The Green Mile
by Stephen King


That was logical but wrong. The mouse was back the very next evening, which just happened to be the first of Percy Wetmore's two nights off before he slid over to the graveyard shift.

Steamboat Willy showed up around seven o'clock. I was there to see his reappearance; so was Dean. Harry Terwilliger, too. Harry was on the desk. I was technically on days, but had stuck around to spend an extra hour with The Chief, whose time was getting close by then. Bitterbuck was stoical on the outside, in the tradition of his tribe, but I could see his fear of the end growing inside him like a poison flower. So we talked. You could talk to them in the daytime but it wasn't so good, with the shouts and conversation (not to mention the occasional fist-fight) coming from the exercise yard, the chonk-chonk-chonk of the stamping machines in the plate-shop, the occasional yell of a guard for someone to put down that pick or grab up that hoe or just to get your ass over here, Harvey. After four it got a little better, and after six it got better still. Six to eight was the optimum time. After that you could see the long thoughts starting to steal over their minds again - in their eyes you could see it, like afternoon shadows and it was best to stop. They still heard what you were saying, but it no longer made sense to them. Past eight they were getting ready for the watches of the night and imagining how the cap would feel when it was clamped to the tops of their heads, and how the air would smell inside the black bag which had been rolled down over their sweaty faces.

But I got The Chief at a good time. He told me about his first wife, and how they had built a lodge together up in Montana. Those had been the happiest days of his life, he said. The water was so pure and so cold that it felt like your mouth was cut every time you drank.

“Hey, Mr. Edgecombe,” he said. “You think, if a man he sincerely repent of what he done wrong, he might get to go back to the time that was happiest for him and live there forever? Could that be what heaven is like?”

“I've just about believed that very thing,” I said, which was a he I didn't regret in the least. I had learned of matters eternal at my mother's pretty knee, and what I believed is what the Good Book says about murderers: that there is no eternal life in them. I think they go straight to hell, where they burn in torment until God finally gives Gabriel the nod to blow the Judgment Trump. When he does, they'll wink out ... and probably glad to go they will be. But I never gave a hint of such beliefs to Bitterbuck, or to any of them. I think in their hearts they knew it. Where is your brother, his blood crieth to me from the ground, God said to Cain, and I doubt if the words were much of a surprise to that particular problem-child; I bet he heard Abel's blood whining out of the earth at him with each step he took.

The Chief was smiling when I left, perhaps thinking about his lodge in Montana and his wife lying bare-breasted in the light of the fire. He would be walking in a warmer fire soon, I had no doubt.

I went back up the corridor, and Dean told me about his set-to with Percy the previous night. I think he'd waited around just so he could, and I listened carefully. I always listened carefully when the subject was Percy, because I agreed with Dean a hundred per cent - I thought Percy was the sort of man who could cause a lot of trouble, as much for the rest of us as for himself.

As Dean was finishing, old Toot-Toot came by with his red snack-wagon, which was covered with handlettered Bible quotes (“REPENT for the LORD shall judge his people,” Deut. 32:36, “And surely your BLOOD of your lives will I require,” Gen. 9:5, and similar cheery, uplifting sentiments), and sold us some sandwiches and pops. Dean was hunting for change in his pocket and saying that we wouldn't see Steamboat Willy anymore, that goddam Percy Wetmore had scared him off for good, when old Toot-Toot said, 'What's that'ere, then?"

We looked, and here came the mouse of the hour his ownself, hopping up the middle of the Green Mile. He'd come a little way; then stop, look around with his bright little oildrop eyes, then come on again.

“Hey, mouse!” The Chief said, and the mouse stopped and looked at him, whiskers twitching. I tell you, it was exactly as if the damned thing knew it had been called. “You some kind of spirit guide?”

Bitterbuck tossed the mouse a little morsel of cheese from his supper. It landed right in front of the mouse, but Steamboat Willy hardly even glanced at it, just came on his way again, up the Green Mile, looking in empty cells.

“Boss Edgecombe!” The. President called. “Do you think that little bastard knows Wetmore isn't here? I do, by God!”

I felt about the same ... but I wasn't going to say so out loud.

Harry came out into the hall, hitching up his pants the way he always did after he'd spent a refreshing few minutes in the can, and stood there with his eyes wide. Toot-Toot was also staring, a sunken grin doing unpleasant things to the soft and toothless lower half of his face.

The mouse stopped in what was becoming its usual spot, curled its tail around its paws, and looked at us. Again I was reminded of pictures I had seen of judges passing sentence on hapless prisoners ... yet, had there ever been a prisoner as small and unafraid as this one? Not that it really was a prisoner, of course; it could come and go pretty much as it pleased. Yet the idea would not leave my mind, and it again occurred to me that most of us would feel that small when approaching God's judgment seat after our lives were over, but very few of us would be able to look so unafraid.

“Well, I swear,” Old Toot-Toot said. “There he sits, big as Billy-Be-Frigged.”

“You ain't seen nothing yet, Toot,” Harry said. “atch this.” He reached into his breast pocket and came out with a slice of cinnamon apple wrapped in waxed paper. He broke off the end and tossed it on the floor. It was dry and hard and I thought it would bounce right past the mouse, but it reached out one paw, as carelessly as a man swatting at a fly to pass the time, and batted it flat. We all laughed in admiration and surprise, an outburst of sound that should have sent the mouse skittering, but it barely twitched. It picked up the piece of dried apple in its paws, gave it a couple of licks, then dropped it and looked up at us as if to say, Not bad, what else do you have?

Toot-Toot opened his cart, took out a sandwich, unwrapped it, and tore off a scrap of bologna.

“Don't bother,” Dean said.

'What do you mean?“ Toot-Toot asked. ”Ain't a mouse alive'd pass up bologna if he could get it. You a crazy guy!"

But I knew Dean was right, and I could see by Harry's face that he knew it, too. There were floaters and there were regulars. Somehow, that mouse seemed to know the difference. Nuts, but true.

Old Toot-Toot tossed the scrap of bologna down, and sure enough, the mouse wouldn't have a thing to do with it; sniffed it once and then backed off a pace.

“I'll be a goddamned son of a bitch,” Old Toot-Toot said, sounding offended.

I held out my hand. “Give it to me.”

“What - same sammitch?”

“Same one. I'll pay for it.”

Toot-Toot handed it over. I lifted the top slice of bread, tore off another sliver of meat, and dropped it over the front of the duty desk. The mouse came forward at once. picked it up in its paws, and began to eat. The bologna was gone before you could say Jack Robinson.

“I'll be goddamned!” Toot-Toot cried. “Bloody hell! Gimme dat!”

He snatched back the sandwich, tore off a much larger piece of meat - not a scrap this time but a flap - and dropped it so close to the mouse that Steamboat Willy almost ended up wearing it for a hat. It drew back again, sniffed (surely no mouse ever hit such a jackpot during the Depression - not in our state, at least), and then looked up at us.

“Go on, eat it!” Toot-Toot said, sounding more offended than ever. “What's wrong witchoo?”

Dean took the sandwich and dropped a piece of meat - by then it was like some strange communion service. The mouse picked it up at once and bolted it down. Then it turned and went back down the corridor to the restraint room, pausing along the way to peer into a couple of empty cells and to take a brief investigatory tour of a third. Once again the idea that it was looking for someone occurred to me, and this time I dismissed the thought more slowly.

“I'm not going to talk about this,” Harry said. He sounded as if he was half-joking, half-not. “First of all, nobody'd care. Second, they wouldn't believe me if they did.”

“He only ate from you fellas,” Toot-Toot said. He shook his head in disbelief, then bent laboriously over, picked up what the mouse had disdained, and popped it into his own toothless maw, where he be gan the job of gumming it into submission. “Now why he do dat?”

“I've got a better one,” Harry said. “How'd he know Percy was off?”

“He didn't,” I said. “It was just coincidence, that mouse showing up tonight.”

Except that got harder and harder to believe as the days went by and the mouse showed up only when Percy was off, on another shift, or in another part of the prison. We - Harry, Dean, Brutal, and me - decided that it must know Percy's voice, or his smell.

We carefully avoided too much discussion about the mouse itself - himself. That, we seemed to have decided without saying a word, might go a long way toward spoiling something that was special, and beautiful, by virtue of its strangeness and delicacy. Willy had chosen us, after all, in some way I do not understand, even now. Maybe Harry came closest when he said it would do no good to tell other people, not just because they wouldn't believe but because they wouldn't care.