THE LADY OF SHADOWS CHAPTER 4 DETTA ON THE OTHER SIDE
You must be on your guard, the gunslinger said, and Eddie had agreed, but the gunslinger knew Eddie didn't know what he was talking about; the whole back half of Eddie's mind, where survival is or isn't, didn't get the message.
The gunslinger saw this.
It was a good thing for Eddie he did.
In the middle of the night, Detta Walker's eyes sprang open. They were full of starlight and clear intelligence.
She remembered everything: how she had fought them, how they had tied her into her chair, how they had taunted her, calling her niggerbitch, niggerbitch.
She remembered monsters coming out of the waves, and she remembered how one of the men求the older求had killed one of them. The younger had built a fire and cooked it and then had offered her smoking monster-meat on a stick, grinning. She remembered spitting at his face, remembered his grin turning into an angry honky scowl. He had hit her upside the face, and told her Well, that's all right, you'll come around, niggerbitch. Wait and see if you don't. Then he and the Really Bad Man求had laughed and the Really Bad Man had brought out a haunch of beef which he spitted and slowly cooked over the fire on the beach of this alien place to which they had brought her.
The smell of the slowly roasting beef had been seductive, but she had made no sign. Even when the younger one had waved a chunk of it near her face, chanting Bite for it, niggerbitch, go on and bite for it, she had sat like stone, holding herself in.
Then she had slept, and now she was awake, and the ropes they had tied her with were gone. She was no longer in her chair but lying on one blanket and under another, far above the high-tide line, where the lobster-things still wandered and questioned and snatched the odd unfortunate gull out of the air.
She looked to her left and saw nothing.
She looked to her right and saw two sleeping men wrapped in two piles of blankets. The younger one was closer, and the Really Bad Man had taken off his gunbelts and laid them by him.
The guns were still in them.
You made a bad mistake, mahfah, Detta thought, and rolled to her right. The gritty crunch and squeak of her body on the sand was inaudible under the wind, the waves, the questioning creatures. She crawled slowly along the sand (like one of the lobstrosities herself), her eyes glittering.
She reached the gunbelts and pulled one of the guns.
It was very heavy, the grip smooth and somehow independently deadly in her hand. The heaviness didn't bother her. She had strong arms, did Detta Walker.
She crawled a little further.
The younger man was no more than a snoring rock, but the Really Bad Man stirred a little in his sleep and she froze with a snarl tattooed on her face until he quieted again.
He be one sneaky sumbitch. You check, Detta. You check, be sho.
She found the worn chamber release, tried to shove it forward, got nothing, and pulled it instead. The chamber swung open.
Loaded! Fucker be loaded! You goan do this young cocka-de-walk first, and dat Really Bad Man be wakin up and you goan give him one big grin求smile honeychile so I kin see where you is求and den you goan clean his clock somethin righteous.
She swung the chamber back, started to pull the hammer ... and then waited.
When the wind kicked up a gust, she pulled the hammer to full cock.
Detta pointed Roland's gun at Eddie's temple.
The gunslinger watched all this from one half-open eye. The fever was back, but not bad yet, not so bad that he must mistrust himself. So he waited, that one half-open eye the finger on the trigger of his body, the body which had always been his revolver when there was no revolver at hand.
She pulled the trigger.
Of course click.
When he and Eddie had come back with the waterskins from their palaver, Odetta Holmes had been deeply asleep in her wheelchair, slumped to one side. They had made her the best bed they could on the sand and carried her gently from her wheelchair to the spread blankets. Eddie had been sure she would awake, but Roland knew better.
He had killed, Eddie had built a fire, and they had eaten, saving a portion aside for Odetta in the morning.
Then they had talked, and Eddie had said something which burst upon Roland like a sudden flare of lightning. It was too bright and too brief to be total understanding, but he saw much, the way one may discern the lay of the land in a single lucky stroke of lightning.
He could have told Eddie then, but did not. He understood that he must be Eddie's Cort, and when one of Cort's pupils was left hurt and bleeding by some unexpected blow, Cort's response had always been the same: A child doesn't understand a hammer until he's mashed his finger at a nail. Get up and stop whining, maggot! You have forgotten the face of your father!
So Eddie had fallen asleep, even though Roland had told him he must be on his guard, and when Roland was sure they both slept (he had waited longer for the Lady, who could, he thought, be sly), he had reloaded his guns with spent casings, unstrapped them (that caused a pang), and put them by Eddie.
Then he waited.
One hour; two; three.
Halfway through the fourth hour, as his tired and feverish body tried to drowse, he sensed rather than saw the Lady come awake and came fully awake himself.
He watched her roll over. He watched her turn her hands into claws and pull herself along the sand to where his gun-belts lay. He watched her take one of them out, come closer to Eddie, and then pause, her head cocking, her nostrils swelling and contracting, doing more than smelling the air; tasting it.
Yes. This was the woman he had brought across.
When she glanced toward the gunslinger he did more than feign sleep, because she would have sensed sham; he went to sleep. When he sensed her gaze shift away he awoke and opened that single eye again. He saw her begin to raise the gun求she did this with less effort than Eddie had shown the first time Roland saw him do the same thing求and point it toward Eddie's head. Then she paused, her face filled with an inexpressible cunning.
In that moment she reminded him of Marten.
She fiddled with the cylinder, getting it wrong at first, then swinging it open. She looked at the heads of the shells. Roland tensed, waiting first to see if she would know the firing pins had already been struck, waiting next to see if she would turn the gun, look into the other end of the cylinder, and see there was only emptiness there instead of lead (he had thought of loading the guns with cartridges which had already misfired, but only briefly; Cort had taught them that every gun is ultimately ruled by Old Man Splitfoot, and a cartridge which misfires once may not do so a second time). If she did that, he would spring at once.
But she swung the cylinder back in, began to cock the hammer ... and then paused again. Paused for the wind to mask the single low click.
He thought: Here is another. God, she's evil, this one, and she's legless, but she's a gunslinger as surely as Eddie is one.
He waited with her.
The wind gusted.
She pulled the hammer to full cock and placed it half an inch from Eddie's temple. With a grin that was a ghoul's grimace, she pulled the trigger.
She pulled it again. And again. And again.
"MahFAH!" she screamed, and reversed the gun with liquid grace.
Roland coiled but did not leap. A child doesn't understand a hammer until he's mashed his finger at a nail.
If she kills him, she kills you.
Doesn't matter, the voice of Cort answered inexorably.
Eddie stirred. And his reflexes were not bad; he moved fast enough to avoid being driven unconscious or killed. Instead of coming down on the vulnerable temple, the heavy gun-butt cracked the side of his jaw.
"What ... Jesus!"
"MAHFAH! HONKY MAHFUH!" Detta screamed, and Roland saw her raise the gun a second time. And even though she was legless and Eddie was rolling away, it was as much as he dared. If Eddie hadn't learned the lesson now, he never would. The next time the gunslinger told Eddie to be on his guard, Eddie would be, and besides求the bitch was quick. It would not be wise to depend further than this on either Eddie's quickness or the Lady's infirmity.
He uncoiled, flying over Eddie and knocking her backward, ending up on top of her.
"You want it, mahfah?" she screamed at him, simultaneously rolling her crotch against his groin and raising the arm which still held the gun above his head. "You want it? I goan give you what you want, sho!"
"Eddie!" he shouted again, not just yelling now but commanding. For a moment Eddie just went on squalling there, eyes wide, blood dripping from his jaw (it had already begun to swell), staring, eyes wide. Move, can't you move? he thought, or is it that you don't want to? His strength was fading now, and the next time she brought that heavy gunbutt down she was going to break his arm with it ... that was if he got his arm up in time. If he didn't, she was going to break his head with it.
Then Eddie moved. He caught the gun on the downswing and she shrieked, turning toward him, biting at him like a vampire, cursing him in a gutter patois so darkly southern that even Eddie couldn't understand it; to Roland it sounded as if the woman had suddenly begun to speak in a foreign language. But Eddie was able to yank the gun out of her hand and with the impending bludgeon gone, Roland was able to pin her.
She did not quit even then but continued to buck and heave and curse, sweat standing out all over her dark face.
Eddie stared, mouth opening and closing like the mouth of a fish. He touched tentatively at his jaw, winced, pulled his fingers back, examined them and the blood on them.
She was screaming that she would kill them both; they could try and rape her but she would kill them with her cunt, they would see, that was one bad son of a bitching cave with teeth around the entrance and if they wanted to try and explore it they would find out.
"What in the hell求" Eddie said stupidly.
"One of my gunbelts," the gunslinger panted harshly at him. "Get it. I'm going to roll her over on top of me and you're going to grab her arms and tie her hands behind her."
"You ain't NEVAH!" Detta shrieked, and sunfished her legless body with such sudden force that she almost bucked Roland off. He felt her trying to bring the remainder of her right thigh up again and again, wanting to drive it into his balls.
"I ... I ... she ..."
"Move, God curse your father's face!" Roland roared, and at last Eddie moved.
They almost lost control of her twice during the tying and binding. But Eddie was at last able to slip-knot one of Roland's gunbelts around her wrists when Roland求using all his force求finally brought them together behind her (all the time drawing back from her lunging bites like a mongoose from a snake; the bites he avoided but before Eddie had finished, the gunslinger was drenched with spittle) and then Eddie dragged her off, holding the short leash of the makeshift slip-knot to do it. He did not want to hurt this thrashing screaming cursing thing. It was uglier than the lobstrosities by far because of the greater intelligence which informed it, but he knew it could also be beautiful. He did not want to harm the other person the vessel held somewhere inside it (like a live dove deep inside one of the secret compartments in a magician's magic box).
Odetta Holmes was somewhere inside that screaming screeching thing.
Although his last mount求a mule求had died too long ago to remember, the gunslinger still had a piece of its tether-rope (which, in turn, had once been a fine gunslinger's lariat). They used this to bind her in her wheelchair, as she had imagined (or falsely remembered, and in the end they both came to the same thing, didn't they?) they had done already. Then they drew away from her.
If not for the crawling lobster-things, Eddie would have gone down to the water and washed his hands.
"I feel like I'm going to vomit," he said in a voice that jig-jagged up and down the scale like the voice of an adolescent boy.
"Why don't you go on and eat each other's COCKS?" the struggling thing in the chair screeched. "Why don't you jus go on and do dat if you fraid of a black woman's cunny? You just go on! Sho! Suck on yo each one's candles! Do it while you got a chance, causeDetta Walker goan get outen dis chair and cut dem skinny ole white candles off and feed em to those walkm buzzsaws down there!"
"She's the woman I was in. Do you believe me now?"
"I believed you before," Eddie said. "I told you that."
"You believed you believed. You believed on the top of your mind. Do you believe it all the way down now? All the way to the bottom?"
Eddie looked at the shrieking, convulsing thing in the chair and then looked away, white except for the slash on his jaw, which was still dripping a little. That side of his face was beginning to look a little like a balloon.
"Yes, "he said. "God, yes."
"This woman is a monster."
Eddie began to cry.
The gunslinger wanted to comfort him, could not commit such a sacrilege (he remembered Jake too well), and walked off into the dark with his new fever burning and aching inside him.
Much earlier on that night, while Odetta still slept, Eddie said he thought he might understand what was wrong with her. Might. The gunslinger asked what he meant.
"She could be a schizophrenic."
Roland only shook his head. Eddie explained what he understood of schizophrenia, gleanings from such films as The Three Faces of Eve and various TV programs (mostly the soap operas he and Henry had often watched while stoned). Roland had nodded. Yes. The disease Eddie described sounded about right. A woman with two faces, one light and one dark. A face like the one the man in black had shown him on the fifth Tarot card.
"And they don't know求these schizophrenes求that they have another?"
"No," Eddie said. "But ..." He trailed off, moodily watching the lobstrosities crawl and question, question and crawl.
"I'm no shrink," Eddie said, "so I don't really know求"
"Shrink? What is a shrink?"
Eddie tapped his temple. "A head-doctor. A doctor for your mind. They're really called psychiatrists."
Roland nodded. He liked shrink better. Because this Lady's mind was too large. Twice as large as it needed to be.
"But I think schizos almost always know something is wrong with them," Eddie said. "Because there are blanks. Maybe I'm wrong, but I always got the idea that they were usually two people who thought they had partial amnesia, because of the blank spaces in their memories when the other personality was in control. She ... she says she remembers everything. She really thinks she remembers everything."
"I thought you said she didn't believe any of this was happening."
"Yeah," Eddie said, "but forget that for now. I'm trying to say that, no matter what she believes, what she remembers goes right from her living room where she was sitting in her bathrobe watching the midnight news to here, with no break at all. She doesn't have any sense that some other person took over between then and when you grabbed her in Macy's. Hell, that might have been the next day or even weeks later. I know it was still winter, because most of the shoppers in that store were wearing coats求"
The gunslinger nodded. Eddie's perceptions were sharpening. That was good. He had missed the boots and scarves, the gloves sticking out of coat pockets, but it was still a start.
"求but otherwise it's impossible to tell how long Odetta was that other woman because she doesn't know. I think she's in a situation she's never been in before, and her way of protecting both sides is this story about getting cracked over the head."
"And the rings. Seeing those really shook her up. She tried not to show it, but it showed, all right."
Roland asked: "If these two women don't know they exist in the same body, and if they don't even suspect that something may be wrong, if each has her own separate chain of memories, partly real but partly made up to fit the times the other is there, what are we to do with her? How are we even to live with her?"
Eddie had shrugged. "Don't ask me. It's your problem. You're the one who says you need her. Hell, you risked your neck to bring her here.'' Eddie thought about this for a minute, remembered squatting over Roland's body with Roland's knife held just above the gunslinger's throat, and laughed abruptly and without humor. LITERALLY risked your neck, man, he thought.
A silence fell between them. Odetta had by then been breathing quietly. As the gunslinger was about to reiterate his warning for Eddie to be on guard and announce (loud enough for the Lady to hear, if she was only shamming) that he was going to turn in, Eddie said the thing which lighted Roland's mind in a single sudden glare, the thing which made him understand at least part of what he needed so badly to know.
At the end, when they came through.
She had changed at the end.
And he had seen something, some thing求
"Tell you what," Eddie said, moodily stirring the remains of the fire with a split claw from this night's kill, "when you brought her through, I felt like I was a schizo."
Eddie thought, then shrugged. It was too hard to explain, or maybe he was just too tired. "It's not important."
Eddie looked at Roland, saw he was asking a serious question for a serious reason求or thought he was求and took a minute to think back. "It's really hard to describe, man. It was looking in that door. That's what freaked me out. When you see someone move in that door, it's like you're moving with them. You know what I'm talking about."
"Well, I watched it like it was a movie求never mind, it's not important求until the very end. Then you turned her toward this side of the doorway and for the first time I was looking at myself. It was like ..." He groped and could find nothing. "I dunno. It should have been like looking in a mirror, I guess, but it wasn't, because ... because it was like looking at another person. It was like being turned inside out. Like being in two places at the same time. Shit, I don't know."
But the gunslinger was thunderstruck. That was what he had sensed as they came through; that was what had happened to her, no, not just her, them: for a moment Detta and Odetta had looked at each other, not the way one would look at her reflection in a mirror but as separate people; the mirror became a windowpane and for a moment Odetta had seen Detta and Detta had seen Odetta and had been equally horror-struck.
They each know, the gunslinger thought grimly. They may not have known before, but they do now. They can try to hide it from themselves, but for a moment they saw, they knew, and that knowing must still be there.
"Just wanted to make sure you hadn't gone to sleep with your eyes open. Because for a minute you looked like you were, you know, long ago and far away."
"If so, I'm back now," the gunslinger said. "I'm going to turn in. Remember what I said, Eddie: be on your guard."
"I'll watch," Eddie said, but Roland knew that, sick or not, he would have to be the one to do the watching tonight.
Everything else had followed from that.
Following the ruckus Eddie and Detta Walker eventually went to sleep again (she did not so much fall asleep as drop into an exhausted state of unconsciousness in her chair, lolling to one side against the restraining ropes).
The gunslinger, however, lay wakeful.
Iwill have to bring the two of them to battle, he thought, but he didn't need one of Eddie's "shrinks" to tell him that such a battle might be to the death. Ifthe bright one, Odetta, were to win that battle, all might yet be well. If the dark one were to win it, all would surely be lost with her.
Yet he sensed that what really needed doing was not killing but joining. He had already recognized much that would be of value to him求them求 in Detta Walker's gutter toughness, and he wanted her求but he wanted her under control. There was a long way to go. Detta thought he and Eddie were monsters of some species she called Honk Mafahs. That was only dangerous delusion, but there would be real monsters along the way求the lobstrosities were not the first, nor would they be the last. The fight-until-you-drop woman he had entered and who had come out of hiding again tonight might come in very handy in a fight against such monsters, if she could be tempered by Odetta Holmes's calm humanity求especially now, with him short two fingers, almost out of bullets, and growing more fever.
But that is a step ahead. I think if I can make them acknowledge each other, that would bring them into confrontation. How may it be done?
He lay awake all that long night, thinking, and although he felt the fever in him grow, he found no answer to his question.
Eddie woke up shortly before daybreak, saw the gunslinger sitting near the ashes of last night's fire with his blanket wrapped around him Indian-fashion, and joined him.
"How do you feel?" Eddie asked in a low voice. The Lady still slept in her crisscrossing of ropes, although she occasionally jerked and muttered and moaned.
Eddie gave him an appraising glance. "You don't look all right."
"Thank you, Eddie," the gunslinger said dryly.
"It will pass."
The Lady jerked and moaned again求this time a word that was almost understandable. It might have been Oxford.
"God, I hate to see her tied up like that," Eddie murmured. "Like a goddam calf in a barn."
"She'll wake soon. Mayhap we can unloose her when she does."
It was the closest either of them came to saying out loud that when the Lady in the chair opened her eyes, the calm, if slightly puzzled gaze of Odetta Holmes might greet them.
Fifteen minutes later, as the first sunrays struck over the hills, those eyes did open求but what the men saw was not the calm gaze of Odetta Holmes but the mad glare of Detta Walker.
"How many times you done rape me while I was buzzed out?" she asked. "My cunt feel all slick an tallowy, like somebody done been at it with a couple them little bitty white candles you graymeat mahfahs call cocks."
"Let's get going," he said, and gained his feet with a grimace.
"I ain't goan nowhere wit choo, mahfah," Detta spat.
"Oh yes you are," Eddie said. "Dreadfully sorry, my dear."
"Where you think I'm goan?"
"Well,'' Eddie said,' 'what was behind Door Number One wasn't so hot, and what was behind Door Number Two was even worse, so now, instead of quitting like sane people, we're going to go right on ahead and check out Door Number Three. The way things have been going, I think it's likely to be something like Godzilla or Ghidra the Three-Headed Monster, but I'm an optimist. I'm still hoping for the stainless steel cookware."
"I ain't goan."
"You're going, all right," Eddie said, and walked behind her chair. She began struggling again, but the gunslinger had made these knots, and her struggles only drew them tighter. Soon enough she saw this and ceased. She was full of poison but far from stupid. But she looked back over her shoulder at Eddie with a grin which made him recoil a little. It seemed to him the most evil expression he had ever seen on a human face.
"Well, maybe I be goan on a little way," she said, "but maybe not s'far's you think, white boy. And sure-God not s'fast's you think."
"What do you mean?"
That leering, over-the-shoulder grin again.
"You find out, white boy." Her eyes, mad but cogent, shifted briefly to the gunslinger. "You bofe be findin dat out."
Eddie wrapped his hands around the bicycle grips at the ends of the push-handles on the back of her wheelchair and they began north again, now leaving not only footprints but the twin tracks of the Lady's chair as they moved up the seemingly endless beach.
The day was a nightmare.
It was hard to calculate distance travelled when you were moving along a landscape which varied so little, but Eddie knew their progress had slowed to a crawl.
And he knew who was responsible.
You bofe befindin dat out, Detta had said, and they hadn't been on the move more than half an hour before the finding out began.
That was the first thing. Pushing the wheelchair up a beach of fine sand would have been as impossible as driving a car through deep unplowed snow. This beach, with its gritty, marly surface, made moving the chair possible but far from easy. It would roll along smoothly enough for awhile, crunching over shells and popping little pebbles to either side of its hard rubber tires ... and then it would hit a dip where finer sand had drifted, and Eddie would have to shove, grunting, to get it and its solid unhelpful passenger through it. The sand sucked greedily at the wheels. You had to simultaneously push and throw your weight against the handles of the chair in a downward direction, or it and its bound occupant would tumble over face-first onto the beach.
Detta would cackle as he tried to move her without upending her. "You havin a good time back dere, honey-chile?" she asked each time the chair ran into one of these drybogs.
When the gunslinger moved over to help, Eddie motioned him away. "You'll get your chance," he said. "We'll switch off."But I think my turns are going to be a hell of a lot longer than his, a voice in his head spoke up. The way he looks, he's going to have his hands full just keeping himself moving before much longer, let alone moving the woman inthis chair. No sir, Eddie, I'm afraid this Bud's for you. It's God's revenge, you know it? All those years you spent as a junkie, and guess what? You're finally the pusher!
He uttered a short out-of-breath laugh.
"What's so funny, white boy?" Detta asked, and although Eddie thought she meant to sound sarcastic, it came out sounding just a tiny bit angry.
Ain't supposed to be any laughs in this for me, he thought. None at all. Not as far as she's concerned.
"You wouldn't understand, babe. Just let it lie."
"I be lettin you lie before this be all over," she said. "Be lettin you and yo bad-ass buddy there lie in pieces all ovah dis beach. Sho. Meantime you better save yo breaf to do yo pushin with. You already sound like you gettin a little sho't winded."
"Well, you talk for both of us, then," Eddie panted. "You never seem to run out of wind."
"I goan break wind, graymeat! Goan break it ovah yo dead face!"
"Promises, promises." Eddie shoved the chair out of the sand and onto relatively easier going求for awhile, at least The sun was not yet fully up, but he had already worked up a sweat.
This is going to be an amusing and informative day, he thought. I can see that already.
That was the next thing.
They had struck a firm stretch of beach. Eddie pushed the chair along faster, thinking vaguely that if he could keep this bit of extra speed, he might be able to drive right through the next sandtrap he happened to strike on pure impetus.
All at once the chair stopped. Stopped dead. The crossbar on the back hit Eddie's chest with a thump. He grunted. Roland looked around, but not even the gunslinger's cat-quick reflexes could stop the Lady's chair from going over exactly as it had threatened to do in each of the sandtraps. It went and Detta went with it, tied and helpless but cackling wildly. She still was when Roland and Eddie finally managed to right the chair again. Some of the ropes had drawn so tight they must be cutting cruelly into her flesh, cutting off the circulation to her extremities; her forehead was slashed and blood trickled into her eyebrows. She went on cackling just the same.
The men were both gasping, out of breath, by the time the chair was on its wheels again. The combined weight of it and the woman in it must have totaled two hundred and fifty pounds, most of it chair. It occurred to Eddie that if the gunslinger had snatched Detta from his own when, 1987, the chair might have weighed as much as sixty pounds less.
Detta giggled, snorted, blinked blood out of her eyes.
"Looky here, you boys done opsot me," she said.
"Call your lawyer," Eddie muttered. "Sue us."
"An got yoselfs all tuckered out gittin me back on top agin. Must have taken you ten minutes, too."
The gunslinger took a piece of his shirt求enough of it was gone now so the rest didn't much matter求and reached forward with his left hand to mop the blood away from the cut on her forehead. She snapped at him, and from the savage click those teeth made when they came together, Eddie thought that, if Roland had been only one instant slower in drawing back, Detta Walker would have evened up the number of fingers on his hands for him again.
She cackled and stared at him with meanly merry eyes, but the gunslinger saw fear hidden far back in those eyes. She was afraid of him. Afraid because he was The Really Bad Man.
Why was he The Really Bad Man? Maybe because, on some deeper level, she sensed what he knew about her.
"Almos' got you, graymeat," she said. "Almos' got you that time." And cackled, witchlike.
"Hold her head," the gunslinger said evenly. "She bites like a weasel."
Eddie held it while the gunslinger carefully wiped the wound clean. It wasn't wide and didn't look deep, but the gunslinger took no chances; he walked slowly down to the water, soaked the piece of shirting in the salt water, and then came back.
She began to scream as he approached.
"Doan you be touchin me wid dat thing! Doan you be touchin me wid no water from where them poison things come from! Git it away! Git it away!"
" Hold her head,'' Roland said in the same even voice. She was whipping it from side to side. "I don't want to take any chances."
Eddie held it ... and squeezed it when she tried to shake free. She saw he meant business and immediately became still, showing no more fear of the damp rag. It had been only sham, after all.
She smiled at Roland as he bathed the cut, carefully washing out the last clinging particles of grit.
"In fact, you look mo than jest tuckered out," Detta observed. "You look sick, graymeat. I don't think you ready fo no long trip. I don't think you ready fo nuthin like dat."
Eddie examined the chair's rudimentary controls. It had an emergency hand-brake which locked both wheels. Detta had worked her right hand over there, had waited patiently until she thought Eddie was going fast enough, and then she had yanked the brake, purposely spilling herself over. Why? To slow them down, that was all. There was no reason to do such a thing, but a woman like Detta, Eddie thought, needed no reasons. A woman like Detta was perfectly willing to do such things out of sheer meanness.
Roland loosened her bonds a bit so the blood could flow more freely, then tied her hand firmly away from the brake.
"That be all right, Mister Man," Detta said, offering him a bright smile filled with too many teeth. "That be all right jest the same. There be other ways to slow you boys down. All sorts of ways."
"Let's go," the gunslinger said tonelessly.
"You all right, man?" Eddie asked. The gunslinger looked very pale.
"Yes. Let's go."
They started up the beach again.
The gunslinger insisted on pushing for an hour, and Eddie gave way to him reluctantly. Roland got her through the first sandtrap, but Eddie had to pitch in and help get the wheelchair out of the second. The gunslinger was gasping for air, sweat standing out on his forehead in large beads.
Eddie let him go on a little further, and Roland was quite adept at weaving his way around the places where the sand was loose enough to bog the wheels, but the chair finally became mired again and Eddie could bear only a few moments of watching Roland struggle to push it free, gasping, chest heaving, while the witch (for so Eddie had come to think of her) howled with laughter and actually threw her body backwards in the chair to make the task that much more difficult - and then he shouldered the gunslinger aside and heaved the chair out of the sand with one angry lurching lunge. The chair tottered and now he saw/sensed her shifting forward as much as the ropes would allow, doing this with a weird prescience at the exactly proper moment, trying to topple herself again.
Roland threw his weight on the back of the chair next to Eddie's and it settled back.
Detta looked around and gave them a wink of such obscene conspiracy that Eddie felt his arms crawl up in gooseflesh.
"You almost opsot me agin, boys," she said. "You want to look out for me, now. I ain't nuthin but a old crippled lady, so you want to have a care for me now."
She laughed ... laughed fit to split.
Although Eddie cared for the woman that was the other part of her - was near to loving her just on the basis of the brief time he had seen her and spoken with her - he felt his hands itch to close around her windpipe and choke that laugh, choke it until she could never laugh again.
She peered around again, saw what he was thinking as if it had been printed on him in red ink, and laughed all the harder. Her eyes dared him. Go on, graymeat. Go on. You want to do it? Go on and do it.
In other words, don't just tip the chair; tip the woman, Eddie thought. Tip her over for good. That's what she wants. For Detta, being killed by a white man may be the only real goal she has in life.
"Come on," he said, and began pushing again. "We are gonna tour the seacoast, sweet thang, like it or not."
"Fuck you," she spat.
"Cram it, babe," Eddie responded pleasantly.
The gunslinger walked beside him, head down.
They came to a considerable outcropping of rocks when the sun said it was about eleven and here they stopped for nearly an hour, taking the shade as the sun climbed toward the roofpeak of the day. Eddie and the gunslinger ate leftovers from the previous night's kill. Eddie offered a portion to Detta, who again refused, telling him she knew what they wanted to do, and if they wanted to do it, they best to do it with their bare hands and stop trying to poison her. That, she said, was the coward's way.
Eddie's right, the gunslinger mused. This woman has made her own chain of memories. She knows everything that happened to her last night, even though she was really fast asleep.
She believed they had brought her pieces of meat which smelled of death and putrescence, had taunted her with it while they themselves ate salted beef and drank some sort of beer from flasks. She believed they had, every now and then, held pieces of their own untainted supper out to her, drawing it away at the last moment when she snatched at it with her teeth - and laughing while they did it, of course. In the world (or at least in the mind) of Detta Walker, Honk Mahfahs only did two things to brown women: raped them or laughed at them. Or both at the same time.
It was almost funny. Eddie Dean had last seen beef during his ride in the sky-carriage, and Roland had seen none since the last of his jerky was eaten, Gods alone knew how long ago. As far as beer ... he cast his mind back.
There had been beer in Tull. Beer and beef.
God, it would be good to have a beer. His throat ached and it would be so good to have a beer to cool that ache. Better even than the astin from Eddie's world.
They drew off a distance from her.
"Ain't I good nough cump'ny for white boys like you?" she cawed after them. "Or did you jes maybe want to have a pull on each other one's little bitty white candle?"
She threw her head back and screamed laughter that frightened the gulls up, crying, from the rocks where they had been met in convention a quarter of a mile away.
The gunslinger sat with his hands dangling between his knees, thinking. Finally he raised his head and told Eddie, "I can only understand about one word in every ten she says."
"I'm way ahead of you," Eddie replied. "I'm getting at least two in every three. Doesn't matter. Most of it comes back to honky mahfah."
Roland nodded. "Do many of the dark-skinned people talk that way where you come from? Her other didn't."
Eddie shook his head and laughed. "No. And I'll tell you something sort of funny - at least I think it's sort of funny, but maybe that's just because there isn't all that much to laugh at out here. It's not real. It's not real and she doesn't even know it."
Roland looked at him and said nothing.
"Remember when you washed off her forehead, how she pretended she was scared of the water?"
"You knew she was pretending?"
"Not at first, but quite soon."
Eddie nodded. "That was an act, and she knew it was an act. But she's a pretty good actress and she fooled both of us for a few seconds. The way she's talking is an act, too. But it's not as good. It's so stupid, so goddam hokey!"
"You believe she pretends well only when she knows she's doing it?"
"Yes. She sounds like a cross between the darkies in this book called Mandingo I read once and Butterfly McQueen in Gone with the Wind. I know you don't know those names, but what I mean is she talks like a cliche. Do you know that word?"
"It means what is always said or believed by people who think only a little or not at all."
"Yeah. I couldn't have said it half so good."
''Ain't you boys done jerkin on dem candles a yours yet? " Detta's voice was growing hoarse and cracked. "Or maybe it's just you can't fine em. Dat it?"
"Come on." The gunslinger got slowly to his feet. He swayed for a moment, saw Eddie looking at him, and smiled. "I'll be all right."
"For how long?"
"As long as I have to be," the gunslinger answered, and the serenity in his voice chilled Eddie's heart.
That night the gunslinger used his last sure live cartridge to make their kill. He would start systematically testing the ones he believed to be duds tomorrow night, but he believed it was pretty much as Eddie had said: They were down to beating the damned things to death.
It was like the other nights: the fire, the cooking, the shelling, the eating - eating which was now slow and unenthusiastic. We're just gassing up, Eddie thought. They offered food to Detta, who screamed and laughed and cursed and asked how long they was goan take her for a fool, and then she began throwing her body wildly from one side to the other, never minding how her bonds grew steadily tighter, only trying to upset the chair to one side or the other so they would have to pick her up again before they could eat.
Just before she could manage the trick, Eddie grabbed her and Roland braced the wheels on either sides with rocks.
"I'll loosen the ropes a bit if you'll be still," Roland told her.
"Suck shit out my ass, mahfah!"
"I don't understand if that means yes or no."
She looked at him, eyes narrowed, suspecting some buried barb of satire in that calm voice (Eddie also wondered, but couldn't tell if there was or not), and after a moment she said sulkily, "I be still. Too damn hungry to kick up much dickens. You boys goan give me some real food or you jes goan starve me to death? Dat yo plan? You too chickenshit to choke me and I ain't nev' goan eat no poison, so dat must be you plan. Starve me out. Well, we see, sho. We goan see. Sho we are."
She offered them her bone-chilling sickle of a grin again.
Not long after she fell asleep.
Eddie touched the side of Roland's face. Roland glanced at him but did not pull away from the touch.
"I'm all right."
"Yeah, you're Jim-dandy. Well, I tell you what, Jim, we didn't get along very far today."
"I know." There was also the matter of having used the last live shell, but that was knowledge Eddie could do without, at least tonight. Eddie wasn't sick, but he was exhausted. Too exhausted for more bad news.
No, he's not sick, not yet, but if he goes too long without rest, gets tired enough, he'll get sick.
In a way, Eddie already was; both of them were. Cold-sores had developed at the corners of Eddie's mouth, and there was scaly patches on his skin. The gunslinger could feel his teeth loosening up in their sockets, and the flesh between his toes had begun to crack open and bleed, as had that between his remaining fingers. They were eating, but they were eating the same thing, day in and day out. They could go on that way for a time, but in the end they would die as surely as if they had starved.
What we have is Shipmate's Disease on dry land, Roland thought. Simple as that. How funny. We need fruit. We need greens.
Eddie nodded toward the Lady. "She's going to go right on making it tough."
"Unless the other one inside her comes back."
"That would be nice, but we can't count on it," Eddie said. He took a piece of blackened claw and began to scrawl aimless patterns in the dirt. "Any idea how far the next door might be?"
Roland shook his head.
"I only ask because if the distance between Number Two and Number Three is the same as the distance between Number One and Number Two, we could be in deep shit."
"We're in deep shit right now."
"Neck deep," Eddie agreed moodily. "I just keep wondering how long I can tread water."
Roland clapped him on the shoulder, a gesture of affection so rare it made Eddie blink.
"There's one thing that Lady doesn't know," he said.
"Oh? What's that?"
"We Honk Mahfahs can tread water a long time."
Eddie laughed at that, laughed hard, smothering his laughter against his arm so he wouldn't wake Detta up. He'd had enough of her for one day, please and thank you.
The gunslinger looked at him, smiling. "I'm going to turn in," he said. "Be - "
" - on my guard. Yeah. I will."
Screaming was next.
Eddie fell asleep the moment his head touched the bunched bundle of his shirt, and it seemed only five minutes later when Detta began screaming.
He was awake at once, ready for anything, some King Lobster arisen from the deep to take revenge for its slain children or a horror down from the hills. It seemed he was awake at once, anyway, but the gunslinger was already on his feet, a gun in his left hand.
When she saw they were both awake, Detta promptly quit screaming.
"Jes thought I'd see if you boys on yo toes," she said. "Might be woofs. Looks likely enough country for 'em. Wanted to make sho if I saw me a woof creepin up, I could get you on yo feet in time." But there was no fear in her eyes; they glinted with mean amusement.
"Christ," Eddie said groggily. The moon was up but barely risen; they had been asleep less than two hours.
The gunslinger holstered his gun.
"Don't do it again," he said to the Lady in the wheelchair.
"What you goan do if I do? Rape me?"
"If we were going to rape you, you would be one well-raped woman by now," the gunslinger said evenly. "Don't do it again."
He lay down again, pulling his blanket over him.
Christ, dear Christ, Eddie thought, what a mess this is, what a fucking ... and that was as far as the thought went before trailing off into exhausted sleep again and then she was splintering the air with fresh shrieks, shrieking like a firebell, and Eddie was up again, his body flaming with adrenaline, hands clenched, and then she was laughing, her voice hoarse and raspy.
Eddie glanced up and saw the moon had advanced less than ten degrees since she had awakened them the first time.
She means to keep on doing it, he thought wearily. She means to stay awake and watch us, and when she's sure we're getting down into deep sleep, that place where you recharge, she's going to open her mouth and start bellowing again. She'll do it and do it and do it until she doesn't have any voice left to bellow with.
Her laughter stopped abruptly. Roland was advancing on her, a dark shape in the moonlight.
"You jes stay away from me, graymeat," Detta said, but there was a quiver of nerves in her voice. "You ain't goan do nothing to me."
Roland stood before her and for a moment Eddie was sure, completely sure, that the gunslinger had reached the end of his patience and would simply swat her like a fly. Instead, astoundingly, he dropped to one knee before her like a suitor about to propose marriage.
"Listen," he said, and Eddie could scarcely credit the silky quality of Roland's voice. He could see much the same deep surprise on Detta's face, only there fear was joined to it. "Listen to me, Odetta."
"Who you callin O-Detta? Dat ain my name."
"Shut up, bitch," the gunslinger said in a growl, and then, reverting to that same silken voice: "If you hear me, and if you can control her at all - "
"Why you talkin at me dat way? Why you talkin like you was talkin to somebody else? You quit dat honky jive! You jes quit it now, you hear me?"
" - keep her shut up. I can gag her, but I don't want to do that. A hard gag is a dangerous business. People choke."
"YOU QUIT IT YOU HONKY BULLSHIT VOODOO MAHFAH!"
"Odetta." His voice was a whisper, like the onset of rain.
She fell silent, staring at him with huge eyes. Eddie had never in his life seen such hate and fear combined in human eyes.
"I don't think this bitch would care if she did die on a hard gag. She wants to die, but maybe even more, she wants you to die. But you haven't died, not so far, and I don't think Detta is brand-new in your life. She feels too at home in you, so maybe you can hear what I'm saying, and maybe you can keep some control over her even if you can't come out yet.
"Don't let her wake us up a third time, Odetta.
"I don't want to gag her.
"But if I have to, I will."
He got up, left without looking back, rolled himself into his blanket again, and promptly fell asleep.
She was still staring at him, eyes wide, nostrils flaring.
"Honky voodoo bullshit," she whispered.
Eddie lay down, but this time it was a long time before sleep came to claim him, in spite of his deep tiredness. He would come to the brink, anticipate her screams, and snap back.
Three hours or so later, with the moon now going the other way, he finally dropped off.
Detta did no more screaming that night, either because Roland had frightened her, or because she wanted to conserve her voice for future alarums and excursions, or - possibly, just possibly - because Odetta had heard and had exercised the control the gunslinger had asked of her.
Eddie slept at last but awoke sodden and unrefreshed. He looked toward the chair, hoping against hope that it would be Odetta, please God let it be Odetta this morning -
"Mawnin, whitebread," Detta said, and grinned her sharklike grin at him. "Thought you was goan sleep till noon . You cain't be doin nuthin like dat, kin you? We got to bus us some miles here, ain't dat d'fac of d'matter? Sho! An I think you the one goan have to do most of de bustin, cause dat other fella, one with de voodoo eyes, he lookin mo peaky all de time, I declare he do! Yes! I doan think he goan be eatin anythin much longer, not even dat fancy smoked meat you whitebread boys keep fo when you done joikin on each other one's little bitty white candles. So let's go, whitebread! Detta doan want to be d'one keepin you."
Her lids and her voice both dropped a little; her eyes peeked at him slyly from their corners.
"Not f'um startin out, leastways."
Dis goan be a day you 'member, whitebread, those sly eyes promised. Dis goan be a day you 'member for a long, long time.
They made three miles that day, maybe a shade under. Detta's chair upset twice. Once she did it herself, working her fingers slowly and unobtrusively over to that handbrake again and yanking it. The second time Eddie did with no help at all, shoving too hard in one of those goddamned sandtraps. That was near the end of the day, and he simply panicked, thinking he just wasn't going to be able to get her out this time, just wasn't. So he gave that one last titanic heave with his quivering arms, and of course it had been much too hard, and over she had gone, like Humpty Dumpty falling off his wall, and he and Roland had to labor to get her upright again. They finished the job just in time. The rope under her breasts was now pulled taut across her windpipe. The gunslinger's efficient running slipknot was choking her to death. Her face had gone a funny blue color, she was on the verge of losing consciousness, but still she went on wheezing her nasty laughter.
Let her be, why don't you? Eddie nearly said as Roland bent quickly forward to loosen the knot. Let her choke! I don't know if she wants to do herself like you said, but I know she wants to do US ...so let her go!
Then he remembered Odetta (although their encounter had been so brief and seemed so long ago that memory was growing dim) and moved forward to help.
The gunslinger pushed him impatiently away with one hand. "Only room for one."
When the rope was loosened and the Lady gasping harshly for breath (which she expelled in gusts of her angry laughter), he turned and looked at Eddie critically. "I think we ought to stop for the night."
"A little further." He was almost pleading. "I can go a little further."
"Sho! He be one strong buck. He be good fo choppin one mo row cotton and he still have enough lef' to give yo little bitty white candle one fine suckin-on t'night."
She still wouldn't eat, and her face was becoming all stark lines and angles. Her eyes glittered in deepening sockets.
Roland gave her no notice at all, only studied Eddie closely. At last he nodded. "A little way. Not far, but a little way."
Twenty minutes later Eddie called it quits himself. His arms felt like Jell-O.
They sat in the shadows of the rocks, listening to the gulls, watching the tide come in, waiting for the sun to go down and the lobstrosities to come out and begin their cumbersome cross-examinations.
Roland told Eddie in a voice too low for Detta to hear that he thought they were out of live shells. Eddie's mouth tightened down a little but that was all. Roland was pleased.
"So you'll have to brain one of them yourself," Roland said. "I'm too weak to handle a rock big enough to do the job ... and still be sure."
Eddie was now the one to do the studying.
He had no liking for what he saw.
The gunslinger waved his scrutiny away.
"Never mind," he said. "Never mind, Eddie. What is, is."
"Ka," Eddie said.
The gunslinger nodded and smiled faintly. "Ka."
"Kaka," Eddie said, and they looked at each other, and both laughed. Roland looked startled and perhaps even a little afraid of the rusty sound emerging from his mouth. His laughter did not last long. When it had stopped he looked distant and melancholy.
"Dat laffin mean you fine'ly managed to joik each other off?" Detta cried over at them in her hoarse, failing voice. "When you goan get down to de pokin? Dat's what I want to see! Dat pokin!"
Eddie made the kill.
Detta refused to eat, as before. Eddie ate half a piece so she could see, then offered her the other half.
"Nossuh!" she said, eyes sparking at him. "No SUH! You done put de poison in t'other end. One you trine to give me."
Without saying anything, Eddie look the rest of the piece, put it in his mouth, chewed, swallowed.
"Doan mean a thing," Detta said sulkily. "Leave me alone, graymeat."
He brought her another piece.
"You tear it in half. Give me whichever you want I'll eat it, then you eat the rest."
"Ain't fallin fo none o yo honky tricks, Mist' Chahlie. Git away f'um me is what I said, and git away f'um me is what I meant"
She did not scream in the night ... but she was still there the next morning.
That day they made only two miles, although Detta made no effort to upset her chair; Eddie thought she might be growing too weak for acts of attempted sabotage. Or perhaps she had seen there was really no need for them. Three fatal factors were drawing inexorably together: Eddie's weariness, the terrain, which after endless days of endless days of sameness, was finally beginning to change, and Roland's deteriorating condition.
There were less sandtraps, but that was cold comfort. The ground was becoming grainier, more and more like cheap and unprofitable soil and less and less like sand (in places bunches of weeds grew, looking almost ashamed to be there), and there were so many large rocks now jutting from this odd combination of sand and soil that Eddie found himself detouring around them as he had previously tried to detour the Lady's chair around the sandtraps. And soon enough, he saw, there would be no beach left at all. The hills, brown and cheerless things, were drawing steadily closer. Eddie could see the ravines which curled between them, looking like chops made by an awkward giant wielding a blunt cleaver. That night, before falling asleep, he heard what sounded like a very large cat squalling far up in one of them.
The beach had seemed endless, but he was coming to realize it had an end after all. Somewhere up ahead, those hills were simply going to squeeze it out of existence. The eroded hills would march down to the sea and then into it, where they might become first a cape or peninsula of sorts, and then a series of archipelagoes.
That worried him, but Roland's condition worried him more.
This time the gunslinger seemed not so much to be burning as fading, losing himself, becoming transparent.
The red lines had appeared again, marching relentlessly up the underside of his right arm toward the elbow.
For the last two days Eddie had looked constantly ahead, squinting into the distance, hoping to see the door, the door, the magic door. For the last two days he had waited for Odetta to reappear.
Neither had appeared.
Before falling asleep that night two terrible thoughts came to him, like some joke with a double punchline:
What if there was no door?
What if Odetta Holmes was dead?
"Rise and shine, mahfah!" Detta screeched him out of unconsciousness. "I think it jes be you and me now, honey-chile. Think yo frien done finally passed on. I think yo frien be pokin the devil down in hell."
Eddie looked at the rolled huddled shape of Roland and for one terrible moment he thought the bitch was right. Then the gunslinger stirred, moaned furrily, and pawed himself into a sitting position.
"Well looky yere!" Detta had screamed so much that now there were moments when her voice disappeared almost entirely, becoming no more than a weird whisper, like winter wind under a door. "I thought you was dead, Mister Man!"
Roland was getting slowly to his feet. He still looked to Eddie like a man using the rungs of an invisible ladder to make it. Eddie felt an angry sort of pity, and this was a familiar emotion, oddly nostalgic. After a moment he understood. It was like when he and Henry used to watch the fights on TV, and one fighter would hurt the other, hurt him terribly, again and again, and the crowd would be screaming for blood, and Henry would be screaming for blood, but Eddie only sat there, feeling that angry pity, that dumb disgust; he'd sat there sending thought-waves at the referee: Stop it, man, are you fucking blind? He's dying out there! DYING! Stop the fucking fight!
There was no way to stop this one.
Roland looked at her from his haunted feverish eyes. "A lot of people have thought that, Detta." He looked at Eddie. "You ready?"
"Yeah, I guess so. Are you?"
They went on.
Around ten o'clock Detta began rubbing her temples with her fingers.
"Stop," she said. "I feel sick. Feel like I goan throw up."
"Probably that big meal you ate last night," Eddie said, and went on pushing. "You should have skipped dessert. I told you that chocolate layer cake was heavy."
"I goan throw up! I - "
"Stop, Eddie!" the gunslinger said.
The woman in the chair suddenly twisted galvanically, as if an electric shock had run through her. Her eyes popped wide open, glaring at nothing.
"IBROKE YO PLATE YOU STINKIN OLE BLUE LADY!" she screamed. "IBROKE IT AND I'M FUCKIN GLAD ID求"
She suddenly slumped forward in her chair. If not for the ropes, she would have fallen out of it.
Christ, she's dead, she's had a stroke and she's dead, Eddie thought. He started around the chair, remembered how sly and tricksy she could be, and stopped as suddenly as he had started. He looked at Roland. Roland looked back at him evenly, his eyes giving away not a thing.
Then she moaned. Her eyes opened.
"Dear God, I've fainted again, haven't I?" she said. "I'm sorry you had to tie me in. My stupid legs! I think I could sit up a little if you - "
That was when Roland's own legs slowly came unhinged and he swooned some thirty miles south of the place where the Western Sea 's beach came to an end.
To Eddie Dean, he and the Lady no longer seemed to be trudging or even walking up what remained of the beach. They seemed to be flying.
Odetta Holmes still neither liked nor trusted Roland; that was clear. But she recognized how desperate his condition had become, and responded to that. Now, instead of pushing a dead clump of steel and rubber to which a human body just happened to be attached, Eddie felt almost as if he were pushing a glider.
Go with her. Before, I was watching out for you and that was important. Now I'll only slow you down.
He came to realize how right the gunslinger was almost at once. Eddie pushed the chair; Odetta pumped it.
One of the gunslinger's revolvers was stuck in the waistband of Eddie's pants.
Do you remember when I told you to be on your guard and you weren't?
I'm telling you again: Be on your guard. Every moment. If her other comes back, don't wait even a second. Brain her.
What if I kill her?
Then it's the end. But if she kills you, that's the end, too. And if she comes back she'll try. She'll try.
Eddie hadn't wanted to leave him. It wasn't just that cat-scream in the night (although he kept thinking about it); it was simply that Roland had become his only touchstone in this world. He and Odetta didn't belong here.
Still, he realized that the gunslinger had been right.
"Do you want to rest?" he asked Odetta. "There's more food. A little."
"Not yet," she answered, although her voice sounded tired. "Soon."
"All right, but at least stop pumping. You're weak. Your ... your stomach, you know."
"All right." She turned, her face gleaming with sweat, and favored him with a smile that both weakened and strengthened him. He could have died for such a smile ... and thought he would, if circumstances demanded.
He hoped to Christ circumstances wouldn't, but it surely wasn't out of the question. Time had become something so crucial it screamed.
She put her hands in her lap and he went on pushing. The tracks the chair left behind were now dimmer; the beach had become steadily firmer, but it was also littered with rubble that could cause an accident. You wouldn't have to help one happen at the speed they were going. A really bad accident might hurt Odetta and that would be bad; such an accident could also wreck the chair, and that would be bad for them and probably worse for the gunslinger, who would almost surely die alone. And if Roland died, they would be trapped in this world forever.
With Roland too sick and weak to walk, Eddie had been forced to face one simple fact: there were three people here, and two of them were cripples.
So what hope, what chance was there?
The chair was the hope, the whole hope, and nothing but the hope.
So help them God.
The gunslinger had regained consciousness shortly after Eddie dragged him into the shade of a rock outcropping. His face, where it was not ashy, was a hectic red. His chest rose and fell rapidly. His right arm was a network of twisting red lines.
"Feed her," he croaked at Eddie.
"You - "
"Never mind me. I'll be all right. Feed her. She'll eat now, I think. And you'll need her strength."
"Roland, what if she's just pretending to be - "
The gunslinger gestured impatiently.
"She's not pretending to be anything, except alone in her body. I know it and you do, too. It's in her face. Feed her, for the sake of your father, and while she eats, come back to me. Every minute counts now. Every second."
Eddie got up, and the gunslinger pulled him back with his left hand. Sick or not, his strength was still there.
"And say nothing about the other. Whatever she tells you, however she explains, don't contradict her."
"I don't know. I just know it's wrong. Now do as I say and don't waste any more time!"
Odetta had been sitting in her chair, looking out at the sea with an expression of mild and bemused amazement. When Eddie offered her the chunks of lobster left over from the previous night, she smiled ruefully. "I would if I could," she said, "but you know what happens."
Eddie, who had no idea what she was talking about, could only shrug and say, "It wouldn't hurt to try again, Odetta. You need to eat, you know. We've got to go as fast as we can."
She laughed a little and touched his hand. He felt something like an electric charge jump from her to him. And it was her; Odetta. He knew it as well as Roland did.
"I love you, Eddie. You have tried so hard. Been so patient. So has he - " She nodded toward the place where the gunslinger lay propped against the rocks, watching. " - but he is a hard man to love."
"Yeah. Don't I know it."
"I'll try one more time.
She smiled and he felt all the world move for her, because of her, and he thought Please God, I have never had much, so please don't take her away from me again. Please.
She took the chunks of lobster-meat, wrinkled her nose in a rueful comic expression, and looked up at him.
"Just give it a shot," he said.
"I never ate scallops again," she said.
"I thought I told you."
"You might have," he said, and gave a little nervous laugh. What the gunslinger had said about not letting her know about the other loomed very large inside his mind just then.
"We had them for dinner one night when I was ten or eleven. I hated the way they tasted, like little rubber balls, and later I vomited them up. I never ate them again. But ..." She sighed. "As you say, I'll 'give it a shot.'"
She put a piece in her mouth like a child taking a spoonful of medicine she knows will taste nasty. She chewed slowly at first, then more rapidly. She swallowed. Took another piece. Chewed, swallowed. Another. Now she was nearly wolfing it.
"Whoa, slow down!" Eddie said.
"It must be another kind! That's it, of course it is!" She looked at Eddie shiningly. "We've moved further up the beach and the species has changed! I'm no longer allergic, it seems! It doesn't taste nasty, like it did before ... and I did try to keep it down, didn't I?" She looked at him nakedly. "I tried very hard."
"Yeah." To himself he sounded like a radio broadcasting a very distant signal. She thinks she's been eating every day and then upchucking everything. She thinks that's why she's so weak. Christ Almighty. "Yeah, you tried like hell."
"It tastes - " These words were hard to pick up because her mouth was full. "It tastes so good!" She laughed. The sound was delicate and lovely. "It's going to stay down! I'm going to take nourishment! I know it! I feel it!"
"Just don't overdo it," he cautioned, and gave her one of the water-skins. "You're not used to it. All that - " He swallowed and there was an audible (audible to him, at least) click in his throat. "All that throwing up."
"I need to talk to Roland for a few minutes."
But before he could go she grasped his hand again.
"Thank you, Eddie. Thank you for being so patient. And thank him." She paused gravely. "Thank him, and don't tell him that he scares me."
"I won't," Eddie had said, and went back to the gunslinger.
Even when she wasn't pushing, Odetta was a help. She navigated with the prescience of a woman who has spent a long time weaving a wheelchair through a world that would not acknowledge handicapped people such as she for years to come.
"Left," she'd call, and Eddie would gee to the left, gliding past a rock snarling out of the pasty grit like a decayed fang. On his own, he might have seen it ... or maybe not.
"Right," she called, and Eddie hawed right, barely missing one of the increasingly rare sandtraps.
They finally stopped and Eddie lay down, breathing hard.
"Sleep," Odetta said. "An hour. I'll wake you."
Eddie looked at her.
"I'm not lying. I observed your friend's condition, Eddie求"
"He's not exactly my friend, you kn - "
" - and I know how important time is. I won't let you sleep longer than an hour out of a misguided sense of mercy. I can tell the sun quite well. You won't do that man any good by wearing yourself out, will you?"
"No," he said, thinking: But you don't understand. If I sleep and DettaWalker comes back -
"Sleep, Eddie," she said, and since Eddie was too weary (and too much in love) to do other than trust her, he did. He slept and she woke him when she said she would and she was still Odetta, and they went on, and now she was pumping again, helping. They raced up the diminishing beach toward the door Eddie kept frantically looking for and kept not seeing.
When he left Odetta eating her first meal in days and went back to the gunslinger, Roland seemed a little better.
"Hunker down," he said to Eddie.
"Leave me the skin that's half full. All I need. Take her to the door."
"What if I don't - "
"Find it? You'll find it. The first two were there; this one will be, too. If you get there before sundown tonight, wait for dark and then kill double. You'll need to leave her food and make sure she's sheltered as well as she can be. If you don't reach it tonight, kill triple. Here."
He handed over one of his guns.
Eddie took it with respect, surprised as before by how heavy it was.
"I thought the shells were all losers."
"Probably are. But I've loaded with the ones I believe were wetted least - three from the buckle side of the left belt, three from the buckle side of the right. One may fire. Two, if you're lucky. Don't try them on the crawlies." His eyes considered Eddie briefly. "There may be other things out there."
"You heard it too, didn't you?"
"If you mean something yowling in the hills, yes. If you mean the Bugger-Man, as your eyes say, no. I heard a wildcat in the brakes, that's all, maybe with a voice four times the size of its body. It may be nothing you can't drive off with a stick. But there's her to think about. If her other comes back, you may have to - "
"I won't kill her, if that's what you're thinking!"
"You may have to wing her. You understand?"
Eddie gave a reluctant nod. Goddam shells probably wouldn't fire anyway, so there was no sense getting his panties in a bunch about it.
"When you get to the door, leave her. Shelter her as well as you can, and come back to me with the chair."
"And the gun?"
The gunslinger's eyes blazed so brightly that Eddie snapped his head back, as if Roland had thrust a flaming torch in his face. "Gods, yes! Leave her with a loaded gun, when her other might come back at any time? Are you insane?"
"The shells - "
"Fuck the shells!" the gunslinger cried, and a freak drop in the wind allowed the words to carry. Odetta turned her head, looked at them for a long moment, then looked back toward the sea. "Leave it with her not!"
Eddie kept his voice low in case the wind should drop again. "What if something comes down from the brakes while I'm on my way back here? Some kind of cat four times bigger than its voice, instead of the other way around? Something you can't drive off with a stick?"
"Give her a pile of stones," the gunslinger said.
"Stones! Jesus wept! Man, you are such a fucking shit!"
"I am thinking," the gunslinger said. "Something you seem unable to do. I gave you the gun so you could protect her from the sort of danger you're talking about for half of the trip you must make. Would it please you if I took the gun back? Then perhaps you could die for her. Would that please you? Very romantic ... except then, instead of just her, all three of us would go down."
"Very logical. You're still a fucking shit, however."
"Go or stay. Stop calling me names."
"You forgot something," Eddie said furiously.
"What was that?"
"You forgot to tell me to grow up. That's what Henry always used to say. 'Oh grow up, kid.' "
The gunslinger had smiled, a weary, oddly beautiful smile. "I think you have grown up. Will you go or stay?"
"I'll go," Eddie said. "What are you going to eat? She scarfed the leftovers."
"The fucking shit will find a way. The fucking shit has been finding one for years."
Eddie looked away. "I ... I guess I'm sorry I called you that, Roland. It's been - " He laughed suddenly, shrilly. "It's been a very trying day."
Roland smiled again. "Yes," he said. "It has."
They made the best time of the entire trek that day, but there was still no door in sight when the sun began to spill its gold track across the ocean. Although she told him she was perfectly capable of going on for another half an hour, he called a halt and helped her out of the chair. He carried her to an even patch of ground that looked fairly smooth, got the cushions from the back of the chair and the seat, and eased them under her.
"Lord, it feels so good to stretch out," she sighed. "But ..." Her brow clouded. "I keep thinking of that man back there, Roland, all by himself, and I can't really enjoy it. Eddie, who is he? What is he?" And, almost as an afterthought: "And why does he shout so much?"
"Just his nature, I guess," Eddie said, and abruptly went off to gather rocks. Roland hardly ever shouted. He guessed some of it was this morning - FUCK the shells! - but that the rest of it was false memory: the time she thought she had been Odetta.
He killed triple, as the gunslinger had instructed, and was so intent on the last that he skipped back from a fourth which had been closing in on his right with only an instant to spare. He saw the way its claws clicked on the empty place which had been occupied by his foot and leg a moment before, and thought of the gunslinger's missing fingers.
He cooked over a dry wood fire - the encroaching hills and increasing vegetation made the search for good fuel quicker and easier, that was one thing - while the last of the daylight faded from the western sky.
"Look, Eddie!" she cried, pointing up.
He looked, and saw a single star gleaming on the breast of the night.
"Isn't it beautiful?"
"Yes," he said, and suddenly, for no reason, his eyes filled with tears. Just where had he been all of his goddamned life? Where had he been, what had he been doing, who had been with him while he did it, and why did he suddenly feel so grimy and abysmally beshitted?
Her lifted face was terrible in its beauty, irrefutable in this light, but the beauty was unknown to its possessor, who only looked at the star with wide wondering eyes, and laughed softly.
"Star light, star bright," she said, and stopped. She looked at him. "Do you know it, Eddie?"
"Yeah." Eddie kept his head down. His voice sounded clear enough, but if he looked up she would see he was weeping.
"Then help me. But you have to look."
He wiped the tears into the palm of one hand and looked up at the star with her.
"Star light - " she looked at him and he joined her. "Star bright - "
Her hand reached out, groping, and he clasped it, one the delicious brown of light chocolate, the other the delicious white of a dove's breast.
"First star I see tonight," they spoke solemnly in unison, boy and girl for this now, not man and woman as they would be later, when the dark was full and she called to ask him if he was asleep and he said no and she asked if he would hold her because she was cold; "Wish I may, wish I might - "
They looked at each other, and he saw that tears were streaming down her cheeks. His own came again, and he let them fall in her sight. This was not a shame but an inexpressible relief.
They smiled at each other.
"Have the wish I wish tonight," Eddie said, and thought: Please, always you.
"Have the wish I wish tonight," she echoed, and thought If I must die in this odd place, please let it not be too hard and let this good young man be with me.
"I'm sorry I cried," she said, wiping her eyes. "I don't usually, but it's been - "
"A very trying day," he finished for her.
"Yes. And you need to eat, Eddie."
"You do, too."
"I just hope it doesn't make me sick again."
He smiled at her.
"I don't think it will."
Later, with strange galaxies turning in slow gavotte overhead, neither thought the act of love had ever been so sweet, so full.
They were off with the dawn, racing, and by nine Eddie was wishing he had asked Roland what he should do if they came to the place where the hills cut off the beach and there was still no door in sight. It seemed a question of some importance, because the end of the beach was coming, no doubt about that. The hills marched ever closer, running in a diagonal line toward the water.
The beach itself was no longer a beach at all, not really; the soil was now firm and quite smooth. Something - run-off, he supposed, or flooding at some rainy season (there had been none since he had been in this world, not a drop; the sky had clouded over a few times, but then the clouds had blown away again) - had worn most of the jutting rocks away.
At nine-thirty, Odetta cried: "Stop, Eddie! Stop!"
He stopped so abruptly that she had to grab the arms of the chair to keep from tumbling out. He was around to her in a flash.
"I'm sorry," he said. "Are you all right?"
"Fine." He saw he had mistaken excitement for distress. She pointed. "Up there! Do you see something?"
He shaded his eyes and saw nothing. He squinted. For just a moment he thought ... no, it was surely just heat-shimmer rising from the packed ground.
"I don't think so," he said, and smiled. "Except maybe your wish."
"I think I do!" She turned her excited, smiling face to him. "Standing all by itself! Near where the beach ends."
He looked again, squinting so hard this time that his eyes watered. He thought again for just a moment that he saw something. You did, he thought, and smiled. You saw her wish.
"Maybe," he said, not because he believed it but because she did.
Eddie went behind the chair again, taking a moment to massage his lower back where a steady ache had settled. She looked around.
"What are you waiting for?"
"You really think you've got it spotted, don't you?"
"Well then, let's go!"
Eddie started pushing again.
Half an hour later he saw it, too. Jesus, he thought, her eyes are as good as Roland's. Maybe better.
Neither wanted to stop for lunch, but they needed to eat. They made a quick meal and then pushed on again. The tide was coming in and Eddie looked to the right - west - with rising unease. They were still well above the tangled line of kelp and seaweed that marked high water, but he thought that by the time they reached the door they would be in an uncomfortably tight angle bounded by the sea on one side and the slanting hills on the other. He could see those hills very clearly now. There was nothing pleasant about the view. They were rocky, studded with low trees that curled their roots into the ground like arthritic knuckles, keeping a grim grip, and thorny-looking bushes. They weren't really steep, but too steep for the wheelchair. He might be able to carry her up a way, might, in fact, be forced to, but he didn't fancy leaving her there.
For the first time he was hearing insects. The sound was a little like crickets, but higher pitched than that, and with no swing of rhythm - just a steady monotonous riiiiiiii sound like power-lines. For the first time he was seeing birds other than gulls. Some were biggies that circled inland on stiff wings. Hawks, he thought. He saw them fold their wings from time to time and plummet like stones. Hunting. Hunting what? Well, small animals. That was all right.
Yet he kept thinking of that yowl he'd heard in the night.
By mid-afternoon they could see the third door clearly. Like the other two, it was an impossibility which nonetheless stood as stark as a post.
"Amazing," he heard her say softly. "How utterly amazing."
It was exactly where he had begun to surmise it would be, in the angle that marked the end of any easy northward progress. It stood just above the high tide line and less than nine yards from the place where the hills suddenly leaped out of the ground like a giant hand coated with gray-green brush instead of hair.
The tide came full as the sun swooned toward the water; and at what might have been four o'clock - Odetta said so, and since she had said she was good at telling the sun (and because she was his beloved), Eddie believed her - they reached the door.
They simply looked at it, Odetta in her chair with her hands in her lap, Eddie on the sea-side. In one way they looked at it as they had looked at the evening star the previous night - which is to say, as children look at things - but in another they looked differently. When they wished on the star they had been children of joy. Now they were solemn, wondering, like children looking at the stark embodiment of a thing which only belonged in a fairy tale.
Two words were written on this door.
"What does it mean?" Odetta asked finally.
"I don't know," Eddie said, but those words had brought a hopeless chill; he felt an eclipse stealing across his heart.
"Don't you?" she asked, looking at him more closely.
"No. I ..." He swallowed. "No."
She looked at him a moment longer. "Push me behind it, please. I'd like to see that. I know you want to get back to him, but would you do that for me?"
They started around, on the high side of the door.
"Wait!" she cried. "Did you see it?"
"Go back! Look! Watch!"
This time he watched the door instead of what might be ahead to trip them up. As they went above it he saw it narrow in perspective, saw its hinges, hinges which seemed to be buried in nothing at all, saw its thickness ...
Then it was gone.
The thickness of the door was gone.
His view of the water should have been interrupted by three, perhaps even four inches of solid wood (the door looked extraordinarily stout), but there was no such interruption.
The door was gone.
Its shadow was there, but the door was gone.
He rolled the chair back two feet, so he was just south of the place where the door stood, and the thickness was there.
"You see it?" he asked in a ragged voice.
"Yes! It's there again!"
He rolled the chair forward a foot. The door was still there. Another six inches. Still there. Another two inches. Still there. Another inch ... and it was gone. Solid gone.
"Jesus," he whispered. "Jesus Christ."
"Would it open for you?" she asked. "Or me?"
He stepped forward slowly and grasped the knob of the door with those two words upon it.
He tried clockwise; he tried anti-clockwise.
The knob moved not an iota.
"All right." Her voice was calm, resigned. "It's for him, then. I think we both knew it. Go for him, Eddie. Now."
"First I've got to see to you."
"I'll be fine."
"No you won't. You're too close to the high tide line. If I leave you here, the lobsters are going to come out when it gets dark and you're going to be din - "
Up in the hills, a cat's coughing growl suddenly cut across what he was saying like a knife cutting thin cord. It was a good distance away, but closer than the other had been.
Her eyes flicked to the gunslinger's revolver shoved into the waistband of his pants for just a moment, then back to his face. He felt a dull heat in his cheeks.
"He told you not to give it to me, didn't he?" she said softly. "He doesn't want me to have it. For some reason he doesn't want me to have it."
"The shells got wet," he said awkwardly. "They probably wouldn't fire, anyway."
"I understand. Take me a little way up the slope, Eddie, can you? I know how tired your back must be, Andrew calls it Wheelchair Crouch, but if you take me up a little way, I'll be safe from the lobsters. I doubt if anything else comes very close to where they are."
Eddie thought, When the tide's in, she's probably right ...but what about when it starts to go out again?
"Give me something to eat and some stones," she said, and her unknowing echo of the gunslinger made Eddie flush again. His cheeks and forehead felt like the sides of a brick oven.
She looked at him, smiled faintly, and shook her head as if he had spoken out loud. "We're not going to argue about this. I saw how it is with him. His time is very, very short. There is no time for discussion. Take me up a little way, give me food and some stones, then take the chair and go."
He got her fixed as quickly as he could, then pulled the gunslinger's revolver and held it out to her butt-first. But she shook her head.
"He'll be angry with both of us. Angry with you for giving, angrier at me for taking."
"Crap!" Eddie yelled. "What gave you that idea?"
"I know," she said, and her voice was impervious.
"Well, suppose that's true. Just suppose. I'll be angry with you if you don't take it."
"Put it back. I don't like guns. I don't know how to use them. If something came at me in the dark the first thing I'd do is wet my pants. The second thing I'd do is point it the wrong way and shoot myself." She paused, looking at Eddie solemnly. "There's something else, and you might as well know it. I don't want to touch anything that belongs to him. Not anything. For me, I think his things might have what my Ma used to call a hoodoo. I like to think of myself as a modern woman ... but I don't want any hoodoo on me when you're gone and the dark lands on top of me."
He looked from the gun to Odetta, and his eyes still questioned.
"Put it back," she said, stern as a school teacher. Eddie burst out laughing and obeyed.
"Why are you laughing?"
"Because when you said that you sounded like Miss Hathaway. She was my third-grade teacher."
She smiled a little, her luminous eyes never leaving his. She sang softly, sweetly: "Heavenly shades of night are falling ...it's twilight time ..." She trailed off and they both looked west, but the star they had wished on the previous evening had not yet appeared, although their shadows had drawn long.
"Is there anything else, Odetta?" He felt an urge to delay and delay. He thought it would pass once he was actually headed back, but now the urge to seize any excuse to remain, seemed very strong.
"A kiss. I could do with that, if you don't mind."
He kissed her long and when their lips no longer touched, she caught his wrist and stared at him intently. "I never made love with a white man before last night," she said. "I don't know if that's important to you or not. I don't even know if it's important to me. But I thought you should know."
"Not to me," he said. "In the dark, I think we were both gray. I love you, Odetta."
She put a hand over his.
"You're a sweet young man and perhaps I love you, too, although it's too early for either of us - "
At that moment, as if given a cue, a wildcat growled in what the gunslinger had called the brakes. It still sounded four or five miles away, but that was still four or five miles closer than the last time they heard it, and it sounded big.
They turned their heads toward the sound. Eddie felt hackles trying to stand up on his neck. They couldn't quite make it. Sorry, hackles, he thought stupidly. Iguess my hair's just a little too long now.
The growl rose to a tortured scream that sounded like a cry of some being suffering a horrid death (it might actually have signaled no more than a successful mating). It held for a moment, almost unbearable, and then it wound down, sliding through lower and lower registers until it was gone or buried beneath the ceaseless cry of the wind. They waited for it to come again, but the cry was not repeated. As far as Eddie was concerned, that didn't matter. He pulled the revolver out of his waistband again and held it out to her.
"Take it and don't argue. If you should need to use it, it won't do shit - that's how stuff like this always works - but take it anyway."
"Do you want an argument?"
"Oh, you can argue. You can argue all you want."
After a considering look into Eddie's almost-hazel eyes, she smiled a little wearily. "I won't argue, I guess." She took the gun. "Please be as quick as you can."
"I will." He kissed her again, hurriedly this time, and almost told her to be careful ... but seriously, folks, how careful could she be, with the situation what it was?
He picked his way back down the slope through the deepening shadows (the lobstrosities weren't out yet, but they would be putting in their nightly appearance soon), and looked at the words written upon the door again. The same chill rose in his flesh. They were apt, those words. God, they were so apt. Then he looked back up the slope. For a moment he couldn't see her, and then he saw something move. The lighter brown of one palm. She was waving.
He waved back, then turned the wheelchair and began to run with it tipped up in front of him so the smaller, more delicate front wheels would be off the ground. He ran south, back the way he had come. For the first half-hour or so his shadow ran with him, the improbable shadow of a scrawny giant tacked to the soles of his sneakers and stretching long yards to the east. Then the sun went down, his shadow was gone, and the lobstrosities began to tumble out of the waves.
It was ten minutes or so after he heard the first of their buzzing cries when he looked up and saw the evening star glowing calmly against the dark blue velvet of the sky.
Heavenly shades of night are falling ...it's twilight time ...
Let her be safe. His legs were already aching, his breath too hot and heavy in his lungs, and there was still a third trip to make, this time with the gunslinger as his passenger, and although he guessed Roland must outweigh Odetta by a full hundred pounds and knew he should conserve his strength, Eddie kept running anyway. Let her be safe, that's my wish, let my beloved be safe.
And, like an ill omen, a wildcat screeched somewhere in the tortured ravines that cut through the hills ... only this wildcat sounded as big as a lion roaring in an African jungle.
Eddie ran faster, pushing the untenanted gantry of the wheelchair before him. Soon the wind began to make a thin, ghastly whine through the freely turning spokes of the raised front wheels.
The gunslinger heard a reedy wailing sound approaching him, tensed for a moment, then heard panting breath and relaxed. It was Eddie. Even without opening his eyes he knew that.
When the wailing sound faded and the running footsteps slowed, Roland opened his eyes. Eddie stood panting before him with sweat running down the sides of his face. His shirt was plastered against his chest in a single dark blotch. Any last vestiges of the college-boy look Jack Andolini had insisted upon were gone. His hair hung over his forehead. He had split his pants at the crotch. The bluish-purple crescents under his eyes completed the picture. Eddie Dean was a mess.
"I made it," he said. "I'm here." He looked around, then back at the gunslinger, as if he could not believe it. "Jesus Christ, I'm really here."
"You gave her the gun."
Eddie thought the gunslinger looked bad - as bad as he'd looked before the first abbreviated round of Keflex, maybe a trifle worse. Fever-heat seemed to be coming off him in waves, and he knew he should have felt sorry for him, but for the moment all he could seem to feel was mad as hell.
"I bust my ass getting back here in record time and all you can say is 'You gave her the gun.' Thanks, man. I mean, I expected some expression of gratitude, but this is just over-fucking - whelming."
" I think I said the only thing that matters."
"Well, now that you mention it, I did," Eddie said, putting his hands on his hips and staring truculently down at the gunslinger. "Now you have your choice. You can get in this chair or I can fold it and try to jam it up your ass. Which do you prefer, mawster?"
"Neither." Roland was smiling a little, the smile of a man who doesn't want to smile but can't help it. "First you're going to take some sleep, Eddie. We'll see what we'll see when the time for seeing comes, but for now you need sleep. You're done in."
"I want to get back to her."
"I do, too. But if you don't rest, you're going to fall down in the traces. Simple as that. Bad for you, worse for me, and worst of all for her."
Eddie stood for a moment, undecided.
"You made good time," the gunslinger conceded. He squinted at the sun. "It's four, maybe a quarter-past. You sleep five, maybe seven hours, and it'll be full dark - "
"Four. Four hours."
"All right. Until after dark; I think that's the important thing. Then you eat. Then we move."
"You eat, too."
That faint smile again. "I'll try." He looked at Eddie calmly. "Your life is in my hands now; I suppose you know that."
"I kidnapped you."
"Do you want to kill me? If you do, do it now rather than subject any of us to ..." His breath whistled out softly. Eddie heard his chest rattling and cared very little for the sound. "... to any further discomfort," he finished.
"I don't want to kill you."
"Then - " he was interrupted by a sudden harsh burst of coughing " - lie down," he finished.
Eddie did. Sleep did not drift upon him as it sometimes did but seized him with the rough hands of a lover who is awkward in her eagerness. He heard (or perhaps this was only a dream) Roland saying, But you shouldn't have given her the gun, and then he was simply in the dark for an unknown time and then Roland was shaking him awake and when he finally sat up all there seemed to be in his body was pain: pain and weight. His muscles had turned into rusty winches and pullies in a deserted building. His first effort to get to his feet didn't work. He thumped heavily back to the sand. He managed it on the second try, but he felt as if it might take him twenty minutes just to perform such a simple act as turning around. And it would hurt to do it.
Roland's eyes were on him, questioning. "Are you ready?"
Eddie nodded. "Yes. Are you?"
So they ate ... and then Eddie began his third and last trip along this cursed stretch of beach.
They rolled a good stretch that night, but Eddie was still dully disappointed when the gunslinger called a halt. He offered no disagreement because he was simply too weary to go on without rest, but he had hoped to get further. The weight. That was the big problem. Compared to Odetta, pushing Roland was like pushing a load of iron bars. Eddie slept four more hours before dawn, woke with the sun coming over the eroding hills which were all that remained of the mountains, and listened to the gunslinger coughing. It was a weak cough, full of rales, the cough of an old man who may be coming down with pneumonia.
Their eyes met. Roland's coughing spasm turned into a laugh.
"I'm not done yet, Eddie, no matter how I sound. Are you?"
Eddie thought of Odetta's eyes and shook his head.
"Not done, but I could use a cheeseburger and a Bud."
"Bud?" the gunslinger said doubtfully, thinking of apple trees and the spring flowers in the Royal Court Gardens .
"Never mind. Hop in, my man. No four on the floor, no T-top, but we're going to roll some miles just the same.
And they did, but when sunset came on the second day following his leave-taking of Odetta, they were still only drawing near the place of the third door. Eddie lay down, meaning to crash for another four hours, but the screaming cry of one of those cats jerked him out of sleep after only two hours, his heart thumping. God, the thing sounded fucking huge.
He saw the gunslinger up on one elbow, his eyes gleaming in the dark.
"You ready?" Eddie asked. He got slowly to his feet, grinning with pain.
"Are you?" Roland asked again, very softly.
Eddie twisted his back, producing a series of pops like a string of tiny firecrackers. "Yeah. But I could really get behind that cheeseburger."
"I thought chicken was what you wanted."
Eddie groaned. "Cut me a break, man."
The third door was in plain view by the time the sun cleared the hills. Two hours later, they reached it.
All together again, Eddie thought, ready to drop to the sand.
But that was apparently not so. There was no sign of Odetta Holmes. No sign at all.
"Odetta!" Eddie screamed, and now his voice was broken and hoarse as the voice of Odetta's other had been.
There wasn't even an echo in return, something he might at least have mistaken for Odetta's voice. These low, eroded hills would not bounce sound. There was only the crash of the waves, much louder in this tight arrowhead of land, the rhythmic, hollow boom of surf crashing to the end of some tunnel it had dug in the friable rock, and the steady keening of the wind.
This time he screamed so loudly his voice broke and for a moment something sharp, like a jag of fishbone, tore at his vocal cords. His eyes scanned the hills frantically, looking for the lighter patch of brown that would be her palm, looking for movement as she stood up ... looking (God forgive him) for bright splashes of blood on roan-colored rock.
He found himself wondering what he would do if he saw that last, or found the revolver, now with deep toothmarks driven into the smooth sandalwood of the grips. The sight of something like that might drive him into hysteria, might even run him crazy, but he looked for it - or something - just the same.
His eyes saw nothing; his ears brought not the faintest returning cry.
The gunslinger, meanwhile, had been studying the third door. He had expected a single word, the word the man in black had used as he turned the sixth Tarot card at the dusty Golgotha where they had held palaver. Death, Walter had said, but not for you, gunslinger.
There was not one word writ upon this door but two ... and neither of them was DEATH. He read it again, lips moving soundlessly:
Yet it means death, Roland thought, and knew it was so.
What made him look around was the sound of Eddie's voice, moving away. Eddie had begun to climb the first slope, still calling Odetta's name.
For a moment Roland considered just letting him go.
He might find her, might even find her alive, not too badly hurt, and still herself. He supposed the two of them might even make a life of sorts for themselves here, that Eddie's love for Odetta and hers for him might somehow smother the nightshade who called herself Detta Walker. Yes, between the two of them he supposed it was possible that Detta might simply be squeezed to death. He was a romantic in his own harsh way ... yet he was also realist enough to know that sometimes love actually did conquer all. As for himself? Even if he was able to get the drugs from Eddie's world which had almost cured him before, would they be able to cure him this time, or even make a start? He was now very sick, and he found himself wondering if perhaps things hadn't gone too far. His arms and legs ached, his head thudded, his chest was heavy and full of snot. When he coughed there was a painful grating in his left side, as if ribs were broken there. His left ear flamed. Perhaps, he thought, the time had come to end it; to just cry off.
At this, everything in him rose up in protest.
"Eddie!" he cried, and there was no cough now. His voice was deep and powerful.
Eddie turned, one foot on raw dirt, the other braced on a jutting spar of rock.
"Go on," he said, and made a curious little sweeping gesture with his hand, a gesture that said he wanted to be rid of the gunslinger so he could be about his real business, the important business, the business of finding Odetta and rescuing her if rescue were necessary. "It's all right. Go on through and get the stuff you need. We'll both be here when you get back."
"I doubt that."
"I have to find her." Eddie looked at Roland and his gaze was very young and completely naked. "I mean, I really have to."
"I understand your love and your need," the gunslinger said, "but I want you to come with me this time, Eddie."
Eddie stared at him for a long time, as if trying to credit what he was hearing.
"Come with you," he said at last, bemused. "Come with you! Holy God, now I think I really have heard everything. Deedle-deedle-dumpkin everything. Last time you were so determined I was gonna stay behind you were willing to take a chance on me cutting your throat. This time you want to take a chance on something ripping hers right out."
"That may have already happened," Roland said, although he knew it hadn't. The Lady might be hurt, but he knew she wasn't dead.
Unfortunately, Eddie did, too. A week or ten days without his drug had sharpened his mind remarkably. He pointed at the door. "You know she's not. If she was, that goddam thing would be gone. Unless you were lying when you said it wasn't any good without all three of us."
Eddie tried to turn back to the slope, but Roland's eyes held him nailed.
"All right," the gunslinger said. His voice was almost as soft as it had been when he spoke past the hateful face and screaming voice of Detta to the woman trapped somewhere behind it. "She's alive. That being so, why does she not answer your calls?"
"Well ... one of those cats-things may have carried her away." But Eddie's voice was weak.
"A cat would have killed her, eaten what it wanted, and left the rest. At most, it might have dragged her body into the shade so it could come back tonight and eat meat the sun perhaps hadn't yet spoiled. But if that was the case, the door would be gone. Cats aren't like some insects, who paralyze their prey and carry them off to eat later, and you know it."
"That isn't necessarily true," Eddie said. For a moment he heard Odetta saying You should have been on the debate team, Eddie and pushed the thought aside. "Could be a cat came for her and she tried to shoot it but the first couple of shells in your gun were misfires. Hell, maybe even the first four or five. The cat gets to her, mauls her, and just before it can kill her ... BANG!" Eddie smacked a fist against his palm, seeing all this so vividly that he might have witnessed it. "The bullet kills the cat, or maybe just wounds it, or maybe just scares it off. What about that?"
Mildly, Roland said: "We would have heard a gunshot."
For a moment Eddie could only stand, mute, able to think of no counter-argument. Of course they would have heard it. The first time they had heard one of the cats yowling, it had to have been fifteen, maybe twenty miles away. A pistol-shot -
He looked at Roland with sudden cunning. "Maybe you did," he said. "Maybe you heard a gunshot while I was asleep."
"It would have woken you."
"Not as tired as I am, man. I fall asleep, it's like - "
"Like being dead," the gunslinger said in that same mild voice. "I know the feeling."
"Then you understand - "
"But it's not being dead. Last night you were out just like that, but when one of those cats screeched, you were awake and on your feet in seconds. Because of your concern for her. There was no gunshot, Eddie, and you know it. You would have heard it. Because of your concern for her."
"So maybe she brained it with a rock!" Eddie shouted. "How the hell do I know when I'm standing here arguing with you instead of checking out the possibilities? I mean, she could be lying up there someplace hurt, man! Hurt or bleeding to death! How'd you like it if I did come through that door with you and she died while we were on the other side? How'd you like to look around once and see that doorway there, then look around twice and see it gone, just like it never was, because she was gone? Then you'd be trapped in my world instead of the other way around!" He stood panting and glaring at the gunslinger, his hands balled into fists.
Roland felt a tired exasperation. Someone - it might have been Cort but he rather thought it had been his father - had had a saying: Might as well try to drink the ocean with a spoon as argue with a lover. If any proof of the saying were needed, there it stood above him, in a posture that was all defiance and defense. Go on, the set of Eddie Dean's body said. Go on, I can answer any question you throw at me.
"Might not have been a cat that found her," he said now. "This may be your world, but I don't think you've ever been to this part of it any more than I've ever been to Borneo . You don't know what might be running around up in those hills, do you? Could be an ape grabbed her, or something like that."
"Something grabbed her, all right," the gunslinger said.
"Well thank God getting sick hasn't driven all the sense out of your m - "
"And we both know what it was. Detta Walker. That's what grabbed her. Detta Walker."
Eddie opened his mouth, but for some little time - only seconds, but enough of them so both acknowledged the truth - the gunslinger's inexorable face bore all his arguments to silence.
"It doesn't have to be that way."
"Come a little closer. If we're going to talk, let's talk. Every time I have to shout at you over the waves, it rips another piece of my throat out. That's how it feels, anyway."
"What big eyes you have, grandma," Eddie said, not moving.
"What in hell's name are you talking about?"
"A fairy tale." Eddie did descend a short way back down the slope - four yards, no more. "And fairy tales are what you're thinking about if you believe you can coax me close enough to that wheelchair."
"Close enough for what? I don't understand," Roland said, although he understood perfectly.
Nearly a hundred and fifty yards above them and perhaps a full quarter of a mile to the east, dark eyes - eyes as full of intelligence as they were lacking in human mercy - watched this tableau intently. It was impossible to tell what they were saying; the wind, the waves, and the hollow crash of the surf digging its underground channel saw to that, but Detta didn't need to hear what they were saying to know what they were talking about. She didn't need a telescope to see that the Really Bad Man was now also the Really Sick Man, and maybe the Really Bad Man was willing to spend a few days or even a few weeks torturing a legless Negro woman - way things looked around here, entertainment was mighty hard to come by - but she thought the Really Sick Man only wanted one thing, and that was to get his whitebread ass out of here. Just use that magic doorway to haul the fucker out. But before, he hadn't been hauling no ass. Before, he hadn't been hauling nothing. Before, the Really Bad Man hadn't been nowhere but inside her own head. She still didn't like to think of how that had been, how it had felt, how easily he had overridden all her clawing efforts to push him out, away, to take control of herself again. That had been awful. Terrible. And what made it worse was her lack of understanding. What, exactly, was the real source of her terror? That it wasn't the invasion itself was frightening enough. She knew she might understand if she examined herself more closely, but she didn't want to do that. Such examination might lead her to a place like the one sailors had feared in the ancient days, a place which was no more or less than the edge of the world, a place the cartographers had marked with the legend HERE THERE BE SARPENTS. The hideous thing about the Really Bad Man's invasion had been the sense of familiarity that came with it, as if this amazing thing had happened before - not once, but many times. But, frightened or not, she had denied panic. She had observed even as she fought, and she remembered looking into that door when the gunslinger used her hands to pivot the wheelchair toward it. She remembered seeing the body of the Really Bad Man lying on the sand with Eddie crouched above it, a knife in his hand.
Would that Eddie had plunged that knife into the Really Bad Man's throat! Better than a pig-slaughtering! Better by a country mile!
He hadn't, but she had seen the Really Bad Man's body. It had been breathing, but body was the right word just the same; it had only been a worthless thing, like a cast-off towsack which some idiot had stuffed full of weeds or cornshucks.
Detta's mind might have been as ugly as a rat's ass, but it was even quicker and sharper than Eddie's. Really Bad Man there used to be full of piss an vinegar. Not no mo. He know I'm up here and doan want to do nothin but git away befo I come down an kill his ass. His little buddy, though - he still be pretty strong, and he ain't had his fill of hurting on me just yet. Want to come up here and hunt me down no matter how that Really Bad Man be. Sho. He be thinkin, One black bitch widdout laigs no match fo a big ole swingin dick like me. I doan wan t'run. I want to be huntin that black quiff down. I give her a poke or two, den we kin go like you want. That what he be thinkin, and that be all right. That be jes fine, graymeat. You think you can take DettaWalker, you jes come on up here in these Drawers and give her a try. You goan find out when you fuckin with me, you fuckin wit the best, honeybunch! You goan find out -
But she was jerked from the rat-run of her thoughts by a sound that came to her clearly in spite of the surf and wind: the heavy crack of a pistol-shot.
"I think you understand better than you let on," Eddie said. "A whole hell of a lot better. You'd like for me to get in grabbing distance, that's what I think." He jerked his head toward the door without taking his eyes from Roland's face. Unaware that not far away someone was thinking exactly the same thing, he added: "I know you're sick, all right, but it could be you're pretending to be a lot weaker than you really are. Could be you're laying back in the tall grass just a little bit."
"Could be I am," Roland said, unsmiling, and added: "But I'm not."
He was, though ... a little.
"A few more steps wouldn't hurt, though, would it? I'm not going to be able to shout much longer." The last syllable turned into a frog's croak as if to prove his point. "And I need to make you think about what you're doing - planning to do. If I can't persuade you to come with me, maybe I can at least put you on your guard ... again."
"For your precious Tower," Eddie sneered, but he did come skidding halfway down the slope of ground he had climbed, his tattered tennies kicking up listless clouds of maroon dust.
"For my precious Tower and your precious health," the gunslinger said. "Not to mention your precious life."
He slipped the remaining revolver from the left holster and looked at it with an expression both sad and strange.
"If you think you can scare me with that - "
"I don't. You know I can't shoot you, Eddie. But I think you do need an object lesson in how things have changed. How much things have changed."
Roland lifted the gun, its muzzle pointing not toward Eddie but toward the empty surging ocean, and thumbed the hammer. Eddie steeled himself against the gun's heavy crack.
No such thing. Only a dull click.
Roland thumbed the hammer back again. The cylinder rotated. He squeezed the trigger, and again there was nothing but a dull click.
"Never mind," Eddie said. "Where I come from, the Defense Department would have hired you after the first misfire. You might as well qui - "
But the heavy KA-BLAM of the revolver cut off the word's end as neatly as Roland had cut small branches from trees as a target-shooting exercise when he had been a student. Eddie jumped. The gunshot momentarily silenced the constant riiiiii of the insects in the hills. They only began to tune up again slowly, cautiously, after Roland had put the gun in his lap.
"What in hell does that prove?"
"I suppose that all depends on what you'll listen to and what you refuse to hear," Roland said a trifle sharply. "It's supposed to prove that not all the shells are duds. Furthermore, it suggests - strongly suggests - that some, maybe even all, of the shells in the gun you gave Odetta may be live."
"Bullshit!" Eddie paused. "Why?"
"Because I loaded the gun I just fired with shells from the backs of my gunbelts - with shells that took the worst wetting, in other words. I did it just to pass the time while you were gone. Not that it takes much time to load a gun, even shy a pair of fingers, you understand!" Roland laughed a little, and the laugh turned into a cough he muzzled with an abridged fist. When the cough had subsided he went on: "But after you've tried to fire wets, you have to break the machine and clean the machine. Break the machine, clean the machine, you maggots - it was the first thing Cort, our teacher, drummed into us. I didn't know how long it would take me to break down my gun, clean it, and put it back together with only a hand and a half, but I thought that if I intended to go on living - and I do, Eddie, I do - I'd better find out. Find out and then learn to do it faster, don't you think so? Come a little closer, Eddie! Come a little closer for your father's sake!"
"All the better to see you with, my child," Eddie said, but did take a couple of steps closer to Roland. Only a couple.
"When the first slug I pulled the trigger on fired, I almost filled my pants," the gunslinger said. He laughed again. Shocked, Eddie realized the gunslinger had reached the edge of delirium. "The first slug, but believe me when I say it was the last thing I had expected."
Eddie tried to decide if the gunslinger was lying, lying about the gun, and lying about his condition as well. Cat was sick, yeah. But was he really this sick? Eddie didn't know. If Roland was acting, he was doing a great job; as for guns, Eddie had no way of telling because he had no experience with them. He had shot a pistol maybe three times in his life before suddenly finding himself in a firefight at Balazar's place. Henry might have known, but Henry was dead - a thought which had a way of constantly surprising Eddie into grief.
"None of the others fired," the gunslinger said, "so I cleaned the machine, re-loaded, and fired around the chamber again. This time I used shells a little further toward the belt buckles. Ones which would have taken even less of a wetting. The loads we used to kill our food, the dry loads, were the ones closest to the buckles."
He paused to cough dryly into his hand, then went on.
"Second time around I hit two live rounds. I broke my gun down again, cleaned it again, then loaded a third time. You just watched me drop the trigger on the first three chambers of that third loading." He smiled faintly. "You know, after the first two clicks I thought it would be my damned luck to have filled the cylinder with nothing but wets. That wouldn't have been very convincing, would it? Can you come a little closer, Eddie?"
"Not very convincing at all," Eddie said, "and I think I'm just as close to you as I'm going to come, thanks. What lesson am I supposed to take from all this, Roland?"
Roland looked at him as one might look at an imbecile. "I didn't send you out here to die, you know. I didn't send either of you out here to die. Great gods, Eddie, where are your brains? She's packing live iron!" His eyes regarded Eddie closely. "She's someplace up in those hills. Maybe you think you can track her, but you're not going to have any luck if the ground is as stony as it looks from here. She's lying up there, Eddie, not Odetta but Detta, lying up there with live iron in her hand. If I leave you and you go after her, she'll blow your guts out of your asshole."
Another spasm of coughing set in.
Eddie stared at the coughing man in the wheelchair and the waves pounded and the wind blew its steady idiot's note.
At last he heard his voice say, "You could have held back one shell you knew was live. I wouldn't put it past you." And with that said he knew it to be true: he wouldn't put that or anything else past Roland.
His goddamned Tower.
And the slyness of putting the saved shell in the third cylinder! It provided just the right touch of reality, didn't it? Made it hard not to believe.
"We've got a saying in my world," Eddie said. " 'That guy could sell Frigidaires to the Eskimos.' That's the saying."
"What does it mean?"
"It means go pound sand."
The gunslinger looked at him for a long time and then nodded. "You mean to stay. All right. As Detta she's safer from ... from whatever wildlife there may be around here ... than she would have been as Odetta, and you'd be safer away from her - at least for the time being - but I can see how it is. I don't like it, but I've no time to argue with a fool."
"Does that mean," Eddie asked politely, "that no one ever tried to argue with you about this Dark Tower you're so set on getting to?"
Roland smiled tiredly. "A great many did, as a matter of fact. I suppose that's why I recognize you'll not be moved. One fool knows another. At any rate, I'm too weak to catch you, you're obviously too wary to let me coax you close enough to grab you, and time's grown too short to argue. All I can do is go and hope for the best. I'm going to tell you one last time before I do go, and hear me, Eddie: Be on your guard."
Then Roland did something that made Eddie ashamed of all his doubts (although no less solidly set in his own decision): he flicked open the cylinder of the revolver with a practiced flick of his wrist, dumped all the loads, and replaced them with fresh loads from the loops closest to the buckles. He snapped the cylinder back into place with another flick of his wrist.
"No time to clean the machine now," he said, "but 'twont matter, I reckon. Now catch, and catch clean - don't dirty the machine any more than it is already. There aren't many machines left in my world that work anymore."
He threw the gun across the space between them. In his anxiety, Eddie almost did drop it. Then he had it safely tucked into his waistband.
The gunslinger got out of the wheelchair, almost fell when it slid backward under his pushing hands, then tottered to the door. He grasped its knob; in his hand it turned easily. Eddie could not see the scene the door opened upon, but he heard the muffled sound of traffic.
Roland looked back at Eddie, his blue bullshooter's eyes gleaming out of a face which was ghastly pale.
Detta watched all of this from her hiding place with hungrily gleaming eyes.
"Remember, Eddie," he said in a hoarse voice, and then stepped forward. His body collapsed at the edge of the doorway, as if it had struck a stone wall instead of empty space.
Eddie felt an almost insatiable urge to go to the doorway, to look through and see where - and to what when - it led. Instead he turned and scanned the hills again, his hand on the gun-butt.
I'm going to tell you one last time.
Suddenly, scanning the empty brown hills, Eddie was scared.
Be on your guard.
Nothing up there was moving.
Nothing he could see, at least.
He sensed her all the same.
Not Odetta; the gunslinger was right about that.
It was Detta he sensed.
He swallowed and heard a click in his throat.
On your guard.
Yes. But never in his life had he felt such a deadly need for sleep. It would take him soon enough; if he didn't give in willingly, sleep would rape him.
And while he slept, Detta would come.
Eddie fought the weariness, looked at the unmoving hills with eyes which felt swollen and heavy, and wondered how long it might be before Roland came back with the third - The Pusher, whoever he or she was.
"Odetta?" he called without much hope.
Only silence answered, and for Eddie the time of waiting began.