At the top of the stairs, Mr. Rose placed his hands steadily on the giant gold doors and let out a deep sigh. The doors burst open in excitement as shimmering rays of golden light fluttered into the dark without the castle doors, and the joyous harmony of instruments and shouts of laughter flowed down the street as an invisible wave of crystal clear water. The vast room opened onto a circular balcony supported by a silver staircase, crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling; gold statues of muscular men and stunning women stood gloriously among the masked guests. Torches with glowing flames scattered along the upper walls, which shone light down on red banners with golden trimming that rested peacefully upon a confetti that fell like multicolored snow. Mr. Rose stopped in the open doorway, his silhouette pressed against the dark wall between door frames, and the joyous sounds and laughter ceased as the attentions of the guests at the masquerade made their way up the silver staircase to focus on Mr. Rose. For a few seconds, all stood still, every eye, pin-pointed on the figure standing just outside the celebration.
“Charley!” many cried out in exhilaration, throwing their hands up into the air as the trumpets and cellos began once more to strum delightful music; a shy smile crept across Charley’s face as he melted in with the guests; who, as he went, resumed their dancing and play.
A man in an orange, polka-dotted tuxedo with a red bowtie and the mask of a harlequin slapped Charley on the shoulder with a smile; he lunged forward from the force of the slap. “Charley, how’ve you been? It’s a delight to see you’ve come back tonight. We were all hoping you'd join us.” He smiled weakly and nodded back to the man. The man in the harlequin mask danced off down the hallway laced with vases and tapestries of every color to the beat of the music playing on the floor below. Charley placed his hands on the golden railing and followed it around the balcony above the dance floor, side-stepping to avoid the partygoers sauntering about in a cheerful, drunken daze, each pausing to give a jovial greeting. He stopped at a large mirror surrounded by a silver frame; he observed a young man in his early twenties wearing a black and white tuxedo and an eye-mask that was separated down the middle; one side black, the other a sparkling silver. He slowly reached his gloved hand to the mirror, and touched the face of his reflection; the face in the mirror stared back sad and lonely. Charley's heart jumped as the reflection of a beautiful woman and a flowing yellow dress made its way across the dance floor; her face covered with a yellow and black butterfly-mask. He turned quickly; searched among the party-goers for the beautiful woman, but she had vanished, and his heart ached as the colorful costumes and masks all melted into a single rainbow colored sea of bodies. He pushed his way through those mingling on the upper balcony, until he stopped at the top of the silver staircase, out of breath.
“Where is she?” he cried out in frustration, the butterflies still dancing in his stomach, black and yellow, to meet the woman and the dress. Charley folded his arms on the railing, and buried his head; he squeezed shut his eyes and pictured Sarah in his mind; her sparkling blue eyes staring back, looking into his soul. A happy feeling filled his entire body and he lifted his head, the sad eyes once again roving the dance floor. The flicker of a yellow dress in the corner of his eye; the beautiful woman in the butterfly mask, moving herself elegantly through the doorway and out of the great room through a pair of red doors. He rushed down the stairs and onto the floor filled with dancing masked people, and though every person Charley passed wanted to shake his hand or say hello to their friend and honored guest, Charley politely said his greetings and evaded them as he slipped through the crowd towards the red doors at the other end of the room. His reply was the same to each person he passed, “Sorry, but I need to get to Sarah.”
“It’s time for the countdown,” a loud voice exclaimed over the roar of music and laughter. The costumed guests stopped their dancing to turn toward a giant wooden grandfather clock that sat on a stage at the end of the dance floor. The guests stood, waiting; their hands shaking in anticipation.
“No, not yet, I need more time,” Charley cried out, defeated. He took off his mask as a tear fell down his nose and onto the marble dance floor; he fell to his knees, hands covering his face, as the echoing sounds of guests, counting down the final seconds until midnight rang, through his hollowed mind and he clenched his fists and slammed them down onto the floor. The room about him began to spin; the beautiful colors, to blend into one as everything spun, faster and faster, and finally stopped spinning; and the colors turned to black: he had run out of time.
The radiant sun slunk heavily below the distant horizon as a luminous, pale moon rose to replace it in the starry sky. Charley covered his mouth to hold back a yawn as he stepped out of the carriage pulled by the white horses; wiggled the bowtie under his chin until it was just right, and began his journey up the marble stairway; like every night, before butterflies crashed against the walls of his stomach like prisoners trying to escape. He held his hands out in front of him, his white fingers a blur as his hand quivered and shook in anxiety; he took a deep breath and regained what little determination he had left. The heels of his shoes clicked on the ground as he mounted each step, and little by little pulled open the golden doors and stepped back for the the blow of the screams for his arrival.
Tonight Charley wasted no time mingling with the guests; wary lesson from the previous night, he went directly to the golden railings and perched himself there like a hawk, scanning the dance floor for the flowing golden dress. Every shade of yellow imaginable scrutinized and taunted him like bullies on the playground; Charley squinted his eyes and focused on finding Sarah. He turned his head from the left side of the room to the right, stopping right before reaching the red doors. There she stood, the definition of grace and beauty, a smile across her face as she conversed effusivelwith the guests around her. Charley’s heart pounded at his rib cage, begging to be set free. He rested his elbows on the railing as his head sunk to lie indolently on his open palms. His top eye lids became heavy and sank down over his eyes, and a closed-mouth smile spread across his cheeks. Bent over the railing, admiring Sarah’s divine beauty and poise, he never noticed that the guests were beginning to line up around the giant wooden grandfather clock. Charley jolted out of his love-struck gaze with a jump as the clock chime called out the night’s final seconds; he slapped his hands against the top of his head and drug them down over his eyes. “You Idiot!” he screamed, frantically trying to get down the stairs; but before he could reach the last step the walls of the stone castle slipped into a dark abyss, and the night went black.
Like every night, before the carriage drawn by the white stallions came to rest on the cobblestone street outside the castle. Before the driver could announce their arrival, Charley was out the door and up the stairway with a confident disposition, his arms tightly flexed at his side; steps, strong and quick. He yanked open the doors and cut through the cheerful calls of his arrival, as he had wasted too many nights not chasing his elusive love. Tonight he would finally reach her, he was sure of it. He stood at the bottom of the staircase on the dance floor, ignoring the greetings and conversation openers, his mind attached to one thing. From across the dance floor, the sweet smell of Sarah’s perfume tickled the bottom of his nose, and like a tiny hand motioned him to her. Charley took a deep breath and took his first step onto the marble floor, and with every step he alluring aroma drove him to move faster and faster; he moved one foot in front of the other until he came to a stop. Beads of sweat gathered on his forehead, his gaze traveled up from the bottom of her golden dress, that floated just above the floor to the top of Sarah’s head covered with shimmering brunette hair, and his mouth went dry. He tried to swallow though it was like swallowing gravel. “Saa. . .Saa. . .Sarah?” his voice, trembling and raspy; cleared his throat into a closed fist: “Sarah, it’s. . .it’s me. . .Charley,” his voice soft and timid.
Sarah turned around to face him, her expression obscured by her mask, and Charley froze in fear. “I. . .I. . .I have something to tell you,” he managed in a stuttering voice; but Sarah didn’t blink. Charley let a nervous sigh, he rubbed the back of his neck and relieved himself of her gaze. “Sarah I’ve been trying to talk to you for a long time now.” He turned back to her was shoved away by a guest lining up for the countdown. “Hey watch it!” he yelled out in anger. He reached over the man’s shoulder and frantically clawed at the air as he was forced farther away from Sarah. She stood in the same place, hands together, resting in front of her; her eyes begging him to wrestle to get back to her. “No!” Charley in frustration tried to force his way around the guests; he shoved and struggled to get free, but more guests began to line up, blocking him from her.
“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six…” The chanting of the guests overpowered Charley’s cries of anguish, and his scared face looked up over the men and at Sarah. She stood still, in the distance, in a lambent glow as the rest of the room went dark. He stopped fighting and dropped his hands to his side. “No,” he said softly, his head dropping defeated. When he raised his head again the castle was gone.
Like every night before, as soon as the door opened, the roar of joy over Charley’s arrival filled the night; every face, except the one, filled with a smile. He descended the silver stairs and pushed through the crowd coldly greeting every familiar face; he sat down on a soft leather-covered stool at the end of the bar, on the opposite side of the room, with his back turned to the red doors, and took a swig from the brown bottle sitting in front of him before burying his face in his hands. A strong hand gripped his right shoulder: “Hey Charley. . .good to see you again, friend,” a jolly, familiar voice exclaimed. Charley held an open hand up into the air and lifted up his head.
“Not today Gary,” he replied, his eyes red and watery, and fell back into his arms like a stone.
“What’s the matter, friend?” The bells on his harlequin's hat rang as his head bobbed; Charley just shook his head. A brisk of air and the sweet smell of perfume floated past Charley, and Gary slowly bent down and rested his head next to Charley’s ear. He spoke to him in a soft whisper.
“You know, there’s always time to fall in love.”
Charley tore through the crowd like a hurricane, throwing smiling, drunken guests out of his way, every step, getting closer to the woman he loved. Charley pushed and shoved, but there were too many people, and a cold sweat beaded along the side of his face; he turned toward the wooden grandfather clock, his mouth open in anxiety. The guests began to line up, facing the clock, and in a few seconds the countdown would begin. Charley began to sweat profusely, his stomach queasy and his mouth dry; the loud music and laughter rang through his aching skull; Charley closed his eyes and screamed out, above the roar of the crowd, “I love you Sarah!” The sound of his voice echoed off the stone walls, and the room went quiet. Sarah stopped and turned to face Charley, and tears flowed down and out of her mask. Gradually the guests began to disappear, and then all that was left was Charley and Sarah. Each slowly inched closer to the other; Charley reached out as the clock chimed in the background; the two held hands, looking into one another’s eyes as the final tone of the clock rang out.
“I love you too Charley Rose.” Everything went black.
The chiming of the clock slowly changed to the exasperating buzz of an alarm clock that interrupted the serene calls of a bluebird outside Charley’s window. Turning over in his bed, and stretching out a wrinkled, cellophane hand, past a picture of a happy, elderly couple; shutting off the alarm, he pulled down the sheets and slipped his legs out. With much effort, he rose from the bed with a moan; his back cracking as he stood up, Charley pulled the blankets back up, straightening out the bed, making both sides. He reached out and grabbed his glasses from the night stand; a pair of woman’s glasses rested beside his own. Sluggishly he walked over to the doorway, past a portrait of a smiling woman; grabbed his cane and headed out the door.
A steady wind blew the leaves on the trees as Charley made his way down a dirt path, his cane leading his feeble footsteps; he stopped and knelt down in the moist morning grass, fresh with dew and swaying in the cool breeze. He pulled the collar of his brown overcoat up over his neck and brushed the dirt off the name carved into the tombstone. Soft, wet tears rolled down his cheeks; he wiped them away with his hand, and smiled. “I miss you so much. Accepting the fact that you’re gone has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Charlie ran his tongue over his teeth and glanced over his shoulder at the rest of the cemetery. “It took me ten years and hundreds of sleepless nights to build up enough courage to come here.” Charley stared at the placket for a moment, then let out a little chuckle. “Honey, do you remember when we first met back in college?” Charley blinked, wiped tears from his upturned lips. “I was so nervous when we first met at that party. It seemed like everything always got in my way.” Charley paused for a second with tears welling as he looked around at the leaves blown peacefully by the wind, and again a smile came to his face when he looked at the placket: Sarah Rose 1922-2005 Loving wife, mother, sister, and friend “How about I tell you the story one more time? Would you like that?” Charlie lips shook as he tried to keep up his smile. He began, “Well…It was September Seventeenth…”
Blume: Eleven year-old Allison Blume and her family are forced to move into the underground bunker city of New Hope after a test of an experimental atomic bomb creates an immense mushroom cloud, blocking out the sun and casting the world within its radius into darkness. Allison must overcome her juvenile ways in order to rise above the fears lurking in the shadows and bring light back to a darkened world. View Blume's Amazon.com page, featuring excerpts from the novel.
Cooper Nelson is a recent graduate of Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, where he double majored in communications with an emphasis on Public Relations and English, while also playing basketball at the collegiate level. He is employed part-time as an English and writing tutor for the university and spends the rest of his free time working as a freelance writer, and writing short stories and novels.