Exclusive excerpt from Vorrh 2 by B. Catling

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The wind dropped again and the wooden flurry of clacking leaves were still, as was everything else, save the bound figure below, who still clenched himself taut against his restraints. The eerie quiet was broken by a pox-faced youth at the front of the crowd. He started to blow at the tree, in the manner of one attempting to extinguish a distant candle. Then, out of the stunned silence, others joined in, until the entire audience was violently puffing at the stage. A few leaves twitched and the excitement increased. They blew harder and harder, some turning scarlet and purple with the effort. Then a great breeze came, spinning out from the Vorrh, as if it had decided to join in the sport.

The tree rattled and a further stressing could be heard in the latch of the blade. Suddenly and with great force Adam’s head sprang back to confront the crowd, the hand holding the apple shooting up to his mouth where it embedded. His other hand grabbed at his chest. The snake had now twisted the entire length of the branch and come to a halt, its head now clearly visible and glaring at the crowd. There was a sharp cracking sound as the head of Adam began to break breaking from his body, wrenching open his chest. The grab of the blade parted and sent the splitting knife rattling down. Adam’s chest flew open, exposing all the inner organs in a bright array of varnished colours. Beisner’s head could be heard scuttling down the canvas funnel into the unseen sand box below. The bascule tilted and sent his shivering, wood-clad body noisily through the trap door. Adam’s head was now completely removed from the body, attached only to his hand via the apple, as if the jaw had locked onto it. Slowly and with sedate deliberation the internal organs began to slide out of the chest cavity, where a viscous substance had kept them in place. They began to slither forward from the tilted figure, gaining a heavy momentum against the honey-thick slime. Gradually they tumbled and fell languidly on to the resounding hollow stage. A long stream of mucous-like jelly bridged the floor and the open body, gleaming in the morning light and now providing the only movement in the jaunty breeze. The leaves, and all else, moved no more.

The audience, some still frozen in the act of puffing, stared in disbelief, their eyes like saucers. The spell was broken by the discreet snake spiraling back into its position of invisibility. The crowd went wild. They bellowed, they whistled, they clapped and hooted. They all started talking at once, explaining to each other what they thought they had just witnessed. Some tried to climb the scaffold to collect a souvenir or just touch the carved bright heart or the varnished white lungs. They were quickly repelled by an armed guard who entered the stage with five other men to unfold the canvas screens that shielded the apparatus from view. The crowd dispersed to bars and shabby halls and continued to celebrate all day.

Behind the screens, the business end of the Guillotine was doused in buckets of water. Adam’s organs were lovingly collected, cleaned off and put in their holding case, as was his body as it was gently taken apart. The brilliantly engineered head was cleaned and reset for next time. The remnants of the snapping bar of brittle wood, that had produced the horrible sound effect, was removed from his neck and thrown away. The tree was fastidiously disassembled, its fragile inner moving parts padded and locked down to avoid damage in transit. All the individual parts of the machine would be polished and oiled before they were bedded away in their camphor smelling cases. They all worked with diligent attention for the next two hours while the wooden suit was stripped from the corpse below the stage. It would be hung by the city gates, empty and bloodstained. The birds would lovingly pick and splinter it until all sustenance was gone. The remains of Ralf Beisner were shovelled into a thick canvas sack and dragged to an unmarked grave, half full and thirsty with lime. There, the body would be reunited with the head, still locked in its wooden mask.

The inventors, the Commandeer of police and Deacon Tulp, had watched the execution with anxiety and growing relief. Their wind-triggered machine, which relinquished a great quantity of responsibility from the authorities, had worked perfectly and the mob had relished every second. Tulp opened champagne and joined in the party atmosphere. They engaged in conversation about the machine’s future; how somebody must be trained to be the overseer and technician, how adjustments for seasonal variations should be set into the control box beneath the scaffolding. This was very important because in the rainy season, with its storms and typhoons, the whole event could be over in minutes. This premature triggering would ruin the accumulative tension and destroy the crescendo of the theatrical finale.

Two floors up, with an even better view of the scaffold, Vladimir Krespka sipped at his specially imported Masala, while a black courtesan sipped at his temperamental but demanding erection. She had watched the entire event on her knees while servicing the old man’s appetite. He had wanted it that way. He could observe her response through the filter of distraction, feel her nips, pauses and other administrations that signalled her involvement with the actions on the scaffold below. He had seen and felt her become aroused. Not with him, of course – his wealth had long since replaced his vanity, at least in this particular enterprise. He could not be bothered to watch with the rest of the gaping horde. He was far too old to separate fleeting pleasure from tiresome business. He had arranged his napkin daintily around his member, having no intension of ruining another good suit with bothersome, embarrassing stains. It would have been good if he had climaxed in time with the ritual below, if the wind in the machine had also timed his ‘little death’ to match her disguised breathing, and the auto de fe below. But he needed longer these days and had to be satisfied with her now desultory manipulations, long after the great outburst in the crowd.

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