You’re at a ball, and everyone is wearing stylish masks. Some were adorned with sequins and glitters, whilst others glistened with studded diamonds. Everyone is happily socialising, talking about the most mundane of things, hoping to show that they were having a good time.
You gently sipped on your martini, tasting the gin and the vermouth as you went. You begin to wonder why you bothered going here. It was just another masquerade, and you aren’t the most agreeable character in the room. Camilla, your companion, just wanted to find rich men to marry.
This was what happened, almost half a year ago.
I was a thriving writer, living the good life, having recently published stories for magazines and short story collections. Camilla, on the other hand was a theatre buff I knew from college. One day, out of nowhere, Camilla asked me to go to this masquerade ball being held in her friend’s froufrou mansion. I was begging to get out of my apartment, so I went along, renting an outfit suited for this neo-Victorian Masquerade ball. I bought one of those creepy, beaked masks, with the feathers and everything, while Camilla brought with her a more alluring mask.
The Masquerade ball was being held at the Tewksbury estate, a large mansion in the heart of New England. They had this massive hall built sole for parties. A large chandelier hung from the ceiling, giving off a beautiful orange light. The atmosphere was ripe with the essence of pretentiousness, and that’s how we liked it.
It was around nine o’clock in the evening, in that very same mansion, when a yellow coated man entered the ball room.
He wore a strange mask; one that’s so uncanny you didn’t know how he got it on his head. One of the ladies gasped out of terror, and the others cringed as they bowed out of respect. I myself shivered, looking at the man and his yellow coat. The strange man nodded, and positioned himself at an unoccupied table in the back.
The man in the faceless mask seated himself, and stared into the distance. He craned his head to stare at different parts of the room, and stared at angles that would have required him to reposition his mask. He didn’t though—his mask seemed to have been stuck to his face. His gloved fingers tapped incessantly on the wooden table. The sound echoed in my head, even though he was tables away from my own. My companion noticed, but shrugged it off. I stare at him and his uncanny, indescribable mask, unaware of the evil it contained.
The stranger stared back at me.
I tried averting my eyes, trying to focus on Camilla, my companion. She saw my terror and stared back at the stranger. Once she sighted him, her expression became the same as mine.
“Don’t look, Trent,” she whispered. “Just enjoy the night.”
I nodded. For the next few hours, I could feel him staring at me. A single glare almost drove me mad, and I nursed a glass of champagne to keep him from consuming my mind. I didn’t know how much I could take.
Fate took a turn for the worse—the host declared that the time for dancing had begun.
Slowly, the Yellow Stranger rose up and strode towards me and my companion. His walk was unnatural, and his gaze was only focused on Camilla. The Stranger looked at her deeply from within his eldritch mask. With every step he took, Camilla was terrified and mesmerized, not unlike a bee smelling a honeytrap. I was paralyzed to my seat, watching as he slowly made his way to our table.
Without saying a word, he asked for her hand. Camilla looked at me with a frightened and helpless look upon her face. She then took his hand, and walked towards the center of the ballroom.
I sat there, waiting. I was terrified for her.
The tension grew.
Suddenly, the clock struck midnight. I began to hear the rain pattering from outside.
While the dancers were slowly waltzing across the ballroom floor, the host asked everyone to remove their masks, and show their true faces. It was the moment everyone was waiting for. People began to unveil themselves to their partners, showing their true faces.
I looked at the Yellow Stranger. Camilla unveiled her mask, and she stared at the masked figure. She was struck with a dawning realization, and from her eyes alone I could see a ray of pure terror. She spoke to him, and indeed, in her eyes there was a horrifying epiphany. Camilla broke free of his grasp, and started walking towards me.
“We have to go,” she said. You could see a pervading madness in her eyes.
And so we left. As I walked her to her car, I took a last look at the archaic mansion. I saw him standing there, in the rainy night. He, in his yellow overcoat, stared at me from behind his mask. His terrifying, alien mask. From that angle the mask almost looked like a real “face”—if you could call it that. A hideously malformed, pallid piece of flesh, without any semblance of humanity. No eyes, ears, nose, or mouth. Just a malformed blob of flesh, mindlessly shifting in form.
I saw his true form. It was nothing more than a glimpse, but I cringed in terror all the same. In that brief moment, I saw a long, jagged crown adorning the Yellow Stranger’s head, and black, shadowy tendrils emanating from his yellow coat. As the after-image faded away from my eyes, I heard hundreds of demonic whispers, wailing in the night and accompanying the thunder.
“Don’t look,” she said, “for your sake.”
I averted my eyes.
“What did he do to you?” I ask. “Why are you so afraid of him? Camilla—“
“Just shut up,” Camilla spoke.
For the proximity of the ride home, we did not speak. We didn’t even call each other once we got home. She didn’t even walk me to my door, or say goodnight. She stared at me from her car and left. In the rain I saw her face, and wondered what kind of terror she experienced on that day.
And so, days passed.
Finally, time passed.
But the Yellow Stranger still haunts me in my dreams, stalking me in even the most dull and mundane sequences. His very presence alters my perception of reality—I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. I locked myself in my apartment, exiting my little capsule only to buy food and supplies. To the world, I did not exist.
This went on, until I found myself ten pounds overweight, with a throbbing headache coming from nights of drinking alone. That is when the letter came—and how fitting was the colour of the envelope: Yellow.
My dearest Camilla has passed on today. She’d been stricken with a deathly illness for some time now, and she asked me to deliver this to you.
Before her untimely death, her health was deteriorating, and her sanity lessened. She was not the Camilla you knew. Her beautiful face was disfigured. Her voice was cracked from all the nightly screaming she did. Her beautiful, auburn hair turned white.
She was not the Camilla I knew.
In her last weeks, she screamed in her sleep—screamed of strange places and people; Carcossa, Hyades, and a King. She also called out for you. She also had a strange aversion to yellow, masks, and masquerades.
In her deathbed she wrote some things for you to read. I pray that whatever she writes about you may shed light into your weary existence.
Sincerely R. Chambers
Attached to it was a hand written note. It was little more than archaic scribblings, really:
KISS THE ARK”
Behind this sheet of paper was a less archaic note:
Your face has not left my mind. Oh, your terror.
You must forgive me for not telling you what I saw. But I wanted to protect you.
Protect you from HIM. Protect you from his grasp.
But you must, indeed, forgive me now, for the knowledge I am going to bestow upon you. I doubt that you will sleep well.
I still remember what he said after I inquired him to remove his mask, so I could perceive his visage.
“I wear no mask.”