Authors: Richard Laymon
For Stanley, the earthquake is a heaven-sent opportunity. Just before it struck, he was ogling Sheila, a female jogger, and that's not all he'd like to do to her. Now the city lies in ruins, and Sheila lies trapped and naked in her bathtub. Can her husband make it to her before Stanley does?
From Publishers Weekly
In this above-average disaster thriller, Sheila Banner is looking forward to a long, relaxing bath when a massive earthquake hits southern California, trapping her in the tub, naked but intact under two fallen beams. Meanwhile, Sheila's husband, Clint, is stranded at work, his car sitting behind a pair of powerless electronic security gates, while their daughter, Barbara, along with three classmates, is caught in a speeding car with a panicky teacher at the wheel. Through alternating chapters, Laymon (Savage) tells these three tales of survival in his customary speedy, whip-lean prose, eschewing descriptions of fallen bridges and highways to focus on the disintegration of humanity, the violence and predation unleashed by the quake. The imagery is graphic-roving gangs stripping and mutilating the bodies of the living as well as the dead-but, as in the best of Laymon's work, like The Stake, there's an edge of black humor to the proceedings, a faint cackle in the background. Still, this is strong, disturbing fare, not for the thin-skinned.
From Library Journal
Stanley Banks is not the neighbor one would want when Los Angeles is hit by "the Big One," the earthquake that destroys the sprawling city. In the quake's aftermath, the thin veneer that keeps the savages civilized crumbles almost as fast as the real estate. The Banner family is scattered when it hits, and Sheila Banner is trapped in a tub under the wreckage of her house when Stanley, her psychopathic admirer, finds her. Meanwhile, Clint and daughter Barbara are separately struggling to get home to Sheila, walking through Los Angeles while fleeing and fighting gangs that rob, rape, murder, and mutilate. Laymon (Savage, LJ 12/93) expertly lays on the horror here, and at times his Los Angeles seems to have been invaded by aliens, so quickly have the residents turned savage. Horror fans will find this hard to put down. Strongly recommended for public libraries.
Anarchy reigns supreme and altruism is obsolete in Laymon's novel about "the big one." The book opens minutes before an earthquake hits Southern California with the force of an atom bomb. We often hear heartwarming tales of neighbors reaching out to each other and communities pulling together in the wake of sudden disaster. Concentrating on one family, the Banners, whose members are caught on opposite sides of the city by their daily routines, Laymon throws all that out the window, portraying instead a world where normal people become panicked maniacs, perverts find the opportunities to act out their fantasies, and the stable and sane find it increasingly difficult to stay that way. Laymon writes well enough to maintain interest in the fates of the characters, and all the jumping back and forth among the separate Banners' various venues isn't as distracting as you might think. All in all, horror and suspense fans will be satisfied.
Minutes before the quake hit, Stanley Banks was at his living room window. Though he held the sports section of the L.A. Times at chest level, he only pretended to read it. He pretended, every weekday morning, to read it. In case Mother should happen to wheel herself into the room to spy him stationed by the window. She remained in the kitchen sipping coffee and listening to the radio. But sometimes she put in surprise appearances, and the paper made a good diversion. By now, she knew that Stanley was in the habit of standing the window to take advantage of the morning light while studied the front page of the sports section. That was what he had told her often enough. It wasn't the truth, of course. in truth, he stood there to watch the sidewalk. He was watching it, now, over the top edge of the paper.
He hoped he hadn't missed her. He glanced at his wristwatch. Eight o'clock on the nose. She ought to be running past the house within the next five minutes.
'Stanley!' his mother called. 'Stanley! Be a dear and fetch some matches.'
Stanley felt his throat tighten. 'Just a minute,' he called.
'Do as you're asked, please.'
I'm gonna miss her. Maybe not. Maybe not, if hurry. He slapped the newspaper onto the end table, then strode across the small living room to the fireplace, grabbed a handful of matchbooks from a wicker basket on the mantel and hurried through the dining room to the kitchen. He tossed them onto the table in front of his mother. They hit the surface hard bouncing and scattering. One matchbook skidded off the edge and dropped to the floor beside her wheelchair. Stanley whirled around. He managed only a single step of his escape before a harsh voice demanded, 'Stop right there.'
'Look at me when speak to you.'
'Yes, ma'am.' Stanley faced her.
Alma Banks, squinting at him through her pink-framed glasses, jabbed a Virginia Slims between her lips and fired a match. She sucked its flame to the tip of her cigarette. She inhaled, then blew twin gray funnels out her nostrils.
'I asked you for matches, young man. Not for a display of temper. '
'I'm sorry. If you just could've waited for a couple of minutes…'
'Your time is so precious that you can't afford to do a small errand for your own mother?’
'No,' he said. 'I'm sorry.' I'm going to miss her.
'Matches. That was all asked for. Matches. Do ask so much of you? You're a grown man. You're thirty-two years old. You live in my home. You eat my food. Is it so much to do a little something for me once in a blue moon?’
'No. I'm sorry. Can go now?'
'May I? Please?'
'Go.' A flap of her hand kicked the smoke cloud coiling away from her face.
'Thank you, Mother.' He headed for the living room, telling himself not to rush. 'I'll be back to do the dishes in a minutes. just want to finish the sports section.'
'You and your sports section. It isn't going to vanish, you know.'
She wasn't letting up, but she wasn't following him. The wheelchair remained silent. She was apparently content.
'Your precious sports page isn't going to go up in a puff of smoke, do you know that? It can't wait two minutes while you find your mother matches?'
'I got you the matches,' he called.
'You threw them at me, that's what you did.'
He checked his wristwatch. Three minutes past eight. missed her…
'I won't always be around, you know,' Alma reminded him.
He waited for her to start pouring on the waterworks.
Stanley almost felt like crying, himself. He'd missed his chance, been cheated out of it by the selfish whims of his mother.
And then she appeared.
Stanley thought, My God.
'Oh, Sheila,' he whispered.
She came into view from beyond the oleander side of the lawn, long legs striding out, arms swinging at her sides with relaxed grace. Her white shoes so bright they flashed like sunlit snow. Her tawny legs alive with shifting curves of muscle. They were way up to the golden trim of her shorts. The royal blue shorts shimmered and flowed around as she ran. Sliding over her thighs and buttocks, rubbing warm between her legs. She wore an old, faded blue T-shirt. Its chest shifted with the jouncing of her breasts. Stanley could tell that she was wearing a bra. She never ran without one. Stanley actually glimpsed her bra when her arm cocked back. Its side showed near the bottom of the armhole. It was white this morning. The hole gaped enough so that he could see a bra. Stanley wished she was not wearing it. Then he wad able to see most of her breast through the armhole. The way her shirt was cut off at the waist, the way it hung from her breasts, he would be able to look up and see them both. Their smooth round undersides… Sure, he thought. If I'm lying on the sidewalk.
After noting that today, as always, she wore a bra, Stanley lifted his gaze to her face. A glorious face. At once smooth and hard, delicate and powerful, silk and granite, innocent and sophisticated. But altogether beautiful, the face of a movie queen and a warrior goddess melded into one stunning, incredible Sheila Banner. Hair like a thick banner of gold flowed behind Sheila, and was the last Stanley saw of her when she ran past the bushes at the far side of the driveway. Trembling, he took a deep breath. Then he retrieved his sports section and stepped over to his armchair in the comer of the room. After sitting down, he pushed himself against the back of the chair so that it reclined and the footrest swung up. He raised the newspaper and stared at it. He imagined himself going after Sheila. Running out to the sidewalk after she passed, and following. At a discreet distance, of course. It wouldn't be against the law. Why don't I? he asked himself. Why don't really do it instead of just sitting here and dreaming about it? She'd be bound to notice me. So what? Plenty of so what. She sees Stan the Man, all six foot two inches of him, all two hundred and eighty pounds of him, all red and sweaty and lumbering after her, she isn't going to be exactly overwhelmed with ardour. She'll be disgusted or scared, one or the other. Or both.
And maybe she sees which house came out of, so she changes her route and that's the last time she ever runs by. And maybe she realizes it's my house behind her backyard fence, and maybe she starts to worry about what else might be up to… So maybe she starts being more careful about shutting the curtains, more careful about what she does in the yard. Warns the girl about me, too.
Lovely girl. Not in the same league as her mother, though.
To Stanley's way of thinking, nobody was. Sheila Banner formed a league of one. He wished he had photos of her. He didn't dare sneak pictures of her with his good Minolta, though. He would have to send the film out to get it developed. People at the processing lab would see it. They might suspect something. For that matter, one of them might be a friend of hers. Stanley just couldn't risk it. He used to have a Polaroid camera. He'd bought it shortly after moving back into Mother's house, ten months ago. Because he just had to have photographs of the incredible woman who ran past the window each morning - who lived directly behind him. He'd made the mistake of showing the new camera to Mother. Showing it to her before he'd even had a chance to use it. She'd turned it this way and that, inspecting it. Then she'd narrowed her eyes at him. 'Do you suspect, for one minute, that don't know what this is for?' He'd blushed hot.
'What are you talking about?' he'd blurted.
'As if you didn't know. And who is it that you plan to take your dirty pictures of? Me?'
'No!' he'd cried out.
And watched Mother hurl the Polaroid. It struck the fireplace bricks. Bits of plastic and glass flew like shrapnel. The demolished camera bounced forward a couple of feet, dropped, and crashed to the tiles of the outer hearth.
'I won't have it,' she had informed him. 'Not in my home. Not now. Not ever. I'm ashamed of you.'
Remembering the fate of his Polaroid, Stanley let out a sigh. I'm such a gutless wonder, he thought. could've bought a new Polaroid the next day. could buy one today, for that matter. What Mother doesn't know won't hurt her. But if she catches me… If she catches me. Stanley wished he had the guts to ignore that little refrain. If she catches me. Oh, the things he would've done if not for that. The things he would've seen. The wonderful opportunities…
He was thirty-two years old, and he felt as if he had missed his life. Missed it because there had always been a woman watching over him like a prison guard. First Mother, then his wife Thelma, and now Mother again. shouldn't have moved in here, he told himself. Stupid stupid stupid! After Thelma's death, however, Mother had begged him to come and live with her. It hadn't seemed like a bad idea at the time. For one thing, Mother possessed a considerable amount of wealth and a little stucco house valued at nearly $400,000. For another thing, Stanley's job had perished with Thelma. Thelma was the only woman who had looked at him. So in spite of her age and size and face, he had married her two weeks after his high school graduation. She had already been a fairly successful author making enough money for both of them. Without a job, Stanley had gone to work for his wife, fan letters, handling such chores as photocopying manuscripts, and so on. He'd been her secretary, not a very good one. With her death, Stanley's prospects of finding decent job seemed remote. He doubted that he would be able to get by on her royalties.
So he'd agreed to move in with Mother. And he'd missed his chance for freedom. He had been like a prisoner whose guard had dropped while on duty, leaving his cell unlocked. He could have left. All it would've required was an ounce of guts. But he'd waited like a model prisoner. But the cell has a great view, he told himself, and Sheila. would've missed out on her. Stanley checked his wristwatch. Seventeen minutes past eight. Sheila would've been back inside her house by now. With all his meandering thoughts, Stan neglected his habit of tracking her movements in his imagination. He considered pretending he hadn't missed out. He had tried that before, though, and it just wasn't the same. The thing was to picture her at the same moment as her actions: taking out her house key… Oh where, oh where had she kept it this morning? Tucked in a sock? Nothing so mundane as that. No no no. Slipped beneath the waistband of her panties, perhaps. Or maybe she'd kept it safe inside a cup of her bra where it had made an imprint of itself on her breast. So many places where the key might hide, a warm secret pressed to her skin. Places where she would need to delve with long fingers to…
Quit it, he told himself. You missed all that. You've gotta catch up and make it simultaneous. By now, she had probably finished stripping off her sweaty clothes. Stanley loved to picture that. How she started with a shoe, usually balancing on one leg while she raised the other, bent over slightly and clutched the shoe with…
Catch up, damn it. Yes. Right. What's she doing now? At this very instant? Stanley looked at his wristwatch. Eight-nineteen. Probably she was already standing under the shower, its hot spray splashing her naked body. Or perhaps she was sprawled out in her bathtub. Stanley didn't know whether she preferred showers or baths. Being such an athlete, Sheila was just the sort to prefer showers. But her more feminine and sensual side would relish lounging in a tub full of hot water. So she did both, the choice depending on her mood. On my mood, Stanley corrected himself. This seemed like a shower day.
After folding the sports section and resting it on his lap, Stanley shut his eyes. And saw the shower doors through swirling twists of steam. In spite of the steam, they were not fogged and he could see through them as if they weren't there at all. He could see Sheila standing beneath the nozzle facing up to the spray, her head tilted back, her elbows high as her fingers raked through her soaked hair. Her face glowed in the water. Shiny rivulets streamed down her breasts trembled ever so slightly with the motion of her arms, like liquid diamonds gathered at the tips of her and fell, one by one…
Stanley's chair jerked beneath him. In that instant he thought that Mother had somehow caught wind of his daydream and rammed him with her wheelchair. You filthy pervert! By the time he got his eyes open, however, he saw Mother had nothing to do with the alarming jolt. Because she wasn't in the room, and the room was juddering with such rough quickness that it blurred. Beside him, the lamp pitched over. He battered his newspaper aside and leaned dropping the footrest. As he shoved himself out of the room he shouted, 'Earthquake!'
Of course, Mother already knew that. Stanley could hear her scream over the sound of his voice, the roar of the quake, the clamor of the window shattering and the noises of things all over the house falling to the floor. A falling chunk struck his shoulder when he was on his way to the front door. Plaster? The ceiling! I've gotta get out of here! He reached out and grabbed the doorknob, turned it and pulled. Only when the door refused to swing open did he remember that he needed to unfasten the dead bolt. He let go of the knob and tried to nip the brass turner between his thumb and forefinger. It dodged him as if it didn't want to get caught. 'Bastard!' he yelled. Then he pinched it. He gave it a quick twist. A lurch of the house tried to hurl him backward. He grabbed the doorknob just in time, saving himself from a tumble.
'Stanley!' his mother squealed. 'Help me! Help me!'
He looked past his shoulder. And here came Mother, hunched over and wheeling in from the dining room like a contender making a sprint for the finish line. Clods and slabs of plaster dropped all around her as the ceiling broke apart. White dust sifted down on her.
'Stanley!' she shrieked. 'I've gotta get the door open!'
He turned the knob, yanked. The door flew toward him. He had neglected to unhook the guard chain, but didn't notice his oversight until the chain and uprooted jamb plate lashed his brow. He staggered backward, swinging the door with him. His grip on the knob began steering him sideways toward the demolished window, so he let go. His own weight shoved him back across the floor. The chair stopped him. It reclined, popped up its footrest, scooted with the impact and pounded the wall behind it. Right back where started! Stanley hugged his head with both arms and screamed. And watched his mother. He stopped screaming. Because, after all, this was serious but it was funny. Funny how he'd gotten thrown right back there. And really funny how Mother had quit her beeline for the door (maybe because the route was blocked rubble?) and was wheeling herself around in frenzy. She was no longer screaming, either. And she was calling for assistance from Stanley.