“Ain’t it fun to be pals with things everybody else is afraid of?”
The clown said this right before being eviscerated.
It was unexpected. All of it. Dry Springs wasn’t usually the kind of place where folks lived in fear of killer alien robots. Which is true of most towns.
But since the crash, we’d all been on edge. First, the fireball, then the explosive impact, then the inferno that ripped through the south side of town. Mostly, though, we got really concerned when we found the empty spaceship. About the size of a doublewide, all hot and glowy, except for the three hatches. All open with strange tracks leading away from the ship.
Of course the government came which made us more uneasy. Except for the clown. A real bozo. An old rodeo clown who couldn’t ever give it up. Always with the cheery face, paint or no paint. Always with the loud plaids and suspenders, floppy ten-gallon hat and rainbow-starred boots.
Every Saturday morning at the hardware store where I worked, he’d bowleg in with a giant sheriff’s star pinned to his suspenders and hand out candy suckers to the customers’ kids, deputizing them as members of his Fun Posse. You could tell most folks found this either charming or vile. I deemed it both, and the clown seemed to feel this made me his confidant.
So when the government started sniffing around Dry Springs, and when field agents started turning up intestineless, the clown pulled me aside and told me not to worry about any of it. He had my back. A clown.
That got me pretty nervous. I asked him what he meant. He told me to meet him at the old mine later that night and he’d show me why there was nothing to be afraid of. Nothing at all.
I guess you could write an entire psychology book on I why went, or you could sum it up to curiosity. Plain damn curiosity. Not much happens in Dry Springs, so a thrill was a thrill, even from a clown I didn’t trust.
It should be clear by now that I’m the one who deserved to be eviscerated, but that’s not how it worked out as you know. The clown was already at the mine when I showed up, leaning against the boarded-up entrance smoking a fat cigar. I’d never seen the clown smoke anything.
He handed me a stogie and told me to light up. He seemed to like that I didn’t question him and just lit up the beefy thing. At a certain point you go with it. Some reptilian part of my brain told me to follow the clown.
Follow the clown. I’m not a simpleton, but I followed the clown, and he led me past the mine entrance. We puffed on our cigars as we wove through the rusted hulks of mining equipment and slag heaps. It was quiet and edgy.
The clown stopped, whispering for me to listen. It’s disturbing to hear a clown whisper, but I did what he asked and soon heard, even felt, a thrumming just beyond the very toxic tailing pond where only crazies ventured.
This is when the clown told me the story of his encounter with the alien robots. Some of his tale didn’t make sense, but I got the gist. Most nights, the clown came out to the mine to smoke a doobie or two. To protect his wholesome reputation, he explained. I didn’t tell him he had no such reputation and that admitting to being a pothead might actually boost his stature in town. Now was not the time.
The upshot of clown’s story was that, a few nights ago, he’d been sitting at the tailing pond on his third blunt, owing to nerves about the crashed spaceship and such. He’d taken a sustained drag and hazily noticed a suddenly close horizon of glowing orange eyes, about a dozen, not unlike the ember on his blunt.
Understandably, he was alarmed. And as he moved to get away, the strange eyes mimicked his movements. That’s how, the clown told me, he figured out whatever was out there had somehow synced their actions to the movement of his doobie. The disembodied eyes eventually drew close enough that he saw each was attached to a hexapodal robot. The clown really used that term. Hexapodal. Clowns are freaky.
He told me the one-eyed robots followed him, his blunt really, which he had to drag hard on to keep glowing bright. Near town he said a couple of government agents showed up, and when the alien robots saw the whites of their eyes, they butchered the hapless Feds. The clown ran and hid under his bed. At that point, his story became just babble about von Neumann berserkers. Like I said clowns are freaky.
So, there we were. The clown telling me he’d sussed it all out. Because of his burning blunt, the alien robots had thought he was one of them. That was why we were puffing on cigars. They would be easier to keep glowing longer. We’d be protected. Be able to make friends. Control the killer alien robots. Yup. The clown really thought that.
By the time he was done telling me all this, we were surrounded by glowing eyes. The cigar dropped from my mouth and snuffed out hitting the ground. The clown took a big puff of his cigar and when the ember glowed brightly he waved it in a big circle. The one-eyed robots mimicked the movement.
The clown picked up my stogie and pressed it to the end of his to relight it. When it was glowing again and he had two embers aglow right in front of his face, the clown said it. That ditty about how fun it was to be pals with things everybody else is afraid of.
Lickety split, the killer alien robots disemboweled him. When first struck, the clown lurched and flung a cigar. It almost hit me in the eye, but I caught it. Lucky thing, because the alien robots turned back to me after filleting the clown.
Properly panicked, I waved them away with my cigar. They swayed in sync to my flailing.
Ah. My new pals.
Right. Given what they’d just done to the clown, I didn’t know how long our sudden interstellar friendship would last, so I backed away until I was right up against the high ledge of the tailing pond. For years, folks had dumped old appliances, fridges, washers, driers, you name it, in there and the toxic brew ate up the metal lickety-split.
You might not be thinking my brain would be working so well at a moment like this. Especially, the brain of a guy who’d listened to a clown who thought he could make nice with killer alien robots. Still, a bolt of inspiration hit me, a mom-moment of being scolded, “If everybody else jumped off a cliff, would you?”
Would I ever.
At the very rim of the noxious brew, I took a deep pull on my cigar. And launched myself.
Right to the ground. Flinging my cigar high towards the middle of the tailing pond.
Killer alien robots were like everybody else. They followed their own kind, the one-eyed glowing end of my stogie, right into the toxic drink. They’d eviscerated the clown because in relighting my cigar, he’d presented to the alien robots as two-eyed, just like the government agents they’d slaughtered.
The tailing pond did its thing.
I slowly walked back to town feeling sorry for the clown, a real one-of-kind guy. I didn't know if there was still anything to be afraid of, though I was pretty sure I’d never learn the whole story of why the alien robots came here or why anyone would choose to be a clown.
Just like everybody else.