Twilight Eyes Page 61

I was astounded. I’d figured it for Tuesday, at the latest, when they had arrived, as if stepping out of a fever dream. Instead I had been hauling Rya from tunnel to tunnel and worriedly monitoring her pulse for three full days before I had been rescued. And how long had she lain dead in my arms? One day, at least.

Realizing how long I’d been delirious, I felt suddenly wearier and full of despair. “What day . . . is it now?” My voice had grown even softer than a whisper, hardly louder than an exhalation.

“We got you back here just before dawn on Friday. It’s Sunday night right now. You’ve been pretty much unconscious for the three days you’ve been here, but you’re coming around. Weak and weary, but you’ll make it. By God, Carl Slim, I was wrong to tell you not to come. You’ve babbled some in your sleep, so I know a little about what you found in the mountain. It was something that could not be allowed to go on, wasn’t it? Something that would’ve been the death of all of us? You did well. You can be proud. You did damn well.”

I had thought I’d used up the tears allotted for one lifetime, but suddenly I was crying again. “How can you . . . say that? You were . . . right . . . so right. We shouldn’t have come.

He looked startled, puzzled.

“I was . . . a fool,” I said bitterly. “Taking the world . . . on my shoulders. No matter how many goblins I killed . . . no matter how badly I wrecked their haven . . . none of it’s worth losing Rya.”

“Losing Rya?”

“I’d let the goblins have the world . . . if only I could have Rya alive again.”

The most amazing expression descended upon that broken face. “But, dear boy, she is alive,” Joel said. “Somehow, hurt as you were, delirious, you carried her ninety percent of the way out of those mines, and you evidently made her drink enough water, and you kept her alive until we found the two of you. She was unconscious until late yesterday. She’s not well, and she’ll need a month to recuperate, but she’s not dead, and she’s not going to die. She’s at the other end of these stables, in a bed just two stalls away from this one!”

I swore I could walk that far. The length of a stable. That was nothing. I had walked back from Hell. I struggled to get out of bed, and I batted Joel’s hands away when he attempted to restrain me. But when I tried to stand, I fell on my side, and at last I allowed Joel to carry me as I had carried Rya.

Doc Pennington was with her. He hopped up from his chair so Joel could lower me into it.

Rya was in worse shape than I was. The bruise on her forehead, temple, and cheek had darkened and grown even uglier than when I had last seen it. Her right eye was blackened and badly bloodshot. Both eyes seemed to have sunk back into her skull. Where her skin was not discolored, it was milk-white and waxy. A fine dew of perspiration filmed her brow. But she was alive, and she recognized me, and she smiled.

She smiled.

Sobbing, I reached out and took her hand.

I was so weak that Joel had to hold my shoulders to keep me from tumbling out of the chair.

Rya’s skin was warm and soft and wonderful. She gave my hand a barely perceptible squeeze.

We had come back from Hell, both of us, but Rya had come back from an even more distant place.

That night, in the bed in my own stall, I woke to the sound of wind in the stable eaves, and I wondered if she had been dead. I had been so sure of it. No pulse. No breath. Down there in the mines I had thought of my mother’s ability to heal with herbal remedies, and I had raged at God because my gift, Twilight Eyes, was of no use to Rya in her time of need. I had demanded that God tell me why I could not heal as well or better than my mother had healed. Horrified by the thought of life without Rya, I had clutched her to my chest and had willed life into her, had poured some of my life energy into her as I might have poured water from a pitcher into a glass. Crazed, mad with grief, I had summoned up all my psychic ability and had tried to perform magic, the greatest magic of all, the magic heretofore reserved for God: striking the spark of life. Had it worked? Had God listened—and answered? I probably would never know for sure. But in my heart I believed I had brought her back. Because it was not just magic I had going for me. No, no. There was also love. A great sea of love. And maybe magic and love, together, can achieve what magic alone cannot.

Tuesday night, more than nine days after we went into the mines, the time had come to go home.

I was still stiff and sore where I’d been clawed and bitten, and my strength was half what I was used to. But I could walk with the help of a cane, and my voice had improved enough so I could talk for hours to Rya.

She had brief dizzy spells. Otherwise her recovery had begun to progress faster than mine. She walked better than I did, and her energy level was almost normal.

“The beach,” she said. “I want to lie on the warm beach and let the sun bake all this winter out of me. I want to watch the sandpipers working the surf for their lunch.”

Horton Bluett and Growler came to the stable to say good-bye. He had been invited to come with us to Gibtown and join the carnival, as Cathy Osborn had by now done, but he had declined. He was, he said, an old codger set in his ways, and although lonely at times, he had adjusted to loneliness. He still worried about what would happen to Growler if he died before the mutt, so he was going to rewrite his will to leave the dog to Rya and me, along with whatever money could be realized from his estate. “You’ll need it,” Horton said, “because this fur-faced behemoth will eat you out of house and home.”

Growler growled agreement.

“We’ll take Growler,” Rya said, “but we don’t want your money, Horton.”

“If you don’t get it,” he said, “it’ll wind up in the hands of the government, and a whole lot of the government everywhere is most likely run by goblins.”

“They’ll take the money,” Joel said. “But the whole discussion is moot, you know. You’re not going to die until you’ve outlived two more Growlers and probably the rest of us.”

Horton wished us luck in our secret war with the goblinkind, but I swore that I’d had enough of battle.

“I’ve done my part,” I said. “I can’t do any more. It’s too big for me, anyway. Maybe it’s too big for anyone. All I want is peace in my own life, the haven of the carnival—and Rya.”

Horton shook my hand, kissed Rya.

Saying good-bye was not easy. It never is.

On the way out of town I saw a Lightning Coal Company truck with that hateful insignia.

White sky.

Dark lightning.

When I looked at the symbol, I clairvoyantly perceived the void that I had seen before: the silent, dark, cold emptiness of a postnuclear world.

This time, however, the void was not quite silent, not entirely dark but speckled with distant lights, not nearly as cold, and not perfectly empty. Evidently, by the destruction we had wrought in the goblins’ haven, we had changed the future somewhat and had postponed doomsday. We had not canceled it completely. The threat remained. But it was more distant than it had been.

Hope is not foolish. Hope is the dream of a waking man.

Ten blocks farther, we drove past the elementary school where I had foreseen the deaths of scores of children in a great fire set by goblins. I leaned forward from the back of the rented van, poking my head over the front seat to get a good look at that building. No devastating wave of death-energy poured off the place. I saw no fire to come. Instead the only flames I perceived were those from the first blaze, which had already transpired. In changing the future of the Lightning Coal Company, we had somehow changed the future of Yontsdown as well. The children might die in other ways, in other goblin schemes, but they would not burn to death in their classrooms.

In Altoona we turned in the rented van and sold Rya’s station wagon to a used-car dealer. From the nearest airport, in Martinsburg, Arturo Sombra flew us back to Florida on Wednesday.

The world looked fresh and serene from the sky.

On the way home we did not talk much of goblins. It did not seem like the time for such a depressing subject. Instead we talked about the upcoming season. The carnival’s first date of the spring was in Orlando in just three weeks.

Mr. Sombra told us that he had let the contract with Yontsdown County lapse and that another outfit would be taking the date from us next summer and every summer thereafter.

“Prudent,” Joel Tuck said, and everyone laughed.

Thursday, on the beach, as sandpipers worked the foaming edge of the surf for their lunch, Rya said, “Did you mean it?”


“What you told Horton about giving up the battle.”

“Yes. I won’t risk losing you again. From here on, we keep our heads down. Our world is just us, you and me, and our friends here in Gibtown. It can be a good world. Narrow but good.”

The sky was high and blue.

The sun was hot.

The breeze off the Gulf was refreshing.

In time she said, “What about Kitty Genovese back there in New York with no one to help her?”

Without hesitation I said coldly, “Kitty Genovese is dead.”

I did not like the sound of those words or the resignation that they implied, but I did not recant them.

Far out on the sea a tanker was headed north.

Palm trees rustled behind us.

Two young boys in swimsuits raced past, laughing.

Later, though Rya did not pursue that line of conversation, I repeated what I had said, “Kitty Genovese is dead.”

That night, sleepless beside Rya in our own bed, I thought about some things that made no sense to me.

For one thing: the goblin freaks in the basement cage of the Havendahl house.

Why did the goblins keep their deformed children alive? Given their kind’s hivelike behavior and their inclination for brutally violent solutions, it would have been natural for them to kill their malformed young at birth. Indeed they had been engineered to have no emotions other than hate and sufficient fear to support a survival instinct. And, damn it, their maker—mankind—had not given them the capacity for love or compassion or parental responsibility. Their effort to keep their mutant offspring alive, even in the squalid conditions of that cage, was inexplicable.

For another thing: why was the powerhouse in that underground installation so large, producing a hundred times more energy than they would ever require?

When we had interrogated the goblin with pentothal, perhaps it had not told us the entire truth about the purpose of the haven and had not divulged the true long-range plans of the demons. Certainly they were stockpiling everything they would need to survive a nuclear war. But maybe they didn’t intend merely to stalk the post-holocaust ruins, obliterate surviving humans, and then kill themselves. Maybe they dared to dream of eradicating us, thereafter taking possession of the earth, supplanting their creators. Or their intentions might be too strange for me to grasp, as alien in scope and purpose as their thought processes were alien to ours.

All night I wrestled with the sheets.

Two days later, basking on the beach again, we heard the usual array of bad-news stories between the rock and roll. In Zanzibar the new Communist government was claiming it had not tortured and killed over a thousand political prisoners but had, in fact, turned them loose and told them they were free to go; somehow all one thousand seemed to have gotten lost on their way home. The crisis in Vietnam was growing worse, and some were mumbling about the need to send U.S. troops to stabilize the situation. Somewhere in Iowa a man had shot his wife, three kids, two neighbors; police were looking for him throughout the Midwest. In New York there had been another gangland slaying. In Philadelphia (or maybe Baltimore) twelve had died in a tenement fire.

Finally the news ended and the radio brought us the Beatles, the Supremes, the Beach Boys, Mary Wells, Roy Orbison, the Dixie Cups, J. Frank Wilson, Inez Fox, Elvis, Jan and Dean, the Ronettes, the Shirelles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Ballard—all the right stuff, all the real stuff, the magic. But somehow I could not get into the music as I usually did. In my mind, laid under the tunes, was the voice of the newscaster reciting a litany of murder and mayhem and disaster and war, sort of like that version of “Silent Night” that Simon and Garfunkel would record a few years later.

The sky was as blue as it had ever been. Neither had the sun ever been warmer nor the Gulf breeze sweeter. Yet I could not squeeze any joy from the pleasures of the day.

That damn newscaster’s voice kept echoing in my mind. I could not find a knob to click it off.

We had dinner that night in a great little Italian restaurant. Rya said the food was wonderful. We drank too much good wine.

Later, in bed, we made love. We cl**axed. It should have been fulfilling.

In the morning the sky was blue again, the sun warm, the breeze sweet—and again it was somehow all flat, without a pleasing texture.

Over a picnic lunch on the beach I said, “She may be dead, but she shouldn’t be forgotten.”

Playing innocent, Rya looked up from a small bag of potato chips and said, “Who?”

“You know who.”

“Kitty Genovese,” she said.

“Damn,” I said. “I really just want to pull my horns in, to wrap us in the safety of the carnival and live out our lives together.”

“But we can’t?”

I shook my head and sighed. “We’re a funny breed, you know. Not admirable most of the time. Not half what God hoped we’d be when He dipped His hands in the mud and started to sculpt us. But we have two great virtues. Love, of course. Love. Which includes compassion and empathy. But, damn it, the second virtue is as much a curse as it is a blessing. Call it conscience.”

Rya smiled, leaned over our picnic lunch, and kissed me. “I love you, Slim.”

“I love you too.”

The sun felt good.

That was the year the incomparable Mr. Louis Armstrong recorded “Hello, Dolly.” The number-one song of the year was the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and Barbra Streisand opened in Funny Girl on Broadway. Thomas Berger published Little Big Man, while Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison starred in My Fair Lady on the silver screen. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil-rights movement were big news. A San Francisco bar introduced the first topless dancer. That was the year they arrested the Boston Strangler, the year Kellogg’s introduced Pop-Tart pastries for your toaster, and the year the Ford Motor Company sold the first Mustang. That was the year the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series from the Yankees, and it was the year that Colonel Sanders sold his restaurant chain, but it was not the year that our secret war with the goblins ended.

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