By Joseph "Skull Vault" Walter
Super Mario 64 reigned supreme as the king of all video games.
The month was October.
The Regend begins...
We also share a love for the medium of video games, be they garbage, art or in-between, and for whatever reason, in the October of 1998, all of these factors came together.
Aside from that singular moment of birthday levity, the made-up faces and wacky laughs of other clowns haunted him continually.
As his "brother," I was aware of this fear and, in an inexplicable and stunning act of cunning and evil for a six or seven year old, I took advantage of it.
I'll never forget the moody atmosphere of the demo, starting in a boat tied to the dock, the eerie landscape or the incredibly chilling ghosts appearing and saying "shoot me" (which, if you did, allowed you to watch a pretty cool cutscene with live actors appearing in-game.)
There was also a lot of blood, gore and first-person shooting.
However, what stuck with me most of all was the end of the demo, where an old-timey song (which wasn't actually old-timey at all) would play, and a hideous Butcher Clown would appear as the text urged you to purchase the whole game.
First of all, it wasn't even a butcher clown:
Returning to the October of 1998. I had a Nintendo 64, and Michael had a PlayStation. It was only natural that he was envious of the messianic glory that Super Mario 64 embodied, so we would often play it together, truly experiencing the game the way it was meant to be played.
This brings us to the needlessly horrifying Big Boo's Haunt or, as we called it, "the Haunted House."
We both found the level to be uncomfortably eerie, but not exactly scary.
Well, except for that utterly terrifying piano, which caused many a jump scare.
Maybe it was the continually-looping ghastly music, which is needlessly nightmarish and ominous. Maybe it was the subtle fear in the air that we both felt. Or maybe... yes, this must be it... maybe it was the Merry-Go-Round music that played in the basement of the house's... shed? Or something.
The music clearly had an adverse affect on Michael, and it was that reaction which made me recall his fear of clowns. I fired the first shot:
"You know, there's a crazy secret in this level. I only saw it once. I think it was upstairs."
The sweat started to form on his brow. He questioned me about the meaning of such a clandestine mystery, but I dared not reveal too much of my farcical intention... telling him I didn't think he could "handle it" when he pressed for more details.
His eyes darted around. He did not wish to believe me regarding the presence of a most hidden area, but his soul did.
Keep in mind that this was during the era when Pokemon was firing on all cylinders, where mysterious glitches and secrets, true or not, were being passed among playgrounds in schools across the country. Truly, it felt as if anything was possible.
This was the key.
Now, Michael wasn't fully aware that this wall could be passed through with the power of the Vanish Cap, and I made sure to continue to withhold this information.
Phase II was ready to begin.
"That's it! It's behind that wall!"
"H-how do we get in...?"
"Hmm... I don't know..."
"Joe, please. What's in there."
"... a butcher clown."
"A butcher clown. He's got this bloodstained shirt on, with cleavers (editor's note: I was obsessed with the word "cleaver" and had a prop one from an old Halloween store) in his body and he's holding one in his hand and tries to chop you with it."
Michael still didn't believe me.
.... just kidding: of course he did.
Whether he admitted it or not, deep down he felt it was real. That's how powerful his fear of clowns was.
So we tried to get into the room to no avail until he figured out the way the Vanish Cap worked. We get in, he was scared of the eye, killed it, realized that his most dire fear was not present, and then expressed a mixture of relief and disappointment. Possibly anger.
I should have just given up the ruse. But I didn't.
"I swear I saw him in there. Past the eye. I don't remember how to get it. I'm sorry. But he's really in there and he's really scary."
That was pretty much the end of actively seeking out the fabled "Butcher Clown," but it was not the end of the fear. I would occasionally bring it up through the years, as did he, until we both finally became cognizant and he looked up the existence (or lack-thereof) himself.
The Legend of the Butcher Clown lives on, though. As I mentioned in my recent take on the scariest game I had ever played, both he and I were prone to shared hallucinations about things that struck a spooky chord within us.
We believed in Lament of Innocence's "Garden of the Silenced Newborns," and we believed in the Butcher Clown.
Maybe we still do.