Remember Only the Checkered Clown

📅 Published on December 26, 2020

“Remember Only the Checkered Clown”

Written by Ryan Peacock
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 23 minutes

Rating: 10.00/10. From 4 votes.
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People in my hometown don’t talk about what happened during the summer of 1969. Urban legends, unsolved mysteries and tragedies can be found in the history of any small town in the world and mine is no different, yet those who remember the checkered clown know why it is best forgotten.

For the purpose of anonymity, I won’t share the name of my hometown. Most of those who know of the clown only know the twisted stories and those old enough to remember aren’t likely to share many details. Most of them would be of little help anyway. I’m quite sure there aren’t many left alive who know the truth. I may very well be the last one there is and if that’s so, it would be wrong to take that knowledge to my grave as so many have before me. As it is now, I’m staring down the barrel of old age and my youth is long gone. It’s best to come out with it while I’m still young enough to remember everything.

I was eight years old on July 14th of the year 1969. It was a sunny day, with only a few clouds drifting lazily through the sky, and even from a few blocks away you could smell the carnival.

It had been a topic of conversation amongst the boys on the block for a few weeks. Back then our little town was out of the way, surrounded on all sides by heavy forest with only a few roads connecting it to the rest of the world. Given the isolation, we didn’t see much of interest passing through our little community so, of course, the carnival was a big deal!

I remember when my mom and dad led my brother and I to the field on the edge of town. I walked happily in front of them, looking back periodically to make sure they were close behind. My dad held my little brother, Carter’s hand and they lagged behind a little. He was only 4 years old, too young to understand where we were going and I remembered he’d been especially grumpy that morning. He’d just been getting over a bit of a fever so maybe that had contributed to his sour mood. Either way, I didn’t let it dampen my own enthusiasm. As soon as I smelled the deep-fried funnel cake and popcorn I broke into a run, following the delightful smells and sounds of music.

Then I saw it, the long-awaited carnival and there was an initial rush of disappointment. I’d expected something a lot more grand than what we’d gotten. In the movies and on TV, carnivals seemed like endless sprawls of games, rides and food with a Ferris wheel looming over all of it. What was set up in that field was certainly something incredible but it was fairly bare-bones. There weren’t any rides, just booths with simple games and vendors with food. I saw a few of my friends at one of the vendors and I’d just been ready to go over and join them when a man had stopped me. It had been Mr. Woods who’d run the town library back in those days. I remember he’d always had a kindly smile and soft eyes.

“Don’t you want your tickets?” he’d asked, and in his hand I saw strings of ticket paper waiting for me. Mr. Woods’ warm smile seemed to widen as he offered them to me and I greedily snatched them up. I glanced behind me for a moment and I saw my mom, Dad and Carter right behind me. My dad just smiled at me and waved me on towards the booths. That was all the permission I’d needed.

I sprinted towards my other friends to join them in whatever game they’d been playing and my initial disappointment was quickly forgotten.

I remember that my teacher that year, Mrs. Jenkins was watching the ring toss game and that our Principal, Mr. Hughes had volunteered for the dunk tank which was practically a dream come true.

For one glorious afternoon, me and my friends got to experience a carnival. We traded tickets for treats like funnel cake and candy apples, we’d run around and played. There was even a smiling clown in a baggy white suit (who sounded a lot like my friend Michael’s dad) that painted our faces! That afternoon was almost absolutely perfect.

I’ll admit, I did lose track of my family amongst everything. I remember that I saw my mom sitting alone at one picnic table, with no sign of my dad or Carter around but I never thought much of it. I’d figured Dad had taken Carter to play some games. I had my own friends to play with and my own games to focus on! I didn’t want to drag my little baby brother around! What kid would? So I just played with my friends and enjoyed the carnival for what it was worth. We never paid much attention to what was going on in the background. I don’t think anyone did.

Most of those who saw something that day have their own stories. Some got a good look at the checkered clown, some claim they spoke with him and others only caught a glimpse of him. I fall within the latter camp.

When I saw him, he’d been walking behind the booths. He was dressed in a black and red checkered outfit and wore a cap that resembled that of a stereotypical court jester. I remember the way that the bells had jingled as he’d walked.

I’d only momentarily caught sight of his ‘face’ when he’d looked towards the children in the carnival although I can’t say I saw much. He’d kept himself covered with a black buskin mask. I remember the mournful expression on it that seemed so exaggerated. The mask looked as if it was screaming in anguish.

I’d watched him for a few minutes as he passed, popping in and out of view from behind the booths as he walked purposefully away. He didn’t hold my attention for long. Instead, I’d just gone back to my games. At the time, he’d made such a small impression and I’m sure I would’ve forgotten him entirely if people hadn’t begun to notice the missing children.

We’d only been playing for a few hours before someone started calling out for their child and in the span of a few minutes the carnival fell apart. I remember my dad emerging from the crowd of other kids who looked around in confusion as their parents called for them. He grabbed my hand and tugged me sharply away from the other children towards my mom.

I could see her head darting around frantically and over the cries of the throng I could hear her yelling a name:

“Carter? CARTER!”

There were tears rolling down her cheeks as she’d called for him and her voice was drowned out amongst several other parents screaming for their children. I remember seeing several of my friends with their own parents… And I remember that some of them had even had siblings who were now notably absent.

“Take Sean, I’ll find Carter,” my dad had said as he’d pushed me towards my mom. She’d looked up at him, silent for a moment before she’d grabbed me by the hand and led me away.

I didn’t want to go! I didn’t understand what was going on. I didn’t know where Carter had gone or why everything had so suddenly stopped. I just remember looking back at the carnival. I heard no music and the smell of food was barely lingering. What I did hear were the desperate cries of frightened parents looking for boys and girls they’d never see again.

Thirty-two children went to the carnival that day and never came home, including my brother Carter. Most of them were young, five and under but there were a few older ones as well. As for what happened, well… No one really knew. A number of eyewitnesses said that they’d seen a clown in a red and black checkered suit leading children by the hand into the woods. To that end, most of the town joined a search party hoping to recover the children but they found nothing and after a few days, they gave up. No one ever figured out just who the checkered clown had been either. I don’t think anyone wanted to believe that they’d been part of the community. I don’t recall there being much finger-pointing at the time but I can only imagine I was too young to see its full extent. If there was anyone the community blamed, I never heard anything about it, and in the end, it hardly mattered. The final consensus was that the clown had been a stranger. Some unknown, monstrous figure who’d taken advantage of the carnival to lure away some innocent children although the questions of ‘Why’ and ‘To Where’ were left unanswered for there were no answers to be found. No explanation and no ‘why’ behind it all. Those children had simply been spirited away and that was the only answer my little community had. Loss begat grief, grief became bitterness which gradually turned into acceptance and as the years went by, people seldom spoke of the carnival. It became a sour memory for those who’d lived through it and an urban legend for those who didn’t.

Moving on after Carter’s disappearance wasn’t easy but in due time I found my ways to accept that my brother was dead. Time went by. I grew up. Familiar faces aged and died off and every year the memory of the checkered clown became more and more distant.

I never left my hometown. Some of my friends did, first returning only for occasional visits that became less and less frequent before they stopped returning at all. I never resented them for that. One thing I’ve learned is that life calls people to different paths and I’d made a point to see enough of the world outside of my little bubble to know that as beautiful as it all was, there was never anywhere else in the world that I felt more at home than… well. Home. Besides, the next fifty years were kind to our little community.

Inevitably the town grew. A lumber mill opened in the 70s that brought newcomers and with them came growth. As the next fifty-one years crept by, the little hometown I’d grown up in changed into something modern and unrecognizable, and that fateful carnival was all but forgotten. Even the field it had taken place in was bulldozed and replaced by a small suburb of townhouses and as all of this happened I lived my life.

I met a girl, married her, had kids, and got old, and even I’d stopped thinking about the carnival. Every now and then it would creep into my mind, but like any bad memory, I didn’t let it linger. I’d decided long ago that there was no point in dwelling on the past. Instead, I just kept on working towards retirement and figuring out how I’d spend my twilight years and I was happy just to have that.

After the divorce, I’d gotten myself a little townhouse that I could comfortably afford. Originally I’d bought it for me and my two sons to live in comfortably while they were over but I’d inevitably ended up the only resident. My oldest son had gotten married and moved into the city about a year ago and my youngest was finishing college in another state and shooting to become a lawyer.

I was well enough alone although I can’t say it bothered me much. I had Toby for company and while my mom had died long ago, my dad was still kicking as he pushed ninety and I’d stop by for a visit every now and then.

Toby was some sort of collie mix (I think he had some heeler in him?) Originally he’d been my youngest son’s dog but when he’d left for college, Toby had stayed with me. He was an odd animal, to say the least, scrawny no matter how much he ate, anxious to the point where the fucking rain terrified him, and if I so much as stepped out of the house he’d scream blue murder until I came back. He had these big, bloodshot eyes that looked so miserable all the time and by God was he a troublemaker. I can’t say I didn’t love that dog despite his faults, though. I suppose it was nice to have something to care for and I could tell that mutt missed my boys as much as I did. We kept each other company, though.

Every Sunday morning I’d wake up a little early and cook a big breakfast of sausage and eggs. I’d make a few extra sausages for the dog and set them on a plate for him. He always seemed to appreciate that.

Then, after breakfast, I’d get his leash and we’d go on a little stroll through the neighborhood. We’d pass through what used to be downtown back when I was a boy and on the way back up, we’d pass the suburb that sat where that field once had. I didn’t often think about it. The carnival was a faded scar and the houses all looked so similar. Sometimes I might reminisce as we passed those houses but not often. Usually I’d keep walking with Toby, lost in my own thoughts all the way home.

That Sunday in March had been a bit colder than most. Most of the winter’s snow had defrosted but some fresh snowflakes drifted down from an otherwise clear sky that morning. I could see my breath out in front of me while I’d been out on my morning walk with Toby and I let him explore and nip at the snowflakes as I walked.

I can’t recall what I was thinking about as we passed the suburbs where the Carnival had once stood but my mind was elsewhere. Toby’s sudden barking was the only thing that brought me back into the moment, followed by the sudden yank on his leash. I’d looked up and caught sight of a white fluffy tail fleeing out around a house as Toby struggled against his leash. I felt it slip out of my hand but I wasn’t fast enough to stop it.

That dog took off like a shot, barking threats at that innocent rabbit as he gave chase and I was right behind him, yelling for him like a fool.

“TOBY! Get back here!”

If nothing else that dog was fast. I’m not even sure I could’ve kept up with him in my prime and by the time I’d followed him around the house all I saw was a black and white blur in the distance, heading for the trees.

“Toby!”

That damn dog couldn’t have cared less and he vanished into the woods without so much as a backwards glance.

“Alright, you little bastard,” I murmured as I reached the treeline. My boots sank a little bit into the mud and I could see the vague shape of the dog in the distance. I headed towards him, calling out again but this time he looked at me. He was panting and he had that stupid grin dogs always get on his face. I had a feeling he was going to draw this out and turn it into a game since he hadn’t got the memo that at seven years old, he wasn’t a puppy anymore. As soon as he saw me getting closer he took off a short distance away, then stopped to make sure I was still following him. While he waited for me to catch up he pranced around and rolled in the mud, probably having the time of his life in the process. As pissed off as I was, I can’t pretend that it wasn’t a little endearing.

“Alright, you’ve had your fun,” I said as I got closer to him and Toby just took off again. “Asshole…”

I took another step forward but as I did I heard the creak of old wood. Not a twig snapping under my feet. No… This sounded more like a rotting floorboard and there was a bit of an echo to it. I didn’t have much time to wonder just what the hell it was. It was just a split second later when the ground gave way beneath my feet.

With a startled cry, I dropped down into darkness and was greeted with a splash of cold water. It hadn’t been a long fall but it’d been a hard one. I’d landed on my ass and the water went up to my chest. A rancid smell filled my nostrils and I immediately began to gag. I’m not ashamed to admit that my lovely breakfast went to waste that morning.

My body ached but as far as I could tell, I wasn’t seriously hurt. In the light that filtered down from the hole I’d fallen through, I could tell that I’d only dropped about ten feet. Looking around, my first thought was that I’d fallen into some old, sealed off well. I suppose that was just my luck.

Up above, I could hear Toby barking. He was close and I saw him peek down into the pit and sniff at it before continuing to bark. I suppose the little bastard realized that something wasn’t right and was doing the only thing he logically could about it.

I fumbled around in my pocket for my cell phone and took it out. I thanked God I’d opted for a waterproof case since I’d at least be able to call for help a little more efficiently than Toby was (bless his heart for trying).

With my phone offering some light, I was allowed the chance to see my surroundings a little clearer. The water beneath me was dark, almost black and the muddy earth beneath my submerged feet felt uneven as if I were standing on rocks. When I moved, I nudged something with my foot that shifted.

On instinct, I looked down and that’s when I saw it out of the corner of my eye.

It was almost completely sunken into the dirt wall of the pit and most of it was submerged but I still recognized what I was looking at.

A human skull. The bone was brown and rotten and the lower jaw had long since fallen off. I jerked backwards, bumping against the rear wall of the pit and my eyes darted around frantically. Something broke underneath my foot. Another bone?

My pulse was racing as I looked back at the skull that had sunken into the wall. It looked… Small. Too small to be an adult.

My attention shifted to the wall behind it and followed it up. It occurred to me that a well would’ve probably had more than just an old dirt wall. Hell, there should’ve been some indicator of where it had been in the first place to prevent old idiots like me from falling in! But there hadn’t been, had there? There’d been no marker, no warning. Nothing at all.

Looking back at the skull, I could hear Toby barking frantically above me and there was only one thing to do. With a shaking hand, I dialed the police.

I was there on the scene when the Police began to remove the skeletons from the pit. After they’d gotten me out and I’d told them what I’d seen, I’d stood by watching as one of the officers descended into that pit… Or perhaps it may be more accurate to simply call it a tomb…

“We’ve got bodies down here!” I’d heard the officer call up. Bodies… That word had hit me hard.

“How many?”

“I… I dunno. Skeletal remains. Multiple corpses.”

The officer standing near the top of the pit looked pale. I can’t imagine he’d seen anything quite like this before. Our little community didn’t exactly have much crime in it and this…

I found myself staring at the pit as the officer inside climbed out. I barely heard what he’d said to his associate. My hand absentmindedly dropped down to rest on Toby’s head as he panted obliviously beside me.

My mind was racing, trying to process all that I’d seen. My body ached but I hardly noticed. That sick, sinking feeling in my stomach grew worse as I remembered the smell of popcorn and funnel cake.

“We’ll call a team in… Start getting them out of there and maybe start IDing the remains,” I heard an officer say. I saw him looking down into that mass grave and part of me wanted to tell him that I already knew who was down there. I knew that there were 32 of them and I knew all of their names…

I didn’t say a word, though. Instead, my mind wandered back to Carter for the first time in years. Little Carter, that baby brother I’d so longed to avoid… The one I’d taken off on and abandoned the first chance I’d gotten…

I knew he was in that hole, along with the rest of them. His flesh long since rotted away and what was left of his bones soon following suit.

I wondered if I’d stayed with him, if I’d watched him like a good brother, whether he would have still ended up down there, or if he and I would be living out our twilight years together.

There was no answer to that. There would never be. But still I asked the question as I stood and stared at Carter’s watery grave.

I didn’t hear a thing about the discovery outside of a surprisingly brief mention in the local news. If there was ever any word of it outside of town, it was quickly buried beneath other, more pressing news stories. I wasn’t surprised to read that they’d determined there to be 32 skeletons though, all of which belonged to children.

That said, my lack of surprise didn’t keep me from following what I could about the find. The obvious questions still hung over my head and the discovery of the bodies provided precious little resolution… I don’t suppose anyone could have explained why someone had dropped 32 children into a pit and boarded it up.

I found precious little from what searching I did do and it had occurred to me that there wasn’t enough to announce on the news yet but that felt flimsy. 32 skeletons in a pit in the middle of the woods seemed worthy of more than just a passing mention but then again, perhaps I was just an old man with skewed memories of how the world was supposed to work.

I’d gone home after my fall and stayed there, processing everything. I’d called off work for the next day as well. I assume falling into a pit in the middle of the woods was enough of an excuse to avoid work and I knew there was somewhere more important that I’d need to be.

My dad was a stubborn old bastard and as he crept closer to ninety I was sure he’d never die. Despite his age, he’d still maintained most of his independence. I’m sure if I hadn’t insisted I handle his shopping he’d still be out and about most days, ignorant to the fact that he wasn’t as young as he’d used to be and I suppose that made two of us.

I didn’t know if he’d heard about the pit in the woods. I hadn’t spoken to him on the day I’d found it. I hadn’t been sure just how to break the news to him but I knew that it had to be done.

I’d gotten up a little bit later that morning, much to Toby’s chagrin. He didn’t like it when he was denied his morning patrol of the backyard.

I’d thought about calling Dad but I wasn’t sure just what I’d say to him. The news I had deserved to be shared in person. Eventually, once I’d taken care of the dog I made myself leave the house.

Time had not left my old house alone. The tree out front I’d once climbed with my friends was long gone, as was the stump. The porch looked different and there was a new yet barren garden out beside it. Mom had set it up in her twilight years but Dad had never been able to care for it once she’d passed.

When I knocked on the front door, I didn’t wait for a response. If Dad was still upstairs I’d be waiting a good ten minutes for him to make the journey via the StairMaster.

I unlocked the door myself and as I did, I heard footsteps upstairs.

“Hi, Dad!” I called.

“Sean?”

Time and cigarettes had given my dad a rasp in his voice. He was clearly awake but I didn’t go up to bother him.

“What are you doing here? I thought it was Monday.”

“It is. I took a day off,” I called up. “I… I wanted to talk to you about something.”

“Oh? Well, gimme a minute, I’ll be right down! Make yourself at home. You know where everything is!”

I did, although I couldn’t let myself get too comfortable. I’d been out of that house for over thirty years now and so much had changed. The old floral wallpaper was gone. Most of the furniture had been replaced, and there were only a few relics of the way things had been before.

Stepping into the living room, my eyes were drawn to the pictures of Carter on the walls. Dad had kept all of them and lovingly framed them over the years, a grim reminder of what he’d lost on the day of the carnival.

On the mantlepiece was an urn with Mom’s ashes in it.

I heard the whirr of the StairMaster behind me as Dad began his descent, and I turned around to meet him at the bottom of the stairs.

He only barely resembled the man I’d grown up with. In my memories, my dad had been a tall and proud man with a bushy mustache and stern eyes. Now, though, I saw only the vaguest resemblance to the man he’d been. He was frail and hunched over. His hair was wispy and white. His jowls sagged down and heavy glasses obscured his eyes. What was left of his mustache was white, and he clutched my hand as I helped him out of the StairMaster.

“Sean…” he said softly and pulled me into a half-hug. “So nice to see you… Let me just get to my chair so I can sit…”

I clutched his hand as I escorted him into the living room and helped him ease down into his worn-in, comfy armchair. I found a seat for myself on the sofa beside him.

“There we go… I’m not as young as I used to be, kiddo,” he said, half laughing and half melancholy. “Feels like only yesterday I was here with your mom and you were bringing the kids around… How are the boys anyhow?”

“They’re alright,” I said. “Keeping busy.”

“Good… Good…” He nodded slowly and relaxed back into his chair.

“It goes fast, you know… Once upon a time, I was your age and I thought I was old…” He laughed, eyes shifting over to one of the pictures of Carter. “Look at me now…”

He looked over at me now and noticed my polite yet vacant smile. His brow furrowed.

“You’re a sorry sight… What’s going on? Did you get fired?”

“No. No, things are fine at work,” I said. I exhaled softly as I chose my words carefully.

“You see the news at all, Dad?”

“I don’t bother with it. It’s all bullshit and sensationalism these days, and I don’t much care what the world does anymore.”

I nodded. His answer didn’t surprise me.

“Why? What was on it?”

I took a few moments to answer.

“I… Well… I… I found something the other day… in the woods, out behind that suburb where the field used to be. The one where the carnival took place.”

Dad went silent. His eyes were trained on me, his brow furrowed heavily.

“There were some… rotted wood planks in the middle of the forest that covered up this pit… I didn’t see them. I stepped on them by accident and I fell. I’m not injured. I didn’t need to go to the hospital or anything! Just a few scrapes and bruises and I had my phone on me so I could call for help, but…”

I swallowed. The mental image of that skull embedded in the dirt wall of the pit rushed back into my mind. Had that been Carter’s skull?

“There were… bones… in the pit. Human bones. K-kids… I called the police. They got me out and said they’d get the skeletons out of there. I took a look on the news last night. They said there were-”

“32,” my dad whispered. I nodded. I felt a tear streaming down my cheek and wiped it away.

“I didn’t hear anything about them identifying the bodies or dating when they’d died, but…”

I looked up at my dad. He sat in his chair, dead silent. I saw tears streaming down his wrinkled cheeks.

“I’m sorry…” I whispered, but he didn’t say a word. He just stared at a picture of Carter across the room. His breathing had gotten heavier.

“I’m going to find out who I can talk to, maybe ask about Carter,” I said. “If… If they can identify his remains amongst the other skeletons, maybe we could give him a proper burial…”

Still no response from Dad. His hands were shaking and I stood up to draw nearer to him. I wanted to put my hand over his. I wanted to tell him that everything would be alright, yet as I drew nearer he grabbed me by the wrist. His eyes fixated on me and he sucked in a gasping breath. Sweat dripped down his brow and panic reared up in my chest.

Something was wrong with him.

“Sean…” he rasped, and I instinctively went for my cell phone.

“Fuck, goddamnit… Hold on!”

S-Sean…” Tears and sweat dribbled down my dad’s face as I dialed 911. I didn’t even let the operator speak.

“I need an ambulance, right away! My dad’s having some sort of attack!” I blurted out, followed by his address.

Sorry…” Dad whispered as he clung to my arm. His eyes closed and I held him close as the operator promised me that they’d send an ambulance immediately.

I held on to his every breath, my own heart racing in my chest, terrified that this would take a turn for the worse until, at last, the paramedics arrived.

I suppose the news had been too much for him to bear. Dad’s heart attack hadn’t killed him, thank God. But as I rode with him to the hospital in the ambulance, I was so sure I’d lose him, and I’d stayed as close to his side as I could until they’d moved him to his own room.

“We’re going to keep him for observation for a few more days,” one of the doctors had told me. “We need to be as sure as we can that there won’t be another incident after we discharge him.”

I’d just nodded in response.

“Yeah… Whatever it takes. I’ll cover the costs,” I’d said.

The day wasn’t even half over and I already felt exhausted again. I suppose I’d known that I’d need to take another day off although that hardly bothered me. My dad’s health came first.

He was asleep when I’d left the hospital. I’d stopped to get a burger in order to clear my head.

So much had happened over the past couple of days… It was hard not to feel a little bit blindsided by it all.

My mind drifted back to my dad, stuck in his hospital bed. I couldn’t imagine his mental state. Fifty years of not knowing what had happened to Carter and then, at last, something right out of the blue. I wondered what I would’ve felt if it had been my son…

As soon as I’d eaten, I headed back to Dad’s place. Since he was clearly going to be in the hospital for a while, I wanted to bring him some things from home. His medication, a change of clothes and maybe some minor things that might make his stay just a bit better. I wanted to be there for him when he woke up, I wanted him to know that he wasn’t alone in his grief for Carter.

The door was still unlocked from when we’d left and I pushed it open quietly. I glanced over at his empty armchair and at the pictures of Carter that decorated the living room before heading upstairs.

I stopped off at the bathroom first to collect his pills and then to the bedroom to get some clothes.

I’d only been in my dad’s bedroom a few times before, helping with some handiwork. The queen-sized bed had one side almost untouched and the other unmade. The room was otherwise tidy and neat.

In the closet, I spotted some of Mom’s old clothes, still hanging up as if they were waiting for her. I suppose Dad had never been able to bring himself to throw out her old things… I doubt I could’ve done it, either. It hardly mattered either way. When Dad died, they’d find new homes eventually. I pushed the clothes out of the way and found some comfortable-looking T-shirts for him to wear, as well as a pair of jogging pants with some old stains on them, among other things.

Most of his old clothes were suits or button-down shirts, which I ignored and pushed out of the way as well, to see if there was anything else lingering near the back.

Then I paused.

In the low light of the closet, it was difficult to make out the checkered pattern. I was sure it was just flannel at first, but on instinct I grabbed it and pulled it out.

The outfit hung on one hanger. The pattern was worn and frayed from the moths that had gotten to it over the years but I would’ve recognized it anywhere.

Black and red checkers. There was no sign of the mask or the hat, but there didn’t need to be.

I stared at the outfit silently, holding it up to the light as I tried to process what I was seeing, and suddenly I felt sick…

I wanted to scream. I wanted to hurl the costume away like a venomous snake or bury it in the closet and pretend I hadn’t seen it, but I did neither of those things. I just stared at it like a goddamn fool as I realized the truth…

I left the bedroom in a haze. The smiling pictures of Carter on the walls seemed to watch me, almost with an accusatory glare. I couldn’t bring myself to look at them as the tears streamed down my cheeks. I still clutched the checkered clown outfit bunched up in a grip so tight that it turned my knuckles white…

I was shaking, and as I descended the stairs I headed for the door, consumed only by single-minded purpose.

When Dad awoke, I sat quietly in the chair beside him. The machines beeped quietly around his bedside but I’d closed the door so we’d have our privacy. Outside, the sky was dim with twilight, and Dad’s uneaten hospital dinner sat on a tray by his bed along with his pills.

“Sean…”

His eyes were on me. He looked exhausted and weary.

I didn’t answer. I just stood up and tossed the worn outfit into his lap. He looked down at it, eyes glowing with a solemn recognition. His shaking fingers brushed against the old fabric. For a moment, I half expected him to have another heart attack.

He looked up at me again, mouth opening and closing as he tried to figure out what to say.

“Why?” I asked. My voice trembled with rage as I spoke.

Fresh tears gathered in the corner of Dad’s eyes.

“Sean… I…”

“WHY!?”

My voice echoed through the room and Dad recoiled from me, panting heavily as the tears fell down his cheeks.

“Carter… He was your son…”

“I… I had to…” Dad’s voice was weak and mournful. “We had no choice… The fever… The sickness… We didn’t know what to do…”

“What? What are you talking about? What fever? What sickness? There was no fucking sickness!”

“There was!” Dad snapped. “You were too young, you didn’t understand! It came on so suddenly… It was a smaller town back then, the nearest doctor was in the next town over! P-people started getting sick, they started dying and we were scared! We didn’t know what to do… The adults… The ones who were sick, they knew to stay away. But the children? They didn’t understand and it was spreading so fast! Then they started dying and… and we couldn’t watch… We made a choice, Sean. We made a choice all those years ago, the only choice we could make! We chose mercy over suffering! It was the only choice!”

“To kill the children,” I whispered. “You murdered them…”

“We agreed… No one wanted to know who’d done it. The men, we held a lottery and I lost! We put on the carnival to get the children who weren’t sick together, so they wouldn’t ask questions… So they wouldn’t know what was going on. Then we rounded up the others… Kept them away from the rest of the kids and one by one I took them into the woods… I took them to the pit we’d dug. I had a knife… They didn’t suffer, Carter didn’t suffer! Not like he would have if we’d let the fever claim him, and the parents didn’t suffer, either! They didn’t need to watch their children die!”

I stood there, watching my dad cry as he uttered his confession. I remembered the pictures of Carter on the walls, staring at him for every hour of every day of the rest of his life after the carnival…

“After that… I… I never spoke of it. We’d all agreed the checkered clown would be anonymous and we could leave him behind. With the children gone and the last of the fever quarantined, we… we could move on. Start again and it worked, Sean! It worked…”

He reached for my hand but I pulled away from him.

“I’m sorry…” He whispered. “But it had to be done…”

I just stood there, silent as my dad looked into my eyes. I couldn’t find the words to say. All I could do was stare.

Behind me, I heard the door open as a nurse stepped in.

“Everything okay in here?” she asked. “I heard shouting?”

I didn’t give her an answer. Instead, I just pushed past her and out into the hall, leaving my dad behind.

I got the call about his suicide the next morning.

He’d overdosed on his pills. A nurse had found him just an hour before, lying in his bed and wearing that faded, checkered clown suit.

I imagine he died peacefully, and despite his sins, I’m glad that he did.

Part of me wishes I’d had a better chance to say goodbye, but at the same time, I don’t think I could’ve ever looked at him again without feeling disgust.

I’ve heard very little about the skeletons uncovered in the woods. It’s just a footnote to the legend that started in that summer of 1969, and I suspect that legend will haunt my hometown forever.

But I won’t let it haunt me.

At long last, I know what happened that day, and I don’t know if the answers have made me feel better or just left me hollow. Either way, it’s clear to me that I can’t stay there. It’s time for me to find another home.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 4 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Ryan Peacock
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Ryan Peacock


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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