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Grey Matter, Page 2

Stephen King

  And that's the way things went on until today, when the kid's school let out

  early because of the storm.

  'The boy says he went right home,' Henry told us. 'There's no light in the

  upstairs hall at all - the boy claims his dad musta snuck out some night and

  broke it - so he had to sort of creep down to his door.

  'Well, he heard somethin' moving around in there, and it suddenly pops into his

  mind that he don't know what Richie does all day through the week. He ain't seen

  his dad stir out of that chair for almost a month, and a man's got to sleep and

  go to the bathroom some time.

  'There's a Judas hole in the middle of the door, and it's supposed to have a

  latch on the inside to fasten it shut, but it's been busted ever since they

  lived there. So the kid slides up to the door real easy and pushed it open a bit

  with his thumb and pokes his eye up to it.'

  By now we were at the foot of the steps and the house was looming over us like

  a-high, ugly face, with those windows on the third floor for eyes. I looked up

  there and sure enough those two windows were just as black as pitch. Like

  somebody's put blankets over 'em or painted 'em up.

  'It took him a minute to get his eye adjusted to the gloom. An' then he seen a

  great big grey lump, not like a man at all, slitherin' over the floor, leavin' a

  grey, slimy trail behind it. An' then it sort of snaked out an arm - or

  something like an arm - and pried a board off'n the wall. And took out a cat.'

  Henry stopped for a second. Bertie was beating his hands together and it was

  godawful cold out there on the street, but none of us was ready to go up just

  yet. 'A dead cat,' Henry recommenced, 'that had putrefacted. The boy said it

  looked all swole up stiff . . . and there was little white things crawlin' all

  over it .

  'Stop,' Bertie said. 'For Christ's sake.'

  'And then his dad ate it., I tried to swallow and something tasted greasy in my


  'That's when Timmy closed the peephole.' Henry finished softly. 'And ran.'

  'I don't think I can go up there,' Bertie said.

  Henry didn't say anything, just looked from Bertie to me and back again.

  'I guess we better,' I said. 'We got Richie's beer.'

  Bertie didn't say anything to that, so we went up the steps and in through the

  front hall door. I smelled it right off.

  Do you know how a cider house smells in summer? You never get the smell of

  apples out, but in the fall it's all right because it smells tangy and sharp

  enough to ream your nose right out. But in the summer, it just smells mean, this

  smell was like that, but a little bit worse.

  There was one light on in the lower hall, a mean yellow thing in a frosted glass

  that threw a glow as thin as buttermilk. And those stairs that went up into the


  Henry bumped the cart to a stop, and while he was lifting out the case of beer,

  I thumbed the button at the foot of the stairs that controlled the

  second-floor-landing bulb. But it was busted, just as the boy said.

  Bertie quavered: 'I'll lug the beer. You just take care of that pistol.'

  Henry didn't argue. He handed it over and we started up, Henry first, then me,

  then Bertie with the case in his arms. By the time we had fetched the

  second-floor landing, the stink was just that much worse. Rotted apples, all

  fermented, and under that an even uglier stink.

  When I lived out in Levant I had a dog one time - Rex, his name was - and he was

  a good mutt but not very wise about cars. He got hit a lick one afternoon while

  I was at work and he crawled under the house and died there. My Christ, what a

  stink. I finally had to go under and haul him out with a pole. That other stench

  was like that; flyblown and putrid and just as dirty as a borin' cob.

  Up till then I 'had kept thinking that maybe it was some sort of joke, but I saw

  it wasn't. 'Lord, why don't the neighbours kick up, Harry?' I asked.

  'What neighbours?' Henry asked, and he was smiling that queer smile again.

  I looked around and saw that the hall had a sort of dusty, unused look and the

  door of all three second-floor apartments was closed and locked up.

  'Who's the landlord, I wonder?' Bertie asked, resting the case on the newel post

  and getting his breath. 'Gaiteau? Surprised he don't kick 'im out.'

  'Who'd go up there and evict him?' Henry asked. 'You?'

  Bertie didn't say nothing.

  Presently we started up the next flight, which was even narrower and steeper

  than the last. It was getting hotter, too. It sounded like every radiator in the

  place was clanking and hissing. The smell was awful, and I started to feel like

  someone was stirring my guts with a stick.

  At the top was a short hall, and one door with a little Judas hole in the middle

  of it.

  Bertie made a soft little cry an' whispered out: 'Look what we're walkin' in!'

  I looked down and saw all this slimy stuff on the hall floor, in little puddles.

  It looked like there'd been a carpet once, but the grey stuff had eaten it all


  Henry walked down to the door, and we went after him. I don't know about Bertie,

  but I was shaking in my shoes. Henry never hesitated, though; he raised up that

  gun and -beat on the door with the butt of it.

  'Richie?' he called, and his voice didn't sound a bit scared, although his face

  was deadly pale. 'This is Henry -Parmalee from down at the Nite-Owl. I brought

  your beer.'

  There wasn't any answer for p'raps a full minute, and then a voice said,

  'Where's Timmy? Where's my boy?'

  I almost ran right then. That voice wasn't human at all. It -was queer an' low

  an' bubbly, like someone talking through a mouthful of suet.

  'He's at my store,' Henry said, 'havin' a decent meal. He's just as skinny as a

  slat cat, Richie.'

  There wasn't nothing for a while, and then some horrible squishing noises, like

  a man in rubber boots walking through mud. Then that decayed voice spoke right

  through the other side of the door.

  'Open the door an' shove that beer through,' it said. 'Only you got to pull all

  the ring tabs first. I can't.'

  'In a minute,' Henry said. 'What kind of shape you in, Richie?'

  'Never mind that,' the voice said, and it was horribly eager. 'Just push in the

  beer and go!'

  'It ain't just dead cats anymore, is it?' Henry said, and he sounded sad. He

  wasn't holdin' the gun butt-up any more; now it was business end first.

  And suddenly, in a flash of light, I made the mental connection Henry had

  already made, perhaps even as Timmy was telling his story. The smell of decay

  and rot seemed to double in my nostrils when I remembered. Two young girls and

  some old Salvation Army wino had disappeared in town during the last three weeks

  or so - all after dark.

  'Send it in or I'll come out an' get it,' the voice said.

  Henry gestured us back, and we went.

  'I guess you better, Richie.' He cocked his piece.

  There was nothing then, not for a long time. To tell the truth, I began to feel

  as if it was all over. Then that door burst open, so sudden and so hard that it

  actually bulged before slamming out against the wall. And out came Richie.

; It was just a second, just a second before Bertie and me was down those stairs

  like schoolkids, four an' five at a time, and out the door into the snow,

  slippin an' sliding.

  Going down we heard Henry fire three times, the reports loud as grenades in the

  closed hallways of that empty, cursed house.

  What we saw in that one or two seconds will last me a lifetime - or whatever's

  left of it. It was like a huge grey wave of jelly, jelly that looked like a man,

  and leaving a trail of slime behind it.

  But that wasn't the worst. Its eyes were flat and yellow and wild, with no human

  soul in 'em. Only there wasn't two. There were four, an' right down the centre

  of the thing, betwixt the two pairs of eyes, was a white, fibrous line with a

  kind of pulsing pink flesh showing through like a slit in a hog's belly.

  It was dividing, you see. Dividing in two.

  Bertie and I didn't say nothing to each other going back to the store. I don't

  know what was going through his mind, but I know well enough what was in mine:

  the multiplication table. Two times two is four, four times two is eight, eight

  times two is sixteen, sixteen-times two is -We got back. Carl and Bill Pelham

  jumped up and started asking questions right off. We wouldn't answer, neither of

  us. We just turned around and waited to see if Henry was gonna walk in outta the

  snow. I was up to 32,768 times two is the end of the human race and so we sat

  there cozied up to all that beer and waited to see which one was going to

  finally come back; and here we still sit.

  I hope it's Henry. I surely do.