by Kenneth Mark Hoover
In the year of Our Lord 1793 Madame
Volmarre entered my boudoir and bade me hurriedly dress.
"Prepare for a late sojourn into the countryside, Colombe,"
said she, snuffing out the candles in my room.
The autumn moon shining through the
window provided enough illumination to dress. "I shall
accompany you," Volmarre went on in her abrupt way. She ran
a quick comb through my coiffure. "We've little time, and
the Duc, I am told, is not a patient man."
I trembled at this unexpected
intrigue. La Guillotine was rumored to be in our quarter of
the city. When I voiced concerns for our safety Volmarre
snapped, "I promised to deliver you before midnight, dear
girl, to a man of great wealth and power, and deliver you I
shall. For five hundred crowns. Imagine it!" A cold smile
crossed her pinched face. "I would tempt a dozen
decapitations for such a sum, Colombe.” She put down the
comb. “Besides, do you doubt the lengths I shall go where
money is concerned?"
My heart sank. My simple clothes and
meanly furnished boudoir were evidence enough of Volmarre's
uncompromising avarice. "Indeed not, Madame," I mumbled,
Well did I know Volmarre's insatiable
hunger for garnering wealth by brokering sinful pleasure in
that clean, little ground-floor apartment that had been my
home for three years. Hers was the most profitable
establishment on the rue Soli in Paris. Her girls were
tall, healthy, very pretty, and infamous for their
willingness to engage in the most libertine and base
Nevertheless, I had no wish to meet La
guillotine if it could be avoided. Though no aristocrat, I
was nonetheless of good birth, and this was often just cause
to feed the Widow.
"Whither are we going, Madame?" I
adjusted my traveling cloak. "Anyway, Laurette has done
nothing today, not even the laundry, while I have not only
sewn winter blankets, I've entertained five men in the last
The older woman shook a gnarled finger
under my nose. "Thank your fortunes you are in such demand,"
she said. "A woman's youth is her only natural gift. She
must wield it for whatever coin she can." She grabbed my
hand. "Now, follow me, and keep silent."
We crept from Volmarre's house into the
cobbled street. A black carriage awaited, driven by a valet
sent by his master to transport us to an unknown
destination. Unknown only to myself, for I had little doubt
Volmarre knew exactly where we were going.
The trip was uneventful. After an hour
we passed from the city, entered the moonlit countryside,
and approached the Duc's mansion. This Duc must be powerful
indeed, I thought, to have such wealth and escaped the
Widow, unlike the hapless King. A liveried manservant with
a thin face and narrow shoulders welcomed us as we entered
through a side door.
"What an attractive creature," the
manservant said, his eyes lighting upon me. "My Lord the
Duc will be pleased."
"My girls are the best Paris has to
offer," Volmarre replied. "Colombe is the pride of my
The manservant nodded his
appreciation. "Well can I see that, Madame. What an
angelic face! And her skin; she has no mark, no flaw
whatsoever?" He pressed his fingertips together and lowered
his voice to convey the seriousness of the transaction.
"The Duc is very exacting on this point. The girl must be
clean in every way. We must not fail him."
"I promise upon my soul this girl is
completely flawless in both mind and body, despite her time
spent in my employ."
The manservant bade me undress. This I
did, even loosening my coiffure so my hair might hang loose
"Superb!" he exclaimed after examining
me in dishabille. "A perfectly exquisite girl."
Volmarre smiled. "As I promised, good
"Indeed, Madame, you shall be well
recompensed for finding us this delightful jewel. Colombe,
now that you are prepared to meet the Duc, I must allay any
fears you may have. You will not suffer the least hurt,
other than what might transpire through the usual nature of
your profession. Do you understand?"
"My Lord the Duc is a libertine of the
most wild and lubricious sort. There is no debauchery he
does not allow himself either to contemplate or act upon, if
such be his wish. He has nothing but scorn for both the
laws of men and of God. He is his own law unto himself.
Therefore, you must do whatever he commands, immediately and
without hesitation, or the fee for your time will be
My mouth was dry. Volmarre would not
like that. "I understand, Monsieur, and I will comply."
"Very well ... come with me." He led
us through somber corridors and immense rooms until we
reached a stone well set in the center of a dark antechamber
in the mansion. Supported by heavy timbers over the black
mouth of the well was a wicker bascule. I stepped back, my
The manservant saw my nervousness.
"Remain calm, dear girl, but prepare yourself for an
experience quite unlike anything you could imagine."
I turned to beseech Madame Volmarre,
but her eyes were only filled with the gleam of promised
gold. "Be off with you, girl," she said, pushing more than
helping me into the basket, "and mind your manners whilst in
the Duc's company."
The bascule carried me down into a
crypt hung in black satin and lighted by dim, wavering
tapers set in stone. A prie-dieu, a bizarre assortment of
skulls and bones caked with dust, and stone walls lined with
weapons: clubs, swords, poniards and lances, made up the
terrible decor. A black mattress lay on the floor. Below
each taper hung tapestries depicting the most immoral and
utterly inhuman scenes imaginable: bestial demons and other
unnameable supernatural creatures consorting with one
another in obscene and indescribable ways.
I stepped from the basket, quaking, and
stayed near the wall of the subterranean vault so I would
have something firm against my back. My hand fell to a
steel dirk and, without thinking, I slipped it into my
bodice. The cold steel slowly warmed against my flesh as
the basket rose into the inky darkness. An iron grate
scraped overhead, imprisoning me.
One of the tapestries moved. A stooped
figure, whom I took to be the Duc, entered the crypt. He
was dressed in a long black robe. Upon his breast rested a
gold emblem: a skull wreathed in fire. Five more figures
followed this singular being, each emerging from behind his
own tapestry. They were similarly dressed. All had their
hands held in orison; all wore black signet rings emblazoned
with the symbol upon the Duc's breast.
Terror seized me. My head swam. I
wanted to bolt from this horrible place and fly back to the
house I had left on the rue Soli. I feared I would never
see my little warm bed again.
The first specter, the Duc, implored me
kneel on the prie-dieu and pick up a rosary from a silver
dish. This I did with alacrity, happy to be as far away
from them as geography permitted.
"Pray, woman, for the salvation of your
I bent my head to comply with the
order, fingers shaking as the rosary beads moved through
The six specters formed a circle about
the black satin mattress and locked hands. "We are the
damned," they intoned, "the Peculiar Ones made by God, as
foretold in Deuteronomy. We move through history like
quicksilver, from time to time, moment to moment, death to
death. This is our mission, and our curse."
The specters disrobed and beckoned me.
Four were men, two women. Turning my back to them I shed my
clothes, hiding the dirk in the material.
How can I tell, dear reader, what
libertinage transpired without further sacrificing my
immortal soul? If I related only a tenth of the sickening
debauchery I witnessed, the ink on this parchment would
burst into Hellfire. Yet I must admit when I stumbled away
from the melee my face was flushed red as a bacchante's. In
all my dealings never had I experienced such heights of
emotion, such an overwhelming empire of wanton lechery.
Satiated beyond words, I collapsed upon the stone floor
until my consciousness fled.
Let me, then, describe with some detail
the unusual physical characteristics each specter
presented. They were of human quality, true, but seemingly
not possessed of human demeanor. Their pale faces were cold,
emotionless. They gave no recognition when they spoke
either to one another or myself.
Their dry yellow skin was stretched
tight over their muscles and skeletons. One got the
impression their organs and veins were about to burst
through with a wet explosion. Their eyes were black with no
whites whatsoever, and their breath was deathly foul. Yet,
when they touched me, their fingertips emitted such
pleasurable energy my body could not help but respond in
kind. Such was their cruel power.
When I awoke they were dressed and
watching me. I rose to my feet and dressed rapidly, again
secreting the dirk. I turned to regard them, backing away.
"What manner of things are you?"
"We use many names," the Duc said. The
specters around him bent their heads in agreement. "Suffice
it to say we come to points in history when we are most
likely to find that which we crave: death and fear and
hopelessness. Some call us Horsemen, or the Fates. Still
others name us incubi and succubi. Yet we only metamorphose
when humans realize their own dark natures and set them
free. Human iniquity draws us like moths to candles. And
the remorse that is always the heart's issue, beckons us
from the dark reaches between the stars where we lair."
"God save me!" I cried.
"Lately have we come to this country to
wallow in the overwhelming fear and hate that bestrides the
souls of men. We are here, because men have currently
become like us, and we need to be with men and women who
share our dark nature."
"What vile, contemptible creatures you
"Speak you, rather, against the nature
of man. He calls us; we simply come at his bidding."
I threw myself before him and clutched
the hem of his robe, weeping. "I wish to leave this place.
Please, dread Lord, allow me this so my soul might not be
sacrificed under your shadow. Never have I wished for your
existence or called upon you with any part of my heart. I
beg you to release me!"
The Duc put his hand in my hair and
jerked my head upright. "And so you shall be. We wanted one
of your nature, clean and incorruptible, so that we might
prepare for the work ahead."
"What work?" I spake with a strangled
"You will see us again, if you but
I screamed. The bascule descended out
of the darkness. The specters returned to their respective
tapestries and it was then I saw they were like windows
opening onto inky space blazing with a multitude of white
stars. I crawled into the only conveyance out of that black
chamber and shrieked for the manservant to lift me toward
I cried and gibbered with hysteria as
Madame Volmarre led me from that terrible mansion. Once we
were safely ensconced in the carriage and clattering toward
Paris I began to calm down. Slowly, the red fingers of dawn
began to light the sky.
We were only a mile from home when we
rounded a corner and came upon a gathering of people
surrounding the towering and imposing shape of a
guillotine. Men jumped from the bushes and grabbed our
horses' reins. They pulled the manservant from his perch
and quickly manacled him. Madame Volmarre and I were
accorded little better treatment; we were stripped to our
undergarments though our hands remained free. Bright gold
spilled from Volmarre's purse and this further angered the
"See how these whores miser their
wealth while our children eat straw," one of the men, a
heavy-jowled farmer, claimed. "See their dress and the
fancy livery of their manservant. How fine their clothes
"Give them to the Widow," cried a
toothless crone, her dress in tatters. "How many of our own
families languished in the Bastille four years ago while
these fancy whores and their gentlemen stole bread and wine
from our mouths?"
Shouts for our deaths met this old
crone's speech. The manservant went to his death without a
word. My legs were numb; I could hardly stand. Madame
Volmarre begged for her life, promising them more gold if
they would but grant her succor from the fate that awaited.
"You are not one of us," they jeered.
"Dressed in your finery, and your plump flesh filled with
Volmarre continued to argue with them
as they dragged the limp body of the manservant from the
bloodstained plank. I felt as if I might be sick when,
without thinking, I grabbed the steel dirk from my blouse
and, turning, plunged it into Volmarre's breast. She
screamed, clawing at the knife handle. I wrenched the knife
free and held the blade high above my head. Volmarre's
innocent blood ran down my white arm.
"I am one of you," I cried. "For years
this execrable creature imprisoned me in her vile brothel."
I then spun a falsehood of how I had been sold from an abbey
to Volmarre and forced to serve her establishment. I showed
them how the miserly Volmarre kept me dressed in coarse
cloth. I ended my rant by clasping my bloody hands over my
breast. "My sympathies are with the revolution, my dear
Parisians. Thank you, and thank the Heavenly Host for
succoring me in my final hour of need!"
So successful was I in tweaking their
emotions they lifted me upon their collective shoulders,
I looked at the crumpled body of
Volmarre. Hot, shameful tears welled in my eyes. I had
betrayed her so I might live. Her end had been authored by
my own falsehoods. But, dear reader, I wanted to live. I
offer no other explanation for my actions, and beg
understanding and compassion for my predicament.
I was set down. The ground was damp
with innocent blood. Someone thrust a wineskin towards me.
I drank, spilling wine on my bodice. People linked arms and
began to dance around the corpses.
Laughing at my good fortune, I wiped my
lips with the back of a hand. It was then I espied six
robed figures standing on a distant crown of a hill,
silently watching me. They nodded and I returned their
After a space, they too followed
as I, and I alone, led everyone down into the sleeping city.
-- The End