Once Upon a Halloween, страница 8
"Let me check my pockets."
Laura expected at least a small, mocking laugh, but didn't get one.
"I'll see if I can reach any knots," Shannon said. "Stay loose."
Laura's arms, spread out wide, were drawn in toward her body on top of Shannon's moving arms. When her hands met the sides of her legs, she felt thick ropes underneath her fingers - the ropes binding her thighs to Shannon's, probably.
Ropes, but no knots.
She also felt Shannon's hands searching around down there. "Any knots?" she asked.
"No. Not here. Where're all the damn knots?"
"Mostly up here. On me." Laura had noticed several knots before, but now she turned her head from side to side and looked for them. "They're on the sides of my arms, up near the top." Raising her head, she looked down her moonlit body. Beyond her breasts and ribcage, her belly and hips were elevated high enough by her own and Shannon's buttocks to let her see the rope at her waist. "I've got a knot right about at my belly button. Can't see my legs." She tried to raise herself a little higher, but the shoulder ropes anchored her to Shannon.
Shannon arched her back. Rising slightly, Laura glimpsed the ropes around her thighs. Then she lowered her head and Shannon stopped straining upward. "Saw the knots. They're on top. No place I can reach them. I don't think we can reach any of these knots."
"I guess we'll have to try Plan B," Shannon said.
"What's Plan B?"
"I'll think of it pretty soon."
Laura stared straight above her. Leaves were tumbling, falling, sailing sideways, sometimes rising in the strong wind. Through the tangle of high, black branches, she watched shredded rags of clouds blow across the moon.
In different circumstances, she would've been delighted by the sights. So Halloween.
Tonight, they felt like a lousy joke.
I'll probably hate Halloween from now on, she thought.
Yeah, right. What do you mean, from now on?
Something skittered up between her breasts, tickling, pricking, racing toward her face. She gasped and flinched, jerking the ropes, making Shannon grunt with pain. Then the attacker climbed her chin and scooted over her lips, leaped off her nose.
"You okay?" Shannon asked.
"Just a leaf," Laura said.
"Take it easy, okay?"
"Yeah. Sorry. I didn't know what it was at first." Another leaf swooped down. After bumping her left nipple, it flipped over and climbed skyward. "How're you coming with Plan B?"
"I've been thinking about escape artists."
"Yeah? Too bad one of us isn't Houdini."
"You know how some of them do it? Escape artists? They hide keys and saws and things on their bodies. Like in their orifices."
"You wouldn't happen to have a knife up your ass?"
"Not at the moment. Sorry."
Shannon's laugh shook Laura.
Laura said, "If I did have a knife up my ass... or any other orifice... we couldn't use it anyway, not tied like this."
"That wouldn't have stopped Houdini," Shannon said.
"Too bad he's not here."
"I think he died on Halloween."
"Oh, well, nice to know we'll be in good company."
"I guess it's time for plan C," Shannon said.
"Do you have a plan C?"
"Well," said Laura, "maybe I do."
As Hunter hurried down the rest of the stairs, voices from those on the porch called out, "Trick or treat!" and Eleanor threw open the screen door.
"Wait!" Hunter called.
Eleanor rushed out. She tried to dodge past the larger of the two men - who seemed to be dressed as Sherlock Holmes. Laughing, he sidestepped and intercepted her. He threw his arms around her, pulled her against him and kissed her. She struggled for a moment, then wrapped her arms around him.
Couldn't he tell this was a stranger under the sheet?
Even though Eleanor seemed to be about the same size as Shannon, shouldn't her boyfriend know the difference?
Hard to imagine they kiss the same.
The way Eleanor and the man were writhing and moaning maybe the guy was too turned on to notice. Or to care.
His friend smiled as he watched the two go at it. Then he noticed Hunter in the doorway, and nodded a greeting, He was smaller than Holmes. The way his head was wrapped with white bandages Hunter thought at first he might be a mummy. Then he noticed that the bandages over his left ear were bloody and he wore a paint-spattered shirt similar to what Laura'd been wearing.
"Van Gogh?" Hunter asked.
Smiling and nodding, Van Gogh entered the house. He held out his hand. "I'm Charles," he said.
"I'm Hunter." As they shook hands, he explained, "Laura'll be down in a minute. She isn't quite ready yet."
Holmes led Eleanor through the doorway, towing her by the hand. His deerstalker cap was slightly askew. It hadn't been that way before. As the screen door banged shut, he said, "Hi, I'm Tony."
Hunter released Charles's hand and shook Tony's.
"I'm a neighbor," Hunter explained.
"Nice to meet you. Didn't know they had any..."
"I'm from down the block."
"Nice sword," Charles said. "Careful with it. I'd hate to lose my other ear."
"I'll be careful."
Charles glanced up the stairway as if hoping for Laura to appear.
Releasing Hunter's hand, Tony turned to Eleanor. "What happened to your hardboiled dick costume?"
Underneath the sheet, her shoulders moved up and down. "You don't like this?"
She doesn't sound much like Shannon, Hunter thought. But apparently her voice was similar enough to fool Tony. He hadn't caught on during all that kissing and hugging on the porch, so why should he notice a difference in her voice?
"I think it's great," he said.
Grinning at Eleanor, Charles blurted, "He's always wanted to get you between the sheets."
As Eleanor laughed, Tony swept off his deerstalker cap, let go of her hand, Lurched toward Charles and whipped him on the bloody side of the head.
Eleanor whirled around and ran for the door.
"No!" Hunter yelled.
She shoved the screen door open and dashed outside.
Hunter lunged forward to go after her, yelling, "Stop her! She isn't Shannon! She..."
Tackled from behind, he slammed down hard on the porch floor His sword scooted away and fell down the stairs. He tried to gel up, but someone scurried onto him. Sat on his rump. Bent both arms up behind his back.
Breath knocked out, he raised his head.
Eleanor was gone.
"It's all right!" Tony shouted. "Shannon? You can come back now! I've got him!"
Hunter lowered his head.
"Charlie, go and get her, okay?"
"You got this guy?"
"Yeah. Go get Shannon."
"Not till I've checked on Laura. Jesus. If he did anything to..."
Hunter heard quick pounding sounds of Charles running across
the foyer and up the stairs. In a scared voice, Charles called out, "Laura? Laura!"
"She better be all right," Tony said. His voice, hardly more than a whisper, sounded savage.
"That's your plan?" Shannon asked.
"Have you got a better idea?"
"I'll squash you."
"You're not that much bigger than me."
"I'm a lot heavier."
"I'll be okay. Anyway, whatever happens, it'll be better than staying here. They are gonna come back. We'd better be gone when they do."
Laura and Shannon brought their arms in against their sides and slid their legs together.
"So which way should we go?" Shannon asked.
"To my right. That'll be your left."
"The creek's over that way."
"Great idea," Shannon said. "If we get that far, we can drown."
"If we get that far, maybe they won't be able to find us, But don't know if we can make it." She turned her head and peered through the moonlight, "I think we can clear the end of the bench all right." Beyond the marble bench, she saw shadows, shifting patches of moonlight, scattered bushes and trees and the pale shapes of several tombstones. "If we can't make it to the creek, at least we can get away from where they left us."
"I guess anything's better than nothing," Shannon said.
"Attagirl," said Laura.
"Attagirl my ass."
"I'm ready if you are. You're the one about to be squished."
"Think light," Laura told her.
"Here we go."
The way they were lashed together, Laura had worried it might be difficult to roll over. But Shannon didn't have any trouble at all. She rolled to her left, tilting Laura sideways. Laura's right arm met the ground. A moment later, Shannon mashed her down, squeezing her breath out, pushing her bare skin into crunchy leaves, soft grass, scratchy twigs and rocks, dry things and moist things. It only lasted a second, though, before her right arm, right hip, right breast lifted off the ground. For a moment, her left breast, left ribs, left thigh and hip took all the weight. Then her left arm was pinned to the ground. Then the rolling swept her upward. She was once again on her back, facing the sky. Here and there, things were clinging to her. Leaves, she supposed.
Nothing worse than leaves, she hoped.
The rolling, not stopping, tipped her sideways and swung her down, driving her right arm against the ground, mashing her flat, rolling her up to the left and again to the top where she took a deep breath and glimpsed the moon behind the blowing limbs before rolling onto her side and down again.
It's working, she thought.
It's demolishing me, but its working.
When she was on the bottom, the crushing wasn't the worst par!. The worst part was not knowing what might be in the grass with her.
Worms, snails, spiders? Was she mashing them, bringing up their smeared bodies along with the leaves on her skin?
Then she remembered coming here on a warm evening last summer to work on a painting she'd called, "Twilight in the Garden of the Dead," and how she'd watched a stray dog digging furiously with its forepaws, snuffling at the ground, digging some more, then shoving its muzzle into the shallow hole, coming up with a bone in its mouth and trotting off, head high, tail wagging.
Am I rolling over old bones?
Hunter heard quick, heavy footfalls on the stairs. "She's gone," Charles called.
"Let's get this guy inside," Tony said and climbed off.
A moment later, both Hunter's arms were grabbed and he was hoisted to his feet and hauled backward off the porch, through the doorway and into the house. In the foyer, they let go and he fell. His rump pounded the floor. His back hit the edges of the two bottom stairs and his head bumped the third.
"Go out and get his sword," Tony said.
Charles hurried outside.
Tony pointed a finger at Hunter's face. "Don't move a muscle or you're dead."
"I didn't... do anything."
Charles returned with the sword. As the screen door banged shut, he closed the main door.
Tony glanced back at him. "What did you find upstairs?"
"No sign of Laura. There's broken stuff in her art room." Rage suddenly twisting his face, Charles raised the sword and lurched toward Hunter. "What did you do with her, you fucking bastard!"
Hunter cringed and flung his arms up t o protect his head. "I didn't touch her! I didn't touch either of them."
"The flick you didn't!"
"Please!" Hunter shouted. "I'm on your side! Somebody else took Laura!" He looked at Tony and cried out, "Shannon, too. That wasn't Shannon in the sheet! I tried to tell you!" He jerked his eyes toward Charles. "Put that down! I didn't do anything! They've got my girlfriend, too!"
Tony lifted a hand, signaling Charles to hold off with the sword. "They've got who?"
"My girlfriend. Connie Harris."
Something changed in Charles's eyes. "You know Connie Harris?"
"We... we sorta go together."
Tony glanced at Charles. "You know her?"
Charles asked Hunter, "Margaret's sister?"
Hunter nodded. "We were over at the graveyard and... this bunch of weirdos showed up and chased us. That's how I ended up here. Laura let me in."
Charles slowly lowered the sword.
"They were both trying to help me," Hunter said. "Laura and Shannon. I told 'em everything, and they were gonna call the cops but then we got jumped by these... the three that chased me in the graveyard. I got away and ran upstairs, but one came after me. Eleanor. That was her in the sheet." He stared into Tony's eyes. "Eleanor. The one you were kissing and everything, she was Eleanor, not Shannon."
Tony looked confused. "So where's Shannon?"
"And Laura?" asked Charles.
"The other two took them somewhere. I think to the graveyard. They're supposed to be sacrificed. Some sorta cult thing. A ritual, Connie, too, if she didn't get away."
Tony scowled down at him. "You've gotta be shitting us."
"A sacrifice?" Charles asked.
"A midnight sacrifice," Hunter said. "Eleanor told me about it, I had her as my prisoner before you guys showed up. I was gonna take her over to the graveyard and try to make a trade... her for Connie and Laura and Shannon. But now she's gone. Thanks to you," Hunter added, looking at Tony. "Should've listened to me in the first place and we could've caught her."
Tony glanced at Charles. "Do you buy all this stuff?"
"I don't know."
Hunter muttered, "Sherlock Holmes, my butt."
"Shut up," Tony said.
"You kissed her. Haven't you ever kissed Shannon before? Couldn't you tell the difference?"
He hesitated. "I guess it might've been a little different, but..."
"And didn't you notice she didn't have any clothes on under the sheet?"
"Yeah, I noticed."
"What, did you think Shannon was gonna go out with you in nothing but a sheet? To a party or whatever it was supposed to be?"
He shrugged. "Maybe. I did think it was kind of funny she had the sheet on. I mean, we'd talked it over. I was supposed to be Holmes and she was supposed to be a hard-boiled private eye. I asked her about it, remember?"
"I remember," Charles said.
"What I really thought, I guess, was she'd put the sheet on to be funny. You know, like it wasn't really supposed to be her costume."
"You didn't happen to notice she didn't have Shannon's voice?"
Again, Tony shrugged.
"Forget Holmes," Hunter muttered. "You should've dressed like Clousseau."
Charles said, "I thought she sounded odd."
"And you with just one ear," said Hunter.
"Knock it off," Tony snapped.
Looking at him, Charles said, "I think he's telling the truth about the gal not being Shannon."
"It's the truth, all right." Still sprawled backward against the stairs, Hunter touched the wound on his chest. "This is where Eleanor stuck me with her sword." He patted the knife sheathed at his hip. "This is her knife." From the look on Tony's face, he hadn't even noticed Hunter had a knife. "The other two with her, they were a guy named Bryce and a woman named Simone. Bryce had a big old knife and Simone had a hatchet. They're the ones who took Laura and Shannon. Go look in the living room. You can see where they had the fight."
While Tony remained standing over Hunter, Charles walked into the living room. "Yeah," he said. "Things are pretty messed up in here."
"I was upstairs when the fight happened," Hunter said. "But I know how it turned out. They tied up Laura and Shannon with some rope they brought along. Eleanor stayed behind to take care of me. She told 'em to go on ahead w
"So they took Shannon and Laura away and left you two here," Tony said.
"So how do we know you're not in on it?"
Before Hunter could think of an answer, Charles came out of the living room carrying Shannon's fedora. "Found this," he told Tony.
Tony looked at the hat and seemed to go slack.
"She was in her private eye costume," Hunter said. "The ghost thing was just Eleanor. Shannon was dressed like she'd said she'd be... the hat..."
Staring at the hat with blank eyes, Tony asked in a dull voice, "Was there blood?"
"I didn't see any," Charles said.
"I think they want people alive for their ceremony," Hunter explained. "So I don't think they did anything... you know, like fatal... to Shannon or Laura. Or Connie," he added, and was a little surprised when, in the middle of saying her name, his voice broke and tears came to his eyes.
"You haven't gotten us lost, have you?" Jeff asked.
Mandy looked over her shoulder at him. "Very funny. I know precisely where we are." Facing forward, she pointed ahead. "When we reach the corner there, you'll be able to see..." Her voice went dead.
Jeff himself flinched when he noticed the ghost running past the corner.
Phyllis said, "Get real, guys. It's someone in a sheet."
Someone in just a sheet, Jeff realized.
The back of it fluttered and flapped behind her as she raced into the well-lighted intersection, and Jeff could see her beneath it: her bare legs, her naked buttocks, her low back.
"I can see her can," Bret announced.
And Phyllis called out, "Hey, lady, you forgot something!"
At which the sheet-clad woman stopped running and turned in their direction.
Rhonda, standing close beside Jeff, muttered, "Oh, great."
The woman began walking toward them. The windblown sheet, still Clapping behind her, dinged to the front of her body.
Jeff stepped past Mandy and Bret so that he would be the one to confront the woman... and protect the kids from her, if necessary.
"Stay here," he said and hurried forward.