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 Yucat√°n 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

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