Twilight Eyes Page 43

Rya opened the tailgate of the wagon. She lifted the floor panel that concealed the spare-tire well and took out a poker-shaped iron tool that was a crowbar on one end and a lug wrench on the other. She hefted it, testing its weight and balance. When she saw me staring, she said, “Well, you have your knife, and now I have this.”

We walked to the driveway into which the patrol car had turned. That tunnel, formed by overhanging trees, was as black and forbidding as any passage in a carnival fun house. Hoping my eyes would soon adjust to the deeper gloom under the trees, cautious because of the enormous potential for an ambush, I followed the narrow dirt lane with Rya close at my side.

Lumps of frozen earth and small chunks of rotten ice crunched under our boots.

The wind whined in the higher branches of the trees. The lower branches rustled, scraped, and softly creaked. The dead woods seemed to be doing an imitation of life.

I could not hear the sound of the black-and-white’s engine. Evidently it had stopped somewhere ahead.

When we’d gone about a quarter of a mile, I began to walk faster, then broke into a run, not because I could see somewhat better—which I could—but because I suddenly had the feeling that the young redhead did not have much time left. Rya asked no questions but increased her own pace and ran at my side.

The driveway must have been half a mile long, and when we came out of the shrouding trees into a snow-covered clearing, where the night was marginally brighter, we were fifty yards from a two-story white frame house. Lights glowed beyond most of the first-floor windows. At night, anyway, it seemed to be a well-kept place. The front-porch light was on, as well, revealing an ornamental—almost rococo—railing with carved balusters. Neat, dark shutters flanked the windows. A plume of smoke rose from the brick chimney, harried westward by the wind.

The patrol car was parked in front of the house.

I saw no sign of the cop or the redhead.

Panting, we stopped just inside the clearing where the sable backdrop of the lightless woods still provided concealment, making us invisible to anyone who glanced out of a window.

Sixty or seventy yards to the right of the house was a big barn with a curling brim of luminescent snow bent around the bottom edges of its peaked roof. It seemed out of place here in the foothills, for the land was surely too steep and rocky for profitable farming. Then, in the dimness, I saw a sign painted above the large double doors: KELLY’S CIDER MILL. And on the rising land behind the house, all the trees were ordered like soldiers on a parade field, martial processions barely visible on the snow-covered hillside: an orchard.

I crouched and withdrew the knife from my boot.

“Maybe you should wait here,” I told Rya.


I knew that would be her response, and I was heartened by her predictable courage and by her desire to stay at my side even in moments of danger.

Mouse-silent, mouse-quick, we scurried along the edge of the plowed driveway, crouching to take advantage of the banks of old and dirty snow, and in seconds we reached the house. As we stepped onto the lawn we were forced to move slower. The snow had a crust that cracked underfoot with a dismaying amount of noise; but if we put our feet down firmly and slowly, we could reduce the racket to a muffled snap-crunch-crackle that would probably not be audible to those inside the house. Now the bitter wind—hooting and gibbering and snuffling in the eaves—was more an ally than adversary.

We eased along the wall.

At the first window, through sheer curtains that filled the space between heavier drapes, I saw a living room: used-brick fireplace, a mantel and mantel clock, Colonial furniture, polished pine floor, rag rugs, Grandma Moses prints hanging on pale, striped wallpaper.

The next window also looked into the living room.

I saw no one.

Heard no one. Just the many-voiced wind.

The third window was the dining room. Deserted.

We sidestepped through the crusted snow.

Inside the house, a woman screamed.

Something thumped, crashed.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rya raise her iron weapon.

The fourth and last window on that side of the house looked into a curiously bare chamber about twelve feet by twelve: only one piece of furniture; no decorations, no paintings; the beige walls and beige ceiling were streaked and spotted with rust-brown stains; the speckled gray linoleum floor was even more discolored than the walls. It did not seem to belong in the same house with the clean and ordered living and dining rooms.

This window, frost-rimed around the edges, was more completely covered by drapes than the others, so I was given only a narrow crack by which to study the room beyond. Pressing my face to the glass and making full use of the chink between the brocade panels, I was able, nevertheless, to see about seventy percent of the chamber—including the redhead. Rescued from her stranded automobile, stripped naked, she was now sitting in a cushionless rail-back pine chair, her wrists handcuffed behind the rails. She was near enough for me to see the tracery of blue veins in her pallid skin—and the pebbly texture of gooseflesh. Her eyes, focused on something beyond my line of vision, were wide and wild and terrified.

Another thump. The wall of the house trembled as if something heavy had been flung against the inside of it.

An eerie shriek. Not the wind this time. I recognized it at once—the shrill cry of an enraged goblin.

Rya clearly recognized it, too, for she let out a soft hiss of disgust.

In the unfurnished room one of the demonkind flashed into view, darting out of the hidden corner. It had undergone metamorphosis and was no longer concealed in its human costume, but I knew it was the policeman we had followed. Down on all fours, it moved with that typically unnerving grace of the goblins, of which its rough arms and shoulders and hips—knotted as they were with malformed bone—seemed incapable. The evil canine head was held low. It bared needle-sharp, reptilian fangs. Its forked and mottled tongue slithered obscenely in-out-in over pebbled-black lips. The piggish eyes, red and luminous and hateful, were at all times fixed upon the helpless woman who, judging by the look of her, was teetering on the thin edge of madness.

Suddenly the goblin whirled from her and raced across the room, still on all fours, as if intending to crash headlong into the wall. To my astonishment it climbed the wall instead, skittered the length of the room just below the ceiling, cockroach-quick, turned the corner onto the next wall, crossed half the length of that partition, and descended to the linoleum once more, finally halting in front of the bound woman and rising up on its hind feet.

Winter reached inside me and stole the heat from my blood.

I knew the goblins were quicker and more agile than most human beings—at least those human beings lacking my paranormal abilities—but I had never witnessed a performance like this. Perhaps that was because I’d seldom seen the beasts in the privacy of their dwellings, where they might climb walls regularly, for all I knew. And on those occasions when I killed their kind, I usually killed swiftly, giving them no opportunity to escape across the walls and ceilings beyond my reach.

I had thought I knew all about them, but now I had been surprised again. That made me nervous and depressed me, for I could not help but wonder what other hidden talents they might have. Another such surprise, sprung on me at the wrong moment, might be the death of me.

I was thoroughly, profoundly scared.

But I was scared not merely by the goblin’s startling ability to wall-climb like a lizard: I was frightened, as well, for the woman handcuffed in the rail-back chair. On coming down from the wall and rising onto its hind feet, the goblin revealed something else that I had never seen: a hideous phallus about a foot long, thrust forward from a scaly, drooping pouch in which it was normally concealed in detumescent state; it was curved like a saber, thick, and wickedly ridged.

The creature meant to rape her before slashing her to ribbons with its claws and teeth. It evidently chose to force itself upon her in its monstrous state rather than in human disguise because her terror would be richer, her utter helplessness deliciously emphasized. Impregnation could not be the motive, for that alien seed would never thrive within a human womb.

Besides, brutal murder was both certain and obvious. With a sick sinking feeling, I suddenly understood why the room held no furniture, why it was so different from the rest of the house, and why layer upon layer of rust-brown stains marked the walls and floor. This was an abattoir, a place of butchering. Other women had been brought here, had been taunted and terrified and humiliated and, at last, torn to pieces for the sport of it.

Not just women. Men too. And children.

Abruptly, I received repulsive psychic impressions of previous blood-letting. Clairvoyant images radiated off the gore-splattered walls and seemed to project themselves on the glass in front of me, as if the window were a movie screen.

With tremendous effort I forced those emanations out of my mind, off the glass, and back into the walls of the abattoir. I could not let myself be overwhelmed. If hammered by the visions, I would be weakened and unable to help the woman inside.

Turning from the window, I sidled quietly to the corner of the house, confident that Rya would follow me. As I moved, I stripped off my gloves and stuffed them into my coat pockets, so I would be able to handle the knife with my usual skill.

At the back of the house, the wind hit us harder, for it was rolling straight down from the mountain above, an avalanche of wind, raw and piercing. In seconds I felt my hands turning cold, and I knew I must get into the warm house quickly or lose some of the dexterity that I needed in order to throw the knife accurately.

The rear porch steps were frozen; ice mortared the seams and joints. They cracked and creaked as we ascended.

Icicles hung from the balustrade.

The porch floor also protested under our tread.

The rear entrance was to the left side of the house. I eased open the glass and aluminum storm door. Its spring-fitted hinges twanged once.

Beyond the storm door, the back door of the house was unlocked as well. The goblins have little use for locks because they were genetically engineered with only a limited capacity for fear and because they have almost no fear at all of us. The hunter does not fear the rabbit.

Rya and I stepped into a perfectly ordinary kitchen, straight out of Good Housekeeping, where the warm air was redolent with the odor of chocolate and baked apples and cinnamon. Somehow the very ordinariness of the kitchen only made it more frightening.

On a Formica counter to the right of the entrance, a homemade pie stood on a wire rack, and beside it was a tray heaped with tollhouse cookies. Countless times I had seen goblins—in human masquerade—eating in restaurants. I knew they had to feed themselves as did any living creature, but I had never thought of them performing mundane domestic chores such as cookie baking and pie making. After all, they were psychic vampires that fed on our physical and mental and emotional pain, and considering the wickedly rich diet of human agony in which they regularly indulged, other food seemed superfluous. I certainly had never imagined them sitting down to cozy dinners in their own homes, relaxing after a day of blood and torture and secret terrorism; the thought of it turned my stomach.

From the unfurnished room, which shared a wall with the kitchen, rose a series of thuds and thumps and scraping noises.

The unlucky woman was evidently beyond screaming, for now I heard her praying in an urgent and tremulous voice.

I unzipped my coat, quickly slipped my arms out of the sleeves, and let the garment fall softly to the floor. Its bulkiness would have inhibited my throwing arm.

An open archway and three closed doors—in addition to the outside door to the porch—led off the large kitchen. Through the archway I could see the downstairs hall that served the entire house. Of the three doors, one probably opened on the basement stairs, one on a pantry. The other might have been an entrance to the room in which we had seen the demon and the handcuffed woman. However, I did not want to start opening doors and making a lot of noise unless I was absolutely sure that on the first try I would find the right room beyond. Therefore we went silently across the kitchen, through the archway, into the hall, where the first door on the left, standing half open, was the door to the abattoir.

I was worried that the woman would see me if I eased into the doorway to reconnoiter and that her reaction would alert the goblin, so I plunged into the room without knowing where my target would be. The door crashed back against the wall as I flung it aside.

The goblin, looming over the woman, whirled to face me, letting out a fetid hiss in surprise.

With astounding suddenness its rampant phallus collapsed and withdrew into the scaly pouch, which itself seemed to lift into a protective body cavity.

Gripping the knife by the point of the weighted blade, I drew it back behind my head.

Still hissing, the goblin leapt toward me.

Simultaneously, my arm flicked forward. The knife flew.

In mid-leap, the goblin was hit in the throat. The blade sank deep, although it was not as well placed as I would have liked. The beast’s glistening, quivering, hoglike nostrils fluttered with a snort of shock and rage, and hot blood streamed out of its snout.

It kept coming. It crashed into me. Hard.

We staggered, slammed thunderously into the wall. My back was pressed to the dried blood of God-knows-how-many innocents, and for an instant (before determinedly blocking it out of my mind) I could feel the pain and horror that had radiated from the victims in their death throes and had adhered to the paint and plaster of this place.

Our faces were only inches apart. The creature’s breath stank of blood, dead meat, rotten flesh—as if feeding on the woman’s terror had given it a carnivore’s halitosis.

Teeth, huge teeth, hooked and gnashing, dripping saliva, flashed an inch from my eyes, an enameled promise of pain and death.

The dark, oily, demonic tongue curled toward me as if it were a questing snake.

I felt the goblin’s gnarled arms curl around me, as if it would try to crush me against its chest. Or, at the extremity of the embrace, perhaps it would dig its terrible claws deep into my sides.

My hammering heart broke a latch bolt on the storage vault of adrenaline within me, and I was abruptly borne up on a chemical flood that made me feel like a god—though, admittedly, a frightened god.

My arms were more or less pinned across my breast, so I made fists of my hands and rammed my elbows outward with all my might, into the goblin’s strong arms, breaking the hold it was trying to put on me. I felt its claws snag for an instant in my shirt as its grip was broken, and then I heard its bony knuckles stutter against the wall behind me as one of its arms flew up.

It screamed with rage, a strange cry made even stranger because the sound waves, rushing from voicebox to lips, vibrated against the blade of the knife that pierced its throat, acquiring a metallic tone before expulsion. With the goblin’s squeal came a spray of blood that spattered my face; a few drops flew into my mouth.

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