Once upon a halloween, p.5
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       Once Upon a Halloween, p.5
 

           Richard Laymon
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  She nodded slightly. Then her left arm moved slowly over the carpet. She lifted it and eased it down, resting it on top of her right arm, wrist to bound wrist.

  "Thanks," Hunter said.

  On his knees, he quickly wrapped the cord around both her wrists, wound it around them and between them until most of the cord was used up, then tucked its plug into the bundle to keep it all from coming apart.

  "Okay," he said.

  Eleanor rolled onto her back, arms overhead, legs straight out and tight together. She was flushed and sweaty. Her short blond hair lay wet and curly against her head and face. She breathed deeply, trying to catch her breath.

  Hunter stood up. He was out of breath, himself. Sweat was trickling down his face and the back of his neck. His open shirt was sticking to his back. His undershirts were soaked and clinging. Raising, an arm, he wiped his face with a sleeve of his shirt.

  Then he walked over to the sword and picked it up. He took it over to where Eleanor was stretched on her back. Looking down at her, he said, "Stay put. I'll be right back."

  Blinking her wet red eyes, she nodded.

  Hunter left the room. He took a few strides down the hall, then stopped. After counting slowly to twenty, he hurried back to I he doorway.

  Eleanor looked as if she hadn't moved.

  She stared into his eyes.

  "Just checking," he said.

  "Yeah."

  "Right back," he told her.

  When he left this time, he headed for the stairs.

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  They stopped at an intersection. Jeff looked to the right and left. In both directions, houses lined the street. Fewer groups of trick ‹›i treaters were roaming about. "Too early to go home?" he asked.

  "Maybe not for an old coot like you," Phyllis said.

  Jeff laughed. Just once, he would like to hurt her. "Or we can keep on going," he suggested.

  "Keep going," Mandy said. "It's way too early to quit."

  Phyllis smirked at him. "If you want to quit, we can go on without you."

  "Cannot," said Bret.

  "My kids don't go trick or treating without adult supervision," Jeff explained. "Of course, you're free to do as you wish."

  Mandy scowled. "Daaad."

  "Or feel free to stay with us. We're certainly glad to have you along."

  "Some of us, maybe," Bret said.

  "Bite me," Phyllis suggested.

  Bret laughed.

  She gave him the linger. "Spin on it."

  Mandy simply rolled her eyes and shook her head, her pony tail swinging from side to side.

  "Okay," Jeff said. "Let's get this show on the road. Which way do we want to go, right or left? Makes no difference to me."

  The bickering stopped and the three kids turned, inspecting both directions.

  "More lighted houses that way," Mandy said, pointing to the right. With a nod to the left, she said, "Look at all those dark ones over there. They'll be a waste of time. Nobody's going to answer the door at any of 'em."

  "You never know," Phyllis protested. "Maybe they're just trying to look spooky."

  "Nah. Nobody's home. Or they're home but hate kids."

  "They just hate Phyllis," Bret piped in.

  Jeff managed not to laugh.

  "Ha ha ha," Phyllis said.

  "So, the right?" Jeff asked.

  "I say the left." Phyllis nodded to the right. "If we go that way, the street dead-ends."

  "Does it?" Jeff asked. He wasn't sure, himself. This neighborhood, while probably no more than a mile from their house, had winding streets that he rarely traveled and had never bothered to study.

  "It goes to the graveyard," Bret explained.

  "Exactly," said Phyllis, wrinkling her nose.

  Smiling, Mandy said, "Elvira loves graveyards."

  "Yeah, well, I'm not Elvira."

  "Could've fooled me," Jeff said.

  "That's very witty, Mr. Wilson."

  "Aren't you supposed to be Elvira?" he asked.

  "I'm me. I don't even like Elvira. This whole stupid dress was mom's idea, not mine, I wanted to be Madonna."

  "Holy cow," Bret said.

  Jeff couldn't help himself. "Not the virgin mother, I take it."

  She ignored him. "I don't wanta go anywhere near some fucking graveyard."

  "Hey hey hey," Jeff said. "Watch your language, okay?"

  "Sure. So sorry."

  "We're not allowed to say fuck," Bret explained. Mandy snorted.

  "Okay, okay. That's enough." Standing at the curb, Jeff looked to the left. Of the three or four dark houses he could see, none even had lighted jack-o'-lanterns. To the right, he saw porch lights and pumpkins at most of the houses. "Tell you what," he said, "let's go that way." He pointed to the right.

  "Not me," Phyllis said.

  "We'll just go till it dead-ends, then we'll turn around and come back on the other side of the street and keep going that way." He nodded to the left. "You don't have to worry," he added. "We won't go in the graveyard."

  Phyllis groaned.

  "If we do," Mandy told her, "you'll fit right in with all the ghouls and vampires already there... waiting for you."

  "Get bent, Mandible."

  "Come on," said Jeff.

  They started across the street, Jeff walking behind the kids. He wished Sue had come with them. It was a wonderful night, windy but unusually warm for the end of October - even by southern California standards. She loved to be out on nights like this. And there wouldn't be that many more times to take the kids trick or treating. Give Mandy another couple of years, and the whole idea of dressing up and going door to door on a quest for candy (especially with Dad in tow) would probably strike her as inane or demeaning и just plain boring,. Bret had quite a few more Halloweens left to him. Too soon, however, they would both outgrow it.

  This is stuff you don 't want to miss, Jeff thought.

  He waited on the sidewalk while the kids hurried toward the first house on the block. The porch was brightly lighted. In the big bay window were three jack-o'-lanterns, all carved, their grinning faces bright with yellow candle light.

  Two nights ago, Jeff's whole family, including Sue, had gone through the annual ritual of carving pumpkins on the kitchen floor. She'd appeared to have a good time. The usual complaining about the mess, of course. But nothing had seemed wrong.

  Nothing seemed wrong tonight, either, Jeff thought. Except that she insisted on staying home. "Suppose everyone went out trick or treating?" she'd asked. "There wouldn't be anything but empty houses. Nobody'd get anything. It'd blow the whole set-up."

  "But you've always come along."

  "You can go without me. It'll be good for you to have some time alone with the kids."

  "Time alone? Phyllis'll be with us."

  Looking quite amused, Sue had said, "Oh, you're gonna have a great time. That Phyllis is a regular ball of joy."

  "She's a ball of something, all right. Why don't you go and I'll stay home and pass out the candy?"

  "I wouldn't want to deprive you."

  Serious, he'd told her, "I hate for you to miss out."

  She'd put her arms around him. "It'll be fine, honey. You go on and take the kids around. I'll stay here and hold down the fort."

  "Trick or treat!" the kids all shouted, pretty much in unison.

  Jeff saw that the front door of the house was already open. A husky woman stood in the doorway, dropping some sort of goodie into each bag. "Oh, what have we here?" she asked. And she said, "Aren't you darling!" And, "Oh, look at you!"

  "Thank you very much," from Bret.

  "Thank you," from Mandy.

  "Thanks, lady," from Phyllis.

  Then they were all calling out "Happy Halloween" as they turned away and descended the porch stairs. Instead of joining Jeff on the sidewalk, they took a shortcut across the front lawn to the next house.

  Jeff continued along the sidewalk, keeping an eye on them. They bypassed the next house. Its ligh
ts were off. They must've deemed it not worth the waste of time. Now they were hurrying across its lawn toward another house, leaving Jeff a little too far behind.

  "Slow down, kids," he shouted.

  Of course, they didn't. So he quickened his pace.

  Just when he was about to call out again, they hustled up the stairs of a lighted porch.

  This would slow them down, give Jeff time to close the distant e He walked faster. Halfway past the dark house the kids had skipped he heard them call out "Trick or treat."

  A moment later, someone nearby said, "Sir?"

  He turned his head. A teenaged girl was sitting on the curb in front of a parked car, looking over her shoulder at him.

  He stopped. "Hi," he said.

  She stood up and came toward him, her long blond hair blowing behind her in the wind. She looked slender and very pretty in the glow of the streetlights, but her face was shiny with tears.

  She wore a bright yellow crew-neck sweater with a block В on its chest. Probably for Beaumont High School. She also wore short, pleated skirt of dark plaid that the wind was flinging around her thighs, plus dark kneesocks and white sneakers.

  A cheerleader outfit.

  Maybe just a Halloween costume. By the looks of her, though, Jeff suspected it might be the real thing.

  She sniffed and rubbed her face as she came over to the sidewalk.

  "Is everything okay?" Jeff asked.

  She shook her head. "I lost them. I don't know where they are don't know what to do. I've just been sitting there..."

  "Hang on," Jeff told her. He turned away and looked at the porch where he'd last seen his kids and Phyllis. They were no longer there.

  Moved on without me.

  He shouted, "Kids! Mandy! Bret! Phyllis!"

  No answer. Were they already out of hearing range?

  They hadn't gone into the house, had they?

  He faced the girl. "I'll try to help you, but I've got my kids out here and it looks like they've taken off without me. Why don't you walk along with me till I find them."

  "Hope you can," the girl said.

  "They're probably just up ahead."

  "That's what I thought, too."

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  Before starting down the stairs, Hunter propped Eleanor's sword against the wall. Hands free, he pulled off his shoes. He set them on the carpet, then lifted the sword by its hilt and began to make his way down the stairs.

  Though he wanted to descend in silence, he also needed to hurry. No telling how long Eleanor would follow his orders. Even now, she might be trying to work herself free from the belt and cord.

  Hunter had bound her as securely as he could under the circumstances. It shouldn't be too easy for her to get loose. It would take a long time for a normal woman to escape - maybe an hour or longer - but Eleanor was no normal woman. If she put her mind to it, she could probably work herself free in just a few minutes.

  Gotta get back to her fast or there'll be hell to pay.

  As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he heard kids' voices and footfalls from outside. More trick or treaters were coming.

  Terrific.

  Just ignore them.

  Hunter turned away from the door. Over to the right, he could see part of the living room through its arched entryway. No sign of anyone. Holding the sword so lightly that his hand ached, he stopped into the entry and stopped.

  Nobody.

  Unless someone was hiding...

  The doorbell rang and he flinched, startled even though he'd known kids were on their way.

  Get outa here.

  They rang the bell again as Hunter entered the living room. The coffee table had been shoved crooked, one corner pushing against the sofa. Shannon's armchair was overturned. So was a nearby lamp table. The lamp had fallen to the floor. Its shade was jammed crooked, but the bulb still worked, spreading yellow light across the carpet.

  The doorbell rang.

  Give it up, guys.

  Several magazines and books were scattered on the floor. They'd apparently flown off tables during the fight. A few feet from Shannon's overturned chair was the fedora of her Halloween costume, somewhat mashed as if someone had fallen on it.

  He found no bodies, though.

  Shannon and Laura seemed to be gone, taken away by Bryce and Simone. There was no sign of Eleanor's rope, so it had probably been used to tie them.

  I'd better get back to Eleanor.

  The doorbell rang again.

  I oughta let them in, take the little shits upstairs and introduce them to Eleanor.

  Freak them out.

  Unless maybe they aren't little kids. How about three or four teenaged guys? They'd think they'd died and gone to...

  What if they're the dates?

  When Laura had first gone upstairs to look for him, she'd mentioned a couple of guys coming by to take them to a Halloween party. Might've been a lie. You're a couple of young women and you've suddenly got a stranger in the house - someone who might be dangerous - it'd be smart to claim men would be showing up any minute.

  But they'd obviously been getting ready for a party. A Halloween party. Laura hadn't been in her costume yet, but Hunter had watched Shannon get dressed.

  Suddenly distracted by thoughts of Shannon and how she'd looked and what she'd said in her bedroom, Hunter stared into space. Then the doorbell rang again.

  The guys are real.

  But this isn't them, Hunter told himself. I heard their voices. They were kids.

  But the boyfriends might show up any second.

  Hunter wondered if he could get them to help. If they cared at all about Shannon and Laura, they'd probably be willing to help him.

  Help me?

  Go to the rescue.

  Go to the rescue?

  A chill scurried through his body.

  They can save Shannon and Laura, I'll save Connie.

  But it would be just the three of us against maybe a dozen of those creeps.

  We can do it if we take them by surprise.

  He noticed Shannon's remote phone on the floor near her chair. Staring at it, he realized he ought to forget about trying to pull off some sort of glorious rescue - might get myself killed - and just call the police instead.

  What if they think I had something to do with all this?

  He shifted the sword to his left hand, crouched and picked up the phone. It made no sound at all. Eleanor had probably used it last, shut it off and thrown it down after hearing him try the upstairs phone.

  He thumbed the talk button. A tiny red dot of light appeared. He brought the phone closer to his ear and heard a dial tone.

  "HUNTER!"

  Startled by the distant outcry, he jumped and dropped the phone and whirled around.

  "HUNTER! HELP!"

  Panic in the voice. Eleanor's voice?

  He raced for the stairs.

  What the hell is she yelling about?

  He leaped up the stairs, took them three at a time.

  Might be a trick.

  It probably is a trick, he told himself. What could be so wrong in that room that it would freak out Eleanor?

  She screamed.

  The terrified sound of it almost made Hunter scream. Throat tight, skin crawling, he sprang to the top of the stairs and lurched around the newel post. Sword raised overhead with both hands, he ran down the hall.

  No more outcries or screams... just wild thumping sounds.

  Skidding to a halt in front of the room, he glimpsed enough through the doorway to know it wasn't a trick. Eleanor had gotten herself loose, but...

  He rushed in.

  Legs kicking, she was being dragged on her back by the electrical cord. Its loop was around her neck. The length of the cord was stretched taut, close to the floor, at a slight upward angle. Plug first, it was moving slowly toward the nearest electrical outlet, towing her.

  But only Eleanor was touching the cord - clutching it with both hands just above her head, holding on as it d
ragged her, kicking and twisting across the floor.

  Her face was flushed and sweaty, her eyes bulging, her tongue sticking out.

  Hunter thought, No way.

  Then he rushed into the room, hurried past Eleanor's thrashing body and chopped downward with the sword. Midway between her hands and the plug, the cord leaped apart. The blade chomped into the floor. And Eleanor came to a halt, fingers digging into the loop around her neck.

  She pulled it off and threw it aside. Sprawled on her back, she-gasped for air.

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  Worried but not yet alarmed, Jeff hurried up the sidewalk with the girl keeping pace beside him.

  "I'm Rhonda, by the way," she said. "Rhonda Gale."

  "Hi, Rhonda. I'm Jeff."

  Where are they?

  "Gale, that's my last name. I'm not like Rhonda Gale Something. Just Rhonda Gale."

  "Oh. Okay."

  Far ahead of him, one house from the end of the block, Bret and Mandy and Phyllis came down from a driveway and gathered on the sidewalk.

  Thank God.

  "There they are," Jeff said.

  All three of the kids turned toward him. The smallest of them, ret, waved.

  "Wait for me!" Jeff shouted at them. "Don't go anywhere!"

  They stayed. Probably not so much from obedience to Jell as from curiosity about the girl walking with him.

  He looked at the girl. "So tell me what happened, Rhonda."

  She shrugged both shoulders "I don't know what happened. I wish I did. They got away from me."

  "Who did?"

  "My little brother and... two of his friends. I was taking them around, you know? I was supposed to take care of 'em." As she said that, her voice broke. She was crying again, making quick, soft gasping sounds.

  "It's all right," Jeff said. He reached behind her and patted her on the back. "I'm sure they're fine."

  He realized he was a thirty-seven-year-old man with his hand on the back of a teenaged girl and he only meant to comfort her but the way things had gotten to be in recent years, the slightest little touch or glance or comment might be viewed as sexual misconduct or abuse.

  He took his hand off Rhonda's back. "What are their names?" he asked.

  Rhonda sniffed, rubbed her nose. "My brother, he's Gary. The others are Doug and Rosie." With a sleeve of her cheerleader sweater, she wiped her wet cheeks. "They're brother and sister, Doug and Rosie."

 
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