There are many stories from Derry, Maine of thwarted heroism and parental neglect, of how mothers and fathers fail to recognize the terror that strikes their children’s heart. This story is just one of many, but it is perhaps one of the most tragic.
Bob Grey was a simple man, poor in cents but generous of heart. He had little but a traveling show and his young daughter, Sarah. Sarah was slow in the head but quick to laugh and she was the joy of Grey’s life. During the day he would teach his daughter her letters and at night he would slap on the greasepaint to make youngsters laugh.
That was, until the summer the show went to Derry. When Grey had come back to their wagon after the performance, he didn’t see Sarah awaiting him with supper as was her custom. Instead, the child was huddled in the corner, eyes wide.
“What is it, sweetheart?” he asked, his face still white and red with paint.
“There’s something in your cabinet, Daddy,” the girl whispered. “It looks at me.”
Sarah was sweet but her imagination was severely lacking. Grey knew that if Sarah saw something, she saw something. He went over to the cabinet, clicking open the brass locks. The man knew to be cautious, just because Sarah couldn’t describe what it was, didn’t mean it wasn’t dangerous. It could be a rat, or some other vermin. Grey pushed the cabinet open.
The cabinet was bare except for his makeup.
“Do you see it, Daddy?”
He did not. Grey’s shoulders slumped, “I don’t see it.” His tongue suddenly felt heavy in his mouth, his eyes drooping. “Maybe it was never there. You can be such a silly girl sometimes.” That wasn’t what he meant to say, it wasn’t something he’d ever say to Sarah.
The hurt look on her face broke his heart. “Okay,” she whispered.
The next words that fell from his mouth were just as dismissive: “Why don’t you fetch me some supper?”
Sarah meekly nodded and padded her way to the stove.
When the child’s back was turned, the heaviness sloughed off. Shaken, Grey sat in the stool next to his cabinet. Why had he said those things? He glanced in the mirror, not recognizing his own reflection at first. It was so odd, for just a moment, it had looked like his eyes were yellow.
Sarah’s fear continued unabated for the length of their stay in Derry. She developed a hatred for her father’s makeup cabinet, constantly watching it out of the corner of her eye. Grey did not know what was the matter. Every time he looked inside the cabinet, nothing looked out of the ordinary. It was all greasepaint and brushes, no monsters, no rats.
When Grey re-latched the cabinet, he reminded himself that the show was in town for only a week, no more. One week and they would be free from Sarah’s nightmares and his own frustration. Life could go back to normal. His tongue would grow sweet again and Sarah’s temperament would soften.
Then, five nights after Grey landed in Derry, he came home to an empty wagon. Sarah was not there waiting for him but the cabinet was open. The paint inside was scattered, spilled all over the floors and walls. White and red, all smeared together into pink. Useless. Worthless.
Fury overcame his senses. That was his life’s work, that was the blood of his business. That girl needed a whipping, that girl needed a—
Grey smacked himself on the side of the head. Those were not his thoughts. Whose thoughts were they? Who wanted him to hurt his little girl?
Where was his little girl? “Sarah?”
A voice echoed back to him; one he had never heard before. Grey looked around. The wagon was small, there were few places to hide. “Who’s there?”
“Who’s there?” the voice echoing back at him sounded sweeter now, more cloying. It came from behind him.
Grey spun on his heel. There was something in the cabinet mirror. He squinted, not quite seeing it. He stepped closer and closer, then sighed as he saw his own face, still covered in makeup. But something wasn’t quite right, something seemed off. Grey sat on his stool. “What is this?”
“What is this?” The reflection spoke.
Grey startled back in his seat. The eyes were too yellow, the mouth a little too open, the stare too slack. “I don’t understand,” Grey muttered.
“You don’t need to understand, Bob,” the face in the mirror said, all too chipper.
This had to be a trick. Maybe the magician had the mirror rigged somehow, maybe it was just regular glass. Grey leaned in to the mirror to get a closer look. The red on the other face looked less like paint than like blood and the mouth was wet, too wet with drool. It was his face and not his face. Grey’s head hurt with the implication. He had to get closer. His fingers touched the glass.
The last thing that Bob Grey, professionally known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, ever saw was the bright lights just before the teeth closed on his throat.