'Fluffy', was his name, at least to the children at the mall. He hated it. He looked into the mirror. That clown was staring back at him, his bushy frizz of ginger hair, slightly lopsided, sat loosely on his head like the crown of an old tree. His pure white face, with blue ringed eye sockets, a tomato nose, and thick ruby lips painted into a permanent smile, was all meant to amuse. To him it just looked sad and creepy. It looked like failure.
There was a knock. A female voice spoke from behind the door. "One minute, Mark."
Mark remained focused on the miserable figure in the mirror. "Fine."
He stood, the fading rainbow stripes of his tired overcoat sagged almost to the floor. It has to end now, he thought. That thought, that demand to himself, gave him a sudden sense of purpose. He breathed slowly and deeply for a moment, and then opened the wardrobe next to the dressing table. He knelt down and rummaged through the old clothes that had accumulated at the bottom until he found what he was looking for, wrapped in an old white towel. It felt heavy, reassuring. He stood back up and put it into the oversized inside pocket of his overcoat. Perfect. He headed for the door.
From the darkness at the side of the stage he could see them, a hundred at least, their eager little eyes waiting, their noisy clamour violating his ears. At the back their vacuous parents, fixed on their phones, stood oblivious to it all; happy that their children would not bother them for attention for the next 20 minutes. Beyond, on multiple levels, shoppers wandered, consuming and buying mostly what they don't need at all.
Mark's fellow performer, Janice, was on stage now. The children roared with delight as she performed a back flip, her sparking pink catsuit glittering as she moved under the bright lights. She stood at the front, grinning and waving, and fiddling with the whiskers that had been pasted high onto her cheeks at either side of her nose. "Hello! I'm Kitty Jane, It's so lovely to see you all!"
The children roared once again.
Mark almost gagged at the sickly inanity of it.
Janice continued talking for another minute, building up the excitement higher and higher. Finally she said "Oh!" as she looked briefly off-stage. "I think he's here! You know who I mean, don't you, children?"
The children shouted in unison. "Fluffy!"
"I couldn't quite hear you. Who do I mean?"
Even louder. "Fluffy!"
"That's right! Here he is!"
Janice moved off to the side clapping her 'paws' vigorously, her grin wide and fake.
Mark wandered onto the stage. He looked out at the audience, squinting against the glare of the lights. The children were standing and jumping, and shrieking like animals. He made his way slowly to the centre of the stage and stood still.
He did nothing. He said nothing.
Even so the children kept jumping and shrieking. Some were shouting his name, some were laughing, and one at the front even threw a soft toy at him.
He continued doing nothing, saying nothing.
The children started to quieten down, their expressions showing more and more confusion as each second passed.
'Fluffy' still did nothing.
Eventually 'Kitty Jane' spoke. "You're very quiet today, Fluffy. Don't you want to say hello to all the children?"
Mark turned and looked at her. She was still grinning, but her frowning eyes gave away her irritation. "No." he said, his voice deep and gravelly; not at all like 'Fluffy's' usual high tone. He turned to face the now silent crowd. He looked down at the children on the front row. Their smiles had vanished, but their eyes were large and expectant. They wanted a show.
Mark would give them one.
Reaching into his inside pocket he pulled out the object wrapped in the old white towel. He started to unwrap it, slowly and carefully.
"What do you have there, Fluffy?" 'Kitty Jane' asked, walking up to him.
Mark looked at her and put his hand inside the last fold of the towel. He pulled hard and fast, sweeping downwards.
Janice gasped and collapsed to the floor. She clutched her thigh as a stream of dark blood flowed quickly onto the stage. She moaned and started pulling herself away.
Mark held the soiled machete up in front of his face and twisted it slowly, enjoying the satisfying glint of the lights in the blade.
The children were already screaming and crying. They started running back towards their parents, some of whom were only just looking up from their phones. Some adult screams could be heard now.
Janice had reached the edge of the stage and was trying to get down. Mark walked towards her, his machete swinging loosely by his side. He made a point of stepping in the thick trail of blood that led to her. She sobbed as he approached, holding up her hands and shaking her head. Her breathing was shallow and rapid. He raised the blade. "This ends now."
"Drop the weapon!"
Mark turned. One of the mall's many overweight security officers was approaching. His gun was raised and held in trembling hands. Beads of sweat glistened on his bald head.
"I said drop the weapon! Now!"
Mark looked at the machete and then down at Janice. She cowered pathetically at his feet. He looked back at the officer. He was only a few feet away now, his fear almost undisguised.
Two more were approaching.
Mark spoke quietly. "This ends now."
The officer nodded. "Yep. The best way is for that to happen is for you to put the weapon down."
Mark raised the blade slowly, turning it. The way the light played across its surface was remarkably fascinating.
"Put it down, buddy. Final warning!"
The other officers were now standing by the first, guns aimed. They had the same body shape and the same trembling hands as the first; all stereotypically out of shape and out-of-their-depth mall cops. It was almost farcical.
Enough of this, Mark thought. Rapidly, he swung the machete high and back. There was a loud popping sound, and then an ache, deep and wide sucked at his chest. His breathing stopped, like being stuck at the start of an endless hiccup. Another pop. He found himself on the ground. The ache was now intense. He tried to breath in but nothing happened. He looked around. Janice was being dragged off the stage by one of the officers. The machete was lying just inches away. His mouth filled with the metallic tang of blood. Someone was over him, shouting. He didn't understand. He looked at the machete. There was a glint of brightness in the blade. It was mesmerising.