Fair Extension – a novella by Stephen King

This is story #3 from King’s latest book, Full Dark, No Stars.

Short and (not so) Sweet is how I’d describe this story. I liked it better than story #2, but not as much as story #1. This one felt like it was straight out of a Twilight Zone episode…

****Spoiler Alert****
Dave Streeter has terminal cancer. We first join him in this story as he is puking up his last meal. (Nice, Mr. King…) He is on a little-traveled road driving alone and “thinking” when he spots a roadside vendor selling “extensions.” The odd man’s name is George Elvid (yes, I immediately re-shuffled the letters of that last name too). He offers to sell Streeter a fifteen-year life extension. Streeter, at first assuming the guy is mentally ill, plays along and says something like, “What’ll it cost me? My soul, right?” The new twist on the story, however, is that it won’t cost Streeter his soul. He’ll only have to transfer his “misfortune” to someone else – and transfer 15% of his annual income to Elvid’s offshore bank account. I think we’d all agree to the latter in that situation, but how about the former?

Elvid begins by asking Streeter who he hates. Streeter claims he has no enemies but when pressed admits he “hates” his lifelong “best friend,” Tom Goodhugh. Elvid is, of course, delighted and grants him his extension. The actual source of Streeter’s “hatred” is more envy and jealousy. Goodhugh stole Streeter’s first love, married her, and has been living happily ever after.

After his encounter, Streeter pays his doctor a visit and – guess what?- his tumors are rapidly shrinking. Soon, of course, Elvid begins to subject the Goodhugh family to a Job-like crash course of suffering and misery. The first lesson involves Goodhugh’s wife getting and dying from breast cancer, and it goes downhill from there. While reading, I kept thinking that somehow things would bounce back on Streeter, but they never do. I would have thought the death of his former love would at least trouble him, but no. His wife feels sorry for the Goodhughs and says as much to Streeter, but he rationalizes that it’s only “fair.” They had their time of fortune and now it is his turn. He gets promoted at his job several times, and dutifully forwards his 15% to Elvid’s account. Their children also prosper as Goodhugh’s suffer. An unpleasant story, overall, made more so by Streeter’s unapologetic acceptance of the new order of things in his world…

This is Story 2 from my “Deal Me In!” Short Story Reading Project for 2011.