It began in the backwoods of North Carolina. A band of teens dressed in grotesque clown costumes set out to terrorize their community. They wandered the woods at all hours brandishing chains and shovels. They offered candy and balloons to any who would follow after them.
The teens became bold in their prank adding trespassing and voyeurism to their scare tactics. Sightings grew in frequency. Residents, angry and afraid, demanded an end to the pranks.
It didn’t take long for the bazaar story to make headlines. Sensationalism paved the way for copycats across the nation, and soon a host of uninspired miscreants wandered the streets stalking their communities in nightmarish clown regalia. Inbred and intellectually stunted copycats took to wielding weapons for added menacing effect. The prank escalated from ominous sightings to assaults and outright attacks.
It was late October when young Timothy Belington, enamored with the disturbing trend, purchased a clown costume from the seasonal Halloween shop at the Hanford Mall. He stained the bright blue and yellow suit with grease and added splotches of red paint to give the appearance of freshly spilled blood. In the forehead of the demonic clown mask he drew a pentagram in thick black permanent ink.
Not to be outdone, he wrapped a hockey stick in barbed wire and drove nails through the length of the shaft. After a coat of black spray paint, and strategically placed red highlights, the stick had been repurposed into a grizzly weapon.
Hidden Valley Park, Hanford High School, and the Calvary Cemetery were his target locations. To ensure maximum exposure he created accounts across social media under the name Nosey Bubbles.
In online forums frequented by Hanford youth Timothy left ominous messages to stir up a little fear.
As is custom with small towns, word spread quickly. School officials and police warned parents to keep their children safe. Social media buzzed with excitement. Keyboard warriors responded to the messages of Nosey Bubbles with detailed threats and warnings. Others admitted they would turn and run at the sight of a deranged clown.
At 11:30 p.m., Friday night, reports of a clown wandering the Hanford High School campus poured into the police station. When patrol cars arrived on scene the clown was no where to be found. A bundle of colorful low flying balloons, and a few blurry smartphone photos, were all that substantiated the reports.
According to witnesses a man in a filthy blue and yellow clown suit, wearing a monstrous clown mask, and brandishing a bloody weapon in one hand and balloons in the other, had chased anyone passing nearby the school. The clown even warded off a group of young men who approached him armed with tire irons and baseball bats.
Pictures and personal testimonials flooded the local social media scene. Keyboard warriors unhinged themselves in the comment sections with greater threats and warnings for the clown. Moms pleaded for the deranged idiot to stop these terrible antics. Even the religious zealots chimed in with comments about the End of Days and satanic cults.
No one was more greatly disturbed by this news, however, than Timothy. His first night out as Nosey Bubbles had yet to happen. Someone had stolen his idea. Even took his costume design. But who?
Aside from vague online posts, Timothy hadn’t told anyone his plans. No one had seen his costume, yet the hazy images of the suspect plastered online revealed someone wearing an exact replica of his costume. Right down to it’s detailed modifications.
He checked his closet to make sure his costume hadn’t been stolen. There it hung in all its grotesque glory. Empty eye slits stared lifelessly from the vinyl mask. The hockey stick stood propped up in the corner next to a bag of latex balloons and a helium tank. Everything was just as he left it.
“Fuck! How could this happen?” He shouted.
Timothy slammed his closet door and sat down once again at his desk. The hypnotic glow of the computer monitor entranced him. He visited every online forum where he, as Nosey Bubbles, had left a post. He read through the strings of lectures and threats left by vitriolic trolls with disgust.
He wasn’t disgusted with the replies themselves. He deserved the hostility, craved it even, but not yet. He hadn’t made his first showing. This shower of praise had yet to be earned by his actions. The thought of scrapping the whole prank bounced around his mind like a rubber ball in an empty bowl.
“No. Fuck that guy! Fuck him! This was my idea! I’m doing this! And if I find this poseur, yeah, I’m gonna fuck him up for stealing my idea!”
The rest of his Saturday was spent lounging about. Resting, he justified, for a night of mischief and fun. In his head he fantasized about all the kids running in terror from Nosey Bubbles. He imagined a violent altercation between he and the bastard who had somehow stolen his plan. His thoughts and fantasies trailed off as he drifted into a deep sleep.
Timothy awoke early Sunday morning. He overslept.
He rolled out of bed and saw his costume still hanging where he had left it in the closet. He couldn’t remember opening the closet door the night before, but he didn’t remember falling asleep that evening either. He closed the closet and set an alarm on his phone for 11:30 p.m. His parents should be asleep by then and wouldn’t notice him sneaking out. He would be sure not to miss tonight.
His morning ritual began as usual. Morning piss, brush teeth, shower, and back to his computer. He refreshed his internet browser.
“Holy fuck. You’ve got to be kidding me. What the hell, man?”
Timothy’s Facebook feed was filled with stories of yet another clown sighting in Hanford. It was the same guy from Friday night. This time the culprit was captured on a grainy iPhone video walking through Hidden Valley Park scaring off kids loitering after curfew. He was screaming and waving the hockey stick wildly while holding a bundle of helium filled balloons.
“Nosey Bubbles wants to give you a balloon, motherfuckers!” the imposter shouted on video.
“No goddamn way! Motherfucker is using my name!” Timothy shouted after the video had finished.
In a fit of nerd-rage, he flipped his keyboard against the monitor. He leapt out of his chair and kicked a waste basket across the room. The waste basket slammed hard against the wall chipping off paint in its wake.
A knock sounded at his door.
“Tim, honey? Everything alright?” It was his mother. Her voice was soft and soothing; edged with concern.
“Yes, mom. I, uh, tripped over my trashcan.” He answered.
“Are you okay. Sounded like you hit the wall.”
“Sorry. I’m fine. I kicked it.”
His mother sighed loudly through the door.
“Okay, hon. Be careful. Dad and I are going to church this morning. I don’t suppose you want to come?”
“Nah. I’m good.”
“Okay. We’ll be back in a few hours.”
He listened as her footsteps trailed down the stairs just outside his bedroom. His parents would be gone soon, leaving him alone in the house. He thought it strange his mother asked if he wanted to go to church. He was seventeen and hadn’t been to church in at least three years.
Timothy turned his attention back to his Facebook feed. Not only had the imposter stolen his costume, his idea, and now his clown’s name, but he had also somehow stolen the locations Timothy had planned to terrorize – in order!
He knew where the clown would show up next. Calvary Cemetery. It was the third and final destination in his plan, and so far the imposter had stolen his idea step for step. He would go, confront the asshole, and have a Nosey Bubbles show down.
It sounded stupid in his head, but he didn’t care. He wanted to know who the imposter was and how he found out about what Timothy was planning. Even more, Timothy wanted to know why. Why was the imposter doing this to him? Was it personal? Was it an elaborate prank?
Despite two energy drinks, three cups of coffee, and an alarm, Timothy overslept. He woke at one in the morning; an hour and a half later than he intended. He leapt out of bed, opened his closet, and…
The costume, the hockey stick, and the balloons were all missing from his closet. He shuffled through hangers, dug through a pile of clothes on the floor, and searched his entire room. The costume was no where to be found.
A cold breeze blew in through his window. The window! His window was open, and he knew for a fact that he never opened it. The imposter had to be behind this.
He threw on some clothes and crept quietly downstairs so not to wake his parents. The keys to his mom’s Honda hung from a nail in the kitchen. He grabbed them and slipped out the front door.
Timothy cut the lights and parked along a side street near Calvary Cemetery. He jogged over to the site carefully avoiding the glowing street lamps. As he approached he saw brightly colored balloons tied around various headstones. The imposter was there, or at least had been.
Save for a few areas near the entrance, the cemetery was blanketed in a darkness cut only by the light of the night sky. Headstones were cloaked in shadow and stood in contrast against the barren landscape. Aging trees, planted long ago when the soil was fertile, reached proudly for the stars along the plots of resting dead.
The air was crisp and chilled with hints of the coming winter. The grounds were unnaturally quiet. Only the occasional breeze dancing through the trees broke the silence. A sick feeling formed in Timothy’s stomach. His eyes darted around the cemetery, but he wasn’t sure if he really wanted to find the imposter.
Doubt weighed on his shoulders like heavy weights. He wondered if coming out to the cemetery was a good idea after all. Something in the wind didn’t sit well, and looking for a deranged psychopath felt like a bad idea.
Butterflies fluttered in his stomach. Balloons seemed to taunt him from their morbid anchors. Shadows shifted into unnatural shapes within his peripheral vision. The air grew colder.
Let him have it, Timothy thought to himself. Halfway into the cemetery was far enough. He had seen no one, and was glad of it. The imposter probably wasn’t even around. There wouldn’t be much exposure this late at night, so there would be no need for him to remain.
He turned to leave when he spied a figure staring at him from behind a tree. He stood frozen. Eyes locked on the shadowed figure. He could make out a glow of curly red hair about the figure’s head lit by the soft moonlight. His heart raced.
In his imagination the confrontation had played out much differently. He would attack the clown for breaking into his home – for stealing his idea. He would unmasked the culprit and enact his own form of justice. Not, as he now stood, frightened and wanting nothing more than to run as far as he could from the imposter.
The clown stepped out from behind the tree. The gentle light of the stars and moon stole away the darkness that had concealed the figure. It was the imposter wearing Timothy’s costume, standing no more than ten feet away.
The imposter pointed at Timothy and feigned a silent laughter. He raised a finger, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a balloon. The clown inflated the balloon. Then pulled a pin from his ear in a dramatic display and stuck the balloon.
The balloon exploded into tiny bits of latex and confetti, but it had produced no sound. Timothy was perplexed. The clown cupped a hand around his ear as if listening for the pop that should have sounded. Shrugging, it mimed more laughter.
“Who are you?” Timothy’s voice sounded distant, as if the words formed from another part of the graveyard.
The clown stopped miming. He tilted his head in curious confusion.
“W-who are you?” Timothy asked again.
The clown pointed sternly at Timothy.
“W-w-who are you?” He asked a third time.
The clown continued to point at Timothy.
The clown gave an exaggerated nod bringing his hands to his cheeks like a mascot from a deranged theme park.
It nodded again.
“WHO ARE YOU?”
The clown clasped his hands to his chest mocking Timothy with a mimed fear. It raised a finger before reaching behind its back pulling out the modified hockey stick from thin air.
Timothy fell back a step. Everything in him screamed to run, but his feet wouldn’t move. He stood staring into the clown’s eyes. The clown flickered in an out of existence. Whatever hid beneath the mask wasn’t a person.
A chorus of child-like giggles rolled like passing thunder through the spot where Timothy stood. The thing wearing his costume tossed the hockey stick at his feet. Timothy snatched up the weapon and wielded it before him in clumsy grip.
The clown produced another balloon from its pocket. Inflated it. The balloon sagged as it was filled. Something heavy was contained within the latex.
The inhuman Nosey Bubbles hefted the balloon through the air like a shot-put. The latex melted away into something else entirely. Timothy instinctively swatted the thing out of the air with the hockey stick. It hit the ground with a wet thud at his feet.
It was his mother’s head. Her eyes looked out lifelessly across the cemetery. The flesh of her neck was ripped and torn like it had been crudely sawn off her body. Timothy could feel bile building in the back of his throat.
“M-m-mom? MOM! You son of a…” He looked up. The clown was gone.
Tears streaked down his face. He sobbed with a hand cupped over his mouth. Something fell on his shoulder. He twisted around stumbling over his mother’s head and fell to the ground. Behind him Nosey Bubbles stood holding a human arm.
The clown waved the hand attached to the arm playfully at Timothy and mimed laughter. It was his mother’s arm. Timothy recognized the wedding ring on the finger. White gold, princess cut diamond, with a sapphire on either side of the diamond.
Timothy vomited. Quickly composing himself he swung the hockey stick wildly at the clown’s ankles. Nosey Bubbles hopped out of reach and wagged the finger of the disembodied arm disapprovingly. Timothy scrambled to his feet.
“Son of a bitch! GODDAMN YOU!” He lunged at the clown with his weapon held high. He was knocked again to the ground when the clown backhanded him with the disembodied arm.
Nosey Bubbles reached down and picked the boy up by his throat. Its grip was like iron. A shrill of children’s laughter cut through the cold breeze. Timothy could feel his windpipe being crushed under the clown’s grip.
The clown dropped the arm to the ground and drew Timothy to its face. A foul stench of blood and bile wafted from the opened latex mouth. Nosey Bubbles leaned his head back and snapped it forward smashing Timothy’s nose. The world spun. Everything went back.
Timothy’s eyes snapped open. His bedroom door had been kicked in, and men in SWAT uniforms filed into his room. Their weapons were drawn and aimed right at him. Three of the uniformed men piled on him, knocked a hacksaw from his hand, flipped him over, and cuffed him.
They lifted him by the collar, and for the first time he could see he was wearing the Nosey Bubbles costume. The vinyl mask stared up at him from his pillow. The words “NOSEY BUBBLES WANTS TO PLAY!” had been scrawled across the walls in blood and black paint.
He collapsed in fit of hysterics at the bottom of the stairs when he saw his parents’ mutilated bodies. His father had been nailed to the family room wall. His eyes gouged out. His intestines hanging loose from the gash across his torso.
On the floor, just below where Timothy’s father had been nailed against the wall, his mother lay. Her body had been cut into pieces and neatly stacked like a pile of wood. Her dead eyes looked at him with a grin which had been stapled in place.
The SWAT team carried the hysterical boy out of the house and placed him into police car. Neighbors watched in horror as the boy in the clown suit was taken away.