Every time Gilbert put on the make up the voice of his dead father reverberated through him. He could never do this when his father was alive but since he died two years ago in a car accident, Gilbert put the make up on almost every night and practiced his routines in front of his stuffed animals and his dead mother's doll collection. As he applied his make up he saw his first clown at the fair when he was four and wanted nothing more than to be a clown himself but it was something his father, a southern Baptist preacher would never allow. He crept into his parents room that Saturday morning after the fair and finding his mother's make up. He felt tremendous joy as he applied it to his face, trying his best to copy what he saw the day before at the fair with white powder, blue eye shadow in big circles around his eyes and red lipstick. Gilbert created the big exaggerated smile with his mother's lipstick and it made him look so happy. He created a new face that hid the misery of his young life behind a face that was all about joy and laughter.
“Make up is for whores!” his father yelled at him as a strong backhanded slap sent his four year old body sprawling. “Is that what you are boy? You a Jezebel whore? You gonna give yourself to every man that comes along with a dick and some money?” His father grabbed him by the throat as his mother watched meekly from the corner of the living room careful not to make eye contact with her husband. The corner of any room was the place his mother retreated whenever his father turned violent on her or the kids.
“Woman” the preacher roared at his wife, “get the bucket!” She jumped startled but quickly obeyed her husbands command grabbing the mop bucket from under the kitchen sink and emptying the ice trays into it while filling it with cold water. This was routine for her as she frequently had to do this with all four of her children. She grabbed a clean wash cloth from the bathroom and returned to her husband. She put the bucket down and got on her knees by the coffee table, her son Gilbert was already bent over the table tears smearing the make up he had taken from his mother. His father had the blood stained two by four he kept in the living room for disciplining his children in hand ready to swing. Gilbert's shorts and underwear were around his ankles as the four year old prepared for the beating he knew was coming. As the beating commenced his mother dabbed his face with the icy water to make sure he didn't pass out. Gilbert shrieked and watched the water in the bucket turn from clear to white and blue each time his mother rinsed it to reapply to his face. Gilbert learned to count by counting the swings of the two by four but at this age he couldn't count past ten so he would count to ten and start over again and again. His mother, who was in nursing school before she married, would tend to his wounds after as she did with all her children to avoid suspicious trips to the emergency room.
The memory made Gilbert pause in applying the white to his face but only for a moment. He reminded himself that he fixed his fathers car and he was free to hide his shame and pain behind the happy face of the clown. He did regret that his mother had to be in the car since he always saw her as the one who made things a little better after the beatings. Since his father died he did this for a live audience every August when the fair passed through Orange Park on it's way to Jacksonville. Soon he would have a real audience and not just the pretend one he practiced with. He had the list of the people he knew would be perfect for his private show memorized and the kids on the list were the perfect age. The adults could just look the right age but the three kids had to be the correct age or it would ruin the illusion. He felt like this would be the year, this would be the audience that truly loved him. He had watched for just the right people all year and memorized their habits. He watched them at church when his brother delivered the sermons that echoed the ones his father had given. He watched them shopping and he watched them at home. He knew if these people disappeared people would think they ran off Since the part of the county he lived in was rather small and the county sheriff's office rather lazy it gave him leeway. He knew Sarah would be accused of running from her abusive husband with her six year old daughter. He knew when William disappeared it would be blamed on the Thirteen year old's drug habit and other criminal activities. He knew when Jason and his eight year old son disappeared his ex-wife would accuse him of kidnapping their child and with his history of domestic violence no one would question it. As always Gilbert chose his audience well.
Gilbert was a small man standing at five foot four with a slight build and everything about his life was boring and small. At his job at the church he was unnoticed as he fixed the little things around the building. At his part time job cleaning up at the veterinary hospital he went unnoticed enough to steal small amounts of ketamine, an animal tranquilizer, each week. In public he was the small man his father had trained him to be with every beating. Only when he was alone could he remove the mask he wore by covering his face with the make up. He felt the clown face was the real him and when he was in the make up he felt free and confident. He craved the admiration he would never get without the make up and he desperately wanted to be loved by his audience. He applied the smile last as always and stared at the face in the mirror as the sun went down. As always he saw his four year old self looking back in wonder at him in the mirror. He put the finishing touches on his outfit, grabbed his stun gun and got into the church van. His white gloved hand placed the stun gun gently on the passenger seat with the large thick zip ties and duct tape. “Soon.” he thought to himself.
Last year had gone wrong like the year before but this year would be different, this year he had practiced every detail. This time he would entertain his audience and they would love him him for it. Before starting the van he checked the glove box and made sure he had the right amount of the drug that would knock out his audience for transport. The syringes were labeled with the names of his brothers, sister, mother and father so that each of his audience members would get the right dose based on his trial and error experiments. He drove the back roads of Clay county to the spot he would park the van knowing that Jason would stop at the gas station for beer and cigarettes on his way to take his son home from the fair. He saw Jason pull in and watched him and as he was getting ready to get back in the car and head out Gilbert quickly pulled around the bend stopped the van and a road flare behind the van that was blocking both lanes now. Jason had to break hard when he came around the bend and was pissed off as he got out of his truck to yell at Gilbert.
“What the fuck's wrong with you!” Jason yelled as he walked up to the van. He didn't see anyone in or around the van. Frustrated, Jason lit a cigarette and Gilbert took this opportunity to step out from behind the trees on the side of the road and close the distance. This was his most dangerous catch of the evening so he chooses to take him first. Jason took a drag and looked around and just before he felt the jolt of the stun gun he saw the white face with the bright blue paint around the eyes and the big red nose exaggerated red smile and bright blue curly synthetic hair. His body jerked as the electricity put him down on the ground. Gilbert had his syringe ready and before Jason could recover he was injected with the ketamine. Jason's son Kevin watched in horror as his father was attacked and subdued by the clown. Gilbert watched the boy from the corner of his eye waiting for his seat belt to come off knowing that if he ran he would have to chase him down quick. He put the large zip ties around Jason’s hands and feet and turned towards the car. Kevin started to undo his seat belt trying to decide if he should run on the road to the gas station or through the woods to the gas station. But as he got out of the car he felt the jolt of electricity and it was too late. They were zip tied, drugged and their mouths were covered with duct tape as Gilbert worked quickly getting Jason's car onto the tow rig Gilbert had hooked up to the back of the church van.
He towed the car to a cabin long since abandoned and moved the first two audience members into the old cabin. He kept their hands and feet bound and used two more zip ties each to keep them in the chairs that were welded to the floor. He lit the large sugar cookie scented candles he had set up all around the dilapidated cabin and left to go get the next members of his audience. He drove along the back roads going to the place he knew he could find Sarah and her daughter while Jason groggily tried to figure out what happened and where he was.
Gilbert parked in a vacant lot and waited for the man of the house to leave careful not to be seen. Gilbert didn't want anyone seeing what he thought of as his real face. After Sarah's husband drove by in his security guard uniform Gilbert got out and crept up to the private lot the small trailer was on. Gilbert had a fanny pack for his tools while he got to work making a balloon animal for the little girl. He had studied this family well and knew the little girl would get up soon to get her mom to leave a light on soon. Sure enough he saw the figure of the girl get out of bed and he used this opportunity to get her attention. It was a little like a warm up show where he did a little of his silly dance and presented the girl with the giraffe he made. Sally opened her window and asked “Are you from the fair?” With that Gilbert stunned her and dragged her onto the lawn where he administered her shot and carried her back to the van and bound her hands and feet.
Gilbert went back to the trailer and made a bit of noise by the girls window. He went to the back door and waited for the girl’s mother to come out looking for her daughter. He knew she wouldn't call the police right away since the first instinct of anyone is to go look for themselves. More importantly he knew her husband was a violent man and she would not want him to know her daughter went out at night. He heard Sarah call out to her daughter through her bedroom window into the empty and slightly overgrown back yard. He knew it wouldn't be long now. Gilbert thought she would be searching inside the house first starting with the bathroom. He was fairly sure she would exit the back but even if she didn't it wouldn't be hard to surprise her from where he was. The thing Gilbert liked about the location was that neighbors were fairly far apart in this part of the county.
“Sally!” she called out as she opened the door stepping down the steps and just as she noticed the garishly dressed clown she felt the jolt from the stun gun and fell to the ground. Gilbert saw her struggling as he descended on her with the needle at the ready. He bound her and dragged her to the van, putting her in carefully so that she could see her daughter. He wasn't sure but he thought she saw her daughter before she passed out. He saw the fresh bruise on her face and knew her husband would believe she left town but to sell it he went into the house and packed a few things. Back in the van he slipped off his shoes and drove back to the cabin taking care to put his oversized shoes on and drag the next two audience members inside. He was arranging the audience like a family portrait with Sarah in his mother's spot and Jason on the opposite end in his fathers spot. The girl would be next to his father as his sister had always been. He never really understood why his father was so close to his sister but he remembered his father was next to her in every family picture. Gilbert or his brother would be next to his mother in most of them and his oldest brother was always in the middle with him. He got Sarah and Sally in their place and secured them before checking the bonds of the other two. It seemed Jason had been in and out of consciousness and his wrists were a bit raw.
He drove out to get the last piece of his puzzle. William was an easy target as he was very regular in his routine and he knew just where to wait and what to watch for. He took the less traveled roads to avoid any traffic and he kept the van at or just above the speed limit. Gilbert knew that the cops would be suspicious if he drove too slowly but the local cops were all about tickets and drunk drivers. The last two years the Sheriff's office had done the bare minimum in investigating the people that go missing. Even when they had a real murder the local cops were too lazy to solve it unless it was easy. The incentives were drugs and tickets and anything else didn't help the sheriff's office make money. Next year that might change but he would deal with that when the time came, tonight was all about making a perfect memory.
Gilbert knew William was in his room waiting for his parents to go to bed. He was often grounded but Gilbert knew that wasn't going to stop the kid from seeing his friends and getting a good fix of meth. He watched William make sure it was clear before crawling out of his one story cinder block home and make his way quietly to his bike. He watched the youth unlock his bike and stand up to hop on to head out. Gilbert took pulled the trigger on the stun gun and watched as the kid twitched from the electricity. He saw William look up at him and start to struggle to his feet but another jolt put him back down. He didn't like having to do that twice but the kid was young and his heart could take it. Gilbert was on him and watched the needle hit his neck. William had done enough ketamine to know what he was feeling and though groggy he was not unconscious. Gilbert bound him up and put the tape over his mouth before dragging him to the van. William saw the church van he was thrown into and recognized it as belonging to the church his parents made him go to. He even wondered if maybe his parents were trying some sort of fucked up exorcism on him. He had heard of a church in Jacksonville that had gotten away with killing an autistic kid during an exorcism because the freaks believed that the autism demon had killed him. Gilbert took his time driving back to the cabin despite his eagerness at having his last audience member ready to go. It was well after midnight when he arrived.
Gilbert grabbed William out of the back of the van but he was met with a strong kick that knocked him down. In a panic Gilbert tried to clean all the dirt off his blue and red vertically striped clown suit. After a few minutes he composed himself adjusting the big white fuzzy buttons down the front of his suit the big yellow fake daisy on the clown shirt pocket and finally he adjusted the big red fake nose on his face, which let out a comical squeak. He clapped his hands to get the dirt off his white gloves but they were stained, as was the back of his suit. He looked down at his gloved hands and the dirt that had tainted them and knew the same dirt was on his back. He grabbed the stun gun and shot William full of electricity. Gilbert felt rage and he held the trigger much longer than he should have. He put the stun gun away and dragged William out of the van letting the teens head hit the ground hard. He dragged him by his feet into the cabin and sat him in the middle chair and zip tied him into place. He saw Jason struggling and hit him hard across the face with a backhand. He grabbed Jason's face and yelled at him “You will watch my show this time dad!” He didn't see Jason in the chair he saw his father. He double checked the zip ties and let the kids blow their noses before he left for home.
Gilbert drove home to change his clown suit and gloves leaving his audience alone longer than he had wanted to. The trouble with William had brought back memories of his brother. His brother Dan had sometimes been tasked with disciplining the younger kids in the family and even today Dan would sometimes smack him or his sister. His other brother had skipped joined the Navy and never returned or even wrote to the family once he was eighteen. His sister was still in town but left the church when she left the house. He hated his brother as much as he hated his father but Gilbert took comfort in knowing that next year he would have his revenge. He would destroy Dan completely in a way he would never see coming. “Focus on the task at hand Gilbert.” he thought to himself. He got home and carefully changed his gloves and suit. The other suit was identical to the one he wore aside from the buttons being green. It was the first clown suit he had bought but later when he saw the same suit with white buttons he had to have it. He felt the change in suit had ruined the perfection of the show that hadn't even started yet. Gilbert took comfort in knowing that next year would be the perfect audience. Next year he would create the perfect childhood memory. He still hoped he would create a good one tonight that would rank high on the previous two years.
Gilbert arrived back at the cabin after one in the morning and headed inside. He saw the adults had been struggling and that Jason’s wrists were bleeding pretty badly. He figured he had tried to get free with all his strength so once again to Gilbert's annoyance his show was delayed. He went to the van and got out the first aid kit bandaged up Jason's wrists enough to slow the blood loss and hopefully keep him awake for the show. Sarah's wrists were raw but she had been much more careful. William was bleeding from the back of his head from the wound he got when he was dragged out of the van but Gilbert was still angry with him so he just poured rubbing alcohol on the wound. The pain was not on the forefront of William's mind though and Gilbert knew it. Gilbert grabbed some tissue for the kids since they were having trouble breathing. He noted that Sarah was a little more calm than he expected so he double checked her bonds and just to be safe did the same with the others. He once again frowned through his happy clown face at the blood seeping through the bandages. “He must have tried to pry up the chair to cause that much damage.” Gilbert thought to himself.
“It's time.” he thought to himself. He went to each of his audience members and collected a few strands of hair from each of them and collected a bit of blood from each as well. He placed the samples in a small case and went into the other room to take a last look at his outfit. He prepared the balloons and his juggling pins. He got his bucket of water and his bucket of confetti ready for his show and made sure his flower would squirt water just right. Jason had passed out so he slapped him awake. “The show is about to start daddy you don't want to miss it.” Gilbert took the red lipstick out and went to work putting smiles on the gray duct tape that covered the mouths of his audience. He set up his boombox that played the iconic carnival music he would perform to.
Gilbert started his show and he was transported to a time that never existed. He was four years old again and his family sat on the living room couch with smiles of approval that he had craved his whole life. His audience was transformed into his mother and father with his brothers and sister in between them. He did his silly dance for them and in his mind they laughed and cheered for him and told them how wonderful he was. His family loved him in this fantasy world he recreated every year. He grabbed his knees and bobbed them together with his hands seamlessly switching knees every time they made contact. He moonwalked in his big red clown shoes. He did prat falls on the meticulously cleaned carpet and popped up putting his hands out in front of him with his clean white palms facing his audience.
Next he got his balloons ready and listened as in his mind his father asked for a horse that he quickly made in the color red. His little sister wanted a puppy so he made that for her in yellow and his brother wanted a Pegasus, which required all his skill to make with two balloons. He made an orange horse for his oldest brother who always copied their father and for his mother a pink giraffe. He then made a show of letting each member of the audience starting with his mother smell his flower which culminated in the flower squirting his father which made them all laugh and tell him what a good little boy he was. For the next part of his routine he brought out the juggling pins and started juggling to the delight of his audience and for an encore he brought out a unicycle and juggled the pins as he rode back and forth in front of them in the relatively small space. It took years of practice to be able to do this and now it paid off as he won the admiration of his family. He went and grabbed the bucket and showed it to each person so they could see it was full of water and then made like he would throw it at his father only to psych him out getting a great belly laugh from his normally stoic father. Gilbert went to put the bucket away disappearing for just a moment long enough to switch buckets and come back and throw the confetti all over his father.
His family cheered as he bowed and he went to grab his red hanky from his shirt pocket but it reveled another then another different colored hanky tied to each one and revealing the next in what seemed like it would never end. Gilbert saw his smiling and laughing family and took bow after bow as he side stepped his way to the next room. In a moment he came out riding a tiny tricycle as he waved his goodbyes to his audience as the cheered and laughed begging him for more of his antics. He rode around them twice before he went back into the other room. He looked at himself in the mirror feeling proud and as happy as he had ever felt. His family loved him, they really loved him and everyone was happy for a change. The darkness in his life had been lifted away for a moment. He fought back tears of joy not wanting to ruin his face just yet. He basked in the afterglow of his performance and saw the little four year old Gilbert in the mirror. Finally the four year old Gilbert reached out of the mirror, touched his arm and said “It's time to put away our toys now.”
Gilbert snapped back to reality but he felt good. He sighed as he took his suit off so he could do the work he needed to do. He placed it carefully in a garment bag and got into his drab coveralls. He left the nose hair and make up on so he could make his joy last as long as possible. He felt he had created another great memory that would last another year as he grabbed his father’s strait razor and came out into the other room. The razor was hidden from view to reduce the panic level. Sarah wondered if the deranged clown was going to let them go or at least she hoped that was what was coming. Gilbert went behind them Sarah trying to keep sight of him as he opened the strait razor behind Jason. Jason was near unconsciousness as he had already lost a lot of blood from the wounds on his wrist so he never saw the razor coming. He barely felt the razor cut into his neck and spill his blood across the room. The others saw enough to go into a full panic and Sarah tried to use her adrenalin enhanced strength to break free of her bonds but Gilbert went to her next knowing her desire to save her daughter would make her dangerous. She saw the blood coated blade as it passed in front of her face heading for her neck and she felt it cut into her soft throat. The life drained from her quickly and the last thing she saw was the clown slicing into William’s neck. He dispatched the younger children with a bit of hesitation but he knew it had to be done.
He cut the lifeless bodies free of the chairs and then went to clean his father’s razor making sure some blood was left in the handle as he closed it. He dragged Jason out the back door of the cabin leaving a trail of blood all the way to the rickety back porch. In the back were five graves he had dug the week before and he placed Jason in the first grave and then went back to grab the young boy careful not to stain his outfit. Once each body was in it's assigned grave he went back into the house and back to the mirror. He looked at the things he had collected from all their pockets and put a few things in a small bag and then pocketed the meth William had on him figuring it would be good for a go with a prostitute later in the week. He did a little clean up just to make things easier when he came back and left the graves uncovered. He had made sure he had that Saturday off though looking at his watch he realized that since it was three in the morning it already was Saturday. He decided to come back in the afternoon with his own car.
He spent Saturday cleaning the cabin and covering the bodies with dirt and rearranging the extra dirt so it didn't look like anything was buried. He buried Williams bike with him and figured it would take a few days or maybe a week to dismantle enough of Jason's car to make it look like it was an abandoned wreck. Gilbert would spread the parts around random dumpsters but a few parts he would leave in his brother’s garage. There were enough old wrecks scattered around the outskirts of the woods that he was confident no one would think much of it. The clean up took up most of his Saturday but he was able to finish and get home to shower and wash his coveralls. He would wait a few months to have his clown suits dry-cleaned since it would be less noticeable around Halloween. He hated that his practices would have to be in the suit with the Green buttons until then but he knew he needed to be patient. The clean up was his least favorite part of his annual routine.
Sunday he did his job around the church and during the service he went next door to his brother's house that had belonged to their father. He went out to the garage and got out a small case and spilled out the sample of each of his victim’s blood as he did every year behind the workbench where he knew it would be missed. He then put the strands of hair in the same place. He took out the bag of things belonging to some of the victims and opened the secret compartment in the wall he had added and placed the new items with the old. He didn't have anything from the kids but he had Jason's watch and Sarah's wedding and engagement rings. The garage floor was already covered in blood from the deer his brother had killed that Friday evening when he had gone hunting with his buddy who worked for the Clay county sheriff’s office. Next year he knew Dan would be hunting alone since his buddy would have a mild case of food poisoning. It would make his buddy easier to capture. He walked into the house and looked at the pictures of his five year old niece and his seven year old nephew and smiled. “Next year will be perfect. Absolutely perfect.”
Next year would be his masterpiece and it comes with revenge on his brother. As much as he would like to have Dan play the part of his father he knew he would get caught if he did but his best friend would only make it easier to frame Dan. Besides Dan was only part of the picture, once the killings were associated with his families church everything his father built would be dead. He would do one last show for a live audience, he would create the best childhood memory yet for himself and his brother would go down for it. Even if his brother beat the rap he would lose his family and his fathers church. Who wants to go to a church where the pastor has been accused of mass murder? Yes next year will be perfection but he did worry that he wouldn't be able to stop after his brother went down but then he could always find another cabin and start again. He did hope he would be able to attend his brother’s execution.