Once upon a halloween, p.14
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       Once Upon a Halloween, p.14
 

           Richard Laymon
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  "We'll probably end up getting creamed," Shannon said, as if she knew what Laura was thinking.

  "Probably."

  "What I wouldn't give to have my Sig Sauer about now..."

  "That'd be nice," Laura said.

  "Even nicer if I'd had it on me when those three fucks broke into the house."

  "Think you could've gotten all three?"

  "No sweat. Double-tap each of 'em."

  "Maybe it's harder than shooting cans."

  "Gotta be easier. People are bigger."

  This time, Laura laughed softly. "Anyway," she said, "I guess it's water under the bridge."

  "God, if I had it to do over again..."

  "That'd be nice. Too bad life doesn't work that way."

  "It oughta. You oughta get a second chance sometimes."

  "Sometimes, maybe you do. But not this time."

  "I'd give my left nut for a pistol right now."

  Laura laughed again. "That's safe."

  "I was speaking figuratively."

  "I figured."

  "Is there any such thing as a Halloween wish?" Shannon asked.

  "I've never heard of one. You can wish upon the first star you see at night."

  "A little late for that."

  A little late for anything, thought Laura

  "Just the same," Shannon said, "I think I'll wish for a firearm It doesn't have to be my wonderful little.380 Sig. Any gun will do."

  "Oh, sure," Laura said.

  "Yeah, okay. If anyone out there is interested in granting my wish, please give me a decent caliber. Something bigger than a.22 or a.25... though they'll do in a pinch. And please give me as many rounds as possible. A revolver might not quite do the trick, if you know what I mean. On the other hand, much as I would love an assault rifle or shotgun, that sort of thing wouldn't be practical under the circumstances. So it should be a handgun, please. If possible."

  "What's going on over there?" Royce called.

  "Nothing," Shannon said.

  "Knock off the talking."

  "Yes, sir," Shannon said.

  "Gettin' smart?"

  "No, sir," Shannon said.

  "Want me to come over there?"

  "Would you happen to have a handgun we might borrow for a minute?"

  Royce laughed. "Wanta commit suicide?"

  "Something like that."

  "Sorry. Fresh outa guns. But don't worry, we'll put ya outa yer misery pretty soon."

  "Thank you, sir."

  Shannon waited for Royce to turn away and say something to one of the other guards. Then she whispered, "Well, it was worth a try."

  "Oh, of course," Laura said.

  "Couldn't hurt to ask. You know what they say. 'God helps those who help themselves.' "

  CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

  "Shouldn't we be going first?" Mandy asked.

  Hunter, leading the way along the forest path with Rhonda by his side, stopped and turned around.

  "If we're pretending to be your prisoners..."

  "Yeah," Bret said. "We oughta go first."

  "That's a good point," Rhonda said.

  "It's more dangerous in front," Hunter said. "Somebody might come along."

  "It doesn't look right if we're following you. If we really were your prisoners, it'd be too easy for us to get away."

  "The way it should be done," said Rhonda, "is one of us takes the lead and one of us takes the rear. With the prisoners in-between."

  "I don't know," Hunter muttered. He liked having Rhonda walk beside him. She was one of the most popular girls in school and every guy who saw her probably dreamed of being with her... he certainly had. He'd gone to football and basketball games for no other reason than to watch her prance and twirl and leap with the cheerleader squad. But he'd never spoken to her before tonight. Now, they were not only talking to each other but were comrades in arms.

  She undressed in front of me...

  He'd turned his back and hadn't watched, but she'd done it, taken off all her clothes in the same room with him. And he'd taken off his in front of her.

  Afterward, as they left the house and hurried across the back yard to the woods and began hiking up the path, he'd hardly been able to take his mind off the fact that she was naked underneath her robe.

  Rhonda Gale herself.

  They'd talked quietly as they walked through the woods. Sometimes they'd bumped against each other and a couple of times she'd stumbled and Hunter'd saved her from falling. It had been like something out of a dream.

  This whole night's been incredible, he thought.

  Horrible in some ways, wonderful in others.

  "I'll take up the rear," Rhonda said. She patted him on the upper arm, then stepped around Mandy and Bret.

  "If we're gonna do it this way," Hunter said, "let's at least stay close together."

  He resumed walking. Instead of Rhonda by his side, Mandy was a stride behind him. It wasn't the same.

  Better this way, he told himself. Rhonda was too distracting. I shouldn't be thinking about girls at all, not with everything that's going on. People dead all over the place. Maybe some of us dead before too much longer.

  Besides, what about Connie?

  She might already be dead.

  Dead or not, she seemed like the distant past after all he'd seen and done tonight with Shannon and Laura, with Eleanor, with Simone... especially Simone... and Rhonda. Even Mandy seemed more real and vibrant to him than Connie.

  Mandy's just a kid, he reminded himself. She might be cute, but she's too young.

  Kind of sexy in a way, but...

  Stop it, he told himself.

  "Hunter?" Mandy quickened her pace and came up beside him.

  "Yeah?"

  "I've been thinking maybe this prisoner thing isn't such a hot idea."

  "It'll be a good way to get in close."

  "I don't want Bret to get in close. I think if we find the place where they've got everyone, we should maybe leave Bret out of it, He can hide when we go in. And then he can run away if things don't go right."

  "Things'll go fine," Hunter said.

  "I doubt it."

  "Then why are you coming?"

  "Need to find my dad. And Phyllis, I guess."

  "You don't sound too sure about Phyllis."

  "She can be a pain in the keester. She's my best friend, though."

  "Your best friend is a pain in the keester?"

  "Sure."

  "Sounds like you need a new best friend."

  "Nobody's perfect," Mandy said.

  "That's for sure."

  "Hey, can I ask you something?"

  "Sure."

  "That woman back at the house? That dead woman?"

  A sudden rush of heat made him feel sick. "Simone?"

  "You didn't... do anything to her, did you?"

  "I killed her."

  "She had all these... handprints and things all over her. Like someone had... you know, fooled around with her."

  "Jeez, Mandy."

  "I'm just wondering,"

  "We had a real fight. After I got her with the sword. I already told you that. And how I had to strangle her."

  "Nothing else happened? I mean, I've heard how it can be with guys and how they can lose control over certain things."

  He shook his head. "Jeez, Mandy."

  "I was just wondering, is all."

  "How could you even think I'd do anything like that?"

  "Well, the handprints..."

  "I told you how that happened."

  "Okay."

  "What's the matter with you?"

  "Sorry," she said.

  "You should be. You oughta be ashamed of yourself for even thinking I'd do something like that."

  "Yeah, well." Sounding a little as if she might start to cry, she said, "I didn't want to have bad thoughts about you. I just want us to be friends."

  "Why would you want that if you think I'm the sort of guy who would... fool around with Simone like you said?"

/>   "But you didn't, right? You just... she got that way because you had to strangle her."

  "That's right."

  "Okay."

  "It's the truth."

  "Okay."

  The quick crunching of leaves and twigs warned him of someone's approach. He glanced back and found Bret hurrying closer. "What're you talking about?" he asked.

  "Nothing," Mandy said.

  "Tell me."

  "None of your business." She raised her arm and pointed down the path. "Just slow down and stay back there with Rhonda." Sudden concern in her voice. "Where'd she go?"

  Hunter halted and turned around and gazed into the darkness. He saw blurs of gray and black, pale moving bits of moonlight, and no sign of Rhonda.

  "Oh, my God," he muttered.

  They stood together, looking down the empty path.

  "Where is she?" Mandy asked.

  "She was right behind me," Bret said.

  "RHONDA!" Hunter shouted.

  No answer came. Hunter heard only the wind.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

  "She's gotta be there!" Bret started to take off down the path but Mandy lurched forward and clamped a hand on his shoulder and jerked him to a stop. "Let go!"

  She kept her grip on him.

  "Mandyyyy!"

  "Quiet."

  "RHONDA!" Hunter shouted again. "Where arc you?"

  "We've got her now."

  Hunter whirled around, raising his sword. A few yards ahead of him, a vague shape stood on the path. The shape of a woman with broad shoulders, a narrow waist, powerful-looking arms and legs, Mostly a dim gray blur of bare skin with dark smears here and there she was too obscured to recognize except for her voice.

  Hunter knew the voice.

  "Eleanor?"

  "Miss me?" she asked.

  He shrugged.

  "I'm sure you did. I missed you. And now I've come back for you."

  "Where's Rhonda?" he asked.

  "We have her."

  "Let her go."

  "I don't think so."

  He shook the sword at her. "I'll chop your head off."

  "I don't think so."

  "Let Rhonda go!"

  "Drop the sword."

  Eleanor's hands seemed to be empty. She wore no belt around her waist. She seemed to have no weapon at all, and to be wearing nothing except a pair of sneakers.

  "Let her go or I swear I'll kill you."

  "Fain!" she called. "He doesn't want to drop the sword."

  A moment later, someone cried out in pain. The agonized voice came from somewhere down the path, not very far away. It sounded like Rhonda.

  "Rhonda!" Bret shouted.

  Mandy kept a tight grip on her brother's shoulder.

  After the outcry came sobbing sounds.

  "Drop the sword, Hunter."

  He lowered it. "You didn't have to hurt her."

  "Drop it. Right now."

  Go for her! Take her out!

  Though he could no longer hear Rhonda sobbing, the pain in her sharp outcry still filled his head.

  I can't.

  He let go of the sword. It fell into the dry leaves of the path.

  "Where'd you get the robe?" Eleanor asked.

  "Bryce."

  "And Rhonda... Simone's robe?"

  "Yeah."

  "And what became of Bryce and Simone that their robes became available?"

  "I... took care of them."

  "Did you now?" She sounded amused. "Good for you. Took care of them, and then put on their robes and here you are, trekking, through the woods. On your way to the graveyard?"

  Hunter nodded.

  "What did you think you'd do, infiltrate us?"

  "That was the idea."

  "Lame."

  "Yeah, well..."

  "Take it off."

  "I'm not wearing anything."

  "Wonderful. That'll make two of us. Take it off."

  It's all right, he told himself. It's so dark nobody'll be able to see much anyway.

  Still, he shook with strange tremors as he unfastened the cloth belt. The robe blew open. He slipped it off his shoulders and let it fall behind him. The wind felt warm and dry on his moist skin.

  "Ah-ha," Eleanor said.

  He looked down at himself. The night wasn't as dark as he'd hoped.

  "Now the knife," Eleanor said.

  He reached down for it.

  "Not just the knife. The whole works. The belt, the sheath... Just unbuckle the belt and let it all drop."

  He lowered his hands to the buckle.

  "OW!" Mandy blurted. "You little...!"

  Turning, Hunter glimpsed Mandy hopping on her left leg, clutching her right shin. Bret must've kicked her. Released, he sprang toward Hunter.

  "Stop it!" Eleanor shouted.

  Bret hurled himself against Hunter's back. As the boy collided with him, he felt the pistol get snatched from under the back of his belt.

  Oh, my God!

  Eleanor yelled, "Stop!"

  Jerking his head around, Hunter caught a glimpse of Bret vanishing into the trees.

  "Get back here!" Mandy shouted.

  "Don't move!" Eleanor yelled at her. "Bret! Come back here this instant, you little shit!"

  Hunter heard Bret racing through the crunchy leaves.

  Suddenly, the sounds stopped.

  "Fain!" Eleanor shouted. "Did you get him?"

  "No!" came a voice from somewhere down the trail. "But I've still got the girl."

  "Bret, come back here right now or Rhonda's gonna get it!"

  The only sounds that came from the woods were those of the wind shaking the trees and bushes.

  Then came another outcry from Rhonda.

  Hunter winced. His throat tightened and his eyes went hot.

  They'll pay! I'll make them pay for this!

  Still, no response from Bret.

  "Okay, kid," Eleanor shouted. "We're taking everyone over to the graveyard. That's where you can find us. You come on over and give yourself up, or we'll kill them all. You understand? Be there in ten minutes or we'll kill your sister and your dad and Rhonda and everyone else!"

  No response.

  Eleanor again faced Hunter. "The belt."

  He unbuckled the belt and let it fall.

  "Now move back so I can get my things."

  Why not grab the sword instead? Take her apart with it!

  "If I have to ask again, Rhonda gets another dose."

  "No, please." Hunter backed away, Mandy staying by his side.

  Eleanor walked forward.

  Crouching, she lifted the belt out of the leaves. She swung it around her waist, fastened the buckle, and adjusted the sheathed knife at her right hip. Then she crouched again and picked up her sword. "That's better," she said. "Felt a little naked without my weapons." She swung her sword, slashing the air in front of her.

  "Do you really have my dad?" Mandy asked.

  "Yep."

  "What about Phyllis?"

  "Her, too. It'll be a regular reunion. Too bad your little shit of a brother had to ruin everything."

  "Don't call him that."

  "Yeah, right." She stepped to the side of the path. With a swing of the sword, she motioned them forward. "You two take the lead. Follow the path till I say different."

  As Hunter began to walk, Mandy came up and took hold of his hand. The path was too narrow for them to walk side by side, but she kept his hand and walked slightly behind him.

  She gave his hand a squeeze. "It'll be okay," she said.

  "No talking."

  "Sorry," Mandy said.

  "Fain!" shouted Eleanor. "We're on our way. The kid has ten minutes to give himself up, or we kill 'em all."

  "You bet!" came a voice from the woods to their rear.

  "Meet you there!" Eleanor yelled.

  "We'll be along soon."

  Eleanor laughed softly.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

  "Something's coming," Laura said.

  "Wha
t?" Shannon asked.

  "A van?"

  Shannon thought she could hear it - an engine sound in there with the rushing hisses of the wind. "Let me see."

  Tight against each other's backs, they twisted their torsos

  Then Shannon turned her head as far as she could and gazed over her left shoulder.

  The vehicle appeared to be a van, all right. Still a distance away it was moving in their general direction without any headlights on.

  "Maybe it's a night watchman or something," Laura said, "The main entrance is over that way. The cemetery office."

  "Have they got a night watchman?"

  "Not that I know of. But they might."

  "If it is," Shannon said, "you'd think he'd drive with his headlights on."

  She looked over at the three robed guards. They were staring toward the van, heads turned away from Shannon and Laura.

  "This might be a fine time to skedaddle," Shannon said.

  "Oh, God. "

  "Before the van gets here."

  "It's gonna hurt."

  "I know. Ready?"

  "No."

  The van, apparently following one of the cemetery's service roads, began to veer away.

  It isn't coming here?

  "Wait," Laura said.

  "I see."

  She now had a full sideview of the van. It was a pale color that seemed to glow in the moonlight. The shadows sweeping over it looked black.

  "It's going away," Laura whispered.

  "Looks that..."

  It cut hard to the right and sped toward the group, swooping down a slope, swerving to avoid a headstone, swerving again to miss a tree.

  "Now!" Shannon gasped.

  Laura moaned.

  Shannon brought up her knees and braced her feet against the ground. Feeling the push of Laura's back, she shoved with her feet.

  No longer felt the grass under her buttocks.

  Rose higher, higher, Laura's back and buttocks against her own, rising.

  Shannon looked to the side. The guards were still turned away and watching the van.

  "Here goes," she said. Gritting her teeth, she bent over quickly at the waist. The ropes around her shoulders and arms and crisscrossing her chest seemed to dig into her skin as Laura's weight dragged at them. Laura made sounds like a tortured mouse - high and full of pain, but quiet.

  Then the ropes eased, the pain faded. Shannon had Laura on her back.

  So far, nobody had yelled.

 
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