The Dark Tower

 Stephen King

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Eddie returned to John Cullum's old car the way he'd sometimes come out of nightmares as a teenager: tangled up and panting with fright, totally disoriented, not sure of who he was, let alone where.
He had a second to realize that, incredible as it seemed, he and Roland were floating in each other's arms like unborn twins in the womb, only this was no womb. A pen and a paperclip were drifting in front of his eyes. So was a yellow plastic case he recognized as an eight-track tape. Don't waste your time, John, he thought. No true thread there, that's a dead-end gadget if there ever was one.
Something was scratching the back of his neck. Was it the domelight of John Cullum's scurgy old Galaxie? By God he thought it w-
Then gravity reasserted itself and they fell, with meaningless objects raining down all around them. The floormat which had been floating around in the Ford's cabin landed draped over the steering wheel. Eddie's midsection hit the top of the front seat and air exploded out of him in a rough whoosh.
Roland landed beside him, and on his bad hip. He gave a single barking cry and then began to pull himself back into the front seat.
Eddie opened his mouth to speak. Before he could, Callahan's voice filled his head: Hile, Roland! Hile, gunslinger!
How much psychic effort had it cost the Pere to speak from that other world? And behind it, faint but there, the sound of besual, triumphant cries. Howls that were not quite words.
Eddie's wide and startled eyes met Roland's faded blue ones. He reached out for the gunslinger's left hand, thinking-
He's going. Great God, I think the Pere is going.
May you find your Tower, Roland, and breach it-
"-and may you climb to the top," Eddie breathed.
They were back in John Cullum's car and parked-askew but otherwise peacefully enough-at the side of Kansas Road in the shady early-evening hours of a summer's day, but what Eddie saw was the orange hell-light of that restaurant that wasn't a restaurant at all but a den of cannibals. The thought that there could be such things, that people walked past their hiding place each and every day, not knowing what was inside, not feeling the greedy eyes that perhaps marked them and measured them-
Then, before he could think further, he cried out with pain as phantom teeth settled into his neck and cheeks and midriff; as his mouth was violently kissed by nettles and his testicles were skewered. He screamed, clawing at the air with his free hand, until Roland grabbed it and forced it down.
"Stop, Eddie. Stop. They're gone." A pause. The connection broke and the pain faded. Roland was right, of course. Unlike the Pere, they had escaped. Eddie saw that Roland's eyes were shiny with tears. "He's gone, too. The Pere."
"The vampires? You know, the cannibals? Did... Did they...?" Eddie couldn't finish the thought. The idea of Pere Callahan as one of them was too awful to speak aloud.
"No, Eddie. Not at all. He-" Roland pulled the gun he still wore. The scrolled steel sides gleamed in the late light. He tucked the barrel deep beneath his chin for a moment, looking at Eddie as he did it.
"He escaped them," Eddie said.
"Aye, and how angry they must be."
Eddie nodded, suddenly exhausted. And his wounds were aching again. No, sobbing. "Good," he said. "Now put that thing back where it belongs before you shoot yourself witfi it." And as Roland did: "What just happened to us? Did we go todash or was it another Beamquake?"
"I think it was a bit of both," Roland said. "There's a thing called aven kal, which is like a tidal-wave that runs along the Path of the Beam. We were lifted on it."
"And allowed to see what we wanted to see."
Roland thought about this for a moment, then shook his head with great firmness. "We saw what the Beam wanted us to see. Where it wants us to go."
"Roland, did you study this stuff when you were a kid? Did your old pal Vannay teach classes in... I don't know, The Anatomy of Beams and Bends O'The Rainbow?"
Roland was smiling. 'Yes, I suppose that we were taught such things in both History and Summa Logicales."
Roland didn't answer. He was looking out the window of Cullum's car, still trying to get his breath back-both the physical and the figurative. It really wasn't that hard to do, not here; being in this part of Bridgton was like being in the neighborhood of a certain vacant lot in Manhattan. Because there was a generator near here. Not sai King, as Roland had first believed, but the potential of sai King... of what sai King might be able to create, given world enough and time. Wasn't King also being carried on aven kal, perhaps generating the very wave that lifted him?
A man can't pull himself up by his own bootstraps no matter how hard he tries, Cort had lectured when Roland, Cuthbert, Alain, and Jamie had been little more than toddlers. Cort speaking in the tone of cheery self-assurance that had gradually hardened to harshness as his last group of lads grew toward their trials of manhood. But maybe about bootstraps Cort had been wrong.
Maybe, under certain circumstances, a man could pull himself up by them. Or give birth to the universe from his navel, as Gan was said to have done. As a writer of stories, was King not a creator?
And at bottom, wasn't creation about making something r o r a nothing-seeing the world in a grain of sand or pulling one's self up by one's own bootstraps?
And what was he doing, sitting here and thinking long Philosophical thoughts while two members of his tet were lost?
Get this carriage going," Roland said, trying to ignore the sweet humming he could hear-whether the Voice of the Beam or the Voice of Gan the Creator, he didn't know. "We've got to get to Turtleback Lane in this town of Lovell and see if we can't find our way through to where Susannah is."
And not just for Susannah, either. If Jake succeeded in eluding the monsters in the Dixie Pig, he would also head to where she lay. Of this Roland had no doubt.
Eddie reached for the transmission lever-despite all its gyrations, Cullum's old Galaxie had never quit running-and then his hand fell away from it. He turned and looked at Roland with a bleak eye.
"What ails thee, Eddie? Whatever it is, spill it quick. The baby's coming now-may have come already. Soon they'll have no more use for her!"
"I know," Eddie said. "But we can't go to Lovell." He grimaced as if what he was saying was causing him physical pain.
Roland guessed it probably was. "Not yet."
They sat quiet for a moment, listening to the sweedy tuned hum of the Beam, a hum that sometimes became joyous voices.
They sat looking into the thickening shadows in the trees, where a million faces and a million stories lurked, O can you say unfound door, can you say lost.
Eddie half-expected Roland to shout at him-it wouldn't be the first time-or maybe clout him upside the head, as the gunslinger's old teacher, Cort, had been wont to do when his pupils were slow or contrary. Eddie almost hoped he would. A good shot to the jaw might clear his head, by Shardik.
Only muddy thinking's not the trouble and you know it, he thought. Your head is clearer than his. If it wasn % you could let go of this luorld and go on hunting for your lost wife.
At last Roland spoke. "What is it, then? This?" He bent and picked up the folded piece of paper with Aaron Deepneau's pinched handwriting on it. Roland looked at it for a moment, then flicked it into Eddie's lap with a little grimace of distaste.
"You know how much I love her," Eddie said in a low, trained voice. "You know that."
Roland nodded, but without looking at him. He appeared be staring down at his own broken and dusty boots, and the dirty floor of the passenger-side footwell. Those downcast eyes, that gaze which would not turn to him who'd come almost to idolize Roland of Gilead, sort of broke Eddie Dean's heart. Yet he pressed on. If there had ever been room for mistakes, it was gone now. This was the endgame.
"I'd go to her this minute if I thought it was the right thing to do. Roland, this second! But we have to finish our business in this world. Because this world is one-way. Once we leave today,
July 9th, 1977, we can never come here again. We-"
"Eddie, we've been through all of this." Still not looking at him.
"Yes, but do you understand it? Only one bullet to shoot, one
"Riza to throw. That's why we came to Bridgton in the first place! God knows I wanted to go to Turtleback Lane as soon as John Cullum told us about it, but I thought we had to see the writer, and talk to him. And I was right, wasn't I?" Almost pleading now. "Wasn't I?"
Roland looked at him at last, and Eddie was glad. This was hard enough, wretched enough, without having to bear the turned-away, downcast gaze of his dinh.
"And it may not matter if we stay a little longer. If we concentrate on those two women lying together on those two beds,
Roland-if we concentrate on Suze and Mia as we last saw them-then it's possible we can cut into their history at that point. Isn't it?"
After a long, considering moment during which Eddie wasn t conscious of drawing a single breath, the gunslinger nodded. Such could not happen if on Turtleback Lane they ound what the gunslinger had come to think of as an "old-ones or" because such doors were dedicated, and always came out e same place. But were they to find a magic door somewhere aong Turtleback Lane in Lovell, one that had been left behind en the Prim receded, then yes, they might be able to cut in where they wanted. But such doors could be tricky, too; this they had found out for themselves in the Cave of Voices, when the door there had sent Jake and Callahan to New York instead of Roland and Eddie, thereby scattering all their plans into the Land of Nineteen.
"What else must we do?" Roland said. There was no anger in his voice, but to Eddie he sounded both tired and unsure.
"Whatever it is, it's gonna be hard. That much I guarantee you."
Eddie took the bill of sale and gazed at it as grimly as any Hamlet in the history of drama had ever stared upon the skull of poor Yorick. Then he looked back at Roland. "This gives us title to the vacant lot with the rose in it. We need to get it to Moses Carver of Holmes Dental Industries. And where is he? We don't know."
"For that matter, Eddie, we don't even know if he's still alive."
Eddie voiced a wild laugh. "You say true, I say thankya!
Why don't I turn us around, Roland? I'll drive us back to Stephen King's house. We can cadge twenty or thirty bucks off him-because, brother, I don't know if you noticed, but we don't have a crying dime between the two of us-but more important, we can get him to write us a really good hardboiled private eye, someone who looks like Bogart and kicks ass like Clint Eastwood. Let him track down this guy Carver for us!"
He shook his head as if to clear it. The hum of the voices sounded sweetly in his ears, the perfect antidote to the ugly todash chimes.
"I mean, my wife is in bad trouble somewhere up the line, for all I know she's being eaten alive by vampires or vampire bugs, and here I sit beside a country road with a guy whose most basic skill is shooting people, trying to work out how I'm going to start a fucking corporation!"
"Slow down," Roland said. Now that he was resigned to staying in this world a little longer, he seemed calm enough.
"Tell me what it is you feel we need to do before we can shake the dirt of this where and when from our heels for good."
So Eddie did.
Roland had heard a good deal of it before, but hadn't fully understood what a difficult position they were in. They owned the vacant lot on Second Avenue, yes, but their basis for ownership was a holographic document that would look mighty shaky in a court o' legal, especially if the powers-that-be from the Sombra Corporation started throwing lawyers at them.
Eddie wanted to get the writ of trade to Moses Carver, if he could, along with the information that his goddaughter, Odetta Holmes-missing for thirteen years by the summer of 1977-was alive and well and wanted above all things for Carver to assume guardianship, not just of the vacant lot itself, but of a certain rose growing wild within its borders.
Moses Carver-if still alive-had to be convinced enough by what he heard to fold the so-called Tet Corporation into Holmes Industries (or vice-versa). More! He had to dedicate what was left of his life (and Eddie had an idea Carver might be Aaron Deepneau's age by now) to building a corporate giant whose only real purpose was to thwart two other corporate giants, Sombra and North Central Positronics, at every turn. To strangle them if possible, and keep them from becoming a monster that would leave its destroyer's track across all the dying expanse of Mid-World and mortally wound the Dark Tower itself.
"Maybe we should have left the writ O'Trade with sai Deepneau,"
Roland mused when he had heard Eddie through to the end. "At least he could have located this Carver and sought him out and told our tale for us."
"No, we did right to keep it." This was one of the few things of which Eddie was completely sure. "If we'd left this piece of paper with Aaron Deepneau, it'd be ashes in the wind by now."
"You believe Tower would have repented his bargain and talked his friend into destroying it?"
"I know it," Eddie said. "But even if Deepneau could stand up to his old friend going yatta-yatta-yatta in his ear for on end-'Burn it, Aaron, they coerced me and now they mean to screw me, you know it as well as I do, burn it and we'll call die cops on those momsers'-do you think Moses Carver would believe such a crazy story?"
Roland smiled bleakly. "I don't diink his belief would be an issue, Eddie. Because, think thee a moment, how much of our crazy story has Aaron Deepneau actually heard)"
"Not enough," Eddie agreed. He closed his eyes and pressed the heels of his hands against them. Hard. "I can only think of one person who could actually convince Moses Carver to do the things we'd have to ask, and she's otherwise occupied. In the year of '99. And by then, Carver's gonna be as dead as Deepneau and maybe Tower himself."
"Well, what can we do without her? What will satisfy you?"
Eddie was thinking that perhaps Susannah could come back to 1977 without them, since she, at least, hadn't visited it yet. Well... she'd come here todash, but he didn't think that exactly counted. He supposed she might be barred from 1977
solely on the grounds that she was ka-tet with him and Roland.
Or some other grounds. Eddie didn't know. Reading the fine print had never been his strong point. He turned to ask Roland what he thought, but Roland spoke before he got a chance.
"What about our dan-tete?" he asked.
Although Eddie understood the term-it meant baby god or little savior-he did not at first understand what Roland meant by it. Then he did. Had not their Waterford dan-tete loaned them the very car they were sitting in, say thankya?
"Cullum? Is that who you're talking about, Roland? The guy with the case of autographed baseballs?"
"You say true," Roland replied. He spoke in that dry tone which indicated not amusement but mild exasperation. "Don't overwhelm me with your enthusiasm for the idea."
"But... you told him to go away! And he agreed to go!"
"And how enthusiastic would you say he was about visiting his friend in Vermong?"
"Mont," Eddie said, unable to suppress a smile. Yet, smiling or not, what he felt most strongly was dismay. He thought that scraping sound he heard in his imagination was Roland's o-fingered right hand, prospecting around at the very bottom of the barrel.
Roland shrugged as if to say he didn't care if Cullum had noken of going to Vermont or Barony o' Garlan. "Answer my question."
Cullum actually hadn't expressed much enthusiasm for the idea at all. He had from the very first reacted more like one of them than one of the grass-eaters among whom he lived (Eddie recognized grass-eaters very easily, having been one himself until Roland first kidnapped him and then began his homicidal lessons). Cullum had been clearly intrigued by the gunslingers, and curious about their business in his little town. But Roland had been very emphatic abovit what he wanted, and folks had a way of following his orders.
Now he made a twirling motion with his right hand, his old impatient gesture. Hurry, for your father's sake. Shit or get off the commode.
"I guess he really didn't want to go," Eddie said. "But that doesn't mean he's still at his house in East Stoneham."
"He is, though. He didn't go."
Eddie managed to keep his mouth from dropping open only with some effort. "How can you know that? Can you touch him, is that it?"
Roland shook his head.
"Then how-"
"Ka? Ka?" Just what the fuck does iki mean?"
Roland's face was haggard and tired, the skin pale beneath his tan. "Who else do we know in this part of the world?"
"No one, but-"
Then it's him." Roland spoke flatly, as if stating some obvious fact of life for a child: up is over your head, down is where your feet stick to the earth.
Eddie got ready to tell him that was stupid, nothing more an rank superstition, then didn't. Putting aside Deepneau, and the hideous Jack Andolini, John Cullum was the only person tiiey knew in this part of the world
(or on diis level of the Tower, if you preferred to diink of it that way). And, after the things Eddie had seen in the last few months-hell, in the last week-who was he to sneer at superstition?
"All right," Eddie said. "I guess we better try it."
"How do we get in touch?"
"We can phone him from Bridgton. But in a story, Roland, a minor character like John Cullum would never come in off die bench to save the day. It wouldn't be considered realistic."
"In life," Roland said, "I'm sure it happens all the time."
And Eddie laughed. What the hell else could you do? It was just so perfecdy Roland.
They had just passed this sign when Eddie said, "Root around in the glove-compartment a little, Roland. See if ka or the Beam or whatever left us a little spare change for the pay phone."
"Glove-? Do you mean this panel here?"
Roland first tried to turn the chrome button on the front, then got with the program and pushed it. The inside was a mare's nest that hadn't been improved by the Galaxie's brief period of weighdessness. There were credit card receipts, a very old tube of what Eddie identified as "tooth-paste" (Roland could make out the words HOLMES DENTAL on it quite clearly), a fottergraff showing a smiling little girl-Cullum's niece, mayhap-on a pony, a stick of what he first took for explosive (Eddie said it was a road flare, for emergencies), a magazine that appeared to be called YANKME... and a cigar-box.
Roland couldn't quite make out the word on this, although he thought it might be trolls. He showed the box to Eddie, whose eyes lit up.
"That says TOLLS," he said. "Maybe you're right about Cullum and ka. Open it up, Roland, do it please ya."
The child who had given this box as a gift had crafted a loving
(and rather clumsy) catch on the front to hold it closed.
Roland slipped the catch, opened the box, and showed Eddie a great many silver coins. "Is it enough to call sai Cullum's house?"
"Yeah," Eddie said. "Looks like enough to call Fairbanks,
Alaska. It won't help us a bit, though, if Cullum's on the road to Vermont."
The Bridgton town square was bounded by a drug store and a pizza-joint on one side; a movie theater (The Magic Lantern)
and a department store (Reny's) on the other. Between the theater and the department store was a little plaza equipped with benches and three pay phones.
Eddie swept through Cullum's box of toll-change and gave Roland six dollars in quarters. "I want you to go over there," he said, pointing at the drug store, "and get me a tin of aspirin. Will you know it when you see it?"
"Astin. I'll know it."
"The smallest size they have is what I want, because six bucks really isn't much money. Then go next door, to that place that says Bridgton Pizza and Sandwiches. If you've still got at least sixteen of those money-coins left, tell them you want a hoagie."
Roland nodded, which wasn't good enough for Eddie. "Let me hear you say it."
"Ho-" Eddie quit. "Roland, let me hear you say 'poorboy.'"
"Poor boy."
"Good. If you have at least sixteen quarters left, ask for a poorboy. Can you say 'lots of mayo'?"
"Lots of mayo."
"Yeah. If you have less than sixteen, ask for a salami and cheese sandwich. Sandwich, not a popkin."
"Salommy sanditch."
"Close enough. And don't say anything else unless you absolutely have to."
Roland nodded. Eddie was right, it would be better if he did not speak. People only had to look at him to know, in their secret hearts, that he wasn't from these parts. They also had a tendency to step away from him. Better he not exacerbate that.
The gunslinger dropped a hand to his left hip as he turned toward the street, an old habit that paid no comfort this time; both revolvers were in die trunk of Cullum's Galaxie, wrapped in their cartridge belts.
Before he could get going again, Eddie grabbed his shoulder.
The gunslinger swung round, eyebrows raised, faded eyes on his friend.
"We have a saying in our world, Roland-we say so-and-so was grasping at straws."
"And what does it mean?"
"This," Eddie said bleakly. "What we're doing. Wish me good luck, fella."
Roland nodded. "Aye, so I do. Both of us."
He began to turn away and Eddie called him back again.
This time Roland wore an expression of faint impatience.
"Don't get killed crossing the street," Eddie said, and then briefly mimicked Cullum's way of speaking. "Summah folks're thicker'n ticks on a dog. And they're not ridin hosses."
"Make your call, Eddie," Roland said, and then crossed Bridgton's high street with slow confidence, walking in the same rolling gait that had taken him across a thousand other high streets in a thousand small towns.
Eddie watched him, then turned to the telephone and consulted the directions. After that he lifted the receiver and dialed the number for Directory Assistance.
He didn't go, the gunslinger had said, speaking of John Cullum with flat certainty. And why? Because Cullum was the end of the line, there was no one else for them to call. Roland of Gilead's damned old ka, in other words.
After a brief wait, the Directory Assistance operator coughed up Cullum's number. Eddie tried to memorize it-he'd always been good at remembering numbers, Henry had sometimes called him Little Einstein-but this time he couldn't be confident of his ability. Something seemed to have happened either to his thinking processes in general (which he didn't believe) or to his ability to remember certain artifacts of this world (which he sort of did). As he asked for the number a second time-and wrote it in the gathered dust on the phone kiosk's litde ledge-Eddie found himself wondering if he'd still be able to read a novel, or follow the plot of a movie from the succession of images on a screen. He rather doubted it. And what did it matter? The Magic Lantern next door was showing Star Wars, and Eddie thought that if he made it to the end of his life's path and into the clearing without another look at Luke Skywalker and another listen to Darth Vader's noisy breathing, he'd still be pretty much okay.
"Thanks, ma'am," he told the operator, and was about to dial again when there was a series of explosions behind him. Eddie whirled, heart-rate spiking, right hand dipping, expecting to see Wolves, or harriers, or maybe that son of a bitch Flagg-
What he saw was a convertible filled with laughing, goofytaced high school boys with sunburned cheeks. One of had just tossed out a string of firecrackers left over from the Fourth of July-what kids their age in Calla Bryn Sturgis would have called bangers.
If I'd had a gun on my hip, I might have shot a couple of those bucks, Eddie thought. You want to talk goofy, start with that. Yes.
Well. And maybe he might not have. Either way, he had to admit the possibility that he was no longer exactly safe in the more civilized quarters.
"Live with it," Eddie murmured, then added the great sage and eminent junkie's favorite advice for life's little problems:
"Deal.n He dialed John Cullum's number on the old-fashioned rotary phone, and when a robot voice-Blaine the Mono's great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, mayhap-asked him to deposit ninety cents, Eddie dropped in a buck. What the hell, he was saving the world.
The phone rang once... rang twice... and was picked up!
"John!" Eddie almost yelled. "Good fucking deal! John, this is-"
But the voice on the other end was already speaking. As a child of the late eighties, Eddie knew this did not bode well.
"-have reached John Cullum of Cullum Caretakin and Camp Checkin," said Cullum's voice in its familiar slow Yankee drawl. "I gut called away kinda sudden, don'tcha know, and can't say with any degree a' certainty just when I'll be back. If this inconveniences ya, I beg pa'aad'n, but you c'n call Gary Crowell, at 926-5555, or Junior Barker, at 929-4211."
Eddie's initial dismay had departed-depaa-aated, Cullum himself would have said-right around the time the man's wavery recorded voice was telling Eddie that he, Cullum, couldn't say with any degree of certainty when he'd be back.
Because Cullum was right there, in his hobbity little cottage on the western shore of Keywadin Pond, either sitting on his overstuffed hobbity sofa or in one of the two similarly overstuffed hobbity chairs. Sitting there and monitoring messages on his no-doubt-clunky mid-seventies answering machine. And Eddie knew this because... well... Because he just knew.
The primitive recording couldn't completely hide the sly humor that had crept into Cullum's voice by the end of the message.
"Coss, if you're still set on talkin to nobody but yours truly, you c'n leave me a message at the beep. Keep it short." The final word came out shawt.
Eddie waited for the beep and then said, "It's Eddie Dean,
John. I know you're there, and I think you've been waiting for my call. Don't ask me why I think that, because I don't really know, but-"
There was a loud click in Eddie's ear, and then Cullum's voice-his live voice-said, "Hello there, son, you takin good care of my car?"
For a moment Eddie was too bemused to reply, for Cullum's Downeast accent had turned the question into something quite different: You takin good care ofmyka?
"Boy?" Cullum asked, suddenly concerned. 'You still on the wire?"
"Yeah," Eddie said, "and so are you. I thought you were going to Vermont, John."
"Well, I tell you what. This place ain't seen a day this excitin prob'ly since South Stoneham Shoe burnt down in 1923. The cops've gut all the ruds out of town blocked off."
Eddie was sure they were letting folks through the roadblocks if they could show proper identification, but he ignored that issue in favor of something else. "Want to tell me you couldn't find your way out of that town without seeing a single cop, if it suited your fancy?"
There was a brief pause. In it, Eddie became aware of someone at his elbow. He didn't turn to look; it was Roland. Who else in this world would smell-subtly but unquestionably-of another world?
"Oh, well," Cullum said at last. "Maybe I do know a woods road or two that come out over in Lovell. It's been a dry summer, n I guess I could get m'truck up em."
"One or two?"
"Well, say three or four." A pause, which Eddie didn't break.
He was having too much fun. "Five or six," Cullum amended, and Eddie chose not to respond to this, either. "Eight," Cullum said at last, and when Eddie laughed, Cullum joined in. "What's on your mind, son?"
Eddie glanced at Roland, who was holding out a tin of aspirin between die two remaining fingers of his right hand.
Eddie took it gratefully. "I want you to come over to Lovell," he said to Cullum. "Seems like we might have a litde more palavering to do, after all."
"Ayuh, and it seems like I musta known it," Cullum said,
"although it was never right up on the top of my mind; up there I kep' thinkin 'I'll be gettin on the road to Montpelier soon," and still I kep' findin one more thing and one more diing to do around here. If you'da called five minutes ago, you woulda gotten a busy-I 'us on the phone to Charlie Beemer. It was his wife 'n sister-in-law that got killed in the market, don't you know. And then I thought, 'What the hell, I'll just give the whole place a good sweep before I put my gear in the back of the truck and go.' Notfiin up on top is what I'm sayin, but down underneath I guess I been waitin for your call ever since I got back here. Where'll you be? Turtleback Lane?"
Eddie popped open the aspirin tin and looked greedily at the little line-up of tablets. Once a junkie, always a junkie, he reckoned. Even when it came to this stuff. "Ayuh," he said, with his tongue only pardy in his cheek; he had become quite the mimic of regional dialects since meeting Roland on a Delta jet descending into Kennedy Airport. 'You said that lane was nothing but a two-mile loop off Route 7, didn't you?"
"So I did. Some very nice homes along Turtleback." A brief, reflective pause. "And a lot of em for sale. There's been quite a number of walk-ins in that part of the world just lately. As I may have also mentioned. Such things make folks nervous, and rich folks, at least, c'n afford to get away from what makes it ha'ad to sleep at night."
Eddie could wait no longer; he took three of the aspirin and tossed them into his mouth, relishing the bitter taste as they dissolved on his tongue. Bad as die pain currendy was, he would have borne twice as much if he could have heard from Susannah.
But she was quiet. He had an idea that the line of communication between them, chancy at best, had ceased to exist with the coming of Mia's damned baby.
"You boys might want to keep your shootin irons close at hand if you're headed over to Turtleback in Lovell," Cullum said. "As for me, I think I'll just toss m'shotgun in m'truck before I set sail."
"Why not?" Eddie agreed. "You want to look for your car along the loop, okay? You'll find it."
"Ayuh, that old Galaxie's ha'ad to miss," Cullum agreed.
"Tell me somethin, son. I'm not goin to V'mont, bvit I gut a feelin you mean to send me somewhere, if I agree to go. You mind tellin me where?"
Eddie thought that Mark Twain might elect to call the next chapter of John Cullum's no doubt colorful life A Maine Yankee in the Crimson King's Court, but elected not to say so.
"Have you ever been to New York City?"
"Gorry, yes. Had a forty-eight-hour pass there, when I was in the Army." The final word came out in a ridiculously flat drawl.
"Went to Radio City Music Hall and the Empire State Buildin, that much I remember. Musta made a few other tourist stops, though, because I lost thirty dollars out of m'wallet and a couple of months later I got diagnosed with a pretty fine case of the clap."
"This time you'll be too busy to catch the clap. Bring your credit cards. I know you have some, because I got a look at the receipts in your glove-compartment." He felt an almost insane urge to draw the last word out, make it compaa-aaaatment.
"Mess in there, ennit?" Cullum asked equably.
"Ayuh, looks like what was left when the dog chewed the shoes. See you in Lovell, John." Eddie hung up. He looked at the bag Roland was carrying and lifted his eyebrows.
"It's a poorboy sanditch," Roland said. "With lots of mayo, whatever that is. I'd want a sauce that didn't look quite so much like come, myself, but may it do ya fine."
Eddie rolled his eyes. "Gosh, that's a real appetite-builder."
"Do you say so?"
Eddie had to remind himself once more that Roland had almost no sense of humor. "I do, I do. Come on. I can eat my come-and-cheese sandwich while I drive. Also, we need to talk about how we're going to handle this."
The way to handle it, both agreed, was to tell John Cullum as much of their tale as they thought his credulity (and sanity) could stand. Then, if all went well, they would entrust him with the vital bill of sale and send him to Aaron Deepneau.
With strict orders to make sure he spoke to Deepneau apart from the not entirely trustworthy Calvin Tower.
"Cullum and Deepneau can work together to track Moses Carver down," Eddie said, "and I think I can give Cullum enough information about Suze-private stuff-to convince Carver that she's still alive. After that, though... well, a lot depends on how convincing those two guys can be. And how eager they are to work for the Tet Corporation in their sunset years. Hey, they may surprise us! I can't see Cullum in a suit and tie, but traveling around the country and throwing monkeywrenches in Sombra's business?" He considered, head cocked, then nodded with a smile. "Yeah. I can see that pretty well." A "Susannah's godfather is apt to be an old codger himself,"
Roland observed. "Just one of a different color. Such fellows often speak their own language when they're an-tet. And mayhap I can give John Cullum something that will help convince Carver to throw in with us."
Eddie was intrigued. "What kind?"
But before Roland could answer, they saw something that made Eddie stomp on the brake-pedal. They were in Lovell now, and on Route 7. Ahead of them, staggering unsteadily along the shoulder, was an old man with snarled and straggly white hair. He wore a clumsy wrap of dirty cloth that could by no means be called a robe. His scrawny arms and legs were whipped with scratches. There were sores on them as well, burning a dull red. His feet were bare, and equipped with ugly and dangerous-looking yellow talons instead of toes. Clasped under one arm was a splintery wooden object that might have been a broken lyre. Eddie thought no one could have looked more out of place on this road, where the only pedestrians they had seen so far were serious-looking exercisers, obviously from "away," looking ever so put-together in their nylon jogging shorts, baseball hats, and tee-shirts (one jogger's shirt bore the legend DON'T SHOOT THE TOURISTS).
The thing that had been trudging along the berm of Route 7 turned toward them, and Eddie let out an involuntary cry of horror. Its eyes bled together above the bridge of its nose, reminding him of a double-yolked egg in a frypan. A fang depended from one nostril like a bone booger. Yet somehow worst of all was the dull green glow that baked out from the creature's face. It was as if its skin had been painted with some sort of thin fluorescent gruel.
It saw them and immediately dashed into the woods, dropping its splintered lyre behind.
"Christ!" Eddie screamed. If that was a walk-in, he hoped never to see another.
"Stop, Eddie!" Roland shouted, then braced die heel of one hand against the dashboard as Cullum's old Ford slid to a dusty halt close to where the thing had vanished.
"Open the backhold," Roland said as he opened the door.
"Get my widowmaker."
"Roland, we're in kind of a hurry here, and Turtleback Lane's still three miles north. I really think we ought to-"
"Shut your fool's mouth and get it!" Roland roared, then ran to the edge of the woods. He drew a deep breath, and when he shouted after the rogue creature, his voice sent gooseflesh racmg up Eddie's arms. He had heard Roland speak so once or twice before, but in between it was easy to forget that the blood of a King ran in his veins.
He spoke several phrases Eddie could not understand, then one he could: "So come forth, ye Child of Roderick, ye spoiled, ye lost, and make your bow before me, Roland, son of Steven, of the Line of Eld!"
For a moment there was nothing. Eddie opened the Ford's trunk and brought Roland his gun. Roland strapped it on without so much as a glance at Eddie, let alone a word of thanks.
Perhaps diirty seconds went by. Eddie opened his mouth to speak. Before he could, the dusty roadside foliage began to shake. A moment or two later, the misbegotten thing reappeared.
It staggered with its head lowered. On the front of its robe was a large wet patch. Eddie could smell the reek of a sick thing's urine, wild and strong.
Yet it made a knee and raised one misshapen hand to its forehead, a doomed gesture of fealty that made Eddie feel like weeping. "Hile, Roland of Gilead, Roland of Eld! Will you show me some sigul, dear?"
In a town called River Crossing, an old woman who called herself Aunt Talitha had given Roland a silver cross on a finelink silver chain. He'd worn it around his neck ever since. Now he reached into his shirt and showed it to the kneeling creature-a slow mutie dying of radiation sickness, Eddie was quite sure-and the thing gave a cracked cry of wonder.
"Would'ee have peace at the end of your course, thou Child of Roderick? Would'ee have the peace of the clearing?"
"Aye, my dear," it said, sobbing, then added a great deal more in some gibberish tongue Eddie couldn't understand.
Eddie looked both ways along Route 7, expecting to see traffic-this was the height of the summer season, after all-but spied nothing in either direction. For the moment, at least, their luck still held.
"How many of you are there in these parts?" Roland asked, interrupting the walk-in. As he spoke, he drew his revolver and raised that old engine of death until it lay against his shirt.
The Child of Roderick tossed its hand at the horizon without looking up. "Delah, gunslinger," he said, "for here the worlds are thin, say anro con fa; sey-sey desenefanno billet cobair can. I Chevin devardan do. Because I felt sat for dem. Can-toi, can-tah, canDiscordia, aven la cam mah can. May-mi?Iffin lah vainen, eth-"
"How many dan devar?"
It thought about Roland's question, then spread its fingers
(there were ten, Eddie noted) five times. Fifty. Although fifty of what, Eddie didn't know.
"And Discordia?" Roland asked sharply. "Do you truly say so?"
"Oh aye, so says me, Chevin of Chayven, son of Hamil, minstrel of the South Plains that were once my home."
"Say the name of the town that stands near Castle Discordia and I'll release you."
"Ah, gunslinger, all there are dead."
"I think not. Say it."
"Fedic!" screamed Chevin of Chayven, a wandering musica who could never have suspected its life would end in such a far, strange place-not the plains of Mid-World but the mountains of western Maine. It suddenly raised its horrid, glowing face to Roland. It spread its arms wide, like something which has been crucified. "Fedic on the far side of Thunderclap, on the Path of the Beam! On VShardik, VMaturin, the Road to the Dark T-"
Roland's revolver spoke a single time. The bullet took the kneeling thing in the center of its forehead, completing the ruin of its ruined face. As it was flung backward, Eddie saw its flesh turn to greenish smoke as ephemeral as a hornet's wing.
For a moment Eddie could see Chevin of Chayven's floating teeth like a ghostly ring of coral, and then they were gone.
Roland dropped his revolver back into his holster, then pronged the two remaining fingers of his right hand and drew them downward in front of his face, a benedictory gesture if Eddie had ever seen one.
"Give you peace," Roland said. Then he unbuckled his gunbelt and began to roll the weapon into it once more.
"Roland, was that... was it a slow mutant?"
Aye, I suppose you'd say so, poor old thing. But the Rodericks are from beyond any lands I ever knew, although before the world moved on they gave their grace to Arthur Eld." He turned to Eddie, his blue eyes burning in his tired face. "Fedic is where Mia has gone to have her baby, I have no doubt.
Where she's taken Susannah. By the last casde. We must backtrack to Thunderclap eventually, but Fedic's where we need to go first. It's good to know."
"He said he felt sad for someone. Who?"
Roland only shook his head, not answering Eddie's question.
A Coca-Cola truck blasted by, and diunder rumbled in the far west.
"Fedic O'The Discordia," the gunslinger murmured instead.
"Fedic O'The Red Death. If we can save Susannah-and Jake-we'll backtrack toward the Callas. But we'll return when our business there is done. And when we turn southeast again..."
"What?" Eddie asked uneasily. "What then, Roland?"
"Then there's no stopping until we reach the Tower." He held out his hands, watched them tremble minutely. Then he looked up at Eddie. His face was tired but unafraid. "I have never been so close. I hear all my lost friends and their lost fathers whispering to me. They whisper on the Tower's very breath."
Eddie looked at Roland for a minute, fascinated and frightened, and then broke die mood with an almost physical effort.
"Well," he said, moving back toward the driver's door of the Ford, "if any of those voices tells you what to say to Cullum-the best way to convince him of what we want-be sure to let me know."
Eddie got in the car and closed the door before Roland could reply. In his mind's eye he kept seeing Roland leveling his big revolver. Saw him aiming it at the kneeling figure and pulling the trigger. This was the man he called both dinh and friend. But could he say with any certainty that Roland wouldn't do the same thing to him... or Suze... or Jake... if his heart told him it would take him closer to his Tower? He could not. And yet he would go on with him. Would have gone on even if he'd been sure in his heart-oh, God forbid!-that Susannah was dead. Because he had to. Because Roland had become a good deal more to him than his dinh or his friend.
"My father," Eddie murmured under his breath just before Roland opened the passenger door and climbed in.
"Did you speak, Eddie?" Roland asked.
"Yes," Eddie said. "Just a little farther." My very words."
Roland nodded. Eddie dropped the transmission back into Drive and got the Ford rolling toward Turtleback Lane. Still in the distance-but a little closer than before-thunder rumbled again.