Chapter 1

Chapter 1

A Chapter by Charles Konsor

 

I can see the guillotine from my window. 

Patrick’s hand moved patiently across the page.  It was strange to write slowly when he had so little time, but the night seemed to suit leisure.  The flame of his single candle did not sputter or spit, but swayed"slowly and gently.  A three quarter moon in the north sky was half hidden by the black clouds of early winter, dressing the mute rays with a hazy glow.  A thin line of smoke rose like a seductive mistress dancing above the razzed shell of a building to the north.  The canal below Patrick’s barred window moved unusually slow, hesitating between the inhale and exhale of the turning tides.  And the blade of the guillotine was nothing more than a monotonous silhouette rising above the distant Cort Marée.

One day until it drops, and now I’m the one with the shaved head. 

Again Patrick wrote slowly, pausing as he rounded out the d.  His wooden chair creaked as he shifted his weight ever so slightly, his ink stained fingers absent mindedly twirled the stem of his quill, and the smallest of smiles crept onto his lips. 

Indeed, I think I may have enjoyed this new hairstyle if not for what it meant . . . but isn’t that always the way?  We do not change until it’s already too late,” he wrote, and again he dipped the point of his quill into the black ink. 

This was the first time he had been allowed paper or quill in the last three days and this simple act"puncturing the ink’s smooth surface with the ivory tip of his quill"was rather comforting.  The familiar scratching of the quill as it glided across the page, the feel of the parchment against the side of his hand, the sticky ink which insistently found its way onto his fingers"this was all terribly familiar and it gave him a certain amount of peace.  Whenever his eyes caught sight of the printed text which covered most of the paper, however, this peace was quickly shattered: I, Patrick Darby, of sound mine and judgment, confess to the following crimes . . .

A ship’s bell rang in the distance and Patrick made an unconscious move to brush back the hair which would have hung over his eyes only a few hours ago.  Instead his fingers brushed against patches shaved to the scalp and tufts long enough to run his fingers through. 

His fingers.  He had always liked his fingers"long, slender.  They would have been perfect for playing piano, but he had never . . .  he would never play piano.

He had always given his characters long, slender fingers.  Perhaps it was his own attempt at a legacy.  Don’t all men seek legacy?

But her hands, they were small. 

Patrick shook this thought out of his head quickly, picked up his quill, and returned to the page.

. . . but as it is, the uneven crop leaves my head far too cold.  

It is a sad fact that winter comes every year.

He didn’t like being so cryptic with his writing, so abstract, but he was strangely afraid this night.  He was afraid of what he really felt and so thus far he had written nothing but abstraction.  Still, if this was to be his last testament, he must afford some honestly.  Indeed, there was probably no better time to be honest, and so he dove to the heart of it.

Why did I do it?

You may think I am a fool.  You may think me proud and arrogant.  You may think me whimsical and simple and romantic in the worst sense.  She surely thinks I’m a fool . . . and yet, it seemed the only thing to do at the time.  Indeed, I wonder who of you would have refused.  Who of you, witnessing the demise of a friend, would not step in?

And in the end"which I suppose is now"I could harbor regret.  I could regret falling in love or following my heart.  But are we not all men of passion?  We are fools, yes, but fools with heart and I will leave this world knowing that I followed my at least as much as my head, both of which have led me here.

I could regret the optimism which others have called a fault.  I could regret believing I could save him . . . but wouldn’t I have regretted it more had I chosen a different path?

Wouldn’t I?

Patrick leaned back in his chair to consider these last words.  Somewhere in the distance, however, a cell door clicked opened and he, along with every other inmate, unconsciously blinked at the foreign sound.  He had only been inside the Roche Prison for three days, but already he had learned that an open cell door was a rare thing.  It never seemed to be a good thing either, and when a second door was open Patrick leaned back over his page.  Time was short.

There once lived an old man, he wrote.  Everyday a little boy would visit that old man, begging for bread.  ‘Please sir,’ he would say.  ‘I’m hungry sir.’  But the old man could do nothing for him.  ‘I’m sorry, my boy, but I have no bread.

A third door opened.  The prisoner inside was begging for his life even before he was pulled out of the cell and dragged with the others through the hall.

The rest of the inmates crowded around their cell doors, watching as the condemned passed by their barred window.  Patrick, however, stayed seated at his small desk with his back to the door.  Outside his window the black clouds gave way for a moment and the blade of the guillotine glinted in the pale light of the moon.

The little boy would then go to a young man.  ‘Please sir,’ he would say.  ‘I’m hungry sir.’  And the young man would reply, ‘Fight for me, my boy, and I shall give you all the bread in the world.’

‘Sorry sir,’ said the boy, ‘I can not fight for you.’  But the young man did not hear him for he had already left to fight.

A fourth and final cell door was opened now, but its occupant stayed silent.  He wasn’t dragged out like the others.  Instead he walked steady and proud, his footsteps echoing through the prison.  He would be wearing his crimson waist coat Patrick knew.  He would hide his small hands behind his back and he would refuse to meet any ones stare.  Indeed, the thought made Patrick long for the stare, for one last gaze into those far away eyes.  All he had to do was get up and look through the bars of his door, but even as he heard the condemned enter the room outside his cell, Patrick stayed seated at his desk. 

The next day the little boy returned to the old man, saying again, ‘Please sir.  I’m hungry sir.’  And again the old man said, ‘I am sorry, my boy, but I have no bread.’

“You b******s will get yours soon enough,” said the first prisoner as his silent captors loaded their muskets.  His voice was low and broad and full of the kind of gusto only a large portly man could muster.  “The people will avenge us.  They will rise up and roast you cowards on spits.”

“No, you must listen, I’m not a part of this!” the second prisoner said.  “Just talk to the Konstantine, she will tell you.  She’ll tell you everything.”

And so the little boy returned to the young man.  ‘Fight for me, my boy,’ the young man said again.  And again the boy said, ‘Sorry sir, I can not fight for you.’  But the young man did not hear him.  He had already gone to fight.

“But I don’t want to,” the third prisoner said, speaking softly like a child about to cry.  “Please, you can’t do this.”

And the fourth, speaking with confidence and restrained passion"“Of more worth is one honest man to society than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived.”

Four muskets were cocked.

That night the boy slept on the edge of the canal.  He half hoped he would have a bad dream and fall into the water.  He had no dream. 

“Death to the nobility, death to the konstables, death to the Konstan family, death to the Konstantine"”

A first shot stole the first prisoner’s words, replacing them with an involuntary gasp as his body fell back against the stone wall and slid slowly to the ground.

Patrick breathed faster, the air moving through his nostrils with a rushed and agitated sound.  His fingers shook as his writing became more fevered. 

On the third day he returned to the old man, but again the old man said, ‘I am sorry, my boy, but I have no bread.’

“Please, just ask her, or Brigadier Marcotte, I swear, they’ll tell you, I’m on your"”

A second shot dropped the second prisoner, but he still argued his case on the floor.  “I’m on your side, I loved her, she’ll tell you . . . she’ll tell you . . .”

And so he returned to the young man.  ‘Fight for me, my boy’ he said, ‘and I shall give you all the bread in the world.’ 

“Please sir, please.  Anything else, please . . . please . . . plea"”

And the boy said"

A third shot sounded, silencing the third prisoner’s pleas.

‘Alright sir, I will fight for you.’  The young man didn’t hear him.  He had already gone to fight.

Patrick’s jaw unconsciously tightened and his head moved closer to the table, concentrating on the tip of his quill.  And on the fourth day, the little boy found the old man dead.

“Today we may bear your whip,” the fourth prisoner said.  “And as we are no more than men, our bodies may give out, and be left alongside the road.”

‘Please sir,’ the little boy said. ‘I’m hungry sir.’  But the old man’s corpse said nothing.

“But we shall be remembered.  Our legacy will live on and the people will take up our cause.”

And so he returned again to the young man, only to find him dying in the street.

“It is we, the workers, who shall decide our own fates.  It is we, the people, who shall rule the city . . .”

‘Fight for me, my boy, and I shall give you all the bread in the world’.  The little boy watched the young man die.

“And if blood be the price of freedom . . . then I will pay it.”

Here Patrick could write no more, nor could he breathe, so he simply sat, breath bated, waiting like all the other inmates of the Roche Prison.

The fourth shot rang out and Patrick blinked.

A rather pathetic gurgle was heard coming from the fourth prisoner’s mouth.  It defiled the usual dignity of his voice and his body hit the floor with a dull, unceremonious thud.

Patrick still didn’t breathe.  He was afraid to movie. He was afraid that any small shift in his body"a breath, a twitch"might allow his emotions to free themselves.  So he stayed still, his head low to the table, his quill poised above the paper.

The first and third prisoners were already dead.  The second soon gave into his death, but the fourth fought against it.  He spit and gurgled and tried to talk, but his lungs had been pierced and his words were without breath.  Patrick, however, could guess at the words. 

“Remember.  Remember . . .”

 

~

 

Patrick sat on the floor just below his cell window.  He pulled his knees up to his chest and let his head rest between them.  He had always liked sitting like this, perhaps because it reminded him of being in the womb, or perhaps because it made his world smaller and more compact.  Things just didn’t seem so large and overwhelming when he was curled up. 

When he was a child and had trouble sleeping he would often curl up in a ball for comfort.  He had stopped doing it when he was eleven and he noticed how all the great men seemed to stand up tall.  On the ship over, however"when he feared both the past and the future"he had done it again.  He curled up in his hammock and let his breath warm his chest. 

Patrick wasn’t able to sit like this for very long.  Writing with his head bent over the page had made his neck stiff and so he rolled his head side to side.  He wondered if a limber neck would make the job easier for the guillotine’s blade and he smiled.

It was a sad sort of smile.  A pathetic attempt to counter the hollowness he felt.  As the gun smoke from the execution drifted into his cell and the sulfur smell tickled his nose, however, the smile faded. 

The wound on his right arm was throbbing again.  However, over the past few days he had grown accustom to the pain and so he found a certain amount of pleasure as the waves of pain climbed up to his shoulder and ran down to the tips of his fingers.  It was a patient and placid night.

 

Patrick let his head fall to the side so that his check rested against the cold stone wall.  The coolness of the stone was calming.  It reminded him of her hands"small, cold hands which slid up to his face as she pressed herself against him and tilted her head to kiss him.  Or the coolness of the damp grass when he used to lay his ear on the ground and listen for the ocean.  Or the cold metal of the printing press in Mr. Beringer’s house.  Or the wet snow whipping against his check while he watched an unknown w***e die in the Eisley gutter.

Patrick rose to his feet, picked up his quill, and scratched onto the page:

Why did I do it?  Because I watched a w***e freeze to death in the gutter, and no one cared.

The food chute at the bottom of Patrick’s cell door opened.

Patrick spun his head around.  They had already served dinner and it was far too early for lunch, but the food chute was definitely open.  They must have been emptying the refuse buckets early tonight.  Patrick moved to grab his buckets, but then paused.  They hadn’t shouted “Your piss and s**t if you please”, and Patrick looked back at the door.

“Hello,” a timid voice said, “Patrick.”

“Yes?”

“It’s me.”

Patrick took a few timid steps toward the door then knelt down and peered through the food chute.  The round, bespectacled face of a man stared back at him.

“Clius.”

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© 2015 Charles Konsor


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Zak made goood points but whatever's going on with your computer, please fix it!!!
I really liked this piece and it was extremely well written. You are obviously a talented writer and this is a suspenseful, tense but extremely lyrical piece that you should be very proud of. Read over it once or twice and you will notice one or perhaps two typos. All in all, bloody brilliant!

Posted 11 Years Ago


2 of 2 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

this chapter was moving. i can easily see myself in the main character's stance.

Posted 11 Years Ago


0 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This is a thrilling opening scene. I didn't so much as pause through out, so concise was the writing. It left me immersed in the atmosphere of the revolutionary tale, (though I can only guess it is the french revolution), and I was filled with compassion for the worker's cause. The sense of dread is marvellous and the Patricks thought process is fascinating. There was so much of the writer in him that I instantly related to his perceptions. The story of the little boy works on a nice parralel to the execution and I appreciated the undertone of the ultimate futility of war, martyrdom and treachery. The deaths were suitably gruesome and the way that all were reduced to equality in death supported the mood of Patrick as he awaits the guillotine. I would try and offer some more 'conventional' critique of this work, but I get the feeling you're way ahead of any practical advice I could possibly give. I will definitely read on, take care, spence

Posted 11 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

A look into death row... one man's struggle, yet triumphet knowing that his crime was his own and by his own choosing. The different characters add to the drama, which is all around him. I enjoyed reading this chapter and your work. Good luck on the following chapters.

Posted 11 Years Ago


0 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Very polished and accomplished prose. Very good reading. The transitions between Patrick's written account, the events transpiring in the execution yard, and his inner musing/reflections are seamless - it flows very well and doesn't disjoint the progress of the story. The characterization is very deep - even for the doomed men on their way out to meet death, the bits and pieces of dialogue are fantastically revealing, even though brief. Great.

Posted 11 Years Ago


0 of 1 people found this review constructive.

wow, this is a most compelling first chapter. You have me spellbound with such a strong character.

He was afraid to movie (I found this typo, think you meant to say move.) Other then that I found no other problems with this piece and I am going to the next chapter to find out what happens next...

I do have a question though. Why are some shot and others guilotined???

Tigra

Posted 11 Years Ago


This was the first thing that I have read on this site, and it has surely made me happy to join this site. If there are more writers like you on this site, then i'll have a blast. Keep up the good work! I'm a little tired right now, but I will be more detailed on what I liked and didn't like later.

Posted 11 Years Ago


Outstanding movement. I found the interaction between Patrick's writting and the goings on of the prison to be thrilling. Honestly I would not change a thing.

Posted 11 Years Ago


Wow...shivers up an down my back! The first part was just...amazing!! I loved the way you alternated between the story he was writing and the horrors that were happening in the prison. this is a masterpiece!! Is this story set in the time period of the french revolution? just wondering cause of the guillotine.
I am really interested in the story Patrick was writing, and the part about "Why did i do it?"
The only thing i would comment on it in the beginning there was a lot of descriptiveness and although it is good it can make the reader get bored. Otherwise in the rest of the chapter it was fine.
Once again; AMAZING chapter! i am on my way to read the next one!
You definitely have one fan of your book! :)


Posted 12 Years Ago


A powerful introduction- very descriptive and well thought, flowing smoothly from one thought to another.
An enjoayable piece, to say the least

Posted 12 Years Ago


i do not know why i could feel this more than anyone,i have been there
i stood there sat there and waited
he also sat there and waited
his death was so close just outside could be seen through the window
waiting for him..
you tell this so romantically ,so softly ,so smooth
like in a whisper saying ,he is to die tonight or tomorrow
i like it when he remembered the young child coming
like three times first to the old man asking for bread where he did not find until he died ,and his asking of him for bread
with an asking to fight ,at last the child agreed only after he saw the other other young man dying too
i liked the way he took to death so lightly its like waiting for a friend
he said oh if only i could look into his eyes ,he hid them well from every body to see
he just wanted to see his eyes
this is very dreamy writing and i liked it a lot,very nice beginning
i like your character a lot ,he is one of us a dreamer,and so very strong
strangely i felt so happy for him ,a hero ,i saw...

Posted 12 Years Ago



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Added on February 4, 2008
Last Updated on January 23, 2015
Tags: prison, guillotine, execution, night


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Charles Konsor
Charles Konsor

Portland, OR



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