Tourne au Rouge #8

Illustration by Jihane Mossalim

Grasping the cool iron bars of the birdcage, Todd watched the Shadow. It sat on its knees as it rummaged through a stack of used board games and puzzles. From above, he could hear the sound of footsteps and high-pitched voices arguing with each other. Todd wiped his runny nose on his sleeve while the Shadow grabbed the boxes, one after the other, and shook them to hear the pieces rattle. Then, it tossed them aside with obvious frustration.

Startled by the strange surroundings, Todd moved his whole body to look around. Model airplanes hung from the wooden beams. Dusty cobwebs filled each upper corner and on the wall beside Todd, pinned with a rusty nail, was a sepia-toned portrait of two boys. They were standing on the ice beside a large black hole. Quietly, Todd leaned forward to get a closer look. The photograph was damaged, nearly torn in half as though it had been folded too many times.

“That’s me,” said the Shadow, holding a green box with faded images of snakes and ladders, under its arm.

Todd flinched slightly, but the Shadow merely pointed to the short, plump boy with the pinched smile in the photograph. The Shadow shuffled its feet and muttered, “And that’s my brother, Jester.”

The taller boy had the same frozen expression. He held a fishing cane in one hand and had his other hand on his little brother’s shoulder. Todd’s eyes widened as he recognized the tall boy by his fiery red hair; it was Jester Thingrim, the old man who was after Anya.

“What do you want?” asked Todd in a small voice.

The Shadow sat cross-legged in front of the birdcage and set the board game on its lap. It brushed away ages of dust and dirt from the box with its long thin fingers and said, “A friend.”

“Friends don’t…“ Todd started to say, then thought better of it and closed his mouth.

Under Todd’s steady stare, the Shadow prepared the game: unfolding the board and setting it on the floor between them. Then he took two wooden tokens and set them on the board.

“Do you still want to play?”

Cautiously, Todd reached out as far as he could through the iron bars and picked up the dice. “What happened to you?” he asked, letting the dice roll around in his hand.

“I fell in the water,” said the Shadow. “And…”

“Are you a ghost?”

“I don’t think so,” said the Shadow. “Are you?”

“No!” Todd blurted out in surprise. A brief silence followed his words, and then the young boy furrowed his brows. “When can I see my sister?”


“What if I want to see her now?”

“You can’t,” said the Shadow, shaking its head. “It’ll make Jester mad.” It shuddered a bit and lowered its voice. “You don’t want to make him mad.”

“Let’s play a game,” said Todd, shaking the dice in his cupped hands. He blew into them long and hard. “If I win, you let me out.” He raised his hands high above his head. “And if you win, we can play another game.”


Beneath a yellow pavilion, the children huddled around a large bucket of popcorn while they waited for their turn. Billy dug his hand to the bottom of the bucket to scoop out a couple of un-popped kernels as he observed the mime at the other end of the counter. She wore a black-and-white polka-dot dress with white ruffles around the neck and sleeves with a matching cowboy hat. Swiftly, she ripped children’s tickets with her teeth and gave them a shotgun in return.

Billy threw a kernel up in the air and caught it in his mouth. “Are you okay?” he asked Anya.

“Fine,” she snapped. She felt her blood boiling—not only did Todd run off again, but she spent all of her time worrying about her brother when she could have been looking for Ma. I should have asked Jester Thingrim when I had the chance, she thought to herself. “I just—”

A loud bang caught Billy’s attention. He pumped his fist in the air and shouted: “Woo-hoo!” cheering on a boy his age who finally hit one of the balloons after randomly shooting all over the place. When the children had finished their rounds, the mime collected the shotguns and made her way toward Billy. From the back pocket of his trousers, Billy pulled out his ticket and gave it to the mime as fast as he could. Anya held out one of hers as well.

“Billy,” said Miranda in a wheedling voice. “Can I have one of your tickets?”

Billy ignored her. His eyes were fixed on the mime. She chomped down on their tickets, and then swallowed them in a single gulp. A wide smile stretched across Billy’ face as he wrapped his fingers around the shotgun.

“Please.” Miranda tugged repeatedly at Billy’s sleeve. “I have to go to the Mirror Maze.”

Anger flashed across Billy’s face. He tried to pull his arm back, but the more he pulled the harder Miranda clung to him.

“No!” he said, thrusting her back.

Miranda squealed: “Hey!” and rubbed her right arm. “That hurt.”

Anya shifted uneasily. This was the first time Billy had raised his voice at Miranda. She watched his lips twitch into a grin as he cocked the gun and aimed at the nearest balloon. His finger pulled the trigger and—Bam!—the balloon exploded into little pieces of red rubber. He cocked the gun again and fired, this time hitting two balloons.

Irritated, Miranda’s nostrils flared. “Aren’t you going to say sorry?” she demanded. She was about to tap Billy again when a twinkle of light on the prize shelf caught her attention. Miranda reached out with her chubby finger to grab the tiara. But before she even got close, the mime slammed her fist on the counter. She jabbed a finger at the wooden sign beside her that read: 5 hits – 1 prize. Miranda rolled her eyes.

“If I win,” said Anya. “You can pick a prize.”

Instantly, Miranda’s eyes flashed.

For a moment, Anya fumbled with the shotgun. She had never seen a real gun before in her life, much less tried shooting from one. Imitating Billy, she clumsily positioned it on her shoulder and aimed. Anya winced when she fired. She had not expected the shotgun to have real bullets and felt a sharp pang in her shoulder as though someone had punched her.

“You missed!” said Miranda, disappointed. “Billy, please, can you do it? We only need one more hit.”

“I only have one ticket left,” said Billy as he put the shotgun down on the counter. “And I want to do something else.”

“I’m not very good,” said Anya, handing her shotgun over to Billy. “Here, you do it.”

“Are you sure?”

Anya said: “I’d do anything to get her shut up,” and winked.

“I won’t say a word,” plead Miranda. “Promise!”

Billy tried to hold back a laugh but it snorted out through his nose. He accepted the shotgun and leaned on the counter to get a better aim. There were no more balloons in front of him and those in front of Anya joggled too much in the wind. Miranda took a few steps back to let Billy concentrate until she noticed the red ticket in his back pocket. Unable to resist, she plucked it out.

A voice boomed from behind. “There is no stealing in this carnival.”

The children jumped and turned around to find Jester Thingrim towering over them. With a quick flick of the wrist, he swept the ticket out of her hand. He handed it back to Billy.

“I only got one ticket,” said Miranda, puffing out her chest. “It’s not fair. I want more.”

“More you shall have,” said Jester Thingrim with a grin. He snapped his fingers at the mime with the cowboy hat. Immediately she jumped over the counter and hurried over.

“Please escort little Miss Miranda back to the ticket booth,” he said, “where she can have all the tickets she pleases.”

“As many as I want?” said Miranda in an excited voice. She wrapped her arm around the mime and followed her willingly, her head held up high.

Anya watched Miranda disappear in the crowd of children, her eyes narrowing with suspicion. Then she turned around and faced Jester Thingrim. She was far more frightened of him than Miranda was, but eventually she said: “I want to find my mother.”

A smug grin formed along the edges of his mouth. “Come,” he said. “She’s waiting for you at the Carousel.”

“I already saw it,” said Anya. “She wasn’t there.”

“You didn’t look inside.”

← Go back   –   –   –   Go forward →


Tourne au Rouge #7

Illustration by Jihane Mossalim

Instinctively, Anya threw her up her hands to shield her face from the bright light. It reminded her of her step-mother; the way Mary-Anne would always sneak up on her when she least expected it and take a photograph. One time Anya almost broke Mary-Anne’s camera and she had to do extra chores around the house for an entire week.

Anya blinked, but for a moment everything was out-of-focus and the three old women were blurred together. The stool creaked when a pair of hands held up a roll of red tickets. Anya had to lean over to see what was happening. The woman with the white and matted hair on the left unrolled the roll of tickets, slow and easy, while the woman on the right tapped her foot impatiently — “Stop!” She jabbed her index finger at the sixth ticket. “There.”

With a half-smile, the old woman in the middle ripped off and slipped the tickets through the slot. “I hope you will enjoy your stay,” she said with a toothless smile.

Hesitantly, Anya reached out and took them. “Thank you,” she whispered and turned to leave.

“Don’t forget,” they all chimed at once. “You need a ticket to get back on the train . . . ”

But Anya was more interested in the tickets they’d handed her; it puzzled her how warm they felt against her cold hands. She looked around when she heard her name being called and found Miranda and Billy not too far away. She made her way toward them. Miranda storm-stomped at Billy and shouted: “Go ask them why.” Billy shrugged a little, looking uncomfortable, fixing his eyes on the ground, avoiding Miranda’s glare.

“How many tickets did you get?” Miranda barked at Anya.

“What?” For the first time, Anya noticed a dark look in Miranda’s eyes.

“Miranda only got two tickets,” Billy explained. “I got four —”

“What am I supposed to do with two tickets?”

“That’s weird,” Anya muttered. “They gave me six…” Something odd caught her attention from the corner of her eye. She ignored Miranda’s raging rants and peered behind her where she saw a boarded-up carousel ahead. Without saying a word Anya walked past them. The closer she got the more familiar the carousel became — it looked exactly like her music box — there was even a horse missing a front leg.

“What is it?” asked Billy.

Anya stood dumbfounded in front of the carousel and said: “It’s mine.”

Miranda made circles with her finger around her ear. Billy nudged her in the ribs with his elbow and mouthed “stop it.” He walked up behind her and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Come on, let’s go find your brother.”


“Your brother,” said Billy, “Todd.”

It took Anya several seconds to realize that her brother was lost in the carnival. But for some reason Anya didn’t feel like searching for him anymore. “Oh?” She lingered for another moment, looking up. The first thing she saw was the Ferris wheel which towered far above any of the circus tents. It must have been at least a hundred feet high.

“How about we look from up there,” said Anya.

The line for the Ferris wheel moved forward swiftly. It was much bigger than Anya had thought, at least a hundred feet high. At the head of the line, an old mime carefully took each of their tickets and frowned heavily each time he ripped them in half. He said nothing, but his face was scrunched up in thought. Miranda climbed into the open carriage and sat down next to Billy, followed by Anya. When she was seated the mime pressed down on the lever with all his weight and the carriage wobbled into motion. Miranda screamed excitedly, wrapping her arms around Billy.

There was nothing to see from horizon to horizon but tree stumps and the carnival. It appeared as though they were in the middle of nowhere. As far as they could tell there were no cities or towns, forests or seas. The carriage suddenly stopped, suspending them high above the crowd that appeared no bigger than a colony of ants. As the carriage descended, Billy was able to scan the crowds in search of Anya’s brother. He spotted a ginger boy beside Jester Thingrim.

“I think I found Todd,” said Billy, “looks like he’s in trouble.”

A surge of anger rose within Anya as soon as the carriage was at ground level. The boy with the ginger curls and crooked tiger mask froze and looked at her oddly as she marched toward him. With an angry bellow, Anya raised her hand in a threatening manner. The little boy cringed and hung his head in shame. As usual, Anya thought to herself, Todd always gets me in trouble.

“Anya!” said Jester Thingrim as he stretched out his arms wide, palms in the air. “I was just telling your brother how worried you were.”

“Thank you for finding him Mr. Thingrim,” said Anya, and wrapped her hand tightly around his small wrist. “I’m not letting you out of my sight,” she hissed. A shudder went up her spine, Todd’s hand felt weirdly cold and clammy.

“I told you not to worry,” said Jester Thingrim with a grin. He leaned in so close to Todd that his nose almost touched his. “Stay with your sister,” he hissed, playfully tapping the boy’s head. Then Jester Thingrim mounted his tricycle and rode away, laughing hysterically whenever someone had to jump out of his way.

Todd immediately tried to pull himself from her gasp the moment Jester Thingrim was out of sight, but she was too strong.

“What is wrong with you?” shouted Anya. She desperately tried to keep a hold on him and get a firmer grip on his wrist, but he was literally slipping past her fingers. His eyelids flickered. Anya caught a glimpse of an unusual pair of black, round eyes. The boy flashed a look of panic and looked right into Anya’s blue eyes, and then bit her.

Anya let him go. “AHH! Fine, go! See if I care.”

The boy ran around and through every ride, circus tent and candy-stand as though he knew the carnival like the back of his hand. It only took him a few minutes to arrive back at the ticket booth. He made a fist of both hands and pounded on the door until the old women opened up. He lifted his mask and let it rest on top of his head.

“Hello, dearie,” chimed the three old women. “What’s the hurry?”

He tapped his long finger against his lip. Then he bent down and grasped a large brass ring, that was partially hidden in the grass. “You were right, I’ve got a new friend,” he laughed. Then he heaved the brass ring upwards, revealing a plank of wood covering a small square hole in the ground. There was a ladder that led down to a musky chamber. The young boy climbed down and tossed his tiger mask and orange wig onto the bed. He hurried to the back of the room and, with a firm grip, pulled open the heavy drapes that covered a large birdcage. “Hi, Todd,” he grinned.

← Go back   –   –   –   Go forward →


Tourne au Rouge #6

Image by Jihane Mossalim

All the children stood in line, craning their necks to take in the sights with their mouths wide open. The circus tent looked rather small from the outside, but it was a gateway to an entire carnival. Just beyond the small ticket booth Anya could see a ferris wheel with waving arms in each and every car, a higgledy-piggledy pair of acrobats juggling fire sticks on five-metre-high stilts and a frolicsome crowd of children. Miranda squealed and pointed her stubby fingers towards the sky. Balloons waltzed with the wind, flying higher and higher until they spotted the sky like sprinkles on a chocolate cupcake. Anya looked at Billy and smiled so widely that it hurt her cheeks a little.

“Look out!”

Billy pulled Anya out of the way just in time. A large metal wheel whizzed by the young girl, inches away from her. Anya stood still for a moment, glaring at Jester Thingrim as he threw his head back and cackled merrily on his tall tricycle. At full speed, he zigzagged through the crowd.

“Did you see the look on her face?” said Miranda, slapping herself on the knee. Even Billy stifled a laugh behind his hands.

“Quit it!” said Anya and shoved Miranda’s shoulder back.

“He didn’t hit you—”

“But he could have,” hissed Anya. Her jaw clenched and unclenched as she watched the line slowly move forward. One at a time the children stepped behind the red curtain into the small ticket booth and then ran out with a handful of tickets. Anya wondered why it took some longer than others.

“What do you think is in there?” asked Anya.

“Who cares,” said Miranda, crossing her arms. She let out an exaggerated sigh. “I just want my tickets. This is taking forever.”

Billy asked: “Do we have to pay?”

“If we do . . . ” said Miranda, “Don’t worry. I’ll just get my mom to deal with it.”

Anya merely rolled her eyes and turned her attention to a group of trudging mimes. Their steps were slow and heavy, as though they were sleepwalking. The one in the front was carrying a tambourine, followed by another hugging a tuba and the two in the back were sharing an accordion. They were all wearing gray hand-me-downs that were either too small or too big, and holey shoes. Occasionally one of them would lift his head up for a moment and give the crowd a sidelong glance.

Jester Thingrim parked his tricycle beside a wooden platform in the corner. He snapped his fingers and a bright yellow light lit the stage almost instantly.

“Messieurs-dames,” said Jester Thingrim, bowing deeply and doffing his top hat to his audience, “Welcome to Tourne au Rouge.”

Everyone cheered and clapped as the four mimes scrambled onto the stage. Hesitantly, they stepped into the spotlight gave a quick nod, then stepped back. Anya recognized the mime with the raisin eyes hiding behind the big tuba. It was Pierrot. He was trying to scratch his leg discreetly, but failed every time the tuba leaned dangerously to one side. Anya giggled.

“There are many games and rides,” said Jester Thingrim with a grin. “Use your tickets wisely. I will only say this once — particularly to those with the nimble fingers. You may not borrow, share or steal here. You’re out when you run out.”

Jester Thingrim jerked his arms upwards and held them in mid-air like a music conductor. The mimes on stage closely observed his fingers and began to play the instant they twitched. In an eerie high-pitched voice, Jester Thingrim sang:

“Emmenez-moi au bout de la terre,
emmenez-moi au pays des merveilles
Il me semble que la misère
serait moins pénible au soleil.”

Billy and Miranda shuffled forward, trying to squeeze past the smaller children while Anya kept her eyes on Pierrot. The quicker Jester Thingrim shook his arms the harder the mime smacked his tambourine against his hip and the quicker the two mimes pushed and pulled the accordion apart and back together, the harder it seemed for Pierrot to breath. His face turned purple every time he blew into the tuba and puffed out his cheeks.

“What do you think he means by you’re out?” asked Miranda.

Billy shrugged. “Go home?”

“I’m never going home,” said Miranda. “Hey!” she waved her hand in front of Anya’s face. “You’re holding up the line.”
Anya turned around. She wasn’t sure if she saw a bead of sweat on Pierrot’s cheek or a tear.

Three old women were crammed into the ticket booth sitting on a single stool. Neither of them noticed Anya as she stumbled through the red curtains. The old women were busy trying to poke each other in the eye with their long bony fingers, shrieking: “Scoot!”

“You get always sit in the middle—”

“Move over—”


Anya knocked on the window pane and said: “Excuse me?”

The three old women froze in mid-motion with their arms extended, their heads leaning back and their eyes squinted.

The three old women all chimed together: “Hello, Anya.” They grinned as though invisible strings were pulling their lips apart, staring at Anya with eyes like marbles, empty and cold.

“Say cheese,” they sang in unison. Just before Anya could say a word, there was a flash of blinding light.

← Go back   –   –   –   Go forward →


Tourne au Rouge #5

Tourne au Rouge / © Jihane Mossalim

“When you photograph a face . . .you photograph the soul behind it.” – Jean-Luc Godard

Bouncing along with the movement of the train, Anya followed Jester Thingrim down the aisle. The sound of laughter and whoops of joy behind each closed compartment were masked by the buzzing light bulbs and churning train wheels. Along the walls hung framed portraits of children with playful faces: a boy with a gap-tooth smile, another with his tongue stuck out, a girl holding up her long braids and another with her cheeks puffed out—all of them staring as though they were looking right at her.

Jester Thingrim came to a sudden halt. Up ahead a small mime appeared to be dozing against the wall. He wore an old duffle coat that came down to his ankles and a large bowler hat pulled down low over his eyes.

Jester Thingrim nudged him with his foot, but the boy only pulled his coat closer around him and mumbled something inaudible. He reached down and shook him, “Pierrot!”

The boy woke in alarm and stood up, nearly tripping over his outstretched legs. He had a pale white face and eyes like raisins, small and wrinkled on the edges.

Jester Thingrim asked: “Have you been eating our guests’ food again?”

Pierrot leaned back and shook his head as he wiped his mouth with his sleeve. He looked down at his old, cracked shoes, trying hard to avoid Jester Thingrim’s glare. Anya caught a glimpse of his eyes as he began to blush and surreptitiously brush crumbs off his chest. Jester Thingrim pursed his lips and then let out a deep, full, belly laugh. Pierrot silently chuckled in return, revealing chocolate cake crumbs in the crevices of his teeth.

“Please take little Miss Anya to her compartment,” said Jester Thingrim.

The mime nodded and started ushering Anya down the aisle.

Jester Thingrim mouthed the word, “Ta-ta” and swung his jacket round like a bull fighter. When Anya turned around again, he was gone.

Anya followed Pierrot. The skinny mime easily maneuvered around the various toys that littered the aisle of the train. It seemed that every child on this train had more toys than they needed. Anya scoffed and then winced. She had stepped on a toy soldier and broken his rifle. Just as she bent down to pick it up, a spluttering pop-bottle rocket whizzed over their heads and exploded in mid-air. Pierrot collided with Anya and they both went tumbling backwards.

A high-pitched voice above Anya laughed and said: “Are you alright? Ha! That must have hurt, eh?” Through glaring eyes, Anya sought out the face of her antagonizer. Her eyes alighted on a pudgy-faced girl standing next to a tall boy with matted hair. The boy smiled and gave a small wave, Anya noticed he had bits of candy stuck in his braces. He reached down and offered her his hand, but Anya was concentrated on the girl, still chortling beside them. Anya recognized the school insignia on her green jacket; it was from Chesterfield Elementary, the wealthy all-girls school two towns over.

Anya said: “Not funny,” and hauled herself to her feet while Pierrot scrambled up after her.

“You two,” said Anya, rounding on the other two. “Didn’t your parents ever buy you manners, fatty?” Anya watched as the smirk vanished off the girl’s face and her eyebrows furrowed. The boy grabbed a gumball from his pocket.

“My parents never buy me anything!” barked the girl. ”They’re too busy going out to parties with their friends—and I’m not even invited. That’s why I’m running away to join the circus. Same as Billy, here.”

She poked the thin boy in the ribs. He nodded and popped another gumball in his mouth.

“I’m Miranda,” the pudgy-faced girl continued. “Soon to be queen of the circus.”

Anya felt herself getting annoyed.

“I’m sorry I laughed at you,” said Miranda. “I was more laughing at him!” Miranda pointed to Pierrot, who again recoiled from her finger. “He is kind of a klutz, but that’s what clowns do, right?”

“I suppose,” she admitted. She watched as Billy filled his pockets with candy and asked, “Have either of you seen my brother? Little twit with red hair, his name is Todd.”

“That kid behind you?” asked Billy, pointing a lollipop over her shoulder. Anya spun around. There, sitting on the armchair, a crooked tiger mask covering his face, was Todd. She could tell from the ginger hair, curling around the strings. He seemed to have been fighting back the urge to laugh the entire time and let out a squeal when she saw him.

“Todd!” Anya screamed and lunged at her brother. Her fingers had just closed around the front of his shirt when a loud whistle sounded and the train lurched to a stop. Once again, Anya felt herself hit the ground along with Pierrot—this time Miranda and Billy joined in. Strangely, Todd did not fall or even notice the train had stopped. He hopped up and down on the armchair several times before fleeing from the compartment. Anya sighed in frustration. She hopped back to her feet to pursue Todd, but children were filling the aisle and she soon realized she was stuck in the crowd.

Single file, the children got off the train. As Anya stepped out she spotted Jester Thingrim marching at the head of the line. He was ushering everyone toward a brightly lit circus tent. It seemed almost too small for everyone to fit in, but the line kept moving.

Anya tried to catch Jester Thingrim’s attention but he kept his eyes straight ahead and refused to look down until she was right beside him.

“Please,” she cried, catching the sleeve of his red jacket. “I need to find my brother.”

“Now now,” he said, pushing her forward as if he hadn’t heard. “No time for tears, no time for sorrow. Come in and enjoy the show!”

← Go back   –   –   –   Go forward →


Tourne au Rouge #4

Image via Flickr

“This world is but a canvas to our imagination” – Henry David Thoreau.

Smirking, Anya looked over the photographs that had been scrunched into balls; faces of her family were wrinkled and distorted, pieces of the glossy paper hung freely from the clothespins that ran along the wall on wires. Mary-Anne’s pictures were ruined. The attic began to tremble and Anya heard what sounded like the rumble of an approaching train.

A far-off voice called out her name. It sounded like Todd. Anya thought to herself, “Am I dreaming?” She looked around for where his voice might be coming from, but she was alone in the attic. The boxes stacked against the attic wall rattled as the clanking of a train on metal tracks roared louder and louder, blowing its horn as if it were headed straight toward the house. A sharp wind blew the scraps of paper in the air as Anya took a few steps back in disbelief. She bumped her foot against one of Ma’s old canvasses, her big toe coming away wet and stained with paint. Thin streams of paint trickled from the canvas and came together in red and purple puddles. The sky above the carousel in Ma’s painting sizzled like burning oil in a pan, sending off specks of blue onto Anya’s nightgown. The train whistle screeched. It was impossibly close. As Anya was about to turn and run, the boxes burst open and paint spurted everywhere.

The attic began to flood. Anya was trapped in a growing sea of swirling colours. Before long she was a floating work of art herself, covered as she was in multiple splotches of paint. Anya opened her mouth to cry out but a huge wave rolled in from behind the curtains and swept the young girl off her feet. She flailed her arms but it was no use. She felt herself being pushed and pulled as the sea of paint spun, as though someone were stirring it with a spoon. She spotted the bare bulb hanging from the ceiling and wasted no time. Kicking her legs and flailing her arms, Anya swam until she was able to reach out and grab a hold of the cord. Just then, as the cold paint was splashing against her chin, the floor gurgled. Anya hung in midair and watched as the entire sea drained into Ma’s canvas.

Groups of children were gathered around every window peering out as the bulky train came to a slow stop beside the tree with the wooden pictures frames. In large looping letters above a ferocious looking tiger, a sputtering firecracker, dancing mice and a flying trapeze swinger painted on the metallic door of one of the train cars, were the words: “Tourne au Rouge.” Leaning against the wheel of the train, the spindle-legged man dressed in a scarlet jacket with golden buttons tapped his silver spoon once more against the edge of his tea cup, before drinking it all in a single gulp.

“She mustn’t see the boy,” said the man to the shadow as it came scurrying back from where it’d gone.

It shook its head vigorously, bending over to catch its breath.

“Now go take it down,” he hissed. “She will be here any minute.”

The shadow was about to sigh, but then corrected itself. It stood by the tree and swung its arm high above its head like a loose rope. After two attempts, its hand reached the wooden frame in the top right corner and knotted itself around the branch. It snapped the frame off with a flick of its wrist. Gently, the shadow reeled its arm back down, feeling the man’s eyes locked on its every move. Just as the wooden frame was propped against the trunk, Anya came sliding out of the frame in a pool of brown mush.

“You’re right on time,” the man said, pulling a watch from his inner pocket. “The train is about to leave.”

The man held forth the broken horse’s leg, “I believe this belongs to you.”

Anya came forward, furrowing her eyebrows.

“Little brothers,” he sneered. “Always touching what doesn’t belong to them.”

“Who are you?” asked Anya, taking the broken piece.

Flecks of dust shook free as the man jerked on his jacket and said: “Jester Thingrim.” He took her hand in his and shook it firmly.

“Have you seen my bro—“

“Todd?” Jester Thingrim cocked his round head to the side and grinned. “He’s already on board.”

A gentle breeze blew under her nose, carrying a whiff of caramel and buttered popcorn with just a hint of peppermint. Rubbing her arms to warm them, Anya looked at the train and at the children inside, bickering with one another.

Anya said: “We should go home” and looked over her shoulder at the empty wooden frame.

“I’ll go get Todd then.” Jester Thingrim shrugged. “He’ll be disappointed, though. He was so excited to meet his mother…”

“W-what? My mother is here?”

Jester Thingrim took a giant step toward the train and said: “Right there,” indicating the tiny painting of the trapeze swinger. Anya stared at the painting, dumbfounded and without realizing it took the man’s proffered arm and boarded the train.
← Go back   –   –   –   Go forward →


Tourne au Rouge #3

Barefoot, Todd chased after the shadow thief, nearly tripping over his pyjama pants. He didn’t know what it was or where it had come from, but it had stolen the horse leg from Anya’s carousel. He had to get it back. Without it, Anya would never forgive him. The sound of the storm outside muffled the pitter-patter of his feet as he scrambled up the attic stairs. But there was no sign of the thief when he rushed inside. The full moon shone through the window pane and lit the room up. His foot stepped on a ruffled piece of paper. He bent over and picked it up. It was one of Mary-Anne’s photographs.

Todd stared down at the picture as he remembered the Sunday morning it had been taken. They were making breakfast. Papa had cracked the eggs on the edge of the counter while Todd guarded the sizzling bacon and toasting bread.

“Morning, sunshine,” Papa said as Anya shuffled into the kitchen.

Anya stretched her arms out and yawned. “What are you doing,” she had asked. “Pancakes,” Todd exclaimed, wearing Papa’s necktie around his head and an old pair of black sunglasses.

With a flick of the wrist, she flipped the pancake. As soon as it splotched back onto the pan, Todd rushed in front of her and smacked the pancake with his spatula. When both sides turned golden-brown, Papa gave them a thumbs-up and held out a plate.

Papa said: “Watch out!” and pointed to the stove. While the children had their backs turned, he swiftly snatched the pancake. Anya ran after him, while Todd crawled under the table, but he had gobbled it up before they had caught him.

Anya poured another spoonful into the pan. “Just try and get this one,” she warned, waving the wooden spoon.

Todd tugged on Anya’s apron. “Can I try?”

She nodded and lifted her arm to let Todd slip under. He placed his hands on the handle like Anya. At that moment, Mary-Anne had walked into the kitchen, holding her camera and had taken a picture of them just as they jerked upwards. Taken by surprise, Anya had burnt her hand and the pancake had landed with a splatter on the floor.

Todd’s thoughts were halted by a flicker out of the corner of his eye. His hand clenched tightly around the photograph as he looked around the attic. All of Mary-Anne’s photographs had been ripped from the wall, crumpled in a ball or torn apart. Turning, Todd saw the shadow rear up to its full height. The scream welling in Todd’s throat was silenced by the shadow’s hand covering his mouth. It almost looked alarmed, shaking its head wildly and bringing a dark finger to the line where its lips should have been. Todd didn’t have any more time to think as the shadow thief scooped up a white sheet and enveloped him, sending Todd into a world of darkness.

The bag swung back and forth. Todd felt as though he were falling as his stomach looped several times over. He would have been sick if he hadn’t been able to maintain his sense of balance within his makeshift cage. Searching the sheet Todd found a small hole just big enough to see through. He gasped when he realized how high they were. The shadow was quickly sliding down a tree using his hooked feet and hands. Underneath them, a potbellied man sat on a tree stump with his long slender legs crossed. The man wore a scarlet tailcoat with golden buttons that looked a bit tight for him, a shock of red hair stood up from his head in every direction. He stirred his tea as though he enjoyed the sound of the silver spoon when it clinked along the edges of the cup.

The shadow dropped Todd and plonked onto the hard ground, still trapped in the bag.

“Did you find it?” asked the man, lifting his head. On the tip of his crooked nose perched a pair of golden spectacles.

Todd felt the shadow leave his side and saw it approach the old man. The latter extended his hand, palm upraised as if expecting a gift. From his spot in the bag, Todd watched as Anya’s horse leg was exchanged between the two. For some reason, this old man scared him and he was glad to be in the bag. Even the shadow appeared to be quivering. Once the horse’s leg was dropped into man’s hand, the shadow withdrew itself as though it were burned by fire. It hurried back toward Todd and seemed intent on taking him away.


Todd felt the shadow freeze.

“What do you have in the bag?”

The shadow said: “Stuff,” and backed away.

“Empty it.”

In an instant, Todd found himself rolling on the ground, but it was like no ground he had ever seen before. Puffs of mist formed as he breathed out into the chilly air. All around him was a forest of stumps.His eyes fell upon the only tree, a massive bulk with gargantuan branches. Hanging from the branches were various wooden picture frames that swayed in the breeze.

The man pointed a finger at the young boy. “What is that?”

“I panicked,” replied the shadow. “He followed me and— she was coming.”

“So you took him?”

“Let me keep this one,” pleaded the shadow.

“This is not the child I asked for!”

Todd felt the shadow recoil beside him as the man towered over both of them. He looked at his kidnapper and then up into the cold eyes of this man who appeared to rule a dead world. One thing dawned suddenly in Todd’s mind: Anya was in danger.

← Go back   –   –   –   Go forward →


Tourne au Rouge #2

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
— Leo Tolstoy

– – – – –

“Get out of my room!”

Anya leaped forward and shoved Todd aside, so hard and fast that he stumbled backwards and hit his head against the bed frame. The loud thud resounded throughout the house.

Mary-Anne and Papa quickly appeared. Mary-Anne rushed to Todd but Papa merely stood in the door frame and looked at Anya. She clenched her teeth, not meeting Papa’s eyes, and ran a finger along the jagged edge of the merry-go-round where the horse’s leg had snapped off.

Mary-Anne cradled Todd in her arms as he wiped his nose on his sleeve, the broken piece held tightly in his little hand. Rubbing the stubble on his chin, Papa looked pointedly at Anya.

Anya said: “It was an accident.”

Papa held up a warning finger. “I want you to—”

“He was in my room again.”


“He broke it!” said Anya, barely keeping her voice below a shout. “It was Ma’s.”

Papa grabbed her by the arms and shook her, “Anya!” The key at the end of her necklace slipped from her blouse and swung violently.

“That’s not a reason,” said Papa. “I want you to apologize to Todd.”

Their eyes met. Anya gaped at him like a fish out of water, eyes wide and glazed.

With her back against the wall, Anya slouched outside Todd’s bedroom as Mary-Anne read Todd The Three Little Pigs. Papa chuckled in the armchair by the bookcase.

“Little pig, little pig, let me come in.”

Todd put his finger to his nose and frowned. “Mmm…”

He leaned his head back as far as he could, and then shouted, “No!”

Mary-Anne said: “Then I’ll huff,” she put the book down on the bedside table. “And I’ll puff,” she raised her hands as if they were claws and loomed over Todd’s head, “And I’ll blow your house down!” Todd burst out laughing, squirming as Mary-Anne pinned him down and blew raspberries on his belly.

“Alright, kiddo,” said Papa, “time for bed.”

Quickly, Anya tiptoed back into bed and pulled the covers up. She shut her eyes and pretended to be asleep as Papa came into her bedroom. He brushed her hair from her face and kissed her goodnight. Anya waited until Papa and Mary-Anne went downstairs and she could hear the faint murmur of the television before taking the music box out from under the sheets. She set it beside her pillow and unclasped her mother’s necklace. Anya pushed the key into the winding hole, and turned it. With her head against the pillow, she hummed along to the cheery tune and watched the horses prance, spinning round n’ round n’ round … and round.

It was dark, but the light of the moon shone into the bedroom. Rain came down in silent sheets, droplets glistened on the window as lightning lit up the sky. A long, reed-like shadow seeped from under the door, filling the air with the burnt smell of caramel. Anya’s nose twitched. The shadow gambolled awkwardly across the bedroom, for its legs wiggled like paper in the wind. Quietly, it looked at the music box on the bed beside Anya. It reached out to touch the jagged edge of the horse’s leg, where was the broken piece? it wondered.

Seeing the table set up for tea, it rubbed its hands in delight and decided it would look for the missing piece later. Swirling up the chair like a ribbon, it took a seat between the stuffed bear and the red-headed doll. It doffed its top hat before pouring itself a cup of tea with a bit of milk and sugar. Leaning back, it swung one leg over the other, raised its long, thin pinkie high, and chomped into the rim of the cup, crumbs gathering at the corners of its round mouth.

The horse’s leg wasn’t in the closet or in a drawer; it wasn’t hidden in the jewellery box or in a pair of socks. The shadow looked around the bedroom once more, when from the corner of its eye it spotted a black bottle on the bedside table and eyed it suspiciously. With the tip of its fingers, it uncorked the perfume bottle and peeked inside— just then the door creaked, startling the shadow who drew back hastily.


Todd crept past the door frame. Lightning flashed and a loud burst of thunder roared across the sky, startling the little boy. He broke into a sprint and climbed into the bed beside Anya.

“Go away,” she said flinging her pillow at Todd. It missed him by an inch, falling against the tea set. The cups bounced and clinked together. Todd gasped and Anya clasped her hands over his mouth, casting a worried glance at the door.

“I’m sorry I broke the merry-go-round.” Todd said when the coast was clear, furrowing his brow and reaching out to touch the key necklace. Anya quickly snatched it up and put it around her neck.

Todd whispered: “Can we fix it?”

“No, we can’t,” said Anya. “Now get off or I’ll push you again.”

Todd hopped down. The handles of the dresser drawer rattled as he rummaged through a heap of crayons, sheets of paper and bead bracelets. Todd emptied Anya’s pencil case and hurried back.

“What are you doing?” Anya hissed between her teeth. “You’re going to get me in trouble again!”

Todd held out the horse’s leg and showed her the glue stick in the palm of his hand, but Anya swatted his hand away.

“You can’t fix it,” said Anya. “Now go—”

All of the sudden, the shadow launched itself from under the bed, snatching the horse’s leg from Todd’s outstretched hand.

“Give it back,” said Todd, but it was too quick. The shadow grinned as it perched itself on top of the wall and gobbled the broken piece up. With a satisfying gulp, it flitted past Todd’s feet and vanished under the door. Todd chased after it.

“Wait!” shouted Anya and she rushed out of the bedroom. She caught a glimpse of Todd’s pajamas as he disappeared up the attic steps. Anya followed him, but when she reached the attic, it was empty. Todd had disappeared, as if into thin air.

← Go back   –   –   –   Go forward →


Tourne au Rouge

An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while a pessimist sees only the red stoplight. The truly wise person is colorblind. — Albert Schweitzer

– – – – –

Ma used to be a trapeze swinger until the day she fell and became a painter. It was Papa’s idea to bring the circus to the attic. A company of brushes and sponges, fat and skinny rolls of tin foil fooling around the paint rollers, and beads with no fear that slipped across the high wires stretched over a mountain of white canvases.

Papa said: “The show must go on,” and it did. In Ma’s circus it was the mice who tamed the lions. The acrobats juggled with stars and planets over a hundred gaping mouths and elephants rode unicycles in their pale tutus. Ma always had a story. Some nights the sun would set in the west and Ma would fill the water guns with honey-brown for Anya to paint a desert around the lone cowboy or pirates would invade the canvas and they had to fight back with their palette knifes dipped in navy blue. Three years later, Todd was born and a wagon-train came to take Ma’s circus away.

With her fork, Anya poked the strawberries and buried them under the spinach leaves while Todd dipped his pudgy fingers into the balsamic vinegar. Todd crammed a cherry tomato into his mouth, and then stuck his tongue out at Anya. She glanced at Papa and Mary-Anne, and threw a lima bean across the table. It hit Todd’s forehead. As Todd reached into his bowl to throw something back, his elbow knocked his glass, and the water spilled into his lap.

Todd yelped. Mary-Anne rose to her feet. Anya sniggered and Papa scowled. Mary-Anne asked: “Anya, can you get the paper towels,” and lifted Todd from his chair.

“You go get them.”

“Anya,” said Papa. “Go get your mother—”

The fork clattered. Anya said: “She’s not my mother,” and stormed out of the living room. Before Papa could say a word, Mary-Anne gave his shoulder a little squeeze. Sighing, he put his hand over hers. “I know,” said Mary-Anne. “She’ll come around.”

Behind the wooden posts of the staircase, Anya drew her knees up to her chest. She fiddled with the hem of her floral skirt, watching Todd and her stepmother. His ginger curls bounced gently against his chubby cheeks as he shook his head. Todd said: “But Ma—” and jumped into Papa’s arms, burying his face into his shirt.

“Go on,” said Mary-Anne. “I’ll be up in a minute to tuck you in.” The fabric crumpled in Anya’s clenched fists at the sound of Todd’s footsteps hurrying up the stairs.

Anya went to the attic and closed the door behind her. She pulled the string and turned on the light from the bare bulb hanging above her head. Papa said: “Mary-Anne’s an artist too,” and suggested they share the attic. Over time the canvases were replaced with Mary-Anne’s photographs. Anya despised them. They were mostly pictures of Todd, of the house, of Mary-Anne and Papa, and of Anya’s hand.

An old white sheet was draped over the boxes in the corner where Ma’s trinkets were neatly tucked away. Flecks of dust shook free as she pulled it off. Anya sat in front of a small canvas propped against the stack of boxes. Ma had never finished painting the grand carousel. The sky was an explosion of fireworks, the man dressed in red and gold beside the carousel waved with a bright smile, but the children’s faces were blank and the balloons slipping from their hands were white. A tear drop fell from her chin and landed on the canvas. Silently, Anya closed her eyes and made a wish as the tear drop slipped into the man’s hand.

In the bathroom, Todd stood on the step-stool in front of the mirror. He brushed his teeth up and down, right to left until a whirring sound caught his attention. It came from the bedroom. He hopped off and padded down the narrow hallway, peeking past the door frame into Anya’s room. The merry-go-round on the bedside table pitter-pattered. Bells jingled and horses whickered as it spun round and round. The tut-tootle tune accelerated with every step he took. Todd held the music box with both hands and brought it close to his face, watching the brass reins flop loose and clink against the back of the horses’ necks.

The sudden shrill of Anya’s voice made Todd flinch and drop the merry-go-round. One of the horses’ legs broke as it clanked against the hardwood floor.

Go forward →

Exit mobile version