Saturday 10 October 2015

Coulrophobia (fear of clowns) - #OctoboPhobia short story

The clown turned up at my door at midnight. He stood in the rain, although his colourful makeup stayed put. And he watched me.

I watched him for a while. Watched him watching me. And when I walked through to the kitchen, I knew that, within a few minutes, he’d turn up at the window. Not being aggressive. Not saying anything. Just watching.

And I knew why he was here.

When I was five years old, I was taken to the circus for the first time. I remember the noises and the lights and the colours. I remember the animals – bears, lions and elephants (although, looking back, I cant help but wonder how they were treated). I remember the acrobats, defying gravity with every move.

But most of all, I remember the clowns.

Two of them came out, with overexaggerated movements and ludicrous outfits. They went through a routine and the audience laughed hysterically throughout. Except for me. I was repulsed by them immediately.

My mom hugged me and told me it was okay, and they were just playing and in outfit, but I didn’t believe her. I didn’t trust her. And I certainly didn’t trust them.

In old pulp novels, the clown is almost always on the run. Hiding in disguise, while it turns out that they held up a bank or a shop or something, and something went wrong and they shot someone, and they went into hiding somewhere that was always on the move, and somewhere they could keep their face hidden the entire time.

In real life, they’re far worse.

Have you ever heard of John Wayne Gacy? Google him and give yourself nightmares for the next week. If the round, demented clown face isn’t enough, Gacy killed dozens of young men and teenagers.

And then he’d put that face paint on for local events. Look at the pictures and look at his eyes and that smile… not the painted ones. The real ones underneath. Look at them, and tell me that you’re really, honestly, truly surprised that he was capable of that.

As human beings, we use our sense of sight (assuming that we have one) to help us know whether or not to trust people. We see their faces when they talk to us and we communicate by expression as much as by voice. 

Just look at emojis. We had to find a way to put basic facial expressions into text once we started using it as an immediate method of communication. We didn’t feel the need to do that with letters, because letters removed the immediacy. But when you’re talking to someone online, using text alone, emojis are useful ways to get a little bit of that extra level of communication. After all, we all need to know when something’s being said with a smile and a wink, don’t we? Deadpan really doesn’t come across well when it’s typed.

We need that extra element of expression, because otherwise, when someone comes at you brandishing a knife, you need to be able to tell whether they’re friendly or angry.

So think about the importance of expression, and now wonder what kind of person feels the need to paint an expression over their own. A permanent expression that constantly makes a point of telling people that they’re smiling. That they’re happy. And that there’s nothing to worry about, because just look at them with their painted smiles and eyes and colourful hair and outfits.

Think about what kind of person goes to those lengths to convince people that they’re friendly. That they’re not a threat. And that they definitely don’t have a knife.

So, my mom and I were sat near the front, and I was crying by this point. And one of them must have noticed, because they involved us in their next trick.

I was brought into the pit in front of everyone, a shaking, terrified mess. I never really forgave my mom for that, and I never really will. I think, charitably, she was under the impression that I’d enjoy the attention and forget how scared I was.

It probably only went on for minutes, but it felt like it went on for hours. They kept doing things that seemed like they were going to be unbelievably dangerous, before it was revealed they switched it out for something safe. Like an oversized wooden mallet, swung for my head. The measuring up for the shot, like a batter winding up to knock it out the park. The swing… the practice swing… and then he brought the mallet back over his head, like he was going to do one of those tests of strength in fairs, and then all of the weight of the mallet suddenly returned and made him fall over backwards.

The crowd laughed as I wet myself, absolutely convinced they’d just been about to kill me. And as he struggled with the mallet, the other clown laughed and laughed and laughed in my face.

And then they got the bucket, which they proved to everyone was full of water. And before they poured it over my head (which was in my hands as I prayed for it all to stop), it somehow turned into confetti.

I didn’t care. I felt the water hit my head and run down me, and when I opened my eyes and looked through the tears, everything was red. Blood poured down my body and seeped through my clothes.

I screamed. I looked down at myself and screamed and everybody laughed because they could only see confetti and they thought I was just overreacting. They couldn’t see me covered in dark, red, cold blood.

But I could see it. And from the smiles on their faces, they could see it too. I could see, underneath the grease paint, utter malevolence. For the first time since the routine had begun, I could see they were really smiling.

And one of them knelt in to me and whispered – and even through the noise of the crowd laughing, I heard him clearly – “You’ll be one of us now. One day, we’ll come for you.”

I pretended not to see him at first. He’s not the first one to turn up recently. Always at midnight. Always a different clown.

There’s been a different one every night. And they just watch.

But he was the first one that managed to get into the house.

I thought that I’d locked the back door. I maintain, looking back, that I locked the back door. But maybe that didn’t matter. I’d gone to bed and eventually, fitfully, slept.

I woke up to find him at the foot of the bed.

Watching me.

He had green hair, this one. Green hair and a hat. And clean, black-and-white makeup.

He held out his hands.

One of them held a knife. The other held a makeup box.

I watched him for a while, with his open smile etched onto his face.

I knew what they were for.

He walked with me into the bathroom and he let me talk while I slowly took the box, and looked in the mirror and began to apply the paint.

The smell of greasepaint is one that sticks with you. It gets into your throat and sinuses and the hairs in your nose, and it doesn’t go away.

I painted my face with a smile and comically large eyebrows, with big red bags underneath my eyes.  It was simple, but there were flourishes.

He beckoned at me to open my mouth and I wished that they’d never picked me. I opened it, and he grabbed my tongue between his fingers, and then pushed the knife into, and then with no small effort through it. He hacked at it and sawed for minutes.

Somewhere, I was screaming and screaming, until I felt the blood pouring down my front and my throat, and suddenly, I remembered what it had felt like when they’d poured the bucket over me.

What it had looked like to everyone else. And then I thought about how funny it would be to see their reaction right now, as the clown tore through the last parts of my tongue, severing it completely.

And as much pain as I was in, all I could think of was how funny everyone’s faces would be if they knew what was really happening that night.

At some point, the screams turned into laughter. Hysterical, deep, overwhelming laughter.

I looked into the mirror at my new blood-smeared, gore-splattered face.

And I laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed.

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