All pleadings left unheard. Why? The air stinks of blood. Cheers and roars from the crowd pound my ears, and eat at my soul. One by one they leave only to be replaced by new faces—some I recognize—all doomed like me. Terror reigns in their eyes as the guards push them into cells filled with the sickening stench of human excrement mixed in the rotting hay piles. The poor fools try to drink the rust-laden water.
The guard approaches. Yellowing filthy teeth frame a sardonic smile accentuated by his foul breath from rotting teeth. No words needed. A long lust-laden gaze communicates his intent. “You don’t have to worry, Madame. Not as long as you are friendly. The friendly sorts remain a little longer.”
I swallow hard. My eyes fix on his. “Why am I here? I’ve done nothing wrong.”
His sinister chuckle chills me. “Nothing wrong? You’re friends with an aristocrat. That’s crime enough to sever your head. There will be no aristocrats left in France, nor those that are friends with them.”
“I was only an acquaintance of Madamoiselle Gaultier. I met her once at a party,” comes my plea. “My husband was a doctor. I’m a plain person as you.”
“Like me, you say? Not very well likely. You dressed in fine silks and satins.” He inches closer to the cell bars. “Did you not come by those clothes from being friendly with the male Royals your husband tended to? Like I said, do me some favors and you might keep your head a few days longer.”
His hand grazes the crotch of his breeches.
I give no reply.
The jailer turns with an air of triumph, clearly knowing he has the upper hand.
Night. A stream of silver colors my dank and dark surroundings. That small window is my only connection to the outside world. Wailings and moans fill the air.
A woman in the cell next to mine sidles to the bars separating us.
“Have you been here long?” she whispers. Her eyes are wild with fear. “Do you know when they will do it?”
“Some are chosen quickly.” No need to give her false hope. “Others have been here for over a week. I have no idea why. I pray this madness will end before I’m chosen.”
I look at her finely manicured nails and coiffed wig. “Why did they take you?”
“My lover was an aristocrat.” Tears fill her eyes. “They killed him last week.”
“Madame Guillotine took my husband seven days ago. I can still hear his pleadings for mercy in my ears. They might have met in the same wagon.” She looks so frightened. “You’re young and pretty. You might be spared. There’s always hope.”
“You mean, sleep with those filthy jailers?” Her gasp escapes. “I was a mistress because I loved him—not a common whore.”
“Adjust your morals.” She needs to understand the price of survival. “Letting a guard have his way is better than if you don’t.”
Heavy footsteps approach. Keys jangle. Is he coming for me? No, it’s night. Beheadings are during the day after the crowd gathers. Has he come for payment for sparing me one more day? My breath catches in my throat. I dare not move and pretend to sleep.
I peek through my eyelashes. The guard stands there, sizing up his victim–a man picking over the display on a fruit stand.
Please choose someone else.
His hand plunges into his pants encouraging his lust. The guard steps closer. Only the bars separate us until he makes his decision. He turns to the cell next to mine. Please, God, let it be her and not me! Metal on metal sounds from the key turning the lock. The creaking door screeches in my ears. His demonic laugh pierces my soul. I don’t move, still giving the illusion of sleep.
A screech comes from the next cell.
“Please, sir. Don’t!” the young girl cries out.
“What? I’m not good enough for you?” he bellows. “My manhood not adorned in Royal finery?”
“I might be with child,” she begs.
“What is that to me?” He unbuttons his breeches. “If you do well by me, and often. “You might keep your head. Small price for fifteen minutes work. Now, spread your legs.”
The jailer lunges after her, pushing her against the wall, and lifts her skirt. I turn my head in disgust. Her cries and sobs mingle with the others in this rat-infested hellhole. His grunts and moans grow faster. Soon, the young girl’s reprieve from this barbaric torture is at hand. Maybe, just maybe, he will favor her and her life will be spared. This reign of terror must come to an end.
Will I survive? Will she? How many more sunrises are in my future?
Morning. Sunlight brightens the cell with hope. I begin every day with a vision of freedom.
The gathering crowd cheers for the killings to begin. Hawkers offer handfuls of hair cut from the once coiffed heads of well-known aristocrats.
Heavy, footsteps come closer. The bloodthirsty games have begun once more. I hold my breath. Is it today? Will I join my husband? Two guards swing open the door. A lump forms in my throat. Do they demand favors—or death?
A gruff jailer grabs at my upper arm, tearing my sleeve further. “Come along. You’re turn to go.”
“No!” I scream. “Not yet!!”
I struggle to pull away. His grip tightens. Another guard grabs under my armpit.
God, accept my soul into Your heavenly Kingdom.
A third jailer yanks the Rosary beads from my hands. They walk me out into the daylight, and up the steps to a wagon. I stand with others, who all share my fate—all sport the look of shock and disbelief.
Eager peasants yell with glee and run alongside as the wagon rattles on the uneven cobblestone street. The ride is swift. The abrupt stop echoes the abrupt end of our lives. Lives brought short by this insane mob.
I’m the first . A kind-eyed soldier extends his hand. He looks sympathetic, but is loyal to his orders.
“Please, Madame,” he offers. “Watch your step.”
Despite my tears, I smile knowing his kindness is the last I will ever experience. He leads me to the scaffold steps. Dripping blood, from the guillotine platform, puddles on the ground below. Hungry dogs lap up this treat. Two men stand there, waiting for me—one holds the rope that controls the blade. Another binds my hands with harsh rope. He cuts my long mane at my neck and offers it to the crowd with outstretched arm. “What will you give for this Royal hair?” Their jeers ring in my brain.
All too soon, he pushes me onto a plank. My head is roughly positioned on a jagged neck support. It is wet, cold, and sticky with blood. The crowd chants, “Off with her head! Kill the sow!” Another board secures my neck. I look at the faces eager for my death. All eyes look in the direction of the blade-keeper. The swift thug of mental to flesh sounds. Crushing, burning pain. Someone lifts my head by the hair. I see them laughing. My eyes close. All is black. I am free.
©2014 Cynthia B Ainsworthe
Bastille Day, July 14, is celebrated by French nationals. The excesses of the ruling classes oppressed the common people to the point of abject starvation. This lead to mass hysteria during the Reign of Terror. Approximately 40,000 died. Of those, it is estimated that 80-85 percent were common citizens.
Born in Mahopac, NY, raised in Yorktown Heights, NY, Cynthia longed to become a writer. Life circumstances put her dream on hold for most of her life. Some eight years ago she ventured to write her first novel, Front Row Center, which won the IPPY (Independent Publisher) Award and is now being adapted to screen with a script is in development by she and Hollywood screenwriter, Scott C Brown. Since then Cynthia shares with other authors the Reader’s Favorite International Award for two short stories, When Midnight Comes, and Characters, she contributed to the horror anthology The Speed of Dark, by Clayton C Bye. It Ain’t Fittin’ earned her the Excellence in Writing Award by It Matters Radio. Cynthia enjoys her retirement from her profession as a registered cardiac nurse in Florida, caring for her husband and five poodle-children.