The following is dedicated to Roland Deschain. May your quest bring you peace, gunslinger.
A number of strange things have been happening to me over the last several weeks, all of them connected in some way to the
series of books by Stephen King. This
happens sometimes when I immerse myself too long into someone else’s world; I
tend to fall under the influence of its gravitational pull until I am orbiting
around it like a trapped satellite. And
this is such a long series of books, many thousands of pages. It has taken me the better part of a year to
read them, which has both prolonged the effect, and made it more pronounced. Dark Tower
At least this is the reason I am giving myself for the strange recent occurrences. I have been tarrying too long in sai King’s world, I explain to myself; that’s all it is. All I need to do is finish the last book, and then allow time and distance to break the magic spell of gravity, and free me from its hold.
But, for the time being anyway, the character of Roland Deschain, the gunslinger, has besieged my mind and infiltrated my imagination. These things I’m about to relate have more to do with him than anything, I suspect. The character whose quest for the
is documented in these books is so vividly drawn, so profoundly flawed and yet
so powerful, that I have found it hard not
to believe in him. This, of course, is
reason enough to finish the last book as quickly as possible, and then wait
patiently to try and reclaim my rightful place in reality. Dark Tower
Before I can do that, though, there is some painting and some tiling that must get done; yes there is...but now I’m putting the cart in front of the horse.
The first notably odd incident was last month. It was a sleep-in day for me, so it was seven by the time I rolled out of bed. I was the last one to wake up, and I could hear the television in the back room as I slumped down the hallway. For once, our black lab Chubby was not creating a one-dog obstacle course in front of me as I walked, which could only mean they must have fed her already, and let her out. Thankee-sai for small miracles, I muttered, not noticing my unusual choice of words, or recognizing that it was unusual, until later.
“Mornin’,” I said, rusty-voiced.
“Good morning,” she said, turning and smiling. “Would you like some eggs?”
“No, thanks.” I leaned drowsily against the counter.
“The coffee’s fresh,” she said over her shoulder, having returned her attention to the eggs.
“Thankee-sai,” I said reflexively, pushing leadenly off the counter and crossing the kitchen to where we kept the cups, and the coffee. “What time did the girls get up?” I asked, pouring myself a cup, and carefully lifting it to the table.
“Maria wandered out here about a half-hour ago; and you’d have to ask Jess, because she was up watching TV when I got back from the gym.”
“At six o’clock?” I asked, sinking slowly into one of the kitchen chairs.
“Uh-huh.” There was disapproval in her tone.
“Well, I guess at least she won’t have trouble adjusting to her schedule when school starts up again.” It was less than two weeks away from the start of the school year; I was tracking it very closely.
“I guess.” She sounded doubtful. “Would you like creamer?”
Elizabeth said ‘creamer,’
she was talking about the condensed, exotically-flavored liquid stuff in the
fridge. Normally, I would just mix two
teaspoons of sugar and some plain powdered cream in my cup, but that would
require getting up again since I had forgotten to do it while I was standing by
the coffee maker. “How’s Maria? Still sneezing?” Maria had caught a head cold, with congestion
and a runny nose, except that instead of coughing, she would go into these
extended sneezing fits. Then each of us
began to have them, although whether it was catching or just the power of
suggestion was impossible to say.
“Haven’t heard a thing this morning,” she said, handing me the cold plastic bottle of cinnamon-caramel-vanilla macchiato.
“Thankee-sai,” I said, reaching for it, but she pulled it back quickly.
“Alright, what is that?”
“What are you saying? You said it twice already. ‘Thank E’s eye?’ What is that supposed to mean, ‘Thank E’s eye?’ She looked perturbed, like she thought I was making some kind of a joke at her expense.
At first, I didn’t know what she was saying. It sounded like ‘Thank eez I,’ with the emphasis on the ‘eez,’ which I agreed made no sense at all. Then I figured out that she was saying ‘Thank E’s eye,’ which still made no sense in its totality, but now at least each part formed a tangible concept. I used to call her E sometimes as a kind of nickname. Back then we had a car, a Plymouth Breeze, which she mostly drove, that I used to call E’s Breeze. But the car was wrecked in an accident ten years ago, and with it the nickname had fallen into disuse. I wondered if that were purely coincidence, or -
My reverie was interrupted by an impatient, “Well? Are you going to explain?”
“I didn’t say anything about your eye,” I protested. “They’re fine. In fact, they’re beautiful.” Like most guys, I’ll take those easy points when I can get them.
“Bah!” she replied, sounding like another E, Ebenezer Scrooge. “I know you said something, and it wasn’t just “Thanks,’ or ‘Thank you.’ You added some gibberish at the end.”
I puzzled over ‘Thank E’s eye’ for a few more moments before it finally hit me. “Ohhh- Was it ‘Thankee-sai?’”
“That’s what I said, ‘Thank E’s eye.’” Her tone and expression both exclaimed ‘Duh!’ simultaneously.
“Well, actually it’s ‘Thankee-sai,’” and then I spelled it for her. “It’s just a phrase from the
books I’m reading. It means the same
thing as thank you, that’s all.” Dark Tower
She eyed me suspiciously. “If that’s all it is, why didn’t you just say ‘Thanks?’
My head dropped forward, toward my coffee. It’s too early in the morning for this. I looked up again. “I don’t know. I didn’t even know I said it. Maybe it’s because I was up late reading last night. Or maybe it’s because I’ve read the phrase ‘Thankee-sai’ about fifteen hundred times this summer. It’s on every other page. I guess it just slipped out. I promise,” I said, fixing her with earnestness, “it’s nothing more than that.”
Her lips scrunched into a disbelieving grimace, and one of her eyebrows rose high on her head, but she said nothing more, although she did conveniently forget to hand over the coffee creamer, putting it instead on the counter next to the stove. With a weary sigh, I pushed my chair back from the table, and dragged myself to fetch myself the sugar and the powdered cream.
That was my first clue things were starting to get a little weird.
A few weeks later, it was morning again, and we were sitting across from each other eating breakfast. I was having oatmeal, and she was eating a bowl of multi-grain Cheerios. We were reading different parts of the newspaper, and the kids, remarkably, were coexisting peaceably in the back room. Without thinking, I picked up the rubber band that came with the day’s paper, and began pulling it casually while perusing the sports section. After a minute, the rubber band found its natural position on the human hand, the one all rubber bands seem destined to wind up in, one end stretched over the index finger, and the other pulled taut by the pinky finger at the bottom. The rubber band gun. I turned my hand and stared at it as if seeing something brand new. Then I began to raise my arm stiffly. “Now say your lesson, gunslinger, and be true.”
asked distractedly, not looking up.
My arm was now straight and steady before me. My thumb stuck up like the raised hammer of a revolver. “I do not aim with my hand,” I said in a slow and even voice. “He who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye.”
“Can you hold on for just a moment, Kev?”
Elizabeth said. “I just want to finish this article about
Michael Jackson’s mother disappearing.
They think she might be staying with some relatives here in the Valley. Isn’t that weird?”
“I do not shoot with my hand,” I responded, dropping my arm slightly so the barrel of my finger was pointed exactly at where I predicted her heart would be behind the newspaper she held up. “He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I shoot with my mind.”
“Uh-huh, father’s face. Got it – wait…Shoots?!” She lowered the top half of the paper and saw a loaded rubber band aimed directly at her from less than two feet away. Her face froze in an expression of surprise, and the newspaper dropped from her hands. “What?! What are you doing? You put that finger down this instant,” she demanded.
I didn’t waver, not even the slightest tremble. I felt solid as a steel beam. “I do not kill with my gun,” I said, my voice coldly neutral. “He who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father. I kill with my heart.”
Elizabeth started to protest, then her eyes
widened as she saw that my intent exactly matched the words coming from my
mouth. With amazing speed, she grabbed
the box of Cheerios and pulled it in front of her like a shield. The rubber band smacked the still-moving box
and went looping off to the side. It
plopped on the table, spent.
I shook my head, as if coming out of a deep trance. “Wow, that was awesome!” My voice was filled with awe. “That was gunslinger fast!” I stopped talking when she moved the box of cereal away. The look of rage was unmistakeable. “You’re not the only cold-blooded murderer in this family,” she said, still holding the cereal in one hand. “And to prove it, I’m going to kill you with this box of Cheerios!” Without hestitation, she launched the box, the sharp corner of which caught me right on the bridge of my nose. It didn’t bleed, but it hurt like hell, and sent stingers into my eyes, and made them start to water like crazy. From behind me, I heard the sound of a thousand little baked circles of oats scattering on the tile floor.
“Ha!” she said, sitting back smugly with her arms folded over her chest. “Some gunslinger. Can’t even dodge a box of cereal.” For a moment, in my slightly disoriented state, it sounded like Detta Walker was sitting in that chair.
“You threw that like it was a Riza!” I exclaimed, my gunslinger hands cupped over my throbbing nose.
The compliment did nothing to assuage her indignation. I could tell because even though I still couldn’t see her well, it carried in the tone of her reply. “And you goan clean that li’l mess up now, aren’t ya, mahfah?”
I swear she said it just like that.
“Cry your pardon,” was my feeble response.
That second incident should have been enough to realize that The
influence on my personality was becoming a little too pervasive. But it wasn’t. It actually wasn’t until last Tuesday when I
finally realized I had better finish up the last book in the series, and the quicker,
the better. Dark Tower
It was late afternoon.
was tired after a rough day at work, and I was tired from wrangling two kids
while trying to make progress on repainting our front room. Confrontation hung on the near horizon like a
“So, how’s the room coming?” she said with that falsely-neutral way she had, while leaning back into the sofa and putting her nyloned feet on my writing chair. “Still on that same wall, I see. It’s been what, a week?”
I fought down the sudden urge to dump a half-gallon of paint on her head. ‘That same wall’ I had been working on had had bookcases and a wall unit attached to it that had to be cleared and then unscrewed and moved. Then the walls had to be patched and the patches sanded, and then the whole wall had to be sanded and cleaned, because the old paint had a glossy finish that would make it hard for the new paint to adhere to. And then there was the discovery that we hadn’t gotten the special combined primer and paint that I thought we had (we bought the supplies six months before; apparently I had procrastinated long enough to forget that little fact), so I was unexpectedly faced with the prospect of priming first (two coats, of course, because the wall was a deep wine red and we were covering it with a shade called “Muslin Wrap”) and then painting two coats of finish color, effectively doubling the time and energy I originally projected. Then there were the touch-ups to the ceiling, the baseboards, and the corner of the one wall we weren’t going to paint, which was as far as I had gotten today. I had yet to put the bookcases and the wall unit back, secure them all again, and then touch up the inevitable multitude of dings and scratches that come from doing these things by yourself. On top of that, this was the third time in nine years we were painting ‘that same wall,’ all coming after the horror of stripping off the flocked floral wallpaper that had happily hung there for the preceding twenty years…
I struggled to maintain my composure and not reach for the open bucket of paint. I thought I was doing a fairly decent job of pulling myself back from the brink, until I realized my hand was feeling for the handle of the paint can. ‘That same wall.’ Do you really want to see how fast I can paint something? Here, let me show you… my hand tightened around the thin metal of the handle until it was almost cutting into my skin.
Just then, I felt something happen inside, as though my mind had suddenly been pushed back deep into my head, disconnecting me from my body and my senses. The outside world, instead of filling my eyes, was now like looking through a distant window. Sounds were muffled and soft, and I found I could no longer control my body. I tried to bring my hand in front of my face, but the impulse left my brain and simply vanished as though it had fallen off a cliff. Naturally, it was quite terrifying to experience. And yet, I felt a semi-familiar presence emerge from the shadows. It moved in front of me, taking the place that my mind had just vacated. Don’t worry, it said to me. If you want to live, let me handle this.
Roland? Was I dreaming, or did Roland Deschain just step forward in my mind the way he did with Eddie, Susannah, and that one guy who would kill people by pushing them in front of cars and trains? How could that be? Why? Why me?
His name was Jack Mort, the voice said. Now hush. There will be time for questions later perhaps, but now I need to concentrate very carefully on what I must do.
Roland of Gilead, it is you! Our lives are in danger? How? Why? What’s going on?
Not merely our lives, Roland replied, but our very quest to save the
is in danger, and that danger
increases with each passing moment, so HUSH! Dark Tower
The force of his will was so strong that I shrank back into the confines of my isolated mind, and fell silent. Then I heard him speak with my voice.
“Elizabeth, daughter of Lewis, hear me well. My name is Roland of Gilead, son of Steven, of the line of Eld. My time here is short, and I must return to my where and when soon, or risk the ruination of many worlds, including mine and yours.”
She sighed. “I’m in no mood for games, Kevin. You’re just trying to distract me from the topic at hand. I want to know when this room’s going to be done so I can get my house back in order.”
“Elizabeth-sai, you are not speaking with Kevin, son of Kenneth, but with Roland of Gilead. We must palaver.”
“Look, buddy, I don’t know exactly what palaver means, but I can guarantee you there’ll be no palavering between us until this room is done, and the kids are asleep.”
“I cry your pardon, Elizabeth-sai. To palaver means only to converse, to have an honest discussion, nothing more.”
She groaned loudly. “Kevin, can’t you please knock it off? Can’t you see that I’m too tired for more of your shenanigans?”
“Elizabeth-sai, I would have you hear me well. I am not your cully. I am Roland of Gilead and I come with a matter of great importance.”
“Well, forgive me, but you happen to bear a striking resemblance to my husband, the so-called writer, and very so-so painter.”
“The body you see before you is indeed that of Kevin of Phoenix, son of Kenneth. Perhaps the simplest way to explain would be to say that my consciousness has gained access to his body through a doorway in his mind. I have been waiting there, off and on, for months, but now events are such that I must assert control, at least for a few moments. In my parlance, this is known as ‘stepping forward.’”
“Okay, can I just say one thing? You are not going to get out of this by pretending to be a character from some book you’re reading. I want to know what’s going on with this room. Why is it taking so long? Why, after a week, are you still on that same wall?”
There was a brief pause, when it appeared to
Elizabeth that the face of
the person before her had gone completely blank – ‘unoccupied,’ as she would
describe it later. For a few long, terrible
moments, it appeared that the man before her was hanging on the very tipping
point of an epileptic seizure (she knew because she saw one close-up once in
one of her college classes), and then life suddenly flashed back into those
The man before her was now breathing heavily. “Elizabeth-sai, may I strongly encourage you to refrain from mentioning the words ‘that same wall’ again? Stepping forward is not without risks, and sai Kevin’s will is stronger than I anticipated, at least when he is angry. ‘That same wall’ appears to be a particularly sore point for him. Do ya kennit – I mean – do you understand?”
“He is – restrained – for the moment, for lack of a better term. I had to be a little rough with him; well, rougher than he’s used to, anyway. But he’ll be alright in a few minutes.”
“Yes, I do not doubt it. Rest easy, Elizabeth-sai. I’ve no intent to hurt your cully, set my watch and warrant on it. The fact is, I need him alive. That’s the only reason I came forward when I did.”
“Why? Why do you say that? What do you mean, ‘you need him alive?’”
“Let’s say I had a strong sense that he was going to die, if he were allowed to continue with the course of action he was about to take.”
“What action? Was he about to kill himself?”
“No, but mayhaps you were about to kill him.”
“You’re crazy! I would never do anything to hurt Kevin.”
“Crazy, Elizabeth-sai? Tell me then, how would you have reacted if sai Kevin had picked up this bucket of paint and poured it on your head?”
“Are you kidding? If he even tried it, I would have ki– ”
“Exactly. Yet that’s just what he was about to do. And the fact is, I can’t afford for him to die, not yet anyway.”
“Well, that’s just an expression. I didn’t mean I would literally kill him. I would never-”
The man before her held up a hand. “Save your breath for those who don’t know better. I was there for the rubber band shooting episode. I witnessed the whole thing. I saw how you deflected his shot from point-blank range, and then defeated him with a box of Cereos.”
“It was Cheerios, actually. They probably don’t have those where you come from, do they?”
He shook his head. “No, we have very few dry goods of any kind. The point is, when you reacted, I saw you for what you are – a gunslinger.”
“Me? Gunslinger? Come on.”
“I speak true, Elizabeth-sai. Would only that you were the one reading the books instead of your cully. Then I would really have something I could work with – a real gunslinger. Oh well, it is ka. There will be water if God wills it.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t quite follow…”
“It is unimportant. What is important is that your cully – your husband – be allowed to complete reading the last book as soon as possible.”
“What?! Oh, this is a scam! Kevin, you almost had me believing this stupid gag…”
The man focused on her with grave intensity. “Listen to me. I wish our palaver allowed me to tell you my story in its fullness, but time grows unsteadier by the minute, and the Red King’s men are doing grave mischief to the Beams. I must return to my where and when soon, very soon. But you must allow sai Kevin to finish that last book. Today, if possible. Yes, even before he lifts another paintbrush.”
“Why? How could what he’s doing matter to you in the least?”
“Oh, it matters. It matters everything. Right now, it’s my one best chance of getting back to the
in time.” Dark
“Well, pardon me for saying so, but that makes no sense. The story’s already been written. From what little he’s told me, the whole godforsaken series is all about you, isn’t it? It’s all about your quest for the
so you must have been there already, right?” Dark Tower
The man looked forlorn and distant. “You speak true, Elizabeth-sai. More true than you know.”
“So why on earth would you need to go back again?”
“I do not have time to explain. Let it suffice to say that I don’t know how this story ends, not this time. But, I do have an idea, something different to try. Perhaps it is the answer; I don’t know. But in order to find out, your husband has to at least read until we reach the
itself. Then I will be able to find out.” Dark Tower
“And how much further is that?”
“That’s difficult to say. We are both dependent entirely on sai King, and when he sees fit in telling the story to bring us to the Tower. Knowing sai King, he will push it off as long as he can, maybe as far as the last fifty or sixty pages.”
“Sai King? Who’s that?”
“Sai King is the storyteller, the writer of The Dark Tower tale. Stephen King, son of Donald. He of Gan’s belly button. All depends on him, and he has proven to be less than reliable. Still, I expect a hard read of four hundred pages will get sai Kevin to the Tower, possibly a little less. How quickly can he cover that much ground?”
“If you’re counting on him to get you there quickly, brother, you’re out of luck. He's not a fast reader.”
“Yes, so I noticed. At first I thought that perhaps he was reading in a language that is not native to him. And he hasn’t responded the way I’d hoped to my subtle urgings. I may have to push him, hard. Will you help me, Elizabeth-sai?”
“I don’t know, Roland. I understand your dilemma, but I really need this room painted. We’ve got stuff everywhere. It’s making me all crazy just to be in here right now.”
“Elizabeth-sai, believe me when I say that the fate of all things, including the continued existence of this room, let alone its condition, depend on getting to the
before it’s too
late. There are other worlds than this,
and all of them are in danger of collapse.” Dark
“Alright, Elizabeth-sai. If I promise you that sai Kevin will paint this room with single-minded devotion until it is complete, and done to your liking and final approval, will that be enough? Then will you help me?”
“Hmmm. It’s a start. Can you get him to paint the back bathroom too, and do that tile countertop in the back room we’ve been talking about for the last five years? Make him promise he’ll do those things and finish them by Christmas – no, wait – Labor Day, and I’ll help you. Otherwise, there’s the door, not that I expect you’ll use it…”
The man looked mildly amused. “Is that all, sai?”
“Oh, and he has to stroke my arm for twenty minutes every night for a week, no, wait - month, no - year. A full year. And foot rubs upon request.”
“I am impressed. Elizabeth-sai, you are truly a gunslinger in your heart. It is a shame ka has brought us together for so brief a time. Still, ka is a wheel. Who knows what may happen with the turn of the wheel?”
“I don’t know anything about this ka of yours, but I can tell you something else about wheels, which is that I can be a wheel pain in the ass when I don’t get what I want, Roland. If I do my part and help you now, you better hold up your end, or spend the rest of your life watching it.”
The man looked grateful. “You say true! And I say Thankee-sai. Delah thanks. I will keep my part; you have the word of Roland of Gilead, direct descendant of Arthur the Eld.”
“If you say so. Okay, so what do you need me to do?”
“When I step back, which I will do in a matter of moments, sai Kevin will return. It is probable he will not remember much of this conversation. Don’t say anything about painting the room. Tell him it’s his job to finish reading that book. Ensure that he does, by any means at your disposal.”
“Relentless nagging is my specialty.”
“However necessary. But make sure he reads every page. He must not skip a single word. I will be reading through him, and I need all the information I can get. Do ya ken?”
“Make sure he reads every word. Got it.”
“Good. I’ll be doing the same thing from inside. If he resists, I will do what I must to make him read. Once he reaches the part of the story where we arrive at the
I will stop him in his reading and – convince – him that he needs to finish painting
the room at once, and then do those other items on your list…” Dark Tower
The man before her laughed out loud, a harsh, rare sound. “You are as ruthless as I am. Gods, we should have been ka-tet! Finish painting this room. Paint the bathroom in the back. Tile the countertop in the back room. Stroke your arm, twenty minutes, every night, one year. Foot massages upon demand. Do I say true, Elizabeth, daughter of Lewis?”
“Once I have fulfilled this obligation to you, I will exit through the door in his mind and attempt to take the
directly.” Dark Tower
“How will you ensure that he lives up to his promises once you’re gone?”
“Trust me, Elizabeth-sai. He will not want me to make a return to his mind ever in this life, or any other.”
She thought about it for a moment. “That’s good enough for me.”
“Then we are well-met, Elizabeth of Phoenix. Very well-met indeed.”
“Good luck with that whole ‘taking the
thing. Sounds difficult. I hope you make it.” Dark Tower
“Thankee-sai. If I don’t, you will most surely know it, and soon.”
There was another brief moment of that strange vacant look, and on the inside I felt myself being shoved forward, my mind plugging back into its senses, reconnecting to my body. I was instantly aware of a mean headache, and felt dazed. I started babbling incoherently about the gunslinger Roland, and being held captive in my own head, and spewed out some of the things I partially overheard: book, Tower, King, and - foot rubs? After a nauseous minute, the rioting impressions rapidly began to fade, and I began to feel better. I looked at
Elizabeth. We had been on the verge of an argument, hadn’t
we? About? Then I saw the can of paint on the
table. That’s right. About painting the room. I was still feeling a little woozy, and
didn’t have the energy to go one round in the ring with her, let alone
ten. “Look, I’m sorry it’s taking so long. I’ll get right on it.” I started to stagger to my feet, but she
pushed me back down into my chair. She
shoved a book into my hand, The . Dark Tower
“Never mind about painting,”
Elizabeth said, with as sweet a smile on her
face as I can ever remember. “It can
wait. Why don’t you read now? I’ll take care of the kids and dinner. You just get yourself comfy in that chair. Why don’t you see just how much you can read
tonight?” Then she practically danced
out of the room. She might have been
skipping. I don’t think I’d ever seen
her skip before.
It was all so strange: my sudden, inexplicable swoon, her abrupt change of heart, and the vague but unshakeable idea that I had met Roland Deschain, which was, of course, impossible. “Meeting fictional characters,’ I scoffed. Next thing you know, you’ll be hanging out with Phineas and Ferb.
Do as she says, I heard a voice say somewhere in my head that I couldn’t swear was my own. But it did sound familiar, kind of. Read, now, and don’t stop reading. Read as though the life of everyone you love depends on it. Read us to all the way to the
! Dark Tower
Yes, I thought in reply. I had a very weird and urgent feeling, one that I somehow knew wouldn’t go away until I was done with the book. I think I better finish reading it just as fast as I can.
“Just don’t skip any pages, not even a single word,” I heard from two voices, one inside my head and one from the kitchen, spoken in absolute unison. I shivered, quickly found the place where I left off (page 577), and feverishly began to read.