I think I’ve figured out my clown phobia. And dolls. And especially puppets. And fun houses. And those distortion mirrors that make you look either really tall and skinny or short and stumpy. Fairs and carnivals? Oh hell no.
Let me preface by saying I did not have a traumatic childhood. No big yikes moment.
I had my share of dolls and loved everyone of them. Even the armless, nappy haired, scuffed up, missing-an-eye ones. I had my share of puppets and participated in my share of puppet shows. I ventured in and out of many fun houses and stood laughing in front of many weird mirrors. Even got to know a couple clowns from Ringling Bros. & Barnum Bailey one year when the circus came to town. They were fun and crazy.
All of it was perfectly normal and safe. It wasn’t until I started writing mysteries that the happy-go-lucky things of childhood became the creepier-than-all-get-out trauma inducers of adulthood. Why? Because I started looking beneath the masks and behind the mirrors. I started looking under the surface, peeling back the layers, page by page.
Fun houses became crime scenes. The distorted features seen in those fun mirrors became the twisted view of a killer. Clowns hid deep, deep secrets beneath the make-up and fake smiles. Dolls pretended to be something they were not—alive. They cried, they wet, they ate and they pooped. Some of them said “mama” in uber creepy voices. And puppets…oh my. They’re the worst. Because they have no backbone. They have no sense of self until someone, probably someone deranged, puts them into motion. And carnival workers, or carnies as they’re often called—don’t even go there. I’m sure some of them are fine people. And I’m sure some of them are serial killers. Those are the ones who seem to always find their way into my imagination.
One of the most frequent questions asked of mystery writers is where do you get your ideas. Take a look around you. Have fun at the fair this year!
My daughter has sunk to the lowest form of low. I mean low. I mean so low it pains me to even talk about it. But I will.
It’s my own fault. I have Nina so high on a maternal pedestal that when she fell off the other day, I was devastated. Crushed. Yeah I know, I’m making it about me but I’ve earned that right. So anyway, we’ve known for years that Nina has this…thing…about animals. Not that she doesn’t like them, she does. Some of them anyway. Show her a picture of a baby seal and she’ll send money to save it. Favorite day trip is to the NC Zoo. When she was a kid, she’d drag home puppies and/or kittens and say “it doesn’t have a home.” One time, the puppy lived three houses down. Sheez.
It could be my fault. I didn’t get her the help she needed when she needed it. Like in kindergarten. With her first report card, the signs were there. Her teacher told me, “Nina doesn’t know her farm animals.” Like any young mother, I was in denial. And pretty appalled at the gall of that teacher. “My daughter – MY daughter – knows her farm animals,” I said very firmly. On the way home from the parent/teacher conference, we passed a pasture full of horses. I slow down and point them out and say, “Look Nina! What does the horsey say?” She looks out the window and quietly says, “Moo.”
Flash forward about twenty years. She sure knew it was a cow when she ran it over. Actually that story could have been a tragedy – well, it sort of was for the cow – but I think we can trace the Nina-kills-animals-gene back to that rainy morning. Went something like this:
Setting: rural road with lots of S-curves, early a.m., rainy and dark. Nina’s on her way to my house to drop off Landon so she can go to work. Phone rings at my house. I grab it because at that time of morning, it’s never something good like hey mom – wake up I’m bringing you a sausage gravy biscuit! Noooooo…
Nina (screaming and crying): Mom I had a wreck!
Me (bolting upright in the bed): Are you hurt? Is the baby okay? (at that time Landon was an only child)
Nina: We’re okay, but I think the cow’s dead.
When her brother Garey and I get to the scene of the accident, we find it’s worse than we thought. A local farmer’s fence had a hole in it. His herd of cows got out and were on a direct collision course with Nina’s Chevy Avalanche. A herd. Nina (with arms flaying in the air) cries, “It was horrible. They were flying in the air like bowling pins!”
I can’t remember the exact casualty/injury report but I think it was something like two dead at the scene, one had to be put down, and a few with minor injuries. And oh, the Avalanche was fixable. Had a couple clumps of hair embedded in the grill, but otherwise okay
A few weeks later, a dog ran out in front of her on a busy highway. Median to the left, traffic moving 65mph on the right. No where to go. Didn’t end well for the dog.
As time has gone by, there have been various species to fall victim. None on purpose. Except one. Duh duh duh…the spider. Doesn’t matter if it’s harmless, bringing her flowers, cooking dinner, or is affectionately called Charlotte. It is going to die. And it’s probably going to be painful. Want to see her do some funky dance moves? Tell her there’s a spider somewhere within 100 miles and she’ll leap up, start stomping and waving her arms around like Beyonce´.
But if there’s one thing she loves more than she hates spiders, it’s her kids. At least I thought so. She fell off that maternal pedestal last week when she yelled at six-year old Ava to, you guessed it – come kill a spider. We had all the kids out on the playground in her backyard when Nina spots it moving in the mulch. Rather than simply stepping up and stomping it, she yells for little Ava! Ava walks up and does the deed then runs back off to play. No thought to it.
Nina says Ava-the-spider-slayer didn’t start out that way. Nina says she saw a BIG spider in the garage and yelled at Ava to watch out. Instead of backing away, Ava-the-spider-slayer killed the killer spider. So now that’s how it’s done. Don’t judge.