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The Masquerade

by Samantha Heck about a year ago in fiction
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A Short Story

The Masquerade

I was sitting by the fireplace in the parlor of my family’s estate when the feeling of something pulling me was present in my mind. The color of the yellow walls was doing nothing to help calm my rattling nerves that were going to burst from under my skin and take on a life anew. I got up from the red velvet chair that was my usual safe space from the world, and went over to the dark wooden bookcases that made up one side of the room. I rested my perspiring forehead that began to moisten with sweat against the cool wood as a thought swam through my head.

It’s happening again.

It was always this time of year when the feeling of being pulled somewhere arose. For years I never knew why; I just thought it was me just being confused and having too many thoughts. I’ve told my friends about this feeling— this pull— but they never believed me. They always passed it off as being anti-social and having the desire of someone by me. Someone all to myself and to call my own by the end of the fruitful day.

These memories left me as quick as they surfaced and went back to the hole in my head that they crawled out of to begin with. I opened my eyes as I caught my breath, and my eyes darted across the room, seeing something that I swear wasn’t there before. A scroll, resting on the dark seat of my chair, daring me to open it and figure out its secrets.

I took several hesitant steps toward the chair, tripping on the corner of the oriental rug that rested the center of the room. As I got closer to my chair, I noticed that the scroll had golden decals that looked like candles with melted wax towards the bottom. The scroll was tied with a rose-colored ribbon—the color of the Royal’s crest. My heart started beating faster as I approached the daunting scroll. I was finally at the chair after what felt like a quest to get there. I picked up the delicate scroll and rubbed my shaking fingers over the golden, shiny decals, and started to untie the ribbon. As I did this, the feeling of the pull I was experiencing just a few moments before, started to lessen. I finished untying the ribbon and let it fall to the floor. The moment I started opening the scroll, several thoughts entered my mind, but for the time being, I ignored them and continued on. I finished opening the scroll, and as soon as I did, I instantly knew what it was. An invitation to the Royal’s annual Masquerade Ball.

The invitation’s text was of the darkest red, to the point where it almost appeared black. The writing was in an elegant print like someone with a delicate hand pressed lightly to the parchment and let their hand be the master and take over the task. I read the text, and read it again until the words became engraved in my head. I couldn’t believe it. Why would I receive an invitation to the ball? I recollected myself just for a moment before I read the words out loud, just to make it a reality. I looked at the invitation’s beautiful text as my eyes scanned over them:

Your presence is requested at the Royal’s Annual Masquerade Ball.

Dress to impress and chose a mask and wear it well.

Your ride will be awaiting tonight at 8 o’clock.

As I whispered the last line, a thought came over me. This feeling— this pull—always happened the night of the Masquerade. I don’t know why I never made that connection before, it was always there, hiding, waiting to be discovered.

The Masquerade has two rules: you have to be invited to attend, and you must dress up in the outfit assigned to you. Two simple rules that were surprising broken again and again throughout the years. What happened to those people who broke the rules, no one knows or desires to find out. Never in my entire life did I ever think, or dare to believe, that I would receive an invitation to the Masquerade. My dear friends always get invited every year, and the next day they would come over and tell me all about it. They would tell stories of other ladies’ gowns or any conquests that they had with the gentlemen there. I always bushed at those stories, mostly because I was the most innocent one out of all of them. I’ve never had any experiences with a boy, let alone have one look at me and think about what they wanted to do with me. Those scandalous thoughts filtered through my brain as I was in the process of accepting that I was invited to the masquerade. Actually asked. I got so excited, that when I went to retrieve the ribbon on the floor, I hit my head on the side of the table. I quickly got up after I got ahold of the ribbon and went to turn around to assess any damage I may have done to my face in the mirror on the side wall. That was when I noticed a large box resting on the large oak table that was located in the center of the room.

The box was of a dark purple, like the box itself had secrets and begged me to open it to figure them out. It was held together by a black ribbon, that also held secrets of its own. I went over to the box and gasped the lid with my nervous hands, and pulled off the top and rested it on top of the wooden table. I peered inside and gasped. Inside the exquisite box was the most gorgeous dress I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing.

The dress was made of an excellent plum color with black decals that resembled chandeliers which covered the bottom of the dress and the rather low neckline. Under the dress was yet again another equally gorgeous surprise. A mask, made of the same plum material as the dress, rested at the bottom of the box. As I went to pick it up, I realized it was no ordinary mask, it was instead a character was I supposed to play tonight. The left side of the mask resembled the properties of a butterfly. A black and purple lace wing completely covered the left side. Jewels that only royalty could afford were interlaced with the wing. The right side of the mask told a whole different story. The right side was less embellished than the left. The right only had blacks decals that consisted of a variety of swirls and shapes and lines. The upper right corner of the mask was decorated with three black feathers varying in sizes. On was large, one was medium size, and the other was small— almost like a bird’s feather. The whole mask itself was enchanting, and it made me want to go to the designer and ask them where their inspiration came from. And whether there was any left.

While I was drooling over my newly acquired ensemble, the clock struck seven o’clock. I jumped back a step in surprise and looked over at the clock to confirm that it was indeed seven o’clock. Realizing that I didn’t have much time to get ready, I quickly made my way to my chambers and started on the long task of getting myself ready for the night that would change everything.

About forty-five long minutes later, I was ready. The dress fit perfectly to my womanly curves, and, once on, the neckline didn’t seem that low, but still too low for my strict standards. I paired the dress with, by my luck, black heels that matched the design of the trim almost to perfection. I did some simple makeup, considering that my face was going to be covered up anyway. I didn’t want to spend too much time. I planned on waiting to put the mask on until I got to the Masquerade since the lacewing and feathers intruding my eyesight just a little.

Time was a lost concept on this night, because eight o’clock came and went, and my carriage to the ball awaited by my front door. I made sure everything was in order before I left. I just had this feeling that I was to return late . . . or not at all. I shook the feeling off as I made my last round through the room and made my way to the front door. I opened the tall, wood doors and stepped outside to the surprisingly warm weather. Once I was entirely outside, I turned around to shut the doors, then I investigated my lovely transport to the ball. The base color was of a deep black, but the gold details on the sides contradicted it and made a beautiful masterpiece together. The wheels were also of rich gold that opposed the dark color of the carriage. The golden details formed intricate designs that I wished I could stare at for hours, but I was on a tight schedule. I looked toward the front of the carriage and realized there was no driver, only midnight-black horses. By their stature, I could tell that they were rather impatient. I quickened my descend down the stairs and hurried toward the carriage’s door. I grasped the cold handle with my warm hands and pulled toward my chest. The inside of the carriage was black velvet that was calling my name to come sit on it. I climbed into the carriage, almost tripping on the step, and shut the door. At the exact moment that I shut the door, the horses neighed, and the carriage started pulling forward— toward the castle.

The Ball

The skirts of my dress swayed in the rushing wind as I stood in front of the tall, dark oak doors that rested underneath the Gothic arch that signaled the beginning of the elegant, yet dark, entryway. Up above the arch was a circle of beautiful stained glass made up of the darkest of purples and the lightest of blues. Exact opposites, yet matched perfectly.

I lifted my shaking hand that wasn’t holding the butterfly mask, to push open the door and inhaled, “ It’s now or never. You will get the answers you desire tonight.”

Exhale.

I pushed open the doors that surprisingly opened with ease, and made my journey across the hallway blessed in silver. Six chandeliers that were crafted by the gods lined the glowing hallway, creating a path to where the hypnotizing music that was being played at the ball. I started walking the expanse of the hallway, one hand gripping my skirts, and the other holding the mask, trying not to destroy the beauty that it beheld. Instead of the simple paint that covered my walls back at home, these walls were filled with art pieces that looked like they shouldn’t exist. The brush strokes were precise, like the artist knew exactly where each stroke and blend of paint should go. And it was absolutely perfect.

I was halfway down the hallway before I even bothered to look up . . . and saw myself looking down at me. The ceiling, which was built out of old and ruined mirrors, added an extra element of the dark beauty that surrounded me. There was cracks and crevices and scratch marks, the latter looked questionable, like someone was trying to crawl their way in . . . or out. Just as that thought left me, a rather old woman stumbled out of the shadows and walked over to me. She placed both her wrinkled hands on my hand that held my masquerade mask and said: “Put it on dearie, and keep walking ahead, till the music gets louder.” Once she whispered those words in my left ear, she left just as slowly as she came, crawling back into the shadows.

Silence settled in the hallway once again as I made my way quickly to the other side, rushing to get away from the strange feeling that overcame me when the old woman breathed into my ear. The unease consumed everything in me as my too tall heels clicked against the white marble floor, which appeared to have a blue hue by the way the light emitted from the chandeliers struck it.

Before I knew it, I was face-to-face with the ballroom door, which, upon further investigation, looked just like the door I dared walked through moments ago. I was about to push open the doors when I realized I was still holding the masterpiece of a mask in my hand. I raised both my arms to put on my face, ready to put it on, when I realized something. I had a character to play. The second rule of the masquerade: You must dress in your assigned outfit. I indeed dressed in my assigned outfit— the Butterfly. But, did that also mean I had to act like the Butterfly?

The Royals had that second rule for a reason. They weren’t just bored or wanted people dressed in whatever attire they desired, they had a reason. That reason being that the masquerade was a show, a drama. A drama that swept everyone away for one marvelous and adventurous night at the masquerade. Everyone had characters to play, not just dress as, but play. There was multitude of characters, all inspired by myths and tall-tales of the land. There was the Princess and the Brute, the Sea and the Sky, the Rose and the Thorn, and the Tale of the Stars and Moon. All these tales had the same plot, same story. They began the same way: a girl— who was cute and innocent and pure in every which way— meets a boy who was the exact opposite. And they all end the same way: the boys ends up changes the girl in some way and they end up together forever. Those stories, told by ladies and gentlemen of all ages by dressing up as them, always appeared at the masquerade. But there was one story that rarely got told; the most sensuous and beautiful of all.

The Tale of the Butterfly and the Blue Flower, was a tale like no other. It was original and completely different from all the other tales that got praise at the ball. It was different, because in the story, the girl and boy start off as equals, and stay that way. The girl isn’t cute and innocent, she’s beautiful and cruel in every way possible. She has curves that the most girls her age would beg for, and she has cruelty that most kings would die for in battle. But, as all people do, she had one downfall, one that made everyone second guess her. She was pure. No man has touched, let alone glanced her way, and thought those thoughts. And because of this, her true cruelty never had the chance to play, until she meets him, her equal, her Blue Flower.

The boy in the tale is the exact same as the girl. Handsome, cruel, underestimated, and pure. And, for the same reason, his cruelty never had the chance to play.

They met by accident one day, at the central garden of the village they both grew up in. The girl was looking for a quiet place to read and they boy was looking for someplace to think. They literally ran into each other when both of them were headed to the exact same bench that was next to a bust of vivid blue flowers. The girl tripped by the sudden intrusion and the boy quickly caught her in his surprised arms, and looked into her shocked hazel eyes and just knew. When they both made eye contact, they knew.

“It appears you have fallen for me, my darling” whispered the boy.

“It appears I have, my Savior” whispered back the girl.

The boy righted her and they both glanced at the bench now behind them and saw a single blue flower with a purple butterfly resting upon it, like it was its sanctuary.

As all stories go, they talked, things happened, and they proved their worth to the village and showed them that being pure and untouched wasn’t a bad thing; it wasn’t a downfall of character. And, of course, after they showed their fellow townspeople their worth, they snuck off to somewhere secret and kissed the night away.

I remembered the story as I finally put on the mask and looked up to the mirrors to see how I looked. And, sure enough, I looked just like how the Butterfly was portrayed—beautiful, dark, and pure. I placed my hand on one side of the door and confidently opened it . . . and gasped at what I saw.

It was absolutely spectacular.

When I opened the doors, I instantly saw two women dressed as the Rose, twirling ribbons of black fabric. It looked like they were swinging the night sky around. I walked past them and looked down the grand golden staircase, and looked about the room. It was the exact opposite of the hallway I was in. The hallway was coated in silver and had a dead feel to it. Meanwhile, this room and coated in gold and everywhere I looked, it was alive as can be. The walls were made of what appeared to be gold. In some areas, the walls had base color of white, but were covered with golden designs of flowers. My eyes swept the expansive walls and took in the center of room. There were couples, all dressed from different tales, dancing the night away to the music that played in the left back corner of the grand room. The music had a tempting rhythm that made even the uncooperative desire to dance. I walked down the stairs, as if the music carried me down, and looked around to see women dressed as Princesses, the Sea, Roses, and Stars. I glanced at their male partners and noticed that they were dressed as the other half of their story. What I also noticed was that I was the only one dressed as the Butterfly.

I continued my way down the grand staircase and as I made my way to the bottom, everyone slowly stopped dancing and moved the sides of the room. Once my left foot touched the floor, everyone was out of the way and there was a straight path leading to the back wall of the room. I stood there, confused, wondering why everyone moved. At first, I thought they moved out of the way for me, until I saw him, my equal.

A boy, about my age, dressed as the Blue Flower, walked my way— no, toward me. His hair was dark brown, almost black, matching his suit. His eyes were blue, the same color as the blue flower that rested in his lapel. From far away I couldn’t tell at first, but as he got closer, I noticed his matte black mask and a single blue flower painted on it, near the corner of his right eye. He was just near steps away from me when he said, “Hello, my dear Butterfly. It appears we’re together at last.”

I took the final steps toward him, toward his extended hand. When I reached him, my breathing sped up as he looked me up and down; his pupils expanding. I paused before him and looked at him. My breathing stopped entirely when he grabbed my hand and said, “May I have this dance?”

The Dance

“May I have this dance?” He repeated, moving his confident hand to my wrist, gripping tightly, claiming me.

“Y-Yes,” I stuttered, moving my hand to connect with his, becoming entwined with him.

As we made our way to the center of the ballroom, where everyone parted ways with their partners and moved against the golden walls, a thought swarmed in the back of my head, The Butterfly meets her Blue Flower at last, and they shall dance the night away.

We made it to the center, atop of the maroon marble floor that looked like blood leaking from some poor unfortunate soul’s veins. I looked above at the grand chandelier— the centerpiece of the ball—and noticed the fine details that I swear weren’t there before. When I entered the ballroom with amazement, the chandelier was in hues of gold, like rays of sunshine that graced the town in the summer. But, now that I’m closer, the chandelier was just a reflection of the walls surrounding it. The chandelier was built from mirrors— the same mirrors that was the ceiling in the entry hallway. I looked up and saw and a puzzle of my partner and I, getting ready for the dance that everyone was waiting for, in the pieces of mirror that made up the chandelier.

So we began.

It was slow, hesitant steps at first; he was leading me, getting me used to the strange beat that would soon follow my current shyness. And, almost synchronized, the music got bolder, my partner pulled me in. We were now intimate with each other, my chest touching his; our faces sharing the same air. And we danced.

As we danced, my partner kept staring at me, like he knew something I didn’t. He got closer, making our noses touch. He asked, “ Are you okay? You look like you’re about to fall over.”

I met his stare as the melody of the music got softer again, as it was before. We were now dancing slow, graceful steps across the marble floor. We stayed under and around the chandelier so we wouldn’t destroy the ring of gossip that was happening around us, under our little, private bubble, that began and ended where we once stepped. I took a hesitant breath, inhaling and exhaling, taking my time. “ I’m fine, it’s just--it’s just everyone is staring at us. Like they’re expecting something big and grand to happen so they can later gossip about it at tea tomorrow.”

“Well . . . You’re not wrong about them staring, Darling. But, I think you got the what they’re staring at wrong.”

“Whatever do you mean?” I asked, hesitantly. We were now branching away from the safe light of the chandelier and danced closer to the people surrounding us, trapping us in a never-ending dance. The swaying music sounded like it was finally finishing after what felt like hours, but it began anew, more joyful than the last piece played, which had more of a dark, rushing beauty to it.

“Darling,” He purred, matching eyes at the people currently next to us. “They’re staring at you.” He turned me around so that my back was against his front and he spun me around, twirling my dress, forcing the women and gentlemen near us to back away. He finished the move by dipping me, and when he did, the candlelight reflected off of his black mask. It was in that moment, that I got a detailed look into his eyes. They were like— no, they were— sapphires. The circle around his pupil was ring of lapis, matching perfectly to the ocean of blue that made up the multitude of colors in his eyes. I noticed as a kept gaping at him, that he started smirking, expecting me to answer him.

I gathered myself hurriedly. I shook my head, making by heavy mask sway from my nervous face and said, “I-I don’t know what you mean. They couldn’t possibly be staring at me. They-they’re staring at you.”

“See, that’s where you’re wrong.” He lifted me up, my chest touching his once again. He situated me, placing his hand on my hip, and holding my hand to lift it up toward the grand ceiling once again. “They are staring at you, not us. And by the confused look on your face, you don’t know the full story, or what’s really going on.”

“What do you mean the full story? What else could possibly be going on?” I stammered over the words, trying to find my way back into our dancing routine.

“You really have no idea no idea what’s going on, do you? You don’t know why you’ve been invited here tonight. I thought you would know more.” He whispered those words into my ear as the tempo began to become a hushed silence; our dance was finally coming to an end. We started slowing down, eventually coming to a complete stop.

As we started slowly down, I said, “Then please tell me. Tell me the whole story. Getting that invitation today was a complete surprise. I don’t know why I got it, but I did.” I stopped to catch my breath. “These things don’t happen to someone like me. So, please tell me why I’m here tonight.” I whispered the last part at the music slowed down and stopped completely. The short-lived silence was filled with the clapping of women and the whistling of men. I overheard some men say that would like a turn with me. My partner also heard those remarks and grabbed my hip and growled. And, as if nothing happened, the golden-masked musicians started playing the dark, beautiful music that they were playing before, and the couples found each other and started up dancing again, as if what just happened never did.

My partner led me over to a dark, secluded corner of the ballroom, where even the soft candlelight dared not touch. There were velvet couches— made of the same material as my safe chair back at home. Sitting in said couches, were couples who decided that they had enough dancing and needed time to get to know each other, specifically, the other’s lips.

We sat down on a couch opposite of a couple, who appeared to be intoxicated and enjoying themselves. But, once the saw us sitting down, they got up and moved away, probably to find another corner. I leaned back against the cool, red velvet. My partner did the same, also lifting his legs to rest his feet on the painted oak table in front of us. He turned to me and said, “Before I tell you anything, I want to get to know you. Pray, tell me you name, my dear Butterfly.”

I turned my upper body toward him and answered his question. “Well, if you must know. My name is Victoria. Now, tell me yours.”

He licked his lips before he smirked at me. “My name is Hugo, dear Butterfly.”

I stared at him, pupils widening, because for some odd reason, it wasn’t the name I was expecting. I voiced my thoughts. “Interesting. Wasn’t what I was expecting.” I stared him up and down, waiting for a reaction of some sort, but all I got was a shrug of his shoulders and that classic smirk of his that would, in time, be permanently engraved on his face if I kept saying stuff like that.

“Really? Not what you were expecting at all. Were you expecting something more . . . regal perhaps?” He asked, clearing poking fun at me.

“Would you stop it? You said you would tell me why I’m here. Why someone like me is here. At the Royal’s Annual Masquerade.” I pleaded with him, making a face that begged him to finally break the small talk that he created to calm down and get my anxiety in check.

He lifted his feet off the table and rested them firmly against the marble floor— which, in the corner of ballroom, were covered in rich, silk carpet that were imported from who knows where. He stood up and turned toward me and walked a few steps; his knees now touching my shaking ones. He— Hugo— extended his hand and faced his palm up, waiting for me to take it. “Victoria, follow me, dear Butterfly.”

I clasped my hand with his, our fingers entwining together. He pulled me up; I was equal to his broad shoulders. He dragged me to the curtained wall, which I only gave a passing glance at when we sat down, and he pulled the lush, red curtain aside, uncovering an antique mirror, which looked exactly like the mirrors that made up the entryway and the grand chandelier. He let go of my hand as he placed the curtain on a golden hook to fully expose the mirror. He turned around and looked me and said, “The conversation that we’re about to have should not be heard by other ears. Which is why I’m leading you to where the story— our story— begins.” He placed his left hand on the center of the mirror and pushed, revealing that the mirror isn’t just a mirror, but passageway . . . toward a garden.

He moved back, his hand still on the door and said: “ Ladies first.”

I took and hesitant step in and turned around and looked at him, his face said it all. We’re about to have a serious conversation. I turned back, to the unlit passageway and stepped fully in; Hugo quickly followed behind me, to get fellow watching eyes away from us.

The Passageway

To say that the passageway was dark was an understatement. It was pure darkness; the absence of life and nature itself. The darkness felt like some life-stealing force, and I was it’s next target.

My heeled feet shuffled forward to make room for Hugo, the Blue Flower to my Butterfly. I felt his presence behind me; his breath hot on my neck.

“It’s kinda dark in here, don’t you think?” breathed Hugo, pushing his chest against my back. I sensed him grab something behind us, in some secret alcove that only he would know about. I heard a slight whoosh, and then a soft click, like Hugo moved something then pushed a button of sorts. “I think, my dear Victoria, we need to shine some light on this conversation.” As he said those words, the sounds I heard earlier made sense. It only took seconds for the passage to light up in hues of purple and blue. Silver torches lined the dark, musty walls, holding dancing figures of purple and blue flames. The flames danced as if in song, moving at times, then stopping, as if they were catching their breath from dancing the night away at the masquerade. The scene reminded me of what just occurred, and I blushed a little, surprisingly going unnoticed by my dance partner.

“ How very dramatic of you, my dear Hugo,” I said, mimicking him. A slight bush appeared on his sharp cheeks, but it left as quickly as it arose. “ I have to say, I’m quite impressed. It’s like you prepared for this conversation, and wanted to make it as dramatic as possible.”

“Can’t blame a gentleman for wanting to impress a beautiful lady such as yourself. And no, I didn’t prepare. If you bothered to look, you would have noticed this contraption on my left that lights the torches. But, you were probably to busy pondering how such a handsome gent, such as myself, can look so great while in the dark,” said Hugo, with much confidence in his guess, but he was ever so wrong.

I turned around to fully look at his face, or . . . well, his eyes that were blessed to look like jewels that belonged in the Royal’s safe, several floors up from where we are right now. “Actually, Hugo, I was thinking about the conversion we were about to have. I don’t know why we have to host it in secret. Why not out there?” I started moving forward, bit by bit, trying not to fall forward, and most certainly not backward. I don’t need Hugo knowing my clumsy I am, or how much I’m shaking because of how nervous I’m becoming. Hugo follows suit, letting me take my time getting used to the rocky terrain that is passageway calls a floor. “ We could have had this conversation out there, where it’s warm. Not in this dark and cold passageway that leads to some secluded garden.” I quicken my pace as I slowly got comfortable with the floor. Hopefully there’s a bench in the garden. I want to take this damned shoes off. I’m now moving at a normal pace, Hugo smirked like he could read and hear my ranting thoughts about the torture devices strapped to my feet. “ The guests are either too drunk to remember anything we say, or they’re too invested in their partners that they wouldn’t bother noticing us anyway.”

“ Could we have had this lovely conversation out there? Yes. But it’s not the nosy guests that I worried about,” Hugo practically whispered that last part. He grabbed, more like tugged, my upper arm to slow me down. Our feet shuffled in some unnatural, awkward song as we both slowed, then stopped. He placed both his hands— which were cold from the bitter air coming from outside, from the garden— on my fabric covered shoulders, spinning me around to face him once again. He got close to me, our foreheads touching, “It’s you I’m worried about.”

I backed away from him after he said those words. I pressed my back against the rock wall, catching my stuttering breath. “What do you mean that you’re worried about me?”

“Sorry, I misspoke,” said Hugo, “I meant to say your reaction. I’m worried about your reaction. I know that you flush easily, as proved when we were dancing.” Hugo lifted his hands in front of him, like he needed them to prove his dying point. “ I took that information into account and figured that you would want to be alone, or just be around fewer people in case . . . in case you had a rather . . . anxious reaction,” He finished as he put his hands around my face, cupped my cheeks, tracing my jaw line with his thumb.

Facing my gaze from the dark floor to his face, his eyes, I saw pure emotion, pure concern for my well-being. I opened my mouth to say something, but then decided against it. I needed time to allow whole and complete thoughts to fill my head before I say anything. I looked ahead, the secret garden in perfect sight, and I realized the my heartbeat was beating in time with the water springing from the fountain just a few feet away from me. I looked back as Hugo’s face and whispered back my response. “ I appreciate your concern, I really do. But why would I freak out? What would you say in the conversation we’re about to have that would cause me to feel such a way? How serious is the conversation?”

Hugo, bless him, sensed my unease of him and backed away a couple of steps, but not far enough in case something happens. Our feet were the only thing of ours that were touching. After a few drops of water from the fountain and a few cries from birds later, Hugo responded.

“Well, first of all, one question at a time, love. I can only do so much.” His tease caused a smile to form on my face, and Hugo certainly noticed. He continued, “And, to answer your questions, I may be . . . exaggerating, but I want you to feel safe. So, in case you react in a certain way, I want you to feel comfortable . . . with me. The conversation we’re about to have will answer any question that you may have regarding why you, of all possible women, were invited tonight, to the masquerade. But, in order to do so, we need to be in the place the whole story started, hence why we’re on our way to the garden in which the climax of the story— our story— takes place.” He finished his statement by gesturing to the garden. My gaze followed the length of his muscled arm and looked at the beautiful garden once again. From this angle, all I could see was the gorgeous fountain ahead of us. Upon further inspection, I noticed the top of the fountain consisted of skulls, made from grey rock.

The skulls were arranged in an uncanny order, placed gently on top of one another, like someone just dumped the dead onto the fountain and left it to become one with nature and become something entirely different. To form some essence of dark and beauty, a perfect combination of both.

I looked at Hugo again, seeing a sense of uncertainty and want in his eyes. “ So, all will be explained tonight? No more surprises? Just simple and straight answers?”

Hugo dropped his arm and returned it to its place by his side. He face cleared of any remaining emotion from before and looked at me. “Well, I’m not entirely sure about simple and straight answers, but you’ll leave tonight knowing more than what you did before. But to answer your first question, yes. I will be explaining everything tonight, whether you understand it or not, I don’t know. But I want to give you answers, I’ve been wanting to tell you all night. Can you please get out of here and make it to the garden? Our story starts there. It would only make sense if I explained everything to you there.” He finished, almost out of breath. He smiled at me, awaiting a response.

I smiled back and said, “ Then lead the way, my dear Hugo.”

He gasped at me saying his name in the tone that I did, dark and secretive, like our current setting.

He grabbed my hand and dragged me the rest of the way through the dark passageway. Hugo stopped suddenly, just before the entrance of the garden, causing me to bump into him. He quickly turned away and looked me over one last time, making sure I was ready for the news I was yet to receive. I nodded.

“Well then, milady. Follow me.”

We both walked over the threshold of the garden, and beheld the setting of The Tale of the Butterfly and the Blue Flower.

The Garden

The garden was something out of a dark fairytale. Beautiful, yet creepy and macabre in a way. The varying shades of plum-colored roses mixed perfectly with the dark toned nightshade that creeped its way around the garden, blooming in all the dark corners, creating a dark space that absorbs light in any form that nature gives it. The stone walls gave off the mark of death by human skulls being carved into the facade of each individual grey stone, each with a dark story. Black magic violas were planted next to the black cherry petunias, creating a picture that looked like the swirl of drying blood. At the garden’s center, was a fountain made of the same grey stone of the dead walls. Carved stone skulls made up the fountain; water spewing from eye sockets, nostrils, and cracks between teeth. It created the effect of clear, pure blood, pouring from the dead’s eyes, symbolizing life leaving the dearly departed. The only thing that brought some life into the secluded garden was the iron lamps with maroon, blood-colored candles that beheld what looked like the sun’s light, shining its essence into the dark. The whole setting of the sad garden brought chills down my spine as I walked with Hugo over to the black, iron bench, next to the only alive thing that the garden contained . . . light, blue flowers.

“The blue flowers really stand out, don’t they?” I asked Hugo, making myself feel almost at home on the bench. I looked around the garden to make sure no followed us in, which I highly doubted, because Hugo made sure no one was by checking behind us ever so often. But the feeling of eyes watching me was ever-present. Maybe it’s just all the empty eye sockets. Whoever designed this garden had quite the dark personality.

Hugo made his way over to me after walking the perimeter of the small garden, glancing and looking over all the dark, gothic flowers, making sure everything is in its place. After giving what appeared to be a satisfied nod, Hugo sat down next to me and made himself comfortable by turning his toned body toward me, giving himself up to me and receiving my full and ever-curious attention.

“I guess you’re right. They are the only thing giving life around here, “ agreed Hugo, crossing his legs and nonchalantly placing his left arm behind my shoulder. He continued, “Well, besides from you, Victoria.”

I sighed and shook my head. What a kiss up! I look up from the garden that once was a blurred picture in my head. I do a once over and turn to Hugo, glancing at his arm behind me. “Well, aren’t you a people-pleaser? My dear Hugo, never would I have expected that from you!” I said this all sarcastically, of course. I laughed at his obviously appalled face. Never have I seen him looked so “offended”; he looked rather exquisite in the dark light.

“Oh, stuff it, milady. You should always expect me to be a flirt, especially if I’m given great material to practice on.” He glanced at me, as if expecting another laughable response, but I gave him nothing. My gaze kept switching from his face to the blue flowers behind him, and I noticed something that shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did. A single purple butterfly lands on the furthest blue flower away from Hugo and I. The scene reminded me of the conversion we need to have.

Hugo, noticing my drifting eyes, looked behind him and paused. He looked at the butterfly and the flower with such admiration, like the scene itself was going to help him prove his point and further his story he was about to tell me.

“Well, if that isn’t a scene setter, then I don’t know what is,” said Hugo, taking my shaking hand into his. His quick action awoke me from the trance that I was in looking at the butterfly and the flowers, and the contrast to the dark environment surrounding such a love-filled scene. “I guess it’s time to tell you why you’re here, at the masquerade.” Hugo said this with such hesitation that one would think he didn’t want to say it, or was forced to on the account of someone else.

“I’ve been waiting all night,” I said. “ I’ve always, for years, had this . . . this feeling of being pulled to somewhere or something. I’ve never knew what it was. Until I received the invitation to the masquerade tonight.” Was it really only hours ago that my life changed? Has time really moved that fast? I kept these racing and confused thoughts to myself; I was trying not to show my discomfort, but Hugo sensed it, just a bit. I continued.

“I was just sitting, reading one of my favorite books, when the feeling came on— the pull. It felt like a string, just dragging me along to my destination, not minding what I thought about the matter. I wasn’t until I saw the invitation, then the dress and mask, that I connected the dots.” Hugo was staring intently at me, fully consuming the information that I was giving him. I appreciated the act; no one ever pays me that much attention in my daily life. It’s nice to have, for a change. Before I continued on with my story, I stole a look behind Hugo to look at the butterfly resting on the blue flower. The butterfly was turned toward me, as if it was also listening in to my tale of the restless night.

“ I figured out that the feeling that I got, was a pull toward someone, and I always got it the day of the masquerade. I don’t know why, but by the look on your face, I can’t deduce that you know the reason.” Hugo moved his arm so that it rested on my cold and tense shoulders. A sign of comfort; a silent motion that proved I could trust him, that no harm will come to me, if he had anything to do about it. His other arm, which was rested peacefully in his lap, moved to the side of my face. He traced my jaw line as he rested his hand behind my head. I felt him tug at something, and it was too late to stop him as he removed my butterfly mask.

“ That’s better,” said Hugo, moving to remove his mask, but before he could do anything, I grabbed his arm, telling him to stop.

“You removed mine, so let me remove yours.” He looked at me with pure admiration in his eyes and nodded at me to continue my task. I slowly moved my hands to cup the sides of his face, holding it for a second longer than I need to. After what became a long time, I moved to the string holding his mask to his face. Undoing it, I realized that this was going to be the first time we saw each others faces unmasked. There was a rule at the masquerade that prevented the removal of masks before the masquerade ended. The same thought I was having seemed to appear in Hugo’s head as well.

“I already removed yours, it’s only fair if you do the same to me.”

I continued.

I removed his mask with the same care he used as I removed mine. I placed his black mask on top of my purple one and when I looked up again, Hugo was closer than his was before.

“ I guess you’re ready to have this conversation then. I know you’ve waited long enough.” He looked at me like I was the only thing in the dark and macabre garden. I stared at him as I nodded my answer.

He told me everything. Everything to the last detail.

Victoria

Hugo looked me dead in the eye, ignoring everything around him and told me everything, from the beginning to where we are now--the garden, the talk, that started it all.

“You know the story of The Butterfly and the Blue Flower?” asked Hugo.

“Yes, of course I do. The tale is about a girl and a boy, who are exactly alike, equals in every way possible. They are pure, innocent, and most importantly, cruel. They were underestimated by everyone who knew them so, they proved that they were a force to be messed with.” Hugo nodded at my understanding of the story, or so I thought.

“You have the basic history or origin of the story down. Mostly because that’s what everyone’s told, but you and everyone else don’t know the truth.”

“Except for you.”

“Yes, Victoria. Except for me.” Hugo smirked at my response to his already dramatic telling of the story. I let him continue.

“I guess the best place to start is with each other,” said Hugo. I tilted my head in confusion, wondering why we needed to start with each other. Hugo, acknowledging my confusion, continued on with his story.

“I am well aware of how confusing this sounds, but all will make sense in the end, I hope.” I nodded at him to continue. To calm myself down, I took one last look to the environment around me. It was darkly gorgeous, and if I didn’t know any better, this would be the perfect place to read a novel or two. The thought of reading calming me so, I turned back of Hugo, ready to get my answers that I deserved at last. “To make things comfortable, let’s start with you. Please, my dear, pray tell me about yourself.” Hugo stared at me, with something I couldn’t quite detect in his eyes. He grabbed my hands and said, “To be more specific, anything that you and the Butterfly have in common.”

“Well, my name is Victoria, but you know that because I told you before. I’m eighteen years old, and I have quite the fascination with reading.” Hugo sweetly traced the bones under the skin of my hands and nodded at me to continue talking. So I did. “ I love reading, I love it so much, that my friends find it quite unbearable. They would rather spend their weekends at a pub or some rich man’s house and keep him company for the night, but not me. I find myself quite content with sitting down in my parlor with a nice cup of Earl Grey, reading something that takes me away from the insanity of reality. I sit there for hours, either rereading Frankenstein, or finally getting my hands on something new. So, of course, I’m the odd one out in my friend group.” As I said this, Hugo looked like he was grasping every word I spoke, which was nice for change, I continued.

“ That’s one thing that separates me from all my other friends, but the main difference is experience. Experience with social matters, experience with people of the opposite gender, and most important to this tale: experience with romance. To me, romance is just something I read about and desired for myself. It’s not something that will happen to me.” I whisper the last part as I look down at my lap, almost too ashamed to continue on, confessing everything to someone I just met. As I take a couple of breaths to calm myself, Hugo did something that I didn’t quite expect. He gracefully lifted up his hands that were holding mine and rested his lips upon them. I heard him muttering something under his breath, and I strained to figure out what he said. I swore that I heard a faint “You will, my love.”

“As you know, my lack of experience on such matters equals to that of the Butterfly,” I stated, because, well, it was true. I’ve only ever heard the tale from my mother and father. Most nights when I was a child, crying over my lack of friends, my parents, who still cared from my wellbeing at the time, would calm me down with fairy tales, or what I thought were fairy tales. My favorite one was, of course, the one I was dressed as. I admired the Butterfly. I always saw bits and pieces of myself in her and I desired to be her. To be most specific, I wanted her cruelty; her power to show others that she wasn’t someone’s object that they could use whenever they wanted. She was someone to be messed with.

I told Hugo all of this and more. I told him how most of the time I felt hopeless and lost with my friends because we don’t have anything in common with each other. I was the odd one out, and the brunt of the jokes that they told. But, it always surprised me that they were still “friends” with me, and I them. I told Hugo of the bursts of anger and hate that I would inflict on my room late at night; all the frustration in my head caused by people around me not understanding me and how my mind worked. They were all dirty insects and I was a pretty butterfly, flying around with no safe place to land. Everything looked like it was about to consume me, until I met him, my Hugo.

After I finished telling him everything— the secrets that consumed my thoughts and the confessions that ate my heart. I looked at him and noticed his tense face. “Well, aren’t you going to say somethings? Please, say something, anything.”

He looked up from his lap where he was tracing the shape of my hands with his pale fingers. They were tears in his blue eyes that contrasted the happiness and concern from before. We both took deep breaths as he started to talk.

“I never want you to feel like that again. I wish that I was there for you. I could have done something to help you find your way out of the sea of mad thoughts that swim in your head.” He paused, collecting himself from the emotion that burst out of him. It was my turn to comfort as he did me. I put my arm around his shoulder and moved him toward my chest, letting him gather himself in the warmth of my arms. As last, Hugo sat up and looked at me like he realized something. “I never knew how much alike we really are. If you think about it, we are the tale of The Butterfly and the Blue Flower.”

Hugo

“I never knew how much alike we really are. If you think about it, we are the tale of The Butterfly and the Blue Flower.” I stared at Hugo, waiting for him to continue his thought. His blue eyes wandered, looking at the skull fountain in the middle of the garden. He appeared to be watching the path of the water through the eye sockets and gaps in-between the rotted teeth. Hugo was in a trance of sorts, trying to figure out where to start his tale. He then decided to follow my example. Start from the beginning.

“My name is Hugo, and I am also eighteen. While I do like reading, I have quite the—how did you put it,” He smirked, joking about my use of words to describe my boring life. “Ah, yes, it’s coming to me— I have quite the fascination with science.” He looked at me, appearing to expect some reaction out of me. I didn’t give him one; he continued.

“To be more specific of my profession, I am ever so interested in medical science, like our dear friend, the Blue Flower.” As Hugo said this, he turned his head around and gestured to the blue flowers behind him, which appeared to glow in color when he started to tell his story. Like they were waking up from eternal sleep. Hugo turned back to toward me, his face reading mine; he made the same conclusion about the flowers as I did. He looked down at our connected hands and continued his story.

“I study under my uncle, who . . . studies the dead ” He spoke with such hesitation that I thought something must be wrong with him. Then it dawned on me. Dealing with the dead in this town in looked down upon, but cutting them open and figuring out what killed them, that’s horrid in the town’s eyes, If anyone has any dealings with the dead, the town talks and makes up rumors saying that that person deals with the Devil and has every bad thing out to get them. Which is false of course.

Hugo was starting to shake, because he thought I was like everyone else, which I’m not. While I’m not like Hugo in the regards of science, I do love a little bit of it here and there. It’s interesting, seeing how life works before your eyes, seeing what’s there and what isn’t. It’s beauty in the making that I wish more people would see. But sadly, the cloud of ignorance fogs their opportunity to having an open mind.

I lifted my other hand that wasn’t holding Hugo’s, and I held his face and made him look up at me. “I’m not like everyone else, Hugo. If this night has taught me anything, I’ve learned that I’m like you.” I spoke with all the love and appreciation that I could, and it appeared to work, because I saw life in Hugo’s beautiful eyes once again.

“Thank you. You’ve taught me that, too.” I nodded at him to continue; I was very eager to learn what connected us, what dragged us here to the masquerade tonight.

“As I said before, I study under my uncle. In case it wasn’t obvious, since my uncle studies the dead and I do, too, we are disregarded my our family. They think that studying the dead is a sign of working with the Devil. I’ve told them several times and tried to explain to them more times than that. What I’m doing could one day save people, if not then stop whatever disease plagued them or catch the monster of a person that killed them. But, they wouldn’t listen so, I left to live and continue my studies with my uncle, who is the only person who understands me, well besides you, now.” I leaned toward and nodded for him to continue. By how fast he was speaking, it appears he’s never told anyone this before; he was finally getting the weight of his secrets off his chest for the first time in a long time.

“For years, I performed experiments with my uncle, trying out difference procedures and repeating experiments done by several scientists before us. Actually, before I received the invitation to come tonight, we were preparing for Galvani’s experiment.” Hugo smiled, a true smile appeared on his face when he spoke of his uncle and their experiments. He looks cute when he’s happy.

“Sorry to interrupt you, but may I please ask, what is Galvani’s experiment?” I already knew the answer from reading Frankenstein so many times, but he had pure and lovable joy on his face, and I didn’t want it to go away.

“His experiment was galvanism, which is basically inducing electric currents into muscle to make it contract and move. It’s quite interesting if you read up on it.” Hugo continued on about himself, talking about his experiments and his life leading up to the masquerade and meeting me.

Hugo didn’t have a lot of friends; we related somewhat on that account. While I had friends that had nothing in common with me, he had few friends that shared lots with him. He talked about each of his friends and which areas of science they studied. It was fun watching him talk about science and his friends, from the way he talked, I could easily tell that they were good people and I instantly wanted to meet them. “Maybe, someday you will,” said Hugo.

Hugo also told me about another account that we both shared in common: experience with another person. Hugo, like myself, thought romance was out of the question for him, it was something to be desired, but never have for one’s self. He mentioned the times when his family would bring suitors home and force them upon him. None of the suitors had anything in common with him. According to Hugo, they would dumb themselves down and push themselves against him, trying to get something out of their forced time together. He respected them, told them “no,” and pushed them gently off of him before he stormed out of his family’s mansion and ran to his uncle’s lab to put his hands into a bloody cadaver for several hours, trying to get his mind off of the lingering touches of the girls’ wandering hands.

When his finished, he looked at me, weak and vulnerable. Hugo just came clean to me, and at the same time, I think we both realized how close we are to our story, our shared story. A life different from ours.

Hugo was about to speak again, most likely to start telling the proper and true story of The Butterfly and the Blue Flower, but he suddenly stopped himself. He looked at me, pupils wide as can be and said, “ Did you hear that?”

The Kiss

At first I didn’t hear the noise, then the sound of steps echoing and voices— male and female — carrying through the tunnel Hugo and I walked through for what felt like hours ago, when it was only a couple of minutes. The steps were getting louder, closer to where we sat; the voices carried even more, to the point where I could tell that the couple was eager for some privacy. I blushed at the thought as Hugo grasped my hand and said, “We have to get out of here. Now.”

Hugo stood up and grabbed my upper arm to pull up against him. I could tell that Hugo’s mind was racing, trying come figure out a way to get us both out of here safely. Hugo straightened his worried back and looked at the opposite end of the garden, which was a stone wall with carved skulls in random places. I could faintly see an outline of something, but from this distance I couldn’t tell what. Hugo’s arm, which was around my shoulders, lifted up and pointed to the skull wall.

“That’s where we have to go. There’s a door leading to my study here in the castle.” Hugo looks at me, noticing my confused face. “Did I not tell you that I apprentice here?”

I looked at him, shaking my head. “No. No, you didn’t.”

The voices were getting too close for comfort now, because I could now tell that they were too eager about what they wanted to do and got right to the point.

Hugo, noticing at the same time I did, and grabbed my hand and pulled me to the opposite end of the garden toward the wall. He pushed his two of his fingers into the eye sockets of the right-most skull and the stone door popped right open. Hugo wrapped his arm around my waist and dragged me into the dark tunnel and pushed me up against the surprisingly clean walls. The door slammed shut and Hugo placed his hand over my mouth to cover up the sound of my heavy breathing. Everything went still, silent. I then realized that Hugo wasn’t just messing with me; we were waiting to see whether the couple noticed us slip into the tunnel. But considering how interested and invested they were in each other, I don’t think they noticed a thing.

Hugo relaxed his hand and removed it from my mouth, but his other arm, which was still around my waist, stayed, like it belonged there. Our shared breathes intertwined for what felt like minutes but was only moment. I asked, “Is it safe to move, or do we continue being improper and stay in this compromising position?”

Hugo smirked and laughed. “As much as I would very much like to stay in this position,” — a pause— “ but looking at your scared and innocent face, I have to say that it’s safe to move.” Hugo looked me up and down once more before he moved his hands and body out-of-the-way.

I moved from the wall and straighten my ruffled dress, and moved stray hairs from my eyes. I crossed my arms and said to Hugo firmly, “You’re insufferable. You know that, right?”

“Of course I do, my darling.”

After our playful banter, I finally took the chance to look at creepy, macabre, yet gorgeous tunnel. The walls, well, I suppose I could call them that, because they served the same purpose, were made of skulls. Real human skulls. And each empty, dead eye, held a candle with a blue-purple flicker of flame. How is that scientifically possible. I’m no scientist, but that can’t happen. I’ll have to ask Hugo about it later. Yes, the walls were made of the dead, but that wasn’t what captured me eyes. Some of the skulls were painted. Some skulls were covered in gold that seemed to flow like a river over them, while other were specked with red, making the skulls appeared covered in blood. It was an interesting tunnel, but was I ever-so-intrigued.

“The candles. How can their flame possibly be that color? It’s -it’s impossible.” I turned toward Hugo, confused, giving him a look that was begging for an answer.

“ Nothing’s impossible if you’re a genius like me,” replied Hugo. “But, if you want a serious answer, follow to me to my laboratory,” he quickly added. Hugo extended his hand toward him, offered to take me to his mysterious lab. That’s the second time he’s extended his hand toward like that. The first being when I walked into the ballroom and everything stopped except my nerves and his footsteps walking toward me. Now, being the second. My life changed the first time, I was eager to see what would happen now.

I took his hand, and before I could possible do anything, Hugo pulled me fully against him, our bodies flush against each other. I could smell his cologne, which was mixed with strange chemical scents, and Hugo could probably see my exact brush strokes I made when applying my powder before the masquerade. I looked up from his heavy-breathing chest and looked up into his blue eyes, and saw him looking into my hazel ones. I moved my hand toward his face, rested upon his sharp jaw line. He did the same to me.

“What are we doing? What are we about to do?” I asked, looking from eyes to his lips and back again.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m about to kiss you. If it’s okay with you.” Hugo awaited my answer. I knew he would wait until I said so, but I wanted to hold on to the feeling of being in control just a little while longer. His pupils were dilating, whether the cause was me or the low light, I don’t know, but I knew my answer after a moment.

“Yes.”

Hugo wasted no time, and kissed me with so much passion that I’m pretty sure he’s been holding it in even since our hands touched for the first time. I was hesitant at first, tightening my grip on his jaw line, before moving my hands to the back of his head, holding and pulling at his black hair. He moaned. I had no idea I could pull that sound from a man. I immediately wanted to do it again. I joined in on the dance the occurred between our mouths. His hands moved from my face to my corseted waist in a matter of moments, tightening his grip there as well. A moan escaped my lips; Hugo smiled then resumed marking me. It felt like flowers bloomed in my rushing heart. Something was awaking inside of me, something pushing against my chest, wanting, begging to be free. The feeling got stronger as we kept kissing. We would stop to catch our breaths, then start again. Hugo’s lips moved to my neck and began doing three things: kissing, licking, and biting. I had no idea my neck was that sensitive, but if Hugo so much as breathed on the curve of my neck, right behind my ear, I lost it. I moaned again. This prompted Hugo to stop worshipping my neck and begin worshiping my lips once again. During the seductive endeavor, Hugo managed to push me up against the skulled walls. His firm hands remained at my waist, occasionally squeezing. My hands were in two different place: one of gripping and pulling his dark locks, prompted grunts to escape Hugo; and the other held on to one of his lapels. For two people who lacked experience, we were doing quite well at making sure the other was happy and satisfied. As the kiss ended, we moved slower, holding off the future end.

We separated at last before Hugo said, “I’ve been wanting to do that even since our first dance.”

I kissed him again, and this time, I pushed him against the skulled walls.

The Laboratory

Hugo’s laboratory wasn’t what I expected it to be. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much to begin with, since our town looks down upon the curiosity of science and those who waste away hours of the day studying the natural world. But by the looks of the room surrounding me, it appears that the Royals have secret experiments taking place, and they hired the best expert of science the town has — Hugo— to conduct them. My eyes opened in wonder and awe at the beautiful laboratory before me, or shall I say library by how many books occupy all the surfaces of the room.

The color of the walls was unknown to me because shelves full of books and science experiments covered the laboratory like a blanket on a sleeping child. Warm, comforting; the feel of home in one piece of fabric, or in this case, parchment and strange liquids. And for some reason foreign to me, I felt I belonged.

“I’ll be honest with you, Hugo, this— this wasn’t what I was expecting.” I walked over to the desk in the center of the room, almost tripping over the corner of the Persian rug that rested upon the dusty floor. “I was expecting something more . . . grotesque. Not a carbon copy of my father’s study.” I turned around to find Hugo smirking at me from under the doorway where I once stood.

“Were you expecting something more like Frankenstein ? While I do fancy myself a Victor, I’m not that obsessive.”

“Oh, shut it, dear Hugo.”

“Admit it, you love it when I talk.” He had the nerve to smirk yet again. Damn him.

I dragged my finger along the surface of the dusty and book-covered desk. Surprisingly, while the room did look hazardous, it was clean, in a sense. Hugo moved from the dark door frame and moved closer to where I was wandering — both in my head and in the laboratory. The bookshelves contained many tomes, some from years past and a few from recent times. Scattered in their own unorganized order, there appeared to be a few fictional novels as well. It seemed odd to me that person so intently interested in the sciences would spend precious time reading something that isn’t real. But I shouldn’t be the one talking, it’s all I ever do. Escape reality through a portal made of parchment and ink.

I cleared my throat. “So . . . tell me about those flames. Fire is supposed to be red or orange. The fiery passion of autumn.” I took a breath, using my pause to step closer to Hugo, who was leaning on the desk. “Yet, those flames better represented the depths of winter with the hues of blue and purple.” I scoffed and shyly turned my eyes downward, half admiring the designs of the rug and half regretting my next statement. “Is it magic?”

Hugo’s mystified eyes started at me, shocked that such an intelligent girl like me would think something so . . . unintelligent and fanciful. Then he laughed. It wasn’t a quiet giggle or a half-hearted scoff; it was a laugh that filled the empty lab with the symphony of his happiness. It bounced from book to book, specimen to specimen, wall to wall. The sound filled some part of my heart that I desired and begged to never be empty again. “Victoria, did you just dare ask that a simple phenomenon for unnatural flame was magic?” Hugo shook his head in disbelief. “To be honest, darling, I expected better. But to answer your question: No, it was not magic, nor do I excel in wizardry. I do, however, appreciate that you think I do.”

Hugo, no longer leaning on the desk, moved closer toward me, letting our breaths mingle in front of our faces. He looked down as he grasped my hands and rubbed the pads of his thumbs across my knuckles. “It was colored powder,” he said at last.

“Excuse me? It was powder?” I arched my brows when I asked the question. I do consider myself a smart girl— all I ever do is read. But at this moment, I wasn’t proving myself worthy of intellectual conversation.

“Yes, it was colored powder. My friends and I were bored one day and decided to experiment with fire. We wanted to see if we could alter one of the natural elements. And well . . . we succeeded.” Hugo let go of my hands and continued pass me to the bookshelves behind me. He ran his finger across the book spines worn by time and pride. “We were going to continue our experiments, but the Royal’s Masquerade was daunting on the horizon, so we decided to wait afterwards, when there wasn’t as many prying eyes.” Hugo snuck a glance at me, his pupils dilating to accommodate the low light. He picked up a book at random and started flipping through the papers, as if he were trying to find his way back to his story.

“It used to just be my friends and I in shared lab on the outskirts of town. It still is actually, but somehow and someway, the Royal’s found out about us. Us practicing science, our experiments. They found out everything. I thought we were dead; I was going to take full blame for our actions. I was prepared to, until . . . until the Royal’s asked me to be their official researcher of all things natural.” Hugo placed the book down and started to wander the perimeter to the room. Tracing the spines of books— his books— and picking up jars of substances unknown to me. He was thinking, cataloging.

“ I was surprised. For a town that looks down upon science, it for unusual for the leaders of said town to not look away from my area of practice. Officials from the royal court banged on our doors and requested that Hugo Medici be present at the castle for a private meeting with the Royals.” Hugo turned to look at me and leaned on a bookcase. He rubbed the area between his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. The motion was so quick, it was evident that this story was the cause of his rapid movements and stress.

“ Are you okay, Hugo? You’re moving around a lot and appear restless.” I moved from my spot behind the desk and made my way over to him. I grabbed his shaking hands and forced him to look into my eyes. “Calm down,”— I gestured over toward the chairs hidden in a corner to the laboratory— “why don’t we sit down. You’ve been on your feet awhile; you’ll feel better once you rest.” With the dark bookcases and the curtains draping before the chairs, the corner was more of an alcove. While the deep red curtains can be seen from every corner of the room, the chairs can’t. We were already in private, did we really need more privacy?

With our elbows hooked, we went over toward the chairs and I forced Hugo down onto the chair. I closed the curtains and lit the black candelabra on the round table to the side of the chairs. The leather upholstery of the chairs squeaked under our weights. The rustle of the curtains and the flicker of the flames filled the silence around us. I waited in patience for Hugo to begin telling his story again. I sneaked a glance over toward him and found him staring at me. Hugo seemed to have put himself together rather quickly and reached across the space between us and grabbed my hand.

“ I was so scared, Victoria. I thought they were going to kill me. And after they did, I thought they were going to kill my family.” His voice cracked, the pressure of his words pushing down on him. “My family is the superior banking family in this region. My death and association with science would have destroyed that in less than a heartbeat. They might not have accepted me, but I still cared for them. I didn’t wish them dead because of me.

“ And my uncle, my death would have destroyed him and everything he’s built for himself. His practice, his experiments— he would have stopped if I were not around to assist him anymore. In the end, it would have killed him, too.” Tears had begun to form in Hugo’s eyes, and they ran like clear waterfalls down his face and over his lips.

I didn’t want to startle him further than he had himself, but it was something I felt— no, needed— to do. I stood up and crossed the space between us, and sat on his lap and gathered his head into my arms. An embrace of comfort and my deepest love and admiration from him. I didn’t need to hear this story, but he trusted me enough to tell it to me anyway. Hugging him was the least I could do, the most I could do was take the pain. Even science didn’t have a cure for that. A remedy to cure the body’s emotions

The Butterfly and the Blue Flower

Hugo's dark locks ran like shadows between my fingers. His tears left stains of sorrow, despair, and confusion on the bodice of my dress— but I didn't care. I didn't have a care in the world for anything else at the moment. The only thing on my mind was Hugo and his well-being. I wouldn’t— couldn’t— bring myself to move on. I didn't have a second thought about myself; my life could be falling apart in front of my eyes but they only thing I would focus on is Hugo. In a way, my life was falling apart. Hugo was shaking underneath me, grasping me tightly and whispering sweet nothings into my chest that I couldn't make out. I was about to acquire if he was ready to begin his dreadful tale again when he said a peculiar thing that caused my heart to miss a beat.

"I've could have lost you, too." His arms squeezed my waist and he tilted his head so his weary tear-stained eyes looked into mine. “Maybe not immediately, but I would have lost you eventually. Even though we just met not only hours ago, I feel like a piece of my soul is somehow complete. Your presence astounds my being and lights up my soul. Before I met you, I thought my only passion was science. But now… I’ve realized I used it to fill a hole in my existence that should’ve been filled with your love.” He grasped my chin and gently pulled my face closer to his, our single breathes becoming shared, our souls becoming one with each others, our lives finally having meaning now that our other half is with us. “If tonight has proved anything, you must know that I deeply love and admire you and it would be a great honor to get to know you, Victoria. I would keep any information regarding you as safe as I keep any of my specimens— even more so, because you are precious and dear to me.”

If I was already shedding tears, I would have started then. I’ve never met anyone who cared about me as deeply as Hugo stated. Yes, my family loved me, but it didn’t go skin-deep. I was an only child, but somehow both my parents managed to place their love in other places. My father wasn’t shy about hiding his secret comings-and-goings with gambling. It was blatantly obvious. With my father’s wealthy income from his job at the bank— one of the many the Medici’s owned— and my mother’s gracious payments from the extravagant tea parties she hosted, it was rather odd when I discovered significant sums from our family account going missing each month. A common person wouldn’t have noticed, because as soon as money was taken out of our account, it was quickly replaced. My father’s addiction may not be affecting my family directly ; we surely are not suffering at all, but if it goes on, I fear my father’s soul may be far from redemption, if it isn’t already.

My mother on the other hand, placed her love into her social events. Her saying goes as follows, “ If I’m not hosting it, there’s absolutely not point in attending.” My mother’s constant party planning began years ago, before I learned of my father’s gambling. My mother wanted a simple get-together with friends she hasn’t seen since she was a young girl at the Academy— the school for girls and women in my town. She started planning as any sane person would, she picked who would be invited and who wouldn’t, she planned the meal and made her signature rose tea blend. Everything went splendid, as far as tea parties go. After all the guests left, my mother decided it should be a monthly occurrence for her to host tea parties. What started out as small gatherings of friends, later turned into a lavish events with half the town’s population in attendance. Noble families full of esteemed men and women came with their children— sons and daughters who expected the world to bow down to them at their every wish and command. I became “friends” with ladies in attendance and have since regretted even looking at them and giving them the wrong idea. Needless to say, it was difficult to find solstice in my own home which wasn’t tainted by parental sin.

I grabbed Hugo’s hand and moved it from my chin to my flushed cheek and held it there. The flames from the candles ignited something in his eyes. Hugo gave me a soft smile, a kind of smile I haven’t seen in a long time. It made saying my next words easier. “ It would be a great honor to know you too, Hugo. You have shown me kindness in ways I haven’t seen in a long time. I always thought my peace in life came from sitting in a chair and escaping the troubles from life by reading a book. But after meeting you, I realized I shouldn’t have to turn to books to make my life better.” I kissed his brow and moved my forehead against his. “ After meeting you, I’ve learned that all I need is someone to make life worth living. In these past hours, you’ve given me something I haven’t had in years: truth.” My tears rolled down my cheek, my lips, and landed on Hugo’s. I wiped my tears away with my thumb. “My home is den of lies and sin. My father gambles every night and my mother in barely lucid enough half the time to even pay attention to me. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart and from the top of my soul. Thank you for listening to me when everyone else turned away.”

The flames danced a strange rhyme as the walls in the laboratory settled, filling the room with creaks. Hugo grabbed my waist and moved himself to sit up straighter. “We can’t be having bad backs now, can we?” I giggled and held his face in hands.

“ No, we can’t. However can we dance again with bad backs,” I said.

“That would be a world that I would never want to live in. If I can’t dance with you, I shall never be able to accomplish anything ever again,” said Hugo, adjusting me so I can lean back into his chest. It was like a cocoon of warmth that I never wanted to leave. I could have stayed there with Hugo’s arms around me forever. We stayed in that position for what felt like minutes, hours. We talked about our favorite books and plays. Our favorite tea blends and what we did in our free time. What life was like at our respective schools (I was in my last year at the women’s Academy studying literature to hopefully write stories of my own, but since Hugo’s uncle was a scientist, he was granted permission to study under him instead of going to the men’s Academy).

“A writer who reads outlandish things and a scientist who studies the dead long into the night. We make quite the peculiar pair. Don’t we, Victoria?” asked Hugo, turning his head to rest against my shoulder. At this point, we’ve been conversing for so long, that my heels were thrown to the floor, leaving me in my stockings and dress. And leaving Hugo in his white dress shirt (he removed his jacket when he stated that it was getting too hot) and his cravat undone and thrown uncaringly onto the table. It was rather improver for two young, unmarried people to be half-dressed in a room together, but we didn’t have a care in the world. We were far too close now to be ashamed of such stuff. It was ridiculous.

It didn’t concern us how late in was until the clock on the other side of the red curtain struck the hour. It was two in the morning, but we could still hear the faint sounds of the masquerade going on above us. The clattering of conversations and the clicking of wine glasses. The sounds of laughter and passion. Even though we were far from the ballroom, I could still hear the music with my straining ears. The Masquerade was still lively and would not be ending anytime soon.

I stroking Hugo’s collar when I said, “ I should probably go now. I’ve been here far too long.” I released a breath, “though I highly doubt it, my parents are probably concerned about my whereabouts; I didn’t exactly informed them of where I was going.”

Hugo pushed a piece of hair out of my face. His hand lingered longer than it needed to. “I don’t want you to go. But it is your wish, I shall hail my carriage and take you home. Unless….” Hugo was about to say something, but stopped.

“Hugo, please continue.”

He huffed a firm breath. “ I didn’t want to overstep my bounds. Tonight has been one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time. I didn’t want to ruin by a simple desire.”

I grasped Hugo’s face firmly. “ Please tell me. I wish to know, no matter how strange it may be.”

“ Come home with me. Your family’s estate is at the far edge of town. It would take us forever to get there. My uncle’s laboratory is closer— there’s guest bedrooms.” Hugo stroked my arms, moving his hands up and down to provide warmth where it was needed. “ If you’re comfortable with it, I would like you to stay there, it would be safe to travel by morning than travel by night. You never know who’s out there, who’s dangerous and who isn’t. I don’t want to take any chances when it comes to you, my sweet Butterfly.”

Hugo looked at me, awaiting my answer. It’s rather improper for an unmarried couple to spend the night together unchaperoned, no matter how innocent it may be. It was the right thing to go straight home and visit Hugo during the day, when people are coming and going and don’t have time to fabricate untruths about us. But… it felt right to remain with him. While my family’s estate was my home, it didn’t feel like a home. It was just a skeleton of what it used to be years ago. Now it was just a place when I read, ate, and slept. It was where my parents spent their days, pretending to be a happy couple, but by night, they went their separate ways. To either return later that night or late afternoon of the next day. It wasn’t that hard to make a decision.

“ I will go with you, “ I said, getting up from Hugo’s lap and picked my shoes. I just begun to put them on, when his arms wrapped around my waist and turned my body around, making me face him.

“ Are you sure you want to? I’m not forcing you to do anything you don’t desire? That would be the last thing I would ever want to do.” Hugo said this with such concern and worry that my heart melted in that moment. I don’t know what is happening between but it is more than love. It is something so rare and infinite that not even a romantic novel could entirely capture what was happening in our hearts. I won’t want it any other way. What was between us should only stay between us; if anyone dare intrude, may God bless their souls.

“Yes. It is what I want and desire.” It was with those words that my new future started with Hugo.

Hugo grabbed my face and gently kissed me. Our mouth moved in sync, my hands were in his hair and his hand grasped my hips, forcing me to move closer to him.

It was with that kiss that my future with Hugo was sealed. People in our sad, little town say that love traps you. But in the case of Hugo and I, it set us free.

fiction

About the author

Samantha Heck

Hello, I'm Samantha! I'm a current college student who has dreams to be a published author. Your support means everything! Tips are welcomed but not expected. Hopefully you enjoy my stories.

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