“This is a great party, Betty,” Lou-Ann said, removing a colorful hat from her head.
“Thanks,” Betty said. “Mary wanted a special sixth birthday so I really tried to make it a blow out. I’d be happier if the stupid clown would get here.”
Lou-Ann looked around the enormous yard. There were bouncy houses, water sprinklers, ball pits, inflatable slides, piñatas, chocolate fountains, lawn darts, corn hole and other yard games, and more candy and food than the two dozen children could ever hope to eat.
“You have a clown too?” Lou-Ann was torn between envy and fear of her inability to match this spectacle when her own daughter’s birthday arrived.
“Yeah, if he ever gets here; he’s an hour late already.”
Motion drew Lou-Ann’s eye to the tree line. A figure stepped from the woods that bordered the property. It was tall and gangly. The figure’s hair was a halo of brilliant orange atop a pure white face. A yellow suit stretched from neck to feet and a bouquet of colorful balloons completed the image.
“I think your clown is here,” she said, pointing.
The clown stood staring for a moment and then began to walk toward the women. It moved slowly, rocking from side to side as if unused to bipedal locomotion. The clown made no effort to hurry to make up for his tardy arrival.
Several minutes passed while the women watched the clown approach at the speed of a somnambulist nonagenarian. The clown walked past the women without a word, without a single excuse for his tardiness, without so much as an apology and sat on a folding chair.
“Face painting,” the clown said. His voice was not happy, nor did it promise excitement. He issued the call with all the passion of a doctor announcing the discovery of a boil on a patient’s ass. Children, being children, raced to the clown with joy writ upon their faces.
The clown pulled a tin of face paint from somewhere on his person and drew a shape on the first child’s face. It appeared to be a tree or a branch. It lay at a angle with three lines pointing upward and two down. He drew an identical blue tree on the next child and the next. Soon the yard was full of two dozen children marked with the same blue tree design like some cult of hyperactive midgets.
The caterers appeared at the rear door of the house with an enormous three tier cake. The words Happy Birthday Mary were clearly visible even from across the yard.
“Oh thank God,” Betty said and began to sing Happy Birthday in a loud voice.
Soon every person in the yard was singing, except the clown. Lou-Ann would have thought that a clown would take this moment to shine, to sing and caper for the birthday girl, but this clown pulled some large leather book, possibly a hand made journal or ancient tome from his pocket and wandered to the side muttering.
The song was sung, the candles extinguished, and the children stuffed with cake.
“Party punch,” the clown called in his dead voice.
Two dozen icing smeared faces snapped toward the entertainer where he stood near the bouncy house. He had obtained a small folding table and a plethora of small cups. He waved an enormous pitcher filled with a brilliant green liquid over his head, beckoning the children to partake.
“Where did he get that?” Betty said.
The children raced to the clown, fueled by sugar and chocolate cake.
“Ia, ia,” the clown said. “Drink my children.”
The children snatched cups of green liquid from the clown’s hands and chugged the contents with abandon. As the children drank the clown was actually singing but Betty couldn’t understand the words. They were some guttural language and the only word she caught sounded like Toolu.
The last child drank the cup of green punch; the clown finished his song, abruptly turned and began shambling back toward the trees. Again he walked slowly, painfully, without grace. He spoke no words of farewell, nor even a demand for his pay; he simply marched silently back to the trees.
“That was strange,” Betty said as the clown departed.
The clown crossed the field as the sounds of the children’s merriment grew behind him. He entered the trees and the dark shadows of the forest covered him. He walked past the crumpled form of a naked man with a white painted face. A red slit across the man’s throat mirrored the painted smile on his rigor frozen face.
Beyond the trees the children’s laughter turned guttural and then turned feral as their skin changed to scales, their arms to tentacles and their smiling mouths to razor filled lamprey maws. The clown finally smiled as the screams of the adults began.