Once upon a halloween, p.2
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       Once Upon a Halloween, p.2

           Richard Laymon
 
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  He probably isn't watching, she thought.

  "Everything okay up there?" Laura's voice came from a distance; she was probably calling up the stairway from the foyer.

  Shannon crossed her room and stepped into the hall. She glanced to the right and left. She saw no one.

  Can he see me now?

  Keeping away from the stairwell railing, Shannon called down, "No problem. How about down there?"

  "More trick or treaters on the way. I'll take care of 'em."

  "Real good. I'll bring the kid down when I find him."

  "Just be careful."

  "You, too."

  "I sure wish we knew who was after him."

  "You and me both," Shannon said.

  By the sound of a shutting door that came up the stairwell, she figured Laura must've gone outside. She was tempted to roam the hallway just as she was... announcing "Trick or treat!" as she stepped though the doorways.

  I could, she thought. No law says I've gotta wear clothes in my own house. If there happens to be some intruder spying on me, it's not my fault.

  But what if Laura comes upstairs and catches me?

  She could just imagine the poor girl's shock. Shannon! What 're you doing?

  Shaking her head, she returned to her bedroom. In the dresser mirror, she saw that she was not only flushed but had a rather glazed look in her eyes.

  What am I doing? she wondered.

  She shook her head at her reflection.

  He's not even all that cute, she thought. Why in hell do I want him to see me naked?

  "I don't," she muttered.

  She slid open a drawer, searched through an assortment of panties and took out a skimpy black garment. She put it on. Except for the touch of the slender elastic band around her hips and the silken push against her groin and buttocks, she felt as if she still wore nothing.

  From another drawer, she removed a bra made of the same lightweight, black material. After she put it on, her breasts looked nearly the same as before... their curves hardly altered at all, but their color transformed as if they'd been dipped in murky grey water.

  Looking mighty fine, she thought.

  She turned away from the dresser. On her bed was her costume for tonight's Halloween party. As she walked toward it, she heard a quiet groan.

  Hinges.

  She jerked her head toward the bedroom door. Wide open before, it was now slowly gliding shut. Pushed by the kid behind it.

  He stood near the corner of the bedroom, his back to the wall, his left arm extended sideways and slowly easing the door shut. He never took his eyes off Shannon. He had a dazed, blank look on his face and his mouth hung open slightly. He was breathing through his mouth, taking quick breaths. His eyes flicked from Shannon's face to her chest too her groin, then up again to her face.

  "There you are," Shannon said.

  His head jerked up and down.

  "Don't run off, okay?"

  His head jerked from side to side.

  "Good. What's your name?"

  "Hunter." He glanced at her breasts, then darted his eyes to her face.

  "What's your first name?"

  "Hunter."

  "Your name's Hunter Hunter?"

  "Hunter Gordon."

  "Huh?"

  He spoke slowly and loudly. "Hunter. Gordon."

  "Oh." Strange name, she thought, and saw him risk a glance in the direction of her breasts.

  I'd better finish getting dressed, she thought.

  On the other hand, she rather enjoyed the way Hunter couldn't take his eyes off her.

  The kid's enthralled.

  Looking her in the face, he said, "You're Shannon?"

  "That's right."

  "What're you going to do to me?"

  She shrugged. "I don't know. Why'd you run up here and hide?"

  "You opened the front door. I thought they'd be out there."

  "They who?"

  "The ones from the graveyard."

  "People from the graveyard are after you?"

  He nodded. His mouth twisted crooked. For a moment, he looked as if he might start crying again.

  "Well, they haven't shown up yet." She thought of Laura alone on the front porch, waiting for trick or treats. "We'd better go down and let Laura know what's going on."

  Hunter's gaze slid down her body.

  "Guess I'll get into my costume first," Shannon said. "Stay put."

  She went to the bed, picked up a white dress shirt and put it on. After fastening its buttons, she stepped into a pair of brown tweed trousers. She pulled them up, tucked in the shirt, and cinched her belt tightly to keep the baggy pants from falling down.

  "What kind of costume is that supposed to be?" Hunter asked.

  "Can't you tell?"

  He shrugged.

  Shannon put on a necktie and knotted it loosely around her neck. Then she put on a big brown suit coat that matched her trousers. "And this," she said. She jammed a battered old brown fedora onto her head and tilted its rim down over her brow.

  Hunter scowled. "You're suppose to be a man?"

  "Not just a man, a private dick."

  "Huh?" He blushed.

  Shannon laughed. "A sleuth, a private eye, a snoop, a gumshoe, a shamus. You know, Phillip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Duke Scanlon, Mike Hammer..."

  "If you say so."

  She shook her head. "You don't even know what I'm talking about, do you?" Sitting on the edge of her bed, she put on a pair of socks.

  As she struggled into her brown wingtip shoes, Hunter said, " 'When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it.' "

  A laugh burst out of Shannon. "Hey, okay! Kid, I got a feeling you 'n me are gonna get along."

  "The name's Hunter," he reminded her.

  "Okay, Hunter. Let's go down and see how Laura's doing."

  CHAPTER FOUR

  Shannon led the way downstairs, crossed the foyer and opened the front door. Laura, alone on the porch, turned around and smiled "Found him," Shannon said. "Great. Where was he?"

  "Hiding behind my bedroom door. Where nobody ever in a million years would've thought to look for him. Any action out here?"

  "Kids just keep on coming."

  None seemed to be approaching at the moment. "Why don't you come inside?" Shannon said.

  Laura stepped in, shut the door, and leaned back against it. "Our friend here is Hunter Gordon," Shannon explained.

  "Hi," Laura said.

  "Hi. I'm sorry I ran away from you."

  "That's okay. So what's going on?"

  His mouth twisted. "I was scared."

  "He says someone from the graveyard's after him."

  Laura made a face. "What?"

  "Who?" Shannon asked the boy.

  He shrugged. "I don't know."

  "Just tell us what happened," Shannon said.

  "Is the door locked?" Hunter asked.

  "It's locked," Laura said.

  "Okay. Well, we went to the graveyard right after supper tonight."

  "We?" Shannon asked.

  "Who's we?"

  "Me and Connie."

  "Who's Connie?"

  "Sorta like my girlfriend."

  "You took her to the cemetery?"

  "Yeah. We just thought it'd be a neat place to go. You know, cause of this being Halloween. It'd be something kinda spooky to do."

  "So what happened?" Laura asked.

  "Well, it looked like nobody was there. We didn't see any lights or anything. So we just started wandering around. It was real quiet and nice. And you know that bench?"

  Laura nodded.

  "Bench?" Shannon asked.

  "It's a concrete bench at one of the graves," Laura explained. "Across from the Kneeling Girl."

  "Oh. The Kneeling Girl." Shannon didn't recall the bench, but she certainly remembered the Kneeling Girl: a life-size statue of a teenaged girl, down on both knees, a bowl of some sort in her hands, and her granite mouth wide open. What's this, the grave of Fellatio?
she'd said to Laura.

  Oh, real nice, Laura had said.

  If you like that sort of thing.

  You're awful.

  "I know the statue," Shannon said. "So there's a bench there?"

  "It's a few yards away. Don't you remember it?"

  "Hey, I might've seen it once. I'm not big on bone orchards." To Hunter she said, "So what about the bench?"

  "We sat down on it for a while. Me and Connie. And... you know." One of his shoulders hopped slightly. "Talked and stuff."

  "And stuff huh?" Shannon said. Laura cast her a peeved look.

  "We weren't doing anything bad."

  "So what happened?" Shannon asked.

  "These people came. They weren't talking or anything, and they didn't have flashlights. We just heard them walking. The ground was all covered with dead leaves, so they made all these crunching sounds. They weren't very far away from us. They would've heard us, but we'd just been, you know, mostly kissing. So I guess they didn't know we were there.

  "Anyway, Connie heard them first and went, 'Shhhh. Somebody's coming.' We sat real still, then, and didn't say anything. Pretty soon, these people walked right past us. I think a few of them even looked at us. They might've thought we were statues, like part of the bench or something, because they didn't say anything or start trouble. They just kept on walking."

  "How many were there?" Shannon asked.

  "I don't know. A whole bunch."

  "Five or six?"

  "More. Maybe eleven, twelve. Maybe even more than that. It was hard to tell. They were all sorta clumped together and wearing these dark robes."

  Laura grimaced. "Dark robes?"

  "Yeah. With their hoods up."

  Shannon scowled at the boy. "You're kidding, right? Hooded robes? Gimme a break."

  "They were."

  "Okay, whatever. Go on. What happened next?"

  "Me and Connie, we just sat on that bench and didn't move a muscle. I was hoping they 'd keep on walking. But what they did was go over to the Kneeling Girl. They made a circle around and held hands. Then one of them started to chant something. She sounded like a woman. I guess she was probably their leader. Anyway, she wasn't very loud but we were close enough so I could hear her. Thing is, the words didn't make any sense. They were like in a foreign language."

  "Spectacular," Shannon muttered.

  "It was all really quiet except for the chanting. Well, it was windy, too. The wind was making a lot of noise sometimes. But not enough, and it sort of came and went. If we'd tried to make a run for it, they probably would've heard us. You know, all those dry leaves everywhere. So I thought we'd better just sit still and wait. Maybe they'd start making some noise... or they'd get done and go home.

  "Pretty soon, they all started chanting. It still wasn't very loud. They did it like they were whispering... it was sort of spooky, the way it sounded. I mean, I got goosebumps. I was about ready for me and Connie to head for the hills, but all of a sudden they didn't have their robes on anymore. The robes were down on the ground by their feet. And nobody had anything on."

  "Trick or treat," Shannon muttered.

  "They were all naked? " Laura asked.

  "Yeah. Except for... like shoes or boots or whatever. And equipment. The moon was really bright over where they were... We could see them really well. They didn't all have the same things... like a couple of them, I think they had coils of rope hanging around their necks. Most of them, though, they wore belts around their waists. And stuff was attached to the belts. Like hatchet cases and sheaths for knifes, like that.

  "Holy shit," Shannon muttered.

  Hunter nodded. "They had all kinds of knives and swords and hatchets."

  "You've gotta be kidding," said Laura.

  "I saw them with my own eyes."

  "Did they have guns?" Shannon asked.

  Hunter slowly shook his head. "I didn't see any."

  "Well, that's good news."

  "They must like to be silent when they kill," Hunter said. The doorbell rang. Shannon jumped. Laura flinched and squeaked.

  Hunter gasped, then whispered, "Don't open it again. Please."

  Shannon's eyes locked with Laura's.

  Laura slowly shook her head from side to side. "I don't know," she whispered. "Maybe we'd better not..."

  "Who's there?" Shannon called out.

  "Trick or treat!" shouted a chorus of child voices.

  "Your graveyard people," Shannon said. "They were adults, weren't they?"

  He nodded.

  "No kids?"

  "I don't think so."

  "Stay put," Shannon said, and opened the door.

  CHAPTER FIVE

  Shannon stood by the door, ready to slam it, while Laura opened the screen door and passed out candy to the children. "Here you go," Laura said. And, "Here's one for you." And, "Oh, aren't you scary!" After each quiet thump of a candy bar landing in a bag or plastic pumpkin, a little kid voice said, "Thank you." Then the children ran off, calling out, "Happy Halloween!"

  Laura stepped out onto the porch.

  "What's she doing?" Hunter asked.

  "Wants to make sure they get away all right."

  "She wouldn't be able to save them anyway."

  Shannon called out, "Hey, Laura, why don't you come back in?"

  "Just a second."

  "They're gonna get her," Hunter whispered. "Just chill, huh?"

  Laura came back into the house, shut the screen door and locked it, The moment she was clear, Shannon closed the heavy oak door.

  "Maybe the kids'll stop coming," Laura said, "if we turn off all the lights."

  "It might slop some of them," Shannon said. "On the other hand, lights are a good way to discourage foul play."

  "You oughta keep them on," Hunter said. "If it's dark, they can sneak up on us easier."

  "Let's leave the lights on for now," Shannon said. She turned to Hunter. "Why isn't Connie with you now? Where is she?"

  "I think maybe they got her."

  "You don't know?"

  He shook his head. "We kept waiting on the bench, like I said. Figuring they'd go away sooner or later. But then they... you know how the Kneeling Girl's mouth is open?"

  "I know, all right."

  "Well, one of them stuck a flare in it."

  "A flare?"

  "A road flare. It really lit the place up. It even lit us up. Connie and me. I mean... God... we're just sitting there like an audience... with the lights on." He shook his head. He had a sick look on his face. "I figured we'd get seen if we moved, but they were gonna see us anyway as soon as one of them looked in our direction. I didn't know what to do, and Connie just sat there beside me like she was a statue. So we just sat and watched them."

  "What were they doing?" Shannon asked.

  Hunter shook his head and shrugged. "Well, they kept on chanting in that funny language. When the flare was going, they held out their arms and started turning around in circles."

  "They didn't see you then?" Laura asked.

  "Huh-uh. They had their heads tipped way back. I think some of them might've had their eyes shut, too. And then the chanting got faster and they started moving faster. Spinning and jumping and stuff. It got pretty wild. Some of them took out their knives and swords and things and started waving them around."

  "They were doing all this in the nude?" Laura asked.

  "Yeah."

  "By the light of a road flare?" Shannon asked.

  Hunter nodded.

  "That's a mighty well-lit orgy," Shannon said.

  Looking perplexed, Hunter said, "I don't think it was an orgy."

  "There were men and women?" Shannon asked.

  "Yeah."

  "Dancing around naked?"

  "Yeah."

  "Sounds like an orgy to me."

  "Been to many?" Laura asked her.

  "Not yet. But I keep hoping."

  "This wasn't any orgy," Hunter insisted. "I think it was like a ceremony... like Devil worship or... I don
't know, it sort of looked like a war dance or something."

  Laura frowned as if focusing on an idea. "How many did you say there were?"

  "I don't know, maybe like a dozen?"

  "Were there thirteen?"

  His shoulders bobbed. "Maybe."

  She looked at Shannon and raised her eyebrows. "A coven of witches?"

  "You asking me? I don't know shit about witches."

  "This is the Eve of All Hallows," Laura said. "It's what, like the autumnal equinox? I think it's like a special time of the year for witches and things."

  "Ghosts and goblins and headless horsemen." Shannon shook her head. "Screw it." She turned to Hunter. "I want to know what happened to Connie."

  "She ran for it."

  "Huh?"

  "We were just watching. I thought she was scared to move, same as me. But all of a sudden she jumped up and ran like hell. They saw that. Some of them did, anyway. They pointed at her and yelled and then some of them saw me. A couple of them had already taken off after Connie, so I couldn't go that way so I ran the other way. They must've split up and chased both of us. I know I had a bunch running after me. They couldn't catch me, though. I'm on the high school's cross-country team..."

  "Left them in the dirt?"

  "I left 'em behind, but I don't know how far."

  "What sort of runner is Connie?" Shannon asked.

  The look on his face was answer enough. But he said, "She's not very athletically inclined."

  "So you think they caught her?" Shannon asked.

  "She might've gotten away. I bet they got her, though."

  "Where does she live?" Laura asked.

  "The Estates."

  "Doesn't everyone," Shannon muttered. "You ran this way and she ran the other way," Laura said, "so she was heading away from where she lives."

  "Yeah."

  "Deeper into the cemetery."

  "Yeah."

  "Maybe she didn't try to outrun them," Shannon said. "Maybe she hid."

  "Maybe," Hunter said. "I sure hope so."

  Laura turned to Shannon. "So what should we do?"

  "Guess we can forget about the Halloween party."

  "And do what?" Laura asked.

  "Call the cops."

  Shannon led the way into the living room. She dropped into an easy chair, reached over to the table and picked up the handset of the cordless telephone.

 
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