Once upon a halloween, p.13
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       Once Upon a Halloween, p.13
 

           Richard Laymon
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  "Yeah, I know. I was gonna do that... I was just on my way to the phone when these two showed up." He nodded toward Bryce. "All hell broke loose." Smiling in a way he knew must look slightly mad, he reached behind his back, slipped his hand under the pirate sash and pulled Shannon's pistol out of the waistband of his jeans.

  Mandy's eyes widened.

  "It's okay," Hunter said. "Well, not that okay. Look. Shannon put a trigger lock on it. These two lunatics come in here with knives and hatchets and shit and what've I got... a SAFE pistol!" He realized he was shouting. In a quiet voice, he continued, "So all I could do was use my sword. That's all I had. My sword and my hands." He shook his head. Trying to smile, he held the pistol out "Anybody happen to know the combination?"

  Rhonda didn't seem to be paying any attention.

  Bret shrugged. Mandy shook her head.

  "It did me a real lot of good."

  "I bet Shannon knows the combination," Bret said. "We should take it to her and she can unlock it and then we can shoot all the bad guys."

  "It's worth a try," Hunter said. Reaching behind his back, he shoved the pistol under his sash and down the waistband of his jeans.

  "Hey," Charles said. "Remember the cops? I believe the young lady suggested calling them? How about a couple of you giving me a hand outside and somebody calls 911? Then I can go to an emergency room and Beaumont's finest can hustle out to the graveyard and save the night. How does that sound to everyone? Sound good to me. How about it? Me, I'm not too interested in staying in this house one more fucking minute! I don't like it in here."

  "Take it easy," Hunter told him.

  "Oh, yeah?" He looked up at Mandy, at Bret. "You don't know this, children, but my best friend is upstairs dead as shit.... strangled by a coat hanger wielded by a fucking spook!"

  Mandy wrinkled her nose. "Huh?"

  "This is your lucky Halloween, kiddies. Not only have you wandered into a charnal house but a haunted house. Two thrills in one! And the spook upstairs likes to kill people and he might be coming down for you. So I suggest we haul ass outa this dump."

  Mandy looked at Hunter.

  Hunter nodded. "Whatever's upstairs... it did kill his friend, Tony. Tried to kill Eleanor, too. I got there in time for her."

  "Witherspoon," Bret whispered, awe in his voice.

  "No such thing as ghosts," Mandy said.

  "I don't know," said Hunter. "But something's up there. It's invisible and it killed Tony. Whatever it is, though, it hasn't hurt me yet."

  Maybe it's on my side, Hunter thought.

  So far, both attacks had taken place against people who'd posed threats to him.

  But why would the thing be on my side? he wondered.

  Because I'm on Shannon's and Laura's?

  If that's the reason, why'd it kill Shannon's boyfriend?

  Because Tony was an asshole?

  "If s gotta be old Witherspoon," Bret whispered. Leaning toward the banister, he peered up the stairway.

  "It's not old Witherspoon," Mandy said.

  "Wanta bet?"

  "I'm getting outa here," Charles said. "Kid. You. Bret. Conic here and give me a hand. You too, Mandy. Come here."

  Obeying without question - maybe because he was an adult - Bret and Mandy started toward him.

  "No, wait," Hunter said. "I'll do it."

  "You and me," Mandy said.

  "I can help," Bret protested.

  "You can open the door," Mandy told him.

  "It's already open."

  "The screen door."

  "Oh. Okay."

  Bret hurried toward the screen door while Hunter and Mandy went to Charles. Mandy took a careful step to avoid the puddle of blood from Bryce. Then she crouched beside Charles and took hold of his right upper arm. Hunter gripped his left. Up near Charles's armpit, his shirt felt warm and wet.

  While they lifted, Charles shoved at the floor with his good leg and began to rise, his back sliding up the wall. His teeth were clenched. Sweat poured down his face. He made quiet whimpery sounds.

  Standing on one leg, he said, "Let go." The moment his arms were free, he spread them wide. He put one across Hunter's shoulders, one across Mandy's. Braced up between them, he said, "Okay, Let's move."

  He hopped toward the doorway, but the rough motion must've hurt his broken leg. He shuddered and gasped and seemed to lose strength. They clutched him, pinned him between their bodies, staggered toward the doorway.

  They couldn't fit through, three across, so they turned and Hunter went first. When Charles hopped down from the doorway to the porch, he yelled with pain and his good leg seemed to give out.

  Mandy gasped, "Whoa!"

  We're going down!

  Arms across their shoulders, Charles was plunging them toward the porch stairs.

  Hut suddenly he grunted and stopped. Clinging to him, Hunter and Mandy stopped just as abruptly.

  Hunter jerked his head around.

  Behind Charles stood Rhonda, hands clamped on his shoulders, wrenching at him. Everyone seemed to stand still for an instant. Then Rhonda flew backward, dragging Charles free from Hunter and Mandy, falling over the threshold. She grunted as Charles dropped on top of her.

  He cried out, "My leg! My leg!"

  Mandy, crouching by his hip, grabbed his arm and pulled him.

  "Let go!" His head knocked against the door frame. "Ow! Stop it!" Then he swiveled and slid until his back met the porch floor.

  Rhonda pulled her legs out from under him, and Bret helped her stand up.

  "Are you okay?" Bret asked.

  "Yeah."

  Mandy said to her, "Thanks. We almost got ourselves obliterated."

  "No problem. Are you all right?"

  "Fine."

  "I'm not," Charles gasped, raising his head off the porch floor.

  "We got you out of the house," Hunter told him. "Just like you wanted."

  "Probably not just like he wanted," Mandy said.

  "Can somebody please call me an ambulance?"

  "You're an ambulance," Bret said.

  "Oh, kid, you're a fuckin' riot."

  "Don't talk to my brother that way."

  "Yeah, right. So sorry."

  Rhonda gave him a soft kick in the side.

  "Hey!"

  "You're supposed to be nice to people who've helped you."

  "Big help. They fuckin' dropped me."

  "I'll go back in and call," Hunter said.

  "Not by yourself," Rhonda said. "I'll go with you." Glancing from Bret to Mandy, she added, "You two stay out here with Charles. And don't go wandering off, okay? We'll be right back."

  CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

  Waiting on the porch, Mandy stared into the woods beside the house. She saw only trees and darkness, heard only the wind. "Dad should've come back a long time ago," she said.

  Bret looked up at her, his nose wrinkled.

  "He's been gone way too long."

  "We oughta go and find him."

  "I don't know. He said to wait."

  "But what if he needs help?"

  "Just take it easy, kids," Charles said from the floor. "The cops'll be here pretty soon. Let them take care of it."

  "He's our dad," Bret explained.

  "Lot of good you'll do him if you get yourselves killed... People are getting killed tonight, kid. Seriously dead. This isn't a game So just..."

  "Mandy!" Rhonda called from inside the house. "Bret! Get in here!"

  Bret rushed ahead of her, beat her to the screen door, threw it open. As he ran into the house, Mandy yelled, "Wait!" She flung the screen door out of her way and leaped after him.

  "Hey!" Charles yelled. "Don't leave me alone out here!"

  "In here," Rhonda called again.

  Bret dodged to the left and ran into the living room, Mandy close behind him. A couple of strides into the room, he gasped and suddenly stopped. Mandy veered and lurched to a halt beside him.

  In front of them stood two figures wearing gray robes.
r />   Bloody gray robes.

  Hunter and Rhonda. Both looking flushed and uneasy.

  The dead woman on the floor was now sprawled facedown and missing her robe. She had a long gash down her back, curving from her right shoulder blade to her left buttock.

  Turning around, Mandy looked through the entryway at the dead man in the foyer. He now lay on his back. His robe was gone. Glimpsing his genitals, she thought, Oh, my! and quickly turned again toward Hunter and Rhonda.

  Hunter held his sword in one hand. Rhonda held the hatchet.

  Below the hems of their robes, their legs were bare. They had shoes on, but wore no socks. Their clothes were piled in two different stacks on a nearby sofa. Mandy glimpsed a white bra, underwear...

  They stripped naked... in front of each other?... and put on those yucky robes?

  All that sticky blood right up against their bare skin?

  "What's going on?" she asked.

  "I know," Bret said.

  "What happened to calling 911?"

  "We've got a better idea," Rhonda said.

  Hunter nodded. "We'll go in with our hoods up... Rhonda and me... with you two as our prisoners."

  "Go to the graveyard?" Mandy asked.

  They both nodded.

  "Infiltrate them," Hunter explained.

  "Cool! "Bret blurted.

  Mandy felt squirmy inside.

  "They'll think we're Bryce and Simone."

  "Maybe for two seconds," Mandy said.

  "Maybe that'll be long enough," Rhonda said.

  "Or maybe not."

  "You don't have to come," Rhonda told her. Not with any reproach, but in a friendly, understanding way. "It might be better if you don't. I mean, I know you're not supposed to go anyplace and I promised to stay here and look after you, but this is my brother. I have to try to save him."

  Bret tugged on Mandy's sleeve. "Maybe they've got Dad."

  "They might," Rhonda said. "It seems like he should've been back by now. Maybe they took him prisoner, too. And that girl."

  "Phyllis," Bret informed her.

  "HEY!" Charles yelled. "WHAT'S GOING ON IN THERE?"

  "Everything's fine," Hunter called back. "The cops and ambulance are on the way."

  "WHAT'RE YOU DOING?"

  "Nothing. We'll be out in a minute." Lowering his voice, Hunter said, "I didn't really call."

  "Didn't think so."

  "If we call the cops," he explained, "no telling what'll happen. I mean, here we are in a house with three dead people. And I killed two of them. Trying to explain..." He shook his head, "Even if we could get them to believe the truth, it might be a disaster. Who knows what'll happen if a bunch of our town cops go in and try to rescue everyone?"

  "They'd probably do better than us," Mandy said. "At least they've got guns."

  "We'll have the element of surprise."

  "Maybe, maybe not."

  "Thing is," said Rhonda, "the cops won't believe us. I mean, who would? They'll blame us for all this and in the meantime midnight'll come and go and... you know what that'll mean."

  Bret drew a finger across his throat, making a slurpy wet sound with his mouth.

  "How many are there?" Mandy asked.

  "About twelve," Hunter said. "There were about twelve. So maybe ten, now."

  "And three of us."

  "Four," Bret said. "You counted wrong."

  "No I didn't."

  "Did, too."

  Rhonda spoke up. "Bret, don't argue with your sister."

  "But..." He pressed his lips together and frowned.

  The frown became a smile when Rhonda reached out and ruffled his hair.

  "I know we're outnumbered," Hunter said. "But I'm almost positive they don't have any guns. With a little luck, we can probably take down three or four of them before they even know what's happening."

  "Maybe the others'll panic and run," Rhonda added.

  Wishful thinking, Mandy thought.

  They aren't gonna panic. What they'll do, they'll kill us.

  But what if they do have Dad and Phyllis? she wondered. The woman in the sheet might've been one of the cult members and maybe she lured Dad and Phyllis into the woods to capture them. And they'll get sacrificed at midnight along with Shannon and Laura and Hunter's girlfriend and Rhonda's brother and anyone else they've caught.

  "Okay," Mandy said. "I'll go along with you."

  "Yes!" Bret blurted.

  "Not you."

  His mouth dropped open. He looked betrayed. "I am, too."

  "It's too dangerous."

  But where isn't dangerous? she wondered. Where can I leave him? Not here.

  "You can't leave him here," Hunter said, almost as if reading her mind. "Even if the thing from upstairs doesn't bother him, more people like Bryce and Simone might show up."

  Take him home and leave him with Mom?

  Try that, she thought, and neither of us will be going on any rescue tonight.

  "If we keep him with us," Rhonda said, "at least we'll know where he is and be able to watch out for him."

  Hunter began, "We could make him wait..."

  "WHAT'S GOING ON?" Charles called. "COME OUT HERE!"

  "Just a second!" Rhonda shouted to him.

  To Bret, Mandy said, "I guess you can come with us, but you've gotta promise to do whatever I say."

  "Okay. I promise."

  "Cross your heart and hope to die?"

  With two quick swipes of his forefinger, he crossed his heart.

  Mandy looked from Rhonda to Hunter. "Okay. Only thing, can we take the same path Dad took? It starts by the dead-end barricade."

  "Charles'll see us if we go out the front," Hunter said.

  "We can go out the back," said Rhonda.

  Hunter led the way. Rhonda followed him, Bret tagging along behind her and Mandy bringing up the rear.

  "We oughta get some knives or something," Bret said. "Me and Mandy. All I got's my slingshot." Reaching back, he patted the slingshot in the seat pocket of his overalls.

  "You don't need a knife," Mandy told him.

  "But if we're gonna..."

  "I'm not going to have you running around with a weapon For Pete's sake, you're eight years old."

  "Eight and a half."

  As they entered the kitchen, Hunter flicked a light on. Looking back, he said, "Maybe you should grab a knife or something, Mandy."

  "I'm fine the way I am."

  "You oughta have something," Rhonda said.

  "If Bret and I are supposed to be your prisoners, we shouldn't go walking in with weapons."

  Bret scowled over his shoulder at her. "If you don't want a knife, I'll take one."

  "No you won't."

  "Mannnndyyy."

  "Let's just keep going, Hunter," she said.

  He led them to the rear of the kitchen, then used his free hand to open the back door.

  The door had a broken window. "This is how they got in," Hunter said. Shards of glass crunched under his shoes as he walked through the doorway.

  From far away, Charles's faint but angry voice called out, "WHAT'RE YOU DOING IN THERE? DAMN IT, GET OUT HERE! I MEAN IT! THIS ISN'T FUNNY! I'M GETTING SERIOUSLY PISSED AT YOU GUYS!"

  "What about him?" Mandy asked as she followed the others onto the back porch.

  "We can't take him with us," Rhonda said.

  "He'll be fine where he is," said Hunter.

  "I don't know," Mandy said. "Maybe we should call him an ambulance."

  "He's an ambulance," said Bret, and laughed.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

  They sat quietly, back to back, still a few yards away from the others. Ever since Fain's departure with Eleanor, nobody had spoken to them or bothered them.

  The three remaining guards - Royce and the two others - stayed together near the group of kids. The kids were kneeling or sitting on the ground, some of them quietly weeping, others whispering among themselves, but nobody causing trouble. Whatever else might've happened to them earlier, they
'd obviously seen Betsy's attempted escape and they' d watched Laura get whipped. Enough to scare any but the most reckless kid into behaving.

  "How you doing?" Shannon whispered.

  "All things considered... not so great." Laura realized, however, that the fiery pains from the whipping had subsided. "I'm a little better," she admitted.

  "Good. You feel like some action?"

  "You're kidding."

  "I don't mean right now."

  "What're you thinking of?"

  "They aren't paying much attention to us."

  "Why should they? We can't go anywhere."

  "We might."

  "Rolling?"

  "Do you think you can stand up?"

  Though ropes still bound them tightly arm to arm and back to back, nobody had retied their legs. From their waists down, they were free.

  Laura supposed it might be possible to rise if she braced herself against Shannon's back and pushed upward with her legs. "Maybe. Then what? Sidestep vigorously?"

  Shannon laughed. She did it quietly, but Laura felt the shaking of her back.

  "Not exactly," Shannon whispered. "But maybe I can run."

  "What about me?"

  "You come along for the ride."

  "On your back?"

  "That's the idea."

  "We might do better rolling."

  "What I was thinking, we sit tight for now. Sooner or later, stuff s gonna happen. There'll be a distraction. Like when Eleanor brought the girl in. Or maybe a kid'll act up. We wait for something like that, then get up and make a break for it. Go for the embankment, maybe."

  "You running, me on your back?"

  "Right."

  "You might be big and strong, but you're not that big and strong."

  "I can do it."

  "They'll chase us down in five seconds."

  "Maybe, maybe not. Anyway, it'd beat just sitting here and letting them butcher us."

  "I guess."

  "And who knows, if we get one or two of these creeps chasing after us, maybe some of the kids'll have a chance to get away."

  "I guess it's worth a try," she said.

  The hell it is, she thought. We won't get away. Neither will any of the kids. Two guards will stay to make sure none of them make a break. Just one'll come after us. Probably Royce. He'll catch us. before we get anywhere near the embankment, and he'll take us down hard. And then he'll give us a little payback for causing trouble.

 
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