Grease Painted Smile
James A. Moore
I remember the long lashes, the startling blue eyes, the thick, dark hair and the red, red lips drawn back in a wide, friendly smile. But mostly, I remember the bloodstained teeth.
Susan said something to me, but I couldn't hear the words. All I could see was the face on the front page of the paper. The face that sent ripples of dread running through my body. The coffee cup in my hand shivered spilling its scalding contents a little over my knuckles.
I hissed at the pain, the cup falling from my hand and hitting the edge of the kitchen table. Coffee flipped out of the shattering mug in a wave that hit my stomach and lap, spilled over the edge of the imitation wood Formica and splattered over the linoleum. I hopped out of my seat, slapping at the burning sensation and all but yipping in pain. Danielle, my four-month-old, giggled in her high chair. Daddy was being silly.
If looks could kill at just that moment, my daughter would have been a corpse. I loved her, but my mind wasn't exactly where it should have been.
It was on the face. The face of a dead man.
The face of a dead man that I knew and hated.
And maybe, just maybe, still feared.
Susan was there, her hands moving the dish towel from the sink over my lap and stomach, wiping at the coffee with a nearly fanatic speed. Normally the idea of her touching me there was enough to make me eager for sex - seven years of marriage had not reduced my physical desire for her in the least. Right then I just wanted to escape from the feelings and noises of the world around me.
I just wanted to escape.
I made myself stay calm and even managed a weak smile for my wife. Then I escaped back into the bedroom upstairs, needing to change my clothes and have a minute or two to myself. My hands felt clammy and cold, my skin in the mirror over the nightstand looked almost white an that just made things worse.
White skin stretched tightly, baring teeth that were almost the same shade.
I think I whimpered. I know I cried.
Dead men aren't supposed to show on the front page of the newspaper, you see. Not unless it's in an article dealing with how they died or a retrospective on how well they'll be remembered. Most assuredly, they are not supposed to be on the front page of the newspaper when it announces that they're coming to town for a charity event.
Summitville's a small town, pretty well buried in the mountains in Colorado. By and large, most people don't even know it's here. That suits me just fine. I rather prefer to know who lives where and whether or not the people around me constitute a threat to me and mine. The way I see it, if there's a need for anything more diverse than a movie theater to a night out with Susan at one of the local restaurants or with my friends at Dino's Bar and Grill, I can just climb in the car and drive to Denver or even Boulder. I don't really feel a need to live any closer to the areas where the idea of community and common decency have been replaced by the local neighborhood watch and a police force that needs to have a swat team.
Summitville has always been safe, that's my point. Every time I ever ran across any sort of trouble, it happened somewhere away from my hometown. And the man whose picture chilled me to the core and made me actually run from my own family? Well, he might as well have been from Mars.
The paper had his name mentioned prominently. They said he was an up and coming comedic actor by the name of Cecil Phelps. I'd even heard his name a few times before then, though I never saw his picture. He was starring in a newly announced movie with Jim Carey, and there were unconfirmed rumors that he was negotiating to be in the next Adam Sandler movie.
I knew him by a different name. I knew him as Rufo the Clown. And I remembered the first time I met him as clearly as I remember the day I saw him murdered. I closed my eyes against my pale face in the mirror and was drawn back through my own inner reflections to that first meeting with my personal worst nightmare.
The family had gone to Denver, and Dad surprised us with a special treat: a trip to the circus. So long ago it's barely even a memory, more like a distorted dream that won't go away. The sound of cheerful, loud music and the smell of sawdust and cotton candy, overly sweet and devastatingly colorful. I remember watching the women dressed in gold and glitter riding atop horses, standing on their tiptoes as the animals charged in a circle. I was amazed by their courage. I remember a massive man, bronzed skin and golden hair, commanding lions and tigers to do his bidding, and how they roared when they defied him. In the end they always obeyed, and I felt it must surely be magic.
High above me a family of beautiful, graceful people danced across a wire I could barely see and flung themselves from suspended bars, daring the impossible and succeeding. There were chimpanzees that ran around in tailored suits, shrieking and clapping endlessly throughout the show. From time to time they would run up into the bleachers, grinning madly. One of them came close enough for me to touch, but I was too afraid to risk it.
It was magic, pure and simple. Even if it was only magic to a six-year-old boy.
When each major performance was over, the clowns came out; the clowns with their eager smiles and outlandish clothes, their oversized shoes and their wild, nearly maniacal laughter. I remember seeing them and feeling a white-hot fire bloom in my stomach that spread slowly outward through the rest of my body, not burning but chilling my soul. My parents watched three of them bumbling their way across the main ring and laughed at their antics. I, in turn, looked at my father's round face and my mother's heart-shaped face with the wide, doe eyes I loved so dearly, amazed and shocked by their amusement. How could they find anything at all humorous in those twisted parodies of humans? I was ready to wet myself, and they laughed on, completely oblivious.
And to make matters worse, my sister Denise and my brother Jeff laughed with them. At six years old, I guess I wasn't quite bold enough to ask them what they thought was funny, but I might have at least told them I was scared. I was ready, by God, to do just that when that face popped up in front of me.
I have heard it said that no two clowns are quite alike, that, like fingerprints, there are distinguishing characteristics that make each one stand out as an individual. Whatever the case, there was no mistaking Rufo. He was lean, with a long, almost feminine face painted titanium white and highlighted with dark blue and the brilliant red of arterial blood. Beneath that makeup he could have been anywhere between fifteen and fifty. His skin was free of wrinkles and just starting to show character lines, but it was hard to say how much might have been hidden behind that field of white. Sharp triangles of blue lifted above his eyes in a mockery of proper eyebrows, and pointed down, towards his leering smile. His eyes were the color of a blue sky over a white, frozen wasteland, but the triangles of darkness above and below almost looked like they'd been cut into the dead white skin of his face. His mouth, even when closed, seemed to stretch into a sadistic smile, with painted on dimples and a curve that seemed sinister to my young mind. Unlike so many of the clowns I'd seen at the circus that night and in pictures even before then, his hair was not a primary color. It was black as pitch, falling down to his shoulders in tight curls.
This clown leered down at my older brother - all of twelve and nearly a giant to me - and Jeff smiled back excitedly and took Rufo's hand when it was offered. Rufo yanked his arm back quickly, leaving the hand in my brother's shocked grip. Where his wrist should have been was a cluster of colorful paper flowers. Jeff laughed hard and hearty, while I looked on with a strange feeling of dread. Denise laughed, her face lit in a smile, her green eyes on Rufo's own blue ones. Rufo looked at her and, in addition to his painted smile, the lips of his mouth parted, revealing perfect teeth. He reached out quickly, his gloved hand touching Denise's face, then moving back to her ear. A moment later he pulled back, a perfect long stem rose held in his fingers as an offering to her beauty. While my parents and brother laughed, Denise blushed prettily, as only girls in the full bloom of puberty can - half way to beauty and convinced they will never reach the stage. Even Denise laughed through her blush, but I saw something different in the clown's gesture. I saw that he wanted her. I was too young to really understand what was going on in his desire, but I knew it was there an that it wasn't healthy.
I should have seen it coming. I should have known that after touching each of my siblings, he would inevitably come for me. There was very distinct disadvantages to being six years old. One of the big limitations is you really can't escape from a clown with long arms. He grabbed me around the wrist before I could do more than look at him, and lifted me high into the air. I wanted to scream, wanted to shriek bloody murder to the crowd around me, to look at my parents and beg them to protect me, which, after all, is what parents are supposed to do. Instead I merely looked at his face, frozen as surely as if I was staring down the barrel of a very large pistol.
I looked into those light blue eyes, felt the cold wintery embrace of them as they scanned my face and looked deeper than that, past the flesh and into my soul. And then that smile of his grew wider, drawing my eyes. I watched his teeth appear from behind crimson-stained lips, wide, perfect teeth just made for taking bites out of little children. His broad flat nose - almost feral without the need of any sort of red ball - painted at the very tip, wrinkled with an almost animalistic pleasure, and he spoke for the first time, in a voice too low for anyone other than me to hear. He said, "I'm going to make you bleed, boy. I'm going to make you bleed and die, but first, I think I'll rape your sister and eat your brother's eyes."
I looked at him with what had to be raw terror on my face, and squirmed madly, trying to get away from his thin, bony fingers that held me off the ground. I think, maybe, that I finally screamed.
The look on his face was pure shock. I don't think he really expected me to react. He almost dropped me right then and there. Almost. Instead he managed to set me down, and I ran immediately to my mother, who managed to coo at me and laugh at the same time. I chose to accept the comfort of her arms and forgive the laughter, but it wasn't easy just then.
When I'd finished washing my face, I calmly went into the closet and pulled down a box I hadn't bothered to look at for the last three years, at least. I opened the box without really even thinking about it and pulled out my service revolver. Three years since I retired from the police force. It wasn't a question of being in any sort of danger - Summitville's a small place, as I said before - but how much they could pay me. I was making a lot better money working in an office now. I didn't even have to commute unless I felt the need to actually go in and see the people who worked under me.
I don't remember much of the circus after that. But I remember the nightmares... Oh, Lord yes, I remember the nightmares. I don't think I knew exactly what a rape was at the ripe old age of six, but I knew it was bad. In my dreams there was darkness, and my sister's voice - screaming for help, mostly - and there was blood. Oceans and oceans of blood. And past her desperate cries, I sometimes saw my brother, his eyes gone, replaced by bloodied patches of darkness that were ringed with jagged tooth marks. I must have had that damned dream a hundred times or more. My mother worried herself silly over whether or not I was all right. She thought I had a cold. I never told her otherwise. Even then I knew my mother was obsessive when it came to guilty feelings. She held herself responsible for every injury, no matter how small, that befell one of her children.
How long does it take a memory to fade? How long before a nasty scare becomes a mere shadow of what it once was and becomes, instead, a tolerable delusion? I don't know. I only know that I eventually forgot about the clown. He became little more than a bogeyman to me, and I was perfectly willing to let him stay nothing more than that.
I forgot him.
And then he came back into my life five years later to remind me that some nightmares aren't just twisted flights of fancy. I heard the news about Jeff's accident and knew he'd come back to keep his word to me.
Jeff was riding his bike, cruising around the neighborhood like he'd done a thousand times before, when he was struck by a car. It was probably Jeff's fault. He was always hot-dogging on that Huffy of his. He shot out onto the road without looking and the driver of the Cadillac that hit him probably never even saw him coming.
My older brother was knocked twenty-seven feet through the air and landed on the sidewalk across the street from our house. I heard the sound of the car hitting him and then I heard silence and then I heard his wails of pain. I'd have been screaming, too. He broke his left leg in six places and dislocated his right shoulder.
My mother fairly flew from the house, pausing only long enough to scream at me to call 911. I did, and they urged me to stay on the line asking for details about what was happening. I saw my mother pacing around Jeff, afraid to touch him where he lay broken, and wanting at the same time to make sure that no one and no thing could come near enough to cause him any more injury.
The voice on the phone was calming, soothing enough to make me stay where I was rather than running to see if Jeff was dead or alive - I knew he was alive, I could see him writing and crying on the ground, but still I looked - and I did as I was told until I heard the wailing sound of the ambulance coming closer.
How can I describe what it felt like to go outside and see what happened to Jeff? He wasn't just my older brother, he was my hero in so many ways. He was a god on the football field, and he was almost unstoppable when he was playing baseball. He almost had magic when it came to women - his girlfriends were the sort that every single guy wanted to date, and even with puberty just thinking about coming around to bother me, I could imagine what a kiss from most of them would have felt like. And while it's true we had our differences, he was still pretty cool as brothers go. I guess maybe that's almost always true of siblings: they may not always get along, but they are family.
Seeing him broken and bleeding on the ground outside the house, well, that was like watching John Wayne die in a movie. It happened from time to time, but it always felt wrong. Only this was a thousand times worse. I rushed out to be with him, to see, as my mother had before me, if I could help in any way. I couldn't. All I could do was feel that twisting panic in my stomach as he cried and the paramedics secured him to the gurney and put him in the back of the ambulance.
And as they started to leave, as they closed the doors and I got my last glimpse of Jeff and my mom, both pale with almost matching looks of agony on their faces, I saw Rufo's reflection in the glass panels of the double doors.
Five years had passed. Five years, time for me forget the worst of my fears, or at least to suppress them. I saw the dark curly hair highlighted by sunlight that was far too bright for a day when my brother lay ruined before me. I saw the blue triangles on his face around the pools of darkness that shadowed his eyes. I saw the white skin faded in the reflection from the glass, and I saw his dark red lips part into a wide, eager smile.
And then the siren started again and the image moved and fragmented into nothingness. And I looked behind me and all around me and saw only my neighbors, their faces looking almost as worried as my mother's, even if a few had the same underlying look of excitement you see on the faces of people driving past a bad car wreck.
There was no clown. No hint that a clown could have been anywhere around me. There was nothing to say that the image was anything but my imagination, except for one comment I heard through the cloud of panic that had obscured my senses.
Billy Briner, the five-year-old who lived in the house on the corner, looked to his mother and asked with solemn curiosity: "Mommy? Why did Jeff smell like cotton candy? Can I have some cotton candy?"
I don't really remember going back into our house and sitting on the sofa. I barely remember anything about that day after that little comment from the kid down the road. The next thing I remember was my father, looking older than he ever had, looking less than perfect for the first time ever, calmly explaining to Denise and me that Jeff had suffered head trauma in the accident.
And I remember his words, the only ones that really mattered from the whole conversation. They were like the punch line to a sadistic joke. He said, "The doctors had to take Jeff's eyes. The pressure was too much and there was nothing they could do to save them."
I don't suppose my laughter was appropriate, but I couldn't help it. I wasn't amused, not at all, don't misunderstand me on that. I was hysterical. I couldn't breathe after I heard those words. But I could laugh, and I did. I laughed until I was screaming and tears were falling from my eyes - Jeff wouldn't have to worry about THAT anymore, ha ha ha and isn't THAT a scream! - and that's the last thing I remember about the day Rufo took my brother's eyes.
Well, that and the dream that haunted me for the next few months. It was always the same, Rufo holding me in front of him and telling me that he was going to eat my brother's eyes. Only Rufo must have been much bigger than I remembered, because I was eleven and still he held me like I was a toddler. And then he'd set me down and I would run as fast as I could, moving through waves of resistance that I couldn't see but that I could most certainly feel, like molasses dragging me back and holding me down. Finally I would see safety - my mother sitting in her chair and reaching out to me just as she did when I was a kid and scared enough to cry, just as she always did when I needed comforting - and I'd run to her and feel her arms pulling me closer, holding me to her warm, sweet Mom scent. Only the smell was wrong: sawdust and the sickly sweet scent of cotton candy, instead of Chanel Number Five. And I'd try to pull back, try to escape, only it's too late, far too late and I know, I know that there was never any real chance to get away from him. And in my dreams, Rufo smiles at me, his lips smeared with even more red than usual and the crimson stains running over his white chin in a bloody goatee. And he says the words that wake me every time, wake me with a scream desperate to crash past my clamped mouth and sweat running across my forehead. "They tasted sweet. His eyes tasted just as sweet as ripe cherries, and they popped when I chewed them."
The dream only changed once that I can recall. That time, I wound up in a deep kiss with my mother - yeah, I knew, Freud would love it - and while we were locked in our embrace, she slid her tongue into my mouth. When she became Rufo, her tongue changed into a thick line of his hair, coiled and curly, caressing my tongue. I woke up that morning gagging and continued to gag until I pulled a long, dark, curly hair from the back of my throat.
I suppose my folks would have sent me to a shrink, but they were busy helping Jeff. In addition to physical therapy, he had to learn Braille, and he had to adjust to life with a cane as his only source of guidance.
It didn't go well. Jeff killed himself a little over three months later.
When does a family fall apart? In the case of my family, it was just after Jeff's funeral. My father grew distant, most often spending his time in the garage, tinkering with a dozen different projects that got him out of the house and let her wallow in his grief. My mother spent most of her time in the kitchen, pretending to cook while she made whimpering noises and cried to herself whens he thought no one was around. And Denise? Denise went a little crazy.
While I was doing my best to cope with the nightmares and my parents were lost in their own worlds, my old sister discovered the bar scene. It was a rare night when she came home before three in the morning, and rarer still for her to come home in any shape to be driving. My parents didn't seem to care, couldn't pull themselves away from their grief, and that left me to talk with her.
Like I had any idea what to say. I spoke, I stumbled through a few warnings and made her promise to be at least a little careful, but it was a waste of my time and we both knew it. She was practically determined to get herself killed and there was nothing I, or anyone else, could do to stop her.
She didn't die. She actually seemed to beat the odds of what can happen to a young girl who's determined to get herself into a bad situation. She avoided all of the worst pitfalls that should have come her way, though I remain convinced it wasn't for lack of trying. I'd like to think I helped with that, but I don't really know if anything I ever said got through to her.
By the time she finally got ready to start her senior year in high school, she'd gotten herself back together. That was what mattered the most.
Until Rufo came back. I saw him this time around. Saw him before he could touch Denise. Not as a mirage or a twisted reflection in the window of an emergency vehicle, but as a flesh and blood person. I saw him when he showed up at the school fair, performing little magic tricks and acting like, well, like a clown. I saw him only half an hour after I got there, and after I promised to stay out of Denise's way, because she had a date. She was going to go out with the captain of the football team, and she was excited in a way I didn't think she was capable of getting excited anymore.
How are you supposed to act when you run across one of your nightmares in the flesh? I walked with a gaggle of my friends, trying to be cool at an age where no one is anywhere near as cool as they want to be, and I was doing a damned fine job of it until I saw him. Listen, it's one thing to think you might have seen someone from your past, but to know it, that's an entirely different thing.
I stared at the clown and I swear my heart stopped beating. I lost all track of my friends, of the cheap carnival rides and bad food that was there, though I'd been looking forward to all of it. He was exactly the same as I remembered, down to the curls in his hair and the broad, vicious grin under his grease-painted smile. There was no mistaking him. There was no way in hell I had made a mistake about who it was I saw handing out balloons to a small gathering of elementary schoolers. I knew it was him because he looked right back at me and his eyes met with mine. Cold blue eyes that looked into me and saw what I did my best to hide. They saw my fear and knew the way it tasted. And the clown winked at me and ran his tongue over his exaggerated lips as I stood frozen in fear.
I might have turned and run away right then and there, I certainly wanted to, could almost feel the asphalt jarring my feet as I ran as fast as I could, but Tom Summers, my best friend that particular year, nudged me and told me to get my ass in gear.
I blinked at the distraction and looked his way. When I turned back the to where Rufo had been, he was gone. The only evidence he'd been there at all was the gathering of little kids holding balloons in their little fists. It's amazing how easily you can convince yourself that almost anything is your imagination if you really try. Rufo the clown couldn't have been there. I made myself believe that with little actual effort. Besides, he hadn't aged at all. People age. It happens. Even to men in clown make up.
There was Tom to deal with, and there were the other guys and, of course, there were the girls. Running away from a figment of my imagination wasn't likely to garner the respect of the girls. Somewhere between the time I first saw the smiling face of Rufo and that night, my mind had decided that impressing the girls was far more important.
I pushed him out of my mind and enjoyed the rest of the fair, cheap as it was. Before the show was over I'd spent every penny of my money, mooched five dollars off of Tom and spent twenty minutes in a heavy petting session with Kristin McAffee, who taught me how to french kiss and let me slip my hand up under her skirt. By the time I went to bed that night, Rufo was the last thing on my mind.
Denise didn't make it home.
I found out in the morning when Sheriff Chuck Hanson made his presence known and informed my parents that she was alive, but not doing very well. According to Hanson - a bear of a man who took violent crimes personally - she had been assaulted by her date for the evening. He was already in the county lock up and would remain there until a court date could be arranged. Because of the severe nature of her attack, he'd pushed hard for a few owed favors and made certain that there would be no chance of the boy getting out on bail.
We went to see Denise right away. My sister, who was at times a thorn in my side and one of my best friends, was alive, but not at all well. There were bites taken out of her. In addition to the rape, the man who'd attacked her tore through her skin with his teeth, and not just once or twice, but several times. Anyone who believes that rape is a crime of passion and not an act of violence has not seen what a man can do to a woman if he really wants to hurt her. I have. Every last one of the things that could be done was, and my sister paid the price for that range.
I was allowed to spend ten minutes with Denise, who was unconscious throughout my visit. After that I sat in the waiting room for a long time while I thought back over the night before and when I'd seen Rufo. Who knows how long I might have stayed that way if the nurse at the station hadn't come up to me and told me I had a phone call. I didn't think about the fact that no one outside of the immediate family even knew where we were. I just walked over to the white courtesy phone and mumbled into the mouthpiece.
And Rufo's voice came through as clear as crystal; pleasant and deep, like Ricardo Montelban without the accent. His was the voice of a storyteller who could probably lull a dozen children into a near-dream with words. And it chilled me to the bone. "I have to tell you, boy, your sister tastes good." I think I made some sort of noise. I know I fell against the counter an slid down to the ground, clutching that receiver in my hand with almost crushing force. Despite the pulse thundering in my ears, I heard him clearly. "She was doing so well, too. Her and that boyfriend of hers. She said no and acted prim and proper, just like a lady should when he tried to get his hand up her skirt. Bet her folks would be really proud of her. Bet you would have been, too."
I didn't answer. I didn't have any breath to make words.
"You still there, boy? Of course you are. I bet you are thinking I'd forgotten about you, weren't you? I haven't. I'm just being patient. You weren't really big enough to do anything about until now. Just like Denise wasn't really up to snuff until she got properly seasoned." He laughed then, a decidedly un-clown like sound. "Hell, I liked her so much I might have a second go at her when she's healed up a bit."
I screamed then, ranting for him to leave her alone, to leave my sister alone or I would kill him. He laughed all the way through it, and when I finally wound down, he said one last thing to leave mw anting to just curl up and die. "It'll be a while before she's doing well enough for me to play with her again, boy, and I already said I had plans for you. I'll see you tonight."
Eventually we wound up at home, without either my sister or my mother there. Mom was staying at the hospital, the better to check on Denise and comfort her should she awaken. My Dad was never really an open man. He was the sort who leaned more towards working at the office than trying to get along with his children. The situation was made far worse when Jeff died. I can only imagine what was going through his head when he thought of his only daughter lying in a hospital bed, violated and disfigured and left for dead by the sort of vermin who thinks cannibalism goes well with uninvited sex.
He ordered us a pizza that went mostly untouched and after a while he called my mother on the phone and forgot about me. I, in my turn, forgot about him, lost in the repeated thoughts of Denise's assault and the grinning face of Rufo, my personal demon. Sleep was completely out of the question. I kept hearing his promise to see me that night. I waited until my father had drifted to sleep watching the late night news, and then I went downstairs and pulled the biggest knife I could find from the cutlery my mother used to prepare meals. While it's true that the mind can play tricks and I wasn't fully grown at that time, I feel safe in saying that the blade was no less than a foot in length. It might have even been longer. All I know for certain was that it was a formidable weapon and one I intended to use on Rufo when he made his appearance.
I did my very best to stay awake, but despite my fears of the clown who'd violated my sister and caused, however indirectly, my brother's death, I eventually faded into slumber. And that damned thing came into my dreams again, violating my mind as surely as it had violated my sister. And if you don't believe that a spirit can be raped, then you have never fallen victim to the invasion of your dreams and should count yourself among the blessed.
I thought I was awake. That was the worst part of it. There was no sense of drifting through a dream or even moving through a nightmare. I remember holding the blade in my hands and staring at the window from my room to the world beyond those four walls. The closest thing I felt to a dream-like element was the sudden knowledge that Rufo was there in the room with me. And, again, I was caught by the fat that though I had grown taller in the years between when I saw him the first time and that moment, he remained just as tall as ever, impossibly large in my small room.
"I told you, boy, I'm going to make you bleed." He reached for me and I lunged forward, slashing savagely with the butcher knife in my hand. And, oh, how I screamed. I raged with the fury of eight years of constant fear and frustration. My blade cut deeply through the baggy clothing covering his skinny body and his eyes flew wide with fear as the knife plunged deep into flesh and carved runners of red down his torso. His hands moved between us in a feeble attempt to stop me, but failed to do more than allow me the pleasure of hacking though the meat of his forearms and wrists. I did not merely thrill at cutting into his body, I reveled in it. The feeling of the knife puncturing his sadistic flesh was almost sexual for me. I stood up, finally, smeared with the blood and viscera of my most hated fears spilling upon my body, and grinned down in satisfaction.
And saw instead of his sickly pale face the torn and bloodied remains of my sister Denise. I woke up with a scream pulling past my lips and the knife I'd chosen to defend myself clutched in my hand hard enough to draw blood. Somewhere along the way I'd grasped my weapon by the blade and sliced through my own skin.
And this time when I looked up and saw Rufo standing above me, I knew it wasn't a dream. His hand moved down and grabbed my face, mashing my lips against my teeth, even as he smiled broadly and leaned in close enough for me to smell his cotton candy breath. "Didn't I tell you, boy? Didn't I say I'd make you bleed? Rufo always keeps his promises. Believe me, that's a fact."
He took the handle of the knife and pulled it hard away from me, cutting through tendons and making the blood flow from my ruined hand like a wave of crimson from an ocean of viscera. I screamed again, as much from the fear of seeing him in person as from the pain of my newly inflicted wound.
And my father, a man who I had never known in all my years to be angry or violent, burst through the door into my bedroom with enough force to shatter the wooden frame. My father, who, to the best of my knowledge, had never committed anything even vaguely resembling an act of retribution, moved across the room and tackled the clown standing beside me, with enough force to slam him into the wall and break the sheet rock. The knife in Rufo's hand managed to slip free from the grasp and somehow or another, it wound up in my father's possession. They struggled, those two men who had been a part of my life for so very long, and in the end my father rose from the floor of my bedroom and left Rufo dead at the side of my bed, his blood pooling into the shag carpet.
My nightmare was over at last. Rufo the Clown was dead.
And everyone lived happily ever after.
In time Denise recovered from the worst of her injuries, though she tended for quite some time to stay away from dating. The boy accused of assaulting her was eventually cleared of all charges, though he and his family moved away not long after that. Summitville is a small town, as I've already said, and some of the people who live there are very unforgiving. Denise may well have agreed that he did nothing to her, but there are some who doubted her word. My father knew the truth and so did Denise and so did I. But the evidence wasn't allowed out, you see. The truth about what happened to her was buried along with the stranger in the clown make up. I never asked where my father buried him, and he never once volunteered the information. Summitville has its share of secrets, and where Rufo was put to rest is only one of them.
And that secret was one that my father took to his death a few years back. He died in a bad way, taken from the world by a stranger's poor driving habits when he was on a business trip in Denver. He was crushed between his car seat and the steering wheel, and died beside my mother. I had a dream about their death a few weeks later. In my dream both of them were smiling as they died. And the cuts on their faces left them with marks of clown makeup.
And I went on with my life until this morning, when I saw the face of Cecil Phelps on the front page of the newspaper. What a treat for the people of Summitville! Cecil Phelps coming to town and performing live for a charity function. What an absolute delight for one and all. The up and coming comedian here in town to make everyone laugh.
I can't help wondering what they would think if they knew what I know. I find myself hoping that they would turn and run as fast as they could if they could understand everything that I ave seen of the man in the past.
The dead are supposed to stay dead, you see. And I know for a fact that Cecil Phelps died. I know because I saw my father kill him. I know because I was there when the makeup was washed away from his skin and his face was made clear and real for the first time in my life. I knew he was dead a long time before Susan and I were married and well before I came back to Summitville from my time in college.
I thought he was dead this afternoon when I called Susan and told her I thought it would be a nice surprise if she took Danielle and went to visit her mother in Aspen. Just a few hours away, and I would join them as soon as I was finished with a few extra hours of work at the office. I stay busy in my little job as the managing editor of Summitville's little newspaper. Imagine my surprise when I saw the lead article that I never approved or even read about.
I knew Cecil Phelps was dead when I read that very article this morning and I knew he was dead when he called me this afternoon. He only said one thing to me. It was enough to chill me to the core of my soul. He said, "I promised to make you bleed and die, boy. I made you bleed, but that was only half of what I promised you. Rufo the Clown always keeps his word."
I did not scream when I heard his voice or when I heard his words. I'm older now and better able to keep my cool. I didn't scream when I heard his laugh or even when he hung up on me.
But now I'm alone in my house. Now, my wife and my daughter are safe for the present and hopefully they'll stay that way.
I didn't scream. But downstairs, in the office that's supposed to be closed and locked, I can hear the sound of footsteps moving over the dusty linoleum floor.
I remember the long lashes, the startling blue eyes, the thick, dark hair and the red, red lips drawn back in a wide, friendly smile. But mostly, I remember the bloodstained teeth.
I wonder if I'll scream when he steps through the doorway. I hope not. I don't want to give him that final satisfaction.
About the author:
James A. Moore is the award winning author of over twenty novels, thrillers, dark fantasy and horror alike, including the critically acclaimed Fireworks, Under the Overtree, Blood Red, the Serenity Falls trilogy (featuring his recurring anti-hero, Jonathan Crowley) and his most recent novels, Seven Forges, The Blasted Lands and the forthcoming City of Wonders. In addition to writing multiple short stories, he has also edited, with Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, the British Invasion anthology for Cemetery Dance Publications.
The author cut his teeth in the industry writing for Marvel Comics and authoring over twenty role-playing supplements for White Wolf Games, including Berlin by Night, Land of 1,000,000 Dreams and The Get of Fenris Tribebook for Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse, among others. He also penned the White Wolf novels Vampire: House of Secrets and Werewolf: Hell-Storm.