Twilight Eyes Page 5

Another bad memory. I shifted, closed my eyes again. If there was any hope of getting to sleep, I would have to think only of the good times, of Mom and Dad and my sisters.

I was born in the white farmhouse that stood behind the Brewer’s spruce, a much-wanted baby and much-loved child, first and only son of Cynthia and Kurt Stanfeuss. My two sisters had just enough tomboy in them to make good playmates for an only brother, just enough feminine grace and sensibility to instill in me some manners, sophistication, and refinement that I might not otherwise have acquired in the rustic world of the rural Siskiyou valleys.

Sarah Louise, blond and fair like our father, was two years older than I. From a young age she could draw and paint with such skill that you would have thought she had been a famous artist in a prior life, and it was her dream to earn her living with brushes and palette. She had a special empathy with animals. She could handle any horse well and effortlessly, charm a pouting cat, calm a chicken yard full of nervous hens just by walking among them, and quickly coax a sheepish grin and a wag of the tail from even the meanest dog.

Jennifer Ruth, brunette and almond-skinned like our mother, was three years older than I. She was a voracious reader of fantasies and adventure stories, as was Sarah, but Jenny had no artistic talent to speak of, although she made an art form of her way with figures. Her affinity for numbers, for all forms and disciplines of mathematics, was a constant astonishment to everyone else in the Stanfeuss household, for the rest of us, given a choice between adding a long column of sums and putting a collar on a porcupine, would have opted for the porcupine every time.

Jenny also had a photographic memory. She could quote word-for-word from books she had read years ago, and both Sarah and I were deeply envious of the ease with which Jenny compiled report card after report card of straight-A grades.

Biological magic and the rarest serendipity were evident in the blending of my mother and father’s genes, for none of their children escaped the burden of extraordinary talent. Not that it was difficult to understand how they could have produced us. They were gifted, too, in their own ways.

My father was a musical genius, and I use the word genius in its original meaning, not as an indication of IQ but to express the fact that he had an exceptional natural capacity, in this case a capacity for music. There was no instrument that he could not play well within a day of picking it up, and within a week he could perform the most complex and demanding numbers with a facility that others labored years to acquire. A piano stood in our parlor, and Dad would often play, from memory, tunes he had heard only that morning, on the radio, while driving the pickup into town.

For a few months after he was killed, all the music went out of our house, both literally and figuratively.

I was fifteen when my father died, and at the time I believed his death was an accident, which was what everyone else thought too. Most of them still think so. Now I know that Uncle Denton killed him.

But I had killed Denton, so why couldn’t I sleep? Revenge had been taken, rough justice done, so why couldn’t I find at least an hour or two of peace? Why was each night an ordeal? I could sleep only when insomnia led to a state of exhaustion so complete that the choice was reduced to sleep or madness.

I tossed. I turned.

I thought of my mother, who was as special as my father had been. Mom had a way with green, growing things; plants thrived for her as animals obeyed her younger daughter, the way mathematical problems resolved themselves for her elder daughter. One quick look at any plant, a brief touch of leaf or stem, and Mom knew precisely what nutrients or special care her green friend required. Her vegetable garden always produced the biggest and best-tasting tomatoes anyone had ever eaten, the juiciest corn, the sweetest onions. Mom was a healer too. Oh, not a faith healer, mind you, not a quack of any kind; she made no claim of psychic power, and she did not heal by a laying-on of hands. She was an herbalist, mixing her own poultices, salves, and ointments, blending delicious medicinal teas. No one in the Stanfeuss family ever contracted a bad cold, never anything worse than one-day sniffles. We suffered neither cold sores, influenza, bronchitis, pinkeye, nor the other ills that children bring home from school and pass on to their parents. Neighbors and relatives often came by for my mother’s herbal concoctions, and though she was frequently offered money, she never accepted a penny in return; she felt that it would be blasphemous to receive any compensation for her gift other than the joy of employing it for the benefit of her family and others.

And, of course, I am also gifted, though my special abilities are far different from the more rational talents of my siblings and parents. In me the genetic serendipity of Cynthia and Kurt Stanfeuss was not mere magic but almost sorcery.

According to my Grandmother Stanfeuss, who possesses a treasure of arcane folk wisdom, I have Twilight Eyes. They are the very color of twilight, an odd shade that is more purple than blue, with a particular clarity and a trick of refracting light in such a way that they appear slightly luminous and strange and (I am told) unusually beautiful. Grandma says that not even one in half a million people have such eyes, and I must admit I have never seen others like mine. Upon first seeing me, blanket-wrapped in my mother’s arms, Grandma told my folks that Twilight Eyes in a newborn baby were a harbinger of psychic ability; if they did not change color by the child’s second birthday (as mine did not), then—according to Grandma—folk tales have it that the psychic ability will be unusually strong and manifested in a variety of ways.

Grandma was right.

And as I thought of Grandma’s softly seamed and gentle face, as I pictured her own warm and loving eyes (sea-green), I found not peace but at least a state of truce. Sleep stole to me in the armistice like an army nurse bringing anesthetics across a temporarily silenced battleground.

My dreams were of goblins. They frequently are.

In the last dream of several, my Uncle Denton screamed at me as I wielded the ax: No! I’m not a goblin! I’m just like you, Carl. What are you talking about? Are you mad? There aren’t goblins. No such thing. You’re crazy, Carl. Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Insane! You’re insane! Insane! In real life he had not screamed, had not denied my accusations. In real life our battle had been grim and bitterly waged. But three hours after sleep claimed me, I woke with Denton’s voice still echoing at me from out of the dream—Insane! You’re insane, Carl! Oh, my God, you’re insane!—and I was shaking, sweat-drenched, disoriented, and feverish with doubt.

Gasping, whimpering, I stumbled to the nearest sink, turned on the cold water, and splashed my face. The lingering images of the dream receded, faded, vanished.

Reluctantly I raised my head and looked in the mirror. Sometimes I have difficulty confronting the reflection of my own strange eyes because I am afraid I will see madness in them. This was one of those times.

I could not rule out the possibility, however remote, that the goblins were nothing more than phantoms of my tortured imagination. God knows, I wanted to rule it out, to be unshaken in my convictions, but the possibility of delusion and insanity remained, periodically draining me of will and purpose as surely as a leech steals vital blood.

Now I stared into my own anguished eyes, and they were so unusual that the reflection of them was not flat and two-dimensional, as it would have been with any other man’s eyes; the mirror image seemed to have as much depth and reality and power as the real eyes. I probed my own gaze honestly and relentlessly, but I could see no trace of lunacy.

I told myself that my ability to see through the goblins’ disguises was as unquestionable as my other psychic talents. I knew my other powers were real and reliable, for numerous people had benefited from my clairvoyance and had been astonished by it. My Grandmother Stanfeuss called me “the little seer,” because I could sometimes see the future and sometimes see moments in other people’s pasts. And, damn it, I could see goblins, too, and the fact that I was the only one who saw them was no reason to distrust my vision.

But doubt remained.

“Someday,” I said to my somber reflection in the yellowed mirror, “that doubt will surface at the wrong moment. It’ll overwhelm you when you’re fighting for your life with a goblin. Then it will be the death of you.”

Chapter five


Three hours of sleep, a few minutes to wash, a few minutes more to roll up my sleeping bag and harness myself to the backpack, made it nine-thirty by the time I opened the locker-room door and went outside. The day was hot and cloudless. The air was not as moist as it had been last night. A refreshing breeze made me feel rested and clean, and it blew the doubts into deeper reaches of my mind, much the same way it gathered up litter and old leaves, packing them into corners formed by the fairground buildings and shrubbery, not disposing of the trash altogether but at least keeping it out from underfoot. I was glad to be alive.

I returned to the midway and was surprised by what I found. My last impression of the carnival, before I deserted it last night, was one of looming danger, bleakness, and oppression, but in daylight the place seemed harmless, even cheerful. The hundreds of pennants, all colorless in the moon-bleached hours of the night, were now crimson like Christmas bows, yellow as marigolds, emerald-green, white, electric-blue, and orange-orange; they rippled-fluttered-snapped in the wind. The amusement rides gleamed and sparkled so brightly in the sharp August sun that even from a short distance they appeared not merely newer and fancier than they were but seemed to be plated with silver and finest gold, like elf-made machines in a fairy tale.

At nine-thirty the fairground gates had not yet opened to the public. Only a few carnies had ventured back to the midway.

On the concourse two men were picking up litter with spike-tipped poles and stuffing it into large bags slung from their shoulders. We said: “Hi” and “ ’lo” to one another.

A burly man with dark hair and a handlebar mustache was standing on the barker’s platform at the fun house, five feet above the ground, his hands on his hips, staring back and up at the giant clown’s face that formed the entire front of the attraction. He must have seen me from the corner of his eye, for he turned and looked down and asked my opinion as to whether the clown’s nose needed painting. I said, “Well, it looks fine to me. Looks like it was painted just last week. A nice bright red.”

And he said, “Was painted just last week. Used to be yellow, been yellow fourteen years, and then a month ago I got myself married for the first time, and my wife, Giselle, says a clown’s nose should be red, and since I’m damned sweet on Giselle, I decided to paint it, see, which I did, but now I’ll be God-croaked if I don’t think it was a mistake, because when it was yellow, it was a nose with character, you know, and now it’s just like every clown’s nose you’ve ever seen in your whole God-blasted life, and what’s the good of that?” He did not seem to want an answer, for he jumped off the platform and, grumbling, stalked around the side of the fun house, out of sight.

I ambled along the concourse until I came to the Whip, where a wiry little man was repairing the generator. His hair was that shade of orange that isn’t auburn and isn’t red but which everyone calls red, anyway, and his freckles were so numerous and bright that they appeared unreal, as if they had been carefully painted on his cheeks and nose. I told him I was Slim MacKenzie, and he didn’t tell me who he was. I sensed that clannish, secretive mind-set of a lifelong carny, so I talked for a bit about the gillies and ragbags I’d worked in the Midwest, all the way through Ohio, while he continued to tinker with the generator and remained mute. At last I must have convinced him that I was on the level, for he wiped his greasy hands on a rag, told me his name was Rudy Morton but everyone called him Red, nodded at me, and said, “You lookin’ for work?” I said that I was, and he said, “Jelly Jordan does all the hiring. He’s our patch, and he’s Arturo Sombra’s right-hand man. You’ll probably find him at the headquarters compound.” He told me where that was, out near the front of the midway, and I thanked him, and I know he watched for some time as I walked away, although I didn’t once glance back at him.

I cut across the sunny midway rather than walk around the entire concourse, and the next carny I met was a big man coming toward me with his head down, hands in his pockets, shoulders slumped, altogether too defeated-looking for a day as golden as this one. He must have been six-four, with massive shoulders and huge arms, two hundred and seventy pounds of muscle, a striking figure even when he slouched. His head was held so low between those Herculean shoulders that I could see nothing of his face, and I knew he did not see me. He walked between the hulking equipment, stepping on cables, plowing through accumulations of litter, self-absorbed. I was afraid that I would startle him, so before I was atop him, I called out, “Lovely morning, isn’t it?” He took two more steps, as if he required that long to register that my greeting was aimed at him. We were only eight feet apart when he looked up at me, revealing a face that froze my marrow.

Goblin! I thought.

I almost reached for the knife within my boot.

Oh, Jesus, God, no, another goblin!

“You said something?” he asked.

When the wave of shock had passed through me, I saw that he was not a goblin, after all—or at least not a goblin like the others. He had a nightmare face, but there was nothing of pig or dog in it. No fleshy snout, no fangs, no flickering, serpentine tongue. He was human but a freak, his skull so malformed that it proved God had strange, macabre moments. In fact . . .

Imagine yourself a divine sculptor, working in the medium of flesh-blood-bone, with a bad hangover and a despicable sense of humor. Now start sculpting with a huge brutal jaw that does not recede as it approaches your creation’s ears (the way the jawline does in normal faces) but terminates abruptly in ugly knotted lumps of bone reminiscent of the neck bolts featured in the movie version of the Frankenstein monster. Now, just above those unsightly lumps, give your hapless creation a pair of ears like wads of crumpled cabbage leaves. A mouth inspired by the scoop of a steam shovel. Throw in some big square teeth, too many of them, crowding one another and overlapping at several points, and all a permanent shade of yellow so gross that your creation will be ashamed to open his mouth in polite company. Sound like enough cruelty to vent any godly anger that you may have been feeling? Wrong. You are apparently in a truly cosmic rage, a deific lather sufficient to make the universe quake from one end to the other, for you also sculpt a forehead thick enough to act as armor plating, build it up until it overhangs the eyes and transforms the underlying sockets into caves. Now, in a fever of malignant creation, you carve a hole in that forehead, above the right eye but closer to the temple than the socket below, and plug in a third eye that is without iris or pupil, just an oval of undifferentiated burnt-orange tissue. That done, you add two final touches that are unquestionably the mark of malevolent genius: You pop a noble and perfectly made nose into the center of that grisly mug, to taunt your creation with ideas of what might have been; within the two lower sockets you imbed a pair of clear, brown, warm, intelligent, beautiful, normal eyes, exquisitely expressive, so that anyone who sees them must quickly look away or weep uncontrollably with pity for the sensitive soul trapped within this hulk. Are you still with me? You probably don’t want to play God anymore. What gets into Him sometimes? Don’t you wonder? If a creation like this can result merely from His moodiness or pique, just imagine what state of mind He must have been in when He was seriously upset, when He made Hell and cast the rebel angels into it.

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