INTRODUCTION TO LITERATURE
INTRODUCTION TO LITERATURE ENGL 112L
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STEPHEN KING 1947 o The Man in the Black Suit I am now a very old man and this is something that happened to me when I was very youngi only nine years old It was 1914 the summer after my brother Dan died in the west eld and not long before America got into the First World War I ve never told anyone about what happened at the fork in the stream that day and I never will I ve decided to write it down though in this book which I will leave on the table beside my bed I can t write long because my hands shake so these days and I have next to no strength but I don t think it will take long Later someone may nd what I have written That seems likely to me as it is pretty much human nature to look in a book marked Diary after its owner has passed along So yesimy words will probably be read A better question is whether anyone will believe them Almost certainly not but that doesn t matter It s not belief I m interested in but freedom Writing can give that I ve found For twenty years I wrote a column called Long Ago and Far Away for the Castle Rock Call and I know that sometimes it works that wayiwhat you write down sometimes leaves you forever like old photographs left in the bright sun fading to nothing but white I pray for that sort of release A man in his eighties should be well past the terrors of childhood but as my infirmities slowly creep up on me like waves licking closer and closer to some indifferently built castle of sand that terrible face grows clearer and clearer in my mind s eye It glows like a dark star in the constellations of my childhood What I might have done yesterday who I might have seen here in my room at the nursing home what I might have said to them or they to meithose things are gone but the face of the man in the black suit grows ever clearer ever closer and I remember every word he said I don t want to think of him but I can t help it and sometimes at night my old heart beats so hard and so fast I think it will tear itself right clear of my chest So Iuncap my fountain pen and force my trembling old hand to write this pointless anecdote in the diary one of my greatgrandchildrenil can t remember her name for sure at least not right now but I know it starts with an S igave to me last Christmas and which I have never written in until now Now I will write in it I will write the story of how I met the man in the black suit on the bank of Castle Stream one aftemoon in the summer of 1914 The town of Motton was a different world in those daysimore different than I could ever tell you That was a world without airplanes droning overhead a world almost without cars and trucks a world where the skies were not cut into lanes and slices by overhead power lines There was not a single paved road in the whole town and the business district consisted of nothing but Corson s General Store Thut s Livery amp Hardware the Methodist church at Christ s 822 STEPHEN KING Comer the school the town hall and half a mile down from there Harry s Restaurant which my mother called with unfailing disdain the liquor house Mostly though the difference was in how people livedihow apart they were I m not sure people born after the middle of the century could quite credit that although they might say they could to be polite to old folks like me There were no phones in western Maine back then for one thing The first one wouldn t be installed for another five years and by the time there was a phone in our house I was nineteen and going to college at the University of Maine in Orono But that is only the roof of the thing There was no doctor closer than Casco and there were no more than a dozen houses in what you would call town There were no neighborhoods I m not even sure we knew the word although we had a verbiquotneighboring ithat described church functions and barn dances and open elds were the exception rather than the rule Out of town the houses were farms that stood far apart from each other and from December until the middle of March we mostly hunkered down in the little pockets of stove warmth we called families We hunkered and listened to the wind in the chimney and hoped no one would get sick or break a leg or get a headful of bad ideas like the farmer over in Castle Rock who had chopped up his wife and kids three winters before and then said in court that the ghosts made him do it In those days before the Great War most of Motton was woods and bogidark long places full of moose and mosquitoes snakes and secrets In those days there were ghosts everywhere This thing I m telling about happened on a Saturday My father gave me a whole list of chores to do including some that would have been Dan s if he d still been alive He was my only brother and he d died of a bee sting A year had gone by and still my mother wouldn t hear that She said it was something else had to have been that no one ever died of being stung by a bee When Mama Sweet the oldest lady in the Methodist Ladies Aid tried to tell heriat the church supper the previous winter this wasithat the same thing had happened to her favorite uncle back in 73 my mother clapped her hands over her ears got up and walked out of the church basement She d never been back since and nothing my father could say to her would change her mind She claimed she was done with church and that if she ever had to see Helen Robichaud again that was Mama Sweet s real name she would slap her eyes out She wouldn t be able to help herself she said That day Dad wanted me to lug wood for the cookstove weed the beans and the cukes pitch hay out of the loft get two jugs of water to put in the cold pantry and scrape as much old paint off the cellar bulkhead as I could Then he said I could go fishing if I didn t mind going by myselfihe had to go over and see Bill Eversham about some cows I said I sure didn t mind going by myself and my dad smiled as if that didn t surprise him so very much He d given me a bamboo pole the week beforeinot because it was my birthday or anything but just because he liked to give me things sometimesiand I was wild to try it in Castle Stream which was by far the troutiest brook I d ever fished But don t you go too far in the woods he told me Not beyond where the water splits No sir Promise me Yessir I promise The Man in the Black Suit 823 Now promise your mother We were standing on the back stoop I had been bound for the springhouse with the water jugs when my dad stopped me Now he turned me around to face my mother who was standing at the marble counter in a ood of strong morning sunshine falling through the double windows over the sink There was a curl of hair lying across the side of her forehead and touching her eyebrowiyou see how well I remember it all The bright light turned that little curl to filaments of gold and made me want to run to her and put my arms around her In that instant I saw her as a woman saw her as my father must have seen her She was wearing a housedress with little red roses all over it I remember and she was kneading bread Candy Bill our little black Scottie dog was standing alertly beside her feet looking up waiting for anything that might drop My mother was looking at me I promise I said She smiled but it was the worried kind of smile she always seemed to make since my father brought Dan back from the west eld in his arms My father had come sobbing and barechested He had taken off his shirt and draped it over Dan s face which had swelled and turned color My boy he had been crying Oh look at my boy Jesus look at my boy Iremember that as if it were yesterday It was the only time I ever heard my dad take the Savior s name in vain What do you promise Gary she asked Promise not to go no further than where the stream forks Ma am Any further Any She gave me a patient look saying nothing as her hands went on working in the dough which now had a smooth silky look I promise not to go any further than where the stream forks Ma am Thank you Gary she said And try to remember that grammar is for the world as well as for school Yes Ma am Candy Bill followed me as I did my chores and sat between my feet as I bolted my lunch looking up at me with the same attentiveness he had shown my mother while she was kneading her bread but when I got my new bamboo pole and my old splintery creel and started out of the dooryard he stopped and only stood in the dust by an old roll of snow fence watching I called him but he wouldn t come He yapped a time or two as if telling me to come back but that was all Stay then I said trying to sound as if I didn t care I did though at least a little Candy Bill always went fishing with me My mother came to the door and looked out at me with her left hand held up to shade her eyes I can see her that way still and it s like looking at a photograph of someone who later became unhappy or died suddenly You mind your dad now Gary Yes Ma am Iwill She waved I waved too Then Itumed my back on her and walked away The sun beat down on my neck hard and hot for the first quartermile or so but then I entered the woods where double shadow fell over the road and it was cool and firsmelling and you could hear the wind hissing through the deep needled groves I walked with my pole on my shoulder the way boys did back then holding my creel in my other hand like a valise or a salesman s sample 824 STEPHEN KING case About two miles into the woods along a road that was really nothing but a double rut with a grassy strip growing up the center hump I began to hear the hurried eager gossip of Castle Stream I thought of trout with bright speckled backs and purewhite bellies and my heart went up in my chest The stream owed under a little wooden bridge and the banks leading down to the water were steep and brushy I worked my way down carefully holding on where I could and digging my heels in I went down out of summer and back into midspring or so it felt The cool rose gently off the water and there was a green smell like moss When I got to the edge of the water I only stood there for a little while breathing deep of that mossy smell and watching the dragon ies circle and the skitter bugs skate Then further down I saw a trout leap at a butter yia good big brookie maybe fourteen inches longiand remembered I hadn t come herejust to sightsee I walked along the bank following the current and wet my line for the first time with the bridge still in sight upstream Something jerked the tip of my pole down once or twice and ate half my worm but whatever it was too sly for my nineyearold handsior maybe just not hungry enough to be carelessiso I quit that place I stopped at two or three other places before I got to the place where Castle Stream forks going southwest into Castle Rock and southeast into Kashwakamak Township and at one of them I caught the biggest trout I have ever caught in my life a beauty that measured nineteen inches from tip to tail on the little ruler I kept in my creel That was a monster of a brook trout even for those days If I had accepted this as gift enough for one day and gone back I would not be writing now and this is going to turn out longer than I thought it would I see that already but I didn t Instead I saw to my catch right then and there as my father had shown meicleaning it placing it on dry grass at the bottom of the creel then laying damp grass on top of itiand went on I did not at age nine think that catching a nineteeninch brook trout was particularly remarkable although I do remember being amazed that my line had not broken when I netless as well as artless had hauled it out and swung it toward me in a clumsy tail apping arc Ten minutes later I came to the place where the stream split in those days it is long gone now there is a settlement of duplex homes where Castle Stream once went its course and a district grammar school as well and if there is a stream it goes in darkness dividing around a huge gray rock nearly the size of our outhouse There was a pleasant at space here grassy and soft overlooking what my dad and I called South Branch I squatted on my heels dropped my line into the water and almost immediately snagged a fine rainbow trout He wasn t the size of my brookieionly a foot or soibut a good fish just the same I had it cleaned out before the gills had stopped exing stored it in my creel and dropped my line back into the water This time there was no immediate bite so I leaned back looking up at the blue stripe of sky I could see along the stream s course Clouds oated by west to east and I tried to think what they looked like I saw a unicorn then a rooster then a dog that looked like Candy Bill I was looking for the next one when I drowsed off Or maybe slept I don t know for sure All I know is that a tug on my line so strong it almost pulled the bamboo pole out of my hand was what brought me The Man in the Black Suit 825 back into the aftemoon I sat up clutched the pole and suddenly became aware that something was sitting on the tip of my nose I crossed my eyes and saw a bee My heart seemed to fall dead in my chest and for a horrible second I was sure I was going to wet my pants The tug on my line came again stronger this time but although I maintained my grip on the end of the pole so it wouldn t be pulled into the stream and perhaps carried away I think I even had the presence of mind to snub the line with my forefinger Imade no effort to pull in my catch All my horrified attention was fixed on the fat blackandyellow thing that was using my nose as a rest stop I slowly poked out my lower lip and blew upward The bee ruf ed a little but kept its place I blew again and it ruf ed againibut this time it also seemed to shift impatiently and I didn t dare blow anymore for fear it would lose its temper completely and give me a shot It was too close for me to focus on what it was doing but it was easy to imagine it ramming its stinger into one of my nostrils and shooting its poison up toward my eyes And my brain A terrible idea came to me that this was the very bee that had killed my brother I knew it wasn t true and not only because honeybees probably didn t live longer than a single year except maybe for the queens about them I was not so sure It couldn t be true because honeybees died when they stung and even at nine I knew it Their stingers were barbed and when they tried to y away after doing the deed they tore themselves apart Still the idea stayed This was a special bee a devilbee and it had come back to nish the other of Albion and Loretta s two boys And here is something else I had been stung by bees before and although the stings had swelled more than is perhaps usual I can t really say for sure I had never died of them That was only for my brother a terrible trap that had been laid for him in his very makingia trap that Ihad somehow escaped But as I crossed my eyes until they hurt in an effort to focus on the bee logic did not exist It was the bee that existed only thatithe bee that had killed my brother killed him so cruelly that my father had slipped down the straps of his overalls so he could take off his shirt and cover Dan s swollen engorged face Even in the depths of his grief he had done that because he didn t want his wife to see what had become of her rstbom Now the bee had returned and now it would kill me I would die in convulsions on the bank opping just as a brookie ops after you take the hook out of its mouth As I sat there trembling on the edge of paniciready to bolt to my feet and then bolt anywhereithere came a report from behind me It was as sharp and peremptory as a pistol shot but I knew it wasn t a pistol shot it was someone clapping his hands One single clap At that moment the bee tumbled off my nose and fell into my lap It lay there on my pants with its legs sticking up and its stinger a threatless black thread against the old scuffed brown of the corduroy It was dead as a doomail I saw that at once At the same moment the pole gave another tugi the hardest yetiand I almost lost it again I grabbed it with both hands and gave it a big stupid yank that would have made my father clutch his head with both hands if he had been there to see A rainbow trout a good bit larger than either of the ones I had already caught rose out of the water in a wet ash spraying ne drops of water from its tailiit looked like one of those shing pictures they used to put on the covers of men s magazines like True and M an 3 Adventure back in the forties and fties At that 826 STEPHEN KING moment hauling in a big one was about the last thing on my mind however and when the line snapped and the sh fell back into the stream I barely noticed I looked over my shoulder to see who had clapped A man was standing above me at the edge of the trees His face was very long and pale His black hair was combed tight against his skull and parted with rigorous care on the left side of his narrow head He was very tall He was wearing a black threepiece suit and I knew right away that he was not a human being because his eyes were the orangey red of ames in a woodstove I don t mean just the irises because he had no irises and no pupils and certainly no whites His eyes were completely orangeian orange that shifted and ickered And it s really too late not to say exactly what I mean isn t it He was on re inside and his eyes were like the little isinglass portholes you sometimes see in stove doors My bladder let go and the scuffed brown the dead bee was lying on went a darker brown I was hardly aware of what had happened and I couldn t take my eyes off the man standing on top of the bank and looking down at meithe man who had apparently walked out of thirty miles of trackless western Maine woods in a ne black suit and narrow shoes of gleaming leather I could see the watch chain looped across his vest glittering in the summer sunshine There was not so much as a single pine needle on him And he was smiling at me Why it s a sherboy he cried in a mellow pleasing voice Imagine that Are we well met sherboy Hello sir I said The voice that came out of me did not tremble but it didn t sound like my voice either It sounded older Like Dan s voice maybe Or my father s even And all I could think was that maybe he would let me go if I pretended not to see what he was If I pretended I didn t see there were ames glowing and dancing where his eyes should have been I ve saved you a nasty sting perhaps he said and then to my horror he came down the bank to where I sat with a dead bee in my wet lap and a bamboo shing pole in my nerveless hands His slicksoled city shoes should have slipped on the low grassy weeds dressing the steep bank but they didn t nor did they leave tracks I saw Where his feet had touchedior seemed to touchithere was not a single broken twig crushed leaf or trampled shoeshape Even before he reached me I recognized the aroma baking up from the skin under the suiti the smell of burned matches The smell of sulfur The man in the black suit was the Devil He had walked out of the deep woods between Motton and Kashwakamak and now he was standing here beside me From the comer of one eye I could see a hand as pale as the hand of a store window dummy The fingers were hideously long He hunkered beside me on his hams his knees popping just as the knees of any normal man might but when he moved his hands so they dangled between his knees I saw that each of those long fingers ended in not a fingernail but a long yellow claw You didn t answer my question fisherboy he said in his mellow voice It was now that I think of it like the voice of one of those radio announcers on the bigband shows years later the ones that would sell Geritol and Serutan and Ovaltine and Dr Grabow pipes Are we well met Please don t hurt me I whispered in a voice so low I could barely hear it I was more afraid than I could ever write down more afraid than I want to remember But I do I do It never crossed my mind to hope Iwas having a The Man in the Black Suit 827 dream although it might have I suppose if I had been older But I was nine and I knew the truth when it squatted down beside me I knew a hawk from a handsaw as my father would have said The man who had come out of the woods on that Saturday aftemoon in midsummer was the Devil and inside the empty holes of his eyes his brains were burning Oh do I smell something he asked as if he hadn t heard me although I knew he had Do I smell something wet He leaned toward me with his nose stuck out like someone who means to smell a ower And I noticed an awful thing as the shadow of his head traveled over the bank the grass beneath it turned yellow and died He lowered his head toward my pants and sniffed His glaring eyes half closed as if he had inhaled some sublime aroma and wanted to concentrate on nothing but that Oh bad he cried Lovelybad And then he chanted Opal Diamond Sapphire Jade I smell Gary s lemonade He threw himself on his back in the little at place and laughed I thought about running but my legs seemed two counties away from my brain I wasn t crying though I had wet my pants but I wasn t crying I was too scared to cry I suddenly knew that I was going to die and probably painfully but the worst of it was that that might not be the worst of it The worst might come later After I was dead He sat up suddenly the smell of burnt matches uffing out from his suit and making me feel gaggy in my throat He looked at me solemnly from his narrow white face and burning eyes but there was a sense of laughter about him too There was always that sense of laughter about him Sad news fisherboy he said I ve come with sad news I could only look at himithe black suit the fine black shoes the long white fingers that ended not in nails but in talons Your mother is dead No I cried I thought of her making bread of the curl lying across her forehead and just touching her eyebrow of her standing there in the strong morning sunlight and the terror swept over me again but not for myself this time Then I thought of how she d looked when I set off with my shing pole standing in the kitchen doorway with her hand shading her eyes and how she had looked to me in that moment like a photograph of someone you expected to see again but never did No you lie I screamed He smiledithe sadly patient smile of a man who has often been accused falsely I m afraid not he said It was the same thing that happened to your brother Gary It was a bee No that s not true I said and now I did begin to cry She s old she s thirtyfiveiifa bee sting could kill her the way it did Danny she would have died a long time ago and you re a lying bastard I had called the Devil a lying bastard I was aware of this but the entire front of my mind was taken up by the enormity of what he d said My mother dead He might as well have told me that the moon had fallen on Vermont But I believed him On some level I believed him completely as we always believe on some level the worst thing our hearts can imagine I understand your grief little f1sherboy but that particular argument just doesn t hold water I m afraid He spoke in a tone of bogus comfort that was horrible maddening without remorse or pity A man can go his whole life 828 STEPHEN KING without seeing a mockingbird you know but does that mean mockingbirds don t exist Your motheri A fish jumped below us The man in the black suit frowned then pointed a finger at it The trout convulsed in the air its body bending so strenuously that for a split second it appeared to be snapping at its own tail and when it fell back into Castle Stream it was oating lifelessly It struck the big gray rock where the waters divided spun around twice in the whirlpool eddy that formed there and then oated away in the direction of Castle Rock Meanwhile the terrible stranger turned his burning eyes on me again his thin lips pulled back from tiny rows of sharp teeth in a cannibal smile Your mother simply went through her entire life without being stung by a bee he said But theniless than an hour ago actuallyione ew in through the kitchen window while she was taking the bread out of the oven and putting it on the counter to cool I raised my hands and clapped them over my ears He pursed his lips as if to whistle and blew at me gently It was only a little breath but the stench was foul beyond belieficlogged sewers outhouses that have never known a single sprinkle of lime dead chickens after a ood My hands fell away from the sides of my face Good he said You need to hear this Gary you need to hear this my little fisherboy It was your mother who passed that fatal weakness on to your brother You got some of it but you also got a protection from your father that poor Dan somehow missed He pursed his lips again only this time he made a cruelly comic little tsk tsk sound instead of blowing his nasty breath at me So although I don t like to speak ill of the dead it s almost a case of poetic justice isn t it After all she killed your brother Dan as surely as if she had put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger No I whispered No it isn t true I assure you it is he said The bee ew in the window and lit on her neck She slapped at it before she even knew what she was doingiyou were wiser than that weren t you Gary7 and the bee stung her She felt her throat start to close up at once That s what happens you know to people who can t tolerate bee venom Their throats close and they drown in the open air That s why Dan s face was so swollen and purple That s why your father covered it with his shirt I stared at him now incapable of speech Tears streamed down my cheeks I didn t want to believe him and knew from my church schooling that the Devil is the father of lies but I did believe him just the same She made the most wonderfully awful noises the man in the black suit said re ectively and she scratched her face quite badly I m afraid Her eyes bulged out like a frog s eyes She wept He paused then added She wept as she died isn t that sweet And here s the most beautiful thing of all After she was dead after she had been lying on the oor for fteen minutes or so with no sound but the stove ticking and with that little thread of a bee stinger still poking out of the side of her neckiso small so smallido you know what Candy Bill did That little rascal licked away her tears First on one side and then on the other He looked out at the stream for a moment his face sad and thoughtful Then he turned back to me and his expression of bereavement disappeared like The Man in the Black Suit 829 a dream His face was as slack and as avid as the face of a corpse that has died hungry His eyes blazed I could see his sharp little teeth between his pale lips I m starving he said abruptly I m going to kill you and eat your guts little fisherboy What do you think about that No Itried to say please no but no sound came out He meant to do it I saw He really meant to do it I m just so hungry he said both petulant and teasing And you won t want to live without your precious mommy anyhow take my word for it Because your father s the sort of man who ll have to have some wa1m hole to stick it in believe me and if you re the only one available you re the one who ll have to serve I ll save you all that discomfort and unpleasantness Also you ll go to Heaven think of that Murdered souls always go to Heaven So we ll both be serving God this afternoon Gary Isn t that nice He reached for me again with his long pale hands and without thinking what I was doing I ipped open the top of my creel pawed all the way down to the bottom and brought out the monster brookie I d caught earlierithe one I should have been satisfied with I held it out to him blindly my fingers in the red slit of its belly from which I had removed its insides as the man in the black suit had threatened to remove mine The fish s glazed eye stared dreamily at me the gold ring around the black center reminding me of my mother s wedding ring And in that moment I saw her lying in her coffin with the sun shining off the wedding band and knew it was trueishe had been stung by a bee she had drowned in the warm breadsmelling kitchen air arid Candy Bill had licked her dying tears from her swollen cheeks Big fish the man in the black suit cried in a guttural greedy voice Oh big sh He snatched it away from me and crammed it into a mouth that opened wider than any human mouth ever could Many years later when I was sixtyfive I know it was sixtyfive because that was the summer I retired from teaching I went to the aquarium in Boston and finally saw a shark The mouth of the man in the black suit was like that shark s mouth when it opened only his gullet was blazing orange the same color as his eyes and I felt heat bake out of it and into my face the way you feel a sudden wave of heat come pushing out of a fireplace when a dry piece of wood catches alight And I didn t imagine that heat eitheril know I didn tibecause just before he slid the head of my nineteeninch brook trout between his gapping jaws I saw the scales along the sides of the fish rise up and begin to curl like bits of paper oating over an open incinerator He slid the sh in like a man in a traveling show swallowing a sword He didn t chew and his blazing eyes bulged out as if in effort The sh went in and went in his throat bulged as it slid down his gullet and now he began to cry tears of his owniexcept his tears were blood scarlet and thick Ithink it was the sight of those bloody tears that gave me my body back I don t know why that should have been but I think it was I bolted to my feet like a Jack released from its box turned with my bamboo pole still in one hand and ed up the bank bending over and tearing tough bunches of weeds out with my free hand in an effort to get up the slope more quickly He made a strangled furious noiseithe sound of any man with his mouth too fulliand I looked back just as I got to the top He was coming after me the 830 STEPHEN KING back of his suit coat apping and his thin gold watch chain ashing and winking in the sun The tail of the fish was still protruding from his mouth and I could smell the rest of it roasting in the oven of his throat He reached for me groping with his talons and I ed along the top of the bank After a hundred yards or so I found my voice and went to screamingi screaming in fear of course but also screaming in grief for my beautiful dead mother He was coming after me I could hear snapping branches and whipping bushes but I didn t look back again I lowered my head slitted my eyes against the bushes and lowhanging branches along the stream s bank and ran as fast as I could And at every step I expected to feel his hands descending on my shoulders pulling me back into a final burning hug That didn t happen Some unknown length of time lateriit couldn t have been longer than five or ten minutes I suppose but it seemed like foreveriI saw the bridge through layerings of leaves and firs Still screaming but breathlessly now sounding like a teakettle that has almost boiled dry I reached this second steeper bank and charged up Halfway to the top I slipped to my knees looked over my shoulder and saw the man in the black suit almost at my heels his white face pulled into a convulsion of fury and greed His cheeks were splattered with his bloody tears and his shark s mouth hung open like a hinge Fisherboy he snarled and started up the bank after me grasping at my foot with one long hand I tore free turned and threw my fishing pole at him He batted it down easily but it tangled his feet up somehow and he went to his knees I didn t wait to see any more Itumed and bolted to the top of the slope I almost slipped at the very top but managed to grab one of the support struts running beneath the bridge and save myself You can t get away fisherboy he cried from behind me He sounded furious but he also sounded as if he were laughing It takes more than a mouthful of trout to fill me up Leave me alone I screamed back at him I grabbed the bridge s railing and threw myself over it in a clumsy somersault filling my hands with splinters and bumping my head so hard on the boards when I came down that I saw stars Irolled over on my belly and began crawling I lurched to my feet just before I got to the end of the bridge stumbled once found my rhythm and then began to run I ran as only nineyearold boys can run which is like the wind It felt as if my feet only touched the ground with every third or fourth stride and for all I know that may be true Iran straight up the righthand wheel rut in the road ran until my temples pounded and my eyes pulsed in their sockets ran until I had a hot stitch in my left side from the bottom of my ribs to my armpit ran until I could taste blood and something like metal shavings in the back of my throat When I couldn t run anymore I stumbled to a stop and looked back over my shoulder puffing and blowing like a windbroken horse I was convinced I would see him standing right there behind me in his natty black suit the watch chain a glittering loop across his vest and not a hair out of place But he was gone The road stretching back toward Castle Stream between the darkly massed pines and spruces was empty And yet I sensed him somewhere near in those woods watching me with his grassf1re eyes smelling of burned matches and roasted sh The Man in the Black Suit 831 I turned and began walking as fast as I could limping a littleiI d pulled muscles in both legs and when I got out of bed the next morning I was so sore I could barely walk I kept looking over my shoulder needing again and again to verify that the road behind me was still empty It was each time I looked but those backward glances seemed to increase my fear rather than lessen it The f1rs looked darker massier and I kept imagining what lay behind the trees that marched beside the roadilong tangled corridors of forest legbreaking deadfalls ravines where anything might live Until that Saturday in 1914 I had thought that bears were the worst thing the forest could hold A mile or so farther up the road just beyond the place where it came out of the woods and joined the Geegan Flat Road I saw my father walking toward me and whistling The Old Oaken Bucket He was carrying his own rod the one with the fancy spinning reel from Monkey Ward In his other hand he had his creel the one with the ribbon my mother had woven through the handle back when Dan was still alive Dedicated to Jesus that ribbon said I had been walking but when I saw him I started to run again screaming Dad Dad Dad at the top of my lungs and staggering from side to side on my tired sprung legs like a drunken sailor The expression of surprise on his face when he recognized me might have been comical under other circumstances He dropped his rod and creel into the road without so much as a downward glance at them and ran to me It was the fastest I ever saw my dad run in his life when we came together it was a wonder the impact didn t knock us both senseless and I struck my face on his belt buckle hard enough to start a little nosebleed I didn t notice that until later though Right then I only reached out my arms and clutched him as hard as I could I held on and rubbed my hot face back and forth against his belly covering his old blue workshirt with blood and tears and snot Gary what is it What happened Are you all right Ma s dead I sobbed I met a man in the woods and he told me Ma s dead She got stung by a bee and it swelled her all up just like what happened to Dan and she s dead She s on the kitchen oor and Candy Bill licked the tttears off her off her Face was the last word I had to say but by then my chest was hitching so bad I couldn t get it out My own tears were owing again and my dad s startled frightened face had blurred into three overlapping images I began to howlinot like a little kid who s skinned his knee but like a dog that s seen something bad by moonlightiand my father pressed my head against his hard at stomach again I slipped out from under his hand though and looked back over my shoulder I wanted to make sure the man in the black suit wasn t coming There was no sign of him the road winding back into the woods was completely empty I promised myself I would never go back down that road again not ever no matter what and I suppose now that God s greatest blessing to His creatures below is that they can t see the future It might have broken my mind if I had known I would be going back down that road and not two hours later For that moment though I was only relieved to see we were still alone Then I thought of my motherimy beautiful dead motheriand laid my face back against my father s stomach and bawled some more Gary listen to me he said a moment or two later I went on bawling He gave me a little longer to do that then reached down and lifted my chin so he STEPHEN KING 832 could look down into my face and I could look up into his Your mom s fine he said I could only look at him with tears streaming down my cheeks I didn t believe him I don t know who told you different or what kind of dirty dog would want to put a scare like that into a little boy but I swear to God your mother s fine But but he said I don t care what he said I got back from Eversham s earlier than I expectedihe doesn t want to sell any cows it s all just talkiand decided I had time to catch up with you I got my pole and my creel and your mother made us a couple of jelly foldovers Her new bread Still warm So she was fine half an hour ago Gary and there s nobody knows any different that s come from this direction I guarantee you Not in just half an hour s time He looked over my shoulder Who was this man And where was he I m going to find him and thrash him within an inch of his life I thought a thousand things in just two secondsithat s what it seemed like anywayibut the last thing I thought was the most powerful if my Dad met up with the man in the black suit I didn t think my Dad would be the one to do the thrashing Or the walking away I kept remembering those long white fingers and the talons at the ends of them I don t know that I remember I said Were you where the stream splits The big rock I could never lie to my father when he asked a direct questioninot to save his life or mine Yes but don t go down there I seized his arm with both hands and tugged it hard Please don t He was a scary man Inspiration struck like an illuminating lightning bolt I think he had n He looked at me thoughtfully Maybe there wasn t a man he said lifting his voice a little on the last word and turning it into something that was almost but not quite a question Maybe you fell asleep while you were fishing son and had a bad dream Like the ones you had about Danny last winter I had had a lot of bad dreams about Dan last winter dreams where I would open the door to our closet or to the dark fruity interior of the cider shed and see him standing there and looking at me out of his purple strangulated face from many of these dreams I had awakened screaming and awakened my parents as well I had fallen asleep on the bank of the stream for a little while tooi dozed off anywayibut I hadn t dreamed and I was sure I had awakened just before the man in the black suit clapped the bee dead sending it tumbling off my nose and into my lap I hadn t dreamed him the way I had dreamed Dan I was quite sure of that although my meeting with him had already attained a dreamlike quality in my mind as I suppose supernatural occurrences always must But if my Dad thought that the man had only existed in my own head that might be better Better for him It might have been I guess I said Well we ought to go back and find your rod and your creel He actually started in that direction and I had to tug frantically at his arm to stop him again and turn him back toward me The Man in the Black Suit 833 Later I said Please Dad I want to see Mother I ve got to see her with my own eyes He thought that over then nodded Yes I suppose you do We ll go home first and get your rod and creel later So we walked back to the farm together my father with his sh pole propped on his shoulder just like one of my friends me ca1rying his creel both of us eating foldedover slices of my mother s bread smeared with blackcurrant jam Did you catch anything he asked as we came in sight of the barn Yes sir I said A rainbow Pretty goodsized And a brookie that was a lot bigger I thought but didn t say That s all Nothing else After I caught itI fell asleep This was not really an answer but not really a lie either Lucky you didn t lose your pole You didn t did you Gary No sir I said very reluctantly Lying about that would do no good even if I d been able to think up a whopperinot if he was set on going back to get my creel anyway and I could see by his face that he was Up ahead Candy Bill came racing out of the back door barking his shrill bark and wagging his whole rear end back and forth the way Scotties do when they re excited I couldn t wait any longer I broke away from my father and ran to the house still lugging his creel and still convinced in my heart of hearts that I was going to find my mother dead on the kitchen oor with her face swollen and purple as Dan s had been when my father carried him in from the west field crying and calling the name of Jesus But she was standing at the counter just as well and fine as when I had left her humming a song as she shelled peas into a bowl She looked around at me first in surprise and then in fright as she took in my wide eyes and pale cheeks Gary what is it What s the matter I didn t answer only ran to her and covered her with kisses At some point my father came in and said Don t worry Loihe s all right He just had one of his bad dreams down there by the brook Pray God it s the last of them she said and hugged me tighter while Candy Bill danced around our feet barking his shrill bark You don t have to come with me if you don t want to Gary my father said although he had already made it clear that he thought I shouldithat I should go back that I should face my fear as I suppose folks would say nowadays That s very well for fearful things that are make believe but two hours hadn t done much to change my conviction that the man in the black suit had been real I wouldn t be able to convince my father of that though I don t think there was a nineyearold who ever lived would have been able to convince his father he d seen the Devil walking out of the woods in a black suit I ll come I said I had come out of the house to join him before he left mustering all my courage to get my feet moving and now we were standing by the chopping block in the side yard not far from the woodpile What you got behind your back he asked I brought it out slowly I would go with him and I would hope the man in the black suit with the arrowstraight part down the left side of his head was 834 STEPHEN KING gone But if he wasn t I wanted to be prepared As prepared as I could be anyway I had the family Bible in the hand I had brought out from behind my back I d set out just to bring my New Testament which I had won for memorizing the most psalms in the Thursdaynight Youth Fellowship competition I managed eight although most of them except the Twentythird had oated out of my mind in a week s time but the little red Testament didn t seem like enough when you were maybe going to face the Devil himself not even when the words of Jesus were marked out in red ink My father looked at the old Bible swollen with family documents and pictures and Ithought he d tell me to put it back but he didn t A look of mixed grief and sympathy crossed his face and he nodded All right he said Does your mother know you took that No sir He nodded again Then we ll hope she doesn t spot it gone before we get back Come on And don t drop it Half an hour or so later the two of us stood on the bank at the place where Castle Stream forked and at the at place where I d had my encounter with the man with the redorange eyes I had my bamboo rod in my handil d picked it up below the bridgeiand my creel lay down below on the at place Its wicker top was ipped back We stood looking down my father and I for a long time and neither of us said anything Opal Diamondl Sapphire Jade I smell Gary s lemonade That had been his unpleasant little poem and once he had recited it he had thrown himself on his back laughing like a child who has just discovered he has enough courage to say bathroom words like shit or piss The at place down there was as green and lush as any place in Maine that the sun can get to in early July Except where the stranger had lain There the grass was dead and yellow in the shape of a man I was holding our lumpy old family Bible straight out in front of me with both thumbs pressing so hard on the cover that they were white It was the way Mama Sweet s husband Norville held a willow fork when he was trying to dowse somebody a well Stay here my father said at last and skidded sideways down the bank digging his shoes into the rich soft soil and holding his arms out for balance I stood where I was holding the Bible stif y out at the ends of my arms my heart thumping I don t know if I had a sense of being watched that time or not I was too scared to have a sense of anything except for a sense of wanting to be far away from that place and those woods My dad bent down sniffed at where the grass was dead and grimaced I knew what he was smelling something like burnt matches Then he grabbed my creel and came on back up the bank hurrying He snagged one fast look over his shoulder to make sure nothing was coming along behind Nothing was When he handed me the creel the lid was still hanging back on its cunning little leather hinges I looked inside and saw nothing but two handfuls of grass Thought you said you caught a rainbow my father said but maybe you dreamed that too Something in his voice stung me No sir I said I caught one The Man in the Black Suit 835 Well it sure as hell didn t op out not if it was gutted and cleaned And you wouldn t put a catch into your fisherbox without doing that would you Gary Itaught you better than that Yes sir you did buti So if you didn t dream catching it and if it was dead in the box something must have come along and eaten it my father said and then he grabbed another quick glance over his shoulder eyes wide as if he had heard something move in the woods I wasn t exactly surprised to see drops of sweat standing out on his forehead like big clearjewels Come on he said Let s get the hell out of here I was for that and we went back along the bank to the bridge walking quick without speaking When we got there my dad dropped to one knee and examined the place where we d found my rod There was another patch of dead grass there and the lady s slipper was all brown and curled in on itself as if a blast of heat had charred it I looked in my empty creel again He must have gone back and eaten my other sh too I said My father looked up at me Other fish Yes sir I didn t tell you but I caught a brookie too A big one He was awful hungry that fella I wanted to say more and the words trembled just behind my lips but in the end I didn t We climbed up to the bridge and helped each other over the railing My father took my creel looked into it then went to the railing and threw it over I came up beside him in time to see it splash down and oat away like a boat riding lower and lower in the stream as the water poured in between the wicker weavings It smelled bad my father said but he didn t look at me when he said it and his voice sounded oddly defensive It was the only time I ever heard him speak just that way Yes sir We ll tell your mother we couldn t find it If she asks If she doesn t ask we won t tell her anything No sir we won t And she didn t and we didn t and that s the way it was That day in the woods is eighty years gone and for many of the years in between I have never even thought of itinot awake at least Like any other man or woman who ever lived I can t say about my dreams not for sure But now I m old and I dream awake it seems My infirmities have crept up like waves that will soon take a child s abandoned sand castle and my memories have also crept up making me think of some old rhyme that went in part Just leave them alone And they ll come home Wagging their tails behind them I remember meals I ate games I played girls I kissed in the school cloakroom when we played post office boys I chummed with the first drink I ever took the first cigarette I ever smoked comshuck behind Dicky Hamner s pig shed and I threw up Yet of all the memories the one of the man in the black suit is the strongest and glows with its own spectral haunted light He was real he was the Devil and that day I was either his errand or his luck I feel more and more strongly that escaping him was my luckijust luck and not the intercession of the God I have worshipped and sung hymns to all my life 836 STEPHEN KING As I lie here in my nursinghome room and in the mined sand castle that is my body I tell myself that I need not fear the Devilithat I have lived a good kindly life and I need not fear the Devil Sometimes I remind myself that it was I not my father who finally coaxed my mother back to church later on that summer In the dark however these thoughts have no power to ease or comfort In the dark comes a voice that whispers that the nineyearold fisherboy I was had done nothing for which he might legitimately fear the Devil either and yet the Devil cameito him And in the dark I sometimes hear that voice drop even lower into ranges that are inhuman Big sh it whispers in tones of hushed greed and all the truths of the moral world fall to ruin before its hunger 1994 Winner of the O H enryAward in 1995