July Writing Challenge Day 20: Clowning Around

Hello all. Welcome back. Before we get started today I just want to remind everyone that tomorrow is the last day of “phase 2” of this monthly challenge. After tomorrow I will be attempting to take everything I’ve learned, all this growing as an author I’ve hopefully been doing, and put it to work. In other words I will be taking story ideas that I’ve had in the past, but never actually done anything with, and actually sitting down and working on them. With any luck I will have 2-3 first drafts of stories by the end of the month. After that I can take a step back and focus on revising and reworking them.

But that’s for another day. Today I continue with my hour of writing exercises, and tonight I chose to do a simple prompt exercise. The prompt I chose was “The nation is run by _____”.

I….I’m not gonna lie, I have no clue why I chose to write what I did. I just took the first word that came to mind and ran with it. And…the first word that came to my mind to fill the blank was “clowns”. Yeah.

Honestly, I blame Terry Pratchett again. In his book “Making Money”, there’s a character who is secretly a clown. And there’s this line that goes something like “You think the ringmaster runs the circus, Mr. Lipwig? Only by consent of the clowns!” I basically just stole that and started playing with it for this story. The end result is….well, it’s down below, so go ahead and read it.

Thanks, and enjoy.

Clowns
By E W Morrow
Word Count: 974

The room was small and dimly lit. One of the fluorescent tubes in the corner kept flickering. The constant strobe was getting on Herschel’s nerves and he wondered why they didn’t just fix it. Then he realized that the reason they didn’t was exactly because it was getting on his nerves. That’s what it did, it annoyed people. Irritated them. Made them edgy, erratic. Herschel laughed quietly.

The door to the room opened and two men in blue suits walked in. They were both tall, with brown hair and strong jawlines. In fact, they were so similar that you’d believe them if they said they were brothers. Herschel’s eyes narrowed as he looked at them. Gingerbread men. Cookie cutter. He leaned back and the folding chair he was sitting in creaked. The men sat down in identical leather chairs and regarded him silently.

“How about we just skip the formalities,” Herschel said. One of the men arched an eyebrow and looked at his counterpart.

“And what would those be?” asked the man who hadn’t reacted.

“The part where we dance around whether I did or didn’t do what we all know I did,” Herschel said. “And we can probably skip the psych profile, too. I’m not going to plead insanity.”

“Very well,” said the first man.

“Then where does that leave us?” asked the second.

“Hell if I care,” muttered Herschel. He cracked his knuckles. The hand cuffs on his wrists clinked.

“Perhaps,” said the first man as he set a pad of paper on the table between them, “you would care to tell us why.”

“Why?” balked Herschel.

“Yes,” said the second man. “Why did you storm in to a crowded studio and open fire on a celebrity panel during the live performance of a late night talk show? And why, after both of your magazines were empty, did you sit down and wait to be apprehended by the police? Why not attempt escape in the confusion?”

Herschel sighed and closed his eyes. He’d known this was coming, known it when he’d cleaned and oiled the guns, known it when he’d left his house that evening, known it when he’d clubbed the security guard and hidden his unconscious body in the supply cupboard. He’d seen it coming, and yet, it hadn’t been like this in his imagination. It had been…bigger. Louder. Not cuffed to a table in a little room with a flickering light. It made it all seem pointless now.

“I’m not sure I have an answer for the last part,” he said after a few minutes’ silence. “I just—I don’t know, maybe I just didn’t think things through past the part where the bullets were flying.”
“Well, start with the first bit then,” said the first man. “Maybe the second will come to you. Why did you shoot those people?”

“Because the country is run by a bunch of clowns!” Herschel shouted. Utter silence followed the outburst. Neither of his interrogators looked at the other, and neither one’s expression changed all that much.

Finally, the second man said, “You’re sure you aren’t trying for the insanity plea?”

Herschel sagged back into his chair. He hadn’t realized he’d stood. He rubbed his wrists where he’d strained against his cuffs.

“What do you mean?” asked the first man.

“Exactly what I said.” Herschel rolled his eyes at the men’s blank expressions. “I know, it sounds crazy. Or else a like a bad joke. ‘Hur hur, congress is full of clowns, har har’. Well it’s not. This country, maybe the world, is run by fucking clowns.”

“Clowns?” asked the second man. “Wigs. Big noses. Balloon animals. Pies. That kind of thing?”

“Maybe,” Herschel said. “Probably not. Hell, I don’t know.”

The first man jotted down a few notes on his pad of paper. He had small, neat handwriting. Herschel was surprised to see that the man was taking his notes seemingly without irony. No itallics, no ironic quotations, no doodles in the margins. Just a simple bullet pointed list of the conversation’s progress.

“Please,” he said, noticing Herschel’s interest, “continue.” There was another minute or two of silence as Herschel ordered his thoughts.

“Who runs the circus?” he asked, finally.

“The circus?” asked the second man.

“Yeah.”

“The ringmaster.”

“Though,” said the first man, “I imagine you believe differently.”

“Damn right,” Herschel said. “The ringmaster’s a front man. A pretty face and a loud voice. But do you think he’d have any control if the clowns didn’t let him?”

“What do you mean?”

“The ringmaster tells everyone where to go, right? He announces the acts and directs the flow of events. But what would happen if you put a single clown next to him?”

“What?” asked the second man.

“Nobody’d be looking at the ringmaster anymore, that’s what,” said Herschel. “One pie, one squirt from a fake flower, and boom, he’s finished.”

“What does this have to do with the events of last night?” asked the first man levelly.

“This country’s like one big circus,” Herschel said. “And it’s being run by the clowns. You know what clowns do? They distract people. Whenever anything goes wrong, you send in the clowns and they make people ignore it. That’s where the phrase comes from. It used to be that there was a balance of power but now, hell, the clowns have taken over. That’s all anything is anymore, just one big distraction. Movies, television, music, all of it. It’s just balloon animals and pies in the face when you get right down to it.”

“I’m having a little trouble believing that these ‘clowns’ are really as powerful as you say,” said the second man with a smirk.

“Oh yeah?” Herschel leaned forward, his voice little more than a whisper. “If the clowns don’t have the power, then why are so many people afraid of them?”

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