The Story of a Severed Head
by Tom Slemen

Guy Damont's end

Back in the dark days of the French Revolution in 1789, there was a farmer named Jean St Justin who was incredibly strong and very athletic. St Justin was of average height and weight, and not particularly muscular, but delighted in outdoor exercise. It was said that he could carry a grown man under each arm and run the length of a field. When a neighbouring farmer was chopping down a leaning oak tree, the trunk of the tree fell on him and pinned him down. St Justin came to the rescue and lifted the oak tree off the farmer as if it were no more than a broom. On another occasion St Justin played a game of tug of war with a bull, and somehow managed to drag the animal over a marker in the field. St Justin could also swim underwater in the nearby river for amazing lengths of time. On one occasion he managed to hold his breath for about seven minutes, which is unheard of, even today.
The farmer was nicknamed "Samson" because of his phenomenal strength and stamina, and he was very popular with the country girls on the outskirts of Versailles. There was one beautiful maiden named Marie, from a neighbouring farm, who found herself falling for St Justin, but another man, Guy Damont, also had feelings for Marie, and he became insanely jealous of St Justin's physical prowess and popularity.
One morning when St Justin was ploughing the fields, Guy Damont approached him with his hands behind his back. St Justin sensed something evil in Damont's eyes, and asked him what he wanted. Damont was holding a sharp-bladed sickle behind his back; he suddenly lashed out just once, and the sickle took St Justin's head clean off his shoulders. A deformed man came over to the murderer and asked him why he had killed the farmer. The man was a hunchback, and had difficulty speaking. Damont suddenly noticed three figures approaching on horse-back in the distance. He put the bloodstained sickle in the hunchback's hand, and when the riders came across the field to the scene of the gruesome murder, they saw the hunchback leaning over the decapitated corpse of St Justin with the blood-soaked sickle in his hand. They naturally assumed the hunchback, who was renowned as the village idiot, had killed the farmer. The three men on horseback had been gardeners at the Palace of Versailles before the Revolution, and they knew the hunchbacked man was a kind and sensitive man, so they found it hard to believe that he had now turned into a violent killer. The men suspected Guy Damont, who was known locally as a misfit who was cruel to the farm animals; Damont had once been seen barbecuing a live rabbit with a look of delight on his face. One of the gardeners, a man named Anton, put it to Damont that he had killed the farmer, but Damont's face burned red with rage and he said, "I am an innocent passer-by! This cretin killed him. You must believe me."
Suddenly, something grisly happened. The severed head of Jean St Justin made a noise. It opened its mouth and closed it again, making a clacking noise with its teeth. Damont realized that, somehow, the head was still alive. The men on horseback looked afraid, and Guy Damont was terrified at the sight of the head, which was now biting the ground.
"Lord, my poor friend St Justin. If only you could speak," sobbed Anton, and his sympathy for his slain friend overcame his nervousness. The gardener lifted the head from the ground and looked at it. The eyes rolled about and the expression on the face was one of anger and desperation. Anyone else would have died long before with the shock, but apparently the farmer's incredible mental and physical stamina had enabled St Justin to survive the terrible decapitation for a while. Just as he could hold his breath under water for seven minutes, the farmer was also managing to live without oxygen for the same amount of time. If only he could speak, thought Anton, but he knew that was impossible; no one could speak without a throat. Then the gardener had an idea. He said to St Justin's severed head, "St Justin, if you can understand me, close your eyes."
The head immediately squeezed its eyes shut for a second or so, then opened them and looked at Anton.
"Did Martin the hunchback kill you? If he did not, close your eyes; if he did, open your mouth twice if you can to signify 'no'," said the gardener, with tears in his eyes. The blood was steadily dripping from the decapitated head.
Again, the head squeezed its eyes shut to answer "no" to the question.
"This is witchcraft!" Guy Damont screamed, objecting to the grisly proceedings.
Then Anton asked, "Did Guy Damont kill you?"
St Justin's severed head opened its mouth twice. Seconds later, the head became motionless, and Anton said, "May God take your spirit Jean St Justin. I promise, your death will be avenged." And Anton sadly read the lips of the dying head; they were trying to say, "I love Marie." Then the eyes closed. St Justin was dead.
Guy Damont made a run for it, but the two other men on horseback raced after the killer and apprehended him. Guy Damont was later put on trial for the murder of the popular farmer. He was found guilty and the revolutionary soldiers who acted as guards during the trial were instructed to take the killer to Paris. Anton accompanied the condemned man, and when Damont was guillotined, the executioner held the killer's head up to the crowd. Anton saw the eyes of the severed head roll about in horror as they looked at the cheering people. The last face the eyes of that terrified head glanced at was that of Anton, who cried out, "Now St Justin has been avenged!" Then the head was hurled into the basket.

Copyright Tom Slemen 2010. All rights reserved.