SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK
Written by Stephen King
Narrated by John Glover

   Class again.

Living with Lit was doing a composition, and most of them were bent sweatily over their papers, putting their thoughts grimly down on the page, as if chopping wood. All but three. Robert Lawson, sitting in Billy Stearns's seat, David Garcia in Kathy Slavin's, Vinnie Corey in Chip Osway's. They sat with their blank papers in front of them, watching him.

A moment before the bell, Jim said softly, “I want to talk to you for a minute after class, Mr. Corey.”

“Sure, Norm.”

Lawson and Garcia tittered noisily, but the rest of the class did not. When the bell rang, they passed in their papers and fairly bolted through the door. Lawson and Garcia lingered, and Jim felt his belly tighten.

Is it going to be now?

Then Lawson nodded at Vinnie. “See you later.”

“Yeah.”

They left. Lawson closed the door, and from beyond the frosted glass, David Garcia suddenly yelled hoarsely, “Norm eats it!” Vinnie looked at the door, then back at Jim. He smiled.

He said, “I was wondering if you'd ever get down to it.”

“Really?” Jim said.

“Scared you the other night in the phone both, right, dad?”

“No one says dad anymore, Vinnie. It's not cool. Like cool's not cool. It's as dead as Buddy Holly.”

“I talk the way I want,” Vinnie said.

“Where's the other one? The guy with the funny red hair.”

“Split, man.” But under his studied unconcern, Jim sensed a wariness.

“He's alive, isn't he? That's why he's not here. He's alive and he's thirty-two or -three, the way you would be if—”

“Bleach was always a drag. He's nothin’.” Vinnie sat up behind his desk and put his hands down flat on the old graffiti. His eyes glittered. “Man, I remember you at that lineup. You looked ready to piss your little old corduroy pants. I seen you lookin’ at me and Davie. I put the hex on you.”

“I suppose you did,” Jim said. “You gave me sixteen years of bad dreams. Wasn't that enough? Why now? Why me?”

Vinnie looked puzzled, and then smiled again. “Because you're unfinished business, man. You got to be cleaned up.”

“Where were you?” Jim asked. “Before.”

Vinnie's lips thinned. “We ain't talkin’ about that. Dig?”

“They dug you a hole, didn't they, Vinnie? Six feet deep. Right in the Milford Cemetery. Six feet of—”

“You shut up!”

He was on his feet. The desk fell over in the aisle.

“It's not going to be easy,” Jim said. “I'm not going to make it easy for you.”

“We're gonna kill you, dad. You'll find out about that hole.”

“Get out of here.”

“Maybe that little wifey of yours, too.”

“You goddamn punk, if you touch her—” He started forward blindly, feeling violated and terrified by the mention of Sally.

Vinnie grinned and started for the door. “Just be cool. Cool as a fool.” He tittered.

“If you touch my wife, I'll kill you.”

Vinnie's grin widened. “Kill me? Man, I thought you knew, I'm already dead.”

He left. His footfalls echoed in the corridor for a long time.

 

“What are you reading, hon?”

Jim held the binding of the book, Raising Demons, out for her to read.

“Yuck.” She turned back to the mirror to check her hair.

“Will you take a taxi home?” he asked.

“It's only four blocks. Besides, the walk is good for my figure.”

“Someone grabbed one of my girls over on Summer Street,” he lied. “She thinks the object was rape.”

“Really? Who?”

“Dianne Snow,” he said, making a name up at random. “She's a levelheaded girl. Treat yourself to a taxi, okay?”

“Okay,” she said. She stopped at his chair, knelt, put her hands on his cheeks and looked into his eyes. “What's the matter, Jim?”

“Nothing.”

“Yes. Something is.”

“Nothing I can't handle.”

“Is it something . . . about your brother?”

A draft of terror blew over him, as if an inner door had been opened. “Why do you say that?”

“You were moaning his name in your sleep last night. Wayne, Wayne, you were saying. Run, Wayne.”

“It's nothing.”

But it wasn't. They both knew it. He watched her go.

Mr. Nell called at quarter past eight. “You don't have to worry about those guys,” he said. “They're all dead.”

“Is that so?” He was holding his place in Raising Demons with his index finger as he talked.

“Car smash. Six months after your brother was killed. A cop was chasing them. Frank Simon was the cop, as a matter of fact. He works out at Sikorsky now. Probably makes a lot more money.”

“And they crashed.”

“The car left the road at more than a hundred miles an hour and hit a main power pole. When they finally got the power shut off and scraped them out, they were cooked medium rare.”

Jim closed his eyes. “You saw the report?”

“Looked at it myself.”

“Anything on the car?”

“It was a hot rod.”

“Any description?”

“Black 1954 Ford sedan with ‘Snake Eyes’ written on the side. Fitting enough. They really crapped out.”

“They had a sidekick, Mr. Nell. I don't know his name, but his nickname was Bleach.”

“That would be Charlie Sponder,” Mr. Nell said without hesitation. “He bleached his hair with Clorox one time. I remember that. It went streaky-white, and he tried to dye it back. The streaks went orange.”

“Do you know what he's doing now?”

“Career army man. Joined up in fifty-eight or -nine, after he got a local girl pregnant.”

“Could I get in touch with him?”

“His mother lives in Stratford. She'd know.”

“Can you give me her address?”

“I won't, Jimmy. Not until you tell me what's eating you.”

“I can't, Mr. Nell. You'd think I was crazy.”

“Try me.”

“I can't.”

“All right, son.”

“Will you—” But the line was dead.

“You bastard,” Jim said, and put the phone in the cradle. It rang under his hand and he jerked away from it as if it had suddenly burned him. He looked at it, breathing heavily. It rang three times, four. He picked it up. Listened. Closed his eyes.

 

A cop pulled him over on his way to the hospital, then went ahead of him, siren screaming. There was a young doctor with a toothbrush mustache in the emergency room. He looked at Jim with dark, emotionless eyes.

“Excuse me, I'm James Norman and—”

“I'm sorry, Mr. Norman. She died at 9:04 P.M.

He was going to faint. The world went far away and swimmy, and there was a high buzzing in his ears. His eyes wandered without purpose, seeing green tiled walls, a wheeled stretcher glittering under the overhead fluorescents, a nurse with her cap on crooked. Time to freshen up, honey. An orderly was leaning against the wall outside Emergency Room No. 1. Wearing dirty whites with a few drops of drying blood splattered across the front. Cleaning his fingernails with a knife. The orderly looked up and grinned into Jim's eyes. The orderly was David Garcia.

Jim fainted.

 

Funeral. Like a dance in three acts. The house. The funeral parlor. The graveyard. Faces coming out of nowhere, whirling close, whirling off into the darkness again. Sally's mother, her eyes streaming tears behind a black veil. Her father, looking shocked and old. Simmons. Others. They introduced themselves and shook his hand. He nodded, not remembering their names. Some of the women brought food, and one lady brought an apple pie and someone ate a piece and when he went out in the kitchen he saw it sitting on the counter, cut wide open and drooling juice into the pie plate like amber blood and he thought: Should have a big scoop of vanilla ice cream right on top.

He felt his hands and legs trembling, wanting to go across to the counter and throw the pie against the wall.

And then they were going and he was watching himself, the way you watch yourself in a home movie, as he shook hands and nodded and said: Thank you . . . Yes, I will. . . Thank you . . . I'm sure she is . . . Thank you . . .

When they were gone, the house was his again. He went over to the mantel. It was cluttered with souvenirs of their marriage. A stuffed dog with jeweled eyes that she had won at Coney Island on their honeymoon. Two leather folders—his diploma from B.U. and hers from U. Mass. A giant pair of styrofoam dice she had given him as a gag after he had dropped sixteen dollars in Pinky Silverstein's poker game a year or so before. A thin china cup she had bought in a Cleveland junk shop last year. In the middle of the mantel, their wedding picture. He turned it over and then sat down in his chair and looked at the blank TV set. An idea began to form behind his eyes.

 

An hour later the phone rang, jolting him out of a light doze. He groped for it.

“You're next, Norm.”

“Vinnie?”

“Man, she was like one of those clay pigeons in a shooting gallery. Wham and splatter.”

“I'll be at the school tonight, Vinnie. Room 33. I'll leave the lights off. It'll be just like the overpass that day. I think I can even provide the train.”

“Just want to end it all, is that right?”

“That's right,” Jim said. “You be there.”

“Maybe.”

“You'll be there,” Jim said, and hung up.

It was almost dark when he got to the school. He parked in his usual slot, opened the back door with his passkey, and went first to the English Department office on the second floor. He let himself in, opened the record cabinet, and began to flip through the records. He paused about halfway through the stack and took out one called Hi-Fi Sound Effects. He turned it over. The third cut on the A side was “Freight Train: 3:04.” He put the album on top of the department's portable stereo and took Raising Demons out of his overcoat pocket. He turned to a marked passage, read something, and nodded. He turned out the lights.

 

Room 33.

He set up the stereo system, stretching the speakers to their widest separation, and then put on the freight-train cut. The sound came swelling up out of nothing until it filled the whole room with the harsh clash of diesel engines and steel on steel.

With his eyes closed, he could almost believe he was under the Broad Street trestle, driven to his knees, watching as the savage little drama worked to its inevitable conclusion . . .

He opened his eyes, rejected the record, then reset it. He sat behind his desk and opened Raising Demons to a chapter entitled “Malefic Spirits and How to Call Them.” His lips moved as he read, and he paused at intervals to take objects out of his pocket and lay them on his desk.

First, an old and creased Kodak of him and his brother, standing on the lawn in front of the Broad Street apartment house where they had lived. They both had identical crew cuts, and both of them were smiling shyly into the camera. Second, a small bottle of blood. He had caught a stray alley cat and slit its throat with his pocketknife. Third, the pocketknife itself. Last, a sweatband ripped from the lining of an old Little League baseball cap. Wayne's cap. Jim had kept it in secret hopes that someday he and Sally would have a son to wear it.

He got up, went to the window, looked out. The parking lot was empty.

He began to push the school desks toward the walls, leaving a rough circle in the middle of the room. When that was done he got chalk from his desk drawer and, following the diagram in the book exactly and using a yardstick, he drew a pentagram on the floor.

His breath was coming harder now. He turned off the lights, gathered his objects in one hand, and began to recite.

“Dark Father, hear me for my soul's sake. I am one who promises sacrifice. I am one who begs a dark boon for sacrifice. I am one who seeks vengeance of the left hand. I bring blood in promise of sacrifice.”

He screwed the cap off the jar, which had originally held peanut butter, and splashed it within the pentagram.

Something happened in the darkened schoolroom. It was not possible to say exactly what, but the air became heavier. There was a thickness in it that seemed to fill the throat and the belly with gray steel. The deep silence grew, swelled with something unseen.

He did as the old rites instructed.

Now there was a feeling in the air that reminded Jim of the time he had taken a class to visit a huge power station—a feeling that the very air was crammed with electric potential and was vibrating. And then a voice, curiously low and unpleasant, spoke to him.

“What do you require?”

He could not tell if he was actually hearing it or only thinking that he did. He spoke two sentences.

“It is a small boon. What do you offer?”

Jim spoke two words.

“Both,” the voice whispered. “Right and left. Agreed?”

“Yes.”

“Then give me what is mine.”

He opened his pocketknife, turned to his desk, laid his right hand down flat, and hacked off his right index finger with four hard chops. Blood flew across the blotter in dark patterns. It didn't hurt at all. He brushed the finger aside and switched the pocketknife to his right hand. Cutting off the left finger was harder. His right hand felt awkward and alien with the missing finger, and the knife kept slipping. At last, with an impatient grunt, he threw the knife away, snapped the bone, and ripped the finger free. He picked them both up like breadsticks and threw them into the pentagram. There was a bright flash of light, like an old-fashioned photographer's flashpowder. No smoke, he noted. No smell of brimstone.

“What objects have you brought?”

“A photograph. A band of cloth that has been dipped in his sweat.”

“Sweat is precious,” the voice remarked, and there was a cold greed in the tone that made Jim shiver. “Give them to me.”

Jim threw them into the pentagram. The light flashed.

“It is good,” the voice said.

“If they come,” Jim said.

There was no response. The voice was gone—if it had ever been there. He leaned closer to the pentagram. The picture was still there, but blackened and charred. The sweatband was gone.

In the street there was a noise, faint at first, then swelling. A hot rod equipped with glasspack mufflers, first turning onto Davis Street, then approaching. Jim sat down, listening to hear if it would go by or turn in.

It turned in.

Footfalls on the stairs, echoing.

Robert Lawson's high-pitched giggle, then someone going “Shhhhh!” and then Lawson's giggle again. The footfalls came closer, lost their echo, and then the glass door at the head of the stairs banged open.

“Yoo-hoo, Normie!” David Garcia called, falsetto.

“You there, Normie?” Lawson whispered, and then giggled. “Vas you dere, Cholly?”

Vinnie didn't speak, but as they advanced up the hall, Jim could see their shadows. Vinnie's was the tallest, and he was holding a long object in one hand. There was a light snick of sound, and the long object became longer still.

They were standing by the door, Vinnie in the middle. They were all holding knives.

“Here we come, man,” Vinnie said softly. “Here we come for your ass.”

Jim turned on the record player.

“Jesus!” Garcia called out, jumping. “What's that?”

The freight train was coming closer. You could almost feel the walls thrumming with it.

The sound no longer seemed to be coming out of the speakers but from down the hall, from down tracks someplace far away in time as well as space.

“I don't like this, man,” Lawson said.

“It's too late,” Vinnie said. He stepped forward and gestured with the knife. “Give us your money, dad.”

. . . let us go . . .

Garcia recoiled. “What the hell—”

But Vinnie never hesitated. He motioned the others to spread out, and the thing in his eyes might have been relief.

“Come on, kid, how much you got?” Garcia asked suddenly.

“Four cents,” Jim said. It was true. He had picked them out of the penny jar in the bedroom. The most recent date was 1956.

“You fuckin’ liar.”

. . . leave him alone . . .

Lawson glanced over his shoulder and his eyes widened. The walls had become misty, insubstantial. The freight train wailed. The light from the parking-lot streetlamp had reddened, like the neon Burrets Building Company sign, stuttering against the twilight sky.

Something was walking out of the pentagram, something with the face of a small boy perhaps twelve years old. A boy with a crew cut.

Garcia darted forward and punched Jim in the mouth. He could smell mixed garlic and pepperoni on his breath. It was all slow and painless.

Jim felt a sudden heaviness, like lead, in his groin, and his bladder let go. He looked down and saw a dark patch appear and spread on his pants.

“Look, Vinnie, he wet himself!” Lawson cried out. The tone was right, but the expression on his face was one of horror—the expression of a puppet that has come to life only to find itself on strings.

“Let him alone,” the Wayne-thing said, but it was not Wayne's voice—it was the cold, greedy voice of the thing from the pentagram. “Run, Jimmy! Run! Run! Run!”

Jim slipped to his knees and a hand slapped down on his back, groping for purchase, and found none.

He looked up and saw Vinnie, his face stretched into a caricature of hatred, drive his knife into the Wayne-thing just below the breastbone . . . and then scream, his face collapsing in on itself, charring, blackening, becoming awful.

Then he was gone.

Garcia and Lawson struck a moment later, writhed, charred, and disappeared.

Jim lay on the floor, breathing harshly. The sound of the freight train faded.

His brother was looking down at him.

“Wayne?” he breathed.

And the face changed. It seemed to melt and run together. The eyes went yellow, and a horrible, grinning malignancy looked out at him.

“I'll come back, Jim,” the cold voice whispered.

And it was gone.

He got up slowly and turned off the record player with one mangled hand. He touched his mouth. It was bleeding from Garcia's punch. He went over and turned on the lights. The room was empty. He looked out into the parking lot and that was empty, too, except for one hubcap that reflected the moon in idiot pantomime. The classroom air smelled old and stale—the atmosphere of tombs. He erased the pentagram on the floor and then began to straighten up the desks for the substitute the next day. His fingers hurt very badly—what fingers? He would have to see a doctor. He closed the door and went downstairs slowly, holding his hands to his chest. Halfway down, something—a shadow, or perhaps only an intuition—made him whirl around.

Something unseen seemed to leap back.

Jim remembered the warning in Raising Demons—the danger involved. You could perhaps summon them, perhaps cause them to do your work. You could even get rid of them.

But sometimes they come back.

He walked down the stairs again, wondering if the nightmare was over after all.


 

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