“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 the town meeting our ka-tet holds with the folken of Calla Bryn Sturgis, setting up Ben Slightman and slowly doing the prep-work for whatever Roland has planned.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 6, “Before the Storm,” Section 1
It’s the day after the town meeting, and time for Callahan to head back to the 1970s while Eddie plays the role of Roland, sitting in the cave and holding Black Thirteen. He’s not looking forward to it, since Henry Dean starts shouting at him from the abyss as soon as they arrive. Callahan is carrying all the money they’d been able to cadge together—eleven dollars and fifty cents.
As soon as Eddie pulls out the pink bag holding Black Thirteen, he notices that there’s something in what he thinks is a secret pocket. But they have other business to tend to. Eddie has a bad, bad feeling about the wizard’s glass he’s about to unleash, but he opens it.
What Constant Reader Learns: It’s interesting who the people hear from the abyss when they go into the cave. Roland heard…Rhea, I think. Eddie hears Henry and his mother. Callahan, his parents. I had a nightmare of a boss back in Texas that I think would taunt me from the cave. Go away, Frank!
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 6, “Before the Storm,” Section 2
As he goes back through the door, Callahan thinks about the year (1977) and the place (the men’s room of the New York Public Library) he wants to go. He gets a book from the library in pretty short order, then returns to the cave. He and Eddie step outside the cave to escape the voices, and Eddie sees it’s a copy of Yankee Highways. Callahan tells Eddie to look on page 119 (of course), and Eddie sees a photo of a church, East Stoneham Methodist Meeting Hall, built in 1918 (of course).
Callahan also points out that the church is a “twin” of the Calla Gathering Hall.
What Constant Reader Learns: When Eddie jokes that the priest is a library thief, Callahan says he plans to return the book someday—and means it. Foreshadowing? Or just a statement on Callahan’s sincerity of character.
I like the mirror images of the Calla and East Stoneham. Kind of mind-bendingly cool.
Ah, a little omniscient authorial intrusion, although it’s intriguing: When Callahan readies to go through the door a second time, he tells Eddie he should read to pass the time. Eddie says he’s too nervous—maybe he’ll just see what’s hidden in the lining of the pink bag. Then the kicker: “But Eddie forgot about the object in the lining of the pink bag; it was Susannah who eventually found that, and when she did, she was no longer herself.”
I see some Mia coming.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 6, “Before the Storm,” Section 3
This time, Callahan focuses on the same year, but a different place—the meeting hall in East Stoneham. Next door is the East Stoneham General Store. He goes inside the store and is startled to see the date on a newspaper is June 27—when he’d been in New York a half hour earlier, it had been June 26.
As he pays for his paper—and a slice of salami—Callahan asks directions to the post office.
What Constant Reader Learns: Callahan is trying to remind himself not to spend one of his two quarters. One was from 1981, which might arouse suspicion back in 1977. Although…seriously? Who stops and looks at the dates on coins? Unless, of course, ka wills it.
Ah, the good old days before the world moved on. Gas was 49 cents a gallon.
And the similarities keep coming—apparently the accent of the folks in the Calla are similar to New England.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 6, “Before the Storm,” Section 4
Back in the cave, Eddie is trying to ignore the chimes. To distract himself, he pulls a book out of the shelf—the book of Sherlock Holmes stories. Yet his eyes are continually drawn back to Black Thirteen.
“But the chimes were fading, and that was good, wasn’t it? After a little while he could hardly hear them at all. A little while after that, a voice crept past the bullets in his ears and began to speak to him. Eddie listened.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie pulls out a book two down from where Roland had stuck the book that shocked him so, and we’re told that it “would certainly have changed (Eddie’s) day had he happened to grab it.”
Uh-oh. Listening to Black Thirteen can’t be a good thing.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 6, “Before the Storm,” Section 5
Callahan reaches the post office and tells the postmistress he wants to leave a letter for his friends from New York that are probably new general delivery customers. She looks at a list of names and finds Aaron Deepneau, then keeps scanning for Calvin Tower. At that point, Callahan gets an uneasy feeling that something might be wrong with Eddie, but goes ahead and writes a note. He tells Deepneau and Tower to leave the lights on at home but move somewhere nearby—a barn or shed—immediately, and to leave directions under the driver’s side floormat of their car or under the back porch step. “We’ll be in touch,” he concludes.
Then Callahan turns back and looks through the door, and Eddie is gone.
What Constant Reader Learns: Callahan had argued with Eddie that Calvin Tower wouldn’t be stupid enough to sign up for mail, so he’s not expecting to get results—but Eddie knows Calvin Tower wouldn’t miss the ability to buy and sell rare books just because murderous thugs were after him.
Callahan signs the letter “Callahan of the Eld,” as Roland had instructed him—something Tower would respond to.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 6, “Before the Storm,” Section 6
Callahan steps back through the door, and is immediately overwhelmed by the todash chimes and the nagging voice of his mother. “There-now, Donnie,” she says. “You’ve gone and let that nice boy commit suicide!”
Callahan rushes out of the cave, noticing that Eddie had used the Sherlock Holmes book to wedge open the box holding Black Thirteen so he wouldn’t get trapped in New England. Outside, he sees Eddie standing on the edge of a drop, his face blank, his body swaying. Callahan can tell Eddie is fighting the urge to jump, but that he’s losing. He sprints up the path and grabs the tail of Eddie’s shirt just as he sways forward, preventing Eddie from falling. Had the shirt torn, things would be different. “Perhaps even the tails of homespun Calla Bryn Sturgis shirts (for that was what he was wearing) served ka.”
Callahan’s able to yank Eddie back to safety. Eddie’s speech is garbled, but he finally gets out what Black Thirteen had been telling him. “It says I can fly to the Tower. You can let me go. I want to go!”
It takes a few minutes, but Callahan finally gets through to him—the reward for which is Eddie barfing all over his new shor’boots.
What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting that Callahan’s mother isn’t repeating a nag from his childhood this time, but is relaying information about Eddie. Would that knowledge have been in Callahan’s subconsious mind?
Another reminder that Callahan is, at least for now, ka-tet: not only did he know something was wrong back in the cave; he knows that calling out to Eddie might startle him over the edge of the drop. “Callahan knew this with a gunslinger’s intuition, always sharpest and most dependable in times of crisis.”
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 6, “Before the Storm,” Section 7
Once he’s recovered a bit, Eddie tells Callahan that Black Thirteen “lulled” him into jumping. He asks how things went in East Stoneham, and Callahan is still angry that the men were stupid enough to register for mail delivery. “Cal Tower still can’t believe what he’s gotten himself into,” Eddie says.
What Constant Reader Learns: Callahan offers Eddie the newspaper: “Care to read about Golda Meir?”
I liked this little bonding scene with Eddie and Callahan; in earlier scenes, I don’t think Eddie has cared much for the priest or his religious convictions, probably because of his stance regarding Susannah and the chap.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 6, “Before the Storm,” Section 8
That evening, they share the adventure with Roland, who’s less interested in Eddie’s almost-jump from the mountaintop than with the similarities between Calla Bryn Sturgis and East Stoneham. They all agree that, for now, there’s nothing else to be done with Tower and Deepneau until the Wolves are confronted.
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie’s concerned about leaving Tower and Deepneau alone until after the business with the Wolves is settled, but Roland says they have no choice. Besides, it’s Deepneau who’s in the most danger, because if Balazar were to find them, he’d need Tower alive in order to get the vacant lot. Eddie’s still hot that Tower is more interesting in acquiring books than staying safe: “he’s like a chimp with a handful of grain.” Um…do chimps eat grain?
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 6, “Before the Storm,” Section 9
Never mind the guys—Susannah has problems of her own. The next morning, she’s in the privy, waiting for the latest round of cramping to pass. She’s freaked and trying to convince herself that since her water hasn’t broken, she couldn’t really be in labor. But it’s not a human baby, so all bets are off. “It’s not a baby,” she thinks. “It’s a chap, and it doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to Mia, whoever she is. Mia, daughter of none.” Finally, the cramps ease.
She feels guilty for keeping it secret, but she knows they’re already outnumbered against the Wolves and can’t afford the distractions. They also need her to be there, fighting. She prays that God will give her three more days, so they can help the children of the Calla.
What Constant Reader Learns: We knew Susannah was close to the “chap” arriving but this is our first indication that she’s in this much pain—and has had the cramping for a little over a week in varying degrees of strength. She talks herself down from it…this time. Only when she gets ready to leave the privy, she realizes from her shadow that she’s been in there for three hours—or Mia has. “Mia wasn’t ascendant—not yet—but she was rising,” Susannah thinks. “Getting ready to take over.”
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 6, “Before the Storm,” Section 10
The next day, Eddie and Tian Jaffords go looking for Andy and find him singing what sounds like an opera. They greet each other cordially, and Andy tells Eddie he has cast a great horoscope, “very long and complex, and it shows victory against the Wolves!” Eddie knows from Andy’s flashing blue lights/eyes that the robot is making fun of him.
Eddie asks Andy if he’ll help them out on the night before the Wolves come. But Andy, after some clicking and eye-flashing, says he can’t, because of his programming. Eddie decides to push him a bit, asking Andy when he was built. “Long ago, sai,” Andy says, no longer laughing. “Two thousand years?” Eddie asks. “Longer, I believe.”
Andy tries to change the subject but Eddie asks him: “If you’re thousands of years old, how is it that you’re programmed concerning the Wolves?” Andy clunks around, then answers in his robot voice, asking Eddie his password.
Finally, Eddie gets to his real business. He tells Andy that Callahan has some guns from their level of the Tower—good ones. But they need Andy’s help getting them moved north of town. Can Andy help them load the guns in a wagon on Wolf’s Eve?
Andy clicks a while, then says he can help them. He asks where the guns are, and Eddie tells him to meet them at the rectory at six on Wolf’s Eve. Andy, of course, is very interested in these guns, and wants to know how many there are. Oh, dozens, Eddie tells him. Big guns.
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie asks Tian if there’s a doctor in the Calla, and Tian assures him there isn’t money in the town for people to afford doctors. When they get sick, they go to the Sisters of Oriza and if their medicine works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. He shares their simple philosophy of people: matters of the head, the heart, and the “shitbox.” Eddie finds it interesting, and something for him to consider at a later time.
Andy tells Eddie he always enjoys singing before the first “seminon,” a windstorm that comes before winter—and it should arrive the day of the Wolves. That will certainly add an interesting wrinkle.
Aha. Maybe that’s what the lock on the privy is for—containing Andy.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 6, “Before the Storm,” Section 11
As they’re walking back to Tian’s place, Tian asks Eddie if Andy believed the gun story. “I don’t know,” Eddie says, “but it surprised the shit out of him.” Tian agrees, and notes that Eddie’s “dinh is clever.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Not much, actually. Only that Tian is, while sincere, not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 6, “Before the Storm,” Section 12
Jake is spending a final night in Benny’s room before moving back to the rectory the next day, Wolf’s Eve. He’d wanted to go ahead and leave, but Roland convinced him to stay one more night to avoid arousing suspicion. As usual, Benny wants to talk and Jake doesn’t. He wants to know how many Wolves Jake thinks he’ll kill. He figures he’ll have to get ten to get his share.
Benny’s caught up in the romance of it, and says he wishes he could fight by Jake’s side. Jake’s amazed at this. “Would you?” he asks. Then, when he really thinks about it, Benny says no. He’d be scared. But Jake doesn’t have to be scared, Benny tells him—his father is good with the bah and will take care of his share of Wolves. This makes Jake even sadder. He’s struck by how young Benny sounds, even though he’s really older than Jake.
Finally, Jake sleeps and dreams: Roland is on his knees in the dust of East Road, facing a horde of Wolves. He’s trying to reload his pistol but can’t because of his missing fingers. He’s still trying to reload when the Wolves ride him down.
What Constant Reader Learns: Poor Jake is racked with guilt. “Maybe we’ll all get killed,” he thinks. “Then I won’t have to worry about it.” IT being how Benny will feel about him once the truth comes out.
Jake’s also a little jealous that Oy has taken to Benny so readily, even sleeping on his bed. But mostly, he just wants it all to be done. “All at once he hated everything about everything. The hours until morning, when he could pack, mount his borrowed pony and ride back to town, seemed to stretch out into infinity.”
And when is a dream just a dream? When it’s ka. Really. Think about it.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 6, “Before the Storm,” Section 13
Wolf’s Eve arrives, and with it has comes the first of the wind, which Susannah rightly calls “a wild card.” She and Eddie do the express-your-love-in-case-you-die-tomorrow thing, then they have sex. Eddie thinks, not for the first time, “I’m going to lose her if I’m not careful…She’ll just disappear.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I still don’t feel the emotional connection between Eddie and Susannah, but we’ll accept it for what it is: Stephen King romance. And Susannah gives a nice speech about how Eddie makes her feel whole and, before him, she always thought love was a movie fabrication. But he fills her up…which is an awkwardly weird segue to sex.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 6, “Before the Storm,” Section 14
Roland’s sitting naked in Rosa’s living room, smoking, when she comes out and asks how his bones are doing. He says there might be something in his friends’ world that could make it better, and he has a feeling they’ll be going there soon.
“More fighting to do?” Rosa asks…and then, “Are you tired?”
“To death,” Roland says.
What Constant Reader Learns: Everybody’s getting a little somethin’-somethin’ on Wolf’s Eve. Glad Roland’s not being left out.
I’m assuming this fighting in “our” world is going to be for the vacant lot.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 6, “Before the Storm,” Section 15
Early afternoon, and Roland, Eddie, Jake and Callahan ride out of town with shovels hidden in the bedrolls behind their saddles. Susannah is off helping the Sisters set up the tent. Eddie’s to meet Andy back at the rectory at 5. Callahan offers to go along, but Roland says he has another job for him: Praying. “Pray away this damned wind.” He’s worried about how the wind will affect the Sisters’ ability to throw the plates.
Callahan reassures them that he knows how these storms work, and that it will reach the river and then turn back. “This’ll be over by first light tomorrow, I almost guarantee you.” But he’ll offer up a prayer anyway.
Soon they arrive at the track that leads out to the mines—this is where the folken assume the wagons would be left, and that the children and their “minders” will walk up to the caves. Except that’s not exactly how it’s going to work. They begin digging.
At four, Eddie leaves with one of Roland’s pistols.
What Constant Reader Learns: Calla is filling with people as if it were fair day, only without the gaiety of a fair…it’s reminiscent of the skewed Reap Day fair preparations back in Mejis, where everything’s off-kilter and somber.
Oh boy—let’s see Andy get what’s coming. Or at least I hope so. From the snippet of conversation between Eddie and Roland, looks like they’re going for Andy’s big blue eyes.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 6, “Before the Storm,” Section 16
Now that the time has arrived, Eddie is no longer nervous: “This was it, the true beginning of their stand, and now that it had come, Eddie felt calm.” Tian wants to have his bah with him, but Eddie makes him leave it on Callahan’s porch. Rosa offers to throw some plates, but Eddie points out they’d probably not be much use against Andy.
Mr. Roboto shows up promptly at six, all cheerful and asking where the guns are. Eddie tells him they’re in the privy, but they’re heavy so they’ll need help getting them out. Now, of course, Andy’s all too ready to help.
As Andy gets to the privy door, he says, “Cry your pardon, Eddie of New York, but I see no guns.” Eddie’s tongue almost does him in—he’s responding about what a traitor Andy is when Andy turns faster than Eddie ever expected. But Eddie recovers. “May it do ya fine, you stainless-steel bastard,” he says, and fires the gun straight at Andy’s flashing blue eyes, taking them both out.
Andy immediately starts a meltdown: “Vision zero. Ambush. Attack. I’m blind. Code 7. Code 7. Code 7.” Eddie pushes blind Andy into the privy, slams the door and locks it using the new bolt. Andy’s rant turns into a deafening siren. Andy is about to break his way out of the privy, so Eddie moves on to part two of the plan. “Andy, Messenger Robot,” he shouts. “Password!”
Andy freezes and then in his robot voice asks for the password. Eddie says Nineteen. Which is incorrect. Then he says “Ninety-nine.” But that’s also incorrect, and Eddie casts around for what it might be. He recalls a verse scrawled on the fence around the vacant life and the last of the verse was 1999. Bingo.
Andy responds like a good robot should: “DNF-44821-V-63. How may I help?” And Eddie orders him to shut himself down. Andy responds with “a horrible, self-pitying sadness.” He conveniently points out that his main power cells are 98 percent depleted and he will never be able to power up again.
Then Andy switches to the loud, deafening voice that Eddie last heard in Shardik’s clearing: “DNF-44821-V-63 is shutting down. All subnuclear cells and memory circuits are in shutdown phase. Shutdown is 13 percent complete…” And on and on he goes, much like a Windows update, giving regular reports on the percentage of shutdown as it grows, and taking its own sweet time.
Rosa says she wants to bury Andy beneath the privy, and Eddie’s quite taken with the idea of “burying Andy in shit.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Tian’s real role is just to be there. “Even a smart robot won’t expect trouble if I’ve got a clodhopper like you with me,” Eddie thinks. But has the good sense not to say it.
Eddie asks himself an interesting question: “He wondered if all the thinking-machines that still worked in this rundown world had turned against their masters, and if so, why.” But has Andy turned against his master? We don’t know who Andy’s master is, but one would assume it’s whoever programmed him, and he hasn’t turned against that person that we’ve seen. He’s turned on the people of the Calla, but were any of them actually his “master”?
More nines and nineteens in Andy’s serial number.
Much as Blaine got kind of pitiful when he was defeated, so does Andy, who begins speaking in a small horrified voice when he realizes he’s been bested. “Please don’t make me. You bad man. Oh, you bad man.” So all the malfunctioning machinery turn into whiny children?
Ah….I found that a VERY satisfying section. Thank you, sai King.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 6, “Before the Storm,” Section 17
As night approaches, Roland watches the townsfolk eat their last meal together. They’re cheerful, and Roland thinks it’s a relief that they’ve finally decided to do the right thing. In the midst of his pondering, Roland is approached by Wayne Overholser, who says one of the men Roland had asked to help mind the children had “busted a gut” that morning and would probably die. Overholser offers to take the man’s place. “I can’t stand aside,” he tells a doubtful Roland. “I thought I could, but I can’t. It’s making me sick.” So Roland tells him to be there a half-hour before dawn.
Roland tells him things won’t be exactly as he said at the meeting. When Overholser asks if there’s another traitor besides Andy, Roland evades the question and just tells him to go along with whatever happens.
Eddie arrives with his Andy report—they can hear the robotic countdown in the distance, and he’s now at 79 percent shutdown. Roland tells him to get some sleep because tomorrow they’ll fight. “We’ll fight until they’re dead, or we are.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland thinks the folken know their lives will inevitably change after the next day. That some won’t survive it. That the town might be burned. “Would they rebuild, if that was how the cards fell? Roland doubted it. With no children to build for—because the Wolves would take them all this time if they won…there would be no reason. At the end of the next cycle, this place would be a ghost town.”
Sorry, Mr. Overholser. I don’t quite trust you. But perhaps you’ll die a hero and I’ll have to change my mind.
Now…bring on the Wolves already!
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll tackle the next chapter of Wolves of the Calla.