Rating: R, overall for violence, language and sexual situations.
Summary: The world of Lotrips mingles with Stephen King's The Stand (and The Dark Tower). For those who've survived Captain Trips, life has become dangerous and strange. Time has finally come for the final confrontation with the Dark Man, Randall Flagg, in Las Vegas. Heavy angst!
Feedback: is much loved and appreciated.
Disclaimers: This is entirely fictional. No disrespect to anyone, real or fictional, is intended. The Stand was written by Stephen King and a small amount of the dialogue at the end of this chapter comes from that book. The title comes from T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men. Any disgustingness regarding teeth is entirely the fault of Mr. King.
Previous chapters: Sema's Fic List; Chapter 46
I'm sorry to have to refer you to my old fic listing for the past chapters, but since I no longer have access to my previous LJ (not being clever enough to have remembered my password), this was the best I could do. I hope this it doesn't cause too much inconvenience. I also hope that, even though it's been four flippin' years, some of you will want to pick up this story again. It's actually written all the way through to the end now, except for polishing and posting.
This Is the Way the World Ends, Part 47
Dom's expected, somehow, to fly forward again, to find Larry (perhaps not so Fucking, not anymore) Underwood and his friend Ralph, to comfort them as he comforted Glenn Bateman in his last hours. To help them, if he has it in him, to Stand before the Dark Man.
Instead, there's a feeling of having taken a giant step backward, the feeling of having a body's weight once more heavy around him. He's lying on his back, in what he senses is the middle of nowhere, desert wind and grit stinging his skin. The smell of sage in the air is overwhelming. He sneezes half-a-dozen times, which makes him sit up--it's hard to sneeze whilst flat-out on one's arse.
The sun's burning bright in his eyes, because he can see. Holy fuck, he can see!
From not too far in the distance comes a low, grinding whine. Much, much further away, in the opposite direction, is a dim, dull glow that might, just might, be the lights of Las Vegas.
Dom climbs to his feet, unsteady for a moment, wondering if the body he's wearing is actually his body, it feels so different. When he looks down, though, he sees his arms, his hands, his legs, his feet. Is all of him here, he wonders, or is something left behind with Billy and the others? He hates the thought of himself just fading away from before Billy's eyes.
He hates even more the thought that he's here, in the flesh, sighted or not. Before, with Glen, incorporeal, he felt safe. He doesn't feel safe now. There's a sudden fear of what might be asked of him.
What if he, too, is required to Stand?
I won't do it, he thinks. I fucking won't. You can't ask that of me!
Only Dom knows, if things come down to it, he will. If that's what's required to save Billy, to save their friends, to save the other good people of this world, of course he will. If the only other option is to let the Dark Man trample over them all, he doesn't have it in him to refuse.
And it has to be him, Dom knows that--he's not even meant to be alive anyway.
That thought, that strange thought, makes his heart beat funny for a moment.
He wishes he could see Billy one last time. He wishes they could lie together on the gaudy Aloha sheets of their bed in Hawaii, the windows, unlatched above their heads, carrying in a sweet tropical wind, making slow, lazy love as they'd sometimes do for hours on a Sunday afternoon, when he didn't have to work. He'd like to see Billy's face as he comes, his eyes going soft and unfocused, the perfect bow of his mouth curving open. He'd love to taste Billy's skin, salt and sweet on his tongue.
He wishes he could kiss Billy one last time.
Though he doesn't want to, Dom heads toward the grinding whine. There's a feeling associated with it, like something that's just beyond the spectrum of what his eyes can see, his ears can hear. It's filthy, terrifying, evil, the opposite of everything he loves, everything he believes in: the green earth, the animals, the trees. It's the opposite of friendship and life and love.
When he gets close, he sees exactly what it is, and why it's terrified him so: it's a bomb. No, it's THE Bomb, and the filthiness he's feeling is its unshielded radiation leaking into the air. If he looks just right he can see it after all--an oily glimmer, silvery-red.
The bomb's loaded into a small trailer behind a sturdy motorized cart with big balloon tyres, and it's the cart making the whine, because its driver has fallen forward onto the controls, throwing them into neutral, perhaps. He's obviously had more than his share of the radiation, poor bloke, because from what Dom can see, there's not a scrap of hair left on his head, and his skin runs with bloody sores.
Madness, pain and sickness emanate from him, virulent as the radiation, and Dom is nearly overcome with pity.
Poor bastard. Poor, daft--as Billy would say--driven bastard.
Despite the ravages of the radiation sickness, Dom knows him at once: he's met him before, in his dreams-that-weren't-dreams. This is Donald Merwin Elbert, who didn't want to be called the Trashcan Man.
"Mate," Dom says softly. "Donald." Gently as he can, he lifts the man's head. He's only one eye left, and it's filmed, all but blind. On his cracked lips, Dom reads the words, "My life for him."
Dom sits down hard, suddenly legless, pressing his hands to his mouth.
In an instant he knows, he knows, exactly what he's meant to do. The voice, that isn't a voice apart from him any longer, but some extra sense inside himself, has made it clear.
He's to heal Donald Merwin Elbert as best he can, because the poor mad git is dying, and he's not to die, not before he's reached his promised land.
Cibola. The odd word echoes in Dom's head. My life for him.
He's to bring Donald Merwin Elbert, never to be called the Trashcan Man, before the Hardcase in Las Vegas, with his filthy, leaking bomb, his precious gift for his dark lord.
And then, having done these two things, he is to Stand.
Billy, Dom thinks, in utter despair. Oh, God, my Billy.
He'd like to weep, but the tears seem to have dried up inside him. He'd like to rage, but it seems resignation has stolen over his heart.
Quietly, he rises, climbing into a small space behind the driver's seat, cupping his hands round Donald's head, the force he doesn't understand flowing out and away from him, through the other man's all-but-destroyed body and back again, into him, bearing its awful poison, so that Donald Merwin Elbert straightens, even if it's only into an anguished hunch, looking around himself one nearly-seeing eye, a new force of life and intent, however demon-driven, pumping through his veins.
He shifts the gears, and the great balloon tyres roll forward.
Dom vomits over the edge of the cart, onto the gritty earth.
"Go, dog, go!" Max is screaming, over and over and over again. Billy snatches him up, not having bothered with anything else but his guns, all but throwing the boy into the SUV, where Elijah's waiting to buckle him in. Viggo and Sean are stumbling across the courtyard, carrying Dom, whom they toss, none too gently, into the cargo hold at the back.
Dom's been unconscious, unresponsive, for over a day now.
Billy climbs in with him. It's a bit of a squeeze, but better than Dom rattling around unrestrained.
Viggo drives. Orli's in the shotgun seat, Elijah, Max and Sean in the next seat back. They're all breathing hard, pumped on adrenaline, their entire exit having taken less than three minutes.
Max is silent now, eyes wide.
"The fuck?" Elijah wonders.
"Just drive, Vig," Billy says tersely.
Beside him, Dom is suddenly, violently sick, though there's little enough inside him. Wordless, Sean passes back a towel.
"Er… Where are we going?" Orli asks, after some time has passed.
"Home," Viggo answers, then clarifies, "North. To Idaho. We'll be driving all day and all night, not stopping. When I can't go any further, Billy takes over, then Sean."
There's silence, but it's the silence of agreement. Billy suspects they all share his own feeling--that it's crucial to put as many miles between themselves and Las Vegas as they possibly can. Pushing the soiled towel as far away as he's able, he scoots closer to Dom, stroking Dom's pale cheek with the backs of his fingers.
"D'you hear, love?" he murmurs. "We're going home now. We'll be safe soon."
When he moves to brush Dom's hair from his eyes, a great thatch of it comes out in his hands. He stares at the fine gold-tinted strands as they drift from his fingers, horrified. "Ah, Dommie," he breathes, "Ah, Dom."
Elijah's peering over the back of the seat. His eyes widen. "Billy…?"
"I don't know, Lij. I don't know!" Billy says, savagely--but in his heart, he does know, without knowing how he's come to the awareness. He knows Dom, the real part of his Dom, Dom's soul, if he can call it such a thing, is in a terrible place.
He knows Dom's soul is going to the Dark Man, to the Smiling Man, Randall Flagg.
The cart doesn't move quickly across the wasteland, but it does move steadily, grit and sagebrush crunching under its balloon tyres. The heat's nearly unbearable, but whether it's fever or the Nevada sun that makes it so, Dom couldn't say. He only knows they've been rolling along for an unknowable time, and that he's dying, truly dying, not so quickly as Donald Merwin Elbert, but quickly enough. The nausea's like a living thing inside him, his mouth and throat, stomach and guts burn. His teeth are loose in their sockets. His hair's been coming out steadily, in clumps.
Call it the last gasp of his vanity, but he's glad Billy can't see him.
He keeps his hand on his companion's shoulder, the healing energy only enough now, coupled with the drive of Donald's madness, to keep body and soul pasted thinly together.
The lights of Vegas are growing before their eyes, rising out of the desert floor like something from a magic act. So bright. So many colours. They blur and dazzle, painfully.
Dom's sorry for all the people who will die if this goes right. It's like he thought before: they can't all be bad. Most are probably just misguided, or, like Orli, found themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe they were just afraid. Or Boulder seemed too far.
"You dance with the devil, you have to pay the piper," his Irish gran used to say.
Still, death by A-bomb as a price, seems unfairly high.
"Almost there, Donald," Dom tells his companion. "Almost there, mate."
Donald's mumbling, something along the lines of, "I will bring you fire, Lord!" It's hard to tell, precisely. A while back--one of the more horrible things Dom has ever seen--he'd sicked out his own teeth. They'd both stared at the stained white lumps littered over the dash and Dom had thought, for a moment, that he couldn't bear it, that he was going to pass out, or perhaps go mad himself, the awfulness simply too much for him, as Donald gave a horrid bubbling laugh and crowed out again, "My life for you!"
My life for you, Dom thinks, only he's imagining Billy, Lijah, Viggo, Sean, Orli. Little Max. Toni and Sonja too, back in Idaho. He's thinking of Sean and Sonja's baby, growing now in Sonja's belly, hoping it will be immune to the flu, as its parents are immune.
In a rare, brief moment of blessing, he sees the baby will be a little girl, blue-eyed, with Sonja's raven-black hair. He can see her cuddled in Sean's arms, Sean so proud, almost whole again.
He makes beautiful girls, Sean does.
With his hands, Dom swipes unwanted tears from his face; they come away smeared in red. He's imagining the others--his family now and always--come winter, snug and warm and fed, because Vig's provided for them so well.
I love you, he thinks, God, I love you. All of you. Be safe. Be happy. Be well. Mum and Margaret too, in Scotland. And Billy, especially Billy, my forever love.
Dom remembers what he'd write on autographs, back in the day: Be merry. Because that was what one had to do, wasn't it?--even after the world's end--grab fast to life, hold it, not let go. Find the joy in it, the love for what remained, the courage to build again.
He'd been shamed, before, if this was truly what it took, that he'd been so very afraid to die. He'd wondered if Larry and Ralph were afraid, or if they were standing tall in front of Flagg, meeting his terrible eyes, laughing in his face.
Dom's still afraid, but he reckons now that's all right. No one said he couldn't be scared. He figures, to not be scared, one would have to be a bloody raving lunatic, like poor Donald Merwin Elbert
They've come to the outskirts now, the edges of town where the buildings are mostly low and grey, one-storeyed, far from the flash and colour of The Strip, where hotels and casinos reach into the sky. Funny, Dom thinks, how it's so dull here, when from far away the city appeared so inviting. Maybe it's just that his eyesight's gone wonky-which is a bit of a laugh, considering that up to the point of this adventure he's been totally blind-as if a milky film's come over his eyes. His body jolts a bit as the tyres roll onto tarmac.
And there they are, in Sin City, Donald laughing again with that sick, bubbling sound. He knows he's nearly made it, that he'll make his sacrifice or have his redemption or whatever the fuck he thinks this is about. All Dom can think is that his companion's dark lord might not be quite so glad to see him, and his special gift, as the poor mad git might imagine. If there's anything like imagination, that is, left in Donald's sadly deluded mind.
In his own mind, he sees their destination: it's a hotel-casino, one of the tall ones, with big golden pyramids on either side of the door, tacky as shite. There's grass out front, a big patch of it, which must have been green and lush once, but now is trampled, cut, torn up.
When they get there, there'll be people, a whole throng, like it's Woodstock all over again, only without the love and joy. They'll have come, the people of Vegas, Flagg's people, because their master's called them. They'll have come for the spectacle.
Drawn up on the ruined lawn will be two flat-bed lorries, and on each of the lorries will be a cage of steel pipes. In each of the cages will be chained a man: Ralph in one, Larry in the other. They'll be half naked, and half-starved, and entirely unbowed.
Their voices carry to him, the merest rustle on the desert wind:
I will fear no evil.
"Ich fürchte kein Unglück," Dom murmurs, the words as he'd learned them in the far-off churches of his boyhood.
Add seeing Germany to the list of things he'd like to do again--though he's aware the Germany he once knew no longer exists.
The buildings are growing around them, becoming taller. Donald's breathing has become a terrible percolation, though his strength seems to surge as Dom's ebbs; it's all Dom can do to cling to the cart.
Looking down at his hands, clutched onto the cart's metal side, he realizes he's lost six of his ten fingernails. Their beds are raw, but he hasn't felt the pain.
There's neon beginning to appear, some of it animated, flashing foolishly, pointlessly. Why? Dom can't help but wonder. It seems so banal. The street ahead of them runs perfectly straight, broad enough to drive three buses down abreast. It makes him laugh a little, because it looks as if his gran (his Irish gran again, of course--she was the one full of sayings)really was right after all: the road to hell is straight and wide. Only Dom doesn't think she meant it so literally.
He laughs again, and blood bubbles out of his mouth, down his chin. He's fastidious enough, still, to wipe it away.
In the distance now he can detect the crowd, despite the milkiness of his vision. Their voices make a faint, disquieting burble, a liquid counterpoint to the steady gratch-gratch-gratch of the balloon tyres on asphalt. A blue light hangs above their heads: now small, now larger, its brightness growing until it's all Dom can do not to shield his eyes and turn away.
He knows he must not turn away. That's important now.
You done good, little English boy, Mother Abigail's voice tells him, in his head. You done fine. Only a little time to come 'fore you lay your burdens down.
But I don't want to lay my burdens down, Dom wishes he could say. I'd much rather go back to Billy.
He doesn't speak a word, though; it's a moot point anyway.
There's a tall figure pointing at the light, shouting in a voice like a thunderstorm, full of noise and lightning. "Is there anyone here who disagrees with my sentence? If so, let him speak now!"
Flagg! It's Flagg! Dom thinks, and he's taken aback for a moment because of the sheer ordinariness of the Dark Man. He's dressed as Viggo often dresses, in boots and jeans and a denim jacket-but when he looks closer, looks underneath, he sees something else entirely, something huge and dark and hunched, with a cat's slitted yellow eyes.
And yet, even that shape doesn't frighten him.
He can hear Ralph's and Larry's voices clearly now, from inside the improvised cages, and he rises in the cart, standing steadily as he can, adding his own voice to theirs in a clarion call. "I will fear no evil!" His eyes meet the eyes of the other men, and there is perfect understanding between them, perfect courage, perfect--dare he say it--joy.
Be merry, Dom thinks, and smiles with his bloody mouth. Above him, the bright blue light dances in the air like an alien firefly.
This dark, hunched, deceitful thing that calls itself Flagg will not take the people they love. It will not take their humanity. It will not take anything that matters in all of the world, not now, not ever again, and if they three have to die to set the seal on that, so be it.
The crowd is breaking up now, murmuring, scattering, screaming. Dimly, Dom hears exclamations of "Can! Can Man! Trash! Trashy!"
Poor Donald, Dom thinks, to hear, at the very end, that hated name.
Flagg, the man who isn't a man at all, or even Dark anymore, but pale and looking altogether shite-scared, glances over his shoulder at the men in the cages, the men he's meant to humiliate and torture and break. He looks to Dom, balanced unsteadily in the back or the lurching, rocking, wheezing cart. Last of all, he looks to his nemesis, his disciple, the one, in all the world, who loves him best of all: Donald Merwin Elbert, who he's thought of, so dismissively, as the Trashcan Man.
"I brought it!" Donald babbles brightly, in his mad, ravaged voice. "I brought you the fire… Please… I'm sorry…"
Flagg doesn't say anything. Rather, he seems completely at a loss. His mouth gapes open.
A stocky, sunburned bloke with a scrap of paper in his hand steps into the breach. It's Lloyd, Dom realizes. Flagg's toady. The one who shot poor Glen so clumsily. "Trash…" he calls, cajolingly, as if speaking to a child. "Trashy, baby…"
"Lloyd?" Donald wonders. "That you?" He's peering with his one ruined eye, and with the radiation chewing its way through his brain, chances are he'd scarcely have recognized his own mum.
"It's me, Trash." Lloyd's shaking like mad, but he's does possess a pair of bollocks after all, Dom has to give him that. "What's that you got there? Is it…?"
Donald rocks in ecstasy on his seat. "It's the Big One. It's the A-bomb. The A-bomb, the big fire, my life for you!" he cries out, transported, as blood flows in a flood over his face, down the front of his tattered shirt. He's so near death now there's almost no separation; it's only his madness that keeps him animated.
"Take it away, Trash," red-faced Lloyd whispers, obviously too horrified to realize that Donald Merwin Elbert isn't going anywhere, at any time, ever again. "It's dangerous. It's… It's hot. Take it away."
"Make him take it away, Lloyd," Flagg whines, and Dom thinks, with disgust, So much for the fucking majesty of evil.
It's then, though, that his eyes are caught by the firefly of light, which grows, and grows until it blots out a large part of the sky. Runners of blue fire shoot from its sides, like hairs or cobwebs or roots, except they're energized, alive.
And Ralph calls out, "Larry! Larry! The Hand of God!" His face is filled with such joy Dom can scarcely bear to look; it's as if he's intruded on a private moment he wasn't meant to see, a moment of perfect love, perfect understanding.
The air's so filled with static Dom knows every hair he has would be standing on end--if he'd any left to him, that is.
The blue runners don't look anything like hairs or cobwebs or roots anymore. They look like fingers. Above them in the air, the blue light has become a hand, exactly like a hand, though whether that hand is God's, Dom could not say.
One minute Flagg's there, in his clothes like Viggo might sometimes wear. In the next there's only the shape Dom glimpsed before: the hunched, dark, shapeless thing with the yellow cat's eyes. The ordinary clothes stand up a moment all on their own, holding the shape of the body that had once been inside, before collapsing, in a jumble, on the ground.
"Oh shit we're all fucked!" Lloyd cries, as the hand comes rushing down, opening, toward the cart. It's like lightning and neon, like both and neither. It looks fake, like a special effect, and not an entirely convincing one at that--and it looks terribly, frighteningly real.
As it wraps around the bomb, everything goes slow. Dom's nose, what senses are left to him, tingles with the sizzle of electricity. His heart beats wildly, unsteadily in his chest. He steps down, the ground trembling beneath his feet, smiling at Ralph, smiling at Larry, as they smile back at him.
I'm sorry, Dom thinks, That I couldn't have known you, mates.
He thinks, Here, at the end of all things. But that's Lijah's line, not his.
The detonation, when it comes, is the explosion of a hundred million suns.
Dom is burning.
He is in a billion pieces, never to be joined again.
He is floating on warm, golden, autumn-scented air.
All shall be well and all shall be well
- Fic: This Is the Way the World Ends, Chapter 47