Authors: Richard Laymon
Tags: #Fiction - Horror
At once, she regretted bolting in this direction. She should’ve leapt the railing and dropped to the beach. Or gone to the left, tried to dodge the troll and make it out to the street. But now she was racing south on the boardwalk, deeper into the abandoned fun zone. No way out on her left. No way out on her right without climbing fences that surrounded the rides.
Chance it? she wondered.
The thudding footfalls of the troll didn’t seem to be getting closer. She risked a glance over her shoulder. He was about twenty feet back, farther away than he’d been when she bolted from the bench.
He looked like a giant.
But he wasn’t
He won’t win any track races, Gloria thought. But her terror didn’t subside at all. Not a bit of it. She heard high whiny noises squeaking out of her as she tried to quicken her pace.
If he gets me, he’ll rip me up.
That’s absurd, she told herself. I’m not a kid. He’s not a homicidal giant. This isn’t a fairy tale. This isn’t a nightmare.
What’s the worst that can happen, really?
He rapes and kills me.
A nasty corner of her mind whispered,
That isn’t the worst.
She glanced back again. Now the troll was even farther behind.
I’m going to make it! If I don’t trip. If he doesn’t corner me. If there aren’t
waiting in the dark places up ahead.
God, she wished the trollers were here!
you, Billy Goat Gruff?
Billy Goat Gruff.
He’s a troll. He’s a troll. A kid’s worst nightmare of what’s lurking under the bridge. Jesus!
Just ahead, on the right, was the Tilt-a-Whirl. Gloria wondered if she should try for it. What if she had trouble getting over the fence? Once she stopped running, the troll would be on her in seconds. If she snagged her skirt or…
No. She didn’t dare.
Keep running, she told herself. Widen your lead.
go for a fence.
Once you’re on the beach…
Light suddenly spilled out of a doorway on the right. It wasn’t at boardwalk level, but at the top of a raised platform.
Dunn’s place, she realized.
His Oddities place.
Jasper Dunn’s tall, cadaverous figure appeared in the lighted doorway. He was wearing his top hat and tails. He raised his cane high and twirled it. “Over here!” he called to her. “Quickly!”
Gloria raced for him.
She had never thought she would be glad to see Jasper Dunn.
Better him than what’s behind me, she thought.
Breathless, she bounded up the wooden stairs.
“Quickly, quickly,” Jasper urged her. “You’ll be safe here.”
He stepped out of the way. Gloria flung herself through the doorway.
When she shrieked and whirled around to flee, he rammed the tip of his cane into her belly. She folded and dropped to her knees.
Behind her, trolls whispered and giggled.
“Shall we have her walk the house?” Jasper asked.
Trolls cheered and clapped and whooped.
The worst that can happen…?
Gloria suddenly knew she was about to find out.
Dave shut off the alarm and blinked at the clock, confused for a moment until he remembered why he’d set the alarm to wake him half an hour early; he’d wanted time to check on Gloria before heading in to work.
Pain in the ass.
Not half the pain of last night, though—going out to search for her. Putting Joan through that. The business under the boardwalk had really frightened her. And
her. Back at her place afterward, she’d opened her blouse enough to slip it off her shoulder, and they’d both taken a look. Her upper arm had a nasty bruise from the collision with the post.
Dave remembered that he’d only glanced at the bruise before turning his eyes to the smooth, unblemished areas, savoring the mellow hue of her tanned skin against the stark white of her bra strap and the way her blouse was pulled crooked and taut over the rise of her breast.
He lay back on the bed, closed his eyes, and let his mind linger on the memories.
The hollow of her throat. The hollow above the curve of her collarbone. The way her head was twisted sideways as she strained to study her injury. “Scarred for life,” she’d said.
“You’ll just have to keep your shirt on.”
“Pity.” Raising her arm, she made the blouse fall back onto her shoulder. She didn’t bother with the buttons. She placed her hands on Dave’s sides and gazed into his eyes. “So,” she said. “Here we are.”
“Alone at last.”
“Not a minute too soon.”
He kissed her smile and felt it vanish, and Joan clutched him hard against her—so hard that her ribs pressed his wound and he flinched. She whispered “Sorry” into his mouth. She relaxed her hold on him, but kissed him with even greater urgency.
Urgency. Hunger. She acted as if she’d been unleashed, and Dave felt the same way. They’d been kept apart too long.
Dave yanked the blouse tails out of her jeans. He swept his hands up her back. Squirming against him, she sucked his tongue into her mouth. He undid the catches of her bra. All her back, waist to shoulders, was silken and warm under his hands.
Then came the soft thud of a car door bumping shut.
Joan pulled her mouth away. She stared into his eyes. She stood rigid. “It’s Debbie,” she whispered.
Moments later a doorknob rattled. A key ratcheted into a lock.
In the time it took for Debbie to enter the kitchen door and reach the living room, Dave and Joan broke apart and sat down at opposite ends of the sofa. Joan had time to wipe her mouth dry. Dave had time to pick up the TV
When the girl walked in, he looked up at her. He was stunned. Though Debbie wasn’t identical to Joan, she bore an amazing resemblance. Her body, not so developed, was definitely feminine but had a boyish look about it. Her face still had the look of a girl in early adolescence, a freshness and innocence that would soon be left behind and lost forever. Dave felt a small tug of sorrow. This was much the way Joan must’ve looked at sixteen, and he regretted that he hadn’t known her then.
He rose to his feet as she approached.
“You’re home early,” Joan said.
“The party was a drag.” Her mouth twisted as if it didn’t know what to do with itself—whether to smile or sneer or grimace. She pressed her lips into a tight line. She shrugged. She looked at Dave and held out her hand.
“I’m Dave,” he said, shaking it.
“Yeah, I figured. Nice to meet you.”
“In case you haven’t guessed,” Joan said, “that’s my sister, Debbie.”
“So, did I interrupt something here?”
“Just having a friendly chat,” Joan said.
“Oh, I’ll bet.”
“It turned out that there
any boys at the party, huh?”
Something happened to Debbie’s face. It looked for a moment as if she were about to smirk and make a quip. Then her eyebrows puckered downward, her eyes filled with tears, her mouth stretched crooked, and her chin trembled.
Joan looked stricken. “Debbie! My God, what’s…?”
Shaking her head fiercely, the girl rushed out of the room.
Joan leapt to her feet. She met Dave’s eyes. “I’m sorry. Dammit. I’d better see what’s wrong.”
“I’ll make myself scarce.”
“You don’t have to leave.”
“Yeah. I should. Take care of Debbie. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Yeah.” He pulled her against him, gave her a quick kiss, and released her. She hurried toward the hallway. Her shirttail was draping the seat of her pants.
Dave glanced at the clock on the nightstand.
You’re going to waste your whole half-hour, he thought. No, not a waste. Not at all.
He rolled out of bed, gritted his teeth when the morning air wrapped his body, and hurried to put on his robe. He knotted its belt as he headed for the bathroom.
He wondered if Joan had fastened her bra on the way to Debbie’s room.
The girl had sure picked a lousy time to come home.
Poor kid, though. She’d been awfully upset. Must’ve had a rough time at the party.
Whatever the problem, Joan had probably made it better. Wouldn’t be easy to stay upset with her comforting you.
Half an hour later, his hair still damp from the shower, Dave hurried out to his car. He tossed his jacket onto the passenger seat—always good to have it along in case the fog should roll in—and backed out of the driveway.
He felt wonderful. Soon he would be with Joan again.
Maybe they could get together tonight and not be interrupted. Ask her over to
And tomorrow was their day off.
Have to think of something…
He turned the corner, making a left toward Gloria’s house, and a shadow blew in across his good mood.
Just let her be there, he thought.
The last thing he needed was to spend another day worrying about her.
She’ll be there, he told himself.
Please. I want it over.
He swung around the next corner, peered up the block, and saw Gloria’s Volkswagen in the driveway of her house.
He muttered, “Dumb bitch.”
He thought: Thank God.
Torn between relief that she’d made it home and anger that she’d caused such trouble with her stunt, he pulled in behind her car. He leapt out and rushed to her door. He jabbed the doorbell button, heard the ringing inside the house, waited.
Come on, dammit! Move your tail.
He listened for her footsteps. And remembered other times he’d stood here, times when he’d been eager to hear Gloria approaching the door. Those times were not very long ago.
How could everything change so quickly?
A hot wave of guilt spread through him.
She brought it on herself by being such a…
Where is she?
Dave pounded on the door, shaking it in its frame.
“Gloria,” he called. “Come on, open up. We need to talk.”
She didn’t open up.
Her house key was in Dave’s hand, still clipped to his key case. He fumbled it away from the others, unlocked and opened the door partway. He put his head into the gap. The living room looked deserted. There was a stillness to the house.
He swung the door wide and entered.
“Gloria!” he called again.
She was a very sound sleeper and always locked her bedroom door before retiring for the night, so Dave supposed he might’ve failed to wake her. He strode down the hallway. The bathroom door stood open. She wasn’t inside. He continued on to her bedroom.
Its door wasn’t shut. The bed wasn’t made.
He took four steps into the room.
The chair beside her closet door was piled with clothes.
On top of the heap was a dirty gray sweatshirt. From where he stood, Dave could see ragged holes in it. A corner of purple fabric drooped off the chair’s seat. The legs of red tights hung to the floor. The tights, like the sweatshirt, gaped here and there with holes.
These were the clothes that Joan had described to him yesterday at lunch.
Must’ve been up half the night snipping away at them.
Dave walked to the chair. How many times had he thrown his own clothes onto it? Gloria rarely used it for that herself. She must’ve been really beat when she came in last night, too tired to bother putting them away or tossing them in the hamper.
Maybe left them heaped up on purpose, to improve their rumpled appearance.
Dave picked up the sweatshirt and flung it onto the bed. He lifted the next garment off the chair seat. A grimy white T-shirt. She hadn’t been at this with scissors.
He wrinkled his nose at the faint stale odor of sweat and tossed the shirt aside.
She’d sure gotten into the spirit of her masquerade. Even down to the small detail of going without antiperspirant.
He picked up the skirt. Joan was right about it. Gloria hadn’t owned a frumpy thing like this; she must’ve picked it up at the Salvation Army store or someplace else that sold cast-off rags.
It was the kind of skirt that fastened at the side with a button and zipper.
The button was gone.
Not only was the button missing, but so was a small patch of fabric where it must’ve been sewn to the waistband.
As if Gloria had ripped the skirt open.
Gloria, or someone else.
After flinging the skirt onto the bed, Dave got down on his hands and knees and searched the carpet. He found no button.
That doesn’t mean it’s not around here someplace.
He looked for the button on Gloria’s nightstand, and on top of the bureau.
This is crazy, he thought. Upset about a stupid button. It could be anywhere.
Could be on the boardwalk. On the beach. Where someone yanked her skirt open.
Christ, don’t jump to conclusions.
Dave’s hands were trembling as he picked up the red tights. They were dirty and torn, but Gloria had undoubtedly made them that way on purpose.
A pair of black panties remained on the chair. He picked them up. He had seen her wearing them, or similiar ones. There was little to them other than a thin elastic waistband and flimsy, sheer fabric a few inches wide at the top that tapered down to almost nothing where it would pass between her legs.
Dave scowled at the panties.
For some reason, he found them as disturbing as the lost button.
Why? They weren’t torn.
What’s wrong here? Dave wondered.
He dropped the panties onto the chair, stared at them, and knew.
What the hell were they doing at the bottom of the pile? Underneath the tights that had to come off first. They should’ve been
top of the tights, probably on top of the skirt, as well.
For that matter, they should’ve been on top of the entire heap. She nearly always took her panties off last. Often left them on, and nothing else, while she paraded around the house doing last-minute chores before bed: hanging up clothes, brushing her teeth, turning off lights.
Why were her panties at the bottom of the pile?