The Green Mile
by Stephen King


“No you fool!” Brutal yelled, but Percy paid no attention. Just as Mr. Jingles reached the spool - too intent on it to realize his old enemy was at hand - Percy brought the sole of one hard black workshoe down on him. There was an audible snap as Mr. Jingles's back broke, and blood gushed from his mouth. His tiny black eyes bulged in their sockets, and in them I read an expression of surprised agony that was all too human.

Delacroix screamed with horror and grief. He threw himself at the door of his cell and thrust his arms out through the bars, reaching as far as he could, crying the mouse's name over and over.

Percy turned toward him, smiling. Toward me and Brutal, as well. “There,” he said. “I knew I'd get him, sooner or later. just a matter of time, really.” He turned and walked back up the Green Mile, leaving Mr. Jingles lying on the linoleum, his spreading blood red over green.

Dean got up from the duty desk, hitting the side of it with his knee and knocking the cribbage board to the floor. The pegs spilled out of their holes and rolled in all directions. Neither Dean nor Harry, who had been just about to go out, paid the slightest attention to the overturn of the game. “What'd you do this time?” Dean shouted at Percy. “What the hell'd you do this time, you stoopnagel?”

Percy didn't answer. He strode past the desk without saying a word, patting his hair with his fingers. He went through my office and into the storage shed. William Wharton answered for him. “Boss Dean? I think what he did was teach a certain french-fry it ain't smart to laugh at him,” he said, and then began to laugh himself. It was a good laugh, a country laugh, cheery and deep. There were people I met during that period of my life (very scary people, for the most part) who only sounded normal when they laughed. Wild Bill Wharton was one of those.

I looked down at the mouse again, stunned. It was still breathing, but there were little minute beads of blood caught in the filaments of its whiskers, and a dull glaze was creeping over its previously brilliant oildrop eyes. Brutal picked up the colored spool, looked at it, then looked at me. He looked as dumbfounded as I felt. Behind us, Delacroix went on screaming out his grief and horror. It wasn't just the mouse, of course; Percy had smashed a hole in Delacroix's defenses and all his terror was pouring out. But Mr. Jingles was the focusing point for those pent-up feelings, and it was terrible to listen to him.

“Oh no,” he cried over and over again, amid the screams and the garbled pleas and prayers in Cajun French. “Oh no, oh no, poor Mr. Jingles, poor old Mr. Jingles, oh no.”

“Give im to me.”

I looked up, puzzled by that deep voice, at first not sure who it belonged to. I saw John Coffey. Like Delacroix, he had put his arms through the bars of his cell door, but unlike Del, he wasn't waving them around. He simply held them out as far as he could, the hands at the ends of them open. It was a purposeful pose, an almost urgent pose. And his voice, had the same quality, which was why, I suppose, I didn't recognize it as belonging to Coffey at first. He seemed a different man from the lost, weepy soul that had occupied this cell for the last few weeks.

“Give im to me, Mr. Edgecombe! While there's still time!”

Then I remembered what he'd done for me, and understood. I supposed it couldn't hurt, but I didn't think it would do much good, either. When I picked the mouse up, I winced at the feel-there were so many splintered bones poking at various spots on Mr. Jingles's hide that it was like picking up a fur-covered pincushion. This was no urinary infection. Still -

“What are you doing?” Brutal asked as I put Mr. Jingles in Coffey's huge right hand. “What the hell?”

Coffey pulled the mouse back through the bars. He lay limp on Coffey's palm, tail hanging over the arc between Coffey's thumb and first finger, the tip twitching weakly in midair. Then Coffey covered his right hand with his left, creating a kind of cup in which the mouse lay. We could no longer see Mr. Jingles himself, only the tail, hanging down and twitching at the tip like a dying pendulum. Coffey lifted his hands toward his face, spreading the fingers of the right as he did so, creating spaces like those between prison bars. The tail of the mouse now hung from the side of his hands that was facing us.

Brutal stepped next to me, still holding the colored spool between his fingers. “What's he think he's doing?”

“Shh,” I said.

Delacroix had stopped screaming. “Please, John,” he whispered. “Oh Johnny, help him, please help him, oh s'il vous plait.”

Dean and Harry joined us, Harry with our old deck of Airplane cards still in one hand. “What's going on?” Dean asked, but I only shook my head. I was feeling hypnotized again, damned if I wasn't.

Coffey put his mouth between two of his fingers and inhaled sharply. For a moment everything hung suspended. Then he raised his head away from his hands and I saw the face of a man who looked desperately sick, or in terrible pain. His eyes were sharp and blazing; his upper teeth bit at his full lower lip; his dark face had faded to an unpleasant color that looked like ash stirred into mud. He made a choked sound way back in his throat.

“Dear Jesus Lord and Savior,” Brutal whispered. His eyes appeared to be in danger of dropping right out of his face.

“What?” Harry almost barked. “What?”

“The tail! Don't you see it? The tail!”

Mr. Jingles's tail was no longer a dying pendulum; it was snapping briskly from side to side, like the tail of a cat in a bird-catching mood. And then, from inside Coffey's cupped hands, came a perfectly familiar squeak.

Coffey made that choking, gagging sound again, then turned his head to one side like a man that has coughed up a wad of phlegm and means to spit it out. Instead, he exhaled a cloud of black insects - I think they were insects, and the others said the same, but to this day I am not sure - from his mouth and nose. They boiled around him in a dark cloud that temporarily obscured his features.

“Christ, what're those?” Dean asked in a shrill, scared voice.

“It's all right,” I heard myself say. “Don't panic, it's all right, in a few seconds they'll be gone.”

As when Coffey had cured my urinary infection for me, the “bugs” turned white and then disappeared.

“Holy shit,” Harry whispered.

“Paul?” Brutal asked in an unsteady voice. “Paul?”

Coffey looked okay again - like a fellow who has successfully coughed up a wad of meat that has been choking him. He bent down, put his cupped hands on the floor, peeked through his fingers, then opened them. Mr. Jingles, absolutely all right-not a single twist to his backbone, not a single lump poking at his hide - ran out. He paused for a moment at the door of Coffey's cell, then ran across the Green Mile to Delacroix's cell. As he went, I noticed there were still beads of blood in his whiskers.

Delacroix gathered him up, laughing and crying at the same time, covering the mouse with shameless, smacking kisses. Dean and Harry and Brutal watched with silent wonder. Then Brutal stepped forward and handed the colored spool through the bars. Delacroix didn't see it at first; he was too taken up with Mr. Jingles. He was like a father whose son has been saved from drowning. Brutal tapped him on the shoulder with the spool. Delacroix looked, saw it, took it, and went back to Mr. Jingles again, stroking his fur and devouring him with his eyes, needing to constantly refresh his perception that yes, the mouse was all right, the mouse was whole and fine and all right.

“Toss it,” Brutal said. “I want to see how he runs.”

“He all right, Boss Howell, he all right, praise God--!”

“Toss it,” Brutal repeated. “Mind me, Del.”

Delacroix bent, clearly reluctant, clearly not wanting to let Mr. Jingles out of his hands again, at least not yet. Then, very gently, he tossed the spool. It rolled across the cell, past the Corona cigar box, and to the wall. Mr. Jingles was after it, but not quite with the speed he had shown previously. He appeared to be limping just a bit on his left rear leg, and that was what struck me the hardest - it was, I suppose, what made it real. That little limp.

He got to the spool, though, got to it just fine and nosed it back to Delacroix with all his old enthusiasm. I turned to John Coffey, who was standing at his cell door and smiling. It was a tired smile, and not what I'd call really happy, but the sharp urgency I'd seen in his face as he begged for the mouse to be given to him was gone, and so was the look of pain and fear, as if he were choking. It was our john Coffey again, with his not-quite-there face and strange, far-looking eyes.

“You helped it,” I said. “Didn't you, big boy?”

“That's right,” Coffey said. The smile widened a little, and for a moment or two it was happy. “I helped it. I helped Del's mouse. I helped ...” He trailed off, unable to remember the name.

“Mr. Jingles,” Dean said. He was looking at John with careful, wondering eyes, as if he expected Coffey to burst into flames or maybe begin to float in his cell.

“That's right,” Coffey said. “Mr. Jingles. He's a circus mouse. Goan live in ivy-glass.”

“You bet your bobcat,” Harry said, joining us in looking at John Coffey. Behind us, Delacroix lay down on his bunk with Mr. Jingles on his chest. Del was crooning to him, singing him some French song that sounded like a lullaby.

Coffey looked up the Green Mile toward the duty desk and the door which led into my office and the storage room beyond. “Boss Percy's bad,” he said. “Boss Percy's mean. He stepped on Del's mouse. He stepped on Mr. Jingles.”

And then, before we could say anything else to him - if we could have thought of anything to say - John Coffey went back to his bunk, lay down, and rolled on his side to face the wall.