Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fear - Chapter 4, Part 1 - Afterimage

Alas, all good things - or in this case, occasionally-competent nightmare sequences - come to an end.  Lowry wakes up hearing a voice:

"Come on, now.  You'll come around all right.  A nice sleep in the jail will fix you up.  Never did see why men had to drink--Why, it's Professor Lowry!"

Why, it's Old Billy Watkins!  Feels weird to preface a diminutive nickname with an adjective indicating age.  Anyway, Watkins is a friendly old policeman Lowry's known since childhood.  The guy arrested him for driving a bike on the sidewalk and after a complaint that Lowry broke a window, but the two get along just fine, and Watkins is even a bit deferential to the professor.

Lowry murmurs a question of how long he's been lying on the sidewalk in a pre-dawn rain shower, all of thirty feet away from his house.  Old Billy thinks it's been only five or six minutes, since he just passed by not too long ago.  He also thinks it's close to four in the morning, though Lowry left his house around "nearly" midnight.  Way to go, Lowry, in your search for your lost four hours you've lost four more.

Well, I guess since he remembers being in a nightmare realm, they're not exactly "lost" hours.  At any rate he's not at all bothered by the time.  Old Billy helps him to his door, commenting that he'd heard Lowry was suffering from some heathen tropical illness.  After noticing a bruise on his face, the policeman worries that Lowry had himself a fall, and offers to call "Doc Chalmers" on his friend's behalf.  Lowry, who is suffering from memory loss and nightmarish visions on top of the symptoms of malaria, naturally brushes the suggestion aside.  Our book wouldn't work if the main character was sensible and sought help for his problems.

After watching Old Billy successfully cross the walk from the porch to the street without falling into a foreboding chasm, Lowry steps inside and is fussed over by his wife.  Mary was worried sick, of course, nearly enough to make her call Tommy and have him look for Lowry... but not, as it turns out, enough to open the front door and stick her head out, or go to the sidewalk and look up and down the street for her husband.  Guess Lowry's not the only character avoiding the obvious solutions to their problems.

Mary notices not just the bruise on Lowry's face, but a cut on his hand that makes Lowry think he's been pinched, and also that her husband smells "like... like seaweed."  He's so shivery and shaky at this point that she doesn't waste any time on questions and gets him out of his wet clothes and into bed.  And we get some belated dialogue that I was expecting some time ago.


"Yes, Jim?"

"I love you."

She kissed him.

"You know I'd never hurt you, Mary."

"Of course not, Jim."

"I think you're good and loyal and beautiful, Mary."

"Hush.  Go to sleep."

He closed his eyes, her hand soothing upon his forehead.  In a little while he slept. 

Sadly, no mildly interesting nightmare sequence for this nap.  

Lowry wakes up after sunrise with the feeling that something's horribly wrong, that "someone or something was near at hand, ready to do a thing to him."  Then he realizes it's Sunday and he ought to go to church.  That's the transition: he's worried that "a thing" is going to happen to him, he hears the sound of people outside on the street, and then he's up looking for his church clothes.

And yes, the guy who passed out during a midnight stroll while reeling from malaria is absolutely going to shuffle into the chapel with chills and fever.  This would not be an exciting book if Lowry stayed in bed until he got better, or had a follow-up visit to Doc Chalmers.  As a result, this is a stupid book.

Mary's still sleeping in her room... wait, these two are married but have separate rooms?  Was this a thing in the '40s, or would depicting a married man and woman sharing the same bed offend readers' delicate sensibilities?

Anyway, Mary's worried they've overslept and wants to get moving, but Lowry says that she's earned a day of rest, so he'll "keep up the family honor" and make an appearance at church.  At this point I think he'd still be wandering around in public if he had the bubonic plague.  All Mary asks is that he tell her what the other women were wearing, because females are competitively superficial like that.

Since Mary's too asleep to cook, and of course because a man could never prepare his own breakfast, Lowry stops by a diner for some quick ham and eggs.  He answers the cook with a distracted "I suppose so" after being asked how he's doing, and proceeds to brood.  Lowry's not reflecting on his nightmares or anything, instead he's thinking back to his meeting with Tommy, and the ominous warning he was given.  Apparently it's not like Tommy to rile up a man who is already agitated, and Lowry finds himself upset with his friend, even though they were close enough as boys for Lowry to confide that he had broken that window, and sign a blood-oath to be BFFs 4-ever.

I'm glad Hubbard didn't leave us hanging with that question of Lowry's juvenile vandalism.

Lowry nearly finishes his meal when suddenly he realizes that it's not that tasty.  He also experiences a nameless fear creeping upon him, and the diner feels stifling when he gets up to pay.  Lowry notices how haggard he works in the mirror next to the register, and...

Through the mirror he saw that something was behind him! A blurry, awful something that was slowly creeping upon his back!

He snapped around.

There was nothing.

He faced the mirror.

There was nothing.

Thrilling stuff.  The cook asks if Lowry is sick (YES!) and whether there was anything wrong with the eggs (nah), and Lowry leaves without getting his change.  Along the way he happens to bump into none other than that rascal Tommy, and despite that period of doubt in the diner, Lowry is thrilled to see him.  Tommy remarks that Lowry looks "shaky, old man," and asks if he's been taking his pills.  Of course Lowry is feeling too well to take the medicine for his illness.  They make small talk: Lowry reminds his buddy they've been friends for ages, Tommy asks how Mary's doing, and Lowry replies that she's sleeping in after a bad night.

But then Lowry gets down to business, and confesses that he can't remember what happened during the four hours following their talk yesterday afternoon... and on top of that he's lost his hat.  Tommy can't help but laugh at the hat part, but he sobers up when Lowry describes all the weird and disturbing things that have been troubling him since then.

The two stop walking as they near the crowds heading into church, and Tommy reiterates his belief that Lowry's article might have insulted certain inhuman entities, and speculates that the visions Lowry experienced were representatives of those supernatural forces.  He also asks if Lowry has any weird marks, letting our protagonist show off that rabbit footprint on his arm.

And then... Tommy does a complete turnabout.  He suggests they "forget this," and assures Lowry that obviously his grim talk yesterday, combined with the stress of being fired and "some kind of malarial kickback that doctors have not before noticed," have blanked out some of Lowry's memories and caused him to lose his hat.  So Lowry should really see Dr. Chalmers and get some medicine.  The only irrational thing about the situation is that Lowry has gone on for so long without taking care of himself.  And the fact that the guy who treated all those demons and devils halfway seriously in the first place is now the most sensible character in the damn story.

Lowry thanks his friend for his sage counsel, and Tommy asks the odd question of whether Lowry thought he drugged his drink that afternoon, which Lowry emphatically denies.  And with all that worked out, the two march onward to church.  Turns out when Tommy said "go see a doctor," he didn't mean "go see a doctor now."

Jim Lowry looked up at the friendly old structure; the leaves had not yet come out upon the ivy, so that great brown ropes went straggling across the gray stone; the stained glass windows gleamed in the sunlight.  But somehow he felt very much out of place here.  Always it seemed to him that this was a sanctuary and place of rest, but now-

And the section ends exactly like that, with too many semicolons and a needless dash.

Back to Chapter 3, part 3


  1. The important thing is that David Miscavige had all of Hubbard's Scientology books edited to get rid of all those unnecessary semicolons, and to force Scientologists into buying new copies of everything.

  2. Is that the Golden Age of Punctuation Tech set, or the Golden Age of Punctuation Tech Mark II that rumors say should be out any day now?

    1. I heard that semi-colons are just perverts so far down the scale that they try to be commas and periods at the same time! They should just accept their characterization.