Body rides, p.1
Copyright © 1996 Richard Laymon
The right of Richard Laymon to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.
First published as an Ebook by Headline Publishing Group in 2012
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cover photograph © Michaela Stejskalova/Shutterstock
Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library
eISBN: 978 0 7553 9172 1
HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP
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About the Author
Also in the Richard Laymon
Marta And Sue
Richard Laymon wrote over thirty novels and seventy short stories. In May 2001, The Travelling Vampire Show won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Horror Novel, a prize for which Laymon had previously been shortlisted with Flesh, Funland, A Good, Secret Place (Best Anthology) and A Writer’s Tale (Best Non-fiction). Laymon’s works include the books of the Beast House Chronicles: The Cellar, The Beast House and The Midnight Tour. Some of his recent novels have been Night in the Lonesome October, No Sanctuary and Amara.
A native of Chicago, Laymon attended Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, and took an MA in English Literature from Loyola University, Los Angeles. In 2000, he was elected President of the Horror Writers’ Association. He died in February 2001.
Laymon’s fiction is published in the United Kingdom by Headline, and in the United States by Leisure Books and Cemetery Dance Publications.
Praise for Richard Laymon:
‘A brilliant writer’ Sunday Express
‘Stephen King without a conscience’ Dan Marlowe
‘This is an author that does not pull his punches … A gripping, and at times genuinely shocking read’ SFX Magazine
‘In Laymon’s books, blood doesn’t so much as drip as explode, splatter and coagulate’ Independent
‘No one writes like Laymon and you’re going to have a good time with anything he writes’ Dean Koontz
‘Incapable of writing a disappointing book’ New York Review of Science Fiction
‘One of the best, and most underrated, writers working in the genre today’ Cemetery Dance
Also in the Richard Laymon Collection published by Headline:
The Beast House Trilogy:
The Beast House
The Midnight Tour
The Woods are Dark
Out are the Lights
Darkness, Tell Us
One Rainy Night
In the Dark
Among the Missing
Come Out Tonight
The Travelling Vampire Show
Night in the Lonesome October
The Glory Bus
*previously published under the pseudonym of Richard Kelly
Neal Darden, alone in his car, took backroads to stay away from Robertson Boulevard. He wasn’t worried about too much traffic on Robertson; he was worried about getting shot for no good reason.
After all, this was night in Los Angeles.
Anybody could get shot at any time of the day or night, but night was worse. And the well-traveled boulevards such as Robertson seemed more dangerous to Neal than the hidden roads that twisted through quiet, residential neighborhoods.
His theory was simple: the fewer cars in sight, the less likely you were to encounter a load of trigger-happy gangsters.
The very best way to stay alive was to avoid going out at all. Especially at night. Especially late at night. He refused to live that way, though. He was only twenty-eight years old, too young to become a hermit. For safety’s sake, he might make a few concessions – but he wouldn’t surrender and stay home for the rest of his life.
You take precautions and you go anyway.
Even if it’s just to return the video rentals.
The two movies were due before midnight. Marta had stayed later than usual, actually changing for work in his bedroom so she wouldn’t have to leave until the very last moment. By the time she’d gone and Neal had finished rewinding the tapes, it had been nearly 11:30.
Plenty of time to reach the store.
But a bad time to b
Neal knew that he could’ve waited and returned the videos tomorrow. There would be a late charge. Five or six bucks, he supposed. A small amount to pay, compared to the risk of taking them back at this hour of the night. But there was a larger price in waiting for daylight: a payment made in freedom and self-respect.
What kind of chicken-shit’s afraid to drive five miles? he’d asked himself.
Marta, who worked the graveyard shift at LAX, had to drive thirty miles, five nights a week. What would she think if she found out that Neal was afraid to take the videos back?
She’ll never find out, he’d told himself.
She might. Anything’s possible.
It’s a moot point, he’d thought. I’m taking them back tonight, even if it kills me.
Now, driving along the empty streets on his way to the video store, Neal smiled and shook his head. He was pleased with himself. He felt fairly brave and reckless.
In the great scheme of things, the real danger of making a midnight run to the Video City was slim. Nevertheless, a prudent person wouldn’t be doing it. He was needlessly putting himself at risk.
If his mother found out he’d done such a thing, she would pitch a fit.
He smiled and shook his head.
What a way to go, he thought. Killed in the act of returning Straw Dogs and I Spit on Your Grave to the local video store. Oh, the irony.
He laughed softly.
He didn’t feel particularly nervous until after he’d crossed National Boulevard. The freeway underpass, just ahead, never failed to worry him. It was too long, too empty. Driving through it, he always felt cut off from the world, vulnerable.
He had walked through it many times in daylight.
Seen disturbing graffiti under there.
He sure would hate to run into the taggers who’d scribbled those charming tidbits. He wasn’t a cop. He was white, though. Anyone who enjoyed writing such shit might very well try to kill him.
And such shit got written at night.
He thought about turning around. He could easily go back and take National over to Venice Boulevard. Avoiding the underpass. Avoiding the even creepier area on the other side of it.
As he neared the underpass, though, his headlights showed it to be empty. A broad, barren tunnel.
Nothing to be afraid of.
As he entered, he picked up speed. The engine noise swelled, reverberating off the concrete. On both sides, taggers had left their spray-painted names, symbols and threats – a jumble of secret codes, symbols and bizarre spelling. He’d seen them before, so he didn’t try to study them now; he tried to ignore them.
I really should’ve stuck to the main roads, he decided. This was stupid.
He left the underpass behind.
On both sides, embankments slanted down from the freeway. The lower areas of the slopes were thick with bushes and trees. Then came the old railroad right-of-way. Unused for years. Overgrown. Scattered with every kind of garbage. Bordered by a ragged chainlink fence that obviously did little good.
Neal didn’t even want to think about what sort of people might be lurking in there.
Not very long ago, a police officer had been murdered somewhere in that odd little strip of wilderness. Late at night.
He looked both ways. He saw nobody wandering around. But nearby streetlights showed enough dense foliage to hide a legion of mad predators.
His car bumped over the tracks.
Time for another decision.
Make a left onto the backroad, or go straight ahead to Venice Boulevard? If he didn’t make the left here, he would find himself at Venice on the wrong side of the video store. Also, he would have to turn into the drive-through lane of the Burger Boy where that teenager had gotten murdered last month.
He shook his head and sighed.
One way was probably as bad as the other.
The backroad would be more direct.
Narrow, much of it dark under trees that blocked the streetlights, it ran for about half a mile alongside the abandoned railroad right-of-way. Where God-knows-who might be lurking. Where the cop had been gunned down.
Neal made the turn and stepped on the gas.
To his left, the wilderness. To his right, a row of shabby dwellings.
Fun and games if the car breaks down.
His car seemed to be working fine.
Next time, he told himself, just take Robertson and forget about all this backroad crap.
Right. Next time, just forget about returning the damn videos in the middle of the night. You’re asking for trouble with this.
Blowing it all out of proportion, that’s what you’re doing. Better just hope to God nobody ever finds out what a wimp you really are.
Through his open window, mixed in with the mild night air and the sounds from the freeway, came the far-off but distinct outcry of a woman shrieking, ‘HELLLLP!’
Neal’s stomach clenched.
He looked to the left.
For a moment, his view was blocked by a van parked across the road.
After passing the van, he saw the strip of wilderness leading to the embankment. He slowed down and gazed out his window. High in the distance, cars and trucks sped along on the Santa Monica Freeway. He saw nobody by the side of the freeway, nobody in the grass and weeds of the embankment, nobody in the darkness among the trees and heavy bushes that cloaked the base of the embankment, that spread out toward him over the field of the long-abandoned right-of-way. He saw nobody on the railroad tracks.
He saw no lights over there.
The yell could’ve come from anywhere, he told himself. He was fairly used to hearing distant outcries and screams. He would sometimes step outside his apartment, glance around and listen for a while. But he had never done more than that. Most such cries, he suspected, came from kids goofing around.
Goosebumps prickled Neal’s face.
He swerved to the left, swung off the road, hit the brakes, killed the engine and headlights, yanked his key out of the ignition. Clamping the key case in his mouth, he used his right hand to fling up the lid of his console beside his seat. He fumbled through the compartment, reached under the note pad and change purse and a stack of napkins and snatched up his Sig Sauer .380 pistol.
He thought about the spare magazine. Down there somewhere. Couldn’t afford the time to search for it.
Keys still in his mouth, the pistol in his right hand, he threw open his door with his left and leaped out of his car. He rushed to a gap in the chainlink fence, ducked through it, and ran straight for the deepest, thickest part of the darkness at the bottom of the freeway embankment.
As he ran, he plucked the leather key case out of his mouth. He shoved it into a front pocket of his shorts. Loose down there, it whopped against his thigh with every stride.
His baggy gray shorts looked pale in the night. His legs looked brighter than the shorts. His white socks glared. Only his shoes and shirt were dark.
Should’ve worn black.
Yeah, he thought. Right. Gotta dress proper for my midnight rescue missions.
He couldn’t believe he was doing this.
Must be nuts.
He had never in his life rushed to the rescue of anyone. The opportunity had never come up. He’d never really expected it to come up.
The pistol in his console was meant for self-defense, a last resort in case of attack. He’d bought it after watching news coverage, telecast live from a helicopter, of people being dragged from their cars and beaten nearly to death at the corner of Florence and Normandie back in ’92.
You just never know when you might suddenly find yourself in the middle of a riot, or jumped by a thug who wants to jack your car and possibly kill you in the process.
So you carry a gun, just in case.
Illegal as hell, but worth the risk.
He wondered if he would be doing this if he didn’t have the gun.
Not a chance.
This is nuts, he thought.
But he kept on running, kicking out his legs, pumping his arms, leaping over the dim obstacles of railroad tracks, brambles, ruts, an old tire, a sofa cushion, a collection of crushed cans that smelled of motor oil. He dodged the larger bushes, and a car bumper, several trees, a toilet that smelled as if someone had used it not very long ago, and an old door that lay on the ground like an entrance into the dirt.
Then something snagged his foot.
A root, a strand of barbed wire, maybe an electrical cord from a buried appliance.
He didn’t know what, but it grabbed his left foot and held it back. He fell headlong.
On the way down, he almost yelled, ‘Shit!’
He kept his head, and yelled it only in his mind.
The landing hurt. He whammed down on an unseen mixture of foliage, dirt and junk. Things beneath him crackled, mashed, crunched, scratched him and gouged him. His breath got knocked out. His balls took a hit. He had hot, painful places on his knees and arms and chest. He thought that he must be bleeding here and there.
He wanted to get up fast.
No telling what horrible things might be under him. He easily and quickly imagined plenty: rusty nails, broken glass, a used condom or diaper or sanitary napkin, canine or human turds, spiders, snails or snakes. A half-mashed rat might roll over under his belly and give him a nip.
For a while, though, he was unable to move.
Then he pushed himself to his hands and knees, and stood up. He couldn’t stand up straight – too much pain for that. He had to bend over, and it hurt to breathe.
This is what I get for trying to be a hero, he thought.
He felt as if he’d been clubbed in the groin and chest.
Warm trickles were running down from his right elbow and both knees.
‘Don’t,’ he heard. ‘Please.’
Not an outcry, more of a sobbing plea.
From somewhere in the darkness of the trees up ahead and off to the left.
Eyes fixed on the area, Neal clenched his teeth and started hobbling. He tried to be quiet about it.