Home > The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower #3)(4)

The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower #3)(4)
Author: Stephen King

She put her hands out and took his. Her anger was gone, at least for the time being. She looked earnestly up into his eyes. “Eddie and I . . . this isn’t our world, Roland. Without you, we’d die here. We’d have your guns, and we can shoot them, you’ve taught us to do that well enough, but we’d die just the same. We … we depend on you. So tell me what’s wrong. Let me try to help. Let us try to help.”

He had never been a man who understood himself deeply or cared to; the concept of self-consciousness (let alone self-analysis) was alien to him. His way was to act—to quickly consult his own interior, utterly mysterious workings, and then act. Of them all, he had been the most perfectly made, a man whose deeply romantic core was encased in a brutally simple box which consisted of instinct and pragmatism. He took one of those quick looks inside now and decided to tell her everything. There was something wrong with him, oh yes. Yes indeed. Something wrong with his mind, something as simple as his nature and as strange as the weird, wandering life into which that nature had impelled him. He opened his mouth to say I’ll tell you what’s wrong, Susannah, and I’ll do it in just three words. I’m going insane. But before he could begin, another tree fell in the forest—it went with a huge, grinding crash. This treefall was closer, and this time they were not deeply engaged in a test of wills masquerading as a lesson. Both heard it, both heard the agitated cawing of the crows which followed it, and both registered the fact that the tree had fallen close to their camp.

Susannah had looked in the direction of the sound but now her eyes, wide and dismayed, returned to the gunslinger’s face. “Eddie!” she said. A cry rose from the deep green fastness of the woods in back of them—a vast cry of rage. Another tree went, and then another. They fell in what sounded like a hail of mortar-fin-, Dry wood, the gunslinger thought. Dead trees. “Eddie!” This time she screamed it. “Whatever it is, it’s near Eddie!” Her hands flew to the wheels of her chair and began the laborious job of turning it around.

“No time for that.” Roland seized her under her arms and pulled her free. He had carried her before when the going was too rough for her wheelchair—both men had—but she was still amazed by his uncanny, ruthless speed. At one moment she was in her wheelchair, an item which had been purchased in New York City’s finest medical supply house in the fall of 1962. At the next she was balanced precariously on Roland’s shoulders like a cheerleader, her muscular thighs gripping the sides of his neck, his palms over his head and pressing into the small of her back. He began to run with her, his sprung boots slapping the needle-strewn earth between the ruts left by her wheelchair. “Odetta!” he cried, reverting in this moment of stress to the name by which he had first known her. “Don’t lose the gun! For your father’s sake!” He was sprinting between the trees now. Shadow-lace and bright chains of sun-dapple ran across them in moving mosaics as Roland length-ened his stride. They were going downhill now. Susannah raised her left hand to ward off a branch that wanted to slap her from the gunslinger’s shoulders. At the same moment she dropped her right hand to the butt of his ancient revolver, cradling it. A mile, she thought. How long to run a mile? How long with him going flat-out like this? Not long, if he can keep his feet on these slippery needles . . . but maybe too long. Let him be all right, Lord—let my Eddie be all right. As if in answer, she heard the unseen beast loose its cry again. That vast voice was like thunder. Like doom.

HE WAS THE LARGEST creature in the forest which had once been known as the Great West Woods, and he was the oldest. Many of the huge old elms which Roland had noticed in the valley below had been little more than twigs sprouting from the ground when the bear came out of the dim unknown reaches of Out-World like a brutal, wandering king.

Once, the Old People had lived in the West Woods (it was their leavings which Roland had found from time to time during the last weeks), and they had gone in fear of the colossal, undying bear. They had tried to kill him when they first discovered they were not alone in the new territory to which they had come, but although their arrows enraged him, they did no serious damage. And he was not confused about the source of his torment, as were the other beasts of the forest— even the predatory bushcats which denned and littered in the sandhills to the west. No; he knew where the arrows came from, this bear. Knew. And for every arrow which found its mark in the flesh below his shaggy pelt, he took three, four, perhaps as many as half a dozen of the Old People. Children if he could get them; women if he could not. Their warriors he disdained, and this was the final humiliation.

Eventually, as his real nature became clear to them, their efforts to kill him ceased. He was, of course, a demon incarnate—or the shadow of a god. They called him Mir, which to these people meant “the world beneath the world.” He stood seventy feet high, and after eighteen or more centuries of undisputed rule in the West Woods, he was dying. Perhaps the instrument of his death had at first been a microscopic organism in something he had eaten or drunk; perhaps it was old age; more likely a combination of both. The cause didn’t matter; the ultimate result—a rapidly multiplying colony of parasites foraging within his fabu-lous brain—did. After years of calculating, brutal sanity, Mir had run mad. The bear had known men were in his woods again; he ruled the forest and although it was vast, nothing of importance which happened there escaped his attention for long. He had drawn away from the new-comers, not because he was afraid but because he had no business with them, nor they with him. Then the parasites had begun their work, and as his madness increased he became sure that it was the Old People again, that the trap-setters and forest-burners had returned and would soon set about their old, stupid mischief once more. Only as he lay in his final den some thirty miles from the place of the newcomers, sicker with each day’s dawning than he had been at sunset the night before, had he come to believe that the Old People had finally found some mischief which worked: poison.

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