The traveling vampire sh.., p.38
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.38
 

           Richard Laymon

  “Okay.”

  “If we start to run out…”

  …if we last that long, I thought.

  “…I’ll try to get it out of her later.”

  Chapter Sixty-one

  “I’ll make you a deal!” Stryker shouted.

  Lee whirled, drawing back the bowstring.

  I saw a dark shape hunkered by the front door of the bus.

  “That him?” Lee asked.

  “Not sure.”

  Lee called out, “What sort of deal?”

  “We’ll let you and the kids live if…”

  Her arrow flew, hissing through the rain.

  “Fuck!” Stryker yelled.

  The arrow must’ve come close, but it missed him. Lee shook her head, then turned and handed the bow to me. “You’d better do the shooting.”

  As I got ready with the arrow I’d plucked from Valeria, Stryker shouted, “Don’t do that again or I’ll have you writhing on lances, screaming your lungs out.”

  Lee yelled, “Chuck you, Farley!”

  “Just listen to my offer! Do you want to die in that cage? Do you want the kids to die?”

  Kids? He meant me, of course, but who else? Rusty and Slim? Bitsy?

  Though I took aim at the shape that was probably Stryker, I didn’t release the arrow. At this distance, I’d be lucky to hit him. So I lowered the bow.

  “You said you’d let Rusty go if I went up against Valeria,” Lee shouted. “So where is he?”

  “You weren’t supposed to KILL her.”

  “Fortunes of war, buddy.”

  “Here’s the new offer.”

  “You didn’t keep the OLD offer. Screw you.”

  “Would you like a demonstration?”

  I didn’t like the sound of that.

  Suddenly, Stryker blew his whistle. It shrilled through the night like the sound of an angry track coach.

  For a few seconds, nothing happened.

  Then spears were flying out of the darkness toward our cage. Lee threw me to the ground and shielded me with her body. I heard a clamor as if something had struck a bar and bounced off. Then came the wet thunking sounds of spears punching into the mud.

  Lee climbed off me. Raising my head, I saw six or seven spears sticking out of the ground. They formed a rough circle around us.

  We got to our feet. I still held the bow, but it didn’t seem like much of a weapon after the storm of spears. And I’d lost the arrow.

  “Next time I blow the whistle,” Stryker yelled, “they won’t miss. Interested in hearing my offer?”

  “What is it?” Lee asked.

  “You killed our sole attraction.”

  “Not me,” Lee said.

  “You, your friends, it’s all the same. Valeria’s dead. We’re out of business unless we replace her. I want YOU to be her replacement. Agree to surrender and come with us as our vampire, and I’ll let the kids go home.”

  “Why me?” Lee asked.

  “You’re perfect. You’re brave and strong…and luscious.”

  “I’m not a vampire.”

  “No problem. All you need to do is travel with our show and take on all comers in the cage.”

  “For how long?” Lee asked.

  “You can’t!” I blurted at her.

  “For as long as I say.”

  “And you’ll let everyone else go?”

  “Certainly. I would HAVE to, wouldn’t I? If I don’t release them, you won’t keep your side of the bargain.”

  “You’re right about that.”

  “How about it?”

  “Give me a few minutes to think it over.”

  “Of course.”

  We turned away from Stryker and faced each other. “You can’t do it,” I said.

  “What other choices do we have?”

  “Fight.”

  “They’ll kill us easily.”

  “Maybe, maybe not. At least maybe we can take some of them with us.”

  “I don’t want you to get killed, Dwight. Or me, for that matter. Not to mention Slim and Rusty. For all we know, maybe they’ve even got Bitsy. We might all die if I don’t take his offer.”

  “You can’t!”

  “I’ve got to.”

  “What about Danny?” I asked.

  At the mention of my brother’s name, her chin started shaking. In a voice that trembled, she said, “Tell him that I love him. This…this is something I had to do. Tell him I’ll always love him. And I’ll come back to him if I can.”

  I started bawling again. This time, I didn’t feel embarrassed about it. I was in too much anguish for embarrassment.

  “I have to do this, honey. It’s the right thing to do. You know it and I know it.”

  “No!”

  “Let me have the bow,” she said, her voice gentle and sad.

  Though I blurted, “NO!” I didn’t resist when she pulled it from my hand. Nor when she removed the quiver from my back. “I thought we were gonna fight,” I protested.

  “I’m sorry,” she said.

  She carried the bow and the quiver of arrows to the side of the cage, reached through a space in the bars, and let them fall to the ground.

  Turning toward Stryker, she raised her arms in surrender and called, “It’s a deal!”

  “Very good. You won’t be sorry.”

  He stood up, stepped in front of the bus and made some gestures with his hands. All around us, black-garbed men and women came out of the darkness. Some appeared from behind the bus and truck. Others climbed out from under bleachers. I didn’t count, but got the impression there must’ve been fourteen or fifteen of them. About half of them carried spears.

  They all walked toward our cage.

  A few paces from the bars, they stopped. One of them bent down and picked up the bow and quiver. All of them gazed at the body of Valeria. Some were scowling. Many shook their heads and looked dismayed. Others appeared to be weeping.

  Stryker stepped up to the cage door.

  Looking around at his crew, he said in a loud voice, “This has been a terrible night.” Heads nodded in agreement. “I know how much Valeria meant to all of you…and to me. She was a very special lady. Very special. We’ll all miss her terribly.” He took a deep breath and sighed. “However, the show must go on. To that end, let me introduce the woman who will take over Valeria’s role…our new vampire, Lee Thompson.”

  Murmurs and quiet applause came from the crew.

  Stryker stepped forward, bent over slightly in front of the door and turned the dial of the combination lock. A few seconds later, he removed the lock and swung the door open.

  Lee moved toward it, but Stryker entered. Taking her by the shoulders, he guided her backward toward the middle of the cage. “You’re already in part of the outfit,” he said. “Let’s see how you look in the rest of it.”

  The crew applauded again, this time with some eagerness.

  Standing rigid in the middle of the cage like a proud soldier, Lee removed her sleeveless chambray shirt. She stood there in the rain, naked except for the very short skirt of red leather.

  Stryker picked up Valeria’s red, bralike top.

  Lee stood motionless while he slipped the straps up her arms, cupped her breasts inside its stiff leather, and stepped behind her to fasten its back.

  Vivian entered the cage, carrying the black cape.

  Stryker took the cape and swept it over Lee’s shoulders.

  As he backed away from her, she spread the cape wide open, swept it high like bat wings and called out, “I AM LENORA THE VAMPIRE!”

  Stryker’s black-shirted gang of thugs went crazy, cheering and clapping and shouting.

  I thought to myself, Holy shit. What’s this?

  With all eyes fixed on Lee and with so much noisy appreciation coming from the crew of The Traveling Vampire Show, nobody seemed to notice the hearse.

  Including me.

  Not until it came roaring through the rainy night, headlights off. At the last moment, half a dozen
of Stryker’s people turned and yelled and tried to jump out of the way.

  They didn’t make it.

  The hearse, probably doing sixty, roared between the side of the cage and the bleachers (the stands under which Slim had disappeared), ramming through everyone there. They bounced off the grill and hood and roof. They did cartwheels through the rain. A few spears, along with Slim’s bow and quiver of arrows, leaped from hands and flew off into the night.

  Stryker gaped at the mayhem.

  I whirled around, crouched and snatched an arrow out of the mud—the arrow I’d struggled so hard to pluck from Valeria’s breast.

  I’d dropped it when Lee threw me to the ground during the storm of spears.

  Leaping up, I spun around and drove its razor-sharp point into the side of Stryker’s neck so hard it popped out the other side.

  His eyes bugged out.

  I grabbed Lee’s arm. “Let’s go!” I yelled. I jerked her arm.

  She looked at me, a frenzy in her eyes, then flung off the vampire cape and let out something that sounded the way I always imagined one of those “rebel yells” from the Civil War must’ve been like…an ear-splitting cry full of rage and wild joy.

  On our way toward the cage door, we each jerked a spear out of the mud.

  We were just outside the cage when the hearse skidded to a stop near the rear of the bus.

  We ran for it.

  It started backing toward us.

  I had a pretty good idea who must be behind the wheel.

  A few spears flew past us, but missed.

  Somebody leaped out of the bus door and confronted us with a machete. Before he could swing it, Lee shoved her spear into his mouth and I plunged mine into his stomach.

  Leaving the spears in him, we sprinted for the hearse.

  It slid to a halt. I was first to reach its passenger door. I grabbed the handle and jerked it open.

  “In!” I yelled at Lee. “Jump in!”

  She dived in and I scurried in after her.

  Slim turned her head. “I’m back,” she said.

  She stepped on the gas. The hearse lurched forward, its passenger door slamming shut without any help from me.

  I figured we should finish the escape, but Slim had different plans. She made a high-speed pass along the other side of the cage. This time, she didn’t have quite the same element of surprise working for her. She only managed to mow down one of Stryker’s people.

  “Can we go now?” I asked.

  “Sure.”

  With that, Slim steered around the end of the bleachers, put on the headlights and sped across Janks Field. The hearse shuddered and shook over the rough muddy ground. We bounced and swayed.

  I saw the crippled Cadillac sitting abandoned. And Lee’s pickup truck. And two or three other cars that had been left behind.

  “Want me to drop you off at your pickup?” Slim asked.

  “No thanks,” Lee said. “Just get us out of here.”

  “You sure? I’d be glad to.”

  “I lost my keys.”

  “We’ll go back to my car,” Slim said, and sped toward the dirt road that would return us to Route 3.

  Chapter Sixty-two

  On the narrow and curvy dirt road, Slim slowed down a lot. She kept glancing at the side mirrors.

  “I don’t think they’ll come after us,” Lee said.

  “I don’t know,” Slim said.

  “Can’t hurt to keep an eye out,” I added. I didn’t mean it as any sort of pun, but the words forced a picture of Valeria’s eye socket into my mind. And then I pictured the arrow embedded in her nipple.

  “They’ve got so many dead,” Lee said.

  “We decimated their sorry butts,” Slim said.

  “You did a great job,” Lee told her.

  “Saved our lives,” I added.

  I half expected a quip, but Slim only nodded. In the glow of the dashboard lights, her face looked grim.

  “What happened, anyway?” I asked her.

  “Huh?”

  “After you went off under the bleachers.”

  “Just sort of snuck around.”

  “Did you see the Cadillac twins?” I asked. “They were up at the top. Looked like they were on their way down to get you. I yelled to warn you.”

  “Yeah, thanks. I took care of them.”

  “Huh?”

  “You know, the knife. I was sort of waiting for them when they climbed down the back of the stands. Did away with them.”

  “You did away with them?”

  “Yeah. Sent them south. Deep south.”

  “Jeez,” Lee said.

  I said, “Holy shit.”

  “As Mike Hammer says, ‘It was easy.’”

  “So you killed them?” I asked, hardly believing it.

  “Yeah. Some others, too. I sort of snuck up on anybody I found and cut their throats. A couple of them saw me coming, but I think they figured I was with the Show because of the black shirt.”

  “The morons,” I said.

  “I was trying to find Rusty,” she said.

  “Any luck?” Lee asked.

  I think we both knew what the answer would be.

  “No. I don’t know where they took him. I searched the truck. It’s where they keep the cage and stuff when they’re on the road, I guess. Nobody was in it, though. Just the driver. He was in the cab. I took care of him before I searched the back. Then I didn’t get a chance to search the bus or the back of the hearse. Just about the time I got to the hearse, I looked over at the cage and saw they were moving in on you guys. So all I did was kill the driver and come to the rescue.”

  “Mighty good job of it,” Lee said.

  “Thanks. I just wish…” She shook her head. “I wanted to find Rusty.” As she said that about Rusty, her voice cracked. “I don’t want to leave him behind.”

  I put my hand on Slim’s thigh. The leg of her cut-off jeans was warm and damp. “Wanta go back?” I asked her.

  “I don’t know. I think maybe.” She must’ve taken her foot off the gas pedal; the engine quieted and we slowed down. “What about you?” she asked.

  I hated the idea of going back to Janks Field. We’d been lucky to get out of there alive, and the chances of finding Rusty alive were slim.

  “Yeah,” I said. “Let’s go back and find him.”

  “What the hell,” Lee said. “In for a penny…”

  “‘And gentlemen in England now a-bed,’” quoted Slim, “‘shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap…’”

  “You bet,” Lee said.

  Slim stopped the hearse. She shifted to reverse, started speeding backward, then twisted toward me in her seat to look back over her shoulder. “Damn!” She slammed on the brakes.

  I looked over my shoulder. The window behind the front seat was shrouded with a curtain.

  Slim glanced at the side mirrors. “I can’t drive backward without a rearview mirror.”

  “Guess you’ll have to turn around,” I said.

  “Too narrow.”

  “Maybe go on to the highway,” Lee suggested. “Easy enough to turn…”

  From behind us came a thud as if someone riding in back—in the coffin area—had stomped on the floor or dropped something.

  Slim looked over her shoulder at the glass just behind our heads. “Rusty!” she called.

  Lee was already throwing her door open.

  As Lee leaped out, Slim shut off the engine and plucked the key from the ignition. Then she flung her door open.

  I scurried out Lee’s side.

  Lee was first to reach the rear of the hearse. She was trying to open its door, but not having any luck. “I think it’s locked,” she said.

  “I’ve got the keys,” Slim said. She picked one and tried to put it into the lock hole. Her hand was shaking so badly that she couldn’t get it in for a while. When she finally poked its tip into the slot, it wouldn’t go in any farther. Wrong key. So she pulled it out and tri
ed another. Again, she had trouble because she was trembling so badly. Then it went in.

  She turned the key and worked the door handle. The door unlatched. She stepped back, pulling it toward herself, swinging it wide open.

  The night, until then fresh and sweet with the aromas of a rain-soaked forest, suddenly went foul. The stench made me hold my breath. Lee clapped a hand across her mouth. Slim stepped around the open door, her lips pressed shut and her chest out. It was the way she sometimes looked out on the river just before she plunged below the surface.

  I wished we were out on the river. Or anywhere else, just so we were miles away from here.

  Inside the hearse a light had come on. It must’ve been triggered by the opening door.

  We all gazed in.

  The volunteers who’d gone up against Valeria in the cage were there: Chance Wallace, the handsome Marine; geeky Chester, our old enemy Scotty Douglas the hoodlum; and our chubby, sweet, stupid best friend, Rusty.

  They were all naked.

  They were all in pieces, piled up next to the casket within easy reach of…its occupant.

  Inside the casket, propped up with his head against the curtains of the window we’d been trying to look through, sat an obese, legless, hairless man. I guess it was a man. He looked like a bloated sack of slippery white skin. Except the skin was mostly scarlet with blood.

  His bulgy eyes looked like a pair of bloodshot golf balls.

  Clutched in both hands, upside-down just under his chin, was Rusty’s head. Snuffling and grunting, he shoved his maw into the raw gore of the neck stump. He ripped out a large gob, then raised his head, bumping it against the window, and seemed to smile at us…with a dripping load of Rusty slopping out of his mouth.

  Chapter Sixty-three

  All things considered, I think we handled ourselves very well up to the point at which we looked into the back of the hearse.

  What we saw in there…it knocked out whatever remained of our brains and guts.

  I have vague memories of noises coming from us. Things like “Whoa!” and “Yahhh!” and “Eeee!” as we backed away from the rear of the hearse. And someone—Slim. I think—slammed the door shut. And then we were running down the middle of the dirt road as if we had the boogey-man after us.

  We ran and ran and ran. Finally we came to Route 3 and Slim led the way to her Pontiac. We all piled into the front seat. The three of us sat side by side, me in the middle, all of us huffing and whimpering while Slim tried to get her key into the ignition.

 
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