Blood games, p.1
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           Richard Laymon
Blood Games


  Richard Laymon

  Blood Games

  ***

  They meet up for one week every year: Helen, Cora, Vivian, Finley and Abilene - five former co-eds in search of thrills and adventure. Just like they enjoyed together at college. This time it's Helen's choice. Helen, the fat girl with a taste for horror, the brainy one with a fear of being caught alone in the shower by an unknown assailant with a sharp knife and a thirst for blood…

  For this year's reunion, Helen has picked The Totem Pole Lodge, a deserted hotel in the backwoods with a sinister past. She's looking forward to the moment when she'll tell the others the gory details. But that's before night falls and the girls find the Lodge is not as deserted as they thought. And before Helen goes into the shower. Alone.

  ***

  From Publishers Weekly

  In the early 1990s, as the horror market bottomed in the U.S., several established American authors, including Laymon (To Wake the Dead, etc.), were unable to find domestic publishers for their work. Laymon continued to hit bestseller lists overseas during this period, though, and this is one of the novels he wrote during that time. Like so much of his mid-career work, it's a middling effort, and it's also a mixed bag-nearly literally, as it offers a present-day scenario interspersed with flashbacks that are, in effect, standalone short stories. In the present, five young alumni of Belmore University are on their annual get-together; this year, the choice of what to do has fallen to Helen, a horror buff, who arranges for the group to camp out at a deserted backwoods lodge where guests were slaughtered by locals several years back. In time, the group encounter various townsfolk, including a witch, whom they must fight for their lives, resulting in a characteristic Laymon bloodbath. The action here is fast but predictable. Of greater interest are the flashbacks, showing first how the gang got together, then detailing their various exploits-taking revenge on some frat guys by setting fire to their house, on a cruel dean by trashing her office, on a nasty homeowner on Halloween by destroying his living room; seducing a young male surfer during a foggy nighttime trip along the California coast, etc. It's in these scenes that Laymon displays some, but not much, of the surreal nightmarish sensibility that hallmarked his great later work (The Traveling Vampire Show, etc.). Overall, then, this is brisk but routine entertainment from the controversial author, who died in 2001.

  ***

  Scaning & primary formating: pagesofdeath.

  Secondary formating & proofing: pua.

  ***

  This book is dedicated to Mom and Dad with love and thanks.

  I’m proud to be your kid.

  CHAPTER ONE

  ‘Where are we going?’ Finley asked. ‘To grandmother’s house?’

  Helen, behind the steering wheel of the rented Wagoneer, grinned over her shoulder and sang, ‘Over the river and through the woods…’

  ‘Hoping we’ll run into the Big Bad Wolf?’ Abilene said.

  ‘Finley’d like that,’ Cora said from the front seat.

  ‘Gimme a break. I’ve sworn off guys.’

  ‘Since when?’ Abilene asked.

  ‘Since last summer and surfin’ Sam, or whatever his name was.’

  ‘You don’t even remember his name?’ Helen asked.

  ‘He was just another hunk to the Fin-man,’ Abilene said.

  Finley jammed an elbow into her side. ‘Rick. His name was Rick. But I’ve reformed. I promise to be a good girl.’

  ‘I’ll believe that when I see it,’ Cora said.

  ‘Where we’re going,’ Helen explained, ‘I don’t imagine we’ll be running into any fellas.’

  ‘I sure hope this isn’t a camping trip,’ Vivian said.

  ‘What’ve you got against fresh air?’ Cora asked.

  ‘Fresh air’s fine. But I can get it without flying three thousand miles.’

  ‘You sure don’t get it living in L.A. ’

  ‘Viv’s just afraid she’ll get her clothes dirty,’ Abilene said.

  Vivian leaned forward to see past Finley, who was sitting between them in the back seat, and told Abilene, ‘If I wanted to rough it in the great outdoors, I would’ve joined the Girl Scouts.’ Wrinkling her nose, she settled back and muttered, ‘This sure has all the earmarks of a camping trip.’

  ‘You just never know,’ Helen said, sounding pleased with herself.

  ‘It should’ve tipped you off,’ Abilene said, ‘when she told us to bring sleeping bags and grubbies.’

  ‘That could mean anything.’

  ‘It meant we weren’t going to a Marriott.’

  In spite of that, Abilene doubted that they were being taken on a camping trip. A week in the wilds might’ve been Cora’s idea of fun, but this trip was Helen’s choice and Helen was neither athletic nor a fan of Mother Nature. She was more inclined toward sedentary, dark pursuits: reading scary novels and true crime books; watching movies that usually featured mad killers using knives, axes and chainsaws to slaughter teenagers. If her choice of adventures involved camping, it was likely to be done in a graveyard. ‘I know where we’re going,’ she said. ‘To the Pet Semetary.’

  Helen laughed. ‘Close, but no prize.’

  ‘Close?' Vivian muttered. ‘Oh, terrific.’

  ‘Wherever I’m taking you, we’ll be coming up on it pretty soon.’

  ‘How soon?’ Finley asked.

  ‘According to the odometer, it should be about three more miles.’

  ‘Pull over and let me out, okay? I’ll get our arrival for posterity.’

  ‘Oh, great,’ Abilene said. ‘The epic. Thank God we didn’t have to suffer through that last night.’

  ‘Gimme a break. You love it.’

  ‘I hate some of it.’

  ‘I’d like to see it again,’ Helen said. ‘Maybe the night before we fly out.’

  ‘My friend.’ Finley leaned forward and patted her on the shoulder. ‘Now, let me out.’

  Helen stopped the car without pulling over. There was no need to leave the road, since it had been devoid of traffic for the entire half hour they’d been on it. While Vivian opened her door and climbed out, Finley twisted around and reached over the seat back. She grabbed her video camcorder, scooted across the seat and got out. Vivian climbed in.

  Finley went to the front of the car, stepped from its bumper onto the hood, and walked toward the windshield. The thin metal sank under each footstep and popped up when her weight was gone, making quiet bongey sounds.

  ‘Christ,’ Cora muttered.

  ‘Boys will be boys,’ Helen said.

  Abilene realized that Finley, today more than usual, looked a lot more like a kid than like a twenty-five-year-old woman. She was small and slender. Her brown hair was cut very short. Her outfit masked what she had of a figure and would’ve been just the thing for a young fellow embarking on a safari; the baggy tan shirt hung loose nearly to the cuffs of her baggy tan shorts, and sported not only shoulder epaulettes but a multitude of deep pockets, flaps and brass buttons.

  Of course, most boys probably wouldn’t be caught dead wearing hot pink knee socks.

  The knee socks and white Reeboks were all that Abilene could see of Finley now that the girl was perched on the roof of the car, calves pressed against the windshield.

  ‘Let’s roll, gang!’ she called from above.

  ‘You oughta really step on it,’ Cora whispered.

  ‘She might fall and break her neck,’ Helen said.

  ‘Even worse,’ Vivian said, ‘she might break her camera. Then there’d really be hell to pay.’

  Helen started the car forward. Slowly.

  ‘Turn the wipers on and give her a squirt,’ Abilene suggested.

  ‘That’d be cruel,’ Vivian said.

  Cora, looking over her shoulder, said, ‘Abby, you’re a genius.’


  ‘Just mean.’

  Helen leaned forward slightly. The windshield wipers began to sweep back and forth. Twin streams of water shot up. The blades bumped against Finley’s calves. The water soaked her socks. Her legs flew out of the way. ‘You bastards!’ she cried out.

  Helen shut off the blades and fountains, then called out the window, ‘Sorry. My mistake.’

  ‘Mistake my butt. I’ll get all of you for this. You mess with the Fin-man, you pay.’

  ‘We’re trembling!’ Abilene called.

  ‘It was your idea, wasn’t it?’

  ‘Whose?’

  ‘You! I know it was you, Hickok. You’ll die.’

  ‘Oh, quit ranting and film your epic.’

  Finley’s legs returned to their previous positions against the windshield. Then her head appeared between her knees. Her face was upside down, her short hair blowing in the breeze. Though she said nothing, her lips twitched and writhed ferociously as if she were spitting out obscenities.

  ‘Give her another dose.’

  She must’ve heard that. Her head went away fast.

  ‘Let’s just calm down, folks,’ she called.

  Helen left the wipers alone.

  She stayed in the northbound lane, not even crossing the faded paint of the center line to avoid fissures and pits in the pavement. It made for a bumpy ride. Abilene couldn’t fault her for being cautious, though. As desolate as the poor ruin of a road seemed to be, an excursion into the downhill lane would probably provoke a vehicle to materialize, speed around a blind curve and smash them. One of life’s little magic tricks. Just when you least expect it - wham.

  A car could just as easily come racing around a curve on our side, she thought.

  She began to wish that Finley wasn’t riding on the roof.

  Helen stopped the car. ‘This must be it,’ she said, nodding toward a narrow road that slanted up the hillside to the right.

  ‘You don’t know?’ Vivian asked.

  ‘Do you think I’ve been here before? It’s just a place I read about. But this is where it ought to be, and it’s called The Totem Pole Lodge.’

  ‘Must be it, all right,’ Cora said.

  At each side of the entrance road stood a totem pole. The old wooden columns depicted forest creatures, demons and beasts, and both had giant birds with outspread wings near their tops. One of the poles, tilted at a sharp angle, looked ready to fall onto any car daring to trespass.

  Abilene supposed that the totems had probably once been decorated with bright paint. Now, however, they looked as if they’d been made of driftwood. Or dirty gray bone.

  Vandals had carved names, initials, dates, hearts, and even a few swastikas into them. Some of the vandals must’ve shinnied up them to maim the higher areas. Near the top of the tilted pole, someone had left a hunting knife embedded in the blanched wood of a wing.

  A metal sign, bent and rusted, was nailed at eye level to the upright pole. It read, KEEP OUT.

  ‘Why would a lodge have a sign telling people to keep out?’ Vivian asked.

  ‘It isn’t open to the public,’ Helen explained, and turned onto the entry road. The leaning post didn’t fall. But as the car nosed upward, Finley’s legs kicked away from the windshield. Abilene heard some thumps through the ceiling, and figured she must’ve tumbled backward. Seconds later, the legs returned.

  ‘I hope Finley kept her camera going,’ she said. ‘We’ll have some interesting views.’

  ‘Spinning tree tops,’ Cora said.

  ‘Some of these branches are awfully low.’ Helen sounded worried.

  ‘If we have a casualty, can we go home?’ Vivian asked.

  ‘You should be tickled,’ Cora told her. ‘This isn’t a camp-out.’

  ‘Right. Instead, we’re going to some damn lodge that isn’t open to the public. Who, exactly, is it open to?’

  ‘Just us,’ Helen said. ‘I hope. As far as I know, it’s been abandoned for about twelve years.’

  ‘Oh, great. Charming. I can see this is gonna be a thrill and a half.’

  ‘That’s the whole idea,’ Helen said.

  ‘Knowing you, it’s probably haunted.’

  ‘I guess we’ll find out.’

  Just then, the road levelled out. The hood of the car lowered, revealing the area ahead. Abilene leaned a little to the right. Off in the distance, framed on both sides by Finley’s pink socks, was The Totem Pole Lodge.

  Vivian leaned toward her. Their shoulders touched as they shared the view.

  ‘Utterly delightful,’ Vivian muttered.

  ‘Great, huh?’ Helen sounded as if the lodge fulfilled her best expectations.

  ‘What was this place?’ Cora asked.

  ‘Kind of a resort,’ Helen said.

  ‘A last resort,’ Vivian said.

  ‘It was famous for its hot springs. And its cuisine. People came here for cross-country skiing in the winter. It was a hunting lodge in hunting season. The rest of the time, people came for hiking and fishing, that kind of thing. The place was quite popular during its heyday.’

  ‘Looks like shit now,’ Cora said.

  A fist reached down between Finley’s legs and rapped on the windshield. ‘Stop the car, okay?’

  When it came to a halt, Abilene said, ‘This is far enough for me,’ and swung open her door. She climbed out. It felt good to be standing up after the long drive. She stretched. She peeled her moist blouse away from her back. She took a deep breath, enjoying the woodsy aromas.

  If the lodge could simply pull a quick disappearing act, she thought, this might be a wonderful place.

  A bit too hot, but…

  Finley leaped down off the roof and landed beside her.

  ‘Awesome joint,’ she said, aiming her camera at the lodge.

  ‘ “With the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit.” ’

  ‘Say what?’

  The others climbed out of the car. They all stood motionless, staring at the lodge.

  It was a broad, two-story structure with walls of gray stone that looked solid enough to last for a few thousand years and a steep shake roof that sagged near the middle and might not last through the next winter.

  Some of the porch roof had already caved in, thanks to a tree branch. The branch, over near the north corner, looked like an arm tom from a giant and rammed down through the top of the porch, hand first. Its jagged stub protruded from the roof. Its lower limbs formed a leafless tangle blocking that end of the porch.

  A few of the lodge’s upstairs windows were hidden behind closed shutters. Most of the shutters, however, hung open or dangled crooked or were simply gone. At least half of the windows that Abilene could see were broken.

  At the center of the porch, straight ahead, the lodge’s front door stood open.

  ‘The doorman must’ve been expecting us,’ Abilene said.

  ‘Come on, Hickok, let’s you and me go on ahead. The rest of you guys wait till we’re there, then come on in and I’ll get the big arrival.’ Finley started toward the lodge.

  Abilene joined her. Twigs and leaves crackled under their shoes.

  Though the road was littered with debris from the surrounding forest, enough areas had been swept clear by the wind for Abilene to see patches of gray, cracked pavement. Weeds, wild grass, and even a few saplings grew in the fissures.

  She came upon a broken sapling.

  ‘Look at this.’

  ‘So?’

  She crouched over it. ‘Somebody’s been here. Recently, too. The leaves are still green.’ She folded a small leaf between her thumb and forefinger. It felt a little springy, but it split. ‘I bet it hasn’t been dead more than a week.’

  ‘Maybe Bambi stepped on it.’

  ‘Maybe this place isn’t as deserted as it looks.’

  Finley wrinkled her nose. She nodded. ‘Come on.’

  They continued toward the lodge. In front of the porch, the road flared out like a T. The lane on the r
ight led past the lodge to a long ramshackle structure that appeared to be some kind of parking bam with empty stalls for at least a dozen vehicles. The other lane had a turn at the far corner of the porch and seemed to lead around toward the rear.

  ‘I guess this is close enough,’ Finley said. Halting at the foot of the porch stairs, she faced the road, raised her camera and shouted, ‘Action!’

  For a moment, Abilene watched the Wagoneer rush forward. But the back of her neck felt crawly. She turned her head and stared at the open door.

  All she could see beyond it was shadowy gloom.

  We must be out of our minds, she thought, coming to a place like this. Just for the fun of it. Just for adventure.

  We must be crazy.

  Hell, weren’t we always?

  CHAPTER TWO

  BELMORE GIRLS

  It started with Finley and her new, portable video camera.

  It started at Belmore University in the east wing, second floor of Hadley Hall, one of the campus’s two dormitories for freshman girls. The girls were eighteen, then.

  It was the third week of September.

  It was a Wednesday night.

  Abilene’s roommate, Helen Winters, was hunched at her desk, face low over the pages of a Western Civ textbook. Abilene sat at the window, her back to the hot night, hoping to catch a stray breeze while she struggled to make sense of Othello. With a sigh, she closed the paperback.

  ‘God, it’s hard to think when you’re baking.’

  Helen dropped a yellow hi-lite pen into the gutter of her book. She turned her chair around. She looked forlorn, miserable. And even more unattractive than usual. Her brown hair, cut in a style resembling a football helmet, was greasy and matted against her scalp. Wet ringlets clung to her face. She had speckles of sweat under her eyes. Dribbles streaked her heavy cheeks. In the crease of one nostril was a white-peaked zit that looked ready to erupt. Her lower lip bulged out so far that it cast a shadow over her chin.

  Sullen eyes gazing up at Abilene, she said, ‘I hate everything about this place.’

 
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