A Surprise for the Kids
My son’s face lit up the moment he saw the bright red balloons. He nearly passed out when he saw the decorations. My plan worked. Jackpot. Jack actually looked surprised.
My kid always liked the color red. Maybe like isn’t the right word. He loved it. He basked in it. He wore a red shirt, that day, with matching red shoes. His mom nearly had to fight him to keep out of the red shorts currently sitting on his nightstand. We bought red streamers, and red candy, and red table settings. That morning, I bounced outside in my matching red jacket, and struggled to erase the Kool-Aid guy from my mind.
“Ohhhh yeah,” I teased.
“Honey, don’t say that, did you hire the clown?“
Before you get on my case, believe it or not, there is a lot of stuff that goes into planning a six-year-old’s birthday party. We rented a bouncy house. We purchased invitations from somebody’s Etsy page. I personally begged and borrowed tables and food for the twenty or so guests and their parents. We even paid my nephew to do some magic tricks. We didn’t have a pool, not like the popular Johnson’s next door, so my wife insisted we find something else to compensate.
Enter the clown.
I muttered an excuse to Evelyn before darting through the back-door. I shuffled down the staircase towards my office in the basement. My shaking fingers quickly pulled up the Windows desktop and a blank Google search box. Crap, I thought, what do you search for in this situation? I tried ‘hire a clown’, or ‘book a clown’ and was amazed to find a long list of locals with near five star reviews.
“Binxo the Clown, Skagit.“
“Speedo Torpedo the Clown, Thurston.“
“Jack the Clown, All counties.“
Jackpot. I guess I found it funny that the clown and my kid shared the same name. I picked up the phone and immediately dialed the number listed on the near flawless review page.
“Great with children.“
“Would hire him again.“
“Books same day!“
I felt some relief upon reading that last bit. Maybe this guy could actually save my ass. Judging by the growing crowd filing into my backyard, my ass definitely needed saving, in less than an hour; tops. I probably sounded like a choosing beggar. But the facts were what they were. The line trilled for a couple rings, and finally, a gruff voice answered.
I put on my best desperate parent tone.
“Hi, is this Jack the Clown? I really need some last minute help.“
The guy on the other end of the line paused. He inhaled tiredly, as if drawing on a cigarette, then exhaled noisily into the line.
“Yes, sir, one and the same.“
“I have a birthday party for a six-year-old, here, out by the coast. I was wondering if you could by any chance stop over and do your routine?“
He took another pull of the cigarette. I cupped my other ear to hear him better.
“Sure. I’m near there. Two hours. Three hundred bucks, on site, text me the address.“
And then the line went dead.
I stood there, kind of dumbfounded, with the house phone still pressed to my head. Okay. Three hundred bucks. We did not have that in the house. So I had to go to the ATM. I shuffled through the kitchen, found my cell, texted the address; and rushed back outside to share my triumph. If that sounds scatterbrained – that’s how I felt. That’s how all parents usually feel.
Ten kids were crowded into the bouncy house. Off to a good start.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” I announced. “Jack the CLOWN will be arriving shortly, so get ready to help him out, and give him a big welcome… I hear he’s from out of TOWN!“
The kid’s parents all stared at me. A few moms rolled their eyes in anger. One or two dads chuckled, and my wife power walked over to me and squeezed my hand.
“You have to stop with the corny jokes.“
“Did you hear me? Clown’s coming. I did it.“
“Awesome. How are we paying him?“
“I’m going to the ATM. I’ll be back in a minute.“
I kissed my wife goodbye, ran back through the house, and hopped in my car; which was parked in the driveway. The closest bank was five minutes away. I sped through traffic. I pulled into the crowded lot.
And I found a massive line queuing nearly outside the door.
The ATM was broken.
The anxiety built like a powderkeg.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit.
After a contentious transaction with the teller, I stuffed my three hundred dollars deep into the bank envelope, jetted through the lot; and hopped back into my car. My head was spinning. What if he doesn’t show up? What if he just said that to appease me and get me off the phone? The thought never entered my head that the clown could be a creep. What if that happened?
I pulled back into driveway, five minutes later, to find my spot taken.
I settled for one on the street. I thought maybe an over anxious parent took advantage of the missing spot. My mind was already on fire, I didn’t need more stress. But by the time I arrived back in the backyard… I found the culprit.
Standing in the center of the yard was a sloppily dressed clown.
His eye make-up drifted down towards the corners of his lips. He had to hold his pants to keep them up. The curly, multi-colored hair on his head shifted awkwardly to the right, to the point where you could see buzzed brown underneath. His clown shoes looked about three sizes too big. His suspenders flapped lazily at his sides. But the most uncomfortable part of the get-up, beyond the silence, was the perfectly particular smile that drifted downward right at the end. It seemed like Jack the Clown spent very little time on his outfit, and all his time on that smile.
I walked up to the clown. I stuck out a hand awkwardly, not knowing what to do, and waited for him to shake it. He didn’t. The kids gathered in a circle and laughed at that. I pulled back my hand awkwardly and tried to smile.
Jack the Clown shook his finger. He didn’t like that. He placed one hand on his hip, and outstretched the other in my direction. Palm up.
“I think he wants to be paid, honey,” Evelyn laughed nervously. “Pay the man!”
The children laughed at me again.
I grumbled a response and dug into my pocket for the bank envelope. I pulled it out and slowly began counting the money in front of everyone. The clown mocked every movement along the way. He played with an imaginary stack of money, flipping it around in the air, counting it just as worriedly; while the gleeful children shrieked laughter in response. Finally, I handed over the money.
Jack didn’t say anything. He just grabbed it and returned to the children.
“Rude,” I muttered, before my wife hit me. “Hope he’s worth it.”
The rest of the day went off without much of a hitch. The children played in the bouncy house and ate their cake without much complaint. The parents chatted and gossiped as per usual. Some people went up to the Clown’s station and asked for inflatable animals. He complied but said nothing the entire time.
I’ll admit – that made me uncomfortable. And a little angry. All that money for silence? I didn’t remember hiring a mime. At the end of our two hours, I approached the Clown station and told him that our time had come to an end. But Jack just held up one finger. He reached around into a big black bag and pulled out a guitar. I got excited. Finally, I thought, some effort for that three hundo.
“Oh, look, kids! Jack is going to play a song for us before he leaves!”
The kids got excited too. I ordered them to form a circle on the blanket we had set up. The clown got into position and strummed on the strings lazily as the kids got themselves prepared.
“Okay, Jack,” I shouted a second later. “Take it away!”
Within moments, the clown was pounding out the strings to a song I recognized from years ago. I couldn’t place it until he started singing. Then I started to get more uncomfortable.
“Polly wants a cracker,”
“Think I should get off her first,”
The kids and parents laughed nervously at Jack’s rusted tone. I tried to place the lyrics.
“I think she wants some water, to put out the blow torch.”
Then it hit me.
“Okay, Jack, maybe this song is not too appropriate,” I shouted. “Do you know any others?”
My wife smacked me again. Jack the Clown ignored me altogether.
“It isn’t me. We have some seed. Let me clip. Your dirty wings. Let me take a ride, don’t cut yourse…”
“ENOUGH,” I shouted. “Jack is done for the day. Say goodbye folks.”
The parents all stared at the clown with disgust. Once the chorus hit, most of us knew the song by heart, even if my wife didn’t. We were in Washington State, at the time, after all. Everyone in my area knew about Gerald Arthur Friend.
Some of the children started to cry from my yelling. My son looked confused. Jack the Clown looked back out at us with a blank expression on his face. Unceremoniously, he stuffed the guitar back into his bag, grabbed his other gear; and got ready to leave. Then he strutted straight up to me, placed a hand on his hip, and outstretched his other palm expectantly. Palm up.
“No, Jack, no more money.”
The clown stared at me with a pair of expectant blue eyes. For a moment, anger flashed somewhere behind them. Then he turned on his heel and marched out the backyard, oversized shoes and all, with a single finger pointed towards the sky.
I was glad to see him go.
The party officially ended sometime around eight. I spent most of the night explaining the story of Polly to my wife in bed.
“It’s a great song, it’s a protest in a lot of ways, but really not appropriate for children.”
She did not understand.
“Why? It’s Nirvana. How bad could this song be that you needed to shut down everything and make the kids cry?”
I paused and took a deep breath.
“George Arthur Friend abducted and kidnapped a sixteen-year-old girl in 1987. She was leaving a rock concert in Seattle, not far from where I work. He took her to his mobile home and suspended her upside down from a pulley. Then he tortured her with a blow torch.”
“So… ‘I think she wants some water…’”
“Oh my God. Why would he play that?”
“He’s a sick bastard, that’s why. He’s lucky I didn’t call the cops.”
I turned out the lights and made one last round through the house to check the locks.
My wife and I fell asleep sometime around ten o’clock.
I woke up just after two.
It is hard to identify the sound that wakes you up in the night.
At first, I thought it might be a door opening. Then I thought I heard a crash of glass. Then a rush of footsteps. The combination of those possible sounds was enough for me to slide on some sweatpants and reach for my handy bat behind the bed frame.
Somebody turned the sink on.
The cool rush of water in the kitchen set some ease into my tightening chest. Maybe my son couldn’t sleep. Maybe he wanted a midnight snack before his birthday ended. I shucked on a pair of house shoes and slip slided across the wood hallway towards the staircase that led downstairs.
Somebody opened the refrigerator.
That part seemed to fit into the narrative constructed in my head. The kid could be hungry. He didn’t eat much at dinner. Nevertheless, when my slippers hit the bottom of the stairs, I held the bat tightly, because something still didn’t feel right.
Somebody turned on our speaker.
The blood in my veins ran cold as static erupted from the massive bass. My son wouldn’t do that. He didn’t know how. The lyrics to another Nirvana song floated lazily into the halls of our ground floor.
Where do bad folks go when they die?
They don’t go to heaven where the angels cry.
The song stopped. Then somebody started it again.
Where do bad folks go when they die?
They don’t go to heaven where the angels cry.
I rounded the corner into my living room to find Jack the Clown sitting in my armchair.
I didn’t even have time to react. The absurdity of the situation caused a delay on my end, and I just stared at him with wide, stupid eyes.
The clown lifted himself up. He smiled. Then he tap danced over; placed one hand on his hip, and extended the other out awkwardly. Palm up.
“Jack, I’m sorry, please… I don’t… I don’t have money,” I stuttered. “You need to… you need to get the fuck out of my house.”
The clown launched himself backwards at my use of a bad word. I brandished the bat over my head so he could see it. The clown placed a hand over his mouth, as if offended, then slowly pulled a long object from out of his oversized shoes.
It was a knife.
“Jack, jesus, fuck, okay,” I muttered the combination of anxiety ridden phrases as my mind worked a mile a minute. “Okay, if I give you money, will you go away? Will you leave us alone?*”
The clown look at me for a second. Then he shrugged. And smiled. That was my only guarantee. A shrug and a smile.
I sprinted into the kitchen and quickly looked into our usual money hiding spots. I noticed that my wife had pilfered the stash recently. We were down to our last lonely looking twenty dollar bills. I snatched them from under the salt shaker and turned to offer them.
But the clown was already standing behind me.
He had the knife in front of him.
It slipped into my stomach easily.
That sensation felt like holding a bag of water that had been punctured. My blood dripped lazily onto the floor. My consciousness started to flicker a little bit. I threw a fist in the direction of his grin stained face, but it bounced lazily off the fluffy red hair on his head. I felt my body fall to the floor. I felt the knife pull out of my gut. I saw Jack raise it once again over my head. I prepared to die. I prepared to die on my kitchen floor. But, just then, a voice echoed from the staircase.
A red shirt poked out through my peripherals like a beacon. For some reason, the sight of this bright red shirt, in the middle of all this chaos… it made made me feel stronger. I thought of the stupid joke before. I thought of my perfect family, my innocent wife, and my poor innocent son. I thought of the bulls that charge at the color red. Red means fight, right? I got ready to fight.
“Did you say my name?”
The clown’s eyes lit up with excitement. He turned away from me and started to chase my son. I could see the knife in his hand. I could hear them both running. I could see the blood pooling on my shirt. But I had to do something. I had to do something. This was my opportunity.
They circled back into the kitchen. With every remaining drop of strength, I picked myself off the floor, and reached out for that asshole’s oversized shoe. Miraculously… I caught it.
He fell down like a sack of bricks.
I hit him once with the bat. Right to the head. That felt good, so, I wrapped my legs around his hips and hit him a few more times. The blood became so copious that our two strains mixed together with the disgusting makeup on his face. Blood spatters covered my shirt. Blood spatters covered my shoes, my ears, my eyes. Just like forensic files, I thought, as I hit him again. Lots of blood spatter.
I don’t remember stopping.
I don’t remember my son sobbing.
I don’t remember my wife’s panicked screams.
I just remember the sight of Jack the Clown, dead on my kitchen floor, as clearly as ever before.
He still had the knife in his hand.
The following twenty-four hours were the luckiest in my life.
My wife called 911 immediately. The police arrived in four minutes. An ambulance joined them, a moment later, and I arrived at the hospital within the hour. I recovered from the stab wound. My son recovered from the trauma. And my wife nursed us both back to health. Everyone survived that night just fine. Everybody but Jack the Clown, and truly, I don’t have much feeling towards that. But, then again, the man who broke into my home was not truly Jack.
The police raided ‘his’ apartment soon after our encounter.
Inside they found a man dead in his bed with multiple stab wounds to the abdomen and eyes. His professional trunk, including all of the outfits and games, were missing from the scene; as reported by the victim’s sister.
The working theory is that our attacker wanted to use the clown business as a cover to meet young victims. He had applied to schools in the past, but was rejected, due to his ugly record with children. So the attacked murdered Jack the Clown and took his cell phone.
In other words…
I called the killer right into my own house.
We moved away from Washington that Summer. We never looked back. My son grew up in a different state, with only vague memories of what we refer to as, ‘The Incident.’ It was better that way. Less traumatizing, according to the shrinks. The kid doesn’t even know that he saved our lives.
So now I’m just left with this story to tell.
I’ve written it here, and saved it for him, in the hopes that he can read it when he’s older. I don’t have a proper title yet. So be kind. But I think it should go a little something like this;
The Night Jack the Kid stopped Jack the Killer.