Twilight Eyes Page 3

With what appeared to be monumental effort, the goblin began to shuck out of its human shell. More accurately, nothing was sloughed off; rather, the human form began to lose definition. Facial features melted together, and the body began to change as well. The transformation from one state to the other seemed agonizing, exhausting. As the creature dropped forward on its hands and knees, the human masquerade kept reasserting itself, and that horrid pig-snout appeared, receded, and reappeared several times. Likewise, the skull flowed into a canine shape, held for a moment, began to revert to human proportions, then reasserted itself with new vigor, sprouting murderous teeth.

I backed away, reached the railing, and paused there, prepared to vault across and onto the midway if the goblin should magically acquire new strength and immunity from the knife wound merely by virtue of its hideous metamorphosis. Perhaps, in its goblin form, it was capable of healing itself in a way it could not while trapped in the human condition. That seemed unlikely, fantastic—though no more fantastic than the very fact of its existence.

At last, having devolved almost completely, working its huge jaws and gnashing its teeth, clothes hanging absurdly on its altered frame, claws having punched out through the leather of its shoes, it dragged itself across the pavilion floor in my direction. Its malformed shoulders, arms, and hips, all burdened with strange excrescences of useless bone, worked laboriously, although I had the feeling that they would have driven the beast forward with inexplicable grace and speed if it had not been wounded and weakened. Unfiltered by the costume of humanity, its eyes were now not simply red but luminous as well; they did not shine with refracted light like the eyes of a cat but poured forth a bloody radiance that shimmered in the air before them and laid a red swath on the otherwise dark floor.

For a moment I was certain that the metamorphosis did, in fact, renew the enemy, and I am sure that is why it changed. In its human form it was trapped and rapidly dying, but in its goblin identity it could call upon an alien strength that might not save it but might, at least, give it enough additional resources to pursue and kill me as a last defiant act. Because we were alone here, because there was no one else to see what it became, it risked this revelation. I had witnessed such a thing once before in similar circumstances, with another goblin, in a small town south of Milwaukee. It was no less terrifying the second time. The creature swelled with a new vitality. It seized the handle of the knife in one clawed hand, tore the blade out of its throat, and threw it aside. Slavering, drooling blood, but grinning like a fiend risen from the Pit, it scuttled toward me on all fours.

I leapt up onto the railing and was about to go over when I heard a car approaching along the wide concourse that passed beside the pavilion. I figured it must be the long-anticipated security guards making their rounds.

Hissing, thumping its short, thick tail against the floorboards, the beast had nearly reached the railing. It glared up at me, eyes lit with murderous intention.

The engine of the approaching car grew louder, but I did not rush to the security men for help. I knew the goblin would not obligingly maintain its true form for their inspection; instead it would reclothe itself in its disguise, and I would be leading the guards to what would appear to be a dead or dying man, my victim. Therefore, as the headlights became visible but before the car pulled into view, I leapt off the railing, back into the pavilion, jumping over the beast, which reared up and tried to grab me but missed.

I landed on both feet, skidded to my hands and knees, rolled, came onto hands and knees again, and crawled most of the way across the pavilion before turning and looking back. The twin ruby gleams of the goblin’s hot gaze were fixed on me. The shattered throat, broken windpipe, and spurting arteries had weakened it, and it was reduced to slithering on its belly. It came slowly like a tropical lizard suffering from cold-thickened blood, closing the gap between us with evident agony but equal determination. It was twenty feet away.

Beyond the goblin, beyond the pavilion, the headlights of the oncoming car grew brighter still; then the Ford sedan itself appeared, cruising slowly, engine purring, tires making an oddly soft sound in the sawdust and litter. The lights fell on the concourse, not on the Dodgem Car structure, but one of the security men in the sedan was operating a spotlight, which he now swept along the side of the pavilion.

I pressed flat to the floor.

The goblin was fifteen feet away from me and inching nearer.

The waist-high railing that encircled the Dodgem Car field of battle was so heavy and solid that the spaces between the thick and closely set balusters were narrower than the balusters themselves. That design was fortunate; although the spotlight flickered through the gaps, there was no place where the guards could get a good look into the pavilion, certainly not as long as they continued to move.

The dying goblin flopped forward with another spasmodic flexing of its powerful legs, heaving into a patch of moonglow, where I could see blood oozing from its piggish snout and dripping from its mouth. Twelve feet away. It snapped its jaws and shuddered and heaved again, its head moving out of the light, into shadow. Ten feet.

I slid backward, staying flat on my belly, eager to get farther from this living gargoyle—but I froze after moving only a couple of feet, for the cruising security car had come to a full stop on the concourse, directly beside the Dodgem Car attraction. I told myself that it must be part of the guards’ routine to stop every so often along their patrol route, that they had not halted in response to anything they had seen in the pavilion, and I prayed fervently that such would prove to be the case. Nevertheless, on a night as warm and sticky as this one, they would be riding with their windows open, and once stopped, they were more likely to hear any sound that I or the goblin made. With that in mind I ceased retreating from my enemy, skinned myself to the floor, and silently cursed this nasty bit of luck.

With a grunt and a lurch and a hard-drawn breath, the wounded beast dragged itself closer to me, reclosing the gap I had begun to widen, once more only ten feet away. Its vermilion eyes were not as clear or bright as they had been, muddy now, their strange depths clouded, as mysterious and foreboding as the lanterns of a distant ghost ship seen at night on a dark and fogbound sea.

From the car the guards played the spotlight over the shuttered hanky-panks on the far side of the concourse, then slowly moved it around until it was stabbing brightly at the flank of the pavilion, spearing between the wide supports of the balustrade. Though it was unlikely they would spot either me or the goblin past the screen of balusters and among the score of miniature cars, it was not unlikely that, above the noise of the Ford’s idling engine, they might hear the monster’s wheezing inhalations or the thump of its tail upon the hollow floor.

I nearly shrieked out loud: Die, damn you!

It heaved itself forward more energetically than before, covering a full five feet, and thudded down on its belly with little more than one yard separating us.

The spotlight stopped moving.

The security men had heard something.

A dazzling lance of light cut between two balusters, its point embedding in the pavilion floor eight or ten feet to my left. In the beam’s narrow revelatory width the wood planks—the grain, nicks, scrapes, gouges, and stains—were, at least from my deck-level point of view, preternaturally revealed in the most amazing and intricate detail. A tiny up-thrusting splinter seemed like a towering tree—as if the spotlight not only illuminated but also magnified what it touched.

With a soft sputter, the goblin’s breath passed out of its ruined throat—and no new breath was drawn in. To my great relief the glow faded from its hateful eyes: blazing fire subsiding to flickering flame, flame to hot coals, hot coals to dull embers.

The beam of the spotlight moved in this direction, paused again, no more than six feet from the dying goblin.

And now the creature underwent another remarkable transformation, like a movie werewolf’s final reaction to a silver bullet, relinquishing its phantasmic form and once more dressing itself in the comparatively mundane face and limbs and skin of a human being. Its last energies were committed to maintaining the secrecy of its race’s presence in the midst of ordinary men. The gargoyle was gone. A dead man lay in the gloom before me. A dead man whom I had killed.

I could no longer see the goblin within.

The transparent human glaze was not a glaze anymore but a convincing paint job, beyond which there seemed no mysteries whatsoever.

On the concourse the Ford eased forward a bit, stopped again, and the guards’ spotlight slid across a few more balusters, then found another gap through which to pry. It probed the floor of the pavilion and touched the heel of one of the dead man’s shoes.

I held my breath.

I could see the dust on that portion of his shoe, the pattern of wear along the rubber edge, and a tiny bit of paper stuck to the place where the heel joined the sole. Of course, I was considerably closer than the guard in the Ford, who was probably squinting along the track of his light, but if I could see so much, so clearly, surely he could see a little, enough to damn me.

Two or three seconds ticked by.

Two or three more.

The light glided to another gap. This time it was to my right, several inches beyond the other foot of the corpse.

A shiver of relief passed through me, and I took a breath——but held it unreleased when the light moved back a few balusters, seeking its previous point of interest.

Panicked, I slid forward as silently as possible, seized the corpse by the arms, and jerked it toward me, though only a couple of inches, not far enough to cause a lot of noise.

Again the beam bored through the railing toward the heel of the dead man’s shoe. I had acted quickly enough, however. The heel was now just one safe inch beyond the spotlight’s inquisitive reach.

My heart ticked far faster than a clock, two beats to every second, for the events of the past quarter of an hour had wound me far too tight. After eight beats, four seconds, the light moved away, and the Ford drove off slowly along the concourse, toward the back end of the lot, and I was safe.

No, not safe. Safer.

I still had to dispose of the corpse and clean up the blood before daylight made things more difficult for me and before morning brought the carnies back onto their midway. When I stood up, a pinwheel of pain whirled in each knee, for when I had jumped off the balustrade and over the crawling goblin, I had stumbled and fallen to my hands and knees with little of that grace about which I was boasting earlier. The palms of my hands were mildly abraded as well, but neither that discomfort nor the other—nor the pain in my right wrist where the goblin had squeezed so hard, nor the ache in my neck and throat where I had been punched—could be allowed to hinder me.

Staring down at the night-clad remains of my enemy, trying to arrive at the easiest plan for moving his heavy corpse, I suddenly remembered my backpack and sleeping bag, which I had left by the Ferris wheel. They were small objects, half in shadow and half in vague pearly moonlight, not likely to be noticed by the patrol. On the other hand, the carnival’s security men had made their circuit of this midway so many times that they knew exactly what they should see at any given place along the route, and it was easy to imagine their eyes floating past the backpack, past the sleeping bag—only to return abruptly, the way the spotlight beam had returned unexpectedly to probe toward the corpse again. If they saw my gear, if they found proof that some drifter had come over the fence during the night and had bedded down on the midway, they would swiftly return to the Dodgem Cars pavilion to double-check it. And find the blood. And the body.


I had to get to the Ferris wheel before they did.

I hurried to the railing, vaulted over it, and ran back through the dark heart of the midway, legs pumping and arms cutting the thick moist air away from me and hair flying wildly, as if there were a demon behind me, which there was, though it was dead.

Chapter three


Sometimes I feel that all things in this life are subjective, that nothing in the universe can be objectively quantified-qualified-defined, that physicists and carpenters alike are made fools by the assumption that they can weigh and measure the tools and materials with which they work and can arrive at real figures that mean something. Granted, when that philosophy possesses me, I’m usually in a bleak mood that precludes rational thought, fit for nothing but getting drunk or going to bed. Still, as shaky proof of the concept, I offer my perceptions of the carnival that night as I ran from the Dodgem Car pavilion, through the equipment-strewn and cable-tangled center of the midway, trying to beat the Sombra Brothers’ security men to the Ferris wheel.

Before that race began, the night had seemed only dimly illuminated by the moon. Now the lunar light was not soft but harsh, not ash-pearl but white, intense. Minutes ago the deserted midway was shadow-swathed and mostly undivulged, but now it was like a prison yard bathed in the merciless glare of a dozen giant arc lamps that melted all the shadows and evaporated every sheltering pocket of darkness. With each panicked stride I was sure I would be spotted, and I cursed the moon. Likewise, although the wide center of the midway had been crammed with trucks and equipment that had provided hundreds of points of cover when I’d followed the goblin to the Dodgem Car pavilion, it was now as open and inhospitable as the aforementioned prison yard. I felt unmasked, uncloaked, conspicuous, naked. Between the trucks and generators and amusement rides and hanky-panks, I caught glimpses of the patrol car as it moved slowly toward the back end of the lot, and I was sure the guards must be getting glimpses of me, too, even though my position was not revealed by a laboring engine and blazing headlights.

Amazingly I reached the Ferris wheel ahead of the security men. They had driven the length of the first long concourse and had turned right, into the shorter curved promenade along the rear of the midway, where all the kootch shows were set up. They were rolling toward the next turn, where they would swing right again and enter the second of the two long concourses. The Ferris wheel was only ten yards from that second turn, and I would be spotted the moment they rounded the bend. I clambered over the pipe fence that encircled the giant wheel, tripped on a cable, went down in the dust hard enough to knock the wind out of me, and crawled frantically toward the backpack and sleeping bag with all the grace of a crippled crab.

I scooped up my gear in two seconds flat and took three steps toward the low fence, but a couple of items fell out of my open backpack, and I had to return for them. I saw the Ford beginning its turn into the second concourse, and as it swung around the bend its headlights swept toward me, dispelling any thought of retreating into the center of the midway. They would spot me as I went over the pipe fence, and the chase would be on. Indecisive, I stood there like the biggest dope ever born, immobilized by chains of guilt.

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