Dark Mountain, p.1Richard Laymon
LEISURE BOOKS NEW YORK CITY
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Other Leisure books by Richard Laymon
For Bob, my brother,
who trekked with me
the trails of our youth
Beware on your journey,
Tread softly with care.
Beware of the hag
In her dark mountain lair.
Speak only in whispers,
Don’t wander alone.
Take heed of the shadows—
Watch out for the crone.
She waits and she wants you.
She knows you are there.
Don’t wander alone,
Tread softly with care.
Cheryl heard it again—the soft, dry crunching sound that a foot might make in leaves. This time, it was very close.
She lay rigid in her sleeping bag, barely daring to breathe, gazing straight up at the dark slanting wall of the tent and telling herself to stay calm.
It’s probably just an animal. Maybe a deer. A few days ago, camped in a meadow below the pass, they’d been awakened in the night by a deer wandering near their tent. Its hooves had crashed through the foliage, snapping branches and shaking the ground. Bambi the Elephant, Danny had called it.
This was different.
This was stealthy.
She heard it again, flinched, and dug her fingertips into her bare thighs.
Maybe something falling from a tree? Pine cones? They could make sounds like that, she supposed. Plenty of wind out there to shake them loose.
That’s it. That has to be it. Otherwise, somebody is standing just outside the tent, and that can’t be.
They’d seen nobody for two days. They’d reached Lower Mesquite Lake early in the afternoon. Except for this small patch of woods, the glacial lake was surrounded by barren rock. They’d hiked completely around it. They’d explored the woods. They’d seen nobody.
Not even when they hiked over a small ridge to Upper Mesquite.
Cheryl took a deep breath, trying to calm herself.
Go to sleep, chicken-shit.
Cheryl consciously relaxed her legs and rump and back, settling down into the warmth, and turned her head to stretch her taut neck muscles. She felt like rolling over. She wanted to turn facedown and burrow deep, but she was afraid to move that much.
A monster under the bed. Just like when she was a kid and knew there was a terrible monster under the bed. If she lay absolutely still, it would leave her alone.
I’m eighteen. I’m too old for this.
Slowly, she started to turn over. Her bare skin made whispery, sliding sounds against the nylon bag, almost loud enough to mask the other sound. She went stiff. She was on her side, facing Danny. The other sound came from behind her—a quiet hissing sigh, a sound such as fingernails might make scraping along the tent’s wall.
She flung herself against Danny, shook him by the shoulders. Moaning, he raised his head. “Huh? Wha—”
“Somebody’s outside,” she gasped.
He pushed himself up on his elbows. “Huh?”
“Outside. I heard him.”
Neither of them moved.
“I don’t hear anything,” he said in a groggy voice.
“I did. God, he’s right outside the tent. He scratched on it.”
“Probably just a branch.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll go out ‘n’ have a look.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“No point both of us freezing our asses. I’ll go.” He rose to his hands and knees, still in the double sleeping bag, letting in the cold night air as he searched through the clothes and gear at the head of the tent. He pulled his flashlight out of his boot. “Just be a minute,” he said.
Cheryl scooted away. Danny climbed from the bag and crawled to the foot of the tent. Kneeling there, naked, he pulled at the zipper of the mosquito netting.
Cheryl sat up. The cold wrapped around her. Shuddering, she hugged her breasts. “Maybe you’d better not,” she whispered. “Come on back.”
“Nah, it’s all right.”
“I’ve gotta take a leak anyway,” he said, and started to crawl through the flaps. He was halfway out when he stopped. He uttered a low groan. One of his feet reached backward.
Cheryl heard a wet thud. Spray rained against the tent flaps.
Danny’s legs shot out from under him. He bounced up and down, knees pounding the tent floor, flopping in mad spasms that seemed to last forever. At last, he lay motionless.
Cheryl stared in horror as Danny began to slide through the flaps. His buttocks vanished. His legs dragged along as if he were being sucked slowly into a dark mouth.
Cheryl was alone in the tent.
But not for long.
Meg staggered into the living room, a strap of her negligee sagging down her arm. “Good grief, hon, what time is it?”
“Nighttime,” Karen said.
“Tell me. Christ, tell me. Call this a vacation?”
“I sure do.”
“Yeah, guess you would.” She flopped into a chair, hooked one leg over its stuffed arm, and stretched to reach for a pack of cigarettes. “What time’s he picking you up?”
“Gug. Want me to put on some coffee?”
“I don’t want to be peeing.”
“Shit. Car full of kids, you’ll be stopping every five minutes anyway.” She lit a cigarette.
“They’re not exactly kids,” Karen said. “Julie’s sixteen. Benny’s thirteen or fourteen.”
“Even worse. Christ, kiddo, you’re in for it.”
“They’re okay.” Karen propped the backpack against the sofa and shoved in the mummy bag.
“Who’s this other family?”
“The Gordons. Never met them before.”
“They have kids, too?”
“Oh, you’re gonna have a
“We’ll see.” Karen buckled the leather straps of the cover, picked up the backpack, and carried it toward the front door. She leaned it against the wall.
“Sure sounds like loads of fun. Wish I was coming.”
“You were invited.”
“Give me a break. I need a campout like I need a third boob.”
Karen dropped to the sofa and started to put on her hiking boots. They were Pivettas, scratched and scuffed. They had stood in the back of her closet, unworn since the summer she finished her MA four years before, but they felt comfortable and familiar, like good friends from the past—friends with stories of dusty switchbacks, the cool wind of mountain passes, desolate lakes, icy streams, and campfire smoke. She finished lacing them, and slapped her bare knees. “This is gonna be great.”
“You’re a masochist,” Meg said, and stabbed out her cigarette.
“You don’t know what you’re missing.”
“Sure I do. Sack time.” She pushed herself off the chair, yawned, and stretched. “Well, have fun if you can.”
“Right. See you next Sunday.”
“Give my regards to the chipmunks.” With a wiggle of her fingers, she turned away and left the room.
Karen glanced at her wristwatch. Five twenty-eight. Leaning back, she stretched out her legs. Her plaid shirt was gaping open at the belly. She fastened the button, then checked the fly of her cutoff corduroys. All set. She yawned. Maybe she should’ve taken Meg up on that coffee. She inhaled, a deep breath that seemed to fill her whole body with a light, pleasant weariness. As she let it slowly out, she shut her eyes.
A whole week in the mountains with Scott. Kids or no kids, it would be wonderful. They would find time to be alone, if only at night. It’d be cold, and they’d snuggle together with the wind whapping the tent walls.…
The blare of the doorbell shocked her awake. She shoved herself off the sofa and hurried to the door. She pulled it open.
Scott, standing under the porch light, smiled at her through the screen.
“Take your Watchtower and shove it,” she said, and shut the door. When she opened it again, his face was pressed to the screen.
“I want your body,” he whispered.
For an instant, face mashed out of shape, he looked like a stranger. Karen felt a tingle of fright. Then he stepped back and was Scott again, handsome and smiling. “Ready for action?” he asked.
“Yep.” As she pushed open the screen door, she leaned out and glimpsed his car in the driveway. The headlights were on. The car’s interior was dark. “The kids there?” she asked.
“Just barely. It was murder getting Julie out of bed. Benny was raring to go. I’m not sure he even slept last night. Then he decided he couldn’t live without his binoculars and we couldn’t find the damn things.”
“We did. But it screwed up our departure time.”
“Thanks,” he said. He took Karen into his arms. He smelled of coffee and aftershave. With his mouth pushing gently against hers, she felt so comfortable that she thought she might doze off. Until his hands went under her shirt. She was wide awake as they moved up her back and under her armpits and closed gently over her breasts. They circled. They caressed. Her nipples stiffened under their touch.
“Think I’ll send the kids home,” he muttered.
“Mmm. I’ve missed you.”
He kissed her again, hugging her tightly. “We’d better get it in motion. You all packed and ready?”
She bent to pick up her backpack. “Allow me,” Scott said. As he lifted it, Karen hurried to the coffee table. She grabbed her handbag and floppy felt hat, and followed him out the door.
The morning air wrapped around her bare arms and legs, seeped like chilly water through her shirt. Shivering, she waved at the dim face peering out through the backseat window. In the blue-gray light, she couldn’t tell whether it belonged to Julie or Benny.
“You can get in,” Scott said.
She shrugged, preferring to wait rather than enter the car without him. They went to the trunk. She stood with her shoulders hunched, arms folded across her chest, legs pressed together, jaw tight to keep her teeth from chattering.
Scott smiled back at her as he unlocked the trunk. “The heater’s on.”
“The fresh air feels good.”
He laughed, and placed her backpack on top of the others. Then he swung the lid shut. “Forget anything?”
He leaned back against the trunk, looking relaxed and warm. Of course, he was wearing long pants and a flannel shirt. “Sunglasses?” he asked.
“In my pack. Wish I had it on.”
Karen headed for the passenger door, taking her time, waiting until Scott was in the driver’s seat before she opened the door. She ducked inside and smiled over the back of her seat. “Morning,” she said.
“Hiya, hiya,” Benny said, winking one eye in time with the words. He raised a closed hand to his mouth as if holding a microphone. “And a good good morning to you and thanks for tuning in. Have we got a show for you!”
“Can it, Bonzo,” Julie said. She gave Karen a quick, tight-lipped smile and turned her face toward the window.
Karen sat down. She pulled her door shut. The heater blew against her legs. She sighed and settled back, enjoying the warmth as Scott backed out of the driveway.
“All right if I drive?” Nick asked.
His father shoved the station wagon’s tailgate into place. “Can you keep it under sixty?”
“If you don’t care when we get there.”
“Well, our ETA’s two thirty. I think we can make it without breaking any speed records. You start getting tired, though, let me know.”
They climbed into the car. Nick started the engine.
His father twisted around. “Any last-minute pit stops?”
“Gross,” Heather said from the backseat.
“Vile,” said Rose.
“I think we’re all set,” Mom told him.
“Sunglasses? Hats? Tampax?”
“Dad!” the twins blurted in unison.
“High altitudes,” he said, keeping a straight face. “Bleeding occurs.”
“Nosebleeds,” Rose said.
“What ever,” Dad said. “Can’t be too careful. ‘Be Prepared,’ right, Nick?”
“I’ve got mine.”
His father burst out laughing, and slapped his knee.
“I hope you fellows get it out of your systems before we meet the O’Tooles.”
“Scott’s no prude.” He glanced at Nick. “San Diego Freeway. Runs right into 99 just the other side of the Grapevine.”
Nick pulled away from the curb.
“Everybody buckled up?”
Near the corner, Nick flipped on the turn signal though no other cars were in sight. With his father beside him, he planned to drive by the book. He slowed almost to a stop before making the turn.
“What’s his girlfriend’s name?” Mom asked.
“Sharon? Karen. Karen something. He ran into her at a Sav-On.”
“A checkout girl?”
“No, no, she was in line with him. I think he said she’s a teacher.”
“Oh, yuck,” Rose said.
“What does she look like?”
“A real bow-wow. Floppy ears, hair on her face, a wet nose. Nice tail, though.”
“What do you know about her?” Mom asked.
“Not much. You know Scott. Keeps his cards close to the vest.”
“I hope she plays bridge. June was so fantastic.”
“Don’t start on her.”
“Well, she was.”
“I don’t think we want to discu
“I don’t know why you’re so angry. She didn’t run out on you.”
“My best friend. Same difference. Now I think it would be wise to drop the subject. You have a green arrow,” he told Nick.
Nick made the left-hand turn and headed down the freeway on-ramp, embarrassed that he’d let his mind drift away from the driving. In the past, he’d heard a few references to the O’Tooles’ breakup, but never anything so close to an argument. He was intrigued. It was none of his business, though. Driving was his business, and he’d better pay attention or his father would take over.
Nick liked to drive. He wished they were taking the Mustang instead of this clunker, but it would’ve been a tight squeeze with all of them plus five backpacks. Besides, Dad wouldn’t want to leave it sitting out in the middle of nowhere for a week. Last year, up at Yosemite, someone had broken a window of the station wagon and had a party inside. They’d come back to find beer cans and a pair of torn, pink panties on the floor.
The break-in had frightened Nick, and he felt uneasy thinking about it now. It was bad enough that some creeps had fooled around in the car, but what if you ran into them on an isolated trail? What if they stumbled onto your camp?
Nothing like that had ever happened to them, but it could. Nick was glad that the O’Tooles were coming along this year. Like Dad, Scott O’Toole was a big man. If any trouble came up, they’d be able to handle it.
With a feeling of relief, he checked the side mirror, signaled, and slipped into the right-hand lane. He sped up on the overpass. Before it curved over the Santa Monica Freeway, he eased off the accelerator. He picked up speed again on the way down, signaled a left, and drifted across three deserted lanes of the San Diego Freeway.
His father leaned across the seat to check the speedometer. The needle hovered between 55 and 60 miles per hour. With a nod of approval, he settled back. “You get tired, let me know.”
Benny leaned forward. “Hey, Karen?” he said to the back of her head. She turned in her seat and looked around at him. Her face, so near to his, made him feel funny—excited and warm and a little embarrassed. He stared at her, forgetting what he’d planned to say.
He’d never seen her from so close. Her eyes were clear blue like the water of the swimming pool. He noticed, for the first time, the light golden hair barely visible above her upper lip. His cousin, Tanya, with dark hair, had more of a mustache there. Hers looked a little gross, but this on Karen looked so soft and fuzzy that he wished he could touch it. Maybe there wasn’t even enough to feel, not over her mouth anyway, but it looked a little heavier on her smooth, tanned cheeks.
Dark Mountain by Richard Laymon / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes