Authors: Richard Laymon
Come and see—
the one and only known VAMPIRE in captivity!
This stunning beauty, born in the wilds of
Transylvania, sleeps by day in her coffin. By night she
feeds on the blood of strangers.
See Valeria rise from the dead!
Watch as she stalks volunteers from the audience !
Tremble as she sinks her teeth into their necks!
Scream as she gulps their blood!
Where: Janks Field, 2 mi. south of Grandville on Route 3
When: One Show Only—Friday, midnight
How Much: $10.
(Nobody under age 18 allowed.)
The summer I was sixteen, the Traveling Vampire Show came to town.
I heard about it first from my two best friends, Rusty and Slim.
Rusty’s real name was Russell, which he pretty much hated.
Slim’s real name was Frances. She had to put up with it from her parents and teachers, but not from other kids. She’d tell them, “Frances is a talking mule.” Asked what she wanted to be called, her answer pretty much depended on what book she happened to be reading. She’d say, “Nancy” or “Holmes” or “Scout” or “Zock” or “Phoebe.” All last summer, she wanted to be called Dagny. Now, it was Slim. A name like that, I figured maybe she’d started reading westerns. But I didn’t ask.
My name is Dwight, by the way. Named after the Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe. He didn’t get elected President until after I’d already been born and named.
Anyway, it was a hot August morning, school wouldn’t be starting again for another month, and I was out in front of our house mowing the lawn with a push mower. We must’ve been the only family in Grandville that didn’t have a power mower. Not that we couldn’t afford one. Dad was the town’s chief of police and Mom taught English at the high school. So we had the money for a power mower, or even a riding mower, but not the inclination.
Not Dad, anyway. Long before anyone ever heard of language like “noise pollution,” Dad was doing everything in his power to prevent this or that “godawful racket.”
Also, he was opposed to any sort of device that might make life easier on me or my two brothers. He wanted us to work hard, sweat and suffer. He’d lived through the Great Depression and World War Two, so he knew all about suffering. According to him, “kids these days’ve got it too easy.” So he did what he could to make life tougher on us.
That’s why I was out there pushing the mower, sweating my ass off, when along came Rusty and Slim.
It was one of those gray mornings when the sun is just a dim glow through the clouds and you know by the smell that rain’s on the way and you wish it would hurry up and get here because the day is so damn hot and muggy.
My T-shirt was off. When I saw Rusty and Slim coming toward me, I suddenly felt a little embarrassed about being without it. Which was sort of strange, considering how much time we’d spent together in our swimming suits. I had an urge to run and snag it off the porch rail and put it on. But I stayed put, instead, and waited for them in just my jeans and sneakers.
“Hi, guys,” I called.
“What’s up?” Rusty greeted me. He meant it, of course, as a sexual innuendo. It was the sort of lame stuff he cherished.
“Not much,” I said.
“Are you working hard, or hardly working?”
Slim and I both wrinkled our noses.
Then Slim looked at my sweaty bare torso and said, “It’s too hot to be mowing your lawn.”
“Tell that to my dad.”
“Let me at him.”
“He’s at work.”
“He’s getting off lucky,” Slim said.
We were all smiling, knowing she was kidding around. She liked my dad—liked both my parents a whole lot, though she wasn’t crazy about my brothers.
“So how long’ll it take you to finish the yard?” Rusty asked.
“I can quit for a while. I’ve just gotta have it done by the time Dad gets home from work.”
“Come on with us,” Slim said.
I gave a quick nod and ran across the grass. Nobody else was home: Dad at work, Mom away on her weekly shopping trip to the grocery store and my brothers (one single and one married) no longer living at our house.
As I charged up the porch stairs, I called over my shoulder, “Right back.” I whipped my T-shirt off the railing, rushed into the house and raced upstairs to my bedroom.
With the T-shirt, I wiped the sweat off my face and chest.
Then I stepped up to the mirror and grabbed my comb. Thanks to Dad, my hair was too short. No son of mine’s gonna go around looking like a girl. I wasn’t allowed to have much in the way of sideburns, either. No son of mine’s gonna traipse around looking like a hood. Thanks to him, I hardly had enough hair to bother combing. But it was mussed and matted down with sweat, so I combed it anyway-making sure my “part” was straight as a razor, then giving the front a little curly flip.
After that, I grabbed my wallet off the dresser, shoved it into a back pocket of my jeans, hurried to the closet and pulled a short-sleeved shirt off its hanger. I put it on while I hurried downstairs.
Rusty and Slim were waiting on the porch.
I finished fastening my buttons, then opened the screen door.
“Where we going?” I asked.
“You’ll see,” Slim said.
I shut the door and followed my friends down the porch stairs.
Rusty was wearing an old shirt and blue jeans. That’s pretty much what we all wore when we weren’t dressed up for school or church. You hardly ever caught guys our age wearing shorts. Shorts were for little kids, old farts, and girls.
Slim was wearing shorts. They were cut-off blue jeans, so faded they were almost white, with frayed denim dangling and swaying like fringe around her thighs. She also wore a white T-shirt. It was big and loose and untucked, so it hung over her butt in the back. Her white swimsuit top showed through the thin fabric. It was a skimpy, bikini type thing that tied behind her back and at the nape of her neck. She was wearing it instead of a bra. It was probably more comfortable than a bra, and definitely more practical.
Mostly, in the summer, we all wore swimsuits instead of underwear. You never knew when you might end up at the municipal pool or at the river... or even when you might get caught in a downpour.
I had my trunks on under my jeans that morning. They were sort of soggy with sweat from the lawn mowing, and they clinged to my butt as I walked down the street with Rusty and Slim.
“So what’s the plan?” I asked after a while.
Slim looked at me and hoisted an eyebrow. “Stage one’s already been executed.”
“Huh?” I asked.
“We freed you from the chains of oppression.”
“Can’t be mowing the yard on a day like this,” Rusty explained.
“Well, thanks for liberating me.
“Think nothing of it,” Rusty said.
“Our pleasure,” Slim said, and patted me on the back.
It was just a buddy-pat, but it gave me a sickish excited lonely feeling. I’d been getting that way a lot, that summer, when I was around Slim. It didn’t necessarily involve touching, either. Sometimes, I could just be looking at her and start to feel funny.
I kept it to myself, though.
“Stage two,” Slim said, “we see what’s going on at Janks Field.”
I felt a little chill crawl up my back.
“Scared?” Rusty asked.
“Oh, yeah. Ooooo, I’m shaking.”
I was, but not so much that it showed. I hoped.
“We don’t have to go there,” Slim said.
“I’m going,” said Rusty. “If you guys are chicken, I’ll go by myself.”
“What’s the big deal about Janks Field?” I asked.
“This,” said Rusty.
The three of us had been walking abreast with Slim in the middle. Now, Rusty hustled around behind us and came over to my side. He pulled a paper out of the back pocket of his jeans. Unfolding it, he said, “These’re all over town.”
The way he held the paper open in front of me, I knew I wasn’t supposed to touch it. It seemed to be a poster or flier, but it was bouncing around too much for me to read it. So I stopped walking. We all stopped. Slim came in close so she could look at the paper, too. It had four torn corners. Apparently, Rusty had ripped the poster off a wall or tree or something.
It looked like this:
Come and see—
the one and only known VAMPIRE in captivity!
Gorgeous ! Beguiling! Lethal!
This stunning beauty, born in the wilds of Transylvania sleeps
by day in her coffin. By night she feeds on the blood of strangers
See Valeria rise from the dead!
Watch as she stalks volunteers from the audience!
Tremble as. she sinks her teeth into their necks!
Scream as she sups on their blood!!!
Where: Janks Field. 2 mi south of
Grandville on Route 3
When: One Show Only-Friday, midnight
How much: $10
(Nobody under age 18 allowed)
Amazed and excited, I shook my head and murmured “Wow” a time or two while I read the poster.
But things changed when I got toward the bottom.
I felt a surge of alarm, followed by a mixture of relief and disappointment.
“Oh, man,” I muttered, trying to sound dismayed. “What a bummer.”
A bummer?” Rusty asked. “You outa your mind, man? We’ve got us a traveling vampire show! A real live female vampire, right here in Grandville! And it says she’s gorgeous! See that? Gorgeous! Beguiling! A stunning beauty! And she’s a vampire! Look what it says! She stalks volunteers from the audience and bites their necks! She sups on their blood!”
“Bitchin’,” Slim said.
“Might be bitchin’ if we could see her,” I said, trying to seem gloomy about the situation. “But there’s no way we can get into a show like that.”
Eyes narrow, Rusty shook his head. “That’s how come we’re going over there now.”
“Oh,” I said.
Sometimes, when Rusty came out with stuff like that, “Oh” was about the best I could do.
“You know?” he asked.
“I guess so.” I had no idea.
“We’ll look the place over,” Slim said. “Just see what we can see.”
“Maybe we’ll get to see her,” Rusty said. He seemed pretty excited.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Slim told him.
“We might,” he insisted. “I mean, she’s gotta be around. Somebody put all those posters up, you know? And the show is tonight. They’re probably over at Janks Field getting things ready right now.”
“That’s probably true,” Slim said. “But don’t count on feasting your eyes on the gorgeous and stunning Valeria.”
He blinked at Slim, disappointment and vague confusion on his face. Then he turned his eyes to me, apparently seeking an ally.
I looked at Slim.
She raised both eyebrows and one comer of her mouth.
The goofy expression made me ache and laugh at the same time. Forcing my eyes away from her, I said to Rusty, “The gal’s a vampire, moron.”
“Valeria. She’s supposed to be a vampire.”
“Yeah, so?” he asked, as if impatient for the punch line.
“So you think we’re gonna maybe sneak up on Janks Field and catch her sunbathing?”
He got it.
Slim and I laughed. Rusty stood there, red in the face but bobbing his head and chuckling. Then he said, “She’s gotta be in her casket, right?”
“Right!” Slim and I said in unison.
Rusty laughed pretty hard about that. And we joined in. Then we resumed our journey toward Janks Field.
After a while, Rusty drew out in front by a stride or two, turned his head to look back at us, and said, “But seriously, maybe we will catch her sunbathing.”
“Are you nuts?” Slim asked.
“In the nude!”
“Oh, you’d like that.”
Scowling, I shook my head. “All you’d see is a little pile of ashes. And the first breeze that comes along ...”
Slim started to sing like Peter, Paul and Mary, “The vammmmpire, my friend, is blowwwwing in the wind ...... ”
“And even if she didn’t bum to a crisp at the first touch of sunlight,” I said, “she’d sure as hell know better than to put on her vampire show with a suntan.”
“Good point,” Slim said. “She’s gotta look pale.”
“She could cover her tan with makeup,” Rusty explained.
“That’s a point,” Slim agreed. “She probably uses a ton of makeup, anyway, to give her a convincing palor of undeadness. So why not a tan underneath it?”
“An all-over tan,” Rusty said, leering.
“We’ve gotta find you a girl,” Slim said.
I suddenly wondered how Slim would look sunbathing in the nude, stretched out on her back with her hands folded under her head, her eyes shut, her skin slick and golden all the way down. It excited me to imagine her that way, but it made me feel guilty, too.
To push it out of my mind, I said, “How about Valeria?”
“There ya go,” Slim said. “I hear she’s stunning.”
“I’ll take her,” Rusty said.
“You haven’t even seen her yet,” I pointed out.
“I don’t care.”
“Don’t believe everything you read,” Slim told him. “Valeria might turn out to be a pug-ugly, hideous hag.”
“I bet she’s incredible,” Rusty said. “She has to be.”
“Wishful thinking,” I said.
Smiling as if he knew a secret, he asked, “Wanta put your money where your mouth is?”
“Five bucks says she’s not gorgeous.”
“I haven’t got five bucks,” Rusty said.
Which came as no surprise. His parents gave him an allowance of two bucks a week, which he was always quick to spend. I did better, myself, getting paid per chore and also doing some part-time yard work for a couple of neighbors.
“How much?” I asked.
“Don’t bet, you guys,” Slim said. “Somebody’ll end up losing....”
“Yeah,” Rusty said. “He will. You wanta go in with me?”
“You’ve gotta be kidding,” Slim said.
“Come on. You’re always loaded.”
“That’s’cause I don’t squander my money foolishly.”