Let Them Eat…BRAINS! by Kenneth Shand
Bernard Réné de Launay peered out of the comté tower of Bastille prison at the hordes below, writhing and seeming to multiply like maggots. They formed a ghastly syrup of limbs and flesh, viscous and vicious, pouring towards the prison as though it were some fancy sponge pudding soaking up custard. Occasionally a lone creature would break away from the crowd, arms flailing as his stumble became a lopsided run. Inevitably he would either fall or be pushed into the moat, only to reappear soaked but alive, staggering as shots from the invalides blew off his arms and legs or tore chunks from his body. Only when the head was blown off, de Launay noted, did the creature finally give in to death.
The pervert, de Sade, had warned him this would happen.
“I must thank you, Bernard,” he’d said to him, “for releasing me into madness. Charenton will keep me safe, a high priest among holy fools. A dark tide is coming, you see, to sweep your little sand-castle away. Before the fortnight’s over the dead shall walk the earth, eager to piss all over your self-righteous ambitions. They’ll come for you and they won’t leave a stone of this cess-pit standing.”
“And what makes you think we’re a likely target for your walking dead, noble marquis?”
“A kindly fortune teller – a sweet young girl with an innocent, golden smile – actual gold teeth I tell you – told me so not three nights ago. Between gulps and yelps of course. So much wisdom from one so very very young.”
“I see. So she came to see you, did she? Walked right into our most fortified prison?”
“All my daughters have been coming. Your men can be so kind when it comes to family visits. And my girls can be so persuasive. So generous. I’ve been attending to them quite meticulously you know, night after night after night.”
De Launay had dismissed de Sade’s words in the same way that he’d dismissed the rest of the man’s nonsense. Now, even as he stood there in his tower, watching re-animated corpses scratching at the wooden gates to his fort, he could scarcely believe it was happening. It seemed as though the whole huddled mass of the Parisian poor had determined to throw itself at his little prison, like ants upon a bowl of sugar, but to what end.
Not for the first time, it occurred to de Launay that he had a big part to play on the stage of history. Like Caesar or Charlemagne, he knew it would be his to tame the barbarian hordes. France needed a man like him. For although he’d never left the Bastille for longer than a day, and didn’t much like what he saw out there, he had the ambitions and pretensions of an emperor.
His reveries were broken by a knocking at the door.
“How goes the fight?” De Launay asked the captain of the Swiss mercenaries.
“Not good… It’s horrible… Those eyes!”
“One of my men sir… He got bit guarding the wall. They’d stuck a ladder up and he tried to unhook it. And he did unhook it. But he got bit first.”
“So he’s injured?”
“He’s not injured sir. It’s worse. His eyes gone all milky, and his mouth gone all dry and he was like trying to bite us all when we tied him up. He became one of them.”
“And where is he now?”
“The men are restraining him, he should be…”
But a hideous sound of groaning was coming from the courtyard. The two men looked down to see their own defenders, all decked out and decaying in their Swiss uniforms. They were drinking deeply from barrels of rainwater, punching bricks loose from the wall, gnawing at each other’s heads then spitting in disgust. Some of them seemed to be trying to work out the route to the tower.
“We don’t have much time. I want you to follow my orders exactly.”
“I want you to go down and open the gate. Let every monster in Paris into the Bastille. Give it enough time so that the whole flotilla of scum can drift here. Stay alive as long as you can; run if you have to.”
“Ok sir, but what will you do? If I can ask that sir?”
“This fort contains thirty thousand pounds of gunpowder and I’m going to set it off when the time is right. We’ll go down in history, you and I, as the men who saved Paris. The men who saved France. We’ll be remembered forever for our noble sacrifice,” de Launay assured the captain, whose name has long since been forgotten.
The captain scurried off down the stairs and de Launay followed more cautiously. He drank half a bottle of brandy, smoked a pipe then took his time in lighting a torch. Amber light danced around the stairwell as he descended, taking slow steady steps. He carried a loaded pistol in his right hand and the torch in his left. When he reached the bottom of the stair, the courtyard was empty. He wondered for a moment whether the dead had walked away from his prison in search of some other, more twisted amusement. Encouraged by this fancy, de Launay was shocked when he found that the door to the cellar where the gunpowder was kept was hanging open.
He had no idea what the monsters would want with gunpowder, but it wouldn’t be good. He imagined them trying to eat it, or pissing on it, or pouring it on each other’s heads, like children bathing. He really hoped they hadn’t compromised his noble plan of destroying all of them and himself. Another staircase and he was down near the cases of powder. He kicked hard and heavy at the side of one of the cases until powder poured out. It was at that moment that a sound caught his ear, a brutal unholy sound like the sound of deaf children crying. A doorway was visible where he’d never seen one before – boxes had been smashed up, beams torn down to reveal it. Curious, de Launay stepped through.
He came upon a dreadful scene, quite the most grotesque he’d ever witnessed. He saw the bodies of women, girls and boys; on racks, hanging from chains, pilloried or staked. They’d been mutilated beyond recognition; the devices through which this was achieved lay all around: hammers, knives, paddles, thumb-screws, choke pears and breast rippers. He knew straight away that this must be de Sade’s work, the work he’d alluded to so gleefully, so convincingly, that de Launay had declared him insane.
Moving round the room with their clumsy jerky motions, a small group of the Parisian undead had found their way in. Dressed in grocer’ aprons and butcher’s outfits, soldier’s uniforms and tailor’s garb, they were opening cages, lowering chains and cutting bodies loose. De Launay expected them to fall upon the dead and devour them, but instead they laid them carefully, ceremoniously, onto the dungeon floor. The wails of despair were louder in here and whenever one gargling, rasping voice stopped, another began. De Launay knew he had a duty: to ignite the powder with his torch and eradicate these monsters. He stepped back through the secret doorway and into the cellar, torch in hand. He lowered the torch towards the pile of powder, ready for his blaze of glory. But then he hesitated. It was the last decision he’d ever have to make. He would have to try to get it right.
Kenneth Shand is a writer from Glasgow, Scotland. He writes short stories and occasional poems. He has an MSc in Creative Writing. He owns a tea shop. He likes puffins. His favourite colour is teal. He has difficulty with words that don’t sound like the thing they describe, like “emancipation” or “pulchritudinous”.