Rata baboon-leered as the twenty stone clown started to sweat, the meth ravaged copper coloured flesh peeling back from his skull, rubberized dead slug lips baring his yellowed teeth.
He bent forward and put the switch blade to his nose and snorted the jagged bump of ice into his tattered nasal passage, his synapses igniting like burning monks, his eyeballs beginning to smoke, the back of his scarified hand going up to wipe the viscous bitter-tasting gruel hanging from it.
His tongue came out in a lizard lick and the oyster of meth and snot slithered downward into his riceless belly.
“You know you still have your face paint on. It’s melting I think.” Rata said.
The clown ran his thumb down his pig cheek, gouging a trench in the greasepaint. His thumbprint was ghost white.
“Shit,” the clown said.
The sun had set in a suicide, the blood draining out of its shot off face and pissing down in lemon and candy apple reds that hit the glass ocean in bloody twinkling shards.
A swell blew salt spray and the stink of sewage descended on Sihanoukville, lingering among the paedophiles and the involuntary organ donors and coating them with the perfume they deserved.
The prostitutes were already filling the bars.
Eyeballs so dead they wouldn’t look out of place stuffed in a jar of formaldehyde and faces embalmed in makeup, to hide the welts and zombified flesh.
Brasses would make good morticians, thought the clown.
Cut in half with mini shorts and boob tubes that strangulated them like squeezed balloons, all legs and tits and nothing in the middle except a blackhole for old sad men to pour their bitterness into.
It’s not just the drugs that are laying waste to the night walkers and croaking them slowly, thought the clown. It’s the poison being pumped into them night after night by men with enough skeletons in their closets to put the killing fields to shame.
Abandoned families and molested nieces was just the tip of the iceberg in the kingdom of wonder.
“So you want me to kill her bong.”
Rata’s near perfect English always startled the clown.
The voice of Sihanoukville’s most vicious pimp was no jabbering gook spewing out beach patois.
It was the calm, measured tone of an Asian IT consultant.
The clown daren’t say what he wanted out loud. If he didn’t say it at all, maybe he could avoid the guilt. Maybe he wouldn’t be a murderer.
His jowls quivered and he took a gulp of Klang.
“Not cheap,” Rata smiled.
“I’ve got fucking money. I don’t care how much it is. Can you fucking do it?”
“Of course. Give me the address and tell me when you want it done. But I don’t want the money.”
The clown’s fingers slug-slithered across the roll of soiled notes. His hand opened like a pustulent flower, revealing the money glued in the centre of the palm.
Rata shook his head.
“You know what I need. That will be payment enough.”
“Just take the money you spooky cunt. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He left the money on the table, along with a strip of paper with the address scribbled on it.
The clown hit the cracked jigsaw pavement of the street.
He thought of Kunthea. Her doe eyes.
He looked around.
The town was crawling with jarhead marines on shore leave looking for an easy fuck or a weedy white dread to feed fists into.
They had been meandering around the islands in their flotilla of ships, euthanizing rabid dogs and inoculating the kids in the fishing villages.
The clown coughed up bile again, and hailed a tuk tuk.
“Neak soksabai teh?”
The tuk tuk driver was no more than a bullet riddled rawhide hanging onto a smiling skeleton and the tuk tuk itself was a shed on wheels with a bench bleeding out stuffing.
Ex Khmer Rouge officers with the highest stiff counts got gifted spanking new tuk tuks in reward for so much traitor death.
They knew which parts of the jungle would greedily swallow a twitching body up and shit out nothing but bones.
They always carried choppers, and they could get you anything from a bag of less than magic mushrooms to a used Kalashnikov.
The tuk tuk bounced, the tired wheels falling into punji trap potholes, angering the clown’s gout and threatening to collapse the ramshackle motor into an impromptu scrapheap.
The clown gave the driver the fare.
“Jam tik Bong Proh. Wait a minute.”
The Monkey’s Paw was heaving with dreadlocked crusties and sunbleached backpacker sluts spilling out of too small for school crop tops espousing monikers like I Survived Cambodia and Pub Crawl Pussy Patrol.
The clown hated backpackers but he needed a fix.
Young leopard prowled like his namesake around a pool table with some other feral beach chakais, eyeing the Barangs, waiting for one of them to cross a line that no one except those baying for cheaply shed blood could see.
The clown made a beeline for him. Leopard was tweaking so savagely the clown guessed he would never sleep again.
Mr Boom Boom, Sihanoukville’s premiere date rapist, was feeding another Jager bomb to a barang girl splayed out on a bench, her legs open, her grinning cunt peeking out of the side of her puke soiled shorts.
Her head lolled about and the rust coloured liquor snaked down out of the glass onto her face and dribbled down her neck.
Mr Boom Boom licked it off with a liver coloured tongue furry with thrush.
Young Leopard caught the clown’s pig eyed wink and pouted his lips in a Khmer point.
The clown nodded, indicating a need to cop.
Young Leopard nodded back in benediction and collared another mongrel desecrated with tattoos and whispered into his ear, palming something into his hand with his own ink blackened claw.
The clown followed the ritualised sleight of hand like a kid trying to spot the card as it slipped up a magician’s sleeve.
The boy came over, his eyes yellowed like a cat with renal failure and thrust a baggie into the clown’s ham hand. the clown reciprocated with a grungy twenty.
He glanced down. Oily black heroin. Resinous and chocolatey. Boneless oblivion.
As the clown turned to leave, an old sexpat notorious for roughing up the young chickens and paying them in bruises grabbed a Khmer girl under the arms and rag dolled her around in a pirouette, her legs sweeping glasses off of tables.
his paws tearing her top in half, her urgently nippled bee sting breasts springing out.
His meaty fingers twiddled the asphalt black nipples like radio knobs and then he mashed the breasts in his hands as if they were fruit he could extract juice from.
He let her drop, his sun dried, skin cancer flecked chest heaving with laughter, his steroid ravaged muscles flexing into mummified wrinkles.
Young Leopard pulled a vodka bottle from behind the bar by its neck and hammered down its body flush onto the sexpats kerb shaped brow.
The skin curtain parted and the flesh bared itself down to the ceramic looking bone in a gory wink, and then the bottle came down again and it exploded , showering vodka and slivers of glass across the bar, people recoiling and blinking the glass out of their eyelashes and brushing the spattered blood off their faces.
Screams were passed around like a basketball through the throng, each white face goggle eyed and horrored, each mouth a horrified, silent O.
Young Leopard crammed the bottle neck into the sexpats eye socket as he sank to his knees, holding the back of his head for leverage and screwing the bottle neck deep in a wet crunch. The sexpats hand curled around the tube of glass poking out of his peeper socket like some kind of blood spewing telescope and tried to pull it out.
The sexpat toppled backward, his body palsied with shock, limbs pretzeled, baptized in an abattoir’s worth of his own blood.
The fat clown laughed, the thick yuk yuk sound drowning out the maimed sexpat’s enfeebled mewling.
Before he got to the end of the dirt road and the house he shared with his wife, he squatted like a troll behind a crumbling brick wall and took out the piece of sooty foil he always carried in his pocket and drizzled out the gob of road tar opium upon it.
A bare bulbed street light flickering with the kamikaze dive of moths illuminated his works.
He took out a straw and a lighter and, licking his lips dry and wheezing the word yes, pushed the orange blade of flame against the crumpled foil, the gear bubbling itself into the shape of a syrupy beetle that was trying to crawl off of the foil, coughing out tendrils of smoke, which the clown began to surf, chasing the wave of smog and greedily sucking it down into his lungs.
His head began to fill with cotton candy and the gravel that packed his gout riddled joints poured out of him, replaced with nothing but glowing warmth that melted him into primordial goo.
His soul had turned to smoke.
He closed his eyes and raised himself up, already plagued with itchiness, and did away with his doings in a ditch.
He blinked his eyes in luxurious ten second dreams.
He wondered if he could somehow climb out of his body and take a peek at himself.
He floated down the dirt track, savouring the relief of his weightlessness, the scabrous hounds coming out of the shadows and flashing their crumbling teeth at him in frothy snarls but going no further than the rim of light that encircled the house.
He locked the door behind him.
The clown’s nostrils tingled with the scent of opened wine.
Kat must’ve had a glass or two he thought.
He pulled off his clown shoes. His feet were so purple with hypertension they seemed to glow in the dark.
The stairs croaked like tired toads as he climbed.
He flopped onto the bed, the fan dervishing.
“You had a late one.”
“Just had a few with the new volunteers. Showed them the sights.”
“Oh god. I expect we will have a mutiny tomorrow.”
He faked a gentle rumble of laughter.
“Did I wake you?”
“No. I was thinking about Kuntea, the poor thing. Her parents gave me the willies.”
The clown didn’t have anything to say, but his silence threatened to swallow the room.
He thought he would choke on it until Kat piped up.
“Did you wash your face? I don’t need makeup on our new sheets Gaz.”
He washed his face in the water barrel in the bathroom, splashing and dunking his head under, careful not to nod off and drown himself.
He couldn’t afford himself too much pleasure in one evening.
he looked at the soap smeared mirror.
The black T-shirt spotted with white from where his face had melted when he was talking to that evil cunt Rata.
Learn with laughter, the T shirt proclaimed in letters designed by his artist wife to look like balloons, with a cartoon rendering of a happy fat clown and a small red headed woman splashing greens and blues on an easel with an outsized paintbrush.
He hated the NGO. He was a butcher by trade, not a fucking clown for kids that didn’t even understand knock knock jokes.
He hated being a dancing bear for a woman he was married to by choiceless default, a woman so full of good will and cheer it made him want to stab his own eyes out and eat them in front of her.
Morpheus may be the god of dreams, but he doesn’t let you sleep.
The clown didn’t so much as rouse from his opiodal slumber
As scoop his waking nightmares off of the pillow and stuff them back into his skull.
He threw on a fresh Learn with laughter T shirt.
Kat was already slurping her second Coffee.
“I will see you down the NGO in an hour or so? Got a few errands to run.”
Her large green eyes flashed like headlights. She had a moustache of coffee grounds on her top lip.
“Don’t be late though, we’ve got a big day. Still got to go through inductions for the new recruits.”
“Of course not love. Any coffee left for a tired clown? Had a bit more than I thought last night.”
“You silly sod. Some in the pot. I’m off.”
She tiptoed and planted a lifeless Kiss on the clown’s lips and he fought the urge to force open her mouth and waterboard her with his own vomit.
He waited for her scooter to fire up, and he watched it kick up the blood red dust that filled the road.
Kuntea’s jerky skinned father, blind and bad brained from rice wine and destitute from three seasons of blighted rice snapped up the Two hundred dollars that the clown had offered him for his daughter’s hand.
It was Kuntea’s mother, a slit eyed dart frog who had demanded an additional hundred.
The clown didn’t argue, he had just tossed the money across the stilt house and led Kuntea out by her hand to the Tuk tuk waiting for them.
The clown had first seen Kuntea on a learn with laughter outreach campaign to the rural communities, the isolated villages so remote that time seemed to have forgotten them.
The clown had been doing his clown routine to a gaggle of bemused kids clad in little more than scraps of cloth, blowing life into balloons shaped like animals and making a right dick of himself, when he saw Kuntea shuffling awkwardly toward the circle, being led like a startled donkey by the arm of her
mother, rubbing the side of her head.
He had never seen anything so perfect, her skin the colour of burnt caramel, the river of oil black hair cascading down her back.
The cheekbones and face statuesque, reminiscent of the old gods and goddesses of ancient Angkor.
He saw her and he knew he would be returning no matter the cost to his soul or his marriage, under the cover of darkness, to take what they allowed him to take, which would be as much as he wanted as long as he paid enough.
Which wouldn’t be much at all considering hers was the most wretched family in the village.
One daughter dead by viper bite to the face. Another lost to the river spirits as she washed clothes.
And then there was Kuntea herself, a child trapped in a woman’s body.
Kat and the others from the NGO had quickly recognized it for the autism it was, and when the guide told them the village hadn’t heard her voice since she had cried for her mother’s dried up teats, they also realised Kuntea was a mute.
The mother was convinced they had been cursed for some past life transgression against buddha.
Kat had pleaded with the guides to speak to the parents, to get her the care she needed, but it was no use.
The pitiful father obeyed nothing except the call of the gut rot that was slowly sending him mad.
The mother though, her pursed mouth rimmed bloody red with betelnut juice, sent waves of derision throughout the volunteers, and Kat felt a prickled tingling in her brain she hadn’t felt since the previous rainy season when she had been struck down with Dengue.
There was something about her indifference and ignorance that suggested she wasn’t indifferent at all.
Kuntea hadn’t made a sound in the tuk tuk journey across the moonlike countryside towards Sihanoukville.
She just chewed on the ends of her dark matter hair and sucked a thumb as the clown rubbed her back.
When they reached the small, secluded house the clown had just signed a lease for, on the other side of town from the home he shared with his wife, Kuntea started whining and banging the side of her head with her palm, but she still allowed herself to be led.
He padlocked the door behind them and took her to the room he had festooned with stuffed animals and cuddly toys, and Kuntea calmed.
He spoke to her, in his pigeon Khmer, but he doubted if she could even understand, or even if she could hear him at all.
He wondered if she would scream under his bulk, trapped like a mouse under an elephant, but strangled the thought dead.
The clown unlocked the gate and entered the house.
It was so hot inside that the fat man started bleeding gravy. He turned on the fans, but everything was clean and as it was before.
For someone so retarded Kuntea was remarkably house trained, thought the clown.
She was sleeping on her bed of teddies and elephants.
The Valium agreed with her, thought the clown.
Her face set in a terrible mudslide of a frown.
She was making noises in her sleep, pathetic whimpers that made him remember the blinded sexpat.
Her pregnancy was obvious. She was getting more swollen by the day, the terrible seed the clown had put inside her festering like an abscess, something that would swell and swell until it exploded.
He stroked her sweat coated face and licked his fingers.
Tonight, he thought.
The sun had set like a slit throat. The clown hadn’t slept since he had messaged Rata telling him the gate would be unlocked.
The monkey’s paw was empty. He waited in silence.
He had been eating dihydrocodeine by the fistful since Young leopard’s arrest.
He felt like he had one foot in this life and the rest of his body in the other, like a man who had gone bobbing for rotten apples and had come up with a grenade in his mouth.
Kat was worried.
“Maybe you have a dose of Dengue Gaz. All you do is thrash and shiver.”
“It’s not Dengue you stupid cunt,” he had snapped.
Thunder rumbled. A storm was coming.
The clown must’ve nodded off because he didn’t notice Rata sit down.
His eyes seemed blowtorched into his head.
“Is it done?” the clown croaked.
Rata pushed the slab of notes across the table and nodded.
“I told you I didn’t want the money. This is what I wanted.”
Ratas yellow nail poked the greasy leather pouch hanging from his neck.
The clown gagged, and clamped his teeth shut to save himself spewing onto the table.
“I told you a before about the children of smoke. About how they stop bullets and reveal enemies. She pledged her unborn baby to me, your unborn baby, and I took it out of her and made it my own child.”
“She couldn’t talk, you mad cunt. You’re crazy and you’re trying to make me think I am too. She couldn’t talk to anybody. I don’t believe it.”
“This land doesn’t care if you believe or not. When her time came, she talked. And now my child will show me the future and whisper to me the secrets of the past. There are things in life stronger than money and flesh. My father taught me that when I was still a boy.”
The clown had heard the horror stories all before, of the Kru Thmups, men who had pledged their souls against the will of Buddha.
Men who never washed and haunted graveyards and burgled pagodas.
Men who could cut out an unborn child and with their sorcery turn it into an evil man’s spirit slave.
The Koan Kroach.
Hocus pocus bullshit conjured up by minds steeped in a thousand-year soup of ignorance.
“My child of smoke is whispering to me now. He’s telling me you will jump across the table and try to kill me. And he tells me your wife now knows who you really are.”
Rata stroked the pouch.
“Do you know who you are?” Rata said.
The fat man realized he didn’t have a clue.
The clown shuddered like the Judas pig skewered on a hook he was. He thought he saw something move within the leather pouch, but his eyes had been lying to him for days, his mind not so much as playing tricks as deceiving him so completely, he couldn’t even remember his own name.
“I’m a clown,” Gary Liebling said, recoiling from his own tears.
He could smell smoke and old blood, older than time, and then he heard a child laugh.