"The Masque of the Red Death" (1842) is a tale of plague, of terror and of death, written in Poe’s gothic style.
In an unspecified year an unnamed land is besieged by the Red Death, a plague which spreads and kills rapidly. Victims are swiftly affected by sharp pains and dizziness, followed by bleeding form the pores. The disease is named for the blood stains on the body and, especially, the face. Victims die within half an hour of the first symptoms.
The land is shrouded in terror, but Prince Prospero is determined not to be a victim. He gathers a thousand of his happy and loyal followers and together they cloister themselves in one of his abbeys. The castle is fortified so that none may enter or leave. Protected from exposure to disease, they remain there for several months.
Eventually Prince Prospero holds a magnificent masquerade ball for his courtiers. The dance is held in an elaborately decorated suite of seven rooms which flow into each other in a maze-like sequence. Each room is a different color, draped in velvet and other ornate furnishings, lit by braziers burning in a corridor beyond and shining through stained glass windows the same color as the furnishings. Only the last room differs. This seventh room is shrouded in black tapestries and carpet, but the windows of this room are blood red, so that the light coming through the windows casts a ghastly hue on the faces of anyone who enters. This room is mostly avoided by the revelers.
The final chamber provides another chilling aspect. It houses a huge ebony clock which ticks loudly and chimes horribly. When it sounds each hour the sound is so disconcerting that the musicians stop playing and the party halts momentarily. This pause is soon over and forgotten until the next hour.
In spite of the room and its clock, the party proceeds gaily. The party goers, safe in their extended seclusion from the outside world, enjoy the festivities. Dressed in masks and costumes ranging from the fanciful to the grotesque, they move from chamber to chamber, each one presenting a different fantasy, avoiding only the final chamber and stopping only when the hourly chimes intrude.
It is only when the clock strikes midnight and the revelries are stopped for the twelve strokes, that the party goers become aware of a figure amongst them not previously noticed. The unrecognizable one is dressed in such a way as to excite terror in the other partygoers. Whilst many among them wear hideous and even frightening costumes, only this figure excites true terror. He is shrouded in burial robes with a death mask covering his face, As a final grotesque touch his face and body are spread with blood.
This joke is too much for even the bravest of the partygoers. When Prospero himself lays eyes on the newcomer he, too, is initially scared, before becoming overcome with rage. His voice rings out through the chambers, ordering the partygoers to seize and unmask the stranger. He is to be punished most severely for daring to blaspheme in such a way.
Despite the Prince’s order, the partygoers are slow to respond. The sight of the figure paralyzes them with fear so that he is able to travel through the chambers unimpeded by the figures he moves amongst. Belatedly,...
(The entire section is 1340 words.)