A New Book on Vanderhorst's Work
A story based on
by George A. Romero
I write fiction. Fantasy and horror fiction, mostly for motion pictures. I can't resist bizarre tales of the unfamiliar, the unexpected. My friend Stephen King's imagination never fails to amaze me and his dedication and craftsmanship inspire awe. Here is a thumbnail sketch of a story that Stephen might enjoy.
They were in the Yacht Club, where they had so often gathered for coffee or tea or brunch on a sunny summer Sunday. They only knew one another as “That woman” or “That man,” “Club member, you know.”
When they had left home that morning, all of them, that's where they were going. To The Club. When they arrived and took their seats, the place seemed to be what it had always been, its blond woods and occasionally hung portraiture offering, as always, something more than was ever offered by family, by business firm, by church. Those institutions offered membership, but it came with strings attached… obligations, responsibilities. The Club offered both membership and privacy. One often went to The Club with family members in tow, or members of the firm or clergy, so the privacy was rarely absolute. But the promise of it, the idea that one had earned a place in this place, was enough. To know that if family matters got too sticky or if talk of some client or another became too political, one could escape to the lounge or the cigar room or the steam chamber… . To know that one was, by membership, automatically permitted to escape into those places… . That was enough.
But on this sunny summer Sunday, things had somehow changed.
Nothing had changed when the members first arrived. Things changed sometime after they had all taken their seats and placed their orders, sometime before the waiters returned with flutes and snifters and plates of finger sandwiches perched, as if glued, on silver trays.
The last thought the man had before he moved his chair was, “I wonder where all the waiters have gone?” There were no waiters, no waitresses… . There was no staff anywhere in sight. The man took the chair from its spot near the fireplace. Normally he would have asked someone to carry it for him. It was a heavy chair, not one of those modern things, plastic posing as wood, and the embroidered fabric on the seat and the back seemed to have been stuffed with some element that, while soft and pliable, must have either been as densely packed as lead balls in a shotgun shell or must have, each bit of it, weighed a ton. “God, I'm not strong enough to move this thing,” he thought as he lifted the chair away from its spot and struggled to carry it towards the centre of The Club's great room.
He didn't blame the wood. In his mind he blamed the upholstery, and whatever science had created a substance that, while soft and pliable, weighed as much as “Fat Man” or “Little Boy” (those were the names painted onto the casings of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki). The man who carried the chair had always been afraid of bombs, afraid of violence. He had always thought… dreamed… had nightmares about a day when he would come to a violent end, though there was not much chance of that ever happening. He was privileged. Though not anywhere near having cleared his first million, he believed it to be inevitable that he would clear that million, and at least two or three more after that. He believed it was his right, his duty, his fate.
He hated all the things that he had to do in order to be a person. He felt that he had been born a human and that should be the only requirement. Having been born, though that brought no particular distinction, ought to be enough to qualify as A Person. But over the years he had found that more impressive credentials were required for inclusion in most societies. The societies he preferred were the so-called Polite Societies: universities, fraternities, The Club. But he found, as any aspirant finds, that he continually had to prove his worth. Pay the membership fee, pay the tithe, pay the alimony, pay the tax… pay the piper. (The Club had once hired a piper, a real, honest-to-God bagpiper, in full dress kilt. The man who now carried his own chair had paid the piper's fee [$125 an hour times five hours] because he was the one who had originally suggested the idea that a bagpiper be hired to honour The Club's dead… not lost to some war but lost to squalls and wickedly swinging spars during The America's Cup.)
The Club was a yacht club. Its members were dedicated… or were expected to be dedicated… to the purity of boating as a sport. The man who carried the chair had never raised sail, never set his soft hands on a tiller, never regurgitated his caviar brunch over the rail in a gale, but, oh, how he wanted to do all of those things. “Some day,” he thought, “some day… when time permits… when family, the firm, the church have had their way with me… when I'm finished… when I've retired… when I'm all used up…
I'll take to the sea. Some day.”
He wasn't old, at least he didn't think himself old, though he was nearer his end than his beginning (fifty-something, sixty-something… could it be seventy-something? There were moments when he honestly couldn't remember). Years ago he had let his hair grow long, well down onto his shoulders, and he had defiantly let it remain at that length, cautioning his barber that there would be no tip if it were shortened beyond the tolerance of a child of the '60s. Over the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and on beyond 9/11, the same barber had dutifully complied, never allowing the blades of his shears to slice into the comfort zone (it's all about comfort, isn't it? In the end?), and in the end, the barber had always been generously tipped. The hair on the head of the man who carried the chair remained long, even after it turned white and began to stubbornly leave its strands on the lapels of the deeply black jacket he always wore when he went to The Club on a sunny summer Sunday.
As he dragged the chair, that heavy (why was it so heavy?) chair away from the fireplace towards the centre of the great room, he noticed someone was looking at him. A man, not far away, sitting alone just as he, himself, had planned to do.
The other man, the observer, was dressed in a grey suit and was wearing eyeglasses, very large ones. (God… he looked like me. I couldn't see him clearly, he was too far in the distance, or maybe I wasn't looking carefully enough, but I got the distinct impression that… he looked liked me! He also looked like a friend of mine named Rob. But Rob doesn't wear big, obvious eyeglasses. I do.)
The observer was sitting in a chair that had also been removed from any sort of normal position. Sitting. And watching. Alert, as was no one else in the great room.
(He wasn't me, after all. He was… watching me. No, not watching… watching the man with the long white hair who was struggling to drag a heavy chair to the place where he wanted it to be. Was I the man with the long white hair, or was I the man who was observing? Was I involved at all? If so… why? I questioned myself, yet I knew that I was. Involved. Strangely involved. Why?)
The man with the long white hair struggled, without servants, to bring his heavy chair to the centre of the great room… a familiar room. Eventually he placed it directly under the apex of the domed ceiling above him. And he sat, remembering that ceiling from all the years he had spent beneath it… all the years he had admired and wondered at its frescoes of angels and demons and damned souls. “Why,” he had always thought, “The Club's ceiling rivals the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.”
But now, suddenly… there were no frescoes. There was nothing on which a fresco might have been tattooed. There was… .nothing at all. No ceiling… just an open space… and above, up and beyond, a deep-blue sky with wispy white clouds that seemed to dance like the Musketeers who once courted queens. The other man, the one in the grey suit who seemed to look like me… who also looked like my friend Rob… never seemed to take note of the fact that the ceiling had somehow vanished. He simply continued to watch, continued to observe.
Why wasn't he amazed? The world was changing… . At least the ceiling was changing… morphing into something that it had never been before. All that was once familiar had suddenly become unfamiliar. Why wasn't the man in the grey suit amazed by the transformation? Did he somehow expect that a change was coming so that, when it came, he was not perturbed by it?
Or was he… God? Was he somehow causing the change? Was he… or I… making The Club into something that it had never been? Something that neither it nor its members had ever intended it to be… yet something that all its members had forever wanted it to be… .
A place that imitates life, but is not life…
… a place where fantasies, whether they be of harems or whirling dervishes or pots full of gold, come true…
… but only for Members.
Why do any of us become Members of anything? For the sake of acceptance? Because we want to be included? Is “inclusion” the beginning and the end? Is there someone out there, some unseen God, who wants to, needs to, insists on including us? Someone to whom we are expected to be grateful? Why can't we simply include ourselves in this thing called humanity? In whatever cause, whatever society, whatever Club… without obligation, but with a caveat that reads, “I'm with ya now, but if you disappoint me, I am so outa here!”
We pick our poisons. And The Club—anybody's club… is a sort of poison. A sort of tribal confirmation: “I'll always be here, don't worry that I'm ever gonna change, because I won't.”
A comfort level.
One sunny summer Sunday, the man with the long white hair realized that The Club wasn't nearly what he had always expected it to be. Suddenly he found it severely lacking. Sitting in his chair, the one he had struggled to drag away from the fireplace, looking up at a ceiling that was once made of plaster but was now non-existent, he had an epiphany. “I've been fooling myself,” he concluded. “I've let myself be distracted by… expectations! Expectations don't materialize just because you want them to. You've got to bring them into being somehow. You've got to make them into something real. You've got to make them into… your goal!”
Once the man had his epiphany, the changes came much more rapidly. Suddenly there was water… all over the place… lapping over the members' shoes, coughing up onto the cuffs of their trousers and dresses.
No one seemed to notice. Except for the man who had carried the chair… and the observer with the large eyeglasses. Those two members noticed all of the changes that came. Though neither of them seemed particularly moved or affected. They showed no outward reaction, made no gesture that might indicate alarm or fright or even amusement. They simply sat in their chairs, appearing not to notice what was happening around them. Appearing utterly unconcerned.
Of course, all the others in the room seemed equally unconcerned. But that was because they hadn't noticed any change. Had the waiters re-entered, no doubt they would have been unconcerned as well. Because they, too, would not have noticed any change. They would have carried on with the business of an ordinary sunny Sunday, confident… (while, at the same time, secretly disappointed)… that The Club was a constant… a never-changing, never-surprising certainty.
But the two… the ones who had moved their chairs to abnormal positions… though neither showed any outward reaction… were fully aware of what was happening around them. They had expected, hoped, dreamed that some day the world would take an unexpected turn… and that day had finally come.
It was like a dream. But they weren't asleep. This was really happening. The older ones in the room sat in captain's chairs, in armchairs, some in wicker-backs around a dining table… while the younger ones sat on the benches of what appeared to be Atlantic-class sailing yachts.
There were BOATS! Sporting schooners, sails billowing, gliding across what was once an oaken floor but had now been transformed into a salty sea. The man with the long white hair sat under the vanished dome and calmly inhaled the freshness of an ocean breeze. All of this seemed perfectly natural to him. All his life he had known that some day this moment would come. It had to come. It had always been peculiarly… expected. And privilege and wherewithal… membership… had always seemed to provide some sort of guarantee.
So he sat, quite relaxed, in a chair he had moved into an abnormal position. Watching. Quietly pleased… while that other man… the one with the big eyeglasses, who looks a bit like me… a bit like my friend Rob… also watched.