The traveling vampire sh.., p.5
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.5

           Richard Laymon
 

  So we say they don’t.

  “That’s such bull,” I said.

  “Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t,” said Rusty.

  “Probably it is,” Slim threw in.

  So I said, “If Valeria is a vampire, which she isn’t…A, she’s not even here yet. And B, even if she gets here, she can’t do squat to us till after dark. And we’ll be long gone by then.”

  “Think so?” Rusty asked.

  “I know so.”

  Sure I did.

  Chapter Seven

  I eased myself down on my back. The tarpaper felt grainy against my bare skin, but at least it wasn’t scorching hot the way it might’ve been on a sunny day.

  “What’re you doing?” Rusty asked.

  “What does it look like?”

  “We’ve gotta get out of here.”

  I shut my eyes, folded my hands across my belly, and said, “What’s the big hurry?”

  “You wanta get caught up here when they show up?”

  Slim asked, “Why not? We came to see Valeria, didn’t we?”

  “To get a look at her—not to get caught at it.”

  “I’d rather get caught at that,” Slim said, “than get my butt chewed by Old Yeller.”

  Rusty was silent for a while. Then he said with sort of a whine in his voice, “We can’t just stay up here.”

  “It isn’t just the dog,” I told him. “The longer we wait, the less Slim’ll bleed on the way home.”

  “But they’re gonna show up.”

  “Maybe they’ll have bandages,” Slim said.

  “Very funny.”

  “Let’s give it an hour,” I suggested.

  “If we’re real quiet,” Slim said, “maybe the dog’ll go away.”

  “Sure it will,” Rusty muttered.

  Then I heard some scuffing sounds. Turning my head, I opened my eyes. On the other side of Slim, Rusty was lying down. He let out a loud sigh.

  The way we were all stretched out reminded me of the diving raft at Donner’s Cove. Whenever we swam at the Cove, we always ended up flopping for a while on the old, white-painted platform. We’d be in our swimsuits, out of breath, dripping and cold from the river. Soon, the sun would warm us. But we wouldn’t get up. You felt like you never wanted to get up, it was so nice out there. The raft was rocking softly. You could hear the quiet lapping of the water against it, and the buzz of distant motorboats and all the usual bird sounds. You could feel the soft heat of the sun on one side, the hard slick painted boards on the other. And you had your best friends lying down beside you. Especially Slim in one of her bikinis, her skin golden and dripping.

  Too bad we weren’t on the diving raft at the Cove. Too bad we were stranded, instead, on the scratchy tarpaper roof of the BEER—SNACKS—SOUVENIRS shack. Not surrounded by chilly water but by the wasteland of Janks Field. Not waves lapping peacefully at the platform, but the damn dog growling and barking and every so often hurling itself at the shack.

  This just wasn’t the same.

  Not quite. The raft was paradise and this was the pits.

  And even if the dog should magically vanish, I knew Slim would start bleeding all over the place the minute we hit the ground.

  She’d already lost a fair amount of blood.

  She would lose a lot more on the way home.

  What if she lost too much?

  I turned my head. Blinking sweat out of my eyes, I looked at Slim. Her eyes were shut. Her face was cushioned on her crossed arms. It was speckled with tiny drops of sweat, and dribbles were running here and there. Her short hair, the color of bronze, was wet and coiled and clinging to her temple and forehead. She was marked from temple to jaw by three thin red scratches.

  I found myself wanting to kiss those scratches.

  And maybe also kiss the tiny soft curls of down above the left corner of her mouth.

  While I was thinking about it, she opened her eyes. She blinked a few times, then raised her eyebrows. “Time to go?” she asked.

  “Hasn’t been an hour!” Rusty protested from the other side of Slim.

  “I’ve been thinking,” I said.

  “Hurt yourself?” Rusty asked. Apparently, the rest period had improved his mood—if not his wit.

  “I don’t know about walking home from here,” I said.

  “You and me both,” Rusty said. “We try, the dog’ll have us for lunch.”

  “I’m not thinking about the dog.”

  “You oughta be.”

  “Dog or no dog, I don’t like the idea of trying to walk home. Slim’ll probably start bleeding again.”

  “Big deal,” she said.

  “It might be.”

  “It’s not like I’ll bleed that much,” she said.

  “What I was thinking, though, is that maybe one of us better go for help.”

  “Oh, joy,” Rusty muttered.

  “And what?” Slim asked. “Send out an ambulance for me? Forget it. I’ve got a couple of little cuts…”

  “More than a couple.”

  “Even still, it’s no big crisis. I don’t want to have a goddamn ambulance coming for me.”

  “What I thought was, I’ll run to town and get somebody to drive me back here. Or I’ll borrow a car and do it myself. Either way, we end up driving you home.”

  Slim’s upper lip twitched slightly. “I don’t know, Dwight.”

  “You wanta leave us up here?” Rusty asked.

  “I’d be back in an hour.”

  “But shit, man, an hour. I don’t want to be stuck up here for an hour.”

  “Take a nap.”

  “What if something happens?”

  “I’ll protect you, Rusty,” Slim said, speaking loudly because her face was turned away from him.

  He tossed a scowl at her. Then he said, “Anyway, what about the dog?”

  “Long as you stay up here, it can’t…”

  “I know that, man. What about you? You think it’ll just let you leave?”

  I shrugged. “I’ll take care of it.”

  “Oh, yeah? Good luck.”

  He said it sarcastically, but I answered, “Thanks” and got to my feet. I stepped to the edge of the roof. Knees almost touching the back of the BEER—SNACKS—SOUVENIRS sign, I bent forward and looked down.

  The dog, sitting, suddenly sprang at me and slammed against the shack.

  “I think it’s a moron,” I announced.

  “Do you have a plan or something?” Slim asked.

  “Not exactly.”

  “I don’t want you to get hurt.”

  I looked around at her, feeling a nice warmth. “Thanks,” I told her.

  Sitting up, Rusty said, “It’s gonna have your ass, man.”

  The dog again threw itself at the shack, bounced off and fell to the dust.

  I gave the sign a nudge with my knee. Though it felt sturdy, it was nailed to the roof on wooden braces made of two-by-fours. With a little effort, I could probably kick one of the braces apart and have myself a club—maybe with a few nails sticking out.

  Only one problem.

  When you’re my dad’s son, you don’t go around destroying other people’s property. Not even a crummy sign on a closed snack stand in Janks Field.

  It’s not only wrong, it’s illegal.

  If Dad ever found out that a son of his had kicked apart someone else’s sign in order to make himself a club in order to beat the crap out of a stray dog…

  “What’re you doing?” Rusty asked.

  “Nothing.”

  “Want help?” he asked.

  A laugh flew out of Slim, but then she groaned.

  “You okay?” I asked her.

  “Been better.” She grimaced slightly, then added, “Been worse, too.”

  “Do you have any fond feelings for the dog?” I asked.

  “You kidding?”

  I shrugged. “I mean, you’re sort of an animal lover.”

  “That has its limits,” she said.

  “So…you won
t be upset if something bad happens to this dog?”

  “Like what?” she asked.

  “Like something really bad?”

  Looking me steadily in the eyes, she said, “I don’t think so.”

  As I, nodded, I saw Rusty giving me this very weird look. His eyebrows were rumpled in a frown, but his eyes looked frantic and his mouth seemed to be smiling.

  “What?” I asked him.

  “What’re you gonna do?”

  I shrugged, then walked over to where the sign ended. Down below, the dog watched me and followed. When I stopped, it stopped.

  “Get outa here!” I shouted at it.

  It barked and leaped, slammed the wall and tried to scurry up. Then it dropped. As it landed on its side in the dust in front of the shack, I jumped.

  My plan was to land on the dog with both feet.

  Cave it in.

  On my way down, I heard it make a quick, alarmed whine as if it knew what was coming.

  I braced myself for the feel of my sneakers smashing through its ribcage—and maybe for the sound of a wet splot! as its guts erupted.

  But it had just enough time to scoot out of my way.

  Almost.

  Instead of busting through the dog, one of my feet pounded nothing but ground and the other stomped the end of its tail.

  The dog howled.

  I stumbled forward and almost fell, but managed to stay on my feet. As I regained my balance, I glanced back. The dog was racing off, howling and yelping, butt low, tail curled between its hind legs as if to hide from more harm.

  Rusty, at the edge of the roof, called down, “Got a piece of him!”

  The dog sat down, curled around and studied its tail.

  “I’ll be back as soon as I can!” I yelled.

  My voice must’ve gotten the dog’s attention. It forgot its tail and turned its head and stared at me with its only eye.

  I muttered, “Uh-oh.”

  It came at me like a sprinter out of the blocks.

  “Shit!” Rusty yelled. “Run! Go, man!”

  I ran like hell.

  Somewhere in the distance behind me, Rusty yelled, “Hey, you fuckin’ mangy piece of shit! Over here!”

  I looked back.

  The dog, gaining on me, turned its head for a glance toward the voice.

  Rusty let fly with a sneaker.

  The dog barked at him…or at the airborn shoe.

  The sneaker hit the ground a couple of yards behind it and tumbled, throwing up dust. Not even a near miss. But the dog wheeled around and barked.

  Rusty threw a second sneaker.

  The dog glanced over its shoulder at me, snarled, then dodged the second sneaker (which would’ve missed it anyway by about five feet) and raced forward to renew its siege of the snack stand.

  Chapter Eight

  Afraid the dog might change its mind and come after me again, I ran for all I was worth until I reached the edge of the woods. Then I stopped and turned around.

  The dog was sitting in front of the shack, barking and wagging its tail as if it had treed a pair of squirrels.

  Up on the roof, Rusty waved at me, swinging his arm overhead like a big, dopey kid.

  I waved back at him the same way.

  Then Slim, apparently on her knees, raised herself up behind the sign. Holding onto it with one hand, she waved at me with the other.

  My throat went thick and tight.

  I waved back furiously and yelled, “See ya later!”

  And a voice in my head whispered, Oh, yeah?

  But who pays attention to those voices? We get them all the time. I do, don’t you? When someone you love is leaving the house, doesn’t it occur to you, now and then, that you may never see him or her again? Flying places, don’t you sometimes think What if this one goes down? Driving, don’t you sometimes imagine an oncoming truck zipping across center lines and wiping out everyone in your car? Such thoughts give you a nasty sick feeling inside, but only for a few seconds. Then you tell yourself nothing’s going to happen. And, turns out, nothing does happen.

  Usually.

  I lowered my arm, stared at my friends for a couple of seconds longer, then turned and hurried down the dirt road.

  I ran, but not all-out. Not the way you run with a dog on your tail, but the way you do it when you’ve got a long distance to cover. A pretty good clip, but not a sprint.

  Every so often, I had an urge to turn back.

  But I told myself they’d be fine. Up on the roof, they were safe from the dog. And if strangers should come along—like some punks or a wino or The Traveling Vampire Show—Rusty and Slim could lie down flat and nobody would even know they were there.

  Besides, if I returned, we’d all be on the roof again a couple of miles from home and no way to get there without Slim bleeding all over the place.

  Going for a car was the only sensible thing to do.

  That’s what I told myself.

  But the farther away from Janks Field I ran, the more I wished I’d stayed. A couple of times, I actually stopped, turned around and gazed up the dirt road to where it vanished in the woods.

  And thought about running back.

  Maybe I would’ve done it, too, except for the dog. I hated the idea of facing it again.

  First, I felt sort of guilty about trying to kill it. Which made no sense. The damn thing had attacked Slim—it had hurt her and tried to rip her apart. For that, it deserved to die. Clearly. Without a doubt. But all that aside, I felt rotten about jumping off the roof to murder it. Part of me was glad it had scooted out of the way.

  Second, the dog was sure to attack me if I returned to Janks Field on foot. It would try to maul me and I’d try to kill it again.

  But I hope the dog wasn’t the reason I decided to keep going. I hope it wasn’t for anything selfish like that.

  But you never know about these things.

  The real whys.

  And even if you could somehow sort out the whys and find the truth, maybe it’s better if you don’t.

  Better to believe what you want to believe.

  If you can.

  Anyway, I didn’t go back. I kept on running up the gloomy dirt road, huffing, sweating so hard that my jeans were sticking to my legs.

  I met no one else. The road, all the way from Janks Field to Route 3, was empty except for me.

  When I came to the highway, I stopped running. I needed to catch my breath and rest a little, but I also didn’t want anyone driving by to get the wrong idea.

  Or the right idea.

  With Grandville only a couple of miles away, some of the people in cars going by were sure to recognize me. They might not pay much attention if I’m simply strolling along the roadside. But if they see me running, they’ll figure something is wrong. They’ll either stop to offer help or tell everyone what they saw.

  Golly, Mavis, I was out on Route 3 this morning ’n who should I see but Frank and Lacy’s boy, Dwight, all by himself over near the Janks Field turnoff, running like he had the Devil itself chasing after him. Seemed real strange.

  Spose he was up to some sorta mischief?

  Can’t say, Mavis. He ain’t never been in much trouble. Always a first time, though.

  I wonder if you oughta tell his folks how you saw him out there.

  I better. If he was my boy, I’d wanta know.

  And so it would go. In Grandville, not only does everyone know everyone, but they figure your business is their business. Nowdays, you hear talk that “It takes a village to raise a child.” You ask me, it takes a village to wreck a child for life.

  In Grandville, you felt like you were living in a nest of spies. One wrong move and everyone would know about it. Including your parents.

  After giving the matter some thought, I decided I didn’t want to be seen on Route 3 by anyone. So every time I heard a car coming, I hurried off and hid in the trees until it was out of sight.

  I hid, but I kept my eyes on the road. If something that looked like a
Traveling Vampire Show should go by, I wanted to know about it. I planned to call off my mission to town and run back to Janks Field.

  When I wasn’t busy dodging off to hide from cars, I wondered how best to get my hands on one.

  My first thought had been to borrow Mom’s car. But on second thought, she never let me take it without asking where I wanted to go. Janks Field was supposed to be off limits. She would be very angry (and disappointed in me) if I told her my true destination. Lying to her, however, would be even worse. “Once people lie to you,” she’d told me, “you can never really believe them again about anything.”

  Very true. I knew it then and I know it now.

  So I couldn’t lie to her.

  Which meant I couldn’t borrow her car.

  And forget about Dad’s.

  Both my brothers owned cars, but they loved to rat me out. No way could I go to either of them…

  And then I thought of Lee, my brother Danny’s wife.

  Perfect!

  She would let me use her old red Chevy pickup truck, and she wouldn’t yap.

  I’d learned how to drive in Lee’s pickup with her as my teacher. If she hadn’t taught me, I might’ve never learned how to drive. Mom had been useless as an instructor, squealing “Watch out!” every two seconds. Dad had snapped orders at me like a drill instructor. My brother Stu was a tail-gating speed-demon; being taught how to drive by Stu would’ve been like taking gun safety lessons from Charlie Starkweather. Danny might’ve been all right, but Lee was in the kitchen when we started talking about it, and she volunteered.

  That was the previous summer, when I’d been fifteen.

  I spent plenty of time that summer hanging out with friends my own age: Rusty and Slim (calling herself Dagny) and a kid named Earl Grodin who had an outboard motorboat and wanted to take us fishing on the river every day. We did go fishing almost every day. Earl loved to fish. The strange thing was, he insisted on using worms for bait but he hated to touch them. So Rusty and Dagny and I took turns baiting his hook for him. And teasing him. You’ve never seen such a sissy about worms. Eventually, Dagny tossed a live one into her mouth. As she chewed it up, Earl gaped at her in horror. Then he gagged. Then he slapped her across the face as if to knock the worm out of her mouth so I slugged him in the nose and knocked him overboard. After that, he didn’t take us out fishing any more. But the summer was almost over by then, anyhow, so we didn’t mind very much.

 

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