Miami: Maybe it's better to leave the clown costume in the closet this Halloween.
Hysteria sweeping the United States after a series of "creepy clown" sightings in recent weeks has created an unwelcome scare this 31 October when Americans will celebrate all things ghoulish, sinister and fantastical.
The Halloween holiday sees millions of American children don costumes and go house-to-house trick-or-treating in neighborhoods across the country.
But cities and law enforcement are discouraging or even banning clown costumes this year after sightings of sinister clowns, some armed with knives.
Authorities fear the bizarre trend could provoke a nasty backlash when children turn out for Sunday night.
The unusual sightings began in August with reports of people in South Carolina dressed as clowns trying to lure children into the woods.
The appearances soon spread with more than 20 states now having reported clown incidents, and although most were pranks in bad taste or unverified threats, some arrests have been made, including for attacks.
The craze has even spread beyond the United States to Europe, South America and Australia.
The hysteria has had surprising repercussions for many, such as Armando Santana, a 22-year-old actor who performs as a scary clown in a popular Miami horror house.
He says he would no longer dream of leaving his job without ditching the costume.
"It means that by the end of the night I have to wash my face. I can't drive my car with this on, just in case I get stopped," he said, emitting a classic menacing chuckle.
Even a building in Miami Beach warned its residents ahead of the Halloween door-knocking: "You must be extra careful with anyone wearing clown masks."
Burger chain McDonald's meanwhile has scaled back public appearances of its famous smiley-faced clown mascot Ronald McDonald, citing "the current climate around clown sightings."
And discount retail chain Target halted the sale of clown masks because of "the current environment," said spokesman Joshua Thomas.
While some observers have made light of the sightings, police and other authorities are taking the craze seriously.
"Did you know that you could be arrested for wearing a clown mask with the intent to disturb the peace?" warned the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office on Twitter this month.
The Miami police released a video that shows a boy, fleeing a shadowy clown in the dark, being run over by a car. "These pranks can have serious or even tragic ends," it concludes.
Updated Date: Oct 30, 2016 15:49:19 IST