Bourbon Penn 30

Clown’s Balloons

by Sam Rebelein

The clown stood on the street by her building. He could see her through the window of her corner office. If she’d been on the second floor, or the third (the building had four of them), it could’ve been argued that the clown was looking at someone else. But because Selene’s office was right there on the first floor, there were no ifs, ands, or buts about it. The clown was watching her.

When Selene arrived in her office that morning, it took her a frozen scared moment to establish that she was, in fact, the intended target of the clown’s gaze. He had a sad, skinny face. Sunken and gray and decorated with a red droop of a mouth. He watched her, holding three primary-color balloons by their long white strings. Red, yellow, blue, floating a foot above his head as he stared at her from across the street and through the window.

The clown appeared on Selene’s birthday, so after she settled in, she went around the office and asked who sent him. At first, she was amused and slightly alarmed. The clown was off-putting (he never blinked), but it was probably just a birthday prank. She could get to the bottom of it.

By the time she reached Devin (the third person she’d asked about the clown), Selene’s amusement had pretty much gone.

“What clown?” Devin asked.

Selene, standing in the doorway to his office, stuck out her chin. “Oh, come on. Are you all in on this? The clown.”

Devin followed her back to her office. The clown did not move. Did not seem to have moved while Selene wasn’t in view. But as she re-entered her office, Selene could see—from all the way across the street, through the window, and past the five feet that made up her workspace—she saw the clown’s eyes flick to hers. She got the sense he’d just been staring at her chair, waiting for her return. And now his eyes would stick to her, the way eyes in portraits follow you through cobwebbed mansions, abandoned asylums, rusted-over amusement parks.

“Freaky,” Devin confirmed.

“Right?” said Selene. “He was just there when I got in, still there when I got back from the bathroom, and when I got back from the coffeemaker. He’s just … there.”

Devin leaned back out of the doorway, called down the hall. “Hey Sahil! You asshole, did you send this clown?”

Taylor appeared in the hall, blowing steam off the top of her mug of green tea. “He’s not in yet. What clown?”

“Oookay,” said Selene, really over this gag now. “Ha ha. The clown. The fuckin …”

She pointed at him. He didn’t move. The daisy in his lapel remained wilty, its petals about to melt away and drip onto the ground. His purple-and-yellow-striped suit jacket billowed a little in the breeze. It was a cloudy February day, and the clown seemed a part of it. As if he’d emerged from the clouds the way rain will. As if he himself were a winter weather advisory.

“The fuck,” said Taylor. “Who is that?”

“Maybe that’s Sahil,” suggested Devin.

“It’s clearly some white dude,” said Taylor.

Although calling the clown “white” wasn’t entirely accurate. The skin around his mouth, the wrinkles round his eyes—gray. A doughy, rainy gray.

“I’d recognize Sahil,” said Selene. Her arms were now folded across her chest.

“Hm,” said Taylor. “Well. Keep me posted.”

“Keep you …?” Selene was aghast. “Nuh uh. Who sent this guy?”

“You wanna ask Hailey?” asked Taylor. Hailey was the boss.

“It wouldn’t be Hailey,” Devin said. He laughed. “She has zero sense of humor.”

This was true.

“Yeah, it’s not Hailey,” said Selene. “I can tell.”

She and the clown watched each other, as if waiting to see who’d draw first.

“Well, if he moves, call security or something,” said Taylor. “I have a call, I gotta …”

“Yeah,” said Devin, also retreating. “Hey, happy birthday.”

Taylor gave a sharp laugh. Selene did not. Devin and Taylor exchanged a silent yikes behind Selene’s back, then drifted away to their separate offices.

Selene stood there. She watched the clown. And the clown watched her.

Half an hour later, Sahil arrived in the office.

“What clown?” he asked.

• • •

The clown stood vigil for Selene’s entire birthday. She nodded at him when she gathered her coat from the back of her chair and left for the day. He stared at her, the same glum expression on his face. His yellow polka-dot trousers and his floppy red loafers not even twitching in the cold of the setting sun.

Selene had watched him through the day, of course, eyeing him the way a mouse will eye a sleeping cat. He had not budged an inch. He hadn’t even blinked.

Because the clown was already watching her, she figured he wouldn’t mind her sliding her phone up out of her lap and taking a picture of him. He showed up in the picture, which was good; he wasn’t a ghoul or anything. She thought he might be a statue, but the few people who passed him throughout the day all picked up their pace as they went by, giving him quick looks over their shoulders, giving him wide berths on the sidewalk. Some smiled awkwardly, like they might suddenly be on TV (like, what stunt was this?), but most just looked confused and a little spooked.

That’s the way you walk by people who are unwell, not random statues. If the clown had been a statue, people might stop and analyze it. Pose for pictures with it. Nobody stops and poses with random people dressed like sad clowns, unless they are also slightly unwell.

Furthermore, Selene could see the gentle waves of his shoulders, up and down, as he breathed. She figured that was proof enough that he was alive. And she wasn’t gonna march out there to check. No fuckin way. She very briefly considered running out there and smacking him, threatening to call the police. But, as a Black woman, Selene figured they’d just show up and shoot her through the window, thank the clown for his service. And the clown wasn’t harming anyone. Selene didn’t see any evidence (yet) that he was a danger to himself or society. He just stood there and watched.

And watched.

And watched.

Whatever, Selene thought, driving home at the end of the day. She still figured it was some dumb birthday thing, whatever it was. She’d been on the verge of buying an office plant anyway, one that she could hang in the window. If the clown wanted to decorate her window instead, he could be her guest. She’d probably learn who the clown was three months from now, when someone at an office party would laugh and confess, “Yeah, we were trying to see how long we could keep it going …” or something like that. “We never told you? Lol oops.”

Selene hated office parties.

But no big deal. She’d be laughing about the clown a year from now. Just you wait.

When Selene came back to her office the next day—the clown was still there.

For that entire next day, the clown stood on the corner by her office, watching her. Those same three balloons, red, yellow, blue, clutched in one white-gloved hand. The other hand hung limp by his side. The same floppy shoes. The same wilting daisy. The same drooping, crimson mouth. The same skin that looked like ash about to crumble.

Selene never saw him blink. Never saw him move a muscle. Not once.

“Your buddy’s back,” observed Devin, appearing in the doorway on that second afternoon. “Find out who it is?”

“Not even a little,” said Selene, typing something on her computer, trying to ignore both Devin and the clown.

“You ask Hailey about it?” asked Devin.

“Yes, I did.”


“She told me birthday celebrations were off-limits ever since the new budget restraints, and I should ask my clown to leave.”

“Huh.” Devin ticked his wedding ring against the side of his coffee mug for a moment. “So did you ask him to leave?”

“Devin.” Selene dug her fingers into her eyes, rubbed at a Devin-sized ache in her skull, and continued typing.

Devin stood there. “Do … you want someone to notify security?”

“I did,” said Selene, typing angrily, loudly, punctuating each syllable. “Apparently he’s across the street and therefore off company property, meaning their jurisdiction,” slamming a fingernail against the spacebar, “is pretty much nada.”

An awkward, silent beat.

“Well, okay then,” said Devin. “I’ll leave you to it.”

The clown, on the other hand, did not leave.

He never would.

• • •

The clown became sort of a friend. Or at least, he spent more time with Selene than anyone else in the office. Selene didn’t even really consider Sahil a friend, and Sahil was friends with everyone. Ironically, that’s what made Sahil so unlikeable to Selene. The clown, however, was a unique and totally silent companion. Every so often, Selene would suddenly jerk around in her chair, glance out the window—but he hadn’t moved. Slowly, she’d turn her back to him again, then glance at him in the glare off her screen.

He never even flinched.

After the first full week, Selene found herself saluting him whenever she left the room, telling him not to go anywhere, “I’ll be right back!” Sometimes in the afternoons, Selene would hit Send on an email, lean back in her chair and stretch her arms up. She’d lace her fingers behind her head and turn to face the clown.

“Long day,” she’d tell him. “These fuckin emails. I mean, you get it.”

The clown did not respond.

After the second full week, Selene began to wonder about the logistics of the clown. For instance, did he wear the same yellow pants and the same purple jacket every day? Did he have copies, or did he keep washing them? Or did they smell? And that daisy must be fake, right? There was no way a live daisy could look that wilted for two straight weeks. It must be plastic, must be designed to look sad. And the balloons. Surely, he had to have made new balloons by now. Helium didn’t last that long. Did it? If they were the same balloons he’d first appeared with, how did he keep them full of helium? How did they float so perfectly?

The clown itself she could forgive. Selene figured you could train yourself to remain standing for nine hours a pop, every single day. Monks and, like, samurai probably did that kind of shit all the time. Spartans! Ancient Spartans must have been strong enough to stand completely still, without wobbling or wavering or blinking or sneezing, for entire days on end. It wasn’t impossible. People were capable of all kinds of things.

But the balloons. What about the balloons?

So Selene bought a pack of balloons. She hadn’t really planned to. She’d been begrudgingly searching for a card for Devin’s birthday (they were both Pisces, old souls) and the balloons had just happened to be there, on an end-cap by the cards. A dollar a pack.

She squished the pack between her fingers, eyeing the clear plastic, making sure she had all the right colors. Red, yellow, blue. At least one of each in there.

Selene brought the pack to the back of the store, to the flowers and big foil balloons, so they could blow up a few with helium. She filled three balloons, red, yellow, blue.

“How long do these latex ones last before they start to sink?” she asked the guy working the helium tank. He leaned against a wall literally covered in balloons, so he seemed like he would know.

“About a day,” he said. “The foil ones last … maybe a week?”

“But not two weeks.”

“God, no.”

“And the latex ones wouldn’t last two weeks.”

“I can’t see that happening, no.”

“Are you sure?”

“Oh yeah.” The guy smirked. “I don’t clown around about balloons.”

This seemed like an intentionally ominous choice of words. Selene said nothing more.

At home, she weighted the three helium balloons to the floor by the wall of her living room. She got a level and marked the tops of the balloons on the wall. Then she took a chair from her dining room table, scraped it across the floor to the opposite wall. She blew up three more balloons, red, yellow, blue, and taped them to the top of the chair, marked their heights on the wall. Her theory was that the clown’s balloons were either filled with helium and floated of their own accord (and she had seen them bob a little in the breeze, so this made sense). But that meant the clown would have to be refilling them with helium, like, every night. Because unlike the clown’s smile or the daisy—the clown’s balloons never drooped.

Or the clown had somehow fashioned three slim poles to look like strings and had tied three breath-filled balloons up there instead. Maybe the balloons didn’t float at all, but were designed to look like they were.

Selene was beginning to feel like a word problem. If Selene fills three balloons with helium and three other balloons with her own stupid breath …

She felt silly, too, because maybe this was the clown’s ultimate design. Not to simply spook her at work, but to follow her home as well. To make her question the hows, the whys, the whats. Maybe by fucking with these balloons on her own time, she was playing into his little game, whatever it might be.

I’m not crazy, she told the Selene in the bathroom mirror as she brushed her teeth that night.

Mirror Selene just shrugged at her. If you say so.

She lay in bed and stared at the ceiling for a long time. Who could the clown be? What did he want with her? Why was she so special?

Selene had never felt special before. And in spite of herself, she knew this was part of the reason she allowed the clown to stay. She knew this was why she needed to figure out what his deal was. Because if she could figure that out, Selene could figure out why she was suddenly so interesting. That felt like a worthy goal.

Selene dreamt she was at a spelling bee. The words were utter gibberish (“Spell joauhodufben”) but Selene won first place. People applauded her for something she did not understand. In real life, Selene had never won anything. In the dream, she got three blue ribbons.

She fuckin loved it.

In the morning, the balloons had visibly deflated. Selene stabbed them angrily with a pen and threw the rags into the trash.

So, okay, maybe he was refilling them every night. Or filling new ones. Maybe he had an endless supply of these specific balloons and was specifically fucking with her this way, for some reason she’d never even guess. It could even be someone she’d pissed off in middle school, clawing all the way back out of Ms. Pearson’s homeroom class to avenge some stupid bullshit Selene had said when she was thirteen.

It could be anybody. For anything.

So fine. Whatever. If he wanted to fuck with her, let him have at it. She wasn’t gonna give in to his stupid guessing game.


How the fuck did he keep himself from fucking blinking? For nine hours straight, every weekday, for weeks? What mountain did this guy have to climb, what monk did he have to study with for a winter, what ancient technique had he had to learn—to avoid blinking?

How? Selene asked him silently through the window. How do you do it?

For the clown’s third week in Selene’s life, she practiced not blinking. After five full workdays of trying, Selene finally managed to blink only thrice all Friday afternoon, and even then, she wept and had to squeeze her eyes shut, had to drink some water, before she tried again.

The only explanation, she decided, was that the clown wasn’t human.

Selene did not accept this.

Which is ironic, because the clown was not, nor had it ever been, a human being …

• • •

When the clown had first arrived on Earth, it had gone a long time living lonely in the dark. It lived where it’d landed: in a hollowed-out machine works, a few miles up the river from where Selene now sat, watching the unblinking clown through her window. For a long time, the clown fed on nothing but rusted scrap and frozen brick. These were not satisfying meals.

During the day, the clown watched ice float along the river. It watched the trains go by. It didn’t understand that the trains were not great slithering, whistle-breathing beasts, but were in fact nonliving things, built for smaller, actually breathing people-things. The clown could see these people-things filling the many eyes along the back of the train as it slithered by. The clown thought people were a parasite that lived inside the train. Perhaps they even hurt. Or itched. It took the clown a long summer of watching to understand that people were actually the parasites in charge. This made the clown sad, because it had lost its homeworld to parasites a long time ago.

For a long autumn, each night when the train rumbled in its station, the clown continued to believe that it was a great dragon-thing, snoring as it slumbered peacefully. The clown would make fires out of river-wood, on the concrete floor of the old factory, and it would listen to the snoring of the train, until it, too, drifted off. It would dream of trains, tangling together in a great plain that they ruled. It would dream, inevitably, of home. Mother Clown and Father Clown. And it would dream, again, of the worm-waves, the absolute unfunniest thing to have ever happened to the clown.

The clown would dream, each night, of death.

In the morning, in the harsh of day, the clown would remember that the trains were not in charge of this world, this strange purgatory of granite and cold steel. The clown would remember this, and the clown’s frown would grow deeper.

The clown’s first companion happened to be a teenage breathing thing who lived in the house on the other side of the tracks. In the winter afternoons, when its parents were not home, this breathing thing would stand in its backyard and watch the ice crack along the river beyond the machine works. It hid a pack of cigarettes under the gas tank of an old grill in the yard, though, of course, the clown did not know “gas” or “grill” or “cigarettes.” Nor did it know “Claire,” which was in fact, this breathing thing’s name. The clown was fascinated by the smoke this young breathing thing blew into the air. Claire looked so lonely. She reminded the clown of the desolation it had fled, far out in the darkvast of space. The frozen waves of worms that had swallowed the clown’s home.

Claire did something to the clown’s heart, and the clown wanted to be closer to her.

It edged out from the shadows of the machine works. It stood there clutching the balloons that’d carried it from its homeworld, as an orphan and a refugee. The clown watched Claire with the utmost intensity.

Whether the appearance of this clown in Claire’s life was the work of a vast engineer in possession of a witty, ironic sense of humor—or whether this was all an absurd coincidence—isn’t really the point here. However it happened, the clown happened to appear on Claire’s birthday. Which really threw Claire off. If it’d come on any other day, Claire would have done something immediately. Walked up to the clown, smacked it, shoved it away, yelled at it. “I’ve already called the cops, you fuckin perv!”

But as it was, Claire believed, in her darkened and scarred heart, that the world was trying to tell her something. Because here, a clown had appeared in the barren waste behind her back yard on her freaking seventeenth birthday.

Like, fuckin … geez.

Very nonchalantly, not wanting to disturb this miracle, Claire took a drag off her cigarette. She French-inhaled, then blew a jet of smoke out the side of her mouth.

The clown watched her.

She watched the clown.

When Claire’s mother-thing returned from work, the clown slipped back into the shadows. When Claire returned from school the next day, the clown re-emerged. Claire stood there, enjoyed her cigarette, and watched the clown. And the clown watched her.

The two of them enjoyed the most companionable silence Claire had ever known.

Claire had always wanted an imaginary friend. That impulse doesn’t go away when you’re seventeen, or twenty-seven, or even thirty-seven. It just gets buried better.

But when Claire went off to college the following fall, the clown despaired. In hindsight, Claire knew she should have communicated somehow that she was leaving. Could she have left the clown a note saying not to worry, she’d be back for winter break? Dear Clown: College will probably suck worse than high school anyway, so let’s run off for the circus together. I’m assuming you know where that is. I’ll be outside at midnight at your spot. I really hope to see you there. Yours, Claire.

But it wouldn’t have mattered. The clown, of course, could not speak or read any human language.

The clown was so struck by Claire’s sudden absence in its life that it wandered out of the machine works for the first time since its balloons had floated it down to Earth. The clown felt sad and lonely all over again.

The Earth was cold and unfamiliar. The clown did not recognize any food it could eat, except the twisted bents of metal along the train tracks, and the rocks along the riverbank. It feasted one night upon a blackened catfish corpse and was very sick. All night, the clown vomited wet ragged mounds of colorful confetti.

The clown swore it would choose its next companion carefully. Someone who showed up every day. Someone who sent all their emails on time. Not that it understood what “email” was. But the irony of this is clear: If Selene had been a less reliable employee, the clown would never have been drawn to her in the first place.

The clown began to show up outside hair salons. Outside car washes and elementary schools, frozen yogurt shops and bookstores. It watched potential companions through the windows of their workplaces, holding its sad balloons, all red, yellow, blue. It spent a year watching various people, and all of these people shooed the clown away. They threatened the clown, yelling at it in a language it had no hope of comprehending. People spat on the clown, threw things at the clown … One woman even maced the clown. The clown had feared for an entire night that it would never be able to see again.

By the time the clown discovered Selene, it had made seventeen different attempts at companionship. It had approached Selene with a heavy heart, without much hope. But after a few days, it had allowed itself to rejoice, because Selene did not attack it. She even watched the clown back, which brought the clown immense joy.

The clown had sworn it would never be lonely again.

The clown was a thing of its word.

• • •

By the end of the clown’s fifth week in Selene’s life, she’d trained herself to stand erect, her arm extended, balloon-strings clutched firmly in her hand, for nine hours at a time. She’d found a breathing technique that seemed to calm her muscles, which especially worked if she kept her knees unlocked. She’d found clothes online that seemed to match the clown’s. The shoes she’d found on Etsy, the jacket and gloves on Amazon, the pants on eBay … So the outfit could be explained, as could the clown’s physical endurance. The balloons she could not quite account for. He was probably buying new ones. Could be special effects. Could be anything under the sun.

But the blinking. The blinking was beyond her.

The blinking bothered her.

She was standing in the office kitchen one day, rummaging through the bullshit drawer of random utensils for a plastic fork, when she found the thing. She held it for a moment as she worked up half an idea. She brought it home, worked on it a little, and by 9 p.m., Selene had a fully-formed idea. It was also an absurd idea. It would likely kill her. But Selene didn’t feel like she had much else going for her, other than the mystery of the clown. She did not have a social life. She had no pets, did not speak to her parents anymore. She didn’t even have an office plant.

Selene didn’t know who to call with her idea, but she felt she needed to call someone.

After some debate, Selene called Devin. “Can you drive me to the hospital? I feel weird calling an ambulance on myself.”

“Oh my God. What happened?”

“Well, nothing yet.”

Devin paused. “So, what, you’re psychic now? What’s about to happen?”

Selene held the ice-cream scoop at eye level. It was the kind of scoop with a blade in the spoon, and a lever on the side you could press so the blade would shick around the interior of the spoon. It was supposed to make scooping ice cream easier. Sahil had bought it for the office a long time ago.

Selene had taken it apart, sharpened the blade, and put it back together.

“I’m about to do something really fuckin stupid,” Selene said.

• • •

Selene had not returned to her office for four days. The clown was in despair.

It sat in its sewer-hole each night, gnawing at a chunk of broken glass, wondering what to do. It had been so sure Selene was the one for it. So sure that it’d found the perfect companion at last. The clown could spend even more time staring with Selene than it had with Claire. Claire had stared for maybe two or three hours a day. Before Selene had vanished, she had been going the full day, only sometimes blinking. The clown had been in heaven. It was reminded of the days when it had stood around the home-fire with Mother Clown and Father Clown. They would all clutch their balloons and smile at each other. Standing and staring and smiling, for entire days on end.

That had been before the worm-waves came. The worms devoured everything. Every smile the clown had ever known.

But Selene had given the clown reason to consider smiling again. She’d even somehow found the clown’s traditional homeworld garb. When she stood there in those floppy crimson shoes, watching the clown through the window, standing and staring almost all day, the clown was very happy.

Then Selene had vanished.

The clown, hoping for one last miracle, decided to give Selene three more days (a full week, all told) before it moved on, further down the river. Some other town, some other window. Maybe even your window.

But you’re lucky, you see, because on that third day—Selene finally made an appearance.

The clown brightened as she came into the office. But she did not come alone. Two other people-things (Devin and Taylor) were guiding Selene into the room. Something was different about Selene’s eyes. The clown could not quite see what it was yet.

It watched.

Devin and Taylor led Selene to the center of her office. Selene kept her eyes straight ahead. They were unfocused and glassy. The skin around the eyes was different, too. A strange, drugged smile seemed to tremble about her lips.

The clown watched.

Devin and Taylor let go of Selene and looked at each other. Devin was saying something now (“Whenever you’re ready, Heather in HR wants to talk to you about workplace stress and liability …”). Taylor said something then (“Hailey wants a word, too, I think …”), but Selene didn’t look at either of them. She was looking out the window at the clown.

“That’s fine,” she said, her mouth moving slow, in a dream. “I just want to know … Is he out there?”

Devin and Taylor glanced at the clown.

“Yeah,” sighed Taylor. “He is.”

“He was still showing up when you were in the hospital,” said Devin. “Every day.”

“Look, we can call security,” said Taylor.

“No,” Selene snapped. “No, don’t call anybody. I’m … happy he’s here. I’m happy to … be here. With him.”

Devin and Taylor didn’t know what to say to that one.

So they said a few more simple things (“Just yell down the hall if you need anything”), and then they were gone.

Selene stood there, watching the clown. Her eyes were large and empty, her smile confident but insane.

A minute passed.

Slowly, Selene raised a hand. Gently, she waved it back and forth. She kept waving, and as she did, the clown finally realized what was wrong with her eyes.

They were new. They were made of glass.

They didn’t fit quite right. They bulged out of her sockets in weird places, and the left one seemed stuck in her skull at an angle, lodged wrong in the socket and pointed sideways. Around the eyes were wide red rings of hacked-up flesh and muscle and bone.

It’d taken Selene a few attempts to remove both eyes. The ice-cream scoop had not been as sharp as she had hoped.

But she was here now, and better for it.

Because now she could stand here without blinking.

So she just stood there, smiling, showing her teeth now. Grinning. Waving.

The clown was in awe.

Then the clown noticed something else. It’d been so fixated on Selene’s eyes that it had not looked down. It hadn’t even noticed, until this very moment, that Selene was wearing her full clown garb. The shoes, the gloves, the bright yellow pants and the striped purple suit jacket. Even better, Selene had spent her time in the hospital fashioning a little wilting daisy out of pipe cleaners, in the old tradition of the clown’s homeworld.

The clown was pleased beyond measure.

A moment later, Taylor came back into the office.

“You left these in my car,” she said, handing them over as quickly as she possibly could, like they might infect her with some alien madness.

“Ohh,” said Selene. “Sorry about that. My mind’s not … all in today. Hey, is he still here?”

Taylor glared at the clown. “Yeah. He’s there.”

Selene’s smile grew wider. “Good. Good …” She continued to wave with her free hand. The other held the thing Taylor had brought in from her car.

Taylor left without another word.

She had handed Selene three big balloons. They bobbed a foot above her head. She held their strings tight between her white-gloved fingers.

The clown could not believe its eyes.

The balloons were Mother Clown’s favorite colors. Red, yellow, and blue.

This was the happiest the clown had felt in a long, long time.

When Selene showed up the next day, led into her office by Taylor (“But I can’t drive you in every fuckin day …”), the clown was even happier. Because now, not only was Selene in the traditional garb of the clown’s homeworld, holding those three balloons—she was wearing the traditional make-up that Father Clown used to wear. The bright red gash of a mouth, the dabs of red on the cheeks … And she was standing there, unmoving, unblinking. Perfect. Just like the old ways the clown had always yearned for.

The clown’s frown writhed and turned and became a smile. A big smile. Selene smiled back. And they stood there like that, standing and staring and smiling, for an entire special day.

Selene felt a strange wriggling contentment at knowing she was seen. That she was, for whatever reason, special at last. Special at least for one stranger, anyway. And the clown felt so content being in the company of even just a small spectacle of what was once its home. After three shattered worlds, eight million balloon-years, and eighteen failed attempts at human companionship—Selene had helped the clown feel whole again at last.

This was, in fact, a doubly special day for the clown. Because even though every breathing thing that might ever remember this fact had long since been swept away by the worm-waves of a planet many balloon-years away from Earth—today happened to be the clown’s birthday.

This is Sam Rebelein’s third appearance in Bourbon Penn. He also has work in a variety of publications, including The Dread Machine, Coffin Bell Journal, Press Pause Press, Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, and the Stoker Award-nominated anthology Human Monsters. Sam’s debut horror novel Edenville is coming out in October 2023, and his follow-up collection of stories set in the same universe, The Poorly Made and Other Things, is coming in early 2025. Sam currently lives in Poughkeepsie, NY, with two very old dogs. For pictures of their sweet, stinky lil faces (and updates about Sam’s work), follow him on Instagram @rebelsam94.