SCI FICTION, December 15, 2004

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"Clownette" by Terry Dowling

ImageTerry Dowling's short story, "Clownette," is about a hotel room with a dry rot stain.

"A room?" you say, "What's so exciting about a room, or dry rot for that matter?"

"Ah hah," sez I. "You see, the dry rot is in the shape of a clown face. And this Rorschach bozo blotch (named, appropriately, 'The Motley') has an eerie tendency of moving if anyone is unwise enough to obscure it with furniture or artwork so that it oozes around the obstacle to peep forth, leaving no mark or trail of its locomotion.  It also defies attempts to paint over it, always burgeoning forth as clearly–or more so–than before."

"Eep," you say. 

As well you should.  "Clownette" is creepy, quietly menacing in an understated, sinister fashion.  Dowling is a master of description and atmosphere.  In this story he displays how horror fiction should be written: subtly without overt gore or cheap, jump-out-at-you thrills. While coulrophobia (the pathological fear of clowns) isn't new as a literary mechanism–or a pop culture device for that matter as can be seen in examples as varied as John Wayne Gacy's legacy as serial killer and "Pogo the Clown," to Stephen King's "Pennywise" in IT,  to the controversial rappers, Insane Clown Posse–but there's something about "Clownette" which can bring out the shivering heebie-jeebies in even the most jaded clown evader.  If you aren't a coulrophobe, after you read "Clownette," you might very well become one.

In the distinguished words of Bart Simpson, "Can't sleep, clown will eat me . . ."