when the sirens wail upon the sea,
luring tortured ships that are never seen,
Do not forget me.
when the night cries out with a thousand screams and
is muffled by the devil’s gloved hand,
Do not forget me.
when the sky rains down on the barren scenery
and the ground is red with blood,
Tonight, the king would take his last breath.
I ran my hands over the wood of the table nervously. It was a great feast to celebrate the new treaty and all of the council was present. I shifted my eyes over each face, gauging their loyalty. Out of fifteen, I knew only three could be trusted.
I played with the pork on my plate. All around, the men were doing the same, carefully watching the king with hunger in their eyes. The night before, I had seen this moment dancing in the flames of the fire, a prophetic vision. I had watched the king eat and drink heartily. In a second, he was dead on the floor.
A servant entered with a small flask of wine, placing it in front of the king. My father slid it to his taster—as was custom—but was distracted by a tapping on the table. It was his most trusted adviser, a man with a long face and gray beard.
“I wish to speak for a mere second, if I may,” he said. “I want to honor our great king and this peace treaty, and the future they represent. This wine is for our great ruler, specially retrieved for him from the deepest cellar in the richest winery in this nation. Thank you, my king and brother.”
The implication was clear, that the wine was too fine for the taster. It was clear to me at once. The wine must be poisoned, though I had been was sure my uncle was honest. My father hesitated, but he took the flask in his hands.
I desperately tried to signal him with my eyes, but he did not even look at me. He was a kind and fair king, but we had never had much of a relationship or connection. Thinking of the nation, I leapt from my seat. The men jumped to their feet at once.
All would see the snake my uncle was when I died.
Ignoring them, I snatched the flask from my father’s hands, downing it in one gulp.
Life’s Last Party
The night air was cool as I slipped onto the street, gazing up at the cloudy sky. I could hear the roar of the bar behind me, but it was muffled by the buzz in my head.
As I stumbled over the cobblestones I was overcome by a wave of familiar euphoria, like I always was after I'd had one too many drinks. It was late, eleven or twelve, but I wasn't ready to call it a night. Not with the alcohol flowing through my veins. It woke me up—it invigorated me.
I had only been walking a few minutes in the direction of my house when a figure approached me. A brief sense of foreboding took over my senses before I raised a hand in greeting.
"Hello," he said, his voice a rumble. He was dressed in a black tux with a red cape draped over his shoulders. His face was adorned with a lavish black mask, made a crow feathers. If I'd been sober, I might've thought it was strange not a inch of his skin was showing. His neck was covered by the cape, his hands sported white gloves, and the mask branched our far enough to cover his entire face. Instead, I noticed his handsome dark eyes and tussled hair.
"Hello," I said back, boldly.
"You are very beautiful," he said, and I giggled. "Would you like to come to a party tonight? I was there, but had to get a way for a while. I will return now, and it would be sweeter with a woman on my arm."
I smiled. What was the harm? He was clearly dressed for such an affair, and I wasn't quite ready to turn in anyway. I hesitated, even though I knew I would be saying yes I just didn't want to appear desperate.
"My friends and I party hard," he said, thinking I needed convincing, "and we will treat tonight like it is our last." I thought that was a little strange but ignored it.
"I'm not dressed for it, can you give me the address and I will go home and change?" he said.
"Sure," he said, and told me. A second later, he melted back into the night.
And hour later, I was standing outside of a warehouse in my best ball outfit. My dress was blood red with a low neckline, and it trailed down to my ankles. It fit my fit form and I knew I looked stunning. I had chosen a white swan mask, which only covered my eyes.
I heard music inside the warehouse and knew it was the right place. I pulled open the door and stepped inside.
My senses were overwhelmed. People swirled around me as the music pumped, a strange bass song with with no words. Everyone seemed to move in unison with the beat, and my heart started to thump to the rhythm.
I pushed myself into the hoard only to be jostled around, like I was not part of a coregraphed dance. I stumbled out to the fringe of the group once more.
"You made it," a man said, and I jumped. I was feeling more alert and sober by the moment. How had he found me so fast?
"Yeah," I said, my eyes wandering over the dancers once more. Like him, I noticed, almost every one of them had no skin showing. As I watched, a girl twirled in front of me and her dress lifted a little, briefly revealing her ankles and shins. I gasped. Her skin was red and molted, like it'd been stabbed repeatedly with a pencil. I was disturbed beyond belief, but I told myself it was only some deformity.
The man saw my stare. "Want to dance?" he asked. I was still looking at the girl, who was now waltzing, but he pulled me into the group.
Once again I felt out of place, and the bodies were suffocating me. I stumbled, but my mysterious partner grabbed my waist to steady me. He moved smoothly to the music, which remained the same song as before, only now the tempo pulsed up and down.
I seemed to do much better with his touch, and relaxed a little. After a while of dancing, my feet started to ache and I looked for somewhere to sit down.
My partner picked up on my discomfort and pulled me out of the crowd. He stopped and faced me, and I was captivated by him. I don't know if it was the music, the party, or the alcohol still in my system, but I reached up for his mask.
"I want to see your face," I said, pulling up the corner. To my shock, he slapped away my hand, a look of fear crossing his face.
"You should go," he said, backing away.
"I shouldn't have brought you here."
As he spoke, some other people sidled up to us. They were perspiring from the dancing and wearing clothing that completely covered them.
They looked at me and then at the stranger. One smirked, one laughed, but the others looked mournful.
"You brought her? She's not... she's healthy?"A woman asked softly.
"Yes. I wasn't thinking," he repeated. "I just wanted a partner for the last night." He said "last night" with emphasis on it, like it was some sort of title.
"Leave," the kind woman said, her eyes wide.
"What's going on?" I asked. Everyone shook their heads, like the weight of the secret alone was keeping their mouths shut.
Bewildered, I made my way towards the door. I had almost reached it when a felt an arm on my elbow. I spun around.
"Your skin is so clear," he said, grinning. I looked up and gasped. He was wearing a suit and a mask that only covered his eyes. The exposed skin of his face was mottled like the girl's ankles earlier. It looked much worse up close, and a sour stench was rising off of him.
"It's not fair you should look like that and I should look like this," he said.
"W-what...?" I stammered.
He kept a firm hold of my elbow and pulled off one of his gloves with his teeth. When I saw his hand was covered in the stab-rash, I decided enough was enough a wrenched away, trying to dash out the door. He grabbed my arm and dragged me back to him.
"What are you doing?!" a man yelled, and I looked over to see my partner. I looked at him gratefully. "Don't touch her!"
The other man sneered and my partner's eyes trailed down to my arm. He slumped. I looked to see that my capturer was gripping my arm with his ungloved hand. I yelped and pulled away, and he let me.
"It is done, now," he said. I looked down at my arm, which began to feel like it was covered in mosquito bites.
I turned around to leave when it erupted into pain.
I screamed and fell to the ground, clutching it. My whole body turned to fire, a burning sensation like none I'd felt before. I screamed again, but no sound came out.
"Here!" someone said, but their voice seemed to be in the distance. I didn't fight as someone pried my mouth open and my body writhed. A liquid poured down my throat and a hand clamped over my mouth, so I had to swallow.
After a minute, the pain lifted. I stood carefully, still shaking. A small crowd had gathered to watch me. "Oh my god," I said, confused and panicking.
At that moment, I looked down at my arms. They were covered in the little stabs. I nearly fainted, my heart pounding in horror. I pulled up my dress and saw my legs were the same, and when I ran a hand over my face it was bumpy and painful.
I looked at the people in the crowd, my whole body trembling. The stranger came and draped an arm over my shoulder. He looked sad.
"You're probably wondering what's going on," he said. I nodded my agreement. "This is a party for those with an irreversible disease, the Stechen. It is extremely painful, but the liquid we gave you dulls the pain almost completely.
We came to this ball because the disease kills you in 24 hours, and we wanted the last ones to be special. The party is held every night, but for a different set of people."
I remembered what I'd heard about the disease—how I learned about people leaving the town as soon as the knew they had it. That explained the warehouse being off the beaten path.
It dawned on me all at once. "You're telling me I have that now? I'm going to die? You brought me here to die?!"
"I thought as long as no one touched you..."
I broke down and began to cry.
"Don't do that," he said sternly, regretfully. "There's no time for that."
I was terrified, memories flashing through my mind. What of my parents, my friends? My head was fuzzy and I forgot about them in a second. I found my thoughts taking a different and surprising turn. Acceptance. The drug had worked in more than one way.
I felt irrational, but I gripped his arm. I could feel the drug and alcohol in my veins. "Then let's dance."
He nodded and we moved onto the dance floor, this time both twisting to the music. I felt the pounding in my blood, in my heart, in my soul. I felt one with it.
And I ignored the people as they fell one by one around me, not even bothering to look at them or avoid their bodies.
Such was one night of the Stechen Ball, better known as the Stab-disease Masquerade.
Propelled forwards from beginning to end,
We are wind.
We are sorrow.
Wide, beautiful eyes hollowed by fights in the dark within one’s mind.
We are kind
Words to a stranger, for life was unfair.
We are air
Surrounded, suffocating, wallowing,
Created by life, destroyed by death,
We are breath
Rising, falling, rallying for the wail.
We are loneliness
We are flame
Waiting to be tame.
Painted movements on the black canvas
We are art.
A crash of cataclysmic energy,
Thrown together and pulled apart,
We are magnets.