Quake, p.23
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       Quake, p.23
 

           Richard Laymon

  He supposed that anything was possible. There were plenty of ways to die. And one of them had found Sheila. Found her and killed her. Not fair. She was supposed to be mine. She still is, he realized. She's here, isn't she? Dead, but here. Maybe it isn't such a bad thing, either. She was strong. She might've given me some real trouble. This way I won't have to fight her.

  But I wanted to fight her. Oh, well, he thought. That's the way the cookie crumbles. At least she didn't get away. He wondered if he would still need to saw the beams. Probably not. With her dead like this, he could simply pull her free. That'd be a lot easier than sawing through one of the beams. Use a little force drag her out. Maybe have to break her neck or pop of its socket to help her clear the beams. For that matter, it would be easy enough to saw head. With that gone, Sheila wouldn't have any problem all clearing the overhead beam. I don't wanta cut off her head. Not right straight off bat, just to get her out. It'd ruin her looks. Doesn't have to ruin anything, he told himself. I can take it with me. I can even set it up right in front of us so I can watch her face… all sorts of things can do with it.

  He got hard as he sat there and thought about uses for severed head. Plenty of time for that stuff later, he finally told himself. I oughta try to get her out in one piece. Stanley set the saw aside, then lowered his legs towards the tub. He spread them wide enough to let him put his feet on the porcelain ledges. As he started to stand, the tub wobbled slightly. Sheila moaned. Stanley flinched, then held still. He stood on the sides of the tub and gazed down at her. Gazed hard. And detected the slight rise and fall of her bare belly, of the green T-shirt covering her ribcage and her breasts. She was breathing. Had she been breathing all along? How could Stanley not have noticed? Unless maybe she'd been holding her breath?

  Playing possum? She wouldn't do something like that, he told himself. Not Sheila. That isn't her style. She's asleep, that's all, and I just jumped to conclusions about her being dead because she had the shirt on her face. She had probably pulled it up there, herself. Earlier, her face had been in shadow. But the sun had changed position during Stanley's absence, taking away the ahade. She must've drawn the shirt up to shield her eyes from the direct sunlight. Of course. Now that he realized she was alive, he wondered how he could've possibly mistaken her for dead. The breathing was really pretty obvious. And her skin was shiny with sweat, ruddy from the heat or sunburn. Dead people might be red, he supposed. But they don't sweat, do they? Sheila looked alive, all right. And very hot. The water bottle that he'd left with her was empty. She had set it upright on top of the beam above her face. Might need to go and get more, Stanley thought. No. I'm not leaving again, no way. We'll just have to get by. We can drink all we want when we get to Judy's. He wished he had thought to bring more water with though. He didn't want thirst to ruin his good time. Or him. He wanted to enjoy every moment of this, and make it last and last. Still poised on the ledges of the tub, he placed his left hand on the beam that angled down on top of Sheila's right thigh. Then he leaned forward. This was the closest he had ever been to her. He wanted to see her breasts. But she would wake up, sure, if he reached out and snatched away the T-shirt. There'll be plenty of time later for them, he told himself. For right now, enjoy what Shows. So he studied her. And longed to feel her.

  If he dared, he could reach down with his right hand and actually touch the smooth, sunlit curves of the skin of her belly - slip his fingers through her shiny curls and caress the fleshy lips that he could see down there and get a finger or two inside her. But any sort of touch was likely to disturb her sleep. She wakes up and finds me messing with her, Stanley thought, and she won't trust me anymore. The longer I keep her faked out, the better. Even if she catches me hovering over her like this… Very carefully, he uncrouched and made his way to the foot of the tub. Instead of climbing all the way out, he sat on the edge of the floor. Not yet, not yet. He was sticking up high out of the left leg hole of his pajama pants.

  She sees that, he thought, and she'll know something's up. He laughed softly. He tried to cover it, but the flimsy fabric just fell away. So he waited. Finally, he settled down. He adjusted his pajama pants. There. He still showed. Sheila would be able to get a good look up through the leg hole, but he wasn't sticking out like thinking him some sort of exhibitionist. Don't want her thinking I'm a pervert, he thought. Then he laughed again. Then he quietly called, 'Sheila? Sheila, I'm back. It's me, Stanley.'

  ***

  Sheila took a long time waking up. She groaned. She moved her body slightly as if searching for a more comfortable position. The way she acted, she might've thought she coming out of sleep on a fine morning in her own bed. Then abruptly, she went rigid, snatched the T-shirt down off her face, and raised her head off the bottom of the tub. She looked up at Stanley. He gazed down at her, stunned. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. Her beauty wasn't diminished at all by her sweaty, flushed face and the tangles of hair glued down against her forehead. She looked as if she had just stepped out from under a shower. In the brightness of the sun, her blue eyes looked like summer sky on a clear day. The specks of sweat above her lip looked like diamonds. She licked her lips. Then she said, 'Oh.' After a while she said, 'Stan.'

  'Are you all right?' he asked.

  'I feel… wasted. Guess I'm okay. My butt is asleep.' One side of her mouth twitched as if she wanted smile.

  'I'll get you out of there, now.'

  'You went off with… Ben?’

  'Yeah. He might be back later.'

  'There was a girl.'

  'Right. We managed to pull her out. Ben and I. I couldn't have done it without him. Anyway, she was pretty banged up. One of her arms was broken, and she had some head injuries. But she could walk, so we decided I'd come back here to help you, and Ben'd take her over to the hospital. That one over on Pico?'

  'Yeah.'

  'So, here am.' Smiling, he picked up his saw. 'Me and my trusty saw, Excalibur.'

  'Excalibur?'

  'Not twenty-two, thirty-eight or forty-five caliber. Excalibur.'

  Again, she tried to smile. 'I'm sure glad you're back,' she said. 'I was afraid you'd forgotten about me.'

  'I could never forget about you, Sheila.' Even as he spoke the words, he regretted them.

  'Guess not,' she said. 'The naked babe in the tub.'

  The way she said that, Stanley knew he was all right; she hadn't picked up anything strange about his remark.

  'Things might've happened to you, though,' she explained. 'That's what had me scared, really. I figured you'd come back if you could.'

  'You figured right.'

  'It just seemed like such a long time. Felt like hours.'

  'We had a hard time getting the girl out. Did anyone come by while was gone?'

  Sheila shook her head. 'Don't think so. I dropped out of the picture, though. Fell asleep, I guess. Or passed out. I don't think anyone showed up, but… is anybody around?'

  'Not much of anyone,' Stanley said. 'I spotted a few oddballs roaming the neighborhood. Like the ones you talked about before? Creepy types. But they didn't see me. I think we'll be all right as long as we don't make a lot noise.'

  'They're close enough to hear us?'

  'Probably not. Just don't shout or something.’

  'Okay. God. Thank God they didn't find me.'

  'We'd better get you out of there,' Stanley said.

  'Yeah. Please.'

  With the saw in his right hand, he stood up. He made his way slowly forward, sliding the soles of his moccasins along the smooth ledges of the tub. The beam across the other end blocked his view of Sheila's face, and she probably couldn't see much higher than his chest. He wondered where she was looking. At least I'm not sticking out, he told himself. It isn't my fault if she sees something she shouldn't. Isn't my fault if I'm turned on, either. She's the one who's naked around here, not me.

  'What about the fire?' Sheila asked.

  'What fire? Stanley wondered. Then he remembered the burning house across th
e street.

  'Didn't see it,' he said. 'Must've burnt itself out.'

  He tried to remember what he had seen over there during his return. Nothing. At the very least, there must've been smoke rising from the ruins. He couldn't recall. Too focused on Sheila, he supposed. But nothing of much importance could've been going on, or he would've noticed.

  'Nothing left but smoking rubble,' he told Sheila - and wished he could remember. What else did he miss? Bending his knees, he leaned forward the same as before and placed his left hand on top of the beam that angled downward between her legs. Now, he could see Sheila's face again. Gorgeous. Was there a wariness in her eyes that hadn't been there before? That ain't wariness - that's horniness. It's probably nothing at all, he told himself. Don't go reading things in it.

  'What are you going to do?' Sheila asked.

  'Cut right through it,' he said. He tapped the edge of his saw against the beam's front corner. It bit in, digging a tiny wedge into the wood. He began to pump it back and forth. Pale sawdust from from the gash spilled over the front of the beam and drifted down between Sheila's legs. She gasped. Her right hand darted down and she clapped it to her body. A flurry of sawdust fell on the back of her hand.

  'Wait, Stan. Wait.' He stopped.

  'It'll still be on top of my leg,' she said. 'Maybe you should try over there.' She nodded to her right. 'Do it over by the side of the tub, and we can take off the whole section.'

  'I guess could do that,' he admitted. He moved the saw seven or eight inches up the slanted beam.

  'Here?’

  'Perfect.'

  He drew the blade back and forth a few times. Now, the sawdust drifted down between the wall of the tub and the side of her right thigh. He met Sheila's eyes. 'If I cut it off here, you know your leg's likely to get mashed pretty good when it drops.

  'Oh, don't worry about that. My leg's pretty strong.

  'You'd still be able to get out if cut through the beam where I was doing it before. Nothing would end up falling down on you, either, and we'd only have half as big a piece.'

  'But I'd have to squeeze my way out,' Sheila said. God knows what'll happen when this thing isn't up anymore. You really should cut it off there. Please-

  'Your wish is my command.’

  'Don't be angry.'

  'I'm not angry. I'll cut it off anywhere you want.’

  'Okay. Thanks.'

  He resumed sawing. It was hard work: not so much pumping of his right arm, but how he had to sit precariously on the edges of the tub, knees bent, with his torso twisted awkwardly so that he could reach the place Sheila insisted that he make the cut. The sun felt very hot on his back. But he liked how his pajama pants were halfway down his buttocks and how he felt so free in front and how the sawing motion made him swing there. His body ran with sweat. The dribbles tickled. They felt odd when they got inside his ears. They stung when they got in his eyes. But he liked the way they dropped off her and face and fell like small, shiny bombs onto where Sheila still kept the hand between her legs. The sweat bombs the back of her hand, her wrist and forearm, and the bits that the hand didn't cover. The tops of her thighs. The tender skin below her navel. The gleaming bombs that hit and exploded with tiny splashes and mingled with Sheila's own sweat. Her belly-button was full and shimmering. Stanley's sweat fell all around it, but none wanted to land dead center. He changed his position slightly, but still couldn't find the target. Then he thought about how he would like to put his mouth down there, seal his lips around her brimming navel and suck it empty, and afterwards thrust the tip of his tongue down into the hole. The tongue part would probably hurt her and make her squirm. She would try to make him stop. I oughta do it right now, he thought. What's she gonna do about it, pinned down like that? What's she gonna do about anything? A whole new ballgame, once she's loose. He stopped sawing. As he forced his fingers to release the handle, he noticed how badly his left arm trembled from the strain of bracing himself above the beam. The muscles of his legs and rump also fluttered. His back ached. So did his neck.

  'Are you okay?' Sheila asked.

  'Yeah,' he huffed. 'Just…' He shook his head. Leaving the saw embedded in the deep groove, he wiped his face with his upper arm. The arm felt as slick and wet as his face. It didn't seem to do any good at all. Blinking, he glimpsed the green of Ben's T-shirt.

  'Can't see what I'm doing,' he gasped. 'Need a rag.'

  'Maybe you'd better rest a while,' Sheila said.

  'You mind?' Leaning forward, muscles juddering, he stretched his right arm down over the beam toward her shirt.

  'No!' While Sheila kept her right hand tight between her legs, her left forearm clamped the shirt against her. 'Don't,' she said, and shook her head. 'I need it.'

  'Okay. Okay. But I… I've gotta be able to see. But okay. I'll just take a rest.'

  He groaned as he straightened his back. When he was standing upright, he slid his moccasins along the ledge of the tub and slowly began to make his way backward. He sat on the edge of the broken floor. With both hands he wiped his dripping face. Then he interlaced his fingers behind his head and arched his back.

  'I'm sorry,' Sheila said.

  'Sorry?'

  'I shouldn't have… You can have it.'

  'What?'

  'The shirt.'

  'No,' he said. 'That's okay. You need it.' He pulled his legs up, scooted backward and began to stand.

  'What're you doing?' Sheila asked. Her voice sounded worried.

  He stood up. He couldn't see her face, though, squatted before answering. 'I'll go and find a towel. I won't take long.'

  'No! Don't leave! Please!' Her eyes shifted to the beam 'You've almost got it done, Stan. Just a couple more minutes and…'

  'It'll take a lot longer than that. I'm only about halfway. And I'm all worn out. So damn sweaty, too - it hurts my eyes. I'll find a towel somewhere, and maybe lay down for a while.'

  'Don't! Here!' With both hands, she snatched up the T-shirt. She crumpled it and hurled the bundle at Stanley.

  He watched how the sudden movement of her right arm made her breasts jump and shake. Then the unfurling T-shirt blocked his view. He grabbed it out of the air in time to see Sheila tuck her right hand down between her legs and fling her left arm across her breasts. Bitch, he thought. He wadded the shirt and mopped his face with it. When he rubbed his hair, he saw that Sheila was squinting up at him. 'This helps a lot,' he said. 'Thanks.' She didn't say anything.

  Stanley winced when he rubbed his shoulders and the back of his neck.

  'We're both gonna have nasty sunburns,' he said. 'Yeah.'

  'We'll put something on 'em when get you out of here.' He rubbed his arms with the T-shirt. Then his armpits. Then chest and sides and belly. Then his face again.

  'You can have it back, now.'

  'Keep it,' Sheila said.

  'Are you sure?'

  'I'm sure.'

  She didn't sound very friendly, anymore. Stanley stood up, his knees crackling as he straightened his legs. He couldn't see her face from this height, but that meant she couldn't see his, either.

  'I'm going to go and find us some water,' he said.

  'No!' she blurted, shock and alarm in her voice. 'Don't! Please, Stan! You're almost done with the sawing. Don't go anyplace now. Just cut through the rest of the way. Please.'

  'Why should I?' he asked. Sheila didn't answer.

  There seemed to be a great stillness.

  Stanley stood motionless, staring down at her. She didn't seem to be moving at all, not even breathing. She looked rigid. Her right breast was tightly clutched by her hand, while her left breast was pushed down by her forearm. Because of the middle beam, he couldn't see much of her right hand. From the position of the wrist, however, he supposed that it was welded between her legs.

  'Why should do anything for you?' he asked.

  After another long silence, Sheila spoke. Her voice sounded low and tightly controlled. 'What's going on?'

  'What've you done
for me lately? Huh? I'm out here in the hot sun working like a slave, and what're you doing for me? Nothing. Giving me orders, that's what you're doing. Telling me what to do, like I don't know where I'm supposed to cut a fucking board. Giving me all kinds of stink when all I do is ask for your shirt so can wipe my face. I've gotta pry the fuckin' shirt off you. And then you go and cover up like you're scared I'll catch a peek at your precious titties. Who do you think you are, huh? Who do you think's doing who a favor around here?'

  'You're doing me the favor, Stan,' she said. She sounded as if she were trying very hard to sound calm and reasonable and sympathetic. 'I really and truly appreciate it, too.'

  'Yeah? Well, you don't act like it.'

  'I'm sorry. This is all very difficult. My family… I don't know where my little girl is.' She suddenly started to cry. 'Or my husband. They might be dead, for all know. I'm… I'm trying to hang on…I don't mean to… to be bad to you.'

  Except for her legs, her whole body seemed to be shaking and twitching as she sobbed there in the bottom of the tub. Stanley watched, amazed and delighted. She was so sleek and shiny, all curves and hollows that tippled and throbbed and writhed, and the arm across her breasts couldn't hold them still. The sight made him stiff and achy. He glanced down. The front of his pajama pants jutted out so much that Sheila couldn't possibly miss it. He thought about squatting down to conceal the bulge.

  Why should I? She sees what she sees. She better get used to it. Soon, Sheila's crying subsided. She sniffled a few times. She sighed. After a while, she said, 'Are you going to finish sawing the beam for me?'

  'Maybe. Maybe not. What'll you do for me?'

  Slowly, both her hands slid away from where they covered her. 'Is this what you want?' she asked. Stanley grinned. 'I didn't say that.’

  'You didn't have to.'

  Her hands settled lightly on the smooth plain of skin below her ribcage. 'Okay?' she asked.'Lovely.'

  'Now get back to the saw,' she said.

  'When I'm good and ready.'

  Her hands slid, the right gliding downward while the left moved toward her breast.

 
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