Twilight Eyes Page 32

The ice spread from my blood into my bones, where it seemed as if my marrow had frozen solid.

“I avoided adoption by playing stupid, by pretending to have such a low IQ that torturing me would be no more fun than torturing a dumb animal. They want response, you see. That’s what thrills them. And I don’t mean just your physical response to the pain they inflict. That’s pretty much secondary. What they want is your anguish, your fear, and it’s hard to engender a satisfyingly complex terror in a dumb animal. So I avoided adoption, and when I was old enough and tough enough to be fairly sure of making it on my own, I ran away to the carnival.”

“When you were fourteen.”


“Old enough and tough enough,” I said with grim irony.

“After eleven years of Abner Kady and three years under the thumb of the goblins,” she said, “I was as tough as you can get.”

If her endurance, perseverance, strength, and courage had been awesome before, this new information provided a glimpse of bravery almost too great to be comprehended. I had found myself a special woman, all right, a woman whose determination to survive gave rise to reverent wonder.

I slumped back in my chair, suddenly hammered limp by the horror that I had just heard. My mouth was dry and bitter, and my stomach was sour, and there was a great hollowness in me.

I said, “Goddamn it, what are they? Where do they come from? Why do they haunt the human race?”

“I know,” she said.

For a moment I did not fully grasp the meaning of those two words. Then, when I saw that she literally meant that she knew the answers to my three questions, I came forward on my chair, breathless, electrified. “How do you know? How did you find out?”

She stared down at her hands, unspeaking.


“They’re our creation,” she said.

Startled, I said, “How can that possibly be true?”

“Well, you see . . . mankind has been on this world far longer than current wisdom has it. There was a civilization many thousands of years before ours . . . before written history, and it was even more advanced than ours.”

“What do you mean? A lost civilization?”

She nodded. “Lost . . . destroyed. War and the threat of war was as much a problem for the people of that earlier civilization as it is for us now. Those nations developed nuclear weapons and reached a stalemate not unlike the one we’re approaching now. But that standoff didn’t lead to an uneasy truce or to peace by necessity. Hell, no. No. Instead, stalemated, they searched for other means of waging warfare.”

A part of me wondered how she could know these things, but I did not for a moment doubt the truth of what she said, for with my sixth sense—and perhaps with a wisp of racial memory buried deep in my subconscious—I perceived an ominous reality to what some listeners might have thought was only a crazy fantasy or fairy tale. I could not bear to interrupt her to ask again for the source of her information. For one thing, she did not seem ready to tell me. And for another thing, I was spellbound, compelled to attend the seafarer’s story, and she seemed equally obsessed with the need to tell it. No child at bedtime has ever been more captivated by any wondrous fable, nor has any condemned man listened with more dread to the judge’s reading of his sentence than I felt as I listened to Rya Raines that night.

“In time,” she continued, “they developed the ability to . . . to tamper with the genetic structure of animals and plants. Not just tamper but edit, splice one gene to another, excise characteristics or add them at will.”

“That’s science fiction.”

“To us, yes. To them it was a reality. That breakthrough vastly improved people’s lives by insuring better crops . . . and a more stable food supply . . . and by creating a host of new medicines. But it also had great potential for evil.”

“And that potential didn’t go unexplored for long,” I said, not with clairvoyant insight but with a cynical surety that human nature had been no different—or better—tens of thousands of years ago than it was in our own age.

Rya said, “The first goblin was bred purely for military purposes, the ultimate warrior for a slave army.”

Picturing the grotesque demonkind, I said, “But what specific animal did they alter to come up with this . . . this thing?”

“I don’t know exactly, but I think it’s not an altered version of anything so much as . . . an entirely new species on the face of the earth, a man-made race with intelligence equal to ours. As I understand it, the goblin is a being with two genetic patterns for every detail of physical appearance—one pattern essentially human and one not—plus a vital linking gene that bears the metamorphic talent, so that the creature has the ability to choose between its two identities at will, to be—to all outward appearances, at least—a human being, or a goblin, whichever the moment seems to demand.”

“But it’s not really a human being even when it looks like one of us,” I said.

Then, thinking of Abner Kady, it occurred to me that even some genuine human beings are not human beings.

Rya said, “No. Even when it can pass the most rigorous medical examination of its tissues, it’s always a goblin. That’s its base reality, regardless of the physical mode it chooses at any particular time. After all, its inhuman viewpoint, its thinking, its methods of reasoning are all alien to a degree beyond our comprehension. It was designed to be able to enter a foreign country, mingle with people, pass for human . . . then, when most appropriate, revert to its frightening reality. For instance, say that five thousand goblins were infiltrated into enemy territory. They could engage in terrorist attacks, launched at random, disrupting commerce and society, creating an atmosphere of paranoia. . . .”

I could imagine the chaos. Neighbor would suspect neighbor. No one would trust anyone but members of his immediate family. Society as we know it could not exist in such an atmosphere of paranoid suspicion. In time the beleaguered nation would be ground into subservience.

“Or the five thousand could all be programmed to strike at the same time,” Rya said, “erupting in a single murderous rampage that would claim two hundred thousand lives in one night.”

A thing of claws and fangs, a carefully engineered fighting machine with a heart-stopping appearance, the goblin’s purpose was not merely to kill but also to demoralize.

As I considered the effectiveness of an army of goblin terrorists, I was temporarily speechless.

My muscles were tense, knotted, and I could not relax them. My throat was tight. My chest ached.

As I listened, a fist of fear clutched my guts and squeezed.

But it was not merely the history of the goblins that affected me.

Something else.

An unfocused prescience.

Something coming. . . .

Something bad.

I had the feeling that when I had at last heard all the details of the goblins’ origins, I would then find myself in the midst of a horror that was currently beyond my imagination.

Still sitting in her armchair, shoulders slumped, head low, eyes downcast, Rya said, “This warrior . . . goblin was specifically designed to be incapable of pity, guilt, shame, love, mercy, and most other human emotions, though it could imitate them well enough when it wished to pass as a man or woman. It had no compunctions about committing acts of extreme violence. In fact . . . if I’ve understood the information I’ve accumulated over the years . . . if I’ve properly interpreted the things I’ve seen . . . the goblin was even engineered to experience pleasure when it killed. Hell, its only three emotions were a limited capacity for fear (which was included by the geneticists and psychogeneticists as a survival mechanism), hatred, and blood lust. So . . . condemned to that limited range of experience, the beast naturally tried to milk the most out of each emotion it’d been permitted.”

No human killer in either their civilization or ours, in all the thousands of years of lost or recorded history, possibly could have exhibited obsessive, compulsive, psychopathic, homicidal behavior even one-hundredth as intense as that of these laboratory soldiers. No religious fanatic, guaranteed a place in Heaven for taking up a gun in God’s name, ever slaughtered with such zeal.

My muddy, bloody hands were so tightly curled into fists that my fingernails pressed painfully into my palms, yet I could not relax them. It was as if I were a determined penitent, seeking absolution through the endurance of pain. But absolution for whom? Whose sins did I feel it was necessary to atone for?

I said, “But, Jesus, the creation of this warrior . . . it was . . . it was madness! A thing like that never could be controlled!”

“Apparently they thought it could,” she said. “As I understand it, each goblin that went out of those labs had a control mechanism implanted in its brain, which was intended to deliver temporarily crippling jolts of pain and trigger the creature’s fear. Through this device a disobedient warrior could be punished in any corner of the world, regardless of where it hid.”

“But something went wrong,” I said.

“Something always goes wrong,” she said.

Again I asked, “How do you know these things?”

“Give me time. In time I’ll explain everything.”

“I’ll insist on it.”

Her voice was bleak and gray, and it became grayer by the moment as she spoke of other safeguards that had been built into the goblins to prevent rebellion and unwanted bloodshed. Of course, they were created sterile. They could not breed; only the labs could produce more of them. And each goblin underwent intense conditioning that directed its hatred and murderous urges toward a narrowly defined ethnic or racial group, so it could be targeted on a very specific enemy, without fear that it might recklessly kill its master’s allies.

“Then what went wrong?” I asked.

“I need more Scotch,” she said.

She got up and went into the kitchen.

“Pour me some,” I said.

I ached all over, and my hands burned and itched because I had not yet extracted all the splinters from them. The Scotch would have an anesthetizing effect.

But it could not anesthetize me against the feeling of impending danger. That presentiment was growing stronger, and I knew it would persist regardless of the quantities of liquor that I consumed.

I glanced at the door.

I had not locked it when I had come in. No one locks his doors in Gibtown, Florida, or in Gibtown-on-Wheels, because carnies never—or seldom ever—steal from one another.

I got up, went to the door, thumbed in the lock button on the knob, and slid the bolt latch in place.

I should have felt better then. I did not.

Rya came back from the kitchen and handed me a glass of Scotch on the rocks.

I resisted the urge to touch her because I sensed that she still did not want me close. Not until she had told me everything.

I returned to my chair, sat down, and gulped half the Scotch in one swallow.

She continued, but a replenishment of her whiskey did not improve the bleak tone of her voice. I sensed that her state of mind was induced not only by the horrible tale she had to tell but also by some personal turmoil. Whatever else was eating at her, I could not get a clear perception of it.

Proceeding with the story, she told me that the secret knowledge of the goblins’ creation soon spread, as knowledge always will, and half a dozen countries quickly had their own laboratory-made soldiers, similar to the first goblins but with modifications, refined and improved. They grew the creatures in vats, by the thousands, and the impact of this brand of warfare proved to be almost as terrible as a full-scale nuclear exchange.

“Remember,” Rya said, “the goblins were supposedly an alternative to nuclear combat, a much less destructive means of attaining world domination.”

“Some alternative!”

“Well, if the nation that originated them could’ve maintained exclusivity of its technology, it would have conquered the world in a few years, without resort to atomic weapons. However, when everyone had goblin soldiers, when the terror was answered with counterterror, all sides quickly realized that mutual destruction was as certain through the surrogate soldiers as through nuclear holocaust. So they reached an agreement to recall and destroy their goblin armies.”

“But someone reneged,” I said.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “I may be wrong about this, I may have misunderstood . . . but I think some of the soldiers successfully refused to be recalled.”


“For reasons never discovered, or at least for reasons I don’t grasp, some of the goblins had undergone fundamental changes once out of the laboratory.”

Having been a science buff through most of my childhood and adolescence, I had a thought or two about the subject. I said, “Perhaps they changed because their chains of artificial chromosomes and edited genes were too fragilely constructed.”

She shrugged. “Anyway, it appears that one result of this mutation was the development of an ego, a sense of independence.”

“Which is a damned dangerous thing in a biologically engineered psychopathic killer,” I said with a shiver.

“An attempt was made to bring them to heel by activating the pain-producing devices implanted in their brains. Some gave themselves up. Others were found writhing and squealing in an unexplainable agony that effectively unmasked them. But some apparently mutated in still another way—either developed an incredible tolerance for pain . . . or learned to like it, even thrive on it.”

I could imagine how things had progressed from that point. I said, “In their perfect human disguises, with intelligence equal to ours, driven by only hatred and fear and blood lust, they couldn’t ever be found . . . except maybe by subjecting every man and woman in the world to a brain scan in search of the goblins’ defused control mechanisms. But there’d be a thousand dodges the creatures could use to avoid going under the scanners. Some would probably produce counterfeit clearance cards attesting to brain scans they’d never undergone. Others would simply flee to wilderness areas and hide out, running forays into towns and villages only when they needed to steal supplies . . . or when the lust to kill became an intolerable pressure in them. In the end most would escape detection. Right? Is that how it was?”

“I don’t know. I think so. Something like that. And at some point after the . . . the worldwide brain-scan program was under way . . . the authorities discovered that some of the rebel goblins had undergone one other fundamental mutation—”

“They were no longer sterile.”

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