I started doing some research on death by guillotine because Bridget Hardy, a character in my upcoming novel “Ambassador” will enter the Next World this way. As writers, we are always told “write what you know” and as Captain Obvious would state, I don’t have first hand experience with this. But I have experienced some medical nightmares that give me bits and pieces of agonies endured.
Pinterest, a.k.a. “The Worst Time-Suck Since Facebook”, has provided me with some interesting pictures and stories.
I could hope that the NSA is not tracking my Googling and such, because I can see how this could be misinterpreted, but we are know they are, so I’ll just carry on with my tale.
Although death by guillotine is obviously not a party:
Compared to the methods of execution in use prior to that, it was actually a “scientific” and relatively efficient and humane method. Much preferable to being hung, shot, beheaded by an ax, burned, racked, etc. –Lea Woodard
The blade of a guillotine is slanted, not straight, causing swift cutting action completed in milliseconds. But while the death itself is supposedly fast and relatively painless, I’m sure the anticipation leading up to losing one’s head is dreadful.
There are pulley assemblies which are used to put the blade into position:
The blade was hoisted up with a rope running over two small pulleys lodged in slots within the top crossbar. –History of the Guillotine
Anyone who’s head was under the blade would hear the blade coming down the path and cringe.
I watched a few videos on YouTube. Of course you have to promise that you are really over 18.
While I should write what I know, I don’t know much about how a person would feel emotionally upon facing the blade.
So I thought: I will use my recent MRI experience as a springboard into that cruel world. I have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and my doctor ordered an MRI to get a better look at the tumor.
Oh yes, the MRI tube, the device that turns manly men into Chicken Little. One would think that being confined to a small space would be comforting, like the womb–but quite the opposite, it scares the Dickens out of us.
I was instructed to lie face down on the table [which in guillotine speak is known as a bascule]. The Physician Assistant, [or in guillotine speak, the executioner] maneuvered me into position by pulling and tugging my body just so, to make my head line up where it needed to be, [the lunette] and my breasts went into a little plastic window area. I was told not to move. Every nervous breathe I took was uneasy; since I was lying on my stomach, my weight was pressed down upon the bascule.
The assistants‘s voice spoke over the speakers, “Okay, stay still.” (If this were a real execution, I, the victim, would be strapped in, but I digress.) “We will now begin.”
The executioner mechanically slid the bascule back into position. I then heard the loud wah-wah-wah overhead, and imagined the voices of those who hated me yelling, “You will get what you deserve!”
I kept my eyes closed tightly and struggled for every breath, self-conscious of my every movement.
I was too cold, then I was too hot. There was nothing I could do about either situation, I couldn’t even complain, because that would involve moving. If I moved we would have to start from the beginning.
Oh, can we just get this over with, I thought.
Hmm, I wonder if that is what a guillotine victim would think? Yes, I think so.
I was held in an uncomfortable position which caused my back to hurt, my legs hurt, my neck hurt. Of course nothing would hurt my neck quite as much as a guillotine blade.
In 2008, I had breast cancer and endured a lumpectomy and radiation. Here are a few snippets of that experience:
My right breast was compressed into the mammography machine and held in place so that a metal wire could be inserted into the tumor, which signifies to the surgeon where to operate. Although I had been given pain killers, my body rebelled against the foreign wire and I began to feel faint. With no chance of escape, I mumbled to the technicians that I was going to fall over. Where would I fall, into the machine forward, or backward taking the machine with me as I crashed to the ground?
Trapped. Helpless. In pain. In a place that I don’t want to be.
I am held prisoner on the cold metal table, and the fire of the radiation burns my right breast. I must lie still so I don’t disrupt the cable which is attached to the radiation seed inside my breast.
The roster of the patients scheduled for treatment today is displayed on the computer screen on the right side of the room. Suddenly, the screen changes and displays a “Real Estate for sale” website. Pictures of houses scroll by as I realize that the technician who is supposed to be monitoring my radiation treatment is house shopping. I am just one of a long line of numbers to be processed.
Just one in an assembly line of victims.
So although I obviously have never been guillotined, I think I have enough fodder to write a life-like scene. And who is going to tell me that I’m wrong?
* * *
The following is an excerpt from my upcoming novel, “Ambassador.”
“Bridget Hardy, step forward.”
A little man in his party uniform grabbed my handcuffed arms, yanked me from the crowd and pushed me into the queue of people, the other non-compliants. Little Man then pulled Kathy up onto the platform in front of the guillotine and the executioner. Kathy turned and spoke to the executioner. His eyes bugged wide and he stepped back. I was unable to hear her words over the jeering of the crowd, the loud chorus of hate which vibrated through my body.
Little Man pushed Kathy up against the standing bascule, strapped her in, and then it pushed down and forward into position, like an ironing board setting up for its purpose.
The executioner released the lever. The pulleys and rope rumbled and a thwap sounded as her head hit the basket. A shiver tore through me. The smell of fresh blood, the blood of my friend, invaded my nostrils, causing my heart to propel my own plasma to shoot through me, straightening my fingers in a flash. My entire body shook.
A demonic pit crew dumped her body sideways into a cart and wheeled it away. A new cart replaced the old one.
A thin man took her head from the front basket, held it up to the crowd which then shrieked with glee. Her head was then taken to the front room to be placed on display with the others, the ones I had seen when I was first brought to this building.
I watched this process repeated for the people in the queue, one by one.
Then the executioner straightened the bascule back up—for me.
I inhaled, and set my mind on Jesus and the great gift that He bought for me when He died on the cross. Hands pushed me forward again, my body forced against the bascule. “Do you have any last words, Christian?” the executioner asked. I looked into his dead black eyes, then to his smirking mouth. I closed my eyes and focused. “I am not afraid to die, this is only my beginning. Are you afraid to die?” I opened my eyes, and watched his wide eyes change to a squint; his jaw tightened.
Little Man walked over to assist strapping me against the bascule. The straps tightened around me and I fought for each breath. The bascule slid into position, and Little Man yanked my neck into position to line up with the lunette, and pushed the other half of the circle down onto the back of my neck. As the pulleys rumbled I waited for the blade to pierce the back of my neck but instead, peace enveloped me and ushered me into a deeper dimension.
I saw a throne, and a King sitting upon the throne, and there was a rainbow around the throne.
<End of excerpt>
* * *
That’s a scene from my upcoming novel, “Ambassador.”
I’m using true-life experiences to carry over into fiction. As you can see, it’s really not that far of a jump.
4 thoughts on “Guillotine Practice”
I think you’re doing very well at writing what you know. Some feelings are universal. Excellent excerpt.Can’t wait to read the whole thing.
Thank you Anna. Anyone who has faced the MRI tunnel knows the fear.
I agree ~ you described your experiences perfectly and they certainly do fit in with the guillotine of the past. Kudos on the excerpt as well.
Thanks for your comments Terri. I hope I never have to do another mri.