In which everyone keeps digging themselves further down…
The man who stepped through was not wearing one of the white all-over suits, but a small shiny nose-filter… “Hi, Mr. Redman,” he said, strolling across the room… “I’m Dick Deitz. Denninger said you wouldn’t play ball anymore unless somebody told you what the score was.”
Finally! Some answers as to what the hell has been going on. We find out that the super-flu’s communicable across animals—in this case, guinea pigs—and that Stu seems to be all right. And we also find out that everyone who had been hauled in with Stu a few chapters ago are now dead. This isn’t even the whole town, just the ones who came in contact with those infected.
“What did you people do?” [Stu] shouted… “What in Christ’s name did you do?”
Deitz tries to pass the blame off the government, insisting that if Campion hadn’t run, nobody would be in this situation and we might have been saved. (Which I highly doubt, the government would have to do something about that army base eventually.) He’s still not telling Stu anything aside from “Oh, everyone you’ve ever known is now dead, but if you just cooperate with us, we’ll get you a shave. Stu reacts with this:
Stu interrupted him with a series of harsh, dry coughs. He bent over with the force of them.
The effect on Deitz was galvanic. He was up off the bed like a shot and across to the airlock with his feet seeming not to touch the floor at all. Then he was fumbling in his pocket for the square key and ramming it into the slot.
“Don’t bother,” Stu said mildly, “I was faking.”
…”You were what?”
Deitz finally leaves, with Stu reluctantly giving his consent to testing. And then…
He slept better that night than he had since they had brought him here. And he had an extremely vivid dream…
He was standing on a country road…A blazing summer sun shone down. On both sides of the road there was green corn, and it stretched away endlessly…There was the sound of crows…Closer by, someone was playing an acoustic guitar…
This is where I ought to get to, Stu thought dimly. Yeah, this is the place, all right.
Then the music stopped. A cloud came over the sun…He looked, and saw two burning red eyes far back in the shadows, far back in the corn. Him, he thought. The man with no face.
And everything starts falling into place….
Towards the end of Danse Macabre, Stephen King starts talking about the inspiration for The Stand, and how a lot of his feelings towards the ‘societal bullshit’ that he was dealing with in the late 70s. The big metaphor he uses in this retelling is the Gordian Knot, that “I felt a bit like Alexander, lifting his sword…and growling ‘Fuck untying it, I’ve got a better way.’” And that in this world of The Stand, he can get rid of all of the bullshit, and get back to what matters.
My mind drifted back to that passage whenever there’s a scene of the military officials. The obvious metaphor with Project Blue is, of course, Pandora’s Box. Except I think there’s a lot to say for the Gordian Knot here. The government thinks that they’re undoing the knot, the tensions. They just didn’t know what would happen when they cut the knot.
(On a random note, my favorite version of King’s telling of writing The Stand comes from On Writing, specifically on the topic of first drafts: “I’m losing my book! Ah shit, five hundred pages and I’m losing my book! Condition red! CONDITION RED!!” Oh, there have been several Novembers when I’ve looked at that quote and started crying.)
The most terrifying notion of this whole book is that the reason everything happens is pure human reaction. Campion runs like hell because if he is going to die, he’s not going to die locked up in a death trap. Joe Bob does a favor for his cousin to warn Arnette that some Army guys on their way. And while at this point, there’s really nothing Patty Greer can do stop the onslaught of superflu, but considering she should really know better, being a nurse and all, it’d be something else for Stu if she had actually taken heed of her ‘cold.’
There are two sides to every story, and so far, we’ve had only one look at the bad guy. Potential bad guy. Evil red eyes, really.
Chapter Sixteen finally introduces us to the eventual right hand of the opposition, Lloyd Henreid. Lloyd and his partner Poke are two-bit crooks running across the country after grabbing a pound of weed and subsequently killing six people to get their cars.
I was talking to a college friend of mine about ‘good versus evil’ stories. She mentioned that she wasn’t really a fan of villains who were so overtly evil, that they didn’t have an interesting backstory or reasons, they were just evil for the sake of being evil. I sort-of disagreed with her; complex villains are, indeed, a lot more interesting. But you look at something like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, where there’s really not much motivation to the villains beyond “Power and wanting more of it.” (I may be wrong on LOTR, it’s been a million years since I read the Silmarillion.)
Lloyd is someone we’re not supposed to like automatically. Sure, it’s funny when he’s in the car and lighting up and drinking eight milkshakes, but he and Poke did just kill six people in cold blood. Because it was fun. It’s not like Larry, who’s messed-up and selfish, but he’s got a good heart overall. You kind of want Lloyd too be struck dead by the plague (hey, this is a Stephen King book, this thing happens), but there’s rarely an excuse to build up this much character to have him unceremoniously die three chapters later. (Although again…this is a Stephen King novel.)
So while Lloyd’s chapter does bring the plot to a screeching halt, it does at least present an interesting character: a killer, someone we as readers don’t automatically like. How will he develop? And as this is a reread for me personally, it’s interesting to see how Lloyd will jump at the opportunities he’ll be given and slowly realize how deep the hole he’s dug himself in.
A large chunk of this section is people digging themselves further into holes and making the situation exponentially worse. To be fair, I don’t know how much worse it can get than 99.9% of humanity dying and then the ultimate battle between good and evil, but…yeah. The military learns about a town near Arnette where the local doctor figured out this outbreak isn’t just a normal cold and threatens to tell the big city media. The military’s response is to shoot the reporters on their way out.
This is an aspect that will pop up later in The Stand, but I’ve never really seen it in a lot of other apocalyptic media. (It shows up in World War Z, but that’s the only one I can think of off the top of my head.) And—I’m not trying to make any sort of political statement here—I unfortunately realize that this is the most likely course of action if this apocalyptic scenario were to exist.
It also makes me think how much harder it is to create an apocalyptic scenario using modern technology, without having a lot of the cloak-and-dagger government work like we see here. I remember seeing something toward the beginning of the year—I can’t find the links, sadly– about what the zombie apocalypse would look like through Twitter, Facebook, tumblr, etc. (I know I keep mentioning zombies. They’re popular. The last apocalypse movie I can think of that didn’t resort to zombies is Contagion, and ironically, I don’t want to watch it.) And it really makes you wonder about how fast could a government could put down something this big without tipping off so many people.
There was no published report of disease or any other trouble in Sipe Springs, Texas, that day.
An additional note, there will be no new Boulder Free Zone next week, as I will be on vacation! I will still try to respond to comments.