Jolly, whose given name was Julius Timour, laughed as his brother twisted and pulled and bent the bright pink balloon into the shape of a flamingo. The six-year-old jumped up and down in unadulterated delight at the amazing balloon animal Flynn had created for him.

“Is that really for me, Flynn?” the enthusiastic little boy asked, reaching for the plastic bird.

His light hazel eyes glowed bright with joy; his smile stretched from one freckled cheek to the other; his tousled hair became even more awry as he jumped up again in an attempt to grab the balloon animal. Flynn held it ever so slightly out of reach of his baby brother.

“Sure, it’s yours, but only if you agree to be the clown at Hailey’s party next Saturday. She loves midgets, so I’ll say you’re a dwarf clown,” Flynn said.

Hailey was his current flame; they had been dating for just over three months now, the longest Flynn had ever been with a girlfriend. When Theresa, his mom, had asked seventeen-year-old Flynn if he was serious about the sixteen-year-old girl, Flynn had just shrugged and said, “Meh,” which could mean anything from “No way!” to “Hell, yeah!”.

“But I don’t have a clown costume, Flynn,” Jolly complained, still reaching for the enticing balloon flamingo. He scrunched his button nose up in annoyance.

“Don’t you worry about a thing, little brother. I’ve got the perfect costume for you, and we’ll ask Mom to do the make-up. Okay?”

“Fine, I guess,” Jolly agreed as Flynn finally handed him the balloon – only to pop it! Jolly’s mouth formed a perfect O in surprise before it turned down in disappointment.

“Why are you so mean?” the little boy asked Flynn before running off to his secret hideaway. He could hear Flynn’s raucous laughter following him.

Safely ensconced in his lair, as he liked to think of the loft in the barn, Jolly settled himself comfortably upon the dry hay scattered on the wooden floor. He replaced the hay every second day with fresh ones. Pulling a blanket over his legs, Jolly sat against the back wall. He faced the attic window that gave him a view of the small lake that bordered their farm.

“Monkey,” Jolly addressed his stuffed tiger, “you would never be mean to me, would you? Of course not. You’re my best pal and you love me just as much as I love you,” Jolly answered his own question, hugging the toy animal tightly to his chest. He went absolutely rigid though when he heard a slight, unfamiliar noise coming from below.

Jolly couldn’t immediately identify what the sound was, until he heard it again. It sounded like air hissing out of a balloon: high pitched and drawn out. It was followed by a cackle. Jolly’s overactive six-year-old imagination instantly conjured up a warty-nosed witch wearing a peaked hat, standing at the bottom of the steps leading up to the loft.

In a flash, Jolly went over to the top of the staircase to peek over the edge. He lay flat on his stomach and carefully edged his head over the entrance. Nobody was at the bottom of the stairs.

Did I imagine it? Jolly thought, wondering if he was hearing things. Without allowing himself to overthink, Jolly rose to his feet to climb boldly down the steps. Upon reaching the barn floor, Jolly cast about in the large area, seeking the source of the sound. There was nobody visible in the entire place. Then he heard the hissing again. This time, it was right next to his left ear. Jolly caught a glimpse of a hideous white face with a red slit for a mouth and eyes surrounded by coal-black patches.

Yelling out in fright, the little boy sprinted out of the barn! Instead of making for the house, Jolly ran towards the lake. He dared not look behind him, convinced that he was being pursued by some monster. He kept running as if all the beasts in the world were nipping at his heels. When he neared the bank of the lake, Jolly’s terror impelled him into the lake itself. All reason had been conquered by his fear; the instinct to survive by getting as far away as possible from his pursuers dominated Jolly’s mind.

His dread made him forget that he was a terrible swimmer.

Theresa discovered his floating body only later that night, after she and Flynn had searched all afternoon for him. The mystery of why Jolly had even ventured into the lake when he knew he couldn’t swim well was never solved.


“Damn stupid clowns! Why do they always think they’re so funny?” Flynn fumed angrily as he and Hailey walked through the Food Festival carnival dotted with a variety of colorful tents and kiosks.

“You know, Flynn. I just don’t get what you have against clowns,” Hailey said. “We’ve been married for twelve years now, but I still don’t understand your hatred of them.”

“Well, love, that’s because they irritate the you-know-what out of me. These ‘clowns’ are exactly that: clowns! Also, they just seem so… so creepy to me, I guess,” Flynn admitted as the two of them stopped by a donut kiosk.

When Hailey had suggested to Flynn that they visit the festival that Saturday morning, Flynn had been happy to agree. He had been working late most nights for the past month on a project at work that was way over the deadline, and he had needed the distraction. Now, he wasn’t so sure it had been such a brilliant idea. He had been unaware that there would be clowns at the festival.

“Look, honey,” Hailey said, linking her arm through her husband’s as they waited to receive their order of cinnamon donuts, “if you want, we could just go home now. I don’t want you to be upset by another clown. I’m sure there are more of them at the festival, entertaining the kids.”

Hailey couldn’t understand Flynn’s fear of clowns and was surprised to find that there was actually a name for it when she decided to Google-search why people feared clowns. Coulrophobia was what it was called. The condition accurately described Flynn’s behavior whenever he saw a clown. He became anxious and often broke out in a sweat. Hailey never mentioned the name of the condition to Flynn for fear of upsetting him even more.

“No, it’s fine. Let’s just walk around and enjoy the morning. I need this break,” said Flynn. He already felt stupid for his reaction to the clown who had only wanted to make a balloon animal for Hailey.

At twenty-eight, Flynn was a very successful robotics engineer at NVIDIA, working on the Jetson Orin AI computer that could power autonomous machines. Hailey worked as an administrative assistant in the same company. After getting married, Flynn had received his trust fund his father had created for his sons before his death of leukemia. Flynn had used some of the windfall to buy a modest house in the city, but Theresa had opted to stay on at the farm. Jolly’s share of the trust had gone to Theresa by default.

After taking their donut order, Flynn turned around, nearly knocking over a short clown who had been waiting in line right behind him. The midget’s clown make-up face split into a grin, showing that he was fine, but Flynn paled as if seeing a ghost.

“Oh, er.. I’m sorry. Um, I… I didn’t see…” Flynn stammered, trying to hastily maneuver around the man. He pulled Hailey physically along by her arm. She tried to object, but by then Flynn had steered both of them away from the booth. They sat down at an area designated as a food court.

“Flynn, what the hell was that about?” Hailey demanded, glaring at her husband.

“What? I don’t know what you’re talking about, babe,” Flynn feigned ignorance.

“Please, don’t give me that BS,” Hailey responded angrily. “You know perfectly well what I’m talking about. Why did you freak out like that when you saw the clown midget?”

“Oh, that. I told you earlier, I think clowns are creepy,” Flynn reminded Hailey before taking a bite of his donut.

Hailey gave Flynn a stern look that said I don’t buy that for a second, but she kept silent. She told herself that once they got home, she would insist that Flynn tell her the real reason for his unreasonable fear of clowns.

Flynn smiled sweetly at his wife, immeasurably relieved that she had decided to drop the topic.

Upon reaching home, Flynn busied himself in his office, claiming that he needed to work on his robotics project. Hailey had calmed down; she decided to postpone her cross examination of Flynn, but she promised herself to confront him about it soon. She could not have known that things would come to a head much sooner than she had anticipated.


The next day, Sunday morning at nine-thirty, Theresa called Flynn.

“I wanted to invite you and Hailey over for lunch today. Please don’t say it’s short notice,” Theresa said before Flynn could object. Since Flynn had moved to the city, she had received only a few visits from her son who always seemed to have one excuse or the other for why he couldn’t come out to the farm. The farm was a mere two-hour drive away from the city, but it might have as well have been a continent apart, so infrequently did Flynn visit her.

“Mom, I’m actually really busy on a project that has a tight deadline. I don’t think…” Flynn began when Hailey snatched the cell phone from his hand.

“Mom, we’d love to come,” Hailey told Theresa, making direct eye contact with Flynn and daring him to contradict her. Flynn knew to back off when Hailey gave him The Look.

“Great! I’ll see you guys by twelve, yeah?”

“Yes, for sure. See you later,” Hailey said, ending the call and handing the phone back to Flynn. “I guess we’re having lunch at your mom’s today. Better get ready,” she advised Flynn as she sauntered off to the bathroom.

They arrived at the farm just before noon, finding Theresa waiting for them on the veranda. She had a tall carafe filled with ice cold lemonade and glasses on a tray waiting for them.

It was a warm day, not uncomfortably so, with a sky so blue and clear it looked newly-created.

“Your mom’s always so considerate,” Hailey remarked before she got out of the car to go over and hug Theresa. Flynn followed reluctantly, giving his mother only a cursory hug before preceding her to the veranda.

“I thought you might be thirsty after the drive,” Theresa explained as she poured the lemonade for them. “Lunch is ready, whenever you want to tuck in,” she added.

“I’m starving,” Hailey said, laughing at her admission. “What did you make for lunch, Mom?”

“I made my famous lamb chops, roasted potatoes, garlic bread, baked gem squash filled with cream-style sweet corn and cheese, and lemon meringue tart for dessert.”

“Wow! That’s a kingly feast,” Hailey remarked.

“It was my son’s favorite meal,” Theresa sad softly, avoiding eye contact with Flynn.

“Was? So you don’t like it anymore, Flynn?” Hailey asked her husband who had for some reason suddenly gone stiff as a board in his chair.

“Not mine. Mom’s referring to Julius,” Flynn answered abruptly, then got up to go inside the house.

“Julius? I didn’t know you had a son named Julius,” Hailey said, turning a confused face to Theresa.

“You knew him as Jolly. Julius was his birth name, but all of us referred to him as Jolly because of his sweet nature,” Theresa explained, her face a portrait of grief.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you,” Hailey hurriedly apologized before getting up to hug Theresa.

“It’s fine, you didn’t know. Come, let’s eat before you faint from hunger,” Theresa said to dispel the tense atmosphere.

After lunch, Flynn found himself in the barn, not really able to recollect how he had ended up there when he had had no intention of setting foot in it. Not since the day Jolly had drowned had he ever been inside the place again. It looked much the same as he remembered it though.

Except for the stuffed tiger sitting on the bottom step of the stairs leading up to the loft. Flynn felt the hair on the nape of his neck rise. His skin broke out in goose pimples. His breath started coming faster while his heart beats raced like chargers.

What the… what is Jolly’s tiger doing here? he thought in a panic. He stalked over to the tiger, snatched it up in fury and hurled it across the barn. It landed noiselessly behind some bales of hay along the wall nearest the doorway.


Flynn spun about in fright, trying to locate the source of the whisper. He heard it again, slightly louder this time.

Flynn… brother…

The whisper was clearly coming from the loft.

“No, nope. This is not happening. I am not hearing a thing,” Flynn said aloud, moving swiftly towards the door.

What’s wrong, Flynn? Is this scaring you? came another whisper, sibilantly soft but clearly audible to Flynn.

Furious beyond reason, Flynn turned around. “Whoever is up there, this is not funny at all!” he screamed, but then he froze in shock. Monkey, Jolly’s toy tiger, was back on the bottom step.

Right then, he felt a slight presence beside him. Before he could move, someone or some thing murmured in his right ear.

 Clowning around was your favorite thing to do, wasn’t it?

Flynn screamed like a man who has come face to face with his worst nightmare, then he stumbled-ran out of the barn like a drunken man trying to stay upright.


Flynn sat on the couch in the lounge with his head in his hands like a condemned man waiting for sentence to be passed on him. Hailey was seated next to him while Theresa sat opposite them in a recliner. The women were nervous, not knowing what Flynn wanted to tell them. He had rushed into the house a few minutes ago, his eyes wild in a face that looked as if it had aged ten years. Without preamble, he had asked them to come with him to the lounge, only saying that he had something important to tell them.

“Flynn,” Hailey began hesitantly, “you’re scaring me, honey.”

“Whatever it is, Flynn, I’m sure it isn’t as bad as you think it is,” Theresa said, trying to reach her son who looked for all the world like a drowning man who had given up all hope of being saved… or spared.

“You’re right, Mom,” Flynn said, still not looking up, “it’s not as bad as I think it is. It’s worse.”

“Then just tell us what’s going on, Flynn! For God’s sake, stop this madness,” Hailey exclaimed, grabbing Flynn by a shoulder and shaking him.

It seemed to bring him out of his self-imposed isolation; Flynn looked up at them. Both Theresa and Hailey were shocked to see tears spilling freely from Flynn’s reddened eyes.

“Hailey, you asked me why I don’t like clowns. Why they unnerve and annoy me so much,” Flynn said, facing his wife seated close to him. “It’s because of Julius… Jolly.”

“Your brother? I don’t understand what your brother has to do with your irrational fear of clowns, Flynn.”

Upon hearing the name of her dead son, Theresa moved to the edge of the recliner. “Flynn, what are you talking about, honey?” she asked, concern and confusion writ clearly across her face.

“It’s because of me that… that Jolly… that he drowned, Mom,” Flynn replied hesitantly, fearfully.

“Flynn!” Hailey exclaimed seconds before Theresa asked, “What are you talking about?”

Flynn held up his right hand, palm outwards, asking the two women to be quiet and to give him a chance to explain. They looked anxiously at each other, but maintained their silence. Then the words spilled out of Flynn like a raging river cascading over a cliff.

“On the day Jolly died, I had been mean to him. I teased him first with a balloon animal, promising to give it to him if he would agree to be a dwarf clown at Hailey’s seventeenth birthday party. When Jolly agreed, I gave him the balloon, but I popped it.”

“Flynn…” Theresa sighed in a forlorn voice.

“I know, Mom. I don’t know why I was always so nasty to him when he was just such a happy, friendly kid,” Flynn said, shaking his head. “Jolly ran off to his hiding place, the loft in the barn. I thought it would be a great idea to scare him while he was alone in the barn, so I went to get my clown mask from my bedroom, and then I went out to the barn. When I entered the barn, I could hear Jolly talking to his stupid stuffed tiger, Monkey. It just made me angry for some reason. I still don’t know why I became so extremely infuriated at hearing him tell his tiger that he knew Monkey would never be mean to him, and that he loved him.”

In his heart, Flynn found the answer: it was jealousy, for Jolly had never told him that he loved him, his big brother.

“I let the air escape out of a balloon I had brought with me, making it squeak. Then I gave a soft cackle, knowing it would ignite Jolly’s fevered imagination. I quickly hid behind a large pile of chopped wood, convinced Jolly would soon come downstairs. I intended to frighten him and have a good laugh. I never intended to scare him so badly that he would sprint out of the barn so fast that he would drop Monkey in his desperation to escape. Before I could think of running after him, he had disappeared.”

Silence settled upon the room like a shroud, smothering all sound except the soft ticking of a wall clock. Theresa was the first to shatter the hush.

“Flynn, my son, listen to me. Jolly’s death is not your fault, do you hear me?” she said, getting up from her chair to move over to Flynn. Cupping his face in her hands, she continued. “You had no idea that Jolly would react as fearfully as he did, or that he would run to the lake in his panic. Nobody could have predicted that, Flynn. Nobody!”

“Flynn, you were a teenager then. All teenage brothers treat their younger siblings like crap. Please, you can’t blame yourself for what happened,” added Hailey, putting her arms around her hunched over husband.

“If only you had told me about this all those years ago, you wouldn’t have had to bear this mountain of unwarranted guilt for all these years,” Theresa told Flynn. She placed a lingering kiss on his forehead.

“I don’t deserve forgiveness; I deserve to be yelled at, to be hated! If only I had never been so cruel to Jolly,” Flynn repented, bursting anew into sobs.

“I lost one son physically years ago, but I couldn’t understand why I seemed to have lost you as well, Flynn, until now. Your brother loved and admired you! He used to tell me many times that he wanted to be just like you when he grew up. I know that Jolly would never, ever harbor any malice against his big brother hero,” Theresa informed Flynn quietly.

With her redemptive words, Flynn could finally release the burden of guilt that had weighed him down for more than a decade like a grindstone around his neck.

When he looked up to meet the eyes of the two women who loved him unconditionally, he gasped. Outside the large window facing him, stood the shadowy outline of Jolly, holding his beloved Monkey in his hands. Smiling at Flynn, and before Theresa and Hailey could turn around to see what Flynn was looking at, Jolly’s spirit slowly dissipated, having found eternal peace at long last.