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Needful Things

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Needful Things

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Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Viking Press, 1991
Hodder & Stoughton, 1991
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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Horror
Sub-Genre Tags: Demons
Psychological
Pulp
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Film & Television Adaptations

Needful Things

Needful Things

Castle Rock Entertainment
8/27/1993

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Synopsis

In Castle Rock, Maine, Leland Gaunt is a stranger. He runs a shop called Needful Things, where there's something for everyone-and a price for everyone, too. For Gaunt, the pleasure of doing business lies in seeing how much people will pay for their most secret desires. When two townspeople oppose him, it becomes an epic clash of good vs. evil.


Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

1


In a small town, the opening of a new store is big news.

It wasn't as big a deal to Brian Rusk as it was to some; his mother, for instance. He had heard her discussing it (he wasn't supposed to call it gossiping, she had told him, because gossiping was a dirty habit and she didn't do it) at some length on the telephone with her best friend, Myra Evans, over the last month or so. The first workmen had arrived at the old building which had last housed Western Maine Realty and Insurance right around the time school let in again, and they had been busily at work ever since. Not that anyone had much idea what they were up to in there; their first act had been to put in a large display window, and their second had been to soap it opaque.

Two weeks ago a sign had appeared in the doorway, hung on a string over a plastic see-through suction-cup.

OPENING SOON!

the sign read.

NEEDFUL THINGS

A NEW KIND OF STORE

"You won't believe your eyes!"

"It'll be just another antique shop," Brian's mother said to Myra. Cora Rusk had been reclining on the sofa at the time, holding the telephone with one hand and eating chocolate-covered cherries with the other while she watched Santa Barbara on the TV. "Just another antique shop with a lot of phony early American furniture and moldy old crank telephones. You wait and see."

That had been shortly after the new display window had been first installed and then soaped over, and his mother spoke with such assurance that Brian should have felt sure the subject was closed. Only with his mother, no subject ever seemed to be completely closed. Her speculations and suppositions seemed as endless as the problems of the characters on Santa Barbara and General Hospital.

Last week the first line of the sign hanging in the door was changed to read:

GRAND OPENING OCTOBER 9TH--BRING YOUR FRIENDS!

Brian was not as interested in the new store as his mother (and some of the teachers; he had heard them talking about it in the teachers' room at Castle Rock Middle School when it was his turn to be Office Mailman), but he was eleven, and a healthy eleven-year-old boy is interested in anything new. Besides, the name of the place fascinated him. Needful Things: what, exactly, did that mean?

He had read the changed first line last Tuesday, on his way home from school. Tuesday afternoons were his late days. Brian had been born with a harelip, and although it had been surgically corrected when he was seven, he still had to go to speech therapy. He maintained stoutly to everyone who asked that he hated this, but he did not. He was deeply and hopelessly in love with Miss Ratcliffe, and he waited all week for his special ed class to come around. The Tuesday schoolday seemed to last a thousand years, and he always spent the last two hours of it with pleasant butterflies in his stomach.

There were only four other kids in the class, and none of them came from Brian's end of town. He was glad. After an hour in the same room with Miss Ratcliffe, he felt too exalted for company. He liked to make his way home slowly in the late afternoon, usually pushing his bike instead of riding it, dreaming of her as yellow and gold leaves fell around him in the slanting bars of October sunlight.

His way took him along the three-block section of Main Street across from the Town Common, and on the day he saw the sign announcing the grand opening, he had pushed his nose up to the glass of the door, hoping to see what had replaced the stodgy desks and industrial yellow walls of the departed Western Maine Realtors and Insurance Agents. His curiosity was defeated. A shade had been installed and was pulled all the way down. Brian saw nothing but his own reflected face and cupped hands.

On Friday the 4th, there had been an ad for the new store in Castle Rock's weekly newspaper, the Call. It was surrounded by a ruffled border, and below the printed matter was a drawing of angels standing back to back and blowing long trumpets. The ad really said nothing that could not be read on the sign dangling from the suction cup: the name of the store was Needful Things, it would open for business at ten o'clock in the morning on October 9th, and, of course, "You won't believe your eyes." There was not the slightest hint of what goods the proprietor or proprietors of Needful Things intended to dispense.

This seemed to irritate Cora Rusk a great deal--enough, anyway, for her to put in a rare Saturday-morning call to Myra.

"I'll believe my eyes, all right," she said. "When I see those spool beds that are supposed to be two hundred years old but have Rochester, New York, stamped on the frames for anybody who cares to bend down their heads and look under the bedspread flounces to see, I'll believe my eyes just fine."

Myra said something. Cora listened, fishing Planter's Peanuts out of the can by ones and twos and munching them rapidly. Brian and his little brother, Sean, sat on the living-room floor watching cartoons on TV. Sean was completely immersed in the world of the Smurfs, and Brian was not totally uninvolved with that community of small blue people, but he kept one ear cocked toward the conversation.

"Ri-iiight!" Cora Rusk had exclaimed with even more assurance and emphasis than usual as Myra made some particularly trenchant point. "High prices and moldy antique telephones!"

Yesterday, Monday, Brian had ridden through downtown right after school with two or three friends. They were across the street from the new shop, and he saw that during the day someone had put up a dark-green awning. Written across the front in white letters were the words NEEDFUL THINGS. Polly Chalmers, the lady who ran the sewing shop, was standing out on the sidewalk, hands on her admirably slim hips, looking at the awning with an expression that seemed to be equally puzzled and admiring.

Brian, who knew a bit about awnings, admired it himself. It was the only real awning on Main Street, and it gave the new store its own special look. The word "sophisticated" was not a part of his working vocabulary, but he knew at once there was no other shop in Castle Rock which looked like this. The awning made it look like a store you might see in a television show. The Western Auto across the street looked dowdy and countrified by comparison.

When he got home, his mother was on the sofa, watching Santa Barbara, eating a Little Debbie Creme Pie, and drinking Diet Coke. His mother always drank diet soda while she watched the afternoon shows. Brian was not sure why, considering what she was using it to wash down, but thought it would probably be dangerous to ask. It might even get her shouting at him, and when his mother started shouting, it was wise to seek shelter.

"Hey, Ma!" he said, throwing his books on the counter and getting the milk out of the refrigerator. "Guess what? There's an awnin on the new store."

"Who's yawning?" Her voice drifted out of the living room.

He poured his milk and came into the doorway. "Awning," he said. "On the new store downstreet."

She sat up, found the remote control, and pushed the mute button. On the screen, Al and Corinne went on talking over their Santa Barbara problems in their favorite Santa Barbara restaurant, but now only a lip-reader could have told exactly what those problems were. "What?" she said. "That Needful Things place?"

"Uh-huh," he said, and drank some milk.

"Don't slurp," she said, tucking the rest of her snack into her mouth. "It sounds gruesome. How many times have I told you that?"

About as many times as you've told me not to talk with my mouth full, Brian thought, but said nothing. He had learned verbal restraint at an early age.

"Sorry, Mom."

"What kind of awning?"

"Green one."

"Pressed or aluminum?"

Brian, whose father was a siding salesman for the Dick Perry Siding and Door Company in South Paris, knew exactly what she was talking about, but if it had been that kind of awning, he hardly would have noticed it. Aluminum and pressed-metal awnings were a dime a dozen. Half the homes in The Rock had them sticking out over their windows.

"Neither one," he said. "It's cloth. Canvas, I think. It sticks out, so there's shade right underneath. And it's round, like this." He curved his hands (carefully, so as not to spill his milk) in a semi-circle. "The name is printed on the end. It's most sincerely awesome."

"Well, I'll be butched!"

This was the phrase with which Cora most commonly expressed excitement or exasperation. Brian took a cautious step backward, in case it should be the latter.

"What do you think it is, Ma? A restaurant, maybe?"

"I don't know," she said, and reached for the Princess phone on the endtable. She had to move Squeebles the cat, the TV Guide, and a quart of Diet Coke to get it. "But it sounds sneaky."

"Mom, what does Needful Things mean? Is it like--"

"Don't bother me now, Brian, Mummy's busy. There are Devil Dogs in the breadbox if you want one. Just one, though, or you'll spoil your supper." She was already dialling Myra, and they were soon discussing the green awning with great enthusiasm.

Brian, who didn't want a Devil Dog (he loved his Ma a great deal, but sometimes watching her eat took away his appetite), sat down at the kitchen table, opened his math book, and started to do the assigned problems--he was a bright, conscientious boy, and his math was the only homework he hadn't finished at school. As he methodically moved decimal points and then divided, he listened to his mother's end of the conversation. She was again telling Myra that soon they would have another store selling stinky old perfume bottles and pictures of someone's dead relatives, and it was really a shame the way these things came and went. There were just too many people out there, Cora said, whose motto in life was take the money and run. When she spoke of the awning, she sounded as if someone had deliberately set out to offend her, and had succeeded splendidly at the task.

I think she thinks someone was supposed to tell her, Brian had thought as his pencil moved sturdily along, carrying down and rounding off. Yeah, that was it. She was curious, that was number one. And she was pissed off, that was number two. The combination was just about killing her. Well, she would find out soon enough. When she did, maybe she would let him in on the big secret. And if she was too busy, he could get it just by listening in on one of her afternoon conversations with Myra.

But as it turned out, Brian found out quite a lot about Needful Things before his mother or Myra or anyone else in Castle Rock.

2


He hardly rode his bike at all on his way home from school on the afternoon before Needful Things was scheduled to open; he was lost in a warm daydream (which would not have passed his lips had he been coaxed with hot coals or bristly tarantula spiders) where he asked Miss Ratcliffe to go with him to the Castle County Fair and she agreed.

"Thank you, Brian," Miss Ratcliffe says, and Brian sees little tears of gratitude in the corners of her blue eyes--eyes so dark in color that they look almost stormy. "I've been... well, very sad lately. You see, I've lost my love."

"I'll help you forget him," Brian says, his voice tough and tender at the same time, "if you'll call me... Bri."

"Thank you," she whispers, and then, leaning close enough so he can smell her perfume--a dreamy scent of wildflowers--she says, "Thank you... Bri. And since, for tonight at least, we will be girl and boy instead of teacher and student, you may call me... Sally."

He takes her hands. Looks into her eyes. "I'm not just a kid," he says. "I can help you forget him... Sally."

She seems almost hypnotized by this unexpected understanding, this unexpected manliness; he may only be eleven, she thinks, but he is more of a man than Lester ever was! Her hands tighten on his. Their faces draw closer... closer...

"No," she murmurs, and now her eyes are so wide and so close that he seems almost to drown in them, "you mustn't, Bri... it's wrong..."

"It's right, baby," he says, and presses his lips to hers.

She draws away after a few moments and whispers tenderly

"Hey, kid, watch out where the fuck you're goin!"

Jerked out of his daydream, Brian saw that he had just walked in front of Hugh Priest's pick-up truck.

"Sorry, Mr. Priest," he said, blushing madly. Hugh Priest was nobody to get mad at you. He worked for the Public Works Department and was reputed to have the worst temper in Castle Rock. Brian watched him narrowly. If he started to get out of his truck, Brian planned to jump on his bike and be gone down Main Street at roughly the speed of light. He had no interest in spending the next month or so in the hospital just because he'd been daydreaming about going to the County Fair with Miss Ratcliffe.

But Hugh Priest had a bottle of beer in the fork of his legs, Hank Williams, Jr., was on the radio singing "High and Pressurized," and it was all just a little too comfy for anything so radical as beating the shit out of a little kid on Tuesday afternoon.

"You want to keep your eyes open," he said, taking a pull from the neck of his bottle and looking at Brian balefully, "because next time I won't bother to stop. I'll just run you down in the road. Make you squeak, little buddy."

He put the truck in gear and drove off. Brian felt an insane (and mercifully brief) urge to scream Well I'll be butched! after him. He waited until the orange road-crew truck had turned off onto Linden Street and then went on his way. The daydream about Miss Ratcliffe, alas, was spoiled for the day. Hugh Priest had let in reality again. Miss Ratcliffe hadn't had a fight with her fiancé, Lester Pratt; she was still wearing her small diamond engagement ring and was still driving his blue Mustang while she waited for her own car to come back from the shop.

Brian had seen Miss Ratcliffe and Mr. Pratt only last evening, stapling those dice and the devil posters to the telephone poles on Lower Main Street along with a bunch of other people. They had been singing hymns. The only thing was, the Catholics went around as soon as they were done and took them down again. It was pretty funny in a way... but if he had been bigger, Brian would have tried his best to protect any posters Miss Ratcliffe put up with her hallowed hands.

Brian thought of her dark blue eyes, her long dancer's legs, and felt the same glum amazement he always felt when he realized that, come January, she intended to change Sally Ratcliffe, which was lovely, to Sally Pratt, which sounded to Brian like a fat lady falling down a short hard flight of stairs.

Well, he thought, fetching the other curb and starting slowly down Main Street, maybe she'll change her mind. It's not impossible. Or maybe Lester Pratt will get in a car accident or come down with a brain tumor or something like that. It might even turn out that he's a dope addict. Miss Ratcliffe would never marry a dope addict.

Such thoughts offered Brian a bizarre sort of comfort, but they did not change the fact that Hugh Priest had aborted the daydream just short of its apogee (kissing Miss Ratcliffe and actually touching her right breast while they were in the Tunnel of Love at the fair). It was a pretty wild idea anyway, an eleven-year-old kid taking a teacher to the County Fair. Miss Ratcliffe was pretty, but she was also old. She had told the speech kids once that she would be twenty-four in November.

So Brian carefully re-folded his daydream along its creases, as a man will carefully fold a well-read and much-valued document, and tucked it on the shelf at the back of his mind where it belonged. He prepared to mount his bike and pedal the rest of the way home.

But he was passing the new shop at just that moment, and the sign in the doorway caught his eye. Something about it had changed. He stopped his bike and looked at it.

GRAND OPENING OCTOBER 9TH--BRING YOUR FRIENDS!

at the top was gone. It had been replaced by a small square sign, red letters on a white background.

OPEN

it said, and

OPEN

was all it said. Brian stood with his bike between his legs, looking at this, and his heart began to beat a little faster.

You're not going in there, are you? he asked himself. I mean, even if it really is opening a day early, you're not going in there, right?

Why not? he answered himself.

Well... because the window's still soaped over. The shade on the door's still drawn. You go in there, anything could happen to you. Anything.

Sure. Like the guy who runs it is Norman Bates or something, he dresses up in his mother's clothes and stabs his customers. Ri-iight.

Well, forget it, the timid part of his mind said, although that part sounded as if it already knew it had lost. There's something funny about it.

But then Brian thought of telling his mother. Just saying nonchalantly, "By the way, Ma, you know that new store, Needful Things? Well, it opened a day early. I went in and took a look around."

She'd push the mute button on the remote control in a hurry then, you better believe it! She'd want to hear all about it!

This thought was too much for Brian. He put down his bike's kickstand and passed slowly into the shade of the awning--it felt at least ten degrees cooler beneath its canopy--and approached the door of Needful Things.

As he put his hand on the big old-fashioned brass doorknob, it occurred to him that the sign must be a mistake. It had probably been sitting there, just inside the door, for tomorrow, and someone had put it up by accident. He couldn't hear a single sound from behind the drawn shade; the place had a deserted feel.

But since he had come this far, he tried the knob... and it turned easily under his hand. The latch clicked back and the door of Needful Things swung open.

Copyright © 1991 by Stephen King


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