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

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






IT WAS HER THIRD time with live ammunition . . . and her first time on the draw from the holster Roland had rigged for her. They had plenty of live rounds; Roland had brought back better than three hundred from the world where Eddie and Susannah Dean had lived their lives up until the time of their drawing. But having ammu-nition in plenty did not mean it could be wasted; quite the contrary, in fact. The gods frowned upon wastrels. Roland had been raised, first by his father and then by Cort, his greatest teacher, to believe this, and so he still believed. Those gods might not punish at once, but sooner or later the penance would have to be paid . . . and the longer the wait, the greater the weight. At first there had been no need for live ammunition, anyway. Roland had been shooting for more years than the beautiful brown-skinned woman in the wheelchair would believe. He had corrected her at first simply by watching her aim and dry-fire at the targets he had set up. She learned fast. Both she and Eddie learned fast.

As he had suspected, both were born gunslingers. Today Roland and Susannah had come to a clearing less than a mile from the camp in the woods which had been home to them for almost two months now. The days had passed with their own sweet similarity. The gunslinger’s body healed itself while Eddie and Susannah learned the things the gunslinger had to teach them: how to shoot, to hunt, to gut and clean what they had killed; how to first stretch, then tan and cure the hides of those kills; how to use as much as it was possible to use so that no part of the animal was wasted; how to find north by Old Star or south by Old Mother; how to listen to the forest in which they now found themselves, sixty miles or more northeast of the Western Sea. Today

Eddie had stayed behind, and the gunslinger was not put out of countenance by this. The lessons which are remembered the longest, Roland knew, are always the ones that are self-taught.

But what had always been the most important lesson was still most important: how to shoot and how to hit what you shot at every time. How to kill. The edges of this clearing had been formed by dark, sweet-smelling fir trees that curved around it in a ragged semicircle. To the south, the ground broke off and dropped three hundred feet in a series of crumbling shale ledges and fractured cliffs, like a giant’s set of stairs. A clear stream ran out of the woods and across the center of the clearing, first bubbling through a deep channel in the spongy earth and friable stone, then pour-ing across the splintery rock floor which sloped down to the place where the land dropped away. The water descended the steps in a series of waterfalls and made any number of pretty, wavering rainbows. Beyond the edge of the drop-off was a magnificent deep valley, choked with more firs and a few great old elm trees which refused to be crowded out. These latter towered green and lush, trees which might have been old when the land from which Roland had come was yet young; he could see no sign that the valley had ever burned, although he supposed it must have drawn light-ning at some time or other. Nor would lightning have been the only danger. There had been people in this forest in some distant time; Roland had come across their leavings on several occasions over the past weeks. They were primitive artifacts, for the most part, but they included shards of pottery which could only have been cast in fire. And fire was evil stuff that delighted in escaping the hands which created it.

Above this picturebook scene arched a blameless blue sky in which a few crows circled some miles off, crying in their old, rusty voices. They seemed restless, as if a storm were on the way, but Roland had sniffed the air and there was no rain in it.

A boulder stood to the left of the stream. Roland had set up six chips of stone on top of it. Each one was heavily flecked with mica, and they glittered like lenses in the warm afternoon light.

“Last chance,” the gunslinger said. “If that holster’s uncomfortable—even tin- slightest bit—tell me now. We didn’t come here to waste ammunition.” She cocked a sardonic eye at him, und for a moment he could see Detta Walker in there. It was like ha/y sunlight winking off a bar of steel. “What would you do if it was uncomfortable and I didn’t tell you? If I missed all six of those itty bitty things? Whop me upside the head like that old teacher of yours used to do?”

The gunslinger smiled. He had done more smiling these last five weeks than he had done in the five years which had come before them. “I can’t do that, and you know it. We were children, for one thing— children who hadn’t been through our rites of manhood yet. You may slap a child to correct him, or her, but—” “In my world, whoppin’ the kiddies is also frowned on by the better class of people,” Susannah said dryly.

Roland shrugged. It was hard for him to imagine that sort of world— did not the Great Book say “Spare not the birch so you spoil not the child”?—but he didn’t believe Susannah was lying. “Your world has not moved on,” he said. “Many things are different there. Did I not see for myself that it is so?” “I guess you did.”

“In any case, you and Eddie are not children. It would be wrong for me to treat you as if you were. And if tests were needed, you both passed them.” Although he did not say so, he was thinking of how it had ended on the beach, when she had blown three of the lumbering lobstrosities to hell before they could peel him and Eddie to the bone. He saw her answering smile and thought she might be remembering the same thing.

“So what you goan do if I shoot fo’ shit?” “I’ll look at you. I think that’s all I’ll need to do.” She thought this over, then nodded. “Might be.” She tested the gunbelt again. It was slung across her bosom almost like a shoulder-holster (an arrangement Roland thought of as a docker’s clutch) and looked simple enough, but it had taken many weeks of trial and error—and a great deal of tailoring—to get it just right. The belt and the revolver which cocked its eroded sandalwood grip out of the ancient oiled holster had once been the gunslinger’s; the holster had hung on his right hip. He had spent much of the last five weeks coming to realize it was never going to hang there again. Thanks to the lobstrosi-ties, he was strictly a lefthanded gun now. “So how is it?” he asked again.


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