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DEMON MOON (I) 1
The town of Candleton was a poisoned and irradiated ruin, but not dead; after all the centuries it still twitched with tenebrous life-trundling beetles the size of turtles, birds that looked like small, misshapen dragonlets, a few stumbling robots that passed in and out of the rotten buildings like stainless steel zombies, their joints squalling, their nuclear eyes flickering.
"Show your pass, pard!" cried the one that had been stuck in a corner of the lobby of the Candleton Travellers' Hotel for the last two hundred and thirty-four years. Embossed on the rusty lozenge of its head was a six-pointed star. It had over the years managed to dig a shallow concavity in the steel-sheathed wall blocking its way, but that was all.
"Show your pass, pard! Elevated radiation levels possible south and east of town! Show your pass, pard! Elevated radiation levels possible south and east of town!"
A bloated rat, blind and dragging its guts behind it in a sac like a rotten placenta, struggled over the posse robot's feet. The posse robot took no notice, just went on butting its steel head into the steel wall. "Show your pass, pard! Elevated radiation levels possible, dad rattit and gods cuss it!" Behind it, in the hotel bar, the skulls of men and women who had come in here for one last drink before the cataclysm caught up with them grinned as if they had died laughing. Perhaps some of them had.
When Blaine the Mono blammed overhead, running up the night like a bullet running up the barrel of a gun, windows broke, dust sifted down, and several of the skulls disintegrated like ancient pottery vases. Outside, a brief hurricane of radioactive dust blew up the street, and the hitching-post in front of the Elegant Beef and Pork Restaurant was sucked into the squally updraft like smoke. In the town square, the Candleton Fountain split in two, spilling out not water but only dust, snakes, mutie scorpions, and a few of the blindly trundling turtle-beetles.
Then the shape which had hurtled above the town was gone as if it had never been, Candleton reverted to the mouldering activity which had been its substitute for life over the last two and a half centuries ... and then the trailing sonic boom caught up, slamming its thunderclap above the town for the first time in seven years, causing enough vibration to tumble the mercantile store on the far side of the fountain. The posse robot tried to voice one final warning: "Elevated rad-" and then quit for good, facing into its corner like a child that has been bad.
Two or three hundred wheels outside Candleton, as one travelled along the Path of the Beam, the radiation levels and concentrations of DEP3 in the soil fell rapidly. Here the mono's track swooped down to less than ten feet off the ground, and here a doe that looked almost normal walked prettily from piney woods to drink from a stream in which the water had three-quarters cleansed itself.
The doe was not normal-a stumpish fifth leg dangled down from the center of her lower belly like a teat, waggling bonelessly to and fro when she walked, and a blind third eye peered milkily from the left side of her muzzle. Yet she was fertile, and her DNA was in reasonably good order for a twelfth-generation mutie. In her six years of life she had given birth to three live young. Two of these fawns had been not just viable but normal-threaded stock, Aunt Talitha of River Crossing would have called them. The third, a skinless, bawling horror, had been killed quickly by its sire.
The world-this part of it, at any rate-had begun to heal itself.
The deer slipped her mouth into the water, began to drink, then looked up, eyes wide, muzzle dripping. Off in the distance she could hear a low humming sound. A moment later it was joined by an eyelash of light. Alarm flared in the doe's nerves, but although her reflexes were fast and the light when first glimpsed was still many wheels away across the desolate countryside, there was never a chance for her to escape. Before she could even begin to fire her muscles, the distant spark had swelled to a searing wolf's eye of light that flooded the stream and the clearing with its glare. With the light came the maddening hum of Blaine's slo-trans engines, running at full capacity. There was a blur of pink above the concrete ridge which bore the rail; a rooster-tail of dust, stones, small dismembered animals, and whirling foliage followed along after. The doe was killed instantly by the concussion of Blaine's passage. Too large to be sucked in the mono's wake, she was still yanked forward almost seventy yards, with water dripping from her muzzle and hoofs. Much of her hide (and the boneless fifth leg) was torn from her body and pulled after Blaine like a discarded garment.
There was brief silence, thin as new skin or early ice on a Year's End pond, and then the sonic boom came rushing after like some noisy creature late for a wedding-feast, tearing the silence apart, knocking a single mutated bird-it might have been a raven-dead out of the air. The bird fell like a stone and splashed into the stream.
In the distance, a dwindling red eye: Blaine's taillight.
Overhead, a full moon came out from behind a scrim of cloud, painting the clearing and the stream in the tawdry hues of pawnshop jewelry. There was a face in the moon, but not one upon which lovers would wish to look. It seemed the scant face of a skull, like those in the Candleton Travellers' Hotel; a face which looked upon those few beings still alive and struggling below with the amusement of a lunatic. In Gilead, before the world had moved on, the full moon of Year's End had been called the Demon Moon, and it was considered ill luck to look directly at it.
Now, however, such did not matter. Now there were demons everywhere.
Susannah looked at the route-map and saw that the green dot marking their present position was now almost halfway between Candleton and Rilea, Blaine's next stop. Except who's stopping? she thought.
From the route-map she turned to Eddie. His gaze was still directed up at the ceiling of the Barony Coach. She followed it and saw a square which could only be a trapdoor (except when you were dealing with futuristic shit like a talking train, she supposed you called it a hatch, or something even cooler). Stencilled on it was a simple red drawing which showed a man stepping through the opening. Susannah tried to imagine following the implied instruction and popping up through that hatch at over eight hundred miles an hour. She got a quick but clear image of a woman's head being ripped from her neck like a flower from its stalk; she saw the head flying backward along the length of the Barony Coach, perhaps bouncing once, and then disappearing into the dark, eyes staring and hair rippling.
She pushed the picture away as fast as she could. The hatch up there was almost certainly locked shut, anyway. Blaine the Mono had no intention of letting them go. They might win their way out, but Susannah didn't think that was a sure thing even if they managed to stump Blaine with a riddle.
Sorry to say this, but you sound like just one more honky motherfucker to me, honey, she thought in a mental voice that was not quite Detta Walker's. I don't trust your mechanical ass. You apt to be more dangerous beaten than with the blue ribbon pinned to your memory banks.
Jake was holding his tattered book of riddles out to the gunslinger as if he no longer wanted the responsibility of carrying it. Susannah knew how the kid must feel; their lives might very well be in those grimy, well-thumbed pages. She wasn't sure she would want the responsibility of holding onto it, either.
"Roland!" Jake whispered. "Do you want this?"
"Ont!" Oy said, giving the gunslinger a forbidding glance. "Olan-ont-iss!" The bumbler fixed his teeth on the book, took it from Jake's hand, and stretched his disproportionately long neck toward Roland, offering him Riddle-De-Dum! Brain-Twisters and Puzzles for Everyone!
Roland glanced at it for a moment, his face distant and preoccupied, then shook his head. "Not yet." He looked forward at the route-map. Blaine had no face, so the map had to serve them as a fixing-point. The flashing green dot was closer to Rilea now. Susannah wondered briefly what the countryside through which they were passing looked like, and decided she didn't really want to know. Not after what they'd seen as they left the city of Lud.
"Blaine!" Roland called.
"Can you leave the room? We need to confer."
You nuts if you think he's gonna do that, Susannah thought, but Blaine's reply was quick and eager.
"YES, GUNSLINGER. I WILL TURN OFF ALL MY SENSORS IN THE BARONY COACH. WHEN YOUR CONFERENCE IS DONE AND YOU ARE READY TO BEGIN THE RIDDLING, I WILL RETURN."
"Yeah, you and General MacArthur," Eddie muttered.
"WHAT DID YOU SAY, EDDIE OF NEW YORK?"
"Nothing. Talking to myself, that's all."
"TO SUMMON ME, SIMPLY TOUCH THE ROUTE-MAP," said Blaine. "AS LONG AS THE MAP IS RED, MY SENSORS ARE OFF. SEE YOU LATER, ALLIGATOR. AFTER AWHILE, CROCODILE. DON'T FORGET TO WRITE." A pause. Then: "OLIVE OIL BUT NOT CASTORIA."
The route-map rectangle at the front of the cabin suddenly turned a red so bright Susannah couldn't look at it without squinting.
"Olive oil but not castoria?" Jake asked. "What the heck does that mean?"
"It doesn't matter," Roland said. "We don't have much time. The mono travels just as fast toward its point of ending whether Blaine's with us or not."
"You don't really believe he's gone, do you?" Eddie asked. "A slippery pup like him? Come on, get real. He's peeking, I guarantee you."
"I doubt it very much," Roland said, and Susannah decided she agreed with him. For now, at least. "You could hear how excited he was at the idea of riddling again after all these years. And-"
"And he's confident," Susannah said. "Doesn't expect to have much trouble with the likes of us."
"Will he?" Jake asked the gunslinger. "Will he have trouble with us?"
"I don't know," Roland said. "I don't have a Watch Me hidden up my sleeve, if that's what you're asking. It's a straight game ... but at least it's a game I've played before. We've all played it before, at least to some extent. And there's that." He nodded toward the book which Jake had taken back from Oy. "There are forces at work here, big ones, and not all of them are working to keep us away from the Tower."
Susannah heard him, but it was Blaine she was thinking of-Blaine who had gone away and left them alone, like the kid who's been chosen "it" obediently covering his eyes while his playmates hide. And wasn't that what they were? Blaine's playmates? The thought was somehow worse than the image she'd had of trying the escape hatch and having her head torn off.
"So what do we do?" Eddie asked. "You must have an idea, or you never would have sent him away."
"His great intelligence-coupled with his long period of loneliness and forced inactivity-may have combined to make him more human than he knows. That's my hope, anyway. First, we must establish a kind of geography. We must tell, if we can, where he is weak and where he is strong, where he is sure of the game and where not so sure. Riddles are not just about the cleverness of the riddler, never think it. They are also about the blind spots of he who is riddled."
"Does he have blind spots?" Eddie asked.
"If he doesn't," Roland said calmly, "we're going to die on this train."
"I like the way you kind of ease us over the rough spots," Eddie said with a thin smile. "It's one of your many charms."
"We will riddle him four times to begin with," Roland said. "Easy, not so easy, quite hard, very hard. He'll answer all four, of that I am confident, but we will be listening for how he answers."
Eddie was nodding, and Susannah felt a small, almost reluctant glimmer of hope. It sounded like the right approach, all right.
"Then we'll send him away again and hold palaver," the gunslinger said. "Mayhap we'll get an idea of what direction to send our horses. These first riddles can come from anywhere, but"-he nodded gravely toward the book-"based on Jake's story of the bookstore, the answer we really need should be in there, not in any memories I have of Fair-Day riddlings. Must be in there."
"Question," Susannah said.
Roland looked at her, eyebrows raised over his faded, dangerous eyes.
"It's a question we're looking for, not an answer," she said. "This time it's the answers that are apt to get us killed."
The gunslinger nodded. He looked puzzled-frustrated, even-and this was not an expression Susannah liked seeing on his face. But this time when Jake held out the book, Roland took it. He held it for a moment (its faded but still gay red cover looked very strange in his big sunburned hands ... especially in the right one, with its essential reduction of two fingers), then passed it on to Eddie.
"You're easy," Roland said, turning to Susannah.
"Perhaps," she replied, with a trace of a smile, "but it's still not a very polite thing to say to a lady, Roland."
He turned to Jake. "You'll go second, with one that's a little harder. I'll go third. You'll go last, Eddie. Pick one from the book that looks hard-"
"The hard ones are toward the back," Jake supplied.
"... but none of your foolishness, mind. This is life and death. The time for foolishness is past."
Eddie looked at him-old long, tall, and ugly, who'd done God knew how many ugly things in the name of reaching his Tower-and wondered if Roland had any idea at all of how much that hurt. Just that casual admonition not to behave like a child, grinning and cracking jokes, now that their lives were at wager.
He opened his mouth to say something-an Eddie Dean Special, something that would be both funny and stinging at the same time, the kind of remark that always used to drive his brother Henry dogshit-and then closed it again. Maybe long, tall, and ugly was right; maybe it was time to put away the one-liners and dead baby jokes. Maybe it was finally time to grow up.
After three more minutes of murmured consultation and some quick flipping through Riddle-De-Dum! on Eddie's and Susannah's parts (Jake already knew the one he wanted to try Blaine with first, he'd said), Roland went to the front of the Barony Coach and laid his hand on the fiercely glowing rectangle there. The route-map reappeared at once. Although there was no sensation of movement now that the coach was closed, the green dot was closer to Rilea than ever.
"SO, ROLAND SON OF STEVEN!" Blaine said. To Eddie he sounded more than jovial; he sounded next door to hilarious. "IS YOUR KA-TET READY TO BEGIN?"
"Yes. Susannah of New York will begin the first round." He turned to her, lowered his voice a little (not that she reckoned that would do much good if Blaine wanted to listen), and said: "You won't have to step forward like the rest of us, because of your legs, but you must speak fair and address him by name each time you talk to him. If-when-he answers your riddle correctly, say 'Thankee-sai, Blaine, you have answered true.' Then Jake will step into the aisle and have his turn. All right?"
"And if he should get it wrong, or not guess at all?"
Roland smiled grimly. "I think that's one thing we don't have to worry about just yet." He raised his voice again. "Blaine?"
Roland took a deep breath. "It starts now."
Roland nodded at Susannah. Eddie squeezed one of her hands; Jake patted the other. Oy gazed at her raptly with his gold-ringed eyes.
Susannah smiled at them nervously, then looked up at the route-map. "Hello, Blaine."
"HOWDY, SUSANNAH OF NEW YORK."
Her heart was pounding, her armpits were damp, and here was something she had first discovered way back in the first grade: it was hard to begin. It was hard to stand up in front of the class and be first with your song, your joke, your report on how you spent your summer vacation ... or your riddle, for that matter. The one she had decided upon was one from Jake Chambers's crazed English essay, which he had recited to them almost verbatim during their long palaver after leaving the old people of River Crossing. The essay, titled "My Understanding of Truth," had contained two riddles, one of which Eddie had already used on Blaine.
"SUSANNAH? ARE YOU THERE, L'IL COWGIRL?"
Teasing again, but this time the teasing sounded light, good-natured. Good-humored. Blaine could be charming when he got what he wanted. Like certain spoiled children she had known.
"Yes, Blaine, I am, and here is my riddle. What has four wheels and flies?"
There was a peculiar click, as if Blaine were mimicking the sound of a man popping his tongue against the roof of his mouth. It was followed by a brief pause. When Blaine replied, most of the jocularity had gone out of his voice. "THE TOWN GARBAGE WAGON, OF COURSE. A CHILD'S RIDDLE. IF THE REST OF YOUR RIDDLES ARE NO BETTER, I WILL BE EXTREMELY SORRY I SAVED YOUR LIVES FOR EVEN A SHORT WHILE."
The route-map flashed, not red this time but pale pink. "Don't get him mad," the voice of Little Blaine begged. Each time it spoke, Susannah found herself imagining a sweaty little bald man whose every movement was a kind of cringe. The voice of Big Blaine came from everywhere (like the voice of God in a Cecil B. DeMille movie, Susannah thought), but Little Blaine's from only one: the speaker directly over their heads. "Please don't make him angry, fellows; he's already got the mono in the red, speedwise, and the track compensators can barely keep up. The trackage has degenerated terribly since the last time we came out this way."
Susannah, who had been on her share of bumpy trolleys and subways in her time, felt nothing-the ride was as smooth now as it had been when they had first pulled out of the Cradle of Lud-but she believed Little Blaine anyway. She guessed that if they did feel a bump, it would be the last thing any of them would ever feel.
Roland poked an elbow into her side, bringing her back to her current situation.
"Thankee-sai," she said, and then, as an afterthought, tapped her throat rapidly three times with the fingers of her right hand. It was what Roland had done when speaking to Aunt Talitha for the first time.
"THANK YOU FOR YOUR COURTESY," Blaine said. He sounded amused again, and Susannah reckoned that was good even if his amusement was at her expense. "I AM NOT FEMALE, HOWEVER. INSOFAR AS I HAVE A SEX, IT IS MALE."
Susannah looked at Roland, bewildered.
"Left hand for men," he said. "On the breastbone." He tapped to demonstrate.
Roland turned to Jake. The boy stood, put Oy on his chair (which did no good; Oy immediately jumped down and followed after Jake when he stepped into the aisle to face the route-map), and turned his attention to Blaine.
"Hello, Blaine, this is Jake. You know, son of Elmer."
"SPEAK YOUR RIDDLE."
"What can run but never walks, has a mouth but never talks, has a bed but never sleeps, has a head but never weeps?"
"NOT BAD! ONE HOPES SUSANNAH WILL LEARN FROM YOUR EXAMPLE, JAKE SON OF ELMER. THE ANSWER MUST BE SELF-EVIDENT TO ANYONE OF ANY INTELLIGENCE AT ALL, BUT A DECENT EFFORT, NEVERTHELESS. A RIVER."
"Thankee-sai, Blaine, you have answered true." He tapped the bunched fingers of his left hand three times against his breastbone and then sat down. Susannah put her arm around him and gave him a brief squeeze. Jake looked at her gratefully.
Now Roland stood up. "Hile, Blaine," he said.
"HILE, GUNSLINGER." Once again Blaine sounded amused ... possibly by the greeting, which Susannah hadn't heard before. Heil what? she wondered. Hitler came to mind, and that made her think of the downed plane they'd found outside Lud. A Focke-Wulf, Jake had claimed. She didn't know about that, but she knew it had contained one seriously dead harrier, too old even to stink. "SPEAK YOUR RIDDLE, ROLAND, AND LET IT BE HANDSOME."
"Handsome is as handsome does, Blaine. In any case, here it is: What has four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs at night?"
"THAT IS INDEED HANDSOME," Blaine allowed. "SIMPLE BUT HANDSOME, JUST THE SAME. THE ANSWER IS A HUMAN BEING, WHO CRAWLS ON HANDS AND KNEES IN BABYHOOD, WALKS ON TWO LEGS DURING ADULTHOOD, AND WHO GOES ABOUT WITH THE HELP OF A CANE IN OLD AGE."
Blaine sounded positively smug, and Susannah suddenly discovered a mildly interesting fact: she loathed the self-satisfied, murderous thing. Machine or not, it or he, she loathed Blaine. She had an idea she would have felt the same even if he hadn't made them wager their lives in a stupid riddling contest.
Roland, however, did not look the slightest put out of countenance. "Thankee-sai, Blaine, you have answered true." He sat down without tapping his breastbone and looked at Eddie. Eddie stood up and stepped into the aisle.
"What's happening, Blaine my man?" he asked. Roland winced and shook his head, putting his mutilated right hand up briefly to shade his eyes.
Silence from Blaine.
"Blaine? Are you there?"
"YES, BUT IN NO MOOD FOR FRIVOLITY, EDDIE OF NEW YORK. SPEAK YOUR RIDDLE. I SUSPECT IT WILL BE DIFFICULT IN SPITE OF YOUR FOOLISH POSES. I LOOK FORWARD TO IT."
Eddie glanced at Roland, who waved a hand at him-Go on, for your father's sake, go on!-and then looked back at the route-map, where the green dot had just passed the point marked Rilea. Susannah saw that Eddie suspected what she herself all but knew: Blaine understood they were trying to test his capabilities with a spectrum of riddles. Blaine knew ... and welcomed it.
Susannah felt her heart sink as any hopes they might find a quick and easy way out of this disappeared.
"Well," Eddie said, "I don't know how hard it'll seem to you, but it struck me as a toughie." Nor did he know the answer, since that section of Riddle-De-Dum! had been torn out, but he didn't think that made any difference; their knowing the answers hadn't been part of the ground-rules.
"I SHALL HEAR AND ANSWER."
"No sooner spoken than broken. What is it?"
"SILENCE, A THING YOU KNOW LITTLE ABOUT, EDDIE OF NEW YORK," Blaine said with no pause at all, and Eddie felt his heart drop a little. There was no need to consult with the others; the answer was self-evident. And having it come back at him so quickly was the real bummer. Eddie never would have said so, but he had harbored the hope-almost a secret surety-of bringing Blaine down with a single riddle, ker-smash, all the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Blaine together again. The same secret surety, he supposed, that he had harbored every time he picked up a pair of dice in some sharpie's back-bedroom crap game, every time he called for a hit on seventeen while playing blackjack. That feeling that you couldn't go wrong because you were you, the best, the one and only.
"Yeah," he said, sighing. "Silence, a thing I know little about. Thankee-sai, Blaine, you speak truth."
"I HOPE YOU HAVE DISCOVERED SOMETHING WHICH WILL HELP YOU," Blaine said, and Eddie thought: You fucking mechanical liar. The complacent tone had returned to Blaine's voice, and Eddie found it of some passing interest that a machine could express such a range of emotion. Had the Great Old Ones built them in, or had Blaine created an emotional rainbow for himself at some point? A little dipolar pretty with which to pass the long decades and centuries? "DO YOU WISH ME TO GO AWAY AGAIN SO YOU MAY CONSULT?"
"Yes," Roland said.
The route-map flashed bright red. Eddie turned toward the gunslinger. Roland composed his face quickly, but before he did, Eddie saw a horrible thing: a brief look of complete hopelessness. Eddie had never seen such a look there before, not when Roland had been dying of the lobstrosities' bites, not when Eddie had been pointing the gunslinger's own revolver at him, not even when the hideous Gasher had taken Jake prisoner and disappeared into Lud with him.
"What do we do next?" Jake asked. "Do another round of the four of us?"
"I think that would serve little purpose," Roland said. "Blaine must know thousands of riddles-perhaps millions-and that is bad. Worse, far worse, he understands the how of riddling ... the place the mind has to go to in order to make them and solve them." He turned to Eddie and Susannah, sitting once more with their arms about one another. "Am I right about that?" he asked them. "Do you agree?"
"Yes," Susannah said, and Eddie nodded reluctantly. He didn't want to agree ... but he did.
"So?" Jake asked. "What do we do, Roland? I mean, there has to be a way out of this ... doesn't there?"
Lie to him, you bastard, Eddie sent fiercely in Roland's direction.
Roland, perhaps hearing the thought, did the best he could. He touched Jake's hair with his diminished hand and ruffled through it. "I think there's always an answer, Jake. The real question is whether or not we'll have time to find the right riddle. He said it took him a little under nine hours to run his route-"
"Eight hours, forty-five minutes," Jake put in.
"... and that's not much time. We've already been running almost an hour-"
"And if that map's right, we're almost halfway to Topeka," Susannah said in a tight voice. "Could be our mechanical pal's been lying to us about the length of the run. Hedging his bets a little."
"Could be," Roland agreed.
"So what do we do?" Jake repeated.
Roland drew in a deep breath, held it, let it out. "Let me riddle him alone, for now. I'll ask him the hardest ones I remember from the Fair-Days of my youth. Then, Jake, if we're approaching the point of ... if we're approaching Topeka at this same speed with Blaine still unposed, I think you should ask him the last few riddles in your book. The hardest riddles." He rubbed the side of his face distractedly and looked at the ice sculpture. This chilly rendering of his own likeness had now melted to an unrecognizable hulk. "I still think the answer must be in the book. Why else would you have been drawn to it before coming back to this world?"
"And us?" Susannah asked. "What do Eddie and I do?"
"Think," Roland said. "Think, for your fathers' sakes."
"'I do not shoot with my hand,'" Eddie said. He suddenly felt far away, strange to himself. It was the way he'd felt when he had seen first the slingshot and then the key in pieces of wood, just waiting for him to whittle them free ... and at the same time this feeling was not like that at all.
Roland was looking at him oddly. "Yes, Eddie, you say true. A gunslinger shoots with his mind. What have you thought of?"
"Nothing." He might have said more, but all at once a strange image-a strange memory-intervened: Roland hunkering by Jake at one of their stopping-points on the way to Lud. Both of them in front of an unlit campfire. Roland once more at his everlasting lessons. Jake's turn this time. Jake with the flint and steel, trying to quicken the fire. Spark after spark licking out and dying in the dark. And Roland had said that he was being silly. That he was just being ... well ... silly.
"No," Eddie said. "He didn't say that at all. At least not to the kid, he didn't."
"Eddie?" Susannah. Sounding concerned. Almost frightened.
Well why don't you ask him what he said, bro? That was Henry's voice, the voice of the Great Sage and Eminent Junkie. First time in a long time. Ask him, he's practically sitting right next to you, go on and ask him what he said. Quit dancing around like a baby with a load in his diapers.
Except that was a bad idea, because that wasn't the way things worked in Roland's world. In Roland's world everything was riddles, you didn't shoot with your hand but with your mind, your motherfucking mind, and what did you say to someone who wasn't getting the spark into the kindling? Move your flint in closer, of course, and that's what Roland had said: Move your flint in closer, and hold it steady.
Except none of that was what this was about. It was close, yes, but close only counts in horseshoes, as Henry Dean had been wont to say before he became the Great Sage and Eminent Junkie. Eddie's memory was jinking a little because Roland had embarrassed him ... shamed him ... made a joke at his expense ...
Probably not on purpose, but ... something. Something that had made him feel the way Henry always used to make him feel, of course it was, why else would Henry be here after such a long absence?
All of them looking at him now. Even Oy.
"Go on," he told Roland, sounding a little waspish. "You wanted us to think, we're thinking, already." He himself was thinking so hard (I shoot with my mind) that his goddam brains were almost on fire, but he wasn't going to tell old long, tall, and ugly that. "Go on and ask Blaine some riddles. Do your part."
"As you will, Eddie." Roland rose from his seat, went forward, and laid his hand on the scarlet rectangle again. The route-map reappeared at once. The green dot had moved farther beyond Rilea, but it was clear to Eddie that the mono had slowed down significantly, either obeying some built-in program or because Blaine was having too much fun to hurry.
"IS YOUR KA-TET READY TO CONTINUE OUR FAIR-DAY RIDDLING, ROLAND SON OF STEVEN?"
"Yes, Blaine," Roland said, and to Eddie his voice sounded heavy. "I will riddle you alone for awhile now. If you have no objection."
"AS DINH AND FATHER OF YOUR KA-TET, SUCH IS YOUR RIGHT. WILL THESE BE FAIR-DAY RIDDLES?"
"GOOD." Loathsome satisfaction in that voice. "I WOULD HEAR MORE OF THOSE."
"All right." Roland took a deep breath, then began. "Feed me and I live. Give me to drink and I die. What am I?"
"FIRE." No hesitation. Only that insufferable smugness, a tone which said That was old to me when your grandmother was young, but try again! This is more fun than I've had in centuries, so try again!
"I pass before the sun, Blaine, yet make no shadow. What am I?"
"WIND." No hesitation.
"You speak true, sai. Next. This is as light as a feather, yet no man can hold it for long."
"ONE'S BREATH." No hesitation.
Yet he did hesitate, Eddie thought suddenly. Jake and Susannah were watching Roland with agonized concentration, fists clenched, willing him to ask Blaine the right riddle, the stumper, the one with the Get the Fuck Out of Jail Free card hidden inside it; Eddie couldn't look at them-Suze, in particular-and keep his concentration. He lowered his gaze to his own hands, which were also clenched, and forced them to open on his lap. It was surprisingly hard to do. From the aisle he heard Roland continuing to trot out the golden oldies of his youth.
"Riddle me this, Blaine: If you break me, I'll not stop working. If you can touch me, my work is done. If you lose me, you must find me with a ring soon after. What am I?"
Susannah's breath caught for a moment, and although he was looking down, Eddie knew she was thinking what he was thinking: that was a good one, a damned good one, maybe-
"THE HUMAN HEART," Blaine said. Still with not a whit of hesitation. "THIS RIDDLE IS BASED IN LARGE PART UPON HUMAN POETIC CONCEITS; SEE FOR INSTANCE JOHN AVERY, SIRONIA HUNTZ, ONDOLA, WILLIAM BLAKE, JAMES TATE, VERONICA MAYS, AND OTHERS. IT IS REMARKABLE HOW HUMAN BEINGS PITCH THEIR MINDS ON LOVE. YET IT IS CONSTANT FROM ONE LEVEL OF THE TOWER TO THE NEXT, EVEN IN THESE DEGENERATE DAYS. CONTINUE, ROLAND OF GILEAD."
Susannah's breath resumed. Eddie's hands wanted to clench again, but he wouldn't let them. Move your flint in closer, he thought in Roland's voice. Move your flint in closer, for your father's sake!
And Blaine the Mono ran on, southeast under the Demon Moon.
from The Drawing of the Three: The Dark Tower IV by Stephen King, copyright © 1997, 2003 Stephen King, published by New American Library, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.