Storm of the Bastille Prison

by Sarah Mitchell

———— 14 July 1789 ————

The air was thick with the vengeful cries of men.
The rusty scent of blood mingled with rage in the back of Sebastian’s throat.
He could see it.
The towering mass of brickwork was framed by smoke and flame. Each stone received a repulsive glare reserved only for such symbols of tyranny.
The torch in his firm grip shivered, flickered, and danced in the rushing air. He lunged forward, driven by the chaotic screams of the oblivious mob.
Primal figures surged around him with a deep, glacial power.
Sebastian plunged further into the seething mass of bodies and sweat. The thick odour of burning flesh was branded across his tongue, inside his nostrils, plastered against the back of his throat.
Bricks rained with dust and angry cries from the sky above. The metallic tips of bayonets and spikes littered the horizon. The sky was punctured with thick masses of dark cloud.
As thunder cracked above, his gaze snapped up from the mass of flesh beside him.
A flare of white illuminated the sky, flashing against the outlines of twisted faces and limbs. The thick rolls of smoke and dust rose from the building, a cobra readying to strike.
He was faintly aware of the resonating boom of hundreds of voices in union, pulsing through the crowd like a monstrous heartbeat.
“Liberty for the people! Equality for the people! Fight for the fraternity of France.”
Like church bells heralding some indefinable force, it sounded again.
“Liberty for the people! Equality for the people! Fight for the fraternity of France.”
In the mass of limbs and weapons beside him, there was nothing but blind movement.
He shivered despite the flame in his hand, and the hairs rose eerily on his pale flesh.

————————————


In the dark cell the brickwork was ice beneath Adrien’s skin.
Nothing moved. Stillness was his only companion.
The damp air sat in the creases of the stones, pressed against the ground, bit against his flesh. It was the painful signature of the Bastille Prison.

Closing his eyes to the swelling blackness, Adrien scrambled through fragments of memory to grasp at something, anything that would take him away from the frozen days and nights of the cell.

When he settled on the warmth of one particular memory, his fingers stopped trembling from the cold. The recollection of this past experience drew him away from the darkness of the cell.

His memory worked quickly to replace the icy touch of the brickwork. In moments Adrien felt the warm shine of a dim streetlight as it lit a cobblestoned alleyway. He felt his blood pulse loudly in his temple as he once again looked over at the sea of people before him.
The faint rumbling of the crowd died as he began to speak.
“Brothers, for years, for decades, for centuries, we have labored under the tyrannous rule of those of privileged birth.” He spat the words out.
“For years we have been limited, restricted, imprisoned by those who act as if they are entitled to our land, our bread, to the livelihoods of our children.”
Spanning out in front of him like a tumultuous river, the masses of civilians in front of him roared.
“But we stand together now, side by side, to tell them that we are beings of equal right, of equal birth, of equal standing.”
The swell of cries rose to meet the roar of his voice. The warmth emanating from the crowd almost obscured the chill of the prison cell.
Almost.
Uniforms of the Parisian military guard streaked the memory with shards of anger and fear. The cries of his audience transformed from a unison of incensed roars to the discord of frightened shrieks.
Recalling the icy touch of a bayonet resting on his throat, Adrien was plunged into reality, into the swelling blackness of his cell.
————————————

Outside, scarlet droplets splattered onto the bare flesh of Sebastian’s heaving chest.
He tore his way further into the funnel of the prison gates, where bodies were being swallowed into the whirl of dust and sweat.
In the mob he saw the anger that consumed him before, the raging passion that heaved him onwards into the chaos of bodies. He saw the purity of the rage, recognised the solidarity of their determination, felt the intense pull of their unified goal.
He leant forward to join the seething mass of bodies, but was struck to the ground by the heavy weight of a body. He felt a crack of pain as his head hit the stone steps of the prison gate and yelled out in anguish.
Sebastian’s cry was swallowed by the mob.
As the stabbing pain subsided, he unclenched his fists, reaching down to shift the mass of flesh from on top of him. Instantly his hands were covered. He felt the warm blood of the corpse as it spilt over his wrists, a thick film that spread across his abdomen. A chill fell over him as he watched the blood of another mingle with his own.
Sebastian felt a guttural cry rise in his throat as his gaze fell across the fleshy nightmare before him.
He recognized the distinctive uniform of the governor of the prison, Bernard de Lunauy, the man he’d come to overthrow.

But he could not feel victory, not any sense of triumph, not now, not at this grotesque display.
Knowing what he would see, he looked up to the center of the mob, now seething and throbbing more venomously than ever.
De Lunauy’s head, sawn jaggedly at the throat, still warmly coloured with life, sat grimacing atop a pike, swaying and dripping velvet fluid from above the crowd.
Sebastian clenched his eyes shut, swallowed back the bile.

Alone, the revolutionary shoved the headless corpse to the ground.

————————————

By the time Sebastian was alone in a far off branch of the prison, he was scared.
Warm blood trickled down his cheekbone from a blow to his head. It shot daggers of pain through his skull. His body slammed against the stone as his legs buckled beneath him. He staggered forward before collapsing against the cold iron slab of a cell door.
Sebastian lifted his torch to the lock and slammed it down to the icy metal. He heard the frantic scrambles of a prisoner on the other side, away from the crashing sound.

With an intake of breath, he rested trembling fingers around the cold trigger of the musket. The reflection of the torch quivered on the surface of the dark metal as he lifted it to the lock.
He clenched his fingers closed, cringing as the trigger flicked down with a blast.
The deafening vibrations threw fragments of stone and dust into his eyes. He heard the lock scream.

The iron door swung inwards.

Adrien jolted as the blast shook his skin. Shards of light blurred his vision.
The glare of the torchlight in the pathway flickered, scattering the remnants of the blackness into fragmented shadows.
Adrien stood alone in the cell, embalmed in flickering shadow.
He turned, his fragile frame outlined by the light from the corridor.
Flickers of torchlight and fragments of the mob’s frantic yelling met his ears from the honeycomb hallways.
Adrien stepped outside the cell.
As the last handfuls of air heaved out of the collapsed figure before him, he knelt beside the body.
Sebastian’s eyelids fluttered, the movement weak as the shallow swell of his chest.
As Adrien gripped the torch that lay forgotten on the cold stone floor, some warmth flooded into him, the same force that slowly dripped like the sap of an autumn tree from Sebastian’s limbs.

Without warning, Adrien spoke.
He jerked in surprise at the sound of his own voice. Smiling slightly, he stepped towards the flickering light down the hall.
Adrien let his voice echo once more.

“Liberty for the people, equality for the people, fight for the fraternity of France.”
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