It was a peaceful day in the house. A small wispy figure drifted aimlessly through the rooms, basking in the soft moonlight that peeked through the gaps in the curtains.
She sighed softly, reminiscing of days gone by.
Once upon a time she had been little Annie – a fearless creature that jumped in muddy puddles without a care in the world.
All was well, until the Carnival arrived.
The dazzling lights; the cloying scents; the heat of the crowd; the screams from the rides.
One moment Granny was there, the next she was gone.
Annie stumbled through the masses of people. Each time she thought she spotted the fur trim of her guardian’s coat or the black leather of her handbag, she was sorely disappointed.
She did not see the Hole until it was too late.
Her screams fell on deaf ears as she tumbled into the darkness. When she awoke, she scrambled up the sides of the Hole until she reached the grassy bank.
Annie could not explain why she did what she did next. Perhaps it was the adrenaline coursing inside of her, or perhaps it was the innate curiosity all children possess, even in the face of danger.
She turned herself round and, very bravely, peered down the Hole.
Immediately, she wished she hadn’t.
For at the very bottom, shining ethereally in the moonlight, lay a body.
Annie promptly looked down at herself. Upon seeing the ghostly apparition - all that remained of her soul - her face scrunched up and hot tears rolled down her cheeks.
Although she was nearly six years old and understood much of the world, grief was an emotion she had little experience with.
Oh, how she wailed!
Long piercing screams that echoed through the Carnival grounds, night, and day.
She sobbed when the Carnival workers filled the Hole, failing to notice her tiny body at the bottom. And she howled when the masses of policemen arrived, paying no attention to the swarm of blowflies hovering behind the trees.
If only the inhabitants of the Carnival could hear her. Alas, the toils of a ghost remain silent to the living.
(Except for those who are more attuned to the cries of lost souls.)
One day, while Annie wandered sullenly through the grounds, she noticed a small dove huddled behind the bushes. She had never seen a dove outside of the Circus Tent before. Her face lit up with joy but, just as quickly, dropped when she realised that the dove was crying.
“Oh, sweet Dove, what is wrong?” she asked, not expecting a reply.
The Dove sniffled, looked up and frowned a little.
“You are the girl those men in bright uniforms were looking for. Was it the Circus Master? He was all nervous when they were speaking to him”.
The girl shook her head, her lips trembling.
“I fell down a big hole behind the trees. I climbed out but my body stayed at the bottom.”
This angered the small bird.
“The old Circus Master would never leave holes lying around. Master Bronson does not care about holes, or little girls, and especially not about little ghost girls. The only thing he cares about is those green pieces of paper that are bursting out of his pockets.”
Annie asked the Dove why he did not leave the Carnival. The Dove pointed his wing towards the metal chain that was wrapped around his feet, trailing back to the circus tent that stood in the middle of the grounds.
“Anyway, I couldn’t leave the others. It is not their fault they do not have wings. Why do you not leave this awful place?” The Dove cooed, softly.
The girl paused for a moment, before answering.
“I don’t know my way back home”.
Suddenly the Dove jerked backwards, his rope being yanked by one of the Circus hands.
Annie quickly followed the direction the helpless bird was being pulled in until she reached a small opening in the Circus tent.
Far away from the eyes of paying onlookers, the Circus Master had unmasked his true persona. Annie had only ever read about monsters in story books. To be in the presence of one froze her to the core.
She was so grateful he could not see her.
She watched in horror as the Circus Master wildly swung his whip, striking the animals with no remorse.
Most five-year-olds do not know about things like justice or retribution. But what Annie did know was that monsters were bad and what he was doing was very, very wrong.
A while ago, before the accident, a tall girl had once hit her friend because she did not want to share the swings. Immediately the Teacher intervened, and the conflict was resolved.
But nobody in the Carnival spoke a word.
Their shame prevented them from even looking at their tyrant. The only sound that could be heard were the cracks of the whip and the shrieks from the animals.
The sight of Dove cowering in the corner brought fresh tears to the girl’s eyes.
In a burst of rage, she threw down the spotlights from the top of the tent. They crashed next to the Circus Master causing him to jump with a start.
It was not long till the monster recovered.
He blamed one of the Circus hands and lifted a piece of the smashed glass, storming towards the terrified boy. Annie grabbed one of the brutes' ankles and pulled with all the might a small child could muster.
He fell to the ground, uttering terrible words.
But this time, the beast was frightened. He stood in the centre of the Circus Tent, waving the shard of glass maniacally, glaring back and forth between the Circus hands and the animals.
At this point, the commotion had drawn all the inhabitants of the Carnival into the tent, from the cleaners to the stall holders, to the repair men and the firebreathers. They watched - stunned - as the invisible assailant continued to torment their oppressor.
Finally, the last hand was dealt.
Annie seized the whip that lay unguarded on the floor and lashed it menacingly towards the crazed figure. The sight of his own weapon turning against him was the last straw. The Circus Master bolted out of the tent, never once looking back.
The Circus erupted with joy. Toots, screeches, whoops and caws could be heard for miles around. The Carnival workers laughed and wept, hugging each other tightly.
From now on, they could run the Carnival how they liked. No unhappy animals, no long hours with little food and even less love. The Carnival would once again become a place of joy, of mystery and of awe.
Within moments, roles were delegated, and the workers set off restoring the grounds. Old holes were filled, chipped paint renewed. Tears in the tent were sewed and the games in the stalls were altered, now making them possible to win. The rest of the workers found bolt cutters in the repair room, and cut off the chains that once bound their beloved animals.
Dove found Annie and thanked her from the bottom of his small but mighty heart.
“How could I ever repay you?” he asked, ruffling his feathers in earnest.
Annie asked him if he knew where Granny lived. Dove shook his head but promised he would find out. He asked all the birds that resided beyond the Carnival gates, from the pigeons to the robins, to the blackbirds and the magpies.
After two days, he found her.
He brought Annie to a leafy cul-de-sac, away from the noise of the City. There, atop a hill, stood a cottage with a thatched roof and a blue door. The curtains of the house remained closed, and the garden was overgrown and unkempt.
“This can’t be the right house. Granny always looked after her garden.”
Dove looked at the girl sadly. “You have been missing for a long time, Annie. Your Grandmother’s strength is not what it used to be.”
Annie frowned and looked closely at the house. She recognised her teddies in the top left window.
She flew swiftly through the paned glass and found her bedroom the same as she had left it all those years ago. Her bed was neatly made, the dollhouse remained on the dresser. She cried a little into her pillow, hugging her old teddies, naively wishing things could be like they once were.
When she had regained her breath, Annie thought deeply - finally understanding her purpose in this world.
From that day onwards, whenever Granny left to visit the grocery shop, Annie tidied up the house, sweeping away the dust and displacing any creepy crawlies. Even though she was terribly scared of the spiders, her love for Granny overpowered all her fears.
She cooked, she cleaned, she mended small repairs and snuffed out the candles that remained lit long after the sweet old lady had gone to bed.
And so, it went on for a few more months.
Until one evening, when the winter chill seeped in through the tiny gaps in the windows.
The sole living creature in the house exhaled her last breath, quite peacefully in her sleep.
(A painless death for the kindest creature the girl had ever known.)
When Granny opened her eyes, she saw little Annie watching her from the foot of the bed.
Two souls reunited, at last.