It was a nice Summer day. We were all getting ready for the camping trip in a few days. And, by “we all”, I mean me and Katherine packed while our kids played. Nicole was in Scott’s room, attempting to wake him up. Naomi was outside. Or, was it the other way around? Huh, it’s hard to tell with those two girls, I guess they were called identical twins for a reason.
My seven-year-old daughter was playing outside in the backyard of our suburban home. Naomi had always been a quiet girl, when it came to being by herself. She was still energetic like her sister, but didn’t let that energy out unless they were playing a game or doing something that needed it, or provoked it. She played by herself, mostly, when Nicole and Scott are off doing their own things.
She never had very many friends, but she always had a wild imagination. She had a love for drawing, and playing with other people, but, there weren't many people to play with. I was in the kitchen packing up cans of food and the marshmallows for the trip, when I heard what sounded like Naomi talking to someone in the backyard. I’m not sure who it was she could be talking to. Could she have finally made a friend? Or, did Nicole and Scott sneak out behind me when I wasn’t paying attention? The second voice didn’t sound like any of my children, though. It was hard for me and Katherine to keep up with our son and daughters, so I decided to go outside and check on her while she finished packing.
When I went into the backyard, I was a bit confused, because Naomi was the only one back there. Was she talking to herself? I could have sworn I heard another voice. “Naomi, it’s time to come inside,” I called out to her.
She came inside and sat down at the kitchen table. “Nicole! Scott! Come on!” I shouted upstairs.
The two came running down only moments later, joining us at the table. I turned to my wife and she shrugged. It was about lunchtime, so I decided to make them all peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. “Naomi, who were you talking to out there?” I asked as Katherine set the plates down in front of them.
Naomi looked up for a moment, “I was playing with my new friend,” she said, smiling. Katherine poured all the kids a glass of milk as I continued to pry as any good father would do.
“Does your friend have a name? Why didn’t you invite them to lunch?” I asked.
Naomi stared at me for a moment before replying. “His name is Laughing Jack!” She said happily.
I was a bit taken back by what she had said, and Scott stifled a laugh as Katherine shot him a look. “Oh, that’s a....strange name. What does your friend look like?” I asked, a bit confused.
“He’s like a clown!” She said. “He’s really tall and has long hair. And a big swirly looking pointy nose. He’s got long arms and baggy pants with stripy socks and striped sleeves. He wears a lot of black and white, and he’s always smiling.”
I soon realized my daughter was talking about an...imaginary friend. I suppose it’s normal for kids at her age to have imaginary friends. Especially when she has no other kids, besides her siblings, to play with. “It’s probably just a phase,” my wife told me after the kids went back upstairs. “It will pass soon. Afterall, she’s only seven.”
The rest of the day went by quickly, and it was starting to get late. So I put Scott to bed as Katherine got the two twins into their rooms. I tucked him in, and said goodnight, turning off the light.
I was pretty tired myself, so I decided to go to bed too, pausing in our packing for the day. Me and Katherine talked for a while before actually falling asleep, though.
“Do you think it’s really an imaginary friend?” She asked me.
I shrugged. “Well yeah, it’s not like there are real people that are black and white,” I replied casually.
She sighed. “But, what if it was a real person who was talking to her? What if it was some sick man trying to get her to be his... friend?” She shivered in disgust next to me, gripping my arm tightly and burying her face in my shoulder. “I don’t want her to be hurt, David. What if she’s in trouble, but we just don’t know it?”
I stared at her for a moment. She looked truly terrified, but I didn't think much of it. I smiled, and pushed a strand of her blonde hair away from her face. “It’ll be fine. I’ll ask Naomi about it tomorrow. I’m sure it’s nothing. Like you said, it may very well just be another phase.”
I didn’t sleep well that night. I had an awful nightmare, if you could even call it a nightmare. It was dark. I was in some kind of run-down amusement park, all black and white. I was running through an endless field of empty tents, broken down rides, and abandoned game stations. The prize stuffed animals all were hanging from nooses in the game huts, all with evil, horrendous stitched grins. I began to hear a music box in the distance; the tune of pop-goes-the-weasel echoed through the park, almost hypnotizing.
I followed it’s music to a circus tent, big, with only a single spotlight shining in the middle. It was pitch black, too dark to see anything besides that one light. As I walked towards it, the music slowed down. I was unable to stop myself, as the music soon came to a stop right before its climax.
Suddenly, the lights came on. The intensity of the brightness was practically blinding. All I could see was a single, tall, dark silhouette, blurry, and shuffling towards me. I couldn’t move, my feet seemed to be stuck to the ground. Frozen. Then, another figure appeared, this one much smaller. Probably the size of a child. It looked like a girl, from what I could see, wearing a pink dress of some sort. Then, another appeared to the other side of the tall one in the middle, also wearing some sort of dress and was not much bigger than the other. They were all coming towards me.
All I could do was watch as the haunting figures drew nearer. As they got closer, I could finally make out their faces. They were children. One was a girl with bright, almost glowing green eyes, with long, curly brown hair. The other was another girl, paler than the other, with red and blue eyes, and red wavy hair that seemed to fade into black on the ends. They both were covered in scrapes, cuts, and blood. The one in pink wore muddy socks and a dirty pink nightgown. Blood dripped steadily from a wound on her head, hidden by her hair. The second girl wore a ripped jumper, one of the straps torn and hanging down uselessly. She wore a faded red shirt underneath it, and wore no shoes. Deep, horrifying gashes were just below her left eye, like something with long claws had slashed out at her. Each of the girls were holding a toy, the one in pink with an old teddy bear, and the one in red with a pink fox.
The children enveloped me, clawing at me and dragging me to the ground, tearing inside my skin. As the children tore me apart, and I began to fade away, I heard a strange, and demonic sounding laugh, almost taunting me as I was being murdered. The tall figure that had been standing in the middle stood over me, a wide grin on his black and white face…
I shot awake, beads of sweat on my forehead. Katherine was gone; she must have gotten up and was already at work. I looked over at the nightstand to see one of Naomi’s dolls, positioned facing me. I sighed. She must have put it there when she woke up.
I grabbed it, and made my way to Naomi and Nicole’s room. But, when I opened the door, Naomi was sound asleep, and so was Nicole. I just shrugged, and placed the doll back on her bed, and headed out to the living room.
A little while later, my daughter’s woke up, and I made them each breakfast as Scott slept in. Both girls looked tired, and a bit groggy. Perhaps they didn’t sleep well either. Since they were awake, I decided to ask them about the doll. “Naomi, sweetheart. Did you put the doll in mommy and daddy’s room?”
Her eyes shot up at me for a moment, then quickly glanced back down at the table. “Laughing Jack did it,” she said.
Nicole laughed. “Yeah, Jack did it.”
Naomi frowned at her sister, crossing her arms. “He did! I swear!” She cried out. I rolled my eyes at her response, partly because I would have to be dealing with their bickering for a long time.
“Well, you tell Laughing Jack to keep the toys in your room, hear me?”
She nodded, and finished her cereal. Then, decided to go back to the backyard again as Nicole got ready for a friend’s birthday party. I went to relax in the living room, and I must have dozed off, cause I woke up a couple of hours later. “Crap, I need to check on them!” I cried, rising to my feet, and running upstairs, only to find a note in Nicole’s handwriting: Went to Carrie's house for the party, be back soon!
I sighed in relief, but my worry quickly came back as Naomi popped into my mind. She had been outside for hours. Alone! I rushed back down the stairs, and went out into the backyard. But, Naomi wasn’t there. I began to grow nervous. Was Katherine right about her suspicions? I called out, “Naomi?! Naomi! Where are you?”
Just then, I heard a giggle come from the front yard. I jumped over the gate and ran around to the front of the house. Naomi was sitting on the sidewalk. I breathed in deeply in a sigh of relief and walked over to her.
“Naomi, how many times have I told you to stay in the backyar-- Naomi...what are you eating?”
Naomi looked up at me, then reached into her pocket and pulled out a handful of hard candies, in all colors. That made me very nervous. “Naomi, who gave you that candy?”
She just stared at me, not speaking.
“Naomi! Please tell daddy where you got that candy.” I said more sternly.
Naomi held her head down, and said, “Laughing Jack gave them to me.”
My heart sunk. I kneeled down to look her in the eyes, but she wouldn’t look directly at me. “Naomi, I have had enough with this damn ‘Laughing Jack’ thing! He’s not real. Now, this is a very serious situation. I need to know who gave you the candy.”
I could see my daughter’s eyes tear up. “But dad, Laughing Jack did give me the candy!” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
Naomi never lied to me, but what she was telling me was impossible. I made her spit out the candy and throw the rest away. She appeared to be fine. Maybe I’m just overreacting. Afterall, she could have gotten it from her aunt Cindy and uncle Kade from down the street, or perhaps the neighbors gave it to her to be nice.
Either way, I was going to have to keep a closer eye on her.
We finally got everything packed up, and Katherine insisted we go a day earlier. I didn’t know why she was so eager to leave, but I didn’t complain. We had everything ready to go anyway.
When we finally reached our camping spot and set up all the tents and the fire, I realized Naomi was acting quite strange. Was it because I took away that candy? Or because I said Laughing Jack wasn’t real? I didn’t know, but, something didn’t seem right.
“Sweetheart,” I said as she looked up at me. “Are you...feeling alright? You look like you didn’t sleep.”
She just stared at me, and we held each other’s gaze, until she finally tore her eyes away from mine almost painfully. “Naomi?” I said again, bending down so our eyes would meet.
“I just….I didn’t….I just had a bad dream. A...a Nightmare.” She finally said after a few long moments. I smiled gently, resting a hand on her shoulder. But, she jumped, her eyes growing wide and she pulled away. She looked as if I was going to hurt her.
“Whoa! Whoa, it’s okay!” I said as she continued to back away. “What’s gotten into you? Did something happen?”
She kept her mouth shut, her eyes unblinking as she stared right back at me. Then, she finally spoke, in a voice so quiet I almost couldn’t hear. “He doesn’t like you,”
I tilted my head. “What?”
Naomi sat back on the log normally, her hands clasped together in front of her. “He doesn’t like her, or you.”
“Who?” I said, growing more and more confused.
“Laughing Jack,” She replied. “He says he doesn’t like you guys very much.”
I gave her a forced smile, patting her knee and standing back up. For some reason, I started to grow worried, and scared. “I’ll be... right back, I want to talk to your mother-”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, daddy,” She said before I could walk away. My hands gripped the tree branch next to me tightly, but I didn’t turn around.
“Katherine?” I said as I approached her. “Katherine?”
She turned around, her arms full of the food we had brought. “Yes? What is it?”
I looked back at Naomi, who was still staring at me intently, as if she was waiting for something bad to happen. I put a hand on my wife’s shoulder, and lead her a little farther into the trees. “Scott, watch your sisters,” I said as I passed him. He nodded, and headed towards them.
“David, what is it? Why are you-”
I held up a hand to silence her. “Have you noticed Naomi acting...a little strange, lately?” I asked.
She looked back at her too, as Scott attempted to lore her away from the log. “Y-yes, I guess. She’s been awfully attached to this...Laughing Jack character, don’t you think?”
I got in my pocket, and pulled out the single piece of candy I had saved, holding it up in front of me with its colorful wrapper. “Do you know where this came from?”
She shook her head, “No, I’ve never seen candy like that before.”
I nodded. “Exactly. Naomi says that Laughing Jack gave some to her, and I made her throw it away. Ever since we left the house, she’s acting like she’d rather be at home in her room. And I know it’s not a teenage thing, because she’s only seven. Did something happen to her? She says that she had...a nightmare. ”
Katherine shrugged. “We should just...wait it out. She’ll get over this Jack eventually. It’s a phase, that’s all. This character she’s made up may just be a coping mechanism for her being bored all the time. I mean, all she has to talk to that are close to her age is Nicole and Scott,” She pointed at our children as Nicole dragged her sister off the log she was perched on, making her smile for the first time that day. The three of them started running around the open space, no doubt playing tag around the tents.
That night we all stayed up and roasted marshmallows over the fire. Naomi seemed to back to normal, well, at least a little. She looked like she was trying to avoid something. She kept looking around our little circle around the fire, and always stopped before she’d get to the end.
I leaned over Katherine’s shoulder. “Did you know anything about the nightmare Naomi had? Did she tell you anything?”
She looked up at me, almost a forced confused look on her face. “No, the first time I heard anything about a bad dream lately was when you said it earlier. Why do you ask?” She said, pulling the marshmallow off the metal rod we were using, and blowing on it.
I frowned. How could she be more interested in food than our own daughter? “It’s just that, when I asked her what was wrong this morning when we got here, she looked like she didn’t even want to look at me. And, when I put a hand on her shoulder, she freaked out like I was going to hurt her. Has she been being bullied at school or something?”
Katherine stared at me, her brown eyes twinkling in the light of the fire. “I’ve never heard anything like that, no. But, I guess it’s not entirely impossible.”
I nodded, keeping my head down. “Alright,” I said loud enough for everyone to hear. “Let’s get to bed.”
Naomi and Nicole whined, and Scott frowned. “Oh, come on!” They all seemed to cry at once.
I shook my head. “Come on, off to bed. You want to be well rested for tomorrow, right?”
Scott nodded, and the two girls stood up, heading to their tents in disappointment that they couldn’t stay up longer. “Wait,” Katherine said before they could crawl into them. “Everyone needs to use the bathroom. I don’t want you all waking up in the middle of the night needing to go.”
Scott narrowed his eyes. “Okay...where are the bathrooms?”
I laughed. “Um, there are none.”
Nicole scrunched her brows. “So you mean...we have to go…..outside?”
Katherine nodded with a laugh. “I’m afraid so. At least we brought toilet paper just in case.” She dug into the smallest bag we had and pulled out a single roll.
Nicole faked a gag. “Eww! That’s disgusting! I’m not doing that!”
I smiled. “So, are you not going to go to the bathroom for an entire week?”
She thought for a moment. “Fine, I’ll go.”
“That’s what I thought.”
Scott went out into the trees first, then Katherine led each girl out individually, making sure they didn’t go far. “You can go on and head to bed. Naomi’s just gonna go and we’re finished.”
I nodded. “All right, you heard her,” I pointed to the tents, and they all did what they were told. Scott got crawled into the one on the far end, and Nicole got into the one in the middle of the other two. “I’ll be in the tent,” I said to Katherine as they began to head into the trees.
She nodded, and then disappeared along with our daughter into the dark.
That morning, I woke up with a big grin on my face, I had slept great, especially for sleeping on the ground. I looked beside me, but Katherine wasn’t there. She probably got up early again, she always did. But...I can’t remember her ever coming back to the tent… I shook the thought out of my head.
I stepped out into the light of day to find Katherine, Naomi and Scott on the logs we were using like benches. “Good morning dad,” Scott greeted as he saw me.
I laughed nervously. “Um, how long was I asleep? What time is it?”
Katherine giggled. “It’s only about seven, Naomi...came and woke me up. And,” she leaned closer to me and whispered quietly so Scott and Naomi couldn’t hear. “I think she’s finally over that Laughing Jack thing. She hasn’t said anything about him in a while.”
As I thought about it, she was right. I hadn’t heard her say or do anything regarding Jack in a while. After that...frightening discussion we had, she’s never said a thing. I looked at Naomi, I noticed she seemed...well, even worse than before. She was wearing the black dress Katherine’s sister, Naomi’s aunt Cindy, had given to her, and her pitch-black hair was in a side ponytail, and what wouldn’t go back in the ponytail lay across her face, hiding the right half of it. “Well,” I said. “I think it’s really taken a toll on her. I mean, just look at her. She looks... horrible.”
When Scott got done eating, he stood up, smiling his usual child-like grin. “Come on Naomi! Let’s go play!”
She looked up at him, folding in her arms uncomfortably. “No. You go on ahead. I don’t feel like running right now.”
He frowned at her. “Fine. I’ll just get your sister. She’ll play with me.” As he headed towards her sister’s tent, Katherine spoke up.
“Scott! Don’t be rude to your sister.” She growled.
He scoffed. “Fine. I’m sorry,” He still stormed off to the tent, not looking back at her face. Naomi seemed to have a...confused look, on her face as her mother said it. Was she confused that her mother was sticking up for her?
That entire day, I watched Naomi closely. She seemed so different, and not in a good way. And that night, I tried to be as nice as I possibly could. I tucked her and her sister in, and switched spots with Katherine so I’d be closer to the two girls.
I was awoken by a loud bang came from the woods, and I hurried to get up. Katherine wasn’t next to me. I ran to my children’s tents at a speed only a father whose children were in danger could have.
I burst into the twin’s tent. Everything in the camp was broken, or knocked over. Scott was in the tent with the two girls, holding them close. Each one had their faces buried in his shoulders. They looked horrified, shaking and crying in fear. “Where is your mother?” I asked.
All of them shrugged their shoulders, and my heart stopped. I looked around and called out her name. There was no answer.
I looked up at my worried father, and my tears suddenly stopped. This could be my chance. “I’m... gonna get more wood for the fire, so we can see,”
I ran past him before he could stop me, pulling out of my brother’s grasp and running into the trees. “Jack!” I cried out. “Laughing Jack!”
I heard his insane laughter, and I stopped as he appeared behind one of the trees. “I see you actually came, my dear.” he giggled insanely.
I smiled. “Yes! Of course I did. You told me to.”
He smiled, walking around me in circles. “Now, now, What made your family allow you to come out here?”
“They didn’t let me. Mommy... went missing and daddy tried to stop me.”
He smiled at me. “Well, that was very naughty of you, am I right?”
I nodded, but the smile didn't leave my face. “I’m just happy you came!” I reached over and hugged his legs, since he was too tall for me to reach his upper body. He stared down at me, and an evil, devilish look spread across his face.
“Follow me, my dear,” He started walking further into the trees, and I followed close behind, the yells from my brother and my father echoing in the trees.
It was a while before I realized I was walking in front of him, and, I suddenly felt a hand grip the back of my shirt. I jumped, pulling away and seeing Jack with a worried look, his smile disappearing for the first time since I met him.
“It’s okay!” He shouted. “I’m not going to harm you,” He reached for my dress again, and this time, I let him. He pulled the sleeve off of my shoulder, and, my blood ran cold as the red, bloody marks from my mother’s belt became visible on my shoulder blade.
He looked up at me with a strange expression I had yet to see in his piercing white eyes. He extended his hand out to touch my face, and brushed my hair away, exposing my bruised, swollen eye.
“Who...Who did this to you?” His voice was so quiet and so devoid of happiness it sent chills up my spine.
“....My mommy did...” I whispered, unsure how to answer him.
He frowned, and started walking back towards the camp. I followed. “What...What are you gonna do?”
“Your mother and father did this to you?” He repeated.
I shrugged. “My daddy didn’t do it, my mom did. But...I guess he never noticed, so...maybe it was kinda his fault too….”
He looked back at me and narrowed his eyes. “Or, he just didn’t care.”
He pointed to a certain tree, telling me to stay put. But, I grabbed his long arm, and let out an indistinct cry that even I didn’t understand. “Please, just don’t hurt my brother and sister. They didn’t do anything! Please, don’t hurt them!”
He put a hand on my shoulder, and nodded. Then he was gone.
I waited for a while before hearing the screams. None of which belonged to either my brother or my sister. He suddenly appeared again, his black and white complexion now with a deep red coloring. He smiled at me, and I smiled back. “Do you want to see your present?” He asked.
I nodded. “Really? Yeah!”
He then led me a ways even further into the trees, until I could see the absolute horrific scene laid out in front of me.
My mother and father’s bodies were hanging from one of the trees, hung up by their own intestines. Their chests were cut wide open, and their organs hung down to the ground. Their eyes and tongues had been removed, along with most of their teeth. Fresh blood dripped onto the ground, pooling all the way over to my feet, and seeping into my ripped socks.
I was disgusted, hardly believing these were my parents. But, I was also...happy. I couldn’t explain it, but, seeing them in this state made me have a whole new perspective on life. On my life. A small giggle arose in me, and escaped from my throat, causing Laughing Jack’s smile to grow wider. Then I heard it. Gasping, deep moans from their bodies. They were still alive, clinging to life.
I frowned, and Laughing Jack laughed louder, handing me a bladed knife with a smile. “Would you like to do the honors?”
I smiled in return, and nodded, accepting the knife and stepping towards them. I looked into their empty eye sockets, and even with their eyes, I could feel them staring back. I smiled once I looked at my mother. “How does it feel, mommy?” I asked. “Does it hurt?”
Without a letting a second go by, I plunged the knife into her still-beating heart, ending her disfigured life.
Laughing jack giggled creepily from behind me, and stabbed his razor-sharp finger into my father’s head, killing him as well. I laughed, letting the warm, wet blood drip onto my hands, and I giggled at the feeling. I enjoyed it. It was so unique to me.
Jack looked down at me, extending his hand out for me to take. I put my hand in his, and we descended into the trees as the sound of sirens echoed through the woods. His voice cut through the sirens, though, allowing me to just barely hear him.
“Let’s go home…”