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Preface for The Bookseller
by C. Robert Cales
Paris, France, August 1794
The man trudged along in the dank morning air, hold- ing onto the chain clamped to the steel collar around his neck. All around him were other men also tethered to the master chain, men crying out proclaiming their innocence or begging for their lives as they were pulled several steps at a time toward the looming device. Some wore fine clothes similar to his own; others wore simple attire, all were soiled with dirt and falling ash. The guards, armed with pikes and whips, walked along the chain maintaining order and ensuring line movement when the time came.
He looked around at the others as he calculated the time between line moves. Some had resigned themselves to their fate and were praying while others continued to plead. By his estimate they all moved closer to the executioner every three minutes. The sound of the falling blade and the cheering crowd were the markers of the last moment of life
Death by beheading was degrading, he thought as the line moved again, taking them all closer to the grim ceremony in their honor. It was degrading, but quick and painless if done precisely, he supposed. He considered the way he had suffered in agony for days after being poisoned. Burning at the stake, although infinitely more painful for a moment, had been relatively quick compared to the poisoning. Given the choice he would take quick and painless every time, he thought as he noticed the priest and another man moving along the chain. At each stop the priest prayed and the other man read charges from a handful of documents. Most of the prisoners wept openly, dropping to their knees and begging to live.
When the line moved again he shuffled into a position allowing him to see the entire execution site. Two guards with pikes forced the next man forward with jabs to his buttocks. He was forced into the hands of the two awaiting men in black hoods. He fought but was quickly overpowered in a bear hug by one of the big men, leaving the other one free to bind his wrists behind his back. When the binding was complete he was released from the hug and the steel collar was removed. He was screaming and shaking his head wildly as they dragged him forward and up three steps to the platform where the third executioner and the guillotine waited. Beyond the device he could see headless bodies being heaped onto a wagon for transport to the huge fire in the distance.
The man was screaming as they pushed his chest up against the tilted table and released the mechanism allowing the table to pivot to the horizontal plane. He continued to scream and swear as they rolled the bed forward, placing his head between the upright blade guides. Above him the blade moved upward as it was winched back into lethal position. One of the men lowered the neck restraint over the prisoner and stepped away.
The man continued to scream and struggle against his bonds for a moment and then the blade fell, ending all with one swift cut. The cheer went up in the crowd as the executioner retrieved the severed head from the basket and offered it for viewing before tossing it onto the pile standing as witness to his mornings work.
The men rolled the table back away from the blade and released the bed into tilt position, dumping the headless torso onto the platform. They lifted the body and tossed it onto a pile next to the platform and then moved to the next pleading victim.
The priest stopped next to him and began praying as the other man read charges. He ignored both of them as he thought about the journey ahead, the journey that always eventually came. The temporary agony of death and the tiresome process of yet another childhood were the prices he paid for immortality. The costs were meager compared to the value held in the depths of his vast memory, memories of every woman, every conquest, every treasure and every life stripped away from an enemy during battle. There were no failures, only new opportunities as he skipped from life to life through time.
The line moved again as the man ahead of him collapsed. The executioners quickly unfastened the collar and dragged him away toward the awaiting tilted bed. They held the limp body against the table, pivoted it
up into position and rolled it forward without tying the hands. A moment later it was over. The head was raised to the cheering crowd, the headless torso was removed and then they came for him.
He stood calmly and crossed his wrists behind his back, waiting to be bound as he raised his chin slightly for the one releasing the steel collar.
“We have ourselves a hero,” the man said as he threw the separated collar aside and waited for the other man to finish his job. When the wrists were bound each man reached for an arm.
“I can walk without any help,” he said as he twisted violently away from their grips. He stepped forward, standing straight, shoulders held high as he approached the steps and the waiting executioner. The acrid smoke
from the fire found his nostrils as he climbed the steps with the two men following closely. He was tired of France and ready for his new opportunity, he thought as he walked toward the awaiting bed that was tilted and ready for the next rider.
He stepped up close to the bed. One of the men pushed him forward and he let himself fall onto the tilted receiver. A moment later he was horizontal. He could hear the bearings under the bed chattering as it rolled toward the uprights and the neck cradle. He felt the bed jerk to a stop and felt the neck restraint slide down into place.
He felt the rumble of the falling blade and then it was over in a blinding flash.
The awareness came slowly, first only of the crimson orb of his spirit and then he sensed the points of white light flowing together like a river, flowing toward the great ball of swirling lights turning slowly about a dark core. Other rivers of light converged, feeding into the maelstrom.
Most of the individual points of light moved together as one, slowly circling the core. Some lights rushed ahead of the others and some clustered together in eddies and back flows, but all were moving in toward the center of darkness.
The periphery of the core danced with lights as they moved faster along erratic paths. Some lights collided and bounced away only to be drawn back toward the dark horizon, the place where the line between white and black blurred, the place where points of light faded away.
The crimson spirit broke away from the flow of the others and crossed all paths as it streaked toward the center, approaching the active horizon, probing the surrounding spirits and seeking out the weak, tentative forces.
When it discovered the young spirit it attached to it and flowed along with it over the dark horizon and into the river of light going back into the physical world, back to where it was betrothed to the flesh.
London, England, January 8, 1864
The surgeon, cradling the newborn in his arms, burst from the bedroom and into the throng of waiting royal scribes and artists.
“Queen Victoria has a grandson,” he announced, stepping forward to display the infant. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to introduce you to Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward, the first son of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales!” he proclaimed and lifted the baby to the cheering crowd.
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About the Author:
C. Robert Cales is quick to point out that he does not write horror with its brutality and singular focus. He does admit to slipping the unspeakable into the reader's mind on more of a subliminal level. He is the author ofDevil Glass, The Bookseller and the up coming Reincarnology, which will create a trilogy.