This is a terrible letter to have to write, and I will try to keep it short. When you get it, I guess I will probably be dead. An awful thing has happened to me, and I think now that it may have started a long time before the car accident and the coma. You know about the psychic business, of course, and you may remember Mom swearing on her deathbed that God had meant for it to be this way, that God had something for me to do. She asked me not to run from it, and I promised her that I wouldn't-not meaning it seriously, but wanting her mind to be easy. Now it looks as if she was right, in a funny sort of way. I still don't really believe in God, not in a real Being who plans for us and gives us all little jobs to do, like Boy Scouts winning merit badges on The Great Hike of Life. But neither do I believe that all the things that have happened to me are blind chance.
In the summer of 1976, Dad, I went to a Greg Stillson rally in Trim bull, which is in New Hampshire's third district. He was running for the first time then, you may recall. When he was on his way to the speaker's rostrum he shook a lot of hands, and one of them was mine. This is the part you may find hard to believe, even though you have seen the ability in action. l had one of my “flashes”, only this one was no flash, Dad. It was a vision, either in the biblical sense or in something very near it. Oddly enough, it wasn't as clear as some of my other “insights” have been-there was a Puzzling blue glow over every-thing that has never been there before-but it was incredibly powerful. I saw Greg Stillson as president of the United States. How far in the future I can't say, except that he had lost most of his hair. I would say fourteen years, or perhaps eighteen at the most. Now, my ability is to see and not to interpret, and in this case my ability to see was impeded by that funny blue filter, but l saw enough. If Stillson becomes president, he's going to worsen an international situation that is going to be pretty awful to begin with. If Stillson becomes president, he is going to end up precipitating a full-scale nuclear war. I believe that the initial flash point for this war is going to be in South Africa. And I also believe that in the short, bloody course of this war, it's not going to be just two or three nations throwing warheads, but maybe as many as twenty-plus terrorist groups.
Daddy, I know how crazy this must look. It looks crazy to me. But I have no doubts, no urge to look back over my shoulder and try to second-guess this thing into something less real and urgent than it is. You never knew -no one did-but l didn't run away from the Chatsworths because of that restaurant fire. I guess I was running away from Greg Stillson and the thing I am supposed to do. Like Elijah hiding in his cave or Jonah, who ended up in the fish's belly. I thought I would just wait and see, you know. Wait and see if the preconditions for such a horrible future began to come into place. I would probably be waiting still, but in the fall of last year the headaches began to get worse, and there was an incident on the roadcrew I was working with. l guess Keith Strang, the foreman, would remember that…
Excerpt from testimony given before the so-called “Stillson Committee”, chaired by Senator William Cohen of Maine. The questioner is Mr. Norman D. Verizer, the Committee's Chief Counsel. The witness is Mr. Keith Strang, of 1421 Desert Boulevard, Phoenix, Arizona. Date of testimony: August 17, 1979.
Verizer: And at this time, John Smith was in the employ of the Phoenix Public Works Department, was he not?
Strang: Yes, Sir, he was.
V: This was early December of 1978.
S: Yes, Sir.
V: And did something happen on December 7 that you particularly remember? Something concerning John Smith?
S: Yes, Sir. It sure did.
V: Tell the Committee about that, if you would.
S: Well, I had to go back to the central motor pool to get two forty-gallon drums of orange paint. We were lining roads, you understand. Johnny-that's Johnny Smith -was out on Rosemont Avenue on the day you're talking about, putting down new lane markings. Well, I got back out there at approximately four-fifteen-about forty-five minutes before knocking-off time-and this fellow Herman Joellyn that you've already talked to, he comes up to me and says, “You better check on Johnny, Keith. Something's wrong with Johnny. I tried to talk to him and he acted like he didn't hear. He almost run me down. You better get him straight. “That's what he said. So I said, “What's wrong with him, Hermie?” And Hermie says, “Check it out for yourself, there's something offwhack with that dude. “So I drove on up the road, and at first everything was all right, and then-wow!
V: What did you see?
S: Before I saw Johnny, you mean.
V: Yes, that's right.
S: The line he was putting down started to go haywire. Just a little bit at first-a jig here and there, a little bubble-it wasn't perfectly straight, you know. And Johnny had always been the best liner on the whole crew. Then it started to get really bad. It started to go all over the road in these big loops and swirls. Some places it was like he'd gone right round in circles a few times. For about a hundred yards he'd put the stripe right along the dirt shoulder.
V: What did you do?
S: I stopped him. That is, eventually I stopped him. I pulled up right beside the lining machine and started yelling at him. Must have yelled half a dozen times. It was like he didn't hear. Then he swooped that thing toward me and put a helluva ding in the side of the car I was driving. Highway Department Property, too. So I laid on the horn and yelled at him again, and that seemed to get through to him. He threw it in neutral and looked over at me. I asked him what in the name of God he thought he was doing.
V: And what was his response?
S: He said hi. That was all. “Hi, Keith. “Like everything was hunky-dory.
V: And your response was…?
S: My response was pretty blue. I was mad. And Johnny is just standing there, looking all around and holding onto the side of the liner like he would fall down if he let go. That was when I realized how sick he looked. He was always thin, you know, but now he looked as white as paper, and the side of his mouth was kind of… you know… drawn down. At first he didn't even seem to get what I was saying. Then he looked around and saw the way that line was-all over the road.
V: And he said…?
S: Said he was sorry. Then he kind of-I don't know -staggered, and put one hand up to his face. So I asked him what was wrong with him and he said… oh, a lot of confused stuff. It didn't mean anything.
Cohen: Mr. Strang, the Committee is particularly interested in anything Mr. Smith said that might cast a light on this matter. Can you remember what he said?
S: Well, at first he said there was nothing wrong except that it smelled like rubber tires. Tires on fire. Then he said, “That battery will explode if you try to jump it. “And something like, “I got potatoes in the chest and both radios are in the sun. So it's all out for the trees. “That's the best I can remember. Like I say, it was all confused and crazy.
V: What happened then?
S: He started to fall down. So I grabbed him by the shoulder and his hand-he had been holding it against the side of his face-it came away. And I saw his right eye was full of blood. Then he passed out.
V: But he said one more thing before he passed out, did he not?
S: Yes, Sir, he did.
V: And what was that?
S: He said, “We'll worry about Stillson later, Daddy, he's in the dead zone now.”
V: Are you sure that's what he said?
S: Yes, Sir, I am. I'll never forget it.
…and when I woke up I was in the small equipment. shed at the base of Rosemont Drive. Keith said I'd better get to see a doctor right away, and I wasn't to come back to work until I did. I was scared, Dad, but not for the reasons Keith thought,. I guess. Anyway, I made an appointment to see a neurologist that Sam Weizak had mentioned to me in a letter he wrote in early November. You see, I had written to Sam telling him that I was afraid to drive a car because I was having some incidents of double vision. Sam wrote back right away and told me to go see this Dr. Vann-said he considered the symptoms very alarming, but wouldn't presume to diagnose long-distance.
I didn't go right away. I guess your mind can screw you over pretty well, and l kept thinking right up to the incident with the road-lining machine-that it was just a phase I was going through and that it would get better. I guess I just didn't want to think about the alternative. But the road-lining incident was too much. I went, because I was getting scared-not just for myself, because of what I knew.
So I went to see this Dr. Vann, and he gave me the tests, and then he laid it. out for me. It turned out I didn't have as much time as I thought, because…
Excerpt from testimony given before the so-called “Stillson Committee”, chaired by Senator William Cohen of Maine. The questioner is Mr. Norman D. Verizer, the Committee's Chief Counsel. The witness is Dr. Quentin M. Vann, of 17 Parkland Drive, Phoenix, Arizona. Date of testimony: August 22, 1979.
Verizer: After your tests were complete and your diagnosis was complete, you saw John Smith in your office, didn't you?
Vann: Yes. It was a difficult meeting. Such meetings are always difficult.
Ve: Can you give us the substance of what passed between you?
Va: Yes. Under these unusual circumstances, I believe that the doctor-patient relationship may be waived. I began by pointing out to Smith that he had had a terribly frightening experience. He agreed. His right eye was still extremely bloodshot, but it was better. He had ruptured a small capillary. If I may refer to the chart…
(Material deleted and condensed at this point)
Ve: And after making this explanation to Smith?
Va: He asked me for the bottom line. That was his phrase; “the bottom line”. In a quiet way he impressed me with his calmness and his courage.
Ve: And the bottom line was what, Dr. Vann?
Va: Ah? I thought that would be clear by now. John Smith had an extremely well-developed brain tumor in the parietal lobe.
(Disorder among spectators; short recess)
Ve: Doctor, I'm sorry about this interruption. I'd like to remind the spectators that this Committee is in session, and that it is an investigatory body, not a freak-show. I'll have order or I'll have the Sergeant-at-Arms clear the room.
Va: That is quite all right, Mr. Verizer.
Ve: Thank you, Doctor. Can you tell the Committee how Smith took the news?
Va: He was calm. Extraordinarily calm. I believe that in his heart he had formed his own diagnosis, and that his and mine happened to coincide. He said that he was badly scared, however. And he asked me how long he had to live.
Ve: What did you tell him?
Va: I said that at that point such a question was meaningless, because our options were all still open. I told him he would need an operation. I should point out that at this time I had no knowledge of his coma and his extraordinary-almost miraculous-recovery.
Ve: And what was his response?
Va: He said there would be no operation. He was quiet but very, very firm. No operation. I said that I hoped he would reconsider, because to turn such an operation down would be to sign his own death-warrant.
Ve: Did Smith make any response to this?
Va: He asked me to give him my best opinion on how long he could live without such an operation.
Ve: Did you give him your opinion?
Va: I gave him a ballpark estimate, yes. I told. him that tumors have extremely erratic growth patterns, and that I had known patients whose tumors had fallen dormant for as long as two years, but that such a dormancy was quite rare. I told him that without an operation he might reasonably expect to live from eight to twenty months.
Ve: But he still declined the operation, is that right?
Va: Yes, that is so.
Ve: Did something unusual happen as Smith was leaving?
Va: I would say it was extremely unusual.
Ve: Tell the Committee about that, if you would.
Va: I touched his shoulder, meaning to restrain him, I suppose. I was unwilling to see the man leave under those circumstances, you understand. And I felt something coming from him when I did… it was a sensation like an electric shock, but it was also an oddly draining, debilitating sensation. As if he were drawing something from me. I will grant you that this is an extremely subjective description, but it comes from a man trained in the art and craft of professional observation. It was not pleasant, I assure you I… drew away from him… and he suggested I call my wife because Strawberry had hurt himself seriously.
Va: Yes, that's what he said. My wife's brother… his name is Stanbury Richards. My youngest son always called him Uncle Strawberry when he was very small. That association didn't occur until later, by the way. That evening I suggested to my wife that she call her brother, who lives in the town of Goose Lake, New York.
Ve: Did she call him?
Va: Yes, she did. They had a very nice chat.
Ve: And was Mr. Richards-your brother-in-law-was he all right?
Va: Yes, he was fine. But the following week he fell from a ladder while painting his house and broke” his back.
Ve: Dr. Vann, do you believe John Smith saw that happen? Do you believe that he had a precognitive vision concerning your wife's brother?
Va: I don't know. But I believe that it may have been so.
Ve: Thank you, Dr…
Va: May I say one more thing?
Ve: Of course.
Va: If he did have such a curse-yes, I would call it a curse-I hope God will show pity to that man's tortured soul.
and I know, Dad, that people are going to say that I did what I am planning to do because of the tumor, but Daddy, don't believe them. It isn't true. The tumor is only the accident finally catching up with me, the accident which I now believe never stopped happening. The tumor lies in the same area that was injured in the crash, the same area that I now believe was probably bruised when I was a child and took a fall one day while skating on Runaround Pond. That was when I had the first of my “flashes”, although even now I cannot remember exactly what it was. And I had another just before the accident, at the Esty Fair. Ask Sarah about that one; I'm sure she remembers. The tumor lies in that area which I always called “the dead zone”. And that turned out to be right, didn't it? All too bitterly right. God… destiny providence… fate… whatever you want to call it, seems to be reaching out with its steady and unarguable hand to put the scales back in balance again. Perhaps l was meant to die in that car-crash, or even earlier, that day on the Runaround. And I believe that when I've finished what I have to finish, the scales will come completely back into balance again.
Daddy, I love you. The worst thing, next to the belief that the gun is the only way out of this terrible deadlock I find myself in, is knowing that I'll be leaving you behind to bear the grief and hate of those who have no reason to believe Stillson is anything but a good and just man…
Excerpt from testimony given before the so-called “Stillson Committee”, chaired by Senator William Cohen of Maine. The questioner is Mr. Albert Renfrew, the Committee's Deputy Counsel. The witness is Dr. Samuel Weizak, of 26 Harlow Court, Bangor, Maine.
Date of testimony: August 23, 1979.
Renfrew: We are now approaching the hour of adjournment, Dr. Weizak, and on behalf of the Committee, I would like to thank you for the last four long hours of testimony. You have offered a great deal of light on the situation.
Weizak: That is quite all right.
R: I have one final question for you, Dr. Weizak, one which seems to me to be of nearly ultimate importance; it speaks to an issue which John Smith himself raised in the letter to his father which has been entered into evidence. That question is…
R: I beg your pardon?
W: You are preparing to ask me if Johnny's tumor pulled the trigger that day in New Hampshire, are you not?
R: In a manner of speaking, I suppose…
W: The answer is no. Johnny Smith was a thinking, reasoning human being until the end of his life. The letter to his father shows this; his letter to Sarah Hazlett also shows this. He was a man with a terrible, Godlike power perhaps a curse, as my colleague Dr. Vann has called it-but he was neither unhinged nor acting upon fantasies caused by cranial pressure-if such a thing is even possible.
R: But isn't it true that Charles Witman, the so-called “Texas Tower Sniper”, had…
W: Yes, yes, he had a tumor. So did the pilot of the Eastern Airlines airplane that crashed in Florida some years ago. And it has never been suggested that the tumor was a precipitating cause in either case. I would point out to you that other infamous creatures -Richard Speck; the so-called “Son of Sam”, and Adolf Hitler-needed no brain tumors to cause them to act in a homicidal manner. Or Frank Dodd, the murderer Johnny himself uncovered in the town of Castle Rock. However misguided this Committee may find Johnny's act to have been, it was the act of a man who was sane. In great mental agony, perhaps-but sane.
…and most of all, don't believe that I did this without the longest and most agonizing reflection. If by killing him I could be sure that the human race was gaining another four years, another two, even another eight months in which to think it over, it would be worth it. It's wrong, but it may turn out right. I don't know. But I won't play
Hamlet any longer. I know how dangerous Stillson is. Daddy, I love you very much. Believe it.
Excerpt from testimony given before the socalled “Stillson Committee”, chaired by Senator William Cohen of Maine. The questioner is Mr. Albert Renfrew, the Committee's Deputy Counsel. The witness is Mr. Stuart Clawson, of the Blackstrap Road in Jackson, New Hampshire.
Renfrew: And you say you just happened to grab your camera, Mr. Clawson?
Clawson: Yeah! Just as I went out the door. I almost didn't even go that day, even though I like Greg Stillson-well, I did like him before all of this, anyway. The town hall just seemed like a bummer to me, you know?”
R: Because of your driver's exam.
C: You got it. Flunking that permit test was one colossal bummer. But at the end, I said what the hell. And I got the picture. Wow! I got it. That picture's going to make me rich, I guess. Just like the flag-raising on Iwo Jima.
R: I hope you don't get the idea that the entire thing was staged for your benefit, young man.
C: Oh, no! Not at all! I only meant… well… I don't know what I meant. But it happened right in front of me, and… I don't know. Jeez, I was just glad I had my Nikon, that's all.
R: You just snapped the photo when Stillson picked up the child?
C: Matt Robeson, yessir.
R: And this is a blowup of that photo?
C: That's my picture, yes.
R: And after you took it, what happened?
C: Two of those goons ran after me. They were yelling “Give us the camera, kid! Drop it. “Shi-uh, stuff like that.
R: And you ran.
C: Did I run? Holy God, I guess I ran. They chased me almost all the way to the town garage. One of them almost had me, but he slipped on the ice and fell down.
Cohen: Young man, I'd like to suggest that you won the most important footrace of your life when you outran those two thugs.
C: Thank you, Sir. What Stillson did that day… maybe you had to be there, but… holding a little kid in front of you, that's pretty low. I bet the people in New Hampshire wouldn't vote for that guy for dog-catcher. Not for…
R: Thank you, Mr. Clawson. The witness is excused.
Sarah had avoided this trip for a very long time, but now the time had come and it could be put off no longer. She felt that. She had left both children with Mrs. Ablanap-they had house-help now, and two cars instead of the little red Pinto; Walt's income was scraping near thirty thousand dollars a year-and had come by herself to Pownal through the burning blaze of late autumn.
Now she pulled over on the shoulder of a pretty little country road, got out, and crossed to the small cemetery on the other side. A small, tarnished plaque on one of the stone posts announced that this was THE BIRCHES. It was enclosed by a rambling rock wall, and the grounds were neatly kept. A few faded flags remained from Memorial Day five months ago. Soon they would be buried under snow.
She walked slowly, not hurrying, the breeze catching the hem of her dark green skirt and fluttering it. Here were generations of BOWDENS; here was a whole family of MARSTENS; here, grouped around a large marble memorial, were PILLSBURYS going back to 1750.
And near the rear wall, she found a relatively new stone, which read simply JOHN SMITH. Sarah knelt
beside it, hesitated, touched it. She let her fingertips skate thoughtfully over its polished surface.
January 23, 1979
I've just written my father a very important letter, and it took me nearly an hour and a half to work my way through it. I just don't have the energy to repeat the effort, so I am going to suggest that you call him as soon as you receive this, Go do it now, Sarah, before you read the rest of this.
So now, in all probability, you know. I just wanted to tell you that I've been thinking a lot about our date at the Esty Fair just recently. If I had to guess the two things that you remember most about it, I'd guess the run of luck I had on the Wheel of Fortune (remember the kid who kept saying “I love to see this guy take a beatin”?), and the mask I wore to fool you. That was supposed to be a big joke, but you got mad and our date damn near went right down the drain. Maybe if it had, l wouldn't be here now and that taxi driver would still be alive. On the other hand, maybe nothing at all of importance changes in the future, and I would have been handed the same bullet to eat a week or a month or a year later.
Well, we had our chance and it came up on one of the house numbers-double zero, I guess. But I wanted you to know that I think of you, Sarah. For me there really hasn't been anyone else, and that night was the best night for us…
“Hello, Johnny,” she murmured, and the wind walked softly through the trees that burned and blazed; a red leaf flipped its way across the bright blue sky and landed, unnoticed, in her hair. “I'm here. I finally came.”
Speaking out loud should have also seemed wrong, speaking to the dead in a graveyard was the act of a crazy person, she would have said once. But now emotion surprised her, emotion of such force and intensity that it caused her throat to ache and her hands to suddenly clap shut. It was all right to speak to him, maybe; after all, it had been nine years, and this was the end of it. After this there would be Walt and the children and lots of smiles from one of the chairs behind her husband's speaking podium; the endless smiles from the background and an occasional feature article in the Sunday supplements, if Walt's political career skyrocketed as he so calmly expected it to do. The future was a little more gray in her hair each year, never going braless because of the sag, becoming more careful about makeup; the future was exercise classes at the YWCA in Bangor and shopping and taking Denny to the first grade and Janis to nursery school; the future was New Year's Eve parties and funny hats as her life rolled into the science-fictiony decade of the 1980s and also into a queer and almost unsuspected state-middle age.
She saw no county fairs in her future.
The first slow, scalding tears began to come. “Oh, Johnny,” she said. “Everything was supposed to be different, wasn't it? It wasn't supposed to end like this.”
She lowered her head, her throat working painfully -and to no effect. The sobs came anyway, and the bright sunlight broke into prisms of light. The wind, which had seemed so warm and Indian summery, now seemed as chill as February on her wet cheeks.
“Not fair!” she cried into the silence of BOWDENS and MARSTENS and PILLSBURYS, that dead congregation of listeners who testified to nothing more or less than life is quick and dead is dead. “Oh God, not fair!
And that was when the hand touched her neck.
…and that night was the best night for us, although there are still times when it's hard for me to believe there ever was such a year as 1970 and upheaval on the campuses and Nixon was president, no pocket calculators,
no home video tape recorders, no Bruce Springsteen or punk-rock bands either. And at other times it seems like that time is only a handsbreadth away, that I can almost touch it, that if I could put my arms around you or touch your cheek or the back of your neck, I could carry you away with me into a different future with no pain or darkness or bitter choices.
Well, we all do what we can, and it has to be good enough… and if it isn't good enough, it has to do. I only hope that you will think of me as well as you can, dear Sarah. All my best,
and all my love,
She drew her breath in raggedly, her back straightening, her eyes going wide and round. “Johnny…?”
It was gone.
Whatever it had been, it was gone. She stood and turned around and of course there was nothing there. But she could see him standing there, his hands jammed deep into his pockets, that easy, crooked grin on his pleasant-rather-than-handsome face, leaning lanky and at ease against a monument or one of the stone gateposts or maybe just a tree gone red with fall's dying fire. No big deal, Sarah-you still sniffin that wicked cocaine?
Nothing there but Johnny; somewhere near, maybe everywhere.
We all do what we can, and it has to be good enough… and if it isn't good enough, it has to do. Nothing is ever lost, Sarah. Nothing that can't be found.
“Same old Johnny,” she whispered, and walked out of the cemetery and crossed the road. She paused for a moment, looking back. The warm October wind gusted strongly and great shades of light and shadow seemed to pass across the world. The trees rustled secretly.