-By J.J. Cheesman
I heavily protested going to stay with my Aunt Rita for seven days while Mom and Dad went to Vegas. It was the summer, and as a thirteen-year-old girl I could think of a million better things to do out in the country where we lived, than being stuck in town in an apartment building with my boring Aunt. It didn’t help that I was home-schooled, so I didn’t have many friends in town.
“It’s only for the week Jamie, your father and I have been saving for a long time to have some time to ourselves. Besides, you never get to see your Aunt Rita.” Mom said over breakfast a few days before she was sending me away so she didn’t have to deal with me. I know that’s not really how she felt. My parents worked hard, they deserved their vacation, but teenagers tend to not think of anyone but themselves.
“It just isn’t fair. I don’t see why she can’t come stay here.”
“Your Aunt works in town, it’d be awfully inconvenient for her to drive back and forth all the way from here to there every day.” Mom said.
“Not to mention that Rita works third shift. You’d be out here all alone, and what if something happened?” At least in town, help would be just moments away.” My Dad chimed in.
I thought about reminding him that the criminals were moments away too, but I kept quiet.
When finally, the day came to ship me off at my Aunt’s, I was in extremely low spirits. I sulked the entire twenty-five-minute drive into town. My demeanor didn’t change when we walked up to the apartment complex and Aunt Rita was standing outside waving excitedly. She gushed about how big I’d gotten since she last seen me, and chatted with my parents a bit before they gave me hugs and kisses and left in the family car.
“My place isn’t as big as yours is,” Aunt Rita said as I followed her with my bag in tow to her second-story apartment, “But I hope you’re comfortable enough here.”
As she said, Rita’s apartment was small. The entrance opened up into the living-room, which was furnished with a leather couch and matching recliner. A pristine coffee table sat in front of the couch, and just a few feet away a wide screen T.V. hung on the far wall. There was a sliding-glass door with its curtain drawn on the west wall of the room that led out onto a small terrace, and to the right of the door sat a good-sized fish tank with a multitude of colorful fish inside.
Immediately to the right of the entrance, was an open kitchen and small dining area complete with a table and chairs, and beyond that was a door to Rita’s bedroom.
“If you don’t mind sleeping on the couch, it’s a pull-out, but if you’d like you can take my bedroom and I can sleep out here. It’s up to you.” Rita said.
I was unhappy with staying there, that’s for sure, but that didn’t change that my parents raised me to be respectful. Like it or not, I was Rita’s guest, and it would have been rude of me to take her bed.
“The couch is perfectly fine.” I said. I didn’t lie either. I wasn’t a spoiled kid, I didn’t mind sleeping on a pull-out. What I minded was being stuck in an apartment building.
“Alright dear, well I didn’t get much sleep and I have to leave here at twelve for work, so I’m going to get some rest. There’s snacks in the cabinets, have whatever you’d like from the fridge as well, I stocked up when I found out you’d be staying with me. I don’t watch much T.V. any more so I don’t really remember what all I have but feel free to watch it whenever, I sleep like a rock, it won’t bother me at all.”
With that, Rita smiled and made her way into the bedroom, and shut the door. I dropped my bag on the floor next to the couch and made my way over to the sliding glass door. I tried to slide it open, but it caught before it moved an inch and wouldn’t move any further. I looked down and saw that a piece of wood was wedged between the door and the frame that prevented anyone from outside getting the door open too far. I now know this is a common thing for most sliding glass doors, but it was new to me then. I removed the wood, opened the door, and stepped out onto the terrace. I looked down at the street below and watched cars pass lazily by. The township of Paris wasn’t a ‘happening’ town back then, and it still isn’t today. It’s a pretty quiet place as far as towns go.
I happened to glance to the right at two boys riding their bicycles a couple of blocks away, heading in the direction of the complex, when I saw her. She was standing at the end of one of the streets nearest the apartment building. Holding a blue balloon, wearing yellow polka dotted-clothes, she stood out like a sore thumb on the street. There was no mistake. by looking at her giant shoes and tie-dye wig, it was clear she was a clown. I hate clowns.
She stood there on the street corner, not moving an inch as cars passed by. The boys on the bikes were coming near her location, and I watched to see what would happen. When they got to her though, they just went around her, as if she wasn’t there. Minutes went by and she still stood like a statue on the sidewalk. It was such an odd scene. I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly she was doing there. Then it happened.
The clown’s head snapped around, turning and staring in the direction of the apartment complex. It was sudden and immediate. I was entranced, wondering what would happen next. I could hear the sounds of lawns being mowed and the pounding of hammers from workers somewhere nearby as I waited. My heart began to thud rapidly, as a realization slowly came over me like a tired wave washing over a shore. She wasn’t just staring in my direction, she was staring right at me.
I couldn’t see her clearly given the distance between us, but there was no doubt. She was looking right up at me. There was sudden movement, as the woman dressed in full clown attire began walking toward the complex. My face grew hot and I turned away. Making my way back inside quickly, I replaced the block of wood that kept the door from opening too far, and then hurried over to the couch. I scooped up the remote from the coffee table and turned on the T.V., simply trying to ignore what had happened. I was more than a little scared. After a moment or two passed I became a little brave, and I walked back to the sliding glass door to peek out down onto the street. The clown was nowhere to be found.
There was a sudden knocking at the door and I jumped. I spun around and began to call out, but I stopped. That wasn’t my home, I had no idea how often Aunt Rita received guests, so I decided to walk over and stare through the peep-hole first. It occurred to me as I was nearly to the door, the awful thought that I’m sure would have crossed any child’s mind after what I had seen. It’s the clown.
But that wasn’t possible.
You needed a key to get into the building. Unless the clown-lady was a tenant in the same building, there was no way she could have been knocking at that door. I was a rational kid, and I knew that my fears were silly and most likely, unfounded. The lady on the street was probably just planning on going in the direction of the complex anyway, seeing me was just a coincidence. Most likely, she was a performer that did children’s parties or something and one of her clients was on this street. I reached the door, and I put my eye against the keyhole. On the other side, staring back at me, was an empty hallway.
I breathed a sigh of relief and turned around, walking over to the couch, forgetting for a moment that someone must have knocked on the door. There was a shift of movement, and my head snapped toward the sliding glass door. Sudden chills crawled up and down my spine like spiders. There, tied to the railing of the terrace, was a blue balloon with a large red ‘M’ drawn on it. It bobbed and weaved in the breeze, an unassuming object of most children’s adoration, but the result of my own horrified and gaping expression.
I was terrified and I didn’t know what to do. If I called out and woke up Rita, I would have to explain the series of events that led to me being scared of a balloon. I JUST got there, and I hadn’t seen Rita in years. I was uncertain by how she would react. I didn’t call out.
Instead, I walked over to the glass and pulled the curtain closed, concealing my vision from that awful sight. I hurried away from the door quickly and I stepped into the dining area of the small apartment. My breathing was heavy and shallow as I tried to think of what to do. Being young in a scary situation can be a cruel prison. Sometimes simply being unsure of the consequences of your actions can cripple your resolve. I rested my hands on the dining table and I tried to calm myself, but my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the sliding glass door being opened.
I turned, shocked and fearful as the tell-tale sound of the wood sliding in its frame caused me to whimper. Then, I heard the door get caught on the block of wood I’d put back in its place on the inside of the frame. Relief washed over me.
There was no way anyone could get in through the small space provided by the sliding glass with the wooden block in the way.
“Oh Jamie, don’t you want to come out here a moment?”
The sickeningly silken female voice floated into the apartment from just feet away. The voice made me cringe and wince and I felt sick to my stomach the moment I heard it. It was the lady clown’s, of that, I had no doubt.
“I have a blue balloon for you Jamie, it’s my favorite color, I’m sure you’ll love it too. Just come here, and let me give it to you.”
To my horror, a white hand attached to a yellow polka-dotted sleeve reached in from behind the curtain. The image was a ghastly sight to behold, so surreal that I thought I surely had to be dreaming as the hand beckoned for me to come outside with its index finger.
“Please go away!” I sobbed.
“Oh Jamie, I know you’re scared, but it will only hurt at first, I promise.”
The white hand began to feel around the curtain for a moment and then, to my horror, it began to stretch. Stunned, I listened as the sound of bones being split filled my ears, and I watched as the hand stretched to an impossible length as it crawled to the other side of the glass, where the block of wood kept it from opening all the way.
“No!” I yelled, and ran toward the hand without thinking.
Suddenly, it jerked, and sprang towards me. It caught me off guard and I fell back in surprise, hitting my head against the dining table, and losing consciousness.
I awoke to my aunt Rita, shaking me fiercely and crying.
“Rita…?” I said
“Oh my god Jamie, are you alright!? What happened baby!?”
She was still shaking me. I pushed her away gently and got slowly to my feet, rubbing the back of my head. There was a bump, but luckily it wasn’t bleeding. It hurt like hell though.
“There was… a clown” The words just came. I didn’t know exactly what to tell her and my head was throbbing too hard to think of anything else.
“A clown? You said a she!? Are you sure!?” Rita asked, cutting me off and sounding hysterical.
“Err… yeah. She tried to get in through the…” I stopped as I saw the wide-open curtain and glass door of the terrace.
“Jesus Christ in heaven…” Aunt Rita said as she grabbed her phone and began dialing rapidly.
What happened next was a series of blurred events in my mind. When Rita finished talking on the phone in her bedroom and out of earshot, she came out and asked me if I was okay, and if I needed anything. I told her I was fine, and made no mention of my bumped head. She already seemed like she was in a panic, I didn’t want to give her a heart attack.
Moments later, two police officers showed up at the apartment. They asked me all kinds of questions about the clown I’d mentioned. What did she look like, what was she wearing, where did she go, all of the typical stuff. I hadn’t really expected to talk to the police, Rita remained silent with watery eyes as if she might burst out bawling at any moment, so It was even more of a surprise when my parents showed up not long after the police did. After the two officers left, my parents and I left Rita’s. My mother said thank you to my aunt before we headed out the door.
It was a relatively quiet car ride home aside from some snippy comments from my father.
“Your sister is bat-shit insane. Martha Flannigan…” Mom cut him off.
“Joseph! Watch your mouth!” she hissed.
“She got the Police involved for Christ’s sake. Jamie probably just got scared, and now our trip is shot in the ass!” Dad complained.
At that, Mom gave Dad a hard-stern look, and he kept quiet for the remainder of the ride as he drove. I didn’t fully understand what was going on. I was scared and confused, and just before we left Aunt Rita’s, I took a look back at the apartment and saw something that disturbed me so badly I didn’t say anything once we got home either.
At home, I didn’t speak, I just went straight to the bathroom. My period had started, which made the drive all the more uncomfortable. After putting in a tampon, I got changed into pajamas and went out into the living room where my mother and father were talking quietly. Dad seemed to be in a better mood than before as both of my parents offered warm smiles once I entered the room.
“Hey sweetie, I’m sorry I yelled in the car, are you feeling better?”
Tears welled in my eyes, and both of my parents rushed to my side, pulling me in a tight embrace.
“It’s okay sweetie,’ Dad said,
“We don’t have to talk about it ever again.”
It the morning, I found to my surprise that my tampon was dry, and the bleeding had stopped. Walking downstairs into the kitchen, I found my mom cooking breakfast and my dad was sitting down, reading something on his phone.
“Hey!” My dad said when I entered the kitchen.
“Feeling better baby?”
“Yeah.” I said, taking a seat at the table across from him at the table.
“I’m making blueberry pancakes!” Mom chimed in,
“And there’s juice in the fridge!”
I didn’t get up to get juice, and I didn’t feel hungry. The day before had been weird, and even though Dad said I didn’t have to talk about it, I needed to know what happened.
“Who’s Martha Flannigan?” I asked
Dad looked up from his phone, and Mom stopped what she was doing.
“You said her name in the car dad, who is she? Was she at the apartment?”
Mom and Dad looked at each other, exchanging hesitant glances.
“I can just look it up if you don’t tell me.” I said flatly.
Dad sighed heavily and Mom turned back to the stove.
“Martha Flannigan is dead. Your aunt just got a little spooked when you mentioned a woman dressed as a clown. She used to work in Paris and she lived just down the street from your Aunt. She just got spooked is all.” Dad said matter-of-factly.
There was a clown though, I thought. A clown with a blue balloon.
“’M’ for Martha” I whispered.
Dad had a quizzical expression on his face, but before he could as what I meant by that, I asked another question.
“How’d she die?”
Once again, hesitant nervous glances were exchanged by my parents, and it was my Mother’s turn to sigh.
“She died in prison dear, can we stop talking about this now?”
“Why was she in prison Mom? Why did Aunt Rita freak out?”
My dad interjected.
“She was locked up for molesting children.” Dad said solemnly.
“She was a filthy and disgusting woman, and I’m glad she’s gone, but she IS gone. There’s no way she can hurt you or anyone else baby. I think your Aunt is crazy, but I understand both her fear and your own.”
Dad looked at me right in the eyes.
“I promise Jamie, no one will ever hurt you.”
I nodded, and I excused myself from the table to go wash up in the bathroom, leaving my parents in the kitchen. Once the door was shut and locked behind me, I put my hands on the sink and cried. I cried there for a very long time, because my parents didn’t know the truth, but I did.
I knew that Martha Flannigan still, somehow, remained in that neighborhood. I knew that she hadn’t stopped the awful things she hadn’t been doing to kids. She hadn’t stopped, I knew that for sure, because I knew why I had been bleeding on that car ride home, and it wasn’t my period.
What haunts me isn’t the awful thing that Martha Flannigan did to me, however. It isn’t the terrible image of her ghostly hand crawling towards the other side of that door to allow herself inside. It was the image I saw as we drove away from Aunt Rita’s apartment complex. Every single apartment building had a small porch or terrace attached to it with a guard rail.
Tied to each one of those railings, was a blue balloon that bobbed and weaved in the breeze, like a macabre ocean of blue.