Richard Laymon Sneak Peek
This is where you'll find an exclusive Sneak Peek
into the first chapter of one of Richard's latest works.
Thanks to Hodder Headline publishers in the UK.
THE MIDNIGHT TOUR
The Midnight Tour
Book Three of the Beast House Chronicles
Sandy's Story - August, 1980
'Ow!' Sandy said. 'Watch it with those teeth, buster. There. There, that's better. Little monkey. Are you my little monkey? Huh, are you?'
Through the open window behind her, she suddenly heard footfalls crunching the forest mat of pine needles and twigs near her trailer home.
Fear knocked her breath out.
Eric stopped sucking, as if he sensed her alarm. He let go of her nipple, tipped back his head and looked up at her face.
'It's all right,' she whispered.
Eric made a tiny whimper of concern.
'Shhhh.' Turning her head, Sandy looked over her shoulder. The curtains behind her were shut. She kept them that way most of the time, even though her trailer was hidden away in a clearing and strangers rarely stumbled upon it.
You just never knew.
Watching the curtains, she could see the gloom of dusk through the thin yellow fabric. But she saw no movement, no trace of the intruder.
At Ieast he can't see us, either.
She wondered how she knew it was a man.
Maybe because of the heavy, sure sound of the footsteps.
He had already walked past the area directly behind her window. He kept going, and the crunching sounds faded a little.
Maybe he's leaving.
More likely, though, he was circling the trailer - heading for the side with the door.
Just go away! Whoever you are, get out of here!
For a few seconds, she couldn't hear him walking anymore.
Eric took her nipple into his mouth and resumed sucking.
Then the intruder climbed the stairs. The wood creaked and groaned.
Sandy turned her head and gazed at the door. It was directly across the narrow room from where she sat. It had no window.
Did I lock it?
I always lock it.
But did I?
She'd been awfully upset when she came in - hardly able to think straight.
I must've locked it.
No sound came from the other side of the door.
Sandy heard her heart pounding hard. And she heard the quiet suck and sIurp of Eric at her breast.
The intruder knocked on the door.
Sandy flinched and Eric nipped her.
'Who is it?'
'Marlon Slade.' The voice was rich and deep like Darth Vader. 'We met this morning.'
'I know that.'
'`I'd like to speak with you for a moment, Miss Blume.'
'May I please come in?'
'I don't think so. My dad'll be getting home from work any minute. He doesn't like me to have company when he isn't here.'
'Miss Blume, the mosquitoes are eating me alive. Please let me in.'
'Can't. I can hear you just fine through the door.'
The knob rattled. The sound sent a cold wash of panic through Sandy.
'Hey!, she shouted, springing to her feet. 'Don't do that!'
The door stayed shut.
She had locked it.
'I'd rather not discuss this through a door.'
'There's nothing to discuss.'
'If you don't think so, I'll wait out here and speak with your father. I'm sure he'll be interested in the offer, even if you're not.'
Standing in the middle of the room with Eric clutched in her arms, she shook her head and said, 'I told you I don't want to be in your movie.'
'Of course you want to be in it. Now, please be a dear and open the door.'
'No, thank you.'
Something thumped hard against it, making it jump.
Making Sandy jump.
Eric turned his head to look at the door.
'Stop that!' Sandy shouted.
But no sound of retreat. Marlon Slade was still standing on the top stair in front of her door.
'We can talk about it tomorrow,' Sandy suggested. 'I'll come down to town, and. . .'
'No,' he said, just as if he knew she was lying. 'Let's talk about it now. I came all the way up from the road to this godforsaken. . . trailer. I will not go all the way down until we've spoken face to face about the situation.'
'There isn't any situation.'
'You're refusing to be in my film. I do not accept your refusal. That, young lady, is a situation. I'd like to discuss it with you face to face, like civilized people. Please! The mosquitoes are horrendous out here!'
'Then go away. It's simple.'
'I tell you what. I'll give you a hundred dollars if you let me in. Cash. You get it whether or not you agree to be in The Horror. How does that sound?'
'I don't need your money. I do all right.'
'I' m surprised Miss Kutch pays you anything.'
'I get generous tips.'
'I' m sure you do. You're a very beautiful young lady.'
Scowling at the door, she said, 'I'm a good guide.'
'Five hundred. I'll give you five hundred dollars in cash if you let me in.'
That was a lot of money, too much to turn down without a very good reason. If all she had to do was let him in and listen to his offer. . .
What've I got to lose?
'Okay. Just wait a minute. I'll be right back.'
She hurried up the hall to Eric's small bedroom. Leaning over the bars of his crib, she eased him onto the mattress. Then she lowered the lid, fastened the hasp and padlocked it.
'Now keep still, honey,' she whispered.
On her way out, she slid the door shut.
'I'll be right there,' she called. She rushed into her own room. The tan shorts and shirt of her guide uniform still lay rumpled on her bed where she'd thrown them. Her underwear and socks had already gone into the clothes hamper, but she hadn't figured out what to do about her uniform - there would be no more tours of Beast House for weeks, maybe not for a couple of months - so she' d left her uniform on the bed.
She grabbed the shorts, hopped into them, pulled them up, and fastened them. The moment her belt was buckled, she snatched her shirt off the bed and raced down the hall. As she hurried along, she worked her arms into the sleeves. When she reached the door, she turned her back to it and scanned the room while she fastened her shirt buttons.
Except for the rumpled old towel on the sofa, there was no evidence of the baby.
There was evidence of Sandy's father, though: an ashtray on the lamp table; an open pack of Camel cigarettes; copies of Field and Stream magazine, The American Rifleman and Hustler scattered about; and a nearly full bottle of Jim Beam bourbon on the kitchen counter. They were all positioned in plain sight.
Sandy fastened her last button, then tossed the towel behind the sofa.
She scanned the area once more.
That'll do it.
She went to the door, unlocked it, and swung it open. Marlon Slade started to enter. She blocked his way. 'That'll be five hundred bucks,' she said, putting out her hand.
'Ah, yes. It nearly slipped my mind.' Smiling but looking miffed, he dug into the back pocket of his slacks. They were the same tan color as Sandy's uniform, and their legs were tucked into the tops of black leather riding boots. Marlon's shirt was black silk. Around his neck, he wore a green ascot. Sandy supposed he was trying to look the way he thought a film director ought to look.
To her, he seemed like a pudgy kid playing dress-up.
He brought out his wallet and opened it. The bill compartment was fat with money.
'You're loaded,' Sandy said.
'I'll be considerably less loaded after I've paid the extortion.'
'It was your idea,' she reminded him.
He counted out hundreds and fifties into her waiting hand.
When she had the promised amount, she said, 'Thank you,' and stepped away from the door. Marlon entered. He shut the door.
Sandy folded the money. As she stuffed it into a pocket of her shorts, she saw that she'd buttoned her shirt crooked.
She met Marlon's eyes. He'd noticed, too.
'I had to put it on in a hurry,' she muttered, blushing.
He grinned. 'Sorry if I came at a bad time.'
'It's all right,' She almost told him that she'd just finished taking a shower. But she stopped herself in time. Better to leave him wondering than to get caught in a lie.
'Could I get you a drink?, she asked.
'That would be spiffy.'
'My dad drinks bourbon.' she said, and nodded toward the bottle.
'Perfect. I'll have mine straight up.' He eased himself down on the sofa.
On her way to the counter, Sandy smiled over her shoulder and asked, 'Are you old enough to drink? I wouldn't want to corrupt you.'
He chortled. 'I'm older than I look.'
'That's good, because you look like you're ten.'
'Aren't we amusing?'
'Yep.' She took down a jelly glass and poured bourbon into it. Then she picked up the glass and started toward him.
'Won't you be joining me?' he asked.
'I'm a minor.'
'At the very least. How old are you?'
'A lady never tells her age.'
'I' m older than I look.'
'Is that so?'
'I'm twenty-four,' Marlon said.
'And how old are you?'
'None of your business.' She handed the glass to him, then stepped back, crossed her arms and shifted her weight so she was standing mainly on her left leg with her hip shoved out.
Marlon took a sip of his drink, then sighed and said, 'Sit down. Please.' He patted the sofa cushion beside him.
'I'm okay right here.'
'How did you find my place?' she asked.
His eyes dipped, sneaking a look at her chest, then hurried up to her face.
'Agnes Kutch gave me directions,' he said.
'Is that so?'
'She wouldn't do that. She doesn't tell anyone.'
'She told me.'
'No, she didn't. And nobody else knows where I live. What did you do, follow me?'
'Of course not. I was otherwise occupied at the time you ran off.'
She scowled at him. 'You had someone else follow me?'
He tried to look innocent, but the answer showed on his face.
'Well,' Sandy said, 'that stinks.'
'I needed to know where to find you.'
'Who did you sic on me?'
'One of my assistants.'
'It doesn't matter.'
'It sure does! He'll blab it around and pretty soon evervbody will be coming up here.'
'She won't blab. I promise you that. You have my word of honor.'
'Oh, well. . . Your word of honor. Whoop-de-doo.'
'My word is gold.'
'Sure.' Keeping her arms crossed, she shifted her weight to her other foot. 'This is just dandy. Just peachy.'
'I want you in my film, Margaret.'
'I already turned you down. Didn't you believe me? You had to send a spy after me?'
'I want you as my Janice.'
'I want you to play Janice Crogan.'
'Not at all.'
'You're kidding, right?'
'I never kid about such things.'
'I thought you wanted me as a. . . an extra, or something.'
'I want you as my lead. I would've explained that to you this morning if you hadn't been so quick to run off.'
'But what about. . . whoever she is? The one you hired to play Janice.'
He took another sip of bourbon. 'Tricia Talbot. She threw in the towel.'
'Quit. Last night.'
Sandy found herself smiling. 'You're kidding. Why'd she quit?'
'We had. . . creative differences.'
'What do you mean?'
'She wanted to do things her way, not mine. I refused to give in, so she walked.' He grinned. 'Not only did she walk, but she drove. She packed up and hightailed it back to San Francisco last night, leaving us sans a Janice. And we start filming tomorrow. I need you tomorrow, bright and early.'
'Can't you just make a phone call, or something, and get yourself a real actress?'
'Why would I want to do that, when you're here?'
'I' m not going to be in your movie, that's why.'
'You must be.'
'No, I mustn't.'
'You'll be perfect. You'll be Janice Crogan.'
'Why don't you get Janice? She's right here in town.'
'She won't be in the movie.'
'Well, that makes two of us.'
'Twenty-five thousand dollars.'
Sandy stared at him. Shocked.
'Twenty-five thousand?' she asked, barely able to speak, her voice a whisper.
'For just ten or twelve weeks of work.'
She murmured. 'Can't.'
'And why can't you?'
'Just can't. I'm not an actress.'
'You don't rreed to be an actress. I'll make you a star.'
She smirked. 'Oh, yeah. A star. Every day and twice on Sundays.'
'You've got the Iook, Margaret.'
'I don't look much like Janice.,
'There's no reason why you should. We'll color your hair, of course. You'll be spectacular as a blonde.'
'I know so.'
'And what's that about?' Marlon asked.
She imagined herself saying, 'I've got a little secret for you, buddy. Underneath this ugly brown dye job, I am a blonde.'
That'd sure open a can of worms.
'Is something amusing?' he asked.
'I wouldn't want to turn into a dumb blonde.'
'It would only be for the role.'
'I don't want the role.'
'I think you do, Margaret. I know you do. Everybody wants to be a star. And you have what it takes.'
'No, I don't.'
Marlon took another sip of bourbon, then leaned sideways and set his glass on the lamp table. 'Let me show you something,' he said, getting to his feet. 'Do you have a mirror?'
'What kind of mirror?'
'The largest you have.'
'What do you want to do?'
'Come, come, come.' He swept toward Sandy, reaching for her.
She put out a hand to signal him back.
He took hold of it and drew her after him, striding toward the hallway.
'Hey, what're you doing?'
'We're off to see the mirror!'
'My dad'll be home!'
'I doubt it. I'm a director. I know stage props when I see them. A smoker doesn't live in this trailer.'
'He does, too.'
'My nose tells me otherwise. And it's a wise nose.'
He pulled her into the bathroom and halted in front of the medicine cabinet mirror. 'Surely we can do better than this!' He barged past her and towed her along.
'You live here alone.' he said. 'Admit it.'
'I do not.'
'Just like The Little GirI Who Lived Down the Lane. Jodie Foster. Did you see the movie?'
'Bet you did.'
He stopped in front of Eric's room.
He reached for the door.
Sandy gave his hand a hard jerk, tugging him away from it. 'Not in there,' she gasped. 'It's my dad's room.'
'Ah - Dad.'
'I've got a big mirror in my room,' she blurted.
This time, Sandy led the way, rushing onward, pulling Marlon through the doorway of her bedroom. She stepped around the end of the bed and drew him to her side. They both faced her dresser.
And the mirror above it.
'Fabulous,' Marlon whispered. 'But we need light. It's far too dark in here. We must have light for the star to shine.' He let go of her hand and said. 'Stay. Observe the mirror. Observe yourself in the mirror.'
She went ahead and looked at herself.
'Big deal,' she muttered.
She could see Marlon in the mirror, too. He stood by the doorway, his hand on the light switch. 'Behold!' he proclaimed in a deep, resonant tone. Then he flicked the switch.
Crimson light filled the room.
'My lord,' Marlon said.
'It's just a red bulb,' Sandy explained.
'How remarkably gawdy.' In the mirror, she watched him glide toward her, his arms spread like wings, his shiny black shirt fluttering. The shirt looked purple in the red glow.
She felt a tingle creep up her back.
Why does he have to act so weird?
He swooped in behind Sandy and put his hands on her shoulders.
He stood directly behind her. She could only see the ends of his fingers. The rest of Marlon was hidden behind her body.
Then his head tilted sideways and she saw his chubby face in the mirror as if she were wearing it on her left shoulder.
'My glorious Margaret,' he intoned, his voice thick and low. 'My star.' He started rubbing her shoulders. 'You shall be my star.'
'Don't think so,' she muttered.
'Imagine yourself on the big screen,' he said. His hands gently, firmly massaged her shoulders and the sides of her neck. 'That's no mirror in front of us, that's a movie screen. And there you are, Margaret Blume, two stories high.'
'I just look like I've got a real bad sunburn,' she said, and yawned. Though she still felt a little jittery, the massage made her lazy, groggy. Her head began to wobble with the motions of the rubbing.
Then Marlon kissed the side of her neck.
'Hey. don't,' she murmured.
'Watch the mirror,' he said, his breath tickling her skin.
'It's all right. Nothing's wrong. Look at yourself. See how beautiful you are. See what your audiences will see.' His reflection smiled at her. Then his hands slid down over her shoulders, down her chest. 'You are so glorious,' he whispered' and closed his hands on her breasts. He rubbed them; gently squeezed them through the fabric of her shirt.
Sandy squirmed. 'Quit it,' she said.
'You don't mean that. It feels very good, doesn't it? I know that it does.'
In the mirror, she saw herself squirm and grab his hands and try to peel them off her breasts.
But he kept them on her.
'It's all right.' he said. 'Don't fight it. It feels good.'
He suddenly released her breasts, ripped her shirt open and jerked it backward and down off her shoulders. She glimpsed herself bare to the waist, her skin bathed in scarlet light, her breasts lurching as she tried to twist away.
He grabbed her arms and pinned them against her sides.
'Look at yourself,' he said, still sounding very calm. 'That's no mirror. You're on the big screen, thousands of people staring up at you in awe. You're a star. Everyone wants you. Everyone wants to look at you, to touch you, to fuck you.'
'Leave me alone!'
'You don't want that. You want to be up on the screen, huge and spectacular. Look at yourself.'
'Let go of me right now, you bastard!'
'You love it, you love it. You love this. See how you're watching yourself? You can't take your eyes away. You love how you look. Now, imagine yourself a hundred times larger. Stop that squirming!' He shook her roughly.
She watched her body jerk back and forth, her head bobbing, her breasts jumping.
He stopped shaking her. 'Now stand still,' he said, 'and I'll let go of you.'
'Let go,' she said. Her voice came out high and trembling. 'Please.'
Marlon released his tight grip on her arms. He slid the shirt down them. As it fell to the floor, he reached around and caressed her belly with both hands. Then his pudgy fingers went to her belt buckle.
Flinching rigid, she clutched his wrists and gasped, 'No!'
Marlon laughed softly and undid the buckle. Then he unfastened the button at her waist. As he started to pull her zipper down, Eric leaped out of the red glow, landed on the dresser, skidded to a halt and whirled to face them.
Marlon's laughter stopped. His fingers stopped.
Eric stood in a crouch on top of the dresser, his body glistening and ruddy. He snarled, baring his fangs, and raised his arms like a miniature boogeyman.
And sprang straight for Marlon's face.
As Eric flew at him, the director squeaked once in a high voice that sounded nothing at all like the rich resonance of Marlon Slade.
In the mirror, Sandy watched Marlon's hornfied, pudgy face vanish - hidden behind the body of her son.
Marlon's fingers jerked away from the zipper of her shorts.
He stopped pressing against her back.
Her shorts fell to the floor.
They almost tripped Sandy as she whirled around and watched him stumble backward with Eric clinging to his face. He reached up to grab Eric. The bed knocked his legs out from under him. As he fell, he hurled the infant away.
'No!' Sandy cried out.
Her son crashed against the wall near the head of her bed. He bounced off and dropped to the floor, tumbling.
She kicked the shorts away from her feet, rushed over to him and crouched down.
He lay sprawled on his back, blinking up at her.
His teeth and muzzle were bloody. Sandy hoped the blood was all Marlon's.
She heard the director whimpering behind her. Looking over her shoulder, she saw him on his hands and knees. He raised his head and gaped at her, his mouth open, his face shredded. 'It's... it's one of them!' he gasped. 'Isn't it? Isn't it? My God! Did you see the little fucker attack me?' He pushed himself up, stood on his feet, and stared past Sandy at the baby sprawled on the floor. 'Look at that ugly fucker. Son-of-a-bitch! Where'd it come from? Good thing I was here, or it would've got you.'
Sandy glared at him and said, 'I don't think so. I'm his mom.'
'He's my kid.'
Marlon staggered toward them, blood spilling from his tattered face.
Sandy stood up in front of him.
'Outa my way, bitch,' he gasped. When he said 'bitch,' blood blew off his lips and sprayed Sandy in the face. 'I've got some business to finish with your little monster, and then...'
She punched him in the nose.
His eyes bulged and he stumbled backward.
Sandy kicked one of his feet sideways. He tripped himself. With a gasp of alarm, he fell and landed on his rump. The trailer shook.
Sandy turned and lunged for the dresser.
Glimpsed a naked red woman rushing at the mirror.
Jerked open the middle drawer.
Snatched out her butcher knife.
'You take this,' Agnes Kutch had said, holding out the big, old knife to her. 'You gonna be moving outa the house and living in that trailer out there, you gotta have a weapon. Wish I had a gun to give you, but this here is a real good knife. Mama, she used it on a fella once.'
'I know,' Sandy'd told her. 'I was there. I saw her do it.'
She slammed the dresser drawer and turned to face Marlon.
He was already on his knees, struggling to stand up.
She raised the knife overhead.
Marlon screamed like a woman.
Afterward, Sandy took Eric into the shower with her. Standing under the hot spray, she held him to her chest.
Eric had a lump on his head. It must've been sore, because he winced when Sandy touched it - even when she kissed it. Otherwise, he seemed fine. Maybe a little more subdued than usual.
'My little guy,' she said, caressing him. 'You're such a brave little guy. You knew mommy was in trouble and you dashed to the rescue. My hero. Of course, I oughta spank your little ass for breaking the crib.'
She patted his little ass gently.
Then she started to cry.
Eric made quiet whimpery sounds against her neck.
After a while, Sandy sniffed and sighed. She said, 'How do you feel about blowing this town, honey? 'Cause I guess we can't stay. Not after this.'