Andi Tailor grew up in the circus. She was born of a family of clowns in one of the largest circuses in the world and often performed with them. Despite all the travelling that the family did, they made sure that Andi earned a high school diploma and applied to college. She received a scholarship, but it was not quite enough to cover all her expenses. She made the extra money by entertaining at children’s birthday parties on weekends and during the summer.
Andi was a talented clown, adept at magic and balloon animals as well as the usual miming for which clowns are known. She was always booked for weekends and only turned down those weekends before a big exam. Andi went through great lengths to keep her clown gigs a secret from her friends at school. Fortunately, she lived off campus in a walk-up apartment building.
As far as her fellow students were concerned, Andi was a serious student, even a bit of an overachiever academically. Her chemistry lab partner, Janice, decided that Andi needed to relax and have a little fun. If Andi wouldn’t go out with them and party, then she and her party animal friends would bring the party to her. Janice roped her roommate, Cara, and Cara’s boyfriend into helping plan the surprise party for Andi.
Janice and Cara met Dennis at the local internet café to discuss plans. Dennis had dragged his roommate, Marcus, along. Janice frowned at Markus. “You do know that this isn’t a date, right?”
“Oh, yeah, sure,” Markus sputtered. “We’re planning some kind of party, right?”
“It’s a surprise party for a friend. We need a theme. Any ideas?”
“I’m always up for a make-out party.” Cara punched Dennis in the arm. “Oww! Sorry. Okay, do you have a better idea?”
“Aren’t most surprise parties for birthdays?” Everyone stared at Markus. “What? I’m just sayin’.”
“Markus, that’s brilliant. I mean, we don’t know when her birthday is, but we can still throw a birthday party. Can’t we?” Janice waited for a response.
“With cake and ice cream?” Cara chimed grinning.
“Why not? And we could hire a magician or a clown to entertain.”
“Why not both? There’s this clown who does magic for kids’ parties. We could hire him.” Markus searched his phone for the clown’s website.
“Does this clown have a name?” Dennis poked Marcus in his shoulder.
“Yeah, Puck.” Marcus shoved Dennis away. “It says that you have to request a booking online. We need a date and a time.”
“Friday night, around eight?”
“Isn’t that short notice?”
“Won’t know until we try.” Marcus typed in the request, then put away his phone.
“Where are we throwing this party?” Cara sighed. “We can’t exactly have this in the dorm. We couldn’t afford the food.”
“Are we inviting anyone else?”
“For a surprise birthday party for the least popular girl on campus?”
“She’s not the least popular! Honestly, Dennis, if I didn’t know you, I’d think you were a real jerk.”
“Sorry, hon.” Dennis kissed Cara on the forehead.
“Why don’t we take the party to her? Bring the cake, ice cream, and stuff there. Have the clown show up at her apartment.” Marcus waited for a response.
Janice smiled broadly. “Everything is set then?” Dennis and Cara nodded. “I’ll make sure that she’s there, and that she doesn’t suspect a thing.”
Marcus raised his head from his phone. “I need her address for the party. The clown said ‘yes’. He just wants to know where.”
Janice had two classes with Andi during the week, Chemistry and AP Calculus. After Calculus class, Janice attached herself to Andi as they left the lecture hall.
“Did you understand all that?”
“That whole lecture on integration.”
“Didn’t you have this already? Or did you sign up for AP by mistake?”
“I’m a little rusty. I was wondering if we could get together and go over this new stuff, say on Friday around eight?”
“Pretty please?” Janice put on her best pout.
Andi sighed. “Fine, my place at eight on Friday. Don’t be late.”
Janice gave Andi a one-armed hug. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are just the best ever. I’ll see you Friday.”
Andi watched Janice head off toward her next class and muttered under her breath. “Not if I see you first.” Andi grinned as she walked to her next lecture. Before entering the classroom, she sent an email then shut off her phone.
Andi didn’t have any classes on Friday and spent the day preparing for the weekend. She even arranged for a pizza delivery at eight thirty. She spread her books out on the table and waited for her guest to arrive. There was a knock on the door promptly at eight o’clock. Janice carried in her bookbag and started to move Andi’s books to a nearby shelf.
“What’s going on?”
“I thought that we could have something to eat first.”
“I ordered pizza. It’ll be here in half an hour. I thought that we could get started on the Calculus while we waited.”
Before Janice could answer, there was a loud knock on the door. Andi watched her answer it and feign surprise at seeing her friends. “Come in before the neighbors complain.”
Andi stood silently while Cara and Dennis carried in a large box and a grocery bag. Marcus followed with a bag from the local party store. “What’s going on?” Andi asked again.
“We’re throwing you a surprise birthday party!” Cara blew on one of the party favors.
“But it’s not my birthday.”
“Doesn’t matter. We’re having a birthday party for you anyway.” Dennis and Marcus taped up a large banner decorated with balloons and clowns. Andi sighed.
Cara and Janice decorated Andi’s dining table with a matching tablecloth and the rest of the party paraphernalia while Andi slowly backed away from the four self-described party animals. Just as they had finished with the decorations, there was a knock at the door. Marcus rushed to open it only to find himself tipping the pizza delivery guy.
It had been the distraction that Andi had been counting on. She had slipped into her bedroom to make her own preparations for the party. The four unwanted guests had been so disappointed by the lack of a clown at the door that her absence from the room went unnoticed for just long enough.
A shriek was heard from behind the bedroom door.
“What was that?” Dennis turned toward the bedroom door. “Andi?”
“No, please don’t… don’t kill me, please.” Andi could be heard pleading loudly through the door. Andi let out a shrill scream, which was followed by a loud thud. The door slowly creaked open showing a bloody body on the floor. A clown’s hand emerged holding a cleaver. A grinning white face peered around the partially open door, followed by the rest of the clown. Its suit was covered in blood as it stepped into the room twirling the bloody cleaver. A look of panic crossed the faces of the four college students as they rushed Andi’s apartment door. They didn’t bother closing it as they hurried down the stairs.
The clown walked to the door and closed it behind them, then returned to the bedroom to clean up the crime scene. It rolled up the body in the bloody rug and stuffed it into the closet. Then Andi removed the face mask that she had purchased earlier in the day and dropped the rubber cleaver into her prop trunk along with her clown outfit.
When the SWAT team arrived, they found Andi’s apartment door open and Andi sitting at her dining table eating pizza. She offered them a piece of her “birthday” cake and waited for her college classmates to come back to her apartment. Marcus was the first to brave the threshold. He smiled when he saw the very much alive Andi. Janice, Cara, and Dennis followed. Each of them insisted that they had witnessed their friend being killed by a clown, but none of them could give an accurate description.
The SWAT team leader let them off with a warning. He had recognized Andi as Puck the Clown. because he had hired her for his daughter’s birthday party over the summer. “Thank you,” she whispered as the SWAT team left her apartment. He winked at her and nodded. She closed the door to her apartment and went to her kitchen where she pulled out a bag of balloons from a drawer.
Andi stretched out a long red balloon before blowing it up. As she tied it off, she asked, “Now, who wants to see some real party animals?”