The Curse of Chaos

 

A Humorous Fantasy

by Joe Vadalma

(Available from Page Turner Editions)

Masquerade Ball

The king's ball was to celebrate his friends wed.

Each room was a different hue, even red.

At the judging of the contest, Chaos did reign

Excerpt from The Poem of Chaos

The double wedding was held a scant two weeks after Bishop Faith's fall from the pulpit Grace. This event occurred in the early evening, after sunset, as a courtesy to one of the grooms, Baron Philander, who never ventured out while the sun shone. Beforehand, Faith called in carpenters to make the most pressing repairs to the church. He decorated it himself in a manner he hoped would make up for its shortcomings. He paid for this miracle with the meager donation that he had received for performing the ceremony.

Garbed in luxurious robes, he beamed with pleasure to see his church crowded with the couples' friends, relatives and well-wishers. As the brides' entourages strolled up the aisle at a slow cadence, the wedding march was played superbly on the church's old organ by Eager, a friend of one of the brides. Although the decrepit instrument often went off-key, the artist's skill made its stringent tones sound heavenly.

The brides in their wedding gowns were spectacularly beautiful. Even in ordinary garb, both were lovely women. For this joyous occasion they were splendglamorous. Cindy, Baron Philander's betrothed, was a chestnut-haired charmer. Her frilly gown, formfitting at the bosom but floating free like a magical mist at the skirt, had a train that trailed several paces down the threadbare carpet. As Faith performed the ceremony, he gazed into her deep, dark eyes and envied Philander.

Pim, Terence Lalbert's wife-to-be, was the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. She was more bold in her choice of apparel. Her bare shoulders, elaborately coiffured copper locks and plunging neckline kept Faith's eyes busy moving from a deep chasm surrounded by mounds of quivering flesh to her lovely face. Otherwise the dress was simple and satiny, hugging her soft curves like an apple peal hugs the tasty fruit within.

Since both women were orphans, King Knight Black, in royal robes as glamorous as the women's gowns, gave the brides away. With a bride clinging to each arm, he strode up the aisle looking solemn, masculine and martial in a fur-trimmed black cape, jeweled golden crown and silver-brocaded uniform. After he turned the lovelies over to their grooms, an usher escorted him to a throne especially placed for a good view of the ceremony.

An opening hymn was sung by Lady Melody who accompanied herself on the harp. (She had a beautiful soprano voice that brought tears to the eye. Alas, she was a sorrowful figure. Her husband, previously General, now King Eric, had deserted her when he became monarch of a foreign land.)

Faith beamed as he presided over the exchange of vows with all the pomp, display and showmanship that he was capable of. After he bestowed his final blessing on the congregation, he gave each new bride a peck on the cheek, shook the hand of everyone present and led the happy couples to their awaiting carriages.

As he threw rice after the departing vehicles, he noticed that the night sky had clouded over so that not a single star shown, and a chill wind had picked up. Hence, he stepped lively along the path to the castle, anxious to reach his apartment before the impending storm broke. As he entered through the fortress's huge oak doors, the first lightning streak split the sky, followed by a slow drum-roll of thunder.

Once safely in his room he dressed for the evening's entertainment. Although the ball would not start for an hour, he was anxious to appraise the effect of his costume, which he had chosen with the utmost care. He stood before a full-length mirror for several minutes admiring his garb, that of an impoverished worn, coarse monk's robe. In his mind it represented his church's poverty. After it was adjusted properly, he tugged an elastic mask over his silver locks and stretched it snugly under his chin. The man in the mirror was a tonsured old monk. To complete his disguise, he bared his feet, wriggling his toes at the unaccustomed feeling of not wearing footgear.

Impatient for the reception to begin, he alternately paced the room and adjusted his costume until the mantel clock told him that the party was about to begin. Even then, he waited a few additional minutes, glanced at his image one final time and strode with a firm step through the castle halls. He marched through the wide double door to the west wing, pausing only to hand his invitation to the servant collecting them.

As he entered, he was dazzled as though by a bright light. The walls and decorations in this first chamber of the several in the west wing were a stark white. The milky light was produced by a brazier behind white glass. It made every object pale and alabaster hued. He felt as though he had stepped into an arctic wilderness. Wall murals portraying vast ice fields and snow-covered glaciers sent icy shivers down his spine. On the lofty ceiling, pearly winged angels cavorted among billowing clouds while the Frost god blew icy gusts. A furry white carpet tickled his bare soles. In the corners marble vases overflowed with bouquets of bridal wreath, white carnations, edelweiss and lilies. A string quartet in pale dinner jackets bowed, "White Room" on ivory instruments. Even the guests' multihued costumes provided little relief from the blinding whiteness.

Faith scanned the crowd. Since he did not recognize anyone, he sauntered to a long service table covered with a cloud-hued lace cloth. Its centerpiece was the several-storied, sugar-frosted, angel-food wedding cake. On either side were platters of white hors d'oeuvres and punch bowls filled with eggnog. Faith filled his plate with a hard boiled egg, cauliflower florets dipped in horseradish and a slice of turkey breast. He poured himself a glass of Chateau Blanc.

Due to the room's white glare, he was becoming snow blind. To escape, he took his plate to the next chamber. It was as strikingly violet as the first had been blinding white. Here, deep purple light rays flickered on murals depicting a murky sea bottom. Mermaids, fish and octopus swam among Atlantis's ruins where the god Neptune held court, trident in one hand, from a coral throne. A purple-clad orchestra played "Deep Indigo" and floral decorations of violets, dahlias and orchids perfumed the air.

Through the purple dimness, he noticed a woman in tiger stripes by the refreshment table plucking purple grapes and sipping burgundy. Minister Dorian's wife, he thought as he strolled up to the tigress. He bowed in a courtly manner. "Good evening, Tiger. Aren't the decorations remarkable?"

The lady tittered. "Yes they are. Let me guess who you are. I'll bet you're Bishop Faith."

He was disappointed to be recognized so easily. Nonetheless, he continued politely, "You're quite correct. And how is your husband, the minister?"

The feline giggled again. "Oh how delightful. My costume has you completely fooled. You've mistaken me for Dorian's wife." Lowering her voice, she whispered, "I'm really Queen Jennifer."

Flustered at having addressed the queen in such an offhand manner, Faith bowed again and stammered out an apology. "Pardon me, Your Majesty. I ... I really thought ..."

"Oh bosh, that's the whole idea of a masquerade -- to be taken for someone else." She placed a finger to her lips. "Don't give me away. Any other time I may be a queen, but tonight I'm a tiger. Grr." This last word she pronounced in a throaty, suggestive manner and led him by the arm into the next chamber. "Come and see the rest of the wing. It was His Majesty's idea, you know, to make each room a different color and have a different theme."

In the blue chamber, on the longest wall a lonely castle overlooked an azure sea from a solitary pinnacle. From the water rose Diana, the moon goddess. Overhead a blue moon cast an eerie glow on blue-clad musicians playing "Blue Moon." Vases of bluebells, delphiniums, foxglove, hyacinth and rhododendron scented the air. At the refreshment counter steaming dishes of rhubarb, turnips and broccoli were covered with melted blue cheese. To Faith's delight, since he loved seafood, the main course was blue fish garnished with black olives. For desert a slice of blueberry pie tempted his palate.

While Faith exchanged pleasantries with Queen Jennifer, they were joined by a dragon and a white kitten. This couple turned out to be Minister Dorian and his wife, Lady Tiger Lily (the woman he'd mistaken the queen for). After a few remarks about the rainy weather after a loud peal of thunder sounded, Jennifer wandered away. At this point Tiger Lily remarked, "That blue moon gives me the willies. It reminds me of the time Dorian and I were lost in an evil enchanted castle. If you don't mind, I'd like to continue our conversation in another room."

Since Dorian always acquiesced to Tiger Lily's wishes, Faith followed the couple to the Green Room. It might have been called the Jungle Room. Not only did it depict a verdant forest and an olive nature goddess, but the chamber was so filled with potted ferns that Faith had to brush away the leaves to make his way to the board. Tiger Lily filled her plate from a huge salad of bell peppers, cucumbers and green olives over raw spinach. Dorian, on the other hand, went for the asparagus and peas in a green sauce. Faith merely took a few green grapes and limes from the fruit bowl. They each had the bartender mix a different drink. Tiger hand a daiquiri, Dorian, a mint julep, and Faith, a limeade.

The trio were joined by Duke Wisdom, Retslu's esteemed doctor of philosophy and science, and Lord Noise, a boisterous retired knight who claimed to be a great dragon slayer in his youth. Wisdom was costumed as a pig, and Noise as a detective, outfits selected because of an adventure they had participated in the past. At first Noise dominated the conversation by relating for the thousandth time the tale of his encounters with goblins and gnomes in the underworld. When Faith was able to get in a word edgewise, he described his plans for a new church. Although the others expressed interest, they appeared bored by the topic. Noise even rudely yawned as Faith described the fabulous murals that would grace the domed ceiling.

While they conversed, a servant announced that the newlyweds had arrived. The friends returned to the white room where the quartet had just struck up "The Wedding March." The servant at the door bellowed, "Baron and Baroness Philander," whereupon Philander and Cindy entered arm in arm. The couple, like everyone else at the ball, had changed to costumes. Philander was dressed as a wolf and Cindy as a scullery maid.

"Mister and Madam Talbert," the servant cried as the other couple marched in, Talbert as a zombie and the gorgeous Pim as Little Red Riding Hood with a child's short skirt that showed off her long, comely legs.

When the royal family entered, the tune changed to "The Gods Save the King." Knight Black wore the outfit of an ancient warrior, a black and white plaid kilt; Queen Jennifer had on her tiger outfit; and the handsome young Prince Black Pawn was garbed in dark armor.

To the tune of "The Gang's All Here" came Duke Woden, the queen's father as a peasant farmer, and Wortisha, his youthful wife costumed as a pirate. Clinging to her shoulder was her pet raven made up to resemble a parrot.

As the string quartet played "Hi Neighbor," old King Skeemer, ruler of the Kingdom of Neerg, strolled in as a dove, symbolic of his peaceful intentions.

After these esteemed personages completed their grand entrance, the string quartet struck up Queen Jennifer's favorite waltz, "The Merry Widow." The newlyweds, the king and queen, and Duke Wisdom and his wife began to whirl around the floor. They were soon joined by several other couples.

At the end of the first set, King Knight Black toasted the new brides and grooms. He was followed by several others who wished to honor the newlyweds by raising their glasses to them and wishing them well. Seeing this as an opportunity not to be missed, Faith rose and suggested that they petition the gods to bestow a long, happy and prosperous life of wedded bliss on the joined pairs. During his lengthy prayer he called upon the gods to bestow their benefits, not failing to mention the lack of participation in his services and the need for a more adequate house of worship. Everyone sighed with relief when he pronounced his final blessing.

At this point in the celebration the master of ceremonies announced that the guests were invited to partake of the banquets if they had not already done so. Faith, his hearty appetite still not sated, although he'd snacked heavily from the white and violet boards, decided to wander through the remainder of the wing to see what delectables he might still consume. With platter in hand, he strolled swiftly through the chambers he had already visited to the yellow room where golden walls covered with crescent sand dunes were smiled upon by hot, bronzed Apollo. Since this desert theme made him thirsty, he downed several goblets from a hogshead of beer. No longer dry, he ate an ear of hot buttered corn, several cheeses and a slice of corn bread. After he supped on these goodies he continued to the next room without stopping to admire the yellow room's marigold, straw flower and sunflower arrangements.

The theme of the orange room was autumn. A pastoral farmland scene with rows of pumpkins, corn husks, heaps of straw and autumn-hued trees was overseen by the orange-glad earth goddess, Gaea, who spread her bountiful harvest through a horn of plenty. How appropriate for the season, Faith thought as he loaded up on stewed carrots, candied yams, a tangerine, barbecued pork ribs and pumpkin pie while the scarecrow band played "September Song."

As he sipped a glass of sherry, a man costumed as a golden statue began a conversation. "Is it you, Bishop, behind that monk's mask?"

Faith knew at once that this was the treasury minister, who loved wealth above all things. "Yes. And you're Screege. I'm afraid our costumes are not enough of a departure from our actual employment to fool anyone. What a happy encounter, he thought. Just the person to start buttering up to start the ball rolling for my building fund. Aloud he said, "I imagine this party is a welcome diversion for someone with your responsibilities. All that counting of tax receipts, preparing budgets and so forth must keep you hopping."

"Right you are. Especially in these hard times. It's a full time job going after tax cheats. People have many ways of hiding wealth."

"Ah, but is it not also difficult deciding how the money should be spent. Naturally you would want the proceeds to go for projects that would bring the most happiness and enlightenment to our citizens."

"Certainly. But who could say what that might be. Besides, the allocation of funds is out of my hands. I advise His Majesty, but he's a stubborn man who has his own ideas on how the crown's meager wealth should be spent. And, believe me, sometimes his choices are extravagant and inopportune. Take this ball, for example. I tried to tell him to keep it simple. But no, you wouldn't believe what the decorations alone cost." Screege went on to complain about the various expenses associated with the masquerade.

At that point Faith stopped listening and thought, No use in approaching this tightwad about funds for the church. Their conversation deteriorated to gossip about mutual acquaintances. After a while Faith excused himself and wandered into the red room.

A flickering red light on painted carmine flames caused the walls to dance and flash as though a real conflagration was in progress. Demons and imps capered among the fiery tongues, torturing damned souls as Satan watched from his throne. Revelers in phantasmagorian costumes whirled around the room to a hot tune, making it difficult to distinguish them from the denizens of hell. One couple in particular cut a lively figure. Count Gorblud of Vampirevania, in an outlandish costume, spun the lovely Pim around in a lively Czardas (a folk dance of Gorblud's native land). As they twirled Pim's cape and her short skirt flew out revealing her hot pink thong. It seemed truly a scene from Hades.

After Faith watched the dancers for a while, he went to the board where he sipped tomato soup, had difficulty deciding between the goulash and a bloody, rare steak, and made himself a salad of kidney beans, pimentos, red peppers and beets which he washed down with a glass of Rose'.

Although his enormous appetite was now sated, curious as to the final room's theme, he moseyed on. To his surprise, the door to the last of the eight chambers was shut. After he slid it open he stood at the entrance in shock. The chamber was as black as a coal mine.

Once his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, he shuddered to see that the firelight's effect upon the dark hangings through blood-tinted panes was ghastly that no other partygoer was bold enough to set foot within. Dark clouds roiled chaotically on one long wall while witches, black cats and ravens gamboled among them. The goddess Chaos, in a hooded cloak that hid her terrible countenance, presided somberly over her creatures. The strains of "Funereal March" issued softly from black-garbed musicians who were all but invisible against the inky background. To Faith's horror, a coffin surrounded by black dahlias, black orchids, deadly nightshade and mandrake stood upright along the far wall.

In addition there stood a gigantic ebony clock. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, monotonous clang. When the minute hand climbed to the clock's pinnacle, and the hour struck, there came from the clock's brazen lungs a sound which was clear, loud, deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at the lapse of the hour, the musicians paused momentarily in their performance to hearken to the sound.

Faith's first impulse was to leave these bleak surroundings immediately. As he turned to go, however, he heard a groan issuing from the coffin. Wondering what might have caused this weird sound, he opened its lid. A pale corpse with carmine lips rested inside. As Faith stared in horror, the cadaver stepped from the upright coffin and cried, "Boo." Faith leaped backwards in fright.

The corpse laughed. "I've been waiting for someone to come in here so I could do that."

Faith recognized the evil voice immediately. "Not a very nice trick, Mordrake," he cried testily, shaken by the practical joke. (Mordrake was King Skeemer's court sorcerer, a notorious mischief maker.) "What if I'd had a bad heart?"

"Oh bosh. This would be a dull party without pranks. You're being a bad sport. By the way, you have me at a disadvantage. You evidently have guessed my identity, but I know not whom I've just had the pleasure of scaring the cassock off of."

"Bishop Faith."

"I might've known. You always were a party pooper. But let's not quarrel." Half fawning, half sneering, Mordrake placed an arm around Faith's shoulders. "Join me for a dark beer."

Although Faith cared little for Mordrake's company, rather than be impolite, he allowed himself to be led to a dining table covered in black velvet. Upon this ebony cloth were platters of charred pork roast, dark bread, black-eyed peas, devil's food cake and dark chocolates. Mordrake joked about past times when he and Faith had been rivals for a prize awarded by Duke Woden, who at that time had been monarch. This made Faith even more uneasy. Hence, he was relieved when King Knight Black strolled into the room. He and Mordrake bowed and greeted His Majesty.

"Well, here's an unlikely twosome," Knight Black remarked. "A tonsured monk and a vampire. And who are you really?" Faith and Mordrake revealed their true identities. "An even more unlikely pair. I can't imagine what you two would have in common to discuss."

"Just reminiscing about old times, Woden's great quest to obtain water from the Fountain of Youth," Mordrake replied. "I love the way you've decorated each room for the masquerade. Very ingenious, Your Majesty."

"Thank you, Mordrake. The idea came to me in a dream. I wanted to do something unique, something Poe-etic, for such an auspicious occasion. But, please continue with your tales of those glory days. I too have fond memories of those times."

Because Faith wanted to curry Knight Black's favor in the hope of softening him up for the moment he would try to convince him to allocate funds for the new church, he also complemented Knight Black on the decorations and told a few anecdotes about the quest all three had been on.

As they swapped tales of their adventures, the stories became more elaborate and heroic with each retelling. Finally, Knight Black glanced at the antique clock in the corner. "Oh dear, it's almost midnight. I must gather the guests for the costume judging."

"Where are you holding it, Sire?" asked Faith, wishing that there was a way he could get Knight Black alone.

"Right here, I think. I like this room above all the others. It's so peaceful. Like death."

"Excellent choice," said Mordrake. "It's also my favorite. Although the red room is nice too, with all those torture scenes in Hell."

"Mine too," Faith chimed in, although in truth he despised the gloomy chamber. He disliked lying, but felt it was necessary in his just cause. "Uh, Your Majesty, may I help you assemble everyone?"

"Of course. How gracious of you to offer."

As Faith followed Knight Black from the dark chamber, he noticed that Chaos's statue was not as it had been when he entered the chamber. That's strange, he thought. I could've sworn the goddess was near the coffin. My memory is getting terrible.

He and Knight Black meandered through the wing pausing in each room to announce that the costume judging would be held at midnight in the black chamber. As they strolled along, Faith nonchalantly mentioned the present church's dilapidated condition and spoke about his plan to construct a new one. Knight Black nodded politely in an abstract manner as though he wasn't really listening.

When they returned, the awful, dark chamber was crowded with revelers who chatted, giggled and burped from the good food and wine they had consumed. At this point in the party, even the somber room's gloom could not dispel their high spirits. Knight Black ordered the servants to furnish additional candles for the contest. They did little good; the inky walls seemed to absorb light.

"Now, who shall be judge?" asked Knight Black as the antique clock sounded the first stroke of the midnight hour with a somber "Bo-o-ong," long and drawn out.

"Who? Who will judge?" repeated Wortisha's pet raven.

Someone cried, "What? A raven dressed as a parrot making sounds of an owl?" The crowd laughed heartily at the jest.

"Bo-o-ong." The antique clock struck the second stroke.

Another person cried, "You judge, Your Majesty."

"I wouldn't dare," replied Knight Black in a jocular vein. "I'd have to choose Queen Jennifer or get my ears boxed." Again the crowd roared with drunken laughter.

"Bo-o-ong." The clock bonged a third time.

Lady Tiger Lily remarked loudly, "Yes, the judge must be someone unattached. Perhaps Screege or Bishop Faith." Both men declined the task.

"Bo-o-ong," came the fourth note.

Hokum, the court wizard, volunteered his services.

"Bo-o-ong," repeated the clock.

Pim, the most beautiful woman in Retslu and the bride of Lawrence Talbert, cried, "Oh no, Dear Hokum. Everyone knows you have a crush on Queen Jennifer. It wouldn't be fair."

"Bo-o-ong," came the sixth note while several other names were shouted.

"Bo-o-ong."

Queen Jennifer said, "We must get someone who is absolutely impartial."

"Bo-o-ong."

The room buzzed with chatter as the crowd argued about who would be suitable.

On the ninth "Bo-o-ong" the room lapsed into silence as no agreement was forthcoming.

When the clock struck the tenth "Bo-o-ong," a mysterious figure in a dark cloak whose cowl hid the person's face pushed through the press to stand in the center of the circle that surrounded Knight Black.

"It's Chaos," someone cried while the clock "Bo-o-onged" for the eleventh time.

"Yes, how appropriate that someone in the costume of this room's deity be the judge," remarked Knight Black.

The mysterious figure held up a golden apple. In a voice that matched perfectly with death-knell pealing of the clock, she said, "And this shall be the prize."

The twelfth and final "Bo-o-ong" sounded as the entire assembly cheered their agreement.

"Promenade," the weird voice from behind the hood's dark folds cried.

With much good-natured jostling and confusion, the revelers lined up in a spiral pattern and strolled, danced, primped and cavorted before Chaos. The goddess nodded at each one as she gazed critically at the merrymakers' costumes. When the last partygoer passed her station, she raised her hand for silence. The musicians stopped playing and the crowd held its collective breath in anticipation of the goddess's verdict. The deity twirled around once with her arm outstretched and her finger pointing like a compass needle.

When she stopped, the digit pointed directly at Bishop Faith.

"Me?" Faith asked incredulously.

The mysterious figure nodded ascent and crooked the pointing finger in a come hither gesture.

Faith trembled as he stepped forward to take the golden apple from hand of Chaos. This action started the crowd grumbling. "Why him?" "His costume is just old rags." "I knew who he was at a glance." Several people shouted. "Who are you to judge so poorly?" "Let's see the person that would not pick me in my costume that cost a thousand guilders." "Yes, show us who you really are." "Remove your mask." The drunken revelers became surly, each believed that his or her costume was a hundred times more clever than Faith's.

"Ungrateful wretches," Chaos croaked at them. "Very well, I'll reveal my true identity. But first I'll curse such rudeness.

"Let this curse be upon this company,

Who disdains me as referee.

The curse of Murphy shall your bones chill.

What can go wrong for you will."

So saying, she flipped back her cowl to reveal -- nothingness, chaos, blackness so dark that to gaze at her was like falling into a bottomless pit of everlasting night.

The crowd gasped in horror. Someone cried in a hoarse whisper, "It's really her. Chaos incarnate." The company drew back in fear and loathing.

Faith's legs turned to mush, his ears rang and sweat beaded on his forehead. To receive Eris's golden apple from her own hands was awesome and frightening. The room closed in on him and fuzzed around the edges. The hand that grasped the prize felt as though it held an enormous weight. The object dropped from his numb fingers and smashed into a thousand shards. Simultaneously, the dread goddess vanished.

Faith did not quite faint, but had to be held by the arms to keep from sinking to the floor. Someone handed him a parchment scroll, saying, "It was inside the golden apple." Absently, he placed it within the folds of his robe. "I feel ill," he whimpered and ran to the nearest water closet where he vomited everything he had eaten and drunk at the party. Afterwards, he was helped to his apartment where he collapsed on the bed and passed out.

 

Available from Renaissance E-Books Page Turner Edtions and other online e-book sellers.

 

Return to top of page