Alternative Prologue 

Here’s an alternative prologue idea. Not sure which one to go with, or whether either of them should be longer.

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Sam stood at the ship’s mast, legs struggling to keep balance on the rapidly shifting vessel. The rain had hardened and now fell in a torrential downpour, and the giant drops stung the arms of Sam as he looked at the clouds above him. This storm was not a natural one. There was something iridescent within the clouds that seemed to make the storm glow from within. Flashes of purple and silver emitted through the mists surrounding them and the ship rocked to and fro in response to the splash of colors. Sam tightened his hands on the rail in front of him without even realizing that he was doing so. The ocean surrounding the ship he stood upon was as dark as an abyss when compared to the flashes from the storm around him. He couldn’t take his eyes away from the choppy seas, semi-believing that if he did so the water would disappear and he would find himself, ship included, falling through the empty air beneath him forever surrounded by the supernatural storm. 
A strong hand landed on Sam’s shoulder causing him to jump and spin around. It was only then that he realized how tightly he had been holding onto the railing. He stretched his sore fingers out as his hands fell to his side. The man in front of him laughed at Sam’s uneasiness, but then walked past him to stare out at the storm surrounding them. His easy laughter quieted as he took in the view. Sam turned back around to stand with his father at the mast, his hands shoved into his pockets lest they betray his fear again. 

“Have you ever seen a Monstrum behave this way?” Sam asked, trying for all the world to appear as if he were debating the weather patterns of summers in the South than the uncertain storms surrounding the two men. A tremor in his voice betrayed his anxiety. He looked to his father, searching for the same notes of fear that he found within himself. Finnick held his back straight with his arms folded behind him. In looks, he shared Sam’s light coloring and stocky build but where Sam personified a growing pup, Finnick had all the dignity of an old St. Bernard. Sam felt himself involuntarily straighten his back as he turned his eyes back out to the sea. 

“Never,” Finnick replied to his son. “It must be a powerful talisman to control such creatures, but where is the holder?”

Unclasping his hands from behind his back, the older man reached down to his boot to pull free an old, copper spyglass. He brought it to his eye to spy through before handing it off to Sam. Sam clutched to the spyglass eagerly, bring the piece to his eye. He focused the eyepiece to the flashes of purple and silver that continue to light up the night sky. Even though he knew what to expect, knew the creatures that would cause such lights, the evidence before him stole the breath from his lungs. Winged eels flew through the clouds as simply as if they maneuvered in the waters. Bolts of electricity shot from their skin and helped light up the night skies, though there skins alone would have been able to do that. Their wings were like gossamer and so translucent that they could only be detected by their hummingbird speed fluttering. Sam had never seen this type of Monstrum before, even as he was sure he had studied every species known to man. There were more than he could conceivably count and they moved like a school of fish surrounding the small patch of ocean that the ship Sam now stood upon covered. 

He lowered the eyeglass and continued to look at the waves of Monstrum surrounding them. The creatures were so far above them that they were no longer distinguishable to the naked eye. The words that his father had just stated about the talisman’s holder reverberated through him as he searched the horizon for another ship. It seemed unlikely that any man or woman would be in this maelstrom controlling these creatures. 

“What has the captain decided to do?” Sam worked hard to control the waver in his voice. 

“What else would William want to do but steer directly into the bloody mass?” Finnick answered, though it was unclear whether he thought the captain’s decision was a good or bad one. The eyeglass slipped from Sam’s sweaty palms and rolled across the ship floor until it came to rest against Finnick’s boot. He reached down and grabbed the piece and carefully stowed it back into his boot. He put a comforting arm around his son’s shoulders and tried to ignore how Sam’s shoulders shook. “Let’s go see what delectable dish Cook has made today. Hey, if we’re lucky, we’ll all die and never have to eat that poor excuse for food again.” 

As the wall of Monstrum compounded behind them and seemed to grow each minute, father and son walked away from what Sam was sure was a portent of their certain death. His father talked beside him about nonsense, obviously an attempt to take his mind off the swirling creatures. Finnick’s words glossed over him though, and Sam chewed his lip while his mind worked furiously. Ignoring the potential power of a talisman that could control these creatures, there must be a reason why they were targeting the Cecile’s Dream specifically. A thought occurred to Sam. His eyes widened as he almost tripped over his feet before his eyes landed on his father’s in panic. Finnick quickly steadied his son, but he let out a resigned sigh as he saw his son’s realization. 

“Charlie,” Sam gasped. “Someone has figured out what Charlie is.”

Prologue

This was a prologue to a rough draft I had written numerous years ago that follows a similar plot line as the current novel I’m trying to work on now. Using for research into my current novel and trying to find my writing weaknesses

The seas were choppy that night. It was almost as if they were playing about under the night sky, not a care in the world. The wind blew a musical note above them as the stars twinkled with their amusement. The ocean was so carefree and so wild that even Poseidon himself would have ignored the steady passage of the silent ship as she crested through the waves. 
She was an old passenger ship, one that you would have never imagined could still sail, what with its faded red paint and rotting wood. But she was sturdy, and she was steadfast.  She chopped through the frolicking waves with a slow dedication that seemed to have a sobering effect on the ocean around her. She was graceful in her tattered way, like a duchess who had grown old but had never lost the commanding authority of her title. In fact, so like a duchess was she that the name was emblazoned on her side. She did not sneak through the night like a thief, but she swanned in with grace, even as it seemed her sails would fall around her. 

There was safety in destruction, however. And this passenger ship knew it. Even as she looked to sink in the midst of spring showers, she found more safety than the sturdiest ships that sailed this part of the Atlantic Ocean. With her sloping section and peeling paint, she was safe from being a target of the many pirates that laid waste to passenger ships such as she, for no pirate would waste a mark on a ship that was so obviously not going to yield them any coin. 

Perhaps that was why she seemed to drift through the seas so calmly, for she had found peace in her safety. Most ships no longer travelled through this section of the sea. The pillaging of fine sea vessels had become so horrendous, that is was no longer safe to travel this route, even if it was the shortest way. 

So tonight, she sailed through the ocean as if she was leading a younger man to dance, completely confident that she would make it to see morning. 

How truly terrifying it is to find out how wrong you can be. 

Out towards the horizon, a ship cut through the waves, not in the calming way of The Duchess but like a shark, ready to circle its prey. It headed towards her, as if she had been its target all along. She continued parading as she had been, and it was obvious she did not see the shark close in. So content was she in her safety, her crew and passengers lay sleeping below her mold covered decks. 

All but one girl, who looked out toward the sea, away from the oncoming ship. She was a slight thing, with brown curls that reached to her waist. Her eyes were sky blue, and seemed too bright for her otherwise tanned face. A splatter of freckles played across a long nose and peppered high cheek bones. Her eyebrows, though naturally sculpted seemed to be caught in a state of a permanent frown as she stared longingly at the sea.   Her back to the dangers ahead, she stared out longingly to the sea, a newspaper clutched in her hands. 

She didn’t need to hold onto the newspaper any longer to know what it said. “Golden Fleece Believed to Have Sunk, Crew and Captain Missing.” She chewed her lip, as she was known to do when worried; replaying the title again and again in her head like her own personal mantra. That was when she finally heard it. 

It wasn’t as if there was really a sound that was heard over the sea noise, but there was a change in the air. Her hands tightened on the newspaper as her eyes, alert, scanned the sea. She turned around slowly, until she faced the ship that now towered over The Duchess. Ropes had been dropped to the deck and she watched as men silently climbed from the dark sleek vessel to the small passenger ship which she had sought refuge with.

Her eyes widened, but she immediately grabbed for the knife that was held tightly beneath her corset. She ducked behind the nearest rigging for the sails. Her breaths came out short and quick, and as her heart raced she forced herself to calm down. She looked toward the cabin, knowing the crew slept within, unaware of the new danger presented here. 

She crouched uncertainly, ready to make her way to the captain to wake him. She looked to the mysterious men and her heart plummeted in her chest. 

She was never going to make it to the captain. 

The smell of gun powder was thick in the air, and the girl knew that this was the end for her. Clutching the newspaper to her breast, she held her breath as she waited for the moment to happen. 

A match was struck, and in its glow she saw the same men who had just climbed down the rope now climbing up it to safety. The last man to stay aboard The Duchess dropped the match as he, too, sought safety in the larger ship. 

She pushed the knife back into her corset as she waited for her world to erupt. The fire lit rapidly, casting an eerie glow against the night sky. Then, everything went white as the ship exploded into pieces, casting the girl what felt like miles into the sea. The world had gone silent as she clutched at the only piece of driftwood she could find, dazed as the fire burned in front of her. 

Their mission done, the pirate ship sailed back into the night, the men aboard celebrating their latest conquest. They had known they would find no riches aboard The Duchess, but what they did find was a way to send a message. The message: “Don’t ever borrow money from a pirate that you can’t afford to pay back.” They laughed as they were sure the captain of the tattered ship had finally learned his lesson. 

History of the Monstrum, or How We Got Here

I’ve been in the process of writing a fantasy novel for the last few years, and even used Nanowrimo to help me put the pen to paper. Many things still need to be fleshed out in my world building, however… and so I’ve decided to start with a little history of the creatures at the forefront of my story

In the early days of the 21st century, mankind had little clue as to what manner of creatures lived among them. These creatures, all magical in nature, preferred to keep curious eyes away from themselves and so had no problem with allowing the humans to believe that it was them that controlled the planet. But, as is often the case in these kinds of stories, mankind became selfish and many of them overreached for control over the elements. Technologies had been created, marvelous technologies that rivaled the creatures’ own magic. These technologies, not unlike magic, came with a great price. War, drought, famine, and destruction had reached all corners of the globe hurting the humans as much as it hurt the non-magical creatures that existed among them. 
It wasn’t until the next century that these creatures decided they could no longer sit idly by while the humans destroyed everything that was held dear to them. After agreeing among themselves, they quite suddenly made themselves known. Overnight, everything changed in the world. The greatest battle over control of the planet had been waged, and the humans were barely prepared for it. Even their technology, which had far surpassed anything ever expected, could do little against creatures that seemed capable of controlling the very elements that they came from. The humans came to know them as the monstrum, because to humans they were frightening monsters sent to destroy them. 

The war would have been over in a moment, the monstrum as a united front far outnumbered the already dwindled population of the humans. However, if you for a moment imagined that the monstrum were the righteous, honorable faction in this story, you would be wrong. It is not that the monstrum were all bad any more than they were all good. Instead, the monstrum were very much like the humans they opposed- carrying great capability for both good and bad. In this case, it was that many of the monstrum may have believed themselves to be the good of their species, even when they were clouded by the anger they felt towards the humans they now fought. 

And so it was that a rift formed between the monstrum. Many of the monstrum begin to see humans and their technology as evil and incapable of any redeeming qualities. Of these monstrum, a plan was formed to destroy every human in existence, no matter the cost to other creatures in the way. The majority of the monstrum continued their efforts to gain control of their damaged planet without destroying the entire species to do so. This rift deepened as the war raged on, and before the humans knew it, the war was being fought between three factions instead of two. 

It is an age old adage that the enemy of one’s enemy is one’s friend. And this case proved not to be any different. It wasn’t long until an alliance was formed, due in part to the many deaths caused by the rebel faction. Those monstrum that were sympathetic to the humans’ survival teamed up with the humans and allowed them the use of their powers to remove the threatening monstrum from existence. 

And this was how the war was won and an alliance formed. It would only be decades of peace between the remaining monstrum and the humans before it was inevitably destroyed again. The ability that the monstrum had to lend their powers to the humans during the war had been the decision of the monstrum, but had also been lusted after by many of the humans who had borrowed these powers. Unbeknownst to their monstrum allies, scientists had been working on developing a mechanism that would allow all the humans control of these powers regardless of choice. 

With this mechanism created, the alliance was no longer necessary for peace. It was mass created and sold on the open market, often taking many different forms of otherwise common place objects and affectionately called by humans “talismans.” And then it was, by the end of the 23rd century that the monstrum were largely enslaved by the humans, friendship betrayed by greed. They became a status symbol for the rich, with a family’s importance increasing by the amount of talismans they owned. Those monstrum that had managed to escape the initial gathering of powers went back into hiding, not to be seen again. 

This story begins centuries later, when monstrum have become no more than a piece of furniture in a great household, their powers greatly diminished with no memory of the creatures they used to be. As far as anyone is aware, no wild monstrum still exist in nature…

The Time Traveller

One of my favorite stories. What if the people in an insane asylum weren’t really insane?

The pen scratching across the paper was the only noise in the room. The light came in slanted rays through the window as the sun slowly raised its head for the first time that day. The windows, when opened, would swing out if not for the bars blocking their way. For now, the window stayed cracked, in order to let as much spring air as possible into the cold, stuffy room.
“I am trapped here, in your time. It doesn’t matter what I find here, I can never go back to my home. It’s not like this is a huge surprise for me, being a social-historian. I guess… well, I guess my priorities had changed once I came here. Before, I thought only of the glory and thirst for knowledge, but now… now I see that my earlier ambitions hold no sway over the desire to return home. I suppose you think I’m weak.”

“I think no such thing. Please, carry on.”

“You may wonder what it is to be a social-historian. It is a magnificent position; one that is very sought after. Only the top of their class may have the chance to test for such a prestigious job. And the test… well, only those who are considered experts in History, Social Studies and Time Travel Theories have any chance at passing those. And here you have me.”

“And what is it do you do?”

“Why, I travel back in time to study your societies, of course! What else would we do? We look at your people, your cultures, your practices… And what magnificent cultures you have! So many identities wrapped up into one country! I’ve never seen anything like it!” 

“What is your purpose for doing such?”

“Why, to prevent ourselves from making your mistakes, of course!”

“Mistakes?”

“Yes. So many mistakes… So many flaws that can be seen in the way you treat each other. Your treatment of other…What do you call them here? When another man’s skin is different from your own?”

“You mean race?”

“Yes, Race. Exactly. The abuse and neglect that I’ve seen here based solely on this factor is appalling. You treat each other like enemies because their skin is lighter or darker than your own!”

“And how do you solve this in your time?”

“With the Way of Life Act. But you haven’t even gotten to that point in time yet, have you?”

“No, we have no such law.”

“Well, Britain hasn’t imperialized the world yet either, and it’s crucial they do this before removing the nationalities of the planet.”

“Britain takes over the World? You think that’s what happens? “

A knock at the door.

“I’m in session.” 

The sound of a lock being turned filled the room. The man stopped the interview to look up expectantly; a hint of annoyance flashed in his eyes.

“Dr. Janska?” The door opened to reveal a bent old man, his hair white with age. 

“I said I’m in session.”

“This will be quick, I promise.” The old man walked into the room, and only then did Dr. Janska take notice of the young woman behind him. “I wanted to introduce you to our new doctor. She will be sitting in on a lot of your sessions with, I’m sorry… what do you call him again?”

“He is known as Mr. Carhill,” came Dr. Janska’s terse reply. 

“Ah, yes. Mr. Carhill. How pleasant…” he quickly cleared his throat before continuing. “Anyway, this is Dr. Valentine. Look to her as your protégé, as there is much I’m sure you can teach her in the coming weeks.”

Dr. Valentine stepped into the room, making sure to maintain eye contact with the doctor before her. He had been her hero, the reason she worked so hard to get where she is now. To finally get the chance to meet him … that had always been her dream. Seeing him now, she guessed she expected too much. Much more than this disheveled man before her. She smiled at him.

“It is a pleasure to meet you. I look forward to learning all I can from your techniques.”

“Yes,” replied Dr, Janska. “I imagine you would. Tell me, Miss Valentine, have you ever worked with schizophrenia?”

Doctor Valentine looked to the superintendant before answering. “I’ve studied it but have never dealt with it firsthand.”

“That is less than satisfactory but we’ll make do. I can see already that there is a lot that you can learn from me.” 

She paused. “Yes, I can see that as well. I look forward to working with you.”

The superintendant led the young doctor out the door. “I just have some last minute in processing to do with Dr. Valentine and then she’ll be ready to start with you.”

“Then be quick about it.” Dr. Janska immediately moved his attention away from the two intruders. He heard the door shut, and the lock turn again. He sat for a moment in silence, enjoying the solitude. Then, with nothing else to do, he curled up and went to sleep.

The Chosen

Another school assignment that challenged me to write a story around cleaning a gun

The ceremony was about to begin. The entire village had shown up to watch. It was a rite of passage, the ritual that would make me a man, proving a place among my people. Today, my sixteenth birthday, I would be given the choice of whether I would rather take my place within our society, or leave, never to see my family again. Scanning the crowds from the back of the auditorium, I could spot my family, seated up front in the honorary seats given to the mother, father and sibling of The Chosen. My parents are somber, as is everyone else in the congregation. My sister, sweet Deeli, is sitting gazing at everything and everyone, taking in everything she can with her large brown eyes. She is just fourteen, and in two years it will be her turn. She will be The Chosen. My eyes sweep to my grandparents who sit on top of the stage behind where the village leader has taken his place at the podium. They are holding hands, a rare display of affection in our society. Usually, it would be frowned upon, but today of all days it is accepted. Especially for them.  

“Elias Tanner Common,” the leader’s voice booms over the crowd, “if you have accepted your place as The Chosen and have made your choice, please come forward.” My village stays silent, and my footsteps echo as I walk steadfastly forward. My eyes stay focused straight ahead, and bore into the eyes of our leader. I know I am being rude, but I cannot make myself care. Only a slight stumbling of foot displays how unsure I really am. I recover quickly, and I can tell Deeli is the only one to notice. I do not walk up to the stage but stand in front of it, so that I do not stand on equal footing as our leader. I have seen this ritual many times, so there is no need to question the steps I make. I take a knee, but before bowing my head, I steal a look at my grandfather. 

He is staring straight at me, a shadow of a smile in his eyes. I know that he understands the choice I have to make and I know he does not judge me. It does not make the choosing easier. The silence that suspends our meeting becomes awkward as I realize that I am supposed to say something. How could I forget? I had been over this many times, but the words had escaped my head. I grasp for a moment before it all comes back to me. 

“I kneel before you, Leader Bradshaw, with the decision I have made,” My voice is strong. It echoes in the silent auditorium. I know that no one knows the tremble that is in my heart except for me. To everyone else, I must seem strong as if there is no shadow of doubt in what I am about to do. “I beseech you, Leader, to allow me to stay and become a part of this society you had made out of the ashes of a world too weak to survive.” The words are a memorization, a speech made too many times to count. And so, our leader responds in kind. 

“Are you aware of why the old world failed?” He replies, and I hear in his voice what I have heard too many times before: a cold, calculation. 

“The human race grew too fast to sustain its basic needs,” I reply as if I am reading a script. 

“And so you understand what your choice entails?” 

“I do.” The last words reverberate through the assembly.

“Then proceed.” At this, my grandfather stands and retrieves something from an old cupboard beside him. I cannot see it, but I know what it is. As he turns, light hits the gun and makes it gleam though it is covered in dust. My grandmother, with unshed tears in her eyes takes the gun from my grandfather and begins to disassemble it. She then pulls a rod from the kit that had been sitting at her side and attaches a bronze brush. With a startling steadiness, she soaks the brush in solvent and begins to run it through the barrel. 

There is not much within the barrel to clean, because this gun is only taken out for The Chosen rituals. But it is a part of the ritual. It must be done to show the village that this is the kind of society we are. That we all do things for the greater good, regardless of the pain it may cause us. Having my grandmother clean the gun is just another way to show the world this. 

She removes the brush from the end of the rod, and I see her hand shake a little. She attaches the patch, and begins to clean the barrel of the solvents she had just administered. She runs numerous patches through until it comes out as white as it had going in. Another lesson to our society: cleanliness is next to godliness. It may be cliché and from the old world, but we live by it. 

After assembling the gun, she lightly coats the outer with oil to make it gleam. She pulls out a shiny new bullet to place in the small revolver. She hands it to my grandfather. He gives her one last look, and it is a look so full of love that I am sure everyone can feel it. He then turns and walks down to where I am. I stand and look straight into his eyes. 

“By passing down this tool, I recognize you as fit to take your role in this society,” he says the words that had been said so many times before. There is no controlling my fear now. I shake as I remove the gun from his hands. I hesitate, rethinking my choice. But now it is too late. I have already spoken, I have already been accepted. There are no more words to be said. 

I raise the gun to my grandfather’s head. Looking at his eyes for one last time, he winks at me. I pull the trigger. 

The Passive Aggresive Ghost

Reddit is great at determining writing prompts for one to practice their skills with. This particular writing prompt was “a haunted house where the ghost is passive aggressive”

​Well, that’s weird, I thought, as I walked back towards the old Victorian house that my wife and I had just purchased. In my hand I held today’s mail, but within the pile of bills and coupons I also held a large stack of magazines. Titles such as Blush, Man’s Action, Playboy and Real Men seemed to scream from the cover pages. At first it seemed likely that someone had decided to play a prank on us by signing us up for all sorts of magazine subscriptions, but these magazines were dated in the 50s and 60s. They were all seemingly promiscuous though (as promiscuous as the 50s were allowed to be), so maybe it would be better if I hid them from Janet. She got so paranoid around what she considered to be “nudies.” 

Right before I reached the door, I heard Janet scream. My heart dropped to my chest as the spike of adrenaline bolted me forward. I ran into the foyer and up the stairs to find a drenched Janet wrapped in a large towel with shampoo dripping from her head. I immediately looked past her into the room behind her where the shower still ran. 

“What is it? What happened?” I asked, while consciously moving the magazines behind my back. 

“The toilet- it flushed.” She said, looking at me for all the world like it was my fault, even though I had been outside. “And because the toilet flushed the shower turned piping hot. You know we can’t use multiple water sources in older houses like this. Why would you flush the toilet when you knew I was in the shower?” 

“I didn’t,” I returned, exasperated by how easily Janet accused him. “I was out-“

“What is that?” She demanded, seeing the stack of mail I held behind my body. 

“Just the mail,” I replied, attempting to hide the magazines. “I was just going to-“

“Let me see.” 

I handed her the mail, magazines included. She took a look at the stack and then stared up at me in disgust. Without a sound she turned and stormed off towards the bedroom. 
3 WEEKS LATER

“Dishes don’t do themselves”

I stared at the post-it on the kitchen sink. I just don’t understand. I know I didn’t leave that note there for her. I guess that doesn’t matter, though. What matters is that Janet believes that I left it, and if Janet believes it then this is just one more thing to add to the list of reasons why she can’t even seem to be in the same room with me anymore. 

I can’t say I blame her. There are only two of us in the house, and yet somehow these notes keep popping up all over the place. Just last Thursday Janet had found a note inside the fridge that had kindly suggested that she might want to go purchase groceries. I mean, the note wasn’t wrong, but even still I wasn’t the one who put it there. Then, when she finally did fill up the fridge with new food, the food items somehow were labeled with my name overnight! That one did start a monstrosity of a fight. 

The biggest fight, by far, was when Janet found a note on the bathroom scale that “suggested” she might look a bit better 15 pounds lighter. I slept on the living room couch for a few nights after that one. It was so strange though. Where could all these notes be coming from? I was seriously starting to wonder if maybe Janet was starting to lose her mind…. 

2 WEEKS LATER

I stood on the porch as I watched Janet drive off into the distance. The notes had become too much for her. I’m not surprised that this was all it took. There had been troubles in our marriage before we moved here. The only reason we had even bought this house was for a place to start new. I placed my hands in my pockets as Janet’s Toyota disappeared around a corner. To be honest, I can’t say I felt very sad. In fact, I was more relieved that the whole business was done. 

“Whew, boy, am I glad she is gone,” a voice right next to me stated. I jumped, spinning around. Beside me was a boy, nearly a man, no older than 22. He wore blue jeans and a red striped shirt and- oh yeah- he was transparent. I stared at the apparition before me, stunned to speechlessness. “I mean, come on, your ol’ lady was kind of a nag. I’ve been trying to get her to leave for weeks! Now that she’s gone, let’s say we take a look through those magazines?” 

The Child’s Masque

This piece was a school assignment in which I had to write Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death” from an alternative point of view

Mother says we must stay here. She says we mustn’t go outside for a while and she says that Prince Prospero was very nice to let us come stay with him and that we shouldn’t cause any fuss. Mother says a lot of things.
And I’m trying to be good, I promise I am. But it is so boring here. Bobby and Nina and Cossette are babies compared to me. Bobby is closest to me in age and he’s still only four while I’m already six! Nina comes behind him at three while Cossette is the baby at one. I don’t know how Mother expects me to play with them. They don’t even notice how pretty my dress is or the new bows Daddy got me before he sent us away from him. 
I’ve told Mother this, but she just patted me on the head while her handmaiden Lisette put that stuff on her face and said, “You are so big, Raven, I can hardly believe how grownup you are. It is because of how grownup you are that you are in charge of the other kids while the adults go to dinner. I just know that the Duke and Duchess de Pompfrey will be truly grateful for your help with little Cossette. And the Marquis de Winthrope told me personally that he could trust no one but our dear Raven to look after Bobby and Nina.” 

I beamed at the praise and was in awe of the newfound responsibility that had just been laid on my shoulders. Being stuck in the baby room didn’t seem so bad now when I realized that I was in charge. I sat on the bed behind Mother, momentarily placated. I looked at her reflection in the mirror, and felt a momentary wiggle of jealousy at how pretty she was. Her hair was perfectly coifed, its golden strands held up in a testament to Lisette’s ability. Her dress was a pattern of white and silver, and flowed off her shoulders in an elegant waterfall. Two small ceramic wings protruded from her back, declaring the nature of her costume. I followed her gloves to the end of her fingers to where she was holding a bedecked masque, the only red of her outfit. She caught me staring at the masque.   

“With so many shops closed as of now, it is difficult to find a white masque. I suppose the red of this shall have to do,” she pouted. “I look forward to the opening of the shops if only so I may have some white fabric with which to cover my masques.” 

“Why are you so dressed up tonight, Mother?” I asked shyly of her. She was still staring at the mask in abject frustration. 

“Prince Prospero is holding a masque. It’s supposed to be the ball of the century,” she said. She finally looked away from her masque and noticed me seated comfortably. “Now, Raven, it is time for you to head back to the nursery. Lissette, it is time I adjourned. Please see to Raven.” 
I am trying to be good. It must have been hours since Lissette dropped me off at the baby room. Cossette won’t stop crying and no matter how I try, I can’t seem to make her happy. Bobby keeps pinching Nina and Nina keeps tugging on my dress to tell on Bobby. Then Bobby started to pinch me and now I’m yelling at him over the sound of Cossette that I am in charge! He says he doesn’t care! 

None of them seem to care! I’m done being in charge! I’ve spent enough time in the baby room!

Outside the room, the halls are dark. I can hear the faint sounds of the music from the party below. Then, a clock, and everything goes silent. I pause in my creeping worried that the slightest creak of the floor beneath me will alert that I am there. I hold my breath as I too, wait for the silence to end. A moment later, I breathe again as the music once more picks up its tempo. 

I keep walking towards the stairs and finally I see the ball below me. I am at the edge of the stairs leading down to it. I see a multitude of doors from where I stand, each surrounded by magnificent stained glass. Each of these doors is different in color and I am confused by the need for such colors. They are blue, purple, green, orange, white and violet. And the last one… well, the last one is black. It is so black that I inwardly cringe, though I can’t seem to stop staring at it. But even though the door is black, the panes around it are so deep a red that it only further deepens the black. In front of each of the windows stands a tripod that illuminates some form of light, and I can see as the guest go in and out that this illumination creates some sort of moving images within the rooms. These moving images are light and airy, almost fantastical. In the black room, however, there are only moving nightmares (Poe, 1842). 

I must have been staring for a while, because before I know it the clock chimes again. This time I can see the source of the noise and find the imposing grandfather clock on the far wall, its large pendulum swinging to and fro. Again, the music stops and everyone pauses in their revelries. By the time the music starts up again, I find that I have been holding my breath as well. 

Then, of a sudden, there is a tap. And then another. It seems to strike an antagonistic tempo when compared to the music downstairs. 

Rap, tap, tap!  I look for the sound but have trouble finding it. 

Rap, tap, tap! Finally, I see a window in the opposite hall from me that leads to a grand balcony. 

Standing upon that balcony is a man, more disguised than any of the guests downstairs. He stands on the balcony looking in, his hand poised on the glass to knock again. 

As I walk closer, details of his appearance become clearer. He seems to wear clothes that could easily have shrouded a corpse. He is tall and gaunt and has a stare that reminds me of cold, wintery nights and makes me long for the safety of the room where the children are probably sleeping soundly by now. His masque has marked blood patterns on it, like the kind seen on Daddy before Mother and I left the countryside. The kind that means he’s sick. I shudder, but remind myself it’s only a mask. (Poe, 1842).  

He continues to tap, never taking his eyes from me and the noise of his hand on the window makes me jump. I shake off my fears and remember that he is one of the quests. Probably stepped out to smoke a pipe and found himself locked out on the balcony. He could even be Marquis de Winthrope in costume, I tell myself, because he is thin like this man. But my heart knows this isn’t true. 

I open the window to let the man in. He steps through gracefully, as if his feet never touched ground. He pauses before me and bows like a true gentleman before gliding past me down the grand staircase that I had been hiding on top of before. 

I follow. 

The clock strikes midnight, and silence ensues. I am slow to view the revelry of the ball once more. 

“Who dares?” I hear Prince Prospero exclaim. As I peer over the banister I see the prince with his face full of rage as he points to the man I had just let in. “who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him- that we may know whom we have to hang at sunrise, from the battlements” (Poe, p322). 

The man steps closer to the prince, and I feel the temperature within the room drop. The prince backs away…no… hurries away from him and takes to hiding within his colored rooms. But, no! The prince has turned around, and in his hand he holds a knife. I can see the sheen sweat of fear on the prince’s brow, but the guest I had let in remained as calm as the dead he so carefully crafted. The prince acts to stab the man, and now the prince is dead. 

The revelers have woken from their trance, and I see them converge on the man (Mother included). They rip off his costume and Mother grabs for his masque. But he is a man no more. Only his costume remains, underneath there is nothing. But, where has he gone? Somehow, the people are all dying. How is he doing this? They are all dying. One by one they drop, faces a mask of blood. As Mother falls to the ground, I turn and flee. 

I run to the children’s room, fear carrying me faster than I have ever gone before.  I am probably there already, dreaming… merely sleeping. I’ll wake to find Bobby, Nina and Cossette as they were: screaming and pinching. I need only make it to my body, for surely I am not in my body right now. 

I open the door to find them- dead. All dead. The children would seem as if they were sleeping if not for the blood on their face, painted in the style of a cruel jester’s masque.  I am transfixed until I feel the breath on my neck. 

I turn slowly and in horror to stare into a pair of winter cold eyes that bear no tangible form before blackness consumes me. 

“And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all” (Poe, p323).