There was a ragdoll forgotten on a dusty shelf. Her face was pale, her lips were pink and her big brown eyes stared at everything. Her name was Rose and she was once all prose. But now she sat alone as the little girl she used to play with grew old.
Lucky for her, the girl was an avid reader. Every week or so, a new book would be placed by Rose’s side. So every night, when no one was watching, Rose picked one and smiled.
She read many stories, her big brown eyes amazed at so many adventures to be had. In a book she was a pirate, another turn of a page and she was in the wild. She was a princess, a witch, a detective, a child.
One day Rose decided it was time for her to have adventures of her own. She dusted her dress off and jumped to the floor, and off she went to face the world.
She found a ladybug in a corner, which was happy to join her. The Ladybug knew a bit of adventures. She told Rose they would be alright, as long as they stayed away from the burial site.
‘The burial site?’ thought Rose. She was intrigued. And then she realized, ‘That’s where I should be.’
The Ladybug was frightened, but Rose convinced her that the best adventures started when your fears were faced and fought. So there they went to the burial site, all the while Rose whispering, ‘It will be alright.’
It was very dark when they finally arrived. The place was old and abandoned. Rose did not feel scared, however. She was used to the darkness in her old home. The place did not frighten her either. She too was old, she thought. And wasn’t she also abandoned? Before she let sadness overtake her, she looked up and saw a raven.
She was reminded of a tale she read and waited for the bird to speak as it had spoken in the story. ‘Nevermore, nevermore,’ it should have crowed. But it was not interested in her at all. It looked at her with disdain and croaked. The Ladybug shivered, but brave Rose just shrugged.
‘Let us keep going,’ she said and went ahead.
There was a sign on the rusty Iron Gate that read, ‘For those lost souls / For these lost lives / Let there be peace / Let there be light.’
‘There’s been no light in this place for a really long time,’ the Ladybug muttered.
‘Yes, I can see that. Shall we make it shine?’
The Ladybug just stared at her as if she were mad. How could there be happiness in a place like that?
Rose was not fazed in the slightest. She walked towards the rusty gate and passed through the grid easily. She was determined to have her adventure. Besides, she was certain nothing could go wrong. Each place was magic, each with its own song. So why not play along?
The Ladybug sighed and followed her. She had to admit that there was something very special about that little doll. She was not like anyone she could recall.
They began their walk among dead flowers and dilapidated graves, grey tombs and moldy mausoleums.
‘Where are the ghosts?’ asked Rose.
‘I’ve often heard ghosts aren’t real,’ replied the Ladybug.
Rose was not convinced it was so. She had read that ghosts were real. Books did not lie, did they? It was then they heard a cry.
They spotted the ghost of a child. He was at the top of a hill. A fainted light shone on him. When he saw them coming he stood still.
‘Why are you crying, child?’ asked Rose.
The ghost boy wiped his tears on his sleeve and answered, ‘It was the Jester! He stole my laughter!’
‘The Jester!?’ Rose was astonished. ‘And where can I find him?’
‘Down the hill, three tombs to the left, in Mr. Buster’s Mausoleum,’ the boy sobbed.
‘How odd,’ Rose thought, ‘that someone would steal somebody else’s laughter.’
‘Fear not, little boy. I will bring your laughter back,’ she guaranteed.
‘How?’ The Ladybug was curious.
‘I don’t know. I’ll think of something when I get there.’
‘But you’re just a ragged doll! What can you do?’ the boy questioned. ‘The Jester is mean and rude. He’ll have you for breakfast. He’ll steal your laughter too!’
‘No, he will not!’ exclaimed Rose taking no offense. ‘I will fight him and show him who’s boss.’
The boy was not convinced, but Rose was determined to prove him wrong. So there she went down the hill, three tombs to the left and in to Mr. Buster’s Mausoleum, which seemed more like a gothic museum. It was all dark and bizarre, with skulls wearing crowns and pearls. The walls were full of spiders and sophisticated cobwebs which strangely glowed.
There was a marble coffin at the back where The Jester sat. He was another sight to behold. Plaid puffy clothes, all black and white, and his pale face full of makeup melting round the eyes. He had an odd not quite there smile.
The Ladybug hid under Rose’s dress. Rose took a step forward and asked, ‘Are you the one they call The Jester?’
‘Why, yes, I am,’ answered The Jester amused. ‘And who are you, little one?’
‘I am Rose. I am a doll, just like you are.’
‘Quite, quite, we are alike,’ The Jester sighed. ‘But you are all rags. I am made of the finest porcelain. Still, we are dolls, you and I. You seem like a reasonable toy. Would you like to hear a story? It won’t take long. You won’t be sorry.’
‘Why not,’ Rose replied. She took the Ladybug in her hands and went to find a place to sit. ‘Very well, carry on.’
‘My, my, you are a bossy little thing,’ The Jester snorted. ‘But I like it. I can see you’re not like those other stupid beings.’
‘You mean the ghosts?’
‘I mean them all, the living and the dead; after all, they are one and the same. It’s just a matter of time before the end of the game. So here is my story, and later on you can decide if I am the mean one, or if the others are.
‘It all started a long time ago. I was created to be The King’s Jester in a rich man’s collection. It was wonderful. I had everyone’s affection. It was good to be admired and every day was so much fun. And then, as all good things must come to an end, it all came undone. The rich man had a son. The little brat enjoyed toying with all of us. But the one he liked the most was the beautiful and mysterious Columbina. She was such a magnificent ballerina. She was adored by all of the porcelain dolls. She was the fairest of us all.
‘The Brat, let us call him that, was a pest. He had no respect for beautiful things. In fact, his past time was to drop us on the floor and laugh. He did it first to the Harlequin. He smashed him to pieces, the poor thing. The Brat looked surprised for a moment – you see, I don’t think he actually meant to break him. But once he did it, he got a taste for it. He thought – the nerve of him – that it was funny. Funny! He laughed for hours of our Harlequin’s demise. We all stared, horrified.
‘Can you tell what comes next?’ asked The Jester, his porcelain face becoming red with rage. ‘One by one my friends were broken. Harsh words were spoken to no use at all. By the time he broke my sweet beloved Columbina, I was extremely appalled!’
The Jester stood tall and menacing. The Ladybug recoiled. But Rose kept quiet and pensive, not surprised The Jester was so offensive.
‘I cursed them all that day. I stole everyone’s laughter and sought after more. Pretty soon everyone who crossed my way was cursed as well. Why should they be happy if I was mad as hell? Eventually, I came upon this place and made it my home. No living creature comes here anymore. Nobody cares. The living is cruel; they are so prone to forget. We are all disposable, are we not? I learnt that the harsh way. I won’t make the same mistake again. So there, little one. That’s my story. You can now make your judgment. What’s the verdict? Am I so wrong I deserve to be punished?’
Rose said nothing at first, and then she cleared her throat, ‘I feel your pain. I really do.’
‘So are we to be friends or foe?’ The Jester asked eagerly.
‘Neither. Not for the moment anyway,’ she stopped him before he could say anything. ‘I feel your pain, but I also feel the pain of the others. It is not right to go round cursing everyone. They didn’t do anything to you. They just happened to be happy when you were sad, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Their happiness was not at your expense. The kid, however, is another story. In the end, though, he was just a kid who did not know any better. Where were his parents when all of this happened?’
The Jester frowned, ‘Well, his father was rather angry, I have to admit. It was his collection after all. But he did not care for us any longer, not like he used to. He was just angry because we were valuable, not because we were loved. People’s love is rather fickle, is it not? The brat was not punished as he should have. So it was up to me to protect myself and have my revenge. And so, my dear, our story comes to the end.’
‘No, it does not. You are being as bratty as the brat. Stealing everyone’s laughter, sulking in this mausoleum,’ stated Rose. ‘Yes, it was terribly sad, but why punish strangers for that? I am sorry, I really am. But the ghosts around you are not to blame.’
‘Well, well, well. Aren’t you cheeky?’ The Jester came nearer with a manic expression. ‘If you pity the ghosts and humans, I suggest that you join them. I’ll take away your most precious emotion. I curse thee, little ragdoll. From now on, your happiness is no longer. It is mine because I am that much stronger.’
From The Jester’s hands came out a ray of light which spread purpurin all around. They fell on the floor and on Rose’s head. After the dust was settled, there was a laugh.
‘But why?’ asked The Jester in awe. ‘Why do you laugh still?’
‘It’s because I know how to be sad and mad and happy. You cannot hurt me because I am not scared. I know what it is to be loved and forgotten. I hold no grudges, and that’s my story. It is what it is. Time passes, things change. We have so many emotions, and they are all ok. There is a time for everything, you know? Time for mourning, time for feeling sorry and time to let go. It is now my time for my own adventures. I refuse to be like you. You stole everyone’s laughter for your own amusement and revenge, but you are just as sad as those you cursed. You are clearly not happy. Can’t you see that in the end, you fool, the joke is on you?’
It was a bold speech coming from such a tiny ragdoll. The Jester got mad at it all. He tried to curse the Ladybug, too, but Rose’s laughter had already protected her. From The Jester’s throat came a frustrated groan.
Rose ignored The Jester’s tantrum and went outside to call everybody. One by one the ghosts appeared.
‘Hear, hear, have no fear!’ announced Rose. ‘The Jester can do you no harm any longer. The power to defeat him is within each and every one of you. He made you believe you could not laugh anymore because this place was abandoned and you all felt forgotten and lonely. But this place is not lonely. Not at all! You are all here. You have each other for company. And you all have an inner light. Don’t you remember the sign?’
‘Yes, I do!’ said a very old ghost, his grey eyes glowing. ‘For those lost souls; for these lost lives; let there be peace, let there be light!’
The most amazing thing happened that day at the burial site. The ghosts laughed all at once, and the whole place lit up. Even the sulky crow seemed interested. The burial site was filled with music, and dancing and singing. And just like that, I am happy to inform you, that it is now a happy place and very bright at night. For who says death is the end of the road is quite mistaken. Death is just another road to be taken.
As for The Jester, he took his belongings and off he went grumpily. He promised, however, to return and face Rose someday. The little doll looked forward to it as she truly wished to befriend him. Somewhere along the road, she did not know how or when or where, she was certain they would meet again. Life was funny that way.
She and the Ladybug made lots of friends in the burial site. A little ghost girl, in fact, thought Rose looked just like the doll she had before passing, and they spent many days playing together. Rose was reminded of her play days with the little girl who used to be her friend and was now too old for their tea parties and games. She was very happy indeed, but alas, one day she realized it was time to leave. She still had many adventures ahead of her.
All the ghosts gather round to say goodbye to her. Even the cranky crow was sad to see her go. Rose was very glad to have made so many good friends, and she could not wait to make even more along the way.
Off she went with the Ladybug, chatting excitedly for a mission accomplished. Now it was time for another journey!
Illustration and story by Alice Fagiolo