Every aspiring horror writer needs an evil clown. Meet Scoops! All feedback appreciated!
The little boy turned to see who’d called his name. The driver of the ice cream truck, he saw, was decked out in full clown make-up and regalia. “How do you know my name?”
The clown smiled; the one painted on his face paled by comparison. “It’s my job to know, Jimmy-boy!” And then, as serious as a heart-attack, “Shouldn’t you be in school, Jimmy Taylor?”
Jimmy continued walking. He knew enough not to talk to strangers, and certainly not to those dressed as clowns- and most certainly not to those dressed as clowns who also somehow knew his name.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to talk, Jimmy. But please, let me get you a cone, it’s on the house! It’s too hot outside to be walking about aimlessly…”
Jimmy looked uncertain, but he slowed his stride. “I don’t know. I don’t think I should.”
The clown shrugged without taking his blue-gloved hands from the wheel. “Well it’s up to you, of course!”
Jimmy Taylor was a bright boy, but he was also nine years old- and at nine years old, one does not simply turn down free ice cream without at least a few second’s consideration…
“I’ll tell you what, Jimmy Taylor, I’m going to pull over and make a nice cone for you...or would you prefer a sundae? I make the best hot-fudge sundae of any ice cream truck in five-hundred miles, and that’s a fact!”
The boy slowed to a stop. The truck followed suit.
“Could I have two scoops?”
“Scoops?” The clown behind the wheel turned and flashed the boy his winning smile. “That’s my name! Scoops the Clown, of the Clown-Face Ice-Cream Fleet!” He shook his head, as though there were no way in the world the boy could possibly have stumbled upon his name. “Well, that tears it, Jimmy Taylor. You’re getting two scoops, and as many toppings as you like!”
* * *
It had been a strange day, and Jimmy was having trouble concentrating on his homework. It seemed ridiculous, to be doing homework when he hadn’t even been at school, but if his parent’s didn’t see him hard at work following dinner they would be suspicious.
He hadn’t told his parents about his encounter with Scoops. For one thing, he was supposed to have been in school, and to admit that he hadn’t been would have been to invite punishment. Something told Jimmy, though, that even had the encounter taken place on a Saturday, or a school holiday, that he still wouldn’t have told his folks. Because in the absence of oppressive heat and the promise of ice cream- because here in the comfort and safety of his bedroom- Jimmy knew that he should never have spoken to the stranger in the ice cream truck...
And that he should never have accepted the sundae, delicious as it had been.
Jimmy knew his parents would not have approved.
Still, it had felt good, talking to the clown. Scoops was a nice guy. He seemed to understand what it was like to be small and defenseless- to be picked on just because you couldn’t stand up for yourself. He’d been a sympathetic ear as Jimmy had recounted the seemingly endless ways by which Josh Stanford and David Wendt made his school-life a daily hell.
As pleasant as it may have been, commiserating with Scoops, Jimmy was old enough to know that he needed a friendship with a grown-up dressed as a clown about as badly as he needed another reason not to go to school. Unless, of course, he wanted to wind up the subject of an after-school special...
Well, he’d made a mistake, and he wouldn’t do it again. As his mom was fond of saying “no harm, no foul.” If he saw Scoops the Clown again, he would be polite but nowhere near as familiar…
* * *
Jimmy Taylor awoke at two-forty-seven in the morning, according to the alarm clock on his nightstand. He sat up in the darkness, wondering if it had been a dream that had roused him so suddenly from a sound sleep. He was lowering himself onto the pillow to resume his slumber when he heard a noise from outside his window.
He sat bolt-upright. His little heart hammered against his ribs. Afraid to breathe too loudly, Jimmy strained to listen…
And there it was again, the deadened “clank” of steel hitting stone. Jimmy jumped involuntarily, held his breath. He walked to his bedroom window, lifted just enough of the shade to peer around…
...and felt his heart leap into his throat. A wave of gooseflesh raked his arms and shoulders. He felt suddenly cold.
Scoops the Clown was in his backyard.
Even at his young age, Jimmy understood intuitively that the odds of it being a different clown in his backyard, given the encounter he’d had with Scoops this afternoon, were beyond unlikely. Anyway, there was no mistaking Scoop’s makeup. Rather than the traditional red clown-wig, Scoops opted for an old fashioned soda-jerk’s cap perched jauntily atop a mountain of blue and white hair.
It was raining, but that didn’t seem to bother the clown at all as he went about his business in the Taylor’s backyard.
The sound had been a shovel. Scoops was using it to refill a hole he’d dug in the Taylor’s backyard garden. Every so often the jack-pudding would tamp at the earth with the back of the shovel. This was the sound that had plucked Jimmy from his slumber.
A flash of lightning illuminated the scene for an instant, and Jimmy could see that there was a wheelbarrow beside the clown in his backyard. Not a second later a peal of thunder crack-boomed with enough ferocity to set off a number of car alarms. Jimmy jumped.
The clown in the backyard did not.
Jimmy swallowed over the lump that was forming in his throat. He didn’t want to think about what the clown was doing back there- what he’d buried back there. Because that was what it looked like Scoops had done...it looked like he had buried something (someone?) and was now refilling the hole...
Apparently finished with his evening’s work, the rain-streaked clown placed the shovel into the wheelbarrow. He lifted the handles and paused, still. He cocked his head to the right, as though he’d heard something.
He turned, abruptly, and locked eyes with Jimmy.
Another flash of lighting and a great, heaven-shaking explosion of thunder punctuated the clown’s movement.
Scoops lifted a finger to his lips. “Shhhh…,” he said, but the sound was lost in the storm.
Jimmy started, almost cried out into the darkness of his bedroom. He returned the shade to its rightful position and backed away from the window.
He reached into his nightstand drawer and, without taking his eyes from his window, retrieved the flashlight he kept for reading comic books after lights out. Then, kneeling on his bed and leaning into the corner of two perpendicular walls, Jimmy tried, and failed, to tear his eyes from his window. Because he knew- he just knew- that, should he walk over and move the shade just enough to peek around, Scoops’ grotesque, rain-smeared face would be waiting for him there, peeking right back…
* * *
Jimmy decided he would go to school that morning. Somehow the idea of being ridiculed and bullied seemed preferable to the possibility of another truant encounter with Scoops the Clown.
It didn’t surprise Jimmy that Josh Stanford wasn’t in school that morning- or for the rest of the day as it turned out. It troubled him a great deal, but didn’t surprise him.
At recess he heard someone ask David Wendt where his pal was. David replied that he’d had no idea, that Josh was probably sick- or, he’d added with a smirk and a knowing smile, more likely that he was playing sick.
Sick, or playing sick- either would have been fine with Jimmy. When Josh wasn’t in school David Wendt wasn’t half as likely to start any bullying on his own, and that suited Jimmy just fine. The problem was, Jimmy knew that Josh wasn’t sick, or even pretending to be.
Jimmy was pretty sure he knew exactly where Josh Stanford was, and the thought made him sick to his stomach.
On the way home from school, Jimmy walked as far as Maple Avenue with Bret Hahn and Mikey Fuller. The pair were a grade older, and though they said nothing about his tagging along, Jimmy got the distinct impression that they weren’t thrilled about it.
He parted awkward, silent company with the older boys at Maple. He’d walked as far as tenth street, had begun to think that he might just make it home unaccosted by clowns, when he heard the awful tingle of the ice-cream truck’s bells. They were still in the distance, though; Jimmy lengthened his strides toward home.
By some trick of acoustics that, to a nine year old boy, may as well have been magic, the tinkling of the bells seemed to double in volume in the space of an instant. Jimmy didn’t dare stop walking. He heard an engine then, and the squeal of tires taking a turn at high speed. He turned…
...and sighed with relief. The vehicle coming down tenth street wasn’t an ice cream truck- it was a beleaguered red camaro that Jimmy knew well. It pulled up beside him, kept pace as he walked.
Amy Rogers lived across the street from the Taylors, had for as long as Jimmy could remember. Amy’s parent’s and his own were friendly, and usually shared at least one or two barbecues over the summer.
“Amy, can I have a ride?”
She frowned. “Your house is right there…”
“I know but...please, just take me there?”
Amy Rogers moved her head in such a way that a wave of reddish-blonde hair leapt up and over her shoulder, behind her back. That move, to a nine year old boy, is magic too. “Are you okay?”
“Yes. Please, can I just get in?” Jimmy was already sorry he’d asked, but he still felt that getting into the car represented his best hope of avoiding another meeting with Scoops.
The beaten old sports car rolled to a stop. Jimmy had the door opened before the squeak of the worn brakes had faded into the afternoon air. He sat, closed the door. “Thank you.”
Amy gave the old beast some gas. “It’s okay. You sure you’re alright, though?”
“Yes, I’m okay. I just…” Was he really going to say this...to Amy Rogers? Amy Rogers, who had been the focus of his attention since before he understood why? “I just have to use the bathroom.”
Inwardly, Jimmy cringed. He looked over and saw Amy was smiling. To his surprise, she said, “Hey, we’ve all been there. I thought your mom didn’t want you driving with me…”
“She doesn’t,” Jimmy said, delighting in the feeling of being bad in front of a beautiful, older woman. “But hey, when you gotta go…”
Amy didn’t laugh, but she smirked and shook her head. That worked for Jimmy.
* * *
Jimmy was having a hard time falling asleep. Hiis thoughts vacillated between potentially homicidal clowns and his earlier encounter with Amy. The latter occupied the greater part of his attention.
At two-thirty-seven, he realized that he must have fallen asleep because, once again, he came awake with a start. Terrified, he looked to his bedroom window. He pressed his back into the corner, waited for the sound of steel striking stone.
What came instead was worse, far worse. It was the sound of a fingernail striking glass once, twice...three times.
Having thought that he couldn’t possible be more scared, Jimmy Taylor wet his pajamas and his bed. The blood in his veins felt suddenly alien, parasitic. Rather than feed him, it fed on him.
Because he didn’t know what else to do, Jimmy did nothing.
A cry sprung up from deep within the child then, and he nearly gave it voice. Sheer force of will allowed him to bite it back. Screaming wouldn’t do. Screaming would wake mom and dad…
Yes! Yes, go and wake mom and dad, right now! Wake them and tell them everything!
...and then he’d have to explain what was going on. As if he knew…
The taps sounded louder now, more persistent.
Much to his own surprise, the horrified boy stood. His mind registered the cold, wet warmth of his soiled pajama bottoms; the feel of the cool wood floor on the bottoms of his feet; the quiet whirring of the house’s central air-conditioning. It registered all these things and more, filed them away for the possibility of recall sometime in the future. His attention, though- his entire conscious focus- was on his bedroom window.
He stood, not one foot from the window-shade. It was all too easy to imagine Scoops just beyond- Jimmy’s own mirror image, as it were, his geometric echo. The glass that separated them seemed suddenly very fragile to the boy…
Jimmy couldn’t take it anymore. The tapping was a call that demanded, by its very existence, an answer.
He reached out and pulled the shade aside…
...and froze from his insides out.
The face of Scoops the Clown filled his window. His ridiculous blue and white hair filled the top pane, his smiling face the bottom. He did have a great smile, Jimmy couldn’t help but notice again- a million-dollar smile, as they say- but he noticed that the smile did not reach the clown's eyes.
He’d been afraid that he would scream, or worse, shriek, when he pulled the shade aside. As it turns out, he needn’t have worried. The scream that boiled up from his core was like a rocket that burned too brightly; it disintegrated in the atmosphere, so to speak, and all that was left to break the surly bonds of Jimmy Taylor’s mouth was a pathetic squeak.
Thunder pealed, and Jimmy had the insane thought that the clown had brought it with him, for effect. He watched as Scoops the Clown, of the Clown-Face Ice-Cream Fleet, lifted his hand. The clown cocked his head, smirked. He tapped at the glass.
Knowing full-well that it was a mistake, but not knowing what else to do, Jimmy opened the shade. He reached up to turn the swivel lock, paused.
Scoops lifted his hand…extended his index finger...
Jimmy opened the lock and slid the window open three inches. Scoops put two blue-gloved hands beneath the pane and lifted it the rest of the way. That done, he leaned into the window casually, his forearms resting on the sil.
“Well, that’s better, Jimmy-boy! We can’t talk with a window between us!”
Jimmy felt his insides twisting about. He thought he might vomit. “M...m…” His brain sent words to his mouthl. His mouth, in turn, tripped all over them.
Scoops narrowed his eyes, watched the boy intently. After a few seconds: “M...m...m...m…” The clown mimicked the boy. “What’s the matter, Jimmy Taylor? Cat got your tongue?”
Jimmy took a deep, ragged breath. “My parents. You’ll wake my parents.”
“Well,” Scoops said, “We don’t want to do that…”
“How do you know my name?” That wasn’t the question Jimmy wanted to ask, the one he felt he had to ask, but it was all he could manage right now.
The blue-and-white-haired clown frowned, and there was nothing his grease-paint smile could do about it. “I saw you yesterday, Jimmy Taylor.”
Jimmy wished he was at school, being forced into his locker by his classmates. “Did you?”
The clown cocked his head. “Did I? You know I did.”
Having been asked nothing, Jimmy stayed silent.
“You know I did. Were you running away from me, Jimmy Taylor?” Scoops manage to somehow look hurt by the idea. “You wouldn’t do that, would you?”
To tell the truth, Jimmy knew, would be to invite the mad clown’s outrage. To lie, he suspected, would be to invite further trouble, for both he and for his schoolmates. He decided to see how far silence would take him.
“Hmph,” The clown said. “You weren’t so boring the other day, Jimmy Taylor. I daresay you were far better company then.” As suddenly as it had disappeared, Scoops’ movie-star smile was back. “See, here’s the thing, Jimmy Taylor... you and I, we have something in common now. That isn’t a bad thing, per se, but it means we’re going to have to come to an agreement…”
“What do we have in common?” Jimmy wished immediately that he hadn’t asked.
Scoops clucked his tongue, a gently chiding schoolmaster. “Now, Jimmy Taylor…”
Jimmy watched the clown, waited for him to answer the question.
“Now, Jimmy...,” Scoops’ hand went to the enormous blue-and-white flower on his lapel, and then Jimmy had a face-full of water. “I won’t say it if you don’t!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about…” Jimmy wiped water from his nose and chin.
The clown’s smile fled his face, left behind it’s greasepaint shadow. “Yes, you do. Say it, Jimmy Taylor. If you don’t say it, then I’m afraid that you and I aren’t going to be able to come to an arrangement after all…”
Jimmy swallowed. His throat was a desert. “Josh.” It was barely a whisper.
Scoops, who had taken to feigning disinterest, seemed suddenly reanimated. “What was that, Jimmy Taylor? I heard you say something, but I couldn’t quite…”
“Josh!” Jimmy was shaking now. “Josh Stanford!”
The clown nodded, slowly. His smile was sly, conspiratorial. “That’s the stuff, Jimmy Taylor. That a boy. You have to own it, as they say…”
Jimmy was beyond terrified now, and it felt somehow liberating. “I don’t know what you mean. Own what?”
Lightning flashed, was reflected in the clown’s eyes. “Own him, Jimmy Taylor. Josh Stanford...you own him now, like it or not. And it’s good to own someone...but it’s also bad. The bad will come, whether you take the good or no, so- take the good, Jimmy Taylor. Own him!”
“What of it?”
“Is that what you were doing? Is that where his is?”
Scoops looked annoyed. “Is that where who is?”
“Josh.” Jimmy lowered his voice. “Josh Stanford.”
Anger flashed in the clown’s eyes.
“I didn’t want this. Not this!” Jimmy felt as though he’d swallowed a huge stone. “I never asked for this…”
Scoops looked puzzled. “I must be at the wrong window. In fact, I must have the wrong boy...I’m sorry, I’m looking for Jimmy Taylor…”
“I didn’t ask for this!”
“Yes you did! You did, Jimmy Taylor! You did, you did, you did!” Scoops smiled broadly. He fairly brimmed with glee.
Jimmy was shaking all over. “I didn’t mean it.” Tears gathered in the boy’s eyes, broke and coursed down his face. “I didn’t mean it…”
“Dear boy,” Scoops managed a pitying look through his facepaint. “I’m only a clown! And only an ice-cream selling clown, at that. I do make the best hot-fudge sundaes in five-hundred miles, that’s the truth, Jimmy Taylor- but I’m afraid even I can’t know the contents of a person’s mind...of their heart. I’m afraid a simple clown must trust that what one is telling him is the truth. Otherwise, what a terrible outlook I’d have!”
“You’re a monster.” Jimmy was numb, now. He spoke without thinking.
Scoops looked genuinely hurt. “A monster? Me? Why, Jimmy Taylor?”
Jimmy clenched shaking hands into frustrated fists. “You killed him. You killed Josh.”
The clown looked surprised. “Who said? There’s no evidence that I killed the boy- and that’s because I didn’t! Oh no, Scoops is free to sell his ice cream with a clean conscience!”
“But what, Jimmy Taylor? My route starts in…” Scoops checked a wristwatch the size of a dinner-plate. “Oh my, I’m going to be tired tomorrow.”
“He’s in the garden. My parent’s garden.”
The clown smiled. “Yes, Jimmy Taylor. Yes, he is. Buried deep enough that mom and pop will never find him while they’re puttering about out there. And this brings us to our agreement…”
Jimmy took a ragged, snotty breath. He shuddered. “What is it? What is the agreement?”
“Well you had a wish, Jimmy Taylor, and you shared that wish with me. And I made that wish come true.” Scoops made a face as though something had just occurred to him. “Nothing makes me happier, Jimmy-boy, then making people’s wishes come true. But now I have pressing matters elsewhere, and it would be very...unfortunate, if I had to come back here to testify at your trial. Or to kill you.”
The boy nodded.
“So here’s my deal, and believe me, it’s a better deal than most get when I’m through with them.” He leaned in closely and whispered right into the boy’s ear. “Keep your mouth shut. I didn’t choose you by accident, Jimmy Taylor, any more than you did me. And now our lives are entangled. Do you know what that means?”
Again, Jimmy nodded.
“That’s a bright boy. Now listen. There are going to be all sorts of questions. Teachers, parents, police...if you tell them anything about me...I’ll find out. Do you understand?”
“Good.” Scoops looked up and to the left, as though trying to remember if he had anything else to say. “Oh yes, I almost forgot. If you’re one of those people that gets to feeling bad about things, and you decide that confessing to Josh’s murder may be good for your soul...I’ll hear about that too.”
“You gotta own it now, Jimmy Taylor.” The clown reached up to shut the window. “Gotta own it.”
Before Scoops could shut the window, Jimmy placed his own hand on the pane. “Will you leave me alone, now?”
Scoops smiled. It was back to movie-star affability in the blink of an eye. “Well that’s entirely up to you, Jimmy Taylor! Like I said, I have business elsewhere...” The clown’s mood seemed to darken, if for only an instant. Just as quickly, though he smiled again. “So, it’s entirely up to you!”
With that, Scoops took a step back from the window. He made a low, sweeping bow, and disappeared into the night.
* * *
Jimmy almost told the first pair of detectives he spoke to. It had been two days since Scoops’ unwanted visit, two days since Josh Stanford had gone missing, and the police were at school doing routine canvassing. Sitting in the school library beside his Vice-Principal Mrs. Stone, and across from two armed law officers, Jimmy felt safe, perhaps for the first time in four days. The notion that Scoops the Clown would visit repercussions on him seemed no where near as certain as it had in his bedroom, in the small hours of the night.
Funny thing, though- the more seriously he considered telling the police everything he knew about this whole nightmare, the more he found himself thinking about the tinkling, jingling bells of the clown’s ice-cream truck. In his mind he could hear them. It was uncanny.
A few days later a second round of questions from a different pair of detectives. Jimmy wasn’t sure, but it seemed that only he and a handful of other students were subject to this round of questioning.
Jimmy didn’t care if he was the only person being questioned. Guilt and fear were eating him alive. He hadn’t slept since Scoops’ visit, and his stomach revolted at even the idea of food. His parents had taken notice of his state too, and that wasn’t good. To Jimmy, a second round of questions represented a second chance to confess all that he knew…and to just maybe get his life back.
Again, though, as vague thoughts of confession coalesced into more specific ideas about what, exactly, he would say, Jimmy found himself distracted by the mental tinkling of the clown’s bells.
I don’t care, Jimmy thought. I have to tell someone…
He came close. He really did. As he opened his mouth to speak, though, damned if the bells in his mind didn’t make the transition into the physical, breathing world around him.
And they sounded close.
J Robert Kane
April 9-10 2017
Sound Beach/East Northport