Adrian inhaled the particular combination of smells that accumulated in almost any thrift shop, waiting patiently for her friend, June, to catch up. They had taken June’s car on this trip since Adrian’s car was having exhaust problems. Adrian was grateful for the ride, but June had a tendency to dawdle.
Adrian looked around the shop. It was nearly deserted, probably due to the stormy weather that had darkened the day. Under the combined scents of must and dust, old perfumes and a trace of dampness, was a darker odor that made her uneasy. It was there and then gone again.
“Addie!” June popped up next to her and tugged on her sleeve. “I want to show you something. Come on, over here.”
Adrian followed June to a display case in the front corner, one she had overlooked when she first came in. The rank odor grew stronger. June pointed at a small figure on the shelf, a clown in a red suit. “Isn’t that just the creepiest little thing?”
It stood a mere four or five inches tall, had bouffant legs, bowed as if it were squatting, black hair and eyes, and green where the whites of its eyes should have been. Staring up at Adrian, it seemed almost conniving, malicious. She picked it up.
“Oh, Addie! Don’t touch it,” June squealed.
“Why not?” Adrian hefted the little clown in her palm. It was lightweight, probably paper-mache.
“It’s evil,” June said with a snicker.
“How can something wearing a lace collar be evil?” Addie asked with a grin. “I think he’s cute. Maybe I’ll buy him.”
“No way! If you do, you can walk home. I don’t want that thing in my car.” June adjusted the purse over her shoulder and stared around, suddenly disinterested. “Come on. We have to be to work in an hour. Let’s check out the clothes.”
Addie took one last look at the clown and then placed him back on the shelf. She turned to join her friend.
“Wait,” a hoarse whisper sounded near Adrian’s ear.
Adrian stopped and looked around, but there was no one near. She looked up, noticed the heater duct as warm air flowed over her, and decided that was the sound she had heard. Just a hiss from the vents. Darn that June, she thought. She had started Addie’s imagination running.
The girls picked out several vintage outfits and paid for them without trying them on. It was raining steadily when they left the store, and Addie stepped in a puddle in the parking lot. “Oh, no,” she cried. “Now we have to stop by my apartment so I can change shoes. I’m not working all evening in wet shoes.”
“Okay,” June said, looking over her shoulder as she backed out. “But we’ll have to hurry. If we’re late again, there’ll be trouble”
At the apartment, they dashed inside and June waited in the tiny front room while Addie changed shoes. “It smells funny in here,” June called out, with her usual lack of tact. “Did you forget to take out your garbage?”
“No, took it out this morning,” Adrian answered. She emerged from the bedroom, grabbed her raincoat from the front closet and stood by the door waiting on June.
“Thought you were in a hurry,” she said, glancing at her watch.
“I am,” June replied, still standing in front of the mantel. “I didn’t think you were serious about buying that stupid little clown.”
“I wasn’t. I didn’t buy it,” Adrian said, pulling on her coat.
“Well, it’s sitting on your mantel,” June announced, arms crossed. “You don’t have to lie to me, Addie. I don’t care what you buy. I’m not your boss.”
A chill crept over Adrian as she walked slowly to the fake fireplace. Squatting on the mantle between the stack of DVDs and her grape-scented candle was the clown figure from the thrift store. She gasped, and put her hand over her mouth. Then, she relaxed as the answer occurred to her. “You put it there,” she accused June. “Very funny. Not.”
“Addie,” June touched her friend’s sleeve. “I didn’t. Really.”
Both girls stared at the clown. It glowered at them. Thunder boomed outside, and both young women jumped. “Throw it away,” June whispered.
Adrian picked up the clown gingerly, pinching it by the lace collar, and marched into the kitchen. Flinging open her wastebasket, she tossed the little figure in and closed the lid. “I still think you put it there, trying to pull a joke on me,” she said to June as they both hurried for the door.
“I didn’t, and you know it. But just forget it,” June snapped. “Now we’re going to be late. Great luck we’re having!”
The rest of the evening went poorly for Addie. Almost every customer was moody and they all tracked in water and mud, causing her to have to mop up several times before her shift was over. By contrast, June’s night seemed to improve and she even made a twenty-dollar tip. On the ride home, June was bubbling over, but Adrian was quiet. She didn’t want to go into her dark apartment alone, but felt too silly to mention it to June. Instead, she gave a half-hearted wave as June drove away.
Unlocking her door, Adrian flipped on the lights before entering. Nothing was out of place, but the apartment felt unsettled, as if someone had just breezed through, or a window had been left open. And June was right; it did smell strange in there. Quickly Adrian locked the door behind her and went through the place, putting on a light in every room. When she reached the bedroom, she flicked the light switch and turned to go back into the front room when something caught her eye. A flash of red. Slowly, she turned back around. There, on her dresser, sat the clown. Her heartbeat kicked into high gear and she fled the room.
Hands shaking, she pulled her cell phone from her purse and punched in June’s number. “Not funny!” she screamed when June answered.
“I don’t know how you did it; you must have snuck out of work when I was busy, but it’s not funny. It’s sick! Why are you doing this to me?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” June sounded baffled and on the verge of angry. “Make sense, or I’m hanging up.”
“That clown!” Addie said. “It’s sitting on my dresser right now! Are you saying you didn’t put it there?”
“Oh, Addie.” June’s voice was soft. “Are you serious? No, I didn’t put it there. I watched you throw it in the trash. Hold on.” She turned to talk to someone in the background. “I was just getting ready to watch a movie with Nick, but we can come over if you want.”
Adrian rubbed her forehead. “No, no. You don’t have to do that. It’s late and I’m tired. For crying out loud, it’s just a tiny little doll. Nothing to get freaked about. Go ahead and watch your movie. I’m going to bed.” Addie closed her phone and laid it on the end table.
She put on her pajamas, had a snack in front of the television, and then brushed her teeth, all the while studiously ignoring the problem at hand. When she pulled back the blankets on her bed, she glared at the little clown on the dresser. It glared back. “I’m not afraid of you,” she said, then felt foolish. Before climbing into bed, she turned the clown so he faced the wall. She didn’t know what June was trying to pull on her, but it was going to strain their relationship. June could be pretty childish at times, and Addie lost patience with her on occasion. But this was really going too far.
Nightmares plagued her sleep, and she woke in the wee hours of the morning from a dream so horrifying, it had made her cry. The details evaporated as she tried to recall them, but she could still feel the thump of her heart against her chest, and her cheeks were still damp with tears. As she reached for the bedside lamp, her hand brushed against something, knocking it over. Her fingers found the switch. The light came on, and Addie saw the clown next to its base, tipped over on its side, glowering into Addie’s eyes. She shrieked and jumped up from the bed, backing into the corner of the room.
“Oh my god, oh my god!” she repeated, keeping her gaze on the clown. It didn’t move.
Snatching her blankets and pillow from the bed, she slammed the bedroom door behind her and stumbled to the sofa. Sitting there with her knees tucked up under her chin and her arms around her legs, she tried to stop shaking. There was no logical explanation for this. She couldn’t blame this on June. In fact, she now suspected June was right, even though at the time she had been joking. The clown figure actually was evil. Possessed or something. She needed to get it out of her house right now, but she was afraid to open the bedroom door. Afraid to touch the thing.
As her calm slowly returned, Addie scolded herself for overreacting. She had probably put on the nightstand herself, and been sleepy enough at the time that she simply didn’t remember doing it.
Fluffing her pillow and arranging her blanket, she determined she would nonetheless get rid of the clown as soon as she woke up. With that decision made, she felt a little better. She rolled over on her side, keeping her back against the sofa, and drifted into slumber.
When she woke later that morning, Adrian flung the covers aside and marched to the bedroom to rid herself of the clown. She threw open the door and walked toward the nightstand. But the clown was not there. Looking wildly around the room, Addie could feel panic tight around her eyes and rising in her chest. The clown was nowhere in the room. She searched under the bed, in the closet, and through her dresser drawers, but she couldn’t find it.
Grabbing her purse and keys, she ran from her apartment in her pajamas, jumped in her car, and drove to the convenience store on the corner to use the restroom. By the time she was finished, her hands had stopped trembling and her thinking was clearer. She knew she needed a plan.
Addie purchased a Dr. Pepper and a bag of chips and returned to her car. With the motor idling and the heater warming the interior, Adrian munched her snack and rolled ideas around in her head. Maybe she would borrow her neighbor’s black Labrador while she searched her place for the clown. The dog was very protective. Or perhaps she would swallow her pride and explain the situation to her brothers. They would think she was crazy and laugh at her, but they would come over and help her find the clown, if only to ease her mind. A soft rain fell against the windshield, obscuring it. It was very soothing. Her brain grew sluggish, and she became drowsy. The heater air felt good, so warm. She was full from her snack, satisfied. Her eyes were heavy.
I’ll just take a short nap, she thought and leaned her head back against the seat, forgetting about the exhaust problem with her car. Just as sleep pulled her under, she gazed bleary-eyed at the dashboard of her car. The little clown squatted there, staring back at her with its painted-on malevolent frown. But she couldn’t wake up enough to do anything about it.