Tales From the Darkside 301: The Circus

It's a spooky circus this week, one run by beloved character actor William Hickey! And being visited by less beloved character actor Kevin O'Connor. That's right, I said it, O'Connor - what are you going to do about it? You want to be beloved? Then you should have been the drunk in The Producers!

Kevin plays a skeptical reporter who arrives at the circus ready to write a scathing review of the spectacle. He's somewhat famous for hating things, you see, and doesn't believe that anything exists which can shock him. He's actually sought out the circus of the bizarre over the years - and who could blame him? The flyers advertise a real-life werewolf, vampire, and mummy!

The reporter describes it as little more than a pathetic cash grab, and William responds that he asks for only enough money to pay for the feeding of his acts. I wonder... do they enjoy... reporter?

Wait, I may have the twist wrong - Kevin announces that he had trouble finding the circus, as it's hidden away at the end of a country road - he even hit a run and ran his car into a tree! Could it be that the reporter is a ghost, and little does he know it, but he's about to become the circus's latest attraction: The Living Ghost!

It would be quite ironic, seeing as the reporter prides himself on being a skeptic who exposes charlatans, so as to better justify the lack of magic that exists within his own heart. William offers to take Kevin on a private showing of some of the beasts, so that he can experience the terror with his own two eyes! First up... the Vampire!

He doesn't make much of an impression, stepping out, snarling a little, then calming down when offered an adorable lamb to feast on in lieu of Kevin.

Gosh, those things are cute. Less cute when they're dead, however - the live slaughtering gets under Kevin's skin, and he reminds William that this is supposedly a show for entire families - how can he justify killing animals onstage? William explains that it's just a pre-show snack he's witnessing. When kids are in the crowd he merely snacks on rats and snakes.

Comforted a little by that, as well as his belief that he's only dealing with a pretend vampire, Kevin starts to examine the vampire's 'makeup' when he's waylaid by some vicious dogs! The dogs, it seems, are employed to keep the acts in check - they're effective in their roles, to, as the vampire retreats to his coffin at the sight of them. Their leashes snap moments later, though, giving Kevin quite a scare as they rush up on him, barking furiously.

More than a little unnerved, Kevin insists that he's ready for the next act. He even compliments William's showmanship, still lying to himself that it's all a production.

Deep in the cages (where are these cages? I thought this was a traveling show!) William promises a very special treat - the werewolf! At first it seems to be little more than a man huddled in the corner. William insists that the change is coming, and offers the man a set of raw ribs to hurry things along. While waiting, Kevin is startled again, this time by a Frankenstein which comes lurching out of the shadows!

William explains that the Creature was his latest creation, but it wasn't a complete success. Which means it's time to deal with the failure in the only humane fashion - by having the dogs tear it to pieces. This is all proving too much for Kevin, who is running out of rational explanations for the things he's seeing. He threatens William with a review so bad that it will destroy the circus once and for all! Which seems out of reach for a columnist, no matter how powerful he may be. Especially when the circus can skate by already with such a tiny audience.

Kevin doesn't storm out, however, due to that little part in him that hasn't completely shut out his childlike sense of wonder. He absolutely must see the final exhibit: The mummy! And as that creature opens its eyes and crawls from its sarcophagus, Kevin pays the price of the curious, when his heart surrenders from fright. Why is this? As William puts it - If someone who believes in a ghost meets one, he will be terrified. If someone who disbelieves encountered absolute proof, the shock would be fatal!

So that's it for Kevin, who winds up becoming an act in the show after all.

The new Frankenstein!

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