Hapscomb's Texaco sat on Number 93 just north of Arnette, a pissant
four-street burg about 110 miles from Houston. Tonight the regulars were
there, sitting by the cash register, drinking beer, talking idly,
watching the bugs fly into the big lighted sign.
It was Bill Hapscomb's station, so the others deferred to him even
though he was a pure fool. They would have expected the same deferral if
they had been gathered together in one of their business establishments.
Except they had none. In Arnette, it was hard times. In 1980 the town
had had two industries, a factory that made paper products (for picnics
and barbecues, mostly) and a plant that made electronic calculators. Now
the paper factory was shut down and the calculator plant was
ailing—they could make them a lot cheaper in Taiwan, it turned
out, just like those portable TVs and transistor radios.
Norman Bruett and Tommy Wannamaker, who had both worked in the paper
factory, were on relief, having run out of unemployment some time ago.
Henry Carmichael and Stu Redman both worked at the calculator plant but
rarely got more than thirty hours a week. Victor Palfrey was retired and
smoked stinking home-rolled cigarettes, which were all he could
"Now what I say is this," Hap told them, putting his hands on his knees
and leaning forward. "They just gotta say screw this inflation shit.
Screw this national debt shit. We got the presses and we got the paper.
We're gonna run off fifty million thousand-dollar bills and hump them
right the Christ into circulation."
Palfrey, who had been a machinist until 1984, was the only one present
with sufficient self-respect to point out Hap's most obvious damfool
statements. Now, rolling another of his shitty-smelling cigarettes, he
said: "That wouldn't get us nowhere. If they do that, it'll be just like
Richmond in the last two years of the States War. In those days, when
you wanted a piece of gingerbread, you gave the baker a Confederate
dollar, he'd put it on the gingerbread, and cut out a piece just that
size. Money's just paper, you know."
"I know some people don't agree with you," Hapsaid sourly. He picked up
a greasy red plastic paper-holder from his desk. "I owe these people.
And they're starting to get pretty itchy about it."
Stuart Redman, who was perhaps the quietest man in Arnette, was sitting
in one of the cracked plastic Woolco chairs, a can of Pabst in his hand,
looking out the big service station window at Number 93. Stu knew about
poor. He had grown up that way right here in town, the son of a dentist
who had died when Stu was seven, leaving his wife and two other children
His mother had gotten work at the Red Ball Truck Stop just outside of
Arnette—Stu could have seen it from where he sat right now if it
hadn't burned down in 1979. It had been enough to keep the four of them
eating, but that was all. At the age of nine, Stu had gone to work,
first for Rog Tucker, who owned the Red Ball, helping to unload trucks
after school for thirty-five cents an hour, and then at the stockyards
in the neighboring town of Braintree, lying about his age to get twenty
back breaking hours of labor a week at the minimum wage.
Now, listening to Hap and Vic Palfrey argue on about money and the
mysterious way it had of drying up, he thought about the way his hands
had bled at first from pulling the endless handtrucks of hides and guts.
He had tried to keep that from his mother, but she had seen, less than a
week after he started. She wept over them a little, and she hadn't been
a woman who wept easily. But she hadn't asked him to quit the job. She
knew what the situation was. She was a realist.
Some of the silence in him came from the fact that he had never had
friends, or the time for them. There was school, and there was work. His
youngest brother, Dev, had died of pneumonia the year he began at the
yards, and Stu had never quite gotten over that. Guilt, he supposed. He
had loved Dev the best . . . but his passing had also meant there was
one less mouth to feed.
In high school he had found football, and that was something his mother
had encouraged even though it cut into his work hours. "You play," she
said. "If you got a ticket out of here, it's football, Stuart. You play.
Remember Eddie Warfield." Eddie Warfield was a local hero. He had come
from a family even poorer than Stu's own, had covered himself with glory
as quarterback of the regional high school team, had gone onto Texas
A&M with an athletic scholarship, and had played for ten years with
the Green Bay Packers, mostly as a second-string quarterback but on
several memorable occasions as the starter. Eddie now owned a string of
fast-food restaurants across the West and Southwest, and in Arnette he
was an enduring figure of myth. In Arnette, when you said "success," you
meant Eddie Warfield.
Stu was no quarterback, and he was no Eddie Warfield. But it did seem to
him as he began his junior year in high school that there was at least a
fighting chance for him to get a small athletic scholarship . . . and
then there were work-study programs, and the school's guidance counselor
had told him about the NDEA loan program.
Then his mother had gotten sick, had become unable to work. It was
cancer. Two months before he graduated from high school, she had died,
leaving Stu with his brother Bryce to support. Stu had turned down the
athletic scholarship and had gone to work in the calculator factory. And
finally it was Bryce, three years' Stu's junior, who had made it out. He
was now in Minnesota, a systems analyst for IBM. He didn't write often,
and the last time he had seen Bryce was at the funeral, after Stu's wife
had died—died of exactly the same sort of cancer that had killed
his mother. He thought that Bryce might have his own guilt to carry . .
. and that Bryce might be a little ashamed of the fact that his brother
had turned into just another good old boy in a dying Texas town,
spending his days doing time in the calculator plant, and his nights
either down at Hap's or over at the Indian Head drinking Lone Star beer.
The marriage had been the best time, and it had only lasted eighteen
months. The womb of his young wife had borne a single dark and malignant
child. That had been four years ago. Since, he had thought of leaving
Arnette, searching for something better, but small-town inertia held
him—the low siren song of familiar places and familiar faces. He
was well liked in Arnette, and Vic Palfrey had once paid him the
ultimate compliment of calling him "Old Time Tough."
As Vic and Hap chewed it out, there was still a little dusk left in the
sky, but the land was in shadow. Cars didn't go by on 93 much now, which
was one reason that Hap had so many unpaid bills. But there was a car
coming now, Stu saw.
It was still a quarter of a mile distant, the day's last light putting a
dusty shine on what little chrome was left to it. Stu's eyes were sharp,
and he made it as a very old Chevrolet, maybe a '75. A Chevy, no lights
on, doing no more than fifteen miles an hour, weaving all over the road.
No one had seen it yet but him.
"Now let's say you got a mortgage payment on this station," Vic was
saying, "and let's say it's fifty dollars a month."
"It's a hell of a lot more than that."
"Well, for the sake of the argument, let's say fifty. And let's say the
Federals went ahead and printed you a whole carload of money. Well then
those bank people would turn round and want a hundred and fifty.
You'd be just as poorly off."
"That's right," Henry Carmichael added. Hap looked at him, irritated. He
happened to know that Hank had gotten in the habit of taking Cokes out
of the machine without paying the deposit, and furthermore, Hank knew he
knew, and if Hank wanted to come in on any side it ought to be his.
"That ain't necessarily how it would be," Hap said weightily from the
depths of his ninth-grade education. He went on to explain why.
Stu, who only understood that they were in a hell of a pinch, tuned
Hap's voice down to a meaningless drone and watched the Chevy pitch and
yaw its way on up the road. The way it was going Stu didn't think it was
going to make it much farther. It crossed the white line and its
lefthand tires spumed up dust from the left shoulder. Now it lurched
back, held its own lane briefly, then nearly pitched off into the ditch.
Then, as if the driver had picked out the big lighted Texaco station
sign as a beacon, it arrowed toward the tarmac like a projectile whose
velocity is very nearly spent. Stu could hear the worn-out thump of its
engine now, the steady gurgle-and-wheeze of a dying carb and a loose set
of valves. It missed the lower entrance and bumped up over the curb. The
fluorescent bars over the pumps were reflecting off the Chevy's
dirt-streaked windshield so it was hard to see what was inside, but Stu
saw the vague shape of the driver roll loosely with the bump. The car
showed no sign of slowing from its relentless fifteen.
"So I say with more money in circulation you'd be—"
"Better turn off your pumps, Hap," Stu said mildly.
"The pumps? What?"
Norm Bruett had turned to look out the window. "Christ on a pony," he
Stu got out of his chair, leaned over Tommy Wannamaker and Hank
Carmichael, and flicked off all eight switches at once, four with each
hand. So he was the only one who didn't see the Chevy as it hit the gas
pumps on the upper island and sheared them off.
It plowed into them with a slowness that seemed implacable and somehow
grand. Tommy Wannamaker swore in the Indian Head the next day that the
taillights never flashed once. The Chevy just kept coming at a steady
fifteen or so, like the pace car in the Tournament of Roses parade. The
undercarriage screeched over the concrete island, and when the wheels
hit it everyone but Stu saw the driver's head swing limply and strike
the windshield, starring the glass.
The Chevy jumped like an old dog that had been kicked and plowed away
the hi-test pump. It snapped off and rolled away, spilling a few
dribbles of gas. The nozzle came unhooked and lay glittering under the
They all saw the sparks produced by the Chevy's exhaust pipe grating
across the cement, and Hap, who had seen a gas station explosion in
Mexico, instinctively shielded his eyes against the fireball he
expected. Instead, the Chevy's rear end flirted around and fell off the
pump island on the station side. The front end smashed into the low-lead
pump, knocking it off with a hollow bang.
Almost deliberately, the Chevrolet finished its 360-degree turn, hitting
the island again, broadside this time. The rear end popped up on the
island and knocked the regular gas pump asprawl. And there the Chevy
came to rest, trailing its rusty exhaust pipe behind it. It had
destroyed all three of the gas pumps on that island nearest the highway.
The motor continued to run choppily for a few seconds and then quit. The
silence was so loud it was alarming.
"Holy moly," Tommy Wannamaker said breathlessly. "Will she blow,
"If it was gonna, it already woulda," Hap said, getting up. His shoulder
bumped the map case, scattering Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona every
whichway. Hap felt a cautious sort of jubilation. His pumps were
insured, and the insurance was paid up. Mary had harped on the insurance
ahead of everything.
"Guy must have been pretty drunk," Norm said.
"I seen his taillights," Tommy said, his voice high with excitement.
"They never flashed once. Holy moly! If he'd a been doing sixty we'd all
be dead now."
They hurried out of the office, Hap first and Stu bringing up the rear.
Hap, Tommy, and Norm reached the car together. They could smell gas and
hear the slow, clocklike tick of the Chevy's cooling engine. Hap opened
the driver's side door and the man behind the wheel spilled out like an
old laundry sack.
"God-damn," Norm Bruett shouted, almost screamed. He turned away,
clutched his ample belly, and was sick. It wasn't the man who had fallen
out (Hap had caught him neatly before he could thump to the pavement)
but the smell that was issuing from the car, a sick stench compounded of
blood, fecal matter, vomit, and human decay. It was a ghastly rich
A moment later Hap turned away, dragging the driver by the armpits.
Tommy hastily grabbed the dragging feet and he and Hap carried him into
the office. In the glow of the overhead fluorescents their faces were
cheesy-looking and revolted. Hap had forgotten about his insurance
The others looked into the car and then Hank turned away, one hand over
his mouth, little finger sticking off like a man who has just raised his
wineglass to make a toast. He trotted to the north end of the station's
lot and let his supper come up.
Vic and Stu looked into the car for some time, looked a teach other, and
then looked back in. On the passenger side was a young woman, her shift
dress hiked up high on her thighs. Leaning against her was a boy or
girl, about three years old. They were both dead. Their necks had
swelled up like inner tubes and the flesh there was a purple-black
color, like a bruise. The flesh was puffed up under their eyes, too.
They looked, Vic later said, like those baseball players who put
lampblack under their eyes to cut the glare. Their eyes bulged
sightlessly. The woman was holding the child's hand. Thick mucus had run
from their noses and was now clotted there. Flies buzzed around them,
lighting in the mucus, crawling in and out of their open mouths. Stu had
been in the war, but he had never seen anything so terribly pitiful as
this. His eyes were constantly drawn back to those linked hands.
Excerpted from "The Stand" by Stephen King. Copyright © 0 by Stephen King. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.