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Cujo

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Cujo

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Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Signet, 2004
Viking Press, 1981
Series:

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Horror
Sub-Genre Tags: Dark Fantasy
Pulp
Monsters
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Film & Television Adaptations

Cujo

Cujo

Sunn Classic Pictures
8/12/1983

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Synopsis

Outside a peaceful town in central Maine, a monster is waiting. Cujo is a two-hundred-pound Saint Bernard, the best friend Brett Camber has ever had. One day, Cujo chases a rabbit into a cave inhabited by sick bats and emerges as something new altogether.

Meanwhile, Vic and Donna Trenton, and their young son Tad, move to Maine. They are seeking peace and quiet, but life in this small town is not what it seems. As Tad tries to fend off the terror that comes to him at night from his bedroom closet, and as Vic and Donna face their own nightmare of a marriage on the rocks, there is no way they can know that a monster, infinitely sinister, waits in the daylight.

What happens to Cujo, how he becomes a horrifying vortex inescapably drawing in all the people around him, makes for one of the most heart-stopping novels Stephen King has ever written. "A genuine page-turner that grabs you and holds you and won't let go" (Chattanooga Times), Cujo will forever change how you view man's best friend.


Excerpt

Not so long ago, a monster came to the small town of Castle Rock, Maine. He killed a waitress named Alma Frechette in 1970; a woman named Pauline Toothaker and a junior high school student named Cheryl Moody in 1971; a pretty girl named Carol Dunbarger in 1974; a teacher named Etta Ringgold in the fall of 1975; finally, a grade-schooler named Mary Kate Hendrasen in the early winter of that same year.

He was not werewolf, vampire, ghoul, or unnameable creature from the enchanted forest or from the snowy wastes; he was only a cop named Frank Dodd with mental and sexual problems. A good man named John Smith uncovered his name by a kind of magic, but before he could be captured--perhaps it was just as well--Frank Dodd killed himself.

There was some shock, of course, but mostly there was rejoicing in that small town, rejoicing because the monster which had haunted so many dreams was dead, dead at last. A town's nightmares were buried in Frank Dodd's grave.

Yet even in this enlightened age, when so many parents are aware of the psychological damage they may do to their children, surely there was one parent somewhere in Castle Rock--or perhaps one grandmother--who quieted the kids by telling them that Frank Dodd would get them if they didn't watch out, if they weren't good. And surely a hush fell as children looked toward their dark windows and thought of Frank Dodd in his shiny black vinyl raincoat, Frank Dodd who had choked... and choked... and choked.

He's out there, I can hear the grandmother whispering as the wind whistles down the chimney pipe and snuffles around the old pot lid crammed in the stove hole. He's out there, and if you're not good, it may be his face you see looking in your bedroom window after everyone in the house is asleep except you; it may be his smiling face you see peeking at you from the closet in the middle of the night, the STOP sign he held up when he crossed the little children in one hand, the razor he used to kill himself in the other... so shhh, children... shhh... shhhh.

But for most, the ending was the ending. There were nightmares to be sure, and children who lay wakeful to be sure, and the empty Dodd house (for his mother had a stroke shortly afterwards and died) quickly gained a reputation as a haunted house and was avoided; but these were passing phenomena--the perhaps unavoidable side effects of a chain of senseless murders.

But time passed. Five years of time.

The monster was gone, the monster was dead. Frank Dodd moldered inside his coffin.

Except that the monster never dies. Werewolf, vampire, ghoul, unnameable creature from the wastes. The monster never dies.

It came to Castle Rock again in the summer of 1980.

• • •

Tad Trenton, four years old, awoke one morning not long after midnight in May of that year, needing to go to the bathroom. He got out of bed and walked half asleep toward the white light thrown in a wedge through the half-open door, already lowering his pajama pants. He urinated forever, flushed, and went back to bed. He pulled the covers up, and that was when he saw the creature in his closet.

Low to the ground it was, with huge shoulders bulking above its cocked head, its eyes amber-glowing pits--a thing that might have been half man, half wolf. And its eyes rolled to follow him as he sat up, his scrotum crawling, his hair standing on end, his breath a thin winter-whistle in his throat: mad eyes that laughed, eyes that promised horrible death and the music of screams that went unheard; something in the closet.

He heard its purring growl; he smelled its sweet carrion breath.

Tad Trenton clapped his hands to his eyes, hitched in breath, and screamed.

A muttered exclamation in another room--his father.

A scared cry of "What was that?" from the same room--his mother.

Their footfalls, running. As they came in, he peered through his fingers and saw it there in the closet, snarling, promising dreadfully that they might come, but they would surely go, and that when they did--

The light went on. Vic and Donna Trenton came to his bed, exchanging a look of concern over his chalky face and his staring eyes, and his mother said--no, snapped, "I told you three hot dogs was too many, Vic!"

And then his daddy was on the bed, Daddy's arm around his back, asking him what was wrong.

Tad dared to look into the mouth of his closet again.

The monster was gone. Instead of whatever hungry beast he had seen, there were two uneven piles of blankets, winter bedclothes which Donna had not yet gotten around to taking up to the cut-off third floor. These were stacked on the chair which Tad used to stand on when he needed something from the high closet shelf. Instead of the shaggy, triangular head, cocked sideways in a kind of predatory questioning gesture, he saw his teddybear on the taller of the two piles of blankets. Instead of pitted and baleful amber eyes, there were the friendly brown glass balls from which his Teddy observed the world.

"What's wrong, Tadder?" his daddy asked him again.

"There was a monster!" Tad cried. "In my closet!" And he burst into tears.

His mommy sat with him; they held him between them, soothed him as best they could. There followed the ritual of parents. They explained there were no monsters; that he had just had a bad dream. His mommy explained how shadows could sometimes look like the bad things they sometimes showed on TV or in the comic books, and Daddy told him everything was all right, fine, that nothing in their good house could hurt him. Tad nodded and agreed that it was so, although he knew it was not.

His father explained to him how, in the dark, the two uneven piles of blankets had looked like hunched shoulders, how the teddybear had looked like a cocked head, and how the bathroom light, reflecting from Teddy's glass eyes, had made them seem like the eyes of a real live animal.

"Now look," he said. "Watch me close, Tadder."

Tad watched.

His father took the two piles of blankets and put them far back in Tad's closet. Tad could hear the coathangers jingling softly, talking about Daddy in their coathanger language. That was funny, and he smiled a little. Mommy caught his smile and smiled back, relieved.

His daddy came out of the closet, took Teddy, and put him in Tad's arms.

"And last but not least," Daddy said with a flourish and a bow that made both Tad and Mommy giggle, "ze chair."

He closed the closet door firmly and then put the chair against the door. When he came back to Tad's bed he was still smiling, but his eyes were serious.

"Okay, Tad?"

"Yes," Tad said, and then forced himself to say it. "But it was there, Daddy. I saw it. Really."

"Your mind saw something, Tad," Daddy said, and his big, warm hand stroked Tad's hair. "But you didn't see a monster in your closet, not a real one. There are no monsters, Tad. Only in stories, and in your mind."

He looked from his father to his mother and back again--their big, well-loved faces.

"Really?"

"Really," his mommy said. "Now I want you to get up and go pee, big guy."

"I did. That's what woke me up."

"Well," she said, because parents never believed you, "humor me then, what do you say?"

So he went in and she watched while he did four drops and she smiled and said, "See? You did have to go."

Resigned, Tad nodded. Went back to bed. Was tucked in. Accepted kisses.

And as his mother and father went back to the door the fear settled on him again like a cold coat full of mist. Like a shroud stinking of hopeless death. Oh please, he thought, but there was no more, just that: Oh please oh please oh please.

Perhaps his father caught his thought, because Vic turned back, one hand on the light switch, and repeated: "No monsters, Tad."

"No, Daddy," Tad said, because in that instant his father's eyes seemed shadowed and far, as if he needed to be convinced. "No monsters." Except for the one in my closet.

The light snapped off.

"Good night, Tad." His mother's voice trailed back to him lightly, softly, and in his mind he cried out, Be careful, Mommy, they eat the ladies! In all the movies they catch the ladies and carry them off and eat them! Oh please oh please oh please--

But they were gone.

So Tad Trenton, four years old, lay in his bed, all wires and stiff Erector Set braces. He lay with the covers pulled up to his chin and one arm crushing Teddy against his chest, and there was Luke Skywalker on one wall; there was a chipmunk standing on a blender on another wall, grinning cheerily (IF LIFE HANDS YOU LEMONS, MAKE LEMONADE! the cheeky, grinning chipmunk was saying); there was the whole motley Sesame Street crew on a third: Big Bird, Ernie, Oscar, Grover. Good totems; good magic. But oh the wind outside, screaming over the roof and skating down black gutters! He would sleep no more this night.

But little by little the wires unsnarled themselves and stiff Erector Set muscles relaxed. His mind began to drift....

And then a new screaming, this one closer than the night-wind outside, brought him back to staring wakefulness again.

The hinges on the closet door.

Creeeeeeeeeeeee--

That thin sound, so high that perhaps only dogs and small boys awake in the night could have heard it. His closet door swung open slowly and steadily, a dead mouth opening on darkness inch by inch and foot by foot.

The monster was in that darkness. It crouched where it had crouched before. It grinned at him, and its huge shoulders bulked above its cocked head, and its eyes glowed amber, alive with stupid cunning. I told you they'd go away, Tad, it whispered. They always do, in the end. And then I can come back. I like to come back. I like you, Tad. I'll come back every night now, I think, and every night I'll come a little closer to your bed... and a little closer... until one night, before you can scream for them, you'll hear something growling, something growling right beside you, Tad, it'll be me, and I'll pounce, and then I'll eat you and you'll be in me.

Tad stared at the creature in his closet with drugged, horrified fascination. There was something that... was almost familiar. Something he almost knew. And that was the worst, that almost knowing. Because--

Because I'm crazy, Tad. I'm here. I've been here all along. My name was Frank Dodd once, and I killed the ladies and maybe I ate them, too. I've been here all along, I stick around, I keep my ear to the ground. I'm the monster, Tad, the old monster, and I'll have you soon, Tad. Feel me getting closer... and closer....

Perhaps the thing in the closet spoke to him in its own hissing breath, or perhaps its voice was the wind's voice. Either way, neither way, it didn't matter. He listened to its words, drugged with terror, near fainting (but oh so wide awake); he looked upon its shadowed, snarling face, which he almost knew. He would sleep no more tonight; perhaps he would never sleep again.

But sometime later, sometime between the striking of half past midnight and the hour of one, perhaps because he was small, Tad drifted away again. Thin sleep in which hulking, furred creatures with white teeth chased him deepened into dreamless slumber.

The wind held long conversations with the gutters. A rind of white spring moon rose in the sky. Somewhere far away, in some still meadow of night or along some pine-edged corridor of forest, a dog barked furiously and then fell silent.

And in Tad Trenton's closet, something with amber eyes held watch.

• • •

"Did you put the blankets back?" Donna asked her husband the next morning. She was standing at the stove, cooking bacon. Tad was in the other room, watching The New Zoo Revue and eating a bowl of Twinkles. Twinkles was a Sharp cereal, and the Trentons got all their Sharp cereals free.

"Hmmm?" Vic asked. He was buried deep in the sports pages. A transplanted New Yorker, he had so far successfully resisted Red Sox fever. But he was masochistically pleased to see that the Mets were off to another superlatively cruddy start.

"The blankets. In Tad's closet. They were back in there. The chair was back in there, too, and the door was open again." She brought the bacon, draining on a paper towel and still sizzling, to the table. "Did you put them back on his chair?"

"Not me," Vic said, turning a page. "It smells like a mothball convention back there."

"That's funny. He must have put them back."

He put the paper aside and looked up at her. "What are you talking about, Donna?"

"You remember the bad dream last night--"

"Not apt to forget. I thought the kid was dying. Having a convulsion or something."

She nodded. "He thought the blankets were some kind of--" She shrugged.

"Boogeyman," Vic said, grinning.

"I guess so. And you gave him his teddybear and put those blankets in the back of the closet. But they were back on the chair when I went in to make his bed." She laughed. "I looked in, and for just a second there I thought--"

"Now I know where he gets it," Vic said, picking up the newspaper again. He cocked a friendly eye at her. "Three hot dogs, my ass."

Later, after Vic had shot off to work. Donna asked Tad why he had put the chair back in the closet with the blankets on it if they had scared him in the night.

Tad looked up at her, and his normally animated, lively face seemed pale and watchful--too old. His Star Wars coloring book was open in front of him. He had been doing a picture from the interstellar cantina, using his green Crayola to color Greedo.

"I didn't," he said.

"But Tad, if you didn't, and Daddy didn't, and I didn't--"

"The monster did it," Tad said. "The monster in my closet."

He bent to his picture again.

She stood looking at him, troubled, a little frightened. He was a bright boy, and perhaps too imaginative. This was not such good news. She would have to talk to Vic about it tonight. She would have to have a long talk with him about it.

"Tad, remember what your father said," she told him now. "There aren't any such things as monsters."

"Not in the daytime, anyway," he said, and smiled at her so openly, so beautifully, that she was charmed out of her fears. She ruffled his hair and kissed his cheek.

She meant to talk to Vic, and then Steve Kemp came while Tad was at nursery school, and she forgot, and Tad screamed that night too, screamed that it was in his closet, the monster, the monster!

The closet door hung ajar, blankets on the chair. This time Vic took them up to the third floor and stacked them in the closet up there.

"Locked it up, Tadder," Vic said, kissing his son. "You're all set now. Go back to sleep and have a good dream."

But Tad did not sleep for a long time, and before he did the closet door swung clear of its latch with a sly little snicking sound, the dead mouth opened on the dead dark--the dead dark where something furry and sharp-toothed and -clawed waited, something that smelled of sour blood and dark doom.

Hello, Tad, it whispered in its rotting voice, and the moon peered in Tad's window like the white and slitted eye of a dead man.

• • •

The oldest living person in Castle Rock that late spring was Evelyn Chalmers, known as Aunt Evvie by the town's older residents, known as "that old loudmouth bitch" by George Meara, who had to deliver her mail--which mostly consisted of catalogues and offers from the Reader's Digest and prayer folders from the Crusade of the Eternal Christ--and listen to her endless monologues. "The only thing that old loudmouth bitch is any good at is telling the weather," George had been known to allow when in his cups and in the company of his cronies down at the Mellow Tiger. It was one stupid name for a bar, but since it was the only one Castle Rock could boast, it looked like they were pretty much stuck with it.

There was general agreement with George's opinion. As the oldest resident of Castle Rock, Aunt Evvie had held the Boston Post cane for the last two years, ever since Arnold Heebert, who had been one hundred and one and so far gone in senility that talking to him held all the intellectual challenge of talking to an empty catfood can, had doddered off the back patio of the Castle Acres Nursing Home and broken his neck exactly twenty-five minutes after whizzing in his pants for the last time.

Aunt Evvie was nowhere near as senile as Arnie Heebert had been, and nowhere near as old, but at ninety-three she was old enough, and, as she was fond of bawling at a resigned (and often hung-over) George Meara when he delivered the mail, she hadn't been stupid enough to lose her home the way Heebert had done.

But she was good at the weather. The town consensus--among the older people, who cared about such things--was that Aunt Evvie was never wrong about three things: the week when the first hay-cutting would happen in the summertime, how good (or how bad) the blueberries would be, and what the weather would be like.

One day early that June she shuffled out to the mailbox at the end of the driveway, leaning heavily on her Boston Post cane (which would go to Vin Marchant when the loudmouthed old bitch popped off, George Meara thought, and good riddance to you, Evvie) and smoking a Herbert Tareyton. She bellowed a greeting at Meara--her deafness had apparently convinced her that everyone else in the world had gone deaf in sympathy--and then shouted that they were going to have the hottest summer in thirty years. Hot early and hot late, Evvie bellowed leather-lunged into the drowsy eleven-o'clock quiet, and hot in the middle.

"That so?" George asked.

"What?"

"I said, 'Is that so?'?" That was the other thing about Aunt Evvie; she got you shouting right along with her. A man could pop a blood vessel.

"I should hope to smile and kiss a pig if it ain't!" Aunt Evvie screamed. The ash of her cigarette fell on the shoulder of George Meara's uniform blouse, freshly dry-cleaned and just put on clean this morning; he brushed it off resignedly. Aunt Evvie leaned in the window of his car, all the better to bellow in his ear. Her breath smelled like sour cucumbers.

"Fieldmice has all gone outta the root cellars! Tommy Neadeau seen deer out by Moosuntic Pond rubbin velvet off'n their antlers ere the first robin showed up! Grass under the snow when she melted! Green grass, Meara!"

"That so, Evvie?" George replied, since some reply seemed necessary. He was getting a headache.

"What?"

"THAT SO, AUNT EVVIE?" George Meara screamed. Saliva flew from his lips.

"Oh, ayuh!" Aunt Evvie howled back contentedly. "And I seen heat lightnin last night late! Bad sign, Meara! Early heat's a bad sign! Be people die of the heat this summer! It's gonna be a bad un!"

"I got to go, Aunt Evvie!" George yelled. "Got a Special Delivery for Stringer Beaulieu!"

Aunt Evvie Chalmers threw her head back and cackled at the spring sky. She cackled until she was fit to choke and more cigarette ashes rolled down the front of her housedress. She spat the last quarter inch of cigarette out of her mouth, and it lay smoldering in the driveway by one of her old-lady shoes--a shoe as black as a stove and as tight as a corset; a shoe for the ages.

"You got a Special Delivery for Frenchy Beaulieu? Why, he couldn't read the name on his own tombstone!"

"I got to go, Aunt Evvie!" George said hastily, and threw his car in gear.

"Frenchy Beaulieu is a stark natural-born fool if God ever made one!" Aunt Evvie hollered, but by then she was hollering into George Meara's dust; he had made good his escape.

She stood there by her mailbox for a minute, watching him go. There was no personal mail for her; these days there rarely was. Most of the people she knew who had been able to write were now dead. She would follow soon enough, she suspected. The oncoming summer gave her a bad feeling, a scary feeling. She could speak of the mice leaving the root cellars early, or of heat lightning in a spring sky, but she could not speak of the heat she sensed somewhere just over the horizon, crouched like a scrawny yet powerful beast with mangy fur and red, smoldering eyes; she could not speak of her dreams, which were hot and shadowless and thirsty; she could not speak of the morning when tears had come for no reason, tears that did not relieve but stung the eyes like August-mad sweat instead. She smelled lunacy in a wind that had not arrived.

"George Meara, you're an old fart," Aunt Evvie said, giving the word a juicy Maine resonance which built it into something that was both cataclysmic and ludicrous: faaaaaat.

She began working her way back to the house, leaning on her Boston Post cane, which had been given her at a Town Hall ceremony for no more than the stupid accomplishment of growing old successfully. No wonder, she thought, the goddamned paper had gone broke.

She paused on her stoop, looking at a sky which was still spring-pure and pastel soft. Oh, but she sensed it coming: something hot. Something foul.

• • •

A year before that summer, when Vic Trenton's old Jaguar developed a distressing clunking sound somewhere inside the rear left wheel, it had been George Meara who recommended that he take it up to Joe Camber's Garage on the outskirts of Castle Rock. "He's got a funny way of doing things for around here," George told Vic that day as Vic stood by his mailbox. "Tells you what the job's gonna cost, then he does the job, and then he charges you what he said it was gonna cost. Funny way to do business, huh?" And he drove away, leaving Vic to wonder if the mailman had been serious or if he (Vic) had just been on the receiving end of some obscure Yankee joke.

But he had called Camber, and one day in July (a much cooler July than the one which would follow a year later), he and Donna and Tad had driven out to Camber's place together. It really was far out; twice Vic had to stop and ask directions, and it was then that he began to call those farthest reaches of the township East Galoshes Corners.

He pulled into the Camber dooryard, the back wheel clunking louder than ever. Tad, then three, was sitting on Donna Trenton's lap, laughing up at her; a ride in Daddy's "no-top" always put him in a fine mood, and Donna was feeling pretty fine herself.

A boy of eight or nine was standing in the yard, hitting an old baseball with an even older baseball bat. The ball would travel through the air, strike the side of the barn, which Vic assumed was also Mr. Camber's garage, and then roll most of the way back.

"Hi," the boy said. "Are you Mr. Trenton?"

"That's right," Vic said.

"I'll get my dad," the boy said, and went into the barn.

The three Trentons got out, and Vic walked around to the back of his Jag and squatted by the bad wheel, not feeling very confident. Perhaps he should have tried to nurse the car into Portland after all. The situation out here didn't look very promising; Camber didn't even have a sign hung out.

His meditations were broken by Donna, calling his name nervously. And then: "Oh my God, Vic--"

He got up quickly and saw a huge dog emerging from the barn. For one absurd moment he wondered if it really was a dog, or maybe some strange and ugly species of pony. Then, as the dog padded out of the shadows of the barn's mouth, he saw its sad eyes and realized it was a Saint Bernard.

Donna had impulsively snatched up Tad and retreated toward the hood of the Jag, but Tad was struggling impatiently in her arms, trying to get down.

"Want to see the doggy, Mom... want to see the doggy!"

Donna cast a nervous glance at Vic, who shrugged, also uneasy. Then the boy came back and ruffled the dog's head as he approached Vic. The dog wagged a tail that was absolutely huge, and Tad redoubled his struggles.

"You can let him down, ma'am," the boy said politely. "Cujo likes kids. He won't hurt him." And then, to Vic: "My dad's coming right out. He's washing his hands."

"All right," Vic said. "That's one hell of a big dog, son. Are you sure he's safe?"

"He's safe," the boy agreed, but Vic found himself moving up beside his wife as his son, incredibly small, toddled toward the dog. Cujo stood with his head cocked, that great brush of a tail waving slowly back and forth.

"Vic--" Donna began.

"It's all right," Vic said, thinking, I hope. The dog looked big enough to swallow the Tadder in a single bite.

Tad stopped for a moment, apparently doubtful. He and the dog looked at each other.

"Doggy?" Tad said.

"Cujo," Camber's boy said, walking over to Tad. "His name's Cujo."

"Cujo," Tad said, and the dog came to him and began to lick his face in great, goodnatured, slobbery swipes that had Tad giggling and trying to fend him off. He turned back to his mother and father, laughing the way he did when one of them was tickling him. He took a step toward them and his feet tangled in each other. He fell down, and suddenly the dog was moving toward him, over him, and Vic, who had his arm around Donna's waist, felt his wife's gasp as well as heard it. He started to move forward... and then stopped.

Cujo's teeth had clamped on the back of Tad's Spider-Man T-shirt. He pulled the boy up--for a moment Tad looked like a kitten in its mother's mouth--and set the boy on his feet.

Tad ran back to his mother and father. "Like the doggy! Mom! Dad! I like the doggy!"

Camber's boy was watching this with mild amusement, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his jeans.

"Sure, it's a great dog," Vic said. He was amused, but his heart was still beating fast. For just one moment there he had really believed that the dog was going to bite off Tad's head like a lollipop. "It's a Saint Bernard, Tad," he said.

"Saint... Bennart!" Tad cried, and ran back toward Cujo, who was now sitting outside the mouth of the barn like a small mountain. "Cujo! Coooojo!"

Donna tensed beside Vic again. "Oh, Vic, do you think--"

But now Tad was with Cujo again, first hugging him extravagantly and then looking closely at his face. With Cujo sitting down (his tail thumping on the gravel, his tongue lolling out pinkly), Tad could almost look into the dog's eyes by standing on tiptoe.

"I think they're fine," Vic said.

Tad had now put one of his small hands into Cujo's mouth and was peering in like the world's smallest dentist. That gave Vic another uneasy moment, but then Tad was running back to them again. "Doggy's got teeth," he told Vic.

"Yes," Vic said. "Lots of teeth."

He turned to the boy, meaning to ask him where he had come up with that name, but then Joe Camber was coming out of the barn, wiping his hands on a piece of waste so he could shake without getting Vic greasy.

Vic was pleasantly surprised to find that Camber knew exactly what he was doing. He listened carefully to the clunking sound as he and Vic drove down to the house at the bottom of the hill and then back up to Camber's place.

"Wheel bearing's going," Camber said briefly. "You're lucky it ain't froze up on you already."

"Can you fix it?" Vic asked.

"Oh, ayuh. Fix it right now if you don't mind hangin around for a couple of hours."

"That'd be all right, I guess," Vic said. He looked toward Tad and the dog. Tad had gotten the baseball Camber's son had been hitting. He would throw it as far as he could (which wasn't very far), and the Cambers' Saint Bernard would obediently get it and bring it back to Tad. The ball was looking decidedly slobbery. "Your dog is keeping my son amused."

"Cujo likes kids," Camber agreed. "You want to drive your car into the barn, Mr. Trenton?"

The doctor will see you now, Vic thought, amused, and drove the Jag in. As it turned out, the job only took an hour and a half and Camber's price was so reasonable it was startling.

And Tad ran through that cool, overcast afternoon, calling the dog's name over and over again: "Cujo... Coojo... heeere, Cujo...." Just before they left, Camber's boy, whose name was Brett, actually lifted Tad onto Cujo's back and held him around the waist while Cujo padded obediently up and down the gravel dooryard twice. As it passed Vic, the dog caught his eye... and Vic would have sworn it was laughing.

Just three days after George Meara's bellowed conversation with Aunt Evvie Chalmers, a little girl who was exactly Tad Trenton's age stood up from her place at the breakfast table--said breakfast table being in the breakfast nook of a tidy little house in Iowa City, Iowa--and announced: "Oh, Mamma, I don't feel so good. I feel like I'm going to be sick."

Her mother looked around, not exactly surprised. Two days before, Marcy's bigger brother had been sent from school with a raging case of stomach flu. Brock was all right now, but he had spent a lousy twenty-four hours, his body enthusiastically throwing off ballast from both ends.

"Are you sure, honey?" Marcy's mother said.

"Oh, I--" Marcy moaned loudly and lurched toward the downstairs hall, her hands laced over her stomach. Her mother followed her, saw Marcy buttonhook into the bathroom, and thought, Oh, boy, here we go again. If I don't catch this it'll be a miracle.

She heard the retching sounds begin and turned into the bathroom her mind already occupied with the details; clear liquids, bed rest, the chamber-pot, some books; Brock could take the portable TV up to her room when he got back from school and--

She looked, and these thoughts were driven from her mind with the force of a roundhouse slap.

The toilet bowl where her four-year-old daughter had vomited was full of blood; blood splattered the white procelain lip of the bowl; blood beaded the tiles.

"Oh, Mommy, I don't feel good--"

Her daughter turned, her daughter turned, turned, and there was blood all over her mouth, it was down her chin, it was matting her blue sailor dress, blood, oh dear God dear Jesus Joseph and Mary so much blood--

"Mommy--"

And her daughter did it again, a huge bloody mess flying from her mouth to patter down everywhere like sinister rain, and then Marcy's mother gathered her up and ran with her, ran for the phone in the kitchen to dial the emergency unit.

• • •

Cujo knew he was too old to chase rabbits.

He wasn't old; no, not even for a dog. But at five, he was well past his puppyhood, when even a butterfly had been enough to set off an arduous chase through the woods and meadows behind the house and barn. He was five, and if he had been a human, he would have been entering the youngest stage of middle age.

But it was the sixteenth of June, a beautiful early morning, the dew still on the grass. The heat Aunt Evvie had predicted to George Meara had indeed arrived--it was the warmest early June in years--and by two that afternoon Cujo would be lying in the dusty dooryard (or in the barn, if THE MAN would let him in, which he sometimes did when he was drinking, which was most of the time these days), panting under the hot sun. But that was later.

And the rabbit, which was large, brown, and plump, didn't have the slightest idea Cujo was there, down near the end of the north field, a mile from the house. The wind was blowing the wrong way for Br'er Rabbit.

Cujo worked toward the rabbit, out for sport rather than meat. The rabbit munched happily away at new clover that would be baked and brown under the relentless sun a month later. If he had only covered half the original distance between himself and the rabbit when the rabbit saw him and bolted, Cujo would have let it go. But he had actually got to within fifteen yards of it when the rabbit's head and ears came up. For a moment the rabbit did not move at all; it was a frozen rabbit sculpture with black walleyes bulging comically. Then it was off.

Barking furiously, Cujo gave chase. The rabbit was very small and Cujo was very big, but the possibility of the thing put an extra ration of energy in Cujo's legs. He actually got close enough to paw at the rabbit. The rabbit zigged. Cujo came around more ponderously, his claws digging black meadow dirt, losing some ground at first, making it up quickly. Birds took wing at his heavy, chopping bark; if it is possible for a dog to grin, Cujo was grinning then. The rabbit zagged, then made straight across the north field. Cujo pelted after it, already suspecting this was one race he wasn't going to win.

But he tried hard, and he was gaining on the rabbit again when it dropped into a small hole in the side of a small and easy hill. The hole was overgrown by long grasses, and Cujo didn't hesitate. He lowered his big tawny body into a kind of furry projectile and let his forward motion carry him in... where he promptly stuck like a cork in a bottle.

Joe Camber had owned Seven Oaks Farm out at the end of Town Road No. 3 for seventeen years, but he had no idea this hole was here. He surely would have discovered it if farming was his business, but it wasn't. There was no livestock in the big red barn; it was his garage and auto-body shop. His son Brett rambled the fields and woods behind the home place frequently, but he had never noticed the hole either, although on several occasions he had nearly put his foot in it, which might have earned him a broken ankle. On clear days the hole could pass for a shadow; on cloudy days, overgrown with grass as it was, it disappeared altogether.

John Mousam, the farm's previous owner, had known about the hole but had never thought to mention it to Joe Camber when Joe bought the place in 1963. He might have mentioned it, as a caution, when Joe and his wife, Charity, had their son in 1970, but by then the cancer had carried old John off.

It was just as well Brett had never found it. There's nothing in the world quite so interesting to a boy as a hole in the ground, and this one opened on a small natural limestone cave. It was about twenty feet deep at its deepest, and it would have been quite possible for a small squirty boy to eel his way in, slide to the bottom, and then find it impossible to get out. It had happened to other small animals in the past. The cave's limestone surface made a good slide but a bad climb, and its bottom was littered with bones: a woodchuck, a skunk, a couple of chipmunks, a couple of squirrels, and a housecat. The housecat's name had been Mr. Clean. The Cambers had lost him two years before and assumed he had been hit by a car or had just run off. But here he was, along with the bones of the good-sized fieldmouse he had chased inside.

Cujo's rabbit had rolled and slid all the way to the bottom and now quivered there, ears up and nose vibrating like a tuning fork, as Cujo's furious barking filled the place. The echoes made it sound as though there was a whole pack of dogs up there.

The small cave had also attracted bats from time to time--never many, because the cave was only a small one, but its rough ceiling made a perfect place for them to roost upside down and snooze the daylight away. The bats were another good reason that Brett Camber had been lucky, especially this year. This year the brown insectivorous bats inhabiting the small cave were crawling with a particularly virulent strain of rabies.

Cujo had stuck at the shoulders. He dug furiously with his back legs to no effect at all. He could have reversed and pulled himself back out, but for now he still wanted the rabbit. He sensed it was trapped, his for the taking. His eyes were not particularly keen, his large body blocked out almost all the light anyway, and he had no sense of the drop just beyond his front paws. He could smell damp, and he could smell bat guano, both old and fresh... but most important of all, he could smell rabbit. Hot and tasty. Dinner is served.

His barking roused the bats. They were terrified. Something had invaded their home. They flew en masse toward the exit, squeaking. But their sonar recorded a puzzling and distressing fact: the entrance was no longer there. The predator was where the entrance had been.

They wheeled and swooped in the darkness, their membranous wings sounding like small pieces of clothing--diapers, perhaps--flapping from a line in a gusty wind. Below them, the rabbit cringed and hoped for the best.

Cujo felt several of the bats flutter against the third of him that had managed to get into the hole, and he became frightened. He didn't like their scent or their sound; he didn't like the odd heat that seemed to emanate from them. He barked louder and snapped at the things that were wheeling and squeaking around his head. His snapping jaws closed on one brown-black wing. Bones thinner than those in a baby's hand crunched. The bat slashed and bit at him, slicing open the skin of the dog's sensitive muzzle in a long, curving wound that was shaped like a question mark. A moment later it went skittering and cartwheeling down the limestone slope, already dying. But the damage had been done; a bite from a rabid animal is most serious around the head, for rabies is a disease of the central nervous system. Dogs, more susceptible than their human masters, cannot even hope for complete protection from the inactivated-virus vaccine which every veterinarian administers. And Cujo had never had a single rabies shot in his life.

Not knowing this, but knowing that the unseen thing he had bitten had tasted foul and horrible, Cujo decided the game was not worth the candle. With a tremendous yank of his shoulders he pulled himself out of the hole, causing a little avalanche of dirt. He shook himself, and more dirt and smelly crumbled limestone flew from his pelt. Blood dripped from his muzzle. He sat down, tilted his head skyward, and uttered a single low howl.

The bats exited their hole in a small brown cloud, whirled confusedly in the bright June sunshine for a couple of seconds, and then went back in to roost. They were brainless things, and within the course of two or three minutes they had forgotten all about the barking interloper and were sleeping again, hung from their heels with their wings wrapped around their ratty little bodies like the shawls of old women.

Cujo trotted away. He shook himself again. He pawed helplessly at his muzzle. The blood was already clotting, drying to a cake, but it hurt. Dogs have a sense of self-consciousness that is far out of proportion to their intelligence, and Cujo was disgusted with himself. He didn't want to go home. If he went home, one of his trinity--THE MAN, THE WOMAN, or THE BOY--would see that he had done something to himself. It was possible that one of them might call him BADDOG. And at this particular moment he certainly considered himself to be a BADDOG.

So instead of going home, Cujo went down to the stream that separated Camber land from the property of Gary Pervier, the Cambers' nearest neighbor. He waded upstream; he drank deeply; he rolled over in the water, trying to get rid of the nasty taste in his mouth, trying to get rid of the dirt and the watery green stink of limestone, trying to get rid of that BADDOG feeling.

Little by little, he began to feel better. He came out of the stream and shook himself, the spray of water forming a momentary rainbow of breathless clarity in the air.

The BADDOG feeling was fading, and so was the pain in his nose. He started up toward the house to see if THE BOY might be around. He had gotten used to the big yellow schoolbus that came to pick THE BOY up every morning and which dropped him back off again in midafternoon, but this last week the schoolbus had not shown up with its flashing eyes and its yelling cargo of children. THE BOY was always at home. Usually he was out in the barn, doing things with THE MAN. Maybe the yellow schoolbus had come again today. Maybe not. He would see. He had forgotten about the hole and the nasty taste of the batwing. His nose hardly hurt at all now.

Cujo breasted his way easily through the high grass of the north field, driving up an occasional bird but not bothering to give chase. He had had his chase for the day, and his body remembered even if his brain did not. He was a Saint Bernard in his prime, five years old, nearly two hundred pounds in weight, and now, on the morning of June 16, 1980, he was pre-rabid.

• • •

Seven days later and thirty miles from Seven Oaks Farm in Castle Rock, two men met in a downtown Portland restaurant called the Yellow Submarine. The Sub featured a large selection of hero sandwiches, pizzas, and Dagwoods in Lebanese pouches. There was a pinball machine in the back. There was a sign over the counter saying that if you could eat two Yellow Sub Nightmares, you ate free; below that, in parentheses, the codicil IF YOU PUKE YOU PAY had been added.

Ordinarily there was nothing Vic Trenton would have liked better than one of the Yellow Sub's meatball heroes, but he suspected he would get nothing from today's but a really good case of acid burn.

"Looks like we're going to lose the ball, doesn't it?" Vic said to the other man, who was regarding a Danish ham with a marked lack of enthusiasm. The other man was Roger Breakstone, and when he looked at food without enthusiasm, you knew that some sort of cataclysm was at hand. Roger weighed two hundred and seventy pounds and had no lap when he sat down. Once, when the two of them had been in bed with a kids-at-camp case of the giggles, Donna had told Vic she thought Roger's lap had been shot off in Vietnam.

"It looks piss-poor," Roger admitted. "It looks so fucking piss-poor you wouldn't believe it, Victor old buddy."

"You really think making this trip will solve anything?"

"Maybe not," Roger said, "but we're going to lose the Sharp account for sure if we don't go. Maybe we can salvage something. Work our way back in." He bit into his sandwich.

"Closing up for ten days is going to hurt us."

"You think we're not hurting now?"

"Sure, we're hurting. But we've got those Book Folks spots to shoot down at Kennebunk Beach--"

"Lisa can handle that."

"I'm not entirely convinced that Lisa can handle her own love-life, let alone the Book Folks spots," Vic said. "But even supposing she can handle it, the Yor Choice Blueberries series is still hanging fire... Casco Bank and Trust... and you're supposed to meet with the head honcho from the Maine Realtors' Association--"

"Huh-uh, that's yours."

"Fuck you it's mine," Vic said. "I break up every time I think of those red pants and white shoes. I kept wanting to look in the closet to see if I could find the guy a sandwich board."

"It doesn't matter, and you know it doesn't. None of them bills a tenth of what Sharp bills. What else can I say? You know Sharp and the kid are going to want to talk to both of us. Do I book you a seat or not?"

The thought of ten days, five in Boston and five in New York, gave Vic a mild case of the cold sweats. He and Roger had both worked for the Ellison Agency in New York for six years. Vic now had a home in Castle Rock. Roger and Althea Breakstone lived in neighboring Bridgton, about fifteen miles away.

For Vic, it had been a case of never even wanting to look back. He felt he had never come fully alive, had never really known what he was for, until he and Donna moved to Maine. And now he had a morbid sense that New York had only been waiting these last three years to get him in its clutches again. The plane would skid off the runway coming in and be engulfed in a roaring firecloud of hi-test jet fuel. Or there would be a crash on the Triborough Bridge, their Checker crushed into a bleeding yellow accordion. A mugger would use his gun instead of just waving it. A gas main would explode and he would be decapitated by a manhole cover flying through the air like a deadly ninety-pound Frisbee. Something. If he went back, the city would kill him.

"Rog," he said, putting down his meatball sandwich after one small bite, "have you ever thought that it might not be the end of the world if we did lose the Sharp account?"

"The world will go on," Roger said, pouring a Busch down the side of a pilsner glass, "but will we? Me, I've got seventeen years left on a twenty- mortgage and twin girls who have their hearts set on Bridgton Academy. You've got your own mortgage, your own kid, plus that old Jag sportster that's going to half-buck you to death."

"Yes, but the local economy--"

"The local economy sucks!" Roger exclaimed violently, and set his pilsner glass down with a bang.

A party of four at the next table, three in UMP tennis shirts and one wearing a faded T-shirt with the legend DARTH VADER IS GAY written across the front, began to applaud.

Roger waved a hand at them impatiently and leaned toward Vic. "We're not going to make it happen doing campaigns for Yor Choice Blueberries and the Maine Realtors, and you know it. If we lose the Sharp account, we're going to go under without a ripple. On the other hand, if we can keep even a piece of Sharp over the next two years, we'll be in line for some of the Department of Tourism budget, maybe even a crack at the state lottery if they don't mismanage it into oblivion by then. Juicy pies, Vic. We can wave so long to Sharp and their crappy cereals and there's happy endings all around. The big bad wolf has to go somewhere else to get his dinner; these little piggies are home free."

"All contingent on us being able to save something," Vic said, "which is about as likely as the Cleveland Indians winning the World Series this fall."

"I think we better try, buddy."

Vic sat silent, looking at his congealing sandwich and thinking. It was totally unfair, but he could live with unfairness. What really hurt was the whole situation's crazed absurdity. It had blown up out of a clear sky like a killer tornado that lays a zigzagging trail of destruction and then disappears. He and Roger and Ad Worx itself were apt to be numbered among the fatalities no matter what they did; he could read it on Roger's round face, which had not looked so pallidly serious since he and Althea had lost their boy, Timothy, to the crib-death syndrome when the infant was only nine days old. Three weeks after that happened, Roger had broken down and wept, his hands plastered to his fat face in a kind of terrible hopeless sorrow that had squeezed Vic's heart into his throat. That had been bad. But the incipient panic he saw in Roger's eyes now was bad, too.

Tornadoes blew out of nowhere in the advertising business from time to time. A big outfit like the Ellison Agency, which billed in the millions, could withstand them. A little one like Ad Worx just couldn't. They had been carrying one basket with a lot of little eggs in it and another basket with one big egg--the Sharp account--and it now remained to be seen whether the big egg had been lost entirely or if it could at least be scrambled. None of it had been their fault, but ad agencies make lovely whipping boys.

Vic and Roger had teamed naturally together ever since their first joint effort at the Ellison Agency, six years ago. Vic, tall and skinny and rather quiet, had formed the perfect yin for Roger Breakstone's fat, happy, and extroverted yang. They had clicked on a personal basis and on a professional one. That first assignment had been a minor one, to submit a magazine ad campaign for United Cerebral Palsy.

They had come up with a stark black-and-white ad that showed a small boy in huge, cruel leg braces standing in foul territory by the first-base line of a Little League ballfield. A New York Mets cap was perched on his head, and his expression--Roger had always maintained that it had been the boy's expression which sold the ad--wasn't sad at all; it was simply dreamy. Almost happy, in fact. The copy read simply: BILLY BELLAMY IS NEVER GOING TO BAT CLEANUP. Beneath: BILLY HAS CEREBRAL PALSY. Beneath that, smaller type: Give Us a Hand, Huh?

CP donations had taken a noticeable leap. Good for them, good for Vic and Roger. The team of Trenton and Breakstone had been off and running. Half a dozen successful campaigns had followed, Vic dealing most commonly with broad-scope conception, Roger dealing with actual execution.

For the Sony Corporation, a picture of a man sitting cross-legged on the median strip of a sixteen-lane superhighway in a business suit, a big Sony radio on his lap, a seraphic smile on his kisser. The copy read: POLICE BAND, THE ROLLING STONES, VIVALDI, MIKE WALLACE, THE KINGSTON TRIO, PAUL HARVEY, PATTI SMITH, JERRY FALWELL. And below that: HELLO, LA!

For the Voit people, makers of swim equipment, an ad that showed a man who was the utter antithesis of the Miami beachboy. Standing arrogantly hipshot on the golden beach of some tropical paradise, the model was a fifty-year-old man with tattoos, a beer belly, slab-muscled arms and legs, and a puckered scar high across one thigh. In his arms this battered soldier of fortune was cradling a pair of Voit swimfins. MISTER, the copy for this one read, I DIVE FOR A LIVING. I DON'T MESS AROUND. There was a lot more underneath, stuff Roger always referred to as the blah-blah, but the copy set in boldface was the real hooker. Vic and Roger had wanted it to read I DON'T SCREW AROUND, but they hadn't been able to sell the Voit people on that. Pity, Vic was fond of saying over drinks. They could have sold a lot more swimfins.

Then there was Sharp.

The Sharp Company of Cleveland had stood twelfth in the Great American Bakestakes when old man Sharp reluctantly came to the Ellison Agency in New York after more than twenty years with a hometown ad agency. Sharp had been bigger than Nabisco before World War II, the old man was fond of pointing out. His son was just as fond of pointing out that World War II had ended thirty years ago.

The account--on a six-month trial basis at first--had been handed over to Vic Trenton and Roger Breakstone. At the end of the trial period, Sharp had vaulted from twelfth in the cookies-cakes-and-cereals market to ninth. A year later, when Vic and Roger pulled up stakes and moved to Maine to open up their own business, the Sharp Company had climbed to seventh.

Their campaign had been a sweeping one. For Sharp Cookies, Vic and Roger had developed the Cookie Sharpshooter, a bumbling Western peace officer whose six-guns shot cookies instead of bullets, courtesy of the special-effects people--ChockaChippers in some spots, Ginger Snappies in others, Oh Those Oatmeals in still others. The spots always ended with the Sharpshooter standing sadly in a pile of cookies with his guns out. "Well, the bad guys got away," he'd tell millions of Americans every day or so, "but I got the cookies. Best cookies in the West... or anywhere else, I reckon." The Sharpshooter bites into a cookie. His expression suggests that he is experiencing the gastronomic equivalent of a boy's first orgasm. Fadeout.

For the prepared cakes--sixteen different varieties ranging from pound to crumb to cheese--there was what Vic called the George and Gracie spot. We fade in on George and Gracie leaving a posh dinner party where the buffet table groans with every possible delicacy. We dissolve to a dingy little cold-water flat, starkly lighted. George is sitting at a plain kitchen table with a checked tablecloth. Gracie takes a Sharp Pound Cake (or Cheese Cake or Crumb Cake) from the freezer of their old refrigerator and sets it on the table. They are both still in their evening clothes. They smile into each other's eyes with warmth and love and understanding, two people who are utterly in sync with each other. Fade to these words, on black: SOMETIMES ALL YOU WANT IS A SHARP CAKE. Not a word spoken in the entire spot. That one had won a Clio.

As had the Sharp Cereal Professor, hailed in the trades as "the most responsible advertisement ever produced for children's programming." Vic and Roger had considered it their crowning achievement... but now it was the Sharp Cereal Professor who had come back to haunt them.

Played by a character actor in late middle age, the Sharp Cereal Professor was a low-key and daringly adult advertisement in a sea of animated kiddie-vid ads selling bubble gum, adventure toys, dolls, action figures... and rival cereals.

The ad faded in on a deserted fourth- or fifth-grade classroom, a scene Saturday-morning viewers of The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour and The Drac Pack could readily identify with. The Sharp Cereal Professor was wearing a suit, a V-necked sweater, and a shirt open at the collar. Both in looks and in speech he was mildly authoritarian; Vic and Roger had talked to some forty teachers and half a dozen child psychiatrists and had discovered that this was the sort of parental role model that the majority of kids feel most comfortable with, and the sort that so few actually have in their homes.

The Cereal Professor was sitting on a teacher's desk, hinting at some informality--the soul of a real pal hidden somewhere beneath that gray-green tweed, the young viewer might assume--but he spoke slowly and gravely. He did not command. He did not talk down. He did not wheedle. He did not cajole or extol. He spoke to the millions of T-shirted, cereal-slurping, cartoon-watching Saturday-morning viewers as though they were real people.

"Good morning, children," the Professor said quietly. "This is a commercial for cereal. Listen to me carefully, please. I know a lot about cereals, because I'm the Sharp Cereal Professor. Sharp Cereals--Twinkles, Cocoa Bears, Bran-16, and Sharp All-Grain Blend--are the best-tasting cereals in America. And they're good for you." A beat of silence, and then the Sharp Cereal Professor grinned... and when he grinned, you knew there was the soul of a real pal in there. "Believe me, because I know. Your mom knows; I just thought you'd like to know too."

A young man came into the ad at that point, and he handed the Sharp Cereal Professor a bowl of Twinkles or Cocoa Bears or whatever. The Sharp Cereal Professor dug in, then looked straight into every living room in the country and said: "Nope, nothing wrong here."

Old man Sharp hadn't cared for that last line, or the idea that anything could be wrong with one of his cereals. Eventually Vic and Roger had worn him down, but not with rational arguments. Making ads was not a rational business. You often did what felt right, but that didn't mean you could understand why it felt right. Both Vic and Roger felt that the Professor's final line had a power which was both simple and enormous. Coming from the Cereal Professor, it was the final, total comfort, a complete security blanket. I'll never hurt you, it implied. In a world where parents get divorced, where older kids sometimes beat the shit out of you for no rational reason, where the rival Little League team sometimes racks the crap out of your pitching, where the good guys don't always win like they do on TV, where you don't always get invited to the good birthday party, in a world where so much goes wrong, there will always be Twinkles and Cocoa Bears and All-Grain Blend, and they'll always taste good. "Nope, nothing wrong here."

With a little help from Sharp's son (later on, Roger said, you would have believed the kid thought the ad up and wrote it himself), the Cereal Professor concept was approved and saturated Saturday-morning TV, plus such weekly syndicated programs as Star Blazers, U.S. of Archie, Hogan's Heroes, and Gilligan's Island. Sharp Cereals surged even more powerfully than the rest of the Sharp line, and the Cereal Professor became an American institution. His tag line, "Nope, nothing wrong here," became one of those national catch phrases, meaning roughly the same thing as "Stay cool" and "No sweat."

When Vic and Roger decided to go their own way, they had observed strict protocol and had not gone to any of their previous clients until their connections with the Ellison Agency were formally--and amicably--severed. Their first six months in Portland had been a scary, pressure-cooker time for all of them. Vic and Donna's boy, Tad, was only a year old. Donna, who missed New York badly, was by turns sullen, petulant, and just plain scared. Roger had an old ulcer--a battle scar from his years in the Big Apple advertising wars--and when he and Althea lost the baby the ulcer had flared up again, turning him into a closet Gelusil chugger. Althea bounced back as well as possible under the circumstances, Vic thought; it was Donna who pointed out to him that placid Althea's single weak drink before dinner had turned into two before and three after. The two couples had vacationed in Maine, separately and together, but neither Vic nor Roger had realized how many doors are initially closed to folks who have moved in, as Mainers say, from "outta state."

They would indeed have gone under, as Roger pointed out, if Sharp hadn't decided to stay with them. And at the company's Cleveland headquarters, positions had done an ironic flip-flop. Now it was the old man who wanted to stick with Vic and Roger and it was the kid (by this time forty years old) who wanted to jettison them, arguing with some logic that it would be madness to hand their account over to a two-bit ad agency six hundred miles north of the New York pulsebeat. The fact that Ad Worx was affiliated with a New York market-analysis firm cut zero ice with the kid, as it had cut zero ice with the other firms for which they had put together campaigns in the past few years.

"If loyalty was toilet paper," Roger had said bitterly, "we'd be hard-pressed to wipe our asses, old buddy."

But Sharp had come along, providing the margin they had so desperately needed. "We made do with an ad agency here in town for forty years," old man Sharp said, "and if those two boys want to move out of that Christless city, they're just showing good old common sense."

That was that. The old man had spoken. The kid shut up. And for the last two and a half years, the Cookie Sharpshooter had gone on shooting, George and Gracie had gone on eating Sharp Cakes in their cold-water flat, and the Sharp Cereal Professor had gone on telling kids that there was nothing wrong here. Actual spot production was handled by a small independent studio in Boston, the New York market-analysis firm went on doing its thing competently, and three or four times a year either Vic or Roger flew to Cleveland to confer with Carroll Sharp and his kid--said kid now going decidedly gray around the temples. All the rest of the client-agency intercourse was handled by the U.S. Post Office and Ma Bell. The process was perhaps strange, certainly cumbersome, but it seemed to work fine.

Then along came Red Razberry Zingers.

Vic and Roger had known about Zingers for some time, of course, although it had only gone on the general market some two months ago, in April of 1980. Most of the Sharp cereals were lightly sweetened or not sweetened at all. All-Grain Blend, Sharp's entry in the "natural" cereal arena, had been quite successful. Red Razberry Zingers, however, was aimed at a segment of the market with a sweeter tooth: at those prepared-cereal eaters who bought such cereals as Count Chocula, Frankenberry, Lucky Charms, and similar presweetened breakfast foods which were somewhere in the twilight zone between cereal and candy.

In the late summer and early fall of 1979, Zingers had been successfully test-marketed in Boise, Idaho, Scranton, Pennsylvania, and in Roger's adopted Maine hometown of Bridgton. Roger had told Vic with a shudder that he wouldn't let the twins near it with a ten-foot pole (although he had been pleased when Althea told him the kids had clamored for it when they saw it shelved at Gigeure's Market). "It's got more sugar than whole grain in it, and it looks like the side of a firebarn."

Vic had nodded and replied innocently enough, with no sense of prophecy, "The first time I looked in one of those boxes, I thought it was full of blood."

Copyright © 1981 by Stephen King


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