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Dreamcatcherby Stephen King
from Chapter 6: Duddits, Part Two
When they get to the driveway — not much of a driveway, weeds are growing even in the gravelly wheelruts now — Beaver is in the lead. Beaver is, indeed, almost foaming at the jaws. Henry guesses that Pete is nearly as wrought-up, but Pete is holding it in better, even though he's a year younger. Beaver is...what's the word? Agog. Henry almost laughs at the aptness of it, and then the Beav stops so suddenly Pete almost runs into him.
"Hey!" Beaver says. "Fuck me Freddy! Some kid's shirt!"
It is indeed. Red and white, and not old and dirty, as if it had been there a thousand years. In fact, it looks almost new.
"Shirt, schmirt, who gives a shit?" Jonesy wants to know. "Let's just — "
"Hold your horses," the Beav says. "This is a good shirt."
Except when he picks it up, they see that it isn't. New, yes — a brandnew Derry Tigers shirt, with 19 on the back. Pete doesn't give a shit for football, but the rest of them recognize it as Richie Grenadeau's number. Good, no — not anymore. It's ripped deeply at the back collar, as if the person wearing it had tried to run away, then been grabbed and hauled back.
"Guess I was wrong," the Beav says sadly, and drops it again. "Come on."
But before they get very far, they come across something else — this time it's yellow instead of red, that bright yellow plastic only a kid could love. Henry trots ahead of the others and picks it up. It's a lunchbox with Scooby-Doo and his friends on it, all of them running from what appears to be a haunted house. Like the shirt it looks new, not anything that's been lying out here for any length of time, and all at once Henry is starting to have a bad feeling about this, starting to wish they hadn't detoured into this deserted driveway by this deserted building at all...or at least had saved it for another day. Which, even at fourteen, he realizes is stupid. When it comes to pussy, he thinks, you either go or you don't, there's no such thing as saving it for another day.
"I hate that fuckin show," Pete says, looking over Henry's shoulder at the lunchbox. "They never change their clothes, did you ever notice that? Wear the same fuckin thing, show in and show out,"
Jonesy takes the Scooby-Doo lunchbox from Henry and turns it to look at something he's seen pasted on the end. The wild look has gone out of Jonesy's eyes, he's frowning slightly, and Henry has an idea Jonesy is also wishing they'd just gone on and played some two-on-two.
The sticker on the side reads: I BELONG TO DOUGLAS CAVELL, 19 MAPLE LANE, DERRY, MAINE. IF THE BOY I BELONG TO IS LOST, CALL 949-1864. THANKS!
Henry opens his mouth to say the lunchbox and the shirt must belong to a kid who goes to The Retard Academy — he's sure of it just looking at the sticker, which is almost like the tag their fucking dog wears — but before he can, there is a scream from the far side of the building, over where the big kids play baseball in the summer. It's full of hurt, that scream, but what starts Henry running before he can even think about it is the surprise in it, the awful surprise of someone who has been hurt or scared (or both) for the very first time.
The others follow him. They run up the weedy right rut of the driveway, the one closest to the building, in single file: Henry, Jonesy, the Beav, and Pete.
There is hearty male laughter. "Go on and eat it," someone says. "Eat it and you can go. Duncan might even give you your pants back."
"Yeah, if you — " Another boy, probably Duncan, begins and then he stops, staring at Henry and his friends.
"Hey you guys, quit it!" Beaver shouts. "Just fucking quit it!"
Duncan's friends — there are two of them, both wearing Derry High School jackets — realize they are no longer unobserved at their afternoon's entertainment, and turn. Kneeling on the gravel amid them, dressed only in underpants and one sneaker, his face smeared with blood and dirt and snot and tears, is a child of an age Henry cannot determine. He's not a little kid, not with that powdering of hair on his chest, but he has the look of a little kid just the same. His eyes have a Chinese tilt and are bright green, swimming with tears.
On the red brick wall behind this little group, printed in large white letters which are fading but still legible, is this message: NO BOUNCE, NO PLAY. Which probably means keep the games and the balls away from the building and out in the vacant lot where the deep ruts of the basepaths and the ragged hill of the pitcher's mound can still be seen, but who can say for sure? NO BOUNCE, NO PLAY. In the years to come they will say this often; it will become one of the private catch-phrases of their youth and has no exact meaning. Who knows? perhaps comes closest. Or What can you do? It is always best spoken with a shrug, a smile, and hands tipped up to the sky.
"Who the fuck're you?" one of the big boys asks the Beav. On his left hand he's wearing what looks like a batting glove or maybe a golf glove...something athletic, anyway. In it is the dried dog-turd he has been trying to make the mostly naked boy eat.
"What are you doing?" Jonesy asks, horrified, "You tryin to make him eat that? The fuck's wrong with you?"
The kid holding the dog-turd has a wide swatch of white tape across the bridge of his nose, and Henry utters a bark of recognition that is half surprise and half laughter. It's too perfect, isn't it? They're here to look at the pussy of the Homecoming Queen and here, by God, is the Homecoming King, whose football season has apparently been ended by nothing worse than a broken nose, and who is currently passing his time doing stuff like this while the rest of the team practices for this week's game.
Richie Grenadeau hasn't noticed Henry's look of recognition; he's staring at Jonesy. Because he has been startled and because Jonesy's tone of disgust is so completely unfeigned, Richie at first takes a step backward. Then he realizes that the kid who has dared to speak to him in such reproving tones is at least three years younger and a hundred pounds lighter than he is. The sagging hand straightens again.
"I'm gonna make him eat this piece of shit," he says. "Then he can go. You go now, snotball, unless you want half"
"Yeah, fuck off," the third boy says. Richie Grenadeau is big but this boy is even bigger, a six-foot-five hulk whose face flames with acne. "While you got the — "
"I know who you are," Henry says.
Richie's eyes switch to Henry. He looks suddenly wary...but he also looks pissed off "Fuck off, sonny. I mean it."
"You're Richie Grenadeau. Your picture was in the paper. What do you think people will say if we tell em what we caught you doing?"
"You're not gonna tell anyone anything, because you'll be fuckin dead," the one named Duncan says. He has dirty-blond hair falling around his face and down to his shoulders. "Get outta here. Beat feet."
Henry pays no attention to him. He stares at Richie Grenadeau. He is aware of no fear, although there's no doubt these three boys could stomp them flat; he is burning with an outrage he has never felt before, never even suspected. The kid kneeling on the ground is undoubtedly retarded, but not so retarded he doesn't understand these three big boys intended to hurt him, tore off his shirt, and then —
Henry has never in his life been closer to getting good and beaten up, or been less concerned with it. He takes a step forward, fists clenching. The kid on the ground sobs, head now lowered, and the sound is a constant tone in Henry's head, feeding his fury.
"I'll tell," he says, and although it is a little kid's threat, he doesn't sound like a little kid to himself. Nor to Richie, apparently; Richie takes a step backward and the gloved hand with the dried turd in it sags again. For the first time he looks alarmed. "Three against one, a little retarded kid, fuck yeah, man, I'll tell. I'll tell and I know who you are!"
Duncan and the big boy — the only one not wearing a high-school jacket — step up on either side of Richie. The boy in the underpants is behind them now, but Henry can still hear the pulsing drone of his sobs, it's in his head, beating in his head and driving him fucking crazy.
"All right, okay, that's it," the biggest boy says. He grins, showing several holes where teeth once lived. "You're gonna die now."
"Pete, you run when they come," Henry says, never taking his eyes from Richie Grenadeau. "Run home and tell your mother." And, to Richie: "You'll never catch him, either. He runs like the fucking wind."
Pete's voice sounds thin but not scared. "You got it, Henry."
"And the worse you beat us up, the worse it's gonna be for you," Jonesy says. Henry has already seen this, but for Jonesy it is a revelation; he's almost laughing. "Even if you really did kill us, what good would it do you? Because Pete does run fast, and he'll tell."
"I run fast, too," Richie says coldly. "I'll catch him."
Henry turns first to Jonesy and then to the Beav. Both of them are standing firm. Beaver, in fact, is doing a little more than that. He bends swiftly, picks up a couple of stones — they are the size of eggs, only with jagged edges — and begins to chunk them together. Beav's narrowed eyes shift back and forth between Richie Grenadeau and the biggest boy, the galoot. The toothpick in his mouth jitters aggressively up and down.
"When they come, go for Grenadeau," Henry says. "The other two can't even get close to Pete." He switches his gaze to Pete, who is pale but unafraid — his eyes are shining and he is almost dancing on the balls of his feet, eager to be off "Tell your ma. Tell her where we are, to send the cops. And don't forget this bully motherfucker's name, whatever you do." He shoots a district attorney's accusing finger at Grenadeau, who once more looks uncertain. No, more than uncertain. He looks afraid.
"Richie Grenadeau," Pete says, and now he does begin to dance. "I won't forget."
"Come on, you dickweed," Beaver says. One thing about the Beav, he knows a really excellent rank when he hears it. "I'm gonna break your nose again. What kind of chickenshit quits off the football team cause of a broken nose, anyhow?"
Grenadeau doesn't reply — no longer knows which of them to reply to, maybe — and something rather wonderful is happening: the other boy in the high-school jacket, Duncan, has also started to look uncertain. A flush is spreading on his cheeks and across his forehead. He wets his lips and looks uncertainly at Richie. Only the galoot still looks ready to fight, and Henry almost hopes they will fight, Henry and Jonesy and the Beav will give them a hell of a scrap if they do, hell of a scrap, because of that crying, that fucking awful crying, the way it gets in your head, the beatbeat-beat of that awful crying.
"Hey Rich, maybe we ought to — " Duncan begins.
"Kill em," the galoot rumbles. "Fuck em the fuck up."
This one takes a step forward and for a moment it almost goes down. Henry knows that if the galoot had been allowed to take even one more step he would have been out of Richie Grenadeau's control, like a mean old pitbull that breaks its leash and just goes flying at its prey, a meat arrow.
But Richie doesn't let him get that next step, the one which will turn into a clumsy charge. He grabs the galoot's forearm, which is thicker than Henry's bicep and bristling with reddish-gold hair. "No, Scotty," he says, "wait a minute."
"Yeah, wait," Duncan says, sounding almost panicky. He shoots Henry a look which Henry finds, even at the age of fourteen, grotesque. It Is a reproachful look. As if Henry and his friends were the ones doing something wrong.
"What do you want?" Richie asks Henry. "You want us to get out of here, that it?"
"If we go, what are you gonna do? Who are you going to tell?"
Henry discovers an amazing thing: he is as close to coming unglued as Scotty, the galoot. Part of him wants to actually provoke a fight, to scream EVERYBODY! FUCKING EVERYBODY! Knowing that his friends would back him up, would never say a word even if they got trashed and sent to the hospital.
But the kid. That poor little crying retarded kid. Once the big boys finished with Henry, Beaver, and Jonesy (with Pete as well, if they could catch him), they would finish with the retarded kid, too, and it would likely go a lot further than making him eat a piece of dried dog-turd.
"No one," he says. "We won't tell anyone."
"Fuckin liar," Scotty says. "He's a fuckin liar, Richie, lookit him."
Scotty starts forward again, but Richie tightens his grip on the big galoot's forearm.
"If no one gets hurt," Jonesy says in a blessedly reasonable tone of voice, "no one's got a story to tell."
Grenadeau glances at him, then back at Henry. "Swear to God?"
"Swear to God," Henry agrees.
"All of you swear to God?" Grenadeau asks.
Jonesy, Beav, and Pete all dutifully swear to God.
Grenadeau thinks about it for a moment that seems very long, and then he nods. "Okay, fuck this. We're going."
"If they come, run around the building the other way," Henry says to Pete, speaking very rapidly because the big boys are already in motion. But Grenadeau still has his hand clamped firmly on Scotty's forearm, and Henry thinks this is a good sign.
"I wouldn't waste my time," Richie Grenadeau says in a lofty tone of voice that makes Henry feel like laughing...but with an effort he manages to keep a straight face. Laughing at this point would be a bad idea. Things are almost fixed up. There's a part of him that hates that, but the rest of him nearly trembles with relief.
"What's up with you, anyway?" Richie Grenadeau asks him. "What's the big deal?"
Henry wants to ask his own question — wants to ask Richie Grenadeau how he could do it, and it's no rhetorical question, either. That crying! My God! But he keeps silent, knowing anything lie says might just provoke the asshole, get him going all over again.
There is a kind of dance going on here; it looks almost like the ones you learn in first and second grade. As Richie, Duncan, and Scott walk toward the driveway (sauntering, attempting to show they are going of their own free will and haven't been frightened off by a bunch of homo junior-high kids), Henry and his friends first move to face them and then step backward in a line toward the weeping kid kneeling there in his underpants, blocking him from them.
At the corner of the building Richie pauses and gives them a final look. "Gonna see you fellas again," he says. "One by one or all together."
"Yeah," Duncan agrees.
"You're gonna be lookin at the world through a oxygen tent!" Scott adds, and Henry comes perilously close to laughing again. He prays that none of his friends will say anything — let done be done — and none of them do. It's almost a miracle.
One final menacing look from Richie and they are gone around the corner. Henry, Jonesy, Beaver, and Pete are left alone with the kid, who is rocking back and forth on his dirty knees, his dirty bloody tearstreaked uncomprehending face cocked to the white sky like the face of a broken clock, all of them wondering what to do next. Talk to him? Tell him it's okay, that the bad boys are gone and the danger has passed? He will never understand. And oh that crying is so freaky. How could those kids, mean and stupid as they were, go on in the face of that crying? Henry will understand later — sort of — but at that moment it's a complete mystery to him.
"I'm gonna try something," Beaver says abruptly.
"Yeah, sure, anything," Jonesy says. His voice is shaky.
The Beav starts forward, then looks at his friends. It is an odd look, part shame, part defiance, and — yes, Henry would swear it — part hope.
"If you tell anybody I did this," he says, "I'll never chum with you guys again."
"Never mind that crap," Pete says, and he also sounds shaky. "If you can shut him up, do it!"
Beaver stands for a moment where Richie was standing while he tried to get the kid to eat the dog-turd, then drops to his knees. Henry sees the kid's underwear shorts are in fact Underoos, and that they feature the Scooby-Doo characters, plus Shaggy's Mystery Machine, just like the kid's lunchbox.
Then Beaver takes the wailing, nearly naked boy into his arms and begins to sing.
Copyright © 2001 by Stephen King
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