Contest #117 shortlist ⭐️

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Historical Fiction Horror Fiction

Dancers spun past in whirling flurries of color:  scarlets, golds, midnight blues and deep luxurious purples. Wine flowed freely and tables stood piled high with succulent dishes too tempting for even the solomnest guest to resist. Revelers drifted past on feet made light by merriment. Lightning split the sky outside, and a heavy rain beat a martial rhythm against the enormous windows but inside laughter echoed through the ornate hall, reverberating off marble columns and a domed ceiling gilded with filigree. The walls were adorned with the intricately rendered figures of fawns and fairies who’s extravagant carousing mirrored that of the partygoers who moved past them.

One figure alone among the crowd seemed to stand perfectly still. Solitary and aloof, she watched each flushed face that traveled past with a detached interest. Her clothing too stood out from the rest, the only figure in a mass of swirling color dressed entirely in black. In fact the only real similarity between herself and the others was the mask which obscured the upper half of her face from view. This too was an unassuming, plain black where those around her were adorned in glittering gems and feathers that fluttered lightly as their wearers spun on the dance floor. Golden curls were perfectly arranged atop her head but she wore none of the glittering adornment of the others and when she moved she did so silently, like a shadow given substance. What was perhaps most peculiar about the woman, was the way that despite the somewhat remarkable strangeness of her appearance, the eyes of the other party guests seemed to slide over her without really taking her in. 

There is much to do tonight She thought, and tilted her head slightly, gazing around the room with mild disinterest. One pale, long-fingered hand slid out from beneath the flowing folds of her black gown and delicately reached for one of the many half drunk glasses of wine which now adorned nearly every surface of the hall like their own kind of vulgar decoration. This one stood abandoned on a silver tray at the end of one of the long tables piled high with food. The woman lifted the glass, gently swirled the wine and sniffed lightly at it. For the first time something like the ghost of amusement twitched at the corner of her lips. 

It was at that moment that her gaze was met by that of a figure across the room. He was tall, slender, and dressed in the same garish fashions as the rest of the party guests; there was, at first glance, nothing particularly remarkable about him. Nonetheless, the woman held his gaze, interested, almost amused. She smiled at him, raised the glass in her hand to him, and pointedly set it back down onto the tray. The man’s posture stiffened, and he quickly turned away, disappearing back into the crowd. 

The clock above the fireplace struck an echoing chord that reverberated through the room, sounding the arrival of one o’clock. The woman moved through the crowd, searching; drawn on by her ineffable purpose. She drifted ethereally through the crowd, touching no one despite the closeness of room and the number of dancers still spinning with a frenzied enthusiasm. At last she found her mark, at the far end of the hall. 

The first was a man, middle aged and heavy set, a nearly empty wine glass still clutched in his hand. She stood over him for several silent moments; waiting. He began to cough, his breathing becoming more labored and his hazy, drunken eyes finding focus as they registered the woman standing over him. He wheezed and spluttered, trying to speak, but the woman merely smiled and shook her head. Laying one long, slender finger to her lips, she leaned down and gently touched the man’s thick hand which glittered with rings. He let out a shuddering breath, and breathed no more. 

The woman turned her head, and fixed her gaze once more on the same young man that had seen her before. Sequestered in a quiet corner of the room he looked on with a strange expression; a kind of  frantic exhilaration. He paled slightly when his eyes met hers once more, but that hard, implacable look remained. She made no motion towards him and spoke not a word but the man seemed to shrink under the piercing gaze with which she regarded him, and slunk back into the shadows that gathered in the corners of the room..  

The next to fall were a trio of women, they laughed as they died and the woman knelt to kiss each one gently on the brow. Then came the old woman, who smiled when she saw the woman, recognition registering on her face as she reached out gladly to take her by the hand. Then a man already fast asleep, she touched his cheek and he knew nothing more. She found two lovers tangled up in one another who shrieked when they saw her standing over them but she touched each of their faces with a gentle reverence and they died in one another’s arms.  

Those who died quickly died cheerfully; surrounded still by laughter and dancing. Most caught sight of her for only moments before their end came, but as the deaths grew in number, more and more party guests finding their final rest among the sparkling finery, a panic shot through those that remained. A piercing scream rent the air when the first of them was discovered. Followed quickly by more shouts and panicked cries as those already dead were discovered and more were felled with a gentle touch of the lithe woman’s hand.

Blood had begun to leak slowly from the eyes and ears, noses, and mouths of those who lay dead. It trickled in tiny rivers that cut their way across the marble floor, slashing the white with red. It found the leather shoes and silk hems of dancers who screamed and scrambled into corners or up onto chairs. Many of those who still stood rushed to the doors. Whether with the intention to escape or to raise an alarm, their efforts were equally fruitless, the doors remained locked tight. The woman continued to move among them, slowly drifting through the hysterical crowd as more succumbed to their demise. There was but one other figure amongst the frenzied throng who seemed unperturbed by the shocking turn of events in the evening’s celebrations.

The tall, slender, man stood looking on with a kind of mirthless and merciless amusement. A cold sneer curled the corner of his lips as he watched more fall. He watched them without the slightest hint of remorse. The woman drifted easily among the crowd ministering to the dying, welcoming them neither judgement nor mercy 

At last the room was still and silent save for the clamor of thunder and rain which still raged outside. The harsh chime of the clock struck one o’clock, a discordant sound that reverberated through the hall that had been so full of life at its last toll and was now a hushed tomb. All the revelers had stilled, only the young man still stood, surveying the slaughter he had wrought. Blood had pooled at his feet and soaked through his shoes, but he walked through it as though it was nothing more than rain water. 

“Fools” he said and his voice held the same harsh cut as his eyes. “You fools!” The should echoed through the hall. “You think to hide your faces and in the same night announce your presence with this ostentatious frivolity!? What do you know of what it means to hide; what do you know of fear!?” He let out a bark of sharp, dark laughter Perhaps tonight they did know fear he thought as he looked down at the corpse of a man splayed out in an unnatural angle on the floor. He made his way carefully to the door and found it, as he expected, once again unlocked. Pulling open the heavy wooden doors he stepped out onto the threshold and threw his head back in laughter, caring nothing for the wind and the driving rain. 

“And was it worth it?” A flash of lightning illuminated the figure of the woman standing behind him, her task not yet complete. The man whirled round, shock and fear painting his face in one horrified moment. The woman smiled and crossed the threshold, stepping closer to him, though the rain seemed somehow not to touch her.. 

“Who — How — You cannot be alive!” He stammered as he stared at her in shock and disbelief. The woman laughed softly as she closed the distance between them and pressed a gentle kiss to his lips. 

“But I am not.” She said softly. “In fact, I’m quite the opposite —” Her smile widened into a terrifying feral grin. “I am the inevitable.” The man shuddered and scrambled backwards; his shoe slipped where blood and rain had mingled on the marble steps and time seemed to slow as he felt himself falling. The image of the woman standing over him and her words echoing in his mind “Was it worth it?”  were the last things he knew before there was a resounding crack as his skull met the marble steps and he too was claimed by Death.     

October 29, 2021 20:50

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6 comments

Ari G
00:05 Jan 03, 2022

I liked this! It wasn’t the ending I was expecting. Great story 🦋

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Cait McNeal
20:55 Jan 06, 2022

Yay!! So glad you enjoyed the twist! Thanks for reading! ♥

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13:21 Nov 12, 2021

This was great! For some reason, it reminds me of a short story I read one time, that one about the plague and the clock and the color rooms? I don't know if you meant to do that but if so it was a great modern rendition of the story! Edit: I found out what the story was called, it's: The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe :)

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Cait McNeal
20:59 Jan 06, 2022

Ah! Thank you so much!! The parallel to The Masque of the Red Death was actually totally unintentional; I just loved the idea of writing from the perspective of Death - but Poe has always been one of my biggest influences so I'm delighted that something I've written exudes the same energy! ♥

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S. Thomson
14:46 Nov 06, 2021

Great story! You build a fantastic sense of atmosphere even in not many words. I really could picture the scene of the party in my mind, with lots of bright colours and a solitary figure in black at its centre. I was slightly confused at the ending, but I really enjoyed reading this story, great work!

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Cait McNeal
21:05 Jan 06, 2022

Thank you so much! So glad you enjoyed it! Imagery and atmosphere are some of my favorite things so I'm glad they came across well! - I've also always loved playing with personifications of Death and making that an enigmatic but central character, so that was the idea behind the ending! Thanks so much for reading! ♥

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