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“Serial killer John Wayne Gacy said, ‘I used to love being a clown. It meant I could get away with murder!’”

As the lights came up, The Fear Master hit his audience with a Bozo-size grin and jumped to his feet. “Can anybody tell me – when you get a chance to compose yourselves – was that shock or suspense?”

Debbie, who’d practically wet herself while diving for cover, was the first to get up off the floor, one shaky hand clutching her empty water bottle.

Shaken and dazed, the others slowly rose, looking from one to the other. No one seemed to know what was going on. Nobody spoke.

“Well? I’m waiting.” The Fear Master stood alone onstage. Picking up the sandbag, he bounced it playfully on the hard wooden floor. “Appearances can deceive. You don’t always get sand in a sandbag. Or bullets from a gun. Many thanks to my friend for helping me out! Looks like he was too shy to stick around for a curtain call. Still, an audience’s appreciation is thanks enough, even without the applause. Some of you would know that from attending plays here. That’s what they do, isn’t it – show you lies in the guise of truth? So, to return to the question, can anybody tell me – was that shock or suspense?”

“The last thing you said before … that happened,” ventured Debbie in a slightly shaky voice, “was to look at the person next to us and ask how well we really know them. Well, I can tell you something about the person next to me.” She smiled at Stevie. “My friend here doesn’t like shocks too much – and you can see for yourselves, because she went and wet her pants!”

Stevie’s mouth formed a perfect O, but no words came out. Outraged, she got to her feet, ready to defend herself against the lie – when she looked down and saw the front of her skirt (thanks to Debbie’s water bottle) was dripping wet.

“I thought she was reading The Exodus,” said Debbie, “not Yellow River!”

There was a moment of silence – then everybody laughed.

Even Vic.

The perfect O became a pinched-off oval, as Stevie ran out of the room in tears.

“More waterworks!” Debbie announced, enjoying the attention. “Maybe she should change her name to Little Stevie Niagara!”

Vic, looking guilty, composed himself.

“You’ve had your laugh,” said Betty. “Now let it go.”

“It was water,” said Vic in an uncertain tone. “She wouldn’t – she didn’t …”

The Fear Master cleared his throat. “That was yours, wasn’t it, Betty – fear of embarrassment, being rejected by your peers?”

“Yes,” said Betty. She didn’t feel like telling him her trip through St. Sebastian’s last week had been ten times worse than the humiliation of having some silly song made up about her, or that finding the hanged toy in her bathroom had been ten times worse again. She had a feeling he knew that.

“Didn’t scare me,” brayed Debbie. “I don’t scare easily, y’know. You can throw anything you like at me – includin’ the kitchen sink!”

“The kitchen sink?” mused The Fear Master. “Should I look upon that as a challenge?”

Debbie shrugged. “I never saw a sink that looked like it was gonna hurt me – I don’t think I’d be afraid of that.”

“Maybe we can all look upon that as a challenge,” said The Fear Master. “How to turn mundane objects into … more interesting objects? Might make a fun homework assignment.”

Debbie shut her mouth. No way did she want ay more homework. And she didn’t want him finding out she’d lied about last week’s assignment. There was no telling how crazy he was or what he might do next. Though having that guy come swinging in on a rope, blasting away – that had been A-one cool! What would The Fear Master think of next?

The Fear Master nodded. He was in the parking lot outside after class.

Keith had given Betty a lift, and they hadn’t hung around waiting for him. Vic had reluctantly offered Debbie a ride, which she had eagerly accepted – though her enthusiasm had waned when he’d held open the backseat door for her, then walked without a backward glance toward the driver’s door. He clearly wasn’t interested in having any facetime with Debbie. As far as they both knew, Stevie had left.

But Stevie had waited. For The Fear Master. He nodded and nodded as he listened to what Stevie had to say.

What a creep Vic was, Debbie reflected as she drifted off to sleep. Let Stevie have him! She didn’t want some undernourished stick-figure with hair of straw and an eye that wouldn’t stop twitching. On balance, she’d have been better off with Tony Linseed.

She’d heard Tony and the dancer were having problems. She hoped it was true. Maybe he’d call her. Her mother was away on business. Maybe in her absence, Debbie could arrange a little business of her own. She’d show tat stuck-up Stevie she wasn’t the only one who could get a man. Not that she’d call little Vic Jacobs a---

Ring, ring.

Debbie sat up. Looked at the clock. Almost midnight. Who could be ringing at this hour?

Ring, ring.

The landline. She hadn’t put on the answering machine. It always cut in after three rings.

Ring, ring.

Tony! It was Tony – she’d been thinking about him and he’d been thinking about her! Funny how it went sometimes – she’d read in a magazine that you really could make people phone you, just by thinking about them. And here was the proof.

Ring, ring.

“Don’t hang up!” she muttered, rushing down the dark hall, groping for the light.

Ring, ring.

“I’m comin’, baby – hang on, Toto!”

Ring, ri---



Debbie dropped the phone.

At the other end, the caller hung up.

Sinking to the floor and pulling her knees up to her chest, Debbie started to sob. “No – oh God, Daddy – no …”

Debbie had been ten when it happened. Her father, a gambler, had been away without a word for days. When he came home, he was unshaven and stank of whiskey. He had an empty wallet and a fully-loaded gun.

Putting it to his head in front of Debbie and her mother, he muttered, “Won this in a card game. Thought it was a pretty useless thing for a guy to throw into the pot, but it turn out to be useful yet.”

“Daddy, no!”

“Shut up!”


“You too, woman! You’re the reason I do it – always tryin’ to get a step ahead – ’cause you’re always at me – pick, pick, pick … hey, maybe I should use it on you!”

Debbie’s mother lunged forward. “For God’s sake---”

“No. For my sake.” Smilingly, Sean Dawe turned the gun toward his wife, thumbed back the hammer. “Say yer prayers, wabbit!”

“Stop it!” Debbie grabbed her father’s arm.

He pushed her away. Then put the gun in her face. “Jus’ like yer damn mother – always tellin’ a man what to do. Maybe I’ll do you first – then her – then me. Would you like that, Debbie? Yer always doin’ everything you can to get attention round here. If Daddy kills, you’ll be on the news! A nice heart-warmin’ tale of a man who was pushed too far by the women in his life – who took his life! Yeah, all right – I’ll do you first.” His finger shook against the trigger.

Debbie started screaming.

Sean pushed the gun in her face.


When Debbie had woken up, she was in bed and her father had gone. Other than to say that the gun had been loaded with blanks, Debbie’s mother never mentioned the incident or her father again.

In the years that followed, Mrs Dawe worked hard, holding down a fulltime job, studying at night and raising a daughter. “When I’m on my feet, we’ll spend more time together,” was her constant promise. But with success had come promotion and the demands of a career that took her away a lot. Debbie saw her mother les and less.

At first, Debbie had feared her father (in spite of new locks and newly-installed bars on the windows) would turn up one night when she was alone in the house. Bars might keep out an intruder, but they wouldn’t stop a bullet.

Or a nut who phoned in the dead of night to fire a gun down the line.

But when she awoke on the living room floor at two in the morning, her head twisted back at an uncomfortable angle and the phone bip-bip-bipping in her ear, she knew it had not been her father. It had been that crazy clown, who had somehow found out her greatest fear – firearms. From the only person Debbie had ever told.


Notes on The Exorcist from TFM’s Journal

William Peter Blatty - born 1928, New York City, to Lebanese parents.

Raised in relative poverty after his father left and his devoutly Catholic mother eked out a living selling homemade jam, once offering a jar to President Roosevelt, telling him it would be suitable if company dropped by.

Went to Jesuit school on a scholarship.

1946 – graduated. Further education: Georgetown University, also on scholarship, and George Washington University, where he took a master’s degree in English Literature.

This led – naturally – to working with movie director Blake Edwards on such light fare as A Shot in the Dark and Darling Lili (starring Edwards’ wife Julie Andrews), and along the way, Blatty penned a fictional account of a girl possessed by demons, based on the apparently true story of a boy who had suffered a similar ordeal.

1971 – The Exorcist published, becoming a New York Times bestseller for over a year and holding the number-one spot for seventeen weeks. Reviews generally good, but many stores returned the book.

Wrote screenplay adaptation, directed by William Friedkin. Blatty won the Oscar and Golden Globe. As Regan, Linda Blair became a star. Ellyn Burstyn as her mother won an Oscar.

The movie was much copied, and also lampooned, giving rise to many off-colour quotes. Decades later, a “redux” version would be released with enhanced visual effects and “new” material including Regan’s spider-walk on the stairs – truly creepy.

1983 – published Legion, sequel to The Exorcist and basis for movie Exorcist III, which Blatty directed (having had nothing to do with Exorcist II: the Heretic).

Although he was involved with a lot of comedy material over the years, he seems to have remembered that audiences love being scared!

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