When everything that you care about becomes a radioactive ball of plasma, it changes your perspective on things. Like when I say, “Our clown car is rocketing across the wasteland,” you probably imagine a really sweet souped-up jalopy, stuffed full of classic big top mimes all dressed in brightly colored regalia, burning two dark lines in the hardpan. Not anymore. What I’m talking about is the piece of shit MINI Cooper that we covered in lead-based paint like a goddamn Romero Britto suitcase rattling along at 30 mph across the flat, dead gravel that used to be condos and shopping malls.
We use hyperbole because reality is terrible. We paint grins on our faces because a sad clown no longer has a place in this post-apocalyptic world.
Water, food, fuel, weapons, and women, in that order. We would occasionally play with other words to try to make it the “Five Ws” or the “Five Fs” of survival, but nothing fit, so we settled for the awkward abbreviation of WFFWW, creating another hardship.
Bingo has the wheel, and I’m riding shotgun. All clowns love packing a MINI, but the front is really the place we want to be. It has cachet. Honestly, though, we’re a wretched lot. The fanciful polka dots painted on the men’s hazmat suits are so dust-covered and faded that they looked like they’re just wearing plain hazmat suits, lacking in any whimsy. Only, Zippy, Loafer, and the Brick have any makeup on, and theirs is so splotchy you can see their radiation scars. “Put your mother-fucking noses on,” I shout. The surest way to lose control over a clown troupe is to allow discipline to falter. They aren’t just noses; they’re who we are. Hunger, thirst, and fear are pervasive. We need these red balls as much as we need WFFWW.
“Keep your eyes on those windows, boys. I got a big feelin’,” Bingo says. “Y’all got ‘Lucky B drivin’.” Bingo talks a big game about being the lucky driver, but there’s little evidence to support the claim. Someone blows a horn.
Fact: Clowns are the most braggadocious of all apocalyptic survivors.
Bingo is competent behind the wheel, at best.
Reflective surfaces catch our attention. It’s not that clowns are intrinsically drawn to shiny objects—that’s a myth. Important things shine in the sun: metal, glass, water, and even the occasional weapon pointed our way. I notice a gleam maybe five miles to the right of the clown car. North.
A flash of light doesn’t mean that we go thundering—at 30 mph, mind you—to its point of origin. Fuel is precious and traps abound. Chase after glimmers and you’ll find yourself eaten by mutants or dead from radiation exposure. Still, some of us are impatient and don’t want to waste time, so we ask the Wise Clown. The Wise Clown says wait, and so we do.
It’s about two hours before dusk, so we kill the engine and take turns clown napping, which is the same as regular napping, only in this case, the nappers are clowns.
As darkness envelops the plain, the reflective glare continues to flicker and fade until it’s replaced by the pale light of a campfire, the sight of which infects the clown troupe with nervous energy. The brutal night air will soon arrive, so we only have about an hour of darkness before conditions become unbearable. Jackie takes his turn at the wheel and the MINI crawls toward the strangers. We apply polka dots to our garments and fresh makeup to our faces. The car stops about a thousand yards out behind some scrub. We exit the vehicle in true clown fashion and assume a practiced tactical formation. Tactics are important as our weaponry is limited to traditional clowning implements: bulbous horns; squirting flowers, juggling balls, oversized blunderbusses loaded with confetti and flags that say “BANG!,” and a few unicycles for lightning-fast movement.
Fact: Floppy clown shoes are quiet on the hardpan, but make a distinctive sound on creosote. Special care must always be taken.
As we near the site, we count half a dozen survivors around the fire. There are also two motorcycles and a horse a few yards away—rare prizes in the new age. The strangers are armed with rifles and holstered handguns.
Zipper and the Brick, both armed with blunderbusses, fan out to the right and left. Two other clowns mount unicycles and ride in opposite directions to circle to the other side of the fire. In a few moments, these vagabonds will be surrounded. If possible, we will not harm the campers or eat their horse; but anything could happen during initial contact, and it’s not like we wouldn’t eat the horse. We just want things to be on our terms.
Our movements are swift and flawless, and the success of this mission seems assured until someone honks his horn prematurely.
What occurs in the first few seconds can only be described as bedlam. Like spokes on a wagon wheel, shots arc outward from the hub. I shout “CLOWN ANTICS!” and we begin our merry dance of death. Some tumble, some juggle, and some just bound up to our reluctant audience and laugh hysterically. One by one, though, we fall to the ground.
Those who aren’t hurt badly continue the routine. Zipper tries to use a blunderbuss to support his weight but falls to the ground. He manages to level the weapon at our assailants and sprays them with a brightly colored blast of confetti. One of the strangers responds by pointing a revolver at the hapless clown, but fires on an empty chamber. Zipper would eventually succumb to his wounds, and he isn’t the only one. We lose three clowns, and four others suffer leg amputations. Their severed limbs will later be replaced with hilarious stilts.
When the smoke clears, the strangers admit, while initially alarming, ours is the best post-holocaust clown act they’ve seen. They ask to join our menagerie, and as if by magic, the clown troupe expands from twelve to fifteen.
Fact: A clown will never admit that a car is full.
This story is dedicated to Zippy, Stuffy, and the Brick.
This story was originally published in The Unlikely Journal of Coulrophobia.