The Truth About Clowns
At the beginning of Autumn, the clowns started to appear. They came out at night mostly. They would stand in the middle of the street, and watch you. They would peer into windows. You might find them looming in the dark at a park, at the local shop - anywhere and everywhere they appeared. They were all a little different. Some tall, some short, some with white faces, some without. Usually they had a wide red smile. If you saw one and tried to walk away, the smile would follow you. They hid around corners and behind bushes. Alone at night, you could hear their big shoes squeaking and honking with each step as they followed you...
“And if they ever catch you, they’ll turn you into an evil clown too!” Jana screamed, twisting her hands into claws. She laughed heartily as her two younger guests squealed with fright. Her best friend Lydia was not impressed, and crossed her arms.
“Clowns aren’t scary. They make silly faces and do magic. That’s not evil.”
Jana scowled, clearly disappointed that her frightful rendition of the current clown crisis was having no effect on a third of her audience.
“They are too scary! Some clowns can turn into Spyders! And grow into giants! And eat you up like an omelette!” At this, the two young Xweetoks – Daisy and James - held each other and squealed again. James started to blubber, causing Jana to wrinkle her nose in distaste.
“You're too little to appreciate what a good warning I’m giving you.” She said, shaking a finger in his face, “You just go follow the adults around. You can’t defend yourselves against the clowns anyway. You’d be turned into a clown pie in seconds.” She said snootily.
Hearing they were defenceless, the two little children ran wildly back to the house, where the grown-ups were having a hushed conversation.
“Clowns really aren’t scary.” Lydia said, picking at a spot of dried hot chocolate on her jeans. She’d worn her best pair to the party, just as her mother said she should, and Lydia never let a good pair of jeans go to waste. She’d already ripped the hem of one leg and covered the knees with grass stains before her mother had finished saying ‘hello’ at the door.
Now she and Jana were sitting in the smelly old treehouse that looked onto the back windows of the real house. Inside, the adults could be seen huddled together. Despite it being a ‘seasonal party’ none of them had come dressed in costumes and they weren’t having a lot of fun. They were all looking tired and worried, like Lydia’s mum usually looked before work. Lydia always thought the Month of Collecting was about wearing silly costumes and telling spooky stories that weren’t too spooky, so you could laugh at how unafraid you were. None of the parents were laughing. They just looked afraid.
“My Haunted Mummy costume is scary” Jana said confidently, but a moment later she rolled her eyes, “But my dad wouldn’t let me wear it. Mum spent so long helping me make it, and I can’t even show anyone!” Jana kicked a nearby tree branch in annoyance. “All because he doesn’t like costumes at the moment.”
“Haunted mummies are scary...” Lydia said uncertainly, as a vision of her own mother wrapped in bandages lurched through her head, “but clowns definitely aren’t.”
“Really, it is scary, it’s scaring them.” Jana said, gesturing at the window, “They keep talking about it. How the clowns are everywhere and they’re trying to scare people. I heard my parents arguing about it last night, they’re worried about what it might mean.”
“Mean? Is it a puzzle? I thought they were just clowns.”
“It’s a fen-nom-e-nom. It’s happening all over the world. Even in the Haunted Woods. And they’re used to Chia Clowns over there.”
Lydia didn’t know what a phenomenon was, but hearing that clowns ‘meant’ something made her a little annoyed. Clowns told funny jokes, that was all, and she didn’t like to think that she might have misunderstood the point of them.
“Well we should work out what it is then. This fenonanon, and stop it” Lydia said, standing up.
Jana stood and joined her, staring out into the street. In was growing dark. Inside Lydia could see her mum peering through the window and trying to spot her up in the treetops. She looked grumpy, which usually meant Lydia would have to come inside and stop having fun so she could be bored while the grown-ups talked some more. But tonight, Lydia had work to do.
“Come on, let’s find out.”*
Jana and Lydia walked boldly down the middle of the street. It wasn’t full dark yet, but the streetlamps had already been lit. Lydia and Jana laughed as they proceeded down the street like a pair of prancing Alabriss. There weren’t many people around, but they were only three blocks away from home, and these streets were as familiar as the back of their hands. In fact, Lydia thought, while watching the houses they danced and ran past, there were fewer people than usual on such a nice cool night. Even the Spardel on the street corner, Rex, was shut inside. He was watching them from his front window instead of trying to jump out of his owner’s front garden to chase them.
Jana had stopped running too and stood beside Lydia, watching Rex whine and bark as he pressed his nose against the glass.
“Why would they lock Rex up for the night? It’s not raining. He usually stays out.”
Lydia couldn’t think of an answer. Jana quietly answered herself. “Maybe it’s dangerous out here tonight.”
They heard the sound of a deflating balloon, a squealing then blubbering noise. Lydia snorted with laughter and giggled into her hand, but Jana stood frozen on the spot. She grabbed desperately at Lydia’s other hand. Confused, Lydia turned to look behind them, at the source of the sound.
There stood a clown. A tall clown Scorchio stood just one step behind them, looming over them. His bright red nose seemed to be spinning like a top, hypnotising them in place. Lydia gasped as Jana’s hand tightened on her own. When the clown spoke, it was deep and croaky.
“It’s getting dark now. Should you two be out here alone?”
Lydia and Jana screamed in unison and fled, running wildly, back to Jana’s house. They held hands the whole way - and Lydia didn’t notice until she was being tucked into bed, that Jana had held so tight her fingernails had left marks. Once they reached the house, their panicked parents swept them up and carried them as they all ran inside. They slammed the door shut on the figure off in the distance, a tall Scorchio with a bright red nose. *
In was a week later, and Lydia was now bored of clowns. She’s been lectured about the clowns, told off about the clowns, warned about the clowns and even threatened to be given to the clowns by her mother. Lydia knew that she was brave (usually) and that meant that any time something seemed to scare her, her mother would talk so much about it that Lydia gave up being frightened altogether. This wasn’t such a good thing, as last year’s trip to the Neohospital after eating a poisonous lollypop had shown. It seemed that the adults really had been seeing clowns everywhere, and had scared themselves silly talking about it. The thing that Lydia didn’t understand was that clowns were still funny, they did cartwheels and threw pies and made flowers appear out of nowhere. They still did those things in books and in stories, she even saw a clown at the Fair the other day. Her mother had walked her past the small crowd watching the clown, without acknowledging it at all. But her holding her hand was all gross and sweaty by the time they got home. So what did these night clowns mean? Why were they different?
Jana had started saying that maybe clowns were evil sleepwalkers. Daisy’s older brother would sometimes sleepwalk and he’d eat all of the tasty food out of the cupboards, but he didn’t ever get in trouble for it. Everyone had agreed that was in its own way Evil.
Lydia remained unconvinced. The clowns never seemed to do much, they just watched you. If watching made you evil then every bird in the park was a supervillain, and the Nupie they had in the pond at home must have been Evil Incarnate, because he never even blinked.
So tonight, she would find the source of this trouble. No more scary clowns, because scary clowns were boring. She’d work out the puzzle and then tell everyone, even the adults if they stopped being silly long enough to listen.
She decided to sneak out every night that week. Taking her bicycle, she would ride around town looking for clowns. It would be the 31st soon enough, and all the rumours said that was when the true evil would start. Lydia knew the only way to end the madness was explain it all before that final night. Jana thought this idea was brave, and foolish, and very exciting. They had spent the whole afternoon yesterday planning what Jana would say to everyone after Lydia was eaten by the evil clowns, leaving nothing behind by her shoes (because clowns can’t use normal-sized shoes). They laughed together nonstop when Jana started practicing her mourning face, and Lydia compared it to a squashed Quiggle Cupcake.
When she started, it was easy being a super sleuth. Lydia shadowed clowns and clownish people (causing several Disco coloured locals to become either terrified or furious when they spotted her lurking). She watched, as they watched. Once, she saw a boy break a window with a thrown rock and run off. When that happened, the Chia clown she had been following wrote something down in a little notebook and shook his head. A naughty and nice list? Or was he trying to find Evil people to recruit? That seemed unlikely, but she kept observing.
Finally, on the 30th, she set out for the last time. If she couldn’t prove it before the final night officially began, then perhaps chaos really would break loose and swallow them up. Perhaps they really would be turned into evil clowns, or evil clown pies, or something even worse.
She had found the tall clown she had nicknamed Bubblegum, because beneath his white clown makeup he was painted Pastel, which always made her think of bubblegum. Bubblegum was very active in this part of town. He would follow just about anyone who went out at night, and seemed very enthusiastic. Bubblegum had one of those flowers on his chest that sprayed water on people when they tried to sniff it. When someone had found him in their backyard he had tried to use his flower, but the woman had just screamed and slammed the door shut. Lydia thought the flowers were very funny, and was almost as sad as Bubblegum when the woman hadn’t stayed long enough to see it. No wonder everyone thought clowns were scary, they didn’t even try looking after they saw the clothes and face paint. It was like they didn’t want to know them.
Bubblegum seemed a little sadder tonight. He wasn’t peeking around every corner; he was just trudging along. Lydia decided to follow him anyway. After walking and walking they finally came to a large building with small windows, with an old metal door standing open. Warm light spilled out from the door, and Bubblegum walked straight towards it. As she got nearer, Lydia heard the sounds of many people talking, and knew she’d be seen if she went any further. Instead she sneaked over to the windows. After poking through piles of rubbish she eventually found a large box that she could stand on, right up on her toes, to reach the window and see inside.
What she saw inside was the largest gathering of clowns imaginable. Big shoes and small, wide smiles and pursed lips, hats and wigs of all colours. They had been mingling together, but almost as soon as she spotted them they began to walk towards row upon row of old plastic chairs. The chairs screeched across the floor as they shuffled and ordered themselves until they were all quietly sitting. It was like the biggest classroom Lydia had ever imagined, but everyone was listening and facing the front.
It was eerie, seeing so many silent clowns. None of them joking, or even smiling. Row upon row, they looked different but the same. The same grim expression. The same sad eyes.
Then, a small group of clowns filed in through a side door. They were much grander than any other clown present. They were more like jesters in her old book of Meridell stories back at home. Jesters were quick and clever and would somersault around the room while singing a silly song. But these jester-clowns were not singing happily, they were shuffling papers and looking grimly back into the amassed clowns before them. One clown seemed to be especially important. He had the tiniest red top hat that Lydia had ever seen, and a single red tear was painted onto his left cheek. He looked serious, and dangerous. A thrill of fear ran down Lydia’s spine all the way down to the tip of her tail. This room of clowns...this school of evil? Maybe that’s what it really was? The Headmaster clown looked so powerful, like he could make you do anything. Maybe they were plotting something dreadful after all.
The Headmaster, resplendent in his red and white striped suit, stood slowly before the assembled nightmare of clownery. Gravely, he shook his head, and spoke softly:
“I fear….that we have picked a poor time of year…to implement the Clown Society Neighbourhood Watch”.