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


  1. Nice choice of music. It really fits the scene, strangely. Yeah, that might come off as insulting to silent hill, but you know what, I've been listening to doom64's sound track a lot of the time reading these, so good on game developers for making this story more bearable some 60 years after the fact it was written.

  2. So there was a metaphorical bat leading to a hat or two leading to a trapped cat leading to him ratting on himself.