Quitters, Inc.

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"Quitters, Inc."
Author Stephen King
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Horror short story Satire Absurdist Literature
Published in Night Shift
Publisher Doubleday
Media type Print (Paperback)
Publication date 1978

"Quitters, Inc." is a short story by Stephen King, first published in King's 1978 collection Night Shift.

Plot[edit]

Richard "Dick" Morrison, a middle-aged smoker, is at John F. Kennedy International Airport when he runs into Jimmy McCann, his old college roommate and ad agency coworker. McCann, who had been a heavy smoker in college, credits a firm called Quitters, Inc. for helping him kick the habit and recommends that Dick try their services. The firm has a 98% success rate and guarantees that the person will never smoke again. Dick, who works in advertising, is reluctant as he has never seen this firm advertised in billboards or print media, to which McCann says it is a small firm with all the clients they can handle solely by word of mouth. Before leaving, McCann gives a business card to Dick, who promptly pigeonholes it.

A month later, when Dick's work is going horribly, he is in a bar getting drunk, when Jimmy McCann's business card falls out of Dick's wallet when he pays the bartender. Since the address is close to the bar, Dick decides to go to Quitters, Inc. on a lark. Dick is introduced to Victor Donatti, who will be his quitting counselor. Donatti tells the history of Quitters, Inc., saying it was founded by a New Jersey mob boss who had been a heavy smoker and realized, before he died of lung cancer, that he must aid others in quitting. Dick is still uneasy, especially as Donatti asks many questions about the Morrison family without revealing the methods used. The following day, Donatti states to Morrison that they have found out all the relevant information about his family. Although Donatti assures Morrison Quitters, Inc. personal information is held in the strictest confidence, Dick is disgusted and shocked what has been discovered. Donatti then shows Dick their method, aversion training, in which a rabbit is shocked not to overeat. Donatti warns Dick that he will be under surveillance and if he is caught smoking, Dick's family will be sent to the "rabbit room".

For the first month, Dick will have round-the-clock surveillance to ensure he is not smoking and for the second and third months, the surveillance would be 18 hours a day ("but you will never know which eighteen" cautions Donatti). During the fourth month (when relapses oft occur) the surveillance would go back to 24 hours. From the fifth month until one full year in the program, it would be reduced to 12 hours a day. After that, the surveillance would be random checks for the remainder of his life. The brutal enforcement methods used by Quitters, Inc. are non-fatal electric shocks of increasing intensity to his wife, a second infraction to him and the third would include the both of them. A fourth infraction would involve beatings to his son, and subsequent infractions would result in more trips to the shock room with higher voltage, and more painful beatings of his son and wife. After the ninth infraction, his son's arms would be broken. Finally, if Dick commits a tenth infraction, he would be shot to death, with Donatti remarking "he would become part of the unregenerate 2%". Donatti says Morrison should not worry too much about the torture, as 40% of Quitters' clients never violate the agreement at all, and only 10% are subject to a fourth or greater infraction. Donatti says Morrison's greatest problem will probably be temptation as a result of availability. Dick's desire to relapse is overcome by fear of the surveillance and the torture, which he conceals from his wife in order not to scare her.

Months go by and Dick is faithful to his resolve to quit smoking, even during a point when he had too much to drink at a party; he is still sober enough to decline an offer for a smoke. He gradually loses the physical jitters of quitting, but the psychological craving for tobacco stays strong. One day during a stressful traffic jam, Dick's desire overtakes him and he finds an old pack of cigarettes in the glove compartment, lights up a cigarette, but stubs it out after only three drags. After the traffic clears, Dick comes home to an empty house and a call from Donatti informing him that they have his wife. Dick heads to Quitters, Inc. only to be restrained by a Mafia enforcer and watches as Cindy is shocked at a low setting. After the shocking, Dick speaks with Cindy in private, who is forgiving and supportive that Donatti has saved him from an early grave.

Shortly after the shocking, Dick has gained weight and Donatti obtains some prohibited diet pills for him with a target weight. If Dick strays from this goal, then his wife's right pinkie will be cut off. Morrison exercises and keeps in shape, and gives the business card to a barfly, echoing the start of the story. The story ends where Dick and Cindy meet the McCanns, and Dick realizes the wife is missing her pinkie.

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