The scene opens at the police station. There is Dwayne Harrison, the current superintendent, feet on his desk, enjoying a cup of coffee. His late wife never liked him ingesting caffeine after lunch, so it’s a bittersweet triumph to drink it now, as the shadows lengthen. The cells are empty, all is quiet, and Dwayne is looking forward to knocking off for the night.
But what’s that outside? A scuffle and angry voices, getting closer as their owners approach the door to the station. Dwayne sighs, bringing his feet back down to the floor and heaving his considerable bulk upright. What kind of trouble has Officer Lopez rustled up this time? He can’t fault her enthusiasm, even if he wishes she’d relax a little sometimes.
The door opens and Emma Lopez propels a man inside, her sleek black ponytail swinging behind her. The man is tall and broad, much larger than the diminutive Lopez. But what she lacks in size, she more than makes up for in attitude. Her charge has grizzled hair sticking up all over his head and his face is red with exertion, or alcohol, or both. He flails one arm in the air, the other bent behind him in Emma’s iron grip.
He shouts, “You can’t do this to me! I’m late for an important engagement. Let me go!”
Emma grimaces but does not reply. Instead, she throws an exasperated glance Dwayne’s way. Dwayne plods around the counter to join them.
“Drunk and disorderly again, Kenny?” he says in a weary tone. “I thought we talked about this.”
The man puffs out his chest and glares at Dwayne. “My name is not Kenny. It is Chuckles the Clown!”
Emma rolls her eyes. “I found him out at the fairground, harassing some kids.”
Dwayne raises an eyebrow. “Look, Kenny, this has got to stop. One of these days, you’re going to get into some real trouble. Folks don’t take kindly to old men messing with their kids.”
“How dare you insinuate such a thing!” Kenny (or should we call him Chuckles, as he would prefer?) is indignant. “I was acting in my capacity as a Child Entertainer and, well, entertaining the children.”
“Maybe a night in the cells will calm him down,” Dwayne says, gesturing for Emma to escort Kenny past.
But the would-be clown is not giving up without a struggle. He yanks his arm free and spins to face his accusers.
“I will not allow myself to be subjected to such treatment! Not when there are children out there, waiting to be entertained!”
Before Emma or Dwayne can fully react, Kenny runs from the building with surprising speed.
Emma lets out a yell of frustration and sets off in pursuit.
“Trooper, after him!” Dwayne calls.
At the sound of his name, an elderly beagle looks up from the corner where he has been watching the scene. He clambers to his feet and lollops out of the door after Emma.
Outside, Kenny is running harder and faster than he ever has in his life. He has a calling, and he is determined that he will follow it, no matter the obstacles. At first, he heads back in the direction of the fairground. Then he veers south towards a large cornfield, hoping the cover of the crops will help him escape his pursuers. There is a truck parked at the edge of the field and Kenny grabs a machete from the back as he runs past. He pounds through the stalks, slashing at them with the machete when they get in his way.
Kenny may be spurred on by the fire of his passions, but Emma is nearly thirty years his junior, and runs every day. This high-speed foot chase is the most action she’s seen in weeks, and she’s not going to let her target get away. Even Trooper has been infected by the excitement of the moment and keeps pace with Emma, barking madly.
Kenny can tell both police officer and dog are gaining on him. His destiny is under threat! But what can he do? He is only one out-of-shape middle-aged man, who has dreamed of joining the circus ever since he first ran away from home at the age of eight. That time, his stepfather dragged him back and tried to beat the notion out of him. The establishment will always try to tear down his aspirations. If only he had some allies who could come to his aid.
Emma tries to keep Kenny in view, but the waving stalks of corn obscure her line of sight. She isn’t sure how much use Trooper will really be at tracking an escaping criminal, so she relies on her own senses to tell her which way to go. It’s not difficult, since Kenny’s breathing is ragged, his footsteps are heavy, and the sound of the machete striking the corn carries well.
But what’s that on her face? She touches her cheek and her fingers come away covered in a white substance. It’s thick and slimy and Emma shudders as she feels it slithering across her nose. As she watches, the patch on her fingers spreads over her hand and transforms into a white cotton glove. Something closes over her scalp and she stretches up with the other hand to feel rough, synthetic hair covering her own. A few strands fall before her eyes and she can see they are bright orange. Sweat prickles on her head and her breath catches in her throat. What on earth is happening to her?
Emma’s sense of duty keeps her on Kenny’s trail, adamant that nothing will get in the way of her task, no matter how disturbing. Her clothes start to billow around her, suddenly many sizes too large. She looks down to see garish checks and stripes, and a wide hoop attached to suspenders now holding up her pants. Something round and red fills her direct field of vision and she brings up gloved hands to feel a soft, squishy ball where her nose should be. She tugs at it, but it is securely attached and will not come off. Bile rises in her throat and Emma starts to slow. She feels her boots shifting and looks down to see them elongating and changing colour. Before she can stop herself, she trips over her new, giant rubber shoes, and crashes face first into the dirt.
Up ahead, Kenny skids and nearly falls as a tiny car appears out of nowhere and screeches to a halt inches in front of him. There is a clown at the wheel, his knees bent up almost to his ears and his bright red nose nearly squashed against the windshield. Kenny can see four more clowns crowded impossibly in the back. But, when the door opens, the passenger seat is empty. The driver clown gestures at him with two wide grins, both his own and the one drawn onto his face.
“Chuckles?” he calls. “Get in.”
Kenny points at his own chest, not quite able to believe what he’s seeing.
“Yeah. Chuckles the Clown - that’s you, right?” The driver is smiling again and all the clowns in the back are nodding. “Jump in! This is a Clowning. We’re here to take you to The Great Ferrago’s Family Circus.”
Kenny doesn’t need to be told more than twice. He steps up to the car and starts to fold himself in. As he does so, he sees his clothes start to transform into the colourful, outrageous outfit he has always imagined himself wearing at the circus. He feels thick makeup form over his face and catches sight of his real clown face coming to life in the rear view mirror. Somehow, even with the extra bulk of his clown clothes and giant shoes, he fits easily into the car. The last thing to change is the machete, which morphs into a plastic flower that shoots a stream of water when Kenny squeezes it. He slams the door and grins round at his new brothers.
As the car speeds away, Chuckles looks back to see Officer Lopez still sprawled on the ground at the edge of the cornfield. She is back in her police uniform, her skin clean and her dark hair free of adornment. Off to one side, though, Trooper the dog, now in a frilly pink tutu, stands atop a giant beach ball, a much smaller rubber ball balanced on his nose.