Prospero’s Last Party
by Jacqueline Doyle
death had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or
so hideous. . . . But Prince Prospero
was happy and dauntless .
. . It was toward the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion that the Prince
Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual
Edgar Allan Poe, “The Masque of the Red Death”
Prince Prospero assures us daily that we are safe,
and no one dares
contradict him. We’re the lucky elite, secure inside the castle, or so he
claims. For months no one has ventured beyond the second wall he built outside the
moat. There’s no news of the peasants outside, no news reports at all, anymore.
Today our attendance was required at the grandest
of the Prince’s grand balls—all
of us masked, a new edict. Prince Prospero has been circulating for hours among
the revelers in a garish orange mask, surrounded by the usual entourage of
sycophants and toadies. “Merry Christmas to all!” he proclaims, glass held
high. Champagne began flowing at noon, when most of us were still bleary-eyed
and hungover from last night’s party. The Prince’s wife, who is nowhere to be
seen, has decorated the ballroom in mournful black and blue streamers, instead
of the traditional red and green. There’s no Christmas tree this year.
Waiters offer caviar and other delicacies on golden
trays, though they say
the Prince eats nothing but greasy peasant fare. He looks bloated and
unhealthy, but no one says so, of course. Prospero waves his tiny hands, and we
dance like mechanical dolls. Every hour, our forced revelry is momentarily
interrupted by the chiming of the enormous clock.
When the clock struck one, we all froze in place
without knowing why. Perhaps
some had secret instructions and the rest followed. Is it a party game, like
the children’s game “Giant Steps,” adapted to show us Prospero’s power? Or some
tacit acknowledgment of the power of Time itself?
Two. Again, the music and dancing ceased. Six
months ago, there were a
thousand of us in the castle. Most of us know someone, or know someone who
knows someone, who has disappeared.
We haven’t seen the royal physicians for
some time. Have they died? Been
imprisoned? Executed? “Fake news,” Prospero declared, proposing outlandish
solutions to the rumored contagion. “Don’t believe what you hear.”
Three. And again, all movement was suspended.
Some of the dancers were doubled
over, gasping for breath.
Four. The musicians began to repeat the same merry
Christmas airs. “Jingle
bells. Jingle bells.”
Five. Dancers were reeling and staggering. A few
carolers sang, “We wish
you a Merry Christmas. We wish you a Merry Christmas.”
Six. Bodies clad in gay colors began dropping
to the floor, but we pretended
not to see. What could we do?
Seven. More bodies. We looked the other way, aghast.
Eight. Prince Prospero seemed unaware that anything
was amiss, and no one
wanted to risk his ire by speaking up. The musicians played an instrumental
version of “Silent Night” on violins.
Nine. The Prince asked us whether we’d ever
seen a grander ball.
Ten. His minions began to clear the corpses away,
as we danced on.
Eleven. A masked figure dressed in black and dabbled
in blood stalked
through the ballroom toward Prospero. A stranger, cadaverous and unusually
tall, though no newcomers have been admitted to the castle for months.
Some of us rushed to the exits when the specter
appeared, but we’re
trapped here. All the doors are locked. We whisper to each other, confiding the
secret fears we’ve left unvoiced, describing the strange dreams that have
plagued us for so long. Our whispers are becoming louder; hardly anyone is
dancing; the musicians falter but play on.
By now we’re sure of the stranger’s
identity. Prince Prospero is the only
one of us who didn’t believe that Death would crash his party. We all knew he
was mad. But who knew the Prince’s ignorance could be fatal to us all?
Jacqueline Doyle is
the author of The Missing
Girl, available from Black Lawrence Press. Her flash has appeared in matchbook, Wigleaf,
CRAFT, Little Fiction/Big Truths, Juked, and elsewhere. She lives in
the San Francisco Bay Area and can be found online at www.jacquelinedoyle.com and
on twitter @doylejacq.
Henry Stanton's fiction, poetry and paintings appear in 2River, The A3 Review,
Avatar, The Baltimore City Paper, The Baltimore Sun Magazine, High
Shelf Press, Kestrel, North of Oxford, Outlaw Poetry,
PCC Inscape, Pindeldyboz, Rusty Truck, Salt &
Syntax, SmokeLong Quarterly, The William and Mary Review,
Word Riot, The Write Launch, and Yellow Mama, among other
poetry was selected for the A3 Review Poetry Prize and was
shortlisted for the Eyewear 9th Fortnight Prize for Poetry. His
fiction received an Honorable Mention acceptance for the Salt & Syntax Fiction
Contest and was selected as a finalist for the Pen 2 Paper Annual Writing Contest.
A selection of Henry Stanton's paintings
are currently on show at Atwater's Catonsville and can be viewed at the following website www.brightportfal.com. A selection of Henry Stanton’s published
fiction and poetry can be located for reading in the library at www.brightportfal.com.
Henry Stanton is the Founding & Managing Editor of The Raw Art Review—www.therawartreview.com.