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Under the Dome, Page 3

Stephen King

  Did I do that? Did I really?

  Yes. He had. And even that single fleeting look was enough to explain why. Her fucking teeth. Those humungous choppers.

  A second siren joined the first, then a third. But they were going away. Thank Christ, they were going away. They were heading south down Main Street, toward those booming sounds.

  Nevertheless, Junior did not slow down. He skulked across the McCains' backyard, unaware that he would have screamed guilt about something to anyone who happened to be watching (no one was). Beyond LaDonna's tomato plants was a high board fence and a gate. There was a padlock, but it was hanging open on the hasp. In his years of growing up and sometimes hanging out here, Junior had never seen it closed.

  He opened the gate. Beyond were scrub woods and a path leading down to the muted babble of Prestile Stream. Once, when he was thirteen, Junior had spied Frank and Angie standing on that path and kissing, her arms around his neck, his hand cupping her breast, and understood that childhood was almost over.

  He leaned down and vomited into the running water. The sun-dapples on the water were malicious, awful. Then his vision cleared enough so he could see the Peace Bridge to his right. The fisherboys were gone, but as he looked, a pair of police cars raced down Town Common Hill.

  The town whistle went off. The Town Hall generator had kicked on just as it was supposed to during a power failure, allowing the whistle to broadcast its high-decibel disaster message. Junior moaned and covered his ears.

  The Peace Bridge was really just a covered pedestrian walkway, now ramshackle and sagging. Its actual name was the Alvin Chester Pass-Through, but it had become the Peace Bridge in 1969, when some kids (at the time there had been rumors in town about which ones) had painted a big blue peace sign on the side. It was still there, although now faded to a ghost. For the last ten years Peace Bridge had been condemned. Police DO NOT CROSS tape Xed both ends, but of course it was still used. Two or three nights a week, members of Chief Perkins's Fuzznuts Brigade would shine their lights in there, always at one end or the other, never both. They didn't want to bust the kids who were drinking and necking, just scare them away. Every year at town meeting, someone would move that Peace Bridge be demolished and someone else would move that it be renovated, and both motions would be tabled. The town had its own secret will, it seemed, and that secret will wanted the Peace Bridge to stay just as it was.

  Today, Junior Rennie was glad of that.

  He shambled along the Prestile's northern bank until he was beneath the bridge--the police sirens now fading, the town whistle yelling as loud as ever--and climbed up to Strout Lane. He looked both ways, then trotted past the sign reading DEAD END, BRIDGE CLOSED. He ducked under the crisscross of yellow tape, into the shadows. The sun shone through the holey roof, dropping dimes of light on the worn wooden boards underfoot, but after the blaze of that kitchen from hell, it was blessedly dark. Pigeons sweettalked in the roofbeams. Beer cans and Allen's Coffee Flavored Brandy bottles were scattered along the wooden sides.

  I will never get away with this. I don't know if I left any of me under her nails, can't remember if she got me or not, but my blood's there. And my fingerprints. I only have two choices, really: run or turn myself in.

  No, there was a third. He could kill himself.

  He had to get home. Had to draw all the curtains in his room and turn it into a cave. Take another Imitrex, lie down, maybe sleep a little. Then he might be able to think. And if they came for him while he was asleep? Why, that would save him the problem of choosing between Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3.

  Junior crossed the town common. When someone--some old guy he only vaguely recognized--grabbed his arm and said, "What happened, Junior? What's going on?" Junior only shook his head, brushed the old man's hand away, and kept going.

  Behind him, the town whistle whooped like the end of the world.



  There was a weekly newspaper in Chester's Mill called the Democrat. Which was misinformation, since ownership and management--both hats worn by the formidable Julia Shumway--was Republican to the core. The masthead looked like this:


  Est. 1890

  Serving "The Little Town That Looks Like A Boot!"

  But the motto was misinformation, too. Chester's Mill didn't look like a boot; it looked like a kid's athletic sock so filthy it was able to stand up on its own. Although touched by the much larger and more prosperous Castle Rock to the southwest (the heel of the sock), The Mill was actually surrounded by four towns larger in area but smaller in population: Motton, to the south and southeast; Harlow to the east and northeast; the unincorporated TR-90 to the north; and Tarker's Mills to the west. Chester's and Tarker's were sometimes known as the Twin Mills, and between them--in the days when central and western Maine textile mills were running full bore--had turned Prestile Stream into a polluted and fishless sump that changed color almost daily and according to location. In those days you could start out by canoe in Tarker's running on green water, and be on bright yellow by the time you crossed out of Chester's Mill and into Motton. Plus, if your canoe was made of wood, the paint might be gone below the waterline.

  But the last of those profitable pollution factories had closed in 1979. The weird colors had left the Prestile and the fish had returned, although whether or not they were fit for human consumption remained a matter of debate. (The Democrat voted "Aye!")

  The town's population was seasonal. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, it was close to fifteen thousand. The rest of the year it was just a tad over or under two, depending on the balance of births and deaths at Catherine Russell, which was considered to be the best hospital north of Lewiston.

  If you asked the summer people how many roads led in and out of The Mill, most would say there were two: Route 117, which led to Norway-South Paris, and Route 119, which went through downtown Castle Rock on its way to Lewiston.

  Residents of ten years or so could have named at least eight more, all twolane blacktop, from the Black Ridge and Deep Cut Roads that went into Harlow, to the Pretty Valley Road (yes, just as pretty as its name) that wound north into TR-90.

  Residents of thirty years or more, if given time to mull it over (perhaps in the back room of Brownie's Store, where there was still a woodstove), could have named another dozen, with names both sacred (God Creek Road) and profane (Little Bitch Road, noted on local survey maps with nothing but a number).

  The oldest resident of Chester's Mill on what came to be known as Dome Day was Clayton Brassey. He was also the oldest resident of Castle County, and thus holder of the Boston Post Cane. Unfortunately, he no longer knew what a Boston Post Cane was, or even precisely who he was. He sometimes mistook his great-great-granddaughter Nell for his wife, who was forty years dead, and the Democrat had stopped doing its yearly "oldest resident" interview with him three years previous. (On the last occasion, when asked for the secret of his longevity, Clayton had responded, "Where's my Christing dinner?") Senility had begun to creep up shortly after his hundredth birthday; on this October twenty-first, he was a hundred and five. He had once been a fine finish carpenter specializing in dressers, banisters, and moldings. His specialties in these latter days included eating Jell-O pudding without getting it up his nose and occasionally making it to the toilet before releasing half a dozen blood-streaked pebbles into the commode.

  But in his prime--around the age of eighty-five, say--he could have named almost all the roads leading in and out of Chester's Mill, and the total would have been thirty-four. Most were dirt, many were forgotten, and almost all of the forgotten ones wound through deep tangles of second-growth forest owned by Diamond Match, Continental Paper Company, and American Timber.

  And shortly before noon on Dome Day, every one of them snapped closed.


  On most of these roads, there was nothing so spectacular as the explosion of the Seneca V and the ensuing pulp-truck disaster, but ther
e was trouble. Of course there was. If the equivalent of an invisible stone wall suddenly goes up around an entire town, there is bound to be trouble.

  At the exact same moment the woodchuck fell in two pieces, a scarecrow did the same in Eddie Chalmers's pumpkin field, not far from Pretty Valley Road. The scarecrow stood directly on the town line dividing The Mill from TR-90. Its divided stance had always amused Eddie, who called his bird-frightener the Scarecrow Without A Country--Mr. SWAC for short. Half of Mr. SWAC fell in The Mill; the other half fell "on the TR," as the locals would have put it.

  Seconds later, a flight of crows bound for Eddie's pumpkins (the crows had never been afraid of Mr. SWAC) struck something where nothing had ever been before. Most broke their necks and fell in black clumps on Pretty Valley Road and the fields on both sides. Birds everywhere, on both sides of the Dome, crashed and fell dead; their bodies would be one of the ways the new barrier was eventually delineated.

  On God Creek Road, Bob Roux had been digging potatoes. He came in for lunch (more commonly known as "dinnah" in those parts), sitting astride his old Deere tractor and listening to his brand new iPod, a gift from his wife on what would prove to be his final birthday. His house was only half a mile from the field he'd been digging, but unfortunately for him, the field was in Motton and the house was in Chester's Mill. He struck the barrier at fifteen miles an hour, while listening to James Blunt sing "You're Beautiful." He had the loosest of grips on the tractor's steering wheel, because he could see the road all the way to his house and there was nothing on it. So when his tractor came to a smash-halt, the potato-digger rising up behind and then crashing back down, Bob was flung forward over the engine block and directly into the Dome. His iPod exploded in the wide front pocket of his bib overalls, but he never felt it. He broke his neck and fractured his skull on the nothing he collided with and died in the dirt shortly thereafter, by one tall wheel of his tractor, which was still idling. Nothing, you know, runs like a Deere.


  At no point did the Motton Road actually run through Motton; it ran just inside the Chester's Mill town line. Here were new residential homes, in an area that had been called Eastchester since 1975 or so. The owners were thirty-and fortysomethings who commuted to Lewiston-Auburn, where they worked for good wages, mostly in white-collar jobs. All of these homes were in The Mill, but many of their backyards were in Motton. This was the case with Jack and Myra Evans's home at 379 Motton Road. Myra had a vegetable garden behind their house, and although most of the goodies had been harvested, there were still a few fat Blue Hubbard squashes beyond the remaining (and badly rotted) pumpkins. She was reaching for one of these when the Dome came down, and although her knees were in Chester's Mill, she happened to be reaching for a Blue Hubbard that was growing a foot or so across the Motton line.

  She didn't cry out, because there was no pain--not at first. It was too quick and sharp and clean for that.

  Jack Evans was in the kitchen, whipping eggs for a noontime frittata. LCD Soundsystem was playing--"North American Scum"--and Jack was singing along when a small voice spoke his name from behind him. He didn't at first recognize the voice as belonging to his wife of fourteen years; it sounded like the voice of a child. But when he turned he saw it was indeed Myra. She was standing inside the doorway, holding her right arm across her middle. She had tracked mud onto the floor, which was very unlike her. Usually she took her garden shoes off on the stoop. Her left hand, clad in a filthy gardening glove, was cradling her right hand, and red stuff was running through the muddy fingers. At first he thought Cranberry juice, but only for a second. It was blood. Jack dropped the bowl he'd been holding. It shattered on the floor.

  Myra said his name again in that same tiny, trembling childvoice.

  "What happened? Myra, what happened to you?"

  "I had an accident," she said, and showed him her right hand. Only there was no muddy right gardening glove to match the left one, and no right hand. Only a spouting stump. She gave him a weak smile and said "Whoops." Her eyes rolled up to whites. The crotch of her gardening jeans darkened as her urine let go. Then her knees also let go and she went down. The blood gushing from her raw wrist--an anatomy lesson cutaway--mixed with the eggy batter splattered across the floor.

  When Jack dropped to his knees beside her, a shard from the bowl jabbed deep into his knee. He hardly noticed, although he would limp on that leg for the rest of his life. He seized her arm and squeezed. The terrible bloodgush from her wrist slowed but didn't stop. He tore his belt free of its loops and noosed it around her lower forearm. That did the job, but he couldn't notch the belt tight; the loop was far beyond the buckle.

  "Christ," he told the empty kitchen. "Christ."

  It was darker than it had been, he realized. The power had gone out. He could hear the computer in the study chiming its distress call. LCD Soundsystem was okay, because the little boombox on the counter was battery-powered. Not that Jack cared any longer; he'd lost his taste for techno.

  So much blood. So much.

  Questions about how she'd lost her hand left his mind. He had more immediate concerns. He couldn't let go of the belt-tourniquet to get to the phone; she'd start to bleed again, and she might already be close to bleeding out. She would have to go with him. He tried pulling her by her shirt, but first it yanked out of her pants and then the collar started to choke her--he heard her breathing turn harsh. So he wrapped a hand in her long brown hair and hauled her to the phone caveman style.

  It was a cell, and it worked. He dialed 911 and 911 was busy.

  "It can't be!" he shouted to the empty kitchen where the lights were now out (although from the boombox, the band played on). "911 cannot be fucking busy !"

  He punched redial.


  He sat in the kitchen with his back propped up against the counter, holding the tourniquet as tightly as he could, staring at the blood and the batter on the floor, periodically hitting redial on the phone, always getting the same stupid dah-dah-dah. Something blew up not too far distant, but he barely heard it over the music, which was really cranked (and he never heard the Seneca explosion at all). He wanted to turn the music off, but in order to reach the boombox he would have to lift Myra. Lift her or let go of the belt for two or three seconds. He didn't want to do either one. So he sat there and "North American Scum" gave way to "Someone Great" and "Someone Great" gave way to "All My Friends," and after a few more songs, finally the CD, which was called Sound of Silver, ended. When it did, when there was silence except for police sirens in the distance and the endlessly chiming computer closer by, Jack realized that his wife was no longer breathing.

  But I was going to make lunch, he thought. A nice lunch, one you wouldn't be ashamed of inviting Martha Stewart to.

  Sitting against the counter, still holding the belt (opening his fingers again would prove exquisitely painful), the lower right leg of his own pants darkening with blood from his lacerated knee, Jack Evans cradled his wife's head against his chest and began to weep.


  Not too far away, on an abandoned woods road not even old Clay Brassey would have remembered, a deer was foraging tender shoots at the edge of Prestile Marsh. Her neck happened to be stretched across the Motton town line, and when the Dome dropped, her head tumbled off. It was severed so neatly that the deed might have been done with a guillotine blade.


  We have toured the sock-shape that is Chester's Mill and arrived back at Route 119. And, thanks to the magic of narration, not an instant has passed since the sixtyish fellow from the Toyota slammed face-first into something invisible but very hard and broke his nose. He's sitting up and staring at Dale Barbara in utter bewilderment. A seagull, probably on its daily commute from the tasty buffet at the Motton town dump to the only slightly less tasty one at the Chester's Mill landfill, drops like a stone and thumps down not three feet from the sixtyish fellow's Sea Dogs baseball cap, which he picks up, brushes off, and puts back on.

  Both m
en look up at where the bird came from and see one more incomprehensible thing in a day that will turn out to be full of them.


  Barbie's first thought was that he was looking at an afterimage from the exploding plane--the way you sometimes see a big blue floating dot after someone triggers a flash camera close to your face. Only this wasn't a dot, it wasn't blue, and instead of floating along when he looked in a different direction--in this case, at his new acquaintance--the smutch hanging in the air stayed exactly where it was.

  Sea Dogs was looking up and rubbing his eyes. He seemed to have forgotten about his broken nose, swelling lips, and bleeding forehead. He got to his feet, almost losing his balance because he was craning his neck so severely.

  "What's that?" he said. "What the hell is that, mister?"

  A big black smear--candleflame-shaped, if you really used your imagination--discolored the blue sky.

  "Is it ... a cloud?" Sea Dogs asked. His doubtful tone suggested he already knew it wasn't.

  Barbie said, "I think ..." He really didn't want to hear himself say this. "I think it's where the plane hit."

  "Say what ?" Sea Dogs asked, but before Barbie could reply, a good-sized grackle swooped fifty feet overhead. It struck nothing--nothing they could see, at any rate--and dropped not far from the gull.

  Sea Dogs said, "Did you see that?"

  Barbie nodded, then pointed to the patch of burning hay to his left. It and the two or three patches on the right side of the road were sending up thick columns of black smoke to join the smoke rising from the pieces of the dismembered Seneca, but the fire wasn't going far; there had been heavy rain the day before, and the hay was still damp. Lucky thing, or there would have been grassfires racing away in both directions.