Twilight Eyes Page 20

Rudy “Red” Morton, the Sombra Brothers’ chief mechanic, whom I had met at the Whip that first morning on the lot, directed a platoon of men, and he was in turn guided by Gordon Alwein, who was our bald and bearded superintendent of transportation. Gordy was responsible for the final loading of the enormous midway, and since Sombra Brothers traveled in forty-six railroad cars and ninety huge trucks, his job was very demanding.

Gradually the midway, like an enormous lamp of many flames, was extinguished.

Weary, but with an enormously pleasant feeling of community spirit, I returned to the trailer town in the meadow. Many had already left for Yontsdown; others would not leave until tomorrow.

I did not go to my own trailer.

I went, instead, to Rya’s Airstream.

She was waiting for me.

“I hoped you’d come,” she said.

“You knew I would.”

“I wanted to say—”

“Not necessary.”

“—I’m sorry.”

“I’m dirty.”

“Want to shower?”

I wanted, and I did.

She had a beer waiting for me when I dried off.

In her bed, where I thought I would be capable of nothing but sleep, we made a most deliciously slow and easy love, all sighs and murmurs in the darkness, soft caresses, a dreamy slow-motion pumping of hips, the whisper of skin against skin, her breath like sweet summer clover. After a while we seemed to be gliding down into some shadowy but not at all threatening place, melding as we glided, joining more completely with each additional second of descent, and I felt that we were moving toward a perfect and permanent union, that we were close to becoming one entity with an identity different from either of our own, which was a state I much desired, a way to surrender all the bad memories and the responsibilities and the aching loss of Oregon. Just such a blissful relinquishing of self seemed within reach if only I could synchronize the rhythm of intercourse with the beat of her heart, and then, a moment later, that synchronization was achieved, and through the medium of my sperm I passed my own heartbeat into her, the two now thumping as one, and with a lovely shudder and a fading sigh I ceased to exist.

I dreamed of the graveyard. Time-rotted sandstone slabs. Chipped marble monuments. Weathered granite obelisks and rectangles and globes on which perched blackbirds with wickedly hooked bills. Rya was running. I was chasing. I was going to kill her. I did not want to kill her, but for some reason I did not understand, I had no choice other than to bring her down and tear the life out of her. She left not merely footprints in the snow but footprints filled with blood. She was not injured, was not bleeding, so I supposed the blood was merely a sign, an omen of the slaughter to come, proof of the inevitability of our roles, victim and murderer, prey and hunter. I closed on her, and her hair streamed behind her in the wind, and I grabbed it, and her feet skidded out from under her, and we both fell among the headstones, and then I was atop her, snarling, going for her throat, as if I were an animal instead of a man, teeth snapping, seeking her jugular, and blood spurted, quick warm jets of thick crimson serum—

I woke.

Sat up.

Tasted blood.

Shook my head, blinked my eyes, came fully awake.

Still tasted blood.

Oh, Jesus.

It had to be imagination. A lingering bit of the dream.

But it would not go away.

I fumbled for the bedside lamp, snapped it on, and the light seemed harsh and accusing.

Shadows fled to the corners of the small room.

I brought a hand to my mouth. Pressed trembling fingers to my lips. Looked at my fingers. Saw blood.

Beside me, Rya was a huddled form under a single sheet, like a body discreetly covered by thoughtful policemen at the scene of a homicide. She was half turned away from me. All I could see of her was bright hair upon her pillow. She did not move. If she was breathing, she was inhaling and exhaling so shallowly that it was not detectable.

I swallowed hard.

That blood taste. Coppery. Like sucking on an old penny.

No. I had not actually torn her throat out while I dreamed. Oh, God. Impossible. I was not a madman. I was not a homicidal maniac. I was not capable of killing someone I loved.

Yet in spite of my desperate denials, a wild and swooping terror, like a frantic bird, flapped crazily within me, and I could not find the nerve to pull back the sheet and look at Rya. I leaned against the headboard and put my face in my hands.

In the past few hours I had obtained the first hard evidence that the goblins were real rather than chimeras of my demented imagination. In my heart I had always known that they were real, that I was not killing innocent people under the mad misapprehension that a goblin hid within them. Yet . . . what I knew in my heart had never been proof against doubt, and fears of madness had long assailed me. Now I knew that Joel Tuck saw the demonkind too. And I had battled a corpse that had been reanimated by a tiny spark of goblin life force, and if it had been the corpse of an ordinary man, an innocent victim of my mania, it never could have come back as it had done. Those facts were surely adequate defense against the charge of insanity that I had often leveled against myself.

Nevertheless I sat with face in hands, making a mask of my palms and fingers, reluctant to reach out and touch her, afraid of what I might have done.

I gagged on the taste of blood. I shuddered and took a deep breath, and with the breath came the scent of blood.

For the past couple of years, I had suffered grim, dark moments during which I was overcome with the impression that the world was nothing but a charnel house, created and set spinning in the void for the sole purpose of providing a stage for a cosmic Grand Guignol play—and this was one of those moments. In the grip of this depression, it always seemed to me that mankind was made only for slaughter, that we either killed one another, fell prey to the goblins, or became victims of those whims of fate—cancer, earthquakes, tidal waves, brain tumors, lightning bolts—that were God’s colorful contributions to the plot. Sometimes it seemed that our lives were defined and circumscribed by blood. But I had always been able to pull myself out of these pits by clinging to the belief that my crusade against the goblins would ultimately save lives and that I would one day discover a way to convince other men and women of the existence of the monsters that walked among us in disguise. Then, in my scenario of hope, men would stop fighting and hurting one another and would turn all their attention to the real war. But if I had attacked Rya in a delirium and had torn the life out of her, if I could kill someone I loved, then I was insane, and any hope for myself or the future of my kind was a pathetic—

—then Rya whimpered in her sleep.

I gasped.

She thrashed in response to something in a nightmare of her own, tossed her head, wrestled with the sheet a moment, until her face and throat were exposed, then subsided into a less active but still unquiet sleep. Her face was as lovely as my memory of it—unslashed, unbitten, unbruised—though her brow was creased and her mouth was pulled into a teeth-baring grimace by the anxiety that was part of her bad dream. Her throat was unmarked. No blood was visible.

I was weak with relief, and I thanked God effusively. My usual scorn for His works was temporarily forgotten.

Naked, confused, and afraid, I got silently out of bed, went to the bathroom, closed the door, and turned on the light. I looked first at my hand, which I had touched to my lips, and the blood was still on my fingers. Then I raised my eyes to the mirror, and I saw the blood on my chin, glistening on my lips, coating my teeth.

I washed my hands, scrubbed my face, rinsed out my mouth, found some Lavoris in the medicine cabinet, and got rid of the coppery taste. I thought I had probably bitten my tongue in my sleep, but the mouthwash did not sting, and on careful examination I could find no cut that could account for that mouthful of blood.

Somehow the blood in the dream had acquired actual substance and had come with me when I awakened, out of the land of nightmare into the real world of the living. Which was not possible.

I looked at the reflection of my Twilight Eyes.

“What does it mean?” I asked myself.

The mirror image made no answer.

“What exactly the hell is coming?” I demanded.

My looking-glass companion either knew nothing or held his secrets behind compressed lips.

I returned to the bedroom.

Rya had not escaped her nightmare. She lay half revealed, half concealed, in a drift of white linen, and her legs scissored as if she were running, and she said, “Please, please,” and she said, “Oh!” and she seized fistsful of sheets, tossing her head for a moment, then passing into a more docile state in which she resisted the dream with only muttered words and occasional faint cries.

I got into bed.

Doctors who specialize in sleep disorders tell us that our dreams are of surprisingly short duration. Regardless of how long a nightmare seems to last, the researchers report, it actually plays through from beginning to end in no more than a few minutes, usually only twenty to sixty seconds. Obviously Rya Raines had not read what the experts had to say, for she spent the last half of the night proving them wrong. Her sleep was tortured by a series of phantom enemies, imagined battles, and dream pursuits.

I watched her for half an hour in the amber glow of the bedside lamp. Then I switched out the lamp and sat in darkness for another half hour, listening to her, realizing that sleep was the same imperfect rest to her that it was to me. In time I stretched out on my back, and through the mattress I could feel each twitch and spasm of terror that she transmitted from the realm of dreams.

I wondered if she was in one of her graveyards.

I wondered if it was the graveyard on the hill.

I wondered what was pursuing her among the tombstones.

I wondered if it was me.

Chapter twelve


From the flung-wide doors of trucks, from the popped-open lids of crates, like a marvelous spring-loaded mechanism constructed by the same clever Swiss artisans who are famous for their immensely complicated town-hall clocks with life-size moving figures, the carnival rebuilt itself upon the midway at the Yontsdown County Fairgrounds. By seven o’clock Sunday evening it was as if slough night had never been, as if we remained all season in one place, while one town after another came to us. Carnies say they love to travel, and carnies say they could not live without at least a weekly change of venue, and carnies espouse—hell, they champion—the philosophy of drifters-Gypsies-outcasts, and carnies are sentimental suckers for tales and legends of lives lived on the sometimes perilous borders of society, but wherever they go, carnies carry their village in their luggage. Their trucks, trailers, cars, baggage, and pockets are stuffed full of the comfortable familiarities of their lives, and their respect for tradition is far greater than what you find even in small Kansas towns huddled—absolutely unchanging, generation after generation—against the intimidatingly empty vastness of the plains. Carnies look forward to slough night because it is a statement of their freedom, in contrast to the imprisonment of the dreary marks who must always remain behind. But after one day on the road, carnies are edgy and insecure, for although the romance of the road belongs to the Gypsy spirit, the road itself is the work and the property of straight society, and rovers can go only where society has provided passage. In unconscious awareness of the vulnerability that attends mobility, carnies greet their arrival at each new engagement with even more pleasure than they find in the orderly destruction of slough night. The carnival is always reassembled much faster than it is disassembled, and no night of the week is half as sweet as that first night on a new lot when, simultaneously, wanderlust has been satisfied for another six days and a sense of community has been reestablished. Once they have erected the tents and hammered together the enameled wooden partitions of the various attractions, once they have flung up their brass and chrome and plastic and light-strung fortifications of fantasy to protect against all attacks of reality, they know a deeper peace than at any other time.

Sunday evening, in the trailer owned by Irma and Paulie Lorus where Rya and I had been invited for a home-cooked meal, everyone was in such good humor that I was almost able to forget that our schedule had brought us not to any ordinary town but to a city ruled by goblins, to a nest where the demons bred. Paulie, who was short but not a dwarf like his raven-haired wife, was a gifted mimic who treated us to wildly comic impersonations of movie stars and politicians, including a highly amusing dialogue between John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. He was a black man, and it was amazing how his rubbery face could reshape itself and instantly call to mind almost any famous person he wished to be, regardless of race.

Paulie was a good sleight-of-hand magician, too, and worked in Tom Catshank’s sideshow. For a man of his stature—five-two at the tallest—his hands were quite large, with long, thin fingers, and his conversation was punctuated with an amazing array of gestures that were nearly as expressive as words. I liked him at once.

Rya defrosted a bit, even joined in with some of the joking, and although she did not entirely drop the cool pose and distant air that were her trademarks (after all, this was the home of an employee), she was certainly no drag on the evening.

Then, at the built-in dining nook, over Black Forest cake and coffee, Irma said, “Poor Gloria Neames.”

Rya said, “Why? What happened?”

Irma looked at me. “You know her, Slim?”

“The . . . heavy lady,” I said.

“Fat,” Paulie said, hands defining a sphere in the air. “Gloria ain’t insulted to be called fat. She don’t like being fat, poor kid, but she has no illusions about what she is. She don’t think she’s Monroe or Hepburn or anything like that.”

“Well, she can’t help what she is, so there’s no point being defensive about it,” Irma said. She looked at me. “Bad glands.”

I said, “Really?”

“Oh, I know,” Irma said, “you figure she eats like a pig and blames it on bad glands, but in Gloria’s case it’s true. Peg Seeton lives with Gloria, you know, sort of takes care of her, cooks her meals, calls for a couple of roughies whenever Gloria needs to get around, and Peg says poor Gloria eats hardly any more than you or me, certainly not enough to sustain seven hundred and fifty pounds. And Peg would know if Gloria was snacking on the sly because Peg has to go out to buy groceries, and there isn’t much of anywhere Gloria goes without Peg.”

“She can’t walk by herself?” I asked.

“She can, sure,” Paulie said, “but it’s not easy, and she’s deathly afraid of falling down. Anybody would be, once they go past five or six hundred pounds. Gloria goes down, she can’t get up by herself.”

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