When he and the French returned to the flat, they noticed an odd smell pervading the air, as if they had left a few pounds of raw meat in the open. They checked the corridor, noticed nothing, and opened the door into the kitchen. There, hanging from a hook that had been hammered into the ceiling, was a skinned rabbit with a note stapled onto its chest. The note read, in shaky block letters: Never Criticize My Work Again.
The Drunkard, being a man of well above-average intellect, even while drunk, immediately knew who committed this act of vengeance. While Julie and another one of the French fled the room with hands to their mouths and a green tint over their faces, The Drunkard, Matthieu, and Chretien (the Existentialist who originally told The Drunkard that he could have the world, for it was shit) unhooked the rabbit and put it in the trash. Chretien tied the bag and took it to the woods behind the college. The Drunkard sat on the kitchen couch and poured a glass of whiskey. (Most of the following conversation was in French. The Drunkard translated it for my benefit.)
“Who would do such a thing?” asked Matthieu. As it turned out, the Existentialists were all pacifists, having come to the conclusion that, unless someone directly attacked them, it would be worthless to hurt another being—for doing so would unnecessarily prolong and increase suffering on the planet.
The Drunkard sat Indian style on the couch and took a drink. “A man of extremely loose morals, who has no compunction about crossing societal taboos if someone or something crosses him. A man who, put blatantly, may be the most pants-shitting terrifying man in this University.”
Matthieu stood next to the window and stared out at the night. Wind blew the trees at a nearly horizontal angle. “He killed a rabbit.”
“Oui, Matthieu. He killed a rabbit,” said The Drunkard.
Matthieu paced over towards the wall. He shook his head. “He killed a rabbit!” he shouted, punching the wall and leaving a dent. “Un innocent! Un petit lapin!”
The other Existentialists rushed into the kitchen upon hearing the raised voice and exclamation. “What is it, Matthieu?” asked Julie.
Matthieu spun on his heels and addressed Julie and the others (Chretien had returned by now). “My friends,” he said, taking on the air of someone addressing not soldiers in an army, not underlings, but fellow citizens in a People’s Army. “My friends, we are faced with an evil so decadent, so base, that it would lash out against an incontrovertible symbol of good in this world. It would lash out and kill a rabbit, that—”
“Ah,” said Philippe, the other Existentialist. “But, to the farmer, is the rabbit not evil for uprooting crops, for eating the foundation of his livelihood?”
“Now is not the time for philosophical debate,” said Matthieu. “We are not farmers, we are students. We are the intellectual class. For us, a rabbit, though a rodent, is a symbol of quick wits, the necessary reaction against that which would destroy it. The rabbit does not use force against a threat, it uses its wits to escape danger,” he began pacing, taking on the air of an ancient Roman orator, gesturing with his outstretched index finger and with waves of his hands. “It is that which we aspire to be. It takes what it needs to live, and depends on its reflexes to survive.
“This beast, the rabbit-murderer, has decided that, instead of attacking that which he is afraid of—or hates—he should attack a thing of beauty. A process of evolution so progressed that, even with the world’s most destructive hunter—”
“The fox?” asked Philippe.
Mattieu took a wine glass from the countertop and hurled it at Philippe, who dodged. The glass shattered on the wall behind him. “No, you fool! Man! Man is the world’s most destructive hunter.”
“Ah. Oui. D’accord.”
“Even with the world’s most destructive hunter, the rabbit has managed to survive. And this wretch has killed an innocent member of the species. American Drunkard,” he said, turning towards The Drunkard.
“Ayup,” said The Drunkard.
“You know who this person is?”
“Ayup. Goes by the name of The Stalker. Lives in E Block.”
“Magnifique! Then you shall bear witness to what the French can do when roused. Chretien, bring the guillotine. We shall end this man tonight. Go, Drunkard, wait outside and we shall join you momentarily. Think about which room he is in and then you can lead us.”
The Drunkard, even when he stood outside, huddled in his pea coat, didn’t think the French Existentialists would actually bring out a guillotine. Surely that was a metaphor for their sharp wit—for The Drunkard had gained a respect for the Existentialists once they stopped harassing him on account of his nationality—and not a legitimate guillotine. I believe that there is a certain part of the brain, which I call the Justification Realm, that has the purpose of making outside stimuli make sense in relation to what we hold to be true in the world. I believe that, when The Drunkard saw the Existentialists walk out of the front of his block carrying a guillotine—a giant wooden one with a sharp, steel blade positioned at the top—The Drunkard’s Justification Realm went into overdrive. “So they have a guillotine,” the portion of his brain must have said to another part of his brain. “Surely they wouldn’t actually use it. These people aren’t barbarians, after all. They aren’t storming the Bastille. They’re just going to scare The Stalker. People who read Camus and Beckett don’t go around chopping off the heads of people who go around killing rabbits. They go around drinking wine and talking about Camus and Beckett.”
“Drunkard,” said Matthieu, “it is time. Lead us to the offender.”
The Drunkard cocked an eyebrow. The Justification Realm had won him over, and, leading the Existentialists towards the window he believed to belong to The Stalker, he still didn’t believe that they were going to hurt anyone. “That’s the one,” he said, pointing to a window on the first floor.
Chretien and Philippe took a handful of rocks from the garden and began hurling them—overhand and with all the speed of a seasoned Major League pitcher—at the window. After a few minutes, The Stalker opened the curtains and peeked out. “There he is!” shouted Chretien.
The Drunkard could see The Stalker glare in the light of the lights in the courtyard. He retreated into his room.
“My friends,” said Matthieu, “the offender will not come outside of his own accord—it is time that we force him out. Philippe and I shall bring him out here to make the acquaintance of Madame Guillotine.”
Even as the two Existentialists broke their way into the block—smashing the glass door and roaring “La Marseillaise”—The Drunkard’s Justification Realm told him that, really, the Existentialists weren’t going in to bring The Stalker out to his death. They were just going in to give him a little scare. Maybe mess up his room a little bit, sort of like what The Drunkard himself did to the gubernatorial candidate in Nashville. People who read Camus and Beckett might very well haul out a guillotine and chuck rocks at people’s windows, but they didn’t actually bring them outside to meet Madame Guillotine.
The Drunkard turned to Julie. “So what’s next? They upset The Stalker’s room? Maybe rip up the curtains, steal a few books?”
A wolfish, predatory grin took over Julie’s soft face. Surely, the Justification Realm said, girls like Julie who looked like they should be painting Impressionist portraits of the Champs Elysees didn’t yearn to see blood stream forth from a decapitated head. “And now, we see how a man meets his death.” Ah, said the Realm, that must be an example of French black humor.
Now the glass pane next to the door shattered outwards, with the Frenchmen still shouting the lyrics to La Marseille. This time, though, they had The Stalker in tow, a length of rope tying his hands behind his back. The man looked like a captured animal making its way from the wild to a cage in a zoo. His hair was ruffled, and his eyes (the natural color, brown—it would appear that he didn’t have time to put his black contacts in) jumping around in his skull. He grunted, and The Drunkard could make out obscenities in the guttural noises that came from The Stalker. Then, suddenly, the two fellows made eye contact. The Stalker straightened and became silent. He gained a sense of dignity that, until then, The Drunkard would not have imagined The Stalker possessed.
Okay, said the Realm, they may very well bring the man outside to meet Madame Guillotine, but there was no chance that they would actually decapitate The Stalker. After all, these were people who read Camus and Beckett, and people who read Camus and Beckett never kill people. They may scare the living daylights out of them, but not kill them.
Matthieu came to a halt and moved to stand in front of The Stalker. “Killer of un petit lapin, we, the citizens of Dickens College, find you guilty for the destruction of an innocent being in order to make a passive-aggressive attack at our flatmate, The Drunkard. Do you have anything to say in your defense?”
The Stalker straightened up. His chest jutted out, his chin took on definition, his eyes had a spark of courage that he previously lacked. One could have mistaken him for a freedom fighter facing the firing squad of an unjust ruler. The Stalker looked at his accusers and settled on The Drunkard. “I have no regrets,” said The Stalker. “All that I have done, I have done because it was what I had to do.” The Drunkard admitted that, had this been a completely different situation and not one in which The Stalker had flayed a rabbit, the man’s words would have had a certain respectability in them.
Matthieu and Philippe led The Stalker towards the guillotine, forced him to bend down, and stuck his head through the hole in the bottom. This time, The Drunkard’s Justification Realm stayed mercifully silent. “Now hold the fuck on a second,” said The Drunkard.
Mattieu and Philippe looked at The Drunkard in shock.
“This is getting a little nuts,” he said.
“But Drunkard,” said Chretien from behind The Drunkard, “this man killed a rabbit!”
“Yes!” said Julie. “Because of this…this demon, a little, innocent rabbit is dead.”
The Drunkard nodded. “Yes, of course, but don’t you think that this isn’t the right way to approach the situation? Sure, you may get a certain amount of joy from seeing The Stalker’s head roll, and God knows that there are probably a lot of people back in the States who would as well, but that doesn’t make it right.”
“What do you mean?” asked Matthieu, releasing his grip on The Stalker.
The Stalker shot The Drunkard a surprisingly warm grin.
“Citizens,” corrected Matthieu.
“Citizens,” continued The Drunkard, “does taking a life bring back a life? Of course not; it only perpetuates the myth that murder is a form of justice. If we are doing this because of the creation of suffering, or the taking of a life, then it stands to reason that we are opposed to the act that brought us here in the first place, yes?”
“Of course,” said Philippe.
“Then why should we, as the people who are trying to correct the ills of society, perpetuate murder in the name of justice? No, fellow citizens, that would be senseless. What we must do is find a way for this man to work off his crime. We must consider all options that would replace the murder of a rabbit, and then put him to task on the best one. So, please, citizens, remove him from Madame Guillotine, in the name of Justice.”
Matthieu and Philippe looked at each other. Mattiheu nodded. “He is right,” he said. They pulled The Stalker’s head from the hole and stood him up.
Julie spun The Drunkard around and said to him, “Who do you think you are?”
“I’m trying to keep us from becoming that which we despise.”
Julie’s face burned a deep red. “Because of your actions today, another innocent rabbit may die.”
“If that happens, then I am just as responsible as the murderer, and I shall gladly face the consequences. However, babe, people can change.”
Julie slapped him in his face and kissed him. She broke away with tears in her eyes and ran back into the block.
“You’re putting me on,” I said at that point.
The Drunkard held up his hand and held up his index and middle fingers. “Scout’s Honor, that’s what happened.”
The Drunkard looked on, stars in his eyes. Matthieu walked up to him. “She cannot abide rabbit murderers. Her father, who was a drunk and a scoundrel, killed rabbits.”
“People can change,” said The Drunkard. He looked into the sky. Somewhere in his ancestral memory, one of his progenitors told him that the proper way to feel after saving someone from Mme. Guillotine—for, it turns out, one of The Drunkard’s ancestors was a French Jew who was instrumental in storming the Bastille and then making a case for saving some royal fiend’s life—was to feel as if a castle were burning at your back, and the only place you could look was to the horizon—away from the burning and destructive past and into a future that, for the moment was filled with hope.