A woman sat upon a chair besides a flowing creak. She held a glass in one hand and flickered through a magazine with the other. She wore a loose smile as she listened to the splashes of water and the giggles from just around the creak corner. That was as far as she’d allowed her to go.
It was a peaceful day, summer light rained golden specks through the tree leaves as her daughters play went uninterrupted.
And then something stirred.
It was a buzzing at the back of her head, maybe in the air itself. Whatever it was the woman felt something was suddenly off. Nothing around her had changed, she thought, and then she saw it.
The thing she had dreaded. The thing her mind had forgotten, discarded like an unpleasant moment, and didn't believe possible despite her daughters existence.
Her glass cracked in her hand, spilling worms of red down her clenched fist. Just below the treeline, a short distance away, stood a tall, menacing figure. One she recognised instantly, her stomach lurching at its appearance.
“What do you...” she trailed off feeling suddenly breathless, uncertain as to what she wanted to ask.
The figures face looked severe under the dark canopy of the trees, standing like it was one with the shadows, a phantom figure not meant to touch the light.
It cocked its head at her, two familiar golden eyes as bright and glowing as moonlight.
“You know why I am here.”
The woman stood, terror lighting a fire inside her as her eyes darted to the stream.
It hissed and stepped closer. The words died in her throat.
“You will not interfere. You will not.”
Her heart beat painfully hard against her chest and every instinct told her to do something very stupid. But she couldn't. There was nothing she could do. This had always been inevitable.
It smiled then.
“This is a special day, a wonderful day.”
Abigail could see the little fish dart around the stream floor. She had managed to grab a few, watch them squirm and wriggle helplessly before she felt bad and dropped them back into the water. She entertained herself by climbing and jumping off the tree log which lay across the bank making a bridge.
She giggled as she hit the stream, trying to make the largest splash possible in the shallow waters. It felt nice and cool on her bare feet.
She spun and jumped facing the bank nearest her, and looked up following the thick tree roots that scaled up the side, up towards a large dark oak tree.
As her eyes followed the roots she saw a stretch of white and red. Her eyes trailed it further to find a long figure covered in silver. The clothes worn reflected the shimmering waters making the person look like they were wearing a sheet of metal. ‘Like the tin man from Oz’, Abigail thought. They were peering down at her. The face that watched her was startling and she shrieked, almost falling into the muddy stream.
She backed up to the opposite side and clung to the roots, her eyes locked onto the other and her mouth opening to shout for her mother.
The man's stare made her feel exposed, his eyes like shiny coins and his face held an intensity Abigail had never seen in an adults expression.
Red buttons littered his suit, and his ghoulish features and red nose made Abigail realise he was in fact, a circus clown. But one someone might dress as for at Halloween. An evil circus clown.
The strangers face morphed into something kinder, and Abigail gasped in amazement as she saw the twinkle of his eye die out like an extinguished fire, smoking into pools of deep blue. It was so incredible that it froze the scream in her throat as she debated whether she really witnessed it.
His ruby lips curved into a grin and the lines streaking his face crinkled, making his cheeks appear like a plump cherubs.
“I am someone who knows you. Do you not recognise me?”
“Then how about we play a game?”
Abigail watched the clown as he knelt down on giant legs, his hands drooping off his knees as his face remained grinning. He looked scary but he reminded her of a little kid almost. There was a niggling feeling inside her but she kept her watching him with nothing short of awe.
She relaxed her grip on the roots.
The clown lifted a beckoning finger towards her and before he even spoke she found herself approaching, unable to look away from his sparkling eyes.
“Yes. Come here and I will tell you.”
She stood at the midpoint, not daring to get any closer. She felt safe there, positive he wouldn't be able to reach her if he was a dangerous.
His eyes rested upon her for an inordinate amount of time before Abigail fidgeted in the still waters. He blinked and his expression lifted.
“Come closer,” He said.
Abigail shook her head wildly and remained stubbornly in her spot, her hands clenching into her dirty dungaree. The clown pouted, and it pulled his red lines down in over exaggeration. He tilted his head to one side as he appeared to ponder something.
“Alright then, child. We can play like this.”
“This game is one you know. It is truth and tales!” He smiled widely and Abigail noticed the front curved buckteeth that reminded her of a rabbit. Or a rat. She thought about what he said and frowned.
“No, it’s two truths and a tale. It has to be two,” Her eyes darted away to the bushes and back. She wondered if her mother could hear them. Surely she had.
“Of course, you are right,” She didn't like how his voice dipped but then he continued, “I will go first.”
“I live in the sewers. My name is Pennywise and I love, love love children.”
Abigail smiled incredulously. He was a very strange. The way he sat was like a goblin, and it made her truly believe he could live in the sewers. But it couldn't be right.
“You lied about the sewer.” She said with confidence.
Her brow furrowed and she squinted at him, watching his relaxed demeanour for some sign of deception.
“You can’t- how can you live in the sewers?”
“Easy. Easy peasy lemon squeezy,” Abigail giggled, “I sleep in my circus wagon and eat cotton candy. No one tells me what to do!”
“But its too dirty,” she shuffled a little closer, “And cold.”
“Not for me. But it does get lonely down there, even with the children singing to me.”
“Children?” Abigail knew the clown was lying but she couldn't help being curious about his odd story.
“Oh yes, they sing and float! And we eat popcorn! Balloons!” As he spoke the clown wound a hand behind himself and brought forth a bright red balloon.
Abigail stared in wonder at the balloon, surprised at how he’d manage to hide it until now. He must've been a very good circus clown. He was very good a tricks.
“No tricks,” Pennywise said and Abigail’s eyes widened. He grinned. “Magic.”
Her heart quickened as she thought about the implications. The clown had known what she was thinking. She was sure she hadn’t spoken aloud.
He must be special, magical even. There was something about this revelation that made her nervous. She looked down the stream in her mother’s direction, hearing nothing but the gentle trickle of water. Her mother was being awfully quiet.
She looked back at the clown.
His head was tilted to the side as he viewed her through narrowed eyelids, juxtaposed by his smiling mouth. His long arms struck into the ground besides him, as if he planned on leaning in close, or pouncing down.
“Do you want to see the circus, Abigail?”
She bit her bottom lip and stiffened. “M-my mummy won’t want that.”
“But do you?”
“I-I don’t know.”
The clown frowned. It wasn't over dramatic like before, and the genuineness made Abigail's stomach twist unpleasantly.
The silence between them was heavy and solemn and Abigail felt like a little kid who’d disappointed their parent. The stranger was quiet for a bit, scrutinising her while she kept her eyes on his large booted feet, unsure as to what to say now.
“Hm. What if...” His voice suddenly perked up making her lift her worried eyes, “I bring the circus to you?”
The red balloon still floated beside him in his long fingers. There was excitement in his eyes and the sharply curved grin he wore.
“Um- okay,” She said with caution. She was still aware of the fact this was a stranger, but didn't see the harm in him bringing her his circus, as long as she didn't have to go anywhere.
Without another word he lifted the balloon forward, outstretched to her like the most wonderful of presents. His blue eyes gleamed from behind the swaying string.
“Here then. Take it.”
Abigail didn't know why he wanted her to have the balloon, but in her bemusement her hand darted forward before she could think.
As her hand grazed the string she felt his soft glove touch her skin. And searing pain. She jolted back as if electrocuted.
She fell backwards into the stream, her hand clutched to her chest and throbbing. Abigail gasped and looked down her hand. It looked normal. Her heart continued to pound as she looked back to the clown with watery eyes.
He was climbing down towards her from the bank, taking only a few short strides on his long legs. The sight scared her and she whimpered and hunched in on herself, feeling the water seep further into her soaking clothes.
“Do not fear. Do not cry,” He was quick to reach her before leaning down. Abigail couldn't help but flinch back at the sight of his teeth peaking out between rosy lips each time he spoke. They were long, longer then a persons should be.
His arms crowded her in like a shepherd with his sheep. Abigail could smell the sweetness of candy on him and that helped her calm down. She trembled as he drew close, scared if he touched her she’d feel that sharp bolt of static. Like she’d rubbed her hand along carpet but a hundred times worse. Despite this, she did not scream or try to move away. She wasn't sure why.
She hadn't realised he touched her until her face was pressed against a satin silk chest and she was being lifted from the water. There was no pain this time.
Her head was under his chin and she could feel the soft exhales from his large frame, her hair slightly disturbed by his warm breath. The apprehension that she felt slowly began to dissipate the longer he held her. She felt his long fingers at her back and for some reason she began to fully relax.
There was a warm feeling in her chest. It was like when she thought about her mother or one of her aunties. It was a loving feeling. A safe feeling. It had awoken inside of her, as if it had always been there, only sleeping.
“Others may fear but not you. You have no need to.”
The clown carried her up the bank, where he sat down but continued to hold her. She didn't protest.
She sat in dazed silence while her brain tried to catch up with everything.
“Why did you hurt me?” She asked quietly, eyes hesitating to look up at the looming figure behind her. She wasn't sure what he had done but she knew he had done something, and that made her stomach twist sickly. Still she remained against him, limbs heavy and tired. Her head pounded with a raw ache.
“I did not mean to. I am sorry,” and in that word the strange looking man sounded sincere. “Will you come with me, Abigail. To the circus?”
Abigail's head spun with foreign feelings and it made her dizzy. As she rested her head against the stranger he rubbed a gloved hand down her back and she wanted to cry. She wanted to squeeze her arms around him so tight that she would go through him.
Something was calling to her, something burrowed beneath flesh and bone. Her chest burned.
It wasn't scalding like his initial touch, instead it felt like a pot of water simmering on a low heat. She was vaguely alarmed.
“The circus in the sewer?”
“Yes,” it answered, “my circus, my home.”
“Okay. M-my chest hurts. I need to-” And Abigail tried to think of what she did when she was in pain, of who she would tell, but she couldn't think of anyone. It frustrated and scared her, because a moment ago she was sure she’d have the answer but now it was gone, like a cloud of smoke.
“The pain will go, it is alright,” The creature purred. It was becoming clearer to her that he was not what he seemed. His hand stroked her head and the other held her close. She fidgeted but didn't try to move away. She felt loved, suffocatingly bright and glowing love. It was the only way she could describe it.
“Okay,” she said and held him back just as tightly.
Despite feeling a newfound sense of warmth, tears leaked from her eyes, a feeling of loss enveloping her that confused her.
There was space in her mind where there wasn't before. An open cavern of instincts and other feelings that seeped into the rest of her head until they felt right. Like a dam had broken to rejoin the rest of the river.
She looked back at the clown, which she suddenly understood as not a clown at all. His eyes were orange and true. The unnatural colour made her think of the sun, safe and warm, and like he'd revealed a secret to her that felt strangely familiar. The clown she realised was just a mask, and underneath it was something she trusted implicitly.
“You will take care of me?”
“Yes.” There was no hesitation in his tone, only promise.
The clown stood up. Abigail took a lingering glance at the area around them, dim now the sun was blotted out by streaks of cloud. She shut her eyes.
“You were not meant for this world, child. You were meant for mine. For far greater things then what they can give you.”
The stream remained quiet late into the evening, only disturbed by the buzz of flies attracted to the scent of blood on cut glass.