I saw Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot’ when I was a young boy and one short section soon became my favourite part of the whole movie. It’s at 5.36 in the Youtube clip.
The equivalent section of the book, although very different, was even better. And descriptions of rope tied painfully tight through the boy’s crotch excited me even though I didn’t know why. The relevant section of the book is reproduced below.
When Mark came to, he was being carried up a flight of stairs – not the cellar stairs, though. There was not that feeling of stone enclosure, and the air was not so fetid. He allowed his eyelids to unclose themselves a tiny fraction, letting his head still loll limply on his neck. A stair landing coming up . . . the second floor. He could see quite clearly. The sun was not down yet. Thin hope, then.
They gained the landing, and suddenly the arms holding him were gone. He thumped heavily onto the floor, hitting his head.
‘Do you not think I know when someone is playing the possum, young master?’ Straker asked him. From the floor he seemed easily ten feet tall. His bald head glistened with a subdued elegance in the gathering gloom. Mark saw with growing terror that there was a coil of rope around his shoulder.
He grabbed for the pocket where the pistol had been.
Straker threw back his head and laughed. ‘I have taken the liberty of removing the gun, young master. Boys should I not be allowed weapons they do not understand . . . any more than they should lead young ladies to houses where their commerce has not been invited.’
‘What did you do with Susan Norton?’
Straker smiled. ‘I have taken her where she wished to go, my boy. Into the cellar. Later, when the sun goes down, she will meet the man she came here to meet. You will meet him yourself, perhaps later tonight, perhaps tomorrow night. He may give you to the girl, of course . . . but I rather think he’ll want to deal with you himself. The girl will have friends of her own, some of them perhaps meddlers like yourself.’
Mark lashed out with both feet at Straker’s crotch, and Straker side-stepped liquidly, like a dancer. At the same moment he kicked his own foot out, connecting squarely with Mark’s kidneys.
Mark bit his lips and writhed on the floor.
Straker chuckled. ‘Come, young master. To your feet.’
‘I . . . I can’t.’
‘Then crawl,’ Straker said contemptuously. He kicked again, this time striking the large muscle of the thigh. The pain was dreadful, but Mark clenched his teeth together. He got to his knees, and then to his feet.
They progressed down the hall toward the door at the far end. The pain in his kidneys was subsiding to a dull ache. ‘What are you going to do with me?’
‘Truss you like a spring turkey, young master. Later, after my Master holds intercourse with you, you will be set free.’
‘Like the others?’
As Mark pushed open -the door and stepped into the room where Hubert Marsten had committed suicide, something odd seemed to happen in his mind. The fear did not fall away from it, but it seemed to stop acting as a brake on his thoughts, jamming all productive signals. His thoughts began to flicker past with amazing speed, not in words or precisely images, but in a kind of symbolic shorthand. He felt like a light bulb that has suddenly received a surge of power from no known source.
The room itself was utterly prosaic. The wallpaper hung in strips, showing the white plaster and sheet rock beneath. The floor was heavily dusted with time and plaster, but there was only one set of footprints in it, suggesting someone had come up once, looked around, and left again. There were two stacks of magazines, a cast-iron cot with no spring or mattress, and a small tin plate with a faded Currier & Ives design that had once blocked the stove hole in the chimney. The window was shuttered, but enough light filtered dustily through the broken slats to make Mark think there might be an hour of daylight left. There was an aura of old nastiness about the room.
It took perhaps five seconds to open the door, see these things, and cross to the center of the room where Straker told him to stop. In that short period, his mind raced along three tracks and saw three possible outcomes to the situation he found himself in.
On one, he suddenly sprinted across the room toward the shuttered window and tried to crash through both glass and shutter like a Western movie hero, taking the drop to whatever lay below with blind hope. In one mental eye he saw himself crashing through only to fall onto a rusty pile of junked farm machinery, twitching away the last seconds of his life impaled on blunt harrow blades like a bug on a pin. In the other eye he saw himself crashing through the glass and into the shutter which trembled but did not break. He saw Straker pulling him back, his clothes torn, his body lacerated and bleeding in a dozen places.
On the second track, he saw Straker tie him up and leave. He saw himself trussed on the floor, saw the light fading, saw his struggles become more frenzied (but just as useless), and heard, finally, the steady tread on the stairs of one who was a million times worse than Straker.
On the third track, he saw himself using a trick he had read about last summer in a book on Houdini. Houdini had been a famous magician who had escaped jail cells, chained boxes, bank vaults, steamer trunks thrown into rivers. He could get out of ropes, police handcuffs, and Chinese finger-pullers. And one of the things the book said he did was hold his breath and tighten his hands into fists when a volunteer from the audience was tying him up. You bulged your thighs and forearms and neck muscles, too. If your muscles were big, you had a little slack when you relaxed them. The trick then was to relax completely, and go at your escape slowly and surely, never letting panic hurry you up. Little by little, your body would give you sweat for grease, and that helped, too. The book made it sound very easy.
‘Turn around,’ Straker said. ‘I am going to tie you up. While I tie you up, you will not move. If you move, I take this’ – he cocked his thumb before Mark like a hitchhiker – ‘and pop your right eye out. Do you understand?’
Mark nodded. He took a deep breath, held it, and bunched all his muscles.
Straker threw his coil of rope over one of the beams.
‘Lie down,’ he said.
He crossed Mark’s hands behind his back and bound them tightly with the rope. He made a loop, slipped it around Mark’s neck, and tied it in a hangman’s knot. ‘You’re made fast to the very beam my Master’s friend and sponsor in this country hung himself from, young master. Are you flattered?’
Mark grunted, and Straker laughed. He passed the rope through Mark’s crotch, and he groaned as Straker took up the slack with a brutal jerk.
He chuckled with monstrous good nature. ‘So your jewels hurt? They will not for long. You are going to lead an ascetic’s life, my boy – a long, long life.’
He banded the rope over Mark’s taut thighs, made the knot tight, banded it again over his knees, and again over his ankles. Mark needed to breathe very badly now, but he held on stubbornly.
‘You’re trembling, young master,’ Straker said mockingly. ‘Your body is all in hard little knots. Your flesh is white – but it, will be whiter! Yet you need not be so afraid. My Master has the capacity for kindness. He is much loved, right here in your own town. There is only a little sting, like the doctor’s needle, and then sweetness. And later on you will be let free. You will go see your mother and father, yes? You will see them after they sleep.’
He stood up and looked down at Mark benignly. ‘I will say good-by for a bit now, young master. Your lovely consort is to be made comfortable. When we meet again, you will like me better.’
He left, slamming the door behind him. A key rattled in the lock. And as his feet descended the stairs, Mark Jet out his breath and relaxed his muscles with a great, whooping sigh.
The ropes holding him loosened – a little.
He lay moveless, collecting himself. His mind was still flying with that same unnatural, exhilarating speed. From his position, he looked across the swelled, uneven floor to the iron cot frame. He could see the wall beyond it. The wallpaper was peeled away from that section and lay beneath the cot frame like a discarded snake-skin. He focused on a small section of the wall and examined it closely. He flushed everything else from his mind. The book on Houdini said that concentration was all important. No fear or taint of panic must be allowed in the mind. The body must be completely relaxed. And the escape must take place in the mind before a single finger did so much as twitch. Every step must exist concretely in the mind.
He looked at the wall, and minutes passed.
The wall was white and bumpy, like an old drive-i n movie screen. Eventually, as his body relaxed to its greatest degree, he began to see himself projected there, a small boy wearing a blue T-shirt and Levi’s jeans. The boy was on his side, arms pulled behind him, wrists nestling the small of the back above the buttocks. A noose looped around his neck, and any hard struggling would tighten that running slipknot inexorably until enough air was cut off to black out the brain.
He looked at the wall.
The figure there had begun to move cautiously, although he himself lay perfectly still. He watched all the movements of the simulacrum raptly. He had achieved a level of concentration necessary to the Indian fakirs and yogis, who are able to contemplate their toes or the tips of their noses for days, the state of certain mediums who levitate tables in a state of unconsciousness or extrude long tendrils of teleplasm from the nose, the mouth, the fingertips. His state was close to sublime. He did not think of Straker or the fading daylight. He no longer saw the gritty floor, the cot frame, or even the wall. He only saw the boy, a perfect figure which went through a tiny dance of carefully controlled muscles.
He looked at the wall.
And at last he began to move his wrists in half circles toward each other. At the limit of each half circle, the thumb sides of his palms touched. No muscles moved but those in his lower forearms. He did not hurry. He looked at the wall.
As sweat rose through his pores, his wrists began to turn more freely. The half circles became three-quarters. At the limit of each, the backs of his hands pressed together. The loops holding them had loosened a tiny bit more.
After a moment had passed, he began to flex his thumbs against his palms and press his fingers together in a wriggling motion. His face was utterly expressionless, the plaster face of a department store dummy.
Five minutes passed. His hands were sweating freely now. The extreme level of his concentration had put him in partial control of his own sympathetic nervous system, another device of yogis and fakirs, and he had, unknowingly, gained some control over his body’s involuntary functions. More sweat trickled from his pores than his careful movements could account for. His hands had become oily. Droplets fell from his forehead, darkening the white dust on the floor.
He began to move his arms in an up-and-down piston motion, using his biceps and back muscles now. The noose tightened a little, but he could feel one of the loops holding his hands beginning to drag lower on his right palm. It was sticking against the pad of the thumb now, and that was all. Excitement shot through him and he stopped at once until the emotion had passed away completely. When it had, he began again. Up-down. Up-down. Up-down. He gained an eighth of an inch at a time. And suddenly, shockingly, his right hand was free.
He left it where it was, flexing it. When he was sure it was limber, he eased the fingers under the loop holding the left wrist and tented them. The left hand slid free.
He brought both hands around and put them on the floor. He closed his eyes for a moment. The trick now was to not think he had it made. The trick was to move with great deliberation.
Supporting himself with his left hand, he let his right roam over the bumps and valleys of the knot which secured the noose at his neck. He saw immediately that he would have to nearly choke himself to free it – and he was going to tighten the pressure on his testicles, which already throbbed dully.
He took a deep breath and began to work on the knot. The rope tightened by steady degrees, pressing into his neck and crotch. Prickles of coarse hemp dug into his throat like miniature tattoo needles. The knot defied him for what seemed an endless time. His vision began to fade under the onslaught of large black flowers that burst into soundless bloom before his eyes. He refused to hurry. He wiggled the knot steadily, and at last felt new slack in it. For a moment the pressure on his groin tightened unbearably, and then with a convulsive jerk, he threw the noose over his head and the pain lessened.
He sat up and hung his head over, breathing raggedly, cradling his wounded testicles in both hands. The sharp pain became a dull, pervading ache that made him feel nauseated.
When it began to abate a little, he looked over at the shuttered window. The light coming through the broken slats had faded to a dull ocher – it was almost sundown. And the door was locked.
He pulled the loose loop of rope over the beam, and set to work on the knots that held his legs. They were maddeningly tight, and his concentration had begun to slip away from him as reaction set in.
He freed his thighs, the knees, and after a seemingly endless struggle, his ankles. He stood up weakly among the harmless loops of rope and staggered. He began to rub his thighs.
There was a noise from below: footsteps.
He looked up, panicky, nostrils dilating. He hobbled over to the window and tried to lift it. Nailed shut, with rusted tenpennies bent over the cheap wood of the half sill like staples.
The feet were coming up the stairs.
He wiped his mouth with his hand and stared wildly around the room. Two bundles of magazines. A small tin plate with a picture of an 1890s summer picnic on the back. The iron cot frame.
He went to it despairingly and pulled up one end. And some distant gods, perhaps seeing how much luck he had manufactured by himself, doled out a little of their own.
The steps had begun down the hall toward the door when he unscrewed the steel cot leg to its final thread and pulled it free.