Song of Susannah dt-6, Page 3Stephen King
So they rode away from a town that mostly slept in emotional exhaustion despite the quake which had struck it. The day was cool enough so that when they started out they could see their breath on the air, and a light scrim of frost coated the dead cornstalks. A mist hung over the Devar-tete Whye like the river’s own spent breath. Roland thought:This is the edge of winter.
An hour’s ride brought them to the arroyo country. There was no sound but the jingle of trace, the squeak of wheels, the clop of horses, an occasional sardonic honk from one of the albino asses pulling the fly, and distant, the call of rusties on the wing. Headed south, perhaps, if they could still find it.
Ten or fifteen minutes after the land began to rise on their right, filling in with bluffs and cliffs and mesas, they returned to the place where, just twenty-four hours before, they had come with the children of the Calla and fought their battle. Here a track split off from the East Road and rambled more or less northwest. In the ditch on the other side of the road was a raw trench of earth. It was the hide where Roland, his ka-tet, and the ladies of the dish had waited for the Wolves.
And, speaking of the Wolves, where were they? When they’d left this place of ambush, it had been littered with bodies. Over sixty, all told, man-shaped creatures who had come riding out of the west wearing gray pants, green cloaks, and snarling wolf-masks.
Roland dismounted and walked up beside Henchick, who was getting down from the two-wheeled fly with the stiff awkwardness of age. Roland made no effort to help him. Henchick wouldn’t expect it, might even be offended by it.
The gunslinger let him give his dark cloak a final settling shake, started to ask his question, and then realized he didn’t have to. Forty or fifty yards farther along, on the right side of the road, was a vast hill of uprooted corn-plants where no hill had been the day before. It was a funerary heap, Roland saw, one which had been constructed without any degree of respect. He hadn’t lost any time or wasted any effort wondering how thefolken had spent the previous afternoon—before beginning the party they were now undoubtedly sleeping off—but now he saw their work before him. Had they been afraid the Wolves might come back to life? he wondered, and knew that, on some level, that was exactly what they’d feared. And so they’d dragged the heavy, inert bodies (gray horses as well as gray-clad Wolves) off into the corn, stacked them willy-rully, then covered them with uprooted corn-plants. Today they’d turn this bier into a pyre. And if the seminon winds came? Roland guessed they’d light it up anyway, and chance a possible conflagration in the fertile land between road and river. Why not? The growing season was over for the year, and there was nothing like fire for fertilizer, so the old folks did say; besides, thefolken would not really rest easy until that hill was burned. And even then few of them would like to come out here.
“Roland, look,” Eddie said in a voice that trembled somewhere between sorrow and rage. “Ah, goddammit,look. ”
Near the end of the path, where Jake, Benny Slightman, and the Tavery twins had waited before making their final dash for safety across the road, stood a scratched and battered wheelchair, its chrome winking brilliantly in the sun, its seat streaked with dust and blood. The left wheel was bent severely out of true.
“Why do’ee speak in anger?” Henchick inquired. He had been joined by Cantab and half a dozen elders of what Eddie sometimes referred to as the Cloak Folk. Two of these elders looked a good deal older than Henchick himself, and Roland thought of what Rosalita had said last night:Many of them nigh as old as Henchick, trying to climb that path after dark. Well, it wasn’t dark, but he didn’t know if some of these would be able to walk as far as the upsy part of the path to Doorway Cave, let alone the rest of the way to the top.
“They brought your woman’s rolling chair back here to honor her. And you. So why do’ee speak in anger?”
“Because it’s not supposed to be all banged up, and she’s supposed to be in it,” Eddie told the old man. “Do you ken that, Henchick?”
“Anger is the most useless emotion,” Henchick intoned, “destructive to the mind and hurtful of the heart.”
Eddie’s lips thinned to no more than a white scar below his nose, but he managed to hold in a retort. He walked over to Susannah’s scarred chair—it had rolled hundreds of miles since they’d found it in Topeka, but its rolling days were done—and looked down at it moodily. When Callahan approached him, Eddie waved the Pere back.
Jake was looking at the place on the road where Benny had been struck and killed. The boy’s body was gone, of course, and someone had covered his spilled blood with a fresh layer of the oggan, but Jake found he could see the dark splotches, anyway. And Benny’s severed arm, lying palm-up. Jake remembered how his friend’s Da’ had staggered out of the corn and seen his son lying there. For five seconds or so he had been capable of no sound whatever, and Jake supposed that was time enough for someone to have told sai Slightman they’d gotten off incredibly light: one dead boy, one dead rancher’s wife, another boy with a broken ankle. Piece of cake, really. But no one had and then Slightman the Elder had shrieked. Jake thought he would never forget the sound of that shriek, just as he would always see Benny lying here in the dark and bloody dirt with his arm off.
Beside the place where Benny had fallen was something else which had been covered with dirt. Jake could see just a small wink of metal. He dropped to one knee and excavated one of the Wolves’ death-balls, things called sneetches. The Harry Potter model, according to what was written on them. Yesterday he’d held a couple of these in his hand and felt them vibrating. Heard their faint, malevolent hum. This one was as dead as a rock. Jake stood up and threw it toward the heap of corn-covered dead Wolves. Threw hard enough to make his arm hurt. That arm would probably be stiff tomorrow, but he didn’t care. Didn’t care much about Henchick’s low opinion of anger, either. Eddie wanted his wife back; Jake wanted his friend. And while Eddie might get whathe wanted somewhere down the line, Jake Chambers never would. Because dead was the gift that kept on giving. Dead, like diamonds, was forever.
He wanted to get going, wanted this part of the East Road looking at his back. He also wanted not to have to look at Susannah’s empty, beat-up chair any longer. But the Manni had formed a ring around the spot where the battle had actually taken place, and Henchick was praying in a high, rapid voice that hurt Jake’s ears: it sounded quite a lot like the squeal of a frightened pig. He spoke to something called the Over, asking for safe passage to yon cave and success of endeavor with no loss of life or sanity (Jake found this part of Henchick’s prayer especially disturbing, as he’d never thought of sanity as a thing to be prayed for). The boss-man also begged the Over to enliven their mags and bobs. And finally he prayed for kaven, the persistence of magic, a phrase that seemed to have a special power for these people. When he was finished, they all said “Over-sam, Over-kra, Over-can-tah” in unison, and dropped their linked hands. A few went down on their knees to have a little extra palaver with the reallybig boss. Cantab, meanwhile, led four or five of the younger men to the fly. They folded back its snowy white top, revealing a number of large wooden boxes. Plumb-bobs and magnets, Jake guessed, and a lot bigger than the ones they wore around their necks. They’d brought out the heavy artillery for this little adventure. The boxes were covered with designs—stars and moons and odd geometric shapes—that looked cabalistic rather than Christian. But, Jake realized, he had no basis for believing the Manni were Christians. They mightlook like Quakers or Amish with their cloaks and beards and round-crowned black hats, might throw the occasionalthee orthou into their conversation, but so far as Jake knew, neither the Quakers nor the Amish had ever made a hobby of traveling to other worlds.
Long polished wooden rods were pulled from another wagon. They were thrust through metal sleeves on the undersides of the engraved boxes. The boxes were called coffs, Jake learned. The Manni carried them like religious artifacts through the streets of a medieval town. Jake supposed that in a way theywere religious ar
They started up the path, which was still scattered with hair-ribbons, scraps of cloth, and a few small toys. These had been bait for the Wolves, and the bait had been taken.
When they reached the place where Frank Tavery had gotten his foot caught, Jake heard the voice of the useless git’s beautiful sister in his mind:Help him, please, sai, I beg. He had, God forgive him. And Benny had died.
Jake looked away, grimacing, then thoughtYou’re a gunslinger now, you gotta do better. He forced himself to look back.
Pere Callahan’s hand dropped onto his shoulder. “Son, are you all right? You’re awfully pale.”
“I’m okay,” Jake said. A lump had risen in his throat, quite a large one, but he forced himself to swallow past it and repeat what he’d just said, telling the lie to himself rather than to the Pere: “Yeah, I’m okay.”
Callahan nodded and shifted his own gunna (the halfhearted packsack of a town man who does not, in his heart, believe he’s going anywhere) from his left shoulder to his right. “And what’s going to happen when we get up to that cave?If we can get up to that cave?”
Jake shook his head. He didn’t know.
The path was okay. A good deal of loose rock had shaken down on it, and the going was arduous for the men carrying the coffs, but in one respect their way was easier than before. The quake had dislodged the giant boulder that had almost blocked the path near the top. Eddie peered over and saw it lying far below, shattered into two pieces. There was some sort of lighter, sparkly stuff in its middle, making it look to Eddie like the world’s largest hard-boiled egg.
The cave was still there, too, although a large pile of talus now lay in front of its mouth. Eddie joined some of the younger Manni in helping to clear it, tossing handfuls of busted-up shale (garnets gleaming in some of the pieces like drops of blood) over the side. Seeing the cave’s mouth eased a band which had been squeezing Eddie’s heart, but he didn’t like the silence of the cave, which had been damnably chatty on his previous visit. From somewhere deep in its gullet he could hear the grating whine of a draft, but that was all. Where was his brother, Henry? Henry should have been bitching about how Balazar’s gentlemen had killed him and it was all Eddie’s fault. Where was his Ma, who should have been agreeing with Henry (and in equally dolorous tones)? Where was Margaret Eisenhart, complaining to Henchick, her grandfather, about how she’d been branded forgetful and then abandoned? This had been the Cave of the Voices long before it had been the Doorway Cave, but the voices had fallen silent. And the door looked…stupidwas the word which first came to Eddie’s mind. The second wasunimportant. This cave had once been informed and defined by the voices from below; the door had been rendered awful and mysterious and powerful by the glass ball—Black Thirteen—which had come into the Calla through it.
But now it’s left the same way, and it’s just an old door that doesn’t—
Eddie tried to stifle the thought and couldn’t.
—that doesn’t go anywhere.
He turned to Henchick, disgusted by the sudden welling of tears in his eyes but unable to stop them. “There’s no magic left here,” he said. His voice was wretched with despair. “There’s nothing behind that fucking door but stale air and fallen rock. You’re a fool and I’m another.”
There were shocked gasps at this, but Henchick looked at Eddie with eyes that almost seemed to twinkle. “Lewis, Thonnie!” he said, almost jovially. “Bring me the Branni coff.”
Two strapping young men with short beards and hair pulled back in long braids stepped forward. Between them they bore an ironwood coff about four feet long, and heavy, from the way they carried the poles. They set it before Henchick.
“Open it, Eddie of New York.”
Thonnie and Lewis looked at him, questioning and a little afraid. The older Manni men, Eddie saw, were watching with a kind of greedy interest. He supposed it took a few years to become fully invested in the Manni brand of extravagant weirdness; in time Lewis and Thonnie would get there, but they hadn’t made it much past peculiar as yet.
Henchick nodded, a little impatiently. Eddie bent and opened the box. It was easy. There was no lock. Inside was a silk cloth. Henchick removed it with a magician’s flourish and disclosed a plumb-bob on a chain. To Eddie it looked like an old-fashioned child’s top, and was nowhere near as big as he had expected. It was perhaps eighteen inches long from its pointed tip to its broader top and made of some yellowish wood that looked greasy. It was on a silver chain that had been looped around a crystal plug set in the coff’s top.
“Take it out,” Henchick said, and when Eddie looked to Roland, the hair over the old man’s mouth opened and a set of perfect white teeth displayed themselves in a smile of astounding cynicism. “Why do’ee look to your dinh, young snivelment? The magic’s gone out of this place, you said so yourself! And would’ee not know? Why, thee must be all of…I don’t know…twenty-five?”
Snickers from the Manni who were close enough to hear this jape, several of them not yet twenty-five themselves.
Furious with the old bastard—and with himself, as well—Eddie reached into the box. Henchick stayed his hand.
“Touch not the bob itself. Not if thee’d keep thy cream in on one side and thy crap on the other. By the chain, do’ee kennit?”
Eddie almost reached for the bob anyway—he’d already made a fool of himself in front of these people, there was really no reason not to finish the job—but he looked into Jake’s grave gray eyes and changed his mind. The wind was blowing hard up here, chilling the sweat of the climb on his skin, making him shiver. Eddie reached forward again, took hold of the chain, and gingerly unwound it from the plug.
“Lift him out,” Henchick said.
Henchick nodded, as if Eddie had finally talked some sense. “That’s to see. Lift him out.”
Eddie did so. Given the obvious effort with which the two young men had been carrying the box, he was astounded at how light the bob was. Lifting it was like lifting a feather which had been attached to a four-foot length of fine-link chain. He looped the chain over the back of his fingers and held his hand in front of his eyes. He looked a little like a man about to make a puppet caper.
Eddie was about to ask Henchick again what the old man expected to happen, but before he could, the bob began to sway back and forth in modest arcs.
“I’m not doing that,” Eddie said. “At least, I don’t think I am. It must be the wind.”
“I don’t think it can be,” Callahan said. “There are no flukes to—”
“Hush!” Cantab said, and with such a forbidding look that Callahan did hush.
Eddie stood in front of the cave, with all the arroyo country and most of Calla Bryn Sturgis spread out below him. Dreaming blue-gray in the far distance was the forest through which they had come to get here—the last vestige of Mid-World, where they would never go more. The wind gusted, blowing his hair back from his forehead, and suddenly he heard a humming sound.
Except he didn’t. The humming was inside the hand in front of his eyes, the one with the chain lying upon the spread fingers. It was in his arm. And most of all, in his head.
At the far end of the chain, at about the height of Eddie’s right knee, the bob’s swing grew more pronounced and became the arc of a pendulum. Eddie realized a strange thing: each time the bob reached the end of its swing, it grew heavier. It was like holding onto something that was being pulled by some extraordinary centrifugal force.
The arc grew longer, the bob’s swings faster, the pull at the end of each swing stronger. And then—
“Eddie!” Jake called, somewhere between concern and delight. “Do you see?”
Of course he did. Now the bob was growingdim at the end of each swing. The downward pressure on his arm—the bob’s weight—was rapidly growing stronger as this happened. He had to support his right arm with his left hand in order to maintain his grip, and now he was also swaying at the hip
s with the swing of the bob. Eddie suddenly remembered where he was—roughly seven hundred feet above the ground. This baby would shortly yank him right over the side, if it wasn’t stopped. What if he couldn’t get the chain off his hand?
The plumb-bob swung to the right, tracing the shape of an invisible smile in the air, gaining weight as it rose toward the end of its arc. All at once the puny piece of wood he’d lifted from its box with such ease seemed to weigh sixty, eighty, a hundred pounds. And as it paused at the end of its arc, momentarily balanced between motion and gravity, he realized he could see the East Road through it, not just clearly butmagnified. Then the Branni bob started back down again, plummeting, shedding weight. But when it started up again, this time to his left…
“Okay, I get the point!” Eddie shouted. “Get it off me, Henchick. At least make it stop!”
Henchick uttered a single word, one so guttural it sounded like something yanked from a mudflat. The bob didn’t slow through a series of diminishing arcs but simply quit, again hanging beside Eddie’s knee with the tip pointing at his foot. For a moment the humming in his arm and head continued. Then that also quit. When it did, the bob’s disquieting sense of weight lifted. The damn thing was once more feather-light.
“Do’ee have something to say to me, Eddie of New York?” Henchick asked.
“Yeah, cry your pardon.”
Henchick’s teeth once more put in an appearance, gleaming briefly in the wilderness of his beard and then gone. “Thee’s not entirely slow, is thee?”
“I hope not,” Eddie said, and could not forbear a small sigh of relief as Henchick of the Manni lifted the fine-link silver chain from his hand.
Henchick insisted on a dry-run. Eddie understood why, but he hated all this foreplay crap. The passing time now seemed almost to be a physical thing, like a rough piece of cloth slipping beneath the palm of your hand. He kept silent, nevertheless. He’d already pissed off Henchick once, and once was enough.