The streets of the city were busy and Christine felt a sense of nervousness build up inside her. It had been a long time since she had been out in the city alone without Raoul or someone else to look after her. Gustave was staying very close to his mother, clutching her hand and humming something to himself.
"Gustave, what is that song?"
"Oh, nothing, just a tune in my head," he replied.
That feeling built up inside her but she did everything to stop it. It was a completely ridiculous idea! Completely impossible! Gustave skin was unblemished. That man could not have a child so perfect. She had to stop thinking such things although it was hard with the ring on her finger.
"Mother!" Gustave squealed, "Look! It's beautiful!"
They had rounded the corner of a street. Normally it was just an empty field but that night it was unrecognisable. Christine gasped, it was filled with many tents which were all illuminated by thousands of tiny lights. Hundreds of people were bustling around, smiling and laughing. Soon they arrived at the entrance.
"How much is the entry fee?" Christine asked the old lady perched behind the counter.
"Free for you, my dearest," the women replied, giving her a toothless grin.
"What do you mean?"
"I think you know," the woman cackled.
"I have no idea and I would be very grateful if you would perhaps explain?"
"Lawrence!" the woman called and a man appeared beside her, "This lady has a few questions."
The man nodded, then motioned for them to follow him into a small hut just inside the gates. Christine sighed but followed, what choice did she have really? The hut door opened with a wail and it was dimly light inside.
"What do you want to know?" the man asked, impatiently.
"Why I have been granted free entry into this Carnival!" she replied, the annoyance apparent in her tone of voice.
"I'm fairly sure you know exactly why."
"It's him, isn't it?" she muttered, pulling Gustave closer to her, protectively.
"Well done!" Lawrence replied, clapping sarcastically.
"Does he own this thing?"
The man let out a howl of laughter. He seemed to find Christine's question hilarious and this made her even more annoyed. She did not like this man yet he was her only way of finding out exactly what was happening.
"He likes to think he own the place," he chuckled, "But in reality he's nothing more than a performer…we he performs isn't really the right word."
"Why don't you go see for yourself?" the man hissed while giving her a sinister smile.
"Fine then!" she exclaimed, spun around and stormed out of the hut.
"Third tent on the right!" the man called after her, "I wouldn't take the boy in if I were you!"
Christine winced at his words. She had a fair idea of what awaited her in the third tent on the left but she didn't want to jump to conclusions. This could just be a big misunderstanding.
"Mother, what is going on?"
"If I'm being honest, I'm not quite sure," Christine sighed, this was no time to hide things from her son.
Gustave didn't reply. As they got closer to the tent she began to feel a little unwell and hoped she would not faint again.
"Can I go on the carousel, please?"
She jumped, she had been deep in thought and the sound of Gustave's voice gave her a small fright. This would be perfect, Gustave could go on the carousel while she went into the tent and found out the truth. She handed him a few coins and pushed him towards the ride.
"Oh god," she whispered, taking deep breaths as she walked towards the tent.
The third tent on the left was not lit up as brightly at the rest. There was not as many children running around near it and there was an odd atmosphere surrounding it. She approached the door but a man stopped her.
"Miss, this isn't the kind of place for a lady like you," he whispered in her ear, "This tent is not for those of a sensitive disposition."
"I am not an innocent lady that needs your protection, thank you very much."
Sliding the black velvet curtain away she slipped into the tent. The tent was not well lit and it took a moment for her eyes to properly adjust. She took a step forward but stopped when she noticed the cage in front of her.
There were about a dozen cages in the tent, all of which had a crowd of people surrounding them. She noticed a young couple near her, the girl was clutching to the man and crying about "how horrible the freaks were."
She had to hold onto a metal pole for support as the room spun around her. Her fears were about to come true. It occurred to her that the best thing to do may be to leave but she ruled that out quickly. She would do this for him.
Stepping forward she sneaked a glance into the first cage, then let out a sigh of relief. In the cage was a tiny person, with the lighting and the distance it was impossible to tell their gender. All she had to know was that it wasn't who Christine was looking for.
The next one wasn't him or the next or the next. She approached the next one then let another sigh of relief. The crowds were dispersing and it was a while before Christine realised they were all heading to the one cage.
A horrible feeling built up inside her as she made her way through the crowd, doing everything she could to get to the front. A few people muttered abuse as she made her way through until eventually she arrived at her destination.
For some reason she could not bring herself to look up from the ground. She took a few deep breaths to calm her racing heart. It wasn't working and she began to feel faint.
"Come on," she muttered to herself, "You've got this far! You may as well have a look!"
Still she could not do it, she didn't want to see him like that. He obviously wanted to see her though and she should at least do something for him. His life had not been a good one so far and Christine was to blame for part of that.
A scream in the crowd made her look up before she was ready. The cage was darker than the rest and she once again had to wait a few moments before her eyes adjusted. When they did adjust she wished they hadn't.
In the cage a man stood, a man Christine knew very well, a man she had loved. He did not wear his white mask which meant his disfigurement was on clear view. His suit was dirty, ripped and not at all like she remembered, he had always been so impeccably dressed. Tears were beginning to form in her eyes, all she wanted to do was get out of there. She began to turn away.
Her head snapped up and she was caught in his stare. She looked into his eyes but did not see the glimmer they had once held, they looked sad and broken. After about thirty seconds of just standing staring he began to walk towards her, his stride was short and stiff.
Someone in the crowd muttered something and something was thrown into the cage. It hit him on the left side but he did not even react, his eyes were fixed on Christine. She looked down to see what had hit him, it was some sort of fruit.
He continued to walk forward until his face was pressed against the metal bars of the cage. The rest of the crowd took a step back, muttering to each other excitedly. Christine was the only member of the crowd who stepped forward, pressing her whole body against the bars.
"I'm here," she whispered, tears pouring down her cheeks.
They were as close as they could possibly be with the metal bars in their way. He reached his hand out and stroked it down her cheek, wiping away her tears, his own eyes too were filling up. The crowd was forgotten as they lost themselves in the reunion.
That was until something else was launched through the air at him. This time it struck his arm just below his shoulder and it was immediately obvious that this time he was injured. The glass bottle smashed as it hit the ground and he clutched his arm in pain.
The crowd laughed as he got angrier but suddenly he stopped. He fell to the ground, then held his head in his hands. At the sight of the once great and powerful man broken and lying on the ground made Christine get very, very angry.
"What's so funny?" she shouted, spinning around to face the crowd.
Nobody spoke, suddenly the crowd didn't have anything to say. This did nothing but make her angrier.
"Why would you do that to him? He's just as human as you and me!"
"No he isn't," a man laughed, "Look at his face! That is anything but human!"
Something else was thrown into the cage and hit him. This time he did not react, he just sat there looking defeated. Soon it seemed that everyone in the crowd was throwing things at him. No matter how loud Christine shouted and screamed it did not make any difference.
She stepped backwards towards the cage and something pulled her backwards.
"Christine," the voice whispered, "Stop it. You're not going to stop them. Please, just go, I don't want you to get hurt."
"Why don't you fight back?" she asked, her voice cracking with emotion.
"There's no point," he sighed, "Just go, seeing you has been enough to get me through this."
Her heart leapt at his words. Did she really mean that much to him? Could he really still love her after all these years? After everything that had happened? She turned around and found his face was a lot closer than expected, she did not move, his disfigurement no longer scared her. His eyes told her what he felt, they were now lit up and filled with pure love.
"I don't want to leave."
"You must," he replied, tears we spilling down his cheeks.
"Goodbye," she smiled, then pulled him into a kiss which after a moment of doubt he returned.
Eventually he pulled away, then pushed her away from him into the crowd. With one last look she turned and left the tent, promising herself that she would help him somehow.
Outside Gustave was waiting patiently. His eyes widened when he saw his mother and she realised how awful she must look.
"Should we go home?" he asked, to which Christine nodded.
What could she do? A few years ago she would have marched straight to the owner and bought him for a ludicrous sum but Raoul's habits meant that was impossible. She would have to find a way that didn't involve money.
Their carriage was waiting for them and they stepped in quickly. After about ten more minutes of deep thought a plan began to form in her head. A plan to save him.