Luke was released from hospital in the morning. Alan drove Sarah Jane to collect him, because her car was still at the park. They were both surprised to see that Nurse Langer was still on duty, sitting with him in the day room when they arrived.
“Shouldn’t you have gone home by now?” Alan asked her. “You must be exhausted.”
“I finished half an hour ago,” she admitted. “But the bus only comes by once an hour and I thought I might as well keep Luke company until you got here. It was a long shift though, and no mistake. We’re short staffed because some people are down with the flu. Never mind, I’ll be getting on now. Goodbye, Luke. I hope to see you again in better circumstances.” She stood up and reached for her bag. Alan immediately offered her a lift home.
“We can drop you off, no problem. Clyde is perfectly all right with Maria and Luke, so you can get a good day’s sleep without worrying about him.”
“That is good of you,” she said, accepting the offer gratefully.
They passed the park on the way. The clown circus marquee was still up but everything looked quiet this early in the day. Sarah Jane’s car was still in the car park.
“I’ll have to pick that up later,” she said. “I wish I could leave it until the clowns have packed up their tent and left. I’ve really had enough of them. But I might get a ticket.”
Luke shuddered visibly at there mere mention of the clowns. Sarah Jane, sitting next to him in the car, put an arm around his shoulders.
“I’ve had enough of them, myself,” Nurse Langer said in the passenger seat. “We had a really strange night with them at the hospital.” And she related the story of the clown in the cupboard.
“He’s dead?” Sarah Jane asked.
“No. I asked this morning, and apparently he’s in a coma. The police want to talk to him when he wakes up. Creeping around the children’s department in the middle of the night? Highly suspicious behaviour.”
Alan and Sarah Jane agreed.
“What sort of clown was he?” Luke asked. “What sort of face?”
“Oh, don’t you worry about it, dear,” Nurse Langer told him. But Luke insisted. He seemed so anxious to know the details that she described the clown carefully – red hair, square eyes, smiling mouth – the Auguste Clown, of course. Sarah Jane felt him shudder again and talked brightly about a nice cup of tea when they got home. She wanted Luke to stop worrying about what was obviously a very sick and disturbed man who the police should deal with.
They dropped Nurse Langer off at her home and then headed back to Bannerman Road. Sarah Jane asked Alan if he would join them for a cup of tea, but he said he had an electrical contract he had to get to. Sarah Jane promised to have him and Maria around to dinner very soon to thank him for the help he had given her last night as well as this morning.
Sarah Jane and Luke went to their house. Neither were surprised when Maria and Clyde joined them. They had tea and sandwiches in the attic and listened as Luke told them about the clown egg that he had smashed in the middle of the night and Sarah Jane summed up for the other two the story Clyde’s mother had told them.
“Maybe the weird clown in the cupboard put the egg there,” Clyde suggested. “It’s a weird thing to do, but then so is hiding in a cupboard in the kids ward.”
“I don’t think so,” Luke answered. “I don’t feel as if anyone else came into the room. I know I can’t prove it, but it is how I feel. I was alone in the room until I saw the egg. Besides, it was moving, on it’s own.”
“You smashed the egg. And now the clown with the same face is in a coma,” Maria said. “Do you think…”
“That I put him in the coma?” Luke was distressed by the thought.
“No,” Maria answered. “Not exactly. But… the egg and the clown… it seems as if they’re connected… like… the egg has some of his soul or…”
“So I did put him in a coma…”
“No… yes… no… I mean… Well, if you did, it wasn’t your fault.” Maria assured him. “You didn’t do it deliberately. Sarah Jane… tell him. It’s not his fault.”
“Of course it isn’t,” Sarah Jane confirmed. “Luke, don’t think that for one minute. Something very strange happened last night, but the clown getting hurt… well, if he is connected to the egg, that isn’t your fault. He must have done something to get like that. You didn’t do it to him.”
Luke accepted his mother’s assurance, but he was still worried. The whole thing, from when he was looking at the eggs, to what the clown said, and running away into the woods, still made him shiver unhappily.
“Maybe the clown… I don’t know…” Clyde was clutching at straws. “Maybe he did something wrong, like a robbery or something. And he thought Luke knew something. Maybe he just wanted to shut him up. I don’t know what the eggs have to do with it but…”
Clyde wanted it to be something ordinary. A clown who had committed an ordinary crime. Clowns with supernatural connections to eggs that could creep into your room in the night were too much for him.
Sarah Jane went to the telephone and ordered a taxi.
“Where are you going, mum?” Luke asked.
“The park,” she answered. “To get my car and have a snoop. I want to know what’s going on over there.”
“I’m coming,” Luke told her. He was scared, but he remembered that this all started with them trying to get Maria and Clyde to face their fears. He had to face his.
Maria and Clyde certainly weren’t going to be left behind. Sarah Jane started to tell all three that they shouldn’t come, but then she remembered the times when she didn’t listen to The Doctor telling her to stay put. How could she expect them to do the same?
Besides, they were just going to look at some clowns, in broad daylight. It shouldn’t be dangerous.
She checked that her car was all right first, then Sarah Jane and the youngsters made their way to the marquee. The booking office and the popcorn stand were both closed and silent and the public entrance was blocked by the empty face painting stand, but they walked around until they reached the small marquee where the eggs were stored. The small fat Columbine was there, along with the Pierot and Harlequin, sitting around a small table. Beneath their made up faces their expressions were worried. Sarah Jane looked once and then hid as she listened to their conversation.
“He’s alive,” the Pierot said. “But he hasn’t regained consciousness. And even when he does, the police are waiting to question him.”
“He won’t wake up,” answered the Columbine sadly. “His egg was destroyed. He’s been released. It’s over for him.”
“I envy him,” said the Harlequin mournfully. “I really do. I wish…” He turned and looked at the stacked egg boxes. “I wish I had the courage.”
“It’s not courage I lack,” said the Pierot. “I might do it if I thought I would have peace. But my egg would never let me. It would make me do something terrible first. Maybe kill somebody else… It was his egg… that made Auguste go to the hospital. It wanted him to silence the kid. The egg…”
“What if we did each other’s eggs?” Harlequin suggested. “They couldn’t…”
“It’s no use,” Columbine sighed mournfully. “We’re doomed. We…” Then he stopped taking. He turned as Sarah Jane stood in the entrance to the tent, her shadow against the daylight falling upon him. “You… what did you hear?”
“I heard everything,” she answered. “All about your friend trying to kill my son.” She held up a small digital recorder. “Sarah Jane Smith, investigative reporter. And you… never gave me your name. Shall I keep recording? I’m not alone, by the way. I have back up. So don’t set your eggs on me or anything else.”
“My name used to be Joseph Briggs, of the Briggs Brothers.” Columbine pointed to a faded poster pasted to one of the egg boxes. It was very old fashioned, something designed long before modern colour printing techniques. It was like an old music hall programme, except advertising Briggs Circus. Top of the bill were the four Clown Brothers; Joseph, Carl, Lou and Ben – Columbine, Harlequin, Pierot and Auguste. There were no pictures on the poster, only text, but Sarah Jane hazarded a guess.
“Ben Briggs is the clown at the hospital?” She looked at the poster again. “That’s got to be 1910s, 1920s…”
“1932,” Harlequin said. “Our glory days. Before…”
“That’s nearly eighty years ago. And you’re telling me you’re the same people…”
“It was Columbine,” said Columbine. “No, not me. Louisa, her name was. Louisa Rowe. She was the pretty Columbine in the traditional story. I played the comic version as you saw yesterday. I loved Louisa. But… I didn’t love her enough. I did her wrong. She took her own life. But as she was dying, she cursed me, and my brothers. She was part Romany. Her curse was real and it was terrible. She cursed us with everlasting life… ageless life… life as clowns.” He rubbed at his face. “This isn’t make up. We found ourselves trapped as our clown characters. And the eggs… they held us… guarded us… forced us to do their bidding. To… feed them… with performances. They craved the limelight, the crowds, the cheers and laughter. But also… they’re carnivorous. They demanded to be fed. They demanded company. We employed other clowns, expanded… and they, too, were cursed along with us. A few fought back. The consequences for them were terrible. In the 1950s… I remember… Joey… A young clown… He loved performing. He made the children happy. But he couldn’t bear to be a prisoner of the curse. He tried to kill his egg. It made him stab his wife to death. He managed to turn the knife on himself afterwards. He got his release, but at such a cost. That was our warning. None of us dared after that.”
“I want to be free,” mourned the Pierot.
“But free… means… I mean the clown in hospital… he’s in a coma…”
“His mind will be gone,” said Columbine. “He’ll probably die. He was the youngest of us. Only seventeen when we were cursed. I was thirty five. Release for me… would be death. When the years catch up to me. But there is no hope for me. I cannot.”
“You can’t,” Sarah Jane said. “But I can. And Maria can. And so can K9…” She reached for her sonic screwdriver. Maria stepped beside her, the two of them blocking the tent entrance. K9 whirred into place between them. Maria raised her sonic screwdriver. K9’s laser probe extended. “I can do this with your leave… or without it. If you fight us… K9’s laser CAN kill. I’ve never asked him to, but he can.”
Columbine looked at her with eyes that were simply haunted. Pierot and Harlequin looked away. Both had huge tears running down their faces.
“I loved her. She thought I didn’t. But I did. Free me so my soul can join hers.”
Sarah Jane fired her sonic screwdriver in laser mode at one of the boxes of eggs. Maria aimed at another. K9 did the same. Eggs exploded all around the tent. The three sad clowns sat where they were. They did nothing to stop them, or to help.
The eggs fought back. Some of them did, anyway. Some, the bright, coloured ones done by children for fun, just smashed and made a horrible mess. But some of them were alive. They zoomed through the air as if they were small dirigible ships with terrible, distorted faces of clowns on them, angry faces, murderous faces.
“Take that!” yelled Clyde as he ran in and defended Maria from an egg attack, hitting it with a cricket bat. The egg was propelled across the tent and hit against one of the, as yet, undamaged boxes. It cracked audibly as it fell. Luke ran past them all and stamped on it until it was pulp.
The Columbine clown gave a cry and fell. His brothers lifted him up and laid him on the table. Sarah Jane paused in her destruction of the eggs to see the clown make up fade and the Human face beneath rapidly age. Joseph Briggs gave a relieved sigh and gasped the name of his one time lover, and died.
“The rest, please,” begged Harlequin with streams of tears running down his face, but none affecting his ‘make up’ because it wasn’t make up, of course. “Destroy them all. The younger ones… they will thank you for their lives. I thank you… for my brother’s death.”
“Smash every box,” Sarah Jane said, resuming the work. The sound of eggs falling and being stamped on to make sure they were dead, filled the air. The smell was disgusting. Some of the eggs were decades old. But Sarah Jane, Maria and K9 kept on zapping. Luke and Clyde kept on batting and stamping.
“Stop!” somebody cried. Sarah Jane turned to see a young man in a clown suit, with make up slowly fading from his face. “No, you can’t.”
“Yes, they can,” said another clown – this time it was the young Columbine from the performance yesterday, a pretty young woman beneath the make up that was now fading. “They’re freeing us. Col, let them be. Stand here and don’t let the others stop them.”
More clowns were running towards the tent. Some still had their ‘make up’ on. Others were fading. Some were rapidly aging, others only a little. At first they were afraid, or angry at the interference. But as they came to realise what the destruction of the eggs meant, they just stood still and watched and listened. Some of them hugged each other in relief. Some died in the arms of their friends. Some collapsed from shock or exhaustion.
Carl and Lou Briggs died, slumped over their older brother in the middle of the egg carnage. They both looked impossibly old. But they had faint smiles on their faces. They were free to die. They had what they had wanted for so long but hadn’t dared take for themselves.
All the eggs were destroyed, benign and malignant. Sarah Jane took a deep breath as she put away her sonic screwdriver and looked around. She turned to see the other clowns, the younger ones, the ones who had survived the curse.
“Thank you,” said the young Columbine. “Thank you for doing what we didn’t dare. We are free, now. We can… What shall we do?” She looked at the young man in the clown suit. He was a Harlequin, but with a different style of costume to the Briggs brother who had died. The traditional lover of Columbine. The two joined hands.
“We will cancel tonight’s performance, due to sudden death… deaths… We will arrange funerals… mourn our friends. Then we will move on and make a new clown circus, run willingly, for the joy of performing.”
“I have some friends,” Sarah Jane said. “I’ll contact them. They’ll organise a cover story. Something like carbon monoxide in a caravan, to explain those who died. They… do that. It will make things easier for you to make that new start.”
“Thank you,” said the young Harlequin. “Perhaps… when we perform again… you would come and see us?”
“Not on your life!” Clyde replied. “Clowns are creepy. And after what just happened here, nobody is EVER going to make me think otherwise.”
By his side, Maria and Luke agreed. So did Sarah Jane. K9 didn’t venture an opinion.
“Can we reward you in some other way?” the young Columbine asked. “The circus makes a lot of money. We could make a donation to a charity….”
“Tell you what,” Luke said. “Buy the children’s ward at the hospital some new curtains and bedcovers that DON’T have clowns on them.” Sarah Jane agreed. She put her arm around her son’s shoulders and K9 came to her heel as they all turned and walked away. She was glad her car was near by. She suggested another fast food lunch treat for everyone.
Anywhere but MacDonalds.
Next Week, a One Off Story, Nothing At The End of The Lane...