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Amid the tickings and tockings of what sounded like at least fifty thousand clocks and totally undisturbed by them, Reginald “Pop” Merrill shone a pencil-beam of light from a gadget even more slender than a doctor’s ophthalmoscope into Kevin’s Polaroid 660 while Kevin stood by. Pop’s eyeglasses, which he didn’t need for close work, were propped on the bald dome of his head.

 “Uh-huh,” he said, and clicked the light off.

 “Does that mean you know what’s wrong with it?” Kevin asked.

 “Nope,” Pop Merrill said, and snapped the Sun’s film compartment, now empty, closed. “Don’t have a clue.” And before Kevin could say anything else, the clocks began to strike four o’clock, and for a few moments conversation, although possible, seemed absurd.

 I want to think it over, he had told his father on the evening he had turned fifteen—three days ago now—and it was a statement which had surprised both of them. As a child he had made a career of not thinking about things, and Mr. Delevan had in his heart of hearts come to believe Kevin never would think about things, whether he ought to or not. They had been seduced, as fathers and sons often are, by the idea that their behavior and very different modes of thinking would never change, thus fixing their relationship eternally . . . and childhood would thus go on forever. I want to think it over: there was a world of potential change implicit in that statement.

 Further, as a human being who had gone through his life to that point making most decisions on instinct rather than reason (and he was one of those lucky ones whose instincts were almost always good—the sort of person, in other words, who drives reasonable people mad), Kevin was surprised and intrigued to find that he was actually On the Horns of a Dilemma.

 Horn #1: he had wanted a Polaroid camera and he had gotten one for his birthday, but, dammit, he had wanted a Polaroid camera that worked.

Horn #2: he was deeply intrigued by Meg’s use of the word supernatural.

His younger sister had a daffy streak a mile wide, but she wasn’t stupid, and Kevin didn’t think she had used the word lightly or thoughtlessly. His father, who was of the Reasonable rather than Instinctive tribe, had scoffed, but Kevin found he wasn’t ready to go and do likewise . . . at least, not yet. That word. That fascinating, exotic word. It became a plinth which his mind couldn’t help circling.

 I think it’s a Manifestation.

 Kevin was amused (and a little chagrined) that only Meg had been smart enough—or brave enough—to actually say what should have occurred to all of them, given the oddity of the pictures the Sun produced, but in truth, it wasn’t really that amazing. They were not a religious family; they went to church on the Christmas Day every third year when Aunt Hilda came to spend the holiday with them instead of her other remaining relatives, but except for the occasional wedding or funeral, that was about all. If any of them truly believed in the invisible world it was Megan, who couldn’t get enough of walking corpses, living dolls, and cars that came to life and ran down people they didn’t like.

 Neither of Kevin’s parents had much taste for the bizarre. They didn’t read their horoscopes in the daily paper; they would never mistake comets or falling stars for signs from the Almighty; where one couple might see the face of Jesus on the bottom of an enchilada, John and Mary Delevan would see only an overcooked enchilada. It was not surprising that Kevin, who had never seen the man in the moon because neither mother nor father had bothered to point it out to him, had been likewise unable to see the possibility of a supernatural Manifestation in a camera which took the same picture over and over again, inside or outside, even in the dark of his bedroom closet, until it was suggested to him by his sister, who had once written a fan-letter to Jason and gotten an autographed glossy photo of a guy in a bloodstained hockey mask by return mail.

 Once the possibility had been pointed out, it became difficult to unthink; as Dostoyevsky, that smart old Russian, once said to his little brother when the two of them were both smart young Russians, try to spend the next thirty seconds not thinking of a blue-eyed polar bear.

 It was hard to do.

 So he had spent two days circling that plinth in his mind, trying to read hieroglyphics that weren’t even there, for pity’s sake, and trying to decide which he wanted more: the camera or the possibility of a Manifestation. Or, put another way, whether he wanted the Sun . . . or the man in the moon.

 By the end of the second day (even in fifteen-year-olds who are clearly destined for the Reasonable tribe, dilemmas rarely last longer than a week), he had decided to take the man in the moon . . . on a trial basis, at least.

 He came to this decision in study hall period seven, and when the bell rang, signalling the end of both the study hall and the school-day, he had gone to the teacher he respected most, Mr. Baker, and had asked him if he knew of anyone who repaired cameras.

 “Not like a regular camera-shop guy,” he explained. “More like a . . . you know . . . a thoughtful guy.”

 “An F-stop philosopher?” Mr. Baker asked. His saying things like that was one of the reasons why Kevin respected him. It was just a cool thing to say. “A sage of the shutter? An alchemist of the aperture? A—”

 “A guy who’s seen a lot,” Kevin said cagily.

 “Pop Merrill,” Mr. Baker said.


 “He runs the Emporium Galorium.”

 “Oh. That place.”

 “Yeah,” Mr. Baker said, grinning. “That place. If, that is, what you’re looking for is a sort of homespun Mr. Fixit.”

 “I guess that’s what I am looking for.”

 “He’s got damn near everything in there,” Mr. Baker said, and Kevin could agree with that. Even though he had never actually been inside, he passed the Emporium Galorium five, ten, maybe fifteen times a week (in a town the size of Castle Rock, you had to pass everything a lot, and it got amazingly boring in Kevin Delevan’s humble opinion), and he had looked in the windows. It seemed crammed literally to the rafters with objects, most of them mechanical. But his mother called it “a junk-store” in a sniffing voice, and his father said Mr. Merrill made his money “rooking the summer people,” and so Kevin had never gone in. If it had only been a “junk-store,” he might have; almost certainly would have, in fact. But doing what the summer people did, or buying something where summer people “got rooked” was unthinkable. He would be as apt to wear a blouse and skirt to high school. Summer people could do what they wanted (and did). They were all mad, and conducted their affairs in a mad fashion. Exist with them, fine. But be confused with them? No. No. And no sir.

 “Damn near everything,” Mr. Baker repeated, “and most of what he’s got, he fixed himself. He thinks that crackerbarrel philosopher act he does—glasses up on top of the head, wise pronouncements, all of that—fools people. No one who knows him disabuses him. I’m not sure anyone would dare disabuse him.”

 “Why? What do you mean?”

 Mr. Baker shrugged. An odd, tight little smile touched his mouth. “Pop—Mr. Merrill, I mean—has got his fingers in a lot of pies around here. You’d be surprised, Kevin.”

 Kevin didn’t care about how many pies Pop Merrill was currently fingering, or what their fillings might be. He was left with only one more important question, since the summer people were gone and he could probably slink into the Emporium Galorium unseen tomorrow afternoon if he took advantage of the rule which allowed all students but freshmen to cut their last-period study hall twice a month Do I call him Pop or Mr. Merrill?”

 Solemnly, Mr. Baker replied, “I think the man kills anyone under the age of sixty who calls him Pop.”

 And the thing was, Kevin had an idea Mr. Baker wasn’t exactly joking.

 •  •  •

 “You really don’t know, huh?” Kevin said when the clocks began to wind down.

 It had not been like in a movie, where they all start and finish striking at once; these were real clocks, and he guessed that most of them—along with the rest of the appliances in the Emporium Galorium—were not really running at all but sort of lurching along. They had begun at what his own Seiko quartz watch said was 3:58. They began to pick up speed and volume gradually (like an old truck fetching second gear with a tired groan and jerk). There were maybe four seconds when all of them really did seem to be striking, bonging, chiming, clanging, and cuckoo-ing at the same time, but four seconds was all the synchronicity they could manage. And “winding down” was not exactly what they did. What they did was sort of give up, like water finally consenting to gurgle its way down a drain which is almost but not quite completely plugged.

 He didn’t have any idea why he was so disappointed. Had he really expected anything else? For Pop Merrill, whom Mr. Baker had described as a crackerbarrel philosopher and homespun Mr. Fixit, to pull out a spring and say, “Here it is—this is the bastard causing that dog to show up every time you push the shutter release. It’s a dog-spring, belongs in one of those toy dogs a kid winds up so it’ll walk and bark a little, some joker on the Polaroid Sun 660 assembly line’s always putting them in the damn cameras.”

 Had he expected that?

 No. But he had expected . . . something.

 “Don’t have a friggin clue,” Pop repeated cheerfully. He reached behind him and took a Douglas MacArthur corncob pipe from a holder shaped like a bucket seat. He began to tamp tobacco into it from an imitation-leather pouch with the words EVIL WEED stamped into it. “Can’t even take these babies apart, you know.”

 “You can’t?”

 “Nope,” Pop said. He was just as chipper as a bird. He paused long enough to hook a thumb over the wire ridge between the lenses of his rimless specs and give them a yank. They dropped off his bald dome and fell neatly into place, hiding the red spots on the sides of his nose, with a fleshy little thump. “You could take apart the old ones,” he went on, now producing a Diamond Blue Tip match from a pocket of his vest (of course he was wearing a vest) and pressing the thick yellow thumbnail of his right hand on its head. Yes, this was a man who could rook the summer people with one hand tied behind his back (always assuming it wasn’t the one he used to first fish out his matches and then light them)—even at fifteen years of age, Kevin could see that. Pop Merrill had style. “The Polaroid Land cameras, I mean. Ever seen one of those beauties?”

 “No,” Kevin said.

 Pop snapped the match alight on the first try, which of course he would always do, and applied it to the corncob, his words sending out little smoke-signals which looked pretty and smelled absolutely foul.

 “Oh yeah,” he said. “They looked like those old-time cameras people like Mathew Brady used before the turn of the century—or before the Kodak people introduced the Brownie box camera, anyway. What I mean to say is” (Kevin was rapidly learning that this was Pop Merrill’s favorite phrase; he used it the way some of the kids in school used “you know,” as intensifier, modifier, qualifier, and most of all as a convenient thought-gathering pause) “they tricked it up some, put on chrome and real leather side-panels, but it still looked old-fashioned, like the sort of camera folks used to make daguerreo-types with. When you opened one of those old Polaroid Land cameras, it snapped out an accordion neck, because the lens needed half a foot, maybe even nine inches, to focus the image. It looked old-fashioned as hell when you put it next to one of the Kodaks in the late forties and early fifties, and it was like those old daguerreotype cameras in another way—it only took black-and-white photos.”

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