Sally didn’t dare make a sound, lying perfectly still in her bed. The door to the room inched open, and the bright hallway light illuminated her face. After what felt like an unbearable eternity, the door gently closed again.
Sally opened her eyes wide. The stairs creaked as her mother made her way back down. A few seconds later and she could hear the muffled sound of the television programme her mother liked. The one with the women who wear too much makeup and scream at each other. Sally was alone again in the dark bedroom.
“She’s gone now,” Sally whispered.
Her words were met with silence.
“It’s ok, Mom’s gone now.”
At the end of the bed sat a small stuffed clown. The clown’s head was slumped forward, its left button-eye precariously hanging by a couple of loose threads.
The clown looked up at Sally.
“Hello, Sally,” said the clown. Its voice not quite right, damaged somehow. Like water spiraling down a drain, gurgling, grating.
“I haven’t told anyone, I promise.”
“That’s good. That’s very good,” said the clown. “They would take me away if you did. And you don’t want that, do you, Sally?”
“No!” she said.
Sally moved to the end of the bed and picked up the clown. She brushed hair away from its face, with the painted-on smile and flaking skin. “Did you do that thing I asked?” said the clown.
“I tried. I did try, but Dad was there. You said not to let him see me.”
The clown went limp in her hands, lifeless again.
“I will do it. I swear I will,” pleaded Sally. She shook the clown but he just flopped about. “Please come back. I’ll do it. I’ll do it now!”
“Thank you, Sally,” said the clown, looking into the little girl’s face. “Then we can play.”
Sally crept down the stairs, moving her weight as carefully as she could. Each creak sounded like a roar in her head, but the living room door remained still.
When she reached the bottom step, Sally could see into the living room. Her mother lay on the sofa, fast asleep. Sally tiptoed past and towards the kitchen.
Creeping back into her room, Sally closed the door and climbed back into bed.
“Did you find it?” asked the clown.
“Yes, it was just where you said it would be,” said Sally, staring at the papers. “Daddy always drops his bag in the kitchen when he gets back from work.”
“Very good! Good work!” said the clown, his voice no longer calm. “Now, hold the first page up for me.”
Sally looked at the page. She couldn’t read what was written at the top of it, but it seemed important, printed in big, bold, red letters. She held up the page.
The clown’s head jerked from one side to another, making an odd whirring noise she hadn’t heard before. A flickering light came out of his good eye.
“Thank you, sally. You’ve been a big help.”
“Can we play now?”
“Yes, we can play now.”
In Minneapolis, Jake hid under his blankets, using a flashlight to illuminate the government briefing document. “Thank you, Jake,” said Speak-n-Spell. “You’re my best friend.”
In Pensacola, Amy gave Kutie Koala her dad’s login details. “I will always love you, Amy”
In a Seattle suburb, Zola carried Magic Sparkle Pony into the dining room. “That’s right, Zola. Just leave me where Mommy will be speaking with that man.”
In Atlanta, seven year old Tyler played with Dumpy the Dumptruck while the adults talked. “I won’t say anything, promise,” whispered Tyler. Dumpy winked his headlights.
Mark Cowling is a writer from Essex, UK. His work has appeared in online publications such as Shotgun Honey and Pulp Metal Magazine, as well as on BBC Radio.