Twilight Eyes Page 56

Near the middle of the chamber, we came to a thirty-foot-deep, thirty-foot-wide channel that ran next to the generators, scoring the entire length of the room. It was bordered by safety railings. Laid in the channel was a pipe approximately twenty-four feet in diameter, large enough to drive trucks through; in fact, the noise rising from the pipe seemed to indicate that entire convoys of Peterbilts and Macks and other eighteen-wheelers were roaring past right now.

For a moment I was puzzled, but then I realized that the electric power for the entire complex was generated by an underground river that had been channeled through this pipe and harnessed to turn a series of massive turbines. We were hearing millions of gallons of water rushing downstream on a course that evidently went even deeper into the mountain. Looking along the line of house-sized generators with newfound respect, I suddenly wondered why the goblins needed so much power. They were generating sufficient electricity to supply a city a hundred times larger than the one they were building.

Bridges spanned the channel. One of them was only ten yards from us. However, I thought we’d be terribly exposed and vulnerable while crossing. Rya must have agreed, for as one we turned away from the channel and gingerly made our way down the center of the powerhouse, alert for goblins and for anything we could use to our advantage.

What we found was an acceptable hiding place.

The only way we were going to get out of this so-called haven was to lay low for so long that the enemy would think we had already escaped. Then they would stop looking for us here, would turn their attention toward the world aboveground in search of us, and would concentrate on preventive measures to assure that no one else got into the facility as we had done.

That hiding place: The concrete floor was very gently contoured toward three-foot-round drains widely spaced across the chamber. They probably cleaned the floor by hosing it down from time to time, and the dirty water gravitated toward those outlets. The drain cover that we found was a shiny steel grid in a sheltered space between machines. There was no nearby light to pierce the gloom below it, so I switched on my flashlight and directed the beam through the drain cover. The grid’s crosshatched shadows, which twisted and jumped each time I shifted my light, made my inspection difficult, but I saw that the vertical length of pipe went down about six feet, where the drain split into two opposing horizontal pipelines, each only slightly smaller than the vertical line that fed them.

Good enough.

I had the feeling we were running out of time. A search party had left this room not long ago, but there was no guarantee that it would not return for another look—especially if we had unwittingly left tracks of any kind in the ventilation shafts to mark our journey to this place. If searchers didn’t return, then one of the powerhouse workers was likely to blunder across us sooner or later, regardless of the caution we exercised.

Together we lifted the steel grid out of the drain opening and quietly laid it to one side, making only a brief metallic scraping sound that, considering the roar of the nearby river and the din of the laboring machines, could not have carried far. We left about one third of the cover protruding over the opening so it could be gripped and maneuvered from underneath.

We lowered our gear into the hole.

Rya dropped down and quickly shoved one of our backpacks into each branching horizontal drain at the foot of the vertical feeder line. She put the shotgun in one and the automatic rifle in the other. Finally she slid backward into the branch on the right and dragged the duffel bag in with her.

I jumped down into the now empty feeder line, reached up, gripped the edge of the drain cover, and tried to lift it into place without a sound. I failed. At the last moment it slipped in my hands and clattered into place with a hard metallic ring that surely had been heard throughout the chamber above. I just hoped each of the goblin workers thought the sound had been caused by one of the others.

I slipped backward into the branching drain on the left and discovered that it was not perfectly horizontal but slightly sloped to facilitate the flow of water. It was dry now. They had not hosed the powerhouse floor recently.

I was facing Rya across the three-foot-wide vertical feeder drain, but the darkness was so complete that I could not see her. It was enough to know she was there.

A few minutes passed uneventfully. If the clatter of the drain cover had been heard, it evidently had not created much interest.

The noise of the generators overhead and the incessant rumble of the underground river somewhere beyond Rya were transmitted through the floor in which the drains were set, and therefore into the drains themselves, making conversation impossible. We would have had to shout to hear each other, and of course we could take no such risk.

Abruptly I had the feeling that I should reach out to Rya. Upon succumbing to the urge, I found she was reaching out for me, holding forth a wax-paper-wrapped sandwich and a thermos of juice. She did not seem surprised when my questing hand found hers in the darkness. Effectively blind and deaf and mute, nevertheless we were able to communicate by virtue of the intense closeness that grew from the love we shared; there was an almost clairvoyant link between us, and from it we both drew what comfort and reassurance we could.

The luminous dial of my wristwatch showed that it was a few minutes past five o’clock, Sunday afternoon.

Darkness and waiting.

I let my mind wander to Oregon. But the loss of family was too depressing.

So I thought about Rya. About laughing with her in better times, about loving her, needing her, wanting her. But soon all thoughts of Rya led to a tumescence that was uncomfortable in my current awkward position.

So I called up memories of the carnival and of my many friends there. The Sombra Brothers outfit was my haven, my family, my home. But, damn it, we were far from the carnival, with little hope of returning to it, which was even more depressing than considerations of what I’d lost in Oregon.

So I slept.

Having slept little during the past several nights, exhausted by the day’s explorations, I did not wake for nine hours. At two in the morning I tore myself violently out of a dream, coming fully awake in an instant.

For a fraction of a second I believed the nightmare had awakened me. Then I realized there were several voices filtering down through the grate at the top of the drain: goblin voices, speaking animatedly in that ancient tongue.

I reached out from my burrow and, in the darkness, found Rya’s hand as it was reaching for mine. We held tight, listening.

Above, the voices moved away.

Out in the cavernous powerhouse there were sounds I had not heard before: much thumping, much clanging of metal.

Not quite clairvoyantly I sensed that another search of the powerhouse was under way. During the past nine hours they had gone through the complex from one end to the other, leaving no passageway unexplored. They had discovered the dead goblin we had interrogated. They had found the empty vials of pentothal and the used needles next to the corpse. Perhaps they had even uncovered traces of our journey through the ventilation ducts and knew we had left those channels in the powerhouse. Having found us nowhere else, they were giving this chamber one more toss.

Forty minutes passed. The sounds overhead did not diminish.

Several times Rya and I let go of each other, only to reach out again a minute or two later.

To my dismay I heard footsteps approaching the mouth of the drain. Again, several goblins gathered around that steel grid.

A flashlight beam stabbed down through the grate.

Rya and I instantly snatched our hands apart, and like turtles retreating into their shells, we drew silently back into the branch drains.

In front of me, slats of light revealed strips of the floor in the vertical pipe, the junction where it met the horizontal pipes in which we cowered. Not much could be seen because the crosshatched ribs of the grate cast a confusion of shadows.

The light clicked off.

Breath had gone stagnant in me. I quietly blew it out, sucked in clean air.

The voices did not fade.

A moment later there came a screech, clatter, and thump, then a scraping noise as they lifted the grate out of the mouth of the drain and slid it aside.

The flashlight winked on again. It seemed as bright as a spotlight on a stage.

Directly in front of me, only inches away, beyond the opening of the horizontal pipe in which I lay, the flashlight illuminated the floor of the vertical feeder line in almost supernatural detail. The beam seemed hot; if there had been any moisture in the pipe, I would not have been surprised to see it sizzle and vaporize in the glare. Every scratch and discoloration in the drain’s surface was vividly exposed.

I followed the probing light with breathless expectation, afraid that it would fix upon something that either Rya or I had dropped when we had reached across the darkness toward each other. Perhaps a crumb of bread from the sandwich that she had passed to me. A single white crumb, contrasted against the mottled grays of the pipe, would be our undoing.

Beyond the slowly moving beam, in the horizontal drain opposite mine, I glimpsed Rya’s face, vaguely limned by the black splash of the light. She glanced at me too; but like me, she was unable to turn her gaze away from the probing beam for more than a second, afraid of what at any moment might be revealed.

Suddenly the luminous lance stopped moving.

I strained to see what discovery had stayed the hand of the goblin with the flashlight, but I spotted nothing that could have attracted its attention or excited its suspicion.

The beam still did not move.

Overhead the goblins spoke louder, faster.

I wished I could understand their language.

Still, I thought I knew what they were discussing: They were going to come down to have a look in the branch pipes. Some anomaly had caught their attention, some wrongness, and they were going to descend to take a closer look.

A harp-string glissando of fear rippled through me, each note colder than the one before it.

I could envision myself retreating desperately and laboriously backward through the drain, too cramped to be able to fight, while one of the goblins slithered in headfirst to pursue me. Quick as the demons were, the beast would be able to reach out with wickedly clawed hands and tear my face away—or gouge my eyes from their sockets or rip open my throat—even as I was pulling the trigger of my gun. I’d almost surely kill it, but I would die horribly, even as I squeezed off the shot that finished my enemy.

Once it saw me, the certainty of its own death would not prevent the goblin from entering the pipe. I had seen the hivelike nature of their secret society. I knew that for the good of the community one of them would no more hesitate to sacrifice itself than an ant would hesitate to die in defense of the hill. And if I managed to shoot one or five or ten of them, they would keep coming, forcing me deeper into the drain until my gun jammed or until I took too long to reload, and then the last of them would destroy me.

The beam of the flashlight moved again. It swept slowly around the bottom of the vertical drain. Then around once more.

It froze again.

Dust motes drifted lazily in the luminous shaft.

Come on, you bastards, I thought. Come on, come on, let’s get it over with.

The light clicked off.

I tensed.

Would they come in darkness? Why?

Surprisingly they wrestled the grate back into place at the top of the drain.

They were not coming down, after all. They were going away, satisfied that we were not here.

I could hardly believe it. I lay in astonishment, as breathless with amazement as I had been with fear.

In the blackness I eased forward and reached out for Rya. She was reaching for me. Our hands gripped in the middle of the now dark vertical pipe, where the flashlight beam had probed so inquisitively only moments ago. Her hand was ice-cold, but it slowly grew warm as I held it.

I was exhilarated. Remaining quiet was difficult, for I wanted to laugh, whoop, and sing. For the first time since leaving Gibtown I felt the fog of despair lifting a little, and I sensed hope shining somewhere above.

They had searched their haven twice and had not found us. Now they probably would never find us because they would be convinced that we had escaped, and they would turn their attention elsewhere. In several hours, after giving them more time to confirm their belief that we’d fled, we could slip out of the drain and away, setting the detonators on the charges we had planted on our way in.

We were going to get out of Yontsdown after having accomplished virtually everything we had come to do. We had learned the reason for the nest that existed here. And we had done something about it—maybe not enough but something.

I knew we were going to get out unharmed, whole, and safe.

I knew, I knew. I just knew.

Sometimes my clairvoyance fails me. Sometimes there is a danger looming, a darkness descending, that I cannot see regardless of how hard I look.

Chapter thirty-one


The goblins had replaced the grate over the mouth of the drain and had gone away at 2:09 Monday morning. I figured that Rya and I ought to lay low for another four hours, anyway, which would mean that we would make our way back out of the mountain twenty-four hours after we had entered it under the guidance of Horton Bluett.

I wondered if the threatened snowstorm had come and if the world aboveground was white and clean.

I wondered if Horton Bluett and Growler were at that moment asleep in their small, neat house on Apple Lane—or if they were awake, one or both of them, wondering about Rya and me.

With higher spirits than I had known in days, I found that my usual insomnia had departed me. In spite of the nine hours of solid sleep I’d already enjoyed, I dozed on and off, sometimes sleeping deeply, as if years of restless nights had suddenly caught up with me.

I did not dream. I took that as proof of a change for the better in our fortunes. I was uncharacteristically optimistic. That was part of my delusion.

When the call of nature had overwhelmed me, I had wriggled far back in the drain, around a turn, where I had done what was necessary. Most of the stench of urine was carried off, for a slight draft came down through the pipe and followed the course that water would follow as it sought the end of the drainage system. But even though a thin trace of the unpleasant odor rose to me, I did not mind it, for I was in such a good state of mind that only disaster on a cataclysmic scale could have daunted me.

Content to doze dreamlessly and, in moments of fuzzy wakefulness, to reach out and touch Rya, I did not come fully awake until seven-thirty Monday morning, an hour and a half after I intended to leave our hiding place. Then I lay for another half hour, listening to the powerhouse overhead for indications that another search was under way.

I heard nothing alarming.

At eight o’clock I reached for Rya, found her hand, squeezed it, then squirmed forward from the horizontal drain into the bottom of the six-foot-high vertical line. I squatted there long enough to explore my silencer-fitted pistol in the dark and release its safety catches.

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