Book Review: The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1)

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, #1)The Gunslinger by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy/Western

The Gunslinger was an unique experience. I loved this book for its narrative brilliance, oddly intriguing characters, and its dark outlook on our future-world (which, save for all the magic, is a perfect possibility!).

This was my first western — my only prior experience in the genre being the cowboy movies.

The setting is terrific. Stephen King paints a vivid picture of a world long dead (a world that has moved on, as the protagonist would say).

King being King takes us to a dark world and makes us the live the horror and tension as lived by the protagonist and other major characters.

Meet Roland Deschain, the Gunslinger. The last gunslinger, to be precise. A lone adventurer, who leaves death in his wake. And he is in pursuit of the Man in Black.

Meet Man in Black, whose purpose, or even existence, is unclear. He creeps up every fucking place he visits — whether with his “magic” tricks or by his appearance.

Meet Jake, a boy who is alive — but not quite. Maybe he’s somewhere in between, we really can’t tell. He is the only one of the “earlier” world. He accompanies the Gunslinger in his hunt for the Man in Black and it is often through Jake’s eyes that we get the glimpses of how much darker the world has turned.

The world itself is a big puzzle. And all the answers lie in a Tower somewhere far away. That’s what the Gunslinger (really?) seeks. The Dark Tower.

The hook is established from the very first page, with the very first line, where King writes:

“The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.”

What is this world? Ours? Post-apocalyptic? Some near future? Post global-warming? What happened here?

Who is the Gunslinger? What the fuck does he want? Is he insane? Is he of the earlier world? Why is he so desperate to find the Man in Black and the Dark Tower?

Who is the Man in Black? Devil? Devil’s apprentice? Just a random bad guy?

King makes us hungrier and hungrier with each turn of page and before we even know it we are at the end of the book and now are in a severe need of going out to buy the second fucking book.

If you love fantasies with a dark setting and quirky characters, this book is for you.

However, being only the first book in the series, the story itself may not leave you satisfied.

Three stars for the narration, worldbuilding, and the characters. One more star for delivering the experience unlike any other book I’ve read so far.

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Short Story #5

Genre: Dark fiction

Words: 670

The Robbery

a short story

by Sarthak Parajulee

 

My head throbbed as I staggered out of my bedroom.

The hall had an unnerving silence. The sort that follows or precedes a storm.

But my furniture were where they were supposed to be and none of the expensive artifacts in my collection were missing.

So no robbery.

Then why had someone drugged me?

Randev was my last visitor, as far as I remembered. And he did need money, according to the conversation we had a few days back. But I’d checked the safe in my room and the cash was still there.

So what the fuck was going on?

I trudged toward the main door across the marbled gallery, cold biting into my bare feet. My head screamed on every step and a deep burn had started in my gut.

But I didn’t have time for that just yet.

I pushed the door open and observed the perimeter.

The entire facility lay in a comforting tranquility. My luxurious sedan sat proudly on the front porch. And the two guards stood at their post in the main gate with all the enthusiasm of a koala bear.

I called out to one of them and waved a hand.

He came rushing. For all his military training, he panted like an old fool.

“Sir?”

“Anyone left the premise recently?”

He looked perplexed. “Recently?”

“An hour or two back?”

He shook his head. “No, sir.”

“You sure you’re doing your fucking job right?”

The color of his face turned white. “Sir… no sir. I mean, yes, sir.” He bit his tongue. “Mr. Randev is the only one to leave. But it was very early in the morning.”

“What are you talking about? He arrived early in the morning.”

The guard frowned, his fear turning into irritation. “Um, sorry, sir… but he arrived yesterday morning. He left this morning.”

My throat went dry and I struggled to find my voice. I could hear my heartbeat like drums playing in my headphones.

Yesterday?

I pressed against the side of my head and nearly lost my equilibrium. Gods, the pain!

The guard tried to come to my aid but I send him away and, somehow, managed to bring myself back inside the house safely.

I slogged to the center of the hall, with a hand under my belly, and slumped myself down on the couch.

My ex-wife was right. I was too fast on trusting people.

First, I hit Randev with my car, to which he reacts very politely and is generous enough to not file complain. Then he shows up at my office door for a fucking job and looks surprised to find me there. And for the first time in twenty years, my car breaks in the middle of nowhere and he shows up to drop me home.

Ha, ha, ex-wife. I looked skyward. You happy now?

With all the shouting and moving about, the pain had doubled up. It bit at the side of my body and I struggled to maintain my sanity.

What that sly bastard took away was beyond me.

In a delirium of pain and frustration, I saw the images of the other day when the two of us had a nice little chat over a cup of tea. Like friends long lost.

He had spoken of his problems and I had revealed my vulnerabilities. Usually the stuff you would share over two bottles of a whiskey. He had won my trust, after all.

He had lamented about his wife’s failed kidney so it was logical to think he took off with a load of cash. But I still couldn’t find anything missing so…

I froze.

A sudden horror crept up my body, all the way from my feet to the head like a slow volcano.

Slowly, I lifted the thin fabric of my cotton shirt above my waist.

There, at the side of my belly, I saw a long gash — well stitched, and already healing.

“Bloody motherfucker!”

Short Story #2

Genre: Dark Fiction

Words: 2250

THE COLLECTOR

The bones felt as soft as the mud that buried them.

Avyan grimaced as he took the skull in his hands, softly and lightly, aware that it might crumble to dust with slightest of pressure. “Uh. I hate this.”

“Nobody fucking loves this, patee,” said the man in red cap, standing on the ground over him. He rubbed his chilled tip of the nose with a finger, and breathed out a misty breath in the cold air. “Let’s get the fucking job done and go.”

Avyan wondered what would Reena do if she knew about this. He lost his concentration and nearly dropped the skull.

“Careful,” Sayam scowled. “A broken one would do us no good, you know that.”

“If you’re so Mr. Careful, why don’t you get down here and get your hands dirty instead of bossing over me.”

Sayam stared at him coldly. “I’ll do my part when it comes to that. You do yours.”

Avyan knew better than to try and have the last word with the big man. He shook his head and did a quick inspection of the perimeter. The graveyard was massive, about twenty acres, silent except for the crickets. Some fifteen graves had been dug up, bones taken.

Cursing, he placed the skull with the rest of its body in a specially designed suitcase. Then slowly lifted the container and stacked it on the rear of a blue cargo van, amidst other similar suitcases.

“When will this end, Sayam?” Avyan pondered.

“For now, soon as we deliver this to him.” He motioned for Avyan to sit in the van. “Let’s fucking leave this place!”

Jumping in, he roared start the engine and hit the gas. The van’s rear tires skittered in the greasy mud, wet with the evening rain, then found back their balance, and Sayam drove away.

Avyan checked the mirror. The graveyard within the dark forest almost faded behind him. It took him two more minutes before he could take a breath of relief.

“I swear, Sayam,” he said. “If it wasn’t for Reena’s medics, I’d have never put up for this shit.”

Sayam scoffed. “Of course, you wouldn’t.”

Avyan frowned at him. “No! Really. I have to remind myself of her paling face each time I take a skull in my hands.”

“Keep telling yourself that. But you’re not fooling me. The job pays well and we both know you love money as much as I do.”

Avyan shook his head. “This work… it’s…” He sighed. “My old man. If there’s one thing he taught me… it’s that you shouldn’t disrespect the dead. You never get to live in peace.”

“Shit,” Sayam cursed. “Save the theatrics for someone else. You’re no saint so don’t try and act like one.” He spat out the window. “Your father lived in a different world. Ain’t so now.

“This world is full of diggers. People who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. People who are ready to dig from other’s wealth, success… life. People like us. We ride our own luck, patee. So fuck the dead and fuck your father’s lessons.”

Avyan thought about it. He’s right. The world is a different place now. He silently prayed for forgiveness with his late father. I need that money. I need it for the family. I need for Reena

Her thought jostled Avyan’s spirit and he attempted a laughter to lighten the mood. “You should have seen your face back there, man. You were like…”

“Fuck!”

“Exactly!”

“Shut up, you dumb head,” Sayam cursed. “Look up.”

A mile ahead he could see the glowing jackets of the Police.

“Y… you’ve got all the papers, right?”

“Yeah, right.” Sayam scowled. “And I pay my taxes too.”

Avyan clicked his tongue. “Shit.”

Ahead, a cop came out and waved the red light.

Sayam sped up.

“What the…” Avyan held against the dashboard. “Slow down, man. Pull over!”

“And what? Rot in jail like our pals in the back of the van?”

Sayam honked the horn, loud and clear. The warning was delivered.

But the cop was resilient. He put both his hands in air, sounding the whistle, and waving the red light.

“For God’s sake, you’ll run him over, Sayam!” Avyan clutched tighter at the dashboard, as if that would somehow stop the damn vehicle.

“Huh.” Sayam spit out the window and gritted his teeth. “So be it.”

The van hit the officer. He went down, and the van bumped over his body.

“Shit!” Avyan cringed as he almost felt the tires beneath his seat crush bones. “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!”

He heard police sirens behind him. But they died out soon enough as Sayam sped up over one-hundred-and-ten in the wet black-topped road. This was where his exceptional driving skills came in handy.

In no time, they were back into the silence of the night and darkness of the long, lonely road.

Avyan didn’t utter a single word for quite a while. They drove in silence over the stretched highway, full of bumps, cracks, and sharp turns.

“I am done with this,” Avyan finally said.

Sayam didn’t seem to hear him. Or didn’t care, Avyan couldn’t tell. We killed a fucking cop! Digging up dead was one thing, putting a live one in there was entirely other.

“You hear me?” Avyan pressed.

“Yeah, I hear you,” Sayam said, looking up straight with a grumpy face. “But don’t you dare mess this up before we take the fucking money.”

A bus passed them, headlights blinding Avyan, and the sound of the motor breaking the monotony of the silent night for a second.

“We need to clear things out tonight,” he pressed on.

“I’m warning you, patee. Don’t mess this up.” He shot Avyan a bloody look. “Or I swear to God, I’ll fucking kill you.”

#

They left the black-topped road and hit a gravelled path — branching out from the main road, deeper into the woods.

Some fifteen miles further, the road took a massive turn to reveal an iron gate at the end of it.

Avyan shivered at the look of the gate — though he’d seen it many time over now.

He swallowed hard as they drove to the foot of the gate and a huge metal skull etched onto the gate’s front frowned down on him.

Sayam honked. Once. Twice.

The gates creaked open slowly and the castle-like mansion in the middle of a football-field-sized garden loomed into the view.

Sayam drove straight to the front porch.

A huge man with ugly facial features, and no particular expression, stood guard at the main entrance.

Avyan and Sayam stepped off the van and nodded at the big guy. He didn’t meet their eyes, or acknowledge them in any way, but opened the front door for them all the same.

They entered through and the door slammed shut behind them.

Avyan wrinkled his nose as the smell of rot and sweat engulfed him.

An unending hallway stretched out before them. Cold, white marbles decorated the floor, and dull mural stains gave away the age of the mansion itself. For a grand mansion, the interior was relatively low profile — only glimmers of its past grandeur was alive in the form of artistic wall carvings, hanged paintings, and aankhijhyal that ran the entire length of the hallway.

“Don’t you think this guy’s a bit strange?” Avyan whispered.

“When money’s involved, friend, I don’t think at all.” Sayam said, eyes straight ahead.

The hallway gave led to a dark room — save for the center, where a single ray of white light revealed a man seated on a desk. His lean and bony built was eminent even from the distance.

He was their employer.

As they approached him before his desk, he lifted his head from whatever it was that had his attention so far and grinned.

“Ah,” the employer clapped his hands. Grinning with all his yellow teeth, he rushed toward Sayam. “Where is it? Where is it? Where?”

Up close, he looked younger beyond his years — he was actually a young guy, in his late twenties at the most. His checkered shirt and knee-length pants also didn’t help.

He laughed harder now. “Show me show me show me show me show me!” He snapped his head all over the place, once looking even behind Sayam.

“It’s in the van,” Sayam said, irritated. “My money?”

“Don’t you worry,” the employer said, as slowly as you’d talk to a child of seven. His bespectacled eyes twinkled and he pointed to a briefcase just beside his desk. “I never forget the payment.”

He grinned as wide as his cheeks allowed. “And you’re almost at the end of our contract.”

Avyan gasped. Almost! He looked at Sayam frantically. I can’t do this anymore.

Sayam glared back at him and shook his head once.

No. Avyan swallowed. It ends here. “Sir,” he said. “I would… would like to…”

Sayam touched his shoulders. “Shut up.”

The man frowned. “Now what is this?”

Avyan opened his mouth to say something but then quickly closed them and looked at his feet.

The man then watched Sayam with his hollow blue eyes.

The bigger man sighed. “Uh. Fuck.” He gave Avyan a hateful stare that told he would smack him anytime soon.

“Look, mister,” he said to the man, glaring at Avyan til the last possible second. “It’s just that… erm, my man, here, he thinks… Well, we think… I mean, we probably shouldn’t…”

“Ugh.” The man’s face fell — not much different to that of a child, who had just been told that he was grounded. “I almost saw it coming this time.”

Sayam and Avyan looked at one another. This time?

The man in shorts scowled and spread his hands before the duo. “Do you realize the cost of having a passion as beautiful as this?”

Behind them, the big man, who had been standing guard at the front door, entered and closed the door shut behind him.

“The measures you have to take to keep it discreet?” The man whistled. “Show them, Bali!”

The big guard stepped a little to his left and hit a switch.

The gallery lightened just enough to illuminate the enormous height of the walls of the huge room.

They Avyan saw what the man actually wanted them to see.

From the very top of the wall to at least six feet above the ground, several rows of human bones decorated the wall’s surface — here was a skull, there were some ribs, higher up some finger, and higher still some sort of pelvic bone — as if the dead bones were some sort of rare animal parts.

Avyan recoiled and stepped back. “What the fuck!” Several hundred dead heads seemed to be laughing down on him from around the wall.

Sayam stared in awe. “This is what you do with them?” He shook his head. “All that money for this?”

“Some collect stamps, some collect coins.” The man shrugged. “I have a sincere interest for human bones.” He shrugged. “Do not judge me.”

“But… this is so many.” Avyan shook his head. “We could have hardly delivered you fifty skeletons so far.”

“And you think you are the only people who would do anything for a little money?” He scoffed. “The world is full of desperate bastards.”

“You mad idiot,” Sayam pointed one large finger at him. “We’re done here. I want my money and we’re gone.”

The employer let out a long and hard sigh. “Every fucking time.” He shook his head. “Why do every one of you come to this point?”

Avyan narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean– Aaaaargh!”

Something struck him hard on the back of his head and he went on his knees. Beside him, he saw Sayam roll on the ground as well.

Avyan caught back his breath and tired to stand but was pressed down by one huge and strong palm. The large man, Bali, stood behind him.

He felt a cold metal brush the side of his head. From the corner of his eye, he saw a gun.

“What are you fucking doing?” he screamed. “Please leave me. You can have your fucking money. I don’t need it!”

“Ah. And now you don’t need it.” He tsked. “Every. Fucking. Time. You guys are so predictable.

“Do you think I care about whether or not you want my money?” He gestured around the hall. “Look around you. I pay you lakhs of rupees to get me some rotting bones just so I can decor my walls with it.” He stepped up and kicked Avyan in the gut, sending a crushing pain through his body.

“You fuckers could have just put up with this and continue to make money.” He punctuated each words with a kick. “But no.” He scowled. “Every fucking one o’ you has to go and decline to serve me anymore.”

Avyan lay on his side, clutching the side of his abdomen. He saw Sayam lying across him, flat unconscious. Perhaps, he took the shot from the big man harder. Or perhaps, he simply thought better than to get up.

“Please…” Avyan squealed, feelng the cold tile under his skin.

“Goodbye, gentlemen,” the bone collector said. “It’s been a pleasure knowing you. I’ll make sure,” he looked around the wall, as if searching for something, “that you get the best spot in the house.”

Then he vanished behind the darkness of the far end of the room, his chilling laughter echoing in the halls.

The big man came forward, gun held high. It seemed he looked right through Avyan. The cold muzzle of the gun touched his temple. He wanted to retaliate but the collectors attacks had left him powerless.

Sayam opened his eyes, a slightest of cracks. He pressed the back of his head, sighed, and looked at the gun pressed to the side of Avyan’s head.

And Sayam’s eyes went wide with horror, perhaps, only just realizing that it wasn’t a bad dream.

Avyan felt warm tears on his cheek. “Please…” he squeaked, his voice barely audible. “My wife… she’s sick.” He screamed his heart out, his leg half paralyzed, his hand useless.

Through those tear filled eyes, and a glassy vision, he thought he saw the cop’s contorted face slammed up against their van’s windshield — that horror-wrenched face.

Perhaps, they should have just stopped and let the cops do their job. Yes they’d have to do prison time. But sooner or later it’d have been proved that the bone that they carried were only dug up from the grave.

Above him, the big man began pressing on the trigger, and Avyan felt the weight of the muzzle shift on the side of his temple. He swallowed and met Sayam’s stunned eyes.

“Should’ve pulled over, buddy,” he croaked, managing a wry smile.

Yes, they’d have been humiliated in the public, press, media. They’d have served a sentence and, at most, would have been permanently secluded from the society.

At least, it wouldn’t have been death.

END