The traveling vampire sh.., p.37
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.37
 

           Richard Laymon

  We turned again to the cage door.

  “Locked in?” Slim asked.

  “Looks that way,” I said.

  “It’s a combination padlock,” Lee explained.

  Slim didn’t say anything.

  “You still there?” I asked.

  “Yeah.”

  “Maybe you’d better go get help,” Lee called.

  “Nice outfit, Lee.”

  “Thanks.”

  “Red becomes you.”

  “You’d better get going,” Lee said. “Try to get the police out here…”

  “Not a good idea. I need to keep you covered.”

  “Are you okay?” I asked.

  “Okay enough. Took care of Valeria, anyway.”

  “You sure did. That was great shooting. But what’s wrong?”

  “I’m a little beat up, that’s all.”

  At first, I thought she meant her earlier injuries…those from the dog and falling down.

  “I got worked over a little,” she said.

  “What?”

  “Bitsy. She jumped me from behind.”

  “Bitsy?”

  “Yeah. Clobbered me with something. Then she beat the crap out of me. Turned out my lights.”

  Through my rage, I felt confusion. “When did she do it?”

  “A few minutes after we left you guys. Guess she wanted to ‘go with.’”

  “That creepy little…!”

  “She adores you, pal.”

  “Yeah,” I muttered, suddenly glad that Bitsy had gotten herself pounded by Rusty. If I’d known what she’d done to Slim, things would’ve gone a lot worse for her.

  “Seen her around?” Slim asked.

  “Yeah. She said you got mad and told her to F off.”

  “Real nice.”

  “Anyway, we sorta ditched her in the woods. Haven’t seen her since.”

  “So where’s Rusty?” Slim asked.

  “We don’t know. They took him away after Valeria bit him.”

  “She bit him?”

  “After he made it with her.”

  “Huh? Rusty made it with Valeria?”

  “Yeah.”

  “You mean sex?”

  “Yeah. Right in the cage here. In front of everyone.”

  “Holy jeez.”

  “Then she tore into him. Next thing you know, they were taking him away on a gurney. We don’t know where he is now.”

  “Maybe in their bus or something,” Lee said.

  “They were gonna give him back to us,” I explained, “if Lee went five minutes with Valeria. That’s how we ended up like this.”

  “Looked like she was about to take a piece out of your neck.”

  “Thanks for saving it,” I said.

  “Hey, it’s my favorite neck.”

  I blushed.

  “You still have the knife?” Slim asked.

  The knife?

  I slapped the front right pocket of my blue jeans and felt a solid bulge. Slim’s folding knife?

  I couldn’t believe it.

  I’d forgotten I had it.

  “Take it out,” Slim said.

  I shoved my hand into the tight, wet pocket of my jeans. No wonder Lee hadn’t been able to get her shorts back on. Something about wet cloth…But I managed to shove my hand in deeply enough to grab the knife.

  I pulled it out.

  “Now come over to my side of the cage. Make it fast.”

  I wanted to ask why, but didn’t bother. Whatever her reasons, they were probably good. As I’ve mentioned before, Slim had more brains than me and Rusty put together.

  So I whirled away from the door and rushed across the muddy floor. Through the bars on the other side, I saw a vague shape squirming on the ground in front of the bleachers. It had to be Slim belly-crawling toward the cage.

  Suddenly, an engine revved.

  Slim scrambled up. Rushing the final few feet to the cage, she entered the headbeams. Her short blond hair was matted and curly with rain. Her black silk shirt, torn in several places, was clinging to her body. She had her bow in one hand and her quiver of arrows in the other.

  It felt great to see her.

  But she had a gash above one eyebrow and her face was swollen.

  I felt like killing Bitsy.

  A moment before slamming against the cage, Slim shoved her bow and quiver of arrows through the bars. “Trade,” she gasped.

  “Huh?”

  The bus was on its way. Though I didn’t look at it, I heard it going through its gears, picking up speed like a school bus after dropping off a load of kids.

  “Take my stuff! Gimme the knife! Quick!”

  I did as she asked.

  “Protect yourselves,” she said. Then she put her face between two of the bars. “Kiss me.”

  Valeria’s words exactly. This time they came from Slim and the sound of them hurt my heart.

  I dropped to my knees and kissed her on the mouth, forgetting about her puffy, split lips. She winced. I started to pull away, but her hand caught the back of my head. We continued to kiss. I felt the warmth of her lips, the heat of her breath. I tasted her blood.

  The brakes of the bus groaned.

  Though I didn’t look, the sound told me that the bus was stopping somewhere near the front of the cage.

  Slim pulled back. “I love you, Dwight. Don’t let yourself get hurt, or I’ll have to kill you.”

  “Oh God, Slim.” I had a catch in my throat.

  “See you.”

  “What’re you gonna do?”

  She tugged open the blade of the knife. “Tell you after I’ve done it.”

  I heard the familiar hiss of a bus door opening.

  “Run!” Lee yelled.

  In a low crouch, Slim rushed for the bleachers.

  A big man sprinted in from the side at an angle to intercept her. He was my guard, the guy I’d elbowed in the nose.

  As he chased Slim, I heard the bus engine roar. I glanced toward the sound and glimpsed the bus racing backward as if to put a safe distance between itself and the pursuit.

  Just in front of the bleachers, Slim flopped to her belly and squirmed forward.

  “Leave her alone!” I yelled.

  The man didn’t even so much as glance at me.

  He was about to leave his feet for a dive at Slim when I let an arrow fly. I was no expert archer like Slim, just a normal American kid of my times…a kid who’d done plenty fooling around with all things lethal: knives, firearms, blowguns, home-made spears, explosives, swords, bows and arrows.

  My arrow went in just under the man’s armpit and sank into his ribcage. He hit the mud skidding.

  Slim scurried under the bleachers and vanished.

  Bleachers I’d thought were empty.

  From somewhere near the top, however, came applause. It sounded like one or two people clapping their hands.

  Chapter Sixty

  My skin went all crawly with goosebumps. I couldn’t see who was up there, but I knew anyway.

  As I peered toward the top of the bleachers, the beam of a flashlight reached up through the darkness, swept this way and that, and found two men at the very top of the stands—found them for an instant, then lost them as they lowered themselves behind the structure.

  “Look out, Slim!” I yelled, getting to my feet “The Cadillac twins! They’re coming after you!”

  She didn’t answer.

  The beam of the flashlight lowered and whipped back and forth through the lower rows of the bleachers. Shadows jerked and leaped. I looked for Slim, didn’t see her, then turned my head to find out who was holding the flashlight.

  Its beam came from a cluster of three or four people standing just outside the door of the bus. The bus had stopped about twenty feet back from the cage. Not very far, but the people were in darkness and I had headlights shining in my eyes so I couldn’t tell who they were. Stryker was probably one of them, though. And Vivian.

  I turned in their direction, readied an arrow and d
rew the bowstring back to my chin.

  “Shut off the flashlight or I’ll shoot!” I yelled.

  The light went dead.

  “Thanks,” I said. A dumb thing to say, but it came out before I had a chance to think. “Now come over here and let us out.”

  “Why would I do that?”

  Before I had a chance to think about it—much, anyway—I released the arrow. It vanished into the darkness. Then came a quiet thump.

  “Ah!” a woman cried out. A dark figure broke away from the group, hunching over and twisting away, then dropping to its knees. “You fucking bastard!” yelled the same voice. It didn’t sound like Vivian, but I’d noticed earlier that Stryker had several women in his crew.

  I reached down to the quiver clamped between my knees and pulled out another arrow. Before I could shoot it, though, my targets had disappeared inside the bus. They’d left the wounded one on the ground, writhing and whimpering.

  “That’s two down,” Lee said. “Three, counting Valeria. Not bad.”

  “Except they’ve got us trapped and surrounded.”

  She shrugged one shoulder. “Big deal.”

  I laughed and so did she. As she came toward me, I slipped the arrow back into the quiver.

  When she hugged me, the quiver fell over. But I didn’t care.

  My shirt had been ripped off by Valeria, so Lee’s chambray shirt was the only thing between me and her skin.

  “You’re doing really well,” she said into my ear.

  “Thanks.”

  “I always knew you were a good guy, but you’re even better than I thought.”

  “Well…I’m trying.”

  Her arms tightened around me. The way she was standing, I figured she could see the bus over my shoulder. And I could see the headlights of the truck over hers. If anything started to happen in either direction, we would know it.

  “The thing is to stay brave,” she said.

  “I’ll try.”

  “Me, too.”

  I let out a sad little laugh. “And we don’t have to worry about Slim.”

  “Huh?”

  “Staying brave. That’s the least of her problems.”

  “I just hope she’s careful,” Lee said.

  “Yeah, me too.” Then I started to cry.

  Lee stroked the back of my head. “It’ll be all right,” she whispered. “She’ll be fine.”

  “I don’t know,” I blubbered. “If anything happens to her…”

  “It’s okay, honey. It’s okay.”

  I kept crying, Lee holding me and stroking my head.

  “You know what?” she asked. “It’s like you said when Valeria got shot. ‘Slim’ll happen to them.’”

  I sort of laughed and sobbed at the same time. Then I mumbled, “God, I hope so.”

  Lee stepped back slightly, moved her face in front of mine and looked me in the eyes. To me, she looked blurry. As I blinked, she wiped the tears and raindrops off my face with her fingers. All that touched me were her fingertips and breasts. It would’ve been very sweet and exciting if I hadn’t felt so scared.

  After a while, she asked, “Feeling any better?”

  I nodded. “A little.”

  She eased forward and kissed me gently on the mouth. Then she stepped back and put her hands on my shoulders. “We’d better get ready for the attack.”

  “What attack?”

  A smile flashed across her face. “The one that’s sure to come.”

  “Oh, that. What’ll we do?”

  “First…” She stepped away from me, bent down and picked up the quiver. After counting the arrows, she muttered, “Eight. Plus three is eleven.”

  “Three?”

  “Put it on.” She gave me the quiver.

  While she held the bow. I swung the quiver onto my back so its strap rested on my left shoulder and ran diagonally down my chest like a bandolier. Then she handed the bow back to me. “Keep us covered, okay?”

  Nodding, I slipped an arrow out of the quiver and nocked it on the bowstring. Then I followed Lee toward Valeria’s body.

  She crouched beside it.

  I said, “Oh, my God,” as she reached for the feathered shaft that protruded from Valeria’s eye socket. “Hey, no. Come on.”

  “Sorry,” Lee said. “But we might need these.”

  She started to pull at the arrow. I turned away fast.

  And took the opportunity to check our situation. The truck was still in position, engine rumbling quietly, headbeams reaching into the cage. The hearse remained motionless behind the other bleachers, shining its headlights at us. And the bus was where they’d stopped it after dropping off the guy who chased Slim.

  The wounded gal was gone. She’d either gotten away on her own or someone had helped her.

  On the other side of the bleachers into which Slim had vanished, the parking area was dark. No headlights, no taillights, no brakelights. Except for the abandoned vehicles such as Lee’s pickup truck and the twins’ Cadillac, all the vehicles were gone.

  Stryker’s gang no longer directed traffic or roamed the field. They were over here, now, sneaking through the darkness. I couldn’t see them very well—not with so many headlights aimed into the cage, not with the darkness and falling rain.

  They wore black clothes and they’d switched off their flashlights. They looked like human shadows. I almost couldn’t see them at all. They were easier to see when I didn’t look straight at them.

  They were all around us, crouching and skulking under the bleachers on both sides, kneeling in the darkness near the bus and truck.

  “Here,” Lee said.

  I turned. She held an arrow. The first few inches of it were dripping blood. I glanced at Valeria’s eye socket and almost gagged.

  “Catch.” Lee tossed the arrow to me.

  I snagged it out of the air.

  “They’re all around us,” I said.

  “I noticed.”

  She reached for the arrow that had gone through Valeria’s nipple, so I turned away again.

  I held out the bloody arrow that she’d just handed me, hoping the rain would wash it clean. Its shaft was so thin that not many raindrops landed on it. Each time one hit, I saw a tiny explosion of pink.

  “This one’s really stuck,” Lee said.

  “Maybe just leave it?”

  “Huh-uh.” Lee stood up, planted a bare foot on Valeria’s ribcage—directly between the breasts—bent down and grabbed the arrow with her right hand. She started to tug at it. I turned away again.

  Off in the distance, someone raced past the front of the truck, sprinting through its headbeams. I couldn’t tell whether it was a man or woman, but it held a long, thin shaft in one hand.

  A spear?

  My skin prickled.

  “Oh, jeez,” I murmured.

  “You’d better give me a hand here,” Lee said.

  I didn’t want to. More than that, though, I didn’t want to disappoint her. I guess I would’ve done anything she asked. So I handed the bow and arrow to her, then put a foot on Valeria’s chest, just as she had done. Only three or four inches of the arrow protruded—enough room for just one hand.

  I wiped my right hand on my jeans (which were also wet), then grabbed the arrow around its feathers, being careful to stay away from what remained of Valeria’s nipple. Squeezing the shaft, I gave it a hard pull. A quick slip and my hand flew off it.

  “Damn,” Lee said. “Give it another try, okay? If we end up one arrow short…”

  “I’ll get it,” I said.

  And I meant it. I wasn’t going to let Lee think I was weak or chicken. “Get me a rag,” I said. Not waiting for it, I cupped Valeria’s breast with my left hand, my thumb hooked around the arrow. Her breast felt slippery and cool. I pushed, mashing it, sliding it down the shaft until there was room on the arrow for both my hands to fit.

  Lee muttered, “Oh jeez.” Then she gave me my shirt.

  Released, Valeria’s breast swelled upward, climbing the a
rrow.

  Though my shirt was wet, it took some of the slipperiness off my hands. I used it to dry the protruding shaft. Keeping the shirt around my hands, I once again compressed Valeria’s breast to make space for two hands on the arrow. Then I clutched the shaft with both hands, put most of my weight on her chest, and pulled with every ounce of my strength. The shirt, I think, gave me the extra friction that was needed.

  I felt a force under my shoe as if Valeria were trying to sit up, but my weight kept her down.

  The arrowhead, embedded in God-knows-what, suddenly let go. I glimpsed her breast stretching upward, pulled into the shape of a tall cone. Then the arrow leaped out like Excaliber, flinging blood. I held it high in both hands as I stumbled backward.

  I slammed into Lee. She grunted, but stayed up. So did I.

  “You okay?” she asked.

  “Guess so.”

  “Good work.”

  “You too,” I said, knowing that she must’ve thrown herself in my way on purpose to stop me from falling.

  We stood there, back to back. The quiver was in the way, but I could feel Lee’s rear end against mine.

  Under the bleachers in front of me, a shape flitted across the headlights of the hearse. It was hunched low and carrying a spear.

  “What’s going on?” I asked.

  “They’ve got us pretty much surrounded,” Lee said. “But they’re staying back. So far.”

  “What’re they waiting for?”

  “No idea. Maybe they’re just afraid of catching an arrow.”

  “I’ll get the last one,” I said, feeling very powerful and brave now that I had retrieved the breast arrow.

  “Better leave it,” Lee said.

  “Huh?”

  “Just in case.”

  I thought about that for a moment. “Because it’s the one in her heart?”

  “She’s probably not a vampire, but…I don’t know, everything’s so crazy. I don’t know what to make out of all this, but…I’d hate to be locked in this cage if she suddenly comes to life.”

  “You and me both,” I said.

  “I know she won’t, but…I don’t want to stake my life on it.”

  “That arrow’s probably broken anyway,” I said. “It went all the way through her and she fell on it.”

  “Might’ve just buried itself in the dirt. But let’s leave it. For now, anyway.”

 
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