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Authors: Joanne Owen

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BOOK: Circus of the Unseen
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Chapter Ten

I was curled up in Scarlet's snuggly bed, but I just couldn't settle. The wagon was itchy-hot, and my brain was throbbing with worry about how I'd get home, and what Mum and Dad must be thinking. I sort of wished I had someone to talk to, but Scarlet was sound asleep. I could see her lying among the cushions, completely still and silent. I turned to face the wall and closed my eyes again.

Throughout the night, as I slipped in and out of sleep, I was haunted by the same dream, over and over, though it felt more real than any dream. I could see Mum and Dad standing over me with Daisy tucked between them. They were all blurry and the room was spinning. Its white walls were fuzzy, and the stomach-churning stench of bleach burned my nostrils. I went to sit up, but my body was numb. I couldn't move, but I still felt like I was falling, and I could feel Granny's doll in my hand. That was all I could feel.

‘What will we do? What are we supposed to do?' Mum asked in this tiny voice.

What's wrong, Mum?
I asked.
Where am I?

But Mum didn't answer.

Daisy stepped forward. ‘How could Granny have done it?' she asked, her voice all choked and spluttery. ‘How could she?'

What is it, Daisy? What's wrong?

‘If it hadn't been for what Granny did, this wouldn't have happened to Rosie, would it? She wouldn't be lying here like this.'


‘Don't say that, Daisy. Don't say it.' Dad took hold of her and she started screaming and sobbing.

‘Stop it. Just stop it!' Mum was frantic too. ‘Blame me, not Granny. Blame me. I knew about them. I knew she'd been married before.'


Mum stroked my hair.

‘I love you, darling. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.'

She broke down on Dad's shoulder, and Daisy started shaking like crazy, and a pale green curtain closed around us, and I screamed at the top of my lungs.


I was woken by something tickling my nose. There were fronds reaching through the open roof hatch, filling the air with the smell of leaves and sickly-sweet flowers. I sat bolt upright. I wasn't dreaming any more. I was awake, and still in the wagon in this weird place.

‘Sleep well?' asked Scarlet. She was standing right next to the bed. She must have been watching, waiting for me to wake up. Why hadn't she just woken me? She
have woken me. I hadn't meant to stay the whole night.

‘The sun coming up doesn't really make bad things go away, does it?' I said, swinging my legs over the bed. ‘I mean, it's definitely not true that things always seem better in the morning. I need to go. I have to get out of here.'

‘Don't get worked up, girl. We're going to get you dressed up real nice and then we'll go to Mother. I was certain she was going to come last night, but you don't always get what you want, do you?'

Scarlet opened the cupboard under the bed. It was actually a wardrobe, stuffed with dozens of dresses and costumes. I could see at least five feather boas. ‘I'm sure we can find something for you here. It's like a dressing-up box of the whole world, don't you think?' She rooted through the clothes, telling me the story of every outfit she pulled out. ‘This beauty takes me back,' she said, swirling around with an emerald evening gown. It was split to the thigh and flicked out at the bottom like a mermaid's tail. ‘Made its debut at the Hollywood premiere of
The Wrong Kind of Girl
. You know, the one where Marilyn plays a two-bit singer stuck in a blizzard at a bus stop with a rodeo star?'

‘Haven't seen it,' I huffed. I couldn't help it. I'm sure they all had an interesting story, but the way she was going on about each and every dress was starting to drive me crazy. ‘Is this going to take much longer?'

‘I was a performer back then too,' she went on, ignoring me. ‘I worked the trapeze until my pregnant belly got too big for me to fly. I did a bit of acting, too, which is how I got invited to the premiere.'

‘But that would have been decades ago,' I said, wondering why she was lying, and annoyed she thought I was that gullible. ‘You're not old enough.'

‘Maybe I am, and maybe I'm not. You'd be surprised, girl. You'd be surprised what a layer or two of make-up and a damn good outfit can do. I know all the tricks of the trade. I can show you some if you like. You'd look good with some colour in your cheeks.'

‘Look, don't worry about me.' She was definitely trying to stall leaving. ‘I'll wear anything. I'm not fussy. Then I'll get out of your way. I'm sure you have other things to do, like get ready for the performance.'

don't need to worry about
. You're not keeping me from anything – there's no performance today. Doesn't work like that. We're not any old circus, you know.'

‘Let me guess. This is the Greatest Show on Earth, right?'

‘Uh-uh.' She shook her head. ‘We're the Greatest Show
Earth, honey, and make no mistake.'

‘So if there's not a show today, why are you all dressed up?' Her glamorous riding outfit (tight white jodhpurs, a black jacket with tails and a shiny top hat) was hardly something you'd wear to muck out the stables.

‘I don't call it dressing up, girl. I call it
. I mean, why save things for best? I didn't do that before I came here, and there's definitely no point doing it here.'

Scarlet saying that made me think of Granny. She never saw any point saving things for some imaginary special day in the future either, but sensing Scarlet was about to go off in another direction that would delay us even more, I took the liberty of picking out something for myself. ‘How about this?' It was a red-and-white polka-dot dress, one of the few not made from sheer silk or covered in sequins or feathers, and it had pockets at the front, like an apron, perfect for keeping the doll in.

‘Reckon it'll look pretty good on you, reckon it'll fit like a gl—' Scarlet froze. ‘Did you hear something?' She gripped my arm and peered out of the window. ‘It's Fabian.' She looked relieved. ‘Maybe Mother's with him. Get yourself ready while I check.' She closed the door behind her.

I pulled on the dress and went to the wall of mirrors. I have to admit it did look pretty good, and I felt good in it too. The bodice part was tight, and I wasn't used to wearing halter necks and having bare shoulders, but it wasn't so over-the-top revealing that I felt massively self-conscious. I mean, I could cope with it, so I went outside.

Scarlet smiled when she saw me. ‘You look sensational, girl. Bet your daddy adores you. What did I tell you, Fab? I told you she was a darling. You can see why I couldn't leave her out there on her own, can't you? You can understand it, right? You can't blame me for taking her in. Rosie, meet the Fabulous Fabianski. Fabian to his friends. And that's his daughter, Accordienka.'

I recognised the girl. She was the accordionist, a delicate-looking thing with striking features. She had these big, brown eyes and a wide, cat-like face, with sharp cheekbones. The Fabulous Fabianski was pretty striking too. He was tall and handsome, despite his odd clothes. He was dressed like an old-fashioned huntsman, in a loose white shirt rolled up at the sleeves and puffy trousers tucked into his boots. I couldn't help but notice how muscly and tanned his forearms were. I guess he spent a lot of time working outside. He stepped towards me and held my gaze for what felt like an age.

‘A beautiful name,' he said, staring right into me. I couldn't quite place his accent. He voice was deep and steady, with a gentle lilt. ‘Little Rose.'

‘What did I tell you?' Scarlet smiled.

Fabian scratched his stubble and turned to her, now looking more agitated than curious. ‘What did Matushka have to say about this? Why did this girl arrive at the wrong time? Is she supposed to stay, or should she have left?'

My heart sank. I guess I'd been hoping he'd talk some sense, like a normal person who'd know what to do to make this weirdness end. But, at the same time, I found myself thinking that I could listen to Fabian all day. He had a perfect storytelling voice. It sounded like  …  like unsweetened honey, or something; smooth and sharp at the same time. I reckoned he'd never actually been to England, but the archaic way he phrased things was really charming.

‘What did Mother say?' he repeated, actually sounding angry now, and I mentally slapped myself for daydreaming.

‘Well, that's the thing  … ' Scarlet bit her lower lip.

‘You mean Mother doesn't know? You haven't told her? What were you thinking, Scarlet?'

‘Don't raise your voice at me, Fab. I did what I thought was best. I thought Mother would have known about her and come last night. But she didn't, and I couldn't just kick her out, could I? So I suggested she rest until Mother came. Then she fell asleep and now it's morning.' Scarlet looked at the sky. ‘Though it hardly looks like it. What's up with the sun? Why is it so dim?'

I'd never seen the sun so pale either. It was almost silver. A faint, lunar-looking disc, low down in the sky. Eerie and beautiful – but I just wished they'd get on with doing something to help me.

‘And the sun setting was late last night too, wasn't it?' Scarlet glanced at me. ‘But you can't blame me for letting her spend the night here, can you? I really thought Mother would come.'

‘Perhaps she didn't because of these irregularities with the light, and the animals,' Fabian suggested. ‘I understand why you did what you did, but you need to see her immediately, Scarlet. This newcomer is not your doll.'

I was about to tell him that I definitely wasn't anyone's doll and just needed directions, when Accordienka bounded towards us and waggled something in her father's face. She dropped whatever it was. As I went to pick it up, she snatched it away and hid behind his legs.

‘She doesn't mean to be rude,' Fabian explained. ‘But she's very precious about her little doll. Her mother gave it to her, you see.'

‘No worries.' I shrugged, wondering if the mother was still around, because it seemed to me that there might be something between Fabian and Scarlet. They'd make a stunning couple.

‘You never let her out of your sight, do you, my darling? You look after each other, don't you?'

I shivered. A full-body shudder that started as an icy tingle in the base of my neck and ran all the way through to my toes. I touched my doll, and thought of what Granny had said about it looking after me, and I thought of the story she'd mentioned, the one about Vasilisa. I'd have to read it as soon as I got back, as soon as Mum had calmed down.

‘So, we shall go to Mother, yes?' Fabian rubbed his hands together. ‘We shall go and explain, all of us together.'

‘Thank you, Fabian. I'd prefer not to go alone.' Scarlet planted a kiss on his cheek. ‘Can always depend on you to stay calm. Never get in a flap, do you? Just give me five seconds and we'll go.' She dashed back up the steps to the wagon.

While Scarlet was faffing around inside and Fabian and Accordienka went to see her horse, I walked a little way along the path that followed the river. The air was hot and heavy, and the trees were weighed down with exotic flowers that looked like fruit. I looked over my shoulder. I couldn't see them, so I carried on wandering towards a crossroads that forked off in three directions. While I was trying to decide which way to go, a pair of fluffy puppies, maybe huskies, bounded up to me. Their tails were waggling like crazy and they had incredibly intense blue eyes.

‘Hello there!' I ruffled their heads and they both clamped their teeth into my dress. There were vicious snarls, and flashes of teeth and icy-blue eyes. ‘Get off!' I shouted. ‘Stop it!' They were trying to drag me in the direction they had come from. ‘It's all right, I'm coming. I'm coming with you.'

I could see a cottage at the end of the path. It looked more like a proper house than anything else I'd seen here. Someone had to live in it. Someone there had to be able to help. As soon as I stopped struggling, the dogs released me and I walked towards the cottage with them jostling at my legs.

Up close, I could see it was far from normal. The building was perched about a metre off the ground on stilts, all squat and plump, like a nesting hen, and there was a thin stick jutting through the roof. A skull capped each of the fence posts, and the windows and roof were framed with beaks and bird skulls. I'd have been less surprised if it had been decorated with candy and gingerbread. The only things that looked relatively normal were the rose plants around the porch area, except they were blue. I never knew you could get blue ones.

BOOK: Circus of the Unseen
4.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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