Masquerade by Shaun Allan

In November 2013, we invited the fabulous Shaun Allan (author of Sin and Dark Places to name but two of his many books) to be our guest. Shaun shared his publishing experiences with us and spoke about his character, Sin, in some detail.

During the meeting, we challenged him to participate in our monthly Flash Fiction, and being the good sport he is, agreed. The theme was Masquerade. Shaun has very kindly agreed to allow us to publish his short story on our new site. What a fantastic start to our new blog.

The Masquerade

It had been two days since the removal van left and boxes were strewn randomly around their new house.

“We labelled everything,” Jeremy’s mother said.  “How come it’s all over?”

“Because your brother-in-law did it,” Jeremy’s father answered.

The move from their small to this much larger house had been draining, the whole affair being brutal in its twisted path to the ‘new start’.  The strain had shown in the bickering between the couple but, finally, they were in. 

Jeremy’s father had his son draw a picture of them standing in before their old house and then erase the building, replacing it with the new one.  “Symbolic,” he said.

 “Why have you rubbed out our faces?”

 “They were sad before,” Jeremy had replied.  “You haven’t started to smile yet.”

 His father frowned.  “I like that, I think.”

Two days.  A pair of twenty four hours sandwiched together by a sleepless night because the beds hadn’t been rebuilt yet.

Still, Jeremy’s parents told him they felt ‘revitalised’.  He felt homesick.

Their new neighbours were very friendly.  There were only a dozen other houses with Jeremy’s own being number 13.  His parents joked about how someone in a hockey mask would kill them in their sleep.  This made his sleepless night that much more sleepless.

There’d been a steady stream of visitors since they’d moved in.  Happy, smiling faces with names Jeremy barely caught.  The welcome was warm and slashed a silver lining through the cloud which hung over them.  There were a couple of children – Julian and Alexis.  Jeremy liked them, especially Alexis.  Pretty and just a little taller than himself.  He felt a flush whenever she spoke to him and enjoyed the sensation.

“I’m looking forward to the party,” his mother said.

“What party?” he asked.

“We’ve been invited to a party, darling,” she said.  “A fancy dress!”

Fancy dress sounded cool.  He could dress up as Jack Sparrow.

“Not that sort of fancy dress.  It’s a masquerade party!”

Jeremy had never heard of a ‘masquerade’ party.  He asked if he could wear his Iron Man mask.

“It’s not that sort of mask,” she said.  “It’s much fancier.  Like a ‘proper’ fancy dress!”

“It’ll be a laugh,” said his father.

Jeremy was fairly sure it wouldn’t mean loud music, crisps and an orange Fanta. 

“We don’t waste any time around here,” said Peter, the host-to-be when he dropped by later that evening to finalise arrangements.  “We welcome new people into our gang straight away.” 

Jeremy met him the day before, instantly liking him.  Peter had been standing next to him when he’d unexpectedly broken wind and had laughed.

“Loud’n’proud son!”

“I look like a girl!” Jeremy said. He was dressed in a tight-fitting jacket.  A too-tight band of elastic held the white-rimmed black mask to his eyes, almost squeezing the breath from them.

“No you don’t,” his mother told him.  “You look very smart.”

“Come on,” his mother said.  “We don’t want to be late for our own welcome party”

She wore a long flowing dress and, for Jeremy’s taste, was showing an embarrassing amount of cleavage.  When he’d voiced his opinion she’d laughed and told him she had it, so she should flaunt it.

Jeremy shook his head.  Parents!

From the voices and laughter that greeted them at Peter’s house, it seemed the whole street was already there.

“Are we late?” Jeremy’s father asked.

“No,” Peter said.  “Everyone else is early.”

He wore a long black suit.  His mask was plain black and Jeremy couldn’t quite see what kept it on his face.  Maybe he’d superglued it.  Jeremy had once accidentally superglued his finger to his shoe when he’d been trying to hide the damage from climbing the walls behind his school one day.

He imagined Peter would have a struggle detaching the mask.

“Come in,” said Peter, stepping back.

They entered the living room.  Faces vaguely familiar filled the lounge, each in costumes ranging from garish to almost obscene.  Bright colours and too large expanses of flesh made Jeremy’s eyes begin to ache and he was pleased when Julian and Alexis pulled him to the middle of the room.

“I’m so pleased you came,” Alexis said.

Jeremy stammered something and was grateful the mask he wore covered his blush.  He saw the children’s masks were attached by the same method as Peter’s.  No elastic or stick holding them in place.

“Yeah,” said Julian.  “It’s good to finally get someone young in the street.”

Jeremy was glad they were relaxed around him.  He might begin to like it here.

“OK.  Let’s get started,” Peter called out.  His voice seemed deeper and Jeremy could feel it vibrate in his teeth.

“What’s this?” his mother asked.

“Just a little initiation,” said Peter.  “It’ll be fun.”

Maybe Jeremy had been wrong.  It sounded like party games were about to start.  It could, actually, be fun.

“Shall we let the children begin?” Peter asked.  The crowd murmured and nodded.

“Thank you, sir,” Julian said.

Jeremy looked at his parents.  They were smiling.  He suddenly didn’t feel like smiling.  The formality of Julian’s comment made him uneasy.

“Away you go,” Peter said.

Julian and Alexis put their hands to their necks, pulling upwards, their faces sliding up revealing…

Jeremy blinked.  Where a nose, eyes and mouth should have been was…

Nothing.

Inside the void which was suddenly their faces was a blackness, as if the whole night had been captured in their heads.

“Wha..?” his mother began, seeing the look of shock on her son’s face.

Jeremy felt he was drowning in the shadows inside the skulls. He heard a yelp then a scream. It seemed far off then he realised he’d made the sound.

His father made to grab his son, but hands were suddenly holding him. He looked up and saw… nothing.  He heard a scream.  His wife.  He wanted to look towards her, but couldn’t take his eyes off the darkness in front of him.

Abruptly, the screams ceased.

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to know what happened next! Thank you, Shaun, for sharing this with us.

Shaun would love some feedback on his flash fiction, so please post your thoughts below.

If you’d like to know more about Shaun and his books, why not check out one of his sites?: http://singularityspoint.blogspot.com or http://flipandcatch.blogspot.com or www.shaunallan.co.uk

Shaun-Allan

 

 

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One thought on “Masquerade by Shaun Allan

  1. Hi Shaun,

    Many thanks for letting us get our grubby mitts on your story.

    I really enjoyed reading it. The basic idea behind it was exciting and novel (much the most important part of any story). I liked Jeremy and thought the plot development was brilliant and I was quite envious. No, not quite envious, very envious. Particularly as my own story I felt was pretty laboured as I struggled with using the present tense (from choice) and using a character who didn’t understand time.

    I did have a couple of small buts as I was reading though I didn’t allow them to spoil the story. To put them into context, the two halves of my brain read every story from their own povs and argue quite happily over them.

    1. I wasn’t sure how to interpret J’s comment on loud music, etc., so when we are told he had, maybe, been wrong. I thought I had missed something.
    2. Loved ‘the whole night had been captured in their heads’, but I was a bit confused as to what exactly had been replaced by the void, whole head or face. Settled on face framed with skull.
    3. The penultimate paragraph lacks clarity.

    These points were only like the skin you push to one side without dwelling on it so as to enjoy the custard. (Sorry, poor choice of metaphor here!)

    All in all, a thoroughly involving and senjoyable read. Unlike Carlie, I love stories which end on a cliff-hanger. They stay in my mind far longer than one which is neatly wrapped up.

    Many thanks for taking part in this exercise and allowing us to measure our ‘achievements’ against yours and, hopefully, learn something.

    Cheers, Margo

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