The Dark Half
'Cut him,' Machine said. 'Cut him while I stand here and watch. I want to see the blood flow. Don't make me tell you twice.'? Machine's Way
by George Stark.People's lives - their real lives, as opposed to their simple physical existences - begin at different times. The real life of Thad Beaumont a young boy who was born and raised in the Ridgeway section of Bergenfield, New Jersey, began in 1960. Two things happened to him that year. The first shaped his life; the second almost ended it. That was the year Thad Beaumont was eleven.
In January he submitted a short story to a writing contest sponsored by American Teen magazine. In June, he received a letter from the magazine's editors telling him that he had been awarded an Honorable Mention in the contest's Fiction category. The letter went on to say that the judges would have awarded him Second Prize had his application not revealed that he was still two years away from becoming a bona fide "American Teen." Still, the editors said, his story, "Outside Marty's House", was an extraordinarily mature work, and he was to be congratulated. Two weeks later, a Certificate of Merit arrived from American Teen. It came registered mail, insured. The certificate had his name on it in letters so convolutedly Old English that he could barely read them, and a gold seal at the bottom, embossed with the American Teen logo - the silhouettes of a crewcut boy and a pony-tailed girl jitterbugging.
His mother swept Thad, a quiet, earnest boy who could never seem to hold onto things and often tripped over his own large feet, into her arms and smothered him with kisses.
His father was unimpressed.
'If it was so goddam good, why didn't they give him some money?' he grunted from the depths of his easy-chair.
'Glen - '
'Never mind. Maybe Ernest Hemingway there could run me in a beer when you get done maulin him.'
His mother said no more . . . but she had the original letter and the certificate which followed it framed, paying for the job out of her pin-money, and hung it in his room, over the bed. When relatives or other visitors came, she took them in to see it. Thad, she told her company, was going to be a great writer someday. She had always felt he was destined for greatness, and here was the first proof. This embarrassed Thad, but he loved his mother far too much to say so. Embarrassed or not, Thad decided his mother was at least par right. He didn't know if he had it in him to be a great writer or not, but he was going to be some kind of a writer no matter what.
Why not? He was good at it. More important, he got off on doing it. When the words came right,he got off on it in a big way. And they wouldn't always be able to withhold the money from him on a technicality. He wouldn't be eleven forever.
The second important thing to happen to him in 1960 began in August. That was when he began to have headaches. They weren't bad at first, but by the time school let in again in early September, the mild, lurking pains in his temples and behind his forehead had progressed to sick and monstrous marathons of agony. He could do nothing when these headaches held him in their grip but lie in his darkened room, waiting to die. By the end of September, he hoped he would die.
And by the middle of October, the pain had progressed to the point where he began to fear he would not.
The onset of these terrible headaches was usually marked by a phantom sound which only he could hear - it sounded like the distant cheeping of a thousand small birds. Sometimes he fancied he could almost see these birds, which he thought were sparrows, clustering on telephone lines and rooftops by the dozens, the way they did in the spring and the fall.
His mother took him to see Dr Seward..Dr Seward peeked into his eyes with an ophthalmoscope, and shook his head. Then, drawing the curtains closed and turning off the overhead light, he instructed Thad to look at a white space of wall in the examination room. Using a flashlight, he flicked a bright circle of light on and off rapidly while Thad looked at it.
'Does that make you feet funny, son?'
Thad shook his head.
'You don't feel woozy? Like you might faint?'
Thad shook his head again.
'Do you smell anything? Like rotten fruit or burning rags?'
'What about your birds? Did you hear them while you were looking at the flashing light?'
'No,' Thad said, mystified.
'It's nerves,' his father said later, when Thad had been dismissed to the outer waiting room. 'The goddam kid's a bundle of nerves.
'I think it's migraine,' Dr Seward told them. 'Unusual in one so young, but not unheard of. And he seems very . . . intense.'
'He is,' Shayla Beaumont said, not without some approval.
'Well, there may be a cure someday. For now, I'm afraid he 11 just have to suffer through them.'
'Yeah, and us with him,' Glen Beaumont said.