07 Dec 2013

SHORT STORY COMPETITION “GOLDEN SHORTS” WINNER: HISTORICAL FICTION

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WINNER IN THE HISTORICAL FICTION CATEGORY IS THE

SHORT : “HIM”

 

 historical copy

 THE WINNING STORY IS POSTED BELOW.

 YOU CAN FOLLOW VARIOUS LINKS AT THE END OF THIS POST TO THE WINNERS IN THE OTHER GENRES AND THEN VOTE FOR YOUR FAVOURITE STORY IN THIS COMPETITION.

 

 

 

Him

 BY S.R. MALLERY

 

The dusty, pebbled road from Caen brought with it swollen feet and twisted ankles, yet to her, those issues were inconsequential; after all, these days, there were far more important things occupying her mind. Things such as how long the journey might take to arrive in Paris and once there, would she have an opportunity to see him immediately, or would she be forced to wait? Nothing else mattered, n’est-ce pas?

Monsieur Baroque, a local farmer dressed in his single outfit––woolen brown pants, a billowy white, stained shirt, and muddy cleated shoes––glanced up at her as she passed his wheat field, the salty sweat droplets from his brow compelling him to blink twice before noticing how fully preoccupied she appeared. “Bonjour, Charlotte!” he attempted against the fluted breeze, but she was deaf to the world.

From time to time, scampering rabbits blocked her path, but she swished them away with her travel basket, steadied herself on any available bush, and persevered, using the sun’s changing position as a guide. Visions of being close enough to touch him, to feel his look upon her, kept her propelled forward––grateful for the sunshine, and for the way things would undoubtedly turn out.

Back home, her family had made every effort to discourage her. ‘Ooh la la, the trip could be very dangerous, Cherie,’ they cautioned. ‘In Paris the guillotine is working night and day now; the rabble rousers, such as Danton, are saying there are ‘traitors within,’ so people are being executed without a second thought.  And the pamphlets!  The pamphlets distributed are filled with lies and thirst for blood.  Even the priests are not safe! Remember the September Massacres!  Remember how the newspapers, especially Marat’s L’Ami du people, were urging the death of so many important people!  Please, Charlotte, Cherie, give up this foolish desire to explore. At the very least, you must write your name and our address and pin it inside your dress, just in case…”

“In case of what? You worry far too much, Maman!” she laughed as she scribbled her identity information down and placed it inside her bodice.  She would do this to please her mother, but at sixteen, she had already become her own person and would not be deterred. Unbeknownst to them, she had spent countless hours dreaming about her time with him and no one was going to stop her; indeed, walking such a long, arduous distance seemed a small pittance for such ultimate pleasures. And although it had taken her well over six months, she finally had saved enough francs to assure her of one night’s stay at an inn en route to la belle Paris, la ville grande––nowadays, the city of blood.

The inn was as dilapidated as the rest of the countryside––a thatched roof laid bare by inclement weather; the windows smoky, stained; a front door most probably once a brilliant red, now a muddied sienna.  But she was exhausted and thoughts of a good night’s rest, no matter the size of the bed, no matter the personage she might be forced to share it with, relieved her considerably.

“Mademoiselle, you are very young to be traveling thus…and with such pretty clothes,” the blousy inn matron with blackened teeth and dirty fingernails commented.

Bone-tired, head bowed, Charlotte nodded, annoyed at the intrusion.  “I have enough francs to pay for a place to lie down,” she stated flatly.

            The blackened teeth almost glistened as the woman grinned with slit eyes.  All business now, she quickly rang for an employee to get room 3 ready, the one with Madam Erly.  “A shared bed is better than nothing, n’est-ce pas?”

            Madam Erly’s heavy frame took over more than half the bed and her snores rattled like distant fireworks; still, Charlotte managed to drop off into a dreamless sleep.  By morning, the roosters had long finished their crowing and the cows had been milked twice when, putting on her clothes, she discovered her travel basket and all five of her francs were missing.

            “I believe someone, perhaps even Madam Erly, has stolen my money and my clothes!” she cried, slamming her fist down on the concierge’s counter.

            “Mademoiselle, calm yourself!  I don’t remember seeing you with any extra clothes.  And perhaps you had fewer francs than you thought, eh?” The concierge leaned onto the counter, her ample bosom squeezed into two half cantaloupes.  “If you need money, you can always wash laundry for me, or do you think you’re too high above that, Mademoiselle Marie Antoinette!

            Determined not to cry, Charlotte followed the innkeeper into a small adjacent building, where a giant steaming vat of sudsy, bubbling water lay waiting, along with two straggled-haired, soil-streaked peasant women. They eyed her relatively clean dress and pretty aspects with nothing short of venom.

            She was pointed towards a pile of clothes reeking from manure, and as she daintily hoisted them one by one into the vat, the women cackled in delight.  “Non, non, non, mademoiselle!  Pas comme ça, like this!” they chorused. With that, they shoved her arms into the boiling hot water up to her elbows and when she screamed in pain, they snorted with laughter.

            By nightfall, her blistered arms had left her in agony, and to make matters worse, when she reached out for her day’s pay from the matron, she was quickly slapped away.  “You did not do such a good job, mademoiselle.  I can only afford competent work.  Maybe next time you will understand what is happening in France now.  Perhaps, after all, you are one of those Girondists who wanted to save the King!”

Expecting an answer, the matron was first met with a stare, then a voice so soft, so low, she had to bend in towards the girl.  “But I am not la nobilité, madame,” whispered Charlotte.

            “Then I suggest you stop acting as such and not put on haughty airs, mademoiselle….It is a new day in France, a new Libertad, no more Divine Right of Kings and we, the peasants, the sansculottes rule now….

            Retreating for a moment, she soon returned with something in her arms.  “But I will do this for you, mademoiselle.  I will give you a blanket, but you best be on your way now, eh?”

            Charlotte spent the second night nestled behind a haystack, curling up into the horsehair blanket that smelled of urine.  But soon her thoughts drifted to him, and the comfort she garnered from that coaxed her into a deep slumber that lasted well into the next day.

            Her shoes were fast wearing out and her arms, although better, still looked red-raw, like the beef her maman had roasted so long ago, at a time when her family could afford such luxuries.  Mustn’t think about that now, she grimaced, must only think about him, how he will react to her, how she will act with him.  That made her glow from inside out, just knowing in her heart that no matter what, visiting him in his house was her destiny.

            Soon, passing by the Oak tree-lined road with signs indicating Paris, she realized how very close she was to that destiny.  Just spying the city off in the near distance should have filled her with such une grande excitation, yet all of a sudden, she paused.  She was penniless. Where could she stop, if only to take a much-needed bath? For it certainly wouldn’t do to approach him unkempt and travel-worn.  She needed to please him, wet his desires, no?  She pictured the gown she had made especially for that purpose, carefully folded in her basket that was now gone and as she sank to the ground, her head touching the dirt, she sobbed.

            Clop-clop-clop vibrated against her ear.  Clop-clop-clop.  Trotting down the road was a single horse-driven wagon, caked with soil and filled with vegetables.  As the farmer drew near, he slowed, then stopped a yard shy of her.

            “Mademoiselle, are you all right?”  He called out, standing up and shielding his eyes from the sun’s glare.

Nodding, Charlotte let out a tremendous sigh. “Ouí, monsieur. I am all right…I suppose.”

            She sat up as he stepped down from the wagon and approached.  “Mademoiselle, you have been crying.  You are not all right, it would seem.”

            Her story spilled out as fast as the milk from her maman’s pitcher.  As she raced to tell her story, hiccups kept interrupting her words, but the kind farmer listened patiently, placing a protective arm around the young girl and patting her back. “There, there, mademoiselle, I will take you to one of my clients, la famille Frémont in Paris. They will certainmente get you into a good, hot tub and perhaps even arrange a little work to pay for a new dress, eh?”  With a gentle hand assist up into the wagon, they continued on towards the most exciting city Charlotte knew she would ever visit.

            But the metropolis wasn’t at all what she had imagined.  The streets, teeming with people, also included a sea of tense faces.  Narrow, winding streets reeked of rotten fish, wine-stained cobblestones, and limp cabbage tossed out of upper storied windows. Vendors hawked their meager wares, their voices raw from their hoarse calls, and by the time she turned the corner to where she would be staying, if she hadn’t had him to dream about, she might have turned around then and there and returned home.

Her new protector scrutinized her face.  “Mademoiselle.  Believe me, Paris is not all bad.  You will have some comfort here with the Frémonts, I promise.”  With that, he guided her down the street, into a dark doorway and up rickety, paint-peeled stairs to her hosts’ home, a dingy apartment located above La Baguette, a small boulangerie that at last was producing the most precious commodity in all of France: bread, the Staple of Life.  Bread that, due to a poor harvest and an overwhelming shortage, had instigated inflated prices and left most peasants to starve.  Bread, or the lack thereof, that had led to rioting in the streets just a few months before.

            The Frémonts, a congenial, boisterous lot, were constantly bubbling over with the latest news of the city and its Reign of Terror. Robespierre and Danton, aided by Marat’s newspaper and pamphlets, were in charge of the Revolutionary Tribunal, ‘traitors within’ were carted away to wait their fate with Madame Guillotine, and the cobblestones in the Place de la Revolution were coated daily with fresh blood. Madame Tussaude was also described, forced to sit beside the giant blade to make death masks of the heads of the aristocracy she had known so well.

            Charlotte was treated like a relative––bathed, and given a temporary housekeeping job at L’Hôtel Crillon.  “A few francs for you Mademoiselle, so you can meet your rich lover in style, non?” they would joke, watching her cheeks flush a pretty rose pink.

            She walked to the hotel for five mornings straight, past La Place de la Revolution, past two-wheeled wooden carts slowly, relentlessly, jostling the latest victims to their deaths; past the eerie sound of the blade slicing through the thick air, immediately followed by the thunk of a fallen head onto the ground.  Sometimes a hasty drumroll would accompany the event, particularly if it was a member of the upper echelon, but more often than not, it was a quick business––lasting just long enough to assure cheers from the ever-growing crowds.

            “Serves them right, the unfeeling bastards!” was the nightly conversation opener at the Frémont’s super table.  “It is not good to see that much blood, but vraíment, sometimes we have to fight for what we want, n’est-ce pas?”

“Ouí, this is a true revolution!!”

“Vive la libertad!!  Down with the Clergy and La Nobilité! Up with the Third Estate and the sanscullotes!”

Adults and children alike would then applaud around the table, their eyes glistening, their mouths in frozen smiles as Charlotte sat silent, slowly nodding her head; a head that was still filled with mostly thoughts of him and nothing else.

Well satisfied with her work, the manager at L’Hôtel Crillon offered her even more money if she stayed.  She accepted with a slight dip and a gracious smile, knowing her time with them would be limited; once she was united with him there would be no need of any job, n’est-ce pas? Indeed, her life would be changed forever!

As a skilled seamstress, Madame Frémont was only too happy to create a dress for Charlotte’s rendezvous with her mysterious lover.  “Charlotte, when I am finished, you will look so beautiful, tellement beau!! He must be so special for you to come all this way, Cherie,” she added, as she measured Charlotte’s hem, her sewing pins securely pocketed in her apron.

“Yes, he is…” came the gentle reply with the familiar blush.

After the dress was finished, Charlotte knew her time was drawing near.  The next morning she woke as the moon was fading, her heart fluttering like the wings of a hummingbird.  Her movements were quiet, careful, as she put on her new petticoat, toe-heeled her new rococo shoes on before slipping her beautiful new dress over her head.  As she laced up the bodice, she paused, eyeing the room, making sure the Frémonts’ petite enfants, those adorable children she would miss so much, were still sleeping. Gentle breathing and faint snores was her answer as she descended the stairs to the kitchen. There, she poured herself a cup of cold thé and drank it leisurely, leaning against the sink, her nostrils inhaling its scent, her thoughts percolating.

The July sun was already drawing its steady, gradual arc as she fastened her cloak and exited.  Once outside, she contemplated Paris beginning its day––vendors pulling their carts over rough streets, shopkeepers unlocking their front doors, horses scraping their hooves against stone, a bell clanging from inside the Church de la Madeleine tower.

            She had memorized the directions to his house, but needed to do a few things first. After several blocks, she spied a little park, just south of La Place de la Revolution, and immediately headed down a little path towards some lush shrubbery, laced with tiny dots of sun-brushed flowers. Sitting down on one of the iron benches, from out of her corset, she withdrew a charcoal pencil and two pieces of paper that she had taken from the Frémonts’ kitchen, and first began writing on one, then further scribbling on the other. The sun was turning a smoky-hot yellow by the time she had finished, making her back uncomfortably warm; still she continued, carefully folding both papers and shoving them back down below her breasts before standing up to face the sun with closed eyes.

            It was going to be a hotter than usual July day, she mused, as she entered a store. There, she strolled up and down two aisles before purchasing her first item.  The heavy-set, balding store clerk was cordial enough and was about to hand her her change when she caught sight of a beautiful scarf, hanging in the window.

            “Oh, monsieur!  That scarf is so lovely.  How much?” she inquired.

            The clerk looked her up and down and winked. “For you, mademoiselle, a special price…” He pulled it down and handing it over, tried to grab onto her hand.  Blushing, she shook her head as he emitted an audible sigh.

            As she hurried towards La Place de la Revolution, she stopped to artistically drape the scarf around her, counting on her feminine wiles to render her truly fetching. But today something was different.  The victims in the horse-drawn cart looked nothing like la nobilité.  Huddled and tied together as if they were wild boars, a couple of them grew vocal.

            “I am not guilty!  I am innocent! I stole a loaf of bread, that is my only crime!” shouted a tattered, stubble-faced man.

            The woman crushed against him was also angry.  “I, too, am not guilty!  When my husband was guillotined, I shed a few tears.  Is that now unlawful?!”

            The crowd seemed unnerved, restless, uncomfortable with its new ‘traitors within’.  Charlotte stood inert for several seconds, staring at the square like one of the city’s marble statues, then hurried on to his home, excited, albeit nervous.

Just outside his ivy-veiled house, the gigantic front door handles hung over her like a cast iron cooking rack, dousing her body with sudden tiny stabs of fear.  What if he was too busy and couldn’t see her after all this time? And now…maintenant…with her new scarf wrapped loosely, yet perfectly around her bodice, she had made sure she looked her prettiest!

“Mademoiselle, do you have an appointment? I am not sure he will want to see you now.  He is in his medicinal bath at the moment. Perhaps you can come back later?” The servant’s face remained impassive.

“Bíen sûr. Of course he will want to see me!” No one was going to dull her happiness.

The servant, dressed in simple sansculotte pants and a frayed white shirt, couldn’t compete with her determination; in a matter of seconds, she was led upstairs the cold marble steps into the master’s private chambers.  At the doorjamb, she started slowly untying the top of her blouse and thinking only of her own pleasure as she ventured into the room in time to see the back of his head, inches above the top of his massive bathtub.

She was properly announced. “Monsieur Marat. There is someone here to see you.” Her pounding heart rattled her chest as she moved around to see him properly, face-to-face.

“Yes? Do you have some names for me to use in my newspaper? That’s why you’re here, to kill even more of them, n’est-ce pas?” Marat’s eyes took in her ample young figure and pretty face as he indicated a stool nearby.

She nodded, sat down, and started dictating various names while he wrote them down with one of the quill pens he had meticulously laid out next to his medicinal bath.  The room grew strangely quiet, save for the gentle slosh of bathwater as he maneuvered his legs and her steady, calm voice continuing to implicate further ‘infidels’. When she finished mouthing the monikers, she knew it was her time. She stood up before him, gazing into his eyes, her hand slowly undoing the rest of her blouse and opening up her beautiful new scarf. He stared at her, fascinated––no longer a famous revolutionist, no longer married, simply a man facing unknown temptations.

He leaned forward towards her, his bath tablets forgotten, his pupils enlarged with desire as she withdrew her brand new store bought six-inch kitchen knife from out of her open blouse and quickly plunged it deep into his chest.

“Aidez, ma chere amie! Help me!” he groaned seconds before his eyes glazed over, his arm dangled lifelessly over the tub edge.

At her infamous trial, the magistrates read aloud some of the notes she had hastily written, sitting alone on that bench in Paris, but it was standing on the scaffold with the blood-dripping guillotine blade raised and the crowd scouring her every move, that Charlotte Corday explained the true reason for her actions: “I killed one man to save 100,000!”

 

Thanks for reading “HIM” by S.R. MALLERY in the HISTORICAL FICTION genre. To read the winners in the other genres, please click the link below:

Contemporary Fantasy – “The Giant Project” by Kirstin Pulioff

 http://maerwilson.com/golden-shorts-contemporary-fantasy-winner

Horror – “The Only Safe Place” by Joshuo Osto

http://danielledevor.wordpress.com/2013/12/07/the-only-safe-place-by-joshuo-osto/

Paranormal Romance – “Music Box Dancer” by Julia Long

 http://www.tinamoss.com/2013/12/golden-shorts-contest-paranormal.html

Romance – “The Personal Ad” by Ceci Giltenan

 http://constancephillips.com/golden-short-romance-winner-the-personal-ad

Young Adult – “Turning Point” by Momoko Oi

 http://www.lindseyrloucks.com/2013/12/golden-shorts

Mystery – MAMA CHIN’S LAST GREAT BEAR HUNT by Conda V. Douglas 

 http://lyndeewalker.com/2013/12/06/golden-shorts-mystery-winner/

Click here to vote for your favorite! (  http://maerwilson.com/golden-shorts-poll/)

 

written by
Christoph Fischer was born in Germany in 1970 as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. ‘The Luck of The Weissensteiners’ is his first published work. He has written several other novels which are in the later stages of editing and finalisation.
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