Night Games, p.1Richard Laymon
Pearson Learning Group
FASTBACK® HORROR BOOKS
The Disappearing Man
The Lonely One
Message for Murder
No Power on Earth
Tomb of Horror
Cover photographer: Richard Hutchings
Copyright© 1985 Pearson Education, Inc., publishing as Globe Fearon®, an imprint of Pearson Learning Group, 299 Jefferson Road, Parsippany, NJ 07054. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any other information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. For information regarding permission(s), write to Rights and Permissions Department.
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Janice was about to take a sip of coffee when the chair beside her suddenly shot backwards. Her hand jerked. The hot liquid sloshed against her chin and dripped onto her blouse.
"Woops," she heard.
She turned her eyes to the young man standing behind the chair. "You," she muttered.
"I didn't mean to scare you," he said.
"Of course not. Not you."
"Mind if I sit?"
Janice didn't answer. She grabbed a napkin and dried herself as he sat down on the chair. He slapped his book of Edgar Allan Poe mysteries on the table, and smiled. "What are you up to?" he asked.
"I was studying."
"The student union's no place to study."
"Not with you here."
He laughed. "How right you are. I'll leave, but first you have to promise you'll go to the show with me tonight. There's a great double bill at the Metro, Dawn of the Dead and . . ."
"You must be joking. After the stunt you pulled at Chainsaw, I'll never step into a movie theater with you again. I'll never go anywhere with you again."
He smiled. "Oh, come on. I didn't hurt anyone."
"You scared those kids witless. That's all you ever want to do---scare people. You're almost twenty, Lyle. Why don't you grow up?"
He frowned, pretending to pout. "Does this mean you won't go to the movies with me?"
He suddenly smiled. "How about a midnight picnic at the graveyard?"
"No thanks," she said. "Find someone else to play your night games with."
"It's too cold for outdoor games anyway. How about a visit to the Creekmoss house instead?"
Janice shook her head. "Give me a break. You wouldn't set foot in that old place for a million bucks. When it comes right down to it, you're a chicken, Lyle."
"Oh yeah? I'd go in. But I bet you wouldn't."
"How much?" Janice asked.
"You're right. For ten bucks, I won't go near the place." She took a sip of coffee.
"What about a hundred?"
"Are you kidding me?" she asked.
"Have you got the guts?"
"For a hundred dollars, I've got plenty." Even as she spoke, she felt a shiver of fear.
Lyle leaned closer, elbows on the table. "Aren't you afraid the ghost will get you?" he said in a low voice, trying to sound spooky.
"I don't believe in ghosts."
"They say Creekmoss didn't, either, until it crept out of the dark and tore him to pieces."
"That's garbage," Janice said.
He grinned. "Then you'll go inside that house with me?"
"For a hundred dollars, I will."
"What if I give you five hundred?"
"To spend the night alone in the house."
Janice's heart started thudding hard. She suddenly felt cold and sick inside. "Are you nuts?" she muttered.
"You said there's no ghost. So what is there to be afraid of? All you have to do is stay there till morning, and I'll give you five hundred bucks."
She started to pick up the coffee cup, but her hand was shaking so badly that she had to set it down again. Five hundred dollars was more than she made in a month working part-time at the university library. "Do you have that kind of money to waste?"
He laughed. "Oh, it won't be wasted. Because, long before dawn, you'll run out of the house screaming. If that happens---and it will---I won't owe you a penny."
Janice wiped her sweaty hands on her skirt. "Bring the cash," she said.
That afternoon, Janice walked to a shopping mall near the campus. She was very nervous. She felt better, however, after buying a cashmere sweater that she had wanted for a long time. It cost a lot of money. But by tomorrow she would be five hundred dollars richer, so she knew she could afford it.
In a sporting goods store, she found what she needed next to a glass case full of handguns. "I'll take that," she said.
The clerk looked at her strangely, and she blushed.
With the packages clutched in her arms she hurried toward her apartment. The sky to the north was dark with clouds, and from the fresh smell of the breeze she knew there would soon be a storm. She was safe inside by the time it hit. Standing at her window, she saw lightning rip across the sky. Rain blew against the glass. Thunder rumbled. On a hill far across town, the steep roof of the old Creekmoss house was visible above the swaying treetops.
In a few hours, she would be alone inside that awful place. She rubbed her arms. They were bumpy with gooseflesh.
She thought about backing down.
But she had already spent nearly a hundred dollars. Now she really needed that money from Lyle.
There is no such thing as ghosts, she told herself.
It crept out of the dark and tore him to pieces.
She changed clothes, putting on jeans, a flannel shirt, and boots. She made spaghetti for dinner, but couldn't eat much. Time passed very slowly. She tried to study, but couldn't keep her mind on the book. She stared at the television. Finally, at five minutes to ten, she slipped into her jacket. She put on a battered old cowboy hat to keep the rain off her head, picked up her sleeping bag and purse, and went downstairs.
As she reached the lobby, she saw Lyle's Mustang swing to the curb. She pushed open one of the glass doors and rushed through the downpour. Lyle opened the passenger door for her. She climbed in, and pulled it shut.
"What a wonderful night," Lyle said, "for ghoulies and ghosties."
"Have you got the money?"
"But of course. I made a trip to my friendly bank." He took out his wallet, turned on the overhead light, and counted out ten fifty-dollar bills.
"Okay," Janice said.
He put them back in his wallet. "You're really going to try this, are you?"
"I'm not going to try, I'm going to succeed."
"Why is your voice shaking?"
"Because I'm cold."
"Oh, I thought you might be just a little scared," he said.
"Let's get going," Janice said, ignoring his teasing.
At first there were many houses along the roadside, then fewer and fewer, and finally none at all.
Nor were there any street lamps. As they drove through the darkness, the wet surface of the road ahead of them shone in the glare of the car's headlights.
Lyle slowed down and turned onto a narrow road. It led up a wooded hillside. "We're almost there," he said. "How are you doing?"
"Just fine," Janice told him.
As they reached the top of the hill, jagged lightning crossed the sky. In the brightness, Janice glimpsed the old house---its shadowy porch, its boarded windows, its steep roof and tower. When darkness returned, Janice shut her eyes and wished she were somewhere else. Thunder roared in her ears.
"Here we are," Lyle said.
Janice looked out her window as the car stopped in front of an open gate.
"Now, you'll be staying right here?" she asked.
"All night, if it takes that long. Which it won't. I give you about ten minutes."
"What if I can't get in?"
"No problem. I've taken care of that. I came up here this afternoon and broke open the front door for you."
"Thanks," she muttered. Beyond the gate was an overgrown yard. A few stairs led up to the front porch. The porch looked black. "The door is there?" she asked.
"Now, you aren't going to try any funny stuff, are you?"
"Like sneaking in to scare me," she said.
"If you do, I get the money whether I stay all night or not."
"Don't worry, I'm not going in there."
"Is it a deal?" she asked.
"Yeah, sure. I'll stay right here."
"At sunrise, I want you to come in after me."
"Well . . ."
"You have to promise," Janice said.
"Okay, I promise. But believe me, you won't last that long."
"Yes I will."
"Is there anyone you want me to get in touch with if the ghost gets you?"
"Very funny," she said. She wrapped an arm around her sleeping bag, threw open the car door, and climbed out. Looking at the ground, she rushed through the gate. The rain pattered on her hat and back as she raced through the weeds. Her boots thudded on the porch stairs.
Standing in the darkness, she opened her purse and took out a flashlight. She shined it at the door. A padlock hung on the frame, but the metal plate that should have been screwed to the door had been torn loose. She curled her fingers around the cold knob, and eased the door open. It groaned on its hinges. The noise made Janice grit her teeth.
Nobody can hear that, she told herself. Nobody has lived here for thirteen years. And there is no ghost.
She stepped into the house.
Janice pushed the creaking door shut slowly, wishing it would keep quiet. Then there was silence except for the soft sound of the rain. For a long time, she stood close to the door without moving. She hardly dared to breathe.
She felt as if she were not alone in the house.
It's only nerves, she thought.
But what if someone had come in after Lyle broke the lock off the door? Or what if Lyle had talked a friend into waiting inside to scare her? He might have done that.
Janice raised her flashlight. Its pale beam lit a stairway just ahead. A hallway ran alongside the stairs. To her left and right were entries to rooms. She turned to the left, and walked quietly through the opening.
This must be the living room, she thought. Her light swept over the bare wooden floor and walls. Except for a steam radiator, the room was empty. She saw a door at the far end.
If she settled here, she could get out quickly. But that wasn't her plan. Besides, this room had two ways in. She didn't like that. She needed a small room with only one door.
Like a bedroom.
She backed through the entry, felt a chill on her neck at the thought of someone sneaking up behind her, and whirled around. Nobody was there. She let out a shaky breath and shined her light on the stairway.
She didn't want to go up there. Old man Creekmoss's body, they said, had been found in a bedroom on the second floor.
That was years ago, Janice told herself. His killer is long gone.
She started up the stairs. The boards creaked and groaned. With each step, she grew more sure that someone was crouching in the hallway above her, just out of sight, waiting to leap out. Maybe a friend of Lyle. Maybe someone else. Or some thing.
Don't get crazy, she thought. Nobody is there.
Two steps from the top, she halted and listened. Her own heartbeat sounded very loud. Except for that, she heard only the rain on the roof. Then came a long, low moan that sent a shiver crawling up her back.
It's only the wind, she told herself.
Please, it's only the wind.
Holding her breath, she dashed up the last two stairs. She flashed her light down the narrow hall, spun around and shined it the other way. She saw no one.
Quickly, she stepped to the nearest door. Pushing it open, she leaned into the room. It was smaller than the one downstairs, and empty except for a radiator next to the wall. As thunder rumbled over the house, she sprang into the room. She shut the door and leaned against it, gasping.
From her purse, she took a wooden wedge with a nail in its thick end. Crouching, she shoved the narrow edge into the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. She pushed it in tight. Then she tried to open the door, but it didn't budge. The wedge worked as well as a lock.
She took a spool of wire from her purse, and twisted one end around the nail head. With a yank of the wire, the wedge slipped out from under the door. She thrust it back into place, then moved slowly backwards, paying out more wire until she reached the radiator.
There she spread her sleeping bag on the floor.
She found a small, shiny key inside her purse. The room's only window, with boards across the outside, was several yards away. She walked over to it and placed the key on the window sill.
Then she returned to the radiator and crawled into her sleeping bag. She took from her purse the handcuffs she had bought at the mall, fastened one bracelet around her right wrist, and snapped the other around a leg of the radiator.
I give you about ten minutes, Lyle had said.
He was wrong. She would be here until sunrise. Cuffed to the radiator, the key out of reach, she couldn't leave if she wanted to.
A few hours from now, she would be five hundred dollars richer.
Janice tried to sleep. She was warm enough, but the floor felt hard. With her wrist cuffed to the radiator, she could only lie on her back or one side, and neither position was comfortable.
Besides, she was too frightened to sleep.
The wind whistled and groaned and howled around the house. Every so often, a roar of thunder made her jump. Then came the soft sound of a creaking board.
She listened, not daring to breathe, and heard it again. It was a sound much the same as she had made sneaking up the stairway. A chill raced up her back. She squirmed deeper into her sleeping bag.
It's nothing, she told herself. No one is there.
But the creaking didn't stop. It came closer and closer.
It's in the hall! a voice inside her screamed.
She whimpered softly, and pressed her left hand to her mouth as the doorknob rattled.
Calm down, she thought. It's Lyle. It has to be Lyle. Is he crazy? He'd agreed to turn over the money if he tried to scare her out.
What if he is crazy? Maybe all this was a trick to get her here alone.
She stiffened as something thudded against the door."
"Lyle!" she yelled. "You creep, I know it's you! You promised to stay out!" Another thud shook the door.
"Get out of here! You promised!"
She heard a moan that wasn't the wind, because it came from the other side of the door.
"Stop that!" she called.
The moan grew louder, a lonely inhuman sound, that seemed to freeze Janice's bones. It rose to a roar, and slowly faded.
She flinched as the door shook with another blow.
Sitting up, she found her flashlight. She aimed it at the door. "Lyle?" she asked. "That is you, isn't it?"
There was silence.
"Answer me. Please."
"Look," she said in a shaking voice. "Just say it's you, Lyle. You can keep your money if you just say it's you."
The door ripped from its frame and crashed to the floor. Into the room lurched something that wasn't Lyle.
It was not a man at all.
It was a slobbering, dead-white beast from the pit of a nightmare.
"Janice?" Lyle's voice echoed through the house. "Janice, where are you?"
"Up here," she called. She looked at the window. Sunlight pressed through the cracks in the boards, sending dusty rays to the floor.
"I've got to give you credit," he called as she heard him rush up the stairs. "I never thought you would make it." He appeared in the doorway and shined his flashlight in. "Oh no . . . what . . . ? What happened?"
"Your hair! It's white!"
"Is it?" Frowning, she pulled strands down her face and looked at them. "I guess I can dye it," she muttered.
"What happened?" he asked again.
"It came. Get the key for my cuffs, would you?" She pointed toward the window sill.
He rushed across the room, grabbed the key, and crouched beside her. "The ghost came?" he asked. His voice was hushed with fear.
"Not a ghost. Something else."
"I don't know."
"Did it hurt you?"
She shook her head.
Lyle unlocked the cuff and freed her hand.
Grabbing the front of his jacket, Janice yanked him hard. He fell across her. His head crashed against the metal tubes of the heater.
Janice snapped the cuff around his wrist.
As he lay there groaning, she took the key. She removed her five hundred dollars from his wallet.
"What are you doing?" he mumbled. "Let me go."
Janice shook her head. "It wants you, Lyle. It wants you, not me. It'll be back tonight."
Richard Laymon, Night Games
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