Twilight Eyes Page 4

Then I scrambled-leapt-dived for the Ferris wheel’s ticket booth. It was closer than the fence, much closer than the dubious cover that lay beyond the fence, but, sweet Jesus, it was tiny. Just a one-person cubicle, hardly more than four feet on a side, with a pagoda-style roof. I crouched against one wall of that ticket booth, my backpack and bunched-up sleeping bag clutched against me, pinned by the searchlight moon, convinced that a foot or knee or hip was exposed.

As the Ford cruised past the Ferris wheel, I moved around the booth, always keeping it between me and the guards. Their spotlight probed around me, past me . . . then they departed without raising an alarm. I hunkered in the moon-shadow cast by one edge of the pagoda-style roof, and I watched them drive all the way down the concourse. They continued at a sedate pace and stopped three times to shine the spotlight over one thing or another, taking five minutes to reach the end of the promenade. I was afraid they would turn right at the front end of the midway, which would mean they were heading back toward the first concourse and were going to make another circuit. But they went left instead, off toward the grandstand and the mile-long racetrack, ultimately to the barns and stables where the livestock shows and competitions were held.

In spite of the August heat, my teeth were chattering. My heart hammered so hard and loud that I was surprised they hadn’t heard it above the rumble of their sedan’s engine. My breathing was as noisy as a bellows. I was a regular one-man band, specializing in rhythm unsullied by melody.

I slumped back against the booth, until the shakes passed, until I trusted myself to deal with the corpse I had left in the Dodgem Car pavilion. Disposing of the body would require steady nerves, calm, and the caution of a mouse at a cat show.

Eventually, when in control of myself once more, I rolled up my sleeping bag, cinched it into a tight bundle, and carried both it and the backpack into the deep shadows by the Tilt-a-Whirl. I left everything where I could find it again but where it could not be seen from the concourse.

I returned to the Dodgem Cars.

All was still.

The gate creaked slightly when I pushed it open.

Each step I took echoed under the wooden floor.

I didn’t care. This time I was not sneaking up on anyone.

Moonlight shimmered beyond the open sides of the pavilion.

The glossy paint on the balustrade seemed to glow.

Here under the roof, thick shadows clustered.

Shadows and moist heat.

The miniature cars huddled like sheep in a dark pasture.

The body was gone.

My first thought was that I had forgotten exactly where I had left the corpse: Perhaps it was beyond that other pair of Dodgem Cars, or over there in that other sable pool beyond the moonlight’s reach. Then it occurred to me that the goblin might not have been dead when I left it. Dying, yes, it had definitely been mortally injured, but perhaps not actually dead, and maybe it had managed to drag itself to another corner of the building before expiring. I began searching back and forth, through and between the cars, gingerly poking into every lake and puddle of blackness, with no success but with increasing agitation.

I stopped. I listened.


I made myself receptive to psychic vibrations.


I thought I remembered under which car the flashlight had rolled when it had been knocked off the bumper. I looked and found it—and was reassured that I had not dreamed the entire battle with the goblin. When I clicked the switch, the Eveready came on. Hooding the beam with one hand, I swept the floor with light and saw other proof that the violent encounter I remembered had not been the events of a nightmare. Blood. Plenty of blood. It was thickening and soaking into the wood, deepening to a shade between crimson and maroon, with a look of rust around the edges, drying up, but it was undeniably blood, and from the sprays and streaks and pools of gore, I could re-create the fight as I recalled it.

I found my knife, too, and it was spotted with dried blood. I started to return it to the sheath inside my boot, then looked warily at the night around me and decided to keep the weapon ready.

The blood, the knife . . . But the body was gone.

And the tool pouch was missing as well.

I wanted to run, get the hell out of there, without even delaying long enough to return to the Tilt-a-Whirl for my gear, just bolt down the concourse, kicking up clouds of sawdust, to the front gate of the county fairgrounds, climb over that, and run some more, Jesus, run without stopping for hours and hours, on into the morning, on through the Pennsylvania mountains, into the wilderness, until I found a stream where I could wash off the blood and the stink of my enemy, where I could find a mossy bed and lie down in the concealment of ferns, where I could sleep in peace without fear of being seen by anyone—or any thing.

I was only a seventeen-year-old boy.

But during the past few months my fantastic and terrifying experiences had hardened me and forced me to grow up fast. Survival demanded that this boy conduct himself like a man, and not just any man but one with nerves of steel and a will of iron.

Instead of running, I went outside and walked around the building, studying the dusty earth in the flashlight beam. I could find no trail of blood, which there would surely have been if the goblin had retained enough strength to crawl away. I knew from experience that these creatures were no more immune to death than I was; they could not miraculously heal themselves, rise up, and come back from the grave. Uncle Denton had not been invincible; once dead, he stayed dead. This one too: He had been dead on the pavilion floor, indisputably dead; he still was dead; somewhere, dead. Which left only one other explanation for his disappearance: Someone had found his body and had carried it away.

Why? Why not call the police? Whoever found the corpse could not know that it had once been animated by a demonic creature with a face suitable for the galleries of Hell. My unknown conspirator would have seen a dead man, nothing more. Why would he help a stranger conceal a murder?

I suspected that I was being watched.

The shakes came back. With an effort I got rid of them.

I had work to do.

Inside the pavilion again, I returned to the Dodgem Car on which the goblin had been working when I surprised him. At the rear of it, the lid was raised, exposing the motor and the power connection between the terminus of the grid-tapping pole and the alternator. I peered at those mechanical guts for a minute or so, but I could not see what he had been doing, could not even tell whether he had tinkered with anything before I had interrupted him.

The ticket booth for the Dodgem Cars was not locked, and in one corner of that tiny enclosure I found a broom, a dustpan, and a bucket containing a few soiled rags. With the rags I wiped up what blood had not already dried on the wooden floor. I brought handfuls of powdery, summer-bleached dirt into the building, sifted it over the moist, reddish splotches wherever I found them, ground it in with my boots, then swept up. The bloodstains remained, but the character of them was changed, so they looked no more recent than—or different from—the countless grease and oil spots that overlaid one another along the entire length of the platform. I replaced the broom and dustpan in the booth but threw the bloody rags into a trash barrel along the concourse, burying them under empty popcorn boxes and crumpled snow-cone papers and other garbage, where I also deposited the dead man’s flashlight.

I still sensed that I was being watched. It gave me the creeps.

Standing in the center of the concourse, I slowly turned in a circle, surveying the carnival around me, where the pennants still hung like sleeping bats, where the shuttered hanky-panks and grab-joints were tomb-black, tomb-silent, and I perceived no sign of life. The setting moon, now balanced on the mountainous skyline, silhouetted the far-off Ferris wheel and the Dive Bomber and the Tip Top, which somehow brought to mind the colossal futuristic Martian fighting machines in H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds.

I was not alone. No doubt of it now. I sensed someone out there, but I could not perceive his identity, understand his intentions, or pinpoint his location.

Unknown eyes watched.

Unknown ears listened.

And abruptly the midway was once more different from what it had been, no longer like a barren prison yard where I stood helplessly and hopelessly exposed in the accusatory glare of arc lamps. In fact, the night was suddenly not bright enough to suit me, not by half, rapidly growing darker, bringing gloom of a depth and menace never before seen or imagined. I cursed the betrayal represented by the setting moon. The feeling of exposure did not recede with the moon, and now it was aggravated by a growing claustrophobia. The midway became a place of unlit and alien forms, as profoundly disturbing as a collection of weirdly shaped grave-stones carved and erected by an inscrutable race on another world. All familiarity fled; every structure, every machine, every article was strange. I felt crowded, closed in, trapped, and for a moment I was afraid to move, certain that, no matter where I turned, I would be walking into open jaws, into the grip of something hostile.

“Who’s there?” I asked.

No answer.

“Where have you taken the body?”

The dark carnival was a perfect acoustic sponge; it absorbed my voice, and the silence was undisturbed, as if I had never spoken.

“What do you want from me?” I demanded of the unknown watcher. “Are you friend or enemy?”

Perhaps he did not know which he was, for he did not answer, though I sensed that a time would come when he would reveal himself and make his intentions clear.

That was the moment when I knew, with clairvoyant certainty, that I couldn’t have run away from the Sombra Brothers’ midway even if I had tried. It was neither whim nor a fugitive’s desperation that had brought me there. Something important was meant to happen to me in that carnival. Destiny had been my guide, and when I had enacted the role required of me, then and only then would destiny release me to a future of my own choosing.

Chapter four


Most county fairs feature horse races in addition to livestock shows, carnivals and kootch dancers, so most fairgrounds have locker rooms and showers under their grandstands, for the convenience of jockeys and sulky drivers. This place was no exception. The door was locked, but that could not stop me. I was no longer just an Oregon farm boy, no matter how devoutly I might have wished to regain that lost innocence; I was, instead, a young man with knowledge of the road. I carried a thin, stiff strip of plastic in my wallet, and I used it now to loid the flimsy lock in less than a minute. I went inside, switched on the lights, and relocked the door behind me.

Green metal toilet stalls were lined up on the left, chipped sinks and age-yellowed mirrors on the right, showers at the far end. A double row of scratched and dented lockers, back to back, ran through the center of the big room, with scarred benches in front of them. Bare cement floor. Concrete block walls. Exposed fluorescent ceiling lights. Vaguely foul odors—sweat, urine, stale liniment, fungus—and a pungent, overriding scent of pine disinfectant gave the air an unsavory richness that made me grimace but was not quite—though almost—disgusting enough to trigger the gag reflex. Not a swell place. Not a place you were likely to meet any of the Kennedys, for instance, or Cary Grant. But there were no windows here, which meant I could safely leave the lights on, and it was much cooler—though no less humid—than the dusty fairgrounds outside.

First thing, I rinsed the metallic taste of blood out of my mouth and brushed my teeth. In the cloudy mirror above the sink, my eyes were so wild and haunted that I quickly looked away from them.

My T-shirt was torn. Both my shirt and jeans were bloody. After I showered, washing the stink of the goblin out of my hair, and dried off with a bunch of paper towels, I dressed in another T-shirt and a pair of jeans that I took out of my backpack. At one of the sinks, I washed some of the blood out of the ruined T-shirt, soaked the jeans as well, wrung them, then buried them in a nearly full trash barrel by the door, unwilling to risk being caught with incriminating, bloodstained clothing in my pack. My remaining wardrobe consisted entirely of the new jeans I had put on, the T-shirt I wore, one other T-shirt, three pair of briefs, socks, and a thin corduroy jacket.

You travel light when you’re wanted for murder. The only heavy things you carry are memories, fear, and loneliness.

I decided the safest place to spend the last hour of the night was there in the locker room beneath the grandstand. I unrolled my sleeping bag on the floor, in front of the door, and stretched out on it. No one could get inside without alerting me the moment he began to work the lock, and my body would serve as a doorstop to keep intruders out.

I left the lights on.

I was not afraid of the dark. I simply preferred not to subject myself to it.

Closing my eyes, I thought of Oregon. . . .

I was homesick for the farm, for the verdant meadows where I had played as a child, in the shadow of the mighty Siskiyou Mountains, which made the mountains of the East seem ancient, worn, and tarnished. In memories that now unfolded like incredibly elaborate origami sculptures, I saw the rising ramparts of the Siskiyous, forested with tier on tier of enormous Sitka spruce, with scattered Brewer’s spruce (the most beautiful of all the conifers), Lawson cypress, Douglas fir, tangerine-scented white fir that was rivaled in aromatic influence only by the tufted incense cedar, dogwood with no scent but with brilliant leaves, big-leaf maple, pendulous western maple, neat ranks of dark-green Sadler oak, and even in the faded light of memory that scene took my breath away.

My cousin Kerry Harkenfield, Uncle Denton’s stepson, met a particularly ugly death midst all that beauty. He was murdered. He had been my favorite cousin and best friend. Even months after his death, even by the time I found myself in the Sombra Brothers Carnival, I still felt the loss of him. Acutely.

Opening my eyes, staring up at the water-stained and dust-filmed acoustic tiles of the locker-room ceiling, I forced myself to block out the chilling recollection of Kerry’s shattered body. There were better memories of Oregon. . . .

In the yard in front of our house, there had been a large Brewer’s spruce, usually called a weeping spruce, arching branches draped with elegant shawls of green-black lace. In summer, the shiny foliage was a display field for sunlight in much the same way that a jeweler’s velvet pad shows gems to their best advantage; the boughs were often draped with insubstantial but dazzling chains and linked beads and flashing necklaces and shimmering jeweled arcs composed purely of sunshine. In winter, snow encrusted the weeping spruce, conforming to its peculiar shape; if the day was bright, the tree seemed like a Christmas celebrant—but if the day was gray, the tree was a mourner in a graveyard, the very embodiment of misery and gloom.

That spruce had been in its mourning clothes the day I killed my Uncle Denton. I had an ax. He had only his bare hands. Nevertheless, disposing of him was not easy.

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