By Rebecca Fletcher
Masks drop at midnight.
That is the only rule given on the gold-embossed invitations for the masquerade ball. Come disguised as whatever you fancy – for deceit is the name of the game – only be prepared to lose your façade just as Cinderella would.
In a cocoon of colour and light, the music leads a giddy crowd, drunk on the wine and the general splendour of the night, in their dances. Women dressed as men, men dressed as beasts, and a cacophony of colour in between. A dragon spins by the entrance, laughing in the arms of a weeping clown, when a young trio walks in. Even masks cannot hide that they are the closest of companions as they laugh and chatter, arm in arm.
The slender butterfly, draped in emerald and black, is quickly ensnared in a circle of gaily-masked men, all vying to be the first to spin in the fluttering dance. It doesn’t seem to matter to them that the face of their partner is a mystery, veiled by rich green wings. Only a set of deep blue eyes, and full crimson lips are visible, and that is enough for the dancers. Every eye finds the butterfly at some point in the night, flashing either with envy or desire.
The sun and moon shared the face of the second youth. A long face, divided by golden rays and a silver glow, she remains at her friend’s side the entire evening, casting wary glances about as if afraid to see some ghost of her past. She turns down several offers to dance, save one. And to this offer, she is already nodding before the question has even escaped the young man’s lips. The sun and moon seem brighter for the smile on her face.
The third’s face is enveloped in the roaring face of a blazing lion, and her own voice is nearly as loud as one. Not one inch of the hall goes without being danced upon, not one guest will end the night without hearing her roar. No one is certain if the beast is drunk, or naturally so alive and flashy. When separated from both of her friends, if anything, she becomes wilder. Her feral grin just barely peers out from under the rim of the mask as she falls in with new companions, and burns away the night.
Midnight calls its presence, and the masks begin to clatter to the floor, or into the hands of the more careful guests. The butterfly is hesitant, dainty fingers dancing around the edges, before finally tearing it away with one decisive motion. Many of the male admirers start at the sight of their fellow sex, turned red at the stares, no longer as friendly. Some laugh at their own expense. Deceit is the name of the game, after all. The onlookers seem amused by the reactions. Few think to take pity on the wilted butterfly, who can barely bring himself to laugh at his own joke.
When the sun and moon are removed, the mask splits down the centre, revealing its true nature as a pair, and her dancing partner backs away, enraged by the face of the love he’d once scorned. In scarlet ink on the inside of the sun was delicately penned, ‘for my dearest Ian, the light in my darkness’. With one half in either hand, she wanted to hurl the sun at his sneering face. But she merely laughs, and claims not to have thought it to be him at all.
As for the lion, there are no surprises behind her mask. Her demeanour does not change at the stroke of twelve, nor does some magic spell around her break. Her powerful beauty is as expected, and her voice never wavers after the revelation. But on the inside of the golden lion’s face in her hands, lies the grey-brown complexion of a mouse. The side of the mask that only the wearer ever sees before donning their disguise. Though her mask is gone, the facade remains in her boisterous laughter, for deceit is the name of the game. Few notice when her smile vanishes.
Perhaps the invitations were not specific enough.
Masks fall at midnight…
Be sure to wear two.