The traveling vampire sh.., p.13
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.13

           Richard Laymon
 

  “What crawled up your ass and…”

  “Rusty!” I snapped.

  “What’d I do?”

  Eyes on Rusty, Slim said, “I didn’t really appreciate getting left up there.”

  “You should’ve come with me.”

  “We were supposed to wait for Dwight.”

  “Yeah, but…”

  “Yeah, but,” she mimicked him. “Yeah-but, yeah-but you turned yellow and ran away and left me up there.” To me, she said, “You should’ve seen him freak out. Nothing was even there yet. We just heard cars coming through the woods, and he goes ape like it’s the end of the goddamn world. And then this hearse drives onto the field. That did it, the hearse. He goes, ‘Oh, shit! It’s a hearse! We gotta get outa here!’ I told him to calm down. I mean, big deal. A hearse. It’s just part of the vampire show. It’s part of what we went there to see, you know? It was probably Valeria’s hearse. I thought he wanted to see Valeria. But huh-uh, all he wants is to vamoos.”

  “You were scared, too,” Rusty said.

  “Yeah, a little. But I didn’t run away.”

  “Duh. Yes you did.”

  “Later.”

  “You should’ve left when I did. Don’t go calling me a chicken. I just had the foresight to haul my ass out of there sooner than you.”

  “I planned to stick it out.” To me again, she said, “I told Rusty we should just relax and lie down flat so they wouldn’t see us.”

  “They would’ve seen us. The minute someone climbed the bleachers. By then, we might not’ve been able to get away.”

  “So he said, ‘You wanta stay, stay. I’m gonna get while the gettin’s good.’”

  I could hear Rusty say it.

  “Of course, my shoes and shirt were down on the ground. My shirt was no big deal, but I didn’t want to leave my shoes behind.”

  “But you did,” Rusty pointed out.

  “Yeah, that’s for sure. After they did that to the dog, I stopped worrying about my feet. I grabbed both your shirts and jumped off the back of the shack and ran like hell for the woods.”

  “What did they do to the dog?” I asked.

  “Right off, it went running toward the hearse, barking like a maniac.”

  “I saw that,” Rusty said.

  “Yeah, and then you took off.” Turning her eyes to me, she said, “I got down flat on my stomach and looked around the end of the sign. The hearse was coming straight toward me. It had a bus coming along behind it. Like a school bus, only black.”

  “I’ve seen it,” I said.

  “When you drove out with Lee?” Slim asked.

  “Yeah.”

  “So what all did you see?”

  “The hearse, the bus, that big truck that looked like a moving van, a bunch of people unloading stuff.”

  “Wait’ll you hear,” Rusty said.

  “Hear what?”

  “He’s got…”

  “Hey!” I blasted him. “I’ll tell her. But I’d like to hear about the dog first, okay?”

  “Okay, okay.” To Slim, he said, “What’d they do, run it over?”

  “Let her tell it.”

  “So sorry.” He smirked at Slim, “Proceed.”

  “Okay, so the dog ran straight for the hearse, barking its butt off. I thought it’d jump out of the way at the last second, but it didn’t. What it did, it stopped in front of the hearse and planted its feet in the dirt and sort of hunched down and barked like a madman. So then the hearse stops. I’m thinking these are decent people who don’t want to run over a dog. Boy, was I wrong. What happens next, the bus drives up behind the hearse and stops and its door opens. And these people come pouring out. Like maybe fifteen of them, and they’re all dressed in black and carrying spears.”

  “Spears?” I blurted.

  “Spears. Big long ones. Like maybe six feet long, with steel tips.”

  “You’re shitting us,” Rusty muttered.

  “Yeah, I wish.”

  “What did these people look like?” I asked.

  “Jungle bunnies?” Rusty asked.

  I winced. Ever since Slim had read To Kill a Mockingbird, she’d gone on the warpath if anyone used that sort of language.

  She glared at Rusty.

  “You know.” He smiled. “The spears.”

  “Don’t be an asshole,” she told him.

  “Just asking.”

  “Well, don’t. You want to be a bigoted shit-for-brains, don’t do it in front of me.”

  I looked at Rusty and shook my head. “Nice going.”

  “Big deal.”

  Still looking angry, Slim said, “Matter of fact, all of them were white.”

  “Glad to hear it,” Rusty said.

  Ignoring him, I asked, “What did they look like?”

  “Just normal, I guess.” She glanced at Rusty, but he made no comment so she turned her attention to me and continued. “Mostly men, I think. And a few women. They all wore these shiny black shirts that looked like satin or silk or something. Anyway, they split into two groups. One bunch went around one side of the hearse, one around the other. Before the dog noticed anything was wrong, they closed in on it. They surrounded it, then started poking at it with their spears. They could’ve killed it with one good thrust, but nobody did that. They just kept poking at it, giving it little jabs.”

  Slim went silent. She had a hurt look in her eyes as if she could feel the dog’s agonies. After taking a few deep breaths, she said, “I couldn’t see the dog at all…just those people around it, going at it with their spears. I could sure hear it, though. It was yelping and squealing and whimpering. You could tell…It was like they just wanted to torture it.”

  “Good God,” I muttered.

  “Sick,” Rusty said.

  “Finally, they stepped back to let someone through. The dog was down on its side. Its tongue was hanging out and it was panting for air, and it was just covered with blood. It was sort of trying to get up.” Slim’s voice broke. She shook her head and looked away from us.

  Rusty looked as if he might throw up.

  With both hands, Slim wiped sweat away from her eyes. Some tears, too, I think. Then she took another deep breath and said, “The guy they let through, he got down on one knee and shoved his spear…” Breathing hard, she shook her head. Then as if in a race to get her story done, she blurted, “He picked it up off the ground with his spear and ran with it to the back of the hearse and somebody’d already opened the door back there and he shoved the dog in like food on the end of a stick and…” She paused to take a few quick breaths, then went on. “He pulled the spear back a second later, and the dog wasn’t on it anymore. It was like somebody in the hearse…I don’t know.”

  Rusty and I both stared at her.

  Head down, she kept wiping her face with both hands. It took her a long time to calm down. Then she said, “After that, that’s when I figured it was time to go.”

  We were silent for a while longer. Then I said, “God almighty.”

  After more silence, Rusty said, “So you think somebody in the hearse ate the dog?”

  She shrugged her shiny, tanned shoulder. “I don’t know,” she muttered.

  “Or drank its blood,” I suggested.

  “Valeria is supposed to be a vampire,” Rusty reminded us.

  “I don’t know who was in the hearse,” Slim said.

  “Maybe nobody,” I said. “Maybe they just put the dog in there to get it out of sight.”

  “I don’t know,” Slim muttered. “Anyway, that’s what happened. And I thought if they got their hands on me…I might get it like the dog. So I turned around and belly-crawled to the back of the roof and jumped down and ran like hell.”

  “Did they see you?” I asked.

  “I don’t know. Maybe not. I didn’t hear any shouts. No one came after me. I don’t think so, anyway. When I got into the woods, I kept changing directions to throw them off. Just in case someone was after me. Then I hid for a while.”

 
“Where’d you hide?” Rusty asked.

  She shrugged again. “Under some old tree. It had fallen over and there was a space between it and the ground. I just barely fit in.”

  “How long do you think you stayed in there?” I asked.

  “Seemed like ages.” She shrugged again. “Maybe half an hour, I don’t know.”

  “I bet that’s where you were when Lee and I were at Janks Field.”

  “Maybe. I don’t know.”

  “Did you hear anyone calling your name?”

  She shook her head.

  “I called out for you and Rusty.”

  “When was that?”

  I shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe around twelve-thirty, I guess. Twelve-fifteen, twelve-thirty, something like that.”

  Slim frowned as if thinking about it, and shook her head again. “I must’ve been somewhere in the woods.”

  “You weren’t on the roof.”

  Surprise on her face, she said, “You looked?”

  “Yeah. I went over and jumped up and…”

  “Went over to the shack?”

  “Yeah.”

  “What about all those people?”

  “They weren’t paying much attention to us. Julian had gone into the bus…”

  “Who’s that?”

  “Julian Stryker. He’s the owner of the show.”

  Looking surprised but not at all pleased, Slim said, “You met the owner?”

  I nodded.

  “What’d he look like?”

  “I can see this coming,” Rusty said.

  I glanced at him, then looked back at Slim. “He wore a black shirt…”

  “They all wore black shirts, numbnuts,” Rusty reminded me.

  Ignoring the remark, I said to Slim, “He had long, black hair. He was…I guess women would probably think he was really handsome.”

  “Gorgeous?” Slim asked.

  “I didn’t think so, but…”

  “Was he carrying a spear?” Rusty asked.

  I glared at him.

  “Did he wear silver spurs?” Slim asked.

  “Yeah.”

  “That’s him,” she said.

  “Knew it,” said Rusty.

  Me, too. But I asked, “The guy who…picked up the dog and took it to the hearse?”

  Slim nodded.

  “Oh, man,” I muttered.

  “What?”

  “We asked him about you and Rusty.”

  “What’d he say?”

  “That he hadn’t seen you.”

  “Wait’ll you hear the good part,” Rusty said, a strange smile on his face.

  “Lee bought tickets from him,” I explained. “Four tickets for tonight’s performance of the Traveling Vampire Show. One for each of us.”

  Chapter Twenty

  Slim stared at me. She looked a little stunned. “You’re kidding,” she said.

  “They cost her forty bucks,” I said.

  “But nobody under eighteen’s allowed.”

  “Julian made an exception for us.”

  “He’s got the hots for Lee,” Rusty explained.

  Slim’s upper lip lifted slightly. Eyes turning toward Rusty, she said, “Maybe that’s why. Or maybe he did see us. Me, anyway. If he saw me running away—if any of them did—he might figure I watched them kill the dog. Maybe he wants to get me.”

  A touch of scorn in his voice, Rusty said, “Why would he want to get you?”

  “To stop me from telling what I saw.”

  I could think of other reasons he might want Slim. They made me feel cold and tight inside. I decided not to mention them.

  A grin on his face, Rusty said, “Maybe he wants to stick a spear up your ass.”

  “Real funny,” Slim muttered.

  I punched him. My fist smacked his soft upper arm through the sleeve of his shirt.

  Face going red, he gasped, “Ah!” and grabbed his arm and gazed at me with shocked, accusing eyes. As I watched, his eyes filled with tears. “Real nice,” he said.

  I turned to Slim. She looked as if she wished I hadn’t hit him, but she didn’t seem angry at me. More as if she thought the punch had probably not been the most terrific idea.

  Though tears shimmered in Rusty’s eyes, he wasn’t exactly crying. They weren’t streaming down his face or anything. Frowning at me, he rubbed his arm.

  “I didn’t hit you that hard,” I said.

  “Hard enough. It hurt, man.”

  “You shouldn’t have said what you did.”

  “I was just being funny.”

  “You weren’t being funny,” Slim assured him. “And you wouldn’t be making cracks like that if you’d watched them with the dog.”

  “Sorry,” he muttered, still rubbing his arm.

  “And as a matter of fact,” Slim said, “that guy really might want to stick a spear up my ass. Or up yours. Anyone who’ll do a thing like that to a dog…he wouldn’t think twice about doing it to a person.”

  “Maybe we’d better forget about going to the show tonight,” I said.

  Rusty’s mouth fell open. He looked as if I’d punched him again. “Shit,” he said. “We can’t not go!”

  “I’m not going,” Slim said. “No way.”

  He turned to me. “I wanta see the show, man! Don’t you? I mean, Valerie! If we don’t go tonight, we’ll never see her. You wanta see her, don’t you?”

  “It might not be such a good idea,” I said.

  “It’d be a lousy idea,” Slim said. “I’m sure not going anywhere near those people again, and I don’t think you guys should, either. They’re a bunch of sickos.”

  “Just because they killed that stupid dog? Hey, Dwight tried to jump on the damn thing. Is he a sicko, too?”

  “It’s different.”

  “Dog would’ve been just as dead. Except he missed. He sure as hell planned to land on it.”

  She glanced at me, shook her head, and said to Rusty, “You know good and well it was different. Stop being a creep, okay?”

  “I just don’t wanta get rooked outa the show,” he said. “I don’t care what they did to that stupid dog. Look how it messed you up. It deserved what it got.”

  “Didn’t deserve that.” Slim looked from Rusty to me and said, “Anyway, let’s get out of here. I want to go home and get cleaned up.”

  Home.

  I remembered what we’d done there.

  It all rushed in: sneaking into her bedroom, looking at her things, Rusty fooling with her mother’s bra, and the awful accident with the vase and how we’d left the mess behind. A nasty flood of heat flashed through my body.

  Rusty cast me a warning glance.

  And suddenly an idea popped into my head. Trying to keep my relief from showing, I frowned and said, “Maybe we’d better go over to Lee’s house first and tell her about what happened. See what she thinks.”

  Rusty looked pained. “She hears what they did, man, she isn’t gonna take us.”

  I gaped at him, astonished that he didn’t realize a trip to Lee’s house would save us from going to Slim’s. The mess in her mother’s room was sure to be discovered sooner or later, but I preferred later. The longer we could put it off, the better.

  “She shouldn’t take us,” Slim said. “None of us should go to that show.”

  “Anyway,” I said, “we have to tell Lee what happened.”

  “No, we don’t.”

  “Yes, we do. Otherwise, she’ll be waiting for us.” To Slim, I explained, “We’re supposed to be at her house at 10:30 tonight.” To Rusty, I said, “We can’t just not show up when she’s expecting us.”

  “So we do show up. I’ve got no problem with that.”

  “I think we’d better tell her now,” I said.

  Slim nodded in agreement.

  “Besides,” I said, “her house is closer than Slim’s. We can stop there first and borrow some bandages.”

  Rusty opened his mouth as if all set to argue. Before any words came out, however, a light of understa
nding filled his eyes.

  He got it.

  He got something anyway.

  “Good point,” he said. “Bandages. Lee must have bandages. Everyone has bandages. Okay. Let’s go there first.”

  “Okay by me,” Slim said.

  Not saying a word, I raised one foot off the ground and pulled off my sneaker.

  “What’re you doing?” Slim asked.

  “Giving you my shoes.”

  “You don’t have to do that.”

  I smiled at her and shrugged and pulled off my other sneaker. Holding them both toward her, I said, “I insist.”

  “Hey, no. C’mon. I can’t wear your shoes.”

  “Sure you can.”

  “If she doesn’t want to wear ’em…”

  I gave Rusty a look that shut his mouth.

  “Put them on,” I told Slim. “Please.”

  “I don’t know.”

  “If it hadn’t been for your shoes, I would’ve gotten chomped by the dog.”

  “Glad to help.”

  “I’m the one who threw ’em,” Rusty reminded us.

  “You did a good job,” I told him.

  “Saved your butt.”

  “I know. You both did.”

  “Yeah, well, remember that when you wanta rook me outa Valeria.”

  “Sure.” To Slim, I said, “I want you to wear them. Please.”

  “But what about you?”

  “I’ll be fine.”

  With a look of embarrassed but grateful surrender, she nodded and said, “All right.” Then she took the sneakers from my hands, turned away and walked over to the remains of an old, fallen-down tree. She sat on its trunk, facing us, and set both sneakers beside her. While Rusty and I stood there and watched, she brought up one foot, crossed it over her knee, and removed the shirt that she’d been using to protect it. The bottom of her bare foot looked filthy. I glimpsed some blood on it before she put my sneaker on.

  “Are your feet okay?” I asked.

  “A few little nicks. No big deal.” She let the shirt fall to the ground, then brought up her other foot.

  When she had both my shoes on, she stood up. “Feels much better,” she said. Then she crouched and plucked our shirts off the ground. Holding them out in front of her, she shook her head. “These are really wrecked, guys. I’m sorry.”

  They were not only covered with dirt and blood, but torn in a few places.

 
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