"If you face the Black Lodge with imperfect courage it will utterly annihilate your soul."
Chapter 5 – The Black Lodge is Burning
It's all about the children.
He drove through the whipping rain and thought of how insane they were, how crippled they both had to be to think they could redeem their pasts. She sat beside him, still and warm, a frown puckering her lips. We're going to confront a possibly psychotic killer, he wanted to make clear to her, in order to make ourselves feel better. Get our rocks off a little on that good-deed high. It sounded like a joke. We're going to save the children we lost, retroactively, you and me, baby: your baby and my patient, bring them back to life somehow by revenging Laura Palmer's abuse and death. So we can feel right about ourselves again.
She laid her hand beside his thigh on the seat, where it rubbed near his scar with each bump of the road, a tiny intimacy, and he looked at her and knew that it was not about his patient back in Princeton at all.
That ghostly boy with veins made of tissue paper – he couldn't even recall his name – was just that: a ghost, one that would haunt him forever, but it was not the breathing festering pit inside him that threatened to break open since the events after Laura's death. Memories that could not quite surface and that he knew he would disown if they did. She was right, it was about children, only one lay buried so deep in his past only Laura's murder could have massaged life back into it. What had he told Donna Hayward once? His landlord's daughter, Laura's friend, speaking to him in front of the house one morning after the murder, frightened at the thought of a killer on the loose. The same thing's not going to happen to you that happened to Laura, Donna, he had told her. It was closer to home than that.
So close to home it was filling his brain with poison. Threatening to annihilate him.
Pearl Lake lay forty miles away, through thick alder woods, a sleepy town (comatose, his rude side said), where the river balked and formed a lake miles up in the hills. Tiny enough for every sleepy inhabitant to know everyone else. Shop fronts on the one main street looked straight out of the fifties. Passers-by watched his car. He stopped at a gas pump and convenience store, dusty in spite of the rain that had fled, and Amalie accompanied him inside. The screen door creaked. The old man rising from a cane chair behind the counter creaked.
Did he know where he might find Leland Palmer? A scratch on the head. The old man's memory took its time rebooting. The Palmers had died, he finally informed him in a creaky voice, the place off the main street sold years ago. No, he was talking about their son, who was supposed to be back in town since the night before.
"Now I do recall a Leland. Couldn't tell ya where he might be though."
"He might be staying in a motel," Amalie chipped in.
If the town even had one. That would presuppose anyone wanting to hang around in the town more than twelve hours. The store owner was studying them in geriatric confusion. An idea occurred. "Do you recall a kidnapping here in the sixties?" he asked the man. Amalie stared. He hadn't mentioned his research to her. "A boy was taken up to a cabin by the lake and released after a few days."
The rheumy eyes narrowed. "I do indeed. Big scandal at the time. Up in the resort area it was. Most of those places burnt down in a big fire in the eighties. No one goes up there no more. I suppose the black lodge may be still standing."
He felt chilled. "The black lodge?"
"Well, that's where the man held that poor boy, isn't it? Ole' Bernie Black and his family never used the place after that and couldn't sell it. What you interested in the Black lodge for?"
Amalie's hand brushed his below the counter. She felt the same tension. "I'm thinking of buying the property," he said, though it felt as though he said I'm buying the farm. "Just a sucker for crime scenes. Think you could excavate some directions for me out of that archeological dig of a brain?"
The road snaked up through shady groves still sparkling with rain, growing narrow until it was only a chalky unmaintained trail flanked by arbutus, their heavy fleshy leaves slapping at the car windows. A sign, so old it made him think of archeology again, had told them the way led to Pearl Credence Resort. He splashed through rivulets and bumped over tree roots that crossed the road, scraping his muffler. Amalie braced against the bumps. "This is going nowhere," she murmured, and then: "You shouldn't have been rude," seconds before they leveled out into a clearing, the re-appeared sun bright on a small gravel drive, overgrown by weeds, that circled around before a ramshackle building with boarded windows.
The Black lodge was white, a wooden clapboard construction over a base of yellow limestone scored by fire marks in one corner. The slanting roof looked to be more holes than roof. A veranda at one end had crumbled down the hill toward the lake in the distance. Sword ferns grew around the front steps.
"Is anyone here?" Amalie whispered. He braked and pointed to a wood-chopping stump at the side of the house in which a rusty axe hung. The split log on the stump looked fresh, its insides gleaming pink. "I think so," he sighed back, feeling foolish for whispering. It took a second's glance around to locate the car, a black Acura well-back in the trees. Its trunk stood open. "That's Leland's," she told him.
"Okay, you're waiting here."
The simple announcement shocked her. "No, Greg – you've said yourself he might be dangerous –"
"Look." He met her eyes. "I think Palmer was abused by someone as a child. I want to talk to him alone." He saw her take in the implications. When she finally spoke it was not a question.
"You don't even know why you're really here, do you, Greg?"
"No. Or rather I'm - not sure. I just know I have to go in alone." Unwillingly she nodded.
The crumbling steps were a bitch to negotiate with his cane. The door to the lodge stood open a crack. Swinging it open he felt the sun behind him should have illuminated the room more; the stubborn dark inside seemed adhered to the odd smell, rot and a whiff of something he associated with danger, though he had no time to think of what it might be because Leland Palmer was sitting at a rickety table in the corner, smiling at him.
Palmer had his Italian suit on. He sat with one arm stretched out on the table, hand curled as though around a glass though there was nothing there. There was little in the room apart from the table: a wood floor beneath a braided rug too old for color, a kitchenette in the form of a moldy ruin. A rocking chair in the far corner. A dusty red drape led off to what could only be a tiny bedroom alcove. The space was smaller than it had appeared from outside. Close, sucking the breath out of him.
"Leland. Fancy meeting you here."
The lawyer showed no surprise at his presence. "Would you like to sit down?" There was no second chair at the table.
"I'll stand. Pain is character-forming."
"You know, this is where it happened." For a second only, he thought Palmer meant Laura's death, and his eyes snapped to the floor and faded walls for blood stains, but that crime scene had been found, Hayward had told him, an abandoned train car near the falls back in Twin Peaks; the gory details left unsaid had pressed tears into the old doctor's eyes. Palmer spoke again. "Right here." His voice might have been that of a tour guide, neutral to the content, laced with just enough enthusiasm to stir his bored audience. The room held no sign of the events in its past, or that it had been disturbed at all in the forty years since. Dust lay cold and waiting.
"Leland, you – have a problem. There are people who can help you." He had planned nothing, he realized, the icy knot in his stomach making him sound like a bad actor in a soap opera. What Amalie had said was true: he had no idea why he was here. "People who will help you remember, and – and then forget again." Why did the room have to stay so dark? "Drugs that will make you feel better. Believe me, I know."
Palmer frowned. "But I remember everything. I wouldn't forget you-" He turned to the empty rocking chair in the corner with a half-smile. "–would I?" He seemed to listen to the chair for a moment, then added: "No, Dr. House understands."
It took all his will not to back toward the door. His hands were sweating. "There's no one there, Leland," he murmured.
Palmer turned back. "Oh I know." The lawyer's palm covered his heart as though making a pledge. "He's in here." His face seemed to crumble, glassy eyes abruptly full of tears. "He has been for a long time." His hand thumped his chest twice, hard, pumping out words that were sobs. "I - I opened up, you see, and he – he came inside me." His smile, framed by two tears rolling down his cheeks, was beatific. "He became a part of me and it was good. It happened right here."
He came inside me. "That's why this is not a good place for you to be." His hand tightened on his cane.
"Oh yes it is. Don't you see?" With a theatrical gesture, one arm spread, half-lifting off his chair, Palmer burst into song, a wavering baritone. "Ooh say can't you seee, by the dawn's early liight," then collapsed again, giggling. "I came here to do something."
Haldol, midazolam, propofol. Nonsense syllables that floated through his hyped mind because he had none of those sedatives with him, hadn't planned for the contingency of Palmer being truly demented; like all the rest, he saw now, he had been manipulated, drawn to a place where he had no options, no knock-out drug other than his cane which he gripped hard. His heart beat so fast it hurt. Could have gone for an anxiolytic himself, slow that heart down. His left hand twitched at his pocket, wanting one of his babies, then froze as Palmer's quick gaze followed it animal-like. How did they say you could calm the bad ones, stay non-verbal, nod and smile, but he couldn't stop his mouth, never had been able to.
"Something terrible happened to you, Leland, when you were a child." Palmer, or whatever looked out through him, watched him with bright eyes. "Your six-year old loonytune world went bad. Not cartoon funtime anymore. Sylvester got Tweetie after all." Or was it Coyote eating the Roadrunner, a mess of blood and feathers in the sand? The picture Agent Cooper had shown him arose, the kidnapper's long gray hair wolflike. "You couldn't live with it - no child's soul could - and so you buried it very deep. You're not really remembering it right." You don't remember it at all because the reality would hurt too much. He pushed the thought down like unspewed vomit. "There's something called Stockholm Syndrome, Leland. If someone hurts us enough, in a situation in which we are completely in their power" (us, we, what a stupid way to talk), "we begin to identify with them, we tell ourselves we love them. Children are particularly susceptible. We submerge ourselves…" He trailed off, a sudden pain between his eyes. His mouth tasted of acid. "This –" A name floated up, but it was the wrong one, then he had it. "This…Bob." At the name Palmer shook all over, a second-long pulse running through him, more frightening than his words or his glassy eyes. "He brought you up here and he took your childhood to hell with him–"
"Oh, I had a happy childhood, Dr. House." Neutral again, perfectly convinced. "Laura had a happy childhood. It wasn't me, you know, any more than it was me who pulled the trigger on Agent Cooper or held the pillow over Renault's face. I didn't hurt Laura." Palmer's voice broke, dropped down to a stammered whisper. "He wanted someone new. I was running down inside, too old for him. He thought he could…transfer." He giggled and touched his silk tie in a lawyerly straightening gesture. "Laura was going to be my legal successor."
Please. Please get me out of this. The pain behind his eyes left him weak. He imagined turning, limping out; it didn't translate into motion.
Palmer's gaze had grown sad again. "But it didn't work that way. Laura wouldn't let him in. All the years he tried and, well, physically of course…" He looked straight at his visitor, so lucid, and then he winked. "…it worked. But of course that's not what he wanted. He wanted her soul, but she hid that from him. Every time. Just went away from what was being done to her body. My smart little girl. How many times I've done that for clients. Stashed assets away in an offshore account, where no one can get at them. Laura would have made a good lawyer." The father broke through Palmer's schizoid voice again, a hint of sob alternating with the sneer, the selves inside him battling. "All those times she fought." Hearing it he felt sick. "At the end she fought, Dr. House. You can't imagine."
"Don't need to. I saw Ronette Pulaski."
Palmer's head jerked. "The other girl shouldn't have been there. It was chance."
"Chance that she escaped from the train car halfway through. While you were busy with Laura." While Bob was busy. Don't say it. Subscribe to the idea of demons and you're lost.
"He did such terrible things." As though Palmer read his mind. "It wasn't me – oh Laura it wasn't!" The sudden wail was shockingly loud in the small space.
"The man who held you here when you were so young, Leland – he warped you –"
"Ah, who's warped here?" Palmer's red-rimmed eyes landed on the cane. The sneer was back. "Who did things to you, huh?"
"This was from an infarction five years ago." Confusion added to the pain in his head. "It didn't happen in my childhood, Leland." Pain that was spreading to his hands and feet as Palmer grinned at him, making his scar wake up, the worst kind of pain (and he knew so many), someone taking a sledge-hammer to his thigh – "My childhood –" he gasped, and it made him grab at his leg, not now, why now –
Palmer stood up and the suddenness of it made him step back, almost crying out as he came down on the wrong leg. Every pore crawled with adrenaline.
"He did things to you, didn't he, Dr. House?"
"No." Why answer the question of a madman, why fumble with the he as though it meant anything, a hot spot at that place between your eyes –
Palmer turned away, surprisingly, and strode to the red-draped alcove at the back of the room. As he did, he threw over his shoulder, casually: "What did daddy do to you? Huh?"
- the pain that had floated back up into his head, suffusing it. "My father-"
"Did he hold a pillow over your face?"
The blast of acid memory staggered him. The pain was like a fist driven into his nose, the black place in his brain exploding; he thought he tasted blood in his throat, but that was impossible, as impossible as it was for the man now drawing back the drape from the bedroom to know things about him he had forgotten himself until that second, a scene buried so deep it might have happened to someone else; he lay on the old blue couch and his dad, pissed once again about something even more completely forgotten, held him while he fought against the silver couch pillow at his nose and mouth, the pillow he could never look at again after that afternoon. Only removing it after he had passed out, the ceiling with its gray stain shaped like Hawaii swimming back into view moments later. His father, showing him what power was… A sound escaped him now, a gasp between no and aah. So impossible for Palmer to know, that it took every thought from him. He watched them drain away through the pain, leaving his mind blank and useless.
Palmer leaned into the bedroom, holding back the drape. The part of his bruised brain still working noted the golf-bag revealed on the floor there, too lumpy to hold golf-clubs. He'd been around enough body-bags to know one. Laura's cousin, the missing girl. Maggie, no – Maddy.
He felt his mouth open at the sight, needing air, punched by terror again, this time in the stomach; oh what a coward he was physically, just a wuss, a smart-mouth around authority, cops or a boss with a low neckline, brave enough when the lunatic in front of him had been strapped down by guys bigger than him, but shaking now as the full realization of what he faced hit him, not a father gone bad but a seriously deranged serial killer. He couldn't take his eyes off the golf-bag, his mind trying to crawl out of itself and take him over, make him run (daddy), insanity its own authority, one that would brook no backtalk (you stand right there and wait for it). He heard himself say, "Gone from plastic to golf bags now, Leland?", but it was barely a croak, the nightmare scream trapped in the dreamer's throat, too quiet for Palmer to even hear.
The lawyer had turned back from the alcove, the object he had reached for weighing down his arm (but it wasn't what he thought, no it couldn't be that), and began to sing tunelessly. "Oh yes there's something I came here to do." It was a gas can, the warning smell of danger that had wafted earlier from behind the drape strong now, and Palmer sang as he poured gas in every-widening circles around himself, the drape, the rocking chair, happily splashing the braided rug and the wooden baseboards in the kitchenette.
The lawyer was a magician now; in the hand he had held cupped, a book of matches appeared. He peeled one off –
move go run scream
- and lit it, then paused, an eagle gaze on his paralyzed visitor, inquisitive, casually turning back to their conversation as though it had been about the weather. "Your daddy -"
Leland, don't. Not even a dream gasp anymore, only a cry inside him (daddy don't).
"He burned you," the lawyer said (Ronette said). "Didn't he?"
The killer stood close to him now (when had that happened?), the flame a glowing ball eating the match down toward his manicured fingers. Palmer leaned in and touched his cane, held the flame down near his thigh where his scar throbbed beneath the cloth of his pants and he couldn't move, couldn't run, because that would make the punishment worse when he was caught he would be still and good and not scream –
"You wanna play with fire –"
- because those words meant it was cigarette time
" - Son?"
It was his father's voice.
He remembered everything.
In the room you never visit the junk has accumulated on the floor because the items there are too disturbing to touch, pillows and cigarettes and a hand that holds your head underwater in an ice-bath. There is a smell of old blood. Something dark in the corner. Stacy asking Was your father strict? He stood in the room and his father stood with him, tall and Marine-strong, lighting a Pall Mall with his square metal lighter, taking a pull until the end glowed, saying Wanna play with fire? and he was shaking because it was time, his little-boy legs that stuck out of his shorts trembling (and yet whole, scarless). You wanna play with fire, son? It was the worst memory, rightly occupying center-place in this room of forgotten scenes around the corner in his mind, the moment that had seemed hours, held half upside-down while the cigarette was applied to his thigh and he had screamed, though he wasn't supposed to, over and over. (Years later they would say We'll cut this leg off and not even Stacy would guess his mad refusal was some twisted need, an almost subconscious idea that he had to hang on to the evidence, the tiny faded scar she had never asked about and which had been debrided along with the rest of his skin there and thrown away while he lay in a coma). In other corners of the room, other boys writhed and wailed. One stood silent, hands pressed to unseen glass, his lips and eyelids blue, locked out in the winter night in his Batman pyjamas, and knowing now what he did of hypothermia, the brain's icy shutdown, he watched the boy turn away and lie down in the snow because it was warm, moments before his sobbing mother ran out and brought him in. Another struggled against the silver pillow (and how prescient of Bob to have killed Renault that way and let him find the corpse; the demon's inside joke). In the far corner a naked boy was getting his face pressed into the pile of clothes he'd just taken off while his father told him he would learn never to wet himself again.
Was your father strict?
My father had something in him. The realization burst in him. Watching the scenes with adult eyes, correlating them to tales he had told himself in order to survive, of accidents and momentary, forgivable flashes of anger, he saw: the unforgivable, the demon hidden behind the strictness, between the belt whippings spread-eagle on the bed for the least infraction – the smothering, drowning, burning hate that was Bob in his father, Bob, who had come up out of the ground and traveled with them to Japan and Egypt and everywhere the military had taken them, but that was ridiculous. Not demons then, but only the exudation of the ground, roots that twisted up into the adults who took their pain out on those smaller, the children that were like helpless animals they could throw and hit and hurt. Cooper had seen a giant and a midget. It was what evil was all about. The large devouring the small, and when they couldn't stand what they had done to the children, they would wrap them in hides or plastic and send them over the falls, just get rid of them, call it strictness or I-lost-control, let them grow up and pretend to forget and become the adults who did the same things to their own children.
It was no one's fault (my father abused me), it couldn't be stopped (he burned me for life), could it?
He came to in time to see Palmer spin, laughing, and toss the match into the pool of gas.
The concussion sucked the air from the room. A ball of heat scorched past him, out the open front door. It was the only thing that saved them. He dropped to the floor, losing his cane. Palmer, closer to the back where the poured gas had concentrated, bellowed and laughed as the first white heat settled to flames that moved like a fast-forward film, scampering up the rotten drape and leaping across the rug. He tried to turn and crawl, his leg beating a rhythm of pain, managed to stand, half-bent – and found that Palmer had outflanked him. The lawyer stood at the front door. He looked like someone else. Face red-gleaming, the madman slammed the door shut and turned the key in a padlock that had been hidden from sight.
"No, it all goes!" Palmer crooned. "You'll be happy too – we'll forget it all together!"
"Give me the key, Leland!"
With a joyful skip the lawyer threw the key high overhead. He watched it arc into the center of the fire.
A crash sounded through the roaring flames. Cabinets in the kitchen, loosed from their burning struts, bowed forward and fell. Through streaming eyes he saw that the ceiling had caught fire.
You are going to die. A coughing fit took him. He was on his knees again. The ugly little room - so dark because of the boarded windows, he grasped belatedly – would be the last thing he saw in his life. Ugly end to an ugly life. Not Amalie's adoring face, not the face of anyone who cared a shit about him and which he might have deserved for trying to do right in life, Wilson's crooked trying-not-to-smile smile he suddenly yearned to see again, no, just the horrible room burning and Palmer, nutty as a diarrhetic squirrel's ass, who had left the door to waltz in the middle of the room while his silk suit lit up like a circus act. The last thing he would see.
The thought steeled him.
He stood and lunged against the door. Yanked at the padlock, hoping rotted wood had loosened the strike-plate from which it hung. The roaring in his ears was deafening. Palmer was abruptly beside him, pushing him from the door, kicking his thigh so that he screamed, and they fought. Someone was yelling his name. A pounding sounded through the roar of flame. Fists beating on the door.
"Am! He's locked the do-" Palmer's punch knocked his head against the floor. The room blurred.
"They can't stop us from choosing death!" the lawyer yowled.
He couldn't see. Palmer sat atop his chest, a howling weight, then his blindly groping hand closed on something thin beside him, his cane, and he swung it up in a desperate arc. It met his attacker's head with a whack and the howling stopped. Palmer slumped.
He shoved the limp body from him and scrambled to the door, calling for her to try and pull boards from a window, but he could hear no answer. Gone, deserted, didn't she know there was no time to get help, only seconds left. The heat was like a boiling cloth over his head and face; when he breathed, a wall devoid of air stuck in his throat and he got down and rasped in the cooler air near the floor, the last inch of oxygen left in the room. He could see Palmer on his back nearby; as he watched, the man gasped once, exactly like a beached fish, agonal breathing which meant the lunatic's heart had stopped, can't stop thinking like a doctor even when you're dying, can you?, then – impossibly – the lawyer's eyes opened and he stood.
Impossible because cardiac arrest didn't reboot itself and he couldn't have mistaken the gasp. Palmer lurched toward him. The guy's eyeballs had to be cooking up there. Black polished stones that he saw now had always reminded him of his father's. He wanted to laugh or cry – he would be strangled by a madman after all instead of by smoke inhalation. He lay with his back to the door, oddly calm, waiting for Palmer's hair up there to burst into flames–
The door at his back shuddered.
He cried out, and heard Amalie's shout. Another thud rocked the door. Shards of wood flew inward, and he saw the edge of the axe she must have retrieved from the woodpile. Yes, my smart girl. He heaved himself to his feet, crying out at the heat on his face. "Hit the hinges!" he yelled to her. Palmer grabbed his waist and he jabbed backward with his elbows, finding ribs that gave way. The next blow of the axe tore the top hinge from the frame and the door sagged in toward them. He ducked as the fire, finding an exit, whooshed over their heads through the open space. Behind him Palmer shrieked and spun away.
Not dying today. Through the partly collapsed door he could see Amalie's terrified determined face. The space was still too narrow for him to fit through. She brought the axe up and then down again, and the head, too rusted to hold, flew off the handle.
"No!" she wailed.
He levered his cane into the slats and pried, the brass head searing his palm this time for real, and the last boards gave way, then he was stumbling with her down the stoop and across the yard, suddenly aware of his leg again, pain so vivid it was like running on a fractured femur, and he realized he might still pass out, that she would never be able to drag his body far enough away in time. He tripped and the ground came up to meet him. His face lay in mud. She was hitting him, frustrated swats on his back and shoulders (why did women always hit like that?), then he understood that his clothes were smoldering. He crawled to a puddle left by the rain and rolled in it, then collapsed.
He lay still for a moment, letting his mouth breathe in the soil and cold grass that meant he was alive. Fresh sweet earth, no demons there. They had never come from there in the first place.
The lodge exploded, a new burst of flame taking the roof, and Amalie gasped. We're out of range, he wanted to tell her. He managed to sit up, and saw what she had seen.
"Who…?" she cried.
The figure standing amid the flames writhed and stumbled. For a second only he thought he saw a beak-nosed face, long gray hair, and he told himself that Palmer, at the last second struck by sanity, had thrown a rag over his head, then the rest of the roof collapsed, burying the figure and razing what remained of the lodge. Black smoke billowed up past the treetops.
Through his scorched throat he could barely speak. "Time for a road trip," he told Amalie. "Those smoke signals will bring out the pale-faces any minute now."
Moaning, she helped him to the car and took the driver's seat. The careening ride down the narrow road was almost as scary as the fire, but he wasn't about to tell her to slow down. Where the bottom exited onto the main road, she took the opposite direction from Pearl Lake and drove until a disused rest-stop loomed, a pocket of shadows in the trees, and she pulled off, out of sight of the road, still shaking. He was still adrenaline-pumped himself. In the distance a siren blared.
"Even if it's just an anonymous call," she said, "we should tell someone what happened."
"I don't think we can." She seemed to understand what he meant. "They'll identify Leland's body themselves." And the girl's. He stared away at the firs, until their breathing had quieted and the siren had grown distant again, turning away up toward the lodge. "He talked about my father." He felt her listening. "Sometime soon I need to tell you about something I remembered while I was in there." He turned to meet her wide eyes. "We've both gone through hell long enough, Am. Telling ourselves we were at fault for what other people did to us. For things that happened beyond our control. I wasn't a rotten kid that deserved everything I got. And you didn't kill your baby." She covered her mouth and buried her head against his muddy chest, but he could feel her nod. "Now drive."
He watched her pull back onto the main road, her jaw set with determination. Her hair was down, tangled, her face sooty and bleeding from a scratch. She looked wild, but then he probably looked like he'd stuck his finger in an electric socket himself. They would have to do some explaining just to get a key to a gas-station restroom and wash up. She had said they were broken, he recalled, and they were. Broken and cracked in a hundred places, reforming again and again until they were nothing but fault lines, but somehow the stronger for it.
The turn-off to Twin Peaks drew near ahead and she took her foot off the gas long enough to glance at him, his acknowledging nod, and then she gunned past it, going east. The firs zipping by threw strips of light and dark across them like cage bars until they were well out of the woods.
End of Story