PART OF THE Tricks and Treats ISSUE
‘For several years I conducted these experiments, increasing their sophistication.’
‘Story Cut Short’ is taken from The Stone Mirror
By Ian Spring
Published by Rymour Books
STORY CUT SHORT
I will be brief. For some time I was employed in a medical capacity at the Sante prison. My role was to ascertain and testify to the death of those lost souls who encountered Madame La Guillotine. (You may think that, in view of their certain end, my presence was hardly necessary; but, as you will see, the pathology of decapitation is more complex than generally imagined).
At 5.30 am, on the twenty-eight of June 1905, I was privileged to be able to conduct an unusual experiment on the murderer Languille. With the agreement of the prisoner, I was allowed to address the capitis. Immediately after the blade had fallen, the eyelids and lips contracted for some five seconds, then the face relaxed, leaving only the white of the conjunctiva visible. Then, there was no doubt, the felon’s eyes fixed on mine. I called his name: ‘Languille!’. He blinked several times in response. This lasted for about 40 seconds then gradually eased until he was motionless.
For several years I conducted these experiments, increasing their sophistication. I devised a device that, attached to the ears, swung the head upside down, thus preventing the spurt of blood from the jugular foramer and extending consciousness. All this time I never saw a face that seemed to exhibit pain or horror. Some rolled their eyes or tried to mouth words. The wicked Landru, subject of my penultimate experiment (who had refused to hear the mass or take a last glass of brandy), I swear, winked at me insolently and remorselessly.
Now I was in the rapture of obsession. I began to think of the moments following decapitation as almost a joyous relief, an escape from corporal and visceral servitude. a moment unpolluted with consequences, a time for contemplation before meeting the one true maker. I thought of the theory that, at the moment just before death, one’s whole life is lived again, but more perfectly. The axe or bullet slow to a stop and devout souls have time to recite their sweetest prayers and make their peace with the corruptible world. I had read that some of the pygmy tribes of Africa, who beheaded their enemies, compassionately attached their heads to a springy sapling so that their last moments seemed like a transport to heaven. Thoughts like these tormented me. I pondered day and night on the same questions. I needed to know.
I devised the machine and nailed the upside down clock to the wall. The trip was set so that, when I released the blade, the stringed device would hold the head in the exact position.
So, now at last I know! The lapse between decapitation and death is at least 54 seconds—just enough time for me to recount this extraordinary…
The Stone Mirror by Ian Spring is published by Rymour Books, priced £10.99
Polly Clark was born in Toronto and lives in Helensburgh on Scotland’s west coast, close to where W.H. Auden wrote The Orators. She is Literature Programme Producer for Cove Park, Scotland’s International Artist Residency Centre, and the author of thre …
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