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Once upon a halloween, p.16
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       Once Upon a Halloween, p.16

           Richard Laymon
 
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Maybe even scary, coming down through the graveyard like the Headless Horseman, sword waving. No horse, though. No clothes or missing head.

  Hunter let out a war cry.

  A lot of the kids started screaming.

  Suddenly, a couple of the robed adults turned around and ran in the opposite direction.

  Afraid of me?

  Maybe not. Looked like some others were over there, down on the ground.

  He heard a quick BLAM!

  One of the running shapes fell. Two more bangs. The other tumbled to the ground.

  Somebody shot them?

  As if the shots were a signal, chaos broke out. Yelling kids started to stand up, struggle with their ropes. Some of them, already loose, sprinted away. None of the guards tried to interfere; they had problems of their own.

  Namely me and Wild Bill!

  The four remaining robed figures were striding around, looking every which way, shouting, grabbing kids, pointing at Hunter, throwing kids to the ground, pointing toward the scene of the gunfire.

  Who the hell turned up with a gun?

  He only knew of one firearm; Shannon's pistol that Bret had run off with. But it had a trigger lock.

  Did he get it off? How could he? The kid's only... what, eight?

  ***

  Hunter had told Mandy to wait, so she was waiting at the top of the hill even though it made her nervous being so close to Eleanor

  As Hunter charged down the slope, she glanced over at the woman.

  Not dead yet. Moaning and twitching on the fence spikes, intestines slipping around and falling off her sides as if snakes were escaping from her belly.

  I did that.

  The blast of a gunshot made her flinch. Then came two more

  She jerked her head around. She'd missed where the shot came from. By the sounds, however, they must've been fired from somewhere down below.

  Are they shooting at Hunter?

  If so, they'd missed. He was still racing down the slope, waving his sword overhead like a madman.

  "Mandy?"

  She whirled around.

  Rhonda was down on her knees a few yards away, a woman standing behind her. The woman wore a robe. He bare head gleamed in the moonlight.

  She had one hand on Rhonda's shoulder. The other, raised high, held a hatchet.

  "Take it easy," the woman said. "Don't try anything or I'll split Rhonda's head open."

  "What do you want?" Mandy asked.

  The woman smiled and said, "You."

  ***

  "You got 'em?" Shannon asked. Mashed beneath Laura and

  Royce, she hadn't been able to see anything except grass and a nearby gravestone. But the gunshots were still ringing in her ears.

  "Sure," Bret said.

  "Any more coming?" Laura asked.

  "Not yet."

  "Can you get this guy off us?" Shannon asked.

  "I guess so."

  "No," Laura said. "Just leave him for now. Get us loose first."

  What's the matter with her? Shannon wondered. Doesn't she know I'm getting crushed under here? Does she like having that creep on top of her?

  "Can you untie us?" Laura asked.

  "I can do better. This guy's got a knife."

  Moments later, Shannon felt the flat of a cool blade slipping between her wrist and Laura's. The boy began to work it back and forth, cutting into the rope.

  ***

  None of the four remaining guards seemed eager to rush toward the place where someone had just gunned down their pals. While two of them tried to round up kids who hadn't gotten away yet, the two others pulled weapons from inside their robes and rushed toward Hunter. The way they were shrouded by shadows, he couldn't see what their weapons were.

  But he'd had a pretty good look at the whole group earlier that night when they'd shed their robes and danced in the light of the flare, and he hadn't seen any firearms. Just hatchets, all sorts of knives and a couple of swords.

  Bad enough going up against anything like that.

  I don't have to do this!

  But he wondered if Connie was there among the captives.

  Is she watching, amazed by the naked wildman charging to the rescue? She'll go nuts when she finds out it's me.

  He wanted to look for her, but couldn't take his eyes off the two robed figures who were now only a few strides away.

  One threw a knife at him. It tumbled end over end, blade flashing moonlight.

  No time to dodge, so he slashed his sword at it.

  Missed.

  The knife struck him hard in the chest.

  Hilt-first? Glancing down, he expected to see it bounce off and fall. But the handle, a couple of inches below his right nipple, was sticking out straight.

  Oh, my God.

  He felt the blade deep inside him, hot and stiff.

  The man dodged away after throwing the knife, but the other, a woman with flowing blond hair, ran toward him with an upraised hatchet.

  He swung his sword.

  Her head leaped off her neck and bumped her raised arm, knocking the hatchet aside. An instant later, Hunter collided with her, caught a faceful of blood from her spouting neck stump, and took her over backward.

  When he landed on the woman, her chest slammed the knife deeper into him.

  Squealing, he tried to roll off her.

  Someone helped.

  A hand grabbed him roughly by the shoulder and flung him over. He tumbled off the woman. On his back, he saw the man who'd thrown the knife bend over him, grab the knife by its hill and pull it out.

  The man put the blade to Hunter's neck.

  Oh, no.

  Then came a quick hard BLAM! and the man's head jerked as if he'd been punched in the face and pieces of his chin flew off and he stumbled sideways and disappeared from Hunter's line of sight.

  ***

  He'd said, "Just a second."

  "What?" Laura asked.

  Not answering, Bret had left the knife's wide blade sandwiched between their upper arms, leaped up and run.

  "Where are you going? " Laura had called.

  "What's he doing?" Shannon had asked.

  "I don't know."

  "He shouldn't have left! If something happens to him..."

  BLAM!

  "What's he doing?"

  Laura raised her head, but Royce's head remained in the way.

  "I can't see."

  Royce raised his head and looked her in the eyes. Then he turned his head, opened his mouth and licked the side of her right breast. Squirming and lifting himself slightly, he licked his way to the top of her breast. His mouth opened wide.

  Obviously unaware that Laura's right arm was no longer bound to Shannon's arm.

  Fingers searching the grass by her side, she found what she wanted.

  Her breast in his mouth, Royce raised his head, sucking and pulling and stretching it.

  She clutched the heavy chunk of metal so that its smooth oval side was against her palm, its stubby barrel-like rod jutting outward, and swung it u p hard, slamming it against the side of Royce's head...

  His head jumped up. Her breast popped out of his mouth with a wet slurping sound. As he bucked higher, Laura let go of her weapon - half of Shannon's trigger lock. It stayed with Royce, its rod embedded in his temple.

  He made it to his knees, then tumbled sideways. His weight came down on Laura's left leg, Shannon's right. They both yelled in pain.

  With her right foot, Laura shoved at the body. It wobbled, started to roll.

  Then she heard an engine sputter. It died, then caught and roared as someone gunned it.

  Then came another gunshot.

  "What the hell's going on?" Shannon blurted.

  After the shot, the engine quieted to an idle.

  CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

  A girl in a shiny, pale monster suit ran over to Laura and Shannon.

  "Betsy?" Laura asked.

  "That's me. Bret sent me over." Crouching, she look hold of the knife and started to
cut through the ropes that bound Laura's upper left arm to Shannon's right.

  "Where's Bret?" Laura asked.

  "Over by the van. He has a prisoner of war."

  Underneath Laura, Shannon said, "Huh?"

  "That's what he called her, a 'prisoner of war.' He has to keep her covered, so he sent me over."

  Finished with that rope, she started working on the one around their forearms. "A couple of them almost got away. They had me and some other kids in their van, but then Bret ran up to the door and shot the driver and rescued us all and took his prisoner of war."

  "He got 'em all?" Shannon asked.

  "Oh, he did. If you count the ones that went after you, he shot

  four of them."

  "Jesus," Shannon muttered, "He's a kid. He shouldn't even know how to work a gun like that."

  "He says it's easy," Betsy said.

  Shannon laughed, shaking Laura.

  Soon, the last of the ropes were cut away. After Betsy stood up, Laura gave Royce a hard shove with her foot and he rolled clear.

  She rolled in the opposite direction, tumbled off Shannon's slippery hot back and buttocks, and lay face down on the grass. The wind felt wonderful against her own wet skin.

  Turning her head, she looked at Shannon.

  Shannon, still flat on the grass, smiled. "Nice to have you off my back, kid."

  "Nice to be off."

  "You weigh a ton."

  "Oh, yeah?"

  "Yeah."

  She slid her arm across the grass, found Shannon's hand and squeezed it. "I didn't think we'd make it out of this one."

  "Ah, I always knew we'd be fine."

  "Do you call this fine?" Laura asked.

  "Could be worse."

  "Oh, yeah. A lot worse."

  "Just goes to show," Shannon said, "we can get along without our guardian spooks."

  "Guardian spooks?" Betsy asked.

  Laura grimaced, and saw Shannon do the same. Apparently, they'd both forgotten that the girl was standing nearby.

  "What's a guardian spook?" Betsy asked.

  Shannon shrugged her shoulders, then groaned as if it hurt.

  "Sort of like a guardian angel," Laura explained. "But with attitude."

  "Do you have guardian spooks?"

  "Nah," Shannon said. "We were just kidding around about that."

  "Bret's our guardian," Laura said. Thrusting at the ground with hands and knees, she pushed herself up. But when she tried to stand, a fiery streak of pain reminded her of the knife cut on the bottom of her right foot. She jerked that foot off the ground. Standing on her left leg, she hopped to keep her balance and saw a group of kids standing around Bret and a robed woman beside the van. Bret, whose head wasn't quite as high as the woman's chest, was aiming the pistol at her face.

  When he noticed Laura, he used his free hand to wave.

  Most of the kids turned their heads to look at her.

  Giving them a spectacle.

  She stopped bouncing, put an arm across her breasts, pressed her other hand between her legs, and would've fallen over except that Betsy hurried over and held her up.

  "Thanks," she said. Then she raised her voice. "Shannon, would you please get up here and help me? I've got a slashed foot."

  "Oh. Sorry."

  Shannon struggled to her feet and hobbled over. Betsy got out of the way. Shannon put an arm around Laura's low back and planted a hand against her hip. Laura leaned against her.

  Facing the kids and making no attempt to hide her own nudity, Shannon said, "So, kids, trick or treat." To Bret, she said, "You did a great job, buddy."

  "Thanks." Keeping the pistol aimed at his prisoner, he glanced toward Laura and Shannon and said, "But there's people missing, Mandy and my dad. And Rhonda. I don't know where they are. And I think Hunter needs an ambulance."

  "Any of you kids have a cell phone?" Shannon asked.

  "I had one," said a boy in a Freddy Krueger costume, "but they took it away from me."

  "Me, too," said a girl who seemed to be dressed as a ballerina.

  "What did they do with 'em?" Shannon asked.

  "I think they're in the van," Krueger said.

  "Somebody go look, okay?" Shannon said.

  "Not okay."

  Off to the right, a fair distance from the kids but closer to where Laura and Shannon were standing, a girl in a sweater and pleated skirt suddenly stumbled out from behind the Kneeling Girl statue. Arms windmilling, hair flying, she tried to stay up but lost her balance and flew headlong.

  "Rhonda!" Bret yelled.

  She slammed against the ground and skidded toward the concrete bench.

  Then a smaller girl was shoved around the side of the statue by a woman walking behind her.

  A woman with a hairless head.

  Fain?

  The bitch who whipped me with her belt.

  The girl looked no older than twelve or thirteen. She wore a torn sweater, a scarf around her neck and a poodle skirt. Her left arm was pressed close against her side. Something seemed to be wrong with it.

  Fain, behind her, was clutching the girl's pony tail with one hand. Her other hand held a hatchet over the girl's head, ready to strike.

  "Mandy?" Bret said.

  Fain said, "Kid, put down the gun."

  Though Bret was looking over his shoulder at Fain and Mandy, he kept the pistol pointed at his prisoner. "You put down the hatchet," he said.

  "I'll put it in this girl's head."

  "You'd better not."

  "I will."

  "You better not." He suddenly sounded close to tears.

  "Fain," Shannon said.

  The woman turned her head.

  Shannon let go of Laura, stepped away from her, and began walking slowly toward Fain. "You're pretty tough when it comes to picking on little kids or people who are tied up. How would you like to deal with me?"

  "One more step, and I'll split this kid's head open."

  Shannon halted.

  Laura nearly fell over, so she spread her arms and began to hop on her left foot.

  "Kid," Fain called. "Hand that pistol over to your prisoner."

  "You'll kill Mandy anyhow," he said.

  "No, I won't. I promise."

  "Put your hatchet down, and then I'll give over the pistol."

  "Afraid it doesn't work that way, kid. You go first."

  "No, you go first."

  "Give her the pistol before I count to three, or I'll chop this girl's head open. One."

  "Leave the girl alone," Shannon warned.

  "Two."

  "You touch her, I'll kill you."

  BLAM!

  Laura jerked her head sideways in time to see Bret's prisoner take a step backward and fall.

  Then he swung around and aimed at Fain and but didn't fire. He let out a whine of surprise.

  Laura saw that the slide was back, the pistol out of ammo.

  "Oh, kid," Fain said.

  "No!" Bret yelled.

  Shannon sprang forward, but Laura knew she would never be in time.

  Fain started to swing the hatchet down.

  POK!

  Fain's head flew back as if she'd been kicked in the forehead and for just an instant Laura thought Bret must've nailed her with his slingshot. But she glimpsed a darkness splash up from behind her head and vanish into the night. And down she went, still clutching the hatchet in one hand, the girl's pony tail in the other, and the girl fell on top of her.

  "EVERYBODY DROP YOUR WEAPONS!" came a tinny, amplified voice.

  Bret dropped his pistol.

  They came running from a long way off, dodging gravemarkers and trees, hustling through the Halloween night, men and women in dark, baggy trousers, flak jackets and helmets, carrying assault rifles.

  After they'd swarmed in, Laura noticed the lettering on the backs of their jackets.

  BEAUMONT P.D. SWAT.

  CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

  Jeff stood in front of the dead-end barricade and looked up the
street. He saw nobody.

  They weren't supposed to go away, he thought.

  Maybe around the corner.

  The way his head ached, the corner looked awfully far away. So he cupped his hands to the sides of his mouth and shouted, "KIDS!"

  Listening, he heard only the wind.

  "MANDY? BRET? RHONDA?"

  He watched and listened. Along the road, nothing moved except the tree branches and the patterns of light and shadow they cast on the pavement. And leaves falling sideways, tumbling, some scooting along just above the road as if in a hurry to be somewhere else.

  He heard only the sounds of what the wind did. Whistles, howls, whispers of leaves brushing against this or that, bumps and clatters, the tingle and clink of wind chimes somewhere.

  But he heard no voices.

  Nobody called out, "Dad!" or "Over here!"

  Damn it, they weren't supposed to go wandering off!

  Where are they?

  Oh, God, what if something happened to them?

  He began walking up the middle of the road, leaning into the warm wind, moving slowly to avoid jostling his head.

  Never should've left them. What was I thinking?

  "MANDY! BRET! RHONDA!"

  They've gotta be okay, he told himself.

  Oh, yeah?

  There has to be a simple explanation as to why they aren't here. Maybe they found Rhonda's brother and the others and took them home.

  They were supposed to wait!

  Maybe they decided to search door-to-door.

  Grimacing, he turned his head slowly to the right and saw the end of a driveway.

  That's where Rhonda said she stopped to tie her shoe.

  Up the driveway was the house where those two gals lived, the ones Bret had gotten involved with about ghosts or something. Bret had really wanted to see them tonight.

  I bet that's where the kids went!

  Jeff began walking up the driveway.

  They have to be there, he thought.

  If they aren't...

  They are. It makes perfect sense. Especially when I didn't come back. They weren't supposed to leave the area, so they went to a house instead... the house of these two gals Bret seems to like so much.

  I'll probably find them waiting on the front porch.

  The driveway curved past bushes and trees and the house came into view. The porch was dark except for the glow from a couple of lighted windows. Nobody seemed to be waiting there.

 
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