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Six Stories, Page 2

Stephen King

  A thin, nagging whine-this does sound like a dentist's drill.

  Pete: "Can I-?"

  Dr. Cisco, actually sounding a bit maternal: "No. These."

  Snick-snick. Demonstrating for him.

  They can't do this, I think. They can't cut me up I can FEEL!

  "Why?" he asks.

  Because that's the way I want it," she says, sounding a lot less maternal. "When you're On Your Own, Petie-boy, you can do what you want. But in Katie Arlen's autopsy room, you start off with the pericardial shears."

  Autopsy room. There. it's out. I want to be all over goosebumps, but of course, nothing happens; my flesh remains smooth.

  "Remernber ,", Dr. Arlen. says (but now she's actually lecturing),

  "any fool can learn how to use a milking machine . . . but the hands-on procedure is always best." There is something vaguely suggestive in her tone. "Okay?' "Okay," he says.

  They're going to do it. I have to make some kind of noise in or movement, or they're really going to do it. If blood flows or jets up from the first punch of the scissors they'll know something's wrong, but by then it will be too late, very likely; that first snip-CRUNCH will have happened, and my ribs will be lying against my upper arms, my heart pulsing frantically away under the fluorescents in its blood-glossy sac-I concentrate everything on my chest. I push, or try to ... and something happens.

  A sound!

  I make a sound!

  It's mostly inside my closed mouth, but I can also hear and feel it in my nose-a low hum.

  Concentrating, summoning every bit of effort, I do it again, and this time the sound is a little stronger, leaking out of my nostrils like cigarette smoke: Nnnnnnn- It makes me think of an old Alfred Hitchcock TV program I saw a long, long time ago, where Joseph Cotton was paralyzed in a car crash and was finally able to let them know he was still alive by crying a single tear.

  And if nothing else, that minuscule mosquito-whine of a sound has proved to myself that I'm alive, that I'm not just a spirit lingering inside the clay effigy of my own dead body.

  Focusing all my concentration, I can feel breath slipping through my nose and down my throat, replacing the breath I have now expended, and then I send it out again, working harder than I ever worked summers for the Lane Construction Company when I was a teenager, working harder than I have ever worked in my life, because now I'm working for my life and they must hear me, dear Jesus, they must.


  "You want some music?" the woman doctor asks. "I've got Marty Stuart, Tony Bennett-"

  He makes a despairing sound. I barely hear it, and take no immediate meaning from what she's saying ... which is probably a mercy.

  "All right," she says, laughing. "I've also got the Rolling Stones."


  "Me. I'm not quite as square as I look, Peter."

  "I didn't mean. . .- He sounds flustered.

  Listen to me!" I scream inside my head as my frozen eyes stare up into the icy-white light. Stop chattering like magpies and listen to me!

  I can feel more air trickling down my throat and the idea occurs that whatever has happened to me may be starting to wear off ...

  but it's Only a faint blip on the Screen of my now thoughts. Maybe it is wearing off, but very soon now recovery will cease to be an option for me. All my energy is bent toward making them hear me, and this time they will hear me I know it.

  "Stones, then", she says. "Unless you want me to run Out, and get a Michael. Bolton CD in honor of your first pericardial"

  Please, no!" he cries, and they both laugh.

  The sound starts to come out, and it is louder this time.

  Not as loud as I'd hoped, but loud enough. Surely loud enough.

  They'll hear, they must.

  Then, just as I begin to force the sound out of my nose like some rapidly solidifying liquid, the room is filled with a blare of fuzz-tone guitar and Mick Jagger's voice bashing off the walls""Awww, no it's only rock and roll, but I LIYYYKE IT..."

  "Turn it down!" Dr. Cisco yells, comically 0vershouting, and amid these noises my own nasal sound, a desperate little humming through my nostrils, is no more audible than a whisper in a foundry.

  Now her face bends over me again and I feel fresh horror as I see that she's wearing a Plexi eyeshield and a gauze mask over her mouth. She glances back over her shoulder.

  "I'll strip him for you," she tells Pete, and bends toward me with a scalpel glittering in one gloved hand, bends toward me through the guitar thunder of the Rolling Stones.

  I hum desperately, but it's no good. I can't even hear Myself.

  The scalpel hovers, then cuts.

  I shriek inside my own head, but there is no pain, only my polo shirt falling in two pieces at my sides. Sliding apart as my ribcage will after Pete unknowingly makes his first pericardial cut on a living patient.

  I am lifted. My head lolls back and for a moment I see Pete upside down, donning his own Plexi eyeshield as he stands by a steel counter, inventorying a horrifying array of tools. Chief among them are the oversized scissors. I get just a glimpse of them, of blades glittering like merciless satin. Then I am laid flat again and my shirt is gone. I'm now naked to the waist. It's cold in the room.

  Look at my chest! I scream at her. You must see it rise and fall, no matter how shallow my respiration is! You're a goddam expert, for Christ's sake"

  Instead, she looks across the room, raising her voice to be heard above the music. ("I like it, like it, yes I do," the Stones sing, and I think I will hear that nasal idiot chorus in the halls of hell through all eternity.) "What's your pick? Boxers or Jockeys?"

  With a mixture of horror and rage, I realize what they're talking about.

  "Boxers"' he calls back. "Of course! Just take a look at the guy!"

  Asshole! I want to scream. You probably think everyone over forty wears boxer shorts! You probably think when you get to be forty, you'll-She unsnaps my Bermudas and pulls down the zipper. Under other circumstances, having a woman as pretty as this (a little severe, yes, but still pretty) do that would make me extremely happy.

  Today, however-

  "You lose, Petie-boy," she says. "Jockeys. Dollar in the kitty."

  "On payday," he says, coming over. His face joins hers; they look down at me through their Plexi masks like a couple of space aliens looking down at an abductee. I try to make them see my eyes, to see me looking at them, but these two fools are looking at my undershorts.

  "Ooooh, and red, " Pete says. "A sha-vinguh!"

  "I call them more of a wash pink," she replies. Hold him up for me, Peter, he weighs a ton. No wonder he had a heart attack. Let this be a lesson to you.

  I'm in shape! I yell at her. Probbably in better shape than you, bitch!

  My hips are suddenly jerked upward by strong hands. My back cracks; the sound makes my heart leap.

  "Sorry, guy," Pete says, and suddenly I'm colder than ever as my shorts and red underpants are pulled down.

  "Upsa-daisy once, " she says, lifting one foot, and upsa-daisy twice, lifting the other foot off come the MOCS, and off come the socks-"

  She stops abruptly, and hope seizes me once more.

  "Hey, Pete."

  "Yeah?" Do guys ordinarily wear Bermuda shorts and moccasins to golf in?"

  Behind her (except that's only the source, actually it's all around us) the Rolling Stones have moved on to "Emotional Rescue.". "I will be your knight in shining ahh-mah," Mick Jagger sings, and I wonder how funky held dance with about three sticks of Hi-Core dynamite jammed up his skinny ass.

  "If you ask me, this guy was just asking for trouble " she goes on.

  "I thought they had these special shoes, very ugly, very golf-specific, with little knobs on the soles-"

  "Yeah, but wearing them's not the law," Pete says. He holds his gloved hands out over my upturned face, slides them together, and bends the fingers back. As the knuckles crack, talcum powder sprinkles down like fine snow. "At least not yet. Not like bowling shoes. T
hey catch you bowling without a pair of bowling shoes, they can send you to state prison."

  "Is that so?"


  "Do you want to handle temp and gross examination?"

  No! I shriek. No, he's a kid, what are you DOING?

  He looks at her as if this same thought had crossed his own mind.

  "That's ... um . . . not strictly legal, is it, Katie? I mean. . ."

  She looks around as he speaks, giving the room a burlesque examination, and I'm starting to get a vibe that could be very bad news for me: severe or not, I think that Ciscoalias Dr. Katie Arlen-has got the hots for Petie with the dark blue eyes. Dear Christ, they have hauled me paralyzed off the golf course and into an episode of General Hospital, this week's subplot titled "Love Blooms in Autopsy Room Four."

  "Gee," she says in a hoarse little stage whisper. "I don't see anyone here but you and me."

  "The tape-"

  "Not rolling yet," she says. "And once it is, I'm right at your elbow every step of the way ... as far as anyone will ever know, anyway.

  And mostly I will be. I just want to put away those charts and slides. And if you really feel uncomfortable-"

  Yes! I scream up at him out of my unmoving face. Feel uncomfortable! VERY uncomfortable! TOO uncomfortable!

  But he's twenty-four at most and what's he going to say to this pretty, severe woman who's standing inside his space, invading it in a way that can really only mean one thing? No, Mommy, I'm scared? Besides, he wants to. I can see the wanting through the Plexi eyeshield, bopping around in there like a bunch of overage punk rockers pogoing to the Stones.

  "Hey, as long as you'll cover for me if -"

  "Sure," she says. "Got to get your feet wet sometime, Peter. And if you really need me to, I'll roll back the tape."

  He looks startled. "You can do that?"

  She smiles. "Ve haff many see-grets in Autopsy Room Four, mein herr. "

  "I bet you do," he says, smiling back, then reaches past my frozen field of vision. When his hand comes back, it's wrapped around a microphone which hangs down from the ceiling on a black cord.

  The mike looks like a steel teardrop. Seeing it there makes this horror real in a way it wasn't before. Surely they won't really cut me up, will they? Pete is no veteran, but he has had training; surely he'll see the marks of whatever bit me while I was looking for my ball in the rough, and then they'll at least suspect. They'll have to suspect.

  Yet I keep seeing the scissors with their heartless satin shine-jumped-up poultry shears and I keep wondering if I will still be alive when he takes my heart out of my chest cavity and holds it up, dripping, in front of my locked gaze for a moment before turning it to plop it into the weighing pan. I could be, it seems to me; I really could be. Don't they say the brain can remain conscious for up to three minutes after the heart stops?

  "Ready, Doctor," Pete says, and now he sounds almost formal.

  Somewhere, tape is rolling.

  The autopsy procedure has begun.

  Let's flip this pancake," she says cheerfully, and I am turned over just that efficiently- MY right arm goes flying out to one side and then falls back against the side of the table, hanging down with the raised metal lip digging into the biceps. It hurts a lot, the pain is just short of excruciating, but I don't mind. I pray for the lip to bite through my skin, pray to bleed, something bona fide corpses don't do.

  "Whoops-a-daisy," Dr. Arlen says. She lifts my arm up and plops it back down at my side.

  Now it's my nose I'm most aware of. It's smashed down against the table, and my lungs for the first time send out a distress message-a cottony, deprived feeling. My mouth is closed, my nose partially crushed shut (just how much I can't tell; I can't even feel myself breathing, not really). What if I suffocate like this?

  Then something happens that takes my mind completely off my nose. A huge object - it feels like a glass baseball bat - is rammed rudely up my rectum. Once more I try to scream and can produce only the faint, wretched humming.

  "Temp in," Peter says. "I've put on the timer."

  "Good idea," she says, moving away. Giving him room. Letting him test-drive this baby. Letting him test-drive me. The music is turned down slightly.

  "Subject is a white Caucasian, age forty-four," Pete says, speaking for the mike now, speaking for posterity. "His name is Howard Randolph Cottrell, residence is 1566 Laurel Crest Lane, here in Derry."

  Dr. Arlen, at some distance: "Mary Mead."

  A pause, then Pete again, sounding just a tiny bit flustered: "Dr.

  Arlen informs me that the subject actually lives in Mary Mead, which split off from Derry in-"

  "Enough with the history lesson, Pete."

  Dear God, what have they stuck up my ass? Some sort of cattle thermometer? If it was a little longer, I think, I could taste the bulb at the end. And they didn't exactly go crazy with the lubricant ...

  but then, why would they? I'm dead, after all.


  "Sorry, Doctor," Pete says. He fumbles mentally for his place and eventually finds it. "This information is from the ambulance form.

  Mode of transmittal was Maine driver's license. Pronouncing doctor was, um Frank Jennings. Subject was pronounced at the scene."

  Now it's my nose that I'm hoping will bleed. Please, I tell it, bleed.

  Only don't just bleed. GUSH.

  It doesn't.

  "Cause of death may be a heart attack," Peter says. A light hand brushes down my naked back to the crack of my ass. I pray it will remove the thermometer, but it doesn't. "Spine appears to be intact, no attractable phenomena."

  Attractable phenomena? Attractable phenomena? What the fuck do they think I am, a buglight?

  He lifts my head, the pads of his fingers on my cheekbones, and I hum desperately-Nnnnnnnnn-knowing that he can't possibly hear me over Keith Richards' screaming guitar but hoping he may feel the sound vibrating in my nasal passages.

  He doesn't. Instead he turns my head from side to side.

  "No neck injury apparent, no rigor," he says, and I hope he will just let my head go, let my face smack down onto the table-that'll make my nose bleed, unless I really am dead-but he lowers it gently, considerately, mashing the tip again and once more making suffocation seem a distinct possibility.

  "No wounds visible on the back or buttocks," he says, "although there's an old scar on the upper right thigh that looks like some sort of wound, shrapnel perhaps. It's an ugly one."

  It was ugly, and it was shrapnel. The end of my war. A mortar shell lobbed into a supply area, two men killed, one man-me-lucky.

  It's a lot uglier around front, and in a more sensitive spot, but all the equipment works ... or did, up until today. A quarter of an inch to the left and they could have fixed me up with a hand pump and a CO, cartridge for those intimate moments.

  He finally plucks the thermometer out-oh dear God, the relief-and on the wall I can see his shadow holding it up.

  "Ninety-four point two," he says. "Gee, that ain't too shabby. This guy could almost be alive, Katie ... Dr. Arlen."

  "Remember where they found him," she says from across the room. The record they are listening to is between selections, and for a moment I can hear her lecturely tones clearly. "Golf course?

  Summer afternoon? If you'd gotten a reading of ninety-.eight point six, I would not be surprised."

  "Right, right," he says, sounding chastened. Then: "Is all this going to sound funny on the tape?" Translation: Will I sound stupid on the tape?

  "It'll sound like a teaching situation," she says, "which is what it is".

  "Okay, good. Great."

  His rubber-tipped fingers spread my buttocks, then let them go and trail down the backs of my thighs. I would tense now, if I were capable of tensing.

  Left leg, I send to him. Left leg, Petie-boy, left calf see it? He must see it, he must, because I can feel it, throbbing like a bee sting or maybe a shot given by a clumsy nurse, one who infuses the injection into a muscle
instead of hitting the vein.

  "Subject is a really good example of what a really bad is idea it is to play golf in shorts," he says, and I find myself wishing he had been born blind. Hell, maybe he was born blind, he's sure acting it.

  "I'm seeing all kinds of bug bites, chigger bites, scratches . . ."

  "Mike said they found him in the rough," Arlen calls over. She's making one hell of a clatter; it sounds like she's doing dishes in a cafeteria kitchen instead of filing stuff. "At a guess, he had a heart attack while he was looking for his ball."

  "Uh-huh . .

  "Keep going, Peter, you're doing fine."

  I find that an extremely debatable proposition.


  More pokes and proddings. Gentle. Too gentle, maybe.

  "There are mosquito bites on the left calf that look infected," he says, and although his touch remains gentle, this time the pain is an enormous throb that would make me scream if I were capable of making any sound above the low-pitched hum. It occurs to me suddenly that my life may hang upon the length of the Rolling Stones tape they're listening to ... always assuming it is a tape and not a CD that plays straight through. If it finishes before they cut into me ... if I can hum loudly enough for them to hear before one of them turns it over to the other side ...

  "I may want to look at the bug bites after the gross autopsy," she says, "although if we're right about his heart, there'll be no need.

  Or do you want me to look now? They worrying you?"

  "Nope, they're pretty clearly mosquito bites," Gimpel the Fool says. "They grow 'em big over on the west side. He's got five . . .

  seven ... eight ... jeez, almost a dozen on his left leg alone."

  "He forgot his Deep Woods Off."

  "Never mind the Off, he forgot his digitalin," he says, and they have a nice little yock together, autopsy room humor.