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Authors: Stephen King

Christine (6 page)

BOOK: Christine
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And then I got out of that car just about as fast as I could. The door opened with a rusty, hellish screech, and I cracked my elbow good on one of the garage walls. I pushed the door shut (I didn't really even want to touch it, to tell you the truth) and then just stood there looking at the Plymouth which, barring a miracle, would soon be my friend Arnie's. I rubbed my bruised crazybone. My heart was beating too fast.

Nothing. No new chrome, no new upholstery. On the other hand, plenty of dents and rust, one headlamp missing (I hadn't noticed that the day before), the radio aerial crazily askew. And that dusty, dirty smell of age.

I decided right then that I didn't like my friend Arnie's car.

I walked out of the garage, glancing back constantly over my shoulder—I don't know why, but I didn't like it behind my back. I know how stupid that must sound, but it was how I felt. And there it sat with its dented, rusty grille, nothing sinister or even strange, just a very old Plymouth automobile with an inspection sticker that had gone invalid on June 1, 1976—a long time ago.

Arnie and LeBay were coming out of the house. Arnie had a white slip of paper in his hand—his bill of sale, I assumed. LeBay's hands were empty; he had already made the money disappear.

"Hope you enjoy her," LeBay was saying, and for some reason I thought of a very old pimp huckstering a very young boy. I felt a surge of real disgust for him—him with his psoriasis of the skull and his sweaty back brace. "I think you will. In time."

His slightly rheumy eyes found mine, held there for a second, and then slipped back to Arnie.

"In time," he repeated.

"Yessir, I'm sure I will," Arnie said absently He moved toward the garage like a sleepwalker and stood looking at his car.

"Keys are in her," LeBay said. "I'll have to have you take her along. You understand that, don't you?"

"Will she start?"

"Started for me yesterday evenin," LeBay said, but his eyes shifted away toward the horizon. And then, in the tone of one who has washed his hands of the whole thing: "Your friend here will have a set of jumpers in his boot, I reckon."

Well, as a matter of fact I
did
have a set of jumper cables in my boot, but I didn't much like LeBay guessing it. I like him guessing it because… I sighed a little. Because I didn't want to be involved in Arnie's future relationship with the old clunker he had bought, but I could see myself getting dragged in, step by step.

Arnie had dropped out of the conversation completely. He walked into the garage and got into the car. The evening sun was slanting strongly in now, and I saw the little puff of dust that went up when Arnie sat down and automatically brushed at the seat of my own pants. For a moment he just sat there behind the wheel, hands gripping it loosely, and I felt a return of my unease. It was, in a way, as if the car had swallowed him. I told myself to stop it, that there was no damn reason for me to be acting like a goosey seventh-grade schoolgirl.

Then Arnie bent forward a little. The engine began to turn over. I turned and shot LeBay an angry, accusatory glance, but he was studying the sky again, as if for rain.

It wasn't going to start; no way it was going to start. My Duster was in pretty good shape, but the two I'd owned before it were clunkers
(modified
clunkers; neither was in the same class as Christine); and I'd become very familiar with that sound on cold winter mornings, that slow and tired cranking that meant the battery was scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Rurr-rurr-rurr…rurr… rurrr…… rurrr…… rurr

"Don't bother, Arnie," I said. "It's not going to fire up."

He didn't even raise his head. He turned the key off and then turned it on again. The motor cranked with painful, dragging slowness.

I walked over to LeBay. "You couldn't even leave it running long enough to build up a charge, could you?" I asked.

LeBay glanced at me from his yellowing, rheumy eyes, said nothing, and then began checking the sky for rain again.

"Or maybe it never started at all. Maybe you just got a couple of friends to come over and help you push it into the garage. If an old shit like you has any friends."

He looked down at me. "Son," he said. "You don't know everything. You ain't even dry behind the ears yet. When you've slogged your way through a couple of wars, like I have—"

I said deliberately, Fuck your couple of wars," and walked toward the garage where Arnie was still trying to start his car, Might as well try to drink the Atlantic dry with a straw or ride a hot-air balloon to Mars, I thought.

Rurr……..
.
rurr……... rurr.

Pretty soon the last ohm and erg would be sucked out of that old corroded Sears battery, and then there would be nothing but that most dismal of all automotive sounds, most commonly heard on rainy back roads and deserted highways: the dull, sterile click of the solenoid, followed by an awful sound like a death-rattle.

I opened the driver's side door. "I'll get my cables," I said.

He looked up. "I think she'll start for me," he said.

I felt my lips stretch in a large, unconvincing grin. "Well, I'll get them, just in case."

"Sure, if you want," he said absently, and then in a voice almost too low to hear he said, "Come on, Christine. What do you say?"

In the same instant, that voice awoke in my head and spoke again—
Let's go for a ride, big guy… let's cruise
and I shuddered.

He turned the key again. What I expected was that dull solenoid click and death-rattle. What I heard was the slow crank of the engine suddenly speeding up. The engine caught, ran briefly, then quit. Arnie turned the key again. The engine cranked over faster. There was a backfire that sounded as loud as a cherry-bomb in the closed space of the garage. I jumped. Arnie didn't. He was lost in his own world.

At this point I would have cursed it a couple of times, just to help it along:
Come on, you whore
is always a good one;
Let's go, cocksucker
has its merits, and sometimes just a good, hearty
shit-FIRE!
will turn the trick. Most guys I know would do the same; I think it's just one of the things you pick up from your father.

What your mother leaves you is mostly good hardheaded practical advice—if you cut your toenails twice a month you won't get so many holes in your socks; put that down, you don't know where it's been; eat your carrots, they're good for you—but it's from your father that you get the magic, the talismans, the words of power. If the car won't start, curse it… and be sure you curse it female. If you went seven generations back, you'd probably find one of your forebears cursing the goddam bitch of a donkey that stopped in the middle of the toll-bridge somewhere in Sussex or Prague.

But Arnie didn't swear at it. He murmured under his breath, "Come on, doll, what do you say?"

He turned the key. The engine kicked twice, backfired again, and then started up. It sounded horrible, as if maybe four of the eight pistons had taken the day off, but he had it running. I could hardly believe it, but I didn't want to stand around and discuss it with him. The garage was rapidly filling up with blue smoke and fumes. I went outside.

"That turned out all right, after all, didn't it?" LeBay said. "And you don't have to risk your own precious battery." He spat.

I couldn't think of anything to say. To tell you the truth, I felt a little embarrassed.

The car came slowly out of the garage, looking so absurdly long that it made you want to laugh or cry or do something. I couldn't believe how long it looked. It was like an optical illusion. And Arnie looked very small behind the wheel.

He rolled down the window and beckoned me over. We had to raise our voices to make ourselves heard clearly that was another thing about Arnie's girl Christine; she had an extremely loud and rumbling voice. She was going to have to be Midasized in a hurry. If there was anything left of" the exhaust system to attach a silencer to, that was, besides a lot of rusty lace. Since Arnie sat down behind the wheel, the little accountant in the automotive section or my brain had totted up expenses of about six hundred dollars not including the cracked windscreen. God knew how much that might cost to replace.

"I'm taking her down to Darnell"s!" Arnie yelled. "His ad in the paper says I can park it in one of the back bays for twenty dollars a week!"

"Arnie, twenty a week for one of those back bays is too much!" I bellowed back.

Here was more robbery of the young and innocent. Darnell's Garage sat next door to a four-acre automobile wasteland that went by the falsely cheerful name of Darnell's Used Auto Parts. I had been there a few times, once to buy a starter for my Duster, once to get a rebuilt carb for the Mercury which had been my first car. Will Darnell was a great fat pig of a man who drank a lot and smoked long rank cigars, although he was reputed to have a bad asthmatic condition. He professed to hate almost every car-owning teenager in Libertyville… but that didn't keep him from catering to them and rooking them.

"I know," Arnie yelled over the bellowing engine. "But it's only for a week or two, until I find a cheaper place. I can't take it home like this, Dennis, my dad and mom would have a shit fit!"

That was certainly true. I opened my mouth to say something else—maybe to beg him again to stop this madness before it got completely out of control. Then I shut my mouth again. The deal was done. Besides, I didn't want to compete with that bellowing silencer anymore, or stand there pulling a lot of evil fried-carbon exhaust into my lungs.

"All right," I said. "I'll follow you."

"Good deal," he said, grinning. "I'm going by Walnut Street and Basin Drive. I want to stay off the main roads."

"Okay."

"Thanks, Dennis."

He dropped the hydramatic transmission into D again, and the Plymouth lurched forward two feet and then almost stalled. Arnie goosed the accelerator a little and Christine broke dirty wind. The Plymouth crept down LeBay's driveway to the street. When he pushed the brake, only one of the tail-lights flashed. My mental automotive accountant relentlessly rang up another five dollars.

He hauled the wheel to the left and pulled out into the street. The remains of the silencer scraped rustily at the lowest point of the driveway. Arnie gave it more gas, and the car roared like a refugee from the demo derby at Philly Plains. Across the street, people leaned forward on their porches or came to their doors to see what was going on.

Bellowing and snarling, Christine rolled up the street at about ten miles an hour, sending out great stinking clouds of blue oil-smoke that hung and then slowly raftered in the mellow August evening.

At the stop sign forty yards up, it stalled. A kid rode past the hulk on his Raleigh, and his impudent, brassy shout drifted back to me: "Put it in a trash-masher, mister!"

Arnie's closed fist popped out of the window. His middle finger went up as he flipped the kid the bird. Another first. I had never seen Arnie flip anyone the bird in my life.

The starter whined, the motor sputtered and caught. This time there was a whole rattling series of backfires. It was as if someone had just opened up with a machine-gun on Laurel Drive, Libertyville, U.S.A. I groaned.

Someone would call the cops pretty soon, reporting a public nuisance, and they would grab Arnie for driving an unregistered, uninspected vehicle—and probably for the nuisance charge as well. That would not exactly ease the situation at home.

There was one final echoing bang—it rolled down the street like the explosion of a mortar shell—and then the Plymouth turned left on Martin Street, which brought you to Walnut about a mile up. The westering sun turned its battered red body briefly to gold as it moved out of sight. I saw that Arnie had his elbow cocked out the window.

I turned to LeBay, mad all over again, ready to give him some more hell. I tell you I felt sick inside my heart. But what I saw stopped me cold.

Roland D. LeBay was crying.

It was horrible and it was grotesque and most of all it was pitiable. When I was nine, we had a cat named Captain Beefheart, and he got hit by a UPS truck. We took him to the vet's—my mom had to drive slow because she was crying and it was hard for her to see—and I sat in the back with Captain Beef heart. He was in a box, and I kept telling him the vet would save him, it was going to be okay, but even a little nine-year-old dumbhead like me could see it was never going to be all right for Captain Beefheart again, because some of his guts were out and there was blood coming out of his asshole and there was shit in the box and on his fur and he was dying. I tried to pet him and he bit my hand, right in the sensitive webbing between the thumb and the first finger. The pain was bad; that terrible feeling of pity was worse. I had not felt anything like that since then. Not that I was complaining, you understand; I don't think people should have feelings like that often. You have a lot of feelings like that, and I guess they take you away to the funny-farm to make baskets.

LeBay was standing on his balding lawn not far from the place where that big patch of oil had defoliated everything, and he had this great big old man's snotrag out and his head was down and he was wiping his eyes with it. The tears gleamed greasily on his checks, more like sweat than real tears. His adam's apple went up and down.

I turned my head so I wouldn't have to look at him cry and happened to stare straight into his one-car garage. Before, it had seemed really full—the stuff along the walls, of course, but most of all that huge old car with its double headlights and its wraparound windscreen and its acre of hood. Now the stuff along the walls only served to accentuate the garage's essential emptiness. It gaped like a toothless mouth.

That was almost as bad as LeBay. But when I looked back, the old bastard had gotten himself under control well, mostly. He had stopped leaking at the eyes and he had stuffed the snotrag into the back pocket of his patented old man's pants. But his face was still bleak. Very bleak.

"Well, that's that," he said hoarsely. "I'm shot of her, sonny."

BOOK: Christine
10.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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