In which we regroup with the Intrepid Band from Boulder (and the dog) as they go to Vegas to meet their destiny.
Oh, Randall Flagg, what’s to become of you? You killed your wife, your men are slipping, and you’re losing your magic. You don’t think that there’s really anything left to help you now?
Whatever else might have happened, the Eye had not abandoned him.
We’ve spent a lot of time in this last section detailing the crumbling of Las Vegas, and largely from the perspective of Flagg and his inner circle. (Well, Flagg and Lloyd anyway. And Nadine. Inner triangle, if you will.) And while we left Part 2 with the intrepid gang of Stu, Larry, Ralph and Glen (and Kojak), we really haven’t gotten any update of their progress across the American West. Aside from vague statements of “They’re coming for you!”
So having this short interlude with Flagg here is actually kinda well done to integrate the Boulderites (Bouldies? I’ve just realized that I may need a better name for them aside from the citizens of Boulder.) and their final journey. Because it gives Flagg some time to prepare for them. Yeah, he knew that they were going to come for him (when, he wasn’t so sure, but it was going to happen eventually), but this gives him a better grasp of what to prepare for when they finally stroll into Vegas.
He would assemble every person in Vegas and make them file past and look. He would have photographs taken, would print fliers, have them sent out to L.A. and San Francisco and Spokane and Portland.
Five heads. He would put the dog’s head up on a pole, too.
We’re now firmly back with the Boulderites from this point onward. It’s been a week and a half since they left following Mother Abagail’s death and Vegas is still about 400 miles off.
One of the things I like about this section is that we do get see the results of Flagg’s workings as the Boulderites trek across the country. For example, one of the bodies they stumble across is none other than the Kid, now dubbed the “Wolfman” by Larry. (I DIDN’T REALIZE THAT IT WAS THE KID UNTIL NOW. I HAVE NO IDEA WHY THIS HAS NEVER STUCK IN MY HEAD BEFORE.) And then they come across Harold’s body. Even though there’s really not a moment where the four of them stop and say “Oh so that’s what happened,” I like that King does discuss that the image of Harold and the Kid do haunt them…and it becomes increasingly more apparent to them what Flagg can do.
(Okay, tangenting time, and remember it’s been years since I’ve read this all the way through—but wouldn’t it be great if Flagg would have gone to Larry in Vegas and said “You should have chosen me instead of the old woman?” Yeah, I know it’s not even remotely subtle but man that would be an awesome comeback.)
Since we’re stuck with Glen Bateman, Anthropology Professor! for the next four hundred miles or so, and since the others really don’t want to talk about what’s waiting for them, instead, let’s have a discussion of vision quests and that the human brain is a Delco Battery. (Ralph’s phrasing, not mine.) This isn’t the last time King talks about vision quests in his works (there’s the smokehole scene in IT that really gets into this line of thinking as well), but this hits the nail on the head a little too well. Yeah, we all know that the Boulderites are being pushed by a higher power, and spiritual cleansing, yeah, I got it. But unless if you take out there whole supernatural angle, I really don’t like Glen’s argument that stripping a person of their ‘accessories’ will lead them on some great spiritual revelation. (And let’s bring up the idea of an updated film version of The Stand¬—who wants to bet that Glen would have a massive rant in here about upgraded technology and how bad it is for us? *raises hand*
….yeah, so I don’t really like Glen Bateman whenever he does this, because I just end up rolling my eyes.)
I’m not particularly in favor of yet another chapter full of navel-gazing and philosophizing—where are Flagg’s men? I’m pretty sure that they’re probably on their way as the Boulderites are going on about vision quests and how animal crackers have a lemony afterflavor.
One of the things that I really appreciate in post-apocalyptic works is the acknowledgement that nature’s taking over again, and that it can be a hazard for the characters. So far in The Stand, the most that we’ve seen of nature reclaiming the land is more animals roaming freely. But it also interesting how very few writers tend to remember that in the now-isolated parts of civilization, stuff like a washed-out road can’t just be simply avoided with a number of detours.
[Stu’s] chest was over the edge when the knob of outcropping his left foot was on suddenly disappeared. He felt himself begin to slide. Larry grabbed for his hand, but this time he missed his grip. Stu grabbed the outjutting edge of the turnpike, and it came off in his hands. He stared at it stupidly for a moment as the speed of his descent began to increase.
King likes to throw in curveballs, especially when the stakes are this high. You know that not everyone’s going to get out alive during the confrontation with the Big Bads. (Again, see IT, where it wasn’t just killing off a character right before the final showdown, but HEY LET’S KILL OFF ONE OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS IN THE FIRST FIFTY PAGES. HOW YOU LIKE THAT.)
“How bad, Stu?”
…”I figure I’ll be walking again in about three months,” he said.
Well, shit. The rules say that they have to walk all the way to Vegas, but then there’s nothing to say that they can’t drag a guy on a sled or something the rest of the way there. Larry is rightfully pissed off that Stu’s sending them off so that he can die out on the side of the Utah State Highway alone, on nothing more than just an old woman’s dying wish.
May I point out that I kinda really like that even at this point in the grand scheme of things, Larry is still extremely doubtful of the larger supernatural consequences? But I like how it’s taken here—the outcropping of dirt that Stu loses his grip on does feel more like the consequences of nature, rather than some ~mysterious~ goings-on.
So it’s kind of fitting that Stu sits Larry down to tell him that “No, you’re the one in charge now.” Larry, who’s been so vehemently trying to save himself, trying desperately not trying to get involved, and yet here he is, on his way to a death mission in Vegas. I think if in any other writer—or even if King had decided to make this less of an grand epic—Larry is the focus character. He’s the one who changes the most since the broken-down, not-quite-a-rock star from back in Chapter Five. And he’s still fighting whatever destiny has in store for him.
“We’ll come back for you, if we can. You know it.”
Larry went up the bank quickly and joined the other two. They stood and waved down. Stu raised his hand in return. They left. And they never saw Stu Redman again.
As Our Intrepid Now-Band-of-Three carries on to Vegas, it’s extremely evident how much of a toll leaving Stu behind takes on them. It’s one thing to continually dodge the fact that “We’re all going to die at the end of this, so let’s talk about something else,”; it’s another when you know that you’ve left your comrade-in-arms to die alone.
Except that Stu’s not alone—Kojak decided to stay behind! Good dog! So you know, at least Stu won’t die as quickly out there. He can at least get fire and food for the time being.
After five days of traveling and two nights of Larry getting prophetic dreams, the Intrepid Band finally comes across a road blockade.
“Accident?” Glen asked.
Ralph was shading his eyes. “I don’t think so. Not parked that way.”
“His men,” Larry said.
Well, we all knew it was coming, and probably this way—bring them to Flagg instead of just gunning them down on the road like the Judge. (JUUUUDGE.) There’s eight of Flagg’s men waiting for them, and it’s pretty useless to even try running.
“My name is Paul Burlson,” he said, “and by virtue of the power vested in me, I arrest you and order you to come with me.”
At the Vegas jail, everyone’s separated to be questioned. Larry’s taken into a cell and questioned by Barry Dorgan about why Boulder would send their spies. Of course this is all a show. Everyone—even if they don’t know the specifics—knows why the three have shown up here.
The next morning, Glen Bateman gets a surprise visit in the form of Randall Flagg himself, accompanied by Lloyd Henreid. And since Flagg knows that Glen’s an old man, he’ll strike a deal: Glen can go, in comfort. He just needs to beg Flagg first.
“I tell you what you do. Why don’t you find a nice big sandpile, get yourself a hammer, and pound all that sand right up your ass?”
For as much as I’ve bitched about Glen and the rolling of my eyes whenever he goes off on philosophy rants, there’s this moment.
This isn’t about having titanium-plated balls, this is just telling the Big Bad what he really is. For all that Flagg used to be able to do, it’s not worth any of that now. Flagg is a megalomaniac losing his grasp on power, and everyone knows that.
And for his trouble, Glen Bateman gets shot by Lloyd. Which may end up being a better death for him than what’s waiting for Larry and Ralph in the morning.
Two large cages stood on the back of the two flatbeds..Attached to each hitch was a heavy steel towing chain. The chains snaked across the lawn of the Grand, and each ended just inside the squarish holes in the cages.
At the end of each chain there dangled a single steel handcuff.
D: D: D:
Larry and Ralph are taken to the cages the next morning by Burlson and the self-described ‘Rat-man’ as all of Vegas gathers around. Flagg does the honors of reading the charges, including accusing the Boulderites of what happened out at Indian Springs. And thank God that there are people in the crowd who know that that specific accusation is utter bullshit. Amongst other things.
“This ain’t right!” Whitney yelled. “You know it ain’t!”
Oh, Whitney. You and the others should have run when you first thought about it. Maybe it wouldn’t have bought Larry and Ralph this extra couple of minutes, but you wouldn’t be in this situation right now.
Flagg manages to summon one last big show of magic and burns Whitney in front of the crowd.
In a thundering voice, Flagg challenged them. “Is there anyone else here who disagrees with my sentence? If so, let him speak now!”
And again [Larry] caught that puzzling name tossed from mouth to mouth, never clear, never all of one piece: Man..Can Man…Trash…Trashy…
Someone was coming through the crowd, as if in answer to the dark man’s challenge.
The crowd mercifully beats it to all hell (btw, Angie Hirschfield took Dinny and beat the hell out of town the night before. I NEED TO BELIEVE THIS, OKAY?) as Trashcan makes his triumphant return to Vegas, nuke in tow.
Poor Trash. In all of his wanting to be happy, finally finding someone who cared about him and what he could do, it is heart-breaking in a way when he screams that Flagg’s left him. And at this one moment, when everything was going to be okay again, Trash still thinks he failed.
‘Larry looked up. He saw the ball of electricity Flagg had flicked from the end of his finger. It had grown to a tremendous size….
And the thing in the sky did look like a hand.’
From where they all started—LA, Indiana, Oklahoma, nowhere—it ends in Vegas. It had to end at some point. Larry and Ralph knew that not only surviving left them with a greater purpose, but it also meant that they were living on borrowed time as well. And for Donald Erwin, the Trashcan Man, he’s able to fulfill his true purpose of bringing forth a great fire.
And the righteous and unrighteous alike were consumed in that holy fire.
(We’re in the home stretch folks!)