Authors: Stephen King
“I’ve burned the stupid girl ye loved—aye, burned her alive, I did—and now I’ve made ye a matricide. Do ye repent of killing my snake yet, gunslinger? My poor, sweet Ermot? Do ye regret playing yer hard games with one more trig than ye’ll ever be in yer miserable life?”
He gives no sign that he hears, only stares at his lady mother. Soon he will go to her, kneel by her, but not yet; not yet.
The face in the ball now turns toward the three pilgrims, and as it does it changes, becomes old and bald and raddled—becomes, in fact, the face Roland saw in the lying mirror. The gunslinger has been unable to see his future friends, but Rhea sees them; aye, she sees them very well.
“Cry it off!” she croaks—it is the caw of a raven sitting on a leafless branch beneath a winter-dimmed sky. “Cry it off! Renounce the Tower!”
“Never, you bitch,” Eddie says.
“Ye see what he is! What a monster he is! And this is only the beginning of it, ye ken! Ask him what happened to Cuthbert! To Alain—Alain’s touch, clever as ’twas, saved him not in the end, so it didn’t! Ask him what happened to Jamie De Curry! He never had a friend he didn’t kill, never had a lover who’s not dust in the wind!”
“Go your way,” Susannah says, “and leave us to ours.”
Rhea’s green, cracked lips twist in a horrible sneer. “He’s killed his own mother! What will he do to you, ye stupid brown-skinned bitch?”
“He didn’t kill her,” Jake said. “
killed her. Now go!”
Jake takes a step toward the ball, meaning to pick it up and dash it to the floor . . . and he can do that, he realizes, for the ball is real. It’s the one thing in this vision that is. But before he can put his hands to it, it flashes a soundless explosion of pink light. Jake throws his hands up in front of his face to keep from being blinded, and then he is (
melting I’m melting what a world oh what a world
falling, he is being whirled down through the pink storm,
out of Oz and back to Kansas, out of Oz and back to Kansas, out of Oz and back to—
“—home,” Eddie muttered. His voice sounded thick and punch-drunk to his own ears. “Back home, because there’s no place like home, no indeed.”
He tried to open his eyes and at first couldn’t. It was as if they were glued shut. He put the heel of his hand to his forehead and pushed up, tightening the skin on his face. It worked; his eyes popped open. He saw neither the throneroom of the Green Palace nor (and this was what he had really expected) the richly appointed but somehow claustrophobic bedroom in which he had just been.
He was outside, lying in a small clearing of winter-white grass. Nearby was a little grove of trees, some still with their last brown leaves clinging to the branches. And one branch with an odd white leaf, an albino leaf. There was a pretty trickle of running water farther into the grove. Standing abandoned in the high grass was Susannah’s new and improved wheelchair. There was mud on the tires, Eddie saw, and a few late leaves, crispy and brown, caught in the spokes. A few swatches of grass, too. Overhead was a skyful of still white clouds, every bit as interesting as a laundry-basket full of sheets.
The sky was clear when we went inside the Palace,
he thought, and realized time had slipped again. How much or how little, he wasn’t sure he wanted to know—Roland’s world was like a transmission with its gear-teeth all but stripped away; you never knew when time was going to pop into neutral or race you away in overdrive.
this Roland’s world, though? And if it was, how had they gotten back to it?
“How should I know?” Eddie croaked, and got slowly to his feet, wincing as he did so. He didn’t think he was hungover, but his legs were sore and he felt as if he had just taken the world’s heaviest Sunday afternoon nap.
Roland and Susannah lay on the ground under the trees. The gunslinger was stirring, but Susannah lay on her back, arms spread extravagantly wide, snoring in an unladylike way that made Eddie grin. Jake was nearby, with Oy sleeping on his side by one of the kid’s knees. As Eddie looked at them, Jake opened his eyes and sat up. His gaze was wide but blank; he was awake, but had been so heavily asleep he didn’t know it yet.
“Gruz,” Jake said, and yawned.
“Yep,” Eddie said, “that works for me.” He turned in a slow circle, and had gotten three quarters of the way back to where he’d started when he saw the Green Palace on the horizon. From here it looked very small, and its brilliance had been robbed by the sunless day. Eddie guessed it might be thirty miles away. Leading toward them from that direction were the tracks of Susannah’s wheelchair.
He could hear the thinny, but faintly. He thought he could see it, as well—a quicksilver shimmer like bogwater, stretching across the flat, open land . . . and finally drying up about five miles away. Five miles west of here? Given the location of the Green Palace and the fact that they had been travelling east on I-70, that was the natural assumption, but who really knew, especially with no visible sun to use for orientation?
“Where’s the turnpike?” Jake asked. His voice sounded thick and gummy. Oy joined him, stretching first one rear leg, then the other. Eddie saw he had lost one of his booties at some point.
“Maybe it was cancelled due to lack of interest.”
“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” Jake said. Eddie looked at him sharply, but didn’t believe the kid was consciously riffing on
The Wizard of Oz.
“Not the one where the Kansas City Royals play, not the one where the Monarchs play, either.”
“What gives you that idea?”
Jake hoisted a thumb toward the sky, and when Eddie looked up, he saw that he had been wrong: it wasn’t
white overcast, boring as a basket of sheets. Directly above their heads, a band of clouds was moiling toward the horizon as steadily as a conveyor belt.
They were back on the Path of the Beam.
“Eddie? Where you at, sugar?”
Eddie looked down from the lane of clouds in the sky and saw Susannah sitting up, rubbing the back of her neck. She looked unsure of where she was. Perhaps even of
she was. The red cappies she was wearing looked oddly dull in this light, but they were still the brightest things in Eddie’s view . . . until he looked down at his own feet and saw the street-boppers with their Cuban heels. Yet these also looked dull, and Eddie no longer thought it was just the day’s cloudy light that made them seem so. He looked at Jake’s shoes, Oy’s remaining three slippers, Roland’s cowboy boots (the gunslinger was sitting up now, arms crossed around his knees, looking blankly off into the distance). All the same ruby red, but a
red, somehow. As if some magic essential to them had been used up.
Suddenly, Eddie wanted them off his feet.
He sat down beside Susannah, gave her a kiss, and said: “Good morning, Sleeping Beauty. Or afternoon, if it’s that.” Then, quickly, almost hating to touch them (it was like touching dead skin, somehow), Eddie yanked off the street-boppers. As he did, he saw that they were scuffed at the toes and muddy at the heels, no longer new-looking. He’d wondered how they’d gotten here; now, feeling the ache in the muscles of his legs and remembering the wheelchair tracks, he knew. They had walked, by God. Walked in their sleep.
“That,” Susannah said, “is the best idea you’ve had since . . . well, in a long time.” She stripped off the cappies. Close by, Eddie saw Jake taking off Oy’s booties. “Were we there?” Susannah asked him. “Eddie, were we really there when he. . .”
“When I killed my mother,” Roland said. “Yes, you were there. As I was. Gods help me, I was there. I did it.” He covered his face with his hands and began to voice a series of harsh sobs.
Susannah crawled across to him in that agile way that was
almost a version of walking. She put an arm around him and used her other hand to take his hands away from his face. At first Roland didn’t want to let her do that, but she was persistent, and at last his hands—those killer’s hands—came down, revealing haunted eyes which swam with tears.
Susannah urged his face down against her shoulder. “Be easy, Roland,” she said. “Be easy and let it go. This part is over now. You past it.”
“A man doesn’t get past such a thing,” Roland said. “No, I don’t think so. Not ever.”
“You didn’t kill her,” Eddie said.
“That’s too easy.” The gunslinger’s face was still against Susannah’s shoulder, but his words were clear enough. “Some responsibilities can’t be shirked. Some
can’t be shirked. Yes, Rhea was there—in a way, at least—but I can’t shift it all to the Cöos, much as I might like to.”
“It wasn’t her, either,” Eddie said. “That’s not what I mean.”
Roland raised his head. “What in hell’s name are you talking about?”
Eddie said. “
like a wind.”
In their packs there was food none of them had put there—cookies with Keebler elves on the packages, Saran Wrapped sandwiches that looked like the kind you could get (if you were desperate, that was) from turnpike vending machines, and a brand of cola neither Eddie, Susannah, nor Jake knew. It tasted like Coke and came in a red and white can, but the brand was Nozz-A-La.
They ate a meal with their backs to the grove and their faces to the distant glam-gleam of the Green Palace, and called it lunch.
If we start to lose the light in an hour or so, we can make it supper by voice vote,
Eddie thought, but he didn’t believe they’d need to. His interior clock was running again now, and that mysterious but usually accurate device suggested that it was early afternoon.
At one point he stood up and raised his soda, smiling into an invisible camera. “When I’m travelling through the Land of Oz in my new Takuro Spirit, I drink Nozz-A-La!” he proclaimed. “It fills me up but never fills me out! It makes me
happy to be a man! It makes me know God! It gives me the outlook of an angel and the balls of a tiger! When I drink Nozz-A-La, I say ‘Gosh! Ain’t I glad to be alive!’ I say—”
“Sit down, you bumhug,” Jake said, laughing.
“Ug,” Oy agreed. His snout was on Jake’s ankle, and he was watching the boy’s sandwich with great interest.
Eddie started to sit, and then that strange albino leaf caught his eye again.
That’s no leaf,
he thought, and walked over to it. No, not a leaf but a scrap of paper. He turned it over and saw columns of “blah blah” and “yak yak” and “all the stuff’s the same.” Usually newspapers weren’t blank on one side, but Eddie wasn’t surprised to find this one was—the Oz
had only been a prop, after all.
Nor was the blank side blank. Printed on it in neat, careful letters, was this message:
Below that, a little drawing:
Eddie brought the note back to where the others were eating. Each of them looked at it. Roland held it last, ran his thumb over it thoughtfully, feeling the texture of the paper, then gave it back to Eddie.
“R.F.,” Eddie said. “The man who was running Tick-Tock. This is from him, isn’t it?”
“Yes. He must have brought the Tick-Tock Man out of Lud.”
“Sure,” Jake said darkly. “That guy Flagg looked like someone who’d know a first-class bumhug when he found one. But how did they get here before us? What could be faster than Blaine the Mono, for cripe’s sake?”
“A door,” Eddie said. “Maybe they came through one of those special doors.”
“Bingo,” Susannah said. She held her hand out, palm up, and Eddie slapped it.
“In any case, what he suggests is not bad advice,” Roland said. “I urge you to consider it most seriously. And if you want to go back to your world, I will allow you to go.”
“Roland, I can’t believe you,” Eddie said. “This, after you dragged me and Suze over here, kicking and screaming? You know what my brother would say about you? That you’re as contrary as a hog on ice-skates.”
“I did what I did before I learned to know you as friends,” Roland said. “Before I learned to love you as I loved Alain and Cuthbert. And before I was forced to . . . to revisit certain scenes. Doing that has . . .” He paused, looking down at his feet (he had put his old boots back on again) and thinking hard. At last he looked up again. “There was a part of me that hadn’t moved or spoken in a good many years. I thought it was dead. It isn’t. I have learned to love again, and I’m aware that this is probably my last chance to love. I’m slow—Vannay and Cort knew that; so did my father—but I’m not stupid.”
“Then don’t act that way,” Eddie said. “Or treat us as if we were.”
“What you call ‘the bottom line,’ Eddie, is this: I get my friends killed. And I’m not sure I can even risk doing that again. Jake especially . . . I . . . never mind. I don’t have the words. For the first time since I turned around in a dark room and killed my mother, I may have found something more important than the Tower. Leave it at that.”
“All right, I guess I can respect that.”
“So can I,” Susannah said, “but Eddie’s right about
” She took the note and ran a finger over it thoughtfully. “Roland, you can’t talk about that—
I mean—then turn around and take it back again, just because you get a little low on willpower and dedication.”
“Willpower and dedication are good words,” Roland remarked. “There’s a bad one, though, that means the same thing. That one is
She shrugged it away with an impatient twitch of her shoulders. “Sugarpie, either this whole business is
or none of it is. And scary as
might be—the idea of fate with eagle eyes and a bloodhound’s nose—I find the idea of no
even scarier.” She tossed the R.F. note aside on the matted grass.
“Whatever you call it, you’re just as dead if it runs you over,” Roland said. “Rimer . . . Thorin . . . Jonas . . . my mother . . . Cuthbert . . . Susan. Just ask them. Any of them. If you only could.”
“You’re missing the biggest part of this,” Eddie said. “You
send us back. Don’t you realize that, you big galoot? Even if there was a door, we wouldn’t go through it. Am I wrong about that?”