The sky looked like ink, no stars, just black; that’s how it began. But under that starless gloom something stirred.
Hunger, was its only thought. Though it was not so much a thought as it was a primal instinct.
Pain. There should be pain, He thought. And it was a ‘he,’ in every way a man, but then again different.
Patrick Malone reached down to where the musket ball should have left a wound, but all he found was the small pucker of a scar.
He patted the ground around him, and instead of the coarse stubble of a harvested barley field, he felt the texture of a woolen blanket. Where am I? How did I get here? Hunger – the word towering over his questions and again dominating his mind.
Then the darkness was broken. A small glimmer of a candle shone under a door, and then the door opened revealing a woman of about thirty-five, dressed in Walloon peasant garb. She held a candle in one hand and a ceramic mug in the other.
“So, you are awake?” she said in French.
Malone’s French was rudimentary. It was enough to follow orders as part of the Irish contingent in Duc de Villars army, but he was no conversationalist in the tongue.
“Oui,” he responded. “Do you speak English?” he added.
“Little,” she replied.
Claudette Antoine was a widow. Her husband had been killed fighting Marlborough the year before. When the French army returned to the same field near Bouchain she was hoping for revenge.
A skirmish had broken out not far from her home, so when the all seemed quiet again she cautiously made her way to the site of the fray. There she found a young man in French uniform with a wound to his chest, he gurgled blood as she tried to lift him, but he was alive. She managed to drag him back to her cottage and checked his wound. It should have been fatal, but the man did not expire.
She noted he was an incredibly handsome man with black wavy hair, and deep hauntingly dark eyes. His eyes fascinated her, though they were seldom open in the three days she tended to him. Even then there was no real consciousness.
But now he was awake.
“Where am I and how long have I been here?” Malone asked.
“You are near Bouchain,” she said. “Three days you have been here. Soup?” she then said holding the mug out to him.
He drank it greedily, but it did nothing to allay his overwhelming hunger. Though it did settle his wits a bit.
“Where are my things?” he asked suddenly realising his nakedness.
She pointed to a pile at the corner of the room.
He then patted his chest below his throat. “The locket?” he asked urgently.
“Médaillon,” he interjected.
“Oh,” she replied and took the chain and locket from her apron, and handed it to him.
He grasped it tightly and the passed out again.
The next night he awoke again well after sunset. By the light of a flickering candle he could make out the form of Claudette seated in a chair near the bed. He also noted that he was now wearing a night shirt.
Hunger, his body screamed.
“Good evening, Sleepy-head,” she said.
He looked at her feminine form and rather than feeling thankfulness for her care, or lust, all he felt was hunger – a growing hunger. How do I quench this hunger?
“Where did the shirt come from?” was all he asked.
“It is my husband’s,” she replied.
“Won’t he mind?” Malone questioned.
“No, he is dead, at the fall of the fortress last year.”
“Sorry,” was all Malone could say.
She thanked him for his condolences, then went and fetched some bread and cheese.
“How is it that you an Englishman serve France?” she asked puzzled.
“I’m not English, I’m Irish,” he replied. “Nothing would give me greater satisfaction than seeing the Redcoats all killed.”
She nodded thoughtfully as he again wolfed down the food, before he passed out.
This pattern continued for nearly two weeks. Each day he was a little stronger, but the hunger grew daily as well.
On the thirteenth night, the moon was nearly full and even with the curtains the brightening night sky was obvious. As Malone awoke he noticed that Claudette had his locket in her hands, gazing at the portrait inside.
She started as he sat up and snatched the chain from her.
“I am sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have pried.”
He calmed himself, and then said that it was alright.
“Is that your wife?” Claudette asked.
“My love, but not my wife,” Patrick said sadly.
“She is pretty,” Claudette commented still a little unsure of what to say, as she had come to fancy this pale dark-haired Irishman.
Malone nodded in agreement, and then for the first time actually asked, “Is there anything to eat?” This hunger is maddening, he thought.
After eating, he again was left far from satiated, but collapsed into sleep nonetheless.
Malone awoke to the full moon evening, and the hunger within him gnawed.
Claudette, as was her practice, was sitting in the chair next to the bed. She too had a hunger of sorts and had purposely on this evening come to the room in just her shift. Her figure plainly on display, and her desire more than hinted at.
Patrick’s eyes were drawn to her firm breasts, and then to her long freshly combed auburn hair.
“Do we have something to eat?” he asked, looking deeply into her eyes with almost a mesmerising gaze.
“Ham,” she replied.
“Why don’t you cut me a piece, and come and sit on the bed with me,” Malone lilted.
Her heart beat quicker, and her passion was being aroused as she hadn’t known since the death of Rene the year before. She sliced a large piece of meat, and placed it on a napkin and slid onto the mattress next to him.
He took the ham from her and set it to one side, and embraced her tightly – passionately. He ran his fingers through her locks and exposed her sensuous white neck. He nuzzled in and then suddenly savagely bit through her jugular. He drank deeply as her body at first struggled, and then went limp. He drank until her heart provided not a single drop more to his waiting tongue.
The hunger – the hunger was gone.
Malone stood, and with a new found vigour, went into the other bed chamber. He opened a trunk to find women’s clothes, and then opened a second, in which he found stored one of Rene’s suits. He dressed, and then went to the kitchen hearth. He scooped out a large shovel-full of red coals which he carried into the room where the lifeless form of Claudette lay. He kissed her on the forehead then dumped the coals onto the straw mattress and waited for it to ignite. He then tucked his locket into his shirt, and left the cottage.
He stood for a few minutes until the thatch had been engulfed, and then turned his back to it and walked off into the night.
First Line Friday: “The sky looked like ink, no stars, just black; that’s how it began.”