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Книга The Dead Zone. Содержание - CHAPTER ONE

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He kept telling himself that he wasn't Bremmer, that Stilison wasn't an obsession, but that got harder to believe after the long afternoons at the UNH library, searching through old newspapers and magazines and feeding dimes into the photocopier. It got harder to believe on the nights he burned the midnight oil, writing out his thoughts and trying to make valid connections. It grew well-nigh impossible to believe on those graveyard-ditch three A. M. “s when he woke up sweating from the recurring nightmare.

The nightmare was nearly always the same, a naked replay of his handshake with Stillson at the Trimbull rally. The sudden blackness. The feeling of being in a tunnel filled with the glare of the onrushing headlight, a head-light bolted to some black engine of doom. The old man with the humble, frightened eyes administering an unthinkable oath of office. The nuances of feeling, coming and going like tight puffs of smoke. And a series of brief images, strung together in a flapping row like the plastic pennants over a used-car dealer's lot. His mind whispered to him that these images were all related, that they told a picture-story of a titanic approaching doom, perhaps even the Armageddon of which Vera Smith had been so endlessly confident.

But what were the images? What were they exactly? They were hazy, impossible to see except in vague outline, because there was always that puzzling blue filter between, the blue filter that was sometimes cut by those yellow markings like tiger stripes.

The only clear image in these dream-replays came near the end: the screams of the dying, the smell of the dead. And a single tiger padding through miles of twisted metal, fused glass, and scorched earth. This tiger was always laughing, and it seemed to be carrying something in its mouth-something blue and yellow and dripping blood.

There had been times in the fall when he thought that dream would send him mad. Ridiculous dream; the possibility it seemed to point to was impossible, after all. Best to drive it totally out of his mind.

But because he couldn't, he researched Gregory Still-son and tried to tell himself it was only a harmless hobby and not a dangerous obsession.

Stillson had been born in Tulsa. His father had been an oil-field roughneck who drifted from job to job, working more often than some of his colleagues because of his tremendous size. His mother might once have been pretty, although there was only a hint of that in the two pictures that Johnny had been able to unearth. If she had been, the times and the man she had been married to had dimmed her prettiness quickly. The pictures showed little more than another dustbowl face, a southeast United States depression woman who was wearing a faded print dress and holding a baby-Greg-in her scrawny arms, and squinting into the sun.

His father had been a domineering man who didn't think much of his son. As a child, Greg had been pallid and sickly. There was no evidence that his father had abused the boy either mentally or physically, but there was the suggestion that at the very least, Greg Stillson had lived in a disapproving shadow for the first nine years of his life. The one picture Johnny had of the father and son t6gether was a happy one, however; it showed them together in the oil fields, the father's arm slung around the son's neck in a careless gesture of comradeship. But it gave Johnny a little chill all the same. Harry” Stilison was dressed in working clothes, twill pants and a double-breasted khaki shirt, and his hard hat was cocked jauntily back on his head.

Greg had begun school in Tulsa, then had been switched to Oklahoma City when he was ten. The previous summer his father had been killed in an oil-derrick flameout. Mary Lou Stillson had gone to Okie City with her boy because it was where her mother lived, and where the war work was. It was 1942, and good times had come around again.

Greg's grades had been good until high school, and then he began to get into a series of scrapes. Truancy, fighting, hustling snooker downtown, maybe hustling stolen goods uptown, although that had never been proved. In 1949, when he had been a high-school junior, he had pulled a two-day suspension for putting a cherry'-bomb fire-cracker in a locker-room toilet.

In all of these confrontations with authority, Mary Lou Stillson took her son's part. The good times-at least for the likes of the Stillsons-had ended with the war work in 1945, and Mrs. Stillson seemed to think of it as a case of her and her boy against the rest of the world. Her mother had died, leaving her the small frame house and nothing else. She hustled drinks in a roughneck bar for a while, then waited table in an all-light beanery. And when her boy got in trouble, she went to bat for him, never checking (apparently) to see if his hands were dirty or clean.

The pale sickly boy that his father had nicknamed Runt was gone by 1949. As Greg Stillson's adolescence progressed, his father's physical legacy came out. The boy shot up six inches and put on seventy pounds between thirteen and seventeen. He did not play organized school sports but somehow managed to acquire a Charles Atlas bodybuilding gym and then a set of weights. The Runt became a bad guy to mess with.

Johnny guessed he must have come close to dropping out of school on dozens of occasions. He had probably avoided a bust out of sheer dumb luck. If only he had taken at least one serious bust, Johnny thought often. It would have ended all these stupid worries, because a convicted felon can't aspire to high public office.

Stillson had graduated-near the bottom of his class, it was true-in June. 1951. Grades notwithstanding, there was nothing wrong with his brains. His eye was on the main chance. He had a glib tongue and a winning manner. He worked briefly that summer as a gas jockey. Then, in August of that year, Greg Stillson had gotten Jesus at a tent-revival in Wildwood Green. He quit his job at the 76 station and went into business as a rainmaker “through the power of Jesus Christ our Lord”.

Coincidentally or otherwise, that had been one of the driest summers in Oklahoma since the days of the dust bowl. The crops were already a dead loss, and the livestock would soon follow if the shallowing wells went dry. Greg had been invited to a meeting of the local ranchers association. Johnny had found a great many stories about what had followed; it was one of the high points of Stillson's career. None of these Stories completely jibed, and Johnny could understand why. It had all the attributes of an American myth, not much different from some of the stories about Davy Crockett, Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan. That something had happened was undeniable. But the strict truth of it was already beyond reach.

One thing seemed sure. That meeting of the ranchers” association must have been one of the strangest ever held. The ranchers had invited over two dozen rainmakers from various parts of the southeast and southwest. About half of them were Negroes. Two were Indians-a half-breed Pawnee and a full-blooded Apache. There was a peyote-chewing Mexican. Greg was one of about nine white fellows, and the only home-town boy.

The ranchers heard the proposals of the rainmakers and dowsers one by one. They gradually and naturally divided themselves into two groups: those who would take half of their fee up front (nonrefundable) and those who wanted their entire fee up front (nonrefundable).

When Greg Stillson's turn came, he stood up, hooked his thumbs into the belt loops of his jeans, and was supposed to have said: “I guess you fellows know I got in the way of being able to make it rain after I gave my heart to Jesus. Before that I was deep in sin and the ways of sin. Now one of the main ways of sin is the way we've seen tonight, and you spell that kind of sinning mostly with dollar signs.”

The ranchers were interested. Even at nineteen Stillson had been something of a comic spellbinder. And he had made them an offer they couldn't refuse. Because he was a born-again Christian and because he knew that the love of money was the root of all evil, he would make it rain and afterward they could pay him whatever they thought the job had been worth.

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