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The Traveling Vampire Show

By:Richard Laymont

The Traveling Vampire Show
Richard Laymont

Chapter One

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.

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.

Mostly relief.

"Oh, man," I muttered, trying to sound dismayed. "What a bummer."