The Midnight Carnival
The Masquerade Parade
The Masquerade Parade
Down by the docks in northern France, sat a young girl staring out at the vast sea. She was contemplating all sorts of things, as young imaginative children do, sitting on the stone beach wall among the salty smell and the cry of gulls. It was damp, and grey, but very soon her thoughts were interrupted by the clicking of a bicycle chain, and she turned see a local boy stop by to say hello.
" Bonjour Allete." He greeted.
" Bonjour Théo. " Allete said quietly. He was wearing his tweed hat and blazer, with a bundle of newspapers on the back of his bicycle and rolled up in his carrier bag. He must be working.
" Aren't you going up to Paris soon? " He said, looking out to the endless ocean with her.
Allete swung her hanging feet, letting the heels hit the rocks in a heartbeat rhythm, not unlike how her heart pumped now. She had always fancied Théo, as he was very kind. " My father is getting a delivery for work tomorrow, so I'll be there for a day or two. I've never seen Paris, so it should be very nice this time of year." Not to mention it was a partial birthday present from her father. She didn't want to obligate anyone by telling them it was her birthday, so she kept quiet about it. She shied under his large smile, looking at her hands.
" I see," said Théo. " Well I hope you have a good time. And, um..." He handed her a rolled up newspaper with a red ribbon around it.
"Oh, that's okay Théo. Papa reads the paper at work."
" No, this is for you." He said, ducking his head. " Open it when you're alone."
Allete took the package, and no sooner had it left his hand, Théo was off on his bike, cheeks red.
" Thank you!" She called after him, not knowing whether it was the appropriate thing to say in return. Why a newspaper?
Allete pocketed it before turning her body round and standing up onto the cobblestone street. It was about time she returned home before it rained.Through the small city streets, she made her way home, taking off her jacket and forgetting all about the package in the pocket.
The next day, Allete packed up all of her things very early, although she didn't have much to pack. Before the sun had even managed to crawl into the sky, Allete and her father were on their way to Paris by horse and wagon after kissing her mother and baby brother goodbye. The horse trecked on at a boring even pace, her father atop it, as the girl sat in the wagon to enjoy the scenery. It would not be too long of a ride, but soon the lovely rolling hills became tiresome, and she rested her head against the light luggage. It was this moment that Allete felt a rustling in her pocket as she moved, and remembered the newspaper that had been folded there for safekeeping.
She looked over to see that her father wasn't paying attention to what was behind him, and opened the newspaper. She flipped a few pages, wondering what it was that she was supposed to see, as a small glint fell out of the folds and into her lap. It was a small brass butterfly brooch. The jewels weren't real, but they were lovely stones anyways, and the fact that they came from Théo made them just as grand to her as diamonds. Her heart fluttered as she studied the gift. Beside it was a ripped paper with "Happy birthday" scrawled on it. The rest of the way to Paris, Allete was warmed by the red of her face as she held the brooch in her coat pocket.
As the sun made it's way to mid-morning, It was as if all of a sudden the houses and buildings became taller and taller as her father grew closer and closer to the city. The streets became stony and the people continued to get more crowded. Now other horses trotted beside her father's- even some automobiles too!- and Allete had to look higher before being able to see the sky. Deeper they continued to trot, until Paris was all around her; the busied people and the many wonderful shops going about their business noisely. Everywhere she looked, someone was carrying out their daily routine within the crowd; so many people with so many stories.
Her father parked the horse in an alley where there was a stable for other horses to rest. Just down the street was the hotel where they would be staying, so they took what little they had in hand and walked there. It was a small modest place, but they were lucky to have a window facing the street, onto a large district clock. The two decided that they ought to have lunch, so they traveled the streets of Paris to find some.
A flower girl here, a cafe there, and windows everywhere, displaying their goods. The hustle-bustle of city life was a nice change of pace, and Allete loved it. They plopped down to eat at one of the many small restaurants after having aimlessly walked around for quite a bit. Her father's tired shoe had even managed to get a hole on the side, but they laughed about it. After lunch they walked more, getting some icecream and a balloon, although a mime surprised Allete so much that her slacked grip sent the balloon a free trip to the moon. But the best part of the day was yet to come.
Along a small little street, in a place so out of the way, one might scarcely be able to find it unless they were specifically looking for it, was a marvelous mask shop. All along the wide window were various bright and glittering masks, absolutely dripping with ribbons and beads. Feathers of all colors stuck up from the painted masks with moons, stars, hearts, and diamonds, like a fantastic mirage of sugary sweets.
The inside was even more wonderful, with the most enormous and expensive masks, from simple to gaudy lining the walls. Just walking among the racks and shelves gave her coat a shimmer of glitter like pixie dust. Somewhere, from behind the feathers and sequins came the jolly looking owner of the shop. He was an older man with a curled white mustache, and a twinkle in his eye that made him much more youthful than the rest of his face. " Welcome, Welcome! Please look around. I'm Monsieur Deblanc. There are still months yet to plan until carnival season!"
The two thanked him, although they had no intention of buying anything at all. For such a small shop, it felt like a labyrinth of masks. Allete examined many of them, afraid to even pick up the most gorgeous ones, for fear that her human touch might taint them.
But for all the grand masks, Allete found herself lured to a simple design. It was a smooth white animal mask, perhaps a cat or a dog, with interesting markings that made it look almost tribal.
" Monsieur Deblanc, What sort of mask is this?" Allete asked the jolly shopkeep.
" Ah, that's a lovely one. It has a simple charm to it doesn't it? It's a child's fox mask. Perhaps it doesn't look like a fox to you or I, but it's a classic in the theatre of the far east."
Allete turned it over in her hands, examining the foreign mask, before trying it on in a nearby mirror. The reflection made her smile, covered up by the fox's own red painted grin. She didn't want to take it off right away, enjoying the new person staring back at her. The far east fox.
"Would you like it?" Her father asked.
Allete turned her head in surprise. She had thought a trip to Paris was as fine as any birthday present. She took the mask off gazing at it's golden eyes. She had fallen in love with it so easily, but it was probably expensive. "That's okay papa," She said meekly. " I don't have to have it. You can buy some new shoes instead."
Her father's face reddened a bit. "Nonsense. " He said. "It's your birthday."
"If I may..." Deblanc interrupted. " If you really want it, then young lady, you can have it for free."
Both Allete and her father both politely refused his generosity, but the smiling owner would not take no for an answer. He wrapped the mask up in a nice box with ribbon and sent the father and daughter on their way with profuse thank yous and large smiles.
When sunset came, Allete's father had a delivery to get for work and would return back for dinner. When he left, Allete couldn't wait to try her mask on again, so she opened the small box and tied it around her head. She tried different poses, having a good deal of fun just imagining how her classmates would react to it. Théo would probably like it. Allete untied the mask, deciding to gently put it away, when she spied a small paper.
Inside the box was a small white card with gold leafing printed on the front. She read it curiously.
You have been invited to tonight's Midnight Carnival
Keep an eye on the streets,
and be sure to bring your mask!
Allete immediatly thought it must be some sort of mistake that it had been in her box. She then though that perhaps the shopkeep gave it to her as a sort of coupon. The Midnight Carnival... but it wasn't near carnival season yet! She ran to the window, but the streetlamps only revealed the city people trying to get home from work.
Her father came home soon after that, and they had a small dinner of bread and meat. Her Father was tired from the day's excitement and had decided to go to sleep after they ate and talked a bit. But after the lights had gone out, and the sound of his breath steadied into a confirmation of sleep, Allete found herself imagining all sorts of wild things. The night has a peculiar way of changing the state of mind and pulling out obscure ideas, and Allete was swimming in them. A part of her wanted to believe in a midnight carnival,so her imagination played out how it would be... How lovely it would be... Soon, she drifted into sleep.
It was a small insignificant sound that woke her up. In her sleepy stupor, the laughter could have been one carried over by a dream. She turned over in bed, pulling on the sheets and willing herself back to sleep, but it was unmistakable this time. A small laugh broke the quiet; A child's, as if it was within the very room. Allete sat up, rubbing her eyes and looking around. Was a neighbor's child wandering around at night?
There it was again! But this time it sounded far off, as if from the street. She stepped out of bed, putting on her night slippers and walking to the cold window. She didn't see anyone outside, just a dead empty street. She could see the district clock that read midnight. Midnight... For reasons unbeknownst to Allete, she had the urge to go outside, right then. The night was calling to her and if there was any moment to leave, it would be right then. She threw on her coat over her nightdress, and, looking over at the gold leafed invitation by her mask box, grabbed the mask on the way out. On her way down the stairs, she fastened the mask to the side of her head so that she could pull it on when she wanted, quickening her pace as she got closer to the lobby. She unlocked a side door and quickly ran out into the street, half expecting to meet someone there.
But noone was there. The street was just as dead outside as it was from her view inside. But now it was cold, and she felt a little scared all by herself in the street. She stood for a while, watching her breath come out in white puffs, and wondered why she had even come out in the first place. Her father would be so upset if he found her gone!
And then she nearly jumped out of her skin, as the child's laughter breathed right behind her ear. She turned quickly, ready to run like a frightened deer, but her feet stood frozen in surprise. The laughing child was there, chuckling even more at Allete's fright. "Don't be scared! " The child said. But more than scared, Allete felt as if she had wandered into a dream again. It was a small girl, younger than Allete, wearing an over sized sort of pajama's with a cartoon animal's head as a hood. The child was atop a large ball, balanced as if it was only natural to stand there, perhaps with the help of a large squirell-like tail.
" Who...Who are you?" Allete managed to squeak out.
" Call me Sprite!" She said, smiling. The child's bright costume made the dark of night seem to cower away. "I know why you're here. " Sprite said playfully.
" Does it... have something to do with the Midnight Carnival?" Allete asked quietly. The air cracked with Sprite's laughter, and it was a wonder the whole area wasn't awake by it. She continued laughing, and the ball beneath her feet moved forward as the child began running away.
"Please wait!" Allete called to her, and began to follow. She must know about the Midnight Carnival, there was no mistake! The alleys were aglow as the child flew down them at a great speed, the large bright ball taking her down the cobble stone with ease. Allete tried her best to keep up, running at top speed and following Sprite's glow down the twisting corners. Soon, the turns and side streets were so many that Allete could no longer catch up, and had to stop for fear that she would collapse.
She gasped for air, looking around at where she was, but there was no way to recognize it. She was standing alone now, in a large street, that seemed to stretch on for a very long time, but it seemed hidden away by tall buildings on either side. She was scared now; Following a strange child had only served to make her lost in the dark streets of Paris and she might never be able to find her way back. Sprite was gone. Allete sat down in the gutter, trying to think about what she could do to get back, but she felt overwhelmed by the situation and was forcing herself not to cry. Pulling up her knees to her chest, she covered her face with the mask and closed her eyes, hoping for some sort of miracle.
Surrounded by the mask, the night, and the fear, she sat huddled alone. The feel of the brooch was in her coat pocket. She wished Théo was there to help... And at that moment she felt warm all over. Was this the power of love, she wondered? No, it was the air itself. Allete lifted her head, and through the mask's eyes, looked around into the darkness.
Beautiful glass lanterns and chandeliers of all colors were suspended from balconies and street lamps- and they were lighting up! They had definitely not had been there before. From the end of the street they flicked into life, all the way to where Allete stood. Distantly, the sound of Sprite's laughter came through the air, with an unmistakable sound of drums. Drums, accordion, fiddle, horns, and more in a mixture of sweet uplifting tune, that sounded so far off, but coming closer. And there, at the end of the street, came into view a gathering of people - a parade!
Allete started walking, then running, towards it. Closer and clearer the music came towards her; a glittering and a shine of the people coming nearer. She stopped there on the sidewalk, watching, as the Midnight Carnival approached right towards and past her, exploding onto the scene.
The carnival enveloped and devoured all in it's path with music, colors, animals like she had never seen, and the people themselves like a painting of a masquerade. Every man, women, child, and in between wore masks; extravagant masks that seemed one of a kind and costumes that were just as outrageous. Among the barrage of stripes and checkers in all mismatched colors, Allete saw Sprite rolling around with the crowd. "You're here!" She said, giggling loudly and pulling Allete into the parade. She looked around her, at all the people of the carnival, marching their way to the end of the street.
Then, they all stopped, marching in place. Allete watched as they moved in nonchalant unison, until they started parting down the middle, making way for someone who was approaching. All that was visible was a large fluff of feathers from the distance, and then she approached; A white a black duchess of sorts, clad in a French nobleman's uniform, complete with boots and scabbard. In various places, large contrasted feathers stuck out to resemble an ostrich. Her lovely masked face lowered to Allete's level, bending down with a smile.
"Hello little fox." She said sonorously. " You've stumbled upon our celebration. A celebration of life's fun, you see." She gestured to the crowd around her, of which was dispersing into stalls that had managed to spring up. " Will you be taking part in the fun?" The woman asked.
Allete nodded meekly through her fox mask and asked cautiously. " Excuse me, but, what is to take place? Is this some sort of party?"
The feathery woman grinned wide like a cheshire cat. "Of course this is a party! A superb party! " The other carnival folk who were bothering to listen in agreed in a mutual "here, here!".
"What you have to decide, " The large grin said, " Is whether you want to make the most of it."
From her breast pocket, she produced a small gold-leafed card very similar to her invitation. She lifted Allete's nervous hand and placed it inside. " If you can do what this card asks, be prepared for a grand prize." and with a twirl of black and white feathers, the woman had vanished into the crowd of strange faces, leaving Allete to herself. The peculiar masked people didn't seem to acknowledge Allete with more than a passing glance, sometimes smiling down at her, but otherwise minding their business and going about their brightly colored party lives. It was a circus parallel to the normal city of Paris.
Allete stared around at the costumed crowd in wonder before looking down at her card. In lovely gold lettering it said:
To start your quest for a prize most grand,
find a young man of whom must withstand
a face that is both laughing and sad.
" A riddle?" Allete thought. A riddle that was leading to a sort of scavenger hunt. "A young man who is laughing and sad? "
That was a decent clue. Perhaps someone was wearing a mask that looked happy yet sad?
And so the search began. She wandered along the stalls in no real hurry, looking at the gypsy merchandise of far away lands and strange mechanics of which whistled or otherwise made some sort of noise with no real function. Knick-knacks of all types were out on display, and she grew fond of a genie-lamp array.
One peculiar seller had a siamese twin. One of them had a happy mask, the other, a crying mask. Perhaps one of them was her target? " Excuse me Monsieurs." Allete asked as politely as possible. " Do you know anything about this?" She asked, holding up the gold-leafed card. They took turns looking at it, shaking their heads. The happy twin pointed towards a different small booth besides a painter. She curtsied in thanks, and ducked beneath a man on stilts to get there, but only a young smiling woman was there, not a man.
She was painting pictures that seemed scenic at first, but turned out to be shiny. The frame and canvas acted as a mirror, but it reflected everything back as if it was an oil painting. Allete wondered why she had been pointed here, but was enjoying the art nonetheless, as everything around her was reflected back as oil painted art.
Then, from somewhere behind her, she heard a youthful laugh, that made her feel so warm inside, it made her smile behind the mask and want to laugh herself. But after the laugh had finished, a long, sorrowful sigh followed, sucking the happiness out of the air. She turned around immediately to see a young man studying one of the painter's works. He looked utterly depressed observing the art, but one half of his face was covered by a mask with a laughing face. He had large antlers coming from the top of his head, and a bizarre outfit of half circus, half military type clothes. He looked to Allete as she caught his eye. She gave him a large smile, of which he beautifully returned, before lapsing back into a miserable frown as he started to walk away.
"Excuse me! " Allete called after him. She slowly showed him the riddle, and he gave yet another discontented sigh, very out-of-place in such a cheerful environment of carnival.
" I see. " He said. " So I suppose I've been made part of the game. How lovely that noone told me. "
" I'm sorry Monsieur." Allete said sheepishly. " But I believe you were the one I was supposed to find. Do you know what I do now? "
" Call me Olivier." He said with a large charming smile, switching moods again. " Ah yes, I've done this sort of scavenger hunt before myself." He said, holding the card up to the light. The people moving around Olivier were trying to maneuver past his antlers as he tilted his head back. " If I'm the one you're to find, then I suppose..." He felt along his jacket pockets. "Ah ha. So it is here after all. Here you are, little fox."
And with a mighty mournful exhale, he handed Allete a gold-leafed card that was just like the one before.
She took it in her hands, reading the writing carefully.
Step by step your prize grows nearer
so find a man who needs no mirror
As his front is back, his back is front,
the more people you meet, the quicker the hunt.
"It's a bit longer than last one." Allete said outloud.
"I can help you if you'd like." Olivier offered. Allete thought about his words. It would be nice to have a companion help her on her journey, and perhaps some fun could help him recover from his half sadness. "I'd be delighted. Thank you Olivier." She said.
"Ah, just a moment, I'm to give you a small prize for finding me. With each person you find, you're to receive more small prizes until the finale. "
" Am I? Though I mostly found you through luck!"
" Indeed. But what to give... I haven't much you see." The young man checked his person. "How about a flower then?"
"That'd be lovely!" And so the young man fastened a few flowers into Allete's hair. She felt a bit more involved in the carnival now.
So they began to search again, getting deeper into the streets of the night carnival. They spied one jester take a large torch, and upon blowing on it, released the fire into a burst of red butterflies that swarmed about like confetti. Allete and a few others applauded as they walked by. Every corner they turned had a new laugh. Allete even made way for a ribbon dancer, who started cursing when the long streams of fabric became caught up in Olivier's antlers. After seeing so many wonderful things, Allete had a perpetual smile on her face, not unlike the fox's grin that she was wearing. perhaps she was suited for the mask after all!
A small bit of carnival music started swelling again as the two continued to walk, and Olivier, who could see better from being taller, said "Ah, I think we may have found the next clue, little fox."
A crowd was circled around a dancing figure, who moved around and around in circles and into unique flips. For a moment Allete couldn't tell whether he was doing front flips or backflips... until she realized why.
The dancer had a face were the back of his head should have been! Through some sort of illusion or costume it was impossible to tell which way was his front!
He finished his acrobatics with a bow and the crowd dispersed again. Allete approached the backwards-man with her riddle, just as she had with Olivier. The man did not speak, but scratched his head as he read it. Then he looked to Allete and pointed to himself as if to ask " Who, me?" Allete nodded and the backwards-man gave a small chuckle through his mask, checking around his person just as Olivier had done, and pulled a small card from a checkered sash at his waist.
Along with the card, he took off the sash, arranging it around Allete as a prize. She thanked him very much and he started to walk away, either forward or backwards, she couldn't tell. With a large blast of noise, he had disappeared with the drop of a firecracker. " He doesn't talk much. " Olivier noted.
"I suppose it would give away which side his mouth is really on." Allete said thoughtfully.
Looking at the card now, the both of them poured over the note.
He's deadly charming
and oldest of us all.
You'll find him in red
Anywhere and Everywhere
When you make it to the fall
The two of them looked at each other and read it over again. "Oldest" meant that perhaps he was an elderly man. But "Anywhere and Everywhere" was so drastically vague.
"What do you think Olivier?" Allete asked. But Olivier looked much more pale and forlorn than usual. "If this is who I think it is, " He said nervously, licking his lips " Then he won't be hard to find. It's courage you'll need, little fox. "
A collective shiver went down the both of them just speaking of him. But who was it? For now they tried their best to put their worries aside, and enjoyed the carnival as they walked.
"You said you've done this scavenger hunt before," Allete asked, " Did you lose?"
" I won actually. It isn't too hard to win at all." He said, shaking a band of loose balloons from the way. " The point isn't so much winning, as it is about enjoying yourself."
Allete was about to inquire further, when her feet froze in place. the large eyes of a lion appeared just in front of her. She squeezed her mouth shut as she tried not to scream, but it wasn't a lion as much as it was a lion's head on a gentlemen's body. He smoked a pipe, looking quite dapper and saying "excuse me" as he passed, licking his large feline lips.
Allete released a large sigh as he passed. So many unusual characters felt almost overwhelming!
"Don't worry, " Olivier said bleakly. " Lions don't normally eat little foxes. Deer on the other hand..."
Allete started smiling again.
A small band was playing nearby, so the two watched the masked musicians. They played wonderful uplifting tunes, so the two watched a while. Just like everything in the street, there was a magic about them that expelled the notes from their instruments and into the air. They could see the gold treble cleff and eighth notes wrap around the band , measure after measure like a long floating ribbon. Until a chill like a thick blanket came over them. Allete felt it too, and they all looked around them at once to see what the disturbance was. A drab of gray fog darkened the other colors around them, but an almost blinding red suit was unaffected. A red suit worn by a gleaming skeleton. He wore a matching cape and tophat, inhaling cigarette smoke that came out through where his eyes should have been.
Death looked over at Allete, with his skeletal grin, and walked towards her. she felt so insignificant in the presence of him, like a particle of dust floating in the air. He topped his hat to her, and the skeleton of a small bird flew out from beneath it. In it's tiny beak was a large riddle card. Death, apparently, knew that he was part of the game, and had come to find Allete himself. With a turn of his cape, he had gone, and the heavy fog with him. The warmth returned to the area, and the rush of music and chatter after the quiet flooded in loudly.
The skeletal bird flew in circles around Allete's head. She held out a hand to it, where it landed, showing her the card.
The quest continues with three fifths finished,
To a woman proud, though her looks diminished.
Her face is her mask, a frightening facade
Her people: like her. Aspirations to God.
Allete took the note, and the dead bird released it, flying again into the air, to land on Olivier's antlers.
Olivier observed the bird, and then the riddle. He scratched his chin. "So we're looking for someone terrifyingly ugly?"
Allete laughed. " I wonder... " she said " But she actually sounds a bit frightening..."
"More frightening than Death?"
"Perhaps not. But really Olivier, Death wouldn't seem so scary if he gave off a ...warmer air. He's probably a decent gentleman. "
"You may be right. So what's the plan now? Wander about as usual?"
"That's seems to be the trick!" Indeed, Allete thought, The point of this hunt seemed to be just for the enjoyment of seeing carnival. It was a 'celebration of life' after all.
And so they wandered; to see a wonderful array of things again. A balancing act on nothing but spider's web; A man who juggled teacups with tea inside; And a small boy used a bubble wand to produce large fish that swam through the air as if it were water. It became so that Allete felt a feeling grow inside about never wanting to leave...To stay with these wonderful people and wonderful tricks. To be with the Masquerade Parade, The Midnight Carnival, forever!
The two eventually came across a small shawled tent. Olivier recalled that it must be a fortune tent.
" You haven't seen it before?" Allete asked. Olivier whistled in thought, and the dead finch chirped happily. "I've been here for a while, but the carnival is always changing, you see. People come and go all the time. "
The two of them decided that it would be a good idea to ask the fortune teller about the next clue. Olivier waited outside as Allete nonchalantly swept open the flap and walked inside. But there was nothing to see at first. It was so dark inside, that it took her a while to realize there was a solitary candle in the middle of a table. She approached the table, blinking many times to try and see farther than her eye would allow. almost stumbling into the foot of the table, she decided to take a seat. A stirring in the shadows gave the impression that the fortune teller was there, but it was not a friendly aura. More like that of a snake watching it's prey before striking.
Allete managed to squeak out a greeting. "He-Hello-"
"Greetings." A woman's voice said, overriding hers. It came from the shadowed figure in front of her. The teller moved ever so slightly forward, and the outline of a face was barely visible. "You need help with something my dear?"
"Yes..." Allete said, finding it difficult to find her voice with the darkness around her. The face moved slowly closer to inspect her client, and from what Allete could just hardly make out, it was a lovely young face. " Well speak up little fox. What do you need?"
"I'm looking for someone..."
"Looking for someone." The woman repeated. So slowly her face moved towards the glow of the candle. " That is an easy task." Allete looked down to see that one of the womans hands was resting on the table in front of her. The skin had stitching like a quilt, held together by fishing wire. Instead of speeding up, Allete felt her heart freeze alltogether. The woman's face was slightly visible now, just as lovely in shadow, but there was something strange and artificial about it in the light. Now Allete noticed that it wasn't the woman who had moved closer, but the reach of the candle's light moving outwards. And there were things...Things on the wall hanging unnaturally. A desire to flee had never felt so strong in her life, but she remained bolted to her chair.
" I think I can help you, little fox. Why don't you lean closer? " The teller asked, with all the charm of a black widow.
"What's wrong?" The teller asked. But there was plenty wrong. As the light expanded, Allete could see clearly now, the fortune teller's true nature. With the woman's hand on the table, the other was holding a stick where a mask should be at the end. But the end didn't have a mask, just a human face of which the woman was talking through. The lips were moving, and the eyes were blinking. The things hanging on the wall were some sort of wretched creatures that may have once been human, but now they were tangled messes of limbs, staring down at her, the eyes sewn on.
"What's wrong?" The woman repeated, thundering through the tent. She removed her mask- which was a face! Where in it's place behind it was an empty void; A swirl of black that started sucking in everything around it. Allete screamed as loud as she could, but this seemed to disrupt the skinny creatures on the wall, who all flew off at the same time, like locusts flying towards her. Allete ran, as fast as she ever had in her life, through the dark and the creatures grabbing at her. She closed her eyes and ran straight out of the tent, into a nearby stall and knocking over merchandise. She continued to scream, until she heard Olivier's voice. " What happened little fox? Are you okay?!"
She opened her eyes wide to see into his half-expressioned face. Then she turned to the tent. It was still and lifeless, but her heart continued to pump with all it's might. "Her...Her..." Allete gasped for breath. " Her face... Her face was a mask!"
" Was it?" Olivier asked, completely unaware of the horror within that small space. But now that she was outside of it, the warm carnival air, the smells, the chatter, all if soaked through Allete's skin and calmed her down. Olivier helped her off the ground. "So was that the person you were supposed to find then? Considering your new gift and all."
"New gift? " and when Allete looked down, she saw that a pocket watch was now hanging from her coat. Had that been what those creatures had been doing? Just fastening the watch? Inspecting it, the pocket watch opened to have a folded clue inside. So it was her after all! How scary she had been!
" What does it say?"
The last card from me to you
the last clue to your prize.
A man you've met before you'll find
Though in a new disguise.
And so the end, close now to taste
has brought forth so much glee
all started from a friendly chum
"A man I've met before?" A generous man who started it all... "Why, that must be the shop-keep! The owner of the mask shop!"
Olivier smiled wide. " Monsieur Deblanc? Well everyone knows where he is! "
" Do you? Please Olivier, take me there!"
" Of course!" He said, and he started to sprint. Allete started running behind him, avoiding all of the wonderful folk around her. Olivier called behind to her, "He's the one who runs the carnival! He rings in the end of it as dawn comes! "
As they ran, Allete starting noticing familiar people as they ran up the street; The boy with the fish, the band wrapped in musical notes, the backwards-man, and the mirror-painter. She waved to the siamese twins and to Sprite, and now they were at the end of the road where Allete had started. But now there was a large golden tent set up there, and a crowd of people were waiting, as if at a finish line. Streamers and beads hung off of everything, and the group of people cheered as she ran closer, throwing confetti and pulling party poppers. She got to the end the road, stopping to catch her breath and looking around at all the people. The tent flap flew open, and Monsieur Deblanc walked out, with his large curled mustache beneath a golden beaked mask. He wore a striped suit of yellow and orange, like a gleaming sun. With his appearance, the crowd threw more confetti and applauded. With an unmistakable sound, fireworks cracked into the air, so close to the buildings that they sprinkled their colors downwards over the audience, and they held out their hands to catch some of it.
"Congratulations!" He boomed. "You've made it to the end, just like so many of us fine people have before! " The crowd applauded louder. " Young Allete, you have seen the Midnight Carnival in all it's ways. It's wonder, it's fright, and you've accepted it's confusion as something wonderful, am I right?"
Allete stepped forward quietly. "Yes Monsieur. "
" Then let me present you your prize... or rather, " Deblanc said, twisting the end of his mustache "Let me offer it to you."
The ostrich-like woman from before came out from behind the tent, taking Deblanc's arm. " You now have the opportunity to join our wonderful carnival; To live in the lights, the sounds, and gain magic of your own to make a spectacle unique only to you. What do you say? "
" Join the Carnival?" Allete asked herself. It was a grand prize indeed! To mix in with these people...to never be bored again! No school, no stress...But there was an aching in her heart, and with a jolt, she couldn't believe that she had almost forgotten... Reaching into her pocket, she felt the bronze brooch there. Her family, her friends, could she leave them behind? Could she leave the people she loved for her own wild enjoyment? They needed her, and she needed them. Taking out the brooch, Allete pinned it over her heart, thinking fondly of Théo and her father. " This has all been so amazing to me..." She said. " And I know that very few people are probably as lucky as I have been... But I still have things to do outside of the carnival."
" Oh no, you won't be joining us then?" The pretty ostrich-woman asked.
" I'm sorry... Your generosity is indeed overwhelming Monsieur Deblanc! But I have another life already."
" I see," Deblanc said. " It's too bad, but I understand of course."
" What about Olivier?" Allete asked. " He helped me. Does he get a prize too?" Olivier, who thought he had been forgotten, turned to her in surprise.
Monsieur Deblanc smiled down at the two friends. " And what would you ask for Olivier?"
The young man scratched the back of his neck, a bit embarrassed. " I already had the choice to join the carnival and took advantage of it. It's been a lot of fun, of course, seeing so much and all. But after what Allete said, I have to admit, there is someone... a girl you see... who I would like to find once again."
" You mean to leave as well?" Deblanc asked. The surrounding crowd made groans of sadness.
Allete and Olivier both ducked their heads. "Very well then," the golden shopkeep said. " At least you were able to celebrate with us as long as you could. Feel free to take off your masks."
The both of them obeyed, not thinking much of it, and a large swirl of colors moved around them like a hurricane. With such intensity it whirled about, Allete felt as if she was being dropped from a buildings as the faces blurred, and warm, sweet smelling air was vacuumed away. She landed on the cold cobblestone floor of the street, feeling the familiar bitter cold of the nighttime Paris streets.
Her mask had fallen to the street beside her, and she stood up with aching limbs. It was the cold, long street from before, hardly comparable to the street of the carnival.
Next to her stood a young man, not so grand as he once was, but it was indeed the Olivier she knew. His fantastic clothes and antlers were gone, replaced with a sad military uniform. " I had almost forgotten what this world was like." He said, looking around into the darkness. " Not so exciting, but... it's a nice calm, I think."
Allete looked at him sadly. " Did you run away from the military?" she asked.
Olivier looked down to his outfit, just realizing it was there. " Oh I see. I remember it now." He recollected as if it was a far away dream. " I was actually going into the military you see, to escape my boring life. But now, I just miss my family, my little brother, ...and a special someone back home."
Allete spoke with her friend, and they made their way back. As it were, Olivier knew the streets of Paris very well, and offered to lead her back to the hotel were her father was sleeping. It was a pity that Allete no longer had her prizes; A flower, a sash, a dead songbird, and a pocket watch; but after all, it wasn't the material things that mattered.
They came to their destination, and The two gave a sad goodbye.
" Perhaps we'll see each other again sometime. Where is it you live?"
" Near Le Havre."
" Is that so! I'm from Le Havre."
" Really? Do you know a boy named Théo Chevlier?"
" That's my little brother! "
And they couldn't help but laugh. "Was it Théo who gave you that brooch?" Olivier asked.
Allete blushed and nodded her head. "Well then," he continued. "We'll see each other again sooner than we think!"