They enter the ballroom through the narrow back entrance, the door swinging open wildly, clamoring against the bronzed walls.
At the front of the procession stands a man in greasy, leather boots. Donned entirely in black, he struts forwards with the confidence of a thousand, hungry men. A cigarette rests betwixt his furled lips, and he roughly shakes the dirty chain in his right hand to the rhythm of the brass band and strings.
Men and women dance to the orchestra’s song, sumptuous satin dresses and fluorescent hair swirling through the commercialized air. Then, one by one, they stop to stare at the riches they are offered.
You cannot see them at first, but then they follow behind, on muddy, trampled feet. Scores upon scores of young men and women, some crying, some shouting, some perfectly emotionless. Each one shares two similarities; the filthy bedraggled rags barely covering their shivering frames and the chains. Charcoal, rusty chains swamping their terracotta hands, making them appear minuscule and childish in comparison.
The people in the ballroom grew excited at the sight. Dancing under the gilded chandelier, they cackled under their Venetian masks. The masquerade ball is an ocean of sultry kittens, raucous rabbits and eagle-eyed hawks emblazoned in shades of garnet, amethyst, and topaz.
A passing lady grabs the solitary slave at the end of the queue, scratching her acrylic claws into the virgin’s flesh. It blisters at contact, a heinous bruise sweltering on the figures upper arm. A startled shriek erupts from the girl, interrupting the orchestra’s glorious sonata.
The man with the bloodstained boots continues to pull them forward. As he reaches the center of the ballroom, he drops his dying cigarette to the floor, it rests beside a tiny liquor bottle.
One dying pianissimo, and the orchestra turns silent.
The offerings are lined up, ten in total, staring down at the marble floor. They see their eyes reflect before them, pleading for release. Then the marble is stained crimson, and their ears drowning in screams, as the first of the ten is taken down.
Scraps of graying rags are torn from his caramel body, as he is forced to the ground and they climb upon him. Transgressions of the highest excess are played upon him, as he is violated both inside and out.
Then the second one fell to similar circumstances, a trembling woman whose throat is torn asunder, its remnants glittering like a million diamonds upon the richest tapestries and stained glass windows.
The tenth and final offering continued to watch her reflection in the marble flooring, as one by one another scream is heard, alongside the gnawing and crackling of bone, the gushing of bodily fluids reaching uninhibited destinations.
Until a mask falls to her feet. The crimson face of the sultry kitten, and the face beneath is revealed to all.
And this face is one of fury.
Then, one by one, more masks fall. A magenta falcon, a lapis peacock, a golden wolf.
She is now the last remaining offering, but nobody approaches her, they are full and sick of this tradition.
A single arrow is shot from a bow and strikes through the heart of the man reaching for a second cigarette. The liquor bottle at his feet smashes. His muffled coughing lasts for several moments, and then the room descends into anarchy.
The girl is no longer staring at her reflection on the marble ground. She sees a key, festering in the remains of a man’s chest cavity, and she reaches for it without another thought.
It is slippery and slim, but through sheer determination, it fits in the lock, and her wrists are released. She ducks, hearing an arrow whizz past her ear, then climbs up to her blistered feet.
And she runs.
Check out the rest of my series, A Tendency for Bitterness, here!
Copyright © 2017 Rebecca Sherratt