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Stephen King

  I hum frantically, and at that same moment Dr. Arlen drops something that sounds like a bedpan. "Doesn't he wish," she says, laughing. He joins in and this time it's cancer I wish on them, some kind that is inoperable and lasts a long time. -

  He goes quickly down my body, feeling up my chest ("No bruising, swelling, or other exterior signs of cardiac arrest," he says, and what a big fucking surprise that is), then palpates my belly.

  I burp.

  He looks at me, eyes widening, mouth dropping open a little, and again I try desperately to hum, knowing he won't hear it over "Start Me Up" but thinking that maybe, along with the burp, he'll finally be ready to see what's right in front of him.

  "Excuse yourself, Howie," Dr. Arlen, that bitch, says from behind me, and chuckles, "Better watch out, Pete those postmortem belches are the worst."

  He theatrically fans the air in front of his face, then goes back to what he's doing. He barely touches my groin, although he remarks that the scar on the back of my right leg continues around to the front.

  Missed the big one, though, I think, maybe because it's a little higher than you're looking. No big deal, my little Baywatch buddy, but you also missed the fact that I'M STILL ALIVE, and that IS a big deal!

  He goes on chanting into the microphone, sounding more and more at ease (sounding, in fact, a little like Jack Klugman on Quincy, ME.), and I know his partner over there behind me, the Pollyanna of the medical community, isn't thinking she'll have to roll the tape back over this part of the exam. Other than missing the fact that his first pericardial is still alive, the kid's doing a great job.

  At last he says, "I think I'm ready to go on, Doctor." He sounds tentative, though.

  She comes over, looks briefly down at me, then squeezes Pete's shoulder. "Okay," she says. "On-na wid-da show!"

  Now I'm trying to stick my tongue out. Just that simple kid's gesture of impudence, but it would be enough ... and it seems to me I can feel a faint prickling sensation deep within my lips, the feeling you get when you're finally starting to come out of a heavy dose of novocaine. And I can feel a twitch? No, wishful thinking, just-

  Yes! Yes! But a twitch is all, and the second time I try nothing happens.

  As Pete picks up the scissors, the Rolling Stones move on to "Hang Fire."

  Hold a mirror in front of my nose! I scream at them. Watch it fog up! Can't you at least do that?

  Snick, snick, snickety-snick.

  Pete turns the scissors at an angle so the light runs down the blade, and for the first time I'm certain, really certain, that this mad charade is going to go all the way through to the end. The director isn't going to freeze the frame. The ref isn't going to stop the fight in the tenth round. We're not going to pause for a word from our sponsors. Petie-boy's going to slide those scissors into my gut while I lie here helpless, and then he's going to open me up like a mailorder package from the Horchow Collection.

  He looks hesitantly at Dr. Arlen.

  No! I howl, my voice reverberating off the dark walls of my skull but emerging from my mouth not at all. No, please no!

  She nods. "Go ahead. You'll be fine."

  "Uh ... you want to turn off the music?"

  Yes! Yes, turn it off.

  "Is it bothering you.

  Yes! It's bothering him! It's fucked him up so completely he thinks his patient is dead!

  "well . . ."

  "Sure," she says, and disappears from my field of vision. A moment later Mick and Keith are finally gone. I try to make the humming noise and discover a horrible thing: now I can't even do that. I'm too scared. Fright has locked down my vocal cords. I can only stare up as she rejoins him, the two of them gazing), down at me like pallbearers looking into an open grave.

  "Thanks," he says. Then he takes a deep breath and lifts the scissors. "Commencing pericardial cut."

  He slowly brings them down. I see them ... see them ... then they're gone from my field of vision. A long moment later, I feel cold steel nestle against my naked upper belly.

  He looks doubtfully at the doctor.

  "Are you sure you don't-"

  "Do you want to make this your field or not, Peter?" she asks him with some asperity.

  "You know I do, but-"

  "Then cut."

  He nods, lips firming. I would close my eyes if I could, but of course I cannot even do that; I can only steel myself against the pain that's only a second or two away, now steel myself for the steel.

  "Cutting," he says, bending forward.

  "Wait a sec!" she cries.

  The dimple of pressure just below my solar plexus eases a little. He looks around at her, surprised, upset, maybe relieved that the crucial moment has been put of-

  I feel her rubber-gloved hand slide around my penis as if she means to give me some bizarre handjob, safe sex with the dead, and then she says, "You missed this one, Pete."

  He leans over, looking at what she's found-the scar in my groin, at the very top of my right thigh, a glassy, no-pore bowl in the flesh.

  Her hand is still holding my cock, holding it out of the way, that's all she's doing, as far as she's concerned she might as well be holding up a sofa cushion so someone else can see the treasure she's found beneath it-coins, a lost wallet, maybe the catnip mouse you haven't been able to find-but something is happening.

  Dear wheelchair Jesus on a chariot-driven crutch, something is happening.

  "And look," she says. Her finger strokes a light, tickly line down the side of my right testicle. "Look at these hairline scars. His testes must have swollen up to damned near the size of grapefruits."

  "Lucky he didn't lose one or both."

  "You bet your ... you bet your you-knows," she says, and laughs that mildly suggestive laugh again. Her gloved hand loosens, moves, then pushes down firmly, trying to clear the viewing area. She is doing by accident what you might pay twentyfive or thirty bucks to have done on purpose ... under other circumstances, of course. "This is a war wound, I think. Hand me that magnifier, Pete."

  "But shouldn't I-"

  "In a few seconds," she says. "He's not going anywhere. She's totally absorbed by what she's found. Her hand is still on me, still pressing down, and what was happening feels like it's still happening, but maybe I'm wrong. I must be wrong, or he would see it, she would feel it.

  She bends down and now I can see only her green-clad back. with the ties from her cap trailing down it like odd pigtails. Now, oh my, I can feel her breath on me down there.

  "Notice the outward radiation," she says. "It was a blast wound of some sort, probably ten years ago at least, we could check his military rec-"

  The door bursts open. Pete cries out in surprise. Dr. Arlen doesn't, but her hand tightens involuntarily, she's gripping me again and it's all at once like a hellish variation of the old Naughty Nurse fantasy.

  "Don't cut 'im up!" someone screams, and his voice is so high and wavery with fright that I barely recognize Rusty. "Don't cut 'im up, there was a snake in his golfbag and it bit Mike!"

  They turn to him, eyes wide, jaws dropped; her hand is still gripping me, but she's no more aware of that, at least for the time being, than Petie-boy is aware that he's got one hand clutching the left breast of his scrub gown. He looks like he's the one with the clapped-out fuel pump.

  'What ... what are you. . ." Pete begins.

  "Knocked him flat!" Rusty was saying-babbling. "He's gonna be okay, I guess, but he can hardly talk!' Little brown snake, I never saw one like it in my life, it went under the loadin' bay, it's under there right now, but that's not the important part! I think it already bit that guy we brought in. I think ... holy shit, Doc, whatja tryin' to do? Stroke 'im back to life?"

  She looks around, dazed, at first not sure of what he's talking about ... until she realizes that she's now holding a mostly erect penis. And as she screams-screams and snatches the shears out of Pete's limp gloved hand-I find myself thinking again of that old Alfred Hitchcock TV show.

  Poor old Joseph Cotton,
I think.

  He only got to cry.


  It's been a year since my experience in Autopsy Room Four, and I have made a complete recovery, although the paralysis was both stubborn and scary; it was a full month before I began to recover the finer motions of my fingers and toes. I still can't play the piano, but then, of course, I never could. That is a joke, and I make no apologies for it. In the first three months after my misadventure, I think that my ability to joke provided a slim but vital margin between sanity and some sort of nervous breakdown. Unless you've actually felt the tip of a pair of postmortem shears poking into your stomach, you don't know what I mean.

  Two weeks or so after my close call, a woman on Dupont Street called the Derry Police to complain of a "Foul Stink" coming from the house next door. That house belonged to a bachelor bank clerk named Walter Kerr. Police found the house empty ... of human life, that is. they found over sixty snakes of different varieties. About half of them were dead-starvation and dehydration, but many were extremely lively ... and extremely dangerous. Several were very rare, and one was of a species believed to have been extinct since mid-century, according to consulting zoologists.

  Kerr failed to show up for work at Derry Community Bank on August 22, two days after I was bitten, one day after the story ("Paralyzed Man Escapes Deadly Autopsy," the headline read; at one point I was quoted as saying I had been "Scared stiff") broke in the press.

  There was a snake for every cage in Kerr's basement menagerie . . . except for one. The empty cage was unmarked, and the snake that popped out of my golf bag (the ambulance orderlies had packed it in with my "corpse" and had been practicing chip shots out in the ambulance parking area) was never found.

  The toxin in my bloodstream-the same toxin found to a far lesser degree in orderly Mike Hopper's bloodstream-was documented but never identified. I have looked at a great many pictures of snakes in the last year, and have found at least one that has reportedly caused cases of full-body paralysis in humans. This is the Peruvian Boomslang, a nasty viper that has supposedly been extinct since the I920s. Dupont Street is less than half a mile from the Derry Municipal Golf Course. Most of the intervening land consists of scrub woods and vacant lots.

  One final note. Katie Arlen and I dated for four months, November I994 through February of I995. We broke it off by mutual consent, due to sexual incompatibility.

  I was impotent unless she was wearing rubber gloves.