Authors: Richard Laymon
Her heart lurched.
Oh Jesus, no!
But the car didn’t swing into the driveway. It went by and turned onto the driveway of the house next door.
She must’ve been seen.
Okay, she thought. Fine. Great, in fact.
As the Corvette stopped in front of the gate at the far side of the neighbor’s house, she cut across the lawn, heading for it. The engine went silent. The headbeam died. A man climbed out from the driver’s door, swung it shut, and walked around the low front of the car.
“Hi,” Gillian called.
“Hello,” he said. He was slim, dressed in dark slacks and a sport shirt, and appeared to be in his mid-twenties. He had a friendly smile.
“I’m Gillian,” she said. “Glad you came by. I’ll be staying at Uncle Fredrick’s place till he gets back. You know, house-sitting?”
“Didn’t know he was gone,” the man said.
“Well, I was afraid he might’ve mentioned he’d be away, and maybe forgot to tell you I’d be watching the place for him.” She grinned. “Didn’t want you thinking I was a burglar or something.”
“You don’t look much like one,” he said. “I’m Jerry Dobbs.”
Gillian offered her hand, and he shook it. “Nice to meet you, Jerry.”
“From around here?”
“I’ve got a cramped little studio apartment in West LA. Which is why it’ll be so nice spending a few days here.”
“I can imagine. I was an apartment dweller myself till I scraped up enough to get this place. Hated every minute of it. Confining, no privacy ...”
“Exactly,” Gillian said. “Well, I’d better let you go. It was nice meeting you.”
“Same here. Look, you need anything, just drop over.”
“You mean like a cup of sugar?”
“Or company. Whatever.”
“Thanks. Maybe I will.” She backed away, raising a hand in farewell. “I’ll see you around, Jerry.”
“Right. So long.”
Gillian headed across Jerry’s lawn. She felt him watching, so she glanced over her shoulder and smiled, then continued toward the house. That had turned out great. Seemed like a nice guy, Jerry. If he’d been suspicious at all, he sure hadn’t shown it.
Now, Gillian would be able to make herself at home without worrying about what the next-door neighbor might see or hear. A terrific development.
Inside the house she made her way through the darkness to a table lamp. After turning it on, she knelt on the floor beside the lamp that had gone off. She followed the cord, pulled the plug for the small plastic timer unit and inserted it into the wall socket. The lamp came on again. She turned off the other one.
After securing the door, Gillian carried her suitcase, purse and high-heeled shoes into the bedroom. She removed a few items from the suitcase, then packed her sweater and skirt.
She made a detour into the living room to pick up her wine glass.
In the bathroom, she had a few sips while she undressed and waited for the tub to fill.
She set the glass on the edge of the tub. She stepped into the water, sat down, and sighed with pleasure as the heat wrapped her to the waist. She stretched out her legs.
Flinched rigid as a bell jangled somewhere in the house.
Someone at the door?
Oh, Christ. And me in the tub.
She braced herself, ready to spring out, but the ringing came again and she realized it was the telephone.
A call. At this hour.
Her skin crawled. She saw goosebumps rise on her submerged thighs, felt her nipples tighten and pucker.
Calm down, she told herself. One thing’s certain, it isn’t for me.
Unless it’s Jerry.
But it’s not, she thought.
Each bray of the phone scraped her nerves.
It’s not for me. That’s the main thing. It’s not bad news. Shit, there’s nobody to get bad news about.
Maybe a neighbor, someone from across the street who saw me come in. Maybe just a wrong number.
At her apartment it was almost always a wrong number when it rang late at night.
Why doesn’t it stop!
Gillian gritted her teeth.
Maybe an obscene caller, she thought. Maybe a burglar checking to find out if anyone’s home before dropping by.
Maybe Fredrick Holden, calling in to ask what the hell I’m doing in his house. A pretty thought.
Gillian realized that a few seconds had gone by since the last ring. She sat motionless in the tub, her back rigid, her heart thudding, and listened. There was silence except for the slow drip of water near her feet.
Okay, she thought, he finally quit.
Or someone picked up the phone.
She strained to hear a voice.
Your damned imagination is running haywire tonight. What are you, going paranoid? The house is empty, empty. Nobody home but me. The caller hung up, that’s all.
Gillian thrust herself up and climbed out of the tub. She rushed to the bathroom door, jerked it open, then ran dripping through the dark hall.
This is great. If someone is ...
Even before she reached the kitchen, she could see the pale shape of a wall phone just beyond its entrance. Nobody there. Of course.
But the house had phones in the den and bedroom.
She reached for the handset. Stopped.
Drips of water trickled down her legs.
What if you pick it up and hear voices?
That’s easy. You beat it the fuck out of here.
Or drop dead of cardiac arrest.
She snatched up the phone. A dial tone buzzed in her ear.
Still shaking, Gillian returned to the bathroom. She locked the door, then stepped into the tub and sat down. She took a few swallows of wine.
Now just relax, she told herself. Nothing’s wrong.
She set aside the glass and lay back. The water washed over her, covering her to the neck, its warm caress soothing, but not enough to make the gooseflesh go away. She rubbed her thighs. The skin felt tender and achy at first, then better. She rubbed one arm, then the other. She massaged the back of her neck. She covered her breasts until the tightness faded and the flesh was smooth again. Letting her arms sink into the heat, she closed her eyes. She took a deep breath.
As the fear seeped away, a heavy weariness settled into Gillian.
She moved her arms and legs, sending gentle currents rolling against her body. Her mind seemed vague. She could almost fall asleep. The water bed would be nice.
She was back in her own apartment, lying on the sofa.
Feeling pleasantly warm, her limbs all lazy and limp. Suddenly, she was flotsam; drifting, floating beneath clear sparkling water. She felt so-ooo peaceful ... Sunlight glittered like diamonds through the rippling waves above. Below, a mass of dark swirling weeds undulated in the current. Reaching up, but not quite touching her.
With a gasp of fear, she swam up toward the sunlight.
She was back on the sofa, the TV on, the sound turned low. Shadowy images flickered across her vision. Her eyelids closed ...
And snapped open again.
In one limp hand she held a glass of wine. The wine was red and dark. Staring into its ruby depths she saw ...
But the glass slipped from her grasp and fell to the floor. Rising up on an arm, she looked down at it. Watched the stem snap away ...
Like a slender neck, broken by a strong, practiced band.
She stared at it for what seemed like an age. Then her eyes slid beyond the glass to the patch of spilt wine spreading around it.
Her face felt taut, expressionless. As if her skull was hard, molded wax. She glanced down at her arms, turning them over, this way and that. Studied her hands.
No blood there.
Her arms fell, heavily, and her eyes strayed down the length of her body. It came as no surprise to see that she was naked. Naked and glistening with sweat. It was so hot.
I need air!
She opened her mouth to scream but nothing came.
Then, like angry snakes, cords and wires whipped themselves around her ankles. Cutting into her flesh. At the same time, her wrists crushed violently together. She jerked with the shock and pain. Beads of sweat and blood eased out of her pores.
A strangled scream broke from Gillian’s lips.
And another one. Louder this time.
In a frenzy of fear, she kicked and floundered in the tub; her body thrashed, the water heaving around her like a storm at sea. Her wrists, mashed tight together, were thrust up high before her.
She came to with a jolt.
Her hands hit water, hard. With a tremendous splash, waves of it smacked her face, stung her eyes ...
Uggbbb. How long had she been out of it? She shivered and shook her head, spraying droplets all around. The water was barely warm and goosebumps crawled all over her skin.
No blood. No cords No wires.
“No panic, Gilly-babes. Just your friendly neighborhood nightmare,” she muttered, clutching her arms across her breasts and shivering some more.
“So I dropped off in the tub. Lesson to be learned there. Never relax on the job, babe. Take a tub, sure. But don’t fall asleep in it!”
Toweling herself dry, she dwelt on the mystery telephone caller. Who could it have been? She shrugged and slipped into a long, hooded terri-cloth robe she found hanging on the back of the bathroom door. Maybe she would never know.
Tying the belt tightly around her waist, she dug her hands deep into the pockets. A grateful smile curved her lips. So long, nightmare. Time for beddy-byes.
She felt warmer already.
Snuggling between the satin sheets on Uncle Fredrick’s Amazing Wonderbed, she curled up into a fetal ball. Undulating gently with her movements, the bed reminded her of the bath she’d just climbed out of.
She still felt shaky after her weird experience.
After falling asleep in the tub.
That, and her scary dream or nightmare, whatever it had been. She told herself that similar slip-ups must never, ever happen again. Her intrusions were based on perfect planning. No, she prided herself on being the consummate strategist, right?
So no more sloppy hiccups. Okay?
She shuddered and shook her head, making the bed bounce some more. What if Fredrick Holden had come home early and found her hallucinating in his tub?
Yeah. What if!
Sunday June 22
When Gillian woke up in the morning, a mild breeze was stirring the curtains. She squirmed a little, enjoying the feel of the satin sheets sliding against her bare skin and the way the water-filled mattress undulated. Turning over, she saw herself on the ceiling. She drew the sheet away, stretched, and folded her hands under her head.
Fredrick Holden might have a few quirks, she thought, but she had to admit that the combination of water bed, satin sheets and mirrors was rather appealing. She wouldn’t want to have such things herself, but they would be nice for the few days she hoped to stay here.
Gillian was in no rush to leave the bed.
Soon, she found herself sliding around, rolling, savoring the smooth feel of the sheet and the warm breeze from the window. She tried every position she could dunk of and watched herself in the mirrors, at first with simple curiosity about how she looked from the different angles. Then she imagined a man being with her, a man admiring her display. He had the face of Jerry from next door. She twisted and writhed and contorted herself into erotic poses for his benefit, and suddenly blushed with shame.
For godsake, she thought, what am I doing?
She sprang from the bed. She was sweaty and breathing hard.
The blue satin bottom sheet, dark in places from her moist body, swelled and sank like the skin of something alive and panting.
Fredrick’s Amazing Wonderbed. Too true, Gillian thought. Climb aboard, folks. See the astounding Miracle Mirrors transform you before your very eyes into lusting slaves of carnality.
Come one, come all.
Who’re you kidding? Gillian thought. It’s not the bed and mirrors, it’s me.
Been alone too much.
She opened her suitcase, took out her white bikini and hurried to the bathroom. She dried herself before putting it on.
In the kitchen, she made coffee. While she waited for the pot to fill, she went to the den, opened the curtains, and slid the glass door wide. Most of the concrete slab behind the house was still in shade. The breeze felt good on her hot skin. She returned to the bedroom for her sunglasses and book, then poured herself a mug of coffee. and stepped outside.
The redwood lounge chair needed a pad. She found one in a storage room alongside the garage. Then she sat down, crossed her legs, and drank coffee while she read her Simon Clark paperback.
When the mug was empty, she wandered over to the fence. On tiptoes, she peered into Jerry’s back yard. He wasn’t there. He had a big pool that shimmered in the morning sunlight, a patio set with an umbrella over the table, a couple of loungers and a barbecue.
It was against procedure, she reminded herself, to get involved with neighbors. It was risky. Too much danger of letting something slip. You make the brief, initial contact to allay their suspicions, then you stay away from them.
Curious that Jerry had wandered into her Wonderbed fan- . tasy.
A little disturbing.
Disturbing, too, that she had hoped to see him when she looked over the fence.
The last thing you need is to get interested in some guy, she thought. All they do is mess you up.
Gillian went into the house for more coffee, then resumed reading until the mug was empty again.
She took the mug and book inside.
Then she went to the bedroom for her camera.
It had all started when Gillian was seventeen.
On her way home from school, she was walking past the deserted house when John Deerman called out to her. She stopped and waited for him to catch up.
“Look at this! Look!” He tugged a typed sheet out of his binder and waved it in front of her face.
She took it from him.
The tide page of his term paper: “The Whiteness of Moby Dick.” It had a big red “A” beside his name. The teacher had scribbled, “Wonderful job. A vast improvement.”