Once upon a halloween, p.11
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       Once Upon a Halloween, p.11

           Richard Laymon
 
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And she only missed because Laura was lurching backward, carried out of range by Shannon, Shannon staggering, struggling to stay up after the sudden shift of balance. A moment later, Shannon gasped "Shit!" and Laura felt herself rising, tilting back. Her feet left the ground behind. She faced the windblown branches, the shredded white clouds, the bright moon.

  She felt a quick flutter of fear.

  A bad carnival ride.

  One that throws you backward.

  Afraid of bumping heads, she tucked down her chin.

  Her fall stopped with a jolt, a grunt from Shannon, and a slight forward motion as Shannon skidded on the grass. The impact jostled Laura, gave her injured body a rough shake, but didn't hurt too much.

  Thanks to Shannon.

  "Sorry," Laura muttered.

  Shannon groaned. "No... problem."

  Standing over them, the woman pulled off her robe and threw it to the ground. She wore nothing except a belt around her waist and a pair of black leather boots. "Royce," she said, "take the kid over with the others."

  "What're you gonna do?"

  "The bitch kicked me."

  "Ya don't wanta kill her."

  "Think not?" She unfastened her bell buckle.

  "I know she ain't a kid, Fain, but she's young. You shouldn't

  go and waste her."

  "Mind your own fucking business."

  "Yeah? We come up short, she's yours."

  Belt in hand, Fain slipped her dagger from its sheath and turned toward Royce.

  "I'm going, I'm going." He gave Betsy's arm a tug and hurried away with her.

  Fain waited, watching them leave. She waited and waited.

  When she's done waiting, Laura thought, she's going to use the dagger on me. She's going to kill me.

  My God.

  It didn't seem possible. She wanted it to be a nightmare, wanted to wake up from it. But she knew it was no nightmare, knew it was real.

  A few minutes from now, she thought, I'll be dead.

  This can't be happening.

  Only it is.

  It's happening all right. It happens to people all the time... no, not all the time, just once. But it happens every day to someone and why should I be any exception? It's just the way it goes.

  She'll probably kill Shannon, too. That'll be too bad, but at least we'll go together. It's not like we'll miss each other.

  It'll kill Mom and Dad.

  The tall, hairless woman, dusky under the moon light, turned around and looked down at her. The shadows of bare, wind-shaken limbs trembled across her naked body.

  "Please," Laura said. "Don't. I'm sorry I kicked you."

  "Sorry doesn't cut it, honey." She smiled. "But I do. I cut it." She chuckled softly.

  "Don't. Please."

  Fain s hook her head. "Hut not right now."

  "Uh?"

  "The cutting will come later. The cutting and the killing, Royce really thought I'd do you now," Again, the soft chuckle "Don't worry, I won't. Royce has his head up his ass, but he was right about wasting you. You and your buddy get to stay alive a while longer."

  "Thank you."

  "You're so very, very welcome." Fain plunged the dagger into its sheath and pulled the sheath off her belt. Bending over, she slid them down into the top of her left boot. Then she wrapped her right hand around the buckle of her belt, swung the belt overhead and whipped it down.

  Through the Halloween wind, Laura heard it whussss on its way. Then came the krak! as the leather strap smacked her across the chest. She felt its fire. Felt her body lurch. Heard her cry of pain.

  "What'd she do? " Shannon blurted from underneath her.

  "Twenty lashes," Fain explained, and whipped Laura again.

  "Damn you!" Shannon cried out. "Leave her alone! Stop that! You wanta pull shit like that, try it with me! Leave her alone!"

  "My, oh, my, aren't we gallant?"

  "I'm gonna kill you, you fucking..."

  Fain reached high with her right arm and twirled the belt overhead, her body shimmying with the circular motion of her arm. Shannon continued to yell, but Laura didn't listen to her words, all her focus on the twirling belt...

  And here it comes again.

  "No!" Laura cried out.

  Her word didn't stop it.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

  "Hi," Hunter said.

  Charles, sprawled at the foot of the stairway, squinted up at him.

  "You all right?" Hunter asked.

  Dumb question.

  "Don't... Don't hurt me."

  "I'm not gonna hurt you."

  But Charles was eyeing the sword in Hunter's right hand, the pistol in his left.

  Hunter raised the pistol. "Shannon's. It's no good anyway. Has a trigger lock." He raised the sword. "I got this off Eleanor. Your lucky sword, man. You had it when you fell down the stairs and you didn't even get cut."

  "I... fell?"

  "Down the whole stairway, sounded like, and you got knocked out. I was starting to think you might not wake up."

  Charles grimaced. Moving slightly, he gasped with pain. "What's... what's wrong with me?"

  "You got banged up a little."

  During the fall, his Van Gogh bandage had fallen off. He had the ear after all, but now it was bright with real blood. Above it, his bloody hair was matted to the side of his head.

  His paint-spattered shirt was torn open. His khaki trousers were twisted crooked and down so low around his hips they looked as if they might fall off if he stood up. If he stood up, however, his pants wouldn't be his biggest problem.

  His legs, slanting upward at a steep angle, were still on the stairs. The left leg was crooked below the knee, the high-top walking shoe sideways so it pointed toward the banister.

  "Well," Hunter said, "at least you got your ear back." He realized he didn't sound very sympathetic.

  That's because I'm not, he thought. Why should I feel sorry for this guy? Or for Tony? Roughing me up, treating me like a criminal from the moment they laid eyes on me.

  Shannon and Laura seemed too nice to be going with a couple of guys like these.

  Maybe they're just casual acquaintances.

  Shannon won't be going with Tony anymore.

  Probably a good thing for Shannon, he thought.

  Is she even still alive? Is Laura? Connie? I have to go after them.

  But what about Charles?

  Charles raised his head, winced but raised it higher. "My leg," he muttered.

  "I think it's broken," Hunter said.

  "Oh, my God." Charles lowered his head gently to the floor.

  "You were lucky, though."

  "Oh, yeah. Real lucky."

  "Luckier than Tony."

  He blinked a few times. "Tony?"

  "Your pal Tony. Sherlock Holmes."

  "I know who Tony is, for... oh, my God!"

  "Yeah."

  "Oh, my GOD!"

  Charles suddenly shoved at the floor, got to his elbows, pushed at the stairs with his right foot and scooted himself backward, his face crimson and twisted. He cried out when his left leg dropped to a lower stair. "Help me! We've gotta get outa here!"

  "Take it easy," Hunter said. "You're hurting yourself."

  "Help me!"

  "Just settle down. It's not gonna get you." Not completely sure of that, Hunter glanced up the stairway. "I don't think it cometh downstairs. It might, but..."

  "Get me out of here!"

  His broken leg dropped to another stair and he squealed.

  "You shouldn't be moving," Hunter told him. "Why don't you just lie still?"

  "Please!"

  "It's not gonna get you."

  His shoe slid off the edge of the next stair, fell and thudded. He cried out.

  "It's an upstairs ghost."

  "Witherspoon?"

  A smile broke across Hunter's face. He couldn't help it, but regretted it. Not so much because of Tony or Charles, but because of the girls. The smile felt like he was betraying them.

 
Charles's foot dropped from the bottom stair. It struck the floor and he shrieked.

  "Look," Hunter said. "I've gotta go. I just stuck around to make sure you're all right."

  "I'm not all right!" He was scurrying backward toward the front door, his rump sliding over the floor, his right leg pushing, his left leg dragging.

  "I'll call 911 for you."

  "You haven't called them yet?"

  "I didn't think I should leave you by yourself."

  Alarm in his eyes, he blurted, "Why?"

  "I wanted to make sure you kept breathing and everything. And I didn't want the ghost to get you."

  "It's an upstairs ghost!"

  "Seems to be. But I'm not so sure it plays by the rules."

  "Huh?"

  "Not even so sure it's a ghost. I don't know what it is, but it only seems to nail people when they're alone. Now that you're awake, it'll probably be safe for me to leave you. You can yell if something happens." Hunter raised his left hand and pointed the pistol toward the living room. "I know right where the phone is. It's just in there."

  "Wait. No. Don't leave yet."

  "I'll be right back."

  "No! Help me get outside first! Please! Just on the porch. Okay? Please? I don't wanta be in here."

  "We'll get you outside after I call the paramedics."

  "Damn it, no!"

  Hunter almost smiled. Though slightly ashamed of himself, he liked how it felt to give Charles a taste of trouble.

  You should've treated me better, he thought, when you had the upper hand.

  "I'll be right back," he said.

  "Don't you dare leave!"

  "Yeah, sure."

  Hunter turned away and walked into the living room.

  The two people hurrying silently toward him wore gray robes. The hoods were up, but didn't hide their faces. Hunter knew the faces. Bryce and Simone. Bryce held a very large knife. Simone carried a hatchet.

  Hunter gasped.

  They rushed at him.

  But froze when he jammed the pistol in their direction and shouted, "Hall or you're dead!"

  "Hunter?" Charles yelled.

  Ignoring him, Hunter commanded, "Drop your weapons! Right now! Now! Drop 'em or I'll shoot!"

  They stood side by side, staring at him.

  "The knife!" Hunter shouted. "The hatchet! Drop'em!"

  Bryce and Simone glanced at each other.

  "Drop 'em!"

  "We just came for the woman," Bryce said.

  "Woman?"

  "Our friend."

  "Where is she?" Simone asked.

  "Gone."

  "Gone where?"

  "Away. I don't know. She ran out the door and got away."

  "That's her saber," Bryce said.

  "She gave it to me. Now drop your knife and put your hands up." He jerked the muzzle toward Simone. "You. Drop the hatchet."

  Frowning, she lowered her arm.

  "I'll be damned," Bryce said, sounding suddenly, strangely pleased. "What's that on your piece, kid? Is that a trigger lock?"

  "Drop your knife or you'll find out!"

  "I'll drop it, all right. I'll drop you, you dumb fuck." He charged.

  Simone charged, raising her hatchet.

  Hunter whirled around and ran, yelling, "Watch out, Charles!" A moment later, he saw Charles in the foyer. Squatting, leaning back against the front door, trying to stand up. He was sobbing. He had terror in his eyes.

  Shit! Dead meat!

  Hunter ran for the stairs.

  Worked before.

  I run get 'em one at a time when they come up...

  "Get that one!" Bryce gasped.

  "No!" Charles squealed.

  Hunter changed course. Threw himself against the newel post. It hurt him, but it stopped him. Pivoting, he slashed sideways with the sword and Bryce ran into its path. Bryce's hood had already slipped off. He had short, neatly trimmed hair as if he'd recently had a haircut. He looked young and powerful like a Marine. The blade of Hunter's sword clipped off the top of his ear and chopped into the side of his head.

  As Hunter jerked the blade free, Bryce veered off to the side and crashed into the wall beyond the stairs.

  Simone, hatchet raised over Charles's head, turned to see what had happened. Then she gave Charles a shove. As he cried out and fell to the floor, Simone turned to face Hunter.

  She reached up with one hand and swept her hood off.

  My God, she's beautiful. Are they all this beautiful?

  Sleek, black hair draped the sides of her head. A loose hank of it dropped across her brow. Her cheeks were flushed, her lips a glossy crimson.

  She was breathing hard. She didn't look frightened, though.

  "Where's Eleanor?" she asked.

  "I already told you."

  "She really isn't here?"

  "She escaped."

  A smile lifted a corner of her mouth. Not only beautiful, but smug.

  "In that case," she said, "I'll let you go."

  "Really?"

  She nodded. "Instead of kill you."

  "What did you do with Shannon and Laura?" The smile spread to the other side of her mouth. A big smile, but a cold one. "Oh, we had a very fine time with those two." He felt himself go cold inside.

  "Did you... hurt them?"

  She chuckled. "Maybe a touch."

  Then she must've realized something about the look on Hunter's face. Her smile died. She hurled her hatchet at him. As he tried to dodge it, she broke for the living room. The hatchet brushed the side of Hunter's arm.

  It didn't stop him.

  She was fast. Her sneakers pounded the floor. Her black hair streamed out behind her. Her robe fluttered.

  She made it into the middle of the living room before Hunter swung his sword.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

  "This is no good," Rhonda said, sinking down and sitting on the curb. She put her knees up and rested her forearms on them.

  Bret sat down on the curb, too, but Mandy stayed on her feet. Though she was tired of standing, she wasn't about to sit on some dirty old curb. Not in her good poodle skirt that she'd worn for the past three Halloweens.

  If you don't take care of stuff you like, you ruin it and then it's no good any more.

  Down on the curb, Bret reached out and patted Rhonda on the arm. "It's okay," he said. "We'll find 'em."

  "I'm starting to wonder," Rhonda muttered. She looked up at Mandy. "I read on the internet where all these kids vanish every Halloween. Like dozens of them."

  "No fooling?" Bret asked.

  "They just... disappear into thin air. They go out trick or treating and they don't come home. A lot of them, they're never seen again."

  "Jeez."

  Rhonda shrugged. "And some, their bodies gel found later. You know, like in shallow graves and stuff. What's happening, they're like getting snatched by devil worshippers and stuff. You know, for human sacrifices."

  "Really?" Bret asked. He sounded impressed.

  "I've never heard anything like that," Mandy said.

  "I got sent an e-mail all about it. Just a few days ago. You know, to warn me. Told me I should forward it to everyone I care about so they'll be extra careful or not even go trick or treating at all."

  "I guess we didn't get that one," Mandy said.

  "I did. I sure wish I'd listened."

  "That stuff s mostly B.S.," Mandy told her. "All those warnings they send around. I bet nine out of ten of 'em aren't even true. Like that one about the deadly spider that hides under airline toilet seats and bites you on the keester? Not true. Hardly any of 'em are true. They're like urban legends and stuff? I think a lot of people like to get their jollies starting crazy rumors. Just to scare people, you know?"

  "I don't know if this one was such B.S.," Rhonda said. "I mean, something happened to..." Her voice cracked. She stopped talking and clamped her lower lip between her teeth and lowered her head.

  "It's all right," Bret said, patting her arm.

  "I'm
sure they're okay," Mandy added.

  Sure hope Dad is. He's been gone a long time.

  Well, maybe not that long. Ten minutes? But she'd expected him to be back before now.

  Though he'd supposedly run off to help rescue that Julie woman, Mandy couldn't exactly picture her dad taking on three attackers. He was pretty dopey in a lot of ways, but he wasn't stupid.

  Not that there ever were three attackers, Mandy reminded herself.

  What she pretty much expected to happen, her dad would come out of the woods with Phyllis in tow, and maybe some kind of a story about how they gave up on looking for Julie. And with any luck, maybe they'd lost the oddball in the sheet.

  Mandy'd had a funny feeling about that woman from the start,

  Wouldn't surprise her if there wasn't any Julie in the first place, and the gal just made her up as a way to get Dad to run off into the woods.

  The gal, after all, was butt-naked under her sheet. Maybe all horny.

  It's kind of a horny night, Mandy thought. She'd been feeling a little that way, herself. Maybe because of the strong, warm wind and how it felt against her skin and how it blew her skirt against her legs,

  It would feel great to run around in nothing but a sheet, she thought. Or in nothing at all.

  Not that she would do such a thing.

  You'd have to be a real mental case to actually do it - to go out on the streets like that where other people are around. Maybe okay in your own backyard...

  "Know what I think?" Bret asked, looking up at her.

  "What?" Mandy asked.

  "We oughta ring some doorbells."

  "We're done trick or treating."

  "I don't mean that. I mean, and ask people whether they know where Gary and Rosie and Doug are."

  "I don't know."

  "We're supposed to wait here for your dad," Rhonda told him.

  "He just doesn't want us going away and getting lost. We can go to some houses right here." Thumb out, he raised a hand above her shoulder and pointed behind him. "Like theirs. Maybe Laura and Shannon know where they are. And even if they don't, I bet they might help us look for 'em."

  "They didn't even open the door last time," Mandy reminded him.

  "That's 'cause maybe they were busy, I bet they'll open it now."

  Lifting her head, Rhonda said, "I guess it wouldn't hurt to ask around a little. Somebody might've noticed something."

  Mandy shrugged. "Okay with me. I guess it'd be better than just waiting."

 
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