Part One: The Pet Sematary - Chapter 18
When the rep from Upjohn didn't turn up promptly at ten, Louis gave in and called the Registrar's Office. He spoke with a Mrs Stapleton, who said she would send over a copy of Victor Pascow's records immediately. When he hung up, the Upjohn guy was there. He didn't try to give Louis anything, only asked him if he had any interest in buying a season's ticket to the New England Patriots' games at a discount.
‘Nope,' Louis said.
‘I didn't think you would,' the Upjohn guy said glumly, and left.
At noon, Louis walked up to the Bear's Den and got a tuna fish sandwich and a Coke. He brought them back to his office, and ate lunch while going over Pascow's records. He was looking for some connection with himself or with North Ludlow, where the Pet Sematary was … a vague belief, he supposed, that there must be some sort of rational explanation even for such a weird occurrence as this. Maybe the guy had grown up in Ludlow – had, maybe, even buried a dog or a cat up there.
He didn't find the connection he was looking for. Pascow was from Bergenfield, New Jersey, and had come to UMO to study electrical engineering. In those few typed sheets, Louis could see no possible connection between himself and the young man who had died in the reception room – other than the mortal one, of course.
He sucked the last of the Coke out of his cup, listening to the straw crackle in the bottom, and then tossed all his trash into the wastebasket. Lunch had been light, but he had eaten it with good appetite. Nothing wrong there, anyway … and not much wrong with the way he felt, really. Not now. There had been no recurrence of the shakes, and now even that morning's horror began to seem more like a nasty, pointless surprise, dreamlike itself, of no consequence.
He drummed his fingers on his blotter, shrugged, and picked up the phone again. He dialed the EMMC and asked for the morgue.
After he was connected with the Pathology Clerk he identified himself and said, ‘You have one of our students there, a Victor Pascow—'
‘Not any more,' the voice at the other end said. ‘He's gone.'
Louis's throat closed. At last he managed. ‘What?'
‘His body was flown back to his parents late last night. Guy from Brookings-Smith Mortuary came and took custody. They put him on Delta, uh …' Papers riffling. ‘Delta Flight 109. Where did you think he went? Out dancing at the Show Ring?'
‘No,' Louis said. ‘No, of course not. It's just …' It was just what? What the Christ was he doing pursuing this, anyway? There was no sane way to deal with it. It had to be let go, marked off, forgotten. Anything else was asking for a lot of pointless trouble. ‘It's just that it seemed very quick,' he finished lamely.
‘Well, he was autopsied yesterday afternoon—' That faint riffle of papers again – ‘at around 3:20, by Dr Rynzwyck. By then his father had made all the arrangements. I imagine the body got to Newark by two in the morning.'
‘Oh. Well, in that case—'
‘Unless one of the carriers screwed up and sent it somewhere else,' the Pathology Clerk said brightly. ‘We've had that happen, you know, although never with Delta. Delta's actually pretty good. We had a guy who died on a fishing trip way up in Aroostook County, in one of those little towns that just have a couple of map coordinates for a name. Asshole strangled on a pop-top while he was chugging a can of beer. Took his buddies two days to buck him out of the wilderness and you know that by then it's a toss-up whether or not the Forever Goop will take. But they shoved it in and hoped for the best. Sent him home to Grand Falls, Minnesota, in the cargo compartment of some airliner. But there was a screw-up. They shipped him first to Miami, then to Des Moines, then to Fargo, North Dakota. Finally somebody wised up, but by then another three days had gone by. Nothing took. They might as well have injected him with Kool-Aid instead of Jaundaflo. The guy was totally black and smelled like a spoiled pork roast. That's what I heard, anyway. Six baggage handlers got sick.'
The voice on the other end of the line laughed heartily.
Louis closed his eyes and said, ‘Well, thank you—'
‘I can give you Dr Rynzwyck's home phone if you want it, Doctor, but he usually plays golf up in Orono in the morning.' That hearty laugh again.
‘No,' Louis said. ‘No, that's okay.'
He hung up the telephone. Let that put paid to it, he thought. When you were having that crazy dream, or whatever it was, Pascow's body was almost certainly in a Bergenfield funeral home. That closes it off; let that be the end of it.
Driving home that afternoon, a simple explanation of the filth at the foot of the bed finally occurred to him, flooding him with relief.
He had experienced an isolated incident of sleepwalking, brought on by the unexpected and extremely upsetting happenstance of having a student mortally injured and then dying in his infirmary during his first real day on the job.
It explained everything. The dream had seemed extremely real because large parts of it were real – the feel of the carpet, the cold dew and, of course, the dead branch that had scratched his arm. It explained why Pascow had been able to walk through the door and he had not.
A picture rose in his mind, a picture of Rachel coming downstairs last night and catching him bumping against the back door, trying in his sleep to walk through it. The thought made him grin. It would have given her a hell of a turn, all right.
With the sleepwalking hypothesis in mind, he was able to analyze the causes of the dream – and he did so with a certain eagerness. He had walked to the Pet Sematary because it had become associated with another moment of recent stress. It had in fact been the cause of a serious argument between him and his wife … and also, he thought with growing excitement, it was associated in his mind with his daughter's first real encounter with the idea of death – something his own subconscious must have been grappling with last night when he went to bed.
Damn lucky I got back to the house okay – I don't even remember that part. Must have come back on autopilot.
It was a good thing he had. He couldn't imagine what it would have been like to have wakened up this morning by the grave of Smucky the Cat, disoriented, covered with dew, and probably scared shitless – as Rachel would have been, undoubtedly.
But it was over now.
Put paid to it, Louis thought with immeasurable relief. Yes, but what about the things he said when he was dying? his mind tried to ask, and Louis shut it up fast.
That evening, with Rachel ironing and Ellie and Gage sitting in the same chair, both of them engrossed with The Muppet Show, Louis told Rachel casually that he believed he might go for a short walk – get a little air.
‘Will you be back in time to help me put Gage to bed?' she asked without looking up from her ironing. ‘You know he goes better when you're there.'
‘Sure,' he said.
‘Where you going, daddy?' Ellie asked, not looking away from the TV. Kermit was about to be punched in the eye by Miss Piggy.
‘Just out back, hon.'
Louis went out.
Fifteen minutes later he was in the Pet Sematary, looking around curiously and coping with a strong feeling of déjà vu. That he had been here was beyond doubt: the little grave marker put up to honor the memory of Smucky the Cat was knocked over. He had done that when the vision of Pascow approached, near the end of what he could remember of the dream. Louis righted it absently and walked over to the deadfall.
He didn't like it. The memory of all these weather-whitened branches and dead trees turning into a pile of bones still had the power to chill. He forced himself to reach out and touch one. Balanced precariously on the jackstraw pile, it rolled and fell, bouncing down the side of the heap. Louis jumped back a step.
He walked along the deadfall, first to the left, then to the right. On both sides the underbrush closed in so thickly as to be impenetrable. Nor was it the kind of brush you'd try to push your way through – not if you were smart, Louis thought. There were lush masses of poison ivy growing close to the ground (all his life Louis had heard people boast that they were immune to the stuff, but Louis knew that almost no one really was) and further in were some of the biggest, most wicked-looking thorns he had ever seen.
Louis strolled back to the rough center of the deadfall. He looked at it, hands stuck in the back pockets of his jeans.
You're not going to try to climb that, are you?
Not me, boss. Why would I want to do a stupid thing like that?
Great. Had me worried for just a minute there, Lou. Looks like a good way to land in your own infirmary with a broken ankle, doesn't it?
Sure does! Also, it's getting dark.
Sure that he was all together and in total agreement with himself, Louis began to climb the deadfall.
He was halfway up when he felt it shift under his feet with a peculiar creaking sound.
Roll dem bones, Doc.
When the pile shifted again, Louis began to clamber back down. The tail of his shirt had pulled out of his pants.
He reached solid ground without incident and dusted crumbled bits of bark off his hands. He walked back to the head of the path which would return him to his house – to his children who would want a story before bed, to Church, who was enjoying his last day as a card-carrying tom cat and ladykiller, to tea in the kitchen with his wife after the kids were down.
He surveyed the clearing again before leaving, struck by its green silence. Tendrils of groundfog had appeared from nowhere and were beginning to wind around the markers. Those concentric circles … as if, all unknowing, the childish hands of North Ludlow's generations had built a kind of scalemodel Stonehenge.
But, Louis, is this all?
Although he had gotten only the barest glimpse over the top of the deadfall before the shifting sensation had made him nervous, he could have sworn there was a path beyond, leading deeper into the woods.
No business of yours, Louis. You've got to let this go.
Louis turned and headed home.
He stayed up that night an hour after Rachel went to bed, reading a stack of medical journals he had already been through, refusing to admit that the thought of going to bed – going to sleep – made him nervous. He had never had an episode of somnambulism before, and there was no way to be sure it was an isolated incident … until it did or didn't happen again.
He heard Rachel get out of bed and then she called down softly, ‘Lou? Hon? You coming up?'
‘Just was,' he said, turning out the lamp over his study desk and getting up.
It took a good deal longer than seven minutes to shut the machine down that night. Listening to Rachel draw the long, calm breaths of deep sleep beside him, the apparition of Victor Pascow seemed less dreamlike. He would close his eyes and see the door crashing open and there he was, Our Special Guest Star, Victor Pascow, standing there in his jogging shorts, pallid under his summer tan, his collar-bone poking up.
He would slide down toward sleep, think about how it would be to come fully, coldly awake in the Pet Sematary, to see those roughly concentric circles lit by moonlight, to have to walk back, awake, along the path through the woods. He would think these things and then snap fully awake again.
It was sometime after midnight when sleep finally crept up on his blind side and bagged him. There were no dreams. He woke up promptly at seven-thirty, to the sound of cold autumn rain beating against the window. He threw the sheets back with some apprehension. The groundsheet on his bed was flawless. No purist would describe his feet, with their hammer-toes and their rings of heel-calluses, that way, but they were at least clean.
Louis caught himself whistling in the shower.