For many years I have delayed this letter, my confession, but I fear I can put these words aside no longer. I am an old man, now, and my heart is weakening in strides. My physician says that the end might be only days away.

If I do not tell my story now, I may never have the chance. I pray that the God I abandoned in the name of reason will now take mercy upon me, for I am not the wise fool I once was. I also pray that whomever reads this can put aside his incredulity, and accept that what I say is the truth.

The truth! How many years have I been unable to admit to what I saw? I never told my wife while she lived for fear of her doubting me. I have said nothing to anyone who would have remembered the details of what I will say for fear of being called a madman.

But these words are true, both to my vindication and my shame. I pray you will not judge me too harshly by what I say here. But if you must, I can only take solace in the hopes that God is more merciful than you shall be, or that I have been with myself.

 

 

It was the year of our Lord Seventeen-Hundred and Ninety-Four. It was Spring, that I remember clearly, for the flowers of Paris were blooming red, and matching the blood that flowed from Mdme. Guillotine. Les Tricoteuses were hard at work, even in the Autumn chill, and watching their nimble fingers work filled my young heart with no small measure of pride.

I was, as I said, filled with the idea of Revolution - adrift on a sea of ideals and the blood those ideals spilled. Would that I could have slit the throats of every Aristocrat and servant to the ancien regime I could! I am sure the catalog of my sins would be as thick as some of the Bibles we tossed upon the fires of Reason.

I stood there, that day, watching heads fall from their bodies. I was entranced by the spray of blood upon the wind, the call of the crowds and the glorious sight of it all. I barely noticed when my friend and superior, Giles De Franquefort, came upon me.

How shall I describe that terrible man? He was as vicious as he was corpulent: a wattle-jawed pig in a suit stolen from a rich man's closet. But though he was lecherous and petty, he had the silken tongue of a worldly man. He could suggest with a kind-sounding word what it would have taken a general a bloody-throated scream to do.

So when he put his hand upon my shoulder, and whispered into my ear 'Come brother - we have work to do for the good of the Revolution,' I followed his lead like an obedient dog. It seemed that a certain man of the town, Henri LeRoux, was suspected of hiding aristos in his cottage and being a traitor to the cause. And there was but one penalty for such a charge: I had been watching it all that afternoon.

I knew of this Monsieur LeRoux - he was a man of some learning, no little means and a frightening countenance. A doctor by profession, Msr. LeRoux had a reputation for working miracles. In the past, he had brought those at death's door back to health when others could not. He also had a lovely woman, Madame LeRoux, for his wife of ten years. That he had no children was a matter of some suspicion and gossip, but such things were not unknown.

More unknown was the nature of that countenance. It was said that he had a way of looking at a man and, in a single unflinching glare, determining them friend or foe, or determining their worth. In a less enlightened time he might have been reckoned a sorcerer and burnt at a stake. Indeed, prior to the Revolution such charges were leveled against him several times by the more superstitious amongst us. But one look from him could cause even the most steadfast amongst them to crumble and falter, and so, those charges were never leveled.

There was more to this story, as I learned later - things that involved Giles De Franquefort, and should have served to cast doubt upon his charges.
If only I had known! I was not without some influence. I could have spoken against Giles when he spoke to those who approved such arrests, and would have been heard...

But, to my shame, I did not know. And I am also quite afraid that had I known, things might not have occurred any differently. In those days I was lusty and headstrong, and just foolish enough to think myself wise.

Had I known the truth, I might not have cared.

 

 

And so, with Giles and thirteen men, we went to arrest Monsieur LeRoux on The 21st of October. He and his wife were eating dinner when we broke into his house, and he brandished the knife as a ready weapon. Faced with such a glaring countenance, and the prospect of a true fight, some of the men lost their nerve and stepped back.

Not so Giles De Franquefort. He stepped forward and put a pistol to Madame LeRoux's head. 'It is you or your wife, Monsieur,' he said. At that moment, I noticed an odd sense of recognition between the three of them, though so drunk was I on the thrill of this hunt that I noticed it not.

Faced with such a choice Monsieur LeRoux did the only thing a gentleman could, glaring all the while. Giles tipped his hat to Mdme. LeRoux in what was only a grotesque parody of being a gentleman, and then departed with his prize under guard.

 

 

At that time the docket of Lady Justice was as ample as her bosom; Monsieur LeRoux was to spend a month awaiting trial.

In that time, it was said that he was a model prisoner: as model as one can be under such circumstances. His only vices were staying up late, reading the books his wife - as we discovered later - had secreted into the jail via her dress. I still have one of those books, and reading it now illuminates much of what was to happen later. At the time, when his crime was discovered, they were merely confiscated and he beaten soundly, though we would have done well to have read them.

 

 

The trial was, as I look back upon my earlier days, as much of a farce as any of the other trials I attended or arranged in that time.

The list of charges were read to the jury, already jeering and calling for the guillotine as Monsieur LeRoux's fate had been decided in advance. He was accused of Conspiracy, Anti-revolutionary activities, Hiding Aristocrats, Harboring Pro-Aristocratic sentiments, being one of the Girondists...: anything and everything that could be leveled against him in such a court was. That we had found no evidence of any wrong-doing on his part was of no consequence. That he was suspected of such made him guilty enough.

Once the prosecution - headed by none other that I, with Giles De Franquefort goading me on - had finished, Monsieur LeRoux was asked if he had anything to say.

He said but one thing, which brought howls of rage and derision from the Jury, yet chilled my blood. For they could not see his eyes when he said this, and thought them mere words. But I, being a mere six feet from him, received the full force of that countenance and those words, which, taken apart, might be for naught, but taken together could shred the wings of angels and make devils beat their hooves and run.

He said: 'I have no worthy defense to present at this time, Msr. Accuser, but I shall doubtless acquit myself at a later date, in a trial where I shall be the Prosecution, he -' Indicating Giles ' - the Accused, and you, Msr., the jury.'

The sentence was death, to be carried out immediately following the trial.

Oddly enough, Madame LeRoux did not cry nor weep once the entire time. Not when her love was sentenced. Not when he was taken on foot to the place of death. Not when he was strapped into the waiting arms of Madame Guillotine. Not even when Les Tricoteuses were sewing his name into the list of the dead and his head was draining in a basket did she blanch, or weep, or cry out. She was as stone.

I for my part did cry out at one point. When I stood before the Guillotine and watched him die, he fixed upon me a look: that same damned and eternal stare of judgment he had given me before at the time of his arrest, and at the trial. And he continued that look, even unto the moment his head was struck from his shoulders, spun downwards, and landed face up, gasping for air.

His eyes fell upon me again at that moment, and it was as though I could feel that moment of horror with him. I could feel the loss of sensation... the draining... the screaming of the mind as when drowning or deprived of breath. I saw the odd whiteness that comes to the eyes as one's sight fixes upon something we, the living, cannot see.

In that moment I gasped and cried out, stepping backwards away from the basket. I left the crowds, and the mayhem and the screams of demented joy... and I left the sight of Monsieur LeRoux as quickly as I could.

On my way from the square another horror awaited me, for in my haste to escape that stare I was not truly aware of where my feet were falling. I fell over what I took to be a rut in the road and landed in odure, cursing and snarling. I turned to gaze upon whatever caused my fall, only to find the withered and dead face of a beggar who had died in the night.

I screamed, drawing no undue amount of attention to myself, and scampered away like a frightened dog.

 

 

The next day I spent away from my Revolutionary duties, convalescing at home with my books and my wife. No matter what I did, or what I read, or what I tried to think about, I could not clear the last moments of Msr. LeRoux's life from my head. Almost everything brought back a hideous memory: the sound of water dripping, the far-off calls of the mob, the wet sounds my dog made while eating... all these and more brought back the perspectives of a dying man.

Giles De Franquefort came by at one point, heady, drunk and in a mood to celebrate what he called 'His Shining Moment.'

'My enemy is dead!' He exclaimed as he quaffed his bottle of wine, 'And tonight I will collect his spoils for the glory of the Revolution!'

'You speak of Msr. LeRoux, do you not, Msr?' My wife asked.

'None other!' Giles said with a laugh, quaffing another measure of the wine with a twisted smile upon his face.

'I am told you both attended the same school?' She asked, trying to make conversation. I seemed in need of it.

'Indeed,' Giles replied, and in that moment his face was darkened: 'We took the same classes, he and I. He was always of a mind that he was a better man than anyone else there... a figment of the disease of the aristocracy, no doubt.

'He had everything, you see,' Giles went on: 'Everything...'

A strange look came upon him, then. It was the same look preceding the moment he tipped his hat to Mdme. LeRoux upon her husband's arrest. A look of being very far away, in one's memory.

If I had been in any state to place these pieces together, I could have denounced Giles then and there, and seen him condemned that very night. But so shaken was I by the gravity of what I had seen that I could do naught but nod my weary head and smile. Giles left me to the tender care of my wife, and went down to the pub to celebrate his ill-gotten gains.

 

 

That night, as I lay there, trying not to think of that horrible sharing of experience, my mind entertained a most singular dream.

I dreamt I was standing on the docket, watching my Doppleganger read a list of charges to me. Giles sat behind the Doppleganger, ever leering and preening, occasionally stealing glances at Madame LeRoux.

And yet, that was not all that I could see in that courtroom. For a moment I wondered why there were so many people there; Even though the courtrooms were often filled to the ceiling with onlookers, I could not remember there having been so many on that day.

But then I looked closer, though those shared eyes, and I knew horror once more. These were not people I had overlooked that day, for they had not been in the courtroom at that time. But they were people I had seen before: the people whose weeping, or disbelief, or indignant stares of defiance had last been seen in the public squares where Madame Guillotine presided - and had taken their very lives.

I tell you truly, I saw the dead. And there were dozens of them in that courtroom - all faded from view and yet plainly visible, like fireflies flickering in the evening vapor from the Seine. Their skin was white, gray, red or torn down to the bone. They were wrapped in shrouds, or tattered clothing. They stood on tables, hung from the ceiling and floated above the floor... all watching the naive motions of we - the living - who walked side by side with them, and yet saw them not.

But these were not the angry phantoms of ancient superstition. They seemed as mortal men do, only they did so apart from our senses. They watched the proceedings with thought and concern. They spoke among themselves in hushed tones, as though reverent of the court's decorum.

But by and by, one of these approached me. His eyes were as black as coal, and his gaze was even more unsettling by the fact that it came from the crook of his arm. His name was known to me: Samuel Chetrien - an aristo who I'd seen executed in the earliest days of the Terror.

'All is in readiness, my friend,' He said to me: 'Fear not, for you shall indeed have your revenge. We will see to it.'

The banging of the gavel drove me from the dream. I awoke, soaked in sweat and agape at what I had seen. Before I or my wife were fully conscious of my actions I had dressed and left, heading for a rendezvous I somehow knew must occur. The one that haunts me still and denies my old body the sleep it has so desperately needed.

The guard was on watch, but as a member of the Revolutionary Tribunal I was able to explain my pernoctations away. 'Official business,' I shouted as I hurried past: 'Stand aside of face the wrath of the Citizens!'

And they did as I commanded, for I suppose the look in my eyes was enough to inspire fear. For a moment I began to understand the kind of power Msr. LeRoux must have commanded in life. I wondered what he would carry with him unto the grave.

By that time I found myself before Msr. LeRoux's home, aware of an open door and a candle-lit kitchen. As I approached I heard the sounds of a struggle, and hideous noises not unlike a horse being dragged under a tumbrel. An almost inhuman cry for help could be ascertained, and I ran inside, sword drawn in preparation for the worst.

The kitchen was a scene of horror and bedlam. Madame LeRoux was nearly dead, draped over the dining table like a drowned maiden. Her clothes had been roughly torn from her body and her skull had been savagely opened by a gunshot. The weapon responsible - a blood-spattered pistol that I had last seen in the hand of Giles De Franquefort - was strewn on the floor before the two struggling men I saw.

One, who was losing the struggle, was undeniably Giles. He looked strangely foolish with but one eye, one ear and his pants wound about his ankles. The other mans bony hands were around his throat, and, judging from the blood on Giles' hands, he had just committed the murderous deed before his attacker waylaid him.

Of that attacker, I could see little at first. He wore ragged, mud-soaked clothing - the sort of thing a starving indigent might wear. But though his hands were almost skeletal, and his exposed legs were in an equal state of emaciation, he moved as though possessed by otherworldly forces.

At long last, after I heard a strange, crunching noise coming from Giles' throat, that other man turned to look me in the eye. And I knew horror in double measure at that moment.

The face was known to me; It was the dead beggar I had tripped over in the street. His dried and mud-splattered face was crawling with tiny, white worms. Matted, brown hair hung down over his face in clumps, mercifully hiding some of the corpulent picture from view.

But neither it, nor the worms or mud could hide the second source of horror: his eyes. For they were narrow and powerful, and filled with hate from beyond the grave. Though the face was that of a dead beggar, and the body the absolute same, those eyes... they were the unmistakable eyes of Henri LeRoux!

'It is as I have said,' he croaked through the dead mans throat: 'I am now the Prosecution, he the prisoner, and you the jury. The crime is plain for all to see, sir: the charges are jealousy, false witness, rape and intent to murder.

'How do you find the prisoner, Msr?'

I stared, unable to say a thing. My sword hand drooped to the ground, releasing its grip on the steel. The clattering noise angered the revenant, and he cried aloud: 'For the Love of God, Msr! How do you find the Prisoner?'

The words flew from my lips before I realized what I had done: 'Guilty, Msr. LeRoux,' I replied.

The dead man sighed, and, with a strength I could never have guessed either beggar or doctor possessed, tore Giles' bloodied, piglike head from its moorings.

At that very moment, Madame LeRoux breathed her last. Giles' headless body fell to the floor next, and the beggar fixed its gaze upon the woman's silent body. Then he fixed those eyes upon me once more, leaving me with only the most unreadable of stares. And then he, too, fell down.

The gravity of my actions crashed upon me. I seized my sword from the floor and ran into the night, laughing hysterically. I shudder to think what the guard might have said had they seen me. I might have been mistaken for a madman, and shot.

I think I was mad by then, and only that madness saved my sanity.

 

 

They found the murder scene the very next day. It was not spoken of.

I assumed Giles' position, but I did not stay in it for long. I discovered that, in my zeal to eradicate the horrors I'd seen, I perpetrated even more horrors. How many people did I sentence to death on a whim, or a grudge, before I came to my senses and resigned? I shudder to think of the numbers. God forgive me!

And I pray that my wife shall forgive me as well. To her dying day I never told my wife what I saw. She entreated that I do so; She said the fear in my eyes was that of an unshriven soul before God. But I held silent, all those years.

So, here in my dying years, I now relieve myself of that burden. Whatever Henri LeRoux may have been, he was no worse than his accuser. May the former be granted a pardon for his crimes, whatever they may have been. May the latter simply burn, as I fear I shall soon...

Enough of such hopes and fears. It is Autumn, the leaves are falling, and my old heart skips its track like a drummer without strength. I shall be dead soon, but at the least I can say this story shall not die with me.

May God have mercy upon me.

 

Your Obedient servant

Gerard Maison