“Clown!” she exclaimed with delight, pulling it out of the box and hugging it to her chest.
“Not that one, Bern,” her father said. At his wife’s look, he asked, “What? Clowns are creepy!”
“It’s just a toy, Edgar.”
“It’s still creepy. Here, Bern, there’s a baby, and a princess, and a--“
She walked away, still clutching the clown, oblivious to anything else that might have been in the box.
“Okay, then. Guess she likes the clown.”
The thing was sitting beside her when Edgar went to tuck her in.
“Let’s put this in the toy box, shall we?” He tried to take it away, but she cried.
“No, Daddy, no! My clown, mine!”
“It’ll be right here in the toy box--“
“MINE!” she shrieked like a banshee, her grip like tiny iron bars.
Edgar sighed. “All right. Fine. You can have the clown.” He bent down and kissed her on the forehead. “Good night, sweetie.”
He left the door open a crack, so he or Janice could hear her if she cried. Bernadette was usually a sound sleeper, but sometimes she would get up in the night to go to the bathroom (now that she was successfully potty-trained) or get a drink of water (with parental help). So neither of them thought anything of it when she came into their room a few hours later.
“Whuh?” He rolled over and saw her standing in the dim light from the doorway.
“The bad clown bit me.”
“Good,” he said, still half-asleep. “What?”
“Look.” She held out her hand, and he bent forward and looked.
There was a red mark between the base of her thumb and her wrist. It hadn’t broken the skin, but Edgar could clearly see the imprint of tiny teeth. Too tiny to be hers.
“Shit,” he said, under his breath, hoping she wouldn’t hear. “We’ve got rats.”
But the exterminator found not a trace of any rodent activity: no droppings, no holes, nothing.
“If it was here,” he said, “it’s gone now. I put some traps out just in case, but I don’t think you have a rat problem.”
“Well, something bit her!”
“Did she say it was a rat?”
“No, she said . . . she said it was the clown.”
“The clown.” The guy looked at him dubiously.
Edgar sighed. “What do I owe you?”
After the exterminator left, Edgar went to find Bernadette, who was sitting in front of the TV watching cartoons. The clown was sitting a short distance away.
“Bern,” he said, “tell me again how the clown bit you.”
“The clown. You said the clown--“ He glanced over. “What the hell? It moved!”
“He moved all over me! I went to push him off the bed, and he bit me!”
Edgar bent down and picked the clown up. For just a second, when he held it face-up in the light, its eyes glowed black. But that was impossible. Unless . . .
“I think Mr. Clown needs to stay in the toy box from now on,” he said, throwing it in and then setting a heavy book on top.
Then he went to make a phone call.
“The eyes were glowing black, Al! You know what that means!”
“Demon possession. Get that thing away from her.”
“It’s away. I think. Only our parents would send a possessed toy.”
“Maybe they didn’t send it. Maybe it . . . climbed inside the box before they sealed it up or something--hold on.” Alan covered the mouthpiece of the phone and spoke to someone in the background about ammunition. Then he was back. “I gotta go. You know what to do, right?”
“Holy water and the Pater Noster, right. Then burn the fucking thing. “
“Do it tonight. It wants her for a reason. Don’t let it get her.”
“I’ll tear it apart before I’ll let it get her. Take care, bro.”
He went back to the family room . . .
The book he’d placed on top of the toy box was on the floor. The toy box itself was open.
And the clown was crawling across the floor, on its elbows, like Alan’s platoon at Fort Benning.
Edgar wasted no time. He kept holy water in every room of the house; all he had to do was reach for the sprayer, unscrew the top, and douse the thing.
There was a tiny screech, and smoke rose from the fabric of the clown’s body. Bernadette looked away from the TV and saw the clown on fire, her eyes wide. But she never made a sound.
The clown skittered across the floor before Edgar could catch it, and dove into the open bathroom doorway. The door swung shut, and when Edgar tried the knob, it was locked.
Great. Just great. The little monster had locked him out, and God only knew what it was doing in there.
“Screw it,” he muttered. “We’ll just use the upstairs bathroom. Now where did I put the lighter fluid?”
Edgar was not at all surprised to find the clown in the middle of Bernadette’s bed when he brought her in to get ready for bed. Demons could get through locked doors, couldn’t they?
“Christo,” he hissed at it, and was relieved to see the thing writhe. “Your time is up, sucker!”
One thing was for sure: there was no way he was leaving Bern alone in this room with that thing. “Jan?” he called. “Can you get me my pajamas? I’m sleeping in here tonight.”
Janice stuck her head in the doorway. “What’s the matter? She having bad dreams?”
“Not if I can help it. And get me the lighter fluid, and some matches. And a fire extinguisher.”
She gaped at him. “What are you going to do?”
“Burn it, if I can catch it. Only way to send it back to Hell where it belongs.”
“See, Mommy?” Bernadette smiled up at her mother. “Clowns are evil.”
“Great, Ed. Now you’ve given her a fear of clowns.”
“No, just a healthy mistrust. Clowns are always up to no good.”
Janice sighed and went to get the requested items. She was used to Edgar hunting monsters, but usually he kept that stuff out of the house. She just hoped that their daughter wasn’t traumatized for life.
Pajamas were donned, teeth were brushed, covers were turned down. The clown was gone for now (Edgar looked under the bed, expecting it to leap out at him, but it was nowhere to be found), but he stood ready with the tools of his trade in case it made its move in the dead of night.
“Not my daughter, you bastard,” he whispered into the darkness. “You messed with the wrong family, Chuckles.”
Every little sound made him edgy. Was it under the bed? Crawling along the baseboard? Was it up on the ceiling like a spider, ready to drop on his head and--
“Stop it,” he told himself. “It’s just a demon. You’ve banished dozens. Well, four. Okay, so Alan mostly did the first one, but the last three, they were all you. You can do this. For her.”
And how could she sleep there so peacefully, with a demon clown on the rampage? (Briefly, Edgar thought that “Demon Clown on the Rampage” would make a kick-ass album title for some metal group, but he pushed the thought aside and focused on finding the thing.)
He got up and looked under the bed. No clown.
He tried the closet. Not in there, either.
Where the hell was it?
“You’re just postponing the inevitable,” he whispered. “I’ll find you, and I’ll destroy you. God, I wish I had night-vision goggles.”
He went around the room, looking behind the bureau, in the hamper, inside the toy box (that would be a first, for something in this room to actually be where it belonged; Bernadette definitely took after Daddy when it came to neatness, or lack thereof). It wasn’t anywhere.
Had it gone downstairs to lay a trap for him?
Maybe it wanted him to look downstairs, and when he had left her alone and unprotected, it would strike!
He could wait it out. All his tools around him, all the time in the world to . . .
Something was crawling up his leg.
He sat up, expecting to see the clown climbing him like a trellis, but it was only a spider. He brushed it aside and made another circuit of the room, looking in every place the clown could hide itself. Unless it was moving around the room, staying just ahead of him to throw him off, it wasn’t here.
Or was it?
“Come on out, you little freak,” he muttered. “In nomine Patrium--“
“Daddy, look out!”
The urgent cry came just in time. Edgar whirled around to see the clown launch itself off the top of the bureau straight at him. He pivoted, grabbed it, and doused it with the lighter fluid.
“Don’t move, Bern,” he warned her. “Just stay there.”
He said the Latin prayer while lighting the match, and dropping it on the reeking toy, which caught alight very easily. As it burned, he continued to pray, until it was no more than a charred husk, and then he grabbed the fire extinguisher and put it out before it set the whole room on fire.
Sweeping and burying the ashes would have to wait for the morning. He went to the bed and held his daughter. “It’s okay, baby. It’s gone now. I released it, and it won’t hurt you anymore. You okay?”
He pulled back and looked at her. Far from being terrified, she actually seemed . . . excited?
“That was awesome! Do it again!”
“Oh, no! Not tonight. Tonight you go to sleep, and we’ll get rid of this mess tomorrow before school. I’ll let you choose the spot.”
“It smells bad in here.”
Edgar opened the window to let out the smell of smoke, tracing a line of holy water just inside the window, to keep any other bad things out. One a night was enough.
“Good night, Bern.”
“You’re an awesome monster hunter, Daddy.”
“And don’t you forget it,” he said, tucking her in and kissing her.
One less demon in the world.
One little girl saved from a fate worse than death.
Sometimes the small things were the ones that meant the most.
He lay down beside her and went to sleep.