she can feel more blood flowing, but she can't stop pedaling. What she sees in him when he's like this is nothing at all; a kind of terrible absence.

  He stands over her, shaking his head wearily. Then he squats and slides his arms beneath her. "I'm not going to hurt you," he says as he kneels to fully pick her up, "so quit being a goose."

  "I'm bleeding," she whispers, remembering he had told the person he'd been talking to on the phone that he wouldn't move her, of course he wouldn't.

  "Yeah, I know," he replies, but without interest. He is looking around the room, trying to decide where the accident happened--she knows what he's thinking as surely as if she were inside his head. "That's okay, it'll stop. They'll stop it."