The Masquerade
at an end

The ballroom looked like a menagerie, sparkling with silver and gold as fifty couples danced in ornate costumes of fantasy and whim. Anne Marie De Léon ran one wrinkled hand along the bannister above them, eyes searching for the happiest couple, the one most likely to live well into their nineties and beyond. Such a notion would make any one of them laugh, she guessed, each in the prime of their life, still too young to know death's somber visage. That's exactly why they'd been invited.

Her husband, Paul, emerged behind her, hugging her to his chest in a way most seventy year olds would not have. His strength and warmth seemed youthful, yet his deep brown eyes were circled by wrinkles and lines that told his many years. "The fat frog is not an option," he said in disgust. "Look at him, hitting on that poor swan. You'd think she was on the buffet table. His princess is beautiful, though not as attractive as the swan; she seems entirely too fond of alcohol. That'll take ten years off her, at the least."

"I like the swan," his wife replied dreamily. "She seems so... joyous." Paul nodded in agreement. "The cat and mouse do seem the most attractive match, however."

"Hrm, no. The cat has played with entirely too many mice since coming of age. I like the phoenix and swan, for my pick."

His wife was harder to convince. "The one playing as the Queen of Hearts comes from a very old line. And I do so enjoy her taste," she giggled. "Either her or the swan. What do you think, dear? How does being King of Hearts suit you?"

"She may be well-bred but he isn't. No, he seems... out of place. All smoke and mirrors with little substance. I don't like him in the least."

The elderly couple watched as their great hall, filled with men and women less than half their age, laughed and carried on. At a quarter to midnight, there came a great buzz and hum of conversation from below them. By ten 'til, it had swelled to a cacophony. At 11:59, the music stopped and all eyes gazed up at the Count and Countess De Léon, dressed in rich velvet costumes of 15th century design. It was time for the prize they'd all coveted since the arrival of their invitations.

"And now, ladies and gentlemen, before we call our merry gala to an end, it is time to announce the winners of the grandest prize of all." Paul's baritone voice bellowed through the ballroom. "The prize we give tonight shall remain secret to all but that couple which is selected for their beauty, their grace, their happiness..." he trailed off, his grand smile growing slightly weaker. The audience hung on, eager for more.

"The grand prize" Anne Marie interrupted, "shall be awarded to none other than Marc Riggins and his lovely wife, Dany!" The hall erupted in cheers and applause; Marc twirled Dany around in circles, laughing and smiling as they enjoyed a private moment of triumph. They were immediately led away by two serving men. Seconds before passing through the door of the hall, Dany looked up and noticed the look of regret that overshadowed the Count's face.

Marc was acutely aware that Dany's fingernails were digging into his arm. She was clinging to him--and not happily. They exchanged a worried look as the two serving men led them further down the stone steps. Somewhere above them could be heard the laughter and conversation of 49 intoxicated couples, making their way to their cars. Somewhere below could be heard the sound of rushing water. Only by yellowed light could Dany make out the path that curved downward ahead. Then the men were turning around as if to speak, and there was only darkness.

Dany came to quickly enough, though her mind felt swampish and groggy. Her eyes fluttered as she looked around, realizing with sudden horror that they'd been struck unconscious and taken to their current location. She was not so surprised, once she recalled the Count's last glance, to find that her mask had been taken and that she was tied firmly to an iron gate behind her. Dany began to whisper harshly in eager attempt to awake her dazed husband.

"Marc! MARC! Wake up. Wake up, sweetheart, wake up!!!"

His eyelids fluttered. She tried again. "MARC!" she hissed through clenched teeth. His eyes snapped open and a scream of terror burst from his lips as he came to. "SHHHH! Stop that. They'll hear you. They'll know we're awake. Fuck, Marc, what are we going to do?!"

"Why, we're going to show you the surprise, that's what!" Anne Marie tried her best to sound gay and cheerful, though exhaustion underscored every word as she interrupted the couple in their state of panic. "Don't you want to know what the grand prize is?"

"We don't want anything but to go home, Countess. We're willing to forget all about the prize."

A laugh. "Oh, Marc, don't be ridiculous. This is a terrific honor. Though I expect you'll not understand." And then, to herself, "Ah, well. Youth is wasted on the young."

"What my wife means to say, of course, is that your youthfulness and joy is what first attracted us to you. Our prize is... well, you may not think it much, but..." He trailed off again, lost in a millenia of memories.

"It's not every day that youth achieves wisdom. You should feel honored!" Anne Marie finished her declaration, raising her hands above her head as if she were basking in light. At the gesture, the two serving men reappeared with what looked like large, hooked knives in their hands. Dany began to cry.

"It's a masquerade, child! All of life is. We're just taking your mask and giving it to someone wiser, more worthy of its years to come. Don't cry, now. Tut, tut. It'll all be over soon. Keep a pretty face." The old crone lovingly wiped tears from Dany's face. "You're going to keep me young, you are. My own little fountain of youth."

One slow nod later, and the Count and Countess were two lives richer.

Thank you for this gift.

Wordmongers' Masque
The End of Days.

"Mike, we need to find a way to climb down to the next floor down. Maybe make a rope?" Paul's looking at me for an idea. Which is insane. I'm his boss, but when this sort of stuff happens, I'm not sure that really applies anymore. At least he's thinking. With the stairs blocked off and the elevator too dangerous to use. But there's no way we're going to be able to get everyone from the tenth to the ninth floor. The best bet we have is get someone out who can tell rescuers where we are.

I walk towards Jen. She seems to have stopped crying, but she's still not looking at anyone.

"Jennifer. You're the smallest here. Do you think you'd be okay if Paul and I lowered you down to the next floor?" I put my hand on hers and try to give the sincerest smile I can manage. She looks up from her hands and into my eyes. And I can almost instantly tell that she trusts me. She grips my hand tightly and nods her head.

We all talk for a few moments, each of us deciding what the best course of action is. Jen, once she gets down, would take the stairs all the way to the ground floor. She'll then tell the emergency crews exactly where we are. If she can't make it all the way down, she'll come back. She nods her head and we make sure she understands.

I kneel down to the floor, as close to the window as I can. It's quiet. And it has been for a while. It bothers me that I didn't notice when all the screaming stopped. It bothers me, but I put it out of mind. Jennifer gives Paul and I each one of her hands and she begins to climb backwards out the window. The glass cuts into my legs and I regret having not swept it away, but it's manageable.

"I can get in. Just a little bit lower." Her voice sounds stronger than just a few minutes ago. Something about being useful gives people some courage. She swings her body and slips her hand out of mine. Immediately I look out the window to make sure that she hasn't fallen. The smoke is too thick to tell. But the silence isn't encouraging.

"Made it!" she shouts from below us. Paul and I both sigh deeply and stand up. We look at each other and smile. It feels good.

A scream pierces the silence. Jennifer. She screams again.

"Jennifer!" I frantically look out the window, trying to see any sort of clue. Nothing. "JENNIFER!"

Her scream is abruptly cut off. What the hell would make her scream? We all screamed and cried at first. People we knew were dead in front of us. But... that was done. We were able to manage now, because we had to get out.

So what the hell made her scream.

I turn around to look at the group. Before I have time to say anything, my eyes become fixated behind them.

The elevator lights tell me it's on floor nine. Before it was sitting on the ground floor.

"Uh. Paul..." I nod my head to get him to look at it. And as I do, the light switches to ten.

The moment feels too surreal. As the doors open the hallway is illuminated with electric light. And there are two men standing in the elevator. I'm scared before I even fully realize it. They don't look at all like men. Horns come from their head. Tails from their backs.

They look like the devil.

With guns.

I dive behind a broken wall as they begin to raise them. Paul copies my movements. A high pitched hum blares up again, this time I can definitely tell where it is coming from.


"What the f-" Paul's voice echoes through the remains of the office. I clamp my hand on his mouth. I'm trying to listen for what just happened, but before I can determine anything I hear the voices of the rest of the group. They're screaming in pain. Someone manages to get up and start running. His face was too burnt and bloodied to tell. He's skin has boiled over his eyes and he runs straight out the window and his scream carries all the way down.

"Get... anything. And we're going to wait until they're just outside the door. Then charge them." I whisper while my hand searches for something to use as a weapon. Instead of something deadly, I grab the chair that Paul had used to clear glass. He has two fist sized chunks of concrete. And we just crouch and wait.

They don't say as word as they walk down the hall, but their steps betray their positions. I wait until they are right outside the door before bringing the chair up like a shield and charging. I manage to drive the... creature into a desk. His legs stay standing while his torso twists backwards.

Behind me, Paul screams out. I grab the gun off the dead creature and run back to the hall. Paul is on the ground and I try to fire the weapon I'm holding. It takes half a second to realize there isn't even a trigger. Quickly, I throw it at the devil and am running right behind it. The gun hits it in the face and then my tackle takes him to the ground.

Paul is already up with another piece of debris. He begins smashing it against the creature's head. Blue goo sprays out hitting us both. I pull him off and we walk down to the elevator. We try to keep our eyes away from the melted flesh that was our coworkers, but it's stuck in our mind. We stay silent as it makes the trip to the ground floor.

We peer out into the lobby and, seeing nothing, go outside.

Paul is limping, barely able to walk. I give him my shoulder for support and we make our way across the street. Just one glance backwards tells me that getting out was almost pure luck. Of a building with hundreds of people working in it, we were the only two to survive.

I try to get my mind out calm but I can't. The devil killed everyone. It sounds almost funny.

I look at what's left of the body of whoever it was that jumped out.

Yeah. Not so funny.

"... Christ, Mike. Is... is it over?"

Looking out over the mess of buildings and bodies, I try to hold back tears. The voices crying out. Charred metal and flesh. This wasn't a war. It was a slaughter.

"No. I don't think this is over." He looks up at me, trying to understand. My eyes are fixated on the sky. Giant ships looming over the city, blasting fire at anything that moves. "I think this is just the beginning."

You be careful. People in masks cannot be trusted.
The Princess Bride

So I saw the shrink on Monday.

New drugs:

  • Bupropion SR (aka Wellbutrin) 150mg 2x/day
  • Citalopram (aka Celexa) 40mg 2x/day
  • Gabapentin (aka Neurontin) 300mg 3x/day
  • Increased dose of alprazolam (aka Xanax) 1mg 3x/day

These, along with what I'm already prescribed (Lunesta, Seroquel and Tramadol (for my back)), makes seven drugs, four of which I have to take three times a day, assuming I remember to do so. I hope they can cure whatever it is that's making me mentally and physically ill.

The bupropion and the citalopram are replacing my daily dose (40mg) of Lexapro. The bupropion, combined with the citalopram, also replaces my previous daily dose (60mg) of Adderall. Hopefully this will solve my recent concentration problems. And I should hear from my PCP about whatever the cause of my back pain is sometime this week.

The only non-generics I'm taking now are Lunesta and Seroquel.

It seems I do have all the symptoms of fibromyalgia, but I have to wait two and a half months to find out of if I've got it, because the diagnosis of fibro can be made only after three months of continuous, non-stop symptoms.

Summer ends in six days. Fucking finally. It's been a rough season for me. There was the brown recluse bite in April (not really summer, but close enough when you live on the gulf coast of Louisiana), the lumbar strain in June, the bacterial stomach infection in July, and the beginnings of severe lower back pain that started in late August, which is still with me. All this has caused much strife at my job, due to the various (worse than normal for an ADD punter) concentration problems, and I've been told that if I fuck up one more time, I'll get the boot. (Despite working here, at the night shift no less, since August 2000... so much for seniority, eh?)

I may or may not have mentioned this before (and I can't be arsed to check), but I broke three teeth while I was sleepwalking in July. None of the teeth broke completely, so I'm left with half-teeth, two of which are pretty fucking sharp, so sharp that I'm continually (accidentally) bite my inner lips and tongue hard enough that they bleed. I had a dentist consultation shortly after the teeth-breaking episode occured, and she said I needed root canals on all three teeth. The grand total for such an endevour? $4,500. The maximum amount my retarded insurance provider will cover per year for dental? $1,000. So, I'm pretty much screwed in that respect.

The worst part of it is that I won't be able to kiss anyone without the lingering possibility that I would cut their lips or tongue with my stupidly circumstantial vampire fangs. It also means no more performing cunnilingus for me, for the same reason (minus her tongue). It's not like I'm with anybody now (as if), but I worry about the future. Based on past experiences, I'm not too good at dating because I'm too neurotic, or, at least as neurotic as whoever I'm dating (or more neurotic, for that matter). And if I didn't have all these drugs to keep me sane, I'd have probably slit my wrists years ago, or at the very least, I wouldn't be suicidal, as such, though I'd be extremely unhappy and unlikely motivated enough to change my life for the better.

Hopeless, really.

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