The Running Man
By Stephen King as Richard Bachman
In the year 2025, the best men don’t run for President. They run for their lives…
Minus 100 and COUNTING
She was squinting at the thermometer in the white light coming through the window. Beyond her, in the drizzle, the other highrises in Co Op City rose like the gray turrets of a penitentiary. Below, in the airshaft, clotheslines flapped with ragged wash. Rats and plump alley cats circulated through the garbage.
She looked at her husband. He was seated at the table, staring up at the FreeVee with steady, vacant concentration. He had been watching it for weeks now. It wasn’t like him. He hated it, always had. Of course, every Development apartment had one it was the law but it was still legal to turn them off. The Compulsory Benefit Bill of 2021 had failed to get the required two thirds majority by six votes. Ordinarily they never watched it. But ever since Cathy had gotten sick, he had been watching the big money giveaways. It filled her with sick fear.
Behind the compulsive shrieking of the half time announcer narrating the latest newsie flick, Cathy’s flue hoarsened wailing went on and on.
“How bad is it? ” Richards asked.
“Not so bad. “
“Don’t shit me.”
“It’s a hundred and four.”
He brought both fists down on the table. A plastic dish jumped into the air and clattered down.
“We’ll get a doctor. Try not to worry so much. Listen “She began to babble frantically to distract him; he had turned around and was watching the Free Vee again. Half time was over, and the game was on again. This wasn’t one of the big ones, of course, just a cheap daytime come on called Treadmill to Bucks. They accepted only chronic heart, liver, or lung patients, sometimes throwing in a crip for comic relief. Every minute the contestant could stay on the treadmill
(keeping up a steady flow of chatter with the emcee), he won ten dollars. Every two minutes the emcee asked a Bonus Question in the contestant’s category (the current pal, a heart murmur from Hackensack, was an American history buff) which was worth fifty dollars. If the contestant, dizzy, out of breath, heart doing fantastic rubber acrobatics in his chest, missed the question, fifty dollars was deducted from his winnings and the treadmill was speeded up.
“We’ll get along. Ben. We will. Really. I. . . I’ll. . . “
“You’ll what ” He looked at her brutally. “Hustle No more. Shelia She’s got to have a real doctor. No more block midwife with dirty hands and whiskey breath. All the modern equipment. I’m going to see to it.”
He crossed the room, eyes swiveling hypnotically to the Free Vee bolted into one peeling wall above the sink. He took his cheap denim jacket off its hook and pulled it on with fretful gestures.
“No! No, I won’t. . . won’t allow it. You’re not going to “
“Why not At worst you can get a few oldbucks as the head of a fatherless house. One way or the other you’ll have to see her through this.”
She had never really been a handsome woman, and in the years since her husband had not worked she had grown scrawny, but in this moment she looked beautiful. . . imperious. “I won’t take it. I’d rather sell the govie a two dollar piece of tail when he comes to the door and send him back with his dirty blood money in his pocket. Should I take a bounty on my man “
He turned on her, grim and humorless, clutching something that set him apart, an invisible something for which the Network had ruthlessly calculated. He was a dinosaur in this time. Not a big one, but still a throwback, an embarrassment. Perhaps a danger.