The traveling vampire sh.., p.23
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.23

           Richard Laymon
 

  Maybe she didn’t want it left on the floor.

  As I thought about picking it up, however, I remembered Rusty fooling with Slim’s mother’s bra. What if I picked up the bikini top and got an urge to bury my face in it…and Slim suddenly showed up and caught me?

  So I let it stay on the floor.

  I yanked the string to shut the light off, then rushed back across Slim’s room, hit the switch on my way out, and hurried through the hallway toward the glow from the bathroom.

  At the top of the stairs, I paused and saw Slim looking up at me.

  “Everything okay?” she asked.

  “No problem. Your closet light was on.”

  “You get it?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Thanks.”

  “I’ll be right down,” I said, and entered the bathroom. I started to shut the door, then changed my mind and left it open a few inches so I would be able to hear her…in case.

  The first thing I did was take off the towel. Naked, I went to the bar where I’d found it. I folded it neatly and hung it up.

  Then I crouched over the bathtub. I turned on the water and rinsed the tub, then used toilet paper to wipe some hairs that had collected over the drain. I tossed the paper into the toilet and flushed.

  The counter and sink looked fine.

  So I put on my shirt, then my socks and shoes.

  And stood there, staring down at myself. The tails of my shirt hung down pretty much the same distance on me as Slim’s blouse did on her. But there was a difference. Slim had nothing down there capable of sticking out.

  I did, and it was.

  Slim had already caught a look at it in the laundry room when I lost my towel. Still, I wasn’t about to go downstairs this way.

  She said to leave the towel up here, I reminded myself.

  If she can go around in just her blouse, I can go around in this.

  What if her mom comes home?

  Never mind her mom coming home; in my condition I wouldn’t be able to stand in front of Slim for ten seconds without having another accident.

  To solve the problem, I took off my shirt. Obviously, I couldn’t tie it around my waist by its short sleeves. When I turned my shirt upside-down, however, the corners of the front tails were able to reach around my waist. I tied them together with a half knot over my left hip. The arrangement looked ridiculous and didn’t cover any of my left leg, but it concealed what needed to be hidden. I looked at myself in the mirror and shook my head.

  Then I swung open the bathroom door, flicked its light off, and stepped into the hallway.

  From the foot of the stairs, Slim grinned up at me. “Good grief,” she said.

  “I had to put your towel back.”

  As I trotted down the stairs, she stared at me and kept grinning. “You could’ve just worn the shirt, you know.”

  “I am.”

  “Up where it belongs.”

  “No, I couldn’t.”

  “I am,” she said.

  “I know, but…” I shrugged. “It’s different.”

  “Chicken.” Though the grin remained on her face, I caught a hint of disappointment in her eyes.

  My God, I thought.

  Turning away, Slim said, “We’d better get a move on. I put the knives in the bag with the beers, by the way.”

  “Good idea.” I picked up the bag, the two empty beer bottles and Rusty’s shirt. Then I followed Slim into the kitchen. She grabbed her purse off the counter and swung its strap over her other shoulder. Then we went outside.

  The wind was stronger than before, but warm. It felt good blowing against me. I watched how it flapped and lifted Slim’s blouse.

  Was she angry with me?

  Did she feel cheated because I’d worn the shirt around my waist? Had she hoped to catch glimpses of me underneath its tails?

  Even as I wondered about it, the rear of her blouse was flipped up by the wind and I saw her pale buttocks.

  Then she opened a door and entered the laundry room. I stepped in behind her, pulled the door shut, and followed her through the other door to the main area of the garage.

  She stopped at the rear of the Pontiac. With one hand, she reached into her purse. Her hand come out holding a key case. She fumbled with it, found the key she wanted, then bent over and slid it into the key hole of the trunk.

  When the trunk was open, she set her bow inside. She took the quiver off her back and put it into the trunk, too. Then she took the bag from me, set it down near her quiver and bow, and shut the lid.

  Next, she opened the driver’s door and tossed her purse onto the seat. After closing the door, she said, “Over here.”

  I followed her to a corner of the garage. We stopped at a collection of cardboard cartons containing empty beer and soda bottles. Slim took our two empties from me, knelt down, studied the situation for a while, then found a carton with four vacant openings. She slipped Dad’s bottles into two of them.

  Grinning up at me, she said, “That’s half the trick.”

  I felt half-relieved.

  We went into the laundry room. The drier was still going, but it stopped when Slim opened its door. Squatting, she reached inside the machine and pulled out my jeans. She felt them here and there. “I think they’re dry. It’s hard to tell when they’re hot like this. They might still be a little damp.”

  “It’s okay.”

  She handed the jeans up to me. While she reached into the machine to take out her cut-offs and bikini bottoms, I draped my jeans over the top of the washer.

  I tugged the half-knot at my hip.

  My shirt pulled free.

  Slim turned her head and stared up at me.

  Even as I felt myself growing and rising, I swung the shirt behind my back, put my arms into its sleeves, pulled it up, drew it together in front and began to fasten its buttons.

  A gentle smile spread over Slim’s face.

  My heart pounded like crazy.

  I’ve lost my mind, I thought.

  “Oh, dear,” Slim said. “Look at you.”

  “Sorry.” I snatched my jeans off the washer.

  “No. Don’t put them on yet.”

  “But…”

  “Just wait.”

  While I waited, Slim stood up. She put her bikini pants and cut-off jeans on top of the drier. Then she leaned over the machine and twisted a knob—to shut it off, I guess.

  Coming toward me, she said, “I know a way to get rid of that.”

  “Get rid of what?”

  “That.” Her eyes went to it.

  “You do?”

  There was mischief in her smile. “I know many things.”

  “Jeez.”

  She squatted in front of me.

  Oh, my God! She’s gonna blow me!

  My heart hammered.

  “I don’t know, Slim.”

  She tilted back her head and smiled up at me. “It’ll be all right. We don’t want you messing up your clean jeans, do we?”

  “No, but…”

  She raised her hand toward me.

  Okay. Not the same as her mouth, but still…

  Her middle finger curled down. She caught it under her thumb and let fly, thumping the tip of my erection.

  “OW!!!” I cried out.

  Chapter Thirty-seven

  Sitting in the passenger seat of the Pontiac on the way to my house, I gave Slim a dirty look. She grinned at me. In the darkness, she couldn’t have seen much of the look I’d given her, or known what I was thinking. But she said, “It worked, didn’t it?”

  She did know what I was thinking. “Yeah, but jeez!”

  “You’re fine.”

  “Easy for you to say, you’re not the one who got thumped.”

  “I’ve had a few thumps.”

  Remembering Jimmy Drake, I decided not to pursue the subject.

  “The car’s working good,” I said.

  “She’s a peach,” Slim said, and patted the steering wheel.

  That’s w
hat her grandmother used to say about the car, She’s a peach.

  Up to the moment of her grandma’s demise, it had been the old woman’s car and nobody else had been allowed to drive it. Slim’s mother used the hot little M.G. that had belonged to Jimmy. (Apparently, he’d gone on his mysterious trip without it.)

  Slim, however, hated everything about Jimmy, including his car. Especially his car. Before going away, he often forced her to take rides with him. He drove her to secluded places and did terrible things to her.

  After Jimmy’s departure, Slim refused to go anywhere in the M.G. Her grandmother drove her in the Pontiac when she had to have a ride. Otherwise, she did her traveling by foot. This was fine with Slim. I think, if she’d gotten herself stranded in the middle of Death Valley and her mother came to the rescue in Jimmy’s old M.G., Slim would’ve shaken her head and told her, “Thanks anyway, I’d rather walk.”

  When her grandmother died, Slim lost her transportation.

  Her mother continued to use the M.G., while the Pontiac sat unused in the garage. It seems that Slim’s mother wanted nothing to do with that car. Who knows why? Maybe she simply enjoyed the nice little M.G., even if it had belonged to a bastard like Jimmy. Or maybe awful things had happened to her in the Pontiac—or nice things that were too painful for her to think about, now that her mother was dead.

  Like I say, who knows?

  Whatever the reason, the Pontiac got itself abandoned in the garage. It sat there for almost a year.

  A few months before the Traveling Vampire Show came to town, Rusty and I went over to Slim’s house on a hot, sunny morning, figuring the three of us might head over to the river. The M.G. wasn’t in the driveway, so Slim’s mom was probably away. Slim might’ve been gone, too, but we knew she hadn’t taken off with her mother. Not in the M.G.

  We knocked on the front door, but nobody answered. So then we went around back. The garage door was open. We found Slim in the driver’s seat of her grandmother’s big green Pontiac, gazing through the windshield. When she heard us coming, she turned her head and smiled. “Hey, guys,” she said out the open window.

  “Hi,” I said.

  “What’s up?” Rusty asked.

  “Not much. Hop in.”

  While Rusty nodded and eyed the back door, I hurried around to the other side and climbed into the front seat. Leaving the door open for Rusty, I scooted to the middle.

  Slim was in a T-shirt and cut-off jeans. Her legs looked tan and smooth. Her feet were bare. The way she looked made me feel great. So did the smell of her. I sighed and smiled. “What’re you doing?” I asked.

  She shrugged. “Just thinking,” she said.

  Rusty scooted in beside me. “Gonna take her for a spin?”

  When he said that, I noticed the key in the ignition.

  “Not today.”

  “Come on, Dagny, let’s see what she’ll do.”

  Leaning toward the wheel, she looked at Rusty. “It’s Slim,” she said. “Slim, not Dagny.”

  This was the first we’d heard of it.

  “Slim?” Rusty asked. “All of a sudden you’re Slim? What happened to Dagny?”

  She shrugged, smiled, and said, “Now I’m Slim, that’s all.”

  “If you say so,” Rusty said.

  I said, “Fine with me. Any name you want’s fine with me.”

  Rusty went, “Oooooo.”

  Ignoring him, I said, “Anyway, Slim, want to come with us to the river? Maybe we can take a canoe out, or…”

  “Forget it, man,” Rusty interrupted. “Let’s go for a spin!”

  “Can’t,” Slim said.

  “Sure we can.”

  “A,” she said, “I don’t know how to drive. B, I don’t have a driver’s license. C, two of the tires are flat. D…” she twisted the ignition key. It triggered a few dismal clicking sounds, then nothing.

  Rusty muttered, “Crap.”

  “Dead battery?” I said.

  Slim nodded. “That’s what I think, too.” Frowning, she stared out the windshield. One of her hands idly stroked the steering wheel, which was sheathed in leopard skin.

  You don’t see leopard skin steering wheel covers too much anymore. In fact, the last one I remember seeing was on Slim’s grandmother’s Pontiac. Back in those days, steering wheel covers weren’t at all uncommon. Old people seemed especially fond of them. When you saw a leopard skin cover on a steering wheel, you could pretty much bet that the car was owned by an old woman.

  Anyway, Slim lightly stroked the leopard skin along the top curve of the wheel while she concentrated on her thoughts. After a while, she said, “I don’t know much about cars.”

  Rusty let out a laugh.

  She leaned forward, looked past me and frowned at him.

  “Thought you knew everything,” he said.

  “I know more than you, numbnuts.”

  “Hah!”

  “But not about this.”

  “Whatcha mean, J. D. Salinger don’t teach you how to fix a car?”

  Ignoring Rusty’s crack, she gave the key another twist. Silence.

  “How about Ayn Rand!” Rusty called out. “Why don’t you look up ‘dead batteries’ in Alice Shrugged.”

  I gave him a shot with my elbow.

  “Ow!” He grabbed his arm. “Damn it!”

  “It’s Atlas,” Slim said. “Not Alice. Anyway, are you guys interested in helping me fix the car? My mom wants nothing to do with it. She’ll just let it sit here forever. But if we can get it running, it’s as good as mine. I can get my driver’s license and then we can drive all over the place.”

  “I’ll teach you how to drive,” I said, really eager.

  “Great.”

  I pictured the two of us roaming the back roads together, just as Lee and I had done the previous summer when I was learning to drive in her pickup truck.

  “What about me?” Rusty asked.

  “You don’t have a license.” I pointed out.

  “Who cares? I’m a great driver. We can both teach her.”

  I’d seen samples of Rusty’s driving prowess a few times after he had “borrowed” his family car in the middle of the night. We’d been lucky to live. For various reasons, we’d never told Slim about the excursions, so she had no idea what a lousy, dangerous driver Rusty was.

  Shaking my head, I muttered, “I don’t know.”

  Slim patted my thigh and said, “If we get this baby going, you can both be my teachers. We’ll drive all over the place! It’ll be great!”

  So we didn’t go to the river that day. We worked on the Pontiac, instead.

  Apparently, Slim’s grandmother had kept it in fine shape while she was alive. Its troubles were mostly the result of the car not being used for almost a year.

  Rusty really came through. He figured out all the problems as we went along. Slim and I provided money to buy whatever he suggested: some new belts and hoses, mostly, but also a new battery. He installed them. He also patched the flat tires.

  Within a week, we had the Pontiac running.

  On back roads outside the town limits, Slim drove. Rusty and I took turns sitting beside her, giving instructions, once in a while grabbing the wheel to keep us on course. We had a few close shaves, but no accidents.

  After about two weeks, Slim was driving as well as anyone I’d ever known…and a zillion times better than Rusty. Her mom took her over to the DMV in Clarksburg. A couple of hours later, she came back with her temporary driver’s license.

  There was no stopping us, then. Slim behind the wheel (and sometimes me or Rusty), hardly a day went by when we didn’t go for a drive someplace. We had already explored most of the nearby back roads, so we hit every town within fifty miles of Grandville. We followed the roads that ran alongside the river, stopping whenever we felt like wandering around on foot or taking a swim. At night, sometimes we cruised downtown Grandville. Once a week, we took the Pontiac to the drive-in movie show. We were having ourselves a fine time until about the middle of J
uly.

  That’s when the Moonlight Drive-in had its very first “ALL-NIGHT SHOCKFEST.” From sunset till dawn, the drive-in out on Mason Road would be showing one horror movie after another.

  We wanted to go and stay for the entire event.

  Not a chance.

  Even though Slim would be driving and everyone trusted her, we were ordered to be home by midnight. By “we,” I mean me and Slim. Both my parents were pretty strict about that sort of thing, and so was Slim’s mother. Rusty’s parents thought of themselves as strict, too, but they were easy to fool. Rusty could’ve tricked them and stayed out all night, no problem. He had no reason to do it, though, since Slim and I both had to be back by twelve.

  Our parents thought they were being generous, giving us till midnight.

  We didn’t see it that way. They always let us stay out till midnight when we went to the drive-in. But this wasn’t just the usual double-feature—this was the first ALL-NIGHT SHOCKFEST. Six different horror movies would be shown and we wanted to see them all.

  Thanks to our midnight deadline, we would only have time to watch two of them.

  Didn’t seem fair.

  We pushed for one o’clock, figuring we might get in three of the movies. That would at least be half of them. Getting to see half sounded pretty good.

  But my parents wouldn’t go along with it. Therefore, neither would Slim’s mother.

  Midnight. Take it or leave it.

  Midnight, it seems, is the magic hour for parents. Somewhere along the line, maybe someone was too impressed by Cinderella. Or maybe midnight was when the gates of the city got locked, back in the old days when cities had gates. More than likely, the fixation on being home by midnight had primitive, superstitious origins. Midnight, the witching hour, “when churchyards yawn” and all that. Who knows?

  I do know this. The need to be home by midnight was what got us into trouble…the fact that we left the drive-in exactly when we did.

  Chapter Thirty-eight

  We arrived at the Moonlight Drive-in early enough to find a parking place fairly close to the screen. Though the sun had already gone down, it wasn’t quite dark enough yet for the movies to start. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” was coming from the speaker box on the post beside our car. Kids were still playing on the swings and slide and teeter-totters below the giant screen.

 

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