You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #43 of R.B. Wood’s “The Word Count” podcast.
The prompt for this podcast was to use these three words in the story: Cloak. Knife. Blood.
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I hate Halloween—with a passion. And every year it rolls around, even in this godforsaken hellhole, I am reminded of why I hate it.
“Ooooh…you’re the clown, you’re the crazy clown!”
I curl up tighter in my corner.
“Clowns! Clowns! The clowns are going to get you!”
And the taunts continue until someone yells for them to shut up. When my back hurts and my bum is sore from sitting on the cold, hard floor, I drag myself to bed and plug my ears with the corners of my thin blanket. There’s no use fighting it. The dream will come, as it has every year for the past ten years.
The teacher asked us to dress up for Halloween. There’d be a competition to see who had the best costume. Everyone in the class would get a vote to choose the winner—twenty-three votes, not counting my own. Miss Drage, our homely grade five teacher would also get a vote. I fretted. I didn’t want to do it, but I had no choice. I was already an outsider, and if I didn’t participate, it would only draw more attention to me. That was the only reason for doing it, as the prize of a basket of candies certainly didn’t entice me. I hated candy, which was another reason the kids in the class considered me strange.
I stressed the entire week leading up to the competition. I threw temper tantrums and snapped at my mom every time she asked me what was wrong. Finally, two days before I had to have a costume, she’d had enough.
“Young lady,” she said, “I’m tired of your sulky behavior. Tell me what’s wrong or I’m not buying you another book this month.”
“No!” I screamed. Books were my only refuge, and her threat was akin to death for me. It didn’t take much coaxing from her before I spilled the story of needing a costume.
“Damn it,” she said, “as if we don’t have better things to spend our money on.”
“I know, Mom.” I wiped tears from my face. “I know we can’t afford to buy a costume. I don’t know what to do.”
Somehow, Mom must have known this meant something to me, because aside from one Scholastic book a month, I never asked for much. Even as a kid, I understood her job as a factory piece-maker afforded us few luxuries.
That night, I went to bed with my tattered copy of Stephen King’s Carrie and reread parts of the book under the covers with a flashlight. “It’s okay to be different,” I whispered as I fell asleep. “It’s okay if I don’t have a costume.” I tried hard to convince myself that I didn’t care about some stupid competition.
“I’m making you a clown suit,” Mom said when I came home from school the next day. She held up flannel material that alternated red, green, blue, and yellow stripes, cut in the shape of a small body. “Come here and let me see if this fits before I sew the pieces together.”
“Oh Mom!” I rushed over and gave her a hug.
Mom wrapped the fabric around me, pinning key areas. “I’ll leave the legs a bit baggy,” she said, marking off the length of the sleeves with chalk. “How does that feel?”
“I love it!” I squealed.
Mom sewed late into the night, so I could bring the costume to school the next day. The intermittent chug-chug-chug of her Singer sewing machine, like an old steam engine, lulled me to sleep. I had a good feeling I was going to win the competition.
And I should have won.
My costume was the best, the most authentic, the one that looked like it cost at least fifteen dollars off the rack of a department store.
When all the kids stood in a circle awaiting Miss Drage’s count of the votes, my confidence quickly diminished. I received one vote, and that was the one I had put in for myself.
Lizzy Kemp won with fifteen votes—the popular girl, the one everyone liked because they were too afraid not to like her. She had a nothing costume cut from a black garbage bag, draped around her neck and secured with a clothespin. Some red food coloring streaked down the corners of her mouth. Countess Dracula, she called herself, flapping her plastic cloak when she won. She pranced around the circle with her winning basket of candies.
“I always knew you were a clown!” she said when she passed me, sticking out her tongue in my face. “Now we all know it’s true!” Some of the kids laughed. Miss Drage uttered a feeble “Now, now kids … be nice.”
Next to me stood Tim Sheppard. He tried to dress up as a pirate, but his costume consisted of a badly constructed eye-patch and rolled up pants. He didn’t have a sword, so he carried a knife—a steak knife. Lizzy made fun of him too, so I thought I’d do us both a favor. I grabbed his knife and stabbed Lizzy in the neck.
Her blood gushed dark and thick. That’s what I remember the most, how dark the blood was, so much darker than the fake blood on her face.
Thank you for reading. ♥
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