If It Bleeds Page 1

Author: Stephen King

Genres: Horror , Fiction


My home town was just a village of six hundred or so (and still is, although I have moved away), but we had the Internet just like the big cities, so my father and I got less and less personal mail. Usually all Mr. Nedeau brought was the weekly copy of Time, fliers addressed to Occupant or Our Friendly Neighbors, and the monthly bills. But starting in 2004, the year I turned nine and began working for Mr. Harrigan up the hill, I could count on at least four envelopes hand-addressed to me each year. There was a Valentine’s Day card in February, a birthday card in September, a Thanksgiving Day card in November, and a Christmas card either just before or just after the holiday. Inside each card was a one-dollar scratch ticket from the Maine State Lottery, and the signature was always the same: Good Wishes from Mr. Harrigan. Simple and formal.

My father’s reaction was always the same, too: a laugh and a good-natured roll of the eyes.

“He’s a cheapster,” Dad said one day. This might have been when I was eleven, a couple of years after the cards began arriving. “Pays you cheap wages and gives you a cheap bonus—Lucky Devil tickets from Howie’s.”

I pointed out that one of those four scratchers usually paid off a couple of bucks. When that happened, Dad collected for me at Howie’s, because minors weren’t supposed to play the lottery, even if the tickets were freebies. Once, when I hit it big and won five dollars, I asked Dad to buy me five more dollar scratch-offs. He refused, saying if he fed my gambling addiction, my mother would roll over in her grave.

“Harrigan doing it is bad enough,” Dad said. “Besides, he should be paying you seven dollars an hour. Maybe even eight. God knows he could afford it. Five an hour may be legal, since you’re just a kid, but some would consider it child abuse.”

“I like working for him,” I said. “And I like him, Dad.”

“I understand that,” he said, “and it’s not like reading to him and weeding his flower garden makes you a twenty-first-century Oliver Twist, but he’s still a cheapster. I’m surprised he’s willing to spring for postage to mail those cards, when it can’t be more than a quarter of a mile from his mailbox to ours.”

We were on our front porch when we had this conversation, drinking glasses of Sprite, and Dad cocked a thumb up our road (dirt, like most of them in Harlow) to Mr. Harrigan’s house. Which was really a mansion, complete with an indoor pool, a conservatory, a glass elevator that I absolutely loved to ride in, and a greenhouse out back where there used to be a dairy barn (before my time, but Dad remembered it well).

“You know how bad his arthritis is,” I said. “Now he uses two canes instead of one sometimes. Walking down here would about kill him.”

“Then he could just hand the damn greeting cards to you,” Dad said. There was no bite to his words; he was mostly just teasing. He and Mr. Harrigan got along all right. My dad got on all right with everyone in Harlow. I suppose that’s what made him a good salesman. “God knows you’re up there enough.”

“It wouldn’t be the same,” I said.

“No? Why not?”

I couldn’t explain. I had plenty of vocabulary, thanks to all the reading I did, but not much life experience. I just knew I liked getting those cards, looked forward to them, and to the lottery ticket I always scratched off with my lucky dime, and to the signature in his old-fashioned cursive: Good Wishes from Mr. Harrigan. Looking back, the word ceremonial comes to mind. It was like how Mr. Harrigan always wore one of his scrawny black ties when he and I drove to town, even though he’d mostly just sit behind the wheel of his sensible Ford sedan reading the Financial Times while I went into the IGA and got the things on his shopping list. There was always corned beef hash on that list, and a dozen eggs. Mr. Harrigan sometimes opined that a man could live perfectly well on eggs and corned beef hash once he had reached a certain age. When I asked him what that age would be, he said sixty-eight.

“When a man turns sixty-eight,” he said, “he no longer needs vitamins.”


“No,” he said. “I only say that to justify my bad eating habits. Did you or did you not order satellite radio for this car, Craig?”

“I did.” On Dad’s home computer, because Mr. Harrigan didn’t have one.

“Then where is it? All I can get is that damn windbag Limbaugh.”

I showed him how to get to the XM radio. He turned the knob past a hundred or so stations until he found one specializing in country. It was playing “Stand By Your Man.”

That song still gives me the chills, and I suppose it always will.


* * *


On that day in my eleventh year, as my dad and I sat drinking our Sprites and looking up at the big house (which was exactly what Harlowites called it: the Big House, as if it were Shawshank Prison), I said, “Getting snail-mail is cool.”

Dad did his eye-roll thing. “Email is cool. And cellular phones. Those things seem like miracles to me. You’re too young to understand. If you’d grown up with nothing but a party line and four other houses on it—including Mrs. Edelson, who never shut up—you might feel differently.”

“When can I have a cell phone?” This was a question I’d asked a lot that year, more frequently after the first iPhones went on sale.

“When I decide you’re old enough.”

“Whatever, Dad.” It was my turn to roll my eyes, which made him laugh. Then he grew serious.

“Do you understand how rich John Harrigan is?”

I shrugged. “I know he used to own mills.”

“He owned a lot more than mills. Until he retired, he was the grand high poobah of a company called Oak Enterprises. It owned a shipping line, shopping centers, a chain of movie theaters, a telecom company, I don’t know whatall else. When it came to the Big Board, Oak was one of the biggest.”

“What’s the Big Board?”

“Stock market. Gambling for rich people. When Harrigan sold out, the deal wasn’t just in the business section of the New York Times, it was on the front page. That guy who drives a six-year-old Ford, lives at the end of a dirt road, pays you five bucks an hour, and sends you a dollar scratch ticket four times a year is sitting on better than a billion dollars.” Dad grinned. “And my worst suit, the one your mother would make me give to the Goodwill if she was still alive, is better than the one he wears to church.”

I found all of this interesting, especially the idea that Mr. Harrigan, who didn’t own a laptop or even a TV, had once owned a telecom company and movie theaters. I bet he never even went to the movies. He was what my dad called a Luddite, meaning (among other things) a guy who doesn’t like gadgets. The satellite radio was an exception, because he liked country music and hated all the ads on WOXO, which was the only c&w station his car radio could pull in.

“Do you know how much a billion is, Craig?”

“A hundred million, right?”

“Try a thousand million.”

“Wow,” I said, but only because a wow seemed called for. I understood five bucks, and I understood five hundred, the price of a used motor scooter for sale on the Deep Cut Road that I dreamed of owning (good luck there), and I had a theoretical understanding of five thousand, which was about what my dad made each month as a salesman at Parmeleau Tractors and Heavy Machinery in Gates Falls. Dad was always getting his picture on the wall as Salesman of the Month. He claimed that was no big deal, but I knew better. When he got Salesman of the Month, we went to dinner at Marcel’s, the fancy French restaurant in Castle Rock.