The Mist, Page 2Stephen King
He started to come and then stopped, eyeing the wires nervously. One of them humped up and turned over lazily, as if beckoning.
"Daddy, can lectricity shoot through the ground?"
A fair question. "Yes, but don't worry. Electricity wants the ground, not you, Billy. You'll be all right if you stay away from the wires."
"Wants the ground," he muttered, and then came to me. We walked up the driveway holding hands.
It was worse than I had imagined. Trees had fallen across the drive in four different places, one of them small, two of them middling, and one old baby that must have been five feet through the middle. Moss was crusted onto it like a moldy corset.
Branches, some half-stripped of their leaves, lay everywhere in jackstraw profusion. Billy and I walked up to the camp road, tossing the smaller branches off into the woods on either side. It reminded me of a summer's day that had been maybe twenty-five years before; I couldn't have been much older than Billy was now. All my uncles had been here, and they had spent the day in the woods with axes and hatchets and Darcy poles, cutting brush. Later that afternoon they had all sat down to the trestle picnic table my dad and mom used to have and there had been a monster meal of hot dogs and hamburgers and potato salad. The 'Gansett beer had flowed like water and my uncle Reuben took a dive into the lake with all his clothes on, even his deck-shoes. In those days there were still deer in these woods.
"Daddy, can I go down to the lake?"
He was tired of throwing branches, and the thing to do with a little boy when he's tired is to let him go do something else. "Sure."
We walked back to the house together and then Billy cut right, going around the house and giving the downed wires a large berth. I went left, into the garage, to get my McCullough. As I had suspected, I could already hear the unpleasant song of the chainsaw up and down the lake.
I topped up the tank, took off my shirt, and was starting back up the driveway when Steff came out. She eyed the downed trees lying across the driveway nervously.
"How bad is it?"
"I can cut it up. How bad is it in there?"
"Well, I got the glass cleaned up, but you're going to have to do something about that tree, David. We can't have a tree in the living room."
"No," I said. "I guess we can't."
We looked at each other in the morning sunlight and got to giggling. I set the McCullough down on the cement areaway, and kissed her, holding her buttocks firmly.
"Don't," she murmured. "Billy's--"
He came tearing around the corner of the house just then. "Dad! Daddy! Y'oughta see the--"
Steffy saw the live wires and screamed for him to watch out. Billy, who was a good distance away from them, pulled up short and stared at his mother as if she had gone mad.
"I'm okay, Mom," he said in the careful tone of voice you use to placate the very old and senile. He walked toward us, showing us how all right he was, and Steff began to tremble in my arms.
"It's all right," I said in her ear. "He knows about them."
"Yes, but people get killed," she said. "They have ads all the time on television about live wires, people get--Billy, I want you to come in the house right now!"
"Aw, come on, Mom! I wanna show Dad the boathouse!" He was almost bug-eyed with excitement and disappointment. He had gotten a taste of poststorm apocalypse and wanted to share it.
"You go in right now! Those wires are dangerous and--"
"Dad said they want the ground, not me--"
"Billy, don't you argue with me!"
"I'll come down and look, champ. Go on down yourself." I could feel Steff tensing against me. "Go around the other side, kiddo."
He tore past us, taking the stone steps that led around the west end of the house two by two. He disappeared with his shirttail flying, trailing back one word--"Wow!"--as he spotted some other piece of destruction.
"He knows about the wires, Steffy." I took her gently by the shoulders. "He's scared of them. That's good. It makes him safe."
One tear tracked down her cheek. "David, I'm scared."
"Come on! It's over."
"Is it? Last winter...and the late spring...they called it a black spring in town...they said there hadn't been one in these parts since 1888--"
"They" undoubtedly meant Mrs. Carmody, who kept the Bridgton Antiquary, a junk shop that Steff liked to rummage around in sometimes. Billy loved to go with her. In one of the shadowy, dusty back rooms, stuffed owls with gold-ringed eyes spread their wings forever as their feet endlessly grasped varnished logs; stuffed raccoons stood in a trio around a "stream" that was a long fragment of dusty mirror; and one moth-eaten wolf, which was foaming sawdust instead of saliva around his muzzle, snarled a creepy eternal snarl. Mrs. Carmody claimed the wolf was shot by her father as it came to drink from Stevens Brook one September afternoon in 1901.
The expeditions to Mrs. Carmody's Antiquary shop worked well for my wife and son. She was into carnival glass and he was into death in the name of taxidermy. But I thought that the old woman exercised a rather unpleasant hold over Steff's mind, which was in all other ways practical and hardheaded. She had found Steff's vulnerable spot, a mental Achilles' heel. Nor was Steff the only one in town who was fascinated by Mrs. Carmody's gothic pronouncements and folk remedies (which were always prescribed in God's name).
Stump-water would take off bruises if your husband was the sort who got a bit too free with his fists after three drinks. You could tell what kind of a winter was coming by counting the rings on the caterpillars in June or by measuring the thickness of August honeycomb. And now, good God protect and preserve us, THE BLACK SPRING OF 1888 (add your own exclamation points, as many as you think it deserves). I had also heard the story. It's one they like to pass around up here--if the spring is cold enough, the ice on the lakes will eventually turn as black as a rotted tooth. It's rare, but hardly a once-in-a-century occurrence. They like to pass it around, but I doubt that many could pass it around with as much conviction as Mrs. Carmody.
"We had a hard winter and a late spring," I said. "Now we're having a hot summer. And we had a storm but it's over. You're not acting like yourself, Stephanie."
"That wasn't an ordinary storm," she said in that same husky voice.
"No," I said. "I'll go along with you there."
I had heard the Black Spring story from Bill Giosti, who owned and operated--after a fashion--Giosti's Mobil in Casco Village. Bill ran the place with his three tosspot sons (with occasional help from his four tosspot grandsons...when they could take time off from tinkering with their snowmobiles and dirt-bikes). Bill was seventy, looked eighty, and could still drink like twenty-three when the mood was on him. Billy and I had taken the Scout in for a fill-up the day after a surprise mid-May storm dropped nearly a foot of wet, heavy snow on the region, covering the new grass and flowers. Giosti had been in his cups for fair, and happy to pass along the Black Spring story, along with his own original twist. But we get snow in May sometimes; it comes and it's gone two days later. It's no big deal.
Steff was glancing doubtfully at the downed wires again. "When will the power company come?"
"Just as soon as they can. It won't be long. I just don't want you to worry about Billy. His head's on pretty straight. He forgets to pick up his clothes, but he isn't going to go and step on a bunch of live lines. He's got a good, healthy dose of self-interest." I touched a corner of her mouth and it obliged by turning up in the beginning of a smile. "Better?"
"You always make it seem better," she said, and that made me feel good.
From the lakeside of the house Billy was yelling for us to come and see.
"Come on," I said. "Let's go look at the damage."
She snorted ruefully. "If I want to look at damage, I can go sit in my living room."
"Make a little kid happy, then."
We walked down the stone steps, hand in hand. We had just reached the first turn in them when Billy came from the other direction
at speed, almost knocking us over.
"Take it easy," Steff said, frowning a little. Maybe, in her mind, she was seeing him skidding into that deadly nest of live wires instead of the two of us.
"You gotta come see!" Billy panted. "The boathouse is all bashed! There's a dock on the rocks...and trees in the boat cove...Jesus Christ!"
"Billy Drayton!" Steff thundered.
"Sorry, Ma--but you gotta--wow!" He was gone again.
"Having spoken, the doomsayer departs," I said, and that made Steff giggle again. "Listen, after I cut up those trees across the driveway, I'll go by the Central Maine Power office on Portland Road. Tell them what we got. Okay?"
"Okay," she said gratefully. "When do you think you can go?"
Except for the big tree--the one with the moldy corset of moss--it would have been an hour's work. With the big one added in, I didn't think the job would be done until eleven or so.
"I'll give you lunch here, then. But you'll have to get some things at the market for me...we're almost out of milk and butter. Also...well, I'll have to make you a list."
Give a woman a disaster and she turns squirrel. I gave her a hug and nodded. We went on around the house. It didn't take more than a glance to understand why Billy had been a little overwhelmed.
"Lordy," Steff said in a faint voice.
From where we stood we had enough elevation to be able to see almost a quarter of a mile of shoreline--the Bibber property to our left, our own, and Brent Norton's to our right.
The huge old pine that had guarded our boat cove had been sheared off halfway up. What was left looked like a brutally sharpened pencil, and the inside of the tree seemed a glistening and defenseless white against the age-and-weather-darkened outer bark. A hundred feet of tree, the old pine's top half, lay partly submerged in our shallow cove. It occurred to me that we were very lucky our little Star-Cruiser wasn't sunk underneath it. The week before, it had developed engine trouble and it was still at the Naples marina, patiently waiting its turn.
On the other side of our little piece of shorefront, the boathouse my father had built--the boathouse that had once housed a sixty-foot Chris-Craft when the Drayton family fortunes had been at a higher mark than they were today--lay under another big tree. It was the one that had stood on Norton's side of the property line, I saw. That raised the first flush of anger. The tree had been dead for five years and he should have long since had it taken down. Now it was three-quarters of the way down; our boathouse was propping it up. The roof had taken on a drunken, swaybacked look. The wind had swirled shingles from the hole the tree had made all over the point of land the boathouse stood on. Billy's description, "bashed," was as good as any.
"That's Norton's tree!" Steff said. And she said it with such hurt indignation that I had to smile in spite of the pain I felt. The flagpole was lying in the water and Old Glory floated soggily beside it in a tangle of lanyard. And I could imagine Norton's response: Sue me.
Billy was on the rock breakwater, examining the dock that had washed up on the stones. It was painted in jaunty blue and yellow stripes. He looked back over his shoulder at us and yelled gleefully, "It's the Marlinses', isn't it?"
"Yeah, it is," I said. "Wade in and fish the flag out, would you, Big Bill?"
To the right of the breakwater was a small sandy beach. In 1941, before Pearl Harbor paid off the Great Depression in blood, my dad hired a man to truck in that fine beach sand--six dumptrucks full--and to spread it out to a depth that is about nipple-high on me, say five feet. The workman charged eighty bucks for the job, and the sand has never moved. Just as well, you know, you can't put a sandy beach in on your land now. Now that the sewerage runoff from the booming cottage-building industry has killed most of the fish and made the rest of them unsafe to eat, the EPA has forbidden installing sand beaches. They might upset the ecology of the lake, you see, and it is presently against the law for anyone except land developers to do that.
Billy went for the flag--then stopped. At the same moment I felt Steff go rigid against me, and I saw it myself. The Harrison side of the lake was gone. It had been buried under a line of bright white mist, like a fair-weather cloud fallen to earth.
My dream of the night before recurred, and when Steff asked me what it was, the word that nearly jumped first from my mouth was God.
You couldn't see even a hint of the shoreline over there, but years of looking at Long Lake made me believe that the shoreline wasn't hidden by much; only yards, maybe. The edge of the mist was nearly ruler-straight.
"What is it, Dad?" Billy yelled. He was in the water up to his knees, groping for the soggy flag.
"Fogbank," I said.
"On the lake?" Steff asked doubtfully, and I could see Mrs. Carmody's influence in her eyes. Damn the woman. My own moment of unease was passing. Dreams, after all, are insubstantial things, like mist itself.
"Sure. You've seen fog on the lake before."
"Never like that. That looks more like a cloud."
"It's the brightness of the sun," I said. "It's the same way clouds look from an airplane when you fly over them."
"What would do it? We only get fog in damp weather."
"No, we've got it right now," I said. "Harrison does, anyway. It's a little leftover from the storm, that's all. Two fronts meeting. Something along that line."
"David, are you sure?"
I laughed and hauled my arm around her neck. "No, actually, I'm bullshitting like crazy. If I was sure, I'd be doing the weather on the six-o'clock news. Go on and make your shopping list."
She gave me one more doubtful glance, looked at the fogbank for a moment or two with the flat of her hand held up to shade her eyes, and then shook her head. "Weird," she said, and walked away.
For Billy, the mist had lost its novelty. He had fished the flag and a tangle of lanyard out of the water. We spread it on the lawn to dry.
"I heard it was wrong to ever let the flag touch the ground, Daddy," he said in a businesslike, let's get-this-out-of-the-way tone.
"Yeah. Victor McAllister says they lectercute people for it."
"Well, you tell Vic he's full of what makes the grass grow green."
"Horseshit, right?" Billy is a bright boy, but oddly humorless. To the champ, everything is serious business. I'm hoping that he'll live long enough to learn that in this world that is a very dangerous attitude.
"Yeah, right, but don't tell your mother I said so. When the flag's dry, we'll put it away. We'll even fold it into a cocked hat, so we'll be on safe ground there."
"Daddy, will we fix the boathouse roof and get a new flagpole?" For the first time he looked anxious. He'd maybe had enough destruction for a while.
I clapped him on the shoulder. "You're damn tooting."
"Can I go over to the Bibbers' and see what happened there?"
"Just for a couple of minutes. They'll be cleaning up, too, and sometimes that makes people feel a little ugly." The way I presently felt about Norton.
"Okay. Bye!" He was off.
"Stay out of their way, champ. And, Billy?"
He glanced back.
"Remember about the live wires. If you see more, steer clear of them."
I stood there for a moment, first surveying the damage, then glancing out at the mist again. It seemed closer, but it was very hard to tell for sure. If it was closer, it was defying all the laws of nature, because the wind--a very gentle breeze--was against it. That, of course, was patently impossible. It was very, very white. The only thing I can compare it to would be fresh-fallen snow lying in dazzling contrast to the deep blue brilliance of the winter sky. But snow reflects hundreds and hundreds of diamond points in the sun, and this peculiar fogbank, although bright and clean-looking, did not sparkle. In spite of what Steff had said, mist isn't uncommon on clear days, but when there's a lot of it, the suspended moisture almost always causes a rainbow. But there was no rainbow he
The unease was back, tugging at me, but before it could deepen, I heard a low mechanical sound--whutwhut-whut!--followed by a barely audible "Shit!" The mechanical sound was repeated, but this time there was no oath. The third time the chuffing sound was followed by "Mother-fuck!" in that same low I'm-all-by-myself-but-boy-am-I-pissed tone.
--then: "You cunt."
I began to grin. Sound carries well out here, and all the buzzing chainsaws were fairly distant. Distant enough for me to recognize the not-so-dulcet tones of my next-door neighbor, the renowned lawyer and lakefront-property-owner, Brenton Norton.
I moved down a little closer to the water, pretending to stroll toward the dock beached on our breakwater. Now I could see Norton. He was in the clearing beside his screened-in porch, standing on a carpet of old pine needles and dressed in paint-spotted jeans and a white strappy T-shirt. His forty-dollar haircut was in disarray and sweat poured down his face. He was down on one knee, laboring over his own chainsaw. It was much bigger and fancier than my little $79.95 Value House job. It seemed to have everything, in fact, but a starter button. He was yanking a cord, producing the listless whutwhut-whut sounds and nothing more. I was gladdened in my heart to see that a yellow birch had fallen across his picnic table and smashed it in two.
Norton gave a tremendous yank on the starter cord.
Almost had it there for a minute, fella.
Another Herculean tug.
"Cocksucker," Norton whispered fiercely, and bared his teeth at his fancy chainsaw.
I went back around the house, feeling really good for the first time since I got up. My own saw started on the first tug, and I went to work.
Around ten o'clock there was a tap on my shoulder. It was Billy with a can of beer in one hand and Steff's list in the other. I stuffed the list in the back pocket of my jeans and took the beer, which was not exactly frosty-cold but at least cool. I chugged almost half of it at once--rarely does a beer taste that good--and tipped the can in salute at Billy. "Thanks, champ."
"Can I have some?"
I let him have a swallow. He grimaced and handed the can back. I offed the rest and just caught myself as I started to crunch it up in the middle. The deposit law on bottles and cans has been in effect for over three years, but old ways die hard.