Fiends ssc, p.26
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       Fiends SSC, p.26

           Richard Laymon
 
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  Then she was in his arms. She hugged him, kissed him. My Darren, she thought.

  He felt solid and warm and comfortable.

  When they released each other, he said, ‘I have a surprise for you.’

  ‘You’ve put Joyce in storage?’

  His smile faltered. ‘Don’t be silly. I made a trip to the doughnut shop. Maple bars!’

  He knew how she loved maple bars. But she couldn’t work up much enthusiasm as she said, ‘Oh, that’s sweet.’

  Taking her hand, he led her into the kitchen. On the counter, the pot of coffee was ready. On the table, a heaping platter of doughnuts, including four maple bars, waited. In the corner, smiling, staring at Barbara as she entered, stood Joyce.

  Her hair was done up in a ponytail. She wore a fresh white blouse. The bra beneath it, faintly visible through the thin fabric, was black. Her blouse was tucked neatly into the elastic waistband of her glossy blue shorts. She wore white socks and blue L.A. Gear athletic shoes.

  ‘You dressed her,’ Barbara muttered.

  Darren grinned. ‘She didn’t dress herself.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘Isn’t that obvious?’ He laughed softly and picked up the coffee pot.

  ‘I mean, why did you dress her?’

  ‘Oh. Well, it wouldn’t be right for her to go around all day in her nightgown.’ He filled the mugs with coffee and set them on the table. He pulled out a chair for Barbara.

  ‘I’ll sit over here,’ she said. And took the chair on the opposite side of the table. So she wouldn’t have her back to Joyce. So she could keep an eye on her.

  Darren sat down in the chair he’d intended for Barbara. He took a sip of coffee. ‘Actually, I did keep Joyce in her bathrobe for a while, at first. I thought to myself, why bother putting clothes on her? It got depressing, though. There she was, day and night, standing around in her robe. It made her seem… oh, I don’t know, like an invalid.’

  Tempted to make a remark, Barbara bit into a maple bar instead.

  ‘So then I decided to start dressing her up. Off with that tired old bathrobe, on with… well, whatever the occasion demanded. Nightwear at night, casual things for daytime wear, one of her nifty little bikinis for poolside… she always liked to join me out by the pool, though she wasn’t much for swimming. For more formal occasions - a birthday, Thanksgiving, that sort of thing - a lovely evening gown. Whatever seemed right.’ Smiling, he bit into a jelly doughnut.

  ‘Like having a life-size Barbie doll.’

  ‘You’re my Barbie doll,’ he said, his voice muffled by doughnut, white powder and red jelly on his lips. ‘She’s my Joycie doll.’

  Joyce smiled at the top of Barbara’s head.

  ‘Isn’t it… difficult to dress her? I mean, she’s stiff, isn’t she?’

  ‘Oh, we manage. Some outfits are trickier to get on her than others, but we make do the best we can.’

  Barbara started to take another bite of maple bar. But it would be a muddy lump in her mouth like the first one, and tough to swallow. She set down the bar and drank some coffee.

  ‘Is something wrong with your maple bar?’

  ‘It’s fine,’ she muttered.

  Frowning with concern, he leaned forward slightly. ‘Is it Joyce?’

  ‘Of course it’s Joyce. What do you think?’

  ‘We went through all this last night, darling. I thought you understood.’

  ‘My God, you dress her up like she’s real'

  ‘She is real.’

  ‘But she’s dead!. You cart her around from room to room. You dress her up You put a bra on her. Probably panties too, for all I know.’

  ‘Would you prefer her without panties?’ he asked. Raising his eyebrows, smiling slightly, he bit again into his doughnut.

  ‘I’d prefer her gone!'

  Nodding, he chewed for a while. He swallowed. He sipped his coffee. ‘You’ll get used to her. Once you’ve gotten to know her better, I’m sure you’ll…’

  ‘I want her out of here.’

  ‘Out of the kitchen?’

  ‘Out of the house. Preferably in a fucking graveyard}.’

  ‘Oh, dear. You are upset.' The look of sorrow on Darren’s face made her heart ache for him.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ she murmured. ‘I am. I love you so much. But Joyce…’

  ‘She frightens you, doesn’t she?’

  Barbara nodded.

  ‘She doesn’t bite, you know.’

  ‘I know.’

  ‘She doesn’t do anything.’

  ‘She looks at me.’

  ‘They’re only glass eyes,’ Darren explained gendy.

  ‘They’re not hers?’

  ‘Hers didn’t fare well in the… process. But if they bother you… Back in a sec.’ He pushed himself away from the table and hurried from the kitchen.

  ***

  While he was gone, Barbara studied Joyce’s face. Glass eyes. They sure looked real. Too real, too bright and aware. Did it make things any better, knowing they were fake? For a few moments, she thought so.

  They’re not Joyce.

  They’re not her dead eyes. Nothing much more than a couple of shiny marbles poked into her sockets.

  Sockets.

  The real Joyce hasn’t got eyes. Were they gouged out? Popped? Dragged out with forceps? Did they just shrivel away in the ‘process’ and fall out?

  Those beautiful, lively eyes gazing at the top of Barbara’s head were pieces of glass stuck into pits.

  Do they ever fall out?

  Does Darren take them out lovingly, from time to time, and polish them up?

  Barbara stared at Joyce. No eyes. God! Those aren’t her eyes. They’re covers. Hatches put there to conceal a pair of hideous cavities.

  Cringing, she looked away. Thanks for telling me, Darren. Thanks a lot.

  ‘Here we go,’ he said, bustling into the kitchen. ‘This’ll be just what the doctor ordered.’ He kissed the top of Barbara’s head, then hurried around the table.

  She looked up in time to watch him slide sunglasses onto Joyce’s face. They were much like those worn by the Highway Patrolman who’d stopped Barbara last month for making an unsafe lane change on the Santa Monica Freeway. Wire rims, teardrop shaped lenses with silver reflective surfaces.

  ‘How’s that?’ Darren asked. Stepping away, he admired the effect. ‘Make her look rather dashing, don’t you think?’

  Now I can’t tell where she’s looking, Barbara thought. But she didn’t want to hurt Darren’s feelings. He was trying to help. ‘That’s a lot better.’

  Maybe it is better, she told herself. Now, at least, her eyes are out

  of sight. Maybe I can forget about them. Forget they aren’t eyes, just socket hiders.

  Darren sat at the table, looking pleased with himself. ‘For every problem, there’s a solution.’

  ‘Guess so,’ Barbara said. She picked up her maple bar and forced herself to eat it.

  When Darren asked how she would like to spend the day, she suggested going to the beach. ‘Fabulous idea,’ he blurted. ‘It’ll be like we’re still on our honeymoon.’

  ‘Just the two of us, right?’

  ‘Of course.’

  ‘You don’t want to take her along?’

  ‘Joyce’ll be fine right here.’ He winked. ‘She’s really pretty much a home body.’

  In the bedroom, Barbara tied her string bikini into place, then covered up with a blouse and shorts, and slipped into sandals. Darren came in while she was making the bed. ‘I’ll get the towels and things while you’re changing,’ she told him.

  ‘I’ll be done in a jiff,’ he said, and winked.

  Before they left, Darren carried Joyce into the living room. He set her down on the sofa, tucked a pillow under he head and pulled off her shoes. ‘All comfy?’ he asked. He patted her leg, then took the beach bag from Barbara’s hand and led the way to the door.

  ***

  It was wonderful to get out of the house. Away from Joyce. At the
beach, they roamed along the shoreline, holding hands. They spread towels on the sand, massaged each other with sun block, stretched out side by side, lay motionless under the heavy sun and soothing breezes.

  Exhausted after a night of so little sleep, Barbara slumbered peacefully.

  Later, they explored the pier. They wandered the souvenir shops. They rode the bumper cars. Darren sank a basketball three times in a row and won her a furry, pink teddy bear. They ate fried clams and homemade potato chips on a bench high above the ocean.

  Then they returned to the sand. They spread their towels again, lay down, and again Barbara fell asleep.

  She awoke when Darren kissed her shoulder. ‘We’d best be on our way.’

  Her stomach twisted, knotted itself into an icy clump.

  ‘Not yet.’

  ‘We don’t want to burn.’

  ‘We won’t. The sun block…’

  ‘Nevertheless. We should be getting back.’

  ‘It’s still early.’

  He glanced at his wristwatch. ‘It’s after three.’

  She nodded. She forced herself to smile.

  Her smile became genuine as she pulled the shorts up her legs. ‘I know, let’s go to a movie!’

  ‘A movie?’

  ‘Sure. A matinee. It’ll be great!’

  ‘Well…’

  ‘Please?This is out last day together before… it’ll be off to work for you in the morning. We won’t have another chance to do anything till next weekend. Please?’

  ‘Sure. Why not?’

  They returned to the car, drove to a parking structure near the Third Street Mall, then went to a cineplex. Of the six movies playing there, one was scheduled to begin in fifteen minutes. Darren bought tickets, and in they went.

  Soon, the theater darkened. Too soon, the movie ended.

  ‘It sure will be great to get home and take a nice shower,’ Darren said as they walked through the lobby. He patted her rump. ‘Together.’

  ‘Why don’t we stay for another?’

  ‘Really, darling. I think one’s enough.’

  ‘Please? You know how I love movies.’

  He smiled. ‘How’s this? We’ll drop by the video store on the way home and rent a couple for tonight.’

  She sighed. She didn’t want to start anything. ‘All right. If you’d rather do that.’

  So they drove to a video store.

  Barbara studied the shelves of tapes, shaking her head, unwilling to make a choice. Over and over again, she found reasons not to accept videos Darren selected. She’d already seen this one, that one didn’t sound very good. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said several times. ‘We’ll find something. There must be something decent around here.’ And they kept on looking.

  She managed to stretch out their search for more than an hour. Finally, Darren said, ‘Let’s just grab a couple. I’m starving.’ Barbara grabbed two that she’d noticed when they first came in.

  ***

  Back in the car, she said, ‘Why don’t we have a bite to eat before we go home?’

  ‘Take-out?’

  ‘I’d rather eat in a restaurant. It’s so much more fun.’

  ‘Look how we’re dressed.’

  ‘We don’t have to go any place fancy. Jack-in-the-Box or Burger King. Whatever.’

  Darren drove to Burger King. They ate at a table. While Barbara slowly consumed her meal, she tried to think of another way to delay their return home.

  Give it up, she finally thought. I’ve stalled him as long as I can without making a fuss. We can’t stay away forever. Might as well get it over with.

  So, when the meal was done, they climbed into the car and drove through the dusk, heading for home.

  Where Joyce would be waiting.

  Maybe we’ll be in luck, Barbara thought, and the house burnt down while we were out.

  Fat chance.

  They rounded a corner, and there it was. Still standing.

  ‘Did you have a good time?’ Darren asked as he swung into the driveway.

  ‘Wonderful. I really hate for it to end.’

  ‘Nothing’s ended, darling.’ He stopped the car, leaned toward Barbara and stroked the back of her head. ‘Our life together has only begun. We’ll have so many fine times.’

  ‘I suppose so.’

  ‘No supposing about it.’

  She followed him into the house. Darren carried the sack of video tapes into the living room and set it down at Joyce’s feet.

  ‘She won’t have to watch the movies with us, will she?’ Barbara asked. ‘Couldn’t you… maybe put her in another room?’

  ‘I could. But the sooner you get used to her the better. Don’t you think?’

  ‘I don’t think I’ll ever get used to her.’

  ‘Oh, you will, you will. Give it time. Now, you go along and start your shower. I’ll be along in a minute.’ He winked. Then he crouched, slipped his arms under Joyce, and lifted her off the sofa.

  Barbara’s heart slammed. ‘Where are you taking her?’

  ‘The guest room.’ He grinned. ‘Time to get her out of the daytime attire.’

  She hurried ahead of them and shut herself into the bathroom. Trembling, she took off her clothes.

  The daytime attire, she thought.

  He’s stripping her. Then he’ll be waltzing in here and putting his hands on me.

  That’s what he thinks.

  She thumbed down the lock button, then went to the tub and turned on the shower.

  He’ll just have to choose, she thought as she adjusted the faucets. Joyce or me. He can’t have it both ways.

  What if he chooses her?

  I can’t lose him. Not over a damned stiff!

  Sighing, Barbara stepped to the door and unlocked it.

  She climbed into the tub and slid the glass door shut. The hot spray felt wonderful splashing against head and face, sliding down her body.

  His hands will be clean, she told herself. They’ll be all soapy when he rubs me. They won’t have Joyce on them.

  But she’ll be waiting when we come out.

  Dressed in her little see-through nightie.

  God!

  Standing around in her nightie and shades while we watch the movies. Then standing by the bed while we make love.

  I can’t take much more of this.

  Maybe I shouldn’t let him have me again till she’s out of the house.

  No, he’d end up resenting me. I can’t do anything to make him get rid of her. He’d hold it against me forever. It has to be his decision.

  If only she hadn’t been preserved so well. If she was rotten or stinky, he sure wouldn’t have kept her around.

  What if I go to the market tomorrow while he’s at work, pick up some really stinky cheese, poke some into her mouth? Poke some into her everywhere?

  Yuck! I’d have to touch her.

  There are always gloves for that.

  Darren will think she’s going bad.

  And get rid of her?

  What if he probes around and finds the cheese?

  Would it be worth the risk?

  Barbara flinched, startled, as the shower door rumbled open. She turned. Joyce stared in at her, smiling. No silver shades, no nightie.

  ‘No!’ She staggered backward as Joyce rose, lifted high by Darren behind her. ‘Get her out of here!’ She slipped. Her rump smacked the bottom of the tub. ‘Ow!’

  ‘Darling! Are you all right?’

  ‘No! Get her out of here! What’s the matter with you?’

  ‘This’ll be a great way for you to get better acquainted. Really. Did you hurt yourself?’

  ‘I’ll live.’ Barbara scooted backward and drew her legs up to her chest as Darren stepped into the tub with Joyce. Holding the body against him with one arm across her belly, he slid the shower door shut.

  The spray splattered off Joyce’s shoulders. Water spread down her body in shiny streamers.

  ‘Please!’ Barbara begged. ‘I don’t want to get better acqua
inted. Take her away!’

  ‘You’ll be fine once you’ve gotten to know her.’

  ‘The water’ll ruin her! You’d better…’

  ‘Oh, no, she’s quite durable. Stand up, now, darling.’

  ‘Darren!’

  ‘Is it really asking so much? Just stand up. Please.’

  Trembling, breathless, Barbara struggled to her feet.

  Darren smiled at her from behind Joyce’s shoulder. ‘Now, come a little closer. Be careful you don’t fall.’

  She took a few small steps forward, and stopped.

  ‘Closer.’

  She moved closer.

  ‘Closer.’

  ‘No. Come on.’ One more step, and she would meet Joyce. ‘Okay,’ Darren said. He blinked water out of his eyes. ‘You’re doing fine. Really. You're making great progress. Now, I want you to touch her face.’

  ‘Don’t make me.’ Her voice came out whiny.

  ‘I won’t make you do anything. Do it for me. Do it for us. Please. You must get over this phobia about Joyce.’

  ‘It’s not a phobia.’

  ‘Then we’ll be able to get on with our lives. I’m sure you’ll even come to like her. She’ll make a fine companion for you while I’m away at work every day. Now, please. Touch her face.’

  Barbara raised a wet hand toward Joyce’s cheek. And hesitated, fingers shaking.

  Joyce gazed at her with merry, shining eyes.

  Glass stuffed in pits.

  ‘You’re so close now,’ Darren urged her. ‘Don’t stop now.’

  Holding her breath, Barbara placed her fingertips against Joyce’s cheek. She prodded it gently. She stroked it. The skin felt smooth and stiff. Like a fine leather shoe.

  From behind Joyce’s shoulder, Darren beamed at her. ‘I’m so proud of you!’

  Barbara lowered her arm. ‘I did what you asked. Now will you take…’

  She gasped as the body lurched forward. Its hands brushed her sides. Before she could leap away, other hands clutched her. Darren’s hands. They grabbed her sides, jerked her forward. Tight against Joyce.

  She turned her head, just in time to avoid a collision with Joyce’s face. Their cheeks rubbed.

  Darren kissed her, pressed his lips against hers above Joyce’s shoulder. Pushed his tongue into her mouth.

  He can’t be doing this!

 
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