The Nightmare Chronicles
The grinning clown
He's been there since I was nine - lurking in the shadows of each and every dream, crouching and playing hide and seek with my mind, laughing croakingly while flexing his pale fingers. The clown, dressed, from head to toe, in ragged, mouldy clothes, the soles of his grotesque cracked shoes peeling off, rotten and mangy. That sinking feeling inside, somewhere in my stomach, the dread arising in waves, sending chills up my spine... He'll always be there, I know, and there's nothing that can keep him away from poisoning my nights - I get nothing but nightmares, and I'm sorta used to having them. Compared to what others might see, mine are okay, I guess - all except one, the horrid one. The one where the clown gets closer. Gosh I wish I had enough words to describe it all, but I'm no Edgar Poe, and certainly cannot rival Lovecraft or King in the ghoulish or macabre. You have to bear with me - but I honestly don't suppose my story will interest you. So, by all means, go ahead and close the book, if you will - or stay with me until the end, which may even prove worthy or rewarding.
I'm not gonna bore you, promise - at least it's not my intention, and you must know that I appreciate you being here of all places, reading my ringmarole (cool word for bullshit, huh?) and being genuinely interested in what I have to say.
Right. Let's get on with the basics, as Mrs. Prayfore used to say. She was my Sunday school teacher, as you might have guessed. Nice old lady she was, not your typical hag you get in most schools round here. She was kind, and desperately lonely too - lived in a dicrepid old house on the outskirts, a regular cat-feeder and church goer. She'd neve take a cat in, by the way - the prospect of dying one on one with a pet meowing around frightened her, so she just kept feeding the strays. Not everybody liked her though - some even called her batty old crone, and suchlike, but I can tell you - for kids like me whose parents never bothered too much, she was a godsend.
Now, I grew up in a family of six, four of them being kids - in a sorta grand place, compared to some - it even had an attic, and it certainly was old - bout a hundred years old I reckon, which is ancient for the US, or so they say. My grams called it 'Alabama-old' but I was never sure what she meant. She kind of raised us, my twin sisters, brother and me - and technically the house was hers, yet we all lived there. My Ma, her daughter, was called Maisie, and she wasn't much of a mother. She gave birth to us, and even breastfed the twins, but there her maternity ended. She was like seventeen when she got Tony, my older brother, and two years afterwards she had me, and no idea what to do with two boys - so she dumped us in Gran's house, and went off into the sunset. Came back five years later with my sisters at her bosom, and this time she'd brought us even more than that. The biggest present was Joey, a Canadian (or whatever he was) wood hauler, a guy who did two things - drinking and swearing- better than anybody. Somehow, Ma's fallen for him and she brought this brilliant specimen to care for us. Gran's first impulse was, of course, to kick him out - she was a tough one, my Gran, and only thirty-nine then, so we never actually called her granny. But after some consideration - and many tears shed, too, as I recall, she'd decided to let him stay. So, he did stay - and not much good came out of his stayin' that's for sure. There we were - Tony, who just turned eight, me at six, and our sisters, Laurie and Lainey, obviously fatherless (only a dotard could call Joey a father figure), and motherless - de facto - kids, who had no one but their stout, formidable grandmother Becca to take care of them. Mother, who could've been there for us, was there for her new fantastic husband (common law, as it turned out), and even her new newborns, who looked exactly like those cherubs you see in church, didn't make her a better mom to any of us. We hardly ever saw them both, and Becca had to find a way to feed the babies as her daughter developed what a local nurse called 'drunken baby blues' and her milk kinda burned out - or that's what they told us anyway.
Soon enough, Joey started cheating on Ma, and found himself a nice hot babe round the corner, leaving his half-deranged wifey for good. The year was 1969, and I was nine years old. That was the year when the clown came.
To be honest, I always hated the clowns with all them fake smiles and made up faces, worn out clothes and high-pitched laughter. Those were the clowns you normally had at sideshows and fairgrounds, - you know, dingy, mangy, creaking fairgrounds with stupid attractions and rotting seats. Well, perhaps somewhere in decent places they were nice, those traveling circus- type of kid's fancy, but where we lived, we got no better. It wasn't all bad, though- the poodles and acrobats were cool, and Sally, the flying lady was even pretty, but the glides, and all the rest of it.. .well, to put it plainly, it was disgusting. But Ma thought we should get a real childhood memory, and she dragged us to the waste-ground where the traveling fair had spread out its tents and built its fake castles and ferris wheels. Becca was against what she called "a nice gesture" - and vehemently opposed us going, but when mother was sober, nobody could repreciate her, so Becca gave up.
It was the hottest day of that dratted summer, and the wind made sandswirls on the ground. Later on, everybody would remember that day as the day when little Stevie Chips got missing, but for me, that date - July, 14 - was the beginning of my nightmare decade.
I remember him vividly, the clown with a poorly painted face, - makeup melting and dripping in the sun, sweaty and desperately pathetic in his dirty, oversized costume with fake tummy, 'holey-booties' (Laurie's term) and stupid hat. He greeted us at the gates trying to sound welcoming and cheery, as all the clowns should, and even tried to shove a sticky lollipop into my sister's hand - but she screamed and hid behind Tony, who was old enough to be her protector. Lainey was never a scaredy-cat, even at four years of age - but she was wailing and shouting and nothing could make it better. Ma tried to console her by shaking her quite badly - but Tony and me stood up for Lains, and Ma let go. She wasn't after all, a maternal sort. Not much of a comfort, but there we were.
The clown however followed us up to the circus tent and stood there, glaring at my mother and licking his lips nervously. 'Ma's got a new admirer' Tony whispered to me, chuckling. He was right I reckoned, being just nine and clueless about any relationships stuff. He was after all, eleven - and looked much older, and knew more - having learned by experience and observation. I nodded, and tried to smile, but that horrid clown never left my sight. He followed us out of the tent, and would've gone farther, if it wasn't for Becca who came over and collected us. ' Can't you see who's trailin' behind, girl?' she asked in her stern voice, and immediately it felt like a breeze blew over us. She could make it right, Becca. The clown sent her a glowering scowl and spat on the ground. The bird got away that time.
I never saw him again. After the Stevie mishap, the circus was gone within a couple of hours, hurriedly packing and scattering trash all over the waste-ground and sun-dried roads. Whether they took the kid, I dunno - but what I do know is that his Ma's gone mad in two weeks after the loss, and his Da being beside himself with grief, drowned himself. The circus was gone - yet the clown would never leave me.
That very night the nightmare came. I never had them nightmares before, - you can say I was lucky. Most kids do 'ave them all the time, they say - but not me. Do you remember your first nightmare? What was it - a skeleton, or a pool of blood, an ogre or something right out of the stories we hear sometimes? Tony's first came when he was about six - Becca was reading 'The hobbit' to us then, and he dozed off right where the goblins had snatched the dwarves. Sure enough, he woke up in the middle of the night screaming he was gonna be eaten and chopped - right in that very order. I remember that distinctly, albeit being just four at the time. I loved the tales Becca read to us - but after that night all thr stories turned sour, even the ones I'd once adored.
In that dream, I was all alone in the fairground. The night wasn't its usual star-studded velvety-blue, but menacing, cold and pitch black. I walked and walked, until I reached the grand tent, all glowing with deep reds and greens, but it was all new, and beckoned me, its folds flapping in the wind. You get that sort of opening in thrillers, you know - ghostly lights, strange places and that horrifying music they use in circus grounds - creaking, croaking, rusty, squabble of a barrel-organ that sends chills and goosebumps all over you. But I was nine and didn't know a thing about thrillers and stuff. The opening was already revolting enough, yet I kept watching it unfurl. Have you ever had a feeling you'd better run but you stay? That was me there, in a ghastly dream, surrounded by pale ghosts of circus freaks and acrobats, poodles yapping, Sally the flying lady dancing on a tightrope high above me only to fall - gracefully and too quickly- on the iron pailing below. Mesmerized, I watched as her body twitched and her pink lips froze in a last deadly grin right before me. Her ex-mates were laughing like madmen, screaming and dancing around - proper horde of goblins, disgustingly jubilant.
I wanted to cry, to run away - and yet I remained silent, not able to move. And when I coud finally tear my eyes away from the mangled body, I saw the Clown. His eyes glowed in the semi-darkness, and he was nothing like Pennywise, I grant you. That was the most ragged, the most revolting character I'd ever seen. His gnarled teeth sharp as fangs, his tangled and matted hair dripping sweat, his face - a likeness of a corpse mask you see on Halloween. And his eyes flaring devilishly, as if he saw me through. He made a move towards me, his mouth fell open to reveal a rotting tongue- and with a cry, I woke up.