Twilight Eyes Page 30

I stole from one bit of cover to another, listening, watching.

I ran softly in a crouch.

I edged around blind corners.





A mosquito tickled across my throat on spindly legs, flimsy wings beating hard, and I almost swatted it before I realized the sound might give me away. Instead I closed a hand slowly over it as it began to feed on me—and crushed it between palm and neck.

I thought I heard something over by the fun house, though it was most likely my sixth sense that sent me in that direction. The clown’s huge face seemed to wink at me in the gloom, though not with any humor; it was, instead, the kind of wink that Death might favor you with when he came to collect your debt, a bleak wink simulated by the writhing of maggots in an empty eye socket.

A goblin, having boarded a fun-house gondola before closing time, and having cleverly disembarked from that gondola once inside the attraction, was now coming out of the enormous gaping mouth of the clown to keep a rendezvous with the other five intruders at the Ferris wheel. This one was costumed as an Elvis look-alike, with a ducktail haircut and a swagger, about twenty-five. I observed it from the cover of the ticket booth—and as it passed me, I struck.

This time I was not as quick or forceful as I had been before, and the beast managed to bring an arm up and deflect the blade as the cutting edge slashed toward its throat. The razored steel parted the flesh of its forearm and sliced along the back of its hand, the point coming to rest between the first knuckles of two fingers. The demon issued a thin, soft cry, barely audible, but choked that off when it realized that a scream might draw inquisitive carnies as well as other goblins.

Even as blood sprang from its arm, the demon tore itself loose of me. It swung toward me with a lurch and stumble, its luminous eyes bright with murderous intention.

Before it could regain its balance, I kicked it in the crotch. Trapped within the human form, it was hostage to the weaknesses of human physiology, and now it doubled over as pain exploded up from its crushed testicles. I kicked again, higher this time, and the beast lowered its head simultaneously, as if to oblige me, and my foot caught it under the chin. It sprawled backward on the sawdust-covered concourse, and I fell atop it, driving my knife deep into its throat, twisting the blade. I took three or four blows on my head and shoulders as it made a futile attempt to drive me off, but I succeeded in letting the life out of the creature like air from a punctured balloon.

Gasping but keeping in mind the need for silence, I pushed up from the dead goblin—and was struck from behind, across the base of the skull and the back of the neck. A many-petaled pain bloomed, but I held on to consciousness. I fell, rolled, and saw another demon scuttling toward me, a length of wood in its hands.

I discovered that I had been so stunned by the first blow that I had dropped my knife. I could see it, gleaming dully, ten feet away, but I could not reach it in time.

With its black lips drawn back in a wicked snarl beneath its human glaze, my third adversary was upon me in one blink of its conflagrant eyes, wielding that length of two-by-four as if it were an ax, chopping at my face as I had chopped at Denton Harkenfield. I crossed my arms over my head to save myself from a skull-fracturing blow, and the beast slammed the heavy club into my arms three times, striking hot bursts of pain from my bones the way a blacksmith’s hammer rings sparks from an anvil. Then it changed tactics and struck at my unprotected ribs. I drew up my knees and made a ball of myself and tried to roll away, toward some object that I might be able to put between us, but the goblin followed with evil glee, raining blows on my legs, buttocks, back, sides, and arms. None of them landed with bone-breaking force because I kept moving away from the arcing wood, but I could not take this punishment much longer and still have the will and ability to stay on the move; I began to think that I was a dead man. In desperation I stopped trying to shield my head and grabbed for the club, but the demon, towering over me, glaring down at me, easily tore it out of my grasp, and I succeeded only in taking half a dozen splinters in my palms and fingers. The creature swept the bludgeon high above its head and brought it down with the fury of a berserker or a battle-frenzied samurai. Coming straight at me, the wood looked as big as a toppling tree, and I knew that this time it would knock either the sense or the life out of me—

—but instead the weapon suddenly slipped out of the goblin’s hands, flew off to the right of me, thumped end over end through the sawdust. And with a hard, low grunt of shock and pain, my attacker dropped toward me, felled by what seemed to be pure sorcery. I had to scramble to avoid being pinned beneath the beast, and when I looked back at it in bewilderment, I saw how I’d been saved. Joel Tuck stood over the goblin, holding the same sledgehammer that he had been using Wednesday morning when I had found him pounding in tent pegs behind Shockville. Joel hammered once more, and the goblin’s skull collapsed with a thud and a wet, sickening sound.

The entire battle had been waged in virtual silence. The loudest noise had been the thump of the wooden club striking one part of my anatomy or another, which could not have carried more than a hundred feet or so.

Still racked with pain and thinking slowly on that account, I watched numbly as Joel let go of his hammer, grabbed the dead goblin by the feet, and dragged the corpse off the concourse, concealing it in the niche formed by the fun-house pitchman’s platform and the ticket booth. By the time he started wrestling the other body, the Elvis look-alike, into the same hiding place, I had managed to rise up on my knees and had begun to rub a little of the pain out of my arms and sides.

As I watched him drag the second body behind the ticket booth to pile it upon the other, I had a darkly giddy moment in which I imagined Joel beside an enormous stone hearth, rocking in a comfortable chair, reading a good book, sipping brandy—and occasionally getting up to move another corpse from a huge stack of them, shoving it into the fireplace where other dead men and women were already half consumed by flames. Except for the fact that bodies had taken the place of ordinary logs, it was a warmly domestic scene, and Joel was even whistling happily as he jabbed an iron poker at the heap of burning flesh. I felt a wild giggle building in me, and I knew that I dare not give voice to it, for then I might never be able to stop cackling. The realization that I was on the edge of hysteria shocked and frightened me. I shook my head and banished that bizarre fireside scene from my mind.

By the time I’d recuperated enough to try standing, Joel was there to help. In the eldritch light of the partial moon, his malformed face looked not more monstrous than usual, as might be expected, but softer, less threatening, like a child’s amateurish drawing, almost more amusing than frightening. I leaned against him for a moment, reminded of how damned big he was, and when I finally spoke, I had the presence of mind to whisper, “I’m okay.”

Neither of us commented on his fortuitous appearance, nor did we make any reference to his willingness to commit murder in spite of the fact that he claimed never to have seen a goblin. There would be time for that later. If we survived.

I hobbled across the concourse to retrieve my knife. Stooping down, I experienced a moment of dizziness, but I overcame it, plucked the knife out of the sawdust, rose again, and returned to Joel with that tongue-between-the-teeth, stiff-necked, square-shouldered, oh-so-careful posture and gait of a drunkard who thinks he is successfully faking his way through a sobriety test.

Joel was not deceived by my brave pretense. He took my arm, supported me as we got off the exposed concourse, and helped me scurry into the center of the midway. We took refuge in a haven of shadows by the Caterpillar.

“Broken bones?” he whispered.

“Don’t think so.”

“Bad cuts?”

“No,” I said as I scraped a couple of the biggest splinters out of my hands. I had escaped serious injury, but I would be sore as hell in the morning. If I made it to the morning. “There’re more goblins.”

He was silent for a moment.

We listened.

From the distance came the forlorn whistle of a train.

Closer, the quick and soft vibration of moth wings.

Breathing. Ours.

At last he whispered, “How many do you think?”

“Maybe six.”

“Killed two,” he said.

“Including the one I saw you mash?”

“No. That makes three.”

Like me, he had known they were going to sabotage the Ferris wheel tonight. Like me, he had set out to stop them. I wanted to hug him.

“Killed two,” I whispered.



“Then... one left?”

“I think.”

“Want to go after it?”



“Got to go after it.”


“The Ferris,” I hissed.

We slipped along the cluttered midway until we were near the big wheel. In spite of his size, Joel Tuck moved with athletic grace and in complete silence. We stopped in a drift of shadows piled against a short trailer that contained a generator, and when I peered around the equipment, I saw the sixth goblin standing at the foot of the Ferris.

It was disguised as a tall, rather muscular man of thirty-five, with curly blond hair. But because it stood in the open, where a sickly fall of anemic moonlight covered it like talcum powder and revealed it much as powder might cling to and reveal an invisible man, I was able to see the goblin within, as well, even from a distance of thirty feet.

Joel whispered, “It’s agitated. Wonders where the others are. Got to take it soon . . . before it gets scared and bolts.”

We edged five feet closer to the demon, until we were huddled in the last bit of cover. To reach the goblin, we would have to leap up, revealing ourselves, dash twelve feet, vault over the low fence, and cross another twelve or fifteen feet of cable-strewn ground.

Of course, by the time we were negotiating the fence, our enemy would have run for its life, and if we could not catch it, the beast would race back into Yontsdown to warn the others: There are people at the carnival who can see through our disguises! Then Chief Lisle Kelsko would find an excuse to raid the midway. He (it) would come armed with fistsful of search warrants as well as guns, and he would poke his nose into not only the sideshows and kootch tents and hanky-panks but into our trailers as well. He would not be satisfied until the goblin killers were identified among the ordinary carnies and, by one means or another, eliminated.

If, however, the sixth goblin could be cut down and secretly buried with its companions, Kelsko might strongly suspect that someone at the carnival was responsible for their disappearance, but he would not have proof. And he might not realize that the saboteurs had been destroyed because their human disguises had been penetrated. If this sixth goblin did not return to Yontsdown with an explicit warning and descriptions of Joel and me, there was at least still hope.

My right hand was damp with perspiration. I scrubbed it vigorously on my jeans, then gripped my throwing knife by the point. My arms ached from the beating I had taken, but I was pretty sure that I could still put a blade where I wished. I quickly whispered my intent to Joel, and when the goblin turned away from me to survey the shadows in the other direction for its demonic compatriots, I stood up, took several quick steps, froze as it began to look in my direction once more, and loosed the knife with all the force and quickness and calculation of which I was capable.

I had thrown a second too soon and too low. Before the creature could complete its turn in my direction, the blade sank deep into its shoulder instead of piercing the tender center of its throat. The demon staggered backward and collided with the ticket booth. I ran toward it, stumbled, fell over a cable, and hit the ground hard.

By the time Joel reached the beast, it had pulled the knife from its shoulder and was reeling, though still on its feet. With a snarl and a snake-like hiss that definitely were not human, it slashed at Joel, but he was agile for his size, and he knocked the knife from its hand, shoved it hard, and dropped atop it when it crashed to the ground. He strangled it.

I retrieved my knife, wiped the blade on the leg of my pants, and returned it to the sheath in my boot.

Even if I had been able to dispatch all six goblins without Joel’s help, I would not have had the strength to bury them by myself. As huge and well muscled as he was, he could drag two bodies at a time, while I could handle only one. I would have had to make six trips to the woods behind the fairgrounds if I had been alone, but the two of us needed to make the trek just twice.

Furthermore, because of Joel, digging graves was not required. We dragged the bodies to a spot only twenty feet in from the perimeter of the forest. There, in a small glade surrounded by trees like black-frocked priests of a pagan religion, a limestone sinkhole waited to accept the dead.

As I knelt beside the hole, directing the beam of Joel’s flashlight into its apparently depthless reaches, I said, “How did you know this was here?”

“I always scout the territory when we set up at a new stand. If you can find something like this, it puts your mind at rest a little to know it’s available if you need it.”

“You’re at war, too,” I said.

“No. Not the way you seem to be. I only kill them when I have no other choice, when they’re going to murder carnies or when they intend to hurt marks on the lot and let us take the blame for it. I can’t do anything about the misery they inflict on the marks out in the straight world. It’s not that I don’t care about the marks, you know. I do. But I’m only one man, and I can only do so much, and the best I can hope to do is protect my own.”

The trees around us rustled their leafy cassocks.

A sepulchral odor wafted out of the sinkhole.

“Have you dropped other goblins in here?” I asked.

“Only two. They usually let us alone in Yontsdown because they’re so busy planning school fires and poisoning folks at church picnics and that sort of thing.”

“You know what a breeding ground this is!”


“When did you bury the others here?” I asked, again peering down into the bottomless limestone shaft.

“Two years ago. A couple of them came on the lot the next to last night of the engagement, intending to start a fire that’d sweep through the whole midway and wipe us out. Much to their surprise, I interfered with their plans.”

Hunched over, hair wild, his malformed face looking even stranger than usual in the back splash of the flashlight, the freak pulled the first corpse to the lip of the sinkhole, as if he were Grendel storing meat against the privations of winter.

I said, “No. First... we’ve got to cut off their heads. The bodies can go in the shaft, but the heads have to be buried separately . . . just in case.”

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