For Valentina it had been a delightful evening at the Viennese Masque Ball. Following the recent lockdown, and the months of sustained coronavirus restrictions, those in her social circle were ready for a party – a chance to let their hair down. Christmas was coming, and the custom of wearing face coverings at the Ball made this a natural event for this particularly extraordinary festive season.
The host had made sure everything was organised in a safe, socially distanced way. The mood was set by a truly wonderful string quartet, sat spread across a small stage, with a generously spaced dance floor for guests. The sparkling wine flowed, and all this in the traditional setting of the host’s original 18th Century country mansion. On top of it all, Valentina was enjoying the company of her charming and mysterious masqued suitor. The way he maintained a distance, and that elaborate face covering, gave her a sense of safety and security.
As midnight approached, the couple withdrew to the quiet of the balcony, bathed in the silvery light of the winter moon. This was the time, she thought, to solve the enigma that had been puzzling her all evening.
“Do tell me,” she said, standing a metre along the balcony railing from her suitor. “I have to know, who is the man who has so entertained me all evening, the man behind that dramatic mask?”
Pausing, he slowly removed the mask, and stared straight into her brown eyes. Instantly, fear flashed across her face like lightning. Dark and painful memories from way back before the pandemic leapt suddenly to the forefront of her mind, as she realised what a fool she had been. After all this time, she felt her anxiety convulsing once more. He was back.