Steve decides to take her with him on the road, a decision that binds them—and their secrets—together in ways neither could ever suspect. They begin an erotic journey that takes them much farther than their physical destination...a bloody journey that will irrevocably change them both.
Previously published as Cemetery Dance.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
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About the Author
Ray Garton is the author of sixty books, including horror novels such as the Bram Stoker Award–nominated Live Girls, Crucifax, Lot Lizards, and The Loveliest Dead; thrillers like Sex and Violence in Hollywood, Murder Was My Alibi, and Trade Secrets; and seven short story collections. He has also written several movie and TV tie-ins and a number of young adult novels under the name Joseph Locke. In 2006, he received the Grand Master of Horror Award. He lives in northern California with his wife.
Read an Excerpt
By Ray Garton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2012 Ray Garton
All rights reserved.
I hadn't been to a carnival since I was a kid, but I'd just finished a job in Portland, and saw the sign as I passed south through the small northern California mountain town of Garver. I had nowhere to be, so I thought, What the hell? I was retired now, finally and for good. I'd done my last job. A stroll through a carnival seemed as good a way as any to celebrate my retirement.
When I was a teenager, I went to carnivals and amusement parks to meet girls. I had no such expectations now. I was forty-eight and intended to stay single. I had too much to hide to have a relationship.
I stopped at a little burger joint in town, got a burger and fries and a chocolate shake, waited for the evening to cool off a little. The late July heat in northern California was unbearable. Dark clouds gathered overhead, adding humidity to the heat.
It was getting dark by the time I finished eating, and I drove around until I found the fairgrounds. I saw the colorful Ferris Wheel and a couple of other rides towering in the distance and just followed them. I had to pay five bucks to park my freshly-washed Lexus in a dusty parking lot, then another five for admission at the front gate. I'd dropped ten bucks before I even got into the place. Carnivals had changed a lot. I remembered when you got in for nothing.
I lit a cigarette as I strolled down the midway. I felt overdressed in my grey slacks and a salmon-colored shirt with the long sleeves rolled up. Everyone else wore shorts, T-shirts or tank tops, sneakers or flip-flops.
I passed booths selling souvenirs and balloons and toys, small trailers selling greasy Chinese food, corn dogs, candied apples, funnel cakes, cotton candy, and even, of all things, deep-fried Twinkies. The deep-fried Twinkie vendors seemed to be very popular. No wonder America was such a fat nation — if people would eat deep-fried Twinkies, I could only assume they would eat anything as long as it had been dipped in hot grease first.
I stood for a while and watched a one-man band, gave a quarter to his little trained monkey. A bit farther up the midway, I veered off onto a well-tended lawn and sat on a bench in front of a gazebo stage where a ventriloquist was performing. I got a few chuckles from him and moved on, taking my time.
At the far end of the midway, there was a trailer selling beer. I tossed my cigarette onto the pavement, stamped it out with my shoe, then picked up the dead butt and dropped it in a garbage can. I walked down and got a large beer and sipped from it as I headed for the carnival grounds.
The first thing that caught my eye was the House of Terror. The haunted house attraction had always been a favorite of mine as a boy. This was the kind you rode through in a little cart. I bought my ticket from a skinny, filthy, toothless man in a little booth. The ticket was labeled Dupree Amusements. I'd seen the name on the sign over the front gate — Dupree Amusements, Inc.
I settled into a black cart that had red paint dribbling down from the edges like blood. The double-door entrance to the House of Terror sported a painting of zombies crawling out of their graves. But the paint had peeled badly and the zombies were missing things like arms or legs or heads, because they had peeled away. It was only a matter of time before the zombies disappeared altogether.
The cart followed the track and went through the double doors and into the dark.
They were always dark, the carnival haunted houses. But I remembered the ones I'd ridden and walked through as a boy, and there were always things jumping out of the darkness at me back then, and it always scared the hell out of me. I didn't let my friends know, of course, and I fought not to cry out when one of the pop-up creatures caught me off guard.
The first thing that popped out at me as I rode through the House of Terror that hot July evening was a metal dowel on a swivel. The dowel had bits of white fuzz attached to it, along with a single shard of plastic. The rest of it, whatever it had been, had broken off.
It was like that all the way through — empty metal dowels that swung out of the dark at me, the scares that once had been perched on them long broken off. Near the end, a pair of pale green hands that, at one time, might have glowed in the dark, reached out at me, but all the plastic fingers had been broken off.
As the light at the end of the tunnel neared, I thought, Just like my childhood. All gone.
I took my beer with me and walked away from the House of Terror feeling disappointed and a little sad.
I thought a ride on the Ferris Wheel might cheer me up, so I bought a ticket and got on. It stopped while I was at the top. I sipped my beer as I took in the bird's-eye view of the carnival, which was colorful and festive. The sounds of laughter rose from below, babies cried and children shouted at each other. The mixed aromas of all the foods and the stinging exhaust from the rides wafted up to my car and filled my nostrils. You couldn't see the filthy, toothless ticket-sellers or the peeling paint. From up there, it all looked beautiful. Like an old street whore seen from a distance in the dark.
After that, I tossed the remainder of my beer into a garbage can — it was very weak, watery beer — and got on a small roller coaster. I decided carnival rides simply weren't as enjoyable as they'd been when I was a boy. They were also no fun alone. I remembered going to Coney Island with friends and riding dizzying rides until we got sick and couldn't stand up.
I paid fifty cents to see the World's Biggest Hog. It was big all right — monstrous — but, in the end, it was just a hog. I spent another fifty cents to see the World's Smallest Horse. That was more interesting. It was an American toy horse, and that's exactly what it looked like — a toy, but a living, breathing toy that got a lot of awws from the crowd. It made me smile.
I wandered around the carnival, played a couple of games. I threw darts at balloons, and when I won a small stuffed rabbit, I handed it to a little girl standing nearby, then returned her smile.
I took a handkerchief from my back pocket and dabbed my sweaty face, the back of my neck. Some sweat had gotten in my eye and stung. It was a hot, muggy night. I looked around, trying to decide where to go next.
A garish tent at the rear of the carnival grounds caught my eye. A chubby, snaggle-toothed barker stood out front and talked into a bullhorn. Behind him, the front of the tent was colorfully painted. A girl wrapped in snakes stood on one side, with lots of writing on the other:
SEE THE SERPENT GIRL! WATCH HER COMMUNE WITH THE SNAKES! SEE HER TAME THE SERPENT THAT ONCE TEMPTED MAN!
The barker shouted through the bullhorn: "She speaks with them, ladies and gentlemen! She has a psychic connection to these ancient serpents! She has stunned the audiences of Europe, and now she's here to perform for you! Come see the Serpent Girl! Another show coming up, you don't wanna miss it! The Serpent Girl, ladies and gentlemen."
I went to the booth and bought a ticket, then went through the tent's entrance.
About twenty folding chairs were set up in two columns. A few men were already seated. Up front was an empty stage. There were speakers in the four corners of the tent.
I went to the front row and sat on the aisle.
A few minutes later, after a couple more men had come in, the lights in the tent went low. A man's voice came over the speakers: "Now, direct from the capitals of Europe to perform for you here tonight — Elise, the Serpent Girl!"
Music came up and a spotlight lit the center of the stage. She stepped into the light and began to dance in a tiny black, bejeweled bikini. In her arms, she held an enormous boa constrictor. She stroked the snake as she undulated to the music, then put it over her head and across her shoulders. The snake slowly began to coil around her as she danced.
Some of the men in the tent applauded.
One of them shouted, "Take it off, honey!"
She wasn't a terribly good dancer. By the time she held two snakes, she'd gone through all her moves and was just repeating herself.
But she was beautiful and I couldn't take my eyes off her.
Her skin was pale, her long, thick hair a deep red. She had strikingly full lips. She was voluptuous and filled the small bikini to its limit. At one point, she got down on all fours and crawled toward the front of the stage, three snakes wrapped around her, hair draped over half her face, Veronica Lake-style. Her lack of talent made little difference. Her bright blue eyes met mine a number of times, and each time, I felt a pleasant chill.
The men in the tent hooted and whistled. I watched silently, and wondered if Elise was her real name.
The show was short. A man came in and cleared out the tent, telling everyone it was over.
I stepped outside and lit a cigarette. I stood there a little while, looking around, wondering what to do next. I decided it would probably be best if I just got back in the car and hit the road again. There were a lot of miles to cover between Garver and Los Angeles. I didn't mind driving at night. In such heat, I preferred it.
I started to walk away from the tent when a woman screamed nearby, then said, rather loudly, "What did I tell you, huh? Didn't I say you ever touch me again, I'll kill you? Huh? Didn't I?"
I stopped and turned in the direction from which the scream had come, and realized it had sounded from behind the Serpent Girl tent. As I jogged along the side of the tent, I heard more.
"You cunt," a man said. "I was the best you ever had and you know it."
"The best?" the woman said with a gasp. "You're scum. I told you, we're over, we've been over. The best! What a laugh that is." She tipped her head back and barked a few harsh laughs. "You couldn't even —"
A sharp slap sounded an instant before I rounded the corner of the tent.
A tall, bear-like man in his fifties stood before the Serpent Girl, still in her sparkly, rhinestone bikini. He towered over her as he shook her hard by her shoulders, growling through clenched teeth, "You miserable bitch, you've always been worthless, and you'll always be worthless. You're crazier than a shit-house rat, and I hope you —"
"Hey," I said, "leave her alone."
"This is none a your fuckin' bidness, buddy," the big man said. He was bald on top, and the rusty ring of hair that went around from ear to ear was wildly mussed. "She belongs to me, I own her, and I'll —"
"Nobody owns me, you fat eunuch," she said. She spat the words.
He slapped her back-handed and knocked her down.
I stepped toward him and, without saying another word, punched him in the face. I caught him off guard and he almost went down, but not quite. As he raised a fist, I hit him again. He was big, but he was slow.
He collapsed to the grass and blood ran from his nose and over his mouth and chin. I watched him a moment until I was satisfied that the man was unconscious.
The Serpent Girl got to her feet, one hand pressed to the side of her face that had been slapped.
"You okay?" I said.
She set her jaw, stepped over to the man, and kicked him in the stomach. He curled up, almost in a ball, as he made a retching sound.
I took her elbow and pulled her back. "Don't do that, okay? He's fine, he's not getting up right away. And if he does," I added, hoping he'd hear, "I'll knock him down again."
She sighed. "I'm unemployed."
"What do you mean?" I said.
"He's my boss."
"Oh. I hope I didn't get you into any trouble."
"I was already in trouble."
"Anything I can do?"
"I don't know. You gotta car?"
"Where you headed?"
She jerked her head and said, "Come with me to my trailer. I wanna get the hell outta here before he gets his shit together."
I went with her toward a few rows of small trailers parked behind the tent. Hers was in the front row, third from the left, tan with a broad brown horizontal stripe. She opened the door and stepped up and in, turned on a light.
"C'mon inside," she said.
I joined her and pulled the door closed behind me.
"Have a seat," she said.
I sat at a table, which was set up like a booth in a diner, while she started putting things into a suitcase on the table in front of me. I looked around. Clothes and underwear were everywhere, as well as junk food wrappers and paper plates, an open bag of potato chips, boxes of various kinds of crackers and cookies. There was a pizza box with its lid up on the counter in the kitchenette. It contained three slices, curled with age, probably hard as rocks.
"Sorry for the mess," she said. "I'm not in here all that much when we're set up, so I haven't bothered to keep it neat and tidy."
I shrugged. "Just looks lived in."
"That's very nice of you, but really, it's a terrible mess," she said. "What's your name?"
I shrugged. "On my dad's side. You're Elise?"
"Nah, that's just showbiz. My name's Carmen Mattox."
"Where you headed, Carmen?"
"I got a sister in Sacramento. Haven't seen her in a long time. I'd like to go there. But I suppose you're not headed that way. You live around here?"
"No, I don't. As a matter of fact, I'm on my way to Los Angeles."
"Really? Then it's on your way." She turned to face me and said, "Look, I got money. I'll pay for half the gas."
I thought about it a moment as I watched her continue packing. I wasn't sure I wanted a passenger. On the other hand, if I was going to have a passenger, it might as well be a woman who looked like Carmen.
"Okay," I said.
She came to me, put a hand on each side of my face and gave me a generous kiss on the mouth. I was aware of her breasts pressing warmly against me as she said, "Thank you so much, I appreciate this so much. Let me put on some clothes."
She went to the back of the trailer, unfastening her bra on the way. In the back room, she turned on a light but did not close the door. From where I sat, I could see her as she changed. I watched her. That was what she wanted me to do.
She kept her back to me most of the time. Her ass was tight and curvaceous. Her breasts swayed heavily as she moved. She came back out wearing a tight red shirt that only came to the top of her belly, a pair of denim cut-offs, and red sneakers. I noticed she chewed her fingernails and barely had any left. She picked up her suitcase and smiled at me as she brushed some hair back out of her eyes with her fingers.
"Let's go," she said.
I got up and went to the door first and opened it.
The man who had slapped her around earlier stood just outside. Blood dribbled from his nose and cut lip, and his left eye was swollen.
"You're a glutton for punishment," I said.
"Look," he said, "this is none a your fuckin' bidness, and I'd 'preciate it if you'd just get the hell outta my way." When he saw Carmen behind me, he pointed at her and said, "You're fired, you hear me? And I mean it this time. I want you outta here in an hour or I'll call the cops. And you wouldn't want that, would you? No, you sure as hell wouldn't want that, honey."
Carmen stepped around me and left the trailer. "You can't fire me, I quit!"
"What else you gonna do?" he shouted, fists clenched at his sides.
"Anything's better than working for you, Lenny."
I stepped down and took her elbow. "Come on, let's go."
"Yeah, that's right," Lenny said. "Hook up with the first sucker who comes along."
"Let's just go," I said.
Lenny lunged forward, a fist raised to strike her. I slammed my body into his and knocked him backward. Then I stepped back, swung my foot up, and kicked the big man in the nuts. Lenny doubled over, then fell to the ground with a long groan. As he vomited, Carmen and I turned and walked away.
Several seconds later, Lenny managed to shout, in a cracked voice, "You're ... gonna be ... sorry!"
I released a single chuckle. "He says you're going to be sorry."
"I think he was talking to you," Carmen said with a smile. "Where are you parked?"
"In that dust bowl of a parking lot out front. For five lousy bucks."
"What kinda car you got?"
"A Lexus, huh? That's nice."
We talked as we walked across the carnival grounds, down the Midway, and to the front gate.
"Oh, damn," Carmen said just inside the gate.
"I left my purse in the trailer."
"Well, let's go back and —"
"No," she said. "Wait right here. I'll run and get it."
Excerpted from Serpent Girl by Ray Garton. Copyright © 2012 Ray Garton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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