Suggested Audio Candy
 Quiet Slumber “Creepy Music Box”
 Maurice Spears “Scary Violin”
 Fiction “Enter The Circus (Dubstep Remix)”
 Quiet Slumber “Creepy Music Box (Reprise)”
Jesse despised clowns. His fear was anything but illogical and stemmed from an episode dating back when he was barely eight. Callahan’s traveling circus came to town and his parents took him to the opening night for a birthday treat. There was something about the whole freak show that he found deeply unsettling and his gut feeling was confounded when Giggles The Clown took center stage. Looking for a young upstart to assist him with his performance, the spotlight fell on Jesse and he wasn’t best pleased by the attention. When he refused to leave his seat, the painted man decided to make an example of him. After a good minute of trying to coerce him from his chair, the baying crowd began to grow restless and the heckling commenced. Giggles was a far more somber fellow than his crudely applied make-up suggested and had struggled for years with clinical depression. Tonight was his big night and it all ended in tears due to that one little pipsqueak.
He lashed out at the youngster before the entire audience and had to be restrained by circus officials and removed from the performance. Just before he was dragged away and the final fell on his career as an entertainer, he gave Jesse a last look borne of pure vitriol, delivering the line “the last laugh will be on you boy” and laughing maniacally as he was led off stage. Jesse’s parents were understandably outraged and pressed assault charges which, considering he had a long list of felonies behind him, left Giggles consigned to county jail. The boy’s father was a known attorney and sued old man Callaghan for libel. Three weeks later the circus went out of business and, just a few days after that, Giggles was found hanging in his cell. Since that day he had developed an intense fear of clowns which had stayed with him to this very day. Anytime one appeared on the television, he would have to leave the room and was inconsolable as a result of even the faintest interaction. He was thirty-one now and had a little boy of his own but still received a chill down his spine at the most fleeting mention of the circus.
Today was a big day for Jesse. He had worked his way up to senior partner at a reputable law firm and was about to land a lucrative contract which would see him set for life if it all went as proposed. He frantically sipped his morning beverage, despite the fact that it was still scalding hot, and his wife Linda straightened his tie. There was no time for toast, he would need to grab a bagel on his way in as being late wasn’t an option this day.
“You’ll be fine hun. Just remember you have worked hard for this opportunity and nobody deserves this as much as you dear.” Linda always knew the right thing to say and was his most loyal supporter. She had believed in him the whole time he studied, despite the fact that they couldn’t get a place together and money was excruciatingly tight. She knew he would come good and this deal represented his ultimate chance to become the man she always knew he would become. They were deliriously happy and even more in love now than fifteen years ago when they met in high school.
“What would I do without you Linda?” he asked, leaning in for a kiss. She wiped the toothpaste from the side of his mouth and planted an affectionate kiss on his lips, before playfully slapping his buttocks and sending him on his way.
“Go get ’em tiger” she enthused and he strolled towards the front door with a considerable spring in his stride. As he passed the kitchen counter he spotted something in his peripheral vision. It was a garishly designed flyer for Callahan’s Circus, in town for one night only and putting on an extravaganza on precisely the same plot it inhabited all those years ago.
“Baby what’s this? he asked, picking up the pamphlet and thrusting it at his spouse.
“I know what you’re thinking. But Isaac has his heart set on going, he’s never been to the circus and I promised him we would take him” she replied. His whole look changed on receipt of her announcement.
“You’re kidding me right?” he snapped.
“What honey? I thought it would be fun and a great way of celebrating as a family.” Linda looked utterly deflated by his uncharacteristic temper tantrum.
“Me and clowns…we don’t mix. You know that Linda, I can’t even be in the same room as one of those freaks of nature.” He had adopted an almost whiny tone, instantly returned to a state of being eight years old once again.
“I’m sorry, I thought I was doing the right thing. Sweetheart you know I’ll protect you from those mean old clowns.” She slid across the kitchen with a pleading look in her eyes, which they both knew was a cover for letting him take her doggy style later, after they’d consigned Isaac to his quarters. The mood immediately softened and she grabbed his testicles through his slacks as a final sweetener. A hungry kiss followed and normal service resumed but Jesse wasn’t about to let this go.
“We’ll talk about this later” he advised. She opened her silk nightgown and flashed him the rubies, tightly packed into a crimson corset which he had never set appreciative eyes on before.
“I’ll be right here my spunky little dynamo” she teased.
Damn this woman was put together by the Gods. Where most of her cheerleading friends had ended up pregnant at seventeen, haggard by twenty-five, and grey by thirty; Linda continued to perpetually blossom. She was more beautiful now than she had been then and, even then, he could be accused of punching somewhat above his weight. She had him by the short and nasties; he knew it and so did she. One final glance down her slender but shapely legs, poised beneath a gossamer of stocking net and he was ready to reconvene his date with destiny once more. He still found time to stop in the open doorway and turn to face his wife one last time.
“No clowns”. He wagged his finger and she responded by biting her lip in a most tantalizing manner which ensured he would have a little more heft to strap in behind his seat belt. The smile returned to his face and he left for his moment of truth.
He had been in a catatonic state in his somewhat drab office for the past three minutes and his big presentation was fast looming. Finally his attention was drawn away from the emblazoned image of the clown’s face which had adorned that wretched flyer.
“Mr Staunton. Jesse, the Kawahitos are waiting for you in reception. This is it, your big moment. Knock ’em dead sir.” His assistant Penny Hardwick had been a most excellent acquisition after poaching her from Baines & Jackman five years ago. Although one drunken exchange at a Christmas party after one too many Sambucas threatened to throw a spanner in the spokes, he managed to refrain from taking up her inebriated proposition and they never spoke about it again afterwards. He had a fairly good idea that she was hot for teacher, her smoky eyes betrayed her regularly, but his matrimony was blissful and he refused to jeopardize what he had at home for one night of stolen passion and those admittedly dainty legs wrapped around his Coccyx.
“Thank you Penny” he replied, snapping out of his waking slumber and reapplying game face. She followed him out of the room.
“You have a 12.30 lunch appointment with Bert Baxter and the Tancock files arrived this morning by Fed Ex so I’ll leave them on your desk to peruse at will. I need to leave at 5.30 today as I’ve got Jack’s open evening this evening but I’ll come in early tomorrow and make the time up.”
“No need”. He appeared rather distant, despite the fact that the pending merger was pivotal to everything he had been working towards for the last two years.
“You’re going to be fine. You could sell candy cane to a diabetic. I believe in you” she added, gently squeezing his bicep whilst retaining unswerving eye contact.
“Luck is for chump change right?” he asked, with the same swagger he always did.
“You betcha it is” she replied on cue and he headed off still somewhat awkwardly to greet Mr Kawahito and his partners.
Powerpoint. If there was one thing which tweaked his tail-flaps then this most dry and contrived method of pitching was surely it. Usually accompanied by an unspoken groan emitted from the eyes of everyone in attendance, he would have to dazzle this particular audience if he were to bring the bacon home. Armed with his remote in one clammy palm and the other wiping the profuse sweat from his brow, he dimmed the lights and began his introduction.
“Today gentleman, I want to show you exactly why Billingham & Co. is fast becoming a major player in the United States and why your investment is in the safest of hands.” So far so good, that was until he caught a glimpse of something colorful bobbing just above the window sill outside. A clutch of balloons, each advertising Callahan’s traveling marvel, were all he needed to see right now and he began to lose his ordinarily assured poise.
“Let’s start with the facts shall we?” His eyes were fixed on the helium horrors which appeared to be laid on for his personal benefit. Instantly he felt his throat begin to close up and the temperature in the room seemed to soar.
“As you can see, profits for the last quarter…” Right now there were six Japanese businessmen, none of which were known for their hospitality, all staring right at him expectantly and he didn’t notice a single one of their glares. To apply salt to his wounds, the faint sound of a circus orchestra had begun bleeding into the atmosphere around him, the location of which he could not pinpoint. Nobody else seemed the slightest bit aware of the audio and Mr. Kawahito was looking at his wristwatch. Not an encouraging sign.
“Profits for last quarter alone were up nearly 40 percent on…” The guy at the farthest side of the conference table got up from his seat up and any momentum he was starting to build halted.
“Sorry. Sorry. Restroom?” the gentleman quizzed. How positively inconvenient it was that this moron chose a minute into his presentation to question his bladder.
“Down the hall on your left” he replied. Eastern men aren’t renowned for their basketball skills and there wasn’t one of them here a smidgen over 5″4 so the following sight knocked Jesse back on his heels. His shoes emerged into plain sight a full second before he did, not only that, but they hardly matched the black Armani suit he was wearing. Clown shoes, the most unmistakable footwear outside of the Turkish Slipper, these suckers were identical to the ones worn by a certain cantankerous clown he once knew. He crystallized within his skin instantly, overcome with a dread so palpable that his vocal chords seized operations entirely.
Jesse stared as the man exited and his first consideration became to look back at his addressees to confirm the Intel. The balloons were one thing, nobody need notice them with such a riveting Powerpoint in process, but a pair of flippers like that had to raise an eyebrow or three. He spun his head round and instantly his throat freed up a vague yelp. His audience was indeed captive, moreover, each of them bore a set of painted on features and red nose. They were all smiling straight at him which would customarily be considered a positive but the grins weren’t genuine, instead contorted facial expressions which each spoke to him personally. He attempted to compose himself, despite screaming inside and pressed down on the button to trigger the next slide. Nothing. Was it busted? It’s Japanese technology so it shouldn’t malfunction so freely.
He pressed again and this time looked into his grasped hand to check the LED was still flashing. A bunch of flowers, white lilies to be precise, had replaced the gadget and, as he squeezed the stems, a gush of dark blood hit him square in the face. The camel’s back buckled under this particular straw and he let out a far more discernible holler. As he dragged his cuff across his brow and squinted through his claret visor, the masks were no longer being donned and, in their place, were the perplexed faces of a less than enthralled audience. He looked down at his shirt…no blood. There was no way he would be continuing this sermon, the nearest avenue of escape right now was affiliate Mike Cimero, who didn’t look best pleased about being passed the baton.
“Michael. Can you continue please? I think you would be better placed to elaborate”. He didn’t even wait for a response and vacated before poor Mike could so much as marinade the information.
In the hallway Jesse came over queasy and ducked to the water cooler to prop himself up. There he remained for a few seconds while he attempted to stop his spinning top from rotating, until another soundbite approached from his rear. This time he dare not move and instead leered to his right as the sound grew closer. It was the creaking of wheels, low to the ground and fast advancing on his coordinates.
As the vehicle passed, a nausea washed over him which caused his knees to begin buckling. It was Neil from Accounting, a real shit heel, even easier to dislike now that he had decided to use a small tricycle to rendezvous with Stacey from Human Resources in the stationary cupboard. He trundled past a few foot and then the wheels ceased turning. What now, had he not already endured enough? Evidently not as Neil turned slowly to reveal a grin which suggested even more than normal that he’d eaten shit for breakfast. If there was one sight more disconcerting than Neil’s elongated canoe, it was Neil’s elongated canoe painted in primary colors. Jesse passed out where he stood.
Linda had spent three hours meticulously planning their celebratory banquet. Isaac was in his room and had been requested to remain there until which time as she had gotten to share the good news with her high-flying husband. Spaghetti Bolognese with a stem of Merlot, the perfect seduction accompanied by the soothing tones of Emeli Sandé. Tonight she would grant him any wish, it seemed only fair to reward him for such a monumental advancement. He slid in through the back door forlorn and she knew immediately that things hadn’t fared as well as had been expected.
“Jesse baby. What happened? They signed right?” she said anxiously, her enthused look now replaced by one of trepidation.
“Yes they signed…” he reassured her.
“So why do you look like someone just took a whizz in your hip flask?” she inquired. He didn’t have a response and couldn’t muster one without first falling into Linda’s embrace. She stroked his hair lovingly and planted a delicate kiss on his forehead.
“Baby what’s wrong. Talk to me. Mommy make it all alright”. She pulled his chin up and hunted down eye contact.
“I think I may be losing my mind Linda. Since seeing that damn flyer this morning some weird fucking shit has been happening.”
“Oh baby. I’ve sorted it, Isaac was a little disappointed but I told him we’d take him to the pictures instead to see the new Marvel film. He’s fine, you should have called me if you were feeling down. We don’t have to go now.” With that, Jesse fixed her directly in his cone of sight.
“Yes we do” he said in a far more authoritarian tone.
“I don’t understand. What?” she replied.
“How long until the show starts?” he asked.
“Twenty minutes but it’ll take us that long just to have dinner. Look, I prepared your favorite. Vino at the exact temperature that you like it and an extra special dessert if you eat it all up”.
“I’m serious Linda. I want to go.” If there was one thing in the world he hated more than clowns it was the prospect of perpetual visitation from said clowns. This had to end here and the only way that order could be resumed was to face his greatest fear head on. In his own twisted logic it made perfect sense, by returning to his old stomping ground he was signing off on a chapter of his life which had haunted him ever since. He hadn’t the vaguest clue how he would make it back inside the big top without keeling over but he knew he couldn’t have a repeat performance at work tomorrow, not with the additional paperwork trail augmented by today’s acquisition.
“I’ll go tell Isaac now. He’ll be thrilled sweetheart, he really had his heart set on it. I didn’t want to say but seeing as we’re going now I can tell you that daddy will be his number one when he hears.” She bounded off to share the news and Jesse sat down at the dinner table, with his head in his hands, contemplating his upcoming act of bravery. He could discern Isaac’s cheer of jubilation from upstairs and leaned over to grab the tv remote. After pressing the standby button and waiting for the tube to warm, his eyes bulged once again. Stephen King’s It, fucking marvelous, just what he needed right now…Pennywise the freaking clown. His last nerve had long since frayed so all he could do was smile back at the heinous harlequin, who was peering at him from beyond the drain cover.
“I’ll be having the last laugh thank you very much” he retorted, damned if he was about to let Tim Curry mess with his game plan. Despite his formidable statement, Jesse felt sick to the very pit of his stomach.
“Roll up, roll up”
All the color had drained from Jesse’s face the moment they pulled up in the car park. They were almost at the front of the queue now and it was all he could do not to bolt off into the shadows. The Ticketmaster was fast approaching and he knew his margin for escape was lessening.
“We’ve got trapeze artists, we’ve got tightrope walkers, we’ve got acrobats and jugglers”
The final announcement seemed aimed directly at Jesse and, if he had any doubt, then the wink aimed in his direction quickly confirmed as much.
“We’ve got clowns too kiddywinks”
“Are you sure you’re up to this baby?” Linda offered him a final out but he didn’t intend on taking it. Besides, what he could see of his son’s alban mop of hair from behind the candy floss he was holding proudly reminded him that daddy was numero uno right now.
“Never been better” was his swift reply, although it lacked any sort of conviction.
The couple in front made their way inside the red and white drape and it was left to Jesse to make the transaction.
“Three please” he muttered, hardly so much as lifting his head as he pushed a crisp twenty-dollar bill in the direction of the Ticketmaster.
“Well now. If it isn’t a special little trooper.” Jesse presumed this welcome was aimed at his +1 but, looking up, he soon realized the unflinching gaze was intended just for him. “You get front row seats. Don’t want cha missing the fun now do we?”
Deadpan was a look which Jesse had gotten down to a fine art today and his reaction said it all before the words “fuck you” even departed his lips.
The lights dimmed around the arena and Jesse clenched up instantly. It was just as he remembered it, perpetual loop had enabled it to remain fresh in his head over the years. Part of him just wished to run for the nearest exit but he remained bloody-minded in his endeavor. The storm thus far had been weathered and he was still just about hanging onto his scruples at this stage. How bad could it actually be? He was surrounded by fellow revelers, plentiful witnesses should things turn awry.
“This is it daddy” Isaac bleated excitedly and Linda grabbed his hand tightly, fully aware of his discomfort.
“I’m proud of you, you know that? I’m right here by your side and not going anywhere okay?” she reassured him. This was a source of comfort but, as he turned his head to his wife, he was somewhat startled by the bright red clown nose she had suddenly adopted.
“What?” she asked, totally oblivious “do I have a booger?”
He swiftly returned his eyes to the front and, as he did, a spotlight fell before him. There were those infernal wheels again. Although Jesse couldn’t make out their exact location the trundle was unmistakable. They sounded too close for his liking, squeaking ever nearer as he felt his leaden heart sink a little more with each rotation. Just as his sphincter threatened to consume his seat, something flashed past him, mere feet from his position. It carried on moving and circumnavigated the crowd before settling under the central light source, directly facing him.
The crowd applauded wildly and the clown rose to his feet and gave them a bow, still maintaining fierce eye contact with Jesse as he did. He then produced a slender balloon from each hand and began fashioning an animal. It resembled a dog and he placed it down at his feet, while poking about in his extraordinarily deep pockets for his next aid. A dog leash, clearly not connected to anything but thin air, was used to restrain the helium hound which was clearly unsettled by Jesse’s attendance and had started yelping at him with intent. The clown pulled back on the leash and his unruly pet reacted accordingly, to the immense pleasure of the whole auditorium. Suddenly the mutt broke free and ran straight for Jesse, barking ferociously as it advanced on his position, then stopping just shy of his feet and continuing to voice its discord.
Jesse was almost as white as his antagonist at this point and never was what you would call a dog person so stamped on it, bursting the dog where it stood. Jeers rang out from all around him but he kept his attention firmly on the clown as he delivered the knockout blow. His opposite number shook his head in dismay and began wagging his finger at Jesse, still smiling wide, but primed to make an example of him. The spotlight shifted position, plunging the arena into total darkness momentarily as his eyes attempted to acclimatize, probing wildly for the clown’s coordinates. All at one the illuminating beam shone straight down on Jesse’s position and, as he recoiled back in its searching glow, the clown reemerged crouched down inches from his face and looking deep into his soul. This time the smile wasn’t present.
If Jesse had pressed any farther back into his perch then he would’ve been in the next row. The performer’s beady bloodshot eyes gestured for him to take a look behind him and he did exactly that, albeit cautiously. There had to be three hundred others in attendance and every last one of them were dead where they sat. His eyes widened to full stretch, taking in the horrendous sight which enveloped him. Every last one of them had their throats ripped out, eyes gouged or scalps sheared and the silence throughout the room was simply deafening. Jesse attempted to wrestle himself free from his seat but none of his limbs reciprocated. Looking down into his lap, he noticed a length of rubber tubing restraining him, hands tied tightly to his sides.
“You…won’t have the last laugh” he spluttered, every attempt to release himself from his shackles totally in vain.
With that, the clown proved him wrong and opened his mouth wide in a delirious guffaw, revealing almost too many razor edged teeth to fit inside his face. The laughter swirled around Jesse as the audience became vocal once again, this time clapping and cheering as they willed the clown on to continue making his example. He glanced to his left and both Linda and Isaac had joined in, his wife sporting a hefty open abrasion across her forehead and son bleeding profusely from his larynx. Frantically, he turned his head to the other side. His secretary and the Kawahitos were also in attendance, all looking similarly the worse for wear. Penny was clutching her carved out tongue in her lap and brought it up to his cheek, where it commenced lapping. Deciding that forward was the only place left to look, and praying now for release from this nightmare, he swallowed hard and returned his gaze to his nemesis.
This time the smile had softened some, incisors were retracted and the clown wore a pleading look as he held out his white-gloved hand as a peace-offering. With nothing left to lose, Jesse accepted his token gesture, no longer restricted by the tubing which had held him there previously. He just wanted it over with and suddenly an air of calm washed over him as he finally redressed the balance and allowed himself to be led off into the blackness.
Jesse wasn’t sure how long he was out but, when he came to, he was back in the safety of his seat and normal service had resumed around him. Every last audience member was in mid-applause and many of them out of their seats in standing ovation. It was over, he had conquered his deep-rooted fear and it was now time to leave this whole chapter of his life behind him. Linda, now minus the gory gash, grabbed his hand once more and offered him a look of immense pride.
“See. That wasn’t so bad was it? You slept through most of it you big sleepy head. Let’s go home” she suggested.
This was music to his ears and he grabbed his coat and rose to his feet, while she gathered the rest of their belongings and coerced Isaac from his seat. The crowd was dispersing rapidly, all attempting to beat the inevitable car park bottle neck and Jesse led his family away from the circus for the final time, blissfully unaware that upon his feet were two elongated clown shoes. Above his head, a clutch of helium balloons drifted up to the pinnacle, while the sound of a solitary clown’s laugh reverberated through the big top.
Truly, Clearly, Really, Sincerely,
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2014