Twilight Eyes Page 27

The carnival, a fantastic loom, used exotic sights and smells and sounds to weave a dazzling fabric that entranced the marks, a familiar and supremely comfortable fabric that we carnies drew around ourselves with joy and relief after two days of rain, after the death of our patch. The threads of sound included calliope music, “The Stripper” by David Rose blasting out of speakers at one of the kootch shows, the roar of the daredevil’s motorcycle on the “wooden wall of death,” the whistle-shriek-roar of the rides, the swish of compressed air that whirled the metal baskets of the Tip Top, diesels running full blast, the ten-in-one talker pitching the tip, laughing men and women, shouting and giggling children, and pitchmen everywhere saying, “Tell ya what I’m gonna do!” Filaments of scents, threads of odors, were worked through the shuttle, plated on the loom: cook-house grease, hot popcorn, hot unshelled peanuts, diesel fuel, sawdust, cotton candy, molten caramel from the fragrantly steaming vats in the candy-apple stands. Sounds and smells were the texture of the carnival cloth, but the sights were the dyes that gave it brilliant color: the unpainted, burnished steel of the Dive Bomber’s egg-shaped capsules, upon which sunlight seemed to melt and spread in shimmering silver films of mercury; the whirling red baskets of the Tip Top; the sparkling sequins and shimmering beads and glimmering spangles on the costumes of the girlie show performers who paraded on the bally platforms with only tantalizing promises of the charms to be revealed within the tents; the red, blue, orange, yellow, white, and green pennants flapping in the breeze like the wings of a thousand tethered parrots; the giant, laughing face of the fun-house clown, nose still yellow; the pumping-spinning brass of the carousel poles. This magic carnival coat was a rainbow garment with many mysterious pockets, of flamboyant cut and design; when you put it on, you slipped your arms through a sense of immortality, as well, and the cares of the real world faded.

Unlike the marks and many of the other carnies, I could not escape all of my worries in the razzle-dazzle of the show, for I kept waiting for the first goblins to appear on the concourse. But the afternoon melted into evening, and the evening gave way to night, and none of the demonkind appeared. I was neither relieved nor pleased by their absence. Yontsdown was a nest, a breeding ground, and there should have been more of them on the midway than usual. I knew why they had stayed away. They were waiting for the real fun later in the week. Tonight, no tragedy was scheduled, no pageant of blood and death, so they were waiting until tomorrow or the day after. Then they would appear by the score, by the hundred, eager for a ringside seat at the Ferris wheel. If they had their way, the wheel would probably experience “mechanical failure” that would cause it either to topple or to collapse, and it was when this event was imminent that they would come for a day at the fair.

That night, after the marks were gone, the midway lights were extinguished except for the bulbs on the merry-go-round, where the carnies gathered to pay their last respects to Jelly Jordan. Hundreds of us encircled the ride; those in the front rows were limned by amber and red light that, under the circumstances, was reminiscent of the candle-glow and stained-glass luminosity in a cathedral, while those who were farther back in this makeshift open-air nave either stood in reverent shadows or mourning darkness. Some stood on nearby rides, and some had climbed onto the tops of trucks parked along the center of the midway. All were silent, as they had been Monday morning, when the body had first been found.

The urn containing Jelly’s ashes was placed on one of the benches, with mermaids standing an honor guard on both sides and with a cortege of proudly posed horses both in front of and behind the bier. Arturo Sombra started the engine that put the carousel in motion, though he did not switch on the calliope.

While the carousel went around in silence, Cash Dooley read selected paragraphs from “Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” a chapter from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, which was what Jelly had requested in his will.

Then the merry-go-round motor was stilled.

The horses glided slowly to a full stop.

The lights were turned off.

We went home, and so did Jelly Jordan.

Rya went instantly to sleep, but I could not. I lay awake, wondering about Joel Tuck, worrying about the Ferris wheel and the vision of Rya’s bloodied face, concerned about the schemes in which the goblins might even now be engaged.

As the night dragged on, I cursed my Twilight Eyes. There are moments when I wish I’d been born without psychic powers, especially without the ability to see the goblins. Sometimes nothing seems sweeter than the perfect ignorance with which other people mingle with the demonkind. Maybe it is better not to know that the beasts are among us. Better than to see... then feel helpless, haunted, and outnumbered. Ignorance would, at least, be good medicine for insomnia.

Except, of course, if I could not see goblins, I would already be dead, a victim of my Uncle Denton’s sadistic games.

Uncle Denton.

The time has come to talk of treachery, of a goblin masquerading as human in the midst of my own family, wearing a disguise so perfect that not even the sharp blade of an ax was able to carve away the false persona and reveal the monster within.

My father’s sister, Aunt Paula, had first married Charlie Forster, and together they had brought a son, Kerry, into the world, the same year and month that my folks had delivered me. But Charlie died of cancer, a sort of goblin of his own that had devoured him from within, and he was laid in the ground when both Kerry and I were three years old. Aunt Paula remained single for ten years, raising Kerry on her own. But then Denton Harkenfield had come into her life, and she had decided not to live all her days as a widow.

Denton was a stranger to the valley, not even an Oregonian, hailing from Oklahoma (or so he said), but everyone accepted him with remarkable alacrity, considering that third-generation valley people were often called “new folks” by the majority who could trace their roots back to the settlement of the Northwest. Denton was handsome, soft-spoken, polite, modest, quick to laugh, a born storyteller with an apparently limitless fund of amusing anecdotes and interesting experiences. He was a man of simple tastes, with no pretensions. Though he seemed to have money, he did not flaunt it or act as if money made him any better than the next Joe. Everyone liked him.

Everyone but me.

As a child, I’d not been able to see the goblins clearly, though I knew they were different from other people. Occasionally—although not often in rural Oregon—I encountered someone who had a strange fuzziness about him, a dark-smoky-curling shape within, and I sensed that I must tread carefully around him, although I did not understand why. However, as puberty began to change my hormonal balance and metabolism, I began to see the goblins more clearly, as vaguely defined demons at first, then in all their malevolent detail.

By the time Denton Harkenfield came in from Oklahoma—or Hell—I was just beginning to be able to discern that the smoky spirit within these people was not merely a mysterious new form of psychic energy but an actual being, a demon or alien puppet master or creature unknown. In the months that Denton courted my Aunt Paula, my ability to perceive the hidden goblin improved steadily until, by the week of the wedding, I was in a panic at the thought of her marrying such a beast. Yet there seemed to be nothing that I could do to prevent it.

Everyone else thought Paula was an exceedingly fortunate woman to have found a man as universally well liked and admired as Denton Harkenfield. Even Kerry, my favorite cousin and best friend, would listen to no word spoken against his new father-to-be, who had won him over even before Paula’s heart had been captured, and who had promised to adopt him.

My family knew that I was clairvoyant, and my premonitions and psychic insights were taken seriously. Once, when Mom had to fly back to Indiana to attend the funeral of her sister, I received distressing emanations from her airline ticket and was convinced that her plane would crash. I made such a fuss that she canceled at the last minute and booked a different flight. In fact, the first plane did not crash, but there was a small fire aboard in midair; many passengers were overcome by smoke, and three were asphyxiated before the pilot managed to land. I cannot say for sure that my mother would have been a fourth victim if she had been aboard, but when I touched her ticket, I felt not paper but the cold, hard brass of a coffin handle.

However, I had never told anyone about seeing smoky, curling shapes in some people. For one thing, I did not know what I was seeing or what it meant. And I had sensed from the start that I would be in terrible danger if one of those people with the darkness inside was to discover that I was aware of his difference. It was my secret.

By the week of Aunt Paula’s wedding, when I finally could see every sickening detail of the porcine-canine goblin in Mr. Denton Harkenfield, I could not just suddenly start babbling about monsters masquerading as human beings; it would not be credible. You see, though the accuracy and validity of my occasional clairvoyant visions had been established, there were many who did not view my unusual talents as a blessing. My powers, though seldom mentioned or employed, marked me as “strange,” and there were those in our valley who believed that seers were invariably mentally unstable. More than a few people had told my parents that I should be watched closely for signs of delusional behavior or incipient autism, and although my parents had no patience with such talk, I was sure they sometimes worried that my gift might eventually prove to be a curse. The link between psychic ability and mental instability is such a strong part of folklore that even my grandmother, who believed my Twilight Eyes were an unmixed and joyous blessing, worried that I would somehow lose control of the power, that it would turn in upon me and lead me to destruction. Therefore I was afraid that if I began ranting about goblins hidden inside human forms, I would reinforce the fears of those who were sure I would one day wind up in a padded room.

Indeed I had doubts about my own sanity. I knew the folklore, and I had overheard some of the warnings my parents had been given, and when I began to see the goblins, I wondered if my mind had begun to fail me.

Furthermore, while I feared the goblin in Denton Harkenfield and sensed the intense hatred that motivated the creature, I had no concrete evidence that it intended to harm Aunt Paula, Kerry, or anyone else. Denton Harkenfield’s behavior had been exemplary.

And, finally, I hesitated to sound the alarm because if I was disbelieved—as would inevitably be the case—I would have done nothing but alert Uncle Denton to the danger that I posed to his kind. If I was not hallucinating, if he was a deadly beast, the last thing I wanted to do was call attention to myself, put myself in a position where I stood alone and defenseless, to be murdered at his leisure.

The wedding was held, and Denton adopted Kerry, and for months Paula and Kerry were happier than anyone had ever seen them. The goblin remained in Denton, but I began to wonder if it was in essence an evil creature or merely . . . different from us.

While the Harkenfield family prospered, an unusual amount of tragedy and disaster was visited upon many of their neighbors in that Siskiyou valley, but it took me a long time to realize that Uncle Denton was the source of this uncanny run of bad luck. The Whitborn family, half a mile from us, a mile from the Harkenfield place, were burned out of their home when their oil furnace exploded; of the six Whitborn children, three perished in the fire. A few months later, out on Goshawkan Lane, all but one of the five members of the Jenerette family died of carbon monoxide poisoning when a vent on their furnace became inexplicably clogged, filling the house with deadly fumes in the middle of the night. And Rebecca Norfron, the thirteen-year-old daughter of Miles and Hannah Norfron, disappeared while on a walk with her little dog, Hoppy; she turned up a week later, over at the county seat, twenty miles away, in an abandoned house; not only had she been killed but also tortured, and at length. Hoppy was never found.

Then trouble moved closer to home. My grandmother fell down the cellar stairs at her place, broke her neck, and lay undiscovered for almost a day. I did not go into Grandma’s house after her death, which probably delayed my discovery that Denton Harkenfield was the source of many of the valleys’ miseries; if I had stood at the top of those cellar steps, had gone to the bottom to kneel at the spot where they had found Grandma’s body, I would have sensed Uncle Denton’s contribution to her demise, and perhaps I could have stopped him before he caused more pain. At Grandmother Stanfeuss’s funeral, with her body three days dead and its invisible robes of psychic energy therefore somewhat depleted, I was nonetheless so afflicted with clairvoyant perceptions of unspecific violence that I collapsed and had to be taken home. They thought it was grief that brought me down, but it was the shocking knowledge that somehow Grandma had been murdered and had died in terror. But I did not know who had killed her, and I did not even have a shred of evidence to suggest that murder had been done, and I was only fourteen, an age when no one listens to you, and I was already considered strange, so I kept my mouth shut.

I knew Uncle Denton was something more—or less—than human, but I did not immediately suspect him of murder. I was still confused about him because Aunt Paula and Kerry loved him so much and because he was nice to me, always making jokes with me and showing what seemed to be a genuine interest in my achievements at school and on the junior varsity wrestling team. He and Aunt Paula gave me wonderful Christmas presents, and on my birthday he gave me several novels by Robert Heinlein and A. E. van Vogt plus a crisp new five-dollar bill. I had seen him do nothing but good, and although I sensed that he virtually seethed with hatred, I wondered whether I was imagining the rage and loathing that I perceived within him. If an ordinary human being had been committing wholesale slaughter, a psychic residue of that villainy would have clung to him, and I would have detected it sooner or later, but goblins radiate nothing but hatred, and because I perceived no specific guilt in Uncle Denton’s aura, I did not suspect that he was my grandmother’s killer.

I did notice that when anyone died, Denton spent more time visiting at the funeral parlor than did any other friend or member of the family. He was always solicitous, sympathetic, providing the most convenient shoulder to cry on, running errands for the bereaved, helping in any way he could, and he usually paid frequent visits to survivors after their loved ones had been buried, just to see how they were getting along and to inquire if there was any favor he could perform. He was widely lauded for his empathy, humanity, and charity, but he modestly turned aside such praise. This only confused me the more. It was especially confusing when I could see the goblin within him, which invariably grinned most wickedly on those occasions of grief and even seemed to take sustenance from the misery of the mourners. Which was the true Uncle Denton: the gloating beast within or the good neighbor and concerned friend?

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