“Go, then. There are other worlds than these.”
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 or preceding sections, join me by commenting here.
Last week, Susannah and Mia came face to face in the barren lands of Discordia, on the “allure,” where Susannah and Detta Walker tried to undercut Mia’s belief in “Richard P. Sayre” and his cronies. Mostly, however, Susannah learned that Mia had revealed where Eddie and Roland would be going so they could walk into a setup.
Song of Susannah, 7th Stanza, “The Ambush,” Section 1
Roland hears Eddie’s head hit the side of the Unfound Door and manages to duck just in time to prevent his own skull from being crushed as they are sucked through. It is a lucky duck—it gives him a chance to catch sight of the circular flash of a gun as they fall through the door, and he is able to shove Eddie and himself out of harm’s way, at least temporarily.
He manages to drag a semi-conscious Eddie, who cracked his head on the Unfound Door, toward a general store as guns continue to blaze. Inside the store, Roland drags Eddie to the ground as the shooting continues. There are two women and an older man inside, and when Roland yells for them to get down, only the man complies. The startled women are killed.
Roland reaches for his gun and is glad to find it strapped to his hip where it should be—no todash. Eddie’s still only half conscious, so Roland gives him a good slap and is pleased to see how quickly Eddie comes around: “Roland took a moment to be proud of Eddie. He was Cuthbert Allgood all over again, Cuthbert to the life.”
Roland crawls across the glass-littered floor and peeks out as a half-dozen men charge toward the store. One he recognizes as Jack Andolini, alive once again. Ro and Eddie begin firing. The older guy in the store has been joined by who Roland assumes to be the shop owner, but neither of them have guns.
This time, it’s Eddie’s turn to save their bacon, as he spots six more men on the way with assault rifles and machine guns—one of whom is Tricks Postino, who also died in another world. So Eddie kills him again.
A large truck filled with timber comes lumbering up the road, and the driver ends up losing control and dumping his load of wood in the vicinity of the gunners. Roland and Eddie have a few seconds to take stock.
What Constant Reader Learns: Nice intro to this chapter (and OMG am I glad to be away from Susannah for a while so we can stop talking, and talking about talking, and thinking about talking…):
“Roland Deschain was the last of Gilead’s last great band of warriors, for good reason; with his queerly romantic nature, his lack of imagination, and his deadly hands, he had ever been the best of them.”
All that to say now he is suffering from arthritis, but there’s nothing wrong with his brains or his eyes, which saves both Eddie and himself.
Roland recognizes a gas pump when he sees one, even though “MOBIL” is not a name he knows.
Ah, here’s the Stephen King we know and love: The woman who was shot in the head “took two blind, blundering steps toward Roland, blood spewing from where her hair had been like lava from an erupting volcano.” (I assuming he doesn’t actually mean her hair had been like lava, but perhaps a judicious use of a comma could be called for.) There’s also an impressively gruesome description of the huge truck’s tires running over Tricks Postino’s head, “the sound of his imploding skull like a chestnut bursting in a hot fire.” Roland likens the slow onslaught of the truck to watching “one of the Lost Beasts of Eld come tumbling out of the sky with its wings on fire.”
Hmmm….interesting thing here: Roland knows he’s seen Jack Andolini die twice already, yet here he is again, “because infinite worlds spun on the axle which was the Dark Tower, and here was another of them. Yet only one world was true; only one where, when things were finished, they stayed finished.” I guess I’d assumed with infinite worlds coexisting on different planes or different levels, there wouldn’t be one “true” world except the Tower itself, and yet there would have to be a real world if the Tower itself exists as a physical place. The level at which they find the Tower would be the true level…unless the Tower exists in all levels. Although if this is the level at which Stephen the Red King exists and he has created these people and this is all a book or a video game in a computer run amok, then his level would need to be the true level….I have a headache.
Song of Susannah, 7th Stanza, “The Ambush,” Section 2
Eddie and Roland grab the shopkeeper, Chip, and the other guy, Mr. Flannel Shirt, and pull them toward the back of the store. Unfortunately, all the “harriers” aren’t dead, because the gunfire continues, even after an explosion that Eddie assumes is the fuel tank of the truck.
Eddie’s hit twice—once in the arm and once in the leg just below his knee—but they keep going. They enter the “Employees Only” door and find a storeroom, where Mr. Flannel Shirt guides them to a back door that leads onto a loading dock. Chip is oddly calm despite a head wound (or maybe because of the head wound) but it’s Mr. Flannel Shirt who seems able to function.
After assessing the setup and spotting a diesel pump, Roland tells Mr. Flannel Shirt to pump the diesel fuel into the storeroom. (Chip, it should be noted, doesn’t like this idea, likely suspecting his store’s about to be a big bonfire.) As Mr. Flannel pumps gas into the storeroom, Eddie and Roland kill off the approaching shooters.
There’s an explosion from the front of the store, and Eddie knows it was a grenade—and that whoever threw it would throw another into the storeroom. Roland wants him to stall them so Mr. Flannel Shirt can pump in more fuel. When Eddie asks how Roland suggests he do that, Roland says, “with your everlasting mouth!” And Eddie’s astounded by a “wonderful, heartening thing”—Roland is grinning.
So Eddie did what Eddie does—he talks. Calls out to Jack Andolini, badgering him.
What Constant Reader Learns: When Mr. Flannel Shirt first tries to crank the lever on the side of the pump, instead of going back to zero, it sticks on 0019. Of course.
Nice of all those endless shooters to only advance on Roland and Eddie two or three at a time so they could be more easily slaughtered. But at least Roland’s come alive and having fun.
While Eddie’s baiting Jack Andolini, he has a moment to ponder the ambush—it obviously was set up for them by someone who knew they’d come through the door and where. Mia doesn’t occur to him, at least not yet. He wonders if Jake and Callahan have met a similar attack where they landed. But he believes that if a member of their ka-tet had died, even Oy, both he and Roland would know it.
I’d make a lousy gunslinger. Every time Roland orders someone “To Me!” I want to tell him to get a grip. (He’d probably get a grip all right—a sandalwood grip.)
Song of Susannah, 7th Stanza, “The Ambush,” Section 3
Roland finally tells John, aka Flannel Shirt, that he’s pumped in enough diesel fuel. Now, Roland takes over the talking, baiting Jack into their trap. As expected, one of the “harriers” tosses a grenade toward them and Roland shows he still has skills by shooting the grenade in midair, causing an explosion.
They begin firing their guns into the diesel fuel, but it isn’t enough to set a robust fire. While Roland and Eddie fend off more gunmen, Flannel Shirt John says, “That fire’s a little slow for my taste, boys,” and throws his lighter onto the storeroom floor. Now, they have a fire. Poor old Chip the shopkeeper finally faints.
The men under Jack are reluctant to charge through the flames and attack—Roland figures they would have followed had Andolini led the way. But he wasn’t willing to, either, and they all know police and fire departments are en route.
Since Flannel Shirt John is still calm and collected, Roland asks him to help them escape. He walks them across an acre of land next to the store, with Roland and Eddie walking backward to kill anyone who might follow, although no one does. Roland is hoping Andolini will follow them, because he’s come to the conclusion that this world is the real one, where time runs in only one direction. They might be able to go through a door into the future, but they can’t go back into the past. And Jack Andolini needs killing once and for all.
At the rear of the acre, a path leads into the woods, and they follow it as the sirens get closer.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ha! Roland’s learned some nice, modern smack-mixed-with-Roland-speak, as he tells Andolini: “You’ve forgotten the face of your father. You’re a bag of shit with legs. Your own ka-daddy is a man named Balazar.” He even tells him he’s ugly. In less tense circumstances, Eddie would really enjoy this, so I hope he gets a chance to tease Roland about it.
So, who is this Flannel Shirt John dude? He’s like a short-term ka-boy. Or either Really Bad News and he’s playing the players.
Eddie’s going to pay for those gunshot wounds he’s ignoring, I predict.
Roland has a bit of an epiphany as they leave. While his body is suffering from age, he has a ka-tet of gunslingers again, “and they had refreshed his life in a way he never would have expected. It all meant something to him again, not just the Dark Tower but all of it.” This feeling is how he decides this world is the real one. It feels different, and has a resonance that even his own world lacks. As he looks around them, he sees the Path of the Beam again.
So if Roland knows they can move forward, but not back, it will be interesting to see how our ka-tet gets reunited. At least I assume they get reunited.
What did they do with poor Chip? Leave him unconscious in the dirt to burn up? Maybe I missed something.
Song of Susannah, 7th Stanza, “The Ambush,” Section 4
After a quarter mile, Eddie sees the glint of water through the trees. They come to the final slope, leading down to the lake where a crude dock has been made and a motorboat is tied. John tells them the boat is his.
Just as they get to the dock, they hear a loud explosion behind them from the direction of the store. John tells them it is probably the store’s propane tanks exploding (and, I might add, taking poor old Chip with them, I guess). He manages to start the boat’s motor on his first try and implores Eddie and Roland to get in so they can be on their way.
Before Roland steps into the boat, he makes a triple-tap on his throat. Eddie has seen him do that before when about to cross water, but doesn’t know what it means.
And now, we’re told, he’ll never get the chance to ask. “Before the question occurred to him again, death had slipped between them.”
What Constant Reader Learns: What?!? No! Sai-King, you are evil. An evil, evil man.
Song of Susannah, 7th Stanza, “The Ambush,” Section 5
They motor along the lake and see people along the store, all looking toward the smoke and fire. John tells them they’re on Keywadin Pond, and points out his own place.
Finally, the savior of the ka-tet introduces himself as John Cullum. He shakes hands with Roland, but something odd happens when he shakes hands with “Eddie Dean of Brooklyn.” John picks up on it, but Eddie denies anything unusual happened…just before he goes into a spiel: “Mia’s locked Susannah away. Locked her away in the year of ’99. Suze can get to the Dogan, but going there’s no good. Mia’s locked off the controls.” Then the images fade.
John thinks these are weird doings but, again, takes everything pretty calmly. Roland worries that some of the people along the shore will have noticed them, putting Cullum in danger. So he’ll have to be “packed off to somewhere safe.”
John tells them he’ll do what he can to help them, but first, he wants to ask a question. “I know you’re not ghosts,” he tells them, “because we all saw you back at the store and I just now touched you to shake hands…but are you walk-ins?” Seems there have been a lot of walk-ins around those parts in recent years—Waterford, Stoneham, East Stoneham, Lovell…People would just appear, sometimes in odd clothing as if from the past. Sometimes “nekkid as a jaybird.”
Then he says something that really jolts them: Sometimes the walk-ins are hurt or disfigured: “Roont.” After almost falling out of the boat, Roland decides he must be talking about slow mutants.
As they pull into the boathouse, John says it’s not just people that show up, but animals and birds that no one in that area has seen before. It’s been going on for two or three years, he estimates, and is getting worse. He saw a woman, for example, who had a bleeding eye in the middle of her forehead.
So John asks again if Roland and Eddie are walk-ins, and Roland finally says yes, he guesses they are. When John gives Eddie a hard time about saying he was from Brooklyn, Eddie insists he is from Brooklyn—just not the same one. Roland finally calls a halt to the chat and gets stiffly out of the boat. He and John have to help Eddie out, and Eddie thinks he would “have slain a saint” if he could just get his hands on some aspirin.
What Constant Reader Learns: So I guess this part of the scene is happening at the same time as Susannah and Mia’s struggle for dominance in 1999, as Susannah was trying to send thoughts to him. Or maybe John has the Touch, and it helps Eddie channel Susannah’s situation.
Interesting…are the “walk-ins” the characters of Stephen King novels, mayhap? The bloody eye in the forehead is certainly familiar, though, so maybe it’s just that this is some critical juncture along the beam where people and things from different worlds cross through. Sort of a thinny into the real world, maybe. Did I mention I had a headache?
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue with our read of Dark Tower Book Six, Song of Susannah.