I’m not sure if it’s technically cosplay if you dress up as your own character or not. In any case, it wasn’t long after Banjo the Clown hit the page that I was wandering around Chicago in costume creeping people out. Not sure what I enjoy more; writing Banjo or dressing up as him. In any case, here’s his first story. In all likelihood, more will follow.
“I need some roasted. Can you hook me up?”
Peanut looked at the sullen acrobat from his cart window. The man was beyond gaunt. His electric blue leotard hung like laundry on his skeleton and his eyes were sunken.
“You got tickets?”
“I’ve got five bucks, and some change.”
Peanut shook his head. “What the hell do you think I’m runnin’? No tickets, no roasteds. End of story.”
“But, I really…”
“Piss off. Get away from my cart.”
The man slunk off down the street. He looked like he still had a few tricks left in him. He’d be back.
Peanut’s cart had four wheels and a hitch for a horse. He didn’t have a horse. He could drag it around himself, provided there was a downhill slant. As a consequence, day-by-day, he got deeper and deeper into Big Top. Once he got down by the elephants and giraffes, the real bottom of the barrel, he’d hire a couple of strong men to drag it back uptown and start the whole process over again.
He opened the back door, kicked out the steps, and descended. It was time to crank the winch that kept the electric going. This had to be done every few hours or else his neon “Eat Nutz” sign would flicker to death. He didn’t know if that was bad for business or not. He’d never let it happen.
When he finished he sat on his back steps and took a break. It was a nice night. It was always a nice night in Big Top. The Tent made sure of that. Suspended on massive poles affixed to the city skyscrapers it kept out the rain, the wind, and the light. During the day it was all red and blue stripes, back-lit by a sun nobody in Big Top had ever seen. At night, like now, it was just darkness. Poles and ropes formed an ominous spider web above everything. The Tent covered the entire city and nobody ever left. Peanut was fine with that. He had his cart. He had everything he needed. Why leave?
A figure rounded the corner down the street. Peanut didn’t have to wait for him to pass the lantern to know that it was Gritt. He stood and re-entered his cart. He pulled up the steps, shut the door, and locked it. He harbored no illusions that this would stop Gritt if he wanted to get in. At the same time, there was no way he was staying outside with the geek if he could help it. Peanut leaned on the counter and tried to look casual.
“Heya Nutter. Been a while.” Gritt’s voice was slow, heavy, and came from somewhere near his spine. This was on account of his face. His jaw was a massive, muscular thing, disfigured to the point of grotesque. He’d had surgery that took muscles from his arm and transplanted them to his chin and neck. His left arm was puny as a result. These muscles allowed him to detach his jaw, like a snake. On top of this, his front teeth had been replaced with molars. He could eat glass, metal, and bone. Peanut knew what that mouth could do.
“Yep, been a long time Gritt.”
“How’s the job working out?”
“You know it’s good.”
Gritt nodded. “Yeah. I do. I’m gonna need that favor.”
This was it. The day Peanut had been dreading. He hadn’t asked any questions when he’d struck the deal with Gritt that had gotten his cart. He never asked where it came from, or what happened to the previous occupant. He just took it, gratefully, at the cost of a future favor.
“Alright Gritt. Tell me what you need.”
“First, gimmie some of them nuts. Them honey ones.”
Peanut got a three paper bags full of honey roasted, LSD laced, peanuts and set them on the counter. Gritt took one and put it in his mouth, bag and all, and swallowed it. “So you know that bitch, Shayde Spider? The contortionist?”
“I think so. She’s got hair like a dyke?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. I hear she’s a regular for you.”
“Sure. She comes by.”
Another bag vanished. “Well, here’s the deal, you find her, you bring her to me all wrapped up in cotton candy, and we’re clear.”
Gritt licked his lips. “They taste better that way.”
“Aw, ring it man. I don’t know if I can do that.”
Gritt took the last bag, but he didn’t eat it. “You got twenty four hours Nutter, and then I eat something. You got me?”
Peanut nodded. “Yeah, I got you.”
Gritt smiled. “Good, glad you do. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He popped the last bag into his cavernous mouth and turned away leaving Peanut sick to his stomach.
Peanut didn’t wait until morning to get started. He left his cart locked up in the dark corner of a parking lot and headed toward Blemish, the part of town where the Freaks lived. Shayde had been a regular for years. She got mostly salted painkillers, but would splurge on candied pecans every once in a while. He didn’t know her well, but he knew she lived on Ferris Way, somewhere near a reptile shop. She’d mentioned how much she enjoyed seeing the snakes everyday when she went by. He didn’t want to do this. He didn’t have any choice.
He didn’t pay any attention to Blemish. The sights were nothing new. He’d seen the bearded hookers and dog-faced-girls turning tricks for years. The obese man who could hide not one, but two, people in the folds of his fat was old news. It was only when he turned on Ferris Way and saw the flashing blue lights of security that he was surprised. There were three tiny cars parked in front of a garish five-story building. A crowd had gathered.
He approached a carnie. “What happened?”
The man didn’t look at him. “Somebody got red nosed.”
“Red nosed? Are they sure?”
“Oh yeah. Dead guy was a knife thrower, some big shot bodyguard. It had to be a clown.”
Peanut didn’t like the sound of that. “So, if he’s a bodyguard, who was the clown trying to kill?”
The man shrugged. “I dunno for sure. They found him in some contortionist chick’s apartment. No sign of her though.”
Peanut rubbed his face. He couldn’t conceive of worse news. The man continued.
“They’re saying it was a yo-yo.” He looked at Peanut for the first time and smiled. “You know what that means!”
There it was; worse news, ready to fill the gaps of his imagination.
“Yeah, I do.” It meant he was going to need help. A lot of help with no questions asked. There was only one place to find that.
It had taken him the rest of the night to find a gang of mimes and communicate what he needed. It wasn’t hard to tell a mime what you wanted. The tricky part was figuring out what they wanted in return. They didn’t deal in tickets. They used a barter system Peanut was convinced was only there to provide an excuse to act out ridiculous requests. It was annoying and cost him almost his entire supply of roasted peanuts, half now, half later. Expensive stuff, but worth it if he live to see the end of the week.
The mimes left with the dawn, silently, leaving Peanut to wait. They’d taken up residence in an abandoned fabric mill and painted everything white. Rather than making it look clean, the flaking paint only illustrated every little bit of dirt. What passed for daylight streamed in through grungy skylights. Peanut wandered around, yawning. He’d been up all night and felt it. He discovered a room with a dozen mattresses on the floor and a topless woman, wearing only skimpy panties, in the corner. At the sight of him she sprung up, bounced off something invisible, and fell back. Her hands reached out and grabbed hold of the unseen bars of her cage. She shook them and gave him a pleading look.
“Oh, fuck this…” Muttered Peanut. He wasn’t in the mood for mime sex games. “There’s no cage you dumb bitch! Just walk out the door if you don’t want to be here.”
She pointed across the room, twisting her wrist to indicate there was a key over there. Peanut ignored her and lay down on one of the beds. She flopped back to the floor, feigning tears. Of course, Peanut couldn’t hear them. In minutes he was asleep.
He was awoken by a shake. Upon opening his eyes he discovered a dozen white-faced mimes looking down at him.
“Did you find her?”
The group all smiled, jumped up and down, and clapped their hands. Peanut got to his feet. “Excellent! Where is she?”
The mimes gave him a reproachful look. Their leader shook his finger back and forth. He reached his hand out flat, displaying nothing. His other hand unfolded an invisible item. He picked up some tiny imaginary thing from it between two fingers and held it above his mouth. He licked his lips and popped the non-existent nut onto his tongue. Instantly, the entire group of mimes began careening around as if drunk. Peanut got the point.
“You want the rest. Fine, here you go.” He pulled off his pack, opened it, and removed a metal box. It opened after he keyed in the combination. Peanut counted their due into a bag and handed it over. The man tucked the package into his belt and clapped his hands. Immediately, the crowd parted like the Red Sea, each of them pointing to a small chest. A very small chest.
“What the hell is this?” Nobody spoke.
“I paid you to bring me Shayde Spider! Not a box!” The mimes kept pointing. Peanut walked over. The whole thing couldn’t have been more than a foot and a half square. He opened it.
Shayde Spider’s head was inside, lying face up on a pile of limbs. They’d killed her. Killed her and brought him the peices. Peanut was pretty sure Gritt would not be pleased.
“By the Ringleader…”
Her eyes popped open. “Peanut? Peanut is that you?”
Peanut jumped back, startled. “Holy shit, Shayde! I thought…”
“Peanut! You’ve gotta help me! I’m in big trouble! The Freaks found out I was in with the Clowns and want me dead. Please help me hide!”
“How on earth did you fit in there?”
“Peanut, stop being stupid! You’ve got to get me someplace safe!”
Peanut shook his head. “If you were in with the Clowns why are they after you?”
Shayde shrugged, a strange box-stuffed convulsion. “I dunno. I don’t care. I’ve got to disappear!”
Peanut hated this. His stomach churned. He wished he could make this whole thing disappear. He didn’t want to be a part of killing anyone.
The thrumming of a banjo drifted into the factory from outside. Peanut froze. Shayde’s eyes went wide. “Oh fuck! He’s here! We’ve got to get out of here!”
“Stay there.” Peanut slammed the box shut. The mimes were cupping their ears, listening to the strange music. Peanut ran over to their leader and grabbed his arm.
“You hear that? That’s a Clown! That’s fucking Banjo the Clown! I will give you everything, everything, in my box if you can stop him while I get out of here!”
The mime slumped. His face went serious. He spoke. “You’ve got to be kidding. I’m not suicidal.”
Peanut dug out the box, opened it, and shoved the contents in his face. “Look at this! Look! It’s a fortune! All you’ve got to do is slow him down!”
The mime looked uncertain. “Are those cashews?”
“Those are your cashews.”
The mime closed his mouth and nodded.
Peanut left everything but Shayde’s box. It was surprisingly light. The mimes sprung to action, picking up painted white pipes and painted white two-by-fours. It was clear this wasn’t the first time they’d used non-imaginary weapons. Peanut headed for the back door.
He’d almost made it when there was an explosion of glass. A skylight shattered beneath steel-toed red shoes. Shards rained on the pavement and ricocheted. Peanut shielded his eyes. When he looked back, Banjo was there. The clown. He had a pair of yo-yo’s in each hand, over-sized. There was a black tear at the corner of his right eye. Peanut didn’t bother looking more than he had to. He ran. There was a zinging sound and something warm and sticky splashed his back. Several severed fingers flew overhead and landed on the floor in front of him. He nearly slipped on them but didn’t stop. He hit the door running, bolted down the street, and into an alley. Behind him, the mimes started screaming. They didn’t stop until he was out of earshot.
Peanut had never been to Gritt’s place before, but he knew where it was. Everyone did, from the smell. He bred chickens, rats, and dogs, and never cleaned the cages. It was a maze of fur, feathers, and filth encrusted kennels. The geek had a healthy appetite to support. Peanut had spent an hour out front, sitting on the box that contained Shayde, thinking. Up until the last minute he’d racked his brain for another solution. He couldn’t do it. He was just the peanut guy. He brought the box to the geek.
“That better not be a box of chocolates, Nutter.”
Peanut shook his head. “You know it’s not.”
“She wrapped in cotton candy like I asked?”
“I wanted her wrapped.”
“I did the hard part. You can get the damn cotton candy yourself!”
Gritt stood up and loomed over him. “You got some balls on you, Nutter.”
“This isn’t my type of thing. You know that. Are we done here?”
Gritt considered. He folded his arms across his chest, one scrawny the other muscular. “Yeah, I guess so. I might need a little something in the future, since you didn’t do what I asked.”
Peanut stepped around a rat cage. “Sure, a little something. Nothing like this though.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Gritt bent down and opened up the box.
“Peanut? Oh… no. No! Peanut, no!” Gritt reached in and grabbed Shayde by the neck. Without regard for how she was folded in on herself he began to jerk her out of the box. Peanut heard something crack.
She screamed, hysterical. She wailed his name, over and over.
He walked out. There was nothing he could do. He was done.
Peanut’s cart didn’t look the same as he returned to the dark parking lot. It had been one thing when Gritt’s means of obtaining it had been an abstraction. It was an entirely different matter now. Now he knew. He tried not to think about what Gritt was doing to poor Shayde at this very moment. He failed. He wondered if he’d ever get the image out of his head.
“Where is she Mr.Peanut?”
He knew who it was, without looking, he knew. The idea to lie never crossed his mind. “I brought her to Gritt, the geek. He forced me. He would have killed me.”
Banjo stepped out from behind the cart. His instrument was slung across his back. His hair was pulled into a topknot. The makeup on his face was white, blue mouth, and that tear at the edge of his eye. Nobody ever saw the face beneath a clown. Some people believed they’d evolved. That it was their faces. Looking at Banjo’s perfection, Peanut could believe it.
“I… I owed him. He got my cart. He was gonna kill me. Eat me!”
Banjo pulled a trio of juggling balls from his pocket and began tossing them absent-mindedly in his left hand.
“Gritt got you this cart?”
“Yeah, years ago. I took it, of course I took it, even though he’s a Freak.”
Banjo stepped in and slid his right arm around Peanut’s shoulders. His other hand continued to juggle. He led him back across the parking lot.
“So, here’s what’s going to happen, Mr.Peanut. You and I are going over to Mr.Gritt’s house. Thereupon, with any luck, we will find most of Ms.Shayde and recover what’s left. While we are there, we will explain to Mr.Gritt that you have never owed him anything.”
“But… he got me my cart.”
Banjo tossed the one of the juggling balls over his shoulder. It hit the cart and there was a massive explosion, blowing it to splinters in a blast of fire.
Banjo smiled. “What cart?”
As instructed, Peanut knocked on the door of Gritt’s place. He was holding a large garbage bag. The door opened and Gritt was standing there. There was blood dripping off his chin. He looked confused at the sight of Peanut.
Peanut spoke. “I didn’t want to be in your debt any more. I brought your cotton candy. Blue and pink, I didn’t know which one you liked more.”
“Blue. I’m not gay.”
“You want me to wrap her?” Peanut shook the bag.
Gritt nodded. “In here.”
He led Peanut through a series of hallways and down a flight of stairs to a basement room with iron rafters. Gritt didn’t notice the trail of sunflower seeds Peanut left behind him.
Shayde was still dressed, chained to the ceiling, unconscious. A tourniquet below her knee ended her leg. It was missing the foot from the shin down, clothes and all. Peanut retched at the sight of her.
“Get to it, Nutter. I don’t like interruptions.”
Peanut pulled out a handful of blue cotton candy from the garbage bag and draped it across her shoulders. Gritt watched, streaks of saliva washing the blood from his chin.
“You want a napkin buddy?” Gritt turned just in time to see one of Banjo’s razor wire yo-yo’s streaking toward his face. With the reflexes of a pit bull he snapped it out of the air with his teeth, crunching the metal toy to shards. He spit it onto the floor.
“I thought you might show up for this bitch.”
“That’s hardly polite way to talk about your meal.”
Gritt bared his molars, the muscles in his jaw like rigid steel cables.
“She just became desert. You made a real mistake coming here, Clown.” Banjo pulled his instrument from his back. With a click he extended the blades that ringed the circular end and held it from the haft like an axe.
“Oh, you don’t want to eat me, geek. I taste funny.”
Banjo swung. The geek ducked and rammed his shoulder into the clown. Banjo did a backwards somersault with the impact and swung an oversized steel shoe at Gritt’s groin. The brute was fast and caught it with his strong arm. In a flash, the foot was in his mouth. There was a crunching of metal and half the shoe vanished, exposing Banjo’s bare toes. The clown brought his banjo down in an overhead swing, sinking the blade into the geeks shoulder. Gritt locked his teeth onto the weapon. Again, there was another grinding noise and a chunk of Banjo’s namesake vanished. He retaliated with another razor sharp yo-yo but Gritt ignored the cuts on his face and grabbed a hold of Banjo’s arm. Pulling, his molars got closer and closer to the clowns shoulder. One bite there and his arm would come right off.
A gunshot rang out and a piece of Gritt’s face splattered onto the floor. He didn’t seem to notice, teeth reaching, tongue stretching. Peanut fired until there were no more bullets, the cotton candy melting onto the muzzle. Banjo pushed the corpse off.
“You certainly took your time Mr.Peanut.”
“I’m sorry. It had moved to the bottom of the bag. I couldn’t find it.”
Peanut did, letting Shayde down to the ground. “You think she’ll be okay?”
Banjo nodded. “Of course. Without the foot she’ll probably be able to fit into an even tinier box.”
The clown looked at him. “Give me the gun back.”
Peanut hesitated, then handed the clown his gun. If he wanted to kill him the weapon wouldn’t matter. There was nothing he could do to stop it.
“You make deals with Freaks. Not smart, Mr.Peanut. You should know to stay away from people like that.”
Peanut’s stomach sank. “Please… please don’t red nose me.”
“On your knees.” He complied. Banjo aimed the gun at his head. Peanut closed his eyes.
The hammer went back, the trigger clicked, and a flower emerged from the barrel. Peanut flinched. He peeked open one eye, saw a daisy where he’d expected a bullet. Banjo put the gun away.
The clown wiped his hand onto Gritt’s oozing neck stump and rubbed the blood all over Peanut’s nose.
“Bang! One dead Peanut. How does it feel?”
Peanut didn’t understand. “What?”
“Being dead. No more cart. No more peanuts. No more deals. You’re out.”
He nodded. “Yeah. Okay. I’m done. Never again.”
“Good, now get the hell out of here. I don’t ever want to see you again.”
Peanut did and Banjo didn’t.