Ever since Sarah was a little girl, she was terrified of clowns. Fortunately for her pride, a lot of people harbored that same fear. The idea of a person being goofy and happy all the time, dressed up in a silly costume, made a lot of folks uneasy, so she wasn’t alone in that discomfort category. Growing up, she rarely had to encounter one of those overly-enthusiastic men or women in face paint and crazy, colorful hair, but when she did, it was bad. So bad, in fact, that she eventually had to go to therapy through most of middle and high school because of nightmares induced by her fear of clowns. As Sarah got older and progressed through therapy sessions, her fear eventually began to dissipate. She wouldn’t shut her eyes every time she saw a clown smiling at her from her television screen or when browsing the Internet and accidentally seeing a picture of Pennywise from Stephen King’s It. She learned to control her fear so that it wouldn’t control her. Her first year of college was perfect because of her newfound ability to stem the cry of the jester-created demons she had within. It would not be for long however, because she would find that great fear could and would return, and in the most sinister way possible…
It was mid-March, and Sarah was as busy as ever, juggling the workload of a typical, in-the-trenches college student. It was a Tuesday and Sarah had just gotten out of her last class of the day, an important psychology lecture by a guest speaker that had lasted for about two hours. As she was making her way back to her on-campus apartment, a young man apparently in a rush collided with her, causing them to both fall to the ground. Sarah landed on her back, her bag flying off her shoulder. Angry at the man’s idiocy, Sarah slowly sat up to ask him just how in the world he could be so unaware of his surroundings, but was shocked to find the man was nowhere to be found. Scanning the immediate area, there was no sign of him. Shaking her head, she got to her feet. Picking up her bag, she noticed a flyer face down on the ground. That neanderthal must have dropped it during his hit-and-run, she thought. Sarah picked it up and turned it over, and gasped. It was promoting a special event called ‘Night of the Clowns!’ Posted underneath, in the middle of the promo, was a picture of a creepy clown, with dark blue hair and a big orange smile plastered on his white face. Below his picture, there was a short description about the event:
“Are you ready for laughs-a-minute?! Goofballs that could even make your grouchy grandma grin?! Then look no further guys and gals, because ‘Night of the Clowns!’ is in town!! Prepare for a night of food, fun, and games, hosted by us kooky clowns, and absolutely FREE! Come alone or bring the entire family, all are welcome!!”
Right underneath the description, there were directions and the starting time of the event. Confused, Sarah read that information again. She read that it would be located at the MacArthur Fairgrounds, but she knew that the fairgrounds had been closed for good two months ago due to the county wanting to develop the land for housing and business. There would never be any kind of festival or carnival or anything like that there ever again. Shaking her head, she continued reading and it said it would begin at 8:00 pm that night, and that it would last until early the next morning. Why anyone would want to spend an entire night with some crazy clowns Sarah couldn’t understand. She looked at the clown on the flyer again, his eyes staring back at her. She studied the flyer, trying to remember if by chance she ever heard of an event called ‘Night of the Clowns!’ but nothing came to mind. It was just too weird. She shook her head, and tossed the flyer in the garbage. "No thanks." she thought. "No clowns for me."
At about 7:50 in the evening, Sarah was on the couch in the living room watching television, having some Chinese take-out for dinner. Her roommate Dawn was out with her boyfriend, so Sarah knew she’d be there alone for a while. As she sat there, Sarah figured she could give her boyfriend Jesse a call to see if he wasn’t busy so he could come over, but then she remembered why he wasn’t over her place by now anyway. He would be at work until midnight. Defeated by the realization she’d be home alone for a while, she sighed and ate a forkful of chow-mein, flipping through the channels. She passed over shows like "Dirty Jobs" and "Criminal Minds", not finding anything she wanted to watch, until she saw that Man of Steel was on HBO. As she began watching the movie, she noticed the picture of her TV begin to become fuzzy. Suddenly, the screen went from showing Superman fighting General Zod in Metropolis to a disturbing face of a sad clown with dark make-up. It was juxtaposed across the entire screen, and it made Sarah jump in her seat. The clown just stared at her and motioned for her to come closer. Sarah fumbled for the remote and shut off the TV. She shook her head. Damn clowns. For the life of her, she didn’t know how in the hell it went from Superman to a freaky clown, but she didn’t care. Enough TV for tonight. She looked at her phone and saw that it was 8:00 PM. She jumped when her cell phone suddenly rang. She looked at the number, and didn’t recognize who the caller was. Sarah answered the phone.
“Hello?” she said. After a few moments of silence, a voice that sounded like Disney’s Goofy responded.
“We’re waitin’ for ya Sarah. We’re starting the fun, and we need you here!” Sarah tried to pinpoint anything about the silly voice that might seem familiar, and laughed.
“Ok, who is this? Jesse, cut it out!” Sarah replied, laughing even more. After a few moments of silence, the voice chuckled.
“No, no, no, no, no. Not Jesse.” Sarah, still smiling, shook her head.
“Okay, well, whoever this is, I’m going to go now.” Before Sarah could hang up however, the voice laughed hysterically and suddenly her television came back on. As Sarah watched in horror, that same creepy sad clown was looking at her, this time standing next to a man in a chair with his hands tied behind his back. The clown held a knife to the man’s throat. As Sarah slowly recognized who the man was, she uttered a cry and cupped her mouth with her hand.
“I wouldn’t hang up just yet, Sarah. Or poor little Jesse will have to go away.” Sarah looked at her phone, terrified and shaking all over.
“Who… who are you? What the hell is this?!” Her eyes glued to the television, she could hear the man on the phone let out a throaty guffaw.
“I’m just a clown Sarah. You’re not afraid of clowns anymore, right?” Tears began to fall down her cheeks as she looked at Jesse’s terrified expression. She choked back her tears.
“No… no… I’m not. Please, just let him go…” She heard the man sigh and chuckle.
“Of course, but you have to come here first. Come to the ‘Night of the Clowns.’ We’re waiting Sarah…. we’re waiting…” The man hung up and the television went dark. Sarah sat there in shock, her phone still to her ear. She slowly lowered the phone and thought about calling the police. As she dialed 9-1-1, she realized that this wasn’t a guy messing with her TV and or some Average Joe kidnapper. This was paranormal, something outside of the realm of logic. She understood what she had to do to save her boyfriend. She had to go to the ‘Night of the Clowns.’
Sarah drove as fast as she could to the MacArthur Fairgrounds outside of the city. The closer she drove to the area surrounding the fairgrounds, a thick, heavy fog enveloped her car. Before she knew it, she had arrived at the large, closed iron gate of the fairground entrance. She was shocked to see it was lit up like a marquee, with bright strobe lights in different colors lighting up the night sky. She could see that there were rides of all kinds, and booths set up with different games. There was loud, carnival music booming into the air, and the distinct sound of children’s laughter. What she didn’t see, however, were people. Anywhere. It was as if the entire place was run by ghosts. Sarah slowly got out of her car, and almost immediately, the gate began to open. She cautiously approached the gate, looking around nervously. Suddenly, a group of clowns appeared before her, laughing and encouraging her to come inside. They wore an assortment of costumes, wearing different kinds of wigs and hats. There were male and female clowns, all flashing her painted, creepy grins. Sarah approached them, sweating with fear.
“Okay… I’m here. Where is he?” One clown wearing a top hat and carrying a funny-looking cane looked at the rest of the clown posse, and giggled. He looked at Sarah, and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“We’ll take you right to him, my dear! Then we can all have a splendid time!”
The clown wrapped an arm around her neck playfully, and all the other clowns erupted with laughter. Scared to say or do anything, Sarah allowed the clowns to lead her to Jesse. As she passed ride after ride, booth after booth, she noticed that more and more clowns surrounded her. She also noticed that their faces became more disturbing, their forms more monster-like, as they moved deeper into the twisted carnival. She saw clowns that were impossibly tall and slender reach out to her, smiling at her with stained, yellow teeth. She saw a clown hunched over like some type of animal, hissing at her, a tongue like a lizard’s, flicking in and out between her crimson lips. One clown she passed was wearing a crude, fleshy mask over his face, covered in blood. His red eyes seemed to shine like eerie orbs of light. The group of clowns escorting her finally arrived at a large polka dot tent. The clown in the top hat spun Sarah by the shoulders so she could face him. Sarah trembled as she looked into his evil, manic eyes.
“Where… where is he?” The clown tilted his head, motioning to the large tent.
“Right in there, my dear. Go inside and we’ll get started.”
He let go of her shoulders, and Sarah slowly walked into the tent. She was greeted by bright lights and great applause. She held a hand over her eyes, almost blinded by the light. She blinked several times and saw that there were hundreds of clowns sitting in bleachers surrounding her, all watching her and giggling. In front of her she saw Jesse, still tied up in the chair, with that creepy, sad clown wielding the blade dangerously close to his neck. Sarah cried out in anger and ran towards Jesse and the clown. She was steps away when the clown pressed the blade harder against Jesse’s throat. Sarah looked at her boyfriend, and realized he had passed out. She looked at the menacing clown holding him hostage, fury in her eyes.
“Let him go!” She screamed.
The clown just looked at her with his dark frown, and then at Jesse. He shook his head sadly, and without warning, slit Jesse’s throat wide open. Blood sprayed everywhere as Jesse convulsed in the chair. Sarah, without thinking, ran up to the clown and punched him in the face. The clown fell backwards, the knife flying from his gloved hand. The clown watched as Sarah cradled Jesse in her arms, tears streaming down her cheeks. As the clown was slowly getting up, Sarah quickly picked up the knife and pounced on the clown. With the mentality of a deranged animal stricken with grief, she stabbed the sad clown in the chest over and over. The clown cried out in protest, but to no avail. Sarah stabbed him as hard as she could, laughing as he choked up blood and his eyes rolled back in his head. Even after the clown’s eyes closed, his death apparent, Sarah kept stabbing him. After a few minutes, she finally stopped and stood up, her shirt stained with blood. She looked at the crowd. They were silent, unmoving, waiting for her next move. Crying, she threw the knife to the ground.
“Are you happy now?! Look what you’ve done to me?!” She screamed.
The clowns just continued to watch her in silence. Finally, the clown with the top hat and funny cane entered the tent. His eyes widened when he saw the sad clown lying in a pool of blood. He looked at Sarah and smiled. Raising his arms in the air, he faced the crowd of clowns.
“Wackos and jokers, jesters and loons, she has done it! Our Sarah has done it! Finally conquered her fear of us!” The clown audience erupted into laughter and applause, jumping up and down in their seats. They threw flowers and streamers and sprayed silly string into the air. The clown approached Sarah, his grin getting wider as he approached her. She stared at him with the utmost hate in her eyes.
“Just let me leave! Please!” she cried. The clown shook his head and motioned to the crowd.
“Leave? Why my dear, you were never going to leave.” Sarah looked at him, shaking her head in confusion.
“But why? What have I done to you?!” The clown laughed and wrapped his arm around her shoulders once more, pointing to the crowd.
“Nothing Sarah, you’ve done nothing to any of us. This isn’t some kind of revenge thing. No, no, no. It’s something far greater. A test.” Sarah, tears in her eyes, looked at him.
“A test?” He nodded excitedly.
“Yes! A test! You passed with flying colors! We had to see if you were ready to join us!” Sarah looked at him, a chill running down her spine, making her legs feel like spaghetti noodles.
“Join… join you?” He nodded once more and laughed.
“Yes, join us! We seek out those who fear us and help them understand we aren’t that bad! Once they finally understand, they become part of our big, crazy family! Forever!” Sarah, horrified, tried to run away, but the clown held her tightly. She screamed.
“Please! Let me go! I lost my boyfriend, isn’t that enough for you?” The clown shook his head.
“He was just a part of our test. He isn’t important. What’s important is the fact that you passed. Now you’re one of us! Here… take a look!” The clown pulled a large red mirror from the back of his striped trousers and handed it to Sarah. She turned it over and saw her reflection. She screamed at the top of her lungs. The skin on her face was a ghostly white, with dark diamonds around her eyes, both cheeks painted with black circles, and her lips now a shade of ebony, formed into a wide grin. She tried to rub off the paint, scratching and pulling her skin to get the morbid make-up off her face. She then realized it wasn’t paint at all… but the skin itself. Trembling, she saw another transformation while looking at her reflection. Her eyes changed color, turning from a medium brown to a mosaic of green and red. She felt a discomfort in her mouth, and felt around with her tongue. She opened her mouth, screaming once more. Her teeth had become canine-like, protruding from under her dark lips. Shaking, she almost collapsed in the clown’s arms. He giggled and held her. She looked at him.
“What… what have you done to me?” she asked weakly. He gave her a remorseful look, and motioned to the crowd.
“Nothing, dear Sarah. We just made you part of the family!” The clown audience erupted into fits of laughter once more, and Sarah watched them. She studied their faces for the longest time before looking up at the clown holding her. They were demented… but happy, she thought. Happy. The sound of their laughter soon became soothing… comforting in a strange way. Like a relaxing tune you listen to before you drift off to sleep. Slowly, a smile came to her face and she giggled. And then started laughing hysterically. Nothing else could be heard but the sound of the clowns’ laughter, floating up out of the tent and into the cold, dark night.