Emoji the clown had been part of the circus all of his life. He had taken over as head of this particular pratfall from his own father, who had also enjoyed a long life of happy clowning until his accident underneath the elephant. He sat, slouched and tired, still in full costume and makeup, looking out of the window at the tranquil night sky.
This time of year always made him nervous, and he was glad that their current run had reached its conclusion without any incident. The last show had just finished, and had gone particularly well. As he sat, contented on the sofa in his trailer, he realised that his relaxation process was extending to his bowels. The funny tummy that he had brought with him from their last port of call was still an issue. He kicked open the door to his toilet, and recoiled. There was nothing funny about that smell. Not willing to start the unblocking process immediately on account of his rather urgent call of nature, he decided to pop next door and see if he would be allowed to pebble-dash the bowl in the Ringmaster’s caravan.
All was quiet as he stepped into the cold night air. The crowds had already gone, and Emoji knew that there would be a rest break before the circus started to strike camp. He dropped deftly from his steps and his large, comical shoes pressed into the soft, yielding grass of the common. The Ringmaster’s quarters had been lined up in the opposite direction, so he was going to have to walk around to the other side. As he turned the corner at the end of the trailer, he put his thumbs into his multi-coloured braces and slipped them off his shoulders in readiness. Abruptly, he was stopped dead in his tracks by the shadowy outline of three large men. His eyes, struggling to adjust to the gloom, searched desperately for more detail, and he found that he could pick out what were almost certainly at least two baseball bats. He cursed his complacency and turned to run, but tragically tripped over his own enormous feet and falling baggy trousers. Within a second of prostrating himself on the turf, Emoji’s need to visit his neighbour disappeared as he quite literally had the shit kicked out of him.
The fad for dressing up as a killer clown, and then trying to scare people by jumping out on them, had been relatively short-lived. This was largely due to the emphatic and much more widely embraced backlash that saw anyone in clown costume fair game for violent and unprovoked attacks. When some of the victims of these clown pranks failed to see the funny side, and retaliated by giving their would-be aggressor a slap, or in more extreme cases, force-feeding them their own cheap latex masks, a great wave of anti-clown mania took hold. Some authority and media figures were able to give voice to their previously private clown phobias and exacerbate the volatile situation. Before long, society seemed to somehow accept even the most extreme forms of harlequin-bashing.
“Jabba the Hutt!” cried one excited little girl in the front row at the party. The other children all cheered and laughed. The tall figure with the white face and the fixed grin swept his hand gracefully but emphatically down the list of balloon animals that the kids were meant to choose from. Some tortuous minutes later and all the children had an animal of some sort. Their entertainer selected his exit music on the CD player and pretended to walk down some imaginary stairs, disappearing behind his props table and sneaking out into the hallway. He looked up to see the mother of the birthday boy standing in the kitchen doorway, waving a bottle of beer.
‘Come on, let’s go outside for a breather,’ she winked. The mother opened the back door, holding it open for him to go through. His feet crunched on the gravel outside. He then heard some much heavier footfalls behind him, and before he could turn round, something whacked him on the back of the head, and he fell between a Wendy house and a dustbin. As more blows rained down, he could make out two men attacking him, one of whom was the man who had hired him for this private party in the first place. His wife stood watching, drinking the beer, and smiling.
‘As if I would waste good beer on a clown,’ she said.
‘Ow! I’m not a clown, I’m a mime! AHH!’ he retorted, with difficulty. The woman’s husband laid into him some more.
Naturally, some people thought the world had gone crazy. As if there wasn’t enough ludicrous bat-shit being flung around, it was now seemingly a social norm to visit unholy hell on anyone wearing face makeup or colourful clothes. Attacks could be spontaneous or premeditated and of course, the situation was always more intense at Halloween. Security firms started getting a lot of extra work from circuses, children’s entertainers, glam rockers and Christmas seasonal workers. Work had also dried up for a lot of face painters.
When the Prime Minister and her cabinet had gone on from a working lunch to gatecrash a clown funeral and had drunkenly jumped out on members of the congregation in attempts to frighten them, it had been reported in the tabloids as a scandal, for which she had been forced to issue a contrite apology. Yet, with many people the episode seemed to have actually boosted her street cred and popularity. On one hand, there were still headlines decrying all attacks as terrible, cowardly acts, and yet there was a genuine appetite and enthusiasm for this type of behaviour. No one seemed to know where the madness would stop. There were reports of clownfish being flushed down toilets in Paulsgrove. And no one will forget poor Mr Tumble.
The selection of Portsmouth as the location for a Hollywood blockbuster had been both unexpected and exciting in equal measure. Many scenes for the forthcoming live action version of Toy Story 3 had already been filmed, and social media had gone into ‘meltdown’ many times over as people had posted and tweeted about things they had seen, or shared their selfies with cast members.
Pressure from clown support groups had led to certain script alterations, and in a change to the original story, the character of Chuckles was given much more prominence. In an effort to promote clowns in a good light, Chuckles was to be a key figure in rescuing all the toys from a possible fiery doom within the heart of a specially adapted Havant incinerator. Bucky Ludd, a seasoned professional in this type of role, stood on the closed set awaiting his co-stars and crew. He understood the cultural importance of the climactic scene they were about to shoot, and he hoped it would make a difference, that people would notice and hopefully attitudes would change. He popped his red nose on, and straightened his bow tie. He took a deep breath, and was very surprised to find a bag popped quickly over his head. He found himself lifted into the air and carried away. He struggled, but couldn’t prevent his legs being bound. He could sense great heat, and he felt himself being lifted into the air, and secured by the ankles, upside down.
The bag was taken off, and he found himself dangling over the fire pit that had been adapted for the film’s finale. His abductors came into view, and he found himself staring at the inverted life-size figures of Buzz and Woody. He had no idea if it was his actual co-stars in the costumes or not. Regardless, the cheerful camaraderie of the fictional characters was conspicuous by its absence. Having trussed him up and left him to his fate, they moved to one of the camera rigs and he watched as they turned on a camera and started filming. Bucky steeled himself, and had no intention of appearing in a clown snuff film. He had learnt plenty in a long career, including escapology techniques while working on Get Out of That: The Harry Houdini Story. With a few slick moves he had freed his feet and had swung away from the furnace below and onto the safety of a gantry. As Buzz and Woody realised what was happening and moved towards him, he climbed the ladder that led into the cab of the special crane that was in place for the movie’s last major scene, where he was meant to save everyone with a large, grabbing claw. Instead, he now used the controls to swing the claw towards his pursuers, and missing with the first swing, he caught them both square on the return, knocking them from the walkway and down into a blazing demise.
In the aftermath, Bucky was able to get hold of the footage of his capture and escape, and hoping to turn the tables on his attackers, and strike a blow for clowns everywhere, he leaked the video onto the internet, with the intention of showing everyone that clowns shouldn’t put up with this sort of thing anymore.
Unfortunately, video evidence of a clown bumping off two of the best loved characters from children’s popular culture only served to heighten the fervour with which clowns continued to be persecuted, and the madness continued unabated.
Of course these things do eventually run their course, and clowns eventually had to relinquish their position as the most demonised subgroup in society. And while things returned to largely pre-hysteria levels, there will always be those who cannot forget, and those who are brought up being told that clowns are bad, and somehow deserving of lesser treatment. Most people probably think that these are minority views, but would perhaps be surprised by just how many people hold them. And when the time comes for a bit of fun, people should think long and hard. Choose your Halloween costume very carefully. You never know who you might run into.
Image by Jon Crout.