“Moonlight and Roses”
by Jen Mierisch
The moon rose high above a shack in a forest outside Paris. Inside, clockwork creatures slept, all but one.
Giovanna slumped on the moonlit shelf. Dust lay across her brocade bodice, linen cuffs, and silk skirts. Through the window, she watched the moon, waiting.
The workshop had been dark for a long time, its hearth as cold as the grave. Jacques Renard no longer sprang through the door, his arms loaded with wires, cogs, and pulleys. Ages had passed since the toys had heard his voice. “Bruneau, you old rascal!” he’d say. “I’ve got just the rod that will fix your arm. You’ll be playing that harpsichord again in no time!” Or, “Annette, these new gears will have you dancing the gavotte better than La Camargue herself!”
Giovanna wondered what had become of Renard, the skinny young man who moved with such energy he seemed wound by springs like his inventions.
Perhaps he’d had ill luck, she thought, recalling the square-jawed man who had barged into the shack and stormed over to Renard as he worked. Shouting about francs, the man had given Renard a shove, sending metal components flying out of his hands and skittering across the floor.
Perhaps he’d had good luck, she thought, remembering the woman Renard had called chérie. Giovanna had observed them outdoors, touching their lips to one another’s, and she had lifted a china arm to her own lips, stitched from soft leather.
The last doll Renard had worked on was Enzo. While Giovanna, like many of Renard’s dolls, could dance, Enzo, his body fitted with tubes and miniature bellows, would be the first who could also sing. She and Enzo were to be a set, a gift for chérie. She gazed at Enzo’s handsome face. For the thousandth time, she longed for Renard to return and finish his work. She had never heard Enzo’s voice.
Giovanna’s thoughts were interrupted as the moon moved higher, streaming through the window directly onto the Roux-ga-roux. It was time.
Excitedly, she watched the wolf’s fur prick upward, as if lifted by an electric storm, and slowly stand on end. His springs tightened with a metallic hum. With a creak, he lifted a paw, then another, to step away from his place by the wall.
“Bonsoir, mes amis!” he greeted the toys. Giovanna’s sprockets vibrated with delight, so wonderful was it to hear his friendly growl again.
The Roux-ga-roux made his rounds, twisting the toys’ keys with his long teeth. Each reanimated toy awakened others, winding their keys as far as possible. Once everyone was shifting, brushing loose the dust and testing out their joints, the Roux-ga-roux wound the music box. It erupted in a lively pas de bourrée, and the moon-festival had begun.
The jester, Salamandre, leaped to his feet and turned somersaults in the air. The copper drummers marched across the rough-hewn floorboards, beating their sticks against the stretched pig-hide. In the bassinet, the baby doll blinked its marble eyes and wiggled its porcelain arms and legs. The angel and the devil got to their metal feet, linked arms, and swung each other in an arc, ever faster, until they tumbled together to the floor. The king’s and queen’s fur-trimmed capes and lace collars fluttered as they swiveled, arms raised, waving to their subjects.
From its basket, the snake’s jointed body rose, weaving to and fro, its thin metal tongue slithering out of its painted mouth. The two ravens stretched their mechanical wings and soared around the room, dipping close to touch their beaks together. Giovanna, spinning with the other dancing girls, smiled at the ravens, and looked around for Enzo.
He was just returning, through the shack’s rear door. His bright eyes focused on hers, and she broke away to meet him. Enzo’s arm in its ribboned sleeve came out from behind his back, his tiny articulated fingers holding out a red rosebud.
Giovanna thrilled down to her pinions as she accepted the flower, poking its stem between strands of her curled white hair. She seized Enzo by both hands and danced him across the room, laughing as his embroidered baldric flapped across his chest. Together, they leaped, bouncing through the air with cabrioles and jetés, moonlight flickering off the metal of the keys in their backs.
Enzo’s body abruptly went limp, and he landed hard as he fell. His momentum carried him across the floor and halfway beneath a cupboard. Giovanna hurried to his side, but his springs had slackened. Enzo was always the first to wind down; Renard had never returned with the longer spring he’d promised.
Quickly Giovanna dragged Enzo’s inert body free and reached for the key in his back. Just then her eyes caught an object winking in the shadows underneath the cabinet. Scooping aside tufts of dust, she reached until her fingers closed around a tiny key. She cocked her head, examining its tarnished surface.
Returning to Enzo’s side, she unbuttoned his waistcoat to reveal the second keyhole in the center of his chest. On impulse, she inserted the key and turned, listening to the answering clicks of the tumblers.
Giovanna stood. Bellows pumped, pulleys whirred, and gears she had never heard before purred to life. His mouth opened, and he sang.
“Je t’aime, Giovanna, je t’aime.”
The other toys paused to watch Giovanna and Enzo, hands joined, eyes locked onto each other’s, whirling around the room in their wedding waltz.
In time, the toys, exhausted, returned to their shelves. Their gears had been exercised, their spirits refreshed. They could wait a bit longer for Renard’s return.
On the highest shelf, leaning head to head, Giovanna and Enzo whispered their plans. They would live forever, he and she. When they grew weary, they would reach for each other’s backs. She would wind him, he would wind her, and the key to his heart would never be lost again.
The moon sank low above a shack in a forest outside Paris. Inside, clockwork creatures slept, all but two.
Jen Mierisch’s dream job is to write Twilight Zone episodes, but until then, she’s a website administrator by day and a writer of odd stories by night. Jen’s work can be found in the Arcanist, NoSleep Podcast, Scare Street, and numerous anthologies. Jen can be found haunting her local library near Chicago, USA. Read more at www.jenmierisch.com.