The Dark Circus

Prompt Day #204: Kill a clown

The Dark Circus


“No one comes to the circus anymore.” The Ringleader said, starting the meeting. “If we are to survive, we must evolve. We must give them something they’ve never seen.”

“But, what about my elephant yoga act?” The Contortionist asked. Her pouty face above the pink ruffled costume made her look twenty years younger than the four decades of life she’d collected thus far.

“And we are the highest flying trapeze artists in the world!” The patriarch of the Flying Ferretti’s announced standing and throwing his hand into the air dramatically. The remainder of his red and blue metallic body-suited group nodded, although they spoke no English, they could only respond positively to their leader’s passionate declaration.

The Ringleader, also aged and tired, hushed them with his hands. He could see the others preparing their own speeches on why their act must stay, why it should not change.

“You are all very talented, of course you are, I wouldn’t have brought you all together if I didn’t believe we could make a world renowned circus, but that, my friends, was many moons ago when we were young and there was no internet, no You Tube for the children to see and even record themselves performing death-defying acts. The world has been sensitized to our sort of entertainment. Why pay money to see someone defy death when they can see it for free twenty-four/seven? And what they see is bloodier and more uncertain than anything we professionals could ever offer.

“Yes, it’s true.” the Fire Breather agreed. “Even the ‘freak’ portion of the show doesn’t interest them now. We swallow swords, pound nails into our heads and hang from hooks pierced into our own skin, and yet what do they do? They yawn. They watch their phones and they roll their eyes at their parents who forced them to come.”

“It’s worse for us!” One of the clowns cried out. “If they weren’t interested, well, I could live with that.” Slap Happy, his moniker, was the unspoken leader. He was your run of the mill clown: orange yarn hair, a ruffled collar, and a squirting flower. “But they despise us. Hate us.”

“Yes” said Marceau the clown who had insisted on always wearing black and white with his half black and half white wig and his black grin and wide black eyes over the pure white grease painted face. If ever a clown looked evil, it was he. Yet he insisted on his make-up, insisted on the “classic clown look”

“We came to this meeting to request that the circus consider doing away with its concessions except for cotton candy.” He finished.

“Cotton candy don’t hurt when you get hit in the head with it” The obese clown BoBo, who wore the even larger hooped pants giving the illusion of a gigantic clown, his red shoes, nose and hair in proportion to the hoop said. His intellect, unfortunately was an inverse to his size. “I don’t like getting’ hit with all that junk. And I don’t want to get in that tiny car no more either.” He pouted.

“The rest of the clowns agree” Slap Happy said. “Listen, we realize that this meeting is to come up with ideas for keeping the circus alive, but if something doesn’t change for us, you’ll be doing it without the clowns.”

“Ha-Ha” BoBo laughed “A circus with no clowns. That’s dumb.”

The clowns left. Those three had been with the circus the longest. Slap Happy had been there as long as The Ringleader had. They’d practically grew up together. There were now eight full time clowns, but only these three had their own names, identities and acts outside of the basic clown shenanigans off and on throughout the show.

The group watched them leave. The Fire Breather laughed. “What would we do without the clowns? The people fucking hate them. We’d probably do a better business if we offered public clown executions!”

The Ringleader jumped to his feet and then quickly sat back down. He rubbed his hand over his mouth as if trying to suppress whatever thought was attempting to force its way out. He looked around at the remaining performers at the meeting as if weighing his options.

“He’s right, you know. They all hate the clowns.”

“So, get rid of them.” The Lion Tamer said shrugging. “It’ll help payroll of nothing else.”

“I think that is literally what he is thinking” said The Contortionist “Isn’t it?”

“Well, yes. I mean, the audience hates the clowns, and they want more. More danger, more blood, more shock value for their money.” The Ringleader responded.

“You want ‘ta kill ‘em?” The Trick Rider asked.

“Well, let’s say we advertise ‘NEW SHOCKING THRILLS AND CHILLS’ and one of our clowns happens to die, and word gets around that you might get to see someone die live. I bet we’ll have a full house before we get through the first four.” The Ringleader was flush with excitement.

“So what happens when you run out of clowns?” The Contortionist asked

“Well, by then we’ll be popular again, we won’t have to kill anyone else.” This was the first time The Ringleader sounded dubious. The group looked at each other. If they agreed, where would it end? They would all have to bring more danger into their acts, put their own lives at risk in order to save themselves…or leave the circus. There was nowhere else to go though; they’d all lived their lives in the circus. They would have to make this a Dark Circus and they would have to make sure their act survived the chopping block each week. The Contortionist shivered. The Ferrettis licked their adrenaline-dry lips. The Lion Tamer fiddled with his whip, thinking about the consequences of increasing the danger of his act. The Trick Rider took off his hat, rubbed his hair and spit a wad of tobacco on the floor. He’d need to get some wild mustangs maybe. The Fire Breather twirled his batons around thinking of other dangerous things he could put in his mouth and wondered if the Sword Swallower would consider trying to swallow a mace instead.

“We can only go through with this if the decision is unanimous and we all agree to whatever consequences it brings. If we go down, we go down together.” The Ringleader said. He put his hand in. One by one, they each put a hand on top of his until every person left in the tent was in the huddle. There was only this silent assent and nothing more. The meeting was adjourned.


The following week, some adjustments had been made to various acts, the posters for the new and improved circus had been posted and it was a near sell-out crowd. The Ringleader’s heart was pounding and his voice was shaky when he began. He too had reworked his act, finding a deeper, more frightening voice. Soon, it would be time for the clowns to arrive. Their entrance was always the same; the little VW bug filled unbelievably with all eight of them. They would ride out to the center ring and tumble out one by one. Adjustments had been made to their act as well, they were assured that the seats in the car had been lowered and thinned to provide more room, which was true. But also, multiple airbags had been added as well as remote locks. The airbags would be deployed just after the doors locked them all in.

It was no surprise to anyone that BoBo was the first to go. When the Ringleader finally unlocked the doors and the sweaty clowns tumbled out, the lay on the ground gasping for air. The crowd stood up and cheered. The Ringleader counted quickly. Seven. Seven and the missing one was BoBo; that was easy enough to see. The other clowns were also realizing his absence and had looked back into the Bug. It took three clowns to drag his purple corpse out of the car. The audience gasped. Not a single person left as they tried CPR. Not a single ticketed guest sat down when the paramedics arrived. No one asked for a refund when the announcement came that he was dead. Concessions were at their highest after the clown car “fiasco.”

The following week, Slap Happy succumbed to prussic acid that had somehow made it inside his squirting flower. One of his nameless clowns went down with him. This time, the full house stood whooping and cheering. The clowns involved rolled around coughing, vomiting, and foaming at the mouth. They clawed at their eyes and noses. They ran around the ring blindly, screaming for help. The crowd cheered.

Week after week, a tent-full of coulrophobics gathered beneath the new black circus tent to see how they would dispose of a clown or two. They were never disappointed. Clowns were mauled by the Lion (who had gone some time without being fed), flattened by an off-balance and secretly drugged elephant and once in a very freak accident, caught on fire by an dropped (or tossed) baton.

By this time, in an effort to stay alive, the Lion Tamer was wearing a meat suit a la Lady Gaga, the Contortionist balanced on the trunk of the elephant which in turn balanced on a single foot on top of a pink sparkled cinder block. The Trick Rider brought in wild caught mustangs and managed by the end of the act to straddle them and ride them out of the ring. The Fire Breather caught flaming arrows between his teeth and the Sword Swallower impaled himself from top and bottom with swords.

When the clowns were gone, the Dark Circus moved on. When they arrived in a new town, they first advertised for clowns before opening for business….and for a long time, business was good.