Twilight Eyes Page 40

I sensed that here was a key to unlocking the mystery of the goblin nest that had been established in Yontsdown.

“Slim?” Rya said.


“What’s wrong?”

“Don’t know.”

“You’re shaking.”

“Something . . . something . . .”

As I stared at the truck, it shimmered and appeared translucent, then almost transparent. Through it, beyond, I saw a strange, vast emptiness, a lightless and terrible void. I could still see the truck perfectly well, but at the same time I seemed to be staring straight through that vehicle at an infinite darkness that was deeper than night and emptier than the airless reaches between distant stars.

I grew colder.

From the fire at the school to the sudden arctic chill pouring off the truck, Yontsdown was welcoming me with the psychic equivalent of a brass band, albeit a band that played only tenebrous, decadent, and distressing music.

Though I could not understand why the Lightning Coal Company affected me so powerfully, I was filled with horror so rich and pure that I was immobilized by it and barely able to breathe, as one might be totally disabled by a paralyzing but not deadly dose of curare.

Two goblins, disguised as men, were riding in the Mack. One noticed me and stared back as if he realized there was something peculiar about the intensity with which I was studying him and his truck. As they drove past, he turned to keep his hateful crimson eyes on me. At the end of the block, the big coal-hauler went through a changing traffic light, but then it started to slow and began to pull to the side of the road.

Shaking myself to fling off the disabling dread that had gripped me, I said, “Quick. Let’s get out of here.”

Rya said, “Why?”

“Them,” I said, indicating the truck that had now stopped at the curb a block and a half away. “Don’t run . . . don’t let them see that they’ve spooked us . . . but quickly!”

Without further questions she returned to the station wagon with me, slipped behind the wheel as I settled in the passenger’s seat.

Farther down the street, the coal truck was awkwardly executing a U-turn, though its maneuvers were illegal. It was blocking traffic in both directions.

“Damn, they’re actually swinging back to take a closer look at us,” I said.

Rya started the engine, threw the station wagon in gear, and swiftly backed out of the parking space.

Trying not to sound as frightened as I really was, I said, “As long as we’re in their sight, don’t move too fast. If possible, we want to avoid looking as if we’re running away.”

She drove around the Traveler’s Rest Motel, toward the parking-lot exit that led into the side street.

As we slipped past the corner I saw that the coal truck had completed its U-turn back there on the main thoroughfare—and then it was out of sight.

The instant that I could no longer see the truck, the special and terrible coldness faded. The impression of an infinite void no longer troubled me.

But what had it meant? What was the formless, faultless darkness I had seen and recoiled from when I had been looking at the truck?

What in God’s name were the goblinkind up to at the Lightning Coal Company?

“Okay,” I said shakily. “Make a lot of turns, one street right after another, so they won’t catch a second glimpse of us. Chances are they didn’t get much of a look at the car, and I’m sure they didn’t write down the license number.”

She did as I suggested, taking a random, winding route through the northeastern outskirts of the city, her glance flicking frequently toward the rearview mirror.

“Slim, you don’t think . . . did they realize you could see straight through their human masquerade?”

“No. They just . . . well, I don’t know . . . I guess they just saw how intently I was staring at them . . . how shaken I was. So they got suspicious and wanted a closer look at me. Their kind is suspicious by nature. Suspicious and paranoid.”

I hoped that was true. I had never encountered a goblin that could recognize my psychic power. If some of them had the ability to spot those of us who could see them, then we were in even deeper trouble than I had always thought, for we would lose our single, secret advantage.

“What did you see this time?” she asked.

I told her about the void, the image of a vast and lightless emptiness that had risen in my mind when I had looked at the truck.

“What does it mean, Slim?”

Worried and weary, I did not respond for a minute. I gave myself time to think, but taking time to think didn’t really help. Finally I sighed and said, “I don’t know. The emanations that poured off the truck . . . they didn’t knock the stuffing out of me, yet in their own way they were even more horrible than the forthcoming fire I sensed at the school. But I’m not sure what it meant, what exactly it was that I saw. Except that somehow . . . through the Lightning Coal Company, I think we’ll be able to learn why so many goblins are concentrated in this damn town.”

“That’s the focus?”

I nodded. “Yes.”

Of course, I was in no condition to begin an investigation of the Lightning Coal Company until tomorrow morning. I felt almost as gray as the winter sky, and no more solid than the ragged beards of mist that hung down from the ominous faces—warriors and monsters—that an imaginative eye could discern in the storm clouds. I needed time to rest, regain my strength, and learn to tune my mind away from at least some of the continuous background static of clairvoyant images that crackled and sparked off the buildings and streets and people of Yontsdown.

Twenty minutes later, day gave way to darkness. You might have thought that night would cast a concealing cloak over the meanness of that wretched and noisome city, bringing it at least a small measure of respectability, but that was not the case. In Yontsdown the night was not stage makeup, as it might have been elsewhere. Somehow it emphasized the grubby, smudgy, smoky, foul, and fulsome details of the streets and drew attention to the grim, medieval quality of much of the architecture.

We were sure that we had lost the goblins in the Peterbilt, so we pulled into another motel—the Van Winkle Motor Inn, which was not half as cute as its name. This was about four times the size of the Traveler’s Rest, two stories. Some rooms opened onto the courtyard, and others opened onto a promenade—iron posts painted black but rust-pocked and peeling, an aluminum awning—that circled the back of the building’s four wings. Claiming exhaustion after our long journey, we requested quiet rooms at the rear of the inn, as far from the traffic noise as possible, and the desk clerk obliged. Thus we not only enjoyed quietude but also we could park the station wagon out of sight of the street, as insurance against its being accidentally spotted by one of the Lightning Coal Company’s goblin employees from whom we had fled, an improbable but by no means impossible danger.

Our room was a beige-walled box with cheap, sturdy furniture and two inexpensive prints of clipper ships knifing through choppy seas, their sails all set and made full-bellied by a bracing wind. The dresser and nightstands were scarred with old cigarette burns, and the bathroom mirror was spotted with age, and the shower was not as hot as we would have liked, but we intended to stay there only one night. In the morning we would find a small house to rent where we could have greater privacy to plot against the goblins.

After showering. I felt relaxed enough to venture out into the city again—as long as Rya remained at my side, and only as far as the nearest coffee shop, where we had a good though unremarkable dinner. We saw nine goblins among the customers during the time we were there. I had to keep my attention fixed squarely on Rya, for the sight of their porcine snouts, bloody eyes, and flickering reptilian tongues would have ruined my appetite.

Even though I did not look at them, I could feel their evil, which was as palpable to me as cold vapor rising off blocks of dry ice. Enduring those frigid emanations of inhuman hatred and rage, I slowly learned to filter out the background hum and hiss of psychic radiation that was now such a part of Yontsdown, and by the time we left the coffee shop, I was feeling better than I had since we had entered this city of the damned.

Back at the Van Winkle Motor Inn, we moved the canvas bags of guns, explosives, and other illegal items into the room with us, for fear that gear would be stolen from the station wagon during the night.

For a long time, in bed and darkness, we held each other, neither speaking nor making love, just holding, holding fast. Closeness was an antidote for fear, a medicine for despair.

Rya finally slept.

I listened to the night.

In this place the wind sounded unlike any other wind: predatory. Now and then I could hear the distant laboring of big trucks carrying heavy loads, and I wondered if the Lightning Coal Company hauled its product out of the nearby mines at all hours of the day. And if so—why? It also seemed to me that night in Yontsdown was more often disturbed by the wailing sirens of police cars and ambulances than in any other town or city I had ever known.

At last I slept and, sleeping, dreamed. The frightening tunnel again. Inconstant amber lights. Oily pools of shadows lying between the lamps. A low, sometimes jagged ceiling. Strange smells. The echoes of running footsteps. A shout, a screech. Mysterious keening. Suddenly the ear-shattering whoop-whoop-whoooooop of an alarm. A breathless, heart-hammering certainty that I was being pursued—

When I awoke, with a mucous-wet scream caught in my throat, Rya awoke simultaneously, gasping for breath and throwing off the covers as if she were freeing herself from the grasping hands of her enemies.



“Oh, God.”

“Just a dream.”

We held each other again.

“The tunnel,” she said.

“Me too.”

“And now I know what it was.”

“Me too.”

“A mine.”


“A coal mine.”


“The Lightning Coal Company.”


“We were there.”

“Deep underground,” I said.

“And they knew we were there.”

“They were hunting us.”

“And we had no way out,” she said with a shudder.

We both fell silent.

Far away: a howling dog. And occasionally we were brought scraps of another wind-torn sound that might have been the agonized weeping of a woman.

In time Rya said, “I’m scared.”

“I know,” I said softly, holding her closer, tighter. “I know. I know.”

Chapter twenty-two


The next morning, Friday, we rented a house on Apple Lane, in a rural district at the very fringes of the city, in the drab foothills of the ancient eastern mountains, not far from the county’s major coal mines. It was set back more than two hundred feet from the lane at the end of a gravel driveway crusted with ice and choked with snow. The real-estate agent advised us to get chains on our tires, as he had on his. Trees—mostly pine and spruce, but more than a few winter-stripped maples and birches and laurels—came down from the steep slopes above, closing around three sides of the white-mantled yard. On that somber, gray day there was no direct sunlight to pry into the perimeter of the forest; therefore a disquietingly deep darkness began immediately beyond the line of trees and filled the woods wherever I looked, as if night itself, condensed, had taken refuge there with dawn ascendant. The house, which came furnished, had three small bedrooms, one bath, a living room, dining room, and a kitchen inside a two-story clapboard shell, under an asphalt-shingle roof—and above a shadowy, damp, low-ceilinged basement in which stood an oil-fired furnace.

Unspeakable atrocities had occurred in that subterranean chamber. With my sixth sense I perceived a psychic residue of torture, pain, murder, insanity, and savagery the moment that the real-estate agent, Jim Garwood, opened the door at the head of the cellar steps. Evil welled up, throbbing and dark, as blood from a wound. I did not care to descend into that loathsome place.

But Jim Garwood, a soft-spoken and earnest middle-aged man with a sallow complexion, wanted us to have a close look at the furnace and receive instruction in its operation, and I could think of no way to refuse without arousing his curiosity. Reluctantly I followed him and Rya down into that pit of human suffering, holding fast to the rickety stair railing, trying hard not to gag on the stench of blood and bile and burning flesh that only I could smell, seething odors of another time. At the bottom of the steps I walked with a conscious flat-footedness in order to keep from reeling in horror at the long-ago events that, for me at least, almost seemed to be transpiring now.

Gesturing at the cupboards and shelves that lined one wall of the room, not aware of the death stench that I perceived and not even mentioning the current unpleasant odors—black mildew, fungus, mold—Garwood said, “Plenty of storage space down here.”

“I see,” Rya said.

What I saw was a bleeding and terrified woman, na*ed and chained to a coal-fired furnace that had stood on the same concrete pad where the new oil-fired version was now anchored. Her body was covered with lacerations and contusions. One of her eyes was blackened and swollen shut. I perceived that her name was Dora Penfield and that she was afraid her sister-in-law’s husband, Klaus Orkenwold, was going to dismember her and feed her body piece by piece into the flames of the furnace while her children looked on in terror. Indeed, that was what had happened to her, although I strained desperately and successfully to block out the clairvoyant images of her actual death.

“Thompson Oil Company makes fuel deliveries once every three weeks during the winter,” Garwood explained, “and less often in the autumn.”

“How much does it cost to fill the tank?” Rya asked, expertly playing the role of a budget-conscious young wife.

I saw a six-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl in various stages of cruel abuse—battered, broken. Though these heartbreakingly defenseless victims were long dead, their whimpers, cries of pain, and pitiful pleading for mercy echoed to me along the corridors of time, piercing splinters of painful sound. I had to repress the urge to weep for them.

I also saw a particularly vicious-looking goblin—Klaus Orkenwold himself—wielding a leather strap, a cattle prod, then other wicked instruments of torture. As though he were half demon and half Gestapo butcher, he strode back and forth through his makeshift dungeon, now in his human guise, now completely transformed for the added terror of his victims, his features limned by the flickering orange firelight that streamed from the open furnace door.

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