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Authors: Stephen King

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BOOK: Christine
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On top of the rest of the day, it was nearly too much.

I went to the cabinets over the sink and got a glass for my milk, and when I looked back, my father had himself under control again. That helped me do likewise.

"You looked sort of glum when you came in," he said. "Is everything all right with Arnie, Dennis?"

"Arnie's cool," I said, dumping the soup into a saucepan and throwing it on the stove. "He just bought a car, and that's a mess, but Arnie's all right." Of course Arnie wasn't all right, but there are some things you can't bring yourself to tell your dad, no matter how well he's succeeding at the great American job of dadhood.

"Sometimes people can't see things until they see them for themselves," he said.

"Well," I said, "I hope he sees it soon. He's got the car at Darnell's for twenty a week because his folks didn't want him to park it at home."

"Twenty a week? For just a stall? Or a stall and tools?"

"Just a stall."

"That's highway robbery."

"Yeah," I said, noticing that my father didn't follow up that judgment with an offer that Arnie could park it at our place.

"You want to play a game of cribbage?"

"I guess so," I said.

"Cheer up, Dennis. You can't make other peoples mistakes for them."

"Yeah, really."

We played three or four games of cribbage, and he beat me every time—he almost always does, unless he's very tired or has had a couple of drinks. That's okay with me, though, The times that I do beat him mean more. We played cribbage, and after a while my mother came in, her color high and her eyes glowing, looking too young to be my mom, her book of stories and sketches clasped to her breasts. She kissed my father—not her usual brush, but a real kiss that made me feel all of a sudden like I should be someplace else.

She asked me the same stuff about Arnie and his car, which was fast becoming the biggest topic of conversation around the house since my mother's brother, Sid, went into bankruptcy and asked my dad for a loan. I went through the same song-and-dance. Then I went upstairs to bed. My ass was dragging, and it looked to me as if my mom and dad had business of their own to attend to… although that was a topic I never went into all that deeply in my mind, as I'm sure you'll understand.

Elaine was in on her bed, listening to the latest K-Tel conglomeration of hits. I asked her to turn it down because I was going to bed. She stuck out her tongue at me. No way I allow that kind of thing. I went in and tickled her until she said she was going to puke. I said go ahead and puke, it's your bed, and tickled her some more. Then she put on her "please don't kid me Dennis because this is something
terribly
important" expression and got all solemn and asked me if it was really true you could light farts. One of her girlfriends, Carolyn Shambliss, said it was, but Carolyn lied about almost
everything.

I told her to ask Milton Dodd, her dorky-looking boyfriend. Then Elaine really did get mad and tried to hit me and asked me why do you always have to be so
awful,
Dennis? So I told her yes, it was true you could light farts, and advised her not to try it, and then I gave her a hug (which I rarely did anymore—it made me uncomfortable since she started to get boobs, and so did the tickling, to tell the truth) and then I went to bed.

And undressing, I thought, The day didn't end so bad, after all. There are people around here who think I'm a human being, and they think Arnie is, as well, I'll get him to come over tomorrow or Sunday and we'll just hang out, watch the Phillies on TV, maybe, or play some dumb board-game, Careers or Life or maybe that old standby, Clue, and get rid of the weirdness. Get feeling decent again.

So I went to bed with everything straight in my mind, and I should have gone right to sleep, but I didn't. Because it
wasn't
straight, and I knew it. Things get started, and sometimes you don't know what the hell they are.

Engines. That's something else about being a teenager. There are all these engines, and somehow you end up with the ignition keys to some of them and you start them up but you don't know what the fuck they are or what they're supposed to do. There are clues, but that's all. The drug thing is like that, and the booze thing, and the sex thing, and sometimes other stuff too—a summer job that generates a new interest, a trip, a course in school. Engines. They give you the keys and some clues and they say, Start it up, see what it will do, and sometimes what it does is pull you along into a life that's really good and fulfilling, and sometimes what it does is pull you right down the highway to hell and leave you all mangled and bleeding by the roadside.

Engines.

Big ones. Like the 382s they used to put in those old cars. Like Christine.

I lay there in the dark, twisting and turning until the sheet was pulled out and all balled up and messy, and I thought about LeBay saying,
Her name is Christine.
And somehow, Arnie had picked up on that. When we were little kids we had scooters and then bikes, and I named mine but Arnie never named his—he said names were for dogs and cats and guppies. But that was then and this was now. Now he was calling that Plymouth Christine, and, what was somehow worse, it was always "her" and "she" instead of "it".

I didn't like it, and I didn't know why.

And even my own father had spoken of it as if, instead of buying an old junker, Arnie had gotten married. But it wasn't like that. Not at all. Was it?

Stop the car, Dennis. Go back… I want to look at her again.

Simple as that.

No consideration at all, and that wasn't like Arnie, who usually thought things out so carefully—his life had made him all too painfully aware of what happened to guys like him when they went off half-cocked and did something (gasp!) on impulse. But this time he had been like a man who meets a showgirl, indulges in a whirlwind courtship, and ends up with a hangover and a new wife on Monday morning.

It had been well like love at first sight.

Never mind, I thought. We'll start over again. Tomorrow we'll start over. We'll get some perspective on this.

And so finally I went to sleep. And dreamed.

The whining spin of a starter in darkness.

Silence.

The starter, whining again.

The engineered, missed, then caught.

An engine running in darkness.

Then headlights came on, high beams, old-fashioned twin beams, spearing me like a bug on glass.

I was standing in the open doorway of Roland D. LeBay's garage, and Christine sat inside-a new Christine with not a dent or a speck of rust on her. The clean, unblemished windscreen darkened to a polarized blue strip at the top. From the radio came the hard rhythmic sounds of Dale Hawkins doing "Susie-Q"-a voice from a dead age, full of a somehow frightening vitality.

The motor muttering words of power through dual glasspack mufflers. And somehow I knew there was a Hurst shifter inside, and Feully headers; the Quaker State oil had just been changed-it was a clean amber color, automotive lifeblood.

The wipers suddenly start up, and that's strange because there's no one behind the wheel, the car is empty.

Come on, big guy. Let's go for a ride. Let's cruise.

I shake my head. I don't want to get in there. I'm scared to get in there. I don't want to cruise. And suddenly the engine begins to rev and fall off, rev and fall off; it's a hungry sound, frightening, and each time the engine revs Christine seems to lunge forward a bit, like a mean- dog on a weak leash… and I want to move… but my feet seem nailed to the cracked pavement of the driveway.

—Last chance, big guy.

And before I can answer

or even think of an answer

there is the terrible scream of rubber kissing off concrete and Christine lunges out at me, her grille snarling like an open mouth full of chrome teeth, her headlights glaring

I screamed myself awake in the dead darkness of two in the morning, the sound of my own voice scaring me, the hurried, running thud of bare feet coming down the hall scaring me even worse. I had double handfuls of sheet in both hands. I'd pulled the sheet right out; it was all wadded up in the middle of the bed. My body was sweat-slippery.

Down the hall, Ellie cried out "What was that?" in her own terror.

My light flooded on and there was my mom in a shorty nightgown that showed more than she would have allowed except in the direst of emergencies, and right behind her, my dad, belting his bathrobe closed over nothing at all.

"Honey, what is it?" my mom asked me. Her eyes were wide and scared. I couldn't remember the last time she had called me "honey" like that—when I was fourteen? twelve? ten, maybe? I don't know.

"Dennis?" Dad asked.

Then Elaine was standing behind and between them, shivering.

"Go back to bed," I said. "It was a dream, that's all. Nothing."

"Wow," Elaine said, shocked into respect by the hour and the occasion. "Must have been a real horror-movie. What was it, Dennis?"

"I dreamed that you married Milton Dodd and then came to live with me," I said.

"Don't tease your sister," Mom said. "What was it, Dennis?"

"I don't remember, I said.

I was suddenly aware that the sheet was a mess, and there was a dark tuft of pubic hair poking out. I rearranged things in a hurry, with guilty thoughts of masturbation, wet dreams, God knows what else shooting through my head. Total dislocation. For that first spinning moment or two, I hadn't even been sure if I was big or little—there was only that dark, terrifying, and overmastering image of the car lunging forward a little each time the engine revved, dropping back, lunging forward again, the hood vibrating over the engine-bucket, the grille like steel teeth—

Last chance, big guy.

Then my mother's hand, cool and dry, was on my forehead, hunting fever.

"It's all right, Mom," I said. "It was nothing. Just a nightmare."

"But you don't remember—"

"No. It's gone now."

"I was scared," she said, and then uttered a shaky little laugh. "I guess you don't know what scared is until one of your kids screams in the dark."

"Ugh, gross, don't talk about it," Elaine said.

"Go back to bed, little one," Dad said, and gave her butt a light swat.

She went, not looking totally happy about it. Maybe once she was over her own initial fright, she was hoping I'd break down and have hysterics. That would have given her a real scoop with the training bra set down at the rec program in the morning.

"You really okay?" my mother asked. "Dennis? Hon?" That word again, bringing back memories of knees scraped failing out of my red wagon; her face, lingering over my bed as it had while I lay in the feverish throes of all those childhood illnesses—mumps, measles, a bout of scarlet fever. Making me feel absurdly like crying. I had nine inches and seventy pounds on her.

"Sure," I said.

"All right," she said. "Leave the light on. Sometimes it helps."

And with a final doubtful look at my dad, she went out. I had something to be bemused about—the idea that my mother had ever had a nightmare. One of those things that never occur to you, I guess. Whatever her nightmares were, none of them had ever found their way into Sketches of Love and Beauty.

My dad sat down on the bed. "You really don't remember what it was about?"

I shook my head.

"Must have been bad, to make you yell like that Dennis." His eyes were on mine, gravely asking if there was something he should know.

I almost told him—the car it was Amie's goddam" car, Christine the Rust Queen, twenty years old, ugly fucking thing. I almost told him. But then somehow it choked in my throat, almost as if to speak would have been to betray my friend. Good old Arnie, whom a fun-loving God had decided to swat with the ugly-stick.

"All right," he said, and kissed my cheek. I could feel his beard, those stiff little bristles that only come out at night, I could smell his sweat and feel his love. I hugged him hard, and he hugged me back.

Then they were all gone, and I lay there with the bedtable lamp burning, afraid to go back to sleep. I got a book and lay back down, knowing that my folks were lying awake downstairs in their room, wondering if I was in some kind of a mess, or if I had gotten someone else—the cheerleader with the fantastic body, maybe—in some kind of a mess.

I decided sleep was an impossibility. I would read until, daylight and catch a nap tomorrow afternoon, maybe, during the dull part of the ballgame. And thinking that, I fell asleep and woke up in the morning with the book lying unopened on the floor beside the bed.

8 FIRST CHANGES

If I had money I will tell you

what I'd do,

I would go downtown and buy

a Mercury or two,

I would buy me a Mercury,

And cruise up and down this road.

— The Steve Miller Band

I thought Arnie would turn up that Saturday, so I hung around the house—mowed the lawn, cleaned up the garage, even washed all three cars. My mother watched all this industry with some amazement and commented over a lunch of hotdogs and green salad that maybe I should have nightmares more often.

I didn't want to phone Arnie's house, not after all the unpleasantness I had seen there lately, but when the pre-game show came on and he still hadn't shown, I took my courage in my hands and called. Regina answered, and although she was doing a good facsimile of nothing-has-changed, I thought I detected a new coolness in her voice. It made me feel sad. Her only son had been seduced by a baggy old whore named Christine, and old buddy Dennis must have been an accomplice. Maybe he had even pimped the deal. Arnie wasn't home, she said. He was at Darnell's Garage. He had been there since nine that morning.

"Oh," I said lamely. "Oh, wow. I didn't know that." It sounded like a lie. Even more, it
felt
like a lie.

BOOK: Christine
12.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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