The traveling vampire sh.., p.9
The Traveling Vampire Show, p.9Richard Laymon
“If Julian keeps his word.”
“Ohhhhh, man. This is gonna be some night, huh?”
“I’ll say,” I said. “If we can go.”
“We’re going. Man, we’re going—I don’t care what.”
“Maybe I can finish mowing the lawn before Slim gets here.”
Rusty sat on the porch stairs of my house and watched me finish mowing the front lawn. Then he stood around while I did the back yard and both sides. I was sweaty and out of breath by the time I’d finished. He came with me when I put the mower away in the garage.
Just as we were leaving the garage, Mom drove up. She parked in the driveway and climbed out of her car. She was dressed in her tennis whites—a good clue as to where she’d been.
“I was afraid you’d given up on the yard,” she said.
“No. I just took a little break.”
“Hi, Mrs. Thompson.”
“How’s everything?” she asked him.
“Just fine, thank you.”
After a quick glance around, she asked us, “Where’s d’Artagnan?”
She could only mean Slim.
“On her way over,” I said, though I was starting to wonder why she hadn’t shown up yet.
“She had to stop by her house,” Rusty explained.
To deflect a possible interrogation, I asked Mom, “How was the tennis?”
She beamed. “I trounced Lucy.”
“Good going,” Rusty said.
“Shouldn’t you have let her win?” I asked.
I asked that because Lucy Armstrong was the principal of Grandville High—where Mom taught English and where Rusty, Slim and I were students.
“She wins often enough with no help from me. It’s high time I got the upper hand. I beat her in three straight sets and she had to pay for our lunch. Just wasn’t her day, I guess.” Mom looked us over for a moment, then said, “Have you fellows had lunch yet?”
“Not yet,” I said.
“Well, why don’t you come inside the house and I’ll make you some sandwiches?”
She trotted up the porch stairs ahead of us, her tiny white skirt flouncing. I guess she was in pretty good shape for a person her age, but personally I wished her skirt could’ve been a little longer—like maybe long enough to cover her underwear?
Not that Rusty seemed to mind the view.
Inside the house, I said, “If you’d rather do something else, I can go ahead and make our sandwiches. No problem.”
“Sounds good. Any time I can get out of making a meal…” She smiled. “I’ll just go ahead and take my bath.”
Did she have to say that in front of Rusty? He was probably already imagining her in the tub. That’s the kind of guy he was. I know, because that’s also the kind of guy I was. Except not about my own mother. Not about Rusty’s mother, either, you wouldn’t want to imagine her naked. But Slim’s mom was another matter. She looked a lot like Slim, only taller and curvier. Whenever she was around, I had a hard time taking my eyes off her. Slim noticed, too, and seemed to think it was funny.
Rusty watched my mother climb the stairs. If she’d been Slim’s mom in a tiny skirt like that, I would’ve been doing the same thing, so I tried not to let it annoy me.
“We might take a walk into town or something after we eat,” I called up the stairs.
She stopped climbing, turned with one foot on the next stair, and looked down at me. I bet Rusty liked that view.
“So if we’re not here…” I said, and shrugged.
“Just be back in time for supper.”
“What’re we having?” I asked.
“Hamburgers on the grill.” Smiling, she added, “There’ll be enough for your friends if they’d like to join us.”
“That might be neat,” I said.
Rusty, looking embarrassed, shrugged and said, “Thank you. I’ll have to check with my folks, though.”
“We can go over to your place and ask,” I threw in.
“Good idea,” Rusty said.
“I’ll just go ahead and count on the three of you for burgers,” Mom said. “If somebody doesn’t show up, more for the rest of us.”
“Great,” I said.
“Thank you, Mrs. Thompson,” Rusty said.
Around adults, he was always excessively polite. Not unlike Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver, even though he looked more like a teenaged, overweight version of the Beave.
“Come on,” I told him, and led the way into our kitchen. I walked straight to the refrigerator. “Lemonade or Pepsi?” I asked.
“You kidding me? Pepsi.”
I opened the door, pulled out a can and handed it to him.
“Aren’t you having one?” he asked.
“I had a Coke over at Lee’s house.”
He snapped off the ring tab and dropped it into his Pepsi the way he always did. I figured someday he would swallow one of those ring-tabs and choke on it, but I didn’t say anything. I’d already warned him about it often enough so that I suspected he kept on dropping the rings into his cans just to annoy me.
Acting as if I hadn’t even seen him do it, I stepped over to the wall phone.
“What’re you doing?”
“Gonna call Slim, see why she isn’t here yet.”
I dialed her house.
As I listened to the ringing, Rusty took a drink of his Pepsi, then went over to the kitchen table and sat on a chair. He looked at me. He raised his eyebrows.
I shook my head.
So far, the phone had jangled seven or eight times. I let it continue to ring in case she was at the other end of her house, or something. I knew the ringing wouldn’t disturb anyone, because nobody lived there except Slim and her mother. And the mother was probably away at work.
After about fifteen rings, I hung up.
“Not home,” I said.
“She’s probably already on her way over…”
Just then came a thump of plumbing, followed by the shhhhh sound of water rushing through the pipes of the house. Mom had started to run her bath water.
Rusty lifted his gaze toward the ceiling—as if hoping to see her.
“Hey,” I said.
He grinned at me. “Maybe Slim’s taking a bath. Has the water running. Can’t hear the phone.”
After gulping down some more Pepsi, he suggested, “How about we give her five minutes, then try again?”
“If she’s running bath water, she’ll be in the tub five minutes from now.”
“But she’ll hear the phone,” he explained.
“Not if she’s taking a shower.”
“Girls don’t take showers.”
“Sure they do.”
Leering, Rusty said, “Nah. They just love to lounge in a tub full of sudsy hot water. They do it for hours. By candle light. Sliding a bar of perfumed soap over their bodies.”
“Right,” I said.
“Hey! Just thought of something! How would you like to be Slim’s bar of soap?”
“Get outa here,” I said.
“No, really. Think about it.”
“Or would you rather be Lee’s soap? Sliding all over her. Just think of all the places…”
“Knock it off, okay?”
I turned away from him, picked up the phone and dialed Slim’s number again. This time, I only let it ring twelve times before hanging up.
“Let’s go,” I said.
“Want to catch her in the tub?”
“I want to make sure she’s all right.”
“She should’ve been here by now. She’s not taking any bath, not with all those cuts on her back. Maybe a quick shower, but she would’ve been done with that a long time ago and it only takes five minutes to walk
“What about our sandwiches?”
“I’m not hungry,” I said. “And you ate a Ding-Dong in the woods.”
“That was hours ago.”
“We’ll get something later. Come on.”
“Shit,” Rusty muttered. He polished off his Pepsi, then scooted back his chair and stood up.
On our way to the front door, I said, “Slim did make it home, didn’t she? You stuck with her the whole way?”
“Almost. We split up at the corner.”
“At the corner?”
“The corner of her block.”
“Great,” I muttered, throwing open the screen door.
Rusty followed me onto the porch and down the stairs.
“So you don’t really know she made it home?”
“Her house was right there.”
“You should’ve walked her to the door.”
“And even if she made it into her house,” I said, “nobody was there to take care of her. Maybe she got inside and passed out, or something.”
“What was I supposed to do, go in with her? Then you’d be riding my ass for being alone in the house with her.”
I guess he was right about that.
“You could’ve at least made sure she was all right,” I muttered. “That’s all.”
Speaking slowly, in a clipped voice that sounded as if he might be running short of patience, Rusty said, “She told me she’d be fine. She said she didn’t want any help. She told me to go over to your place and she’d be along as soon as she got done bandaging herself up.”
“How was she supposed to put bandages on?” I asked. “The cuts are on her back.”
“Don’t ask me. I’m just telling you what she said.”
I said, “Damn it.” My throat felt tight and achy.
“Don’t worry, Dwight.” He sounded a little concerned, himself. “I’m sure she’s fine.”
Even though Slim didn’t have a father and her mother worked as a waitress at Steerman’s Steak House, she lived in a better neighborhood than mine and in a better house.
That’s because they inherited the house and some money from Slim’s grandparents.
Slim’s mother, Louise, had grown up in the house and continued to live there even after she got married. This was because she and her husband, a low-life shit named Jimmy Drake, couldn’t afford to move out. At the time of the wedding, she was already pregnant with Frances (Slim), and Jimmy had a lousy job working as a clerk in a shoe store. After Slim was born, Jimmy wouldn’t allow Louise to have a job.
Actually, this wasn’t unusual. Back in those days, most men preferred for their wives to stay home and take care of the family instead of run off to work every day. A lot of women seemed to like it that way, too.
In this case, though, Louise wanted to work. She hated living in her parents’ house. Not because she had problems with them, but because of Jimmy’s behavior. He drank too much. He had a violent nature and a horny nature and he enjoyed having people watch.
Slim never told me all the stuff that went on, but she said enough to give me the general picture.
To make it fairly brief, when she was three years old (so she’d been told), her grandfather fell down the stairs (or was shoved by Jimmy) in the middle of the night, broke his neck and died. That left Jimmy with the three gals.
God only knows what he did to them.
I know some of it. I know he tormented and beat all of them. I know he had sex with all of them. Though Slim never exactly came out and said it, she hinted that he’d forced them into all sorts of acts—including multi-generational orgies.
At the time it came to an end, Slim was thirteen and calling herself Zock.
She seemed strangely cheerful one morning. Walking to school with her, I asked, “What’s going on?”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“You’re so happy.”
“Happy? I’m ecstatic!”
“Jimmy (she never called him Dad or Pop or Father) went away last night.”
“Hey, great!” I was ecstatic, myself. I knew Slim hated him, but not exactly why. Not until later. “Where’d he go?” I asked.
“He took a trip down south,” she said.
“Like to Florida or something?”
“Further south,” she said. “Deep south. I don’t exactly know the name of the place, but he’s never coming back.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, hoping she was right.
“Pretty sure. Nobody ever comes back from there.”
“Where he went.”
“Where’d he go?”
“The Deep South,” she said, and laughed.
“If you say so,” I told her.
“And I do,” said she.
By then, we were almost within earshot of the crossing guard, so we stopped talking.
Though the subject of Jimmy’s trip came up quite a lot after that, I never learned any more about where he’d gone. “Deep South,” was about it.
I had my suspicions, but I kept them to myself.
Anyway, the grandmother died last year. She passed suddenly. Very suddenly, while in a checkout line at the Super M grocery market. As the story goes, she was bending over the push-bar of her shopping cart and reaching down to take out a can of tomato sauce when all of a sudden she sort of twitched and tooted and dived headfirst into her cart—and the cart took off with her draped over it, butt in the air. In front of her were a couple of little tykes waiting while their mother wrote a check. The runaway cart crashed through both kids, took down the mother, knocked their empty shopping cart out of the way, kept going and nailed an old lady who happened to be heading for the exit behind her own shopping cart. Finally, Slim’s grandma crashed into a display of Kingsford charcoal briquettes and did a somersault into her cart.
Nobody else perished in the incident, though one of the kids got a concussion and the old lady broke her hip.
That’s the true story of how the grandmother died (with the help of a brain aneurism) and that’s how Slim and her mother ended up living by themselves in such a nice house.
Side by side, Rusty and I climbed the porch stairs. I jabbed the doorbell button with my forefinger. From inside the house came the quiet ding-dong of the chimes.
But nothing else. No footsteps, no voice.
I rang the doorbell again. We waited a while longer.
“Guess she’s not here,” I said.
“Let’s find out.” Rusty pulled open the screen door.
“Hey, we can’t go in,” I told him.
Stepping in front of me, he tried the handle of the main door. “What do you know? Isn’t locked.”
“Of course not,” I said. In Grandville, back in those days, almost nobody locked their house doors.
Rusty swung it open. Leaning in, he called, “Hello! Anybody home?”
“Come on,” he said, and entered.
“I don’t know. If nobody’s home…”
“How’re we gonna know nobody’s home if we don’t look around? Like you said, maybe Slim passed out or something.”
He was right.
So I followed him inside and gently shut the door. The house was silent. I heard a ticking clock, a couple of creaking sounds, but not much else. No voices, no music, no footsteps, no running water.
But it was a large house. Slim might be somewhere in it, beyond our hearing range, maybe even unable to move or call out.
“You check around down here,” Rusty whispered. “I’ll look upstairs.”
“I’ll come with you,” I whispered.
We were whispering like a couple of thieves. Supposedly, we’d entered the house to find Slim and make sure she was okay. So why the whispers? Maybe it’s only natural when you’re inside someone else’s house without permission.
But it wasn’t only that. I
I was a nervous wreck, breathing hard, my heart pounding, dribbles of sweat running down my bare sides, my hands trembling, my legs weak and shaky as I climbed the stairs behind Rusty.
Over the years, we had spent lots of time in Slim’s house but we’d never been allowed inside it when her mother wasn’t home.
And we’d never been upstairs at all. Upstairs was off limits; that’s where the bedrooms were.
Not that Slim’s mother was unusually strict or weird. In those days, at least in Grandville, hardly any decent parents allowed their kids to have friends inside the house unless an adult was home. Also, whether or not a parent was in the house, friends of the opposite sex were never allowed into a bedroom. These were standard rules in almost every household.
Rusty and I, sneaking upstairs, were venturing into taboo territory.
Not only that, but this was the stairway where Slim’s grandfather had met his death. And at the top would be the bedrooms where Jimmy had done many horrible things to Slim, her mother and her grandmother.
There was also a slight chance that we might find Slim taking a bath.
And neither of us was wearing a shirt. That’s fine if you’re roaming around outside, but it makes you feel funny when you’re sneaking through someone else’s house.
No wonder I was a wreck.
At the top of the stairs, I said, “Maybe we oughta call out again.”
Rusty shook his head. He was flushed and sweaty like me, and had a frantic look in his eyes as if he couldn’t make up his mind whether to cry out with glee or run like hell.
In silence, we walked to the nearest doorway. The door was open and we found ourselves in a very spacious bathroom.
The tub was empty.
Good thing, I thought. But I felt disappointed.
What was nice about the bathroom, it had a fresh, flowery aroma that reminded me of Slim. I saw a pink oval of soap on the sink. Was that the source of the wonderful scent? I wanted to give it a sniff, but not with Rusty watching.
We went on down the hall, walking silently, Rusty in the lead. A couple of times, he opened doors and found closets. Near the end of the hall, we came to the doorway of a very large, corner bedroom.
Slim’s bedroom. It had to be, because of the book shelves. There were lots of bookshelves, and nearly all of them were loaded: rows of hardbounds, some neatly lined up, while others were tipped at angles as if bravely trying to hold up neighboring volumes; books of various sizes resting on top of the upright books; neat rows of paperbacks; crooked stacks of paperbacks and hardbounds; neat stacks of magazines; and scattered non-book items such as Barbie dolls, fifteen or twenty stuffed animals, an archery trophy she’d won at the YWCA tournament, a couple of little snow globes, a piggy bank wearing Slim’s brand new Chicago Cubs baseball cap and her special major league baseball—autographed by Ernie Banks.
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