“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) listening to Callahan giving a play-by-play of his encounters with vampires, up to the point where his friend Lupe was bitten, driving him to kill.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale (New York),” Section 10
One night in April, Callahan is on kitchen duty at Home and takes a pot out back to empty. He sees two men at the other end of the alley. One is Lupe, who seems to be in a trance, and the other is a Type Three vampire, a well-dressed businessman. They’re ablaze with that dark blue light he always sees vampires surrounded by. Without thinking, Callahan steps back into the kitchen, grabs a meat cleaver, and buries it in the vampire’s head. The vampire walks away…until he collapses. Lupe remains in some kind of trance, but the vampire disintegrates, leaving his clothes behind, along with hair and teeth.
Callahan adds the vampire’s clothes to the shelter’s supplies. He gathers the hair, teeth, briefcase, watch, and wallet and throws them over the fence behind the shelter. He’s pondering the expensive Bally shoes when Lupe comes around, remembering nothing. Callahan hears the chimes and things grow fuzzy, but then they go away. He knows the vampires tend to feed from the same folks repeatedly so he tries to get Lupe to leave town with him and go fishing. But Lupe says he has to work.
Callahan knows something now, though, which might help Lupe—that the Threes are easy to kill. He decides to become a vampire killer. “It will be one small act of atonement for Jerusalem’s Lot.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” is playing from a radio somewhere nearby. Nice, ironic soundtrack to this scene.
Callahan doesn’t realize it at the time, in his shock, but the vamp doesn’t spill much blood. When he thinks about it later, he realizes they’re propelled more by magic than by the blood they drink.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale (New York),” Section 11
Roland picks up on it before anyone else, that Lupe isn’t out of the woods, even with Callahan the Vampire Hunter on watch. He ends up with what later becomes known as AIDS, and it progresses quickly. Within six weeks he is in the hospital, dying.
Callahan doesn’t drink that night after Lupe dies, not for a while, but he knows he will eventually. It is just a matter of when. He is congratulating himself for a sober night when the chimes return, louder than ever, and he realized as he looks at the world shimmering around him that nothing is real. “New York is nothing but a backdrop painted on that canvas, and what’s behind it? Why, nothing. Just blackness.”
Finally, the world stops shimmering and the chimes go away. Callahan proceeds through town until he sees something else, as horrible as a vampire: a dead person. Actually, Susannah guesses it before he tells them. Roland explains about the vagrant dead.
Callahan responds to seeing dead people by going into a bar and ordering a whiskey, double. He then proceeds to get very drunk before heading to the park and sleeping it off.
Callahan awakens still able to see the vagrant dead and Type Threes, but he’s been robbed overnight and the need for money outweighs the need to deal with weirdness. He finds the Manpower office and starts a pattern of working three days as a day-laborer, drinking three days, and taking Sundays off. He hears Elton John a lot. And he kills vampires.
Eventually, Callahan realizes even as he hunts vampires, someone—or something—has started hunting him. First, he finds some graffiti on a bench: “He comes here. He has a burned hand.” Callahan starts moving around to different areas, varying the places he finds vampires to kill. But he sees other signs: “His hair is mostly white now” and “His name might be Collingwood.” He begins seeing lost-pet posters around the places he frequents.
The ones putting up the posters, Callahan says, were the “low men” or “regulators.” Some wear long yellow coats and have blue coffins tattooed on their hands. What they really are, however, are soldiers of the Crimson King.
What Constant Reader Learns: Lupe’s is a sad story—in the end, he wanted his friends to know he’d stayed clean and hadn’t gone back to drugs.
Ah, the Crimson King…interesting….
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale (New York),” Section 12
At the mention of the Crimson King, Eddie is startled, Susannah rubs her belly, and Roland remembers finding the signs they’d seen in the park after escaping Blaine: Watch for the Walkin’ Dude and All Hail the Crimson King.
At first, Callahan thinks he’s attracted another Type One vampire, like Barlow. And he realizes whoever’s after him will eventually find Home and the people who know him there—so thus find him.
Then he tells the ka-tet about a footbridge over the Hudson River alongside the George Washington Bridge going to New Jersey—a plank footbridge that still has wooden drinking troughs for cows and horses on the side. Eddie laughs and says no way, but Callahan insists. It has a sign that says “Bicentennial Repairs Completed 1975 by LaMerk Industries”—the same company that made Andy. (Eddie points out that in Lud it was the LaMerk Foundry.)
Callahan decides he needs to see Rowan Magruder, his other friend at the Home, just to say goodbye. And then he needs to get out of Dodge.
Before Callahan can continue telling his story, Rosalita comes up with a message from Eisenhart, saying he, the Slightmans and Jake will meet them at the church at noon. When Roland says he’d like his map first, Callahan sends Rosalita off to see about it.
Before he finishes his story, Callahan says he needs to show them Black Thirteen. On the way to the church, Roland asks if he’d ever seen the ones who sought him, and Callahan says yes, and they had red eyes. Then Roland asks if they are the Wolves—if the Wolves are the soldiers of the Crimson King. Callahan says he can’t be sure, but he doesn’t think so.
What Constant Reader Learns: Callahan tells them if they end up going to Thunderclap they’ll see a lot more signs of the Crimson King.
The bridge is what Eddie dubs a “todash turnpike”—or a door. Which has interesting possibilities. And reminds me of the long bridge going into Lud.
I’m with Roland: “Roland said nothing, only made that impatient twirling gesture with the remaining two fingers of his right hand: hurry up, hurry up.” It’s as if Stephen King knows this section is dragging on and on and on and on...and it’s his book, so deal with it.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale Continued (Highways in Hiding),” Section 1
There was a bit of a time slip on the five-minute walk back to the church, during which time Callahan told them a lot more of his story—more than he should have been able to share in five minutes. Roland interprets this as khef, and believes Callahan has become ka-tet. When they leave Calla Bryn Sturgis—if they are able to leave—the priest will go with them.
Back in his story, Callahan decides to leave NYC and walks across the secret wooden foot bridge over the Hudson…and knows he’s “not in Kansas anymore.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, it never occurred to me that Callahan might be joining us on any long-term basis. Of course, that’s assuming he survives whatever’s to come.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale Continued (Highways in Hiding),” Section 2
There’s a newspaper crumpled on the bridge, and Callahan picks it up. It’s the front page of the “Leabrook Register,” a place Callahan had never heard of. He’d thought the town on the other side of the George Washington Bridge was Fort Lee, New Jersey. Other headlines catch his eye: Racial Tensions in Miami, then War of Kites Continues in Teaneck, and, finally, President Agnew Supports NASA Terraform Dream.
The business about President Agnew makes Callahan realize something’s not right. When he looks at the traffic, there seems to be a strange vehicle traveling on a crimson cylinder—a vehicle like he’s never seen before. Yet he’s buoyed by the idea of all the Americas waiting in front of him—not just one America but a dozen, or a thousand, or a million. “And he understands instinctively that this is almost certainly true. He has stumbled upon a great, possibly endless, confluence of worlds. They are all America, but they are all different.”
He walks into Leabrook and finds himself a job as a short-order cook, staying there for three weeks and living at the Sunset Motel. Only the name of the diner changes sometimes, and the name of the hotel. It turns back into Fort Lee at some point, and Gerald Ford is president again. Then it changes back. The faces on the paper money changes. But he can tell which version of New Jersey he’s in when he wakes by the décor of his hotel room.
After a while, Callahan gets restless and decides to move on.
What Constant Reader Learns: I like the observation of Callahan about the endless versions of America piled in “vertical geographies of chance.”
Callahan pauses as he reaches the end of the bridge, wondering if he can find his way back. And realizes he doesn’t really care. He feels lighthearted. “There are no chimes. Later there will be chimes and vampires; later there will be more messages chalked on sidewalks and sprayed on brick walls..but not today.”
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale Continued (Highways in Hiding),” Section 3
Callahan stayed on the road for five years and he doesn’t tell them more, but they heard more—and there is much that Jake knows, even though he hasn’t arrived there yet—he is “strongest in the touch.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Yep, sounds like khef to me.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale Continued (Highways in Hiding),” Section 4
Callahan stays on the road for five years, traveling the country through different versions of America, and eventually begins killing Type Three vampires again. He travels with a carnival for a while, playing Menso the ESP Wonder—and it’s as Menso that he finally sees the Regulators: “not vampires and not bewildered dead people but tall men with pale, watchful faces that are usually hidden under old-fashioned hats with brims or new-fashioned baseball hats with extra-long bills.” These men have red eyes.
Callahan doesn’t know if they can see him and spot him as marked, so he decides to ditch the carnival in Mississippi, and there he sees another lost pet poster tacked to a telephone pole. This one seems to be aimed at another target besides him, however.
That afternoon, he hears the chimes again and though he doesn’t see them yet, he knows the low men are coming. He runs off the road and hides out in a field of kudzu, watching as a white-over-red Cadillac drives down the highway. He can see three men inside in yellow dusters. He thinks at first they’ve spotted him, but the Caddy rolls on. Callahan wonders how they missed him, but only for a moment—he knows he’d been able to slip into a different version of America as they passed.
What Constant Reader Learns: And so the tale goes on. And on. And on.
That’s it for this week! Tune in next Monday for the rest of “The Priest’s Tale Continues (Highways in Hiding).”