The clock on the machine displayed 2:25 a.m as Chuck punched in his shift card. He shoved it into the rack and shouldered through the thick plastic air curtain, birthing himself from the cold interior of the fish factory floor and out into the sticky summer night.
He waved at the smokers as he made his way out of the gates; the glowing ends danced back in reply from the darkness of their den.
"Night Chuck. And hey! Watch those clowns don't get ya ," a faceless voice said.
"Ha, yeah right," Chuck laughed. "It's the clowns that work here that I'm more worried about. See you, tomorrow guys".
It had been the main talking point in the local news over the last week. There had been multiple reports of people bieng attacked by pranksters dressed as clowns. One woman claimed that she was thrown to the ground and and beat unconscious. Another victim says that he was chased across the park and when caught, had his clothes slashed to ribbons. People speculated that it was due to an internet craze sweeping across the country.
"Jump out on me and they will get a face full of this", Chuck thought as he curled his fingers around the bunch of keys in his pocket, forming a makeshift knuckle duster.
At this time of night the industrial estate was deserted. Only the occasional beeping of reversing forklifts could be heard as they scuttled around with their pallets out of sight behind factory walls. The walk home usually took around ten minutes. At the end of the road there was a cutting that ran behind the old mill which linked the industrial estate to the town.
As he entered the cutting he quickened his step, not out of fear, but because the place just stank. The council had not cleaned this way for years. The air hung heavy with the smell of fox piss and decaying litter.
Each side of the cutting was flanked by tall hawthorn hedge which - due to lack of pruning - bowed inwards, meeting at the top, creating a botanical tunnel. The sides of the hedges were intermittently decorated with blue lumpy bags that hung down like grisly baubles, kindly donated by dog walkers whilst out of site from prying eyes. One lone street lamp provided the whole illumination for the length. The little light that it shed lay like a watery puddle at its feet, its only job it seemed was to illuminate what a shit hole the place was.
He was about a hundred steps deep into the cutting when he heard a low chuckle and a rustle. He stopped; the noises seemed to come from a dark hollow in the bushes just ahead. He meshed the keys between his fingers and slid his hand from his pocket.
"Cooooo eeeee." This time a different voice, dark and throaty, came from the bushes behind him. "Is it playtime yet?"
"I think it is playtime," the figure chortled, as it crunched out of the bushes, its oversized feet slapping on the concrete as it turned to face him. It blocked the pathway home.
The clown stood around seven feet tall. Its crazy hair - backlit by the streetlamp - glowed like a
flaming halo. In one hand it gripped a juggling club which it thumped slowly and rhythmically against its baggy trousers. A mini acrobat did a cartwheel in Chuck's belly.
"You picked on the wrong fella this time," Chuck said. The words did not come out as deep and menacing as he hoped, and he was disturbed by their slight wavering tone. He rolled his shoulders, demonstrating he was ready for a fight and half hoping it would massage some confidence into his knees which now felt like two solids turning into liquids. He swore loudly and strode towards the clown, the keys poking out between his fingers like metallic goofy teeth. He desperately hoped it would turn heel at his show of bravado.
"Ohh big play time boys and girls," the clown shouted, cupping a white hand around its bright ruby lips. It turned its mouth into a huge hole of a grin and raised a club above its head and flapped towards him - its huge pompom buttons bouncing up and down.
It was then that Chuck saw the flash of a blade appear in the clowns other hand.
The decision to run seemed to have been made by his legs not his brain. He found himself hurtling back down the cutting towards the sanctuary of the industrial estate.
It was another oversized shoe, which stabbed out of the bushes, that sent Chuck momentarily airborne. He came crashing down onto the filthy concrete; his hands, elbow and chin acting as the landing gear.
He rolled onto his back and groaned. His hands felt like they were on fire; like they had been held against a belt sander then dipped in salt. He could feel stuff stuck to — and embedded inside — his bloody elbows and chin. He imagined grimy busted glass, gravel that had been urinated on a thousand times, and 10 year old sweet wrappers.
“Going somewhere?” The voice was female, old, and rasping; the voice of nasty grandma with a hundred a day habit. He looked up and there were three of them standing around him.
“I said … Going Somewhere?” She pinning him down with her pink leather boot. She was dressed harlequin style, around her neck was a white ruffle, below one eye a painted tear sat on the white cracked makeup. Chuck held up his bloodied hands hoping that the sight of the damage would be enough to satisfy their game.
“Poor boy”, said one of the larger clowns in an overly caring tone. This one had a classic red nose and flipper shoes. He carried a suitcase which he threw on the ground.
“I have something in here just for these little mishaps.” He dipped down his bald head as he rummaged around eagerly in his comedy suitcase.
“I think he needs gloves” said the clown with the large crazy hair, tapping a thoughtful finger on his chin. He smiled a loony smile revealing a row of black and yellow stumps.
“Yes, yes” chuckled bald head “I have some in here somewhere?”. He rummaged around some more then he jumped up. "Here they are". He slipped the gloves over his hands and waved them above his head. The blades on the end of the fingers clicked together as he did a silly jig.
Chuck patted the ground behind him frantically searching for the keys that he had dropped. He found them and lashed out at the leg that pinned him down.
He felt contact and heard a scream, the boot holding him down lifted and he scrabbled to his feet. Crazy hair lunged and grabbed his arm, the keys slipped from his grip and fell to the ground. The clown dealt a blow to the side of his head and after a short scuffle both his arms were pinned behind his back. The large clown’s hold was strong. He struggled and kicked backwards with his heel making contact with its shins. The clown swore, and bit down hard into the back of Chucks neck, sinking his black teeth bone-deep. It was Chucks turn to scream.
“YOU … LITTLE … SHIT”, snarled the bald clown, pushing his face inches from Chucks. He could smell the clowns sour breath. Its bloodshot eyes jittered and bulged in pure hatred.
“This one is all the way fellas,” the girl clown hobbled forwards, holding a
hand against her chequered pantaloons which were smeared with red. Chuck bucked and struggled but it felt like he was stuck on flypaper. Stuck and with the spiders approaching.
The bald headed clown raised a steel clawed glove and pressed it in to Chuck's face and began to slowly squeeze. Chuck screamed for help as he felt each steely talon penetrate and gather up flesh. He screamed louder as he felt a hook slip into his left eye socket. He made animal noises as the eye popped and gushed out vitreous fluids down his bleeding face.
“Shift out of the way, it’s my go” The girl clown said, hobbling forward, in her hand she held a large sheaf knife. Chucks legs had given way, his full weight of his body was now being supported by the clown that was holding him. He felt the pressure of the blade push through his t shirt and enter his stomach, strangely there was no real pain, just a feeling of
something cold being in there. She pushed the blade deep inside inside and put her mouth up to Chucks ear. “This is for you little shit” she snarled. She stepped back and slashed out sideways opening up a different mouth in his stomach. The clown behind released his grip and Chuck fell to a heap on the ground; a black puddle starting to form around his curled up body.
“Let me finish him," said crazy hair. He picked up his club and took aim at the back of Chuck's skull.
“Whoa Whoa!” said baldy, holding out his hands in a blocking motion. “Wheres the fun in that? Let him go and we can have a bit more sport”.
“Huh”, said the girl clown poking him with a foot.
The kick in his ribs brought him back from a dark but peaceful place, I’me still alive he thought, he didn’t celebrate this realisation. Mentally he travelled up his body assessing the damage.
Different parts of it hummed with different flavours of pain. His eye felt horribly wrong, it hurt with the kind of sharp grabbing agony you get when you lick a 9 volt battery. His stomach had a cold ache to it, things were leaking in there. It felt like an army of bullet ants were tearing at his face.
“Get up, you bitch”, the girl clown landed another kick on his ribcage. “You got sixty seconds to get out of here.” Another kick to the side of the head. “If we catch you … you die for real.”
“One” cried crazy hair.
“Two” they all cried in unison.
Chuck gingerly pushed himself up on to his knees. He swayed and fell forwards onto his hands. The world was a blur, he shrugged up a shoulder and wiped his good eye on the arm of his t-shirt. Once the eye was clear of stuff, some manner of vision was restored. He looked up. The three clowns were standing in front of him, they had their arms around each other chanting.
“Five .. Six .. Seven.”
He pushed himself to his feet and tried to walk forwards, but instead he staggered sideways, tumbling into the hawthorn hedge. The toothed branches held him half upright, and with all his strength he pulled against their grip. He tore himself free, leaving behind bits of shirt and skin. The momentum sent him crashing face first into the bush opposite.
The clowns clapped and Hollered, “Twelve … Thirteen”.
Chuck managed to pull himself free. With one hand clutching his stomach he staggered, with his body bent L shaped, towards the glow of the industrial estate. He emerged from the cutting and started to half walk half run down the centre of the road. Up ahead of him he could see headlights approaching. A surge of hope brought new energy to his muscles and he waved his arms frantically as the car drew closer.
The car did not slow down. Instead, it swerved around him blaring its horn. Chuck caught a glimpse of the young driver's face. Her mouth wide open and her eyes protruding so much they appeared to be sat on stalks.
“Nooo,” he cried to the sky as the car tail-lights vanished around the corner. He felt something swinging around his knees and he looked down. A greyish pink tube lolled out of the wound in his belly. It was wet and shiny and had a lumpy texture like a well-filled Christmas stocking. Whimpering for god, he tried to stuff it back into the hole, but the job was impossible. It evaded his grip like one of those slippery childhood toys.
He heard a commotion and he looked behind him. A hundred yards away he saw the clowns spill from the mouth of the cutting, waving and hollering. He cupped up his entrails in his arms and, cradling them like a baby, staggered through the open gates of a timber yard.
“Help! Anybody about,” he mustered the energy to shout, but it hurt like hell.
He shuffled frantically down the rows of timber, stacked high as houses, looking for signs of life.
The place seemed deserted. He pushed himself deep into a crevice between two wood stacks and hid. He heard the clowns swearing and calling for him and the occasional flap flap of shoes going past. After a while he heard one shout. "Sod it, let's go."
Chuck relaxed and wondered if he would make it through until the morning. Maybe in two weeks time, they would move this stack of wood and his maggot-ridden body would come tumbling out. He gazed upwards and watched as the sky gradually took on a blue tint.
After a while, he heard a machine startup. The workers must have arrived. He eased himself out of the crevice and shuffled over to a long building; following the source of the noise.
He stumbled through the doors of the building and found himself in a workshop. Parked in the centre of the floor he could see the back of three huge machines that were stood together on their metal rails like waiting trains. One of them was switched on. Its motor filled the air with its mechanical screams. Chuck leant against a workbench for a moment gulping in air. He wondered if he could muster enough energy to go find the machine operator. He felt like he was going to collapse at any moment.
“HA HA, Look what we have here,” cried a voice.
The two larger clowns appeared from behind one of the machines and flopped towards him with clubs raised. Chuck grabbed the meanest looking tool from the workbench
— some kind of wrench with a chain on it. He attempted to lift it above his head but his muscles would not allow it. Instead, he held it out in front of him flicking the rusty chain at the oncoming clowns.
“Ohh a fighter” taunted bald clown brandishing his juggling club like a sword. The clown danced back and forth chuckling. Occasionally stepping in and tapping the wrench in Chuck's hand. “Toucheee!"
Chuck stepped forward and swung his wrench, but the attempt was feeble. The clown leaned back, easily avoiding the flailing chain, and with a grimacing grunt he stepped forward and belted Chuck over the head with the club. There was a sound of a coconut cracking. Chuck fell sideways. On the way down he smacked his mouth on a steel vice attached to the side of the bench. Teeth scattered like jacks on the workshop floor.
When Chuck regained consciousness he resurfaced into a world of pain. There was a slight swaying motion to his vision and it took a few seconds for him to realise he was being carried. One clown had his legs, the other a handful of hair, he was being moved sideways around to the front of one of the huge machines.
"Swing him up" screamed one of the clowns over the roar of the machine. "And don't slip on his fucking giblets"
They dumped him on the cold hard surface of the table. The noise at his feet made him look down. The whirring blade of the machine was as big as a cartwheel. The top half poking through the slit on the table surface producing a slight breeze as its blurred teeth whistled and fizzed.
The girl clowns smiling head appeared in front of his face. He could feel her working vigorously around his body. He tried to sit up but found himself tightly bound.
“Right, move him down,” baldy shouted, “SLOWLY.”
Crazy hair flipped a dial and jammed a palm against the the button, he thumbed up his comrades and “oohed” his mouth as the table top moved Chuck towards the blade.
The air extractor vents gaped above his head like the mouths of hungry carp. When they started to slowly scroll past his vision he realised he was moving towards the blade. Childhood visions of Penelope pitstop started to fill his buzzing brain. He found himself laughing. Laughing maniacally at the craziness of the situation. The clowns joined in. They slapped each other's backs and danced in glee as he inched towards the blade.
Baldy put up an umbrella as the bits of blood and tissue started to rain down. He put an arm around his friends. Tears of laughter streaming down their faces.
"Do you know what fellas," he yelled.
“I so much love a happy ending.”