“Song Of The Guillotine” by Lamont Turner
It was several years after that season of madness when the shadow of the guillotine had loomed over us all, and the blood of nobles and commoners alike ran in the gutters of Paris, that I found myself standing alone before a chateau in the heart of the Gourge d’ Asque. Relieved to find the incongruous domicile, for I had foolishly forsaken a guide and had become hopelessly lost, I resolved to intrude upon the solitude of the building’s occupants. That there were occupants I was certain due to the wisps of white smoke emanating from the chimney, but had the day been warmer, I would have passed on, for, other than the smoke, there was no other sign of habitation, and the aspect of the chateau was foreboding enough to discourage any curiosity I might have entertained. Perhaps due to some flaw in the foundation the entire building leaned away from the setting sun and, as best as I could discern from my position on the glen, was entirely devoid of windows. Only a large door broke up the monotony of the moss encrusted walls, which was composed of stones of a singular uniformity.
Anxious to get directions, or perhaps a night’s lodgings before the darkness over took me; I tapped on the door, conscious that I might not receive the warmest welcome from someone who had gone to such great lengths to ensure their isolation. I assumed they would be as astonished to receive a caller in such a remote place as I had been upon discovering their abode.
I would, of course, have to invent a tale to explain my presence in so remote a locale. I would not tell them that I was on a quest to kill a man, though to refer to such a monster as a man would be exceedingly charitable. M. Fourniret had none of the finer qualities that make men superior to the beasts. While many of the atrocities committed during those dark days were born of a genuine conviction that liberty was to be gained and held by any means, Fourniret was a man of no such convictions. He was a crass opportunist, using the Revolution to further only his own goals. Seeing an avenue for personal enrichment in the role of public executioner, he sought out and obtained the position, henceforth wielding a considerable degree of influence over his department.
For no other reason than his success as a merchant, my father came under the scrutiny of the Committee of Public Safety, and was led to the M. Fourniret’s guillotine. It had previously been arranged that all of my father’s estate would go to his executioner as payment for his services, leaving our family with nothing, save for my father’s headless corpse. Risking my own head, I confronted the authorities, demanding my father be made whole, but my demands were rebuffed, and my father’s head was never restored. I later learned it was always so with the victims of M. Fourniret, though no one could say what he did with the heads he took.
As the Republic gave way to the Empire, my fortunes changed, as did those of my nemesis. I again found myself in a position of wealth, while he was forced to flee the city amid accusations of acts so blasphemous even a secular society would not tolerate them. Vowing to deprive him of his life, I had tracked the villain across the Pyrenees before losing my prey, as well as myself, in the wilderness.
Receiving no response to my initial summons, I knocked slightly harder with my fist, producing the desired effect. The door creaked open a crack, allowing the occupant to peer out at me.
“What do you want,” growled the voice from within.
‘” I apologize for the intrusion,” I responded, taken aback by the ferocity of the greeting. “I am lost, and merely seek guidance, and perhaps, if you can spare it, some bread.”
For several moments there was silence as the man studied me, then the pale blue eye widened, and the door was flung open to reveal a grizzled old man. His face was obscured by the matted hair that extended down over his shoulders to merge with the thick chest length beard. His garments were little more than rags, hanging on his bent frame in tattered strips. He ushered me in with unbridled enthusiasm, going so far as to tug at the sleeve of my coat. Taken off guard by the marked contrast in his behavior, and by the deplorable state of the man, I hesitated.
“Forgive my rudeness,” he exclaimed, grabbing my arm with a boney claw and almost dragging me in. “Rest here, my friend while I prepare you a meal.”
I was led into a large chamber, lit only by the fire blazing in the hearth, and offered a seat at the head of the table where I sat, surveying my surroundings while my host occupied himself with the large pot simmering over the flames. The walls were draped from ceiling to floor in tapestries of the most ornate design, scarlet, with arcane symbols embroidered in white across the entirety of their surface. The sparse furnishings were opulent, though neglected, dust and mold marring the expensive fabrics.
The old man said nothing, but chuckled to himself occasionally while stirring the stew, which, I admit, I was eager to sample, my hunger being almost equal to my apprehensions. At last setting a bowl before me, he situated himself in the chair next to mine, watching with satisfaction as I wolfed down the stew without waiting for it to cool.
As he refilled my bowl I was startled by the sound of an uncanny moan. It seemed to come from all corners of the chamber, echoing off the walls for several seconds before fading to a whisper. Seeing my distress, the man put his hand upon my shoulder to calm me.
“Don’t allow that to trouble you, Monsieur,” he said, grinning. “There are no ghosts here. It is just the wind, whistling through the cracks in the walls. I hardly notice it anymore.”
There was something familiar about his voice that chilled me more than the spectral wailing. I studied the face of my host, the pale blue eyes, the beak-like nose, and the thin lips, contorted into a malevolent grin beneath the thick moustache. Could it be? Was it possible I was sitting across from the very man I had been seeking? Yes! I was sitting across from the devil himself! He was saying something, but I wasn’t hearing him. I just stared in wonder at the wreck of the man I had so relentlessly pursued. The man I had known had been young, and full of vigor. The buckles of his shoes had always been polished, and the slightest stain was not to be tolerated on his person. Now it was as if his outer appearance had somehow come to reflect his true soul.
“I see you recognize me at last, Monsieur Bellegarde,” said my host, patting my hand as though I were a child he wished to comfort. “I do not blame you for not knowing me in my current condition, though I recognized you at once.”
“Then you must know why I am here,” I responded, jumping up from my seat and pointing my pistol at his chest.
Again I heard the moaning. I spun around, prepared to fire my weapon, but saw no one. As before, we were alone.
“What is that,” I shouted, pressing my pistol against the villain’s temple.
“It is merely the song of the guillotine and the cause of my current condition.” he responded, his gaze locked on the wall behind me. “No matter how I try to stifle them, they still sometimes manage to sing.”
I resolved to blow the wretch’s brains out right then, and be done with it, but the moaning resumed, even louder than before, accompanied now by the rustling of the tapestries. I watched as they billowed out as though stirred by a strong breeze. Indeed, for a moment I assumed that was what had happened, before recalling I had seen no windows to admit such a wind. The moaning, and the rustling, continued as I advanced upon the fluttering fabric, determined to solve the mystery. Behind me, the executioner was shrieking. While my gun had done nothing to alter his composure, whatever was behind those drapes filled him with terror.
“It is only the rats,” he shouted, rushing to impose himself between me and the wall. “Come no farther. There is nothing to see!”
Unable to contain my disgust, or my rage, I struck him, knocking him back into the tapestry. He screamed as it enveloped him, and, in his struggles to extricate himself from it, tore it from the wall. I gasped. There before me, death grinned down at me a thousand times over. The wall, perhaps the entire chateau, was composed of human skulls! I hardly had time to reflect upon this horror before I realized it was from these dead relics that the mournful wail was emanating. Fourniret groveled before them, covering his ears as the mournful chorus rose to a crescendo.
“The talismans! They must be replaced! Without the shield they will sing until…”
Fourniret’s words faded into a sigh, followed by a sickening gurgling as his body began to shrivel. His gray hair turned white, and then fell from his head in clumps, and his eyes shrank back into their sockets. Fighting the urge to flee, I watched as he was reduced to bone. The transformation complete, the thing that had once served as the angel of death succumbed itself to the ravages of Azrael and slumped forward, dislodging its skull. I watched with mingled satisfaction and horror as it rolled across the floor to take its place among the others at the base of the wall.
There are those who will insist I found M. Fourniret and killed him as I had pledged to do, and I can offer no evidence, other than this testimony, to refute their assertions. After the skulls fell silent, sated by the vengeance they had at last achieved, I stumbled back out into the wilderness, where I was lost for many days. Starving, and nearly dead, I was finally rescued by some hunters who happened to come upon me several miles from the scene of the executioner’s demise. No one I have encountered has ever admitted to seeing or hearing of such a place as I described, and, despite my best efforts, I was never able to retrace my steps back to it.
Perhaps Fourniret isn’t dead at all. Perhaps it was all a delusion experienced as I shuddered with fever in the huntsman’s cabin. If so, I leave Monsieur Fourniret’s fate to other hands. Surely there are others who seek vengeance against such a man. For me, real or imagined, the end of my quest was good enough. I am satisfied. However, should anyone happen upon a lonely chateau, far from the places where civilized men hold discourse, I would caution them not to linger lest they too hear the song of the guillotine.
Lamont Turner is a New Orleans area author and father of four.
Nightmarish Nature: Cannibalism
Let’s return to explore more Nightmarish Nature, shall we? This segment focuses on cannibalism, as we generally find it icky / taboo and because it’s more common than you might think. There are many different reasons that different creatures engage in cannibalistic practices. Energy waste doesn’t last long in nature; gaps are filled as things evolve to utilize whatever resources are available to meet their own needs. C’est la vie (light up another cigarette). In any case, the challenge to the cannibal lies in determining kinship and not accidentally erasing their own line or progeny, thus decreasing their likelihood for survival over generations. Oh, and in avoiding those pesky prion diseases…
Resource Driven Cannibalism
Resource driven cannibalism can occur when competition for resources is high. This may be due to scarcity, with individuals taking to eating each other to avoid themselves starving to death (with those consumed either still alive and killed to this end, or eaten after death of other causes). Or it may be outside of the cannibal’s control, considering the spread of Mad Cow Disease from feeding beef meal harboring the prion disease (and parts from other mammals like sheep) to growing cattle to save money, ’cause it’s not like the cows were allowed to order whatever they wanted. Or it may be due to direct conflicts with other groups of the same species, either due to competition for resources, mating rights and/or territory. These behaviors have been noted in mostly male chimpanzees raiding other groups, which have even been documented as all out wars against other males in neighboring bands, campaigning to eradicate all outside of their ranks.
Thinking about chimpanzees, males are also documented to gang up on alpha males seen as too controlling or sadistic, with groups of younger males attacking and rendering the alpha male to pieces, often consuming his flesh and blood in the process. This can upend established hierarchies to replace them with new structures, for example with a new male taking on the role of leader. But cannibalism can also be used to reinforce existing hierarchies, as seen in African Wild Dogs wherein the dominant pair will kill off any offspring that other dogs may have birthed so that the pack will focus on raising only the alpha pair’s pups, thusly reestablishing and enforcing social structure while ensuring the best survival chances for the pups raised by channeling all resources to the one brood.
Infanticide & Filial Cannibalism
Like African Wild Dogs, other parents may also eat their offspring, or better yet their rivals’ offspring. Stillborn or unhealthy offspring may be consumed, or just any that they can get their hands on at birth. (Again with the young male chimpanzees…) Some creatures enter into cycles wherein smaller individuals are more vulnerable to predation by larger ones both within and outside of ones own species, as is seen among many fishes with eggs and smaller fishes playing an important role as prey to larger ones. Other creatures may engage in these practices to reduce competition (for themselves and/or their offspring) and/or increase opportunities to mate. Male cats are notorious for killing kittens that are not their own in order to bring females into heat again sooner, potentially increasing the likelihood of mating with said females themselves while decreasing future competition. Win-win! Female cats must take great care to hide their kittens in order to protect them from males as much as other predators, and can have kittens by different fathers within the same litter in order to increase their kittens’ overall survival as a group with father cats more willing to accept kittens when their own kin are present.
Mantids and spiders are especially known for sexual cannibalism, with larger females consuming males during copulation, but this is not always linked to vast size differences and does not appear in every species. Females who engage in this practice may have healthier eggs in larger clutches, thus increasing the survival likelihood of more of their offspring. Sometimes the risk to the male suitor of being mistaken for another species by an aggressive would-be mate is high, and various rituals have developed within certain species to help avoid such mistakes and entice the female to mate. Male spiders are known engage in elaborate dances, movements, tapping and silk spinning rituals to avoid being eaten pre-copulation or at all. It’s a hell of a lot more involved than a good pick up line and a well-timed drink, as you can see here.
If the above video doesn’t load, you can find it on PBS YouTube here.
Thank you for joining us for another exciting episode of Nightmarish Nature. If you enjoyed this, please feel free to check out these previous segments:
Revisitations: The Devil Went Down to Georgia
So I’ve been working on more painting into found art (as seen here before) and I thought I’d share a newer one, based on the song The Devil Went Down to Georgia by Charlie Daniels. But first let’s make like my She Wolf post enjoy a couple variations of the song, shall we?
First we have Charlie Daniels, the writer of the song which was inspired by the beautiful poem by Stephen Vincent Benet titled The Mountain Whipporwill. You can read the poem on Your Daily Poem here.
Then we have to watch my favorite version, the animated music video by Primus. I know there are claymation-haters out there who find the effect bit too “uncanny valley” but how can you not just love those chickens?
Anyway, without further ado, here is my painting, incorporated into a found still life, original signed L. Harady.
Here The Devil is defeated, crushed along the lower edge of the artwork beneath the fiddle and lamenting his loss. The bow jabs into his sneering nose as if to add insult to injury, but his eyes still glow, alight with the prospect of coming back for another round. (They actually do glow, I have acquired some blacklight reactive nail polish to use in these pieces now.) I suppose I may go to Hell for this portrayal (or for defiling yet another painting) but alas, such is the price of art sometimes. I guess I’ll add it to the list…
Cravings Part 2, story by Jennifer Weigel
If you missed the beginning of this pregnancy horror story by Jennifer Weigel, you can catch Part 1 here.
Jayden’s stomach turned. Who or what was this creature standing before him, and what had it done with his wife? Claire proceeded to eat more than half of the jar of eggs in a fury of consumption; Jayden finally retreated to the office alone unable to watch any more. He heard a sloshing sound as she finished the jar and proceeded to drink the brine before retreating to the bedroom and crashing into their bed, presumably to pass out. Again. Later that night, he crept in to find her sleeping, clammy and sweaty, nervously twitching. Her body made the most abnormal guttural sounds as her internal systems groaned and sputtered. It was definitely getting worse. Jayden resolved to call Dr. Randolph the following morning; this had gone on for far too long already.
The next day, Claire awoke with a start from another bad dream that she couldn’t remember. Crying uncontrollably, she clutched her swollen belly, still ripe with child, and hurriedly exclaimed, “Blood sausage! I must have blood sausage!”
Jayden woke from his curled-up safe haven beside her and muttered, “Wha… What is that? I’ve never even heard of such a thing.”
“Go!” she snapped. “I’m starving. Go now! Return with blood sausage.”
Jayden staggered over to the dresser, threw on some clothes, shuffled into his waiting shoes, and gathered himself to duck out the door in the well-practiced gesture he’d become so accustomed to. “I’ll stop on my way home from work, I guess,” he mused, making his own plans. Claire seemed to settle down a little as she woke further, but it was little consolation.
“Thank you Sweetcheeks,” she said. “You’re the best.” She blew him a kiss.
While at work, Jayden managed to secure an appointment with Dr. Beth Randolph, Claire’s primary physician since before he had known her, for later that day. He took off early and rushed home to gather his unwilling wife. She was going in, whether she liked it or not.
He opened the front door and peered inside. The house was dark and quiet, as he’d come to expect. He crept in and stole upstairs to the bedroom to rouse Claire from sleep. He’d tell her where they were going once he got her in the car, no sense in making this even more difficult than it already was. Unsurprisingly, there she was, a shadowy form hunched over in the bed, her back to him with the covers pulled up over her eyes. He peeled away the comforter and blanket to reveal a tangled mess of white knitted yarn; Claire was nowhere to be found. He looked around, trying to focus on the darkness of the bedroom that enveloped him. That unsettling feeling had returned, like he’d had at Maresh’s shop, sinking into his gut. Claire was here idling, watching, waiting; he could sense her presence sizing him up as if she could read his mind and was on to his plan. But why was her company so disconcerting? This was still their house, their home, their lives intertwined… Jayden felt his trust ebb, spine tingling sensing danger.
“Hey there Sweetcheeks,” Claire’s voice echoed from the darkness of the closet. “Do you have something for me?” She emerged into the room, her eyes wide, frothing slightly at the edges of her mouth. Tiny bubbles of drool burst forth from her quivering lips and trickled down onto her chin.
“I couldn’t find any… blood sausage… whatever that is,” Jayden lied through his teeth. He hadn’t even gone to the store. Claire should never have expected him back at this hour; apparently she didn’t even know what time it was. But that seemingly wasn’t a concern. She wasn’t herself. Something about her fragile frame, the way she rocked from side to side, reminded him of that crazy old witch doctor Maresh. He finally managed to connect the two; it was as though she were possessed. It was imperative that she saw Dr. Beth Randolph as soon as possible, if for no other reason than to sever ties to that crazy old hag and hopefully start to snap out of it. He simply had to get her to that appointment.
“No blood sausage!” Claire shouted, becoming more and more agitated. “No… blood… sausage!” Her breathing became less regular and her body shivered all over as she hulked towards him. “I am sooo hungry!”
She lunged towards him, stumbling into his arms and collapsing towards his feet laughing maniacally. Jayden reached for her instinctively, to lower her to the ground gently, and felt something sticky and warm envelop his hand. Feeling lightheaded, he glanced down as he fell to the floor beside her. Protruding from his gut was a long silver thread, no something pointedly metal and hard, oozing thick oil sludge all around. Not oil, blood. His blood. Claire continued laughing, her lightning-fast fingers quickly and methodically ripping their way into his tattered shirt and worming around within his wounded frame to pull forth bits of viscera, which she wrung in her hands and smeared up and down her arms and torso. As Jayden passed out, she mouthed each of her fingers in turn, sucking the precious liquid off of them one at a time, before she began to feast on his entrails.
Claire’s belly was finally full. The baby developing within squirmed and settled, as if finally satiated. She swiped a stray bit of flesh from her bosom, licked it off of her fingertips, and heaved a sigh of relief. Miracle Madame Maresh Meliasma was right; she just needed to get to the root of her cravings.