Look at how brilliant it is here!

When we came before, Fedic was shadowless and dull, but there was a reason for that: it wasn't the real Fedic but only a kind of todash substitute; a place Mia knew well and remembered well (just as she remembered the castle allure, where she went often before circumstances-in the person of Walter o' Dim-gave her a physical body) and could thus re-create.

Today, however, the deserted village is almost too bright to look at (although we'll no doubt see better once our eyes have adjusted from the murk of Thunderclap and the passage beneath the Dixie Pig). Every shadow is crisp; they might have been cut from black felt and laid upon the oggan. The sky is a sharp and cloudless blue. The air is chill. The wind whining around the eaves of the empty buildings and through the battlements of Castle Discordia is autumnal and somehow introspective.

Sitting in Fedic Station is an atomic locomotive-what was called a hot-enj by the old people-with the words SPIRIT OF TOPEKA written on both sides of the bullet nose. The slim pilot-house windows have been rendered almost completely opaque by centuries of desert grit flung against the glass, but little does that matter; the Spirit ofTopeka has made her last trip, and even when she did run regularly, no mere hume ever guided her course. Behind the engine are only three cars.

There were a dozen when she set out from Thunderclap Station on her last run, and there were a dozen when she arrived in sight of this ghost town, but...

Ah, well, that's Susannah's tale to tell, and we will listen as she tells it to the man she called dinh when there was a ka-tet for him to guide. And here is Susannah herself, sitting where we saw her once before, in front of the Gin-Puppy Saloon. Parked at die hitching rail is her chrome steed, which Eddie dubbed Suzie's Cruisin Trike. She's cold and hasn't so much as a sweater to pull close around her, but her heart tells her that her wait is almost over. And how she hopes her heart is right, for diis is a haunted place. To Susannah, the whine of die wind sounds too much like the bewildered cries of the children who were brought here to have their bodies roont and their minds murdered.

Beside the rusty Quonset hut up the street (the Arc 16 Experimental Station, do ya not recall it) are the gray cyborg horses. A few more have fallen over since the last time we visited; a few more click their heads resdessly back and forth, as if trying to see the riders who will come and untether them. But that will never happen, for the Breakers have been set free to wander and there's no more need of children to feed their talented heads.

And now, look you! At last comes what the lady has waited for all this long day, and the day before, and the day before that, when Ted Brautigan, Dinky Earnshaw, and a few others (not Sheemie, he's gone into the clearing at the end of the path, say sorry) bade her goodbye. The door of the Dogan opens, and a man comes out. The first thing she sees is that his limp is gone.

Next she notices his new bluejeans and shirt. Nifty duds, but he's otherwise as ill-prepared for this cold weather as she is. In his arms the newcomer holds a furry animal with its ears cocked.

That much is well, but the boy who should be holding the animal is absent. No boy, and her heart fills with sorrow. Not surprise, however, because she has known, just as yonder man

(yonder chary man) would have known had she been the one to pass from the path.

She slips down from her seat on her hands and the stumps of her legs; she hoists herself off the boardwalk and into the street. There she raises a hand and waves it over her head.

"Roland!" she cries. "Hey, gunslinger! I'm over here!"

He sees her and waves back. Then he bends and puts down the animal. Oy races toward her hellbent for election, head down, ears flat against his skull, running with the speed and lowslung, leaping grace of a weasel on a crust of snow. While he's still seven feet away from her (seven at least), he jumps into the air, his shadow flying fleetly over the packed dirt of the street.

She grabs him like a deep receiver hauling in a Hail Mary pass.

The force of his forward motion knocks the breath from her and bowls her over in a puff of dust, but the first breath she's able to take in goes back out as laughter. She's still laughing as he stands with his stubby front legs on her chest and his stubby rear ones on her belly, ears up, squiggly tail wagging, licking her cheeks, her nose, her eyes.

"Let up on it!" she cries. "Let up on it, honey, 'fore you kill me!"

She hears this, so lighdy meant, and her laughter stops. Oy steps off her, sits, tilts his snout at the empty blue socket of the sky, and lets loose a single long howl that tells her everything she would need to know, had she not known already. For Oy has more eloquent ways of speaking than his few words.

She sits up, slapping puffs of dust out of her shirt, and a shadow falls over her. She looks up but at first cannot see Roland's face. His head is directly in front of the sun, and it makes a fierce corona around him. His features are lost in blackness.

But he's holding out his hands.

Part of her doesn't want to take them, and do ya not kennit?

Part of her would end it here and send him into the Badlands alone. No matter what Eddie wanted. No matter what Jake undoubtedly wanted, too. This dark shape with the sun blazing around its head has dragged her out of a mosdy comfortable life

(oh yes, she had her ghosts-and at least one mean-hearted demon, as well-but which of us don't?). He has introduced her first to love, then to pain, then to horror and loss. The deal's run pretty much downhill, in other words. It is his balefully talented hand that has authored her sorrow, this dusty knighterrant who has come walking out of the old world in his old boots and with an old death-engine on each hip. These are melodramatic thoughts, purple images, and the old Odetta, patron of The Hungry i and all-around cool kitty, would no doubt have laughed at them. But she has changed, he has changed her, and she reckons that if anyone is entitled to melodramatic thoughts and purple images, it is Susannah, daughter of Dan.

Part of her would turn him away, not to end his quest or break his spirit (only death will do those things), but to take such light as remains out of his eyes and punish him for his relentless unmeaning cruelty. But ka is the wheel to which we all are bound, and when the wheel turns we must perforce turn with it, first with our heads up to heaven and then revolving hellward again, where the brains inside them seem to burn. And so, instead of turning away-


Instead of turning away, as part of her wanted to do, Susannah took Roland's hands. He pulled her up, not to her feet (for she had none, although for awhile a pair had been given her on loan) but into his arms. And when he tried to kiss her cheek, she turned her face so that his lips pressed on hers. Let him understand it's no halfway thing, she thought, breathing her air into him and then taking his back, changed. Let him understand that if I'm in it, I'm in to the end. God help me, I'm in with him to the end.


There were clothes in the Fedic Millinery amp; Ladies' Wear, but they fell apart at the touch of their hands-the moths and the years had left nothing usable. In the Fedic Hotel (QUIET ROOMS, GUD BEDS) Roland found a cabinet with some blankets that would do them at least against the afternoon chill. They wrapped up in them-the afternoon breeze wasjust enough to make their musty smell bearable-and Susannah asked about Jake, to have the immediate pain of it out of the way.

"The writer again," she said bitterly when he had finished, wiping away her tears. "God damn the man."

"My hip let go and the... and Jake never hesitated."

Roland had almost called him the boy, as he had taught himself to think of Elmer's son as they closed in on Walter. Given a second chance, he had promised himself he would never do that again.

"No, of course he didn't," she said, smiling. "He never would. He had a yard of guts, our Jake. Did you take care of him? Did you do him right? I'd hear that part."

So he told her, not failing to include Irene Tassenbaum's promise of the rose. She nodded, then said: "I wish we could do the same for your friend, Sheemie. He died on the train. I'm sorry, Roland."

Roland nodded. He wished he had tobacco, but of course there was none. He had both guns again and they were seven Oriza plates to the good, as well. Otherwise they were stocked with little-going-on-none.

"Did he have to push again, while you were coming here? I suppose he did. I knew one more might kill him. Sai Brautigan did, too. And Dinky."

"But that wasn't it, Roland. It was his foot."

The gunslinger looked at her, not understanding.

"He cut it on a piece of broken glass during the fight to take Blue Heaven, and the air and dirt of that place was poison!" It was Detta who spat the last word, her accent so thick that the gunslinger barely understood it: Pizen! "Goddam foot swole up... toes like sausages... then his cheeks and throat went all dusky, like a bruise... he took fever..." She pulled in a deep breath, clutching the two blankets she wore tighter around her.

"He was delirious, but his head cleared at the end. He spoke of you, and of Susan Delgado. He spoke with such love and such regret..." She paused, then burst out: "We will go there,

Roland, we will, and if it isn't worth it, your Tower, somehow we'll make it worth it!"

"We'll go," he said. "We'll find the Dark Tower, and nothing will stand against us, and before we go in, we'll speak their names. All of the lost."

"Your list will be longer than mine," she said, "but mine will be long enough."

To this Roland did not reply, but the robot huckster, perhaps startled out of its long sleep by the sound of their voices, did.

"Girls, girls, girls.1" it cried from inside the batwing doors of the Gaiety Bar and Grill. "Some are humie and some are cybie, but who cares, you can't tell, who cares, they give, you tell, girls tell, you tell... "There was a pause and then the robot huckster shouted one final word-"SATISFACTION!"-and fell silent.

"By the gods, but this is a sad place," he said. "We'll stay the night and then see it no more."

"At least die sun's out, and that's a relief after Thunderclap, but isn't it cold!"

He nodded, then asked about the others.

"They've gone on," she said, "but there was a minute there when I didn't think any of us were going anywhere except to the bottom of yonder crevasse."

She pointed to the end of the Fedic high street furthest from the castle wall.

"There are TV screens that still work in some of the traincars, and as we came up on town we got a fine view of the bridge that's gone. We could see the ends sticking out over the hole, but the gap in the middle had to be a hundred yards across.

Maybe more. We could see the train trestle, too. That was still intact. The train was slowing down by then, but not enough so any of us could have jumped off. By then there was no time. And the jump would likely have killed anyone who tried. We were going, oh I'm gonna say fifty miles an hour. And as soon as we were on the trestle, the fucking thing started to creak and groan. Or to queel and grale, if you've ever read your James Thurber, which I suppose you have not. The train was playing music. Like Blaine did, do you remember?"


"But we could hear the trestle getting ready to let go even over that. Then everything started shaking from side to side. A voice-very calm and soothing-said, 'We are experiencing minor difficulties, please take your seats.' Dinky was holding that little Russian girl, Dani. Ted took my hands and said, 'I want to tell you, madam, that it has been a pleasure to know you."

There was a lurch so hard it damn near threw me out of my s e a t would have, if Ted hadn't been holding onto me-and I thought 'That's it, we're gone, please God let me be dead before whatever's down there gets its teeth into me,' and for a second or two we were going backward. Backward, Roland! I could see the whole car-we were in the first one behind the joco-tilting up. There was the sound of tearing metal. Then the good old Spirit of Topeka put on a burst of speed. Say what you want to about the old people, I know they got a lot of things wrong, but they built machines that had some balls.

"The next thing I knew, we were coasting into the station.

And here comes that same soothing voice, this time telling us to look around our seats and make sure we've got all our personals-our gunna, you ken. Like we were on a damn TWA flight landing at Idlewild! It wasn't until we were out on the platform that we saw the last nine cars of the train were gone. Thank God they were all empty." She cast a baleful (but frightened) eye toward the far end of the street. "Hope whatever's down there chokes on em."

Then she brightened.

"There's one good thing-at speeds of up to three hundred miles an hour, which is what that ain't-we-happy voice said the Spirit of Topeka was doing, we must have left Master Spider-

Boy in the dust."

"I wouldn't count on it," Roland said.

She rolled her eyes wearily. "Don't tell me that."

"I do tell you. But we'll deal with Mordred when the time comes, and I don't think that will be today."


"Have you been beneath the Dogan again? I take it you have."

Susannah's eyes grew round. "Isn't it something) Makes Grand Central look like a train station someplace out in Sticksville, U.S A. How long did it take you to find your way up?"

"If it had just been me, I'd still be wandering around down there," Roland admitted. "Oy found the way out. I assumed he was following your scent."

Susannah considered this. "Maybe he was. Jake's, more likely. Did you cross a wide passage with a sign on the wall reading SHOW ORANGE PASS ONLY, BLUE PASS NOT ACCEPTED?"

Roland nodded, but the fading sign painted on the wall had meant litde to him. He had identified the passage which the Wolves took at the beginning of their raids by the sight of two motionless gray horses far down the passage, and another of those snarling masks. He had also seen a moccasin he remembered quite well, one that had been made from a chunk of rubber.

One of Ted's or Dinky's, he decided; Sheemie Ruiz had no doubt been buried in his.

"So," he said. 'You got off the train-how many were you?"

"Five, with Sheemie gone," she said. "Me, Ted, Dinky,

Dani Rostov, and Fred Worthington-do you remember Fred?"

Roland nodded. The man in the bankerly suit.

"I gave them the guided tour of the Dogan," she said. "As much as I could, anyway. The beds where they stole the brains out of the kids and the one where Mia finally gave birth to her monster; the one-way door between Fedic and the Dixie Pig in New York that still works; Nigel's apartment.

"Ted and his friends were pretty amazed by the rotunda where all the doors are, especially the one going to Dallas in 1963, where President Kennedy was killed. We found another door two levels down-this is where most of the passages are-that goes to Ford's Theater, where President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. There's even a poster for the play he was watching when Booth shot him. Our American Cousin, it was called. What kind of people would want to go and watch things like that?"

Roland thought a lot of people might, actually, but knew better than to say so.

"It's all very old," she said. "And very hot. And very fucking scary, if you want to know the truth. Most of the machinery has quit, and there are puddles of water and oil and God knows what everywhere. Some of the puddles gave off a glow, and Dinky said he thought it might be radiation. I don't like to think what I got growin on my bones or when my hair'll start fallin out. There were doors where we could hear those awful chimes... the ones that set your teeth on edge."

"Todash chimes."

"Yep. And things behind some of em. Slithery things. Was it you or was it Mia who told me there are monsters in the todash darkness?"

"I might have," he said. Gods knew there were.

"There are things in that crack beyond town, too. Was Mia told me that. 'Monsters that cozen, diddle, increase, and plot to escape,' she said. And then Ted, Dinky, Dani, and Fredjoined hands. They made what Ted called 'the little good-mind.' I could feel it even though I wasn't in their circle, and I was glad to feel it, because that's one spooky old place down there." She clutched her blankets more tightly. "I don't look forward to going again."

"But you believe we have to."

"There's a passage that goes deep under the castle and comes out on the other side, in the Discordia. Ted and his friends located it by picking up old thoughts, what Ted called ghost-thoughts. Fred had a piece of chalk in his pocket and he marked it for me, but it'll still be hard to find again. What it's like down there is the labyrinth in an old Greek story where this bull-monster was supposed to run. I guess we can find it again..."

Roland bent and stroked Oy's rough fur. "We'll find it.

This fella will backtrail your scent. Won't you, Oy?"

Oy looked up at him with his gold-ringed eyes but said nothing.

"Anyway," she went on, "Ted and the others touched the minds of the things that live in that crack outside of town.

They didn't mean to, but they did. Those things are neither for the Crimson King nor against him, they're only for themselves, but they think. And they're telepathic. They knew we were there, and once the contact was made, they were glad to palaver.

Ted and his friends said that they've been tunneling their way toward the catacombs under the Experimental Station for a long long time, and now they're close to breaking through.

Once they do, they'll be free to roam wherever they want."

Roland considered this silendy for a few moments, rocking back and forth on the eroded heels of his boots. He hoped he and Susannah would be long gone before that breakthrough happened... but perhaps it would happen before Mordred got here, and the halfling would have to face them, if he wanted to follow. Baby Mordred against the ancient monsters from under the earth-that was a happy thought.

At last he nodded for Susannah to go on.

"We heard todash chimes coming from some of the passages, too. Not just from behind the doors but from passages with no doors to block em off! Do you see what that means?"

Roland did. If they picked the wrong one-or if Ted and his friends were wrong about the passageway they had marked-he, Susannah, and Oy would likely disappear forever instead of coming out on the far side of Castle Discordia.

"They wouldn't leave me down there-they took me back as far as the infirmary before going on themselves-and I was damned glad. I wasn't looking forward to finding my way alone, although I guess I probably could've."

Roland put an arm around her and gave her a hug. "And their plan was to use the door that the Wolves used?"

"Uh-huh, the one at the end of the ORANGE PASS corridor.

They'll come out where the Wolves did, find their way to the River Whye, and then across it to Calla Bryn Sturgis. The Callage few will take them in, won't they?"


"And once they hear the whole story, they won't... won't lynch them or anything?"

"I'm sure not. Henchick will know they're telling the truth and stand up for them, even if no one else will."

"They're hoping to use the Doorway Cave to get back America-side." She sighed. "I hope it works for them, but I have my doubts."

Roland did, as well. But the four of diem were powerful, and Ted had struck him as a man of extraordinary determination and resource. The Manni-folk were also powerful, in their way, and great travelers between the worlds. He thought that, sooner or later, Ted and his friends probably would get back to America.

He considered telling Susannah that it would happen if ka willed it, then thovight better of it. Ka was not her favorite word just now, and he could hardly blame her for that.

"Now hear me very well and think hard, Susannah. Does the word Dandelo mean anything to you?"

Oy looked up, eyes bright.

She thought about it. "It might have some faint ring," she said, "but I can't do better than that. Why?"

Roland told her what he believed: that as Eddie lay dying, he had been granted some sort of vision about a thing... or a place... or a person. Something named Dandelo. Eddie had passed this on to Jake, Jake had passed it to Oy, and Oy had passed it on to Roland.

Susannah was frowning doubtfully. "It's maybe been handed around too much. There was this game we used to play when we were kids. Whisper, it was called. The first kid would think something up, a word or a phrase, and whisper it to the next kid. You could only hear it once, no repeats allowed. The next kid would pass on what he thought he'd heard, and the next, and the next. By the time it got to the last kid in line, it was something entirely different, and everyone would have a good laugh. But if this is wrong, I don't think we'll be laughing."

"Well," Roland said, "we'll keep a lookout and hope that I got it right. Mayhap it means nothing at all." But he didn't really believe that.

"What are we going to do for clothes, if it gets colder than this?" she asked.

"We'll make what we need. I know how. It's something else we don't need to worry about today. What we do need to worry about is finding something to eat. I suppose if we have to, we can find Nigel's pantry-"

"I don't want to go back under the Dogan until we have to,"

Susannah said. "There's got to be a kitchen near the infirmary; they must have fed those poor kids something."

Roland considered this, then nodded. It was a good idea.

"Let's do it now," she said. "I don't even want to be on the top floor of that place after dark."


On Turtleback Lane, in the year of '02, month of August,

Stephen King awakes from a waking dream of Fedic. He types

"I don't even want to be on the top floor of that place after dark. "The words appear on the screen before him. It's the end of what he calls a subchapter, but that doesn't always mean he's done for the day. Being done for the day depends on what he hears. Or, more properly, on what he doesn't. What he listens for is Ves'-Ka Gan, the Song of the Turtle. This time the music, which is faint on some days and so loud on others that it almost deafens him, seems to have ceased. It will return tomorrow. At least, it always has.

He pushes the control-key and the S-key together. The computer gives a little chime, indicating that the material he's written today has been saved. Then he gets up, wincing at the pain in his hip, and walks to the window of his office. It looks out on the driveway slanting up at a steep angle to the road where he now rarely walks. (And on the main road, Route 7,

never.) The hip is very bad this morning, and the big muscles of his thigh are on fire. He rubs the hip absently as he stands looking out.

Roland, you bastard, you gave me back the pain, he thinks. It runs down his right leg like a red-hot rope, can ya not say Gawd, can ya not say Gawd-bomb, and he's the one who got stuck with it in the end. It's been three years since the accident that almost took his life and the pain is still there. It's less now, the human body has an amazing engine of healing inside it (a hot-enj, he thinks, and smiles), but sometimes it's still bad. He doesn't think about it much when he's writing, writing's a sort of benign todash, but it's always stiff after he's spent a couple of hours at his desk.

He thinks of Jake. He's sorry as hell that Jake died, and he guesses that when this last book is published, the readers are going to be just wild. And why not? Some of them have known Take Chambers for twenty years, almost twice as long as the boy actually lived. Oh, they'll be wild, all right, and when he writes back and says he's as sorry as they are, as surprised as they are, will they believe him? Not on your tintype, as his grandfather used to say. He thinks of Misery-Annie Wilkes calling Paul Sheldon a cockadoodie brat for trying to get rid of silly, bubbleheaded Misery Chastain. Annie shouting that Paul was the writer and the writer is God to his characters, he doesn't have to kill any of them if he doesn't want to.

But he's not God. At least not in this case. He knows damned well that Jake Chambers wasn't there on the day of his accident, nor Roland Deschain, either-the idea's laughable, they're make-believe, for Christ's sake-but he also knows that at some point the song he hears when he sits at his fancy Macintosh writing-machine became Jake's death-song, and to ignore that would have been to lose touch with Ves'-Ka Gan entirely, and he must not do that. Not if he is to finish. That song is the only thread he has, the trail of breadcrumbs he must follow if he is ever to emerge from this bewildering forest of plot he has planted, and-

Are you sure you planted it?

Well... no. In fact he is not. So call for the men in the white coats.

And are you completely sure Jake wasn't there that day? After all, how much of the damned accident do you actually remember?

Not much. He remembers seeing the top of Bryan Smith's van appear over the horizon, and realizing it's not on the road, where it should be, but on the soft shoulder. After that he remembers Smith sitting on a rock wall, looking down at him, and telling him that his leg was broke in at least six places, maybe seven. But between these two memories-the one of the approach and the one of the immediate aftermath-the film of his memory has been burned red.

Or almost red.

But sometimes in the night, when he awakes from dreams he can't quite remember...

Sometimes there are... well...

"Sometimes there are voices," he says. "Why don't you just say it?"

And then, laughing: "I guess Ijust did."

He hears the approaching click of toenails down the hall, and Marlowe pokes his long nose into the office. He's a Welsh Corgi, with short legs and big ears, and a pretty old guy now, with his own aches and pains, not to mention the eye he lost to cancer the previous year. The vet said he probably wouldn't make it back from that one, but he did. What a good guy. What a tough guy. And when he raises his head from his necessarily low perspective to look at the writer, he's wearing his old fiendish grin. How's it goin, bubba? that look seems to say. Gettin any good words today? How do ya?

"I do fine," he tells Marlowe. "Hangin in. How are you doin?"

Marlowe (sometimes known as The Snoutmaster) waggles his arthritic rear end in response.

"You again." That's what I said to him. And he asked, "Do you remember me?" Or maybe he said it-"You remember me."I told him I was thirsty. He said he didn't have anything to drink, he said sorry, and I called him a liar. And I was right to call him a liar because he wasn't sorry a bit. He didn't care a row of pins if I was thirsty because Jake was dead and he tried to put it on me, son of a bitch tried to put the blame on me-

"But none of that actually happened," King says, watching Marlowe waddle back toward the kitchen, where he will check his dish again before taking one of his increasingly long naps.

The house is empty except for the two of them, and under those circumstances he often talks to himself. "I mean, you know that, don't you? That none of it actually happened?"

He supposes he does, but it was so odd for Jake to die like that. Jake is in all his notes, and no surprise diere, because Jake was supposed to be around until the very end. All of them were, in fact. Of course no story except a bad one, one that arrives DOA, is ever completely under the writer's control, but this one is so out of control it's ridiculous. It really is more like watching something happen-or listening to a song-than writing a damned made-up story.

He decides to make himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch and forget the whole damned thing for another day. Tonight he will go to see the new Clint Eastwood movie,

Bloodxoork, and be glad he can go anywhere, do anything.

Tomorrow he'll be back at his desk, and something from the film may slip out into the book-certainly Roland himself was partly Clint Eastwood to start with, Sergio Leone's Man with No Name.

And... speaking of books...

Lying on the coffee-table is one that came via FedEx from his office in Bangor just this morning: The Complete Poetical Works of Robert Browning. It contains, of course, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came," the narrative poem that lies at the root of King's long (and trying) story. An idea suddenly occurs to him, and it brings an expression to his face that stops just short of outright laughter. As if reading his feelings (and possibly he can; King has always suspected dogs are fairly recent emigres from that great I-know-just-how-you-feel country of Empathica), Marlowe's own fiendish grin appears to widen.

"One place for the poem, old boy," King says, and tosses the book back onto the coffee-table. It's a big 'un, and lands with a thud. "One place and one place only." Then he settles deeper in the chair and closes his eyes. Just gonna sit here like this for a minute or two, he thinks, knowing he's fooling himself, knowing he'll almost certainly doze off. As he does.

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