There are two men in the video. They’re walking between the cars through the parking garage. The camera is attached to the ceiling, or maybe to one of the concrete pillars, and both are moving away from it. One of them is wearing a really dirty orange jumpsuit, and the other a greenish t-shirt that might at some point have been black, denim pants, and old, worn-out tennis shoes. Their faces will never be clearly visible: right now, their backs are turned, of course, but in any case, their shadows will always be thick and black, in high contrast. Besides, the texture of the image is blurry, with low resolution. The colors are very intense—oversaturated—, which suggests that the recording was tampered with.
Suddenly there’s movement at the edge of the screen. A third man has appeared in front of the other two. This one’s dressed as a clown: green pants, a red jacket, and yellow shoes. He’s wearing a white mask, probably rubber, with tufts of fake blue and purple hair.
The mask’s features are those of a demon, with big fangs.
The other two men, obviously baffled, stop in their tracks. For a few seconds, they don’t move.
At that point, we notice that in front of the clown, between him and the two watching him, there’s a body stretched out on the ground. It looks like it’s moving a little. It’s partly hidden by a shadow on the ground and looks, at first, like a blot, a shapeless form. The movement resolves into a coherent image: his head, with unclear facial features; his left arm—a long sleeve, a big, shapeless spot that must be a hand—and maybe part of his torso.
Seconds pass. The other figures—the one in the jumpsuit, the one in the t-shirt, the clown—look like statues and allow us to focus our attention on the stretched-out body. Its movement might be intermittent or spastic, out of control. Is it wounded, drugged?
We’ll never know. Suddenly the clown holds up a huge hammer (metal? did he always have it in his hands?) and swings it hard into the head of the body on the ground, which booms (or explodes? what’s that sound?) and shoots out a red stream onto the jumpsuit guy and his friend.
Both scream. Both turn around, showing the camera their chests and faces splattered with the red liquid. Both run away with the clown right behind them, brandishing his hammer. All three leave the frame and don’t come back.
The video ends. The reporter closes the tablet and hands it back to the editor.
“It’s one of those hoaxes,” he says. “The ones with a hidden camera. That thing on the ground is a dummy. The head is a ball filled with some kind of liquid, and there’s a spring or something that moves the arm. The page doesn’t say who made it, right? There’s no logos or anything…”
“It’s probably edited: they took it from another site. Typical. More than likely it’s processed, which is why it looks that way. Send me the link so I can watch it later at home. And too bad about the jumpsuit guy, huh?”
“What do you mean?”
“They guy was a real porker. The moment he started running he must have had a heart attack.”
They both chuckle a little, slightly.
“So, you’ll send me the note tomorrow morning? What did the specialist tell you?” the editor asks. She’s referring to an academic who agreed to talk with the reporter about his story: urban legends (and their many modern derivatives, including of course videos like the one with the clown) and their massive popularity in some countries with high rates of violence.
The reporter takes out his own tablet, turns it on, and opens a file. He says:
“It’s a little obvious, what he said. That reality is always stranger than fiction, that people know that the most meaningful horror stories are the ones from real life, the massacres… Here, let me find the section.” He uses his finger to move the text across the screen. “People in countries like ours, he says, can’t ‘escape,’ or distract themselves with these violent stories like people who don’t have that stuff nearby. Simply because that’s their reality. Unless they’re very rich, politicians, or gangsters, they don’t need escapism. And so, they have to search for alternatives. That look real, but that have to do with other threats. Killer clowns, space monsters with lots of tentacles, the Slender Man…”
“The Slender Man? A really skinny guy, about 9 feet tall with no face who shows up in photos.”
“And people are scared of him?”
“He’s really popular. But the point, according to this guy, is that people like monsters not because they’re entertaining, but because in the end they provide comfort. Their victims are always seen from far away, they’re always worse off than you are, and what’s more you can understand what’s going on, how they got into danger, what mistakes they made. You could say that the same thing happens in execution videos, decapitations: ‘what is that idiot doing in Syria,’ ‘why do they mess with drug traffickers.’” The editor makes a face and the reporter makes quotation marks in the air. “That’s how people think. But it looks bad to admit that you’re entertained by watching a real death. Better to watch deaths that are just as violent but that you can defend by saying they’re fake. The guy says something else…” The reporter looks at the file again. “Here it is. In real life, you don’t understand why things go bad, why you don’t have money, why your partner leaves you, why people with power do the things they do. But it all makes sense here.”
The editor chats some more with the reporter. Later he says goodbye and leaves the small office. On the other side of the door is the Attacker, but the man passes by him without paying any attention: he doesn’t look like a clown, a demon, an inhumanly tall being, a tentacle space monster, or a dangerous criminal. In other words, the Attacker and his friends’ strategy of misinformation—which is very arduous and complex: which includes videos like the one with the clown and a lot of other things—continues to work, and nobody notices him.
The reporter walks to the elevators. The Attacker briefly considers how easy it would be to follow him, tackle him in some discrete location, and carry him off. Nobody can fight back. The best they could do, once caught, would be to come up with some explanation and understand, helpless, what was going to happen to them.
But, of course, something like that would be absurd. Why would he attack a reporter, when he’s one of the people who spread the faked or debunked stories that allow precisely the activities of the Attacker and his friends?
“Don’t shit where you eat,” White Face, one of the Attacker’s closest friends, often says. He’s a vulgar and unpleasant person. He likes to be seen and then punish whoever makes the mistake of looking at him too closely. His saying may be unpleasant, but it’s not wrong.
The Attacker waits until another elevator arrives. He goes down to the parking garage, pays his ticket, gets into his car, and drives out onto the street. He drives at a moderate speed without committing any traffic violations. Before long he pulls up to his house, parks, enters, and goes down to his huge, perfectly equipped basement.
The people he collected last week are still in cages or tied to tables. And they’re still alive, conscious, lucid.
None of them sought him out. None of them had a prior fondness or interest in conspiracy theories and ghost stories. None of them are important enough that people would miss them or investigate their disappearance.
Some of them scream, begging or cursing him, but almost all of them are silent, tamed by their days or weeks or months of captivity. The most ravaged ones, the ones that no longer have their limbs or their skin, aren’t always the most docile.
“What do you think?” the Attacker says, in a loud voice, but it’s a rhetorical question. He steps into his little closet and comes out dressed in his white lab coat with a rubber apron, ready to select the tools he’ll use tonight.
Translated by Jesse Ward