Twilight Eyes Page 48



“He’s got secrets.”

“What sort of secrets?” I asked.

“I don’t know. But even when he appears to be just a straight-talking, hospitable country elder, he’s hiding something. And . . . well, I think he’s afraid of the Lightning Coal Company.”


We were as ghosts, haunting the mountainside, striving to be as silent as spirits. Our ghostly raiments included insulated white ski pants, white ski jackets with hoods, and white gloves. We struggled through knee-deep snow across open hills as if making arduous passage out of the land of the dead, walked phantomlike along a narrow ravine that marked the course of a frozen stream, glided stealthily through the cold shadows of the forest. Willing ourselves to be incorporeal, we nevertheless left footprints in the snow and occasionally brushed against the evergreen branches, sending a brittle, bristly sound echoing through the endless corridors of trees.

We had parked the car along the county road and had gone nearly three miles overland before, by a roundabout route, we had come to the formidable fence that defined the perimeter of the Lightning Coal Company’s property. That afternoon we intended only to reconnoiter—study the main administration buildings, get an idea of the amount of traffic coming and going from the mine, and find a breach in the fence through which we could easily enter on the following day.

However, upon encountering the fence atop a wide ridge called Old Broadtop, I wondered if it could be breached at all, let alone easily. That eight-foot-high bulwark was constructed of ten-foot-long sections of sturdy chain link strung between iron posts that had been solidly sunk in concrete. The top was crowned with spirals of the nastiest barbed wire I had ever seen; although ice sheathed some of the cutting edges, anyone attempting to cross would be snared in a hundred places and, in tearing loose, would leave behind pieces of himself. Tree limbs had been sawn off, so none overhung the chain link. At this time of year you could not dig under the fence, either, for the ground was frozen rock-hard; and I suspected that, even in warmer months, digging would be hampered by some unseen barrier that extended into the ground for at least a few feet.

“This isn’t just a property-line fence,” Rya whispered. “This is a full-fledged defensive barrier, a damned rampart.”

“Yeah.” I spoke as softly as she had spoken. “If it encircles the thousands of acres the company owns, the fence must be at least several miles long. A thing like this . . . hell, it’d cost a fortune.”

“No point erecting it just to keep occasional trespassers off mining land.”

“No. They’ve got something else in there, something they’re determined to protect.”

We had approached the fence from the woods, but a clearing lay on the far side of it. In the snow blanketing that open, sloped field we saw many footprints paralleling the barrier.

Pointing to the tracks, I lowered my voice further and said, “Looks like they even run regular patrols along the perimeter. And I wouldn’t doubt the guards are armed. We’ll have to be careful, keep our eyes and ears open.”

We drew the cloaks of ghosthood around ourselves again and stole southward to haunt other parts of the forest, staying within sight of the fence but far enough back to avoid being seen by guards before we spotted them. We were heading for the southern quarter of Old Broadtop because from there we ought to be able to look down on the mining company’s headquarters. We had puzzled out the path we needed to take, using a detailed terrain map of the county that we had bought at a sporting-goods store that catered to weekend hikers and campers.

Earlier, on the county route, driving past the strangely secluded entrance to Lightning Coal, we had seen nothing of the offices. Hills and trees and distance hid the buildings. From the road nothing was visible except a gate and a little guardhouse, where all approaching vehicles were required to stop and submit to inspection before being permitted to proceed. The security seemed ridiculously stringent for a coal-mining operation, and I wondered what explanations they gave for so completely walling out the rest of the world.

We had seen two cars at the gate, and both had been occupied by goblins. The guard was a goblin, as well.

Now, as we trekked southward along the ridge top, the forest became a greater obstacle than it had been theretofore. In these heights, the deciduous trees—hardwoods such as oaks and maples—had given way to evergreens. The farther we walked, the more spruce we saw, and pines of many varieties; they grew closer together than before, as if we were witnessing the forest receding toward a primeval state. The boughs were often interlaced and grown so low that we had to stoop or even—in several places—crawl on our hands and knees beneath living, needled portcullises that were lowered nearly to the ground. Underfoot, dead and broken branches thrust up like spikes, requiring caution and promising impalement. In many places there was little underbrush because there was inadequate light to nurture it, but where enough light reached through the evergreen canopy, the lower growth seemed half comprised of brambles and briars bristling with thorns as sharp-edged as razors and as thick as the tips of stilettos.

In time, when the top of the ridge narrowed dramatically near its southernmost point, we approached the fence again. Crouched against the chain link, we were able to look down into a small valley about four hundred yards wide and—we knew from our terrain map—a mile and a half long. Below, there were none of the evergreens that commanded the heights. Instead stripped-bare hardwoods reached skyward in spiky black profusion like thousands of immense fossilized spiders lying on their backs with petrified legs poking up every which way. From the county route and the main gate that lay half a mile to the south, a two-lane company road came out of the trees into a large clearing that had been carved out to accommodate the administration buildings, equipment garages, and repair shops of the Lightning Coal Company. The road continued on the other side of the clearing, disappearing into the trees again, leading toward the mine head that lay a mile away, at the northern end of the valley.

The nineteenth-century one- and two-story buildings were all of stone that had been darkened by the years, by coal dust blown off passing trucks, and by the exhaust fumes of machinery. Now, at first glance, they almost appeared to have been constructed of coal. The windows were narrow, and some were barred, and the glow of fluorescent lights beyond the dirty glass lent no warmth to those mean panes. The slate roof and the exaggeratedly heavy lintels over the windows and doorways—even over the larger spans of the garage doors—gave the structures a beetle-browed and scowling demeanor.

Side by side, our smoking breath combining in the preternaturally still air, Rya and I stared down at the coal-company employees with growing uneasiness. Men and women entered and exited the garages and machine shops from which came the ceaseless clanging-clattering-grinding noises of mechanics and craftsmen at work. They all moved briskly, as if filled with energy and purpose, as if they were, to a man, reluctant to give their employers less than a hundred and ten percent in return for their salaries. There were no loiterers, no dawdlers, no one lingering in the crisp air to enjoy a cigarette before returning to his labors inside. Even the men in suits and ties—presumably executives and other white-collar workers who might ordinarily be expected to proceed more slowly, secure in their higher positions—moved between their cars and the gloomy administration buildings without delay, apparently eager to get on with their duties.

Every one of them was a goblin. Even at that distance I had no doubt of their membership in that demonic fraternity.

Rya also perceived their true nature. Softy: “If Yontsdown’s a nesting place for them, then this is the nest within the nest.”

“A damned hive,” I said. “All of them buzzing around like so many industrious bees.”

Once in a while a truck laden with coal growled down from the north, through the leafless trees of the valley, along the road that bisected the clearing, into the other arm of the forest, heading for the front gate. Empty trucks came the other way, going to the mine to be reloaded. The drivers and their partners were all goblins.

“What’re they doing here?” Rya wondered.

“Something important.”

“But what?”

“Something that’s no damn good at all for us and our kind. And I don’t think the focus of it is in those buildings.”

“Then where? The mine itself?”


The somber, cloud-filtered light was waning swiftly toward an early winter dusk.

The wind, absent all day, returned full of vigor, evidently refreshed by its vacation, whistling through the chain-link fence and humming in the evergreens.

I said, “We’re going to have to come back early tomorrow and go farther north along the fence, until we get a look at the mine head.”

“And you know what follows that,” Rya said bleakly.


“We won’t see enough, so we’ll have to go inside.”



“I suppose so.”

“Into the tunnels.”


“Like the dream.”

I said nothing.

She said, “And like the dream, they’ll discover we’re in there, and they’ll come after us.”

Before nightfall could trap us on the ridge, we left the fence and headed back down toward the county road where we had parked the station wagon. Darkness seemed to well up from the forest floor, to drip like sap out of the heavy boughs of spruce and pine, to seep forth from every tangled clump of brush. By the time we reached open fields and slopes, the luminescent blanket of snow was brighter than the sky. We saw our old footprints, which appeared to be wounds in that alabaster skin.

When we reached the car, snow began to fall. Only flurries now. They spiraled down out of the steadily darkening heavens, like bits of ash shaken from charred ceiling beams that had been burned in a long forgotten, long cooled fire. However, in the extreme heaviness of the air and in the numbing cold, there was an indescribable but undeniable omen of a big storm to come.

During the drive to the house on Apple Lane, the flurries fell ceaselessly. They were big flakes carried on the erratic currents of a wind not yet working at full power. On the pavement they formed opaque veils, and I could almost believe that the black macadam was actually a thick sheet of glass, that the veils of snow were sheer curtains, and that we were driving across an immense window, crushing the curtains under our tires, straining the glass even though it was thick. It was a window that perhaps separated this world from the next. At any moment, breaking, it might cast us down into Gehenna.

We parked in the garage and entered the house by the kitchen door. All was dark and quiet. We switched on lights as we passed through the rooms, heading upstairs to change clothes, after which we intended to prepare an early dinner.

But in the master bedroom, sitting in a chair that he had drawn into a deeply shadowed corner, Horton Bluett was waiting for us.

Growler was with him. I saw the dog’s shining eyes a fraction of a second before I clicked on the lights, too late to stay my hand from the switch.

Rya gasped.

She and I were both carrying silencer-equipped pistols in our insulated ski jackets, and I had my knife, but any attempt to use those weapons would have resulted in instant death for us.

Horton was holding the shotgun that I had bought from Slick Eddy in Gibtown a few days ago. It was aimed at us, and the spread pattern of that weapon could take us both out with a single blast, two shots at most.

Horton had found most of the other things that we had carefully hidden, which indicated that he had been searching the house most of the afternoon, while we had been on Old Broadtop. Spread on the floor around him were various items that Slick Eddy had obtained for me: the automatic rifle, boxes of ammunition, eighty paper-wrapped kilos of plastic explosive, detonators, vials of sodium pentothal, and the hypodermic syringes.

Horton’s face looked older than it had when we had first seen him earlier in the day, closer to his true age. He said, “Just who in the hell are you people?”

Chapter twenty-six


At seventy-four, Horton Bluett was not humbled by age and did not fear the proximity of the grave, so he appeared formidable as he sat there in the corner with his faithful dog beside him. He was tough and resilient, a man who dealt uncomplainingly with adversities, who ate everything life threw at him, spit out what he did not like, and used the rest to make himself stronger. His voice did not tremble, and his hand did not shake on the stock or on the trigger guard of the shotgun, and his eyes did not waver from us. I would have preferred to deal with almost any man fifty years Horton’s junior rather than with him.

“Who?” he repeated. “Who are you folks? Not a couple geology students working for doctorates. That’s goose poop for sure. Who are you, really, and what’re you doing here? Sit down on the edge of the bed, both of you; sit there facing me, and keep your hands in your laps, folded in your laps. That’s right. That’s good. Don’t make no sudden moves, you hear? Now tell me everything you got to tell.”

In spite of the evidently powerful suspicion that had driven him to the extraordinary step of forced entry, in spite of what he had found secreted in the house, Horton still liked us. He was extremely wary, intensely curious about our motives, but he did not feel that a friendly relationship was yet ruled out by what he had uncovered. I sensed that much, and considering the circumstances, I was surprised by the relatively benign state of mind that I perceived in him. What I sensed was confirmed by the attitude of the dog, Growler, who sat at attention, alert but not overtly hostile, ungrowling. Horton would shoot us, yes, if we made a move against him. But he did not want to do it.

Rya and I told him virtually everything about ourselves and our reasons for coming to Yontsdown. When we spoke of goblins hiding behind human masks, genetically engineered soldiers from a lost age, Horton Bluett blinked and repeatedly said, “By God.” Nearly as often he said, “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.” He asked pointed questions about some of the most outlandish parts of our tale—but he never once seemed to doubt our veracity or to think us mad.

In light of our outrageous story, his imperturbability was rather unnerving. Country people often pride themselves on a calm, collected manner, so unlike most city folk. But this was rural unflappability carried to an extreme.

An hour later, when we had nothing more to reveal, Horton sighed and put the shotgun on the floor next to his chair.

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