Authors: Stephen King
“I SAID COME BACK TOMORROW!”
Red smoke once more began to boil out of the slots in the arms of the throne. It was thicker now. The shape which had been Blaine’s route-map melted apart and joined it. The smoke formed a face, this time. It was narrow and hard and watchful, framed by long hair.
It’s the man Roland shot in the desert,
Susannah thought wonderingly.
It’s that man Jonas. I know it is.
Now Oz spoke in a slightly trembling voice: “DO YOU PRESUME TO THREATEN THE GREAT OZ?” The lips of the huge, smoky face hovering over the throne’s seat parted in
a snarl of mingled menace and contempt. “YOU UNGRATEFUL CREATURES! OH, YOU UNGRATEFUL CREATURES!”
Eddie, who knew smoke and mirrors when he saw them, had glanced in another direction. His eyes widened and he gripped Susannah’s arm above the elbow. “Look,” he whispered. “Christ, Suze, look at Oy!”
The billy-bumbler had no interest in smoke-ghosts, whether they were monorail route-maps, dead Coffin Hunters, or just Hollywood special effects of the pre–World War II variety. He had seen (or smelled) something that was more interesting.
Susannah grabbed Jake, turned him, and pointed at the bumbler. She saw the boy’s eyes widen with understanding a moment before Oy reached the small alcove in the left wall. It was screened from the main chamber by a green curtain which matched the glass walls. Oy stretched his long neck forward, caught the curtain’s fabric in his teeth, and yanked it back.
Behind the curtain red and green lights flashed; cylinders spun inside glass boxes; needles moved back and forth inside long rows of lighted dials. Yet Jake barely noticed these things. It was the man who took all his attention, the one sitting at the console, his back to them. His filthy hair, streaked with dirt and blood, hung to his shoulders in matted clumps. He was wearing some sort of headset, and was speaking into a tiny mike which hung in front of his mouth. His back was to them, and at first he had no idea that Oy had smelled him out and uncovered his hiding place.
“GO!” thundered the voice from the pipes . . . except now Jake saw where it was
coming from. “COME BACK TOMORROW IF YOU LIKE, BUT GO NOW! I WARN YOU!”
Jonas, Roland must not have killed him after all,” Eddie whispered, but Jake knew better. He had recognized the voice. Even distorted by the amplification of the colored pipes, he had recognized the voice. How could he have ever believed it to be the voice of Blaine?
“I WARN YOU, IF YOU REFUSE—”
Oy barked, a sharp and somehow forbidding sound. The man in the equipment alcove began to turn.
Tell me, cully,
Jake remembered this voice saying before its owner had discovered the dubious attractions of amplification.
Tell me all you know about dipolar computers and transitive circuits. Tell me and I’ll give you a drink.
It wasn’t Jonas, and it wasn’t the Wizard of anything. It was David Quick’s grandson. It was the Tick-Tock Man.
Jake stared at him, horrified. The coiled, dangerous creature who had lived beneath Lud with his mates—Gasher and Hoots and Brandon and Tilly—was gone. This might have been that monster’s ruined father . . . or grandfather. His left eye—the one Oy had punctured with his claws—bulged white and misshapen, partly in its socket and partly on his unshaven cheek. The right side of his head looked half-scalped, the skull showing through in a long, triangular strip. Jake had a distant, panicdarkened memory of a flap of skin falling over the side of Tick-Tock’s face, but he had been on the edge of hysteria by that point . . . and was again now.
Oy had also recognized the man who had tried to kill him and was barking hysterically, head down, teeth bared, back bowed. Tick-Tock stared at him with wide, stunned eyes.
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” said a voice from behind them, and then tittered. “My friend Andrew is having another in a long series of bad days. Poor boy. I suppose I was wrong to bring him out of Lud, but he just looked so
lost . . .
” The owner of the voice tittered again.
Jake swung around and saw that there was now a man sitting in the middle of the great throne, with his legs casually crossed in front of him. He was wearing jeans, a dark jacket that belted at the waist, and old, rundown cowboy boots. On his jacket was a button that showed a pig’s head with a bullet-hole between the eyes. In his lap this newcomer held a drawstring bag. He rose, standing in the seat of the throne like a child in daddy’s chair, and the smile dropped away from his face like loose skin. Now his eyes blazed, and his lips parted over vast, hungry teeth.
“Get them, Andrew! Get them! Kill them! Every sister-fucking one of them!”
“My life for you!”
the man in the alcove screamed, and for the first time Jake saw the machine-gun propped in the corner. Tick-Tock sprang for it and snatched it up.
“My life for you!”
He turned, and Oy was on him once again, leaping forward and upward, sinking his teeth deep into Tick-Tock’s left thigh, just below the crotch.
Eddie and Susannah drew in unison, each raising one of Roland’s big guns. They fired in concert, not even the smallest overlap in the sound of their shots. One of them tore off the top of Tick-Tock’s miserable head, buried itself in the equipment, and created a loud but mercifully brief snarl of feedback. The other took him in the throat.
He staggered forward one step, then two. Oy dropped to the floor and backed away from him, snarling. A third step took Tick-Tock out into the throneroom proper. He raised his arms toward Jake, and the boy could read Ticky’s hatred in his remaining green eye; the boy thought he could hear the man’s last, hateful thought:
Oh, you fucking little squint
Then Tick-Tock collapsed forward, as he had collapsed in the Cradle of the Grays . . . only this time he would rise no more.
“Thus fell Lord Perth, and the earth did shake with that thunder,” said the man on the throne.
Except he’s not a man,
Not a man at all. We’ve found the Wizard at last, I think. And I’m pretty sure I know what’s in the bag he has.
“Marten,” Roland said. He held out his left hand, the one which was still whole. “Marten Broadcloak. After all these years. After all these
“Want this, Roland?”
Eddie put the gun he had used to kill the Tick-Tock Man in Roland’s hand. A tendril of blue smoke was still rising from the barrel. Roland looked at the old revolver as if he had never seen it before, then slowly lifted it and pointed it at the grinning, rosy-cheeked figure sitting cross-legged on the Green Palace’s throne.
“Finally,” Roland breathed, thumbing back the trigger. “Finally in my sights.”
“That six-shooter will do you no good, as I think you know,” the man on the throne said. “Not against
. Only misfires against
Roland, old fellow. How’s the family, by the way? I seem to have lost touch with them over the years. I was always such a
correspondent. Someone ought to take a hosswhip to me, aye, so they should!”
He threw back his head and laughed. Roland pulled the trigger of the gun in his hand. When the hammer fell there was only a dull click.
“Toadjer,” the man on the throne said. “I think you must have gotten some of those wet slugs in there by accident, don’t you? The ones with the flat powder? Good for blocking the sound of the thinny, but not so good for shooting old wizards, are they? Too bad. And your hand, Roland, look at your
! Short a couple of fingers, by the look. My, this
been hard on you, hasn’t it? Things could get easier, though. You and your friends could have a fine, fruitful life—and, as Jake would say, that is the truth. No more lobstrosities, no more mad trains, no more disquieting—not to mention dangerous—trips to other worlds. All you have to do is give over this stupid and hopeless quest for the Tower.”
“No,” Eddie said.
“No,” Susannah said.
“No,” Jake said.
“No!” Oy said, and added a bark.
The dark man on the green throne continued to smile, unperturbed. “Roland?” he asked. “What about you?” Slowly, he raised the drawstring bag. It looked dusty and old. It hung from the wizard’s fist like a teardrop, and now the thing in its pouch began to pulse with pink light. “Cry off, and they need never see what’s inside this—they need never see the last scene of that sad long-ago play. Cry off. Turn from the Tower and go your way.”
“No,” Roland said. He began to smile, and as his smile broadened, that of the man sitting on the throne began to falter. “You can enchant my guns, those of this world, I reckon,” he said.
“Roland, I don’t know what you’re thinking of, laddie, but I warn you not to—”
“Not to cross Oz the Great? Oz the Powerful? But I think I
will, Marten . . . or Maerlyn . . . or whoever you call yourself now . . .”
“Flagg, actually,” the man on the throne said. “And we’ve met before.” He smiled. Instead of broadening his face, as smiles usually did, it contracted Flagg’s features into a narrow and spiteful grimace. “In the wreck of Gilead. You and your surviving pals—that laughing donkey Cuthbert Allgood made one of your party, I remember, and DeCurry, the fellow with the birthmark, made another—were on your way west, to seek the Tower. Or, in the parlance of Jake’s world, you were off to see the Wizard. I know you saw me, but I doubt you knew until now that I saw you, as well.”
“And will again, I reckon,” Roland said. “Unless, that is, I kill you now and put an end to your interference.”
Still holding his own gun out in his left hand, he went for the one tucked in the waistband of his jeans—Jake’s Ruger, a gun from another world and perhaps immune to this creature’s enchantments—with his right. And he was fast as he had always been fast, his speed blinding.
The man on the throne shrieked and cringed back. The bag fell from his lap, and the glass ball—once held by Rhea, once held by Jonas, once held by Roland himself—slipped out of its mouth. Smoke, green this time instead of red, billowed from the slots in the arms of the throne. It rose in obscuring fumes. Yet Roland still might have shot the figure disappearing into the smoke if he had made a clean draw. He didn’t, however; the Ruger slid in the grip of his reduced hand, then twisted. The front sight caught on his belt-buckle. It took only an extra quarter-second for him to free the snag, but that was the quarter-second he had needed. He pumped three shots into the billowing smoke, then ran forward, oblivious of the shouts of the others.
He waved the smoke aside with his hands. His shots had shattered the back of the throne into thick green slabs of glass, but the man-shaped creature which had called itself Flagg was gone. Roland found himself already beginning to wonder if he—or it—had been there in the first place.
The ball was still there, however, unharmed and glowing the same enticing pink he remembered from so long ago—from Mejis, when he had been young and in love. This survivor of Maerlyn’s Rainbow had rolled almost to the edge of the throne’s seat; two more inches and it would have plunged
over and shattered on the floor. Yet it had not; still it remained, this bewitched thing Susan Delgado had first glimpsed through the window of Rhea’s hut, under the light of the Kissing Moon.
Roland picked it up—how well it fit his hand, how natural it felt against his palm, even after all these years—and looked into its cloudy, troubled depths. “You always did have a charmed life,” he whispered to it. He thought of Rhea as he had seen her in this ball—her ancient, laughing eyes. He thought of the flames from the Reap-Night bonfire rising around Susan, making her beauty shimmer in the heat. Making it shiver like a mirage.
If I dashed you to the floor, surely we would drown in the sea of tears that would pour out of your split belly . . . the tears of all those you’ve put to ruin.
And why not do it? Left whole, the nasty thing might be able to help them back to the Path of the Beam, but Roland didn’t believe they actually
it. He thought that Tick-Tock and the creature which had called itself Flagg had been their last challenge in that regard. The Green Palace was their door back to Mid-World . . . and it was theirs, now. They had conquered it by force of arms.
But you can’t go yet, gunslinger. Not until you’ve finished your story, told the last scene.
Whose voice was that? Vannay’s? No. Cort’s? No. Nor was it the voice of his father, who had once turned him naked out of a whore’s bed. That was the hardest voice, the one he often heard in his troubled dreams, the one he wanted so to please and so seldom could. No, not that voice, not this time.
This time what he heard was the voice of
like a wind. He had told so much of that awful fourteenth year . . . but he hadn’t finished the tale. As with Detta Walker and the Blue Lady’s forspecial plate, there was one more thing. A hidden thing. The question wasn’t, he saw, whether or not the five of them could find their way out of the Green Palace and recover the Path of the Beam; the question was whether or not they could go on as
If they were to do that, there could be nothing hidden; he would have to tell them of the final time he had looked into the wizard’s glass in that long-ago year. Three nights past the welcoming banquet, it had been. He would have to tell them—
the voice whispered.
Not just tell. Not this time. You know better.
Yes. He knew better.
“Come,” he said, turning to them.
They drew slowly around him, their eyes wide and filling with the ball’s flashing pink light. Already they were half-hypnotized by it, even Oy.
” Roland said, holding the ball toward them. “We are one from many. I lost my one true love at the beginning of my quest for the Dark Tower. Now look into this wretched thing, if you would, and see what I lost not long after. See it once and for all; see it very well.”