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Authors: Richard Laymon

Tags: #Fiction - Horror

Funland (10 page)

BOOK: Funland
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Should’ve known it was too good to be true, he thought.

Probably Tanya’s idea to stand me up like this.

Tanya.

Jeremy sank down and hugged his knees to his chest.

Big joke. Set up the nerd. All the time, they were laughing at me behind my back.

Maybe they’re only late, he thought.

Sure thing.

He slid up the cuff of his jacket and pressed a button to illuminate the numerals on his wristwatch. Twelve minutes after one.

They
might
be late, he told himself. I’ll give it till one-thirty.

He suddenly heard quick, quiet footfalls.

They’re here!

His gloom vanished. He sprang up and stepped around the side of the ticket booth, smiling and raising a hand to greet them.

The girl, a few strides away, let out a startled gasp. She lurched to a stop.

She wore a backpack and carried an instrument case that looked as if it might hold a banjo.

Her face was a faint blur in the darkness. But she didn’t look short and skinny enough to be Liz, or large enough to be Tanya.

“Sorry if I scared you,” Jeremy said.

Her head turned. She looked to the sides, then glanced behind her.

“The others aren’t here yet.”

She faced Jeremy. “So you’re one of
them?””

Not,
So you’re one of us?

He felt like a fool. The backpack and banjo should’ve tipped him off. She wasn’t a town kid. She was a camper or drifter or something.

“Depends who you mean by ‘them,’” Jeremy said, wondering what she knew.

“The trollers.”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. What’re trollers?”

Again the girl looked over her shoulder. Then she walked straight toward Jeremy. “Get out of my way, kid.” It was no timid request. It was a command. Jeremy sidestepped out of her path.

She walked past him. She looked to the right and left, but not back at him, and made her way straight across the boardwalk to the open place between the railings. She trotted down the stairs to the beach.

When she reached the sand, only the top of her head showed. Moments later, her shoulders and backpack came into view. She turned around, and Jeremy felt a quick tug of fear. But she didn’t come toward him. She walked backward several paces, then swung around again and strode away in the direction of the shore.

“Bitch,” Jeremy muttered.

Get out of my way, kid.
What was her problem, talking like that?

I should’ve stood my ground and said: Yeah? Who’s gonna make me?

And she smiles—oh, she’s a tough one—and sets down her banjo and swings the pack off her shoulders and takes off her coat. She’s wearing a T-shirt. And she pulls that over her head because that’s just how she likes to fight, in nothing but her jeans.

Jeremy imagined her, bare to the waist, her skin creamy in the moonlight, her nipples dark. She came for him slowly. Hunched over like a wrestler. Arms out. Circling him, looking for an opening.

Don’t force me to hurt you, he warns.

You and what army? she asks.

Yeah, that’d be something. Wrestling with her, throwing her down. It could get really interesting then.

Better, though, if she were Tanya.

How about that, wrestling with Tanya?

She’d cream me.

It’d be worth it, though.

Where is she!

A hand clapped Jeremy on the shoulder, and he flinched and whirled around.

“Snuck up on you Indian-style,” Cowboy said.

“Jeez, you scared the shit out of me.”

“Lucky it was just me. You gotta be on your guard, you’re out here alone. The fuckers’ll have you for breakfast.”

“Where’re the others?”

“Home in bed, I reckon.”

“What’s going on?”

“They called it off for tonight.”

I was right! Jeremy thought. They don’t hate me. It wasn’t a setup.

He had a tightness in his throat and a tingling hollow ache between his eyes, as if he were very close to crying, but he didn’t know whether it was relief or disappointment that made him feel so strange.

“How come?” he asked.

“Damn story in the
Standard.
Did you see it?”

Jeremy shook his head.

“Some goat-twat reporter did a number on us. Read the dag-blamed riot act. Nate figured the heat might be too much tonight. You seen any cops around here?”

“No.” He thought about mentioning the girl, but decided against it.

“Well, I didn’t reckon it’d be a problem. Nate, though, he likes to play it careful. He was afraid they might have the place staked out tonight or something. Make a big play to grab us. So he got on the horn to Tanya and talked her out of tonight’s little hoot.”

“I didn’t know,” Jeremy said.

“Why do you think I’m here, Duke? Couldn’t have you waiting out here all night, the party called off.”

“Well, thanks.”

“Would’ve been here sooner, but you know how it goes.”

“Sure,” Jeremy said. “Better late than never.”

“Hope you didn’t think we forgot about you.”

“Naw. I figured it was something like this.”

“Come on, let’s get out of here before
we
get jumped.”

Jeremy followed him toward the archway. “Jumped by who?” he asked.

“The trolls, man.”

He remembered that the girl had asked if he was a troller. “What’s all this troll stuff?” he asked.

“You know,
trolls.”

“Like monsters that live under bridges?”

“You got it, Duke. Under bridges, under
boardwalks,
on the beach, everywhere. They’re like cockroaches. They hide in all the dark places, then they come out and get you.”

“That’s fairy-tale stuff.”

“You calling me a fairy?” Cowboy elbowed him and laughed.

They trotted down the concrete stairs and Jeremy nodded toward his chained bike.

“We’re not talking fairy-tale trolls,” Cowboy told him. “We’re talking bums, winos, space cadets, like the buttwipe tried to hit you up for change before I came to your rescue.”

“He was a troll?”

“Durn tootin’.”

Jeremy stopped beside his bike and dug into his corduroys for the key case. There was no other bicycle in the rack. “How’d you get here?” he asked.

“Walked. You oughta walk too, next time.”

Next time!

“When’ll that be?” he asked, trying to control his excitement and sound nonchalant.

“Who knows? Tanya, she’d be at it every night if Nate didn’t keep her in line. So she’ll be rarin’ to go by tomorrow, I reckon.”

“Count me in, okay?”

“You betcha, Duke.”

Smiling, Jeremy crouched to open the padlock.

“But lose the bike,” Cowboy told him. “Never know when we might have to vamoose fast. You don’t want to be tied to something like that, you might have to leave it behind.”

“I’ll walk, next time.” He pulled the chain free, wrapped it around the seat post, and locked its ends together. Then he rolled his bike backward out of the rack. “Maybe we can meet and come down together.”

“Sorry, man. You’re okay, but you ain’t no Liz.”

“Hey, that’s all right. No problem.”

They started off side by side, Jeremy rolling his bike.

“What is it that you do, anyway?” he asked. “You know, when you meet over here?”

“Have us some fun.”

“Are you…trollers?”

“You got it, Duke. They’re the trolls, we’re the trollers.”

Jeremy nodded. All his guesses, he realized, had been wrong. Even the crazy ones.

“So what you do,” he said, “you go hunting for them?”

“Fishing’s more like it. Trolling, get it? We just put out the bait. We worm the hook. Tanya makes a right fine worm. One of them comes along and bites, we reel him in. Then we have us some fun with him. Or her.”

“You beat them up or something?”

“Or something.” Cowboy turned his face toward Jeremy. The brim of his hat hid his eyes, but his mouth was a tight line. “You got a problem with that?”

“Me? No. Fuck ’em.”

The mouth tipped into a grin. “Figured you’d see it that way, Duke. I can always tell. I saw the look on your face when that scum on the boardwalk went sucking up to you. You damn near crapped your skivvies.”

“Hey, I wasn’t—”

“Yeah, man, you were scared brown. But that wasn’t all. You looked like you wanted to rip his heart out and shove it up his Rio Grande.”

Jeremy smiled. “Really?”

“You know it, man. And that’s how the rest of us feel. Those maggots, they make your skin crawl, and they got no right messing with you. They oughta do us all a favor and crawl in a hole and die.”

“But they don’t,” Jeremy said.

“Shit, no. What they do, they crawl right up out of their holes and get in your face. ‘Got a quarter, friend?’” Cowboy mimicked in a withered, whiny voice. “‘Poor me, I ain’t had a bite to eat in a week. Can y’spare two-bits?’ And you just know the creep’s gonna
touch
you if you don’t come across with the coins.”

That’s just how it is, Jeremy thought. That’s
exactly
how it is.

“Know what I say?” Cowboy asked.

“Fuck ’em.”

“I say, ‘No quarter, troll.’ Do you know what that means, ‘no quarter’?”

“He isn’t going to get any money off you.”

“More than that, Duke. More than that. No quarter.”

Ten

“Baxter.”

“Huh? Whuh?”

“Wake up.”

Moaning, he opened his eyes. The motel room was dark. He was lying on his side, Kim’s warm body curled against his back. “What is it?” he mumbled.

“Let’s get up,” she whispered, her breath tickling the nape of his neck.

“Huh? It’s…middle of the night.”

“It’s a little after three,” she said.

“Jesus.”

“Let’s get up and go out, okay?”

“Go
out?”

“Down to the beach. We’ll have it all to ourselves.”

“You’re out of your mind.”

“It’ll be neat.”

“Neat. Forget it.”

“Please?” She brushed her lips against his neck. Her hand roamed down his chest and belly, caressing him. “It’ll be so romantic. We’ll watch the sun come up.”

“Wrong coast,” he muttered.

“It’ll still come up. Okay? It’ll be something we’ll always remember, you know? Watching the sun come up, our first morning together.”

“This isn’t the first.”

“The first as man and wife. I want it to be special.”

“We’d freeze our cans.”

“We’ll take a blanket. Okay? Please?” Her hand moved lower and gently pulled him. “I’ll make it worth your while, big fella.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Kim said. “So how about it?”

“We must be out of our minds.”

“You’ll love it, just wait and see.”

The mattress rocked Baxter as she rolled away from him and bounded off the bed. Light hit his eyes, stinging them like soapy water. He squeezed them shut. And felt the covers fly off, leaving him naked and chilled.

“Aw, jeez.”

“Up up up,” Kim chirped, grabbing his ankles and dragging his legs toward the bedside.

He squinted at her. She was bent over, gazing at him through a soft sway of bangs, a rosy suck mark on her shoulder. When she let go of his legs, he sat up.

“Last one dressed is a rotten egg,” she said.

“Consider me a rotten egg.” He sat there and watched Kim prance over to her open suitcase. Her rump jiggled slightly. It had the same golden tan as her back and legs except for a stark white triangle down the middle.

It’ll be cold out there, he told himself. But it will be neat. She’s right about that. Something to remember.

Kim stepped into baggy gray sweatpants. She hunched over a little as she knotted the drawstring at her waist. Then she lifted a matching sweatshirt out of her suitcase and turned around. “You just going to sit there?”

“Admiring the view.”

He watched her breasts rise as her arms went up to pull the sweatshirt over her head. They swayed slightly as she searched for the sleeves. Her hands appeared and plucked the front down. “View all gone,” she said.

“Shucks.”

She took her hairbrush off the dresser and went into the bathroom. While she was gone, Baxter put on his own sweatsuit. It was the same as Kim’s, but not as old. He’d bought it as a replacement after Kim had moved into his condo and started wearing his sweats on chilly mornings. He was tying his shoes by the time she came out of the bathroom.

He went in and brushed his teeth. On the counter beside the sink was the plastic bottle of suntan oil. After rinsing his mouth, he picked up the bottle and slipped it into the pouchlike pocket of his sweatshirt.

Kim was folding the bed’s blanket when he returned. He saw that her shoes were on.

At the dresser he picked up the room key by its big plastic tag printed with the name and address of the motel. He dropped it into his pocket with the suntan oil.

She raised her eyebrows. “What’ve you got in there?”

He took out the bottle and showed her.

“Well, now. I see you’re getting into the spirit of things.”

“Might as well make the best of it.”

He opened the door and they stepped out onto the balcony. The street in front of the motel was well-lighted, but no cars were going by and he saw no one wandering about. The parking lot of the all-night market across the street was deserted.

“Neat, huh?” Kim asked. She put an arm around his back and snuggled against his side. “It’s like we’re the only people in the world.”

“They’re all snug in bed.”

“We’ll be snug on the beach.”

They walked to the end of the balcony and down the flight of stairs and across the motel’s parking lot. Though Baxter felt her warmth where her body pressed his, the wind seemed to be seeping through his sweatclothes. He began to shiver, and he gritted his teeth to stop their clicking.

“Poor boy,” Kim said. Stopping at the corner, she shook open the blanket. They draped it across their shoulders and pulled it closed in front. That was a lot better. Kim slipped her hand inside the rear of his pants, and that was better still.

They walked past a bum sleeping huddled against a store wall. Kim’s hand stopped roaming.

BOOK: Funland
13.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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