Home > Needful Things(4)

Needful Things(4)
Author: Stephen King

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 It had been replaced by a small square sign, red letters on a white background.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, 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.

Right.

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.

3

It was dim inside, but not dark. Brian could see that track lighting (a specialty of the Dick Perry Siding and Door Company) had been installed, and a few of the spots mounted on the tracks were lit.

They were trained on a number of glass display cases which were arranged around the large room. The cases were, for the most part, empty. The spots highlighted the few objects which were in the cases.

The floor, which had been bare wood when this was Western Maine Realty and Insurance, had been covered in a rich wall-towall carpet the color of burgundy wine. The walls had been painted eggshell white. A thin light, as white as the walls, filtered in through the soaped display window.

Well, it's a mistake, just the same, Brian thought. He hasn't even got his stock in yet. Whoever put the OPEN sign in the door by mistake left the door unlocked by mistake, too. The polite thing to do in these circumstances would be to close the door again, get on his bike, and ride away.

Yet he was loath to leave. He was, after all, actually seeing the inside of the new store. His mother would talk to him the rest of the afternoon when she heard that. The maddening part was this: he wasn't sure exactly what he was seeing. There were half a dozen (exhibits) items in the display cases, and the spotlights were trained on them-a kind of trial run, probably-but he couldn't tell what they were. He could, however, tell what they weren't: spool beds and moldy crank telephones.

"Hello?" he asked uncertainly, still standing in the doorway.

"Is anybody here?"

He was about to grasp the doorknob and pull the door shut again when a voice replied, "I'm here."A tall figure-what at first seemed to be an impossibly tall figure came through a doorway behind one of the display cases. The doorway was masked with a dark velvet curtain.

Brian felt a momentary and quite monstrous cramp of fear. Then the glow thrown by one of the spots slanted across the man's face, and Brian's fear was allayed. The guy was quite old, and his face was very kind. He looked at Brian with interest and pleasure.

"Your door was unlocked," Brian began, "so I thought-"

"Of course it's unlocked," the tall man said. "I decided to open for a little while this afternoon as a kind of... of preview. And you are my very first customer. Come in, my friend. Enter freely, and leave some of the happiness you bring!"

He smiled and stuck out his hand. The smile was infectious.

Brian felt an instant liking for the proprietor of Needful Things.

He had to step over the threshold and into the shop to clasp the tall man's hand, and he did so without a single qualm. The door swung shut behind him and latched of its own accord. Brian did not notice.

He was too busy noticing that the tall man's eyes were dark blue-exactly the same shade as Miss Sally Ratcliffe's eyes.

They could have been father and daughter.

The tall man's grip was strong and sure, but not painful. All the same, there was something unpleasant about it. Something... smooth. Too hard, somehow.

"I'm pleased to meet you," Brian said.

Those dark-blue eyes fastened on his face like hooded railroad lanterns.

"I am equally pleased to make your acquaintance," the tall man said, and that was how Brian Rusk met the proprietor of Needful Things before anyone else in Castle Rock.

4

"My name is Leland Gaunt," the tall man said, "and you are-?"

"Brian. Brian Rusk."

"Very good, Mr. Rusk. And since you are my first customer, I think I can offer you a very special price on any item that catches your fancy."

"Well, thank you," Brian said, "but I don't really think I could buy anything in a place like this. I don't get my allowance until Friday, and-" He looked doubtfully at the glass display cases again.

"Well, you don't look like you've got all your stock in yet."

Gaunt smiled. His teeth were crooked, and they looked rather yellow in the dim light, but Brian found the smile entirely charming just the same. Once more he found himself almost forced to answer it.

"No," Leland Gaunt said, "no, I don't. The majority of my stock, as you put it-will arrive later this evening. But I still have a few interesting items. Take a look around, young Mr. Rusk. I'd love to have your opinion, if nothing else... and I imagine you have a mother, don't you? Of course you do. A fine young man like yourself is certainly no orphan. Am I right?"

Brian nodded, still smiling. "Sure. Ma's home right now." An idea struck him. "Would you like me to bring her down?" But the moment the proposal was out of his mouth, he was sorry. He didn't want to bring his mother down. Tomorrow, Mr. Leland Gaunt would belong to the whole town. Tomorrow, his Ma and Myra Evans would start pawing him over, along with all the other ladies in Castle Rock. Brian supposed that Mr. Gaunt would have ceased to seem so strange and different by the end of the month, heck, maybe even by the end of the week, but right now he still was, right now he belonged to Brian Rusk and Brian Rusk alone, and Brian wanted to keep it that way.

So he was pleased when Mr. Gaunt raised one hand (the fingers were extremely narrow and extremely long, and Brian noticed that the first and second were of exactly the same length) and shook his head.

"Not at all," he said. "That's exactly what I don't want. She would undoubtedly want to bring a friend, wouldn't she?"

"Yeah," Brian said, thinking of Myra.

"Perhaps even two friends, or three. No, this is better, Brianmay I call you Brian?"

"Sure," Brian said, amused.

"Thank you. And you will call me Mr. Gaunt, since I am your elder, if not necessarily your better-agreed?"

 

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