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The ball of the beasts

They were dancing, dozens of men and women, in tattered costumes that looked as though they had moldered in attic trunks for a hundred years or more. I knew not one among them, but I stared raptly at the largest gathering of people I had seen in years.

The source of the music was an old crank phonograph, loud even above the talk and laughter. No one seemed to notice me, so I drew closer to watch. The dance tune it played was lively, but hectic would be a better description for it than cheerful, and the flaws in the record the phonograph played rasped and crackled as loudly as the music, making it sound as dilapidated as the dancers' costumes, as the room itself.

Spread along one wall was a tempting assortment of sweets. Where had they secured this repast? I looked at the food hungrily. I had probably forgotten what such treats tasted like. They would be better than I could imagine. I found myself drifting into the room.

Finally someone noticed me. A woman in a watered silk gown of rose mauve, with long, curling black hair and eyes like coals. Her lips curved in a smile of welcome I had not expected. My eyes widened, and I stared.

She turned to her dancing partner, whose gold hair was bound in a queue and whispered something to him with a sly look. As her eyes drifted back to me I colored, certain somehow she must be mentioning my intrusion.

It was very poor manners to barge into a party this way, uninvited... once. But if only I could speak to someone, ask what this was about, I would not trespass further. I only wanted to speak to someone.

The reel ended. There was crackle through the horn that reminded me of electricity, which was only a distant memory to me. The couple broke apart, and the dark-haired woman moved toward me purposefully.

As I met her gaze I felt a brief shock.
Her black eyes were like two bottomless pits.

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