Jest Be Scared
By Ryan Emmert
It wasn’t even October and nobody suspected the inundations approaching. The spirit of drinking thrived. Strangers grew friendly at alarming rates, and laughter became the green light that would soon turn yellow, red. Faces fell flat or otherwise exaggerated. Lovers floated upon seas of remiss. And everyone found some sort of lover before the leaves began falling. Tommy stayed lone, however—something more than he just didn’t care, a sprawling out, and patience for days more gratifying.
Tommy thought the email was a joke: Clown Sightings on campus. Not the clowns a joke, but the email itself, so elaborately detailing and dismissing the “rumors” of clown sightings.
9/24/2016- Students residing in York City reported a car full of clowns driving down West Jackson Street. York City Police responded to the area and campus officers assisted in searching the neighborhood. No clowns were seen.
9/25/2016- A student reported there was a clown at the Student Union on campus. Officers investigated and were able to confirm this was just a rumor based on misinformation passed down from the earlier off campus report.
9/26/2016- An anonymous tip was received that there was a car full of clowns driving on west campus possibly with weapons. Officers patrolling on west campus along with the security officers in the west campus kiosks did not see anyone dressed as clowns or any suspicious vehicles.
Then a picture circulated—right behind Wolf Hall, they said. One could argue for or against it. It was ridiculous, but Tommy loved it when people brought it up. It was the prime topic of discussion for those who only half knew one another.
“Hey, you hear about them clown sightings?”
“Ha, yeah. Freaky.”
“Yeah, it’s hilarious.”
Sure, it’s hilarious how fear manifests in the simplest of ways. But it always takes some curious fool to sit and poke the fire all night before the woods are engulfed. I suppose we all sort of wanted to watch everything burn.
Tommy was one of those people that entertained himself with the thought of scaring the hell out of strangers. The clown phenomenon was an opportunity, but Tommy wasn’t usually much of an opportunist. Before long, the clown frenzy pacified and Fall break arrived.
Tommy went home. He had to, he didn’t necessarily want to. But his parents were happy to have family dinner again. His little sister had moved into his room since he was now in a new apartment at school. He wasn’t upset about it. It had been the plan all along.
All of his things were shoved into the guest room for the time being. At one point he went sifting through his old stuff. Yu-gi-oh cards and army men. Bop-it. Beyblades. Then he came across a mask. A white face with rosy cheeks, elongated smile, eyes like ping pong balls, pupils green as limes. Synthetic red hair wired outward from a hole on the crown of its head. He smiled at it. Once useful on Halloween, he was surprised it wasn’t already in the garbage. He shivered.
“Are you cold?” his mom was standing in the doorway.
“Oh, you scared me,” he said, “I guess, a little bit.”
“It’s probably even colder up at school, isn’t it?”
“It’s not bad, yet.”
That Monday he returned to campus well-rested, but under a spell. The energy of everything had calmed. Leaves began to brown, falling with a sense of obligation. Tommy wasn’t feeling much. He went to class and came back and took a nap.
When he woke, he checked his phone to find a few messages from Chelsea. She was inviting him to come hang at Abby’s at 324 Jackson. He was suddenly an opportunist again. He got ready to go, packing his bag with a few books, a phone charger, the mask. He walked out of his apartment and turned the corner walking past the dining hall.
A kid walked out with a handful of cookies. He took an athletic step and flung one of the cookies like a saucer across the courtyard. It struck a window with a thud. He jumped in celebration. Tommy laughed, and the kid turned to look at him, some animosity in his glare. Tommy shook his head. The kid flung another cookie upward.
“Roof shot!” he yelled. Tommy continued walking.
He passed through each of the two parking lots. Campus Safety was cooped up in their car in the corner of the second lot. The officer watched Tommy pass by. He walked at a steady pace.
When he reached Jackson, he slowed. Parties of young buzzed like magnum beehives. Jackson had no stoplights, only signs. Vehicles paused in their passing. Tommy looked straight ahead. The creek was coming up.
A guy named Austin was passing over the creek on the other side of Jackson. Tommy recognized him from a class they had together. He never heard him talk. Austin sported full facial hair, and a beanie on the regular. He walked with an innocence that could be mistaken for apathy. Tommy watched him hover past.
The street wasn’t bare ahead, but no one was paying attention to Tommy. He swung his bag around to unzip it. He removed the mask and placed it over his head. He put his hood up. Tommy thought of how funny a story it’d be.
He crossed Jackson and began following Austin. He came up behind him quietly. Silence was key. Tommy wrapped his arm around Austin’s neck and pulled him around the end of the bridge, down into the wooded creek. He tilted his head around for Austin to see his white rubber face, bulging puke-colored eyes. Austin grew angry without making a sound. Tommy stomached a few elbows before letting go to breathe.
“Motherf—” Austin slurred, brushing himself off, “You’re funny, huh?”
Tommy had expected a different reaction. He wasn’t satisfied. Austin was climbing back up to the road. A flock of underclassmen passed across the bridge. It was growing darker by the minute. Tommy didn’t want to leave it at that.
He roped his arm around again, squeezing tighter, jerking his body down into the mud. Austin’s face filled with blood. His eyes slanted and began to quiver. Tommy finally sensed his fear, but he still had something to prove. He rolled Austin over, pressing his knee across Austin’s lower leg. He had him pinned. Tommy spat demonic mumblings. A tenacity roused from boyish dislike, the adrenaline in Tommy’s blood like the purist’s shabu.
Austin tried for a scream, but it was muffled by the choke. He jolted one last time and went limp. Tommy let go, and Austin stilled in the mud. Other students were passing by more frequently. It was dark enough to stay hidden in the woods. Opportunism faded to panic. Tommy hadn’t understood regret until then.