By Kirsten Alene
Maggie and her brother had been in the castle for 17 years. That was as far back as either of them could remember. For 17 years, they had been searching for the Drowned Ballet.
Clues and signs of its whereabouts often trickled down the stainless steel walls or appeared in dark corners when no one was watching. Often, whispers of the Drowned Ballet swept through the forests of fox flowers that grew in the castle.
But despite the numerous vibrations and countless clues, Maggie and her brother did not know where to find the Drowned Ballet, or even exactly what it would look like if they found it. They did not know how long the Drowned Ballet had been in the castle. They were scared to think of what would happen when the Drowned Ballet was gone. And they were scared to wonder if the Drowned Ballet had already gone.
Maggie and her brother had been within the windowless, stainless steel castle for so long that their skin was papery and translucent. The spidery paths of veins close to the surface of their skin pulsated in unison with the castle’s curious vibrations.
After some time, Maggie and her brother stopped speaking aloud and began to tell their stories and play their games late into the night by way of a code they had invented that consisted mainly of blinks, winks and nods.
This was the way that Maggie and her brother spoke in the castle because, whenever a loud noise was made, they felt the walls of the castle moan in pain and imagined that the Drowned Ballet was moving further from them.
When they were very young, Maggie and her brother had been taken to see the Drowned Ballet by a person they no longer remembered, in a place that was not the stainless steel castle. They did not remember anything about the Drowned Ballet, except that they had seen it.
There were many flowers that grew in the castle and all of them had the heads and tails of foxes. The fox flowers covered everything in their path and had been known to bury armchairs, boudoirs and bureaus.
Often, Maggie and her brother picked the fox-heads off their stalks and drank the yellow nectar they produced. Drinking fox-heads was a favorite thing to do in the evenings in the castle while they walked soundlessly through the stainless steel corridors in search of the Drowned Ballet.
Sometimes, days would stretch between the finding of a clue and the next sign of the Drowned Ballet.
One time, it was a month.
When the sign eventually came, Maggie and her brother were almost beginning to believe that the Drowned Ballet was gone.
When they thought the Drowned Ballet had gone, all of the fox-head flowers roared like lions in the darkened corridors. When they thought the Drowned Ballet had gone, they did not play any games, and they only sat together in the stainless steel castle and wondered what would happen next.
“Maggie,” said her brother in their silent wink/blink language, “I think the Drowned Ballet is gone.” But two days later, a blue mask was found lying in a pile of rose petals in the antechamber to the main hall. After that, there was a slipper in the cloakroom.
Maggie and her brother saved the clues that came to them in a large cabinet in the smallest bedroom of the castle.
Maggie and her brother kept the clues in this room because they wanted to keep the fox flowers away from the clues and it was easier to defend a single small space. They ran to the smallest room in the stainless steel castle, and they sat among their clues and hints and rumors. Maggie and her brother did this to reassure themselves that the clues they had received of the whereabouts of the Drowned Ballet were real.
Sometimes, Maggie and her brother would dress up in the clues and play elaborate games that always ended in the discovery of the Drowned Ballet.
The best clue to ever be discovered was discovered by Maggie in the kitchen late at night. It was a golden bowl full to the brim with red-and-gold confetti. At first, the contents of the bowl looked like normal paper confetti, but, as Maggie approached, she realized that the confetti was made of extremely small rabbits. The rabbits crawled all over each other in the bowl, cooing softly. As Maggie reached a hand into the bowl, many of the little glittering confetti rabbits leapt out and scattered across the kitchen.
Maggie and her brother transferred the remaining rabbits, each no larger than the head of a pin, to a jam jar. They put breathing holes in the lid and tried to feed the rabbits all of the things that they thought rabbits loved. They tried carrots and lettuce and peas and the left over crusts of sandwiches. They tried lemonade and fresh fruit. They even tried to feed the rabbits a fox flower, but the fox-head ate all of the rabbits that came near it.
Eventually, all of the little glittering confetti rabbits in the jam jar died, and Maggie and her brother squished their tiny bodies between their pale fingers to see what they felt like.
Maggie and her brother were sad that they could not keep the tiny confetti rabbits and they did not understand why the rabbits had not eaten any of the wonderful foods they had given them. They did not know that tiny confetti rabbits could only eat tiny confetti carrots, tiny confetti peas, and tiny confetti fruits. This was why all of the tiny confetti rabbits had died.
Some of the tiny confetti rabbits had escaped capture and imprisonment in the jam jar, however, and lived out the rest of their lives eating the tiny confetti foods that grew in the space beneath the refrigerator and behind the water heater in the stainless steel basement. When they grew old, they wrapped each other’s tiny bodies in bright-yellow cocoons and transformed each other into small, green butterflies that pollinated the fox flowers in the hallways and the bedrooms of the castle. The small, green butterflies sometimes banged their rabbit bodies against the stainless steel walls of the castle, as if they knew that sun awaited them on the other side, but the walls moaned in pain and the small, green butterflies fell, exhausted, to the floor.
When this happened, Maggie and her brother heard the music of the Drowned Ballet receding deeper and deeper into the stainless steel walls, lower and lower in the castle. But when they rushed to the stainless steel basement of the castle, all they found were butterflies and fox flowers.
Sometimes in their dreams, Maggie and her brother imagined that the Drowned Ballet was gone. They imagined that the fox flowers overtook the smallest room in the stainless steel castle and that the clues to finding the Drowned Ballet were buried beneath them forever. Maggie and her brother sometimes woke up with a gasp and looked at each other across the floor of the smallest room of the castle and, sometimes, one would say in their wink/blink code, “Did you dream that the Drowned Ballet had gone?”
And the other would reply, “Did you?”
Another time, Maggie and her brother were walking on the ninth floor of the stainless steel castle, sucking the nectar from two fox-head flowers and having a silent wink/blink conversation about the Drowned Ballet, when a great, shivering moan shook the castle. It was the loudest moan the castle had ever made. Maggie and her brother shook with fear, so much so that they almost cried aloud in the silence of the stainless steel castle.
Maggie and her brother hurried down the hall toward the sound, but, when they arrived at the staircase, they found a very disappointing clue. It was only a length of blue, satin ribbon on the floor, pointing due south.
Maggie and her brother picked up the blue ribbon and hurried due south. But all they found at the end of their path was a dense grove of fox flowers. Beneath these fox flowers were a few of the corpses of the confetti rabbits, but Maggie and her brother did not know this.
Maggie and her brother clutched the blue, satin ribbon that had been pointing due south, glad that it had appeared in the corridor to tell them that the Drowned Ballet was near, even if they had not been quick enough to catch it.
One of Maggie’s favorite clues had been the nest of lady’s shoes that they had found in the early morning. The nest was lined with velvet cloth and set up in a corridor they often walked through. No fox flowers had gotten to the nest, yet, and all of the shoes, not one looking more than slightly worn, were the right size for Maggie and her brother.
Maggie and her brother kept most of the shoes in the smallest room with the other clues, but they took them out often to try them on and walk around. Their skinny, pale ankles looked like lilies blossoming from beaded satin paddies in the water.
Right now, Maggie and her brother are playing dress-up with the clues they have collected in the castle, clues that have not led them to the Drowned Ballet.
Maggie and her brother are playing a game where, in the end, they will find the Drowned Ballet that they remember having seen only briefly, a long time ago, led to the location by a series of increasingly promising clues that, in real life, they will never find or hear, to a place that is in the stainless steel castle where the Drowned Ballet has been waiting to begin, waiting for them to arrive. When they enter the theater, the dancers will begin to dance and the musicians will lift their dusty violins.
At the end of their game, Maggie and her brother take their seats in the crowded theater and watch the Drowned Ballet, acted for them in their game by some fox-head flowers, a green butterfly, and a pair of beaded satin shoes.
Maggie and her brother are playing soundlessly in the smallest room of the stainless steel castle. The descendants of the tiny confetti rabbits flit past the open door. Fox flowers grow around the hallway outside, peering in curiously, as if they are hoping to grow into the smallest room and bury the clues about the Drowned Ballet that Maggie and her brother have collected – clues they hope will lead them to the Drowned Ballet, which they are watching now, in the game that they are playing.
It has been three months since the last clue was discovered beneath a bathroom sink. It was a hatcheck ticket. The ticket was number 37. Maggie and her brother know that the Drowned Ballet has gone. It rains inside the stainless steel castle. It rains in every room and in every hallway. Walls of water rise up from the stainless steel basement, washing up descendants of the tiny confetti rabbits.
Every creak and every moan of the stainless steel castle sounds like bending and breaking. Maggie and her brother pack the clues into three enormous barrels that they sew together with the tails of the fox flowers. To lash the barrels into a raft, Maggie and her brother harvest all of the fox flowers. It is a fox-flower genocide.
The water rises and rises in the castle.
With all of their clues and hints and rumors packed away, Maggie and her brother clamber onto the foxtail raft and wait for the stainless steel castle to bend and break. When the stainless steel castle bends and breaks, an ocean rushes out of all of the floors of the castle at once, carrying Maggie and her brother on their foxtail raft out into the starless night.
Maggie and her brother cling to each other with beaded satin shoes on their hands and feet. When the ocean settles, they look around for the Drowned Ballet. There is no sign of the Drowned Ballet, until a little green butterfly flutters past.
Then, drawing out two paddles made from bedposts, Maggie and her brother row across the sea toward the Drowned Ballet.
Bio: Kirsten Alene is the author of Love in the Time of Dinosaurs and Unicorn Battle Squad(recently published by Eraserhead Press). Her fiction has appeared in Amazing Stories of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, New Dead Families, The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, and Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens. She edits fiction for Bizarro Central. See more exciting things about Kirsten here: kirstenalene.com.