Sometimes, if he really liked a place, Pete would give his mouth a rest. He had pronounced Six-Gun City "for babies," but Mom had allowed him to spend most of the visit in the room where the electronic games were, and Pete had gone home not exactly happy but at least silent. On the other hand, if Pete didn't like one of the places their Mom picked (his least favorite by far had been the Plant-A-Torium; returning to Sanford that day he had been in an especially boogery frame of mind), he was generous in sharing his opinion. "Go along to get along" wasn't in his nature. Nor was it in their mother's, Trisha supposed. She herself thought it was an excellent philosophy, but of course everyone took one look at her and pronounced her her father's child. Sometimes that bothered her, but mostly she liked it.
Trisha didn't care where they went on Saturdays, and would have been perfectly happy with a steady diet of amusement parks and mini-golf courses just because they minimized the increasingly horrible arguments. But Mom wanted the trips to be instructive, too -- hence the Plant-A-Torium and Shaker Village. On top of his other problems, Pete resented having education rammed down his throat on Saturdays, when he would rather have been up in his room, playing Sanitarium or Riven on his Mac. Once or twice he had shared his opinion ("This sucks!" pretty well summed it up) so generously that Mom had sent him back to the car and told him to sit there and "compose himself" until she and Trisha came back.
Trisha wanted to tell Mom she was wrong to treat him like he was a kindergartner who needed a time-out -- that someday they'd come back to the van and find it empty, Pete having decided to hitchhike back to Massachusetts -- but of course she said nothing. The Saturday outings themselves were wrong, but Mom would never accept that. By the end of some of them Quilla Andersen looked at least five years older than when they had set out, with deep lines grooved down the sides of her mouth and one hand constantly rubbing her temple, as if she had a headache...but she would still never stop. Trisha knew it. Maybe if her mother had been at Little Big Horn the Indians still would have won, but the body-count would have been considerably higher.
This week's outing was to an unincorporated township in the western part of the state. The Appalachian Trail wound through the area on its way to New Hampshire. Sitting at the kitchen table the night before, Mom had shown them photos from a brochure. Most of the pictures showed happy hikers either striding along a forest trail or standing at scenic lookouts, shading their eyes and peering across great wooded valleys at the time-eroded but still formidable peaks of the central White Mountains.
Pete sat at the table, looking cataclysmically bored, refusing to give the brochure more than a glance. For her part, Mom had refused to notice his ostentatious lack of interest. Trisha, as was increasingly her habit, became brightly enthusiastic. These days she often sounded to herself like a contestant on a TV game show, all but peeing in her pants at the thought of winning a set of waterless cookware. And how did she feel to herself these days? Like glue holding together two pieces of something that was broken. Weak glue.
Quilla had closed the brochure and turned it over. On the back was a map. She tapped a snaky blue line. "This is Route 68," she said. "We'll park the car here, in this parking lot." She tapped a little blue square. Now she traced one finger along a snaky red line. "This is the Appalachian Trail between Route 68 and Route 302 in North Conway, New Hampshire. It's only six miles, and rated Moderate. Well...this one little section in the middle is marked Moderate-to-Difficult, but not to the point where we'd need climbing gear or anything."
She tapped another blue square. Pete was leaning his head on one hand, looking the other way. The heel of his palm had pulled the left side of his mouth up into a sneer. He had started getting pimples this year and a fresh crop gleamed on his forehead. Trisha loved him, but sometimes -- last night at the kitchen table, as Mom explained their route, for example -- she hated him, too. She wanted to tell him to stop being a chicken, because that was what it came down to when you cut to the chase, as their Dad said. Pete wanted to run back to Malden with his little teenage tail between his legs because he was a chicken. He didn't care about Mom, didn't care about Trisha, didn't even care if being with Dad would be good for him in the long run. What Pete cared about was not having anyone to eat lunch with on the gym bleachers. What Pete cared about was that when he walked into homeroom after the first bell someone always yelled, "Hey CompuWorld! Howya doon, homo-boy?"
Copyright © 1999 by Stephen King. Reproduced by permission of the publisher Simon & Schuster
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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