Home > The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower #3)(11)

The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower #3)(11)
Author: Stephen King

The gunslinger leaned over the eyesocket of Shardik, the great Guardian bear, and peered inside. “Come and look, both of you,” he said. “I’ll show you a wonder of the latter days.”

“Put me down, Eddie,” Susannah said.

He did so, and she moved swiftly on her hands and upper thighs to where the gunslinger was hunkered down over the bear’s wide, slack face. Eddie joined them, looking between their shoul-ders. The three of them gazed in rapt silence for nearly a full minute; the only noise came from the crows which still circled and scolded in the sky.

Blood oozed from the socket in a few thick, dying trickles. Yet it was not just blood, Eddie saw. There was also a clear fluid which gave off an identifiable scent—bananas. And, embedded in the delicate criss-cross of tendons which shaped the socket, he saw a webwork of what looked like strings. Beyond them, at the back of the socket, was a red spark, blinking on and off. It illuminated a tiny square board marked with silvery squiggles of what could only be solder. “It isn’t a bear, it’s a f**king Sony Walkman,” he muttered. Susannah looked around at him. “What?”

“Nothing.” Eddie glanced at Roland. “Do you think it’s safe to reach in?” Roland shrugged. “I think so. If there was a demon in this creature, it’s fled.” Eddie reached in with his little finger; nerves set to draw back if he felt even a tickle of electricity. He touched the cooling meat inside the eyesocket, which was nearly the size of a baseball, and then one of those strings. Except it wasn’t a string; it was a gossamer-thin strand of steel. He withdrew his finger and saw the tiny red spark blink once more before going out forever. “Shardik,” Eddie murmured. “I know that name, but I can’t place it. Does it mean anything to you, Suze?”

She shook her head.

“The thing is . . .” Eddie laughed helplessly. “I associate it with rabbits. Isn’t that nuts?”

Roland stood up. His knees popped like gunshots. “We’ll have to move camp,” he said. “The ground here is spoiled. The other clearing, the one where we go to shoot, will—“

He took two trembling steps and then collapsed to his knees, palms pressed to the sides of his sagging head.

EDDIE AND SUSANNAH EXCHANGED a single frightened glance and then Eddie leaped to Roland’s side. “What is it? Roland, what’s wrong?” “There was a boy,” the gunslinger said in a distant, muttering voice. And then, in the very next breath, “There wasn’t a boy.” “Roland?” Susannah asked. She came to him, slipped an arm around his shoulders, felt him trembling. “Roland, what is it?” “The boy,” Roland said, looking at her with floating, dazed eyes. “It’s the boy. Always the boy.”

“What boy?” Eddie yelled frantically. “What boy?” “Go then,” Roland said, “there are other worlds than these.” And fainted.

THAT NIGHT THE THREE of them sat around a huge bonfire Eddie and Susannah had built in the clearing Eddie called “the shooting gallery.” It would have been a bad place to camp in the wintertime, open to the valley as it was, but for now it was fine. Eddie guessed that here in Roland’s world it was still late summer. The black vault of the sky arched overhead, speckled by what seemed to be whole galaxies. Almost straight ahead to the south, across the river of darkness that was the valley, Eddie could see Old Mother rising above the distant, unseen horizon. He glanced at Roland, who sat huddled by the fire with three skins wrapped around his shoulders despite the warmth of the night and the heat of the fire. There was an untouched plate of food by his side and a bone cradled in his hands. Eddie glanced back at the sky and thought of a story the gunslinger had told him and Susannah on one of the long days they had spent moving away from the beach, through the foothills, and finally into these deep woods where they had found a temporary refuge.

Before time began, Roland said, Old Star and Old Mother had been young and passionate newlyweds. Then one day there had been a terrible argument. Old Mother (who in those long-ago days had been known by her real name, which was Lydia) had caught Old Star (whose real name was Apon) hanging about a beautiful young woman named Cassiopeia. They’d had a real bang-up fight, those two, a hair-pulling, eye-gouging, crockery-throwing fight. One of those thrown bits of crockery had become the earth; a smaller shard the moon, a coal from their kitchen stove had become the sun. In the end, the gods had stepped in so Apon and Lydia might not, in their anger, destroy the universe before it was fairly begun. Cassiopeia, the saucy jade who caused the trouble in the first place (”Yeah, right—it’s always the woman,” Susannah had said at this point), had been banished to a rocking-chair made of stars forever and ever. Yet not even this had solved the problem. Lydia had been willing to try again, but Apon was stiffnecked and full of pride (”Yeah, always blame the man,” Eddie had grunted at this point). So they had parted, and now they look at each other in mingled hatred and longing from across the star-strewn wreckage of their divorce. Apon and Lydia are three billion years gone, the gunslinger told them; they have become Old Star and Old Mother, the north and south, each pining for the other but both now too proud to beg for reconciliation . . . and Cassiopeia sits off to the side in her chair, rocking and laughing at them both. Eddie was startled by a soft touch on his arm. It was Susannah. “Come on,” she said. “We’ve got to make him talk.”

Eddie carried her to the campfire and put her down carefully on Roland’s right side. He sat on Roland’s left. Roland looked first at Susan-nah, then at Eddie. “How close you both sit to me,” he remarked. “Like lovers … or warders in a gaol.”

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