The Show At Grand Guignol

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  No Houses

A short story written for AnarchyBlues' Halloween contest. Two rather suspicious French gentlemen in the 1900's sneak backstage in the Grand Guignol, a small theater which puts up morbid and lurid performances. When they speculate a true horror might be lurking behind the curtains , however, things take a turn for the worse. WORD COUNT; 2.563

James Kingston


I shall not say what it was that transpired on that dreary night of mid-October, which led me to this dank, ancient cell of the Reumond Sanitarium. Not before I outline the events taking place prior to that night, at least.

There was in Paris, on 20 bis, rue Chaptal, a rather small theater, Le Theatre Du Grand Guignol, where I used to spend quite several of my tranquil afternoons with other fellow writers like me. I used to meet a plentitude of literary people, or even laymen , and we all reveled in the rather wretchedly entertaining shows of the lurid and the macabre staged on that place.

The theater’s quirky feat was always how strikingly realistic the plays were. There was some sort of gripping verisimilitude concerning the ways and vagaries of life. Of the murders and the assassinations present in every show I knew; Yet of the precise way in which the producers achieved such a stupendous effect on the audience, me not excluded, I failed to.

  The blood, the murder weapons, the imbroglio patterns of the vast matrices forming the scenery in the background, appeared to be dazzlingly captivating too.

But on October 31, 1904, the show went on in a horrifyingly weird manner. I was convinced there had to be some dark, eerie explanation for the perfected simulations of the plays, and was determined to slightly bend the law in my endeavor to prove myself right. My dear fidus achates, Gustav de Cartier, was always accompanying me to the plays, yet appeared to be disregarding of my rather strange suppositions.

‘’C’est simplement un theatre, Louie’’ He kept telling me. To this day, I know not how I convinced him to be my accomplice in my little venture on that night.

Le Grand Guignol would be putting up L’Homme de la Nuit; a play about a virulent, demented man who was sneaking into graveyards come nightfall to exhume, and proceed to unimaginable acts with the cadavers. Every single play of the Grand Guignol I had witnessed , involved such a galore of blood and masked assassins, r saturnine, harrowing faces donning skeleton costumes and the like. I surmised L’Homme de la Nuit would bear no discrepancy. I was convinced the executors would go on to give the audience a truly glorious performance and the murders would take everyone aback. Reports had it there were people fainting, occasionally , as well. And then the huge curtains would be drawn after the ‘killing’ scene for the actors and actresses to exeunt and new, innocent victims of the next act to be introduced. I had to see what was going on backstage during those times. I had to. Curiosity might have killed the cat, yet it was already lacerating my entrails not to know.

Hence I had spent my last few shows observing the theater, which was not that spacious, yet was filled with crevices and alcoves for the performers to prepare in. The two guards always bet on the fear and terror of the spectators to keep them on their seats, or the edge of them for that matter, and therefore did not always have a visual of the entirety of the space. Exit number 3 on the right wing, in particular, had been almost unchecked for the past three consecutive nights. We would sneak in there with Gustav when the lights were out, after the second act, and see for ourselves how these geniuses were pulling off the effects.

And when the time came, we saw how the man from the show, ensconced under an ever-terrifying Venetian mask, used to fornicate with the corpses and then eviscerate them in a wicked salvo of wretched satisfaction and ribald, roué Saturnalia. It was the ideal time for us to by-pass the screaming audience in our black garments and crawl to Exit 3, under the dim, incandescent light of the lamps, unnoticed.

Yet little did we know that this would be the gravest of our mistakes. For the guards might not have found us, but what we say back there would scar us for life; Piles and piles of massacred, rived carcasses all stacked together, reeking of dead, desiccation and of bloated gases and blood, instigated by the rather prolonged Rigor Mortis.

‘In all heavens, Gustav’ I remember exclaiming. ‘They are not staging the murders. They are executing  them!’

At this point, grant me permission to state that our predicament was not entirely  abrupt and arbitrary. Our abstruse nature characterizing us on the following days was only the culmination of unquiet, riveting and excruciatingly unsettling hunches we had had, shortly before that night at the theater. Gustav was mainly derogatory to anyone who believed such tales as those I shall mention, yet the events unfolding after we beheld that vomital array of massacred cadavers saturated in viscous, slimy blood and intestines torn to ribbons, provided him with an extent of indubitably and utterly compelling cogency.

Tales and laymen’s yarns of ‘Le Vampire de Montparnasse’ had always harrowed the folks gathering in taverns or bistreaux late at night during the hours when the mind was stirring up unthinkable concatenations of dreaded, unfathomed creatures and daemons; Bone-chilling thoughts of things that should not be thought, and telling of things that should not be told.

A French sergeant named Francois Bertrand was rumored to have been afflicted with a severe case of necrophilia. He had visited tons of graveyards and tombs to unearth the sleeping dead and sexually violate them, much like L’Homme de la Nuit, before slicing them up and disemboweling them. I forced my mind to avoid contemplating of any connexion to those tales, upon witnessing those bodies on October 31, yet even the ever-realistic, ‘down to Earth’ non-believer Gustav, could now be labored with such sulky, unnamed thoughts.

For when we attempted to vamoose that night and alert the audience to set foot for the nearest province, we saw the curtains drawing across the stage as the people were clapping in leering, wicked enthusiasm mixed with thrill, and the very actor playing L’Homme De La Nuit, heading straight for us. Yet when he removed that doggoned mask, we beheld a face very well known in the papers during the past months; That of Francois  damned Bertrand!

‘You should never have seen what you have seen’ he spoke to us, in a hoarse, daemonic voice. ‘Now Your Halloween is ruined…’

During the act, L’Homme had seduced an innocent woman; blonde, radiant and immensely pulchritudinous. Yet he had proceeded to slaughter her and encapsulate her corpse in a wooden casket. The curtains had been drown in the nick of time, but we saw that what the viewers thought was the staged murder was, ipso facto, an actual one!

The poor woman had a huge cicatrice on her neck, and Francois’ mouth was full of blood.

‘Oh mon Dieu! Le Vampire de Montparnasse!’ I heard Gustav hearken.

  Instinctively, I attempted to reach the tiny passage which we had ere traversed, yet for some reason, Francois was there before me.

‘You are no vampire!’ I hollered. ‘You’re but a perverted, horrifying charlatan! You put up plays here yet you murder the actresses for real! This is why your shows are so veritable!’

I refused to believe in anything other than that explanation, in a role reversal with Gustav, who was now convinced this man was  demon. He must have been abetted by many other miscreants, I fathomed, for I witnessed a bevy of young girls keeping the crowd occupied after they saw Bertrand dealing with us. What an ill-fated career they would have, I thought to myself.

Yet the fight or flight instinct burnt is us like a scintilla of determination, as Gustav grabbed a fake skeleton simulacrum from a storage room and darted it towards Francois. Granting me precious escape time, I looked fervently for a weapon around me, and stumbled upon an old sword.

Francois drew one of his and the steel clashed for a good ten minutes, while the audience outside was growing impatient with the delay of the next act. When Gustav grasped a pile of Spider props from a rusty old coffee table and tossed them at Bertrand’s face, I espied a small wooden ladder which I hastily ascended. If I could reach the top,  I would pull the curtain fulcrum and show everyone what this wretched, mentally demented , necrophilic mountebank was hiding.

‘Run! He is after you!” I heard Gustav shouting at me, when I beheld Sergeant Bertrand swiftly slashing Gustav’s head, sending it lying to the pile of female carcasses, in an oozing fountain of blood, sinews and grey matter.

All sorts of hellish demons from the nethermost crevassed of the land of Bilial could then be traced on Bertrand’s face, laced in blood, as he turned to come for me. In my delirium, I could not help but feel for myself this undeniably evil aura of something supernatural being amiss.

‘Pull yourself together’ I muttered. ‘You are Louis Bivouac. Your friend Gustav was just decapitated by the very same monstrous cad who is after you. Pull the curtains up. Just…Pull the curtains up.’

But try as I might, Francois reached me in inhuman speed, as I tripped over a pile of crates, struggling to balance myself on the groggy, wooden lattice constructions used from the curators for the effects. I was wondering where on Earth the rest of the Grand Guignol employees were, but I realized I pretty much knew the answer, looking at the tons of bodies.

A scalding blow of his sword on my shoulder pulled me out of my deep recesses, as I swung back to deliver my swing to his abdomen. I was content to see him bleed too, but soon he grabbed my shirt and pulled me by the collar to the edge of the wooden stump. One shove and I would be meeting poor Gustav.

And then, as all sorts of terrible thoughts were inundating my tardily going-insane mind, I was reminded of what the old concierge during the inchoate stages of Le Grand Guignol’s success had once said to me, when I had inquired about what drove the producers to such morbid acts.

‘You gotta give the audience what the audience wants’ his voice rang in my head.

  And so, as I was on the brink of plummeting to the jaws of Charon, I cut the very wooden stump’s edge , sending us both crumbling down. But as we were collapsing and accosting the opposite wall, my stretched hand found the fulcrum and pulled it.


What came next I can only recount as an unexplainably coincidental, fortunate turn of events. For as I naturally jumped with all my strength right towards the front seats so as to land on people, I saw Francois dropping from the upper constructions and being stabbed by a humongous piece of the wooden stake. This time the viewers were bright enough to realize it was not all a cursed stunt, and dispersed in anguish and terror, as I was shoved away by a mob of gentlemen, desperate to leave that hellish theater, as they saw the stack of carcasses and Gustav’s severed head.

While the police were being notified, I bolted to the exit, knocking down the Halloween props of spider webs and dog carrions. Exiting amongst the havoc-wreaking conglomeration, I maddeningly ran towards the old willow tree path, to avoid the police who would ostensibly be after me. Seeing the ‘citrouilles’ lain on the sidewalks, I truly wondered how opportunistic the stores must have been. Halloween was never truly celebrated here, yet the American element was many a time imported to Paris from the internationally themed plays of Le Grand Guignol. Did those things really matter though, or was it just a failed attempt of my mind to sooth me in those moments of stultifying and stupendous terror?

  I fumbled with some of the last pumpkins straggled all over the surrounding yard of the theater , and rushed further away to the outskirts, right for the mounts and the graveyard sites.

I knew not what my next move would be, but I had a disconcerting thought on my mind, ever since we saw the bodies with Gustav. I sincerely struggled with my own conscience to find reasoning behind Francois’ unusual acts, so much that the baying of hounds from the police did not even derange me.

For I had been raised as a scholar with yet a conventionally open mind. But If what I thought was, indeed, accurate , then all the gory sightings and events of that October 31st night would have taken on a wholly different meaning.

I am jotting down those last few words in a journal I was allowed to keep in my short time here, before I get drugged for a diagnosis of ‘ acute paranoia and necrophilia.’ Doggoned police chiefs! They were accusing ME of the murders. When they found me screaming and hollering at that graveyard, I kept stammering that Francois Bertrand’s body was lying on Le Grand Guignol for them to go and find!
Yet talks of a desiccated, blackened corpse crisped to ashes-with unrecognizable facial characteristics- was all they found of the person I claimed to be ‘Francois Bertrand’ . Never having witnessed the face of what the press informally called ‘Le Vampire de Montparnasse’ , they deduced it must have been me.

I wish I could prove them wrong. Fro the rest of my ostentatiously bitter, fenced, drugged life, I will be wishing that.

‘HE exists! He is a monster! He was truly a Vampire!’ I was screaming at the officers seizing me from the cemetery. ‘I killed him at the theater! He was a monster!  A demon! A vampire! HE was the VAMPIRE OF MONTPARNASSE!!!’

  They did not listen to me. For they did not know what was on my mind ever since we saw the bodies with Gustav. For they did not know what it was which caused me to rush further away to the outskirts, right for the mounts and the Graveyard sites. I never truly believed in Vampires. Yes, I fancied the gainsays and the tales, but deep inside, I never actually thought that blood-sucking monsters walked the Earth, and that Sergeant Francois Bertrand was one of them, too.

But it was not the numerous tales of superior strength and agility in vampires that I saw on Francois, which led me here. I t was not the pile of corpses he had , or the blood on his mouth, neither was it the caskets he was sleeping in, in that storage room. It was not even the fact that his body had perished to ashes after being stabbed with the wooden stake.

It was what I saw and confirmed at the graveyard, which made think of what should not be thought; Of what should not be contemplated; Of the Demons of the Night.

‘Immortal undead who rise at nightfall to suck the blood of the living’ I used to say and scornfully laugh at the descriptions, deeming them nothing more but an old wife’s tale.

Yet what I found at the graveyard on that night they seized me, was this ; A tombstone of a man who had died 100 years ago, reading ‘IN LOVING MEMORY OF SERGEANT FRANCOIS BERTRAND’ !!!!!!



Submitted: October 09, 2016

© Copyright 2021 James Kingston. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:


Oleg Roschin

Wow, what a ride! I love the heavy, old-fashioned writing in this one - it brings the reader closer to the actual timeframe of the narrative. You create a unique atmosphere full of suspense. "Gothic" horror at its best!

Fri, June 16th, 2017 8:52am


Thank you very much for your kind words, Oleg! I tried as much as I could to convey signs of such an ambiance! Glad to see it paid off!
-James Kingston

Fri, June 30th, 2017 10:03am

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