John B. Ford is one of the most respected writers and editors working in the small press. He is the founder of The Terror Scribes Association, Terror Tales and BJM Press. He has had countless stories published in magazines in the UK and the US and his most recent publications include a hardback collection from Rainfall Books entitled Tales of Devilry and Doom and Dark Shadows on the Moon, a trade paperback from Hive Press.
Never be so foolish as to show trust in a clown. Though they are often thought to be servants of humanity, bringing a little cheer and laughter to those caught up within this grim web of existence, I can assure you that their true nature always remains well hidden beneath their absurd costumes and their white-painted faces. Very few of us have discovered the sinister secret behind those eternally smiling faces and been able to remain relatively sane, even those that do so will be made to enter a carnival of dangerous routines whenever they sleep and dream. How do I know all this? It is because I have experienced such routines many times before, and still I continue to do so. These nightmarish tricksters are the exact opposite to what they purport to be, their main aim is to administer a quality of corruption and melancholy via dimensions unknown to us; they travel through our dreams as invisible as a gust of wind, yet always they are obscenely eager to breed sadness and horror at any given opportunity.
Think, my friend, and for your own good try to recognise the clandestine horror they have already instilled within your mind. Remember that emphasised laughter which you were exposed to at such a young age, can you deny that there was no manic quality present within it? There you sat so innocently within that audience of parents and children, never realising that you were laughing at the mimicry of human folly. But much worse was the fact that you did not (and still do not) realise you were being ruthlessly conditioned for later life. Think back to that manic laughter which issued from the lipstick-painted lips of that ridiculous old clown. Now, try to imagine it audibly replayed again, but away from all the gaudy dressing of the clown act. Imagine that very same laughter to be heard in the silence of your own home, perhaps seconds after you have switched off your bedroom light, or maybe at the time when your head is lain comfortable upon your pillow, your eyes closing down for sleep. Quite a difference, isn't there? Believe me, if you knew everything that I know; if you'd witnessed everything that I've witnessed, you'd certainly never sleep another whole night through without screaming. But perhaps you should know all that I know; after all, the main weapon utilised by all clowns is the infiltration and gradual corruption of human imagination, so perhaps such knowledge would serve as a warning for you to be on your guard.
I'm very sure that it would be of a great help to you, my friend.
Let's take a peek behind that painted clown face right now, shall we?
I doubt that any conditioning can have been as daring as the one I underwent. The clowns were certainly very brave that day; I think they were immediately aware of the incredible potential my imagination held, perhaps they had entered into my mind even before they had entered into the circus ring. It's quite frightening just to realise that they have more insight into a developing mind than even the owner of that mind. They obviously like to catch us all young, that's what their game is all about.
I'd been taken to the circus by my parents as a birthday treat. I had watched the acrobats and the animals, the jugglers and the fire-eaters, yet gained only a very minimal amount of pleasure when I realized just how contrived their acts were. I was rapidly forming the opinion that not only was it impossible for the elephants to forget their acts, but that the same applied to every other animal and human connected with the circus. I smiled only when my mother looked down at me and said: 'Did you see that, Johnnie?' She said this many times, attempting to instil some measure of excitement in me. This would cause me to feel so guilty that I would sometimes submit a manufactured smile, perhaps with a slight giggle thrown in for good measure.
Thinking back to that situation, I'm very sure that I was about to take full advantage of the privilege every human child is granted to fall asleep at any time and in any place. If only I had done so, perhaps I may have been spared the horrific conditioning which I was shortly to undergo. But I do know that they would have still sought me out eventually, I have no doubt of that at all. They arrived inside the circus ring to a huge cheer from adults and children alike, this being the result caused by a form of conditioning which is passed down from generation to generation. Even this is an insult to humanity, making it all akin to one collective chimpanzee; unthinkingly it replicates the behaviour of its elders, taking on board the fault in the preconditioned chimpanzee brains that have gone before it. A domino effect which will stretch outwards to engulf all eternity. It's absurd that humanity could have ever been so gullible to fall for such a trick!
So I watched the custard pie capers and cunningly rehearsed enticements, soaking up the false hilarity like a dry sponge with an inner brain of stone. In all that audience not one person was aware of the sinister crime being committed before their very eyes; it could be analogised that every person was smiling and nodding approvingly as some child molester blatantly lured away their offspring; the clown act is, after all, really no more than a giant candybar to the mind of any child. But this particular bar was very sticky and would leave it's sugary mark within every mind that ever tasted it -- especially mine.
When those glittering clown eyes eventually fixed upon me I was thrilled, but I was also helpless without even realising the fact. One particular parody of a human being had singled me out for direct eye contact, pointing at me with his whitened index finger, and purposely touching his silly red nose with the tip of his abnormally long tongue. Suddenly he became cross-eyed, a masterstroke of manipulation which caused me to be instantly claimed by the contrived fit of laughter which his clown mind had already carved out for me -- I had unwittingly taken the ritual candybar offered by the clown.
'Did you see that, Johnnie?' said my mother. 'I think you've made a friend of one of the clowns.'
No, mother dear, you were so wrong on that particular day of my childhood. You were so very wrong! For in actual fact, it was the clown who had made a friend of me, and he had done so with your full blessing! In retrospect, a child molester would have been so much more welcome than that sugary fiend with the grinning face. You see, it would have been quite easy for me to divorce myself from any impurities pumped into my physical body; to negate any clinging memories concerning the stench of a lustful breath which had been purposely breathed into my face, or the feeling of any grubby hands that had fondled my genitalia. The physical body matters very little to me as long as it remains able to function without unbearable pain; it's the healthiness of the mind that it houses which is all important. Such a matter of sexual molestation I would have filed away under a section entitled Cold Unpleasantries; then I would have deleted the facts, cast them away into unreality as though they had been nothing more than an item in a newspaper which concerned some other unfortunate individual.
In direct contrast with all this, there can be no such cleansing allocated to something which you have welcomed with all your heart; something you have enjoyed in mental replays time and again. The clown approached me. The sugary breath which he then breathed into my face has purposely clung to the walls of my mind with its sickeningly sweet, sticky hold. Over the years it has gradually solidified and strengthened. And now the horrendous message of this lecture should be clear to all of you.
I have been conditioned.
You have been conditioned.
We have all been conditioned!
The Tears of a Clown
The tears of a clown are always, without fail, crocodile tears. Every single tear that has ever trickled down the face of a clown is undoubtedly just another drop in the Ocean of Melancholia which they continually seek to drown us all within. These manipulators of emotion have incredible control over the production of tears, and not just the tears which emerge from their own eyes. Their skill is such that they will also attempt to control tears that can be "felt" by us, yet which undoubtedly never truly flow. Laughter and sadness have much closer links than most people ever realize You see, those colourful, court jesters have slyly programmed key sentences into our minds; they insist we mock at ourselves without us even recognising the fact that we are doing so. For instance, I am relatively sure that each and every one of you have sometimes heard the sentence: I laughed so much there were tears running down my cheeks. Maybe you just experienced a sense of nausea when you read those words? For your own sake it is a good thing if you did. It is good because at least there is still some degree of hope left for you. On the other hand, some of you, at some time, may have even uttered those same words without wondering how their origins came to be planted within your helpless mind.
Worse than that is the strong possibility that you have once spoken these words in the form of a direct lie to your loved ones. Be honest, try to remember if you ever really did laugh so much that tears trickled down your cheeks? Think back, my friend, and ask yourself if this really was the case. Aren't those silly words nothing but a premeditated sentence of utter deceit and confusion which you were silently commanded to speak? I will tell you the plain truth of the matter: it is all a trick which the human mind has been made to play upon itself; those fakers of flowery emotion; those cruel controllers of your own sentiment will make many such attempts to blur the boundary between happiness and sadness throughout all your life. I say to you all: be on your guard, be ready for the sudden distortion of your own emotion!
Of course there will be those who still seek to challenge my words, and to these people I cannot give so much as even a glimmer of hope. There is no possibility of escape for you now. You are doomed. You will continue to insist that you really have laughed until you have cried, and that those salty tears really have trickled down your face. But I will not try to talk you out of this belief, because if this frightening behavioural condition really has been developed and cruelly crafted into your brain, then I'm afraid your emotions have already been mangled and blurred beyond all repair -- you now belong solely to the clowns. You are nought but a deranged cretin for their ultimate delight, and all that I can wish to do is spit upon your corrupt, inhuman shell, and wish it a most rapid death!
Perhaps the most accurate indication of any clown's true nature, is the ingredients within the very tears they cause to flow from the eyes of humans. Their trickery is all done with a sugary sweetness, but the direct result of all this is to produce a salty deluge of tears which will redden your eyes and thus 'purify' them of any presence relating to happiness -- there will be no gleam of happiness in your eyes if the clowns have their way! Also, I must inform you that any human expression of joy can be distorted in a most ruthless fashion. Once more we will concern ourselves with the distortion of emotion. From my own experience I can confirm that the human smile (and even human laughter) can be activated at our own expense by those sick jesters at the most inappropriate of times. My belief is that their main intentions are to promote feelings of guilt and also cause the "smiling sinners" to promote reactions of shock from their elders. For it is a fact that this type of emotional distortion is first brought into action when we are still children. I will try to promote an example of this within your own mind. Try to think back to a time when you received dreadful news of an uncle or auntie suffering some terrible accident, and perhaps they were even fighting for their life in the local hospital. Your mother sat you on her knee and tearfully broke the news to you. She expected you to sob uncontrollably, to cling to her in panic and seek reassurance. What did you do instead? It's no use trying to deny the fact to me -- I know that you smiled! The nerves in your cheeks were suddenly activated against your will, and the result was a broad smile playing over your young features.
In extreme cases the clowns may have even brought shame upon you by causing you to laugh at such extreme news. I can only offer my extreme sympathy if such as been the case with you, and perhaps comfort you a little by imparting the knowledge that I have also suffered from such distress. I have felt the nerves within my cheeks form into a broad smile, and I have known what should have been a fit of anguished sobs, instead issue from my mouth in the form of hysterical laughter. Try to picture, if you will, a young boy stood holding his mother's hand and watching his grandfather's coffin being lowered into an oblong-shaped hole. Then, amidst the sobs and final words of the preacher, there is the sudden sound of that little boy's laughter. My guilt will live with me forever, and yet even this is a subtle form of conditioning promoted by the callous minds of the clowns. You see, such guilt causes the human mind to wish for a similar fate to be administered to it as a form of punishment. I have tried many times to cleanse myself of this false desire, to purge myself of the implanted guilt, yet deep within me will always remain the wish that some other helpless little boy will attend my own funeral, and that he will smile broadly and laugh uncontrollably when the time comes and my lifeless body is being lowered down into the ground.
The Corridor of Corruption
I was tricked into walking the Corridor Of Corruption only a few weeks after my conditioning had taken place. There had already been various warnings that something extraordinary was about to occur. These came in the form of various audible and visual signs, some of which were even allowed to penetrate the senses of my parents. Many times my mother would enter my bedroom after she had heard a burst of manic laughter during the night. 'Who was that, Johnnie?' she would then ask, knowing that such a sound could never originate from the vocal chords of a child. But always I would pretend to be asleep and totally unaware of her presence. At other times she would be reading me a bedtime story by the light of my bedside lamp, when suddenly the image of a clown face would appear in bright colours on the far wall of my room. A mischievous expression would form upon its features and it would give me a secret wink before blobbing its overly red tongue out behind the back of my mother. This would cause me to fall into an helpless fit of laughter which would make my mother look at me most quizzically.The result of this was that I would then have to pretend that I had been the one who had childishly pulled a face at her while her eyes had been fixed upon the words of the book.
Thinking back, I still remember my first taste of genuine fear, my first inkling that what was happening to me was far from being normal and safe. It occurred one night just after my mother had put me to bed, kissed me, and wished me "Sweet dreams!" This was done with a lingering smile which I took to be far too clownlike in nature than coincidence ever had a right to produce. Also, the wording of her good night wish was different from the usual 'Sleep tight, Johnnie!' which she normally bestowed upon me. In hindsight, I now realize that the clowns had purposely manipulated her own mind, and that the 'Sweet dreams!' she had wished for me were meant to be those of the sugary sweet, clown variety. Of course I realize she had no choice but to make that cruel and sarcastic remark; the joint power of the Mind Jesters had been concentrated upon her for those few seconds it had taken to speak the dreadful words. For that very short period of time her disabled mind had leant its entire weight upon the metaphysical candycane offered, and at that particular point in her existence she had been cruelly transformed into nought but a sweet tongued ghoul of the night!
I fought for so long, tried so very hard to expel the creeping presence of sleep from pervading my tired brain. But at last my eyes closed down and I entered into a realm of jocular derangement and deceit. I then found myself wandering through a multitude of discarded dreams which had been purposely formed into a brightly coloured corridor of sickening corruption. To my ears came a peculiar sound which I can only describe as being a mixture of deep sobs and hysterical laughter. Suddenly, from the brightly coloured walls pouted a multitude of bright red, clown lips.
'Give us a smoke, Johnnie!' said the voices of a thousand clowns in precise synchronisation, and looking down, I found myself holding a large plastic tray filled with an array of yellow, red, and blue painted bubble pipes. What absolute fun this game was going to be! My wariness vanished instantly as my conditioning took full control. I held the tray in my left hand, and with my right I placed a pipe in the nearest clown lips.
'Blow me a bubble, Mr Clown!' I demanded, excitedly. And from the wall emerged the whole of the clown's head, eyes crossing and nose quivering with the pretence of a sneeze, as tiny bubbles rose up from the pipe's bowl and proceeded to enter inside 'Mr Clown's white powdered nose. All the corridor was now filled with the delighted laughter of little children; I imagined a class full of cross-legged boys and girls that laughed at some humorous story told them by their teacher at the end of the school day -- just before their parents came to collect them. But still I continued to place the pipes inside the waiting lips of the clowns, never ceasing to be amazed when an entire head would emerge from the wall of colour, crossing its eyes to make me laugh in an hysterical manner. But the time soon arrived when no pipes were left; and when I looked at the remaining lips which could not now join in our delightful game, I saw that all had turned down at their corners.Only a few seconds later and they melded back into the walls of colour.
There was now a supreme silence throughout the corridor, it was the silence of expectation. The eyes of every clown grew wide and peered into that region of the corridor I had yet to explore. When I looked, too, I saw that something golden was glittering very brightly, and then I heard the sound of distant music.
'Enjoy the band, Johnnie,' said the clown head nearest to me, through the side of his mouth, 'but watch out for the conductor -- his baton is very sharp!'
As the seconds passed by, the music grew steadily louder; and eventually to my eyes came the sight of a lifesize, clockwork, marching band. The tunes they played I considered to be both sombre and happy, and their red and gold uniforms appeared very striking indeed. But perhaps even these paled into insignificance when compared to the conductor's own apparel. A multi-coloured outfit clung tightly to his body as he danced frantically about in fevered exultation, waving his baton in threatening fashion at any members of the band he deemed to be slacking in their tuneful endeavours.
I became fascinated by this bizarre display of music and the devilish dancing of the conductor, choosing to tap my foot in time with the uncanny rhythm. There was a repetition about the notes which seemed to purposely entice me into humming along to the mysterious tunes, but I became quite startled to find myself laughing hysterically when the band suddenly entered into a more melancholy phase, and then I began sobbing broken-heartedly when a bright and cheerful section was quickly played out. I think this was my first true warning that I was fully at the mercy of the clowns, and that I had been slyly sucked into a very dangerous area of their brightly painted universe. I remember that my dream was now completely lucid; I tried to force my physical body to wake up or even scream out to my mother. Yet I am quite sure that even if I had somehow managed to cry out, my mother's ears would always have been instantly plugged by the metaphysical fingers of the clowns.
The Pipe Dream
All corridors serve the purpose of leading to some other place, and the Corridor Of Corruption was by no means an exception to this rule. The knowledge must be imparted to you that, up until this time, I had not been able to look upon the countenance of the conductor, for always his frenzied dancing and baton waving had taken place with his back towards me. Yet when his clockwork band came to reach almost level with me, he immediately turned around and stared directly into my face. The music stopped abruptly and I was left humming in stupid fashion like some idiot child! But how can I describe to you what I then looked upon? First I must tell you that the conductor wore no brightly coloured apparel at all; the astounding fact was that his peculiar body was made up entirely of rainbow-coloured bone, and this absurdly decorated skeleton I had mistakenly thought to be an outfit of tight fitting clothes worn upon the slim body of a human.
Yet the face of the conductor was hideous! A grey visage of rotting flesh had somehow tortured and twisted itself into a permanent smile, while holding all this together were the repulsive jawbones and forehead of blackened bone. But the most disturbing aspect of all came from the overall look of the conductor's countenance, since despite its contradictory colours of black and grey, the features upon his face were very certainly those of the grinning clown variety. Had this clown become so sure of itself, so absolutely confident that it could do anything at all it wanted with me, that it now chose to reveal its true colours?
I had looked behind the painted face!
I then heard the sound of muffled laughter, and turning my head, saw the nearest clown face had blown four huge bubbles from its pipe. Inside each one was the head of a child, all of them laughing in hysterical fashion. In another second they had departed from the bowl of the pipe and floated through the air towards me. The bubbles then clung to my body as though they had purposely glued themselves to it, then slowly they lifted me up into the air until my feet dangled helplessly above the multi-coloured floor of the corridor. At this point I could only watch in horror as the conductor bent over and lifted a concealed trap-door which was located directly beneath me, then went about using his very sharp baton in the manner of a cut-and-thrust sword, and cruelly he burst each of the bubbles which suspended me.
Down I plunged through the opening, descending through the dark of some sweet scented, fairground night which was filled with bursts of carnival music and the delighted screams of freshly enticed children. After a while, I saw the passing image of a gigantic clown face which contrasted against all the blackness, and the knowledge was swiftly delivered to me that I had now been purposely afforded a glimpse of the Great Clown God itself. I then became very frightened when I thought about all those brightly coloured chambers and the intricate maze of its colossal clown brain, for I knew that the Mind Jesters had been seated deep inside it from the very beginning of Time itself, and that with every cruel plan they had managed to formulate, they would successfully bring mankind closer to gaining the status of a collective, demented, idiot child; one which could only babble and laugh at itself until the time of its own merciful extinction.
I continued falling rapidly through the darkness for what seemed like a period of many hours, though eventually the speed of my descent slowed very noticeably, and soon after this I came to rest in very gentle fashion upon the sandy floor of a derelict town.The first thing which gained my attention was a sound of sobbing, and looking a little way in front of me, I saw a very forlorn-looking clown who was sat in a circle of light.The source of this light issued from a stage spotlight which was situated high up in the black sky.
Intense sadness suddenly flowed through me, and feeling compelled to offer any comfort or help I could give, I walked over to the sobbing jester.
'What's wrong, Mr Clown, why are you so sad?'
'It's because I have no-one to go to the carnival with, Johnnie,' he said, lowering the white hands which had concealed his sobbing countenance. 'I have a ticket for two, but there's no-one left here for me to go with now.'
When he had spoken these words the clown began to sob again. Yet now I noticed he peeped out through the open fingers of his hands to watch my reaction.
'Where is everyone? Haven't you any friends you could go with?' I asked.
'The whole town's gone to the carnival, Johnnie. I guess they must be having a really good time because they went there years ago, and not even one of them has returned back yet. Sometimes, when the wind blows in the right direction, I can hear them all shrieking and screaming in delight. They must be having so much fun! I just wish... I just wish that I could join them all, but I have no-one to go with...'
'I could go with you if you like, Mr Clown?'
When the clown let down his hands, I saw that his face had transformed into a wide, grinning smile. 'Why, Johnnie, you've just made me the happiest clown in all the world. In fact, I feel so happy I could cry!'
As soon as he had spoken these words to me, two thin streams of tears simultaneously sprang outwards from inside the orbs of his laughing eyes. Spraying through the air until they fell upon the cheeks of my own face, they caused me to shriek loudly in surprise.
The clown then took me by the hand and led me through the streets of the deserted town. But the spotlight widened and encompassed both of us as we walked, and to my ears came the sound of a tortured wind which was being made to laugh and sob in alternate gusts. Despite the dim light of a grinning moon, I was still able to notice the flaking paintwork on the outside of the houses, this becoming gradually worse the further we walked through the derelict town. Eventually there arrived a time when the only houses remaining were completely bare of paint, their exterior stonework now appeared to be black and menacing. A little while after this I was very relieved when I saw the coloured lights of the carnival upon the outskirts of the town.
The Carnival Of Nightmares
And so, my friend, now that I have joined this Carnival Of Nightmares, a part of me will walk the multi-coloured cemetery of gaudy tombstones for all eternity.I will take pleasure from carving out the nightmares for your own children, infiltrating their defenceless minds in any way I can ever think of. I will cheat and I will lie, and I will bring about the conditioning of any human mind I can ever successfully enter.
But now I gloat.. oh yes, how I gloat! For I am afraid that what you have just taken to be a genuine warning from me, is not genuine at all. The effect is, in fact, far, far, different from the one you may have hoped for. You see, all I have told you of happened many years ago, and since that time I have been wearing my own painted face of cruel deceit! Don't you realize what I have done to you yet? Can't you understand the fact that my clinging thoughts and words have now entered into your mind and placed you right at the centre of my sugary universe? You've peered right behind the contrived mask, and now you can only wait in line until the night when you gain your own admission and enter within this Carnival Of Nightmares.
Sweet dreams, my child, however old you are.
The paint drips from my face and leaves only blackness!
(C) John B. Ford 2000
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.