The Shining

Part Three. The Wasps' Nest Chapter 21. Night Thoughts


It was ten o'clock. Their quarters were filled with counterfeit sleep.
Jack lay on his side facing the wall, eyes open, listening to Wendy's slow and regular breathing. The taste of dissolved aspirin was still on his tongue, making it feel rough and slightly numb. Al Shockley had called at quarter of six, quarter of eight back East. Wendy had been downstairs with Danny, sitting in front of the lobby fireplace and reading.
"Person to person," the operator said, "for Mr. Jack Torrance."
"Speaking." He had switched the phone to his right hand, had dug his handkerchief out of his back pocket with his left, and had wiped his tender lips with it. Then he lit a cigarette.
Al's voice then, strong in his ear: "Jacky-boy, what in the name of God are you up to?"
"Hi, Al." He snuffed the cigarette and groped for the Excedrin bottle.
"What's going on, Jack? I got this weird phone call from Stuart Ullman this afternoon. And when Stu Ullman calls long-distance out of his own pocket, you know the shit has hit the fan."
"Ullman has nothing to worry about, Al. Neither do you."
"What exactly is the nothing we don't have to worry about? Stu made it sound like a cross between blackmail and a National Enquirer feature on the Overlook. Talk to me, boy."
"I wanted to poke him a little," Jack said. "When I came up here to be interviewed, he had to drag out all my dirty laundry. Drinking problem. Lost your last job for racking over a student. Wonder if you're the right man for this. Et cetera. The thing that bugged me was that he was bringing all this up because he loved the goddamn hotel so much. The beautiful Overlook. The traditional Overlook. The bloody sacred Overlook. Well, I found a scrapbook in the basement. Somebody had put together all the less savory aspects of Ullman's cathedral, and it looked to me like a little black mass had been going on after hours."
"I hope that's metaphorical, Jack." Al's voice sounded frighteningly cold.
"It is. But I did find out-"
"I know the hotel's history."
Jack ran a hand through his hair. "So I called him up and poked him with it. I admit it wasn't very bright, and I sure wouldn't do it again. End of story."
"Stu says you're planning to do a little dirty-laundry-airing yourself."
"Stu is an asshole!" he barked into the phone. "I told him I had an idea of writing about the Overlook, yes. I do. I think this place forms an index of the whole post-World War II American character. That sounds like an inflated claim, stated so baldly... I know it does... but it's all here, Al! My God, it could be a great book. But it's far in the future, I can promise you that, I've got more on my plate right now than I can eat, and-"
"Jack, that's not good enough."
He found himself gaping at the black receiver of the phone, unable to believe what he had surely heard. "What? Al, did you say-?"
"I said what I said. How long is far in the future, Jack? For you it may be two years, maybe five. For me it's thirty or forty, because I expect to be associated with the Overlook for a long time. The thought of you doing some sort of a scum-job on my hotel and passing it off as a great piece of American writing, that makes me sick."
Jack was speechless.
"I tried to help you, Jacky-boy. We went through the war together, and I thought I owed you some help. You remember the war?"
"I remember it," he muttered, but the coals of resentment had begun to glow around his heart. First Ullman, then Wendy, now Al. What was this? National Let's Pick Jack Torrance Apart Week? He clamped his lips more tightly together, reached for his cigarettes, and knocked them off onto the floor. Had he ever liked this cheap prick talking to him from his mahogany-lined den in Vermont? Had he really?
"Before you hit that Hatfield kid," Al was saying, "I had talked the Board out of letting you go and even had them swung around to considering tenure. You blew that one for yourself. I got you this hotel thing, a nice quiet place for you to get yourself together, finish your play, and wait it out until Harry Effinger and I could convince the rest of those guys that they made a big mistake. Now it looks like you want to chew my arm off on your way to a bigger killing. Is that the way you say thanks to your friends, Jack?"
"No," he whispered.
He didn't dare say more. His head was throbbing with the hot, acid-etched words that wanted to get out. He tried desperately to think of Danny and Wendy, depending on him, Danny and Wendy sitting peacefully downstairs in front of the fire and working on the first of the second-grade reading primers, thinking everything was A-OK. If he lost this job, what then? Off to California in that tired old VW with the distintegrating fuel pump like a family of dustbowl Okies? He told himself he would get down on his knees and beg Al before he let that happen, but still the words struggled to pour out, and the hand holding the hot wires of his rage felt greased.
"What?" Al said sharply.
"No," he said. "That is not the way I treat my friends. And you know it."
"How do I know it? At the worst, you're planning to smear my hotel by digging up bodies that were decently buried years ago. At the best, you call up my temperamental but extremely competent hotel manager and work him into a frenzy as part of some... some stupid kid's game."
"It was more than a game, Al. It's easier for you. You don't have to take some rich friend's charity. You don't need a friend in court because you are the court. The fact that you were one step from a brown-bag lush goes pretty much unmentioned, doesn't it?"
"I suppose it does," Al said. His voice had dropped a notch and he sounded tired of the whole thing. "But Jack, Jack... I can't help that. I can't change that."
"I know," Jack said emptily. "Am I fired? I guess you better tell me if I am."
"Not if you'll do two things for me."
"All right."
"Hadn't you better hear the conditions before you accept them?"
"No. Give me your deal and I'll take it. There's Wendy and Danny to think about. If you want my balls, I'll send them airmail."
"Are you sure selfpity is a luxury you can afford, Jack?"
He had closed his eyes and slid an Excedrin between his dry lips. "At this point I feel it's the only one I can afford. Fire away... no pun intended."
Al was silent for a moment. Then he said: "First, no more calls to Ullman. Not even if the place burns down. If that happens, call the maintenance man, that guy who swears all the time, you know who I mean..."
"Okay. Done."
"Second, you promise me, Jack. Word of honor. No book about a famous Colorado mountain hotel with a history."
For a moment his rage was so great that be literally could not speak. The blood beat loudly in his ears. It was like getting a call from some twentiethcentury Medici prince... no portraits of my family with their warts showing, please, or back to the rabble you'll go. I subsidize no pictures but pretty pictures. When you paint the daughter of my good friend and business partner, please omit birthmark or back to the rabble you'll go. Of course we're friends... we are both civilized men aren't we? We've shared bed and board and bottle. We'll always be friends, and the dog collar I have on you will always be ignored by mutual consent, and I'll take good and benevolent care of you. All I ask in return is your soul. Small item. We can even ignore the fact that you've handed it over, the way we ignore the dog collar. Remember, my talented friend, there are Michelangelos begging everywhere in the streets of Rome...
"Jack? You there?"
He made a strangled noise that was intended to be the word yes.
Al's voice was firm and very sure of itself. "I really don't think I'm asking so much, Jack. And there will be other books. You just can't expect me to subsidize you while you..."
"All right, agreed."
"I don't want you to think I'm trying to control your artistic life, Jack. You know me better than that. It's just that-"
"Is Derwent still involved with the Overlook? Somehow?"
"I don't see how that can possibly be any concern of yours, Jack."
"No," he said distantly. "I suppose it isn't. Listen, Al, I think I hear Wendy calling me for something. I'll get back to you."
"Sure thing, Jacky-boy. We'll have a good talk. How are things? Dry?"
"As a bone."
"Here too. I'm actually beginning to enjoy sobriety. If-"
"I'll get back, Al. Wendy-"
"Sure. Okay."
And so he had hung up and that was when the cramps had come, hitting him like lightning bolts, making him curl up in front of the telephone like a penitent, hands over his belly, head throbbing like a monstrous bladder.
The moving wasp, having stung moves on...
It had passed a little when Wendy came upstairs and asked him who had been on the phone.
"Al," he said. "He called to ask how things were going. I said they were fine."
"Jack, you look terrible. Are you sick?"
"Headache's back. I'm going to bed early. No sense trying to write."
"Can I get you some warm milk?"
He smiled wanly. "That would be nice."
And now he lay beside her, feeling her warm and sleeping thigh against his own. Thinking of the conversation with Al, how he had groveled, still made him hot and cold by turns. Someday there would be a reckoning. Someday there would be a book, not the soft and thoughtful thing he had first considered, but a gemhard work of research, photo section and all, and he would pull apart the entire Overlook history, nasty, incestuous ownership deals and all. He would spread it all out for the reader like a dissected crayfish. And if Al Shockley had connections with the Derwent empire, then God help him.
Strung up like piano wire, he lay staring into the dark, knowing it might be hours yet before he could sleep.
* * *
Wendy Torrance lay on her back, eyes closed, listening to the sound of her husband's slumber-the long inhale, the brief hold, the slightly guttural exhale. Where did he go when he slept, she wondered. To some amusement park, a Great Barrington of dreams where all the rides were free and there was no wifemother along to tell them they'd had enough hotdogs or that they'd better be going if they wanted to get home by dark? Or was it some fathoms-deep bar where the drinking never stopped and the batwings were always propped open and all the old companions were gathered around the electronic hockey game, glasses in hand, Al Shockley prominent among them with his tie loosened and the top button of his shirt undone? A place where both she and Danny were excluded and the boogie went on endlessly?
Wendy was worried about him, the old, helpless worry that she had hoped was behind her forever in Vermont, as if worry could somehow not cross state lines. She didn't like what the Overlook seemed to be doing to Jack and Danny.
The most frightening thing, vaporous and unmentioned, perhaps unmentionable, was that all of Jack's drinking symptoms had come back, one by one... all but the drink itself. The constant wiping of the lips with hand or handkerchief, as if to rid them of excess moisture. Long pauses at the typewriter, more balls of paper in the wastebasket. There had been a bottle of Excedrin on the telephone table tonight after Al had called him, but no water glass. He had been chewing them again. He got irritated over little things. He would unconsciously start snapping his fingers in a nervous rhythm when things got too quiet. Increased profanity. She had begun to worry about his temper, too. It would almost come as a relief if he would lose it, blow off steam, in much the same way that he went down to the basement first thing in the morning and last thing at night to dump the press on the boiler. It would almost be good to see him curse and kick a chair across the room or slam a door. But those things, always an integral part of his temperament, had almost wholly ceased. Yet she had the feeling that Jack was more and more often angry with her or Danny, but was refusing to let it out. The boiler had a pressure gauge: old, cracked, clotted with grease, but still workable. Jack had none. She had never been able to read him very well. Danny could, but Danny wasn't talking.
And the call from Al. At about the same time it had come, Danny had lost all interest in the story they had been reading. He left her to sit by the fire and crossed to the main desk where Jack had constructed a roadway for his matchbox cars and trucks. The Violent Violet Volkswagen was there and Danny had begun to push it rapidly back and forth. Pretending to read her own book but actually looking at Danny over the top of it, she had seen an odd amalgam of the ways she and Jack expressed anxiety. The wiping of the lips. Running both hands nervously through his hair, as she had done while waiting for Jack to come home from his round of the bars. She couldn't believe Al had called just to "ask how things were going." If you wanted to shoot the bull, you called Al. When Al called you, that was business.
Later, when she had come back downstairs, she had found Danny curled up by the fire again, reading the second-grade-primer adventures of Joe and Rachel at the circus with their daddy in complete, absorbed attention. The fidgety distraction had completely disappeared. Watching him, she had been struck again by the eerie certainty that Danny knew more and understood more than there was room for in Dr. ("Just call me Bill") Edmonds's philosophy.
"Hey, time for bed, doc," she'd said.
"Yeah, okay." He marked his place in the book and stood up.
"Wash up and brush your teeth."
"Don't forget to use the floss."
"I won't."
They stood side by side for a moment, watching the wax and wane of the coals of the fire. Most of the lobby was chilly and drafty, but this circle around the fireplace was magically warm, and hard to leave.
"It was Uncle Al on the phone," she said casually.
"Oh yeah?" Totally unsurprised.
"I wonder if Uncle Al was mad at Daddy," she said, still casually.
"Yeah, he sure was," Danny said, still watching the fire. "He didn't want Daddy to write the book."
"What book, Danny?"
"About the hotel."
The question framed on her lips was one she and Jack had asked Danny a thousand times: How do you know that? She hadn't asked him. She didn't want to upset him before bed, or make him aware that they were casually discussing his knowledge of things he had no way of knowing at all. And he did know, she was convinced of that. Dr. Edmonds's patter about inductive reasoning and subconscious logic was just that: patter. Her sister... how had Danny known she was thinking about Aileen in the waiting room that day? And
(I dreamed Daddy had an accident.)
She shook her head, as if to clear it. "Go wash up, doc."
"Okay." He ran up the stairs toward their quarters. Frowning, she had gone into the kitchen to warm Jack's milk in a saucepan.
And now, lying wakeful in her bed and listening to her husband's breathing and the wind outside (miraculously, they'd had only another flurry that afternoon; still no heavy snow), she let her mind turn fully to her lovely, troubling son, born with a caul over his face, a simple tissue of membrane that doctors saw perhaps once in every seven hundred births, a tissue that the old wives' tales said betokened the second sight.
She decided that it was time to talk to Danny about the Overlook... and high time she tried to get Danny to talk to her. Tomorrow. For sure. The two of them would be going down to the Sidewinder Public Library to see if they could get him some second-grade-level books on an extended loan through the winter, and she would talk to him. And frankly. With that thought she felt a little easier, and at last began to drift toward sleep.
* * *
Danny lay awake in his bedroom, eyes open, left arm encircling his aged and slightly worse-for-wear Pooh (Pooh had lost one shoe-button eye and was oozing stuffing from half a dozen sprung seams), listening to his parents sleep in their bedroom. He felt as if he were standing unwilling guard over them. The nights were the worst of all. He hated the nights and the constant howl of the wind around the west side of the hotel.
His glider floated overhead from a string. On his bureau the VW model, brought up from the roadway setup downstairs, glowed a dimly fluorescent purple. His books were in the bookcase, his coloring books on the desk. A place for everything and everything in its place. Mommy said. Then you know where it is when you want it. But now things had been misplaced. Things were missing. Worse still, things had been added, things you couldn't quite see, like in one of those pictures that said CAN YOU SEE THE INDIANS? And if you strained and squinted, you could see some of them-the thing you had taken for a cactus at first glance was really a brave with a knife clamped in his teeth, and there were others hiding in the rocks, and you could even see one of their evil, merciless faces peering through the spokes of a covered wagon wheel. But you could never see all of them, and that was what made you uneasy. Because it was the ones you couldn't see that would sneak up behind you, a tomahawk in one hand and a scalping knife in the other...
He shifted uneasily in his bed, his eyes searching out the comforting glow of the night light. Things were worse here. He knew that much for sure. At first they hadn't been so bad, but little by little... his daddy thought about drinking a lot more. Sometimes he was angry at Mommy and didn't know why. He went around wiping his lips with his handkerchief and his eyes were far away and cloudy. Mommy was worried about him and Danny, too. He didn't have to shine into her to know that; it had been in the anxious way she had questioned him on the day the fire hose had seemed to turn into a snake. Mr. Hallorann said he thought all mothers could shine a little bit, and she had known on that day that something had happened. But not what.
He had almost told her, but a couple of things had held him back. He knew that the doctor in Sidewinder had dismissed Tony and the things that Tony showed him as perfectly
(well almost)
normal. His mother might not believe him if he told her about the hose. Worse, she might believe him in the wrong way, might think he was LOSING HIS MARBLES. He understood a little about LOSING YOUR MARBLES, not as much as he did about GETTING A BABY, which his mommy had explained to him the year before at some length, but enough.
Once, at nursery school, his friend Scott had pointed out a boy named Robin Stenger, who was moping around the swings with a face almost long enough to step on. Robin's father taught arithmetic at Daddy's school, and Scott's daddy taught history there. Most of the kids at the nursery school were associated either with Stovington Prep or with the small IBM plant just outside of town. The prep kids chummed in one group, the IBM kids in another. There were crossfriendships, of course, but it was natural enough for the kids whose fathers knew each other to more or less stick together. When there was an adult scandal in one group, it almost always filtered down to the children in some wildly mutated form or other, but it rarely jumped to the other group.
He and Scotty were sitting in the play rocketship when Scotty jerked his thumb at Robin and said: "You know that kid?"
"Yeah," Danny said.
Scott leaned forward. "His dad LOST HIS MARBLES last night. They took him away."
"Yeah? Just for losing some marbles?"
Scotty looked disgusted. "He went crazy. You know." Scott crossed his eyes, flopped out his tongue, and twirled his index fingers in large elliptical orbits around his ears. "They took him t0 THE BUGHOUSE."
"Wow," Danny said. "When will they let him come back?"
"Never-never-never," Scotty said darkly.
In the course of that day and the next, Danny heard that
a.) Mr. Stenger had tried to kill everybody in his family, including Robin, with his World War II souvenir pistol;
b.) Mr. Stenger ripped the house to pieces while he was STINKO;
c.) Mr. Stenger had been discovered eating a bowl of dead bugs and grass like they were cereal and milk and crying while he did it;
d.) Mr. Stenger had tried to strangle his wife with a stocking when the Red Sox lost a big ball game.
Finally, too troubled to keep it to himself, he had asked Daddy about Mr. Stenger. His daddy had taken him on his lap and had explained that Mr. Stenger had been under a great deal of strain, some of it about his family and some about his job and some of it about things that nobody but doctors could understand. He had been having crying fits, and three nights ago he had gotten crying and couldn't stop it and had broken a lot of things in the Stenger home. It wasn't LOSING YOUR MARBLES, Daddy said, it was HAVING A BREAKDOWN, and Mr. Stenger wasn't in a BUGHOUSE but in a SANNY-TARIUM. But despite Daddy's careful explanations, Danny was scared. There didn't seem to be any difference at all between LOSING YOUR MARBLES and HAVING A BREAKDOWN, and whether you called it a BUGHOUSE or a SANNYTARIUM, there were still bars on the windows and they wouldn't let you out if you wanted to go. And his father, quite innocently, had confirmed another of Scotty's phrases unchanged, one that filled Danny with a vague and unformed dread. In the place where Mr. Stenger now lived, there were THE MEN IN THE WHITE COATS. They came to get you in a truck with no windows, a truck that was gravestone gray. It rolled up to the curb in front of your house and THE MEN IN THE WHITE COATS got out and took you away from your family and made you live in a room with soft walls. And if you wanted to write home, you had to do it with Crayolas.
"When will they let him come back?" Danny asked his father.
"Just as soon as he's better, doc."
"But when will that be?" Danny had persisted.
"Dan," Jack said, "NO ONE KNOWS."
And that was the worst of all. It was another way of saying never-never-never. A month later, Robin's mother took him out of nursery school and they moved away from Stovington without Mr. Stenger.
That had been over a year ago, after Daddy stopped taking the Bad Stuff but before he had lost his job. Danny still thought about it often. Sometimes when he fell down or bumped his head or had a bellyache, he would begin to cry and the memory would flash over him, accompanied by the fear that he would not be able to stop crying, that he would just go on and on, weeping and wailing, until his daddy went to the phone, dialed it, and said: "Hello? This is Jack Torrance at 149 Mapleline Way. My son here can't stop crying. Please send THE MEN IN THE WHITE COATS t0 take him to the SANNY-TARIUM. That's right, he's LOST HIS MARBLES. Thank you." And the gray truck with no windows would come rolling up to his door, they would load him in, still weeping hysterically, and take him away. When would he see his mommy and daddy again? NO ONE KNOWS.
It was this fear that had kept him silent. A year older, he was quite sure that his daddy and mommy wouldn't let him be taken away for thinking a fire hose was a snake, his rational mind was sure of that, but still, when he thought of telling them, that old memory rose up like a stone filling his mouth and blocking words. It wasn't like Tony; Tony had always seemed perfectly natural (until the bad dreams, of course), and his parents had also seemed to accept Tony as a more or less natural phenomenon. Things like Tony came from being BRIGHT, which they both assumed he was (the same way they assumed they were BRIGHT), but a fire hose that turned into a snake, or seeing blood and brains on the wall of the Presidential Sweet when no one else could, those things would not be natural. They had already taken him to see a regular doctor. Was it not reasonable to assume that THE MEN IN THE WHITE COATS might come next?
Still he might have told them except he was sure, sooner or later, that they would want to take him away from the hotel. And he wanted desperately to get away from the Overlook. But he also knew that this was his daddy's last chance, that he was here at the Overlook to do more than take care of the place. He was here to work on his papers. To get over losing his job. To love Mommy/Wendy. And until very recently, it had seemed that all those things were happening. It was only lately that Daddy had begun to have trouble. Since he found those papers.
(This inhuman place makes human monsters.)
What did that mean? He had prayed to God, but God hadn't told him. And what would Daddy do if he stopped working here? He had tried to find out from Daddy's mind, and had become more and more convinced that Daddy didn't know. The strongest proof had come earlier this evening when Uncle Al had called his daddy up on the phone and said mean things and Daddy didn't dare say anything back because Uncle Al could fire him from this job just the way that Mr. Crommert, the Stovington headmaster, and the Board of Directors had fired him from his schoolteaching job. And Daddy was scared to death of that, for him and Mommy as well as himself.
So he didn't dare say anything. He could only watch helplessly and hope that there really weren't any Indians at all, or if there were that they would be content to wait for bigger game and let their little three-wagon train pass unmolested.
But he couldn't believe it, no matter how hard he tried.
Things were worse at the Overlook now.
The snow was coming, and when it did, any poor options he had would be abrogated. And after the snow, what? What then, when they were shut in and at the mercy of whatever might have only been toying with them before?
(Come out here and take your medicine!)
What then? REDRUM.
He shivered in his bed and turned over again. He could read more now. Tomorrow maybe he would try to call Tony, he would try to make Tony show him exactly what REDRUM was and if there was any way he could prevent it. He Would risk the nightmares. He had to know.
Danny was still awake long after his parents' false sleep had become the real thing. He rolled in his bed, twisting the sheets, grappling with a problem years too big for him, awake in the night like a single sentinel on picket. And sometime after midnight, he slept too and then only the wind was awake, prying at the hotel and hooting in its gables under the bright gimlet gaze of the stars.