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Once upon a halloween, p.3
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       Once Upon a Halloween, p.3

           Richard Laymon
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  The doorbell rang.

  Alarm filled Hunter's eyes.

  Shannon grimaced. "Maybe you'd better not get it this time."

  "The screen door's locked."

  The doorbell rung again.

  "The faster I give them candy, the faster they'll go away."

  "Just make sure they're kids."

  "I'll be careful."

  As the doorbell rang again, Laura hurried toward the foyer. Hunter started to go after her.

  "No." Shannon reached out and grabbed his wrist. "You stay here. You might need to answer some... SHIT!!!"


  Hunter jerked his hand out of Shannon's grip and whirled around.

  And squealed.

  Out of the darkness of the dining room came a man with a Bowie knife. He ran toward Shannon. He was flanked by two women, a blonde with a saber, a brunette with a hatchet. Except for shoos, leather belts and sheaths - and a rope coiled around the neck of the blonde - all three were naked. Their skin gleamed with sweat. They grunted as they ran. Their eyes looked fierce.

  Shannon hurled the cordless handset of the phone at the man. It hit him in the mouth with a clash of plastic against teeth, then bounced off. By the look on his face, it must've hurt. But it didn't stop him.

  Laura ran into the living room, let out a cry of alarm, and brushed past Hunter as she dashed toward the attackers.

  She's gonna take them on?

  Hunter ran the other way.

  As he raced into the foyer, the doorbell rang again.

  Trick or treaters or more of them?

  From behind Hunter came gasps and thuds, crashes of furniture and maybe bodies striking walls or the floor. Smacks of skin striking skin. Brawling sounds. But no sounds of anyone running toward him.

  He stopped at the foot of the stairway. By the noises, the struggle was still going on.

  He imagined himself returning, joining in the fight and saving the girls.

  They haven't got a chance, he thought.

  But they seemed to be keeping all three of the attackers busy, because nobody was coming after Hunter yet.

  Quickly but quietly, he climbed the stairs.

  On his way up, the doorbell rang again and made him flinch. He kept climbing.

  At the top, he turned around. The stairway was empty. Crouching, he could see a portion of the foyer. Nobody was there.

  He no longer heard noises of struggle from the living room. Was the fight over?

  When they 're done down there, they'll come looking for me.

  He started making his way slowly down the hall toward the light from Shannon's room.

  Better not hide in there, he thought. At least not behind the door. They'll find me for sure.

  His mind filled with memories of the last time he'd hidden behind the door. The excitement of being concealed, the fear of discovery... and then the thrill of spying on Shannon.

  She knew I was watching, but she took her robe off anyway. She wanted me to see her.

  Oh, God, what if they've killed her?

  What if they've killed Laura? She was awfully nice... They both were, and I've probably gotten them killed.

  Connie, too.

  Groaning, he stepped into the spill of light from Shannon's bedroom. And saw a white telephone on the nightstand beside her bed.

  He ran to the phone and snatched up its handset. As he raised it toward his ear, he reached down and jabbed 911. Then he listened for the ringing to start. "Come on, come on," he whispered.

  He didn't hear any ringing. All he heard was a quiet sound like wind.

  He tapped the plunger and released it.

  No dial tone.

  Just the same windy sound.

  Then the breathless voice of a woman said into his ear, "He's still in the house."

  Hunter gasped, "Ahh!" and slammed the phone down.


  "Come on, kids," Jeff said. "Let's go."

  "I know they're in there," Phyllis protested in her usual whiny voice. How his daughter could have such an annoying best friend puzzled Jeff. Not only was Phyllis annoying, but embarrassing. Thirteen years old, and she was going house to house as a pint-sized version of Elvira... complete with the heavy makeup and low-cut black gown. "I heard them," she said.

  "Yeah, Dad," Mandy said. "I did, too." Mandy, thank God, was dressed in an angora sweater, poodle skirt and saddle shoes.

  "Well," Jeff said, "they're obviously not coming to the door. Maybe they've had enough trick or treaters for one night."

  "Maybe they ran out of candy," suggested Bret, nodding his head in agreement with himself. "That's what I think. I might be wrong "

  Jeff, standing at the bottom of the porch, nodded and smiled. His eight year old son was dressed as Dennis the Menace in a red T-shirt, bib overalls with a slingshot sticking out of his seat pocket, and sneakers. After supper, Sue had used an eyebrow pencil to give him freckles across his checks and nose, but the shock of yellow ban was all his own. Though he always looked like Dennis the Menace, the resemblance was only on the outside. Inside, he was Eeyore.

  "Maybe they did run out of candy," Jeff said.

  "Or maybe they just hate kids," Phyllis said.

  Or maybe just you, Jeff thought. "Whatever," he said, "we don't want to bother them. Come on."

  Phyllis trotted down the stairs, looking peeved in spite of her vampirish makeup, her boobs bouncing in spite of having none.

  What the hell did Patsy put in there?

  No telling, Jeff thought. Sue wouldn't have allowed Mandy outside the house in such a costume, but Patsy had apparently never considered the idea that an Elvira costume might be wildly inappropriate for a child the age of Phyllis. The revealing gown had not only been Patsy's idea, but she'd made it by hand. No doubt, her fertile imagination had come up with an exotic solution to the breast problem.

  Jeff stepped aside. As Bret and the girls hurried past him, he caught a whiff of exotic perfume from Phyllis. Mandy's pony tail bounced and swished. So did the dangling rubber strip of Bret's slingshot.

  When they were a short distance ahead of Jeff, he followed them to the driveway.

  "Last year," Bret said, "they gave us Three Musketeers bars."

  "How do you know?" Phyllis asked.

  "I remember." A moment later, he asked, "Don't you?"

  "Sure," Phyllis muttered.

  "They're nice."

  "Three Musketeers bars?"

  "Them, too. Only I was meaning Shannon and Laura."

  Mandy looked back at him. "You know their names?" She sounded surprised.

  Though Jeff was used to Bret's remarkable memory, he found himself surprised, too. "You remember their names from last Halloween?" he asked.

  "Huh uh."

  "No?" Mandy asked. "Then how do you know them?"

  Bret hesitated.

  Uh-oh, Jeff thought. What'd he do?

  "Oh, well, I phoned 'em up."

  First I've heard about this, Jeff thought.

  "You phoned them?" he asked.

  "What for?"

  "Just school."

  "What about school?"

  "Spill the beans, kid," Phyllis helped.

  "Why exactly did you call them?" Jeff asked.

  "On account of Mrs. Carter saying how there's no such thing as ghosts."

  "Mrs. Carter, your teacher?"

  He nodded. "She read us about the Headless Horseman so that's how ghosts came up."

  "When was that?" Jeff asked.


  "This Wednesday?"

  He nodded. "So Mrs. Carter, she said there's no such thing as ghosts."

  "So naturally," Mandy said, "you corrected her."

  "Well, sure. She was wrong. Only then she said I was wrong, and how ghosts are nothing but fragments of the imagination, I said they're as real as she is, and then everyone laughed at me."

  "Can't imagine that," Phyllis said.

  At the foot of the long driveway, they walked through a g
low of light and stepped into the middle of the road. This close to the dead-end, there was little need to worry about traffic.

  The kids started across the road, heading toward the house at the far corner.

  "Hang on," Jeff said. "Don't go traipsing off just yet."

  They came back to him.

  "So what possessed you to phone those two women?" he asked his son.

  "Shannon and Laura," Bret said.

  "Right. Them."

  "It was 'cause they live in a haunted house." Phyllis snorted.

  Bret glanced at her. He didn't look angry, though. He simply looked as if he knew more than she did, but chose not to hold it against her.

  "What makes you think their house is haunted?" Mandy asked.

  "You told me so."

  Mandy's mouth fell open. "Huh?"

  "Don't you remember? We came trick or treating and nobody was living in the house..."

  "Gosh, that was years ago."

  "I was four."


  "And you said nobody lives in there 'cause of the ghosts."


  "You did. You said how old Mr. Witherspoon chopped his wife up into little pieces and ate her..."

  "Mandy?" Jeff asked.

  She grimaced at him. "Well, he did."

  "And you had to tell Bret about it when he was four years old?"

  "Neat play," Phyllis told her.

  "Butt out," Mandy said.

  Bret spoke up again. "And then how Mr. Witherspoon hung himself..."

  "Hanged," Jeff corrected him.

  "Mandy, she told me they were both haunting the house with their ghosts, and that's how come nobody wanted to live there. But then somebody moved in. Shannon and Laura. We saw them last year and the year before and I liked them. So I phoned them up to see if they'd seen the ghosts."

  Smiling, Jeff shook his head. "You actually... interviewed them?"

  "Well, we talked. They were real nice."

  "How'd you get their number?" Mandy asked.

  "The operator."

  "You 're the operator," Phyllis said.

  "So had they seen any ghosts?" Mandy asked.


  "Is that a yes?" Jeff asked.


  "They got a long-necked ghost. That's Mr. Witherspoon. And they got a ghost in pieces. That's Mrs. Witherspoon. They see Mr. Witherspoon walking around in the middle of the night sometimes and his neck is like about a foot long 'cause that's what happens when you get... hanged."

  "Sure," Phyllis said.

  "Laura said he was really scary at first, only later on they got use to him. Then he wasn't so scary anymore. But Mrs. Witherspoon, pieces of her keep showing up. Like in Shannon's cornflakes? And sometimes when Laura's making breakfast, the scrambled eggs suddenly get all bloody."

  Mandy shook her head. "They said that?"

  "Yes they did."

  "Cross your heart and hope to die?"

  "No hoping to die," Jeff threw in quickly.

  "Anyway, they told me all sorts of neat stuff. Like how a burglar broke in once and almost got hanged by Mr. Witherspoon."

  "By his ghost?" Mandy asked.


  "Oh, sure," said Phyllis.

  "So anyway I asked them if they'd come to school and talk to Mrs. Carter's class about it."

  "They must've gone over big." Mandy said.

  "Well, Laura wanted to do it. She makes paintings of ghosts and graves and stuff. She was gonna bring them in this week, only Mrs. Carter said no."

  "What a stool," Mandy said, frowning.

  Jeff tried not to smile. "Be nice."

  "Well, she is. You know? I know there's no such thing as ghosts, but they're neat."

  "Mrs. Carter was probably just afraid of getting into trouble," Jeff explained. "Teachers can't do much of anything these days without someone causing a stink."

  "She's the one who stinks," Bret said.

  "A cowardly stool," Mandy added.

  Phyllis laughed.

  "Heck," Mandy said, "I'd like to see those paintings."

  "Me, too," Phyllis said.

  "You oughta hear her ghost stories," Bret added.

  In a suddenly chipper voice, Phyllis said, "Why don't we go back? Maybe she'll open the door this time."

  Jeff shook his head. "I don't think so. We were just there. If they wanted company, they would've opened the door then. I don't think we should bother them again. Let's just keep going."

  "But she might let us look at her paintings," Mandy said.

  "Maybe we'll get to see the ghosts," said Bret.

  Though they both sounded hopeful, Jeff shook his head. "Sorry. Maybe some other time."

  "Oh, sure," Phyllis said. "Some overtime. That's a good one."


  "Come out, come out, wherever you are." It was a woman's teasing, sing-song voice.

  But not Laura's voice.

  Not Shannon's.

  It sounded very much like the voice of the woman who had picked up the phone a few minutes ago. And it sounded as if she might already be at the top of the stairs.

  Was it the blonde with the sword or the brunette with the hatchet?

  Though only one had just spoken, Hunter supposed that both might've come looking for him. Maybe the guy, too. Why not all three? No reason for any of them to stay downstairs, not if they'd killed Laura and Shannon.

  And now they'll kill me.

  If they can find me.

  In search of a hiding place, Hunter had hurried past Shannon's bedroom, followed the hallway to the end of the stairwell railing, then cut across and entered a room that was utterly dark. Halting just inside, he 'd flicked on a light.

  Not a bedroom. A studio?

  Paintings everywhere. A couple on easels, many hanging on walls, others leaning against scattered furniture, and dozens propped against walls.

  Graves, ghosts, dead people...

  Leaning against a far comer of the room was a framed painting about four feet high. A happy-looking kid sitting on top of a tombstone, eating an ice cream cone.

  After a glance at it, Hunter had switched off the light and made his way toward it in the darkness. He'd walked slowly, feeling his way, careful not to bump into easels or trip on artwork or furniture.

  Finding the painting, he'd tilted it forward, stepped into the triangle of space behind it, then squatted down and eased it back into place.

  "Where arrrrre you?" the woman called.

  Go away!

  She won't go away, Hunter knew. She'll find me and kill me.

  "Come out, come out."

  She sounded closer, now. Somewhere in the hallway, not far from the bedroom door.

  Is she by herself? Hunter wondered.

  Even if she is, so what? If I try anything, she'll cut me to pieces.

  "Where are you?" she sang. "Here, kitty kitty kitty."

  Looking for a cat? Hunter had a moment of joyful relief before realizing he had misheard her. She hadn't said "kitty."

  She chanted again, "Here, kiddy, kiddy. Where are you? You can't hide from me, my little sweety-pie. I'll sniff you out."

  The light came on.

  Squatted behind the painting, Hunter cringed.

  She can't see me, he told himself. I can't see her, so she can't see me. She doesn't even know I'm in this room.

  "Hmmm," she said. "What have we here?"

  She can't see me!

  "What wonderful paintings! Oh, my! How macabre! How delightful! Ooo, that one gives me goosebumps. I'm prickly all over, just looking at it. All prickly and goosebumpy. Delicious."

  After saying that, she went silent.

  No voice, no sound of footsteps.

  Maybe she left.


  Trying to make no sounds himself, Hunter held his breath. He heard only the pounding of his heart.

  She is gone, he told himself. She went to look in a different room.

  Then he heard the floor creak.

  It creaked quietly, its sound almost silenced by the carpet, but it creaked so very close to Hunter, where he crouched behind the painting, that he almost groaned in despair.

  "Ah." The voice came from straight above him.

  Cringing inside, Hunter tilted back his head.

  He saw the undersides of two sweaty breasts. The woman did have goosebumps, just as she'd said. And very large, stiff nipples. Above and between her breasts, her face smiled down at Hunter.

  "Gotcha," she whispered.

  The painting blocked his view of everything below her breasts, so he couldn't see if she had the saber.

  "I give," he said to her.

  She looked amused. "Give what?"


  "You give up?"

  He nodded.

  "Glad to hear it."

  As she smiled strangely down at Hunter, her right breast lifted slightly. Then both breasts lurched. The lip of the saber popped through the canvas, rammed toward Hunter and pinned his shill to his chest. He tumbled backward, escaping from the blade but only for a moment.

  It jabbed him in the chest. "Ow!"

  A satisfied smile on her face, the woman stepped back and slashed the canvas to tatters. With the blade, she lifted the remains of the painting and hurled it out of the way. It crashed into others, knocking a few of them to the floor.

  Slumped in the corner with nothing to shield him from the woman, Hunter raised his hands in front of his face.

  "Don't," he whimpered. "Please."

  "Don't what?"

  "Kill me."

  "Why not?"


  "Put your hands down."

  He kept them up, ready to block the descending blade. "Down."

  Lowering them, he glimpsed the patch of red wetness on the chest of his shirt. He crossed his forearms over it and looked up at the woman.

  She was smirking down at him, the saber in her right hand raised high as if she were all set to slash downward and finish him off. Her body glistened with sweat. She looked sleek and strong, like women Hunter had seen sometimes on TV bodybuilding shows.

  Strong enough to cut me in two.

  She had no make-up on. No tattoos. No jewelry. She wore only a brown leather belt, loose around her hips. On the right side of the belt hung a large leather sheath with a knife in it. Below her belt buckle, she was hairless and smooth.

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