Rita – The Mask

Profile Rita LE Child P&W June 2019

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Rita is a Year 8 student from Melbourne, Australia. She enjoys the simple things in life, nothing more than reading a good book while sipping a mug of hot chocolate on a rainy day. She often finds herself immersed in thought, with story ideas occasionally finding their way through to nestle in her head. She aspires to become a musician while writing novels as a hobby, and this short story sprouted from an idea that she had while reading a magazine about masquerade balls. This is her first published story.

The Mask

All I could hear was my heart hammering against my chest, as a postman approached my house. He placed an envelope inside my mailbox, and I caught a glimpse of immaculate cursive writing on the paper before it slipped out of sight. Ominous silence followed, while my thoughts battled against one another. Should I go to fetch the letter, even though I already knew what I would see?

Stubborn curiosity won over the better of me. I rushed out of the house, towards the mailbox. I stretched my hand inside, grasping a thick, expensive envelope. My hands shook as I struggled to read the writing in the faint light.

My line of thought froze when I saw the words etched on the paper: ‘Masquerade Ball’. Every two years, the council held this event, and the participants were chosen by none other than Master himself. They would be given the envelope, and could only open it precisely ten minutes before midnight. It was an honor to be invited into the ball, but some dreaded this because only ten out of the thirty people who attended it ever came back alive.

Tonight would decide my fate, one way or another: if I came back alive, I would achieve fame, and the rest of my life would be spent in wealth and grandeur. But—I tried not to think about what would happen otherwise.

Finally, it was time to open the envelope. My fingers fumbled over the gold lace. I couldn’t help but let out a gasp of amazement as I gingerly pulled my mask out of the envelope. The front was a brilliant shade of orange, intertwined with threads of deep indigo. An intricate maze of patterns formed a delicate butterfly shape on one side, while priceless diamonds and pearls dotted the other. This mask was flawless. Putting on the mask, I stared at myself in the mirror. I braved a smile, but only the dark shadows under my eyes gave a hint of my relentless worry and the fact that I hadn’t slept for days. Was I making the right choice about going to this ball? Was the promise of wealth and fame all a lie?

When I entered the ballroom, the first thing I noticed were the chandeliers that hung over the tall, domed ceiling. I then noticed the tension in the ballroom; everybody’s quiet chattering was strained, and their dancing seemed rigid. Something was wrong; it nagged at the back of my mind, tantalizingly out of reach.

I walked around absent-mindedly for several minutes. As the orchestra finished a lyrical waltz, a wave of dread overcame me. I heard a sharp crackling noise, which soon turned into a roar. Flames. My instincts told me to bolt out of the door, to run as far away from this awful place as possible. But my feet felt like lead. Greed for fame and wealth kept me from running away. Fires engulfed the room. It was a ravaging monster, destroying everything in its path with its searing heat. Smoke rose to the ceiling. People were screaming and frantically running around. Their mask of calm could no longer be contained. I stood, stunned in complete horror.

“Go! Run through the emergency exit! Go!” Someone shouted in my ear. The ball of fire approached me. They shoved me out of the way as it went whizzing past my ear. Pain danced across my forehead. I staggered towards the exit. I didn’t have time to see where everyone else was going, and who had saved my life. After a few agonizing steps, my legs collapsed under me. I fell onto the ground as a deafening explosion shook the whole world.

An impenetrable wall of silence followed the explosion. I had passed out, and no one seemed to be awake, except for me. How long had it been? What on earth had happened? I limped towards the man who had saved me. He was a lifeless rag doll, and the hair on his arms were singed from the fire. I peeled the mask off his face. He looked so innocent; why had Master done this? What had we done wrong? Everybody who had died—who were behind those masks? They were humans, just like me. Yet they were met with this terrible fate.

I screamed in frustration and helplessness. I finally understood: sometimes the truth was so awful that it had to be masked underneath a web of lies. We were only useless pawns in his little game. We had been lured into the trap, completely oblivious because of our arrogance and pride.

I would stop this, because I had unmasked the truth.