Ep. 1: Masquerade
The Gulf: Episode 1 | Read by Joe Jarvis
Paradisia sucks. But the whole island sails there on Monday.
Well, the island doesn’t really sail. It’s called Gulf Sails, but there are no sails. Some of the windmills sort of look like sails. So does a lot of the architecture on the central platform. The architects did that for aesthetics, obviously.
I’m putting on my costume for Halloween tonight. I’ll be meeting up with friends in two hours at Cask of Amontillado.
I know, it sounds like a boring place where old guys sip whiskey. But that’s just the basement. The main floor is a club with a gothic vibe, mainly because the building is an old cathedral. They fully exploit that for Halloween.
That’s why it’s anarchy on Halloween night. The place to be, or at least the best place to start.
I’m dressing as a masquerader, and so are a couple of my friends.
It’s always bittersweet. Of the four months each year Gulf Sails is anchored here, it’s the craziest party night in Barracuda. But it also marks the end of the best four months of the year.
Barracuda is absolutely epic. And on Monday we sail to Paradisia. And as I’ve mentioned, Paradisia sucks.
For starters, the drinking age in Paradisia is 21. Gulf Sails leaves Paradisia next year on March first. I turn 21 on March second. So I can say goodbye to my nightlife for the next four months.
Because another reason why Paradisia is so ******, is that it is strict. It’s basically the polar opposite of Barracuda. It’s a cruel joke.
My parents say Paradisia is meant to be a detox for the residents of Gulf Sails after going crazy for four months. Paradisia leadership is all about yoga and cleanses.
There’s more juiced alfalfa sprouts than vodka in Paradisia. And I’m more of a vodka guy.
I’ve been telling my parents for years that they should just detach from Gulf Sails and dock their platform permanently at Barracuda. But they say they would never get enough work done living in Barracuda full time. It’s for summer slacking, they say. Then it’s crunch time. And Paradisia is the perfect environment to get the mind and body in order.
I disagree. Paradisia makes me feel like I am trapped. It’s half spa, half cult. I want to smack the smug looks off every one of those shysters’ self righteous faces.
The permanent residents of Paradisia walk around in white flowy clothes, always smiling and bowing to each other with hands clasped or pressed together. They’re creepy as all hell.
It’s the type of place that is so sanitized on the surface I feel like there must be some kind of underground sex trafficking dungeon. Nobody’s that perfect.
I could move onto mainland Barracuda myself. But I don’t make nearly enough money to pay for decent accommodations. And to be honest, it would be a tough downgrade slumming it after living my whole life on my parents’ platform.
It’s nice. They do well for themselves.
I put my final touch on the costume: a mask that goes over my eyes and nose. It’s gold and black, with red and black feathers protruding back over my ears from the sharp edges of the mask. I put some eyeliner on so that my eyes are rimmed especially dark behind the oval slits in the mask. People will hardly notice the eyeliner though. My eyes are pretty dark anyway.
I stick a gold dollar sign on one of my cheeks. On the other, a black interlocking Mars and Venus sign. You know, the circles; one has a cross coming from the bottom for female, and the other an arrow from the top right for male.
I find that when I give obvious signals like this, it cuts down on the number of guys that flirt with me. It’s not that it bothers me, but why waste either of our time?
And for some reason, I’m like a gay magnet. They love me, I can’t figure it out.
I’m wearing a matching button down vest, like from an old three piece suit. The back is all gold, and the front is a black base pinstriped with gold. The pocket has red and black feathers poking out. The pants match the front of the vest. And my shoes are gold.
I look good. The ladies are going to love it.
Downstairs, my parents and younger brother are eating in front of the big screen and my mom gushes over how “adorable” I look before telling me to get myself some dinner from the kitchen. It’s all laid out on the counter buffet style. But she still describes it all, and suggests:
“First, you’ll want to lay down the rice, then put the stew on top. There’s some shredded carrots that go on top of that. And then sprinkle on the parmesan and seasoning mixture. Oh and I laid out parsley sprigs for a garnish. There’s fresh bread too, so you can mop up all the extra juice when you’re done!”
I look at my dad’s plate. It has three distinct sections. The rice, stew, and cabbage do not touch each other. He ate his bread first.
When I sit down, he talks to me without moving his eyes from the screen.
“Are you going to stay out all night again?”
“Probably,” I say, a little indignantly. “It’s the last chance to have fun for the next four months.”
“Maybe you should give Paradisia a chance and do the cleanse with your mother and me this year,” he says, and turns to me with a raised eyebrow.
I take a deep breath and widen my eyes, “Maybe,” I say sarcastically.
He rolls his eyes.
My little brother Raji chimes in, “I’m sure the guys are gonna love your costume, Dege.”
“They probably will. Luckily I’m not a homophobic little **** like you.”
“True, you’ll take any attention you can get,” he says, and my dad chuckles, then tries to play it off like he was just clearing his throat.
My mom glares at them.
I finish my dinner, put my plate away, order a drone, and yell “Bye!” from the hallway, but my mom runs out of the living room because she has to get a picture of me in my costume before I go.
The drone is waiting on the landing pad.
I swipe my bracelet and get in.
Lift. Altitude. Acceleration.
I catch a good sunset on my way into town.
Purple and orange lights mark all the public landing pads for Halloween.
Barracuda gets into any holiday you could think of, and some you definitely have never thought of. I’m pretty sure they’ve made a few up along the way so that basically every weekend during the four months that Gulf Sails is docked is some kind of festival.
On Monday the city’s population will halve as Gulf Sails floats to Paradisia.
I meet up with Dean and Craig at Cask of Amontillado. It’s just getting started. The stone archways and cast iron chandeliers are perfect. We couldn’t have chosen better costumes. Somehow the DJ infuses chilling organ scales into his beat.
I know that might sound weird, but holy ****: it works.
She walks in to a beat. She flicks her hair to the side at the perfect time to match, not just the music, but the lasers too.
It all happens in slow motion. (Not really, but you get it.)
She looks at her friend and they both start laughing, realizing she accidentally mimicked the music with her mannerisms.
She has a black mask tied around her face.
Her costume is a short, form-fitting dress: black with long sleeves. There are red ties around the waist and arms.
And the part I like the most is the slit that runs all the way up her left thigh.
She isn’t just a ninja. She is a sexy ninja.
Her jet black hair is tied back with another striking red complement to the rest of the outfit.
She is surrounded by friends but I walk straight up anyway. I’ve learned that I have the best success when I walk up to a girl straight away.
Don’t even think, just do it. That way you don’t have time to get nervous, and girls think you’re super confident. Also, you get the drop on other guys.
“Hi I’m Rodigio,” I say over the music, stepping in between two of her friends and extending my hand.
The two friends I stepped between throw shade my way.
“Hi!” She says with pep, “I’m in the middle of a conversation!”
“Ouch. Just karate chop my heart why don’t you?” I say.
“How about I judo kick you out of my vicinity?” She says, and her friends agree.
“I…” I have nothing. I turn around and walk away.
“Have fun haunting the opera!” she calls after me.
“Masquerade,” I mutter.
“Seems like it went well,” Dean says.
“I decided she wasn’t hot enough for me. Hey, have you guys stocked up on contraband for Paradisia?”
Craig and Dean look at each other.
“What?” I say.
“Dege,” Dean says, “We aren’t going to Paradisia. We got an apartment here in Barracuda.”
Wow. I feel sucker-punched. This is the only thing that could make spending four months in Paradisia worse.
“And you didn’t include me!?”
“Come on, you know we wanted to. But the place we are getting is $2,000 a month for each of us, and, well…” Dean trails off.
Dean sold an app he created this year. He got a big payout and will be raking in royalties for years. Craig has been programming robots for two years and makes plenty.
I just fix bugs for a website hosting company–the glitches the automatic crawlers can’t repair. It’s easy and I can do it on my own time. I log in when I feel like it, and get paid per repair.
“But-” I’m looking back and forth at them in disbelief.
I just see stony masks staring back. I feel betrayed. I know Dean isn’t trying to be a ****. But what he is really saying is that he doesn’t want me mooching off him.
“Guy, don’t be dramatic,” Craig says trying to downplay how bad I should feel, “You’ll be back for New Year’s! TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY!” He booms it like an announcer and slaps my back.
“Yeah man come back for a whole month if you want,” Dean says. “You can stay with us the whole time. It will make the trip even cheaper than it was going to be.”
“Can you guys believe it!” Craig (a little too enthusiastically) throws in, “We have been talking about New Years 2100 for YEARS! And now it’s only TWO. MONTHS. AWAY.”
“I plan on non-stop anarchy from Christmas Eve, to maybe January 4th or 5th,” Dean says. “Depends on how much momentum I can build up.”
I’m glad I have this mask on. I wouldn’t be able to hide my emotions otherwise. I feel suddenly like the third wheel. Like they both have something in common that I don’t. I’ll be a visitor in their world. I can have a taste of the high life, but not the real thing.
The music gets louder and the beat turns up. We take shots. We head to the dance floor.
A blond with black streaks and vampire teeth growls at me in a red strobe light. A werewolf busts a break-dance. Three witches hop in unison.
More shots. Dance. Shots. Dance.
I’m forcing it. My game is off.
I stumble off the dance floor, and bust open the double doors to the outside deck, overlooking the water. It’s a cool night for the Caribbean, and steam comes off my skin.
Mist wafts ghostly over the water. Distant seagulls sound like crows. The salty air smells of extra decay. The tide must be out.
There aren’t many people out on the deck.
A few old guys from downstairs in the corner smoking cigars and having a spirited old-guy discussion.
A few couples or threesomes of friends interspersed around the high tables. And four guys around 30 leaning against the wooden pillars that hold up the thick black chain railing by the bay.
I walk over to look out on the choppy water. The open ocean is out to the right, and closer–but still distant–sits Gulf Sails, in the entrance to the bay. There’s plenty of berth on either side for passing boats, freighters, and cruise ships.
Way off to the left the bay gets narrower until it becomes a tidal river. Looking straight across I wouldn’t know there was land in the distance except for the sparse lights of remote homes.
I have to think for a minute to decide if the deck is decorated for Halloween, or if it always has these 19th century London street lamps. The real flames are the only source of light, casting shadows across the weathered–but solid–wooden planks.
The moon isn’t quite full. It was full a couple nights ago. But it is a vibrant presence. Clouds block about a quarter of the moon at any given time, but quickly pass by. The moon’s usual fractal glint off the water flickers from the clouds, matching the gas street lamps.
I glance at the three men to my left.
Holy **** that’s Elijah Braze!
He’s one of the youngest Gulf of Mexico real estate moguls. He owns a tenth of Gulf Sails. And most of his platforms are downtown, hosting businesses and high-end apartments.
He’s popular because he is well-spoken, good looking, trendy, muscular, personable… he’s really a gift to us mortals sent from the heavens.
He uses all this in his marketing. He speaks for conferences, classes, and camps. He appears on advertisements, in entertainment, and at events. He teaches courses, writes books, and runs businesses.
And he just caught me staring at him. And now he’s walking over with his three-man entourage trailing.
Elijah and his friends are dressed as Alex and his droogs. He uses the cane as if it is a natural part of his everyday ensemble. In truth it makes me think of Jack the Ripper.
But the rest of his outfit is straight up the height of fashion.
He’s got the oversized vibrant eyelash on one eye, combat boots, and a bowler hat. He’s wearing black tights.
And I, unfortunately, cannot help but notice that the bulge around his crotch is in the shape of a spider–true to the book.
Their “waisty jackets” have no lapels, but quite the shoulder pads. This makes Elijah’s shoulders even broader than usual. His ruffled white cravat forces him to hold his chin especially high… or does he always look like that?
As he walks up with a sly smile I try to play it cool, and keep character, so I say, “I hope you’re not on the prowl for any ultra-violence, brothers.”
“Ah no, perhaps just a bit of the old in and out,” Elijah says, winks at me, and his friends laugh.
Oh ****. Here we go.
“I’m flattered, but–er–wrong demographic,” I say, pointing to the interlocking male and female signs on my cheek.
“Oh I noticed that,” Elijah says confidently. “But I also noticed the dollar sign on the other cheek.”
A friend chortles. I blush.
Still, I try to just smile and bru**** off.
Elijah takes a step closer, and extends his right hand, leaning on his cane with the left.
“What’s your name?” he asks, and I shake his hand to be polite.
“I’m Rodigio,” I say, but when I try to end the shake, he raises my hand to his lips and kisses the back.
I know he feels me resist, but he is much stronger. I pull my hand away and try to ignore his heavy gaze. I take a deep breath and look back out over the ocean.
“Well aren’t you going to ask my name?” he says, with fake incredulity.
I chuckle and turn back to face him. “I know who you are.”
“Well the polite thing is to acknowledge that.”
“Didn’t really seem like we were doing the polite thing here…” I volly.
Elijah’s only chubby friend breaks in sounding bored and annoyed, “Can we go back in? It smells like low tide out here and this kid is boring me.” He puts his hand on Elijah’s arm.
Elijah’s eyes flash deep aggravation, compared to the intense challenge they had been imparting to me. He slowly turns his face not to look at his friend, but to stare at the friend’s hand on his bicep.
His friend pulls his hand away and takes a deep breath like he is brushing it off. He acts like he is over this tedious situation, and yet he stays right there. Though now his eyes look up towards the club’s tall stone walls.
When Elijah turns back to me, he is back to friendly and jovial. It’s too much. He is letting his costume infect his demeanor. Or maybe he’s really like this?
“So do you live on the island or the mainland?” He asks.
“Me too! Oh, maybe you already knew that too…”
I almost roll my eyes but manage a polite smirk. “I knew you had a platform there… wasn’t sure how much time you spend on it though.”
“I travel a lot, but that’s where I stay when we are docked at Paradisia,” he says.
“Why?” I blurt out, “Paradisia sucks. If I were you I’d go to Europe or Asia or at least stay in Barracuda.”
He gives me a tsk-tsk look, and wags his cane like he is scolding me. “You don’t like my friend Francesco’s little society?”
Wow. He would be friends with Francesco, the cult leader of Paradisia.
My opinion on Elijah Braze has done a complete 180 in the last three minutes. In videos and writing he gives off fastidious success. Now I am just getting creepy overconfidence.
“I just find it a little restrictive,” I say.
“Just come to a party on my platform. We can loosen whatever restrictions you have…”
The chubby friend gives a sort of amused mm-hmm snort and chuckle. This time Elijah actually closes his eyes and I can see his jaw grinding for a moment. He takes a deep breath and resumes his smile.
I turn back to face the water, but he steps up behind me and puts his hands on the chain railing on either side of me. He is now pressed against my backside.
“Maybe it’s that mask that’s getting me going so bad,” he says into my left ear.
I can’t move one way or the other without pushing past an arm. I choose the way furthest from his face. So I jerk right and actually have to put some muscle into breaking his arm free from the chain to let me out of his reach.
Unphased he watches me and his smile twists, “Feisty. I think I want to leave the mask for last when I’m undressing you.”
“Look, since you’re clearly not taking the hint,” I say, raising my voice, “Let me make it clear: I don’t care how famous or rich you are! I wouldn’t get with you if we were the last two people on earth!”
Like a shark toying with his prey, Elija’s smile doesn’t change.
He leans in close, and I recoil my head but don’t back away, not wanting to appear weak.
He whispers loud enough for his friends to hear, “If we were the last two people on earth, sweetie… who the **** would stop me?”
A chill goes down my spine as he walks away, his droogs trailing, laughing and swinging their canes.
“See you in Paradisia,” a lanky effeminate friend says to me sarcastically over his shoulder.
I am actually shaking. I hear the rise of the bass as the chubby friend holds the door. The bass fades as the doors swing closed. I sigh and lean most of my weight on the chain railing. This is not how I pictured my last party night in Barracuda.
“****!” I am startled. “Where did you come from?”
“Well I am a ninja,” she says, melting me with her mascara lined eyes. I manage a burst of air that substitutes for a laugh.
“Prospero?” I ask.
“It looked like your night was going about as well as his.”
I am still confused, wracking my brain. She notices and lets out a disappointed chuckle and looks to the side.
“Anyway…” she says, sort of condescendingly, “I just wanted to apologize. I felt like I might have been a little harsh earlier.” She gives a forced smile. “I hope I didn’t kill your mood.” She starts walking away.
Prospero… I’m dressed for a masquerade… Poe!
“Lenore!” I blurt out just before she reaches the door.
She stops. Turns slowly. She has a smirk on her face now.
She walks back to me and I can’t tell if she moves like that to stay in character, or if it is natural graceful stealth. She leans on the railing next to me, looking out over the water. She turns to face me.
“Right, you told me. I’m usually the one with the stupidest name.”
I laugh, “My friends usually call me Dege. I like that: Majorie. Sounds mystical almost like…”
“I’m pretty sure my parents just looked up mermaid names. They were obsessed with Gulf Sails but couldn’t afford a platform until I was 18. I didn’t want to get left behind-”
“In Asia?” I ask reflexively. Godammit.
After a did-he-really-just-say-that chuckle she responds, “I’m gonna let that one go on account of the fact that I can smell enough alcohol on you to make me concerned about your proximity to these gas lamps. I’m from Florida. Well at least that was the last stop before Gulf Sails. What’s your story?”
“Grew up on the platforms. I think my parents made up my name… never met another one at least.”
“Sounds Spanish. Are you…” she stops abruptly and looks away. Is she blushing?
“Am I what,” I laugh, finally feeling like I got the upper hand, “Latino? Mexican?”
She just looks at me recovering her confident smirk as if to acknowledge my first score in a match.
“I don’t know what I am. A true mutt. A perfect balance if you ask me…”
“I didn’t,” she winks.
“Okay so you read Poe, and you don’t like your name. I’m getting nihilist vibes… What else?”
“It’s not so much that I don’t like my name,” She says, taking mock offense at my nihilist jab, “It’s just… well for one thing, everyone who reads it first calls me MARJ-orie! So every new interaction has to start off with me correcting someone and making them feel like a **********
“Ah, that’s why you’re so good at that,” I say.
Silence except for the light splash of waves on the dock, and the distant toll of a buoy bell.
“So you still live with your parents on the island?” I immediately regret asking. This will clearly just bring attention to the fact that I still live with my parents on their platform.
“Yep.” She sighs, “Next stop Paradisia.”
My heart does a weird little flutter.
“Right, I guess I’m not the only one who thinks Paradisia sucks.”
Another silence. But now I get the feeling that she’s thinking what I’m thinking… Maybe it’s not going to suck so much after all, given the new company.
The club doors bust open and a burst of loud bumping floods out with Dean and Craig. The lasers slash through the escaping mist.
“Deegie-cakes!” Craig calls, arms in the air as an aftershock to his thrusting of the doors, “Oh hello,” he says eyeing Majorie lecherously.
She gives a bored eyebrow raise as acknowledgment.
“Oh God, Dege, are you tricking this poor girl,” Craig says, “You haven’t seen under the mask yet, have you?”
“Actually…” Majorie laughs, realizing she hasn’t.
“Hey, I haven’t seen behind your mask either!” I protest.
“Let’s dance!” Dean shouts, letting out a thick cloud of vape smoke.
“Is that THC?” Majorie asks.
Dean holds out the vape. She takes it, breathes deep, and lets out an even bigger cloud. She grabs my arm, and leads me back to the dance floor.
Dance. Grind. Shots. Dance.
Food. Public drunken shenanigans. New club. Turn up. Shots. Dance.
She turns around and drops low with the beat. My hand is on her hand on her thigh–the one not covered by her God-damn-so-sexy dress. She turns back around. Her hands are on my chest. My heart’s beating out of my chest. Did she just notice?
She lifts my mask. I lift hers.
“See you in Paradisia,” she winks, hopping into her drone with the remainder of her friends as the sun rises over the Atlantic.