THE FEAR MASTER

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Chapter 12: BETTY'S CLOWN

Betty hit the twentieth minute of her run, and she was flying! Being a Fear Leader was the greatest – especially after that stunt they’d pulled on Saturday night.

It had been fantastic watching that fat sow beg for her life, elbow-deep in the InSinkerAtor.

She’d had plenty to say when Stevie had supposedly wet herself (everybody now knew she hadn’t) and seemed to have something against Vic. But the way she’d brayed about how fearless she was – then begged for her life like the coward she was – that had been beautiful.

And when she’d screamed when the lights came on … that had been poetry.

Betty laughed. As she’d laughed on Saturday night. The first thing Dumb Debbie had heard when she’d regained consciousness had been laughter – everybody’s laughter as they partied with The Fear Master – laughter at her expense.

The look of humiliation when she’d realised that the garbage disposal had never come on, and that the grinding sound had been a blender full of ice beneath the sink, had been priceless.

By then, everyone except The Fear Master had removed their robes and were partying in their street clothes; and of course Debbie the Sulky had wanted to go home.

Not that Betty could blame her. But she had not been able to resist asking “Did it bite as much as you do?” as they were ushered through the kitchen, out into the garage, where they were asked to put on blindfolds (as they had on the way over) once they got into the hearse (fitted out inside like a station wagon) so they couldn’t see where they were or how they had gotten there.

Debbie was first to be dropped off, and as she opened the car door, The Fear Master (wearing a featureless pink mask and curly brown wig) had grabbed her wrist and whispered: “Cut class again and I’ll cut you! Just like our friend, Norman Bates.”

Betty didn’t know if the others had been meant to overhear, but she had. And everyone had seen what could happen to anyone who missed even one class, let alone dropped out. If Debbie thought that was what she’d done, she was wrong – there was no way out – not until the course was complete and you passed your final exam with flying (bloody) colours.

Final Exam – wasn’t that one of those slasher flicks she’d caught part of on TV? Probably. But those two black-and-white movies they’d seen at the Malice Palace proved you didn’t need to throw buckets of stageblood around to engage the audience. Though, of course, properly applied, buckets of blood could work wonders.

Betty looked like she’d just stepped out of a sauna as she sighed, snatched a deep breath and bounced into the lift. She threw back her head, wiping sweat out of her eyes, which stung for a moment as she was temporarily blinded, and when she opened them, as the lift doors slid shut, she didn’t quite believe what she was seeing. Was this one of those endorphin highs marathon runners supposedly experienced, a kind of hallucination produced by the body’s natural chemistry? She blinked. Once. Twice. But the image remained.

“Hello?”

The clown stared back at her.

“Are you …?”

The clown reached into its pocket.

“Is this … a test?”

The clown smiled.

“If you pull out a knife … whoa – this is just too freaky.”

The clown pulled out a knife.

“This is not happening.”

The clown reached for the STOP button – pushed it – and the lift clattered to a halt between floors.

“You stay the hell away from me!”

Slowly, the clown advanced.

“Listen – I’m not kidding – I’m a black-belt, and you come any closer, you touch me … I don’t care if you are The Fear Master, or whoever the hell you think you are---this is where I draw the line! Take one more step, mister, and I won’t be responsible. Do you hear me? Put the knife away!”

The clown moved closer.

“I mean it!”

The clown lifted the knife.

“Last warning, Bozo!”

The clown smiled, revealing a row of sharp, ratlike teeth.

“That’s it!”

The clown started to bring down the knife, but hit the floor first when Betty whipped his legs out from under him, gave him a quick one-two in the stomach and an elbow to the back of the head as he went down.

She restarted the lift, got out at the tenth floor, pressed GROUND and watched the doors slide shut.

“Hi, Dad!” she called as she entered the flat.

The figure in the armchair grunted.

“And thank you!” One thing about living with a violent alcoholic – after a while, you learnt how to defend yourself.

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