I can't see the future
But I know it's watching me
(wonder what it sees)
Kenny had an uncanny ability to adapt and camouflage himself into most given situations. It meant he had little trouble meeting people or fitting in. But it didn't lead to lasting friendships or relationships. That took getting to an extra level of vulnerability that he was never comfortable with making.
There was however one friend he had managed to keep over the years. An apathetic disaffected youth named Craig Tucker. Craig was the first one to admit that he was kind of an asshole.
Craig lay on Kenny's bed blasting music through headphones while Kenny sat on the floor, Karen's journals and sketch books fanned around him. He'd ripped out a few of the pages and sorted them into a different pile for each of the characters.
The largest pile was for the trapeze artist. Karen's drawings of him were a kaleidoscope of colours and glitter depicting endless death defying leaps and spins from his performances. The stories ranged from detailing the other characters in the circus to heated rants and philosophies on life and the human condition. The words, though written in Karen's spidery crawl, felt foreign to Kenny. Oftentimes there were words used that he doubted Karen would have known considering he barely even knew them himself. It was like she'd been copying down someone else's words.
The second largest pile belonged to the fat clown. Kenny had only glanced through that pile. He wasn't sure, but there was just something cold and mean that emanated from those pages. The sketches all depicted the clown either scowling in a sinister manner or worse, smiling one of the cruellest smiles Kenny had ever seen. The stories told of the different tricks the clown had pulled on the other performers, but they all seemed cruel rather than funny. One particularly gruesome story told of how the fat clown had slipped firecrackers into the ring master's top hat leaving the ringmaster with an unsightly scar deforming his left ear.
Kenny recognised the ringmaster as Butters with that same puff of yellow hair underneath a black top hat. The stories in Butters' pile were much more modest to the point that they very rarely talked about Butters himself, instead talking about all of the other performers. He spoke affectionately about a close friendship between the trapeze artist and the handy man, referring to what he called a 'bond that's just plain magic' with a wistful tone like he wasn't even aware himself that he was actually envious of him. The diamond dancers were all 'his dancers', though they frightened him sometimes because they were so wild. And the fat clown… Kenny noticed, Butters spoke about his friendship with the clown like he wasn't aware how abusive it was. All the mind games, the cruel tricks and the violence, Butters always ended the stories with the words 'I sure am glad he bothers with me still'. It made Kenny a little nauseous to read.
The handyman had only a few pictures and in each of them they had the same sad blue eyes. Kenny wasn't certain how Karen had managed to capture such real emotion. The stories were like the trapeze artist's tales, talking about the rest of the circus and philosophising; only he did so in a much calmer tone. Where the trapeze artist was spark and fire, the handyman was liquid calm; he was a comfort to read.
The diamond dancers' pile was just chaos. There seemed to be an endless number of them. Blonde hair, black hair, boys, girls, no two pictures looked the same. And the stories were just a series of disjointed words. Sentences went unfinished and they darted between topics like fireflies. It was a nightmare to read and Kenny didn't spend long before he gave up trying to decipher them.
Kenny had been staring at the different piles for hours and he was still no closer to unravelling the mystery. He swatted the piles away in disgust and colourful sheets of paper fluttered around his room. What did Butters mean by saying he had to learn more about them? What was it he had to know? He knew what they looked like, their personalities, their history, he even knew who each of them liked and hated, the only thing he didn't know was their names. But Karen didn't know that either, not once did she ever use a single name either in her journals or when talking to him. So if she didn't know, how the hell was he supposed to know?
He leant back against his bed, flipping Butters' card round and round between his fingers. He tried to think logically about it, but there was no logic. The characters were random, there was nothing archetypal to them; they were as random as a child's imagination. Truth was he was at a total loss.
Kenny felt the bed shift behind him as Craig rolled over, slipping the headphones down to hug his neck.
"Are you done yet?" Craig asked in his monotone, nasal voice. "Ready to get wasted?"
"No!" Kenny snapped, he whipped his head around, meeting Craig's expressionless gaze then deflated, sighing. "Sorry, just, maybe you should go hang with someone else tonight."
"Fuck that," Craig snorted. "I've got no one else to hang with. Besides you've been like, hermitting for months now. It's getting weird."
Kenny looked sidelong over his shoulder, wondering not for the first time why he was even friends with this guy. Craig, seemingly oblivious to Kenny's annoyance looked closely at the pages spread around the room.
"What is all this shit, anyway?"
"Karen's sketches." Kenny said simply. Craig, to his credit, stayed silent at that. Back when Karen first disappeared, it was the closest Kenny had ever seen Craig to being some kind of comforting. For days, even weeks after the police had stopped paying their follow-up visits; Craig would come around and spend time with Kenny. He didn't say anything, didn't offer any vocal consolations or shows of sympathy, he just sat around, providing company. Kenny would always be grateful to Craig for that, but he would never admit it. That was something the two of them had in common, they hated all those hollow, showy gestures of endearment.
"Are you going to put them on your walls or something?"
"No," Kenny said. "You'll think it's crazy. But this guy came up to me in the street, some kind of ring leader or magician or something…" Kenny described the events of that day to Craig. He explained the dream world Karen had been living in for months before her disappearance, and he showed him Butters' card. Craig listened quietly and patiently throughout; his expression remained the same blank mask.
"You're right," Craig said eventually once Kenny had finished. "You're totally bat shit." But he was still looking over Kenny's shoulder at the pictures. He shifted, until his torso was hanging off the bed supported by one hand as he reached for a picture of the fat clown smiling sinisterly. Dark shadows cut into the fat clown's jowls. "You know that Tweek kid from school? He talks about weird shit like this all the time. He's crazy too. Maybe he can help you."
"Tweek…" Kenny searched his mind for a face to go with the name.
"Short kid, crazy blond hair, looks like he's slept maybe once in his entire life."
"Do you know where he lives?"
"Shit, I don't know man. Maybe, why?"
Kenny was already on his feet, "We're going," he said. He swiped a handful of the papers together, including the sinisterly smiling picture Craig had pointed out.
Craig groaned, but climbed to his feet, after all, he had nothing better to do that day.
When they reached Tweek's house, they saw a twitching of one of the upstairs blinds and an eye peeking out through the slots. Craig waved one hand in greeting and the eye disappeared.
"Like I said." Craig turned to Kenny, dialling a finger by his left ear. "Totally bat shit."
The front door opened a crack, and that same eye peered out at them, wide and grey and ringed with dark shadows. "Craig?" a fraught voice queried. "Who's with you?"
"It's Kenny, Tweek. We need to come in."
"My parents aren't in."
Kenny and Craig shared a look.
"So?" Craig demanded.
Tweek hovered uncertainly behind that cracked door like a skittish cat. His eyes darted back and forth between Kenny and Craig. "So I can't let you in. It's not safe."
"For fuck sake Tweek!"
"Oh Jesus Christ!" Tweek flinched away from the door like it had scolded him. Taking that as invitation, Kenny and Craig stepped inside.
When Tweek was a boy he was stolen away by his imagination. No one believed him, but for a week or so he was held captive, and it was only through sheer luck that he managed to escape.
It started when he began seeing a family of gnomes. They never spoke to him; they would just trek into his room in single file singing a little song as bit by bit they stole his clothing, starting with his underpants. He tried to tell his parents, but at ten years old, the words 'mum dad, gnomes are stealing my underpants' didn't hold much weight. They dismissed it as childish fantasy and attention seeking. But it didn't feel like fantasy to Tweek, he was fairly certain that something that was only make-believe shouldn't have the ability to take corporeal form and it definitely shouldn't have the ability to steal the entire contents of his drawers each night.
Tweek was too frightened to touch them or even go near them, when they came into his bedroom, he would just watch them from under the safety of his bedcovers and pray that they didn't notice him.
One day, he decided to follow them. Quaking with fear, and dropping back as far as he possibly could without losing them entirely, he followed them out into the night, a boy in his boots and pyjamas following a tiny procession of underpants bobbing down the road.
He followed them down the main street and out into the patch of woodlands that lay just outside of town. The night was clear and the trees were illuminated ghostly hues of grey and blue in the moonlight. Before long, the trees started changing, they began twisting. The solid trunks of pine trees became gnarled, grabbing branches. The smell of pine needles and evergreen changed to damp and mould, it was a part of the woods Tweek had never been to before; he didn't think such a part even existed.
Daylight came; it broke the darkness sooner than it should have. The gnomes came at midnight, there should have been at least five more hours before dawn. But soon enough, the world was bathed in the glorious technicolour of daylight, and Tweek realised that he wasn't in South Park any more.
The gnomes stopped and turned around. They looked at him for the first time since they had started appearing. There was still a distance between them, but even with that, he could see that each of them was smiling. Their tiny, peg-like teeth shone yellow in the morning light.
They sat around Tweek's kitchen table. Or rather, Kenny and Craig sat and Tweek hovered behind them. Steaming mugs of coffee sat before them. Tweek cradled his in both hands and blew into it nervously. He was very purposefully looking everywhere but at the table top where the images of the fat clown and his companions lay face up.
"I don't know why you brought these here." Tweek fretted from behind his coffee mug. "Jesus, I hate clowns."
"Kenny thinks this clown stole his sister," Craig said simply. Kenny glared at him over the table to which Craig responded by flipping him the bird.
"Well, yeah man, it did," Tweek said. Craig and Kenny both looked askance at Tweek as the other boy wondered away, muttering quietly, "Fucking clowns, man…"
"Tweek." Craig said. "What?"
"The clowns are real, man." He looked at Kenny with fraught, fear filled eyes. "They took your sister."
"I don't know. But if she's been seeing them then they want her for something."
"How do you know that?" Kenny frowned at him. Tweek wasn't exactly what you could call sane, his shirt was buttoned up wrong and the cuffs were smudged and distorted from where he had been tugging on them. The way he held himself, it looked like he was wired so tightly he'd given himself a permanent Charlie horse between his shoulder blades. But there wasn't a shadow of a lie on Tweek's face. As crazy as he sounded, he was nothing but sincere and crazy as it was, Kenny believed him.
"They took me too, man. Clowns, they're the same as the gnomes." Tweek flinched at his own words, he made a guttural sound in the back of his throat. "That was who took me. Gnomes, Jesus man, I was lucky to get out."
"Where did they take you?"
Craig who had been listening to the two of them, his hooded gaze alternating between them stood up, he'd had enough. "The two of you believe this?" he asked. "Gnomes and clowns. Seriously?"
"I'm serious. They got me once."
"When the fuck did they get you?" Craig said and even though his voice was monotone as ever, it was clear he was becoming exasperated with the whole scenario.
"One summer, back when we were ten," Tweek replied, "I was gone for a whole week. Jesus, you don't remember?" His left eye twitched and he sipped fretfully at his coffee.
"You disappear like all the time. How am I supposed to remember one time?"
"Tweek," Kenny said, waiting until he had caught both of their attention. He stared evenly at Tweek, looking through Tweek's anxiety, blue eyes meeting grey. "How do I get her back?"
"I don't know, man." Tweek said, and he looked mortified. "I don't know if you can without… without going there yourself."