The King (A Masquerade)

This selection is from NonBinary Review Issue #5: The King in Yellow. Get NonBinary Review #5 from the Zoetic Press website. 

You are in a ballroom and you are dancing.
It is a masquerade, and your mask is very heavy. The song they play is full of longing,
the man you dance with hums pieces of it to himself. His mask all silver and sequins,
everywhere else he is black.
‘Who are you?’ He whispers, close to your ear. He sounds young, but the way he holds you… it raises the question.
And when everyone else breaks away, he’s still holding on. You only gesture politely. Silently.
He hesitates before letting go, bowing. You move across the room to a window. I am not supposed to be here.

The reflection of your costume over the dark trees outside: Your fox-fur mask and cheap shoes.
Something moves out in the darkness, the shadows seem to lengthen
and you wonder if you are dreaming.

A woman’s hand on your shoulder, ‘Someone’s asking for you upstairs.’
‘…whom did they call upon?’
Behind her porcelain mask, she laughs, ‘The Fox.’ ‘I will…be along shortly.’
She pauses. ‘I was asked to escort you.’ ‘I should like a drink first.’
Her painted face only stares.
How much does she know?
‘We will be waiting in the library.’ You watch her go in the reflection, holding your breath.

She speaks to the Silver Man at the foot of the stair.
He knows. They know. I was not invited.
Don’t go to the door, not yet! they’re watching…
A drink first, like you said. Then the door.
Then the night.

Guy Fawkes is tending the bar, he watches you approach. ‘Vermouth on the rocks.’
He only nods, his cheap mask shifting. All of the servants are the Guy, tonight. Makes them easy to spot.

When he hands you the drink, his fingers linger over yours.
‘I think they are coming for you.’ ‘A man in silver?’
He nods.
You open your mouth to speak, but the quartet cuts you off. You move, as fast as you can, through the crowd.
Trying to look calm, trying to breath.
The Others are beginning to notice your panic.
This was a mistake.

You can hear their muffled whispers as you pass.   Instinct grips you and you can feel the animal slipping in. The Hyades reaches it’s crescendo.
All you can think, over and over:
Not here. Not here. I do not belong here.
Your mask is tight now and the pain, beginning in your bones, is immense.
The Vermouth falls to the floor and you, right after,
writhing on the hardwood.

The guests crowd around, Silver Man pushing through. ‘Someone take off her mask.’
You try to push them back, try to scream.
One of them rips the mask from your face, and drops it in horror. You have already begun changing.
Camilla screams. Everyone backs away,
but no one can look anywhere else. Your body is shrinking.
Bones snap and relocate.
Your skin burns as fine red hairs grow out of every inch of you
and you howl like a beast for the wild.

By the time it is done,
you are heaving on the floor, back to your old self.
You try to scramble away on all fours, but the Silver Man has you in his arms. You’re too weak to fight him.
Even with your eyes closed you can tell, he is taking you up the stairs, to Him.
The Silver Man chuckles, ‘It is a fearful thing,
to fall into the hands of The Living God.’

End of Act I

M.W. Mani Studied Theatre at Washington State University. He currently lives in Portland, OR.