At first, it was the blue wizard’s hat with little white stars and crescent moons that caught his eye, but when he could see what sat under the hat, the stoic detective almost shivered at the memories it conjured. A movie about a little girl sucked into her television, a house built on a cemetery, and a little clown doll that chased a boy under his bed. All those images flocked through his mind as Martin Deeks closed the distance with an exact replica of that very doll, the one that had haunted his dreams as a young boy and now was only mere inches away.
Deeks had been looking for a way to repay Sam for the scare the big SEAL had delivered the year before on All Hallows Eve… a little joke involving a glow in the dark skeleton rigged to appear when a particular someone walked into the armory. Last year, that someone had been Deeks and the blonde had almost wet himself when he stepped into the well-planned gag. On that day, after he’d remembered how to breathe, the detective had sworn that he would have his revenge and that it would be sweet. The fates had smiled on him this day because Sam hated clowns with a passion and creepy dolls even more so.
“You’re not actually going to buy that, are you?” Kensi had watched as Deeks raised the doll with reverent care.
When he turned to face her, the doll’s long legs that were painted with horizontal red and white stripes hung down almost to the floor. “But Kensi, this is exactly what I need to pay Sam back for last Halloween.”
It took only a moment for the brunette to remember the day Deeks had preceded her into the armory and the girly yelp that he had uttered when the glowing skeleton had dropped. “Oh, you mean the day where you scared me with that high pitched scream that almost made my ears bleed?” Her coy smile gave away her scolding, to be honest, the jump scare had got her too but Deeks had been the first to react.
Deeks nodded, accepting her jibe in stride. “Yeah, that one.”
“You know, you guys keep trying to one up each other and nothing good will come of it.” The look in his eyes told her that it was pointless to try and talk him out of it, and besides, maybe Sam needed a good scare this year. “But it looks like I’m wasting my breath.”
“Look Kens, Sam’s been tormenting me ever since I started working with you guys and he’s pretty merciless around Halloween… maybe this will show him that turnabout is fair play.”
Kensi shrugged as they headed for the cashier. “Well, let me know how it works out.”
“Don’t you want to help?”
Letting out a scoff, Kensi shook her head vigorously. “No way.”
She stopped walking next to him and when he turned to face her, Kensi’s face contorted in disgust at the doll in his hands. “Because that thing is already creeping me out.”
“What? This little thing?” He held it up between them, rocking it from side to side and the little bells sewn onto the hat, arms and legs made a distinct and haunting jangling sound.
“Keep that thing away from me.” When that only made him shift it closer, Kensi gave him the look that indicated that he was mere moments from something painful happening to a very special part of his body.
Seeing that his lover wasn’t kidding around, Deeks quickly tucked it behind his back. “Okay, I guess I’ll just save it for Sam.”
“That sounds like a good idea … or I will have to hurt you.” Noting a shift in his demeanor, Kensi hip-checked him as they moved toward the front of the store. “But you are on to something… Sam hates dolls and clowns… so that should really freak him out.”
“That’s the plan, Fern.”
Deeks shot upright on the couch, his heart hammering in his chest and a thin coat of sweat chilling his forehead. It took a second or two for him to realize where he was, lying on their couch in their living room while some late night infomercial tried to sell something guaranteed to make his life easier. Shaking the cobwebs of the dream that had awoken him, he let out a heavy breath as his entire body shivered with the memory. It had been a little too real and vivid as it took some concerted effort to let it wash further into the fog of his mind. Visions of Kensi getting dragged into their television danced behind his eyes and Deeks pressed the heels of his palms into his eye sockets to erase the terrified look on her face and the horrid scream that had escaped his lungs while helpless to move to her aid.
“Damn … maybe I should have listened to her and not watched that movie.”
Kensi had warned him after they had finished decorating for the upcoming night of trick-or-treaters and cheap scares, but he’d been stoked ever since he had found the clown doll and it was Halloween after all, perfect time for a little nostalgic Spielberg horror show. Now, with a chilling nightmare fading from his mind, Deeks decided that one more step in growing closer to his love was to actually take her advice a little more often. Still trembling, he moved across the wood floor into the kitchen hoping that a cool drink of spring water would help shake the remaining jitters.
Then he heard it.
He stopped just inside the threshold, letting his ears search out the unfamiliar sound over the quietness of the house. There it was, clear as day.
And it was closer this time. The air grew still, like it was now something solid that held everything in place as a tremor ran across the detective’s back and up across his shoulders, leaving him unable to move.
Maybe it was Monty. The dog had a ton of toys and some even had bells… but he would be upstairs, dozing on the end of their bed in his devotion to the brunette who was sleeping there.
“Snap out of it dude, you’re just scaring yourself.” His little pep talk gave him some measure of courage and he let out a heavy sigh as he took a step toward the fridge… freezing when movement beyond the end of the counter caught his eye.
It looked like something ducked down below the level of the counter top.
And Deeks was frozen in place. He’d seen it. A brief glimpse of blue fabric with white moons and frizzy, red hair.
Part of him wanted to step back away from whatever it was, because it couldn’t be what he thought… not possible at all. But he found himself stepping forward, toward whateverthehellitwas, his hands sweaty once more and his pulse thumping in his ears, until he was close enough to lean down slowly to peak around the edge… slowly… slowly…
Nothing there at all.
Deeks blew out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding and rocked back on his heels to stand, placing his hand on the marble top to steady himself. Turning in the direction of the fridge, he came eye to eye with a clown face, including big white eyes, red hearts painted on the cheeks, big red nose and a hideous smile.
The scream that exploded from Deeks’ lungs was quickly muffled as the clown launched itself at his head, wrapping its long legs and arms around his head and neck, smothering him.
<jingle> <jingle> <jingle>
“…mmmmppphhhhhh mmmhhh…” Deeks’ hands came up to claw at the thing that was now attached to his face, frantically tugging at the doll’s soft body that held horrible strength. The blood thumping in his ears was now deafening as he staggered backward, slamming his hip into something hard and the duo tumbled to the floor, landing in a heap and the man’s head hit the tiled floor hard enough to make him see stars.
When the white spots cleared from his vision, Deeks realized that he couldn’t breathe because the clown doll was tightening its chokehold, having moved onto his back. Rolling to his right, he tried to shake off the terror but its arms simply constricted even tighter and the room was beginning to spin.
As the darkness closed in, Deeks was only aware of the tickle of the thing’s hair against his neck and the wicked cackling coming from somewhere near his left ear.
He was screaming her name as he shot upright in the bed, Kensi jerking awake at his side and Monty snapping his head toward the commotion at the head of the bed.
“Deeks? Babe?” Kensi rolled onto her elbow, concern flooding her as her boyfriend struggled to catch his breath. “Hey, you okay?” Haunted eyes turned to lock with hers and for a moment, she saw a scared little boy before he hid away behind the man she loved.
“Ah… geez…” Deeks rubbed at his eyes, his hands trembling as he struggled to regain his composure from the nightmare within a nightmare he had just endured.
“I told you not to watch that movie…” The words were a bit harsh, but the tender tone in which they were spoken conveyed her true concern. “ …it was just a nightmare, breathe Marty… just breathe.”
He was still shaking when she reached out to touch him, his skin cool under her fingertips and he had to fight the urge to pull away at the unexpected contact. Sighing, Deeks relaxed into Kensi, letting her tug him into the circle of her arms and the warmth of her body. It took a few moments, but his breathing finally returned to a more even level and the tension from the visions began to fade.
He turned his face into the cove of her throat, breathing her in. “Ohhh man… that was… that was intense.”
“You good?” Kensi giggled when his scruff tickled her collarbone.
“I will be.” Deeks pressed his lips to her skin and the giggle turned into a soft moan, but she wouldn’t be deterred just yet.
“Wanna talk about it?”
Huffing his breath against her skin, Deeks let out a petulant groan. “No.”
He burrowed against her, sliding his hands to her hips and tugging her in closer, letting the coolness of her skin soothe his frayed nerves.
“Was it the clown doll?”
Deeks response was a frustrated grunt. “Kens…”
Sensing that this really was something that he didn’t want to discuss, she gently kissed the top of his head and held him tight. “Okay… okay… no talking, just let me hold you.”
“That’s the plan, love.”
They lay in each other’s embrace until the terror had finally slid from his mind, lost in the soft tug of slumber that had come to claim him once more. As the darkness fell over him this time, his last conscious thought was of the smell of his ladybird’s cinnamon body wash and the soft thump of her heartbeat under his ear.
At the Mission …
“Since we have no open cases and… surprisingly… the holiday hasn’t had its usual overabundance of frivolities, I recommend that the team take some time to augment their training with some sparring time this morning.” Hetty simply nodded in the direction of the gym after the morning’s briefing that hadn’t really been a briefing at all. Callen and Sam exchanged one of their ‘looks’ then a quick shrug before following each other out the sliding doors.
Deeks glanced back over his shoulder and the operations manager must have picked up on his mischievous smirk because she gave him her patented warning glare, but the plan was in place and it was still too good to pass up. As they reached the top of the stairs, he leaned over and whispered into his girlfriend’s ear.
“This is perfect, Kens.”
For her part, Kensi simply rolled her eyes. “I don’t want to know what you’re up to but I’ll have the car running when Sam comes to kill you.”
Deeks just shrugged. “Nah, he knows what day it is… and I think he’ll get over it… eventually.”
She bumped his hip with hers, chuckling lightly. “For your sake I hope so.”
At the bottom of the stairs, they parted as Deeks headed over to his personal locker where he had stashed his backpack that contained a particular item. He paused for a moment, checking that the coast was clear before entering the lock’s combination and sliding the metal door open. After one more look around the bullpen, Deeks reached in and grabbed the top handle loop and tugged the bag through the opening.
Then he stopped.
The bag didn’t weigh what it had when he had put it in earlier that morning and after shaking it gently, it was clear that it was empty. Deeks raised it to eye level, turning it slowly, taking note that all the compartments were closed, especially the center one where he had placed the doll. A momentary shiver ran up his spine but then his brain came up with the answer.
“Kens… come on babe, where did you put it?” The blonde let out a little huff but took his girlfriend’s little gag in stride, swallowing down the twinge at the way this doll was causing him more than enough of his own freaky moments. Deciding to catch up with her in the gym, he dropped his bag beside his desk and hurried off to catch up with the others.
When he left the locker room, Kensi was standing at the edge of the workout mat watching Sam and Callen tangle with a pair of Kali fighting sticks. Stepping up on her right, Deeks leaned in a whispered into her ear.
“Where’d you put it?”
She canted toward him, but kept her eyes on the older agents. “Where did I put what?”
“You know what.”
This time, she looked over at him with a confused expression. “If I knew what the what was… I wouldn’t have asked.”
“Come on babe… the doll… I wanted to put it in Sam’s locker while he’s busy beating up Callen.”
A look of shear horror passed over Kensi’s face. “Deeks, I told you earlier, that thing creeps me out… there’s no way I want to even see it again… much less actually touch it.”
Since he could read her like a book, the honesty in her eyes didn’t leave any room for doubt. But if she hadn’t taken it out of his locker, and she was the only other person that knew his combination, who else could have moved it?
Kensi must have sensed something wasn’t right. “What’s going on babe?”
Shaking his head, Deeks kept it to himself. “Nothing, but I think somebody’s trying to play the player… and I need to step up my game.”
“Player? Game?” Kensi was shaking her head as she spoke. “You’ve been hanging around Kip too much.”
Deeks was about to respond when Callen called out for them to step out on the mat and pick up their own fighting sticks. As they passed, Deeks gave Sam a challenging look that only confused the former SEAL who appeared to have no idea what it was about. After a moment or two, Deeks shrugged it off and engaged his girlfriend who, despite their mutual proclamations of affection, once again gave him a very strenuous workout.
What felt like hours later, Deeks stood under the hot spray of the shower, letting the water wash away the sweat, dirt, and some of the more painful of Kensi’s blows. The whereabouts of the doll had temporarily slipped his mind and he allowed his thoughts to wander to a fantasy about sharing a shower at work with a certain brunette… but then thoughts of Hetty’s unique ability to see and know everything doused the embers before they could catch fire.
He turned off the spray and dried himself quickly but when he stepped out from the stall, his body froze and all precious thoughts were forgotten. Sitting on the end of the bench that ran along the floor in front of the showers… sat the doll that had disappeared from his locker that morning. Its striped legs hung down till the white booted feet touched the floor, the head with its frilly red hair was canted a little to the left and the painted on, smiling face was looking directly at him.
Deeks was barely breathing. The two simply stared at each other… the human locked in fear and the doll motionless because it was just a doll.
Seconds or minutes passed with the only sound the drip-drip of water droplets falling from the shower nozzle to the tiled floor behind him as Deeks fought against the fear that was coursing through him. Finally, someone opened the door at the other end of the room, drawing the detective’s attention from the monstrosity that had been waiting for him and the reality of the situation set in.
Laughing lightly to himself, Deeks ruffled his hair with the towel as he finally stepped out of the shower. “Good one Kens… or Sam… or whoever… that’ll stick with me for a while.” But as he ran the towel down over his face, he heard the distinctive jingle of tiny bells. Yanking the towel from over his head that was obstructing his vision, Deeks sought out the doll that had been only a few feet away a moment ago, but had now disappeared. Sam was quick and Kensi was sneaky… but no one on the planet was that good.
“Holy crap…” Deeks’ words escaped in a ragged groan as now his fear was real. Something was up and no thought that came to his frazzled brain made any sense. This couldn’t be happening, there had to be an explanation. “…uh… okay… Kensi slipped something into my water bottle and I’m hallucinating… no, she wouldn’t do that… ummm… Sam clocked me with his fighting stick and I’m lying on the floor of the gym with a concussion.” Deeks nodded to himself, his answer sounding much more confident than he actually felt. “Yeah, that’s it… I’m heading to the emergency room for a CT scan and all of this is simply a…”
A hideous chuckle interrupted his thoughts.
It had come from around the corner near the end of the lockers and was just like the one from his dream.
Deeks had never dressed more quickly in his life, wanting to get out of that room as fast as possible but also not wanting to run screaming through the Mission in nothing more than his birthday suit. He didn’t waste time with a shirt and he was pretty sure he forgot to zip up his jeans but he had to get out of there… now!
A small amount of relief came when the heavy door closed behind him but it lasted only a second when something small ducked back around the corner at the end of the hallway. Something wearing a blue pointed hat with white crescent moons.
But this time, instead of fear washing over him, it was anger. Deeks let out a sound that was more of a growl than a groan, and before he realized what he was doing, his feet were carrying him toward the source of his terror rather than away from it.
“Enough… you want to dance little clown… let’s dance.”
His courage faded slightly when he reached the corner but his own forward momentum carried him into the next hallway that appeared to be empty. At the far end, there was the Emergency Exit with the push bar that sounded an alarm if it was opened, so nothing had gone that way. That left only two other doors… one that led to the archive room, which was secured with a keypad lock that chirped whenever someone accessed that room.
Which left only one choice.
The burn room… which had no lock.
Stopping just outside, Deeks took a long deep breath before blowing it out in a long huff, resting his right hand on the cool steel door. As his courage warred with his anxiety, he slowly pushed it open and the light from the hallway illuminated the room without the need for the overheads. As his eyes adjusted, Deeks stepped cautiously further into where he was sure the object of his fear was hiding… or waiting.
The sudden click of the door latching behind him caused him to flinch but it was only because it had surprised him. He’d swallowed his fear and now he was ready to face whatever was hiding in the shadows.
“Okay, it’s just us… come on out and let’s do this.” He kept his voice low, trying to give it a menacing quality but there was still a little tremor to it. Deeks could feel the pressure building inside his chest as the silence grew to an almost deafening level but he refused to give in.
Behind him, to his left. Deeks spun dropping his shoulders in case the threat charged out of one of the dark corners, but there was nothing there. He was standing up when something whipped past his head close enough to ruffle his hair. He let out a very un-manly yelp and stumbled to his left while swinging out with his fist, which connected with nothing but air.
Soft cackling echoed through the small room, bouncing off the block walls and filling Deeks’ ears and sending a shiver down his spine. Looking up, he saw the clown-doll trying to tuck itself behind one of the air conditioning ducts that ran along the back wall.
“Oh, no you don’t!”
Deeks took one quick step before launching himself into the air and just as the doll was about to slip out of reach, the detective’s outstretched hand closed around one of its legs. Dropping back to the floor, Deeks yanked the doll out of its hiding spot and they fell together. As he struggled to regain his footing, the doll tried to scamper onto his shoulders, just like it had in his dream.
Summoning strength and courage that he didn’t know he had, the detective caught the clown by its fluffy collar and yanked it away from his body. It began to struggle against his grip, attempting to slip away but the man’s clenched hands held on tight.
“NO! Not this time.” Deeks flipped the thing upside down and slammed it head first into the concrete floor but it only cackled back at him and began to wrap its hands around his wrists. Seeing that it was about to tangle him up with its fleshless arms, the man stumbled back until his back hit the front of the industrial incinerator that was used to dispose of sensitive materials. Out of the corner of his eye, Deeks saw the control panel and with a swipe of his elbow, he activated the startup sequence that turned on the gas-powered burners.
The thing struggling against him grew more frantic in its movements as if it sensed what the human was planning. Scary cackling grew into frustrated mewls as it strained to escape from the death grip in which it was trapped.
Deeks kicked the incinerator’s door open with his foot and drew his arms back to hurl the doll into the flames that were growing in intensity. When his arms were almost at their apex, the doll managed to squirm loose and was reaching for his throat but the forward momentum carried it through the door. The heat from the flames singed the hair on the detective’s arms but he continued to push forward, driving the monstrosity further into the large oven. When the clown-doll stopped struggling, Deeks released it and drew his arms clear of the fire and just as it was about to launch itself out the opening, he slammed the heavy door closed.
Stepping back, Deeks could hear the thing struggling to find an escape and the mewling only grew louder and louder.
Then it slowly faded until there was only the sound of the gas jets feeding the fires.
And Deeks’ panted breathing.
“I got you… you little bastard… got you.”
He waited a few minutes, listening for any signs of movement and when he was satisfied there was nothing left, he hit the ‘shut-down’ button and the fires died, leaving the room silent once more. It took a moment, but Deeks finally managed to put his shirt and shoes on and find his way back up to operations where he met Kensi at the top of the stairs.
“Where the hell have you been? We’ve been looking all over for you!” Kensi was angry and at bit scared too, but when she saw her boyfriend’s face and the haunted look in his eyes, she shifted into protective mode in an instant. “Whoa, hey… you okay?”
He gave her a quick hug that told her that he wasn’t okay at the moment, but that he would be.
Deeks just shook his head. “Let’s talk about it later okay?”
She nodded in understanding but then she asked. “Did you find the doll?” The look of terror told her all she needed to know. “Okay… later.”
Deeks felt a surge of gratitude so great, he almost forgot her rule about flagrant public affection while at work but he managed to restrain himself. Whatever had happened was over and part of him still said it was because Sam had cracked him over the head but the thing was gone and life would return to normal.
He let his girlfriend lead him through the sliding doors to operations, letting the horror of what had just occurred down in the burn room fade enough for him to finally stop shaking. Luckily for him, the rest of the day turned out to be busy enough that it slipped further into his mind until he was sure it was just an after effect of getting clocked by Sam.
At least, that’s what he kept telling himself.
Later, back at home…
The candy bowls were empty, Monty was so done with his Zombie dog costume, and the candle in the Jack-o-lantern had almost completely burned out. Kensi was busy tucking everything away while eating the last of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that her boyfriend had kept away from the last of the little goblins and ghouls who had been knocking on their door for the past few hours. They were both pretty tired and were looking forward to a long bath (hopefully together) and cuddling in bed after a long day.
“Did you get enough?” Deeks asked as he started turning out the lights in the yard and on the front porch. They’d clean up all the zombie decorations tomorrow or the next day, they didn’t really care at that point.
“Gemp enoump op whap?” Kensi tried to chew faster but the peanut butter was sticking to the roof of her mouth and her words came out muddled.
Slipping an arm around her, he tugged her hard against his front, crushing the crepe paper that had been his own homemade costume. Kensi squeaked against the skin of his throat, thinking that he was getting an early start on their own nocturnal activities until she felt his hand slip across her backside to dig in her back pocket. She heard the sound of the crinkling wrapper and blushed when he dangled it just in front of her face. “I should buy stock in these things… we could retire in a year.”
Deeks chuckled into her hair that needed a good wash to remove all of the fake coloring and hairspray that made it stick up in all directions. “Hey, you smell like peanut butter…” He made an exaggerated sniff. “… and chocolate.”
“Amd I tate like ’em too.” Her lips were hot on his and she was telling the truth about how she tasted. Pushing him back, Kensi snagged the last two packs from the end of the counter before flying up the stairs. “Give me a mimite…” she paused as she swallowed. “…give me a minute to get out of this getup and you can have another taste.”
Deeks watched her bound up and away until she rounded the corner at the top of the stairs but when he turned toward the front door, the darkened room sent a slight shiver up his back… a slight memory of his dream danced through his head. Shaking it off, he moved to the door in three quick strides and looked out through the peephole but a shadow passed across the porch.
“Sorry kids …” Deeks kept his voice even, trying to sound authoritative but also friendly at the same time. “…but we’re all… out…”
There was no one there.
“Huh.” He stepped out just far enough to see if it was some hooligans about to toilet paper his yard when he heard it.
A dark and familiar one from the nightmare that had almost left his mind.
Something moved at the end of the walkway, near the stone wall that bordered the front yard. Something wearing a white fluffy shirt and a blue conical hat.
Deeks slammed the door closed and fastened the deadbolt while his feet were already dragging him toward the stairs. A hot bath and his even hotter girlfriend would have to chase away the ghosts once more.
Have a happy and safe Halloween!