Instructions on How to Become a Clown

Found this journal in an old storage locker I had taken possession of. It’s dated in the summer of 1985, and the pages are curled, smelling faintly of popcorn. As for the contents… well, go ahead and start reading.

June 1

Infiltrating Funtasia’s Dreamscape Circus was easier than I thought it was going to be. All I did was walk up to the ringmaster and he called me Petey, scolded me for showing up a day late, handed me a uniform, and told me to start mucking the animal cages. Whoever this Petey was, I’ll apologize at a later time for taking his job. I can just say I was confused since my real name is close enough to ‘Petey’.

This has to be where Janice Meyers ended up. The circus was in town the weekend she disappeared, and the friend of hers I interviewed said she had decided to go back on Saturday night. Her parents did admit there was an argument that night about their daughter’s grades, but insisted that Janice would never have run away of her own free will. But then again, fifteen year olds aren’t known for their soundest decisions.

Most circuses that have fallen into my line of investigation are closed communities- any outside questioning is shut off. I’ll have to spend a few days assuring these people I’m just like any of them. I just have to last long enough to determine if any of these people are Janice.

June 5

This is the easiest investigation I’ve ever had to conduct. Not only have the circus people been more than welcoming, I think I’ve figured out which one of the clowns is Janice.

Running away with the circus was a childhood dream of mine, and it seems she’s one of the people who pursued that dream. She says her name is Jenny, but her face shape is similar enough to to Janice’s. I just need to catch her out of make up- she goes everywhere with her face painted white and red hearts painted on her cheeks, so I’ve been yet to see if she has that beauty mark on her cheek. I’d like to catch her alone too, but she always hangs out with the fellow teenagers. It even appears she has a boyfriend, one of the acrobats named James.

What happened seemed straightforward at least. Girl falls in love with a boy, runs off to be with him, it’s the oldest story in the book. Once I confirm her identity, I’ll let her parents know posthaste. After, of course, I find the nearest police station and let them know that one of the clowns is a runaway girl.

June 8

Today was the first performance I was lucky enough to catch. This may be the most fun job I’ve taken in a long time. Most of the time, being a private investigator means I’m following unfaithful spouses or checking to see if someone’s scamming their insurance. Those drain at your sanity after a few years.

Today the ringmaster, Jacob Tanner, pulled me aside and told me to take a seat with the rest of the guests. I’ve worked hard, I deserve a breather.

The performances here are fantastic. The clowns are hilarious, the acrobats are graceful, and the animals are as gentle as your average pet dog or cat. Thanks to working here, I get free snacks too. I don’t know how it’s special, but the pink lemonade here is to die for. I’d drink it all day if my stomach wouldn’t explode.

Everything went off without a hitch, we’ll be on the road in the morning. I imagine I’ll confirm if Janice is Jenny for once and for all now that she’ll no doubt be out of costume. Such a shame too. I think she’s really enjoying her time here. But she is a child, and she needs to go back home.

June 15

Janice is Jenny. I caught her out of make up before she went on for her act, and she has the beauty mark. But there’s something stopping me from letting the police know.

There was an accident that happened tonight.

The act unfolded as normal, least I figure as much. A strongman named Louis Wicker was the base of a stack of clowns, at the top was young Janice. Five people stacked on one another, it was an unbelievable sight.

So unbelievable that it felt like a dream when Louis stumbled and the clown on his shoulders lost his balance. They all came crashing down like bowling pins. It certainly was not part of the act, judging by Janice’s terrified scream as she plummeted to the ground. I heard something crack and her body went limp.

A comical looking mini ambulance was driven out by more clowns as the ringmaster assured us all that everything was fine. The fake clown doctors tossed the clowns that were knocked unconscious by the fall into the ambulance with as much care as you’d throw a bag of flour. The conscious clowns and Louis were escorted off to the side.

I’ve tried to find the injured clowns after the performance, but they’re gone. I don’t know where they’re being kept. After a fall like that the extent of their injuries must be horrific. Tomorrow I’m going to the police to report this incident, as I didn’t see any real ambulances or any sign they were taken to a proper hospital. And without a doubt, Janice needs emergency care.

June 16

Now I’m just confused.

Janice is fine. Somehow completely, totally fine, as are the rest of the clowns and Louis. I saw her this morning at breakfast, just as energetic and happy as ever. She and James were sharing a plate of muffins and a bag of cotton candy… yes, for breakfast. Teenagers, what can you do. I’m not any better, I’m having pink lemonade with every meal, between them too. I may have to ask for the recipe, it’s genuinely the best lemonade I’ve ever had.

I did manage to question Janice about the fall and she brushed it off, saying that the clowns here have taken worse falls and bounced back even quicker. She mostly felt bad for Louis, she confided, as he blamed himself.

Something’s not right here. I’m going to stick around for a bit longer, as Janice is in perfectly good health and in no immediate danger. James seems like a solid boy, as does the other friends she’s picked up while she’s been here. We’re pulling into another town tonight.

June 18

We’re leaving tonight. We’re not spending the whole week here.

I’ve gotten quite used to the schedule already, especially because my job’s quite easy now that my muscles have adapted to the labor. So last night when I was roused and ordered to get the animals ready for travel, I was more than a little confused.

I managed to hitch a ride with James, Janice, and a juggler named Charlie. I grabbed a seat in front seat of the cab of their truck with Janice and Charlie. James was in the backseat with a girl I’d never seen before.

Teenager, not much older than Janice, with a blanket over her shoulders and face puffy and red with tears. I think she’s another runaway. James was very gentle with her, giving her water and pink lemonade to drink while stroking her hair. I’ve never met such a sensitive teenage boy, I can see why Janice is so taken with him.

Speaking of which- she’s not exactly happy with this new development. Ah, young love, truly so fickle. This might work out though, if Janice just wants to leave, then I’ll simply reveal my identity and take her home to her parents. It’s not like they can hold us here.

June 19

The kids spent their time coming up with a new name for the girl in the truck. Whatever her name was previously, she doesn’t want anything to do with it anymore. I don’t know much about her backstory, only that she was in a bad place and needed to get out.

After many ideas and more than a little bickering, James suggested the name Dixie, and that’s the name she’s going with. I think it’s rather cute, and it certainly suits her. Janice is managing to be polite, but I can already tell she’s seething with jealousy.

Something about that performance gone wrong is still nagging at me, and there is the fact that Dixie is likely another runaway child. But unlike Janice, I don’t think Dixie has a good home to return to, with parents that worry about her safety. She’s tense, flinches at loud voices and is constantly apologizing for just taking up space.

You won’t find me reporting her. That’s not my concern. My concern is Janice and no one else.

June 22

Last night’s show went well, Dixie’s yet to perform but according to James she’s currently training. Janice is sulky but refuses to tell James what’s on her mind, at least as far as I know. I think my plan of just waiting it out is actually going to pay off.

But then again, maybe I should spend more time second guessing my judgment.

It was after the show, I was heading back to the truck when I heard what I knew could only be one thing- drunk show goers. This wouldn’t be such a problem, except I was taking a shortcut through where the animals were kept after the show.

I made haste to the source and sure enough, these three idiots were sticking their hands in the cage, just for moments at a time to taunt the tigress that was in there. Obviously Lovely Belle, or just ‘Belle’ for short, was less than impressed.

I broke into a run when I saw that one of the idiots actually managed to get the cage door to unlock. It swung open and Belle trotted out, her ears pressed flat against her head as she growled. I expected one of the idiots to become mincemeat as I saw her raise her paw.

Only Charlie seemingly appeared out of nowhere and body slammed her target out of the way, saving him from his deserved fate of being a cat toy. The tiger raked its claws down Charlie’s back and he screeched before he tumbled to the ground, huddling into a little ball.

His yellow clown suit was soaked in blood by the time I got there. The idiots bolted, screaming their heads off, while Belle flopped down on the ground and licked clean her claws. In the dark it was nearly impossible to see how bad the wounds were, and before I could get him into the light the fellow circus people flooded around Charlie. Someone threw a blanket on him and the Wicker Brothers gathered him up and carried him into a trailer. Of course I told someone to call an ambulance, and I was assured that he’d be given proper medical care.

This morning though, Charlie’s back to… well, being Charlie. Little bastard put a tack on my seat and I didn’t notice it until I’d sat my full weight on it. He’s acting like nothing happened last night and assured me that it looked far worse than it was. He even demonstrated by taking off his shirt and gesturing to his back, which had only a few bandages on it- nothing like what you’d need if you were attacked by a tiger.

I keep telling myself that I really must have overreacted last night, that my brain is exaggerating the details. But as many times as I run the incident over and over again in my head… the more I’m certain that there’s no way in hell that Charlie should be okay right now.

June 25

Well, it finally happened. I’m taking Janice home.

I was talking with the clearly sullen girl, being as subtle as I could about her going home, when Dixie emerged from a tent. I’d not seen her since she was given her new name, I was starting to wonder where the girl had gotten off to, and here she was. She had pinned her hair up into twin pigtails and although her clown make up made her look like she was crying, she was clearly grinning from ear to ear. Dixie had become a clown, and I think that is the life that will suit her the best.

Charlie gaped like a fish and even James seemed taken off guard. “Already?” he croaked out, staring at the girl.

Dixie nodded and spun around. “I’m one of the clowns! Put away your frowns! I’ve taken them all, no more will I fall, for I am a clown!” she said before cartwheeling over to the table and using the flower pinned to her sweater to squirt me in the face with what smelled like really strong rose perfume.

Charlie clapped while James sprung to his feet, picking Dixie up and spinning her around and around. It might have gone a little over my head, but the three seemed really happy… until Janice slammed her fist into the table.

The girl had gone red with rage, getting to her feet and screaming, “Liar! Liar! It takes weeks to become a clown! You’re a fraud! A fake! A phony! Everything about you, from your name to… to you, is so disgusting and fake!”

It was so awkward. I desperately tried not to cringe, but I don’t think I quite managed. Dixie was surprised for a moment, before her bottom lip trembled. Now those tears going down her cheeks were real as she began to sob. Charlie got up to try to comfort her but she took off, running right back into the tent she had been training in.

James watched Dixie go before turning to Janice. To his credit, he seemed mostly calm, but his fists were balled up so tightly I was afraid I’d have to get between the lovebirds to prevent a brawl. He just gestured her to follow him and the pair went off.

I did my best to attempt to listen in on the argument, but I only got bits and pieces- enough to know that James called Janice for being way out of line and that although he really cared about her, he wasn’t really feeling the spark anymore. Janice accused him of leading her on and called Dixie a lot of names I won’t be writing down, as I don’t care for putting those kinds of words to paper, and she was the one that ended up trying to knock James’ block off. That’s when I intervened and separated the fighting teenagers.

While James blew off some steam with the knife throwers, I laid my cards on the table- I told Janice everything, that her parents sent me to find her, that they were really worried, and that it was time for her to come home. Maybe it’s a bit low to spring this offer on her when she was so emotionally raw, but it was my chance. And it worked.

We’ll be leaving Saturday night. One more performance, and then we’ll go when everyone’s packing up to go. I will miss my time at the circus. But I’m glad I’m going home.

June 30?

Everything’s fucked.

I don’t know what went wrong. Let me start from the beginning. Just in case I don’t make it out of here. Or maybe if I do. I’m so fucked.

Leaving went off without a hitch. Janice left a note for James, telling him goodbye and good luck with Dixie, and we took off in my car. No one even noticed we left, at least at the time. I wish someone did, someone stopped us before we went too far.

The drive was smooth, Janice badmouthed Dixie which I mostly ignored, I was already mentally making plans for how I was going to relax in the upcoming weeks… and then the cramps started.

It was just small twinges in my stomach at first. I figured my circus diet was finally catching up with me. I may have been in the best shape of my life, but you can only eat corndogs and circus peanuts for so long before something gives.

Janice rubbed her neck, muttering about being sore. The last thing I said was that I was pretty sure that the ibuprofen was in the glovebox when my gut erupted in pain. I nearly doubled over, going stiff as I wrapped a hand around my middle. I couldn’t speak, the pain was so bad. I tried to tell Janice that I needed to pull over because I was going to be sick, but the moment I opened my mouth all I could do was scream.

I looked up to see Janice’s face had gone white. Blood first only dripped from her nose, then it began to pour, spouting red all over the front of her shirt and the dashboard. I heard a snap, a crackle, and Janice’s arm was bent in three different ways, white shards of bone stabbing out of her skin.

I jerked the steering wheel and we went into the ditch, I banged my head off the dash but at least we had stopped. I bit my tongue and tried to unbuckle myself but the damn buckle locked, so I was just struggling uselessly while Janice’s body continued to break.

She cried, slumping against the car door as I heard more snaps and pops. Her leg twisted the wrong way around. The way she’d flinch made me think of when I saw someone trying to nurse broken ribs. Any twitch or movement looked agonizing.

Janice looked at me once last time.

“Help me-”

Her neck abruptly snapped to the side, her eyes rolled back, and just like that Janice Meyers was dead.

I finally got loose from the goddamn seatbuckle and threw open the car door, stumbling out as it felt like something was trying to rip its way out of my gut. I collapsed on my hands and knees, the world spinning around me before I heard an audible gurgle from my stomach.

I vomited all over the ground beneath me before I collapsed. The world spun circles around me, round and round like a carousel, and all I could really remember before it all went black was that my vomit was bright pink and smelled of lemonade.

I woke up here. I don’t know where I am. The cement walls hang with circus posters from years past, stretching back to the 1920’s.The lights are sometimes on. They’re usually off. I’m hurrying my writing because I don’t know when they’ll turn off again. Curtains hang from the ceiling, dirty, old, and I swear they change positions whenever the lights come back on. I don’t know. I can’t be sure.

They beat me. Charlie, James. For being teenagers they’re much stronger than they look. James was the instigator, Charlie mostly just shoved me back whenever I tried to make for the door. I think James was supposed to use this paddle the entire time, but he dropped it in favor of his fists, and he didn’t hold back. The lights went on and off, on and off, I must have lost unconsciousness by the time they left. I can’t find the door anymore. I don’t know if it was even there to begin with.

What did I get into

why is Janice dead

what have I done

. . .

I can’t tell if it’s night or day. I found the door again, it was just hiding behind the blue curtain. It’s locked, and I can’t make it budge when I throw myself against it, it must be locked from the outside. I need to conserve my strength.

There’s no food offered. Just fucking. Bottles of pink lemonade lined by the door. They’re mocking me. I’m not going to drink it. It might be poisoned anyway.

I have to get out of here and I can’t brute force it. I have to wait until the door opens again.

. . .

Throat’s so dry. No one’s come through the door.

They’ve left me to die down here haven’t they? Because of the car accident. That’s had to be what happened. A body doesn’t crumple. I must have swerved to avoid something and crashed the car. I’m sorry James. If you read this after I die I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt Janice. I swear. You may have not been in love with Janice but I know she meant a lot to you. I’m sorry to you too Charlie.

Please let me out of here.

. . .

The lemonade’s so refreshing. I had to drink it. It’s so hot in here. There’s no ventilation. I need to keep writing. I don’t know why they didn’t take my journal but it might be my only way to stay sane.

I can’t remember the accident still. I can’t tell if there was one or if really something else did happen in that car. All I recall is Janice’s body looking like a trainwreck.

They have to come in sooner or later. That’s when I can escape.

. . .

No escape. They made the door go away again.

It was James. And Jacob Tanner. And someone else. A magician, maybe? The door disappeared, they were there, and they began my training.

Jacob said they need someone to take Janice’s place. They’re down a clown now, and since it was my fault because I took her too far from the circus, they want me to become a clown.

No shit I told them no. I’m not going to be a fucking clown. I’m a detective. I told them that. Which in response James put a stupid hat on my head and declared me a clown detective before laughing like he told the best joke in the world.

This ‘training’ is just an excuse to torture me. They hand me balls to juggle, whenever I refuse to juggle or dropped them I’d get cuffed in the back of the head or whacked with a paddle. The last time I dropped to the ground I closed my eyes for just a second before I woke back up and everyone was gone.

I keep checking behind every curtain. I can’t find the door. All four walls are blank. I don’t know how but they made the door go away.

They left me a bag of popcorn too. It’s stale as fuck but I needed to eat something.

. . .

I keep begging for their forgiveness. I’ve stopped fighting back. I just want to go home. I won’t tell a soul. No one would believe me anyway.

They just hand me a knife and tell me if I don’t hit the bullseye this time they’re going to break my fingers.

. . .

Am I really alone in here?

Sometimes I think the curtains are hiding someone. I keep sweeping them out of the way, but there’s no one there when I do it. Maybe it’s like the door that keeps disappearing.

When I’m trained, I see them talk to this person sometimes. They turn their head and ask something, I can’t ever really hear it, but they call this person the ringmaster… even Jacob calls him the Ringmaster. I flipped back to check my memory, James is the ringmaster… or maybe he isn’t?

I don’t know anymore. My brain is swimming. They keep calling me Petey. My name is Paul. I’m Paul. Not… not Petey.

Or maybe not Paul anymore. Maybe not.

. . .

The Ringmaster has always been here. Behind the only curtain that’s never torn, she’s watching me. I can’t see her except for her silhouette, where she lounges to overlook my training. I’m too scared to move it, now that I see this room for what it really is.

I’m in a tent. I’m in a circus tent, and my face is smeared with white paint that I don’t think I put on. I’m not sure. I didn’t put in my journal that I put it on. I definitely didn’t keep this stupid detective hat on.

I’m now back in the cement room, but it only looks like that. I know the truth.

I need to pull back her curtain.

. . .

Dixie came to visit me.

She’s such a sweet girl. She yelled at James and told him to be nice to me. She cradled my head and soothed me while I cried in her arms. I told her I wanted to go home, that my name isn’t Petey and it won’t be Petey, and that I won’t be a clown detective.

She told me a story of a girl who no one loved. That no one saw as a girl, but as a thing. An embarrassment, an inconvenience. And how she had climbed to the tippy top of a tall building, all to end her life when she saw the circus lights. She figured, why not spend the last few hours she had on earth at a place that was truly happy?

She told me… that the circus wanted her, and it wants me too. It’s always wanted me. It’s why it let me in. Nothing was accidental.

Dixie left me with a cup of pink lemonade and a spam sandwich with the crusts cut off. The nostalgic taste made me cry.

The curtain needs to go. I need to know why the circus wants me.

Please tell me why I have to stay.

. . .

ha ha

ha ha

well the time has come

to go where the air smells like popcorn and bubblegum

where the tents reach the sky

and we no longer need to cry

this is how I have become a clown

this is how you become a clown

come to the circus that’s here in town

when all you’ve known has burned down

there you will meet an Acrobat, a Juggler, and a Crying Girl

they’ll help you give it a whirl

you’ll be given pink lemonade and all sorts of delights

you’ll begin your training that very night

be sure not to sob when it hurts

you’re just getting your just desserts

to be a clown is to be forever

as long as the circus endeavors

pull back the curtain and meet the Ringmaster

A beauty with skin of alabaster

with cheeks redder than apples candied

she smiles at you and offers you a glass, brandied

you take it, you don’t say no to a woman like that

once you sip, she will give your head a pat

“You’re alone in the world, aren’t you?”

She’ll say, knowing that it’s true

you’ll nod, you don’t attempt to deny

that all this time you’ve just stood by

this world has not been kind

to those who don’t fit into average humankind

“You’ve always been one of us,” she told me

“That girl who died was too carefree,

She never understood what it meant to be a clown

how you should build up, not cut down

that in this circus you’ll never feel harm

that here, you’re always meant to charm

but once you leave, you will be pained

from that, you cannot be unchained

sad that Janice had to die

but come now, you have had your cry

it’s time for you to smile

you have finally passed your trial!

It’s time to become a clown

to your knees and bow down

you are now one of mine

in fact, you have become one of my bloodline!”

I knelt before my Ringmaster, taking her hand

this circus is a family that will never disband

and just like that I’ve become a clown

never again to frown

I hope that you’ll see these tents one day

and come on through the doorway

if you want to become a clown, here’s a tip

get some pink lemonade, have a sip

run away with the circus

and like that, you’ll be one of us!

Ha ha

ha ha

never again to frown

I have become a clown

ha ha ha

ha hah ha hahaha

hahaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaaa

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