Out are the lights, p.1
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Out Are the Lights


  Richard Laymon

  Out Are the Lights

  ***

  The Vampire movie came first - the girl died in a welter of blood as the vampire bit clean through her jugular…

  The Inquisition came next - the victim confessed all as the spider crawled over her naked body…

  Then came the story of the Ax-man…

  This was the horror-movie series to end them all. Cinema buffs particularly admired the grainy, amateurish camera work - it suggested the action was the real thing. But it couldn't be - could it?

  ***

  Scaning & primary formating: pagesofdeath.

  Secondary formating & proofing: pua.

  ***

  Out - out are the lights - out all!

  And, over each quivering form,

  The curtain, a funeral pall

  Comes down with the rush of a storm.

  While the angels, all pallid and wan.

  Uprising, unveiling, affirm

  That the play is the tragedy 'Man',

  And its hero the Conqueror Worm.

  -Edgar Allan Poe, 'The Conqueror Worm'

  PROLOGUE

  'You sure it's not haunted?' Ray asked.

  The weathered, Victorian house cast a shadow over its weedy yard and Ray's Trans Am.

  'Wouldn't that be rich?' Tina said. 'I've never seen a ghost.'

  'This may be your big opportunity.' Ray reached for the door handle, but hesitated and looked again out the windshield. He gnawed his lower lip.

  'Would you rather not stay here?' Tina asked. 'I mean, just because Todd offered to let us use it, we aren't obliged to stay. We could go someplace else if you want. A motel or something.'

  'I guess this is all right,' Ray said.

  'It's just old. He told me not to expect too much. He bought it as a fixer-upper.'

  'When's he planning to start?'

  Tina smiled. 'It might be wonderful, once we get inside.'

  'I don't like those bars in the windows.'

  'He's had a few problems with vandals.'

  'So remote, out here I hope there's not a fire. An old place like this, it'd go up like paper. And those bars… I don't know, Tina. The place rubs me wrong.'

  'You've seen too many movies, that's your problem.'

  'Think so?'

  'Let's at least have a look inside.'

  'Why not.'

  They climbed from the car. In the shade, the breeze from the ocean felt chilly on Tina's bare skin. She pulled the back of the seat forward, and leaned into the car.

  'Let's just leave the groceries and stuff till we've had a chance to look around.'

  'I'm getting my blouse,' Tina said. She found it wadded behind the picnic basket they used at the beach, and tugged it free.

  Ray made a mocking pout as she put it on.

  She grinned. 'I don't want the ghosts to see me in my bikini,' she said.

  'Nothing worse than a horny ghost,' Ray agreed.

  As she buttoned the blouse, Ray slipped a hand inside the seat of her bikini shorts. Her skin was moist from the damp swimsuit. His warm, dry hand felt good.

  He started to take it out.

  'Oooo, don't stop.'

  He removed his hand, and patted her rump. 'Tempis is fighting. Let's have that look inside, and get going, it's a long drive to the nearest motel.'

  'Maybe you'll just love it here.'

  'Well, the price is certainly right. Have you got the key?'

  'Right here.' She lifted her handbag off the car floor, and slung the strap over her shoulder.

  They started across the overgrown yard.

  'I think it's rather quaint,' Tina said.

  'It is that, I suppose.'

  They climbed half a dozen stairs to a roofed porch that extended along the entire front of the house. As Tina reached into her handbag, she saw the door's heavy brass knocker-a skull.

  'That's Todd for you,' she said, grinning. 'It's no wonder he bought the place. It's so him.'

  Ray didn't look amused. 'What's Todd; a ghoul?'

  'He's really rather nice.'

  'Is he?'

  She hunted for the key, face toward the door to hide her grin. Ray could be so childish, sometimes. It was fun to bait him, but she knew she'd better back off. If she went too far, he might start his silent treatment.

  She found the key. 'Ready?'

  'As I'll ever be.'

  She pushed it into the keyhole, and turned it. A bolt clacked back. She pushed the door open, enjoying the groan of its hinges.

  'Naturally they squeak,' Ray muttered.

  'We oughtta spray this sucker with WD-40 before we go. That's fix his wagon.'

  That brought a grin from Ray.

  It's all right now, she thought.

  She stepped into the dim foyer, glimpsed someone beside her, and lurched back. She collided with Ray.

  Laughing, he caught her in his arms. 'So who's the nervous one?' he asked, and nodded toward the wall mirror. 'Jumping at your own reflection.'

  She snapped the waistband of his swimming trunks.

  'Big deal,' she said. Then she turned away from him, and looked around. 'The place is rather dismal,' she admitted.

  Ray flicked a switch. A ceiling light came on. 'At least there's electricity.'

  Tina moved to the front of the staircase. The steps were narrow and steep. At a landing, halfway up, they angled to the right and vanished. 'The bedroom's probably up there.' she said.

  'You go ahead. I'll wait here.'

  'Ha, ha, ha.'

  'Do you want me to lead the way?'

  'If you please.'

  He shut the front door, and started up the stairs ahead of her. 'Watch out,' he warned. 'Mirror ahead.'

  She yanked his trunks.

  'Don't!' He grabbed them at his knees. 'Want me to trip?'

  'Then don't be such a wiseguy.'

  'Sorry, sorry,' he said, pulling them up.

  'Nice ass,' Tina remarked.

  'Thank you.'

  'Cracked, though.'

  ***

  At the top of the stairs, they came to a narrow hallway. The only windows, at each end, were hung with heavy red drapes.

  'Charming,' Tina said.

  'Your friend's a great decorator.' Ray found a light switch. Dim bulbs came alive in sconces along the walls.

  He tried a door. It was locked. 'Great,' he muttered. 'Hope that isn't the john.'

  He tried a door on the other side of the hall, and glanced at Tina as the knob turned. He pushed the door open. The room was bare.

  Tina shrugged. 'He's got an austere taste in furniture.'

  'I'll say.'

  They found two more empty rooms, then the bathroom.

  'We're in luck,' Tina said.

  They stepped inside. When she saw the enormous tub, she smiled with delight. 'Oh, this is great.'

  'No shower.'

  'But look at the size of that! Look, it's even got legs. Must be a real antique. Boy, I can't wait!'

  'You don't really want to stay here!'

  'Let's see if there's a bedroom.'

  'If there's no bedroom, can we leave?'

  'Then we can leave.'

  They left the bathroom. Tina hurried ahead of Ray and opened the last door on the right. 'Voila!'

  'Shit,' Ray muttered. He came up the hall, and looked in.

  'Now this isn't so shabby, is it?'

  'It's all right,' Ray admitted.

  Tina kicked off her sandals and walked across the soft thickness of the carpet. 'Ain't shabby at all.' She hopped onto the king-sized bed and marched on its mattress, surveying the long dresser, the armoire, and her own image in the big wall mirrors.

  Ray watched her, a grin slowly coming to his face.

  'I th
ink this'll do just fine,' she said. 'Don't you?'

  'It's not bad.'

  'Better than some dippy motel, right?'

  'Right.'

  She flopped backwards and sprawled on the mattress.

  Smiling languidly, she opened the buttons of her blouse.

  'Maybe we'd better take a look downstairs,' Ray said.

  'Right now?' Slipping off the blouse, she rolled onto her belly. She pressed herself against the soft quilt. Reaching back, she untied her bikini top.

  'Right this moment?' she drawled.

  And grinned at the warm touch of Ray's hands.

  ***

  Tina eased away from Ray's warm, sleeping body. She was reluctant to leave the bed but the room was nearly dark and she was hungry. Ray would probably wake up famished. It'd be nice if she had supper on the stove when he got up.

  If there is a stove.

  She slipped out of bed, picked up her blouse, and stepped silently over to a window. Through the grill-work, she looked down at Ray's car. She could just bring in the grocery bags, and let the luggage wait.

  They'd better bring in the suitcases soon, though.

  A thick, gray bank of fog was rolling in from the coast. It already hung in the trees near the highway. When it got here, they would want heavier clothes.

  She stepped away from the window and glanced at Ray. He was still asleep, his tanned back dark against the white sheets. She slipped into her sandals. Carrying her blouse, she went to the door.

  Before stepping into the hallway, she looked both ways. She caught herself doing it, and rolled her eyes. What'd she expect, for Christsake, traffic?

  She started down the hall toward the stairs. Ray had left the lights on. The candle-like bulbs in the wall sconces weren't very bright. They made a menagerie of dim shadows as she walked down the hall, shadows within shadows, overlapping and chasing one another along both walls. Watching them, she flapped her arms and twirled. The shadows went crazy. She kicked and spun, swinging her blouse wildly overhead.

  A low, moaning sound jerked her to a stop. She stood motionless near the stairway, listening.

  The sound, she thought, had come from behind the door-the first door at the top of the stairs, the one they'd found locked.

  Feeling suddenly timid and vulnerable, she put on her blouse. She buttoned it, her eyes fixed on the door.

  Her hand tightened around the knob.

  What if it's not locked now? she thought.

  She pulled her hand away.

  She backed up, watching the door, a tightness clutching her stomach as she half expected it to swing open. Then she turned from it and rushed to the bedroom.

  'Ray?' she called into the darkness. Her hand searched the inside wall for a light. 'Ray!'

  'Huh?'

  She found it, and snapped it. A bright light came on above the bed. Ray sat up, squinting.

  'What're you doing?' he asked.

  She hurried forward. 'Let's get out of here.'

  'I thought-'

  'I heard something.'

  He threw aside the sheet, sat on the edge of the bed, and reached for his swimming trunks on the floor. 'What'd you hear?' he asked, pulling them on.

  'Sounded like a moan.'

  'Jesus!'

  'Could've been my imagination, I guess.'

  'But what if it wasn't?'

  'I know.' Flinging through the sheets and blankets, she found her bikini. She climbed off the bed and stepped quickly into the brief pants. She stuffed the top into her handbag, and hurried after Ray.

  He stopped in the doorway.

  'Where'd you hear it?' he asked.

  'The end of the hall. By the stairs. I think it's in the room with the locked door.'

  'Christ, that means we've gotta go past it!'

  'Maybe it was nothing.'

  'Let's run. We'll run right by, and down the stairs, and out.' He took his car keys from the small, side pocket of his trunks. 'Ready?'

  'I guess.'

  'Okay, let's go!'

  He burst ahead of her into the hallway. Tina ran hard, trying to catch up, but Ray was a dozen feet in front of her when the door near the stairway flew open.

  A man leaped out, black cape billowing, fangs bared.

  CHAPTER ONE

  'Heads, You Lose. It's playing at the Haunted Palace, over near Lincoln. You know, the theater that was closed for so long. It used to be the Elsinore.'

  Connie nodded. She remembered the Elsinore. She'd gone there many times, before it closed. It was an old place, built in the days long before they made theaters like lecture halls-long and low and sterile, three or six to a building. This one's interior had ivy covered walls like a castle, battlements and turrets, and a high blue ceiling speckled with stars. It had been well named. The Elsinore. Hamlet's castle.

  'Can I go with you?' Connie asked.

  'If you want,' Dal said. 'It's not the kind of movie you like, though. I've heard it's awfully gory.'

  'Well…' He wants to go alone, she thought. She forced herself to smile. 'You're probably right. You go on ahead.'

  'You sure?' he asked.

  He wants it definite. His conscience must be bothering him, though not enough to make a difference.

  'Yeah,' she said. 'I'm sure. I wanted to wash my hair tonight, anyway.'

  'Well, okay,' he said, sounding reluctant.

  'What time's it over?'

  'I ought to be home by midnight. It's a double feature.' He kissed her quickly, and she smelled the scent of the cologne she'd given him for his birthday.

  'You'll be the best-smelling guy at the movies,' she told him.

  For an instant, he looked flustered. 'Oh yeah, that.'

  'Bring me some candy?'

  'Sure.'

  'Good 'n Plenty.'

  'Okay, if they have it. See you later.'

  'Have fun. And don't get too scared.'

  'Me?' He winked, and left.

  ***

  Connie stood by the door, disappointed and wondering what to do with herself. It seemed strange, having to face a night alone. Strange and sad, almost like the times before Dal.

  Which hadn't been so long ago, really. They'd met only six months before, and he'd moved in two months after that. They'd been together almost every night since then.

  Well, he deserved a night on his own. She shouldn't mind. It's healthy to be alone sometimes.

  He's with people all day long, at work. Forced to be polite to everyone, including the creeps who come into the store from time to time-creeps he told her about through taut lips, his eyes narrow with anger.

  Connie had none of that. Alone in her apartment all day with her typewriter, she met only creeps of her own devising. She dealt with them ruthlessly, and enjoyed it. By three o'clock, though, she was used up. The next three hours, she spent in solitary waiting.

  Waiting to see the face of another human being, the only face that mattered much in her life anymore.

  She crossed the apartment to her bedroom, and began to undress for a bath.

  I spend my days in solitary, she mused, while Dal's among the madding crowd. At night, we each need a different cure.

  I shouldn't hold it against him if he wants time by himself. I shouldn't feel rejected.

  But I do.

  Her satin robe felt soft on her bare skin. She tied its belt, and went into the bathroom. As the tub filled, she let the robe fall away. She stepped into the water. It wrapped around her ankles, almost too hot. It stung, at first, when she sat down.

  The tub filled. She turned off the faucets. With a sigh, she eased herself backwards. The water rose over her, hot and soothing, until only her face and upthrust knees remained above the surface.

  This is not so bad, she thought.

  She shut her eyes.

  Better than sitting in a cramped, stuffy movie theater. A lot better than that.

  ***

  Dal drove past the Haunted Palace, and kept on driving. The steering wheel was slick in his sweaty ha
nds. The armpits of his shirt were soaked.

  Well damn, she was worth sweating over! He'd never seen a woman he wanted so much.

  ***

  When she strolled into Lane Brothers that afternoon, Dal couldn't take his eyes off her. She walked toward him, a creamy, pleated skirt caressing her legs, her breasts obviously bare under a loose, velour top that trembled, just slightly, as she moved. Lush, brown hair swung at her shoulders. It brushed the sides of a face so striking that Dal ached.

  She stopped in front of him. He stared into her green, clear eyes.

  'May I help you?' he asked.

  'Yes,' she said, and paused as if to let him savour the liquid whisper of her voice. 'I want a man's cologne.'

  'Anything in particular?' he asked.

  'I want it masculine, but subtle.'

  He nodded. 'Would you like to step over this way?'

  Moving sideways towards the counter, he let his eyes drop to the woman's hands. She wore no wedding ring.

  'We have a new fragrance called Ram. It's quite popular.'

  'I like what you're wearing.'

  He smiled and blood rushed to his face. 'My cologne?'

  'Yes.'

  'It's…' He cleared his throat, 'it's called Rawhide. It's new from-'

  'Let me,' she said. Fingertips lightly touching his chest, she leaned toward him. Her face moved close to his neck. He felt her breath. 'Yes,' she said. 'This is just what I want.'

  He licked his dry lips. 'Will there be anything else?' he asked.

  'Yes.' Her lips brushed his neck, and she whispered, 'You.'

  ***

  Thinking back as he drove toward her house, Dal could hardly believe it had happened. It was almost like a dream.

  Damn lucky I didn't faint, he thought. He laughed nervously.

  All day long, he'd relived those moments with her, analyzed them, wondered at times if it was only a hideous, cruel joke. But who would pull a stunt like that?

  No, it couldn't be a joke. It had to be real.

  Had to be!

  Please God, let it be real.

  Waiting at a stop light, he took out his wallet and found the slip of paper with her name and address: Elizabeth Lassin, 522 Altina. He put it back.

 
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