Twilight Eyes Page 44

Empowered now by disgust as well as by fear and fury, I thrust away from the wall, heaving the beast backward. We stumbled and fell, and I landed atop the thing, where at once I seized the handle of the knife protruding from its throat, twisted the blade brutally, jerked it free, stabbed down again, again, again, unable to stop myself even though the vermilion luminosity of its eyes was swiftly fading to a muddy red. Its heels drummed weakly on the floor, making a cold clack-clack-clack against the linoleum. Its arms flopped uselessly, and its long, horny claws tapped out meaningless codes on the slaughterhouse floor. Finally I drew the razored edge from left to right across the throat, severing muscle, veins, and arteries. Then I was done—and so was it.

Gasping, gagging, spitting copiously to expel every trace of demonic blood from my mouth, I rose onto my knees, straddling the dying goblin.

Beneath me, with much quicksilver rippling and shimmering, it underwent a final convulsive transformation, expending its meager remaining life energy to return to the human form, as its kind had been genetically programmed to do in the lost era of their creation. Bones crunched, bones popped, bones snapped, bones melted and bubbled and resolidified in frenzied reformation; tendons and cartilage tore but immediately reknit in different patterns of warp and woof; the softer tissues made a wet sucking-spluttering-oozing sound as they frantically sought and found new configurations.

The handcuffed woman, Rya, and I were so transfixed by the lycanthropic reversion that we were not aware of the second goblin until it exploded into the room, taking us by surprise just as we had taken the first beast.

Perhaps at that moment Rya’s own—and lesser—psychic ability was functioning better than mine, for as I whipped my head up and saw the oncoming goblin, Rya was already swinging the tire iron that she had brought with her. The blow was so furiously swung and so solidly placed that I could see Rya was having difficulty holding on to the weapon with hands numbed by the impact; the powerful shock nearly wrenched the iron from her hands. The lantern-eyed attacker pitched backward with a howl of pain, surely damaged but not sufficiently injured to go down.

It screeched and spat as if its spittle were acutely poisonous to us. Rebounding from the blow even as Rya was still struggling to keep a firm grip on the tire iron, it rushed her with terrifying speed and agility. Seized her with both its huge hands. All ten talons. Got mostly her heavy winter coat. Thank God. Mostly her coat.

Before it could tear one hand free from the coat to slash off her face, I was up. Moving. Two steps, a jump. I was on its scaly back. Sandwiched it between Rya and me. Drove the knife down. Hard. Rammed it down. Down between the bony and malformed shoulders. Hilt-deep. Deep into gristle. I couldn’t wrench it loose.

Suddenly the beast shrugged with inhuman power. Like a rodeo horse. Flung me away. I crashed to the floor. Pain shot up my spine. My head hit the wall.

Things blurred. Then cleared.

But for a moment I was too stunned to get up.

I saw my knife still protruding from the goblin’s back.

Rya had been flung away from the monster, too, but now it went after her again. However, she had used the moment to regroup, and having devised a plan, she stepped into her assailant instead of away from it, using the tire iron once more, not as a club this time, and not the lug-wrench end, either, but the crowbar end, wielding it as if it was a spear, thrusting it forward as the enemy leapt toward her, driving the thick iron tool into the goblin’s belly, eliciting no howl this time but rather a horrid rattling wheeze of shock and pain.

The beast clasped both of its large four-knuckled hands around the spear that had pierced its middle, and Rya let go. As the goblin staggered backward and collided with the wall, trying to wrench the shaft out of its guts, I recovered enough to get to my feet. I went after the hateful thing.

I put both hands on the gore-slicked lug-wrench end of the bar. The ancient adversary looked its age now as blood gushed from it in torrents. It raised murderous but dimming eyes to me and tried to slash at my hands with its well-honed claws. I tore the crowbar end loose before it could cut me, stepped back, and began methodically to club the creature into submission. I hammered it until it went to its knees, hammered some more until it collapsed facedown on the floor. I did not stop even then, but pounded and pounded until its skull crumpled, until its shoulders were pulverized, until its elbows were smashed, until its h*ps and knees were broken, until I was pouring sweat that washed the blood off my face and hands, and until I could not lift the tire iron to deliver one more blow.

My stentorian breathing echoed off the walls.

With a couple of Kleenex, Rya was trying to wipe the goblin blood off her hands.

The first beast—now dead—had regained its naked, battered human form even as the battle with the second had begun. Now I saw that it was, in fact, the cop that we had seen earlier.

The second goblin, transformed, was a woman of approximately the same age as the cop.

Perhaps his wife. Or mate.

Did they really think in terms of husbands and wives—or even mates? How did they perceive each other when at night they thrashed in cold, reptilian passion? And did they usually go two-by-two in the world—and was that arrangement by preference, as it was with most of our kind? Or was pair-bonding only a convenient cover that assisted them in their efforts to pass for ordinary men and women?

Rya retched, seemed in danger of vomiting, but choked down the urge and threw aside the blood-soaked tissues.

I planted both feet on the back of the second dead beast, gripped my knife with both hands, and worked it free of the creature’s gristly shoulders.

I wiped the blade on my jeans.

The na*ed woman in the chair was trembling violently. Her eyes were full of horror, confusion, and fear—fear not only of the dead goblins but of me and Rya. Understandable.

“Friends,” I rasped. “We’re not . . . like them.”

She stared at me and could not speak.

“Take care . . . of her,” I told Rya.

I turned toward the door.

Rya said, “Where—”

“To see if there’re any more of them.”

“There aren’t. They’d be here by now.”

“Still have to look.”

I left the room, hoping Rya would understand that I wanted her to calm and dress the redhead during my absence. I wanted the woman to regain at least some of her wits, strength, dignity, and self-respect before I returned to explain to her about the goblins.

In the dining room, wind alternately whispered conspiratorially, and moaned mournfully at the window.

In the living room the mantel clock ticked hollowly.

Upstairs, I found three bedrooms and a bath. In each I could hear the arthritic creaking of the attic rafters as the wind pushed at the gables and pounded on the roof and pried at the eaves.

No more goblins.

In the chilly bathroom I stripped off my blood-soaked clothes and washed quickly at the sink. I did not look in the mirror above the basin; I did not dare. Killing goblins was justified. I had no doubt about the sinlessness of it, and I did not avoid my reflection out of any fear of seeing guilt in my eyes. However, each time I slaughtered the demonkind, it seemed as if they were harder to kill; more was required of me, worse violence than before, greater savagery. So after every bloody session there seemed to be a new coldness in my gaze, a steeliness that disconcerted and dismayed me.

The cop had been about my size, and in the master bedroom closet I selected one of his shirts and a pair of his Levi’s. They fit as well as my own.

I went downstairs and found Rya and the redhead waiting for me in the living room. They were by the front windows in comfortable-looking armchairs, looking thoroughly uncomfortable. From their position they could see the driveway and could give an alarm at the first sign of an approaching car.

Outside, wind-driven ghosts of snow rose up from the ground and hurried away into the darkness, vague phosphorescent forms that seemed to have been dispatched on mysterious missions.

The woman was dressed. Her experience had not left her deranged, though she sat with her shoulders hunched and her pale hands working nervously in her lap.

I pulled up a smaller chair with a needlepoint cushion and sat beside Rya, taking her hand. She was trembling.

“What have you told her?” I asked Rya.

“Some of it . . . about the goblins . . . what they are, where they came from. But she doesn’t know who we are or how we can see them when she can’t. I’ve left that for you.”

The redhead’s name was Cathy Osborn. She was thirty-one, an associate professor of literature at Barnard in New York City. She had been raised in a small Pennsylvania town eighty miles west of Yontsdown. Recently, her father had been admitted to the hospital, suffering from a moderate heart attack, and Cathy had taken time from her duties at Barnard to be with him. He was recovering well, and now she was returning to New York. Considering the dreadful condition of some mountain roads in winter, she’d been making excellent time—until she reached the eastern edge of Yontsdown. As a student and teacher and lover of literature, she was (she said) an imaginative person, an open-minded person, and she even had a taste for the outré in fiction, had read her share of fantasy and horror—“Dracula, Frankenstein, some Algernon Blackwood, a little bit of H. P. Lovecraft, a story by someone named Sturgeon about a teddy bear that sucked blood”—so she was not, she said, entirely unprepared for the fantastic or macabre. Nevertheless, in spite of her taste for fantasy and in spite of the nightmare creatures she had seen, she had to struggle valiantly to assimilate what Rya had told her about these genetically engineered soldiers from an era lost to history. She said, “I know I’m not mad, yet I keep wondering if I am, and I know I saw those hideous things change from human form and then back again, but I keep wondering if I imagined it or hallucinated the whole thing, even though I’m quite sure I didn’t, and all this stuff about a previous civilization destroyed in a great war . . . it’s too much, just too much, and now I’m babbling—aren’t I?—yes, I know I am, but I feel as if I’m on the edge of brain burnout, you know?”

I did not make it easier for her. I told her about Twilight Eyes, about Rya’s lesser psychic abilities, and a little about the quiet war (thus far, quiet) that we were waging.

Her green eyes glazed over, though not because she was tuning me out or going into information overload. Instead she had reached that state in which her uncomplicated, rational view of the world had been turned so completely upside down and inside out—and with such force—that her resistance to a belief in “impossible” things was virtually destroyed. She was stunned into receptivity. The glazed eyes were merely a sign of how furiously her well-educated mind was working to fit all these new pieces into her drastically revised comprehension of reality.

When I finished, she blinked and shook her head wonderingly and said, “But now...”

“What?” I asked.

“How do I just go back to teaching literature? Now that I know of these things, how do I possibly lead an ordinary life?”

I looked at Rya, wondering if she had an answer to that one, and she said, “It probably won’t be possible.”

Cathy frowned and started to speak, but a strange sound cut her off. A sudden, shrill cry—partly an infantile whine, partly a piggish screech, partly an insectile trilling—disturbed the peace of the studiedly Colonial living room. It was not a sound I associated with goblins, but it was certainly neither human in origin nor the cry of any animal I had ever encountered.

I knew this keening could not be related to the pair of goblins that we had just killed. They were unquestionably dead—at least for now. Perhaps, left with their heads attached to their shoulders, they would find their way back to the land of the living but not for days or weeks or months.

Rya rose from her chair in a wink, groping for something that was not at her side—the tire iron, I suppose. “What’s that noise?”

I was on my feet, as well, knife in hand.

The weird, ululating cry, as of many voices, had an alchemizing power to transmute blood into ice water. If Evil personified walked the earth either in the form of Satan or some other singular devil, this was surely its voice, wordless but malevolent, the voice of all that was not good and was not right. It was coming from another room, though I could not immediately decide if the source was on this floor or upstairs.

Cathy Osborn was slower to rise, as if reluctant to deal with yet another terror. She said, “I . . . I’ve heard that very sound before, when I was handcuffed in that room, when they first started to torment me. But so much happened so fast that . . . I forgot about it.”

Rya looked at the floor in front of her.

I also looked down, for I realized that the shrill noise—almost like an oscillating electronic wail, though ever so much stranger—was coming from the cellar.

Chapter twenty-four


The cop, now lying dead in his own bloodstained abattoir, had carried a regulation service revolver—a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum. I armed myself with it before going into the kitchen and opening the door at the head of the cellar steps.

The eerie warbling pule echoed up from that shadowy hole, and in a crude way it conveyed meaning: urgency, anger—hunger. That sound was so vile that it seemed to possess a tactile quality; I imagined I could feel the cry itself, like damp spectral hands, sliding over my face and body, a cool and clammy sensation.

The subterranean chamber was not entirely dark. Soft, lambent light, perhaps that of candles, flickered in an unseen corner.

Cathy Osborn and Rya insisted on accompanying me. Rya would not, of course, allow me to face the unknown threat alone, and Cathy was afraid to remain in the living room by herself.

Just inside the door, I found the switch. Clicked it. Below, amber light appeared, brighter and steadier than the candleglow.

The yowling stopped.

Remembering the psychic vapor of long-ago human suffering that still steamed off the cellar walls of the house that we had rented on Apple Lane, I reached out with my sixth sense as best I could, seeking similar foul emanations in this place. Though I did indeed perceive images and feelings of a clairvoyant nature, they were not what I had expected—and were unlike anything I had previously encountered. I could not make sense of them: half-seen, bizarre, shadowy forms that I was unable to identify, all in black and white and shades of gray, now leaping in harsh and frantic rhythms—but now undulating with a slow, sickening, serpentine motion; and sudden bursts of colored light in ominous hues, without apparent meaning or source.

I was aware of unusually strong emotions pouring from a deeply troubled mind, like sewage from a broken pipe. They were not human emotions but were more twisted and dark than the aberrant dreams and desires of even the worst of men. Yet it was not precisely like the aura of a goblin, either. This was the emotional equivalent of pustulant, gangrenous flesh; I perceived that I was wading into the cesspool of a homicidal lunatic’s chaotic inner world. The insanity—and underlying blood lust—was so repulsive that I had to withdraw from it and try quickly to shutter my sixth sense as much as possible to protect myself from the unwelcome radiation.

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