Bobo’s Haunted Circus (Flash Fiction)

Photo credit: Wee Willy Wicked

Okay, guys. Chill. It’s getting dark. I need you all around the fire so I can keep track. Nobody wander off. Two steps into the trees and it’s pitch black. You’ll get turned around and lost. I don’t want to explain to your parents why their kid didn’t make it back home.

Jimmy, come on. Why didn’t you pee when it was still light? Fine. Just to that tree there, no farther. Hurry. You don’t want Bobo to find you out there alone.

What? You guys haven’t heard about Bobo? Hurry up, Jimmy! You don’t want to miss this. Finish up over there and hurry back to the fire.

They say years ago, in this very spot, a circus pitched their big top once a year. Right where we’re sitting. They had elephants and dancing dogs, a high-wire act. They had everything. The Macelli Brothers owned it.  Giovanni and Enzo. They did everything together, and the circus was their dream.

At first, they took turns being ringmaster, but eventually, Enzo decided it wasn’t for him. What he really loved was making people laugh. So, he became their star clown, Bobo, and Giovanni was the ringmaster from then on. It worked out fine. Nobody felt slighted. Everybody was happy. Giovanni and Enzo shared everything.

That is, until Yvette showed up with her trick pony act. She was the most beautiful woman either of them had ever seen. With her pink tutu covered in rhinestones, she sparkled like an angel atop her pony. They say she moved so fast, it was hard for the eye to follow—flipping from side to side on the moving pony, spinning, turning, dismounting, leaping to its back and down again.

Both brothers were instantly smitten. But this was one thing they couldn’t share. For the first time, they were rivals. They courted her, each in his own way. Giovanni brought her flowers and chocolates, and Enzo brought her silly poems and tricks. She loved the way Enzo made her laugh, but in the end, Giovanni won her heart.

Enzo didn’t take it very well.

He became more and more despondent. Living with the circus doesn’t give a person much privacy, and everywhere Enzo went, there was the happy couple. Holding hands. Smiling. Laughing.

Everyone knew Giovanni and Yvette would get engaged, but it still came as a slap to Enzo. He argued with every decision Giovanni made after that, whether it was as simple as when to light the torches or as complicated as where their next stop would be. Eventually, Enzo demanded to be ringmaster again, saying that Giovanni had taken over and wanted everything for himself. When Giovanni gave him a turn at it, Enzo’s cues were all off, and he forgot his lines.

Ashamed, Enzo went back to being Bobo. He started leaving his clown makeup on hours after all the kids went home. It was easier to be Bobo, with his painted-on smile.

When Giovanni asked Enzo to be his best man, Enzo tried to put aside his resentment and agreed. The days leading up to the wedding were hard, though, and nobody saw much of Enzo. He stayed in his wagon alone. The fat lady brought him meals, but they mostly remained untouched.

On the day of the wedding, the bride was magnificent, dressed in white peacock feathers and satin slippers. She rode in on her spangled pony and dismounted in the middle of the ring beside her love. The strong man was there to marry them, since he had once been a Baptist minister. Acrobats and animal trainers, roadies and freaks all sat in the bleachers, teary eyed and smiling.

Enzo was still in his wagon.

Should they go on without him? They waited and muttered to each other while the happy couple shifted from foot to foot, wondering what to do.

The crowd shushed when Enzo finally walked in. Or rather, Bobo walked in. His face was painted in a bright parody of a smile, his nose a red ball, and his feet in floppy, comical shoes. His makeup was streaked from crying. The colors ran together in freakish smears. He wore the ringmaster’s costume with the makeup, and his red and green wig poked out to the sides, erasing the dignity of the tall, somber hat.

Someone snickered. Someone else chuckled. Before long, laughter spread through the crowd. Everyone held their sides and gasped for air.

Bobo was embarrassed and a little annoyed. Then he cast his eye on the center of the ring. His Yvette was lovelier than he could have imagined. And she was laughing, too. So was Giovanni.

In a rage, Bobo grabbed the nearest weapon at hand. How dare they laugh at him? Laughter used to make him happy. He would not be laughed at now. In his anger, Bobo didn’t realize he’d grabbed a torch, or that the torch had lit the big top on fire.

The fire spread so fast. People screamed and fled. Yvette’s pony panicked and kicked her in the head. Giovanni tried to help her, but a tent support fell, knocking him to the ground. Flames licked at the peacock feathers of Yvette’s beautiful dress, but she and Giovanni were both unconscious, unable to fight the flames. They were engulfed.

Through it all, Bobo stood watching, the torch clutched in his fingers.  No one would laugh at him again. No one.

The circus burned to the ground, and the survivors went their separate ways. They never saw Bobo again.

But they say sometimes you can hear calliope music from the trees. He comes back, looking for an audience. He snatches people—especially kids—so he can take them away to his haunted circus in the forest.

If you laugh, he’ll kill you. If you don’t, he’ll kill you.

It’s all the same to Bobo.


What? Come on, guys, it’s just a story. Don’t be so jumpy.

Hey. What happened to Jimmy? Didn’t he come back?

Guys? Is that…is that calliope music?


Rachel is the author of the urban fantasy Monster Haven series from Carina Press. She believes in magic, the power of love, good cheese, lucky socks, and putting things off until stress gets them done faster at the last minute. Her home is Disneyland, despite her current location in Kansas.

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