written by: Rawan
I finally received my invitation by mail. Which was weird when you think about it. Who sends their invitations via mail these days? It was very old fashioned, considering who these people were. But having said that, the envelope in which they sent the invitation was printed on elegant Monogram Boho texture, black and smooth. Perfection. I ran my fingers along the silver stamp on the front, holding the letters D & W between ornate loops. I figured it was from their dynasty logo, Dukes of Wharton. They really put some thought into this, hadn’t they? I pulled out the card and admired the silver pattern on the cover, like a spider web. At the head of the invite was an illustrated silver masquerade mask, with all the feathers and emeralds on the sides. Reminding me of an owl, a dashing, chic owl, per say.
Halloween Costume Party, October 29, 2022.
Hosted By Agatha & Phillip Wharton.
Beware, it’s a spooky affair.
Golly, I read that in a British accent. Would you fancy a cuppa, darling? Why, yes, thank you very much. Though I distinctly remembered Meredith saying the family hosting the event was initially Irish. Frankly, I wasn’t sure, and bluntly, I didn’t care. This girl was going anyway, and she was wearing her best Dorothy Gale costume yet. I placed the invitation card on my kitchen counter, next to a vase and flowers painting I did a couple of weeks ago. The mediocre painting was so out of place next to the expensive invite. I sighed and turned the painting over on its head. Pathetic. No wonder I wasn’t selling anything of value lately. A Halloween invite looked better than what I spent hours and hours working on. But this was it. This was my chance to meet with people––people that matter in this industry. People who’d help me elevate my skills and hopefully (crossing all fingers) sponsor me, as an aspiring artist. It’s what Meredith said, anyway. She attended their elite soiree last year and couldn’t stop selling her art ever since. Connections matter, Bernie. She had said. The Wharton family appreciates art and they’re willing to help new young artists such as yourself find their way. They did that with me, they can do it with you.
Being invited to an elite soiree seemed so out of reach that I didn’t even bother giving it a second thought. But there was Meredith the next day, telling me she had put in a word for me to her sponsor and that he thought I had potential. Moi? Potential? I couldn’t believe it. So, here I was, doing a little dance in my little kitchen. Milo and Momo, my Jack Russel Terrier and Tammy cat, looked up at me from their spots on the floor. Milo had his tongue out, excited his mommy was so excited, and Momo stared at me like I had just lost my mind.
“Mommy needs to make more money, you see. So, I can support you both and buy you all the yummy treats you want.” I told them as I headed inside my crummy closet to pull out the props I bought last weekend. They made a significant dent in my bank account, sadly speaking. I could pick up a few side gigs here and there to make up for it, in case this scenario didn’t work out. But no time for despair. Positive vibes, thinking positive vibes.
I finished putting on my Dorothy costume, up to the red-headed wig and everything. I might have been a struggling artist, but I knew my way around makeup just fine. I took one look at the mirror before grabbing my pumpkin purse and heading out. “Wish mommy good luck.” I said to my fur babies before shutting the door behind me.
The service ride dropped me at Francis and Hillsborough, an hour away from my apartment. It was an isolated pocket of land, just North of Des Moines. The soiree was held in a Victorian mansion, sitting on a small hill. I stared up at it, dewy-eyed. Dear Lord, this place was huge. I felt like royalty, only wearing the wrong dress and wig. I placed a hand to my head, feeling uncomfortable suddenly. The guests, stepping out of limos and Sedans, donned fashionable flowy dresses and vintage suits. Hairs up in dos, tucked between diamond hair combs. I had the urge to turn around and ask the service ride to take me back to where I came from. But I stopped in my tracks, remembering Meredith’s words. Every artist needs to start somewhere, Bernie, it sails smoothly from there, I promise. I took in a calming breath and proceeded through the enormous gates, clutching my invite.
The Halloween decoration on the front lawn was spectacular. I felt like I had just stepped into a time portal. This very much looked like Medieval Ireland. Artistically so! The giant pumpkins nestled on the sides, carved intricately to show Celtic patterns. Erected tomb stones adorned the lavish garden, sprayed with massive spider webs. Skull heads, torches, and silky gowns. Orange light emitted from the gothic candles, lined up neatly on the steps.
I showed my invitation to the man in a black suit and masquerade mask by the door. I hadn’t noticed it before now, but it looked like everyone was wearing a masquerade mask of some sort.
“I- I’m sorry, I didn’t know I had to wear a mask.” I told him.
He smiled, gently. “No need to worry, my lady.” He bent down and picked a basket from the floor. “We have plenty to spare.”
“Are you sure? These look expensive.” I said, lightly. Taking a gander at the colorful array of florid masks.
He didn’t reply, and I took it as a yes. I picked out a black, feathery mask. Similar to the one printed on their mailer invite and put it on.
The interior of the Wharton mansion was beyond description. Majestic was one of the words I’d use. A colossal diamond chandelier hung from the ceiling, covered in stringy spider webs. The walls were dressed in a European classical pattern, black and glittering silver. I wanted to touch it so bad, this was better than any art I’d seen. Servants were dressed as goblins. Finger food was served on Ouija board platters, drinks were poured in grotesque chalices. A huge fondue fountain sat in the middle of the buffet, gushing a crimson liquid. Was that blood? I giggled to myself, silly.
In the middle of the ballroom sat the largest stone sculpture I’d ever laid eyes on. A man covered in robes, wearing a faceless mask, and bearing antler horns and a bushy beard. I tried not to gaze at it for too long, it was quite off-putting. I made my way to the food tables, trying to avoid unwanted stares. Guests were looking at me like I was a lost child. I was turning thirty next year, mind you. I ignored it, smiled politely, and picked a glass of champagne. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a rather handsome gentleman in a sleek, black suit and green masquerade mask that creeped along the side of his face. He was staring. At me. Now, why would he stare at me out of all people? He smiled, and I panicked, feigning ignorance, and taking a sip from this heavenly sweet champagne. He chuckled and strode my way, bearing the confidence of a Jaguar and the refinement of a fairytale prince. Oh boy, butterflies fluttered in my stomach. Was this good or bad? Was he here to talk me down, tell me how ridiculous I looked? Or was he here to chat? Oh boy.
“Nice costume.” He pointed, clasping his stemmed glass with his thumb and forefingers.
“Oh,” I said, glancing down at my ruby slippers. “Thank you.”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but this is your first time to a party like this, isn’t it?” He smiled, displaying two rows of sparkling, white teeth.
I held back a protest, biting my lower lip. “Yes, it is.”
He smiled some more. “I’m Colton.” He presented his hand.
I took it. “Bernie.”
“Well,” He looked around. “If it makes you feel any better, Bernie, newbies are very easy to spot in here. It’s actually a good thing, sponsors will know what to look for.”
I followed his gaze, noticing the few guests in casual Halloween costumes, looking as out of place as I was. He was right, it did make me feel better to hear about the sponsors bit. “That’s good, I guess. I just wish I’d come as the Wicked Witch of the West instead of little, nice Dorothy.”
He chuckled, “That’s alright, I’ve been there. My first Wharton soiree was two years ago. I was dressed as Elton John, didn’t get the Victorian dress code memo. So, I know what this feels like. I was just a nobody back then, didn’t sell much of anything. But now, I have my own chain of exhibits all over the State. I can’t sell my art fast enough.”
“Really?” I cocked an eyebrow, “That must be nice.”
He nodded, “That’s my boyfriend over there.” He pointed subtly at a young man in a grey suit, chatting up a group of people much older than him. “He’s distantly related to the Whartons. He’s the one who sent me the invite, told me it’ll be worth my time. He was totally right. Once you agree to join the family, it’s all smooth sailing from there.”
I took another sip of my drink, pretending it wasn’t relevant information that the first cute boy I meet in a fancy party was gay, go figure. “So, what happens next, are there going to be introductions later, or something like that?”
His lips slid with ease, producing half a smile. “It’ll happen soon enough, don’t you worry.”
As he said that, the lights grew dimmer. My gaze wandered, confused as to what was going on. Guests halted their conversations and started clapping, eyes to the center of the ballroom. A man and a woman stepped into the spotlight, dressed in the glitziest, most enchanting attire I’d seen. She was in a diamond studded dress, its tail brushing the marble floor. The color was indigo, just like a starry night on a warm, summer evening. He was in a glossy suit, matching her glamour. Their chunky masquerade masks were the color of the moon. I wanted to paint these people. Pick up my brushes, acrylics and start working. They waved their gloved hands at the cheering crowd.
“These are Agatha and Phillip, the Wharton siblings. Their names are printed on your invitation.” Colton whispered in my ear, as if reading my thoughts.
“They’re gorgeous.” I said, feeling breathless.
Agatha spoke first, voice feminine and crystal clear, laced with an Irish accent. “Welcome, everyone, and Happy Halloween. We’re very excited you could all join us tonight.” She said, scanning the large room with a pair of blue, striking irises. The crowd cheered again. Agatha waited till the noises subdued. “And to the first-comers,” She smiled. “The artists who will shape our future with their brush strokes, paint colors, and vibrant dreams. We can’t wait to welcome you all to the family.”
Her brother took the stage next. “This is Halloween.” The room went dead quiet. “And as you all know, it’s the time of year when the world of the living meets the world of the dead.” His voice was a little hoarse, sending a chill up my arms. “In favor of this occasion, our ancestors, in Celtic Ireland, had a tradition going every year. We are here to honor this tradition, as descendants of the Wharton family. But most of you know what I’m talking about.”
I traced the room, spotting a few lurking smirks.
“But to the newbies,” Phillip continued. “We’ll gladly explain. You see,” He took a few steps, picking up a champagne glass from a servant’s tray. “Every Halloween night our glorious god, the god of the night, Arawn, comes to life. We honor his presence by this soiree.”
There were a couple of short gasps and a few giggles. I looked at Colton, he shrugged.
“In all his glory, he will be resurrected tonight, in favor of granting our wishes. Everything you ever dreamed of, will be a reality if you make the right choice.”
“Is he joking?” I whispered to Colton. “This is just a party theme, isn’t it.”
Colton didn’t reply, he merely placed a finger to his lips. “Shhh …”
“But in return, our god Arawn will need something back.” Phillip said, throwing a wicked smile at the crowd. His sister behind him did the same. “We do Trick or Treating a little differently here. If you choose a trick, then you’ll never know what our god Awran has in store for you, and you get to leave this place. Never to come back.” He paused, then said. “But if you choose a treat, then you agree to give part of your soul to the god of the night. And he will give you whatever it is that you fancy, that we guarantee is true. So, what will it be?”
My heart almost skipped a beat. I glanced at the stone sculpture again. The faceless mask and widespread hands, fingers painted in red. All the newbies were baffled as well, shifting in place, fearfully. The Wharton siblings didn’t look so fabulous anymore, I was in fact scared to look at them.
I turned to Colton, “What the heck is going on?”
Colton shoved his hand in his pocket, taking another sip of his drink. “No one said joining the family was for free, Bernie.”
- The Family - October 29, 2022