The Jack-in-the-Box

by Walter Kwiatkowski

part 1


The colour of the office walls were his wife’s idea. Baby blue is relaxing, his wife had told him. Comforting. It would make his clients trust him and feel more inclined to open up to him. At first, he thought the idea was stupid but, as he noticed that his clients were indeed more comfortable, he took a liking to the colour.

Maybe he thought I would, too.

A red extinguisher stood guard on the wall next to the office door. A fire axe, hemmed in by a sheet of glass, graced the wall on the other side.

“And my father died when I was a boy.”

After a long pause, the doctor spoke. “Okay, let’s get back to you.. You say your troubles started with a jack-in-the-box?”

I nodded. “A little red box with gold trimming.”

“When you opened this thing, a head would spring up. A clown’s head?

“Yes.”

“And this head, it looked like a clown?

“It was a clown’s head. It had a long white face, red hair, blue lips, red paint around the mouth and eyes, a red nose, and a green and yellow hat.”

“Anything else, Mr. Loggins?”

“Yes, teeth. A lot of teeth. Sharp teeth. And when it popped out of the box, it opened its mouth and tried to bite you...”

He looked at me from behind thin rimmed silver glasses that were balanced on the bridge of his nose. “That’s your story, then?”

I stood. “It’s not a story. I didn’t make it up. Something killed those people in the park.”

The doctor smiled. “Precisely, and that’s what we have to find out.”

I sat down again. “You think I killed those teenagers. You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said, have you?”

The doctor examined him carefully. “It may sound ridiculous, Mr. Loggins, but many people have a morbid fear of clowns.”

“I don’t have a morbid fear of clowns. I don’t have a morbid fear of anything! I was a forest ranger and—”

The doctor sat back. “Very well, Mr. Loggins, why don’t you tell me your story?”

I sighed. ”I was the head forest Ranger at Gold Nugget Park. Do you know where that is?”

“Can’t say I do.”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s a small park. Normally, I have a small patrol of Rangers with me. That’s what we called them. Patrol. And, usually in summer, we have several patrols. I was on the late patrol with Cliff and Charlie. Charlie’s the oldest Ranger in the park. He’d been with us, oh, since about 1965. Anyway, Charlie got this call from one of the new college kids we hired on for the summer, saying some teens had disappeared.”

“Disappeared?”

“Yeah. We got that kind of call all the time, especially if there was drinking involved. So we handled it in the usual way.”

“Which was?”

The lights from the ceiling highlighted the colour of the wall. “We searched the park. Nine out of ten times a boy and girl will leave the group to find a private bush, and they can’t find their way back. So we weren’t surprised.”

He sat back in his leather chair, tapping a pencil against his cheek. “Continue.”

“Well, Cliff and I decided to look into it. That’s when Charlie told us the story.”

“Story?”

“About what happened thirty years ago.”

“Which was?”

“Well, as I said, Charlie was the oldest ranger there. Thirty years ago the county decided to open a carnival in the park during the summer. It turned out to be a great idea. There was a Ferris wheel, roller-coaster, and a salt-and-pepper shaker. The teenagers loved the House of Horrors and the kids loved Bubbles the Clown.

“To save costs, the county had the park rangers double as carnival workers. It meant more hours and extra money. Charlie worked the House of Horrors. He said it was a hoot. He got his jollies scaring people.

“Anyway, as the story goes, one Friday night, some teenagers started in on Bubbles the Clown. Like I said, Bubbles was a hit with the kids, but teens hated him. Sort of like Barney years ago.”

“Barney?”

“Big purple singing dinosaur on a kids’ TV show.”

“Okay.”

“On this Friday night, a group of teens started throwing sticks and rocks and cans at him, and they pushed him around. To get away from them, Bubbles hid in an old work shed on site. It was an old wooden building that could be locked either from the inside or the outside; you know, with one of those wooden bars that you could bring down and slide across. So these teenagers, once they had Bubbles inside, shut the door and slid the bar across.”

The doctor was eying me intently. He nodded. “Yes, go on.”

“Well, all would have been okay if they had left then. But they didn’t. They started throwing things through the windows, which were high off the ground. Stones, cans, whatever.”

“Was there no security?”

I shrugged. “I suppose, but where they were, I don’t know. Charlie didn’t tell me.”

“I’m sorry. Continue.”

“Well, as Charlie tells the story, the work shed was used for storage, especially for hay and straw for the animals during the show. Now, one of the asshole teens decided it would be fun to throw his cigarette into the storage room. Real smart idea. He tossed it through one of the windows they had broken.

“No one really knows what happened next.. The investigators assumed the cigarette landed on a bale of dry straw, which was stacked to the top, and quickly spread. Everything in there was combustible.

“What the stupid teens didn’t know was that there was only one door, and they’d locked it from the outside, and all the windows were too high to reach. The shed was aflame in seconds. By the time the fire department got there, nothing was left except a blackened frame.”

He sat up. “Surely people must have heard screaming?”

I shook my head. “Music was playing, barkers were calling, the people enjoying the carnival were screaming. It was Charlie who noticed the fire and called in the fire department.”

“Did the police catch the teens that set the fire?”

“No. There were no witnesses.”

The doctor sat back and folded his fingers together against his bearded chin. “An interesting story, Mr. Loggins, but what does this have to do with you?”

I sighed. “The story’s not finished.”

He nodded. “Do go on.”

“When I said there was nothing left, I wasn’t exactly accurate. Though the entire inside of the shell burnt away, most of the outside was intact. Charred, but still standing. According to Charlie, he had to clean up the mess all by himself. Took him a week.

But they rebuilt the shed — with a different locking system of course — on exactly the same spot. Attendance, naturally, dropped, so they closed the carnival for the rest of the summer. It opened the next year with the whole incident mostly forgotten.”

“Were the teens ever caught?”

“By the police, no.”

The doctor looked at me, eyebrows raised. “What do you mean?”

“Well, Charlie, who was now in charge of security at the carnival, said the box appeared a week after the building was rebuilt.”

“Box?”

“The jack-in-the box. One day Charlie went into the shed to get his flashlight. He saw the box sitting on a crate. A small red box with a yellow crank handle on the side. He didn’t know what it was at first. Not until he turned the crank and some carnival music spilled out of it.

“When the music finished, out popped the head. A clown’s head, attached to a spring. But it wasn’t just a head, it looked like Bubbles. It had red hair, his trademark green and yellow hat, and blue lips. But it also had something else. Teeth. Sharp teeth.

“And a harsh, throaty laugh. According to Charlie, its eyeballs rolled around in their sockets and then stopped, focusing on him. That’s when Charlie ran out of the shed.”

The doctor was smiling. “And this jack-in-the-box was the same one you said you saw?”

I nodded. “Then, as Charlie told me, that’s when the killings started.”

Now, the doctor leaned over in interest. “Yes?”

“Over the next two weeks, five teens were murdered. All of them with an axe that was identified as the one that was kept in the storage room. At first, the police suspected Charlie when they found that the axe was from the original storage room. But they had no evidence to tie Charlie to the murders.”

The doctor looked at me. “And these teens, they were the ones responsible for the death of Bubbles?”

I nodded. “According to Charlie, one of the teens, a girl named Charlene, after her four friends had been butchered, she confessed they had been there that night, that they locked Bubbles in the shed, and some guy named Dickie threw the cigarette into the shed. But she died later that night when she was out walking the family dog. And, according to Charlie, the killings stopped after the box was closed. Someone then threw it into the ocean.”

“Interesting,” the doctor said. He leaned back in his chair again and looked at me. Then he began to write something in his book. “Let’s get back to the present, shall we, Mr.Loggins?”

I took a deep breath. “Where were we?”

“I believe you and another ranger searched the park.”

“Cliff and I searched the park.”

“Charlie didn’t accompany you?”

I shook my head.

“Why? Didn’t he have suspicions? Surely, if what you say is true, he would have been the first out there.”

I glared at him. “I never asked him.”

“Go on. Where did you search first?”

“Well, Cliff and I took the ranger van. Our first stop was a campsite down the road, near the beach. It was unoccupied but showed signs of having been lived in. A campfire had been recently lit. There were a couple of saucepans and several empty bottles of beer. Cigarette butts were scattered around the fire. There was a heavy smell of marijuana. A tent stood next to the campfire, its flap closed. A cheap guitar lay on the beach several yards away. Then the two girls appeared from the south.”


Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2017 by Walter Kwiatkowski

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