Fear of Failing

Author: Ben Farthing

Afraid of clowns? Circuses? The darkness hidden between trees on cold grey days? Failing as a parent? If so, I Found a Circus Tent in the Woods Behind My House is the weird, quirky, and oddly disturbing little story custom made just for you.

As a part of Ben Farthing’s growing Fear series, this story examines the inherent terror hidden in the innocent. The first offering in the series, I Found Puppets Living in My Apartment Walls, warped the joys of childhood TV (think Sesame Street), taking us on a dark jaunt through the disillusionments of growing up and the overwhelming nature of grief. Somehow, despite the bizarreness, it all works. It was both scary and thoughtful, weirdly comedic while being surrealistically disturbing and poignantly thoughtful. I had to have more, so I picked up the next in the series.

In I Found a Circus Tent, Dave is walking with his young son, four-year-old Jacob, through the woods behind their house. It’s a grey, drizzly kind of day, nothing special. They are about to head back when they see it. A vibrant tent, pitched right in the middle of their woods. It’s a huge tent, one that has never been there before, and Dave is ready to tell the owners off: they don’t have a right to be on this land. But then . . . the tent sucks them in. From there on, it’s a fight for survival as the strange tenants of this surreal circus demand that Dave and Jacob compete. The most entertaining will “win.” But win what?

As Dave works his way through the tents, coming upon one horror after another, trying to preserve his child’s innocence and save him from whatever fate awaits, he questions his ability as a parent and finally, the very idea of escape. In the end, he has to do something that will trouble him forever, leaving him questioning his goodness as a person and a father.

Image by Noe León from Pixabay

It’s a tight story, and because of the rampant strangeness, it works. The fever-dream nature, the insanity of it all, makes it more believable. This is a world where anything can and does happen. Some things that happen are terrifying, some are simply strange, and all are imaginative. Is Dave secretly sleeping, having a nightmare somewhere safe in his bed, or is all this real? What do these supernatural circus folks want and why are they here? What is this competition for, and what’s the cost of losing?

The ending is both surprising and haunting. I didn’t think Dave could escape this situation in a believable way, yet Farthing ties it all together, explaining everything while still leaving the ultimate mystery intact. It’s enough to convince us that these tents are still out there, randomly popping up, luring new victims in, the cycle continuing, forever and ever. The way Farthing combines the childhood fear of circuses with the adult fear of failure takes this beyond a merely creative story and gives it a gut-punch impact that lasts. I’m excited for the next in the series.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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