Happy Birthday Land!

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On Slime Pit Way

Slime Pit Way. The name strikes horror and existential dread in the hearts of every clown in Happy Birthday Land. Or at least it did, before all but two of them lost their minds and became cannibals.

The appearance of the street can only be described as “melted.” Greens and yellows, neon and eye-splitting, turn the place into a kid’s dream and an adult’s nightmare. Along the street, the blinding light hides the fact that certain stretches are made of thin paper. And under this thin paper, vats six feet deep with green slime writhe and jiggle, waiting to swallow up unwitting passers.

Stooge and his men had been called many things. Bastards. Murderers. Dishonorable mercenaries who did what they did not out of love for their city, or for freedom, and not even for glory.

But on this day, the one thing they would and could not be called was “unwitting.”

Until Donahue went through the paper and up to his eyeballs in goo.

His cries were muffled, but his hands were flailing above his head. Stooge grabbed one of them and, with one arm, lifted Donahue all the way out and set him back on solid ground.

“Holy hogshit, Donahue,” the general remarked. “Just when I thought you couldn’t be any more useless! Wipe that slime off, boy, and if you fall in another one of those I’ll put my boot on your head and let you drown in it!”

“Yes, sir!” Donahue set to cleaning himself off.

With all the hubbub of nearly losing a man to a pit of slime that even a drunken, emphysema-ridden clown could have gotten out of, it took them a moment to see the mess in front of them. Blood and guts everywhere. Clarice covered Cary’s eyes again.

Stooge went over and fished around in the gore with his toe. A pair of dog tags clung to his boot and he bent down to read them.

“It’s Major Stonejack,” he announced. “Well, I’ll be damned. Looks like we’ve outlived two entire squadrons so far!”

Donahue wiped a glob of green ooze off his shoulder and said, “Stonejack, man? Aw, man, ain’t nothing can kill Stonejack, man. This is just goddamn great, man!”

“Corporal Donahue!” Stooge boomed.

Donahue froze and looked at his CO with a horrified expression.

“For once you’re on to something!” the general said. “There was only one man in this army that could beat me in hand-to-hand combat, and that was Stonejack! Hell, he slept with my sister once and I did nothing about it! He could outdrink a fat skinhead, that man. For some shrimpdick clown to kill him? No, I don’t believe it. What was that you said earlier, about the virus mutating? Not to mention all these men look like melted strawberry ice cream! There must be something-”

Stooge cut off, and everyone else started yelling all at once.

Throughout his monologue regarding the merit of Major Stonejack, a presence so terrifying it defied verbal cues of danger had been building behind General Stooge.

Dillis recognized it at once, but of course he was unable to speak.

Clarice did too.

Jibson. The meanest clown in the park. He had been on suspension for two weeks for punting a kid through a second floor window, and he’d finally returned this very day. Over seven feet tall, with a history in bodybuilding and strong man contests. Four hundred pounds of pissed off muscle, and an eternally angry personality gone fully insane with bloodlust.

Stooge turned, and yelled a throaty wordless yell. He pounded Jibson with the last bullets from his pistol, then dove, tucked and rolled when the freak came closer.

Shatsberg threw his knife; it stabbed right through Jibson’s chest. The clown pulled the knife out and tossed it back. Shatsberg fumbled out of the way and nearly went into the slime.

Donahue was full-on crying now, tears streaming down his face as he desperately searched his person for more ammo.

Stooge flipped out of his roll, did some kind of spinning breakdance move, and delivered a powerful kick to the back of Jibson’s legs. The giant stumbled forward and jumped into the slime.

He stood head and shoulders out of it, reaching his great arms to try and grab Dillis and Clarice. Shatsberg had found his knife again. He dashed forward and plunged it into the giant’s arm.

Even with eight inches of steel through his tricep, Jibson found the power to grab Shatsberg and yank him butt-first into the slime. The two of them sank down into the murk. The surface of the slime jiggled and waved with the concussion of whatever battle was ensuing beneath the surface.

With a lion’s roar, Stooge grabbed out his knife and dove headlong into the fight. He vanished as well, and for two long minutes Cary and the clowns waited.

Finally, the buzz-cut head of General Stooge emerged, bearing the humongous head of Jibson. Shatsberg’s dog tags were strung over his knife blade.

Stooge climbed free and stood, straight-backed and dripping with goo, to salute Private Shatsberg.

“You died too soon, soldier!” he barked. “It should have been Donahue! An honor, Shatsberg!”

“That bastard tried grabbin’ my feet,” Dillis said. “But Shatsberg stopped him.”

Stooge looked over at the clown with his chest puffed out. “He was a hero!” His voice dropped to a somber level. “A goddamn hero. Now what do I have? Donahue, and two clowns, and some little pipsqueak. I hate to admit defeat… Hell, I’ll never admit defeat. But maybe a little break is in order. To restock, and all.”

Stooge turned away and started walking. Everyone followed him.

Cary looked over at Donahue. He wasn’t crying anymore, but he looked like he was trying to hide under his helmet. He was walking right up against the buildings, carrying his rifle and avoiding looking at Stooge.

“Somethin’ strange I noticed,” Dillis said. “If this virus or whatever the hell it is has such a high infection rate, how come we ain’t seen anything but clowns, huh?”

Just then, Donahue screamed and everyone heard a loud plop.

Donahue had gone into the slime again. He was still floating at the surface, thrashing his arms and fighting to get out. Stooge growled and ran over.

“You useless, whiny, sissy, girly sack of rotten-”

Stooge planted his foot on Donahue’s head, just as he’d promised. Six hands, all gray and bloody, reached up out of the slime to grab his leg. Stooge went in, howling like a wolf. In midair, as he fell, he whipped out his knife and one could already see the desire to kill in his eyes. Then he was gone. Muffled screams drifted up out of the slime.

“Let’s get the hell outta here,” Dillis said.

“General Stooge! No!” Clarice had her hands over her mouth again.

“Hey, sunshine, don’t ya know when to run?” Dillis asked.

She turned around, delivering a sharp punch to his red-painted nose. “Shut up, buttface!”

Dillis reeled back, grabbing his nose, and before he could recover Clarice was running toward the slime pit. Cary fell down, covering his head. He didn’t want to see what came next. He felt someone grab him, and the next thing he knew he was flying down the street. He heard people screaming behind him, and he finally opened his eyes. Dillis was carrying him, and there were fifteen or twenty kids chasing them. Zombie kids.

Dillis started coughing and they almost fell down.

“Jesus Christ, kid,” the clown said. “Lay off on the sausage boys, will ya? How many are back there?”

“Lots!” Cary yelled.

Dillis looked. The kids were running a lot faster than him.

“Ah, shit,” he said. He slowed down enough to drop Cary on the ground. “Run, kid, I’ll hold ‘em back!”

“No!” Cary said, hugging Dillis. “No, don’t do that!”

“I’m too old and crusty to make it, anyway,” the clown told him. “Come on, you look like a fast runner. Get the hell outta here. Don’t stop until you’re outta the park, got it?”

Cary nodded. Dillis gave him a shove, and he started running. He didn’t look back.

A week had gone by since the incident at Happy Birthday Land. Out of the six hundred and twenty-two children who had gone in that day, only fourteen had made it out alive.

One of them was little Cary Pickle, who was trying to fall asleep but couldn’t because he kept wondering if he should have looked back to see if Dillis had made it.

Downstairs, his father sat hollow-eyed by the TV and watched hour after hour of news broadcasts. Most of it was about General Stooge, the hero who had been the lone survivor of the army squads sent into the park. He had emerged with his knife dull from killing zombies, covered head to toe in green goo and dried blood. It was estimated that he had single-handedly destroyed over two hundred of the infected clowns and children.

Mr. Pickle started to fall asleep, but snapped awake when he heard the loud booming sound the TV station used to signify breaking news.

“This just in!” a reporter said. A helicopter view showed a team of medical technicians carrying out a very exhausted looking man with smeared paint on his face and a red, curly wig. “Another survivor has been found! It was previously thought that all staff of Happy Birthday Land had deceased, and a count was made difficult by the state in which we found the bodies, but it turns out one man rode out the storm!”

Cary had a bad dream. He went downstairs to sleep on the couch next to his dad. When he saw the TV, he stopped.

Dillis was on the screen, wiping his face off with a wet cloth with one hand and holding a beer and a cigarette with the other. Under all the makeup, he looked like an old, scary guy who liked stealing kids.

“Sir, how did you survive so long on your own?” the reporter asked. “Apple City officials only just managed to kill the last of the infected!”

“Easy, peasy,” Dillis said. “I hid my clown ass in an access tunnel. There was lotsa water there. No beer, though. Sheesh, ya’d think they would stock up for us clowns, huh? The kids are less annoying when they’re zombies, for chrissakes.”

“I’ll let you get back to it,” the reporter said, “but first, do you have any interesting stories for us?”

“Hell, no. But I have a question. There was this one kid, I think his name was Picklepuss or something. I tried to help him get outta the park, but I never knew if he made it…”

Cary smiled and ran back upstairs. He decided he could fall asleep, now.
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