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Authors: Stephen King

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BOOK: Firestarter
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“I'm scared,” Andy said. “Vicky's scared. And Charlie's scared too. What have you heard, Quincey?”

“Once upon a time there was an experiment in which twelve people participated,” Quincey said. “About six years ago. Do you remember that?”

“I remember it,” Andy said grimly.

“There aren't many of those twelve people left. There were four, the last I heard. And two of them married each other.”

“Yes,” Andy said, but inside he felt growing horror. Only four left? What was Quincey talking about?

“I understand one of them can bend keys and shut doors without even touching them.” Quincey's voice, thin, coming across two thousand miles of telephone cable, coming through switching stations, through open-relay points, through junction boxes in Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, Iowa. A million places to tap into Quincey's voice.

“Yes?” he said, straining to keep his voice level. And he thought of Vicky, who could sometimes turn on the radio or
turn off the TV without going anywhere near it—and Vicky was apparently not even aware she was doing those things.

“Oh yes, he's for real,” Quincey was saying. “He's—what would you say?—a documented case. It hurts his head if he does those things too often, but he can do them. They keep him in a little room with a door he can't open and a lock he can't bend. They do tests on him. He bends keys. He shuts doors. And I understand he's nearly crazy.”

“Oh … my … God,” Andy said faintly.

“He's part of the peace effort, so it's all right if he goes crazy,” Quincey went on. “He's going crazy so two hundred and twenty million Americans can stay safe and free. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Andy had whispered.

“What about the two people who got married? Nothing. So far as they know. They live quietly, in some quiet middle-American state like Ohio. There's maybe a yearly check on them. Just to see if they're doing anything like bending keys or closing doors without touching them or doing funny little mentalist routines at the local Backyard Carnival for Muscular Dystrophy. Good thing those people can't do anything like that, isn't it, Andy?”

Andy closed his eyes and smelled burned cloth. Sometimes Charlie would pull open the fridge door, look in, and then crawl off again. And if Vicky was ironing, she would glance at the fridge door and it would swing shut again—all without her being aware that she was doing anything strange. That was sometimes. At other times it didn't seem to work, and she would leave her ironing and close the refrigerator door herself (or turn off the radio, or turn on the TV). Vicky couldn't bend keys or read thoughts or fly or start fires or predict the future. She could sometimes shut a door from across the room and that was about the extent of it. Sometimes, after she had done several of these things, Andy had noticed that she would complain of a headache or an upset stomach, and whether that was a physical reaction or some sort of muttered warning from her subconscious, Andy didn't know. Her ability to do these things got maybe a little stronger around the time of her period. Such small things, and so infrequently, that Andy had come to think of them as normal. As for himself … well he could push people. There was no real name for it; perhaps autohypnosis came closest. And he couldn't do it often, because it gave him headaches.
Most days he could forget completely that he wasn't utterly normal and never really had been since that day in Room 70 of Jason Gearneigh.

He closed his eyes and on the dark field inside his eyelids he saw that comma-shaped bloodstain and the nonwords

“Yes, it's a good thing,” Quincey went on, as if Andy had agreed. “Or they might put them in two little rooms where they could work full-time to keep two hundred and twenty million Americans safe and free.”

“A good thing,” Andy agreed.

“Those twelve people,” Quincey said, “maybe they gave those twelve people a drug they didn't fully understand. It might have been that someone—a certain Mad Doctor—might have deliberately misled them. Or maybe he thought he was misleading them and they were deliberately leading him on. It doesn't matter.”


“So this drug was given to them and maybe it changed their chromosomes a little bit. Or a lot. Or who knows. And maybe two of them got married and decided to have a baby and maybe the baby got something more than her eyes and his mouth. Wouldn't they be interested in that child?”

“I bet they would,” Andy said, now so frightened he was having trouble talking at all. He had already decided that he would not tell Vicky about calling Quincey.

“It's like you got lemon, and that's nice, and you got meringue, and
nice, too, but when you put them together, you've got … a whole new taste treat. I bet they'd want to see just what that child could do. They might just want to take it and put it in a little room and see if it could help make the world safe for democracy. And I think that's all I want to say, old buddy, except … keep your head down.”


Voices in a haunted room.

Keep your head down.

He turned his head on the motel pillow and looked at Charlie, who was sleeping deeply.
Charlie kid, what are we going to do? Where can we go and be left alone? How is this going to end?

No answer to any of these questions.

And at last he slept, while not so far away a green car cruised through the dark, still hoping to come upon a big man with broad shoulders in a corduroy jacket and a little girl with blond hair in red pants and a green blouse.

Longmont, Virginia: The Shop

Two handsome Southern plantation homes faced each other across a long and rolling grass lawn that was crisscrossed by a few gracefully looping bike paths and a two-lane crushed-gravel drive that came over the hill from the main road. Off to one side of one of these houses was a large barn, painted a bright red and trimmed a spotless white. Near the other was a long stable, done in the same handsome red with white trim. Some of the best horseflesh in the South was quartered here. Between the barn and the stable was a wide, shallow duckpond, calmly reflecting the sky.

In the 1860s, the original owners of these two homes had gone off and got themselves killed in the war, and all survivors of both families were dead now. The two estates had been consolidated into one piece of government property in 1954. It was Shop headquarters.

At ten minutes past nine on a sunny October day—the day after Andy and Charlie left New York for Albany in a taxicab—an elderly man with kindly, sparkling eyes and wearing a woolen British driving cap on his head hiked toward one of the houses. Behind him, over the second knoll, was the checkpoint he had come through after a computer ID system had okayed his thumbprint. The checkpoint was inside a double run of barbed wire. The outer run, seven feet high, was marked every sixty feet by signs that read
During the day, the charge was indeed low. At night, the on-property generator boosted it to a lethal voltage, and each morning a squad of five groundskeepers circled it in
little electric golf carts, picking up the bodies of crisped rabbits, moles, birds, groundhogs, an occasional skunk lying in a pool of smell, sometimes a deer. And twice, human beings, equally cooked. The space between the outer and inner runs of barbed wire was ten feet. Day and night, guard dogs circled the installation in this run. The guard dogs were Dobermans, and they had been trained to stay away from the electrified wire. At each corner on the installation there were guard towers, also built of spanking-red barnboard and trimmed in white. They were manned by personnel who were expert in the use of various items of death-dealing hardware. The whole place was monitored by TV cameras, and the views these various cameras presented were constantly scanned by computer. The Longmont facility was secure.

The elderly man biked on, with a smile for the people he passed. An old, baldheaded man in a baseball cap was walking a thin-ankled filly. He raised his hand and called, “Hi, Cap! Ain't this some kind of a day!”

“Knock your eye out,” the man on the bike agreed. “Have a good one, Henry.”

He reached the front of the northernmost of the two homes, dismounted his bike, and put down its kickstand. He breathed deeply of the mild morning air, then trotted spryly up the wide porch steps and between the broad Doric columns.

He opened the door and stepped into the wide receiving hall. A young woman with red hair sat behind a desk, a statistics-analysis book open in front of her. One hand was holding her place in the book. The other was in her desk drawer, lightly touching a .38 Smith & Wesson.

“Good morning, Josie,” the elderly gent said.

“Hi, Cap. You're running a little behind, aren't you?” Pretty girls could get away with this; if it had been Duane's day on the front desk, he could not have done. Cap was not a supporter of women's liberation.

“My top gear's sticking, darlin.” He put his thumb in the proper slot. Something in the console thudded heavily, and a green light fluttered and then remained steady on Josie's board. “You be good, now.”

“Well, I'll be careful,” she said archly, and crossed her legs.

Cap roared laughter and walked down the hall. She watched him go, wondering for a moment if she should have told him that that creepy old man Wanless had come in some
twenty minutes ago. He'd know soon enough, she supposed, and sighed. What a way to screw up the start of a perfectly fine day, having to talk to an old spook like that. But she supposed that a person like Cap, who held a position of great responsibility, had to take the sour with the sweet.


Cap's office was at the back of the house. A large bay window gave a magnificent view of the back lawn, the barn, and the duckpond, which was partially screened with alders. Rich McKeon was halfway down the lawn, sitting astride a miniature tractor-lawnmower. Cap stood looking at him with his arms crossed behind his back for a moment and then went over to the Mr. Coffee in the corner. He poured some coffee in his
cup, added Cremora and then sat down and thumbed the intercom.

“Hi, Rachel,” he said.

“Hello, Cap. Dr. Wanless is—”

“I knew it,” Cap said. “I
it. I could smell that old whore the minute I came in.”

“Shall I tell him you're too busy today?”

“Don't tell him any such thing,” Cap said stoutly. “Just let him sit out there in the yellow parlor the whole frigging morning. If he doesn't decide to go home, I suppose I can see him before lunch.”

“All right, sir.” Problem solved—for Rachel, anyway, Cap thought with a touch of resentment. Wanless wasn't really her problem at all. And the fact was, Wanless was getting to be an embarrassment. He had outlived both his usefulness and his influence. Well, there was always the Maui compound. And then there was Rainbird.

Cap felt a little inward shudder at that … and he wasn't a man who shuddered easily.

He held down the intercom toggle again. “I'll want the entire McGee file again, Rachel. And at ten-thirty I want to see Al Steinowitz. If Wanless is still here when I finish with Al, you can send him in.”

“Very good, Cap.”

Cap sat back, steepled his fingers, and looked across the room at the picture of George Patton on the wall. Patton was standing astride the top hatch of a tank as if he thought he
were Duke Wayne or someone. “It's a hard life if you don't weaken,” he told Patton's image, and sipped his coffee.


Rachel brought the file in on a whisper-wheeled library cart ten minutes later. There were six boxes of papers and reports, four boxes of photographs. There were telephone transcripts as well. The McGee phone had been bugged since 1978.

“Thanks, Rachel.”

“You're welcome. Mr. Steinowitz will be here at ten-thirty.”

“Of course he will. Has Wanless died yet?”

“I'm afraid not,” she said, smiling. “He's just sitting out there and watching Henry walk the horses.”

“Shredding his goddam cigarettes?”

Rachel covered her mouth like a schoolgirl, giggled, and nodded. “He's gone through half a pack already.”

Cap grunted. Rachel left and he turned to the files. He had been through them how many times in the last eleven months? A dozen? Two dozen? He had the extracta nearly by heart. And if Al was right, he would have the two remaining McGees under detection by the end of the week. The thought caused a hot little trickle of excitement in his belly.

He began leafing through the McGee file at random, pulling a sheet here, reading a snatch there. It was his way of plugging back into the situation. His conscious mind was in neutral, his subconscious in high gear. What he wanted now was not detail but to put his hand to the whole thing. As baseball players say, he needed to find the handle.

Here was a memo from Wanless himself, a younger Wanless (ah, but they had all been younger then), dated September 12, 1968. Half a paragraph caught Cap's eye:

… of an enormous importance in the continuing study of controllable psychic phenomena. Further testing on animals would be counterproductive (see overleaf 1) and, as I emphasized at the group meeting this summer, testing on convicts or any deviant personality might lead to very real problems if Lot Six is even fractionally as
powerful as we suspect (see overleaf 2). I therefore continue to recommend …

You continue to recommend that we feed it to controlled groups of college students under all outstanding contingency plans for failure, Cap thought. There had been no waffling on Wanless's part in those days. No indeed. His motto in those days had been full speed ahead and devil take the hindmost. Twelve people had been tested. Two of them had died, one during the test, one shortly afterward. Two had gone hopelessly insane, and both of them were maimed—one blind, one suffering from psychotic paralysis, both of them confined at the Maui compound, where they would remain until their miserable lives ended. So then there were eight. One of them had died in a car accident in 1972, a car accident that was almost certainly no accident at all but suicide. Another had leaped from the roof of the Cleveland Post Office in 1973, and there was no question at all about that one; he had left a note saying he “couldn't stand the pictures in his head any longer.” The Cleveland police had diagnosed it as suicidal depression and paranoia. Cap and the Shop had diagnosed it as lethal Lot Six hangover. And that had left six.

BOOK: Firestarter
3.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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