Part One: The Pet Sematary - Chapter 17
It takes the average human seven minutes to go to sleep, but, according to Hand's Human Physiology, it takes the same average human fifteen to twenty minutes to wake up, as if sleep is a pool from which emerging is more difficult than entering. When the sleeper wakes, he or she comes up by degrees, from deep sleep to light sleep to what is sometimes called ‘waking sleep', a state in which the sleeper can hear sounds and will even respond to questions without being aware of it later … except perhaps as fragments of dream.
Louis heard the click and rattle of bones, but gradually this sound became sharper, more metallic. There was a bang. A yell. More metallic sounds … something rolling? Sure, his drifting mind agreed. Roll dem bones.
He heard his daughter, calling: ‘Get it, Gage! Go get it!'
This was followed by Gage's crow of delight, and was the sound on which Louis opened his eyes and saw the ceiling of his own bedroom.
He held himself perfectly still, waiting for the reality, the good reality, the blessed reality, to come home all the way.
All a dream. No matter how terrible, how real, it had all been a dream. Only a fossil in the mind under his mind.
The metallic sound came again. It was one of Gage's toy cars being rolled along the upstairs hall.
‘Get it, Gage!'
‘Get it!' Gage yelled. ‘Get-it-get-it-get-it!'
Thumpa-thumpa-thumpa. Gage's small bare feet thundering along the hallway runner. He and Ellie were giggling.
Louis looked to his right. Rachel's side of the bed was empty, the covers thrown back. The sun was well up. He glanced at his watch and saw it was nearly eight o'clock. Rachel had let him oversleep, probably on purpose.
Ordinarily this would have irritated him, but this morning it did not. He drew in a deep breath and let it out, content for the moment to lie here with a bar of sunlight slanting in through the window, feeling the unmistakable texture of the real world. Dustmotes danced in the sunlight.
Rachel called upstairs: ‘Better come down and get your snack and go out for the bus, El!'
‘Okay!' The louder clack-clack of her feet. ‘Here's your car, Gage. I got to go to school.'
Gage began to yell indignantly. Although it was garbled – the only clear words being Gage, car, geddit, and Ellie-bus – his text seemed clear enough: Ellie should stay. Public education could go hang for the day.
Rachel's voice again: ‘Give your dad a shake before you come down, El.'
Ellie came in, her hair done up in a ponytail, wearing her red dress.
‘I'm awake, babe,' he said. ‘Go on and get your bus.'
‘Okay, Daddy.' She came over, kissed his slightly scruffy cheek, and bolted for the stairs.
The dream was beginning to fade, to lose its coherency. A damn good thing, too.
‘Gage!' he yelled. ‘Come give your dad a kiss!'
Gage ignored this. He was following Ellie downstairs as rapidly as he could, yelling, ‘Get it! Get-it-get-it-GET-IT! !' at the top of his lungs. Louis caught just a glimpse of his sturdy little kid's body, clad only in diapers and rubber pants.
Rachel called up again: ‘Louis, was that you? You awake?'
‘Yeah,' he said, sitting up.
‘Told you he was!' Ellie called. ‘I'm goin'. Bye!' The slam of the front door and Gage's outraged bellow punctuated this.
‘One egg or two?' Rachel called.
Louis pushed back the blankets and swung his feet out on to the nubs of the hooked rug, ready to tell her he'd skip the eggs, just a bowl of cereal and he'd run … and the words died in his throat.
His feet were filthy with dirt and fir needles.
His heart leaped up in his throat like a crazy jack-in-the-box. Moving fast, eyes bulging, teeth clamped unfeelingly on his tongue, he kicked the covers all the way back. The foot of the bed was littered with needles. The sheets were mucky and dirty.
He saw a few errant fir needles on his knees, and suddenly he looked at his right arm. There was a scratch there on the bicep, a fresh scratch, exactly where the dead branch had poked him … in the dream.
I'm going to scream. I can feel it.
And he could, too; it was roaring up from inside, nothing but a big cold bullet of fear. Reality shimmered. Reality – the real reality, he thought – was those needles; the filth on the sheets; the bloody scratch on his bare arm.
I'm going to scream and then I'll go crazy and I won't have to worry about it any more—
‘Louis?' Rachel was coming up the stairs. ‘Louis, did you go back to sleep?'
He grappled for himself in those two or three seconds; he fought grimly for himself just as he had done in those moments of roaring confusion after Pascow had been brought into the Medical Center, dying, in a blanket. He won. The thought which tipped the scales was that she must not see him this way, his feet muddy and coated with needles, the blankets tossed back on to the floor to reveal the muck-splashed ground sheet.
‘I'm awake,' he called cheerfully. His tongue was bleeding from the sudden, involuntary bite he had given it. His mind swirled, and somewhere deep inside, away from the action, he wondered if he had always been within touching distance of such mad irrationalities; if everyone was.
‘One egg or two?' She had stopped on the second or third riser. Thank God.
‘Two,' he said, barely aware of what he was saying. ‘Scrambled.'
‘Good for you,' she said, and went back downstairs again.
He closed his eyes briefly in relief, but in the darkness he saw Pascow's silver eyes. His eyes flew open again. Louis began to move rapidly, putting off any further thought. He jerked the bedclothes off the bed. The blankets were okay. He separated out the two sheets, balled them up, took them into the hallway, and dumped them down the laundry chute.
Almost running, he entered the bathroom, jerked the shower handle on, and stepped under water so hot it was nearly scalding, unmindful. He washed the dirt from his feet and legs.
He began to feel better, more in control. Drying off, it struck him that this was how murderers must feel when they believe they have gotten rid of all the evidence. He began to laugh. He went on drying himself, but he also went on laughing. He couldn't seem to stop.
‘Hey, up there!' Rachel called. ‘What's so funny?'
‘Private joke,' Louis called back, still laughing. He was frightened, but the fright didn't stop the laughter. The laughter came, rising from a belly that was as hard as stones mortared into a wall. It occurred to him that shoving the sheets down the laundry chute was absolutely the best thing he could have done. Missy Dandridge came in five days a week to vacuum, clean and do the laundry. Rachel would never see those sheets at all until she put them back on the bed – clean. He supposed it was possible that Missy would mention it to Rachel, but he didn't think so. She would probably whisper to her husband that the Creeds were playing some strange sex-game that involved mud and fir needles instead of body paints.
This thought made Louis laugh all the harder.
The last of the giggles and chuckles dried up as he was dressing, and he realized that he felt a little better. How that could be he didn't know, but he did. The room looked normal now except for the stripped bed. He had gotten rid of the poison. Maybe evidence was actually the word he was looking for, but in his mind it felt like poison.
Perhaps this is what people do with the inexplicable, he thought. This is what they do with the irrational that refuses to be broken down into the normal causes and effects that run the Western world. Maybe this is how the mind copes with the flying saucer you saw hovering silently over your back field one morning, the rain of frogs, the hand from under the bed that stroked your bare foot in the dead of night: there was a giggling fit, or a crying fit … and since it was its own inviolable self and would not break down, you simply passed terror intact, like a kidney stone.
Gage was in his chair, eating and decorating the table with Special K. He was decorating the plastic mat under his high chair with Special K, and apparently shampooing with Special K.
Rachel came out of the kitchen with his eggs and a cup of coffee. ‘What was the big joke, Lou? You were laughing like a loon up there. Scared me a little.'
Louis opened his mouth with no idea of what he was going to say, and what came out was a joke he had heard the week before at the corner market down the road, something about a Jewish tailor who bought a parrot whose only line was ‘Ariel Sharon jerks off.'
By the time he finished, Rachel was laughing, too – so was Gage, for that matter.
Fine. Our hero has taken care of all the evidence, to wit: the muddy sheets and the loony laughter in the bathroom. Our hero will now read the morning paper – or at least look at it – putting the seal of normality on the morning.
So thinking, Louis opened the paper.
That's what you do, all right, he thought with immeasurable relief. You pass it like a stone and that's the end of it … unless there comes a campfire some night with friends when the wind is high and the talk turns to inexplicable events. Because on campfire night when the wind is high, talk is cheap.
He ate his eggs. He kissed Rachel and Gage. He glanced at the square, white-painted laundry cabinet at the foot of the chute only as he left. Everything was okay. It was another knockout of a morning. Late summer showed every sign of just going on for ever, and everything was okay. He glanced at the path as he backed the car out of the garage, but that was okay, too. Never turned a hair. You passed it like a stone.
Everything was okay until he had gotten ten miles down the road, and then the shakes hit him so hard that he had to pull off Route 2 and into the morning-deserted parking lot of Sing's, the Chinese restaurant not far from the Eastern Maine Medical Center – where Pascow's body would have been taken. The EMMC, that was, not Sing's. Vic Pascow was never going to eat another helping of moo goo gai pan, ha-ha.
The shakes twisted his body, rippled it, had their way with it. Louis felt helpless and terrified – not terrified of anything supernatural, not in this bright sunshine, but simply terrified of the possibility that he might be losing his mind. It felt as if a long, invisible wire was being twirled through his body.
‘No more,' he said. ‘Please, no more.'
He fumbled for the radio and got Joan Baez singing about diamonds and rust. Her sweet, cool voice soothed him, and by the time she had finished, Louis felt that he could drive on.
When he got to the Medical Center, he called hello to Charlton and then ducked into the bathroom, believing that he must look like hell. Not so. He was a little hollow under the eyes, but not even Rachel had noticed that. He slapped some cold water on his face, dried off, combed his hair, and went into his office.
Steve Masterton and the Indian doctor, Surrendra Hardu, were in there, drinking coffee and continuing to go over the front file.
‘Morning, Lou,' Steve said.
‘Let's hope it is not like last morning,' Hardu said.
‘That's right, you missed all the excitement.'
‘Surrendra had plenty of excitement himself last night,' Masterton said, grinning. ‘Tell him, Surrendra.'
Hardu polished his glasses, smiling. ‘Two boys bring in their lady-friend around one o'clock in the morning,' he said. ‘She is very happily drunk; celebrating the return to University, you understand. She has cut one thigh quite badly, and I tell her it will be at least four stitches, no scar. Stitch away, she tells me, and so I do, bending over like this—'
Hardu demonstrated, salaaming over an invisible thigh. Louis began to grin, sensing what was coming.
‘And as I am suturing, she vomits on my head.'
Masterton broke up. So did Louis. Hardu smiled calmly, as if this had happened to him thousands of times in thousands of lives.
‘Surrendra, how long have you been on duty?' Louis asked, when the laughter died.
‘Since midnight,' Hardu said. ‘I am just leaving. But I wanted to stay long enough to say hello again.'
‘Well, hello,' Louis said, shaking his small, brown hand, ‘now go home and go to sleep.'
‘We're almost through with the front file,' Masterton said. ‘Say hallelujah, Surrendra.'
‘I decline,' Hardu said, smiling. ‘I am not a Christian.'
‘Then sing the chorus of “Instant Karma”, or something.'
‘May you both shine on,' Hardu said, still smiling, and glided out the door.
Louis and Steve Masterton looked after him for a moment, silent, then at each other. Then they both burst out laughing. To Louis, no laugh had ever felt so good … so normal.
‘Just as well we got the file finished up,' Steve said. ‘Today's the day we put the welcome mat out for the dope pushers.'
Louis nodded. The first of the drug salesmen would begin arriving at ten. As Steve liked to crack, Wednesday might be Prince Spaghetti Day, but at UMO, every Tuesday was D-Day. The D stood for Darvon, the all-time favorite.
‘A word of advice, O Great Boss,' Steve said. ‘I don't know what these guys were like out in Chicago, but around here they'll stoop to just about anything from all-expenses paid hunting junkets into the Allagash in November to free bowling at Family Fun Lanes in Bangor. I had one guy try to give me one of those inflatable Judy dolls. Me! And I'm only a PA! If they can't sell you drugs, they'll drive you to them.'
‘Should have taken it.'
‘Nah, she was a redhead. Not my type.'
‘Well, I agree with Surrendra,' Louis said. ‘Just as long as it's not like yesterday.'