Twilight Eyes Page 33

Rya blinked. “How did you know?”

I told her about the pregnant goblin in Yontsdown.

She said, “If I’ve not misunderstood, most remained sterile, but a lot became fertile. The legend is—”

“What legend?” I asked, finding it increasingly difficult to contain my curiosity. “Where did you hear these things? What legends are you talking about?”

Ignoring the question, still not ready to divulge her sources, she said, “According to the legends, a woman was caught in the brain-scan program, and when revealed as a goblin, she was goaded into transforming into her true shape. When they shot her, as she died, she ejected a litter of squirming goblin babies. In death she reverted to the human form, as she had been genetically programed to do (for the purpose of foiling autopsies and pathologists). And when her offspring were executed, they metamorphosed into human babies during their death throes.”

“And then mankind knew it had lost the war with the goblins.”

Rya nodded.

They had lost the war because goblin children, formed in the alien womb instead of in the laboratory, had no control mechanisms to show up on brain scans; there was no method whatsoever by which their disguises could be penetrated. From that point on, man shared the earth with a species that was his intellectual equal and that had no purpose but to destroy him and all his works.

Rya finished her Scotch.

I badly wanted a second drink, but I was afraid to get it, for in my current state of mind a second would surely lead to a third, a third to a fourth, and I would not stop until I passed out drunk. I could not afford to indulge myself, for the dark premonition of pending disaster hung over me more oppressively than ever, the psychic equivalent of a massive black formation of churning thunderheads settling down over a summer day.

I looked at the door.

Still locked.

I looked at the windows.

They were open.

But they were jalousies, and no goblin could force its way through one of them without considerable effort.

“So,” Rya said softly, “we weren’t happy with the earth God gave us. Evidently we had heard about Hell in that lost age, and we found the concept interesting. We found it so interesting, so appealing, that we brought forth demons of our own design and re-created Hell on earth.”

If there was a God, I could almost understand (as never before) why He would visit pain and suffering upon us. Looking down in disgust at our use of the world and the life He gave us, He might very well say, “All right, you ungrateful wretches, all right! You like to screw up everything? You like to hurt one another? You like it so much, you make your own devils and turn them loose on yourselves? All right! So be it! Stand back and let the Master please you! Watch my smoke, little ones. Here! Take these gifts. Let there be brain cancer and polio and multiple sclerosis! Let there be earthquakes and tidal waves! Let there be—bad glands! You like? Hmmm?”

I said, “Somehow the goblins destroyed that earlier civilization, wiped it off the face of the earth.”

She nodded. “It took time. A couple of decades. But according to legend . . . eventually a few of their kind, passing as human, rose into the upper social strata and finally attained sufficiently high political office that they were in a position to wage a nuclear war.”

Which, according to the mysterious and unspecified “legends” that she quoted, they had done. They did not care that most of them would be wiped out along with our kind; their entire reason for existing was to harry and destroy us, and if the ultimate fulfillment of their purpose led to their own swift demise, they were nevertheless powerless to change their destiny. The missiles flew. Cities were vaporized. No missile was withheld, no bomber restricted from taking flight. So many thousands of enormously powerful nuclear devices were detonated that something happened in the earth’s crust, or perhaps there was a change in the magnetic field and a subsequent shifting of the poles, but for some reason fault lines responded worldwide, shifted, and produced quakes of unimaginable magnitude. Thousand-mile stretches of low-lying land collapsed into the seas, and tidal waves washed halfway across continents, and volcanoes erupted everywhere. That holocaust, the subsequent ice age, and thousands of years of time had ground away every trace of the civilization that had once lit the many continents as brightly as our carnival lit the midway every night. More goblins than humans survived, for they were hardier, born fighters. The few surviving human beings returned to caves, reverted to savagery, and with the passing of many cruel seasons their heritage was forgotten. Although the goblins did not forget and never would, we forgot the goblins, along with everything else, and in ages to come, our rare encounters with them in their demon form were the source for many superstitions—and countless cheap horror films—involving shape-changing, supernatural entities.

“Now, we’ve climbed up out of the muck again,” Rya said dismally, “and we’ve rebuilt civilization, and we’ve begun to acquire the means to destroy the world again—”

“—and the goblins will one day push the Button if they get the chance,” I finished for her.

“I believe they will,” she said. “It is true that they’re less capable fighters than they were in the previous civilization . . . more easily beaten in hand-to-hand combat . . . more easily deceived. They’ve changed, evolved somewhat, due to the passage of so much time and because of all that nuclear fallout. The radiation sterilized many, stole the fertility that the original mutations had given them, which is why they haven’t completely overrun the earth and outnumbered us. And there’s been a . . . a slight mitigation of their mania for destruction. As I understand it, many of them abhor the thought of another nuclear war . . . at least on a worldwide scale. You see, they’re long-lived; some of them are as much as fifteen hundred years old, so they aren’t that many generations removed from the previous holocaust. Their stories of the world’s end, passed down by their ancestors, are still fresh and immediate to them. But though most of them might be satisfied with the current arrangement, stalking and killing us as if we were nothing more than animals in their private game preserve, there are a few . . . a few who long to induce human agony on a nuclear scale again . . . who believe it’s their destiny to wipe us from the face of the earth forever. In ten years or twenty or forty, one of those is sure to get its chance, don’t you think?”

The near certainty of the Armageddon she had described was shocking and depressing beyond words, but still I feared a more immediate death. My precognitive awareness of imminent danger had become a constant, unpleasant pressure inside my skull, though I could not tell where the trouble would come from or what form it would take.

I was faintly nauseous with apprehension.

Chilled. Slick with sweat. Shivering.

She went into the kitchen for another Scotch.

I stood up. Went to a window. Looked out. Saw nothing. I returned to the armchair. Sat on the edge of it. Wanted to scream.

Something was coming. . . .

When she returned with her drink and slumped in her chair again, still withdrawn from me, still grim-faced, I said, “How did you learn about them? You’ve got to tell me. Are you able to read their minds or what?”



“A little.”

“I can’t get anything from them except . . . a rage, a hatred.”

“I see . . . into them a little,” Rya said. “Not their exact thoughts. But when I probe at them, I get images . . . visions. I think a lot of what I see is more . . . racial memory . . . things that some of them are not entirely aware of on a conscious level. But to be honest, it’s more than that.”

“What? More—how? And what about these legends you spoke of?”

Instead of answering me, she said, “I know what you were doing out there tonight.”

“Huh? What’re you talking about? How can you know?”

“I know.”


“And it’s futile, Slim.”

“It is?”

“They can’t be beaten.”

“I beat my Uncle Denton. I killed him before he could bring any more misery to my family. Joel and I stopped six of them tonight, and if we hadn’t, they would have rigged the Ferris wheel to collapse. We saved the lives of who knows how many marks.”

“And what does it matter?” she asked. A new note entered her voice, an earnestness, a dark enthusiasm. “Other goblins will just kill other marks. You can’t save the world. You’re risking your life, your happiness, your sanity—and at most you’re involved in a delaying action. You’re not going to win the war. In the long run our demons have to beat us. It’s inevitable. It is our destiny, one we planned for ourselves a long, long time ago.”

I could not see what she was driving at. “What alternative do we have? If we don’t fight, don’t protect ourselves, our lives have no meaning. You and I could be snuffed out at any moment, at their whim!”

She put aside her Scotch and slid to the edge of her seat. “There is another way.”

“What are you talking about?”

Her beautiful eyes fixed on mine, and her gaze was hot. “Slim, most people aren’t worth spit.”

I blinked.

She said, “Most people are liars, cheats, adulterers, thieves, bigots, you name it. They use and abuse one another with as much eagerness as the goblins abuse us. They aren’t worth saving.”

“No, no, no,” I said. “Not most of them. A lot of people aren’t worth spit, true, but not most of them, Rya.”

“In my experience,” she said, “hardly any of them are better than the goblins.”

“Your experience wasn’t typical, for God’s sake. The Abner Kadys and Maralee Sweens of this world are definitely a minority faction. I can see why you would feel differently, but you never met my dad or mom, my sisters, my grandma. There’s more decency in the world than cruelty. Maybe I wouldn’t have said so a week ago, or even yesterday, but now that I hear you talking like this, now that I hear you saying it’s all pointless, I don’t have any doubt there’s more good than evil in people. Because . . . because . . . well, there has to be.”

“Listen,” she said, her eyes still fixed on mine, a beseeching blue, a pleading blue, a fierce and almost painful blue, “all we can hope for is a little happiness with a small circle of friends, with a couple people we love—and the rest of the world be damned. Please, please, Slim, think about this! It’s amazing that we found each other. It’s a miracle. I never thought I would have anything like what we’ve found together. We’re so compatible . . . so alike . . . that there’s even an overlapping of certain brain waves when we sleep . . . a psychic sharing when we make love and when we sleep which is why the sex is so damned good for us and why we even share the same dreams! We were meant for each other, and the most important thing, the most important thing in the world is that we be together all our lives.”

“Yes,” I said. “I know. I feel it too.”

“So you’ve got to give up your crusade. Stop trying to save the world. Stop taking these insane risks. Let the goblins do what they have to do, and we’ll just live our own lives in peace.”

“But that’s the whole point! We can’t live in peace. Ignoring them won’t save us. Sooner or later they’ll come sniffing around, eager to feel our hurt, drink our pain—”

“Slim, wait, wait, listen.” She was agitated now, bristling with nervous energy. She popped up from her chair and went to the window, took a deep breath of the in-flowing air, turned to me again, and said, “You agree that what we have together has to come first, above all else, at all costs. So what if . . . what if I could show you a way to coexist with the goblins, a way for you to give up your crusade and not have to worry that they’d ever come after you or me?”


She hesitated.


“It’s the only way, Slim.”


“It’s the only sane way to deal with them.”

“Will you, for Christ’s sake, tell me?”

She frowned, looked away from me, started to speak, hesitated again, said, “Shit!” and suddenly threw her Scotch glass across the room at the wall. Ice cubes flew out of it, shattered as they hit pieces of furniture or bounced on the carpet, and the glass exploded against the wall.

Startled, I leapt up, then stood there stupidly as she waved me back and returned to her own chair.

She sat.

She took a deep breath.

She said, “I want you to hear me out, just listen and don’t interrupt, don’t stop me until I’m done, and try to understand. I’ve found a way to coexist with them, to make them leave me alone. See, in the orphanage and later, I realized there was no way to win with them. They have all the advantages. I ran away, but there’re goblins everywhere, not just in the orphanage, and you can’t really run away from them no matter where you go. It’s pointless. So I took a risk, a calculated risk, and I approached them, told them that I could see—”

“You what!”

“Don’t interrupt!” she said sharply. “This is . . . this is hard . . . going to be damned hard . . . and I just want to get through it, so shut up and let me talk. I told one of the goblins about my psychic ability, which is, you know, a mutation of our own, a consequence of that nuclear war, because according to the goblins there weren’t people with any kind of psychic abilities—clairvoyance, telekenesis, none of that—in the previous civilization. There aren’t many now, but there were none then. I guess . . . in a twisted sort of way . . . since the goblins started that war, brought those bombs and all that radiation down on us . . . well, you could say they sort of created gifted people like you and me. In an awful sort of way we owe our special talents to them. Anyway, I told them that I could see through their human form to . . . I don’t know . . . to the goblin potential within them—”

“You’ve talked to them, and they’ve told you their . . . legends! That’s how you know about them?”

“Not entirely. They haven’t told me much. But all they have to do is tell me a little, and I quickly have a vision of the rest. It’s like . . . if they open the door a crack, I can push it all the way and see even the stuff they’re trying to hide from me. But that’s not important right now, and I wish to God you wouldn’t interrupt. What’s important is that I made it clear to them that I didn’t care about them, didn’t care what they did, who they hurt, as long as they didn’t hurt me. And we reached an . . . accommodation.”

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