This is a story with a happy ending.
On the first day of summer holiday, young Baka found a clown egg in the woods.
Baka had been bored, because he was alone. None of his new friends at school were able to come today. Most of them were watching television, but Baka’s parents said television rotted your brain, so they didn’t have one. A few were out playing Calvinball, which seemed to be the popular local sport here, but Baka had been totally unable to understand the rules and so they didn’t pick him anyway. And so, with a packed lunch packet, he’d been sent out to play in the woods until his parents came home.
It had been very boring until he’d found the egg.
Baka knew it was a clown egg, of course. Though he could only see the top from where it lay covered in decaying vegetation, it was large, larger than a football. Perhaps larger than two footballs. It was coloured the way clown eggs were coloured, too, striped in red and yellow, and spangled with black and blue stars.
Baka stood looking down at the clown egg, considering what he should do. He knew, of course, what he ought to do. Hadn’t Uncle Lumpy, who taught him at school, repeatedly warned about clown eggs and what to do if one found them? Hadn’t his father, Mr Gaijin, said the same?
Especially here in the Borderlands, the danger was most acute, Uncle Lumpy had said, over and over. Clowns cut and bit through the barbed wire border barricades around the Circuses, burrowed under them with their talons, and fired themselves over with their air pressure cannon. They then sneaked close to human settlements and laid their eggs in pits, covered them in vegetation, and then returned to their Circus. The vegetation not only camouflaged the eggs, but, as it decayed, incubated them with the warmth of decomposition.
“And what happens when the eggs hatch?” Uncle Lumpy had asked, glaring around the class as though he would be outraged if they did not know the answer. “What happens?”
“A baby clown comes out?” Baka had hazarded.
“Yes, of course.” Uncle Lumpy had shaken his head impatiently. “But what does a baby clown do?”
They had never found out, because the bell for the end of class had rung, and everyone had run for the exits as through a pack of clowns was at their heels.
Now Baka looked at the clown egg and wondered if he should immediately run and tell an adult, as he had been instructed to. But Mr and Mrs Gaijin were at work, and he didn’t really know any of the other adults in the small settlement. They’d only moved here a few weeks ago.
“It’s a Borderlands settlement,” he’d heard his mother argue before the Move. “Are you sure it’s safe?”
“Not a single settlement has been attacked in years,” his father had replied. “Nobody’s even seen a clown outside the Circuses in forever. And you know it’s not affordable here.”
So they had packed up their things and come to the settlement, and Baka had liked it, a lot, except of course for the constant warnings about clowns.
Uncle Lumpy had showed them a video, from long ago, when a girl had been captured by the clowns, and a team had gone to rescue her. They’d found the place in the barbed wire where the clowns had chewed their way through, and gone back inside with their captive. Scraps of the girl’s clothes were sticking to the barbs, and there was a close up of a handprint on a flat rock; her handprint, dark with something dark red and tacky. It had looked like congealing blood.
The characteristic Big Top that formed the core of the Circus had loomed in the camera’s viewfinder like a swollen abscess, its bulging cuticle ripped and gashed in places where the pressure inside had caused it to burst. Around it had been the other parts of a Clown infestation; the maze of narrow lanes and passages between boxy caravans and tattered stalls. Even after all the years since it had been taken, the video had been filled with menace, and the rescue team had advanced cautiously, breath bated for danger.
The first clown had burst out of a side lane, balancing on a tiny bicycle, blowing a horn with its oversized red lips, while on its green hair a tiny red bowler hat wobbled. Its face had been white, its eyes set in circles of blue, and its immense shoes had poked out on either side as it pedalled, wider than its shoulders. It was terrifying, and it had come straight at the rescuers, fearless as a wild boar, right until the first blast of clown repellent spray had caught it in the face. Then, tumbling off the bicycle, it had honked and rolled over and over on the ground. One of the rescuers had walked over and pulled its round red nose off.
“That should hold it for a while,” the man holding the camera had said with satisfaction. Clowns, Uncle Lumpy had said, could regenerate their noses, but until they grew back, couldn’t smell prey. Unfortunately it wasn’t easy to rip one off a clown; noses were prized trophies, and sold at high prices to collectors.
The reprieve had been brief. From ahead, the direction of the Big Top, a tiny car had come rolling forward. It had stopped near the rescue team, the doors popped open, and an endless stream of clowns started pouring out. There had been five, no, ten, no, seventeen...Baka had lost count after that.
“A clown car!” the cameraman had screamed. “Scatter!”
The camera view had changed abruptly, bobbing and lurching as its bearer ran, jumping over coils of rope, discarded planks, and other detritus of a Circus. He’d made it to the shelter of a stall, and turned around, the camera switching back to show two clowns running after him.
And he’d then sprayed them with clown repellent, right in the face.
“Clowns aren’t very intelligent,” Uncle Lumpy had said. “If you’re in a group, and a pack of clowns come at you, split up. The clowns will split up too, to chase you, and you can take them down one by one.”
They’d found and rescued the girl. They had been in time; the clowns hadn’t tortured her too much yet. They were still in the stage of feeding her the raspberry jam she’d smeared on the rock.
That had been long ago, of course. Baka knew well enough that no clowns had come raiding settlements for ages.
One Sunday, on a dare, he and a couple of others had gone to look at a Circus. It was a new Circus, still small; it had only arrived a month or two ago. Because it was still so small, it wasn’t sealed off by as much barbed wire as older Circuses, and nobody was standing guard with clown-repellent spray. It would need time to grow, consuming everything around it, before it got too dangerous to approach.
Small as it might be, it had still looked large and frightening enough. Baka and his friends had stood on a low hill, looking down at the Circus, which was on the other side of a narrow stream. The Big Top had towered over the trees, its striped hide rippling and sagging in the wind; it was already large and soon would be massive. Even from the hilltop they had been able to just hear a honking and tooting noise, which came and went with the breeze.
“That’s Clownish,” one of the other boys had said. “It’s how the clowns talk.”
They hadn’t got near enough to see any clowns, of course, and Baka had been slightly disappointed. The Big Top’s striped skin, the honking, and the sense of danger, just enough to be titillating without being too much, had been wonderfully enticing. Now he felt an echo of it as he stood looking at the egg.
He wondered what would happen if he went to get an adult. Most probably they wouldn’t believe him anyway. The others had told him that they’d never seen a clown egg in their lives, no matter what Uncle Lumpy and their parents warned, and they would think he was just trying to fool them for a laugh, like the boy who cried wolf. But if he insisted, they’d come, of course. They were bound to come, and it would be all right.
So it wouldn’t really hurt if he cleared a little of the rotting vegetation away from the egg, just a little, and touched it to see. Kneeling, he rubbed away some of the warm, moist, blackish moss and leaf litter. A little insect, white and resembling a tiny grasshopper, watched him interestedly. He ignored it, poking the egg with a fingertip.
It was warm. It was more than warm, it was almost hot. And inside the shell, hadn’t there been something moving?
As though on cue, the shell cracked. The crack was quite small at first, right where his finger had touched it, and then it spread, black zigzag lines racing through the shell like lightning. The white insect, startled, leapt for safety on to Baka’s head. And still the crack progressed, and then the shell fell apart and the baby clown came out.
It was quite a cute baby, for a clown. Its face was paper white, of course, but it had yellow circles on its cheeks, and its nose, though round and red, was tiny. Its red lips spread across its cheeks on either side until they touched the yellow circles on its cheeks. Its hair was a frizzy ginger-yellow tipped with pink.
“Hello!” Baka said, astonished. Involuntarily, he smiled.
“Hello,” the baby clown honked in imitation. Then it smiled back.
It was quite a smile. Its lips drew back and back and back, and then its mouth opened and opened, revealing lines and rows of needle teeth, and still its mouth opened until it seemed impossible that its mouth could open anymore without its head falling off.
And then it jumped for Baka Gaijin’s face.
“Baka,” Mrs Gaijin said, “aren’t you hungry? You haven’t touched your supper.”
Baka looked up from his food. “No, mum,” he said. His voice sounded muffled, almost like a honk. “I’m not hungry.”
“You sound as though you’re coming down with a cold,” Mrs Gaijin said worriedly. “You really shouldn’t have been running around the woods all day.”
“He’ll be all right,” Mr Gaijin said. “A few germs never hurt anybody.” He flicked his finger at a small white insect that was sitting on the table, and it jumped away. “Now you really know we’re in the Borderlands; wildlife’s dropping in.”
“You should still go to bed,” Mrs Gaijin said. “If you’re no better, I’ll take your temperature in the morning.”
But she wouldn’t. The clown cooties had already been spreading through the room, and were in her body, and in her husband’s, too. By late evening they would have spread right through the settlement, be in everyone’s blood, spreading to every organ, every extremity, moulding, changing, colouring.
And come morning there would be news spreading; there was a new Circus in the Borderlands.
The white insect would get away, though.
There you go: a happy ending for someone, at least.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2020
(For my friend Baka Gaijin.)
|[Image Source: Ground Shark Prints]|