The traveling vampire sh.., p.16
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.16

           Richard Laymon
 

  “What’s wrong?” I asked.

  In a small voice as if she feared being overheard, she said, “Somebody’s been in my room.”

  I shriveled inside. Before I could say anything, Rusty asked, “What do you mean?”

  She turned sideways, raised a long, tanned arm and pointed a finger at her pillow.

  On top of it lay a paperback book, wet and chewed and torn. Though the book looked as if it had been mauled by a vicious dog, its cover was intact enough for me to read the title.

  Dracula.

  My breath knocked out, I looked at Rusty. He looked at me. Then we both shook our heads.

  Slim still had her eyes on the wreckage of Dracula, so I took a fast look at the paperbacks on her headboard. They were lined up neatly, just the same as when I’d seen them earlier. Then, however, Dracula had been among them.

  “How the hell did that happen?” Rusty asked.

  I almost blurted out, “I didn’t do it,” but I caught myself in time.

  I’d looked at the books, but I hadn’t touched them and certainly hadn’t chewed on any of them.

  Neither had Rusty. The books had been fine when I went looking for him and found him in the mother’s room. After that, neither of us had been alone in the house.

  Slim kept staring at the book.

  “Did you do it?” Rusty asked.

  “No!” I blurted.

  “Not you. Slim.”

  “Huh? Me?” She looked at him. “Are you nuts?”

  He shrugged. “I don’t know. Did you?”

  “No!”

  “You had time to do it.”

  “I was changing my clothes.”

  “Didn’t you see it?”

  Slowly, she shook her head. “Not right away. It must’ve been like that, but…I got undressed over there.” She nodded toward her dresser. “Then I came over here and tossed the stuff on the bed and that’s when I noticed.”

  “That’s when you yelled?” I asked.

  She shook her head some more. “I put my top on first.”

  An image filled my mind of Slim standing there in just the red shorts, breathing hard as she stared down at the decimated book, her breasts rising and falling.

  “This is crazy,” Rusty muttered. He looked worried.

  Apparently, he didn’t suspect me. Maybe he’d glanced into the room on our way out and seen that nothing was out of place.

  To Slim, he said, “Are you sure you didn’t do this, like to freak us out or something?”

  One glance gave him all the answer he needed—and more.

  “Slim wouldn’t do that to a book,” I said. “For any reason.”

  “That’s right,” she said.

  “So if she didn’t, who did?” Half grimacing, half smiling, he added, “Or what?”

  Slim bent over slightly, reached down and picked up the book. “It’s still wet.” She lifted it close to her face and sniffed. “Smells like saliva.”

  “Human or dog?” I asked.

  “Or vampire?” asked Rusty.

  Slim scowled at him. “It’s broad daylight.”

  “We’d better look around,” I said. “Whoever did this might still be in the house.”

  “Or whatever,” Rusty threw in.

  Slim looked around as if confused about what to do with the book. Then she carried it across her room and dropped it into a wastebasket next to her desk. It hit the bottom with a ringing thump.

  She pulled open a desk drawer and took out two knives. One was a hunting knife in a leather sheath. The other was a Boy Scout pocket knife. Not speaking a word, she brought the knives to us. She handed the hunting knife to me, the pocket knife to Rusty. Then she went to her closet, silently opened its door and stepped inside.

  In the closet, most of Slim was out of sight.

  She stepped backward with her straight, fiberglass bow in one hand and a quiver of arrows in the other.

  Turning toward us, she slung the quiver over her back so the feathered ends of a dozen or more arrows jutted up behind her right shoulder. The strap angled downward from her shoulder to her left hip, passing between her breasts.

  With both hands free, she planted a tip of her fiberglass bow against the floor. She pulled down at the top, used her leg for some extra leverage, bent the bow and slipped its string upward until its loop was secure in the nock.

  Left hand on the grip, she raised the bow. Then she reached up over her shoulder with her right hand and slipped an arrow out of the quiver. She brought it down silently in front of her and fit its plastic nock onto the string.

  At the end of the long, pale shaft was a steel head that looked as if it were made of razor blades.

  “Watch my back,” she whispered.

  I drew the hunting knife out of its sheath. Rusty opened the blade of the pocket knife. We followed Slim out of the room.

  Much of her back was hidden behind the quiver of arrows. The quiver was brown leather and nicely tooled. She’d won it by taking first place in a YWCA Fourth of July archery contest a couple of summers earlier. Most people hadn’t expected a fourteen-year-old girl to win it, but I’d known she would.

  Chapter Twenty-five

  Just a week before the archery contest, we had hiked out to Janks Field for a secret practice session. It was the end of June, a hot and sunny afternoon. The desolate expanse of Janks Field, scattered with a million bits of broken glass, sparkled and glittered in the sunlight as if someone had sprinkled gems over its bare gray earth. Even with our sunglasses on, we had to squint as we walked onto the field. There wasn’t so much as a hint of a breeze. The air felt heavy and dead. It smelled dead, too. Or something did.

  “What’s that smell?” I asked.

  “Your butt,” Rusty said.

  “Something’s dead,” said Slim.

  “Dwight’s butt,” Rusty explained.

  “Huh-uh.” Slim shook her head. She was thirteen that summer and calling herself Phoebe. “It’s bodies.”

  “Dwight’s…”

  “I bet they never found ’em all,” she said. “You know, the stiffs. The corpses. And you know what? It always smells like this.”

  “Does not,” Rusty said. He would argue with a rock.

  “Yeah, it does,” Phoebe said. “I smell it every time we’re here. It’s just worse sometimes, like on really hot days.”

  “Bunk,” Rusty said.

  “I think she’s right,” I said.

  “Oh, yeah, she’s always right.”

  “Pretty much,” I said.

  Grinning, Phoebe said, “Right as rain.”

  “Where do you want to shoot?” I asked her.

  “Here’s fine.”

  I’d carried the target all the way from home. We’d constructed it that morning in my garage: a cardboard box stuffed with tightly wadded newspapers, an old Life magazine photo of Adolf Eichmann taped to one side.

  I set the box down on a mound of dirt so that Eichmann’s face was on the front and tilted upward at a slight angle.

  Phoebe paced off fifty feet.

  Rusty and I stood slightly behind her.

  With her first arrow, she put out one of Eichmann’s eyes and knocked the box askew.

  That’s when I knew she would win next week’s archery contest.

  She held fire while I straightened the box and came back.

  Her second arrow poked through Eichmann’s other eye. He looked as if his big, black-rimmed spectacles had come equipped with feathered shafts.

  Though the impact had twisted the box, she managed to put her next arrow into Eichmann’s nose.

  Then someone called out, “Well, if it ain’t Robin Hood and his merry fags.”

  Even before turning around, we recognized the voice.

  Scotty Douglas.

  When we did turn around, we saw that he wasn’t alone. Scotty had his sidekicks with him: Tim Hancock and Andy “Smack” Malone.

  Smack got the nickname because it was what he enjoyed doing to kids like us. But he was n
o worse than Scotty and Jim.

  Sneering and smirking, the three guys swaggered toward us like desperados on their way to a gunfight.

  Nobody had any guns, thank God.

  Their empty hands dangled in front of them, thumbs hooked under their belts.

  Slim had the bow.

  Rusty and I appeared to be unarmed, but we both had knives in our pockets. So did Scotty’s gang, probably. Except their knives were sure to be bigger than ours, and switchblades.

  In big greasy hair, sideburns down to their jaws, black leather jackets, white T-shirts, blue jeans, wide leather belts and black motorcycle boots with buckles on the sides, they were a trio of Marlon Brandos from The Wild One, half-baked but scary.

  Scotty and Tim were older than us by a couple of years, and Smack was at least a year older than them. Bigger, too. In spite of his hood costume, Smack looked like an eight year old balloon boy somebody’d pumped up till he was ready to burst. Hairy, though. His belly, bulging out between the bottom of his T-shirt and the belt of his low-hanging jeans, was extremely white and overgrown with curly black hair that got thicker near his belt.

  Smack was in the same grade as his buddies because he’d gotten held back once or twice. He wasn’t exactly a sharp tool. Neither were Scotty or Tim, for that matter.

  Scotty raised his hands. “Don’t shoot,” he told Phoebe.

  Though she lowered her bow, she kept an arrow nocked and her hand on it. “We were here first,” she said.

  “So what?” Scotty asked.

  “So maybe you can go somewhere else till we’re done.”

  “Maybe we don’t wanta.”

  “Maybe we like it here,” said Tim.

  Grinning like a dope, Smack glanced at his two pals and said, “Anyways, she didn’t use the magic word.”

  They laughed. Smack was such a card.

  “Please,” Phoebe said, even though she knew the magic word would work no magic on these three losers. We all knew that. We knew they wouldn’t simply go away. Not until they’d had their “fun” with us, whatever that might be.

  Scotty, Tim and Smack came to a halt about four or five paces away from us. They smiled as if they owned us.

  Flanked by his buddies, Scotty asked, “Please what?”

  “Please go away and leave us alone.” Though she must’ve been shaking inside, she seemed very calm.

  “What’ll you give us if we do?” Scotty asked.

  “What do you want?” Phoebe asked.

  Pursing his lips, Scotty stroked his chin with his thumb and forefinger and frowned as if giving deep thought to the matter. “Wellllll,” he said, “let me seeeee.”

  “You guys better leave us alone,” Rusty said, a whine in his voice. “Dwight’s dad’s the police chief.”

  As if they didn’t already know that.

  “As if we give a shit,” said Scotty. Fixing his eyes on me, he asked, “You gonna tell on us?”

  “No,” I said.

  “That’s what I thought.”

  Rusty glanced at his wristwatch. Then he looked surprised. “Oh, gosh, I have to get home.”

  “To your mommy?” Smack asked. He gave his pals a hopeful glance, and looked disappointed when they didn’t laugh or even crack smiles over his wit.

  “Go home if you want,” Scotty said.

  “Really? You mean it?”

  “Sure. Go.”

  Trying again, Smack said, “You don’t wanta keep your mommy waiting.”

  Rusty acted as if he hadn’t heard that. To Scotty, he said, “You really gonna let us go?”

  “Gonna let you go, fatso.”

  “Me?”

  “You.”

  “What about them?”

  “What about ’em?”

  “You gonna let them go, too?”

  “What’s it to you?”

  Lips twisting all crooked, Rusty said, “I don’t know.”

  “You going or aren’t you?” Scotty asked.

  “I don’t know.”

  “He don’t know much,” Smack said, and chuckled.

  “I’ll give you till three,” Scotty said. “You’re still here, you get what they get. One.”

  Rusty’s mouth fell open. Appalled, he glanced at me, at Phoebe.

  “Two.”

  He raised a hand and blurted, “Wait! Wait! What’re you gonna do to them?”

  “Whatever we want,” said Tim.

  “Three.”

  “WAIT!” Rusty cried out, tears coming to his eyes.

  “Missed your chance, lard-ass.”

  “Did not! It was a time-out!”

  “That’s what you think.”

  Tim spoke again. “Missed your chance, porky.”

  Scared as I was—and I was straining not to mess my pants—it occurred to me as peculiar that these two skinny snakes were making cracks about Rusty’s weight when their own pal, Smack, was about a ton heavier than Rusty. Showed how much they cared about their buddy.

  Suddenly in tears, Rusty pleaded, “Gimme another chance. C’mon. Please? It ain’t fair.”

  The three creeps thought that was funny. They laughed and glanced at each other and shook their heads.

  I didn’t find it very amusing.

  “Let him go,” I said.

  Scotty smirked at me. “Gonna tell your daddy on us?”

  “Just let him go, that’s all.”

  To Rusty, he said, “You wanta leave?”

  Sniffling and sobbing, Rusty nodded.

  “Okay, you can leave.”

  “Th…thanks.”

  “But first you gotta suck my dick.”

  For half a second, I thought he was kidding. But then he unzipped his jeans. Walking toward Rusty, he reached into his fly and my stomach sort of dropped because this was getting worse than I’d ever thought and if they did perverted sex stuff to Rusty they’d do it to me and Phoebe, too, and then maybe they would have to kill us so we wouldn’t tell on them.

  About two steps away from Rusty, Scotty whipped out his tool and said, “Get on your knees and open wide,” and Phoebe shot an arrow into his leg.

  It punched through Scotty’s jeans and thunked deep into the side of his right thigh. He squealed, jerked up his leg and grabbed near where the arrow had entered. On one foot, he twisted away and hopped a couple of times. Then he fell sideways. He landed hard on the ground and squealed some more as the pieces of broken bottles jabbed into him.

  Instead of attacking us, Tim and Smack just stood there. They looked at Scotty, then at Phoebe, shock on their faces. They couldn’t believe Mr. Tough Guy had gotten himself shot down. Especially they couldn’t believe the shooting had been done by a skinny little tomboy with a bow and arrow.

  Squirming on the ground and whimpering, Scotty cried out, “Get her, guys! Get ’em all!”

  By then, Phoebe had another arrow on the string of her bow.

  When Tim and Smack turned to her, she drew back the string to her chin and aimed at Tim’s face.

  Flinging his hands up in front of his face, he yelled, “No! Don’t! I give!”

  As she swept her weapon in Smack’s direction, he gasped something like, “Eeek!” and threw both hands toward the sky.

  “Get down,” she told him.

  “Huh?”

  “Get down on the ground.”

  He looked as if he wanted to say something else. Then he shut his mouth and sank to his knees.

  “All the way down,” Phoebe said. “Lie down.”

  He eyed the ground in front of him. It glittered with bits and chunks of shattered bottles. Also, there were a couple of snake holes in the dirt. If he followed Phoebe’s orders, he would have to lie down on them.

  His sweaty face flushed a deeper shade of red than before. “Hey,” he said. “C’mon. I didn’t do nothing.”

  “Down,” Phoebe said.

  I don’t know whether it was the razor sharp arrowhead a few inches in front of his nose or the look in Phoebe’s eyes, but something convinced him to obey ord
ers. Hands on the ground, he eased his trembling body down onto the dirt and broken glass and snake holes.

  “Stay put,” Phoebe told him. Then she turned toward Tim.

  He cringed away from her.

  “I want my arrow back,” she said.

  Tim looked down at Scotty curled on his side, the arrow jutting up from his leg. Scotty was quietly weeping, and not moving at all except to gasp for breath. Probably he didn’t want to get cut up any worse by the glass he was lying on.

  Wrinkling his nose, Tim faced Phoebe. “Your arrow?”

  “That one right there.”

  “How’m I suppose to…”

  “Jerk it out.”

  “But…”

  Scotty spoke up. In a tight voice that seemed to vibrate with pain or rage, he said, “Touch the fuckin’ arrow and I’ll eat your heart.”

  “But…”

  “I’ll kill your mom and fuck your sister. I’ll…”

  Giving him a dirty look, Tim bent down and jerked out the arrow. Scotty screamed, clutched his wound and lay there twitching.

  Phoebe uncocked her bow and slipped the arrow into her old, raggedy quiver.

  Tim handed the other arrow to her. “Thanks,” she said. She waved it toward me and Rusty. The steel head looked as if it had been dipped in red paint. A couple of drops fell to the ground. “My lucky arrow,” she said.

  Not bothering to clean Scotty’s blood off its tip, she swept the arrow over her shoulder and dropped it into her quiver.

  “You lie down, too,” she told Tim.

  Without protest or hesitation, he stretched out on the ground.

  To Rusty and me, Phoebe said, “I guess that’s enough target practice for one day. Let’s go home.”

  We went to the target first. I plucked the arrows out of Eichmann’s eyes and nose and gave them to Phoebe. Then I picked up the cardboard box.

  Scotty, Smack and Tim stayed on the ground.

  We started walking away, Phoebe in the middle.

  They stayed down.

  When we were pretty far away but still within earshot, Phoebe stopped and turned around. She shouted, “We won’t tell if you don’t!”

  They never did.

  We never did.

  In the woods after we got away from them, we laughed nervously, shook our heads, slapped each other on the back, and told Phoebe “Good going” and “Way to go” about a million times.

 
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