Eye For Eye
by Orson Scott Card
Eye for Eye was published in 1990 as a Tor double novel, along with "Tunesmith"
by Lloyd Biggle, Jr. It is currently out of print, although it is available as an audiobook.
Just talk, Mick. Tell us everything. We'll listen.
Well to start with I know I was doing terrible things. If you're a halfway decent
person, you don't go looking to kill people. Even if you can do it without touching
them. Even if you can do it so as nobody even guesses they was murdered, you
still got to try not to do it.
Who taught you that?
Nobody. I mean it wasn't in the books in the Baptist Sunday School -- they spent
all their time telling us not to lie or break the sabbath or drink liquor. Never did
mention killing. Near as I can figure, the Lord thought killing was pretty smart
sometimes, like when Samson done it with a donkey's jaw. A thousand guys dead,
but that was okay cause they was Philistines. And lighting foxes' tails on fire.
Samson was a sicko, but he still got his pages in the Bible.
I figure Jesus was about the only guy got much space in the Bible telling people
not to kill. And even then, there's that story about how the Lord struck down a guy
and his wife cause they held back on their offerings to the Christian church. Oh,
Lord, the TV preachers did go on about that. No, it wasn't cause I got religion that
I figured out not to kill people.
You know what I think it was? I think it was Vondel Cone's elbow. At the Baptist
Children's Home in Eden, North Carolina, we played basketball all the time. On a
bumpy dirt court, but we figured it was part of the game, never knowing which
way the ball would bounce. Those boys in the NBA, they play a sissy game on
that flat smooth floor.
We played basketball because there wasn't a lot else to do. Only thing they ever
had on TV was the preachers. We got it all cabled in -- Falwell from up in
Lynchburg, Jim and Tammy from Charlotte, Jimmy Swaggart looking hot, Ernest
Ainglee looking carpeted, Billy Graham looking like God's executive vice-president -- that was all our TV ever showed, so no wonder we lived on the
basketball court all year.
Anyway, Vondel Cone wasn't particularly tall and he wasn't particularly good at
shooting and on the court nobody was even halfway good at dribbling. But he had
elbows. Other guys, when they hit you it was an accident. But when Vondel's
elbow met up with your face, he like to pushed your nose out your ear. You can
bet we all learned real quick to give him room. He got to take all the shots and get
all the rebounds he wanted.
But we got even. We just didn't count his points. We'd call out the score, and any
basket he made it was like it never happened. He'd scream and he'd argue and
we'd all stand there and nod and agree so he wouldn't punch us out, and then as
soon as the next basket was made, we'd call out the score -- still not counting
Vondel's points. Drove that boy crazy. He screamed till his eyes bugged out, but
nobody ever counted his cheating points.
Vondel died of leukemia at the age of fourteen. You see, I never did like that boy.
But I learned something from him. I learned how unfair it was for somebody to get
his way just because he didn't care how much he hurt people. And when I finally
realized that I was just about the most hurtful person in the whole world, I knew
then and there that it just wasn't right. I mean, even in the Old Testament, Moses
said the punishment should fit the crime. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Even
Steven, that's what Old Peleg said before I killed him of prostate cancer. It was
when Peleg got took to the hospital that I left the Eden Baptist Children's Home.
Cause I wasn't Vondel. I did care how much I hurt folks.
But that doesn't have nothing to do with anything. I don't know what all you want
me to talk about.
Just talk, Mick. Tell us whatever you want.
Well I don't aim to tell you my whole life story. I mean I didn't really start to
figure out anything till I got on that bus in Roanoke, and so I can pretty much start
there I guess. I remember being careful not to get annoyed when the lady in front
of me didn't have the right change for the bus. And I didn't get angry when the
bus driver got all snotty and told the lady to get off. It isn't worth killing for.
That's what I always tell myself when I get mad. It isn't worth killing for, and it
helps me calm myself down. So anyway I reached past her and pushed a dollar bill
through the slot.
"This is for both of us," I says.
"I don't make change," says he.
I could've just said "Fine" and left it at that, but he was being such a prick that I
had to do something to make him see how ignorant he was. So I put another nickel
in the slot and said, "That's thirty-five for me, thirty-five for her, and thirty-five for
the next guy gets on without no change."
So maybe I provoked him. I'm sorry for that, but I'm human, too, I figure.
Anyway he was mad. "Don't you smart off with me, boy. I don't have to let you
ride, fare or no fare."
Well, fact was he did, that's the law, and anyway I was white and my hair was
short so his boss would probably do something if I complained. I could have told
him what for and shut his mouth up tight. Except that if I did, I would have gotten
too mad, and no man deserves to die just for being a prick. So I looked down at
the floor and said, "Sorry, sir." I didn't say "Sorry sir" or anything snotty like that.
I said it all quiet and sincere.
If he just dropped it, everything would have been fine, you know? I was mad, yes,
but I'd gotten okay at bottling it in, just kind of holding it tight and then waiting for
it to ooze away where it wouldn't hurt nobody. But just as I turned to head back
toward a seat, he lurched that bus forward so hard that it flung me down and I only
caught myself from hitting the floor by catching the handhold on a seatback and
half-smashing the poor lady sitting there.
Some other people said "Hey!" kind of mad, and I realize now that they was saying
it to the driver, cause they was on my side. But at the time I thought they was mad
at me, and that plus the scare of nearly falling and how mad I already was, well, I
lost control of myself. I could just feel it in me, like sparklers in my blood veins,
spinning around my whole body and then throwing off this pulse that went and hit
that bus driver. He was behind me, so I didn't see it with my eyes. But I could feel
that sparkiness connect up with him, and twist him around inside, and then finally
it came loose from me, I didn't feel it no more. I wasn't mad no more. But I knew
I'd done him already.
I even knew where. It was in his liver. I was a real expert on cancer by now.
Hadn't I seen everybody I ever knew die of it? Hadn't I read every book in the
Eden Public Library on cancer? You can live without kidneys, you can cut out a
lung, you can take out a colon and live with a bag in your pants, but you can't live
without a liver and they can't transplant it either. That man was dead. Two years
at the most, I gave him. Two years, all because he was in a bad mood and lurched
his bus to trip up a smartmouth kid.
I felt like piss on a flat rock. On that day I had gone nearly eight months, since
before Christmas, the whole year so far without hurting anybody. It was the best
I'd ever done, and I thought I'd licked it. I stepped across the lady I smashed into
and sat by the window, looking out, not seeing anything. All I could think was I'm
sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry. Did he have a wife and kids? Well, they'd be a widow
and orphans soon enough, because of me. I could feel him from clear over here.
The sparkiness of his belly, making the cancer grow and keeping his body's own
natural fire from burning it out. I wanted with all my heart to take it back, but I
couldn't. And like so many times before, I thought to myself that if I had any guts
I'd kill myself. I couldn't figure why I hadn't died of my own cancer already. I
sure enough hated myself a lot worse than I ever hated anybody else.
The lady beside me starts to talk. "People like that are so annoying, aren't they?"
I didn't want to talk to anybody, so I just grunted and turned away.
"That was very kind of you to help me," she says.
That's when I realized she was the same lady who didn't have the right fare.
"Nothing," I says.
"No, you didn't have to do that." She touched my jeans.
I turned to look at her. She was older, about twenty-five maybe, and her face
looked kind of sweet. She was dressed nice enough that I could tell it wasn't cause
she was poor that she didn't have bus fare. She also didn't take her hand off my
knee, which made me nervous, because the bad thing I do is a lot stronger when
I'm actually touching a person, and so I mostly don't touch folks and I don't feel
safe when they touch me. The fastest I ever killed a man was when he felt me up
in a bathroom at a rest stop on I-85. He was coughing blood when I left that place,
I really tore him up that time, I still have nightmares about him gasping for breath
there with his hand on me.
So anyway that's why I felt real nervous her touching me there on the bus, even
though there was no harm in it. Or anyway that's half why I was nervous, and the
other half was that her hand was real light on my leg and out of the corner of my
eyes I could see how her chest moved when she breathed, and after all I'm
seventeen and normal most ways. So when I wished she'd move her hand, I only
half wished she'd move it back into her own lap.
That was up till she smiles at me and says, "Mick, I want to help you."
It took me a second to realize she spoke my name. I didn't know many people in
Roanoke, and she sure wasn't one of them. Maybe she was one of Mr. Kaiser's
customers, I thought. But they hardly ever knew my name. I kind of thought, for a
second, that maybe she had seen me working in the warehouse and asked Mr.
Kaiser all about me or something. So I says, "Are you one of Mr. Kaiser's
"Mick Winger," she says. "You got your first name from a note pinned to your
blanket when you were left at the door of the sewage plant in Eden. You chose
your last name when you ran away from the Eden Baptist Children's Home, and
you probably chose it because the first movie you ever saw was An Officer and a
Gentleman. You were fifteen then, and now you're seventeen, and you've killed
more people in your life than Al Capone."
I got nervous when she knew my whole name and how I got it, cause the only way
she could know that stuff was if she'd been following me for years. But when she
let on she knew I killed people, I forgot all about feeling mad or guilty or horny. I
pulled the cord on the bus, practically crawled over her to get out, and in about
three seconds I was off that bus and hit the ground running. I'd been afraid of it
for years, somebody finding out about me. But it was all the more scary seeing
how she must have known about me for so long. It made me feel like somebody'd
been peeking in the bathroom window all my life and I only just now found out
I ran for a long time, which isn't easy because of all the hills in Roanoke. I ran
mostly downhill, though, into town, where I could dodge into buildings and out
their back doors. I didn't know if she was following me, but she'd been following
me for a long time, or someone had, and I never even guessed it, so how did I
know if they was following me now or not?
And while I ran, I tried to figure where I could go now. I had to leave town, that
was sure. I couldn't go back to the warehouse, not even to say good-bye, and that
made me feel real bad, cause Mr. Kaiser would think I just ran off for no reason,
like some kid who didn't care nothing about people counting on him. He might
even worry about me, never coming to pick up my spare clothes from the room he
let me sleep in.
Thinking about what Mr. Kaiser might think about me going was pretty strange.
Leaving Roanoke wasn't going to be like leaving the orphanage, and then leaving
Eden, and finally leaving North Carolina. I never had much to let go of in those
places. But Mr. Kaiser had always been real straight with me, a nice steady old
guy, never bossed me, never tried to take me down, even stuck up for me in a quiet
kind of way by letting it be known that he didn't want nobody teasing me. Hired
me a year and a half ago, even though I was lying about being sixteen and he
must've known it. And in all that time, I never once got mad at work, or at least
not so mad I couldn't stop myself form hurting people. I worked hard, built up
muscles I never thought I'd have, and I also must've grown five inches, my pants
kept getting so short. I sweated and ached most days after work, but I earned my
pay and kept up with the older guys, and Mr. Kaiser never once made me feel like
he took me on for charity, the way the orphanage people always did, like I should
thank them for not letting me starve. Kaiser's Furniture Warehouse was the first
peaceful place I ever spent time, the first place where nobody died who was my
I knew all that before, but right till I started running I never realized how bad I'd
feel about leaving Roanoke. Like somebody dying. It got so bad that for a while I
couldn't hardly see which way I was going, not that I out-and-out cried or nothing.
Pretty soon I found myself walking down Jefferson Street, where it cuts through a
woody hill before it widens out for car dealers and Burger Kings. There was cars
passing me both ways, but I was thinking about other things now. Trying to figure
why I never got mad at Mr. Kaiser. Other people treated me nice before, it wasn't
like I got beat up every night or nobody ever gave me seconds or I had to eat
dogfood or nothing. I remembered all those people at the orphanage, they was just
trying to make me grow up Christian and educated. They just never learned how to
be nice without also being nasty. Like Old Peleg, the black caretaker, he was a
nice old coot and told us stories, and I never let nobody call him nigger even
behind his back. But he was a racist himself, and I knew it on account of the times
he caught me and Jody Capel practicing who could stop pissing the most times in a
single go. We both done the same thing, didn't we? But he just sent me off and
then started whaling on Jody, and Jody was yelling like he was dying, and I kept
saying, "It ain't fair! I done it too! You're only beating on him cause he's black!"
but he paid no mind, it was so crazy, I mean it wasn't like I wanted him to beat me
too, but it made me so mad and before I knew it, I felt so sparky that I couldn't
hold it in and I was hanging on him, trying to pull him away from Jody, so it hit
What could I say to him then? Going into the hospital, where he'd lie there with a
tube in his arm and a tube in his nose sometimes. He told me stories when he
could talk, and just squoze my hand when he couldn't. He used to have a belly on
him, but I think I could have tossed him in the air like a baby before he died. And I
did it to him, not that I meant to, I couldn't help myself, but that's the way it was.
Even people I purely loved, they'd have mean days, and God help them if I
happened to be there, because I was like God with a bad mood, that's what I was,
God with no mercy, because I couldn't give them nothing, but I sure was hell could
take it away. Take it all away. They told me I shouldn't visit Old Peleg so much
cause it was sick to keep going to watch him waste away. Mrs. Howard and Mr.
Dennis both got tumors from trying to get me to stop going. So many people was
dying of cancer in those days they came from the county and tested the water for
chemicals. It wasn't no chemicals, I knew that, but I never did tell them, cause
they'd just lock me up in the crazy house and you can bet that crazy house would
have a epidemic before I been there a week if that ever happened.
Truth was I didn't know, I just didn't know it was me doing it for the longest time.
It's just people kept dying on me, everybody I ever loved, and it seemed like they
always took sick after I'd been real mad at them once, and you know how little
kids always feel guilty about yelling at somebody who dies right after. The
counselor even told me that those feelings were perfectly natural, and of course it
wasn't my fault, but I couldn't shake it. And finally I began to realize that other
people didn't feel that sparky feeling like I did, and they couldn't tell how folks
was feeling unless they looked or asked. I mean, I knew when my lady teachers
was going to be on the rag before they did, and you can bet I stayed away from
them the best I could on those crabby days. I could feel it, like they was giving off
sparks. And there was other folks who had a way of sucking you to them, without
saying a thing, without doing a thing, you just went into a room and couldn't take
your eyes off them, you wanted to be close -- I saw that other kids felt the same
way, just automatically liked them, you know? But I could feel it like they was on
fire, and suddenly I was cold and needed to warm myself. And I'd say something
about it and people would look at me like I was crazy enough to lock right up, and
I finally caught on that I was the only one that had those feelings.
Once I knew that, then all those deaths began to fit together. All those cancers,
those days they lay in hospital beds turning into mummies before they was rightly
dead, all the pain until they drugged them into zombies so they wouldn't tear their
own guts out just trying to get to the place that hurt so bad. Torn up, cut up,
drugged up, radiated, bald, skinny, praying for death, and I knew I did it. I began
to tell the minute I did it. I began to know what kind of cancer it would be, and
where, and how bad. And I was always right.
Twenty-five people I knew of, and probably more I didn't.
And it got even worse when I ran away. I'd hitch rides because how else was Igoing to get anywheres? But I was always scared of the people who picked me up,
and if they got weird or anything I sparked them. And cops who run me out of a
place, they got it. Until I figured I was just Death himself, with his bent-up spear
and a hood over his head, walking around and whoever came near him bought the
farm. That was me. I was the most terrible thing in the world, I was families broke
up and children orphaned and mamas crying for their dead babies, I was everything
that people hate most in all the world. I jumped off an overpass once to kill myself
but I just sprained my ankle. Old Peleg always said I was like a cat, I wouldn't die
lessen somebody skinned me, roasted the meat and ate it, then tanned the hide,
made it into slippers, wore them slippers clean out, and then burned them and
raked the ashes, that's when I'd finally die. And I figure he's right, cause I'm still
alive and that's a plain miracle after the stuff I've been through lately.
Anyway that's the kind of thing I was thinking, walking along Jefferson, when I
noticed that a car had driven by going the other way and saw me and turned around
and came back up behind me, pulled ahead of me and stopped. I was so spooked I
thought it must be that lady finding me again, or maybe somebody with guns to
shoot me all up like on "Miami Vice," and I was all set to take off up the hill till I
saw it was just Mr. Kaiser.
He says, "I was heading the other way, Mick. Want a ride to work?"
I couldn't tell him what I was doing. "Not today, Mr. Kaiser," I says.
Well, he knew by my look or something, cause he says, "You quitting on me,
I was just thinking, don't argue with me or nothing, Mr. Kaiser, just let me go, I
don't want to hurt you, I'm so fired up with guilt and hating myself that I'm just
death waiting to bust out and blast somebody, can't you see sparks falling off me
like spray off a wet dog? I just says, "Mr. Kaiser, I don't want to talk right now, I
Right then was the moment for him to push. For him to lecture me about how I
had to learn responsibility, and if I didn't talk things through how could anybody
ever make things right, and life ain't a free ride so sometimes you got to do things
you don't want to do, and I been nicer to you than you deserve, you're just what
they warned me you'd be, shiftless and ungrateful and a burn in your soul.
But he didn't say none of that. He just says, "You had some bad luck? I can
advance you against wages, I know you'll pay back."
"I don't owe money," I says.
And he says, "Whatever you're running away from, come home with me and you'll
What could I say? You're the one who needs protecting, Mr. Kaiser, and I'm the
one who'll probably kill you. So I didn't say nothing, until finally he just nodded
and put his hand on my shoulder and said, "That's okay, Mick. If you ever need a
place or a job, you just come on back to me. You find a place to settle down for a
while, you write to me and I'll send you your stuff."
"You just give it to the next guy," I says.
"A son-of-a-bitch stinking mean old Jew like me?" he says. "I don't give nothing
Well I couldn't help but laugh, cause that's what the foreman always called Mr.
Kaiser whenever he thought the old guy couldn't hear him. And when I laughed, I
felt myself cool off, just like as if I had been on fire and somebody poured cold
water over my head.
"Take care of yourself, Mick," he says. He give me his card and a twenty and
tucked it into my pocket when I told him no. Then he got back into his car and
made one of his insane U-turns right across traffic and headed back the other way.
Well if he did nothing else he got my brain back in gear. There I was walking
along the highway where anybody at all could see me, just like Mr. Kaiser did. At
least till I was out of town I ought to stay out of sight as much as I could. So there
I was between those two hills, pretty steep, and all covered with green, and I
figured that was as good a reason to decide as any I ever heard of, and so I dodged
my way across Jefferson Street and went right into the kudzu caves and clawed my
way right up. It was dark under the leaves, but it wasn't much cooler than right out
in the sun, particularly cause I was working so hard. It was a long way up, and just
when I got to the top the ground starting shaking. I thought it was an earthquake I
was so edgy, till I heard the train whistle and then I knew it was one of those coal-hauling trains, so heavy it could shake ivy off a wall when it passed. I just stood
there and listened to it, the sound coming from every direction all at once, there
under the kudzu, I listened till it went on by, and then I stepped out of the leaves
into a clearing.
And there she was, waiting for me, sitting under a tree.
I was too wore out to run, and too scared, coming on her sudden like that, just
when I thought I was out of sight. It was just as if I'd been aiming straight at her,
all the way up the hill, just as if she somehow tied a string to me and pulled me
across the street and up the hill. And if she could do that, how could I run away
from her, tell me that? Where could I go? I'd just turn some corner and there
she'd be, waiting. So I says to her, "All right, what do you want?"
She just waved me on over. And I went, too, but not very close, cause I didn't
know what she had in mind. "Sit down, Mick," says she. "We need to talk."
Now I'll tell you that I didn't want to sit, and I didn't want to talk, I just wanted to
get out of there. And so I did, or at least I thought I did. I started walking straight
away from her, I thought, but in three steps I realized that I wasn't walking away, I
was walking around her. Like that planet thing in science class, the more I moved,
the more I got nowhere. It was like she had more say over what my legs did than
So I sat down.
"You shouldn't have run off from me," she says.
What I mostly thought of now was to wonder if she was wearing anything under
that shirt. And then I thought, what a stupid time to be thinking about that. But I
still kept thinking about it.
"Do you promise to stay right there till I'm through talking?" she says.
When she moved, it was like her clothes got almost transparent for a second, but
not quite. Couldn't take my eyes off her. I promised.
And then all of a sudden she was just a woman. Not ugly, but not all that pretty,
neither. Just looking at me with eyes like fire. I was scared again, and I wanted to
leave, especially cause now I began to think she really was doing something to me.
But I promised, so I stayed.
"That's how it began," she says.
"What's how it began?" says I.
"What you just felt. What I made you feel. That only works on people like you.
Nobody else can feel it."
"Feel what?" says I. Now, I knew what she meant, but I didn't know for sure if
she meant what I knew. I mean, it bothered me real bad that she could tell how I
felt about her those few minutes there.
"Feel that," she says, and there it is again, all I can think about is her body. But it
only lasted a few seconds, and then I knew for sure that she was doing it to me.
"Stop it," I says, and she says, "I already did."
I ask her, "How do you do that?"
"Everybody can do it, just a little. A woman looks at a man, she's interested, and
so the bio-electrical system heats up, causes some odors to change, and he smells
them and notices her and he pays attention."
"Does it work the other way?"
"Men are always giving off odors, Mick. Makes no difference. It isn't a man's
stink that gives a woman her ideas. But like I said, Mick, that's what everybody
can do. With some men, though, it isn't a woman's smell that draws his eye. It's
the bio-electrical system itself. The smell is nothing. You can feel the heat of the
fire. It's the same thing as when you kill people, Mick. If you couldn't kill people
the way you do, you also couldn't feel it so strong when I give off magnetic
Of course I didn't understand all that the first time, and maybe I'm remembering it
now with words she didn't teach me until later. At the time, though, I was scared,
yes, because she knew, and because she could do things to me, but I was also
excited, because she sounded like she had some answers, like she knew why it was
that I killed people without meaning to.
But when I asked her to explain everything, she couldn't. "We're only just
beginning to understand it ourselves, Mick. There's a Swedish scientist who is
making some strides that way. We've sent some people over to meet with him.
We've read his book, and maybe even some of us understand it. I've got to tell
you, Mick, just because we can do this thing doesn't mean we're particularly smart
or anything. It doesn't get us through college any faster or anything. It just means
that teachers who flunk us tend to die off a little younger."
"You're like me! You can do it too!"
She shook her head. "Not likely," she says. "If I'm really furious at somebody, if
I really hate him, if I really try, and if I keep it up for weeks, I can maybe give him
an ulcer. You're in a whole different league from me. You and your people."
"I got no people," I says.
"I'm here, Mick, because you got people. People who knew just exactly what you
could do from the minute you were born. People who knew that if you didn't get a
tit to suck you wouldn't just cry, you'd kill. Spraying out death from your cradle.
So they planned it all from the beginning. Put you in an orphanage. Let other
people, all those do-gooders, let them get sick and die, and then when you're old
enough to have control over it, then they look you up, they tell you who you are,
they bring you home to live with them."
"So you're my kin?" I ask her.
"Not so you'd notice," she says. "I'm here to warn you about your kin. We've
been watching you for years, and now it's time to warn you."
"Now it's time? I spent fifteen years in that children's home killing everybody
who ever cared about me, and if they'd just come along -- or you, or anybody, if
you just said, Mick, you got to control your temper or you'll hurt people, if
somebody just said to me, Mick, we're your people and we'll keep you safe, then
maybe I wouldn't be so scared all the time, maybe I wouldn't go killing people so
much, did you ever think of that?" Or maybe I didn't say all that, but that's what I
was feeling, and so I said a lot, I chewed her up and down.
And then I saw how scared she was, because I was all sparky, and I realized I was
just about to shed a load of death onto her, and so I kind of jumped back and yelled
at her to leave me alone, and then she does the craziest thing, she reaches out
toward me, and I scream at her, "Don't touch me!" cause if she touches me I can't
hold it in, it'll just go all through her and tear up her guts inside, but she just keeps
reaching, leaning toward me, and so I kind of crawled over toward a tree, and I
hung onto that tree, I just held on and let the tree kind of soak up all my sparkiness,
almost like I was burning up the tree. Maybe I killed it, for all I know. Or maybe
it was so big, I couldn't hurt it, but it took all the fire out of me, and then she did
touch me, like nobody ever touched me, her arm across my back, and hand holding
my shoulder, her face right up against my ear, and she says to me, "Mick, you
didn't hurt me."
"Just leave me alone," says I.
"You're not like them," she says. "Don't you see that? They love the killing.
They use the killing. Only they're not as strong as you. They have to be touching,
for one thing, or close to it. They have to keep it up longer. They're stronger than
I am, but not as strong as you. So they'll want you, that's for sure, Mick, but
they'll also be scared of you, and you know what'll scare them most? That you
didn't kill me, that you can control it like that."
"I can't always. That bus driver today."
"So you're not perfect. But you're trying. Trying not to kill people. Don't you
see, Mick? You're not like them. They may be your blood family, but you don't
belong with them, and they'll see that, and when they do --"
All I could think about was what she said, my blood family. "My mama and
daddy, you telling me I'm going to meet them?"
"They're calling you now, and that's why I had to warn you."
"The way I called you up this hill. Only it wasn't just me, of course, it was a
bunch of us."
"I just decided to come up here, to get off the road."
"You just decided to cross the highway and climb this hill, instead of the other
one? Anyway, that's how it works. It's part of the human race for all time, only
we never knew it. A bunch of people kind of harmonize their bio-electrical
systems, to call for somebody to come home, and they come home, after a while.
Or sometimes a whole nation unites to hate somebody. Like Iran and the Shah, or
the Philippines and Marcos."
"They just kicked them out," I says.
"But they were already dying, weren't they? A whole nation, hating together, they
make a constant interference with their enemy's bio-electrical system. A constant
noise. All of them together, millions of people, they are finally able to match what
you can do with one flash of anger."
I thought about that for a few minutes, and it came back to me all the times I
thought how I wasn't even human. So maybe I was human, after all, but human
like a guy with three arms is a human, or one of those guys in the horror movies I
saw, gigantic and lumpy and going around hacking up teenagers whenever they
was about to get laid. And in all those movies they always try to kill the guy only
they can't, he gets stabbed and shot and burned up and he still comes back, and
that's like me, I must have tried to kill myself so many times only it never worked.
No. Wait a minute.
I got to get this straight, or you'll think I'm crazy or a liar. I didn't jump off that
highway overpass like I said. I stood on one for a long time, watching the cars go
by. Whenever a big old semi came along I'd say, this one, and I'd count, and at the
right second I'd say, now. Only I never did jump. And then afterward I dreamed
about jumping, and in all those dreams I'd just bounce off the truck and get up and
limp away. Like the time I was a kid and sat in the bathroom with the little
gardening shears, the spring-loaded kind that popped open, I sat there thinking
about jamming it into my stomach right under the breastbone, and then letting go
of the handle, it'd pop right open and make a bad wound and cut open my heart or
something. I was there so long I fell asleep on the toilet, and later I dreamed about
doing it but no blood ever came out, because I couldn't die.
So I never tried to kill myself. But I thought about it all the time. I was like those
monsters in those movies, just killing people but secretly hoping somebody would
catch on to what was going on and kill me first.
And so I says to her, "Why didn't you just kill me?"
And there she was with her face close to mine and she says, just like it was love
talk, she says, "I've had you in my rifle sights, Mick, and then I didn't do it.
Because I saw something in you. I saw that maybe you were trying to control it.
That maybe you didn't want to use your power to kill. And so I let you live,
thinking that one day I'd be here like this, telling you what you are, and giving you
a little hope."
I thought she meant I'd hope because of knowing my mama and daddy were alive
and wanted me.
"I hoped for a long time, but I gave it up. I don't want to see my mama and daddy,
if they could leave me there all those years. I don't want to see you, neither, if you
didn't so much as warn me not to get mad at Old Peleg. I didn't want to kill Old
Peleg, and I couldn't even help it! You didn't help me a bit!"
"We argued about it," she says. "We knew you were killing people while you tried
to sort things out and get control. Puberty's the worst time, even worse than
infancy, and we knew that if we didn't kill you a lot of people would die -- and
mostly they'd be the people you loved best. That's the way it is for most kids your
age, they get angriest at the people they love most, only you couldn't help killing
them, and what does that do to your mind? What kind of person do you become?
There was some who said we didn't have the right to leave you alive even to study
you, because it would be like having a cure for cancer and then not using it on
people just to see how fast they'd die. Like that experiment where the government
left syphilis cases untreated just to see what the final stages of the disease were
like, even though they could have cured those people at any time. But some of us
told them, Mick isn't a disease, and a bullet isn't penicillin. I told them, Mick is
something special. And they said, yes, he's special, he kills more than any of those
other kids, and we shot them or ran them over with a truck or drowned them, and
here we've got the worst one of all and you want to keep him alive."
And I was crying cause I wished they had killed me, but also because it was the
first time I ever thought there was people arguing that I ought to be alive, and even
though I didn't rightly understand then or even now why you didn't kill me, I got
to tell you that knowing somebody knew what I was and still chose not to blast my
head off, that done me in, I just bawled like a baby.
One thing led to another, there, my crying and her holding me, and pretty soon I
figured out that she pretty much wanted to get laid right there. But that just made
me sick, when I knew that. "How can you want to do that!" I says to her. "I can't
get married! I can't have no kids! They'd be like me!"
She didn't argue with me or say nothing about birth control, and so I figured out
later that I was right, she wanted to have a baby, and that told me plain that she was
crazy as a loon. I got my pants pulled back on and my shirt on, and I wouldn't
look at her getting dressed again, neither.
"I could make you do it," she says to me. "I could do that to you. The ability you
have that lets you kill also makes you sensitive. I can make you lose your mind
with desire for me."
"Then why don't you?" I says.
"Why don't you kill if you can help it?" she says.
"Cause nobody has the right," says I.
"That's right," she says.
"Anyway you're ten years older than me," I tell her.
"Fifteen," she says. "Almost twice your age. But that don't mean nothing." Or I
guess she actually said, "That doesn't mean nothing," or probably, "That doesn't
mean anything." She talks better than I do but I can't always remember the fancy
way. "That doesn't mean a thing," she says. "You'll go to your folks, and you can
bet they'll have some pretty little girl waiting for you, and she'll know how to do it
much better than me, she'll turn you on so your pants unzip themselves, cause
that's what they want most from you. They want your babies. As many as they
can get, because you're the strongest they've produced in all the years since
Grandpa Jake realized that the cursing power went father to son, mother to
daughter, and that he could breed for it like you breed dogs or horses. They'll
breed you like a stud, but then when they find out that you don't like killing people
and you don't want to play along and you aren't going to take orders from
whoever's in charge there now, they'll kill you. That's why I came to warn you.
We could feel them just starting to call you. We knew it was time. And I came to
Most of this didn't mean much to me yet. Just the idea of having kinfolk was still
so new I couldn't exactly get worried about whether they'd kill me or put me out
for stud or whatever. Mostly what I thought about was her, anyway. "I might have
killed you, you know."
"Maybe I didn't care," she says. "And maybe I'm not so easy to kill."
"And maybe you ought to tell me your name," says I.
"Can't," she says.
"How come?" says I.
"Because if you decide to put in with them, and you know my name, then I am
"I wouldn't let anybody hurt you," says I.
She didn't answer that. She just says to me, "Mick, you don't know my name, but
you remember this. I have hopes for you, cause I know you're a good man and
you never meant to kill nobody. I could've made you love me, and I didn't,
because I want you to do what you do by your own choice. And most important of
all, if you come with me, we have a chance to see if maybe your ability doesn't
have a good side."
You think I hadn't thought of that before? When I saw Rambo shooting down all
those little brown guys, I thought, I could do that, and without no gun, either. And
if somebody took me hostage like the Achille Lauro thing, we wouldn't have to
worry about the terrorists going unpunished. They'd all be rotting in a hospital in
no time. "Are you with the government?" I ask her.
"No," she says.
So they didn't want me to be a soldier. I was kind of disappointed. I kind of
thought I might be useful that way. But I couldn't volunteer or nothing, cause you
don't walk into the recruiting office and say, I've killed a couple dozen people by
giving sparks off my body, and I could do it to Castro and Qaddafi if you like.
Cause if they believe you, then you're a murderer, and if they don't believe you,
they lock you up in a nuthouse.
"Nobody's been calling me, anyway," I says. "If I didn't see you today, I
wouldn't've gone nowhere. I would've stayed with Mr. Kaiser."
"Then why did you take all your money out of the bank?" she says. "And when
you ran away from me, why did you run toward the highway where you can hitch a
ride at least to Madison and then catch another on in to Eden?"
And I didn't have no answer for her then, cause I didn't know rightly why I took
my money out of the bank lessen it was like she said, and I was planning to leave
town. It was just an impulse, to close that account, I didn't thinking nothing of it,
just stuffed three hundreds into my wallet and come to think of it I really was
heading toward Eden, I just didn't think of it, I was just doing it. Just the way I
climbed that hill.
"They're stronger than we are," she says. "So we can't hold you here. You have
to go anyway, you have to work this thing out. The most we could do was just get
you on the bus next to me, and then call you up this hill."
"Then why don't you come with me?" I says.
"They'd kill me in two seconds, right in front of your eyes, and none of this
cursing stuff, either, Mick. They'd just take my head off with a machete."
"Do they know you?"
"They know us," she says. "We're the only ones that know your people exist, so
we're the only ones working to stop them. I won't lie to you, Mick. If you join
them, you can find us, you'll learn how, it isn't hard, and you can do this stuff from
farther away, you could really take us apart. But if you join us, the tables are
"Well maybe I don't want to be on either side of this war," I says. "And maybe
now I won't go to Eden, neither. Maybe I'll go up to Washington, D.C. and join
"Maybe," she says.
"And don't try to stop me."
"I wouldn't try," she says.
"Damn straight," I says. And then I just walked on out, and this time I didn't walk
in no circles, I just headed north, past her car, down the railroad right of way. And
I caught a ride heading up toward D.C., and that was that.
. . . to be continued in issue 18 . . .