La Bête du Gévaudan: Ruelle d’Angelle
By Emily Allen
I soaked in the bin for what felt like hours; I may have even fallen asleep, but I do not know. The grandfather clock in the south parlor clanged that it was now ten in the morning. The whole of the village was awake now and they were counting and praying for their dead. Standing up inside the tub, I watched the red water plummet from my body and I grabbed a towel to cover my shame. My sweet mother had laid me some fresh clothes down in my room – a pair of brown breeches, a white shirt, blue vest; she had even laid me a cravat. Even though she had become unaware of my condition, she never wavered in her loyalty and affection. My soul became cursed at the age thirteen, my mother told me, and she also said that it was a familial disease, coming from my father.
“Ruelle?” my mother peered around the corner. “Are you decent enough for me to enter, my son?” There was no response to her question. “My son?” she opened the door more, entering upon the scene of me in only my breeches. Through my anger and blood-lust, my two most dominant emotions, I could smell hers – fear, desperation, and malice. My mother touched the bruises on my stomach and she winced even more than I did. Maybe, I thought, she blames herself more for bringing this wretched creature into the world than I blame myself for ripping people from it. The scent of abandonment rolled off her so strongly that I reached my arm out to console her, and she flung herself around, sobbing into my shoulder. She normally never cries over a phrase, so this must have been the final point before she could no longer take it.
“Mother, please, do not blame yourself for the demon you have birthed. To be seduced by a monster such as my father is nothing to be ashamed of.” I chuckled slightly whilst petting her hair: “we are quite handsome, you know!” I tried to comfort her and put as much facetiousness into my tone as I could stand. She breathed a laugh onto my skin before looking up at me worriedly.
“Oh, my sweet son. I do not blame anyone for anything. I loved your father almost as much as I do you. I weep now only because I fear for your safety.”
“My safety,” I laughed questioningly, framing her face with my big hands. She nodded inside of them and shuddered. “Of all the things that you could concern yourself with, you pick my safety. Do you not think I can take care of myself?” I laughed again. My mother turned quite serious all of a sudden when she looked away from me.
“Who all did you take last night? I need to know everyone, Ruelle.” The question was somewhat odd, since she hadn’t asked about my victims since I was a lad. I could recall each and every face along with each and every expression they had before, during, and after I killed them.
“Uhh, Antoine Bélanger and his sister Claire, the Deschamps sisters, Marie Lémieux, and then two men in armor.”
Then the pain from a dagger puncture on my side resurfaced, making its presence known. When I touched it to make the pain subside, it sent me back into my memories as the Beast, and I could see it all again through my cursed eyes. It was two men sitting around a fire just talking and drinking. They must have been travelers, since everyone knows to never be out during a full moon. I had smelled them from four miles away, for their stench traveled heavily and quickly. It must have been midnight, for I felt my strongest with the moon at its peak in the black sky. I crouched onto all four of my limbs and stalked close to them, around the bushes that surrounded their sad little camp. The two men were exceedingly drunk, so they were even easier prey than the two sisters I had just tracked down. I was breathing in the odor of their blood as it coursed in their veins; these men had the sweet, pungent smell of alcohol swirling around with the thick liquid in their bodies.
One of my favorite practices was to count the pulse to learn how my prey felt, what they were thinking. Most knew I was around them, somewhere, but they had no idea where. The pulse would jolt considerably right before they would decide to run. I waited for the jolt with these two soldiers, but it never came; instead the beating of their hearts was slowing as they were drifting to sleep, making themselves vulnerable to me.
I stalked closer in the brush to see my victims, only to find that both had their backs to me and one of them was a little closer. I had decided on my first one: he was short and rotund. I lunged forward and seized the first man by the throat and dragged him into the brush. The fat man tore and scraped at the ground, hopelessly trying to cling to some form of life, anything to catch himself. The first scream woke the other man, one of height and build, who reached for his dagger and scrambled to his feet. Blood, a sweet metallic liquor, ran hot in my mouth and down my throat, sending with it a frenzied need to kill. With the man still screaming and gurgling in his own blood, I tore into his flesh, ripping piece by piece, muscle from bone, until his screams were nothing more than squeals and faint sobs. Then, pain like a hot branding iron made me drop my prey. The second soldier was standing in shock when I rose onto my hind legs to stand up to my full height. The top of his head came only to the middle of my chest. He stumbled back into the dirt with so much fear that I think I probably could have opened his eyes to find it a tangible item after I ripped them from their sockets. My memory cut out when I took his throat in my jaws.
“My son?” my mother’s quaking voice broke in. I looked down at her and could almost see the little roads of blood that connected all through her small body. They jumped and pulsed just below her skin. Her firm hand grabbed my jaw and positioned my face to look in the mirror. What I saw startled me. The blackness of the Beast was coming back into my eyes, and I broke from her grip, rushing to the mirror.
“Mother?” I rubbed my eyes. “What is this? Why is it happening again?”
“Where did you go? Just now?” her cool voice asked as she sat down in the chair by the window.
“What do you mean?” I was futilely trying to rub the blackness from my eyes.
“In your mind, before I brought you back. You must have gone somewhere. It took you, for I watched as It began to eat your soul.” I understood what she meant and told her everything I had remembered. I had told her of my hunts every now and then, and she always had the same aloof expression. This time was different.
“It happened when I touched the stab wound on my side….” I reached for it again, but my mother’s hand shot out and intercepted me.
“Arrêtez! Why would you do it again?! Qu’est-ce qui ne va pas?!” she jolted the back of my head with her palm, making me growl at her. Mother shot me a look that had its own growl. Even though I could easily crush her, even though she has no chance of fighting me off, my mother had always been my alpha. I’m almost certain she could tame me whenever I was the Beast, but I would never dare try that.
“What does this mean? Have you ever seen it before, Maman?”
She rose from her chair and took my hands in both of hers. “Sadly, it is not good.” The concern grew on my face and she placed one of her small hands on my cheek. “It means you are embracing the Beast….”
I threw her hands from me at her words, but she continued.
“…and soon It will control you entirely.” It was almost as if she did not care about what she told me, as if nothing would come from it.
“What do you mean?!? ‘It will soon control you entirely’? ” I mocked her as though I were a child again.
“Ruelle. I have seen it before with your father.” Her small frame held more calm than I could even think about having.
“You are the goddess of aloofness. Tell me why you are not as troubled as I am? Tell me why you do not care?!?” I shouted at her. The sting of her palm across my cheek made me understand how much I was becoming an animal. My shame filled me completely and I collapsed on the floor in front of her, grabbing the hem of her dress. “Maman” was all I could whisper in my disgrace.
“I care. . . more for you . . . than I have cared for any other living soul,” she hissed. My eyes looked up at her when one of her tears dropped onto my hair. She would not even look into my eyes as I implored her to forgive me.
“Maman, please. Please help me.” But she only walked away from me.
“Go to the village and represent our family. I am grieving for the losses and am too hurt to come.”
The words were more painful than the stab wound on my side. She would come around to me again, though. She always would. Having now been completely scorned by my mother, I had to go into the village and act as if I knew nothing. In the earlier years, this was very difficult, and my mother would have to keep me home until I could control my emotions around the families who are no longer whole because of me. We keep no servants, even though we could afford it, because of the risk of their discovering me. Therefore, I have to do everything for myself. I have no appetite after the night, but I grabbed two apples anyway – one for Greysy our mare, and one for Aubine.