The traveling vampire sh.., p.4
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.4

           Richard Laymon
 

  Slim eased herself down into a crouch and reached her open hands toward the dog. Its ears flattened against the sides of its skull. It snarled and drooled.

  “You sure you wanta do that?” I asked her.

  Ignoring me, she spoke to the dog in a soft, sing-song voice. “Hi there, boy. Hi, fella. You’re a good boy, aren’t you? You looking for some food? Huh? We’d give you some if we had any, wouldn’t we?”

  “It’s gonna bite your hand off,” Rusty warned.

  “No, he won’t. He’s a good doggie. Aren’t you a good doggie, boy? Huh?”

  The dog, hunkered down, kept growling and showing its teeth.

  On the ground around us, I saw small pieces of broken glass, little stones, some cigarette butts, leaves and twigs that must’ve blown over from the woods, a pack of Lucky Strikes that was filthy and mashed flat, a few beer cans smashed as flat as the cigarette pack, a headless snake acrawl with ants, someone’s old sock…a lot of stuff, but nothing much good for a weapon.

  Slim, still squatting with her hands out and speaking in the same quiet sing-song, said “You’re a nice doggie, aren’t you? Why don’t you guys see if you can climb the nice snack stand, huh, doggie? Yeahhh. That’s a good doggie. Maybe Dwight can give Rusty a nice little boost, and they can wait for me on top of the nice little snack stand? Is that a good idea? Huh, doggie? Yeah, I think so.”

  Rusty and I looked at each other.

  We were probably both thinking the same things.

  We can’t run off and leave Slim with the dog. But she TOLD us to. When she says stuff, she means it. And she’s smarter than both of us put together, so maybe she has some sort of fabulous plan for dealing with the thing.

  I rebelled enough to ask Slim, “You sure?”

  She sing-sang, “I’m so sure, aren’t I, doggie? Are you sure, too? You’re such a good doggie. It’d be so nice if you two lame-brain dingle-berries would do as I ask, wouldn’t it, fella?”

  With that, Rusty and I started easing ourselves backward and sideways.

  The dog took its eye off Slim and swiveled its head to watch us. The threats in its growl told us to stay put, but we kept moving.

  With only one eye, it couldn’t watch both of us at once.

  Ignoring Slim straight in front of it, the dog jerked its head from side to side like a frantic spectator at a tennis match. Its growl grew from threat to outrage, drowning out Slim’s quiet voice.

  She reached to her waist, grabbed her T-shirt and skinned it up over her head.

  The dog fixed its eye on her.

  “Go, guys!” she yelled.

  Rusty and I dashed for the snack stand. I slammed my side into its front wall to stop myself fast. As I ducked and interlocked my fingers, I saw Slim in a tug-o-war with the dog. She had her right knee on the ground. Her left leg was out in front of her, knee up, foot firm on the ground to brace herself against the dog’s pull.

  Rusty planted a foot in my hands, stepped into them and leaped. I gave him a hard boost. Up he went. I half expected him to drop back down, but he didn’t. I didn’t bother to look. Instead, I kept my eyes on Slim and the dog.

  The dog, teeth clamped on its end of her T-shirt, growled like a maniac, whipping its head from side to side and back-pedaling with all four legs as if it wanted nothing more out of life than to rip the T-shirt out of Slim’s hands.

  On both feet now, she stood with her legs spread, her knees bent, her weight backward. The stance, her shiny wet skin and her skimpy white swimsuit top, almost made her look as if she were water-skiing. But if she fell here, she wouldn’t be going into the nice cool river. And the dog would be on her in a flash, savaging her body instead of the T-shirt.

  “Get up here,” Rusty called down to me.

  Slim’s arms and shoulders jerked hard as the dog tugged.

  She saw me watching. “Get on the roof!” she yelled.

  And as she yelled, the dog let go.

  Slim gasped and stumbled backward, swinging her arms, the shirt flapping. Then she went down.

  The dog attacked her.

  Shouting like a madman, I ran at them. Slim was on her back. The dog stood on top of her, digging its hind paws into her hips while it fought to rip her apart with its claws and teeth. Slim, gasping and grunting, held on to its front legs and tried to keep the thing away from her neck and face.

  I grabbed its tail with both hands.

  I think I only meant to pull the dog off Slim and give her time to run for the shack. But what happened, instead—I went slightly berserk.

  As I jerked the dog away from her, I saw her scratches, her blood. That may be what did it.

  Somehow I found myself swinging the dog by its tail. I was hanging on with both hands, spinning in circles. At first, the dog curled around and snapped at me. Its teeth couldn’t quite reach me, though.

  Pretty soon, it stopped trying and just howled as I twirled around and around and around.

  While I swung the dog, Slim got to her feet.

  I caught glimpses of her as I spun.

  She was there, gone, there, gone…

  Then she was on the move toward the snack stand. Closer. Closer. Around I went again and glimpsed her leaping. Around again and Rusty was pulling her up by one arm. Next time around, I glimpsed the faded seat of her cut-off jeans. Then I saw her standing on the roof beside Rusty.

  Around and around I went. Glimpse after glimpse, I saw them shoulder to shoulder up there, staring down at me.

  I saw them again. Again. They looked stunned and worried.

  I was awfully dizzy by then and my arms were getting tired. I thought maybe I’d better end things soon—maybe by slamming the canine into a wall of the snack stand. So I started working my way in that direction.

  Rusty yelled, “Don’t bring it here!”

  “Just let it go!” Slim called.

  So I did.

  Waiting until it was pointed away from the snack stand, I released its tail. The weight suddenly gone, I stumbled sideways, trying to stay on my feet.

  I didn’t see the dog at first, but its howl climbed an octave or two.

  Then, still staggering, I spotted it. Ears laid back, legs kicking, it flew headfirst, rolling through the air as if being turned on an invisible spit.

  Far out across Janks Field, it slammed the ground. Its howl ended with a cry of pain, and the dog vanished in a rising cloud of dust.

  Slim’s voice came from behind me. She said, “My God, Dwight.”

  And Rusty said, “Jesus H. Christ on a rubber crutch.”

  Then, growling like a pissed-off grizzly bear, the dog came racing out of the dust cloud.

  Rusty yelled, “Shit!”

  Slim yelled, “Run!”

  I squealed a wordless outcry of disbelief and panic and sprinted for the shack.

  Chapter Six

  Leaping, I grabbed the edge of the roof. Rusty and Slim caught me by the wrists and hauled me up so fast I felt weightless. An instant later, the dog slammed against the wall.

  I sprawled on the tarpaper, gasping for air, my heart whamming.

  While I tried to recover, Slim sat cross-legged beside me and patted my chest and said things like, “Wow,” and “You saved my life,” and “You were a wildman” and so on, all of which made me feel pretty good.

  While that went on, Rusty stood near the edge of the roof, leaning over the big wooden BEER—SNACKS—SOUVENIRS sign to keep an eye on the dog. He said, “It’s still down there” and “I don’t think it’s even damaged from all that,” and “How the shit are we gonna get outa here?” And so on.

  After a couple of minutes, I sat up and looked at Slim. There were scratches on her face, shoulders, chest, arms and on the backs of her hands. She even had claw marks on the top of her right breast, running down to the edge of her bikini top. Those weren’t bleeding, though. A lot of her scratches hadn’t gone in deeply enough to draw blood—but some had.

  “It really got you,” I said.

  “At least it didn
’t bite me. Thanks to you.”

  Looking over his shoulder, Rusty said, “You’ll still have to get rabies shots.” He sounded almost pleased by the idea.

  “Screw that,” Slim said.

  “You will,” Rusty insisted.

  “You want to take a look at my back?” Slim asked me.

  I crawled around behind her and winced. Her back, bare to the waist except for the tied strings of her bikini, was dirty and running with blood from her fall on the ground. In at least five places, bits of broken glass were still embedded in her skin.

  “Oh, man,” I muttered.

  Rusty came around for a look and said, “Good going.”

  “I try my best,” said Slim, smiling.

  I started picking the pieces of glass out of her.

  “You’re gonna need a tetanus shot, too,” Rusty told her.

  “No way,” Slim said.

  “Besides,” I said, “she had a tetanus shot last year after that moron stabbed her.”

  “That’s right,” Slim said.

  “And one shot lasts like five or ten years,” I added.

  “Couldn’t hurt to get another,” Rusty said. “Just to be on the safe side. And the rabies shots.”

  After I pulled the pieces of glass out of Slim’s back, she was still bleeding. “You’d better lie down,” I told her.

  She stretched out flat on the roof, turned her head sideways and folded her arms under her face.

  Her back looked as if it had been painted bright red. Blood was leaking from ten or twelve slits and gashes. Nowhere, however, was it gushing out.

  “Does it hurt much?” I asked.

  “I’ve felt better. But I’ve felt a lot worse, too.”

  “I’ll bet,” I said. I’d seen Slim get injured plenty of times and heard about other stuff—like some of the things her father liked to do to her. Today’s cuts and scratches seemed pretty minor compared to a lot of that.

  “You’re gonna need stitches,” Rusty informed her. “A lot of stitches.”

  “He’s probably right,” I said.

  “I’ll be fine,” she said.

  “Long as the bleeding stops,” I said, and started to unbutton my shirt.

  “Unless infection sets in,” said Rusty.

  “You’re sure the life of the goddamn party,” Slim muttered.

  “Just being realistic.”

  “Why don’t you make yourself useful,” I said, “and hop down and go get a doctor.”

  “Very funny.”

  I took off my shirt, folded it a couple of times to make a pad, and pressed it gently against several of Slim’s cuts. The blood soaked through it, turning the checkered fabric red.

  “Your mom’s gonna kill you,” Rusty said.

  “It’s an emergency.” Where the blood on my shirt seemed worst, I pressed down firmly. Slim stiffened under my hands.

  Rusty bent over us and watched for a while. Then he took off his own shirt, folded it, knelt on the other side of Slim and worked on her other cuts.

  “Applying pressure should make the bleeding stop,” I ex-gained.

  “I know that,” Rusty said. “You weren’t the only Boy Scout around here.”

  “The only one with a first aid merit badge.”

  “Screw you.”

  “Two Boy Scouts,” Slim said, “and no first aid kit. Very prepared.”

  “We used to be Scouts,” Rusty explained.

  “Used to be prepared.”

  “Next time,” I said, “we’ll make sure and bring some bandages along.”

  “The hell with that,” said Slim. “Bring guns.”

  Rusty and I laughed at that one.

  After about five minutes, most of the bleeding seemed to be over. We kept pressing down on the cuts for a while, anyway.

  Then Rusty looked at me and asked, “You were kidding when you said that about going for a doctor, right?”

  “What do you think?” I said.

  “Just wanted to make sure. I mean, I figured you must be kidding, you know? ’Cause I would’ve done it if I had to. I mean, if Slim really had to have a doctor. Like if it was life or death, I would’ve jumped on down and done it, dog or no dog.”

  It seemed like a strange thing for him to say.

  Strange and sort of nice.

  Slim said, “Thanks, Rusty.”

  “Yeah, well. It’s just the truth, that’s all. I mean, I’d do anything for you. For either of you.”

  “If you wanta do something for me,” I said, “how about once in a while using underarm deodorant?”

  Slim laughed and winced.

  “Screw you, man! If anybody stinks around here, it’s you.”

  “Nobody stinks,” said Slim, the peacekeeper.

  I checked underneath my bloody shirt again. Rusty looked under his, too. We both studied Slim’s back for a while.

  “Bleeding’s stopped,” I announced.

  “Good deal,” said Slim.

  “But it’ll probably start up again if you move around too much. You’d better just lay there for a while.”

  “Not like we’re going anyplace anyhow,” Rusty said.

  I stood up, stepped to the front of the roof and leaned forward to see over the top of the sign. The dog, already staring up at me, bared its teeth and rumbled a growl. “Get outa here!” I shouted.

  It leaped at me. I flinched and my heart lurched, but I held my position as the dog hit the wall about four feet up and tried to scramble higher. It worked its legs furiously, claws scratching at the old wood for a second or two. Then it fell, tumbled onto its side, flipped over and regained its feet and barked at me.

  I muttered, “Up yours, bow-wow.” Then I turned away.

  Rusty, sitting cross-legged beside Slim, gave me a worried look. “What’re we gonna do?” he asked.

  “Stay right here,” I told him. “At least for now. Give Slim’s wounds a chance to dry up a little more. When we’re ready to go, we’ll figure out something about the dog.”

  “Maybe it’ll be gone by then,” Slim said.

  “That’s a good one,” Rusty said.

  “God, I’m being nice to it and the thing tries to rip my face off.”

  “Sometimes,” I said, “being nice doesn’t work.”

  “You can say that again.”

  “Sometimes, being nice…”

  “Okay, okay,” Rusty said.

  I sat down beside Slim and turned my hands over. They were rust-colored and sticky. I wiped them on the legs of my jeans, but not much came off.

  Rusty looked at his hands, too. They were as stained as mine. Frowning slightly, he brought his right hand close to his face. He stared at it for a few seconds, then raised his eyebrows and licked his palm.

  “Oh, that’s cute.”

  Lying on her stomach with her face toward me, Slim couldn’t see Rusty. Rather than twisting around and maybe reopening some of her cuts, she asked me, “What’s he doing?”

  “Licking your blood off his hand,” I explained.

  He did it again. Smiling, he said, “Not bad.”

  “Grade-A blood, buddy,” Slim informed him.

  “I can tell.” He sucked his red-stained forefinger. “Maybe those vampires’ve got something. Tasty stuff. Try some, Dwighty.”

  I shook my head. “No thanks.”

  “Scared?”

  “I’ve got no problem with Slim’s blood.”

  “As well you shouldn’t,” Slim pointed out.

  “But I just got done swinging a filthy damn cur around by its tail.”

  “Weenie,” Rusty said, grinning and lapping at his hand.

  “Speaking of which,” I said, “what’ve you been touching lately?”

  Things dawned on him. He put his tongue back into his mouth and frowned at his hand. Looking a little sick, he shrugged his husky bare shoulders and said, “No big deal.”

  A smile on what I could see of her face, Slim said, “I’m sure Rusty must’ve washed his hands after going to the bathroom.”


  “I didn’t piss on ’em, if that’s what you mean.” Then he managed to blurt out, “Not much, anyway,” before he burst into laughter.

  Slim and I broke up, too, but she stopped laughing almost at once—either it hurt or she was afraid the rough movements might start her bleeding again.

  After a minute or two of silence, Rusty asked Slim, “Want me to lick your back clean?”

  “God no!”

  “Christ, Rusty,” I said.

  “What’s the big deal?” he asked me. “I’m just offering to clean her up a little.”

  “With spit,” Slim said. “No thanks.”

  “Get a grip,” I told him.

  Meeting my eyes, he said, “You can do it, too. You want to, don’t you?”

  “No!”

  In fact, I did. Blood or no blood, the idea of sliding my tongue over the hot, smooth skin of Slim’s back took my breath away and made my heart pound fast. Under the layers of my jeans and swimming trunks, I got hard.

  But nobody knew it but me.

  “You’re out of your gourd,” I said. “I’m not licking her and neither are you.”

  “What’ll it hurt?” Rusty asked.

  “Forget it,” Slim told him.

  “Okay, okay. Jeez. I was just trying to help.”

  “Sure,” I said.

  “’Cause you know what? If we don’t clean all that blood off Slim’s back, it’s gonna draw the vampire like a magnet.”

  “What?” I gasped, amazed.

  “Points for originality,” Slim said.

  “You think it won’t?” Rusty asked.

  “I think there’s no such things as vampires,” I said.

  “Me, too,” said Rusty. “But what if we’re wrong? What if this Valeria is one? All this blood’s gonna bring her to us like chum brings sharks.”

  Though I didn’t believe in vampires, I felt slightly nervous hearing him say those things. Because you never really know.

  Do you?

  Really?

  Most of us tell ourselves we don’t believe in that sort of stuff, but maybe that’s because we’re afraid to think they might exist. Vampires, werewolves, ghosts, aliens from outer space, black magic, the devil, hell…maybe even God.

  If they do exist, they might get us.

 
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