“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 nickel-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 shrew.
Bill was staring at her with jaws agape.
“I’m very sorry,” said Lottie, 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,” said the doctor. “Usually this mountain air – we’re almost 12,000 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 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 125
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 some point or another.
The dreams 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. The stupid hotel was only half full, but 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 corpselike hue, Ms eyes sunken, his 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 husky, empty voice. The door drew open to reveal flames and basalt plateaus and the stench of brimstone. The elevator operator had taken her to hell.
In another dream it was near the end of the afternoon and 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 Brueghel, a moment of sunshine and low pressure. And she felt something beside 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 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 126
playground on their hedge paws, green and silent and deadly under the black thunderheads.
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 nightgown 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 elevator or away from them. She rounded a corner and saw Bill standing outside the window at the end, motioning her forward. Somehow she had run all the way to the back of the hotel; 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 she had seen along the corridor walls, white canvas hose in a bright red frame. It had come alive somehow, and 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 angry 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, with Bill Pillsbury sleeping the sleep of the justly stupid beside her. She was running sweat, and if it, weren’t so late she would get 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 command of your ship voluntarily, and she had sworn to herself that she would never do that.
But what would she do for the next four clays? Well, Verecker played shuffleboard in the mornings with his nickeleyed 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 whimwhams. Four more days, and that was plenty. It had been a mistake, all right, but a mistake she would never admit, or have to admit. In fact, she was sure she could.
You had to keep an eye on the boiler, because if you didn’t, she would creep up 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? Was it, like the hedges, maybe? She’d had a dream where the hedges crept. And the fire hose that had what – what? –
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 a while, 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 at it the same way we always worked at 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 dreams-An affirming voice: That’s it. The whole place. It…creeps.