“A bold, aristocratic voice spoke from behind the guests, ‘It seems I have gotten here just in time; I am Perfecto Rosso. Welcome to my estate and The Fall Ball!’ “
Dr’s Gregor and Gray Garson’s richly upholstered, German sedan pulled regally up the estate’s drive, cruised around the imposing fountain and parked in a space by the generous topiaries.
Dr. Gray held Dr. Gregor’s arm as they crossed the expansive gravel drive and around the fountain, which was well-lit with red lights. Within the pool of the gushing fountain loomed a marble statue of a hooded figure carrying a sickle. Neither of the Doctor Garson’s cared to look at or remark upon the red hooded fountain.
At the estate’s door, the doctors’ white lab coats were tinged pink from the lighting. Dr. Gray stretched her husband’s labcoat across his walrus belly and fastened the button. He planted a bristly kiss on her smooth, prim cheek and knocked with authority.
A woman in a French Maid costume swung open the door with energy and flair, exposing a revealing an expansive, high ceilinged, richly draped, receiving hall.
“Hello!” the French Maid, her French accent jubilant and buoyant, skirt short and perky, black hair curled thickly around the white lace headband, “Welcome to The Fall Ball! Our host will be with us shortly, in the meantime, please follow me.”
The French Maid sashed the Doctor’s Garson into a mahogany, glass and leather sitting room, fixed them Scotch soda’s and excused herself to answer the doorbell’s boom.
The Doctor’s were comfortable on a leather chaise when the French maid re-entered, escorting a sumptuous woman, splendid and expensive in golden silk gown, jeweled clutch and spike heels.
“May I please introduce Miss Annabelle,” announced the French Maid.
“Hello Miss Annabelle,” said the Mrs. Dr. Gray Garson smoothly, patting her tightly pinned bun, “Don’t you look quite beautiful this evening.”
“Miss Annabelle, do you care for a glass of champagne?” offered the maid, as Annabelle offered her hand and introduction to Dr. Gray.
“Champagne sounds lovely, dear, thank you.”
“Ahem. Miss Annabelle…”
“Annabelle is fine, sir.”
The French Maid handed Annabelle her coupe of champagne and the vintage wine sparkled like the lovely lady.
“Ahem, fine. Ahem, Annabelle, the invitation requested for the guests to come dressed in the garments of their occupation. I can not image for the life of me a useful occupation that would allow a woman to wear a dress like that,” said Dr. Gregor Garson.
Annabelle laughed like a crystal chandelier, “I’m afraid you have no imagination, Dr. Garson. Might I comment on how you and your wife dress exactly the same, right down to the sensible shoes? No harm to you Dr. Grey, I have a playful party curiosity, like your husband Dr. Gregor.”
The French Maid giggled into her Burgundy and interrupted, “Dr. Gregor, the invitation requested guests come dressed in the “personality of their profession”, which could mean many things, metaphoric or actual. With the research you and your wife do, you could have dressed as an early explorer: courageous, curious and carrying invisible bullets. Besides, Dr. Gregor, you know I’m not a French Maid.”
Dr. Gray responded, stared steely at the French Maid, “Our professional personalities are reflected in our clean, clinically approved lab coats, the uniform of doctors. I respect your curiosity, Annabelle, though I am more caught up wondering where our host, Sir Perfecto Rosso, is.”
“Sir Rosso will be with us shortly, I am sure,” answered the French Maid.
The silence was filled with drinking and broken by the French Maid flouncing out to answer the door.
Annabelle crossed the room like a shooting star and pulled the heavy champagne bottle from the ice, “I am wondering why there aren’t more guests at this party?”
The bottle slipped from Annabelle’s hand when the French Maid announced, “May I please introduce The Judge and his wife Jenevieve.”
Annabelle took a deep breath and turned beautifully to meet the new guests.
The Judge wore the white powder wig, black robe and stone cold, heavily lined face of historic inquisitors. Jenevieve was strong and bold, draped in white like a goddess, but with arm and leg armor, a broad sword and scales.
“I’m Lady Justice. I’ve got the eye mask too, but it would have been quite difficult to make it through the house with it on.”
The Doctor’s Garson laughed and made acquaintance, the French Maid watched as Annabelle feigned disinterest.
“Young lady,” beckoned The Judge to the French Maid, “Since you have still not offered me or my wife a drink, could you at least please tell us where our host is this evening? I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him before tonight and I must say I’m puzzled by the invitation.”
A bold, aristocratic voice spoke from behind the guests, “It seems I have gotten here just in time; I am Perfecto Rosso. Welcome to my estate and The Fall Ball!”
Perfecto Rosso had a long face, strong Roman nose and dark hair, slicked with perfumed pomade. His strong chest and broad shoulders were accented by his costume of silk robe, matching pants and embroidered house shoes. The French Maid handed him scotch neat.
“No doubt Annabelle expected a much larger gala, while most certainly The Judge expected a more familiar guest list. Have no worries; the night will not disappoint,” stated Perfecto Rosso
The Judge insisted, “But I still do not know why my wife and I were invited to such an intimate gathering, sir.”
Annabelle included, “I attended because of the reputation of your parties, Sir Rosso, not because of our familiarity. I apologize, from their reputation, your parties are always more garish.”
Dr. Gregor interrupted, “Ahem. Well I am honoured to finally meet you Sir Rosso. I am Dr. Gregor Garson and this is my wife Dr. Gray Garson. Your support has allowed our research to continue.”
“Yes, of course, your research has been a fascinating distraction from the dull world of managing my wealth. Now if you will please follow me to the dining hall, we can get better acquainted and enjoy dinner; The Chef has been hard at work preparing a very complex menu.”
Perfecto, the French Maid, Annabelle, Dr. Grey, Dr. Gregor, The Judge and Jenevieve passed from the sitting room, through the great entranceway and into the dining hall.
“Please let us have a seat at the table now, then we can enjoy the fireside couches later. I hope the ladies aren’t too offended by my hunting trophies and firearms displays. I am fascinated by big game.”
Perfecto Rosso took his seat at the head of the table, with the gentleman doctor and judge flanking him, the lady doctor and sterling wife accompanying their husbands, with Annabelle, golden and gorgeous at the table cap.
The French Maid refreshed the guest’s drinks and flounced into the kitchen, the heavy door swinging behind her. She spun around and came right back out, carrying a tray of canapés, followed by The Chef, who also carried a hors d’oeuvre platter.
Jenevieve made room on the table for her sword and scales when her cold blue eyes burned like forged metal and locked on The Chef. The Chef, who wore kitchen whites, served his appetizers with indifference until he got to Jenevieve. Their fingers brushed, a familiar, friendly gesture and a gasp came around the room. Jenevieve and The Chef panicked until they saw the real cause of the shock: The French Maid and Perfecto Rosso wrapped in a long, passionate embrace.
Perfecto pulled his lips away, but not his familiar hands, “I suppose I should introduce the hostess of the party, the French Maid is my wife, Paulette Rosso.”
Paulette Rosso’s eyelids were half-drawn bedroom curtains and her arms remained wrapped around her husband, “No need for formalities, you may call me Paulette.”
“My dear, beautiful, wife Paulette. You were so eager to play the French Maid tonight, to pretend you were servile. So young, so beautiful… So vile!”
Perfecto pulled Paulette away from himself by her long black hair, jerking her head and neck back.
Paulette gave a short scream and all the guests gasped.
“What’s the big idea pulling her hair like that,” The Chef demanded, dropping his platter on the table by Jenevieve’s sword.
Paulette stood still, her head yanked tight, eyes wide, small fearful noises coming from deep inside.
“Yes sir, do please let the lady go… We will leave and allow you to have this family disturbance in private,” the Doctors got up to leave.
“You will find all the doors are locked,” replied Perfecto, his wife’s strangled cry of terror punctuated and confirmed the confinement. “Doctors, you might want to sit down; this concerns you very much.”
The Doctors remained standing next to their chairs.
“In fact, this concerns all of you very much.”
Prospero took the large carving knife from the sideboard and slit his wife’s neck from ear to ear, along her costume’s black ribbon choker. Blood squirted out of the gaping wound and sprayed the room, the table and the party’s guests. The Doctor’s lab coats splattered with blood gave the appearance of mad scientists, and though was not visible on the Judge’s robes, his powdered hair and face had red Rorschach splotches. Blood pooled Jenevieve’s scales and silver armor and Annabelle’s gold silk was stained with running red. Rivers of blood dripped down the sides of the tablecloth, the whole of the serving set becoming saturated. Small flecks dotted Perfecto Rosso’s crows feet, “My wife Paulette was infected with the Red Death, a germ formulated by the Doctors Garson.”
The Doctors gasped, “We do not make germs! You of all people know our research, our generous benefactor; we make beauty products!”
Perfecto laughed a long, hearty laugh, “Oh yes, please inject spider venom to paralyze the muscles in a lady’s face to prevent wrinkles! A ridiculous notion! We took your silly ideas of vanity and made the paralyzing agent stronger and more resilient; it contracts and squeezes the muscles, raising blood pressure so high that blood weeps from the pores and eyes, leaving enemies alive, yet paralyzed until they bleed out.”
Everyone agape, Perfecto continued, “Now, of course, you didn’t know that we had changed the solution when my wife came to you for a facial treatment, did you?”
The wide-eyed doctors shook their heads, “no”.
“Yes, doctors, your research will lead to many slow, painful deaths. My naïve wife wanted to please me with her youthful appearance, but I knew her symptoms right away and kept her alive these few days. You see there is no cure, only brief inhibitors.”
The room was quiet, so Perfecto continued, “My wife killed herself with her vanity and The Doctors will kill thousands with their curiosity: man’s hubris knows no boundaries.”
The French Maid lay dead on the table, soul and ventricles empty.
Jenevieve whispered roughly, “We’re covered in infected blood. It’s everywhere; it’s running down the table. It’s on our clothes, in our eyes.”
The Chef ripped his kitchen whites off, Jenevieve and Annabelle spoiled their makeup splashing water on their faces. The Judge and The Doctors did not move.
The Chef, broad and manly in his undershirt, careened to the head of the table, shouldered Perfecto out of the way, and reached to remove The French Maid from the tabletop. He yelled at Perfecto, who poured himself a drink, “This is your wife! Man don’t be so vulgar! Help me move her!”
“Don’t touch her!” screamed Jenevieve.
“Why are you behaving so familiar with this man, Jenevieve?” said The Judge with his uncracked, calm demeanor. “You have been staring.”
Perfecto interrupted Jenevieve’s fluster, “Of course she knows him. Everyone here knows each other in one way or another.”
Annabelle, from the edge of her nerves, growled like a golden lion in the wheat, “Let me out of here.”
“Sorry, my dear, by no one leaves this room alive, because none of us is fully alive anymore.”
“I said let me go,” Annabelle demanded.
“Annabelle, is there a reason you don’t want to stay? Something you want to tell Jenevieve, perhaps? Or maybe you can tell us why you’re here?”
“I’m here for a party, The Fall Ball. & I’ve never met Jenevieve before tonight,” replied Annabelle, slinking back to her seat.
“You might not have met her before this evening, but you certainly know her.”
“Please explain yourself, Sir Perfecto,” demanded The Judge.
“With pleasure. Your wife Jenevieve has been having an affair with The Chef for some time now.”
The Judge did not move the gaze of his steely eyes from the sword and shield on the table.
“How dare you,” cried The Chef, and moved toward Perfecto. Perfecto pulled a handgun from his robe and placed it on the table. The Chef backed around the table and stood slightly behind Annabelle’s chair.
Perfecto stated, “It is diabolical to keep a secret from your loved one, to plan and keep secrets… I just had to kill the woman I love for foolishly going behind my back; secrets are fine, but sometimes not knowing can get you killed. You are all covered with The Red Death; it’s only time before you begin to seep and sop… So, why don’t you kill Jenevieve Judge? Shoot your wife, get your revenge, and put her out of misery before the suffering begins. You will really be doing her a favor.” Perfecto pushed the gun toward The Judge.
The Judge picked up the gun. The women and Dr. Gregor screamed when he pointed it at Jenevieve and sited up her head.
The Judge pivoted his aim and shot The Chef through the chest.
Annabelle and Jenevieve, a tangle of silver and gold, gut red staining the satin of their gowns, both wept over the fallen body of The Chef while The Judge held the smoking gun until it cooled.
Jenevieve pulled herself away from The Chef’s cooling body and stared at Annabelle’s wrenching sadness. Jenevieve said hot, “It was you.”
Annabelle, quick to gather her gumption, “You didn’t think he could actually love a bore like you when he had a woman like me, did you? We blackmailed you, both of us. The Judge’s money helped us pay off The Chef’s debts; we were going to leave tonight. You would have never seen him again anyway.”
Jenevieve untangled herself from The Chef, jumped up and grabbed her broad sword from the table then raced to attack Annabelle. Annabelle skirted around the table. The Judge did not stop Annabelle from picking up the gun, aiming and pulling the trigger on his wife.
Annabelle dropped the gun and fell to the floor, a dazed golden puddle. Jenevieve’s dead hand let the sword fall and dropped, a pulpy corpse. The Judge sat with his hands folded, his gaze steel.
Perfecto allowed a few moments to pass, quietly skirted around the table, filled his drink, slid the gun away from Annabelle, and addressed the foggy eyed woman, the steely man and the quiet doctors, “We have only a little time left before our own lives drip like sweat from our pores. Is there anything anyone would like to say before I continue?”
“The French Maid’s, your wife’s, body is still lying the table, filling this room with her rank, poison blood.” Annabelle pushed her chair back, pulled fresh linens from the sideboard, and covered the bodies. “The pores of her legs through her stockings, her arms, they have pinpricks of blood!”
The Judge proclaimed, “I have heard and seen quite enough! I would like to leave these God awful premises. I have committed a horrible act out of anger and my wife, marked a philanderer, murdered! By this woman!” The Judge banged his fist like a gavel. “I have made my career in the world of death and madness; but I have always stood as a beacon of truth and justice. I have been a villain in this murder carte blanche, this blood bath. I easily became everything I condemn men for becoming. Let me turn myself in to the police; let me confess.”
“Quite right,” responded the Dr’s. Garson.
“Judge,” Perfecto reasoned, “We are doing the world a great justice by containing this disease. There is no threat you could make that would force my hand to allow you out. You say you are a man of truth, a man of justice; tell me Judge, do you know your role in all this?”
“Of course I do,” replied The Judge, “I passed the patent on the improvements made to the Doctor’s procedure. I work closely with military contracts.”
“Ahem. You did what?” grumbled Dr. Gregor Garson, “How could you do that? It didn’t go through a test phase. Also, it was ours… Ahem. What is our share of the profits?”
Perfecto lightly laughed, “That’s just it, Doctors Garson. You will receive no profits and your lab will be shut down to contain the research.”
“Ahem. You can’t! We will sell our research to the Communists!”
“No. You will die. Here. We will all die.” said Prospero sympathetically. “You will never leave this room. Your research dies here, like the architect buried in the Egyptian king’s pyramid. I am truly sorry Dr. Gregor and Dr. Grey.”
“Ahem. Ahem! AHEM!.” Dr. Gregor Garson coughed up a bloody ball of phlegm, that dripped over the edges of his kerchief and drooled through the thin fabric. “Ahem! Have mercy! It’s the Red Death.”
Dr. Grey examined the fluid in the handkerchief.
Prospero said, “I would like to offer you and your husband a bit of sympathy, since you were ignorant to your role. Here are sleeping tablets. Lay down with your husband, fall asleep together and die happy and dauntless and sagacious.”
The Doctors Garson gazed into each other’s familiar faces; his and hers bone grey, the pallor of death fell harshly on their contours, dead fish heavily sinking in a red tide. Dr. Grey used her starched sleeve to wipe the mucus from her husband’s mustache.
“Thank you for your hospitality, Sir Perfecto. My husband I would like those pills if you wouldn’t mind us retiring from The Fall Ball.”
“Do not waste time trying to find an escape; I am quite sure none exist. Your husband would benefit briefly from lying down.”
The Doctors Garson left the dining room, splattered with blood, wreaking of guts, ringing with noisy, complicated deaths. Neither Perfecto, The Judge or Annabelle spoke as Dr. Gregor’s coughs rumbled through the grand entrance hall and ceased to be heard shortly thereafter.
Annabelle broke the silence, but did not break her stare from the linen covered body on the table. Small pinpricks of blood had continued to seep through, the dots growing, filling in, saturating the linen, heavy and red. “So I guess you won’t be getting any of your kickback money for the government contract, either, Judge.”
“I want my money, Sir Perfecto,” immediately replied The Judge. “You had better call your bank and have the money sent to my account.”
“Why on earth do you care about money, Judge? You will not be around to spend it. In fact, I bet your teeth are beginning to feel loose.”
“There is no money. I never sold the Red Death. I interviened and stopped it from being sold. Because look,” Perfecto pointed to Annabell, “It’s starting to work!”
Annabelle, still and quiet, a linen napkin held to her nose, which unprovoked, had started to bleed.
When The Judge turned to look at Annabelle, Perfecto swiftly lifted the gun from the table and shot The Judge, who deftly dropped to the ground, in the bicep. The Judge slid the broadsword heavily from the table, crouched, ran around the table, swung the sword over his head, and crunched down Perfecto’s collarbone, crushed the right side of his body.
Perfecto’s arm crumbled, shot The Judge in his knee. When The Judge fell, Perfecto painfully tied The Judge’s hands and stuffed his mouth. Then Perfecto blindfolded The Judge and rested Jenevieve’s scales on him.
Annabelle said, “You left him alive.”
“He will not be alive for long,” Perfecto slumped lamely into his chair.
“Neither will you, Perfecto. Why am I here?” Annabelle questioned.
“Why indeed? You were not invited to my party.”
“Indeed I was not. I was not expecting it to be quite so intimate. Or horrible.”
“You are the tragic, unfortunate naïve beauty in this, Annabelle. The Judge was an ally, as well as an enemy. I make it my business to know everything about my enemies. So when I was informed his wife was having an affair, I sought more information. I discovered the blackmail plot and I must admit, I was impressed with you, Annabelle. So hot and yet so cold. You pimped your lover The Chef out to Jenevieve just to collect on it.”
Annabelle snarled back, “Jenevieve wasn’t the only one, and it wasn’t just him. I was here tonight because I had come into the information that you were involved in a shady government arms deal. I was coming here tonight to blackmail you, Perfecto.”
“Who gave you that information, The Chef?” Perfecto laughed. “I needed you here Annabelle! Such intrigue accompanies immorality.”
“Perfecto, let’s leave here. You know how to keep us alive, if even for a little while. Let’s go.”
“Annabelle, if we leave here, we will infect the world with The Red Death. You breathed your last breath of fresh air when you walked through the front door.”
“It seems you will be taking your last breath shortly. That wheeze and gasp sounds like a punctured lung. No doubt the Red Death will fill that up quickly.” Annabelle continued, “But you see Perfecto, I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you would expose yourself to The Red Death, though you most certainly would others.”
Perfecto’s face was screwed up, excruciated, a bastard version of the relaxed handsome mask he had worn. He gurgled with agony and drifted along pain and torture toward death
“I think you prize yourself too highly. You murdered your wife then played us to murder each other. What did you do to the Doctors? Give them poison? I think you fooled us. You frightened us into being terrible. You used simple lies and complex truth. I wasn’t invited to The Fall Ball; no one knows I was here. I’m leaving; let the maids find you dead. You never meant to die! Perfecto Rosso, there is no Red Death, you are the Red Death!”
Annabelle left the room, her mind in a cloud of midnight stardust; her gold dress and celestial beauty as filthy, beautiful and terrifying as nature. Her hand spun the front entrance’s golden knob, the door opened easily and the night air welcomed her with an autumn breeze.
Annabelle peeled off her heavy sodden silk gown, her lithe figure and shapely bob speckled with gore. She kicked off her spiked heels, crossed the gravel as if walking on air and stepped into the red-light fountain. The Death figure stood solid and unflinching, static and impermanent. Annabelle crouched her pretty bottom toward the water and washed her hands, wiped her face, smoothed her hair.
Annabelle breathed in the pale moonlight and whispered, “Such an eerie red glow.”
Her voice gurgled, and for no reason her nose started to bleed again. With shaking hands and breath, Annabelle crouched to splash her face. The skin above her kneecaps stretched and split, her flesh dotted with pinpricks of blood, heat poured from her ears; her mouth tasted of raw liver.
Annabelle cried out in true terror, agonizing rage and horror heightening surprise. Blood streamed from her, down her; Annabelle’s slick damp body rushed into the gushing fountain. Her muscles tightened like a winch and she slumped against the glowing marble statue, The Red Death. Annabelle’s eyes filled with blood and the entire world became as red as the fountain; she was blinded, and choked as she tried to say, “Do not come help me, I am The Red Death.”