"Coulrophobia"

Galen couldn’t sleep. Not after seeing what he’d seen. The shadows shuddered at night, but they were just tricks of the light. He knew that. Still, they were what his parents focused on, but he wondered whether they were pretending. Just like mom and dad pretended to like each other–maybe even to like him.

Galen crawled out of bed and slowly tiptoed to his parents’ room. His little hands gripping the sides of his oversized pajama pants, he willed himself to be as light as possible, but unable to avoid the occasional squeak of the floor against his bare feet.

When he arrived at his parents’ closed bedroom door, he struggled with the door knob, opening it with laborious slowness. He didn’t want to alert them. It might be too much for them. They were better at playing pretend than him.

Galen carefully pushed the door open. Inside, in the darkness, the shadowy silhouetted of a clown hung from the ceiling, his contorted joints bending behind him. The clown’s red hair bristled, and he turned to face Galen with black eyes and a gaping hole where his mouth should be. Vapor clung to the sides of his mouth–whatever it was that he was sucking from Galen’s parents, no doubt. But there was little time, and Galen knew now what to do.

He turned on the light, and the clown screeched and scurried into the shadows, into which he dove like a roach into the space between the fridge and the kitchen floor.

Galen finally breathed, releasing a breath that had been stuck in his throat for longer than he thought it could be. His parents stirred. His father looked up and grunted, “What’re you doing, Galen?”

“I-I couldn’t sleep,” he said. It wasn’t a lie.