The traveling vampire sh.., p.24
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.24

           Richard Laymon
 

  We had plenty of time for a trip to the snack bar, where we bought Cokes and hot dogs and buttered popcorn. Back at the car, I took the driver’s seat. Slim sat beside me, and Rusty sat by her other side. “Walk Like A Man” was playing on the speaker. I leaned out the window, grabbed the metal box off its post and brought it inside. I cranked the window up a few inches and hung the speaker over its edge. And we were all set.

  About ten minutes later, the Shockfest began.

  The first movie turned out to be Bucket of Blood. It’s about this goony beatnik who wants to be an artist, but he’s no good at it. Then he accidentally kills a cat, which was pretty funny in an awful way. To conceal the cat’s body, he covers it with clay. Presto! He has himself a perfectly good sculpture. Everybody’s amazed by how detailed and lifelike it is. Knowing a good thing when he sees it, he starts murdering gals and covering their bodies with clay.

  We loved it. We kept laughing and going, “Oh, no!” But it scared us, too. A couple of times, Slim grabbed my leg and squeezed it.

  After Bucket of Blood was over, we went to the restrooms. We also paid another visit to the snack bar, where we picked up boxes of Juicy Fruits, Good ’n Plenty and Milk Duds.

  The second show was The Killer Shrews and even scarier than Bucket of Blood. Shrews are supposedly the fiercest creatures in the world, but they’re so small they don’t go after people. These shrews, though, were the size of dogs. (Looking back on it, I’m pretty sure they were dogs.) They kept trying to get at a group of people stranded on this island. Wanted to rip them up and eat them. The people took refuge inside a house and boarded up the place to keep the shrews out. But the damn things kept getting in, anyway. It was pretty horrible. Several of the people got themselves eaten.

  When I saw The Night of the Living Dead a few years later, it reminded me of The Killer Shrews…and of what happened after we left the drive-in. I found myself reminded of that night about a zillion times because the main actor in The Killer Shrews turned out to be Festus in Gunsmoke. After Chester got replaced by Festus, I could hardly ever watch Gunsmoke without thinking about The Killer Shrews and what happened on the way home.

  At about eleven-thirty, the movie ended. An intermission started, and the area around the snack stand lit up. Here and there, headlights came on and engines started. Apparently, we weren’t the only people who needed to get home.

  Since I was already behind the wheel, I asked Slim, “Want me to take us back?”

  She was supposed to do all the driving that night. In fact, she always drove us to and from the drive-in movies. But I figured it would be easier if we just stayed in our seats and I took the wheel.

  Slim didn’t answer for a few seconds. Then she said, “We told everyone I’d be driving.”

  “Yeah, true. Maybe you’d better.”

  “I suppose so.”

  Leaning out the window, I reached over and hooked the speaker box onto its pole. Then I brought myself back into the car and opened the door.

  And realized my mistake. If I went around to the other side of the car so Slim could scoot over behind the wheel, I would end up sitting next to Rusty on the way home.

  I wanted to sit next to Slim, not Rusty.

  “What’s wrong?” she asked.

  I couldn’t tell her. We were pals, buddies, best friends. If she found out I needed to sit next to her, she might realize how I really felt. It might scare her.

  “Nothing,” I said. “I’m fine.”

  “Are you sure? If you really want to drive…”

  “Nah, that’s okay.” I climbed out and shut the door. Starting to feel lousy, I walked around to the other side. By the time I reached the passenger door, Slim and Rusty had both scooted over.

  I sat beside Rusty and swung the door shut.

  Leaving the headlights off, Slim drove slowly forward down the slope of the hump from which we’d viewed the movies. At the bottom, she made a sharp turn onto the cross-lane.

  She put on the parking lights. A couple of times, she stopped to let people walk by. At the end of the lane, she waited for a car to pass us before she pulled out.

  She didn’t cut anyone off. She didn’t do anything wrong or even rude. Neither did Rusty or I.

  In fact, we’re pretty sure that what happened a few minutes later had nothing to do with any of the cars from the drive-in. Those exiting ahead of us had all turned the other way at Mason Road. And none came out after us. None that we noticed, anyway.

  For a while, Slim’s Pontiac seemed to be the only car on the road. We were about ten miles north of town, midway between Grandville and Clarksburg.

  We had forest on the right.

  On the left was the old graveyard. If it had a name, we didn’t know it. Nobody’d been buried there since about 1920. We’d explored it a few times, though never at night. It had a lot of very cool tombstones and statues and stuff.

  Driving by, the three of us snuck glances at it the way we usually did. I think we wanted to make sure nobody was digging up bodies…or crawling out of any graves.

  No one was.

  But a car sat between the old stone posts of its entry gate. A car without any lights on.

  “Uh-oh,” Slim said. I felt our speed decrease slightly. “Was that a cop car?”

  “Didn’t look like one,” Rusty said.

  “It wasn’t,” I confirmed. Being the son of Grandville’s police chief, I knew what every cop car looked like: not just ours, but those of all the nearby towns, plus the county cars and state cars.

  “Thought it might be a speed trap,” Slim said.

  “Nope,” I told her.

  “Cool place to make out,” Rusty said.

  Slim and I both laughed.

  “Don’t you think?”

  “No,” Slim said. “For one thing, it’s right by the road where everyone can see you. Not to mention the bone orchard. You wouldn’t catch me making out there.”

  “Wouldn’t catch you making any…” Rusty tipped his head back and stared at the rearview mirror.

  “What?” Slim asked.

  “I think it’s coming,” he said.

  “Huh?” Slim glanced at the rearview mirror. “I don’t…oh.”

  I was already looking over my shoulder and knew why she’d said, “Oh.” A car was coming, all right, but without headlights on. It looked like a clump of shadow hurling toward us from the rear.

  “That the car from the graveyard?” Slim asked.

  “Think so,” Rusty said.

  Slim groaned.

  Rusty and I both looked over our shoulders.

  Rusty muttered, “Shit.”

  By the velocity of the car’s approach, I expected it to swerve and zip around us. But it didn’t. It stayed behind us. Just when I expected it to slam into our tail, Slim hit the gas. We shot forward, the sudden acceleration pushing me into the seat.

  The other car shrank into the distance, then started to grow. It looked like a big old black Cadillac.

  “Here it comes,” I said.

  “What’s the matter with that bastard!” Slim blurted.

  “You’d better get moving,” Rusty told her.

  “I am moving.”

  “Faster.”

  We picked up more speed. The Cadillac quit growing. It didn’t shrink away, either. It matched our speed and stayed about twenty feet behind us.

  Moonlight glinted on its hood and windshield. I couldn’t see inside it.

  Slim said, “I don’t like this.”

  She rounded a bend in the road too fast. The tires sighed. As the forces pulled at me, I grabbed the door handle to keep myself from leaning into Rusty. He let himself tilt against Slim. She muttered, “Get off me,” and shoved at him with her elbow.

  I looked back. The Cadillac was still on our tail.

  “I’m slowing down,” Slim said and took her foot off the gas.

  “Here it comes,” I warned.

  I braced for the impact. There wasn’t one. When I looked back again, the c
ar was no more than two feet from our rear. But the space seemed to be growing.

  “Looks like they don’t want to hit us,” I said.

  “What do they want?” Slim asked.

  I shook my head.

  Rusty said, “Maybe they’re just trying to scare us.”

  “If that’s all,” Slim said, “they’ve succeeded. They can go home now.”

  “Could be anything,” I said.

  “Is it the car from the graveyard?” Slim asked.

  “You got me,” I said.

  “I think so,” said Rusty.

  “It looked like it might’ve just been sitting there waiting for us.”

  “Or for someone,” I said. “Maybe just waiting for anyone to go by.”

  Her voice low and steady, Slim said, “Either way, we’re it.”

  “Long as all they do is follow us…” Rusty muttered.

  “We’ll get to town pretty soon,” I said.

  “We’re not that close,” Slim pointed out.

  “Five minutes?”

  “More like ten,” Rusty said.

  “Who do you think they are?” Slim asked.

  “God knows,” I muttered.

  “How about Scotty or one of those guys?” Rusty asked.

  “They wouldn’t dare,” Slim said.

  “They’d love to nail us,” I said.

  “Yeah, but they know what’ll happen if they try.”

  “You wouldn’t happen to have your bow handy, would you?” Rusty asked.

  “No. But they don’t know that.”

  “I almost hope it is Scotty,” I said.

  “As opposed to whom?” Slim asked.

  “I don’t know. Some creep like Starkweather or…”

  “Hey,” Rusty said. “Maybe it’s an artist and he wants to make us into statues. Slap some clay on us…”

  “Crap!” Slim cried out.

  Startled, I leaned past Rusty and looked at Slim. Her head was turned away, her short hair blowing. Just as I noticed the engine noises growing louder, the dark shape of the Cadillac filled her side window. It was no more than three feet away, in the lane for oncoming traffic.

  So far, there was no oncoming traffic.

  The big car stayed beside us. Its windows were rolled up. I tried to see through them, but couldn’t.

  Slowly, the front passenger window began to lower.

  “Watch out!” I yelled.

  Slim hit the brakes. We were thrown forward in our seats and the Cadillac burst ahead. It zoomed up the road for a few seconds, then cut back into our lane.

  Its brake lights came on, bright red in the darkness.

  “Oh, shit,” Rusty muttered.

  “Shit is right,” Slim said.

  We stopped dead in our lane.

  The Cadillac, about fifty yards ahead of us, also seemed to be stopped.

  Its red brake lights went out.

  Slim shut off our headlights and darkness slammed down on us.

  At the rear of the Cadillac, white lights came on.

  “Back-up lights,” I muttered.

  They began moving slowly toward us.

  “Here it comes,” Slim whispered.

  “I don’t feel so good,” Rusty said.

  “What’ll we do?” I asked.

  Nobody said anything.

  The car continued to back up. About ten feet in front of us, it stopped. All its lights went dark. It sat there.

  And sat there.

  “If anyone else comes along…” I said.

  “We’ll see their headlights,” Slim said. “I’ll get us out of the way.”

  “Speaking of which,” said Rusty, “where is everyone?”

  “Still at the movies,” Slim explained.

  “That’s where we oughta be,” I said. “We wouldn’t be in this fix if we’d stayed for the whole thing.”

  “Parents,” Rusty muttered as if it were a curse word.

  Slim chuckled softly, then added, “I guess we’ll have the last laugh if we end up getting killed.”

  “We’ll be all right,” I said. “They obviously aren’t gonna ram us, or they would’ve done it by now. The thing is…” I wasn’t sure how to say it.

  “What?” Slim asked.

  “If someone gets out of the car…”

  She leaned forward and looked at me. “Someone gets out and tries to come for us on foot, he’ll have to deal with Chief Pontiac.”

  “Gonna run him over?” Rusty asked.

  “If he needs it.”

  We waited.

  The Cadillac sat in front of us, dark, its doors shut.

  Slim looked at her wristwatch. “I know his game,” she said. “He’s trying to make us late.”

  “What time is it?” I asked.

  “Quarter till twelve.”

  “We can still make it.”

  “Not if we keep sitting here.”

  “If we’re late,” I said, “my Dad’s gonna kill me.”

  That got a pretty good laugh from Slim and Rusty.

  Then Slim said softly as if speaking to herself, “Let’s just see what happens,” and stepped on the gas. As we bolted from a standstill, she cut into the other lane.

  The Cadillac sprang forward and swung to the left, blocking us.

  Slim hit her brakes and swerved to the right.

  The Cadillac swerved and blocked us again.

  We stopped. It stopped.

  We sat there in the dark, ten feet apart.

  “Screw this,” Slim said. She threw her door open.

  “What’re you doing?” I yelled.

  “Stay here.” She started to climb out.

  “Grab her!”

  Rusty didn’t even try. Either he knew better than to interfere with Slim or he was eager for her to handle the situation.

  Slim dodged her open door and headed for the Cadillac, taking long, quick strides. I jumped out. “Wait!” I called.

  She stopped and waved me away. “Get back in the car,” she said.

  “Slim!”

  She whirled away and walked straight to the driver’s door of the Cadillac.

  I felt my stomach drop as she bent over and knocked on the window.

  “Get away from there!” I called.

  She knocked again. “Hey!” she yelled.

  I hurried between the two cars. Glancing toward ours, I saw that Rusty had scooted over. He now sat in the driver’s seat.

  Slim was still leaning toward the window of the Cadillac. As I stepped around its rear, she said, “What’s going on, mister?” From her tone of voice, I figured the window must be open. “Why’re you…”

  She suddenly tried to leap backward, but a hand shot out and grabbed the front of her T-shirt. It jerked hard. With a gasp, she stumbled forward and her head plunged into the open window.

  “NO!” she squealed.

  I ran toward her.

  Watching.

  Not wanting to believe my eyes.

  Slim was inside the window to her shoulders, squirming and kicking, shoving at the window frame with her left hand to keep herself from being dragged in.

  Her right arm was already inside the car.

  I hit her hard in the midsection.

  Tore her out of the window.

  Tackled her.

  Landed on top of her, smashing her against the pavement, where we almost got run over by the Pontiac. “Get in!” Rusty yelled. The passenger door flew open. “Get in! Quick!”

  I scurried up, pulling at Slim. I hurled her into the front seat. Already in motion, the car started to take off without me. I chased it, running in the V of its open door.

  “Hey!” I yelled.

  Rusty slowed down and I dived in.

  Next thing I knew, we were speeding toward town.

  I leaned out and pulled the door shut. Panting for air, I sat up straight.

  Rusty was stoked. “Holy jumpin’ Jesus!” he said. “Wow! Jeez! Did you see that? They grabbed her. Holy shit! Couldn’t believe it! Shit!” He sla
pped Slim on the thigh. “They almost got you.”

  Slim quit gasping for breath long enough to say, “Tell me about it.”

  “You all right?” I asked her.

  “I’m here. That’s what counts. Thanks, guys.”

  “No sweat,” said Rusty.

  Twisting my head, I looked out the rear window. The road behind us looked empty.

  “I don’t see ’em,” I said.

  “Me, either,” said Rusty.

  “When they come, don’t stop. Don’t stop for anything.”

  “You betcha!”

  “They won’t,” Slim said. “They won’t be coming.” She lifted her right hand and jangled a bunch of keys.

  “Holy shit!” Rusty said.

  “You got their car keys.”

  “It was easy.”

  As Rusty raced into town that night, Slim told us that there’d been two men in the car: one behind the wheel and another in the passenger seat. They were strangers to her.

  She described them to us—and ten minutes later to my father—as being about thirty years old, white, slender, with crew cuts. They were dressed in blue jeans and white T-shirts. Though she’d only seen them in the darkness for a few seconds, she was fairly certain that the two men were identical twins.

  Dad drove off to look for them.

  By the time he got out to Mason Road, however, the Cadillac was gone, along with the twins who’d tried to take Slim.

  They weren’t found during the weeks that followed, either.

  Maybe they’d just been “passing through” and were long gone.

  But we were afraid they might be out there, somewhere.

  We didn’t talk about it much. Hardly ever. Probably because all three of us had a pretty good idea about what they would’ve done to Slim if they’d taken her away in their Cadillac. We didn’t want to think about it.

  Especially since they might make another try for her.

  We knew their car.

  And they knew ours.

  After that night, I kept a sharp eye out for dark Cadillacs. I’m pretty sure we all did, though we didn’t talk about it.

  And our car—Slim’s—remained in the garage for almost a month after our close call on the way home from the Horrorfest. It didn’t come out again until the night of the Traveling Vampire Show.

 
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