Uncollected Stories 2003 by Stephen King

“No,” Dexter Stanley said. “No, I suppose there aren’t.”

“But what are you going to do, Dex? What are you going to say?”

“Oh, I could tell a tale,” Dex said. “And if I told it, I suspect I’d end up in the state mental hospital. Perhaps accused of murdering the janitor and Gereson, if not your wife. No matter how good your cleanup was, a state police forensic unit could find traces of blood on the floor and walls of that laboratory. I believe I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

“Thank you,” Henry said. “Thank you, Dex.”

Dex thought of that elusive thing Henry had mentioned companionship. A little light in the darkness. He thought of playing chess perhaps twice a week instead of once. Perhaps even three times a week… and if the game was not finished by ten, perhaps playing until midnight if neither of them had any early morning classes, instead of having to put the board away (and, as likely as not, Wilma would just

“accidentally” knock over the pieces “while dusting,” so that the game would have to be started all over again the following Thursday evening). He thought of his friend, at last free of that other species of Tasmanian devil that killed more slowly but just as surely – by heart attack, by stroke, by ulcer, by high blood pressure, yammering and whistling in the ear all the while.

Last of all, he thought of the janitor, casually flicking his quarter, and of the quarter coming down and rolling under the stairs, where a very old horror sat squat and mute, covered with dust and cobwebs, waiting…

biding its time…

What had Henry said? The whole thing was almost hellishly perfect.

“No need to thank me, Henry,” he said.

Henry stood up. “If you got dressed,” he said, “you could run me down to the campus. I could get my MG and go back home and report Wilma missing.”

Dex thought about it. Henry was inviting him to cross a nearly invisible line, it seemed, from bystander to accomplice. Did he want to cross that line?


At last he swung his legs out of bed. “All right, Henry.”

“Thank you, Dexter.”

Dex smiled slowly. “That’s all right,” he said. “After all, what are friends for?”



An 11 page, 2,500 word story written for a proposed last volume of Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthologies. Ellison felt that the story was not quite ready to be published in the current form. King did not feel that was the case.

Billy Clewson died all at once, with nine of the ten other members of D

Squad on April 8, 1974. It took his mother two years, but she got started right away on the afternoon the telegram announcing her son’s death came, in fact. Dale Clewson simply sat on the bench in the front hall for five minutes, the sheet of yellow flimsy paper dangling from his fingers, not sure if he was going to faint or puke or scream or what. When he was able to get up, he went into the living room. He was in time to observe Andrea down the last swallow of the first drink and pour the post-Billy era’s second drink. A good many more drinks followed –

it was really amazing, how many drinks that small and seemingly frail woman had been able to pack into a two-year period. The written cause

– that which appeared on her death certificate – was liver dysfunction and renal failure. Both Dale and the family doctor knew that was formalistic icing on an extremely alcoholic cake – Caruba rum, perhaps.

But only Dale knew there was a third level. The Viet Cong had killed their son in a place called Ky Doe, and Billy’s death had killed his mother.

It was three years – three years almost to the day – after Billy’s death on the bridge that Dale Clewson began to believe that he must be going mad.

Nine, he thought. There were nine. There were always nine. Until now.

Were there? his mind replied to itself. Are you sure? Maybe you really counted –

The lieutenant’s letter said there were nine, and Bortman’s letter said there were nine.

So just how can you be so sure? Maybe you just assumed.

But he hadn’t just assumed, and he could be sure because he knew how many ninewas, and there had been nine boys in the D Squad photograph which had come in the mail, along with Lieutenant Anderson’s letter.

You could be wrong, his mind insisted with an assurance that was slightly hysterical. You’ve been through a lot these last couple of years, what with losing first Billy and then Andrea. You could be wrong.


It was really surprising, he thought, to what insane lengths the human mind would go to protect its own sanity.

He put his finger down on the new figure – a boy of Billy’s age, but with blonde crewcut hair, looking no more than sixteen, surely too young to be on the killing ground. He was sitting cross-legged in front of Gibson, who had, according to Billy’s letters, played the guitar, and Kimberley, who told lots of dirty Jokes. The boy with the blonde hair was squinting slightly into the sun – so were several of the others, but they had always been there before. The new boy’s fatigue shirt was open, his dog tags lying against his hairless chest.

Dale went into the kitchen, sorted through what he and Andrea had always called “the jumble drawers,” and came up with an old, scratched magnifying glass. He took it and the picture over the living room window, tilted the picture so there was no glare, and held the glass over the new boy’s dog-tags. He couldn’t read them. Thought, in fact, that the tags were both turned over and lying face down against the skin.

And yet, a suspicion had dawned in his mind – it ticked there like the clock on the mantle. He had been about to wind that clock when he had noticed the change in the picture. Now he put the picture back in its accustomed place, between a photograph of Andrea and Billy’s graduation picture, found the key to the clock. And wound it.

Lieutenant’s Anderson’s letter had been simple enough. Now Dale found it in his study desk and read it again. Typed lines on Army stationary. The prescribed follow-up to the telegram, Dale had supposed. First: Telegram. Second: Letter of Condolence from Lieutenant. Third: Coffin, One Boy Enclosed. He had noticed then and noticed again now that the typewriter Anderson used had a Flying “o”.


Clewson kept coming out Clews n.

Andrea had wanted to tear the letter up. Dale insisted that they keep it.

Now he was glad.

Billy’s squad and two others had been involved in a flank sweep of a jungle quadrant of which Ky Doe was the only village. Enemy contact had been anticipated, Anderson’s letter said, but there hadn’t been any.

The Cong which had been reliably reported to be in the area had simply melted away into the jungle – it was a trick with which the American soldiers had become very familiar over the previous ten years or so.

Dale could imagine them heading back to their base at Homan, happy, relieved.

Squads A and C had waded across the Ky River, which was almost dry. Squad D used the bridge. Halfway across, it blew up. Perhaps it had been detonated from downstream. More likely, someone – perhaps even Billy himself – had stepped on the wrong board. All nine of them had 98

been killed. Not a single survivor.

God – if there really is such a being – is usually kinder than that, Dale thought. He put Lieutenant Anderson’s letter back and took out Josh Bortman’s letter. It had been written on blue-lined paper from what looked like a child’s tablet. Bortman’s handwriting was nearly illegible, the scrawl made worse by the writing implement – a soft-lead pencil.

Obviously blunt to start with, it must have been no more than a nub by the time Bortman signed his name at the bottom. In several places Bortman had borne down hard enough with his instrument to tear the paper.

It had been Bortman, the tenth man, who sent Dale and Andrea the squad picture, already framed, the glass over the photo miraculously unbroken in its long trip from Homan to Saigon to San Francisco and finally to Binghamton, New York.

Bortman’s letter was anguished. He called the other nine “the best friends I ever had in my life, I loved them all like they was my brothers.”

Dale held the blue-lined paper in his hand and looked blankly through his study door and toward the sound of the ticking clock on the mantelpieces. When the letter came, in early May of 1974, he had been too full of his own anguish to really consider Bortman’s. Now he supposed he could understand it – a little, anyway. Bortman had been feeling a deep and inarticulate guilt. Nine letters from his hospital bed on the Homan base, all in that pained scrawl, all probably written with that same soft-lead pencil. The expense of having nine enlargements of the Squad D photograph made, and framed, and mailed off. Rites Of atonement with a soft-lead pencil, Dale thought, folding the letter again and putting it back in the drawer with Anderson’s. As if he had killed them by taking their picture. That’s really what was between the lines, wasn’t it? “Please don’t hate me, Mr. Clewson, please don’t think I killed your son and the other’s by – “

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48

Categories: Stephen King