Once upon a halloween, p.7
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       Once Upon a Halloween, p.7
 

           Richard Laymon
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  Mandy nodded. "That's where we need to go. The old Witherspoon house."

  Bret grinned. "Gonna go and see Laura and Shannon?"

  "Well," Jeff said, "I suppose we'll start looking somewhere near there, anyway."

  "Grrrrrr-ate!"

  "Don't get your hopes up, dwarf," Phyllis said. "We won't be ringing their doorbell."

  "We will, too. Won't we, Dad?"

  "We'll see," Jeff told him.

  " 'We'll see,' " Phyllis mimicked. "That's grown-up for 'No way in hell, dickhead.' "

  Weary of Phyllis, Jeff said, "As a matter of fact, since they didn't answer their door when we went there the first time, maybe we should give it another try. No harm in that."

  "We can ask if they've seen Gary and Rosie and Doug," Bret said.

  Naturally, he would remember the names of the missing kids.

  "Who says they'll even come to the door?" Phyllis asked.

  "Didn't last time."

  "Oh, they will. They're my friends. I'm pretty sure they are."

  When Bret said that, Rhonda reached over to him and ruffled his hair. He beamed at her.

  Mandy watched, a strange look on her face as if she didn't know whether to be amused or troubled. A corner of her mouth twitched. Then she turned to Jeff, "Do you know where it is?"

  "Where what is?"

  "Jeez, Dad. The Witherspoon house."

  "Yeah, I think so."

  "You don't know, do you?"

  "I'm sure I can find it," he said. "I mean, we were just there. Not just there, but..."

  "I'll lead the way," Mandy said. "I know exactly where it is." She gestured for her father to move. He stepped aside. She went striding between him and Rhonda, saying, "Follow me."

  Out front, Bret shifted his treat bag to his other hand and took hold of his sister's hand.

  Jeff smiled at Rhonda. "Mandy," he said, "has a thing about being in control."

  "She seems to be very smart," said Rhonda.

  "Oh, she is. She might or might not be as smart as she thinks she is, but she is smart."

  Mandy glanced over her shoulder. "I heard that."

  "Sorry."

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  "I'm not gonna trade kids for them," Hunter said.

  "Suit yourself."

  "That'd be sick."

  "Up to you," she said.

  "I'll trade you back to your group, that's all." He stepped away from the upstairs newel post and put on his shoes. "Let's get you something to wear first."

  She smiled. "You don't really wanta do that, do you?" Still standing in the bathroom doorway, leaning sideways with her arms and ankles crossed, she gave her shoulders a little shake. Hunter watched her breasts wobble from side to side.

  "Gotta... Shannon's stuff might fit you."

  "Up to you." Eleanor uncrossed her ankles, nudged the door fame with an elbow, and stood up straight.

  "That way." Hunter pointed down the hallway with the sword. "If s that room there. You go first."

  She started walking. "Just don't let something get me, okay? My ass gets killed in this spook house, I won't make much of a trade-in."

  "I'll take care of you," Hunter followed her down the hallway toward Shannon's bedroom "That door there," he said.

  It was the door he'd stood behind when trying to hide from Laura and Shannon - the door that had concealed him while Shannon wandered around naked, talking to him, trying to tempt him out of hiding though she hadn't realized he was in the same room with her.

  Eleanor stepped through the doorway. Hunter went in behind her. The bedroom's lights were still on.

  A few strides into the room, Eleanor turned around and faced him. Smirking, she said, "What would you like me to wear?"

  "Doesn't matter. You just can't go around like that. We'll be outside. Somebody might see you."

  "Not too likely if we go out the back. Nothing between here and the graveyard. Just trees and darkness. But I guess you know that, don't you?"

  He nodded. "You need to put on something anyway."

  "If you say so." Eleanor turned around and walked toward the closet. Its door was wide open, its light on. As she neared it, she raised an arm as if to reach in for a hanging garment. But she suddenly stopped. She lowered her arm and stood there, not moving.

  "What's the matter?"

  Shaking her head, she backed away from the closet. She turned around. She was breathing hard and her eyes looked scared. "I'm not... You want me to put on something, you get it."

  Some kind of trick?

  "Just reach in and grab..."

  "Huh-uh, not me. I'm not going anywhere near that closet."

  A chill hustled up Hunter's back. "What's wrong with it?" His voice came out barely louder than a whisper.

  "I don't know. I just got a bad... like maybe he's in there."

  "Who?"

  She touched a finger to the red mark on her throat. "Him."

  Hunter stared at the closet. It was brightly lighted and looked line. On a hanger in plain sight was the robe that Shannon had been wearing.

  I could just reach in and grab it out.

  But what if something grabs me?

  Eleanor suddenly rushed over to Shannon's bed. Bending at the waist, she grabbed the cover and flung it aside. "What're you doing?"

  She tugged the bed's white topsheet away from the mattress. "I'll wear this," she said, and wrapped it around her body.

  Hunter shook his head. "I don't know. Makes you look like a nude woman wearing a sheet. I'll get you some..."

  "How about this?" She unwrapped the sheet, swept it up over her head and let it drift down. "It's Halloween. I'm a fucking ghost."

  The sheet draped her body, front and back, almost down to her knees.

  "Pretty good," Hunter admitted. Not only was Eleanor no longer naked, but the sheet concealed her identity and resembled a traditional Halloween costume. "It just needs eyeholes..."

  "And a belt to keep it on," Eleanor said. "Give me a pen or something and I'll mark the eyes."

  Not turning his back on her, Hunter went to Shannon's desk. He propped his sword against it, then opened one of the top drawer, pens, markers, scissors, a stapler, paper clips, computer ink. He took out the scissors and a blue Sharpie marker. Uncapping the marker, he approached Eleanor.

  "Put your fingertips where your eyes are. And don't try anything."

  "I won't try anything. You saved my life, Hunter."

  "Like that'll hold you back."

  "It does." She touched both her forefingers against the front of the sheet. Hunter could see slight indentations where her eyes were; lower, the jut of her nose; lower still, the way the sheet draped the smooth tops of her breasts and how her nipples pushed it out. "I'm not gonna do anything against you," she said. "Not anymore."

  "I hope not," Hunter said and reached out with the Sharpie. He traced around her left fingertip, drawing a half-circle on the sheet in front of her eye.

  "Besides," she said, "you're taking me outa this place and back where I wanta go."

  He traced around her right fingertip. Backing away, he said, "Okay, take off the sheet and I'll cut the holes."

  She pulled it off. "I'll do it." Nodding at the scissors, she held out her hand.

  "I'm supposed to give you scissors?"

  "You've got my Bowie knife, pal. You've got my saber, if you wanta go grab it. What'd I gonna do to you with a little pair of scissors?"

  "Okay." He backed his way to the desk, tossed the Sharpie onto it, then gave the scissors an underhand toss to Eleanor. Just as she caught them, he picked up the sword.

  Standing where he was, he watched her snip eyeholes in the sheet. After the eyeholes were done, she cut out a hole the size of a silver dollar.

  "Here." She tossed the scissors to him. He caught them.

  While he turned sideways and returned the scissors and Sharpie to the desk drawer, Eleanor put the sheet over her head. She pulled at it, adjusted it, and soon Hunter saw her eyes and mouth through t
he holes.

  "Now I need a belt," she said.

  "No belt," Hunter said.

  "It's windy outside. The sheet'll blow off."

  "I'm not giving you a belt."

  "I'm not gonna garrote you."

  "Yeah, well, no belt."

  "A necklace? Gimme a necklace. That'll help hold it on."

  He stepped over to Shannon's dresser. On lop was a jewelry box in the shape of a small steamer trunk. He set his sword down across the top of the dresser, then opened the box. Various small compartments held rings, earrings, pendants and thin chains. In the large bottom area, he found a jumble of bracelets and necklaces. He pulled out a handful, untangled them, and selected a heavy necklace that looked as if it were made of stainless steel links. "Try this." He tossed it to Eleanor.

  Her right arm flew out from under the sheet and snagged tin necklace out of the air. With both hands, she slipped it over her head Its weight held the sheet down around her neck.

  "We're just borrowing it," Hunter said. "Shannon gets it back when we're done."

  A secret voice in his mind whispered, If she's still alive. If we are.

  "How about some safety pins?" Eleanor asked. "I can pin the sides of the sheet."

  He looked around, opened a few drawers. "I don't see any."

  In one of the dresser drawers, however, he found brightly colored scarves and sashes. He pulled out a long green sash made of glossy fabric - satin or silk, he supposed.

  "That'll do perfect," Eleanor said.

  "It's not for you." Hunter tied the sash around his own waist and let the loose ends hang by the side of his left leg. Turning to the dresser mirror, he could see his own reflection and Eleanor's behind him.

  "What're you doing?" Eleanor asked.

  He picked out a paisley scarf and started tying it around his head "You're a ghost, might be smart if I'm in costume, too. Anybody sees us, they'll think we're dressed up for Halloween."

  In Shannon's jewelry box, he found a pair of large hoop earring. He picked one up and frowned at it. As a kid, he had sometimes worn his mother's earrings. On Halloween. The two or three years he'd made the rounds dressed like a pirate. He remembered how they haul to be screwed onto his earlobe so tightly that they hurt. This one, however, didn't seem to have a screw.

  It's for pierced ears, he realized.

  "What're you gonna be, a pirate?"

  "Aye-aye," he said.

  "Pretty good. Gives you an excuse to be running around with a sword."

  "Exactly." Hunter put the earring back into its compartment, shut the jewelry box and turned around to face Eleanor. "How do I look?"

  "Lose the shirt."

  It was already wide open, untucked, smeared with blood and clinging to him with sweat.

  "Go on and take it off," Eleanor said. "You wanta look like a pirate, don't you?"

  "I don't want to freeze."

  "Not much chance of that. It's balmy outside, case you didn't notice."

  He pulled his shirt off and let it fall to the floor. "Now all you need's a hook, a pegleg, an eyepatch and a fuckin' parrot."

  Hunter actually smiled. "This'll do."

  "So can we get outa here now?"

  "I guess so." He turned around and lifted his sword off the dresser. "You go first," he said.

  As she started toward the bedroom door, Hunter backed away and studied his reflection in the mirror.

  Not bad, he thought. A nice, simple pirate costume - made even better by the small red gash on his chest and the blood smeared around his chest and belly.

  Everyone'll think the wound's a fake.

  Not that we're likely even to see anyone, he thought, following Eleanor into the hall.

  She turned and walked toward the head of the stairway. Hunter took his time, watching how the sheet flowed around her.

  Better when she didn't have it on, he thought. He'd been able to take good, long looks at every inch of her body. Now he could see none of it - only her bare calves and feet below the bottom о I the sheet.

  He couldn't even see those after she started down the stairs in front of him.

  He'd been feasting his eyes on her, and now he felt starved Get over it, he told himself. Connie probably got caught by those freaks in the graveyard. God only knows what they're doing to her. To Shannon and Laura, too. And I'm feeling crummy because Eleanor is finally wearing something? Forget it! I shouldn't ever be...

  The doorbell rang.

  Hunter flinched.

  "I'll get it," Eleanor said and rushed down the final few stains, the sheet swirling behind her.

  "Don't!" Hunter gasped.

  In the foyer, she stopped and leaned forward. Her right arm came out from beneath the sheet and she swung the front door open.

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  Lying motionless, Laura felt the slight rise and fall of Shannon's back against her own back. Then Shannon's buttocks flexed and she moved one of her legs a fraction of an inch. "Shan?" Laura whispered.

  Shannon didn't answer.

  Laura shook herself slightly.

  Shannon groaned. Then muttered, "Don't."

  "Sorry."

  "Hurts."

  "Me, too," Laura said.

  "Some Halloween."

  "Trick or treat."

  "Where...?"

  "The graveyard."

  "I mean... them. They around?" Facedown in the graveyard grass, head turned toward her left shoulder, Shannon probably couldn't see much.

  Face up on top of her, Laura could see most of what was around: moonlit tombstones, the Kneeling Girl statue, the stone bench bushes. Above her, tree branches swayed in the wind.

  "I think they 're gone," she said

  "Thank God."

  "I don't see anybody."

  "Me neither," Shannon said.

  "Very funny."

  "Where'd they go?"

  "I don't know."

  "Loved us and left us."

  Underneath her, Shannon started weeping. Her shoulders and back made quick, small jerking motions. She was the big one, the tough one, and she was crying like a hurt child.

  Tears came to Laura's eyes. "It's all right," she said. "Hey. It's fine. You'll be fine. We'll both be fine."

  Shannon kept crying. Laura, riding her back, jiggled up and down.

  Tears slid down from the corners of Laura's eyes and rolled into her ears. They tickled. She wanted to scratch the itch, but couldn't. Not with her arms bound tight to Shannon's arms. "At least they didn't kill us," she said.

  Shannon went on crying.

  "They are gone," Laura said. She felt a little as if she were talking to herself. Raising her head off Shannon's head, she looked to the right and left and felt the teardrops sliding around inside her ears. "I can't see 'em anywhere. I can't see anyone. Looks like they left us here and went away." She eased her head down again and stared at the windblown branches high above her face. Leaves were flying sideways. "They probably aren't done with us. Might be. I sorta doubt it, though. I think they'll come back and... I don't know. The kid said he saw like a dozen of them. Some kind of cult. They'll probably wanta come back and sacrifice us or something fun like that."

  Shannon sniffed. "Thanks... for cheering me up."

  "You're welcome."

  "We 'd better... get our asses outa here."

  "The sooner the better," Laura said.

  Neither of them moved.

  After a while, Shannon said, "You can't get off me, can you?"

  "Not unless the ropes go away."

  Ropes passing under Laura's armpits bound her shoulders to Shannon's shoulders. Laura's left upper arm was tied to Shannon' right upper arm. Their elbows and wrists were also tied together, and ropes bound their other arms together in the same way. Another length of rope, wound twice around their waists, lashed them back to back, rump to rump. Lower, they were roped together at the thighs, knees and ankles.

  "I don't think they mean for us to leave," Laura said.

  "What-say we do i
t anyway."

  "How?"

  Underneath her, Shannon squirmed and flexed her muscles, stirred her arms and legs, rocked gently from side to side, apparently testing the limits of her motions, the tightness of the bonds. From the sounds she made, the efforts hurt her and tired her.

  When she finished, Laura felt the firmness go out of Shannon body. She seemed to go limp, but her chest expanded and contracted quickly as she panted for air, raising and lowering Laura.

  After a while, her breathing slowed down and she said, "Too tight. They've... got us good."

  "There has to be a way out," Laura said.

  "You tell me and we'll both know."

  "How do they get out of this stuff in those mysteries you're always reading?"

  "Sometimes," Shannon said, "they don't."

  "Sure they do."

  "This kind of shit... happens to minor characters. The ones who get found dead."

  "Oh, great."

  "And then the main guy, he gets all pissed off 'cause maybe he knew one of them... met her in a bar or something... and she was a swell kid."

  Laura let out a laugh, and felt Shannon laugh once underneath her.

  "At least we'll make lovely corpses," Shannon said.

  "Speak for yourself," Laura said. "They pounded me pretty good."

  "Yeah. Me, too."

  "Did they?"

  "Yeah."

  "I was so out of it," Laura muttered. "I hardly knew what was going on after a while."

  "Just as well."

  "We're probably neither of us so lovely right now."

  "If I can't be a lovely corpse," Shannon said, "I'm not gonna be one at all."

  "Attagirl."

  Shannon chuckled, then groaned. Then she said, "I read a book once, they left this guy tied to an armchair. He was the main guy. What he did, he hopped around and threw himself backwards down some stairs and smashed the chair to smithereens. No trouble getting loose after that. I read that chair-breaking thing in a couple of books, now that I think about it. Must be a good idea."

  "So... I'm the chair?"

  "It's a thought," Shannon said.

  "No stairs."

  "Must be a lot of marble and granite around here."

  "Terrific. I've got an idea - let's have a plan that doesn't involved smashing one of us to smithereens."

  "Okay. Good. Have you got a knife on you?"

 
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