“Well, this party sucks,” Victoria Powers pronounced as she looked around the clearing in disgust.
Vicki had been at parties that summer where there had been dozens of cars, each packed full. Music blasting, people dancing, people drinking, people smoking pot, people slipping off into the woods or disappearing back into the cars. Tonight, there was maybe five cars, maybe a dozen people. The fire was already burning low. The entertainment consisted of Randy Summers showing off with his Diablo sticks. Again. And the booze supply was simply pathetic. She could probably drink the whole thing herself and still be on her feet.
“Where the hell is everybody?”
She stood with one hip thrust out, her fist resting on it impatiently. The other hand held a plastic cup full of Bud Larrance’s special punch: Hawaiian Punch with enough Everclear mixed in to dilute the color, plus a few “secret ingredients,” which Bud refused to reveal. He called the stuff his “Leg-Opener Special,” and when she’d taken her first cup of the night, he’d tried to make some sort of stupid joke about how she should leave it for someone who actually needed it. Her response had been that he would never make enough to get laid himself, so could he just give her some of the damn punch, please?
The truth was, he was closer to right than he would ever find out. Vicki powers had come set to score tonight. Her glorious red hair, her favorite feature, was done up just enough to look wild. Her makeup accentuated her delicate cheekbones and her huge, blue eyes. She was wearing her shortest, most painted-on daisy dukes in order to showcase her legs (at five-ten, she certainly had enough to show) and her ass, and the tightest, briefest tank top she could find in the hopes of making something of her somewhat less-impressive tits.
And a condom in each back pocket, because she knew the retards and assholes she would be dealing with tonight: “Don’t worry, babe, I’ll pull out in time,” and then nine months later you’re changing diapers.
Usually, it wasn’t too hard for her to find the right retard or asshole for a good bounce in the backseat or a quick trip to the woods, but the party was fuckin’ dead. Oh, there were one or two guys here that were always up for a good time (well, they had a good time. Her? Not a guarantee.), but she had hoped for better.
She turned back to Bud. Earlier, she’d noted that he was looking a bit different than the last time she’d seen him, a couple weeks back. Specifically, he’d developed a smudge on his upper lip that he optimistically called a mustache. Between that and the “Ten Reasons Beer is Better Than Women” T-shirt he was wearing, he wasn’t even getting to first base tonight. With anyone. He was apparently trying to counterbalance all that by serving mass quantities of his Leg-Opener Special. He was already mixing up another batch in a big bowl he had set on a stump.
“Whose dumbass idea was it to have a party on Sunday night, anyway?” She demanded.
“Not sure,” he replied. He plucked a slice of orange from the surface of his punch. “Hey, did you know that the fruit absorbs alcohol? If you eat it, you’ll get blasted much quicker.” He offered the slice to her.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes.” He shrugged and ate the slice himself. “Anyway, my guess is Sunday doesn’t have much to do with it. It all had to be moved ‘cause of what happened at Black Lake. Bet that threw people off.”
“Sure it did,” she muttered. “I bet I know where they are.” Absently, she took an orange slice from the punch bowl and popped it in her mouth. Bud grinned. She caught the grin, realized what she was doing, and scowled at him. She swallowed the orange and continued. “They didn’t wanna be at a party that would let scum like us in.”
“Now c’mon, Vick. You know that’s not true. Everybody comes to these, even the football players. All this summer–“
“Even if VanDyne tells them not to?”
Bud shook his head with a sigh. “Now you’re just being pissy. You know that she isn’t nearly as big and important as she likes to think.” He took a swig of his punch, coughed, and shivered. “Perfect,” he gasped. Then he cleared his throat and continued. “She’s just a bitch, Vick. You let her get to you too much.”
More than one person, upon seeing Vicki’s grace and the wild, manic energy in her eyes had compared her to a cat. Especially on nights like this, when she was in heat. But she had more in common with a hunting cat than her eyes and her rutting habits. She lived by her instincts and intuition, and her senses were always sharper than anyone expected. Bud’s glance over her shoulder and a footstep that no one else would have heard over the noise were enough warning. She turned her hips and the hand that had been swinging in to grab her ass missed.
Vicki made a noise of disgust in her throat as she turned to her would-be groper.
Rodney Dupre was tall, one of the few men actually tall enough to look down on her. However, he was painfully thin—gaunt, really. Almost skeletal. His hair was as long as hers, but it was greasy and dirty blond instead of flaming red, and he had a three-day stubble on his chin. His lanky frame was covered by threadbare blue jeans and a torn Testament t-shirt, and a joint in his right hand completed the image. He looked her up and down, grinning broadly and pretending that his attempt to grab her hadn’t failed. When his survey was complete, he licked his chops. When he finally spoke, it was directly to her breasts. “Hey, Vick. Like your party clothes. Want to take a ride on the stallion for old time’s sake?
“Hmm,” Vicki said. “Let me think about it. No.”
His face darkened, and his eyes finally rose to hers. “Who’re you tryin’ to fool, bitch? You come out here dressed like that and you’re not looking for some dick? Bullshit! You’re probably even freeballin’ it.”
She was. Considering how drunk or stoned her ride of the night was likely to be, panties would just confuse him. Not that it was any of Rodney’s business. “Even if I am looking for dick, I’m not looking for yours,” She retorted. “And I’m not your bitch.”
He glowered at her for a moment, then his expression abruptly shifted to a knowing grin. “You weren’t always so choosy.”
Vicki felt heat rise in her face. Whether it was anger or humiliation, she didn’t know. “Not tonight, Rodney,” she growled.
“Arright,” he shrugged. Vicki watched him suspiciously. She didn’t expect him to give up so easily. “So where’s Turbo?” He asked casually, after a moment’s pause.
“Val,” Bud explained.
Vicki scowled at Rodney, who grinned with manic glee. “Get it? Turbo?” He hinted. No response. “Turbines!” He giggled, as if that said it all. He sighed when Vicki just kept scowling. “She…has…big…tits,” he explained, slow and loud like he was talking to a retard or something, pulling his t-shirt out into two points to demonstrate.
“I get it,” She snapped. “It’s just not funny. Don’t call her that.”
“Who says? Besides, she likes it.”
“I say. And she doesn’t like it. She just doesn’t have it in her to stand up and tell you that.” She drew herself up to her full height. “But I’m not scared of you.”
Rodney glowered down at her. “Maybe you should be.”
Bud sighed. This again. He wished the two of them would either get back together or just fight it out and get it over with. “So, did you guys hear about Lila and Jeremy?” He interrupted, hoping to change the course of the conversation.
“I heard they went parking and never came back,” Vicki said. “And that Angelina Cruz found the car.”
“That’s not all I heard,” Rodney said gleefully. Bud resisted the urge to shake his head. Rodney’s attention span hadn’t improved. Without a word, he ladled a cup of punch for his brain-damaged friend and handed it to him. “I heard,” Rodney continued. “That the driver’s side of the car was covered with blood, and all gouged up,” He hooked his index finger at Vicki. “Like somebody scraped it with something sharp.”
Vicki rolled her eyes. Rodney’s morbidity and sick sense of humor hadn’t improved.
“So Jeremy’s fuckin’ car got keyed. So what?”
“Not keyed,” Rodney said. “Scraped to the metal. Whoever – “ he paused, and his voice went deep and funereal “ – or whatever – “ before returning to normal “ – did this, they weren’t fuckin’ around.”
“Maybe the Reaper got ‘em,” Bud suggested.
“The who?” Vicki asked.
Bud and Rodney both stared at her.
“You never heard the story of the Reaper?” Bud asked, wide-eyed with amazement.
Vicki shook her head. “Nope. Never did.”
“You never heard it?” Rodney said. “You never heard it? What rock have you been living under?”
Vicki sighed and rolled her eyes again. “Why don’t you enlighten me, Rodney? Or are you just gonna stand there and gloat all night?”
“Okay, okay, it’s like this, see, it’s like this—“ Rodney began, pointing and gesturing and spilling his punch everywhere.
“The Reaper’s been hanging around this valley for, like, ever,” Bud began, coming to the conclusion that Rodney could keep yammering all night without actually saying anything if he wasn’t interrupted.
“He’s some kind of inbred hillbilly retard or something,” Rodney continued, as if he’d spoken Bud’s words himself. “And he lives in this shack out in the woods.”
“Where else?” Vicki murmured. Bud grinned at her, but Rodney didn’t notice.
“And he hates fuckin’ everybody, see. Probably because he’s so fuckin’ ugly that nobody wants to even look at him. But he really fuckin’ hates people he finds out parking, because he knows he’s never going to get laid himself. So sometimes, when somebody is out parking, they’ll hear something scraping on the outside of the car, the bitch’ll get scared and – you know how it is when they have an excuse not to put out – they end up going home, but when they look in the mirror, sometimes they see someone standing there with a sickle in his hand.”
“Which couldn’t possibly be their friends fucking with them,” Vicki sneered.
“Sure it is,” Rodney agreed. “Usually. But every couple years, something happens that isn’t so easy to explain: a guy gets out to take a piss afterward, and never comes back – the girl hears scraping noises all night, and in the morning, the car is scratched to shit, but the guy is never seen again. Other times, somebody’ll duck into the woods for a quick BJ, and never come back to the party. And sometimes…sometimes they just find a car sitting empty, like they did for Jeremy and Lila. The only time they were ever really sure of anything was the first time, way back in the fifties or something. That was the only time they found the bodies. The guy had both heads cut off, and the bitch…” he grinned nastily. “The bitch had been opened from box…” He pointed at Vicki’s crotch with the joint in his hand. Then his smoking pointer rose to her chest. “…to boobs.”
It was a bone-chilling story, but Rodney’s lead-handed delivery had robbed it of its terror. Vicki just rolled her eyes. “Yeah, Rodney. Now that I know the story, it does sound like that might be what happened. Glad you told me.” She held her cup out to Bud, and he refilled it. “Now I’m going to go find somebody I actually want to talk to.” She quirked a smile at Bud. “No offense.”
Bud grinned back. “None taken.”
Then, giving Rodney a polite nod that was beyond insincere, Vicki said “Please excuse me,” in a faux-haughty voice and walked away.
Rodney watched her back as she walked toward the fire. Not even his admiration for her truly fine ass cooled his resentment. “Bitch,” he muttered.
Bud just laughed.
Some time later, Bud stumbled into the woods. Sampling his own punch all night had left his feet unsteady and his bladder full. The twigs, roots and uneven ground aggravated the first problem, and made relieving the second more difficult.
The story of the Reaper wasn’t nearly so funny now. But every time he started seeing a giant hillbilly looming in the dark behind the next tree, he just he remembered who he’d heard the story from, and with, and he’d start to laugh at himself for being so stupid. To Hell with Jeremy Zerschmitt’s empty car – anything you talked about while smoking a few nugs at a party with Rodney Dupre and Vicki Powers had nothing to do with the real world.
The party had picked up a bit since that conversation. Not a whole lot, but enough so that it counted as a real party now. Somebody had started blasting their car stereo, Vicki had started dancing, and the last he’d seen, she’d been leaping over the fire. Judging from past experience when she was drunk, she and Rod would probably end up fucking tonight after all.
That brought a momentary regret, and a gusty sigh. “Damn it, Vick, Rod’s my buddy, but he’s no good for you, girl. There’s other guys around who’d treat you better. Guys like me.”
He moped for a moment, but only a moment. Bud Larrance was never one to dwell on the negative. No sir. He was a happy guy by nature, and he was at a party. Why get stuck on the one girl you can’t have? It’s like they always say about women and busses: there’s plenty of ‘em in the sea. “Always look on the bright side of life,” that was his motto. Along with “don’t worry, be happy,” “what, me worry?” and “I never met a beer I didn’t like.”
Unpleasant thoughts banished, Bud got down to the business at hand.
Once he’d finished, he zipped up and looked around. He had a vague idea that he should walk back the way he’d come, but which way was that? He must have wandered more than he’d thought. Simply looking behind him didn’t help. No firelight that way, just dark woods. Hm. Weird. Which way then? He turned this way and that, then in a slow circle.
Slowly, he grew more and more uneasy. He sobered as he realized that there was nothing in any direction, no matter which way he turned: no light, no music, nothing.
“Where the hell am I?”
He fought down the fear that was slowly filling his guts, but the story of the Reaper and the reality of Lila and Jeremy came back to him, party and nugs or not. There was something bad in these woods, and he was out alone in them. He was about to call for help, embarrassment be damned, when he finally spotted a light in the distance.
He sighed in relief and started toward it. He didn’t remember some things he walked past—not that big rock sticking out of the ground, not the one tree leaning against the other, not all the brush he had to push through, and definitely not the fallen log he had to crawl over. But he dismissed all that. Maybe he’d just gone a different way when he’d gone out. No, what seemed weird to him was that he didn’t remember coming this far, and since he was taking the straight-line path now, his drunken, wandering route earlier should have been even longer.
But he dismissed that, too, and hurried toward the light. It was getting cold. Foggy, too. He couldn’t see where he’d just been. Not that he could have, anyway, dark as it was.
He shivered, and his thoughts scattered again. It was freakin’ cold. All he wanted now was to get close to the fire, maybe sit in an unoccupied car and warm up.
As he approached, he became uneasy again. Why was it so quiet? There was no music, no one talking, no one shouting, no sex noises from the cars, no sound of dancing feet. Maybe they were all out looking for him.
Or maybe they all left?
In the couple minutes he was gone? Bullshit.
Or maybe they’re all dead.
Any other night, it would have been crazy. The thought wouldn’t even have occurred to him. Tonight?
Bud ran forward, dignity forgotten, screaming “Hello! Is anyone there? It’s me, Bud! Where is everybody?”
“Relax, Bud,” Came a familiar, if not comforting, voice.
Bud jolted to halt. “Huh? Oh, hi. I didn’t know you were – I didn’t see you before.”
“Well, I wasn’t invited. So me and a few friends decided to have a little party of our own.”
It was then Bud realized that his desperation for any beacon in the darkness had led him astray. The cold, dead, gray-white light that he’d been walking toward was the wrong color for fire.