LANORA
by Matthew Lett
Guillotine. The very word itself incites ghastly visions of blood, headless corpses, executioners and somber—if not
they tell me, so judged by the laws of the land; sentenced to the guillotine for the brutal murder of a young farm girl just
outside of town.

And, let me make this perfectly clear, I am guilty. I’ll not stand here under the watchful eye of God and tell you
different. I did it. And even though I thought that my poor court-appointed lawyer would suffer a break-down of sorts,
I confessed to it at my trial.

“I killed her,” I said, staring straight at the court magistrate, my head held high and my back straight. “But it was an
accident, sir. An accident of passion, you might say. Heat of the moment kind of thing.”

But was it…really? Or something of a different nature, darker, something that even now I cannot comprehend in its
dreadful complexity. Perhaps I was in love.

I dream about the date of my execution quite often. Restless dreams that wake me in the middle of the night, terrified
and sweating; the dark shadows of my cell a smothering reminder of why I’ve been cast into this pit; a dungeon, no
more than ten feet by ten, its rocky and barren floor strewn about with filth and dirty straw. A place an unwanted
animal would be imprisoned. I hate it here.

But my dreams, although disturbing in their hellish clarity, also offer a numbing sort of solace. A release, a person
might say, from the anxiety of my pending date with the weight of the blade. And they’re always the same, in texture,
taste and sound. The sour taste of spit in my mouth as the jailer comes to escort me out of my hole. The whisper of the
friar’s robes skirting along the cobblestones as he calmly recites passages from the worn Bible he carries. The feel of
the hood being pulled over my shaven head, rough and coarse and the blackness that follows, as palpable as any whore
paid for the night.

And then I’m standing before a silent crowd upon a scaffold constructed of wood and iron; a ship that has no other
course, no matter how true her bearings, but to take her passengers into the everlasting embrace of death. I ask that
my hood be taken off, if for nothing more than to see the sun once more. To revel in it; soak in its golden rays of life
and remember what it was to be a free man, a man on the brink of ecstasy, the ecstasy of the world around him and all
that could, but will never be, his and his alone.

Graciously, my hood is removed. I examine the crowd, mostly peasants and beggars. They stare at me in an odd sort of
wonder, awe, but it is a lie. I know it. They are here by choice and choice alone, having attended this event—my death—
of their own free will to witness nothing more than the horrific spectacle known as the guillotine.

Some will jeer and throw moldy bits of vegetables and putrid meat at the stage, laughing and carrying on as if this were
a celebration called forth in the name of their gods. Others, though, will remain silent and watchful, their faces dour
with mock sympathy, useless prayers mumbling between their cracked lips.

The executioner orders me to my knees. I comply, bending not to his will, but the will of the crowd. They can smell
death, a rich coppery odor riding on the fetid winds of an early dawn. It reminds me of the morning that I first met her,
the farm girl and how that meeting, a hopeless chance in time, changed my life for ever after.

***

Her name was Lanora. A serf, really, nothing more than a laborer charged with the duty of tending the wheat fields on
her father’s land. She had been dressed in a pale blue smock, its hem unraveling at the seams. It was dusty and rumpled,
looking more to me at home on the back of a broken down mule. Her feet were bare, bleeding in places, her ten toes
covered in rich and fertile soil. Her head was wrapped in a red scarf; oily beads of sweat cutting tracks of dust down the
line of her jaw, her neck.

But, despite this, she was beautiful: a fair maiden with eyes of purest blue standing in the midst of a dreary field of grain
beneath steel-plated skies. But I had no intentions of stopping that morning on my way to the marketplace. The clouds
were threatening rain and I had business to take care of in town. A matter of a small debt, you understand, that I had
with Mr. Tarvis, a rather prosperous merchant who was given to rash acts of violence when not paid back in a duly
fashion.

But Lanora’s beauty compelled me that day…compelled me as easily as the whip drives the horse. I resisted, ordering
myself to avert my eyes downward, to keep them on the straight and narrow as the road ran. Arguing with myself that I
had no earthly business whatsoever in thinking that maybe I should stop, drop the dear creature a smile and chat.
When I found myself doing that very thing, despite what my better intentions insisted upon. I stopped, standing there
on the shoulder of the deserted road. Lanora, her hands wrapped firmly around the handle of a woven basket, took
notice of my arrival. She smiled then, full lips pulled back over sparkling teeth that nearly had me blushing. She waved
and I returned the gesture, approaching her in eager, but tentative steps. I had broken into a light sweat and mopped at
my forehead with the back of my hand, feeling more and more foolish like a school boy being sent to the corner for
passing love notes during class.

“Good morning, sir,” she said in a soft voice that was nearly a whisper.

I was standing a few feet from her by then, trying in vain to remember how my cursed tongue worked. A truly infernal
gadget—the tongue!

When I finally found my voice, I was stammering and most certainly shame-faced. Lanora, her beauty, an almost
physical presence and oppressive, like a slap of cold water on a hot day.

“G…Good morning, ma’am,” I replied. I removed my hat, trying to straighten out the unruly black locks of my morning
tousled hair. It was a feeble attempt and I felt she knew it, so I offered my hand instead. “The name is Stanley or Stan
for short. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms…”

She was silent a moment, a moment that hung like sweet honey dripping from the comb, then answered, “Lanora; my
name is Lanora and it’s very nice to make your acquaintance Stan. Are you going into town?”

I nodded, returning my hat to my otherwise empty head.

“Yes, yes I am. A bit of business I need to take care of.”

She smiled, nodding as if she understood perfectly.

“Town is still two miles yonder, Stan. Why not rest yourself for awhile, here with me?”

I’m sure my face must have betrayed me, for Lanora stepped back in surprise, her soft features now in a display of
alarm and puzzlement. Indeed, I was in shock by her open offer, but had only been trying to find the correct answer,
the words a young poet might use to woo his dearest love into his inner most chambers of desire.

Instead, my treacherous tongue had other plans. Vile beast!

“I…well…sure, if you don’t think…” I sputtered. “We…we could…”

But Lanora put a slender fingered hand to my chest, calming my racing heart.

“No, no, Mr. Walsworth,” she soothed, “I was merely suggesting that we sit for awhile over in the shade. I know I’m a
frightful mess at the moment, but it’s been so long since I’ve had the company of a man to talk to; and such a handsome
gentleman, at that.”

She giggled to herself, the sound of a young lass who’s discovered the secrets of little lads.

A growing warmth spread through my chest where Lanora’s hand was placed; not an uncomfortable feeling, but a
paradox of sensations that ran from light bending ecstasy into darkened halls of decay and rot. Beautiful, but deadly; a
rare flower grown by the gods, but not meant to be appreciated for its intoxicating odor. This was Lanora.

I stood there, dumbly, unable to answer, my mind spinning like a child’s pinwheel, a small distant part of me wondering
when I’d provided her with my last name. Had I? And if I had, what did it matter? This stunning creature before me was
inviting me to come and sit with her, to talk for awhile and get to know one another. Who was I to refuse? Who was I to
refuse sweet Lanora?

It was a minute, maybe two, before I regained any sense of recognizable composure. It was like waking from some
marvelous dream; my mouth still thick with dredges of sleep, my head foggy with smoky images and voices.

“Th…that would be wonderful, Lanora,” I managed. “But I must be getting to town soon. I have to go see…”

But she only laughed, taking my hand within hers and leading me across the small field of grain she’d been tending
toward a large stone sitting by its lonesome. A tree stood beside us, its leaves turning a bitter brown rustling in the light
breeze. A sad sound, I thought, like old memories dying.

“Sit here, Stan,” she said, pointing to the outcrop of rock. “We’ll talk awhile; you and I. Make ourselves comfortable
and learn about one another. Wouldn’t that be grand?”

I nodded silently and took a seat. She, still smiling that smile I’ll see forever in the gallery of my darkest dreams,
followed suit. Do dead men dream? I wonder.

And we talked.

Time passed. And still we talked; the darkening clouds above us rumbling in disapproval at our insolence to the
approaching storm. But neither of us cared, Lanora and I, caught up in the rapture of being with one another engaged in
intimate conversation. The sound of her voice weaving mystical tales of wonder to my ears. Her tongue, pink and
delicate like the petal of a rose, giving birth and pushing forth words of enchantment.

And then the whispering began. I know it sounds childish, but Lanora started it, I’m quite sure of this. I turned to catch
a look at her fierce beauty, but caught only the rim of one dark-circled eye, as her lips were suddenly pressed—
harshly—against my ear.

Lanora was nearly groaning now; deep, guttural sounds of desire and passion, pain and blood and a world of pleasures
yet unheard of by any mortal walking upon the earth. Her breath was hot and sweet, her words driving me into the
blackest of pits. Showing me what lay beyond for her and I: coupling like wild animals, free and unhindered by the laws
of nature, rending one another with new and sexual acts of depravity; a universe with no stars, terrible in its void, but
endless with stormy seas of barbaric lust. Time would have no meaning and we would rule as conquerors of a new
world where blood and agony and carnality would reign forever.

But there was more she had to tell me. Oh, yes, so much more.

Sacrifice. There would have to be sacrifice; the blood of children and newborn babes, women who had not yet known
the sins of the flesh and men who remained upright and righteous in the eyes of their gods. They would perish, all of
them, their blood flowing like the sweetest of wines and Lanora knew how. She showed me with her words; images of
children being put to the lash and the stake, young women crucified under barren skies of gray, their life’s blood
collecting in vessels nestled beneath their virgin feet.

But the men would be different, Lanora told me, much different, because a holy man, a man of virtuous living, was
special…magic. A death for a man like that demanded a crowd, spectators to witness the triumph of evil over good. And
there was only one method that Lanora could think of as suitable: The Guillotine.

It was in that moment something snapped within me. I could almost hear it over Lanora’s words, like a weak branch
breaking in a stiff wind. I turned; pulling my head away from her vile lips and saw her for what she truly was. My eyes
had been blinded and I had been foolish, for what sat beside me was not born of blood and flesh, but of something that
lurked beneath the fears of all men; a creature of the purest evil, an eater of souls. Remorseless, insatiable, relentless,
but worst of all…ambitious.

Lanora shifted beside me, her guise of beauty now wondering and confused. She meant to ask me something, perhaps
as to why I pulled away from her devilish siren song, but I never gave her the chance. Under the dire circumstances, I
couldn’t.

Before she could speak, before she could utter one more word of her beguiling witchery, I found my hands suddenly
around her supple throat. Squeezing, squeezing until her eyes fluttered, her perfect mouth opened in an ‘O’ of surprise.
Her blood red scarf came loose from the tangles of her flaxen hair, dancing its way down to the soft earth where it
would forever lay. And still I squeezed, the muscles in my arms twitching like vibrant wires. Squeezing…squeezing.
I cannot tell you how long this lasted, because I have no memory of when Lanora finally succumbed to my assault. Ten
minutes? Thirty minutes? Maybe longer, my only real memory being that her father found me sprawled across the
lifeless form of his only daughter, weeping uncontrollably and vulnerable. The farmer’s daughter who had never
committed an evil act in her entire life, except care for her two younger brothers and wait upon her father. Lanora’s
skull had been crushed, or so they told me, caved-in under the weight of large rock found in my right hand. I have no
recollection of this, but I do believe I did what had to be done, despite the consequences.

***
My hour is at hand now. And as my dreams have predicted, the scene that stands before me is of no surprise. The smell
of the air hanging heavy in the post-dawn light. The crowd looking on silently, vigilantly waiting for me to slip my head
between the wooden stocks that will secure my death. Waiting for the executioner in his midnight mask to yank the
rope that will release the blade—all twenty-two pounds of it—neatly severing the soft flesh of my neck, cutting through
muscle and bone, until my head plops neatly into a woven basket made of straw, much like the one that Lanora  carried.
The crowd will oooh and ahhh and a few may scream, but in the end they’ll all go back to their dismal hovels and
meaningless lives with only their dreams to give them comfort.

But, Lanora will be waiting for me. I pray she will. So beautiful, but yet filled with a power that I cannot understand,
even unto death. She’ll be waiting on the other side, her pale and slender arms open, beckoning, waiting for me to cross
over that black river known as death. She’ll smile, that knowing smile I told you about and begin to whisper.

Sweet Lanora.