Masquerade by Aaron Schmelzer

Twelve-year-old Elise longs to live as her eleven-year-old self, before most of her family died and left her in destitution with her sick brother and his carer.

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Mirrors don't grant their onlookers the privilege of denying reality.

Sleeplessness. Torment. Grief. Elise's mirror screams these at her. It's agonizing to look into the reflection, for the bloodshot eyes, the purple bags beneath them, and fissuring lips are not hers. They belong to another, someone whose family has been dead for the past year. In her heart, her mind, Elise is still the person from a year ago. But the mirror retorts: This is who you are now.

But then the mirror shows her eye twitch, signaling something. Acknowledgement? Regret?

Behind the twitch, the truth was that most of her family had perished and still her eyes could not produce tears.

A knock at the washroom door shatters her gaze.

"What, Hilda?" she calls.

"Pat wants to see you in your father's old upstairs study. He'll be waiting for you," says the voice called Hilda.

"Old." It's his current one, says the eleven-year-old Elise. Another glance at the mirror resurrects the twelve-year-old Elise.


"I would have sent a telegram otherwise." Hilda was born in New York City all those decades ago. Her parents were Dutch, so her accent is slight. The decade of service as her brother's caretaker familiarized Elise to the difference in speech.

Hilda's footsteps fade down the corridor, and then Elise hears the rainstorm drumming the roof. She can't be sure when it began.


No response.

Elise turns back to the mirror. A charred, decaying skull gazes at her. Its jaw swings with limited support. Maggots form its eyes, the darker, mature ones forming squirming veins.

Elise doesn't react. But then she leans forward. It follows her motions. Elise leaps back, her stomach rolling like the thunder she thinks she heard earlier. She quakes. Hands shuddering, knees collapsing.

The skull remains, breaking the fundamental rules of mirrors. It asks nothing of her, and rather than attacking her, like the ghosts in stories do, it lifts a single earth-eaten finger, directs it upward, and shrieks.

Like two tributaries forming a larger river, Elise lets out a scream as well, clasping her ears and doubling over. She's sure the glass will shatter at the pitch, but through the ringing, she catches a glimpse of the mirror. The skull is gone, leaving nothing behind. And yet the shriek persists.

Suddenly the washroom door splinters and cracks open. Another solid pound rips the lock off and reveals Hilda standing in the doorway. The hinge is broken, dangling from the door like a wilted flower in the summer heat.

The only shrieking Elise hears now is her own, once Hilda drapes her arms over her shoulders. Hilda's voice soothes her. Elise finds herself crying, her throat the texture of gravel.

"You called my name and I've been trying to talk to you," says Hilda. "You had me afraid when I heard you screaming."

Elise's eyes were closed, but none of her exhaustion sets in. The space behind her eyes is burning; her head could burst open without warning.

In three months of seeing it, this is the first time the skull in the mirror has uttered a sound.

Elise assures Hilda of her sanity and recovery. Neither are true, but Hilda accepts it and leaves to mix salves for Pat. The mirror contains nothing more of interest, so Elise leaves too, in the opposite direction, passing the door to the cellar.

Outside the washroom, the cramped hallway opens to a larger corridor. Paint curls. Water stains mark the ceiling. Vague rectangles, once holding paintings that lined the hall. Before Pat and Hilda sold them. Those funds became food. That food has long gone. Spiderwebs are the new artwork.

The main hall appears before her and opens to the upper floor balcony. Elise weaves through moth-eaten furniture to avoid the caved-in part of the roof that welcomes the storm's rain.

When Elise's foot touches the first marble step, she realizes that not a storm but dazzling sunlight pours through the hole in the roof. The white light reveals plumes of dust otherwise unseen. The dust floats in a state of impermanence, settling only in favorable conditions. This is normally an unnoticed process, but the sunlight is an eye: it does not intervene, only observes. Perhaps it wants to help, but it can do nothing. Wherever the dust finds rest, the sun beam must simply watch it move past on its way to its next destination.

Up the cracked, stained marble stairs. Once the pride of her mother's parties. All of her actor friends from the city commented on them. The ornate curves, the tile inlay at the edges.

Second floor. Elise turns left. Father's old study ahead, up two small stairs.

Not old, says past Elise. Current.

Into the study. The fire burns. Her father sits in a velvet chair, smoking a pipe, poking the fire in the fireplace because "it needs reminding who's in charge," he says. The fire flickers off his pox marks. Her father holds drawings of plats of land, or a schematic or blueprint. She never asks what he does for his job. He never says. But he does something with buildings for the army.

The fire flickers and pops. It scares her. As she flinches, her brother, Pat, appears in the study, seated in the velvet chair, hunching over not unrolled drawings but a bowl of soup he isn't eating. Bandages and thick clothing obscure his body and face.

"Come in," says Pat, his voice weak, although his tone requests no pity. Elise silently offers it.

"Elise, have some soup. Hilda prepared a bowl for you. It's over on Father's old desk."

Elise wraps her hands around the warm bowl of rotten-looking soup and a spoon. As she picks it up, she notes what appears to be a letter written by her father, sitting atop a chest Father used to hide his gun in. The letter's handwriting seems to be his. Her eyes can't focus on the scrawl. The lines are fuzzy and melting together.

She pockets the note. Returns to the fireplace, bowl in hand. Silence falls. The fire is the only one speaking, enjoying the year of freedom from her father's authoritative prods.

"You've been distant, Elise."

"I was just downstairs," she says, intaking a spoonful of soup. What Elise figures to be pork has gone bad, but hunger doesn't discriminate.

"I mean with your time," says Pat. He moans as he shifts in his chair, but he seems to be able to move with more ease than before.

"You're still unwell."

"Hilda's treatments are working. Her forays into the city have yielded effective medicine. My skin feels less like it will melt off, and instead just burns."

"That's good." Elise barely stomachs another helping of soup. The pork doesn't taste right; it's worse than it looks. Pat must think the same; he still isn't eating.

Pat doesn't respond for a few long moments. Then: "Tomorrow is one year," He shifts again and moans again. His bandages fold and crease with each movement. "I'd like your company tomorrow afternoon to honor their memory." Pat turns his eyes upon Elise now, and in them she perceives sorrow and loneliness.

"How?" she asks.

"Wreaths at their graves. Hilda's making them now in her room."

Elise's fear builds up in her mouth and throat, and with a gulp, she sends it to the depths of her stomach, where it rolls and tumbles, settling in a pit that weighs on her. She thinks she hears the distant shriek of the skull in the mirror.

"I haven't been to their graves since," she says. Her family rests only fifty yards away, in the eastern grounds of the manor.

"Me neither," says Pat.

"Are they not overgrown by now?"

"Hilda takes care of the site."

A silence ensues. It unsettles Elise. She decides to break it.

"Is that why we can't move to a different home? We buried them here?" asks Elise.

Pat chuckles a sickly, soft chuckle. "How long have you wanted to ask that?"

"I suppose I thought when they died, we'd move."

"Never you mind about that, Elise. We'll be able to soon." Then the visible parts of his face darkened with spite, "Father and mother did not make plans in case of their deaths. It's taken time. Now, will you honor our family tomorrow? They haven't seen you in a year, after all."

Elise wonders if the skull in the mirror is her mother trying to speak to her. Of course, her thoughts are not to be trusted. It wasn't storming, after all.

"I... I will join you," she says, starting to feel tired.

"Oh, wonderful!" he says. His excitement causes him to shift once more, and he must've realized his pain after a moment, for once more he moaned. "I shall have Hilda send for you when we're ready."

A faux smile warps Elise's face. She sets down her barely eaten bowl of soup and thanks Pat for the meal. She can't finish it now, but maybe later. She stands to leave, saying goodbye.

On her way to the door, something catches her eyes. On the floor is a glint of metal reflecting the firelight. She picks up the sewing pin.

"Don't want anyone stepping on this," Elise says as she turns to hand it over.

Pat leans forward to accept it in his hand. "Thank you, Elise. Hilda shouldn't be mending our clothes in here. I will tell her."

Elise wearily smiles and leaves.

Halfway down the stairs, she stops. It strikes her. An acknowledgement, a realization, laden with doubt. Maybe it's her tired eyes. Or the flashes of crimson and stars that persistently flood her vision. She was certain there was a stain of blood on the tip of the pin.

Elise wants to see death everywhere. Twelve-year-old Elise, anyway. Eleven-year-old Elise offers a compelling reason why: a year of being reminded of death has led the twelve-year-old copy to yearn for things to be dead, to seek evidence of death. Skulls, maggots, shrieks, and now, blood. Just more fabricated evidence to remind twelve-year-old Elise that she wants her family to return to her.

She enters her room and shuts the door. Falls in her bed. Even two weeks later, the sheets smell of being boiled. She pushes past the smell to gaze into the cracked crown-molded ceiling. She thinks she hears the shriek again as her thoughts wander to Pat's request. Her stomach lurches at the thought of visiting the graves, or maybe she's still hungry.

Can't we just leave, asks twelve-year-old Elise to herself. Can't we just find another home? I'll even work! Her days now are filled with walking to and from the schoolhouse, mandated by Hilda, supported by Pat. "Get for yourself good knowledge, a learned mind, and you can help us when you're a doctor in the city," Hilda says every time she protests.

Eleven-year-old Elise cuts in: Where is there to go? We have a home here.

She pulls from her pocket the letter she took from Father's office. She tries to read it, but it falls from her hand. Her mind wanders, and as it does, her eyes lose focus, and her mind begins to lose consciousness. Sleeplessness for nearly a year and suddenly she's more tired than ever. Elise's eyelids heavily close and she plummets into sleep.

Strange dreams roll around and melt into each other. Visions of teeth, sewing pins, empty stomachs, and the verdant upstate countryside in which she lived now crawling with maggots. Nonsensical words and phrases barraged her mind's ear. For hours it feels that this unfolds. No end in sight. Elise's dream self thrashes as she falls deeper into insanity.

The manic dreams stop. Elise's eyes flash open, close, and then blink open - blearily this time. Her head hurts. She wiggles her fingers, but they don't feel real.

When she wakes, she sits up and shakes herself loose from the sensation of discomfort. She swings her feet to the floor, hears something crinkle in her pocket. She takes out a piece of paper.

Her father's handwriting. The scrawl reads:

Current withdrawn holdings:

October 1908:
12th - 37,039
15th - 5,005

June 1909:
3rd - 71,618
27th - 6,716

December 1910:
9th - 8,599
25th - 11,000

Elise calculates quickly; these numbers total well over one-hundred thousand.

What are "withdrawn holdings?" she asks herself.

She folds up the paper and tucks it away in her pocket. Thoughts of her father drive her to look out her window. It faces east. Toward where the graves are. She pulls back the drapes that obscure the view of the gravesite, and had for a year.

Clouded sunlight shows over the trees while a gentle rain falls. How long was I asleep? she thinks. Below the trees, though, where her family lies to rest, their rest is disturbed.

Her father's grave. Upturned earth. A mound next to a large hole.

She gasps. Her heart skips seemingly several beats. Then it pounds. Like it will break a hole through her chest.

She flees her room, past the washroom, past the basement door, slips slightly, and then continues on to Father's old office.

Not "old," her eleven-year-old self says.

She flings open the office door, praying for Pat to be in there. He needs to know what someone did to Father's grave. The room is vacant, save for all its usual furnishings. The fireplace sits lifeless. A single candle burns on the mantle, forgotten.

On Pat's chair in front of the fireplace she finds a letter, turned on its face. Elise holds it to the candlelight. In its flicker she reads:

April 18th, 1912

To whomever this concerns,

As of the time of this writing, it has been three days since Miss Maronhill attended her grammar and arithmetic classes. If Miss Maronhill no longer will attend classes, please provide notice.

Thank you,
Mrs. Eldenbloom

"Three days?" Elise says aloud.

I went to school yesterday morning, she says to herself. She retraces the steps of her day. Came home. Put my books in my room. Washed up. Saw the skull. Met with Pat. Fell asleep.

Has it been three days since I woke up?

Her stomach erupts in uncontrolled wrath. She still hasn't eaten. She finally feels the cotton lining her throat as well.

All that's left in the study is the soup Pat served to her. It's going stale and rank, more rank than before. Candle in hand, she kneels on the rug in front of the fireplace, looks in the pot, contemplating. Desperation is a strong motivator. She takes the ladle, scoops. Lifts it to her mouth but sees an eyeball. She gags and drops the ladle.

She takes another scoop with no interest in eating. She pours it on the floor, spreading the mixture. The same eyeball as before. Lumps of meat. And a fingernail.

Elise drops the candle and rushes from the room, gagging. Now out of the room, her breath becomes ragged and short. Her head spins.

Where to? Where's Pat? What... who... was in that soup?

She needs something familiar. Something expected. She hurdles herself down the stairs at an unsafe pace. To the washroom. To the skull in the mirror. Toward a fear she knows.

But as she reaches the hallway to the washroom, she slips again. She almost falls. Turns, looks down. Something she hadn't noticed before. Water, mud. It streaks where she slipped.

It's in front of the door to the basement.

Whoever dug up Father's grave must be down there, Elise thinks. Unarmed and unprepared, she descends into the depths of the manor. Into the drafty cellar.

Each step into darkness is another turn of the knot in Elise's stomach.

No light but a distant flickering lantern. She follows it as quietly as she can. Mumbled voices float toward her.

The stairs, by not creaking, help keep her presence a secret. At the bottom of the stairs, where the darkness is most oppressive, she keeps to the dank wall, its condensation moistening her palms. She now sees the light is emitting from some sort of cavern that sits behind a door appearing to be part of the basement wall it detached from.

A secret room? Elise thinks. She creeps closer.

"I checked," says a voice. "I found nothing else in his grave."

A blast and a shriek. Elise flinches and nurses her ringing ears. Elise's legs tremble and she runs cold. Did the skull return?

Elise glances around but doesn't see the skull, or the source of the blast. Instead, she hears the weakened moans of Hilda, coming from the hidden room. Elise slides along the wall, closer, closer, just outside of the lantern's range, but enough to see inside and hear the voices better.

"Pat! Pat... we were doing this... together," says Hilda. She lies on her back, clutching her thigh. Blood cascades.

Pat lurches forward, unsteady on his feet. It's the first time Elise has seen him stand in years. The disease had spread to his feet. And now he stands over Hilda without any assistance. The lantern sits beside him. He holds a small gun. Father's gun. Elise had seen him cleaning it occasionally.

"Your help opening the safe was instrumental," Pat says. His voice sounds distant, almost distracted. "I'm actually ashamed of you, Hilda," says Pat. "You're too trusting. Why would I split my money?"

"I gave you... new... sk-"

"Ah! I don't want excuses." Pat brandishes the gun.

Elise wants to rush in, save Hilda. But something roots her in place. She's sure it's the gun, but gross curiosity twists itself into the ground as well. She wants, needs, to learn about this plan.

"And... Elise?" asks Hilda, her voice fading. The color in her face begins to drain too. Her head slumps.

"My and my father's business has nothing to do with Elise. And I'm sure she's still asleep. I put a lot in that soup. She wouldn't have heard that shot," says Pat.

Elise's thoughts dare her to declare her presence, demand answers. But the roots of fear and curiosity are deeper than drama.

"She's... going to wake up... and expect to honor... her family," says Hilda, now fallen over, lying at an angle.

"And when she wakes, she will find a sum of Father's money. No more hunger for her," says Pat. He points the gun at Hilda.

Hilda's already dying. It will be soon. In a rueful, selfish way, she hopes Pat takes another shot: fewer chances to strike her.

Hilda is nearly drained, and Pat moves out of sight to Elise's left. Takes the lantern with him.

Elise creeps forward again, peers around the corner. Pat's back is turned. The lantern sits on the floor. The gun is next to the lantern.

In the corner of the room is a large iron safe, rusted on the top and sides. It's open. Elise can't see the full contents behind Pat, but from what she can tell, it's full of dollar bills, stacks three feet deep and taller than her.

That's when Hilda sees her. She mumbles loudly, calling for her. Elise whips her head around, holds her finger to her lips, quieting her. The knot in Elise's stomach tightens again.

Elise shakes her head, silently hushes her, but Hilda keeps moaning. Whether for help or dying loyalty to Pat, it doesn't matter.

The gurgling mumbles catch enough of Pat's attention to take the gun, turn, and aim it at Hilda. But the gun's sights land on Elise's petrified face.

Pat's bandaged arm lowers. His whole body is wrapped in bandages and clothes.

"Pat," Elise begins slowly, stepping forward, tearing herself from the roots of fear. "What is happening? How long has this money been here?"

"The better question is how long I've known about it," says Pat, backing toward the safe, as if protecting it.


"Two years."

Elise struggles not to gape.

"Our family's been dead -" it pains Elise to say "- for a year. You knew about the money before they died?"

Pat laughs. Seemingly secure in his protective position in front of the safe, he leans forward as far as he can, lifting his unarmed hand to remove his hat, and then beginning at the top of his head, unravels the bandages. Around and around they go. And each rotation is a beat faster that Elise's heart races, another larger knot in her already-clenched stomach, another tremble in her legs. She thinks she hears the vague shriek of the skull in the mirror.

Pat drops the bandages to the frigid stone floor. His head, his face, is a patchwork of sewn segments of others' faces. In the gaps, between stitchwork, blood oozes and dries. A twisted, detached smile pulls the stitchings taut, and the skin tries to wrinkle. But his eyes twinkle.

"And how do you think they died?" says Pat.

Elise can't say anything. She feels that her jaw could fall and let out a splitting cry, but she maintains control. She gazes at the rest of Pat's bandaged body.

"All of it?" she whispers. Eleven-year-old Elise knows she's still dreaming.

But Pat kills eleven-year-old Elise. He removes more bandages.

"You knew about the money," she squeaks. "Then plotted their deaths?"

"Money. Pain. I couldn't live like I had been for much longer," says Pat. "Father kept vast records, but he scattered them everywhere. It was impossible to track down any of it. Hilda, rest her soul," he adds as he glances around Elise. "Hilda met every one of his business partners, found ledgers, invoices. Anything showing how much he had and where it was. We checked his body two days ago for anything we might've missed in his clothes."

"He has over a hundred thousand dollars," says Elise.

"'Had,' and add forty to that... Wait?"

"'Withdrawn holdings,'" says Elise. She clenches her fists, expecting Pat to attack at any moment.

Pat pauses. Tries to speak. Tries again. "You weren't supposed to see that. Hilda was supposed to hide that."

"Maybe Hilda began to feel bad. Bad that you were starving me. Bad that you'd abandon me."

"I wasn't starving you. You had food."

"That wasn't food," says Elise. "It was rotten."

"Being preserved for a year might do that," he says. "Something might rot."

Elise's mind quickens and slows at the same time. As easily as it draws a conclusion, it refuses to let her mouth speak at first.

"After... After you took their ski-"

Pat licks his lips.

Her breath instantly becomes rapid and shallow. Her fists open and then close again. She feels herself wanting to weep. Her chest heaves. The vague shrieking returns.

The skull materializes behind Pat. Without a mirror. Maggots flooding its eye sockets, the jaw dangling, and as it dangles, the skull screeches. Its full form then appears. Its head is barely attached to a decaying body, stepping forward toward Pat. Where skin and bones should be, its innards fall out and catch around its ankles, but it never seems to trip. The cavity over its heart gapes, and within, a heart pumps and spits blood with each pulse. The skull, this ghost, and its shrieking embodies Elise's fury. Its drumming heart and splaying innards manifest how she feels.

"Behind you!" cries Elise.

Pat chortles. "That won't trick me."

"No, the ghost!"

"Am I a child?" he asks.

The ghost nears Pat, limping and lurching. It raises a finger toward Elise and shrieks. In spite of its proximity to Pat, Elise senses that the ghost is coming for her regardless. She has nowhere to run; if she flees, Pat will shoot to keep her from telling. Figuring her life has but a minute left in it, she demands closure.

"Pat!" she says, shouting over the ghost's shrieks. "Why keep me alive?"

"Why are you shouting?" asks Pat.

"Answer me!" she demands. "Why?"

Pat shakes his head. "You're a child. I'm not that cruel. And, honestly," he says with a moment of consideration, "you were my favorite."

But Elise keeps shouting. She has no patience anymore. "Why would Father leave no money for us if he died!"

Pat's voice escalated to meet Elise's. "He was full of greed! He wanted it all for himself!"

The ghost came nearer still. The shrieking didn't stop. Another step closer.

"And digging up Father's grave?" she shouts again. "Why dig up the others but not his?"

"We never dug up the others!" called Pat. Their voices echo in the otherwise silent basement. "We took them immediately. Carved them up right there! We buried sacks of flour!"

"And you didn't want Father's?" she cried, uncomfortable that she was questioning Pat about why he wouldn't carve up their father. No, her father. Pat was no son to him.

"I don't want him! He caught on to my searching, tried to stop me! Six months before I killed them, Beatrice, Quincy, and Mother confronted me too. They told me I was being selfish. But where was that money when I needed help? They hired Hilda years before, but they refused to pay for doctors! I had to suffer while they hosted decadent parties! When I killed them, I sold everything I could of theirs, just to rid our home of them!"

Pat concludes, breathless, his chest falling in rhythm with the ghost who stands abreast of him. Elise tries calling for him to pay attention, to flee, or at least drop the gun so she can flee. But he keeps screaming, crying. Tears find paths down his face along the canals between patches.

The ghost lurches toward Elise. She slowly backs away. Pat's arm darts up, the barrel of the Colt aimed at Elise.

"No -" Elise tries to speak, but her voice catches, not even a yelp. The ghost stands in front of her now, both the maggot-ridden eyes and the one-eyed iron barrel staring at her.

"Pat," she squeaks. "No. No. No." Her hands raise. The ghost mirrors her movements. Elise continues backing away from the ghost.

"Elise! Don't leave!"

"I'm afraid, Pat!" she says. She and Pat cry, but for starkly opposite reasons.

Pat's arm shakes, but he's close enough not to miss. He bites his stolen lip.

Elise can't escape the ghost. It places its hands on her shoulders, the stink of rot filling her nose. As if the ghost were both spectral and physical, Elise feels pressure on her shoulders. More pressure than she can withstand.

Elise collapses under the ghost's strength, and as she hits the ground, there is another blast from the gun. The ghost, standing over her, instantly transforms as Elise meets its eyes once again. The maggots disappear. The jaw stops shrieking. The stomach stitches back together. The cavity in its chest fills over its calming heart.

The bullet from Pat's gun rips through the ghost. It dissipates, a strong wind separating a mist. The bullet passes over Elise's head and ricochets off the stone walls, ending with a devastating strike to Pat's neck. Just before Elise registers Pat's loud slump to the ground, she realizes that the ghost, upon pushing her down, has calmed her own heart, loosened the knot in her own stomach. Elise no longer needs to shout.

A long minute passes. She looks up. The gun sits at Pat's feet, while he lies prone clutching his neck. An ocean of blood forms at the foot of the safe.

Elise stands. Kneels at Pat's head. He tries to roll over. Can't. The skin on his arms, even after a year of healing and salves, still isn't enough to protect his nerves.

He gurgles, lifts his head, twists it. Stitches snap. Skin folds over.

Elise can't look at the repugnant image of the man who was her brother. Eyes averted, she listens as Pat does his best to speak.

"I... I... I don't know... what I did..." he says. He cries, his breath rapid, like a panicking child. "What... What... huh... huh-huh... what did... I... huh... do?"

Elise looks at her brother. No great urgency comes over her to try to stop the bleeding. It's the neck, anyway. All her best, unexpert efforts would likely fail.

She stands, reaches into the safe. Draws a single bill. Kneels down again. Although Pat struggles to speak and is still heaving, Elise catches the lust in his glossy eyes.

"I hope this has been worth it," she says. Then she finds a patch of muscle and nerve, exposed by an unfolded patch of skin, and she grinds the rough paper into it. Twists it. Leaves it there.

She stands again, and leaves the money. She doesn't want something that has caused so much conflict. Pat slowly dies. Hilda is dead. And if they're dead, then all of her family is truly dead. Pat may have killed eleven-year-old Elise, but twelve-year-old Elise doesn't need her anymore. She's seen the pale departure death brings to someone, the everything and then nothingness. She's been the sunlight observing dust floating toward ultimate rest, unable - or unwilling - to intervene.

At the top of the basement stairs, she turns toward the main hall. The gentle rain continues. She stands by the hole in the ceiling. Watches it fall. Her thoughts drift to the ghost that saved her life. How it reflected the same feelings she has.

Perhaps the ghost is a remnant of her delirious visions, a result of her sleep deprivation and hunger. It almost doesn't matter. Real or not, the ghost forced upon her the truth and rescued her from it: that she was afraid, and should have been, but not of the dead. True grotesque evil doesn't masquerade as a spirit. It wears skin.

Elise turns her gaze to the windows that look at the gravesites. In the window, she sees a vague reflection of herself in the window, and in it, she doesn't think she sees torment and grief anymore.

Her focus shifts to the exhumed grave of her father and the resting graves of her mother, Beatrice, and Quincy.

She finally weeps for them.


  1. Wonderfully creepy! The whole skin peeling is very novel. The details are great, like this: “ Paint curls. Water stains mark the ceiling. Vague rectangles, once holding paintings that lined the hall. Before Pat and Hilda sold them. Those funds became food. That food has long gone. Spiderwebs are the new artwork” Thank you for this great creepy read!

  2. This was creepy!
    You have hit all the beats of a classic horror story with great precision.
    Well done!

    1. Thanks, Adam! I appreciate your comment

  3. If I had read this in high school, my classmates would have murmured, “Heavy, dude!” And in a figurative sense it is heavy. The most remarkable thing about Masquerade is the vivid use of metaphors: “Elise finds herself crying, her throat the texture of gravel….” And “…tearing herself from the roots of fear…” I thought the use of “maggots” was just a little overused, but Aaron showed a wide choice of very descriptive words, otherwise. The story takes place more than a century ago, so I’m uncertain of the nature of Pat’s physical problems. It’s all muddled to me, but I think that reflects more my ignorance than anything. Character motivation is unclear to me, but I often find that is a point in the author’s favor. Perhaps a physician or a psychologist or a historian could explain this to me; Adam? Very interesting and good read, Aaron.

  4. As others have said, this is a creepy tale and also felt very traditional to me (in a good way). It has an element of the Edgar Allen Poe about it for its richness of description.

  5. Creepy as others have said, like reading through a fever dream, and I suspect it will only get better upon repeated readings when some of the details become even more clear. Dreamy prose, nightmare content.