In the bed before him, her hands were thrown above her head as if she were a drowning woman in need of salvation. With the portal's green light washing over her in waves, it was an apt comparison. Chuckles couldn't help but smile, but it wasn't a happy smile at all.
He took a breath and bent near, painfully aware of the sour tang of his own sweat and the greasepaint's bitter odor. But the drugs had done their work, and she did not so much as twitch at the smell of him. Chuckles carefully placed the white knight on her nightstand for her family to find, and let the breath free.
"Here we go, then," he told himself, and picked her up. He stepped into the portal.
On the other side, Dr. Mendoker waited, gowned and gloved in the gleaming operating theater. "I was worried," he said gently.
"You shouldn't have," Chuckles said.
"I always do. Any complications?"
Chuckles' rainbow wig shook.
Chuckles carried the girl to the table and laid her gently down. He'd have kissed her forehead if it not for the stain it would leave. Instead, he stood between her and Dr. Mendoker's scalpel, arms crossed inside his polka-dotted sleeves. "This is the fourth."
Dr. Mendoker studied him. "God willing, the last."
"That's what you said last time."
"That's what I thought last time."
"Is it really helping?"
Mendoker's eyes hardened. "You think I do this for the fun of it?"
"Of course not, Doctor. I was just--"
"You were trying to protect her." Mendoker's expression softened. "I understand that. But this is necessary."
Chuckles hesitated, but the doctor's confidence was absolute. As always, he buckled. Cursing himself.
Chuckles' thick, senseless fingers found the tiny metal tab beneath the girls' hairline more by familiarity than feel. "Are you sure?"
Chuckles tugged, and the face peeled away to show the squirming black horror beneath. His wig bobbed as he stepped hastily away, the mask limp and lifeless in his hands. He breathed deep, greasepaint and sweat and the chemical bite of the disinfectants opening his clenched throat, settling his roiling stomach.
Mendoker drew forceps from the tray beside the bed, and reached in. Chuckles could hardly look.
"It's just that each time she starts to get better--"
"I don't mean to minimize your concern," Mendoker said, his brow furrowed in concentration. "But the last I checked, you were a Clown."
"Not a Doctor," Chuckles agreed. "I know." He folded the girl's face along the nose and lay it on the edge of the sink. "Though not for lack of trying."
"Not for lack of trying," Mendoker agreed. "Angle the light, please."
Chuckles did as he was bid. "Tell me this will be the last time."
Mendoker shook his head, hard. A bead of sweat splashed down into the cavity behind the girl's face. "I wish I could."
"We're supposed to be helping."
"We are. Please be quiet, this is tricky." The scalpel lifted, and probed. A red jet darkened Mendoker's blue scrubs. "Damn."
"Nothing." Mendoker fumbled on the tray, came up with an instrument, shoved it in.
Panic bubbled in Chuckles' belly. "You're killing her."
"I'm saving her."
You're killing her. Chuckles reached into the front of his pants and pulled out an unopened envelope. The Director's handwriting was smudged with moisture and age. "I can't let you do that."
"Dammit, Clown--" Mendoker looked over. Saw what was in his hand. "Don't you dare."
Chuckles fumbled with the envelope.
"Your job is not to get in the way," Mendoker snapped. Blood ran down the handle of the scalpel in his hand, trickled across his fingers. "You find them and bring them to me. I fix them and then you bring them back. You don't get in the way and you don't form attachments."
"I promised," Chuckles said. His big fingers were too unwieldy to get a grip.
"That's your problem."
"I promised you'd fix her."
Mendoker picked up the forceps, reached into the cavity, yanked out half a foot of shiny black something that writhed and curled around itself in the cold air. "Does that look unhealthy to you?"
"No," Chuckles conceded.
"Then what's the problem?"
Chuckles' shoulders slumped. Mendoker tucked the thing back in. It slurped and giggled.
"I don't know." Chuckles tucked the letter away again. "I never expected this."
Mendoker fixed him with a steely stare. "Don't take that out again unless you intend to use it."
Chuckles looked away and kicked the ground with an oversized shoe. "When I was accepted to the School--"
"A different time."
"Yeah." Chuckles slumped to the floor, looked up at the doctor wearily. "Still. Birthday parties, I thought. The circus. Emmett Kelly, you know? Instead--"
Mendoker bent back to his work. "Instead they sent you to me."
"Six more years," Mendoker said. He bent back to his work.
Chuckles blew out a breath. "That's a long time."
"Not so long."
"They trust me. You know?"
"Of course they trust you. You're a Clown."
"If we have to keep doing this--"
"I'll fix her," Mendoker said.
Chuckles looked at him, long and hard.
"Go take a walk," Mendoker told him. "I just need an hour, and then you can bring her home."
"All right." Chuckles fought to his oversized feet, clumped toward the door. "You're sure?"
Chuckles's wig trembled with his indecision. Then he nodded. "All right."
Outside in the lobby, the grey women sat waiting in their endless rows. Chuckles shuffled past them, gave a desultory toot of his horn. Stepped through the glass doors, and into the sunshine.
The sign along the sidewalk read "Yield". Chuckles would have laughed if he'd had the heart to. What else should it say? All his life, he'd done nothing but.
A Beetle full of Clowns trundled by in a trail of exhaust and seltzer. Chuckles watched it disappear, and sighed.
One day, he told himself. One day.
Haven't done a Chuck Wendig writing prompt in a while. This one wanted me to use 4 of 10 items -- Random.org gave me "leather mask," "chess piece," "street sign" and "unopened envelope." The clown and doctor were random.org's selections from my stupidly large database of character, character adjectives, and goals. 998 words later, I had possibly the strangest story I've ever written.