The Clowns of Apocalypse
by Thomas B. White
I: The Story
Billie Jay Radio never thought the End of Days would look like this. His fundamentalist grandmother, parroting the Biblical scriptures like a memorized script, had gloomily foretold something far more impressive: horned beasts rising from the sea, raging locust hordes, falling stars, cosmic torrents of blood, spectacular angelic-demonic air battles. Great scenarios for a new disaster/horror flick, but the reality of the actual apocalypse, as it unfolded, was quite different.
First, there was the breakdown of shopping mall culture.
Shoppers could no longer browse freely through malls without being obstructed by merchandise: computers, TV’s, furniture, stacks of Nike running shoes dumped into the commons areas by clerks with vacant eyes and odd mouths that seemed to both snarl and smile.
Rampant looting appeared to be in progress. Billie Jay thought of those old newsreels of the 60s ghetto riots he had seen in his history class — except that it was the store employees who were stripping their own shelves.
Even the manager of the local Salvation Army outlet was seen cleaning out his used clothing bins and hurling green polyester pants into growing piles of designer suits and dresses. When confronted by a mall security guard, the disheveled man only mumbled incoherently about “the end being near.”
Billie Jay, however, knew there was a real problem when Ashley Baker, the normally very efficient yet flirtatious waitress at his favorite upscale mall cafe, refused to take his order for a double latté, instead calling him a “sicko who was wasting her time.” Then, unleashing a stream of obscenities against Billie Jay — sparked by nothing in particular — she finished with a roaring insult: “And nobody is going to tell you to ‘have a nice day’, for the end of days is at hand!”
Again, there was the same weird look that he had seen on other mall employee faces, a bizarre mask of cruelty and cheerfulness.
Day after day, week after week, a race of otherwise normal-looking mutants, dangerous and unpredictable, was emerging, no longer knowing how to wish customers a nice day or caring about the expensive products they marketed to the well-heeled.
Soon there was an even more alarming trend. Customers, Billie Jay observed, no longer rushed frantically through the malls looking for bargains. While they could have in fact easily carted away “looted” state-of-the-art electronic hardware or designer fashions, these ex-consumers merely shoved the items to one side.
Entire mall passageways were thus cleared of abandoned merchandise to make room for wrestling matches, Frisbee throwing, dice games, kickboxing, and skateboarding (an extreme version that sought to run down women pushing baby strollers).
The security guard, who had confronted the Salvation Army outlet manager for dumping old trousers, was now acting just as strangely, first warmly embracing random passers-by and then violently grappling them to the floor. Others leaped into the fray, until bodies were writhing in heaps like rugby scrums or mass orgies.
The old scripts guaranteeing the stability and predictability of life were being lost to rampant social amnesia. This trend was even surfacing in Billie Jay’s professional life. As a seller of gentrified properties, Billie Jay once could count on at least greed as an absolute.
However, even that was dying. One couple insisted on negotiating a higher price, and then excused themselves right in the middle of the open house viewing to use the bathroom together. Disgusted by the flushing, giggling, and grunting sounds, Billie Jay waited outside. At least they immediately signed the contract for twice the list price, though he barely shook their damp hands.
Then one day — to make matters worse — the circus came to town. Curiously, though, the performers never really seemed to perform; instead they wandered aimlessly through streets, causing traffic jams. Men and women in tights, with the stereotypical appearance of graceful highwire trapeze artists, made obscene gestures at the furious, swearing motorists. Jugglers, aggressively accosting pedestrians, deliberately scattered their balls on street corners, causing a hazard. Yet they still angrily demanded what they called “entertainment user fees.”
Puzzled, Billie Jay searched the Internet —even read the newspapers and called the local arts center — for performance information but could find no evidence of any scheduled show dates. Apparently, the circus was no longer really the circus but had changed into something else. What that was, Billie Jay Radio would soon find out.
One afternoon while shopping cross-town at another mall not yet stricken by the strange anti-consumer madness, he observed a gang of clowns roaming through the parking lot. Some were thin, indeed borderline anorexic; a few were portly; others almost dwarfish. The clowns, with their makeup streaming profusely like sweat, and baggy costumes hanging in dirty grungy-red tatters, bellowed and shook their fists and scattered flyers.
Billie Jay picked one up one and read it: The End of Days is upon us. Forget your old scripts and scriptures. Everything is changing including the End of Days itself.
Cautiously, at a discreet distance, Billie Jay followed them into the mall, avoiding the slippery, buttery trail of their red and white greasepaint.
Squatting behind a large potted plant in the atrium, he watched one of the clowns — nasty scowl, blazing, red eyes, and stained, wrinkled lips emerging from behind his thinning makeup — enter the administrative offices. Loud scuffling sounds, shouts, and then the clown burst out, waving a pistol at the neck of a scrawny, trembling man farting uncontrollably from fear whose nametag read Harold Sorrow, Customer Care Specialist.
With military-like precision, the clowns then marched their hostage through the parting crowds of oddly silent shoppers to the mall’s central commons where a platform, microphone, podium and chairs had been set up.
While the lead clown still aimed his pistol at the now crying, still farting customer care representative, his cohorts mingled casually among the onlookers as if networking at a cocktail party, while distributing the same ominous flyers.
Cranking an erect arm up like a Nazi salute, the lead clown strutted — prodding his hostage. He was followed by his colleagues up onto the stage. From one baggy, ragged pocket, he pulled a sheaf of paper — while carefully still aiming the gun at the whimpering hostage, who had curled up in a fetal position — from which he read in a thunderous voice.
“Very theatrical manner, Billie Jay noted mentally in case CNN would interview him later. He needed clever sound bites.
II: The Play
Clown (With hostage; speaking in a thunderous voice like an angry minister) We are the Clowns of Apocalypse from another dimension here to announce that the human race has entered into a new era. No longer can you count on even the most ordinary desire, hunger or need. Nor can you predict — or hope — that people will behave in any “normal manner.”
In fact, your lives, all societies, the entire globe, as I speak, are lapsing into a series of unscripted pratfalls, thoughtless stunts, clownish blunders, random absurd acts — a “circus” of sorts, but one that is funny and dangerous, comical and brutal.
In other words, once you paid admission to laugh at me and my ilk.
(The clown pauses, waves at the other clowns who clumsily dance, make silly faces, then bow to the gathered audience who mildly titter)
However, you will now rage at me for what I am about to do: “unexpected behavior” (the clown has a smirking smile) from a person normally paid a low wage to amuse you, the jaded public.
(The clown’s red eyes blaze even more fiercely. He bares pointed teeth. Growls escape from his foaming, wrinkled lips.) In other words, it is the End of the End of Days, as we have known them!
(The clown then shoots the customer care representative who squeezes into an even tighter fetal ball, then unfurls limply, blood trickling from the back of his neck.)
Unidentified voice from crowd: Look, CNN is here!
Everyone turns and sees a CNN camera crew scrambling toward the stage, led by the same mall security guard who earlier had attacked shoppers, and followed by a man and woman, apparently correspondents, both clad only in their underwear and wearing clown masks.
Instead of approaching any of the clowns or the onlookers to interview them, the man and woman correspondents pull off their underwear, squat on the mall floor, and begin kissing through large mouth holes in the clown masks. The couple’s masks slip off, revealing crudely painted clown faces, but with their mouths painted in drooping expressions, giving them anguished looks.
Clown standing with dead hostage on stage: (Points at the kissing CNN correspondents and smirks.)
See! Network news does not care about crazy clowns raving and ranting or killing an innocent man. They only want to record their own correspondents naked and kissing in public. You can no longer count on anything, even regular news program content. Rather you have unscheduled, televised erotica.
I rest my case! We have now entered the Age of Dangerous Absurdity also known as the End of Days.
(While all the clowns cheer loudly and pump their arms in the air, the camera crew is gathering around the couple and busy filming them. The onlookers have moved from around the stage and are now silently milling behind the camera crew, blankly looking over their shoulders at the couple).
Security Guard (Voice trembling and shaking): This is disgusting.
(He motions toward a man a few feet away, the manager from the Salvation Store outlet, carrying a bundle of clothing, who rushes up to the crowd surrounding the couple).
Salvation Store Manager: Get the hell out of the way!
(He rudely elbows his way through the crowd and CNN camera crew, then hurls a pile of stained polyester pants and old flower-patterned boxer underwear on to the naked, clown-faced couple who are positioning themselves for sex).
Clown on stage: (Voice suddenly hysterical, shrieking) Stop them, for Christ’s sake!
(Leaping off the stage, the clown, spraying his melting make-up on the crowd, bolts toward the moaning couple).
Clown off stage: The End of the End of Days also means the End of Sex, so, by God, stop it!
(He aims at the couple and fires his pistol again. Another shout goes up and everyone turns away from the groaning, dying couple to see another camera crew galloping through the mall).
Lead camera operator from the other crew: (Cries out breathlessly) We represent Fox TV and we want YOUR HUMAN INTEREST STORIES!
Copyright © 2008 by Thomas B. White