Growing up, I was always the weird kid.
While everyone else played with their Transformers, I was dismantling actual electric transformers. While other kids played games, I built my own computer from scratch – not that I was allowed to play games on it. My father, may he burn in the Hell he never believed in, was an eminently practical man. Nothing was permitted in his house that didn’t serve a practical purpose. We were by far the richest family in town (thanks to some computer patents from the Fifties that he licensed out to far more publicity-friendly men), yet none of our neighbours had any reason to suspect it. Why would a millionaire drive a beat-up old Ford? If you’d asked my father that, he’d have looked at you and said, “Because it works.” And it did – better than any other car in town, after he’d gone tinkering under the bonnet.
I don’t remember my mother.
Kids talk about three things – playing, sports, and other kids. I didn’t get to play, really – everything I did was designed to educate. While my father encouraged exercise, he didn’t see the point in displaying interest in the outcome of a game played by people he didn’t know, and so none of the big baseball or football teams the other kids talked about meant anything to me. And as for talking about other kids – I was generally the one they talked about, laughing behind my back and calling me “the weird kid”. Which was why the invitation to Debbie Ryan’s fourteenth birthday party came as something of a surprise.
Once I looked at the invitation, though, it became a bit clearer. Debbie’s parents were who most people would have said were the richest family in town. And, unlike my father, they made sure that everyone knew about their money. It was clear that her parents had decided to just invite all the kids in her school year, probably without even asking her. In fact, I was fairly sure they hadn’t, because if they had then I didn’t think she would ever have mentioned me.
I had expected my father to refuse to allow me to attend the party, but in fact he seemed quite pleased and insisted that I go. He muttered something about how he had feared my social growth was stunted, and even went so far as to get me new clothes for the event. He also presented me with (already wrapped) a gift for Debbie, although he didn’t bother to tell me what I was giving her.
Dropped off at the gates of the palatial Ryan family home (and doing my best to ignore the contemptuous glances my father’s old car drew), I made my way onto the grounds. Depositing my gift on a table set up for such a purpose, I looked around. A grotesque-looking man in white face paint with a curly red wig was busy traumatising smaller children with balloon animals. A buffet table to one side groaned under the weight of its bounty. Bland, safe parent-approved pop music blared out. Knots of children were scattered around, giggling and laughing. All of them I knew, which meant of course that they knew me, or rather, didn’t want to know me. My faint hope of there being someone as lost and alone as me at the party dashed, I filled a plate from the buffet and looked for somewhere to sit where I didn’t have to see the other kids having fun.
I found a small corner of the grounds, tucked behind a hedge, with a bench and a fountain. I sat down to eat my cold cocktail sausage and potato salad, but had barely started when I heard the crunch of gravel on the path leading up to it. I looked up, and saw Debbie.
“Hi, Isaac,” she said, seeming almost as bashful as me. “I saw you going off here and I knew I’d be able to talk to you –this is one of my favourite places.” She glanced around. “It’s just so…peaceful. My parents always want everything so noisy, so glitzy. Do you know, I don’t even know the names of half the kids here?”
“But you know my name?” I managed to say.
“Oh, everyone knows you,” she said. “The kid who never says a word in class, but aces every test? We all thought you were ignoring us, but then…” She glanced down at the book she held in her hand. “A first edition Silmarillion – how did you even know I loved those books? I don’t think even my parents know I love those books!” She was sitting very close to me on the bench now, her face inches from mine. She put her hand on mine and leaned towards me, her lips nearly touching mine. And that was when the screaming started.
We ran out of the hedge maze, just in time to see the tail of the family dog disappear into the clown’s maw. His eyes were now as red as his hair, and he appeared to have grown both claws and fangs. Kids were screaming and running everywhere, as he reached out with an arm grown impossibly long and snatched up a toddler from the lawn. “Who’s laughing now?” he shouted. “Who’s laughing now?” Debbie screamed beside me as the clown opened his mouth impossibly wide and made to shove the terrified child in. So that’s when I shot him.
The electrobolt gun had been one of my father’s projects for me. “You have to know how to defend yourself,” he’d insisted. “It’s a dangerous world out there, Isaac.” I’d resented it at the time, but seeing the creature convulse, dropping the child (who bounded up and ran away, fairly sensibly), I was grateful for it. The clown collapsed backwards. Smoke poured out of his mouth, forming the shape of a strange twisted brownie-like figure, before being torn apart by the wind.
That was pretty much it, after that. Men in dark suits descended on the scene, and quickly told everyone that the clown had been taking PCP, and that my quick-witted use of a taser had saved everyone. To some of the kids, I became a hero, while to others I was just “that weird kid who tased a clown”. Whatever nearly happened between me and Debbie, nothing ever came of it.
So that’s the story of how I first came to the bureau’s notice, and of how my first kiss was ruined by a clown possessed by the spirit of a Redcap. And that’s why I hate spirits. Now as to why I hate witches – well, that’s another story entirely.