"I'll get back just as soon as I can, because policemen will come here," she said. The prospect did not seem to disturb Annie's weird serenity in the least, although Paul could not believe that, in some part of her mind, she did not realize how close to the end of the game they had now come. "I don't think they'll come tonight - except maybe to cruise by - but they will come. As soon as they know for sure he's really missing. They'll go all along his route, looking for him and trying to find out where he stopped, you know, showing up. Don't you think so, Paul?"
"I should be back before they come. If I start out on the bike at first light, I might even be able to make it back before noon. I should he able to beat them. Because if he started from Sidewinder, be would. have stopped at lots of places before he got here.
"By the time they come, you should be back in your own room, snug as a bug in a rug. I'm not going to tie you up, or gag you, or anything like that, Paul. You can even peek when I go out to talk to them. Because it will be two next time, I think. At least two, don't you think so?" Paul did.
She nodded, satisfied. "But I can handle two, if I have to." She patted the khaki purse. "I want you to remember that kid's gun while you're peeking, Paul. I want you to remember that it's going to be in here all the time I'm talking to those police when they come tomorrow or the next day. The bag won't be zipped. It's all right for you to see them, but if they see you, Paul - either by accident or because you try something tomorrow like you did today - if that happens, I'm going to take the gun out of the bag and start shooting. You're already responsible for that kid's death."
"Bullshit," Paul said, knowing she would hurt him for it but not caring.
She didn't, though. She only smiled her serene, maternal smile.
"Oh, you know," she said. "I don't kid myself that you care, I don't kid myself about that at all, but you know. I don't kid myself that you'd care about getting another two people killed, if it would help you... but it wouldn't, Paul. Because if I have to do two, I'll do four. Them... and us. And do you know what? I think you still care about your own skin."
"Not much," he said. "I'll tell you the truth, Annie - everyday that passes, my skin feels more and more like something I want to get out of." She laughed.
"Oh, I've heard that one before. But let them see you put one hand on their oogy old respirators! Then it's a different story! Yes! When they see that, they yell and cry and turn into a bunch of real brats!" Not that you ever let that stop you, right, Annie?
"Anyway," she said, "I just wanted you to know how things are. If you really don't care, yell your head off when they come. It's entirely up to you." Paul said nothing.
"When they come I'll stand right out there in the driveway and say yes, there was a state trooper that came by here. I'll say he came just when I was getting ready to leave for Steamboat Heaven to look at the ceramics. I'll say he showed me your picture. I'll say I hadn't seen you. Then one of them will ask me, "This was last winter, Miss Wilkes, how could you be so positive?" And I'll say, "If Elvis Presley was still alive and you saw him last winter, would you remember seeing him?" And he'll say yes, probably so, but what does that have to do with the price of coffee in Borneo, and I'll say Paul Sheldon is my favorite writer and I've seen his picture lots of times. I have to say that, Paul. Do you know why?" He knew. Her slyness continued to astound him. He supposed it shouldn't, not anymore, but it did. He remembered the caption below the picture of Annie in her detainment cell, the picture taken in the caesura between the end of the trial and the return of the jury. He remembered it word for word. IN MISERY? NOT THE DRAGON LADY. Annie reads calmly as she waits for the verdict.
"So then," she continued, "I'll say the policeman wrote it all down in his book and thanked me. I'll say I asked him in for a cup of coffee even though I was in a hurry to be on my way and they'll ask me why. I'll say he probably knew about my trouble before, and I wanted to satisfy his mind that everything was on the up-and-up here. But he said no, he had to move along. So I asked if he'd like to take a cold Pepsi along with him because the day was so hot and he said yes, thanks, that was very kind." She drained her second Pepsi and held the empty plastic bottle between her and him. Seen through the plastic her eye was huge and wavering, the eye of a Cyclops. The side of her head took on a ripply, hydrocephalic bulge.
"I'm going to stop and put this bottle in the ditch about two miles up the road," she said. "But first I'll put his fingers on it, of course." She smiled at him - a dry, spitless smile.
"Fingerprints," she said. "They'll know he went past my house then. Or they'll think they do, and that's just as good, isn't it, Paul?" His dismay deepened.
"So they'll go up the road and they won't find him. He'll just be gone. Like those swamis who toot their flutes until ropes come out of baskets and they climb the ropes and disappear. Poof!"
"Poof," Paul said.
"It won't take them long to come back. I know that. After all, if they can't find any trace of him except that one bottle after here, they'll decide they better think some more about me. After all, I'm crazy, aren't I? All the papers said so. Nutty as a fruitcake!
"But they'll believe me at first. I don't think they'll actual want to come in and search the house - not at first. They look in other places and try to think of other things before they come back. We'll have some time. Maybe as much as a week." She looked at him levelly.
"You're going to have to write faster, Paul," she said.
Dark fell and no police came. Annie did not spend the time before it did with Paul, however; she wanted to re-glaze his bedroom window, and pick up the paper-clips and broken glass scattered on the lawn. When the police come tomorrow looking for their missing lamb, she said, we don't want the to see anything out of the ordinary, do we, Paul?
Just let them look under the lawnmower, kiddo. Just let them look under there and they'll see plenty out of the ordinary.
But no matter how hard he tried to make his vivid imagination work, he could not make it come up with a scenario which would lead up to that.
"Do you wonder why I told you all of this, Paul?" she asked before going upstairs to see what she could do with the window. "Why I went into my plans for dealing with this in such great detail?"
"No," he said wanly.
"Partly because I wanted you to know exactly what the stakes are, and exactly what you'll have to do to stay alive. I also wanted you to know that I'd end it right now. Except for the book. I still care about the book." She smiled. It was a smile which was both radiant and strangely wistful. "It really is the best Misery story of them all, and I do so much want to know how it all comes out."
"So do I, Annie," he said.
She looked at him, startled. "Why... you know don't you?"
"When I start a book I always think I know how things will turn out, but I never actually had one end exactly that way. It isn't even that surprising, once you stop to think about it. Writing a book is a little like firing an ICBM... only it travels over time instead of space. The book-time the characters spend living in the story and the real time the novelist spends writing it all down. Having a novel end exactly the way you thought it would when you started out would be like shooting a Titan missile halfway around the world and having the payload drop through a basketball hoop. It looks good on paper, and there are people who build those things who'd tell you it was easy as pie - and even keep a straight face while they said it - but the odds are always against."
"Yes," Annie said. "I see."
"I must have a pretty good navigation system built into the equipment, because I usually get close, and if you have enough high explosive packed into the nosecone, close is good enough. Right now I see two possible endings to the book. One is very sad. The other, while not your standard Hollywood happy ending, at least holds out some hope for the future." Annie looked alarmed... and suddenly thunderous. "You're not thinking of killing her again, are you, Paul?" He smiled a little. "What would you do if I did, Annie? Kill me? That doesn't scare me a bit. I may not know what's going to happen to Misery, but I know what's going to happen to me... and you. I'll write THE END, and you'll read, and then you'll write THE END, won't you? The end of us. That's one I don't have to guess at. Truth really isn't stranger than fiction, no matter what they say. Most times you know exactly how things are going to turn out."
"But - "
"I think I know which ending it's going to be. I'm about eighty percent sure. If it turns out that way, you'll like it. But even if it turns out the way I think, neither of us will know the actual details until I get them written down, will we?"
"No - I suppose not."
"Do you remember what the old Greyhound Bus ads used to say? "Getting there is half the fun."
"Either way, it's almost over, isn't it?"
"Yes," Paul said. "Almost over."
Before she left she brought him another Pepsi, a box of Ritz crackers, sardines, cheese... and the bedpan.
"If you bring me my manuscript and one of those yellow legal pads, I'll work in longhand," he said. "It will pass the time." She considered, then shook her head regretfully. "I wish you could, Paul. But that would mean leaving at least one light on, and I can't risk it." He thought of being left alone down here in the cellar and felt panic flush his skin again, but just for a moment. Then it went cold. He felt tiny hard goosebumps rising on his skin. He thought of the rats hiding in their holes and runs in the rock walls. Thought of them coming out when the cellar went dark. Thought of them smelling his helplessness, perhaps.
"Don't leave me in the dark, Annie. Please don't do that."
"I have to. If someone noticed a light in my cellar, they might stop to investigate, driveway chain or no driveway chain, note or no note. If I gave you a flashlight, you might try to signal with it. If I gave you a candle, you might try to burn the house do" with it. You see how well I know you?" He hardly dared mention the times he had gotten out of his room, because it always made her furious; now his fear of being left alone down here in the dark drove him to it. "If I had wanted to burn the house down, Annie, I could have done it long before this."
"Things were different then," she said shortly. "I'm sorry you don't like being left in the dark. I'm sorry you have to be. But it's your own fault, so quit being a brat. I've got to go. If you feel like you need that injection, stick it in your leg." She looked at him.
"Or stick it up your ass." She started for the stairs.
"Cover the windows, then!" he yelled after her. "Use some pieces of sheet... or... or... paint them black... or... or... Christ, Annie, the rats! The rats!" She was on the third stair. She paused, looking at him from those dusty-dime eyes. "I haven't time to do any of those things," she said, "and the rats won't bother you, anyway. They may even recognize you for one of their own, Paul. They may adopt you." Annie laughed. She climbed the stairs, laughing harder and harder. There was a click as the lights went out and. Annie went on laughing and he told himself he wouldn't scream, wouldn't beg; that he was past all that. But the damp wildness of the shadows and the boom of her laughter were too much and he shrieked for her not to do this to him, not to leave him, but she only went on laughing and there was a click as the door was shut and her laughter was muted but her laughter was still there, her laughter was on the other side of the door, where there was light, and then the lock clicked, and then another door closed and her laughter was even more muted (but still there), and another lock clicked and a bolt slammed, and her laughter was going away, her laughter was outside, and even after she had started the cruiser up, backed out, put the chain across the driveway, and driven away, he thought he could still hear her. He thought he could still hear her laughing and laughing and laughing.
The furnace was a dim bulk in the middle of the room. It looked like an octopus. He thought he would have been able to hear the chiming of the parlor clock if the night had been still, but a strong summer wind had blown up, as it so often did these nights, and there was only time, spreading out forever. He could hear crickets singing just outside the house when the wind dropped... and then, sometime later, he heard the stealthy noises he had been afraid of: the low, momentary scuff-and-scurry of the rats.
Only it wasn't rats he was afraid of, was it? It was the trooper. His so-fucking-vivid imagination rarely gave him the horrors, but when it did, God help him. God help him once it was warmed up. It was not only warmed up now, it was hot and running on full choke. That there was no sense at all in what he was thinking made not a whit of difference in the dark. In the dark, rationality seemed stupid and logic a dream. In the dark he thought with his skin. He kept seeing the trooper coming back to life - some sort of life - out in the barn, sitting up, the loose hay with which Annie had covered him falling to either side of him and into his lap, his face plowed into bloody senselessness by the mower's blade. Saw him crawling out of the barn and down the driveway to the bulkhead, the torn streamers of his uniform swinging and fluttering. Saw him melting magically through the bulkhead and reintegrating his corpse's body down here. Saw him crawling across the packed dirt floor, and the little noises Paul heard weren't rats but the sounds of his approach, and there was but a single thought in the cooling clay of the trooper's dead brain: You killed me. You opened your mouth and killed me. You threw an ashtray and killed me. You cockadoodie son of a bitch, you murdered my life.
Once Paul felt the trooper's dead fingers slip, tickling, down his cheek, and he screamed loudly, jerking his legs and making them bellow. He brushed frantically at his face and knocked away not fingers but a large spider.
The movement ended the uneasy truce with the pain in his legs and the drug-need in his nerves, but it also diffused his terror a little. His night vision was coming on strong now, he could see better, and that was a help. Not that there was much to look at - the furnace, the remains of a coal-pile, a table with a bunch of shadowy cans and implements lying on it and to his right, up a way from where be was propped... what was that shape? The one next to the shelves? He knew that shape. Something about it that made it a bad shape. It stood on three legs. Its top was rounded. It looked like one of Wells's death-machines in The War Of the Worlds, only in miniature. Paul puzzled over this, dozed a little, woke, looked again, and thought: Of course, I should have known from the first. It is a death-machine. And if anyone on Earth's a Martian, it's Annie-fuckin-Wilkes. It's her barbecue pot. It's the crematorium where she made me burn Fast Cars.