Stephen King: In the Tall Grass

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Stephen King In the Tall Grass
  • Название:
    In the Tall Grass
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    Ужасы и Мистика / на английском языке
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Stephen King, Joe Hill

In the Tall Grass


He wanted quiet for a while instead of the radio, so you could say what happened was his fault. She wanted fresh air instead of the AC for a while, so you could say it was hers. But since they never would have heard the kid without both of those things, you’d really have to say it was a combination, which made it perfect Cal-and-Becky, because they had run in tandem all their lives. Cal and Becky DeMuth, born nineteen months apart. Their parents called them the Irish Twins.

“Becky picks up the phone and Cal says hello,” Mr. DeMuth liked to say.

“Cal thinks party and Becky’s already written out the guest list,” Mrs. DeMuth liked to say.

Never a cross word between them, even when Becky, at the time a dorm-dwelling freshman, showed up at Cal’s off-campus apartment one day to announce she was pregnant. Cal took it well. Their folks? Not quite so sanguine.

The off-campus apartment was in Durham, because Cal chose UNH. When Becky (at that point unpregnant, if not necessarily a virgin) made the same college choice two years later, you could have cut the lack of surprise and spread it on bread.

“At least he won’t have to come home every damn weekend to hang out with her,” Mrs. DeMuth said.

“Maybe we’ll get some peace around here,” Mr. DeMuth said. “After twenty years, give or take, all that togetherness gets a little tiresome.”

Of course they didn’t do everything together, because Cal sure as hell wasn’t responsible for the bun in his sister’s oven. And it had been solely Becky’s idea to ask Uncle Jim and Aunt Anne if she could live with them for a while-just until the baby came. To the senior DeMuths, who were stunned and bemused by this turn of events, it seemed as reasonable a course as any. And when Cal suggested he also take the spring semester off so they could make the cross-country drive together, their folks didn’t put up much of a fuss. They even agreed that Cal could stay with Becky in San Diego until the baby was born. Calvin might be able to find a little job and chip in on expenses.

“Pregnant at nineteen,” Mrs. DeMuth said.

You were pregnant at nineteen,” Mr. DeMuth said.

“Yes, but I was mar-ried,” Mrs. DeMuth pointed out.

“And to a damned nice fellow,” Mr. DeMuth felt compelled to add.

Mrs. DeMuth sighed. “Becky will pick the first name and Cal will pick the second.”

“Or vicey-versa,” Mr. DeMuth said-also with a sigh. (Sometimes married couples are also Irish Twins.)

Becky’s mother took Becky out for lunch one day not long before the kids left for the West Coast. “Are you sure you want to give the baby up for adoption?” she asked. “I know I don’t have a right to ask, I’m only your mother, but your father is curious.”

“I haven’t entirely made up my mind,” Becky said. “Cal will help me decide.”

“What about the father, dear?”

Becky looked surprised. “Oh, he gets no say. He turned out to be a fool.”

Mrs. DeMuth sighed.

So there they were in Kansas, on a warm spring day in April, riding in an eight-year-old Mazda with New Hampshire plates and a ghost of New England road salt still splashed on the rusty rocker panels. Quiet instead of the radio, open windows instead of the AC. As a result, both of them heard the voice. It was faint but clear.

“Help! Help! Somebody help me!”

Brother and sister exchanged startled looks. Cal, currently behind the wheel, pulled over immediately. Sand rattled against the undercarriage.

Before leaving Portsmouth they had decided they would steer clear of the turnpikes. Cal wanted to see the Kaskaskia Dragon in Vandalia, Illinois; Becky wanted to make her manners to the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kansas (both missions accomplished); the pair of them felt they needed to hit Roswell and see some groovy extraterrestrial shit. Now they were well south of the Twine Ball-which had been hairy, and fragrant, and altogether more impressive than either of them had anticipated-out on a leg of Route 400. It was a well-maintained stretch of two-lane blacktop that would take them the rest of the way across the flat serving platter of Kansas to the Colorado line. Ahead of them were miles of road with nary a car or truck in sight. Ditto behind.

On their side of the highway there were a few houses, a boarded-up church called the Black Rock of the Redeemer (which Becky thought a queer name for a church, but this was Kansas), and a rotting Bowl-a-Drome that looked as if it might last have operated around the time the Trammps were committing pop-music arson by lighting a disco inferno. On the other side of 400 there was nothing but high green grass. It stretched all the way to a horizon that was both illimitable and unremarkable.

“Was that a-” Becky began. She was wearing a light coat unzipped over a midsection that was just beginning to bulge; she was well along into her sixth month.

He raised a hand without looking at her. He was looking at the grass. “Sh. Listen!”

They heard faint music coming from one of the houses. A dog gave a phlegmy triple bark-roop-roop-roop-and went still. Someone was hammering a board. And there was the steady, gentle susurration of the wind. Becky realized she could actually see the wind, combing the grass on the far side of the road. It made waves that ran away from them until they were lost in the distance.

Just when Cal was beginning to think they hadn’t, after all, heard anything-it wouldn’t be the first time they had imagined something together-the cry came again.

“Help! Please help me!” And: “I’m lost!”

This time the look they exchanged was full of alarmed understanding. The grass was incredibly tall. (For such an expanse of grass to be over six feet high this early in the season was an anomaly that wouldn’t occur to them until later.) Some little kid had wandered into it, probably while exploring, almost certainly from one of the houses down the road. He had become disoriented and wandered in even deeper. He sounded about eight, which would make him far too short to leap up and find his bearings that way.

“We should haul him out,” Cal said.

“Yep. Little rescue mission. Pull into the church parking lot. Let’s get off the side of the road.”

He left her on the margin of the highway and turned into the dirt lot of the Redeemer. A scattering of dust-filmed cars was parked here, windshields beetle bright in the glare of the sun. That all but one of these cars appeared to have been there for days-even weeks-was another anomaly that would not strike them until later.

While he took care of the car, Becky crossed to the other shoulder. She cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted. “Kid! Hey, kid! Can you hear me?”

After a moment he called back: “Yes! Help me! I’ve been in here for DAYS!”

Becky, who remembered how little kids judged time, guessed that might mean twenty minutes or so. She looked for a path of broken or trampled grass where the kid had gone in (probably making up some video game or stupid jungle movie in his head as he did), and couldn’t see one. But that was all right; she pegged the voice as coming from her left, at about ten o’clock. Not too far in, either. Which made sense; if he’d gotten in very far, they wouldn’t have heard him even with the radio off and the windows open.

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