Twilight Eyes Page 18

I now saw, beyond the cataracts sheathing the eyes, beyond the eyes themselves, a faint red glow, the bloody light of other eyes, goblin eyes. A tiny glimmer. A faint hellfire flicker. Not the blazing light of before. Just a distant pulsing ember in each clouded orb. I could see nothing more of the goblin, no snout or toothy muzzle, just a suggestion of those hateful eyes, perhaps because the beast was too far along the road of death to be able to project its full presence back into this human hulk. But surely even this much was impossible. Its throat had been torn open, damn it, and its heart had ceased beating back there in the Dodgem Car pavilion the night before last, and it had stopped breathing, too, for Christ’s sake, had not breathed for two whole days while buried beneath the sideshow floor—was still not breathing as far as I could see—and had lost so much blood that there could not be enough left to sustain its circulatory system.

Its grin broadened as it struggled to pull itself out of the half-opened grave. But part of its body remained pinned beneath almost a foot and a half of earth, and it was having a little trouble tearing free. Nonetheless, with laborious effort and diabolic determination it continued digging and straining, all the while exhibiting the flailing, jerky movements of a broken machine.

Although I had left it for dead among the Dodgem Cars, a spark of life evidently had remained within it. Somehow its kind obviously could retreat from death when an ordinary man would have no choice but surrender, retreat into a state of—what?—maybe suspended animation, something of the sort, defensively curling up around the faintest ember of life force, jealously guarding it, keeping it aglow. And then what? Could a nearly dead goblin gradually fan the ember of life into a small flame, rebuild the flame into a fire, repair its damaged body, reanimate itself, and come back from the grave? If I had not disinterred this one, would its ravaged throat have healed and would it have magically replenished its blood supply? In a couple of weeks, when the carnival was long gone and the fairgrounds were deserted, would it have reenacted a grisly version of the Lazarus story, opening its own grave from the inside?

I felt myself teetering at the brink of a psychological abyss. If I was not insane already, then I had never been closer to madness than I was now.

Grunting with frustration, uncoordinated and by all appearances not terribly strong, the unbreathing but demonically animated cadaver began to claw at the earth that weighed down its lower body, scooping the soil aside with slow, stupid industriousness. Its opalescent eyes never drifted away from me for a moment, watching me intently from under its low, dirt-smeared brow. Not strong, no, but it was getting stronger even as I crouched there, transfixed by terror. It attacked the confining earth with increasing fervor, and the vague red glow in its eyes was growing brighter.

The knife.

The weapon was beside the grave. The wind-stirred light bulb swung on its cord overhead, and a bright reflection of it rippled back and forth along the steel blade that lay on the floor below, imparting a look of sorcerous power to the weapon, as if it were no mere knife but the true Excalibur; in fact, to me, at that dark moment, it was as valuable as any magic sword drawn from a scabbard of stone. But to get my hands on the knife, I would have to put myself within the reach of the half-dead thing.

Deep in its torn throat, the corpse made a shrill, wet, cackling noise that might have been laughter—the laughter of asylum dwellers or of the damned.

It had almost freed one leg.

With sudden resolve I scuttled forward, toward the knife.

The thing anticipated me, swung one clumsy arm, and swatted the weapon away from me. With a clink-tink-clink and a final glimmer-flash, the knife spun through the sawdust and vanished in the blackness under the edge of the wooden platform that supported Joel Tuck’s empty chair.

I did not even consider hand-to-hand combat. I knew I had no chance of choking or hammering the life out of a zombie. It would be like fighting quicksand. Slow and weak as the creature seemed to be, nevertheless it would endure, wait me out, resist, until I was totally exhausted, and then finish me with slow, heavy blows.

The knife was my only chance.

So I plunged past the shallow grave, and the dead thing clutched my leg with one frigid hand that instantly passed its own coldness through my jeans and into my own flesh, but I kicked at it, driving one boot into the side of its head, and tore loose. Stumbling to the far corner of the twelve-foot-long stall, I half fell and half dropped to my knees, then onto my belly, at the spot where the knife had disappeared into the gap beneath the platform. The opening was perhaps five inches high, plenty of space to slip an arm through. I reached under there, felt around, found dirt and sawdust and pebbles and an old bent nail but no knife. I heard the dead thing gabbling wordlessly behind me, dirt being flung aside, limbs pulling free of entombment, squishing, grunting, scrabbling. Not pausing to look back, I pressed right up against the platform until the edge of a plank jammed painfully into my shoulder, and I strained to reach six inches deeper, probed, trying to see with my fingertips as well as feel, found nothing but a small bit of wood and a crisp cellophane wrapper from cigarettes or candy, so I was not getting in there deep enough, and I was tormented by the thought that my hand was unknowingly within a hair’s breadth of the desired object, and nothing for it but to squeeze in farther, just two more inches, please—there!—deeper but still no good, no sign of the knife, so I moved to the left a little, now right, frantically grasping empty air and dirt and a tuft of dry grass, and now behind me came a gibbering-chuckling noise and the scrape-thud of a heavy footstep, and I was whimpering, heard myself whimpering and could not stop—one more inch!—and under the platform something pricked my thumb, the sharp point of the knife at last, and I caught the tip of the blade between thumb and forefinger, pulled it out, reversed my grip on it—but before I could get up or even roll onto my back, the corpse bent over me and seized me by the scruff of the neck and the seat of the pants, lifted me with more strength than I had expected of it, swung me, pitched me, and I landed hard, facedown in the grave, an earthworm against my nose, choking on a mouthful of dirt.

Gagging, swallowing some dirt, spitting some out, I flopped onto my back just as the brain-damaged goblin clumped and heaved its broken-machine body to the edge of the grave. It glared down. Eyes of frost and fire. Its inconstant shadow swung back and forth across me as the light above dipped in the draft.

There was not sufficient distance between us for me to throw the knife successfully. However, suddenly sensing the dead thing’s intention, I gripped the haft with both hands, held the weapon straight up, and locked my shoulders and elbows and wrists, pointing the blade at the creature in the same instant that it spread its arms and, grinning witlessly, fell toward me. It impaled itself upon the knife, and my arms buckled under its weight. It collapsed on top of me, knocking my breath out.

Though the knife was buried to the hilt in its unbeating heart, it would not yet be still, its chin lay on my shoulder, and it pressed one cold and greasy cheek to mine. It muttered senselessly in my ear, in a tone disconcertingly like that of one in the throes of passion. Its arms and legs twitched spider-quick though without purpose, and its hands quivered and jerked.

Empowered by overwhelming disgust and unadulterated terror, I pushed, squirmed, hit, kicked, bucked, shoved, twisted, clawed, and pulled my way out from under the creature, until our positions were reversed, with me atop it, one knee on its groin, the other in the dirt beside it, I sputtered curses comprised of half words and nonwords that were every bit as meaningless as the gibberish that passed from my dead adversary’s still moving lips, and I wrenched the knife out of its heart and stabbed it again, again, once more, in throat and chest and belly, again, and once more. Lacking aim and enthusiasm, it swung brick-size fists at me, but even in my mindless frenzy I dodged most blows with little difficulty, though the few that landed on my arms and shoulders were effective. Eventually my knife produced the desired result, cutting out the throbbing cancer of unnatural life that animated the cold flesh, excising it bit by bit, until the dead thing’s spasming legs grew still, until its arms moved even more slowly and erratically, until it began to bite its own tongue. Its arms at last dropped, limp at its sides, and its mouth fell slack, and the faint crimson light of goblin intelligence went out of its eyes.

I had killed it.


But killing was not enough. I had to make sure the thing stayed dead. I could now see that indeed the mortal wound in its throat had partially healed since the Dodgem Car pavilion. Until tonight I had not realized that goblins, like the vampires of European folklore, could sometimes resurrect themselves if they had not been dispatched with sufficient thoroughness. Now that I knew the grim truth, I would take no chances. While a flood tide of adrenaline was still sluicing through me, before I came crashing down into enervating despair and nausea, I cut off the creature’s head. It was not easy work, but my knife was sharp, the blade of tempered steel, and I still had the strength of terror and fury. At least the butchery was bloodless, for I had already drained this corpse two nights ago.

Outside, with much moaning and hissing, hot summer wind gusted across the tent. The billowing canvas strained at the anchor ropes and pegs, crackling, thrumming, flapping, like the wings of a great, dark bird seeking flight but chained to an earthly perch.

Large, blackish witch-moths darted around the swaying bulbs and added their swooping shadows to the whirl of light and weird adumbrated forms. Viewed with eyes that were focused through a lens of panic and blurred by stinging sweat, that constant phantom movement was maddening and only worsened the unsettling waves of dizziness that already swept through me.

When at last I completed the decapitation, I considered putting the thing’s head between its legs, then filling the grave, but that seemed to be a dangerously incomplete scattering of the remains. I could easily imagine the corpse, again interred, gradually moving its hands beneath the earth, reaching down for its severed pate, reassembling itself, its torn neck knitting up, the pieces of its broken spine fusing together, crimson light returning to its strange eyes. . . . Therefore I put the head aside and reburied only the body. I stamped on the plot, packing the dirt down as well as I could, then spread sawdust over it again.

Carrying the head by its hair, feeling savage and wild and not liking that feeling one damned bit, I hurried back to the entrance to Shockville and switched off the lights.

The flap that I had untied was snapping in the blustery night. I cautiously looked out at the midway where there was no movement in the waning light of the setting moon, except for the spectral shapes of gliding dust-ghosts that the seance wind had conjured up.

I slipped outside, put the head down, retied the canvas at the entrance, picked the head up again, and hurried stealthily along the concourse to the back end of the lot, between two chastely darkened girlie shows, through a cluster of trucks that stood like slumbering elephants, past generators and huge, empty wooden grates, across a deserted field, into the nearest arm of the forest that embraced three sides of the fairgrounds. With each step I was increasingly afraid that the head, dangling from its handle of hair, was coming alive again—a new glow dawning in its eyes, lips writhing, teeth gnashing—and I held it out to one side, at arm’s length, so I would not accidentally bump it against my leg and give it a chance to sink its teeth deep into my thigh.

Of course, it was dead, all the life gone from it forever. The grinding and clacking of its teeth, its thick mutterings of hatred and anger, were merely my own fevered fantasies. My imagination not only ran away with me but galloped, raced, stampeded across a nightmare landscape of horrendous possibilities. When at last I thrashed through the underbrush beneath the trees, found a small clearing beside a brook, and put the severed head upon a convenient rock table, even the wan and eldritch moonbeams provided adequate light to prove that my fears were groundless and that the object of my terror remained without life, natural or otherwise.

The earth near the stream was a soft, moist loam, easily dug with bare hands. The trees, their night-black boughs like witch skirts and warlock robes, stood sentinel at the perimeter of the clearing while I scooped a hole, buried the head, tamped down the earth, and concealed my labors with a scattering of dead leaves and pine needles.

Now, to effect a Lazarean rebirth, the headless corpse would first have to tear out of its pit in the midway, crawl or stagger sightlessly to the forest, locate this clearing, and exhume its own head from this second grave. Although the events of the past hour had instilled in me an even greater respect for the evil powers of the goblin race, I was quite certain that they could not overcome such formidable obstacles to resurrection as these. The beast was dead, and it would remain dead.

The trip from the sideshow to the forest, the digging of the hole, and the burial of the head had all been accomplished in a near panic. So I stood in the clearing for a moment, arms hanging limply, and tried to calm down. It was not easy.

I kept thinking about Uncle Denton, back in Oregon. Had his badly hacked corpse healed in the privacy of his coffin and had he smashed his way out of the tomb a few weeks after I had gone on the run from the law? Had he paid a visit to the farmhouse where my mother and sisters still lived, to take vengeance on the Stanfeuss family, and had they become a goblin’s victims because of me? No. That was unthinkable. I could not live under the smothering weight of that guilt. Denton had not come back. For one thing, that bloody day I had gone after him, he had fought with such ferocity that my rage had grown into a state not unlike a psychotic frenzy, and I had inflicted horrible damage with the ax, wielding it with mad abandon even after I had known he was dead; he had been too smashed and thoroughly dismembered to have knitted himself together again. Furthermore, even if he achieved resurrection, surely he would not return to the Stanfeuss house or to anyplace in the Siskiyou valleys where he was known, for the miracle of his return from the grave would have shocked the world and focused relentless attention upon him. I was sure he was still in his coffin, decomposing—but if he was not in his grave, then he was far from Oregon, living under a new name, tormenting other innocents, not my folks.

I turned from the clearing, pressed through the brush, and found my way back to the open field where the night was redolent with the scent of goldenrod. I had covered only half the distance to the midway when I realized that there was still a taste of dirt in my mouth, from the bite of earth I had unwillingly taken when thrown into the goblin’s grave. That vile taste recalled every detail of the horrors of the past hour, somehow broke through the guardian numbness that had protected me from collapse while I had done what had to be done. Nausea overwhelmed me. I fell to my hands and knees, hung my head, and vomited in the grass and goldenrod.

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