The mask of death

I would start by saying "do you remember reading Edgar Allen Poe's story The Masque of the Red Death when you were in high school" but I have come to see, particularly this year, that there is no sure educational standard.

In fact, as Poe would tell you, there is only one sure thing* and you cannot cheat it.

Imagine there's a deadly disease ravaging the land. People are bleeding out and dying by the masses. A rich man decides to gather all of his wealthy and powerful friends together, and they will lock themselves in his mansion and party and enjoy life while the disease burns itself out and kills those outside of the mansion walls.

It isn't hard to imagine right now, this party. Celebrities have been, for months on both social media and public service ads, painting the idea of staying at home like a fun party where you can inbibe and be a glutton and wear your underpants come out on the other side of it all disease free.

Anyway, the rich man's party is a masquerade. Wear your mask!

Lavish decor, outrageous food and costumes. Who would know that there are people outside the protected walls, trying to live but instead dying some form of death whether by disease or job loss or eviction or suicide? The party goers do not care. They are fine and well-fed, perhaps relishing the view from Capitol Hill or Beverly Hills or whatever hill it is they have set themselves upon to look down at the rest from on high.

They model the behavior that saves you, they say. Stay home and stay safe! Wear a masque! And they don them with pride, taking photos of themselves at this masquerade, posting their selfie wearing their latest stylish mask as those outside the mansion, gasping for hope, are at least thankful they don't have to see duckface behind the mask.

At the rich man's party, in which each room is decorated in a singular rainbow hue, there is one room no one wants to acknowledge. It is a room all in black, with a red light a clock that chimes out the hour to remind everyone at the party that time still goes on. They all know the room is there, but they avoid it.

You can forget that an hour or a day or even six months have gone by for those who are suffering outside of the mansion when all you are surrounded with are people in masks and costumes, just like you, enjoying life as if time has ceased, dancing the same steps to the same music.

Every time that clock chimes, though, the dancing and noise stops. Maybe that chime is an economic report or the little people trying to rise up against mandates and lockdowns, wanting to worship in a church with their last moments while the party goers try to rob them of every single pleasure and hope they might have. Maybe the chime is a riot come too close to the mansion gates. 

The chiming stops eventually, and the party continues.

But there is an uninvited guest.

There is always someone unexpected, something you did not calculate.

That mansion, thought to be sealed off, was not. Control is an illusion, particularly with disease and death. And so the uninvited guest strolled among the revelers until the host finally confronted him, gasping in shock before dropping dead. The guests, still hidden behind their masks, follow suit.

I don't know who or what the uninvited guest will be. Maybe it'll be actual death. Maybe an indictment. Maybe an election. 

I don't know.

But you can't hide behind your mask and stop death. You can't make rules for thee but not for me. You can't feed fear outside your walls and think you'll remain inside, unscathed. You can't hide from the inevitable and convince others that they can, too, because the inevitable must come. 


  1. If only Poe were writing today!

    With our present-day electronic communication, Prospero could've encouraged the dying peasantry with heartwarming tweets and television spots. "We're all in this together," he might have inspired them.


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