Death Honk by John P. McCann
A distraught Kevin wheeled his Ford onto a residential street, “Got fired from Pep Boys, Rock. Now I can’t even make a truck payment.”
In the passenger seat, Rocky puffed a joint. “That’s why I invited you to clown-bear. If my uncle likes you, you’re hired. Today broke, tomorrow a salaried coffee machine repairman. Remember, dude, pretend you can fix a Bunn-o-Matic.”
Rocky smoked up the roach as Kevin’s F-150 stopped near a stucco ranch house. Kevin honked twice. Uncle Curly slammed the front door, wearing a hooded navy parka.
“What the hell is a clown-bear fight?”
Rocky adjusted the rim of his wide-brimmed hat. “They’re freaky; like if the Japanese invented rodeo. Uncle Curly loves ‘em, so pretend you’re down.”
In the desert outside Indio, Rocky, Kevin and Curly sat in the bleachers of an old stock car raceway. About three-quarters full, the bleachers faced a high fence enclosing a sawdust arena. Bears roared from a paddock: feral, savage, pitiless sounds. Across the arena in another paddock, clowns used bicycle horns, communicating in Morse Code-like honks.
“Clowns are firing each other up,” Curly remarked, “getting ready to rumble.”
“I saw Billy High-Step,” said Rocky, returning with three cokes.
“There’s old Smackeroo.” Curly produced a pint of Canadian Club from inside his parka. “A lot of top clown talent.”
Curly was a short, middle-aged man with blonde wispy hair fringing his head like chaparral around a mountain clearing. Uncapping the whisky, he topped off their cokes.
Kevin grinned. “You understand clown honks?”
Stirring his drink with a finger, Curly replied, “A little. This whole area is prime carnival and circus country. In high school, we’d drive out here and pick up clown women.”
Was he kidding? Kevin glanced at Rocky, but couldn’t catch his eye. “So, what was that like?”
“Imagine you’re in the back seat of a car, all engorged, and you have to fumble around with big puffy buttons. Then their underwear is different. Open a bra wrong and plastic balls fly up into your face. It takes a patient man, that’s for sure.”
Kevin struggled with the mental picture as an air horn sounded.
A chute opened, releasing a sullen 1,200 pound Kodiak bear into the sawdust. Across the arena, another chute opened. The audience applauded as a pie holding clown high-stepped into view like a drum major and headed for the bear. Catcalls sounded:
“Get ‘im, Billy!”
“Pie that damn bear!”
Prancing up to the Kodiak, Billy High-Step mashed the pie in its snout, and then fled. Face dripping whipped cream, the bear pursued, dragging down the clown like a caribou. There was a blur of kicking big shoes, claws, snarls, frantic horn honking.
Kevin stared, “Son-of-a-bitch.”
Curly recovered from laughing. “So, know anything about the Bunn-o-Matic?”
Five clowns in a little fire truck zoomed across the arena. Ramming the bear, they tumbled it backwards in a hairy ball.
“Uh, yeah. There was a Bunn machine at Pep Boys. I’d fix it whenever it broke. Shouldn’t they restrain the bear?”
“Good driving record?”
To applause and cheers, two clowns drug away the mauled Billy High-Step. Billy honked weakly in appreciation.
Kevin gaped as the fire truck circled the enraged bear, clowns blasting it with soda water from a hose gun. As Rocky, Curly and the crowd hooped and roared, the bear cuffed clowns off the truck like colorful salmon. The fire truck crashed into a wall. Two clowns limped off as the bear grabbed a third, gnawing on the clown’s shock-wigged head.
“Uncle Curly, that’s Za Za Faro getting munched.”
Curly turned to Kevin. “Driving record?”
“No tickets in four years. They’ll stop this now, won’t they?”
Curly snorted, “They better not.”
Kevin wanted to condemn the surreal brutality, but feared offending Curly. Besides, being judgmental was very uncool unless the matter involved second-hand tobacco smoke.
On the sawdust, the mauling of Za Za Faro continued as the clown clutched his bicycle horn, squeezing out an erratic series of beeps.
Curly drained his cup, “Death honk. He’s saying ‘good-bye,’ letting the others know where he kept his marijuana stash.”
Rocky grew alert, “Is it close?”
To audience chuckles, three fresh clowns wearing Indian feathers crept toward the bear with pantomime stealth. One carried a yard-long dynamite stick coated in gelatin; a second carried an oversized match; a third lugged a wooden mallet.
Clawing a motionless Za Za, the bear looked up as the third clown swung the mallet hard, hammering the Kodiak’s skull with a resounding WHOCK!
“Dude, he got all of that.”
Furious, the bear rose on its hind legs and fell atop the clown, chomping his neck. Shaking its massive head, the bear whipped the clown about like a dog with a sock.
Kevin said, “This is nuts.”
Curly scratched his nose, “Hey, life is a series of interesting experiences. Tonight, we’re having one—and so are the clowns.”
“Shouldn’t there be, you know, more to living? Something bigger and better?”
“I don’t know. Religion…PBS?”
Running full-speed, a clown rammed the gelatin-coated dynamite stick up the bear’s rump while the other clown lit the fuse.
Rocky pulled down the brim of his hat.
Curly flipped up the parka’s hood, “Hey, Kevin, ever been to a Gallagher concert?”
Damp fur rained down to ooos and applause.
In the clown paddock, jubilant honking erupted like the cries of penned geese that’ve learned the chef has died.
Brushing off moist bear chunks, Kevin considered his next move. Stay? Or leave and strike a blow for dignity and a meaningful existence? A moment passed. Kevin turned to Curly.
“After this, maybe we could pick up some clown women.”
Curly filled Kevin’s cup to the brim. “Let me explain our dental plan.”
John P. McCann mentored under T.C. Boyle, graduating from the University of Southern California with a degree in Creative Writing. After many years writing TV animation on shows such as Animaniacs and Scooby Doo Mysteries, John has recently been published in Night Chills and Every Day Fiction. He’s currently working on his first novel, a story of redemption via suffering, Man’s thirst for justice, and a big monster that eats cattle and pokey people. You can find him online at his blog, Write Enough.