The Man in the Black Suit

by Stephen King

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The action proper of “The Man in the Black Suit” begins with nine-year-old Gary performing some Saturday chores in the summer of 1914 on his parents’ farm, chores that his older brother Dan would have helped with had he not died from a bee sting a year earlier. After his chores, Gary is allowed to go fishing in Castle Stream provided he promises not to go too far in the woods and certainly not beyond where the stream forks. Solemnly promising to go no farther than the fork, he sets out by himself; his dog Candy Bill stays behind for the first time.

Gary soon catches a huge brook trout and then a fine rainbow trout. Leaning back against the riverbank, he dozes off, suddenly to be awakened by a tug on his pole and with the horrible realization that a bee is sitting on the tip of his nose. Terrified that the bee will sting him and that he will die as his brother did, Gary is on the verge of panic when he hears the sharp report of a hand clap and the bee falls dead into his lap.

Gary looks over his shoulder and sees the source of the clap. At the edge of the trees at the top of the riverbank stands a tall man with a pale and long face, black hair plastered tight against his skull. He is dressed in a three-piece black suit, and Gary realizes immediately that the man is not human because his eyes lack irises and his pupils are an orange-red and burning like fire. Frightened beyond measure, Gary wets his pants as the man smiles at him from above and greets him in a pleasant and mellow voice: “Are we well-met, fisherboy?”

Walking down the steep bank without leaving an imprint on the ground, the man squats beside the terrified Gary, who notices the man’s hideously elongated fingers with long yellow claws instead of fingernails. Gary knows the man is the devil, but he is too paralyzed by fear to run. The devil sniffs Gary’s wet pants and laughs wildly like a lunatic. He then tells the boy that his mother is dead, describing at length in gory detail her agonizing death by a bee sting.

Then abruptly the man in the black suit, his eyes blazing and his sharp little teeth showing between his thin pale lips, tells Gary that he is going to kill him, rip him to pieces, and eat his guts. Too terrified to utter a sound, Gary instinctively holds out the huge brook trout, and the devil opens his mouth wider than any human mouth ever could be, his gullet a fiery red, and swallows the fish. The sight of the devil’s eyes emitting tears of blood galvanizes Gary to move, and he scrambles up the riverbank and runs as he has never run before, for his very life, with the devil in deadly pursuit. At long last, his heart pounding and with a painful stitch in his side, Gary realizes the devil has gone. He encounters his father on the road and screams hysterically that “Ma’s dead!” After finally being reassured that his mother is alive and well, Gary is not able to share his terrible ordeal with his father, knowing that it is too incredible to be believed. Later in the day the two go back to the fishing spot to retrieve Gary’s rod and creel, and his father notices the dead vegetation where the devil has been, smells the burnt-match odor of the grass, throws away the reeking creel, and tells his son “Let’s get the hell out of here.” The mother is never told about any of this.

“The Man in the Black Suit” concludes with Gary, now ninety years old in his nursing home room, remembering the vivid horror of the devil’s visit so long ago and musing about his helpless vulnerability should the devil come again and still be hungry.

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