“Cast your nets, wanderers! Try me with your questions, and let the contest begin.”
—Blaine the Mono, to Roland and the Ka-Tet, at the end of The Waste Lands
Welcome to A Read of The Dark Tower series. Join me each week as I, Constant Reader, tackle the magnum opus of Stephen King’s career for the first time. If you want to discuss in general terms or talk about these first sections, join me by commenting here.
Last week, we left Jonas and the Big Coffin Hunters taking Rhea and the wizard’s glass with them into town. Kimba Rimer and Mayor Thorin had been murdered by Reynolds and Depape. Our young ka-tet minus Susan had been arrested. And Susan had learned about the murders and was on the run from Seafront.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 8: The Ashes, Section 1
Seafront is in chaos as Susan makes her way out, as evidence by the vaquero Miguel, who was almost run down by a careening wagon. Susan captures the feeling of panic and runs to the stables, saddles her horse Pylon, and rides away.
What Constant Reader Learns: Nice description here of the panic at Seafront, a feeling “that would grip almost all of Hambry by noon.” Like the shared dreams and the pervasive feeling of “wrongness” that’s been all over Hambry until now, it probably was easy for panic to take hold as well.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 8: The Ashes, Section 2
Susan rides down High Street, focused on Roland. “The brave little ka-tet they had made that night at the graveyard was broken, three of its members jailed and with not long to live…the last member lost and confused, as crazy with terror as a bird in a barn.”
She rides past the house she’d shared with Cordelia, who rushes out of the house in black lace and runs in front of the horse. At first, Susan thinks she’s Rhea, but realizes her aunt has gone crazy. “Her mind’s broken,” she thinks. “Poor thing. Poor old thing.”
Cordelia accuses Susan of putting the boys up to murdering Thorin, and Susan denies it. But her aunt reaches into a box of ashes from the stove and throws them on the girl: “I curse thee with the ashes. I curse thee to darkness, both of thee!” As she listens to her aunt, Susan’s panic dies away and she knows what she needs to do. “I forgive ye, Aunt…for what ye did to yer brother and my father. For what ye were a part of,” Susan says. Then she leans over and smudges the ashes on her aunt’s cheek, tells her they’re done, that she’s pregnant and will be married to Roland by year’s end, and rides away.
What Constant Reader Learns: We’re told that if Susan’s panic “had held,” things might have turned out differently. Which begs the question: how might it have been different? Unfortunately, I don’t yet know enough of what’s to come to know, but I assume had she remained in a panic, she would have been too afraid to spring the boys, or do whatever it is her ultimate role in the finale turns out to be. Maybe she’d have hidden out at Cordelia’s house, or ridden out of town and kept going. Only that wouldn’t be ka, mayhap.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 8: The Ashes, Section 3
As she rides out of town, Susan sees riders approaching and, on instinct, she hides behind an old granary beside the road. It’s a bizarre sight: the Big Coffin Hunters, one of them pulling Rhea behind her like an “unsexed, sore-raddled creature” in her black cart.
What Constant Reader Learns: The sight of the cackling, wheezing Rhea is almost enough to send Susan back into a panic, but she fights it. Another one of those cinematic moments I'd love to see onscreen.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 8: The Ashes, Section 4
Susan rides to the hut in the Bad Grass, arriving about 1 p.m. Since she hadn’t eaten the night before, she wipes the ants off the leftover sandwich in her picnic basket and eats it, then goes and pulls out Roland’s guns. She hides them in the blanket-roll behind her saddle as she’d seen Roland do, and leaves.
What Constant Reader Learns: I’m thinking Susan’s going to spring the boys, but am anxious to see exactly how she pulls it off. Susan pulling one of Roland’s big guns on Sheriff Avery is a pretty bizarre (and funny) image.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 8: The Ashes, Section 5
At 2 p.m., word spreads through town that Fran Lengyll will be speaking at the Town Gathering Hall. By 3 p.m., the hall is full and 200 more are gathered outside. The crowd does not include Coral Thorin, who already knows what he is going to say—she and Jonas had coached him on how to address the crowd.
Lengyll, we’re told “was brief, he was rough, and he was convincing.” He tells the crowd that the mayor and chancellor were murdered by the boys, as proven by the bird’s skull that had been left in the mayor’s lap. Many had seen Cuthbert with that rook’s skull. The weapon used to cut the men’s throats belonged to Will Dearborn, Lengyll says, although he does not know the boys’ motives. He assumes they were likely after the horses and were planning to betray the Affiliation and give them to Farson. Using a plant in the audience, he tells him, with much sorrow, that the boys have confessed—and are proud of themselves.
What Constant Reader Learns: I liked Coral’s rationale that Lengyll’s speech should be simple: “There was no need for rabble-rousing; the townsfolk would be a mob by sundown of Reaping Day. A mob always picked its own leaders, and it always picked the right ones.”
This is sort of a chilling look at the mob mentality at work, and how the feeling spreads through the crowd. As soon as Lengyll announces the Reap Fair events that would be cancelled—but that the bonfire would burn and the stuffy-guys would burn on it, the crowd knew what it needed to do.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 8: The Ashes, Section 6
After the meeting, most people headed for the saloons. They pass the jail but don’t even look at it, unless in sly glances. Their plans are not for a mob lynching, but for the next night’s bonfire.
What Constant Reader Learns: That Stephen King still likes to draaaaag out the suspense. And he’s so very good at it!
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 8: The Ashes, Section 7
Near the Bar K, where Susan’s still out riding around, she sees cowboys rounding up the “biggest herd of Drop-runners she had ever seen: perhaps four hundred head in all.” They are being driven west, toward Hanging Rock.
What Constant Reader Learns: Even though Susan has believed everything Roland told her, seeing the horses being driven west makes the plot that ended up in the death of her father seem more real, and makes her angry.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 8: The Ashes, Section 8
Susan finds the Bark K ranch empty, and sees the hole in the floorboards where Jonas had taken Alain’s and Cuthbert’s guns. She looks around, and doesn’t see what she’s looking for until she goes outside behind the cook-shack: the two small barrels of fireworks she and Sheemie had taken from Seafront. She takes an armload of the firecrackers. It’s three-thirty, but she wants to wait until dusk to spring the prisoners, so she wallows around on Roland’s bed a while.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susan is haunted by Aunt Cord’s “ashes” curse, and at one point realizes she still has ashes on her hands. But she decides not to wash them away. “Let the ashes stay, and do their worst,” she thinks. Probably not a wise statement.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 8: The Ashes, Section 9
Just after sunset, Susan rides into town. It’s strangely deserted, especially for the night before Reap. Things are even subdued at the Travellers’ Rest, where she stops and finds Sheemie outside. He’s part of their ka-tet, she realizes. And he knows it as well; he says he’s been waiting for her. “I knew ye’d come,” he says. “We’re going to let Arthur and them free, ain’t we?”
She gives him some of the firecrackers and asks if the men who go into the Travellers’ Rest take off their coats and serapes. She thinks a few minutes, and formulates a plan. But she wants to make sure Sheemie knows that if he helps them he has to leave with them. “Go with you and Will Dearborn and Richard Stockworth and my best friend, Mr. Arthur Heath!” he says. “Go to In-World! We’ll see buildings and statues and women in gowns like fairy princesses.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I love Sheemie! He’s not only waiting for Susan, but knows of Coral’s whereabouts and already has the mule saddled and ready. Susan’s amazed, but he can only say, “I just knew.” Beyond ka, Sheemie has a sweetness and simple wisdom that reminds me of Tom (M-o-o-n, that spells Tom) Cullen, another favorite SK character.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 8: The Ashes, Section 10
Twenty minutes later, a “lone vaquero” leads a mule along Hill Street toward the sheriff’s office. The vaquero is wearing a heavy serape and a sombrero. The mule’s saddle is piled with clothing of some kind. Two extra sombreros and a drover’s hat hang from the mule’s neck. The vaquero hears firecrackers, looks back down the street to where a figure is waving, and ties the mule to the hitching post.
What Constant Reader Learns: Just in case our Constant Readers don’t realize the vaquero is Susan, we’re told “if this cowboy had the face of a woman, it was concealed.” Although since she’s singing “Careless Love,” and I doubt if she sounds like a man even if she's trying to sound like one. Luckily for ka, there's no one out on the streets.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 8: The Ashes, Section 11
Deputy Dave is inside the office, trying to pick out a tune (“Captain Mills, You Bastard”) on a guitar. Across the room, Avery sits behind his desk, in a stupor after a “four-chop dinner.”
When they hear the door open, they think it’ll be Deputy Bridger, coming to relieve Dave. But it’s a cowboy in an oversized serape that drags the floor. The sheriff starts his “Howdy, stranger” friendly act, but the vaquero pulls a gun that all three of the prisoners recognize immediately. Still pretending to be a man “with a hoarse, artificially deep voice,” Susan tells the sheriff to open the cells.
Avery stalls while he reaches for a gun in his bottom desk drawer, but Susan fires at the desk. The sound is loud in the room, but outside, there are firecrackers going off. She doesn’t hit Avery, but startles him enough that he topples over in his chair and lands in the floor, sending the extra guns sliding.
Dave lunges at the vaquero.
What Constant Reader Learns: Love this glimpse of Cuthbert. He’s in his jail cell, but tells Deputy Dave that if they have to listen to him try to play the guitar much longer, the townspeople won’t have to worry about executing them. “We’ll kill ourselves. In self-defense….Just don’t sing. I’ll confess to the murder of Arthur Eld himself if you just don’t sing.”
Since we’re told Dave makes his move “at the end of his life,” I guess it’s not going to go well for him.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 8: The Ashes, Section 12
Susan is staring at the spot where her bullet gouged a hole in the sheriff’s desk when a shout from Cuthbert alerts her that Deputy Dave’s on the attack. She pulls the trigger without thinking, and Dave—“a young man only two years older than she herself”—is dead.
Susan’s freaked out, trying to apologize to the dying Dave, but a shout from Roland in the peanut gallery lets her know Avery’s coming for her. He pulls her feet out from under her, and realizes she’s a girl. Just as his “ham-sized hands” clutch around her throat, she fires into his head, point-blank.
What Constant Reader Learns: Deputy Dave was only eighteen? That’s just…sad. Don’t know why I’d envisioned him as older—the monocle, I guess.
Sometimes understatement is delicious. After her point-blank shot to Avery’s head, we’re told, “The mess was considerable.”
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 8: The Ashes, Section 13
Avery’s dead, but Susan has set her serape on fire with the gun, and she douses it out with what’s in the water pitcher—which isn’t water, but graf. With Roland urging her along, she finds the keys and unlocks them. She’s still crying over Deputy Dave, whom she’d known since childhood.
She gets the clothes from the mule’s pack and they assume their disguises, heading toward Hookey’s to get their horses. Susan feels cold. “Whether or no what she had done was murder, she had ended two lives this evening, and crossed a line that could never be recrossed in the other direction.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Sometimes the lack of understatement is also delicious: “Avery’s head dropped into her lap, as heavy and wet as a raw roast.”
And so we will pick up next week with our endgame, I think. Of course I've thought that a couple of times already.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue with the next chapter of Wizard and Glass.