The Shining

Part Four. Snowbound Chapter 35. The Lobby


He had told them everything except what had happened to him when the snow had blocked the end of the concrete ring. He couldn't bring himself to repeat that. And be didn't know the right words to express the creeping, lassitudinous sense of terror he had felt when he heard the dead aspen leaves begin to crackle furtively down there in the cold darkness. But he told them about the soft sound of snow falling in clumps. About the lion with its head and its bunched shoulders working its way up and out of the snow to chase him. He even told them about how the rabbit had turned its head to watch near the end.
The three of them were in the lobby. Jack had built a roaring blaze in the fireplace. Danny was bundled up in a blanket on the small sofa where once, a million years ago, three nuns had sat laughing like girls while they waited for the line at the desk to thin out. He was sipping hot noodle soup from a mug. Wendy sat beside him, stroking his hair. Jack had sat on the floor, his face seeming to grow more and more still, more and more set as Danny told his story. Twice he pulled his handkerchief out of his back pocket and rubbed his sorelooking lips with it.
"Then they chased me," he finished. Jack got up and went over to the window, his back to them. He looked at his mommy. "They chased me all the way up to the porch." He was struggling to keep his voice calm, because if he stayed calm maybe they would believe him. Mr. Stenger hadn't stayed calm. He had started to cry and hadn't been able to stop SO THE MEN IN THE WHITE COATS had come to take him away because if you couldn't stop crying it meant you had LOST YOUR MARBLES and when would you be back? NO ONE KNOWS. His parka and snowpants and the clotted snowshoes lay on the rug just inside the big double doors.
(I won't cry I won't let myself cry)
And he thought he could do that, but he couldn't stop shaking. He looked into the fire and waited for Daddy to say something. High yellow flames danced on the dark stone hearth. A pine-knot exploded with a bang and sparks rushed up the flue.
"Danny, come over here." Jack turned around. His face still had that pinched, deathly look. Danny didn't like to look at it.
"I just want the boy over here for a minute."
Danny slipped off the sofa and came over beside his daddy.
"Good boy. Now what do you see?"
Danny bad known what he would see even before he got to the window. Below the clutter of boot tracks, sled tracks, and snowshoe tracks that marked their usual exercise area, the snowfield that covered the Overlook's lawns sloped down to the topiary and the playground beyond. It was marred by two sets of tracks, one of them in a straight line from the porch to the playground, the other a long, looping line coming back up.
"Only my tracks, Daddy. But-"
"What about the hedges, Danny?"
Danny's lips began to tremble. He was going to cry. What if he couldn't stop?
(i won't cry I Won't Cry Won't Won't WON'T)
"All covered with snow," he whispered. "But, Daddy-"
"What? I couldn't hear you!"
"Jack, you're cross-examining him! Can't you see he's upset, he's-"
"Shut up! Well, Danny?"
"They scratched me, Daddy. My leg-"
"You must have cut your leg on the crust of the snow."
Then Wendy was between them, her face pale and angry. "What are you trying to make him do?" she asked him. "Confess to murder? What's wrong with you?"
The strangeness in his eyes seemed to break then. "I'm trying to help him find the difference between something real and something that was only an hallucination, that's all." He squatted by Danny so they were on an eye-to-eye level, and then hugged him tight. "Danny, it didn't really happen. Okay? It was like one of those trances you have sometimes. That's all."
"What, Dan?"
"I didn't cut my leg on the crust. There isn't any crust. It's all powdery snow. It won't even stick together to make snowballs. Remember we tried to have a snowball fight and couldn't?"
He felt his father stiffen against him. "The porch step, then."
Danny pulled away. Suddenly he had it. It had flashed into his mind all at once, the way things sometimes did, the way it had about the woman wanting to be in that gray man's pants. He stared at his father with widening eyes.
"You know I'm telling the truth," he whispered, shocked.
"Danny-"Jack's face, tightening.
"You know because you saw-"
The sound of Jack's open palm striking Danny's face was flat, not dramatic at all. The boy's head rocked back, the palmprint reddening on his cheek like a brand.
Wendy made a moaning noise.
For a moment they were still, the three of them, and then Jack grabbed for his son and said, "Danny, I'm sorry, you okay, doc?"
"You hit him, you bastardl" Wendy cried. "You dirty bastard!"
She grabbed his other arm and for a moment Danny was pulled between them.
"Oh please stop pulling me!" he screamed at them, and there was such agony in his voice that they both let go of him, and then the tears had to come and he collapsed, weeping, between the sofa and the window, his parents staring at him helplessly, the way children might stare at a toy broken in a furious tussle over to whom it belonged. In the fireplace another pine-knot exploded like a hand grenade, making them all jump.
Wendy gave him baby aspirin and Jack slipped him, unprotesting, between the sheets of his cot. He was asleep in no time with his thumb in his mouth.
"I don't like that," she said. "It's a regression."
Jack didn't reply.
She looked at him softly, without anger, without a smile, either. "You want me to apologize for calling you a bastard? All right, I apologize. I'm sorry. You still shouldn't have hit him.
"I know," he muttered. "I know that. I don't know what the hell came over me."
"You promised you'd never hit him again."
He looked at her furiously, and then the fury collapsed. Suddenly, with pity and horror, she saw what Jack would look like as an old man. She had never seen him look that way before.
(?what way?)
Defeated, she answered herself. He looks beaten.
He said: "I always thought I could keep my promises."
She went to him and put her hands on his arm. "All right, it's over. And when the ranger comes to check us, we'll tell him we all want to go down. All right?"
"All right," Jack said, and at that moment, at least, he meant it. The same way he had always meant it on those mornings after, looking at his pale and haggard face in the bathroom mirror. I'm going to stop, going to cut it off flat. But morning gave way to afternoon, and in the afternoons he felt a little better. And afternoon gave way to night. As some great twentieth-century thinker had said, night must fall.
He found himself wishing that Wendy would ask him about the hedges, would ask him what Danny meant, when he said You know because you saw- If she did, he would tell her everything. Everything. The hedges, the woman in the room, even about the fire hose that seemed to have switched positions. But where did confession stop? Could he tell her he'd thrown the magneto away, that they could all be down in Sidewinder right now if he hadn't done that?
What she said was, "Do you want tea?"
"Yes. A cup of tea would be good."
She went to the door and paused there, rubbing her forearms through her sweater. "It's my fault as much as yours," she said. "What were we doing while he was going through that... dream, or whatever it was?"
"We were sleeping," she said. "Sleeping like a couple of teenage kids with their itch nicely scratched."
"Stop it," he said. "It's over."
"No," Wendy answered, and gave him a strange, restless smile. "It's not over."
She went out to make tea, leaving him to keep watch over their son.