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Revival(2)
Stephen King

“Even if. When Billy and Al go home for their dinner and you pack the soldiers back into the box—”

“It’s a footlocker!”

“Right, the footlocker. When you pack them away, they’re yours again. People have many ways to be lousy to one another, as you’ll find out when you’re older, but I think that all bad behavior stems from plain old selfishness. Promise me you’ll never be selfish, kiddo.”

I promised, but I still didn’t like it when Billy and Al won.

• • •

On that day in October of 1962, with the fate of the world dangling by a thread over a small tropical spit of land called Cuba, I was fighting both sides of the battle, which meant I was bound to come out on top. The town grader had been by earlier on Methodist Road (“Moving the rocks around,” my dad always grumbled), and there was plenty of loose dirt. I scraped enough together to make first a hill, then a big hill, and then a very big hill, one that came up almost to my knees. At first I thought of calling it Goat Mountain, but that seemed both unoriginal (the real Goat Mountain was only twelve miles away, after all) and boring. After consideration, I decided to call it Skull Mountain. I even tried to poke a couple of eye-like caves in it with my fingers, but the dirt was dry and the holes kept caving in.

“Oh, well,” I told the plastic soldiers tumbled in their footlocker. “The world is hard and you can’t have everything.” This was one of my father’s favorite sayings, and with five kids to support, I’m sure he had reason to believe it. “They’ll be pretend caves.”

I put half of my army on top of Skull Mountain, where they made a formidable crew. I especially liked the way the mortar guys looked up there. These were the Krauts. The American army I arranged at the edge of the lawn. They got all the jeeps and trucks, because they would look so groovy charging up the steep slope of the mountain. Some would turn over, I was sure, but at least a few of them would make it to the top. And run over the mortar guys, who would scream for mercy. They wouldn’t get it.

“To the death,” I said, setting up the last few of the heroic Americans. “Hitsmer, you are next!”

I was starting them forward, rank by rank—and making comic-book-style machine-gun noises—when a shadow fell over the battlefield. I looked up and saw a guy standing there. He was blocking the afternoon sun, a silhouette surrounded by golden light—a human eclipse.

There was stuff going on; at our house on Saturday afternoons, there always was. Andy and Con were in our long backyard, playing three-flies-six-grounders with a bunch of their friends, shouting and laughing. Claire was up in her room with a couple of her friends, playing records on her Imperial Party-Time turntable: “The Loco-Motion,” “Soldier Boy,” “Palisades Park.” There was hammering from the garage, too, as Terry and our dad worked on the old ’51 Ford Dad called the Road Rocket. Or the Project. Once I heard him call it a piece of shit, a phrase I treasured then and still use now. When you want to feel better, call something a piece of shit. It usually works.

Plenty going on, but at that moment everything seemed to fall still. I know it’s only the sort of illusion caused by a faulty memory (not to mention a suitcase loaded with dark associations), but the recollection is very strong. All of a sudden there were no kids yelling in the backyard, no records playing upstairs, no banging from the garage. Not a single bird singing.

Then the man bent down and the westering sun glared over his shoulder, momentarily blinding me. I raised a hand to shield my eyes.

“Sorry, sorry,” he said, and moved enough so I could look at him without also having to look into the sun. On top he was wearing a black for-church jacket and a black shirt with a notched collar; on the bottom blue jeans and scuffed loafers. It was like he wanted to be two different people at the same time. At the age of six, I put adults into three categories: young grownups, grownups, and old people. This guy was a young grownup. He had his hands on his knees so he could look at the opposing armies.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Charles Jacobs.” The name was vaguely familiar. He stuck out his hand. I shook it right away, because even at six, I had my manners. All of us did. Mom and Dad saw to that.

“Why are you wearing that collar with the hole in it?”

“Because I’m a minister. When you go to church on Sundays from now on, I’ll be there. And if you go to Thursday-night MYF, I’ll be there, too.”

“Mr. Latoure used to be our minister,” I said, “but he died.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, though, because Mom said he didn’t suffer, only went straight to heaven. He didn’t wear a collar like that, though.”

“Because Bill Latoure was a lay preacher. That means he was sort of a volunteer. He kept the church open when there was no one else to do it. That was very good of him.”

“I think my dad knows about you,” I said. “He’s one of the deacons in the church. He gets to take up the collection. He has to take turns with the other deacons, though.”

“Sharing is good,” Jacobs said, and got down on his knees beside me.

“Are you going to pray?” The idea was sort of alarming. Praying was for church and Methodist Youth Fellowship, which my brothers and sister called Thursday Night School. When Mr. Jacobs started it up again, this would be my first year, just like it was my first year at regular school. “If you want to talk with my dad, he’s in the garage with Terry. They’re putting a new clutch in the Road Rocket. Well, my dad is. Terry mostly hands him the tools and watches. He’s eight. I’m six. I think my mom might be on the back porch, watching some guys play three-flies-six-grounders.”

“Which we used to call rollie-bat when I was a kid,” he said, and smiled. It was a nice smile. I liked him right away.

“Yeah?”

“Uh-huh, because you had to hit the bat with the ball after you caught it. What’s your name, son?”

“Jamie Morton. I’m six.”

“So you said.”

“I don’t think anyone ever prayed in our front yard.”

“I’m not going to, either. What I want is a closer look at your armies. Which are the Russians and which are the Americans?”

“Well, these ones on the ground are Americans, sure, but the ones on Skull Mountain are Krauts. The Americans have to take the mountain.”

“Because it’s in the way,” Jacobs said. “Beyond Skull Mountain lies the road to Germany.”

“That’s right! And the head Kraut! Hitsmer!”

“The author of so many evils,” he said.

“Huh?”

“Nothing. Do you mind if I just call the bad guys Germans? ‘Krauts’ seems kind of mean.”

“No, that’s great, Krauts are Germans, and Germans are Krauts. My dad was in the war. Just the last year, though. He fixed trucks in Texas. Were you in the war, Mr. Jacobs?”

“No, I was too young. For Korea, too. How are the Americans going to take that hill, General Morton?”

“Charge it!” I shouted. “Shoot their machine guns! Pow! Budda-budda-budda!” Then, going down way low in my throat: “Takka-takka-takka!”

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