The Red Death had long been feeding on the country. No sickness had ever been so deadly – so great a killer – or so fearful to see. The bright red spots upon the body and especially upon the face of the sick man made other men turn away from him, afraid to try to help. And the sickness lasted, from the beginning to the end, no more than half an hour. But Prospero, the ruler of that land, was happy and strong and wise.
When half the people of his land had died, he called to him a thousand healthy, happy friends, and with them went away to live in one of his palaces. This was a large and beautiful stone building he had planned himself. A strong, high wall circled it. This wall had gates of iron. The gentlemen, after they had entered, brought fire to heat the iron of the gates to make them close so firmly that nobody could open them. Here they could forget the sickness, the Red Death. They would leave the outside world to care for itself.
Prospero had supplied everything they needed for pleasure. There was music, there was dancing, there was beauty, there was food to eat and wine to drink. It was near the end of their fifth month there that Prospero asked his friends all to come together for a dancing party, a masquerade. Everyone was asked to come dressed in fine clothes and with his eyes, or perhaps his whole face, covered by a cloth mask.
There were seven rooms in which Prosperos friends danced. The windows were of colored glass, of the same color that was used in each room. The first room had blue cloth hangings on the walls – and blue were its windows. The second room had hangings of that blue – red known as purple, and here the windows were purple. The third was green, and so was the glass of the windows. The fourth was yellow – the fifth of white – the sixth of violet. But the seventh room had hangings on the walls made of black cloth, black as night. In this room the color of the windows was not the same. It was red – deep blood color.
Suddenly, many in the crowd saw that in the first room, the blue room, there was a masquerader who had not been seen before. As they talked softly to each other about him a feeling of surprise spread through all the dancers, then a feeling of fear and of sickening horror. In such group as this, only a very strange masquerader could have caused such a feeling. Everyone seemed now deeply to feel that the stranger should not have been allowed to come among them dressed in such clothes.
He was tall and very thin, and covered from head to foot like a dead man prepared for the grave. The mask which covered his face – or was it really a mask? – the mask which covered his face was so much like the face of a dead man that the nearest eye could not see the difference. His clothes were spotted with blood. And the mask over his face was covered with the terrible red spots … or perhaps it was indeed his face!
When Prospero looked upon this fearful from he was first filled with terror – and then with anger. Who dares? he cried. Take him! Seize him! Pull off his mask so that we may know who we must hang at sunrise! At first, as he spoke, some of the dancers started to rush toward the strange masquerader. But they stopped, afraid, and no one dared to put out a hand to touch him. The stranger started to walk toward the second room. He passed within a few feet of Prospero, who stood still, surprised.
As the stranger was entering the seventh room, Prospero suddenly and angrily rushed through the six rooms. No one dared to follow him. He held a sharp knife high over his head, ready to strike the stranger. When he was within three or four feet of the strange masquerader, the stranger turned and stood silent, looking firmly into Prosperos eyes. There was a cry – and the knife dropped shining upon the black floor, upon which a minute later Prospero himself fell, dead.
The dancers then rushed into the black room. The strongest of the men tried to hold the masquerader, whose tall form stood beside the black clock; but when they put their hands on him they found inside the grave – clothes no human form, no body – nothing! Now they knew that it was the Red Death itself that had come in the night. One by one the dancers fell, and each died as he fell.