No Strings Attached

Todd arrived in the small town of Essex on his way home from a much needed cottage weekend. Unfortunately, shortly into his return trip his car started having engine trouble, so he had no choice but to pull over and have it checked. The owner of the garage was nice enough and told him he’d have Todd back on the road in a couple of hours. Until then Todd would have to entertain himself.

Although the town’s quiet charm was welcoming, Todd couldn’t help but sense something dark just under the façade of the town’s cheery gleam. There was an unnerving sense of foreboding and evil coursing through the bright colours of Main Street. Unable to escape the eeriness with a butter tart and an Americano, Todd ventured into the local antique store.

The store was a refurbished early 19th century mansion, brimming full of relics from the past. It was a utopian paradise that hoarders could only dream about aspiring to. Todd strolled amongst the collectables not by choice but by necessity as this seemed to be the only viable way to kill time. However the distraction of 1970s era lamps, 1940s desks, and other time capsule kitsch was a welcomed distraction from the lingering sense of dread he couldn’t seem to shake.

Todd aimlessly wandered from room-to-room, floor-to-floor, periodically stopping to look at overpriced junk that overenthusiastic cottagers willingly paid for. He rounded the corner and entered a tiny cramped room. Although brightly lit with the warm afternoon sun, the room felt cold. Deathly cold. Todd’s heart immediately started pounding, his skin was on fire and every hair was on end. Sensing something to his left, he slowly turned, and saw an old marionette of a clown hanging by its strings over a brass lamp. Todd hated clowns. The expressionless smile of the clown burned a hole deep into Todd’s soul. Todd and the puppet stared at each other for what felt like an eternity. Todd swore he could see the clown’s smile widening… “I think he likes you!” Todd jumped back in alarm nearly knocking over a crystal wine decanter. “Careful, dear. We wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.” Smiled the sweet old woman who owned the antique store. Todd quickly collected himself and forced a polite laugh. “You know” continued the old woman, “I don’t ever remember seeing this little fellow before?” The old woman leaned in closer to peer at the puppet. Todd’s chest was tightening and he was short a breath. He needed to get out of the room fast. “I’m sure this place is full of surprises.” Responded Todd. “Oh you have no idea.” Chuckled the old woman still staring at the puppet as Todd quickly exited the room through an adjacent doorway.

Todd stopped a few feet inside the room. He bent over trying to catch his breath. He could hear the old woman in the next room shuffling around. Suddenly there was the sound of a dull thud, followed by something landing hard on the floor, and then silence. Todd turned back to the doorway... “Everything okay?” asked Todd hesitantly. He held his breath. Silence. Todd inched his back way to the doorway and peered into the room. The wine decanter was now on the floor covered in blood with a thick trail of blood leaving the room like someone had been dragged away. Todd looked over to the brass lamp. The strings of the marionette were still slung over it… but the clown was nowhere to be seen. Todd suddenly heard the faint murmur of music. It was Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender playing from the old fashion record player at the front of the store, which is also where the trail of blood seemed to lead…

All of Todd’s senses were heightened as if he was being stalked. His feet kept sliding and slipping on the blood, which took up the entire width of the narrow hallway. The reflection of his panicked face became distorted in the mirrors, glass frames, and metal trays that lined his urgent escape. The music grew louder and the trail of blood finally stopped at the front counter where the old women’s lifeless feet were peering out from behind it. A high-pitched giggle filled the store. It seemed to emanate from everywhere. Todd spun around to see a little shadow dart behind a vintage wardrobe. It shook like something was hiding behind it. The haunting scratching sounds of Love Me Tender grew louder and louder in Todd’s head. The room started spinning out of control. He desperately reached for the front door and frantically tried to pull it open. It seemed stuck like something was jamming it. Todd noticed an ivory handled letter opener wedged into the doorframe a few inches up from the floor. Todd grabbed the handled and pulled with all his might as the soft sound of tiny wooden footsteps could be heard slowly coming towards him. With a final heave Todd ripped the letter opener away and escaped into the bright sun. The door slammed behind him and the music immediately stopped. In the window the open sign slowly turned over to closed as a little tiny wooden hand tauntingly waved goodbye. No one seemed to notice Todd’s dishevelled look or the bloody footprints he was leaving on the hot concrete. Instead the locals continued to smile, say hello,  and cheerfully went about their day.

Todd ran back to the garage. The owner looked up and smiled, “Back so soon? Well, I’m still going to need another hour or so.” Just like the others, the mechanic seemed oblivious to Todd’s state and the evil that surrounded them. “I’m sure it’s fine.” Stammered Todd. He overpaid the owner who tried to convince him to stay until his car was ready. But Todd would have none of it and he raced out of town.

That night at home, Todd couldn’t sleep. He tossed and turned unable to shake the image of the smiling clown. He tried to explain what had happen to his friends but no one would believe him. Why would they? It seemed impossible. Outside of Todd’s bedroom window a large tree swayed in the wind, its branches casting eerie shadows that seemed tiny wooden arms and legs snaking around the end of his bed. Todd turned on the light and room went back to normal. He sipped from the lukewarm water by his bed and went to the bathroom. Todd turned the facet on splashing cold water over his face. He peered into the mirror and forced a smile attempting to laugh his fears away. “It’s okay. I’m okay.” Whispered Todd. He turned off the facet and his house fell silent again. Todd froze. In the hallway laid the ivory handled letter opener as the soft murmur of Love Me Tender began playing from his bedroom…

Rob NardecchiaComment