The Dark Tower



Eddie looked at the others. Jake and Roland were sitting on the sleeping-bags which had been left for them. Oy lay curled up at Jake's feet. Susannah was parked comfortably on the seat of her Cruisin Trike. Eddie nodded, satisfied, and pushed the tape recorder's PLAY button. The reels spun... there was silence... they spun... and silence... then, after clearing his throat, Ted Brautigan began to speak. They listened for over four hours, Eddie replacing each empty reel with the next full one, not bothering to rewind.
No one suggested they stop, certainly not Roland, who listened with silent fascination even when his hip began to throb again. Roland thought he understood more, now; certainly he knew they had a real chance to stop what was happening in the compound below them. The knowledge frightened him because their chances of success were slim. The feeling of kashume made that clear. And one did not really understand the stakes until one glimpsed the goddess in her white robe, the bitch-goddess whose sleeve fell back to reveal her comely white arm as she beckoned: Come to me, run to me. Yes, it's possible, you may gain your goal, you may win, so run to me, give me your whole heart. And if I break it? Ifone of you falls short, falls into the pit ofcoffah (the place your neiv friends call hell)? Too bad for you.
Yes, if one of them fell into coffah and burned within sight of the fountains, that would be too bad, indeed. And the bitch in the white robe? Why, she'd only put her hands on her hips, and throw back her head, and laugh as the world ended. So much depended on the man whose weary, rational voice now filled the cave. The Dark Tower itself depended on him, for Brautigan was a man of staggering powers.
The surprising thing was that the same could be said of Sheemie.
"Test, one two... test, one two... test, test, test. This is Ted Stevens Brautigan and this is a test..."
A brief pause. The reels turned, one full, the other now beginning to fill.
"Okay, good. Great, in fact. I wasn't sure this thing would work, especially here, but it seems fine. I prepared for this by trying to imagine you four-five, counting the boy's little friend-listening to me, because I've always found visualization an excellent technique when preparing some sort of presentation.
Unfortunately, in this case it doesn't work. Sheemie can send me very good mental pictures-brilliant ones, in fact-but Roland is the only one of you he's actually seen, and him not since the fall of Gilead, when both of them were very young. No disrespect, fellows, but I suspect the Roland now coming toward Thunderclap looks hardly anything like the young man my friend Sheemie so worshipped.
"Where are you now, Roland? In Maine, looking for the writer? The one who also created me, after a fashion? In New York, looking for Eddie's wife? Are any of you even still alive? I know the chances of you reaching Thunderclap aren't good; ka is drawing you to the Devar-Toi, but a very powerful anti-ka, set in motion by the one you call the Crimson King, is working against you and your tet in a thousand ways. All the same...
"Was it Emily Dickinson who called hope the thing with feathers? I can't remember. There are a great many things I can't remember any longer, but it seems I still remember how to fight. Maybe that's a good thing. I hope it's a good thing.
"Has it crossed your mind to wonder where I'm recording this, lady and gentlemen?"
It hadn't. They simply sat, mesmerized by the slightly dusty sound of Brautigan's voice, passing a bottle of Perrier and a tin filled with graham crackers back and forth.
"I'll tell yon," Brautigan went on, "partly because the three of you from America will surely find it amusing, but mostly because you may find it useful in formulating a plan to destroy what's going on in Algul Siento.
"As I speak, I'm sitting on a chair made of slab chocolate.
The seat is a big blue marshmallow, and I doubt if the air mattresses we're planning to leave you could be any more comfortable.
You'd think such a seat would be sticky, but it's not. The walls of this room-and the kitchen I can see if I look through the gumdrop arch to my left-are made of green, yellow, and red candy. Lick the green one and you taste lime. Lick the red one and you taste raspberry. Although taste (in any sense of that slippery word) had very little to do with Sheemie's choices, or so I believe; I think he simply has a child's love of bright primary colors."
Roland was nodding and smiling a little.
"Although I must tell you," the voice from the tape recorder said dryly, "I'd be happy to have at least one room with a slightly more reserved decor. Something in blue, perhaps. Earth-tones would be even better.
"Speaking of earth tones, the stairs are also chocolate. The banister's a candy-cane. One cannot, however, say 'the stairs going up to the second floor,' because there is no second floor. Through the window you can see cars that look suspiciously like bonbons going by, and the street itself looks like licorice. But if you open the door and take more than a single step toward Twizzler Avenue, you find yourself back where you started. In what we may as well call 'the real world,' for want of a better term.
"Gingerbread House-which is what we call it because that's what you always smell in here, warm gingerbread, just out of the oven-is as much Dinky's creation as it is Sheemie's. Dink wound up in the Corbett House dorm with Sheemie, and heard Sheemie crying himself to sleep one night. A lot of people would have passed by on the other side in a case like that, and I realize that no one in the world looks less like the Good Samaritan than Dinky Earnshaw, but instead of passing by he knocked on the door of Sheemie's suite and asked if he could come in.
"Ask him about it now and Dinky will tell you it was no big deal. 'I was new in the place, I was lonely, I wanted to make some friends,' he'll say. 'Hearing a guy bawling like that, it hit me that he might want a friend, too.' As though it were the most natural thing in the world. In a lot of places that might be true, but not in Algul Siento. And you need to understand that above all else,
I think, if you're going to understand us. So forgive me if I seem to dwell on the point.
"Some of the hume guards call us morks, after a space alien in some television comedy. And morks are the most selfish people on Earth. Antisocial? Not exactly. Some are extremely social, but only insofar as it will get them what they currently want or need. Very few morks are sociopaths, but most sociopaths are morks, if you understand what I'm saying. The most famous, and thank God the low men never brought him over here, was a mass murderer named Ted Bundy.
"If you have an extra cigarette or two, no one can be more sympathetic-or admiring-than a mork in need of a smoke.
Once he's got it, though, he's gone.
"Most morks-I'm talking ninety-eight or -nine out of a hundred-would have heard crying behind that closed door and never so much as slowed down on their way to wherever.
Dinky knocked and asked if he could come in, even though he was new in the place and justifiably confused (he also thought he was going to be punished for murdering his previous boss, but that's a story for another day).
"And we should look at Sheemie's side of it. Once again, I'd say ninety-eight or even ninety-nine morks out of a hundred would have responded to a question like that by shouting 'Get lost!' or even 'Fuck off!' Why? Because we are exquisitely aware that we're different from most people, and that it's a difference most people don't like. Any more than the Neanderthals liked the first Cro-Magnons in the neighborhood, I would imagine.
Morks don't like to be caught off-guard."
A pause. The reels spun. All four of them could sense Brautigan thinking hard.
"No, that's not quite right," he said at last. "What morks don't like is to be caught in an emotionally vulnerable state.
Angry, happy, in tears or fits of hysterical laughter, anything like that. It would be like you fellows going into a dangerous situation without your guns.
"For a long time, I was alone here. I was a mork who caied, whether I liked it or not. Then there was Sheemie, brave enough to accept comfort if comfort was offered. And Dink, who was willing to reach out. Most morks are selfish introverts masquerading as rugged individualists-they want the world to see them as Dan'l Boone types-and the Algul staff loves it, believe me. No community is easier to govern than one that rejects the very concept of community. Do you see why I was attracted to Sheemie and Dinky, and how lucky I was to find them?"
Susannah's hand crept into Eddie's. He took it and squeezed it gently.
"Sheemie was afraid of the dark," Ted continued. "The low men-I call em all low men, although there are humes and taheen at work here as well as can-toi-have a dozen sophisticated tests for psychic potential, but they couldn't seem to realize that they had caught a halfwit who was simply afraid of the dark. Their bad luck.
"Dinky understood the problem right away, and solved it by telling Sheemie stories. The first ones were fairy-tales, and one of them was 'Hansel and Gretel.' Sheemie was fascinated by the idea of a candy house, and kept asking Dinky for more details.
So, you see, it was Dinky who actually thought of the chocolate chairs with the marshmallow seats, the gumdrop arch, and the candy-cane banister. For a little while there was a second floor; it had the beds of the Three Bears in it. But Sheemie never cared much for that story, and when it slipped his mind, the upstairs of Casa Gingerbread..." Ted Brautigan chuckled.
"Well, I suppose you could say it biodegraded.
"In any case, I believe that this place I'm in is actually a fistula in time, or..." Another pause. A sigh. Then: "Look, there are a billion universes comprising a billion realities. That's something I've come to realize since being hauled back from what the ki'-dam insists on calling 'my little vacation in Connecticut.' Smarmy son of a bitch!"
Real hate in Brautigan's voice, Roland thought, and that was good. Hate was good. It was useful.
"Those realities are like a hall of mirrors, only no two reflections are exactly the same. I may come back to that image eventually, but not yet. What I want you to understand for now-or simply accept-is that reality is organic, reality is alive.
It's something like a muscle. What Sheemie does is poke a hole in that muscle with a mental hypo. He only has a needle like this because he's special-"
"Because he's a mork," Eddie murmured.
"Hush!" Susannah said.
"-using it," Brautigan went on.
(Roland considered rewinding in order to pick up the missing words and decided they didn't matter.)
"It's a place outside of time, outside of reality. I know you understand a little bit about the function of the Dark Tower; you understand its unifying purpose. Well, think of Gingerbread House as a balcony on the Tower: when we come here, we're outside the Tower but still attached to the Tower. It's a real place-real enough so I've come back from it with candystains on my hands and clothes-but it's a place only Sheemie Ruiz can access. And once we're there, it's whatever he wants it to be. One wonders, Roland, if you or your friends had any inkling of what Sheemie truly was and what he could do when you met him in Mejis."
At this, Roland reached out and pushed the STOP button on the tape recorder. "We knew he was... odd," he told the others.
"We knew he was special. Sometimes Cuthbert would say,
"What is it about that boy? He makes my skin itch!' And then he showed up in Gilead, he and his mule, Cappi. Claimed to have followed us. And we knew that was impossible, but so much was happening by then that a saloon-boy from Mejis-not bright but cheerful and helpful-was the least of our worries."
"He teleported, didn't he?" Jake asked.
Roland, who had never even heard the word before today, nodded immediately. "At least part of the distance; he had to have. For one thing, how else could he have crossed the Xay River? There was only the one bridge, a thing made out of ropes, and once we were across, Alain cut it. We watched it fall into the water a thousand feet below."
"Maybe he went around," Jake said.
Roland nodded. "Maybe he did... but it would have taken him at least six hundred wheels out of his way."
Susannah whistled.
Eddie waited to see if Roland had more to say. When it was clear he didn't, Eddie leaned forward and pushed the PLAY
button again. Ted's voice filled die cave once more.
"Sheemie's a teleport. Dinky himself is a precog... among other things. Unfortunately, a good many avenues into the future are blocked to him. If you're wondering if young sai Earnshaw knows how all this is going to turn out, the answer is no.
"In any case, there's this hypodermic hole in the living flesh of reality... this balcony on the flank of the Dark Tower... this Gingerbread House. A real place, as hard as that might be to believe. It's here that we'll store the weapons and camping gear we eventually mean to leave for you in one of the caves on the far side of Steek-Tete, and it's here that I'm making this tape. When I left my room with this old-fashioned but fearsomely efficient machine under my arm, it was 10:14AM, BHST-Blue Heaven Standard Time. When I return, it will still be 10:14 AM. No matter how long I stay. That is only one of the terribly convenient things about Gingerbread House.
"You need to understand-perhaps Sheemie's old friend Roland already does-that we are three rebels in a society dedicated to the idea of going along to get along, even if it means the end of existence... and sooner rather than later. We have a number of extremely useful talents, and by pooling them we've managed to stay one step ahead. Bvit if Prentiss or Finli O'Tego-he's Prentiss's Security Chief-finds out what we're trying to do, Dinky would be worm-food by nightfall.
Sheemie as well, quite likely. I'd probably be safe awhile longer, for reasons I'll get to, but if Pimli Prentiss found out we were trying to bring a true gunslinger into his affairs-one who may already have orchestrated the deaths of over five dozen Greencloaks not far from here-even my life might not be safe." A pause. "Worthless thing that it is."
There was a longer pause. The reel that had been empty was now half-full. "Listen, then," Brautigan said, "and I'll tell you the story of an unfortunate and unlucky man. It may be a longer story than you have time to listen to; if that be the case, I'm sure at least three of you will understand the use of the button labeled FF. AS for me, I'm in a place where clocks are obsolete and broccoli is no doubt prohibited by law. I have all the time in the world."
Eddie was again struck by how weary the man sounded.
"I'd just suggest that you not fast-forward unless you really have to. As I've said, there may be something here that can help you, although I don't know what. I'm simply too close to it. And I'm tired of keeping my guard up, not just when I'm awake but when I'm sleeping, too. If I wasn't able to slip away to Gingerbread House every now and again and sleep with no defenses,
Finli's can-toi boys would surely have bagged the three of us a long time ago. There's a sofa in the corner, also made out of those wonderful non-stick marshmallows. I can go there and lie down and have the nightmares I need to have in order to keep my sanity. Then I can go back to the Devar-Toi, where my job isn't just protecting myself but protecting Sheemie and Dink, too. Making sure that when we go about our covert business, it appears to the guards and their fucking telemetry that we were right where we belonged the whole time: in our suites, in The Study, maybe taking in a movie at the Gem or grabbing ice cream sodas at Henry Graham's Drug Store and Fountain afterward. It also means continuing to Break, and every day I can feel the Beam we're currently working on-Bear and Turtle-bending more and more.
"Get here quick, boys. That's my wish for you. Get here just as quick as ever you can. Because it isn't just a question of me slipping up, you know. Dinky's got a terrible temper and a habit of going off on foul-mouthed tirades if someone pushes his hot-buttons. He could say the wrong thing in a state like that.
And Sheemie does his best, but if someone were to ask him the wrong question or catch him doing the wrong thing when I'm not around to fix it..."
Brautigan didn't finish that particular thought. As far as his listeners were concerned, he didn't need to.
When he begins again, it's to tell them he was born in Milford, Connecticut, in the year 1898. We have all heard similar introductory lines, enough to know that they signal-for better or worse-the onset of autobiography.
Yet as they listen to that voice, the gunslingers are visited by another familiarity; this is true even ofOy. At first they're not able to put their finger on it, but in time it comes to them. The story of Ted Brautigan, a Wandering Accountant instead of a Wandering Priest, is in many ways similar to that of Pere Donald Callahan. They could almost be twins. And the sixth listener-the one beyond the blanketblocked cave entrance in the windy dark-hears with growing sympathy and understanding. Why not? Booze isn't a major player in Brautigan's story, as it was in the Pere's, but it's still a story of addiction and isolation, the story of an outsider.
At the age of eighteen, Theodore Brautigan is accepted into Harvard, whew his Uncle Tim went, and Uncle Tim-childless himself-is more than willing to pay for Ted's higher education. And so far as Timothy Atwood knows, what happens is perfectly straightforward: offer made, offer accepted, nephew shines in all the right areas, nephew graduates and prepares to enter uncle's furniture business after six months spent touring post-World War I Europe.
What Uncle Tim doesn't know is that before going to Harvard, Ted tries to enlist in what will soon be known as the American Expeditionary Force. "Son, "the doctor tells him, "you 've got one hell of a loud heart murmur, and your hearing is substandard. Now are you going to tell me that you came here not knowing those things would get you a red stamp"? Because, pardon me if I'm out of line, here, you look too smart for that."
And then Ted Brautigan does something he's never done before, has sworn he neverwill do. He asks the Army doc to pick a number, not just between one and ten but between one and a thousand. To humor him
(it's rainy in Hartford, and that means things are slow in the enlistment office), the doctor thinks of the number 748. Ted gives it back to him. Plus 419... 89... and 997. When Ted invites him to think of a famous person, living or dead, and when Ted tells him Andrew Johnson, notJackson but]ohnson, the doc is finally amazed. He calls over another doc, a friend, and Ted goes through the same rigmarole again... with one exception. He asks the second doctor to pick a number between one and a million, then tells the doctor he was thinking of eighty-seven thousand, four hundred and sixteen. The second doctor looks momentarily surprised-stunned, in fact-then covers with a big shitlicking smile. "Sorry, son," he says, "you were only off by a hundred and thirty thousand or so. "Ted looks at him, not smiling, not responding to the shitlicking smile in any way at all of which he is aware, but he's eighteen, and still young enough to be flabbergasted by such utter and seemingly pointless mendacity. Meanwhile, Doc Number Two's shitlicking smile has begun to fade on its own. Doc Number Two turns to Doc Number One and says "Look at his eyes, Sam-look at what's happening to his eyes."
The first doctor tries to shine an ophthalmoscope in Ted's eyes and Ted brushes it impatiently aside. He has access to mirrors and has seen the way his pupils sometimes expand and contract, is aware when it's happening even when there's no mirror handy by a kind of shuttering, stuttering effect in his vision, and it doesn't interest him, especially not now. What interests him now is that Doc Number Two is fucking with him and he doesn't know why. "Write the number down this time," he invites. "Write it down so you can't cheat."
Doc Number Two blusters. Ted reiterates his challenge. Doc Sam produces a piece of paper and a pen and the second doctor takes it. He is actually about to write a number when he reconsiders and tosses the pen on Sam's desk and says: "This is some kind of cheap streetcorner trick, Sam. If you can't see that, you're blind. "And stalks away.
Ted invites Dr. Sam to think of a relative, any relative, and a moment later tells the doctor he's thinking of his brother Guy, who died of appendicitis when Guy ivas fourteen; ever since, their mother has called Guy Sam's guardian angel. This time Dr. Sam looks as though he's been slapped. At last he's afraid. Whether it's the odd in-and-out movement of Ted's pupils, or the matter-of-fact demonstration of telepathy with no dramatic forehead-rubbing, no "I'm getting a picture... wait...,"Dr. Sam is finally afraid. He stamps REJECTED on Ted's enlistment application with the big red stamp and tries to get rid of him-next case, who wants to go to France and sniff the mustard gas?-but Ted takes his arm in a grip which is gentle but not in the least tentative.
"Listen to me," says Ted Stevens Brautigan. "I am a genuine telepath. I've suspected it since I was six or seven years old-old enough to know the word-and I've known it for sure since I was sixteen.
I could be of great help in Army Intelligence, and my substandard hearing and heart murmur wouldn't matter in such a post. As for the thing with my eyes?" He reaches into his breast pocket, produces a pair of sunglasses, and slips them on. "Ta-da!"
He gives Dr. Sam a tentative smile. It does no good. There is a Sergeant-at-Arms standing at the door of the temporary recruitment office in East Hartford High's physical education department, and the medic summons him. "This fellow is 4-F and I'm tired of arguing with him. Perhaps you 'd be good enough to escort him off the premises."
Now it is Ted's arm which is gripped, and none too gently.
"Wait a minute!" Ted says. "There's something else! Something even more valuable! I don't know if there's a word for it, but..."
Before he can continue, the Sergeant-at-Arms drags him out and hustles him rapidly down the hall, past several gawking boys and girls almost exactly his own age. There is a word, and he'll learn it years later, in Blue Heaven. The word is facilitator, and as far as Paul
"Pimli" Prentiss is concerned, it makes Ted Stevens Brautigan just about the most valuable hume in the universe.
Not on that day in 1916, though. On that day in 1916, he is dragged briskly down the hallway and deposited on the granite step outside the main doors and told by a man with afoot-thick accent that
"Y'all just want t'stay outta heah, boa." After some consideration,
Ted decides the Sergeant-at-Arms isn't calling him a snake; boa in this context is most likely Dixie for boy.
For a little while Ted just stands where he has been left. He's thinking What does it take to convince you? and How blind can you be? He can't believe what just happened to him.
But he has to believe it, because here he is, on the outside. And at the end of a six-mile walk around Hartford he thinks he understands something else as well. They will never believe. None of them. Not ever.
They 'II refuse to see that a fellow who could read the collective mind of the German High Command might be mildly useful. A fellow who could tell the Allied High Command where the next big German push was going to come. A fellow who could do a thing like that a few times-maybe even just once or twice!-might be able to end the war by Christmas. But he won't have the chance because they won't give it to him. And why? It has something to do with the second doctor changing his number when Ted landed on it, and then refusing to write another one down. Because somewhere down deep they want to fight, and a guy like him would spoil everything...
It's something like that.
Fuck it, then. He'll go to Harvard on his uncle's nickel.
And does. Harvard's all Dinky told them, and more: Drama,
Debate, Harvard Crimson, Mathematical Odd Fellows and, of course, the capper, Phi Beta Crapper. He even saves Unc a few bucks by graduating early.
He is in the south of France, the war long over, when a telegram reaches him: UNCLE DEAD STOP RETURN HOME SOONEST STOP.
The key word here seemed to be STOP.
God knows it was one of those watershed moments. He went home, yes, and he gave comfort where comfort was due, yes. But instead of stepping into the furniture business, Ted decides to STOP his march toward financial success and START his march toward financial obscurity. In the course of the man's long story, Roland's ka-tet never once hears Ted Brautigan blame his deliberate anonymity on his outre talent, or on his moment of epiphany: this is one valuable talent that no one in the world wants.
And God, how he comes to understand that! For one thing, his "wild talent" (as the pulp science-fiction magazines sometimes call it) is actually physically dangerous under the -right circumstances. Or the wrong ones.
In 1935, in Ohio, it makes Ted Brautigan a murderer.
He has no doubt that some would feel the word is too harsh, but he will be the judge of that in this particular case, thank you oh so very much, and he thinks the word is apt. It's Akron and it's a blue summer dusk and kids are playing kick-the-can at one end ofStossy Avenue and stickball at the other and Brautigan stands on the corner in a summerweight suit, stands by the pole with the white stripe painted on it, the white stripe that means the bus stops here. Behind him is a deserted candystore with a blue NRA eagle in one windoio and a whitewashed message in the other that says THEIR KILLING THE IJTTLE MAN. Ted is just standing there with his scuffed cordovan briefcase and a brown sack-a pork chop for his supper, he got it at Mr. Dale's Fancy Butcher Shop-when all at once somebody runs into him from behind and he's driven into the telephone pole with the white stripe on it. He connects nose-first. His nose breaks. It sprays blood. Then his mouth connects, and he feels his teeth cut into the soft lining of his lips, and all at once his mouth is filled ivith a salty taste like hot tomato juice. There's a thud in the small of his back and a ripping sound. His trousers are pulled halfway down over his ass by the force of the hit, hanging crooked and twisted, like the pants of a clown, and all at once a guy in a tee-shirt and gabardine slacks with a shiny seat is running off doion Stossy Avenue toward the stickball game and that thing flapping in his right hand, flapping like a brown leather tongue, why, that thing is Ted Brautigan's wallet. He has just been mugged out of his wallet, by God!
The purple dusk of that summer night deepens suddenly to full dark, then lightens up again, then deepens once more. It's his eyes, doing the trick that so amazed the second doctor almost twenty years before, but Ted hardly notices. His attention is fixed on the fleeing man, the son of a bitch who just mugged him out of his wallet and spoiled his face in the process. He's never been so angry in his life, never, and although the thought he sends at the fleeing man is innocuous, almost gentle
(say buddy I would've given you a dollar if you'd asked maybe even two)
it has the deadly weight of a thrown spear. And zYwas a spear. It takes him some time to fully accept that, but when the time comes he realizes that he's a murderer and if there's a God, Ted Brautigan will someday have to stand at His throne and answer for what he's just done. The fleeing man looks like he stumbles over something, but there's nothing there, only HARRY LOVES BELINDA printed on the cracked sidewalk in fading chalk. The sentiment is surrounded with childish doodles-stars, a comet, a crescent moon-which he will later come to fear.
Ted feels like he just took a spear in the middle of the back himself, but he, at least, is still standing. And he didn't mean it. There's that. He knoivs in his heart that he didn't mean it. He was just... surprised into anger.
He picks up his wallet and sees the stickball kids staring at him, their mouths open. He points his wallet at them like some kind of gun with a floppy barrel, and the boy holding the sawed-off broomhandle flinches. It's the flinch even more than the falling body that will haunt Ted's dreams for the next year or so, and then off and on for the rest of his life. Because he likes kids, would never scare one on purpose. And he knows what they are seeing: a man with his pants mostly pulled down so his boxer shorts show (for all he knows his dingus could be hanging out of the fly front, and wouldn't that just be the final magical touch), a wallet in his hand and a loony look on his bloody kisser.
"You didn't see anything!" he shouts at them. "You hear me, now!
You hear me! You didn't see anything!"
Then he hitches up his pants. Then he goes back to his briefcase and picks it up, but not the pork chop in the brown paper sack, fuck the pork chop, he lost his appetite along with one of his incisors. Then he takes another look at the body on the sidewalk, and the frightened kids.
Then he runs.
Which turns into a career.
The end of the second tape pulled free of the hub and made a soft fwip-fwip-fwip sound as it turned.
"Jesus," Susannah said. "Jesus, that poor man."
"So long ago," Jake said, and shook his head as if to clear it.
To him, the years between his when and Mr. Brautigan's seemed an unbridgeable chasm.
Eddie picked up the third box and displayed the tape inside, raising his eyebrows at Roland. The gunslinger twirled a finger in his old gesture, the one that said go on, go on.
Eddie threaded the tape through the heads. He'd never done this before, but you didn't have to be a rocket scientist, as the saying went. The tired voice began again, speaking from the Gingerbread House Dinky Earnshaw had made for Sheemie, a real place created from nothing more than imagination. A balcony on the side of the Dark Tower, Brautigan had called it.
He'd killed the man (by accident, they all would have agreed; they had come to live by the gun and knew the difference between by accident and on purpose without needing to discuss the matter) around seven in the evening. By nine that night, Brautigan was on a westbound train. Three days later he was scanning the Accountants Wanted ads in the Des Moines newspaper. He knew something about himself by then, knew how careful he would have to be. He could no longer allow himself the luxury of anger even when anger was justified. Ordinarily he was just your garden-variety telepath-could tell you what you had for lunch, could tell you which card was the queen of hearts because the streetcorner sharpie running the monte-con knew-but when angry he had access to this spear, this terrible spear...
"And just by the way, that's not true," said the voice from the tape recorder. "The part about being just a garden-variety telepath, I mean, and I understood that even when I was a wetbehind-the-ears kid trying to get into the Army. I just didn't know the word for what I was."
The word, it turned out, was facilitator. And he later became sure that certain folks-certain talent scouts-were watching him even then, sizing him up, knowing he was different even in the subset of telepaths but not how different. For one thing, telepaths who did not come from die Keystone Earth (it was their phrase) were rare. For another, Ted had come to realize by the mid-nineteen-thirties that what he had was actually catching.
If he touched a person while in a state of high emotion, that person for a short time became a telepath. What he hadn't known tfien was that people who were already telepaths became stronger.
Exponentially stronger.
"But that's ahead of my story," he said.
He moved from town to town, a hobo who rode the rods in a passenger car and wearing a suit instead of in a boxcar wearing Oshkosh biballs, never staying in one place long enough to put down roots. And in retrospect, he supposed he knew that even then he was being watched. It was an intuitive thing, or like oddities one sometimes glimpsed from the corner of one's eye. He became aware of a certain kind of people, for instance.
A few were women, most were men, and all had a taste for loud clothes, rare steak, and fast cars painted in colors as garish as their clouiing. Their faces were oddly heavy and strangely inexpressive.
It was a look he much later came to associate with dumbbells who'd gotten plastic surgery from quack doctors.
During that same twenty-year period-but once again not consciously, only in the corner of his mind's eye-he became aware that no matter what city he was in, those childishly simple symbols had a way of turning up on fences and stoops and sidewalks.
Stars and comets, ringed planets and crescent moons.
Sometimes a red eye. There was often a hopscotch grid in the same area, but not always. Later on, he said, it all fit together in a crazy sort of way, but not back in the thirties and forties and early fifties, when he was drifting. No, back then he'd been a little bit like Docs One and Two, not wanting to see what was right in front of him, because it was... disturbing.
And then, right around the time Korea was winding down, he saw The Ad. It promised THE JOB OF A LIFETIME and said that if yon were THE MAN WITH THE RIGHT QUALIFICATIONS, there would be ABSOLUTELY NO QUESTIONS ASKED. A number of required skills were enumerated, accountancy being one of them. Brautigan was sure the ad ran in newspapers all over the country; he happened to read it in the Sacramento Bee.
"Holy crap!" Jake cried. "That's the same paper Pere Callahan was reading when he found out his friend George Magruder-"
"Hush," Roland said. "Listen."
They listened.
The tests are administered by humes (a term Ted Brautigan won't know for another few weeks-not until he steps out of the year 1955 and into the no-time of the Algal). The interviewer he eventually meets in San Francisco is also a hume. Ted will learn (among a great many other things) that the disguises the low men wear, most particularly the masks they loear, are not good, not when you 're up close and personal.
Up close and personal you can see the truth: they are hume/taheen hybrids who take the matter of their becoming with a religious fervor.
The easiest way to find yourself wrapped in a low-man bearhug loith a set of murderous low-man teeth searching for your carotid artery is to aver that the only two things they are becoming is older and uglier. The red marks on their foreheads-the Eye of the King-usually disappear when they are America-side (or dry up, like temporarily dormant pimples), and the masks take on a weird organic quality, except for behind the ears, where the hairy, tooth-scabbed underflesh shows, and inside the nostrils, where one can see dozens of little moving cilia. But who is so impolite as to look up a fellow's snot-gutters?
Whatever they think, up close and personal there's something definitely wrong with them even when they 're America-side, and no one wants to scare the new fish before the net's properly in place. So it's humes
(an abbreviation the can-toi won't even use; they find it demeaning, like "nigger" or "vamp") at the exams, humes in the interview rooms, nothing but humes until later, when they go through one of the working America-side doorways and come out in Thunderclap.
Ted is tested, along with a hundred or so others, in a gymnasium that reminds him of the one back in East Hartford. This one has been filled with rows and rows of study-hall desks (wrestling mats have been considerately laid down to keep the desks' old-fashioned round iron bases from scratching the varnished hardwood), but after the first round of testing-a ninety-minute diagnostic full of math, English, and vocabulary questions-half of them are empty. After the second round, it's three quarters. Round Two consists of some mighty iveird questions, highly subjective questions, and in several cases Ted gives an answer in which he does not believe, because he thinks-maybe knows-that the people giving the test want a different answer from the one he (and most people) would ordinarily give. For instance, there's this little honey:
23. You come to a stop near an over-turned car on a littletraveled road. Trapped in the car is a Young Man crying for rescue. You ask, "Are you hurt, Young Man?" to which he responds, "I don't think so!" In the field nearby is a Satchel filled with Money. You: a. Rescue the Young Man and give him back his Money b. Rescue the Young Man but insist that the Money be taken to the local Police c. Take the Money and go on your way, knowing that although the road may be little traveled, someone will be along eventually to free the Young Man d. None of the above Had this been a test for the Sacramento PD, Ted would have circled "b" in a heartbeat. He may be little more than a hobo on the road, but his mama didn't raise no fools, thank you oh so very much. That choice would be the correct one in most circumstances, too-the play-it-safe choice, the can't-go-wrong choice. And, as a fall-back position, the one that says "I don't have a frigging clue what this is about but at least I'm honest enough to say so,"there's "d."
Ted circles "c, "but not because that is necessarily what he'd do in that situation. On the whole he tends to think that he'd go for "a, "presuming he could at least ask the "Young Man "a few questions about where the loot came from. And if outright torture wasn't involved (and he would know, wouldn't he, no matter what the "Young Man" might have to say on the subject), sure, here's your money, Vaya con Dios. And why? Because Ted Brautigan happens to believe that the owner of the defunct candystore had a point: THEIR KILLING THE LITTLE MAN.
But he circles "c", and five days later he finds himself in the anteroom of an out-of-business dance studio in San Francisco (his train-fare from Sacramento prepaid), along with three other men and a sullenlooking teenage girl (the girl's the former Tanya Leeds of Bryce, Colorado, as it turns out). Better than four hundred people showed up for the test in the gym, lured by the honeypot ad. Goats, for the most part.
Here, however, are four sheep. One per cent. And even this, as Brautigan will discover in the full course of time, is an amazing catch.
Eventually he is shown into an office marked PBRKTE. It is mostly filled with dusty ballet stuff. A broad-shouldered, hard-faced man in a brown suit sits in a folding chair, incongruously surrounded by filmy pink tutus. Ted thinks, A real toad in an imaginary garden.
The man sits forward, arms on his elephantine thighs. "Mr.
Brautigan, "he says, "I may or may not be a toad, but I can offer you the job of a lifetime. I can also send you out of here with a handshake and a much-obliged. It depends on the answer to one question. A question about a question, in fact."
The man, whose name turns out to be Frank Armitage, hands Ted a sheet of paper. On it, blown up, is Question 23, the one about the Young Man and the Satchel of Money.
"You circled 'c,' "Frank Armitage says. "So now, luith absolutely no hesitation whatever, please tell me why."
"Because 'c' was what you wanted," Ted replies with absolutely no hesitation whatever.
"And how do you know that?"
"Because I'm a telepath," Ted says. "And that's what you 're really looking for. "He tries to keep his poker face and thinks he succeeds pretty well, but inside he's filled with a great and singing relief. Because he's found a job? No. Because they'll shortly make him an offer that would make the prizes on the new TV quiz shows look tame? No.
Because someone finally wants what he can do.
Because someone finally wants him.
The job offer turned out to be another honeypot, but Brautigan was honest enough in his taped memoir to say he might have gone along even if he'd known the truth.
"Because talent won't be quiet, doesn't know how to be quiet," he said. "Whether it's a talent for safe-cracking, thoughtreading, or dividing ten-digit numbers in your head, it screams to be used. It never shuts up. It'll wake you in the middle of your tiredest night, screaming, 'Use me, use me, use me! I'm tired of just sitting here! Use me, fuckhead, use me!'"
Jake broke into a roar of pre-adolescent laughter. He covered his mouth but kept laughing through his hands. Oy looked up at him, those black eyes with die gold wedding rings floating in them, grinning fiendishly.
There in the room filled with the frilly pink tutus, his fedora hat cocked back on his crewcut head, Armitage asked if Ted had ever heard of "the South American Seabees." When Ted replied that he hadn't, Armitage told him that a consortium of wealthy South American businessmen, mostly Brazilian, had hired a bunch of American engineers, construction workers, and roughnecks in 1946. Over a hundred in all. These were the South American Seabees. The consortium hired them all for a fouryear period, and at different pay-grades, but the pay was extremely generous-almost embarrassingly so-at all grades.
A 'dozer operator might sign a contract for $20,000 a year, for instance, which was tall tickets in those days. But there was more: a bonus equal to one year's pay. A total of $100,000. If, that was, the fellow would agree to one unusual condition: you go, you work, and you don't come back until the four years are up or the work is done. You got two days off every week, just like in America, and you got a vacation every year, just like in America, but in the pampas. You couldn't go back to North America (or even Rio) until your four-year hitch was over. If you died in South America, you got planted there-no one was going to pay to have your body shipped back to Wilkes-Barre. But you got fifty grand up front, and a sixty-day grace period during which you could spend it, save it, invest it, or ride it like a pony. If you chose investment, that fifty grand might be seventy-five when you came waltzing out of the jungle with a bone-deep tan, a whole new set of muscles, and a lifetime of stories to tell. And, of course, once you were out you had what the limeys liked to call "the other half to put on top of it.
This was like that, Armitage told Ted earnestly. Only the front half would be a cool quarter of a million and the back end half a million.
"Which sounded incredible," Ted said from the Wollensak.
"Of course it did, byjiminy. I didn't find ovit until later how incredibly cheap they were buying us, even at those prices.
Dinky is particularly eloquent on the subject of their stinginess... "they" in this case being all the King's bureaucrats. He says the Crimson King is trying to bring about the end of all creation on the budget plan, and of course he's right, but I think even Dinky realizes-although he won't admit it, of course-that if you offer a man too much, he simply refuses to believe it.
Or, depending on his imagination (many telepaths and precogs have almost no imagination at all), be unable to believe it. In our case the period of indenture was to be six years, with an option to renew, and Armitage needed my decision immediately. Few techniques are so successful, lady and gentlemen, as the one where you boggle your target's mind, freeze him with greed, then blitz him.
"I was duly blitzed, and agreed at once. Armitage told me that my quarter-mil would be in the Seaman's San Francisco Bank as of that afternoon, and I could draw on it as soon as I got down there. I asked him if I had to sign a contract. He reached out one of his hands-big as a ham, it was-and told me that was our contract. I asked him where I'd be going and what I'd be doing-all questions I should have asked first, I'm sure you'd agree, but I was so stunned it never crossed my mind.
"Besides, I was pretty sure I knew. I thought I'd be working for the government. Some kind of Cold War deal. The telepathic branch of the CIA or FBI, set up on an island in the Pacific. I remember thinking it would make one hell of a radio play.
"Armitage told me, 'You'll be traveling far, Ted, but it will also be right next door. And for the time being, that's all I can say. Except to keep your mouth shut about our arrangement during the eight weeks before you actually... mmm... ship out. Remember that loose lips sink ships. At the risk of inculcating you with paranoia, assume that you are being watched."
"And of course I was watched. Later-too later, in a manner of speaking-I was able to replay my last two months in Frisco and realize that the can-toi were watching me the whole time.
"The low men."
"Armitage and two other humes met us outside the Mark Hopkins Hotel," said the voice from the tape recorder. "I remember the date with perfect clarity; it was Halloween of 1955. Five o'clock in the afternoon. Me, Jace McGovern, Dave Ittaway,
Dick... I can't remember his last name, he died about six months later, Humma said it was pneumonia and the rest of the ki'cans backed him up-ki'can sort of means shit-people or shitfolken, if you're interested-but it was suicide and I knew it if no one else did. The rest... well, remember Doc Number Two?
The rest were and are like him. 'don't tell me what I don't want to know, sai, don't mess up my worldview.' Anyway, the last one was Tanya Leeds. Tough little thing..."
A pause and a click. Then Ted's voice resumed, sounding temporarily refreshed. The third tape had almost finished. He must have really burned through the rest of the story, Eddie thought, and found that the idea disappointed him. Whatever else he was, Ted was a hell of a good tale-spinner.
"Armitage and his colleagues showed up in a Ford station wason, what we called a woody in those charming days. They drove us inland, to a town called Santa Mira. There was a paved main street. The rest of them were dirt. I remember there were a lot of oil-derricks, looking like praying mantises, sort of although it was dark by then and they were really just shapes against the sky.
"I was expecting a train depot, or maybe a bus with CHARTERED in the destination window. Instead we pulled up to this empty freight depot with a sign reading SANTA MIRA SHIPPING hanging askew on the front and I got a thought, clear as day, from Dick whatever-his-name was. They 're going to kill us, he was thinking. They brought us out here to kill us and steal our stuff.
"If you're not a telepath, you don't know how scary something like that can be. How the surety of it kind of... invades your head. I saw Dave Ittaway go pale, and although Tanya didn't make a sound-she was a tough litde thing, as I told you-it was bright enough in the car to see there were tears standing in the corners of her eyes.
"I leaned over her, took Dick's hands in mine, and squeezed down on them when he tried to pull away. I thought at him, They didn't give us a quarter of a mill each, most of it still stashed safe in the Seaman's Bank, so they could bring us out to the ivilliwags and steal our watches. And Jace thought at me, / don't even have a watch. I pawned my Gruen two years ago in Albuquerque, and by the time I thought about buying another one-around midnight last night, this was-all the stores were closed and I was too drunk to climb down off the barstool I was on, anyway.
"That relaxed us, and we all had a laugh. Armitage asked us what we were laughing about and that relaxed us even more, because we had something they didn't, could communicate in a way they couldn't. I told him it was nothing, then gave Dick's hands another little squeeze. It did the job. I... facilitated him, I suppose. It was my first time doing that. The first of many. That's part of the reason I'm so tired; all that facilitating wears a man out.
"Armitage and the others led us inside. The place was deserted, but at the far end there was a door with two words chalked on it, along with those moons and stars, THUNDERCLAP STATION, it said. Well, there was no station: no tracks, no buses, no road other than the one we'd used to get there. There were windows on either side of the door and nothing on the other side of the building but a couple of smaller buildings-deserted sheds, one of them just a burnt-out shell-and a lot of scrubland littered with trash.
"Dave Ittaway said, 'Why are we going out there?' and one of the others said, 'You'll see,' and we certainly did.
"'Ladies first,' Armitage said, and he opened the door.
"It was dark on the other side, but not the same kind of dark.
It was darker dark. If you've seen Thunderclap at night, you'll know. And it sounded different. Old buddy Dick there had some second thoughts and turned around. One of the men pulled a gun. And I'll never forget what Armitage said. Because he sounded... kindly. 'Too late to back out now,' he said. 'Nowyou can only go forward."
"And I think right then I knew that business about the sixyear plan, and re-upping if we wanted to, was what my friend Bobby Garfield and his friend Sullyjohn would have called just a shuck and jive. Not that we could read it in their thoughts.
They were all wearing hats, you see. You never see a low man-or a low lady, for that matter-without a hat on. The men's looked like plain old fedoras, the sort most guys wore back then, but these were no ordinary lids. They were thinking-caps.
Although any-thinking-caps would be more accurate; they muffle the thoughts of the people wearing them. If you try to prog someone who's wearing one-prog is Dinky's word for thoughtreading-you just get a hum with a lot of whispering underneath.
Very unpleasant, like the todash chimes. If you've heard them, you know. Discourages too much effort, and effort's the last thing most of the telepaths in the Algul are interested in.
What the Breakers are mostly interested in, lady and gentlemen, is going along to get along. Which only shows up for what it is-monstrous-if you pull back and take the long view. One more thing most Breakers are not into. Quite often you hear a saying-a little poem-around campus, or see it chalked on the walls: 'Enjoy the cruise, turn on the fan, there's nothing to lose, so work on your tan.' It means a lot more than'take it easy."
The implications of that little piece of doggerel are extremely unpleasant. I wonder if you can see that."
Eddie thought he could, at least, and it occurred to him that his brother Henry would have made an absolutely wonderful Breaker. Always assuming he'd been allowed to take along his heroin and his Creedence Clearwater Revival albums, that was.
A longer pause from Ted, then a rueful sort of laugh.
"I believe it's time to make a long story a little shorter. We went through the door, leave it at that. If you've done it, you know it can be very unpleasant, if the door's not in tip-top working order. And the door between Santa Mira, California, and Thunderclap was in better shape than some I've been through since.
"For a moment there was only darkness on the other side, and the howl of what the taheen call desert-dogs. Then a cluster of lights went on and we saw these... these things with the heads of birds and weasels and one with the head of a bull, horns and all. Jace screamed, and so did I. Dave Ittaway turned and tried to run, but Armitage grabbed him. Even if he hadn't, where was there to go? Back through the door? It was closed, and for all I know, that's a one-way. The only one of us who never made a sound was Tanya, and when she looked at me, what I saw in her eyes and read in her thoughts was relief. Because we knew, you see. Not all the questions were answered, but the two that mattered were. Where were we? In another world. When were we coming back? Never in life. Our money would sit in the Seaman's of San Francisco until it turned into millions, and no one would ever spend it. We were in for the long haul.
"There was a bus there, with a robot driver named Phil. 'My name's Phil, I'm over the hill, but the best news is that I never spill,' he said. He smelled like lightning and there were all sorts of discordant clicking sounds coming from deep in his guts. Old Phil's dead now, dumped in the train and robot graveyard with God alone knows how many others, but they've got enough mechanized help to finish what they've started, I'm sure.
"Dick fainted when we came out on Thunderclap-side, but by the time we could see the lights of the compound, he'd come around again. Tanya had his head in her lap, and I remember how gratefully he was looking up at her. It's funny what you remember, isn't it? They checked us in at the gate. Assigned us our dorms, assigned us our suites, saw that we were fed... and a damned fine meal it was. The first of many.
"The next day, we went to work. And, barring my little "vacation in Connecticut,' we've been working ever since."
Another pause. Then:
"God help us, we've been working ever since. And, God forgive us, most of us have been happy. Because the only thing talent wants is to be used."
He tells them of his first few shifts in The Study, and his realization-not gradual but almost immediate-that they are not here to search out spies or read the thoughts of Russian scientists, "or any of that spaceshot nonsense, "as Dinky would say (not that Dinky was there at first, although Sheemie was). No, what they are doing is breaking something.
He can feel it, not just in the sky above Algul Siento but everywhere around them, even under their feet.
Yet he is content enough. The food is good, and although his sexual appetites have subsided quite a bit over the years, he's not a bit averse to the odd bonk, just reminding himself every time that sim sex is really nothing but accessorized masturbation. But then, he's had the odd bonk with the odd whore over the years, as many men living on the road have, and he could testify that that sort of sex is also not much different than masturbation; you 're putting it to her just as hard as you can, the sweat pouring off you, and she's going "Baby-baby-baby," and all the time wondering if she ought to gas the car and trying to remember which day is double stamps at the Red amp; White. As with most things in life, you have to use your imagination, and Ted can do that, he's good at the old visualization thing, thank you oh so very much. He likes the roof over his head, he likes the company-the guards are guards, yeah, but he believes them when they say it's as much their job to keep bad stuff from getting in as it is to make sure the Breakers don't get out. He likes most of the inmates, too, and realizes after a year or huo that the inmates need him in some strange way. He's able to comfort them when they get the mean reds; he's able to assuage their crampy waves of homesickness with an hour or so of murmured conversation. And surely this is a good thing. Maybe it's all a good thing-certainly it feels like a good thing. To be homesick is human, but to Break is divine. He tries to explain to Roland and his tet, but the best he can do, the closest he can come, is to say it's like finally being able to scratch that out-of-reach place on your back that always drives you crazy with its mild but persistent itch. He likes to go to The Study, and so do all the others. He likes the feeling of sitting there, of smelling the good wood and good leather, of searching... searching... and then, suddenly, aahhh. There you are.
You 're hooked in, swinging like a monkey on a limb. You 're breaking, baby, and to break is divine.
Dinky once said that The Study was the only place in the world where he really felt in touch with himself, and that was why he wanted to see it shut down. Burned down, if possible. "Because I know the kind of shit I get up to when I'm in touch with myself, "he told Ted.
"When I, you know, really get in the groove. "And Ted knew exactly what he was talking about. Because The Study was always too good to be true. You sat down, maybe picked up a magazine, looked at pictures of models and margarine, movie stars and motor cars, and you felt your mind rise. The Beam was all around, it was like being in some vast corridor full of force, but your mind always rose to the roof and when it got there it found that big old sliding groove.
Maybe once, just after the Prim withdrew and Gan 's voice still echoed in the rooms of the macroverse, the Beams were smooth and polished, but those days are gone. Now the Way of the Bear and the Turtle is lumpy and eroded, full of coves and cols and bays and cracks, plenty of places to get your fingers in and take hold, and sometimes you drag at it and sometimes you can feel yourself worming your way into it like a drop of acid that can think. All these sensations are intensely pleasurable. Sexy.
And for Ted there's something else, as well, although he doesn't know he's the only one who's got it until Trampas tells him. Trampas never means to tell him anything, but he's got this lousy case of eczema, you see, and it changes everything. Hard to believe a flaky scalp might be responsible for saving the Dark Tower, but the idea's not entirely farfetched.
Not entirely farfetched at all.
"There are about a hundred and eighty full-time personnel at work in the Algul," Ted said. "I'm not the guy to tell anyone how to do his job, but that's something you may want to write down, or at least remember. Roughly speaking, it's sixty per eight-hour shift and split twenty-twenty-twenty. Taheen have the sharpest eyes and generally man the watchtowers. Humes patrol the outer run offence. With guns, mind you-hard calibers. Topside there's Prentiss, the Master, and Finli O'Tego, the Security Chief-hume and taheen, respectively-but most of the floaters are can-toi... the low men, you understand.
"Most low men don't get along with the Breakers; a little stiff camaraderie is the best they can do. Dinky told me once that they're jealous of us because we're what he calls 'finished humes.' Like the hume guards, the can-toi wear thinking-caps when they're on duty so we can't prog them. The fact is most Breakers haven't tried to prog anyone or anything but the Beam in years, and maybe can't, anymore; the mind is also a muscle, and like any other, it atrophies if you don't use it."
A pause. A click on die tape. Then:
"I'm not going to be able to finish. I'm disappointed but not entirely surprised. This will have to be my last story, folks.
I'm sorry."
A low sound. A sipping sound, Susannah was quite sure; Ted having another drink of water.
"Have I told you that the taheen don't need the thinkingcaps?
They speak perfectly good English, and I've sensed from time to time that some have limited progging abilities of their own, can send and receive-at least a little-but if you dip into them, you get these mind-numbing blasts of what sounds like mental static-white noise. I assumed it was some sort of protective device; Dinky believes it's the way they actually think.
Either way, it makes it easier for them. They don't have to remember to put on hats in the morning when they go out!
"Trampas was one of the can-toi rovers. You might see him one day strolling along Main Street in Pleasantville, or sitting on a bench in the middle of the Mall, usually with some self-help book like Seven Steps to Positive Thinking. Then, the next day, there he is leaning against the side of Heartbreak House, taking in the sun. Same with the other can-toi floaters. If there's a pattern,
I've never been able to anticipate it, or Dinky either. We don't think there is one.
"What's always made Trampas different is a complete lack of that sense of jealousy. He's actually friendly-or was; in some ways he hardly seemed to be a low man at all. Not many of his can-toi colleagues seem to like him a whole hell of a lot. Which is ironic, you know, because if there really is such a thing as becoming, then Trampas is one of the few who actually seem to be getting somewhere with it. Simple laughter, for instance.
When most low men laugh, it sounds like a basket of rocks rolling down a tin coal-chute: makes you fair shiver, as Tanya says. When Trampas laughs, he sounds a little high-pitched but otherwise normal. Because he is laughing, I think. Genuinely laughing. The others are just forcing it.
"Anyway, I struck up a conversation with him one day. On Main Street, this was, outside the Gem. Star Wars was back for its umpty-umpth revival. If there's any movie the Breakers never get enough of, it's Star Wars.
"I asked him if he knew where his name came from. He said yes, of course, from his clan-fam. Each can-toi is given a hume name by his clan-fam at some point in his development; it's a kind of maturity-marker. Dinky says they get that name the first time they successfully whack off, but that's just Dinky being Dinky. The fact is we don't know and it doesn't matter, but some of the names are pretty hilarious. There's one fellow who looks like Rondo Hatton, a film actor from the thirties who sviffered from acromegaly and got work playing monsters and psychopadis, but his name is Thomas Carlyle. There's another one named Beowulf and a fellow named Van Gogh Baez."
Susannah, a Bleecker Street folkie from way back, put her face in her hands to stifle a gust of giggles.
"Anyway, I told him that Trampas was a character from a famous Western novel called The Virginian. Only second banana to the actual hero, true, but Trampas has got the one line from the book everyone remembers: 'smzfcwhen you say that!"
It tickled our Trampas, and I ended up telling him the whole plot of the book over cups of drug-store coffee.
"We became friends. I'd tell him what was going on in our little community of Breakers, and he'd tell me all sorts of interesting but innocent things about what was going on over on his side of the fence. He also complained about his eczema, which made his head itch terribly. He kept lifting his hat-this little beanie-type of thing, almost like a yarmulke, only made of denim-to scratch underneath. He claimed that was the worst place of all, even worse than down there on your makie-man.
And litde by litde, I realized that every time he lifted his beanie to scratch, I could read his thoughts. Not just the ones on top but all of them. If I was fast-and I learned to be-I could pick and choose, exacdy die way you'd pick and choose articles in an encyclopedia by turning die pages. Only it wasn't really like that; it was more like someone turning a radio on and off during a news broadcast."
"Holy shit," Eddie said, and took another graham cracker.
He wished mightily for milk to dip them in; graham crackers without milk were almost like Oreos without the white stuff in the middle.
"Imagine turning a radio or a TV on full-blast," Ted said in his rusty, failing voice, "and then turning it off again... justasquick." He purposely ran this together, and they all smiled-even Roland. "That'll give you the idea. Now I'll tell you what I learned. I suspect you know it already, but I just can't take the risk that you don't. It's too important.
"There is a Tower, lady and gendemen, as you must know. At one time six beams crisscrossed there, both taking power from it-it's some kind of unimaginable power-source-and lending support, the way guy-wires support a radio tower. Four of these Beams are now gone, the fourth very recently. The only two remaining are the Beam of the Bear, Way of the Turtle-
Shardik's Beam-and the Beam of the Elephant, Way of the Wolf-some call that one Gan's Beam.
"I wonder if you can imagine my horror at discovering what I'd actually been doing in The Study. When I'd been scratching that innocent itch. Although I knew all along that it was something important, knew it.
"And there was something worse, something I hadn't suspected, something that applied only to me. I'd known that I was different in some ways; for one thing, I seemed to be the only Breaker with an ounce of compassion in my makeup. When they've got the mean reds, I am, as I told you, the one they come to. Pimli Prentiss, the Master, married Tanya and Joey Rastosovich-insisted on it, wouldn't hear a word against the idea, kept saying that it was his privilege and his responsibility, he was just like the captain on an old cruise-ship-and of course they let him do it. But afterward, they came to my rooms and Tanya said, ' You marry us, Ted. Then we'll really be married."
"And sometimes I ask myself, 'did you think that was all it was? Before you started visiting with Trampas, and listening every time he lifted up his cap to scratch, did you truly think that having a litde pity and a little love in your soul were the only things that set you apart from the others? Or were you fooling yourself about that, too?"
"I don't know for sure, but maybe I can find myself innocent on that particular charge. I really did not understand that my talent goes far beyond progging and Breaking. I'm like a microphone for a singer or a steroid for a muscle. I... hype them. Say there's a unit of force-call it darks, all right? In The Study, twenty or thirty people might be able to put out fifty darks an hour without me. With me? Maybe it jumps to five hundred darks an hour. And it jumps all at once.
"Listening to Trampas's head, I came to see that they considered me the catch of the century, maybe of all time, the one truly indispensable Breaker. I'd already helped them to snap one Beam and I was cutting centuries off their work on Shardik's Beam. And when Shardik's Beam snaps, lady and gentlemen, Gan's can only last a little while. And when Gan's Beam also snaps, the Dark Tower will fall, creation will end, and the very Eye of Existence will turn blind.
"How I ever kept Trampas from seeing my distress I don't know. And I've reason to believe that I didn't keep as complete a poker face as I thought at the time.
"I knew I had to get out. And that was when Sheemie came to me the first time. I think he'd been reading me all along, but even now I don't know for sure, and neither does Dinky. All I know is that one night he came to my room and thought to me, "I'll make a hole for you, sai, if you want, and you can go boogiebye-bye.' I asked him what he meant, and he just looked at me.
It's funny how much a single look can say, isn't it? Don't insult my intelligence. Don't waste my time. Don't waste your own. I didn't read those thoughts in his mind, not at all. I saw them on his face."
Roland grunted agreement. His brilliant eyes were fixed on the turning reels of the tape recorder.
"I did ask him where the hole would come out. He said he didn't know-I'd be taking luck of the draw. All the same, I didn't think it over for long. I was afraid that if I did, I'd find reasons to stay. I said, 'Go ahead, Sheemie-send me boogiebye-
"He closed his eyes and concentrated, and all at once the corner of my room was gone. I could see cars going by. They were distorted, but they were actual American cars. I didn't argue or question any more, I just went for it. I wasn't completely sure I could go through into that other world, but I'd reached a point where I hardly even cared. I thought dying might be the best tiling I could do. It would slow them down, at least.
"And just before I took the plunge, Sheemie thought to me,
"Look for my friend Will Dearborn. His real name is Roland.
His friends are dead, but I know he's not, because I can hear him. He's a gunslinger, and he has new friends. Bring them here and they'll make the bad folks stop hurting the Beam, the way he made Jonas and his friends stop when they were going to kill me.' For Sheemie, this was a sermon.
"I closed my eyes and went through. There was a brief sensation of being turned on my head, but that was all. No chimes, no nausea. Really quite pleasant, at least compared to the Santa Mira doorway. I came out on my hands and knees beside a busy highway. There was a piece of newspaper blowing around in the weeds. I picked it up and saw I'd landed in April of 1960, almost five years after Armitage and his friends herded us through the door in Santa Mira, on the other side of the country. I was looking at a piece of the Hartford Courant, you see. And the road turned out to be the Merritt Parkway."
"Sheemie can make magic doors!" Roland cried. He had been cleaning his revolver as he listened, but now he put it aside. "That's what teleporting is! That's what it means!"
"Hush, Roland," Susannah said. "This must be his Connecticut adventure. I want to hear this part."
But none of them hear about Ted's Connecticut adventure. He simply calls it "a story for another day" and tells his listeners that he was caught in Bridgeport while trying to accumulate enough cash to disappear permanently. The low men bundled him into a car, drove him to New York, and took him to a ribjoint called the Dixie Pig. From there to Fedic, and from Fedic to Thunderclap Station; from the station right back to the Devar-Toi, oh Ted, so good to see you, ivelcome back.
The fourth tape is now three-quarters done, and Ted's voice is little more than a croak. Nevertheless, he gamely pushes on.
"I hadn't been gone long, but over here time had taken one of its erratic slips forward. Humma O'Tego was out, possibly because of me, and Prentiss of New Jersey, the ki '-dam, was in. He and Finli interrogated me in the Master's suite a good many times. There was no physical torture-I guess they still reckoned me too important to chance spoiling me-but there was a lot of discomfort and plenty of mindgames.
They also made it clear that if I tried to run again, my Connecticut friends would be put to death. I said, 'don'tyou boys get it? If I keep doing my job, they're going out, anyway. Everybody's going out, with the possible exception of the one you call the Crimson King."
"Prentiss steepled his fingers in the annoying way he has and said, 'That may be or may not be true, sai, but if it is, we won't suffer when we 'go out," as you put it. Little Bobby and little Carol, on the other hand... not to mention Carol's mother and Bobby's friend,
Sully-John...'He didn't have to finish. I still wonder if they knew how terribly frightened they'd made me ivith that threat against my young friends. And how terribly angry.
"All their questions came down to two things they really wanted to know: Why had I run, and who helped me do it. I could have fallen back on the old name-rank-serial number routine, but decided to chance being a bit more expansive. I'd wanted to run, I said, because I'd gotten a glimmering from some of the can-toi guards about what we were really doing, and I didn't like the idea. As for how I'd gotten out, I told them I didn't know. I went to sleep one night, I said, and just woke up beside the Merritt Parkway. They went from scoffing at this story to semibelieving it, mostly because I never varied it a single jot or tittle, no matter how many times they asked. And of course they already knew how powerful I was, and in ways that were different from the others.
"Do you think you're a teleport in some subconscious way, sai?" Finli asked me.
"'How could I say?' I asked in turn-always answer a question with a question is a good rule to follow during interrogation, I think, as long as it's a relatively soft interrogation, as this one was. 'I've never sensed any such ability, but of course we don't always know what's lurking in our subconscious, do we?"
"'You better hope it wasn't you,' Prentiss said. 'We can live with almost any wild talent around here except that one. That one, Mr.
Brautigan, would spell the end even for such a valued employee as yourself.' Iwasn't sure I believed that, but later Trampas gave me reason to think Prentiss might have been telling the truth. Anyway, that was my story and I never went beyond it.
"Prentiss's houseboy, a fellow named Tassa-a hume, if it matiers-would bring in cookies and cans of Nozz-A-La-which I like because it tastes a bit like root beer-and Prentiss would offer me all I wanted... after, that was, I told them where I'd gotten my information and how I'd escaped Algal Siento. Then the whole round of questions would start again, only this time with Prentiss and the Wease munching cookies and drinking Nozzie. But at some point they 'd always give in and allow me a drink and a bite to eat. As interrogators, I'm afraid there just wasn't enough Nazi in them to make me give up my secrets.
They tried to prog me, of course, but... have you heard that old saying about never bullshitting a bullshitter?"
Eddie and Susannah both nod. So does Jake, who has heard his father say that during numerous conversations concerning Programming at the Network.
"I bet you have, "Ted resumes. "Well, it's also fair to say that you can't prog a progger, at least not one who's gone beyond a certain level of understanding. And I'd better get to the point before my voice gives out entirely.
"One day about three weeks after the low men hauled me back,
Trampas approached me on Main Street in Pleasantville. By then I'd met Dinky, had identified him as a kindred spirit, and was, with his help, getting to know Sheemie better. A lot was going on in addition to my daily interrogations in Warden's House. I'd hardly even thought about Trampas since returning, but he'd thought of little else than me.
As I quickly found out.
"I know the answers to the questions they keep asking you," he said.
"What I don't know is why you haven't given me up."
"I said the idea had never crossed my mind-that tattle-taking wasn't the way I'd been raised to do things. And besides, it wasn't as if they were putting an electrified cattle-prod up my rectum or pulling my fingernails... although they might have resorted to such techniques, had it been anyone other than me. The worst they 'd done was to make me look at the plate of cookies on Prentiss's desk for an hour and a half before relenting and letting me have one.
"I was angry at you at first," Trampas said, "but then I realized-reluctantly-that I might have done the same thing in your place. The first week you were back I didn't sleep much, I can tell you. I'd lie on my bed there in Damli, expecting them to come for me at any minute. You know what they'd do if they found out it was me, don't you?"
"I told him I did not. He said that he'd be flogged by Gaskie,
Finli's Second, and then sent raw-backed into the wastes, either to die in theDiscordia or to find service in the castle of the Red King. But such a trip would not be easy. Southeast ofFedic one may also contract such things as the Eating Sickness (probably cancer, but a kind that's very fast, very painful, and very nasty) or what they just call the Crazy. The Children of Roderick commonly suffer from both these problems, and others, as well. The minor skin diseases of Thunderclap-the eczema, pimples, and rashes-are apparently only the beginning of one's problems in End-World. But for an exile, service in the Court of the Crimson King would be the only hope. Certainly a can-toi such as Trampas couldn't go to the Callas. They're closer, granted, and there's genuine sunshine there, but you can imagine what would happen to low men or the taheen in the Arc of the Callas."
Roland's tet can imagine that very well.
"Don't make too much of it," I said. "As that new fellow Dinky might say, I don't put my business on the street. It s really as simple as that. There's no chivalry involved."
"He said he was grateful nevertheless, then looked around and said, very low: 'I'd pay you back for your kindness, Ted, by telling you to cooperate with them, to the extent that you can. I don't mean you should get me in trouble, but I don't want you to get in more trouble yourself, either. They may not need you quite as badly as you may think."
"And I'd have you hear me well now, lady and gentlemen, for this may be very important; I simply don't know. All I know for certain is that what Trampas told me next gave me a terrible deep chill. He said that of all the other-side worlds, there's one that's unique. They call it the Real World. All Trampas seems to know about it is that it's real in the same way Mid-World was, before the Beams began to weaken and Mid-World moved on. In America-side of this special 'real' World, he says, time sometimes jerks but always runs one way: ahead. And in that world lives a man who also serves as a kind of facilitator; he may even be a mortal guardian of Gan's Beam."
Roland looked at Eddie, and as their eyes met, both mouthed the same word: King.
"Trampas told me that the Crimson King has tried to kill this man, but ka has ever protected his life. They say his song has cast the circle," Trampas told me, "although no one seems to know exactly what that means." Now, however, ka-not the Red King but plain old ka-has decreed that this man, this guardian or whatever he is, should die.
He's stopped, you see. Whatever song it was he was supposed to sing, he's stopped, and that has finally made him vulnerable. But not to the Crimson King. Trampas kept telling me that. No, it's ka he's vulnerable to. "He no longer sings," Trampas said. "His song, the one that matters, has ended. He has forgotten the rose."
In the outer silence, Mordred heard this and then withdrew to ponder it.
"Trampas told me all this only so I'd understand I was no longer completely indispensable. Of course they want to keep me; presumably there would be honor in bringing down Shardik 's Beam before this man's death could cause Gan 's Beam to break."
A pause.
"Do they see the lethal insanity of a race to the brink of oblivion, and then over the edge? Apparently not. If they did, surely they wouldn't be racing to begin with. Or is it a simple failure of imagination? One doesn't like to think such a rudimentary failing could bring about the end, yet..."
Roland, exasperated, twirled his fingers almost as if the old man to whose voice they were listening could see them. He wanted to hear, very well and every word, what the can-toi guard knew about Stephen King, and instead Brautigan had gotten off onto some rambling, discursive sidetrack. It was understandable-the man was clearly exhausted-but there was something here more important than everything else. Eddie knew it, too. Roland could read it on the young man's strained face.
Together they watched the remaining brown tape-now no more than an eighth of an inch deep-melt away.
"... yet we're only poor benighted humies, and I suppose we can't know about these things, not with any degree of certainty..."
He fetches a long, tired sigh. The tape turns, melting off the final reel and running silently and uselessly between the heads. Then, at last:
"Iasked this magic man's name and Trampas said, 'Iknow it not,
Ted, but I do know there's no magic in him anymore, for he's ceased whatever it was that ka meant him to do. If we leave him be, the Ka of Nineteen, which is that of his world, and the Ka of Ninety-nine, which is that of our world, will combine to-"
But there is no more. That is where the tape runs out.
The take-up reel turned and the shiny brown tape-end flapped, making that low fwip-fwip-fwip sound until Eddie leaned forward and pressed STOP. He muttered "Fuck!" under his breath.
"Just when it was getting interesting," Jake said. "And those numbers again. Nineteen... and ninety-nine." He paused, then said them together. "Nineteen-ninety-nine." Then a third time. "1999. The Keystone Year in the Keystone World. Where Mia went to have her baby. Where Black Thirteen is now."
"Keystone World, Keystone Year," Susannah said. She took the last tape off the spindle, held it up to one of the lamps for a moment, then put it back in its box. "Where time always goes in one direction. Like it's s'posed to."
"Gan created time," Roland said. "This is what the old legends say. Gan rose from the void-some tales say from the sea, but both surely mean the Prim-and made the world. Then he tipped it with his finger and set it rolling and that was time."
Something was gathering in the cave. Some revelation.
They all felt it, a thing as close to bursting as Mia's belly had been at the end. Nineteen. Ninety-nine. They had been haunted by these numbers. They had turned up everywhere. They saw them in the sky, saw them written on board fences, heard them in their dreams.
Oy looked up, ears cocked, eyes bright.
Susannah said, "When Mia left the room we were in at the Plaza-Park to go to the Dixie Pig-room 1919, it was-I fell into a kind of trance. I had dreams... jailhouse-dreams... newscasters announcing that this one, that one, and t'other one had died-"
"You told us," Eddie said.
She shook her head violently. "Not all of it, I didn't. Because some of it didn't seem to make any sense. Hearing Dave Garroway say that President Kennedy's little boy was dead, for instance-little John-John, the one who saluted his Daddy's coffin when the catafalque went by. I didn't tell you because that part was nuts. Jake, Eddie, had litde John-John Kennedy died in your whens? Either of your whens?"
They shook their heads. Jake was not even sure of whom Susannah was speaking.
"But he did. In the Keystone World, and in a when beyond any of ours. I bet it was in the when of '99. So dies the son of the last gunslinger, O Discordia. What I think now is that I was kind of hearing the obituary page from The Time Traveler's Weekly. It was all different times mixed together. John John Kennedy, then Stephen King. I'd never heard of him, but David Brinkley said he wrote 'salem's Lot. That's the book Father Callahan was in, right?"
Roland and Eddie nodded.
"Father Callahan told us his story."
"Yeah," Jake said. "But what-"
She overrode him. Her eyes were hazy, distant. Eyes just a look away from understanding. "And then comes Brautigan to the Ka-Tet of Nineteen, and tells his tale. And look! Look at the tape counter!"
They leaned over. In the windows were 1999
"I think King might have written Ted's story, too," she said.
"Anybody want to take a guess what year that story showed up, or wz'Z/show up, in the Keystone World?"
"1999," Jake said, low. "But not the part we heard. The part we didn't hear. Ted's Connecticut Adventure."
"And you met him," Susannah said, looking at her dinh and her husband. 'You met Stephen King."
They nodded again.
"He made the Pere, he made Brautigan, he made us," she said, as if to herself, then shook her head. "No." All things serve the Beam. "He... he facilitated us."
"Yeah." Eddie was nodding. "Yeah, okay. That feels just about right."
"In my dream I was in a cell," she said. "I was wearing the clothes I had on when I got arrested. And David Brinkley said Stephen King was dead, woe, Discordia-something like that.
Brinkley said he was... "She paused, frowning. She would have demanded that Roland hypnotize the complete recollection out of her if it had been necessary, but it turned out not to be. "Brinkley said King was killed by a minivan while walking near his home in Lovell, Maine."
Eddie jerked. Roland sat forward, his eyes burning. "Do you say so?"
Susannah nodded firmly.
"He bought the house on Turtleback Lane!" the gunslinger roared. He reached out and took hold of Eddie's shirt. Eddie seemed not to even notice. "Of course he did! Ka speaks and the wind blows! He moved a little further along the Path of the Beam and bought the house where it's thin! Where we saw the walk-ins! Where we talked to John Cullum and then came back through! Do you doubt it? Do you doubt it so much as a single goddam bit?"
Eddie shook his head. Of course he didn't doubt it. It had a ring, like the one you got when you were at the carnival and hit the pedal just right with the mallet, hit it with all your force, and the lead slug flew straight to the top of the post and rang the bell up there. You got a Kewpie doll when you rang the bell, and was that because Stephen King thought it was a Kewpie doll? Because King came from the world where Gan started time rolling with His holy finger? Because if King says Kewpie, we all say Kewpie, and we all say thankya? If he'd somehow gotten the idea that the prize for ringing the Test Your Strength bell at the carnival was a Cloopie doll, would they say Cloopie? Eddie thought the answer was yes. He thought the answer was yes just as surely as Co-Op City was in Brooklyn.
"David Brinkley said King was fifty-two. You boys met him, so do the math. Could he have been fifty-two in the year of '99?"
"You bet your purity," Eddie said. He tossed Roland a dark, dismayed glance. "And since nineteen's the part we keep running into-Ted Stevens Brautigan, go on, count the letters!-
I bet it has to do with more than just the year. Nineteen-"
"It's a date," Jake said flatly. "Sure it is. Keystone Date in Keystone Year in Keystone World. The nineteenth of something, in the year of 1999. Most likely a summer month, because he was outwalking."
"It's summer over there right now," Susannah said. "It's June.
The 6-month. Turn 6 on its head and you get 9."
"Yeah, and spell dog backward, you get god," Eddie said, but he sounded uneasy.
"I think she's right," Jake said. "I think it's June 19th. That's when King gets turned into roadkill and even the chance that he might go back to work on the Dark Tower story-our story-is kaput. Gan's Beam is lost in the overload. Shardik's Beam is left, but it's already eroded." He looked at Roland, his face pale, his lips almost blue. "It'll snap like a toothpick."
"Maybe it's happened already," Susannah said.
"No," Roland said.
"How can you be sure?" she asked.
He gave her a wintry, humorless smile. "Because," he said, "we'd no longer be here."
"How can we stop it from happening?" Eddie asked. "That guy Trampas told Ted it was ka."
"Maybe he got it wrong," Jake said, but his voice was thin.
Trailing. "It was only a rumor, so maybe he got it wrong. And hey, maybe King's got until July. Or August. Or what about September? It could be September, doesn't that seem likely?
September's the 9-month, after all..."
They looked at Roland, who was now sitting with his leg stretched out before him. "Here's where it hurts," he said, as if speaking to himself. He touched his right hip... then his ribs... last the side of his head. "I've been having headaches.
Worse and worse. Saw no reason to tell you." He drew his diminished right hand down his right side. "This is where he'll be hit. Hip smashed. Ribs busted. Head crushed. Thrown dead into the ditch. Ka... and the end of ka." His eyes cleared and he turned urgently to Susannah. "What date was it when you were in New York? Refresh me."
"June first of 1999."
Roland nodded and looked to Jake. "And you? The same, yes?"
"Then to Fedic... a rest... and on to Thunderclap." He paused, thinking, then spoke four words with measured emphasis. "There is still time."
"But time moves faster over there-"
"And if it takes one of those hitches-"
Their words overlapped. Then they fell quiet again, looking at him again.
"We can change ka," Roland said. "It's been done before.
There's always a price to pay-ka-shume, mayhap-but it can be done."
"How do we get there?" Eddie asked.
"There's only one way," Roland said. "Sheemie must send us.
Silence in the cave, except for a distant roll of the thunder that gave this dark land its name.
"We have two jobs," Eddie said. "The writer and the Breakers.
Which comes first?"
"The writer," Jake said. "While there's still time to save him."
But Roland was shaking his head.
"Why not?" Eddie cried. "Ah, man, why notfYou know how slippery time is over there! And it's one-way! If we miss the window, we'll never get another chance!"
"But we have to make Shardik's Beam safe, too," Roland said.
"Are you saying Ted and this guy Dinky wouldn't let Sheemie help us unless we help them first?"
"No. Sheemie would do it for me, I'm sure. But suppose something happened to him while we were in the Keystone World? We'd be stranded in 1999."
"There's the door on Turtleback Lane-" Eddie began.
"Even if it's still there in 1999, Eddie, Ted told us that Shardik's Beam has already started to bend." Roland shook his head. "My heart says yonder prison is the place to start. If any of you can say different, I will listen, and gladly."
They were quiet. Outside the cave, the wind blew.
"We need to ask Ted before we make any final decision,"
Susannah said at last.
"No," Jake said.
"No!" Oy agreed. Zero surprise there; if Ake said it, you could take it to the humbler bank, as far as Oy was concerned.
"Ask Sheemie," Jake said. "Ask Sheemie what he thinks we should do."
Slowly, Roland nodded.