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The 14th of July
Paris, the overcrowded center of France. A city of half a million people, a majority of whom are starving, dejected, and powerless. One of these troubled souls, a young woman of her twenties, meanders through the narrow, winding streets until she reaches the outskirts of the dark, desolate city, a city on the brink of revolution.
“Ouch,” Aimée said as a pang of hunger ripped through her frail body. How long had she been wandering, begging for food? She counted on her fingers, six sunsets. Six long days of wandering the streets of Paris, begging for food and only receiving crumbs. Her pitiless landlord evicted her from her beloved second floor workshop on the 7th of July. That would make today the 14th of July, her birthday.
She sat down on a dead and rotting tree stump. Someone had found firewood last winter, Aimée thought cynically. Lucky them. She laughed, running her bony hand through her long brown hair, which was warm from the summer sun. Firewood was the least of her worries at the moment. Right now, she could use some water, even some water from the Eau de Ville, the dirty water set aside for the paupers of Paris. At least the water would fill her stomach and stop these biting pangs of hunger.
She stood up slowly, as though she had no energy left at all. She looked toward the east. There, a convent, a haven for broken souls, stood proud in the distance, just past the fortress. She sighed and prayed she would be able to make it.
As she began to walk towards the convent, she heard the low grumblings of a mob. Soon, she was surrounded by members of the mob and their empty weapons.
“A direct threat to Paris! How dare they point cannon straight at us! This madness must end now!” an old and feeble peintre said, a wild anger tainting his voice.
“They seek to attack us, as if starving us isn’t enough,” a woman, a weary négociant de poisson , cried.
The mob murmured in agreement. Aimée looked around, noticing the withered figures of its members, the tattered clothes, the unwashed bodies, all signs of the struggle the people of Paris faced.
The rage of the mob was simmering as the afternoon sun beat down upon them. Aimée felt a sort of camaraderie with them; she was facing the same difficulties they were. She realized how dangerous it was to be a part of a mob and considered leaving, but yet another pang of hunger ripped through her, filling her with anger. As the anger of the mob enveloped Aimée, she had a moment of clarity. The mob was going to raid the jail; there should be food in the jail. Besides, if she got killed in the raid, it would be a relief. Who wouldn’t want to escape this wretched existence?
The crowd, starving, angry and scared, finally reached its destination. Aimée gaped in awe as she took in what the crowd called the Bastille. Medieval, mysterious and dark, the stone structure stood with its impenetrable rock walls. It was surreal to Aimée, the fact that a structure built for imprisonment and torture could look just as daunting on the outside as what happened inside.
The cry of “We want the Bastille!” went up among the crowd as they brandished their empty weapons menacingly. Aimée stood off to the side, watching the drama unfold.
A group of boys became enraged as the guards ignored the mob. Maybe it was hunger, maybe it was the anger of the adults around them, or maybe it was just youthful impulsiveness. Either way, they launched the smallest boy, the one with the beautiful, starved eyes, over the moat. Cheers went up among the crowd as the young boy outwitted the elderly guards and lowered the bridge. France had not heard such a cheer in several years.
Fighting broke out as the members of the mob flooded over the bridge. Aimée scampered through the fighting until she reached the door to the dark fortress. She pressed herself against the door as a burly forgeron knocked out a guard with an unloaded pistol. As he spun around to look for another enemy, Aimée pointed at the door. He smiled recklessly at her.
“Gladly,” he said and with all his might he charged at the door. The old wooden door remained in place, almost mockingly. Then, a few other men saw what was going on. They joined together and charged at the door at once. The door cracked this time, creaking, as though crying for help. “One more time,” the forgeron said. This time, the door smashed into pieces as the men hit it. Another cheer went up among the crowd momentarily, until they realized they now could access the ammunition inside. Aimée only though about the food, as another pang of hunger reminded her of her goal.
The mob rushed into the fortress, chased by the few surviving guards. They all went to the left as Aimée parted ways with the frenzied mob. She ran as fast as her starving body could take her.
The inside of the fortress was just as menacing as the outside. Darkness was everywhere, except where a slender slit in the wall let in light. Aimée looked through one of the slits, realizing that the setting sun would mean even more darkness inside. She had to find food, and quickly. The sound of a gunshot, accompanied by a bloodcurdling scream, echoed through the fortress, signaling that both the mob and the guards had gotten access to the ammunition.
As she continued deeper into the fortress, she entered a world of shadows. There was a strange peaceful aura here, completely opposite of what was happening on the other side of the fortress.
“A pantry, there has to be a pantry,” Aimée said, as though saying the thought aloud would banish the stark seclusion that surrounded her.
Ahead of her, she saw light, light from a candle. It flickered as a shadow played across the stone wall. As she got closer, she heard whispering, but it was not from a long ago convicted criminal, but of a loving father.
She turned the corner, startled by the warmth and light emitted by the candle and the sight of a father and son embracing. Aimée hid in the shadows, wary of interrupting them.
The son was crying, quietly, repeating “Papa” over and over again. He looked so familiar, so incredibly familiar. Then it hit Aimée, she was staring at the young boy, the one that had so bravely been launched over the moat, the one with the starving eyes.
“Shhh. Don’t cry. I’m here; everything will be okay. Shhh,” the father said, rocking the young boy in his lap as tears rolled down his cheeks.
Aimée sighed; such things were rare in her world of starvation and fury.
The father and son looked at Aimée. She smiled weakly. “Excuse me, but would you happen to know where the pantry is?” she asked quietly, sorry she ruined such a beautiful moment.
“Don’t bother,” the father said dejectedly. “There’s no food here, hasn’t been for days. Figured they were starving us to get rid of the burden.”
Aimée only stared at him as yet another pang of hunger ripped through her, this one more powerful than the others. Her frail body shook as she thanked him and turned around, desperate to leave the fortress.
When she got to the door, she was greeted by the night and a celebrating mob. The mob had gotten what they wanted, but Aimée had not. Aimée watched as the peintre paraded an object on a pike. As Aimée got closer, a feeling of disgust filled her as a gasp escaped her starved, dry lips. It was the Governor de Launay’s head on that pike, a spoil of war for the victorious mob.
Aimée took one last look at the victorious, but still famished, warriors, and walked over the drawbridge. She headed towards the convent, her sole hope in an unfeeling and brutal world.