Coulrophobia: Fear of Clowns


It was Oliver Haynes’ first day at his new job in the make-up department at AFC Studios. He was suppose to report to Janice Watts, who was his supervisor at nine o’clock that morning. When he finally found her in Studio C, she took him in hand and showed him around.

“Now, today they will be filming a new television special for the Christmas holidays. You and I will be working on the make-up for the back-up dancers.”

“Will I have a chance to work on anyone important?”

“I’d assumed that you knew how this works, Mr. Haynes. You have to make a name for yourself before you can go up the ladder. Seniority is also an important element. Remember, you are a member of the union and the union rules here.”

“I’m sorry; I guess it’s the excitement of my first day.”

“No problem. Ah, here we are.”

With this said, Oliver Haynes got to work. There were six dancers in total and he managed to get their make-up done in a respectable amount of time. The rest of his first working day would be spent in doing touch ups of the dancers. By the end of his first day, Oliver felt satisfied with his work and was pleased when Ms. Watts complimented him on his abilities. He went back to his studio apartment that day with a smile on his face and a bottle of wine to celebrate. By the end of his first six months, he was getting assignments from Ms. Watts without having her supervise him.

Oliver came to the studios one warm spring morning and was surprised when he was called into Ms. Watts’ office. He knocked on her door, entered, and had a seat. Ms. Watts looked up from a sheet of paper that she had been reading, adjusted her glasses and said:

“It seems that congratulations are in order for you, Mr. Haynes. I have received a written request from Steven Moss, the director, for your services on his latest movie.”

“Really!? I’m honored, of course, but how did he hear about me?”

“Well, I admit that I suggested you to him. I told him that you were very good at what you do and that you were very professional. You are to report to him tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM at the following address. Good luck, Mr. Haynes and be sure not to make me out to be a liar.”

“Thank you very much Ms. Watts. And I will make you proud of me.”

“Very well, Mr. Haynes. As for today, you will report to studio A and work on Charles Horner, the newsman. His usual make-up artist called in sick today and they requested a replacement.”

“I’m on my way. Once again, thank you for your trust in me Ms. Watts.”

Oliver left the office trying to decide which he considered to be a bigger opportunity: working on Charles Horner for a day, or working for Steven Moss for an unspecified amount of time. He, of course, quickly decided that the world-famous director of horror films was a bigger deal, but he did admire the newsman for his fantastic facial structure. He arrived at Studio A and was directed to Mr. Horner’s dressing room by one of the stagehands. He entered the room with a smile and greeted Mr. Horner with the news that he had been sent over to help out. Charles Horner, who was reading a news story which he would be reading over the air, briefly looked up at Oliver, smiled, and said,

“Well then, let’s get to it, shall we?”

“Yes sir, Mr. Horner!” Oliver replied and pick up the make-up and brush.

“I don’t mean to disturb you, Mr. Horner, but I am a fan of yours. Maybe not so much for the stories you report on, but I must say that you have great cheekbones.”

“Well, thank you. I have been told that before, but it’s always good to hear.”

Oliver spent the next several minutes concentrating on his work and letting the newsman prepare for his. Just as Oliver finished, a stagehand came to the door and told Mr. Horner that they would be starting in one minute. The newsman took a quick look in the mirror and smiled. He turned to Oliver and asked him what his name was and Oliver told him.

“You do great work, kid.” and left to get miked for his broadcast.

The next morning, Oliver arrived at the studio with ten minutes to spare. He was pointed towards the senior make-up artist who showed him the sketches of the actors that he would be working on and how they were to be made up for that day’s shooting. Oliver was assigned to do the make-up for three of the minor actors (those who only had one or two lines). He was quick and professional and had the three actors done within an hour. When he had finished his assignment, he stood out of the way but was ready in case he was needed to do any touch-ups. While Oliver was in his corner of the studio, he became engrossed in the action. The scene took place at an abandoned house with the main characters and one of the minor characters in it. Suddenly, on the scene, the lights fell to the point where there seemed to be only the light of a half moon. A wind machine began blowing slowly to give an eerie effect. The main actor (whose name Oliver could barely remember) led the group up the porch stairs and up to the creaking door. The actress’ name he knew because, while he had been taking his classes, he had come down with a bad cold once and stayed home and watched the soaps. She had been on his favorite one, “Tomorrow’s Loves”, and had played the ingenue. Her name was Lillian Melendez. When he first saw that she was to be in the movie, he was very excited and a bit disappointed that he had not been assigned to do her hair and make-up. He was, however, thrilled to be able to watch her perform.

The trio of actors had just entered the house when the lights suddenly came on and Oliver heard Steven Moss yell “Cut!”.

“All right everybody, let’s get set up for the next scene! Interior of the house, be ready in twenty minutes. Make-up! Let’s get some touching up done, alright?”

This was one of the things that Oliver learned to like about Steven Moss; he worked quick and he knew what needed to be done in order to get the next scene properly set up. Oliver went to the actor’s chair that he was working on and set to work. The actor (Adam something) sat down, but Oliver saw that there was not much for him to do. He combed the man’s hair because it had been slightly messed up by the wind machine and did some touch-up around his eyes. Time seemed to fly by quickly and before Oliver realized it, the twenty minutes had passed and Steven Moss was calling the actors back to the set. The rest of the day went by without any problems and Oliver received his orders for the next day. He then went home, made some dinner and relaxed and watched television until it was bedtime.

The next morning, Oliver, who by this time was getting into the routine expected, went to his cubicle, made up the actor and actress, and took his position behind the cameras. The director made sure that everyone was in place and then called “Action!” The simulated sounds of a thunderstorm were heard and the lights were appropriately darkened. Oliver intently watched the scene as he had done the day before, but he knew that during this scene, the “monster”-star of the movie would make its first appearance. Oliver had what he called a “love/hate relationship” towards horror movies. As a child, he had seen the Bela Lugosi/Boris Karloff/Lon Chaney Jr. classics, and fell in love with them. By the time that the “Elm Street” franchise came along, Oliver only watched them as a means of determining how the actors make-up had been applied. He also did not consider the monsters as very creative, per se. To him, they didn’t seem to exude “that Hollywood magic” that he had grown up with. Finally, the moment arrived and, as seen by a flash of the lightening, the “monster” appeared and grabbed the actress as she passed by a silently opened door. When Oliver saw the monster, he was stunned. In his mind, he flashed back 15 years ago when he was ten years old.

It was a beautiful May afternoon and Oliver was celebrating his tenth birthday. It was a fairly enjoyable party which was attended by his cousins, younger sister, and a few friends from school. His mother had baked him a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and raspberries on it because it was his favorite. He had just finished opening his presents and was waiting for his mother to bring out his birthday cake, when he heard the sliding glass door open. His mother came out and told everyone that the birthday entertainment had just arrived and she introduced him.

“And now, boys and girls, here is Bippo the Clown!”

Everyone cheered, even Oliver, when Bippo came out. He did some magic tricks, made balloon animals, and told some funny jokes. He even sang “Happy Birthday” along with everyone else when Oliver’s mother brought out the lit birthday cake. Soon the party was over and the other children were leaving. Just as the last child was leaving, Bippo appeared. He looked around, saw that Oliver’s mother was in the backyard cleaning up, and looked down at Oliver and said,

“Well, young man, I hope that you had a nice day.”

“Oh yes. Thank you for coming Bippo.”

“Say, I almost forgot! I brought you a gift, but it’s in my van. Come with me and we’ll get it.”

“Okay,” Oliver said.

Bippo opened the van door and lifted Oliver inside.

“Where is it, Bippo?”

“It’s right here.” And having said this, Bippo jumped into the van, pulled out a cloth and bottle from a pocket, and put the soaked rag over Oliver’s nose and mouth. The boy fell unconscious and Bippo got out of the van, locked the door, and ran and got behind the wheel of the van. It was over in less than a minute. When Oliver finally woke up, he found his hands and feet tied to the ends of a bed. There was a piece of masking tape over his mouth, so he could not call out for help. He moved his head around and saw drapes covering a window and a small table by the bed, but there was nothing else in the small room. Soon, maybe ten minutes after gaining consciousness, the door to the room opened.

“Ah, I see that you have finally woken up. Now, it’s time for Bippo to play!”

Sure enough, the man who had spoken these words was Bippo, but he was not wearing his clown clothing. He still had on the make up, but he was wearing only a white t-shirt and boxer shorts. In his hand he was carrying a small bottle of water and a bottle of whiskey. He tore the tape off of Oliver’s mouth and, before the boy could yell for help, he put the bottle of water to Oliver’s mouth. Oliver took a sip and then started to cry.

“I wanna go home!” he managed to say.

“Well, that depends on how well you treat Bippo.” Bippo then put the bottle of water on the table and took a big swig of whiskey. He blearily looked down at Oliver’s frightened face, sat the whiskey bottle on the floor and, shakily, stood up. Oliver did not like the smell of the whiskey and he did not know what Bippo had meant when he said that he would have to treat Bippo nice. He soon found out.

Three days later, Oliver heard a banging noise coming from the other room and, suddenly, was blinded by sunlight when the police officers burst through the door of the small bedroom.

“He’s in here!” said one of the cops and started to untie Oliver’s hands and feet. When he was loose, the officer wrapped him in the sheet, picked him up, and carried Oliver out of the room. Oliver was told this by his mother because, by this time, Oliver was in such a state of shock that he hadn’t even realized that he had been rescued. It took Oliver several months of therapy before he was able to put the horrible experience behind him. Despite this, Oliver always felt uncomfortable whenever he saw a film or any other media with a clown in it.

Oliver felt cold water splashed on his face and opened his eyes. He saw three or four people standing around him, looking down.

“Are you alright?” someone asked him.

“Wha…What happened?”

“You fainted when James English made his appearance.”

“I did?”

“Yeah. Just lay still; we have the nurse coming to check you out. At least you didn’t hit your head on anything metallic. I don’t see any bleeding.”

When the nurse arrived at the set, she checked Oliver’s head for any cuts and blood. Not finding any, she suggested that he go home for the day and rest up. He was to visit her the first thing in the morning to let her know how he was feeling. She said that if she was satisfied with his condition, she would give him the “go ahead” and allow him to report for work. She gave him two aspirin and a glass of water before she went over to Steven Moss to let him know if he would have to request a replacement make-up artist. Oliver, in the meantime, walked over to the make-up room and collected his things and went home. By the time that he got home, he had forgotten the reason why he had fainted. He took off his jacket, put his make-up kit on the kitchen table and made himself lunch. He then went into the living room and watched television for an hour before laying down on his bed to take a nap. Soon, he was asleep and dreaming.

Oliver found himself at the studio in the make-up room. Steven Moss was there and told him that he was giving him a chance of a lifetime: Oliver would get to apply the make-up on James English. Suddenly, James English appeared in the make-up chair dressed as his character.

“Let’s go, kid! Chop Chop!!!” James English brusquely told him.

Oliver picked up the pad to apply a thin layer of pancake on the actor, but with each daub that he made, it seemed that a layer of the actor’s skin was coming off. Oliver stepped back in fright and tried to figure out what was happening. He stepped back up to the chair, put down the pad, and picked up the brush for high-lighting the cheeks. Again, skin layers seemed to peel away but, this time, Oliver saw paint makeup on the actor’s skin. Suddenly, Mr. English took the towel from his neck, wiped his face with it, and when he was done, looked at Oliver and said,

“Let’s see how well you treat Bippo!” in a raspy voice that caused chill to run up and down Oliver’s back. Oliver screamed and turned around and ran out of the makeup room. He occasionally looked back and saw Bippo running after him, holding a cloth and brown bottle in one hand.

“Come on, little man, show Bippo a good time! Ha! Ha! Ha!”

Oliver continued to run but, at one point, didn’t see a camera cable in his way and tripped and fell to the floor. This was all the time that Bippo needed to catch up to Oliver, and when he got to the spot, he held the boy (in this part of the dream, Oliver had reverted to his ten-year old self) between his feet and put the cloth over the mouth of the bottle. He tipped the bottle over, put it on a table which had suddenly appeared and looked down on Oliver.

“Now, I’ll give you your special present. Ha! Ha! Ha!”

As the cloth in the clown’s hand came closer and closer to Oliver’s own mouth, he yelled…and suddenly woke up with moonbeams shining on his sweating body. He sat up from the bed, tried to calm himself, and then walked into the bathroom. He turned on the light and looked at his pale face in the mirror. He turned on the cold water faucet, splashed water on his face then dried it off with a nearby bath towel. When he walked back into the bedroom, he looked at the clock and saw that it was 7:30 PM. He had been asleep for almost five hours! Oliver went to the kitchen, made a bowl of tomato soup, got a glass of milk and sat down at the table and ate, trying to forgot the horror that he had just woken up from. Finally, at midnight, he managed to talk himself into trying to get some more sleep, so that he would be fit to work that morning.

The next morning when Oliver arrived at the studio, he walked cautiously to the makeup room in the hope that he would not run into James English either in or out of makeup. When he walked into the room, he was slightly surprised to see Lillian Melendez sitting in his station’s chair.

“Good morning, Ms. Melendez! I didn’t realize that I would be working on you today.”

She smiled and said, “I hate to break it to you, but that is not what I am here for. I just wanted to make sure that you were alright. I’ve heard good things about your work and I wanted to let you know that we need every good makeup artist we can get.”

“Thank you very much, Ms. Melendez and yes, I’m fine. I just have a thing about clowns.”

“Really? Why? If I may ask. When I was a child, I didn’t like clowns either, but I must say, I don’t have the same reaction that you do.”

Oliver wasn’t sure if she was being curious or condescending, but he gave her a brief outline of what had happened to him as a child. When he had finished his explanation, the actress was quiet for a moment and then said, “Would you like me to speak to your supervisor? Maybe we can get you a slot at another shoot.”

“Oh no, please, that is unnecessary. Besides, I am a big fan of Mr. Moss’ films and I wouldn’t want to be a problem for him. I think that I will be able to manage, now that I know what to expect. Maybe I’ll just keep my eyes closed during Mr. English’s scenes”, he said half-jokingly.

“Good man. It was a pleasure talking to you Mr. Haynes. Keep your chin up!” She glided off of the chair and left the room, but not before giving Oliver a kiss on the cheek. Oliver slightly blushed and then turned to set up his equipment on the table. Two minutes later, one of the extras walked in for a touch up. The rest of his day went fine. He did keep his eyes closed or looked elsewhere when he knew that James English would be doing a scene and he had no problems.

Oliver had just finished putting away his equipment, or as he called them, his “tools”, and started to leave the studio. He happened to notice that, besides a janitor, he was the only other person in the large building. He went through the door and looked up to see if he could see any stars, before walking down to his car. He had just got out his car keys, when a figure stepped out of some shadows.

“Well, hello, Oliver. Long time, no see.”

Once Oliver got over being startled, he looked at the man and vaguely recognized him as one of the older makeup artists. He couldn’t remember the man’s name since he had not been introduced to him, so he said,

“I’m sorry but I didn’t catch your name. I know that you worked on Mr. English, but we were never introduced. And how do we know each other?”

The man chuckled for a moment, then said,

“My name is not important, but yes, I did do Mr. English’s make up; in fact, I created it originally fifteen years ago.”

Oliver felt himself suddenly sweating and starting to shake. He took a step back and said,

“No, that’s not possible. You’re suppose to be in prison.”

“Well, it seems that I managed to get out early for good behavior. Now what do you say, shall we get reacquainted?”

Oliver dropped his keys, put his hands over his face and screamed “NO! NO! NO!”.

Bippo just smiled, took a cloth and bottle out of his pocket, and walked up to the last victim of his former life. Oliver never regained his grip on reality.

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