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Courtney poked her head out the window of her second-floor bedroom. The neighborhood was still and silent under a haze of mist and a light drizzle. The streetlights illuminated the fog into glowing amber orbs that hovered above the sidewalks. All the houses that lined the residential road were dark and still. Courtney paced from one side of her room to the other. She waited impatiently for her parents to settle in and go to bed for the night. It was close to eleven when she finally heard the heavy footfalls of feet going up the stairs to the master bedroom on the other side of the house.
Slipping one leg out the window, then the other, Courtney carefully placed the tip of her toes on the bracket that secured the drainage pipe to the house. She was mindful of the light drizzle that coated everything, making it difficult to get a good grip on the slippery metal housing. The fit girl shimmied down the thin pipe with expertise and dropped to the ground for the last six feet. She pulled out her phone to check the time. She had just enough time.
Courtney calculated after a brisk jog to the subway station, two stops, and another fast paced walk, that she would make it with just enough time. The girl still couldn’t believe she was going through all this trouble for a boy she barely knew. Courtney never did anything like this. She never lied to her parents or snuck out of the house in the middle of the night. In fact, it was usually the boy who did this kind of thing for her; not the other way around. But there was something different about him. Whenever he was around her, she felt flustered. A slow burn emerged from her core making her cheeks glow hot and causing her to stumble over her words. His aroma was nothing but intoxicating to her. She hungered for him. Yes, that was the most accurate description of her feelings towards the boy. She hungered for him.
When she was next to him, nothing in the world was wrong. However alone, Courtney would ponder the events and wonder how they got to this point. She was always the careful and cautious type. This behavior was so out of character for her. She knew virtually nothing about him. She didn’t know what school he went to or what he did in his free time. All she knew was his name—Jairus or Jai to his friends. She also knew she was supposed to meet him that night at the park bench on the east side of Bicktorn Field Park.
Slightly out of breath, she descended the stairs to the subway platform and waited for the train to arrive. The fluorescent lights flickered off and on erratically, casting a pale greenish-blue glow over the walls. Separating the inbound and outbound platforms was a four-foot drop where the tracks were laid and disappeared down a long, dark tunnel. The platform was deserted and deathly quiet; something not unusual at that time of night but still oddly left the girl with a feeling of emptiness and loneliness. Courtney poked her head over the edge and looked down the tunnel hoping she could see the lights of an approaching train. A soft chuckle filled the empty terminal, startling her. She realized she wasn’t alone. From the corner of her eyes, she noticed a lone figure sitting in the shadows. Not wanting to let the stranger know she saw him, Courtney kept her head turned in the direction of the tunnel. She turned around and took a seat on a bench. Keeping her head down, she tried to get a look at the strange man in the shadows.
The man was sitting on a bench, slouched with arms stretched wide and one leg crossed upon his knee, as if he were watching television at home. Courtney couldn’t help but notice the clothes he was wearing. They seemed excessively baggy to the point of ridiculousness. The same could be said of his feet which where were abnormally large for an average person. Regardless of what the weirdo was wearing, she was almost sure he was watching her intently from across the way. For the moment, he did not move a muscle, and his stare remained unbroken. Slowly, his head cocked to the side, and his hand slowly rose. Swaying left to right, he waved hello to the frightened girl.
A gust of wind blew from the incoming train, pushing the stagnant air from within the tunnel. The faint whine grew louder as it approached. Courtney stood still as she ignored the strange man beaconing his greetings from across the way. The train flew by before slowing to a stop. Flashes of light escaped through the train windows speeding by. From the far side of the platform, Courtney caught quick glimpses of the man, now approaching the edge of his platform on the outbound side of the subway station. Over the squeals of brakes grinding the massive machine to a stop, she thought she heard someone laughing under its rumble and roar.
The train finally came to a halt, and Courtney tore her gaze away from the stranger. She quickly boarded the empty train and sat with her back towards her new admirer. She didn’t get a distinct look at him, but the girl remained unsettled at what she saw or what she thought she saw. Courtney’s rational side was hard at work convincing herself she hadn’t seen glimpses of the pasty white skin, the thick blue eyeliner or the crimson red hair and nose. Above all else, it was its stare that the girl wanted to forget. That face was burned into her memory, and no amount of denial would erase it from her mind. Engraved on the surface was a forced expression of bashfulness and innocence. However, to Courtney, the appearance it cast was fake and artificial, most likely because the genuine feeling was so foreign and alien to it. It was the face of a predator. A disarming and playful demeanor meant to trick and deceive its young and unsuspecting prey. It was a mask that conveyed a friendly look with a single intent and desire to lure away any and all who were too naive or unaware that such evil existed in the world. Courtney shivered at the thought of the man roaming around at night in empty train stations. He could have easily been on her side of the platform, waving from only a few feet away.
As the train began to pull away, she slowly turned around only to see an empty platform through the flickering lights. Rows of empty benches soon vanished into the distance as the train accelerated and sped away.
Courtney sat alone on the train, still feeling unnerved. The loud clanks and bangs of the train’s wheels against the tracks rocked her back and forth, preventing her from relaxing. Her mind kept returning to that empty platform across the way and the weird man slouched on the bench in the shadows. Courtney still refused to believe what she’d seen in those brief flashes of light. What would a man dressed up like a clown be doing in a subway station in the middle of the night? Like everyone else, she’d heard of the clown sightings. Everyone at school was talking about it. It seemed like everyone knew someone who knew someone who’d experienced a clown encounter. They told stories of near misses or chilling, nerve-rattling chases along deserted hiking paths. Sometimes, they just stared at you. They just stared.
With time to spare, the train slowed at Courtney’s stop. She waited impatiently for the doors to slide open. A bing rang over the intercom, and a monotone voice announced the arrival. The train slowed. It took its sweet time before finally coming to a full stop, and the doors slid open. Courtney froze in place. As hard as she tried, she could not deny what her eyes were showing her. Tied to a bench on the far end of the deserted terminal was a large crimson balloon. It floated nonchalantly in the air as if it belonged there. Printed on its surface were the big black letters that spelled— BAD GIRL.
Courtney raced up the stairs farthest from the peculiar balloon. The past events were too strange for her to ignore. Was it a message? Was it a warning? Was someone messing with her? Was someone after her?
Courtney walked briskly along the deserted streets, mindful of her surroundings. She would frequently check over her shoulders at the sounds of the second set of footsteps she imagined she heard from behind. She decided to cut through Fifty-first and a Half Street and cut across Cross Grove to get to the park.
Courtney stared down the long, dark alley and cursed herself for her current predicament. It was the type of alleyway seen in every goddamn horror movie; the one where they would find the goddamn body of the goddamn stupid girl who’d snuck out of her house in the middle of the goddamn night.
Courtney started walking down the alley. On the other side was the entrance to the park where Jai agreed to meet her. She tried to avoid the puddles collected amongst the cracked and broken asphalt. A swoosh and fluttering from above startled her. She looked up only to see the buildings vanish into the night sky. The drizzling had stopped, but the moisture hung thick in the air, and the street light gave the mist an amber glow to its hue. Courtney held her breath and listened intently to the silence. She stood completely still until she heard the faint tip, tip, tap, splash from behind. She turned to see the distant shape of a man standing in the entryway of the alley. He stood tall, rigid and still; staring at the lone girl.
Courtney ran the remainder of the way into the park. She stopped to catch her breath and took in her surroundings. Her situation hadn’t improved very much—she was alone, in the middle of the night, in a deserted park. A faint light illuminated the path and branches of trees stretched up towards the night sky. She continued forward toward her destination. Every once in a while the branches from above would rustle as if something light and graceful was leaping from one tree limb to the next. Sometimes it was so close, she could feel the air swoop by and move the hairs next to her ears.
Courtney had reached the end of her rope. She’d had enough and stomped her foot and yelled:
“Listen, asshole! I’ve had enough! My friend is just over there, and if you don’t take off before I reach him, you’re going to get an ass kicking you won’t soon forget!”
Courtney turned on her heels, mumbling under her breath, “Asshole,” as she marched toward the lone bench by the creek on the far side of the park.
It wasn’t long before she heard voices from around the bend. There were hoops and hollers from young folks seemingly having a good time. Under the orange and yellow glow of the park lights, she saw four figures underneath its illumination. One stood still with his arms crossed staring off into the distance. The other three jumped off and on the park bench and table, swinging from the light post, apparently entertaining each other on this dreary night.
As Courtney drew closer to the bench, the lone figure uncrossed his arms and looked up. With genuine delight, he said, “Babe, you made it! I was beginning to worry you wouldn’t show up.”
He took the girl and embraced her in his arms. He buried his face in her hair and inhaled deeply saying, “Mmm, I missed you so much.”
Courtney took in the embrace, and the flood of infatuation and emotions made her light headed and flustered. She lifted her eyes and saw the silhouettes of the three strangers watching the spectacle intently. They slowly drew closer with their heads slightly cocked to the side. The odd behavior was enough to clear her head momentarily. She pulled away from Jai and asked, “Who are they?”
Jai gestured in their direction dismissingly and said, “Oh them, they’re nobodies. They’re family. Don’t mind them.”
Courtney looked at the three figures then back to Jai and said, “I thought you said it would just be you and me.”
The taller of the three strangers stepped forward and called out, “Jairus!” He spoke in a guttural language that Courtney could not identify. Jai responded in the same language and the four of them laughed in unison.
Courtney pulled away and said, “This is not what I came all the way out here for! Do you know what I went through to get here? I had to climb out of my house and risk my life. Then I had to wait in an empty subway station all by myself with some creep making goo-goo eyes at me from the other side. I’m wet, I’m tired, and my hair is a mess. So you’ll excuse me if I am little pissed when I show up and you’re here chilling out with the Siberian stooges over there!”
Courtney turned to leave when she felt the firm grip on her arm pull her back into Jai’s embrace. He whispered into her ear, “I’m terribly sorry, my little platelet. The truth of the matter is we all have to endure these mild inconveniences from time to time. Perhaps that is a lesson I should teach you this very night.” He laughed.
The flood of emotions and infatuation rushed over Courtney once again. She felt the heat burn in her cheeks and build in her chest. His scent stirred her feelings and threatened to overcome all rational thinking and any sense of self-preservation. Then for one brief second, the spell was broken. It was confusion that cleared her mind and thoughts. It was confusion from one word spoken to her. She turned to look Jairus in the eyes and asked, “What did you call me?”
Jairus smiled and his eyes clouded into blood red orbs with black, slitted pupils. The flesh from his face fell away in clumps revealing pale and leathery skin. Hooked claws rose from each side of his head just under his ears. Loud ripping emerged from bony appendages, tearing free from his back, revealing large translucent wings. He opened his mouth wide, and long, curved fangs broke through the surface, tearing through the gums. He spoke with a voice gurgling saliva and phlegm, ” My dear, dear, delicious little platelet. Yes, that is what you are. You look so tasty. I can’t wait to eat you up!”
Courtney screamed as the pointed fangs lowered and pierced the surface of her skin. She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth as the pain grew. Jairus’s bite and Courtney’s scream were suddenly interrupted by the loud honking of a bicycle horn.
Confusion fell over both the predator and prey’s faces. Each looked at each other as if to ask, “Was that you?”
They looked up to see the shape of a man standing before them. He was tall and fit. The baggy clothes he wore were a dingy white and yellow with ruffles on the cuffs of his arms and feet. His red hair was puffy and came to sharp points on each side of his head. His face was a pasty white with blue paint streaked across his cheeks. The tip of his nose was crimson red and his eyes were a piercing blue. His large hand was cocked back into a fervent, gloved fist. The swift and mighty blow landed precisely in the center of Jairus’s face. The punch knocked the creature off of its feet and sent Courtney spiraling to the ground.
From out the darkness, two clowns flipped into view on the left and right side of their taller companion. Each brandished silver daggers in their hands. A petite, female clown rushed to Courtney’s side and gestured with her hands to, “stay put.” She guarded the girl with a long, twirling staff capped with sharp, silver tips.
Courtney watched in amazement as the four clowns engaged the four creatures, displaying incredible acts of acrobatics and skilled tactics of seasoned warriors. She gasped in surprise as the tall clown smashed the head of an attacking monster with an over-sized mallet, causing the creature’s body to burst into flames. The clowns moved as one, coordinating their attacks and anticipating each other’s moves to overcome and outmaneuver the physically superior beasts.
Jairus flew and perched upon a low hanging tree branch, maliciously glaring down as one after another of its brothers fell to the skills of their enemy. It scanned the scene and smiled when it saw Courtney cowering on the ground and decided that tonight should not be a total loss. It leapt down, landing beside her, and took hold of her wet hair. With a sudden swoosh, it saw its hand separate from its wrist. The glint of a silver boomerang sparkled as it returned to the palm of the smaller female clown. Courtney stumbled backward, slamming hard into a tree. As the darkness of unconsciousness slowly bled over her vision, she saw the four figures surround the nightmarish shape. They stabbed at the creature until it burst into flames and Courtney saw no more.
Courtney opened her eyes. Her blurry vision was slow to clear, but eventually, it did. She soon realized she was back in her bedroom. Of course, she was not fooled. She was neither stupid nor going crazy. No, it had not been a dream. She still felt the chill from the damp clothes she wore. She still felt the gigantic lump in the back of her head from where she’d collided with the tree. She could still feel the sting from two puncture marks along the side of her neck. Most importantly, she could see the giant, crimson balloon, bobbling in the air outside her bedroom window, with big black letters that spelled, “GOOD GIRL.”
CREDIT: Derek Hawke
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