Twilight Eyes Page 24

That was the official determination.

Death by misadventure.

An accident.

A stupid, ridiculous, pointless way to die, but nothing more than a tragic accident.


I didn’t know exactly what had happened to Jelly Jordan, but I did know a goblin had murdered him in cold blood. Earlier, standing over his body, I’d been able to sort three facts from the kaleidoscopically fragmented images and sensations that had assaulted me: first, that he had not died on the carousel but, instead, in the shadow of the Ferris wheel; second, that a goblin had struck him at least three times, had broken his neck, and had carried him to the merry-go-round with the assistance of other goblins. The accident had been staged.

Some assumptions could be made without much fear of error. Unable to sleep, Jelly had evidently gone for a walk on the midway, in the dark, in the storm, and he had seen something he should not have seen. What? He must have glimpsed strangers, not carnies, who had undertaken suspicious work at the Ferris wheel, and he must have shouted at them, unaware that they were not ordinary men. Instead of running, they had attacked him.

I said that I had clearly sensed three things while standing in the carousel, looking down at the fat man’s uninhabited mortal shell. The third was the one with which I had the most difficulty dealing, for it was an intensely personal moment of contact with Jelly, a glimpse inside his mind that made the loss of him even more poignant. Clairvoyantly I had perceived his dying thought. It lingered there with the corpse, waiting to be read by someone like me, a scrap of psychic energy like a rag caught on a barbed-wire fence that marked the boundary between here and eternity. As his life was extinguished, his last thought was of a set of small, fur-covered mechanical bears—Papa, Mama, Baby—that his mother had given him for his seventh birthday. He had loved those toys so much. They had been special, the perfect gift at the perfect time, for that birthday had come only two months after his father had been killed in front of his eyes, struck by a runaway city bus in Baltimore, and it had been the windup bears that had at last provided much-needed fantasy and a temporary refuge from a world that had suddenly seemed too cold, too cruel, too arbitrary to be endured. Now, dying, Jelly had wondered if he, himself, were Baby Bear and if, where he was going, he would be reunited with Mama and Papa. And he was afraid of winding up somewhere dark and empty, alone.

I cannot control my psychic powers. I cannot shut my Twilight Eyes to these images. If I could, dear God, I never would have tuned in on the soul-shattering terror of loneliness that had filled Jelly Jordan as he had dropped into the abyss. It haunted me that day, as I walked in the rain, as I went to the trailers where they talked of our patch and mourned him, as I stood by the Ferris wheel and cursed the demonkind. It haunted me for years after. In fact, to this day, when sleep eludes me and I am in a particularly bleak mood, I sometimes involuntarily recall Jelly’s emotions at death, and they are so vivid that they might as well be my own emotions. I can handle it now. I can handle almost anything these days, after what I have been through and all that I have seen. But that day on the Yontsdown County Fairgrounds . . . I was only seventeen.

By three o’clock Monday afternoon, the word in the trailer town was that Jelly’s body had been taken to a Yontsdown mortuary, where it was to be cremated. An urn full of ashes would be returned to Arturo Sombra either tomorrow or Wednesday, and on Wednesday night, after the midway shut down, there would be a funeral. The service would be held at the carousel because Jelly had liked it so much and because, supposedly, it was there that he had found a way out of this world.

That night Rya Raines and I had dinner together in her trailer. I made crisp green salads, and she made excellent cheese omelets, but neither of us ate much. We were not very hungry.

We spent the evening in bed, but we did not make love. We sat up, braced by pillows, and held hands, drank a little, kissed a little, talked a little.

More than once, Rya wept for Jelly Jordan, and her tears were a surprise to me. Although I had no doubt that she was capable of grief, I had thus far seen her cry only in contemplation of her own mysterious burden or affliction, and even then she had seemed to release the tears grudgingly, as if a tremendous inner pressure were forcing them from her against her will. At all other times—except, of course, in the na*ed grip of passion—she took refuge in her cool, hard-bitten, tight-lipped persona, pretending that the world could not touch her. I had sensed that her attachments to other carnies were far stronger and deeper than she was willing to admit even to herself. Now, her sorrow at the death of the patch seemed proof of my perception.

I had shed tears earlier, but now I was dry-eyed, beyond grief, immersed in a cold rage. I still mourned Jelly, but more than that, I wanted to avenge him. And I would. Sooner or later I would kill a few goblins for no reason other than to even the score, and if I was lucky, I might be able to get my hands on the very same creatures that had broken Jelly’s neck.

Besides, my concern had shifted from the dead to the living, and I was acutely aware that my vision of Rya’s death might be fulfilled as unexpectedly as had been the prophecy of Jelly’s demise. And that possibility was intolerable. I could not—must not, would not, dare not—allow any harm to come to her. In a circumspect manner that was decidedly peculiar for a pair of lovers, we were forming a bond unlike any I had ever known, nor could I imagine another relationship like it in the future. If Rya Raines died, a part of me would die, too, and there would be burned-out rooms within me that could never again be entered.

Preventive measures must be taken. On those nights that I did not sleep in her trailer, I would post myself, without her knowledge, just outside her door. I could suffer from insomnia there as well as anywhere. Furthermore I would probe more relentlessly with my sixth sense, in search of additional details about the as yet vaguely defined threat the future held in store for her. If I could predict the precise moment of her crisis and could pinpoint the source of the danger, I could protect her. I must not fail her as I had failed Jelly Jordan.

Perhaps Rya was instinctively aware that she required protection, and perhaps she was also aware that I intended to be there when she needed help, for as the evening wore on, she began to share some secrets about herself, and I sensed that she was telling me things she had told no one else in the Sombra Brothers Carnival. She was drinking more than usual. Although she was not drunk by any definition, I suspected that she was trying to establish an alibi of inebriation, which would be convenient when, in the morning, she found herself full of self-reproach and regret for having told me so much about her past.

“My parents weren’t carnies,” she said in such a way that it was clear she wanted to be encouraged in her revelations.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“West Virginia. My people were hill people in West Virginia. We lived in a ramshackle dump in a hollow up in the hills, probably half a mile from the nearest other ramshackle dump. Do you know what hill people are like?”

“Not really.”

“Poor,” she said scathingly.

“That’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Poor, uneducated, unwilling to be educated, ignorant. Secretive, withdrawn, suspicious. Set in their ways, stubborn, close-minded. And some of them . . . a lot of them, maybe—are too inbred. Cousin marries cousin pretty frequently up in those hills. And worse than that. Worse than that.”

Gradually, with steadily less coaxing, she told me about her mother, Maralee Sween. Maralee was the fourth of seven children born to first cousins whose marriage had not been blessed by either minister or state but existed only by virtue of common law. All of the Sween children were good-looking kids, but one of the seven was retarded, and five of the other six were more dull-witted than not. Maralee was not the bright one, though she was the best-looking of the seven, a radiant blonde with luminous green eyes and a lush figure that had every hill boy sniffing after her from the time she was thirteen. Long before her ample charms had matured, Maralee had considerable sexual—one could certainly not say romantic—experience. At an age when many girls are having their first date and are still unsure of the exact meaning of “going all the way,” Maralee had stopped counting the number of hill boys who had spread her legs on various grassy beds, in leaf-carpeted glens, in the haylofts of decaying old barns, on a moldering mattress discarded at the edge of the makeshift dump that the hill people had started in Harmon’s Hollow, and in the musty backseats of different automobiles in one of the many collections of junked cars of which hillbillies seemed so fond. Sometimes she’d been a willing participant in the sex, and sometimes she had not, and most of the time she had not cared one way or the other. In the hills, her fall from innocence at such a tender age was not unusual. The only surprise was that she managed to avoid pregnancy until well past her fourteenth birthday.

In that region of the Appalachians, among those hillbillies, the rule of law and the morality of polite society were disdained, generally ignored; however, unlike carnies, the denizens of those remote hollows did not create their own rules and codes to replace those they rejected. There is in American literature a tradition of tales about the “noble savage,” and our culture at least pretends to believe that a life lived close to nature and far from the evils of civilization is somehow healthier and wiser than the lives that most of us lead. In fact, the opposite is often true. As men retreat from civilization they quickly shed the inessential trappings of modern society—luxury cars, fancy houses, designer clothes, nights at the theater, concert tickets—and perhaps an argument can be made for the virtues of a simpler life, but if they go far enough away and stay long enough, they also shed too many inhibitions. Inhibitions implanted by religion and society are not generally foolish or pointless or narrow-minded, as it has recently become fashionable to claim; instead, many of those inhibitions are highly desirable survival traits that in the long run contribute to a better-educated, better-fed, more prosperous populace. The wilderness is wild and encourages wildness; it is the breeding ground of savagery.

At fourteen Maralee was pregnant, illiterate, uneducated, and virtually uneducable, without prospects, with too little imagination to be terrified for herself, too slow-thinking to fully appreciate the fact that the rest of her life was destined to be a long, cruel slope into a terrible abyss. With bovine calm she was sure that someone would come along to take care of her and the baby. The baby was Rya, and before Rya was even born, someone did offer to make an honest woman of Maralee Sween, perhaps proving that God watches over pregnant hillbilly girls about as well as He looks out for drunks. The chivalrous gentleman in pursuit of Maralee’s hand was Abner Kady, thirty-eight, twenty-four years her senior, six-five, two hundred and forty pounds, with a neck almost as thick as his head, the most feared man in a county where dangerous rustics were not exactly in short supply.

Abner Kady made a sort of living by brewing moonshine, raising coon dogs, and engaging in petty theft and occasional grand larceny. Once or twice a year he would get together with some buddies and hijack a truck off the state highway, preferably one loaded with cigarettes or whiskey or some other cargo that could be disposed of at top dollar. They traded the booty to a fence they knew in Clarksburg, and either they would have become halfway rich or wound up in prison if they had worked harder at it, but their ambition was no greater than their scruples. Kady was not only a moonshiner, brawler, bully, and thief, but he was a casual rap**t as well, taking a woman by force when he was in the mood for spicing his sex with a bit of danger, but he never had to take a ride on the prison train because nobody had the guts to testify against him.

To Maralee Sween, Abner Kady looked like a real catch. He had a four-room house—hardly more than a shack but with indoor plumbing—and no one in his family would ever want for whiskey, food, or clothes. If Abner could not steal what he needed one way, he would steal it another, and in the hills that was the mark of a good provider.

He was good to Maralee, too, or at least as good as he was to anyone. He did not love her. He was not capable of love. Still, though he browbeat her, he never actually laid a hand on her, mostly because he was proud of her beauty and endlessly excited by her body, and he could not have been proud of—or aroused by—damaged merchandise.

“Besides,” Rya said in a voice that now fell to a haunted whisper, “he didn’t want to damage his little fun machine. That’s what he called her—his ‘little fun machine.’”

By “fun machine,” I sensed that Abner Kady had not meant that he had good sex with Maralee. It was something else, something dark. Whatever it was, Rya was unable to speak of it without encouragement, even though I knew that she desperately wanted to unburden herself. Therefore I poured another drink for her, held her hand, and with gentle words I eased her through that minefield of memory.

Tears shimmered in her eyes again, and this time they were not for Jelly but for herself. She was harder on herself than she was on anyone else, and she did not allow herself ordinary human weaknesses like self-pity, so she blinked the tears back regardless of the emotional stress and turmoil that might have been washed away with them if she had only allowed them to flow. Haltingly, in a voice that broke every few words, she said, “He meant that . . . she was . . . his baby machine . . . and that . . . babies . . . could be fun. Especially . . . especially . . . girl babies.”

I knew then that she was not merely taking me on a Hansel and Gretel journey into the spooky witch-woods but into a far more frightening place, into a monstrous memory of a childhood under siege, and I was not sure that I wanted to go with her. I loved her. I knew that Jelly’s death had not only sorrowed but frightened her, had reminded her of her own mortality, and had birthed in her a need for intimate human contact, a contact she could not fully achieve until she had broken down the barrier that she had erected between herself and the rest of the world. She needed me to listen, to draw her out, to understand. I wanted to be there for her. But I was afraid that her secrets were . . . well, alive and hungry, and that they would reveal themselves only in return for a piece of my own soul.

I said, “Ah . . . Jesus . . . no.”

“Girl babies,” she repeated, looking neither at me nor at anything else in the room, peering back along the spiral of time with obvious dread and loathing. “Not that he ignored my half brothers. He had uses for them, too. But he preferred girls. My mother gave him four kids by the time I was eleven, two girls and two boys. As far back as I can remember . . . I guess since I was at least three . . . he was...”

“Touching you,” I said thickly.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies