Let me begin this by saying that I share my story with you all purely by order of my psychiatrists. They labor under this delusion that reaching out to others about everything that happened to me might provide me with some form of catharsis. Personally, I’m more inclined to believe that its because they know I’ve not been taking my sleeping pills at lights out. I’ve tried explaining to them why. I can’t stand to see their faces. The nightmares are always the same; they surround me with their pasty, complexion less faces with bright crimson facepaint on their wide open eyes with no lids and their split open grins carved from ear to ear. They just stand there, giggling and asking me, “Would you like a balloon”?
I suppose that’s where my story would truly begin, with that one innocent question. Or rather, the reason that question now haunts me in my sleep: HappyWorld. “HappyWorld: home of everlasting smiles”, that was their tagline. Unfortunately, it was far too fitting for those who weren’t lucky enough to ever get out of the place. Those, like my best friend, Derek Cromwell.
I still remember those earlier days. I met Derek when I was twelve years old. Me and my folks moved down here to Tennessee from New York after my father lost his job there as a car salesman. I remember back then thinking how quiet it was compared to the urban chaos I’d grown up in previously. I mean, while I wasn’t popular among peers or anything; I DID have a few buds back at “The Big Apple” that I wouldn’t be able to talk to anymore.
As could’ve been expected, Mom always hit me with the classic “You’ll make new friends, honey! Just you wait and see!” line every time I protested. In retrospect, she was correct. Only two weeks after we moved here; there I was, standing in the Blockbuster video located only about a mile’s walking distance from the new neighborhood (I know, talk about convenience, right?) when I ran right into him. He was about a quarter of a foot taller than me with broad shoulders and jet-black hair. “Oh, sorry…”, I said, hoping to just subtly bail without being noticed. I tried to just backpedal over to where the Playstation games were; after all, I was there looking for “Resident Evil 2” at the time. That’s when he spoke up, “Oh shit, didn’t see you there, man. I kinda smiled and just said, “Nah. its cool.”. He smirked and went back to staring at the shelves in front of him. “No way! They’re in town next month?!”. Confused, I snapped my head in his direction and saw that he was looking at a poster.
I walked over and looked at the poster he was looking at; seeing a big-ass red grin staring back at me (“Everlasting smiles”, Christ…). “What’s up?”, I asked him. “HappyWorld, dude!”. I just stared at him, eyebrows cocked in confusion. “You’ve never heard of HappyWorld?”, he gasped in exaggerated shock; his eyes bulging out of their sockets at me (an image that haunts me every time I hear the word “balloon”). I just shook my head at him; feeling the overwhelming compulsion to run for the exit, “Heh… sorry man, I’m uh…”. “New here?”, he piped up, apparently already knowing how I could’ve possibly lived ignorant of what HappyWorld was.
With all the excitement you’d expect to see from a thirteen year-old hopped up on too much caffeine, Derek then spends the next ten minutes explaining that HappyWorld was this funhouse attraction that’ll open up every once in a blue-moon and stays open for about a month or so before randomly closing down and basically vanishing. Naturally, I asked him what he meant by “vanishing”. For a moment, he just stared at me the way a deer stares at headlights just before it gets ran over (goddamnit, why did I have to think of that analogy, too real…) before shrugging his shoulders. “Dunno dude, they’re just there one day and about a month later, they’re just gone. Building will be closed down and everything; it’ll look like noone or nothing was ever there to begin with”. He then went on to tell me about the different clowns that would perform tricks and stuff.
I just nodded my head as he went on, my attention fixed primarily on the creepy-ass clown face smiling at me on the poster. I remember how it kinda made me shudder looking at it. Thing was; back then, I had no problem with clowns. Hell, every year for spring break, Ma would take me to see “Greatest Show on Earth” when they came to town. But something about this particular clown poster just didn’t sit right. The face had bright red tear-drop shaped designs around the eyes with long red lines connecting to the corners of its cartoonishly wide, red lips. The eyes were pitch dark, only two tiny white dots in the center giving them any pronunciation.
Below the clown face were the words, “HappyWorld: home of everlasting smiles–coming June 5th”. “I wonder if he’ll actually come out this time”, his words finally jolting my focus away from the poster. “Who?” “The Amazing Beliar. He’s their leader, or at least that’s what they tell us”. “What does he do?” Derek looked at me, mirroring my own clueless expression, and shrugged.
“I dunno, I’ve never actually seen him. In fact, I don’t think anybody has”. “How do you know he’s real?”, I asked him. “Good question…”, he said with a chuckle. “Maybe he’s like an animatronic, like at Chuck-E Cheese.”, he quipped, this time I laughed. “Or maybe he’s a ghost!”, I chimed in; making my eyes go wide open and making fake ghost sounds (should’ve said he was the devil himself, that would’ve been more accurate). He started busting a gut at this. The kid behind the register; an older high school drop-out whose face was so gaunt and pasty looking that he might as well have been a ghost himself, told us to quiet down, apparently having disturbed his nap.
“Sorry man, we’ll take it outside”, Derek said with a careless grin plastered all over his face. “Whatever…” , the kid behind the register groaned, rolling his eyes before dropping his head back down into his folded arms on the counter, letting his long. Black lion’s mane hair fall down and cover his folded arms. “Yeah, go back to your PAID beauty nap, jackass”, I remember thinking with a smirk. We left the store and started walking down the sidewalk, laughing like the goofball kids we were. He told me some of the theories his friends had about “The Amazing Beliar”, like the one about him having three eyes and able to tell your future, and other outlandish ideas like that. We just went on walking and talking like this for about another half-hour before I figured I should start heading back home.
“Hey wait”, he exclaimed, putting his hand on my shoulder, “what’s your name, new kid?” “Oh, uh… Linus, Linus Davies”. “I’m Derek, nice to meet you Linus!”, he held out his hand. I told him it was nice to meet him too and shook his hand. “You’re pretty cool, Linus. I hope we can hang out some more”. I grinned and said, “Me too!”, before parting ways and heading home. On the way home, I thought about one thing: HappyWorld.
I won’t lie, despite the fact that I was too old to be into that kind of shit, I was intrigued. The next day, I decided to walk to the Blockbuster video again on the off-chance he might frequent the place. I wanted to ask him more about HappyWorld, like: “Were there age restrictions?”, “What were the other clowns like?” and so on. Sure enough, there he was; along with two of his buddies. They didn’t seem to notice me so I was able to listen to the latter half of their conversation about–what else, but the creepy clown poster.
“So are you guys planning on going?”, Derek asked the kid on his left; a short, lanky boy with curly bright orange hair and glasses. “Can’t, folks are out of town for a “business trip”, the kid winked and nudged Derek’s arm before taking a swig of his Surge. “‘Kay, Ray’s out; what about you, Corey?”, he asked the kid on his right; a tall, pudgy kid with a brunette mullet wearing a black leather vest over his Danzig t-shirt. “I don’t know. Don’t you think that routine’s getting kinda old?”. “What do you mean? Don’t you wanna finally see him, “The Amazing Beliar”?”. “I don’t know, man, we keep going and we never find him.”.
“Got a point, dude”, Ray chimed in, “I’m honestly kinda wondering if maybe he’s just a fad that the clowns shove in our faces to get us to come back”. “But what about all our stories, don’t you guys wanna finally see if they’re true?”, Derek whined, looking absolutely betrayed. “They were cool legends, man; but maybe we should just leave it at that: cool legends”, Corey said. Derek hung his head down dejectedly. “Damn, all out of Surge. Derek, can I borrow a dollar?” I watched as Derek sullenly shuffled around in his pockets and hesitantly handed his friend a crumpled up bill.
“Appreciate it, dude. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”, Ray said as he headed out the door. “Wait up, I’m right behind you. Later, Derek”, Corey said as he followed Ray, leaving Derek standing alone in front of the poster. “Yeah… see ya around, I guess…”, I heard him mutter disappointedly. I decided then to try talking to him, “H-hey man”. He lifted his head to see me, his face now regaining some of it’s lost optimism. “Oh hey, dude! I didn’t know you were here”. “Oh, uh… I just got here a minute ago”, I lied, “I wanted to talk to you more about HappyWorld actually”. “Huh, figures… I was just talking to my buds about going in three weeks”, he said as he pointed to the poster, chuckling at the irony, “they both flaked on me though. And to think, after all the times we spent wondering about the mysteries”. Derek let out a dejected sigh. “Why don’t I go with you?”, the words jumped from my mouth before I even realized what I’d said.
Derek’s eyes went wide, I could see the excitement mold into his face. “Y-you mean it?” For a moment, I stayed quiet, thinking, “did I mean it?”. “Well yeah, why not?”, I said with a careless smirk, shrugging my shoulders, “I’ve got nothing better to do, and I’m curious to see what “The Amazing Beliar” is like”. (they used to tell me all the time that “Curiosity killed the cat…”, I wish I’d listened because common sense wouldn’t bring my ignorant ass back…)
Derek’s face blasted the biggest smile I’d ever seen and shouted, “Hell yeah, up top!”, holding his hand up to gesture a high-five. I smiled and returned the high-five; the loud clap resonating so loud that it woke the kid behind the counter again. We walked home together that day, sharing more outlandish theories about HappyWorld and its mysterious ringmaster. When we got to my house, my mom was on the porch watering her daisies. “There you are, Linus. Go wash up, its almost suppertime”, she looked over to Derek, “who’s this?”. Before I could do or say anything, Derek piped up; “Derek Cromwell, nice to meet you ma’am”. He thrusted his arm outward to shake her hand. “Such a gentleman; its nice to meet you, too, Derek”, Mom chuckled as she shook his hand.
“Well, I’d better head home before my folks get worried”, he said, holding up his hand to me for a high-five. “Tomorrow, same time, same place?”. I returned his high-five, going in for a hug and replied with “you bet your ass!”. “Language”, Mom scolded. I gave her the stereotypical “oopsie-daisy” smile and equally awkward-as-hell chuckle. She just smirked amusedly and rolled her eyes, telling me to head inside and get ready for supper. I still remember it was home-made calzone night, my favorite. (I miss Ma’s home-made calzones, they don’t have anything like that in the cafeteria here at the “wacky-shack”)
“See you later, dude”, I shouted to him as I went inside. At dinner, I decided to ask my folks if they knew anything about HappyWorld. “I don’t believe I saw anything about that when I scouted the area”, Dad said with a ponderous expression on his face before taking a huge bite out of his calzone; some of the cheese and sauce hanging off of his lips. Ma’s calzones were the best: extra-gooey cheese and overloaded with marinara. As he wiped his mouth with his napkin; he chuckled and said, “Then again, I didn’t exactly pick this area based it’s tourist attractions”.
Mom smiled at the joke and sipped her drink. “Well, there’s a poster for it at the Blockbuster where I hung out with Derek, and he says its this cool funhouse that’s coming to town in three weeks and I thought it’d be fun to check it out. He says it disappears randomly and there’s a mysterious clown nobody’s ever seen before!”. Dad paused for a minute before saying, “that sounds cool and all, son, but we have to keep an eye on our money, and I’m almost willing to bet it ain’t cheap to get in”. My heart dropped; in all my excitement, I didn’t even bother asking Derek about the price of admission.
My head slumped down pitifully; wanting to plead my case, but realizing that to be a futile effort. That’s when Ma, wearing that sly grin all mothers have when they’ve concocted an Idea, piped up; “I know, why don’t you go around the neighborhood tomorrow and see if any of the neighbors would be willing to kick you a few bucks for some manual labor?”. I looked up at Dad, who nodded over to Ma and shrugged his shoulders. In all honesty, it didn’t seem like a half-bad idea to me. “Yeah… guess it couldn’t hurt”, I replied nonchalantly, shrugging my shoulders to try and play it cool,despite the fact that I was just happy to have a plausible suggestion. “Sleep on it”, Ma said with a wink, silently calling bullshit on my obvious facade.
Of course, I’d already made up my mind before going to sleep that night; whatever it took, I was gonna earn the money to get into HappyWorld. Little did I know that the true price was blood, not cash. Early the next morning, I quickly jumped out of bed, got dressed, grabbed a blueberry Pop-tart, and headed out to look for work. It went like that for the next three weeks, exact routine: wake up, throw clothes on, scarf down Pop-tart, go cut grass or clean gutters till sundown and collect pay, head home, eat supper, and finally hit the sack for the night; rinse and repeat. I was a little bummed that I couldn’t spend time with Derek. But I knew it’d be damn well worth it when me and him could finally go to HappyWorld together and be the first to see “The Amazing Beliar”. ( I wish to God more than anything that I could have those three weeks back…)
By the time June 5th rolled around, I’d managed to accrue $350 in cash, which might as well have been a fortune to my adolescent mind. “Surely this would be enough”, I told myself, looking at the fat bundle of bills in my hands. I remember being so excited that morning that as soon as my eyes opened, I bounded out of my room and down the stairs to wake up my parents. “Ma, Dad, wake up!”, I remember shouting at them, shaking them until they stirred awake, groaning. “What time is it?”, Dad whined, shielding his eyes from the early morning sunlight from the window.
“Linus, honey, its too early”. I just stood there looking at her with pleading eyes, unable to contain my excitement. “All right, all right; go on and get dressed”, she said with a warm smile, despite the fact that she was still half-asleep. “Fuckin’ A!”, I shouted, forgetting that my parents were still present. “Language!”, Ma groaned reprimandingly.
“Right, sorry…”, I apologized with that all too familiar awkward-ass chuckle. Ma just smirked again, rolling her eyes before telling me, “Go on, have fun; be safe, I love you”, but I was already bounding out of their room and into mine. (I should’ve said “I love you, too.” Wherever she is now, I hope she knows that I love her and miss her so much…) I threw on a t-shirt and jeans before making a pit-stop to the kitchen for a Pop-tart on-the-go. I thought for a moment and decided to grab a second pack for Derek (it would be his last meal…), before sprinting out of the front door and up to the Blockbuster; hoping I’d meet Derek there.
“Where’ve you been?!”, Derek exclaimed as soon as he saw me. Sure enough, he was there; standing outside of the Blockbuster video. “H-hey, listen man, I’m sorry we couldn’t hang out. I’ve been busy trying to earn money for HappyWorld”. He just smiled and pulled me into a giant bear-hug. I returned with a bear-hug of my own as he said, “Heck, none of that matters now. I’m just happy you made it!”.
Just then, this girl who looked around my age came walking out of the Blockbuster. She had long, jet-black hair, just like Derek’s; and was wearing a green and white striped halter-top with low-cut jean shorts. I remember looking into her oceanic blue eyes and instantly starting to blush. “Damn, she’s hot”, I remember thinking to myself as she strutted over to Derek; her hips swaying with every step. “So, you ready to go or what?”, she asked Derek, not seeming to have noticed me.
“Yeah, but first,” Derek then looked at me and said, “Linus, this is my younger sister, Liza”. She looked at me and the left corner of her lip parted upward into a sly grin, like she knew I was crushing on her. “H-hey… I’m Linus…”, I said, trying not to make it quite so obvious, and failing. She snickered, even letting out a little pig snort that I thought was adorable, before replying with “I’m Liza; this dork-lord’s sister”. That made me laugh and Derek, with that careless grin I’ll always remember him for (or at least fondly remember him for…), just rolled his eyes and retorted with “Yeah, okay chowder-head, laugh it up. Now, what say we hit up HappyWorld?”. “Hell yeah!”, I shouted as me and Derek went in for a high-five. “Oh, I almost forgot”, I said, pulling out the pack of Pop-tarts I’d reserved for him, “I didn’t know if you’d eaten already, so I brought you a pack”. He took the pack of Pop-tarts and his smile went from laid back to excited, like I’d just given him a hundred bucks. “Awesome! Dude, I fuckin’ Love blueberry!”, Derek exclaimed. “Great minds think alike, I suppose.”, I said with a shrug. “See, Chowder-head, he’s got good taste.”, he remarked to Liza.
With a sarcastic smirk, she rolled her eyes and snickered before playfully telling Derek to shut up.me and Derek just grinned as he piped up, shouting “HappyWorld, here we come!”, as we started making our way to the proclaimed “home of everlasting smiles”. “So where is HappyWorld, anyway?”, I asked Derek about an hour into the walk. As if by fate (or an omen…), there we were: face-to-face with the entrance.