Authors: Stephen King
The gunslinger had spoken of time’s pool, a phrase which had at first struck Jake as romantic and charming. But suppose the pool was growing stagnant and swampy? And suppose these Bermuda Triangle–type things Roland called thinnies, once great rarities, were becoming the rule rather than the exception? Suppose—oh, and here was a hideous thought, one guaranteed to keep you lying awake until way past three—all of reality was sagging as the structural weaknesses of the Dark Tower grew? Suppose there came a crash, one level falling down into the next . . . and the next . . . and the next . . . until—
When Eddie grasped his shoulder and squeezed, Jake had to bite his tongue to keep from screaming.
“You’re giving yourself the hoodoos,” Eddie said.
“What do you know about it?” Jake asked. That sounded rude, but he was mad. From being scared or being seen into? He didn’t know. Didn’t much care, either.
“When it comes to the hoodoos, I’m an old hand,” Eddie said. “I don’t know exactly what’s on your mind, but whatever it is, this would be an
time to stop thinking about it.”
That, Jake decided, was probably good advice. They walked
across the street together. Toward Gage Park and one of the greatest shocks of Jake’s life.
Passing under the wrought-iron arch with
written on it in old-fashioned, curlicued letters, they found themselves on a brick path leading through a garden that was half English Formal and half Ecuadoran Jungle. With no one to tend it through the hot Midwestern summer, it had run to riot; with no one to tend it this fall, it had run to seed. A sign just inside the arch proclaimed this to be the Reinisch Rose Garden, and there were roses, all right; roses everywhere. Most had gone over, but some of the wild ones still throve, making Jake think of the rose in the vacant lot at Forty-sixth and Second with a longing so deep it was an ache.
Off to one side as they entered the park was a beautiful old-time carousel, its prancing steeds and racing stallions now still on their posts. The carousel’s very silence, its flashing lights and steamy calliope music stilled forever, gave Jake a chill. Hung over the neck of one horse, dangling from a rawhide strip, was some kid’s baseball glove. Jake was barely able to look at it.
Beyond the carousel, the foliage grew even thicker, strangling the path until the travellers edged along single-file, like lost children in a fairy-tale wood. Thorns from overgrown and unpruned rosebushes tore at Jake’s clothes. He had somehow gotten into the lead (probably because Roland was still deep inside his own thoughts), and that was why he saw Charlie the Choo-Choo first.
His only thought while approaching the narrow-gauge train-tracks which crossed the path—they were little more than toy tracks, really—was of the gunslinger saying that
was like a wheel, always rolling around to the same place again.
We’re haunted by roses and trains,
Why? I don’t know. I guess it’s just another rid—
Then he looked to his left, and “OhgoodnesstoChrist” fell out of his mouth, all in one word. The strength ran out of his legs and he sat down. His voice sounded watery and distant to his own ears. He didn’t quite faint, but the color drained out of the world until the running-to-riot foliage on the west side of the park looked almost as gray as the autumn sky overhead.
“Jake! Jake, what’s wrong!” It was Eddie, and Jake could hear the genuine concern in his voice, but it seemed to be coming over a bad long-distance connection. From Beirut, say, or maybe Uranus. And he could feel Roland’s steadying hand on his shoulder, but it was as distant as Eddie’s voice.
“Jake!” Susannah. “What’s wrong, honey? What—”
Then she saw, and stopped talking at him. Eddie saw, and also stopped talking at him. Roland’s hand fell away. They all stood looking . . . except for Jake, who
looking. He supposed that strength and feeling would come back into his legs eventually and he would get up, but right now they felt like limp macaroni.
The train was parked fifty feet up, by a toy station that mimicked the one across the street. Hanging from its eaves was a sign which read
. The train was Charlie the Choo-Choo, cowcatcher and all; a 402 Big Boy Steam Locomotive. And, Jake knew, if he found enough strength to get up on his feet and go over there, he would find a family of mice nested in the seat where the engineer (whose name had undoubtedly been Bob Something-or-other) had once sat. There would be another family, this one of swallows, nested in the smokestack.
And the dark, oily tears,
Jake thought, looking at the tiny train waiting in front of its tiny station with his skin crawling all over his body and his balls hard and his stomach in a knot.
At night it cries those dark, oily tears, and they’re rusting the hell out of his fine Stratham headlight. But in your time, Charlie-boy, you pulled your share of kids, right? Around and around Gage Park you went, and the kids laughed, except some of them weren’t
laughing; some of them, the ones who were wise to you, were screaming. The way I’d scream now, if I had the strength.
But his strength was coming back, and when Eddie put a hand under one of his arms and Roland put one under the other, Jake was able to get up. He staggered once, then stood steady.
“Just for the record, I don’t blame you,” Eddie said. His voice was grim; so was his face. “I feel a little like falling over myself. That’s the one in your book; that’s it to the life.”
“So now we know where Miss Beryl Evans got the idea for
Charlie the Choo-Choo,
” Susannah said. “Either she lived
here, or sometime before 1942, when the damned thing was published, she visited Topeka—”
“—and saw the kids’ train that goes through Reinisch Rose Garden and around Gage Park,” Jake said. He was getting over his scare now, and he—not just an only child but for most of his life a lonely child—felt a burst of love and gratitude for his friends. They had seen what he had seen, they had understood the source of his fright. Of course—they were
“It won’t answer silly questions, it won’t play silly games,” Roland said musingly. “Can you go on, Jake?”
“You sure?” Eddie asked, and when Jake nodded, Eddie pushed Susannah across the tracks. Roland went next. Jake paused a moment, remembering a dream he’d had—he and Oy had been at a train-crossing, and the bumbler had suddenly leaped onto the tracks, barking wildly at the oncoming headlight.
Now Jake bent and scooped Oy up. He looked at the rusting train standing silently in its station, its dark headlamp like a dead eye. “I’m not afraid,” he said in a low voice. “Not afraid of you.”
The headlamp came to life and flashed at him once, brief but glare-bright, emphatic:
I know different; I know different, my dear little squint.
Then it went out.
None of the others had seen. Jake glanced once more at the train, expecting the light to flash again—maybe expecting the cursed thing to actually start up and make a run at him—but nothing happened.
Heart thumping hard in his chest, Jake hurried after his companions.
The Topeka Zoo (the
Topeka Zoo, according to the signs) was full of empty cages and dead animals. Some of the animals that had been freed were gone, but others had died near to hand. The big apes were still in the area marked Gorilla Habitat, and they appeared to have died hand-in-hand. That made Eddie feel like crying, somehow. Since the last of
the heroin had washed out of his system, his emotions always seemed on the verge of blowing up into a cyclone. His old pals would have laughed.
Beyond Gorilla Habitat, a gray wolf lay dead on the path. Oy approached it carefully, sniffed, then stretched out his long neck and began to howl.
“Make him quit that, Jake, you hear me?” Eddie said gruffly. He suddenly realized he could smell decaying animals. The aroma was faint, mostly boiled off over the hot days of the summer just passed, but what was left made him feel like upchucking. Not that he could precisely remember the last time he’d eaten.
“Oy! To me!”
Oy howled one final time, then returned to Jake. He stood on the kid’s feet, looking up at him with those spooky wedding-ring eyes of his. Jake picked him up, took him in a circle around the wolf, and then set him down again on the brick path.
The path led them to a steep set of steps (weeds had begun to push through the stonework already), and at the top Roland looked back over the zoo and the gardens. From here they could easily see the circuit the toy train-tracks made, allowing Charlie’s riders to tour the entire perimeter of Gage Park. Beyond it, fallen leaves clattered down Gage Boulevard before a rush of cold wind.
“So fell Lord Perth,” murmured Roland.
“And the countryside did shake with that thunder,” Jake finished.
Roland looked down at him with surprise, like a man awakening from a deep sleep, then smiled and put an arm around Jake’s shoulders. “I have played Lord Perth in my time,” he said.
“Yes. Very soon now you shall hear.”
Beyond the steps was an aviary full of dead exotic birds; beyond the aviary was a snackbar advertising (perhaps heartlessly, given the location)
S BEST BUFFALOBURGER
; beyond the snackbar was another wrought iron arch with a sign reading
COME BACK TO GAGE PARK REAL SOON
this was the curving upslope of a limited-access-highway entrance ramp. Above it, the green signs they had first spotted from across the way stood clear.
“Turnpikin’ again,” Eddie said in a voice almost too low to hear. “Goddam.” Then he sighed.
“What’s turnpikin’, Eddie?”
Jake didn’t think Eddie was going to answer; when Susannah craned around to look at him as he stood with his fingers wrapped around the handles of the new wheelchair, Eddie looked away. Then he looked back, first at Susannah, then at Jake. “It’s not pretty. Not much about my life before Gary Cooper here yanked me across the Great Divide was.”
“You don’t have to—”
“It’s also no big deal. A bunch of us would get together—me, my brother Henry, Bum O’Hara, usually, ’cause he had a car, Sandra Corbitt, and maybe this friend of Henry’s we called Jimmie Polio—and we’d stick all our names in a hat. The one we drew out was the . . . the trip-guide, Henry used to call him. He—she, if it was Sandi—had to stay straight. Relatively, anyway. Everyone else got seriously goobered. Then we’d all pile into Bum’s Chrysler and go up I-95 into Connecticut or maybe take the Taconic Parkway into upstate New York . . . only we called it the Catatonic Parkway. Listen to Creedence or Marvin Gaye or maybe even
Elvis’s Greatest Hits
on the tape-player.
“It was better at night, best when the moon was full. We’d cruise for hours sometimes with our heads stuck out the windows like dogs do when they’re riding, looking up at the moon and watching for shooting stars. We called it turnpikin’.” Eddie smiled. It looked like an effort. “A charming life, folks.”
“It sounds sort of fun,” Jake said. “Not the drug part, I mean, but riding around with your pals at night, looking at the moon and listening to the music . . . that sounds excellent.”
“It was, actually,” Eddie said. “Even stuffed so full of reds we were as apt to pee on our own shoes as in the bushes, it was excellent.” He paused. “That’s the horrible part, don’t you get it?”
“Turnpikin’,” the gunslinger said. “Let’s do some.”
They left Gage Park and crossed the road to the entrance ramp.
Someone had spray-painted over both signs marking the ramp’s ascending curve. On the one reading
215, someone had slashed
in black. On the one marked
NEXT REST AREA
had been written in fat red letters. That scarlet was still bright enough to scream even after an entire summer. Each had been decorated with a symbol—