Once a year, he comes. On Halloween night. A face as white as a satin moth, hair as wild and red as a frizzled fox. He wears a faded multicoloured costume with large buttons and a ruffled collar, and in his right hand he clutches three or four red helium balloons. A pretty good depiction of Pennywise the clown from IT.
It wouldn’t seem odd; many adults in this neighbourhood enjoyed joining in with the kids as they dressed as their favourite horror characters and went round the doors, trick or treating their neighbours to the delight – and sometimes the misery – of the residents. However, this clown went alone. No children with him and he didn’t knock on any doors, didn’t carry a bag for trick or treat goodies. And perhaps most peculiar of all, he didn’t speak to anybody. Didn’t even look at them. He kept his head down and simply patrolled the streets like a ghostly wanderer searching for something long ago lost, to the torment of his disheartened soul.
The neighbourhood was a small one. The kind of place where everyone knew everyone else. Only, nobody knew who the clown was. Occasionally, an accusing finger or two was pointed towards this man or that, but still nobody had found the real face behind the clown makeup. Nobody knew who he was, or why he simply walked the streets each Halloween night.
The news started taking interest; one year The Town Crier newspaper wrote a two-page article exploring the mystery and venturing some guesses as to who the man might be. Their prime suspect was the local baker, Adam Hutchinson, who had been so offended he’d had the paper print an apology, alongside a deceleration that there was no such evidence linking the clown to him or his bakery. He’d claimed he had lost business due to the article, because there were many in the neighbourhood who had begun to get suspicious and even a little fearful of the man. Who was he, really? What was he doing? Why did he just walk around with that creepy costume and those balloons? Parents began insisting that their children don’t approach him, and the children began telling their own stories about who this person was. None of the stories had very happy endings.
Another year, a camera crew set out to find the clown and interview him live on TV. An entire special news programme was dedicated to this, which mostly followed the crew around as they tried without success to track the clown down. But just as the programme was approaching the end of its allotted time, they had spotted him walking quietly down the street opposite the reporter who had had her back turned to him. When the camera man’s voice came into the programme to point out the clown, the reporter immediately turned and jogged across the road to speak to the man.
‘Sir! Sir, please wait!’
The clown didn’t look up. He kept his grim face pointed downwards to the floor and turned a corner into a narrow alleyway. The cameraman followed the reporter as she raced after him, disappearing around the corner.
When the cameraman got to the alley, the clown and the reporter were gone.
30th October 2021
One year after the disappearance of reporter Janice Smith
‘I heard he has massive claws underneath those long sleeves. And he ripped out the throat of that journalist woman.’
‘How come there was no body then?’
‘He ate her.’
‘He wouldn’t have time!’
‘That’s the thing. He can pause time too.’
‘It’s true! Why do you think nobody’s ever been able to catch him?’
‘Well I heard that he’s not a normal person. He’s a ghost. The ghost of a guy who got murdered one Halloween, and he wanders the streets looking for the one who killed him.’
‘Oh, really? What do you think then?’
‘He’s an alien. It’s obvious. He grabbed Janice Smith and his UFO beamed them up. It’s the only explanation.’
The three boys had been engaged in this talk all day. The disappearance of Janice Smith had shocked not only the neighbourhood, but the entire world. There it was live on TV – a reporter and a mysterious clown vanishing into thin air. Many had claimed that it was a hoax, but when it had become apparent that Janice Smith had had a family who had no idea what had happened to her, the story became morbidly fascinating for many. Not least, the children in the neighbourhood.
‘You know what we should do?’ Mike, who had been sure that Janice had been eaten said.
‘What?’ Steve, the alien conspirator asked.
‘We should find that clown,’ Mike said. ‘And follow him. Find out once and for all who he is, and what he wants.’
‘Don’t be stupid!’ John said. ‘You know what the police have said – they don’t want kids wandering off by themselves this Halloween. They’re looking for him, y’know.’
It was true. The chief of police had been interviewed on TV after a nearly year-long campaign into finding out once and for all who the clown was, and to hopefully track down Janice Smith. He’d said that the police were working diligently to find the man, and warned parents not to let their kids go off trick or treating alone.
‘I don’t want to cause a panic of any sort,’ he’d said. ‘But until we can piece together exactly what happened to Miss Smith, We feel it’s best to treat this clown as suspicious and potentially dangerous. Anybody with any information should call the police department as soon as possible.’
But nobody had. Nobody had any sort of information. The clown was a complete mystery.
Which was why the boys wanted to find him so badly.
31st October 2021
‘Back by eight o’clock at the latest,’ Mike’s mother repeated. ‘You’re lucky you’re getting out at all. And stay with John’s dad.’
‘I will,’ Mike said. His voice was slightly muffled coming from behind his bandages. It was slightly difficult to move in his mummy costume, and he worried a little about having to chase after the clown tonight. He supposed if it came down to it, he could tear off the bandages and sprint as quickly as he liked.
Leaving the house and waling just a few streets up, he found John, face coloured green and painted with black stitches, fake blood running down his ripped clothes and a bolt driven through his neck.
‘Are you supposed to be a zombie or Frankenstein?’ Mike asked.
‘Frankenstein isn’t a monster,’ John replied. ‘You should say Frankenstein's monster.’
Mike tutted. ‘Frankenstein’s monster, then?’
‘I dunno,’ John shrugged. ‘I just put together some freaky shit and hoped it looked scary. Did your mum believe you then?’
‘Yup,’ Mike said. ‘She thinks your dad is coming with us. She’ll freak out if she finds out he’s not. Hopefully Steve got away with it too.’
‘Got away with what?’ a voice asked, and from around the corner walked Steve, partly hidden behind a werewolf mask.
‘Steve!’ John beamed. ‘Right, well, we all made it. We’ve got about an hour to find him. Where should we start?’
‘There’s only one place, really, isn’t there?’ Mike said. Let’s check out that alleyway on Constitution Street. The last place the clown was seen.’
‘Good idea,’ Steve said.
The boys set off.
It seemed that they weren’t the only ones clown hunting tonight. And the idea of checking the alleyway where he was last seen with Janice Smith had evidently occurred to many others. The street was filled with youngsters excitedly giggling and pointing out the area where the clown had pulled off his insane disappearing act. The boys hadn’t even been able to get into the alley because of the crowds.
‘Shit,’ Mike said. ‘Well I guess he won’t show up here with all these people hanging around.’
‘You never know,’ John said. ‘We could hang around for a while. Looks like a lot of these guys are thinking the same.’
‘Well, we don’t want that,’ Steve said. ‘We want to be the ones to catch him, don’t we?’
‘Wait a minute,’ Mike said, struck by a sudden thought. Where was the reporter standing the night she went missing?’
‘Over there,’ John indicated towards a part of the pavement on the other side of the road.
Mike walked over to it and then turned to face his friends. Pointing up a further end of the street they were standing on, he said: ‘so the clown walked down the street from over there?’
‘Yeah, probably,’ John said. ‘Why?’
‘What if the clown has the same walking route every year?’ Mike said, walking back towards his friends. ‘What if he just goes the same way every Halloween? All we need to do is head that way and make sure we go past different places where he’s been spotted before. Then we’re sure to find him.’
Enthused by the idea, John and Steve followed Mike as he trudged up the street.
They searched for what seemed like hours. The night was dark and cold and the wind carried dead leaves and a cold scent of approaching winter. The bare branches of trees swung ominously as though in warning to the boys.
Turn back now. Flee! Flee to safety.
Occasionally they would spot a patrolling police car in the distance and dive behind the nearest hedge for fear of being sent home. The streets became emptier as they travelled, and on Mike’s suggestion, they were sure to visit just a few homes to fill their buckets with sweets. Their parents would be suspicious otherwise.
Their hearts lifted once early on in the night when they had spotted a pale clown with sad, droopy eyes. But it had only been a trick or treater, the first of many who had chosen to don a clown outfit that evening.
Now there were barely any youngsters, and worse, no sign of the mysterious clown. But worst of all, Mike’s watch told him it was now only ten minutes to eight. They hadn’t kept track of the time and would certainly be late back.
‘Aw, man’ Mike complained. ‘My mum’s gonna kill me.’
‘Well that’s that then,’ Steve said, sadly. ‘No killer clown. Maybe he’s given up.’
‘Or maybe he took Janice Smith to another dimension,’ John suggested. ‘One he can’t come back from. What’s wrong, Mike? You look sad.’
‘Yeah,’ Mike said. ‘Just a bit disappointed, I guess. I kinda thought we’d find him.’
‘There’s always next year,’ Steve said, hopefully.
And then they heard it. The sound of tiny bells creeping up on them. Sneaking through the darkness and laughing grimly as they approached the now fearful boys. The air went still. The night was enveloped in dread.
They saw him. Used to seeing the clown on YouTube videos and news stories, the boys were shocked to see that he looked different tonight. Instead of skulking his head downwards, staring at the floor and shuffling forwards slowly, he looked ahead of him, and his eyes were fire. His head darted in all directions and he strolled forwards, arms swinging furiously as he propelled onwards.
‘He’s...’ John breathed. ‘He’s looking for something.’
‘Yeah,’ Mike said. ‘Maybe he…’
But his thought was interrupted by strenuous footsteps now coming from another direction. From across the street a woman now ran towards the boys, moving as fast as she could. In her face, the boys saw a mad look of terror. Her face…
But yes, that face… Didn’t they know her from somewhere?
The reporter was here, alive and in the flesh. Janice Smith. The very same. And she was running for her life. Running from the clown.
‘Get out of my way!!’ she shrieked at the boys, and as soon as she had shouted the clown’s busy head snapped towards her. His eyes grew darker and he lunged forwards with a diabolical scream.
Janice Smith roughly pushed Steve aside, who fell to the road and landed with a hard smack on his side. Mike and John watched, gobsmacked, as Janice rushed past them and sprinted in the direction of a nearby park, dimly lit with flickering lampposts. Looking back at the clown, they saw to their horror that his face was now twisted with something in between fury and demented laughter.
‘Steve!!’ Mike bellowed, reaching an arm out to him. ‘Come on! We gotta move!’
Mike helped Steve to his feet and the trio pelted in the same direction as Janice, who had now disappeared into the darkness of the park. Daring a glance behind him, Mike saw that the clown was uncomfortably close.
‘Faster!’ Mike yelled. ‘Into the park!’
When they reached the park, John stopped. ‘Wait! Help me with this!’
He swung the heavy iron gate of one side of the park closed. Mike and Steve ran to the other and pushed it. They gates swung shut and John was able to bolt them just as the clown arrived.
Up close, he was a giant. He must have been at least seven feet tall, slender as a snake and pale as a ghost. Yes, pale. It was easy to see now. That was no makeup on his face. It was just the colour of his skin.
He sneered at the boys before allowing a sinister grin to spread across his face. Then he jerked away and ran off, no doubt searching for an alternative entrance.
‘Let’s get out of here,’ Steve breathed. ‘Let’s go home. We never should have come here.’
‘Yeah,’ John agreed. ‘I don’t care if my mum gets me in trouble. At least we’ll be away from that thing.’
‘You’re right,’ a voice from the darkness called. The boys jerked around in fear to spot Janice Smith, breathing heavily and sweating. ‘You called it a thing. You’re absolutely right. That is no man. I don’t know what it is but it wants me, and it won’t stop until it gets me.’
‘But…’ Mike started. ‘But we all thought it already got you. Halloween last year. You disappeared with the clown.’
‘No,’ Janice said. ‘I didn’t. That wasn’t the clown.’
John looked perplexed. ‘What do you mean? It was, we saw it on the news.’
‘It was a setup,’ Janice said. ‘I faked it. That clown was my friend, Pete.’
‘You faked it?’ Steve asked. ‘What, every year? And then you faked going missing?’
‘I’m presumed dead,’ Janice said. ‘That’s what I wanted. I wanted to fake my death. I needed to get out of this town and away from everything. I felt trapped… Look, I had my reasons but that thing, no I didn’t fake that every year. That clown you saw tonight is the same one you’ve been seeing on the news for years. And it took exception to our fake clown and our stunt. I think we offended it. It started with Pete, the very same night… It came for him and now… Well, now Pete’s gone. But I managed to escape it and I planned to get out of town, out of the country but… it seems I’m trapped. I think that thing has trapped me because no matter what I try, no matter what I do I can’t get away. I…’
Suddenly, Janice fell forwards. She hit the ground hard and the boys saw it. The clown, crouched down behind her, its arm stretched out four times its original length and clutching on tightly to Janice’s ankle.
It pulled. Janice Smith screamed as she was dragged into the darkness of the park.
When the boys couldn’t see her anymore, all went silent.
31st October 2022
‘You guys sure you don’t want to watch a spooky movie or something?’ Mike’s mother asked.
‘No!’ they all answered instantly.
‘Yikes,’ Mike’s mother said. ‘What’s freaked you all out so much you’ve become the world’s number one Halloween haters? You haven’t watched some awful film you shouldn’t have, have you?’
‘No, Mum,’ Mike whined. ‘We’re just not in the mood for it this year, okay?’
‘All right, all right,’ Mike’s mother said. She went to leave before she started back once more. ‘Oh, I almost forgot. You got a letter. Probably from the dentist or something, they’ve started addressing their letters to the patients and not their parents now. Here.’
She tossed the letter to Mike and left. Instantly, Mike felt dread, and the other boys must have too, because they closed in around Mike as he tore the letter open and read the messy, handwritten letter.
Thank you for your assistance last year.
I have a gift for all three of you.
Meet me at the same park tonight and you’ll receive it.
Shaking, Mike placed the letter face down on his lap. Well, all they had to do was stay home and they’d probably be fine. He had no interest in these “gifts” that the clown… the creature wanted to give. He could almost relax but…
‘Mike…’ Steve’s shaking voice came and he saw that he was pointing to the back of the letter on Mike’s lap.
Alternatively, I will come to you.