Authors: Richard Laymon
Saturday May 24
The sound of breaking glass shocked Rhonda Bain awake. She went rigid on the bed and stared at the dark ceiling.
She told herself it wasn’t someone breaking into the house; a framed picture or a mirror had fallen off one of the walls.
She didn’t believe it.
Someone had smashed a window. She’d heard glass hitting a floor, so it was the kitchen window; the other rooms had carpet.
Rhonda imagined herself bolting from the bedroom, racing for the front door. But as she rushed past the kitchen, a dark shape would lurch out and grab her.
I can’t just lie here and wait for him!
She flung the sheet aside, sat up, snapped her head toward the bedroom window. The curtains were open, stirring slightly in the breeze. She shivered and clenched her teeth, but not because of the mild night air on her bare skin.
I’ve gotta get out of here!
The window was no good. The damn thing was louvered. There wouldn’t be time to pull out enough slats, remove the screen and climb through. If she barricaded the bedroom door and smashed an opening with a chair ...
She flinched at the sound of a footstep—a shoe crunching broken glass.
He’s still in the kitchen.
If I try smashing the slats, he’ll know I’m here, and what if he gets to me before I can—
He doesn’t know I’m here!
Rhonda swung her legs off the bed. She rose slowly. The boxsprings squeaked a bit, but then she was standing. She turned to the queen-sized bed. With trembling hands, she smoothed her pillow, drew up the top sheet, then the electric blanket, then the quilt. A few tugs and the bed looked as if it hadn’t been slept in.
She crouched. She sat on the carpet. She lay back and squirmed sideways, the hanging quilt brushing across her body. It passed over her face. She kept moving. It slid over her left breast, then her shoulder. She scooted in farther. Stopping, she fingered the hem of the quilt. It was five or six inches beyond her left hip and about two inches short of touching the floor.
She lay still, hands pressed to the sides of her thighs. She was trembling badly. She heard her quick thudding heartbeat. She heard herself panting. But she didn’t hear footsteps.
He’s probably out of the kitchen, walking on carpet. Where?
Turning her head, Rhonda could see out with one eye. She watched the bottom of the doorway.
Calm down, she told herself.
Oh, sure thing.
Want him to hear your damn heart drumming?
She let go of her legs, rested her hands on the carpet, and concentrated on letting her muscles relax. She filled her lungs slowly and let the air out.
Calm, she thought. You’re not even here. You’re lying on a beach. You’re at the lake, stretched out on a towel. You can hear the waves lapping in, kids squealing and laughing. You can feel the sun and the breeze on your skin. You’re wearing your white bikini.
Her stomach twisted.
You’re naked and hiding under a bed and somebody’s in the goddamn house.
She suddenly felt trapped. Though the bed didn’t touch her, it seemed to be pressing down, smothering her. She struggled for breath. She wanted out. She ached to squirm free, scurry to her feet and make a dash for safety.
Calm down. He doesn’t know you’re here.
Maybe he does.
The pale beam of a flashlight danced through the darkness beyond the bedroom door. Rhonda glimpsed it. Then it was gone. She held her breath and stared through the gap, waiting. The beam scrawled a quick curlicue, darted high and vanished again.
He’ll come in soon, Rhonda thought. He’ll find me. God, why didn’t I make a run for it when the window broke?
Why didn’t I go with Mom and Dad to Aunt Betty’s?
She forced herself to take a breath.
The beam of the flashlight slanted through the doorway, swept toward Rhonda and up.
He’s checking the bed, she thought.
See, nobody’s here. So get on with it. Rob the place. Take whatever you want, you bastard, just don’t look under the bed.
With the snap of a switch, the lights came on.
Rhonda’s fingernails dug into her thighs.
Her one eye saw a pair of old jogging shoes in the doorway. The ragged cuffs of blue jeans draped their tops and swayed slightly as the man walked forward.
The shoes stopped, turned, moved toward the closet. Rhonda watched the closet door swing open. She heard some empty hangers clink together. A loop of threads hung from the back of the jeans’ frayed left cuff, dangling almost to the floor.
The shoes turned again. They came toward her, veered away, and passed out of sight as the man walked toward the end of the bed. She heard quiet steps crossing the room.
A sudden clatter and skid of metal made Rhonda flinch.
He must’ve yanked the curtains shut.
What for? The backyard is fenced. Nobody can see in. Maybe he doesn’t know that. Or he knows it, but isn’t taking any chances. Not with the light on.
The bed shuddered. It kept shaking above Rhonda. The edge of the bedspread trembled. She turned her face up. There was only darkness above her, but she pictured the man crawling over the mattress.
What’s he doing?
He’s right on top of me!
The bed squawked as if he’d suddenly flopped down hard. Something wispy—the fabric under the boxsprings?—fluttered briefly against Rhonda’s nose.
She heard a click.
What was that?
Rhonda suddenly knew. The stem on the back of the alarm clock. She’d pulled it after getting into bed, wanting to wake up early for Jurassic Park Marathon on a cable channel.
He knows I’m here.
Rhonda squeezed her eyes shut. This isn’t happening, she thought. Please.
The bed shook a little. Turning her head, Rhonda watched fingers curl under the edge of the quilt near her shoulder. The quilt lifted. There was more rustling above her. The quilt stayed up. Hands lowered and pressed flat against the carpet. Then an upside-down head filled the space between the bed and the floor.
A man, perhaps twenty-five or thirty years old, stared in at her. His light brown hair was cut short. Even though his face was upside-down, he looked handsome. In other circumstances, Rhonda might have found herself attracted to him. But she felt only revulsion.
She squirmed sideways, moving toward the center of the bed.
“Go away!” she gasped.
The man did a quick somersault off the bed, landed lightly on his back, rolled over and peered in at her. One hand darted out like a paw. The hooked fingers missed her upper arm by inches and raked back along the carpet.
Pushing himself up, he crawled on hands and knees toward the end of the bed.
Heading for the other side?
Rhonda heard nothing. She turned her head to watch the quilt along the right side of the bed. It was lower there, touching the floor.
She shrieked as cold hands grabbed her ankles.
They pulled. Rhonda skidded, the carpet burning her back. She swept her arms away from her sides, reached up and clung to the metal bedframe. The pulling hands stretched her. She kicked, barking a shin on the end of the frame. The hands tugged. Her body jerked, leaving the floor and pressing the underside of the boxsprings for an instant before she lost her hold and dropped.
The carpet seared her buttocks and back. She clawed at the bed, ripped the flimsy cloth, tried to grab springs, curled fingertips over the edge of a wooden cross-slat. But the man was dragging her too hard and fast. Nothing could stop her rough slide.
The quilt flapped her face.
Clear of the bed, she squirmed and tried to kick her feet free of the man’s grip. He clamped her ankles against his hips. He smiled as if he enjoyed watching her struggle.
Finally, exhausted, she lay still and panted for breath.
The man kept smiling. He kept her feet pinned to his sides. His head moved as he inspected her with wide, glassy eyes.
Rhonda pressed a hand between her legs. She crossed an arm over her breasts.
The man laughed softly.
He said, “No need of modesty, Rhonda.”
He knows my name!
“Who are you?” she gasped.
“I’ve been watching you. You’re very beautiful.”
“Leave me alone.” Her voice sounded whiny, scared. She didn’t care. “Please,” she said.
“Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you. Just don’t cause any trouble and do exactly what I say, and you’ll be fine.”
Rhonda started to cry.
The man kept smiling..
“Okay,” she finally said through her sobs. “I’ll ... just don’t ... hurt me. Promise?”
“Cross my heart and hope to die.”
Rhonda’s body was found three days later and far from home.
Saturday June 21
The jangle of the telephone forced its way into Rick’s dream and woke him up. Moaning, he rolled onto his side. The lighted dial of the alarm dock on the nightstand showed five o’clock.
Braced up on an elbow, he reached over the clock and lifted the phone’s handset. As he brought it to his face, the uncoiling cord nudged the dock off the stand.
“This is obscene,” he muttered.
“How did you guess?” Bert started breathing heavily on the other end of the line.
“It’s still night,” Rick interrupted. “That’s the obscenity. Human beings weren’t meant to get up before dawn.”
“There are human beings who do it every day.”
“Not when they’re on vacation.”
“Speaking of which...”
“Must we?” Rick asked.
“Don’t be so negative. You’re going to love it. The fresh mountain air, the grand vistas, not to mention the peace and quiet ...”
“I’ve been camping before. It’s not my idea of—”
“Never with me.”
“Right. Bertha Crockett, Queen of the Wild Frontier.”
The sound of her husky laugh reminded Rick of just why he had allowed Bert to talk him into a week of backpacking. “Are you still in bed?” he asked.
“I’ve been up for an hour. I’m all packed and showered.”
That laugh again. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
“Matter of fact.. ”
“Come on over and find out.”
“I called for a reason.”
“I thought it was just to interrupt my sleep.”
“You’ll be passing some doughnut shops on the way over. Why not pick up a dozen? We can eat them in the car. I’ll fill a Thermos with coffee.”
“See you later.”
“Half an hour. So long.” He hung up, swung the sheet away, and sat on the edge of his bed.
We’re actually going to do it, he thought. The realization made him tight and shaky inside. Leaning forward, he propped his elbows on his knees and stared at the floor.
It’s today. Christ.
When they’d decided to make the trip, when they’d outfitted him, even last night while he was packing, the journey seemed somehow distant and vague, as if it were a concept, not an event that would actually occur.
Like having a will drawn up, he thought. You do it, but you don’t quite figure on having any real need for it.
Then one fine morning ...
You can still back out.
Hell I can.....
Should’ve just refused when it first came up.
He had suggested alternatives: the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the Hyatt on Mauii, a tour of Ireland, a cruise on a luxury liner to Acapulco, even a steamboat trip down the Mississippi. But Bert had her heart set on backpacking in the Sierras. Somehow, she’d let two years slip by without roughing it, and she needed time in the wilderness. She had to go, with or without Rick.
And who would she go with, if not with Rick?
Myself, she’d answered. I find myself excellent company, but you’re pretty excellent, too.
That had settled it. The thought of Bert going alone was intolerable.
And what was true three weeks ago was still true. Rick was sure of that. If he backed out, Bert would make the trip alone.
He flinched at the sudden blare of his alarm clock. Reaching down, he picked up the clock and silenced it. He placed it on the nightstand. Hard.
Okay. You’re going. So relax and enjoy it.
He put on a robe, walked down the hall to the room he thought of as his “entertainment center,” and stepped behind the wet bar. There, he made himself a Bloody Mary with a double shot of vodka, light on the tomato juice, heavy on Worcestershire and tabasco. He twisted a wedge of lemon over the drink, added ground pepper, and stirred.
It tasted tangy and good. He carried the glass into the bathroom. After using the toilet, he took a shower. He wanted to linger under the soothing hot spray. After all, there would be no showers for the next week.
No soft bed.
No safety of walls and locked doors.
No Bloody Marys.
At least you’ve packed a fifth of bourbon and a revolver, he thought. Those’ll help.
Bert’ll crap when she finds out.
Tough. Not going into the wilderness without my peace-makers.
Rick turned off the water and climbed out of the tub. He quickly dried himself. He took a long drink of his Bloody Mary, then rolled deodorant under his arms. The shower hadn’t lasted long enough to steam up the mirror. He lathered his face and shaved. Though his hand trembled, he managed not to cut himself.
Back in the bedroom, he tossed his robe aside and stood in front of the full-length mirror on his closet door to comb his hair. At least you’re in good shape, he consoled himself. You were a wimpy teenager last time around. - .
Last time around ...
His scrotum shriveled tight. In the mirror, he saw his hanging penis shrink.
Turning away from his reflection, he stepped into his underpants and pulled them up. The hugging fabric took away some of the vulnerable feeling. He took another drink, then finished dressing.
Bert had selected the outfit: a camouflage shirt with epaulets and pocket flaps, and baggy olive green trousers with pockets that reached down almost to his knees. He fastened the web belt, put on his socks and boots, and stepped in front of the mirror again.
All you need is an ascot and a red beret, he thought, and you’ll look like a paratrooper.