Authors: Stephen King
Except none of that was what this was about. It was close, yes, but close only counts in horseshoes, as Henry Dean had been wont to say before he became the Great Sage and Eminent Junkie. Eddie’s memory was jinking a little because Roland had embarrassed him . . . shamed him . . . made a joke at his expense . . .
Probably not on purpose, but . . .
. Something that had made him feel the way Henry always used to make him feel, of course it was, why else would Henry be here after such a long absence?
All of them looking at him now. Even Oy.
“Go on,” he told Roland, sounding a little waspish. “You wanted us to think, we’re thinking, already.” He himself was thinking so hard
(I shoot with my mind)
that his goddam brains were almost on fire, but he wasn’t going to tell old long, tall, and ugly that. “Go on and ask Blaine some riddles. Do your part.”
“As you will, Eddie.” Roland rose from his seat, went forward, and laid his hand on the scarlet rectangle again. The route-map reappeared at once. The green dot had moved farther beyond Rilea, but it was clear to Eddie that the mono had slowed down significantly, either obeying some built-in program or because Blaine was having too much fun to hurry.
READY TO CONTINUE OUR FAIR-DAY RIDDLING, ROLAND SON OF STEVEN?”
“Yes, Blaine,” Roland said, and to Eddie his voice sounded
heavy. “I will riddle you alone for awhile now. If you have no objection.”
AND FATHER OF YOUR
SUCH IS YOUR RIGHT. WILL THESE BE FAIR-DAY RIDDLES?”
“GOOD.” Loathsome satisfaction in that voice. “I WOULD HEAR MORE OF THOSE.”
“All right.” Roland took a deep breath, then began. “Feed me and I live. Give me to drink and I die. What am I?”
“FIRE.” No hesitation. Only that insufferable smugness, a tone which said
That was old to me when your grandmother was young, but try again! This is more fun than I’ve had in centuries, so try again!
“I pass before the sun, Blaine, yet make no shadow. What am I?”
“WIND.” No hesitation.
“You speak true, sai. Next. This is as light as a feather, yet no man can hold it for long.”
“ONE’S BREATH.” No hesitation.
Eddie thought suddenly. Jake and Susannah were watching Roland with agonized concentration, fists clenched,
him to ask Blaine the right riddle, the stumper, the one with the Get the Fuck Out of Jail Free card hidden inside it; Eddie couldn’t look at them—Suze, in particular—and keep his concentration. He lowered his gaze to his own hands, which were also clenched, and forced them to open on his lap. It was surprisingly hard to do. From the aisle he heard Roland continuing to trot out the golden oldies of his youth.
“Riddle me this, Blaine: If you break me, I’ll not stop working. If you can touch me, my work is done. If you lose me, you must find me with a ring soon after. What am I?”
Susannah’s breath caught for a moment, and although he was looking down, Eddie knew she was thinking what he was thinking: that was a good one, a
good one, maybe—
“THE HUMAN HEART,” Blaine said. Still with not a whit of hesitation. “THIS RIDDLE IS BASED IN LARGE PART UPON HUMAN POETIC CONCEITS; SEE FOR INSTANCE JOHN AVERY, SIRONIA HUNTZ, ONDOLA, WILLIAM BLAKE, JAMES TATE, VERONICA MAYS, AND OTHERS. IT IS REMARKABLE HOW HUMAN BEINGS PITCH THEIR MINDS ON LOVE. YET IT IS
CONSTANT FROM ONE LEVEL OF THE TOWER TO THE NEXT, EVEN IN THESE DEGENERATE DAYS. CONTINUE, ROLAND OF GILEAD.”
Susannah’s breath resumed. Eddie’s hands wanted to clench again, but he wouldn’t let them.
Move your flint in closer,
he thought in Roland’s voice.
Move your flint in closer, for your father’s sake!
And Blaine the Mono ran on, southeast under the Demon Moon.
Jake didn’t know how easy or difficult Blaine might find the last ten puzzlers in
but they looked pretty tough to him. Of course, he reminded himself, he wasn’t a thinking-machine with a city-wide bank of computers to draw on. All he could do was go for it; God hates a coward, as Eddie sometimes said. If the last ten failed, he would try Aaron Deepneau’s Samson riddle (
Out of the eater came forth meat,
and so on). If that one also failed, he’d probably . . . shit, he didn’t know
he’d do, or even how he’d feel.
The truth is,
And why not? He had gone through an extraordinary swarm of emotions in the last eight hours or so. First, terror: of being sure he and Oy were going to drop off the suspension bridge and to their deaths in the River Send; of being driven through the crazed maze that was Lud by Gasher; of having to look into the Tick-Tock Man’s terrible green eyes and try to answer his unanswerable questions about time, Nazis, and the nature of transitive circuits. Being questioned by Tick-Tock had been like having to take a final exam in hell.
Then the exhilaration of being rescued by Roland (and Oy; without Oy he would almost certainly be toast now), the wonder of all they had seen beneath the city, his awe at the way Susannah had solved Blaine’s gate-riddle, and the final mad rush to get aboard the mono before Blaine could release the stocks of nerve-gas stored under Lud.
After surviving all that, a kind of blissed-out surety had settled over him—of
Roland would stump Blaine, who
would then keep his part of the bargain and set them down safe and sound at his final stop (whatever passed for Topeka in this world). Then they would find the Dark Tower and do whatever they were supposed to do there, right what needed righting, fix what needed fixing. And then? They Lived Happily Ever After, of course. Like folk in a fairy tale.
Except . . .
They shared each other’s thoughts, Roland had said; sharing
was part of what
meant. And what had been seeping into Jake’s thoughts ever since Roland stepped into the aisle and began to try Blaine with riddles from his young days was a sense of doom. It wasn’t coming just from the gunslinger; Susannah was sending out the same grim blue-black vibe. Only Eddie wasn’t sending it, and that was because he’d gone off somewhere, was chasing his own thoughts. That might be good, but there were no guarantees, and—
—and Jake began to be scared again. Worse, he felt desperate, like a creature that is pressed deeper and deeper into its final corner by a relentless foe. His fingers worked restlessly in Oy’s fur, and when he looked down at them, he realized an amazing thing: the hand which Oy had bitten into to keep from falling off the bridge no longer hurt. He could see the holes the bumbler’s teeth had made, and blood was still crusted in his palm and on his wrist, but the hand itself no longer hurt. He flexed it cautiously. There was some pain, but it was low and distant, hardly there at all.
“Blaine, what may go up a chimney down but cannot go down a chimney up?”
“A LADY’S PARASOL,” Blaine replied in that tone of jolly complacency which Jake, too, was coming to loathe.
“Thankee-sai, Blaine, once again you have answered true. Next—”
The gunslinger looked around at Jake, and his look of concentration lightened a bit. It wasn’t a smile, but it went a little way in that direction, at least, and Jake was glad.
“What is it, Jake?”
“My hand. It was hurting like crazy, and now it’s stopped!”
“SHUCKS,” Blaine said in the drawling voice of John Wayne. “I COULDN’T WATCH A HOUND SUFFER WITH A MASHED-UP FOREPAW LIKE THAT, LET ALONE A
FINE LITTLE TRAILHAND LIKE YOURSELF. SO I FIXED IT UP.”
“How?” Jake asked.
“LOOK ON THE ARM OF YOUR SEAT.”
Jake did, and saw a faint gridwork of lines. It looked a little like the speaker of the transistor radio he’d had when he was seven or eight.
“ANOTHER BENEFIT OF TRAVELLING BARONY CLASS,” Blaine went on in his smug voice. It crossed Jake’s mind that Blaine would fit in perfectly at the Piper School. The world’s first slo-trans, dipolar nerd. “THE HAND-SCAN SPECTRUM MAGNIFIER IS A DIAGNOSTIC TOOL ALSO CAPABLE OF ADMINISTERING MINOR FIRST AID, SUCH AS I HAVE PERFORMED ON YOU. IT IS ALSO A NUTRIENT DELIVERY SYSTEM, A BRAIN-PATTERN RECORDING DEVICE, A STRESS-ANALYZER, AND AN EMOTION-ENHANCER WHICH CAN NATURALLY STIMULATE THE PRODUCTION OF ENDORPHINS. HAND-SCAN IS ALSO CAPABLE OF CREATING VERY BELIEVABLE ILLUSIONS AND HALLUCINATIONS. WOULD YOU CARE TO HAVE YOUR FIRST SEXUAL EXPERIENCE WITH A NOTED SEX-GODDESS FROM YOUR LEVEL OF THE TOWER, JAKE OF NEW YORK? PERHAPS MARILYN MONROE, RAQUEL WELCH, OR EDITH BUNKER?”
Jake laughed. He guessed that laughing at Blaine might be risky, but this time he just couldn’t help it. “There
no Edith Bunker,” he said. “She’s just a character on a TV show. The actress’s name is, um, Jean Stapleton. Also, she looks like Mrs. Shaw. She’s our housekeeper. Nice, but not—you know—a babe.”
A long silence from Blaine. When the voice of the computer returned, a certain coldness had replaced the jocose ain’t-we-having-fun tone of voice.
“I CRY YOUR PARDON, JAKE OF NEW YORK. I ALSO WITHDRAW MY OFFER OF A SEXUAL EXPERIENCE.”
That’ll teach me,
Jake thought, raising one hand to cover a smile. Aloud (and in what he hoped was a suitably humble tone of voice) he said: “That’s okay, Blaine. I think I’m still a little young for that, anyway.”
Susannah and Roland were looking at each other. Susannah didn’t know who Edith Bunker was—
All in the Family
been on the tube in her when. But she grasped the essence of the situation just the same; Jake saw her full lips form one soundless word and send it to the gunslinger like a message in a soapbubble:
Yes. Blaine had made a mistake. More, Jake Chambers, a boy of eleven, had picked up on it. And if Blaine had made one, he could make another. Maybe there was hope after all. Jake decided he would treat that possibility as he had treated the
of River Crossing and allow himself just a little.
Roland nodded imperceptibly at Susannah, then turned back to the front of the coach, presumably to resume riddling. Before he could open his mouth, Jake felt his body pushed forward. It was funny; you couldn’t feel a thing when the mono was running flat-out, but the minute it began to decelerate, you knew.
“HERE IS SOMETHING YOU REALLY OUGHT TO SEE,” Blaine said. He sounded cheerful again, but Jake didn’t trust that tone; he had sometimes heard his father start telephone conversations that way (usually with some subordinate who had FUB, Fucked Up Big), and by the end Elmer Chambers would be up on his feet, bent over the desk like a man with a stomach cramp and screaming at the top of his lungs, his cheeks red as radishes and the circles of flesh under his eyes as purple as an eggplant. “I HAVE TO STOP HERE, ANYWAY, AS I MUST SWITCH TO BATTERY POWER AT THIS POINT AND THAT MEANS PRE-CHARGING.”
The mono stopped with a barely perceptible jerk. The walls around them once more drained of color and then became transparent. Susannah gasped with fear and wonder. Roland moved to his left, felt for the side of the coach so he wouldn’t bump his head, then leaned forward with his hands on his knees and his eyes narrowed. Oy began to bark again. Only Eddie seemed unmoved by the breathtaking view which had been provided them by the Barony Coach’s visual mode. He glanced around once, face preoccupied and somehow bleary with thought, and then looked down at his hands again. Jake glanced at him with brief curiosity, then stared back out.
They were halfway across a vast chasm and seemed to be hovering on the moon-dusted air. Beyond them Jake could
see a wide, boiling river. Not the Send, unless the rivers in Roland’s world were somehow able to run in different directions at different points in their courses (and Jake didn’t know enough about Mid-World to entirely discount that possibility); also, this river was not placid but raging, a torrent that came tumbling out of the mountains like something that was pissed off and wanted to brawl.
For a moment Jake looked at the trees which dressed the steep slopes along the sides of this river, registering with relief that they looked pretty much all right—the sort of firs you’d expect to see in the mountains of Colorado or Wyoming, say—and then his eyes were dragged back to the lip of the chasm. Here the torrent broke apart and dropped in a waterfall so wide and so deep that Jake thought it made Niagara, where he had gone with his parents (one of three family vacations he could remember; two had been cut short by urgent calls from his father’s Network), look like the kind you might see in a third-rate theme-park. The air filling the enclosing semicircle of the falls was further thickened by an uprushing mist that looked like steam; in it half a dozen moonbows gleamed like gaudy, interlocking dream-jewelry. To Jake they looked like the overlapping rings which symbolized the Olympics.
Jutting from the center of the falls, perhaps two hundred feet below the point where the river actually went over the drop, were two enormous stone protrusions. Although Jake had no idea how a sculptor (or a team of them) could have gotten down to where they were, he found it all but impossible to believe they had simply eroded that way. They looked like the heads of enormous, snarling dogs.
The Falls of the Hounds,
he thought. There was one more stop beyond this—Dasherville—and then Topeka. Last stop. Everybody out.
“ONE MOMENT,” Blaine said. “I MUST ADJUST THE VOLUME FOR YOU TO ENJOY THE FULL EFFECT.”
There was a brief, whispery hooting sound—a kind of mechanical throat-clearing—and then they were assaulted by a vast roar. It was water—a billion gallons a minute, for all Jake knew—pouring over the lip of the chasm and falling perhaps two thousand feet into the deep stone basin at the base of the falls. Streamers of mist floated past the blunt almost-faces of the jutting dogs like steam from the vents of hell. The level of sound kept climbing. Now Jake’s whole head vibrated with
it, and as he clapped his hands over his ears, he saw Roland, Eddie, and Susannah doing the same. Oy was barking, but Jake couldn’t hear him. Susannah’s lips were moving again, and again he could read the words—
Stop it, Blaine, stop it!
—but he couldn’t hear them any more than he could hear Oy’s barks, although he was sure Susannah was screaming at the top of her lungs.
And still Blaine increased the sound of the waterfall, until Jake could feel his eyes shaking in their sockets and he was sure his ears were going to short out like overstressed stereo speakers.
Then it was over. They still hung above the moon-misty drop, the moonbows still made their slow and dreamlike revolutions before the curtain of endlessly falling water, the wet and brutal stone faces of the dog-guardians continued to jut out of the torrent, but that world-ending thunder was gone.
For a moment Jake thought what he’d feared had happened, that he had gone deaf. Then he realized that he could hear Oy, still barking, and Susannah crying. At first these sounds seemed distant and flat, as if his ears had been packed with cracker-crumbs, but then they began to clarify.
Eddie put his arm around Susannah’s shoulders and looked toward the route-map. “Nice guy, Blaine.”
“I MERELY THOUGHT YOU WOULD ENJOY HEARING THE SOUND OF THE FALLS AT FULL VOLUME,” Blaine said. His booming voice sounded laughing and injured at the same time. “I THOUGHT IT MIGHT HELP YOU TO FORGET MY REGRETTABLE MISTAKE IN THE MATTER OF EDITH BUNKER.”
Blaine may just be a machine, and a suicidal one at that, but he still doesn’t like to be laughed at.
He sat beside Susannah and put his own arm around her. He could still hear the Falls of the Hounds, but the sound was now distant.
“What happens here?” Roland asked. “How do you charge your batteries?”
“YOU WILL SEE SHORTLY, GUNSLINGER. IN THE MEANTIME, TRY ME WITH A RIDDLE.”
“All right, Blaine. Here’s one of Cort’s own making, and has posed many in its time.”
“I AWAIT IT WITH GREAT INTEREST.”
Roland, pausing perhaps to gather his thoughts, looked up
at the place where the roof of the coach had been and where there was now only a starry spill across a black sky (Jake could pick out Aton and Lydia—Old Star and Old Mother—and was oddly comforted by the sight of them, still glaring at each other from their accustomed places). Then the gunslinger looked back at the lighted rectangle which served them as Blaine’s face.
“ ‘We are very little creatures; all of us have different features. One of us in glass is set; one of us you’ll find in jet. Another you may see in tin, and a fourth is boxed within. If the fifth you should pursue, it can never fly from you. What are we?’ ”
“A AND E AND I AND O AND U,” Blaine replied. “THE VOWELS OF THE HIGH SPEECH.” Still no hesitation, not so much as a whit. Only that voice, mocking and just about two steps from laughter; the voice of a cruel little boy watching bugs run around on top of a hot stove. “ALTHOUGH THAT PARTICULAR RIDDLE IS NOT FROM YOUR TEACHER, ROLAND OF GILEAD; I KNOW IT FROM JONATHAN SWIFT OF LONDON—A CITY IN THE WORLD YOUR FRIENDS COME FROM.”
“Thankee-sai,” Roland said, and his sai sounded like a sigh. “Your answer is true, Blaine, and undoubtedly what you believe of the riddle’s origins is true as well. That Cort knew of other worlds is something I long suspected. I think he may have held palaver with the
who lived outside the city.”
“I CARE NOT ABOUT THE
ROLAND OF GILEAD. THEY WERE ALWAYS A FOOLISH SECT. TRY ME WITH ANOTHER RIDDLE.”
“All right. What has—”
“HOLD, HOLD. THE FORCE OF THE BEAM GATHERS. LOOK NOT DIRECTLY AT THE HOUNDS, MY INTERESTING NEW FRIENDS! AND SHIELD YOUR EYES!”
Jake looked away from the colossal rock sculptures jutting from the falls, but didn’t get his hand up quite in time. With his peripheral vision he saw those featureless heads suddenly develop eyes of a fiercely glowing blue. Jagged tines of lightning leaped out of them and toward the mono. Then Jake was lying on the carpeted floor of the Barony Coach with the heels of his hands pasted against his closed eyes and the sound of Oy whining in one faintly ringing ear. Beyond Oy, he heard the crackle of electricity as it stormed around the mono.