In this week's story, The Clown, a mysterious figure suggests an uncertain future
Suggestions for writing prompts are always welcome! Today's prompt came from more of a random thought about how people can find different meanings in the same statement.
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 41 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is The Clown
If you’ve listened before, you know there is a method to how this podcast usually works: I use a word or phrase as a prompt to write a story—with no planning and very little editing—and then share that story with you.
Today’s story is a little bit different. You might even say I’m breaking the rules with it, but since they are my rules, I decided to let myself slide.
About 10 years ago, I took part in a flash fiction exercise where the story had to be inspired by the prompt—The Clown—and also had to be less than 400 words long.
That’s about 800 words shorter than the stories I usually share on this podcast, but I’ve always liked the way this story turned out, and I wanted to share it here on Freely Written, especially with Halloween right around the corner.
And so… today’s prompt is The Clown and it will have a three-part story. The first was previously written. The second and third were newly written to keep the story going.
Here we go:
Evie was in Venice when she first saw the clown. She was there on a vacation with her two best friends, three days after their college graduation. Four hard years of studying, six months of saving. The decadent trip was a dream they had worked toward together. Evie, Sarah, and Adele.
It was the first evening of their trip, late in the gloom of impending night, when Evie caught sight of the clown. He stood in the back of a long black gondola, rowing the empty boat in the midst of the Grand Canal. Forward stroke, then back. Forward stroke, then back.
His clothes were somber for a clown, vaudevillian, in deep browns and blacks. A crooked brown hat topped his thin head, while his hair stood out in a shock of red-rust, wiry kinks around a painted white face.
The clown’s eyes were what had attracted Evie’s terrified attention. Surrounded by pools of black greasepaint, his irises glinted a steely blue. Even at a distance, separated by murky water and the blue-black of twilight, Evie just knew that his eyes were a startling, piercing blue. They shined in the scant light, carrying his steady gaze on a sudden chill breeze.
Below those eyes, the clown’s mouth was a garish red slash, dripping at the corners and lined in smears of black. A fine black dust had settled into the cracks of his white make-up, bringing his face into wrinkled relief. Evie wanted to look away from the horrible face, but she had become locked in place. Her eyes trailed helplessly as the gondola slowly rowed ahead into a cluster of shadowy boats.
“Are you coming?” Adele called back with a laugh, “Hello? Earth to Evie!”
In the echo of her friend’s soft voice, Evie had a prescient vision of Adele and Sarah, cowering at her feet. Cowering while the clown instructed her in a thin, reedy voice. Whispering in the way he would, in the months and years to come.
But when she turned, Evie promptly forgot the clown. She forgot the vision, the whispers and the eager tremor that had excited her skin. The air was warm with the glow of streetlights and mingling strangers. Travelers and locals alike passed through a friendly haze of laughter and music. They were in Venice. They were poised to take on the world.
Roger didn’t know what he saw in the alley. He’d been out with his mates, Chase and Jerry, celebrating a big win. As a junior associate, Roger was keen on making an impression each time he was in court, and this case had finally brought some recognition. Even if his conscience panged at the memory of the young woman he’d brought to tears on the stand.
She was the reason he was in the alley, he knew, though he wouldn’t admit that. He’d stepped outside to get some air, to get some space, to make a call to another girl. One he’d hoped was still awake. But he never dialed her number.
Instead, he’d stood on the shadowy sidewalk, breathing in the night air and feeling his ears ring in the relative quiet. There were people outside the bar. Couples nuzzling. Singles chatting over a smoke. Roger walked away from them, stretching his legs.
His feet carried him to the end of the block. His eyes drew him into the shadows of the alley. His phone was in his hand as he peered at a particular shadow. One that was tall and thin and appeared to be wearing a battered brown hat over wiry red hair.
As Roger stepped to the left, a shaft of light fell across the shadow’s face, revealing chalky white make-up creased with grit. Gray-blue eyes glinted from pools of black greasepaint, and a crimson slash dripped into the shape of a knowing smile.
Roger’s heart and stomach pulled back, jerking his body away, but his feet stayed planted on the stained asphalt. His eyes swept over the clown’s old-fashioned suit and patterned cravat.
There was malice in the clown’s piercing gaze, but Roger was not afraid. He peered into those cold eyes, feeling a sensation of whispering in his ears. Unintelligible words that carried a vital message. He could sense the clown beside him, in the future, whispering as he chose his next client, whispering as prepared his case.
“Hey, man!” A call from behind startled Roger. Turning, he saw Chase in the glare of a streetlight. “You make your call?”
“Huh?” Roger felt the phone forgotten in his hand.
“She up? Or are you coming with us?”
Roger blinked, making sense of the words.
“Tacos?” Chase reminded, giving his friend a curious once-over.
“Right,” Roger laughed, tucking his phone in his pocket. “Tacos.”
He glanced into the alley, seeing nothing but shadows. The eerie image of the vaudevillian clown faded into the glow of the streetlight. Roger was a junior associate, and his career was on the rise. He was poised to take on the world.
It was Christmas in the city. Snow fell in soft flakes, slowing traffic to a crawl. Evie knew she would never get a cab and thought of the subway with dread. The sky was dark, and the snow was damp. A chill ran through Evie as she looked past the busy street and let her eyes lose focus.
He was there. In the shadows. His blue eyes. His pale face. She could feel him, even if she didn’t see him. He was always there. Whispering.
“This will be tough.”
A warm voice beside her pulled Evie’s mind from the memory of the clown.
“Taxi in the snow,” Roger clarified with a smile, nodding toward the traffic jam.
Evie felt a glow in Roger’s gaze, underscored by a spark she couldn’t explain. A crystal ting, like the sharp rap of a spoon against a champagne glass. A thrill of something dark and looming.
“We may live here now,” Evie quipped, feeling the cling of a snowflake catching on her eyelash.
“It’s a great location,” Roger returned, indicating the midtown skyscrapers festooned with holiday decorations and the nearby trees draped in white lights.
“Yes, it is,” Evie twinkled under his attention, barely aware of an indistinct whisper as she took in his broad shoulders beneath an expensive overcoat.
“And we have a pretty nice bar,” Roger smiled, nodding to the glowing windows of a nearby pub without an outward sign of the whispering in his ears. “If we want to wait out the traffic.”
“That’s an idea,” Evie agreed, standing taller in the promise of a future stretching before them. A future that sizzled with the kind of power she’d only glimpsed in her dreams.
“After you,” Roger gestured gallantly, feeling a connection he couldn’t explain. Seeing a flash of them together, standing in a pool of light and looking down on a shadowed, teeming mass of cowed adherents.
As they walked toward the pub, a pair of piercing blue eyes watched from the shadows across the street. A blood-red mouth stretched into a haunting smile. They were an attractive couple coming together on a starlit night. They were young and brimming with potential. They were ready to take on the world.
Thanks for joining me today. If you’d like to learn more about me and my books, you can visit my website, SusanQuilty.com. You can also connect with me on social media or offer your support through Patreon.com/SusanQuilty.
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]