Twilight Eyes Page 25

“Using me,” she said.

In a dead voice she recounted those years of fear, violence, and the foulest abuse. Her story left me cold and black inside.

“It was all I knew from the time I was a baby . . . being with him . . . doing what he wanted . . . touching him . . . and being in bed with both of them . . . my mother and him . . . when they were doing it. I should’ve thought it was normal, you know? I shouldn’t have known any better. I should have thought that every family was like this . . . but I didn’t. I knew it was wrong . . . sick . . . and I hated it. I hated it!”

I held her.

I rocked her in my arms.

She would still not cry for herself.

“I hated Abner. Oh . . . Jesus . . . you can’t know how much I hated him, with every breath I drew, every moment, without relief. You can’t know what it’s like to hate that intensely.”

I thought of my own feelings toward the goblins, and I wondered if even that could match the hatred spawned and nurtured in the hellhole of that four-room shack in the Appalachians. I suspected she was right: I could not know a hatred as pure as that of which she spoke, for she had been a weak child unable to strike back, and her hatred had had more years than mine to grow and intensify.

“But then . . . after I got out of there . . . after enough time had gone by . . . I came to hate my mother more than him. She was my mother. Why wasn’t I s-sacred to her? How could she . . . let me . . . b-b-be used like that?”

I had no answer.

This one could not be blamed on God. Most of the time we do not need either Him or the goblins; we can hurt and destroy one another without divine or demonic assistance, thank you very much.

“She was so pretty, you know, and not in a brassy way, very sweet-looking, and I used to think that she must be an angel because that’s what angels were supposed to look like, and she had this . . . radiance. . . . But eventually I came to see how evil she was. Oh, part of it was ignorance and low intelligence. She was stupid, Slim. Hillbilly stupid, the product of a marriage between two first cousins who were probably also the product of cousins, and the miracle is that I didn’t wind up either retarded or a three-armed freak in Joel Tuck’s sideshow. But I didn’t. And I didn’t wind up bearing more children for Abner to . . . molest. For one thing, because of . . . because of things he did to me . . . I can never have children. And besides, when I was eleven, I finally got out of there.”

“Eleven? How?”

“I killed him.”

“Good,” I said softly.

“While he was sleeping.”


“I put a butcher knife in his throat.”

For almost ten minutes I held her, and neither of us spoke or reached for a drink or did anything but just be there.

At last I said, “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

“I feel so helpless.”

“You can’t change the past,” she said.

No, I thought, but I can sometimes change the future, foresee the dangers and avoid them, and I hope to God that I can be there when you need me, the way no one else has ever been for you.

She said, “I’ve never . . .”

“Told anyone else?”


“It’s safe with me.”

“I know. But . . . why did I choose to tell you?”

“I was here at the right time,” I said.

“No. It’s more than that.”


“I don’t know,” she said. Now she leaned back from me and raised her eyes and looked into mine. “There’s something different about you, something special.”

“Not me,” I said uncomfortably.

“Your eyes are so beautiful and unusual. They make me feel . . . safe. There’s such . . . calmness in you. . . . No, not exactly calmness . . . because you aren’t at peace, either. But strength. Such strength in you. And you’re so understanding. But it isn’t just strength and understanding and compassion. It’s . . . something special . . . something I can’t define.”

“You’re embarrassing me,” I said.

“How old are you, Slim MacKenzie?”

“I told you . . . seventeen.”





“Tell me the truth.”

“Well, all right. Seventeen and a half.”

“We can’t approach the truth by half years,” she said. “That’ll take all night. So I’ll just tell you how old you are. I know. Judging from your strength, your calm, your eyes . . . I’d say you’re a hundred . . . with a hundred years of experience.”

“Hundred and one in September,” I said, smiling.

“Tell me your secret,” she said.

“I don’t have one.”

“Come on. Tell me.”

“I’m a simple drifter, a rambler,” I said. “You want me to be more than that because we always want things to be better and nobler and more interesting than they are. But I’m just me.”

“Slim MacKenzie.”

“That’s right,” I lied, not sure why I did not want to open myself to her the way that she had opened herself to me. I was embarrassed, as I had told her, though not by anything she had said; my blush was caused by the fact that I so quickly chose to deceive her. “Slim MacKenzie. No deep, dark secrets. Boring, in fact. But you’re not finished. What happened after you killed him?”

Silence. She did not want to return to the memories of those days. But then: “I was only eleven, so I didn’t go to jail. In fact, when the authorities learned what had been going on in that shack, they said I was the victim.”

“And you were.”

“They took all the kids away from my mother. They split us up. I’ve never seen any of them again. I wound up in a state-run orphanage.”

Suddenly I sensed another terrible secret in her, and I knew with clairvoyant certainty that something had happened in the orphanage that was at least equal to the horror of Abner Kady.

“And?” I asked.

She looked away from me, reached to the nightstand for her drink, and said, “And I ran away from there when I was fourteen. I looked older. I matured early, like my mother. So I didn’t have much trouble joining up with the carnival. Changed my name to Raines because . . . well, I’ve always liked the rain, liked watching it, listening to it. . . . Anyway, I’ve been here ever since.”

“Building an empire.”

“Yeah. To make myself feel like I’m worth something.”

“You’re worth something,” I assured her.

“I don’t mean just in money terms.”

“Neither do I.”

“Though that’s part of it. Because ever since I’ve been on my own, I’ve been determined never to be . . . trash . . . never to sink low again. . . . I’m going to build my little empire, like you say, and I’m always going to be somebody.”

It was easy to see how a child, having endured so much abuse, could grow up with the feeling that she was worthless and could develop an obsession with success and achievement. I could understand it, and I could not fault her for the single-minded, brusque businesswoman that she had become. If she had not directed her rage into those endeavors, thereby relieving the pressure, it would have blown her apart sooner or later.

I was in awe of her strength.

But she still had not allowed herself to cry for herself.

And she was hiding the truth about the orphanage, pretending it had been an uneventful few years.

However, I did not press her for the rest of the story. For one thing, I knew that she would tell me sooner or later. The door had opened, and there would be no closing it again. Besides, I had already heard enough for one day, too much. The weight of this new knowledge had left me weak and sick.

We drank.

We talked of other things.

We drank some more.

We turned off the lights and lay sleepless.

Then, for a while, we did sleep.

And dreamed.

The graveyard . . .

In the middle of the night she woke me to make love. It was as good as it had been before, and when we were sated, I could not keep myself from wondering that, after the abuse she had endured, she could find such pleasure in the act.

She said, “Some might have become frigid . . . or promiscuous. I don’t know why I didn’t. Except . . . well . . . if I’d gone either of those ways, it would’ve meant Abner Kady had won, had broken me. You understand? But I’ll never be broken. Never. I’ll bend instead of break. I’ll survive. I’ll go on. I’ll become the most prosperous concessionaire in this outfit, and someday I’ll own this carnival. By God, I will! You see if I don’t. That’s my goal, but don’t you dare tell anyone. I’ll do whatever’s necessary, work as hard as I have to, take whatever risks are called for, and I will own the whole thing, and then I’ll be somebody, and it won’t matter where I came from or what happened to me when I was a little girl, and it won’t matter that I never knew my father or that my mother didn’t love me, because I’ll have lost all that, I’ll have lost it and forgotten it the way I lost my hillbilly accent. You see if I don’t. See if I don’t. You just wait and see.”

As I said when I began this story, hope is a constant companion in this life. It is the one thing that neither cruel nature, God, nor other men can wrench from us. Health, wealth, parents, beloved brothers and sisters, children, friends, the past, the future—all can be stolen from us as easily as an unguarded purse. But our greatest treasure, hope, remains. It is a sturdy little motor within, purring, ticking, driving us on when reason would suggest surrender. It is both the most pathetic and noblest thing about us, the most absurd and the most admirable quality we possess, for as long as we have hope, we also have the capacity for love, for caring, for decency.

In a while Rya slept again.

I could not.

Jelly was dead. My father was dead. Soon Rya might be dead if I could not foresee the exact nature of the oncoming danger and turn it away from her.

I got up in the dark, went to the window, and drew back the drape just as several bolts of lightning—not as violent as those that had split the sky earlier in the night but nevertheless bright—blanked out the view beyond the window and transformed the glass into a flickering mirror. My pale reflection fluttered flamelike, reminiscent of that film technique occasionally seen in old movies when the director wants to indicate the passage of time, and with each dimming and brightening of the image I felt as if years were being ripped away, that either the past or the future was being torn from me, but I could not tell which it was.

For the duration of the lightning barrage, as I faced my ghostly reflection, I had a flash of solipsistic fear, which sprang from weariness and sadness, the feeling that only I really existed, that I encompassed all creation, and that everything and everyone else was a figment of my imagination. But then, as the last beat of lightning pulsed and faded, as transparency flowed back into the glass, I was startled by something that clung to the outside of the rain-washed window, and the sight of it blew away the solipsistic fantasy. It was a small lizard, a chameleon, fixed to the pane with sucker-footed sureness, its belly revealed to me, its long, slender tail curving down in the shape of a question mark. It was there all the time that I had seen only my own reflection, and in becoming abruptly aware of it, I was reminded that we see so little of anything at which we look, that we are usually satisfied with simple surfaces, perhaps because the deeper view is often terrifying in its complexity. Now, beyond the chameleon, I saw the driving rain, sizzling-rattling curtains of silver beads as more distant lightning glimmered in a billion plummeting droplets, and beyond the rain was another trailer next door to this one, and beyond that lay other trailers, then the unseen midway, and beyond the midway lay the city of Yontsdown, and beyond Yontsdown . . . eternity.

Rya murmured in her sleep.

In the gloom I returned to the bed.

She was a shadowy shape upon the sheets.

I stood over her, watching her.

I remembered what Joel Tuck had asked me in Shockville last Friday, when we had been discussing Rya: “Such a stunningly beautiful surface she has, and beauty underneath as well, we’re agreed on that . . . but is it possible that there is another ‘underneath’ below the ‘underneath’ that you can see?”

Until tonight, when she had taken me into her confidence and had shared with me the nightmare of her childhood, I had seen a Rya who was the equivalent of my lightning-painted reflection on the glass. Now I saw deeper and was tempted to believe that I finally knew the real and complete woman, in all dimensions, but in fact the Rya that I knew now was only a slightly more detailed shadow of the full reality. I had at last seen past the surface of her, had seen to the next layer, to the lizard on the windowpane, but there were countless layers beyond, and I sensed that I could not save Rya Raines until I had delved much further into the chambered-nautilus mystery that curved around and around, almost to infinity within her.

She murmured again.

She thrashed.

“Graves,” she said. “So many . . . graves . . .”

She whimpered.

She said, “Slim . . . oh . . . Slim, no . . .”

She scissored her legs in the sheets, as if running. “... no ... no ...”

Her dream, my dream.

How could we have the same dream?

And why? What did it mean?

I stood over her, and I was able to see the graveyard when I closed my eyes, able to live the nightmare even as she plummeted through it. I waited tensely to see if she awoke with a strangled scream. I wanted to know if in her dream I caught her and tore out her throat the way I had done in my own version of the nightmare, for if that detail was the same, then it was more than chance; it must mean something; if both her dream and mine ended with my teeth sinking into her flesh and with her blood spurting, then the best thing I could do for her was to leave, right now, go far away and never see her again.

But she did not cry out. Her dream-panic subsided, and she ceased kicking, and her breathing became rhythmic, soft.

Outside, the wind and rain sang an epicedium for the dead and for the living who cling to hope in a graveyard world.

Chapter fourteen


Tuesday morning, the sky was without sun, and the storm was without lightning, and the rain was without wind. It fell straight down as if in exhaustion, a great burden of rain, fell by the pound and by the hundred-weight, fell by the ton, crushing the grass, sighing wearily over the roofs of the trailers, fell upon the sloped roofs of tents and slid languidly to the ground and slept there in puddles, dripped from the Ferris wheel, plopped from the Dive Bomber.

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