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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/2204292
Rated: E · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #2204292
A Halloween Night at the Masquerade Ball
The Mask behind the Mask ******************* Written by: L. A. Grawitch

Details of the approaching Masquerade ball were circulating in the small town of Mascoutah. For the rural farming community, the news was as exciting as the moon-landing they'd heard speak of through the grapevine and the cow-tipping scandal of 1962 when Norris Maplefield got caught doing the naughty with a Guernsey other than his own . Just the thought of an evening away from cornstalks and green beans had the people buzzing with talk of the event. The fact that it was to be a catered affair with all the fancy trimmings and the required secrecy for the costumes to be worn added to the thrill of the occasion. Halloween comes but once a year and the grandest of all balls was set to occur at the long abandoned Beaumont Manor.

Martha scurried along the brick-paved road in search of the needed items to finish her costume. There were few stores that called the town home, laying claim to a Grain and Feed, General Merchants, Sunoco Gas and Convenience, Dollar General, and Fabric World. The retailers had ordered huge supplies of masks, capes, beads, and feathers. Martha, being the procrastinator that she was, prayed she would find something suitable for tonight's party. Clasped tightly in her hand was the picture, clipped from a wish book, of the costume she'd hoped to recreate.

As she entered the fabric store, the large display of purple, black, and orange prints caught her eye. Crouched down behind the exhibit, was her long time friend Eloise who was examining the fabrics with the scrutiny of a scientist looking through the lens of a microscope. Both women were momentarily startled as they caught sight of each other. Eloise quickly hid the bolt of fabric she admired behind her back, while Martha arched her back forward to catch a glimpse of the cloth. Eloise wagged her finger at her friend, chastising her silently for trying to ruin the surprise.

"You knowz it's secret. Make a deal, with ya. Won't be telling nobody bout what you buy if'n you do the same," Eloise whispered as she glanced furtively over her shoulder looking for other intruders into the conversation.

Martha couldn't help but giggle at the excitement of it all. "Got yourself a deal! Gonna be a glorious night, the Good Lord willing," Martha said, as she crumpled the picture in her fist tighter to obscure its viewing from her friend.

"Gonna bring the hog jowls ya usually bring to the barn raisings?"

"Nah, I done heard the party people be bringing all the food. Ain't nothing we gotta cook. Makes me happier than the hog that's gettin to live to see another sunrise. "

"Good news to my ears. More time for making my finery. Gonna be the fanciest feast I done ever been invited to. Anybody and everybody's talking bout it. Gonna see folks we ain't laid eyes on in forever," Eloise murmured.

Martha flashed her toothless grin and winked her hazy cataract-consumed eyeball before speaking, "Yep, but won't know we seen them til the big unmasking at midnight. Being so mysterious and all, just adding to the fun. The Good Lord knows we ain't ever gonna be forgetting the likes of this night. And smancy fancy them invites come to my house. Not a word on what body be throwing the shindig."

"For sure, you're talking. Better be getting the move on so we get ourselves planted there on time. Witchin hour is at seven. Been good seeing ya!"

Martha nodded with a sharp bob of her head in acknowledgement of the woman's remarks. "Be seeing you all later or NOT!" she said allowing her own humor to spark a downward smirk.

As Eloise moved towards the cashier with her coveted goods swaddled in her coat for protection from busybodies, Martha moved closer to the colorful autumn display of fabrics. She began her search by fingering each cloth to test for quality. It was a pretty penny she'd be spending on one special night and the garment would have to be durable enough for repurposing at a later date. She had committed the catalog picture of her desires to memory but lovingly began to unwrap it from her hand as she compared the items in front of her. She chose for her cape, black tweed with flecks of silver woven into the material. Her mask, she would model from the purple shining felt and teardrop pearl beading she found. A thin layer of mesh would cover the slits for the eyes of the mask. She selected ebony colored feathers as embellishment for the costume. Martha picked up the plastic vampire teeth used by children, and deemed them as the one item sorely needed to help conceal her identity. She gathered her goods, ensured that Eloise was long gone, and headed towards the kiosk.

She gleefully bounced out of the store and back down the street to where she had parked her rusted-out Chevy truck. After tossing her parcels into the passenger seat, she plopped her own parcel into the driver's seat. Throwing the vehicle into gear, she piloted her way home on the old and familiar dirt road. A cloud of dust rose up from behind the truck as she traveled at the highest speed that the tires and the engine would allow. It wasn't long before she turned onto the graveled road leading to her farmhouse. She parked the truck behind the shed, knowing that it wouldn't be needed for the night.

Martha grabbed her bags and headed to the shed to check on her ride for the evening. She slid the large wooden door to the right and greeted Sasha the mule, "Hiya, love. Gonna be kickin up your dancing shoes tonight, gal, just like the good old days. You and me gonna be turning some heads. Ain't nobody gonna know who we are. Guessin most people done forgot about us out here in the sticks. But we gonna get so gussied up the Good Lord won't even know our names."

She spun around to inspect the buckboard that Sasha would pull. She had painted the wooden car a flat black color. There were orange and black crepe paper streamers draped along the outer shell. Mums of varying color decorated the edges of the cart. She had plans to craft Sasha blinders to match her mask and a cape for the mule's neck from the leftover tweed.

"Best be getting to it, Sasha. Lots of tasking in front of me," she said nuzzling the nag's left ear. She pulled a carrot from the nearby bin and fed it to Sasha before exiting the shed.

Dusk had almost fallen before she finished the costumes, but she was proud of her work. She was sure Sasha would approve. She donned her outfit and practically jogged to the shed to dress the mule. Sasha was unimpressed and unbothered by the proceedings, but was as thrilled as a mule could be at the sniffing of outdoor air. She seemed to grow in stature when Martha hooked her to the buckboard and her stride was as majestic as a mule could muster as they trotted down the road.

Martha was shocked to see that Beaumont Manor had been restored to the grandeur of its glory days. Once owned by a very wealthy family, the two story house was a white pillared colonial with wrap-around porches and winding staircases. The porches were adorned with purple banners and checkered masks. Torches lit the entrance way. Candled jack-o-lanterns lined the walkway.

"Sasha, girl, hadn't heard tell of any folks sprucing this place up. Looks gracious and all. Sure hope we can call ourselves fancy enough for such a place," Martha called to the mule as she parked in the grove. Sasha was just happy to be of service again.

Martha made her way towards the house and was greeted at the staircase by a tuxedoed man with a mask of black velvet and a rose between his lips. Silently, he offered an arm of escort up the stairway to the woman. She eyed him warily while trying to guess his identity. With few clues to help, she looped her arm through his, allowing him to guide her.

"When in Rome, do as, they say," Martha said trying to appear educated and appealing.

There was no reply from the gentleman, but he glided her gracefully to the foyer. He tapped his heels and bowed as he retreated. Martha, stood with her mouth hanging open, struck with awe by the beautiful chandeliers inside the home. She was so impressed that she almost dropped her vampire teeth right out of her mouth. She took just a moment to push them back in place before taking in the rest of the scenery. It was the most exquisite display of autumn decor she had ever had the pleasure of viewing. With each turn of her head, there were new sights to partake and it made the simple farm girl giddy with joy.

Martha straightened her mask and cloaked her body with the cape, before following the laughter of the other guests wafting up from the grand ballroom. She took great effort in floating down the staircase in dramatic fashion, wanting desperately to make an entrance unlike her usual intrusive self. Upon entering the room, she couldn't help but notice the purple satin sashes that draped the entire width of the cathedral ceilings. Golden curly-qued ribbons hung intermittently in the room cascaded down like an elegant waterfall. The room lights were dimmed except for the twinkling strands of white crystal bulbs hanging on the walls. There were colorful banners on every wall with words written in a language foreign to Martha. She assumed they were cheerful messages of welcome for the guests.

There were touches of Halloween horror that graced the room as expected for this time of year. Random spider webs with their respective fake spiders were pinned at the room's corners and doorways. Holographic images of ghosts traipsed about the room thanks to a hidden projector. Antique satanic statues were poised maniacally on the mantel. The room held four life-like wooden guillotines with newly polished metal blades. Whiskey buckets made of timber rested at the base of the machines with droplets of red paint streaming down the sides. Masked pumpkins carved with spooky faces rested idly on the tables. The frightful spirit of Halloween had been placed in direct competition with the elegance of the home.

Martha scouted the room looking for familiar faces, eager to get the night started. She spotted Joe Green, the farmer that lived down the road from her. There were no costumes with the ability to conceal the man's stooped stance. She busied herself by surveying the women in the group, knowing Eloise would be nearby shamelessly flirting with Joe. She made it easy for Martha to spot her by wearing the shear pumpkin orange gown and mask. Eloise stood out like sore thumb in a group of people wearing sedate colors. It was just like her friend to go out of her way to be the center of attention. Martha sought to avoid the group, wanting to experience something new and different on this night. She skirted by them without uttering a word, finding herself in the midst of five men she couldn't identify.

Each of the men in the circle were tall and slender with tufts of silver creeping out from under the hooded capes they wore. They seemed to move in unison, like figure skaters on ice, smooth and graceful in their gestures. Even their smiles formed in concert with one another. Two of the men sported silvering moustaches and one just the hint of a beard at his chin. All of their voices scripted a baritone medley as they greeted Martha.

"Hello."

"Hello."

"Fine Lady."

"Welcome to the Masquerade Ball."

"La danza de la muerte."

Martha smiled, tilting her head in a slight nod of acknowledgement to the men. She swallowed hard, aligned the fake teeth in her jaw, and focused hard on the pronunciation of her words, "The Good Lord has blessed us within this night."

"Are you a dancer, my lady?" the tallest of the five queried.

"Ya betcha..." she paused to regain her composure before continuing, "Yes, tonight we dance."

"It is the ball of mystery and mayhem. Your dance card shall be filled until the end of time," the bearded fellow quipped.

"My, oh my, such fun it will be," she said. Martha didn't quite understand his statement but hoped only that the men were lining up to be her dance partner.

The men took turns getting Martha punch of the liquored variety and tasty treats from the buffet. They wined and dined the woman, and were attentive to her every need. Such fine gentlemen they were, pretending not to notice when Martha dropped her teeth in the wine glass and looking away while she fished them out. They bowed deep at the waist before asking permission for the next waltz. It was the best night of her life and she had even quit caring who was who among the guests. She had lost sight of her orange cloaked friend, but thought it odd that a piece of her scarf had been draped over the guillotine.

At precisely nine o'clock, the dinner bell rang and the doors to the banquet hall swung open. A smorgasbord of fine foods awaited the guests. Martha made her way to the front of the line, thinking the number of people attending the party had dwindled. There was no need to elbow her way to the buffet. She packed her pockets with treats for Sasha and filled her own plate to the brim. She had eluded the five men that had filled her dance card for the evening. There had been more fun than she could ever remember, but Martha was winded and achy, and in need of some alone time. Retracing her steps, she returned to the ballroom. With all of the alcohol she had consumed her gait was wobbly and her eyesight blurred, but was quick to notice that the banners from the walls had crashed to the floor. She assumed the party was nearing its end and the masks of all the merry makers would soon be lifted. She stood gazing at the fallen banners trying to understand the message they held, written in a language far beyond her understanding.

The first and largest of the three read, "Mascarada de la muerte.

The two smaller banners carried the same greeting, "{Moriste esta noche"

Martha was clueless as to the meaning of the words written on the signs. Wanting to be front and center for the unveiling, the woman took her plate and snuck out the courtyard door to care for her mule. Once outside, she noticed that the lights had been doused and the jack-o-lanterns extinguished, plunging the fields into darkness. She trudged lightly to avoid a fall. When her foot accidently kicked a round object sending it flying like a soccer ball in search of the goal, it caused her to stumble. Landing on her backside, she could feel an oozing wetness covering her hands. Wiping them on her gown, the darkness of the night made it hard to distinguish the liquid. As she reached around to get a footing to lift herself up, she found that she was trapped in a pit of pumpkin-shaped melons. The melon-balls were smashed and soggy, with the muck making it hard to rise. She dug at the pile of debris, carving out a path of escape. As she grabbed one large chunk of pumpkin to shoot it across the field, she realized the eyes of the gourd were staring at her. The gourd that she held was draped with shards of sheer orange veiling. The prize in her palms was the head of Eloise, with no body to accompany the lifeless entity. With a quick inspection, Martha found herself sitting in a landfill of the human unmasked heads of her friends and neighbors. The sight of the sliced and diced craniums panicked her, causing her to let loose of a strand of ghostly verbiage that would make even a call-girl blush.

"Shat'n fire," screamed Martha as she pushed her way out the muck. Instantly forgotten was her desire to impress with a worldly vocabulary and proper annunciation. She high-tailed it to where Sasha stood waiting, so very glad to find the nag's head still attached.

"Sasha. Ya wouldn't be believing what be going on in there! Choppin them heads right off at the gullet, they are! Like chickens gone to slaughter! Yoose and me gettin outa here, now!"

She climbed hastily back onto the buckboard, grabbing the reins of the mule. Martha got spooked when she noticed the shadowy figure standing in the cornfield just ten feet away. She couldn't help but let out with another round of her countrified profanity, being so startled and all. .The ghoulish soul of a man moved towards the woman until he stood eye to eye with Sasha. Both the woman and the mule were frozen by fright. The ghoul kicked off his cape and lifted his mask. Martha dropped her teeth right out of her mouth.

"Martha Levine, it is time for death's unmasking," the darkly clad man called to her.

"Norris Maplefield! Taint seen you in these parts since that nasty cow affair. Thought'n they tossed you in the loony bin!"

Even in the dark of the night you could see the redness of his anger rise on his face. "All those that laid witness against me shall be unmasked tonight. Heads shall roll for the crimes against Norris."

"Norris, ya still sound loony as a whippoorwill!" she said as she smacked Sasha's bottom with the tail-end of the reins. The mule lurched forward knocking Norris to the ground. The sorrowful perpetrator of crimes against cows long ago, was stomped upon and crushed, and left to rot in a field of bodiless melons.
Martha never looked back.


. word count 3028








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