ALL FALL DOWN
The Triumph of Evil
A ring, a ring o' roses,
A pocket full o' posies,
Atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down.
Popularly believed to be a medieval nursery rhyme describing the symptoms and rapid demise of anyone suffering from the Black Death.
PART 1DECLINE AND FALL
The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it.
George Orwell 1903—1950
1PAUL AND CLAUDE
To the sound of gunfire in the forest, two boys push their bikes up a long, steep hill.
'Shit it's hot,' pants Paul, 'and it's much further than I thought. Merde!'
Paul and Claude have heard shooting all afternoon, but the hunt will soon be over and the boys want to see what the hunters in a nearby hamlet have shot.
After the action the chasseurs drive through the village in their rusty vans with dead animals tied to their roof racks and bonnets. Wild boars, foxes and deer leave trails of blood all over the cobbled streets. It drives the village dogs mad.
It is always great fun when the hunters congregate in the bar to drink and re-live their experiences, talking and shouting and arguing about what they've done, what good shots they are, and how clever they've been to outsmart the game they've killed.
'Putain, oui! But it's not far now,' responds Claude. 'And we'll soon see what they've got. Come on. Keep going.'
The winding country road meanders through neat vineyards before entering a splendid oak forest. Beneath the trees on the narrow track it is hot, dry and dusty. The two French teenagers, Paul Leran and his best friend Claude Masson, are nearing the crest of the steep incline that leads to the hilltop village.
Claude is Paul's best friend. They sit next to each other at school in Madame Medoc's class. They've known each other for a long time, and Paul has worked out that Claude is exactly one year, two months and six days older than him.
Although almost everyone knows what it is, Paul and Claude share a secret: they are both in love with Jacquie DuPont.
Paul has borrowed his father's bicycle, which is quite old, but very well looked-after. Claude has his own bike, which is almost new, but not nearly as well kept as Paul's dad's. They dismount where the hill gets steeper, and walk next to their bikes, pushing them uphill towards a few very old houses grouped around a hotel.
They pass an old, rusted road sign. On it, a fading Michelin Man points to: 'HOTEL DU LION D'OR 2 Kilometres?.'
Claude pretends to pull out a revolver. He points his finger at Paul, and makes the sound of a gun firing.
'POW! Got you. Right in the head! You're dead!'
'Bullshit! You missed. You're such a useless shot.'
The boys push on until more buildings come into view. As they approach the hotel, they hear outbursts of loud laughing and talking and shouting. The festive atmosphere means the hunt must have been successful.
'Come on. Let's get on our bikes again,' suggests Paul. 'The boys will think we're wimps if they see us pushing. And so will the girls.'
A group of hunters has gathered outside the village bar where an old woman in black is hard-pressed to keep up with their orders.
The chasseurs are all wearing boots and old clothes like they do every day, but their pants are held up by cartridge belts. A few of them still have ammunition pouches over their shoulders. Everyone is having a good time. Shotguns are propped up against the tables. A pack of exhausted hunting dogs lies about in the fading sunlight. But they are dead-tired now after racing about all day with their masters, and most of them were just lying about whimpering or snoring in their sleep. Every now and again, one struggles to its feet, walks about on stiff legs for a while, and then collapses again with the rest of the pack.
A few guns are leaning against the wall of the outside toilet. A line of men is queuing up to use it. Most of those waiting have glasses in their hands, drinking while they wait. They are making the usual jokes—comparing the noise their guns make and the sounds coming from the toilet. Even the boys have heard these jokes many times before, but the hunters always find them hilarious. And this results in loud, exaggerated laughter.
'Let's have a look around the back,' says Claude. 'That's where the animals will be. And it's where the butchers will do their work.'
Behind the hotel are several large metal cauldrons with fires burning under them to heat the water.
Four wild boars hang from a pole slung between two trees. They turn slowly on their ropes revealing different aspects of their bodies. All the village kids are there, but they take no notice of Paul and Claude.
One of the pigs is just a baby, about the size of a small dog. Slimy, red gobbets of blood and strings of white mucus drip from its mouth.
Every now and then a kid gives it a shove, and the trickle turns into a stream of gore.
'M-merde!' Paul has a mild stammer that becomes more prominent when he's anxious. 'Just look at all the blood.'
'Merde's right. There's shit everywhere. What a smell! And that white stuff coming out of the small one's mouth looks just like cum.'
Paul doubles over laughing. 'Shut up you fool. They'll think we're a pair of wankers.'
A raucous group of men arrives. All are dressed in camouflage hunting gear except for two who have on smart white outfits and rubber boots. They are carrying an assortment of knives, and one man brings in an axe and a saw.
Paul whispers to Claude, 'They must be the butchers.'
'Yes, they are. The one in charge is Monsieur Bonner. And this is the gory part. I always find it quite exciting, but even if you don't like it, don't let it show. If they see that you're feeling sick, they'll think you're a bloody baby.' He gives Paul a playful shove.
Two of the pigs are large males. More raucous laughter breaks out when the spectators make the standard jokes about the genitalia that stick out prominently from each animal's body.
Bonner climbs up onto a stool and asks his assistant to hold the largest boar's legs apart. He has assumed the authority of a priest during mass. He is in charge, and he wants everyone to know it.
And he is quite a showman. Just when he appears to be about to start, he stops, and starts to sharpen his knife.
Then, using an enormous blade he makes a long incision down the belly of the pig from its neck to its genitals.
To Claude's disgust Paul looks away. 'M-merde! You never told me about this part.'
'Shut up! They'll start laughing at us if you carry on like this.'
The cut is about a centimeter deep, and, at first, nothing happens. The butcher gets down off his box, and moves it a little further away from the carcass. Then, with his knife held out to judge the distance, he makes a few quick slashes and the abdominal cavity opens. There is a sickening, sloshing sound as the viscera explode out of the boar's belly and splash across the floor like a red carpet. The animal's blood spurts everywhere. A cheer goes up from the onlookers who jump out of the way of the bloody entrails. Bonner smiles like a magician who had just pulled a rabbit out of a hat.
'Putain!' shouts Claude and he joins in the shouts of applause and clapping.
Paul turns towards the door. 'Let's go. I've had enough of t-this.'
'Just stay put you prick!' hisses Claude. 'Everyone will think you're a bloody baby.'
So they stay to watch the butchery repeated on all the carcasses. Each time there is a shout of approval as the innards burst out and hit the ground. The floor is soon awash with blood and gore and the smell is overpowering.
Then the butchery proceeds to the next stage, the skinning and cutting up of the carcasses. That's what the axe and the saw are for. But the main excitement is over, and they can go outside without attracting any attention.
Claude marches boldly through piles of intestines and excrement on the floor. But Paul is much more cautious as he picks his way through the blood and guts.
As they leave Paul can't help looking back one last time. Monsieur Bonner's apron has turned bright red. He looks like a Spanish cardinal at Easter, but without the miter. His face and neck and head and hair are all flecked with pieces of pig meat and splashes of blood.
'Hurry up! Let's get out of here before everyone realizes why we're leaving. You really are such a goddam wimp, Paul.'
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ALL FALL DOWN is published as an eBook by Buzzword Books, Australia 2013
P.O. Box 7, Cammeray 2062
© Copyright 2016 Ray Johnstone. All rights reserved.