Here’s the quick synopsis and section-by-section summary for If It Bleeds by Stephen King. Spoiler warning: these summaries contains spoilers.
Table of Contents
Quick Plot Synopsis
For a non-spoiler version of the plot summary, see The Bibliofile’s review of If It Bleeds by Stephen King.
In Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, Craig is a boy who works for Mr. Harrigan, a very wealthy retiree. Mr. Harrigan gives Craig $1 lotto-scratchers on holidays. When Craig wins $3,000, he buys Mr. Harrigan an iPhone, which Harrigan becomes very attached to. When Harrigan passes away, Craig sneaks the phone into Harrigan’s jacket before he is buried. A few months later, Craig gets beat up by a bully. Craig calls the phone to hear Mr. Harrigan’s voice for comfort, and he leaves a voicemail about the bully. Mysteriously, the bully is found dead from suicide the next day. Craig wonders if it was a coincidence. He later switches to a new phone, and he finds he’s no longer able to contact Mr. Harrigan’s phone.
Many years later, a drunk driver kills Craig’s beloved former teacher and her husband. The drunk driver has a rich father who gets him a very light sentence — just rehab and drug testing. Enraged, Craig locates his old phone and calls Mr. Harrigan. It mysteriously works, and Craig leaves a voicemail wishing the drunk driver were dead. The drunk driver commits suicide, and Craig throws his old phone into the lake.
The Life of Chuck consists of three acts, told in reverse. In Act III: Thanks, Chuck!, Marty Anderson is walking around as the world is on the brink of destruction. The internet has stopped working, the electricity cuts out, natural disasters are ravaging the world and the earth’s rotation is slowing. Oddly, there are ads dedicated to someone named Chuck Krantz, thanking him for “39 great years” everywhere. The story then introduces Chuck, who is dying in a hospital bed. His brother-in-law tells Chuck’s son a theory that people contain whole worlds inside them that fall to ruin when they die. As Chuck breathes his last breath, Marty’s world goes black.
In Act II: Buskers, Chuck is walking down a street in Boston. He has nine months to live, but doesn’t know it yet. He comes across a street musician busking with his drumkit. Chuck starts to dance and a crowd forms. A woman joins in and together they dance a joyous, impromptu dance. A huge crowd gathers, cheering and offering tips. Later on, as the disease ravages Chuck, he’ll remember this day and think that things like that are why God made the world.
In Act I: I Contain Multitudes, Chuck is sent to live with his grandparents, Sarah and Albie, after his parents are killed in a car accident when he is 7. Sarah teaches Chuck to love dancing. One day, Albie drunkenly tells Chuck that the cupola in their house is locked because he sees ghosts of people there before they die. Albie hints that he has seen Sarah and something involving bread. Soon, Sarah dies of a stroke while she is buying bread.
Later, Chuck goes to a school dance and shows off his moves with a girl, Cat, while the rest of the students cheer them on. Afterwards, Chuck is twirling around happily when he scratches his hand on a fence, leaving a crescent-shaped scar. Chuck later lies about how he got the scar (saying that Cat’s boyfriend shoved him) because the truth of why the scar matters is a story he cannot tell. When Chuck is a junior, Albie passes away. Chuck gets the key to the cupola and goes up there. He sees a vision of a man with a crescent-shaped scar on his hand in a hospital bed.
In If it Bleeds, a bomb is dropped off at a middle school in Pennsylvania, killing and injuring scores of people. Holly Gibney, a private investigator, sees the news report and looks into it. She begins to suspect that a local reporter, Chet Ondowsky, is a supernatural similar to the Outsider, a creature she tracked down in a separate case not too long ago. The creatures feeds off pain. Holly learns of an elderly man, Dan Bell, who has drawn the same conclusion. Dan has tracked this creature for decades, and Dan has determined there are at least two “templates” of faces the creature adopts. For the first one (“Chet”), Dan has recorded at least 17 iterations of the same man, and the other (which Holly nicknames “George”) is the man who dropped off the bomb at the school.
Holly contacts Chet and demands a meeting. (She makes a series of recordings as a back-up plan and sends it to Detective Ralph Andersen in case things don’t go her way.) She tells him she wants money or she will expose him, but actually plans to just shoot him. She invites him to her office, but two of her concerned friends (Jerome and Barbara Robinson) have tracked her there. Chet attacks Jerome and tries to use Barbara as a hostage. After an extended scuffle and thanks to some fiddling with the elevator, Holly pushes Chet down the elevator shaft and kills him. Later, though, when Holly goes to visit her Uncle Henry (who has Alzheimer’s and can barely recognize her), he greets her with a clear “Hello, Holly” which is the same greeting Chet once used.
In Rat, Drew Larson goes up to his late father’s cabin to write, after getting an idea for a novel. Drew has published several short stories, but has never completed a novel. His last attempt resulted in a mental breakdown. At the cabin, writing initially goes smoothly, but goes downhill quickly. He becomes severely ill, a storm comes raging through and soon his novel is unraveling. In the storm, Drew saves a rat from the rain and goes to sleep. When he wakes, the rat is speaking and offers him a deal: the rat will help him finish his novel, but in return, someone Drew cares about will die. The rat suggests Drew’s friend and department head, Al. Drew accepts, telling himself it’s probably just a dream anyhow. The next day, Drew writes swiftly again. When he gets home, Drew checks that Al is fine, and Drew soon completes the book. Months later, Drew sells the book at auction. While he and his wife celebrate, Drew gets news that Al and his wife are dead from a car accident. Drew is initially upset and goes back to the cabin to confront the rat, but it’s pointless. Life goes on, and Drew considers that things basically worked out for him.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone
As a kid, Craig works for an old, rich man named Mr. John Harrigan, helping out with various tasks and chores. Each Valentines Day, Birth Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas, Mr. Harrigan gives Craig a card with a $1 lotto scratcher ticket with the same message, Good Wishes from Mr. Harrigan.
Harrigan used to own a variety of businesses, including a telecom company and then made even more money on the stock market. He’s likely a billionaire. When he sold off his businesses, he moved to Harlow, where Craig’s family lives. Craig’s mother passes away, but his father raises him. Harrigan starts attending their church, the First Methodist of Harlow. About three years later, in 2004, Harrigan asks Craig to come read to him and do household chores. Craig makes $5/hr and reads books like Heart of Darkness, Silas Mariner, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Dombey and Son to Harrigan. Harrigan tells Craig not to tell his father about Lady Chatterley’s Lover, since it contains sex scenes.
In 2007, Craig’s father gets him an iPhone, to Craig’s delight. The following Valentine’s Day, Craig gets his dollar scratcher from Mr. Harrigan and wins $3,000. Craig tells Harrigan, who offers to invest the money for him in Apple and additionally guarantees the base amount ($3,000). As a thank you, Craig gets Harrigan an iPhone. Harrigan thanks him, but tells him to give it to his father instead. Harrigan tells him that people don’t objects, instead objects own you. However, when Craig shows him the stock market and news app, Harrigan decides to keep the phone. Craig helps him to change the ringtone to Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man because Harrigan likes country music.
Harrigan is amazed by the business implications of the phone and gets more and more attached to it. In late 2008, when Craig is 13, Harrigan talks about the annoyance of spam and predicts the success of Amazon. The next time Craig goes to visit, Mr. Harrigan has passed away. He finds the body and takes the Harrigan’s phone. Craig adds a note to the Notes App, saying farewell to Harrigan. At the funeral, the town shows up and some business associates, but Mr. Harrigan had no family. When no one is around, Craig tucks the phone into Harrigan’s suit as he lies in a coffin.
After the funeral, Craig learns that Mr. Harrigan has left him a letter. It says that $800,000, has been left in a trust with his father and Charles Rafferty (Harrigan’s business manager) as the trustees, until he is 26. Rafferty would help to invest the money. The letter also seems to reference the note that Charles left him on the Notes App.
That night, Craig wakes up missing Harrigan. Craig calls Harrigan’s number to hear his voice on the voicemail message, and he leaves his own message saying goodbye. The next morning, he sees that he has a text message from Mr. Harrigan with Craig’sinitials (“C C C a a”). Craig tells his father about everything about the phone and tells him they need to dig him up. While Craig freaks out, his father calmly explains the phone was likely spoofed (phone was cloned by someone trying to steal credit card information or something). He further explains that Mr. Harrigan had an autopsy and is definitely dead.
The next day, Craig goes to Harrigan’s house and talks to the housekeeper, Mrs. Grogan. She has been provided for as well as Pete Bostwick, the gardener. She notes that even though Harrigan was generous with them and the town, he wasn’t someone you wanted to get on the bad side of. His charity gave him power and he used it, for example, to blackball Dusty Bilodeau after Dusty stole from him.
In Fall 2009, Craig begins middle school. Kenny Yanko is a troublemaker and bully who sets his sights on Craig. On the first day, Kenny demands that Craig shine his shoes. Craig says no, and luckily a teacher, Ms. Hargensen, interrupts before anything further happens. When the Sadie Hawkins dance rolls around, Craig’s friend Margie Washburn asks him to the dance. At the dance, Kenny grabs him and tosses him into the parking lot. Kenny tells him, again, to shine his shoes. Craig punches him, and Kenny beats the pulp out of him. Later Craig refuses to tell Ms. Hargensen that it was Kenny because he doesn’t want to further provoke Kenny. Ms. Hargensen comforts Craig (he also develops a crush on her).
That night, feeling upset, Craig calls Mr. Harrigan’s phone. Craig doesn’t understand why the phone isn’t out of batteries yet, but he leaves him a message telling him about Kenny. The next day, the news comes out that Kenny Yanko has died. Craig calls Mr. Harrigan to ask if he did it and gets a meaningless text back, “a a a. C C x.” It creeps Craig out, but he talks to Reverend Mooney about Kenny and feels better.
In high school, Craig becomes friends with Mike “U-Boat” Ueberroth when they end up acting in one of the Drama Club plays together. U-Boat’s father is a police detective, and U-Boat tells Craig that Kenny died of autoerotic asphyxiation and half of his hair had turned white.
In 2011, Craig gets a new iPhone and tries calling Mr. Harrigan, but it no longer works, to Craig’s relief. Craig develops an interest in journalism, and attends Emerson College after high school. When he is a junior in college, Craig hears that Ms. Hargensen has died in a drunk driving accident. Dean Whitmore, the drunk driver who hit her and her husband, has survived. Whitmore had a history of DUIs and his father, a big hedge-fund guy, would likely hire fancy lawyers to get him off with a slap on the wrist.
Whitmore gets four years, with the option to do rehab and four years of urine testing instead. Outraged, Craig digs his old phone out of his closet. He calls Mr. Harrigan and somehow it rings and his voicemail picks up. Craig tells him about Dean and wishes he were dead. Dean died on his second day at his luxury rehab facility of a strange suicide, drinking shampoo. Craig finds out he left a note, a line from Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man.
Looking at his phone again, there’s another message from Harrigan “C C C sT”. Craig understands the message to mean “Craig stop.” Craig calls Mr. Harrigan one last time to say goodbye and throws his old phone into the lake.
The Life of Chuck
Act III: Thanks, Chuck!
Marty Anderson is a high school teacher. The internet around the world has been shaky for months, cell coverage is a mess and suicides are at a high. Meanwhile California is getting destroyed due to earthquakes, with refugees fleeing into Nevada and beyond. The day before the Internet goes down, Marty notices a billboard retirement notice, saying thank you for “39 great years” to a man named Charles “Chuck” Krantz, on top of the Midwest Trust building.
Felicia Anderson, Marty’s ex-wife and a nurse at City General, calls to check up on Marty. Before she hangs up, they joke about Chuck Krantz since she had also heard an ad about his retirement on NPR, though neither of them know who he is or why his retirement is such a big deal. Marty goes online and sees another ad with the same “39 GREAT YEARS! THANKS, CHUCK!” message just before the internet disconnects permanently.
The next day, Marty comes across Gus Wilfong, who tells him about a sinkhole that has appeared, causing traffic problems. They talk about how China has the bubonic plage and how all the food-producing regions of the United States are no longer viable. Marty sees a woman, Andrea, who he thinks works at Midwest Trust. He asks her about Chuck, but she says she doesn’t know who he is.
Marty decides to go see Felicia. Driving is impossible, so he goes by foot. He comes across an old man, Sam Yarbrough, who is headed in the same direction. Sam says he’s asked a bunch of people and no one knows who Chuck is. Sam tells him that he thinks the rotation of the earth is slowing. Marty arrives at Fern Lane, where Felicia lives. He’s chats with a young girl as the electricity on the street suddenly cuts out. Then, the same image of Chuck’s face appears on the windows of all the houses on the streets. He gets to Felicia’s house and together they wonder if this is the end.
Elsewhere, Douglas Beaton sits at his brother-in-law, Chuck Krantz’s, bedside. Chuck, who had been an accountant at Midwest Bank, is 39 and dying of a brain tumor. Douglas is a professor of Philosophy and Religion. Chuck’s son Brian, a freshman in high school, shows up as well. Brian’s mother (Doug’s sister) is in the chapel praying. Doug tells Brian that when someone dies, a “whole world falls to ruin —the world that person knew and believed in.” Doug thinks that each person contains a whole world inside him. Then, Chuck stops breathing.
Marty and Felicia watch the sky as the stars seem to go out suddenly. Chuck dies. Marty and Felicia’s world goes black.
Act II: Buskers
Jared Franck, a Julliard dropout, sets up his drumkit on the street and puts out a tophat to busk. His friend Mac will bring his van over soon. Jared and Mac also work at Tower Records, but he can make nearly as much busking.
Meanwhile, Janice Halliday, 22, is leaving work when she gets dumped by her boyfriend of 16 months via text. A few blocks away, she hears drumming.
On Boylston Street, Charles Krantz is walking down the street. He’s attending a week-long conference on banking. He has nine months left to live, though he doesn’t know it yet. In high school, Chuck was the lead singer of a garage band called the Retros. He’s thinking about the time he taught the lead guitarist’s little sister to moonwalk when he hears the sound of drumming.
Jared is playing as Chuck walks towards him and stops to listen, dancing gently. As Jared plays, a crowd begins to form and money is getting dropped into the hat. Chuck dances more enthusiastically as others get enthused as well. More money fills the hat. Chuck sees a random woman, Janice, and invites her to dance, too. She does. People applause as they show off their dance moves. There’s a huge crowd now, they are laughing and dancing and the hat is full of cash.
Twenty minutes later, Jared counts the cash and there’s over $400. He insists on splitting the cash with Chuck and Janice, though they refuse at first. They laugh about how much fun they had, how there was a little magic in the air. Chuck leaves happily, though he has one of those headaches he started getting a few months ago. Chuck wonders why he decided to stop to dance, but doesn’t know. Eventually, he won’t be able to walk or even chew food anymore. But he’ll remember that day, “and he will think that is why God made the world. Just that.”
Act I: I Contain Multitudes
Chuck is seven when his father and pregnant mother die in a car crash. He moves in with his father’s parents, Albie and Sarah Krantz. It took a long time for joy to return to their household as they mourn the parents and the unborn child, Alyssa. Still, Sarah teaches Chuck her love of dancing. Albie drinks a bit too much. He tries reins it in after a while, but occasionally would still get drunk.
The house had a cupola, but it was locked. Albie claims it’s because the floor is weak. When Chuck is 11, Albie gets a bit drunk and tells him that the cupola is full of ghosts, referencing something that had happened to Henry Peterson and the “Jefferies boy”. The Jefferies boy was a kid who was hit by a drunk driver when he ran into the street to fetch a ball. Albie believes he saw the boy’s ghost before it happened. Chuck asks the neighborhood gossip, Mrs. Stanley about Henry Peterson. She says Henry hung himself after his wife ran off with a younger man. He had been Albie’s bookkeeper. Albie thinks he saw Henry Peterson’s ghost 4 or 5 years before it happened.
Chuck recalls that Albie had said that he had seen Sarah and something about bread during their conversation about ghosts, saying that “the waiting” is “the hard part.” Chuck wonders if Albie had seen Sarah’s ghost in the cupola. In August, Grandma Sarah passes away. Albie is sad, but also seems relieved to no longer be waiting and anticipating her death. When Chuck investigates, it turns out Sarah had been buying bread when she had her stroke.
The last day of 6th grade, Chuck asks his teacher about a line from Walt Whitman’s poem Song of Myself — “I am large, I contain multitudes“. His teacher said that it refers to memories, and how they create a world inside you that gets deeper and more complex as you get older. In middle school, Chuck joins a dance class. He and Cat McCoy, a gorgeous 8th grader, are the best dancers in the club. After he shows her his moondance, Cat and Chuck dance together at the Fall Fling as the other kids cheer them on.
Before Chuck dies, he tells his wife the truth about a small crescent-shaped scar on his hand. Before, Chuck had claimed Doug Wentworth, Cat’s boyfriend, had shoved him after the dance, but that was a lie. Instead, the truth was that the scar came from him twirling happily after the dance and him scratching his hand on a chainlink fence.
Chuck lied because the truth is part of a story he couldn’t tell, so instead he made up a story to associate it with a meaningful story that he could tell. Four years after the Fall Fling, when Chuck is a junior in high school, Albie passes away. As a result, Chuck receives Albie’s personal effects, including a keyring. Chuck finally goes up and unlocks the cupola. It’s empty. As he turns to walk out, he sees a vision of a dying man in a hospital bed. On the old man’s hand is a small crescent-shaped scar, and Chuck knows “his own waiting would begin.” Chuck tries to tell himself he never saw his ghost and is determined to try to live his life that way.
If It Bleeds
In January 2021, an padded envelope containing containing a flash drive labeled “If it bleeds” is delivered to Detective Ralph Anderson. The drive contains some photographs, some audio spectrograms and a report from Holly Gibney. Anderson knows Gibney from a case they worked on involving a cave (The Outsider). The report consists of a series of spoken diary entries, the last of which is dated December 19th, 2020. She sounds out of breath and warns that she may not make it out of this alive.
December 8–9, 2020
In Pineborough Township at Albert Macready Middle School, a delivery truck comes by with a package decorated with Christmas stickers. It’s for the “Nemo Me Impune Lacessit Society“, named for the Scottish national motto. The club is part of Mr. Griswold’s Current Affairs class, which partners with a Scottish school in a program where the students write letters to each other. However, it’s soon discovered that the package is not from the partner school. The delivery company is fake, as is the customs stamp on the box. Mrs. Keller, the school secretary who accepts the package, ends up losing an arm.
Meanwhile, Holly Gibney is working at Finders Keepers, a detective agency. Her previous partner, Bill Hodges, passed away and now she works with Pete Huntley. Jerome Robinson also works part-time. He’s taking a gap year from his Harvard studies to try to write a sociology book. At 3 o’clock Holly watches her favorite show, Judge John Law, when it gets interrupted with a breaking news report about an explosion at a middle school in Pineborough, Pennsylvania.
Holly is upset after seeing the report. It reminds her of the Brady Hartsfield case (Mr. Mercedes Trilogy), a previous bombing case she was involved in. She and Jerome talk about the concept of evil. At 10 o’clock, a news update reports 31 dead, 73 injured in the bombing. They show an image of the delivery man who dropped off the package. Chet Ondowsky the local reporter on scene, looks exhausted and is covered in dust. He talks about the rescue efforts. Holly finds herself wondering about Chet Ondowsky for reasons she can’t quite place.
December 9–13, 2020
The rest of the week is busy for Finders Keepers. They work with a number of law firms and insurance companies, serving papers and investigating claims. They often look into reports of lost kids and dogs as well. On Friday, Holly gets a call from her mother with bad news that her mother’s brother, Henry, needs to be put in hospice care. Holly heads home on Saturday and Jerome insists on going with her. On the way, Jerome talks about his book which is about his great-great-grandfather, Alton Robinson, who had run a speakeasy and had dealings with Al Capone.
At the Gibney house, her mother, Charlotte Gibney, greets them. Holly resents her cold and unloving mother, but tries to fight those feelings since this is a difficult time for her mother. Holly goes to fetch Uncle Henry. He repeatedly mistakes her for Janey, her cousin, who was murdered as part of the Brady Hartsfield case years ago. After lunch, they take Henry to the Rolling Hills Elder Care Center. When Henry realizes what’s happening, he gets upset, but the staff calms him down.
Holly and Jerome head back without staying the night. On the way, Holly realizes why Chet Ondowsky was bothering her. He had a mole on his face in one of reports which was gone in a later report. If it was covered up with makeup, why wouldn’t they clean some of the dust off him? Jerome tells her to let it go.
December 14, 2020 (Monday)
Holly does some research on Chet, watching his clips online. No mole in any of them. Then she wonders if the mole wasn’t a mole at all, but the leftovers of a fake mustache. She starts to wonder how Chet got to the scene so quickly and she checks his twitter feed, @condowsky1. Holly starts comparing the pictures of Chet and the delivery guy (who she nicknames “George“, for convenience). They are definitely different faces, but something still bothers her.
Holly compares some pictures and notes the presence of a forest green Subaru sedan in one of Chet’s tweets as well as in the background of some of the bombing footage. She’s sure it’s Chet’s. Based on the way it’s parked in the bombing footage, she’s sure it was parked there before the news van got there.
Holly finds herself reluctant to involve Jerome or Pete in this case. Instead, Holly records a message to Ralph Anderson, wondering if this could be a case of another person similar to the Outsider, able to change his appearance. Unlike that man, she thinks Chet can change his appearance much quicker. Like the Outsider who thrives off pain, Chet mostly covers crime and disaster.
December 15, 2020 (Tuesday)
Talking it out clears her head, and Holly finds herself able to put the Chet stuff aside. She writes it all off as unfounded assumptions. However, at 6 o’clock PM, she gets a call from a Dr. Carl Morton. Two more phone calls later, and the next morning she’s headed to Portland, Maine.
December 16, 2020 (Wednesday)
Holly had told Dr. Carl Morton, a therapist, about her experiences with the Outsider. She had chosen him because he attends a lot of conferences and symposiums with other therapists. She had known that Carl didn’t believe her, but she asked him to tell others her story (“a creature that renews itself by eating the pain of the dying”), even if he characterized it as delusions. More importantly, Holly asked Carl to please give her contact information to any therapist if anyone ever reported a similar story.
In the phone call, Carl explained that Dr. Joel Lieberman had told him about a similar case in Portland, Maine. Dan Bell, an 91-year-old man, had a firm belief he knew of a creature that was a “psychic vampire.” After the Macready School explosion, the patient was certain his “psychic vampire” had caused it. Dan Bell hopes to talk to Holly and he references Chet Ondowsky.
Holly records messages for Ralph with these updates on Morton. Then, in the early morning, Holly grabs a flight to Maine. When she calls, Brad Bell, Dan’s grandson picks up. Holly arrives at their grand house and soon learns that the Bells own Bell Paper Products, which used to be a major paper conglomerate. Dan is a former cop, while Brad is an audio designer. Holly and Dan share their thoughts about Chet. Chet theorizes that these Outsiders cannot grow hair.
Dan says he was 31 when he first saw his creature. He shows her a news clip about a bad airline crash in 1960 with only one survivor. On the news is an excited-looking Chet, going by “Paul Freeman” feeding off the pain of the burned survivor and bystanders. In the next clip, it’s 1964 and Chet is going by “Dave Van Pelt“, reporting on the shooting of JFK. He looks slightly different, but it’s him. The next Chet is a chubbier, going by “Jim Avery” in 1967. The report is on the Detroit Rebellion, a police raid. From there, there’s more. Dan has identified 17 different versions of Chet.
Dan explains that he was able to recognize Chet’s face even though he varies in weight and other characteristics, because he used to be a sketch artist. He then shows her another clip, it’s of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016. The reporter, however, doesn’t look like Chet. Instead, it looks like the delivery man that dropped off the package at the middle school. Holly points this out, and Dan informs her that this creature has at least two “templates” (one is Chet, the other is the delivery man “George”) that it takes on variants of in its appearances.
Dan has never done anything other than track the creature because he assumed it was a harmless oddity. Brad explains that in the newspaper industry have a saying “If it bleeds, it leads”. It means that people like stories about death and destruction. But when he saw the security cam image of “George” dropping off the bomb, Dan was spurred into action. It’s possible that lapping up pain on the sidelines wasn’t enough, so he has now upgraded into causing destruction. Brad shows an audio analysis, indicating the consistencies in speech of “Chet” and “George”, including indications of a lisp, which shows they are the same person.
Holly knows she is on her own for this. Brad and Dan are too old and too frightened, and she doesn’t think Jerome or Pete can handle this. Back in the office, Jerome and his young sister Barbara Robinson talk about how Holly is up to something. Jerome has secretly put a tracker on Holly’s phone and they check her browser history. They feel guilty about invading Holly’s privacy though, so Jerome gets rid of the tracker.
Meanwhile, Holly contacts Chet’s show tipline. She demands that Chet call her back, referencing his aliases. When he does, Holly provides some of her proof and says that she’ll send it to other news organizations unless he meets with her tomorrow.
December 17, 2020 (Thursday)
Holly has a plan to lie to Chet about what she wants. When they meet, she demands $300,000 and says she’ll let him go if he pays up and promises not to kill again. She tells him to leave the money in a box at her office at the 5th Floor of the Frederick Building on Saturday. As she leaves, she knows full well he plans to kill her.
Holly’s mother has called giving her a hard time with the usual accusatory tone, implying that it’s Holly is in the wrong for not call her back since Uncle Henry has injured himself. Holly reminds herself she has nothing to apologize for. She calls the retirement home instead. They assure her that he’s doing fine, and that he moved surprisingly quickly to help prevent another woman from a much worse injury. Holly realizes her mother is using the incident to guilt Holly, as usual. Still, Holly agrees to come visit her mother and drives home.
Meanwhile, Barbara, a senior in high school, asks Justin Freilander for help.
December 18, 2020 (Friday)
Holly and her mother go to see Uncle Henry, and she records an update for Ralph. Tomorrow, she plans to shoot “Chet” with her ex-partner Bill Hodge’s service pistol, a .38 Smith & Wesson which holds 6 rounds.
December 19, 2020 (Saturday)
Though Jerome deleted his tracking app, Barbara had Justin install the app on her phone so she could continue tracking Holly. Based on Holly’s searches and location, Barbara knows that Holly is interested in Chet or his cameraman (Fred Finkel). Barbara decides to head to Holly’s apartment since it seems she’s headed there. Her ETA is 5:30.
Holly finds herself running late for her meeting with “Chet”. Charlotte gets into a fender bender that morning, and Holly finds that the traffic is stopped up as she heads back to the Frederik Building. “Chet” is supposed to show up at 6 o’clock PM. Holly finally arrives at the building at 5:05 PM and gets in position by 5:34 PM. Around this time, Barbara realizes Holly is at her office, not her apartment. Barbara heads to the office.
Holly plans to shoot Chet as soon as he steps out of the elevator. Before he arrives, she gets the flash drive ready to send to Ralph as a backup in case her plan doesn’t go as intended. She pulls up a program that Jerome installed, EREBETA, that controls the glitchy elevator. Their incompetent building super (Al Jordan) was lazy about fixing it, so she and Jerome linked the elevator to one of their computers instead to fix its behavior. Holly applies a quick adjustment to prepare for Chet.
Jerome and Barbara both show up, with Jerome admitting he didn’t really delete his tracker app. However, a dark figure then attacks Jerome and he falls to the pavement. Momentarily, Holly gets a call Chet, who lets her know that he has Barbara hostage. Chet forces Barbara into the elevator and changes his appearance to look like George to Barbara’s horror. Barbara defecates herself. When they arrive at Floor 5, George checks Holly for a gun, and then he forces Barbara into the bathroom.
The package of evidence that George wants is stuck to the ceiling of the elevator. Holly plans to throw him down the shaft, even if he takes her with him. But Jerome suddenly comes out of the stairwell and charges at George. After a scuffle, Holly is able to push George into the shaft just as the elevator hits the top floor and the doors open (the elevator glitch that Holly prepared). Jerome grabs Holly to prevent her from going down with him. George’s body thuds against the bottom of the shaft as the elevator heads back down.
Afterwards, the three of them get their stories straight, saying they were Christmas shopping and got waylaid by a mugger. Then, they call 911 so Jerome and Barbara can get assistance for their injuries. At the bottom of the elevator, Holly finds no body, but a pile of clothes which she disposes of.
December 22, 2020
Holly gives a deposition relating to another one of her cases. Afterwards, she gets a call from Brad, saying that Dan has had a heart attack and is in the hospital. The Bells are also wondering how things went. Holly tells them Chet/George is dead. However, she wonders if there’s more creatures like that out there.
December 25, 2020
On Christmas, Holly calls her mother and then spends her day with the Robinson family. Holly gives Barbara Carl’s card in case she’s looking for someone to talk to about her experience. She shoots Ralph a note to let him know the plan turned out fine.
February 15, 2021
Uncle Henry mental decline comes swiftly, but Judge John Law comes on the TV — a show both he and Holly enjoy — Henry says “Hello Holly.” (It’s not clear if he had a moment of clarity or if there’s something more sinister going on. “Hello, Holly” is the same greeting Chet used when he approached her at their first meeting.)
Drew Larson is a professor and a writer of short stories. He gets an idea for a novel as he stands at a street corner. In his mind’s eye, he sees a western-themed scene play out. At home, he announces this to his wife, Lucy, who is concerned. The last time he attempted to write a novel, The Village on the Hill, it resulted in a mental breakdown and their house on fire. Drew wants to spend a few weeks at his father’s old cabin for a few weeks to get the book started. Drew visits, Al Stamper, his department head, who knows about the previous attempt and expresses concern.
A week later, in October, Drew heads up to the cabin with a typewriter, eager to write. Drew’s father had passed away ten years ago, and they’d rented out the cabin until Old Bill Colson, the property caretaker, had passed away as well. Since then, it had been left empty. There’s no cell reception and a electricity can be spotty, but the cabin has a landline. On the way, Drew stops at Big 90 General Store. The storekeep, Roy DeWitt, has a cold and warns him of the poor state of the roads now that Bill is gone. Roy also says that Bill killed himself in front of Drew’s cabin. Bill had been suffering from Alzheimer’s and apparently couldn’t take it.
At the cabin, Drew calls his wife and is surprised to find that the DirecTV works. He rifles through the stuff in the cabin, rummaging through an old box of toys. When he begins writing, words flow easily and the next few days go smoothly. On the third day, he feels a bit under the weather. By day four, Drew is clearly sick, but he keeps writing swiftly. He reluctantly leaves to buy more food and supplies. A woman is minding the store because Roy is hospitalized with pneumonia. Drew wonders if Roy gave him this cold. The woman warns that a serious storm is coming, recommending that Drew head home. Lucy has heard about the storm and urges him to come home, too. They get into a minor argument.
Drew’s progress continues, but his cold doesn’t let up. The weather station continues to report doom and gloom ahead. Lucy angrily orders him home. Drew refuses. As Drew’s health declines, the thought creeps into his mind that he’s falling apart just as he did with his last failed novel, but he dismisses it. He feels the words stalling and his neuroses taking over, as he ponders over each word. Feverish and coughing, he calls Lucy. He finally admits that he’s ill, but the storm has started, so it’s too late to driving back.
The lights cut out, and a tree branch falls loudly. As the storm rages, a shivering and feverish Drew realizes he’s sick, stuck here and his novel is quickly unraveling in his mind. Then, a scratching at the door starts. He opens the door to see a bedraggled rat. Unable to kill it, Drew leaves the dying rat near the fire.
When Drew wakes, the rat starts talking to him about his writing. Drew assumes he is dreaming or delirious, but the rat says no. The rat offers him a Faustian bargain: the rat will help him finish his book, but in exchange someone he cares about will have to die. The rat suggests Al. Drew considers that Al has lived a full life and has pancreatic cancer, though it was caught early. He tells himself that this is all a dream anyway. Drew accepts the deal, but doesn’t feels great about it. The next morning, his fever is gone, though is still a little sick. He notices a stuffed rat that had spilled out of the old toy box, wondering if it inspired his dream. Drew sits down to write and the words come easily once again.
The storm ends up blowing for four days, but Drew is too busy writing. Eventually, Drew is interrupted by the sound of a chainsaw, which turns out to be Old Bill’s son, Johnny “Jackie” Colson, who is clearing the road now that the storm has subsided. Jackie says that Lucy called his mother to tell him to clear this road. He also mentions that Roy passed away. Drew heads home and gets there safely. At home, Drew keeps writing, but stops to call Al. Al is fine, but has a rash. And Drew keeps hearing the word “rat” whenever anyone says the word “right”, though.
All through November, Drew writes. On December 2st, Drew types the final words of his book. Soon, he gives it to Lucy to read and then Al. Al is doing well — amazingly cancer free — and he likes the book. At auction in March, the book fetches $350,000. As Lucy and Drew celebrate over a bottle of Dom Pérignon, they receive news that Al and his wife Nadine are dead from a car accident.
In August, Drew suggests selling the cabin, but plans to take a day to visit it first. At the cabin, Drew finds the stuffed rat, sets it on fire, drinks a few beers and falls asleep. He wakes up to see the rat speaking to him again. Drew confronts the rat, but it’s unapologetic and then it runs away. Drew knows he will tell himself it was a dream. He returns to his life and continues editing his manuscript to prepare for publication. The story ends by saying “Really, when you thought about it, everything was all rat.”