Okay, so this is the first time I've ever officially taken a shot at this sort of thing. I've toyed with the idea, but never had the guts to actually put it into execution. So here goes nothing!
What follows is what I suppose you would call a continuation. It picks up where the book leaves off. (Well, sort of.) I love Victor Hugo, but the way he ended it made me throw the book across the room. So I'm giving Quasimodo the ending he deserves. This may delight some of you. It is also an unholy union of Canon and Disney if ever there was one. This may likely enrage most of you. We'll just have to see, won't we?
Don't own the novel or movie on which this story is based.
by Renarde Rouge
Chapter One: Le Fantôme du Montfaucon*
It is almost impossible to repress the curiosity of a child. Children will be children, after all. Some parents learn this more quickly than others, and they are wise not to discourage the tendency too severely. It is the high-strung, overprotective mothers and fathers who are slower to learn this lesson, at much cost to their own sanity.
Gabriel Lefévre, for instance, knows very well where he is and where he is not allowed to play. He has been told countless dozens of times by his uncle and his elder sister. Under no circumstances is he to stray anywhere near le Gibet de Montfaucon.
But when you are eleven years old, the pull of the macabre is nearly irresistible. You know. You were eleven once, too.
To be fair, Gabriel almost always does what he is told. Every morning, without fail, he feeds the chickens, collects the eggs, and lets the sheep out to graze. And he does it without complaining; in point of fact, he takes special pride in his chores, because he knows he is doing his part to keep the farm operating smoothly.
Doing what you are told, however, is one thing. Refraining from doing what you are told not to do is quite another. Particularly when your friends are teasing you for it.
"He won't do it!"
"He's not allowed!"
"No, he's just too scared!"
"You shut up, Henri!" Gabriel says angrily, giving the younger boy the most venomous glare he can muster. "I am not scared. I just don't want to get in trouble, that's all."
Henri just scoffs and rolls his eyes, a habit he learned from his elder brother Laurent. "Yeah, right. Then why is your voice shaking?"
"Hey, come on, leave Gabriel alone," says Laurent in a deceptively sympathetic tone. He's always been the sneaky one. "If he says he's not afraid of Montfaucon, then I believe him." He smirks. "What he's really afraid of is his sister."
Henri and the other boy, a pasty blond scarecrow named Christophe, begin to snicker behind their hands. "What's she going to do if she finds out, Gabriel?" asks Christophe. "Sit on you?"
"Ooh, or better yet," Henri says between chuckles, "make him wear a dress!"
The boys howl with laughter, nearly falling over themselves in their merriment. At this time it should probably be mentioned that these boys are easily amused.
Gabriel feels his fingernails digging into his palms as he clenches his fists in indignation. He is not afraid of Montfaucon in the least, no matter what the crazy, superstitious townsfolk say about it. And he is certainly not afraid of his sister, whom he could almost lift off the ground if he wanted to, despite being eight years older than him. The injustice of it all makes his ears burn.
Without a word, he marches off straight down the Rue de Saint-Martin, leaving the boys to gape at him in surprise before hurriedly running after him.
Between the suburbs of the Temple and Saint-Martin, as we well know, about a thousand feet from the wall that surrounds Paris, a few bowshots from the village of La Courtille, there stands an edifice of curious form. Even if Gabriel was not familiar with the layout of the town in which he grew up, it would be impossible for him to lose his way, for the structure stands on the top of an almost imperceptible rise, which makes it sufficiently elevated to be visible for several leagues around.
This is the infamous gibbet of Montfaucon.
It would be difficult to describe the place to someone who has never seen it. Imagine, if you can, a stout, heavy platform of stone, with an exterior ramp in the front and a door in the rear. Reaching high above this platform is a series of gigantic columns arranged in a colonnade and connected at the top by thick beams. Forty feet long, thirty feet wide, and forty-five feet tall, this intimidating mass of stonework was built for a specific purpose: to house the dead.
But although the lower part of this structure is indeed a vault, this is no simple mausoleum. Deceased criminals are put on display here. Chained to the support beams on all sides, corpses dangle in various states of decay, their bones rattling in the breeze. It goes without saying that crows are a common sight in the skies surrounding Montfaucon.
It is a disquieting place. The gibbet itself is over a hundred and fifty years old, and like the skeletons which hang from its beams, it has slowly but surely been rotting away. The pillars have grown green with mold, and grass sprouts up from the cracks in the platform. Understandably, it is regarded by the people as a blot on the otherwise picturesque landscape, and its appearance alone is enough to give it a reputation of being haunted.
No one would blame Gabriel for being hesitant about getting anywhere near this repulsive structure. But it has become a matter of personal pride now. The boy is no coward, and there is only one way to prove it.
The other children look on in mingled fascination and horror as their friend climbs the short rise toward the gibbet. At his approach, several crows take off, croaking harshly in annoyance. As he scales the slight incline, Gabriel keeps his eyes on the ground, watching his own measured steps. It's not until he reaches the top that he forces himself to look up.
It's close. Dear, sweet Lord, it's close. He's never been this close to Montfaucon in his life. If he wanted to, he could practically reach out and—
"Touch it!" Henri shouts up at him.
"I am not going to touch it," Gabriel growls through clenched teeth.
"But I thought you weren't afraid!" Christophe protests in his whiny, insistent voice.
"You come up here and touch it, if you're so tough!" Gabriel yells down at them, trying his best not to think about the fact that he's standing less than five paces away from several rotting corpses. "Why am I always the first one to do everything?"
"Because the gullible one always goes first!" says Laurent with an impish little chuckle. "Go on, touch it!"
"You touch it!"
"You're already up there!"
"So, it's your turn to do something stupid!"
"That doesn't make any sense!"
Gabriel sighs in exasperation. "If I touch it, will you get off my back?"
"Yes!" says Laurent.
"We promise!" Henri adds.
Shoving his hands through his dark hair, Gabriel takes a deep breath and turns back toward the gibbet. It's not haunted, he tells himself firmly. All these people are long dead. No matter what everyone says, there's no such thing as ghosts.
Slowly, he moves forward, extending his hand toward the ancient stone structure.
Only a few more inches...
And that's when he hears the moan.
His head whips around to stare at the other boys, who are watching him with wide, frightened eyes. He stands there a moment, rooted to the grass, wondering if it was his imagination. And then he hears another moan, low and eerie. Coming from the vault beneath the platform.
The hell with this, he thinks, and runs.
"Go, go, go!" he can hear himself shouting as he half-runs, half-stumbles down the slight hill. The other children scatter like cockroaches in panic, colliding into each other in their haste to get away.
Breathing hard, Gabriel runs as fast as he can, forgetting any pretense of bravery. He squeezes his eyes shut; he wills his feet to move faster. His one and only thought is escape.
Which is probably what causes him to run right into his sister, knocking both of them to the ground.
As Marie Lefévre waits for her head to stop spinning, she wonders, not for the first time, why she was cursed with a madman for a little brother. Her friend Joséphine has such nice brothers; they always bring her flowers when she visits. It's really not fair, no matter how you look at it.
Before she can sufficiently ponder this little problem, she feels herself being yanked unceremoniously to her feet. Pushing her unruly reddish-brown curtain of hair out of her face, she glares at her brother, who is — most annoyingly — nearly at eye level with her.
"What is wrong with you?" she demands, her fists planted on her hips. "Do you have brain fever or something? How many times has Uncle Arnaud told you — how many times have I told you to stay away from Montfaucon? Your fascination with this place is ridiculous, not to mention disgusting—"
"Marie! Marie, there's something in there!" Gabriel exclaims in a high, panicked voice, tugging impatiently at her sleeve. "We heard it, we all heard it! Marie, we have to get out of here, right now!"
Marie arches an eyebrow at him. "Now I know you've lost it," she states matter-of-factly.
The boy groans in terror. "I'm not kidding, Marie, we have to go."
She stares at her brother, mildly surprised at his behavior. He really does look serious. Seriously terrified.
She sighs. "Tell me what happened."
"Laurent and Henri Toulouse—"
"Of course," Marie mutters, rolling her eyes. "It's always those two."
"—Laurent and Henri and Christophe du Maurier were teasing me about not being allowed to go near Montfaucon—"
"You shouldn't care what they think, Gabriel," she says with a disapproving frown.
"Will you let me finish!" he almost yells in frustration. Marie crosses her arms irately over her chest, but doesn't speak again. "Anyway, they wouldn't stop teasing me, so I walked up to the gibbet. Just to shut them up, that's all. But they wouldn't shut up. They dared me to touch it." He swallows hard. "And that's when I heard something."
Marie reaches out and puts her hand on his arm. "What did you hear?" she asks, looking into his frightened blue eyes.
"It was like... a groan," he whispers. "It sounded human, but only just barely. It came from... under the gibbet."
Marie feels her shoulders slump. "Oh, for God's sake," she says flatly.
He blinks. "What?"
"I thought you were serious! You little rat!"
"I am being serious, Marie!" he protests. "We all heard it! Just ask the others!"
"Oh, sure," she says sardonically. "I suppose they'll all tell me the same thing: that they heard the ghost of Montfaucon!" She rubs her arms as if she's suddenly cold. "Ooh, it's all so chilling and dramatic!"
She yelps in surprise as she feels herself being pushed from behind. "You don't believe me," Gabriel says firmly, "then go up there and see for yourself. Otherwise, knock it off, because you don't know what you're talking about."
"Fine," she replies airily. "I'll go up there. Just to prove to you how silly and immature you're behaving."
It's been a while, Marie is forced to admit, since she's ever gotten this close to the gibbet of Montfaucon. She tells herself, as she stares up at its moldy columns with their hanging carcasses, that it's because it's not aesthetically pleasing.
Refusing to show any trace of fear, she calmly clasps her hands behind her back and waits. "Well," she says after a while. "I'm here, dear brother. And I don't hear any unearthly wailing."
She can't help but notice, with mild trepidation, that Gabriel has remained several paces behind her. "I don't get it," he says nervously. "I heard it. I know I did."
"Well, maybe we have to get the ghost's attention," Marie suggests brightly. She clears her throat very formally before calling out. "Hello! Monsieur Ghost! Are you at home?"
"Are you crazy?" her brother whispers desperately.
"Not at all," she says over her shoulder. "I'm trying to be neighborly, that's all. I doubt if anyone's ever actually tried being friendly to the—"
She's cut off by a sudden sound, so strange and sad that it freezes the blood in her veins.
It is a low, soft, heart-wrenching sob.
And it is, quite unmistakably, coming from the vault beneath the platform.
Marie stares at her brother, his terrified face a reflection of her own. And then, slowly, she turns back toward the gibbet. "Stay here," she says.
"What? No!" Galvanized into action, Gabriel dashes forward, pulling on his sister's dress as she approaches the ancient stone structure. "What are you doing? We have to get out of here! No, don't get closer!"
Twisting out of his grasp, Marie continues to move forward, pushing her own terror aside. "There may be someone still alive in there," she tells him, fervently wanting to believe what she's saying. "Sometimes when people are executed or tortured, they don't check to make sure they're dead before they get rid of them. Someone might need help."
"Then let's go get Uncle Arnaud!" Gabriel protests. "Let's tell him what we heard, and then come back! Don't go in there by yourself!"
Marie circles the gibbet until she reaches the rear of the structure. To her surprise, the door to the vault has been forced open, and fairly recently, from the looks of it. Taking a deep breath, she turns to her brother. "Wait outside."
Gabriel nods, appearing vaguely nauseous.
Very calmly and deliberately, as if she's watching herself from far away, she steps forward into the open doorway. Her slight form casts a shadow across the vault within, and she moves off to one side. "Hello?" she calls, her voice wavering slightly. "Is there someone in here? If you're hurt, please say something."
She's begun trembling uncontrollably. Oh, God, oh, God, what am I doing? She waits for herself to calm down, and after a few moments, her eyes begin to adjust to the darkness. The stone vault is littered with skeletons, the majority in advanced stages of decomposition; not a scrap of flesh still adheres to the bones.
But in the center of the vault, in the shaft of light streaming in from the open door, two figures lie side by side.
The first is a young girl, perhaps two or three years younger than Marie. She has long dark hair and an olive complexion, and is dressed in a thin white shift. She has clearly been dead for a few days.
The second is a large, oddly-shaped figure. It seems to be clasping the body of the girl in its arms.
Swallowing hard, Marie slowly enters the vault. As she bends over the pair of figures, she suddenly stumbles back in horror. The second, larger figure is a man, but unlike any man she has ever seen. His face is grotesquely deformed, and a great camel-like hump rises from his back. He looks like a giant that has been broken and badly repaired.
Shaking her head, she forces herself into action. She kneels beside the figure and puts a hand on its arm. To her surprise, it's still warm. Reaching out with unsteady fingers, she holds them close to the figure's lips.
There. A breath. It's faint, but it's there.
"Gabriel!" she shouts.
The boy appears instantly, blocking the light. "Are you all right?" he calls anxiously.
"I'm fine! Go get Uncle and bring him back here! Go, quickly!"
His silhouette vanishes from the doorway, and Marie turns back to the figure on the ground. She nearly gasps as the man's eyes suddenly flutter open. They swivel around for a moment in confusion before resting on her face. As he stares up at her silently, Marie feels something tighten in her chest. His eyes are a beautiful blue-green, and filled with pain and grief the likes of which she can't begin to comprehend.
Moved with pity, she lays a hand on his misshapen shoulder.
"Hold on," she whispers in the darkness. "It'll be all right."
His eyes drift shut again.
You'll be all right.
Arrrrghh, present tense be a harsh mistress. But I love it so. Let me know if you find any mistakes or inconsistencies in this area. But anyway, there you have it. More on the way. Reviews would be lovely.
Also, I borrowed a few phrases directly from the novel. See if you can spot them.
* "The Phantom of Montfaucon"