Lights in the Dark, Part 1

1872, France, somewhere in the Doubs-department

Rain battered the steel-plated roof as Marie sat idle on her bunk with her legs apart. Her shoulders swayed with the rhythm of the train that traveled God only knew how many kilometers an hour. Gazing through the bars, she observed the large silhouette of a man inside the cage opposite to hers, fixating on the small green light on his neck. Due to the shadows cast by the electric lanterns dangling from the ceiling, she couldn’t even see his collar. But she knew it was there. Tiny green lights were all around her. For some reason, the further away, the brighter these appeared.
Inside the cage to her left, Leon had prostrated himself on his bed, hands on his belly. On her right, Tinana was rubbing her lips with some type of colorful ointment.
“Wanna look pretty for guards?” Marie sneered at her.
Tiana simply squeezed her lips without even looking at Marie as she closed the lid on the small jar. “How about you take it out on somebody else, Marie.”
Marie faced forward again, glad that the rain and the occasional screeching of the wheels droned out the constant complaints and obscene conversations between her fellow inmates.
Marie pulled at the collar around her neck and scratched. The irritated skin beneath it was a reminder she wore her own personal guillotine.
“Hey, you!” cried a soldier with an African accent. “No touching the collar,” he warned her. She looked at him with squinted eyes at the black man dressed in Zouave uniform. “What you’re gonna do. Shoot me?” she said as she kept on scratching.
She froze the moment of hearing the mumbling voice that still managed to cut through the roaring of the rain. “I suggest you comply.”
Marie pretended not to notice Lieutenant Guesclin’s dark gestalt that contrasted starkly against the light.
“Look at me!” he sneered with his mumbling voice.
Due to a mixture of disgust and fear Marie merely shifted her gaze toward him. Peering past the corners of her eyelids she tried not to show how terrified she was of his visage. The eyeballs looking down on her were set inside a face resembling that of a pale mangled corpse that had risen from the grave. His right cheekbone looked like it was covered in molten cheese while the gash in the side exposed his teeth. This is why the legionaries referred to lieutenant Guesclin as Uncle Henry. But whether that was his actual name, nobody knew for sure. The officer stood there, chest puffed and hands folded behind his back. “Defy orders one more time, and you can go back to Île du Diable… But not the convent,” he threatened. "Tu compris?”
“Oui, Lieutenant,” she answered, trying to sound dignified.
The wheels on the train produced an ear-wrenching screech as the breaks were engaged.
“Ah, merde!” complained Leon as he awoke from his slumber. “Are they-” he was silenced immediately when he noticed Uncle Henry observing him.
The lieutenant looked around the cabin as we walked past the other cages toward the exit. ‘sois prêt”!” he cried. “I want no incidents this time! There will be alcohol by the end. The colonel might even be more generous than last time.”
“there were fewer of us left, last time,” Leon muttered as he stood in front of the door to his cage. Marie did the same, as the procedure dictated, and grabbed hold of the bars. So did the tall man opposed to her. She observed his tattooed fists holding the beams. One had a typical English slogan “hope” spelled out on his digits, with a Christian cross on the back of his hand. The other however had an elaborate eye across his knuckles giving the impression it was looking at her. Marie didn’t know what it represented. The leathery heavy eyelids seemed to resemble those of an elephant more than that of a human.
Meanwhile, the scratching of metal on metal intensified as the train engine ground to a halt, and all that was left was the roaring of the rain.
Overhead, Marie heard the rumbling of the clouds as they waited for the locks to be released.
Beside her, Leon kept muttering to himself. “Merde! Are they insane? During the night. Merde…”
“It will be alright,” whispered a deep, almost fatherly voice. “they don’t care about us, ‘the large man said. “But we ain’t expendable either.”

Continue reading part 2

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