“First comes smiles, then lies. Last is gunfire.”
—Roland Deschain, of Gilead
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.
We last left our ka-tet (minus Jake and Oy) sitting down with Father Callahan to hear his story and how he came about having possession of Black Thirteen.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale (New York),” Section 1
“It was the drink,” Callahan begins. He couldn’t blame God or Satan or “some deep psychosexual battle between his blessed mither and his blessed Da.”
We get an account of Callahan’s youth, going from seminary in Boston to a city parish in Lowell, Mass., where he’d spent seven years until he felt disconnected from his faith—or at least that’s the language he used. (“Later he came to understand that he wasn’t drinking too much because he was spiritually unsettled but spiritually unsettled because he was drinking too much.”)
From Lowell, he’d been sent to a Dayton, Ohio, suburb, where he stayed five years before again becoming restless. So in 1969, he found himself back in New England—in Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine, where “he had finally met real evil.”
What Constant Reader Learns: There is a lot of rumination here on the way alcohol scrambles one’s synapses while the alcoholic tells himself lies and excuses. Autobiographical, perhaps? At any rate, it’s really quite a wonderful stream-of-consciousness story from a man who had had much time and distance from which to examine his past and has done it unflinchingly: “How could you spend the morning puking and the afternoon believing you were having a spiritual crisis?”
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale (New York),” Section 2
Callahan talks about the events of ’Salem’s Lot, about being approached by a writer named Ben Mears and a teacher named Matthew Burke, who believed there was a vampire in town—the kind who makes other vampires. And there was a boy about Jake’s age who also believed. People in town were disappearing.
The vampire had taken a girl named Susan Norton whom Mears loved—partly, at least, in punishment for Mears daring to form a ka-tet to hunt him. The vampire went by the name of Barlow, and he’d left Susan for them to find. When Ben pounded the stake into her, she came alive even though the doctor had declared her dead only moments before. Both Eddie and Susannah are thinking about the unseen demon, and the doorkeeper at Dutch Hill.
The note Barlow had left for Callahan had said his faith was weak and that he would undo himself. But he didn’t believe it, plus the boy similar to Jake, whose name was Mark Petrie, was convinced Barlow was coming for his parents next. So Callahan confronted Barlow armed with his crucifix and his Bible, but he’d already come to think of them as symbols, devoid of real power. Still, he held off Barlow with his cross until the vampire proposed they go head-to-head, unarmed. Barlow would release the boy, and Callahan would lay down his crucifix.
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie (who has read Ben Mears’ book Air Dance) wants to know if there are other kinds of vampires than those who can make other vampires—Callahan says he believes there are, but he’ll get to that later.
Callahan tells them there was a point during which he was officiating at the funeral of a boy named Danny Glick—the vampire’s first victim—when “something changed in my head.” Susannah thinks that’s when he went todash; Eddie thinks it’s when he went nineteen—or maybe ninety-nine. Roland thinks nothing: “his mind was clear of reflection, a perfect receiving machine.”
Susan...Norton...names we’ve heard before. Scary old house with a monster inside.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale (New York),” Section 3
As soon as the boy is gone, Barlow seems to grow taller, and Callahan realizes his crucifix, which had been glowing, is growing dark. Fear creeps in, and Barlow backs him against a wall.
“Sad to see a man’s faith fail,” Barlow says, reaching out and plucking the now-powerless crucifix from Callahan’s hands. He snaps the arms of the cross and moves in.
What Constant Reader Learns: It’s been a long time since I read ’Salem’s Lot, so I’m glad we get this retelling, with the wisdom of Callahan’s hindsight, of course.
Like this: “He’ll also remember the cosmically ludicrous thought which came, even as Barlow reached for him: God, I need a drink.”
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale (New York),” Section 4
Callahan looks at Roland, Eddie, and Susannah, and says he’s reminded of a favorite saying at AA meetings: “Be careful what you pray for, because you just might get it.” “You got your drink,” Roland says.
“Oh yes, I got my drink.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Just a brief interlude to remind us we’re not actually reading Salem’s Lot.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale (New York),” Section 5
Callahan realizes that what’s going to happen to him is worse than death. It’s not the vampire who’s going to drink, but Callahan, whose “mouth is pressed against the reeking flesh of the vampire’s cold throat...Only the stink of death and one vein, open and pulsing with Barlow’s dead, infected blood...In the end he does what all alcoholics must do once the booze has taken them by the ears: he drinks.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah yeah, I remember the old days, back when vampires didn’t glitter or become tortured, sexy heroes. Nothing like rancid flesh to douse a romance.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale (New York),” Section 6
The boy got away, at least, Callahan says. And he got to go free—only not so much. Barlow, a rare Type One vampire, has marked him, so none of the other infected townspeople approached him. He went to the town fountain and washed off as much blood as he could, then he went to his church to pray for a second chance. But when he touched the church door, fire came out of it and knocked him down the steps. He holds up a scarred right hand for Roland, Eddie and Susannah to see.
Callahan says he then wandered some more before buying a bus ticket to New York. Along the way, it stops in Hartford.
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, those of you with better memories than me. Where does ’Salem’s Lot leave Callahan? At what point are we in new territory rather than retelling the old story?
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale (New York),” Section 7
The bus has a twenty-minute stop in Hartford, but Callahan doesn’t want to get out. He offers the bus driver twenty dollars to go in and buy him a bottle. When Callahan (“he’s no longer Father Callahan,” he now knows) raises the bribe to thirty, the driver takes it as long as Callahan promises not to “cut up.” So he waits, looking out the windows until the driver comes back with a pint of “Old Log Cabin” in a paper sack.
By the time the bus pulls into New York, Callahan is nicely drunk. He thinks that the dregs of humanity hanging around the Port Authority all look dead under the fluorescent lights. Or, rather, “undead.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Port Authority is seedy? Nice descriptions, and a reminder of what Callahan has sunk to, but not a lot of story advancement.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale (New York),” Section 8
Cut back to the present, and Eddie’s surprised to find himself touched by Callahan’s story. He’d first hoped the “Old Fella” would zip through his story and then they’d all go to the church and look at Black Thirteen.
The story continues.
Callahan spent the next night in Washington Square Park and emulated the other homeless people who covered themselves with newspaper. He tells Eddie that the headline on the paper he covered himself with read: “Hitler Brothers Strike in Queens.” Eddie remembers them—bigots who carved swastikas on the foreheads of their victims. The cross on Callahan’s forehead was supposed to be a swastika but went unfinished—although that story will come later.
He walked around the next day, fighting the urge to drink. He could feel Barlow’s blood taking effect. Things looked and smelled different, “and the taste of him came creeping back into my mouth, a taste like dead fish or rotten wine.” But he was seeking atonement, and he didn’t think he could find it if he was drunk.
He was looking for an agency to find work as a day-laborer, but instead he found a place called Home, which the others realize was only two blocks from the vacant lot and the rose. Home was a “wet shelter,” where they’d let guys have a shot of alcohol if they needed one. It was run by a guy named Lupe, who ended up giving Callahan a job. He stayed nine months, cleaning and cooking and keeping the books at Home. “Those weren’t the happiest days of my life, I’d never go that far, and the taste of Barlow’s blood never left my mouth, but they were days of grace.”
That winter, though, he began to hear chiming bells, horrible but sweet. Things on the street would start to look dark even in sunlight. (This, of course, strikes a chord with our ka-tet.) One night he went to Times Square to a theater where a Clint Eastwood revival was running. He heard the chimes, smelled the funny smell, and noticed two men sitting nearby. They seemed to have a blue light around them. And he realized the younger man was a vampire.
Roland tells him that he feels sure something was calling him from “this world”—Black Thirteen, perhaps. But he won’t elaborate yet.
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie can probably best identify with Callahan and the degree to which alcohol claimed him and what it led to.
Roland remembers the swastika as being what Eddie and Jake had called the “sigul” on the plane they’d come across near River Crossing.
You know what Dorothy says, Callahan: There’s no place like Home.
Here’s how Callahan has figured out vampires. There are three types. Type Ones, like Barlow, are rare, live long lives and can spend generations in hibernation. They can make new vampires. These made vampires, Type Twos, can also make new vampires but they aren’t cunning like Ones. They’re almost like zombies, and have short lifespans. Type Three vampires are “like mosquitos.” They don’t make other vampires—they just feed and feed. (Eddie asks if they can get AIDS, and Callahan has reason to think the answer is yes—they can’t die from it but they can pass it on.) What Callahan sees are Threes, who are always ravenous, can go out in daylight, eat regular food, etc. But they can’t see him.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale (New York),” Section 9
Callahan is ready to talk about Lupe now, and Roland registers a slight bit of surprise to hear that Lupe’s last name was Delgado. (Although Eddie and Susannah realize that, for Roland, it was a huge reaction.) Lupe was a 32-year-old alcoholic who’d been clean five years. During his days he worked maintenance at the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue. At night, he worked at Home.
After a few months, Callahan had fallen in love with Lupe. One night, the shelter was particularly busy. People were talking, dinner was cooking—and Callahan stopped. There were no bells or aromas, but the blue light was around Lupe’s neck, and Callahan saw nips there. Callahan had a strong reaction, and loses some time. When he came back into awareness, the blue collar was gone and so were the marks, but he knew Lupe had been fed on by a Type Three, who could wipe memories.
Eddie figures out that whatever vampire bit Lupe passed on AIDS to him. By that time, Callahan had seen a number of Threes, and knew they tended to continue feeding from the same people. Lupe was bitten regularly after that. And it was because of Lupe that Callahan began to kill.
What Constant Reader Learns: Callahan still seems to struggle with his feelings for Lupe, to try and explain them. He’s a priest—they’re all secretly gay, right? But he admits he loved him, and that there was a physical attraction.
When Susannah expresses sympathy to Callahan over Lupe being fed on, Callahan thanks her and clasps her hand, but Eddie, startled, sees something false in his expression. He wonders if perhaps Callahan sees a blue band around Susannah.
Love this Susannah quote, when Callahan realizes the theater he saw his first vampire in was called the Gaiety: “Coincidence has been cancelled, honey. What we’re living in these days is more like the Charles Dickens version of reality.”
That’s it for this week! Tune in next Monday for the rest of “The Priest’s Tale” in this and the next chapter.