They had a bit of a wait in the casualty department, but at last Luke was seen by a doctor who examined him thoroughly before coming to where Sarah Jane waited anxiously, comforted by Alan, Maria and Clyde.
“First of all, the doctor assured her. “There is no indication of ‘interference’. Your son has some cuts and bruises and a concussion which were most probably caused by a fall against trees. There were pieces of bark in his hair…”
“There are trees at the far end of the park,” Alan pointed out. “That makes sense.”
“I am concerned about his lack of memory of what happened before his fall. There seems to be some confusion. More than usual for such a relatively mild head trauma. For that reason, I would like him to stay here overnight for observation. I am arranging for a bed in the children’s department. You can go up with him and see him settled. But there is no need for you to stay. If there are no further developments, you can come and take him home in the morning.”
“Thank you,” Sarah Jane said gratefully. She went with the doctor to the curtained off cubicle where Luke was resting, tired and a little embarrassed by all the fuss surrounding him. He was wearing a hospital gown. Sarah Jane remembered that he was wearing the same thing when she found him in the Bubbleshock factory two years ago.
“I still can’t remember what happened,” he told her while they waited for the bed to be available. “All I remember is clowns. There was one before… I am sure there was. And a clown was there when I woke up in the dark… feeling so very cold.”
“I am getting fed up of clowns,” Sarah Jane said. “But I think that one did the right thing. When we said you were missing they went and searched the park. I’m glad of that, at least.”
A porter arrived with a wheelchair. With a concussion, Luke was not allowed to walk to the children’s ward by himself. He felt embarrassed again as he was wheeled along the corridors and up in a lift. Sarah Jane was just glad he was being looked after.
But when they reached the children’s ward, Luke was horrified.
Unlike the adult wards which were kept neat and tidy and the colours of the curtains and walls muted, the children’s ward was painted in bright, jolly colours to cheer the sick youngsters. And clowns were the theme. The walls, the curtains around the beds, even the pillow cases and bedcovers had clowns on them.
Luke screamed hysterically as he looked around and saw clown faces smiling maniacally at him. The porter backed out of the ward quickly before he woke the children in the beds. A nurse came running to find out what the problem was. Sarah Jane explained, feeling a little embarrassed about explaining that her fifteen year old son was terrified of clowns.
The nurse was practical about it. She told the porter to bring Luke into the small private room that they sometimes used when children needed special care. The décor there was teddy bears and rabbits in blue suits, but it was blissfully clown free. Luke calmed down and allowed Sarah Jane and the nurse to help him into bed.
“To tell the truth, I know how he feels,” said the nurse as she brought a jug of water and a glass and put it on his bedside. “I’m not keen on clowns, either. And my son, Clyde, he won’t go near them.”
“Clyde? Oh…” Sarah Jane looked at the nurse’s identification badge and realised she was HER Clyde’s mother. Strange that, after all this time, they had never met, even though they had talked on the telephone many times, arranging for Clyde to stay over or go on trips with Luke and Maria. She introduced herself quickly and reflected on the irony that Luke was going to be left in Nurse Langer’s care while Sarah Jane was going to be looking after Clyde overnight.
“You’ll be all right,” Sarah Jane told Luke, bending to kiss him on the forehead and then leaving the room. Nurse Langer tucked the bedclothes around him and left, too, turning down the lights so that only a soft, dim night light remained on. Luke sighed and closed his eyes and tried to go to sleep.
It must have been two hours later, not much more. Luke woke from his sleep feeling thirsty and reached out to get a drink of water from the jug. He saw something moving on his bedside table. Something that had no business moving at all and even less to be doing it on his bedside table.
He lifted the jug. It was plastic but full of water, so quite heavy. He brought it down hard. There was a cracking sound and a sort of squelch. He fumbled for the light switch by his bed, but accidentally pressed the buzzer that summoned the nurse instead. Nurse Langer came in, switching on the overhead light.
“Are you all right, dear?” she asked kindly. “Do you need anything?”
“No,” he answered. “I’m sorry. I accidentally pressed the wrong button. Could you… could you leave the light on. I don’t like being in the dark in a strange place. Don’t tell Clyde. He’ll think I’m silly. But I just…”
“That’s all right, dear,” she told him. She bent close and whispered conspiratorially. “Clyde is the same. But don’t tell him I told you.” Luke laughed. She tucked in the blankets around him and turned to leave. “Sleep well, lovey.”
He lay still and watched her leave the room, then he sat up and lifted the jug to look at the strange, smashed remains underneath.
It was an egg – or it used to be. Now it was bits of an egg. A very old egg judging by the smell. And in the flattened mess he could still see the clown’s face painted on the eggshell. It was the Auguste clown. The one with the red hair and the square shaped eyes and smiling mouth.
He shuddered and resisted the urge to scream again. He felt a bit silly about earlier, as it was. He pulled the pillow case off his pillow and used it to scoop up the mess, throwing the pillow case and the mess into the bin under the bedside cabinet. Then he drank a glass of water and laid his head down on the pillow, thinking. It had been half dark, of course. But he knew what he had seen. The egg with the clown face was moving along the top of the bedside cabinet. It didn’t have arms or legs or anything, but was hovering on its blunt end, coming towards him.
The egg had been trying to get him. Because he knew the secret. He had seen it.
Yes, he remembered now. He couldn’t before, but the shock of seeing the egg brought it back. He remembered what he had seen at the side of the big marquee. He had seen the Auguste clown with the big smiling face, actually crying as he packed away the eggs. He heard him taking to the eggs, telling them, that he couldn’t’ feed them yet, telling them that they couldn’t have a child. Children were too easily missed and it would bring trouble. He heard the clown pleading to be let go, to be released from the curse.
Luke shuddered as he remembered what happened next. He remembered the clown turning and seeing him. Then he heard a growl, like an animal, and the clown had shouted at him to run while he still could, because the eggs were hungry.
And he had run. He ran without thinking, deeper into the dark, unlit part of the park, instead of towards the lights of the car park, where Sarah Jane and Alan and the others were. He was cold and scared and he was sure something was following him. Then he tripped and hit his head against a tree. He remembered seeing a clown before it all went black. No, not a clown, but a clown face – one of the eggs. And he heard somebody calling out in panic, calling out to leave him alone. Then when he regained consciousness, cold and muddy, and in the dark, there was a clown there again. The Auguste clown was lifting him up, helping him to walk back to where everyone was. The clown told him he was lucky. The eggs hadn’t got a proper look at him… at least he thought they hadn’t.
Luke kept the light on and his eyes wide open, just in case.
Nurse Langer went to the laundry room with a clown bed cover that one of the young patients has been sick all over. That sort of thing often happened, of course. Then she opened the cupboard where the clean linen was kept.
She wasn’t somebody who screamed easily. But she couldn’t help it when a clown fell out of the cupboard. A full grown man in clown costume and make up, apparently unconscious or dead bumped against her as he collapsed onto the floor. She bent to check on him, pressing the panic button in her pocket before she felt his pulse. There was one, very faint. She lifted his eyelids to see if his pupils were dilated. As she did she noticed something very odd. The square shaped eyes and a wide smile weren’t make up. They seemed to be part of his real face. A tattoo, perhaps. But who was so mad about clowns they would have their face tattooed like that?
A security guard and porter both arrived to assist her and they put the clown on a trolley to take him to casualty. The police would be called to speak to him, though. After all, he was found in a children’s ward after midnight. That was highly suspicious to say the least.
Nurse Langer looked at the clown as he lay on the trolley. She was surprised to see that the tattoo seemed to be fading. She could see his real face underneath it now. He looked a very old man. Much older than she had thought.
Then he opened his eyes and gave a strangled gasp, clutching his chest. Nurse Langer sent the porter to summon a ‘crash team’. The elderly clown was having a heart attack. She began to massage his heart to try to keep him alive until help arrived. He might be a suspicious character, but it was her job to save his life if she could.
In his room, Luke heard the sounds of the emergency happening. But it was a hospital. These things happened. He lay quietly in his clown free room and waited for the morning when his mum would come for him.
To Be Continued...