A/N: There are two things you might or might not know about me, depending on how much time you spend with me:
1. I am a huge fan of the Joker from Batman and he's my favorite villain of all time.
2. I do not like clowns or circuses. At all. Ever.
See the paradox here? How can someone whose favorite villain IS a psychopathic clown also dislike clowns in general? I never figured out the answer myself, but it makes for some extremely interesting nightmare-dreams, I'll tell you that.
I based this story on not one, but several of those dreams. Though the fear of clowns is extremely common, a phobia of them (Coulrophobia) is not, no offense to those who actually do suffer from a clinically diagnosed clown phobia. Studies from psychologists around the world talk exclusively about why people find clowns so unknowable and frightening, suggesting the possibility that it may be from a primal fear of the dead (the white face), blood (the red lips), or predators with patterned faces (the entire make-up ensemble clowns wear). Even Lon Cheney, Sr. disliked the humble clown, famously quoted as saying, "There is nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight." And of course, countless pop culture icons are evil clowns, from the Joker of Batman fame to Pennywise the Dancing Clown of Stephen King's novel, It.
Whatever the true reason, this story explores it, taking a psychological turn for the worse with every appearance the clown makes. The story also epitomizes the "Through the Eyes of Madness" trope, its frightened protagonist stuck in a surreal world where the carnival melds with reality and the joyous quickly turns to fear. To make it less formal, Carousel is the story of a simple, common fear spun much too far out of control and the dire consequences of sinking too far into fantasy. It might not be the most realistic story ever told, but when madness is involved, reality takes a back seat and has no choice but to enjoy the horrific ride. I hope you enjoy this one.
To begin with, Abigail hated clowns.
She was never quite sure why, but the very idea of them physically repulsed her. She knew she didn't dislike the people in the costumes – how could one ever hate someone they didn't even know? She had no aversion to their puns and jokes; a great deal of them would have made her laugh if the creature in question didn't tell them. It wasn't even the circus or fair or carnival they resided at that made her cringe; she loved these places them as much as the next person. Abigail had harbored her fear for all of the eighteen years she'd been alive, and still it mystified her – perhaps it was something about their false smiles and unnerving laughter that struck a frightening chord, or maybe she simply dreaded the garish attire and greasepaint; why, the very smell of that vile makeup was enough to set her off if she wasn't careful to control herself. Whatever it was, the mere mention of one of those painted abominations was enough to make her shudder.
Abigail was not phobic. This she knew and knew well, for her fear was awfully specific. A simple court jester didn't set her off nearly as much as a simple whiteface clown did, and she had always admired the jester for his quick wit and sly sense of humor. No, it was definitely clowns, she knew. Always clowns. But though the mere sight of a clown made her hair stand on end, the fear she experienced was not a crippling one, but a shrinking one – a sensation of spiny caterpillars inching down her spine that made her feel like a child; a chill that made her want to whimper and slink away to hide, her tail between her legs in defeat. And yet she never ran when she saw one – oh no, she wasn't so afraid as to run, but if one approached just a bit too close…
Abigail was an average but very driven young woman, studious and perhaps a bit too serious, and she always felt extremely ashamed of herself for harboring such a ridiculous fear in light of her almost stoic dedication to school. She felt childish, silly for being afraid of a person in a costume and facepaint; it was like being afraid of someone dressed as Big Bird for Halloween. She had tried nearly everything to overcome it, but every attempt backfired in some small way – she either froze when faced with the clown or had awful nightmares about it for days, along with a side of sheer guilt that she'd failed again. The fear was trivial to her; she hated it.
So, when her best friend sent an email invitation to a birthday party that mentioned something about it taking place at a carnival, Abigail knew she had to attend. There was sure to be a clown act there, and she wasn't about to give up on her attempts to banish her fear despite her previous failures. She couldn't just give up now. Besides, it was her best friend's party and it was sure to be the party of a lifetime…
The annual Summer carnival only came to Abigail's home town of Chipwick for one month of the three she had off – in July – and the excitement it brought to the small town had everyone who lived there in a buzz. Countless children, from the youngest to the old, would stare out of the windows of houses and apartments as the trailers with numerous rides, animals, and food stands crept down the streets to arrive ceremoniously at the fairgrounds, all ready to set up the bright magic they carried. Young and old, they would follow the trailers to the grounds, watch the carnival come to life, see the rides fit carefully together like enormous puzzles. Then, when the carnival was ready to open, the high school band would announce it with a parade so grand it might have been the procession for a king. Young and old, big and small, child and adult would gather to see it, following the music and bright revelry through the gates of the fairgrounds and into a world of bright lights and cheery music, all set up seemingly overnight and all ready to welcome its visitors with open arms like an old friend.
"I'm so glad you could come, Abbie!" squealed Anne, her strawberry blonde hair bouncing behind her and her face sticky with cotton candy. Her warm face had been a delight to Abigail since the two had met in eighth grade, and they had been inseparable ever since, even now in their senior High School year; their final walk in the park before college.
Abigail smiled and nibbled a pretzel, amused at her friend's seemingly boundless energy. Abigail herself was rather quiet; normally the excitement of a day at the carnival knocked her flat on her back with exhaustion, but not Anne. She'd always admired that about her: ever optimistic and always cheerful, always smiling, always ready for more. If she were an animal, she'd surely be a Golden Retriever.
"Like I'd miss my best friend's birthday," she said, rolling her eyes in jest and wiping her mouth on a napkin. "And at a carnival? How'd you ever get your dad to…?"
Something caught her eye suddenly, a flash of orange and electric blue that stood out against the red-and-white of a circus tent, and she trailed off suddenly as she turned to look at it. This was a clown she hadn't seen at the carnival in previous years, a tall, lanky creature dressed in pinstripes from head to foot, cackling wildly as it visited with a crowd of delighted children.
Abigail felt her breath hitch in fear as it seemingly turned to look at her…
"… Abbie?" Anne sounded slightly concerned. She was like a non-paternal sister to Abigail in her closeness, and right now she saw her sister-in-name-only frozen with fear.
"Y-yeah? Oh…" Abigail shook off her frightened haze, slightly embarrassed that she'd let herself relapse. She had to face her fears head on if she ever wanted to defeat them, and letting herself quietly panic at the mere sight of a clown that wasn't even anywhere near her was definitely a backwards step.
"You… wanna go somewhere else?" Anne asked gently. She didn't want to embarrass Abbie further by pointing her fear out for everyone to see. "The line for the Zipper looks pretty short…"
"N-no, I'm fine," Abigail hastily snapped. The sight of her friend drawing back in surprise sent a sudden twinge of guilt through her, and her face softened. "I'm sorry…"
I have to face this…
Anne smiled brightly. "Not a problem, Abbie! Just remember, it's not out to get you; he's just a guy in make-up…"
"Just a guy in make-up," she parroted softly, taking Anne's hand in her own. She was glad she had a friend like Anne to support her through her struggle. They were like a complex molecule; their bond was far stronger than her fear could ever be.
Together, they walked towards the group of children. Anne squeezed her friend's hand in silent support. Abigail felt as if she were walking into a horribly, horribly obvious trap.
The clown pulled something out of its sleeve, an endless chain of colorful rags, and the crowd of children applauded enthusiastically. It laughed oddly, eyes searching the crowd for someone, perhaps a volunteer for its next trick.
Abigail swore its eyes locked with hers for the briefest moment, a faint look of recognition gleaming in them silently…
She shuddered and forced a smile as the clown's gaze traveled further down the line of audience members, settling on those of a six-year-old little girl, who was jumping up and down excitedly and squealing with laughter.
"Abbie…?" Anne was getting worried about her friend again. "Hey… hey, it's okay…"
Again the clown's eyes seemed to return to Abigail's; ever inch of her body was fighting the urge to tremble. The little girl bounded up to the stage, giggling hysterically.
"No…" the sound was the softest of frightened whispers on Abigail's pale lips; she couldn't bring herself to look away from the garish performer before her. "No, no it's not okay…"
Anne squeezed her friend's hand sympathetically. It was definitely time to go do something else for a while. She stood, pulling Abigail up with her.
"Deep breaths, Abbie… c'mon, let's go on the Zipper, the line's probably really short by now…"
The clown watched passively as the two girls left, one trembling and the other speaking calmly. Only when they were out of sight did it return to its lively buffoonery, and even then, it seemed to be watching…
Abigail was tired beyond belief. It had been a long day at the carnival, flashy rides and greasy food and all, leaving her horribly drained – it was as if some magnetizing vortex lay just under the carnival grounds, slowly drawing the energy from her weary body and quietly sapping her strength. After that horrible incident with the clown, she and Anne had enjoyed a wonderful cavalcade of rides, stopping only twice. The first time was for lunch, and the two rested under a small plastic canopy to enjoy a meal of greasy burgers and oil-saturated French Fries. Abigail was usually very health conscious, but at the carnival she just couldn't help pigging out. Unfortunately, she thought miserably, she was now paying the price for eating what amounted to pure lard and getting on so many rides after it.
Her stomach churned and gurgled in sympathy of her plight, reminding her of the other reason they'd stopped: around six, the Gravity Well shut down for two hours because some poor soul had emptied the contents of his stomach all over the floor of it. The poor lady operating it – a world-weary dishwater blonde – merely acted like it wasn't unusual and took a huge spray hose to the mess, accidentally hitting more than a few people in line in the process with the vomit-water mixture, which in turn caused yet more vomiting in the crowd. The two girls had silently agreed to leave the line for a little while, grateful they hadn't been hit themselves, and took to the line for the Fireball ride next door. After riding that a few thousand times, they had explored a funhouse, chasing each other through the hall of mirrors for hours and giggling like school girls, and they followed it with bumper cars and a new ride Abigail had never seen at the carnival before, the Thunderbolt. The operator, she'd noted, was a young, goateed man in his early twenties whom Abigail knew had to be hitting on her, and he operated the ride with a sort of maniacal glee, pushing the ride forwards, backwards, and at every speed from a crawl to a cheetah's pace. The ride left her dizzy and delighted, and she nearly went for more, but by then the Gravity Well was operating again and she just couldn't pass that up. She'd parted ways with Anne shortly before nine-thirty or so, nauseous, but happy nonetheless.
Now, however, it was nearly ten, and the streets were dark, lit only by a few streetlights here and there. Her delight had long since faded, leaving only a vague nausea and a pit not quite unlike fear in her stomach.
That, thought Abigail, was the problem with living in a small town. You knew nobody would mug you, but it was always so quiet at night, so eerie. During the day, small towns were bright and cheerful, glad to see a native, welcoming those who visited with open arms. But at night… at night, small towns took a decidedly frightening turn, becoming less of a friend and more like something out of a Stephen King novel. At night, small towns grew dim and dreary, terrifying in how very small they truly were. And always, she walked home from the carnival, every year she did – but never before had she done so at night. She'd always left early, before it closed, before the revelry ended and the stands restocked for the next joyous day. True, her house was only about a half-hour's walk from the fairgrounds, and she was nearly there, but in this near perfect darkness, the trek home seemed to take an eternity.
Something caught the very corner of her eyes, a tall, lanky figure leaning against a nearby lamppost, and she stopped to get a closer look. Chipwick was a historic town dating back to the start of the Revolutionary War. The lamppost was a modern-day replica of the old gaslight lamps that once dotted the corners and brick-paved streets of the town; now that lamppost held a small, dim light bulb, blazing in the darkness with quiet determination in honor of its predecessors, and that single light illuminated the figure of…
Abigail felt a sickening wave rise in her stomach. The garishly-clad figure before her was unmistakable. There stood the clown from earlier that day, relaxing against the lamppost as if it were any other person waiting for a bus. But no bus line ran in her town save those from the city, and even those didn't run out here this late…
The clown turned almost nonchalantly, perhaps noticing that its privacy had been disturbed, and its eyes fixed calmly on Abigail's own with, she noted meekly, a look of determined, intelligent knowing.
This isn't right… what is it doing here…? Is it…
Is it following me?
Every nerve in Abigail's body burned with the impulse to run; every muscle tensed and every rapid heartbeat painfully obvious to her. And yet… yet she wanted to stay; to decipher what such an anomaly as this was doing here, in front of her disbelieving eyes. Was the clown – No, the man dressed as a clown – from out of town, perhaps waiting for a bus that would never arrive? Was he merely relaxing before going to aid with resetting the carnival for tomorrow? Was it possible that her tired eyes were making her see things that weren't there?
Don't panic, Abigail, she thought, breathing deeply to calm herself. He's there for a reason. There's always a reason. He's not going to hurt you, he's just a man in a costume…
Taking a final deep, calming breath, Abigail looked over the out-of-place fool again, but soon realized it truly was the same clown from that morning. He was the same height; his hair was the same awkward but trimmed shade of orange; he wore the same dayglo orange shirt and electric blue suit as before, with the same neon green and hot pink buttons and the same teal ascot… His face was precisely the same, with the same smudged make-up, the same intelligent eyes, the same… eerily eager smile that made Abigail shiver… yes, this was the same fool from before, and Abigail knew it.
Well, Abbie… You wanted to overcome your fear. Here's your chance…
She really didn't want to approach the clown. At all. But there was a good chance he could need help, and a man in a scary costume was still a man, after all.
Abigail swallowed her growing anxiety and forced herself to edge forward a few steps. She wasn't going to let a trivial encounter like this frighten her, not when there was no danger in it whatsoever.
"Hey," she called to the buffoon. Her voice shook slightly from nerves. "A-aren't you that clown from the carnival…?"
The clown said nothing, its eyes silent and… scrutinizing?
Abigail shuddered involuntarily at that blank gaze. It looked almost… almost as if it were unstable. Almost mad…
"D-do you need help?"
No response came from the clown, save the barest sliver of a smirk.
"You know, the buses don't run this late out here…"
"Okay… just… just thought I'd let you know… I… better get going now…"
She quickly maneuvered past the lamppost, moving her feet as fast as she was physically able. She wanted to be as far away from that creature as soon as possible. This was getting too bizarre for her to handle, and besides, she –
Her heart skipped a beat, and she froze in a dead halt. That… that was not the voice of a sane man…
She turned to look over her shoulder, her eyes meeting the fool's once more. It… it couldn't have been him calling her; he didn't even know her, let alone know her name…
… Did he?
"H-hello?" Abigail whispered, but the darkness gave no reply. "Anne? Is that you?"
Her attention snapped towards the clown again. He… he was the only one here besides herself…
Freezing cold lightning bolts sped down her spine with impunity. How… how did it know her name?
The clown merely smiled to itself, laughing at some internal joke. Its eyes followed her unblinkingly, staring in eternal interest… studying her…
Her feet broke into a frenzied run, but Abigail remembered none of the trip home and did not recall the terrified shrieking that woke her frightened parents, nor the bizarre-seeming tale she told them, nor their response that it was probably best she lie down and give her weary mind some rest.
Abigail did not rest easily that night, nor did she rest well during any of the nights that followed. The vivid visions that haunted her dreams night after sleepless night were so hideous they would have made Lovecraft's abominations weep in terror, and always the same horrific dream repeated itself, a damned, monstrous recording trapped forever on replay.
Most nights it was the same horrific memory, looping infinitely until she awoke in a cold sweat. Most nights, the clown chased her through brambles or laughed at her from behind buildings. Those dreams she began to expect every night, and they came to her every night. Sometimes the clown caught her. Sometimes she escaped.
Tonight, the dream was different. Very different.
She was running alone, lost in a vast forest, but everything was… wrong. Twisted. Deformed, like some mad artist's surrealist interpretation of a forest gone awry. The trees all stuck out at odd angles, impossible angles; the leaves were in shades of horrendous hot pinks, dayglo oranges, and vomitous neon greens. There was no normal sound in this forest, not a single bird chirped, not one branch of the trees rustled. In its place rose calliope music in a haunting refrain, off-key but otherwise imperceptible to the ear. Vague laughter, wild and cacophonous, echoed through the trees and over the deep orchid sky in ominous teal ribbons, tangible razors of sound that chased and sliced her everywhere she turned. She could see the blood, a highly saturated red flowing easily from her pale, pale skin, and with each droplet she lost, she felt herself weaken. She ran and ran for what had to be days, but got nowhere, only to have her weary feet give out in the midst of a small clearing. The wolfish ribbons halted at the edge, twining and twisting around each other like frightened snakes before dashing hastily back into the Daliesque woods around her, where they disappeared into the nauseating foliage forever.
Her arms shook with the effort of holding her weakened frame off the ground, threatening to give way at any moment. She was alone now, alone with the omnipresent laughter and now much louder calliope music, a horrifying fugue. She wearily lifted her head, peering across the overgrown neon green grass. Before her, in the center of the tiny clearing, stood an immense and crazily designed funhouse mirror, just like the kind she had always seen in the funhouses of carnivals past. The proud golden paint was flaking, revealing a horrible coat of rust and oxidized metal beneath; multiple cracks from complex spider webs in the corner to insignificant lines along the edges riddled the glass. She couldn't see herself in it from this far back, as if she had no reflection at all. And yet it called to her, begging her to take a look, just one look…
A sense of dread grasped her. The mirror… she wanted to look into the mirror, to see what secret it held, and yet she felt – no, she knew – in the deepest parts of her soul that she should not. To look was a death sentence, it told her. To look would mean the end of you.
But it was only one look. Just one look…
She felt herself stand automatically, staring at the mirror as if in a trance. She had to see it, had to know. Her feet carried her towards it, and with each step, her sense of dread grew. The mirror was dangerous, she told herself. It should not be. And yet she drew closer still at a constant, steady pace, as if approaching a great religious monument, only stopping when she was mere inches from its glassy, riven surface.
She did not look into the mirror, but at her bare feet, coated with tiny cuts and scratches from her frenzied run. The neon grass felt not like grass, but tiny razors brushing against her unprotected skin.
She breathed deeply. The air smelled like cotton candy and decaying wood. The desire to look was becoming unbearable. She had to look or she'd surely die from curiosity.
She set a trembling hand on the flaking metal frame, steeling herself for whatever revelation it offered.
And she looked.
And she saw herself, staring back at her in bewilderment and fear.
But suddenly, the mirror warped strangely, fluxing between solid and liquid, and her reflection… changed. It was no longer hers, but another, far more horrific figure that was as twisted as the surrounding forest.
She felt the color drain from her face, taking her breath and reason with it. The clown stared back at her from the mirror menacingly, but it was far, far more evil looking and nightmarish than the one she knew from the carnival. Its grin stretched impossibly from ear to ear; its eyes bore a look of unbridled and delighted madness. It was impossibly tall and skeletally thin, and from head to toe its skin was bone white, dead white. Its clothing curled and bent in strange and warped ways, mocking the space it occupied within the mirror. The more she looked at it, the less sense it made and the more she denied its existence. The mirror sunk into itself, and through the resulting hole, the clown reached out to clutch her arm in its grotesquely pale talons. But it was not a true nightmare made real, not truly an abomination that bent reality into madness… until it spoke.
Abigail jolted awake with a shriek of terror and the pulse of a speeding stallion.
"I tell you, Anne, I keep seeing it! It's gotta be following me or something…"
Anne lounged on the loveseat in Abigail's front room, playing psychiatrist by listening to her every little word with a discerning ear. All of this sounded absolutely crazy to her – what business would a clown have following her best friend around? But Abbie wasn't a liar, and she wasn't the kind of person who embellished things, either. But this… just this…
"I mean, it used my name and everything… I keep having nightmares about it; I'm at my wit's end trying to get it out of my head…"
"You need to stop obsessing over it so much, Abbie," Anne said with finality. "I think you really need to let the carnival go. It's messing with your head, Abbie… I'm worried…"
Abigail was infuriated and hurt. Had her best friend really just called her crazy?
"I'm fine!" she snapped, knowing in her mind that she was not at all fine.
"Abigail, you need help. Please…" Anne looked desperate. Abigail looked shocked. She hadn't used her full name since… since…
"I'm not crazy, Anne!" she cried, her eyes glistening with the threat of very real, very hurt tears. "He's real, it's real, I know it is! And if you're not going to help me…"
"I don't know how to help you!" Anne yelled, thoroughly frustrated with the situation. "And I didn't say you were crazy, all I said is that I think you should… break…"
Abigail blinked in confusion. Her hearing seemed to be fuzzy; some sort of white noise buzzed implacably in her ears. And on top of all that, Anne's words appeared to be fading in and out oddly.
"Anne, could… could you repeat that a moment…?"
"I said you should… break…"
"I… I should break?" She shuddered at what her friend seemed to be implying…
"What? I didn't say that…"
"Yes you did, I just heard you!"
"Abbie …your hearing's going. You should… break… … …all this nonsense..."
The irritating white noise in her ears seemed to be growing louder with each passing moment. The buzz grew to a whine and the whine to something that sounded… sounded remarkably like…
Abigail's eyes widened fearfully at the laughter ringing inside her head. But Anne wouldn't really side with that horrible clown… would she?
"Anne…" Her face bore all the pallor of a piece of whiteboard chalk. "Anne… I… I'm gonna go get a drink."
She rose from the couch shakily, and then rushed into the . Anne did not follow her, and so she didn't see Abigail duck hastily into the large main bathroom and stare, wide-eyed and pale, into the mirror before splashing cold water onto her face. Her mind was already reeling; she could hear the laughter in the room all around her, in her head; it was so close, so dreadfully, horrifically close… She began to feel dizzy, and she leaned against the wall near the door to get her bearings.
Abigail peered at the door meekly, and saw, to her bewilderment, that it was shut – and locked, from the look of the door handle. Funny, she didn't remember doing that…
"Abigail… let me in…"
Her heart sprung up sickeningly, setting her entire body aquiver with its frantic beating. Her feet seemed to trip over each other as she backed away from the door. Someone was pounding on the door frantically, calling her name…
Abigail let out a frightened sob. It was finally closing in on her; there was no escape. Suddenly the big, big bathroom had begun to feel very, very small…
She hit something – or someone – behind her, but she didn't dare look. Her face was wet with tears, her chest heaved in terror. She was going to die…
"Abigail…" A cold, spidery hand rested on her shoulder, clenching it painfully in its bony fingers. "Abigail… Look at me… I want to see your smiling eyes…"
And as afraid as she was to look, as much as she desperately fought not to, her feet betrayed her, and she obeyed. It had become more grotesque now, noted a vague thread of a thought, much more appalling. The make-up that coated its face now seemed like tattoo ink; the white base coat now seemed to be its true skin tone. The colors it wore were much brighter, and it was almost amusingly, alarmingly tall, as if someone had pulled it in a taffy machine. Its grin was omnipresent, a terrifying rictus of yellowed teeth.
"Oh, don't do that, Abigail…" Its grin stretched impossibly wider. "Don't ruin our playtime before it's even begun…"
"Why are you following me?!" Her voice was warped into a shriek from fear, her entire body trembled.
"You are my best friend in the world…" it stretched out a lanky arm, pointing with a single talon. "Look… I made you a painting…"
Again she turned, perhaps out of some morbid fascination, only to feel what little color left in her face pale further. Before her eyes lay a scene of unspeakable carnage, a horrific mess that she knew could never have been there before. Blood tainted every wall and pooled on the floor; a body lay in the middle in gruesome repose, its entrails spilling from an enormous gash across its midriff. Words smeared in blood and pulped organs covered the door and windows, reading her name over and over again in a grim, demented ode.
And in the middle of this meaningless massacre, as coated in blood and offal as everything else, stood the clown. She didn't dare contemplate just how it had gotten to its grim station so quickly... Its lanky, impossibly tall frame slouched menacingly over a body so mangled Abigail could not even ascertain the poor soul's gender save by the little makeup on her Glasgow-cut face.
It's… Oh, my God…
Abigail trembled in fear. The unfortunate, mangled body of the girl lying before that hideous monster… was her own…
The clown peered up at her, staring dangerously, madly. A dark grin played about its painted lips…
"For you, Abigail…"
She could bear this madness no longer. She screamed. And as the clown began to move towards her, she remained as stone; she could not move for the overwhelming terror.
"Leave me alone! Please…"
It said nothing, nothing at all as it continued to move ever closer towards her. But what it did instead was far worse.
It laughed, hard and cruel and mad, and the world seemed to become just a little bit darker…
Abigail sank to the floor and curled into a little ball, sobbing softly. That sound… Dear God, that sound… It was pure, demented, dark insanity; it was the sound of fear rumbling within the soul. It swept over her in sickening waves of deathly purple and vomit green, reeling about in a mad whirlwind, devouring her mind. But she didn't scream, though she tried with all her might to do so. No, instead Abigail was horrified to find that she was giggling, softly admitting that she was enjoying their twisted game, the out of control carousel in the carnival of her mind. Her mind wailed in revulsion at this new torment that inflicted her, but still her voice betrayed her, still she laughed, louder, harder. Still, still she cackled wildly at the carnage, her terror, the clown, nothing. Still she laughed until she again broke into terrified sobs. The clown had her in an iron grasp by now, clinging to her as if trying to engulf her with its world; its long, pale fingers entwined in her hair, playing with it like a particularly adoring lover; she could feel its hot, reeking breath on her ear…
"I will never leave you, Abigail…" it whispered menacingly. "Never…"
The words echoed in her mind, slowly engraving themselves into her thoughts. Something brushed her face her face; fingers, its fingers. Moving in a very certain, graceful motion, an arc, then moving to lines, swirls, spirals… a smile. Where it touched her, Abigail's face suddenly felt very slick and oily. Almost like…
She slicked her trembling fingers over her face. A mess of color coated them like a demented rainbow.
"You look so pretty in it…" The clown grinned madly, its surrealistic skin warping oddly. "Wanna see?"
It withdrew a grotesquely painted wooden hand mirror, and held it up to her face with a dramatic flourish. Despite her best efforts, the mirror called to her; its song was irresistible, a maddening calliope melody…
Abigail could no longer resist. She looked into the mirror, saw the horrific mess of paint covering her face, paint that mirrored the clown's own.
"You should come with me…" its voice was strangely seductive, filling the room with an uneasy calm… "We could be the very best of best friends, you and I… we could be best friends forever…"
Abigail's reason failed her miserably. The last thing she remembered was a frantic pull away from the clown, followed by a long, panicked run as she shrieked whatever rambling came to mind first. Anne was more than horrified at her friend's behavior, and she responded with a horrified, panicked call to Abigail's parents…
Abigail spent the remainder of the month of July in utter fear. Every impossible little crevice made her shiver, small noises made her cringe. The nightmares became cancerous, or so it seemed, starting to spread into her once peaceful daytime hours. She caught glimpses of the clown in people's faces, in shadows, in the reflection of a glass window. Sometimes, and perhaps most horrifically of all, she sometimes would hear very faint snippets of laughter, or the low, eerie cadence of a calliope.
Abigail began to spend less and less time outside of the house and more time in her room. Her room was the only safe place she knew; the clown was never there save in her dreams, when she would toss and turn fitfully in an attempt to wake that never came. Anne came to visit sometimes, but with her came the clown. She wanted to tell poor, defenseless Anne of the danger that haunted her, but who would believe her? After all, she had tried to tell her parents several times now, and they hadn't believed her. A story as far-fetched as a clownish stalker would surely be visible if it were true…
However strange her story was, Abigail's parents knew something was horribly wrong with their child, and they began to worry. They took her to therapists, counselors, anyone in or out of town that could help her, and all prescribed various anti-psychotics and other medicines to help the poor girl, but none of them stopped the hallucinations. The two once proud parents became frightened and angry at each other, and the more they fought, the more time Abigail spent alone. Anne began to visit less and less, and eventually she stopped visiting at all.
Abigail felt very, very alone. She only ever left the safety of her room a few times a day to eat and use the bathroom, no more and no less. She didn't dare leave the house anymore, not to visit her current therapist or anyone else, for that matter. She let not a soul in, for the clown would surely follow, and then it would know her safe spot, the last refuge from its horrific onslaught that she had. She spent hours and hours in her darkened room, huddled around the glow of a computer desk and searching for answers to her problems, but nothing ever showed up. Not a single search result on any search engine helped her, not a single video or article that she read gave her answers. A simple image of a clown began to frighten her, and as the days went by, so did the mere mention of the word. She began to hate the computer; she loathed ever day she spent logged on and plugged in. But what choice did she have? It was either that, or she would succumb or a slow decay of the mind from fear…
A sudden tap on her bedroom window startled her thoughts, and her head snapped towards the window automatically.
It must be a bird, she thought, praying fervently to herself that it was indeed just a bird. Just a stupid bird that ran into the glass…
Abigail rose from the desk and her computer, moving towards the window as if approaching a rabid pit bull.
Please… please let it be just a bird…
She reached the window and brushed the curtain aside with shaking hands.
The clown leaned eagerly against the glass, nose pressed against it like a child looking into the window of a candy store, its mouth twisted into a surrealistic grin.
"Abigail…" it tapped on the window again. "Hi, Abigail…"
Abigail gave a shrill, piercing scream that threatened to break the glass of the window. She stumbled backwards, sobbing wildly, panicking, tripping over her own feet until she landed on the floor awkwardly.
The clown was not deterred one bit, its eyes scrutinizing, watching carefully…
"Abigail… Come out and play with me, Abigail! Let me in… Abigail…"
Abigail curled up into a tiny ball, sobbing hysterically. It was over, it knew where she lived; it knew where her last safe place was. It would surely find a way in, and then she would be alone… alone with that horrible painted thing…
She heard her bedroom door slam forcefully open; heard her mother's frightened and concerned voice calling her name; felt her mother's arms wrapping gently around her. But she could speak few words to her, words that escaped as terrified, hushed stammers…
"T-the clown… he's back…"
Abigail sat alone in the white room, her white robes fluttering nervously around her white feet. Her parents, entirely at their wit's end and concerned about their daughter's health, had committed her to Glennview Hospital. She'd been there for months now, months of solid therapy and drugs and work, but still she was terrified of where the clown would next strike. Not a single anti-anxiety pill or anti-psychotic seemed to help – oh, some symptoms left, yes, but they were few and far between. Still she dreamed the dark dreams of the mirror in the forest and the chasing clown, of the funhouse forest that she could not escape. Still she saw vague glimpses of the clown on the edges of her vision; still the garish colors globbed around her like a cruel coat of paint. Often she heard ominous laughter from somewhere in the dark corners of the room, swirling around her head in razor sharp, teal ribbons. Sometimes, and this she feared admitting, she grinned dementedly or laughed wildly for no reason, and it frightened her because she knew the clown was beginning to slowly invade her mind. And sometimes, she could have sworn she had heard a strange, mad, eerily smooth and infinitely patient voice whispering her name in longing, as if reaching for her from beyond an ivory veil...
She jumped, looking up in anxious acceptance.
Dr. Terrance Carter, her psychiatrist and one of the few who thought her severe phobia must have more to it, stood in the doorway of the little white room. Abigail, he mentally noted, looked terrified to even lay eyes upon him, and his dark, boyishly handsome face became marked with worry. Clearly, his patient was getting worse.
"Abigail... Please calm down, it's only me..." He waited patiently to see if Abigail would calm.
And relax she did, if only slightly. There were very few things or people Abigail trusted in the world anymore, but Dr. Carter was, fortunately, one of them. Dr. Carter was alright. Dr. Carter could make the garish colors and the hideous laughter and that horrible, horrible clown go away, if only for the few blissful moments he spent with her. God, how she wished those moments would last forever! How she dreaded the time it came for him to leave...
The doctor gingerly approached her, being careful not to startle her. Abigail could easily panic if he provoked her too much...
"How are you today, Abigail?" His tone was kind, and his words were gentle.
"Better..." she lied. Nothing about the abominations she saw was ever 'better'; it hadn't been for quite some time now and never would be.
Dr. Carter easily picked up on her wariness, but did not press the issue further.
"Are the dreams still bothering you?"
"Yes... very much so..."
Now he was getting somewhere. He pulled out his clip board and scrawled something on it, calmly observing his patient.
"Are they the same dreams as last time...?"
"Yes... Always the same, every night... I can't sleep anymore... I'm scared..."
Dr. Carter's face crinkled in concern. She was worse than he had initially thought.
"And the laughter, Abigail... Do you... do you still hear the laughter?"
As if on cue, she heard it - that sound like wire mesh scraping across her mind - and every muscle in her body tensed in panic. Laughter. Pure, cackling, unbridled, triumphant, and utterly mad laughter. It filled her ears like a menacing cloud, warping her senses. Colors turned garish and angles bent strangely; curves twisted into horrific absurdist spirals. Her head reeled, spinning like a carousel set far too fast. She wanted to vomit.
"Abigail...?" Dr. Carter's concerned voice seemed to mix with the clown's, becoming a dark and familiar claw. "Abigail?!"
Abigail began to panic. And in this potent madness that twisted the senses, Abigail looked around wildly, trying to find the voice that was once her doctor's. And in doing so, she made one vital mistake.
She found it.
Next to her rested the clown, now as warped and Daliesque as it had always been in her dreams. But now... now it was all the more horrendous, because it was real it was real oh dear God it was real!
"Abigail...!" It rested a skeletal, dreadfully pale hand on her shoulder. It spoke to her in Dr. Carter's voice, trying to fool her into destroying what little sense of reality she had left. Time became a painfully slow awareness to her, a nebulous torturous thing. And though she desperately wanted to look away from the clown, she found that she could not. And she screamed.
Only she didn't. No matter how she tried, she did not scream.
She laughed. And she didn't stop.
Frightened tears streamed from her eyes in salty rivers. Her facial muscles began to ache, began to burn; she felt as though she'd been laughing wildly for hours on end. The tears began to thicken, rolling down her cheeks like oily greasepaint, a sensation confirmed by the colorful smears left on her white, white robe. The clown came at her, pinning her to the bed. She didn't resist. She couldn't. The tight-knit strands of her mind began to slowly unravel, throwing her world into ever more abstract dimensions.
And it hurt.
"Abigail! Abigail!" The clown cried, shaking her, loosening the fragile strands one by one. The hideous grin never left its face; even in her worst of agonies it was laughing at her!
"No! Please! Please don't..." Her voice was a shriek, tinged with the broken edge of a woman about to hit the earth from a massive height. "Please... please leave me alone..."
The clown embraced her warmly, a father to a terrified daughter, and Abigail shuddered violently.
"Abigail..." Its voice sounded almost wise, almost reassuring. "I promise... I will never leave you alone..."
Laughter rung in the infinitely freezing-hot, burning-cold air, and with the very last fragile shard of sanity she had, Abigail was certain she heard something -
Dr. Carter felt his heart sink. Abigail's eyes had gone cold. Lifeless. Defeated. Her broken laughter pierced his heart like a lance as it rang about the room, a dissonant refrain.
What had he done wrong? Everything he prescribed had failed; all of his therapeutic methods did nothing for her. He'd put his heart and soul into trying to care for this patient... and now...
Dr. Carter let go of the girl. His shoulders sagged with regret; he wanted to cry. So young... she was so young...
And he had failed as a doctor.
Distance yourself. That's all you can do now. There's nothing more you can do for her... except keep her alive.
But what kind of life was that? To live forever in a state of catatonia, never to truly live; never to see the outside of this mental ward again? He couldn't do that to her...
He felt a hand on his own, and turned to see the still laughing Abigail peering at him strangely. She said not a word, but stared placidly and brokenly into his eyes.
It nearly broke his heart.
She stopped, mumbled something incoherent to herself, quieted. Peered around the room in wild curiosity. Twitched violently.
Dr. Carter looked on sadly as she made some bizarre motion with her hands before he turned to his clip board again, pen in hand.
Patient has taken significant downturn, he wrote, eyes nearly blurred with tears. Patient has had severe panic attack and now refuses to respond to name or other stimulus. She is constantly laughing and seems to have developed some strange tics; she also tends to stare into space and mumble at something. She may be experiencing some form of psychosis. Possible diagnosis of disorganized schizophrenia. A move to Ward Eight is suggested at this time, as she needs an extremely close watch kept on her...
Abigail never did recover from that horrific experience, nor did she ever heal. She still resides at Glennview Hospital, in a permanent fixture in the psychotics ward, Ward Eight. Anne still visits her, but cannot stay for more than a few minutes at a time and always leaves sobbing, feeling that it is her fault. Her parents visit every weekend, hoping that someday, their daughter will return to reality, but with every visit she seems to worsen.
If you visit her, she will peer curiously at you from behind the bars, only approaching if you speak to her directly. And if you ask her nicely, she will tell you that the clown still follows her, but she will claim she no longer fears it, saying it has now become her best friend and will never leave her alone again. If you ask further, she will merely laugh wildly at you, and continue to do so until you leave.
And some say that a visit to her is a curse. Some say that after visiting her, you might be alarmed to hear an odd laughter in their ears that is not their own, or the vague sound of calliope music...