The Masquerade of 1900bydaniwilliams©
"Who are you, then?"
"I can't remember," she said, smiling. Her lips curled up impishly at the corners and her eyes glittered. "You go first."
He nodded and spun her delicately around with one upraised hand. She was flamboyantly dressed in a crimson gown topped with black lace over her shoulders that draped over the rather suggestive bodice underneath. Her chest, bare to the first inch of enticing cleavage, was lightly flushed pink - or it could have just been an illusion of the color of her dress and the shadows cast by the lace. He couldn't quite say, but he thought he perceived longing, and was desirous to find out more. He gestured at the mask she wore - black velvet, snugly fitted across her eyes and nose just down to the tip. That nose had an unusual and lovely form to it - a slightly bulbous end that was just unattractive enough to render madly appealing her otherwise perfect face. Or at least the half of it he could see.
"To be perfectly honest with you, I've quite forgotten my own name. I'd almost swear someone slipped something into my drink."
She laughed with a sweet lilt. "It's called alcohol."
"In that case, maybe we'd both better have another."
"How like a man." Her lips pressed together in a playful pout. "Do you mean to ply me with wine and get into my frilly underthings?"
He gazed at her with confidence. "We can forgo the wine if you prefer."
She hooked her arm in his, giving no other reply. They began to walk across the ballroom, couples spinning and bantering flirtaciously all around them. Black and red crepe hung from the windows and walls, and slender candles were burned half to their bases everywhere they looked. At the far end of the room, a tuxedoed waiter served wine and liquor from an array of bottles; a tray of crystal flutes and glasses was laid out in front of him and a plush white towel hanging over one forearm.
"Still, I need to call you something," he said to her.
She glanced over herself and seemed to just now notice the velvet cat's tail standing up prettily from her backside. "I think Kitten will do."
He nodded again, pleased with how this was going. "My dear Kitten. At least one us requires wine, and I'm fairly certain it's me. Else I may find my courage abandoning me."
She leaned into his shoulder and whispered. "The bravery of men is quickened when women's breasts are bared, or so I hear."
He glanced at her pop-eyed, half expecting her to have exposed herself, and found himself laughing along with her. "Good God, Kitten. How is it our orbits have never crossed before tonight? I simply must see you out of that... mask."
She smiled again. "Orbits, how funny. I choose to call you The Astronomer."
They reached the waiter, a tall, stoic man who poured stiffly as The Astronomer indicated a particularly expensive red. "So will I be escorting you to the stars this evening, Kitten?"
"And all the way 'round the moon, it is to be hoped," she answered. She grinned a dazzling white smile at the waiter, who was pushing a cork back into the bottle; he appeared not to notice.
Just then the grand lime-colored double doors were flung open, and a squat little man entered, carried on a litter that rested across the shoulders of two heaving behemoths dressed as horses. Their hooves were felt mittens with openings underneath for their hands to peek through, and their faces were shadowed by the large overhang of their huge, horsey heads. The litter was all red satin and gold brocade, with embellishments of what looked like actual gold -- "Expensive prop for a rather silly party," The Astronomer muttered -- and the man who seated it was dressed just like the Devil. Two ornate black horns curled around the ghoulish red mask he wore; and his small suit, scarcely bigger than a boy's, was red with black trim. "Our dear host," Kitten whispered back to him, "is apparently not a man of much restraint."
"Ladies and gentlemen!" he cried, in a strikingly loud and high-pitched voice. The four-piece orchestra quit sawing at their violins and violas, and the pianist next to them tinkled to a stop. A man dropped two drinks he was carrying, and the crowd tittered. Some were still dancing and groping at one another; the scent of booze was faint but persistent.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he began again. "Sluts and cocksmiths, prostitutes and man-whores." A girl near the front dressed provocatively as a lady of the night smacked at the air in front of the litter playfully, as if offended. The rest of the crowd gasped and laughed. "Have I the right of it? Does it bother you if I call out your natures? No matter. While you drink my drink and eat my eats, you'll be called all manner of things -- the bulk of them crass and none of them flattering. Welcome to the Ball to End All, the Danse Macabre, the Masquerade of 1900."
The Astronomer leaned into Kitten and quipped, "This party has so many names, perhaps it could spare some for those of us with poor memories." And she replied: "Welcome? We've been dancing for days, it feels like, don't you think?"
The host continued undeterred over the muttering and laughter. "You've no doubt availed yourself of the services already. I hand-selected the lot of you, all known drinkers, gamblers, miscreants, cock-dippers and cock-gobblers. No one here is a teetotaler or a prude, and that is just as it should be. To life and all its pleasures! Drink up, you subhuman swine!" On that note he pulled from an enormous glass goblet full of frothy champagne, and around the room, a hundred vessels of all shapes and sizes were tipped back. A cheer went up and their host gestured to the band. "Make music, or I'll make you unemployed. Waiter, be quicker with the drinks; my guests are thirsty. And as for my guests -- be merry, for the night around us is full of things that go bump." He smacked his hands on the front rail of the litter and his horse-men almost dropped it. "Any man or woman who isn't well and truly fucked by the night's end... will be well, and truly, fucked. Now then!" Then the band took up a quicker song than before, and skirts began to whirl like pinwheels the room 'round.
The Astronomer took Kitten's hand -- she wore black satin gloves to her elbows, and her fingers slid seductively over everything she touched -- and escorted her to a calm eye in the mad storm of the dance. "Your drink," she muttered quietly and with a pleasant purr. "You're sure to spill."
"Then let's get it over with," he replied. He took a long swig and tossed the glass aside; two dancers parted and it flew between them and smashed against the wall.
"My learned Astronomer!" she giggled. "Our host will toss you."
"If he invites a bacchanal, he should fully expect one," The Astronomer replied. He tilted her floorward and then scooped her back up against his chest again. She wrapped her arms around his neck, careful not to knock off his hat or crumple his suit collar. Then the tails of his jacket and the hem of her gown soared wildly as they went for a quick spin.
"This music is... interesting," he said. "Has it taken a darker turn, just now?" Kitten tilted her head back, listening, her mouth slightly agape in a dazed smile. "I believe you're right. Those are very, very minor chords. That last bit was a tritone -- Diabolus in Musica."
He stared at her, bewildered and appreciative in equal measure. "You know your music, Kitten."
"Perhaps I should have been named The Musician," she said, tapping her finger on his stiff mask, just where his nose was hiding.
"So you shall be. In any case, that language is Greek to me -- but for a certainty, our host has instructed them to play some very devilish songs. I can't say I recognize them."
The Musician leaned into him, smiling. "I'm getting dizzy. Are you dizzy, Astronomer?"
"Come to that, I do feel a bit... off." He glanced around the room. The shutters had been opened, unseen by him, and a chill wind blew through the ballroom. Candles and lanterns the room 'round flickered and guttered -- some going out entirely, others throwing an eerie cascade of orange and red light over the arched ceiling high overhead. The faces of the dancers were transformed by shadow.
"Kiss me," The Musician whispered.
He looked at her, hanging weakly in his arms, and could not help but comply. Her lips were soft as dewdrops; he brushed his harder mouth over hers gently, so as not to break them. When they parted, the smallest drop of wetness tied them together -- then snapped and returned to her delicate lower lip. Tiny dark furrows creased the rose-pink surface. Even tinier pale hairs sprung almost invisibly from her flushed cheeks. He felt as if he was spilling into her, never to come up for air.
"Look," she said, or slurred; he could not tell if she was drunk or he was. "Look, they're all kissing."
And so they were. The Astronomer adjusted his mask, the eyeholes suddenly seeming to constrict his vision uncomfortably. All around them, the two tunnels he was peering through fell on couples locked in amorous embrace, ravishing each others' mouths and necks. Strangers behaved like familiar lovers, and in the midst of an enormous group, each couple acted as if they were alone.
Next to them a woman's thigh went up, her dress lifting up to her hip. Her dancing partner had his one hand hooked under her knee, and as she laughed too wildly and loudly, his other hand went directly to her silk-covered mound and rubbed insistently against it. The Musician was shocked into silence, her mouth hanging open; The Astronomer whirled them away in a new direction.
"Well that certainly was inappropriate," he said to her, flustered. She put her head back and let it sway from side to side freely. "I have decided... to call you... Headmaster," she sung. "Since you insist so much on proper conduct. But I'll still go home with you, if you promise to take a stiff rule to my backside."
Disconcerted as he was, he couldn't help but laugh. "Did you listen to what you just said to me?"
She jerked forward and kissed him again, and it was very much the opposite of their first kiss -- rough, bruising, her tongue separating his lips near the end. He was very taken aback and tried to stammer out some kind of response, but found that his words had left him. She grinned widely -- though her eyes were fixed in some distant spot on the ceiling -- and said, "Any stiff thing you want to put in my backside now, Headmaster?"
He felt something at his waist, in the front, and thought for a moment she was trying to undress him; but when he squirmed slightly away he saw that in fact, her knuckles had brushed against him as they clutched at her own skirt. She was pulling it up in bunches, baring milky leg and white garter and miles of lace; and he blushed hotly. "Good God, my Musician. Now is not the time."
She pouted. "They say there is no time like the present. And I could use a present, darling." Her ruffled hem raised to her waist, and he caught just a sliver of white satin hugging the gentle V between her legs.
"D-dance now," he stuttered. "That -- later." He took up her hand again and sighed with relief as her skirt dropped.
She was still pretending to be hurt and chastised, but then her eyes sprung open. "Oh, look at the ghosts. What fun!"
He swung around so that he could see what she had been staring at, and she leaned back to keep her eyes on it. The ghosts were a small group of men who'd come in head-to-toe folds of white, with elaborately spooky masks of white ceramic that had enormous, black-painted hollows where the eyes should go. He wondered how they could see, or even if they could; they had scarcely moved from their corner of the ballroom all evening. Now for the first time they appeared to dance, swaying in place and their heavy cloaks billowing this way and that. He smiled -- and then he realized. A pair of black woman's shoes, with delicate women's feet in them, was emerging toes-down from the front of one ghost's costume. Another of them lifted up his cloak and exposed the woman inside to the entire room; she wore nothing but stockings and garters, and her pink-tipped breasts swung heavily as she sucked at him.
Headmaster looked around the room and saw that the dance was beginning to descend into something entirely more open and wild. Men and women were pulling off each other's clothes -- as were women and women, and men and men. All reservations and social niceties seemed to have been drowned in drink. Fifteen feet away, a woman collapsed indelicately to the floor, then hiked up her dress so her partner could bury his face in her undergarments. Desperate fingers pulled the silk to one side, and she groaned aloud as his lips kissed her more southward pair. A nearby couple stopped spinning to watch, and as the man stood gaping, his woman -- dressed and painted in garish yellow-green, and her cheeks and hair doused liberally with sparkling glitter -- casually unbuttoned his trousers and flopped his rising member into a waiting silk glove. Headmaster found himself gaping now too, and watched as this malevolent faerie masturbated the bare cock with both hands. He was pulling The Musician away with him when white cream began to spurt forth.
"Some dark magic is in the air," he shouted. He had to shout, to be heard over the din. All around them, women were moaning and men were grunting with lust. The band had reached a fever pitch, the strings screeching away as the piano banged out black tones. Someone threw something onto the oil lamps that flanked the doors, and it went off with a shattering BANG, throwing up showers of red sparks and filling the air with tendrils of sulfur-smelling smoke. Their host and his litter had disappeared, Headmaster noticed, but he couldn't tell where -- back out of the ballroom entirely, perhaps. Those horse-men were hard to overlook, even in this crowd.
Hands began to grope at him now, and only two of them belonged to The Musician. He scurried through uncomfortably, a swelling erection suddenly making it difficult to walk. A large woman dressed as a bloody bride (he hoped the blood was not real -- though it might have been spilled rum punch) clutched brazenly at his member and almost got a hold on it, but his lovely Musician swung between them and saved his skin and dignity. She laughed at his embarrassment, then laughed even more loudly as a man fondled her breasts from behind. Headmaster pulled her free of him, without being quite sure she wanted to be.
They bumped up against a tight wall of bodies now, and it stopped their progress -- though which way they were even headed now, he could scarcely tell. Men in their suit-coats and masks were shouting at something or someone. They stood arm to arm, forming a ring in the center of the room. Headmaster thrust his head over someone's shoulder and saw there was a rather more shocking sort of thrusting going on.
In the middle of the ring, a woman was on all fours, her gown pushed up and down to form a tight bunch around her waist. Her corset was partly torn open, dumping out about half of each breast including her very erect red nipples. Her mask had slipped up her face partway, blinding her, but she didn't seem to notice or care much. From the hips down she was bare. Men stood fore and aft, pushing slick poles into her red-painted mouth and pink cunt. With each thrust at either end, the crowd celebrated and slapped the men on their backs. Headmaster noticed that some of them had their own cocks out, and were wildly pulling on them, balls flapping. Someone spilled a glass of booze, and it sloshed with a slap across her shoulders; she didn't even react.
"Something is quite wrong here," he muttered. Then he felt The Musician leaning against his back, craning her neck for a look. She giggled and whispered breathily in his ear, "I could use some of what she's having, Headmaster. Want to get another man and make a go of it?"
He pulled her away, almost carrying her bodily toward the edges of the ballroom. There was a secondary exit on the south wall, nearly opposite of the main entrance, and he thought he could get them to it. Meanwhile he noticed with dismay the blackness of her eyes. Her pupils had opened so wide that they threatened to swallow the lovely gray-blue he had admired when he first laid eyes on her. It sometimes seemed as if she forgot when her mouth was open, and her jaw hung dumbly, tongue flickering behind a perfect row of teeth.
They stepped past men fucking women, and over a man fucking a man. Headmaster had never seen such a thing before -- the lower participant was ass-up, trousers around his ankles, and his head literally knocked against the floor as he was pounded from behind. They took up so much space that he could only step over their coupled left legs, then again over the right ones. At last they reached the doorway and pushed out into the great hall that wrapped around the ballroom.
The banner they had smiled at upon entering seemed much more sinister now. A great roll of black fabric trimmed with ornate red shapes, it depicted the exaggerated silhouettes of witches, demons, ghosts and goblins -- all those proverbial things that went bump in the night. Some poor seamstress had cut thousands of individual tree branches to complete a spooky skyline, and in back, the blood-red moon as well. Headmaster stared at it a moment. "When did we come in, my Musician? I've seen all of this before, but it feels like... lifetimes ago."
She smiled under lidded eyes. "Wasn't it? I'm tired of your current name, my Headmaster. Let's think up a new one."
He blinked, trying to swim upward through confusion. But which way was up? "You know, I wasn't kidding when I told you I couldn't remember my name."
"Nor I," she laughed. It was the tinkling of a broken bell.
"Come to that, I can't remember... anything." He looked at her earnestly. "Can you? Do you remember who you are, what you do -- whether you're a seamstress, a teacher, a housewife? Your age or your schooling? Do you even remember why you're here?"
She thought about this, her face scrunched up in a most appealing way. "No." Then she smacked his arm playfully. "You and your riddles. You are The Sphinx." Her legs wobbled drunkenly and she drooped against his side.
"And you, The Siren," he told her. "Impossible for me to leave you here, yet I suspect you lure me to my certain doom." He pulled her up again, even though his own head was spinning -- or the hall and its tables and tapestries were spinning around it. "Let's get out of here."
She mumbled, "You promised me a good hard... punishment."
He smiled a bit sadly. "I fear we're both being punished already."
He understood the shape of the house, or so he thought. But as they went down the hall he found he couldn't remember or guess which door led to which room -- and most importantly, which might lead outside. At the L-turn they found themselves staring down a corridor that seemed too long for the width of the room they had left earlier; in fact it seemed impossibly long, the end of it receding into darkness rather than coming to a wall or another junction of some kind. The vast green double doors that opened into the ballroom were there, though; and outside of them, a throng had congregated around the gold-and-red litter. The horse-men were now on their hands and knees, the cumbersome costume heads pushed down their backs; they were satisfying two women with their mouths even as the handles of the litter rested across their shoulders. How they'd managed to get into such a position without dropping it, Sphinx could not tell, and in fact as he watched the spectacle one side slipped and dumped the entire thing awkwardly onto the ground. But their host was no longer in it.
For a moment more he watched the group moaning and fondling each other, dresses hiked up and trousers undone. Then he pulled his Siren back the way they had come. "Not there," he whispered. "The doors, try the doors. One of these has to get us out of this madhouse."