A final series of faded, golden streaks declined as the evening surrendered to the night, and as quivering flags of darkness fell over the neighbourhood like a thick duvet over a tired child. Matt watched the transition nervously from his apartment window, alone, and anxious, afraid of the growing gloom, until a sharp knocking sound from behind broke his attention. "About time," he said. He put on a nervous smile, stroked a hand lightly over his styled, blonde hair, and answered the door.
"Hi Matt! Sorry I'm late," Tai offered energetically, jumping into the apartment with popcorn in one hand and soda in the other. "You've not already started have you?"
Matt scoffed. "Are you crazy Tai? Like I would watch it without you here."
"Yeah," Tai laughed, "I figured as much. You need your knight in shining goggles to protect you." He fell onto the couch and started sucking on his drink.
The blonde boy closed the door and locked it. "Very funny."
"I just gotta ask, before we do this." He sipped from his drink again. "Are you really sure you want to watch another scary movie after what happened last time? 'Cause you really freaked out before."
Matt crossed his arms and sat down by the boy who had made himself so typically comfortable. "That wasn't my fault. You left me on my own in the middle of the night, and the power went out, and-"
"Yeah, I know. And you crawled behind the TV and dropped into the foetal position." Tai snorted, choking a little on what he had been drinking.
"If you hadn't taken so long in the bathroom I wouldn't have had to," he said. "Anyway. I promise, I'm feeling much braver tonight. And you're not going to leave me again so I don't have to worry, right?"
"Right." Tai flexed his muscles and beamed, dropping some of his popcorn over the cushions. "Let's get it on!"
Matt turned on the movie and sat down beside Tai. "You uh, smell nice today," he offered as the film was starting up.
"I do?" Tai said, taken aback, but smiled at the compliment nonetheless.
"Yeah. But it might just be the popcorn. Give me some." Matt replied, taking a handful of the treats when Tai offered them. They both turned their heads to the screen and began to watch the movie. It started in a typical way, with a small group of defenceless characters heading somewhere remote, cut off from society. No reason to be scared yet, Matt thought, his eyes pointing sideways at Tai. He shuffled a little closer to the brunet.
The movie characters set the scene with cheery, unaware banter, unfazed by the rapidly fading sunlight outside. "What's that?" One character asked, moving through an old room in a shack that the group had entered. They toed through gunk on the ground and pushed through flies in the air, and found a mutilated body with fresh scars sketched onto its face in a darkened corner.
"This is already gross," Matt mumbled.
Tai chuckled at the comment, and was going to reassure Matt with a joke, until the camera panned to the left and caught a glimpse of something waiting in the shadows. Something that looked a lot like-
"Matt, what's this film about?" Tai laughed shakily. "Because, you know, I have told you – haven't I? – that I don't like, uh..." He scratched the back of his head.
"Don't like what?"
"Uh, nothing. Forget it," Tai said, crossing his arms and tensing up.
The movie characters ran out of the apparently abandoned building and huddled together, panic stricken. What should they do now? This clearly wasn't the summer house that they had meant to arrive at tonight. They must have got lost somewhere on their trip. Two of them decided they would wait in the car while the other two would go and look for a nearby payphone up a darkened path in the distance.
"What are they thinking?" Tai hissed at Matt, uncomfortably. "Splitting up...yeesh, why does everybody do that?"
"These guys are as dumb as the characters from the last movie were," Matt said, but before he could finish his musings on how there probably wouldn't be a payphone out in the middle of nowhere anyway, a fist rapped at the apartment's front door. The pair froze where they sat, eyes stuck to each other instead of the screen, until Matt laughed nervously, got to his feet, and told Tai that he'd be right back.
"I'll just be a minute." He grabbed some popcorn from Tai. "It's probably a neighbour, lost another cat or something."
"Yeah. Right." Tai put his hands behind his head, exuding a typical, laid back air, contrary to how fearful he currently felt, and confidently told Matt to take his time. His eyes fell back onto the screen, which now depicted two characters at a newly found pay phone. A man stood inside it and a woman stood outside, rubbing her hands together to keep warm. Twigs snapped behind them, but the characters didn't hear. The camera drew nearer step by step.
"Oh no..." Tai's shoulders rose and his chin drooped, like a fearful cat.
A familiar dial tone sounded from the payphone. "It must be broken," the man said, all too casually, like he didn't understand that they were in a horror movie.
The camera drew closer and closer still until, all of a sudden, it switched to a new scene where a woman was sat inside a car, reading, and her thin looking male companion was stood outside smoking nervously, one foot scratching the back of his other leg. Behind him stood a figure. The figure slowly drew nearer with a sharp something held in one hand. He was wearing shady clothing all over his body, which dripped with some dark liquid, but he had bright paint pasted across his face.
The clown opened its wide, tooth filled mouth as it lunged forward, piercing the helpless victim through the back with a creepy, maniacal heckle for accompaniment. But Tai didn't see what had happened because he had already ran to the front door, fingers in his ears to cut out that horrible laughter, to look for Matt. Only...
"Matt?" Tai asked, nervously. The front door was barely ajar, and at the foot of it there was a small, scattered handful of popcorn. "Are you there? Matt!?"
There came no answer from either side of the door. Tai peeked his head out into the corridor and looked one way, and then the other, and then he pulled his head back inside. What was he supposed to do now? He was left here with this creepy film playing and Matt was out there somewhere clowning around. Clowning.
Tai shivered again and peeked outside one more time.
But what if he wasn't just clowning around? What if something had happened? Maybe he had gone to the door, opened it, and been kidnapped quick as a flash and silent as the wind. Or, no, maybe he had been murdered!
"Damn it, I'm the child of courage," Tai breathed to himself, feeling his favourite energy source – reckless bravery – spurting through his veins. "I'm not scared." He walked out into the corridor and headed down it. "Matt?" he called out, a tone of lightheartedness to his voice. "Don't joke around with me Matt, we'll miss the film." Yeah. The totally horrifying clown film that I would be totally happy to miss out on, he remarked as an afterthought.
A door creaked behind him while he silently complained to himself about clowns, and other things that reminded him of Piedmon, and he turned on his feet. Every apartment door was still firmly closed, except for Matt's, of course, which he had left open. "Very funny Matt. You got me." Tai finally conceded, walking back to the apartment. He thought that he could hear Matt's mocking laughter already. "I didn't think you had it in you..." He opened the apartment door with a half-smile. But his smile fell to the floor, replaced by a horrified, wide open mouth, home to a hair-raising shriek. Standing in the apartment was a bright eyed clown with an ugly, painted face, and it stood taller than Tai, looming over him, ready to kill.
Tai's first instinct was to punch it, like he would have tried to punch any monster, or dark master, who posed any threat to him, but his arms were frozen to his sides. He shook where he stood, and he started to think back on his life, wondering when it was supposed to flash before him like a movie montage. But then, before anything could kill him, the clown began to laugh – and Tai knew very well who the laugh belonged to. Now, all of a sudden, his fists felt ready to fire.
"I c-can't-" the voice laughed.
"I'm going to kill you Matt."
"You have three seconds to run."
"-it worked!" Matt giggled with a force that suggested he was struggling to breathe.
"Take off that mask already!" Tai shouted.
Matt obliged and removed the mask from his face, dropping it to the floor and almost dropping with it in hysterics. "I'm so sorry Tai," he said, honest but still laughing tremendously. "I didn't – I didn't realise - you would freak out so much."
"Well I did!" He crossed his arms and whined. "Where did you even get that thing from?"
"A costume store, I've had this planned...for so...long...!"
"But, how did you...how could...?" Tai tried to work out what was going on, quickly becoming more overwhelmed than angry.
"At first I was gonna go to the bathroom and come back wearing the mask, but when somebody knocked at the door...it was too good an opportunity to miss!" His face was bright red from laughter.
Tai's face, meanwhile, was bright red from embarrassment, worry, and annoyance, all at once. "...you know, you're supposed to be the child of friendship. And you nearly gave me a heart attack."
"I'm sorry Tai," he offered, calming down upon hearing Tai's tone. "I didn't think you'd take it so badly."
Tai glowered with his bright brown eyes, and stamped on the ground. "You know I'm afraid of clowns."
Matt's eyes widened. "You're afraid of clowns?!"
"Of course I am. And you..." he began, trailing into a quiet murmur. "You didn't know?"
"I had no idea," Matt replied. He was starting to look a little pale in the face.
Tai crossed his arms unhappily. "Well. Now you do know."
"I'm so sorry Tai." Matt lowered his eyes as if expecting some ungodly punishment to lash down upon him. "Please forgive me. This is just a really, really bad coincidence."
"You mean it?"
Matt's frightened, shaky eyes suggested that he did. "I didn't know it would affect you like this. I swear."
"Fine," Tai said begrudgingly, "I guess I believe you. But you better make it up to me. And I don't wanna watch this film."
"Sure, I'll just turn it off." Matt nodded. They fell into quiet, and a sharp gale lashed against the apartment block, rattling through it. They both swallowed fearfully at the sound.
"So who was at the door anyway?" Tai asked, trying to sound as unafraid as possible.
"I don't know. There wasn't anybody there when I answered it. I figured I had just been too slow to get there and they had moved on." Matt got to the end of the sentence, thought about it for a moment, and then hurried to lock the door with a little yelp escaping from his mouth. "Hey, you think we should turn on the lights?"
"Yeah. And we should order pizza!"
"And turn on a comedy film!"
"And...can I sit next to you when we watch it?" Tai whispered, as if paradoxically afraid that Matt might hear him.
"Only if I can hold onto you whilst we sit next to each other."
Tai took the opportunity to latch onto Matt and squeeze him tightly where he stood. "I was going to do that anyway," he said into the blonde boy's shoulder, shakily. They made their way to the couch and continued to keep hold of each other all night whilst they watched comedy and ate pizza. The clown mask remained in the corner of the apartment, discarded but, in Tai's mind, far from forgotten.