The Lead Death: A Bloody Masquerade
(with great appreciation to Edgar Allan Poe)
The Lead Death had long devastated the country. It had struck down pleasure-seekers in movie theaters, concerts, and clubs; worshipers in churches; students in high schools, colleges, and even, on one particularly horrific day, in an elementary school. No man-made pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Among the grisliest of deaths, it left its victims blood-drenched and shattered—often torn into an unidentifiable mass of shredded flesh—in mere seconds.
In groups large and small, or one at a time, altogether this plague was taking thousands of lives each year, leaving many thousands more physically and mentally scarred. And yet there were those who claimed that it wasn’t a problem at all, always pointing to some other culprit for the country’s woes, or declaring that this was the price of living “free.” They believed that there was actually a good side to the pestilence, that it could guard against other ailments (though it had not proven very effective at this), and that the people in fact had a sacred right to use it in this way, no matter the cost. It could not be helped, they said, that some would abuse this right. All agreed that it was unfortunate that the price of freedom was sometimes so high, but what could they do? Their very way of life was at stake, and nothing was more valuable.
Even some who made these claims, however, chose to shield themselves from the scourge. They lived in safety behind their fortress walls, where none could harm them. Lord Pierre was one of these, a man who in fact prospered greatly from the Lead Death, for lead and steel were his stock-in-trade. It served him, then, to claim that the plague was harmless, or that the harm it caused was tolerable, for it was the plague itself that had gained him his great wealth. He and his cohorts not only held that the malady provided defense against other ills, but they had even convinced a significant number of citizens that it could somehow cure itself—and thus their profits increased each time it struck. They’d always been sure to express their “thoughts and prayers” after an attack, though they mostly prayed that no real steps would be taken to end the slaughter, for where would they and their empire be then? And so the pestilence grew ever more vast, ever more deadly…
After yet another attack, Lord Pierre felt it was time to boost morale amongst his fellows, and so he decided to throw an extravagant costume party at his well-guarded mansion. He invited all of his most elite friends and acquaintances, including those whom he had helped to make rich, and who had enriched him in turn, as well as those whom he had helped to attain some of the highest offices in the land. He was eager to show off the splendor of his magnificent home to any who had not yet seen it. Most of the house was painted in the purest white, almost blinding to behold. The grand hall which served as the main hub of the party was brightly lit by a huge, garish chandelier, the better to flaunt both the resplendent surroundings and the dazzling costumes of those gathered there. As far as the eye could see, gold décor adorned white walls, and all sorts of creatures, from the beautiful to the repulsive, talked and drank and danced, or simply stood in awe of the whole scene. Some arrived in royal fashion, donning lavish gowns and robes, along with bejeweled crowns and tiaras. Many chose light-hearted, whimsical images such as clowns or furry animals. Others went for a more macabre effect, sporting sharp teeth and spots of red dripping from mouths and throats.
Guests wandered freely through the several rooms adjacent to the hall, each of which was decorated in a different theme. Each theme was more fanciful than the last, and a perfect escape from the worries of the world outside. First, there was the Tropical Paradise, where mermaids danced with pirates; after that came the Royal Court, where illustrious characters sat on plush purple-cushioned golden thrones. Across the hall, a brilliant, glittering ball hung from the ceiling of the lively Discotheque, while next door, astronauts cavorted with aliens in the gleaming Space Station.
In all these rooms, the mood was cheerful and exuberant, and laughter and music overflowed from them into the hall and into each other. Those joyful sounds faded, however, when one reached the room at the end of the hall, which was set some distance from the rest. Unlike the others, this one had not been adapted for the night’s festivities, but rather kept in its usual state. It contrasted starkly with the other rooms in color and décor, and the lights had been deliberately kept dim to enhance its already somewhat sinister atmosphere. In this dark enclave, against blood red walls, were mounted the heads of nearly every great beast imaginable, and photographs of even more vanquished creatures, their smiling killers standing proudly with weapons in hand. In the eerie light, the animals’ faces seemed to take on almost human expressions. Also on display, in several glass cases, was a sizeable collection of firearms. It consisted mostly of the types in the photographs, the beast-killers, but alongside these were the models used in the most recent attacks of civilians by civilians—weapons of war exalted here as holy relics.
Most of the party’s attendees chose to avoid the room, or hurried quickly through it and past its many empty, staring eyes. They were unsure why the place made them feel so uneasy; they were accustomed to seeing such things, and more than a few of them had similar collections in their own homes. Nevertheless, they found themselves suddenly having reason to seek out someone or something from one of the other rooms, where they quickly forgot about the anxiety that had briefly taken hold of them. There were those, however, who lingered a long while and gazed, apparently mesmerized, at the room’s grim contents. They were perhaps imagining their own heroic exploits to come.
There was another object in the room that sooner or later grabbed one’s attention, and which was a likely cause of some of the guests’ unease: on the wall near the entrance hung a large and unusual clock. A gift from a business associate, the fairly ridiculous novelty item was intended as something of a joke, but it was a perfect addition to the Hunters’ Room. Set against a bullseye background, the short and long hands of the clock were made to look like a Colt .45 and an AR 15, respectively. When the rifle pointed straight up at the twelve, the sound of shots would ring out to count the hour. Above each number was written a short message, starting with “Put your hands up” at one o’clock, the threat level increasing from there (the little Colt had most recently hit eleven o’clock’s “This is your last chance”). The “shots” did not sound especially realistic; nevertheless, they could give one quite a start if he or she were not expecting it. The effect it had on this night, though, was less of shock than of apprehension. Whenever the clock “fired,” those partygoers who were in earshot of it would suddenly look around anxiously, even expectantly, though what it was they were expecting they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say. Then, after a few seconds, they’d laugh at themselves and at each other and go on with their revelry. Most had been told about the clock, or had seen it themselves, so they knew that there was nothing to fear, but still they had the same reaction every time the faux shots rang out—hyper-alertness, confusion, dread, and finally laughter again.
With so much activity and so many crowding the place, it was easy to miss a new arrival. The next individual to arrive, however, did not go unnoticed for long. Though he had somehow entered without being seen, once he set foot in the busy hall, all eyes began turning toward him. He was tall and thin, and appeared to be covered in blood which seemed to ooze from countless wounds all over his body. Bits of what looked like organs and bone stuck out in places, and some of the wounds were so deep, it was hard to believe that a complete, healthy body could possibly exist beneath the costume. He wore a long, black coat that was so threadbare and torn in parts that the dreadful gore was easily visible underneath it. The image was clearly meant as a portrayal of one the scourge’s victims. As he passed by, quite a few comments were made (in low voices) on the tastelessness of it; how dare he dishonor the victims in this way? It was simply beyond the pale. The victims and their families deserved the people’s thoughts and prayers, not this disgusting mockery. And to spoil such a festive occasion with this unpleasantness; didn’t he realize this was not the time to be thinking of such things? If it were meant to be funny, the joke had been taken much too far, and no one was laughing.
When the master of the house heard of this outrage, he set out to find the offender himself; he knew no one he had invited would have done a thing like this. He made sure, of course, to call for his security team, because after all, a deviant like that could be dangerous. It was a mystery how the uninvited guest had gotten past them in the first place, but now that they were aware of him, the guards were ordered to escort the man from the premises. However, as they approached him, they were suddenly seized by a shock of horror, and found themselves unable to move. At this distance, it was even easier to see the gory detail of his apparent injuries, and even harder to believe there could be a living being underneath. Half of the face looked as if it had been ripped open, and there, parts of the skull appeared to be visible. Where an eye should have been, there was only a gaping, bloody hole.
All stood frozen in place as the monstrous apparition crept steadily down the hall, past the cheerfully decorated rooms where still more eyes turned to watch him as he made his way to the dark, red room at the end of the hall. Lord Pierre, growing frustrated and impatient with his guards’ inability or unwillingness to deal with the intruder, and ashamed of his own inaction, grabbed one of the guards’ sidearms and hurried to catch up to the man. This seemed to jolt the guards out of their paralysis, for they quickly joined him in the chase. A good portion of the crowd followed, albeit more apprehensively. By the time they caught up to the gruesome figure, he was standing in front of the firearms display cases, his wounds appearing to advertise the effectiveness of the deadly items they held. Lord Pierre took aim at the stranger, who remained silent and still, showing no response whatsoever to his pursuer, nor to the lethal object now pointed at his own head—save for the one calm, scrutinizing eye which now fixed itself in Lord Pierre’s direction. The latter faltered for a moment, but his rage soon overcame his fear.
“Who the hell are you?” he shouted. “How dare you come into my home like this? Have you no respect or decency?” Still no response—just the staring eye. Lord Pierre screamed now, his face twisted with rage. “GET OUT OR DIE!”
The man slowly began to lift a massive weapon of his own that he seemed to have conjured from nowhere. It surely could not have been hidden under his thin coat, nor could he have taken it from one of the locked cases without breaking the glass. But it did look familiar to Lord Pierre, whose eyes scanned the back wall frantically until he noticed an empty space where his favorite semi-automatic should have been. Impossible. Somehow, it was now in the blood-soaked hands of the intruder. Just then, the clock struck midnight, its phony shots piercing the air. Several people screamed and ran back up the hall, but a few remained, drawing their own, very real, weapons as they surrounded their target. They were not about to miss the chance they’d been waiting for. In their madness, Lord Pierre and his allies were now utterly blind to all except the dark, armed figure before them as all at once they aimed, and all at once they fired. The man hadn’t even pulled the trigger when bullets began flying toward him; he stood unmoving as those bullets soared across the room, flew harmlessly through his gaunt frame, and tore straight into those encircling him. All around them, chunks of wall, glass, and animal matter exploded in every direction. When the shooting stopped, only one was left standing. The black-clad figure stepped solemnly over the dead, both human and animal eyes gazing blankly now. More guests ran shrieking for the exits as they saw him enter the hall, rifle still raised. Again there were those who reached for their own weapons, albeit in as much a state of panic as those running away. Frantic in their terror and disbelief, they shot wildly at the wretched creature, until at last everyone in sight had fallen, suffering the same fate as their host and his companions, each of them left with wounds as gruesome as those of the bloody stranger. But his body was not among the fallen dead, nor was it still standing as before. All that remained was the carnage he had left behind. The clock, like all else, had fallen silent and would remain that way, having been hit in the crossfire. The miniature barrels of the clock’s hands were aimed toward the twelve, pointing directly at the message that read, simply, “Your time is up.”
And Darkness and Decay and the Lead Death held illimitable dominion over all, even those who had profited by it the most, for in the hall another message had appeared, in the darkest blood on the whitest wall:
LIVE BY THE GUN, DIE BY THE GUN.
My name is Joela Bezzeg, and I live in Albuquerque with my twin sister. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics and Spanish.