Thursday, February 4, 2010

excerpt from Some Children Wander by Mistake by John Connolly

"He followed his parents through the sideshows and rides. There were shooting ranges and hoop toss, games of skill and games of chance. Men and women called out from behind the stalls promising wonderful prizes, but William saw nobody carrying the big stuffed elephants and teddy bears that stood arrayed on the topmost shelves of the game booths, their glass eyes gleaming emptily. In fact, William saw nobody win anything at all. Shots were missed by those who regarded themselves as fairground marksmen. Darts bounced from playing cards, and hoops failed to land around goldfish bowls. All was disappointment and broken promises. William could almost see the smiles beginning to fade, and the cries of unhappy children carried on the breeze. The hucksters exchanged glances and sly grins with one another from their booths as they called to the new arrivals, the ones who still had hope and expectations of success.

Kym Hepworth, games of skill and games of chance

William was not aware of drifting away from his parents. One minute they were beside him, and the next it was as if the whole circus had shifted slightly, moving silently in a great circle so that William no longer stood among the rides and games but at the very periphery of the performers' caravans. He could see the lights of the sideshows and could hear the sound of the children on the merry-go-round, but they were hidden from him by vehicles and tents. These looked more dirty and worn than those close to the big top, the fabric of the tents shabbily mended where it had torn, the panels of the caravans slowly decaying into rust. There were puddles of waste on the ground, and a stale smell of cheap cooked meat hung on the air.

Kym Hepworth, hung on the air

Uncertain, and a little afraid, William began to pick his way carefully back to his parents, stepping over guy ropes and avoiding the tow bars of the caravans, until at last he came to a single yellow tent that stood apart from the others. Outside stood a red jalopy decorated with balloons, its wheels misshapen and its seats balanced on huge springs. William could hear voices speaking inside the tent, and knew that he had found the clowns. He crept closer and lay down on his belly so that he could peer beneath the bottom of the tent, for if he was seen at the entrance, then they would surely send him away and he would learn nothing more about them.

Kym Hepworth / Sock Doll #2 / graphite on paper / 18 x 14 in.

William saw battered dressing tables with brightly lit mirrors above them, the bulbs powered by a humming, unseen generator. Four men sat at the tables, dressed in suits of purple and green, yellow and orange. They had oversized shoes on their feet. Their heads were bald, but they wore no makeup. William was faintly disappointed. They were just men. They were not yet clowns.

Kym Hepworth, they were not yet clowns

Then, while William watched, one of the men took a cloth and doused it in liquid from a black bottle. He looked at himself grimly in the mirror then drew the cloth across his face. Instantly, a line of white appeared, and the rim of a big red mouth. The man wiped himself again, harder now, and circular red cheeks appeared. Finally, he hid his face in the cloth, rubbing furiously, and when the cloth came away it was covered in flesh-covered makeup and a clown stared back from the mirror. The other men were engaged in similar activities, rubbing away the cosmetics that concealed the clown faces beneath.

Kym Hepworth, a clown stared back

But those faces were not in the least bit funny or engaging. True, the men looked like clowns. They had big smiling mouths, and oval shapes around their eyes, and big red circles fixed on their cheeks, but their eyeballs were yellow and their skin looked puckered and diseased. Their bare hands were very white, reminding William of cheap sausages or lengths of uncooked dough. The clowns moved listlessly, and they spoke in a language William had never heard before, more to themselves than to one another. The tongue sounded very old, and very foreign, and William felt himself grow increasingly afraid. A voice in his head seemed to echo their words, as though someone close by were translating for his benefit.

Kym Hepworth, they had big smiling mouths

Children, the voice said. We hate 'em. Foul things. They laugh at what they doesn't understand. They laugh at things they should be afraid of. Oh, but we know. We know what the circus hides. We know what all circuses hide. Foul children. We make them laugh, but when we can . . .

We take 'em!

Kym Hepworth, they laugh at what they doesn't understand

And then the nearest clown turned and stared down at William, and the boy felt moist hands gripping his own as he was dragged beneath the canvas and into the tent. Two clowns, unseen until now, knelt by him, holding him down. William tried to cry out for help, but one of the clowns placed a hand over William's lips, stilling any sound within."

(excerpt from Some Children Wander by Mistake, from the collection of short stories, Nocturnes, written by John Connolly, published by Atria Books, New York, © 2005, 2006)

Bruce Springsteen - Wild Billy's Circus Story
(And the circus boss leans over, whispers into the little boy's ear "Hey son, you want to try the big top?")

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