Twilight Eyes Page 41

Somehow I kept smiling and nodding at Jim Garwood. Somehow I even managed to ask a question or two. Somehow I got out of the cellar without revealing my extreme distress, though I will never know quite how I managed to project a convincing image of equanimity while assaulted by those dark emanations.

Upstairs again, with the cellar door tightly shut, I sensed none of the murderous history of the dank lower chamber. With each long exhalation I purged my lungs of the blood-rank, bile-pungent air of those long-ago atrocities. As the house was perfectly located for our needs and provided adequate comfort and anonymity, I decided that we would take it and that I’d simply never venture down the basement steps again.

We had given Garwood phony names—Bob and Helen Barnwell of Philadelphia. To explain our lack of local employment we had a carefully prepared story about being geology students who, after receiving our bachelor’s and master’s degrees, were engaged upon six months of field research for our doctoral theses, which would deal with certain peculiarities of rock strata in the Appalachians. This cover was designed to explain any treks we might have to take into the mountains to reconnoiter the mine heads and work yards of the Lightning Coal Company.

I was nearly eighteen and more experienced than many men twice my age, but of course I was not old enough to have earned two degrees and to be halfway through my doctoral studies. However, I looked years older than I really was: you know the reasons.

Rya, older than I, seemed mature enough to be what she claimed. Her uncommon beauty and powerful sexuality, even with the surgical alterations in her face and the change in her hair color from blond to raven-black, lent her a sophistication that made her seem older than she was. Furthermore her difficult life, darkened by much tragedy, gave her an air of world-weariness and street wisdom far in advance of her years.

Jim Garwood showed no suspicion of us.

The previous Tuesday, back in Gibtown, Slick Eddy had provided false driver’s licenses and other forged documentation that would support the Barnwell identities, although not our claimed connection with Temple University in Philadelphia. We figured Garwood would not run much of a check on us—if any—for we were only taking a six-month lease on the Apple Lane house. Besides, we were paying the entire value of the lease in advance, including a stiff security deposit—and all in cash, which made us attractive and relatively safe tenants.

These days, with computers in every office, when a TRW credit report can be obtained in hours and can reveal everything from your place of employment to your toilet habits, verification of our story would be virtually automatic. But back then, in 1964, the microchip revolution was still in the future; the information industry was still in its infancy, and people more often were taken at their face value and at their word.

Thank God, Garwood knew nothing of geology and was not able to ask telling questions.

Back at his office we signed the lease, gave him the money, and accepted the keys.

We now had a base of operations.

We moved our things into the Apple Lane place. Though the house had seemed suitable only a short while ago, I found it unsettling when we returned as the rightful tenants. I had the feeling it was somehow aware of us, that a thoroughly hostile intelligence stirred within its walls, that its lighting fixtures were omnipresent eyes, that it was welcoming us, and that in its welcome there was no goodwill, only a terrible hunger.

Then we drove back into town to do some research.

The county library was an imposing Gothic structure adjacent to the courthouse. The granite walls were darkened and mottled and slightly pitted by years of steel-mill effluvia, rail-yard dust, and the foul breath of coal mines. A crenelated roofline, narrow barred windows, a deeply recessed entrance, and a heavy wooden door gave the impression that the building was a vault entrusted with something of considerably greater financial value than books.

Inside, there were plain, solidly constructed oak tables and chairs where visitors could read—though not in comfort. Behind the tables were the stacks: eight-foot-high oak shelves bracketing aisles lit by amber bulbs dangling under wide cone-shaped, blue-enameled tin shades. The aisles were narrow and quite long, with angles in them, creating a maze. For some reason I thought of ancient Egyptian tombs deep under pyramidal piles of stone, breached by twentieth-century man bearing electric illumination where only oil lamps and tallow candles had burned before.

Rya and I traveled those book-walled corridors, bathed in the odor of yellowing paper and musty cloth bindings. I felt as if the London of Dickens and the Arab world of Burton and a thousand other worlds of a thousand other writers were here to be breathed in and assimilated almost without the necessity of reading, as if they were mushrooms that had thrown off pungent clouds of pollen which, on inhalation, fertilized the mind and the imagination. I longed to pluck a volume off a shelf and escape into its pages, for even the nightmare worlds of Lovecraft, Poe, or Bram Stoker would be more appealing than the real world in which we had to live.

However, we’d come primarily to peruse the Yontsdown Register, copies of which were at the back of the enormous main room, beyond the stacks. Recent issues of the newspaper were stored in large file drawers according to their dates of publication, while older issues were on spools of microfilm. We spent a couple of hours catching up on the events of the past seven months, and we learned a lot.

The decapitated bodies of Chief Lisle Kelsko and his deputy had been found in the patrol car where Joel Tuck and Luke Bendingo had abandoned it on that violent night last summer. I had expected the police to attribute the murders to a transient, which in fact they had done. But to my shock and dismay I learned that they had made an arrest: a young drifter named Walter Dembrow, who had supposedly committed suicide in his jail cell two days after making a confession and being charged with two counts of homicide. Hung himself. With a rope fashioned of his own torn shirt.

Spiders of guilt scurried up my spine and settled in my heart to feed upon me.

Simultaneously Rya and I looked away from the screen of the microfilm reader and met each other’s eyes.

For a moment neither of us could speak, cared to speak, dared to speak. Then: “Dear God,” she whispered, though there was no one near enough to overhear us.

I felt sick. I was glad I was sitting down, for I was suddenly weak. “He didn’t hang himself,” I said.

“No. They saved him the trouble by doing it for him.”

“After God knows what torture.”

She bit her lip and said nothing.

Far off in the stacks, people murmured. Soft footsteps receded in the pulp-perfumed maze.

I shuddered. “In a way . . . I killed Dembrow. He died for me.”

She shook her head. “No.”

“Yes. By killing Kelsko and his deputy, by giving the goblins an excuse to persecute Dembrow—”

“He was a drifter, Slim,” she said sharply. She took my hand. “Do you think many drifters get through this town alive? These creatures thrive on our pain and suffering. They eagerly seek out victims. And the easiest victims are drifters—hoboes, beatnik types in search of enlightenment or whatever the hell beatniks are in search of, young kids who take to the roads to find themselves. Snatch one of them off the highway, beat and torture and murder him, bury the body quietly, and no one will ever know what happened to him—or care. From the goblins’ point of view it’s safer than killing locals, and every bit as satisfying, so I doubt very much if they ever pass up the chance to torment and slaughter a drifter. If you hadn’t killed Kelsko and his deputy, this Dembrow most likely would have vanished on his way through Yontsdown, and the end he’d have met would have been pretty much the same. The only difference is that he was used as a scapegoat, a convenient body to help the cops close the file on a case they found unsolvable. You aren’t responsible.”

“If not me, who?” I said miserably.

“The goblins,” she said. “The demonkind. And, by God, we’ll make them pay for Dembrow along with everything else.”

Her words and conviction made me feel somewhat (though not much) better.

The dryness of books—which was called to mind by the crisp sound of some unseen browser turning brittle pages in a hidden aisle—was transmitted to me. As I thought of Walter Dembrow dying for my sins, my heart seemed to wither within me. I felt hot and parched, and when I cleared my throat, I made a raspy noise.

Reading further, we discovered that Kelsko had been replaced by a new police chief whose name was shockingly familiar: Orkenwold, Klaus Orkenwold. He was the goblin who had once visited the very house we were now renting on Apple Lane, where his sister-in-law had lived. Just for the thrill of it, he’d tortured and dismembered her, had fed her to the furnace—then her two children after her. I had seen those bloody crimes with my sixth sense when Jim Garwood had insisted on taking us into the mildew-scented cellar; later, in the car, I had told Rya of my unsettling visions. Now we stared at each other with surprise and apprehension, wondering about the meaning of this coincidence.

As I have mentioned, I suffer bleak moods during which I believe the world must be a meaningless place of random actions and reactions, where there is no worthwhile purpose to life, where all is emptiness and ashes and pointless cruelty. In that mood I am an intellectual brother of the grim-minded author of Ecclesiastes.

This was not one of those times.

On other occasions, when I am in a more spiritual—if not exactly better—mood, I see strange and entrancing patterns to our existence that I cannot understand, encouraging glimpses of a carefully ordered universe in which nothing whatsoever occurs by chance. With Twilight Eyes, I vaguely perceive a guiding force, a higher order of intellect that has some use for us—perhaps an important purpose. I sense a design, although the precise nature of it and the meaning remain a profound mystery to me.

This was such an occasion.

We had not merely returned to Yontsdown by our own choice. We had been meant to return to deal with Orkenwold—or with the system that he represented.

In an admiring profile of Orkenwold, a Register reporter wrote of the policeman’s courage in overcoming several personal tragedies. He had married a widow with three kids—Maggie Walsh, née Penfield—and after two years of what was widely perceived as a blissfully happy marriage, he had lost his wife and adopted children in a flash fire that had swept his house one night while he had been away on duty. The fire had been so intense that only bones remained.

Neither Rya nor I bothered to voice the opinion that the fire had been no accident and that if the bodies had not been destroyed by the blaze, an honest coroner would have found evidence of brutal injuries unrelated to the flames.

A month after that tragedy, another struck. Orkenwold’s patrol-car partner and brother-in-law, Tim Penfield, had been shot and killed by a warehouse burglar who was, immediately thereafter, conveniently shot dead by Klaus.

Neither Rya nor I mentioned the obvious: that Klaus Orkenwold’s brother-in-law had not been a goblin and for some reason had begun to suspect Orkenwold of the murder of Maggie and her three children, whereupon Orkenwold had conspired to kill him.

The Register quoted Orkenwold as having said, at the time, “I really don’t know if I can go on with policework. He wasn’t just my brother-in-law. He was my partner, my best friend, the best friend I’ve ever had, and I only wish it was me who’d been shot and killed.” It was a splendid performance, considering that Orkenwold surely had blown away both his partner and some innocent on whom he’d cleverly placed the blame. His predictably swift return to duty was viewed as yet another sign of his courage and sense of responsibility.

Hunched in front of the microfilm reader, Rya hugged herself and shivered.

I did not have to ask the cause of her chill.

I rubbed my frigid hands together.

A lion-voiced winter wind roared and cat-shrieked against the library’s high, narrow, opaque windows, but the sound of it could not make us colder than we already were.

I felt as if we were not reading an ordinary newspaper account but were deep into the forbidden Book of the Damned, in which the savage activities of the demonkind had been meticulously recorded by some Hell-born scribe.

For sixteen months Klaus Orkenwold provided financially for his widowed sister-in-law, Dora Penfield, and her two children. But he was stricken by another tragedy when the three of them disappeared without a trace.

I knew what had happened to them. I had seen—and heard and felt—their horrible suffering in the ghost-ridden cellar of the clapboard house on Apple Lane.

After marrying Tim Penfield’s sister, then torturing and killing her and her children, after killing Tim Penfield and blaming it on a burglar, Orkenwold had proceeded to wipe out the last remaining members of the Penfield line.

The goblins are the hunters.

We are the prey.

They stalk us relentlessly in a world that is, to them, nothing but an enormous game preserve.

I did not have to read any further. But I went on, anyway—as if by reading the Register’s lies I was bearing silent witness to the truth of the Penfields’ deaths and was, in some manner I could not entirely understand or explain, accepting a sacred duty to exact their retribution for them.

Upon the disappearance of Dora and her children, a two-month-long investigation was launched, until blame was finally (unjustly) laid on Winston Yarbridge, a bachelor coal-mine foreman who lived alone in a house half a mile farther along Apple Lane from the one in which Dora had resided. Yarbridge vociferously insisted upon his innocence, and his reputation as a quiet churchgoing man seemed to support him. Ultimately, however, the poor man was convicted on the massive weight of evidence that had been collected, evidence that purported to show how, in a fit of sexual psychopathy, he had stolen into the Penfield house, had abused the woman and both children, had cold-bloodedly hacked them to pieces, and then had disposed of their remains in a superheated furnace fueled by oil-soaked coal. Bloodstained underwear belonging to the children and to Mrs. Penfield were discovered in Winston Yarbridge’s house, stashed in a steamer trunk at the back of a closet. As might be expected of a homicidal maniac, he was found to have saved one severed finger from each of his victims, each grisly digit submerged in a small jar of alcohol and labeled with the victim’s name. He had the murder weapons, too, plus a collection of pornographic magazines that pandered to bondage enthusiasts and sadists. He claimed that these damning items had been planted in his house—as, of course, they had been. When two of his fingerprints were discovered on the furnace in the Penfield basement, he said the police must be lying about where they had lifted those prints—as, of course, they were. The police claimed that their case was solid and that the villainous Yarbridge, in those days of frequent capital punishment, would surely die in the electric chair—as, of course, he did.

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