The Sad Clown of Carleton Park (Snapshot Stories 23)

The industrial estate at Carleton Park is a large, busy one.

It has many buildings – all in varying combinations of concrete, corrugated iron and steel. Behind their smoothly painted exteriors, they all house gears and levers and joints and axles and belts obediently roll and turn and twist in their particular programs of synchronised movements. They all run mostly smoothly. Every day and every night and into the next day again.

Outside, perimetres of wire fencing, some barbed wire, and strips of unnaturally-green grass zig-zag through the estate. It is unimpressive and unremarkable in the way of all industrial estates.

A few scattered trees cluster together in watchful pockets. They are leftover. From before the industrial estate, from when there used to be a field.

Many would argue it was an unremarkable field. The most noteworthy thing about it was that it was a field where a circus used to come and camp. One of those poor circuses, with a patchworked tent, and threadbare costumes and rusting equipment that wouldn’t survive scrutiny in light of day. The circus had lean people who were sullen and preoccupied by day and who wore flashy, mocking bonhomie edged with desperation by night. Locals shifted uncomfortably in their seats, avoided eye contact with each other and made mental vows to withstand the pester power of their children the next time the circus returned.

So it was mostly a relief to the locals when the industrial estate arrived and never left.

But there was apparently one circus resident – an old clown – who was so distraught by the loss of his favourite circus camp that he sought to prevent the building of the Estate. He failed, of course. Various half-remembered stories say he lay down on the ground and refused to leave.

They say the old clown slept and cried and sank and slept and died and sank into the ground. His body, his bones, his spirit became part of the industrial estate.

It is perhaps an odd thing, to bind your after-life spirit to a field of manufacture and the making of bits and parts, but that is what the clown did.

So they say.

The circus died of natural causes and its circus folk melted away – to lash themselves to another circus or to drift on into other places and other lives – no-one knew.

So they say.

So the parts of the industrial estate turn and churn and roll in their regimented synchronicities and they make their precious things around the clock.

But sometimes. Just sometimes.

The equipment slows infinitesimally. The levers are reluctant, the gears refuse to synchronise perfectly, the axles stick, the belts stutter.

Not all at the same time.

But around the same time.

Then the sad notes waft up above the sounds of the equipment. They gather into the aluminium-coloured and piped contours of the ceilings and then they seep out into the air and the sky.

Four notes. Mournful. Atonal. The texture of a dying merry-go-round.

Slow. Persistent. Repetitive. All day and all night.

The residents near and far grow restless. And they complain to the local council.

The council scolds the owners of the industrial estate, and the owners tell their managers to fix the problem.

The managers and team leaders look at each other inside their buildings and shrug. Then they go outside to their perimetre fences to talk to their equivalents in the other buildings. The workers go into the streets to take their food and smoking breaks ignore the noise and talk nonchalantly to each other about other things.

They know. They all know what the problem is, but they don’t know how to fix it.

How do you explain that the problem is a sad ghost?

That once in a while, the ghost of the deceased clown decides to summon his erstwhile bicycle and ride around the industrial estate.

They know. They all know. They have all seen him at least once.

Those who haven’t seen him (or even known of him before) all describe him in exactly the same way – his stripey clothing, his ruffled collar, his wig, his strange bicycle, the four music notes.

Mourning his field, his circus or enjoying disrupting the humming energy of the estate. All of the above.

They’ve tried chasing him. Several of them have followed him down into dead end corners holding makeshift pipes and bats, anticipating confrontations and answers with hammering hearts, buzzing adrenalin and spiked gooseflesh – only to round the corner and find that the ghost clown and his bicycle have evaporated.

The CCTV cameras return crystal clear footage day and night, and they fuzz only when he’s on the screen.

And meanwhile, the four music notes continue, sometimes soft, sometimes loud. Irregular, omnipresent, irritating.

The managers wait. With moist foreheads and armpits, and with gritted teeth, they check everything again. They smooth everything, they fuss over the gears and levers and cylinders and they hope the sad clown ghost feels their care and feels reassured.

Eventually, it seems, the sad clown ghost hears their message. He slowly puts his bicycle away and the machines stop the sad song.

And peace returns.

For now.

Backstory: this off-beat, lugubrious story was inspired by the real-life industrial park near where we live. There’s one particular set of machinery which occasionally gets noisy – cue the sad, atonal four notes – and treats several of the surrounding suburbs to its repetitive dirge all day and all night. Sometimes for many days in a row, until people complain. Then it goes quiet again. We’ve had too many occasions to contemplate the noise. We’ve decided it sounded like a sad clown riding a squawking bicycle. So, whenever we hear the noise starting in the distance, we can just say, “ah, the sad clown of [Carleton] Park rides again.” Humour rather than exasperation. And it led to this pretty silly story.

I made quite a few attempts on a couple of AI image generators (mainly DALLE.2 and the Bing AI one), and let me tell you, the terms ‘clown’ and ‘disused industrial estate’ generates some very, very creepy images. Even when I got vibe a little bit less creepy, there were some interesting missing components (pedals, bars, hands, feet etc etc) from the image. In the end – because I’m still not 100% on what the copyright standing is on these AI-generated images – I went with an amateurish scribble of my own that I filtered in my phone Photoshop Express app. Cartoony, but with a bit of atmospherically-dark colour (I hope). We won’t mention my attempts at an ‘industrial-ish’ backdrop.

Anyway, this one has been pending in my head for something like 5 months, so I’m happy to have it out in the world now.

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