Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Children’s Bedtime Tales By Stephen King, Part 1: The Wooden Indian

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Lions and tigers were near and Scott sensed danger. It was around three o’clock at night and the others hadn’t returned. From the alcove of their hastily assembled tree house, Scott could see silhouettes for miles around. In this light he could not make out what they were, save several Acacia trees which were unmistakable in any light. Each perceived elephant or wild bore turned out to be nothing but a shrub or a small tree. Suddenly a rumbling began under the tree and Scott limply grasped a tattered corn fiber rope which hung from one of the high beams of the tree house. What happened next was equally magnificent and terrifying. Scott began to lose his grip as the rumbling intensified. When the tattered rope slipped through his grasp he groped blindly but his hand was left wanting. His eyes were of no use, for his gaze was fixed on the horizon such that the second coming of Christ would not have made him turn his head. What lay on the horizon was a lion running towards him at full charge. This was no ordinary lion however. This lion was 80,000 feet tall and 150,000 feet long. The lion was so large that its head reached above the clouds and even from 50 miles away it covered a sizable portion of the firmament. The lion roared and several seconds later Scott was thrown from the tree house. He fell hard and perceived a snap. His left leg was broken in two and he was deaf (although he didn’t realize it at the moment, permanently). He looked down at his leg and the sight of sheer bone protruding though punctured bloody skin caused him to pass out. The last thing he remembers was a rank sour smell.

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Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, two lanky teenagers walked into a comic book store in the small town of Harmsvalle, Maine. It was a windy winter day and they were happy to be inside. The two young men smiled as they unbuttoned their heavy coats and took off their mittens. The warmth of this place was more than physical, this place was like a second home to them. Terry and Bruce had been frequenting Big J Comics since they were seven years old and every inch of the store was like an old friend, in every corner there was a fond memory. While the inventory changed, there were certain things about the store that would never change. They had named the familiar wooden indian in the window “Chief Dean” in honor of his resemblance to the hard-drinking sunburned Coach Dean, the man who had coached their little league team. The Incredible Hulk #1 in it’s sealed plastic bag had never been sold in the seven years since they first ogled it in the big display case in the back of the store. If they ever grew up and had sons of their own and their sons came to Big J’s, they imagined it would still be there with it’s $2000 dollar price tag. Terry and Bruce might have been getting a little old for comic books (in recent days their interests had begun to shift from Batman and The Punisher more to baseball, girls and cars) but that was ok, it didn’t matter. Big J’s was conveniently situated between Harmsvalle’s only high school and their homes; on frigid New England days like this, the store was beckoning them to break up the long walk home and to reminisce about old times.

The pair walked eagerly towards the back wall of the store and stopped dead in their tracks. They were expecting to see James, the store’s owner and only employee. Like Chief Dean and Hulk #1, James (Big J himself) was another immutable fixture of the store. In all these years, they had never witnessed what they were now seeing. Behind the familiar counter was not James, but another man. The man before them was gaunt, with sharp, weathered features reminiscent of Clint Eastwood. His eyes were vacant like two lumps of coal fastened to his skull. He wore a cowboy hat adorned with a peculiar turquoise band and sat silently on an elevated stool, reading a comic book. He appeared not to notice the two as they approached.

“Hey, where’s James?” Terry blurted out. Terry and Bruce both felt an icy chill as the man behind the counter put down his reading material and slowly turned his head to study them. It was then that they noticed a strange odor, not quite like cigarette smoke, not quite like the wacky tobacky some of their classmates were fond of. Strange and hard to place. Contradictory. Almost sour smelling like curdled milk, but more smokey, more woody. It was a horrible smell.

“James is not here today. I’m filling in for him.” The man said in a raspy voice. Sensing that his answer was deemed inadequate he continued “James is very ill, I might be here for a while. Are you Terry and Bruce?”

The pair looked at each-other nervously.

“How do you know our names? Who are you? What do you mean James is ill?” Terry demanded.

Something was not right. Harmsville was a small town and they had never seen this guy before, or anyone who looked like him. Harmsville wasn’t so small that they knew everybody in town, but when you live in a place like this all your life, you can spot an outsider. The strange man sitting on James’ stool didn’t look like he was from Maine, in fact he looked nearly as out of place as a Japanese tourist in Utah. It was something about his eyes and the leathery texture of his skin... and that hat. Something was not right. Also, it wasn’t like James to leave his shop in another’s hands. James had been ill before and gone on vacations or taken days off. Whenever that happened the store was simply closed, James never had anyone filling in for him.

The man swiveled the stool to face Terry and Bruce more directly. He put his hands on his knees and leaned forward. His gaze was cold and unsettling. It was as if he was looking deeply into them, but also beyond them as if they weren’t there at all. The man lowered his voice to little more than a raspy whisper “James told me to expect you. He left something for you.”

With that, he reached over and picked up the comic book he had been reading from the glass counter. “This is for you, Terry. Take it.”

Terry didn’t move.

The tension in the room was palpable. Something was very wrong. The strange odor also seemed to be getting stronger. Bruce looked over his shoulder, hoping for another customer to walk into the store.

Bruce leaned over to Terry and whispered “let’s get out of here.”

Terry was silent. He was caught in the man’s eyes as if in a trance.

“Come on Terry, this is really creepy, let’s get the fuck out of here, I’m serious, let’s run.”

No response. The color appeared to be fading from Terry’s face. The smell was getting even stronger, it was almost unbearable. Bruce felt like he was going to hurl.

Bruce finally grabbed Terry’s arm and jerked him hard, breaking the spell. The pair then twirled around and waltzed briskly towards the front door without looking back.

To their horror, the door was locked.

“What the fuck!” Bruce oathed. He tried the door again to no avail.

They were trapped.

“Shit” Terry said “I have a really bad feeling about this. This shit is like right out of a Richard Bachman novel. Who is that guy? What’s going on? I don’t know man, this freaks me out.”

While Terry was frightened, Bruce seemed angry. Without warning, Bruce ran to the back of the store to confront the stranger. “Hey, what the hell is going...”

“Terry!” Bruce shouted from the rear of the store.

“Huh?” Terry said.

“He’s gone! He's gone!” Bruce shouted.


Terry walked to the back of the store. It was true. Bruce was standing behind the counter now. The strange man was gone. The noxious odor had also inexplicably vanished.

“Where the hell did he go? There’s only one exit and I was standing right there” Terry said “he must be hiding.” As soon as these words came out of his mouth, Terry felt foolish. Big J Comics was a small shop and it was absurd to suggest that someone could hide. Surely they would have seen or heard the man.

Nonetheless, Bruce was already in motion. The gangly teen sprinted up and down the isles checking high and low. Nothing. He rechecked the door. Still locked.

The man wasn’t hiding. He was gone. Disappeared.

Bruce met Terry back at the counter and they just looked at each-other, dumbfounded.

Bruce now had a look of fear in his eyes.

“What now?” Bruce asked. His voice was shaking.

Terry was standing by the glass counter and seemed not to hear Bruce’s question.

This is for you, Terry. Take it.

Again as if in a trance, Terry leaned over and... picked up the comic book. On the cover was an African savanna with a giant lion overshadowing the landscape.
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To Be Continued...

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