Twilight Eyes Page 60

“It’s okay, Slim,” Horton said. “We’ll take over now. You just lay back and let us do what we need to do.”

“Fuck you,” I said.

Joel Tuck laughed and said, “That’s the spirit, boy. That’s the survivor spirit.”

I don’t remember much more. Fragments. I recall being carried through dark tunnels where flashlight beams swept back and forth and were, in my delirium, sometimes transformed into searchlights carving slices out of a night sky. The final vertical shaft. The last two tunnels. Someone lifting my eyelid . . . Joel Tuck looking at me with concern . . . his nightmare face as welcome as anything I had ever seen.

Then I was outside, in the open air, where the hard, gray clouds that seemed always to hang over Yontsdown County were hanging again, clotted and dark. There was a great deal of new snow on the ground, perhaps two feet of it or more. I thought back to the storm that had been pending on Sunday morning, when Horton had taken us into the mines, and that was when I began to realize I was not dreaming. The storm had come and gone, and the mountains were buried under a blanket of fresh snow.

Sleds. They had two long bobsleds, the kind with wide, ski-type runners and a seat with a back on it. And blankets. Lots and lots of blankets. They strapped me into one sled and wrapped me up in a couple of warm wool covers. They put Rya’s body on the other sled.

Joel crouched beside me. “I don’t think you’re altogether with us, Carl Slim, but I hope some of what I say will sink into you. We came here overland, by a roundabout route, ’cause the goblins have been keeping a tight watch on all the mountain roads and trails ever since you blew the hell out of the Lightning Coal Company. We’ve got a long, hard way to go, and we’ve got to go it as quiet as we can. Do you read me?”

“I saw a dog’s bones down in Hell,” I told him, amazed to hear those words coming out of me, “and I think Lucifer probably wants to grow hydroponic tomatoes because then he can fry up souls and have club sandwiches.”

“Delirious,” Horton Bluett said.

Joel put a hand on my face, as if by that touch he could focus my fragmented attention for a moment. “Listen good and hard, my young friend. If you start wailing like you were wailing down there in the ground, if you start babbling or sobbing, we’ll have to put a gag on you, which I sure don’t want to do because you’re having some trouble getting your breath now and then. But we can’t risk drawing attention to ourselves. Do you hear me?”

“We’ll play the rat game again,” I said, “like in the powerhouse, all quick and silent, creeping down the drains.”

That must have sounded like more nonsense to him, but it was as close as I seemed able to come to expressing an understanding of what he was telling me.

Fragments. I recall being hauled on the bobsled by Joel. Luke Bendingo pulled Rya’s body. Now and then, for short spells, the indomitable Horton Bluett relieved Luke and Joel, bull-strong in spite of his age. Deer paths in the forest. Overhanging evergreens forming a canopy—green needles, some sheathed in ice. A frozen stream used for a highway. An open field. Staying close to the gloom of the forest’s edge. A rest stop. Hot broth poured into me from a thermos bottle. A darkening sky. Wind. Night.

By nightfall I knew I would live. I was going home. But home would not be home without Rya. And what was the point of living if I had to live without her?

Chapter thirty-two



Dreams of death and loneliness.

Dreams of loss and sorrow.

I slept more than not. And when my sleep was interrupted, the culprit was usually Doc Pennington, the reformed alcoholic who served as the much-loved carnival physician for the Sombra Brothers and who had nursed me back to health once before, when I had been hiding out in Gloria Neames’s trailer after killing Lisle Kelsko and his deputy. Doc diligently applied ice packs to my head, gave me injections, kept a close watch on my pulse, and encouraged me to drink as much water and—later—as much juice as I was able.

I was in a strange place: a small room with rough board walls that, on two sides, did not reach all the way to the wooden ceiling. Dirt floor. The top half of the wooden door was missing, as if it was a Dutch door that the carpenters had not finished installing. An old iron bed. A single lamp standing on an apple crate. A chair in which Doc Pennington sat or in which the others rested when they came to visit me. A portable electric space heater stood in one corner, its coils glowing red.

“Terribly dry heat,” Doc Pennington said. “Not good. Not good at all. But it’s the best we can do right now. We don’t want you in Horton’s house. None of us can hang around there. Neighbors would notice a lot of guests, talk about it. Back here, we stay low. The windows are even blacked out, so light won’t show through. After what happened up at Lightning Coal, the goblins are busting their butts looking for newcomers, outsiders. Wouldn’t do to call attention to ourselves. ’Fraid you’ll just have to endure the dry heat even though it isn’t much help to your condition.”

Gradually the delirium passed.

Even when I grew clearheaded enough to talk rationally, I was too weak to form the words, and when the weakness passed, I was, for a while, too depressed to speak. In time, however, curiosity overcame me, and in a hoarse whisper I said, “Where am I?”

Doc Pennington said, “Out behind Horton’s house, at the end of his property. Stables. His late wife . . . she loved horses. They had horses once, way back before she died. This is a three-stall stable and big tack room, and you’re in one of the stalls.”

“I saw you,” I said, “and I wondered if I was back in Florida. You came all the way up here?”

“Joel figured there might be need of a doctor who could keep his mouth shut, which meant a carny, which meant me.”

“How many of you came?”

“Just Joel and Luke and me.”

I started to tell him that I was grateful for all the effort they had expended and for all the risks they had taken, and I started to say that I would, however, just like to be left alone to die, to join Rya where she had gone. But my mind fogged up again, and I drifted off to sleep.

Perchance to dream.

Bet on it.

When I woke, wind was howling beyond the stable walls.

In the chair by my bed, Joel Tuck sat watching me. Big as he was, with that face and that third eye and that steam-shovel jaw, it seemed as if he was an apparition, a specter of elemental power, the very thing about which the wind was howling.

“How you feeling?” he asked.

“Poorly,” I whispered hoarsely.

“Your mind clear?”

“Too clear.”

“I’ll tell you some of what happened, then. The Lightning Coal Company had a big disaster at their mine. As many as five hundred were killed. Maybe more. Maybe the worst mining disaster in history. Mine inspectors and safety officials from both the state and federal government have flown in, and rescue teams are still at work, but it doesn’t look good.” He grinned. “Of course, the inspectors and the safety officials and all the rescue workers are goblins; they’ve been careful about that. They’ll keep their secret about what they were really doing up there. I suppose, when you’ve gotten your voice and strength back, you’ll tell me just what it was they were doing.”

I nodded.

“Good,” he said. “That’ll make for a long, beery evening’s tale down in Gibtown.”

Joel told me more. Last Monday morning, immediately after the explosions at the mine, Horton Bluett had gone to the house on Apple Lane and had removed all of Rya’s and my things, including the kilos of plastique that we had not been able to carry into the mines. He figured something might have gone wrong and that we might be awhile getting out of the mountain. Soon, searching for the saboteurs who had hit the Lightning Coal Company, the goblin cops would be taking a close look at all newcomers and visitors in town, including Chief Klaus Orkenwold’s current tenants. Horton had thought it would be better if the house on Apple Lane was clean as a whistle, all trace of us whisked away, by the time the authorities decided to look there. Not being able to find the young geology students who had rented the place, Orkenwold would try to contact them through the university with which they were supposedly associated; he would discover that the story they’d told the real-estate agent was phony, and he would decide that they had been the saboteurs and, more importantly, that they were gone from Yontsdown County to points unknown.

“Then,” Joel said, “the heat will be off, or at least turned way down, and it’ll be safer for us to slip out and head back to Gibtown.”

“How did you—” My voice cracked; I coughed. “How could you...”

“Are you trying to ask me how I knew you needed my help?”

I nodded.

“That professor, Cathy Osborn, called me from New York,” he said. “That was early Monday morning. She was planning to arrive in Gibtown late Tuesday, she told me, except I’d never heard of her. She said you were supposed to call me on Sunday and explain the whole thing, but you hadn’t called, so I knew something was wrong.”

Rya and I had set out for the mines with Horton Bluett so early on Sunday morning that I had forgotten to make that phone call.

“I told Cathy to come on ahead, that Laura would take care of her when she arrived, and then I told Doc and Luke that you and Rya must be in need of carnies. Didn’t seem to be time to drive all the way up from Florida, so we went to Arturo Sombra himself. You see, he has a pilot’s license and owns a plane. He flew us into Altoona. There we rented a van and drove to Yontsdown, Luke and Doc up front, me in back because of my face—which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is apt to be too attention-getting. Mr. Sombra wanted to come with us, but he’s a pretty striking figure himself, and we thought it would be easier to keep a low profile without him. He’s in Martinsburg, near Altoona, waiting with the plane. He’ll take us home when we’re ready.”

Cathy Osborn (Joel explained) had told him where Rya and I had rented a place, and on arrival in Yontsdown, Monday evening, he and Doc and Luke had gone directly to Apple Lane and had found a deserted house, swept clean by Horton Bluett. Having heard of the explosion at the Lightning Coal Company that morning, and having learned from Cathy that Rya and I believed the goblin nest to be centered there, Joel knew we were to blame for the catastrophe. But he did not know then that all newcomers and out-of-towners were being hunted, watched, frequently questioned; he and Luke and Doc had been damned fortunate to drive across town to Apple Lane without attracting the attention and suspicion of the goblin-controlled police department.

“So,” Joel continued, “in our innocence we decided the only way to get a line on you and Rya was to stop at other houses along Apple Lane and talk to your neighbors. We figured you would have made contact with them as part of your information gathering. And, of course, we met up with Horton Bluett. I stayed in the van while Doc Pennington and Luke went in to talk to Horton. Then Doc came out after a time and said he thought Bluett knew something, that he might talk if he knew we really were friends of yours, and that the only way to convince him we were friends was to convince him we were carnies. Now there’s definitely nothing more convincing than this misshapen head and face of mine; what else could I be but a carny? And isn’t Horton something, though? You know what he said when he got a good long look at me? Of all the things he might have said, you know what it was?”

I shook my head weakly.

Grinning, Joel said, “Horton looks at me, and he just says, ‘Well, I guess you have a hard time buying hats that fit.’ Then he offers me some coffee.”

Joel laughed with delight, but I could not even summon a smile. Nothing would ever seem amusing to me again.

Seeing my state of mind, Joel said, “Am I tiring you?”


“I could go, let you rest, come back later.”

“Stay,” I said, because suddenly I could not bear to be alone.

The stable roof shook in a violent gust of wind.

The space heater clicked on again, and the dark coils glowed orange, then red, and the fan hummed.

“Stay,” I repeated.

Joel put a hand on my arm. “Okay. Just you rest easy and listen. So . . . once Horton accepted us, he told us everything about how he’d shown you the way into the mountain. We considered going up there after you that night, but there’d been a big snowstorm on Sunday, and a new one was moving in that Monday night, and Horton insisted we’d be signing our own death warrants by going up in the mountains in that weather. ‘Wait till it clears,’ he said. ‘That’s probably why Slim and Rya haven’t got back by now. They’re probably out of the mountain and just waiting for better weather to make their way down here.’ It sounded reasonable enough. That night we got the old stable fit for us, blacked out the windows, pulled our van in there—where it is right now, in fact, just outside this stall door—and settled down to wait.”

(By then, of course, I had been carrying and hoisting Rya through the labyrinth for many hours and had most likely reached the limits of that initial adrenaline-induced miracle of endurance.)

The second major storm had struck Monday night, laying another fourteen inches of snow down on top of the foot that had piled up on Sunday, and by late Tuesday morning the front had passed to the east. Both Horton’s truck and Joel’s rented van had four-wheel-drive, so they decided to head into the mountains in search of us. But Horton went first to reconnoiter quickly, then returned with the bad news that the mountain roads within miles of the Lightning Coal Company were crawling with “the stinking kind” in Jeeps and pickups.

“We didn’t know what to do,” Joel said, “so we chewed over the situation for a couple of hours and then, about one o’clock Tuesday afternoon, we decided the only way to slip in there and out again was overland, on foot. Horton suggested we take bobsleds, in case you were hurt—as, in fact, you were. Took a few hours to get everything together, so we didn’t head out until Tuesday midnight. Had to swing way the hell around any roads or houses, miles and miles. Didn’t make it up to that old tumbling-down mine entrance till midnight Wednesday. Then, being a cautious man, Horton insisted we hang back and watch the mine until dawn, to be sure there weren’t goblins around.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “Wait. Are you . . . telling me . . . that it was Thursday morning . . . when you found me?”

“That’s right.”

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies