First, the Clowns/ fiction by Gregory Seth Harris

First they came for the clowns, herding the sad-faced funny men into wooden carts donated by upstanding citizens happy to contribute to the cause. They chained the clowns by the ankles, their brows drooping, their weary oblong faces peering through the slats, red noses pressed against the coarse wood. Anyone wearing oversized floppy shoes was taken. Anyone in baggy striped pajamas or tunics with big cotton-ball buttons and plastic corsages squirting water. The painted tears made the scene all the more pathetic. So too, the orange wigs and tiny bowler hats. To add to the humiliation, they cut each clown’s broad, oversized tie with that clown’s own pair of giant scissors.

            They even confiscated their midget cars and tiny 3-wheelers, along with many a bucket full of confetti. These they tossed in separate carts along with the baby buggies. A special wagon with box cages was used for the fox terriers trained to sit up with their front paws poised while donning bonnets and bibs proclaiming, ‘baby on board.’ After the creaking, overburdened wagons pulled out of town and rounded the mountain, the clowns were never seen again.

            Next, they came for botanists and biologists. They said we needed to eliminate some words from the general vocabulary. Too many words, they argued, were causing all kinds of breakdowns in communication. Words like sedgelarkspurliverwortfloret and stamen should be eliminated so as to make room for bloguploadmetadataalgorithmcut-and-pastechatroom—words more useful in keeping our diverse citizenry speaking the same language.

            By eliminating botanists, biologists, even biophysicists, we would reduce the need for words like sedge and stamen, making their purge from the English language that much swifter and permanent. They were still debating whether to round-up ecologists, entomologists and a few unsavory anthropologists, when they decided tackling the ocean was more paramount.

            The oceans, still largely unexplored, were teeming with species and subspecies as of yet undiscovered, and as such, unnamed and uncategorized. Better to use industrial-fueled ingenuity to reduce as many of those undiscovered species as possible. In doing so, that would remove the need for new names, and names of new categories, which could only add more words to the plethora of superfluous verbiage already in general usage.

            A loose coalition of federal and private-sector agencies headed the effort. For a while, things went with barely a hitch. Jobs were created. Special tools had to be manufactured, creating a new industry and thus more jobs. New technologies allowed for species extraction around the clock, unfazed by an ocean terrain once formidable to human conquest.

            But things weren’t what anyone would have called “perfect.” Not by any stretch of the imagination. Perfection demanded greater effort, demanded confronting a problem on as many fronts as funding would allow. So, during a busy news cycle—so as not to attract too much attention—they announced they were going after the stars. The stars, it was argued, were proof something existed long before we (which is to say, they) came along; that the Grand Purpose of All Things might not be focused exclusively on us here, but possibly on something millions, if not billions, of light-years away.

            Besides, where there were stars, there was a tendency for citizens to look up. Not only did gazing up impede a people’s ability to watch where they were going, but certain citizens were prone to wonder, to begin imagining things better left unimagined. By removing the stars, they’d at least be a step—maybe two to three steps—closer to getting things perfect.

            Problem was: when they eliminated the stars, they lost their bearings. They felt suddenly imprisoned in a dark, unfathomable void—for all of eternity, no less. Every night, anywhere they went, they gazed up at the same black nothing. The daytime sky with its scattered clouds, its birds in flight, its thunderstorms, wind gusts and tornadoes provided no sense of place in the overall cosmos. It had been the stars that did that. Only now the stars were gone. And they lacked the technology to bring the stars back.

            They did manage to develop a lackluster simulation of stars, but this demanded too much power. Plus, learning to operate and maintain the false starlight required years of formal training, not to mention the attrition rate of trained operators leaving the profession to seek more challenging employment. When all was said and done, the program ceased to be cost-efficient.

            To get their minds off how rudderless they felt without the stars, they decided it might be wise to go after something (or someone) else. A distracted populace was easier to manage than one psychologically crippled due to the absence of any night sky. The big question was who or what should they go after now?

            One school of thought petitioned to go after grandmas. Sure, grandmothers might be missed by their rambunctious, sometimes needy, grandkids. And grandchildren might lose some of the nurturing benefits of having loving, over-indulgent grandmothers. But by reducing the grandma population, not only would there be less strain on already dwindling resources, but even less demand on Medicare, Medicaid and other health care costs. This would result in astronomical savings.

            Some critics argued grandfathers should be included, but as grandmothers on the whole lived longer, it was deemed unnecessary to include the family patriarch—at least not until granddads reached a certain age after which, it was proposed but voted down, they too should lose their exemption.

            Another school of thought argued we had been diverted from our true mission, which was to evacuate the entire ocean—a task we had started and proved relatively successful at, until we allowed ourselves to become distracted by going after the stars. Once the sea was completely conquered, it could be converted into amusement parks and underwater vacation resorts; no longer the ominous threat it once posed to seafarers, our aging fleet of submarines and drilling operations.

            Still another faction pushed for a lottery system. Groups deemed a potential menace to the stability of all that had been thus far achieved, would be entered on a list, their names then etched on small balls or disks or whatever material each municipality, county, or district chose to imprint the names upon. The selection of whatever group to go after next would therefore be completely random and thus immune to any charge of undue prejudice.

            Within this faction was a small minority called Stalwarts, vehemently vocal in their radical convictions. In private, most admitted they thought the lottery scheme ludicrous. However, they recognized the appeal such a plan had to certain faith-based constituents. Random chance, these constituents believed, would give God the opportunity to have His say. His divine will, they complained, had been suppressed for decades, censored by scientific data and liberal-leaning secular consensus. 

With these constituents added to the growing coalition in favor of the lottery system, the Stalwarts calculated, they just might sweep their disparaged and often-ridiculed faction into power. Once in power, their varying members could sort out their differences among themselves.

            The final vote—one many fear might prove contentious—has since been postponed. Rumors of an underground cadre of clowns, mimes and wannabee jesters have caught the attention of authorities. Subsequent intelligence has revealed one particularly charismatic clown wearing blackface having formed a coalition among disgruntled astronomers, astrologers, and cosmologists—as well as ichthyologists and roving bands of armed fishermen.

            Authorities are now considering martial law. They cite whispers of an impending coup. Several top leaders have suggested staging a preemptive coup so as to forestall any subsequent take-over. As of yet, nothing has been decided—outside of plans to hold a summit to study their options. The only thing all agree upon thus far, is people seem to have lost their sense of humor.


Novelist and poet Gregory Seth Harris is the author of the absurdist satire, The Perfect Stranger, a poetic memoir, A Black Odyssey, and numerous published short stories. Best known in the Rocky Mountain region as performance poet SETH, he performs weekly with his musical-poetic ensemble Art Compost & the Word Mechanics. The improvisational band invites poets to join them in poetic jams streamed live every Sunday from 6-8pm (MST) on his Facebook page, SETH & Art Compost.

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