[Boulder Free Zone Blog] The Calm Before the Storm

In which there’s another round of things happen but nothing really major happens so…yeah.

Chapter 54

As boring and tedious as they are, I do actually really like the meeting minutes of the Boulder Free Zone committee. In a lot of post-apocalyptic media that I’ve been exposed to, once the characters get to whatever safe haven was their intended destination, it’s normally after the climax and we don’t really get to see how they’re adjusting to fitting into a new society or how they’ll create a new society. I mentioned last week that since this is an American community, the Boulder Committee already has some semblance of how to model a government. (Having Glen Bateman around helps, too.)

The big talk of the Committee meeting is how to handle the Dark Man and more worryingly, the fact that people from Boulder have left, presumably to go to Vegas. We don’t know for sure that say, Charlie Impening left to go join Flagg’s side, but since that’s the only conceivable reason to leave; yeah, let’s just say Charlie was seduced by the dark side.

(I have points while I’m reading when I sit in think, “How would I fair in Boulder if I were living in this universe?” I consider myself a friendly person, but most of the time my outward appearance involves me hunched over a book or a notebook with my headphones blasting, emitting signals of “Leave me alone.” I wouldn’t be surprised if I caught Stu Redman ‘checking in’ on my house because I don’t really socialize.)

Anyway, with people coming and going, Glen proposes that they start up a Census committee, not only to keep an eye on who’s leaving, but to also adjust the amount of people who’ll probably be living in Boulder by the end of the year. Nick also proposes that they start up law enforcement, with Marshal Stu Redman heading it up. Frannie throws a fit over this, not because “Nick, why would you just spring this on Stu without asking first?” but because

“’Your man is down in the county courthouse with a bullet hole in his head and I guess we made a mistake?’ Jesus Mary and Joseph, I’m going to have a baby and you people want him to be Pat Garrett!”

Dear Frannie: Yes, we know you’re having a baby. The hormones aren’t a excuse any more. Grow up and deal with it.

The action switches over to Harold as he continues his work on the Burial Committee. There’s a nice little parallel going on here with Harold and Trashcan, and how both of them are accepted on to the various jobs committees and work. Trashcan, as we’ve noted, is just so ecstatic that people are treating him like a person, like he has worth (and my heart continuously breaking during all of those scenes). Harold, on the other hand,

The committee would be just fine… as long as they had good old Harold Lauder to make sure their shoelaces were tied, of course. Good old Harold’s good enough for that, but not quite good enough to serve on their fucking Permanent Committee. Heavens, no.

And the worst part here is that the guys Harold’s working with want to be friendly with him. There’s only one person in all of Boulder who knows about Harold’s past life as the pariah of Ogunquit, and even with Frannie’s place on the permanent committee, I don’t know if Chad Norris and Weizak would care if Frannie told them “Harold’s a weird nerd and possibly evil.” They’re at least making an effort.

But despite not wanting to go out and rustle up some booze after work, Harold comes home to find company.

“Well,” he said. “What can I do for you this afternoon, Miss Cross?”

“You could call me Nadine, for a start. And you invite me to stay for supper. That would get us a little further.”

Oh, no.

Nadine fixes Harold dinner, and once he’s finished, she takes him out into the living room and…well…explains her terms. In a matter of speaking.

“We can do things. Things you’ve never even…no, I take that back. Maybe you have dreamed of them, but you never dreamed you do them…We can do anything—
everything—but that one little thing. And that one thing really isn’t so important, is it?”

Images whirled giddily in his mind. Silk scarves… boots…leather… rubber. Oh Jesus.

I wrote a book review recently that talked about fat-shaming and how fat people aren’t allowed to be sexual, and if they are, the automatic assumption is that they’re into the really kinky sex. And the same thing goes for really nerdy and unpopular characters as well- they’re so socially awkward that they must like the really weird hentai porn. (Which, as we all learned this past summer, is really more for rich abusive young billionaires.) And most of the time, the audience is supposed to be disgusted or laughing at “Look at the fat kid whacking off to rubber suits.” And I hate that this has all we’ve gotten for Harold, is “Oh yes, he’s tragic and bitter and nihilistic, but you know, he has fantasies about harem girls, so it’s okay if he goes to the bad guys!” It’s like icing on top of the cake. I’m not saying that Harold’s fantasies are healthy, but there are reasons why they’re called fantasies. (And honestly, I think Harold’s fantasies are about as extreme as E.L. James’s. )

(For the record, my mom—who I do note for getting me into Stephen King in the first place—reads this. HI MOM!)

Chapter 55

Judge Farris, you’ve really only popped up once or twice in the whole book, but I like you. Don’t listen to Larry; stay in Boulder and argue with Glen Bateman over philosophy and ethics. I’d like that.

“Sending me west,” the Judge said quietly. “To spy out the land. Isn’t that about it?”

“That’s exactly it.”

The Judge is awesome. He knows exactly what the Committee’s plans are (without even having heard a rumor) and knows what’s to be expected of him. And he accepts it, and also gives Larry a nice talking to about Nadine. I don’t think the Judge nor Larry understand the full extent of what happened to Nadine, but I like that the Judge is able to go “You fucked up, son.” (Not in that “Oh, Larry, how could you not choose Nadine?” but “You know, you should have asked what the hell is going on and tried to help.”)

And then there’s this passage:

[The Judge] had told Larry he was too old for adventure, and God save him, but that had been a lie. His heart hadn’t beat with this quick rhythm for twenty years, the air had not tasted this sweet, colors had not seemed this bright. He would follow I-25 to Cheyenne and then move west toward whatever waited for him beyond the mountains.

This says a lot more to me about the chance of going on an adventure, that while the outcome might not be a good one, the joy and feeling and excitement are all there. The Judge knows that, Randall Flagg or not, he probably won’t make it back to Boulder, but damned if he isn’t going to enjoy this one last chance.

It was one of the finest days of his life.

Meanwhile, Nick, Stu and Ralph are going off to see Tom Cullen to convince him to undertake his own spy mission. I do love the idea of Tom’s house—this gloriously kitschy collection of knick-knacks and souvenirs and models. It fits his character so well, and I love that he puts time and thought into putting everything together. It unnerves Nick and Stu, but I like it.

It was mentioned during the first Ad Hoc meeting about putting Tom under hypnosis to give him directions as what he’s to do in Vegas. It is kind of an eerie scene, with Tom talking about Mother Abagail and Flagg and what their roles are. It’s one of the few times that anything overtly supernatural appears for Our Heroes—up until this point, it’s only been dreams directing them to Boulder or warning them of Flagg. I accept the idea that the hypnosis is used as a gateway, but there are much larger forces at work here,

“Are the same Tom that Nick met in Oklahoma? Are you the same Tom we know when you’re awake?”

“Yes, but I am more than that Tom.”

“I don’t understand.”

He shifted a little, his sleeping face calm.

“I am God’s Tom.”

There’s a lot I can say here about this scene being problematic, but it’s still really effective. I’m not happy with how Tom is portrayed throughout most of the book, but King does do it well at times, and those scenes are really effective.

Stu goes home goes to Frannie, where they have an argument over whether or not it’s right for them to send Tom out to face Flagg. Only now Stu’s conflicted about doing it, with Frannie sitting there going “Okay, Stu” and not fighting him. *headdesk* (Also, in the Pot-Meets-Kettle category, Frannie tells Stu about Nadine moving in with Harold. Stu’s response? “She must be twice his age.”)

There’s another perspective switch to Harold and Nadine at the end here. I won’t go into too much detail, as there’s a lot of navel-gazing on both parts. Nadine wonders if following Flagg’s orders and letting Harold abuse her sexually was the right thing; Harold continues his nihilistic downwards spiral. In the end, the last two passages do have a big purpose: shit is about to get even more real.

Chapter 56

Good news, everyone! There’s a group of people coming in from Tennessee and they have a proper medical doctor with them! Huzzah! Now they don’t have to worry too much over accidents the impending baby boom that Frannie’s already started. This group even had a pregnant woman with them! We’re all saved!

Stu grabbed [Ralph] “They died? The babies died? That what you’re trying to tell me? That they died?”

Doctor Richardson isn’t sure if Captain Trips is still hanging around and that’s what killed the kids or if there were other determining factors. However, there’s a good chance that if two immune people got together, then their babies might be immune! Which still isn’t good for Frannie. (GENETICS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY.) Stu doesn’t want Frannie to find out right away, but when he gets home, he discovers that Sue Stern already beat him to it. (And given how fast the news about Mother Abagail spread around, did you really think that no one was going to tell Frannie about “Hey, we’re getting a doctor!”)

Meanwhile, Nadine goes back to her place to pack up the last of her things when SURPRISE! Leo is there, having slipped back into his catatonic state when Nadine first found him.

“You have Larry and Lucy. You want them, and they want you. Well, Larry wants you, and that’s all that matters…Things are different for me now, Joe, and that’s not my fault. That’s not my fault at all. So you can just stop trying to guilt-trip me.”

Honestly, as I’m reading this scene, it really comes across that Nadine’s hallucinating Leo/Joe, given her mental state and wanting to have something to hold onto. It’s like the last gasp of her conscious to stop her from going over to Flagg and give in completely, that she may still have something here.

If she wanted to keep her sanity, she must soon be away.

The second general meeting of the Boulder Free Zone is less eventful than the first. General elective periods are set, and Stu is elected as the Marshal. But you can’t have a Marshal without a good law committee, so that agenda is brought up.

Heads craned expectantly as people waited for the Judge to stand up and accept the responsibility in his usual rococo style..Stu’s eyes met Glen’s with mutual chagrin; someone on the committee should have foreseen this.

Hindsight’s a bitch, ain’t it?

Well, in case the Judge does come back, the people of Boulder are ready to welcome him onto the Law Committee; in the meantime, at least one lawyer was spared by Captain Trips, and he’ll sit on the committee for now.

The next day, Sue Stern and Dayna Jurgens head out to go ‘camping.’ Again, may I point out, I LOVE YOU DAYNA. After Sue approached her about spying for the Boulder Free Zone, Dayna equips herself with a spring-loaded switchblade. (There was a comment a few weeks ago about how Dayna would have been a Slayer. Yes. This. A thousand times.) Dayna makes her goodbyes to Stu, and they head off.
Nearly a week later, the male committee members are hanging around Tom Cullen’s place. Since it is the full moon, it means that Tom has to go and pack up for Vegas. (I’m surprised no one else in Boulder has noted that three major members of the community have left town within a few weeks of each other, especially Tom’s leaving.)

When they left, Nick was still standing on the side lawn of Tom Cullen’s house, his hands in his pockets, his head down.

Fran finally meets up with George Richardson, who just so happened to specialize in OB/GYN in his old practice. As far as we now, her baby’s fine, and it should be a clean birth.

As most of this chapters have been in this section, there are a lot of things happening, but there’s a lot of mundane details that do help with character development and the general shape of the plot. There’s interesting stuff here, but I can see the plot getting boring quickly. For example, who really wants to see Harold playing around with electronics?

The door closed, and the thing that Harold had made sat in the open shoebox in the gloom. There was a battery-powered Realistic walkie-talke handset from Radio Shack…Wired to it were eight sticks of dynamite.

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