"What really happened in this goddam town?" It was Polly who answered. "There was a sale. The biggest going-out-of-business sale you ever saw… but in the end, some of us decided not to buy." Alan had opened the door and helped Norris into the front seat. Now he touched Polly’s shoulder. "Come on," he said. "Let’s go. Norris is hurting, and he’s lost a lot of blood."
"Hey!" Henry said. "I’ve got a lot of questions, and-"
"Save them." Alan got in back next to Polly and closed the door. "We’ll talk tomorrow, but for now I’m off-duty. In fact, I think
I’m off-duty in this town forever. Be content with this-it’s over. Whatever went on in Castle Rock is over."
"But-" Alan leaned forward and tapped Seat on one bony shoulder. "Let’s go," he said quietly. "And don’t spare the horses." Seat began to drive, heading up Main Street, heading north. The cruiser turned left at the fork and began to climb Castle Hill toward Castle View. As they topped the hill, Alan and Polly turned back together to look at the town, where fire bloomed like rubles. Alan felt sadness, and loss, and a strange, cheated grief. My town, he thought. It was my town. But not anymore. Not ever again. They turned to face forward again at the same instant, and ended up looking into each other’s eyes instead.
"You will never know," she said softly. "What really happened to Annie and Todd that day-you will never know."
"And no longer want to," Alan Pangborn said. He kissed her cheek gently. "That belongs in the darkness. Let the darkness bear it away."
They topped the View and picked up Route 119 on the other side, and Castle Rock was gone; the darkness had borne that away, too.
YOU’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE.
Sure you have. Sure. I never forget a face.
Come on over, 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 junction City, the nicest little town in Iowa-at least on this side of Ames. Go ahead, you can laugh; it was meant as a joke.
Can you sit a spell with me? Right here on this bench by the War Memorial will be fine. The sun’s warm and from here we can see just about all of downtown. You want to mind the splinters, that’s all; this bench has been here since Hector was a pup. Nowlook over there.
No, a little to your right. The building where the windows have been soaped over. That used to be Sam Peebles’s office. Real-estate man, and a damned good one. Then he married Naomi Higgins from down the road in Proverbia and off they went, just like young folks almost always do these days. from That place of his stood empty for over a year-the econ y’s been rotten out here since all that Mideast business started-but now somebody’s finally taken it over. Been lots of talk about it, too, I want to tell you. But you know how it is; in a place like junction City, where things don’t change much from one year to the next, the openin of a new store is big news. Won’t be long, either, from the look of things; the last of the workmen packed up their tools and left last Friday. Now what I think isWho?
Oh, her! Why, that’s Irma Skillins. She used to be the principal atjun ‘ ction City High School-the first woman principal in this part of the state, I heard. She retired two years ago, and it seems like she retired from everything else at the same time-Eastern Star, Daughters of the American Revolution, the junction City Players.
She even quit the church choir, I understand. I imagine part of it’s the rheumatiz-she’s got it awful bad now. See the way she leans on that cane of hers? A person gets like that, I imagine they’d do just about anything to get a little relief.
Look at that! Checking that new store out pretty close, ain’t she? Well, why not? She may be old, but she ain’t dead, not by a long chalk. Besides, you know what they say; ’twas curiosity killed the cat, but it was satisfaction that brought him back.
Can I read the sign? You bet I can! I got glasses two years ago, but they’re just for close work; my long vision has never been better.
It says OPENING SOON on top, and under that, ANSWERED PRAYERS, A NEW KIND OF STORE. And the last line-wait a minute, it’s a little smaller-the last line says You won’t believe your eyes! I probably will, though. It says in Ecclesiastes that there ain’t nothing new under the sun, and I pretty much hold to that. But Irma will be back.
If nothing else, I imagine she’ll want to get a good look at whoever it was decided to put that bright red awning over Sam Peebles’s old office!
I might even have a look inside myself I suppose most everyone in town will before everything’s said and done.
Interesting name for a store, ain’t it? Answered Prayers. Makes you wonder what’s for sale inside.
Why, with a name like that it could be anything.
Anything at all.
October 24, 1988
January 28, 1991