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A futuristic reinterpretation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque Of The Red Death.”

While he was trying on the disguise he would wear that evening at the masked ball, Mister Sapien discovered the impending catastrophe: a shack made of twigs, resembling a stork's nest, located close to the residential neighborhood. Come from afar, a dreadful black bird had settled in the desolate fields between the town and the forest.

An unknown continent on earth! And in this day and age! Mister Sapien could not stop talking about the fabulous discovery. A continent hidden in the ocean's vastness with its exotic, unbelievable inhabitants! A new species, unclassifiable in existing human categories. First it had been given the name Homo Fabiensis, then Homo Jamesiansis (after the explorer and scientist who discovered the island and its people), followed by Homo Avaianucus, neo-neanderthalensis, post, neander, etc. Then, as time went by, they ended up being simply called "the Creatures".

Extremely tiny, with an elongated face, a long and prominent nose, a muscle mass and brain more developed than those of every living type known to that day. Yet, these Creatures were not at the origin of any agricultural, artistic, scientific or other revolution, and their language had no grammar. Their only superiority over humans was in their sense of taste and smell. But one cannot decently consider sensibility or emotionality as superior traits. Old legends surrounding their name soon eclipsed objective facts. For the past ten years, rumour had it they devoured living children, that they had wings to fly with, that they snatched women they were crazy about and that they haunted their dreams. 

In fact, they were useless and harmful, their heads, their muscles and their souls were underdeveloped, unfit for modern life, and, lastly, they did not work. Following various complex procedures, both judiciary, political and social, they were pushed into the forest, to a spot for their exclusive use. But for unexplained reasons, they kept approaching the world of men, at first in small groups, then entire tribes, surrounding the towns where they consumed themselves, carried away by various illnesses against which their immune systems were powerless.

Mister Sapien was an educated man, intelligent, cultivated, since his birth his life had been a success. He was gifted as a critique and had a sense of humour. For the "Day of the Dead'', he had organized a masked ball inspired by the famous short story by Edgar Allan Poe. Seven rooms communicated through sharp-angled corridors and Gothic-style windows; flames in metallic pedestals were used as braseros. The blue room had blue windows, the mauve, orange, green, white and violet rooms contained furniture in a timeless style, as was the fashion. Each room represented one of the world continents, with its fauna and flora, its rarest dishes and beverages. The last room was black and other than an antique clock, whose bronze innards produced a terrifying noise every hour, it was empty. A Sphinx had been placed there that was worth a fortune and that Mister Sapien had ordered specially for the evening.

The guest had respected the master of ceremonies' medieval phantasies. Their costumes rivalled one another in their inventiveness: knights, monks, princes and princesses from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century, Mongol invaders, torturers and witches, plague doctors, ghosts. Imagination flowed with the crowd from one room to the next, music played, the phantasies came alive in the rhythmical swaying of bodies. The air vibrated with loud laughter, goblets and trays were emptied in all haste, the pulse of life was beating at a mad pace. Except in the black room. Not a single of the masked participants dared set foot in this terrifying place. Finding no one willing to resolve his enigmas, the Sphinx fell asleep, only to be awakened each hour, when, after perfectly imitating the strange noise from the old clock with its terrifying gongs, he would go back to sleep again. 

The clock struck midnight. The music stopped suddenly, the dancers stayed frozen where they stood. Before the echo of the last gong had faded, a guest appeared whom no one had noticed before. He was small, with an elongated face, a nose long and pointed like a bird's beak. His costume was made of skin-coloured pieces of parchment on a skeleton, the bones of the chin, the elbows and the knees tearing through the strange skin vestment, jutting in a sinister fashion. The other guests backed away, seized by terror and even disgust. Finding not a single obstacle on his way, with a slow step, the skeleton entered the mauve room, first. Then the orange one, the green. 

Mister Sapien ran after the unwelcome guest, and in the last room, he found himself face to face with him. He noticed with horror that the creature – yes, it was indeed a Creature – wore neither costume nor mask: it was half naked. At that moment, Mister Sapien no doubt thought about the "dry death", that illness spreading rapidly among the Creatures, and recently making the headlines in the papers: rumours signalling that the illness could be transmitted to man had only increased the terror. The “dry death” killed slowly, painfully. The sick saw their throat turned to stone, they could no longer swallow so much as a drop of water. Always an enemy of violence, Mister Sapien did not dare to reach out a hand toward the woman who appeared to be the Creature, although she was probably the weakest and most miserable woman in the world. He called the police, the emergency medical services. And no one entered the black room before the entire perimeter had been secured.

At first a muffled exclamation was heard, then nothing. The noise started up again shortly after, transformed into a kind of complaint in incomprehensible words. Then a long, shrill cry. The cry changed into a frightening laugh; it was hard to tell whether it was the voice of a human or of an animal. Was it a howl? A laugh? Did the sound come from a living being, from a body, a soul, a clock? No one ever knew what had happened in the black room, the enigma remained intact. Perhaps the Creature, ignorant of such concepts as parties, joy and amusement, had thought the masked ball was a resurrection rite, or something of the kind. That the parrot in the room, the last of its species, had met up with it in celebrating this savage ritual. When the police and the disinfection teams entered the room, they found the Sphinx and the Creature, lying on the ground, dead. The parrot's beak rested on the woman's naked breast; she embraced the bird with her tiny hands, like claws, her long pointed nose turned toward the animal's beaklike a famished fledgling turns its beak toward that of its mother.

The villa was disinfected, the guests were quarantined and the occupants were burned down along with their shacks extending around the town like stork nests. Despite this, everyone went on living in fear, as they had always done.


Translation from the French: Renée Lucie Bourges


This article is an extension of the festival, Re:Writing the Future, taking place from February 25 to 28. It is going to be published in print in the Extrablatt of the upcoming issue of Arts of the Working Class. 

This publication was made possible by the DAAD ARTISTS-IN-BERLIN PROGRAM, as part of its engagement with ICORN, the International Cities of Refuge Network.

The publication was edited by Mohamed Ashraf and Elisabeth Wellerhaus. 

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