Authors: Stephen King
“BECAUSE THE BED WON’T COME TO THEM, GODS DAMN YOU! NINE MINUTES AND FIFTY SECONDS!”
“Give up, Blaine,” Eddie said. “Stop before I have to blow your mind completely. If you don’t quit, it’s going to happen. We both know it.”
“I got a million of these puppies. Been hearing them my whole life. They stick to my mind the way flies stick to flypaper. Hey, with some people it’s recipes. So what do you say? Want to give?”
“NO! NINE MINUTES AND THIRTY SECONDS!”
“Okay, Blaine. You asked for it. Here comes the cruncher. Why did the dead baby cross the road?”
The mono took another of those gigantic lurches; Eddie didn’t understand how it could still stay on its track after that, but somehow it did. The screaming from beneath them grew louder; the walls, floor, and ceiling of the car began to cycle madly between opacity and transparency. At one moment they were enclosed, at the next they were rushing over a gray daylight landscape that stretched flat and featureless to a horizon which ran across the world in a straight line.
The voice which came from the speakers was now that of a panicky child: “I KNOW IT, JUST A MOMENT, I KNOW IT, RETRIEVAL IN PROGRESS, ALL LOGIC CIRCUITS IN USE—”
“Answer,” Roland said.
“I NEED MORE TIME! YOU MUST GIVE IT TO ME!” Now there was a kind of cracked triumph in that splintered voice. “NO TEMPORAL LIMI TS FOR ANSWERING WERE SET, ROLAND OF GILEAD, HATEFUL GUNSLINGER OUT OF A PAST THAT SHOULD HAVE STAYED DEAD!”
“No,” Roland agreed, “no time limits were set, you are quite right. But you may not kill us with a riddle still unanswered, Blaine, and Topeka draws nigh. Answer!”
The Barony Coach cycled into invisibility again, and Eddie saw what appeared to be a tall and rusty grain elevator go flashing past; it was in his view barely long enough for him to identify it. Now he fully appreciated the maniacal speed at which they were travelling; perhaps three hundred miles faster than a commercial jet at cruising speed.
“Let him alone!” moaned the voice of Little Blaine. “You’re killing him, I say!
“Isn’t that ’bout what he wanted?” Susannah asked in the voice of Detta Walker. “To die? That’s what he said. We don’t mind, either. You not so bad, Little Blaine, but even a world as fucked up as this one has to be better with your big brother gone. It’s just him takin us with him we been objectin to all this time.”
“Last chance,” Roland said. “Answer or give up the goose, Blaine.”
“I . . . I . . . YOU . . . SIXTEEN LOG THIRTY-THREE . . . ALL COSINE SUBSCRIPTS . . . ANTI . . . ANTI . . . IN ALL THESE YEARS . . . BEAM . . . FLOOD . . . PYTHAGOREAN . . . CARTESIAN LOGIC . . . CAN I . . . DARE I . . . A PEACH . . . EAT A PEACH . . . ALLMAN BROTHERS . . . PATRICIA . . . CROCODILE AND WHIPLASH SMILE . . . CLOCK OF DIALS . . . TICK-TOCK, ELEVEN O’CLOCK, THE MAN’S IN THE MOON AND HE’S READY TO ROCK . . .
INCESSAMENT . . . INCESSAMENT, MON CHER . . .
OH MY HEAD . . . BLAINE . . . BLAINE DARES . . . BLAINE WILL ANSWER . . . I . . .”
Blaine, now screaming in the voice of an infant, lapsed into some other language and began to sing. Eddie thought it was French. He knew none of the words, but when the drums kicked in, he knew the song perfectly well: “Velcro Fly” by Z.Z. Top.
The glass over the route-map blew out. A moment later, the
route-map itself exploded from its socket, revealing twinkling lights and a maze of circuit-boards behind it. The lights pulsed in time to the drums. Suddenly blue fire flashed out, sizzling the surface around the hole in the wall where the map had been, scorching it black. From deeper within that wall, toward Blaine’s blunt, bullet-shaped snout, came a thick grinding noise.
“It crossed the road because it was stapled to the chicken, you dopey fuck!” Eddie yelled. He got to his feet and started to walk toward the smoking hole where the route-map had been. Susannah grabbed at the back of his shirt, but Eddie barely felt it. Barely knew where he was, in fact. The battle-fire had dropped over him, burning him everywhere with its righteous heat, sizzling his sight, frying his synapses and roasting his heart in its holy glow. He had Blaine in his sights, and although the thing behind the voice was already mortally wounded, he was unable to stop squeezing the trigger:
I shoot with my mind.
“What’s the difference between a truckload of bowling balls and a truckload of dead woodchucks?” Eddie raved. “You can’t unload a truckload of bowling balls with a pitchfork!”
A terrible shriek of mingled anger and agony issued from the hole where the route-map had been. It was followed by a gust of blue fire, as if somewhere forward of the Barony Coach an electric dragon had exhaled violently. Jake called a warning, but Eddie didn’t need it; his reflexes had been replaced with razor-blades. He ducked, and the burst of electricity went over his right shoulder, making the hair on that side of his neck stand up. He drew the gun he wore—a heavy .45 with a worn sandalwood grip, one of two revolvers which Roland had brought out of Mid-World’s ruin. He kept walking as he bore down on the front of the coach . . . and of course he kept talking. As Roland had said, Eddie would
talking. As his old friend Cuthbert had done. Eddie could think of many worse ways to go, and only one better.
“Say, Blaine, you ugly, sadistic fuck! Since we’re talking riddles, what is the greatest riddle of the Orient? Many men smoke but Fu Manchu! Get it? No? So solly, Cholly! How about this one? Why’d the woman name her son Seven and a Half? Because she drew his name out of a hat!”
He had reached the pulsing square. Now he lifted Roland’s gun and the Barony Coach suddenly filled with its thunder.
He put all six rounds into the hole, fanning the hammer with the flat of his hand in the way Roland had shown them, knowing only that this was right, this was proper . . . this was
it was the way you ended things if you were a gunslinger. He was one of Roland’s tribe, all right, his soul was probably damned to the deepest pit of hell, and he wouldn’t have changed it for all the heroin in Asia.
“I HATE YOU!” Blaine cried in his childish voice. The splinters were gone from it now; it was growing soft, mushy. “I HATE YOU FOREVER!”
“It’s not dying that bothers you, is it?” Eddie asked. The lights in the hole where the route-map had been were fading. More blue fire flashed, but he hardly had to pull his head back to avoid it; the flame was small and weak. Soon Blaine would be as dead as all the Pubes and Grays in Lud. “It’s
that bothers you.”
“HATE . . . FORRRRrrrrr . . .”
The word degenerated into a hum. The hum became a kind of stuttery thudding sound. Then it was gone.
Eddie looked around. Roland was there, holding Susannah with one arm curved around her butt, as one might hold a child. Her thighs clasped his waist. Jake stood on the gunslinger’s other side, with Oy at his heel.
Drifting out of the hole where the route-map had been was a peculiar charred smell, somehow not unpleasant. To Eddie it smelled like burning leaves in October. Otherwise, the hole was as dead and dark as a corpse’s eye. All the lights in there had gone out.
Your goose is cooked, Blaine,
and your turkey’s baked. Happy fuckin Thanksgiving.
The shrieking from beneath the mono stopped. There was one final, grinding thud from up front, and then those sounds ceased, too. Roland felt his legs and hips sway gently forward and put out his free hand to steady himself. His body knew what had happened before his head did: Blaine’s engines had quit. They were now simply gliding forward along the track. But—
“Back,” he said. “All the way. We’re coasting. If we’re close enough to Blaine’s termination point, we may still crash.”
He led them past the puddled remains of Blaine’s welcoming ice sculpture and to the back of the coach. “And stay away from that thing,” he said, pointing at the instrument which looked like a cross between a piano and a harpsichord. It stood on a small platform. “It may shift. Gods, I wish we could see where we are! Lie down. Wrap your arms over your heads.”
They did as he told them. Roland did the same. He lay there with his chin pressing into the nap of the royal blue carpet, eyes shut, thinking about what had just happened.
“I cry your pardon, Eddie,” he said. “How the wheel of
turns! Once I had to ask the same of my friend Cuthbert . . . and for the same reason. There’s a kind of blindness in me. An
“I hardly think there’s any need of pardon-crying,” Eddie said. He sounded uncomfortable.
“There is. I held your jokes in contempt. Now they have saved our lives. I cry your pardon. I have forgotten the face of my father.”
“You don’t need any pardon and you didn’t forget anybody’s face,” Eddie said. “You can’t help your nature, Roland.”
The gunslinger considered this carefully, and discovered something which was wonderful and awful at the same time: that idea had never occurred to him. Not once in his whole life. That he was a captive of
—this he had known since earliest childhood. But his
. . . his very
. . .
“Thank you, Eddie. I think—”
Before Roland could say what he thought, Blaine the Mono crashed to a final bitter halt. All four of them were thrown violently up the Barony Coach’s central aisle, Oy in Jake’s arms and barking. The cabin’s front wall buckled and Roland struck it shoulder-first. Even with the padding (the wall was carpeted and, from the feel, undercoated with some resilient stuff), the blow was hard enough to numb him. The chandelier swung forward and tore loose from the ceiling, pelting them with glass pendants. Jake rolled aside, vacating its landing-zone just in time. The harpsichord-piano flew off its podium, struck one of the sofas, and overturned, coming to rest with a discordant
sound. The mono tilted to the right and the gunslinger braced himself, meaning to cover both Jake and Susannah with his own body if it overturned
completely. Then it settled back, the floor still a little canted, but at rest.
The trip was over.
The gunslinger raised himself up. His shoulder was still numb, but the arm below it supported him, and that was a good sign. On his left, Jake was sitting up and picking glass beads out of his lap with a dazed expression. On his right, Susannah was dabbing a cut under Eddie’s left eye. “All right,” Roland said. “Who’s hur—”
There was an explosion from above them, a hollow
that reminded Roland of the big-bangers Cuthbert and Alain had sometimes lit and tossed down drains, or into the privies behind the scullery for a prank. And once Cuthbert had shot some big-bangers with his sling. That had been no prank, no childish folly. That had been—
Susannah uttered a short cry—more of surprise than fear, the gunslinger thought—and then hazy daylight was shining down on his face. It felt good. The taste of the air coming in through the blown emergency exit was even better—sweet with the smell of rain and damp earth.
There was a bony rattle, and a ladder—it appeared to be equipped with rungs made of twisted steel wire—dropped out of a slot up there.
“First they throw the chandelier at you, then they show you the door,” Eddie said. He struggled to his feet, then got Susannah up. “Okay, I know when I’m not wanted. Let’s make like bees and buzz off.”
“Sounds good to me.” She reached toward the cut on Eddie’s face again. Eddie took her fingers, kissed them, and told her to stop poking the moichandise.
“Jake?” the gunslinger asked. “Okay?”
“Yes,” Jake said. “What about you, Oy?”
“Guess he is,” Jake said. He raised his wounded hand and looked at it ruefully.
“Hurting again, is it?” the gunslinger asked.
“Yeah. Whatever Blaine did to it is wearing off. I don’t care, though—I’m just glad to still be alive.”
“Yes. Life is good. So is
. There’s some of it left.”
“Aspirin, you mean.”
Roland nodded. A pill of magical properties, but one of the words from Jake’s world he would never be able to say correctly.
“Nine out of ten doctors recommend Anacin, honey,” Susannah said, and when Jake only looked at her quizzically: “Guess they don’t use that one anymore in your when, huh? Doesn’t matter. We’re here, sugarpie, right here and just fine, and that’s what matters.” She pulled Jake into her arms and gave him a kiss between the eyes, on the nose, and then flush on the mouth. Jake laughed and blushed bright red. “That’s what matters, and right now that’s the only thing in the world that does.”
“First aid can wait,” Eddie said. He put his arm around Jake’s shoulders and led the boy to the ladder. “Can you use that hand to climb with?”
“Yes. But I can’t bring Oy. Roland, will you?”
“Yes.” Roland picked Oy up and tucked him into his shirt as he had while descending a shaft under the city in pursuit of Jake and Gasher. Oy peeked out at Jake with his bright, gold-ringed eyes. “Up you go.”
Jake climbed. Roland followed close enough so that Oy could sniff the kid’s heels by stretching out his long neck.
“Suze?” Eddie asked. “Need a boost?”
“And get your nasty hands all over my well-turned fanny? Not likely, white boy!” Then she dropped him a wink and began to climb, pulling herself up easily with her muscular arms and balancing with the stumps of her legs. She went fast, but not too fast for Eddie; he reached up and gave her a soft pinch where the pinching was good. “Oh, my purity!” Susannah cried, laughing and rolling her eyes. Then she was gone. Only Eddie was left, standing by the foot of the ladder and looking around at the luxury coach which he had believed might well be their
You did it, kiddo,
Made him set himself on fire. I knew you could, fuckin-A. Remember when I said that to those scag-bags behind Dahlie’s? Jimmie Polio and those guys? And how they laughed? But you did it. Sent him home with a fuckin rupture.
Well, it worked, anyway,
Eddie thought, and touched the butt of Roland’s gun without even being aware of it.
Well enough for us to walk away one more time.