Benny Martini spent his childhood trying to make others, especially his mother, laugh. He lived for laughter, so once he was grown, he pursued his passion to become a circus clown. The other clowns warned that it wasn't all it was cracked up to be, but Benny was determined to be the funniest clown in history and even studied all the greats of the past to achieve his goal. However, things haven't been going the way he'd like until he discovers an old book by one of his clown idols that he hasn't read yet. In it, he finds instructions on how to summon Polichinelle, the demon patron of clowns, who he believes will help him get the biggest laughs of his career, but it comes at a steep price.
"Put on a Happy Face" is a stand-alone horror short story. It's about a guy named Benny who always loved to make people laugh while growing up, especially his mother. He followed his passion to become a circus clown and studied all the great clowns of the past to learn the best techniques for getting laughs, but many years down the road, it isn't nearly as enjoyable as he thought it would be and his little circus clown troupe often gets a tepid reception. Then one day, he finds an old book written by one of his clown idols that he's never read before in a mobile book fair that goes to many of the same places the circus does. The book discusses how this clown summoned the demon patron of clowns in an effort to get the best laughter of his career. Desiring nothing more than to be the funniest clown in history, Benny does the same, but at a very high and unexpected cost.
Readers who harbor coulrophobia (aka the fear of clowns) perhaps shouldn't read this story, as it might only make the phobia worse. Or on the other hand, since so many clowns end up meeting their demise, perhaps it might be therapeutic. Since I don't have this phobia, I'm not sure which, or it might depend on the reader's perspective. In any case, this was a decent story for one so short that demonstrates the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for." Poor Benny craved laughter so badly, he never considered what the consequences might be for trying to force it to happen. The way the story ended was not only disturbing, but also pretty sad, because Benny gets a hard dose of truth that, in and of itself, would've been painful even without all the destruction that accompanied it. The story was a little slow for a horror tale, due to being rather heavy on the narrative prose, but it was still pretty readable, although not exactly what I'd call enjoyable because of its dark nature. "Put on a Happy Face" can be found in the anthology Blood Lite III: Aftertaste.
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