Awakened by a shrill scream, Matt was shocked as he realized with cold sweat rolling off his body it was his own voice screaming in the night.
The memory of the nightmare still filling his mind caused him to shudder violently.
He had been dreaming almost every night about a clown. At times the clown was laughing with a deep resonating laugh. Other times he was giggling as he squeaked the balloons he was forming into animal shapes. The dream always ended with the same plea from the clown, "I'm lost, please find me." It was always the same...the joyful clown became a sad, lost soul with haunting eyes.
Matt showered and headed to work. His current job was located on the other side of the county in the country rather than the city where he usually worked in construction.
The drive to the country was most pleasant. Spring always brought out feelings of new awakening in everything and in the country it was even more so. The dogwood trees were blooming, fruit trees budding out and daffodils and paperwhite narcissus filled the air with a sweet fragrance.
As Matt rounded the next curve he found himself entering a wooded area. He was close to his job site now. Wow! It's so peaceful out here. I can understand why Doc wants a cabin now.
Getting out of his Black Chevy 4x4, he could hear the crickets and grasshoppers singing a melody heralding warm weather. Then he caught sight of the pond shimmering in the sunlight. Whoa! Bet the crickets and grasshoppers would be great bait. Maybe Doc will let me fish this summer."
Time to stop daydreaming and get to work. The rest of the crew had arrived and the carpenters became busy as the honeybees that were diligently gathering pollen to make their sweet succulent honey.
Doc and his brother-in-law, Jim, came out to see what progress was being made on the cabin that afternoon.
"Doc. Jim." Matt extended his hand for a handshake in greeting.
"Matt, how much would it cost me to have a covered walkway from the cabin to the pond?" Doc asked.
"For a money price I'd have to do some figuring, but if you'd let me do some fishing this summer I'd do it for free." Matt said.
Jim raised his head and jumped into the conversation. "I don't know if it's a good idea to let outsiders fish and hunt these woods, Doc."
"Matt's not exactly an outsider. He lives just on the other side of the county and he's done an exceptional job with the cabin and keeps the area clean." Doc stated to Jim.
Red began to creep up Jim's neck. "My place is just behind yours and I think we ought not let anybody but family fish and hunt. You remember all the commotion years back when that solitary old man that played as a clown in town disappeared. He used to hunt and fish some out here and the cops tore this place up looking for him when he didn't show for a kid's show at the school."
"That was twenty years ago when we were kids Jim. They didn't look too much. Folks just figured he wandered off to another town the same way he wandered into Tooney."
"Hey guys," Matt intervened . "I didn't mean to cause a family squabble. I can come up with a price if you'd rather. I just wanted to get away some for peace and quite. This seemed like the perfect spot is all."
"Jim, how about having Matt out to fish with us and if all seems okay we can look at the subject again? It'd be a good way to get to know Matt better."
The red became deeper on Jim's neck."It's your place. Do what you want." Jim stomped off in a huff to the vehicle they had arrived in.
"Don't know what his problem is, Matt. Jim is a strange bird sometimes. I plan to have a fishing rodeo out here in two weeks for everybody. The kids like it. Why don't you join us then?" Doc offered.
"I'd be glad to. Sounds like lots of fun." Matt said.
"Two weeks then. See you. I am really pleased with your work. Don't worry about Jim, he'll come around." Doc said over his shoulder as he left.
Tired from the pure physical labor of building the cabin with the same old hammer his dad had passed on to him, Matt showered, ate a quick sandwich for supper and turned in for the night.
Two weeks passed slowly with Matt exhausted from interrupted sleep from the constant nightmares of the clown calling for help. Maybe the fishing rodeo is just what I need to take my mind off these crazy dreams.
Matt packed all his fishing gear in the truck and headed to the pond at Doc's cabin.
The entire area was alive with excitement when he arrived. There were tables set up to register at. One table was registering children two years old to eight years old. The next table was labeled for nine to thirteen year olds and the last table was taking fourteen and above applicants.
Matt saw Doc approaching. "I never expected anything of this caliber, maybe a few kids and old folks," Matt stated.
"It's a bigger turn out than we thought too. Everyone seems to be having a great time though. We'll have concession stands providing hamburgers and hot dogs with chips and drinks around lunch time then again late this afternoon. Those two boys over next to the weigh-in table are mine. Let's wander over there." Pride shined from Doc's face at the announcement.
"Boys, this is Matt. He's building our cabin." Doc began.
The tallest towheaded boy turned toward Matt. "Hi, I'm Caleb. I'm the oldest so I'm showing my brother Joey how to fish."
"Nice to meet you Caleb. You too Joey. Mind if I fish beside you when I get registered? Maybe you can give me some tips too Caleb." Matt said to the boys.
Doc's smile indicated he was more than pleased with Matt's reaction. "I have to run to the cabin a while, but I'll be back to check on your fishing skills and watch the boys a little later. Jim still hasn't showed up and I am going to try to contact him. Do you mind keeping an eye out for the boys?"
"My pleasure. Least I can do for fishing lessons." Matt responded.
Joey brought in a small Bream but his smile indicated it could have been huge. Caleb hadn't had much luck and Matt even less. Matt was beginning to think they needed to change spots because people all around them were catching White Perch and Bream of some size.
"I got a bite!" Caleb squealed.
"Take it easy. Let that old fish swallow the bait then give him a snatch." Matt instructed.
"It feels like a big one. It's hard to reel!" Caleb was struggling with the catch on the other end of his pole.
"Okay. Here we go," Matt said as he waded in the edge of the pond with a fish net.
Disappointment dripped from the expression on Caleb's face when Matt lifted the net from the water and it was holding a man's old shoe.
Matt freed the shoe from Caleb's hook. "Well, it's the biggest thing caught so far. Let's try again. Here let's switch places and see if you have better luck here," Matt suggested as he tossed the shoe to the edge of the woods.
Not two minutes passed until Caleb's cork began bobbing.
"Slow and easy," Matt coached.
Snap! Caleb jerked his line. "I got one! I got one!" he screeched.
"Bet you got a winner here!" Matt announced as he pulled the net up.
After weighing the fish in, it was indeed the largest fish caught so far. Caleb was beaming.
Matt cast his line and felt a slight heaviness on the end of the line as he began to reel in. "I think you brought me luck too Caleb," he said as he felt the heaviness increase.
"Hey, Dad, I caught the biggest fish so far." Caleb stated as Doc approached with Jim at his side. "Look Uncle Jim!"
Matt pulled the line up out of the water and Jim's face paled.
"Oh, my God," Jim whispered as Matt's catch was exposed.
It was a skull. A human skull.
The local news broadcast that night was viewed by everyone that had been at the fishing rodeo.
"Today was a good day for some. A surprising day for all," the newscaster began.
"It was a happy day for young Caleb Young who was the overall winner of the fishing rodeo held at his dad's pond out in the country today. That wasn't the most interesting catch of the day however. Matt Houston, a local construction worker and carpenter shocked all when he pulled up a human skull from the depths of the muddy pond. Local law enforcement has taken charge of the skull and a shoe caught by Caleb and will be conducting a full investigation into who this might be."
Matt flipped out the light and turned the television off. And I thought a day of fishing would bring calm and peace,he mused as he drifted off to sleep. His dreams of the clown hadn't stopped but at least they weren't coming as often.
Six weeks passed with not just local law enforcement conducting an investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been called in to assist.
Matt couldn't resist reading the entire story when he saw the headlines in the morning paper: Lost Clown Found.
It turned out the skull he had dragged from the pond was that of Joseph Stoltz, the clown that had disappeared so many years ago. It surfaced in the investigation that Jim, who had been ten years old at the time, had been fishing with Joseph at the pond the day he disappeared. Two local men in their early twenties had come to the pond and forced Mr. Stoltz to leave with them threatening Jim and his family if he told anyone he had seen them.
During the recovery of the skeleton at the bottom of the pond, divers found a sealed plastic card holder. Inside the holder was a key to a lock box with Commercial Bank written on a piece of paper with the number of the box.
Upon checking with the bank, it was found there was a deposit box still listed in Joseph Stoltz's name. There was also a savings account that covered the cost of the box. Those were the only transactions except for the interest added to the account.
Within the contents of the deposit box a journal and pictures of two boys and a little girl were found. Among the items was the Last Will and Testament of Joseph Stoltz.
The journal revealed the town clown who performed magic shows for schools and birthday parties was indeed Joseph Stoltz. He had chosen to live in Tooney because the name reminded him of the word cartoon. He had loved watching cartoons on Saturday mornings with his three children and his beloved wife.
Joseph's overwhelming grief poured from the pages as he wrote of the accident that had claimed the lives of his entire family in one fell swoop. Since his children had so loved for him to dress up as a clown and do magic tricks and make animal shapes and silly hats from balloons he took the money from the insurance policies and moved to Tooney devoting his life to seeing children smile.
Ringing in a shrill tone, the phone interupted Matt's reading.
Matt had a perplexed look on his face as he hung up the phone. The television wanted to interview him along with others associated with the discovery of Joseph Stoltz-The Lost Clown.
Never having seen the inside of a television studio, Matt was nervous as the interview began.
"Sheriff can you fill us in on the findings as to cause of death, and if the skeleton has been positively ID'd?" the
"DNA and dental records have positively identified the remains as those of Joseph Stoltz," Sheriff Ron Caldwell began. He continued, "No foul play was suspected before now due to Mr. Stoltz just disappearing the same way he appeared here. No one reported him missing at the time and he had just been staying at an old cabin in the woods close to the pond where he was discovered. The owners of the cabin passed away years ago and the cabin simply fell in from unattended age."
"What about the report of Jim Carter being with him the day he disappeared?" the newscaster continued.
"Mr. Carter was only a child then. The two individuals who abducted Mr. Stoltz that day were known to Mr. Carter as rough outlaws. He was frightened and never told anyone Mr. Stoltz left with them. Apparently, they had robbed, then murdered Mr. Stoltz. One of the men in question is Bill Johnson, who is currently serving life without parole for another murder committed in Walsh County. He has made a full confession of the crime and named Simon Green as the other party. We are currently searching for Mr. Green."
"We understand there was a safety deposit box in Mr. Stoltz's name. What can you tell us about that?"
"The court has appointed Mr. Walter Cummings as the attorney to handle that. He is here so I defer to him, Mr. Cummings..."
Mr. Cummings straightened his tie and began, " Disclosure of Mr. Stoltz's Last Will and Testament revealed he inherited one million dollars when he lost his family to an unfortunate accident. He in turn has designated the funds which have been accumulating interest for the past twenty years to go to the town of Tooney. The town is designated to build a Community Center with a museum for clowns, a playground for children, and a new library for the county. I will be in charge of carrying out Mr. Stoltz's wishes and my first step in doing so is to hire Mr. Matthew Houston to construct the center."
The newscaster turned to Matt, "Mr. Houston, how has this affected your life?"
"You know it's the strangest thing, for months I have had reoccurring dreams about a clown asking me to help him. He'd say he was lost. Nothing like this has ever happened to me and I can't say I believe in ghosts, but it sure is an eerie coincidence. I look forward to the construction of a center where both children and adults can share happy moments together and hopefully this will give Mr. Stoltz peace."
Later that day a memorial service was held in a little town in Tennessee where the rest of the Stoltz family was buried. Mr. Joseph Stoltz-The Lost Clown was buried next to his wife and three children.
The next morning, Matt awakened for the first time in months without having dreamed of the clown. Maybe there is such a thing as a ghost.Maybe he is at peace at last. He reached for the tackle box and fishing reel he had assembled last night.
Wonder what we'll catch today? he thought to himself as he left to join Jim, Doc and the boys for a weekend of fishing at the cabin.