Twilight Eyes Page 28

I still had not arrived at an answer to that question when eight months later my father was crushed to death beneath his John Deere tractor. He had been using the tractor to pull up large stones in the new field that he was preparing for cultivation, a twenty-acre parcel hidden from our house and barn by an intruding arm of the forest that reached down from the Siskiyous. My sisters found him when they went to see why he had not come to the house at dinnertime, and I did not find out about it until I came home from a wrestling match at school a couple of hours later. (“Oh, Carl,” my sister Jenny had said to me, hugging me tight, “his poor face, his poor face, all black and dead, his poor face!”) By then Aunt Paula and Uncle Denton were at our place, and he was the rock to which my mother and sisters clung. He tried to comfort me as well, and he seemed sincere in both his grief and his offer of sympathy, but I could see the goblin leering within and fixing me with hot, red eyes. Although I half believed that the hidden demon was a figure of my imagination or even proof of my growing madness, I nevertheless withdrew from Denton and avoided him as much as I could.

At first the county sheriff was suspicious of the death, for there seemed to be wounds on my father that could not be explained by the toppling of the tractor. But as no one had a motive for murdering my dad, and as there was no other evidence whatsoever to point toward foul play, the sheriff eventually arrived at the conclusion that Dad had not been killed immediately when the tractor fell over on him, that he had struggled for some time, and that his other injuries resulted from those struggles. At the funeral I fell down in a swoon, as I had done at the services for my grandmother the previous year, and for the same reason: A punishing wave of psychic energy, a formless surging tide of violence smashed over me, and I knew that my father had been murdered, too, but I did not know why or by whom.

Two months later I finally found the courage to go to the field where Dad had had his accident. There I moved inexorably toward the very spot where he had perished, drawn by occult forces, and when I knelt on the earth that had received his blood, I had a vision of Uncle Denton striking him along the side of the head with a length of pipe, knocking him unconscious, then rolling the tractor on top of him. My father had regained consciousness and had lived five minutes, straining against the weight of the tractor, while Denton Harkenfield had stood over him, watching, enjoying. The horror of it overwhelmed me, and I passed out, waking some minutes later with a bad headache and hands squeezed tightly around clumps of moist earth.

I spent the next couple of months in secret detective work. My grandmother’s house was sold soon after her death, but I returned there when the new owners were away, and I let myself in through a basement window that I knew had no latch. When I stood at the foot and then at the head of the cellar steps, I received vague but unmistakable psychic impressions that convinced me Denton had pushed her and then had come down the steps and had snapped her neck when the fall had not done the job as planned. I began to think about the unusually long run of misfortune that people in our valley had experienced for the past couple of years. I visited the rubble-strewn site of the fire-blasted Whitborn place where three children had succumbed to flames, and while the people who had purchased the old Jenerette house were away, I let myself into their place and laid my hands upon the furnace that had spewed killing fumes, and in both instances I received strong clairvoyant impressions of Denton Harkenfield’s involvement. When Mom went into the county seat one Saturday to do some shopping, I rode along with her, and while she visited several stores I went to the abandoned house where Rebecca Norfron’s tortured and mutilated corpse had been discovered. There, too, the stain of Denton Harkenfield was visible to the psychic eye.

For all of that, I had no evidence whatsoever. My tale of goblins would be no more believable now than when I had first recognized Denton Harkenfield for what he was, more than two years before. If I publicly accused him without having the means to insure his arrest, I would certainly be the next “accident” victim in the valley. I had to have proof, and I hoped to obtain it by anticipating him with a precognitive flash of his next crime. If I knew where he would strike, I could be there to interrupt him in some dramatic fashion, after which his intended victim—spared only by my intervention—would testify against him, and he would be put in prison. I dreaded such a confrontation, afraid that I would botch it and wind up dead alongside the victim I had meant to save, but I could see no hope in any other course of action.

I began spending more time around Uncle Denton, though his dual identity was terrifying and repellent, for I thought that I was more likely to receive the precognitive flash in his company than away from him. But to my surprise a year passed without developments of the sort I was hoping for. I did sense violence building in him on a number of occasions, but I received no visions of slaughter to come, and each time that his rage and hatred seemed to have reached an unusually fierce strength, each time that it seemed he must strike out to relieve the pressure in him, he would go away on some piece of business or on a short vacation with Aunt Paula, and he would always return in a more stable condition, the hatred and rage still in him but temporarily weakened. I suspected that he was causing suffering wherever he went, wary of spreading an inordinate amount of misery too close to home. I could not obtain a clairvoyant vision of these crimes while in his company because, until he arrived at wherever he was going and looked over the opportunities for destruction, he did not know, himself, where he would land a blow.

Then, after our valley had known a year of peace, I began to sense that Denton intended to bring the war back to the original battleground. Worse, I perceived that he intended to kill Kerry, my cousin, his own adopted son, to whom he had given his name. If the goblin in him fed on human anguish, which I was beginning to suspect, it would enjoy a feast of surpassing richness in the aftermath of Kerry’s death. Aunt Paula, having lost a husband years before and being deeply attached to her son, would be destroyed by the loss of Kerry—and the goblin would be with her not just in funeral parlors but twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, drinking of her agony and despair. As the goblin’s hatred became more bitter day by day, as portents of impending violence grew increasingly obvious to my sixth sense, I became frantic, for I could not perceive the place, time, or method of the murder to come.

The night before it happened, late last April, I awoke from a nightmare in which Kerry had been dying in the Siskiyou forests, under towering spruce and pine. In the dream he was wandering in circles, lost, dying of exposure, and I kept running after him with a blanket and a thermos of hot chocolate, but for some reason he did not see or hear me, and in spite of his weakness he managed to keep ahead of me, until I awoke not in a state of sheer terror but in frustration.

I could not use my sixth sense to wring any more details from the ether, but in the morning I went to the Harkenfield place to alert Kerry to the danger. I was not sure how to lead into the subject and present my information convincingly, but I knew I must warn him immediately. On the way I must have considered and rejected a hundred approaches. However, when I got there, no one was home. I waited around for a couple of hours, and finally I headed back to our place, figuring I would return later, toward suppertime. I never saw Kerry again—alive.

Late that afternoon the word reached us that Uncle Denton and Aunt Paula were worried about Kerry. That morning, after Aunt Paula had driven in to the county seat to tend to various matters, Kerry had told Denton that he was going into the mountains, into the woods back of their place, to do a little off-season small-game hunting, and he had said he would return by two o’clock at the latest. At least that was what Denton claimed. By five o’clock there was still no sign of Kerry. I expected the worst because it just was not like my cousin to hunt off-season. I did not believe that he had told Denton any such thing or that he had gone up into the Siskiyous by himself. Denton had lured him there on one pretext or another and then had . . . disposed of him.

Search parties combed the foothills most of that night, without success. At first light they went out in greater force, with a pack of blood-hounds and with me. I had never before used my clairvoyance in a search of that kind. Because I could not control the power, I did not think I would be able to sense anything of value, and I did not even tell them that I intended to bring my special abilities to bear. To my surprise, in two hours, ahead of the hounds, I experienced a series of psychic flashes and found the corpse at the head of a deep and narrow draw, at the foot of a rocky slope.

Kerry was so badly battered that it was difficult to believe he had sustained all his injuries in the fall down the side of the ravine. Under other circumstances the county coroner might have found more than sufficient evidence to warrant a determination of death at the hands of another, but the corpse was in no condition to support the subtle analyses of forensic pathology, especially as practiced by a simple country physician. During the night, animals—raccoons, perhaps, or foxes, or wood rats, or weasels—had gotten at the body. Something had eaten the eyes, and something had burrowed into Kerry’s guts; his face was slashed, and the tips of some fingers were nibbled off.

A few days later I went after Uncle Denton with an ax. I remember how fiercely he fought, and I remember my agonizing doubts. But I swung the ax in spite of my reservations, driven by an instinctive awareness of how quickly and gleefully he would destroy me if I showed the slightest weakness or hesitation. What I remember most clearly is how that weapon felt in my hands as I used it on him: It felt like justice.

I do not remember returning from the Harkenfield place to our house. One moment I was standing over Denton’s corpse, then suddenly I was in the shadow of the brewer’s spruce at the Stanfeuss farmhouse, cleaning the bloody blade of the ax on an old rag. Coming out of my trance, I dropped the ax and the rag and slowly became aware that the fields would soon need tilling, that the foothills would soon be green and beautifully dressed in the raiments of spring, that the Siskiyous looked more majestic than usual, and that the sky was a piercingly clear and aching shade of blue, except toward the west, where dark and ominous thunderheads were rapidly moving in. Standing there in the sunlight, with strange cloud-shadows racing toward me, I knew, without resort to my clairvoyant powers, that I was probably looking upon that treasured landscape for the last time. The incoming clouds were an omen of the stormy and sunless future I had hewn for myself when I had gone after Denton Harkenfield with that well-sharpened blade.

And now, four months and thousands of miles from those events, lying next to Rya Raines in the darkness of her bedroom, listening to her even breathing as she slept, I was compelled to ride the memory train all the way to the end of the line before I could get off. With uncontrollable shudders and a thin, cold sweat, I relived the last hour at home in Oregon: the hurried packing of my knapsack, my mother’s frightened questions, my refusal to tell her what trouble I had gotten myself into, the mixture of love and fear in the eyes of my sisters, the way they longed to embrace and soothe me but drew back at the sight of the blood on my hands and clothes. I knew there was no sense telling them about the goblins; even if they believed me, there was nothing they could do, and I did not want to burden them with my crusade against the demonkind, for already I had begun to suspect that inevitably it would become just that, a crusade. So I had walked away, hours before Denton Harkenfield’s body would be found, and later I had sent my mother and sisters a letter with vague assertions of Denton’s involvement in the deaths of my father and Kerry. The last stop on the memory train is in some ways the worst: Mom, Jenny, and Sarah, standing on the front porch, watching me walk away, all of them weeping, confused, frightened, afraid for me, afraid of me, left on their own in a world grown cold and bleak. End of the line. Thank God. Exhausted but curiously cleansed by the journey, I turned onto my side, facing Rya, and fell into a deep sleep that was, for the first time in days, utterly dreamless.

In the morning, over breakfast, feeling guilty about all the secrets I was keeping from her and looking for a way to lead into a warning about the unknown threat she faced, I told Rya about my Twilight Eyes. I did not mention my ability to see the goblins but spoke only of my other psychic talents, specifically of my clairvoyant ability to sense oncoming danger. I told her of my mother’s airline ticket that had felt not like paper but like the brass handle of a coffin, and I recounted other less dramatic instances of accurate premonition. That was enough for openers; if I had piled on stories of goblins hiding in human disguises, it would have been too rich a confection to inspire belief.

To my surprise and gratification she had far less difficulty accepting what I told her than I had anticipated. At first her hands kept returning to her coffee mug and she sipped nervously at that brew, as if, by its heat and slight bitterness, it was a touchstone with which she could repeatedly test herself to determine if she were dreaming or awake. But before long she became enthralled by my stories, and it was soon evident that she believed.

“I knew there was something special about you,” she said. “Didn’t I say so just the other night? That wasn’t just mushy love talk, you know. I meant that I really did sense something special . . . something unique and unusual in you. And I was right!”

She had scores of questions, and I answered them as best I could, while avoiding any mention of the goblins or of Denton Harkenfield’s murderous spree in Oregon, lest her belief collapse. In her reaction to my revelations, I sensed both wonder and what I thought was a dark dread, though that second emotion was less clear than the first. She openly expressed the wonder, but she tried to hide her dismay from me, and she managed to conceal it with such success that, in spite of my psychic perceptions, I was not sure that I was not imagining it.

At last I reached across the table, took her hands in mine, and said, “I have a reason for telling you about all this.”


“But first, I’ve got to know whether you really want to . . .”

“Want to what?”

“Live,” I said quietly. “Last week . . . you talked about the ocean down in Florida, about swimming out and out until your arms turned to lead . . .”

With too little conviction she said, “That was just talk.”

“And four nights ago, when we climbed the Ferris wheel, you almost seemed to want the lightning to catch you there on the girders.”

She turned her eyes away from mine, looked down at the yellow smears of egg yolk and the toast crumbs on her plate, said nothing.

With love that must have been as evident in my voice as Luke Bendingo’s stutter was evident in his, I said, “Rya, there is a certain . . . strangeness in you.”

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