Funland - By Richard Laymon


He came out of the shadows beside the closed arcade and shambled toward Tanya. He looked like something that had crawled out of a grave in a zombie film—face gray under the moonlight, eyes like holes, head tipped sideways, feet shuffling, ragged clothes flapping in the wind.

Tanya halted. She folded her arms across her breasts. In spite of the chill wind blowing in off the ocean, she was warm enough in her sweatsuit. But now her skin started to crawl as if coming alive and shrinking. A belt seemed to be drawing tight across her forehead. She could feel the hair standing upright on the nape of her neck, on her arms.

The man shuffled closer.

Not a zombie, Tanya knew.

Zombies aren’t real. Zombies can’t mess with you. They don’t exist.

This was a troll.

One of the mad, homeless parasites that preyed on anyone—everyone—who ventured near the boardwalk or the beach. More of them all the time. The filthy, degenerate scum of the earth.

This troll, still a few strides from Tanya, reached out his hand.

She took a quick step backward, suddenly suspected that others might be lurching toward her, and snapped her head around. She saw no one else.

She knew they were watching, though. Trolls. Two, or three, or ten of them. Gazing out from the black rags of shadows near the game booths and rides, from around corners, maybe leering up at her through cracks in the flooring of the boardwalk. Watching, but staying out of sight.

“Can y’spare two bits, darlin’?”

She snapped her head toward the troll.

She could see his eyes now. They looked wet and runny in the moonlight. His teeth were bared in a sly, humble grin. Some in front were missing. The wind wasn’t strong enough to blow away the sour stench of him.

“Okay,” Tanya said. “Sure.” She swung her shoulder bag off her hip. Clutching it to her belly, she opened it and took out her change purse.

“Can y’spare a buck, darlin’?” He bobbed his head, rubbed his whiskery chin. “I ain’t had a bite t’eat in free days.”

“I’ll see what I’ve got,” she said, and snapped open the change purse.

“Whacha doin’ out here?” he asked. “Ain’t safe, y’know. Lotta weirdees, if y’get m’drift.”

“I’ve noticed,” Tanya said.

“Purty young fing. Weirdees, they sure like purty young fings.”

Instead of coins, Tanya plucked a white card from her purse. She jerked it forward and snapped it across the troll’s waiting hand.

“Wha…?” He scowled at it.

“Can you read it?”

“Wha-sis shit?”

“It’s a message for you.”

He ripped the card and threw it down. The wind flung the pieces aside. “Wanna buck—free, four bucks. C’mon.” He jigged his outstretched hand. “C’mon!”

Tanya swung the handbag past her hip and behind her, out of the way. She felt its weight against her rump. “What the card said, you illiterate fuck, is ‘Dear Troll, Greetings from Great Big Billy Goat Gruff.’”

“Wha-sis shit?”

Tanya lunged at him. Squealing, he staggered backward. She grabbed the crusty front of his coat, hooked a leg behind him, swept his legs forward, and shoved him down. His back hit the boardwalk. His breath whooshed out as she stomped on his belly. He rolled onto his side and curled up, wheezing.

Tanya dug inside the neck of her sweatshirt. She drew out the whistle, turned away from the writhing troll, and blew a quick blast.

They sprang from their hiding place beside the distant ticket booth and raced toward her: Nate, Samson, Randy, Shiner, Cowboy, Karen, Heather, and Liz.

The team.

Tanya’s Trollers.

Watching their charge, she felt a swelling of pride in her chest. She smiled and thrust a fist into the air. All of them pumped fists over their heads. Somebody—had to be Cowboy—let out a whoop.

Tanya turned to the troll. He was crawling, trying to get away. She hurried over to him and pounded down with her shoe, turning his foot, grinding his ankle against the wood. He let out a shriek and flopped. Keeping his foot pinned, she waited. At first she heard only the rush of the wind, the distant heavy sound of combers washing onto the beach. Then came the slap and scuff of the approaching team.

In seconds she and the troll were surrounded.

Nate patted her rump. “How’d it go?”

“No sweat.”

The troll disappeared under crouched and kneeling bodies.

“Lemme be!” he whimpered. “Le’ go!”

He gasped and grunted and yelped as blows thumped him.

Turning around, Tanya scanned the boardwalk. She saw nobody. If other trolls were watching, and she was sure they must be—hoped they were—they had no interest in coming to the aid of this one.