The Dark Tower



The white-haired gent's companions were a good deal younger
(one looked to Roland hardly out of his teens), and both seemed absolutely terrified. Afraid of being shot by mistake, of course-that was why they'd come hurrying out of the gloom with dieir hands raised-but of something else, as well, because it must be clear to them now that they weren't going to be assassinated out of hand.
The older man gave an almost spastic jerk, pulling himself out of some private place. "Of course you're not Bobby," he murmured. "Hair's the wrong color, for one thing... and-"
"Ted, we have to get outoi here," the youngest of the three said urgently. "And I mean inmediatamento."
"Yes," the older man said, but his gaze remained on Jake. He put a hand over his eyes (to Eddie he looked like a carny mentalist getting ready to go into his big thought-reading routine),
then lowered it again. "Yes, of course." He looked at Roland.
"Are you the dinh? Roland of Gilead? Roland of the Eld?"
"Yes, I-" Roland began, then bent over and retched again.
Nothing came out but a long silver string of spittle; he'd already lost his share of Nigel's soup and sandwiches. Then he raised a slightly trembling fist to his forehead in greeting and said,
"Yes. You have the advantage of me, sai."
"That doesn't matter," the white-haired man replied. "Will you come with us? You and your ka-tet?"
"To be sure," Roland said.
Behind him, Eddie bent over and vomited again. "Goddamn!"
he cried in a choked voice. "And I thought going Greyhound was bad! That thing makes the bus look like a... a..."
"Like a first-class stateroom on the Queen Mary," Susannah said in a weak voice.
"Come... on!" the youngest man said in an urgent voice.
"If The Weasel's on the way with his taheen posse, he'll be here in five minutes! That cat can scrambler
"Yes," the man with the white hair agreed. "We really must go, Mr. Deschain."
"Lead," Roland said. "We'll follow."
They hadn't come out in a train station but rather in some sort of colossal roofed switching-yard. The silvery lines Jake had seen were crisscrossing rail-lines, perhaps as many as seventy different sets of tracks. On a couple of them, stubby, automated engines went back and forth on errands that had to be centuries outdated. One was pushing a flatcar filled with rusty I-beams. The other began to cry in an automated voice: "Will a Camka-A please go to Portway 9. Camka-A to Portway 9, if you please."
Pogo-sticking up and down on Eddie's hip began to make Susannah feel sick to her stomach all over again, but she'd caught the white-haired man's urgency like a cold. Also, she now knew what the taheen were: monstrous creatures with the bodies of human beings and the heads of either birds or beasts.
They reminded her of the things in that Bosch painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights.
"I may have to puke again, sugarbunch," she said. "Don't you dare slow down if I do."
Eddie made a grunting sound she took for an affirmative.
She could see sweat pouring down his pale skin and felt sorry for him. He was as sick as she was. So now she knew what it was like to go through a scientific teleportation device that was clearly no longer working very well. She wondered if she would ever be able to bring herself to go through another one.
Jake looked up and saw a roof made of a million panes of different shapes and sizes; it was like looking at a tile mosaic painted a uniform dark gray. Then a bird flew through one of them, and he realized those weren't tiles up there but panels of glass, some of them broken. That dark gray was apparently just how the outside world looked in Thunderclap. Like a constant eclipse, he thought, and shivered. Beside him, Oy made another series of those hoarse hacking sounds and then trotted on, shaking his head.
They passed a clutter of beached machinery-generators, maybe-then entered a maze of helter-skelter traincars that were very different from those hauled by Blaine the Mono.
Some looked to Susannah like the sort of New York Central commuter cars she might have seen in Grand Central Station in her own when of 1964. As if to underline this notion, she noticed one with BAR CAR printed on the side. Yet there were others that appeared much older than that; made of dark riveted tin or steel instead of brushed chrome, they looked like the sort of passenger cars you'd see in an old Western movie, or a TV show like Maverick. Beside one of these stood a robot with wires sprouting crazily from its neck. It was holding its head-which wore a hat with a badge reading CLASS A CONDUCTOR on it-beneath one arm.
At first Susannah tried to keep count of the lefts and rights they were making in this maze, then gave it up as a bad job.
They finally emerged about fifty yards from a clapboard-sided hut with the alliterative message LADING/LOST LUGGAGE over the door. The intervening distance was an apron of cracked concrete scattered with abandoned luggage-carts, stacks of crates, and two dead Wolves. No, Susannah thought, make that three. The third one was leaning against the wall in the deeper shadows just around the corner from LADING/LOST LUGGAGE.
"Come on," said the old man with the mop of white hair, "not much further, now. But we have to hurry, because if the taheen from Heartbreak House catch us, they'll kill you."
"They'd kill us, too," said the youngest of the three. He brvished his hair out of his eyes. "All except for Ted. Ted's only one of us who's indispensable. He's just too modest to say so."
Past LADING/LOST LUGGAGE was (reasonably enough, Susannah thought) SHIPPING OFFICE. The fellow with the white hair tried the door. It was locked. This seemed to please rather than upset him. "Dinky?" he said.
Dinky, it seemed, was the youngest of the three. He took hold of the knob and Susannah heard a snapping sound from somewhere inside. Dinky stepped back. This time when Ted tried the door, it opened easily. They stepped into a dim office bisected by a high counter. On it was a sign that almost made Susannah feel nostalgic: TAKE NUMBER AND WAIT, it said.
When the door was closed, Dinky once more grasped the knob. There was another brisk snap.
"You just locked it again," Jake said. He sounded accusing, but there was a smile on his face, and the color was coming back into his cheeks. "Didn't you?"
"Not now, please," said the white-haired man-Ted. "No time. Follow me, please."
He flipped up a section of the counter and led them through. Behind it was an office area containing two robots that looked long dead, and three skeletons.
"Why the hell do we keep finding bones?" Eddie asked.
Like Jake he was feeling better and only thinking out loud, not really expecting an answer. He got one, however. From Ted.
"Do you know of the Crimson King, young man? You do, of course you do. I believe that at one time he covered this entire part of the world with poison gas. Probably for a lark. Killed almost everyone. The darkness you see is the lingering result.
He's mad, of course. It's a large part of the problem. In here."
He led them through a door marked PRIVATE and into a room that had once probably belonged to a high poobah in the wonderful world of shipping and lading. Susannah saw tracks on the floor, suggesting that this place had been visited recently.
Perhaps by these same three men. There was a desk beneath six inches of fluffy dust, plus two chairs and a couch. Behind the desk was a window. Once it had been covered with Venetian blinds, but these had collapsed onto the floor, revealing a vista as forbidding as it was fascinating. The land beyond Thunderclap Station reminded her of the flat, deserty wastes on the far side of the River Whye, but rockier and even more forbidding.
And of course it was darker.
Tracks (eternally halted trains sat on some of them) radiated out like strands of a steel spiderweb. Above them, a sky of darkest slate-gray seemed to sag almost close enough to touch.
Between the sky and the Earth the air was thick, somehow; Susannah found herself squinting to see things, although there seemed to be no actual mist or smog in the air.
"Dinky," the white-haired man said.
"Yes, Ted."
"What have you left for our friend The Weasel to find?"
"A maintenance drone," Dinky replied. "It'll look like it found its way in through the Fedic door, set off the alarm, then got fried on some of the tracks at the far end of the switching-
yard. Quite a few are still hot. You see dead birds around em all the time, fried to a crisp, but even a good-sized rustie's too small to trip the alarm. A drone, though... I'm pretty sure he'll buy it. The Wease ain't stupid, but it'll look pretty believable."
"Good. That's very good. Look yonder, gunslingers." Ted pointed to a sharp upthrust of rock on the horizon. Susannah could make it out easily; in this dark countryside all horizons seemed close. She could see nothing remarkable about it, though, only folds of deeper shadow and sterile slopes of tumbled rock. "That's Can Steek-Tete."
"The Little Needle," Roland said.
"Excellent translation. It's where we're going."
Susannah's heart sank. The mountain-or perhaps you called something like that a butte-had to be eight or ten miles away. At the very limit of vision, in any case. Eddie and Roland and the two younger men in Ted's party couldn't carry her that far, she didn't believe. And how did they know they could trust these new fellows, anyway?
On the other hand, she thought, what choice do we have?
"You won't need to be carried," Ted told her, "but Stanley can use your help. We'll join hands, like folks at a seance. I'll want you all to visualize that rock formation when we go through. And hold the name in the forefront of your mind:
Steek-Tete, the Little Needle."
"Whoa, whoa," Eddie said. They had approached yet another door, this one standing open on a closet. Wire hangers and one ancient red blazer hung in there. Eddie grasped Ted's shoulder and swung him around. "Go through what? Go through where? Because if it's a door like the last one-"
Ted looked up at Eddie-had to look up, because Eddie was taller-and Susannah saw an amazing, dismaying thing:
Ted's eyes appeared to be shaking in their sockets. A moment later she realized this wasn't actually the case. The man's pupils were growing and then shrinking with eerie rapidity. It was as if they couldn't decide if it was light or dark in here.
"It's not a door we're going through at all, at least not of the kinds with which you may be familiar. You have to trust me, young man. Listen."
They all fell silent, and Susannah could hear the snarl of approaching motors.
"That's The Weasel," Ted told them. "He'll have taheen with him, at least four, maybe half a dozen. If they catch sight of us in here, Dink and Stanley are almost certainly going to die.
They don't have to catch us but only catch sight of us. We're risking our lives for you. This isn't a game, and I need you to stop asking questions and follow mel"
"We will," Roland said. "And we'll think about the Little Needle."
"Steek-Tete," Susannah agreed.
"You won't get sick again," Dinky said. "Promise."
"Thank God," Jake said.
"Thang-odd," Oy agreed.
Stanley, the third member of Ted's party, continued to say nothing at all.
It was just a closet, and an office closet, at that-narrow and musty. The ancient red blazer had a brass tag on the breast pocket with the words HEAD OF SHIPPING stamped on it. Stanley led the way to the back, which was nothing but a blank wall.
Coathangers jingled and jangled. Jake had to watch his step to keep from treading on Oy. He'd always been slightly prone to claustrophobia, and now he began to feel the pudgy fingers of the Panic-Man caressing his neck: first one side and then the other. The 'Rizas clanked softly together in their bag. Seven people and one billy-bumbler crowding into an abandoned office closet? It was nuts. He could still hear the snarl of the approaching engines. The one in charge called The Weasel.
"Join hands," Ted murmured. "And concentrate."
"Steek-Tete," Susannah repeated, but to Jake she sounded dubious this time.
"Little Nee-" Eddie began, and then stopped. The blank wall at the end of the closet was gone. Where it had been was a small clearing with boulders on one side and a steep, scrubcrusted hillside on another. Jake was willing to bet that was Steek-Tete, and if it was a way out of this enclosed space, he was delighted to see it.
Stanley gave a little moan of pain or effort or both. The man's eyes were closed and tears were trickling out from beneath the lids.
"Now," Ted said. "Lead us through, Stanley." To the others he added: "And help him if you can! Help him, for your fathers' sakes!"
Jake tried to hold an image of the outcrop Ted had pointed to through the office window and walked forward, holding Roland's hand ahead of him and Susannah's behind him. He felt a breath of cold air on his sweaty skin and then stepped through onto the slope of Steek-Tete in Thunderclap, thinking just briefly of Mr. C. S. Lewis, and the wonderful wardrobe that took you to Narnia.
They did not come out in Narnia.
It was cold on the slope of the butte, and Jake was soon shivering.
When he looked over his shoulder he saw no sign of the portal they'd come through. The air was dim and smelled of something pungent and not particularly pleasant, like kerosene.
There was a small cave folded into the flank of the slope (it was really not much more than another closet), and from it Ted brought a stack of blankets and a canteen that turned out to hold a sharp, alkali-tasting water. Jake and Roland wrapped themselves in single blankets. Eddie took two and bundled himself and Susannah together. Jake, trying not to let his teeth start chattering (once they did, there'd be no stopping them), envied the two of them their extra warmth.
Dink had also wrapped himself in a blanket, but neither Ted nor Stanley seemed to feel the cold.
"Look down there," Ted invited Roland and the others. He was pointing at the spiderweb of tracks. Jake could see the rambling glass roof of the switching-yard and a green-roofed structure next to it that had to be half a mile long. Tracks led away in every direction. Thunderclap Station, he marveled. Where the Wolves put the kidnapped kids on the train and send them along the Path of the Beam to Fedic. And where they bring them back after they 've been roont.
Even after all he'd been through, it was hard for Jake to believe that they had been down there, six or eight miles away, less than two minutes ago. He suspected they'd all played a part in keeping the portal open, but it was the one called Stanley who'd created it in the first place. Now he looked pale and tired, nearly used up. Once he staggered on his feet and Dink (a very unfortunate nickname, in Jake's humble opinion) grabbed his arm and steadied him. Stanley seemed not to notice. He was looking at Roland with awe.
Not just awe, Jake thought, and not exactly fear, either. Something else. What?
Approaching the station were two motorized buckas with big balloon tires-ATVs. Jake assumed it was The Weasel (whoever he was) and his taheen buddies.
"As you may have gleaned," Ted told them, "there's an alarm in the Devar-Toi Supervisor's office. The warden's office, if you like. It goes off when anyone or anything uses the door between the Fedic staging area and yon station-"
"I believe the term you used for him," Roland said dryly, "wasn't supervisor or warden but ki'-dam."
Dink laughed. "That's a good pickup on your part, dude."
"What does ki'-dam mean?" Jake asked, although he had a fair notion. There was a phrase folks used in the Calla: headbox, heartbox, ki'box. Which meant, in descending order, one's thought processes, one's emotions, and one's lower functions.
Animal functions, some might say; ki'box could be translated as shitbox if you were of a vulgar turn of mind.
Ted shrugged. "Ki'-dam means shit-for-brains. It's Dinky's nickname for sai Prentiss, the Devar Master. But you already knew that, didn't you?"
"I guess," Jake said. "Kinda."
Ted looked at him long, and when Jake identified that expression, it helped him define how Stanley was looking at Roland: not with fear but with fascination. Jake had a pretty good idea Ted was still thinking about how much he looked like someone named Bobby, and he was pretty sure Ted knew he had the touch. What was the source of Stanley's fascination? Or maybe he was making too much of it. Maybe it was just that Stanley had never expected to see a gunslinger in the flesh.
Abruptly, Ted turned from Jake and back to Roland. "Now look this way," he said.
"Whoa!" Eddie cried. "What the hell?"
Susannah was amused as well as amazed. What Ted was pointing out reminded her of Cecil B. DeMille's Bible epic The Ten Commandments, especially the parts where the Red Sea opened by Moses had looked suspiciously like Jell-O and the voice of God coming from the burning bush sounded quite a bit like Charles Laughton. Still, it xoas amazing. In a cheesy Hollywood-special-effects way, that was.
What they saw was a single fat and gorgeous bolt of sunlight slanting down from a hole in the sagging clouds. It cut through the strangely dark air like a searchlight beam and lit a compound that might have been six miles from Thunderclap Station.
And "about six miles" was really all you could say, because there was no more north or south in this world, at least not that you could count on. Now there was only the Path of the Beam.
"Dinky, there's a pair of binoculars in-"
"The lower cave, right?"
"No, I brought them up the last time we were here," Ted replied with carefully maintained patience. "They're sitting on that pile of crates just inside. Get them, please."
Eddie barely noticed this byplay. He was too charmed (and amused) by that single broad ray of sun, shining down on a green and cheerful plot of land, as unlikely in this dark and sterile desert as... well, he supposed, as unlikely as Central Park must seem to tourists from the Midwest making their first trip to New York.
He could see buildings that looked like college dormitories-nice ones-and others that looked like comfy old manor houses with wide stretches of green lawn before them. At the far side of the sunbeam's area was what looked like a street lined with shops. The perfect little Main Street America, except for one thing: in all directions it ended in dark and rocky desert. He saw four stone towers, their sides agreeably green with ivy. No, make that six. The other two were mostly concealed in stands of graceful old elms. Elms in the desert!
Dink returned with a pair of binoculars and offered them to Roland, who shook his head.
"Don't hold it against him," Eddie said. "His eyes... well, let's just say they're something else. I wouldn't mind a peek, though."
"Me, either," Susannah said.
Eddie handed her the binoculars. "Ladies first."
"No, really, I-"
"Stop it," Ted almost snarled. "Our time here is brief, our risk enormous. Don't waste the one or increase the other, if you please."
Susannah was stung but held back a retort. Instead she took the binoculars, raised them to her eyes, and adjusted them. What she saw merely heightened her sense of looking at a small but perfect college campus, one that merged beautifully with the neighboring village. No town-versus-gown tensions there,
I bet, she thought. / bet Elmville and Breaker U go together like peanut butter and jelly, Abbott and Costello, hand and glove. Whenever there was a Ray Bradbury short in the Saturday Evening Post, she always turned to it first, she loved Bradbury, and what she was looking at through the binoculars made her think of Greentown,
Bradbury's idealized Illinois village. A place where adults sat out on their porches in rocking chairs, drinking lemonade, and the kids played tag with flashlights in the lightning-bugstitched dusk of summer evenings. And the nearby college campus? No drinking there, at least not to excess. No joysticks or goofballs or rock and roll, either. It would be a place where the girls kissed the boys goodnight with chaste ardor and were glad to sign back in so that the Dormitory Mom wouldn't think ill of them. A place where the sun shone all day, where Perry Como and the Andrews Sisters sang on the radio, and nobody suspected they were actually living in the ruins of a world that had moved on.
No, she thought coldly. Some of them know. That's why these three showed up to meet us.
"That's the Devar-Toi," Roland said flatly. Not a question.
"Yeah," Dinky said. "The good old Devar-Toi." He stood beside Roland and pointed at a large white building near the dormitories. "See that white one? That's Heartbreak House, where the can-toi live. Ted calls em the low men. They're taheen-human hybrids. And they don't call it the Devar-Toi, they call it Algul Siento, which means-"
"Blue Heaven," Roland said, and Jake realized why: all of the buildings except for the rock towers had blue tiled roofs.
Not Narnia but Blue Heaven. Where a bunch of folks were busy bringing about the end of the world.
All the worlds.
"It looks like the pleasantest place in existence, at least since In-World fell," Ted said. "Doesn't it?"
"Pretty nice, all right," Eddie agreed. He had at least a thousand questions, and guessed Suze and Jake probably had another thousand between them, but this wasn't the time to ask them. In any case, he kept looking at that wonderful litde hundred-acre oasis down there. The one sunny green spot in all of Thunderclap. The one nice place. And why not? Nothing but the best for Our Breaker Buddies.
And, in spite of himself, one question did slip out.
"Ted, why does the Crimson King want to bring the Tower down? Do you know?"
Ted gave him a brief glance. Eddie thought it cool, maybe downright cold, until the man smiled. When he did, his whole face lit up. Also, his eyes had quit doing that creepy in-and-out thing, which was a big improvement.
"He's mad," Ted told him. "Nuttier than a fruitcake. Riding the fabled rubber bicycle. Didn't I tell you that?" And then, before Eddie could reply: 'Yes, it's quite nice. Whether you call it Devar-Toi, the Big Prison, or Algul Siento, it looks a treat. It is a treat."
"Very classy accommos," Dinky agreed. Even Stanley was looking down at the sunlit community with an expression of faint longing.
"The food is the best," Ted went on, "and the double feature at the Gem Theater changes twice a week. If you don't want to go to the movies, you can bring the movies home on DVDs."
"What are those?" Eddie asked, then shook his head. "Never mind. Go on."
Ted shrugged, as if to say What else do you need?
"Absolutely astral sex, for one thing," Dinky said. "It's sim, but it's still incredible-I made it with Marilyn Monroe,
Madonna, and Nicole Kidman all in one week." He said this with a certain uneasy pride. "I could have had them all at the same time if I'd wanted to. The only way you can tell they're not real is to breathe directly on them, from close up. When you do, the part you blow on... kinda disappears. It's unsettling."
"Booze? Dope?" Eddie asked.
"Booze in limited quantities," Ted replied. "If you're into oenology, for instance, you'll experience fresh wonders at every meal."
"What's oenology?" Jake asked.
"The science of wine-snobbery, sugarbun," Susannah said.
"If you come to Blue Heaven addicted to something," Dinky said, "they get you off it. Kindly. The one or two guys who proved especially tough nuts in that area..." His eyes met Ted's briefly. Ted shrugged and nodded. "Those dudes disappeared."
"In truth, the low men don't need any more Breakers," Ted said. "They've got enough to finish the job right now."
"How many?" Roland asked.
"About three hundred," Dinky said.
"Three hundred and seven, to be exact," Ted said. "We're quartered in five dorms, although that word conjures the wrong image. We have our own suites, and as much-or as little-contact with our fellow Breakers as we wish."
"And you know what you're doing?" Susannah asked.
"Yes. Although most don't spend a lot of time thinking about it."
"I don't understand why they don't mutiny."
"What's your when, ma'am?" Dinky asked her.
"My...?" Then she understood. "1964."
He sighed and shook his head. "So you don't know about Jim Jones and the People's Temple. It's easier to explain if you know about that. Almost a thousand people committed suicide at this religious compound a Jesus-guy from San Francisco set up in Guyana. They drank poisoned Kool-Aid out of a tub while he watched them from the porch of his house and used a bullhorn to tell them stories about his mother."
Susannah was staring at him with horrified disbelief, Ted with poorly disguised impatience. Yet he must have thought something about this was important, because he held silence.
"Almost a thousand," Dinky reiterated. "Because they were confused and lonely and they thought Jim Jones was their friend. Because-dig it-they had nothing to go back to. And it's like that here. If the Breakers united, tfiey could make a mental hammer that'd knock Prentiss and The Weasel and the taheen and the can-toi all the way into the next galaxy. Instead there's no one but me, Stanley, and everyone's favorite super-breaker, the totally eventual Mr. Theodore Brautigan of Milford, Connecticut.
Harvard Class of '20, Drama Society, Debate Club, editor of The Crimson, and-of course!-Phi Beta Crapper."
"Can we trust you three?" Roland asked. The question sounded deceptively idle, little more than a time-passer.
"You have to," Ted said. 'You've no one else. Neither do we."
"If we were on their side," Dinky said, "don't you think we'd have something better to wear on our feet than moccasins made out of rubber fuckin tires? In Blue Heaven you get everything except for a few basics. Stuff you wouldn't ordinarily think of as indispensable, but stuff that... well, it's harder to take a powder when you've got nothing to wear but your Algul Siento slippers, let's put it that way."
"I still can't believe it,"Jake said. "All those people working to break the Beams, I mean. No offense, but-"
Dinky turned on him with his fists clenched and a tight, furious smile on his face. Oy immediately stepped in front of Jake, growling low and showing his teeth. Dinky either didn't notice or paid no attention. 'Yeah? Well guess what, kiddo? I take offense. I take offense like a motherfucker. What do you know about what it's like to spend your whole life on the outside, to be the butt of the joke every time, to always be Carrie at the fuckin prom?"
"Who?" Eddie asked, confused, but Dinky was on a roll and paid no attention.
"There are guys down there who can't walk or talk. One chick with no arms. Several with hydrocephalus, which means they have heads out to fuckin New Jersey." He held his hands two feet beyond his head on either side, a gesture they all took for exaggeration. Later they would discover it was not. "Poor old Stanley here, he's one of the ones who can't talk."
Roland glanced at Stanley, with his pallid, stubbly face and his masses of curly dark hair. And the gunslinger almost smiled.
"I think he can talk," he said, and then: "Do'ee bear your father's name, Stanley? I believe thee does."
Stanley lowered his head, and color mounted in his cheeks, yet he was smiling. At the same time he began to cry again. Just what in the hell's going on here? Eddie wondered.
Ted clearly wondered, too. "Sai Deschain, I wonder if I could ask-"
"No, no, cry pardon," Roland said. "Your time is short just now, so you said and we all feel it. Do the Breakers know how they're being fed? What they're being fed, to increase their powers?"
Ted abruptly sat on a rock and looked down at the shining steel cobweb of rails. "It has to do with the kiddies they bring through the Station, doesn't it?"
"They don't know and I don't know," Ted said in that same heavy voice. "Not really. We're fed dozens of pills a day. They come morning, noon, and night. Some are vitamins. Some are no doubt intended to keep us docile. I've had some luck purging those from my system, and Dinky's, and Stanley's.
Only... for such a purging to work, gunslinger, you must want it to work. Do you understand?"
Roland nodded.
"I've thought for a long time that they must also be giving us some kind of... I don't know... brain-booster... but with so many pills, it's impossible to tell which one it might be. Which one it is that makes us cannibals, or vampires, or both." He paused, looking down at the improbable sunray. He extended his hands on both sides. Dinky took one, Stanley the other.
"Watch this," Dinky said. "This is good."
Ted closed his eyes. So did the other two. For a moment there was nothing to see but three men looking out over the dark desert toward the Cecil B. DeMille sunbeam... and they were looking, Roland knew. Even with their eyes shut.
The sunbeam winked out. For a space of perhaps a dozen seconds the Devar-Toi was as dark as the desert, and Thunderclap Station, and the slopes of Steek-Tete. Then that absurd golden glow came back on. Dinky uttered a harsh (but not dissatisfied) sigh and stepped back, disengaging from Ted. A moment later, Ted let go of Stanley and turned to Roland.
"You did that?" the gunslinger asked.
"The three of us together," Ted said. "Mostly it's Stanley. He's an extremely powerful sender. One of the few things that terrify Prentiss and the low men and the taheen is when they lose their artificial sunlight. It happens more and more often, you know, and not always because we're meddling with the machinery. The machinery is just..." He shrugged. "It's running down."
"Everything is," Eddie said.
Ted turned to him, unsmiling. "But not fast enough, Mr. Dean. This fiddling with the remaining two Beams must stop, and very soon, or it will make no difference. Dinky, Stanley, and I will help you if we can, even if it means killing the rest of them."
"Sure," Dinky said with a hollow smile. "If the Rev. Jim Jones could do it, why not us?"
Ted gave him a disapproving glance, then looked back at Roland's ka-tet. "Perhaps it won't come to that. But if it does... "He stood up suddenly and seized Roland's arm. "Are we cannibals?" he asked in a harsh, almost strident voice. "Have we been eating the children the Greencloaks bring from the Borderlands?"
Roland was silent.
Ted turned to Eddie. "I want to know."
Eddie made no reply.
"Madam-sai?" Ted asked, looking at the woman who sat astride Eddie's hip. "We're prepared to help you. Will you not help me by telling me what I ask?"
"Would knowing change anything?" Susannah asked.
Ted looked at her for a moment longer, then turned to Take. "You really could be my young friend's twin," he said. "Do you know that, son?"
"No, but it doesn't surprise me," Jake said. "It's the way things work over here, somehow. Everything... um... fits."
"Will you tell me what I want to know? Bobby would."
So you can eat yourself alive? Jake thought. Eat yourself instead of them?
He shook his head. "I'm not Bobby," he said. "No matter how much I might look like him."
Ted sighed and nodded. 'You stick together, and why would that surprise me? You're ka-tet, after all."
"We gotta go," Dink told Ted. "We've already been here too long. It isn't just a question of getting back for room-check; me n Stanley've got to trig their fucking telemetery so when Prentiss and The Wease check it they'll say 'Teddy B was there all the time. So was Dinky Earnshaw and Stanley Ruiz, no problem with those hoys.'"
"Yes," Ted agreed. "I suppose you're right. Five more minutes?"
Dinky nodded reluctantly. The sound of a siren, made faint by distance, came on the wind, and the young man's teeth showed in a smile of genuine amusement. "They get so upset when the sun goes in," he said. "When they have to face up to what's really around them, which is some fucked-up version of nuclear winter."
Ted put his hands in his pockets for a moment, looking down at his feet, then up at Roland. "It's time that this... this grotesque comedy came to an end. We three will be back tomorrow, if all goes well. Meanwhile, there's a bigger cave about forty yards down the slope, and on the side away from Thunderclap Station and Algul Siento. There's food and sleeping bags and a stove that runs on propane gas. There's a map, very crude, of the Algul. I've also left you a tape recorder and a number of tapes. They probably don't explain everything you'd like to know, but they'll fill in many of the blank spots. For now, just realize that Blue Heaven isn't as nice as it looks. The ivy towers are watchtowers. There are three runs offence around the whole place. If you're trying to get out from the inside, the first run you strike gives you a sting-"
"Like barbwire," Dink said.
"The second one packs enough of a wallop to knock you out," Ted went on. "And the third-"
"I think we get the picture," Susannah said.
"What about the Children of Roderick?" Roland asked.
"They have something to do with the Devar, for we met one on our way here who said so."
Susannah looked at Eddie with her eyebrows raised. Eddie gave her a tell-you-laterlook in return. It was a simple and perfect bit of wordless communication, the sort people who love each other take for granted.
"Those wanks," Dinky said, but not without sympathy.
"They're... what do they call em in the old movies? Trusties, I guess. They've got a little village about two miles beyond the station in that direction." He pointed. "They do groundskeeping work at the Algul, and there might be three or four skilled enough to do roofwork... replacing shingles and such. Whatever contaminants there are in the air here, those poor shmucks are especially vulnerable to em. Only on them it comes out looking like radiation sickness instead of just pimples and eczema."
"Tell me about it," Eddie said, remembering poor old Chevin of Chayven: his sore-eaten face and urine-soaked robe.
"They're wandering folhen," Ted put in. "Bedouins. I think they follow the railroad tracks, for the most part. There are catacombs under the station and Algul Siento. The Rods know their way around them. There's tons of food down there, and twice a week they'll bring it into the Devar on sledges. Mostly now that's what we eat. It's still good, but..." He shrugged.
"Things are falling down fast," Dinky said in a tone of uncharacteristic gloom. "But like the man said, the wine's great."
"If I asked you to bring one of the Children of Roderick with you tomorrow," Roland said, "could you do that?"
Ted and Dinky exchanged a startled glance. Then both of them looked at Stanley. Stanley nodded, shrugged, and spread his hands before him, palms down: Why, gunslinger?
Roland stood for a moment lost in thought. Then he turned to Ted. "Bring one with half a brain left in his head," Roland instructed. "Tell him 'dan sur, dan tur, dan Roland, dan Gilead."
Tell it back."
Without hesitation, Ted repeated it.
Roland nodded. "If he still hesitates, tell him Chevin of Chayven says he must come. They speak a little plain, do they not?"
"Sure," Dinky said. "But mister... you couldn't let a Rod come up here and see you and then turn him free again. Their mouths are hung in the middle and run on both ends."
"Bring one," Roland said, "and we'll see what we see. I have what my ka-mai Eddie calls a hunch. Do you ken hunch-think?"
Ted and Dinky nodded.
"If it works out, fine. If not... be assured that the fellow you bring will never tell what he saw here."
"You'd kill him if your hunch doesn't pan out?" Ted asked.
1 Roland nodded.
Ted gave a bitter laugh. "Of course you would. It reminds me of the part in Huckleberry Finn when Huck sees a steamboat blow up. He runs to Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas with the news, and when one of them asks if anyone was killed, Huck says with perfect aplomb, 'No, ma'am, only a nigger.' In this case we can say 'Only a Rod. Gunslinger-man had a hunch, but it didn't pan out.'"
Roland gave him a cold smile, one that was unnaturally full of teeth. Eddie had seen it before and was glad it wasn't aimed at him. He said, "I thought you knew what the stakes were, sai Ted. Did I misunderstand?"
Ted met his gaze for a moment, then looked down at the ground. His mouth was working.
During this, Dinky appeared to be engaged in silent palaver with Stanley. Now he said: "If you want a Rod, we'll get you one.
It's not much of a problem. The problem may be getting here at all. If we don't..."
Roland waited patiently for the young man to finish. When he didn't, the gunslinger asked: "If you don't, what would you have us do?"
Ted shrugged. The gesture was such a perfect imitation of Dinky's that it was funny. "The best you can," he said. "There are also weapons in the lower cave. A dozen of the electric fireballs they call sneetches. A number of machine-guns, what I've heard some of the low men call speed-shooters. They're U.S. Army AR-15s. Other things we're not sure of."
"One of them's some kind of sci-fi raygun like in a movie,"
Dinky said. "I think it's supposed to disintegrate things, but either I'm too dumb to turn it on or the battery's dead." He turned anxiously to the white-haired man. "Five minutes are up, and more. We have to put an egg in our shoe and beat it, Tedster.
Let's chug."
"Yes. Well, we'll be back tomorrow. Perhaps by then you'll have a plan."
"You don't?" Eddie asked, surprised.
"My plan was to run, young man. It seemed like a terribly bright idea at the time. I ran all the way to the spring of 1960.
They caught me and brought me back, with a little help from my young friend Bobby's mother. And now, we really must-"
"One more minute, do it please ya," Roland said, and stepped toward Stanley. Stanley looked down at his feet, but his beard-scruffy cheeks once more flooded with color. And-
He's shivering, Susannah thought. Like an animal in the woods, faced with its first human being.
Stanley looked perhaps thirty-five, but he could have been older; his face had the carefree smoothness Susannah associated with certain mental defects. Ted and Dinky both had pimples, but Stanley had none. Roland put his hands on the fellow's forearms and looked earnestly at him. At first the gunslinger's eyes met nothing but the masses of dark, curly hair on Stanley's bowed head.
Dinky started to speak. Ted silenced him with a gesture.
"Will'ee not look me in the face?" Roland asked. He spoke with a gentleness Susannah had rarely heard in his voice.
"Will'ee not, before you go, Stanley, son of Stanley? Sheemie that was?"
Susannah felt her mouth drop open. Beside her, Eddie grunted like a man who has been punched. She thought, But Roland's old... so old! Which means that if this is the tavern-boy he knexu in Mejis... the one with the donkey and the pink sombrera hat... then he must also be...
The man raised his face slowly. Tears were streaming from his eyes.
"Good old Will Dearborn," he said. His voice was hoarse, and jigged up and down through the registers as a voice will do when it has lain long unused. "I'm so sorry, sai. Were you to pull your gun and shoot me, I'd understand. So I would."
"Why do'ee say so, Sheemie?" Roland asked in that same gende voice.
Stanley's tears flowed faster. "You saved my life. Arthur and Richard, too, but mosdy you, good old Will Dearborn who was really Roland of Gilead. And I let her die! Her that you loved!
And I loved her, too!"
The man's face twisted in agony and he tried to pull away from Roland. Yet Roland held him.
"None of that was your fault, Sheemie."
"I should have died for her!" he cried. "I should have died in her place! I'm stupid! Foolish as they said!" He slapped himself across the face, first one way and dien the other, leaving red weals. Before he could do it again, Roland seized the hand and forced it down to his side again.
"'Twas Rhea did the harm," Roland said.
Stanley-who had been Sheemie an eon ago-looked into Roland's face, searching his eyes.
"Aye," Roland said, nodding. "'Twas the Coos... and me, as well. I should have stayed with her. If anyone was blameless m the business, Sheemie-Stanley-it was you."
"Do you say so, gunslinger? Truey-true?"
Roland nodded. "We'll palaver all you would about this, if there's time, and about those old days, but not now. No time now. You have to go with your friends, and I must stay with mine."
Sheemie looked at him a moment longer, and yes, Susannah W now see the boy who had busded about a long-ago tavern called the Travellers' Rest, picking up empty beer schooners and dropping them into die wash-barrel which stood beneath die two-headed elk's head that was known as The Romp, avoiding the occasional shove from Coral Thorin or the even more ill-natured kicks that were apt to come from an aging whore called Pettie the Trotter. She could see the boy who had almost been killed for spilling liquor on the boots of a hardcase named Roy Depape. It had been Cuthbert who had saved Sheemie from death that night... but it had been Roland, known to the townsfolk as Will Dearborn, who had saved them all.
Sheemie put his arms around Roland's neck and hugged him tight. Roland smiled and stroked his curly hair with his disfigured right hand. A loud, honking sob escaped Sheemie's throat. Susannah could see the tears in the corners of the gunslinger's eyes.
"Aye," Roland said, speaking in a voice almost too low to hear. "I always knew you were special; Bert and Alain did, too. And here we find each other, well-met further down the path. We're well-met, Sheemie son of Stanley. So we are. So we are."