A good share of the story have a some sort of historical setting, maybe "modern" history, meaning the beginning of the XX century, or a some sort of fantasy setting with an ancient feeling, but in any case, even if the setting is today, the feeling is the same, as if the circus world didn't change a lot in more than 100 years, or in the next 100, and living inside it is like living in a bubble, no one from the outside can enter, and the habitat inside the bubble self-feed itself.
Roustabout by Dale Chase: this is a little historical short story, set in the Far West in 1878. It's quite the classical tale, the circus arrives in small western town, with animals, and men, no one has ever seen. Eli was eagerly waiting the circus because his buddy friend, and lover, Jack told him everything about it, but now Jack is dead, and with him all Eli's will to live. The among those man he sees Tully, big, strong and sexy Tully, maybe not so clever, but at least he is something/someone new who is able to distract Eli from his sorrows. What probably I liked most of this story is that the author chose to give a happily for now ending to Eli: probably it will be nothing, probably nothing will change, but if Eli will have the courage, or the carelessness, to take a chance, maybe the future will be different for him.
Winter Quarters by Tom Cardamone: this story is set all among the circus people; Jimmy is born inside the circus and he has never known anything different, his desire is to find a place in the circus "hierarchy" but he seems to have no special talent. When Keith nears him, Jimmy immediately understands what is pushing the other boy, their common friend Mario has probably told him of how they were used to "play" together, and Keith wants a piece of that for himself. But Jimmy, while is interesting in playing with Keith, is not interesting in being his toy, and he will find a way to mater the game. Nice feeling in the story and after all, even if it's not exactly a love story, is an happy ending, and who knows? maybe Keith will be intrigued by this new Jimmy.
Charlie Does the Big Top by Hank Edwards: this is a spin-off of the "Fluffers, Inc" by Hank Edwards about professional fluffers, meaning that men who work in the p**n industry with the task of getting "ready" the male actors to perform. Charlie is one of the fluffers, but he is not in the good grace of the director; he expects the experience on a circus p**n set to be no good, but he will have a nice surprise, circus people are very welcoming and even if Charlie is a bit clumsy, they will "help" him in getting the task done. More or less a wicked tale absolutely no preachy on the p**n industry and Charlie's chosen career, above all Charlie himself has no regret at all, and he is plenty enjoying the momentum.
Horse's Ass by Ralph Seligman: another, very short story set all among circus people, one of the handyman of the circus share a trailer with one of the clown, and the trailer is not the only thing they share. There is no one to judge them, no one to consider if not each other, and they are plenty enjoying the freedom. Light and nice, this story has nothing of the nostalgia feeling that sometime overwhelm the "circus" stories.
The Midnight Barker by William Holden: I'm not sure if I have to read a metaphor in this short story because, if I have, I'm not sure I like it. The wandering circus of Nathaniel is not a normal one, they are soul feeders and their favourite "snacks" are the young men, those men who don't feel they belong to this world, those young men who prefer to take their life instead of trying to adapt to a world that doesn't accept them. Nathaniel seeks these men out and offer them a different way of dying, to disappear in his world, to be the life source of the shadowers: is Nathaniel welcoming them or is he profiting of their loneliness? According to the answer, I like or not like this short story. Up to you to choose your point of view.
Aiming to Please by Nathan Burgoine: Paul, a young and handsome, and a little slutty, gay man finds out that the circus can have some nice side he didn't consider; on one night he has basically nothing to do, he ventures inside the circus terrain and he meets the Amazing Yuri, who indeed reveal to have some "amazing" skills, other than throwing knives. Again a light tale, no hint of sadness.
Circus Maximus by Sean Meriwether: this is a mix of fantasy or apocalypse sci-fi; in this imaginary world, that even if it's not clearly told, has the dark and oppressive feeling of a catastrophe pending, Six and Seven are two "ants", a lower level in the new hierarchy where clowns are the elite. An elite that reminds me a bit too much a well-know elite that at the beginning of the XX century was responsible of tragic events. (I think that was the aim of the author, after all the Gypsies were among those victims). Six and Seven manage to escape the "confinement" of the circus and outside of it they will join the guerrilla; Six is the daring one, Seven the protector, Six is the one who pushes their relationship beyond the "brothers" boundary, but they are not destined to be together.
Oggie Joins the Circus by Jay Neal and R. Jackson: even if apparently this is a naughty and light tale about a young man, Oggie, who experiments all the marvellous thing of a circus of freaks, that for him are not freaks at all, I think that indeed this is a metaphor of someone who wants to escape from a reality that maybe is not accepting him. The circus Oggie visits is not an "ordinary" circus, but it's full of odd men, sometime creatures, who in any case welcome him at open arms; between these misfits Oggie felt home, like maybe he doesn't feel in the real world.
Magic by Matt Kailey: again an escape from reality, but this time a young man is not searching a way out from his ordinary life, he is searching a reason, a way to be who he wants to be, he is searching for Magic, that magic that will set him free. Actually his life is not bad, he has a job and a chance at love, but he is too "hidden" inside himself to be able to come out and be happy. The circus, a magic circus, will give him the strength he is searching to grasp the life he wants.
Tell Me What You Love, and I'll Tell You What You Are by Steve Berman: probably this is the most alluring, tender and tragic of all the above stories, and for sure this is the only one without sex but only romance. Steve Berman tells the same story, the story of a man, his story?, from two points of view, one with a pink glasses perspective and the second, sadly, with a reality undertone. The author asks to the reader "I want you to wonder which side is true", unfortunately we probably well know, but I, from my pink glasses perspective, answer, the first one.
Circus Wagon Love by Garland: Felipe and K, a clown and a contortionist, both on a travelling circus in Europe during the WWII; but even if outside there is a war, even if they are considered Freaks (as the title of movie some of their friends are filming back in the US), these two lovers are able to build a world for their own, where they can love each other and no one has anything to say against them, after all, they are freaks! Probably one of the most romantic and tender of the whole lot, it appeased my romance reader persona.
Il Circo dei Fiori by Gavin Atlas: this story has an unexpected ending, and I'm not sure it's really a full closure. Gianni and Adolfo, two Italo-American men own a circus, but Adolfo is there only for the money, he lost the passion, and instead Gianni is apparently there only for Emil, their main attraction. Emil is a beautiful Roma, a gypsy, and he is able to draw everyone, children, women, but above all men. He is a free spirit, he concedes himself only to whom he likes and wants, but for Gianni he will do an exception: if the man will allow free shows for the poor people, than Emil will allow Gianni to have him. To Gianni means giving up all his money, his safe future, but for Emil? He will do everything is needed.
The Great Masturbator by Daniel M. Jaffe: this wins for sure the prize of strangest of the lot. I cannot really tell anything of the story without ruining your discovery, what I will tell you is that the young guy, as many of the other before, was searching for something different, maybe for a true love, and in a way he found the most binding of relationship, at least until the passion will not end. I hope for that young guy this never happen and that he will always live happily forever with his Great Masturbator.
The Worker by Cage Thunder: a light and naughty little story on a country boy, Cage, who thanks to the help of a childhood friend, Tony, will have the chance to change his life forever, way more than he would have done attending college, since in college there is no such matter. Cage will meet wrestler Big Steve, and with him he has his first real experience at practically anything. Cage said to the reader that he was planning to go to San Francisco after graduation, to be free and gay, but I think that, if he hadn't met Steve, he would have come back home, to Tony and many others like him, and his gay life would have been buried in the closet.
The Twenty-Four Hour Man by Dusty Taylor: the closing story is again an historical one, and again set in the Far West, this time of the 1915. This is a year at the edge between innocence and adulthood, for many reason, for many people, but above all for a young boy who is scared by the coming in town of the circus, because his father told him to "Beware of buckaroos, gypsies, and rainmakers", but of course he will fall for one of them, he will loose his innocence but he will reborn to a new, and probably better, life; such as did many young men in that 1915, or at least those men who were lucky enough to loose their innocence but still come back home.