~~~~~~Cort woke with the cold realization that someone was in his room. The last time someone had come unannounced into his quarters was when Roland had come calling for his birthright. Cort kept his eyes closed to slits and maintained a steady even breathing pattern. Ethel, a local nurse and midwife leaned across his field of vision and pressed a cool cloth to his head. Cort’s eyes opened with a start, and Ethel flinched. Cort’s head throbbed mercilessly. Had he been beaten so badly that he had to be looked after by a nurse? Slowly the events leading up to and through Roland’s test came back to him. Roland had bested him with David, his hawk. His friend, Roland had said. The hawk is God’s gunslinger; Cort’s own words came back to haunt him. What a combination of cunning and urgency Roland had employed. Cort didn’t have to wonder what could have transpired to fill Roland with such righteous zeal. Cort remembered being beaten so badly that he didn’t believe he would wake. But, he had, and there was that. He had yet to move on.
“Send for Roland,” Cort rasped, his throat parched by the heavy breathing of a prolonged sleep, “and fetch some water.”
Ethel reached for a waterskin lying on a nearby table. “Your boy has left town. Two days gone he is, so ye jest ease back and get some rest.”
Cort grabbed the bodice of Ethel’s dress and pulled her roughly downward. It was an action that Cort was familiar enough with; it was unsettling though not altogether unpleasant for Ethel.
“Gone? Gone where? What has he done?” Cort realized himself and released her dress. The coarse fabric rasped against his callused hands absently.
Gone. The words echoed in the room. Or was it his head? Cort reached up to his left ear and found it gone, wincing at the needles that remained after he removed his hand. Fear for his pupil’s life beset Cort. What had the boy—the man—Cort corrected himself, done? What had Cort prepared him and licensed him to do?
Ethel stood and straightened her dress. “I’ll send for his father. He asked to speak with you as soon as you were well. You seem well enough,” she said primly and walked out of the bedroom.
When Cort heard his front door pull to, he slid out of bed. It would not do to receive his lord abed, and he was ravenous besides. Cort had barely finished his meal of sausage and cheese when Steven Deschain entered his quarters. The gunslinger, Cort noticed, wasn’t wearing his guns. He was wearing the apprentice belts that Roland would have pulled from the vault, though one of the holsters was empty. The gunslinger pulled a chair up to the table to join Cort.
“Cort, we must parley. You taught my son well, better even than myself, him wearing his birthright at fourteen.” Steven Deschain smile distantly, then made his face a mask of gravity. “Was there nothing you could do to forestall him, at least until my return?”
“Aye, but he would not attend my counsel, Sai. I even gave him a second chance to renege.” Cort hung his head and waited for a rebuke. One he deserved for not abiding by the time-honored traditions of the gunslinger.
The gunslinger merely shook his head and smiled that wry smile again. “Then there was nothing else to be done.” The obvious neglect of Cort’s dereliction of duty was an unspoken reprieve and word of gratitude for the undeserved kindness to his son. “Roland acted impetuously, that is his burden to bear.”
Cort once again felt fear for his pupil. “ He hasn’t gone after Marten, has he?”
A momentary pain crossed Steven Deschain’s face, like a ripple of wind on tall grass. “No, that is solely my worry again. I have sent Roland east, to Mejis. Also, I have sent Cuthbert and Alain, so they won’t be under your care for now. I want you to accelerate the other boys’ training. We will have to fight soon.”
The gunslinger carefully eyed his former teacher; understanding bled across the old man’s features. Cort fell into a manner could only be described as military bearing. Every sinew tensed, and he seemed to grow a foot, even as he sat. The scars on his face and chest made him look craggy, like the rock that he was.
~~~~~~The sky is gray over Gilead; Cort stands alone in the arena. He has been preparing today's lessons for his band of young apprentices. He must watch them very carefully now for they grow restless as they near the final test. They long to be gunslingers, He shakes his head and grins to himself, they haven’t a clue what it means to be men--to be real gunslingers.
He hears footsteps approaching. Could it be that one of his young squints wants to test early? He would show this empty-headed youth what a real gunslinger was made of. In one fluid movement he releases his gun from his holster, spins to face the little cully, legs apart, gun aimed & cocked. only to find his father Frodo grinning and shaking his head. as he had done himself only moments ago.
Cort grins sheepishly and lowers his sidearm to its holster. It has been too long since he wore the guns, but Steven Deschain wanted these young men ready when the fighting came to Gilead. To be so, they must accelerate their training.
Cort salutes his father with a manly squeeze on his shoulder.
“Son! It's been many years since I laid eyes on you; you have indeed become a great teacher of men. I come with a message from beyond. Cort, one of you're students is in trouble. He is stumbling into a trap, set by powers he can never hope to defeat. It is Roland, son of Steven. You must come to find me; I am near Hambry, close to the Thinny. I need you to bring me over. There are two who will accompany you; they are both young women. Find them and come...time is short.” With that the ghost of Frodo vanished into thin air.
Cort shook his head in disbelief. The vagaries of emotion that coursed through his body made even his corded-steel legs shake. Cort turned as the sound of boys’ laughter echoed in the tunnel leading into the gaming field. Jamie, Allen, and Thomas strode into the shaded light of the archway and stopped short. Smiles of incredulity crossed their faces—and, yes Cort saw it—greed when they saw the gunbelts. Cort put on the mask of the hard-nosed trainer: the man that these future gunslingers would remember with a mixture of love and hate for the rest of their lives. Cort decided he would heed his father’s summons, but only after these boys had become men, or outcasts.
That days training consisted of learning to re-load shells. Cort would break the following fortnight into introducing the boys to the weapons part by part. They learned to break the guns down and clean them. They learned to load the shells in the dark of a cellar in between the seconds Cort shut the door and when he reopened it carrying his ironwood stick. They learned to shoot impeccably. But most of all they learned to cry forgiveness when they had forgotten the face of their fathers and wasted a shot.
Cort too was learning. He spent the evenings with Steven Deschain—keeping the gunslinger informed of the boys progress, and learning of this Thinny of which his father had spoken. Cort’s company was missed in the brothels.
~~~~~~Roland set his eyes on his homeland, Gilead, for what he sincerely hoped would not be his last time. He wondered what lay on the road ahead of him. He was standing in a wide courtyard with his friend, Cuthbert, and their fathers.
The succession of events these last few days bewildered even him, and though he tried not to think of the event that started them, he couldn't get his mother's image out of his mind. He still could not believe that he had beaten Cort, and that he was a gunslinger, on the same level as the two huge men that stood before him.
Steven Deschain handed his own guns, the ones with the heavy, sandalwood grips, to Roland. These were true gunslinger's guns, not at all like the ones he had trained with. Roland looked at them with wonder, and then hid them in his pack. Cuthbert did the same with his guns. The two boys waited for Roland's father to send them on their way. Both of them were impatient to go.
Roland heard Cort shouting at his newest students even now. He felt a twinge of abandonment when he looked in the direction Cort's voice had come from... Cort had replaced him already. 'But Cort is lying in bed, healing.' He pushed the thought out of his head and tried to pay attention to his father, but after all he was only fourteen, and was eager to start his adventure. He turned back to look at his father...
But instead of his father, Marten stood before him, laughing. A tower of the blackest stone like none ever seen in Gilead was shadowing them both, and they were standing in a field of roses. A wave of despair that he couldn't explain washed over his body...
~~~~~~Roland awoke with a start. They were three days gone from Gilead, in the camp they had made at the end of the day's travels. He felt movement near his head, and without thinking, he reached for his guns, which were safely hidden away in his pack. He then realized that it was only Cuthbert sleeping restlessly beside him. He thought a bit about the tower he had seen, and then quickly forgot it as he fell into a dreamless sleep.
For the first time (and probably the last time) in a long chain of days, Cuthbert was up before Roland. He was saddling his horse, Glueboy, but his mind was elsewhere. He had had dreams of his own and none were all too pleasant. He dreamed of a silvery lake of mist that consumed all it touched. It spread across the land, reaping what he knew and burying it behind. The sound of this thing seemed to crawl into his forehead and pulse behind his eyes. Even now, in the early light of dawn, when dreams are becoming like so much dust in the wind, it made him shiver. Bert remembered the feeling of the terror calling him, beckoning him to come in. "Everything will be all right here, Bert," IT seemed to say. "We float. In the Thinny, we all Float."
For the first time Cuthbert knew fear. Knew it well. What was the meaning of such a dream? Who could tell? For all he knew it could mean-
He was snapped out of his thoughts by the absence of noise. The heavy breathing of his best friend's sleep was gone. What replaced it was nothing. Roland had been awake for some time and he was in such deep thought he failed to notice. Cuthbert turned to the gaze of his friend's cool shooter's eyes.
"Rough night." More of a statement from Roland than a question.
"Anything of importance?"
Cuthbert thought of telling him the dream, but by now it seemed foolish and he decide against it. There is always a time to play the cards close.
"Nah, nothing more than just a little road dust," Cuthbert said. He turned to his horse and rapped him on the forehead,
"Isn't that right, Glueboy? You old stud, you."
"I'll never understand you or your games, will I Bert," asked Roland with a smile that was rare, but not as rare as it would become.
"Nay, but the world has moved on and understanding has become like trying to put 10 pounds of shit in a 5 pound bag," Cuthbert said, imitating the age worn voice of Cort exactly.
"Sounds about right," said Roland, turning east into the sun.
"We'll be breaking camp and movin' on after breakfast."
~~~~~~As Cort sat in parley with Steven Deschain, it became clear to him why the gunslinger was a born leader. As was often the case, Cort had been invited to take the evening meal at his lord’s table. As he was seated, Cort glanced to the other end of the table where the lady of the house sat tittering at some unheard remark that passed between Marten and herself. Marten noticed Cort’s gaze and quickly acquired a more somber mood. Cort’s gaze passed to Steven, seated at the head of the table beside him. There was a muted agony in the gunslinger’s face, discernible only to a close confidant—which Cort had become.
Time grew short in Gilead. These evening meetings had opened Cort’s eyes to the multitude of plots that whirled through the midnight streets of this once peaceful province. Rumours of the good man’s coming was setting the town afire with gossip. Steven Deschain regularly said he felt things would come to a head soon, and inquired daily on the boys’ progress. Cort thought his apprentices almost ready for their tests. Even now, they were probably sitting at home in front of their kitchen fires, practicing twirling a bullet between their fingers—an exercise in manual dexterity that often had much subtler uses.
After dinner, Steven and Cort retired to the library to speak of less solemn matters, such as the upcoming Fair-Day. The hour’s concerns crept into even that conversation when it Cort made the pessimistic gesture if recalling that there might not be a Fair-Day if events transpired as Steven expected they would. The two comrades sat in silence for only a moment when a guard burst into the room.
“Pardon me, your lordship,” the guard stuttered as he tried to assume the position of attention against the forward momentum of his body, “Your wife’s quarters are empty, and there is evidence of a struggle.”
Cort’s heart raced, pumping blood into fists that had suddenly become hammers eager to swing. Steven remained pensive.
“And Marten’s rooms?” he asked.
The guard looked bewildered. “We cut short our patrol when we found her ladyship’s door splintered open.”
“Go, search Marten’s quarters. Return when you have an answer for me.” Steven dismissed the guard, who thoughtfully pulled the doors closed again.
“Are you not worried my lord?” asked Cort.
“Not at all, my dear friend, not at all. I have been expecting this for some time now. Whether she has gone of her own free will or had to be taken by force, she will start to reap the heartache she has sown.”
A muffled explosion sounded in another part of the castle, and footsteps pounded outside the library. Once again the guard burst into the room, but this time he did not even try to remain formal.
“The bastard’s gone. Waller’s all blown to hell.” The guard slumped to his knees sobbing, blood dripping from his jacket.
Marten had left a trap on his door that had been set off when Waller, the other guard had opened it. The explosion tore off the guard’s arm and melted his face. The ensuing fire that destroyed Marten’s chamber also served as a signal for the militant revolutionaries that lay in wait throughout the town.
Within minutes the streets were filled with townspeople, farmers, and some hired mercenaries chanting and brandishing torches with their homemade weapons. Cort realized that his apprentices would have their trial by fire sooner that anyone could have anticipated. He passed a key to a servant boy with instructions to take it to Jamie, Allan, and Thomas. They were to retrieve their gunbelts from the vault. Their test would be harrowing. Instead of expulsion, these boys faced death at their failure. Cort prayed that they would remember the faces of their fathers.
Cort followed Steven through the corridors to the tower. Gilead had long been an island in a sea of unrest. It seemed highly unlikely that it could survive this onslaught, less likely that any assistance would be forthcoming. As they mounted the stairwell, Cort felt a chill. He could feel Death approaching and leaned heavily on his ironwood staff. As they reached the top, Cort saw the danger. A small thin man in black robes rushed at Steven from a dark enclave. Something glinted in the folds of his sleeve. Without thinking Cort dove at the man, knocking the knife from his hand, and hurling both men from the parapet. Steven Deschain, did not hear the commotion over the din below that held his attention. Neither he, nor anyone who cared saw the jumble of limbs fall to the soggy earth behind the tower. As the pair landed in a sickening crunch, the man’s hood fell back. Cort looked into his eyes and promptly blacked out.
~~~~~~Cort ‘s eyes opened of their own accord. Surely he had not escaped Death twice in such a short period. The assassin was gone, as was the cesspool that they had fallen into. The air was filled with the singing of birds and everything was too bright, the colours too vivid to be real. Cort stood shakily, he was sore. He wondered if you could feel sore from the fall that killed you. Cort walked from the velvety bed of grass where he woken to the Pathway next to it. It looked to be paved with golden bricks. Up ahead, Cort could see a castle that shone green. Of their own volition, his feet propelled him down the path. On each side the forest stopped short several feet from the path, and a carefully manicured lawn bridged the gap.
Each step seemed an eternity of it’s own. Soon the forest opened up into a clearing, and the path jogged to left of a field covered in roses. In the center of the field stood a figure. As Cort drew nearer, he realized that the figure was Frodo, his father. When Cort stepped onto the grass between the path and the field he realized that he wasn’t putting any pressure on the grass. He couldn’t jump—as though gravity was too strong or there was an invisible ceiling over his head. At any rate he wasn’t disturbing a single blade of grass. Somehow he knew that he could walk through the roses without receiving a single scratch, or if he was scratched it wouldn’t matter. Cort began to move faster toward his father. It wasn’t running because his feet never moved; he realized that they hadn’t even moved while he was being propelled down the path. He sort of willed himself to be there faster, a d he moved faster. Once he realized this, Cort willed himself there already, and he was.
As he reached to embrace his father Cort saw a transformation. He realized he was staring into the same silver eyes that had been his last sight in Gilead, and was seeing the same pointed grin that had scared him witless. The birdsong had degenerated into a high-pitched buzzing screeching sound, the colours had faded, and the roses around him were wilting.
Then IT said, “How do you like floating, you squint?” the thing laughed at his own hidden humour. “We all float here, it’s kind of nice but you kind of miss the exercise, no?”
Cort realized that he still had his staff with him and did the only thing a sane man could do in a situation where he will very likely soon go insane. He beat himself on the head until he slumped down unconscious.
~~~~~~A young man runs for his life. He is being chased by three other young men down a dark street. The only thing going through Johnny's head is fear. Johnny turns down an even darker street. His would be attackers hot on his heels. Fear has overcome young Johnny. He makes a big mistake and runs down a grassy hill into a small drainage area.
"We got you now bitch!"
Johnny is trapped, for at the bottom of the hill is a sewage drain and a twenty foot wall. He looks into the drain, all his eyes see is black. Johnny runs into the drain and hits what feels like a brick wall.
"Eh what the-"
"Count ten steps back, then stop and lay on the ground. If you go further than ten steps, you will fall thirty feet, and probably break a few bones. I'll take care of our friends."
Johnny does what he is told. He can hear his attackers running down the hill. He sees a large shape step out of the darkness of the sewage pipe.
"Beat it man! We ain't got no beef witchu!"
"That is my home, you have no right to enter."
"Man that kid owes us money, and an ass beatin’."
"There will be no ass beatin’ tonight."
"Well then, if we can't beat his ass, we'll beat yours."
In an instant, The dark man whips out a polished Daito. His movements are fast and precise. The brim of ones hat, another's back pack and one guys whole shirt, fall to the ground. The dark man then brandishes the sword wildly whooping and screaming. The attackers turn and run for the hill, never looking back.
"Hehe, they always fall for the mad Samurai trick!"
Johnny comes out and offers his thanks, and then turns to leave.
"Wait a second, what's your name?"
Johnny takes off in a sprint, as if the name spoken was that of the devil himself. In between laughter.
Joad returns to the aqueduct he calls home, he falls asleep and has a most mysterious dream... Tom laid down to sleep. It was a long day; a rather interesting night. Running from the law all day, hiding in the sewers at night. As sleep fell, Tom prepared for the normal dreams. The dreams of that night, when a dirty cop, cast his net and ensnared Tom. He had no idea Tom was as skilled as he was. Those dreams didn't come. In their place was a dream of a hideous clown. Tom awoke with IT's words in his own head. "We all float down here...and you will too Joad!" Tom sat up to find that he was no longer alone in his sewer. In a flash he pulled out his daito.
"Fear me not, for I bring you a message and a favor."
"Speak to me, and make your point, I don't take to kindly to guests."
"My son is in danger, he needs your help, in turn he will help you, out of the trouble with the law."
"There is no time, you must get a gun, and make some silver bullets.”
"I don't use a gun."
"Not for you, for my son, your blade is very noble...it has silver laced in it. I don't know how, ‘tis not my place to."
"Listen, how am I to make silver bullets, Silver doesn't happen to grow on trees, now does it."
"Here, take this"
The strange man holds out a brick-shaped object. After further inspection Tom realizes it is a block of silver.
"Now get going for the beast you have dreamed of has my son. It can not be killed, but it can be driven away. You must help me, my son as well."
"Well, I didn't have any other plans for the weekend, so what the hell, but where is you're son?"
"First get the gun and the bullets, I'll return when you have."
With that the man simply vanished without a trace. Tom slid back to sleep, and dreamt of a nightmare clown once again...
~~~~~~Joad went running down the dark tunnel. The revolver he stole from a cop the night before, it wasn't easy, but he got it. The bullets he got made with the last of his money. Joad had a feeling that he wouldn't be needing money much longer. Into the tunnel he ran, the moaning and screams were getting louder. Joad didn't know what to expect, he slowed down. Tom Joad stood before a rickety wooden door. On it was marked the word "charlights". Light, poured from every flaw in the door's design. He opened it carefully, inside was quite a sight. There were skeletons everywhere. They all seemed to float about an inch off the ground. Tom himself looked as if he was floating, but in reality he wasn't.
Hundreds of dead people, all floating. Tom could hear something approaching, something large. He ducked behind some fresh skeletons. A huge turtle-spider thing walked in his direction. It stopped right in front of his hiding place. The beast lifted on its hind legs and a beam of white light engulfed the skeletons. After a second the skeletons turned to dust. As they did Tom leapt from them and found a new hiding place, behind some more dead bodies. The beast seemed to notice, it seemed to be relishing in some unseen pleasure. Tom bolted further into this strange room. The more he ran, the fresher the bodies got. Finally the bodies he found seemed to be alive, one in particular stood out. The man was middle-aged, he had no hair, and scars all over his body. A voice spoke inside of Joad’s head, telling him that this was the person he was looking for. The man, was out cold though; Joad didn't know what to do. On a whim he pulled the revolver out and spoke up:
"You're father has sent me, awaken BONDSMAN!" The man’s eyes exploded open, Joad grasped the gun and spoke,
"I thank you, now I have a score to settle with a clown"
"You didn't see the clown? "--Joad then tells Cort of how they got there.
"No matter, what ever it is dies today"
Cort stretched his muscles. It seemed as though he had been tied and suspended, but there was no evidence to support this feeling. He hefted the gun that the stranger had given him. It was high quality steel, but it seemed to have been thrown together, hardly fitting the Gunslinger that had worn it. Cort then examined the bullets, delighting in the shiny brass casings. Joad said the silver had come from Frodo; Cort had no idea how his father would have access to this type of wealth. The gunsmith that had made the bullets gave Joad a bandolier to carry them in. Cort realized that this could hardly be out of the kindness of the man’s heart and figured that some of the silver was missing. He hoped that there was still enough to complete whatever task his father had set them to complete. Lost in his ruminations, Cort snapped to attention as he heard a chitinous scraping heading toward their spot. Joad glanced furtively about, but stayed in position and looked to Cort for instruction.
Cort slipped into killing mode. His years of training had been longer and more arduous than most of his apprentices. Cort, like his father, had completed the test of the Gunslinger and then opted to become a trainer of such men. Now those years of practice flowed back into his well-worn hands and his motions were so fluid as to be almost invisible. Cort now stood at the ready, his bandolier strapped crosswise over his right shoulder and his loaded gun in hand. All of this happened in a matter of seconds. He began to recite the lesson that would guide his mind and hand.
“ ‘I do not aim with my hand; he who aims with his had has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye. I do not shoot with my hand; he who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I shoot with my mind.’ “
The beast broke into view from behind hanging corpses, setting them to swing. Joad broke into a panic.
“If you don’t hurry up and shoot, your father is gonna have to forget about you!”
Cort didn’t have to ignore him, he was so far gone in his concentration that nothing could break it.
“ ‘I do not kill with my gun; he who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father. I kill with my heart.’ “
As though this mantra had freed his hands, Cort raised the gun lightning-quick to his hip and fired off all six rounds. Each gouged a hole in the monster’s armor; light shone through like the sun behind a piece of paper. Cort reloaded just as quickly as he had shot, but as he looked up his vision fixed on the light shining from the underside of IT’s body, which was now raised on the back legs, and he froze. Joad saw the end coming. Averting his eyes and fighting blind, he threw his blade into the hideous light. The world exploded silently in a blaze of intensely cold light.
Joad and Cort awoke to find themselves on a wet field of grass. It was as if awakening from a long nightmare. Joad was the first to speak.
"You can say that again"
"Huh, what the hell was that thing?"
"I believe it was a beast of time"
"A beast of time?"
"Yes, it was once rumored that they guarded the portals of time and space.
This one was particularly hellish."
"I agree, so where the hell are we now?"
"I wot we are in midworld-somewhere, somewhen"
"Midworld huh? glad I didn't have plans."
"You said my father sent you?"
"Yes, at least that’s what he said-oh by the way, the name's Tom Joad."
"I am Cort"
"You fight well, pleased to meet you"
The two men walked and talked. Cort was never all that social, but after seeing his whole world turned upside down he knew things would have to change. Besides, he liked this Tom Joad character.
Tom and Cort reached a strange marker on the road. It was almost sundown. It read: "Forest of Char."
"That's odd, the forest doesn't look like it was on fire."
"In my world Char means death."
The weary travelers made camp two miles from the forest.
~~~~~~The two weary travelers stood at the edge of a forest.
"For a 'forest of death' it sure wasn't that bad."
"I agree, we passed through it with relative ease. There is a sign up ahead."
Cort and Joad walked up to the sign. The sign is wooden and has been badly damaged over the years. Cort pulls out a
knife and begins to chip away at the sign.
"I think I can make it out."
"That's good, I don't understand any of the words, you can read that language?"
"Yes, I believe it says welcome to Derry Mane. Does that make any sense to you?"
"Not at all, before I left my world I was in Philadelphia. I have never once been in Maine."
"So there is a place in your world called Maine?"
"Aye so there is-"
"Then I warn you, this may not be the Maine from your when."
"So what do we do? Do we go through?"
"I don't know.”
Joad and Cort walked into Derry at sunset. Cort suggested that they find some deserted part of town. They found a house that looked intact, and entered. Inside was a mess. Graffiti covered the walls; the place was a waste. A place Detta Walker would have recognized all too well. The men explored the house. In a large room that Joad called a "parlor" the graffiti was more than chaos. It was one word written in a color red that looked too much like blood for Joad's taste.
"What does it mean?"
"I know not."
Written in blood in front of them was the word IT. Joad and Cort stood looking at the graffito in silence. Cort snapped to attention. He turned and drew his gun. Joad stood his mouth gaping open.
"Cort what is it?"
"Someone is coming. Someone or something."
A dark skinned man came to the door. His eyes are wide and he is terrified.
"You are not IT I can feel it-you are not that beast...how are you here alive?"
"We came from another world. At least that is the going theory,” Joad said.
"You must leave here, get out of Derry before IT finds you."
"IT, IT's coming."
Cort demanded: "what is this IT?"
"IT is a monster from outer space... we thought we killed IT, a long time ago."
Joad spoke up, "Well what happened?"
"It had babies...it brooded an army of ITs, we fought them, but in the end...the ritual of chuud killed everyone else, the ones the first monster didn't kill. Richie first, then Ben, later Bev and then IT killed Bill. IT is leaving me alive to torment me, because we killed IT's mother."
Cort looked stressed out. Joad hadn't been around him that much, but he could tell, by the way he was holding his gun belt that things were running around in his head.
IT. The sound echoed in Cort’s head and he realized that he was hurting again. Had it really only been two days since he last awoke in Gilead? Instinctively Cort knew what IT was. IT was a Tower beast of some sort. IT had to be, to have leapt from the nexus out to this place. Cort was pretty sure that the Thing that Tom had saved him from was a manifestation of this IT. The really scary question was-what of the Tower if the beam no longer held these creatures in check?
“Tom, we have to do something. IT knows us, and could have been following us all this way. Our best chance is to get ourselves out of here, where ever here is.”
A thought stuck in Cort’s mind. Suddenly it clicked. “Is there a butcher shop around here?” he asked the dark-skinned man.
“Oh, yes there is, but you surely don’t want to go there. That’s way too close to the deadlights. You can’t even hear yourself think once you get near.”
That sounded like a thinny to Cort. “Excellent. We must be off Tom.”
Cort struck off in the direction of that grating, high-pitched whine, pulling wads of cloth from his pockets as he went and stuffing them into his ears. Tom and the dark-skinned man stood gaping at one another until Cort turned around, halfway down the street and beckoned for them to follow. Tom ran after, eager not to be left alone in this still-too-alien world. The dark skinned man, not about to be left alone again if he could help it, trotted along as well.
When Cort reached the silver-grey haze that marked the boundary of the thinny he stopped. Tome and the dark skinned man also had their ears plugged, so Cort communicated through pantomime that they were to stay in contact at all times. Immediately he grabbed a hold of Tom’s hand and led the trio into the haze.
Almost at once a chittering sound overcame the whine and made itself felt in the small hairs on the backs of their necks. The dark skinned man recognized it first and bolted, breaking contact with the two. Cort and Tom struggled to keep up but it was as though time grew thick around their feet and going to fast would result in pitching forward on their faces. Two pair of soft hands grasped the travelers and pulled them up and out of the haze.
It was only after coming back to his senses that Cort realized he had been unconscious again. He recognized the smell of home and the faint first apparitions of stars over the horizon. He looked around the room that he had come to in. Cheeses of all shapes, sizes, and odours hung from every available spot. To one side Cort saw a huge stone cistern that probably held milk and butter in its cool depths. They were in a dairy.
A pair of worried, but happy eyes gave him a once over. “Welcome to Hambry” she said.
~~~~~~After Alain left Gilead, before all hell had broke loose, he made his way to Hambry, where Roland and Cuthbert had already arrived (although he did not know this). Somehow, along the way, he had been separated from them, after they had broken camp. He knew that they would not leave him, yet they were gone. His sense did not tell him anything that he did not already know. So Alain decided to continue on in the direction of Hambry and hope for the best.
As he rode on, he heard strange voices. Most of the time they just laughed. Until the day that he saw a strange sight. It appeared to be a person, but it was painted, it looked like. He had never seen such a person before. He was dressed in bright colors, and held circles that floated in the air, held by strings. Alain knew that magic existed, but this did not look right to him. He grabbed his gun, and was about to speak, when the person spoke. "Do you like them? I do. They float, don't they? They all do. And when you're with me, you'll float too!!! As the person, (no, IT, Alain quickly decided) lunged at him, he thought he saw strange lights coming from IT ("no, deadlights", a voice inside of him that he did not recognize quickly spoke up) and then all was thankfully black.
When Alain woke once again, he seemed to be fine, as far as he could tell. Except for the fact that he was very weak from his experience. But he noticed a strange, warbling sound that hurt his ears. It soon went away. Alain saw a campfire in the distance, and decided to head in that direction. As he drew nearer, slowly, he heard voices yet again. He almost thought that he would die this time, until he could suddenly hear clearer. It was the voices of his friends, Roland, and Cuthbert. He called out to them as he drew nearer. "Cuthâ?¦ Rolandâ?¦" He then collapsed.
~~~~~~Lilly tossed her bed roll aside. No sleep would come to her this eve. Not with a moon so full tonight. On nights like this she is always uneasy. It seemed the voices and visions were the strongest around Harvest Moon. She looked over to her companion with a frown; he seemed to be deep asleep.
Lilly got up and stretched her slim cat-like body and pulled a leaf out of her long, blond-brown, tight curly hair. She never did care much about grooming since she was raised by all men but she still had a beauty about her.
"It's time child" the wind whispered in her ears. Lilly looked up at the moon and noted it's evil grin. She remembered faintly a story her father told her about such a Harvest moon. She shook her head and muttered out loud, "Poor Susan." and walked over to her purse.
She fumbled over its contents of powders and natural herbs, trinkets of past adventures and spare bullets, until she came to the worn leather wrapping. She pulled it out and untied the string around it, letting the old deer skin fall to the ground revealing a decaying jawbone. A tingle ran down Lilly's spine as she rubbed her long creamy-brown fingers on it. It was a gift from her uncle. She had been carrying it with her since she was five years old. He had told her it was her mother's and was good luck, possibly one day she would use it to talk with her.
That was almost ten years ago but she still felt the tingle down her spine every time she touched the cold jawbone. Lilly wondered if her mythical mother would speak to her this eve. The wind rustled in the bushes but no voices this time. Lilly shrugged her shoulders and re-wrapped the fragile jawbone and stuffed it back in her purse. Tonight didn't feel like a good night to be talking with ghosts. She again looked over to her long time companion and saw him sitting up this time and looking at her.
"Sorry to waken you Jake. I couldn't sleep. I thought I heard...”
"A voice? I know. You hear them all the time. It's ok, why don't you come and lay back down and rest. We will paveal tomorrow when that wicked moon isn't watching."
Lilly went back to her bedroll and closed her eyes. Jake was like her brother and she knew he would always look over her. She felt safe with him at her side and a light pink sleep overcame her.
~~~~~~Lilly and Jake traveled for several days in the mountains, trying to stay on the path of the Beam. The Beam seemed to be their master. No matter how hard the going got in it's path they never deviated from it. It was their only hope of finding their destination or destiny and to be reunited with Roland and Eddie. They have been separated for what felt like years. Of course who can measure time and place when you keep crossing the cosmoses every other night. This was nothing new to Lilly; She was born on the road, on the path. She never knew the comforts of one bed for too long, or one world. The only constant in her life was her guns and her gift of second sight.
Night has come again and camp has been set. Jake and Lilly sit and eat a dwindling supply of "gunslinger burritos".
Lilly sits uncomfortably cross-legged, trying to find a good position. There is something nagging at her. She can hear it far in the distance. "Can you hear it Jake?" she asked and takes a big chomp out of her burrito.
Jake cocked his head to one side and closes his eyes. A frown comes to his face as he realizes what she is hearing. "Yep. It's about another day's travel away. It's likely right in the path too."
"It's another thinny, isn't it?" Lilly asked with a whine in her voice." I hate them. And we seem to be encountering them more often now."
"Well, they aren't meant to be pleasant. They aren't natural. But maybe this could be the one that leads us back. Tomorrow we will do double time to reach it." Jake said with a command in his voice.
Lilly makes a pouty face but knows it will do her no good. She finishes her food and looks for earplugs in her pack. She knows from past experiences they will only work for a short time but any relief is welcome.
Sleep comes easy tonight for Lilly and she dreams of her mother singing a lullaby. The light humming of her mother's voice fills her head.
"Humm humm hummm hummm, La La La Ru Ru the babe is sleeping. La La La Ru Ru The Tower Isn't Keeping. La La Ru Ru, La La Ru Ru The Beast Is Creeping. Hummm humm humm hummmmmmmmmmm"
Lilly wakes startled with cold sweat running down her brow. The hum of her mother's lullaby is still in her hears and then she realizes its really the hum of the thinny.
It did not occur to Cort that given enough time, even eternity passes, and the collapse of the Tower would eventually be as insignificant as the dust he brushed from his trousers as he stood. For Cort, it was a matter of duty, and he did not question that.
Cort tried to count the number of days that had passed since Gilead had fallen and he had been thrust upon this quest. He found that days and nights could not be numbered and he settled for counting the number of people he was with and realized that Roland was among those he saw.