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Cell: A Novel, Page 2

Stephen King

  “Stop that!” Clay roared. He shot to his feet, started to run toward her, slipped in Power Suit Woman’s blood, almost fell, got going again, tripped on Pixie Light, and almost fell again.

  Pixie Dark looked around at him. Her nose was broken and gushing blood down her lower face. A vertical contusion was puffing up on her brow, rising like a thunderhead on a summer day. One of her eyes had gone crooked in its socket. She opened her mouth, exposing a ruin of what had probably been expensive orthodontic work, and laughed at him. He never forgot it.

  Then she ran away down the sidewalk, screaming.

  Behind him, a motor started up and amplified bells began tinkling out the Sesame Street theme. Clay turned and saw the Mister Softee truck pulling rapidly away from the curb just as, from the top floor of the hotel across the way, a window shattered in a bright spray of glass. A body hurtled out into the October day. It fell to the sidewalk, where it more or less exploded. More screams from the forecourt. Screams of horror; screams of pain.

  “No!” Clay yelled, running alongside the Mister Softee truck. “No, come back and help me! I need some help here, you sonofabitch!”

  No answer from Mister Softee Guy, who maybe couldn’t hear over his amplified music. Clay could remember the words from the days when he’d had no reason not to believe his marriage wouldn’t last forever. In those days Johnny watched Sesame Street every day, sitting in his little blue chair with his sippy cup clutched in his hands. Something about a sunny day, keepin’ the clouds away.

  A man in a business suit came running out of the park, roaring wordless sounds at the top of his lungs, his coattails flapping behind him. Clay recognized him by his dogfur goatee. The man ran into Boylston Street. Cars swerved around him, barely missing him. He ran on to the other side, still roaring and waving his hands at the sky. He disappeared into the shadows beneath the canopy of the Four Seasons forecourt and was lost to view, but he must have gotten up to more dickens immediately, because a fresh volley of screams broke out over there.

  Clay gave up his chase of the Mister Softee truck and stood with one foot on the sidewalk and the other planted in the gutter, watching as it swerved into the center lane of Boylston Street, still tinkling. He was about to turn back to the unconscious girl and dying woman when another Duck Boat appeared, this one not loafing but roaring at top speed and yawing crazily from port to starboard. Some of the passengers were tumbling back and forth and howling—pleading—for the driver to stop. Others simply clung to the metal struts running up the open sides of the ungainly thing as it made its way up Boylston Street against the flow of traffic.

  A man in a sweatshirt grabbed the driver from behind, and Clay heard another of those inarticulate cries through the Duck Boat’s primitive amplification system as the driver threw the guy off with a mighty backward shrug. Not “Rast!” this time but something more guttural, something that sounded like “Gluh!” Then the Duck Boat driver saw the Mister Softee truck—Clay was sure of it—and changed course, aiming for it.

  “Oh God please no!” a woman sitting near the front of the tourist craft cried, and as it closed in on the tinkling ice cream truck, which was approximately one-sixth its size, Clay had a clear memory of watching the victory parade on TV the year the Red Sox won the World Series. The team rode in a slow-moving procession of these same Duck Boats, waving to the delirious multitudes as a cold autumn drizzle fell.

  “God please no!” the woman shrieked again, and from beside Clay a man said, almost mildly: “Jesus Christ.”

  The Duck Boat hit the ice cream truck broadside and flipped it like a child’s toy. It landed on its side with its own amplification system still tinkling out the Sesame Street theme music and went skidding back toward the Common, shooting up friction-generated bursts of sparks. Two women who had been watching dashed to get out of the way, holding hands, and just made it. The Mister Softee truck bounced onto the sidewalk, went briefly airborne, then hit the wrought-iron fence surrounding the park and came to rest. The music hiccuped twice, then stopped.

  The lunatic driving the Duck Boat had, meanwhile, lost whatever marginal control he might have had over his vehicle. It looped back across Boylston Street with its freight of terrified, screaming passengers clinging to the open sides, mounted the sidewalk across and about fifty yards down from the point where the Mister Softee truck had tinkled its last, and ran into the low brick retaining wall below the display window of a tony furniture shop called City lights. There was a vast unmusical crash as the window shattered. The Duck Boat’s wide rear end Harbor Mistress was written on it in pink script) rose perhaps five feet in the air. Momentum wanted the great waddling thing to go end-over-end; mass would not allow. It settled back to the sidewalk with its snout poked among the scattered sofas and expensive living room chairs, but not before at least a dozen people had gone shooting forward, out of the Duck Boat and out of sight. Inside Citylights, a burglar alarm began to clang.

  “Jesus Christ,” said the mild voice from Clay’s right elbow a second time. He turned that way and saw a short man with thinning dark hair, a tiny dark mustache, and gold-rimmed spectacles. “What’s going on?”

  “I don’t know,” Clay said. Talking was hard. Very. He found himself almost having to push words out. He supposed it was shock. Across the street, people were running away, some from the Four Seasons, some from the crashed Duck Boat. As he watched, a Duck Boat run-awayer collided with a Four Seasons escapee and they both went crashing to the sidewalk. There was time to wonder if he’d gone insane and was hallucinating all this in a madhouse somewhere. Juniper Hill in Augusta, maybe, between Thorazine shots. “The guy in the ice cream truck said maybe terrorists.”

  “I don’t see any men with guns,” said the short man with the mustache. “No guys with bombs strapped to their backs, either.”

  Neither did Clay, but he did see his little small treasures shopping bag and his portfolio sitting on the sidewalk, and he saw that the blood from Power Suit Woman’s opened throat—ye gods, he thought, all that blood—had almost reached the portfolio. All but a dozen or so of his drawings for Dark Wanderer were in there, and it was the drawings his mind seized on. He started back that way at a speed-walk, and the short man kept pace. When a second burglar alarm (some kind of alarm, anyway) went off in the hotel, joining its hoarse bray to the clang of the Citylights alarm, the little guy jumped.

  “It’s the hotel,” Clay said.

  “I know, it’s just that…oh my God.” He’d seen Power Suit Woman, now lying in a lake of the magic stuff that had been running all her bells and whistles—what? Four minutes ago? Only two?

  “She’s dead,” Clay told him. “At least I’m pretty sure she is. That girl…” He pointed at Pixie Light. “She did it. With her teeth.”

  “You’re joking.”

  “I wish I was.”

  From somewhere up Boylston Street there was another explosion. Both men cringed. Clay realized he could now smell smoke. He picked up his small treasures bag and his portfolio and moved them both away from the spreading blood. “These are mine,” he said, wondering why he felt the need to explain.

  The little guy, who was wearing a tweed suit—quite dapper, Clay thought—was still staring, horrified, at the crumpled body of the woman who had stopped for a sundae and lost first her dog and then her life. Behind them, three young men pelted past on the sidewalk, laughing and hurrahing. Two had Red Sox caps turned around backward. One was carrying a carton clutched against his chest. It had the word panasonic printed in blue on the side. This one stepped in Power Suit Woman’s spreading blood with his right sneaker and left a fading one-foot trail behind him as he and his mates ran on toward the east end of the Common and Chinatown beyond.


  Clay dropped to one knee and used the hand not clutching his portfolio (he was even more afraid of losing it after seeing the sprinting kid with the panasonic carton) to pick up Pixie Light’s wrist. He got a pulse at once. It was slow but strong and regular. He felt grea
t relief. No matter what she’d done, she was just a kid. He didn’t want to think he had bludgeoned her to death with his wife’s gift paperweight.

  “Look out, look out!” the little guy with the mustache almost sang. Clay had no time to look out. Luckily, this call wasn’t even close. The vehicle—one of those big OPEC-friendly SUVs—veered off Boylston and into the park at least twenty yards from where he knelt, taking a snarl of the wrought-iron fence in front of it and coming to rest bumper-deep in the duck-pond.

  The door opened and a young man floundered out, yelling gibberish at the sky. He fell to his knees in the water, scooped some of it into his mouth with both hands (Clay had a passing thought of all the ducks that had happily shat in that pond over the years), then struggled to his feet and waded to the far side. He disappeared into a grove of trees, still waving his hands and bellowing his nonsense sermon.

  “We need to get help for this girl,” Clay said to the man with the mustache. “She’s unconscious but a long way from dead.”

  “What we need to do is get off the street before we get run over,” said the man with the mustache, and as if to prove this point, a taxi collided with a stretch limo not far from the wrecked Duck Boat. The limo had been going the wrong way but the taxi got the worst of it; as Clay watched from where he still knelt on the sidewalk, the taxi’s driver flew through his suddenly glassless windshield and landed in the street, holding up a bloody arm and screaming.

  The man with the mustache was right, of course. Such rationality as Clay could muster—only a little managed to find its way through the blanket of shock that muffled his thinking—suggested that by far the wisest course of action would be to get the hell away from Boylston Street and under cover. If this was an act of terrorism, it was like none he had ever seen or read about. What he—they—should do was get down and stay down until the situation clarified. That would probably entail finding a television. But he didn’t want to leave this unconscious girl lying on a street that had suddenly become a madhouse. Every instinct of his mostly kind—and certainly civilized—heart cried out against it.

  “You go on,” he told the little man with the mustache. He said it with immense reluctance. He didn’t know the little man from Adam, but at least he wasn’t spouting gibberish and throwing his hands in the air. Or going for Clay’s throat with his teeth bared. “Get inside somewhere. I’ll…” He didn’t know how to finish.

  “You’ll what?” the man with the mustache asked, then hunched his shoulders and winced as something else exploded. That one came from directly behind the hotel, it sounded like, and now black smoke began to rise over there, staining the blue sky before it got high enough for the wind to pull away.

  “I’ll call a cop,” Clay said, suddenly inspired. “She’s got a cell phone.” He cocked his thumb at Power Suit Woman, now lying dead in a pool of her own blood. “She was using it before… you know, just before the shit…”

  He trailed off, replaying exactly what had happened just before the shit hit the fan. He found his eyes wandering from the dead woman to the unconscious girl and then on to the shards of the unconscious girl’s peppermint-colored cell phone.

  Warbling sirens of two distinctly different pitches rose in the air. Clay supposed one pitch belonged to police cars, the other to fire trucks. He supposed you could tell the difference if you lived in this city, but he didn’t, he lived in Kent Pond, Maine, and he wished with all his heart that he were there right now.

  What happened just before the shit hit the fan was that Power Suit Woman had called her friend Maddy to tell her she’d gotten her hair done, and one of Pixie Light’s friends had called her. Pixie Dark had listened in to this latter call. After that all three of them had gone crazy.

  You’re not thinking—

  From behind them, to the east, came the biggest explosion yet: a terrific shotgun-blast of sound. Clay leaped to his feet. He and the little man in the tweed suit looked wildly at each other, then toward Chinatown and Boston’s North End. They couldn’t see what had exploded, but now a much larger, darker plume of smoke was rising above the buildings on that horizon.

  While they were looking at it, a Boston PD radio-car and a hook-and-ladder fire truck pulled up in front of the Four Seasons across the street. Clay glanced that way in time to see a second jumper set sail from the top story of the hotel, followed by another pair from the roof. To Clay it looked as if the two coming from the roof were actually brawling with each other on the way down.

  “Jesus Mary and Joseph NO!” a woman screamed, her voice breaking. “Oh NO, no MORE, no MORE!”

  The first of the suicidal trio hit the rear of the police car, splattering the trunk with hair and gore, shattering the back window. The other two hit the hook and ladder as firemen dressed in bright yellow coats scattered like improbable birds.

  “NO!” the woman shrieked. “No MORE! No MORE! Dear GOD, no MORE!”

  But here came a woman from the fifth or sixth floor, tumbling like a crazy acrobat, striking a policeman who was peering up and surely killing him even as she killed herself.

  From the north there came another of those great roaring explosions—the sound of the devil firing a shotgun in hell—and once again Clay looked at the little man, who was looking anxiously back up at him. More smoke was rising in the sky, and in spite of the brisk breeze, the blue over there was almost blotted out.

  “They’re using planes again,” the little man said. “The dirty bastards are using planes again.”

  As if to underline the idea, a third monstrous explosion came rolling to them from the city’s northeast.

  “But… that’s Logan over there.” Clay was once again finding it hard to talk, and even harder to think. All he really seemed to have in his mind was some sort of half-baked joke: Did you hear the one about the [insert your favorite ethnic group here] terrorists who decided to bring America to its knees by blowing up the airport?

  “So?” the little man asked, almost truculently.

  “So why not the Hancock Building? Or the Pru?”

  The little man’s shoulders slumped. “I don’t know. I only know I want to get off this street.”

  As if to emphasize his point, half a dozen more young people sprinted past them. Boston was a city of young people, Clay had noticed—all those colleges. These six, three men and three women, were running lootless, at least, and they most assuredly weren’t laughing. As they ran, one of the young men pulled out his cell phone and stuck it to his ear.

  Clay glanced across the street and saw that a second black-and-white unit had pulled up behind the first. No need to use Power Suit Woman’s cell phone after all (which was good, since he’d decided he really didn’t want to do that). He could just walk across the street and talk to them except he wasn’t sure that he dared to cross Boylston Street just now. Even if he did, would they come over here to look at one unconscious girl when they had God knew how many casualties over there? And as he watched, the firemen began piling back on board their hook-and-ladder unit; it looked like they were heading someplace else. Over to Logan Airport, quite likely, or—

  “Oh my God-Jesus, watch out for this one,” said the little man with the mustache, speaking in a low, tight voice. He was looking west along Boylston, back toward downtown, in the direction Clay had been coming from when his major object in life had been reaching Sharon on the phone. He’d even known how he was going to start: Good news, hon—no matter how it comes out between us, there’ll always be shoes for the kid. In his head it had sounded light and funny—like the old days.

  There was nothing funny about this. Coming toward them—not running but walking in long, flat-footed strides—was a man of about fifty, wearing suit pants and the remains of a shirt and tie. The pants were gray. It was impossible to tell what color the shirt and tie had been, because both were now shredded and stained with blood. In his right hand the man held what looked like a butcher knife with an eighteen-inch blade. Clay actually believed he had seen this knife, in the
window of a shop called Soul Kitchen, on his walk back from his meeting at the Copley Square Hotel. The row of knives in the window (SWEDISH STEEL! the little engraved card in front of them proclaimed) had shone in the cunning glow of hidden downlighters, but this blade had done a good deal of work since its liberation—or a bad deal of it—and was now dull with blood.

  The man in the tattered shirt swung the knife as he closed in on them with his flat-footed strides, the blade cutting short up-and-down arcs in the air. He broke the pattern only once, to slash at himself. A fresh rill of blood ran through a new rip in his tattered shirt. The remains of his tie flapped. And as he closed the distance he hectored them like a backwoods preacher speaking in tongues at the moment of some divine godhead revelation.

  “Eyelab!” he cried. “Eeelah-eyelah-a-babbalah naz! A-babbalah why? A-bunnaloo coy? Kazzalah! Kazzalah-CAN! Fie! SHY-fie!” And now he brought the knife back to his right hip and then beyond it, and Clay, whose visual sense was overdeveloped, at once saw the sweeping stroke that would follow. The gutting stroke, made even as he continued his nuthouse march to nowhere through the October afternoon in those flat-footed declamatory strides.

  “Look out!” the little guy with the mustache screamed, but he wasn’t looking out, not the little guy with the mustache; the little guy with the mustache, the first normal person with whom Clay Riddell had spoken since this craziness began—who had, in fact, spoken to him, which had probably taken some courage, under the circumstances—was frozen in place, his eyes bigger than ever behind the lenses of his gold-rimmed spectacles. And was the crazy guy going for him because of the two men, the one with the mustache was smaller and looked like easier prey? If so, maybe Mr. Speaking-in-Tongues wasn’t completely crazy, and suddenly Clay was mad as well as scared, mad the way he might have been if he’d looked through a schoolyard fence and seen a bully getting ready to tune up on a smaller, younger kid.