The Night Clowns
One day, Jules was a respectable married woman with her life in order and a well furnished NYC apartment that could of been featured in a Crate & Barrel magazine and the next day she was not. The intervening event between those two days, that Tuesday that she stopped by her apartment to get her chia and flax seed lunch smoothie she had forgotten, she walked in to find her husband balls deep in her best friend. So she did what any sensible, well kept woman would do and threw a $240 crystal whiskey decanter at him.
After the police reports were filed and her husband fled with a few bags of belongings, Jules sat in her ruined apartment and decided that a small break might be in order. After crying for an hour and drinking the last of the red wine in the house, she pulled out her ipad and booked herself a trip to Dorner Island, a little remote rock off the coast of England that her sister had sent her a postcard of some time ago.
Jules called in to work to let them know she’d be taking an extended leave of absence to rediscover herself and find her true calling as an author. She packed her suitcase thriftly with a few trashy romance books, her favorite vibrator, and several pairs of yoga pants and light skirts.
She was dismayed to see dozens of emails pop up on her iphone as soon as her flight landed at Heathrow. At least one was from her husband reminding her of a previous affair she’d had with her personal trainer, which was entirely unfair of him to bring up. She turned the phone off and felt noticeably calmer. She stopped in the airport for a martini before heading out to her ferry.
It wasn’t until the island was in view from the open deck of the small ugly plastic ship that Jules wondered if her choice to take a sudden vacation with no research had been a wise one. Remote islands did not exactly come with yelp reviews. Jules shuddered, both from the cold sea wind cutting through her yoga pants and from the idea that she may have signed up to spend four weeks on this small rocky body of land where the ferry only came once a day.
She could make out the edge of the town, a general store next to a post office. A town small enough that even a pot hookup was going to be hard to find if even possible, much less a steady stream of valium. Jules pondered for the first time that she may have ventured out a bit too far from her home.
“Excuse me ma’m, first time?” came a gruff voice. Jules jumped a bit before turning, seeing an old wrinkled man in an ugly and ill fitting heavy yellow sailing jacket.
“Oh, pardon, uh yes, first time. It’s quite a bit smaller than the postcards make it seem, isn’t it?”
The man let out a hearty laugh in response, his wrinkled skin stretched out into a wide smile which showed his yellowed and misshappen teeth. Apparently the modern revolutions in British dentistry had passed over this particular man. “Oh it’ll feel a lot larger once you get inland, especially if you find yourself having to deal with the night clowns.”
Jules smiled awkwardly in response. She hadn’t seen a night clown before, but it sounded like some kind of nocturnal bird like an owl and she thought the idea of listening to birds at night quite charming. Sure the island was, perhaps, rustic but it was important that she be a polite guest and let go of her own preconceived notions. She nodded with a smile as she put her airpods back in and hoped the odd man would leave her alone.
As the ferry docked at the small pier, Jules disembarked with her suitcase and made a beeline past the workers for the general store. As she walked through the sliding glass doors into the heated store she breathed a sigh of relief, both at the climate change and the wall of liquor bottles in the rear of the store.
Still though, Jules felt it important to display the correct amount of decorum and she carefully picked up a slightly sticky bright orange basket before picking out several kinds of chips - sorry, crisps - as well as a few prepared salad bowls and some organic kombucha. Finally with a pursed smile she made her way to the rear of the store and selected several bottles of wine.
She started to experience some panic as she noticed something missing though. She walked the aisle carefully, checking each display, and her smile turned to a frown as she noticed they were out of hard seltzer. Not a single Whiteclaw, not a lone Truly. She let out a long breath and reminded herself to not panic, that she was a survivor. She carefully scanned the shelves for several bottles of Grey Goose vodka and picked out several bottles of non-alcohol seltzer: she would have to be creative in these trying times.
She shuffled to the counter with her basket weighed down with her liquid trophies. The young man working the counter was perhaps 19 or 20, and despite working in a convenience store seemed quiet and docile with a plain button down shirt and grey cargo pants. He flashed a professional half hearted smile and greeted her with a rather restrained British accent as he quietly said “Ma’m” and began to scan her items.
Jules pondered if this was perhaps her best chance, maybe her only chance. She leaned forward on the counter, her shirt showing the cleavage line of her very expensive boob job. “Excuse me young man, but do you happen to know where I could buy some marijuana?”
The cashier hardly bothered to look up. “Oh, I can help you out. How much do you need?”
It had been many decades since Jules had smoked, her drugs of choice becoming more nuanced and professional since those college days of bong rips and joint rolling like some kind of hippie. She maintained her composure, “well I’m here for a few weeks you see…”
“Ah, well I can give you an ounce for now, but I’ll bring some more with me tomorrow when I come back for work.”
Jules smiled. “Well that’d be wonderful, aren’t you such a helpful boy.” She did her best to stick out her chest and lick her lips seductively, “and how can I repay your generosity?”
“Oh, well, you know 20 quid is fine.”
Jules cleared her throat. Perhaps the young boy had not noticed her intentions, her subtle indications. “I mean, is that really all you want?”
The cashier nodded calmly as he printed out her receipt. “Yeah no worries, it’ll be 45 for the groceries and another 20 quid for the pot. Have a good day Ma’m”
The owner of the cottage where Jules was staying took a few moments to show her around before heading out. “And here is the kitchen, quite recently updated, all new electric appliances. I’m quite sure you’ll enjoy your stay here miss, it’s the nicest cottage on the island.”
Jules smiled as best she could to hide her horror at the lack of kitchen necessaties. Not a single mandolin or oversized salad bowl graced the residence. No low cut bowls or asymmetric serving dishes. Not a single artisanal throw blanket gracing a chair. “Oh, uh, yes, thank you.”
The man paused for a moment, his eyes glancing towards the floor. “And miss, you know, this is a small island and we don’t get much crime so we don’t have a real police station, not full time anyways, so make sure to lock the doors and windows. Again, not that anything is wrong or goes wrong, just, you know, don’t go outside at night, even if you might hear.. something unusual.”
“Oh yeah a man on the ferry told me about the night clowns. I’m sure it won’t be a problem, I’m a very sound sleeper.”
The man looked over Jules, his eyes widening. “Oh you.. aren’t bothered by the.. I mean, nobody really knows what they are, well, maybe even it’s just an old folk tale though then again old Tommy.. well, I’m sure you’ll be fine. You enjoy your stay now miss.”
The man excused himself in a hurry as Jules retrieved one of the rather pedestrian wine glasses from the cupboard and poured herself a well earned refreshment. Now would normally be when she also popped a valium to take the edge of her day off, but instead she looked at the bag of pot the clerk had sold her. It was rather more author-like to enjoy herbs, and they were natural which made her feel good.
So Jules rolled a joint and sat in one of the oversized club chairs in the cottage, her ipad open to a writing app she had bought for $19. She stared at the blinking cursor for a while before taking another sip of her wine. Nothing came to her, her mind just a blank and empty void. Deep in her mind, thoughts about whether she was just emulating ideas she had seen on TV and pretending to derive value from them floated through. She chalked it up to being tired from her travels, emptied her wine glass and decided to take a well earned nap.
It was dark when she woke up to the sound of a toy car’s horn. She bolted upright and listened but heard nothing in that cold empty night. After a few minutes she decided it must of been her mind, the noises of NYC still trapped in her head and dreams. She picked up her empty wine glass and a trashy romance novel from her suitcase before going to the kitchen to roll another joint.
“Christ I forgot how dry this makes my throat” she said outloud to nobody in particular. She drained her wine and poured herself a makeshift hard seltzer - though perhaps with a heavier hand of vodka. She wrapped herself in a comforter she stole from a spare bed and opened her novel, it’s pages well worn from being read time and time again.
It didn’t take long for her to get through the boring opening scenes and into the section where the main character met the rich and muscle bound love interest, a man who spoke plainly with offers to do sinful things. Jules took another sip of her drink and let out a lustful sigh. As she set her drink back down on the night table she heard the sound of glass crashing, followed by the squeak of a toy.
Jules jumped, knocking over her drink and dropping her book. She held her breath, pondering whether some ruffian had broken into her cabin intending to do unspeakable things to her. Several minutes passed and the house remained silent.
Jules cautiously got up and peeked into the main area of the house and saw nothing. An ugly floral lamp was still turned on, it’s white flourescent light casting on the white walls. Nothing stirred. She stepped as quietly as she could, trying to remember the self defense seminar she had attended at her office but failed to recall anything useful from it other than the firm pectorals of the instructor.
As she crept into the kitchen she saw a broken window, it’s glass all over the floor. She looked around and saw nothing and her sense of intrigue turned into frustration as she realized she’d have to clean up the broken glass and probably lose her deposit. Jules grabbed the broom and dust pan and swept up the broken glass, dumping it in the rubbish bin before taping up the broken window frame with a trash bag.
She had a seat and poured herself a well needed vodka, the antiquated kitchen now taking on more of an appearance of a dilapidated trap house. Maybe she shouldn’t of come here, she could of run off to Paris and had a flurry of steamy nights with foreign men or even just gone clothes shopping. Instead she was here on some dumb island, in a gauche cabin without anything to do but read old books.
She heard the toilet flush which caused her heart to skip a beat. Was someone else in the house? “Hello? Hello, is anyone there? Who’s here? This is my cabin, I’ll call AirBnB if you don’t leave!”
“Woo that one was a big one, almost needed to flush twice.” came a high pitched almost child-like voice. A large shape stepped into view from the hall, each step emitting a squeak like a chew toy. The shape was just out of the light, but Jules could make out a fat stomach and a mass of wild hair. “Hope you don’t mind-a me droppin' by to drop one off, we don’t normally get many new friends.”
Jules tried to form words but felt unable to, her mouth opening and closing like the blinking of a cursor in an empty text prompt. She could feel both abject terror and a kind of self righteous rage. “I.. I.. can’t even. I, how could you do that? Get.. get out! Right now!”
The shape stepped forward into the light, revealing an all white face. A kind of unnatural skin tone like talcum powder, a cakey grainyness to it, with an occasional crack that seemed to reveal pure otherworldly blackness like the void of space underneath. The eyes were large, inhumanely so, with bright blue circles of makeup around them and they sat above a wide smile with far too many teeth for any human - sharp teeth, each one like a canine, teeth meant for eating meat.
“You’re not being a very nice host now Jules. Don’t you want to be a good host for a very special guest?” the thing spoke slowly and deliberately, the voice getting an octave lower as it spoke on.
“I… I..” Jules struggled to comprehend what was going on. There was a tingle in the back of her brain, a mammalian response to being in front of a predator, a biological response so quintessential to the human condition that even her decades of popping valium and washing it down with overpriced wine couldn’t erase fully.
The creature walked over to the kitchen table and a hand with abnormally long fingers, a hand with fingernails that started green and slowly turned to black like rotting flesh, grabbed the bottle of Grey goose. “Oh, you have much better taste than old Tommy. I bet you taste much better too.”
The creature walked around the table and snaked it’s free hand around Jules shoulder, it’s nails playing with the faux epaulettes like an absent-minded child. “Yes, I am sure you will taste much better.” Jules felt the snaking of a long wet tongue along her neck, and when it flicked across her collar bone some switch in her mind flipped along with it.
Without any thought or consideration Jules ran, faster than she had during any marathon training or charity 5k, faster than her halfhearted attempts to lose weight or be more active. She dove through the broken window, the trash bag tearing as she did so, flecks of blood spraying as the remaining shards in the frame scratched at her skin.
It didn’t matter. She was outside the house and that creature, that terrible thing, was inside of it. Jules ran to the only place she could think to run to - the harbor. Surely the old man from the ferry or the cashier could do something, call someone. She bolted down the trail her lungs screaming fire as she ran up the paved road. It wasn’t until she was at the corner of the general store that she looked behind her and saw nothing but the blackness of night.
She breathed heavily, erratically, her body trying to process what it had been through. Maybe it was the weed? Coming down from the valium? Had the vodka been tainted, the wine too old?
“Miss, are you alright?”
Jules turned to see an older man in shaggy cloths, he was balding and his breath stank but he was most certainly human and not some terrible clown creature.
“No, no I’m not. I, there was a, well a creature! It licked me and tried to eat me!”
The man nodded, “ah yes, the night clowns.”
“The night clowns. They come out at night and feed. Oh, been here since before the town was built. Some say they’re the ones who built it, who sent out the postcards and all. Nobody knows of course, but they say.”
The man’s nose had started running, a visible stream of yellow snot slowly made it’s way down his face. “What, what do you mean? Why didn’t anyone warn me?”
The man dug in his pocket as he spoke, trying to find something. “Well, we all try to, but sometimes our warnings go unheeded…” The man flashed a smile as he found what he had been searching for, and pulled out a yellow handkerchief from his pocket towards his face. As he continued pulling, the handkerchief turned to red and then green, the bright fabrics sewn to each other in a scarf of color.
Jules felt some great sense of unease. A tug on the distant corner of her mind. “Oh, sorry, my nose, the windy nights always do this to me. You know..” the man let out a chuckle, more handkerchief being pulled from his pocket, “it’s funny to me that even us clowns still get pollen allergies.”
James took a sip of his double-foam non-dairy Starbucks latte. It was tepid, and he hated tepid drinks. A drink should be hot or cold, not some middleground. He set it on his desk in frustration and opened Slack to compose a message to the office assistant when there was a knock on his office door.
“What!? I’m working here!” Even he had to admit he’d been unusually irritable since finding out his wife’s bestfriend had given him herpes - of all the affairs he had, it was her who’d finally given him an STI.
It was his lawyer who stuck her head in. “Sorry to bother you at work James but I have some troubling news. Please, stay seated.”
She let himself in and closed the door behind her. “It seems your wife, Jules, well, she’s disappeared.”
He snorted, “Well what do I care? Doesn’t that just make it easier for me to get the apartment?” His lawyer looked at the floor for a moment, taking a deep breath. “I’m afraid not, it’ll likely drag on quite a bit as this becomes a criminal investigation.”
“Let me save the cops the trouble, she probably took one too many valium and drove off a cliff. Case closed.”
His lawyer frowned for a moment. “I’ll give you some time to process, I know it’s a lot at once.” With a gentle head nod she let herself out. James felt his phone buzz.
He pulled out his phone to see a message from Jules. Finally, after being gone for WEEKS she had responded to his message.
“Hey sorry about earlier. I’ll let you have the apartment, can you travel out to meet me though? I’m out on Dorner Island.”