The laughter died away, while Officer Bolland laid dying.
His partner was somewhere on the left side of the living room. The family’s bodies also littered the place; discarded rag dolls, all of them, now that the Clown was no longer playing with them. Bits of green fog still lingered about the room, except it wasn’t fog of course. Bolland tried not to breath it in, but what felt like pins and needles when trying to shut himself away from air was more painful than what felt like crushed glass when coughing and hacking his way upright.
“Off-Officer B-Bolland re- reporting ten-oh-ju– juliett–” He could barely rasp the words, surprised at his own, now alien, voice. Surprised at his hand, too; those white blistering marks from the gas making him drop the radio mic. Did that mean his face would also be–? The trembling, blighted hands didn’t want to, but they were forced to explore the possibility. Yes. He could feel it. A cold, pasty texture, surely blotched and whitened. A rigid, plastic tension twisting his mouth and cheeks. A dryness widening his eyes and furrowing his brow.
Why, it was almost laughable. The radio squawked something unintelligible, which only added to the helpless humor. Bolland could feel the laughter starting, somewhere deep inside, from the deepest part of his gut where the green mist had finally settled. He could tell it would be a sputtering, guttural laugh. The kind that starts as almost a cough. The kind of laugh you have to spit out because it can’t stay inside.
He wouldn’t let it. It was what the Clown wanted, but Bolland refused. He knew that if he started laughing, he would never stop. Or rather, he *would* stop. With finality and oblivion. The sadness of letting the Clown defeat him was enough to stop the laughter from burbling forth, and Bolland suddenly realized he was holding his breath again, and he let it go with a choking sob, instead.
Bolland half-hobbled, half-flopped his way to his partner. He tried calling out to Gilbert as he turned him over, setting him right-side up from being draped on a sofa chair, but the words only came out as syllables of “Guh, guh.” He tried to check his vitals but Gilbert’s body was too far gone, too much like the Clown’s own at this point. “Guh, guh!” What funny sounds!
No! It’s too tragic, actually. G would be starting his fourth year on the force, had just signed up for that Reach Out mentoring program, too. And sure, his divorce had just finalized, but he and his ex had finally got to that sweet spot over all the hurdles and finally made a visitation schedule that was working out. Next month would have been his third date with that Kate girl, too…
“Guh, guh” easily became sounds of crying. Bolland embraced Gilbert’s body and let his tears fall. It was strangely satisfying and appropriate to mourn, to lament his fallen partner! As the sadness welled up, it pushed the potential laughter away. It was better, it was *good,* to cry. The green mist had no power over his sadness.
That was it! To survive, he just needed to hold onto the sadness. And here was enough tragedy for that, surely. The living room, now wrecked like a distorted version of those cliche college party movies; the family, their faces now twisted into mockeries of happiness. The remains of the dog were the saddest of all– Bolland could barely look without retching. The officers had responded to reports of a possible 11-7, but it was a false call. Instead, they found a family who had just taken in a lost dog. Except it wasn’t a lost dog. The Clown must have thought it would be funny to turn a puppy into a payload, to prank a random family and the police alike.
They even knew better! No one in this City responds to an 11-7 without also thinking it’s a potential 11-7M, for Meta. Was this irony? Damn! Was humor around every corner? Is that the joke, after all? No! It’s a sad realization. A futility. An emptiness, really. Forget laughter! This demands a scream!
As if in response, Gilbert let out a moan. Bolland turned, realizing he must have made a mistake, that Gilbert must have survived. Why not? After all, he did.
Bolland nearly leaped back to his fallen partner, grabbing his groping hand. “I’m here! I’m here! I gotcha man!” Gilbert looked at him with panic behind his widened, stretched eyes. His mouth was still frowned, opening and closing like some kind of strange clown-faced fish. Bolland tried to explain it was the toxin in the gas, that it was all a set up, and how he had to just hang in there, bro. But if Gilbert could hear, he gave no sign, gaping and gasping as his neck tried to allow his head to look around. His skin tightened and blanched with every labored breath, visibly bleaching as his veins pumped and processed the venom. His breath shortened, nearly hyperventilating, and seamlessly mutating into a low, mean chuckle.
Bolland was brought short. “No! Stop! You can’t! Don’t you laugh, man! Don’t do it! Look! See?” He held the epileptic body close as he did his best to be a tour guide. “There’s that poor dog. That girl? Thought they were doing a good deed. She- she probably was hoping to keep the damn thing, that no one would come to claim it.”
Only muffled grunts and plaintive looks from Gilbert, now nearly convulsing. But Bolland wouldn’t let him go.
“Damn it, it’s senseless can’t you see? And her, look. The mom? She just got home from her carpool, right? They were really and truly surprised when we responded, but still treated us with respect. Offered us a damn drink of water. Who even has the decency to do that any more, huh? Not in this City.”
Gilbert stopped his struggle, and stiffened. But it was only to let out his own loud wail, to release his tears. So there was life!
Relieved, Bolland wiped his eyes. “God, I know, right? It’s all so tragic, so f–” He stopped as a wave of pain punched him in the gut. It happened when he felt the corners of his mouth start to turn. Gilbert was alive, but that was too happy. As Gilbert lay there, sobbing, Bolland darkened, and backed away.
There was no possibility of a smile now. He knew what he had to do. He unholstered his sidearm, aimed through the water in his eyes, and fired into Gilbert’s chest. Fresh sobs wracked Bolland’s body, but at least they kept his curse buried deep.
He continued to cry, not out of remorse, but simply out of succumbing to the only fate available to him. It wasn’t his fault. It simply had to happen. It was also why he had to put a bullet into the father, mother, and child, too. It was why he hung his head in shame and tears.
Keep sad, keep alive. To laugh is to die. To let HIM win. Bolland knew the police would be responding from his botched call. Hell, there was an explosion not too long ago. He must escape before that happened. Staggering, oblivious to his surroundings and to the new pain from stumbling around, he made his way to the back of the house. Of course, this would mean he could never return to his own home, nor career. He would never be able to see Laura again, too! That would be enough for a lifetime of sorrow.
But then, at least, the Clown would never win, at least not over him. That monster will always have one victory forever denied him, the one joke that would never land. Yes, Bolland would make that happen. He would seek out the sadness and misery in this world– he would even be cause of it himself, if he had to.
The night started with someone’s laughter, but now it ends with someone’s sobs. He is not an officer of the law anymore. Now, he is the Sorrow Stalker.