Prince Prospero's kingdom had been swept with the Red Death, a terrible disease that struck without warning and killed its victims within thirty minutes:
There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution.
The Red Death left blood upon the bodies of the dead, especially upon their faces. To escape this pestilence, the Prince gathered 1,000 of his friends in his castle and sealed it to the outside world. After being sequestered for five or six months, the Prince held a masquerade ball for his guests. It was during this magnificent masquerade that disaster struck. Prince Prospero and all of his guests died of the Red Death, which had appeared within the castle walls in a supernatural form, dressed as a reveller, but existing in no physical form under his costume. Prospero died first after confronting him; then all of the 1,000 guests died after him:
And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revelers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall . . . . And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.
Prince Prospero and his friends thought they had found a way to escape death, but death found them.