Once upon a halloween, p.15
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       Once Upon a Halloween, p.15

           Richard Laymon
 
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  She turned toward the embankment and tried to run.

  More of a trudge. Bent over, arms stretched out straight to both sides as if she'd been crucified on the cross of Laura, she forced one leg up and forward, put the foot down, then brought up the other and moved it forward. Her entire body was so heavy she fell as if someone had filled her with wet concrete.

  Gasping for air, she tried to move faster.

  Come on! Faster!

  She gained speed. Laura's weight almost seemed to be helping now, adding to the momentum.

  More like it.

  Faster and faster she plowed forward, her head so low she could hardly see where she was going, her breasts lurching and swimming beneath her, Laura grunting and bouncing, hot and slippery on her back.

  Laura blurted, "Hurry! They spotted us!"

  ***

  Bound to Shannon, riding her like an ungainly backpack, Laura could hardly believe Shannon was able to run beneath such a burden... and she was amazed by the distance they made before anyone noticed they were on the move.

  The guards had all their attention on the approaching van until it stopped not far from the Kneeling Girl statue and the driver's door swung open.

  Maybe the driver said something.

  Suddenly, Royce and the other two guards jerked around and

  looked toward Laura. Then Royce broke away from them and gave chase and Laura blurted her warning to Shannon.

  Somehow, Shannon picked up more speed.

  Laura bounced and slid on her back, wincing as the ropes tore into her skin. From the start, she'd kept her knees up, high and close to her chest. It seemed to help with the center of gravity. Now that Royce was closing in fast, she was appalled by the view she presented him. She tried to put her knees together, but she was bouncing around too roughly and they kept flying apart.

  Not like it matters, she thought. We're gonna be dead soon, the hell with it.

  But she hated it, hated that she was so exposed to him.

  Royce was closing the distance very fast. She saw that his robe was open now, flapping behind him in the wind. Like the others, he wore nothing under the robe except a belt around his waist. In her lurching vision, she glimpsed his genitals. She looked away fast, raised her eyes to the sky.

  Leaves were flying through the night. High above her, the branches of trees scratched and clawed at the sky. High above the black branches, shreds of clouds flew past the moon.

  Though her eyes were raised, she couldn't help but see Royce beyond her upraised knees, closing in fast.

  She looked at him.

  He seemed to be staring exactly where she'd expected. He seemed to be grinning.

  Another moment, and he was near enough to reach out and grab her foot. Or push her and send Shannon diving headlong.

  But he didn't.

  Drastically slowing his speed, he jogged along only a pace or two behind Laura.

  Enjoying the show?

  Underneath her back, Shannon struggled on, grunting and wheezing for breath.

  Royce reached out a hand.

  Reached between Laura's legs.

  She shot out a foot and smashed him in the face. Her heel seemed to burst his nose. He let out a yelp of pain and surprise and dropped backward, disappearing from her line of sight.

  Even before she had a moment to savor her victory, however, she realized that the recoil of her kick had thrown off Shannon's balance.

  Shannon cried out, "Aaah!" as she careened forward out of control.

  Then she seemed to be flying.

  Headfirst, face up, arms stretched out as if ready to embrace the Halloween sky, Laura rode her to the ground.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

  Jeff opened his eyes. He was on his back. Above him, leaves were blowing by and the high black branches of trees were shaking against the sky.

  His head ached horribly.

  What happened?

  He lifted one of his arms and gently patted the top of his head. His wet, sticky hair was pasted against a lump on his scalp.

  How'd that happen?

  He turned his head slowly to one side, but saw only vague, dark shapes of bushes and trees. When he turned his head the other way, the motion made him feel dizzy and sick. He took deep, slow breaths,

  I'm in a forest, he thought. What forest? Where?

  Then he noticed a dim, gray patch of something on the ground nearby. Bits of whiteness here and there swayed and trembled on it.

  It looked as if it might be snow.

  Where am I? Up in the mountains somewhere? Can't be warm. Much too warm for the mountains at night.

  Maybe it's a patch of sand?

  He moved his arm slowly away from his side.

  Just before touching the paleness, fear stopped his hand.

  Whatever it is, I've seen it before. It just didn't look the same, but...

  He went ahead and touched it and jerked his hand back quickly before he realized it had felt like cloth.

  A bedsheet?

  He put his hand on it again, clenched the cool soft fabric, and remembered a woman wearing a sheet, naked underneath it, running up to him and the kids.

  Said something about getting attacked.

  And about helping her friend.

  And then she'd run off and Phyllis had chased her and they'd both vanished into the woods by the dead-end barricade.

  These woods?

  Is that where I am? he wondered. Probably. I must've gone after them.

  I did.

  He suddenly remembered making his way along the path and seeing the dim pale shape ahead of him. Going to it. Finding a sheet, an empty sheet draped over the broken remains of an old tree...

  Then she came at him from behind.

  He remembered turning around, seeing her rush toward him with her arms high. Then the blast of pain in his head.

  Apparently, the blow had knocked him unconscious.

  How long ago?

  Where are the kids?

  Left them back on the street. With that girl, that cheerleader, Rhonda. Told them to wait for me. They should be safe.

  Bret and Mandy, anyway.

  Phyllis, anyone's guess. Why the hell did she have to go running off with the sheet woman?

  Why the hell does Phyllis do anything? Messed up little creep.

  I've gotta get up, get going.

  Jeff rolled over, groaning, head spinning. He made it to his hands and knees, then threw up. When he was done, he used the sheet to wipe his mouth. Then he crawled closer to a tree and put a hand on its trunk. Holding himself steady, he struggled to his feet.

  Where'd the path go?

  It should've been right here, but it wasn't.

  What'd she do, drag me somewhere?

  She couldn't have dragged me very far, he thought. Not without help, anyway.

  Maybe dear sweet Phyllis lent her a hand.

  Letting go of the tree, he took a slow, unsteady step forward and began to search for the path.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

  The woods ended, but the path continued into the graveyard.

  "Go left," Eleanor said from behind them.

  Hunter turned to the left. Mandy, holding his hand, made the turn and stayed beside him. Away from the dense woods, there was a lot more moonlight. She couldn't avoid seeing Hunter out of the corner of her eye, but she tried not to look at him.

  It would've felt strange to be anywhere near a naked boy, but to be walking close beside one, holding his hand... Good grief, wait until Phyllis hears about this.

  As if I'll ever tell, she thought. This is just between me and Hunter.

  And Eleanor. Don't forget Eleanor. Not that she'll go around blabbing to anyone.

  Not that any of it'll matter if she kills us.

  Would she really do it?

  Hunter's the only one around here who's actually killed anyone... that I know of, anyway.

  But Eleanor said she would, told Bret she'd kill us all - even Dad - if he didn't show up i
n ten minutes.

  How long ago was that? she wondered.

  It seemed as if she'd spent half an hour walking down the dark path with Hunter, but it couldn't have been that long. Must've been at least five minutes, though. And now they'd already spent a couple of minutes in the cemetery.

  Walking through a graveyard on Halloween night, holding hands with a naked boy, held prisoner by a naked woman with a sword.

  Weird, weird, weird, she thought.

  It intrigued Mandy that she didn't feel more frightened.

  Something wrong with me?

  She did have a tightness in her stomach. And she felt shivery all over. Her chin was trembling slightly. She had goosebumps and her nipples felt stiff and sensitive against the angora of her sweater.

  She supposed she was frightened, but it seemed almost like excitement.

  Something must be wrong with me, she thought.

  "Trick or treating'll be a bore after this," she said quietly to Hunter.

  "Maybe you should make a run for it," he said. "I'll block for you."

  "She'll get you with the sword."

  "I don't know. Maybe. But... if it'll help you get away."

  She squeezed his hand. "Thanks. I'll stick it out. They've got my dad. And Bret might show up. I can't just..."

  "Knock off the talk," Eleanor said from behind them.

  Then they were trudging up a long gradual slope, Hunter changing course to lead her around trees, monuments, tombstones and fenced plots that got in their way. Sometimes, he bumped softly against her when he turned, nudged her with his bare arm or hip, muttered, "Sorry." She knew he wasn't doing it on purpose. She liked it, though. Each place he touched her, she kept on feeling him after he'd stopped.

  She wondered how it might feel to actually hug him.

  I can't hug him! He hasn't got any clothes on! Besides, Eleanor would probably chop us to pieces.

  As they started down the other side of the low hill, Mandy saw a gathering of people off in the distance. They were on lower ground, some in tree shadows, some in moonlight. Several seemed to be standing around. Others were kneeling or sitting. Near them was a pale van.

  It's them!

  Her stomach went cold and seemed to shrivel.

  Is Dad down there? Phyllis?

  She supposed Rhonda was probably still on the way, Fain's prisoner.

  Where's Bret?

  Mandy looked over her shoulder. Eleanor was only a few steps back, striding along with the sword resting on her shoulder. Here, there were no trees above them. In the moonlight, Eleanor looked as if she'd been painted with cream. The wind blew her short blond hair. Her eyes and mouth were two black pits and a sideways slash in the paleness of her face. Her breasts bounced and swayed with the motions of her powerful body. Her nipples looked as if they might'd been dipped in blank ink.

  "Watch where you're walking, kid."

  "How much of the ten minutes is left?"

  "Who knows? Who cares?"

  "But you told Bret..." She tripped over the back of her other foot and stumbled forward. Hunter tried to hold on, but lost his grip on her hand. As she fell, a gravestone raced toward her face. She flung her left arm up and twisted sideways. Her arm crashed against the marble block. She cried out in pain, tumbled away from the stone and landed on her back.

  Hunter rushed over. "My God, are you okay?"

  Looking up at his moonlit body, she thought, Good grief! and turned her face away.

  Eleanor stopped near her feet. "Told you to watch where you were going."

  "My arm."

  "Get her up," she said to Hunter.

  "But she's hurt."

  "Do it!"

  Hunter crouched beside her.

  "Don't touch me!" Mandy blurted.

  "Get away from her," Eleanor ordered.

  Hunter scurried back and Eleanor came forward. She shifted the sword to her left hand. Planting her feet on both sides of Mandy's hips, she bent down and clutched the neck of the sweater and pulled.

  "No!" Mandy cried out.

  The angora stretched away from her neck, made sounds of starting to rip, but her head and back began to rise off the ground. Her left arm dangled toward the ground, erupting with pain. As she whimpered with the hurt of it, Eleanor hauled her upward and she pushed at the ground with her feet. A moment later, standing, she was jerked forward by a rough tug of Eleanor's hand, pulled up close to her.

  "Told you to watch where you're going," Eleanor said.

  "I'm... sorry."

  "She tripped" Hunter pleaded. "You don't have to..."

  "Shut up or I'll give it to her worse."

  Mandy put her right hand quickly up under her poodle skirt to Simone's knife in its sheath belted low around her hips. She grabbed the hilt and jerked upward. Her skirt came up with her hand and Eleanor made a perplexed sound, then grunted when Mandy punched the blade into her belly.

  Grunted and jerked rigid.

  Sensing she'd be in deep trouble unless she finished the job fast, Mandy jerked the knife upward hard while it was still inside Eleanor.

  The woman went up on tiptoes. Her mouth leaped open, but only a harsh gasp came out.

  Then the fist clutching Mandy's sweater punched her in the chest, blasting her backward. She kept hold of the knife. It pulled out of Eleanor. When she hit the ground, pain exploded through her arm.

  Eleanor lurched toward her, sword raised high, right hand pressed against her split belly.

  Leaping in from the side, Hunter grabbed her sword arm. She turned toward him, let go of her belly and pulled her knife from its sheath.

  "Look out!" Mandy warned.

  They both suddenly went down, Eleanor falling backward, Hunter on top.

  Eleanor grunted.

  There was no struggle. Hunter climbed off her.

  Mandy sat up, gritting her teeth against the pain from her arm, and saw Eleanor sprawled out on top of a low iron fence that surrounded a family plot. The uprights looked like miniature spears. She must've fallen on at least three of them.

  She was still alive.

  Still conscious.

  Writhing on the spikes, she screamed.

  CHAPTER FORTY

  For a short while, Royce had been down on his knees and clutching his nose. Now he was up, staggering toward Laura.

  "Oh, God," she murmured.

  Shannon, spread-eagled underneath her, groaned and squirmed, maybe wanting to get up but too weak, too hurt from the fall.

  Royce stopped just beyond the reach of Laura's feel. "Ya busted by bose, ya puckin'..." A distant scream caught his attention. He looked over his shoulder.

  Laura, on the ground and lashed to Shannon's back, couldn't see what he was looking at.

  His robe was blowing behind him.

  The size of him made Laura feel sick and shaky.

  Please, God, don't let him...

  He turned his face again toward Laura. The blood running from his nostrils gave him a dark mustache and goatee.

  "Leave us alone," Laura said. "Please."

  He took a step closer and she kicked out at him. Too far away.

  "You an' yer puckin' poot," he muttered. Then he pulled out his knife.

  "No," Laura said. "Please."

  He stepped toward her and she shot her foot out, aiming for his groin.

  Flashing moonlight, the blade slit her across the instep.

  She jerked her leg back, crying out.

  He kicked her other leg aside and dropped to his knees. She felt him between her thighs.

  And heard a quiet pok!

  Royce remained kneeling for a moment. Then he toppled forward. She grunted as his thighs forced her legs wide and his torso came down on her pelvis and belly. His head followed, shoving his face between her breasts.

  Underneath her, Shannon moaned, squirmed, flexed her buttocks. "What... happened?"

  "I don't know," Laura said. "He got hit by something? I think he's out cold."

  "Can you... get him off us?"
r />   "I don't..."

  Someone ran in from the side, skidded to a halt and looked down at her. A kid with wild, pale hair. He wore bib overalls and held a slingshot in one hand.

  "Hi, Laura," he said. "Hi, Shannon."

  "Hey," Laura said.

  "Who is it?" Shannon asked.

  "Dennis the Menace?"

  "I'm Bret. Bret Wilson. Remember me?"

  "What's going on?"

  "I'm here to rescue everyone. I'm supposed to give up, but I'm not gonna."

  Suddenly, kids started screaming. Eight, ten of them, boys and girls together, shrieking in terror.

  Bret turned his head. "Uh-oh."

  "What?"

  "Somebody's watching."

  "Oh, God."

  "It's okay."

  "Get outa here, Bret," Shannon warned.

  "Don't worry."

  "You'd better run," Laura told him.

  "I'm fine," he said, reaching behind his back with the slingshot A moment later, his hand came forward empty. He shoved it into a front pocket of his bib overalls and pulled out something that looked like a pistol.

  "Shannon?" he said. "What's the combination for your trigger lock?"

  "What?"

  "I think he's got your gun," Laura said.

  "You're kidding!"

  "Uh, oh," Bret said. "Here they come."

  "Double-oh-seven!" Shannon cried out.

  Bret raised the pistol higher, studied it in the moonlight, worked on something with his thumb. "Now what?"

  "Twist the thing sideways and pull it apart."

  He fiddled with it.

  Laura strained her head upward. The top Royce's head blocked most of her view, so she couldn't see who was coming. She could hear them, though. Footfalls, panting sounds.

  She looked over at Bret.

  Two big shiny chunks of something metallic fell away and he shoved the pistol straight out in front of him.

  BLAM!

  The pistol spit out fire, leaping in the boy's small hand.

  BLAM BLAM!

  ***

  Sword high overhead as if leading a cavalry charge, Hunter raced down the slope, dodging grave stones and trees. On the level ground in the distance, all the robed figures seemed to be watching him.

  I must look crazy to them.

 
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