Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Under the Dome, Page 2

Stephen King

  Dale Barbara ran for his life.


  A hundred yards or so down the road, the big warm hand became a ghost hand, although the smell of burning gas--plus a sweeter stench that had to be a mixture of melting plastic and roasting flesh--was strong, carried to him on a light breeze. Barbie ran another sixty yards, then stopped and turned around. He was panting. He didn't think it was the running; he didn't smoke, and he was in good shape (well ... fair; his ribs on the right side still hurt from the beating in Dipper's parking lot). He thought it was terror and dismay. He could have been killed by falling pieces of airplane--not just the runaway propeller--or burned to death. It was only blind luck that he hadn't been.

  Then he saw something that made his rapid breathing stop in midgasp. He straightened up, looking back at the site of the accident. The road was littered with debris--it really was a wonder that he hadn't been struck and at least wounded. A twisted wing lay on the right; the other wing was poking out of the uncut timothy grass on the left, not far from where the runaway propeller had come to rest. In addition to the bluejeans-clad leg, he could see a severed hand and arm. The hand seemed to be pointing at a head, as if to say That's mine. A woman's head, judging from the hair. The power lines running beside the highway had been severed. They lay crackling and twisting on the shoulder.

  Beyond the head and arm was the twisted tube of the airplane's fuselage. Barbie could read NJ3. If there was more, it was torn away.

  But none of this was what had caught his eye and stopped his breath. The Disaster rose was gone now, but there was still fire in the sky. Burning fuel, certainly. But ...

  But it was running down the air in a thin sheet. Beyond it and through it, Barbie could see the Maine countryside--still peaceful, not yet reacting, but in motion nevertheless. Shimmering like the air over an incinerator or a burning-barrel. It was as if someone had splashed gasoline over a pane of glass and then set it alight.

  Almost hypnotized--that was what it felt like, anyway--Barbie started walking back toward the scene of the crash.


  His first impulse was to cover the body parts, but there were too many. Now he could see another leg (this one in green slacks), and a female torso caught in a clump of juniper. He could pull off his shirt and drape it over the woman's head, but after that? Well, there were two extra shirts in his backpack--

  Here came a car from the direction of Motton, the next town to the south. One of the smaller SUVs, and moving fast. Someone had either heard the crash or seen the flash. Help. Thank God for help. Straddling the white line and standing well clear of the fire that was still running down from the sky in that weird water-on-a-windowpane way, Barbie waved his arms over his head, crossing them in big Xs.

  The driver honked once in acknowledgment, then slammed on his brakes, laying forty feet of rubber. He was out almost before his little green Toyota had stopped, a big, rangy fellow with long gray hair cascading out from under a Sea Dogs baseball cap. He ran toward the side of the road, meaning to skirt the main firefall.

  "What happened?" he cried. "What in the blue fu--"

  Then he struck something. Hard. There was nothing there, but Barbie saw the guy's nose snap to the side as it broke. The man rebounded from the nothing, bleeding from the mouth, nose, and forehead. He fell on his back, then struggled to a sitting position. He stared at Barbie with dazed, wondering eyes as blood from his nose and mouth cascaded down the front of his workshirt, and Barbie stared back.



  The two boys fishing near the Peace Bridge didn't look up when the plane flew overhead, but Junior Rennie did. He was a block farther down, on Prestile Street, and he recognized the sound. It was Chuck Thompson's Seneca V. He looked up, saw the plane, then dropped his head fast when the bright sunlight shining through the trees sent a bolt of agony in through his eyes. Another headache. He'd been having a lot of them lately. Sometimes the medication killed them. Sometimes, especially in the last three or four months, it didn't.

  Migraines, Dr. Haskell said. All Junior knew was that they hurt like the end of the world, and bright light made them worse, especially when they were hatching. Sometimes he thought of the ants he and Frank DeLesseps had burned up when they were just kids. You used a magnifying glass and focused the sun on them as they crawled in and out of their hill. The result was fricasseed formicants. Only these days, when one of his headaches was hatching, his brain was the anthill and his eyes turned into twin magnifying glasses.

  He was twenty-one. Did he have this to look forward to until he was forty-five or so, when Dr. Haskell said they might let up?

  Maybe. But this morning a headache wasn't going to stop him. The sight of Henry McCain's 4Runner or LaDonna McCain's Prius in the driveway might have; in that case he might've turned around, gone back to his own house, taken another Imitrex, and lain down in his bedroom with the shades drawn and a cool washcloth on his forehead. Possibly feeling the pain start to diminish as the headache derailed, but probably not. Once those black spiders really got a foothold--

  He looked up again, this time squinting his eyes against the hateful light, but the Seneca was gone, and even the buzz of its engine (also aggravating--all sounds were aggravating when he was getting one of these bitchkitties) was fading. Chuck Thompson with some flyboy or flygirl wannabe. And although Junior had nothing against Chuck--hardly knew him--he wished with sudden, childish ferocity that Chuck's pupil would fuck up bigtime and crash the plane.

  Preferably in the middle of his father's car dealership.

  Another sickish throb of pain twisted through his head, but he went up the steps to the McCains' door anyway. This had to be done. This was over-fucking-due. Angie needed a lesson.

  But just a little one. Don't let yourself get out of control.

  As if summoned, his mother's voice replied. Her maddeningly complacent voice. Junior was always a bad-tempered boy, but he keeps it under much better control now. Don't you, Junior?

  Well. Gee. He had, anyway. Football had helped. But now there was no football. Now there wasn't even college. Instead, there were the headaches. And they made him feel like one mean motherfucker.

  Don't let yourself get out of control.

  No. But he would talk to her, headache or no headache.

  And, as the old saying was, he just might have to talk to her by hand. Who knew? Making Angie feel worse might make him feel better.

  Junior rang the bell.


  Angie McCain was just out of the shower. She slipped on a robe, belted it, then wrapped a towel around her wet hair. "Coming!" she called as she not-quite-trotted down the stairs to the first floor. There was a little smile on her face. It was Frankie, she was quite sure it must be Frankie. Things were finally coming rightside up. The bastardly short-order cook (good-looking but still a bastard) had either left town or was leaving, and her parents were out. Combine the two and you got a sign from God that things were coming rightside up. She and Frankie could put all the crap in the rearview and get back together.

  She knew exactly how to handle it: open the door and then open her robe. Right there in the Saturday-morning daylight, where anybody passing might see her. She'd make sure it was Frankie first, of course--she had no intention of flashing fat old Mr. Wicker if he'd rung the bell with a package or a registered mail--but it was at least half an hour too early for the mail.

  No, it was Frankie. She was sure.

  She opened the door, the little smile widening to a welcoming grin--perhaps not fortunate, since her teeth were rather crammed together and the size of jumbo Chiclets. One hand was on the tie of her robe. But she didn't pull it. Because it wasn't Frankie. It was Junior, and he looked so angry--

  She had seen his black look before--many times, in fact--but never this black since eighth grade, when Junior broke the Dupree kid's arm. The little fag had dared to swish his bubble-butt onto the town common basketball court and ask to play. And she supposed Junior must have
had the same thunderstorm on his face that night in Dipper's parking lot, but of course she hadn't been there, she had only heard about it. Everybody in The Mill had heard about it. She'd been called in to talk to Chief Perkins, that damn Barbie had been there, and eventually that had gotten out, too.

  "Junior? Junior, what--"

  Then he slapped her, and thinking pretty much ceased.


  He didn't get much into that first one, because he was still in the doorway and there wasn't much room to swing; he could only draw his arm back to half-cock. He might not have hit her at all (at least not to start with) had she not been flashing a grin--God, those teeth, they'd given him the creeps even in grammar school--and if she hadn't called him Junior.

  Of course everyone in town called him Junior, he thought of himself as Junior, but he hadn't realized how much he hated it, how much he hoped-to-die-in-a-maggot-pie hated it until he heard it come bolting out from between the spooky tombstone teeth of the bitch who had caused him so much trouble. The sound of it went through his head like the sunglare when he'd looked up to see the plane.

  But as slaps from half-cock go, this one wasn't bad. She went stumbling backward against the newel post of the stairway and the towel flew off her hair. Wet brown snaggles hung around her cheeks, making her look like Medusa. The smile had been replaced by a look of stunned surprise, and Junior saw a trickle of blood running from the corner of her mouth. That was good. That was fine. The bitch deserved to bleed for what she had done. So much trouble, not just for him but for Frankie and Mel and Carter, too.

  His mother's voice in his head: Don't let yourself get out of control, honey. She was dead and still wouldn't stop giving advice. Teach her a lesson, but make it a little one.

  And he really might have managed to do that, but then her robe came open and she was naked underneath it. He could see the dark patch of hair over her breeding-farm, her goddam itchy breeding-farm that was all the fucking trouble, when you got right down to it those farms were all the fucking trouble in the world, and his head was throbbing, thudding, whamming, smashing, splitting. It felt like it was going to go thermonuclear at any moment. A perfect little mushroom cloud would shoot out of each ear just before everything exploded above the neck, and Junior Rennie (who didn't know he had a brain tumor--wheezy old Dr. Haskell had never even considered the possibility, not in an otherwise healthy young man hardly out of his teens) went crazy. It wasn't a lucky morning for Claudette Sanders or Chuck Thompson; in point of fact, it wasn't a lucky morning for anyone in Chester's Mill.

  But few were as unlucky as the ex-girlfriend of Frank DeLesseps.


  She did have two more semi-coherent thoughts as she leaned against the newel post and looked at his bulging eyes and the way he was biting his tongue--biting it so hard his teeth sunk into it.

  He's crazy. I have to call the police before he really hurts me.

  She turned to run down the front hall to the kitchen, where she would pull the handset off the wall phone, punch 911, and then just start screaming. She got two steps, then stumbled on the towel she'd wrapped around her hair. She regained her balance quickly--she had been a cheerleader in high school and those skills hadn't left her--but it was still too late. Her head snapped back and her feet flew out in front of her. He had grabbed her by her hair.

  He yanked her against his body. He was baking, as if with a high fever. She could feel his heartbeat: quick-quick, running away with itself.

  "You lying bitch !" he screamed directly into her ear. It sent a spike of pain deep into her head. She screamed herself, but the sound seemed faint and inconsequential compared to his. Then his arms were wrapped around her waist and she was being propelled down the hall at a manic speed, nothing but her toes touching the carpet. Something went through her mind about being the hood ornament on a runaway car, and then they were in the kitchen, which was filled with brilliant sunshine.

  Junior screamed again. This time not with rage but pain.


  The light was killing him, it was frying his howling brains, but he didn't let it stop him. Too late for that now.

  He ran her straight into the Formica-topped kitchen table without slowing. It struck her in the stomach, then slid and slammed into the wall. The sugar bowl and the salt and pepper went flying. Her breath escaped her in a big woofing sound. Holding her around the waist with one hand and by the wet snaggles of her hair with the other, Junior whirled her and threw her against the Coldspot. She struck it with a bang that knocked off most of the fridge magnets. Her face was dazed and paper-pale. Now she was bleeding from her nose as well as her lower lip. The blood was brilliant against her white skin. He saw her eyes shift toward the butcher block filled with knives on the counter, and when she tried to rise, he brought his knee into the center of her face, hard. There was a muffled crunching sound, as if someone had dropped a big piece of china--a platter, maybe--in another room.

  It's what I should have done to Dale Barbara, he thought, and stepped back with the heels of his palms pressed against his throbbing temples. Tears from his watering eyes spilled down his cheeks. He had bitten his tongue badly--blood was streaming down his chin and pattering on the floor--but Junior wasn't aware of it. The pain in his head was too intense.

  Angie lay facedown among the fridge magnets. The largest said WHAT GOES IN YOUR MOUTH TODAY SHOWS UP ON YOUR ASS TOMORROW. He thought she was out, but all at once she began to shiver all over. Her fingers trembled as if she were preparing to play something complex on the piano. (Only instrument this bitch ever played is the skinflute, he thought.) Then her legs began to crash up and down, and her arms followed suit. Now Angie looked like she was trying to swim away from him. She was having a goddam seizure.

  "Stop it!" he shouted. Then, as she voided herself: "Stop it! Stop doing that, you bitch !"

  He dropped on his knees, one on each side of her head, which was now bobbing up and down. Her forehead repeatedly smacked the tile, like one of those camel jockeys saluting Allah.

  "Stop it! Fucking stop it !"

  She began to make a growling noise. It was surprisingly loud. Christ, what if someone heard her? What if he got caught here? This wouldn't be like explaining to his father why he'd left school (a thing Junior had not as yet been able to bring himself to do). This time it would be worse than having his monthly allowance cut by seventy-five percent because of that goddam fight with the cook--the fight this useless bitch had instigated. This time Big Jim Rennie wouldn't be able to talk Chief Perkins and the local fuzznuts around. This could be--

  A picture of Shawshank State Prison's brooding green walls suddenly popped into his mind. He couldn't go there, he had his whole life ahead of him. But he would. Even if he shut her up now, he would. Because she'd talk later. And her face--which looked a lot worse than Barbie's had after the fight in the parking lot--would talk for her.

  Unless he shut her up completely.

  Junior seized her by the hair and helped her wham her head against the tiles. He was hoping it would knock her out so he could finish doing ... well, whatever ... but the seizure only intensified. She began beating her feet against the Coldspot, and the rest of the magnets came down in a shower.

  He let go of her hair and seized her by the throat. Said, "I'm sorry, Ange, it wasn't supposed to happen like this." But he wasn't sorry. He was only scared and in pain and convinced that her struggles in this horribly bright kitchen would never end. His fingers were already getting tired. Who knew it was so hard to choke a person?

  Somewhere, far off to the south, there was a boom. As if someone had fired a very large gun. Junior paid no attention. What Junior did was redouble his grip, and at last Angie's struggles began to weaken. Somewhere much closer by--in the house, on this floor--a low chiming began. He looked up, eyes wide, at first sure it was the doorbell. Someone had heard the ruckus and the cops were here. His head was exploding, it felt like he had sprained all his fingers, and it had all been for nothing. A terrible p
icture flitted through his mind: Junior Rennie being escorted into the Castle County courthouse for arraignment with some cop's sportcoat over his head.

  Then he recognized the sound. It was the same chiming his own computer made when the electricity went out and it had to switch over to battery power.

  Bing ... Bing ... Bing ...

  Room service, send me up a room, he thought, and went on choking. She was still now but he kept at it for another minute with his head turned to one side, trying to avoid the smell of her shit. How like her to leave such a nasty going-away present! How like them all! Women! Women and their breeding-farms! Nothing but anthills covered with hair! And they said men were the problem!


  He was standing over her bloody, beshitted, and undoubtedly dead body, wondering what to do next, when there was another distant boom from the south. Not a gun; much too big. An explosion. Maybe Chuck Thompson's fancy little airplane had crashed after all. It wasn't impossible; on a day when you set out just to shout at someone--read them the riot act a little, no more than that--and she ended up making you kill her, anything was possible.

  A police siren started yowling. Junior was sure it was for him. Someone had looked in the window and seen him choking her. It galvanized him into action. He started down the hall to the front door, got as far as the towel he'd knocked off her hair with that first slap, then stopped. They'd come that way, that was just the way they'd come. Pull up out front, those bright new LED flashers sending arrows of pain into the squalling meat of his poor brain--

  He turned around and ran back to the kitchen. He looked down before stepping over Angie's body, he couldn't help it. In first grade, he and Frank had sometimes pulled her braids and she would stick her tongue out at them and cross her eyes. Now her eyes bulged from their sockets like ancient marbles and her mouth was full of blood.