UNDER THE DOMEA NOVEL
SCRIBNERCopyright © 2009 Stephen King
All right reserved.ISBN: 978-1-4391-4850-1
Chapter One THE AIRPLANE AND THE WOODCHUCK
From two thousand feet, where Claudette Sanders was taking a flying lesson, the town of Chester's Mill gleamed in the morning light like something freshly made and just set down. Cars trundled along Main Street, flashing up winks of sun. The steeple of the Congo Church looked sharp enough to pierce the unblemished sky. The sun raced along the surface of Prestile Stream as the Seneca V overflew it, both plane and water cutting the town on the same diagonal course.
"Chuck, I think I see two boys beside the Peace Bridge! Fishing!" Her very delight made her laugh. The flying lessons were courtesy of her husband, who was the town's First Selectman. Although of the opinion that if God had wanted man to fly. He would have given him wings, Andy was an extremely coaxable man, and eventually Claudette had gotten her way. She had enjoyed the experience from the first. But this wasn't mere enjoyment; it was exhilaration. Today was the first time she had really understood what made flying great. What made it cool.
Chuck Thompson, her instructor, touched the control yoke gently, then pointed at the instrument panel. "I'm sure," he said, "but let's keep the shiny side up, Claudie. Okay?"
"Not at all." He had been teaching people to do this for years, and he liked students like Claudie, the ones who were eager to learn something new. She might cost Andy Sanders some real money before long; she loved the Seneca, and had expressed a desire to have one just like it. Only new. That would run somewhere in the neighborhood of a million dollars. Although not exactly spoiled, Claudie Sanders had undeniably expensive tastes which, lucky man, Andy seemed to have no trouble satisfying.
Chuck also liked days like this: unlimited visibility, no wind, perfect teaching conditions. Nevertheless, the Seneca rocked slightly as she overcorrected.
"You're losing your happy thoughts. Don't do that. Come to one-twenty. Let's go out Route 119. And drop on down to nine hundred."
She did, the Seneca's trim once more perfect. Chuck relaxed.
They passed above Jim Rennies Used Cars, and then the town was behind them. There were fields on either side of 119, and trees burning with color. The Seneca's cruciform shadow tied up the blacktop, one dark wing briefly brushing over an ant-man with a pack on his back. The ant-man looked up and waved. Chuck waved back, although he knew the guy couldn't see him.
"Beautiful goddam day!" Claudie exclaimed. Chuck laughed.
Their lives had another forty seconds to run.
The woodchuck came bumbling along the shoulder of Route 119, headed in the direction of Chester's Mill, although the town was still a mile and a half away and even Jim Rennie's Used Cars was only a series of twinkling sunflashes arranged in rows at the place where the highway curved to the left. The chuck planned (so far as a woodchuck can be said to plan anything) to head back into the woods long before he got that far. But for now, the shoulder was fine. He'd come farther from his burrow than he meant to, but the sun had been warm on his back and the smells were crisp in his nose, forming rudimentary images-not quite pictures-in his brain.
He stopped and rose on his back paws for an instant. His eyes weren't as good as they used to be, but good enough to make out a human up there, walking in his direction on the other shoulder.
The chuck decided he'd go a little farther anyway. Humans sometimes left behind good things to eat.
He was an old fellow, and a fat fellow. He had raided many garbage cans in his time, and knew the way to the Chester's Mill landfill as well as he knew the three tunnels of his own burrow; always good things to eat at the landfill. He waddled a complacent old fellow's waddle, watching the human walking on the other side of the road.
The man stopped. The chuck realized he had been spotted. To his right and just ahead was a fallen birch. He would hide under there, wait for the man to go by, then investigate for any tasty-
The chuck got that far in his thoughts-and another three waddling steps-although he had been cut in two. Then he fell apart on the edge of the road. Blood squirted and pumped; guts tumbled into the dirt; his rear legs kicked rapidly twice, then stopped.
His last thought before the darkness that comes to us all, chucks and humans alike: What happened?
All the needles on the control panel dropped dead.
"What the hell?" Claudie Sanders said. She turned to Chuck. Her eyes were wide, hut there was no panic in them, only bewilderment. There was no time for panic.
Chuck never saw the control panel. He saw the Seneca's nose crumple toward him. Then he saw both propellers disintegrate.
There was no time to see more. No time for anything. The Seneca exploded over Route 119 and rained fire on the countryside. It also rained body parts. A smoking forearm-Claudette's-landed with a thump beside the neatly divided woodchuck.
It was October twenty-first.
Chapter Two BARBIE
Barbie started feeling better as soon as he passed Food City and left downtown behind. When he saw the sign reading YOU ARE LEAVING THE VILLAGE OF CHESTER'S MILL COME BACK REAL SOON!, he felt better still. He was glad to be on his way, and not just because he had taken a pretty good beating in The Mill. It was plain old moving on that had lightened him up. He had been walking around under his own little gray cloud for at least two weeks before getting his shit handed to him in the parking lot of Dipper's.
"Basically, I'm just a ramblin guy," he said, and laughed. "A ramblin guy on his way to the Big Sky." And hell, why not? Montana! Or Wyoming. Fucking Rapid City, South Dakota. Anyplace but here.
He heard an approaching engine, turned around-walking backward now-and stuck out his thumb. What he saw was a lovely combination: a dirty old Ford pickemup with a fresh young blonde behind the wheel. Ash blonde, his favorite blonde of all. Barbie offered his most engaging smile. The girl driving the pickemup responded with one of her own, and oh my Lord if she was a ticktock over nineteen, he'd eat his last paycheck from Sweet briar Rose. Too young for a gentleman of thirty summers, no doubt, but perfectly street-legal, as they'd said back in the days of his cornfed Iowa youth.
The truck slowed, he started toward it ... and then it sped up again. She gave him one more brief look as she went past. The smile was still on her face, but it had turned regretful. I had a brain-cramp there for a minute, the smile said, but now sanity has reasserted itself.
And Barbie thought he recognized her a little, although it was impossible to say with certainty; Sunday mornings in Sweetbriar were always a madhouse. But he thought he'd seen her with an older man, probably her dad, both of them with their faces mostly buried in sections of the Sunday Times. If he could have spoken to her as she rolled past, Barbie would have said: If you trusted me to cook your sausage and eggs, surely you can trust me for a few miles in the shotgun seat.
But of course he didn't get the chance, so he simply raised his hand in a little no-offense-taken salute. The truck's taillights flickered, as if she were reconsidering. Then they went out and the truck sped up.
During the following days, as things in The Mill started going from bad to worse, he would replay this little moment in the warm October sun again and again. It was that second reconsidering flicker of the taillights he thought of ... as if she had recognized him, after all. That's the cook from Sweetbriar Rose. I'm almost sure. Maybe I ought to-
But maybe was a gulf better men than him had fallen into. If she had reconsidered, everything in his life thereafter would have changed. Because she mast have made it out; he never saw the fresh-faced blonde or the dirty old Ford F-150 again. She must have crossed over the Chester's Mill town line minutes (or even seconds) before the border slammed shut. If he'd been with her, he would have been out and safe.
Unless, of course, he'd think later, when sleep wouldn't come, the stop to pick we up was just long enough to be too long. In that case, I probably still wouldn't be here. And neither would she. Because the speed limit out that way on 119 is fifty miles an hour. And at fifty miles an hour ...
At this point he would always think of the plane.
The plane flew over him just after he passed Jim Rennies Used Cars, a place for which Barbie had no love. Not that he'd bought a lemon there (he hadn't owned a car in over a year, had sold the last one in Punta Gorda, Florida). It was just that Jim Rennie Jr. had been one of the fellows that night in Dipper's parking lot. A frat boy with something to prove, and what he could not prove alone he would prove as part of a group. That was the way the Jim Juniors of the world did business, in Barbie's experience.
But it was behind him now. Jim Kennie's, Jim Junior, Sweetbriar Rose (Fried Clams Our Specialty! Always "Whole" Never "Strips"), Angie McCain, Andy Sanders. The whole deal, including Dipper's. (Beatings Administered in the Parking Lot Our Specialty!) All behind him. And ahead of him? Why, the gates of America. Goodbye smalltown Maine, hello Big Sky.
Or maybe, hell, he'd head down south again. No matter how beautiful this particular day, winter was lurking a page or two over on the calendar. The south might be good. He'd never been to Muscle Shoals, and he liked the sound of the name. That was goddam poetry. Muscle Shoals was, and the idea so cheered him that when he heard the little plane approaching, he looked up and gave a big old exuberant wave. He hoped for a wing-waggle in return, but didn't get one, although the plane was slowpoking at low altitude. Barbie's guess was sightseers-this was a day for them, with the trees in full flame-or maybe some young kid on his learner's permit, too worried about screwing up to bother with groundlings like Dale Barbara. But he wished them well. Sightseers or a kid still six weeks from his first solo cruise. Barbie wished them very well. It was a good day, and every step away from Chester's Mill made it better. Too many assholes in The Mill, and besides: travel was good for the soul.
Chapter Three JUNIOR AND ANGIE
The two boys fishing near the Peace Bridge didn't look up when the plane flew overhead, but Junior Rennie did. He was a block farther down, on Prestile Street, and he recognized the sound. It was Chuck Thompson's Seneca V. He looked up, saw the plane, then dropped his head fast when the bright sunlight shining through the trees sent a bolt of agony in through his eyes. Another headache. He'd been having a lot of them lately. Sometimes the medication killed them. Sometimes, especially in the last three or four months, it didn't.
Migraines, Dr. Haskell said. All Junior knew was that they hurt like the end of the world, and bright light made them worse, especially when they were hatching. Sometimes he thought of the ants he and Frank DeLesseps had burned up when they were just kids. You used a magnifying glass and focused the sun on them as they crawled in and out of their hill. The result was fricasseed formicants. Only these days, when one of his headaches was hatching, his brain was the anthill and his eyes turned into twin magnifying glasses.
He was twenty-one. Did he have this to look forward to until he was forty-five or so, when Dr. Haskell said they might let up?
Maybe. But this morning a headache wasn't going to snip him. The sight of Henry McCain's 4Runner or LaDonna McCain's Prius in the driveway might have; in that case he might've turned around, gone back to his own house, taken another Imitrex, and lain down in his bedroom with the shades drawn and a cool washcloth on his forehead. Possibly feeling the pain start to diminish as the headache derailed, but probably not. Once those black spiders really got a foothold-
He looked up again, this time squinting his eyes against the hateful light, but the Seneca was gone, and even the buzz of its engine (also aggravating-all sounds were aggravating when he was getting one of these bitchkitties) was fading. Chuck Thompson with some flyboy or flygirl wannabe. And although Junior had nothing against Chuck-hardly knew him-he wished with sudden, childish ferocity that Chuck's pupil would fuck up bigtime and crash the plane.
Preferably in the middle of his father's car dealership.
Another sickish throb of pain twisted through his head, but he went up the steps to the McCains' door anyway. This had to be done. This was over-fucking-due. Angie needed a lesson.
But just a little one. Don't let yourself get out of control.
As if summoned, his mother's voice replied. Her maddeningly complacent voice. Junior was always a had-tempered boy, but he keeps it under much better control now. Don't you, Junior?
Well. Gee. He had. Anyway. Football had helped. But now there was no football. Now there wasn't even college. Instead, there were the headaches. And they made him feel like one mean motherfucker.
Don't let yourself get out of control.
No. But he would talk to her, headache or no headache.
And, as the old saying was, he just might have to talk to her by hand. Who knew? Making Angie feel worse might make him feel better.
Junior rang the bell.
Angie McCain was just out of the shower. She slipped on a robe, belted it, then wrapped a towel around her wet hair. "Coming!" she called as she not-quite-trotted down the stairs to the first floor. There was a little smile on her face. It was Frankie, she was quite sure it must be Frankie. Things were finally coming rightside up. The bastardly short-order cook (good-looking but still a bastard) had either left town or was leaving, and her parents were out. Combine the two and you got a sign from God that things were coming rightside up. She and Frankie could put all the crap in the rearview and get back together.
She knew exactly how to handle it: open the door and then open her robe. Right there in the Saturday-morning daylight, where anybody passing might see her. She'd make sure it was Frankie first, of course-she had no intention of flashing fat old Mr. Wicker if he'd rung the bell with a package or a registered mail-but it was at least half an hour to early for the mail.
No, it was Frankie. She was sure.
She opened the door, the little smile widening to a welcoming grin-perhaps not fortunate, since her teeth were rather crammed together and the size of jumbo Chiclets. One hand was on the tie of her robe. But she didn't pull it. Because it wasn't Frankie. It was Junior, and he looked so angry-
She had seen his black look before-many times, in fact-but never this black since eighth grade, when Junior broke the Dupree kid's arm. The little fag had dared to swish his bubble-butt onto the town common basketball court and ask to play. And she supposed Junior must have had the same thunderstorm on his face that night in Dipper's parking lot, but of course she hadn't been there, she had only heard about it. Everybody in The Mill had heard about it. She'd been called in to talk to Chief Perkins, that damn Barbie had been there, and eventually that had gotten out, too.
"Junior? Junior, what-"
Then he slapped her, and thinking pretty much ceased.