Chapter 1: April 1, 1995
It was April 1, 1994 and Tad McGreevy’s eighth birthday. His parents had spared no expense to plan his party.
“We’ve got Pogo the Clown coming,” Mrs. McGreevy told her friend Sally. “He’s the best clown in Waterloo, Iowa. Everybody says he makes great balloon animals. Pogo did the Chandlers’ party at their house, but this party is going to make the Chandlers’ party look like the Screw-Up at the OK Corral.”
Jeannie McGreevy disliked Cassie Chandler. She had avoided Cassie ever since she realized that Cassie was just using her to obtain summer jobs for her daughter, Belinda.
Sally took another sip of her frozen Applebee’s Margarita.
“That sounds really nice, Jeannie. Is Tad excited about the party? I mean…does he want to have a clown and fifty guests?” Sally didn’t really care, one way or the other, but she was doing her best to act interested.
Tad McGreevy’s frail health and generally weird demeanor were well known amongst the McGreevy’s neighbors and friends. Tad was always just a little bit…. different. It wasn’t just his androgynous appearance, although he did look “too pretty to be a boy,” as many admirers had said of Jeannie McGreevy’s son when they saw him in his stroller on the street as an infant.
Since those halcyon stroller days, Tad had grown into a third-grader with a “sensitive” stomach, who often cried for no apparent reason. This made him the butt of other kids’ mean-spirited jokes, and many times he had come home from school with a bloody nose, courtesy of some Waterloo redneck. His mother was always telling him not to be so sensitive, but Tad was Tad.
While Sally’s husband, Earl Scranton, worked at Rath Packing Plant slaughtering hogs and cattle with a stun gun on long 12-hour shifts, Jim McGreevy was a lawyer who charged $300 an hour. It was easy to envy the McGreevys. They seemed to have it all: the big house, the cute well-behaved children (Tad and his older sister, twelve-year-old Sharon.) Sally was torn between envy, jealousy and self-preservation. Jeannie McGreevy could do the Scrantons some good in this town, and Stevie Scranton was Tad’s best friend.
Lord knows why, Sally though as she slurped her glass dry.
Jeannie McGreevy was a size zero. That, alone, made other women hate her. Sally (an average-size twelve), was just being a friend of Jeannie’s so that Shannon Scranton could benefit. Sharon’s old school uniforms fit Sally’s daughter, Shannon, perfectly. Jeannie McGreevy always gifted her good friend Sally Scranton with them, free and gratis, for the Catholic school that both girls attended. Shannon was one year behind Sharon at Our Lady of Victory and the girls were on the same volleyball team. The Scrantons didn’t have a lot of extra cash, so every little bit helped. Sally slurped down the last of her strawberry margarita, even though she knew it was rude to make that sucking sound.
When she got home from the outing, Sally commented to her husband, Earl, standing there splattered with pigs’ blood from working the late shift at Rath, “I wonder if Tad McGreevy might be autistic. He doesn’t say much. He seems so weird. He’s got no social skills. Maybe he has that deal where the kid is really smart, but really strange…that Ashburger’s Syndrome. Something like what Dustin Hoffman had in that movie.”
Earl Scranton was no genius, but he corrected Sally, who was still slurring her words after ten margaritas at Applebee’s on Jeannie McGreevy’s dime.
“It’s Asperger’s Syndrome, and Tad McGreevy is just a weird dork.”
Earl toweled off with the kitchen dishtowel (always a sticking point with Sally) and headed towards the bedroom to change his clothes, thinking to himself that his wife was a moron. Marrying her because she had been pregnant with Shannon had not been one of Earl’s smarter moves.
The Saturday of Tad’s party dawned cool and drizzly. It was early April. April in Iowa is unpredictable.
Pogo the Clown had a day job. Pogo, (also known as Michael Clay), ran his father-in-law’s chicken restaurant, Mike’s Chicken Shack, by night, and took paying clown gigs by day, on weekends.
Pogo’s costume was classic clown. Big shoes, red hair, striped baggy pants, white pancake make-up, and a large red smile reaching towards his ears. Pogo would be a hit. Jeannie just knew it. She smiled to herself, thinking how much better her party would be than the one that Cassie Chandler had thrown for Belinda Chandler last fall. Sally had rented Black’s Tea Room for her daughter’s party, but Jeannie McGreevy figured, “It’s April. Kids want to be outside, running around. Our back yard will do just fine.”
Pogo arrived at the McGreevy residence in Cedar Falls, Iowa, at ten o’clock on the bright sunny morning of April first. Cedar Falls was where all the upwardly mobile people in town lived. Waterloo was strictly blue-collar and largely black. The unincorporated township of Deer Run, Iowa, --- just across the street from the Rath Packing Plant, --- was even lower on the social scale than Waterloo.
Sally Scranton lived in Waterloo---not quite as bad as Deer Run. She’d met Jeannie McGreevy at the school their sons both attended, Rossdale Elementary. Iowa is a school choice state. The Scrantons selected Rossdale in order to get the best possible public school education for young Steven, who was bussed twenty miles to and from school every morning and afternoon. They were paying big bucks for Stevie’s older sister, Shannon, to go to a private Catholic school, because Shannon was smart.
Rossdale was a good public school---good enough for Stevie. Probably better than Stevie deserved, since he wasn’t much of a scholar. Getting Stevie Scranton to and from Rossdale Elementary really screwed up the family’s schedule and was a frequent complaint of Sally Scranton’s.
When Tad first saw Pogo, standing there on his front stoop in full clown make-up, Tad turned a strange pale chalky color. His pallor rivaled the whiteness of Pogo’s pancake make-up. Although Tad always looked sickly, his red curly hair became damp and curled wetly against his pale freckled cheeks. He began to drip with sudden sweat. Tad began to breathe heavily as he backed away from the approaching clown, retreating to the safety and security of the house, sinking down next to the large aquarium in the middle of the family room.
“What’s the matter, Honey? You look like you’re gonna’ be sick,” Jeannie said.
No sooner had the words left her mouth than the Fritos Tad had consumed before the party left his stomach, splattering the back of Jeannie McGreevy’s pale white couch. Mrs. McGreevy ushered Tad into the bathroom to clean him up thinking, Self-fulfilling prophecy.
When Tad emerged from the family’s bathroom, he was carrying his asthma inhaler and puffing on it like it was a cigarette and he was experiencing nicotine withdrawal. Jeannie McGreevy, in a peeved voice, was saying, as she ushered him back into the family room, “Why couldn’t you have thrown up in the fish tank, instead of on my new couch?”
Pogo was gone. He was outside, socializing with the guests and entertaining the children. He seemed especially fond of the little boys at the party.
“Tad, you look like you’ve seen a ghost!” said Stevie Scranton, mouth agape, when Tad finally emerged from the house, slowly and hesitantly, as he had been told to join his own party in progress.
In fact, Tad had seen a ghost, of sorts. He had seen an aura surrounding Michael Clay, a pale color, like gray-green decomposing dead flesh, that overshadowed Pogo’s white clown make-up. Tad saw “auras,” that is colors, around all people. Yellow meant the person was good. Red meant they were prone to be violent. Black meant that they were ill and would die soon or die young. Vivid emerald green was one of the best, health-wise, but Tad preferred the yellows, who were always kind, compassionate, giving souls. Tad’s mom was a pink: verging on red, but too timid to be dangerously violent. His dad, Jim, was a blue, remote and indifferent to the plight of others. Pretty much a self-contained entity with little time for emotional output aimed at others.
But gray-green was the worst. The absolute worst. Tad had only ever seen one person with that dangerous khaki color before, and that was on television. His aura was so strong that the “X” on Charles Manson’s forehead barely made an impression on the sensitive young boy watching a documentary on late-night television about the long-ago killings of a movie star and her friends. At the time, the baby-sitter was making out with her boyfriend in the next room.
Tad never told anyone about the colors he saw. People already thought he was weird, and his parents would never believe him, anyway. It was just something he knew about people: whether they were “bad” or “good.” The auras told him. The colors told him. And, sometimes, after he slept, he learned other things about these strangers.
“D--d—don’t make me go near him,” Tad gasped to Stevie. “Tell my mom I’m gonna’ puke again.” Stevie knew Tad meant the clown, without asking.
Hearing that Tad might spew for the second time, Stevie Scranton backed up ten paces. Unlike Tad, when Stevie was outside later he was only too happy to receive a balloon animal shaped like an elephant from Pogo. Stevie even sat on Pogo’s lap while Pogo made the brightly colored balloon animal for him. The air filled with strange squeaking sounds as Pogo twisted and tied the plastic pachyderm. The other kids were rioting merrily in the cool spring air. Tad sat apart, looking miserable, seated on the backyard swing set. Tad refused to go anywhere near Pogo the Clown. Jeannie McGreevy was heard muttering to Sally, “Well, there’s a hundred bucks down the drain!”
The bad dreams began two days later.
Tad woke in the night screaming. “The fish! The fish! There’s a skull in the aquarium!”
Jim and Jeannie McGreevy ran to Tad’s room, comforted him, asked him what he was talking about. Tad was incoherent. His tale of skulls and fish and the aquarium made no sense to them. Even taking Tad downstairs and showing him the aquarium in the family room, resting on the couch table behind Jeannie’s now-stained white couch did not comfort Tad. His eyes were wide and frightened.
The second dream occurred the next night. Tad screamed so loudly that it actually woke the neighbors. He described having a crucifix stuffed down his throat. “I don’t know why I had to swallow the crucifix,” he said. “It hurt. It hurt a lot.” To further intensify the impact of this story, Tad had bitten through his lip. Flecks of blood flew from his mouth as he spoke.
The third night, Tad cried out at three in the morning.
“What is it this time?” said Jeannie McGreevy to her son, wearily.
“It was a man, Mom. A black man. His body was all cut up, all carved up. He was half-in and half-out of a bathtub. His heart was gone. I think he ate it.”
“Who ate it?” Jeannie McGreevy was exhausted after three days with little sleep, and Tad’s tales were making even less sense.
“The clown. The clown ate it.”
“What clown? You mean Pogo?”
“Yes. He ate it. He cut the boy’s chest open and took the heart out and ate it. It was still beating when he ate it.” Tad choked back vomit. His shivering was pitiful, but the McGreevys were fast losing patience.
“Tad! You’ve got to get a grip! There’s no clown. There’s no killer. You’re just having a bad dream. You’ve got to quit waking all of us up in the middle of the night like this!” Jim McGreevy sounded angry. The family returned to their beds, weary from another night of Tad’s imaginative nightmares. Their patience was wearing thin. Tad’s sister, Sharon, just put a pillow over her head and stayed locked in her room.
Tad looked peaked, too. Every single day, he looked as though he had been up all night. Some nights, that was true. After his parents and sister returned to their beds and to slumber, Tad was afraid to sleep, afraid of what dreams might bring.
After seven nights of terrifying visions, most of them making little or no sense when the frightened boy related them to his concerned parents, Jeannie and James McGreevy made an April 10th appointment for Tad with the best children’s psychiatrist in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Dr. Eisenstadt was expensive, but he would be worth it. It had been ten days since Tad’s birthday party, and Tad had had seven nightmares in a row, each one more horrifying than the last. An entire week of screaming and sleeplessness at the McGreevy household. Nobody was sleeping much, and everybody was on edge.
Dr. Eisenstadt tried to take Tad’s arm in a friendly fashion and guide him from the waiting room into his inner office, but Tad pulled away from the pleasant man with the black aura in alarm. Jeannie McGreevy rose to accompany Tad into the doctor’s office.
Dr. Eisenstadt said, “Please…no…it is best if Tad and I begin the process alone.”
For the next hour, Tad poured out gory tale after gory tale. Body parts in vats of acid. Heads in the refrigerator. Skulls boiled and then painted. Beating hearts taken from victims and eaten cannibalistically by a crazed killer.
“Who is killing all these people, Tad?” asked Dr. Eisenstadt. “Do you know this man?”
“Yes, Dr. Eisenstadt,” the young boy said, somberly. “It’s the clown. He’s a killer. He even said, ’If you’re a clown, you can get away with murder.”
Dr. Eisenstadt conferred with Mr. and Mrs. McGreevy after Tad’s second week in treatment. It had been twenty-two days (and nights) since Tad’s party and there had been twenty nightmares.
No one in the McGreevy house was getting any sleep, but giving Tad sleeping pills just seemed to make matters worse. Not only did Tad still wake up screaming, but, the next day, he was zombie-like in school. One teacher even saw him stagger and sway in the hallway. Clark Kellogg had to quickly run to catch Tad before he fell. It was obvious that the various drug therapies that were being tried on the young boy were a case of the cure being as bad as or worse than the disease.
“I have one more suggestion,” said Dr. Eisenstadt, after thirty days of treatment, on May 19th.
“What, Doctor? We’ll do anything, pay anything. We’re all suffering.” Jim McGreevy summed up the family’s ordeal, night after night. Jim wanted to say, “Enough already! I need to get some sleep!” All of the McGreevys, to use an old clichéd expression, looked as though they had been “rode hard and put away wet.”
“Obviously, young Tad is suffering from some form of delusion that centers on the clown, Pogo, who performed at his eighth birthday party. Now, we all know that Tad is imagining these horrible murders and all the other unspeakable things he describes. But drug therapy isn’t working, and Tad keeps maintaining that we are the deluded ones and he is the only sane one. He told me, at our last session, ‘I see his aura. It’s gray-green, Dr. Eisenstadt. Only the worst of the worst are gray-green.’.”
When he shared that quote, Dr. Eisenstadt’s left eyebrow arched.
“Tad claims that people have ‘auras’ and he can see these colors around his classmates and teachers and family and friends. In essence, he is saying that he is able to see into the souls of all those around him. Now, I know this is silly, but Tad really believes it.” Dr. Eisenstadt released a pent-up sigh. “I think I’ve done about as much for him as I can.”
“Is Tad crazy?” asked Jeannie McGreevy, tears welling up in her eyes.
“We don’t like to use the term ‘crazy.’ Tad has some mental issues. I am unable to determine, here, whether he is obsessive-compulsive, paranoid-schizophrenic, or any of a variety or combination of other more complicated mental states. You really should check him into Shady Oaks for evaluation. They can do a more complete diagnosis, a more complex medical work-up. Maybe there is an abnormality of his brain? A tumor, perhaps? An MRI could determine this, but I don’t have the necessary equipment here in the office to diagnose Tad’s problem. I suggest a one-week stay in Shady Oaks.”