It felt like a lucid dream. I knew things were not really the way I see them - the way I hear them - the way I feel them, because it would be impossible for things to really be that way. Faces cannot hover in the air before your eyes, semi-opaque and ghostly; voices cannot ring in your ears from nowhere and everywhere at the same time; the wall behind your back cannot be deathly cold and yet searingly hot at once. I tried to force my eyes to remain open, to focus on something - anything, but the floating feeling in my head attenuated my attempts.
So I closed my eyes, hoping that I would sway less.
And instead of blurred images of the scene before me, the memories began to creep back into my mind. I see a girl, with auburn hair and a smile that threatens to split her face in two; I hear her tinkling laugh as she mocks Madame's empty threats; I feel her vice-like grip on my arm as she suddenly started choking, one hand clutching on her neck, her eyes bulging like they would pop out of her skull. Poor Coralie. She had always been so cheerful, so enthusiastic, seeing the world through a stained-glass window that made it so colourful and welcoming.
They were dropping dead like flies.
Aqila. Coralie. Many before them, and, if it weren't for us, many more. I have no doubt about that. An incising streak of pain surged up my shoulder, and I remembered that before long, another one would bite the dust.
No. I mustn't bite the dust. If I die, that is all and well, but to bite the dust - to fall down, to keel over dead - that is unacceptable. No, I will face my death with dignity. I steadied my breathing and loosened my muscles to see if I would slide down from the wall, in my present position, and found it quite likely that I would stay put. I let my arms hang loose on my sides, standing with my back leant against the wall like a sort of sentinel.
Some will fall, and some will live. I will take my chance and, Heaven blessed, be neither. Aqila died with her feet off the ground; Coralie died sprawled on the floor. I will not fall - must not fall - never will fall -
Like him. I remembered the vision that had appeared before my eyes mere moments ago. I tried to summon it back, but it was useless. No matter how hard I tried, I could not make it appear again. I tried, desperately, but only the faintest echo of his one word - that reassuring, soothing "Liberty" - whispered in my ears. He didn't fall for his death, and neither will I. I will stand firm, like him, and like all the others - all the rest - all who had stood before me, and all who will rise to take our place.
My fingers trembled, either of the cold, or of pain, or of fear -
No! No! No! Do not fear, do not waver! Dare! Dare! - Osez! Ce mot renferme toute la politique de notre révolution! Do not fall, do not sway, do not fear! Osez!
An omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles.