Hello, Sand-fans. I talked with JB, and he was OK with me spreading these two issues over a little bit more time. I think Chapter 4 is worth its own discussion. If I went into too much detail, it’s because I couldn’t figure out what parts of the story to leave out; it all hangs together so beautifully!
Anyway, Chapter 5 will come in a few days; I here invite discussion on the crossroads of adolescence and death.
[I’ll put color commentary in italics and brackets.]
Season of Mists
Chapter = 4
In which the dead return; and Charles Rowland concludes his education.
Creepy, dusty attic. Dead deer, dead politican, dead pastimes. Dead memories.
A boy leans over a splayed body: “Rowland? Are you awake yet?”
The questioner is Paine; Rowland is feverish, confused. He had a dream in which worms were eating him, falling snow was birds’ bones, were crushed yet still moving. The whole world covered with dead birds trying to fly. Morpheus broods over the whole conceit.
Just a dream, says Paine. Oh, Paine is dead. Rowland forgot, briefly. Anyway, it’s Sunday, and THEY are praying downstairs in the chapel. Six days ago, it all started…
Charles Rowland, just turned (lucky) thirteen, is stuck at his boarding school with no other children around; just the headmaster and the old matron, Miss Gribble. Charles’ father, his only living parent, is a hostage of Saddam Hussein in Kuwait, and so Charles isn’t visiting him for the holidays as had been planned. The headmaster is calm and quiet, a pipe smoker, and a bit annoyed at having to babysit Charles, but the matron, though creepy, is friendly enough and considerate of Charles’ situation. Her hair is in a tight, prim bun.
Charles takes a cold, damp (misty) walk outside, and we get more information filled in. St. Hilarion’s School for Boys was founded in 1802, and Charles has been here one and a half years. He has wanted to write a simple message to his father, a British architect living in Kuwait, the whole time: “Please, Daddy. Take me home.” As he thinks about his father now being unable to do anything for him, he reenters the school, watched by the ghosts(?) of the many other boys that came before him.
Later, the matron interrupts him reading the Scarlet Pimpernel to tell him “Lights out.” Charles ponders as he goes to bed that he’s never really alone at school. The school belongs to the dead people who used his desks, his bed, before him, and they never go away. “Even when you’re alone, you’re not alone.” And all the other beds are filled with ghosts.
Back to the Present:
Charles asks Paine about death. Paine died. Paine went to Hell-—a Hell of slowly walking terrified down endless corridors, because running would mean the horrible, timeless something following him would get him. [This is deliciously Lovecraftian.] Turns out Paine was there for 75 years. Charles says he’s not afraid of dying, but Paine tells him he should be.
Charles woke up expecting breakfast, but it wasn’t made for him in the empty kitchen, so he ate his last packet of crackers sitting outside on a gigantic war memorial—“IN MEMORY OF THOSE BOYS FROM ST. HILARION’S WHO LAID DOWN THEIR LIVES IN THE GREAT WAR (1914 – 1918)” followed by the first few names in a very long list.
Charles still finds himself alone come lunchtime, so he goes to find the headmaster in his office. When Charles opens the door, a woman with a face like an ancient and unshaven John Wayne is standing over the smiling headmaster at his desk. The headmaster’s mother who, as she explains, died and went to Hell in 1942, which she seems to have expected and, possibly, rather enjoyed. She is obsessed with the “unnatural” sexual proclivities of her husband and treating her grown son like a toddler, which he seems to accept. After she takes his still-smoking pipe from his mouth and tells him he is not headmaster now, she plants a tender kiss on his balding pate. [A kiss, I should say, that looks more like a delicate nibble from his brains.]
Wondering about what insanity might actually look like, Charles leaves the two and finds the matron in the sanatorium. She has let down her long hair, and holds a baby in each arm. In the left arm is Veronica, who died of SIDS a long time ago and was put in the ground. In the right arm is Veronica’s brother (?), who was a miscarriage caused by German measles when Miss Gribble was sixteen. He looks like Uncle Fester as a preemie, and when so exhorted, waves to Charles and says “Hello” with some difficulty.
This scares the bejeebus out of Charles. [and me]
He runs away and that evening finds himself back in the dormitory, hungry and scared. The groundskeeper, Alfred, is seen disappearing into the mists, chased by a woman and a child. No one comes to turn off the lights, and Charles takes a long time of being hungry and frightened before falling asleep.
Back to the present:
Paine explains that he stays in the attic because his bones are there; some people sacrificed him in a ritual to try to raise devils. [Which explains how a seemingly good kid ended up in Hell.]
Charles wakes up to three dead bullies splashing him with cold water and calling him bug-related names. [Important to consider every loss of calories, at this point.] Cheeseman, Skinner and Barrow are Old Boys…very Old Boys. Charles is rescued by a badly decomposed headmaster, who accuses them of doing “something to that boy…who disappeared.” He never trusted them, which indicates he knew them in life. Calling Charles “live boy,” the headmaster announces “assembly in ten minutes,” and Skinner whispers that they’ll wait for another time to torment Charles.
At the assembly, quite a large audience of boys is told that the dead-master’s name is Parkinson, and he was headmaster from 1901 until he died in 1916. A fun page of typical school humor crossed with Zombieland. “Mens sana in corpore mortua.”
Later, during silent study in a classroom full of boys, Charles realizes he’s the only one breathing.
The deadmaster makes all the boys go swimming in the lake. Charles loses many more precious calories.
After lights-out, Charles sneaks down to the kitchen desperate for some food. He takes one bite of a sandwich before the bullies find him. We learn that Cheeseman died in the trenches, and Barrow and Skinner died of diphtheria; since Barrow and Cheeseman were both visible on the war memorial, presumably Skinner’s name is there, too. They proudly announce that they were, in fact, Paine’s murderers, and that they therefore expected to be big stuff in Hell; they were laughed at instead. “We burned anyway. Just like you’re going to, bug.”
They beat Charles up, and torture him by burning his back against a hot oven. After piercing his nipple painfully, Charles faints, thus escaping further torture for the time being and disappointing the bullies. Paine finds him passed out and helps him up to the attic where his bones are hidden.
Back to the Present:
Charles spent Thursday unconscious, Friday delirious and under the meager care of also thirteen-year-old Paine. Saturday, Charles was conscious but weak and in pain, with signs of infection from his burns. The calorie deficit clearly is taking its toll.
And on Sunday, Charles Rowland died.
Death shows up, cheerful, dressed like Cyndi Lauper in a leotard. [Just another manic Sunday?] She’s in a hurry, but since she can’t take Paine—already dead, you see—Charles refuses to leave with her. She can’t convince him, so she says she’ll be back for him when “things are less crazy.”
After Death sprints away, Charles talks Paine into leaving the attic. “It’s part of growing up, I suppose,” says Paine. “You always have to leave something behind you.” Shot of Charles’ corpse as the zombie and his newly-ghosted friend close the attic door behind them.
As they walk through the school, they ponder the nature of Hell. Charles states his position that Hell is not a place but something people carry around with them as we see the headmaster, naked except for his shoes and kneeling before his mother, being disciplined to prevent him from becoming like his father. While we hear Cheeseman and Skinner preparing to rape Barrow because they’ve got “none of the little tarts to fag” for them, Charles points out that these dead people “are doing the same things they always did. They’re doing it to themselves. That’s Hell.”
As Deadmaster Parkinson conducts a perfectly awful philosophy lecture about the unimportance of thinking, Paine disputes Charles’ conclusions: “Maybe Hell is a place. But you don’t have to stay anywhere forever.”
Out in the wide world, and now on a first name basis, together, Edwin Paine and Charles Rowland begin trying to thumb a ride on the road.
“Now: Let’s see what Life’s got to offer us…”