Dark Tower VII, The (v. 7), Page 2Stephen King
“Get them, those are the ones Sayre…” Then Tweety stopped talking. His left hand—if you could call such an ugly talon a hand—touched the butt of his high-tech gun and then fell away. The brilliance seemed to leave his eyes. “They’re the ones Sayre … S-S-Sayre …” Another pause. Then the bird-thing said, “Oh sai, what is the lovely thing that you hold?”
“You know what it is,” Callahan said. Jake was moving and Callahan, mindful of what the boy gunslinger had told him outside—Make sure that every time I look on my right, I see your face—stepped back down from the table to move with him, still holding the turtle high. He could almost taste the room’s silence, but—
But there was another room. Rough laughter and hoarse, carousing yells—a party from the sound of it, and close by. On the left. From behind the tapestry showing the knights and their ladies at dinner. Something going on back there, Callahan thought, and probably not Elks’ Poker Night.
He heard Oy breathing fast and low through his perpetual grin, a perfect little engine. And something else. A harsh rattling sound with a low and rapid clicking beneath. The combination set Callahan’s teeth on edge and made his skin feel cold. Something was hiding under the tables.
Oy saw the advancing insects first and froze like a dog on point, one paw raised and his snout thrust forward. For a moment the only part of him to move was the dark and velvety skin of his muzzle, first twitching back to reveal the clenched needles of his teeth, then relaxing to hide them, then twitching back again.
The bugs came on. Whatever they were, the Turtle Maturin upraised in the Pere’s hand meant nothing to them. A fat guy wearing a tuxedo with plaid lapels spoke weakly, almost questioningly, to the bird-thing: “They weren’t to come any further than here, Meiman, nor to leave. We were told …”
Oy lunged forward, a growl coming through his clamped teeth. It was a decidedly un-Oylike sound, reminding Callahan of a comic-strip balloon: Arrrrrr!
“No!” Jake shouted, alarmed. “No, Oy!”
At the sound of the boy’s shout, the yells and laughter from behind the tapestry abruptly ceased, as if the folken back there had suddenly become aware that something had changed in the front room.
Oy took no notice of Jake’s cry. He crunched three of the bugs in rapid succession, the crackle of their breaking carapaces gruesomely clear in the new stillness. He made no attempt to eat them but simply tossed the corpses, each the size of a mouse, into the air with a snap of the neck and a grinning release of the jaws.
And the others retreated back under the tables.
He was made for this, Callahan thought. Perhaps once in the long-ago all bumblers were. Made for it the way some breeds of terrier are made to—
A hoarse shout from behind the tapestry interrupted these thoughts: “Humes!” one voice cried, and then a second: “Kahumes!”
Callahan had an absurd impulse to yell Gesundheit!
Before he could yell that or anything else, Roland’s voice suddenly filled his head.
The boy turned toward Pere Callahan, bewildered. He was walking with his arms crossed, ready to fling the ‘Rizas at the first low man or woman who moved. Oy had returned to his heel, although he was swinging his head ceaselessly from side to side and his eyes were bright with the prospect of more prey.
“We go together,” Jake said. “They’re buffaloed, Pere! And we’re close! They took her through here … this room …and then through the kitchen—”
Callahan paid no attention. Still holding the turtle high (as one might hold a lantern in a deep cave), he had turned toward the tapestry. The silence from behind it was far more terrible than the shouts and feverish, gargling laughter. It was silence like a pointed weapon. And the boy had stopped.
“Go while you can,” Callahan said, striving for calmness. “Catch up to her if you can. This is the command of your dinh. This is also the will of the White.”
“But you can’t—”
The low men and women in the Dixie Pig, whether in thrall to the sköldpadda or not, murmured uneasily at the sound of that shout, and well they might have, for it was not Callahan’s voice coming from Callahan’s mouth.
“You have this one chance and must take it! Find her! As dinh I command you!”
Jake’s eyes flew wide at the sound of Roland’s voice issuing from Callahan’s throat. His mouth dropped open. He looked around, dazed.
In the second before the tapestry to their left was torn aside, Callahan saw its black joke, what the careless eye would first surely overlook: the roast that was the banquet’s main entrée had a human form; the knights and their ladies were eating human flesh and drinking human blood. What the tapestry showed was a cannibals’ communion.
Then the ancient ones who had been at their own sup tore aside the obscene tapestry and burst out, shrieking through the great fangs that propped their deformed mouths forever open. Their eyes were as black as blindness, the skin of their cheeks and brows—even the backs of their hands—tumorous with wild teeth. Like the vampires in the dining room, they were surrounded with auras, but these were of a poisoned violet so dark it was almost black. Some sort of ichor dribbled from the corners of their eyes and mouths. They were gibbering and several were laughing: seeming not to create the sounds but rather to snatch them out of the air like something that could be rent alive.
And Callahan knew them. Of course he did. Had he not been sent hence by one of their number? Here were the true vampires, the Type Ones, kept like a secret and now loosed on the intruders.
The turtle he held up did not slow them in the slightest.
Callahan saw Jake staring, pale, eyes shiny with horror and bulging from their sockets, all purpose forgotten at the sight of these freaks.
Without knowing what was going to come out of his mouth until he heard it, Callahan shouted: “They’ll kill Oy first! They’ll kill him in front of you and drink his blood!”
Oy barked at the sound of his name. Jake’s eyes seemed to clear at the sound, but Callahan had no time to follow the boy’s fortunes further.
Turtle won’t stop them, but at least it’s holding the others back. Bullets won’t stop them, but—
With a sense of déjà vu—and why not, he had lived all this before in the home of a boy named Mark Petrie—Callahan dipped into the open front of his shirt and brought out the cross he wore there. It clicked against the butt of the Ruger and then hung below it. The cross was lit with a brilliant bluish-white glare. The two ancient things in the lead had been about to grab him and draw him into their midst. Now they drew back instead, shrieking with pain. Callahan saw the surface of their skin sizzle and begin to liquefy. The sight of it filled him with savage happiness.
“Get back from me!” he shouted. “The power of God commands you! The power of Christ commands you! The ka of Mid-World commands you! The power of the White commands you!”
One of them darted forward nevertheless, a deformed skeleton in an ancient, moss-encrusted dinner suit. Around its neck it wore some sort of ancient award … the Cross of Malta, perhaps? It swiped one of its long-nailed hands at the crucifix Callahan was holding out. He jerked it down at the last second, and the vampire’s claw passed an inch above it. Callahan lunged forward without thought and drove the tip of the cross into the yellow parchment of the thing’s forehead. The gold crucifix went in like a red-hot skewer into butter. The thing in the rusty dinner suit let out a liquid cry of pained dismay and stumbled backward. Callahan pulled his cross back. For one moment, before the elderly monster clapped its claws to its brow, Callahan saw the hole his cross had made. Then a thick, curdy, yellow stuff began to spill through the ancient one’s fingers. Its knees unhinged and it tumbled to the floor between two tables. Its mates shrank away from it, screaming with outrage. The thing’s face was already collapsing inward beneath its twisted hands. Its aura whiffed out like a candle and then there was nothing but a puddle of yellow, liquefyi
ng flesh spilling like vomit from the sleeves of its jacket and the legs of its pants.
Callahan strode briskly toward the others. His fear was gone. The shadow of shame that had hung over him ever since Barlow had taken his cross and broken it was also gone.
Free at last, he thought. Free at last, great God Almighty, I’m free at last. Then: I believe this is redemption. And it’s good, isn’t it? Quite good, indeed.
“H’row it aside!” one of them cried, its hands held up to shield its face. “Nasty bauble of the ‘heepGod, h’row it aside if you dare!”
Nasty bauble of the sheepGod, indeed. If so, why do you cringe?
Against Barlow he had not dared answer this challenge, and it had been his undoing. In the Dixie Pig, Callahan turned the cross toward the thing which had dared to speak.
“I needn’t stake my faith on the challenge of such a thing as you, sai,” he said, his words ringing clearly in the room. He had forced the old ones back almost to the archway through which they had come. Great dark tumors had appeared on the hands and faces of those in front, eating into the paper of their ancient skin like acid. “And I’d never throw away such an old friend in any case. But put it away? Aye, if you like.” And he dropped it back into his shirt.
Several of the vampires lunged forward immediately, their fang-choked mouths twisting in what might have been grins. Callahan held his hands out toward them. The fingers (and the barrel of the Ruger) glowed, as if they had been dipped into blue fire. The eyes of the turtle had likewise filled with light; its shell shone.
“Stand away from me!” Callahan cried. “The power of God and the White commands you!”
When the terrible shaman turned to face the Grandfathers, Meiman of the taheen felt the Turtle’s awful, lovely glammer lessen a bit. He saw that the boy was gone, and that filled him with dismay, yet at least he’d gone further in rather than slipping out, so that might still be all right. But if the boy found the door to Fedic and used it, Meiman might find himself in very bad trouble, indeed. For Sayre answered to Walter o’ Dim, and Walter answered only to the Crimson King himself.
Never mind. One thing at a time. Settle the shaman’s hash first. Turn the Grandfathers loose on him. Then go after the boy, perhaps shouting that his friend wanted him after all, that might work—
Meiman (the Canaryman to Mia, Tweety Bird to Jake) crept forward, grasping Andrew—the fat man in the tux with the plaid lapels—with one hand and Andrew’s even fatter jilly with the other. He gestured at Callahan’s turned back.
Tirana shook her head vehemently. Meiman opened his beak and hissed at her. She shrank away from him. Detta Walker had already gotten her fingers into the mask Tirana wore and it hung in shreds about her jaw and neck. In the middle of her forehead, a red wound opened and closed like the gill of a dying fish.
Meiman turned to Andrew, released him long enough to point at the shaman, then drew the talon that served him as a hand across his feathered throat in a grimly expressive gesture. Andrew nodded and brushed away his wife’s pudgy hands when they tried to restrain him. The mask of humanity was good enough to show the low man in the garish tuxedo visibly gathering his courage. Then he leaped forward with a strangled cry, seizing Callahan around the neck not with his hands but his fat forearms. At the same moment his jilly lunged and struck the ivory turtle from the Pere’s hand, screaming as she did so. The sköldpadda tumbled to the red rug, bounced beneath one of the tables, and there (like a certain paper boat some of you may remember) passes out of this tale forever.
The Grandfathers still held back, as did the Type Three vampires who had been dining in the public room, but the low men and women sensed weakness and moved in, first hesitantly, then with growing confidence. They surrounded Callahan, paused, and then fell on him in all their numbers.
“Let me go in God’s name!” Callahan cried, but of course it did no good. Unlike the vampires, the things with the red wounds in their foreheads did not respond to the name of Callahan’s God. All he could do was hope Jake wouldn’t stop, let alone double back; that he and Oy would go like the wind to Susannah. Save her if they could. Die with her if they could not. And kill her baby, if chance allowed. God help him, but he had been wrong about that. They should have snuffed out the baby’s life back in the Calla, when they had the chance.
Something bit deeply into his neck. The vampires would come now, cross or no cross. They’d fall on him like the sharks they were once they got their first whiff of his life’s blood. Help me God, give me strength, Callahan thought, and felt the strength flow into him. He rolled to his left as claws ripped into his shirt, tearing it to ribbons. For a moment his right hand was free, and the Ruger was still in it. He turned it toward the working, sweaty, hate-congested face of the fat one named Andrew and placed the barrel of the gun (bought for home protection in the long-distant past by Jake’s more than a little paranoid TV-executive father) against the soft red wound in the center of the low man’s forehead.
“No-ooo, you daren’t!” Tirana cried, and as she reached for the gun, the front of her gown finally burst, spilling her massive breasts free. They were covered with coarse fur.
Callahan pulled the trigger. The Ruger’s report was deafening in the dining room. Andrew’s head exploded like a gourd filled with blood, spraying the creatures who had been crowding in behind him. There were screams of horror and disbelief. Callahan had time to think, It wasn’t supposed to be this way, was it? And: Is it enough to put me in the club? Am I a gunslinger yet?
Perhaps not. But there was the bird-man, standing right in front of him between two tables, its beak opening and closing, its throat beating visibly with excitement.
Smiling, propping himself on one elbow as blood pumped onto the carpet from his torn throat, Callahan leveled Jake’s Ruger.
“No!” Meiman cried, raising his misshapen hands to his face in an utterly fruitless gesture of protection. “No, you CAN’T—”
Can so, Callahan thought with childish glee, and fired again. Meiman took two stumble-steps backward, then a third. He struck a table and collapsed on top of it. Three yellow feathers hung above him on the air, seesawing lazily.
Callahan heard savage howls, not of anger or fear but of hunger. The aroma of blood had finally penetrated the old ones’ jaded nostrils, and nothing would stop them now. So, if he didn’t want to join them—
Pere Callahan, once Father Callahan of ‘Salem’s Lot, turned the Ruger’s muzzle on himself. He wasted no time looking for eternity in the darkness of the barrel but placed it deep against the shelf of his chin.
“Hile, Roland!” he said, and knew
(the wave they are lifted by the wave )
that he was heard. “Hile, gunslinger!”
His finger tightened on the trigger as the ancient monsters fell upon him. He was buried in the reek of their cold and bloodless breath, but not daunted by it. He had never felt so strong. Of all the years in his life he had been happiest when he had been a simple vagrant, not a priest but only Callahan o’ the Roads, and felt that soon he would be let free to resume that life and wander as he would, his duties fulfilled, and that was well.
“May you find your Tower, Roland, and breach it, and may you climb to the top!”
The teeth of his old enemies, these ancient brothers and sisters of a thing which had called itself Kurt Barlow, sank into him like stingers. Callahan felt them not at all. He was smiling as he pulled the trigger and escaped them for good.
LIFTED ON THE WAVE
On their way out along the dirt camp-road which had taken them to the writer’s house in the town of Bridgton, Eddie and Roland came upon an orange pickup truck with the words CENTRAL MAINE POWER MAINTENANCE painted on the sides. Nearby, a man in a yellow hardhat and an orange high-visibility vest was cutting branches that threatened the low-hanging electrical lines. And did Eddie feel something then, some gathering force? Maybe a precursor of the wave rushing dow
n the Path of the Beam toward them? He later thought so, but couldn’t say for sure. God knew he’d been in a weird enough mood already, and why not? How many people got to meet their creators? Well … Stephen King hadn’t created Eddie Dean, a young man whose Co-Op City happened to be in Brooklyn rather than the Bronx—not yet, not in that year of 1977, but Eddie felt certain that in time King would. How else could he be here?
Eddie nipped in ahead of the power-truck, got out, and asked the sweating man with the brush-hog in his hands for directions to Turtleback Lane, in the town of Lovell. The Central Maine Power guy passed on the directions willingly enough, then added: “If you’re serious about going to Lovell today, you’re gonna have to use Route 93. The Bog Road, some folks call it.”
He raised a hand to Eddie and shook his head like a man forestalling an argument, although Eddie had not in fact said a word since asking his original question.
“It’s seven miles longer, I know, and jouncy as a bugger, but you can’t get through East Stoneham today. Cops’ve got it blocked off. State Bears, local yokels, even the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department.”
“You’re kidding,” Eddie said. It seemed a safe enough response.
The power guy shook his head grimly. “No one seems to know exactly what’s up, but there’s been shootin—automatic weapons, maybe—and explosions.” He patted the battered and sawdusty walkie-talkie clipped to his belt. “I’ve even heard the t-word once or twice this afternoon. Not s’prised, either.”
Eddie had no idea what the t-word might be, but knew Roland wanted to get going. He could feel the gunslinger’s impatience in his head; could almost see Roland’s impatient finger-twirling gesture, the one that meant Let’s go, let’s go.
“I’m talking ‘bout terrorism,” the power guy said, then lowered his voice. “People don’t think shit like that can happen in America, buddy, but I got news for you, it can. If not today, then sooner or later. Someone’s gonna blow up the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building, that’s what I think—the right-wingers, the left-wingers, or the goddam A-rabs. Too many crazy people.”