Twilight Eyes Page 31

“Huh? In case what?”

I told him about my experience with the goblin that he had buried under the floor of Shockville last week.

“I’ve never cut off their heads before,” he said.

“Then there’s a chance that maybe a couple of them came back.”

He let go of the body and stood in silence for a moment, thinking about that unsettling bit of news. Considering his size and the blood-freezing juxtaposition of his gnarly features, you might have thought that he could easily instill terror but never know fear himself. Yet even in that inadequate light I could see the anxiety in his face and in his two good eyes, and when he spoke, it was in his voice as well. “You mean there could be a couple of them out there, somewhere, who know that I know about them . . . and maybe they’re looking for me . . . been looking for me a long time and are maybe getting closer?”

“Could be,” I said. “I suspect most of them stay dead once you kill them. Probably only a few retain a strong enough spark of life to rebuild their bodies and eventually reanimate themselves.”

“Even a few is too many,” he said uneasily.

I was now holding the flashlight in such a way that the beam sprayed across the top of the sinkhole, parallel with the ground, and painted the trunks of a couple of trees at the far side of the clearing. Joel Tuck looked down through the widening fan of light, at the yawning mouth of the shaft, as if he expected to see goblin hands reach out of that darkness, as if he thought his victims had come back to life long ago but had remained down there where he had put them, just waiting for him to return.

He said, “I don’t think the two I dropped in here would’ve come back. I didn’t behead them, but I made a damned good job of them, and even if a spark of life remained in them when I brought them here, the fall down that hole would surely have finished them for good. Besides, if they had come back, they would have warned others in Yontsdown, and the group who came to sabotage the Ferris wheel would’ve been a hell of a lot more careful than they were.”

Though the sinkhole seemed very deep, though he was most likely right about the inability of any goblin to come back from that cold, bottomless grave, we nevertheless decapitated all six of the demons that we had slain that night. We consigned their bodies to the hole but buried their heads in a common grave much farther back in the woods.

On the way back to the carnival, along the forest path, as we pushed through brambles and weeds, I was so weary that I felt as if my bones were on the verge of coming unhinged. Joel Tuck seemed exhausted, too, and we did not have the energy or clarity of mind to ask each other all the questions for which we needed answers. I did, however, want to know why he had played dumb on Wednesday morning, when I had interrupted him while he was pounding tent pegs and had confronted him with the fact that at our previous engagement he had buried the goblin for me.

Paraphrasing the question that he had asked me about Rya almost a week ago, making an answer of it, he said, “Well, Carl Slim, at that time I wasn’t certain I had seen the underneath below your underneath. I knew there was a goblin killer in you, but I didn’t know if that was your deepest secret. You seemed to be a friend. Any killer of goblins would seem to have the right stuff. Lord, yes! But I’m cautious. As a young child, I was not cautious about people, you see, but I learned. Oh, I learned! As a little boy, I was desperate to be loved, made desperate by this nightmare face of mine, in such need of affection and acceptance that I became attached to anyone who had a kind word for me. But one by one they all betrayed me. I heard some of them laughing at me behind my back, and in others I eventually detected a nauseating pity. Some trusted friends and guardians won my confidence, only to prove themselves unworthy of it when they tried to have me permanently institutionalized for my own good! By then I was eleven years old, and I knew that people had as many layers to them as onions, and that before you made friends with someone you had better be sure that every layer of him was as clean and good as the top skin. You see?”

“I see. But what possible secret did you think I could be concealing under the secret of my goblin killing?”

“I didn’t know. Could’ve been anything. So I’ve kept tabs on you. And tonight, when it looked like that bastard was going to do you in with the two-by-four, I hadn’t yet made up my mind about you.”

“Good heavens!”

“But I realized that if I didn’t act, I might be losing a friend and ally. And in this world, friends and allies of your sort are not easily acquired.”

In the meadow between the forest and the midway, with the moon now gone, with the black arms of the night draped conspiratorially around our shoulders, we trudged in weary companionship, tall grass whispering around our legs. Fireflies flickered on all sides of us and flitted by on lantern-lit missions beyond our understanding. Our passage brought a temporary halt to cricket songs and to the cries of field toads, but the chorus swelled again in our wake.

As we neared the back of the big tent that housed Sabrina’s Mysteries of the Nile, a girlie show with an Egyptian gimmick, Joel stopped and put a big hand on my shoulder, stopping me as well. “There might be trouble tonight when those six don’t show up back in Yontsdown, as expected. Maybe you’d better sleep at my trailer. The wife won’t mind. There’s an extra bedroom.”

That was the first I knew he was married, and although I prided myself on having a carny’s blasé attitude toward freaks and such, I was chagrined to discover that I was startled by the thought of someone married to Joel Tuck.

“What do you say?” he asked.

“I doubt there’ll be any more trouble tonight. Besides, if there is, my place is with Rya.”

He was silent a moment. Then: “I was right, wasn’t I?”

“About what?”

“Your infatuation.”

“It’s more than that.”

“You . . . love her?”


“Are you sure?”


“And are you sure you know the difference between love and infatuation?”

“What the hell kind of question is that?” I demanded, not really angry with him, just frustrated, as I detected the resurgence of that enigmatic streak in him.

“Sorry,” he said. “You’re not an ordinary seventeen-year-old. You’re not a boy. No boy has learned and seen and done the things that you have, and I shouldn’t forget that. You know what love is, I guess. You’re a man.”

“I’m ancient,” I said tiredly.

“Does she love you?”


He was silent for a long time, but he kept his hand on my shoulder, staying me, as if he were diligently searching for words to convey an important message that defied even his formidable vocabulary.

I said, “What is it? What’s troubling you?”

“I guess, when you say that she loves you . . . this is something you know not just from what she says but from . . . but also by the application of whatever special talents and perceptions you possess.”

“That’s right,” I said, wondering why my relationship with Rya should cause him such concern. His questioning in such a delicate area seemed almost like common nosiness, but I vaguely sensed that there was more to it, and besides, he had saved my life, so I stifled the first glimmer of irritation and said, “Clairvoyantly, psychically, I sense that she loves me. Does that satisfy you? But even if I didn’t have the advantage of my sixth sense, I would know how she felt.”

“If you’re sure—”

“I just said I was.”

He sighed. “Again I’m sorry. It’s just that . . . I have always been aware of a . . . a difference in Rya Raines. I’ve had the feeling that the underneath below her underneath is . . . not good.”

“She has a grim secret,” I told him. “But it’s not something that she’s done. It’s something that was done to her.”

“She’s told you all?”


He nodded his shaggy head and worked his steam-shovel jaw. “Good. I’m glad to hear it. I’ve always sensed the good, worthy part of Rya, but there’s been this other thing, this unknown thing, that has aroused suspicion. . . .”

“As I said, her secret is that she was a victim, not a criminal.”

He patted my shoulder once, and we began to walk again, around the back of the kootch show, around Animal Oddities, between that tent and another, to the concourse, and from there to Gibtown-on-Wheels. I moved faster as we drew nearer the trailers. All the talk about Rya reminded me that she was in danger. Though I’d warned her to be careful, though I knew she could probably take care of herself once she was aware that trouble was coming and could not then be blindsided by it, and though I did not sense she was in peril at this moment, a serpent of apprehension coiled in the pit of my stomach and I was eager to check on her.

Joel and I parted with an agreement to meet the next day to satisfy our curiosity about each other’s psychic abilities and to share what knowledge we had of the goblin race.

Then I headed toward Rya’s Airstream, thinking of the night’s slaughter, hoping I was not too grossly smeared with blood, concocting a story to explain the stains on my jeans and T-shirt if Rya was awake and had an opportunity to see them. With luck, she would be in bed, and I could shower and dispose of my clothes while she dreamed.

I felt almost as if I were the Grim Reaper himself, coming home from work.

I did not know that before dawn this Reaper would need to use his scythe again.

Chapter sixteen


Rya was sitting in an armchair in the living room of the Airstream, still dressed in the tan slacks and emerald-green blouse she had been wearing when I had last seen her on the midway. She held a glass of Scotch in one hand, and when I got a look at her face, I stopped three or four words into the deception that I had formulated on the way home. Something was terribly wrong; it was visible in her eyes, in the tremor that softened her mouth, in the sooty rings that had appeared around her eyes, and in the paleness that aged her.

“What is it?” I asked.

She motioned me to the chair that faced hers, and when I indicated the stains on my jeans—not too bad now that I saw them in the light—she said it did not matter and again directed me to the armchair, this time with a note of impatience. I sat, suddenly aware of the earth and blood on my hands, realizing that my face very likely had a smear or two of blood on it. Yet she seemed neither shocked nor curious about my appearance, uninterested in my whereabouts during the past three hours, which must be an indication of the seriousness of the news that she had for me.

As I perched on the edge of the chair, she took a long pull on her Scotch. The glass rattled against her teeth.

She shuddered and said, “When I was eleven, I killed Abner Kady, and they took me away from my mother. I already told you that. They put me in a state-run orphanage. I told you that too. But what I didn’t tell you was that . . . when I went to the orphanage . . . that was where I first saw them.”

I stared at her, uncomprehending.

“Them,” she said. “They ran the place. They were in charge. The director, the assistant director, the head nurse, the doctor who didn’t live in but was on twenty-four-hour call, the counselor, the majority of the teachers, almost the entire staff were their kind, and I was the only kid who could see them.”

Stunned, I started to get up.

With a gesture she indicated that I should remain where I was. She said, “There’s more.”

“You see them too! But this is incredible!”

“Not so incredible,” she said. “The carnival is the best home in the world for social outcasts, and who is more of an outcast than those of us who see . . . the others?”

“Goblins,” I said. “I call them goblins.”

“I know. But isn’t it logical that our kind would drift into the carnival . . . or into insane asylums . . . more than anywhere else?”

“Joel Tuck,” I said.

She blinked in surprise. “He sees them too?”

“Yes. And I suspect he knows you see the goblins.”

“But he’s never told me.”

“Because he says he detects a darkness in you, and he’s a most careful man.”

She finished her Scotch and then stared at the ice cubes in her glass for a long moment, bleaker than I had ever seen her. When I started to get up again, she said, “No. Stay there. Don’t come to me, Slim. I don’t want you trying to comfort me. I don’t want to be held. Not now. I’ve got to finish this.”

“All right. Go on.”

She said, “I had never seen the . . . the goblins up in the Virginia hills. Weren’t many people around, and we never went far from home, never saw any outsiders, so I wasn’t likely to encounter them. When I saw them in the orphanage for the first time, I was terrified, but I sensed I would be . . . eliminated . . . if I let them know I could see through their charade. With careful questioning and a lot of hinting, I soon learned that none of the other kids were aware of the beasts inside our keepers.” She raised the Scotch, remembered that she had finished the whiskey, and held the glass in her lap with both hands to keep them from shaking. “Can you understand what it was like to be helpless children at the mercy of those creatures? Oh, they didn’t cause us too much physical injury, because a lot of dead or badly battered children would have brought an investigation. But the code of discipline allowed a lot of leeway for vigorous spankings and a wide variety of punishments. They were masters at psychological torture, as well, and they kept us in a constant state of fear and despair. They seemed to feed on our distress, on the psychic energy produced by our anguish.”

I felt as if spicules of ice had formed in my blood.

I longed to hold her, stroke her hair, and assure her that they would never get their filthy hands on her again, but I sensed that she was not finished yet and would not appreciate an interruption.

She was almost whispering now. “But there was a worse fate than having to stay at the orphanage. Adoption. You see, I soon became aware that the couples who showed up to interview kids for adoption sometimes were both goblins, and no child was ever given to a family in which at least one of the parents wasn’t . . . of that kind. You get my drift? You see? You know what was happening to those kids who were adopted? In the privacy of their new families, beyond the eye of the state, which might have seen blatant wrongdoing in the orphanage, in the ‘sanctity’ of the family where bad secrets are more easily kept, they were tortured, used as toys for the gratification of goblins that had taken custody of them. So while it was Hell in the orphanage, it was worse to be sent home with a couple of them.”

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