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Topic Subject:MASQUERADE BALL - A Short Story for All Hallow's Eve
Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-22-03 15:51 EST (US)         

MASQUERADE BALL

A SHORT STORY by Civis Romanus

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All text is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-30-2003 @ 03:56 PM).]

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Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-22-03 15:53 EST (US)     1 / 6       
The crackling fire in the village inn's fireplace beckoned so powerfully I found myself sitting in a plushly stuffed armchair even before I knew what I had done. The warmth of the hot cocoa in the mug I held gently penetrated the palm of my hand and then each finger well before I put the mug down on the short, three-legged table at the side of the chair. It was in that moment, as I leaned to the side to set the mug down, that I noticed I was not alone.

The old man, his head hidden by the wings of his own high backed chair, leaned forward just as I placed the mug on the table. "Hello, young lady," he said to me. "Visiting?"

"Yes, sir," I said, somewhat startled by his voice and taken aback by the age carved into every wrinkle of his time and weather-worn face. He smiled revealing the few teeth he still possessed, none white, all the color of ancient ivory. "Are you a guest here?" I asked.

"No," he replied. "Resident. This is my grandson's inn. I live here now. Why do you come here before All Hallow's Eve, young lady?" he asked.

I did not think it his business, but the firelight immitatingly flickering in his ancient eyes somehow took my hesitation away. "The Ball," I said.

"Ah yes, the Ball," he repeated nodding solemnly. "The Masquerade Ball," these words said slowly, with great weight and emphasis. "Do you know much about our Masquerade Ball?"

"Very little. I received an invitation from the Duke because I'm a bachelorette from a nearby town, so the invitation said. Train tickets, a reservation at this Inn and a map were sent to me when I confirmed my attendance," I told him. All this was true. I could not resist saying so as I had never, ever expected to be invited to such an affair by anyone of noble birth. Just after opening and reading the hand-printed gothic lettering I pinched myself to be sure I wasn't dreaming. I can still remember the thrill, the quickening of my pulse...

"The girl wasn't mentioned, was she? She never is." His words interrupted my reminiscing.

"What girl do you mean?" I asked him.

"The girl of the village," he said. "The one that's seldom mentioned." He went silent at that point and his balding, thinly white haired head disappeared behind one of the high wings of his chair. I couldn't stand the silence.

"Tell me about this girl, please," I said, doing my best to contain my irritation at being led to a high peak and then abandoned.

He leaned forward once more. "Oh, it was so very long ago. Even before any of us were born. Before there were such things as trains, electric lights, anything of that sort. It was so long ago men still carried swords, rode horses, and the great hollow mountain outside the village that lies between us and the castle did not exist. Still there was the Ball. Yes, I shall tell you the story of the girl." As he said this I remember leaning back in my chair prepared to hear about lively music, beautiful gowns, gaily painted masks and handsome men with lovely women on their arms. I was not prepared for the story I actually heard.

All text is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-30-2003 @ 03:42 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-22-03 21:38 EST (US)     2 / 6       
"Her parent's told her it was not right for a young girl her age to go to the Masquerade Ball unescorted. She was just barely eighteen, in the full blossoming of youth and beauty, the most comely maiden in the village. None would argue that fact though her friends also thought her foolhardy. Even so, when the invitation arrived, she was unstoppable, incapable of being dissuaded. To her parent's dismay, she said yes to the invitation and prepared to attend.'

"The carriage arrived at eight o'clock. She stepped into it, assisted inside by her worried father on one hand and the carriage driver on the other. Her exquisitely designed satin blue and white multilayered gown cascaded delightfully from her smooth shoulders to her slender waist and then spread bell-like to a perfect length ending very properly just above her shoes and only barely touching the ground. Before she left, her father reminded her of their agreement. Home by midnight, he insisted. She agreed. Home by midnight. The carriage took her away from her home and family. She arrived at the Ball at eight-thirty.'

"Upon her entrance all eyes turned in her direction. Few if any at all knew her identity. The women whispered among themselves. The eyes of the men seemed rivetted to her peach pink cheeks and fresh, radiating beauty to the extent it revealed itself below her bejeweled eyemask. Two men in particular paid her devoted attention. One wore a full mask of pale, subtle pastel coloring that mimicked a watercolored image of Adonis. The other wore a mask that seemed diabolically handsome, almost demonic in a furtively entrancing way. The former caught the girl's eye. The latter claimed yet repelled her attention all at the same time. To her chagrin, it was the demon who sought her attention first."

"Welcome Milady," Demon said. "Welcome to our Masquerade Ball. May I ask for my name to be entered first on your card."

"Your name, Sir, is?" the girl said reluctantly.

"I cannot give it until unmasking. Enter a name of your choice," he said in a pleasantly musical voice. She wrote 'devil' almost without thinking. The quintet comprised of flutes, strings and keyboard began to play and she and the demon danced. All the while her hand shook and she hesitated each and every time the steps made them join hands or move too closely. To her relief, the music finally ended.'

"A lovely dance, Milady... With a lovely young woman. May I bring a refreshment to you?"

"Yes," she said, hoping it would take him far away and long in returning. No sooner was he gone than Adonis appeared before her.'

"I hope my devilish competition has not absorbed every space on your card?" he said. The girl blushed uncontrollably. Such a delightful mask. She could imagine the smile beneath its wonderfully crafted imitation of a perfectly manly face.'

"No, indeed he has not. There is room for you," she replied. "Shall I enter a name for you?"

"Please do. As many times as you'd like," he said, and held out his hand; for just then the music began to play to signal the start of another dance. She saw the demon returning with small demitasse cups of drink, one in each hand. Impulsively, she quickly reached out for Adonis' hand and permitted him to escort her onto the polished wooden floor for their dance.'

"And so the evening wore on. Most of it to her delight on the arms of Adonis; and on occasion, only when courtesy demanded and its occasion was unavoidable, she found herself on the arm of the ever pleasant, repellingly masked demon.'

All text is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-30-2003 @ 03:53 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-24-03 15:02 EST (US)     3 / 6       
"The hands of the ballroom's great pendulum clock strained upwards from eleven thirty to reach the midnight hour. Once more that evening the girl was on the ever present, ever opportunistic arm of the demon. Though nothing ever passed between them unpleasantly, she simply and increasingly couldn't abide the implication of the man's mask. Seeing the position of the hands of the clock gave her the excuse she needed. First she glanced at the clock to confirm the time, and then she looked for Adonis. He was nearby as always."

"Oh!," she exclaimed as the final notes of the dance faded from hearing. "I simply must return home! It is time for me to leave."

"The demon's head snapped back in surprise, his hidden face in her imagination no doubt forming some kind of hideous frown. Guests there heard him protest saying to the girl, "No, Milady. It is much too early and too late to leave. It is not unmasking time. That occurs at dawn. And it is much too dark and unsafe outside at this hour. Stay here with us. Allow me the moment to unmask when the sun rises."'

"The girl would have none of it. She realized quite clearly how well she could escape him this way, her promise to her father becoming her gate to freedom from the demon. How wise her father was to insist she return home by midnight, she thought. "I have promised my father I shall return by midnight," she told the demon.'

"But Milady, once I unmask you will know me clearly. I shall be more than happy to see you safely home and explain every circumstance to your father. I assure you all will be well between you and your father, and I trust between yourself and me." His voice had an edge of near desperate pleading.'

"My mind is decided, Sir," she said, confident of her decision. Another voice intersected their talk. Adonis was there. The girl's heart leapt. "May I assist you to your home, Milady," asked Adonis.'

"Of course, and thank you Sir," she said, lifting her chin in a gesture of dismissal of the man behind the demon mask. "Very well, Milady. I shall return after I arrange for your carriage." Adonis bowed and left. The demon slowly lowered his head and walked dejectedly away, defeat written over his entire frame.'

"Adonis returned, his lustrously colored mask mirroring no expression of any kind. "Milady, I have some bad news. Your carriage is broken down." The girl's face fell. "Be of good cheer, however, Milady. My comrades and I are more than willing to escort you to the village on our mounts. We have secured a horse with side saddle. It is not very far. Will you permit us to see you to your family?"'

"The village girl glanced at the demon, only to see him raise his head, look at her, and then look down at the floor once more. "Yes, thank you," she replied. And that is what she, Adonis and his five costumed and masked comrades set out to do.'

"The light of the full moon illuminated the road sufficiently for them to clearly see its direction and any obstacles that might be there. They steadily trotted on towards the village. So lost in thought was the girl, thinking of days ahead and Adonis, she did not feel the change in her mount. She did not notice its fleshy sides dessicating as if the light of the moon was a blast of desert heat. She didn't notice her companions pressing closer to her mount, beginning to box her in, coming ever closer, the skin of their mounts as well becomming dry, leathery. The ribs of every horse began to press against skin. Their manes fell over decomposing necks and shoulders.'

"Something curled around the girl's ankles, very gently, determinedly; at the same time something else did so to her hands and to her waist. She looked down and saw... shiny things, scaly things, snakes! They were tightly intertwined holding her wrists fast and her ankles together and her body to the saddle of her demonic horse. She tried to scream. The snake that curled around her mouth sealed her lips. Her eyes opened wide with terror. She turned her head to plead for help from Adonis. He raised his clawed hand and ripped off his mask to show... the face of a monster! His sardonic smile, picketed with pointed teeth gleaming in the moonlight, belonged to a face twisted by evil. Yellow eyes with ink black pupils stared back at her, and near the eyes the beginning of the monster's ears. Great obscenely pointed ears, bat-like, inhuman.'

"Still grinning, the monster bowed in the girl's direction. "And now, Milady. To your new home!" He let loose a great laugh, not filled with humor, but filled with evil purpose, ugliness and triumph.'

"The girl was surrounded by his comrades, all of them variations of the one she thought beautiful who she now knew to be monstrous. Their frightening faces leered at her, gross intentions painted on every twist and turn. Her blood ran cold in her body as they led her off the road and towards a field where a great gaping hole glowing red orange seemed to have appeared where no such thing had ever been seen before.'

"As they approached, the ground began to quake and crack, great fissures running from the gaping, gleaming hole to the land around it. Yet the earth beyond didn't shake, only the area around the hole. They rode ever closer. Now the ground began to rise around the hole, dirt and rock tumbling away from the opening as it elevated itself towards the moon belching fire and smoke, rock and ash, pummeling its own flanks with debris from its bowels. They rode closer yet, fast enough to gain the summit even as the ground rose. Now at the very edge of the seething, churning red orange bowl of liquid fire, first one then the next of the comrades whipped his skeletal horse, bellowed a bestial cry of defiance, and both monster and mount dove into the fire below only to disappear into its depths seemingly unscathed.'

"Only the village girl and the monster were left. The mountain gave a great roar of welcome pitching vast quantities of burning earth into the air. The monster turned to the girl. "You made your choice on appearance alone, village girl, as I hoped you would. Now you shall clearly see what you have gained." So saying he grasped the reins of her mount and then snapped his reins against the decrepit shoulder of his spectral horse and both beasts leaped into the fire pit of eternity, the girl as she was last remembered, never to be seen again.'

"Came the dawn and the time for unmasking. The man with the demonic mask removed it to reveal... A handsome young man, exactly the unfortunate village girl's age. Strong chin, perfect smile, intelligent eyes tinged with sadness. All guests still there turned to him immediately for they promptly recognized who he was. Men bowed and ladies curtseyed as was customary when a mask removed revealed the personage of the much admired grandson of the Duke.'

All text is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-30-2003 @ 03:54 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-28-03 15:19 EST (US)     4 / 6       
"Needless to say, my stomach churned and my soul quaked, fantasy or not, at the story the old man told to me. Though quite unsettled, wanting to rise and hide, yet compelled by curiosity I asked what might seem a trivial question; but I simply had to know. I asked the old man the name of the young village girl purported to have suffered such a horrible end.'

"His thin lips curled slightly into the hint of a smile. "Ella," he told me, his eyes taking on a strange sureal look behind the reflected flickering that I believed was the fire in the hearth. "But they have changed it some since," he went on to say. "You see, in the morning they did find something at the very foot of the newborn mountain that stood cold and quiet before the rays of the rising sun. It was a layering of ash, all by itself, nothing else around it. The ash lay on the ground in the image of the young village girl, her size, her form. Near the ash they found a small, charred piece of blue material just like the material of the dress the village girl wore to the Ball. So they changed the village girl's name to remember her and the incident. They called her Cinder-Ella," the old man told me and then he looked away as if unwilling to see my face or its expression.'

"Well! You can imagine how I felt! Manipulated! Duped! Exploited! I was so angry I could just spit! If not for a young man's voice sounding off right then I don't know what I would have done to the old plotting codger! "Grandfather!" he said, "Are you telling that story again. We've talked about that!" I turned around to find a tall man, about my age, standing at the entry to the sitting room with his hands on his hips seemingly annoyed."'

"The old man visibly winced. "That's my grandson," he said. "He doesn't like me telling that story." The old man laboriously turned in his chair to look at his grandson. "You know it's true, Glenn." The young man shook his head. "It was so long ago, how do we know if it's true or not, Grandfather?" Anyway, that's the first time I ever set eyes on Glenn, the proprietor of the Inn and grandson to the old man who so ruined my evening. I forgot the story then and there, or so I thought. I spent the next hour in pleasant conversation with Glenn, the old man having retired for the night.'

"The next day I spent preparing for the Ball. There was so very much to do. You know, nails, hair, things like that. I hardly gave the old man the time of day when I saw him, and I was certainly too busy to pay attention to Glenn, though he greeted me cheerfully enough to capture my attention for a moment. He was so nice. Very hard to resist. Ahem. Anyway.'

"There was another woman at the Inn I learned who also had an invitation. We passed each other briefly during the day. Exchanged pleasantries, the usual. I saw her again just before I left the Inn for the Masquerade Ball. We didn't share the same cab, but we had our cabs arrive at very nearly the same moment, and though we were both masked I made particular note of her dress. It wasn't the same as mine, nor the same as any other at the Ball, which was a good thing for her if you know what I mean.'

"The ballroom was lovely, decorated magnificently as if a page out of the elegant times of the past. I saw her circulate among the men just as I, and they maneuvered around her and I just like you see in the movies or read about in those period books about gentlemen and chivalry. Their costumes were extraordinary, and their masks... I noticed two masks in particular. One was the image of the most strikingly handsome man I could ever imagine. The other was the image of something intriguingly bestial. The beast sought me out, kindly, gently, with some degree of familiarity in his talking with me, an ease and comfort I couldn't quite understand at the time.'

"That other woman and I vied for the same strikingly handsome masked man at least for awhile. He was so wonderful to be with that I suppose I told him more about myself than I should have. How I got there, where I was staying. Things like that. All the while the beast pursued me. To my surprise, near the midnight hour, the handsome man approached me and wondered if all was well. He said he knew the driver of my cab and warned me about expecting him back on time. The cab driver drank, the handsome man said. On nights like this he was unreliable. It would be best if I left with him and the others. Their limosine was just outside and the motor was already running to warm the interior and ward off the chill.

"The beast was nearby. "Won't you stay for the unmasking?" he said to me. "It's a wonderful tradition and always leads to a surprise." I hesitated. I wished I could see his face and know the expression conveyed with his inviting words. Though he looked like a beast, he was never unkind, always solicitous, actually quite sweet. I hesitated. It was then that something began to creep into my mind from a place I thought totally forgotten. I turned and looked at the handsome masked man. Through his mask he quietly looked right back at me. Then he said, "My comrades and I would be more than happy to see you home to your room at the Inn." That creeping something screamed at me right then and there so that I heard it as if it came from every part of my body. "No thank you," I said. And I turned from the handsome man and gave my hand to the beast.'

"Some minutes later I watched the one girl I recognized by the style and color of her dress, the one who also stayed at the Inn, leave with the man wearing the handsome mask. When the unmasking time came, I was surprised, pleasantly surprised, to find that the man with the mask of a beast, on whose arm I danced most of the night away, was none other than Glenn. It was two days later that I learned that the girl who left with the man wearing the handsome mask was never seen alive again.'

All text is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-30-2003 @ 03:54 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-29-03 10:49 EST (US)     5 / 6       
"Yes, that is exactly what I told the young woman, our guest, as she sat right there in the same chair you are sitting in now. I told her "The woman I watched leave was never seen alive again." That seemed to take her back a bit. It was as if she didn't want to ask but forced herself to ask anyway. "If not alive, was she ever found... maybe dead?" That's what she asked me.'

"I told her all that I knew. The woman who left with the handsome masked man was found days later, or what was left of her, over by the thorny bushes that seemed to have grown from nothing to immense just overnight the day of the Ball. The bushes encircled the mountain permitting almost no passage from anywhere to its base. What was left of her shredded body and clothes suggested she was dragged through the bushes relentlessly, almost for hours. Some say it wasn't the thorns at all that did the damage because nothing could be found of her anywhere in the bushes, not even shreds of clothing. Claws some said. It looked like the work of long, sharp, viciously wielded claws. Regardless, there was very little left that could be called a person, nothing at all of a beautiful young woman fresh from a magnificent Ball.'

"The woman sat there quite stunned, obviously very nearly overwhelmed by all that I had told her. About then, my husband Glenn entered the room. You know we celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary just a few days ago. Grandfather passed away not long after we were married. He was very much on in years. A few months later is when we turned this old inn into a bed and breakfast. Oh yes, the woman, our guest. Sorry, I didn't mean to get carried away.'

"She finally asked me a question that reminded me so much of myself in that very same position over five years ago. "What was the woman's name, the one they found... well... dead?" I told her it was Rose; but then I told her what the village had done, how they had changed it somewhat. "To what," she asked me. So I told her. Briar-Rose is what they called her afterwards.'

All text is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-30-2003 @ 03:55 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-30-03 15:17 EST (US)     6 / 6       
"Our lady guest became as indignant at me as I did when Grandfather told me his story. This time Glenn remained quiet. He did not chastize me as he did Grandfather that night; and he didn't because what I told the young woman wasn't a story at all. It was the truth.'

"She would have none of it, I guess; for she rose from her chair, planted her feet, put her hands on her hips and proceeded to tell me off. How dare I tell her such a story! She was a full grown adult and had already had her fill of fairy tales! And further, there was no need to twist them around and make them dark and ugly just for her benefit! She was not amused!'

"All I could think of to say in that moment was something about fairy tales. "Which do you think are the ones to believe?" I said to her. "In which do you put your faith... and your life?" She glared at me and looked at my husband. Glenn simply looked at the floor. What was there for him to say?' Then the young woman stormed out of the sitting room and went upstairs where I presumed she remained all night.'

"I only saw her once the next day, the day of the Masquerade Ball. It was when she left our inn to enter the limosine she had rented for the evening. The woman said nothing to me in passing. It was as if I wasn't really there. She was beautifully dressed, I must say, and was wearing very expensive jewelry. I had to admit I was somewhat envious since I myself could never have afforded that level of finery the day I attended the Ball years ago.'

"That was the last time I or Glenn saw her. We didn't disturb her room the next day because we assumed she returned quite late. But when she didn't appear on the second day, we decided it was best to check. We found that her belongings, luggage and everything a guest might bring was still in the room; but she was not. And her bed had not been slept in at all.'

"We, Glenn and I, immediately became very concerned and asked around. No, nobody had seen her at all. That's when we decided it was best to call your office, Inspector Smythe, and report her as a missing person. You see, we think the young woman indeed went to the Masquerade Ball that night. We also think some time during the Ball that poor young woman was given a choice like others before her, like me; and we fear... we honestly fear... that she may have chosen poorly."


THE END


All text is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-30-2003 @ 03:55 PM).]

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