May 26, 2008
By Charles Bliss, Weston, CT

This is quite the way to end a century, no? Fin De Siecle, they say in France. A wonderful age gives way to a promising era; the twentieth century is upon us! A party simply had to be thrown, and what better place than our capital of the world, our Vienna, our Austria.

It would be an understatement to claim this the party of a lifetime, no? I find the music alone enough to make Mozart dance from his grave. The acoustics in the magical room could turn the sound into rifles to that of a kitten purring, the laughter and amazement of the teeming crowd drowned out by the sheer majesty of the orchestra; which is, in turn, surpassed only by the joy of out fellow guests permeating the vast golden arches betrothed to flowing crimson robes that seem to reach to the heavens themselves. High above the vast ballroom rests an ethereal balcony, curiously empty given the condition of the rest of the mansion, as if it were reserved for a higher power, a plain upon which only those who had transcended the mortal world could exist.
But I get ahead of myself, no? We are here to enjoy a party and I am stuck enjoying the scenery. Let us cast our attention on the fabulous festivities that surround us! You noticed the extravagant cuisine prepared for the night upon our entrance, did you not, mein freund? Normally I would be quick to condemn such flagrant superfluity, but in this case I am lost in appreciation for the delicacies before my eyes. Wunderbaren! I have never been able to resist the temptations of a perfectly baked Apfelstrudel, or the succulent allure of boiled Tafelspitz. The decadence of the catering is unbearable, at this rate I will be refreshing my plate all night and leave significantly heavier than when I entered, no? Again, my focus is directed away from the party at large and my personal company to a young-looking couple, stagnant for some time in the least populous corner of the ballroom. They are dressed to perfection, matching in vibrant attire of purple and gold, seeming familiar but enigmatic, pretentious but sympathetic. I realize that I am unfamiliar to who the hosts of the party are, and I believe I have some sneaking suspicions at this point, no? The woman is indeed a marvel to observe. Like a goddess observing mortals, she stands overbearing, but remains uninvolved. She looks kind, but has a certain darkness about her, a sadness muffling the apparently gleaming light of her beauty. Seeing as I can’t seem to wrap my head around this inscrutable pair, I have no choice but to –
“Excuse me, chef’s special tonight is the Wiener schnitzel, can I interest you, Herr…?”
I was quite taken aback, my thoughts suddenly interrupted, but coolly collecting my thoughts I responded with a grateful, “Herr Bliss! And of course I am interested in the Wiener schnitzel!”
And just like that the party has begun again, has it not? I believe it is time to fully appreciate vastness of the manor at which the ball is taking place and go on a small adventure through the spacious, yet congested halls and quarters of the palace. Considering the scale and decadence of the soiree, I am not surprised to see foreign political and intellectual figures here, though I am still somewhat confused as to why it seems as though both everyone in Vienna and every other important figure in the known world was invited. Cecil Rhodes and Rudyard Kipling, along with other learned gentlemen are in the library, apparently discussing their thoughts on “the White Man’s Burden.” Personally, I’ve always seen this kind of pseudo-intellectual, scientifically racist rhetoric as highly unfashionable, but with the current sharp rise in colonization, it seems as though talk of this kind at a party of the highest society is utterly unavoidable, no?
I see once again the mysterious duo whom I have determined to be hosts of this fantastic party; has it ever hurt to introduce oneself to those of a clearly higher social standing? From up close, their garb is only more impressive, even bordering on whimsical, the gentleman’s suit in formal military style, giving him a slightly more imposing, but practical appearance than the fantastic, flowing style of his wife’s gown. Their personal mannerisms seem as extraordinary as their facade did, the man stands authoritative and strong, while his deep, masculine but smooth voice hints at a foreboding somberness, as though the end of the century was no reason to celebrate. His wife’s voice has a similar solemnity, it’s clear they are both displeased about something indeterminable. The woman’s gentle whisper has a sharper tone from which I can only infer revulsion at something elusive, a complete contrast to the soft, harmless woman that her aesthetic had implied.
Once our introductions are made, the couple departs and walks down the glamorous hall, the Woman’s gold and purple gown sweeping across the floor and muffling the already whisper-quiet but fierce argument to silence, preventing any careless or indifferent onlookers from seeing through the veil that sets up a jovial pretense. I watch them continue to a steep, seemingly endless staircase, one that I can only assume leads to the lofty terrace above the ballroom. They are followed by a shady, lurking figure dressed in an unobtrusive black suit, which, if not for the aforementioned extravagance, I would not have given a second thought to. After careful contemplation, I follow the man up the dark, tight staircase, his figure blocking out most of the light that would be coming from the open entrance where my hosts inevitably linger. After the man disappears onto the terrace I watch the pillar of light coming from the doorway and listen for voices, hearing only indistinguishable, but livid whispers coming again from my host’s wife. She creeps closer to the open door to the stairwell, allowing me to hear more of what she was saying, though her company on the balcony stayed silent. It seems as though my host is none other than Crown Prince Rudolf of the Austrian empire, and through his death, Franz Ferdinand would be crowned emperor. Through an agreement among the Austrian government that Ferdinand would be more fit to rule the empire, and an abhorrence of my Host by his wife, the party was thrown to draw the political figures in to put in place the fiendish plan, and the citizens of Vienna were all invited to drastically broaden the suspect list. The shady man is apparently no more than an assassin who is probably being paid a great deal of money to set this plan into motion.
I continue to eavesdrop in silence as the Prince calculates his options, given the hefty task of escaping from two people set to kill him, one of them being his wife. As the clock strikes the midnight of a new century, it seems as though my Host ran out of time, as I suddenly hear the traditional six shots of a revolver, followed shortly by a seventh. The rest of the conflict is drowned out by the overwhelming noise of the terror of hundreds soaking into the same scarlet curtains that only moments before had held their laughter. Their fear seems to be too much for the fabric to hold, as the sanguine liquid begins to run down the stairs, and I decide to look for myself what the outcome of the political and domestic assassination is, finding, to my horror, three dead, bloodied bodies. While making sure to stay off the balcony and on the stairs, I feel firsthand the terror of seeing the bullet riddled, gun wielding corpse of a prince, the bludgeoned face of his wife, an assassin with a single shell lodged in his forehead, and the liters of blood from the event running like a steady stream down the stairs upon which I stood.
I figure, at this point, I should no longer be in this manor, nor should I ever speak to anyone about the events that I had just witnessed. The sprint down the stairs seems insignificant compared to the crawl up, and I leave the party along with the rest of the horrified, teeming masses clogging the exits. In France, they say their Fin De Siecle is the end of a wonderful age and the start of a promising new era. This is quite the way to end the century, no?

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