If It Bleeds - Stephen King Page 0,3

hymns I suppose I’ll remember until the day I die . . . and that verse of “The Old Rugged Cross” about water and blood flowing from Jesus’s wounded side will always give me chills, just like the last verse of “Stand By Your Man,” when Tammy Wynette goes all out. Anyway, Mr. Harrigan didn’t actually sing, which was good because he had kind of a rusty, shrieky voice, but he mouthed along. He and my dad had that in common.

One Sunday in the fall of 2004 (all the trees in our part of the world burning with color), I read part of 2 Samuel, doing my usual job of imparting to the congregation a message I hardly understood but knew Reverend Mooney would explain in his sermon: “The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen! Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.”

When I sat down in our pew, Dad patted me on the shoulder and whispered You said a mouthful in my ear. I had to cover my mouth to hide a smile.

* * *

The next evening, as we were finishing up the supper dishes (Dad washing, me drying and putting away), Mr. Harrigan’s Ford pulled into the driveway. His cane thumped up our dooryard steps, and Dad opened the door just before he could knock. Mr. Harrigan declined the living room and sat at the kitchen table just like home folks. He accepted a Sprite when Dad offered, but declined a glass. “I take it from the bottle, the way my pa did,” he said.

He got right to the point, being a man of business. If my father approved, Mr. Harrigan said he’d like to hire me to read to him two or perhaps three hours a week. For this he would pay five dollars an hour. He could offer another three hours’ worth of work, he said, if I would tend his garden a bit and do some other chores, such as snow-shoveling the steps in winter and dusting what needed dusting year-round.

Twenty-five, maybe even thirty dollars a week, half of it just for reading, which was something I would have done for free! I couldn’t believe it. Thoughts of saving up for a motor scooter immediately rose to mind, even though I would not be able to ride one legally for another seven years.

It was too good to be true, and I was afraid my father would say no, but he didn’t. “Just don’t give him anything controversial,” Dad said. “No crazy political stuff, and no overboard violence. He reads like a grownup, but he’s just nine, and barely that.”

Mr. Harrigan gave him this promise, drank some of his Sprite, and smacked his leathery lips. “He reads well, yes, but that’s not the main reason I want to hire him. He doesn’t drone, even when he doesn’t understand. I find that remarkable. Not amazing, but remarkable.”

He put his bottle down and leaned forward, fixing me with his sharp gaze. I often saw amusement in those eyes, but only seldom did I see warmth, and that night in 2004 wasn’t one of them.

“About your reading yesterday, Craig. Do you know what is meant by ‘the daughters of the uncircumcised’?”

“Not really,” I said.

“I didn’t think so, but you still got the right tone of anger and lamentation in your voice. Do you know what lamentation is, by the way?”

“Crying and stuff.”

He nodded. “But you didn’t overdo it. You didn’t ham it up. That was good. A reader is a carrier, not a creator. Does Reverend Mooney help you with your pronunciation?”

“Yes, sir, sometimes.”

Mr. Harrigan drank some more Sprite and rose, leaning on his cane. “Tell him it’s Ashkelon, not Ass-kelon. I found that unintentionally funny, but I have a very low sense of humor. Shall we have a trial run Wednesday, at three? Are you out of school by then?”

I got out of Harlow Elementary at two-thirty. “Yes, sir. Three would be fine.”

“Shall we say until four? Or is that too late?”

“That works,” Dad said. He sounded bemused by the whole thing. “We don’t eat until six. I like to watch the local news.”

“Doesn’t that play hell with your digestion?”

Dad laughed, although I don’t really think Mr. Harrigan was joking. “Sometimes it does. I’m not a fan of Mr. Bush.”

“He is a bit of a fool,” Mr. Harrigan agreed, “but at