Clown Voodoo ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
It was autumn and the back yard was littered with walnuts. Mother had husked some and some still remained in the tight green outer husk, drying in the sun. If you’re not careful, you’ll get that stuff on your hands and it’s the very devil to get it off. You don’t want to go to school with brown hands, do you?
Ian was seven. His father died when he was a baby and his mother married a man named Devin when Ian was five. Devin was Ian’s stepfather. There was an unspoken thing hanging in the air between Ian and Devin: They didn’t like each other. All Devin had to do was walk into a room for Ian to want to leave it.
On more than one occasion Ian spoke to his mother about it. “Devin doesn’t like me, mother,” he would say. He didn’t even have to ask her if she thought it was true because he already knew it was. He also didn’t mention that the dislike was mutual.
“Of course he likes you,” she said. “He’s just a little distant.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means we have to give him some time. He’s not used to children.”
“Why did you marry him?”
“I guess I got tired of being alone.”
“Would you be sad if he died?”
“Of course, I’d be sad! He’s my husband. We’re a family now. You shouldn’t even think such things.”
“Devin doesn’t like me, mother. I think he’ll try to kill me one day and try to make it look like an accident.”
“Don’t be silly!” mother said. “Go and find something to do and stop having such morbid thoughts.”
“Devin doesn’t like me, mother.”
When Ian and mother were alone in the house without Devin, they were happy. They watched TV together, played monopoly or scrabble, and baked cookies or brownies. As soon as Devin walked through the door, though, Ian saw the change that came over mother. She stopped laughing and became uneasy. Devin jerked things out of her hand and cut her off when she was talking. Several times he threw a sandwich or a cup of coffee or a beer bottle at her, barely missing her head. Then he would storm out of the house and she would have to get down on her hands and knees and clean up the mess he had made.
Devin made Ian go to bed every night at nine o’clock, even on weekends. Then in the morning he would stand over him and force him to make his own bed “military style.” He wouldn’t let him eat more than one cookie at a time or drink more than two sodas a week. When they had liver and onions or Brussels sprouts, which Ian hated, Devin made him eat every bite before he could leave the table.
At times Devin made Ian work in the yard, hoeing the flower beds or raking leaves, while Devin sat in the shade and watched. If Ian made a mistake or missed some leaves or weeds, Devin called him a “little turd” or a “worthless piece of shit.” Ian began to have antagonistic feelings toward mother for not standing up for him, but he knew she was afraid of making Devin mad.
Ian saw a story on TV about voodoo. An old woman had an “effigy,” a small likeness, of a person who was supposed to be her enemy. She said magic words and stuck pins in the back and through the neck of the effigy, which was supposed to inflict pain and suffering on the enemy.
Ian found an old clown doll in the trash. He cleaned it up and sprinkled it with Devin’s aftershave and hid it in his room. At night after everybody had gone to bed, he took the effigy out of its hiding place and, saying his own magic words, stuck pins in its stomach or through the eyes, drove a nail into its head. He fashioned a hangman’s noose out of a shoelace and hung the effigy in the back of the closet where mother wouldn’t see it and ask him what it was.
On the last Sunday in October, Devin was working in the back yard on an old Cadillac he was restoring. The car was jacked up in the back, all four tires removed. He was underneath the car, only his legs sticking out from the knees.
Ian went out the back door and saw at once the thin arm of metal that was holding the car up. He knew Devin was there, underneath the car; he wanted to escape Devin’s attention before he put him to work picking up walnuts or raking leaves. He had a library book, so he crept quietly all the way to the far edge of the back yard, all the way by the back fence that separated one yard from another, intending to sit underneath the trees and read.
On the ground near the fence was an old slingshot he had never seen before. He picked it up and looked at it. He thought it must belong to the neighbor kids and was going to throw it over the fence into their yard when he decided he’d like to give it a try first. He picked up one of the walnuts off the ground and put it in the slingshot and pulled the heavy piece of rubber back as far as he could and let go.
He wasn’t aiming at anything in particular. With amazing velocity and uncanny accuracy, the walnut struck the jack, knocked it over, and brought the car down on top of Devin. He saw Devin’s legs jerks, the big feel sticking out comically as in a cartoon. Scared at what he had done and not knowing what else to do, Ian ran into the neighboring yard to the alley and all the way to the Methodist church and on past that to the cemetery.
He hid out in the cemetery for what must have been more than an hour and when he decided to go home, the neighbor woman from across the street was waiting to corral him into her house.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“Your mother had to leave in a hurry and she asked me to take you to my house until she gets back,” the neighbor woman said.
She gave him a big plate of spaghetti and a piece of cherry pie and when he was finished eating she told him to sit quietly and watch TV until mother came for him.
When finally he saw mother, well after dark, he saw she had been crying. “Where have you been?” he asked. “Did something happen?”
“There was an accident,” she said.
When she told him what had happened, he pretended to be sad while feeling nothing, not even fear that he might be blamed.
“It’ll be all right, mother,” he said, turning his face away so she wouldn’t see his smile. “I’ll look after you.”
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp