Friday, October 31, 2014

Fear - Chapter 8, Part 2 - Aftermath

Let's have ourselves a shocking climax, shall we?

Lowry continues to stumble through the twilight, bedeviled by the visages of the other two principal characters as they appear on the faces of the nameless masses.

He fled past other pedestrians, and each one that looked at him was possessed of the face of either Tommy or Mary.  And after a little they began to call to him at intervals.

"Hello, Jim," said Tommy in mockery each time.

"Oh, it's you, Jim," said Mary.

The last two sentences will be repeated five times over the rest of the chapter, and boy howdy, each repetition is more terrifying than the last, let me tell ya.

It's getting darker, and alternatively warmer and colder (remember: not malaria), and Lowry feels that furry thing brushing past his legs, and sees all manner of spooky shapes in the shadows.  He even thinks he sees "a scaly thing dissolve an instant late" as he steps down from a curb, presumably an alligator in the sewer.  And the author's just throwing everything at us, isn't he?  Like the climax of The Shining, except with less blood gushing out of an elevator, inexplicable men in dog suits performing implied oral sex on other men, or Jack Nicholson. 

Then Lowry sees Tommy's face again, but disembodied this time, a thin and blurry image against the darkness that still manages to smile slyly at him.  And then he sees a beckoning figure that he recognizes as Mary, though her face is still scornful.  "Hello, Jim," "Oh, it's you, Jim."  A shadow "like spread wings" falls over the town.  And there's bats!  Bats are scary, right?  Might wanna turn on a strobe light too and put on some pipe organ music, Hubbard.

We're almost done.  Lowry continues to follow the vision of Mary, and smells some recognizable odors - the scent of Mary's perfume, mixed with Tommy's exotic tobacco.  He pauses on the stone bridge by the church and sees a figure in a black cloak and broad hat sitting on the other side, braiding a rope.  "Jack Ketch!" Lowry doesn't scream - instead he knows he'll rest a bit before walking over to this "man of darkness."  How about that.

But before he can do so...

He caught a glimpse of something white in the water and leaned a trifle farther, not particularly interested in the fact that it was a reflection of his own face in the black mirror surface below.  He watched the image grow clearer, watched his own eyes and mouth take form.  It was as if he was seeing himself down there, a self far more real than this self leaning against cold stone.  Idly he beckoned to the image.  It seemed to grow nearer.  He beckoned again in experiment.  It was nearer still.

With sudden determination he held out both hands to it.  It was gone from the water, but it was not gone.

Like a chicken that was not a chicken.

After seizing his reflection, Lowry stands up straight, and takes a deep breath.  He looks across the bridge and sees Old Billy Watkins the policeman, smoking his pipe.  Lowry walks across that bridge "with a feeling that was almost triumph, for all the weight of sorrow within him," greets Billy pleasantly, and asks if he'll follow him somewhere.  Old Billy's a smart guy, and after sensing Lowry's mood knows that it's time to keep quiet and see where Lowry takes him.

Lowry leads Billy to Tommy's house, which is dark and quiet but seems "to be waiting for them."  He asks the policeman to unlock the front door, since the mansion only has a common lock that patrolling cops ought to have the key for.  I guess back in those days it was only possible to make so many types of keys?  Or law enforcement was given duplicate keys to upper-class homes as a sign of trust, or to help with security?  It's not really important, we might as well say Billy was able to force the door with his police training for all it changes the story.

When they step into the mansion, Lowry points out two things near the door: a lady's handbag, and a hat initialed "J. L."  Lowry, his voice quiet and controlled, leads Officer Billy past a living room containing a broken chair and upset ash tray, and a kitchen with a broken window.  There's a spooky mewling sound, and Lowry opens a basement door to let a half-mad cat bolt to freedom.  Then he and Billy descend the steps.

Hopefully Mr. Akira Yamaoka won't mind if I borrow some of his music one last time to help with the mood.

Jim fumbled for the basement light.  For a moment it seemed that he would not turn it on, but that was only for a moment. 

Oh, my pounding heart.  Truly this work is by a master of suspense.

The naked bulb flooded the basement and filled it with sharp, swinging shadows.

A crude hole had been dug in the middle of the dirt floor and a shovel was abandoned beside it.

Jim Lowry took hold of the light cord and lifted it so that the rays would stream into the coal bin.

An ax, black with blood, pointed its handle at them.  From the coal protruded a white something.

Old Billy stepped to the dark, dusty pile and pushed some of the lumps away.  A small avalanche rattled, disclosing the smashed and hacked face of Tommy Williams.  To his right, head thrown back, staring eyes fixed upon the fingers and blood-caked arm out flung, lay the body of Mary, Jim Lowry's wife.

Officer Billy stares at Lowry for several minutes, before the professor, in a monotone, explains what happened.   He did the fell deed the Saturday afternoon he met with Tommy, and came back that night to find the evidence he left behind - his hat - and to dispose of the bodies.  And then he came back again Sunday for whatever reason, but he'd lost the key so he had to break the kitchen window.  And at some point in the process of removing his hat from the premises, he left that hat on the hat rack in the front hall.  Good grief, Lowry, even as a murderer you're terrible.

Jim Lowry sank down upon a box and hid his face in his palms.  "I don't know why I did it.  Oh, God, forgive me, I don't know why.  I found her here, hiding, after I had found her hat.  Everything was whirling and I couldn't hear what they kept screaming at me and... and I killed them."  A sob shook him.  "I don't know why.  I don't know why she was here... I don't know why I could not reason.... cerebral malaria... jealous madness-"

So the super twist ending is that Lowry does, in fact, have malaria, something he's been underplaying and ignoring for the entire book?

As for why Mary was at Tommy's house, Officer Billy finds a note to "Tommy Old Sport" from her explaining that she wants to give Lowry a surprise birthday party next week, so she needs his help making a list of people to invite and which rum to get.  On the bright side, it looks like Lowry was definitely not expecting a birthday party, so mission accomplished, Mary.

Somewhere high above, there seemed to hang a tinkle of laughter: high, amused laughter, gloating and mocking and evil.

Of course, though, it was probably just the sigh of wind whining below the cellar door. 

Ah-ha!  It's the demons that gave Lowry malaria!

And that's Fear.  A story about a skeptic with malaria who refuses to recover from his illness, wanders around town hallucinating, and I guess murders his wife and best friend while they were trying to decide what kind of booze to get for a party.  I suppose it's up to the reader to decide whether a tropical illness was to blame for Lowry's behavior, or if he really was bedeviled by vengeful spirits who could only affect him while he had a tropical illness.

But if you think the plot's settled, here's a spine-chilling riddle to enjoy this Halloween.  If Lowry's hat was waiting for him inside a locked mansion, whose hat did he pull down over his eyes when he passed Mary on the way to that mansion? 

Back to Chapter 8, part 1

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fear - Chapter 8, Part 1 - Replica

Last time, on Fear!  The Entity, Jim Lowry, got curbstomped by the leader of the others, Tommy Williams.  Tommy stole another batch of Jim's essence, which is not homosexual innuendo but the theft of the motive force that allows Lowry to animate the puppets around him, thereby creating the illusion that he is not the only true human on the planet.  Other than Tommy, evidently.  Anyway, the stakes are high, because if Tommy manages to defeat the Entity, then... well, Lowry would be all alone in a world full of lifeless not-people.  Who would he talk to?  Who would cook his supper?

After his nap beneath a bush, Lowry wakes up at dusk, feeling cold, stiff and somewhat confused - and before you even ask, it isn't the malaria.  If this story started blaming things on some tropical fever it'd be one chapter long and Lowry would spend the whole time in bed.

For a moment he could not recall the events which had passed, and he came to his knees, aware of a thing he must do but not quite able to place it.  This lethargy!  Was it affecting his brain as well?

But no, his brain was all right.  Yes!  Tommy and Mary and the world of the apparent dead!

And what a tremendous amount of good that rest had done him.  Or else- 

His train of thought derails when Lowry sees some people walking by, and quickly realizes that this must mean that Tommy is nearby, motivating them with Lowry's own stolen essence.  And if Lowry can take advantage of that essence, he might have a shot at taking down Tommy.  Y'know, since the last attempt went so well.

So Lowry lurks in the shadows by the street, waiting for his nemesis, wondering whether, if Tommy succeeds in stealing all of Lowry's essence, Lowry himself will march along with all the other puppets as they go through their "make-believe lives."  He spots a man on the corner and goes up to ask him if he knows where Tommy is, but Lowry finds that it is Tommy, mocking smile and sly look in the eye and everything!

Lowry wastes no time and springs into action, leaping toward his foe and - oh.  Uh, he doesn't do that.  Instead he spins around and runs away as fast as he can.  Well.  Guess he can look forward to being a puppet.

He only stops fleeing when he doesn't hear any sign of pursuit, and Lowry turns to sees the man on the corner looking back at him, to the sound of "light, cheerful laughter."  The author doesn't specify whether the man looks like a normal puppet or still has Tommy's face, which I think is a bit of an oversight.

Anyway, Lowry wonders if he should try a different approach, maybe turn the tables by sneaking up on Tommy when he's sneaking.  He inexplicably feels the urge to consult a random stranger about this plan, even though of course such a stranger is merely a puppet motivated by Tommy, which sounds like a bit of a security risk.  Whatever, Lowry walks up to a guy watering his lawn and "It was Tommy!"

And then he runs away again to the sound of "light laughter."  You could say that we have a running gag on our hands.

Lowry forces himself to slow down, and the narration claims that he is "stubbornly refusing to be panicked" despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

There was no use losing his head, for he still had a chance.  Not everyone could be Tommy.

I may have a new favorite line from this book.  "Okay, so two of the people I tried to talk to turned into my best friend/nemesis, but surely not everyone out there will do that."

To maximize his odds, Lowry decides to run up to a woman next, and indeed she doesn't turn into Tommy - she turns into Mary.  For a moment Lowry thinks he'll be able to plead with her now that she's alone, but Mary only looks at him with scorn, turns her back, and walks away.  "It took Lowry some seconds to get over that," poor guy.

Unwilling to admit defeat - at least when it comes to talking to people, Lowry has been quite happy to turn tail and run from his enemies - our hero walks up to a group of students to talk to them about how he's gonna sneak up on his friend and steal his essence back.  But confound it, they all turn into Tommy too!  So Lowry once again bravely runs away.  He sees a woman, Mary of course, sitting nearby, but Lowry is so defeated that he only "pulled his hat ashamedly down over his eyes and slouched by and then-"


When did Lowry get his hat back?

He was hatless just a few hours ago, in the last chapter, when the sexy little four-year-old taunted him about it.  His wife nagged him about leaving home without a hat at the start of the day.  The missing status of Lowry's hat has in fact been a crucial component of this book's, for lack of a better word, plot.  And he can't be wearing his hat now because Lowry will... well, we'll find out soon enough.

So wow.  Hubbard wrote a story about a guy missing his hat and accidentally put it on his head during the search for it.  The one detail it'd be pretty important to keep straight, and whoops!  I guess Lowry's hat was on his head all along!  No wonder he never found it!  No wonder everyone thinks he's crazy!

Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion to I Want My Hat Back.

Back to Chapter 7, part 3

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fear - Chapter 7, Part 3 - Epicenter

So last time we learned that Jim Lowry is the Entity, the one true living man, the motive force powering everything and everyone around him.  And his "best friend" Tommy has really been leading the others the whole time, and is even stealing Lowry's soul!  And that the only thing worse than a sexualized tweenager is a sexualized four-year-old, thank you very much, Hubbard.

Lowry's still shaken by all these revelations, and leaves his office at noon out of force of habit more than anything else.  But while he's doused with dread from all this weirdness, he also feels strangely liberated, invincible even.

It was not unlike a religious fanatic's trust in a personally invested god, a thing which seemed very foreign to Lowry.  And as he walked through the hurrying crowds of students in the halls and down the stairs, he began to be conscious of his own size and strength.

"I, a rugged, adventurous thirty-eight-year-old, could beat the crap out of any of these kids!"  I'm not exaggerating much: Lowry sizes up some oncoming athletes and is pleased when he realizes he's both taller and heavier than they are.

Odd he had never taken that personal quality of his into account.  It was like finding a gold mine or having a beautiful woman suddenly confess her love, or hearing a million people stand up and cheer themselves into exhaustion for one.

Raw gold, hot women (in love with you and presumably willing to have sex, not necessarily you being in love with them), and the howling adoration of the masses - these are a few of Hubbard's favorite things.

But this book isn't called I'm Huge and Powerful, so scary things need to happen.  Lowry passes a student who - oh, this is a great sentence - has parked himself on the steps "so that the penetrating languor of sunlight could caress his back," which is a purple way of saying he's taking advantage of a handy sunbeam.  But when Lowry draws closer, ominous strings, he discovers that the kid's newspaper is totally blank, scare chord.

Lowry is troubled for all of a few seconds, but the exercise of walking restores that invincible feeling quickly, and "he gradually forgot" about the incident.  He passes some more people doing mundane things, but then Lowry gets a "strange feeling" and turns around.  And for the briefest fraction of a second, it seems to him that a kid delivering an envelope, a guy mowing the lawn, and a crowd of chatting students, had all paused before continuing.

Which is creepy from a purely visual standpoint, but doesn't Lowry have ears?  Wouldn't he have noticed if the conversation suddenly stopped, or the lawnmower ceased movement?

Anyway, this incident provokes some thought as Lowry continues, and he wonders if his imagination is throwing up some false memories or something.  This is a bit odd coming from someone who, you might remember, had a chat with a little creepy girl who emerged from cracks in the wall and a chorus of disembodied, snarling voices just a few pages ago.  At any rate, Old Billy Watkins pops by again to ask if Lowry's feeling better, and Lowry thanks him for his concern.

And then there's a random break in the paragraphs, before Lowry gets that odd feeling again, and looks back over his shoulder.  Sure enough, Old Billy is standing "limp as a scarecrow" for an instant before continuing on his way.  "That was very strange, thought Lowry," who just last night followed a Spanish ghost up a sheer cliff and into a dark and bloody temple dedicated to pinching women's hinders.

Good news is, the book's almost over, so we won't have to put up with Lowry for much longer.

This terrifying game of Red Light, Green Light continues when Lowry reaches the cafe frequented by the faculty, and sure enough he opens the door to "Silence.  But only for an instant" before the sound of conversation and cutlery hitting crockery kicks up.  He chats with some nameless other professors who share their sympathies over Lowry's sacking, which Lowry repays with stories from his expedition to the scorching Yucatán Desert.  He's suffused with a feeling of "allness" at the end of his meal, the knowledge that he's improved his friendships with all these people.  Or maybe it's the chicken salad sandwich.

At any rate, the only downer is that when Lowry tried to listen to a conversation from a table behind him, he heard nonsense, not words, almost as though everyone else in the diner, and indeed the world, are automatons that exist to create the illusion that Lowry, the only real person on the planet, is not alone.

There's a particularly cheap attempt at a scare when Lowry leaves the diner and sees two drivers slumped over the wheels of their cars - "These people must be dead!" - but of course they're just off for a split-second before Lowry's presence enables them to move.  When he looks back at the diner everyone's similarly slumped over until Lowry takes a step toward them, and then when he tries to buy a newspaper he finds that they're all blank, but neither the vendor or other customers seem to notice.  What a bother.

Lowry abruptly decides to go visit a stream he remembers from his youth, because I think at this point, the author has stopped trying to build a coherent narrative and is just throwing in whatever spooky ideas he's come up with over the course of the train ride he allegedly wrote this book on.  So off Lowry goes, deciding that the recent stop-go weirdness is his weary brain taking a moment to register events instead of processing them instantaneously.  When he gets to that refreshing stream, cool grass and swaying willows, Lowry remembers that it was all bulldozered to make way for a cellulose factory, but stretches out on the grass anyway without a second thought.  Guy can only try and rationalize only so much weirdness in a day, I suppose.

So Lowry spend some time next to the pool with the "City Water Supply.  Do Not Contaminate" sign that he routinely ignored by swimming in it (eww), and finds himself reminiscing about his past self and his old awe of his father.  Would you like an utterly random paragraph about aging?

The thought amused him that he was the image of his own early awe, and he dwelt at length upon what he would have said to the boy in overalls who had lain long hours in this very spot, how he would have told him that the mystery of the elder world was no mystery at all, but an uncertain sort of habit of dignity, perhaps grown out of the image of youth, perhaps as an excuse for diminished physical vigor, perhaps as a handy shield by which one could hold off the world.  How little that boy need have worried, after all.  The state of being "grown up" was a state beset by as many worries, and just as false, as those of childhood.

It looks like as early as 1940, Hubbard really wanted to be a philosopher.  Alas, he's stuck for now/then conveying his thoughts through lousy fiction, rather than... well, I guess the last books he wrote were also lousy fiction filled with author tracts.  And then there's the whole "space opera is the genetic memory of Scientology's backstory" thing.  So I guess whatever Hubbard did had an element of lousy fiction to it.

Anyway, Lowry's reverie is interrupted by a hammering sound and the roaring of truck engines, and things get goofy.  He looks up to see two hundred workers rushing about at high speed, constructing a factory "a foot at a time," so that before his very eyes the cellulose factory is thrown up and the peaceful stream of his youth is torn down.  "The plant was going full blast.  The willows had vanished.  The stream of yesterday was a concrete aqueduct!"

When a dazed Lowry turns and goes back to down, he starts to feel "a nausea of concern" about this.  Suddenly suspicious, he takes a back alley to a street he's never visited, and dammit, all the houses are false fronts, just like a movie set!  All the "extras" are even flummoxed that Lowry's back where he shouldn't be, and try to hastily finish the houses!

This is so ridiculous that even had the rest of the book been properly scary, this little moment would've undone it.  It's like Gris' hallucinations with Bugs Bunny in Mission Earth, something so jarringly out-of-tune with the rest of the narrative that it all comes to a crashing halt.

I think we can learn something from this.  A common argument about Mission Earth is that its badness resulted from Hubbard being insulated from criticism by his followers, sort of like George Lucas and the Star Wars prequels, except in Hubbard's case it was a literal cult following.  But this book, written near the start of his career and before Hubbard went off the deep end, has no such excuse.  It was written, it was edited, and it's still not very good.

Lowry returns to Main Street, but there's that cry of  "Jim!  Jim!  Jim!  Oh, my God!  Jim!"  Everyone on the street is sprawled out on the ground, while Mary is running along with her hair and eyes wild, sobbing in terror.  When she sees him she leaps into his arms and cries with relief, and Lowry holds her tight, stroking her hair as the rest of the townspeople return to life around them, and I can't help but feel this scene would be a lot more effective if we'd cut to it straight after the diner, before the silly things happened.

And then Tommy swaggers up, and we get our climactic confrontation.  Or something.

"Hello, Jim."  And then, in concern, "Is something wrong with Mary?"

"You know what's wrong with Mary, Tom Williams."

Tommy looked at him oddly.  "I don't get you, old man."

"Not that you wouldn't try," said Jim with a cold grin at his own humor.  "I've had enough of this."

"Enough of what?"

"You took something from me.  I want it back.  I know about this, you see." 

Lowry wastes no words, and outright accuses Tommy of being a thief, of stealing a part of Lowry that made everything right with the world.  Tommy laughs that his "friend" has finally caught on, but, fangs extended, explains his more "communistic attitude" towards... chunks of Lowry, I guess.  Soul stuff?  Animus? 

Terminology later, fight scene now.  Lowry gets Mary out of the way and grabs hold of Tommy's coat... no, wait, you should see this.

Lowry put Mary to one side.  He snatched out and grabbed Tommy's coat and hauled him close, aiming a blow.  Somehow, Tommy twisted from the grasp and, in his turn, struck hard with his cane.  For an instant the world, for Lowry, was ink.  But he came up in an effort to lunge at Tommy's throat.  Again the cane felled him.  Stunned now, he swayed on his hands and knees, trying to clear his fogged senses.  Once more the cane struck him and he felt the pavement strike against his cheek.

See?  It's a fight scene, but it isn't a Hubbard Fight Scene.  It's all contained in a single paragraph, and there isn't an exclamation point to be found! 

And... I dunno, as overused and annoying as the Hubbard Fight Scenes got, I think this is actually a case where one would work.  Breaking up the flow of the narrative after Lowry gets clonked on the head would help emphasize the impact, har har, of the blow.  This is the big, climactic showdown between the Entity and the leader of the "others," two people who thought they were friends, not the nth "Jettero Heller curbstomps someone" scene.  This is the one fight you can really afford to draw out, break down, make it a blow-by-blow event.

Well, Lowry ends up like Senator Sumner and is lying there, unable to move, feeling like he's bleeding to death.  Fanged Tommy leans in close to smirk at him, seeming "twice as big and strong as before."  Then Mary looks at Tommy, and Lowry watches her face change from an expression of wonder to "agreeable satisfaction," and she and Tommy walk away, arm-in-arm.

Lowry knows why.

She was nothing but a puppet herself, animated more than any of the rest because she had been more with a source.  And when Tommy had taken part of him she had begun to divide her attention between them, for either one could animate her.  And now that Tommy possessed an "allness" there could be no question as to which one she would follow.

Strangely, realizing that his wife is but a puppet doesn't seem to affect Lowry's affection for her.  He still rushed to comfort her when she was spazzing her way down the street, and he still wants to get her back from Tommy.  Then again, maybe Lowry wants her back because she's his puppet, thank you very much.

There's another effect of Lowry's defeat - now that Tommy has stolen his essence or whatever, all the other puppets around him aren't motivated by his presence, and are only twitching slightly instead of moving again.  Or in other words, "For him the world was nearly dead!"

So between the nearly-dead world, Mary being stolen from him, Tommy's betrayal, and getting his ass kicked and soul siphoned, Lowry's in pretty bad shape.

It was agony to drag himself along, but he did, inch by inch, fumbling over the bodies which lay sprawled in the clear sunlight. He became aware of how hot it was getting and of a great weariness. If he could just rest for a little while, he might be able to find strength. He saw a bush in a yard where the cover was thick and he crawled into the coolness. Just to rest a little while and then to find Tommy and Mary!

Or maybe it's the malaria.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fear - Chapter 7, Part 2 - Guidance

So last time Lowry heard a voice but found no one else in his office with him, but now he's going to take a closer look and find someone after all.  A cracked section of the plaster wall near his desk transforms from meaningless lines into the shape of a face, then a body that soon steps out of the wall.

"I would dislike frightening you," said the high, musical voice.

The thing looked like a child not more than four years old, a little girl with long blond curls and shapely, dimpled limbs.  

Well, hey, "shapely" technically means "pleasing to look at," it's not necessarily sexual-

She was dressed in a frilled frock, all clean and white, and a white bow was slightly to one side of her head.  Her face was round and beautiful, but it was a strange kind of beauty, not altogether childish; the eyes were such a dark blue they were almost black, and deep in them was an expression which was not an innocent child's, but more a lascivious wanton's; the lips were full and rich and slightly parted, as though to bestow a greedy lover's kiss.  


And like an aura a black shadow stood in globular shape about her.  

I bet her soul is as red as a ground cherry, too.

But at a casual, swift glance, it was a little child, no more than four, naive and full of laughter.  The lewd eyes lingered caressingly upon Lowry's face as she perched herself upon the top of his desk.

At least we've answered a lingering question from Mission Earth: "how could we make Teenie worse?"  And the answer is of course to "make her a four-year-old hellspawn."

Teenier and Lowry have a nice, disturbing chat.  He asks what she is, she assures him that she's just a child, of course, and proceeds to get distracted by his handsomeness so that "A dreamy look came into her eyes and her small pink tongue flicked out to dampen her lips convulsively."  When Lowry gets her back on track, she asks again whether Lowry really wants to find his hat, and he emphatically says nope.  Remember that heroic resolve Lowry was filled with a chapter or two ago, as he strode off into the night to fight the madness and find what he lost?  Lowry doesn't.

After spending some time stretching "langoriously" and licking her quivering lips with her pink tongue, Teenier gets to business: if Lowry will stop denying she and others like her exist, and agrees to aid them against the "others," she'll give him some exposition.  Lowry wearily nods his agreement.

So Teenier tells him a story.  Tommy was indeed correct that Lowry's article has angered a group of supernatural beings who inexplicably chose a four-year-old harlot as their herald.  And this is all according to some vague prophecy or schedule where they periodically "even up accounts" with humanity.  But to do this they need a person, someone "invested with control" - an Entity. 

"That is what we mean by 'Entity,' Mr. Lowry.  You are the Entity, the center of control.  Usually all life, at fleeting instants, takes turns in passing this along.  Now perhaps you have, at one time in your life, had a sudden feeling, 'I am I?'  Well, that awareness of yourself is akin to what men call godliness.  For an instant nearly every living thing in this world has been the one Entity, the focal point for all life. It is like a torch being passed from hand to hand.  Usually, innocent little children such as myself are invested, and so it is that a child ponders much upon his own identity."

So when Lowry is sick and feverish, doubting his senses, hallucinating disturbing phenomenon, and generally having a miserable time being himself, this is when he's wholly in touch with his identity?  This is when he's the center of control?

"What are you trying to tell me?"

"Why," she said demurely, "I am telling you that this is a period when we choose an Entity and invest that function in just one man.  Your Tommy Williams, I believe, knows about it.  So long as you live, then the world is animated.  So long as you walk and hear and see, the world goes forward.  In your immediate vicinity, you understand, all life is concentrating upon demonstrating that it is alive.  It is not.  Others are only props for you.  This would have happened to you a long time ago, but it was difficult to achieve communication with you.  You are the Entity, the only living thing in this world."

Ladies and gentlemen, behold The Sociopath's Anthem.  You are the only true human, the only living person, in all the world.  All those things that look like people are nothing but objects, props that exist for your benefit.  They have no value, and only pretend to be alive because your presence validates them.

Disturbing sentiments, but not quite as disturbing as the sultry four-year-old.  The globe of darkness pulses around Teenier as she gives Lowry lusty looks once more.  Lowry asks what he's supposed to do with this information, or what they are expecting from him as the Entity, and is told - nothing.  By which I mean:

"What... what am I expected to do?" said Lowry.

"Why, nothing.  You are the Entity."

"H-he-e i-is-s t-th-he-e E-En-n-ti-it-ty!" growled a chorus of voices in other parts of the room.

Yeah, that isn't working for me, Hubbard.  I know it's supposed to be a Voice of the Legion effect, but it reads like a stutter. 

Anyway, they just want Lowry to know he's the Entity so he won't do anything rash, like... uh, they're trying to reassure him.  Lowry is afraid of Tommy, and Jebson, and Billy Watkins the nightwatchman, but as said earlier, they're all just props.  All he has to do is be the Entity and continue to motivate the props around him, and... and this helps them "even up accounts" with humans by...

Look, there was a prophecy, alright?

Lowry asks, if Tommy is indeed a prop that he himself motivates, how Tommy was able to lean over and do something to Lowry that morning, or why he has fangs.  Teenier doesn't take this well.

"Oh!" she cried in shocked pain.  "Then it is impossible!"

"I-it-t i-is-s i-im-mp-po-os-si-i-b-bl-le-e !" chorused the growls.

So on the one hand, it is sort of a relief to learn that there are dark forces tormenting you, rather than your misfortune being due to the randomness of an impartial universe.  On the other hand, it's not very comforting to know that those dark forces are just as inept as the guys who get your order wrong at the drive-thru.

Teenier declares that Tommy Williams is the leader of the others, and even though "There's nothing you can do," Lowry must somehow "settle accounts" with him.  When Lowry caught Tommy leaning over his bed, Tommy stole part of his "soul substance," and he'll continue to do so every time the two of them are in the same room, unless Lowry stops him.

Our protagonist quite reasonably asks how he's supposed to do any of this, but Teenier is already gone, and her dark aura shrinks until it has become "like a small, round black thing" before vanishing like "a smoke puff."  And that's exactly how you defuse unnerving events with badly chosen language.

Lowry calls out once more, but there's nothing else in the room with him but a section of cracked plaster that no longer resembles anything.  He buries his face in his arms, presumably out of confusion and annoyance.

Well, we sure learned a lot from this section.  There's an ancient conspiracy of demons that has a vague prophecy about an Entity who doesn't have to do anything, but which can be foiled by some others toward some unforeseen end.  The plot is thickening, maybe?

Nah.  There's less than thirty pages left in the story, and none of this matters in the slightest.

Back to Chapter 7, part 1

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Fear - Chapter 7, Part 1 - Contact

And now Lowry's in his office, waiting, thinking, waxing philosophical.

It seemed to him, as he thought about it, that man's lot seems to be a recanting of statement and prejudice; those things which he most wildly vows he will not do are those things which, eventually, he must do; those beliefs which are the most foreign to his nature are eventually thrust down his throat by a malignant fate.  To think that he, James Lowry, ethnologist, would ever come near a recognition of extra-sensory forces-- Well, here he was, waiting.

"It seemed to him that it seems," ugh.  And too many semicolons.  And this is also kinda strange coming from an author who later told people he could free them from the negative influence of extra-sensory forces, allowing them to alter their fate.  Maybe Professor Lowry can be considered an object lesson of what happens when you don't use Dianetics?

Lowry paces restlessly, killing time by examining the boxes of artifacts and knickknacks from the Yucatán that are still cluttering up his office.  The first one he opens is, naturally, a "fossilized" skull found near a sacrificial block.  Now you and I know that fossils are the petrified remains of ancient creatures, arbitrarily defined as at least 10,000 years old but usually much older, but of course a trained scholar like Lowry can be forgiven for misusing the term.

He didn't so much as blink when he was digging this fellow's head from the ground, but now the sight makes Lowry shudder, which he puts down to seeing his own grave last night.  He starts to obsess over the fact that, since the death date on his tombstone was 1940, he has at most a matter of months left to live.  But on the bright side, "he had found rest from his torment."  ...Uh, I'm not sure who he's referring to here, Future Lowry?  Present Lowry certainly isn't having fun.

And then Tommy walks in, and of course Lowry sees "the malevolent smile and those yellow fangs" on his friend's face until he's actually looking directly at it and Tommy becomes normal.  That Tommy, what a prankster.

Tommy offers to have the Chemistry department send down some nitroglycerin(?!) if Lowry wants it, since many from his last class are now "walking around muttering to themselves about devils and demons," and one student has nearly had a nervous breakdown.  Now, do you think this is due to the subject of Lowry's lecture, or the fact that for the first time in years he's broken from the script and said something that got his class' attention?  

His friend asks what's up, and Lowry confesses that he's still bedeviled by phantoms.  Tommy thinks he's being quite calm about it, Lowry replies that "A man can get used to anything."  The office door opens again and Mary walks in, oblivious to any student disruption, but looking a bit nervous that she might be responsible for her husband's odd behavior over the past few days - or so the narration tells us, I'm not sure how Lowry knows this.  She asks for a check for groceries and clothes, Lowry gladly gives it to her, she kisses him and leaves with Tommy.

Was it some sort of sensory illusion that caused Lowry to momentarily feel fangs in her mouth? Was it some way the light fell upon her face that made him see those fangs? Was it a natural jealousy which made him believe she looked lovingly at Tommy as they went out of the door?

Has Lowry just forgotten that he's suffering from severe stress, malaria and sleep deprivation? 
Lowry shakes off his uncertainties and tries to put the junk up, but the skull falls out of the box, and Lowry kicks it into the corner, knocking loose one of its teeth.  The four lines of text from his tombstone clutter up the narrative for the second time this chapter.  Lowry fails to remember whether or not this is the "fossilized" skull of poor Sebastian, then starts muttering Hamlet jokes to himself: "to be or not to be," "alas, poor Lowry," the usual.  It is quite droll.

He tried to laugh at himself and failed. He could feel his nerves tautening again; he could hear the echoes of the old mother's remarks. Cats, hats, rats-- Cats, hats, rats. Hats, bats, cats, rats. Hats lead to bats, lead to cats, lead to rats. Rats are hungry, James Lowry. Rats will eat you, James Lowry. Hats, you came here to bats, you go on to cats, you get eaten by rats. Do you still want to find your hat? Hats, bats, cats, rats. Rats are hungry, James Lowry. Rats will eat you, James Lowry.

Hmm.  So what do you think, folks?  Is Lowry being effed with by prankster demons, and has his best friend and wife grown fangs?  Or do you think he might be in the midst of a mental breakdown?

That last sentence is then repeated no less than seven times, followed by "Do you still want to find your hat?" be repeated in italics and all-caps, then back to the hats-bats-rats rhyming nonsense, all building to "Do you still want to find your hat, James Lowry?"  It is very scary, and not at all annoying, because remember this is a critically-important horror story that inspired future greats like Stephen King.

Lowry gives a Big No, and a "childish treble" tells him "Then you are not the Entity."  Lowry looks around but can't see anyone else in his office.  After the page break he'll look again and see someone appear after all, which means that it really would have been better to end this section with the shock of the child's line of dialogue so that Lowry looks like less of a tool.

Back to Chapter 6, part 2