The costume contest at the Halloween masked ball was a rousing success; outfits ranged from mermaids to musketeers to murderers. There were men dresses as bears, women dressed as peacocks, and whole herds of exotic animals roaming the dance floor.
“Now remember,” The host announced. “If your costume wins a prize, you must unmask yourself!”
The crowd murmured excitedly.
“Third place goes to… the Raven Queen!” A woman in glossy black feathers proudly tore off her beaked mask.
“Second place goes to… Icarus!” A man wearing intricately carved wax wings untied his mask and waved.
“And finally… first place goes to a gentleman with the, (ha ha), the audacity to attend a masquerade dressed as The Red Death!”
The crowd cheered, but no winner showed himself. A sudden, horrified scream rang out from the back, confirming everyone’s worst fears, and the party ended abruptly with a stampede for the door.
Ellen’s mother had passed away a long time ago, leaving her daughter with an emotionally unavailable father and, eventually, an abusive stepfamily. The only solace in Ellen’s life was the hazelnut twig that had been planted on her mother’s grave and grown into a tree.
Meanwhile, the royal family was putting increasing pressure on their son to get married and start a goddamned family because, as they reminded him, “What do royals do, but marry and make MORE royals?”
Upon hearing that the prince was holding an emergency bride-pageant, Ellen rushed down to the hazelnut tree. She was about to ask the enchanted dove that lived there for an impressive gown, but then thought better of it.
“I wish that my mother was alive.”
Just then, Ellen felt her mother’s grave shaking beneath her, as though someone’s fists were pounding below the surface. Ellen fled the graveyard, and never returned.
Beneath those doors was a prize waiting to be discovered, Hans was sure of it. He had always been told: “Never touch those cellar doors!” Just thinking about them made his brain hum with excitement. Like a naughty little bee.
Hans hummed to himself, as he withdrew the key from his pocket. The coast was clear. He opened the padlock and pulled the handle. The hinges creaked treacherously.
Hans clambered down the stairs, squinting to get a look around.
“Mraahh!” Something in the corner was crying. “Maaawwww!” It was huddled under a blanket, which Hans pulled away. Underneath, there was a hideously pale boy with milky eyes and rotten gums. “Waaaaaah.” It moaned.
“That’s your brother!” Hans jumped. His mother stood in the doorway, frowning angrily. “And he wouldn’t stay out of the cellar either!” She slammed the doors closed.
In the darkness, Hans heard the click of the padlock.
Gerald was not a clever man, nor was he a good-looking man; his weathered face hung like a skinned opossum to the front of his skull, and his thinning blond hair was reminiscent of a Nazi makeover. But what he lacked in likability, Gerald made up for with misogyny and a dearth of personal awareness, much to the delight of his coworkers.
During a particularly quiet day, Gerald was spinning idly in his office chair, when something under his desk caught his eye.
“Huh?” He mouthed, ducking down to take a closer look. Someone had taken the screws from the air vent cover. Gerald’s skeletal frame crawled easily through the duct.
After several meters, he plunged suddenly into deep, cold water.
“Aw, Geez!” He moaned.
A buzzer rang loudly, and the phrase SHARKS BEING RELEASED began flashing in big red letters. Then the sign shut off, and everything was dark.