The traveling vampire sh.., p.17
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.17
 

           Richard Laymon

  Then I saw she had tears in her eyes.

  When I saw that, my own eyes went hot and wet.

  I’m not really sure why either of us got weepy like that, but I suspect there were plenty of reasons. They had to do with fear and loyalty and bravery and cowardice and humiliation and pride. They also had to do, I think, with the joy of survival.

  Pretty sure we didn’t spill any tears over damages inflicted on Scotty or his pals.

  After that time in Janks Field, by the way, they were no longer pals. They stayed away from each other, and really stayed away from me, Rusty and Phoebe.

  They were so scared of Phoebe that they never even dared to give us dirty looks. Many times, in the first few months after the incident, I saw each of them cross streets or start walking in the opposite direction just to avoid us—Scotty with a pretty good limp.

  One week after her target practice in Janks Field, Phoebe won the Fourth of July archery contest (junior division) with a final, amazing shot that would’ve done Robin Hood proud.

  She made the shot, of course, with her lucky arrow.

  And won the hand-tooled leather quiver.

  Chapter Twenty-six

  On both sides of the quiver, I could see the powder blue strings of Slim’s bikini top, her bandages and bare, tanned skin down to the waistband of Lee’s red shorts.

  I was half lost in how Slim looked from behind, half dwelling on the summer she won the quiver and pretty much paying no attention at all to anything else as I followed her to the door of her bedroom.

  One step into the hallway, she stopped.

  “What?” Rusty asked.

  As if he didn’t know.

  Slim went, “Shhhh.” Then she walked straight across the hallway and into her mother’s bedroom. We went in after her, spread out, and stared at the mess we’d left behind. A puddle, prickly with broken glass, remained on top of the dresser. The carpet below the dresser now looked dry, but dangerous with shards from the demolished vase and perfume bottle. A few bright yellow rose petals lay among the remains as if they’d been blown there from somewhere else.

  The flowers were gone.

  For a moment, I thought that Rusty or I must’ve thrown them away.

  Then I remembered that we hadn’t touched them.

  A chill crawled up the back of my neck.

  Rusty and I glanced at each other.

  He, too, had noticed the roses were gone.

  “We better get outa here,” he whispered.

  Ignoring him, Slim stepped around the mess on the carpet and walked slowly through the room. We stayed with her. Since both her hands were busy with the bow and arrow, she stood by, ready to shoot, while I looked under the bed and Rusty opened the closet door. When she entered the master bathroom, I crept in behind her.

  The bathroom held flowery scents.

  No trace of the yellow roses, though.

  And no trace of any intruders.

  Turning around, Slim pointed her arrow away from me. Her eyes met mine. She gave me a quick, nervous smile. Then she came toward me and I backed out of the bathroom.

  Rusty looked glad to see us.

  For the next ten or fifteen minutes—or hour—we searched the house.

  It was hard on the nerves.

  In some ways, I felt major relief. Because of the real intruder, Slim would never have to know about our invasion of her home.

  But the relief came with a large price.

  Someone else had come into her house, roamed its silent rooms, stood beside Slim’s bed while neatly slipping the paperback copy of Dracula out of her headboard and chewing the book. Someone had stolen into her mother’s bedroom and made the yellow roses disappear.

  Chewing the book seemed like the act of a madman.

  Taking the roses seemed like something a woman might do. Or the Frankenstein monster, I suddenly thought, remembering Karloff’s smile when the little girl gave him a flower.

  As we crept through the house, upstairs and down, entering every room, opening every door, glancing under and behind furniture, checking everywhere large enough to conceal a person, I prayed that we would find no one.

  I was a nervous wreck.

  Not a moment went by that I didn’t expect someone to jump out at us.

  Julian Stryker, maybe. Or Valeria (though I’d never seen her). Or some of their black-shirted crew.

  Maybe armed with spears.

  I tried to convince myself that this was impossible, that they had no way of knowing where Slim lived, but it certainly wasn’t impossible. There were many ways to learn such things.

  By following us, for instance.

  I gripped the knife tightly. My mouth was dry. My heart thudded. Sweat dripped down my face, fell off my ears and nose and chin, and glued the clothes to my skin. I felt as if a cry of terror was ready to explode from my chest.

  But we found no one.

  “I want to finish changing,” Slim said when our search was done.

  “We’ll go with you,” I told her.

  If Rusty had said that, she would’ve answered with a crack. “In your dreams,” maybe. But I’d said it, so she knew I wasn’t being a wiseguy.

  “Okay.”

  We followed her upstairs. In her bedroom, she dropped her bow and arrow onto her bed. Facing us, she said, “You guys can wait in the hall.” Then she took off her quiver. Not paying much attention to what she was doing, she dragged the leather strap up against her left breast. It snagged the underside of her bikini and lifted the fabric. As the rising strap pushed at her breast, she realized what was happening, saw us watching, and quickly turned her back.

  “In the hall,” she reminded us. “Okay?”

  “We’re going, we’re going,” Rusty said.

  I said, “I’ll leave the door open a crack.”

  “Fine.”

  We hurried out of her room and I pulled the door almost shut.

  Rusty quietly mouthed, “Did you see that?”

  I gave him a dirty look.

  He mouthed, “Oh, like you didn’t look.”

  Speaking in a normal voice, I said, “Why don’t you go to the bathroom and wash your blood off? I’ll start cleaning up the glass.”

  He shook his head. “I’ll help.”

  “You’ll get blood on stuff.”

  He inspected his hands. They looked as if they’d been smeared with rust-colored paint. Palms up, he closed and opened his fingers. The stickiness made crackling sounds. “Maybe I better,” he admitted. “But you’ve gotta come, too.”

  “You’re not scared, are you?”

  “Up yours,” he said. He gave me the finger, then turned his back on me, marched to the bathroom at the end of the hall, and vanished through its doorway. A moment later, the door bumped shut. I heard a soft, ringing thump as Rusty locked it. Soon, water began running through the pipes.

  I stood alone in the hallway.

  And didn’t like it.

  Even though we had searched the house, we weren’t necessarily safe. Separated like this, we could be picked off one at a time.

  “Slim?” I asked.

  “Yeah?” she said from inside her room.

  “You okay?”

  “Fine.”

  “You almost…?”

  She swung the door open so quickly it startled me. She grinned.

  She now wore a clean white T-shirt and cut-off jeans and a pair of old tennis shoes that must’ve been white on a distant summer when she’d been Dagny or Phoebe or Zock. Through the thin cotton T-shirt, I could see her bikini top.

  Stepping out of her room, she looked down the hall. “Rusty in the john?” she asked.

  The water still ran.

  “Yeah. He’s washing up.”

  She nodded. “Thought so.” Then she looked me in the eyes and said, “I’m sure glad you guys are here. This stuff would’ve scared me silly if I’d been by myself.”

  “Are you kidding? Nothing scares you.”

  “Everything scares me.”


  “Yeah, sure. You’re the bravest person I know.”

  A smile broke across her face. “That’s what you think.” She glanced toward the bathroom.

  The door remained shut. The water still ran.

  Tilting her head back slightly, she stared into my eyes.

  Slim’s eyes, pale blue in sunlight, were dark blue in the dimness of the hallway—the color of the summer sky at dusk. Intense, hopeful and nervous, they seemed to be searching for something in my eyes.

  She had never stared at me quite that way before. I wondered what it meant.

  What if she wants me to kiss her?

  Could that be it? I wondered.

  Do it and find out.

  But maybe that wasn’t what she wanted.

  We kept gazing into each other’s eyes. Soon, I was sure that she did want me to kiss her. She didn’t just want it, she was waiting for it. Waiting for me to catch on and take her into my arms and put my lips on hers.

  I wanted to do it, too. I ached to do it. I’d been longing to kiss her for so long, and now she was almost begging for my lips.

  I couldn’t force myself to move.

  Do it! Come on! She wants me to!

  I stood there like a lump—except that lumps don’t sweat and tremble.

  I felt more frightened than when we’d been searching the house, but this fear was mixed with desire for Slim and disgust with myself for being such a coward.

  Just do it!

  Making an excuse for myself, I thought, If I try to kiss her now, Rusty might catch us.

  The water still ran.

  What’s taking him so long, anyway?

  Then I thought, Who cares if he sees us kiss? Just go ahead and do it. Do it now before she changes her mind…

  A toilet flushed.

  The sound of it came like a signal for Slim to shut down the power of her gaze. Whatever’d been going on, it was over. A mild smile lifted the corners of her mouth. With her eyes and smile, she seemed to be saying, “Oh, well. Missed our chance. Maybe next time.”

  At least that’s what I think they were telling me. They might’ve been saying, “You dumb jerk, you missed your chance.” But I don’t think so.

  Then she reached up and flicked my nose the same as she’d done to Rusty, but not as hard. Not nearly as hard.

  Gently.

  Then she said, “Want to help me pick up the glass?”

  “Sure.”

  We turned and entered her mother’s room.

  Chapter Twenty-seven

  We no sooner started picking up the pieces of broken glass than Slim said, “I’ll get my wastebasket.” She hurried off and came back quickly.

  When she set it down, I dumped in a handful of glass and saw her ruined copy of Dracula at the bottom.

  “Mom won’t be too happy about this,” Slim said.

  “She doesn’t get home till tomorrow?”

  “Probably not.” Frowning slightly, Slim started to gather shards from the dresser top.

  “What if we clean all this up,” I said, “and get rid of the smell and replace the broken stuff? She’ll never have to find out anything happened.”

  “Is that what you’d do?” Slim asked.

  I looked up at her.

  “If it was your mom’s stuff?”

  “Maybe.”

  “You wouldn’t, either.” A grin spread across her face. “You’re way too much of a Boy Scout for that.”

  “Think so, do you?”

  “I know so.”

  I suddenly felt ashamed of myself for not living up to her ideas about me.

  And I felt very glad she didn’t know everything.

  “Anyway,” she said, “I don’t think we’d get away with it. We’d have to find a matching vase and perfume bottle…” She shook her head. “Even if we could lay our hands on exact matches, Mom would figure it out somehow. Then I’d be in trouble for trying to trick her.” She dumped a handful of glass into the wastebasket. “Only thing is, it’ll really scare her if she finds out somebody came in the house and did this stuff. It’d be nice if she didn’t have to find out.”

  I dropped more glass into the wastebasket.

  Slim continued to clean off the dresser top for a while. Then she blurted, “I’ve got it!” She grinned down at me. “How about this? First, forget about Dracula. She hasn’t got a clue about what I read. All we have to do is get rid of the evidence. As for this mess…I was just being helpful. I came in to water her roses, seeing as how she was having an overnighter with her boyfriend, and had a little accident. Knocked the vase over. It hit the perfume bottle, broke the perfume bottle and presto!”

  Somebody applauded.

  I looked over my shoulder and found Rusty standing in the doorway, clapping his hands. “Bravo!” he said. “Good plan.”

  Slim obviously thought so, too. Beaming, she said, “Not bad, huh?”

  “It’s perfect,” I said.

  “You oughta be a writer,” Rusty told her.

  “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” She might’ve performed a full bow if her hands hadn’t been full of broken glass. All she did was duck her head.

  I dumped more glass into the wastebasket, then said to Rusty, “Wanta give us a hand here?”

  He started clapping again.

  “Ha ha.”

  “Did I miss anything?” he asked.

  I remembered the way Slim had stared into my eyes. Feeling myself blush, I said, “Not much.”

  “You almost missed your chance to help us clean this up,” Slim told him.

  “I tried.”

  “What’d you do in there,” I asked, “take a bath?”

  His face flushed scarlet. “I had to go, okay? Thanks for bringing it up.”

  Slim chuckled.

  “Very funny,” Rusty muttered.

  “You like it so much in there,” she said, “how about going back and getting us some paper towels? There should be a roll under the sink where the TP is. Maybe you can bring the whole thing.”

  “Sure.” He hurried away.

  Slim waited until his footsteps faded, then whispered, “Do you think Rusty had anything to do with this?”

  I felt a blush coming on. Quickly, I asked, “What do you mean?”

  “He’s acting sort of funny.”

  “He is?” I hoped I wasn’t.

  “Like he feels guilty about something.”

  I shook my head. “I don’t know. He seems okay to me.”

  “Do you think he might’ve done this stuff?”

  “Why would he chew up your book?”

  She shrugged. “It’s Dracula and he’s all excited about the Traveling Vampire Show? Maybe he thought it’d be a cool trick to play…freak us out.”

  “I don’t know,” I muttered. “I don’t think so. Anyway, he was with me.”

  “Maybe he came in and did this on his way back from Janks Field. Before he went over to your place.”

  As I shrugged, I heard footsteps coming down the hallway.

  We went silent, but we both looked at Rusty when he walked in.

  “What?” he asked, handing the roll of paper towels to Slim.

  “Thanks,” she said.

  “What’s going on?”

  “We were just trying to figure out how all this happened,” Slim explained. She turned away, tore off some paper towels, wadded them up and started to mop the top of the dresser.

  Rusty gave me an alarmed look.

  I almost shook me head, but realized that Slim was facing the mirror and might see me.

  “If none of us did this stuff,” she said, “who did?”

  “How about ghosts?” Rusty suggested. The playful tone of his voice sounded forced. “I mean, you’ve gotta have ghosts in this place, everything that’s happened here.”

  She stopped cleaning and turned around. Frowning, she asked, “Like what?”

  “You know.”

  “No I don’t. What do you mean, ‘everything that’s happened here’?”


  Rusty seemed shocked by her tone. It shocked me, too.

  “Like with your dad and grandfather.”

  “You’ve gotta be dead to be a ghost,” Slim said, her voice sharp.

  “I know, but…”

  “And Jimmy Drake isn’t.”

  “I didn’t say he is.”

  “You said his ghost…”

  “He might be dead, right? I mean, he left town and you’ve never heard from him again. So he could be dead, couldn’t he?”

  Seeming calmer, Slim looked at Rusty with narrow eyes and said, “I guess so.”

  “Anyway,” Rusty said, “it was just a thought.”

  “A lame thought,” I told him, wishing he hadn’t brought up the subject of Slim’s father. “You don’t even believe in ghosts.”

  “This just seems like the sort of thing a guy like Jimmy Drake might do,” Rusty explained. Then his eyes widened. In a hushed voice, he said, “Maybe he was here. Maybe he came back…you know, from wherever he went…and did this stuff.”

  Slim stared at him.

  “In the flesh,” Rusty said. “Not a ghost or anything, but him. What if he’s back?”

  “He’s not,” Slim said.

  “How do you know?”

  “If he came back, he wouldn’t piddle around chomping on books and breaking a couple of things. It’s not his style. They’re just things. They’re not people. They don’t…” She turned away and resumed wiping the dresser top.

  “I think it has something to do with the vampire show,” I said—partly because that’s what I really thought, partly to get the subject off Slim’s father because I knew she didn’t like being reminded of what he’d done to her and the others. “Maybe it’s a warning.”

  Nodding, Rusty added, “To keep our mouths shut.”

  “I don’t know,” Slim muttered.

  “What I think we should do,” I said, “is finish cleaning this stuff up and then go over to my house. We can have supper there like we planned, but maybe we shouldn’t come back here afterwards.”

  “They might be waiting for us,” Rusty pointed out, smiling as if he thought it were a joke.

  “Where will we go?” Slim asked.

  “I don’t know yet. We oughta think of a place where nobody’ll be able to find us. But the main thing is, we should stay together from now on.”

  Slim turned around. Finally smiling, she raised her eyebrows. “From now on?”

 
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