Sobbing and rocking in a corner.
It’s this chapter isn’t it? I know I made a big deal out of the gore, but AHHH THIS CHAPTER. This has to be one of the scariest passages I have ever read in my life. auggh.
“I want to get out of the city,” Rita said without turning around…
Larry and Rita have spent a few nights together, and Larry is starting to regret it. Rita’s got a nice apartment and all, but she’s a little…clingy. A little too happy that there’s big strong Larry to help her out. But at least she suggests that they should get out of New York, perhaps heading up to New England. Maybe Ogunquit, Maine (DUN DUN). And then Rita throws up her breakfast.
Larry starts thinking that there’s a number of reasons to get out of New York; one, that it’s getting more dangerous (as evidenced by the corpse of the monster-shouter); two, the smell and the power’s going to go soon; and three, Rita’s method of shutting out everything that upsets her. And while Larry isn’t exactly Mr. Helpful, yeah, I get why he’s frustrated with Rita real quickly.
The two go and get supplies from a sporting goods store—I have to give Larry credit that just heading up to Maine on foot with no supplies is probably not the best idea in the world—and Larry grabs another gun and some ammunition just in case.
“The beginning of a journey,” she said, and then so softly he wasn’t sure he’d heard her correctly: “The way leads ever on…”
“It’s a line from Tolkien,” she said. “The Lord of the Rings. I’ve always thought of it as sort of a gateway to adventure.”
*Stand Drinking Game: When King quotes Tolkien, take a shot*
The first page of Larry and Rita’s Post-Apocalyptic Summer of Love Adventure is half-horror, half-comedy. I like the little bits of comedy thrown in here—I like the guy laying on top of the car who automatically pops up and waves when Rita asks if he’s dead. And then this happens—
[Rita] was down on one knee, holding her foot. With something like horror, Larry noticed for the first time that she was wearing expensive open-toed sandals..just the thing for a four-block stroll along Fifth Avenue while window-shopping, but for a long walk—a hike, really…
The ankle-straps had chafed through her skin. Blood was trickling down her ankles.
Can we put Larry and Rita in the Too Stupid to Live column? Rita definitely should be labeled as such—she wouldn’t last a minute without Larry. (My original notes: “Rita Blakemoor gives Bella Swan a run for the most Dependent Female in Fiction.”) But Larry deserves some of the blame. He’s ready to comment on Rita’s silk pants and fashionable blouse and snark on those, but how do you not notice what’s she’s wearing? Both of you; no beef jerky until you man up.
And I know it sounds wrong of me for saying, but THANK YOU LARRY for telling Rita to deal with the situation. (You know who Rita reminds me of? The grown-up, more neurotic version of Shannon from Lost. Except that Shannon actually grew a semblance of spine once she realized that she wasn’t getting off the Island and had a sympathetic backstory.) And yes, the fact that Larry didn’t notice that Rita was wearing inappropriate shoes is mostly Larry’s fault…but still. I want to strangle Rita for being useless and essentially an ostrich sticking her head in the sand.
For what it’s worth, Rita runs off because she can’t take Larry yelling at her. (The “Have a good time getting raped and murdered,” though, yeah, screw you Larry.)
And this is where the chapter takes the very sharp turn into one of the scariest things ever:
Ahead, he could see four lanes of westbound traffic disappearing into the black arch of the tunnel, and with something like real dread he saw that the overhead fluorescent bars inside the Lincoln were out. It would be like going into an automobile graveyard. They would let him get half-way and then they would begin to stir…to come alive…he would hear car doors clicking open and then softly chunking closed..their shuffling footsteps…
Auggggh. Guys, I live near a big city. There’s a lot of tunnels and bridges out here. This is one of the things that just lurks in the back of my mind, that the lights are going to go out. (It doesn’t help that where I live is where Romero filmed the original Dead trilogy. I love those movies but still…) This whole passage is just one of the tensest pieces I’ve read—I’ve read a lot of Stephen King and other horror stories; I got into Poe in middle school, I grew up on Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? This part kills me. Every time.
I have been in a grand total of two walk-through haunted houses. I don’t like walk-through mazes. Haunted houses like The Haunted Mansion, I’m fine with because so much of it is animatronics or parlor tricks. I can take that. (Our local amusement park has shut down almost every one of their classic dark rides. BOO I SAY.) Walk-throughs, the ones that pop up every Halloween? NO. NO. I didn’t step into a walk-through haunted house until I was seventeen and the stupid actors who get up right in my personal space but not touching me freaked me out so bad I refused to go into another one for the whole night. (Funny ending to that one time: The trio I was in ended up in the backstage area where one of the chainsaw guys was taking a quick break. He asked if we got lost; we said yes, and he asked if we could do him a favor. We ran out into the line with him chasing us out.) I didn’t go to another walk-through haunted house until I was twenty-five.
That’s what this whole part reminds me of. Just that ramped up tension of expecting something popping up behind me, ready to kill and I can’t get out and auuugh.
Still clutching the gun he whirled around again, and now it was not the soldiers in their sterile Andromeda Strain suits that he saw on the screen of his interior theater but the Morlocks from…The Time Machine, humped and blind creatures coming out of their holes in the ground where engines ran on and on in the bowels of the earth.
Larry is about to shoot someone else in the tunnel and it turns out…it’s Rita! She ended up following after him once he went into the tunnels. They manage to exit the tunnels and get over the bodies (auuugh). And another idea occurs to them, that maybe the epidemic happened in New York only, or New York got the worst of it.
The tollbooths were empty. The middle one stood in a heap of broken glass. Beyond them, the westbound lanes were empty for as far as they could see, but the eastbound, the ones which fed into the tunnel and the city they had just left, were crowded with silent traffic. There was an untidy pile of bodies in the breakdown lane, and a number of seagulls stood watch over it.
Yeah, good luck with that.
There was a small park in the center of Ogunquit…and after Gus Dinsmore died, Frannie Goldsmith went there and sat beside the duck pond, idly throwing stones…
You know what I think the worst part about Captain Trips? I’ve made mention several times of the symptoms, most notably the feverish delirium that’s a big factor in the illness. But what really makes having Captain Trips worse is that at the end, the victim gets better. You think they’re going to make it. Just…man. That kind of irrationality and the delirium is already terrifying to me, especially if you’re dying, but to get better at the end of it all, and maybe the chance that you might just make it? *shakes head*
So now, the population of Ogunquit is down to two.
Harold had left her alone since their meeting four days ago, probably respecting her wish to grieve for her parents. But she had seen from time to time Roy Brannigan’s Cadillac, cruising aimlessly from place. And twice, when the wind was right, she had been able to hear the clacking of his typewriter from her bedroom window—the fact that it was quiet enough to hear that sound, although the Lauder house was nearly a mile and a half away, seemed to underline the reality of what had happened.
(How loud is Harold’s typewriter anyway? I know the point is that there’s no noise pollution anymore, but still—there’s no birds around? The wildlife haven’t been coming back? Questions, I have them.)
I do like that even though we’re supposed to be somewhat disgusted by Harold, and the high school popularity contest rears its ugly head as we’re supposed to be thinking “Oh, poor Frannie, she’s stuck with gross fat Harold,” Frannie realizes that Harold isn’t all that bad and at least out of everyone in Ogunquit, there could be worse people to get stuck with.
Frannie also has a very sobering realization at this point in time, in regards to her major plot development:
For the first time she wondered with some unease who would help her have her baby.
Frannie goes over to the Lauder house, only to find Harold running around, mowing the grass in nothing but his swim trunks. This is where I get really uncomfortable again with Harold’s characterization—very obviously, he’s going through the same maniac grieving that Frannie did when her father died—but it feels like I’m supposed to be pointing and laughing at Harold:
The rolls of fat above the waistband of his trunks and below the legbands jounced up and down wildly. His feet were green with cut grass to above the ankle. His back had gone reddish, although with exertion or incipient sunburn she couldn’t tell.
This is where I really feel sorry for Harold. I really do feel for him when he talks about how his parents were never very close to him (the line about his dad asking Harold if was gay…ohgod), and that he knows everyone secretly laughs at him and that’s why he puts on this intellectual façade—mostly because I’ve been there. I’ve never reached the level of nihilism that Harold eventually gets to, but I understand how he feels. And even with his parents gone, he’s still grieving and just doesn’t know what to do. And that’s what I do like about Frannie, and especially here—no, she doesn’t really still like Harold all too much. But she’s willing to be there for him and help him out through this.
The two figure out that staying in Ogunquit isn’t exactly the best plan, especially if they want to find out what exactly happened. Harold mentions the two of them going up to the CDC Center in Stovington, Vermont. HEY. I KNOW WHO WAS THERE. And unlike Larry or Rita, Harold actually has some semblance of a plan that includes getting a pair of motorbikes and writing the direction of their pilgrimage on top of a barn, just in case if anyone happens to come their way. Also, props to Harold for at least being a bit of gentleman and thinking about guns and Frannie’s safety for the time being. Yeah, I know I should be rooting for Frannie to show him up that she can take care of herself, but I’ll give Harold credit for not trying to be pervy towards her.
Once Harold writes their route on top of a barn, he and Frannie go home to rest up before they head out the next day. And then Harold shows up with an old phonograph of Amy’s:
And for almost four hours they sat at the opposite ends of the couch, the portable phonograph on the coffee table before them, their faces lit with silent and sorrowful fascination, listening as the music of a dead world filled the summer night.
At first Stu accepted the sound without question; it was such a typical part of a bright summer morning….Every now and then small animals would move in the underbrush (yesterday he had been transfixed by the sight of a large doe standing on the white line of 302…), and birds called raucously. And against that background of sound, the barking dog sounded like the most natural thing in the world.
So, going back to Danse Macabre (I know I keep mentioning that one, but it’s the book that gets into The Stand, bear with me), the one line that Stephen King allegedly says kicked off this book was “A season of rest,” and that if a plague was to come over the Earth, then nature would have the chance to heal itself and replenish. It’s not a terribly original concept, especially in recent years—hell, look at the ad campaign for that show Revolution– but I still like that idea. I like this scene of Stu just hiking if he did this all the times and there’s wildlife.
Stu, by the way, has been walking for about four days at this point, after having escaped the Stovington facility. He’s been having bad dreams about his final encounter with Elder; but for the most part, Stu is happy to still be alive. He’s even happy about the chance to get around and move after being stuck in a tiny room for nearly two weeks.
He came around the bend and there was the dog…It barked joyously at the sight of Stu and ran up the road…tail wagging frantically back forth…
“Kojak!” a stern voice said, and Stu jumped and stared around. “Get down! Leave that man alone!…”
Yay, there’s more people left alive! Oh, wait, we knew that already. But Stu doesn’t, so yay Stu’s not alone in the post-plague world.
And this is our introduction to Glen Bateman, former sociologist. The thing about my rereading this book after seven years (roughly) is that while I remember who the major characters are, there’s only a handful that I remember why they’re important. Most of the focus characters up to this point, okay, I’ve been fine with, I’ve remembered certain scenes and chapters (although not how long some of this drags at parts). Glen is kinda in-between the characters I remember and the ones I completely forgot about. I remembered that he was in the book. I remembered that he was a sociologist. I forgot about how much he talks.
So much of this chapter is Glen going on and on about how society is destined to doom itself and that before major historical events, human monsters appear and that even if there are other people around, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone’s going to be friendly with each other and—okay look. I’ve got twelve hundred pages of all this to think on, and I’ve already gotten through about 350 of them. The majority of this chapter is the sound of many anvils dropping. Repeatedly. Have I mentioned that I have another eight hundred pages to go?
I can see the benefit of having a sociologist around in a post-apocalyptic event. However, I would prefer for them to give their opinion on how we should be functioning in a newly created society and not EXPOSITING. Don’t care! Do we have a mass murderer in our community? No? Shut up and when we get one, then you can go off about Jeffery Dahmer and Charlie Manson. (Again, if this was updated for now, would this get a little more political than it already is?)
Anyway. Stu is glad to find someone else still around, so he takes Glen’s offer to stay with him and Kojak for the time being. That night, despite his nightmares going away, Stu gets another very prophetic dream.
“Heaven and earth,” the dark man whispered from that empty hole where his face should have been. “All of heaven and earth.”
Get used to it, Stu.
This is one of the chapters that I always just randomly pick up and read because I’m some sort of emotional masochist. Because it’s so haunting and just sad.
A sociologist like Glen Bateman might have called this second epidemic “natural death” or “those ole emergency room blues.” In a strictly Darwinian sense, it was the final cut—the unkindest cut of all, some might have said.
Do you know how many kids die (or implied to have died) in this chapter? Only because they got ‘lucky’ to be immune but there’s no one to take care of them? There’s only two actual kids who show up in the rest of the book and oh my god it’s just horrible.
And despite two people who I really don’t feel sorry for—it’s hard to say with the heroin addict, but the girl who got knocked up in high school, yeah I really don’t like her. Hooray for death by irony—God. This chapter is brutal.
No great loss.
BRB SOBBING SOME MORE.