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Cujo, Page 2

Stephen King

  But little by little the wires unsnarled themselves and stiff Erector Set muscles relaxed. His mind began to drift. . . .

  And then a new screaming, this one closer than the night-wind outside, brought him back to staring wakefulness again.

  The hinges on the closet door.


  That thin sound, so high that perhaps only dogs and small boys awake in the night could have heard it. His closet door swung open slowly and steadily, a dead mouth opening on darkness inch by inch and foot by foot.

  The monster was in that darkness. It crouched where it had crouched before. It grinned at him, and its huge shoulders bulked above its cocked head, and its eyes glowed amber, alive with stupid cunning. I told you they'd go away, Tad, it whispered. They always do, in the end. And then I can come back. I like to come back. I like you, Tad. I'll come back every night now, I think, and every night I'll come a little closer to your bed . . . and a little closer . . . until one night, before you can scream for them, you'll hear something growling, something growling right beside you, Tad, it'll be me, and I'll pounce, and then I'll eat you and you'll be in me.

  Tad stared at the creature in his closet with drugged, horrified fascination. There was something that . . . was almost familiar. Something he almost knew. And that was the worst, that almost knowing. Because--

  Because I'm crazy, Tad. I'm here. I've been here all along. My name was Frank Dodd once, and I killed the ladies and maybe I ate them, too. I've been here all along, I stick around, I keep my ear to the ground. I'm the monster, Tad, the old monster, and I'll have you soon, Tad. Feel me getting closer . . . and closer. . .

  Perhaps the thing in the closet spoke to him in its own hissing breath, or perhaps its voice was the wind's voice. Either way, neither way, it didn't matter. He listened to its words, drugged with terror, near fainting (but oh so wide awake); he looked upon its shadowed, snarling face, which he almost knew. He would sleep no more tonight; perhaps he would never sleep again.

  But sometime later, sometime between the striking of half past midnight and the hour of one, perhaps because he was small, Tad drifted away again. Thin sleep in which hulking, furred creatures with white teeth chased him deepened into dreamless slumber.

  The wind held long conversations with the gutters. A rind of white spring moon rose in the sky. Somewhere far away, in some still meadow of night or along some pine-edged corridor of forest, a dog barked furiously and then fell silent

  And in Tad Trenton's closet, something with amber eyes held watch.

  "Did you put the blankets back?" Donna asked her husband the next morning. She was standing at the stove, cooking bacon. Tad was in the other room, watching The New Zoo Revue and eating a bowl of Twinkles. Twinkles was a Sharp cereal, and the Trentons got all their Sharp cereals free.

  "Hmmm?" Vic asked. He was buried deep in the sports pages. A transplanted New Yorker, he had so far successfully resisted Red Sox fever. But he was masochistically pleased to see that the Mets were off to another superlatively cruddy start.

  "The blankets. In Tad's closet They were back in there. The chair was back in there, too, and the door was open again." She brought the bacon, draining on a paper towel and still sizzling, to the table. "Did you put them back on his chair?"

  "Not me," Vic said, turning a page. "It smells like a mothball convention back there."

  "That's funny. He must have put them back."

  He put the paper aside and looked up at her. "What are you talking about, Donna?"

  "You remember the bad dream last night--"

  "Not apt to forget. I thought the kid was dying. Having a convulsion or something."

  She nodded. "He thought the blankets were some kind of--" She shrugged.

  "Boogeyman," Vic said, grinning.

  "I guess so. And you gave him his teddybear and put those blankets in the back of the closet. But they were back on the chair when I went in to make his bed." She laughed. "I looked in, and for just a second there I thought--"

  "Now I know where he gets it," Vic said, picking up the newspaper again. He cocked a friendly eye at her. "Three hot dogs, my ass."

  Later, after Vic had shot off to work, Donna asked Tad why he had put the chair back in the closet with the blankets on it if they had scared him in the night.

  Tad looked up at her, and his normally animated, lively face seemed pale and watchful--too old. His Star Wars coloring book was open in front of him. He had been doing a picture from the interstellar cantina, using his green Crayola to color Greedo.

  "I didn't," he said.

  "But Tad, if you didn't, and Daddy didn't, and I didn't--"

  "The monster did it," Tad said. "The monster in my closet."

  He bent to his picture again.

  She stood looking at him, troubled, a little frightened. He was a bright boy, and perhaps too imaginative. This was not such good news. She would have to talk to Vic about it tonight. She would have to have a long talk with him about it.

  "Tad, remember what your father said," she told him now. "There aren't any such things as monsters."

  "Not in the daytime, anyway," he said, and smiled at her so openly, so beautifully, that she was charmed out of her fears. She ruffled his hair and kissed his cheek.

  She meant to talk to Vic, and then Steve Kemp came while Tad was at nursery school, and she forgot, and Tad screamed that night too, screamed that it was in his closet, the monster, the monster!

  The closet door hung ajar, blankets on the chair. This time Vic took them up to the third floor and stacked them in the closet up there.

  "Locked it up, Tadder," Vic said, kissing his son. "You're all set now. Go back to sleep and have a good dream."

  But Tad did not sleep for a long time, and before he did the closet door swung clear of its latch with a sly little snicking sound, the dead mouth opened on the dead dark--the dead dark where something furry and sharp-toothed and -clawed waited, something that smelled of sour blood and dark doom.

  Hello, Tad, it whispered in its rotting voice, and the moon peered in Tad's window like the white and slitted eye of a dead man.

  The oldest living person in Castle Rock that late spring was Evelyn Chalmers, known as Aunt Evvie by the town's older residents, known as "that old loudmouth bitch" by George Meara, who had to deliver her mail--which mostly consisted of catalogues and offers from the Reader's Digest and prayer folders from the Crusade of the Eternal Christ--and listen to her endless monologues. "The only thing that old loudmouth bitch is any good at is telling the weather," George had been known to allow when in his cups and in the company of his cronies down at the Mellow Tiger. It was one stupid name for a bar, but since it was the only one Castle Rock could boast, it looked like they were pretty much stuck with it,

  There was general agreement with George's opinion. As the oldest resident of Castle Rock, Aunt Evvie had held the Boston Post cane for the last two years, ever since Arnold Heebert, who had been one hundred and one and so far gone in senility that talking to him held all the intellectual challenge of talking to an empty catfood can, had doddered off the back patio of the Castle Acres Nursing Home and broken his neck exactly twenty-five minutes after whizzing in his pants for the last time.

  Aunt Evvie was nowhere near as senile as Arnie Heebert had been, and nowhere near as old, but at ninety-three she was old enough, and, as she was fond of bawling at a resigned (and often hung-over) George Meara when he delivered the mail, she hadn't been stupid enough to lose her home the way Heebert had done.

  But she was good at the weather. The town consensus--among the older people, who cared about such things--was that Aunt Evvie was never wrong about three things: the week when the first hay-cutting would happen in the summertime, how good (or how bad) the blueberries would be, and what the weather would be like.

  One day early that June she shuffled out to the mailbox at the end of the driveway, leaning heavily on her Boston Post cane (which would go to Vin Marchant when the loudmouthed old bitch
popped off, George Meara thought, and good riddance to you, Evvie) and smoking a Herbert Tareyton. She bellowed a greeting at Meara--her deafness had apparently convinced her that everyone else in the world had gone deaf in sympathy--and then shouted that they were going to have the hottest summer in thirty years. Hot early and hot late, Evvie bellowed leather-lunged into the drowsy eleven-o'clock quiet, and hot in the middle.

  "That so?" George asked.


  "I said, 'Is that so?" That was the other thing about Aunt Evvie; she got you shouting right along with her. A man could pop a blood vessel.

  "I should hope to smile and kiss a pig if it ain't!" Aunt Evvie screamed. The ash of her cigarette fell on the shoulder of George Meara's uniform blouse, freshly dry-cleaned and just put on clean this morning; he brushed it off resignedly. Aunt Evvie leaned in the window of his car, all the better to bellow in his ear. Her breath smelled like sour cucumbers.

  "Fieldmice has all gone outta the root cellars! Tommy Neadeau seen deer out by Moosuntic Pond rubbin velvet off'n their antlers ere the first robin showed up! Grass under the snow when she melted! Green grass, Meara!"

  "That so, Evvie?" George replied, since some reply seemed necessary. He was getting a headache.


  "THAT SO, AUNT EVVIE?" George Meara screamed. Saliva flew from his lips.

  "Oh, ayuh! Aunt Evvie howled back contentedly. "And I seen heat lightnin last night late! Bad sign, Meara! Early heat's a bad sign! Be people die of the heat this summer! It's gonna be a bad un!"

  "I got to go, Aunt Evvie!" George yelled. "Got a Special Delivery for Stringer Beaulieu!"

  Aunt Evvie Chalmers threw her head back and cackled at the spring sky. She cackled until she was fit to choke and more cigarette ashes rolled down the front of her housedress. She spat the last quarter inch of cigarette out of her mouth, and it lay smoldering in the driveway by one of her old-lady shoes--a shoe as black as a stove and as tight as a corset; a shoe for the ages.

  "You got a Special Delivery for Frenchy Beaulieu? Why, he couldn't read the name an his own tombstone!"

  "I got to go, Aunt Evvie!" George said hastily, and threw his car in gear.

  "Frenchy Beaulieu is a stark natural-born fool if God ever made one!" Aunt Evvie hollered, but by then she was hollering into George Meara's dust; he had made good his escape.

  She stood there by her mailbox for a minute, watching him go. There was no personal mail for her; these days there rarely was. Most of the people she knew who had been able to write were now dead. She would follow soon enough, she suspected. The oncoming summer gave her a bad feeling, a scary feeling. She could speak of the mice leaving the root cellars early, or of heat lightning in a spring sky, but she could not speak of the heat she sensed somewhere just over the horizon, crouched like a scrawny yet powerful beast with mangy fur and red, smoldering eyes; she could not speak of her dreams, which were hot and shadowless and thirsty; she could not speak of the morning when tears had come for no reason, tears that did not relieve but stung the eyes like August-mad sweat instead. She smelled lunacy in a wind that had not arrived.

  "George Meara, you're an old fart," Aunt Evvie said, giving the word a juicy Maine resonance which built it into something that was both cataclysmic and ludicrous: faaaaaat.

  She began working her way back to the house, leaning on her Boston Post cane, which had been given her at a Town Hall ceremony for no more than the stupid accomplishment of growing old successfully. No wonder, she thought, the goddamned paper had gone broke.

  She paused on her stoop, looking at a sky which was still spring-pure and pastel soft. Oh, but she sensed it coming: something hot. Something foul

  A year before that summer, when Vic Trenton's old Jaguar developed a distressing clunking sound somewhere inside the rear left wheel, it had been George Meara who recommended that he take it up to Joe Camber's Garage on the outskirts of Castle Rock. "He's got a funny way of doing things for around here," George told Vic that day as Vic stood by his mailbox. "Tells you what the job's gonna cost, then he does the job, and then he charges you what he said it was gonna cost. Funny way to do business, huh?" And he drove away, leaving Vic to wonder if the mailman had been serious or if he (Vic) had just been on the receiving end of some obscure Yankee joke.

  But he had called Camber, and one day in July (a much cooler July than the one which would follow a year later), he and Donna and Tad had driven out to Camber's place together. It really was far out; twice Vic had to stop and ask directions, and it was then that he began to call those farthest reaches of the township East Galoshes Corners.

  He pulled into the Camber dooryard, the back wheel clunking louder than ever. Tad, then three, was sitting on Donna Trenton's lap, laughing up at her; a ride in Daddy's "no-top" always put him in a fine mood, and Donna was feeling pretty fine herself.

  A boy of eight or nine was standing in the yard, hitting an old baseball with an even older baseball bat. The ball would travel through the air, strike the side of the barn, which Vic assumed was also Mr. Camber's garage, and then roll most of the way back.

  "Hi," the boy said. "Are you Mr. Trenton?"

  "That's right," Vic said.

  "I'll get my dad," the boy said, and went into the barn.

  The three Trentons got out, and Vic walked around to the back of his Jag and squatted by the bad wheel, not feeling very confident Perhaps he should have tried to nurse the car into Portland after all. The situation out here didn't look very promising; Camber didn't even have a sign hung out.

  His meditations were broken by Donna, calling his name nervously. And then: "Oh my God, Vic--"

  He got up quickly and saw a huge dog emerging from the barn. For one absurd moment he wondered if it really was a dog, or maybe some strange and ugly species of pony. Then, as the dog padded out of the shadows of the barn's mouth, he saw its sad eyes and realized it was a Saint Bernard.

  Donna had impulsively snatched up Tad and retreated toward the hood of the Jag, but Tad was struggling impatiently in her arms, trying to get down.

  "Want to see the doggy, Mom . . . want to see the doggy!"

  Donna cast a nervous glance at Vic, who shrugged, also uneasy. Then the boy came back and ruffled the dog's head as he approached Vic. The dog wagged a tail that was absolutely huge, and Tad redoubled his struggles.

  "You can let him down, ma'am." the boy said politely.

  "Cujo likes kids. He won't hurt him." And then, to Vic: "My dad's coming right out. He's washing his hands."

  "All right," Vic said. "That's one hell of a big dog, son. Are you sure he's safe?"

  "He's safe," the boy agreed, but Vic found himself moving up beside his wife as his son, incredibly small, toddled toward the dog. Cujo stood with his head cocked, that great brush of a tail waving slowly back and forth.

  "Vic--" Donna began.

  "It's all right," Vic said, thinking, I hope. The dog looked big enough to swallow the Tadder in a single bite.

  Tad stopped for a moment, apparently doubtful. He and the dog looked at each other.

  "Doggy?" Tad said.

  "Cujo," Camber's boy said, walking over to Tad. "His name's Cujo."

  "Cujo," Tad said, and the dog came to him and began to lick his face in great, goodnatured, slobbery swipes that had Tad giggling and trying to fend him off. He turned back to his mother and father, laughing the way he did when one of them was tickling him. He took a step toward them and his feet tangled in each other. He fell down, and suddenly the dog was moving toward him, over him, and Vic, who had his arm around Donna's waist, felt his wife's gasp as well as heard it. He started to move forward . . . and then stopped.

  Cujo's teeth had clamped on the back of Tad's Spider-Man T-shirt. He pulled the boy up--for a moment Tad looked like a kitten in its mother's mouth--and set the boy on his feet.

  Tad ran back to his mother and father. "Like the doggy! Mom! Dad! I like the doggy!"

  Camber's boy was watching this with mild amusement, his hands
stuffed into the pockets of his jeans.

  "Sure, it's a great dog," Vic said. He was amused, but his heart was still beating fast. For just one moment there he had really believed that the dog was going to bite off Tad's head like a lollipop. "It's a Saint Bernard, Tad," he said.

  "Saint . . . Bennart!" Tad cried, and ran back toward Cujo, who was now sitting outside the mouth of the barn like a small mountain. "Cujo! Coooojo!"

  Donna tensed beside Vic again. "Oh, Vic, do you think--"

  But now Tad was with Cujo again, first hugging him extravagantly and then looking closely at his face. With Cujo sitting down (his tail thumping on the gravel, his tongue lolling out pinkly), Tad could almost look into the dog's eyes by standing on tiptoc.

  "I think they're fine," Vic said.

  Tad had now put one of his small hands into Cujo's mouth and was peering in like the world's smallest dentist. That gave Vic another uneasy moment, but then Tad was running back to them again. "Doggy's got teeth," he told Vic.

  "Yes," Vic said. "Lots of teeth."

  He turned to the boy, meaning to ask him where he had come up with that name, but then Joe Camber was coming out of the barn, wiping his hands on a piece of waste so he could shake without getting Vic greasy.

  Vic was pleasantly surprised to find that Camber knew exactly what he was doing. He listened carefully to the clunking sound as he and Vic drove down to the house at the bottom of the hill and then back up to Camber's place.

  "Wheel bearing's going," Camber said briefly. "You're lucky it ain't froze up on you already."

  "Can you fix it?" Vic asked.

  "Oh, ayuh. Fix it right now if you don't mind hangin around for a couple of hours."

  "That'd be all right, I guess," Vic said. He looked toward Tad and the dog. Tad had gotten the baseball Camber's son had been hitting. He would throw it as far as he could (which wasn't very far), and the Cambers' Saint Bernard would obediently get it and bring it back to Tad. The ball was looking decidedly slobbery. "Your dog is keeping my son amused."