Want to hear a horror story? Man wakes up, goes to a job he hates, to fuel a life he loathes, mortgaged to the hilt, credit card debt up to his eyeballs. Kids don’t like him. Wife resents him. He dies old and alone.

And in the Gutter that’s what we call a good time. This story? This is a happy ending; this is the frosting on the cake. Happy Halloween, fuckos.

Skiddle by Gabino Iglesias

Debbie only cared about having a clown at her birthday party. Susan tried to change the subject often, talk about decorations and the cake, having a bouncy house, but Debbie ignored her mother and kept talking about a clown with the excruciating single-mindedness of a five-year-old. Susan wanted to give her everything, but her crippling fear of clowns was threatening to make that impossible. With the party approaching, the clown deal was keeping Susan up at night.

When Susan was growing up, there wasn’t a term for it and parents didn’t take their kids to the shrink because they panicked whenever they saw a clown at a party or on television. Later on, she had gone to a psychiatrist, but the doctor had dismissed her fear as “a ludicrous terror stemming from some blocked childhood trauma.” Thankfully, Susan had found a name for it on the Internet: coulrophobia. Knowing what to call it made her feel like she had a condition, which was preferable to just being a fucking weirdo. Still Susan was not about to confess her secret shame to another parent. So instead of asking Elizabeth, Jeffrey’s mom, to please call the clown from Jeffrey’s birthday party on her behalf, Susan simply asked for the number. At least she wouldn’t have to deal with visuals.

The conversation with Skiddle was quick, even though Susan trembled the entire time, her knuckles white from squeezing the cell phone against her face. When it was over, she closed her eyes and tried to calm herself. No dice. She was interrupted by the thought of Skiddle showing up that Saturday. The image behind her closed eyelids of a very tall, rail thin clown with monstrous teeth was too much. She cried like baby, trying to keep her sobs muffled so they wouldn’t reach Debbie’s room.

That night, Susan left her light on in the bedroom and tried to rationalize her phobia.

She knew there was no traumatic experience in her past that explained her coulrophobia. The makeup just got to her, made her think about hidden agendas, of alien monsters hiding behind white paint and colorful wigs. The red mouth and nose reminded her of blood. The shoes didn’t belong to a normal human being. The laughter was creepy, the costumes awful and unnatural. Even the squeaks coming from the balloon animals made her think of creatures screaming in pain. 

Susan had always hoped her teenage years would make the fear go away, but it never happened. A few movies her friends had inadvertently taken her to see had made matters worse. Next came the pranks and the derisive boyfriends who called her childish and stupid. Then she read about John Wayne Gacy. Ultimately, Debbie’s dad, a man who loved the bottle more than he did his family, had made fun of her phobia in front of some of her friends from work. It was the last night he spent in the house. Now she was thinking about clowns again, pulling the covers up to her neck and leaving the light on, both of which made her feel Debbie’s age. 

After a few sleepless nights, Saturday arrived. Susan busied herself in the kitchen and asked other moms to help out with the door. She asked Elizabeth to deal with Skiddle’s arrival and help him set up. Two hours later, Elizabeth came in and told Susan Skiddle was ready to leave. She mumbled something about cupcakes and gave Elizabeth the cash. Her nerves were fried, but she had survived the ordeal. A few minutes later, she walked to the side of the house and pushed open the small wooden door that led to the alley. Walking past her trashcans, she lit a cigarette with shaky hands and reclined against one of the other mom’s old blue LeBaron. 

Susan was on her third drag when the small door swung open. Skiddle stumbled forward a few steps, carrying all his equipment and props. Susan’s heart skipped a few beats and the smoke caught in her chest, sending her into a coughing fit. The clown looked up and dropped a medium-sized brown box. Susan was only able to suppress a scream because she was still coughing. 

“Man, I think I might have to buy a donkey to carry all this!” said Skiddle. He smiled, accentuating the fake upturned lips painted on his face. 

Susan was too scared to reply. The clown looked down at the box on the ground, then at the huge aluminum cylinder he was carrying, and finally back at Susan. 

“You mind giving me a hand with this stuff?” 

Susan stared at the nightmare in front of her and said nothing. 

“It’s not far,” said Skiddle. “In fact, you’re leaning on my car. If you could grab this box for me. . . The trunk’s open.” 

Skiddle took a step forward. The movement helped Susan snap out of her panic. She bent and picked up the box. Her heart was beating against her ribcage like a scared animal. Skiddle walked past her and made his way to the back of the car, grunting with each step. When he reached the trunk, he looked up at Susan, who noticed his arms were occupied with toys, balloons, a box of makeup, and the cylinder. Judging by the way Skiddle was leaning back, that stuff was heavy. Something inside her, something she was ready to call a good upbringing, kicked in. She approached the hard-breathing clown.

Susan shifted the box to her left arm and opened the trunk. It took her a second to realize what she was staring at. The boy’s naked body was covered in dried blood, its brown color almost matching the dirt smeared on his legs and face. She felt a scream building in her chest, but it was interrupted by the crack of the aluminum cylinder against the back of her skull.