american fantastic


A body is discovered in woods in rural Indiana, skinned from the neck up. The head is like “the cupped husk of a peeled orange”. The detective investigating soon unearths evidence that this grisly murder is linked to a war between two ancient secret cults, one celebrating laughter, the other despondency. The victim, a circus clown, was an adherent of one cult. His killer, from the opposing cult, removed his face – clown makeup and all – in order to appease a joyless deity and help usher in a dismal apocalypse. This short story, “The God of Dark Laughter”, by American author Michael Chabon, is an archly witty and chilling tale which plays on coulrophobia – a fear of clowns. It was first published in 2001 and is included in American Fantastic Tales, a two-volume anthology compiled and edited by the Wisconsin-born horror novelist Peter Straub.

more from James Lovegrove at the FT here.