The circus was closed for the night, and the last wailing child had been ushered out of the big top. Puzzled parents got the little ones safely into their cars and drove them bawling back to town. As the carnies set about dismantling the equipment and throwing sawdust on what the kids had left behind, the clowns went back to Bo’s trailer for a drink. As Jojo, Abe, Red, Emmett, Chazzie, Bebe, and the others found a seat in the cramped space with customary skill; Bo reached into the cupboard above the sink and pulled out a bottle of bourbon.
“I swear,” he declared, “kids used to want to come see the clowns.” He took a slug and passed the bottle on to Jojo, who wiped Bo’s red make-up from the bottle before putting it to his lips.
“You want a bit of fear, Bo, a bit of fear to make them excited,” Jojo said, forever in search of a silver lining.
Bo scoffed. “Did you see the look on their faces, Jojo? That wasn’t excitement. That was terror.” Red, the oldest of the group let loose a hacking cough and spat a wad of phlegm into the first handkerchief of his multicoloured chain.
“It’s the horror films. They make ‘em think we’re all monsters” he grunted, stuffing his handkerchiefs back into his roomy left pocket. As the make-up smeared bottle was passed around the trailer the clowns continued to bemoan this sorry state of affairs. Where was the wonder? Where were the happy smiles? What had happened to the fun?
When the bottle had come full circle and returned to Bo, he took a long gulp and stood up straight, the roof of the trailer flattening his green wig against his skull. “I don’t know about you,” he said, “but I didn’t become an entertainer, an artist, to frighten the piss and sick out of small children. I say we do something about it.” A murmur went around the trailer. Jojo, sat at Bo’s right hand, looked up at him.
“What, exactly, do you suggest?” he asked. Bo grinned.
“We take the fun to them.” As the clowns leaned closer in interest, Bo produced another bottle and told them his plan.
Louis the barker was finishing his cigarette by the entrance to the big top when he saw the door of Bo’s trailer open, and the entire clown troupe pour out. He watched without much interest as they piled into Bo’s Ford KA with their usual dexterity and heard their whoops of excitement and laughter as the KA sputtered into life. He could hear Blue Oyster Cult start up on the car stereo as they drove away from the big top, off the heath, and towards the town. Louis sniffed and dropped his cigarette, crushing it under his boot. He didn’t have time for their antics tonight. Tess d’Urbearded-Lady said that Butch the dog boy had given her fleas and had come complaining to him about it. He hated these small towns. Nothing good ever happened in a small town.
In the small town of Lidlock, at Number 5, Cedar Place, little Sara had been put to bed an hour ago but still lay wide awake. Her parents had told her that clowns were nothing to be scared of. They weren’t bad people. They were just trying to entertain her. Still, lying alone in the darkness, she saw clowns in every dancing shadow on her bedroom walls and curtains. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut and told herself that it was all in her mind. The clowns were in the circus, back up at the heath. She was safe here. She started to drift off to sleep.
There was music coming from outside. Almost inaudible at first, but steadily growing louder. Music and laughter. Sara knew that she should stay in bed. She knew that she shouldn’t look. But somehow she couldn’t help herself. She crawled out from under the covers and went to the windows, pulling the curtain back just a crack.
Sara’s bedroom window, like many bedroom windows in the little town of Lidlock looked out onto the town square. The town square was little more than a glorified roundabout, with a modestly sized fountain of a modest mermaid in the centre of it. As Sara stared into the night, she saw the source of the music; a small car careening around the roundabout at a dangerous speed. The car screeched to a halt and the doors opened.
Sara watched in terror as a seemingly endless number of clowns poured out of the car. There was no way that they could have all been inside. Under the streetlights their paint-caked faces seemed to glow in the dark. She watched as they staggered and swayed, laughing raucously. A fat clown in a red wig dropped the bottle he was carrying and it smashed on the road. He turned his face up to the night sky and cackled. She watched as one of them, wearing a blue wig and blood-red makeup smeared on his mouth, turned and saw her watching. He saw her and he grinned. His maw was missing several teeth, and the few that remained were stained a dark yellow. He raised his hand and extended a finger, pointing at her. Sara screamed.
Standing in the square, trying to get some kind of routine started, Bo started to question the wisdom of his plan. Obviously there was no way to back out now. And it had been a good idea. Still was. They probably should have gone a little easier on the whiskey. Chazzie was trying to juggle but was just embarrassing himself. Red was leaning against the side of the car, having a coughing fit. They hadn’t changed the CD, which meant that Blue Oyster Cult was still belting out of the stereo. And even he knew that Emmett shouldn’t grin like that at that kid in the window. Jojo called out his name and pointed to one of the houses. The front door was open and a tall man in a dressing gown was approaching, holding what looked like a cricket bat. Bo put out his hands and started to explain, but the man didn’t want to listen. Instead he lifted the bat and hit Jojo over the head, hard. Jojo crumpled to the floor. This was all wrong. Bo braced himself for a fight and was raising his fists when something hard hit him in the back of the head and everything went black.
Sara’s father would never be higher in his daughter’s estimation. Her dad had not only been brave enough to go outside and face the horrible clowns, he had beaten them. Then the police had come and taken them all to prison. Well, some of them. Some of them left in an ambulance. Sara’s dad and the other dads were heroes.
The next morning Louis stood outside where the now-dismantled big-top had stood. He waited for the clowns for an hour, then dropped his cigarette neatly by the other stubs, crushing it under his boot. He could always find other clowns. Small towns, he thought. Nothing good happens in small towns.
Some of you have read this story before. I've been doing my best to write new material for this blog, but there's been a bit of progress on my longer projects recently so I thought I'd cheat and put this little piece up.
It was originally written for a "reading out loud without seeming like a nervous wreck" workshop on the Warwick MA Writing course given by super writer AL Kennedy. I find reading aloud difficult, nerve-wracking, and unpleasant. So, I thought I'd write something funny. And it got a couple of laughs, which was lovely.
This story was also inspired by being told by one Lucy Amsden that clowns aren't scary. Apparently it's a popular misconception (which I share, because they certainly scare me) and she should know, she studies them. So I thought I'd write about misunderstood clowns who mean well but suffer because of their image in pop culture. I'm pretty sure I gave her the story for her birthday, so it's technically hers. She probably won't mind. On that note, I suppose this is as good a point as any to thank Lucy and her fella (and my old, old friend, from the times before I could form words) Guy Dorey for providing me with everything a writer needs during the difficult novel writing period: many mugs of tea, good food, quality sofa time, reassurance, a fire, and a kind of sloe gin.
There will hopefully be another (new) story soon, and some of that writing about writing I promised. I hope you enjoyed this one. I'm working on my rather shapeless novel, which is slowly getting going, and a pilot script which could be a lot of fun.
Oh, I found the cure for my reading out loud nervousness. It's a glass and a half of white wine, in case you were wondering.
Oh, and finally, finally, Guy's brother Max is a builder of theatre worlds but is also a very talented illustrator. He works with Adam Z. Robinson on an excellent blog of dark short stories called Tales From the Red Barn. Check it out! http://talesfromtheredbarn.wordpress.com/ For those interested in Max's theatre stuff, his blog is here! http://cardhousetheatre.blogspot.com/
This is my writing hat. It reminds me I should be writing.