Alexandre’s blood ran down the balcony railing. First it looked black, then red as it caught the light. I blinked as a drop landed in my eye and half the world went dark. When I wiped it away, a faint, pink blemish was left on my otherwise white skin.
The clouds passed the horizon, dark and churning like another sea. The wind, roaring, caught Alexandre’s cloak and made it writhe away from his corpse. It flapped through the railings, obscuring my view of him.
The crowd began to flee down the boulevard–they had listened to Alexandre’s speech and feared that they too might face persecution–but there was someone still beside me. I said to him, “It looks like a flag, doesn’t it? The way his cloak moves in the wind.”
I nodded to the balcony, bit off a bitter laugh. “Don’t you see it?”
It rained. A drop of blood bloomed on my white robe. I looked at it in distaste, unable to wipe the stain away. I took a step back, and his blood made strange patterns on the ground before it was washed away by the storm.
Now everyone was running past me, but I remained. There was nothing to fear: Alexandre was dead. The constables had done their job, and would soon arrive to clean the mess they had made. I, having come to terms with Alexandre’s death long ago, was the least of my own concerns.
Here they come now. Rushing past me. Dressed sternly, guns saluting the air.
“Hello? Monsieur? Pedestrians need to evacuate,” one said. I looked over my shoulder. He noticed who I was, paled, and said, “ Monsieurpraefect…”
I waited. “Yes?”
“Is there—uh–something you require, Monsieur praefect?”
“Nothing you can give me.”
I looked away, and the constables, uneasy, ignored me. When they took him down and destroyed the cloak, his words, once floating on the air, were silenced, though the sky was loud. It was the second time I had heard him speak.
The first was at a government-funded dinner, hosted as a last-ditch campaign effort by the oligarchists. I went only because attendance at government functions is mandatory for officials such as myself.
When I entered Gulliver’s Hall, it was obnoxiously crowded. I sniffed the wine in which I was not allowed to partake publicly, I tried not to watch the dances I couldn’t learn anyway, and I kept a pretty face for all the aristocrats, sycophants, and oligarchic lackeys who decided to make my acquaintance. The fluorescent bulbs on the ceiling made me squint.
I prefer those dark, cramped places where our sins are hidden, where my brothers dull the world with black market gin and smuggled laughter, and spit and curse like criminals and thieves while discussing the disgusting politics that no good soul would contemplate.
I was in a dark mood, also, because I had not dreamt recently, and I was wondering if my God had forsaken me. The lights burned my sensitive eyes, and I felt in my gut the urge to descend further.
The function spanned half the manor, into walkways and rooms outside of the hall. I wandered into a side room, empty save for a few aristocrats who, away from their colleagues and their social condemnation, looked at me once and left. I approached a stack of books and traced the gold lettering of the top book’s cover. Sitting, I flipped it open and looked at the stark print.
Someone sat across from me. I nearly jumped, looking up quickly. It was a man with yellow eyes set in a heavy face, dressed in an old suit and ostentatious cravat, purple and green like a peacock’s ass.
I frowned, able to leave my decorum at the door. “Yes?”
He held out a rough hand. I shook it lightly, and he introduced himself, “Alexandre Geroux.”
He leaned back in his chair. He held a cigarette between his fingers. His breath smelled like fire. “People tend to quote me,” he said. “‘Vive la Révolution.’ “
I arched a brow. “I’m a praefect.”
He sipped his wine, motioning to the glass he had brought me. “You say that as though your robes weren’t obvious enough.”
“Apparently,” I said, “they aren’t.”
“Tell me your name.”
I did as I drank. He cursed and frowned.
He said, “You remind me of someone I knew once. I wanted to see how far the resemblance went.”
He nodded over the rim of his glass and took a second to swallow. “The same eyes,” he said.
I almost smiled. “Red?”
“Not the color.”
He frowned. “It’s hard to explain.”
“All right. How’s this? What does your Church think of the afterlife?”
I complied, transfixed. “That the good are those souls given to the bosom of our Lord, and that those other dark ones are damned to wander Hell, which is the land of the living, until the Fires from the Other Side come to cleanse the Earth.”
He held up a finger. “But see, to live forever, amongst this glory?” He spread his arms. Smoke followed his movement. I saw strange shapes in it and tried to catch their forms with my eyes. His voice brought me back, “This wonder! Would that not be Paradise? And to remain with Him—trapped and done and dead—would that not be Hell?”
I stayed silent, but he caught my eyes with his, holding me to the spot. He must have seen something he liked because he exclaimed, “That’s it! That’s how you ought to think–both of us, you and I. We aren’t damned—we are reborn.” He gave a laugh of a smile. “Isn’t that something?”
I shivered. “Isn’t it.”
“Tell me,” he asked of me, “do you think my soul’s terrible enough to be smitten back here?”
I regretted to say: “I wouldn’t know.”
He made a bitter sort of sound. “I want to tell you something, priest. Listen, will you,” he said. “In the next few days, I’ll be dead.”
He stood and held out his hand. “Come with me?”
I took it, and he led me farther into the mansion. The hallways grew dim and the floors uneven as we delved into the discarded complexes made in a more ancient time. I wondered how he knew the place so well; I wondered if he worked some sort of pagan sorcery over me, cast an illusion of winding halls and broken doors. I hurried to match his strides, and when at last we arrived, he pulled me closer by stopping more suddenly than I could. He hit the door and it swung wide. Air came outward in a rush because the ceiling was open to the night and the night was chill.
“This is my secret,” he said. I wish I could say it was beautiful, that we stood under glowing neon and fanciful curtains, that the night birds sang ballads with their metal wings, and that stars, young and full, crowded the sky. But everything around us was dusty, old and moaning their last days, the machinery outside droned distantly, and the sky contained but one solitary star burning above. He clung to me and tasted the dew on my skin and whispered nonsense to the shadows. The floor was chill against my back, but he was warm, like a furnace, as the wind gusted and howled about the broken place.
I feel I should have fallen into a dreamless sleep like black waves at sea, but I remember listening while Alexandre murmured to me memories of brief respites between war and mourning.
“Those, too,” I said. “All of it.”
“I need to know if my Lord will spit on your soul.”
He spoke to me like he was dreaming also. He didn’t see me; even when his gaze fell in my direction, the shifting shadows between us seemed deep and unending as the days that stretched with the sky. At times, he called me by a different name, and then the spell was broken and he would curse and rage at the darkness, and when there was no fire left, he sank to my breast and sobbed, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry—I know who you are. I swear it, I swear I do—I know.” He repeated my name like a prayer until there was nothing left at all and he stared at the ceiling.
Then the sun reared a frothy head, and he whispered to me something like a melody:
“You know, they always quote me wrong. Can you believe it? Always wrong,” he said–” ‘Vive la fucking Révolution’—that’s what it is.”
“It’s got a ring to it,” I had told him.
His blood splattered at my feet as they took him down from the sky.
Lauren Poletti is genderfluid, pansexual pagan with an obsession for writing, drawing, and graphic design. At eighteen years old, she is pursuing a biology major and a classical studies minor, with the goal of becoming a veterinarian. In addition to fostering kittens, in her free time she enjoys shipping Greco-Roman historical figures and studying the treatment of gender and sexuality in Antiquity.