Authors: Stephen King
For the first time in
the gunslinger fell silent. He sat for a moment looking toward the building to the east of them (with the sun behind it, the glass palace was a black shape surrounded by a gold nimbus) with his forearms propped on his knees. Then he took the waterskin which lay on the pavement beside him, held it over his face, opened his mouth, and upended it.
He drank what happened to go in his mouth—the others could see his adam’s apple working as he lay back in the breakdown lane, still pouring—but drinking didn’t seem to be his primary purpose. Water streamed down his deeply lined forehead and bounced off his closed eyelids. It pooled in the triangular hollow at the base of his throat and ran back from his temples, wetting his hair and turning it darker.
At last he put the waterskin aside and only lay there, eyes closed, arms stretched out high above his head, like a man surrendering in his sleep. Steam rose in delicate tendrils from his wet face.
“Ahhh,” he said.
“Feel better?” Eddie asked.
The gunslinger’s lids rose, disclosing those faded yet somehow alarming blue eyes. “Yes. I do. I don’t understand how that can be, as much as I dreaded this telling . . . but I do.”
“An ologist-of-the-psyche could probably explain it to you,” Susannah said, “but I doubt you’d listen.” She put her hands in the small of her back, stretched and winced . . . but
the wince was only reflex. The pain and stiffness she’d expected weren’t there, and although there was one small creak near the base of her spine, she didn’t get the satisfying series of snaps, crackles, and pops she had expected.
“Tell you one thing,” Eddie said, “this gives a whole new meaning to ‘Get it off your chest.’ How long have we been here, Roland?”
“Just one night.”
“ ‘The spirits have done it all in a single night,’ ” Jake said in a dreamy voice. His legs were crossed at the ankles; Oy sat in the diamond shape made by the boy’s bent knees, looking at him with his bright gold-black eyes.
Roland sat up, wiping at his wet cheeks with his neckerchief and looking at Jake sharply. “What is it you say?”
“Not me. A guy named Charles Dickens wrote that. In a story called
A Christmas Carol.
All in a single night, huh?”
“Does any part of your body say it was longer?”
Jake shook his head. No, he felt pretty much the way he did any morning—better than on some. He had to take a leak, but his back teeth weren’t exactly floating, or anything like that.
“I feel good,” Susannah said. “Surely not as if I stayed up all night, let alone many of em.”
Eddie said, “It reminds me of the time I spent as a junkie, in a way—”
“Doesn’t everything?” Roland asked dryly.
“Oh, that’s funny,” Eddie said. “A real howl. Next train that goes crazy on us,
can ask it the silly questions. What I meant was that you’d spend so many nights high that you got used to feeling like ten pounds of shit in a nine-pound bag when you got up in the morning—bad head, stuffy nose, thumping heart, glass in the old spine. Take it from your pal Eddie, you can tell just from the way you feel in the morning how good dope is for you. Anyway, you’d get so used to that—
did, anyway—that when you actually took a night off, you’d wake up the next morning and sit there on the edge of the bed, thinking, ‘What the fuck’s wrong with me? Am I sick? I feel weird. Did I have a stroke in the night?’ ”
Jake laughed, then clapped a hand over his mouth so violently that it was as if he wanted not just to hold the sound in but call it back. “Sorry,” he said. “That made me think of my dad.”
“One of my people, huh?” Eddie said. “Anyway, I expect to be sore, I expect to be tired, I expect to creak when I walk . . . but I actually think all I need to put me right is a quick pee in the bushes.”
“And a bite to eat?” Roland asked.
Eddie had been wearing a small smile. Now it faded. “No,” he said. “After that story, I’m not all that hungry. In fact, I’m not hungry at all.”
Eddie carried Susannah down the embankment and popped her behind a stand of laurel bushes to do her necessary. Jake was sixty or seventy yards east, in a grove of birches. Roland had said he would use the remedial strip to do his morning necessary, then raised his eyebrows when his New York friends laughed.
Susannah wasn’t laughing when she came out of the bushes. Her face was streaked with tears. Eddie didn’t ask her; he knew. He had been fighting the feeling himself. He took her gently in his arms and she put her face against the side of his neck. They stayed that way for a little while.
she said at last, pronouncing it as Roland had: chair-you tree, with a little upturned vowel at the end.
“Yeah,” Eddie said, thinking that a Charlie by any other name was still a Charlie. As, he supposed, a rose was a rose was a rose. “Come, Reap.”
She raised her head and began to wipe her swimming eyes. “To have gone through all that,” she said, keeping her voice low . . . and looking once at the turnpike embankment to make sure Roland wasn’t there, looking down at them. “And
“Yeah. It makes my adventures searching for the elusive dime bag in Tompkins Square look pretty tame. In a way, though, I’m almost relieved.”
“Because I thought he was going to tell us that he killed her himself. For his damned Tower.”
Susannah looked squarely into his eyes. “But he thinks that’s what he did. Don’t you understand that?”
When they were back together again and there was food actually in sight, all of them decided they could eat a bit, after all. Roland shared out the last of the burritos (
Maybe later today we can stop in at the nearest Boing Boing Burgers and see what they’ve got for leftovers,
Eddie thought), and they dug in. All of them, that was, except Roland. He picked up his burrito, looked at it, then looked away. Eddie saw an expression of sadness on the gunslinger’s face that made him look both old and lost. It hurt Eddie’s heart, but he couldn’t think what to do about it.
Jake, almost ten years younger, could. He got up, went to Roland, knelt beside him, put his arms around the gunslinger’s neck, and hugged him. “I’m sorry you lost your friend,” he said.
Roland’s face worked, and for a moment Eddie was sure he was going to lose it. A long time between hugs, maybe. Mighty long. Eddie had to look away for a moment.
Kansas in the morning,
he told himself.
A sight you never expected to see. Dig on that for awhile, and let the man be.
When he looked back, Roland had it together again. Jake was sitting beside him, and Oy had his long snout on one of the gunslinger’s boots. Roland had begun to eat his burrito. Slowly, and without much relish . . . but he was eating.
A cold hand—Susannah’s—crept into Eddie’s. He took it and folded his fingers over it.
“One night,” she marvelled.
“On our body-clocks, at least,” Eddie said. “In our heads . . .”
“Who knows?” Roland agreed. “But storytelling always changes time. At least it does in my world.” He smiled. It was unexpected, as always, and as always, it transformed his face into something nearly beautiful. Looking at that, Eddie mused, you could see how a girl might have fallen in love with Roland, once upon a time. Back when he had been long and going on tall but maybe not so ugly; back when the Tower hadn’t yet got its best hold on him.
“I think it’s that way in all worlds, sugar,” Susannah said. “Could I ask you a couple of questions, before we get rolling?”
“If you like.”
“What happened to you? How long were you . . . gone?”
“I was certainly gone, you’re right about that. I was travelling.
Not in Maerlyn’s Rainbow, exactly . . . I don’t think I ever would have returned from there, if I’d gone into it while I was still . . . sick . . . but everyone has a wizard’s glass, of course. Here.” He tapped his forehead gravely, just above the space between his eyebrows. “That’s where I went. That’s where I travelled while my friends travelled east with me. I got better there, little by little. I held onto the ball, and I travelled inside my head, and I got better. But the glass never glowed for me until the very end . . . when the battlements of the castle and the towers of the city were actually in sight. If it had awakened earlier . . .”
“If it had awakened before I’d started to get some of my strength of mind back, I don’t think I’d be here now. Because any world—even a pink one with a glass sky—would have been preferable to one where there was no Susan. I suppose the force that gives the glass its life knew that . . . and waited.”
“But when it
glow for you again, it told you the rest,” Jake said. “It must have. It told you the parts that you weren’t there to see.”
“Yes. I know as much of the story as I do because of what I saw in the ball.”
“You told us once that John Farson wanted your head on a pole,” Eddie said. “Because you stole something from him. Something he held dear. It was the glass ball, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. He was more than furious when he found out. He was insane with rage. In your parlance, Eddie, he ‘went nuclear.’ ”
“How many more times
it glow for you?” Susannah asked.
“And what happened to it?” Jake added.
“I saw in it three times after we left Mejis Barony,” Roland said. “The first was on the night before we came home to Gilead. That was when I travelled in it the longest, and it showed me what I’ve told you. A few things I’ve only guessed at, but most I was shown. It showed me these things not to teach or enlighten, but to hurt and wound. The remaining pieces of the Wizard’s Rainbow are all evil things. Hurt enlivens them, somehow. It waited until my mind was strong enough to understand and
. . . and then it showed
me all the things I missed in my stupid adolescent complacency. My lovesick daze. My prideful, murderous conceit.”
“Roland, don’t,” Susannah said. “Don’t let it hurt you still.”
“But it does. It always will. Never mind. It doesn’t matter now; that tale is told.
“The second time I saw into the glass—
into the glass—was three days after I came home. My mother wasn’t there, although she was due that evening. She had gone into Debaria—a kind of retreat for women—to wait and pray for my return. Nor was Marten there. He was in Cressia, with Farson.”
“The ball,” Eddie said. “Your father had it by then?”
“No-o,” Roland said. He looked down at his hands, and Eddie observed a faint flush rising into his cheeks. “I didn’t give it to him at first. I found it . . . hard to give up.”
“I bet,” Susannah said. “You and everyone else who ever looked into the goddam thing.”
“On the third afternoon, before we were to be banqueted to celebrate our safe return—”
“I bet you were really in a mood to party, too,” Eddie said.
Roland smiled without humor, still studying his hands. “At around four o’ the clock, Cuthbert and Alain came to my rooms. We were a trio for an artist to paint, I wot—windburned, hollow-eyed, hands covered with healing cuts and scrapes from our climb up the side of the canyon, scrawny as scarecrows. Even Alain, who tended toward stoutness, all but disappeared when he turned sideways. They confronted me, I suppose you’d say. They’d kept the secret of the ball to that point—out of respect for me and for the loss I’d suffered, they told me, and I believed them—but they would keep it no longer than that night’s meal. If I wouldn’t give it up voluntarily, it would be a question for our fathers to decide. They were horribly embarrassed, especially Cuthbert, but they were determined.
“I told them I’d give it over to my own father before the banquet—before my mother arrived by coach from Debaria, even. They should come early and see that I kept my promise. Cuthbert started to hem and haw and say that wouldn’t be necessary, but of course it
“Yeah,” Eddie said. He had the look of a man who understood this part of the story perfectly. “You can go into the
crapper on your own, but it’s a lot easier to actually flush all the bad shit down the toilet if you have somebody with you.”
“Alain, at least, knew it would be better for me—easier—if I didn’t have to hand the ball over alone. He hushed Cuthbert up and said they’d be there. And they were. And I gave it over, little as I wanted to. My father went as pale as paper when he looked into the bag and saw what was there, then excused himself and took it away. When he came back, he picked up his glass of wine and went on talking to us of our adventures in Mejis as if nothing had happened.”
“But between the time your friends talked to you about it and the time you gave it up, you looked into it,” Jake said. “
into it. Travelled in it. What did it show you that time?”
“First the Tower again,” Roland said, “and the beginning of the way there. I saw the fall of Gilead, and the triumph of the Good Man. We’d put those things back a mere twenty months or so by destroying the tankers and the oilpatch. I could do nothing about that, but it showed me something I
do. There was a certain knife. The blade had been treated with an especially potent poison, something from a distant Mid-World Kingdom called Garlan. Stuff so strong even the tiniest cut would cause almost instant death. A wandering singer—in truth, John Farson’s eldest nephew—had brought this knife to court. The man he gave it to was the castle’s chief of domestic staff. This man was to pass the knife on to the actual assassin. My father was not meant to see the sun come up on the morning after the banquet.” He smiled at them grimly. “Because of what I saw in the Wizard’s Glass, the knife never reached the hand that would have used it, and there was a new chief of domestics by the end of that week. These are pretty tales I tell you, are they not? Aye, very pretty, indeed.”
“Did you see the person the knife was meant for?” Susannah asked. “The actual killer?”