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Authors: Stephen King

Christine (43 page)

BOOK: Christine
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— Z. Z. Top

At Libertyville High, Coach Puffer bad given way to Coach Jones, and football had given way to basketball. But nothing really changed: the LHS cagers didn't do much better than the LHS gridiron warriors—the only bright spot was Lenny Barongg, a three-sport man whose major one was basketball. Lenny stubbornly went about having the great year he needed to get the athletic scholarship to Marquette that he lusted after.

Sandy Galton suddenly blew town. One day he was there, the next he was gone. His mother, a forty-five-year old wino who didn't look a day over sixty, did not seem terribly concerned. Neither did his younger brother, who pushed more dope than any other kid in Gornick Junior High. A romantic rumor that he had cut out for Mexico made the rounds at Libertyville High. Another, less romantic, rumor also made the rounds: that Buddy Repperton had been on Sandy about something and he felt it would be safer to make himself scarce.

The Christmas break approached and the school's atmosphere grew restless and rather thundery, as it always did before a long vacation. The student body's overall grade average took its customary pre-Christmas dip. Book reports were turned in late and often bore a suspicious resemblance to jacket copy (after all, how many sophomore English students are apt to call
The Catcher in the Rye
"this burning classic of postwar adolescence"?). Class projects were left half done or undone, the percentage of detention periods given for kissing and petting in the halls skyrocketed, and busts for marijuana went way up as the Libertyville High School students indulged in a little pre-Christmas cheer. So a good many of the students were up; teacher absenteeism was up; in the hallways and homerooms, Christmas decorations were up.

Leigh Cabot was not up. She flunked an exam for the first time in her high school career and got a D on an executive typing drill. She could not seem to study, she found her mind wandering back, again and again, to Christine—to the green dashboard instruments that had become hateful, gloating cat's-eyes, watching her choke to death.

But for most, the last week of school before the Christmas break was a mellow period when offences which would have earned detention slips at other times of the year were excused, when hard-hearted teachers would sometimes actually throw a scale on an exam where everyone had done badly, when girls who had been bitter enemies made it up, and when boys who had scuffled repeatedly over real or imagined insults did the same. Perhaps more indicative of the mellow season than anything else was the fact that Miss Rat-Pack, the gorgon of Room 23 study hall, was seen to smile… not just once, but several times.

In the hospital, Dennis Guilder was moderately up—he had swapped his bedfast traction casts for walking casts. Physical therapy was no longer the torture it had been. He swung through corridors that had been strung with tinsel and decorated with first-, second-, and third-grade Christmas pictures, his crutches thump-thumping along, sometimes in time to the carols spilling merrily from the overhead speakers.

It was a
caesura,
a lull, an interlude, a period of quiet. During his seemingly endless walks up and down the hospital corridors, Dennis reflected that things could be worse—much, much worse.

Before too long, they were.

36 BUDDY AND CHRISTINE

Well it's out there in the distance

And it's creeping up on me

I ain't got no resistance

Ain't nothing gonna set me free.

Even a man with one eye could see

Something bad is gonna happen to me…

— The Inmates

On Tuesday, December 12, the Terriers lost to the Buccaneers 54-48 in the Libertyville High gym. Most of the fans went out into the still black cold of the night not too disappointed: every sportswriter in the Pittsburgh area had predicted another loss for the Terriers. The result could hardly be called an upset. And there was Lenny Barongg for the Terriers fans to be proud of: he scored a mind-boggling 34 points all by himself, setting a new school record.

Buddy Repperton, however,
was
disappointed.

Because he was, Richie Trelawney was also at great pains to be disappointed. So was Bobby Stanton in the back seat.

In the few months since he had been ushered out of LHS, Buddy seemed to have aged. Part of it was the beard. He looked less like Clint Eastwood and more like some hard-drinking young actor's version of Captain Ahab. Buddy had been doing a lot of drinking these last few weeks. He had been having dreams so terrible he could barely remember them. He awoke sweaty and trembling, feeling he had barely escaped some awful doom that ran dark and quiet.

The booze cut them off, though. Cut them right off at the fucking knees. Goddam right. Working nights and sleeping days, that's all it was.

He unrolled the window of his scuffed and dented Camaro, scooping in frigid air, and tossed out an empty bottle. He reached back over his shoulder and said, "Another Molotov cocktail, mess-sewer."

"Right on, Buddy," Bobby Stanton said respectfully, and slapped another bottle of Texas Driver into Buddy's hand. Buddy had treated them to a case of the stuff—enough to paralyse the entire Egyptian Navy, he said—after the game.

He spun off the cap, steering momentarily with his elbows, and then gulped down half the bottle. He handed it to Richie and uttered a long, froggy belch. The Camaro's headlights cut Route 46, running northeast as straight as a string through rural Pennsylvania. Snow-covered fields lay dreaming on either side of the road, twinkling in a billion points of light that mimed the stars in the black winter sky. He was headed—in a sort of casual, half-drunk way—for Squantic Hills. Another destination might take his fancy in the meantime, but if not, the Hills were a fine and private place to get high in peace.

Richie passed the bottle back to Bobby again, who drank big even though he hated the taste of Texas Driver. He supposed that when he got a little drunker, he wouldn't mind the taste at all. He might be hung over and puking tomorrow, but tomorrow was a thousand years away. Bobby was still excited just to be with them; he was only a freshman, and Buddy Repperton, with his near-mythic reputation for bigness and badness, was a figure he viewed with mixed fear and awe.

"Fucking clowns," Buddy said morosely. "What a bunch of fucking clowns. You call that a basketball game?"

"All a bunch of retards," Richie agreed. "Except for Barongg. Thirty-four points, not too tacky."

"I hate that fucking spade," Buddy said, giving Richie a long, measuring, drunken look. "You taking up for that jungle bunny?"

"No way, Buddy," Richie said promptly.

"Better not. I'll Barongg him."

"Which do you want first?" Bobby asked abruptly from the back seat. "The good news or the bad news?"

"Bad news first," Buddy said. He was into his third bottle of Driver now and feeling no pain—only an aggrieved anger. He had forgotten—at least for the moment—that he had been expelled; he was concentrating only on the fact that the old school team, that bunch of fucking retard assholes, had let him down. "Always bad news first." The Camaro rolled northeast at sixty-five over two-lane tar that was like a swipe of black paint across a hilly white floor. The land had begun to rise slightly as they approached Squantic Hills.

"Well, the bad news is that a million Martians just landed in New York," Bobby said. "Now you wanna hear the good news?"

"There is no good news," Buddy said in a low, morose, grieving voice. Richie would have liked to tell the kid you didn't try to cheer Buddy up when he was in a mood like this; that only made it worse. The thing to do was to let it run its course.

Buddy had been this way ever since Moochie Welch, that little four-eyes panhandling dork, got run down by some psycho on JFK Drive.

"The good news is that they eat niggers and piss gasoline," Bobby said, and roared with laughter. He laughed for quite a while before he realized he was laughing alone. Then he shut up quickly. He glanced up and saw Buddy's bloodshot eyes looking at him over the uppermost tendrils of his beard, and that red, ferrety gaze in the rearview mirror gave him an unpleasant thrill of fear. It occurred to Bobby Stanton that he might have shut up a minute or two too late.

Behind them, distant, perhaps as much as three miles back, headlights twinkled like insignificant yellow sparks in the night,

"You think that's funny?" Buddy asked. "You tell a fucking racist joke like that and you think it's
funny?
You're a fucking bigot, you know that?"

Bobby's mouth dropped open. "But you said

"I said I didn't like
Barongg.
In general I think spades are as good as white people."

Buddy considered.

"Well, almost as good."

"But—"

"You want to watch out or you'll be walking home," Buddy snarled. "With a rupture. Then you can write I HATE NIGGERS all over your fuckin truss."

"Oh," Bobby said in a small, scared voice. He felt as if he had reached up to turn on a light and had got a whopper of an electric shock. "Sorry."

"Give me that bottle and shut your head."

Bobby handed the Driver up front with alacrity. His hand was shaking.

Buddy killed the bottle. They passed a sign which read SQUANTIC HILLS STATE PARK 3 mi. The lake at the center of the state park was a popular beach area in the summertime, but the park was closed from November to April. The road which wound through the park to Squantic Lake was kept ploughed for periodic National Guard maneuvers and winter Explorer Scouts camping trips, however, and Buddy had discovered a side entrance which went around the main gate and then joined the park road. Buddy liked to go into the silent, wintry state park and cruise and drink.

Behind them, the distant twin sparks had grown to circles—dual headlights about a mile back.

"Hand me another Molotov cocktail, you fucking racist pig."

Bobby handed up a fresh bottle of Driver, remaining prudently silent.

Buddy drank deeply, belched, and then handed the bottle across to Richie.

"No thanks, man."

"You drink it, or you may find yourself getting an enema with it."

"Sure, okay," Richie said, wishing mightily that he had stayed home tonight. He drank.

The Camaro sped along, its headlights cutting the night. Buddy glanced into the rearview and saw the other car. It was now coming up fast. He glanced at his speedometer and saw he was doing sixty-five. The car behind them had to be doing close to seventy. Buddy felt something—a curious kind of doubling back to the dreams he could not quite remember. A cold finger seemed to press lightly against his heart.

Ahead, the road branched in two, Route 46 continuing east toward New Stanton, the other road bearing north toward Squantic Hills State Park. A large orange sign advised: CLOSED WINTER MONTHS.

Barely slowing, Buddy dragged left and shot up the hill. The approach road to the park was not so well-plowed, and overarching trees had kept the warm afternoon sun from melting off the snowpack. The Camaro slid a little before grabbing the road again. In the back seat, Bobby Stanton made a low, uneasy sound.

Buddy looked up in the rearview, expecting to see the other car shoot by along 46—after all, there was nothing up this road but a dead end as far as most drivers were concerned—but instead it took the turn eyen faster than Buddy had and pounded along after them, now less than a quarter of a mile behind. Its headlights were four glowing white circles that washed the Camaro's interior.

Bobby and Richie turned around to look.

"What the fuck?" Richie muttered.

But Buddy knew. Suddenly he knew. It was the car that had run down Moochie. Oh yes it was. The psycho who had greased Moochie was behind the wheel of that car, and now he was after Buddy.

He stepped down on the go, and the Camaro started to fly. The speedometer needle crept up to seventy and then gradually heeled over toward eighty. Trees blurred past, dark sketches in the night. The lights behind them did not fall back; the truth was that they were still gaining. The duals had merged into two great white eyes.

"Man I you want to slow down," Richie said. He grabbed for his seatbelt, actively scared now. "If we roll at this speed—"

Buddy didn't answer. He hunched over the wheel, alternating glances at the road ahead with glances shot into the rearview mirror, where those lights grew and grew.

"The road curves up ahead," Bobby said hoarsely. And as the curve approached, guardrail reflectors flickering chrome in the Camaro's headlights, he screamed it:
"Buddy! It curves! It curves!"

Buddy changed down to second gear and the Camaro's engine bellowed its protest. The tachometer needle hit 6,000 rpm, danced briefly at redline-7,000, and then dropped back to a more normal range. Backfires blatted through the Camaro's exhaust pipes like machine-gun fire. Buddy pulled the wheel over, and the car floated into the sharp bend. The rear wheels skimmed over hard-packed snow. At the last possible instant he shifted back up, tramped on the accelerator pedal, and let his body sway freely as the Camaro's left rear end slammed into the snowbanks digging a coffin-sized divot and then bouncing off. The Camaro slewed the other way. He went with it, then goosed the accelerator again. For one moment he thought it would not respond, that the skid would continue and they would simply barrel sideways up the road at seventy-five until they hit a bare patch and flipped over.

But the Camaro straightened out.

"Holy Jesus Buddy slow down!" Richie wailed.

Buddy hung over the wheel, grinning through his beard, bloodshot eyes bulging. The bottle of Driver was clamped between his legs.
There! There, you crazy murdering sonofabitch. Let's see you do that without rolling it over!
. A moment later the headlights reappeared, closer than ever, Buddy's grin faltered and faded. For the first time he felt a sickish, unmanning tingle running up his legs toward his crotch, Fear—real fear—stole into him.

Bobby had been looking behind as the car chased them round the bend, and now he turned around, his face slack and cheesy. "It dint even skid," he said. "But that's impossible! That's—"

BOOK: Christine
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