A creepy and anonymous clown has been terrifying residents of Northampton by standing around on street corners and staring at passers-by.
Love 'em or hate 'em, the story of clowns is intertwined with the history of human symbolism. Much like horror films, clowns can serve as both release valves for tension and safe havens to explore the stickier corners of our psyche.
Also like horror films, clowns have their time and place - the court jester or the circus clown are to be found in certain settings, under certain circumstances. From the first campfire stories on, tales and symbols have helped defang our monsters as well as imparting valuable social lessons.
Horror films serve the social purpose of adding grave consequences to anti-social behaviours (sneaking off to a cabin in the woods to do things you wouldn't do on a street or at home) once owned by fairy tales. A white-faced character clown can deflate egocentric leaders and provide metaphorical lessons on humility or empathy.
But what happens when the metaphor leaves the page, when the horror climbs through the screen? While there's comfort in caged horrors, the reverse can be absolutely terrifying. We are unnerved by the heart of darkness that we perceive beyond the membrane of civilization's light; unpredictable, irrational atrocities like the DC Navy Yard shooting burst are bubble of imagined security.
It should come as no surprise, then, that a clown without a home or a purpose freaks people out; the metaphor conveyed is not clear and the implications of a barrier-free world are unnerving.
Of course, the same holds true for the homeless on our streets, often with mental illness, that have no place to belong. By their behaviour and manner of dress, though, we can convince ourselves that they belong as part of our urban landscape.
The Northampton Clown could be a proud stalwart of the clown tradition, delivering a powerful and timely social message about perception, fear and exclusion. S/He could also just be a bored urbanite looking for kicks. Either way, there's a lesson in here for us about how we interpret the world.
Maybe, one day, we'll figure it out. In the meantime, if the clown on the street should asks you if you want a balloon - run.