Friday, January 16, 2009

Creative Chunks: To the Gallows

When you try to establish yourself as a writer, you're going to leave a lot of half-finished fragments behind you as a matter of course, like a trail of footprints wandering from one point to the next in search of a strong tree that could make plenty of firewood or writing paper. This story-fragment, To the Gallows, is one of those. I was originally thinking of it as being part of a larger project, but the research that would have been required daunted me; I may be a history major, but this isn't precisely my area of expertise. I may still yet come back to it, though.

The most important thing, in the end, for any piece of writing is for it to be read. If it's appreciated as well, so much the better.


"To the Gallows"
Andrew Barton

Montreal, Quebec
June 24, 1968

"Vive le Quebec libre!"

Luc Deschains shouted the slogan like a magician's curse at the traitor on the stage. The bastard had some nerve, standing like that in front of the flag like a defender and not a destroyer, hiding behind that smile that made loose girls melt from sea to sea. Quebec wasn't some muddy whore reduced to working on the corner, no matter how much the Anglos drooled at the prospect of bending la belle over the table. The crowd burned with the fury of free men.

A phalanx of policemen stood between Luc and his brothers and sisters in the park and the liars, the cheats, the conquerors on the platform. Their eyes betrayed their loyalty, no matter the uniforms they wore. There was no place in a free Quebec for dogs that would defend its enemies from the people. Behind their nightsticks, the black-suited jackals must have believed themselves invincible.

"Quebec pour les Quebecois!" There was no one slogan to unify the crowd, though some were shouted louder than most. Luc had drifted into a knot of men and girls, one wearing nothing but a painted fleur-de-lys on her pleasant chest, the rest of them hoisting flags and shouting those four words that had ended a long nightmare. "Vive le Quebec libre!"

He had been there when they rose, when the great Charles de Gaulle lifted the Quebecois from slumber. Only the moans of his girlfriend in bed sounded sweeter than the roar of that crowd had, a taste seasoned when that bumbling fool Pearson practically tripped over his bowtie to cast the President out, as if his blessing could be boxed and buried. All Quebec needed was one of his kind, a man unafraid to fight.

Hours slipped by in the heady, sweating fog, so many hours that Luc could not believe the sun hadn't yet risen. He saw rows upon rows of vultures' beady eyes on the stage now, already flush with the prospect of getting fat on the province's bloated corpse. Once they maneuvered the traitor into power, once Ottawa set to work convincing the world that Quebec was a simple accident of history, they would feed.

"To the gallows! To the gallows!"

The crowd knew the price of silence, of quiet obedience. They threw rocks and bottles and flaming Molotov cocktails into the ragged ranks of the police and over their heads to the puppetmasters on the stand, a reckoned vengeance for Agincourt and Crecy. The police fought - they were not all empty suits of armor, at least - and the politicians ran and held their heads beneath their arms, as if trying to suck their own cocks.

All except him. He sat on his chair as solid as a statue, with not as much as a flicker of fear for the television cameras to send flying. There was Quebec's general, there was her President to equal de Gaulle. What a shame it was that he hoisted the flag of the oppressor.

The tip of Luc's boot found something hard on the ground. A Coca-Cola bottle, hard glass with artistic sweeps and curves, maybe left by thirsty lovers in a more peaceful city. It was heavy in his hand, and he took no more time than necessary to find his aim. It sailed through the air in a beautiful arc, as if all along it had been meant to fly.

Luc Deschains did not think of the police, did not think of the consequences, did not think of any anger other than his own. His only thoughts were of fame, of the respect he would earn among the free men of free Quebec and the dividends it would pay between the sheets, and the perfect trajectory of the empty bottle.

The slim, slick neck left a thick red welt the size of a quarter. It was more than enough to ensure that Pierre Trudeau fell.

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