Laughter (The Laughing Wild Amidst Severest Woe Remix)
by Gemma Files

Remix of Laughter by Beth C.

Is it worse to be laughed at by the living, or the dead? To laugh, or be laughed at? To laugh and laugh, never knowing if you get the joke? Or, even, if there's a joke at all?

Of course there's a joke, dear Abbe: This whole dirty world's a joke played upon us by God, the ultimate comedian. Bastard whoremaster that he is.

I think you're thinking of yourself, Marquis.

God of my own personal world? I like that. A pause. Well, yes, my cherub; yes, indeed. I probably am.

But: No surprise there, not really. Is it?

The Marquis moves like the hallucination he is, languid and lithe at once--a flicker only sensed obliquely, from the corner of the Abbe's eye: Pacing, grinning, tempting. Death hasn't changed him much, it seems. De Sade, mad and mocking, forever the presumptuous aristocrat, always able to bribe or charm his way into an ammendment of almost anybody's standards--


Every day, outside his cell, the Abbe de Coulmier can hear Dr Royer-Collard's stiff shoes pass by with a vicious, clacking beat, like a pair of castanets. His replacement follows alongside, all eyes, clutching his Bible and clucking politely around the moral relativity of a Church-run asylum funded by pornography. Poor chicken, the Marquis calls him, then almost immediately shifts focus, idly observing: But a very fine arse on the young man nevertheless, don't you think? Going by what one can glean, through the cassock.

And: Leave me alone, you polluted spectre, the Abbe thinks of snapping back--but doesn't. Then bites his tongue on the notion instead, 'til it bleeds.

He's been alone, after all. For...

..some time, now.

Still, he knows the cure for that, well enough. It was the Marquis himself who told it to him, so long ago--back when that repetitive hack had teeth of his own, let alone a tongue: Create your own company, before you die of loneliness. And while the Abbe is, grantedly, no writer, his memories (already prodigious enough to produce ghosts from the cell walls) provide a blessed alternative to mere fiction. He uses quills, ink and paper provide by Madeleine's mother to copy the result down, then passes them out the the blind woman with his laundry; Royer-Collard has yet to spot the trick, or even to come looking for it.

The side-benefits of arrogance, my cherub. As I--and you--should know.

Dry, skittering voice in the Abbe's mind; dry, skeleton fingers at the back of his neck, in the sweat-soaked mat of curls, tracing where his collar used to sit. And if he only shuts his eyes tight enough, 'til the light through that grate out into the hall dims to pulsing, blood-vessel red, he can make it soften, sweeten. Can summon a very different sort of laughter, a very different sort of touch.

Madeleine stands always on his right side, the Marquis always on his left. Sometimes she is brisk and buxom in her usual uniform, unstained by anything but the sheen of an honest day's work, mischievious with secrets; sometimes she is sodden and bedraggled, her hair like weed, her skin waxy-cold.

Sometimes, especially when the day begins to darken, he can hear them whisper to each other--the Marquis whispering, mainly, with Madeleine interjecting a gasp or a snicker here and there, if and when his endless skein of fantasies grow particularly insupportable: Oh, you old lech! You talk the way you write.

Yes, yes. Are you quite sure we're not both dead enough for me to merit a turn at your charms yet, though, my darling?

Got a one-track mind, don't you? Besides, he's listening.

And loving every minute of the privilege, delicacy, never doubt it; just put your hand down his trousers, and see. A tiny feel, a quick polish of the priestly pikestaff--he'd thank you on bended knees, in the end. Especially seeing how he never seems to sink quite so low as to consider doing so on his own recognizance...

Which only provokes laughter, yet again--laughter, conjuring the stopped breath back into her lungs, the high and joyous pulse through her corpse's limbs; even the phantom, hovering warmth of her hand teasingly near one thigh, as though biding her time. But whenever the Abbe opens his eyes once more, hoping against hope to see her, it's nothing but the same old walls: Stone, dank, dripping. A spider's web in one corner. A rat's eyes, blinking, in the other.

Fresh, sad whiff of Madeleine's passage, like some too-familiar pain. The Abbe tries to summon her face, her smile, and fails miserably--there are holes in his head, growing, where her image used to be. Which is when the Marquis begins to whisper that they need to be filled with newer, rawer images...ones only he can provide, culled from empty pages with the sharp nib of a fresh-cut quill...

Despair? No. Inspiration.

For Madeleine, he finally sees, was the true star of every book de Sade ever wrote, even the ones dating from before he knew her; the bountiful vision of life even in the mouth of death, Our Lady of the Tumbrils. And each time the old blasphemer spat on the Holy Word or scourged himself--and others--to climax in pursuit of perverse pleasure, it was only a way of doing his idol, his anima, secret worship.

Here in this place, in their company, the Abbe understands at last how to unpick the knot his most recalcitrant charge took evil pride in pointing out lurks at the inmost heart of every person. He understands the Marquis's error, revealed through Madeleine's martyrdom: Though desire drives the engine forward, its erratic thrust alone does not...cannot...absolve the engine-maker of his, or her--or His--responsibility.

Virtue or vice, it's like prayer, in its own way; only words, 'till it's carried further. None of it must be acted upon.

The Abbe stuffs his fist into his mouth to muffle the rising hysteria and presses his head into the floor, as they laugh on around him--together, at all hours, at each other. At him.

While he alone laughs out loud, and only at himself. Thinking--

And God laughs too, I'm sure, at all of us. He must, mustn't he? He MUST...

But in Charenton, God--as ever--stays silent.


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