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Книга The Dead Zone. Содержание - CHAPTER TEN

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“Guinea pig,” Johnny said morosely, staring into the savage point of light.

“Yes. “The light snapped off. “Don't feel so sorry for yourself. Many of the techniques to be employed in your behalf-and some of those already employed-were perfected during the Vietnam war. No shortage of guinea pigs in the V. A. hospitals, nuh? A man like Ruopp is interested in you because you are unique. Here is a man who has slept four-and-a-half years. Can we make him walk again? An interesting problem. He sees the monograph he will write on it for The New England Journal of Medicine. He looks forward to it the way a child looks forward to new toys under the Christmas tree. He does not see you, he does not see Johnny Smith in his pain, Johnny Smith who must take the bedpan and ring for the nurse to scratch if his back itches. That's good. His hands will not shake. Smile, Johnny. This Ruopp looks like a bank clerk, but he is maybe the best surgeon in North America.”

But it was hard for Johnny to smile.

He had read his way dutifully through the tracts his mother had left him. They depressed him and left him frightened all over again for her sanity. One of them, by a man named Salem Kirban, struck him as nearly pagan in its loving contemplation of a bloody apocalypse and the yawning barbecue pits of hell. Another described the coming Antichrist in pulp-horror terms. The others were a dark carnival of craziness: Christ was living under the South Pole, God drove flying saucers, New York was Sodom, L. A. was Gomorrah. They dealt with exorcism, with witches, with all manner of things seen and unseen. It was impossible for him to reconcile the pamphlets with the religious yet earthy woman he had known before his coma.

Three days after the incident involving Weizak's snap-shot of his mother, a slim and dark-haired reporter from the Bangor Daily News named David Bright showed up at the door of Johnny's room and asked if he could have a short interview.

“Have you asked the doctors?” Johnny asked.

Bright grinned. “Actually, no.”

“All right,” Johnny said. “In that case, I'd be happy to talk to you.”

“You're a man after my own heart,” Bright said. He came in and sat down.

His first questions were about the accident and about Johnny's thoughts and feelings upon slipping out of the coma and discovering he had misplaced nearly half a decade. Johnny answered these questions honestly and straightforwardly. Then Bright told him that he had heard from “a source” that Johnny had gained some sort of sixth sense as a result of the accident.

“Are you asking me if I'm psychic?”

Bright smiled and shrugged. “That'll do for a start.”

Johnny had thought carefully about the things Weizak had said. The more he thought, the more it seemed to him that Weizak had done exactly the right thing when he hung up the phone without saying anything. Johnny had begun to associate it in his mind with that W. W. Jacobs story, “The Monkey's Paw”. The paw was for wishing, but the price you paid for each of your three wishes was a black one. The old couple had wished for one hundred pounds and had lost their son in a mill accident-the mill's compensation had come to exactly one hundred pounds. Then the old woman had wished for her son back and he had come-but before she could open the door and see what a horror she had summoned out of its grave, the old man had used the last wish to send it back. As Weizak had said, maybe some things were better lost than found.

“No,” he said. “I'm no more psychic than you are.”

“According to my source, you…

“No, it isn't true.”

Bright smiled a trifle cynically, seemed to debate pressing the matter further, then turned to a fresh page in his notebook. He began to ask about Johnny's prospects for the future, his feelings about the road back, and Johnny also answered these questions as honestly as he could.

“So what are you going to do when you get out of here?” Bright asked, closing his notebook.

“I haven't really thought about that. I'm still trying to adjust to the idea that Gerald Ford is the president.”

Bright laughed. “You're not alone in that, my friend.”

“I suppose I'll go back to teaching. It's all I know. But right now that's too far ahead to think about.”

Bright thanked him for the interview and left. The artide appeared in the paper two days later, the day before his leg surgery. It was on the bottom of the front page, and the headline read: JOHN SMITH, MODERN RIP VAN WINKLE, FACES LONG ROAD BACK.

There were three pictures, one of them Johnny's picture for the Cleaves Mills High School yearbook (it had been taken barely a week before the accident), a picture of Johnny in his hospital bed, looking thin and twisted with his arms and legs in their bent positions. Between these two was a picture of the almost totally demolished taxi, lying on its side like a dead dog. There was no mention in Bright's artide of sixth senses, precognitive powers, or wild talents.

“How did you turn him off the ESP angle?” Weizak asked him that evening.

Johnny shrugged. “He seemed like a nice guy. Maybe he didn't want to stick me with it.”

“Maybe not,” Weizak said. “But he won't forget it. Not if he's a good reporter, and I understand that he is.”

“You understand?”

“I asked around.”

“Looking out for my best interests?”

“We all do what we can, nuh? Are you nervous about tomorrow, Johnny?”

“Not nervous, no. Scared is a more accurate word.”

“Yes, of course you are. I would be.”

“Will you be there?”

“Yes, in the observation section of the operating theater. You won't be able to tell me from the others in my greens, but I will be there.”

“Wear something,” Johnny said. “Wear something so I'll know it's you.”

Weizak looked at him, and smiled. “All right. I'll pin my watch to my tunic.”

“Good,” Johnny said. “What about Dr. Brown? Will he be there?”

“Dr. Brown is in Washington. Tomorrow he will present you to the American Society of Neurologists. I have read his paper. It is quite good. Perhaps overstated.”

“You weren't invited?”

Weizak shrugged. “I don't like to fly. That is something that scares me-”

“And maybe you wanted to stay here?”

Weizak smiled crookedly, spread his hands, and said nothing.

“He doesn't like me much, does he?” Johnny asked. “Dr. Brown?”

“No, not much,” Weizak said. “He thinks you are having us on. Making things up for some reason of your own. Seeking attention, perhaps. Don't judge him solely on that, John. His cast of mind makes it impossible for him to think otherwise. if you feel anything for Jim, feel a little pity. He is a brilliant man, and he will go far. Already he has offers, and someday soon he will fly from these cold north woods and Bangor will see him no more. He will go to Houston or Hawaii or possibly even to Paris. But he is curiously limited. He is a mechanic of the brain. He has cut it to pieces with his scalpel and found no soul. Therefore there is none. Like the Russian astronauts who circled the earth and did not see God. It is the empiricism of the mechanic, and a mechanic is only a child with superior motor control. You must never tell him I said that.”

“No.”

“And now you must rest. Tomorrow you have a long day.

2.

All Johnny saw of the worldfamous Dr. Ruopp during the operation was a pair of thick horn-rimmed glasses and a large wen at the extreme left side of the man's forehead. The rest of him was capped, gowned, and gloved.

Johnny had been given two preop injections, one of demerol and one of atropine, and when he was wheeled in he was as high as a kite. The anesthetist approached with the biggest novocaine needle Johnny had ever seen in his life. He expected that the injection would hurt, and he was not wrong. He was injected between L4 and L5, the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae, high enough up to avoid the cauda equina, that bundle of nerves at the base of the spine that vaguely resembles a horse's tail.

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