Fiends ssc, p.14
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       Fiends SSC, p.14
 

           Richard Laymon
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  ‘Looking for someone, honey?’ she asked. Running the tip of her tongue across her lower lip, she squirmed against the light post. As her hands slid upward, the skirt rose with them. It lifted above the tops of her black fishnet stockings. The straps of a garter belt were dark against her pale thighs.

  Feeling a little breathless, Byron looked her in the eyes. ‘You aren’t bleeding, are you?’ he asked.

  ‘What do you think?’ She eased the skirt higher, but he didn’t allow his eyes to wander down.

  ‘I don’t think you understand,’ he said. ‘I’m trying to find someone who’s bleeding.’

  ‘Kinky,’ she said. ‘What’s your name, sweet thing?’

  ‘Byron.’

  ‘I’m Ryder. Wanta find out how I got my name?’

  ‘Have you been standing here long?’

  ‘Long enough to get lonely. And hot.’ One of her hands glided up. It slipped inside her blouse. Byron saw the shapes of her fingers through the thin fabric as they fondled her breast.

  He swallowed. ‘What I mean is, did you just get here?’

  ‘Few minutes ago. You like?’ She eased the blouse aside, showing him the breast, stroking its erect nipple with the edge of her thumb.

  He nodded. ‘Very nice. But the thing is… did you see anyone go by?’

  ‘Just you, Byron. How about it?’ She stared at the front of his slacks. ‘You look mighty sweet to me. I bet you taste real fine. I know I do. You wanta find out just how fine, too, I’ll bet.’

  ‘Well… see, I’m looking for someone who’s bleeding.’

  Her eyes narrowed. ‘That’ll cost you extra.’

  ‘No, really…’

  ‘Yes, really.’ She curled her lower lip in, and nipped it. Then she pushed the lip outward as if offering it to Byron. A trickle of blood rolled down. When it reached her chin, she caught it on the tip of her index finger. She painted her nipple with it. ‘Taste,’ she whispered.

  Byron shook his head.

  Ryder smiled. More blood was dribbling toward her chin. ‘Oh? Do you want it someplace else?’

  ‘No. I’m sorry. Huh-uh.’ He backed away from her.

  ‘Hey now, buster…’

  He whirled around and ran.

  Ryder yelled. He understood why she might be upset, but that was no reason to call him such names. They made him blush, even though nobody seemed to be around to hear.

  I’m hearing, he thought as he dashed up the sidewalk. And I’m not half those things she’s calling me. She knows it, too. She saw.

  Crazy whore.

  By the time he reached the other side of the next street, she had stopped shouting. Byron looked back. She was gone.

  While he gasped for air, he swept the beam of his flashlight over the sidewalk. He saw no blood spots.

  I lost the trail!

  His throat tightened.

  It’s all her fault.

  He stomped his foot on the sidewalk.

  Calm down, he told himself. It’s not over yet. You still had die trail when you ran into her.

  The DON’T WALK sign was flashing red, but Byron didn’t care. After all, he hadn’t even looked at the signal the first time across. Now, it just didn’t matter.

  Old Dandy’d been bad enough. But Ryder!

  Running into people like that made traffic signals seem pretty trivial.

  No cars were coming, so he hurried back across the street.

  Nothing to it.

  He smiled.

  When he found a spot of blood on the sidewalk, a thrill rippled through him.

  ‘Ah ha!’ he pronounced. ‘The game’s afoot!’

  Now I’m talking to myself? Why not? I’m holding up fairly well, all things considered.

  Spying a second drop of blood, he understood how he had lost the trail. The bleeder hadn’t crossed the road, but had headed to the right along Kelsey Avenue.

  Byron quickened his pace.

  ‘Gaining on you,’ he said.

  As he hurried along, he realized that the spots on the sidewalk were farther apart than they used to be. The distance between them had been irregular from the start - but anywhere from three to five feet, usually. Now, it seemed more like eight to ten feet from one drop to the next.

  Is the wound coagulating? he wondered. Or is the bleeder running dry?

  What if the blood stops entirely?

  If that happens, I’ll never find her.

  Or find her too late - dead in a heap.

  Neither outcome suited Byron.

  He broke into a run.

  A few strides after passing the entrance of an alley, he lost the trail again and staggered to a halt. Turning around, he returned to the alley. His flashlight reached into it, and a spot of red gleamed on the pavement two yards ahead.

  Odd, he thought. In his fantasies, he’d imagined finding the bleeder in an alley. What if it all would happen just the way he’d pictured it?

  Too much to hope for, he told himself.

  But he felt a tremor of excitement as he entered the alley.

  He shined his light from side to side, half expecting to find a beautiful woman slumped against one of the brick walls. He saw a couple of garbage bins, but nothing else.

  She might be huddled down, concealed by one of the bins.

  Byron stepped past them. Nobody there.

  He considered lifting the lids, but decided against it. The things would stink. There might even be rats inside. If the bleeder was in one of them, he didn’t want to know.

  Better not to find her at all.

  This was supposed to be an adventure with a glorious and romantic outcome. It would just be too horrible if it ended with finding a body in the garbage.

  He kept going.

  Ten strides deeper into the alley, his pale beam fell upon another drop of blood.

  ‘Thank God,’ he muttered.

  Of course, there were several more bins some distance ahead -dark boxes silhouetted by faint light where the alley ended at the next road.

  Fiends

  I’ll find her before then, Byron told himself.

  Any minute, now.

  A black cat sauntered across the alley. It glanced at him, eyes glowing like clear golden marbles.

  Good thing I’m not superstitious, he thought, the back of his neck tingling.

  ‘If only you could talk,’ he said.

  The cat wandered over to the right side of the alley. Back hunched, tail twitching, it rubbed its side against a door.

  A door!

  Byron tipped back his head and inspected the building. He thought that it might be an apartment house. Its brick wall was three stories high, with fire escapes at the windows of the upper floors. All the windows were dark.

  He stepped toward the door. The cat leaped and darted past him.

  He almost grabbed the knob before noticing that it was wet with blood.

  A chill crept through him.

  Maybe this isn’t such a great idea, he thought.

  But he was so close.

  Still, to enter a building where he didn’t belong…

  This might very well be where the bleeder lived. Why had she entered from the alley, though, instead of using the front? Did she feel that she had to sneak in?

  ‘Strange,’ Byron muttered.

  Maybe she simply wandered down the alley, lost and dazed, and entered this door in the hope of finding someone who would help her. Even now, she might be staggering down a hallway, too weak to call out.

  Byron plucked a neatly folded handkerchief from his pocket, shook it open, and spread it over his left hand. He turned the knob.

  With a quiet snick, the latch tongue retracted.

  He eased the door open.

  The beam of his flashlight probed the darkness of a narrow corridor. On the hardwood floor gleamed a dot of blood.

  He stepped inside. The hot air smelled stale and musty. Pulling the door shut, he listened. Except for the pounding of his own heartbeat, he heard nothing.

&nbs
p; His own apartment building, even at this hour, was nearly always filled with sounds: people arguing or laughing, doors slamming, voices from radios and televisions.

  His building had lighted hallways.

  Hallways that always smelled of food, often of liquor. Now and again, they were sweet with the lingering aromas of cheap perfume.

  Nobody lives here, he suddenly thought.

  He didn’t like that. Not at all.

  He realized that he was holding his breath as he started forward. He walked slowly, setting each heel down and rolling the shoe forward to its toe. Sometimes, a board creaked under him.

  He stopped at a corner where this bit of hallway met a long stretch of corridor. Leaning forward, he aimed his beam to the left. He saw no blood on the floor. His light reached only far enough down the narrow passage to reveal one door. That door stood open.

  He knew that he should take a peek inside.

  He didn’t want to.

  Byron looked to the right. Not far away, a staircase rose toward the upper stories. Beyond that was a foyer and the front entrance.

  He saw no blood on the floor in that direction.

  I’ll check that way, first, he decided. He knew it would make more sense to go left, but heading toward the front seemed safer.

  He turned the corner. After a few strides, he twisted around and checked behind him with the light. That long hallway made him very nervous. Especially the open door, though he couldn’t see it from here. Instead of turning his back on it, he began sidestepping.

  He shined his light up and down the stairway. The balustrade flung crooked, shifting bars of shadow against the wall.

  What if the blood goes up there?

  He didn’t want to think about that.

  He checked the floor ahead of him. Still, no blood. Coming to the foot of the stairs, he checked the newel cap and ran his light up the banister. No blood. Nor did he find any on the lower stairs. He could only see the tops of five, though. After that, they were above his eye level.

  I don’t want to go up there, he thought.

  He wanted to go up there even less than he wanted to search the far end of the hallway.

  Sidestepping through the foyer, he made his way to the front door. He tried its handle. The door seemed frozen in place.

  He noticed that his light was shining on a panel of mailboxes. His own building had a similar arrangement. But in his building, each box was labeled with a room number and name. No such labels here.

  This came as no surprise to Byron. But his dread deepened.

  I’ve come this far, he told himself. I’m not going to back out now.

  Trembling, he stepped toward the stairway. He climbed one stair, then another. The muscles of his legs felt like warm jelly. He stopped. He swept his light across two higher treads that he hadn’t been able to see from the bottom. Still, no blood.

  She didn’t go this way, he told himself.

  If she did, she’s on her own.

  I didn’t count on having to search an abandoned apartment house. That’d be stupid. God only knows who might be lurking in the empty rooms.

  Byron backed down the stairs and hurried away, eager to reach the passage that would lead to the alley door.

  He felt ashamed of himself for giving up.

  Nobody will ever know.

  But he hesitated when he came to the connecting hallway. He shone his light at the alley door. Twenty feet away. No more than that. He could be outside in seconds.

  But what about the bleeder?

  You’ll never know, he thought.

  You’ll always wonder.

  Suppose it is a beautiful young woman, wandering around in shock, slowly bleeding to death? Suppose you’re her only chance?

  I don’t care. I’m not going upstairs.

  But what about that open door?

  He could take a look in there, couldn’t he?

  He swung his light toward it.

  And heard the soft murmur of a sigh.

  Oh my God!

  He gazed at the doorway. The sigh had come from there, he was sure of it.

  ‘Hello?’ he called.

  Someone moaned.

  Byron glanced again at the alley door, shook his head, and hurried down the corridor.

  So much for chickening out, he thought, feeling somewhat pleased with himself in spite of his misgivings.

  I’ll be a hero, after all.

  ‘I’m here,’ he said as he neared the open door. ‘I’ll help you.’

  He rushed into the room.

  He jumped the beam of his flashlight here and there. Shot its bright tunnel into corners of the room. Across bare floorboards. Past windows and a radiator.

  At his back, the door slammed shut.

  He gasped and whirled around.

  And stared, not quite sure what he was seeing.

  Then a small whimper slipped from his throat and he stumbled backward, urine running hot down his leg.

  The man standing beside the door grinned with wet, red lips. He was hairless. He didn’t even have eyebrows. Nor did he appear to have a neck. His head looked as if it had been jammed down between his massive shoulders.

  His bloody lips grinned at Byron around a clear plastic tube.

  A straw of sorts. Flecked inside with red.

  The tube curled down from his mouth to a body cradled in his thick arms.

  The limp body of a young man whose head was tipped back as if he found something fascinating about the far wall. He wore jeans and a plaid shirt. The shirt hung open. From the center of his chest protruded something that resembled a metal spike - obviously hollow inside - which was joined with the plastic tubing. A single thin streamer of blood stretched from the hole, across his chest, and down the side of his ribcage.

  It was the streamer, Byron knew, that had left the trail of drops which led him there.

  He pictured the monstrous, bloated man carrying the body block after block down city streets, drinking its blood as he lumbered along.

  Now, the awful man shook the body. His cheeks sank in as he sucked. Some red flew up through the tubing. Byron heard a slurpy hollow sound - the sound that comes from a straw when you reach the bottom of a chocolate shake.

  Then came another soft sigh.

  ‘All gone,’ the man muttered.

  His lips peeled back, baring red teeth that pinched the tube.

  He dropped the body.

  The spike popped out of its chest and swayed at the end of the tubing.

  ‘Glad you’re here,’ he said. ‘Got me an awful thirst.’

  Wrapping his thick fingers around the spike, he stepped over the body.

  Byron spun around, ran, and leaped. He wrapped his arms around his head an instant before hitting the window. It exploded around him and he fell until he crashed against the pavement of a sidewalk.

  He scurried up and ran.

  He ran for a long time.

  Finally, exhausted, he leaned against a store front. Panting for air, he looked where he had been.

  Now that’s a trail of blood, he thought.

  Too weak to go on, he let his knees unlock. He slumped down on the sidewalk and stretched out his legs.

  His clothes, he saw, were shredded from the window glass.

  So am I, he thought.

  But that thing didn’t get me.

  Smiling, he shut his eyes.

  When he opened them again, he saw a woman crouching beside him. A young, slim blonde. Really cute. She looked a lot like the one he’d hoped to find at the end of the trail. ‘You’ll be all right,’ she said. ‘My partner’s calling for an ambulance.’

  She nodded toward the patrol car idling by the curb.

  DESERT PICKUP

  ‘All right!’ He felt lucky about his one. Walking backward along the roadside, he stared at the oncoming car and offered his thumb. Sunlight glared on the windshield. Only at the last moment did he manage to get a look at the driver. A woman. That was that. So much for feeling lucky.
<
br />   When he saw the brake lights flash on, he figured the woman was slowing down to be safe. When he saw the car stop, he figured this would be the ‘big tease.’ He was used to it. The car stops, you run to it, then off it shoots, throwing dust in your face. He wouldn’t fall for it this time. He’d walk casually toward the car.

  When he saw the backup lights come on, he couldn’t believe his luck.

  The car rolled backward to him. The woman inside leaned across the front seat and opened the door.

  ‘Can I give you a ride?’

  ‘Sure can.’ He jumped in and threw his seabag onto the rear seat. When he closed the door, cold air struck him. It seemed to freeze the sweat on his T-shirt. It felt fine. ‘I’m mighty glad to see you,’ he said. ‘You’re a real lifesaver.’

  ‘How on earth did you get way out here?’ she asked, starting again up the road.

  ‘You wouldn’t believe it.’

  ‘Go ahead and try me.’

  He enjoyed her cheerfulness and felt guilty about the slight nervous tremor he heard in her voice. ‘Well, this fella gives me a lift. Just this side of Blythe. And he’s driving along through this… this desert… when suddenly he stops and tells me to get out and take a look at one of the tires. I get out - and off he goes! Tosses my seabag out a ways up the road. Don’t know why a fella wants to do something like that. You understand what I mean?’

  ‘I certainly do. These days you don’t know who to trust.’

  ‘If that ain’t the truth.’

  He looked at her. She wore boots and jeans and a faded blue shirt, but she had class. It was written all over her. The way she talked, the way her skin was tanned just so, the way she wore her hair. Even her figure showed class. Nothing overdone.

  ‘What I don’t get,’ he went on, ‘is why the fella picked me up in the first place.’

  ‘He might have been lonely.’

  ‘Then why’d he dump me?’

  ‘Maybe he decided not to trust you. Or maybe he just wanted to be alone again.’

  ‘Any way you slice it, it was a rotten thing to do. You understand what I mean?’

  ‘I think so. Where are you headed?’

  ‘Tucson.’

  ‘Fine. I’m going in that direction.’

 
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