Friday, September 19, 2014

Fear - Chapter 5, Part 2 - Bishop

So here's Lowry, following a ghost who is not in the least bit enraged that the good archaeologist stole the gold belt he had lovingly crafted, in hopes of finding those four lost hours of his.  And possibly his hat.  This translates to another dream sequence, though it's much shorter and less interesting than the last one since the novelty's worn off, and less scary because he's got a buddy and again we've seen this before.

Sebastian the ghost monk makes the sign of the cross and points upward, and suddenly Lowry finds himself on a "smoothly blue roadway" that seems to lead all the way to the moon.  Up they march, past dark fields and sleeping hamlets, and the only encounter of note is when Lowry and Sebastian pass "a thing with bowed head and hidden face" coming down the other way, but "Lowry could not understand what it was," so we'll just have to deal with a couple of words devoid of meaning and consequence.  The good news is that there's no sign of that annoying floater or the disembodied snickering that's been plaguing Lowry for the last chapter.

As they march an indeterminate time and distance, Lowry notes that the road is growing more disused and rougher, is now crawling up and down hills as they near a range of mountains, and occasionally trembles as though affected by an earthquake.  Then Sebastian asks if Lowry's ever climbed mountains before, because suddenly they're at the base of the cliff.  A cliff that the ghost monk proceeds to walk right up in defiance of gravity.  Lowry boggles for a moment, reaches up, but it's okay, the cliff is actually only nine feet tall or so and he's able to easily swing up.  Of course, once they're up there the road falls away until it looks like a "white string," but Lowry's not concerned, the night's really pleasant.

And I dunno, it's similar to - probably technically the inverse of, since we're climbing rather than descending - that trip down the staircase two chapters ago.  But it's just not the same.  It's dreamy, I guess, nebulous in terms of time and space, with distances that change depending on how you look at them.  But it isn't scary, y'know?  It's just a weird moonlit stroll, with a dead chap along for company.  Hardly lives up to the Fear on the cover.

Perhaps in response to my criticisms, the trail comes to a halt, forcing Lowry to grab onto an awkward ledge and pull himself onward while hanging from it, while the gulf below pulls at his legs.  He can't see Sebastian, but then he looks up at the ledge he's hanging from.



See that?  The white gap between paragraphs?  That's what happens when Lowry looks up, a section break before the author reveals what he saw.  My guess is that it's a really clumsy attempt to increase the shock of what Lowry sees.  If not, then all the random chapter and Part breaks in Mission Earth make a little more sense.

Anyway, there's "a great splotch of black" hovering at the top of the cliff, broken only by eyes glaring "luminously down with malevolence!" at him.  You can poop yourself in terror now.

Lowry cries out for Sebastian as the thing purrs and starts to pry his fingers from his grip, but there's no answer.  One of his hands is dislodged, but then Lowry remembers he has a gun in his pocket - which is good, because I'd forgotten.  It's no help, though, 'cause when he lifts it to aim and fire, "Suddenly Lowry was aware of a reason he could not pronounce that he must not shoot," which is a really bad sentence.  Lowry knows that firing a weapon will only call a whole "pack" of these angry shadows upon him, and anyway the odds are that his gun will be ineffectual, so why bother?

Therefore, rather than try to save himself, he does nothing until his other hand is dislodged and he falls off the cliff.  Even in malaria-fueled dream sequences, the guy cannot make a good decision.  Now I know we've only seen Lowry do things while malaria's floating around in his brain, but I'm starting to wonder just how much we can blame on the pathogen.

There's another "He had no memory of landing" moment where Lowry finds himself stretched out at the bottom of a drop without actually hitting, but since we've seen it before it isn't as good.  He finds himself on a sort of smooth, nearly metallic ledge lined with caves, and there's no sign of Sebastian or the angry shadow.  Lowry knows he shouldn't, but enters one of the caves in search of a way down - I guess this is video game logic from before they had video games - and finds himself crawling along on his hands and knees in a strangely furry darkness. 

Something bumps into him from behind and says "Go along ahead of me please," and Lowry, who set forth this night intending to face his fear like a man, dares not glance back at what's poking his butt.  Instead he tremulously asks where Sebastian went.

"You are not with them now.  You are with us.  Be as little trouble as you can, for we have a surprise waiting for you down one of these tunnels.  The opening, you poor fool, is on your right.  Don't you remember?"

"I... I've never been here before?"

That's not really a question.

"Oh, yes, you have.  Oh, yes, indeed, you have.  Hasn't he?"

"Certainly he has," said another voice at hand.

"Many, many times."

"Oh, not many," said the other voice.  "About three times is all.  That is, right here in this place."

"Go along," yawned the first voice.

It was all he could do to force his legs to work.  Something unutterably horrible was waiting for him, something he dared not approach, something which, if he saw it, would drive him mad!

-der.  Evidence suggests you're already a few fries short of a Happy Meal, Mr. Lowry.

"You belong to us now, so go right along."

"What are you going to do with me?"

"You'll find out."

So Lowry keeps creeping along in the dark, surrounded by those mocking voices, and I'm sure it's meant to be very scary but I'm still wondering - what's with the hair?  Why is the floor "furry, all of it, dry and ticklish to the touch?"  Back in reality, is he inching along the shag carpet in the den?  Lying in a ditch rubbing his face on a sleeping dog?  Or is this all meant to be symbolic of... I couldn't begin to guess.  Probably nothing sexual, given the author's hatred for Freudian psychology, so get your mind out of the gutter.

The hairy tunnel is one of those details that makes it a legitimate dream sequence, but is just too odd for a horror story, it distracts from the fear.  Imagine modifying a passage from The Shining so that Danny and Wendy are running down halls made of jam.  Surreal, yes, horrifying, not so much.

Lowry progresses down an incline where things slither around and bat at his feet with each step, and he's almost too scared (and ill) to proceed until he hears Sebastian's voice up ahead.  He pushes onward and finds himself in a chamber lit by a high stained-glass window, with seven stone bulls on a high ledge above him, each with a hoof on a ball.  The floor is slippery with a substance that will not be identified for about a page in an attempt to scare us.

There's a crowd of people in the room, split between sexes.  Sebastian's in the middle chanting and waving his arms, eyes aimed at the high window, while the women move in a circle around him, lovely, innocent, and dressed in white.  But the men in the circle around them are leering with evil and stained with foulness, and whenever the women pass behind the altar Sebastian is chanting at, the men snatch and paw at them, while the women glance back with "abruptly lascivious eyes" before composing themselves as they continue 'round in front. 

It's deeply symbolic, you see, of Christianity's struggle with the human sex drive, and how its practitioners are forced to fulfill their "wicked" impulses out of the sight of the priesthood and don the facade of purity to live their everyday lives.  Sebastian is the well-meaning but deluded pastor, so focused on heaven that he cannot see the harm his sermons do to his flock.  This makes Lowry a messianic figure, who has to "die" from malaria in order to learn the truth and share it with the world, only to be betrayed by his own institution for speaking that truth.  The seven stone bulls of course represent the seven great American fast-food hamburger chains.

Lowry is so horrified by... men grabbing at not-unwilling women's clothes and snickering about it to each other, I guess, the guy should definitely stay away from strip clubs... that he screams and tries to flee!  And it is at this point that he's allowed to look down and notice the floor is slippery because it's covered in an inch of blood!  Poop!  Poop your pants in terror!

Sebastian only smiles, but all the men and women are angry, and the stone bulls come to life with a roar.  The "balls" they were holding underhoof turn out to be giant human skulls, which roll down and crush some of the people below, but not Sebastian.  Lowry decides to face his fear, by which I mean he turns his back on all this and runs the way he came.  A voice complains "Where are you going?  You must stay here and see it through!"

Lowry flees right into a dead end, the angry mob reaches him, he can see knives flashing and feel his blood flowing, but he cleverly escapes by going over a cliff.  Again, there's no falling or landing, the very next sentence of the same paragraph there's grass under his hands, and he pushes himself upright and continues to run.  He's outrunning the mob, but there are things flying through the air above and behind him, and when Lowry calls out to Sebastian there's no answer.  I'm not sure why he thinks the priest who was conducting that horrifying square dance would be of help right now.

More running and chasing, Lowry's out in the open now, the moon is shining down upon a vast white expanse, "not unlike a dried-up lake of salt," and then...

A shadowy shape loomed ahead, still afar. He forced himself to slow down and turn off away from it. There was something about its hat, something about the dark cloak, something about the thing which dangled from its hand-

Jack Ketch!



There was a ravine, and he scrambled down it. He crept along its bottom and went deep into a shadowy grove which he found there

Yeah, Hubbard did it again.  Except this time the gap was after the scare, which seems to have swallowed it up into because Ketch, or whoever Lowry saw, doesn't appear in the next paragraph, nor is he mentioned in what's left of the chapter.  So, more pointless words on paper.

Lowry creeps into a quiet grove, aware that something terrible is calling to him and trying to find him, but the something eventually gets fed up and goes home to watch Nick at Nite.  He stretches out on the grass, feeling triumphant that "He had not found his lost four hours!  He had not found them!"  Hooray!  ...Wait, wasn't he looking for those?

Alright, let's end this chapter with a real scare.  If you've already evacuated your bowels, I need you to go eat something and wait a few hours to digest it, so you can properly react to this shocker.

Lowry realizes he's lying on a mound next to some freshly-laid flowers and a big white something, and decides to properly look for it.  Stand by for underpants-filling horror.

There was writing upon that white stone.

But what kind of writing?

He inched a little closer and read:

JAMES LOWRY
Born 1901
Died 1940 
Rest In Peace

He recoiled.

He got to his knees and then to his feet.  The whole night was spinning and the high, shrill laughter was sounding again and the little dark shape dashed around to get out of his sight.
With a piercing cry he spun about and raced madly away.

Man.  This scare is so damn cliched that it not only negates anything good about this chapter, but retroactively makes the earlier nightmare sequence less interesting.

In case you don't get it, or are having trouble arranging the words you have read into a coherent thought, the author helpfully spells out at the end of the chapter that Lowry "had found peace for a moment, peace and rest, before the headstone of his own future grave!"  This is of course symbolic of the reader's death of interest in the story, which continues to shamble forward for three more chapters before realizing it's dead and finally expiring.


Back to Chapter 5, part 1

1 comment:

  1. "_Poop_! Poop your pants in terror!"

    HAH HA HA HA HA Ha haha haaa...er? Oh, crap. You forgot "and/or in belly-laughter!"

    ReplyDelete