Home > Needful Things(5)

Needful Things(5)
Author: Stephen King

"Sure." Brian wasn't sure what Mr. Gaunt meant by elders and betters, but he loved to listen to this guy talk. And his eyes were really something-Brian could hardly take his own eyes off them.

"Yes, this is much better." Mr. Gaunt rubbed his long hands together and they made a hissing sound. This was one thing Brian was less than crazy about. Mr. Gaunt's hands rubbing together that way sounded like a snake which is upset and thinking of biting.

"You will tell your mother, perhaps even show her what you bought, should you buy something-" Brian considered telling Mr. Gaunt that he had a grand total of ninety-one cents in his pocket and decided not to-"and she will tell her friends, and they will tell their friends... you see, Brian? You will be a better advertisement than the local paper could ever think of being! I could not do better if I hired you to walk the streets of the town wearing a sandwich board!"

"Well, if you say so," Brian agreed. He had no idea what a sandwich board was, but he was quite sure he would never allow himself to be caught dead wearing one. "It would be sort of fun to look around." At what little there is to look at, he was too polite to add.

"Then start looking!" Mr. Gaunt said, gesturing toward the cases. Brian noticed that he was wearing a long red-velvet jacket.

He thought it might actually be a smoking jacket, like in the Sherlock Holmes stories he had read. It was neat. "Be my guest, Brian!"

Brian walked slowly over to the case nearest the door. He glanced over his shoulder, sure that Mr. Gaunt would be trailing along right behind him, but Mr. Gaunt was still standing by the door, looking at him with wry amusement. It was as if he had read Brian's mind and had discovered how much Brian disliked having the owner of a store trailing around after him while he was looking at stuff. He supposed most storekeepers were afraid that you'd break something, or hawk something, or both.

"Take your time," Mr. Gaunt said. "Shopping is a joy when one takes one's time, Brian, and a pain in the nether quarters when one doesn't."

"Say, are you from overseas somewhere?" Brian asked. Mr.

Gaunt's use of "one" instead of "you" interested him. It reminded him of the old stud-muffin who hosted Masterpiece Theatre, which his mother sometimes watched if the TV Guide said it was a lovestory.

"I," Gaunt said, am from Akron."

"Is that in England?"

"That is in Ohio," Leland Gaunt said gravely, and then revealed his strong, irregular teeth in a sunny grin.

It struck Brian as funny, the way lines in TV shows like Cheers often struck him funny. In fact, this whole thing made him feel as if he had wandered into a TV show, one that was a little mysterious but not really threatening. He burst out laughing.

He had a moment to worry that Mr. Gaunt might think he was rude (perhaps because his mother was always accusing him of rudeness, and as a result Brian had come to believe he lived in a huge and nearly invisible spider's web of social etiquette), and then the tall man joined him. The two of them laughed together, and all in all, Brian could not remember when he had had such a pleasant afternoon as this one was turning out to be.

"Go on, look," Mr. Gaunt said, waving his hand. "We will exchange histories another time, Brian."

So Brian looked. There were only five items in the biggest glass case, which looked as if it might comfortably hold twenty or thirty more. One was a pipe. Another was a picture of Elvis Presley wearing his red scarf and his white jump-suit with the tiger on the back. The King (this was how his mother always referred to him) was holding a microphone to his pouty lips. The third item was a Polaroid camera.

The fourth was a piece of polished rock with a hollow full of crystal chips in its center. They caught and flashed gorgeously in the overhead spot, The fifth was a splinter of wood about as long and as thick as one of Brian's forefingers.

He pointed to the crystal. "That's a geode, isn't it?"

"You're a well-educated young man, Brian. That's just what it is.

I have little plaques for most of my items, but they're not unpacked yet-like most of the stock. I'll have to work like the very devil if I'm going to be ready to open tomorrow." But he didn't sound worried at all, and seemed perfectly content to remain where he was.

"What's that one?" Brian asked, pointing at the splinter. He was thinking to himself that this was very odd stock indeed for a smalltown store. He had taken a strong and instant liking to Leland Gaunt, but if the rest of his stuff was like this, Brian didn't think he'd be doing business in Castle Rock for long. If you wanted to sell stuff like pipes and pictures of The King and splinters of wood, New York was the place where you wanted to set up shop... or so he had come to believe from the movies he'd seen, anyway.

"Ah!" Mr. Gaunt said. "That's an interesting item! Let me show it to you!"

He crossed the room, went around the end of the case, pulled a fat ring of keys from his pocket, and selected one with hardly a glance.

He opened the case and took the splinter out carefully.

"Hold out your hand, Brian."

"Gee, maybe I better not," Brian said. As a native of a state where tourism is a major industry, he had been in quite a few gift shops in his time, and he had seen a great many signs with this little poem printed on them: "Lovely to look at / delightful to hold, / but if you break it, then it's sold." He could imagine his mother's horrified reaction if he broke the splinter-or whatever it was-and Mr.

Gaunt, no longer so friendly, told him that its price was five hundred dollars.

"Why ever not?" Mr. Gaunt asked, raising his eyebrows-but there was really only one brow; it was bushy and grew across the top of his nose in an unbroken line.

"Well, I'm pretty clumsy."

"Nonsense," Mr. Gaunt replied. "I know clumsy boys when I see them. You're not one of that breed." He dropped the splinter into Brian's palm. Brian looked at it resting there in some surprise; he hadn't even been aware his palm was open until he saw the splinter resting on it.

It certainly didn't feel like a splinter; it felt more like"It feels like stone," he said dubiously, and raised his eyes to look at Mr. Gaunt.

"Both wood and stone," Mr. Gaunt said. "It's petrified."

"Petrified," Brian marvelled. He looked at the splinter closely, then ran one finger along its side. It was smooth and bumpy at the same time. It was somehow not an entirely pleasant feeling. "It must be old."

"Over two thousand years old," Mr. Gaunt agreed gravely.

"CriPes!" Brian said. He jumped and almost dropped the splinter.

He closed his hand around it in a fist to keep it from falling to the floor... and at once a feeling of oddness and distortion swept over him. He suddenly felt-what? Dizzy? No; not dizzy but far.

As if part of him had been lifted out of his body and swept away.

He could see Mr. Gaunt looking at him with interest and amusement, and Mr. Gaunt's eyes suddenly seemed to grow to the size of tea-saucers. Yet this feeling of disorientation was not frightening; it was rather exciting, and certainly more pleasant than the slick feel of the wood had been to his exploring finger.

"Close your eyes!" Mr. Gaunt invited. "Close your eyes, Brian, and tell me what you feel!"

Brian closed his eyes and stood there for a moment without moving, his right arm held out, the fist at the end of it enclosing the splinter. He did not see Mr. Gaunt's upper lip lift, doglike, over his large, crooked teeth for a moment in what might have been a grimace of pleasure or anticipation. He had a vague sensation of movement-a corkscrewing kind of movement. A sound, quick and light: thudthud... thudthud. thudthud. He knew that sound.

It was"A boat!" he cried, delighted, without opening his eyes.

"I feel like I'm on a boat!"

"Do you indeed," Mr. Gaunt said, and to Brian's ears he sounded impossibly distant.

The sensations intensified; now he felt as if he were going up and down across long, slow waves. He could hear the distant cry of birds, and, closer, the sounds of many animals-cows lowing, roosters crowing, the low, snarling cry of a very big cat-not a sound of rage but an expression of boredom. In that one second he could almost feel wood (the wood of which this splinter had once been a part, he was sure) under his feet, and knew that the feet themselves were not wearing Converse sneakers but some sort of sandals, andThen it was going, dwindling to a tiny bright point, like the light of a TV screen when the power cuts out, and then it was gone. He opened his eyes, shaken and exhilarated.

His hand had curled into such a tight fist around the splinter that he actually had to will his fingers to open, and the joints creaked like rusty door-hinges.

"Hey, boy," he said softly.

"Neat, isn't it?" Mr. Gaunt asked cheerily, and plucked the splinter from Brian's palm with the absent skill of a doctor drawing a splinter from flesh. He returned it to its place and re-locked the cabinet with a flourish.

"Neat," Brian agreed in a long outrush of breath which was almost a sigh. He bent to look at the splinter. His hand still tingled a little where he had held it. Those feelings: the uptilt and downslant of the deck, the thudding of the waves on the hull, the feel of the wood under his feet... those things lingered with him, although he guessed (with a feeling of real sorrow) that they would pass, as dreams pass.

 

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