Monstrous Femme

Allie didn’t belong at the victims’ ball.
She hadn’t known anyone who had died during the Reign of Terror, being such a silent supporter during the revolution, but she still wanted to pay her respects. They had been brave enough to fight while she was a coward, as instructed by her family. But she’d managed to throw out a name to be allowed entry, to dance and mourn like the rest of them.

She tied the ribbon around her neck in solidarity, not wanting to imagine what the real blade would feel like, coming down fast, one slice to her flesh and gone in an instant. She grasped at her neck, then reminded herself that it was over, they were safe.

Before dancing could begin, a woman took the stage and spoke of those they had lost. Allie was trying to pay attention but someone else in the audience caught her eye. She mostly looked the same as the other women, a big bold dress (emerald green in color, in her case), blond curls underneath an over-the-top hat (black, with some red flowers on top) and a fan to hide her face behind. She, however, didn’t have her head bowed.

And while everyone else’s ribbon was red, hers was green.

Allie realized she had been staring as soon enough the woman came over to her with a small smile. “Bonjour, beauté.” Her voice was low and lyrical, and her eyes were wandering.

Allie blushed and rather wished she had her own fan. “Bonjour, mademoiselle.”

“Miss? I think I like that. I mostly get called vieux sac these days.” Old bag. She didn’t look much older than Allie, but likely past her prime for marriage. “Not that I care about the words of men.” She extended a hand. “I am Jeanetta.”

“Allie,” she said, taking the woman’s hand. She drew it back slowly, letting her fingers dance against the silk gloves Jeanetta was wearing. “Who did you lose?”

“Everyone,” Jeanetta said, her voice almost a whisper. She didn’t ask Allie who she had lost or elaborate on her own fatalities. That’s what you get when you fight. Death, only death. Her family repeated it to Allie many times.

Allie did something unthinkable, but something she would want someone to do for her. She reached out and squeezed Jeanetta’s hand. “I am so sorry, mademoiselle.”

Jeanetta quickly squeezed back before they drew apart. “What will help me with my grief is you calling me mademoiselle.” It was so forward, so intense. Allie had never heard such tones, such velvets.

“Okay. Mon mademoiselle.”

Jeanetta made a small noise that she turned into a cough. “I fear I am blushing.”

“Red does wonders for your face.” When she was saw no one was looking, she cupped Jeanetta’s face. “Natural rouge is always prettier.” Allie wasn’t usually good at flirting: it did not come effortlessly or smoothly. Yet it flowed from her when speaking to Jeanetta.

“Keep this up and my face will be this color permanently.”

Allie said nothing but silently promised herself she’d do what she could to keep the red on Jeanetta.

When the speech was finished and the music began, Jeanetta extended a hand to Allie. “Will you do me the pleasure of a dance?”

Allie wanted to say she was terrible, that many toes had been lost due to her uncoordinated moves, but instead she took Jeanetta’s hand with a nod, and they made their way to the middle of the dance floor.

It went as expected: Allie trying hard to follow Jeanetta’s lead but ultimately failing to understand the steps. Jeanetta did not complain, however. Instead, she smiled and drew Allie close. Their steps echoed as their shoes tapped against the floor, their movements in tune to the music as well as each other.

It felt like a dream, deep in another world where love at first sight existed and happily-ever-afters were a given. Allie had been told plenty of times these things were silly fairy tales. In the real world, you loved for money. You loved for status. You loved for a secure future. This love was, of course, a façade.

But with Jeanetta, it felt real. A moment of love, like a gift wrapped in a bow. Dilated eyes and gentle smiles exchanged while spinning around what felt like an empty room. The mumbles muted and the music loud. She knew it was sudden, too quick for that feeling to be overtaking her, but she let it, feeling blissfully happy in a stolen moment.

Everyone around them had stopped and were clapping, so they joined in.

Jeanetta fanned herself and sighed. “Although the night is quite young, I must retire.” Allie hid her disappointment with a smile and a nod. It would be impolite to complain. Always obedient, always. Jeanetta did not bow and take her leave though. “Would you do me the honor of escorting me home? It’s a dreadfully dark night, after all. Who knows what could happen without you on my arm?”

Allie offered herself with a smile. “Yes, mon mademoiselle.”




Her house was quiet—to be expected, of course.

The rooms were dark upon their arrival, unusual for someone with such a mansion. No maids, no staff of any kind. No fires lit so the cold ran rampant, and their footsteps echoed loudly within the still house.

“Just little old me,” Jeanetta said when she saw Allie’s confused expression. “Please, do make yourself at home. The house deserves some love.”

“It’s beautiful. Exquise, really.” Indeed it was, with grand staircases and luxurious furniture that Allie’s family could only ever dream of. It made her feel sad and guilty that she always complained of her family’s lack of living space when Jeanetta had so much living space yet no lives within it.

“My family would have loved you. They prided themselves on their décor skills.” She led Allie into the family room and began lighting the candles until they could see each other clearly. “Much better. Drink?”

Allie hesitated. “I cannot stay long, mon mademoiselle, mon famille . . .” Mon famille might wake up and realize I’ve gone. “They don’t like me staying out too late, without a chaperone.”

“I understand. Shall we just . . . get right to it then?”

Get right to it? What does that mean? A discussion on art? Another dance? An invitation to her bed? Her mind raced but she wouldn’t allow it to get out of control. Forward was best. “What do you have in mind, mon mademoiselle?”

“A story that goes like this.” Jeanetta took her arm and pulled her in close, their breaths quickening as they leaned until collision.

Their kiss was slow, as if Jeanetta was hesitating. But it was a piece of bliss, wrapped in sour and sweet goodness to Allie. When they pulled away, it was clear Jeanetta was making sure Allie was comfortable, giving her a small reassuring smile. When Allie returned it, they went back in for more. Starved to the point of longing, they were more aggressive as they became closer, Jeanetta’s hand tracing Allie’s back, leading downwards as they grew hungrier.

Allie grasped for Jeanetta’s neck, wanting more of her, but Jeanetta screamed into her mouth and pulled away. As she did, Allie’s fingers became entangled in the ribbon, making it come loose from Jeanetta’s neck.

Just like that, Jeanetta’s head ripped from her neck, dropped with a thud, and rolled on the floor.

Without the head, Allie could see everything. The muscle, the tissue, and the spine—cut in half, yet blood did not seep.

Allie, stumbling backwards, was screaming. I’ve killed her! Dear God, I’ve killed her, she thought. Yet Jeanetta’s body did not crumble alongside her head. It stayed standing, stuck motionless, faced toward Allie.

The body eventually bent down to retrieve Jeanetta’s head. Her eyes and mouth were open, with a blink and a thin line. “Pass me my ribbon,” she said, authoritatively.

With a shaky hand, Allie gave it to her and watched as Jeanetta tied her head back into place. It took a while to get the position right as flesh connected to flesh once more.

“How do I look?” Jeanetta asked with a spin.

Allie looked her up and down, disbelieving her own eyes. “What in God’s name . . .?”

Jeanetta chuckled. “As soon as I saw you at that ball, I knew you would be feisty.” She dropped down to the couch and crossed her legs with a smile. “I never forget a face, ever, and I never saw yours during the revolution. And you had the gall to show yourself at a victims’ ball, like you knew of loss. Very feisty, I quite liked it. And I liked how you still felt for those you did not know. Kissing you was delicious, as I had anticipated.”

Allie, who hadn’t really heard what Jeanetta said, remained standing, trying hard to control the tremble in her legs. “What is this? What’s going on? Y-your head—”

“It’s not mine.” Jeanetta said it so bluntly that Allie just stared at her. What does that mean? The lips she had kissed were not Jeanetta’s?

Jeanetta picked up a candle. “Come, I’ll show you.”

Allie, who considered running until her lungs killed her, couldn’t help her curiosity, and so she followed Jeanetta to the library. In the dimness, the tomes loomed over them as they towered high in their white bookcases. Jeanetta went to the history section and pulled a book until she heard a click. She pushed the bookcase away from her and Allie could see a set of stairs, leading down.

“This way,” Jeanetta said. “It’s steep, so be careful.” It was a fairly long descent down the spiral. Allie could only focus on the echoing their feet made. When they reached the bottom, Jeanetta lit the room so Allie could see clearly. It was a circular dungeon, with glass cases lining the walls.

Inside each case was a severed head.

They were all women, cut clean at the base of the neck. Their eyes were closed and their skin was pale. They had been dead for several weeks—Allie could tell by the smell—and yet, they were not decomposed. Like preserved apples, if there was such a thing.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” Jeanetta stepped farther into the room and spun around. “Like window shopping.”

Millions of questions buzzed around Allie’s head, but she could only bring herself to ask, “Which one is yours?”

“It’s not here,” Jeanetta said, frowning. “You really think that all my family died, and I got to live?” She shook her head. “No, I faced the blade like the rest of them. My actual head is in a basket somewhere. At least that’s where it was when I last saw it. Probably on a pike still.”

“But how are you—?”

“Still standing? Still breathing?”

Allie nodded.

“I am not sure. I don’t dare to go to a doctor. I’ll be experimented on, tortured.” Jeanetta sighed. “All I know is, I was laying on top of other bodies without eyes, ears, or a mouth. All I could do was feel and I could feel that I had no head.

“So I stumbled around until I bumped into someone, and I felt her head, her soft hair and bountiful lips. I knew I had to have it, if I could not have my own head. Consequently, I took it from her, pulled my ribbon out of my pocket, and attached it to me.

“I see your face but do not feel bad for her. I did, until I saw no ribbon, no sign of support for the revolution. She was one of them. A traitor, on their side. That’s what they all are.” Jeanetta gestured around the room. “If my family couldn’t have their heads, neither could they. It was rather humorous to run into their husbands and have them utterly confused as to why I looked like their lovers but also didn’t, my body being wildly different to theirs.”

Allie felt a sick rumble in her stomach, wanting to force its way up, but she wouldn’t let it. She couldn’t. “What now?”

Jeanetta chuckled. “You would do wonders behind glass.” Allie reached for her throat as Jeanetta stepped toward her. “You have such a pretty little head on you.” Jeanetta traced Allie’s jawline with her finger and then laughed when she saw Allie’s worried expression. “I’m joking! I thought that would be funny.”

Allie stepped back. “Cutting my head off, like what so many before us had to endure, is funny?”

“These women followed men rather than us, turned their noses up and watched us fight and die. And for what? For riches and filled wombs. I’m not saying it’s only their fault, but they did have their hand in it.”

“Why only punish them?”

“I think losing your spouse, your family, is worse. Do not worry, my Allie, everyone gets punished by this.”

“Is that why I’m here? To be punished? For being silent?”

Jeanetta turned to one of the heads. “I fancy red hair.” She opened the glass case and switched heads. “I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it.” She finished tying the bow and smiled. “But I would prefer you in my bed and not down here.”

Allie shook her head. “I don’t want to kiss another stranger. I would’ve liked to have kissed you, the real you.”

“It’s me underneath. Does that not count?”

“No. These heads do not belong to you. It’s like kissing corpses.”

“Is that what it felt like?” Jeanetta asked, her face fallen.

Allie did not want to admit it, but no. It had not felt like that at all. She had felt alive, and Allie couldn’t get the memory out of her head. “I would like to leave.”

“And I will not stop you.”

The echoing was louder as Allie turned from Jeanetta.




Allie spent the rest of her days amongst corpses.

People wondered how she could deal with the smell, but it stopped consuming her long ago. Abandoned by family, she had a singular purpose: to find one particular head amidst the thousands. She didn’t even know what it looked like—she wanted to go back and ask, but the next day, after the victims’ ball, the mansion was empty and the glass cases vacant.

All she had was the hope that she would know it once she laid eyes on her. The real Jeanetta.

Each head told a story, of woe and of pain. Allie wrote about them all, every detail, everything she could see. History may try to forget them, but she would remember. It was the least she could do.

Allie didn’t know any other life than one surrounded by the dead. It was routine to her, despite the weariness.

She only stopped when she came across a head with blond curls and a red ribbon tied in the back.

Allie could no longer hear the echoes.