"The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe (1842, ten pages, read via Dailylit.com)
Edgar Allan Poe (1809 to 1949) is considered one of the early masters of the Gothic horror story. He was one of the very first American authors to write broadly in the short story genre. Wikipedia says he was the first well known American writer to make his living from the sales of his work. He lead a trouble life that ended far to soon.
"The Masque of the Red Death" is set at the home of Prince Prospero, a converted abbey. We are not given the time of the story but it feels like the 1500s to me in Italy.
As the story opens a terrible disease is ravaging the land ruled by Prince Prospero. The language of the story is rich and opulent. The story has a decadent feel to it. Here is Poe's description of the Red Death, as the disease is called:
THE "Red Death" had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal -- the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.The Prince decides to try to avoid the red death. He summons all the nobles and gentry of his princedom to a grand ball which is to be held in the seven rooms of his abbey. It is a masked costumed ball. The prince is completely indifferent to the sufferings of his people and just intends to wait out the end of the disease behind his walls and in his great luxury. Here is Poe's description of the party (I see a dream like quality to the feel of the party):
There was much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these -- the dreams -- writhed in and about, taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps. And, anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in the hall of the velvet.I won't tell any more of the plot. Dailylit.com and other places like it make it easy for us to read short stories. There are allegorical and philosophical interpretations that could be put on this brief tale concerning the nature of death etc. To me the very real pleasure in this story is in the rich prose rather than the plot. "The Masque of the Red Death" is a classic American short story well worth the few minutes it will take to read it.