09 May Laughing in the Dark
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"Laughing in the Dark"Written by
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Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
Bill Tanner, a retired USPS mail carrier, ran a local haunted house that had become quite well known in the city where he lived. Established as a terrifying and fun way to unleash people’s greatest fears upon them, it was aptly named “Tanner’s House of Horrors.” People came from miles away to spend a little under an hour in his intricate maze of morbid wonder designed to scare them silly. His haunted house was a dream-come-true for horror enthusiasts and people just looking to have a good time, especially during Halloween week. So, it would come to surprise many folks when Bill Tanner, the self-proclaimed “King of Horror House,” began to speak privately with friends about shutting his business down. Rumor had it that Bill believed something authentically paranormal was haunting Tanner’s House of Horrors. At first, folks thought he was joking, but when his best friend Sam Willis spoke to him, Bill discovered that something was very wrong.
“What do you mean ‘really haunted,’ Bill?” Sam asked.
Bill shook his head, looking at the sandwich on his plate. “Like there’s somebody in there, Sam,” replied Bill. “Someone sick.”
Sam took a bite of his burger, pointing at Bill as he chewed. “You sure your haunted house ain’t getting the best of you, buddy?”
Bill looked around nervously. “No, no, no. Trust me. I’m not afraid of my creation. But I am afraid of what’s hiding in there.”
Sam gave Bill a confused look. “Hiding? Like what?”
Bill sighed and looked his friend in the eye. “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I think there’s a clown in there.”
Sam almost choked on his food and began to laugh when he saw the fear in Bill’s eyes. He wiped his mouth with a napkin and leaned in close. “My God, you’re serious, aren’t you?”
Bill slowly nodded and looked around once more. “I wouldn’t be telling you if I didn’t think something was wrong. Hell, I want to shut the place down because I’m afraid of this damn clown. It isn’t some person in one of my clown costumes, Sam. It’s something else entirely. Some wacko.”
Sam took a sip of his lemonade and rested his hands on the top of his head. “So, it’s a guy in a costume?”
Bill downed the rest of his coffee and sighed heavily. “I don’t know. All I know is he freaked me the hell out. He keeps getting inside the haunted house, and I don’t know just how the hell he does it. I even called the police, but they couldn’t find anybody in there. Deep down I knew they wouldn’t. I know the damn maze like the back of my hand, and if I couldn’t find that clown, I knew they wouldn’t either. They couldn’t do much anyway besides file a suspicious persons report.”
Sam shook his head in disbelief and gave his friend a concerned look. “Halloween is tomorrow, Bill. That’s your biggest admission day. What are you going to do?”
Bill sat back in his chair and fiddled with his half-eaten sandwich. “Don’t know. I can’t let all those people down, but that clown scares the crap out of me, Sam. I don’t know why he’s in there, or what he wants, but he seems to enjoy tormenting me whenever I’m in there. Thankfully the customers haven’t mentioned him, but I don’t want to take any chances with that damn clown.”
“What about the staff? Have they seen him?”
Bill shook his head, scratching his chin. “That’s what trips me up, Sam. Not once. I’m the only one that seems to run into him.”
“Man, what’s the plan then?”
Bill finished chewing a bite of his sandwich, and pointed at Sam. “I’m shutting it down, Sam. I’m not going to give this guy the chance to hurt somebody seriously.”
“I understand, Bill. I think you’re making the right call,” said Sam.
Bill gave a disheartened shrug of his shoulders and looked out the window. “I sure as hell hope so.”
The next day, Bill visited Tanner’s House of Horrors to let the staff know they wouldn’t have to commit to the long Halloween shift. He arrived at the haunted house to see Kevin and Natalie setting up the entrance displays. As he approached them, someone bumped into him from behind. He let out a half-hearted chuckle when he saw it was Michael Myers.
“Nice try, Gregory,” Bill said. Michael Myers slumped his head in disappointment.
Gregory pulled off the chalk-faced mask and ran a hand through his dark, wavy hair. “Are you scared of anything, Bill?” Gregory asked.
Bill patted him on the shoulder. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” Bill chuckled, giving Gregory a sad smile. He walked up to the staff and sighed. Kevin seemed to notice something was off about Bill’s behavior and stopped measuring a zombie cut-out for the haunted house window to address him.
“Uh-oh, I know that face. What’s wrong, Bill?” he asked. Natalie stood next to Kevin, a look of concern written on her face as well.
Bill looked at them wistfully and cast a glance at the haunted house. “Well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but we aren’t opening for Halloween tonight.”
Gregory gave Kevin and Natalie a dumbfounded look and shook his head. Natalie folded her tattooed arms, clearly upset. “Bill, you can’t be serious! Your Halloween opening is the most important one!” she exclaimed.
Bill hung his head and nodded. “I know, I know. Listen, guys, I don’t want to do this, but I have a good reason. The haunted house isn’t safe.”
“What do you mean, ‘isn’t safe?’ This isn’t about that weird clown you saw a few times, is it?” Kevin inquired.
“Actually, no, Kevin, there have been some issues with the structural integrity of the ceiling inside that I was made aware of the other day. I called in an expert, and he said that part of the building was slowly caving in,” Bill lied. Kevin nodded, although Bill could sense he was skeptical of the explanation.
“Isn’t there something you can do, Bill? Just close off part of the maze, and redirect the customers?” Natalie suggested.
Bill looked at her sadly, wishing he didn’t have to weave this blatantly deceitful tale to his team. For a moment, he thought he should tell them the truth – that he felt a genuinely disturbed man in a clown suit was stalking the haunted house. Then he realized just how ludicrous it was to suggest something so outlandish, and for which he had no evidence. Bill imagined his staff would find him foolish for shutting down his business on account of a clown.
“No, I wish I could. There’s just no time. It will affect other parts of the tour that I’ve planned out perfectly. It’s a shame this happened on Halloween.”
“But a lot of people are expecting us to open, Bill! How are we gonna let all those people down?” Gregory interjected, a hint of distress in his voice.
Bill took a seat near the admission booth and sighed deeply. “Guys, trust me, I feel bad as it is. I wish there were another way, but there isn’t. Look, you guys know I’ve been doing this for years now. I love it, and you know it. So, when I say I have to shut the place down tonight, it’s for a damn good reason.” Kevin, Gregory, and Natalie looked at one another, disappointment written on their faces. Bill slowly stood up and put a hand in his pocket. He pulled out his wallet and removed three bills. He held up the money for the trio to see. “I’m really sorry guys. I’m not going to waste your time, and I’m even going to pay you a little extra for your trouble.” He handed each of them $100.
“Bill, a hundred bucks? No, that’s too much. I mean, we didn’t even do anything,” Kevin said.
Bill shook his head and gave them a sad smile. “Guys, look, it’s the least I could do. You guys have been the best team a crazy, old man could ask for. Take the night off, and enjoy Halloween.”
“So, when can we expect to be called back? This isn’t going to take long, is it, Bill?” Kevin asked.
“No, don’t worry, Kevin. A few days at the most. I know a good contractor who is going to come out first thing tomorrow morning to get started. I’ll call you guys as soon as I’m done.”
Kevin shook Bill’s hand and nodded. “Thanks, Bill.”
Gregory and Natalie thanked the old man also and took off. As he watched his staff walk away, Bill couldn’t help but feel ashamed. Not for this decision to send them off, but for lying to a group of people that he knew respected and admired his passion for his haunted attraction.
Bill started locking up the place and posted a few makeshift signs letting folks know that Tanner’s House of Horrors would be closed due to maintenance. He knew he’d get a lot of backlash for closing on Halloween, but what else could he do? It was better than someone suffering a malicious clown’s attack. As he placed the entrance displays directly inside the entrance to the haunted house, he suddenly heard somebody chuckling behind him. Bill realized that whoever was behind him blocked his only exit. Afraid to turn around, Bill cleared his throat. “Who are you? What do you want?”
After a few moments of silence, he heard the person slowly walk towards him, the distinct sound of loud squeaking coming from his shoes. Terrified, Bill spun around and screamed when he saw that it was the mysterious clown that had been haunting his attraction. Stumbling backward in fear, Bill fell to the ground, his hands held out in front of him. The disturbing clown just stared at the old man, smiling at him with crimson lips. He had wild, lavender-colored eyes, with messy indigo locks of hair that fell on his shoulders. His face was painted white, with blue diamonds around his crazed irises. He wore a tattered red-and-blue checkered costume, including a large red tie hanging loosely around his neck.
The clown slowly raised a gloved hand, and Bill could see he held a balloon twisted into the shape of a person. Bill watched in horror as the clown pulled a large butcher knife from his trousers, pointed at him, and then popped the balloon. The clown began to laugh maniacally, waving the blade in the air as he danced in place. Bill quickly got to his feet and balled his fists in anger. He looked around and picked up the axe prop next to the headless “victim” dummy lying to his left.
The old man raised the axe threateningly. “Get the hell out of here! Leave, or else I’m going to make you regret it!” Bill yelled, his shaky voice betraying his false bravado.
The clown stopped dancing immediately and tilted his head to one side. He wagged his finger disapprovingly and grinned. Just then, the clown reached behind his back and clutched the silver handle to the haunted house’s entrance door. “Happy Halloween!” the clown yelled, laughing hysterically.
He slammed the door shut, and Bill found himself in darkness. Sweating with fear, he clutched the axe prop close to his chest, trying to locate the light switch. Reaching along the wall, he found and flipped it. To his surprise, nothing changed. Bill backed up against the wall, listening to the mad laughter of the demented clown that stood somewhere in front of him. All of a sudden, the laughter stopped. Bill shook and listened carefully, but could hear no other sound but his own terrified, labored breathing.
Just then, he felt the clown’s hot breath on his neck, followed by a low chuckle. Bill closed his eyes, trembling from head-to-toe. “Just leave… I don’t know what you want.”
After a few moments of the raspy, labored breathing on his neck, the clown finally spoke. “It’s your turn to be scared,” he said.
Realizing that his very life was at stake, Bill swung the prop wildly over his shoulder and was surprised to find that the faux axe head met the clown’s head with a sickening thud. He heard the demented clown moan in pain and crash into something behind them. Bill took the opportunity to run blindly in the dark, looking for the haunted house’s entrance door. He yelled in relief when his hand found the handle of the door, but his relief evaporated when he discovered it was locked. Breaking away from the door, he ran back past the crazy clown and into the haunted house maze. His only hope was to reach the exit door at the other end.
Bill dripped sweat as he stumbled through the maze, feeling his way through his attraction. Without the faint dim of the hallway bulbs situated along the floor, the maze proved a bit more difficult even with his knowledge of the haunted house’s main path. He quickened his pace when he heard a loud crash behind him, realizing the clown was on his heels. Stricken with panic, he accidentally tripped on something and collided with what felt like his life-size replica of the werewolf from An American Werewolf in London.
The prop collapsed onto Bill, pinning him in the display corner behind a large artificial tree he designed. As he struggled against the werewolf’s weight, he heard the clown whistling down the hall. Bill desperately tried to push the set piece off of him without drawing too much attention to himself, but he could not find the strength to escape from underneath the weight of the beast. He decided to try and keep quiet, hoping that the lunatic hunting him would pass by without notice.
Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.
Bill heard the sound of the clown’s shoes as he approached methodically. Shutting his eyes, he waited for the clown to lumber past him. When the squeaking had gotten the loudest, it suddenly stopped. Bill tried to make out anything across the vast hall, trying to see the clown in the darkness.
Suddenly, he heard the clown utter a low chuckle. “Where are you, Mr. Tanner? Are we playing hide-and-seek now?” asked the clown, almost like he was singing a melody.
Bill remained silent, trying to pinpoint the clown’s location. He scanned the dark void before him, but it was like trying to find something while blindfolded. It was hopeless. He waited a few moments before he heard the clown speak once more. “You know, Bill, this can end well for you. All you have to admit is that you’re scared. All you have to do is say you don’t want to play anymore.”
“Goddamned psycho,” Bill thought. “Like hell I’m going to say that!” Bill didn’t know if the clown knew where he was, but he wasn’t about to give himself up that easily. He knew the maniac wasn’t going to allow anything “end well.”
After what seemed like an eternity of silence, Bill heard something unexpected. It was a laugh, but one unlike the clown’s. It was unmistakably feminine, and its suddenness caused even the clown to cry out in surprise. Bill was shocked to hear his pursuer stumble back, its shoes sounding like mice doing a quick dance, as he tried to regain his footing.
“Who… who’s there?” the clown asked, his voice quivering audibly. Bill waited for the response, hoping he could team up with this unknown woman in taking down his crazed stalker. After a few moments, the woman laughed once more, closely followed by the clown screaming in terror. Bill trained his eyes, trying to see just what was going on. He could hear the clown struggling against an unknown force, crying out as someone or something attacked him. It sounded like he was getting ripped apart, and Bill did his best to shut out the cries of agony. Giggling was heard soon after, which made Bill’s blood run cold.
Within a few minutes, the giggling woman had stopped, and all Bill heard was someone breathing softly. “Who the hell is that?” Bill wondered aloud. He went to war with himself over whether or not he ought to call out to her. He hadn’t yet decided if it would be a good idea or a terrible mistake. For the next few moments fear gripped Bill’s body as he waited for whoever it was that just murdered the clown to speak.
Then, an aura of light illuminated the hallway as Bill could finally see who it was that had done the deed. Standing over the fresh corpse of the clown was his female equivalent, her eyes as red as the blood streaming down her chin after apparently feasting on him. She had long, red curly hair, and she smiled at Bill with crimson lips. She wore a green and red jacket, with candy-striped stockings, gore-soaked white gloves, and dark red jackboots. Bill looked at the dismembered clown at her feet. What little remained of his face was frozen in a state of perpetual shock. The cannibalistic interloper cocked her head to one side and smiled at Bill as he stared at her, mouth agape. She skipped over to Bill playfully, arms behind her back.
Bill struggled with every fiber of his being to get out of his vulnerable position, but flailed like a wounded seal, waiting for the jaws of a great white shark to consume him. The female clown stood before Bill, smiling all the while as he shook with fear. She raised a finger to her lips. “Shhhhh. You have to be quiet. Or else more will come.”
“What… what do you mean more?”
She laughed and placed her hands on her hips. “You thought he was the only one? Oh, no. He was one of us. He’s one of our kind.”
“Your kind? What the hell are you talking about?” Bill demanded.
“Our kind. The clowns. All of us that live in this haunted house.”
Bill shook his head incredulously. “No! How can that be possible?!”
She chuckled. “You just never noticed us, Bill. Until you saw him. Now that you’ve noticed him, you can see all of us. Don’t you understand? This place brought us to life! You created us!”
“I didn’t do a damn thing! Get away from me!” Bill screamed.
“Why, Bill? You made me. The fear in this place made me. Your fear, specifically.”
Bill glared at her. “I’m not… not afraid of you.”
She tilted her head, shaking her long red locks. “Yes, you are, Bill. You know you’re afraid of us. That is what made us. This environment helped breed us.”
“Just get the hell away from me!” interrupted Bill. “Leave me alone!”
The clown shook her head. “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Bill. You’re mine now.”
Bill motioned to the dead clown over her shoulder, craning his head. “Then why’d you kill him? Isn’t he one of you? Why did you save me?!”
She looked over her shoulder, staring at the bloodied corpse of her brethren, turning back to Bill with a sadistic smile. “I didn’t really like him, and besides… I don’t like sharing.”
Bill choked back a cry as she slowly stepped closer to him, her face full of deranged glee. “Sharing?”
She giggled. “Yup, sharing. I hate sharing my meals.”
The mysterious aura around her diminished and the world faded to black once more. Bill screamed incessantly as she wrapped her gloved hands around his neck and sank her serrated teeth into his flesh. Within moments, the old man was gone. All that remained was the sound of a female clown, laughing in the dark.
Credit: Kiriakos Vilchez
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