The Dark Tower
Part One THE LITTLE RED KING Chapter VI:ON TURTLEBACK LANE
- Text Font:
- Text Size:
- Line Height:
- Line Break Height:
See this, I do beg ya, and see it very well, for it's one of the most beautiful places that still remain in America.
I'd show you a homely dirt lane running along a heavily wooded switchback ridge in western Maine, its north and south ends spilling onto Route 7 about two miles apart. Just west of this ridge, like a jeweler's setting, is a deep green dimple in the landscape. At the bottom of it-the stone in the setting-is Kezar Lake. Like all mountain lakes, it may change its aspect half a dozen times in the course of a single day, for here the weather is beyond prankish; you could call it half-mad and be perfectly accurate. The locals will be happy to tell you about icecream snow flurries that came to this part of the world once in late August (that would be 1948) and once spang on the Glorious Fourth (1959). They'll be even more delighted to tell you about the tornado that came blasting across the lake's frozen surface in January of 1971, sucking up snow and creating a whirling mini-blizzard that crackled with thunder in its middle.
Hard to believe such crazy-jane weather, but you could go and see Gary Barker, if you don't believe me; he's got the pictures to prove it.
Today the lake at the bottom of the dimple is blacker than homemade sin, not just reflecting the thunderheads massing overhead but amplifying their mood. Every now and then a splinter of silver streaks across that obsidian looking-glass as lightning stabs out of the clouds overhead. The sound of thunder rolls through the congested sky west to east, like the wheels of some great stone bucka rolling down an alley in the sky. The pines and oaks and birches are still and all the world holds its breath. All shadows have disappeared. The birds have fallen silent. Overhead another of those great waggons rolls its solemn course, and in its wake-hark!-we hear an engine. Soon enough John Cullum's dusty Ford Galaxie appears with Eddie Dean's anxious face rising behind the wheel and the headlights shining in the premature gathering dark.
Eddie opened his mouth to ask Roland how far they were going, but of course he knew. Turtleback Lane's south end was marked by a sign bearing a large black 1, and each of the driveways splitting off lakeward to their left bore another, higher number.
They caught glimpses of the water through the trees, but the houses themselves were below them on the slope and tucked out of sight. Eddie seemed to taste ozone and electric grease with every breath he drew, and twice patted the hair on the nape of his neck, sure it would be standing on end. It wasn't, but knowing it didn't change the nervous, witchy feeling of exhilaration that kept sweeping through him, lighting up his solar plexus like an overloaded circuit-breaker and spreading out from there. It was the storm, of course; he just happened to be one of those people who feel them coming along the ends of their nerves. But never one's approach as strongly as this.
It's not all the storm, and you know it.
No, of course not. Although he thought all those wild volts might somehow have facilitated his contact with Susannah. It came and went like the reception you sometimes got from distant radio stations at night, but since their meeting with
(Ye Child of Roderick, ye spoiled, ye lost)
Chevin of Chayven, it had become much stronger. Because this whole part of Maine was thin, he suspected, and close to many worlds. Just as their ka-tet was close to whole again. For Jake was with Susannah, and the two of them seemed to be safe enough for the time being, with a solid door between them and their pursuers. Yet there was something ahead of those two, as well-something Susannah either didn't want to talk about or couldn't make clear. Even so, Eddie had sensed both her horror of it and her terror that it might come back, and he thought he knew what it was: Mia's baby. Which had been Susannah's as well in some way he still didn't fully understand. Why an armed woman should be afraid of an infant, Eddie didn't know, but he was sure that if she was, there must be a good reason for it.
They passed a sign that said FENN, I 1, and another that said ISRAEL, 12. Then they came around a curve and Eddie stamped on the Galaxie's brakes, bringing the car to a hard and dusty stop. Parked at the side of the road beside a sign reading BECKHARDT, 13, was a familiar Ford pickup truck and an even more familiar man leaning nonchalantly against the truck's rustspotted longbed, dressed in cuffed bluejeans and an ironed blue chambray shirt buttoned all the way to the closeshaved, watded neck. He also wore a Boston Red Sox cap tilted just a little to one side as if to say / got the drop on you, partner. He was smoking a pipe, the blue smoke rising and seeming to hang suspended around his seamed and good-humored face on the breathless pre-storm air.
All this Eddie saw with the clarity of his amped-up nerves, aware that he was smiling as you do when you come across an old friend in a strange place-the Pyramids of Egypt, the marketplace in old Tangiers, maybe an island off the coast of Formosa, or Turtleback Lane in Lovell on a thunderstruck afternoon in the summer of 1977. And Roland was also smiling.
Old long, tall, and ugly-smiling! Wonders never ceased, it seemed.
They got out of the car and approached John Cullum.
Roland raised a fist to his forehead and bent his knee a little.
"Hile, John! I see you very well."
"Ayuh, see you, too," John Cullum said. "Clear as day." He skimmed a salute outward from beneath the brim of his cap and above the tangle of his eyebrows. Then he dipped his chin in Eddie's direction. "Young fella."
"Long days and pleasant nights," Eddie said, and touched his knuckles to his brow. He was not from this world, not anymore, and it was a relief to give up the pretense.
"That's a pretty thing to say," John remarked. Then: "I beat you here. Kinda thought I might."
Roland looked around at the woods on both sides of the road, and at the lane of gathering darkness in the sky above it.
"I don't think this is quite the place...?" In his voice was the barest touch of a question.
"Nope, it ain't quite the place you want to finish up," John agreed, puffing his pipe. "I passed where you want to finish up on m'way in, and I tell you this: if you mean to palaver, we better do it here rather than there. You go up there, you won't be able t'do nawthin but gape. I tell you, I ain't never seen the beat of it." For a moment his face shone like the face of a child who's caught his first firefly in ajar and Eddie saw that he meant every word.
"Why?" he asked. "What's up there? Is it walk-ins? Or is it a door?" The idea occurred to him... and then seized him. "It is a door, isn't it? And it's open!"
John began to shake his head, then appeared to reconsider.
"Might be a door," he said, stretching the noun out until it became something luxurious, like a sigh at the end of a long hard day: doe-ahh. "Doesn't exactly look like a door, but... ayuh. Could be. Somewhere in that light?" He appeared to calculate. "Ayuh. But I think you boys want to palaver, and if we go up there to Cara Laughs, there won't be no palaver; just you standin there with your jaws dropped." Cullum threw back his head and laughed. "Me, too!"
"What's Cara Laughs?" Eddie asked.
John shrugged. "A lot of folks with lakefront properties name their houses. I think it's because they pay s'much for em, they want a little more back. Anyway, Cara's empty right now.
Family named McCray from Washington D.C. owns it, but they gut it up for sale. They've run onto some hard luck. Fella had a stroke, and she..." He made a bottle-tipping motion.
Eddie nodded. There was a great deal about this Towerchasing business he didn't understand, but there were also things he knew without asking. One was that the core of the walk-in activity in this part of the world was the house on Turtle-back Lane John Cullum had identified as Cara Laughs. And when they got there, they'd find the identifying number at the head of the driveway was 19.
He looked up and saw the storm-clouds moving steadily west above Kezar Lake. West toward the White Mountains, too-what was almost surely called the Discordia in a world not far from here-and along the Path of the Beam.
Always along the Path of the Beam.
"What do you suggest, John?" Roland asked.
Cullum nodded at the sign reading BECKHARDT. "I've caretook for Dick Beckhardt since the late fifties," he said. "Helluva nice man. He's in Wasin'ton now, doin something with the Carter administration." Caaa-tah. "I got a key. I think maybe we ought to go on down there. It's warm n dry, and I don't think it's gonna be either one out here before long. You boys c'n tell your tale, and I c'n listen-which is a thing I do tol'ably well-and then we can all take a run up to Cara. I... well I just never..."
He shook his head, took his pipe out of his mouth, and looked at them with naked wonder. "I never seen the beat of it, I tell you. It was like I didn't even know how to look at it."
"Come on," Roland said. "We'll all ride down in your cartomobile, if it does ya."
"Does me just fine," John said, and got into the back.
Dick Beckhardt's cottage was half a mile down, pine-walled, cozy.
There was a pot-bellied stove in the living room and a braided rug on the floor. The west-facing wall was glass from end to end and Eddie had to stand there for a moment, looking out, in spite of the urgency of their errand. The lake had gone a shade of dead ebony that was somehow frightening-like the eye of a zombie, he thought, and had no idea why he thought it. He had an idea that if the wind picked up (as it would surely do when the rain came), the whitecaps would ruffle the surface and make it easier to look at. Would take away that look of something looking back at you.
John Cullum sat at Dick Beckhardt's table of polished pine, took off his hat, and held it in the bunched fingers of his right hand. He looked at Roland and Eddie gravely. "We know each other pretty damn well for folks who haven't known each other very damn long," he said. "Wouldn't you say that's so?"
They nodded. Eddie kept expecting the wind to begin outside, but the world went on holding its breath. He was willing to bet it was going to be one hellacious storm when it came.
"Folks gut t'know each other that way in the Army," John said. "In the war." Aaa-my. And war too Yankee for representation.
"Way it always is when the chips're down, I sh'd judge."
"Aye," Roland agreed. "'Gunfire makes close relations,' we say."
"Do ya? Now I know you gut things to tell me, but before you start, there's one thing I gut to tell you. And I sh'd smile n kiss a pig if it don't please you good n hard."
"What?" Eddie asked.
"County Sheriff Eldon Royster took four fellas into custody over in Auburn couple of hours ago. Seems as though they was tryin to sneak past a police roadblock on a woods road and gut stuck for their trouble." John put his pipe in his mouth, took a wooden match from his breast pocket, and set his thumb against the tip. For the moment, however, he didn't flick it; only held it there. "Reason they 'us tryin to sneak around is they seemed to have quite a fair amount of fire-power." Fiah-powah.
"Machine-guns, grenades, and some of that stuff they call C-4.
One of em was a fella I b'lieve you mentioned-Jack Andolini?"
And with that he popped the Diamond Bluetip alight.
Eddie collapsed back in one of sai Beckhardt's prim Shaker chairs, turned his head up to the ceiling, and bellowed laughter at the rafters. When he was tickled, Roland reflected, no one could laugh like Eddie Dean. At least not since Cuthbert Allgood had passed into the clearing. "Handsome Jack Andolini, sitting in a county hoosegow in the State of Maine!" he said.
"Roll me in sugar and call me a fuckin jelly-doughnut! If only my brother Henry was alive to see it."
Then Eddie realized that Henry probably was alive right now-some version of him, anyway. Assuming the Dean brothers existed in this world.
"Ayuh, thought that'd please ya," John said, drawing the flame of the rapidly blackening match down into the bowl of his pipe. It clearly pleased him, too. He was grinning almost too hard to kindle his tobacco.
"Oh deary-dear," Eddie said, wiping his eyes. "That makes my day. Almost makes my year."
"I gut somethin else for ya," John said, "but we'll let her be for now." The pipe was at last going to his satisfaction and he settled back, eyes shifting between the two strange, wandering men he had met earlier that day. Men whose ka was now entwined with his own, for better or worse, and richer or poorer. "Right now I'd like t'hear your story. And just what it is you'd have me do."
"How old are you, John?" Roland asked him.
"Not s' old I don't still have a little get up n go," John replied, a trifle coldly. "What about y'self, chummy? How many times you ducked under the pole?"
Roland gave him a smile-the kind that said point taken, now let's change the subject. "Eddie will speak for both of us," he said. They had decided on this during their ride from Bridgton.
"My own tale's too long."
"Do you say so," John remarked.
"I do," Roland said. "Let Eddie tell you his story, as much as he has time for, and we'll both tell what we'd have you do, and then, if you agree, he'll give you one thing to take to a man named Moses Carver... and I'll give you another."
John Cullum considered this, then nodded. He turned to Eddie.
Eddie took a deep breath. "The first thing you ought to know is that I met this guy here in a middle of an airplane flight from Nassau, the Bahamas, to Kennedy Airport in New York. I
was hooked on heroin at the time, and so was my brouier. I was muling a load of cocaine."
"And when might this have been, son?" John Cullum asked.
"The summer of 1987."
They saw wonder on Cullum's face but no shade of disbelief.
"So you do come from the future! Gorry!" He leaned forward through the fragrant pipe-smoke. "Son," he said, "tell your tale. And don'tcha skip a goddam word."
It took Eddie almost an hour and a half-and in the cause of brevity he did skip some of the things that had happened to them. By the time he'd finished, a premature night had settled on the lake below them. And still the threatening storm neither broke nor moved on. Above Dick Beckhardt's cottage thunder sometimes rumbled and sometimes cracked so sharply they all jumped. A stroke of lightning jabbed directly into the center of the narrow lake below them, briefly illuminating the entire surface a delicate nacreous purple. Once the wind arose, making voices move through the trees, and Eddie thought It'll come now, surely it will come now, but it did not. Nor did the impending storm leave, and this queer suspension, like a sword hanging by the thinnest of threads, made him think of Susannah's long, strange pregnancy, now terminated. At around seven o'clock the power went out and John looked through the kitchen cabinets for a supply of candles while Eddie talked on-the old people of River Crossing, the mad people in the city of Lud, the terrified people of Calla Bryn Sturgis, where they'd met a former priest who seemed to have stepped directly out of a book. John put the candles on the table, along with crackers and cheese and a bottle of Red Zinger iced tea. Eddie finished with their visit to Stephen King, telling how the gunslinger had hypnotized the writer to forget their visit, how they had briefly seen their friend Susannah, and how they had called John Cullum because, as Roland said, there was no one else in this part of the world they could call. When Eddie fell silent, Roland told of meeting Chevin of Chayven on their way to Turtleback Lane.
The gunslinger laid the silver cross he'd shown Chevin on the table by the plate of cheese, and John poked the fine links of the chain with one thick thumbnail.
Then, for a long time, there was silence.
When he could bear it no longer, Eddie asked the old caretaker how much of the tale he believed.
"All of it," John said without hesitation. "You gut to take care of that rose in New York, don't you?"
"Yes," Roland said.
"Because that's what's kep' one of those Beams safe while most of the others has been broken down by these what-do-youcall-em telepathies, the Breakers."
Eddie was amazed at how quickly and easily Cullum had grasped that, but perhaps there was no reason to be. Fresh eyes see clear, Susannah liked to say. And Cullum was very much what the grays of Lud would have called "a trig cove."
"Yes," Roland said. 'You say true."
"The rose is takin care of one Beam. Stephen King's in charge of the other 'un. Least, that's what you think."
Eddie said, "He'd bear watching, John-all else aside, he's got some lousy habits-but once we leave this world's 1977, we can never come back and check on him."
"King doesn't exist in any of these other worlds?" John asked.
"Almost surely not," Roland said.
"Even if he does," Eddie put in, "what he does in them doesn't matter. This is the key world. This, and the one Roland came from. This world and that one are twins."
He looked at Roland for confirmation. Roland nodded and lit the last of the cigarettes John had given him earlier.
"I might be able to keep an eye on Stephen King," John said.
"He don't need to know I'm doin it, either. That is, if I get back from doin your cussed business in New York. I gut me a pretty good idear what it is, but maybe you'd better spell it out."
From his back pocket he took a battered notepad with the words Mead Memo written on the green cover. He paged most of the way through it, found a blank sheet, produced a pencil from his breast pocket, licked the tip (Eddie restrained a shudder), and then looked at them as expectandy as any freshman on the first day of high school.
"Now, dearies," he said, "why don't you tell your Uncle John the rest."
This time Roland did most of the talking, and although he had less to say than Eddie, it still took him half an hour, for he spoke with great caution, every now and then turning to Eddie for help with a word or phrase. Eddie had already seen the killer and the diplomat who lived inside Roland of Gilead, but this was his first clear look at the envoy, a messenger who meant to get every word right. Outside, the storm still refused to break or to go away.
At last the gunslinger sat back. In the yellow glow of the candles, his face appeared both ancient and strangely lovely. Looking at him, Eddie for the first time suspected there might be more wrong with him than what Rosalita Munoz had called "the dry twist." Roland had lost weight, and the dark circles beneath his eyes whispered of illness. He drank off a whole glass of the red tea at a single draught, and asked: "Do you understand the things I've told you?"
"Ayuh." No more than that.
"Ken it very well, do ya?" Roland pressed. "No questions?"
"Don't think so."
"Tell it back to us, then."
John had filled two pages with notes in his looping scrawl.
Now he paged back and forth between them, nodding to himself a couple of times. Then he grunted and returned the pad to his hip pocket. He may be a country cousin, but he's a long way from stupid, Eddie thought. And meeting him was a long way from just luck; that was ka having a very good day.
"Go to New York," John said. "Find this fella Aaron Deepneau.
Keep his buddy out of it. Convince Deepneau that takin care of the rose in that vacant lot is just about the most important job in the world."
"You can cut the just-about," Eddie said.
John nodded as if that went without saying. He picked up the piece of notepaper with the cartoon beaver on top and tucked it into his voluminous wallet. Passing the bill of sale to him had been one of the harder things Eddie Dean had had to do since being sucked through the unfound door and into East Stoneham, and he came close to snatching it back before it could disappear into the caretaker's battered old Lord Buxton.
He thought he understood much better now about how Calvin Tower had felt.
"Because you boys now own the lot, you own the rose," John said.
"The Tet Corporation now owns the rose," Eddie said. "A corporation of which you're about to become executive vicepresident."
John Cullum looked unimpressed with his putative new title. He said, "Deepneau's supposed to draw up articles of incorporation and make sure Tet's legal. Then we go to see this fella Moses Carver and make sure he gets on board. That's apt to be the hard part-" Haa-aad paa-aat "-but we'll give it our best go."
"Put Auntie's cross around your neck," Roland said, "and when you meet with sai Carver, show it to him. It may go a long way toward convincing him you're on the straight. But first you must blow on it, like this."
On their ride from Bridgton, Roland had asked Eddie if he could think of any secret-no matter how trivial or great-which Susannah and her godfather might have shared in common.
As a matter of fact Eddie did know such a secret, and he was now astounded to hear Susannah speak it from the cross which lay on Dick Beckhardt's pine table.
"We buried Pimsy under the apple tree, where he could watch the blossoms fall in the spring," her voice said. "And Daddy Mose told me not to cry anymore, because God thinks to mourn a pet too long..."
Here the words faded away, first to a mutter and then to nothing at all. But Eddie remembered the rest and repeated it now: "'... to mourn a pet too long's a sin.' She said Daddy Mose told her she could go to Pimsy's grave once in awhile and whisper 'Be happy in heaven' but never to tell anyone else, because preachers don't hold much with the idea of animals going to heaven. And she kept the secret. I was the only one she ever told." Eddie, perhaps remembering that post-coital confidence in the dark of night, was smiling painfully.
John Cullum looked at the cross, then up at Roland, wideeyed.
"What is it? Some kind of tape recorder? It ain't, is it?"
"It's a sigul," Roland said patiently. "One that may help you with this fellow Carver, if he turns out to be what Eddie calls "a hardass.'" The gunslinger smiled a litde. Hardass was a term he liked. One he understood. "Put it on."
But Cullum didn't, at least not at once. For the first time since the old fellow had come into their acquaintance-including that period when they'd been under fire in the General Store-he looked genuinely discomposed. "Is it magic?" he asked.
Roland shrugged impatiently, as if to tell John that the word had no useful meaning in this context, and merely repeated: "Put it on."
Gingerly, as if he thought Aunt Talitha's cross might glow redhot at any moment and give him a serious burn, John Cullum did as bid. He bent his head to look down at it (momentarily giving his long Yankee face an amusing burgher's double chin), then tucked it into his shirt.
"Gorry," he said again, very softly.
Aware that he was speaking now as once he'd been spoken to,
Eddie Dean said: "Tell the rest of your lesson, John of East Stoneham, and be true."
Cullum had gotten out of bed that morning no more than a country caretaker, one of the world's unknown and unseen.
He'd go to bed tonight with the potential of becoming one of the world's most important people, a true prince of the Earth.
If he was afraid of the idea, it didn't show. Perhaps he hadn't grasped it yet.
But Eddie didn't believe that. This was the man ka had put in their road, and he was both trig and brave. If Eddie had been Walter at this moment (or Flagg, as Walter sometimes called himself), he believed he would have trembled.
"Well," John said, "it don't mind a mite to ya who runs the company, but you want Tet to swallow up Holmes, because from now on the job doesn't have anything to do with makin toothpaste and cappin teeth, although it may go on lookin that way yet awhile."
Eddie got no further. John raised a gnarled hand to stop him. Eddie tried to imagine a Texas Instruments calculator in that hand and discovered he could, and quite easily. Weird.
"Gimme a chance, youngster, and I'll tell you."
Eddie sat back, making a zipping motion across his lips.
"Keep the rose safe, that's first. Keep the writah safe, that's second. But beyond that, me and this guy Deepneau and this other guy Carver are s'posed to build up one of the world's most powerful corporations. We trade in real estate, we work with... uh..." He pulled out the battered green pad, consulted it quickly, and put it away. "We work with 'software developers," whatever they are, because they're gonna be the next wave of technology. We're supposed to remember three words."
He ticked them off. "Microsoft. Microchips. Intel. And n'matter how big we grow-or how fast-our three real jobs are the same: protect the rose, protect Stephen King, and try to screw over two other companies every chance we get. One's called Sombra. Other's..." There was the slightest of hesitations.
"The other's North Central Positronics. Sombra's mostly interested in proppity, accordin to you fellas. Positronics... well, science and gadgets, that's obvious even to me. If Sombra wants a piece of land, Tet tries t'get it first. If North Central wants a patent, we try to get it first, or at least to frig it up for them.
Throw it to a third party if it comes to that."
Eddie was nodding approval. He hadn't told John that last, the old guy had come up with it on his own.
"We're the Three Toothless Musketeers, the Old Farts of Apocalypse, and we're supposed to keep those two outfits from gettin what they want, by fair means or foul. Dirty tricks most definitely allowed." John grinned. "I never been to Harvard Business School"-Haa-vid Bi'ness School-"but I guess I can kick a fella in the crotch as well's anyone."
"Good," Roland said. He started to get up. "I think it's time we-"
Eddie raised a hand to stop him. Yes, he wanted to get to Susannah and Jake; couldn't wait to sweep his darling into his arms and cover her face with kisses. It seemed years since he had last seen her on the East Road in Calla Bryn Sturgis. Yet he couldn't leave it at this as easily as Roland, who had spent his life being obeyed and had come to take the death-allegiance of complete strangers as a matter of course. What Eddie saw on the other side of Dick Beckhardt's table wasn't another tool but an independent Yankee who was tough-minded and smart as a whip... but really too old for what they were asking. And speaking of too old, what about Aaron Deepneau, the Chemotherapy Kid?
"My friend wants to get moving and so do I," Eddie said.
"We've got miles to go yet."
"I know that. It's on your face, son. Like a scar."
Eddie was fascinated by the idea of duty and ka as something that left a mark, something that might look like decoration to one eye and disfigurement to another. Outside, thunder cracked and lightning flashed.
"But why would you do this?" Eddie asked. "I have to know that. Why would you take all this on for two men you just met?"
John thought it over. He touched the cross he wore now and would wear until his death in the year of 1989-the cross given to Roland by an old woman in a forgotten town. He would touch it just that way in the years ahead when contemplating some big decision (the biggest might have been the one to sever Tet's connection with IBM, a company that had shown an everincreasing willingness to do business with North Central Positronics) or preparing for some covert action (the fire-bombing of Sombra Enterprises in New Delhi, for instance, in the year before he died). The cross spoke to Moses Carver and never spoke again in Cullum's presence no matter how much he blew on it, but sometimes, drifting to sleep with his hand clasped around it, he would think: 'Tis a sigul. Tis a sigul, dear-something that came from another world.
If he had regrets toward the end (other than about some of the tricks, which were filthy indeed and cost more than one man his life), it was that he never got a chance to visit the world on the other side, which he glimpsed one stormy evening on Turtleback Lane in the town of Lovell. From time to time Roland's sigul sent him dreams of a field filled with roses, and a sooty-black tower. Sometimes he was visited by terrible visions of two crimson eyes, floating unattached to any body and relentlessly scanning the horizon. Sometimes there were dreams in which he heard the sound of a man relentlessly winding his horn. From these latter dreams he would awake with tears on his cheeks, those of longing and loss and love. He would awake with his hand closed around the cross, thinking I denied Discordia and regret nothing; I have spat into the bodiless eyes of the Crimson King and rejoice; I threw my lot with the gunslinger's katet and the White and never once questioned the choice.
Yet for all that he wished he could have walked out, just once, into that other land: the one beyond the door.
Now he said: "You boys want all the right things. I can't put it any clearer than that. I believe you." He hesitated. "I believe in you. What I see in your eyes is true."
Eddie thought he was done, and then Cullum grinned like a boy.
"Also it 'pears to me you're offerin the keys to one humongous great engine." Engyne. "Who wouldn't want to turn it on, and see what it does?"
"Are you scared?" Roland asked.
John Cullum considered the question, then nodded.
"Ayuh," he said.
Roland nodded. "Good," he said.
They drove back up to Turtleback Lane in Cullum's car beneath a black, boiling sky. Although diis was the height of the summer season and most of the cottages on Kezar were probably occupied, diey saw not a single car moving in either direction. All the boats on the lake had long since run for cover.
"Said I had somethin else for ya," John said, and went to the back of his truck, where there was a steel lockbox snugged up against the cab. Now the wind had begun to blow. It swirled his scanty fluff of white hair around his head. He ran a combination, popped a padlock, and swung back the lockbox's lid. From inside he brought out two dusty bags the wanderers knew well. One looked almost new compared to the other, which was the scuffed no-color of desert dust and laced its long length with rawhide.
"Our gunna!" Eddie cried, so delighted-and so amazed-tfiat the words almost came out in a scream. "How in the name of hell-?"
John offered them a smile that augured well for his future as a dirty trickster: bemused on the surface, sly beneath. "Nice surprise, ain't it? Thought so m'self. I went back to get a look at Chip's store-what 'us left of it-while there was still a lot of confusion. People runnin hither, thither, and yon is what I mean to say; coverin bodies, stringin that yella tape, takin pitchers.
Somebody'd put those bags off to one side and they looked just a dight lonely, so I..." He shrugged one bony shoulder. "I scooped em up."
"This would have been while we were visiting with Calvin Tower and Aaron Deepneau in their rented cabin," Eddie said.
"After you went back home, supposedly to pack for Vermont. Is that right?" He was stroking the side of his bag. He knew that smooth surface very well; hadn't he shot the deer it had come from and scraped off the hair with Roland's knife and stitched the hide himself, with Susannah to help him? Not long after the great robot bear Shardik had almost unzipped Eddie's guts, that had been. Sometime in the last century, it seemed.
"Yuh," Cullum said, and when the old fellow's smile sweetened,
Eddie's last doubts about him departed. They had found the right man for this world. Say true and thank Gan big-big.
"Strap on your gun, Eddie," Roland said, holding out the revolver with the worn sandalwood grips.
Mine. Norv he calls it mine. Eddie felt a small chill.
"I thought we were going to Susannah and Jake." But he took the revolver and belted it on willingly enough.
Roland nodded. "But I believe we have a little work to do first, against those who killed Callahan and then tried to kill Jake." His face didn't change as he spoke, but both Eddie Dean and John Cullum felt a chill. For a moment it was almost impossible to look at the gunslinger.
So came-although they did not know it, which was likely more mercy than such as they deserved-the death sentence of Flaherty, the taheen Lamia, and their ka-tet.
Oh my God, Eddie tried to say, but no sound came out.
He had seen brightness growing ahead of them as they drove north along Turtleback Lane, following the one working taillight of Cullum's truck. At first he thought it might be the carriage-lamps guarding some rich man's driveway, then perhaps floodlights. But the glow kept strengthening, a bluegolden brilliance to their left, where the ridge sloped down to the lake. As they approached the source of the light (Cullum's pickup now barely crawling), Eddie gasped and pointed as a circle of radiance broke free of the main body and flew toward them, changing colors as it came: blue to gold to red, red to green to gold and back to blue. In the center of it was something that looked like an insect with four wings. Then, as it soared above the bed of Cullum's truck and into the dark woods on die east side of the road, it looked toward them and Eddie saw the insect had a human face.
"What... dear God, Roland, what-"
"Taheen," Roland said, and said no more. In the growing brilliance his face was calm and tired.
More circles of light broke free of the main body and streamed across the road in cometary splendor. Eddie saw flies and tiny jeweled hummingbirds and what appeared to be winged frogs. Beyond them...
The taillight of Cullum's truck flashed bright, but Eddie was so busy goggling that he would have rear-ended the man had Roland not spoken to him sharply. Eddie threw the Galaxie into Park without bothering to either set the emergency brake or turn off the engine. Then he got out and walked toward the blacktop driveway that descended the steep wooded slope. His eyes were huge in the delicate light, his mouth hung open. Cullum joined him and stood looking down. The driveway was flanked by two signs: CARA LAUGHS on the left and 19 on the right.
"Somethin, ain't it?" Cullum asked quiedy.
You got that right, Eddie tried to reply, and still no words would come out of his mouth, only a breathless wheeze.
Most of the light was coming from the woods to the east of the road and to the left of the Cara Laughs driveway. Here the trees-mosdy pines, spruces, and birches bent from a latewinter ice storm-were spread far apart, and hundreds of figures walked solemnly among them as though in a rustic ballroom, their bare feet scuffing through the leaves. Some were pretty clearly Children of Roderick, and as roont as Chevin of Chayven. Their skins were covered with the sores of radiation sickness and very few had more than a straggle of hair, but the light in which they walked gave them a beauty that was almost too great to look upon. Eddie saw a one-eyed woman carrying what appeared to be a dead child. She looked at him with an expression of sorrow and her mouth moved, but Eddie could hear nothing. He raised his fist to his forehead and bent his leg.
Then he touched the corner of one eye and pointed to her. I see you, the gesture said... or so he hoped. I see you very well. The woman bearing the dead or sleeping child returned the gesture, and then passed from sight.
Overhead, thunder cracked sharply and lightning flashed down into the center of the glow. An ancient fir tree, its lusty trunk girdled with moss, took the bolt and split apart down its center, falling half one way and half the other. The inside was on fire. And a great gust of sparks-not fire, not this, but something with the ethereal quality of swamplight-went twisting up toward the hanging swags of the clouds. In those sparks Eddie saw tiny dancing bodies, and for a moment he couldn't breathe.
It was like watching a squadron of Tinker Bells, there and then gone.
"Look at em," John said reverently. "Walk-ins! Gorry, there's hundreds! 1 wish my friend Donnie was here to see."
Eddie thought he was probably right: hundreds of men, women, and children were walking through the woods below them, walking through the light, appearing and disappearing and then appearing again. As he watched, he felt a cold drop of water splash his neck, followed by a second and a third. The wind swooped down through the trees, provoking another upward gush of those fairy-like creatures and turning the tree that had been halved by lightning into a pair of vast crackling torches.
"Come on," Roland said, grabbing Eddie's arm. "It's going to come a downpour and this'll go out like a candle. If we're still on this side when it does, we'll be stuck here."
"Where-" Eddie began, and then he saw. Near the foot of the driveway, where the forest cover gave way to a tumble of rocks falling down to the lake, was the core of the glow, for the time being too bright to look at. Roland dragged him in that direction. John Cullum remained hypnotized for a moment longer by the walk-ins, then tried to follow them.
"No!" Roland called over his shoulder. The rain was falling harder now, the drops cold on his skin and the size of coins.
"You have your work, John! Fare you well!"
"And you, boys!" John called back. He stopped and raised his hand in a wave. A bolt of electricity cut across the sky, momentarily lighting his face in brilliant blue and deepest black. "And you!"
"Eddie, we're going to run into the core of the light,"
Roland said. "It's not a door of the old people but of the Prim-that is magic, do ye ken. It'll take us to the place we want, if we concentrate hard enough."
"There's no time! Jake's told me where, by touch! Only hold my hand and keep your mind blank! I can take us!"
Eddie wanted to ask him if he was absolutely sure of that, but there was no time. Roland broke into a run. Eddie joined him.
They sprinted down the slope and into the light. Eddie felt it breathing over his skin like a million small mouths. Their boots crackled in the deep leaf cover. To his right was the burning tree. He could smell the sap and the sizzle of its cooking bark.
Now they closed in on the core of the light. At first Eddie could see Kezar Lake through it and then he felt an enormous force grip him and pull him forward through the cold rain and into that brilliant murmuring glare. For just a moment he glimpsed the shape of a doorway. Then he redoubled his grip on Roland's hand and closed his eyes. The leaf-littered ground ran out beneath his feet and they were flying.