Short Story: Masquerade Ball
Short Story: Masquerade Ball
This is a short story I wrote for an online contest, that won 3rd prize.
If you love stories with a hint of mystery, a lot of suspense, masks, owls and other spooky things, this is for you. This is a story both adults and children will enjoy.
Comment from a recent review: "From the very beginning, you call on my sense of mystery, building the suspense well throughout using a myriad of descriptions and trails to leave the reader wondering 'what now?' "
Interesting what you can see behind a mask...
Word count: 1166.
You are invited to a Masquerade Ball.
1001 Hoot Street, 9:00 p.m. on Friday, October 13th.
I read the postcard a third time, wondering who sent it. The curly handwriting intrigued me as much as the picture of a white owl on the reverse side.
I tried on my mask and looked in the mirror. The magenta feathers accentuated my straight blond hair. I put on a mysterious smile and held out my hand in a dramatic motion, turning to Caroline. "Destiny awaits us, my friend! Let us go, meet our anonymous host!"
She shook her head, looking at me through her golden mask adorned with sequins. "I'm a bit nervous, to be honest." She brushed a lock of dark brown hair from her face. "What are we getting into? We don't even know who - or what - invited us. What if he's a vampire?" She scrunched up her face and showed her front teeth.
"Don't be silly. It's probably just one of the guys from our psychology class or something."
I printed a map and traced the path. "Hoot Street is near Main Ave. It's not like in an obscure neighborhood or a dead-end street or anything." I held my pen tighter to prevent my hand from shaking. "I'm bringing my whistle and pepper spray, just in case." I took a quick look in my purse to make sure I had everything, then added my map to the panoply of absolute necessities.
As I parked my sedan near our host's house, I noticed a dark figure standing near the sidewalk.
A black cape covered his whole body and a shiny black mask accentuated his aquiline nose. A light breeze swept his long, gray hair, revealing a tiny owl tattoo on his neck. A moment later, the hair fell back into place and I wondered if I had seen correctly or just imagined it.
A shiver traveled down my spine. The thought of turning around and going back home became very appealing, all of a sudden.
Caroline was already stepping out of the car, a broad smile lighting up her face. "This is soo awesome! I can't believe we're attending a masquerade ball." She straightened her multi-colored kimono and swung a matching purse on her shoulder.
I swallowed hard, keeping my gaze on the man as I exited the car. He hadn't moved at all this whole time. My golden Indian princess costume glittered under the streetlight as I joined my friend on the sidewalk. I motioned with my chin. Behind the figure was a mailbox with the number 1001 on it.
"Is that... our host?" Her smile faded and fear showed in her hazel eyes. "He's no college student, that's for sure!" She twirled her hair and bit her lip. "What should we do?" The words came out as a whisper.
Before I could answer, the man smiled and motioned for us to enter the house.
We glanced at each other. Part of me wanted to run away and forget about the whole thing, but the curiosity factor was equally strong. I stared at the peeling brown paint on the door and wondered what to do.
Three disguised people appeared at the corner of the street and marched straight to the man. After a brief exchange, they entered through the shabby door. I couldn't be sure, but I thought I recognized a fellow student.
Caroline elbowed me. "Let's go in. Just remember your Tae Kwon Do lessons, worse comes to worse."
I nodded and we stepped forward, Caroline clutching my bag's strap and following one step behind.
The man made a slight bow as he opened the door to let us in, revealing a musty stairway that could also use some serious work. "Welcome to the Masquerade Ball. I hope you have a hoot of a time."
I took a deep breath and proceeded in, my heart keeping beat with each step I took. I could hear the faint sound of chatter and laughter upstairs, and I relaxed a little. It's just a masquerade ball. Nothing to be afraid of. I looked back at my friend for reassurance.
She returned my smile.
The stairs led to a large room lit by candles set along each wall. Small groups of people in dazzling costumes talked and drank while lively music played in the background.
Caroline let go of my bag and relaxed her shoulders. "Let's go freshen up. There must be a bathroom around here." She stepped ahead of me and peeked in the next room. Turning to me with a look of horror on her face, she pointed into the room with a shaky hand.
I hesitated, then looked in the darkness of the room. Two giant yellow eyes stared back at me. I froze. Millions of random thoughts invaded my mind all at once. I stepped back, almost bumping into a guest. In a flash, I grabbed a candle and extended my arm into the dark room.
I emitted a nervous giggle. "Um... Caroline? It's just an owl-shaped cookie jar." Right. Nothing to worry about. We're just visiting that weird guy who's crazy about owls.
Before we could go further and find the bathroom, the music faded and a hush fell over the room. We spun around.
The mysterious host stood in the middle of the place.
I gasped despite of myself. What now? And why am I so jumpy?
He went around, counting everyone as he pointed with his slender finger.
When he faced us, I glanced at the man behind the mask. His dark blue eyes reflected inner strength and kindness, so much kindness it gave me a warm shiver all over. The candlelight shimmered in his eyes, illuminating his whole personality within. It only lasted a moment, but it dissipated all my fears. I became eager to know more about him.
"Twenty-six people out of fifty showed up tonight." His pleasant voice carried through the room without the use of a microphone. "Not bad." He looked at each one of the guests in turn.
An electric current went through me as his eyes met mine. He appeared to be about my father's age, but sometimes it could be tricky, especially with a mask. I caught myself wishing he were much younger. I looked at his left hand. No ring.
"Ladies and gentlemen, tonight, you're part of an experiment. But first, let me introduce myself." A playful smile lightened his features. "I'm Mr. Hooter, your new psychology teacher. I'll be replacing Mrs. Oliver during her pregnancy leave."
Gasps and whispers filled the room.
I squeezed Caroline's arm.
"For your first assignment, I'll ask each one of you to write down in detail all the thoughts that crossed your mind, from the time you received the postcard until now."
Whispers turned to groans and giggles.
My knees buckled and for a moment I thought I would faint.
"But first, let's forget about the psychology class and enjoy the ball. Let the music begin!"