Author: Zoe Kalo
Genre: Dark Psychological Suspense
Audience: New Adult/Adult
Word count: 18,000 words – 70 pages (short novella)
Launch date: October 1st 2016
Now on Kindle.
About the Book
A Dante-ish descent through a sinister world of decadent shadows and woeful souls…
Seven years ago, he shattered her life. The town eventually forgot the headlines and the nightmares. But 23-year old music student Angelica hasn’t forgotten.
For the past seven years, she’s contemplated payback with as much intensity and unwavering faith as she puts into her violin playing. Finally, all the pieces are in place. Over the course of one night, disguised for a masquerade ball, Angelica orchestrates a journey of revenge.
Mask in hand, I walked to the living room and looked at the bleak January sky through the balcony glass doors. I glanced at my watch. Only five. But it was almost dark. The forecast had promised snow. A setback. But, in the end, it wouldn’t matter.
I lifted the Venetian mask to my face—the Colombina, or so said the booklet that came with the box—and stared at my reflection in the darkening glass. The mask was gilded and ornamented over the cheeks and around the eyes, its edges embroidered in gold, and it covered half my face. It was mysterious yet inconspicuous. Perfect for anonymity. The tiny iridescent rhinestones, like a breath of crushed diamonds, went well with my red gown.
“Want to know my recipe for courage?” I said, barely above a whisper. “Welcome death. When you welcome death, there’s nothing to lose. When there’s nothing to lose, there’s no fear.”
All the female performers in the orchestra had to wear red tonight. The mask was for the after-concert, fundraising masquerade bash being held to benefit teenage mothers.
I lowered the mask and stared at my real face. But not really. For the past three years I had dyed my blond hair black. My eyes were blue under my dark brown contact lenses. I had even changed my name. A mask under a mask. Did the real me still exist under the layers?
I put the mask into the duffel bag. I picked up the gun and weighed it in my hand. It had been hard to get. I tucked it under a strap around my upper thigh. Good thing my gown had a slit.
Five minutes later, I was ready to go. Bag zipped, violin case in hand, my body covered in wool—long flowing coat, hat, scarf, gloves—in an attempt to obliterate the cold that never left me.
After seven years, revenge had become my soulmate. Being in its arms brought me peace. We could read each other’s thoughts and feel each other’s pain.
I stepped out of my apartment and headed toward the underground parking.
Mozart’s “Requiem” coursed through my veins. I played, eyes closed, in total surrender. Music was my opium, the only other thing that kept me functional. But this particular piece, especially the opening movement, with its seductive crescendo, then its plunging, enveloping darkness, embraced me like the wings of a fallen angel. Black feathers velvety against my flesh. Wisp of frigid breath on my cheek like sharp little teeth. Please, take me down.
For an instant, the thought of tonight electrified me. My eyes flew open and I crashed to the present. The concert hall came alive with razor-sharp clarity: rows of toy-like musicians—Kens in tuxedos, Barbies in princess gowns—the chorus like radiant seraphs, the audience, the cream of Baltimore, rapt and fascinated as if we weren’t musicians but magicians. My vision narrowed to the guest conductor, the Maestro. Salt and pepper hair swept back, parted in the middle, thick and softly curving at the shoulder, a masculine mane that didn’t quite match his pale, delicate fingers. The other day, after rehearsal, I had passed by him as he leaned forward to get some sheets of music from his attaché case. From the corner of my eye, heart tight shut, I’d looked at his hands, knuckles so soft they weren’t there at all, nails as glossy and immaculate as if he washed them in holy water.
Clapping thundered. I rose with the rest of the orchestra and we bowed in unison. The Maestro raised his arms toward us, beaming with pride like a shepherd to his flock.
I glanced at my watch. Past eight thirty.
A feeling of euphoria permeated the air. But no one talked to me as I walked backstage to put my violin in its case. No one asked if I was going to the ball. Eventually they had stopped asking me out—a coffee here, a drink there—and left me alone. It’s not that I didn’t like people. I had nothing against them. I just wasn’t able to talk without their faces blurring, blending with the surroundings, and without my soul floating out of my body leaving me struggling to reel it back in.
I slipped into my coat and wound my scarf around my neck.
“Hey, Angelica,” someone said. “Great show, huh? You going to the party?”
I turned and my heart beat a quick staccato.
Melanie, viola player. She was in my composition and musical theory classes. Always polite, the type of kind-hearted person who wants to be liked and who wants to save the world. Once, outside the conservatory, she’d asked me to hold a kitten for her. She’d found it abandoned on the school grounds and needed someone to keep it while she went to get some papers from her professor. She put in in my hands before I was able to say a word. Holding something so weightless and fragile—two, three weeks old?—had left me trembling. After she came back for it, I had to run to the nearest bathroom and vomit my lunch, my hands gripping the toilet seat.
It took me a second or two to answer. “Yes. I’m going.”
Her eyes widened. “I’m glad! I guess I’ll see you there then.” She was gone in a second, arm hooked with one of the oboe players.
I left my violin case in the well-guarded “green room,” took my mask, and joined the throngs of people as they exited the concert hall toward the ballroom through a glass tunnel that traversed the gardens. Snow flurries pirouetted in the wind, shimmering blue under Victorian lampposts. The concert hall and the ballroom were part of the palatial estate of Richard Pierrepont, an eccentric billionaire aristocrat turned patron of the arts. I’d never met him until tonight when he gave his pre-concert welcoming speech, though I’d seen his photo—embracing the Maestro—in the papers months ago when the fundraising was announced.
Some of the people were putting on their masks as they walked and I did, too. Through the trees and ice sculptures that decorated the gardens, I squinted at an intricate series of tall hedges in concentric circles, part of a three-dimensional maze meant to confuse people, or so the paper said. Apparently, Pierrepont was a Dante fan and had built the maze depicting the Nine Circles of Hell. Fitting. Ironic.
I searched for the Maestro over the heads of the people, and for a terrible instant thought I’d lost him. But no, there he was. His salt and pepper mane stood out, the way it fell back, full and gently curling at the ends. As he approached the entrance to the ballroom, he put on his mask. He turned inside and glanced over his shoulder at the crowd—at the crowd, not at me—and I saw it fully. TheColombina, gilded and ornamented like mine, but black.
Something ugly and bilious flipped at the back of my throat. I was struck with an incomprehensible sensation, as if I were staring at my own reflection as I had done earlier in the darkening glass doors at my apartment. I looked away and took a gulp of air to keep from retching. All it took was one thought, one moment of inattention, for my stomach to erupt. I pressed my hand to my stomach. Stay. Like a dog, yes.
A hand touched my elbow. “You okay?” asked a manly voice, soft, deep.
His mask covered half his face and revealed a pair of full, sensuous lips slightly tinted purple from wine. He held a medieval-looking glass in his hand.
“I’m fine,” I said. I’m fine.
“You sure? You want to sit down?”
I shook my head, murmured thanks, and drifted away from him like a ghost.
The ballroom was all red and gold and crystal chandeliers and mirrors. And candles, lots and lots of candles. A dramatic Russian waltz drifted out from hidden speakers. I moved slowly through the crowd and lingered by one of the buffet tables. A disguised waiter passed by with a tray of champagne flutes and wine goblets and I reached for a flute. Not that I was going to drink, but I needed something in my hands. From the corner of my eye, I spotted him across the room by the grand staircase. He had taken his mask off and was chatting with a small group of people, a goblet of wine in his hand. Master of disguise, his body language intimate, head leaning in slightly—I listen to what you’re saying—arms and shoulders relaxed—I’m enjoying your company—head nodding—I’m empathetic…human. They didn’t know him at all. No, no. They couldn’t. If they did, they would be running away.
As I kept my attention on him, I glanced at my champagne flute, feigning interest. Crystal on top, pewter at the stem and base, decorated with complex Celtic-looking knot work—upon a closer look, snakes intertwined with a sword and black roses. Maybe a family crest.
I moved furtively to the other side of the room, through the laughter and the chatter, and caught my reflection in one of the mirrors. There were so many mirrors and so many women in red that for a moment my vision fragmented and they all seemed a reflection of me.
And then Melanie was next to me, clammy hand on my arm. “I’m feeling a little sick,” she said. “Can you take me to the bathroom?”
“Er…” I was taken by surprise. I was wearing my mask, she wasn’t. Did she know who I was?
“Where’s your boyfriend?” I asked, referring to the oboe player, though I wasn’t sure if they were serious. They often hung out together around school.
She grabbed me tighter and gave me a ferocious roll of the eyes. She was always so nice, her reaction was refreshing. Everyone has the capacity for rage. Her eyes widened and she stared at me, her cheeks flushed. “Angelica?” She looked like she was having trouble keeping her balance.
Leaving the ballroom was not in the plan, but I said, “Where’s the bathroom?”
We had to ask one of the waiters—Go that way and through that door, ladies.
My eyes darted to the Maestro. He was speaking with a different group of people. I tried to control the wild tightness in my stomach and move normally. Her hand gripped my arm. Melanie was leading me, instead of the other way around.
Together we found the Roman masterpiece of a bathroom. Gold fixtures, glass and marble, mosaics. Cool as a mausoleum. Above us, a domed fresco displayed—what? Dionysus? The Bacchanalia? I glanced away, vaguely repulsed.
Melanie threw her mask on the floor and rushed to one of the toilets. I shut my eyes at the retching and purging, but stepped closer. In her haste, she hadn’t had the opportunity to shut the door.
“Are you okay?” I asked through the crack.
She was muttering curses at her boyfriend. “Oh crap, the dress! Oh, man. Now I’ll have to pay for dry cleaning.”
“Are you okay?” I asked again. I picked up her mask, a flamboyant concoction of white and red feathers; two or three were cracked and fell at odd angles, like broken wings.
A moment later she came out with a pale face and a stain on her dress. “Sorry,” she mumbled, avoiding my eyes. She rushed to the sink and leaned forward to wash the stain.
How had she gotten drunk so quickly? Maybe she was one of those people who couldn’t hold liquor. I placed the mask gingerly by her side.
“Thanks.” She glanced at me through the mirror and her lips curled in a curious half smile. “You must really like your mask.”
I forced my hands to the back of my head and reluctantly unlaced the ribbons. I felt as if I were ripping the flesh from my face. I weighed my mask in my hands, the weight of seven years.
To my surprise, she started crying, her hands flat on the marble top, her bowed head veiled by feral reddish curls.
I didn’t move, but I asked, “What’s wrong?” And then, when she didn’t answer, “Can I call someone for you?”
She just kept crying, her shoulders shaking.
I glanced at the door, then at her. “I must go…I—”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to dump myself on you,” she said, looking up and sniffing. “You must think I’m such a weirdo.”
“You’re not the first to drink too much.”
She turned to me, eyes wide. “Oh, is that what you think? But of course, what else would you think?” Her mouth twisted as if she’d thought of some big humorless joke.
My dress grew thorns. I could feel them clawing up my legs. I knew what she was going to say before she said it.