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Needful Things
Author: Stephen King




Ladies and gentlemen, attention, please!

Come in close where everyone can see!

I got a tale to tell, it isn't gonna cost a dime!

(And if you believe that, we're gonna get along just fine.)

-Steve Earle "Snake Oil"

I have heard of many going astray even in the village streets, when the darkness was so thick you could cut it with a knife, as the saying is...

-Henry David Thoreau Walden


Sure you have. Sure. I never forget a face.

Come on over here, let me shake your hand! Tell you something: I recognized you by the way you walk even before I saw your face good.

You couldn't have picked a better day to come back to Castle Rock.

Ain't she a corker? Hunting season will be starting up soon, fools out in the woods bangin away at anything that moves and don't wear blaze orange, and then comes the snow and sleet, but all that's for later.

Right now it's October, and in The Rock we let October stay just as long as she wants to.

As far as I'm concerned, it's the best time of year. Spring's nice here, but I'll take October over May every time. Western Maine's a part of the state that's mostly forgotten once the summer has run away and all those people with their cottages on the lake and up on the View have gone back to New York and Massachusetts.

People here watch them come and go every year-hello, hello, hello; goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. It's good when they come, because they bring their city dollars, but it's good when they go, because they bring their city aggravations, too.

It's aggravations I mostly want to talk about-can you sit a spell with me? Over here on the steps of the bandstand will be fine. The sun's warm and from here, spang in the middle of the Town Common, we can see just about all of downtown. You want to mind the splinters, that's all. The steps need to be sanded off and then repainted. It's Hugh Priest's job, but Hugh ain't got around to it yet. He drinks, you know. It ain't much of a secret. Secrets can and are kept in Castle Rock, but you have to work mighty hard to do it, and most of us know it's been a long time since Hugh Priest and hard work were on good terms.

What was that?

Oh! That! Say, boy-ain't that a piece of work? Them fliers is up all over town! I think Wanda Hemphill (her husband, Don, runs Hemphill's Market) put most of em up all by herself. Pull it off the post and hand it to me. Don't be shy-no one's got any business stickin up fliers on the Town Common bandstand in the first place.

Hot damn! just look at this thing, will you? DICE AND THE DEVIL printed right up at the top. In big red letters with smoke comin off em, like these things was mailed special delivery from Tophet! Ha!

Someone who didn't know what a sleepy little place this town is would think we're really goin to the dogs, I guess. But you know how things sometimes get blown out of proportion in a town this size. And the Reverend Willie's got a bee under his blanket for sure this time. No question about it. Churches in small towns... well, I guess I don't have to tell you how that is. They get along with each other-sort of-but they ain't never really happy with each other. Everything will go along peaceful for awhile, and then a squabble will break out.

Pretty big squabble this time, though, and a lot of hard feelings.

The Catholics, you see, are planning something they call Casino Nite at the Knights of Columbus Hall on the other side of town.

Last Thursday of the month, I understand, with the profits to help pay for repairs on the church roof. That's Our Lady of Serene Waters-you must have passed it on your way into town, if you came by way of Castle View. Pretty little church, ain't it?

Casino Nite was Father Brigham's idea, but the Daughters of Isabella are the ones who really picked up the ball and ran with it.

Betsy Vigue in particular. I think she likes the idea of dollin up in her slinkiest black dress and dealin blackjack or spinnin a roulette wheel and sayin, "Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen, please place your bets." Aw, but they all kind of like the idea, I guess. It's only nickel-dime stuff, harmless, but it seems a wee bit wicked to em just the same.

Except it don't seem harmless to Reverend Willie, and it seems a lot more than a wee bit wicked to him and his congregation. He's actually the Reverend William Rose, and he ain't never liked Father Brigham much, nor does the Father have much use for him. (In fact, it was Father Brigham who started calling Reverend Rose "Steamboat Willie," and the Reverend Willie knows it.) Sparks has flown between those two particular witch-doctors before, but this Casino Nite business is a little more than sparks; I guess you could call it a brushfire. When Willie heard that the Catholics meant to spend a night gamblin at the K of C Hall, he just about hit the roof with the top of his pointy little head. He paid for those DICE-AND-THE-DEVIL fliers out of his own pocket, and Wanda Hemphill and her sewing circle buddies put em up everywhere. Since then, the only place the Catholics and the Baptists talk to each other is in the Letters column of our little weekly paper, where they rave and rant and tell each other they're goin to hell.

Looka down there, you'll see what I mean. That's Nan Roberts who just came out of the bank. She owns Nan's Luncheonette, and I guess she's just about the richest person in town now that old Pop Merrill's gone to that big flea-market in the sky. Also, she's been a Baptist since Hector was a pup. And comin the other way is big Al GendronHe's so Catholic he makes the Pope look kosher and his best friend is Irish Johnny Brigham. Now, watch close! See their noses go up? Ha!

Ain't that a sketch? I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that the temperature dropped twenty degrees where they passed each other by.

It's like my mother used to say-people have more fun than anybody,

-except for horses, and they can't.

Now lookit over there. See that Sheriff's cruiser parked by the curb near the video shop? That's John LaPointe inside. He's supposed to be keepin an eye out for speeders-downtown's a go-slow zone, you know, especially when school lets out-but if you shade your eyes and look close, you'll see that what he's really doin is starin at a picture he took out of his wallet. I can't see it from here, but I know what it is just as well as I know my mother's maiden name. That's the snapshot Andy Clutterbuck took of John and Sally Ratcliffe at the Fryeburg State Fair, just about a year ago. John's got his arm around her in that picture, and she's holdin the stuffed bear he won her in the shootin gallery, and they both look so happy they could just about split. But that was then and this is now, as they say; these days Sally is engaged to Lester Pratt, the high school Phys Ed coach. He's a true-blue Baptist, Just like herself. John hasn't got over the shock of losing her yet. See him fetch that sigh? He's worked himself into a pretty good case of the blues. Only a man who's still in love (or thinks he is) can fetch a sigh that deep.

Trouble and aggravation's mostly made up of ordinary things, did you ever notice that? Undramatic things. Let me give you a forinstance. Do you see the fellow just going up the courthouse steps?

No, not the man in the suit; that's Dan Keeton, our Head Selectman.

I mean the other one the black guy in the work fatigues. That's Eddie Warburton, the night-shift janitor in the Municipal Building.

Keep your eye on him for a few seconds, and watch what he does.

There! See him pause on the top step and look upstreet? I'd bet you more dollars to more doughnuts that he's looking at the Sunoco station. The Sunoco's owned and operated by Sonny jackett, and there's been bad blood between the two of em ever since Eddie took his car there two years ago to get the drive-train looked at.

I remember that car quite well. It was a Honda Civic, nothing special about it, except it was special to Eddie, because it was the first and only brand-new car he'd ever owned in his life. And Sonny not only did a bad job, he overcharged for it in the bargain. That's Eddie's side of the story. Warburton's just usin his color to see if he can beat me out of the repair-bill-that's Sonny's side of the story.

You know how it goes, don't you?

Well, so Sonny jackett took Eddie Warburton to small claims court, and there was some shouting first in the courtroom and then in the hall outside. Eddie said Sonny called him a stupid nigger and Sonny said Well, I didn't call him a nigger but the rest is true enough.

In the end, neither of them was satisfied. judge made Eddie cough up fifty bucks, which Eddie said was fifty bucks too much and Sonny said wasn't anywhere near enough. Then, the next thing you know, there was an electrical fire in Eddie's new car and the way it ended was that Eddie's Civic went off to the junkyard out on Town Road #5, and now Eddie's driving an '89 Oldsmobile which blows oil.

Eddie has never quite gotten over the idea that Sonny jackett knows a lot more about that electrical fire than he's ever told.

Boy, people have more fun than anybody, except horses, and they can't. Ain't it all just about more than you can take on a hot day?

It's just small-town life, [email protected] it Peyton Place or Grover's Corners or Castle Rock, it's just folks eatin pie and drinkin coffee and talkin about each other behind their hands. There's Slopey Dodd, all by his lonesome because the other kids make fun of his stutter. There's Myrtle Keeton, and if she looks a little lonely and bewildered, as if she's not really sure where she is or what's goin on, it's because her husband (fella you just saw comin up the courthouse steps behind Eddie) hasn't seemed himself for the last six months or so. See how puffy her eyes are? I think she's been cryin, or not sleepin well, or both, don't you?

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