Authors: Stephen King
Other men saw, and tried to wheel away from the green trap. Those who managed to do so in time were broadsided by
the next wave of men—some of whom were, incredibly, still yipping or bellowing full-throated battle cries. More horses and riders were driven into the green shimmer, which accepted them eagerly. Latigo, standing stunned and bleeding like a man in the middle of a stampede (which was exactly what he was), saw the soldier to whom he had given his gun. This fellow, who had obeyed Latigo’s order and shot one of his
in order to awaken the rest of them, threw himself from his saddle, howling, and crawled back from the edge of the green stuff even as his horse plunged in. He tried to get to his feet, saw two riders bearing down on him, and clapped his hands across his face. A moment later he was ridden down.
The shrieks of the wounded and dying echoed in the smoky canyon, but Latigo hardly heard them. What he heard mostly was that buzzing, a sound that was almost a voice. Inviting him to jump in. To end it here. Why not? It was over, wasn’t it? All over.
He struggled away instead, and was now able to make some headway; the stream of riders packing its way into the canyon was easing. Some of the riders fifty or sixty yards back from the jog had even been able to turn their horses. But these were ghostly and confused in the thickening smoke.
The cunning bastards have set the brush on fire behind us. Gods of heaven, gods of earth, I think we’re trapped in here.
He could give no commands—every time he drew in breath to try, he coughed it wordlessly back out again—but he was able to grab a passing rider who looked all of seventeen and yank him out of his saddle. The boy went down headfirst and smashed his brow open on a jutting chunk of rock. Latigo was mounted in his place before the kid’s feet had stopped twitching.
He jerked the horse’s head around and spurred for the front of the canyon, but the smoke thickened to a choking white cloud before he got more than twenty yards. The wind was driving it this way. Latigo could make out—barely—the shifting orange glare of the burning brush at the desert end.
He wheeled his new horse back the way it had come. More horses loomed out of the fog. Latigo crashed into one of them and was thrown for the second time in five minutes. He landed on his knees, scrambled to his feet, and staggered back downwind, coughing and retching, eyes red and streaming.
It was a little better beyond the canyon’s northward jog, but wouldn’t be for much longer. The edge of the thinny was a tangle of milling horses, many with broken legs, and crawling, shrieking men. Latigo saw several hats floating on the greenish surface of the whining organism that filled the back of the canyon; he saw boots; he saw wristlets; he saw neckerchiefs; he saw the bugle-boy’s dented instrument, still trailing its frayed strap.
the green shimmer invited, and Latigo found its buzz strangely attractive . . . intimate, almost.
Come in and visit, squat and hunker, be at rest, be at peace, be at one.
Latigo raised his gun, meaning to shoot it. He didn’t believe it could be killed, but he would remember the face of his father and go down shooting, all the same.
Except he didn’t. The gun dropped from his relaxing fingers and he walked forward—others around him were now doing the same—into the thinny. The buzzing rose and rose, filling his ears until there was nothing else.
Nothing else at all.
They saw it all from the notch, where Roland and his friends had stopped in a strung-out line about twenty feet below the top. They saw the screaming confusion, the panicky milling, the men who were trampled, the men and horses that were driven into the thinny . . . and the men who, at the end, walked willingly into it.
Cuthbert was closest to the top of the canyon’s wall, then Alain, then Roland, standing on a six-inch shelf of rock and holding an outcrop just above him. From their vantage-point they could see what the men struggling in their smoky hell below them could not: that the thinny was growing, reaching out, crawling eagerly toward them like an incoming tide.
Roland, his battle-lust slaked, did not want to watch what was happening below, but he couldn’t turn away. The whine of the thinny—cowardly and triumphant at the same time, happy and sad at the same time, lost and found at the same time—held him like sweet, sticky ropes. He hung where he was, hypnotized, as did his friends above him, even when the smoke began to rise, and its pungent tang made him cough dryly.
Men shrieked their lives away in the thickening smoke below. They struggled in it like phantoms. They faded as the fug thickened, climbing the canyon walls like water. Horses whinnied desperately from beneath that acrid white death. The wind swirled its surface in prankish whirlpools. The thinny buzzed, and above where it lay, the surface of the smoke was stained a mystic shade of palest green.
Then, at long last, John Farson’s men screamed no more.
We killed them,
Roland thought with a kind of sick and fascinated horror. Then:
No, not we.
How long he might have stayed there Roland didn’t know—perhaps until the rising smoke engulfed him as well, but then Cuthbert, who had begun to climb again, called down three words from above him; called down in a tone of surprise and dismay.
Roland looked up, startled, and saw that the sky had darkened to a velvety purple. His friend was outlined against it and looking east, his face stained fever-orange with the light of the rising moon.
the thinny buzzed inside his head.
inside his head.
Orange as ’twas when it rose on the night you came out here to see me and count me. Orange like a fire. Orange like a bonfire.
How can it be almost dark?
he cried inside himself, but he knew—yes, he knew very well. Time had slipped back together, that was all, like layers of ground embracing once more after the argument of an earthquake.
Twilight had come.
Terror struck Roland like a closed fist aimed at the heart, making him jerk backward on the small ledge he’d found. He groped for the horn-shaped outcrop above him, but that act of rebalancing was far away; most of him was inside the pink storm again, before he had been snatched away and shown half the cosmos. Perhaps the wizard’s glass had only shown him what stood worlds far away in order to keep from showing him what might soon befall so close to home.
I’d turn around if I thought her life was in any real danger,
he had said.
In a second.
And if the ball knew that? If it couldn’t lie, might it not misdirect? Might it not take him away and show him a dark
land, a darker tower? And it had shown him something else, something that recurred to him only now: a scrawny man in farmer’s overalls who had said . . . what? Not quite what he’d thought, not what he had been used to hearing all his life; not
Life for you and life for your crop,
but . . .
“Death,” he whispered to the stones surrounding him. “Death for you, life for my crop.
That’s what he said,
a cracked old voice laughed inside his head. The voice of the Cöos.
The color of bonfires.
Charyou tree, fin de año,
these are the old ways of which only the stuffy-guys with their red hands remain . . . until tonight. Tonight the old ways are refreshed, as the old ways must be, from time to time.
you damned babby,
tonight you pay for my sweet Ermot. Tonight you pay for all. Come, Reap.
“Climb!” he screamed, reaching up and slapping Alain’s behind. “Climb, climb! For your father’s sake,
“Roland, what—?” Alain’s voice was dazed, but he did begin to climb, going from handhold to handhold and rattling small pebbles down into Roland’s upturned face. Squinting against their fall, Roland reached and swatted Al’s bottom again, driving him like a horse.
gods damn you!” he cried. “It mayn’t be too late, even now!”
But he knew better. Demon Moon had risen, he had seen its orange light shining on Cuthbert’s face like delirium, and he knew better. In his head the lunatic buzz of the thinny, that rotting sore eating through the flesh of reality, joined with the lunatic laughter of the witch, and he knew better.
Death for you, life for the crop.
Nothing was clear to Susan until she saw the man with the long red hair and the straw hat which did not quite obscure his lamb-slaughterer’s eyes; the man with the cornshucks in his hands. He was the first, just a farmer (she had glimpsed him in the Lower Market, she thought; had even nodded to him, as countryfolk do, and he back to her), standing by himself not far from the place where Silk Ranch Road and the Great Road
intersected, standing in the light of the rising moon. Until they came upon him, nothing was clear; after he hurled his bundle of cornshucks at her as she passed, standing in the slowly rolling cart with her hands bound in front of her and her head lowered and a rope around her neck, everything was clear.
he called, almost sweetly uttering words of the Old People she hadn’t heard since her childhood, words that meant “Come, Reap” . . . and something else, as well. Something hidden, something secret, something to do with that root word,
that word which meant only death. As the dried shucks fluttered around her boots, she understood the secret very well; understood also that there would be no baby for her, no wedding for her in the fairy-distant land of Gilead, no hall in which she and Roland would be joined and then saluted beneath the electric lights, no husband, no more nights of sweet love; all that was over. The world had moved on and all that was over, done before fairly begun.
She knew that she had been put in the back of the cart,
in the back of the cart, and that the surviving Coffin Hunter had looped a noose around her neck. “Don’t try to sit,” he had said, sounding almost apologetic. “I have no desire to choke you, girly. If the wagon bumps and you fall, I’ll try to keep the knot loose, but if you try to sit, I’ll have to give you a pinching.
orders.” He nodded to Rhea, who sat erect on the seat of the cart, the reins in her warped hands. “
in charge now.”
And so she had been; so, as they neared town, she still was. Whatever the possession of her glam had done to her body, whatever the loss of it had done to her mind, it had not broken her power; that seemed to have increased, if anything, as if she’d found some other source from which she could feed, at least for awhile. Men who could have broken her over one knee like a stick of kindling followed her commands as unquestioningly as children.
There were more and more men as that Reaping afternoon wound its shallow course to night: half a dozen ahead of the cart, riding with Rimer and the man with the cocked eye, a full dozen riding behind it with Reynolds, the rope leading to her neck wound around his tattooed hand, at their head. She didn’t know who these men were, or how they had been summoned.
Rhea had taken this rapidly increasing party north a little farther, then turned southwest on the old Silk Ranch Road, which wound back toward town. On the eastern edge of Hambry, it rejoined the Great Road. Even in her dazed state, Susan had realized the harridan was moving slowly, measuring the descent of the sun as they went, not clucking at the pony to hurry but actually reining it in, at least until afternoon’s gold had gone. When they passed the farmer, thin-faced and alone, a good man, no doubt, with a freehold farm he worked hard from first gleam to last glow and a family he loved (but oh, there were those lamb-slaughterer eyes below the brim of his battered hat), she understood this leisurely course of travel, too. Rhea had been waiting for the moon.
With no gods to pray to, Susan prayed to her father.
Da? If thee’s there, help me to be strong as I can be, and help me hold to him, to the memory of him. Help me to hold to myself as well. Not for rescue, not for salvation, but just so as not to give them the satisfaction of seeing my pain and my fear. And him, help him as well . . .
“Help keep him safe,” she whispered. “Keep my love safe; take my love safe to where he goes, give him joy in who he sees, and make him a cause of joy in those who see him.”
“Praying, dearie?” the old woman asked without turning on the seat. Her croaking voice oozed false compassion. “Aye, ye’d do well t’make things right with the Powers while ye still can—before the spit’s burned right out of yer throat!” She threw back her head and cackled, the straggling remains of her broomstraw hair flying out orange in the light of the bloated moon.
Their horses, led by Rusher, had come to the sound of Roland’s dismayed shout. They stood not far away, their manes rippling in the wind, shaking their heads and whinnying their displeasure whenever the wind dropped enough for them to get a whiff of the thick white smoke rising from the canyon.
Roland paid no attention to the horses or the smoke. His eyes were fixed on the drawstring sack slung over Alain’s shoulder. The ball inside had come alive again; in the growing dark, the bag seemed to pulse like some weird pink firefly. He held out his hands for it.
“Give it to me!”
“Roland, I don’t know if—”
“Give it to me, damn your face!”
Alain looked at Cuthbert, who nodded . . . then lifted his hands skyward in a weary, distracted gesture.
Roland tore the bag away before Alain could do more than begin to shrug it off his shoulder. The gunslinger dipped into it and pulled the glass out. It was glowing fiercely, a pink Demon Moon instead of an orange one.
Behind and below them, the nagging whine of the thinny rose and fell, rose and fell.
“Don’t look directly into that thing,” Cuthbert muttered to Alain. “Don’t, for your father’s sake.”