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Dark Tower VII, The (v. 7), Page 3

Stephen King

  Eddie, who had a nodding acquaintance with ten more years of history than this fellow, nodded. “You’re probably right. In any case, thanks for the info.”

  “Just tryin to save you some time.” And, as Eddie opened the driver’s-side door of John Cullum’s Ford sedan: “You been in a fight, mister? You look kinda bunged up. Also you’re limping.”

  Eddie had been in a fight, all right: had been grooved in the arm and plugged in the right calf. Neither wound was serious, and in the forward rush of events he had nearly forgotten them. Now they hurt all over again. Why in God’s name had he turned down Aaron Deepneau’s bottle of Percocet tablets?

  “Yeah,” he said, “that’s why I’m going to Lovell. Guy’s dog bit me. He and I are going to have a talk about it.” Bizarre story, didn’t have much going for it in the way of plot, but he was no writer. That was King’s job. In any case, it was good enough to get him back behind the wheel of Cullum’s Ford Galaxie before the power guy could ask him any more questions, and Eddie reckoned that made it a success. He drove away quickly.

  “You got directions?” Roland asked.


  “Good. Everything’s breaking at once, Eddie. We have to get to Susannah as fast as we can. Jake and Pere Callahan, too. And the baby’s coming, whatever it is. May have come already.”

  Turn right when you get back out to Kansas Road, the power guy had told Eddie (Kansas as in Dorothy, Toto, and Auntie Em, everything breaking at once), and he did. That put them rolling north. The sun had gone behind the trees on their left, throwing the two-lane blacktop entirely into shadow. Eddie had an almost palpable sense of time slipping through his fingers like some fabulously expensive cloth that was too smooth to grip. He stepped on the gas and Cullum’s old Ford, although wheezy in the valves, walked out a little. Eddie got it up to fifty-five and pegged it there. More speed might have been possible, but Kansas Road was both twisty and badly maintained.

  Roland had taken a sheet of notepaper from his shirt pocket, unfolded it, and was now studying it (although Eddie doubted if the gunslinger could actually read much of the document; this world’s written words would always be mostly mystery to him). At the top of the paper, above Aaron Deepneau’s rather shaky but perfectly legible handwriting (and Calvin Tower’s all-important signature), was a smiling cartoon beaver and the words DAM IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO. A silly pun if ever there was one.

  I don’t like silly questions, I won’t play silly games, Eddie thought, and suddenly grinned. It was a point of view to which Roland still held, Eddie felt quite sure, notwithstanding the fact that, while riding Blaine the Mono, their lives had been saved by a few well-timed silly questions. Eddie opened his mouth to point out that what might well turn out to be the most important document in the history of the world—more important than the Magna Carta or the Declaration of Independence or Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity—was headed by a dumb pun, and how did Roland like them apples? Before he could get out a single word, however, the wave struck.


  His foot slipped off the gas pedal, and that was good. If it had stayed on, both he and Roland would surely have been injured, maybe killed. When the wave came, staying in control of John Cullum’s Ford Galaxie dropped all the way off Eddie Dean’s list of priorities. It was like that moment when the roller coaster has reached the top of its first mountain, hesitates a moment … tilts … plunges… and you fall with a sudden blast of hot summer air in your face and a pressure against your chest and your stomach floating somewhere behind you.

  In that moment Eddie saw everything in Cullum’s car had come untethered and was floating—pipe ashes, two pens and a paperclip from the dashboard, Eddie’s dinh, and, he realized, his dinh’s ka-mai, good old Eddie Dean. No wonder he had lost his stomach! (He wasn’t aware that the car itself, which had drifted to a stop at the side of the road, was also floating, tilting lazily back and forth five or six inches above the ground like a small boat on an invisible sea.)

  Then the tree-lined country road was gone. Bridgton was gone. The world was gone. There was the sound of todash chimes, repulsive and nauseating, making him want to grit his teeth in protest … except his teeth were gone, too.


  Like Eddie, Roland had a clear sense of being first lifted and then hung, like something that had lost its ties to Earth’s gravity. He heard the chimes and felt himself elevated through the wall of existence, but he understood this wasn’t real todash—at least not of the sort they’d experienced before. This was very likely what Vannay called aven kal, words which meant lifted on the wind or carried on the wave. Only the kal form, instead of the more usual kas, indicated a natural force of disastrous proportions: not a wind but a hurricane; not a wave but a tsunami.

  The very Beam means to speak to you, Gabby, Vannay said in his mind—Gabby, the old sarcastic nickname Vannay had adopted because Steven Deschain’s boy was so closemouthed. His limping, brilliant tutor had stopped using it (probably at Cort’s insistence) the year Roland had turned eleven. You would do well to listen if it does.

  I will listen very well, Roland replied, and was dropped. He gagged, weightless and nauseated.

  More chimes. Then, suddenly, he was floating again, this time above a room filled with empty beds. One look was enough to assure him that this was where the Wolves brought the children they kidnapped from the Borderland Callas. At the far end of the room—

  A hand grasped his arm, a thing Roland would have thought impossible in this state. He looked to his left and saw Eddie beside him, floating naked. They were both naked, their clothes left behind in the writer’s world.

  Roland had already seen what Eddie was pointing to. At the far end of the room, a pair of beds had been pushed together. A white woman lay on one of them. Her legs—the very ones Susannah had used on their todash visit to New York, Roland had no doubt—were spread wide. A woman with the head of a rat—one of the taheen, he felt sure—bent between them.

  Next to the white woman was a dark-skinned one whose legs ended just below the knees. Floating naked or not, nauseated or not, todash or not, Roland had never in his life been so glad to see anyone. And Eddie felt the same. Roland heard him cry out joyfully in the center of his head and reached a hand to still the younger man. He had to still him, for Susannah was looking at them, had almost certainly seen them, and if she spoke to them, he needed to hear every word she said. Because although those words would come from her mouth, it would very likely be the Beam that spoke; the Voice of the Bear or that of the Turtle.

  Both women wore metal hoods over their hair. A length of segmented steel hose connected them.

  Some kind of Vulcan mind-meld, Eddie said, once again filling the center of his head and blotting out everything else. Or maybe—

  Hush! Roland broke in. Hush, Eddie, for your father’s sake!

  A man wearing a white coat seized a pair of cruel-looking forceps from a tray and pushed the rathead taheen nurse aside. He bent, peering up between Mia’s legs and holding the forceps above his head. Standing close by, wearing a tee-shirt with words of Eddie and Susannah’s world on it, was a taheen with the head of a fierce brown bird.

  He’ll sense us, Roland thought. If we stay long enough, he’ll surely sense us and raise the alarm.

  But Susannah was looking at him, the eyes below the clamp of the hood feverish. Bright with understanding. Seeing them, aye, say true.

  She spoke a single word, and in a moment of inexplicable but perfectly reliable intuition, Roland understood the word came not from Susannah but from Mia. Yet it was also the Voice of the Beam, a force perhaps sentient enough to understand how seriously it was threatened, and to want to protect itself.

  Chassit was the word Susannah spoke; he heard it in his head because they were ka-tet and an-tet; he also saw it form soundlessly on her lips as she looked up toward the place where they floated, onlookers at something that was happening in some other where and when at this very moment.

he hawk-headed taheen looked up, perhaps following her gaze, perhaps hearing the chimes with its preternaturally sharp ears. Then the doctor lowered his forceps and thrust them beneath Mia’s gown. She shrieked. Susannah shrieked with her. And as if Roland’s essentially bodiless being could be pushed away by the force of those combined screams like a milkweed pod lifted and carried on a gust of October wind, the gunslinger felt himself rise violently, losing touch with this place as he went, but holding onto that one word. It brought with it a brilliant memory of his mother leaning over him as he lay in bed. In the room of many colors, this had been, the nursery, and of course now he understood the colors he’d only accepted as a young boy, accepted as children barely out of their clouts accept everything: with unquestioning wonder, with the unspoken assumption that it’s all magic.

  The windows of the nursery had been stained glass representing the Bends o’ the Rainbow, of course. He remembered his mother leaning toward him, her face pied with that lovely various light, her hood thrown back so he could trace the curve of her neck with the eye of a child

  (it’s all magic )

  and the soul of a lover; he remembered thinking how he would court her and win her from his father, if she would have him; how they would marry and have children of their own and live forever in that fairytale kingdom called the All-A-Glow; and how she sang to him, how Gabrielle Deschain sang to her little boy with his big eyes looking solemnly up at her from his pillow and his face already stamped with the many swimming colors of his wandering life, singing a lilting nonsense song that went like this:

  Baby-bunting, baby-dear,

  Baby, bring your berries here.

  Chussit, chissit, chassit!

  Bring enough to fill your basket!

  Enough to fill my basket, he thought as he was flung, weightless, through darkness and the terrible sound of the todash chimes. The words weren’t quite nonsense but old numbers, she’d told him once when he had asked. Chussit, chissit, chassit: seventeen, eighteen, nineteen.

  Chassit is nineteen, he thought. Of course, it’s all nineteen. Then he and Eddie were in light again, a fever-sick orange light, and there were Jake and Callahan. He even saw Oy standing at Jake’s left heel, his fur bushed out and his muzzle wrinkled back to show his teeth.

  Chussit, chissit, chassit, Roland thought as he looked at his son, a boy so small and terribly outnumbered in the dining room of the Dixie Pig. Chassit is nineteen. Enough to fill my basket. But what basket? What does it mean?


  Beside Kansas Road in Bridgton, John Cullum’s twelve-year-old Ford (a hundred and six thousand on the odometer and she was just getting wa’amed up, Cullum liked to tell people) seesawed lazily back and forth above the soft shoulder, front tires touching down and then rising so the back tires could briefly kiss the dirt. Inside, two men who appeared not only unconscious but transparent rolled lazily with the car’s motion like corpses in a sunken boat. And around them floated the debris which collects in any old car that’s been hard-used: the ashes and pens and paperclips and the world’s oldest peanut and a penny from the back seat and pine needles from the floormats and even one of the floormats itself. In the darkness of the glove compartment, objects rattled timidly against the closed door.

  Someone passing would undoubtedly have been thunderstruck at the sight of all this stuff—and people! people who might be dead!—floating around in the car like jetsam in a space capsule. But no one did come along. Those who lived on this side of Long Lake were mostly looking across the water toward the East Stoneham side even though there was really nothing over there to see any longer. Even the smoke was almost gone.

  Lazily the car floated and inside it, Roland of Gilead rose slowly to the ceiling, where his neck pressed against the dirty roof-liner and his legs cleared the front seat to trail out behind him. Eddie was first held in place by the wheel, but then some random sideways motion of the car slid him free and he also rose, his face slack and dreaming. A silver line of drool escaped the corner of his mouth and floated, shining and full of minuscule bubbles, beside one blood-crusted cheek.


  Roland knew that Susannah had seen him, had probably seen Eddie, as well. That was why she’d labored so hard to speak that single word. Jake and Callahan, however, saw neither of them. The boy and the Pere had entered the Dixie Pig, a thing that was either very brave or very foolish, and now all of their concentration was necessarily focused on what they’d found there.

  Foolhardy or not, Roland was fiercely proud of Jake. He saw the boy had established canda between himself and Callahan: that distance (never the same in any two situations) which assures that a pair of outnumbered gunslingers cannot be killed by a single shot. Both had come ready to fight. Callahan was holding Jake’s gun … and another thing, as well: some sort of carving. Roland was almost sure it was a can-tah, one of the little gods. The boy had Susannah’s ‘Rizas and their tote-sack, retrieved from only the gods knew where.

  The gunslinger spied a fat woman whose humanity ended at the neck. Above her trio of flabby chins, the mask she’d been wearing hung in ruins. Looking at the rathead beneath, Roland suddenly understood a good many things. Some might have come clearly to him sooner, had not his attention—like that of the boy and the Pere at this very moment—been focused on other matters.

  Callahan’s low men, for instance. They might well be taheen, creatures neither of the Prim nor of the natural world but misbegotten things from somewhere between the two. They certainly weren’t the sort of beings Roland called slow mutants, for those had arisen as a result of the old ones’ ill-advised wars and disastrous experiments. No, they might be genuine taheen, sometimes known as the third people or the can-toi, and yes, Roland should have known. How many of the taheen now served the being known as the Crimson King? Some? Many?


  If the third answer was the correct one, Roland reckoned the road to the Tower would be difficult indeed. But to look beyond the horizon was not much in the gunslinger’s nature, and in this case his lack of imagination was surely a blessing.


  He saw what he needed to see. Although the can-toi — Callahan’s low folk—had surrounded Jake and Callahan on all sides (the two of them hadn’t even seen the duo behind them, the ones who’d been guarding the doors to Sixty-first Street), the Pere had frozen them with the carving, just as Jake had been able to freeze and fascinate people with the key he’d found in the vacant lot. A yellow taheen with the body of a man and the head of a waseau had some sort of gun near at hand but made no effort to grab it.

  Yet there was another problem, one Roland’s eye, trained to see every possible snare and ambush, fixed upon at once. He saw the blasphemous parody of Eld’s Last Fellowship on the wall and understood its significance completely in the seconds before it was ripped away. And the smell: not just flesh but human flesh. This too he would have understood earlier, had he had time to think about it … only life in Calla Bryn Sturgis had allowed him little time to think. In the Calla, as in a storybook, life had been one damned thing after another.

  Yet it was clear enough now, wasn’t it? The low folk might only be taheen; a child’s ogres, if it did ya. Those behind the tapestry were what Callahan had called Type One vampires and what Roland himself knew as the Grandfathers, perhaps the most gruesome and powerful survivors of the Prim’s long-ago recession. And while such as the taheen might be content to stand as they were, gawking at the sigul Callahan held up, the Grandfathers wouldn’t spare it a second glance.

  Now clattering bugs came pouring out from under the table. They were of a sort Roland had seen before, and any doubts he might still have held about what was behind that tapestry departed at the sight of them. They were parasites, blood-drinkers, camp-followers: Grandfather-fleas. Probably not dangerous while there was a bumbler present, but of course when you spied the little doctors in such numbers, the Grandfathers were never far behind.

  As Oy charged at the bugs, Roland of Gilead did the
only thing he could think of: he swam down to Callahan.

  Into Callahan.


  Pere, I am here.

  Aye, Roland. What—

  No time. GET HIM OUT OF HERE. You must. Get him out while there’s still time!


  And Callahan tried. The boy, of course, didn’t want to go. Looking at him through the Pere’s eyes, Roland thought with some bitterness: I should have schooled him better in betrayal. Yet all the gods know I did the best I could.

  “Go while you can,” Callahan told Jake, 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.”

  It should have moved him but it didn’t, he still argued— gods, he was nearly as bad as Eddie!—and Roland could wait no longer.

  Pere, let me.

  Roland seized control without waiting for a reply. He could already feel the wave, the aven kal, beginning to recede. And the Grandfathers would come at any second.

  “Go, Jake!” he cried, using the Pere’s mouth and vocal cords like a loudspeaker. If he had thought about how one might do something like this, he would have been lost completely, but thinking about things had also never been his way, and he was grateful to see the boy’s eyes flash wide. “You have this one chance and must take it! Find her! As dinh I command you!”

  Then, as in the hospital ward with Susannah, he felt himself once more tossed upward like something without weight, blown out of Callahan’s mind and body like a bit of cobweb or a fluff of dandelion thistle. For a moment he tried to flail his way back, like a swimmer trying to buck a strong current just long enough to reach the shore, but it was impossible.

  Roland! That was Eddie’s voice, and filled with dismay. Jesus, Roland, what in God’s name are those things?

  The tapestry had been torn aside. The creatures which rushed out were ancient and freakish, their warlock faces warped with teeth growing wild, their mouths propped open by fangs as thick as the gunslinger’s wrists, their wrinkled and stubbled chins slick with blood and scraps of meat.