Langston grimly watched the sad-looking clowns go through their routines. The dire moon, with its grey valleys and thin ponds of aquamarine goo, had enough difficulties, the inhabitants eking out an existence from mined stones and subsisting on common dehydrated fruits and flat slabs of compressed meat simulations, without being reminded of the drearier side of life by downbeat performances.
People were dour and restless already, but the melancholy clown performances had been enough to drive several miners to a failed insurrection and one to an attempted self-amputation.
As Moon Governor, Langston was pondering the ramifications of a thorough clown ban.
“But the clowns are the only live entertainment on the moon,” complained Deputy Soris, when Langston confided his plan.
“That’s exactly why they have to go.”
Langston called a meeting with the head clown.
Langston laid out his case briskly. “I once thought the right clown at the right moment could make a positive difference. But your morose performances have turned my head.”
Slumpo the Clown slouched in the tattered chair. He spoke with in a thick, low tone. “My people have been clowning on this moon since before you were born.” His lips, slathered with dark purple clown lipstick, turned down in gravity.
“Your so-called clowning is turning the men’s mood from dark to suicidal. I’ve never seen such repugnant, ugly shows. Clowns strangling stuffed animals, moaning on top of coffins, smashing wine bottles and rolling in the shards. It’s repulsive!”
Slumpo leaned forward, dark eyes glinting, black splotches of shadow reinforcing his eyes’ depths. “What do you know about clowning? You’re a desk man, a money counter. Have you ever reached into your depths to see what’s rotating in your innards while that calculator in your head examines your earnings statements?”
Langston puffed on his simulated cloud pipe. “I leave my innards to fend for themselves, Slumpo. I’m here to get some use out of this godforsaken moon. Get the blasted motracite out of the ground to use for its preordained destiny in stylish jewelry and living pod accessories.”
“And after a hellish day in your motracite mines, don’t you think your men deserve a performance? Some distraction?”
“Yes! Distraction. Fun times. Uplifting entertainment. Jugglers, musicians, war re-enactments. Not these mournful, disturbing nightmares you call clowning.”
Slumpo stood up. A clowning need washed over him like a wave of nausea passing unstoppably through a sick imp. He slowly stretched out his white-gloved hands and undulated in place, as though rocked by deep ocean waves. Then he leaned backward, face directed at the ceiling, and emitted a hideous moan, a moan that carried its own echoes of the motracite caverns.
Langston held his hands to his ears. “For all that’s holy, Slumpo, stop it!”
Slumpo darted forward, his head springing up and jerking at Langston, eyes on fire, emerald green curls of hair falling in disorganized cascades over his white-painted face. He now spoke with a tiny mouse voice, in a seemingly distant squeak that seemed to come from beneath the floor. “When you take a rag doll from the mangy dog he grows angry.” Slumpo widened his eyes and opened his hands, palms forward, gradually lifting them until they were at the level of his ears. Slumpo’s eyelids pushed up ever higher, his pupils searing in compressed darkness, their invisible fire battering into Langston’s consciousness. Through the office air he transmitted his impalpable clown demands.
Langston sat stupefied. This was exactly the kind of crazed nonsense he wanted to banish from his moon. But, face to face with Slumpo’s demented behavior, he was stunned into silence.
Slumpo imperceptibly dissolved into a dance. His legs acted like quivering jelly pillars. His hands skittered in mad insect motions, all while his mouth gaped and made uncanny ululations.
“Slumpo,” Langston forced himself to say, clamping his eyes shut to avoid the horrific sight, “get out.”
The clown’s vocalizations grew louder and more unbalanced. He yelped and his oversized rubber clown shoes stomped erratically.
Langston held his head in his hands, bending down, as if hoping to burrow under his desk.
Ms. Tindly peeked in from the reception area, concerned at the unaccustomed noise. “Is everything alright, Mr. Langston?”
Slumpo ignored her, continuing his unhinged performance. Langston remained immobile, crouched, closed off from the insane racket.
“I’ll check back later,” said Ms. Tindly. She quickly withdrew.
In the morning Deputy Soris prepared to take notation. “Have you made a decision on clown expulsion?”
Langston sat motionless in his chair, a black mug of steaming liquid untouched on his desk. His eyes were glazed over, visions of airborne clowns drifting through his mind. They flew in isolation, their luminescent sun-yellow, grass-green and flower-pink clown suits glaring vividly in the depths of space. Their maroon and purple mouths leered at him, crazed, bulging eyes peering through his skin, into his brain, branding his mind with their dark clown creeds.
Oily purple clown philosophy drenched him. He could think only of the darkness of unlit caverns, the grimness of dried and stale foodstuffs, the uncontained cold of deep clownless space.
“Leave the clowns,” said Langston, his expression unchanged. “Leave the clowns on the moon.”