Twilight Eyes Page 47

Eventually Rya slept.

I could not. At least not for a long while.

Dark lightning.

I kept thinking about that black lightning bolt, trying to figure out what it could mean.

And now and then, as if it were the stench of dead men buried under the house, a vague wave of psychic radiation passed up from the cellar below, where Orkenwold had killed a woman and two children.

Again I felt certain that I had unconsciously led us to this place, that my clairvoyant power had somehow chosen this house of all the houses that might have been available, because I wanted—or was destined—to deal with Klaus Orkenwold as I had dealt with Lisle Kelsko before him.

In the ceaseless moaning of the wind, I could hear something of the shrill cries of the goblin freaks in that cage before I had shot and then incinerated them. I could almost believe they had dragged their bullet-riddled corpses, their fire-scorched bones, from the smoking ruins of that house and were crying out to me now as they crept and hitched and scuttled through the night, moving unerringly in my direction as hell-hounds might relentlessly sniff out the damned and rotting souls of their prey.

At times, in the creaking and popping of the house (which was only its natural response to the fierce cold and the insistent wind), I thought I heard flames springing up beneath us and devouring the lower floor, a blaze perhaps lit by the things I had burned in the iron cage. Each time the forced-air furnace came on with a soft roar, I twitched with surprise and fear.

Beside me, Rya groaned, dreaming. That dream, no doubt.

Gibtown, Joel and Laura Tuck, and my other carny friends seemed far away then—and I longed for them. I thought of them, pictured each friend’s face and dwelt on it for a time before calling up another, and just thinking about them made me feel a little better.

Then I realized that I was longing for them and taking courage from their love, as I had once longed for and taken courage from the love of my mother and sisters out at the far edge of the continent. Which probably meant that my old world, the world of the Stanfeuss family, was gone, gone forever beyond my reach. On a subconscious level I had evidently absorbed that terrible fact, but until now I had not accepted it consciously. The carnival had become my family, and it was a good family, the best, but there was great sadness in the realization that most likely I would never go home again and that the sisters and mother I had loved in my youth were, though still living, dead to me.

Chapter twenty-five


On Saturday morning the clouds were a more ominous gray than they had been on Friday. As if the darker shade indicated greater weight, the sky settled closer to the earth, too heavy to maintain a higher position.

The huffing-gasping-wheezing wind of the previous night had gone breathless, but there was not a good feeling to the resultant calm. A strange, expectant quality, an eerie tension, seemed to be a part of the snow-covered landscape. The evergreens, silhouetted against the slate-colored sky, might have been sentinels standing in dread anticipation of the advance of powerful armies. The other trees, stripped of their leaves, had a foretokening air, as if they had raised their black, skeletal arms to warn of approaching danger.

After breakfast Cathy Osborn put her luggage back into her car with the intention of continuing her drive to New York. She would remain in the city only three days: just long enough to settle her apartment lease, deliver her letter of resignation to Barnard (she would claim a health crisis, thin as that excuse might be), pack up her book collection and other belongings, and say good-bye to a few friends. The good-byes would be tough, because she would truly miss those people she cared about and because they would think she’d taken leave of her senses and would make well-meaning, though frustrating, attempts to change her mind, but also because she could not be sure that they were really the ordinary men and women they appeared to be.

Rya and I stood by her car in the still but penetratingly cold morning air, wishing her well, worried but trying not to reveal how deeply we feared for her. Each of us hugged her very tightly, and suddenly the three of us embraced together, for we were no longer three strangers but were inextricably linked to one another by the bizarre and bloody events of the previous night, bound by a bond of terrible truth.

For those of us who have discovered their existence, the goblins aren’t merely a threat but are also a catalyst for unity. Ironically they engender a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood between men and women, a sense of purpose and responsibility and shared destiny that we might lack without them; and if we ever manage to eradicate them from the face of earth, it will be because their very presence has united us.

“By Sunday morning,” I told Cathy, “I’ll have called Joel Tuck down there in Gibtown. He’ll be expecting you, and he and Laura will make a place for you.”

We had already described Joel to her so she might be appalled but not shocked by his deformities.

Rya said, “Joel’s a book lover, a voracious reader, so you might have more in common with him than you’d think. And Laura’s a dear, she really is.”

As we talked, we sounded flat and iron-hard in the perfectly still, glacial morning air. Each word we spoke was expelled with a white puff of frosted breath, as if it had been chiseled from a chunk of Dry Ice and released to convey its meaning as much by the pattern of its vapor as by the sound of it.

Cathy’s fear was nearly as visible as her crystallized breath. Not merely a fear of goblins but of the new life she was about to embrace. And a fear of losing her old and comfortable life.

“See you soon,” she said shakily.

“Florida,” Rya said. “In the sun.”

At last Cathy Osborn got in her car and left. We watched her until she had reached the end of the driveway, had turned onto Apple Lane, and had disappeared beyond a bend in the road.

Thus professors of literature become carnies, and belief in a benign universe gives way to darker realizations.

His name was Horton Bluett. By his own description he was an old codger. He was a big, bony man whose angularity was apparent even when he was dressed in a heavy, thermal-quilted woodsman’s coat, which was how we first saw him. He seemed strong, and he was spry, and the only thing about his movements that betrayed his age was a slight rounding of his shoulders, as if they had been bent by a considerable weight of years. His broad face was weathered more by a life lived largely out-of-doors than by time itself: deeply seamed in places, with fine webs of lines around the eyes. He had a large and somewhat reddened nose, a strong chin, and a wide mouth that took easily to a smile. His dark eyes were watchful but not unfriendly, and as clear as those of a youth. He was wearing a red hunting cap with the ear flaps pulled down and the strap snapped under his chin, but bristling bunches of iron-gray hair had escaped confinement and stuck down over his forehead in a couple of places.

We were driving along Apple Lane when we saw him. The previous night’s high winds had drifted several inches of powdery snow across his driveway, and he was wielding a shovel without regard for the latest heart-attack statistics. His house was set closer to the road than ours, and his driveway was therefore shorter, but the task he had undertaken was nevertheless formidable.

It was our intention to gather information about the Lightning Coal Company not only from newspapers and other official sources but from locals who might provide more reliable and more interesting details than the goblin-controlled media. To a journalist, gossip and rumor may be anathema, but they can sometimes contain a bigger slice of the truth than the official story. Therefore we pulled into his driveway, stopped, got out of the car, and introduced ourselves as the new neighbors renting the Orkenwold place.

Initially he was cordial but not markedly outgoing, watchful and mildly suspicious, as country folk often are when encountering newcomers. Looking for a way to break the ice, I let my instincts dictate my actions, and I did what a man would do back in Oregon if he came upon a neighbor engaged in a difficult task: I offered to help. He politely declined my offer, but I insisted.

“Shucks,” I said, “if a man doesn’t have the strength to lend a hand with a shovel, how’s he going to find the energy to fly up to Heaven come the Judgment Day?”

That appealed to Horton Bluett, and he allowed as how he had a second shovel. I fetched it from his garage, and we worked our way steadily along the drive, with Rya spelling me for a couple of minutes once in a while, then spelling Mr. Bluett.

We talked weather, and we talked winter clothing. It was Horton Bluett’s opinion that old-fashioned fleece-lined coats were a hundred percent warmer than the space-age, quilted, insulated garments that had come on the market in the past decade, such as the coat he was wearing. If you don’t think we could spend better than ten minutes discussing the merits of fleece, then you neither understand the pace of country life nor comprehend the appeal that can be found in such mundane conversation.

During the first few minutes of our visit I noticed that Horton Bluett sniffed noisily and a lot, wiping at his largish nose with the back of his gloved hand. Though he didn’t blow it once, I figured he had a slight cold or that the bitter air had affected his sinuses. Then he stopped, and only much later did I discover there had been a secret purpose in all that sniffing and snuffling.

Soon the shoveling was finished. Rya and I said we would get out of his way, but he insisted we come inside for some hot coffee and homemade walnut cake.

His single-story house was smaller than the one we were renting, but it was in better repair, almost obsessively well maintained. Everywhere you looked you had the feeling that new paint or varnish or wax had been applied only an hour ago. Horton was cozily battened down for the winter, having installed snugly fitted storm windows and storm doors and having provided a huge supply of wood for the stone fireplace in the living room, which supplemented a coal-fired furnace.

We learned that he had been a widower for almost thirty years and had honed his domestic skills to a fine edge. He seemed especially proud of his cooking, and both his rich coffee and his marvelous cake—crisp plump halves of black walnuts thickly distributed through buttery batter and a semisweet chocolate frosting—indicated a mastery of solid, down-home, country-style cuisine.

He had retired from the rail yards nine years ago, he said. And although he had sorely missed Etta, his late wife, ever since she’d passed away in 1934, the hole she’d left in his life had seemed much larger after he retired in ’55, for then he had begun to spend much more time in this house they had built together way back before the First World War. He was seventy-four, but he could have passed for a well-seasoned fifty-four. The only things that pegged him as an aged retiree were his work-gnarled, leathery, slightly arthritic, somehow ancient hands . . . and that ineffable air of loneliness that always surrounded a man whose social life had been entirely related to the job that he no longer held.

Halfway through my piece of cake I said, as if out of idle curiosity, “I’m surprised to see there’s so much coal mining still going on in these hills.”

He said, “Oh, yessir, they go down deep and haul it out ’cause I guess there’s a powerful number of folks who just can’t afford to switch to oil.”

“I don’t know . . . I figured the coal deposits in this part of the state had been pretty much exhausted. Besides, a lot of coal mining these days is done in flatter terrain, especially out west, where they strip it out instead of digging tunnels. Cheaper to strip it.”

“They still tunnel here,” Horton said.

“Must be pretty well managed,” Rya said. “They must somehow keep their overhead low. I mean, we noticed how new the coal company trucks look.”

“Those Lightning Company trucks,” I said. “Peterbilts. Real spiffy and brand-new.”

“Yessir, that’s the only mine in these parts anymore, so I suppose they do well ’cause there ain’t no competition nearabouts.”

Talking about the coal company seemed to make him nervous. Or maybe I was just imagining his uneasiness, transferring my own anxiety to him.

I was about to press the subject further, but Horton called his dog—Growler was its name—over from the corner to give it a piece of the walnut cake, and the subject changed to the virtues of mongrels versus purebred canines. Growler was a mongrel, a medium-sized black dog with brown markings along his flanks and around both eyes, of complicated and unguessable heritage. He was called Growler because he was an unusually well behaved and silent dog, loath to bark; he expressed anger or wariness with a low, menacing growl, and pleasure with a much softer growl accompanied by a lot of tail wagging.

Growler had given Rya and me a close and extended inspection when we’d first entered, and at last he had deemed us acceptable. That was relatively ordinary doggie behavior. But what was extraordinary was the way Horton Bluett surreptitiously studied the dog as it studied us; he seemed to place considerable importance on Growler’s opinion, as if we would not be fully trusted and welcome until we had received the clown-faced mongrel’s approval.

Now Growler finished his piece of cake and, licking his chops, went to Rya for some petting, then came to me. He seemed to know that the conversation was about him and that in everyone’s opinion he was far superior to all those fancier breeds with their American Kennel Club papers.

Later an opportunity arose for me to turn the subject back to the Lightning Coal Company, and I commented on the oddness of the corporate name and logo.

“Odd?” Horton said, frowning. “Don’t seem odd to me. Both coal and lightning are forms of energy, you see. And coal’s black—sort of black lightning. Makes sense, don’t it?”

I had not thought of it in that way, and it did make sense. However, I knew the symbol—white sky, dark lightning—had a deeper significance than that, for I had seen it as the focal point of an altar. To the demonkind it was an object of reverence and a sign of profound importance, mystical and powerful, though, of course, I could not expect Horton to know that it was more than just a corporate logo.

Again I sensed that the subject of the Lightning Coal Company made him nervous. He quickly turned the conversation in an entirely new direction, as if to forestall further questions in that sensitive area. For a moment, as he raised his coffee to his lips, his hands shook, and the brew slopped over the edge of the cup. Maybe it was only a brief attack of palsy or another infirmity related to his age. Maybe that tremble meant nothing. Maybe.

Half an hour later, as Rya and I drove away from the Bluett house, with Horton and Growler watching us from the porch, she said, “He’s a nice man.”


“A good man.”


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