The cellar, p.1
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       The Cellar, p.1

           Richard Laymon
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The Cellar


  The Cellar

  Richard Laymon

  LEISURE BOOKS NEW YORK CITY

  To Clayton Matthews

  Table of Contents

  Cover Page

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Epilogue

  Praise

  Other Books By

  Copyright

  PROLOGUE

  Jenson grabbed the radio mike. His thumb froze on the speak button. He looked again at the upstairs window of the old, Victorian house across the street, and saw only the sheen of the moon on the glass pane. He lowered the mike to his lap.

  Then a beam of light again flashed inside the dark house.

  He raised the mike to his mouth. He forced his thumb down on the button. “Jenson to headquarters.”

  “Headquarters, go ahead.”

  “We’ve got a prowler in Beast House.”

  “Ten-nine, Dan. What’s the matter with you? Speak up.”

  “I said we’ve got a prowler in Beast House!”

  “Jeezus! You’d better go in.”

  “Send me a backup.”

  “Sweeny’s ten-seven.”

  “So phone him, for Christsake! He never eats anyplace but the Welcome Inn. Phone him.”

  “Just go in, Jenson.”

  “I’m not going inside that fucking place alone. You get Sweeny out here, or we can forget the whole thing.”

  “I’ll try to raise Sweeny. You stay put, and keep an eye on the place if you’re too yellow to go in. And watch your language on the airways, buddy.”

  “Ten-four.”

  Patrolman Dan Jenson put down his radio mike and looked at the distant upstairs window. He saw no sign of the flashlight. His eyes moved to other windows, to the hooded darkness of the balcony over the porch, to the windows of the room with the peaked roof, then back again.

  There, in the nearest window, the slim white beam of a flashlight made a quick curlicue and vanished. Jenson felt his skin shrivel as if spiders were scurrying up his back. He rolled up his window. With his elbow, he punched down the lock button of his door. The spiders didn’t go away.

  Inside the house, the boy was trying hard not to cry as his father pulled him by the arm from one dark room to the next.

  “See? Nothing here. Do you see anything?”

  “No,” the boy whimpered.

  “No ghost, no boogie man, no monster?”

  “No.”

  “All right.”

  “Can we go?” the boy asked.

  “Not yet, young man. We haven’t seen the attic yet.”

  “She said it’s locked.”

  “We’ll get in.”

  “No. Please.”

  “The monster might be waiting for us in the attic, right? Now where was that?” He pulled open a hall door and shined his flashlight inside. The beam illuminated an empty closet. Roughly, he pulled the boy behind him toward a door farther up the narrow corridor.

  “Dad, let’s go home.”

  “Afraid the beast will get you?” The father laughed bitterly. “We’re not stepping outside this cruddy old house until you admit there is no beast. I won’t have a son of mine cowering and whimpering his way through life, jumping at shadows, afraid of the dark.”

  “There is a beast,” the boy insisted.

  “Show it to me.”

  “The guide, she said…”

  “The guide handed us a load of bull. That’s her job. You’ve gotta learn to know bull when it smacks you in the face, young man. Monsters are bull. Ghosts and goblins and witches are bull. And so is the beast.” He grabbed a knob, jerked open the door, and swung the beam of his flashlight inside. The staircase was a steep, narrow tunnel leading upward to a closed door. “Come on.”

  “No. Please, Dad.”

  “Don’t no me.”

  The boy tried to free his arm from his father’s grip, but couldn’t. He began to cry.

  “Stop blubbering, you little chicken.”

  “I want to go home.” The man shook him violently. “We-are-going-up-those-stairs. The sooner we get into the attic and look for this monster of yours, the sooner we’ll leave here. But not a minute earlier, do you hear me?”

  “Yes,” the boy managed.

  “Okay. Let’s go.”

  At his father’s side, he started up the stairs. The wooden steps groaned and squeaked. The flashlight made a bright, small disk on each stair as they climbed. A halo surrounded the disk, dimly lighting their legs and the walls, and the next few stairs.

  “Dad!”

  “Quiet.”

  The disk of light swung up the stairway and made a spot on the attic door high above them.

  The boy wanted to sniff, but was afraid to make a sound. He let the warm fluid roll down to his upper lip, then licked it away. It tasted salty.

  “See,” the father whispered. “We’re almost…”

  From above them came a sound like a sniffing dog.

  The man’s hand flinched, squeezing pain into his son’s arm. The boy took a single step backward, probing for the stair behind him as the attic door swung slowly open.

  The flashlight beam pushed through empty darkness beyond the door.

  A throaty laugh crept through the silence. It sounded to the boy like the laughter of a very old, dry man.

  But it wasn’t an old man who leaped through the doorway. As the flashlight dropped, its beam lit a snouted, hairless face.

  When the scream came, Dan Jenson knew he couldn’t wait for Sweeny. Pulling his 12-gauge Browning off its mount, he threw open the patrolcar door and leaped to the street. He dashed across it. The ticket booth was lighted by a streetlamp. The big wooden sign above it spelled beast house in dripping letters meant to resemble blood.

  He shoved the turnstile. It held fast, so he vaulted it.

  More screams came from the house, screams of pain torn from a child.

  Sprinting up the walkway, Jenson took the porch steps two at a time. He tried the door. Locked. He pumped a cartridge into the shotgun chamber, aimed at the lock face, and pulled the trigger. The 00 shot slammed a hole through the door. He kicked. The door whipped back. He stepped into the foyer.

  From above came tearing sounds and breathless animal grunts.

  Enough moonlight poured through the front windows to show him the foot of the staircase. Grabbing the bannister post, he swung himself onto the stairs. Blackness swallowed him. With one hand on the railing to guide him, he climbed. At the top of the stairs, he stopped and listened. Grunting, snarling sounds came from the left.

  Cocking the shotgun, he jumped into the hallway and whirled to the right, ready to fire.

  All was dark except for a puddle of brightness spilling across the hall floor. It came from the end of a flashlight.

  Jenson wanted that flashlight. Needed it. But it lay far down the hall, close to the black center of the quick loud gasping sounds.

  Shotgun pointed up the hallway, he dashed toward t
he flashlight, his shoes pounding echoes, his own sharp breaths masking the rasp of the other breathing. Then his foot came down on something round like a club, but soft. Maybe an arm. His other foot kicked a hard object, and he heard its teeth clash shut as he stumbled headlong into the darkness. The shotgun mashed his fingers against the floor.

  Stretching his right arm, he reached the flashlight. He swung its beam in the direction of the grunts.

  The creature loosed its teeth from the nape of the boy’s neck. It turned its head. The skin of its face was white and puffy like the belly of a dead fish. It seemed to smile. It writhed, freeing itself from the boy.

  Jenson dropped the flashlight and tried to raise the shotgun.

  He heard soft, dry laughter, and the beast took him.

  CHAPTER ONE

  1.

  Donna Hayes put down the telephone. She rubbed her trembling, wet hands on the covers, and sat up.

  She had known it would happen. She had expected it, planned for it, dreaded it. Now it was upon her. “I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour,” he’d said, “but I knew you’d want to be informed immediately. Your husband was released. Yesterday morning. I just found out, myself…”

  For a long time, she stared into the darkness of her bedroom, unwilling to swing her feet down to the floor. Darkness began to fade from the room. She could wait no longer.

  The Sunday morning air was like cold water drenching her skin as she stood up. Shivering, she bundled herself in a robe. She stepped across the hallway. From the slow breathing inside the room, she knew that her twelve-year-old daughter still slept.

  She went to the edge of the bed. A small shoulder, covered with yellow flannel, protruded from the top of the covers. Donna cupped it in her hand and gently shook it. Rolling onto her back, the girl opened her eyes. Donna kissed her forehead. “Good morning,” she said.

  The girl smiled. She brushed pale hair away from her eyes and stretched. “I was having a dream.”

  “Was it a good one?”

  The girl nodded seriously. “I had a horse that was white all over, and so big I had to stand on a kitchen chair to get on him.”

  “That sounds awfully big.”

  “It was a giant,” she said. “How come you’re up so early?”

  “I thought you and I might just pack our bags, get in the Maverick, and take ourselves a vacation.”

  “A vacation?”

  “Yep.”

  “When?”

  “Right now.”

  “Wow!”

  It took nearly an hour to wash up, dress, and pack enough clothes for a week away from the apartment. As they carried their luggage down to the carport, Donna fought a strong urge to confide in Sandy, to let the girl know that she would never return, never spend another night in her room or another lazy afternoon at Sorrento Beach, never see her school friends again. With a sense of guilt, Donna kept quiet about it.

  Santa Monica was gray with its usual June morning overcast as Donna backed onto the road. She looked up and down the block. No sign of him. The prison authorities had left him at the San Rafael bus depot yesterday morning at eight. Plenty of time for him to arrive, look up her address, and come for her. But she saw no sign of him.

  “Which way do you want to go?” she asked.

  “I don’t care.”

  “How about north?”

  “What’s north?” Sandy asked.

  “It’s a direction—like south, east, west…”

  “Mom!”

  “Well, there’s San Francisco. We can see if they’ve painted the bridge right. There’s also Portland, Seattle, Juneau, Anchorage, the North Pole.”

  “Can we get there in a week?”

  “We can take longer, if we want.”

  “What about your job?”

  “Somebody else can do it while we’re gone.”

  “Okay. Let’s go north.”

  The Santa Monica Freeway was nearly deserted. So was the San Diego. The old Maverick did fine, cruising just over sixty. “Keep an eye out for Smokey,” Donna said.

  Sandy nodded. “Ten-four, Big Mama.”

  “Watch that ‘Big’ stuff.”

  Far below them, the San Fernando Valley was sunny. The smog’s yellow vapor, at this hour, was still a barely noticeable smudge hanging low over the land.

  “What can your handle be?” asked Sandy.

  “How about ‘Mom’?”

  “That’s no fun.”

  They nosed down toward the valley, and Donna steered onto the Ventura Freeway. After a while, Sandy asked permission to change the radio station. She turned it to 93 KHJ and listened for an hour before Donna asked for an intermission, and turned the radio off.

  The highway generally followed the coast to Santa Barbara, then cut inland through a wooded pass with a tunnel.

  “I’m sure starving,” Sandy said.

  “Okay, we’ll stop pretty soon.”

  They stopped at Denny’s near Santa Maria. They both ordered sausage and eggs. Donna sighed with pleasure as she took her day’s first drink of coffee. Sandy, with a glass of orange juice, mimicked her.

  “That bad?” Donna asked.

  “How about ‘Coffee Mama’?” Sandy suggested.

  “Make it ‘Java Mama,’ and we’ve got a deal.”

  “Okay, you’re ‘Java Mama.’ ”

  “Who are you?”

  “You have to name me.”

  “How about ‘Sweetie-Pie’?”

  “Mom!” Sandy looked disgusted.

  Knowing they would have to stop for gas within an hour’s driving, Donna allowed herself three cups of the dark hot coffee with breakfast.

  When Sandy’s plate was clean, Donna asked if she was ready to leave.

  “I have to make a pit stop,” the girl said.

  “Where’d you pick that up?”

  Sandy shrugged, grinning.

  “Uncle Bob, I bet.”

  “Maybe.”

  “Well, I have to make a pit stop, too.”

  Then they were on the road again. Just north of San Luis Obispo, they pulled into a Chevron station, gassed up the Ford, and used the toilets. Two hours later, in the bright heat of the San Joaquin Valley, they stopped at a drive-in for Cokes and cheeseburgers. The valley seemed to go on forever, but finally the freeway curved upward to the west, and the air lost some of its heat. The radio began to pick up San Francisco stations.

  “Are we almost there?” Sandy asked.

  “Where?”

  “San Francisco.”

  “Almost. Another hour or so.”

  “That long?”

  “Afraid so.”

  “Will we spend the night?”

  “I don’t think so. I want to go far, don’t you?”

  “How far?” Sandy asked.

  “The North Pole.”

  “Oh, Mom.”

  It was after three o’clock when Highway 101 sloped downward into a shadowy corner of San Francisco. They waited at a stoplight, turned, watched for signs marking 101, and turned again: up Van Ness Avenue, left onto Lombard, finally up a curving road to the Golden Gate.

  “Remember how disappointed you were the first time you saw it?” Donna asked.

  “I’m still disappointed. If it isn’t golden, they shouldn’t say it is. Should they?”

  “Certainly not. It is beautiful, though.”

  “But it’s orange. Not golden. They ought to call it the Orange Gate.”

  Glancing out toward the open sea, Donna saw the front edge of a fog mass. It looked pure white in the sunlight. “Look at the fog,” she said. “Isn’t it lovely?”

  “It’s okay.”

  They left the Golden Gate behind.

  They passed through a tunnel with a mouth painted like a rainbow.

  They sped by the Sausalito off-ramp.

  “Hey, can we go to Stinson Beach?” Sandy asked, reading the sign for the turnoff.

  Donna shrugged. “Why not? It won’t be as fast, but it’ll be a lot prettier.
She flicked on her turn signal, followed the curving ramp, and left 101 behind.

  Soon they were on the Coast Highway. It was narrow: far too narrow and far too crooked, considering the steep drop just across the left-hand lanes. She drove as far to the right as the road would allow.

  The fog lay just offshore, as white and heavy as cotton batting. It seemed to be moving slowly closer, but was still a good distance away from shore when they reached the town of Stinson Beach.

  “Can we spend the night here?” Sandy asked.

  “Let’s keep going for a while. Okay?”

  “Do we have to?”

  “You’ve never been to Bodega Bay?”

  “No.”

  “That’s where they filmed that movie The Birds.”

  “Oooh, that was scary.”

  “Should we try for Bodega?”

  “How far is it?” the girl asked.

  “Maybe an hour.” She ached, especially in her back. It was important, though, to keep going, to put more miles behind them. She could stand the pain for a while longer.

  When they reached Bodega Bay, Donna said, “Let’s keep going for a little while.”

  “Do we have to? I’m tired.”

  “You’re tired. I’m dying.”

  Soon after they left Bodega Bay, fog started to blow past the windshield. Fingers of it began reaching over the lip of the road, sneaking forward, feeling blindly. Then, as if they liked what they felt, the whole body of fog shambled onto the road.

  “Mom, I can’t see!”

  Through the thick white mass, Donna could barely make out the front of the hood. The road was only a memory. She stepped on the brakes, praying that another car hadn’t come up behind them. She steered to the right. Her wheels crunched gravel. Suddenly the car plunged down.

  2.

  An instant before the stop threw Donna into the steering wheel, she flung an arm across her daughter’s chest. Sandy folded at the hips, knocking the arm away. Her head hit the dashboard. She started to cry. Donna quickly turned off the engine.

  “Let’s see.”

  The soft dashboard had left a red mark across the girl’s forehead.

  “Are you hurt any place else?”

  “Here.”

  “Where the seat belt got you?”

  She nodded, gulping.

 
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