“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 story with Callahan finally telling the others the rest of his story, and he’d gotten to the point where he’d hit rock bottom—in a jail cell in Topeka.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 12
Callahan wakes up in the cell and vaguely remembers trying to take a police officer’s hat, so he suspects he’s been arrested for “Penal Code 48, Assaulting an Officer.” He’s grown fond of hats because he has “the Mark of Cain” on his forehead. Down the hall from his cell, someone is droning out names in alphabetical order, and someone else is singing what has become his least-favorite song, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.”
It takes a while before he realizes he’s the one singing, and then he has a seizure, loses control of his bodily functions, and breaks his jaw and nose on the concrete floor. The seizure finally passes, and as he’s lying there he thinks about the “cavalry” coming to save him when the Hitler Brothers were getting ready to kill him and what they’d risked their lives for—“a dirty, emaciated, busted-up asshole drunk, his underwear drenched with piss on one side and full of shit on the other. A daily drinker and a nightly drunk.”
It’s February of 1982, and he vows he’ll give himself a year to try and clean up his act and justify the risk his rescuers took in saving him. If he’s still drinking in a year, he will kill himself.
What Constant Reader Learns: Because I’m just considerate like that, I did some reading about the Mark of Cain (Genesis 4). Cain, of course, was the first murderer in biblical history, having slain his brother Abel. As punishment, God cursed him so that he would never be able to settle down, but would forever “be a restless wanderer on the earth.” When Cain protested that everyone would see him as bad news and try to kill him, God marked him so that no one would kill him without suffering dire consequences. The Bible doesn’t specify what the mark was, so there’s been a lot of speculation that it was like a tattoo or a birthmark or a scar. So Callahan, perhaps, sees the cross/aborted swastika on his forehead as a sign of the restless, wandering life he’s fallen into…and which is going to wander much farther before we’re done, no doubt.
During his seizure, Callahan looks at the cell wall, and someone has scrawled “Just Had My 19th Nervous Breakdown” on the concrete.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 13
The first thing Callahan does after he’s released is find the nearest AA and begin to attend daily meetings. Six months later, he wakes up one morning and realizes he doesn’t want to drink anymore. And even though the program advised recovering alcoholics not to make major changes in the first year, he is in Gage Park and sees a poster: “Have you seen Callahan, our Irish Setter? Scar on paw, scar on forehead.” So he knows the low men know too much and he has to move on.
He heads to Detroit and begins working at a local shelter called Lighthouse. “And that’s where I was in December of 1983, when it happened,” he said. Jake is the one who’s figured it out. “That was when you died,” Jake says.
What Constant Reader Learns: Topeka’s Gage Park was where our ka-tet found the toy train version of Blaine from Jake’s book. As Eddie says, “It’s nineteen o’clock and all the birds are singing.”
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 14
It’s a tradition at the Lighthouse Shelter to decorate the Holy Name High School gym for a Thanksgiving dinner for the desperate and downtrodden. Everyone goes around the table before digging in, saying something he’s grateful for. Callahan bites his tongue before his first thought is blurted out: “I’m thankful I haven’t seen any Type Three vampires or lost-pet posters lately.” He thinks maybe God has taken him back, removed the curse of Barlow’s bite.
In early December, the guys who run the shelter get a letter from the Sombra Corporation, signed by a Richard Sayre, that the shelter has been chosen to receive a million-dollar donation, and the two shelter directors and Callahan are to come to the Sombra offices and accept it. “The date of the meeting—what will be the date of Donald Callahan’s death—is December 19, 1983. A Monday.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Nice foreshadowing that Callahan’s relaxing too much: “It never occurs to him—at least in his conscious mind—that [the low men] want to make sure the net’s all the way around him this time.”
Well of COURSE Callahan would die on the 19th.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 15
Callahan shares his thoughts on the whole situation from his current vantage-point: “There is a loose league of association between the vampires and the low men. I think if you traced it back, you’d find the roots of their association in the dark land. In Thunderclap.” The vampires are stupid, and the low men aren’t much smarter. But Callahan thinks he finally came to the attention of someone else—an agent of the Crimson King, “whoever or whatever he is.”
Callahan and his friends had done some research on the Sombra Corporation and found it had been incorporated in the Bahamas. This startles Eddie, since that was the location of his last drug run, the one that led him to Roland. And another tie between this world and Enrico Balazar.
They arrive early for their meeting with Mr. Sayre and don’t suspect a thing. At 4:19, they are taken to a conference room, and the man who escorts them in wishes them “god luck” instead of “good luck.” Only then does Callahan’s internal alarm start going off, but it’s too late.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ha! Callahan’s defending why they went to the meeting. “Do you have any idea what a million bucks would have meant to a fly-by-night outfit like Home or Lighthouse? Especially during the Reagan years?” This, of course, startles Susannah because she’s been arguing with Eddie forever that the western actor Ronald Reagan couldn’t possibly have been elected president. Eddie is triumphant.
The address of the meeting with “Sombra” was 982 Michigan Avenue (19) on Dec. 19, at 4:20 p.m. I get the nineteens, but what’s the significance of the odd meeting time?
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 16
As soon as they enter the room, the doors slam shut behind them. Callahan looks around and sees a large window with a view of Lake Michigan. He also sees thirteen people in the room—three low men, nine Type Three vampires, and another man. “His face has a lean and foxy look, full of intelligence and dark humor. On his brow is a red circle of blood that seems neither to ooze nor to clot.”
Only when his friends drop to the ground does Callahan see two more people, a low man and a low woman with “electrical stunners.”
The man Callahan thinks of as Sayre—the one with the bloody forehead—tells Callahan his friends will be all right, but he won’t. Callahan starts hearing the chimes, faint at first. Sayre tells the vampires that Callahan has killed hundreds of them, so they can “have at him” but must not kill him. They all carry the AIDS virus, Sayre tells Callahan—and that’s what will kill him.
Callahan can’t stand the thought of their mouths on him, so he decides “they don’t get to win.” He runs down the side of the conference room, praying for the first time since his encounter with Barlow. He hits the window shoulder-first, and as the low men and vampires try to stop him, he breaks through and suddenly “is standing in cold air” high above Michigan Avenue. And then he falls.
What Constant Reader Learns: The low men are described as having “heavy, unhealthy-looking faces, red-glinting eyes, and full, womanish lips.” All are smoking. Nice.
Callahan realizes the blood-filled hole in Sayre’s forehead is an eye. “A bloody eye. What is looking out of it? What is watching, and from where?”
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 17
Back in the present, Callahan asks Jake, “almost shyly,” if he remembers dying. Jake does, but Callahan doesn’t. He remembers looking down through his new shoes, seeing the street below him, the sounds of Sayre behind him “yelling in some other language.” He remembers thinking Sayre was frightened. Then there was darkness, the chimes grew louder, and he saw a light. So he goes toward it.
What Constant Reader Learns: So…what is the Crimson King’s interest in Callahan, and his relation to the low men and vampires—or were they simply his means to Callahan…Hm….
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 18
Callahan comes back to consciousness smelling hay—only it’s a faint smell, “almost exhausted.” He sits up and wonders if he’s dead. “If this is the afterlife, then all of the holy books of the world, including the one from which he himself used to preach, are wrong. Because he’s not in heaven or hell; he’s in a stable.” The sound of the chimes is fading.
He becomes aware of a thudding noise of a machine that’s not in the best of shape, and as he gets up, he realizes he’s now wearing jeans and a faded chambray shirt, and boots with rundown heels. Behind him, he sees a door in the middle of the abandoned stable, not attached to any wall. It has a crystal doorknob with a rose etched on it. “He has read his Thomas Wolfe: a stone, a rose, an unfound door.” He tries the knob but it doesn’t open, although he realizes that when he touches it, he hears the chimes again.
Clearly, he’s at the Way Station where Roland met Jake, because he finds the LaMerk Industries pump. He pushes the red button on the pump and has a drink of the cold water—and almost chokes on it when a man in a hooded robe appears out of nowhere with a “Hello, Faddah.”
The man makes a comment about Roland and Jake, and leads Callahan outside. Callahan notices he’s carrying a wooden box, maybe a foot long and wide and deep. In the distance, they can see two figures, two moving dots.
When Callahan asks who they are, Walter says, “Folks you’ll almost certainly never meet. They’ll die under the mountains. If they don’t die under the mountains, there are things in the Western Sea that will eat them alive. Dod-a-chock.” Callahan thinks that, all of a sudden, Walter doesn’t sound so sure of himself. Then he holds up the box. “If all else fails, this will kill them…And who will bring it to them? Ka, of course, yet even ka needs a friend, a kai-mai. That would be you.”
He orders Callahan back into the stable and when Callahan resists, Walter says, “What you want hardly matters. You’ll go where the King decrees, and there you will wait. If yon two die on their course—as they almost certainly must—you will live a life of rural serenity in the place to which I send you, and there you too will die, full of years and possibly with a false but undoubtedly pleasing sense of redemption. You’ll live on your level of the Tower long after I’m bone-dust on mine…And if they keep coming? If they reach you in the place to which you are going? Why, in that unlikely case you’ll aid them in every way you can and kill them by doing so.”
Walter backs Callahan into the stable and thrusts the box toward him, opening it as he does so. “I don’t think you’ll be able to kill him,” Callahan tells Walter, who says, “That’s ka’s business, not mine.” And when Callahan responds, “Suppose he’s above ka?” Walter is horrified. “No one’s above ka, false priest,” he says. “And the room at the top of the Tower is empty. I know it is.”
Finally, a lot happens at once. The water pump kicks on. Callahan backs into the door. Walter thrusts the box forward into Walter’s arms (his hood falling back and “revealing the pallid, snarling face of a human weasel...with the same welling red circle” on his forehead). Callahan sees Black Thirteen inside the box and begins to shriek. And he falls through the door, which has opened, as the ball rolls in its box like an eyeball. “It’s alive,” Callahan thinks. “It’s the stolen eye of some awful monster from beyond the world, and oh God, oh dear God, it is seeing me.”
He falls onto the stone floor of a cave, and doesn’t have the strength to close the box. Inside Black Thirteen, a red dot glows. “it’s the King…It’s the Eye of the Crimson King as he looks down from his place in the Dark Tower. And he is seeing me.”
And we’re told that at that point Callahan passes out and will not open his eyes for three days, when he’s with the Manni.
What Constant Reader Learns: Reborn in a stable…how very symbolic. And philosophical: “Was my whole life a dream? Is this the reality? If so, who am I and what am I doing here?”
And because I’m just that considerate, I looked up the full lines from Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward Angel” (1929):
A stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces. Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother’s face; from the prison of her flesh we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth. Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father’s heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone? O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When? O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.
Wow. This makes the English major in me want to drag out a red pen to start a list of symbolic parallels. But it’s late and I’ll spare you the geekdom.
Ah, I’ve missed ole Walter. “So much backstory, so little time,” he tells Callahan when he asks who the figures in the distance are. LOL.
It’s really cool that here’s Callahan at the Way Station, with Jake and Roland still visible. And that they’re chasing the man in black, who was ahead of them, and now he’s behind them with Callahan…and soon will be ahead of them again.
Interesting…When Callahan tells Walter that he’s cruel, he thinks Walter looks genuinely hurt. Which begs the question: What is Walter’s perception of himself? “I am what ka and the King and the Tower have made me,” he says. “We all are. We’re caught.” Would that be ka and the (Stephen) King?
Reborn in a stable, and risen from death after three days. And the symbols keep on rolling.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 19
Back to the present, and Callahan is tired. It’s after midnight. He wraps up the rest quickly since it’s late and Roland’s already heard it. The Manni found him and Henchick closed the box. Eventually he recovered and began to wander around town, becoming known as the Walking Old Fella. He started doing work around the farms and ranches, and eventually began to preach again. The people built him a church.
After a few years, Black Thirteen started calling to him again, and he was tempted to go and look at it. He thinks about going back to 1963 in Dallas and stopping Kennedy’s assassination, and how that might change all that came later. But he also realizes that Black Thirteen seduces with thoughts that what he might do is for the good when, really, it’s evil and chaos.
Callahan says he went todash twice more. Once to Ben Mears’ funeral in Mexico, where he was able to see Mark Petrie as a grown man. The second time, it was to the Castle of the King, but all Callahan will say of it is that there were great black birds, and that he’ll not talk of it at night.
What Constant Reader Learns: Callahan’s in for a shock. He asks if it was after Jake had died when he saw them in the distance. When Jake says it was after the first death but before the second, Callahan crosses himself. “You mean it can happen more than once? Mary save us!”
The whole Kennedy and changing-the-past scenario, if I’m recalling correctly, is the central theme of The Dead Zone. Am I recalling correctly?
Roland comments that when the ka-tet leaves the Calla it will be through the door in the cave. “Would that I could come with you,” Callahan says. Roland responds, “Mayhap you will.”
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 9, “The Priest’s Tale Concluded (Unfound),” Section 20
Afterward, Jake is the first one who admits he’s freaked that Callahan was at the Way Station, and that Walter was both behind them and ahead of them. “It makes my stomach flutter,” Roland admits. “As though I’d lost gravity.”
Eddie asks who the men were who saved Callahan in the laundromat, and Jake’s the one who answers: Calvin Tower and Aaron Deepneau, from the bookshop.
Even though it’s late, Roland wants the ka-tet to have a council in case there are things they should discuss. No one speaks at first, but Susannah finally does. She haltingly tells them she might be pregnant. “Having said that, Susannah Dean/Odetta Holmes/Detta Walker/Mia daughter of none put her hands over her face and began to cry.”
What Constant Reader Learns: What? What? What a place to end a section! What will the fallout of this be? How will Roland and Eddie handle the delicate subject of invisible demon paternity? Stay tuned….
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll tackle the next chapter of Wolves of the Calla.