Uncollected Stories 2003 by Stephen King

In the other room the mantelpiece clock softly began to chime the hour of five.

Dale went back into the living room, and took the picture down again.

What you’re talking about is madness.

Looked at the boy with the short blonde hair again.

I loved them all like they was my brothers.

Turned the picture over.

Please don’t think I killed your son – all of your sons – by taking their picture. Please don’t hate me because I was in the Homan base hospital with bleeding haemorrhoids instead of on the Ky Doe bridge with the best friends I ever had in my life. Please don’t hate me, because I finally caught up, it took me ten years of trying, but I finally caught up.


Written on the back, in the same soft-lead pencil, was this notation: Jack Bradley Omaha, Neb.

Billy Clewson Binghamton, NY.

Rider Dotson Oneonta, NY

Charlie Gibson Payson, ND

Bobby Kale Henderson, IA

Jack Kimberley Truth or Consequences. NM

Andy Moulton Faraday, LA Staff Sgt. I

Jimmy Oliphant Beson, Del.

Ashley St. Thomas Anderson, Ind.

*Josh Bortman Castle Rock, Me.

He had put his own name last, Dale saw – he had seen all of this before, or course, and had noticed it…but had never really noticed it until now, perhaps. He had put his name last, out of alphabetical order, and with an asterisk.

The asterisk means “still alive.’ The asterisk means “don’t hate me.”

Ah, but what you’re thinking is madness, and you damned well know it.

Nevertheless, he went to the telephone, dialed 0, and ascertained that the area code for Maine was 207. He dialed Maine directory assistance, and ascertained that there was a single Bortman family in Castle Rock.

He thanked the operator, wrote the number down, and looked at the telephone.

You don’t really intend to call those people, do you?

No answer – only the sound of the ticking clock. He had put the picture on the sofa and now he looked at it – looked first at his own son, his hair pulled back behind his head, a bravo little moustache trying to grow on his upper lip, frozen forever at the age of twenty-one, and then at the new boy in that old picture, the boy with the short blond hair, the boy whose dog-tags were twisted so they lay face-down and unreadable against his chest. He thought of the way Josh Bortman had carefully segregated himself from the others, thought of the asterisk, and suddenly his eyes filled with warm tears.

I never hated you, son, he thought. Nor did Andrea, for all her grief.

Maybe I should have picked up a pen and dropped you a note saying so, but honest to Christ, the thought never crossed my mind.

He picked up the phone now and dialed the Bortman number in Castle Rock, Maine.


He hung up and sat for five minutes, looking out at the street where Billy had learned to ride first a trike, then a bike with trainer wheels, then a two-wheeler. At eighteen he had brought home the final improvement – a Yamaha 500. For just a moment he could see Billy 100

with paralysing clarity, as if he might walk through the door and sit down.

He dialed the Bortman number again. This time it rang. The voice on the other end managed to convey an unmistakable impression of wariness in just two syllables. “Hello?” At that same moment, Dale’s eyes fell on the dial of his wristwatch and read the date – not for the first time that day, but it was the first time it really sunk in. It was April 9th.

Billy and the others had died eleven years ago yesterday. They –

“Hello?” the voice repeated sharply. “Answer me, or I’m hanging up!

Which one are you?”

Which one are you? He stood in the ticking living room, cold, listening to words croak out of him mouth.

“My name is Dale Clewson, Mr. Bortman. My son – ”

“Clewson. Billy Clewson’s father.” Now the voice was flat, inflectionless.

“Yes, that’s – ”

“So you say.”

Dale could find no reply. For the first time in his life, he really was tongue-tied.

“And has your picture of Squad D changed, too?”

“Yes.” It came out in a strangled little gasp.

Bortman’s voice remained inflectionless, but it was nonetheless filled with savagery. “You listen to me, and tell the others. There’s going to be tracer equipment on my phone by this afternoon. If it’s some kind of joke, you fellows are going to be laughing all the way to jail, I can assure you.”

“Mr. Bortman – ”

“Shut up! First someone calling himself Peter Moulton calls, supposedly from Louisiana, and tells my wife that our boy has suddenly showed up in a picture Josh sent them of Squad D. She’s still having hysterics over that when a woman purporting to be Bobby Kale’s mother calls with the same insane story. Next, Oliphant! Five minutes ago, Rider Dotson’s brother! He says. Now you.”

“But Mr. Bortman – ”

“My wife is upstairs sedated, and if all of this is a case or ‘Have you got Prince Albert in a can,’ I swear to God – ”

“You know it isn’t a joke,” Dale whispered. His fingers felt cold and numb – ice cream fingers. He looked across the room at the photograph.

At the blonde boy.

Smiling, squinting into the camera.

Silence from the other end.

“You know it isn’t a joke, so what happened?”

“My son killed himself yesterday evening,” Bortman said evenly. “If 101

you didn’t know It.”

“I didn’t. I swear.”

Bortman signed. “And you really are calling from long distance, aren’t you?”

“From Binghamton, New York.”

“Yes. You can tell the difference – local from long distance, I mean.

Long distance has a sound…a…a hum…”

Dale realized, belatedly, that expression had finally crept into that voice.

Bortman was crying.

“He was depressed off and on, ever since he got back from Nam, in late 1974,” Bortman said. “it always got worse in the spring, it always peaked around the 8th of April when the other boys … and your son…”

“Yes,” Dale said.

“This year, it just didn’t…didn’t peak.”

There was a muffled honk – Bortman using his handkerchief.

“He hung himself in the garage, Mr. Clewson.”

“Christ Jesus,” Dale muttered. He shut his eyes very tightly, trying to ward off the image. He got one which was arguably even worse – that smiling face, the open fatigue shirt, the twisted dog-tags. “I’m sorry.”

“He didn’t want people to know why he wasn’t with the others that day, but of course the story got out.” A long, meditative pause from Bortman’s end. “Stories like that always do.”

“Yes. I suppose they do.”

“Joshua didn’t have many friends when he was growing up, Mr.

Clewson. I don’t think he had any real friends until he got to Nam. He loved your son, and the others.”

Now it’s him. comforting me.

“I’m sorry for your loss’” Dale said. “And sorry to have bothered you at a time like this. But you’ll understand…I had to.”

“Yes. Is he smiling, Mr. Clewson? The others…they said he was smiling.”

Dale looked toward the picture beside the ticking clock. “He’s smiling.”

“Of course he is. Josh finally caught up with them.”

Dale looked out the window toward the sidewalk where Billy had once ridden a bike with training wheels. He supposed he should say something, but he couldn’t seem to think of a thing. His stomach hurt.

His bones were cold.

“I ought to go, Mr. Clewson. In case my wife wakes up.” He paused.

“I think I’ll take the phone off the hook.”

“That might not be a bad idea.”

“Goodbye, Mr. Clewson.”


“Goodbye. Once again, my sympathies.”

“And mine, too.”


Dale crossed the room and picked up the photograph of Squad D. He looked at the smiling blonde boy, who was sitting cross-legged in front of Kimberley and Gibson, sitting casually and comfortably on the ground as if he had never had a haemorrhoid in his life, as if he had never stood atop a stepladder in a shadowy garage and slipped a noose around his neck.

Josh finally caught up with them.

He stood looking fixedly at the photograph for a long time before realizing that the depth of silence in the room had deepened. The clock had stopped.




Illustrated by King’s children

Flint Magazine, Kansas (1978)


Stephen King and I went to college together. No, we were not the best of friends, but we did share a few brews together at University Motor Inn. We did work for the school newspaper at the same time. No, Steve and I are not best friends. But I sure am glad he made it. He worked hard and believed in himself. After eight million book sales, it’s hard to remember him as a typically broke student. We all knew he’d make it through.

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