Fiction Horror

The first clown appeared, as Sarah putted her ball towards the doorway of a three-foot model windmill. His white face, red nose and mouth, bald head surrounded with fuzz of fake red hair were traditional guises. He appeared for a few brief seconds, peeking from the back of the windmill, and then he was gone. She wondered if it was a trick of the light, or her imagination. She felt her concentration falter as her anxieties began to escalate. This weekend was difficult enough for her without beginning to see things. Crowds made her nervous, and the sun had bought hordes of people to the seaside resort. She and three other girls were playing crazy golf on the greensward overlooking the beach. Family groups were clustering around each hole, their children waving their clubs, leaping around and shouting. Seen better days, fluorescent yellow balls frequently zoomed across the winding paths or randomly appeared at the holes where the girls were playing. The whole scene was one of jovial chaos.

           The girls were here for Mel, Sarah’s younger sister’s hen weekend. She was a slight, dark-haired girl with a lively energy, which people found attractive. She had thought long and hard when planning this trip. She loved Sarah dearly, but her sister could be challenging, always wanting her own way and frequently needing to be the centre of attention. It would have hurt her feelings to exclude her from the hen weekend, but to include her was a prerequisite to an upset of one sort of another. Eventually, Mel had settled on a compromise, she had asked Sarah and two of her kindest, most understanding friends to come away to the resort, whilst planning a bigger more raucous night of clubbing with her larger circle of friends. She had tactfully explained this to her older sister as ‘wanting two nights away with the people closest to her.’  

           Holding their clubs and balls, scoring pencils behind their ears, the girls moved on to the next hole. It was a miniature water wheel, complete with flowing water and moving wheel. Sarah placed her ball and hit it towards the obstacle, as she watched its progress, down the red asphalt, she saw the second clown. He was sitting on a green park bench, just outside the chain link fence, which bordered the course. His face was obscured by the newspaper, which he was apparently reading. However, his oversized, shiny red patent bovver boots, yellow and black horizontal striped socks and calf length, tartan baggy trousers were the unmistakable apparel of a clown. As if to confirm this, as Sarah stared in his direction, he lowered the paper, looked across at her, and gave a cheery wave. He was wearing a brightly coloured patchwork beret atop a mass of curly yellow hair, had the uniform red nose, but only his eyes and mouth were bordered with white face paint. Sarah felt her heart begin to pound, in panic she started to take deep breaths to calm herself. When she looked back over at the bench, it was empty. She turned the other way, to look seawards, continuing to concentrate on her breathing. Alongside the whooshing sound of her pulse coursing through her ears, she could hear the screeching cries of gulls as they swooped and soared overhead, the murmuring of the sea as it whispered its secrets to itself, and the excited cries of children on the beach below. Suddenly, she noticed that there was something strange about the scene beneath her. Squinting to better focus, she realised that dotted amongst the swimmers, sunbathers and children playing in the sand, there were more clowns. They were emerging from the sea, instead of swimsuits, their clothes of primary coloured satin dripped as they walked out of the waves. They lay beneath parasols, sporting red and white polka dot onesies, with blue ruffs around the necks and huge blue shoes on their feet. Even amongst the sandcastle builders, she could discern small figures sporting multi-coloured hair and brightly coloured outfits of waistcoats, loose trousers and big shoes.

           Resolutely continuing to concentrate on her breathing, she moved her gaze away from the seashore, upwards to the concrete promenade, which ran between the coastline and the higher green area. As she drew her breath in, she could smell hotdogs, chips, candyfloss with a delicate underlying briny aroma. But now panic really set in: goosestepping along the walkway were troupes of clowns. Rows of four of five of them, with linked arms, marching purposely along. Sarah began to pant and feel dizzy. Mel noticed and was at her side, asking.

           ‘Are you ok?’

           ‘Don’t feel well, got to get away.’ Briskly, Mel took her arm and led her out of the golf enclosure, towards the road and hailed a passing taxi. They clambered in, followed by their two companions. By this time, Sarah was wheezing, struggling to catch her breath.

           Once back in their hotel, Sarah began to feel calmer and her breathing regulated. She was reluctant to tell her companions about the clowns, fearing that they would think that she was mad. Instead, she said.

           ‘I’m going to ‘phone Keith. Get him to come and pick me up. I need to go home.’

‘Why don’t you wait a while, see how you feel.’ Mel cajoled her sister.

‘No, I need to go home.’ Sarah was determined. Mel resignedly ordered tea for the group, and then retreated to their room and packed her sister’s belongings. A couple of hours later, Keith’s battered Escort appeared outside, and Sarah departed. As she got in the car. saying.

           ‘I’m sorry to have spoilt your hen do.’

After her departure, the three remaining girls ruminated on what had happened.

           ‘Do you think that she’ll be ok?’ asked Becky, a tall, tender hearted, buxom brunette.

‘She often says that she feels ill if she doesn’t want to do something.’ Replied Mel. In truth, she felt irritated, she had organised the entire weekend to protect her sister’s fragile feelings, and now she had abandoned them.

Keith was Sarah’s devoted partner. They had met in an internet chatroom 10 years previously, and instantly clicked. His calm, unruffled attitude was the perfect foil for Sarah’s sensitive personality. He concentrated on the road ahead, as he negotiated his way through the town’s busy streets, filled with holidaymakers preoccupied with their search for the holy grail of a free parking spot. When they were on the clearer dual carriageway, he reached across and affectionately patted Sarah’s leg, asking.

           ‘So, what happened?’

‘It was too busy, you know how I hate crowds. And then, I started to have a panic attack. I just wanted to get home.’

‘Best make a doctor’s appointment on Monday.’ With that he turned on the radio, and they spent the rest of the journey in companionable silence, listening to the burble of popular music, Sarah watching as the outside world flashed by and Keith driving.

That night, sleeping safely in her own bed, Sarah dreamt of clowns. Everywhere she looked, they were there, in their incongruous outfits, improbable wigs and outlandish make-up, grinning and nodding at her. She woke, sweating and crying, and turned to wake Keith, who was snoring loudly beside her. In the half light, his profile looked odd, his head twice the size of normal and his nose more bulbous. She gasped and reaching out turned on the bedside light. Screaming, she saw not Keith, but the multi-coloured wig and garishly painted face of a clown. Leaping out of bed, she ran to the bathroom and hastily locked the door. Terrified she heard the clown follow her, knocking on the door, asking.

‘Saz, Saz. What is it? Did you have a nightmare?’ It was Keith’s voice, but nonetheless she remained petrified, pressing herself against the cool, tiled wall furthest from the door, staring wild eyed at it.

‘Come on, open the door. Let me give you a cuddle.’ It took several more minutes of coaxing, before she finally had the courage to walk across the room, release the lock and fall into the arms of the waiting Keith.

‘It’s ok. In the morning we’ll ring the doctors. She’ll probably be able to give you something to calm you down.’   

Three months later, as Keith drove Sarah to her second psychiatrist’s appointment at the local mental health unit, she felt nervous. She had not liked the man. He was small, arrogant, cold and spoke with an accent that she found difficult to understand. He had quickly dismissed the origin of her clown sightings as being ‘stress induced hallucinations’ and prescribed an anti-psychotic drug to combat this. This appointment, a month later was a follow up, to report on the medication’s effect, if any. Sarah had found that the tablets made her feel sluggish and detached from reality. Whether due to the prescription or not, she had not seen any more clowns since the nightmare on the night of her return from Mel’s hen weekend

In the waiting room, Keith held her hand, as they sat on hard plastic seats and looked around at torn and curling posters, adorning the grey, emulsioned walls, which advised on ‘how to wash your hands’, and ‘what to do if you suspect that you have contracted an STD’. The numeric clock, above the receptionist’s office silently counted the minutes, until she finally slid back the frosted glass window and announced ‘Ms Stevens to room 3, please.’ Sarah stood, Keith gave her hand a reassuring squeeze, and she proceeded to the consulting room. Knocking and entering, she was faced by a clown sitting at the doctor’s desk. He wore a trilby pulled down low on his head, and had large black tears painted onto his white cheeks. He looked up and solemnly regarded Sarah without speaking. For a few tense seconds, the pair stared at each other, until she retreated from the room, slamming the door behind her and ran screaming through the waiting room and out into the car park with Keith following rapidly behind her. He grabbed her shoulders, and turned her towards him, drawing her in, hugging her tight, saying.

‘Tell me, tell me. What is it?’

‘Take me home. Just get me home.’ She wailed. He clicked the key fob and remotely unlocked the car, and with one arm around her shoulders he resolutely led the still sobbing Sarah to it. On the way back, her sobs gradually subsided to body shuddering sighs, until Keith could tell that she was calmer. Despite his gentle probing, she resolutely refused to tell him what had precipitated her upset. Nor would she attend any future medical appointments whether for toothache, period problems or anything else, or take any medication except over-the-counter products.

A year later, as Keith sat browsing the internet. His eye was caught by the story of the General Medical Council suspending a consultant psychiatrist, Mr Ahmed. This had followed an investigation into several suicides at in an inpatient unit where Mr Ahmed was the chief clinician. The inquiry had found that the consultant had led unauthorised research, which involved exposing his patients to their phobias. The article went on to report that the doctor had been known to empty a container of spiders over a woman suffering from arachnophobia, shut a claustrophobic patient alone in a small, windowless room for several hours, and even dressed up as a clown when treating a man who was suffering from coulrophobia. He wondered, just wondered if this was the same Dr Ahmed who had seen and upset Sarah.                 

August 15, 2021 18:26

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F.O. Morier
05:59 Aug 26, 2021

I enjoyed reading your story!


Sharon Williams
06:41 Aug 26, 2021

Thank you for your kind comment. I will read your story later and critique it.


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Paul McDermott
22:31 Aug 25, 2021

Hi Sharon! I've been told lots of people aren't fond of clowns - though they don't particularly bother me, even Steven King's demented character in "It" Well paced, good structure. Slight 'continuity' problem. If para 2 is Sarah's thoughts, surely it should read "she loved Mel dearly" ? Or have I read that wrong? Personal choice. I try to avoid "six months later" or "a year later", it makes me feel the story is being 'rushed'. Perhaps a few details of Sarah and Keith's daily life could be added? A few places where I'd have used full s...


Sharon Williams
06:45 Aug 26, 2021

Hi Paul, Thank you for your comments, really helpful to have an honest critique. Paragraph 2 is relating to how Mel feels about her sister. I will definitely take on board what you've said about six months and a year later, never thought about it like that. I will take a look at your story and critique it later today. Take care Sharon


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