Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Really Real Clowns

For my last entry to the Writers on the Loose short story contest [1], I wanted to go with something that was surreal. Enter the clowns. The really real clowns, that is. I started out by simply writing down every random thing that occurred to me.[2] Then I weaved them together and turned some of them into recurring motifs. I wanted the idea to be that something happened to drive everyone mad. But due to that very same madness they wouldn't be able to communicate effectively what had happened.

It all began with the clowns. Not the real clowns that you and I are familiar with, but the really real clowns. The ones that tore the sky in half like red-and-aquamarine streamers. When they touched the ground skyscrapers wrapped around each other like giant braids and peoples’ hands melted like marshmallows. A deafening sound came from every car tire, regardless of who—or what—was driving it. It was the end of the Mayan Long Count Calendar. Into this fray stepped a singing man, possessed of a handful of throwing darts. He threw the blue one up in the air with a song and a prayer. It hit a mute swan in the eye. No one understood this act of the singer’s, so they pushed him down into the sewer with only a candy cane to sustain him. The television crews tried to interview the mute swan, but he refused to say anything about sand castles or boiled eggs.

This was, of course, inconvenient for Russia. So they stopped production of monogrammed napkins and turned their attention to international skateboarding. In a matter of days the sea lost all its brine because of online gambling. Thus left fatherless, the longshoremen of Tripoli dyed their tongues black and glued their fingers to trees. But even less important, all killer whales not in captivity began gnashing their teeth when asleep. This was easily mistaken as a measles epidemic and the city governments of Sweden collapsed (in unison) to the beat of the singing man’s boots as he strode down the sewers slurping his candy cane.

In the rain inchworms danced and shared bits of gneiss. A cadre of tornadoes wrote their names in the sand—in cursive, of course, because no one else would. Meanwhile, chocolatiers ran rampant through the streets, in the guise of cicadas while cockroaches learned the Viennese Waltz. Half a pint of milk set fire to itself and no one cared. The fire spread and the Atlantis in the sky perished in flames. This would not have happened had they had any killer whales still in captivity.

The instant it was over, a subterranean war began to be fought with tweed socks and percussion sticks. And all the while grasshoppers roamed the western desert, dressed in pink. The economy, shaped like a mandelbulb, collapsed in on itself then everted, leaving behind a carrot—but not so quickly as the lepers did. After all, this ballet des vers [3] was broadcast on live TV three days before it happened.

“Howdy doody!” said the president of Singapore, then hid from her nanny behind a bull named Contretemps. He coughed up a knife and dropped it into a flowerpot. Everyone simultaneously forgot their national anthems because they were holding hands. Eleven octopuses tried their hand at cage fighting, but won against the Russians who had no monogrammed napkins.

I was the only one who saw the mallow polka dots floating across the sun. But then the sky was filled with dead people. My tears turned to ink and splashed on the dry ground like bouncy balls. The moment I finished my candy cane I stopped singing. The silence slew the last of the dinosaurs and read the future in his entrails. It said that killer whales would go extinct once they had no teeth. Finding nothing of value inside my boots, I cast them aside. But my friends and I (you may call me Contretemps) continued the Viennese Waltz until we collapsed—like a Swedish city government, though not so recently. That night we dined on de-pinked grasshoppers and a carrot we sliced with a knife left behind in a chamber pot with a flower growing in it. The napkins we used had no monograms, but when we were through with them they bore the imprint of our ghastly faces. A blue dart came flying up at me and hit me in the eye, but that really has nothing to do with sand castles or boiled eggs, so I held my peace.

If none of this makes sense, it’s because you weren’t there. You don’t understand what the clowns did to us. Not the real clowns that you and I are familiar with, but the really real clowns…


[1] You can read the other two here and here.

[2] Compare this with the way I wrote the poem "A Fine Eye for Garbage" (here).

[3] This is French for "dance of the worms".

Image attributions:

Mandelbulb is by Ondřej Karlík, available at 8 mandelbulb fractal overview.jpg.


  1. When I first read this I got that it was circular and that it was insane, but I confess to having missed that the cause of their insanity prevented them from telling clearly about the cause of their insanity.

    My reaction to it was basically, "Oookaaaay..." ;-)

  2. Ah. But how could you possibly get it since they were too insane to communicate that idea? The only way you could know that would be to read my intro. And you know what the Book Club has to say about author's intent…