Short fiction time again and zombie time again as well. “Circus of the dead” by Seth Blackburn is another chapbook by Smashwords and focuses on a post-apocalyptic world that is slowly recovering after being destroyed by a zombie attack. Towns are fairly isolated and scattered with little or no technology as mankind has been reduced to a state similar to the old west after surviving the zombie plague. Life in these towns is fairly mundane until the circus rolls into town.
The whole town turns out to watch as the horse-drawn wagon carrying the circus ringmaster rolls into town in a frayed tuxedo. As soon as he begins to talk, he is confronted by the town’s religious leader, Reverend Joe, who makes it clear that his kind is not wanted. This does not stop the man who begins to tout the circus and its wonders. He goes through a list of standard circus fare such as wild animals and then finishes with the star attraction of the circus: a real zombie. Zombies had destroyed the world as it had once been but had since been mostly wiped out. Seeing on in person was too much for many people to resist and the circus master knew that.
That evening finds the narrator talking to his brother about whether or not he is going to the circus with both knowing that the other wanted to go in spite of his words. Reverend Joe called an emergency town meeting to stir the men of the town against the circus and the threat that he felt it held to his authority. The boys are surprised when their father gives them a piece of jewelry that belonged to their mother as admission to the circus. This seals it and the two boys steal off to the circus after nightfall. But when Reverend Joe shows up as the zombie is being displayed to the frightened crowd, is the zombie the true monster of the story or is it man that was ultimately behind the downfall of civilization and will it happen again.
“Circus of the dead” is a strong short story that has an interesting take on the zombie genre. Seth Blackburn avoids the tried and true and gives us a story that entertains but also has a morale question at its heart. There is very little action in the story so those who like to read about zombies eating the brains of their human victims will be left a little disappointed but the story was stronger for that. Blackburn focuses more on the state of humanity after the apocalypse rather than the zombies and this makes “Circus of the dead” an interesting and entertaining read for any zombie or horror fan.