Rage (richard bachman), Page 2Stephen King
My dad got his deer three days later, on the last day of the trip. I was with him. He got it perfectly, in the bunch of muscle between neck and shoulder, and the buck went down in a heap, all grace gone.
We went over to it. My father was smiling, happy. He had unsheathed his knife. I knew what was going to happen, and I knew I was going to be sick, and I couldn’t help any of it. He planted a foot on either side of the buck and pulled one of its legs back and shoved the knife in. One quick upward rip, and its guts spilled out on the forest floor, and I turned around and heaved up my breakfast.
When I turned back to him, he was looking at me. He never said anything, but I could read the contempt and disappointment in his eyes. I had seen it there often enough. I didn’t say anything either. But if I had been able to, I would have said: It isn’t what you think.
That was the first and last time I ever went hunting with my dad.
Al Lathrop was still thumbing through his textbook samples and pretending he was too busy to talk to me when the intercom on Miss Marble’s desk buzzed, and she smiled at me as if we had a great and sexy secret. “You can go in now, Charlie.”
I got up. “Sell those textbooks, Al.”
He gave me a quick, nervous, insincere smile. “I sure will, uh, Charlie.”
I went through the slatted gate, past the big safe set into the wall on the right and Miss Marble’s cluttered desk on the left. Straight ahead was a door with a frosted glass pane. THOMAS DENVER PRINCIPAL was lettered on the glass. I walked in.
Mr. Denver was looking at The Bugle, the school rag. He was a tall, cadaverous man whg looked something like John Carradine. He was bald and skinny. His hands were long and full of knuckles. His tie was pulled down, and the top button of his shirt was undone. The skin on his throat looked grizzled and irritated from overshaving.
“Sit down, Charlie.”
I sat down and folded my hands. I’m a great old hand-folder. It’s a trick I picked up from my father. Through the window behind Mr. Denver I could see the lawn, but not the fearless way it grew right up to the building. I was too high, and it was too bad. It might have helped, like a night-light when you are small.
Mr. Denver put The Bugle down and leaned back in his chair. “Kind of hard to see that way, isn’t it?” He grunted. Mr. Denver was a crackerjack grunter. If there was a National Grunting Bee, I would put all my money on Mr. Denver. I brushed my hair away from my eyes.
There was a picture of Mr. Denver’s family on his desk, which was even more cluttered than Miss Marble’s. The family looked well-fed and well-adjusted. His wife was sort of porky, but the two kids were as cute as buttons and didn’t look a bit like John Carradine. Two little girls, both blond.
“Don Grace has finished his report, and I’ve had it since last Thursday, considering his conclusions and his recommendations as carefully as I can. We all appreciate the seriousness of this matter, and I’ve taken the liberty of discussing the whole thing with John Carlson, also.”
“How is he?” I asked.
“Pretty well. He’ll be back in a month, I should think.”
“Well, that’s something.”
“It is?” He blinked at me very quickly, the way lizards do.
“I didn’t kill him. That’s something.”
“Yes.” Mr. Denver looked at me steadily. “Do you wish you had?”
He leaned forward, drew his chair up to his desk, looked at me, shook his head, and began, “I’m very puzzled when I have to speak the way I’m about to speak to you, Charlie. Puzzled and sad. I’ve been in the kid business since 1947, and I still can’t understand these things. I feel what I have to say to you is right and necessary, but it also makes me unhappy. Because I still can’t understand why a thing like this happens. In 1959 we had a very bright boy here who beat a junior-high-school girl quite badly with a baseball bat. Eventually we had to send him to South Portland Correctional Institute. All he could say was that she wouldn’t go out with him. Then he would smile.” Mr. Denver shook his head.
“Don’t bother trying to understand. Don’t lose any sleep over it.”
“But why, Charlie? Why did you do that? My God, he was on an operating table for nearly four hours-”
“Why is Mr. Grace’s question,” I said. “He’s the school shrink. You, you only ask it because it makes a nice lead-in to your sermon. I don’t want to listen to any more sermons. They don’t mean shit to me. It’s over. He was going to live or die. He lived. I’m glad. You do what you have to do. What you and Mr. Grace decided to do. But don’t you try to understand me.”
“Charlie, understanding is part of my job.”
“But helping you do your job isn’t part of mine,” I said. “So let me tell you one thing. To sort of help open the lines of communication, okay?”
I held my hands tightly in my lap. They were trembling. “I’m sick of you and Mr. Grace and all the rest of you. You used to make me afraid and you still make me afraid but now you make me tired too, and I’ve decided I don’t have to put up with that. The way I am, I can’t put up with that. What you think doesn’t mean anything to me. You’re not qualified to deal with me. So just stand back. I’m warning you. You’re not qualified.”
My voice had risen to a trembling near-shout.
Mr. Denver sighed.
“So you may think, Charlie. But the laws of the state say otherwise. After having read Mr. Grace’s report, I think I agree with him that you don’t understand yourself or the consequences of what you did in Mr. Carlson’s classroom. You are disturbed, Charlie.”
You are disturbed, Charlie.
The Cherokees used to slit their noses… so everyone in the tribe could see what part of them got them in trouble.
The words echoed greenly in my head, as if at great depths. They were shark words at deep fathoms, jaws words come to gobble me. Words with teeth and eyes.
This is where I started to get it on. I knew it, because the same thing that happened just before I gave Mr. Carlson the business was happening now. My hands stopped shaking. My stomach flutters subsided, and my whole middle felt cool and calm. I felt detached, not only from Mr. Denver and his overshaved neck, but from myself. I could almost float.
Mr. Denver had gone on, something about proper counseling and psychiatric help, but I interrupted him. “Mr. Man, you can go straight to hell.”
He stopped and put down the paper he had been looking at so he wouldn’t have to look at me. Something from my file, no doubt. The almighty file. The Great American File.
“What?” he said.
“In hell. Judge not, lest ye be judged. Any insanity in your family, Mr. Denver?”
"I’ll discuss this with you, Charlie,” he said tightly. “I won’t engage in-”
“… immoral sex practices,” I finished for him. “Just you and me, okay? First one to jack off wins the Putnam Good Fellowship Award. Fill yore hand, pardner. Get Mr. Grace in here, that’s even better. We’ll have a circle jerk.”
“Don’t you get the message? You have to pull it out sometime, right? You owe it to yourself, right? Everybody has to get it on, everybody has to have someone to jack off on. You’ve already set yourself up as Judge of What’s Right for Me. Devils. Demon possession. Why did I hit dat girl wit dat ball bat, Lawd, Lawd? De debbil made me do it, and I’m so saw-ry. Why don’t you admit it? You get a kick out of peddling my flesh. I’m the best thing that’s happened to you since 1959.”
He was gawping at me openly. I had him by the short hair, knew it, was savagely proud of it. On the one hand, he wanted to humor me, go along with me, because after all, isn’t that what you do with disturbed people? On the other hand, he was in the kid business, just like he told me, and Rule One in the kid business is: Don’t Let ’em Give You No Lip-be fast with the command and the snappy comeback.
“Don’t bother. I’m trying to tell you I’m tired of being masturbated on. Be a man, for God’s sake, Mr. Denver. And if you can’t be a man, at least pull up your pants and be a principal.”
“Shut up,” he grunted. His face had gone bright red. “You’re just pretty damn lucky you live in a progressive state and go to a progressive school, young man. You know where you’d be otherwise? Peddling your papers in a reformatory somewhere, serving a term for criminal assault. I’m not sure you don’t belong there anyway. You-”
“Thank you,” I said.
He stared at me, his angry blue eyes fixed on mine.
“For treating me like a human being even if I had to piss you off to do it. That’s real progress.” I crossed my legs, being nonchalant. “Want to talk about the panty raids you made the scene at while you were at Big U learning the kid business?”
“Your mouth is filthy,” he said deliberately. “And so is your mind.”
“Fuck you,” I said, and laughed at him.
He went an even deeper shade of scarlet and stood up. He reached slowly over the desk, slowly, slowly, as if he needed oiling, and bunched the shoulder of my shirt in his hand. “You show some respect,” he said. He had really blown his cool and was not even bothering to use that really first-class grunt. “You rotten little punk, you show me some respect.”
“I could show you my ass and you’d kiss it,” I said. “Go on and tell me about the panty raids. You’ll feel better. Throw us your panties! Throw us your panties!”
He let go of me, holding his hand away from his body as if a rabid dog had just pooped on it. “Get out,” he said hoarsely. “Get your books, turn them in here, and then get out. Your expulsion and transfer to Greenmantle Academy is effective as of Monday. I’ll talk to your parents on the telephone. Now get out. I don’t want to have to look at you.”
I got up, unbuttoned the two bottom buttons on my shirt, pulled the tail out on one side, and unzipped my fly. Before he could move, I tore open the door and staggered into the outer office. Miss Marble and Al Lathrop were conferring at her desk, and they both looked up and winced when they saw me. They had obviously both been playing the great American parlor game of We Don’t Really Hear Them, Do We?
“You better get to him,” I panted. “We were sitting there talking about panty raids and he just jumped over his desk and tried to rape me.”
I’d pushed him over the edge, no mean feat, considering he’d been in the kid business for twenty-nine years and was probably only ten away from getting his gold key to the downstairs crapper. He lunged at me through the door; I danced away from him and he stood there looking furious, silly, and guilty all at once.
“Get somebody to take care of him,” I said. “He’ll be sweeter after he gets it out of his system.” I looked at Mr. Denver, winked, and whispered, “Throw us your panties, right?”
Then I pushed out through the slatted rail and walked slowly out the office door, buttoning my shirt and tucking it in, zipping my fly. There was plenty of time for him to say something, but he didn’t say a word.
That’s when it really got rolling, because all at once I knew he couldn’t say a word. He was great at announcing the day’s hot lunch over the intercom, but this was a different thing joyously different. I had confronted him with exactly what he said was wrong with me, and he hadn’t been able to cope with that. Maybe he expected us to smile and shake hands and conclude my seven-and-one-half-semester stay at Placerville High with a literary critique of The Bugle. But in spite of everything, Mr. Carlson and all the rest, he hadn’t really expected any irrational act. Those things were all meant for the closet, rolled up beside those nasty magazines you never show your wife. He was standing back there, vocal cords frozen, not a word left in his mind to say. None of his instructors in Dealing with the Disturbed Child, EdB-211, had ever told him he might someday have to deal with a student who would attack him on a personal level.
And pretty quick he was going to be mad. That made him dangerous. Who knew better than me? I was going to have to protect myself. I was ready, and had been ever since I decided that people might-just might, mind you-be following me around and checking up.
I gave him every chance.
I waited for him to charge out and grab me, all the way to the staircase. I didn’t want salvation. I was either past that point or never reached it. All I wanted was recognition… or maybe for someone to draw a yellow plague circle around my feet.
He didn’t come out.
And when he didn’t, I went ahead and got it on.
I went down the staircase whistling; I felt wonderful. Things happen that way sometimes. When everything is at its worst, your mind just throws it all into the wastebasket and goes to Florida for a little while. There is a sudden electric what-the-hell glow as you stand there looking back over your shoulder at the bridge you just burned down.
A girl I didn’t know passed me on the second-floor landing, a pimply, ugly girl wearing big horn-rimmed glasses and carrying a clutch of secretarial-type books. On impulse I turned around and looked after her. Yes; yes. From the back she might have been Miss America. It was wonderful.
The first-floor hall was deserted. Not a soul coming or going. The only sound was the hive drone, the sound that makes all the schoolhouses the same, modern and glass-walled or ancient and stinking of floor varnish. Lockers stood in silent sentinel rows, with a break here and there to make room for a drinking fountain or a classroom door.
Algebra II was in Room 16, but my locker was at the other end of the hall. I walked down to it and regarded it.
My locker. It said so: CHARLES DECKER printed neatly in my hand on a strip of school Con-Tact paper. Each September, during the first home-room period, came the handing out of the blank Con-Tact strips. We lettered carefully, and during the two-minute break between home room and the first class of the new year, we pasted them on. The ritual was as old and as holy as First Communion. On the first day of my sophomore year, Joe McKennedy walked up to me through the crowded hall with his Con-Tact strip pasted on his forehead and a big shit-eating grin pasted on his mouth. Hundreds of horrified freshmen, each with a little yellow name tag pinned on his or her shirt or blouse, turned to look at this sacrilege. I almost broke my balls laughing. Of course he got a detention for it, but it made my day. When I think back on it, I guess it made my year.
And there I was, right between ROSANNE DEBBINS and CARLA DENCH, who doused herself in rosewater every morning, which had been no great help in keeping my breakfast where it belonged during the last semester.
Ah, but all that was behind me now.
Gray locker, five feet high, padlocked. The padlocks were handed out at the beginning of the year along with the Con-Tact strips. Titus, the padlock proclaimed itself. Lock me, unlock me. I am Titus, the Helpful Padlock.
“Titus, you old cuffer,” I whispered. “Titus, you old cock-knocker.”
I reached for Titus, and it seemed to me that my hand stretched to it across a thousand miles, a hand on the end of a plastic arm that elongated painlessly and nervelessly. The numbered surface of Titus’ black face looked at me blandly, not condemning but certainly not approving, no, not that, and I shut my eyes for a moment. My body wrenched through a shudder, pulled by invisible, involuntary, opposing hands.
And when I opened my eyes again, Titus was in my grasp. The chasm had closed.
The combinations on high-school locks are simple. Mine was six to the left, thirty right, and two turns back to zero. Titus was known more for his strength than his intellect. The lock snapped up, and I had him in my hand. I clutched him tightly, making no move to open the locker door.
Up the hall, Mr. Johnson was saying: “… and the Hessians, who were paid mercenaries, weren’t any too anxious to fight, especially in a countryside where the opportunities for plunder over and above the agreed-upon wages…”
“Hessian,” I whispere
d to Titus. I carried him down to the first wastebasket and dropped him in. He looked up at me innocently from a litter of discarded homework papers and old sandwich bags.
“… but remember that the Hessians, as far as the Continental Army knew, were formidable German killing machines… ”
I bent down, picked him up, and put him in my breast pocket, where he made a bulge about the size of a pack of cigarettes.
“Keep it in mind, Titus, you old killing machine,” I said, and went back to my locker.
I swung it open. Crumpled up in a sweaty ball at the bottom was my gym uniform, old lunch bags, candy wrappers, a month-old apple core that was browning nicely, and a pair of ratty black sneakers. My red nylon jacket was hung on the coat-hook, and on the shelf above that were my textbooks, all but Algebra II. Civics, American Government, French Stories and Fables, and Health, that happy Senior gut course, a red, modern book with a high-school girl and boy on the cover and the section on venereal disease neatly clipped by unanimous vote of the School Committee. I started to get it on beginning with the health book, sold to the school by none other than good old Al Lathrop, I hoped and trusted. I took it out, opened it somewhere between “The Building Blocks of Nutrition” and “Swimming Rules for Fun and Safety,” and ripped it in two. It came easy. They all came easy except for Civics, which was a tough old Silver Burdett text circa 1946. I threw all the pieces into the bottom of the locker. The only thing left up top was my slide rule, which I snapped in two, a picture of Raquel Welch taped to the back wall (I let it stay), and the box of shells that had been behind my books.
I picked that up and looked at it. The box had originally held Winchester.22 long-rifle shells, but it didn’t anymore. I’d put the other shells in it, the ones from the desk drawer in my father’s study. There’s a deer head mounted on the wall in his study, and it stared down at me with its glassy too-alive eyes as I took the shells and the gun, but I didn’t let it bother me. It wasn’t the one he’d gotten on the hunting trip when I was nine. The pistol had been in another drawer, behind a box of business envelopes. I doubt if he even remembered it was still there. And as a matter of fact, it wasn’t, not anymore. Now it was in the pocket of my jacket. I took it out and shoved it into my belt. I didn’t feel much like a Hessian. I felt like Wild Bill Hickok.