In which we meet two new characters, and there’s monsters coming.
From where Larry sat he could see a lion, an antelope, a zebra, and some sort of monkey. All but the monkey were dead.
I don’t think we can talk about Chapter 27, or at least the Central Park scenes without bringing certain baggage along. I read The Stand initially in 2001ish (I think it was that summer, I might be wrong), and I’ve actually read apocalyptic books before this where you had characters wandering around an empty New York City. I’ve never been to NYC, but even living in a large city, it’s very eerie to be walking around alone.
There were other people in the park; Larry had spoken to a few of them. They were all pretty much the same, and Larry supposed that he himself wasn’t much different. They were dazed, their speech disjointed, and they seemed helpless to stop reaching for your sleeve with their hands as they talked. They had stories to tell. All the stories were the same.
Yeah…if that doesn’t give you chills post-9/11, I don’t know what will. (Maybe the scene that’s coming up later.)
Larry is left wandering New York after his mother died in the hospital, waiting for doctors that couldn’t help her, and all he can think of is the times when he had it good. And I like this bit of survivor’s guilt, I like the restlessness and aimlessness that Larry has to deal with and how is he WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!
(I have the illustrated edition. The problem with it is the illustrations don’t show up for a good hundred pages, you turn the page and then there’s THAT. There’s also a graphic novel version of The Stand. If I want graphic horror comics, I’ll stick to Sandman thankssoverymuch.)
Up until this point in the chapter, the only other person Larry’s encountered is an old man running around screaming about monsters (now dubbed the ‘monster-shouter’) and a few people roaming around. There’s an elegant woman sitting on a park bench, and goes to introduce himself.
“Sit down and try it. My name is Rita Blakemoor.”
Please welcome the MOST USELESS CHARACTER IN THE WHOLE NOVEL. I can’t stand Rita for reasons that will come very quickly apparent. I do wanna feel sorry for her, with the constant pill-popping and I don’t know what exactly it is she saw to push her over the edge, but then the way she acts sometimes…Man, there’s a lot I don’t like about Larry, but I want to go in there and strangle Rita right alongside him.
Still, Rita and Larry are two people who manage to find one another in the midst of all this tragedy and death. So they’ve got that much going for them.
So, I know I’ve been suffering with Frannie for about two hundred and fifty pages at this point. This is where my feelings toward her really start to turn. Her mother’s dead. Her father’s dead. She really can’t go to the hospital or anywhere else. And she’s having a breakdown.
After her father died she had sat beside his bed for a long time. At last she had gone downstairs and turned on the TV. No particular reason; like the man said, it just seemed like a good idea at the time.
There’s something really disturbing and sad about the whole sequence of Frannie watching the televised massacre from Chapter 26 and her only way to deal with it is thinking that the whole thing isn’t real at all. This is all just a dream, and Frannie needs to wake up.
To sidetrack for a moment, I like this one long passage that talks about a town meeting that convenes to figure out what to do about the flu in relation to Ogunquit. We haven’t really seen a community response to the superflu at this point. The only small towns we’ve seen so far have been wiped out before anyone figured out what was going on, and our only other major character at this point is in New York City. Ogunquit’s an different situation from Shoyo, as not only do the Ogunquit have to decide what to do, but the presence of summer residents complicates things. It’s an interesting glance at “us vs. them”; we saw a little of it earlier with Jesse and Frannie, but not in the larger context of the community. Some locals want to kick out the sick summer people. That idea goes south very quickly.
We also find out that the only other person in Ogunquit who seems all right is Harold Lauder, the younger brother of Frannie’s friend Amy. We’ll come back to Harold in a moment.
It was a beautiful warm day and her father was dead.
That brought it home to her all at once and her eyes squeezed shut, as if from a blow.
This whole sequence of events—it’s something that I don’t think anyone wants to ever do, but given the circumstances, someone has to bury the dead. It’d be easy if Frannie left, but she knows that she has to do this one thing, or it’s going to weigh on her conscious.
“Well, what would you suggest? That I put him in a coffin and drag him out to the cemetery? What in the name of God for? He loved his garden! And what’s it to you, anyway? What business is it of yours?”
Let’s go back to Harold. Harold Lauder is a textbook definition of the Nerd Nice Guy, with the nice little addition of being in apocalypse. I don’t think we’re ever supposed to really like him (aside from that one part near the climax; we’ll cross that bridge when the time comes), as you cannot read his description and not be slightly skeeved:
But looking at him, [Frannie] always felt uncomfortable and a little disgusted, as if she sensed by a low-grade telepathy that almost every thought Harold had was coated lightly with slime.
Also, Harold is an overweight, pretentious glasses-wearing geek. Very clearly out of Frannie’s league.
After Harold leaves, Frannie finishes digging her father’s grave, prepares the body and drags him outside to bury him.
Surfacing briefly in the three o’clock darkness of the living room, her body floating on a foam of dread, the dream already tattering and unraveling, leaving behind it only a sense of doom like the rancid aftertaste of some rotten meal. She thought, in the moment of half-sleeping and half-waking: Him, it’s him, the Walkin Dude, the man with no face.
Stu is doomed. He knows it, we’ve known it since the last time he’s popped up, and while there may have been some doubt on how much longer he’s got, ever since the nurses took his television away and the view outside of his window has vastly improved, it’s only a matter of time before Stu gets taken out.
There’s one guy left (we think) of the military installment, Elder, who’s going to be the one to take out Stu. Stu refers to looking at Elder as going ‘tharn,’ having all the will drained out of him. (Shameful English major admittance: Haven’t read Watership Down, I’m only going off of what the book says here.) And finally, the day comes when Elder comes to check on Stu. On his own.
“How are you feeling?” Elder asked, and even through the tinny speaker Stu could her the nasal quality of Elder’s voice. Elder was sick.
“Just the same,” Stu said, surprised at the evenness of his voice, “Say, when do I get out of here?”
“Very soon now,” Elder said. He was pointing the gun in Stu’s general direction, not precisely at him, but not precisely away, either…”You don’t talk much, do you?”
Yeah, Stu’s a goner.
“Christ Jesus!” [Stu] exclaimed. “That’s a fucking rat, what kind of place are you running with rats in it?”
In a more genre-savvy version of this story, Elder probably wouldn’t have looked. But he does, and while Stu is shocked that his gambit actually worked, he makes a break for it, chair-slamming Elder and knocking him out. Stu goes for the gun and starts running.
And from here on we get one of the creepiest sequences in the whole book. We’ve already guessed that the hospital where Stu’s at isn’t very well-staffed at this point. And remember the original Project Blue site in Nevada, where we saw all of the dead? Right, now imagine picking your way through those bodies just to get out of there. Oh, and there’s an army man who’s determined to carry out his final mission before he bites it.
After a few missed turns, Stu finally finds an exit…only to be stopped by one more…thing…in the darkness. (The ever eternal jump scare.) He manages to kick it away and exit out into the summer night.
The sun deserted Arnette; the town grew dark under the wing of night. The town was, except for the chirr and whisper of small animals and the tinkle of Tony Leominster’s wind chimes, silent. And silent. And silent.