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Once upon a halloween, p.9
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       Once Upon a Halloween, p.9

           Richard Laymon
 
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  Something isn't right about this, he thought. Even on Halloween, people don't normally run around naked under sheets. She's either a nutjob or...

  "I need help!" she gasped.

  "What's wrong?"

  Stopping a few paces in front of him, she swung a bare arm out from under the sheet. Turning slightly, she gestured toward the corner. "I got jumped back there. Three guys... they attacked me. My friend, too. I got away, but... they've still got her. They took her. They were dragging her away. They're gonna... I don't know. Look what they did to me." She swept the front of her sheet aside.

  Jeff glimpsed her bare breasts, belly, pubic mound, thighs. "No no no," he blurted. "Don't do that. Kids."

  Still holding the sheet aside, she said, "Tore off my clothes. See where I got stabbed?" She pointed to a small, raw gash just above her navel.

  "I see. Yeah. Cover up. Come on. Please. There're kids."

  She let go of the sheet. The wind pasted it to her body, wouldn't let it fall, kept her bare all the way from her right shoulder down to her left hip as if it wanted everyone, kids included, to have a good long look at her.

  Plucking the sheet down, she said, "They're gonna rape her and then... maybe kill her, I don't know. If we don't get to her fast..."

  "Where are they?" Jeff asked.

  "Around the corner." She pointed again. "Down the block... They got us by the dead-end. They were gonna take us into the graveyard."

  "Cool," said Phyllis.

  Jeff swung around. Phyllis was standing just behind him. "I told you to stay put."

  "I don't have to take orders from you. You're not my father."

  He turned to the woman. "Look, I've got these kids with me. We're trying to find some trick or treaters who disappeared."

  "But they've got Julie and they're gonna..." She whirled around, the rear of her sheet blowing sideways before shifting position and finally moulding itself to her back and buttocks as she ran. "Follow me!" she called over her shoulder.

  "We can't!" Jeff shouted.

  Phyllis gave chase, Halloween bag swinging by her side.

  "Phyllis, get back here!"

  "Come on, everyone!" Phyllis yelled.

  Jeff turned around to face the rest of the kids as they rushed toward him.

  "What's going on?" Mandy asked.

  "She says some guys attacked her. They've still got her friend She wanted me to..."

  'To the rescue!" Bret shouted.

  As he bolted by, Jeff reached out, grabbed his shoulder and stopped him. "Not so fast, buddy."

  "We should help her," Mandy said.

  "I can't let anything happen to you kids."

  "I'll go and try to help," Rhonda said. When she ran by, Jeff almost reached out for her.

  No touching!

  Rhonda raced in pursuit of Phyllis. The woman in the sheet was almost to the corner.

  "Dad," Mandy said, "we have to help. I mean, Phyllis is going-"

  "The shit."

  "Yeah," Mandy said, "but she's our responsibility, isn't she?

  Jeff whirled around. "Phyllis! Get hack here, damn it! Right now!"

  "Sony, Mister W!" she called out, and didn't sound sorry at all.

  "Oh," Jeff said. "This sucks so bad."

  "Dad," Mandy said. "Come on."

  Bret looked up at him. "Come on, Dad! We gotta go to the rescue!"

  At the corner, the woman ran to the left and vanished behind a parked mini-van. Phyllis, close behind her, vanished a few seconds later. Rhonda, almost to the corner, glanced over her shoulder.

  "Wait up!" Jeff shouted. "We're on our way!" He took off running, staying ahead of his kids but holding back, unwilling to pour on the speed.

  Damn that Phyllis, he thought. It's all her fault. Never should've let her come along.

  Had to. She's Mandy's best friend.

  And her mom's Patsy's friend.

  No choice in the matter.

  Oughta just let her go.

  But she is my responsibility, Mandy's right about that. I knew it without being told, but Mandy likes to remind people.

  God I hate Phyllis!

  But she's making me do what I wanted to do... wanted to help... just can't let the kids get hurt. Gotta keep them out of it.

  Doing a wonderful job of it so far, Jeffery!

  Rhonda, waiting just short of the corner, began to run again as Jeff neared her. A few strides behind her, he raced around the corner. Phyllis and the sheet woman were well in the lead, now running side by side.

  "Rhonda," Jeff gasped.

  "Yeah?"

  "Stay with us." He glanced back. Mandy was running along just behind him and to his left, her treat bag swinging by her side, her poodle skirt flapping around her legs, her saddle shoes smacking the pavement. Bret was a little farther back. He now clutched his slingshot in one hand, his bag of Halloween candy in the other.

  Both bags gave off dry papery sounds as the collected treats bounced and shook inside them.

  "Whatever happens," Jeff said, "do exactly what I tell you. Understand?"

  "You bet!" Bret called out, cheer in his voice.

  "Whatever you say," said Mandy, sounding slightly peeved by the command.

  "No ifs, ands, or buts. And no hesitation."

  "Right, Dad."

  He turned his head forward again. "Rhonda, same goes for you. I know you're not my kid, but I don't want you getting hurt."

  "I'll do whatever you say, Jeff."

  "Good deal."

  CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

  "Gotta stop," Shannon gasped.

  Laura grunted.

  Can't stop with her on the bottom, Shannon thought. Squash her good.

  But she didn't want to be on the bottom, either, so she ended her roll halfway up, lying on her side. "Okay?"

  "Okay."

  She huffed for air. Her heart pounded fast and hard. Sweat streamed down her body. Laura felt so slippery against her back and buttocks, it was as if someone had poured warm oil between them. She never would've guessed that rolling across the ground could be so tiring.

  Well, she thought, I'm doing most of the work for both of us.

  And I'm not exactly in the best condition.

  Didn't help, getting trounced. Didn't help, getting...

  Don 't think about it.

  But she couldn't help thinking about it. In the midst of panting for air, she let a whimper slip out.

  "Shan?"

  "Huh?"

  "You okay?"

  "Yeah. No."

  "Me either."

  "Nobody's ever... done that to me."

  "You mean... what he did?"

  "Yeah. Or her."

  "Me either. Not what she did. These three guys got me once. Kids. They were like sixteen."

  "What about you?"

  "Fourteen."

  "God."

  "It wasn't like this," Laura said. "It wasn't this bad. It was bad, but they didn't... they didn't hurt me... not much, anyhow. They just... screwed me, you know? No funny stuff."

  "Funny ha-ha?" Shannon muttered.

  "These two were... like deranged."

  "You don't approve of... their alternative lifestyle?"

  "Not much," Laura said.

  "Sick fucks."

  "I wonder why they went away."

  "I don't know," Shannon said. "Glad they did, though."

  "I hope they did."

  "Huh?"

  "Maybe they haven't... really left. Maybe they're watching us. You know, hanging around... somewhere out of sight... enjoying the show."

  "Wonderful," Shannon muttered.

  "Not that it matters."

  "Not that it matters?"

  "We've gotta do... what we're doing. Whether they're watching or not. So it's... like irrelevant."

  "Won't feel irrelevant if they come over and stomp our asses."

  "How we doing?"

  Stretched out on her right side, Shannon was facing the direction from which they'd come. Though they'd been forced
to alter their course a few times to avoid obstacles such as trees, bushes and grave markers, she still had a clear line of sight to the marble bench near their starting point. The bench was pale under a splash of moonlight. Beyond it, the Kneeling Girl statue was a dim gray shape in the dark.

  "We aren't where we were," she said.

  "How far?"

  "Forty, fifty feet?"

  "Not bad."

  "How far to go?"

  "Hard to tell," Laura said. "Real dark this way. I'd say... another thirty feet?"

  Shannon moaned. That far?

  "To the creek?" she asked.

  "To the edge of the slope."

  "After that, all downhill."

  "Only trouble is, we've got... a big old headstone in the way. Maybe six feet from here. We'll have to..."

  Off in the distance, shapes moved among the shadows far to the right of the bench. Shannon's stomach went cold and tight.

  "Shhhh!"

  "What?" Laura whispered.

  "Someone's coming."

  "Oh, God."

  They both went silent.

  The shapes came out of the shadows, walked into moonlight, and Shannon saw they were people. Four of them wore dark, flowing garments. The robes Hunter had talked about? If so, these were probably members of the group. He'd said there were a dozen or more of them.

  Those who'd attacked Shannon and Laura didn't seem to be among them.

  Might be. Maybe they put robes on after they left us.

  She doubted it, though.

  This must be four of their pals.

  One walked at each end, and one on each side, of a line of smaller people.

  The smaller people walked single-file with their heads down. They didn't wear robes. They seemed to be in different kinds of costumes. A clown? One seemed to be sporting a cowboy hat. Another wore a cape that fluttered in the wind. One looked white from head to toe and seemed to be some sort of monster.

  In all, Shannon counted seven smaller people.

  Are they kids? she wondered. They must be. Some were larger than others, but all were smaller than their robed escorts. And all of them appeared to be wearing costumes.

  She whispered, "Oh, man."

  "What?" Laura asked, her voice so quiet Shannon could barely hear it through the sounds the wind made.

  "They've got kids."

  "Huh?"

  "Looks like... this cult or whatever... they've snatched a bunch of trick or treaters."

  "Oh, my God."

  "Must be seven kids over there. They're all in a line, maybe tied together."

  The group came to a stop in the area between the marble bench and the Kneeling Girl.

  Shannon heard a rough male voice. Though she couldn't make out the words and her view was partially blocked, she saw kids get down on their knees.

  It made her think of grainy, black and white film... documentaries in which a man walks up behind each kneeling person and puts a Luger to the back of the head and fires and the person tumbles forward into a pit.

  They wouldn't...

  "What're they doing?" Laura whispered.

  "I'm not sure."

  One of the kids... the white monster... suddenly leaped up and made a break for it.

  "Get him!"

  "Stop him!"

  Two of the robed figures gave chase.

  "Go, kid!" Shannon whispered.

  "What?"

  "Kid's making a getaway. Two assholes chasing him and... Oh, shit."

  "What?"

  "Kid's running straight toward us."

  CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

  Don't do this to us, kid! Shannon shouted in her mind. Turn! Dodge 'em! Run somewhere else!

  He didn't. He sprinted over much the same route Shannon and Laura had used, leading the two robed adults closer and closer to them.

  One of the pursuers was gaining on him fast. A man. Very large and strong-looking. His hood had fallen away and his robe was open, his bare legs reaching out with long strides.

  Kid doesn't stand a chance.

  If this guy nails him quick enough, Shannon thought, may be we won't get seen.

  They're so close already.

  The lead pursuer leaped and tackled him. The kid grunted as he slammed against the ground.

  Fifteen feet away?

  If we lie very still and don't make a sound...

  Now that the kid was down, the second pursuer stopped running. This one was tall and thin. The hood had fallen away. By what Shannon could see of the face, she appeared to be a woman. Her high, narrow head seemed entirely hairless

  Is she looking at us?

  Shannon doubted it. Though the woman's eyes were shadowed pits, she held her head at an angle that suggested she was watching the struggle between her accomplice and the kid.

  The kid wouldn't give up. Facedown under the man who'd tackled him, he thrashed and squirmed and kicked.

  Then the man bent an arm up behind his back.

  The kid gasped, "Yeeeah!" and stopped moving.

  "Cocksucker," the man said. "I oughta rip yer arm off."

  He shoved it higher. The kid squealed.

  The woman stopped beside them. Looking down, she said, "We told you what would happen if you tried to run away. We warned you, didn't we." It didn't sound much like a question. "So what did you do? You tried to run away. Royce, get him on his feet."

  Royce climbed off the kid and hauled him off the ground.

  "What's your name?" the woman asked.

  "Betsy."

  "Betsy?" The woman chuckled. "Had me fooled."

  With Royce holding the girl from behind, the woman reached out with both hands and pulled off Besty's mask. The mask, completely covering the girl's head, came off with a rubbery, peeling sound. Her short, dark hair was matted down.

  "What're you supposed to be?" the woman asked.

  "A monster."

  She laughed. "We're the monsters around here, honey."

  That got a chuckle from the man.

  Then the woman swung the leather mask, slapping Betsy across the face with it. The girl flinched and gasped.

  All three - Royce, Betsy and the woman - were standing with their sides toward Shannon and Laura. The girl seemed to have the full attention of the two adults.

  With a little luck, Shannon thought, they'll never look over here and see us.

  But she flinched, herself, when the woman again whapped Betsy across the face with the mask. This time, Betsy began to sob.

  "What'd I say would happen if you tried to run away?"

  "Said... you'd kill us."

  "Didn't you believe me?"

  "Yes."

  "Did you think I was joking?"

  "No."

  "Did you want to get killed?"

  This time, her voice climbed high as she said, "No."

  "Then why did you run?"

  Betsy sniffed a couple of times. "I... I didn't think you'd catch me."

  "You didn't think. That was your problem."

  The girl didn't answer. She stood there, held by Royce, her head tilted back, apparently staring into the woman's eyes.

  "Now," the woman said, "I'm afraid I'll have to kill you, just to teach you a lesson, but also as an example to the others. When they see what I do to you, well... I don't think any of them will try to run away."

  "Don't. Please?"

  The woman turned her head away. "See? They're all watching."

  Royce and Betsy looked, too.

  The woman called out, "Watch this, children!" Facing Betsy, she reached inside her robe and pulled out a dagger.

  "You better not," Betsy said, her voice quivering. " 'Cause of you'll go to Hell if you do."

  Royce chuckled softly.

  "Isn't that cute?" the woman said.

  "Leave her alone," Shannon said.

  The three heads jerked sideways. Though their eyes were hidden in shadow, Shannon fell them searching the ground for her, finding her, locking on to her and Laura.

  "Sorry,
Laura," she whispered.

  "It's okay. I wanted to. I was just too scared."

  "Who's there?" the woman asked.

  "Mulder and Scully. You're under arrest."

  "A comedian," Royce said.

  "Hang on to the kid," the woman said. Walking slowly toward them, she reached into a pocket of her robe and took something out.

  A flashlight.

  Its beam leaped through the darkness, lit the grass in front of Shannon, then swept over her. She squinted when the glare hit her eyes.

  "I don't think these two'll be giving us much trouble," the woman called.

  The brightness slid away from Shannon's eyes and she was able to see the woman walking toward her.

  "Well, well, well," the woman said. "All trussed up and nowhere to go."

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

  Hunter and Charles waited at the foot of the stairs for Tony to come down.

  Hunter was sitting upright on the third stair from the bottom, close to the banister where he'd scooted to let Tony climb by. Charles stood on the foyer floor, facing the stairway, the sword resting against his shoulder.

  "What's taking him so long?" Hunter asked.

  "I don't know." Charles didn't seem worried.

  "He said he'd be down in a minute."

  "Guess it's taking him a little longer."

  "A lot longer. What'd he go up for?"

  "None of your business."

  "Do you know?" Hunter asked. He'd watched Tony whispering close to Charles's bandaged ear just before hurrying upstairs, so he figured that Charles must know something.

  "I'm not supposed to tell."

  "What, did he have to take a dump or something?"

  Charles swung up a foot and kicked Hunter in the shin. Not hard. More of a warning than a punishment.

  It hurt, though. Hunter said, "Hey."

  "Don't be a wiseass."

  "Aren't you worried about him?"

  "Why should I be?"

  Hunter hesitated. Though Charles and Tony had seemed to believe him about the girls being abducted - and had talked about attempting a rescue - they still didn't trust him very much.

  "I just hope he's all right," Hunter said.

  "Why wouldn't he be?" Charles had a sharpness in his voice. "Is someone up there?"

  "No. Not really."

  "Not really?"

  "I mean no," Hunter said. "Nobody's up there. You went upstairs. You didn't see anyone, did you?"

  "Plenty of places to hide. If you've got a... an accomplice or something upstairs..."

 
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