Oct 26

"Before the Play" by Stephen King

Scene II. A Bedroom in the Wee Hours of the Morning

(read Scene I here)

Coming here had been a mistake, and Lottie Kilgallon didn’t like to

admit her mistakes.

And I won’t admit this one, she thought with determination as she

stared up at the ceiling that glimmered overhead.

Her husband of ten days slumbered beside her. Sleeping the sleep

of the wise was what some might have called it. Others, more

honest, might have called it the sleep of the monumentally’ stupid.

He was William Pillsbury of the Westchester Pillsbury’s only son and

heir of Harold M. Pillsbury, old and comfortable money. Publishing

was what they liked to talk about, because publishing was a

gentleman’s profession, but there was also a chain of New England

textile a foundry in Ohio, and extensive agricultural holdings in the

south - cotton and citrus and fruit. Old money was always better

than noveau riche, but either way they had money falling out of

their assholes. If she ever said that aloud to Bill, he would

undoubtedly go pale and might even faint dead away. No fear, Bill.

Profanation of the Pillsbury family shall never cross my lips.

It had been her idea to honeymoon at the Overlook in Colorado,

and there had been two reasons for this. First, although it was

tremendously expensive (as the best resorts were), it was not a

"hep" place to go, and Lottie did not like to go to the hep places.

Where did you go on your honeymoon, Lottie? Oh, this perfectly

wonderful resort hotel in Colorado - the Overlook. Lovely place.

Quite out of the way but so romantic. And her friends - whose

stupidity was exceeded in most cases only by that of William

Pillsbury himself - would look at her in dumb - literally! - wonder.

Lottie had done it again.

Her second reason had been of more personal importance. She had

wanted to honeymoon at the Overlook because Bill wanted to go to

Rome. It was imperative to find out certain things as soon as

possible. Would she be able to have her own way immediately? And

if not, how long would it take to grind him down? He was stupid,

and he had followed her around like a dog with its tongue hanging

out since her debutante ball, but would he be as malleable after

the ring was slipped on as he had been before?

Lottie smiled a little in the dark in spite of her lack of sleep and

the bad dreams she had had since they arrived here. Arrived here,

that was the key phrase. “Here” was not the American Hotel in

Rome but the Overlook in Colorado. She was going to be able to

manage him just fine, and that was the important thing. She would

only make him stay another four days (she had originally planned on

three weeks, but the bad dreams had changed that), and then could

go back to New York. After all, that was where the action was in

this August of 1929. The stock market was going crazy, the sky was

the limit, and Lottie expected to be an heiress to multi-millions

instead of just one or two millions by this time next year. Of course

there were some weak sisters who claimed the market was riding

for a fall, but no one had ever called Lottie Kilgallon a weak sister.

Lottie Kilgallon Pillsbury now, at least that’s the way I’ll have to

sign my letters … and my checks, of course. But inside I’ll always

be Lottie Kilgallon. Because he’s never going to touch me. Not

inside where it counts.

The most tiresome thing about this first contest of her marriage

was that Bill actually liked the Overlook. He was up every day at

two minutes past the crack of dawn, disturbing what ragged bits of

sleep she had managed after the restless nights, staring eagerly out

at the sunrise like some sort of disgusting Greek nature boy. He had

been hiking two or three times, he had gone on several nature rides

with other guests, and bored her almost to the point of screaming

with stories about the horse he rode on these jaunts, a bay mare

named Tessie. He had tried to get her to go on these outings with

him, but Lottie refused. Riding meant slacks, and her posterior was

just a trifle too wide for slacks. The idiot had also suggested that

she go hiking with him and some of the others - the caretaker’s son

doubled as a guide, Bill enthused, and he knew a hundred trails.

The amount of game you saw, Bill said, would make you think it was

1829 instead of a hundred years later. Lottie had dumped cold

water on this idea, too.

'I believe, darling, that all hikes should be one-way, you see.”

"One way?" His wide anglo-saxon brow criggled and croggled into

its usual expression of befuddlement. “How can you have a one-way

hike, Lottie?”

"By hailing a taxi to take you home when your feet begin to hurt,"

she replied coldly. The barb was wasted. He went without her, and

came back glowing. The stupid bastard was getting a tan.

She had not even enjoyed their evenings of bridge in the

downstairs recreation room, and that was most unlike her. She was

something of a barracuda at bridge, and if it had been ladylike to

play for stakes in mixed company, she could have brought a cash

dowry to her marriage (not that she would have, of course). Bill was

a good bridge partner, too, he had both qualifications. He

understood the basic rules and he allowed Lottie to dominate him.

She thought it was poetic justice that her new husband spent most

of their bridge evenings as the dummy.

Their partners at the Overlook were the Compsons occasionally,

the Vereckers more frequently. Verecker was in his early seventies,

a surgeon who had retired following a near-fatal heart attack. His

wife smiled a lot, spoke softly, and had eyes like shiny nickles. They

played only adequate bridge, but they kept beating Lottie and Bill.

On the occasions when the men played against the women, the men

ended up trouncing Lottie and Malvina Verecker. When Lottie and

Dr. Verecker played Bill and Malvina, she and the doctor usually

won but there was no pleasure in it because Bill was a dullard and

Malvina could not see the game of bridge as anything but a social


Two nights ago, after the doctor and his wife had made a bid of

four clubs that they had absolutely no right to make, Lottie had

mussed the cards in a sudden flash of pique that was very unlike

her. She usually kept her feelings under much better control.

"You could have led into my spades on that third trick!" She rattled

at Bill. “That would have put a stop to it right there!”

"But dear," Bill said, flustered, "I thought you were thin in spades-"

"If I had been thin in spades, I shouldn’t have bid two of them,

should I? Why I continue to play this game with you I don’t know!”

The Vereckers blinked at them in mild surprise. Later that evening

Mrs. Verecker, she of the nickle-bright eyes, would tell her husband

that she had thought them such a nice couple, so loving, but when

she rumpled the cards like that she had looked just like a female

shrew … or was that a shrewess?

Bill was staring at her with his jaw agape.

"I’m very sorry," she said, gathering up the reins of her control and

giving them an inward shake. “I’m off my feed a little, I suppose. I

haven’t been sleeping well.”

"That’s a pity," the doctor said. "Usually this mountain air … we’re

almost twelve thousand feet above sea level, you know … is very

conducive to good rest. Less oxygen, you know. The body doesn’t-“

"I’ve had bad dreams," Lottie told him shortly.

And so she had. Not just bad dreams but nightmares. She had

never been much of a one to dream (which said something

disgusting and Freudian about her psyche, no doubt), even as a

child. Oh yes, there had been some, pretty humdrum affairs,

mostly. The only one she could remember that came even close to

being a nightmare was one in which she had been delivering a Good

Citizenship speech at the school assembly and had looked down to

discover she had forgotten to put on her dress. Later someone had

told her almost everyone had a dream like that at sometime or


The dreams that she had had at the Overlook were much worse. It

was not a case of one dream or two repeating themselves with

variations; they were all different. Only the setting of each was

similar: in each one she found herself in a different part of the

Overlook Hotel. Each dream would begin with an awareness on her

part that she was dreaming, and that something terrible and

frightening was going to happen to her in the course of the dream.

There was an inevitability about it that was particularly awful.

In one of them she had been hurrying for the elevator because she

was late for dinner, so late that Bill had already gone down before

her in a temper.

She rang for the elevator which came promptly and was empty

except for the operator. She thought too late that it was odd; at

mealtimes you could barely wedge yourself in. Even though the

stupid hotel was only half-full, the elevator had a ridiculously small

capacity. Her unease heightened as the elevator descended and

continued to descend … for far too long a time. Surely they must

have reached the lobby or even the basement by now, and still the

operator did not open the doors and still the sensation of downward

motion continued. She tapped him on the shoulder with mixed

feelings of indignation and panic, aware too late of how spongy he

felt, how strange, like a scarecrow stuffed with rotten straw. And

as he turned his head and grinned at her she saw that the elevator

was being piloted by a dead man, his face a greenish-white corpsehue,

his eyes sunken, the hair under his cap lifeless and sere. The

fingers wrapped around the switch were fallen away to bones.

Even as she filled her lungs to shriek, the corpse threw the switch

over and uttered, “Your floor, madam,” in a husked and empty

voice. The doors drew open to reveal flames and basalt plateaus

and the stench of brimstone. The elevator operator had taken her

to hell.

In another near the end of the afternoon she was on the

playground. The light was curiously golden although the sky

overhead was black with thunderheads. Membranes of shower

danced between two of the saw-toothed peaks further west. It was

like a Breughel landscape, a moment of sunshine and low pressure.

And she felt something behind her, moving. Something in the

topiary. And she turned to see with frozen horror that it was the

topiary: the hedge animals had left their places and were creeping

toward her, the green lions, the buffalo, even the rabbit that

usually looked so comic and friendly. Their horrid hedge features

were bent on her as they moved slowly toward the playground on

their hedge paws, green and silent and deadly under the black


In the one she had just awakened from, the hotel had been on

fire. She had awakened in their room to find Bill gone and smoke

drifting slowly through the apartment. She fled in her nightdress

but lost her direction in the narrow halls, which were obscured by

smoke. All the numbers seemed to be gone from the doors, and

there was no way to tell if you were running toward the stairwell

and the elevator or away from it. She had rounded a comer and had

seen Bill standing outside the window at the end, motioning her

forward. Somehow she had run all the way to the back of the hotel

and he was standing out there on the fire escape landing. Now

there was heat baking into her back through the thin filmy stuff of

her nightgown. The place must be in flames behind her, she

thought. Perhaps it had been the boiler. You had to keep an eye on

the boiler because if you didn’t, she would creep on you.

Lottie started forward and suddenly something wrapped around

her arm like a python, holding her back. It was one of the fire hoses

that she had seen spotted along the corridor walls, white canvas

hose in a bright red frame. It had come alive somehow. It writhed

and coiled around her, now securing a leg, now her other arm. She

was held fast and it was getting hotter, hotter. She could hear the

hungry crackle of the flames now only feet behind her. The

wallpaper was peeling and blistering. Bill was gone from the fire

escape landing. And then she had been-

She had been awake in the big double bed, no smell of smoke, and

Bill Pillsbury sleeping the sleep of the justly stupid beside her. She

had been running sweat, and if it hadn’t been so late she would

have gotten up to shower. It was quarter past three in the morning.

Dr. Verecker had offered to give her a sleeping medicine, but

Lottie had refused. She distrusted any concoction you put in your

body to knock out your mind. It was like giving up the command of

your ship voluntarily, and she had sworn to herself that she would

never do that.

But for the next four days … well, he played shuffleboard in the

mornings with his nickle-eyed wife. Perhaps she would look him up

and get the prescription after all.

Lottie looked up at the white ceiling high above her, glimmering

ghostlike, and admitted again that the Overlook had been a very

bad mistake. None of the ads for the Overlook in the New Yorker or

The American Mercury mentioned that the place’s real specialty

seemed to be giving people the whim-whams. Four more days, and

that was plenty. It had been a mistake, all right, but it was a

mistake she would never admit, or have to admit. in fact, she was

sure that she could

You had to keep an eye on the boiler because if you didn’t, she

would creep on you. What did that mean, anyway? Or was it just

one of those nonsensical things that sometimes came to you in

dreams, so much gibberish? Of course there was undoubtedly a

boiler in the basement or somewhere to heat the place, even

summer resorts had to have heat sometimes, didn’t they (if only to

supply hot water)? But creep? Would a boiler creep?

You had to keep an eye on the boiler.

It was like one of those crazy riddles, why is a mouse when it runs,

when is a raven like a writing desk, what is a creeping boiler? Is that

like the hedges, maybe? She’d had a dream where the hedges crept.

And a firehose that had - what? - slithered?

A chill touched her. It was not good to think much about the

dreams in the night, in the dark. You could … well, you could

bother yourself. It was better to think about the things you would

be doing when you got back to New York, about how you were going

to convince Bill that a baby was a bad idea for awhile, until he got

firmly settled in the vice presidency his father had awarded him as

a wedding present

She’ll creep on you.

- and how you were going to encourage him to bring his work

home so he would get used to the idea that she was going to be

involved with it, very much involved.

Or did the whole hotel creep? Was that the answer?

I’ll make him a good wife, Lottie thought frantically. We’ll work it

the same way we always worked being bridge partners. He knows

the rules of the game, and he knows enough to let me run him. It

will be just like the bridge, just like that, and if we’ve been off our

game up here that doesn’t mean anything, it’s just the hotel, the


affirming voice: That’s it. The whole place. It … creeps.

"Oh shit," Lottie Kilgallon whispered in the dark. It was dismaying

for her to realize just how badly her nerves were shot. Like the

other nights, there would be no more sleep for her now. She would

lie here in bed until the sun started to come up and then she would

get an uneasy hour or so.

Smoking in bed was a bad habit, a terrible habit, but she had

begun to leave her cigarettes in an ashtray on the floor by the bed

in case of the dreams. Sometimes it calmed her. She reached down

to get the ashtray and the thought burst on her like a revelation:

It does creep, the whole place- like it was alive!

And that was when the hand reached out unseen from under the

bed and gripped her wrist firmly … almost lecherously. A finger-like

canvas scratched suggestively against her palm and something was

under there, something had been under there all the time, and

Lottie began to scream. She screamed until her throat was raw and

hoarse and her eyes were bulging from her face and Bill was awake

and pallid with terror beside her.

When he put on the lamp she leaped from the bed, retreated into

the farthest corner of the room and curled up with her thumb in her


Both Bill and Dr. Verecker tried to find out what was wrong; she

told them, but it was past her thumb, and it was some time before

the realized she was saying, “It crept under the bed. It crept under

the bed.”

And even though they flipped up the coverlet and Bill had actually

lifted the whole bed by its foot off the floor to show her there was

nothing under there, not even a litter of dust kitties, she would not

come out of the corner. When the sun came up, she did at last

come out of the corner. She took her thumb out of her mouth. She

stayed away from the bed. She stared at Bill Pillsbury from her

clown-white face.

"We’re going back to New York," she said. "This morning."

"Of course," Bill muttered. "Of course, dear."

Bill Pillsbury’s father died of a heart attack two weeks after the

stock market crash. Bill and Lottie could not keep the company’s

head above water. Things went from bad to worse. in the years

that followed she thought often of their honeymoon at the Overlook

Hotel, and the dreams, and the canvas hand that had crept out

from under the bed to squeeze her own. She thought about these

things more and more. She committed suicide in a Yonkers motel

room in the year 1949, a woman who was prematurely gray and

prematurely lined. It had been twenty years and a the hand that

had gripped her wrist when she reached down to get her had never

really let go. She left a one-sentence suicide note written on

Holiday Inn stationery. The note said: I wish we had gone to Rome.


  1. jzanity1010 reblogged this from withnailrules
  2. withnailrules posted this

Next Entry Previous Entry