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Chapter 7

Harold Crawly showed his invitation to the muscular, suited man at the door who nodded him through the door. It was a very warm night in Chicago and Harold was having a well-deserved night out with his wife for their tenth anniversary. They were at a very fancy restaurant which had all the comforts he loved: a classical band playing on a small stage, a table for two in a small alcove in the corner, an ice bucket with a bottle of champagne… Harold wanted to make sure everything was perfect for his wife. The night hadn’t been cheap but he was determined that tonight would be memorable, even if they had to dip into their savings for the next few weeks.
They were guided to their table. A small, circular table with a dark purple tablecloth and two well-carved mahogany chairs. The table was perfectly symmetrical, with a tall white candle in the centre and plates in front of each chair, elaborately designed knives and forks on either side of them and with napkins folded in a stand-up fan design. The menus were in front of the plates and were made with rough cream card and with an inlaid gold font.
All in all, it was a perfect location for what Harold hoped would be the perfect anniversary.
As soon as they sat down, the band suddenly stopped playing their instruments and the microphone on the stage squealed with feedback. Harold sent an annoyed look in the direction of the stage and saw a man holding the microphone. He was trying to wrench it from the stand and was wearing some very ridiculous clothes. The shoulders were puffy, the silk shirt had a red and grey chequered pattern on it, his trousers were puffy as well, like something out of Aladdin and he was wearing some very silly shoes, the toes of which curled around twice in a spiral. He was also wearing a ridiculous-looking hat. It was like a normal, plain hat except there were four pointed strands of it that were about half a meter long and fell over his shoulders like hair. Each strand was tipped with a small bell, which all jingled whenever the man moved. He was also wearing a mask, a mask which looked more disturbing than Harold would've liked. It was a grinning mask, a very creepy grin, and the eyes were almost closed with glee. The chin jutted out more than a normal chin would be able to. The man was obviously drunk, judging by the way he was staggering around the stage while he wrestled with the microphone stand. Harold shook his head and turned back to the menu in his hand.
“Lords and ladies!” The man yelled into the microphone. He’d managed to get it out of the stand and was now working on unwinding the cable from the stand. Once that was done, he turned around a few times to get the cable untangled from himself. This drew a few chuckles from all the well dressed, high class customers sitting at their tables who thought this man was the evening's entertainment.
“If I could have your attention please!” The man crouched down and licked his lips audibly. “It would appear that we have some lovely faces in the audience tonight!” The mask kept getting more disturbing the longer you looked at it. The grin looked like there were two hooks on the corners of the mouth which were stretching it as far as possible. Harold couldn't help but watch, as much as he didn’t like people interrupting his meal.
“Now, we all know who you people are. The big dogs, the employers, the people who hand out the money they have too much of.” The man tapped the microphone against his head a couple of times. “Oh, you’re the kind who burn money! But me? I’m the kind of guy who EATS money!” The man began laughing. It was a high-pitched, strange laugh and the man toppled onto his back, kicking his legs in a comical fashion as he struggled to breathe between giggles. “Yes… heehee… Money is tasty! But do you know what else is delicious and scrumptious and mm, mm, mmm! So delectable!” The man raised his legs and flipped himself up onto his feet again before jumping down from the stage. “Meat. Ohoho, yes, we all love meat! Beef and pork and lamb and… Oh, it’s all just so irresistible!” It was evident from even Harold’s view that some of the people closer to the stage were beginning to get uncomfortable. A couple of guards, including the burly man who’d admitted Harold and his wife, were making their way towards the drunk man. The man noticed them and laughed again.
“Oh, come now, you wouldn’t throw out little old me?” He leapt up onto a table, prompting yelps from the people sitting at it. “I just want a little fun!” He giggled again. “Wouldn’t you play a little game with me? I promise I’ll go easy!” The man suddenly jumped, avoiding the grabbing hands of one security guard and landing on his back. “Pleeeeaaaase?” The man laughed as he pushed off the guard’s back, sending him sprawling on the table as he flipped back and landed on the floor. “It’s really simple! All you need to do is let me talk and I’ll leave you alone!” The second guard tried to grab the man but again failed. The man just skipped back and did a cartwheel. He was making his way closer to Harold’s table.
“Come on, you’ve used all of your lives!” The man sounded sad. “It’ll be game over if you fail again!”
It might have been a trick of the light but did the man's mask look sad now? Harold could've sworn it was smiling before... Had he simply forgot? Had it always been sad?
The first security guard muttered something before running at the drunk man again, arms outstretched and determined to catch the intruder. As before, the man simply jumped up and the guard sprawled over another table, sending plates of steak and salad all over the floor.
“I’m afraid that’s game over!” The man said and laughed again. This time, however, instead of dancing away, he suddenly grabbed the guard’s head. “Better luck next time!” There was then a sickening snapping sound.

The entire restaurant fell silent for two seconds. Then there was another snap, even more gruesome than the last one and the security guard on the table went limp. Then the silence was broken by the man laughing hysterically, as if he’d just seen the funniest thing in the world.

A woman screamed and everyone, including Harold and his wife, instantly stood up and began running for the exit. People pushed past each other, fell over and got trampled to death under the crowd of people trying to get out. Before they could reach the doors, however, they slammed shut. The crowd banged against them but the sturdy wood wouldn’t budge in the slightest. Then the microphone gave another squeal of feedback.

“Now it’s time.” The man said, his voice now quieter and more serious. When Harold turned back to look at the man, he saw that the mask was now one of anger. An upturned mouth, eyebrows diagonal and slanting towards the pointed nose...
“Come join in, one and all. Come to the floor.” All the tables instantly flew to the sides of the room, the wood shattering and clearing the floor. “Take your partner’s hand. Dance.”
An eerie grin stretched across the face of the sadistic jester.

“Dance in this, the Jester’s Ball.”

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