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Sugar by Gordon Grice


It starts with little things: a chess game the kids shouldn’t know how to play, a game of hide-and-seek that goes on way too long, a strange voice just below the household noise… and the missing pounds of sugar.



It starts with little things: a chess game the kids shouldn’t know how to play, a game of hide-and-seek that goes on way too long, a strange voice just below the household noise… and the missing pounds of sugar.

Everybody in town has heard the story of the killer clown and the babysitter, but Terrence and Stacy know the truth is worse than any urban legend. They’re  young, smart, and proud of their three boys—and their lives are about to shatter.

What’s wrong with the boys? Who are they talking to when they think no one’s around? Gordon Grice spins a tale of creeping terror and psychological horror in a short story following the traditions of J. Sheridan LeFanu and Robert Aickman.

Sugar will also feature in the anthology, Restless, coming soon from Frith Books.

Gordon’s Author Page

Additional information


Gordon Grice


6743 words (22 .pdf pages)


.epub, .pdf

Cover Design

Anna Reith

Read an excerpt


© Gordon Grice. All rights reserved.

When I came back from my fellowship year overseas, I found Terrence and his family of five had moved into a two-bedroom apartment. That surprised me, because they’d seemed happy in their roomy rental house. The kitchen of this new place could hardly hold the two of us and the unnecessarily elaborate coffee contraption he insisted on using. I asked him bluntly about the change; we’re old enough friends to have dispensed with good manners.

He answered with what seemed at first an irrelevance.

“I don’t know whether you’ve heard a certain story that was going around a while back? It’s one of those urban legends, the gruesome kind. I’m sure I heard it half a dozen times in a few weeks. But that may have been after you went away.”

The spook-story he told went like this:

“A couple have two children, or however many you like; there are always variants of these stories. The children tell the parents about their imaginary playmate, a little clown. He plays games with them when no one’s around. Sometimes he takes the blame for naughty things, like jumping on the bed, but mostly he’s harmless, even funny. One night, the parents are out for their anniversary, and for some reason the mother feels uncomfortable. She phones home to see how things are going. The babysitter says everything’s fine, the children fed and bathed and read to and tucked in, though they’re still giggling and whispering. The mother asks her if she’s finding everything she needs, and the babysitter says there’s only one thing, and it’s such a silly thing she hates to even bring it up, but this little statue of a clown in the children’s room is giving her the creeps, and she wonders if she can cover it up or move it or something? The mother says take the kids and get the hell out of the house; don’t ask me anything, just move. The babysitter does as she’s told, exactly the way nobody would in real life.

“Now you must picture a great climax: police cars with sirens zooming into the driveway, the frantic parents screeching up in their car, and—as the cops go through the house—the babysitter is huddled in a police cruiser with the kids, having no idea what to think. The mother comes up to her and says, ‘We don’t have a little clown statue.’

“Of course the ending ruins it. There are a hundred stories, all false, that end with a young woman told to evacuate a house because there’s a killer inside. That’s the pay-off here; the little clown is really a demented dwarf who has been living in their house, undetected except by the children. There are less pleasant variants, of course, in which the babysitter is not quick enough to escape, or else she escapes but leaves the children behind. To me, that’s the second worst version. The absolute worst is the one in which the police find nothing in the house: the clown has escaped.”
Terrence had recounted this story in his usual ironic way, but by the end of it he was visibly perturbed, tracing a ring around the top of his coffee cup, into which he stared as if unwilling to meet my eyes. He seemed on the verge of weeping.

“It’s certainly creepy,” I said. This comment, obvious though it was, prodded him back into speech. He wrapped both hands around his cup and commenced the story he’d been building to.

“The thing is,” he said, “while this story was going around campus, I had just lived through something rather like it. I suppose it’s a coincidence; or perhaps someone has had an experience similar to mine, and the real events have gotten crusted over with the narrative flourishes of legend.”

“It began with small things. One afternoon I was carrying my lunch from the kitchen to my office upstairs. As I passed Peter’s room, I saw the boys playing. It was some sort of game where you stand in a circle and chant, though I didn’t take note of the particulars. Once I’d passed the doorway, I stopped, took a step backward and counted the boys. I don’t know why I did it. I hadn’t given a conscious thought to what they were doing; my mind was absorbed in a problem I meant to get back to as soon as I had wolfed my corned beef sandwiches. I was, I realized, surprised to find the number only three, because something had given me the impression of four.

“These things happen, I suppose; glitches of the mind. But I looked around at the floor, trying to convince myself that one of the stuffed animals nearby could have looked human enough to fool me. This was before the latest round of birthdays, so the boys were seven, five, and three. For a moment, these numbers seemed oddly significant, as if they had something to do with the head count. Only when Peter spoke to me did the spell of doubt leave me.”


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