Happy Birthday Land!

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Cary heard the gunshots, and when they finally ended he looked out into the street. There were bodies everywhere, but at least they were hidden by the confetti. He went out and tiptoed back to the playground. Maybe if he got on the jungle gym, no one would be able to grab him.

He jumped up and pulled himself to the top. He sat there. He was scared, and dad wasn’t here to make him feel better. He hoped dad was alright. The police must be here, and Cary thought they would keep dad safe back at the tent.

There were squeaking sounds behind him, and he turned and saw a clown there, running up the street past the building where Cary had been hiding. Cary was about to scream, but the clown saw him and put up his hands.

“Don’t yell, kid!” he said. His voice was all old and gravelly. “Don’t yell, you’ll bring every one of ‘em down on us. Shut up and get down here, fast.”

Cary jumped down and ran over. The clown grabbed his arm and pulled him into an alleyway. Cary would have screamed this time, but the clown put a rough, scratchy hand over his mouth.

“Quiet,” he said. “I ain’t gonna hurtcha, kid. I just gotta make sure you don’t make any noises, that’s all.”

They went behind a plastic trash can. At least it looked like a trash can, but it was full of toys.

“You promise you won’t make any noises?” the clown asked.

Cary nodded, and the clown took his hand away.

“Good,” he said. “Name’s Dillis, kid, and I got a bruise the size of a pumpkin on my ass from you kids kicking me around all day. Now, whaddya say we get the hell outta here? I was on my way to a super-secret passageway that I know about. Eh, Clarice told me about it.”

“Super-secret?” Cary asked. “Who’s Clarice?”

“Prettiest little clown this side of the Death Crack, kid. And yeah, it’s super top secret, so, uh, don’t tell any of your little friends about it, alright?”

“Alright!” Cary said.

They went up the street. There, a small cardboard structure hid a maintenance section. Dillis swiped a card and went into a door. They were in a long, skinny hallway. The clown yanked Cary along.

A door slammed somewhere. Dillis froze and Cary squeaked.

“Daddy!” he said.

“Sh,” said the clown.

“Dillis?” said another voice.

A woman came out into the hallway, and she looked just as scared as Cary. He felt bad for her. Maybe she wanted to find her dad, too.

“Hey, Clarice,” Dillis said.

Clarice! She really was pretty, even with white makeup caked on like a baseball pitcher had thrown it in her face.

“Oh, Dillis!” She came toward them. “You found a little boy! Come here, little guy. Me and Dillis will get you out of here.”

She was so pretty that Cary decided to play the part of scared little kid to get her attention. It wasn’t that hard to put the act on.

“Poor thing,” said Clarice. “Where’d you find him?”

“Playground,” Dillis said. “Now, if ya don’t mind, I’d like to get my clown ass outta here.”

Clarice scoffed. “Language, you stiff old meanie! Let’s go, kid.”

They went. The tunnel was a lot longer than Cary had thought it was. It took them forever to get to the end, and his feet were tired. They stopped at a drinking fountain, but there was no food.

“I want a sausage boy,” he complained.

“Well,” Dillis said, “unless you wanna be a sausage boy, you should stop whining. Wanna get dipped and dunked and chomped on by a big mean clown, kid?”

“No,” Cary said.

“Leave him alone, jerkface!” Clarice grabbed Cary’s hand tighter. “He’s just a little boy who came here to have a fun day. Just because you’re so jaded and foul, you don’t have to scare him!”

“Just getting the kid ready for what’s probably comin’ to him,” said Dillis.

They got to a door at the end of the tunnel. It was red.

Dillis shook his head. “Ah, shit. Terror street. The bane of my existence. Let’s get this over with.”

He opened the door. It was all red outside. There was a ceiling over this part, and it was all red with swirling clouds and huge skeleton monsters flying through the air. The buildings were crooked and warped, and the people in the windows were screaming.

“I hate this goddamn place,” said Dillis.

In front of them, two clowns were laughing as they dug around in a pile of guts.

Dillis waved Clarice back. “It’s alright, they think I’m one of them.” He ran forward, flapping his arms and yelling, “Booga booga!”

“Let’s go, cutie.” Clarice grabbed Cary’s arm, and they ran down the street until they got to a little house where a family of cardboard people were jumping up from the dinner table as a zombie hand came out of their potatoes.

“Yummy,” said Clarice.

Dillis came in a minute later. He looked like he was about to fall asleep, but he just sat on the floor and started smoking a cigarette.

“Well, we’re outta the meat grinder,” he said. “And right into the sausage maker.”

Clarice was looking out the window. “I don’t really see anyone. Looks like we might have a straight shot to the exit!”

“We’d get chewed up and spit out by the bastards before we made it ten feet,” Dillis told her. “Well, maybe we’d make it, but the kid wouldn’t. Whaddya say to that, Clarice?”

“Leave the boy here?” Clarice made a sad face and clapped her hand over her mouth. “Not even you would be such a monster!”

Dillis puffed his cigarette. “Relax, sweetcheeks. In case ya didn’t know, I’m the one who rescued him in the first place. As much as I hate kids, I still wouldn’t let one get eaten by a freaky clown if I had any choice.”

“Pig!” Clarice turned to the window, folding her arms. She finally turned back around and said, “Alright then, what do we do?”

Dillis laughed. His laugh sounded like a snake moving across broken glass and sandpaper. “If I ain’t the smartest damn person in this whole park… It doesn’t take a genius to see that our former colleagues are still acting under the edict of their specific training in regards to each area of the park. For example, honeybuns, the freaks on Joyful Boygirl were acting just like they would under normal circumstances, except for a few minor details.”

Clarice nodded. “I see. And on Terror Street, we’re all supposed to hide and jump out at people as they walk by…”

“…so, if we stay here, we’re golden,” Dillis said. “Unless there’s some clown hiding right outside the door. We all heard the gunshots, unless I’m also the only son of a bitch in this place with working ears. So we sit tight until the guns arrive and carry our sorry asses outta here. Got it?”

“Got it!” Cary said. It was a whole lot better hiding with two grownups than by himself.

Clarice came over and put a hand on his shoulder. “If cutie pie is in, so am I.”

“Alright then,” Dillis said. “Anyone want a smoke?”

“Swallow lead, scum!” General Stooge roared, peeking over a cardboard dumpster and railing down two clowns.

“They’re behind us, man!” Donahue said. “Ah, no way, man.”

Stooge made sure the alley was clear, then turned back. Four of the scumsuckers were closing in on their rear. Dickson was holding them off, using the alley as a chokepoint, and Shatsberg was ready to leap into the fray once shit got real.

“Move it, men!” Stooge yelled, and they backed slowly into the alley. If the maps had been right, there was an access tunnel to the next street back here.

“It’s Giggle,” said Donahue. “It’s Giggle, man! He’s one of ‘em!”

Stooge looked back in time to see PFC Giggle, newly back from the dead, be sped back to his grave by a devastating knife blow to the throat. Dickson stopped and bowed his head, saying a prayer the way he did when he bested a worthy opponent.

“Dickson!” Shatsberg screamed. “Watch your head!”

A clown had just pitched himself from a third floor window. He fell laughing onto Dickson’s head, and the two went down in a tangle. Shatsberg charged the freak with his bayonet, but it was too late; Dickson was gone.

“It was an honor, Dickson!” Stooge cried. “And we’ll make sure every one of these goddamned freaks from hell suffer more than you did!”

He stopped and saluted. In front of him, Shatsberg was firing on his last clip and Donahue had moved onto his last few shells.

The clowns, weak from Dickson’s knife, went down fast. Stooge pulled his last two men into the access tunnel and slammed the door. He shoved a broom into the brackets and wedged it as far down as he could.

“Regroup, men,” he said. “We’ll grab supplies from the next squad and come back to finish our work.”

Donahue started crying. “Ah, Dickson, man. This can’t be real, man. And Giggle, too.”

Stooge went over and slapped him across the face. “Pull yourself together, woman!” He pointed at his foot. “I’ve got a combat boot here with ‘Donahue’s ass’ written on it, and I don’t deliver my mail gently!”

Donahue wiped his tears away and nodded. Shatsberg was taking stock of his ammo. Two bullets left in his rifle, two clips on his sidearm. They had their knives, but all except Dickson were too chickenshit to use them. Stooge saluted again.

They went out onto Terror Street, and were immediately assailed by ten clowns with human flesh stuck in their teeth. They came out of an alley, hooping and hollering, somersaulting and back-flipping, cartwheeling and blowing horns shaped like dragon snouts that made a blood-curdling screaming sound. They were all in dark blues and purples, with blood-red wigs and black painted faces.

“Terror!” one of them yelled. “We strike terror in your heart, then we rip it out and eat it!”

“Eat this,” Stooge replied, and delivered his last rifle bullet directly into the eyeball of the bastard who’d opened his cursed pie-hole.

That left nine. Donahue had two shells left. He waited until one of them got close, and made sure the shot was fatal.

Eight moved forward. Shatsberg fired one shot and made one kill.

Seven clowns came flipping and wheeling and spinning on. Shatsberg missed with his final rifle bullet, but lifted his sidearm in time to punch a golf ball sized hole in a clown’s forehead.

Six. Stooge let rip with his pistol. They must have killed thirty already since they got here, and here were ten more. That left sixty clowns left in the park, not counting the ones that the other squads had no doubt dispatched.

“Full auto!” Stooge didn’t lift his finger until the gun went click. Two more clowns went down, and another was badly wounded.

“For Giggle, you mother-” The end of Donahue’s battle cry was drowned out by the sound of his shotgun as his final shell took the wounded clown straight to hades.

Three. Stooge’s gun was empty, and Shatsberg’s had jammed. Donahue tried to fire his own sidearm, but nothing happened.

He looked down at it in shock. “I forgot to load it! I forgot to load it, man!”

Stooge watched as the three clowns converged on his men. His last two men, whose wives and daughters had asked him personally to protect. He unsheathed his knife; the red light glinted off the metal, and shined on the sweat that glistened on his tanned muscles.

“Time to get messy,” he said, and charged.

The gunshots woke Cary up, and he was scared for a second before Clarice hugged him. Dillis stood and said a few naughty words, then went to the window.

“Soldiers,” he said. “Let’s go.”

Clarice piggy-backed Cary the whole way, and covered his eyes when they got there. Three big men stood there, covered in blood and breathing hard. One of them, with a cigar in his mouth, was the biggest, scariest man Cary had ever seen.

“Jesus Christ,” Dillis said, looking at the mess under his feet. “Clown soup.”

The big cigar smoking man sheathed his knife and narrowed his eyes at Dillis.

“Whaddya know,” he said. “The ten percent. Lookin’ like a mighty small ten percent to me. What do you think, men?”

“Ninety-eight percent infection rate, sir,” said another man. He was young and had his head shaved. He looked like someone who enjoyed beating people up.

“This shit must have mutated, man,” said the other guy. He looked like he was about to cry. “Ninety-eight percent! Aw, man, we better get our asses out of here, man, before we get turned into man-eating sonsabitches too.”

The big man cracked his knuckles. “Name’s Stooge. General Stooge. This is private Shatsberg and corporal Donahue. The latter of whom will surely be demoted following the conclusion of this mission. Also, he will be forced to take medical leave to recover from the damage incurred by one combat boot violently inserted into his rear.”

Donahue winced and walked away, talking to himself.

“General, sir,” Dillis said. “If you’d be so kind, would ya mind escorting my friends and I to safety? I’ve had about enough of this goddamn job by now. I thought I was done before but, hell, this is pushin’ it.”

“A disgruntled clown.” Stooge leaned forward and sniffed the air. “Who smokes. We got a walking cliché here, boys.”

Dillis laughed his crusty laugh. “The comebacks I could come up with,” he said. “But I’ll refrain. Let’s get this show on the road, Stooge, I ain’t got all day and the bars close at midnight.”

Stooge’s cigar had gone out at some point. He took out a book of matches and lit it, then blew some smoke in the clown’s face. “Mission priority, creep. We are to neutralize the threat. Every infected individual in this park will be killed and burned and buried. Now, you would think anyone who’s infected would show the telltale signs. Cannibalism, shit-eating lunacy, and just plain old pure evil. But there is such a thing as being infected without showing the signs…”

“It’s called being a carrier,” Shatsberg said.

“A carrier.” Stooge grinned around his cigar. “There’s also such a thing as delayed onset. Now, I ain’t saying you’ll soon be chewing on your lady friend there…” He turned his grin to Clarice. “Not saying she wouldn’t like it, either. What I am saying is, you’re following us, and you’re arming yourselves, and you’re helping us clear the park. Do I make myself clear?”

“That’s a bluff,” Dillis said.

Stooge cracked his knuckles.

“But just in case it isn’t,” Dillis added, “I guess we’ll follow you.”

“Thought so.” Stooge looked over his shoulder. “Donahue! Stop your bitchin’ and get back in the kitchen! We’re heading out.”

“Where to?” Clarice asked.

Stooge grinned again. “Lemme think about that. There was a squad of soldiers here, but judging by the lack of nearby gunfire, they’re most likely dead. So we’ll head for the next squad and pray they’re still alive. On Slime Pit Way.”

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