Authors: Stephen King
They looked. The ball, cupped in Roland’s upraised hands, began to pulse faster. It gathered them in and swept them away. Caught and whirled in the grip of that pink storm, they flew over the Wizard’s Rainbow to the Gilead that had been.
Jake of New York stands in an upper corridor of the Great Hall of Gilead—more castle, here in the green land, than Mayor’s House. He looks around and sees Susannah and Eddie standing by a tapestry, their eyes big, their hands tightly entwined. And Susannah
standing; she has her legs back, at least for now, and what she called “cappies” have been replaced by a pair of ruby slippers exactly like those Dorothy wore when she stepped out upon her version of the Great Road to find the Wizard of Oz, that bumhug.
She has her legs because this is a dream,
Jake thinks, but knows it is no dream. He looks down and sees Oy looking up at him with his anxious, intelligent, gold-ringed eyes. He is still wearing the red booties. Jake bends and strokes Oy’s head. The feel of the bumbler’s fur under his hand is clear and real. No, this isn’t a dream.
Yet Roland is not here, he realizes; they are four instead of five. He realizes something else as well: the air of this corridor is faintly pink, and small pink halos revolve around the funny, old-fashioned lightbulbs that illuminate the corridor. Something is going to happen; some story is going to play out in front of their eyes. And now, as if the very thought had summoned them, the boy hears the click of approaching footfalls.
It’s a story I know,
One I’ve been told before.
As Roland comes around the corner, he realizes what story it is: the one where Marten Broadcloak stops Roland as Roland passes by on his way to the rooftop, where it will perhaps be cooler. “You, boy,” Marten will say. “Come in! Don’t stand in the hall! Your mother wants to speak to you.” But of course that isn’t the truth, was never the truth, will never
the truth, no matter how much time slips and bends. What Marten wants is for the boy to see his mother, and to understand that Gabrielle Deschain has become the mistress of his father’s wizard. Marten wants to goad the boy into an early test of manhood while his father is away and can’t put a stop to it; he wants to get the puppy out of his way before it can grow teeth long enough to bite.
Now they will see all this; the sad comedy will go its sad and preordained course in front of their eyes.
I’m too young,
Jake thinks, but of course he is not too young; Roland will be only three years older when he comes to Mejis with his friends and meets Susan upon the Great Road. Only three years older when he loves her; only three years older when he loses her.
I don’t care, I don’t want to see it—
And won’t, he realizes as Roland draws closer; all that has already happened. For this is not August, the time of Full Earth, but late fall or early winter. He can tell by the
Roland wears, a souvenir of his trip to the Outer Arc, and by the vapor that smokes from his mouth and nose each time he exhales: no central heating in Gilead, and it’s cold up here.
There are other changes as well: Roland is now wearing the guns which are his birthright, the big ones with the sandalwood grips.
His father passed them on at the banquet,
Jake thinks. He doesn’t know how he knows this, but he does. And Roland’s face, although still that of a boy, is not the open, untried face of the one who idled up this same corridor five months before; the boy who was ensnared by Marten has been through much since then, and his battle with Cort has been the very least of it.
Jake sees something else, too: the boy gunslinger is wearing the red cowboy boots.
He doesn’t know it, though. Because this isn’t really happening.
Yet somehow it is. They are inside the wizard’s glass, they are inside the pink storm (those pink halos revolving around the light fixtures remind Jake of The Falls of the Hounds, and the moonbows revolving in the mist), and this is happening all over again.
“Roland!” Eddie calls from where he and Susannah stand by the tapestry. Susannah gasps and squeezes his shoulder, wanting him to be silent, but Eddie ignores her. “No, Roland! Don’t! Bad idea!”
“No! Olan!” Oy yaps.
Roland ignores both of them, and he passes by Jake a hand’s breadth away without seeing him. For Roland, they are not here; red boots or no red boots, this
is far in his future.
He stops at a door near the end of the corridor, hesitates, then raises his fist and knocks. Eddie starts down the corridor toward him, still holding Susannah’s hand . . . now he looks almost as if he is dragging her.
“Come on, Jake,” says Eddie.
“No, I don’t want to.”
“It’s not about what you want, and you know it. We’re supposed to see. If we can’t stop him, we can at least do what we came here to do. Now come on!”
Heart heavy with dread, his stomach clenched in a knot, Jake comes along. As they approach Roland—the guns look enormous on his slim hips, and his unlined but already tired face somehow makes Jake feel like weeping—the gunslinger knocks again.
“She ain’t there, sugar!” Susannah shouts at him. “She ain’t there or she ain’t answering the door, and which one it is don’t matter to you! Leave it! Leave
She ain’t worth it! Just bein your mother don’t make her worth it! Go away!”
But he doesn’t hear her, either, and he doesn’t go away. As Jake, Eddie, Susannah, and Oy gather unseen behind him, Roland tries the door to his mother’s room and finds it unlocked. He opens it, revealing a shadowy chamber decorated with silk hangings. On the floor is a rug that looks like the Persians beloved of Jake’s mother . . . only this rug, Jake knows, comes from the Province of Kashamin.
On the far side of the parlor, by a window which has been shuttered against the winter winds, Jake sees a low-backed chair and knows it is the one she was in on the day of Roland’s manhood test; it is where she was sitting when her son observed the love-bite on her neck.
The chair is empty now, but as the gunslinger takes another step into the room and turns to look toward the apartment’s bedroom, Jake observes a pair of shoes—black, not red—beneath the drapes flanking the shuttered window.
“Roland!” he shouts. “Roland, behind the drapes! Someone behind the drapes! Look out!”
But Roland doesn’t hear.
“Mother?” he calls, and even his voice is the same, Jake would know it anywhere . . . but it is such a magically freshened version of it! Young and uncracked by all the years of dust and wind and cigarette smoke. “Mother, it’s Roland! I want to talk to you!”
Still no answer. He walks down the short hall which leads to the bedroom. Part of Jake wants to stay here in the parlor, to go to that drape and yank it aside, but he knows this isn’t the way it’s supposed to go. Even if he tried, he doubts it would do any good; his hand would likely pass right through, like the hand of a ghost.
“Come on,” Eddie says. “Stay with him.”
They go in a cluster that might have been comic under other circumstances. Not under these; here it is a case of three people desperate for the comfort of friends.
Roland stands looking at the bed against the room’s left wall. He looks at it as if hypnotized. Perhaps he is trying to imagine Marten in it with his mother; perhaps he is remembering Susan, with whom he never slept in a proper bed, let alone a canopied luxury such as this. Jake can see the gunslinger’s dim profile in a three-paneled mirror across the room, in an alcove. This triple glass stands in front of a small table the boy recognizes from his mother’s side of his parents’ bedroom; it is a vanity.
The gunslinger shakes himself and comes back from whatever thoughts have seized his mind. On his feet are those terrible boots; in this dim light, they look like the boots of a man who has walked through a creek of blood.
He takes a step toward the bed and actually bends a little, as if he thinks she might be hiding under it. If she’s been hiding, however, it wasn’t there; the shoes which Jake saw beneath the drape were women’s shoes, and the shape which now stands at the end of the short corridor, just outside the bedroom door, is wearing a dress. Jake can see its hem.
And he sees more than that. Jake understands Roland’s troubled relationship with his mother and father better than Eddie or Susannah ever could, because Jake’s own parents are peculiarly like them: Elmer Chambers is a gunslinger for the Network, and Megan Chambers has a long history of sleeping with sick friends. This is nothing Jake has been told,
but he knows, somehow; he has shared
with his mother and father, and he knows what he knows.
He knows something about Roland, as well: that he saw his mother in the wizard’s glass. It was Gabrielle Deschain, fresh back from her retreat in Debaria, Gabrielle who would confess to her husband the errors of her ways and her thinking after the banquet, who would cry his pardon and beg to be taken back to his bed . . . and, when Steven drowsed after their lovemaking, she would bury the knife in his breast . . . or perhaps only lightly scratch his arm with it, not even waking him. With that knife, it would come to the same either way.
Roland had seen it all in the glass before finally turning the wretched thing over to his father, and Roland had put a stop to it. To save Steven Deschain’s life, Eddie and Susannah would have said, had they seen so far into the business, but Jake has the unhappy wisdom of unhappy children and sees further. To save his mother’s life as well. To give her one last chance to recover her sanity, one last chance to stand at her husband’s side and be true. One last chance to repent of Marten Broadcloak.
Surely she will, surely she must! Roland saw her face that day, how unhappy she was, and surely she must! Surely she cannot have
the magician! If he can only make her
see. . .
So, unaware that he has once more lapsed into the unwisdom of the very young—Roland cannot grasp that unhappiness and shame are often no match for desire—he has come here to speak to his mother, to beg her to come back to her husband before it’s too late. He has saved her from herself once, he will tell her, but he cannot do it again.
And if she still won’t go,
or tries to brave it out, pretend she doesn’t know what he’s talking about, he’ll give her a choice: leave Gilead with his help—now, tonight—or be clapped in chains tomorrow morning, a traitor so outrageous she will almost certainly be hung as Hax the cook was hung.
“Mother?” he calls, still unaware of the shape standing in the shadows behind him. He takes one further step into the room, and now the shape moves. The shape raises its hands. There is something in its hands. Not a gun, Jake can tell that much, but it has a deadly look to it, a
“Roland, watch out!” Susannah shrieks, and her voice is
like a magical switch. There is something on the dressing table—the glass, of course; Gabrielle has stolen it, it’s what she’ll bring to her lover as a consolation prize for the murder her son prevented—and now it lights as if in response to Susannah’s voice. It sprays brilliant pink light up the triple mirror and casts its glow back into the room. In that light, in that triple glass, Roland finally sees the figure behind him.
Eddie Dean shrieks, horrified.
“Oh Christ, Roland! That’s not your mother! That’s—”
It’s not even a woman, not really, not anymore; it is a kind of living corpse in a road-filthy black dress. There are only a few straggling tufts of hair left on her head and there’s a gaping hole where her nose used to be, but her eyes still blaze, and the snake she holds wriggling between her hands is
lively. Even in his own horror, Jake has time to wonder if she got it from under the same rock where she found the one Roland killed.
It is Rhea who has been waiting for the gunslinger in his mother’s apartment; it is the Cöos, come not just to retrieve her glam but to finish with the boy who has caused her so much trouble.
“Now, ye trollop’s get!” she cries shrilly, cackling. “Now ye’ll pay!”
But Roland has seen her, in the glass he has seen her, Rhea betrayed by the very ball she came to take back, and now he is whirling, his hands dropping to his new guns with all their deadly speed. He is fourteen, his reflexes are the sharpest and quickest they’ll ever be, and he goes off like exploding gunpowder.
“No, Roland, don’t!”
“It’s a trick, it’s a glam!”
Jake has just time to look from the mirror to the woman actually standing in the doorway; has just time to realize he, too, has been tricked.
Perhaps Roland also understands the truth at the last split-second—that the woman in the doorway really
his mother after all, that the thing in her hands isn’t a snake but a belt, something she has made for him, a peace offering
mayhap, that the glass has lied to him in the only way it
. . . by reflection.
In any case, it’s too late. The guns are out and thundering, their bright yellow flashes lighting the room. He pulls the
trigger of each gun twice before he can stop, and the four slugs drive Gabrielle Deschain back into the corridor with the hopeful can-we-make-peace smile still on her face.
She dies that way, smiling.
Roland stands where he is, the smoking guns in his hands, his face cramped in a grimace of surprise and horror, just beginning to get the truth of what he must carry with him the rest of his life: he has used the guns of his father to kill his mother.
Now cackling laughter fills the room. Roland does not turn; he is frozen by the woman in the blue dress and black shoes who lies bleeding in the corridor of her apartment; the woman he came to save and has killed, instead. She lies with the hand-woven belt draped across her bleeding stomach.
Jake turns for him, and is not surprised to see a green-faced woman in a pointed black hat swimming inside the ball. It is the Wicked Witch of the East; it is also, he knows, Rhea of the Cöos. She stares at the boy with the guns in his hands and bares her teeth at him in the most terrible grin Jake has ever seen in his life.