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Plagued

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Plagued

by

Rebecca R. Pierce

© 2016 Rebecca R. Pierce

 All Rights Reserved
p.        Cover design by SB Designs

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[]

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Many thanks to my wonderful friend, Sydney Blackburn, one of the most incredible people I have ever met!

This short story is dedicated with love to my husband,

Kenneth J. Church Jr.

Thank you for loving all my stories

“ The end of the world is NIGH! Ye have been JUDGED and found UNWORTHY! Thou art hateful in God’s eyes! I warned thee but didst thou heed me? Nay, ye mocked my words for the ravings of a madman! Ye abominations, this is GOD’S DOING! THIS! This is just a taste of what is to come! HELL! HELL ON EARTH!” The old man’s mouth sprayed as he spoke.

“Old man, go home. We’ve no time for the likes of you!”

“I told you, Marco,” his companion grumbled, grabbing the arms of one corpse while Marco grabbed the ankles, “he has no home.” Collectively they swung and the body ended in a hole where similar bodies lay.

No sooner had the men emptied one cart but new ones creaked forward with the same grisly cargo: our city’s dead. They were stacked one on top of the other, black and lumpy and… oozing  in the summer heat. Tumors the size of eggs or even apples covered their flesh as if blistered by the sun, their hands and feet charred the most. But the sun did not do this .  

I t was the Plague of 1348.

Flies darted in and out of their gaping mouths, one landed on an open eye. Their faces were gaunt, pulled taut over their skulls. They looked inhuman. I averted my gaze, not out of disgust or fear, but because I did not wish to see a face I might recognize. I wiped the sweat from my brow with my free arm; the other clutched a basket close to my chest, and I pressed a cloth containing herbs over my nose and mouth.

Marco’s men dug pits to bury our dead. They could not be buried in the churchyard, no sacred ground for these. Would that condemn them to hell, I wondered. A pang stabbed my heart when I saw several children tossed in with the others.

HELL ON EARTH! ” The lunatic resumed, throwing his arms wide in imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ. His was a maniacal, toothless grin, as he nodded to welcome whatever unseen demons to this, our once fair city. “EVIL MUST BE DESTROYED! God’s vengeance! Are ye listening ye HARLOTS, WASTRELS, SONS OF WHORES? God will be AVENGED!”

The madman rejoiced. Men, women, and children were dead — and he was happily nodding in approval. This  is what God wanted? I found that unlikely. What kind of God would punish even children ? What kind of sin could a child commit to warrant this ?

“God is dead,” I decided, murmuring into my chest.

“BLASPHEMER!”

I was knocked against something hard. The back of my head stung, pain dug into my shoulders, and my back scraped against something rough. A stench as foul as the dead assaulted my senses and the old man stood before me. He pinned me against the stone wall. His face twisted in rage before he wordlessly screamed.

“GET OFF HER!” A different voice yelled and two men struggled to pull him off me.

The old man’s fingers clawed into my shoulders. He did not relinquish his hold but shook me as the other men tried to pry him off. Two more men came to assist. A club to his head and they finally managed to yank him back and tossed him on the street.

Several boots kicked into the old man’s ribs until I came to my senses and implored, “STOP! Please!” I tugged on the tunics of these men that had him surrounded. “He-He doesn’t know what he’s doing. You heard him—he’s mad.”

Marco scoffed but declared, “We have work to do,” he told his men, who receded and went on to tend to the dead. “You, go home.” I nodded as I was headed there, anyway.

I cast one last glance for the old man. He was whimpering softly, lying on his side with his knees drawn to his chest, arms hugging himself. I thought I heard him crying for his mother.

*

I entered my home, and shut the door behind me. The basket I laid on the table. My arm ached from carrying it and I rubbed it roughly. A cough from our shared bed caused me to whirl in alarm.

“Merely thirsty, Rosaline,” The voice cracked hoarsely, and I hurried to pour water from a pitcher into a cup. Then I handed it to her.

She leaned on me more this morning than yestermorn and said nothing whilst she drank. Sensing I had disappointed her somehow, I muttered, “I did not tarry, Mama. I came as quick as I could.”

“I know you did, my dear child.” She put a rough, dry hand against my cheek. “You have food?”

“Yes, Mama. It is not much but it should get us out of the city.” She lowered her gaze  and I felt suddenly cold. “Mama? If you are hungry…”

“No,” she shook her head at me. “It’s for the journey, eh? Let’s not be wasteful.” She patted my hand.

I nodded and gave her hand a squeeze to reassure her. “We can leave as soon as you are ready.”

“Rosaline…I am not leaving.”

“Oh, Mama, not _this _ again! You said you wanted to stay because of Papa, but now Papa is gone—”

“I found a tumor,” she stated simply. I sat down on the bed next to her, my brain refusing to hear what she told me. “You should go. Leave me and save yourself.”  I shook my head, denying these words. No, God no, not my mother, too! She took my gesture as a refusal to obey. “Rosaline, I know you have been lucky so far, but you must listen to me, and not tempt Fate. Go, my child, go, and live. Be a good girl, and listen to me.”

“How many tumors?” I demanded, standing so fast I was dizzy.

“Just the one,”

“Show me. It must be lanced through. I will bathe you in vinegar, and rose water—”

“I took poison. I will be dead within the hour.”

I sat down again and wept into my dirty hands. “Why, Mama? Why…” But I knew why.

I felt her pat my knee. “I want you out of here. Take only what is necessary, leave everything else behind, do you understand?”

“You should be buried in our family plot.” I lamented. It was a foolish thing to say. Even if this was not a suicide, if the Church allowed it, many were the dead and few were the laborers. If I wanted it done, I would have to do it myself.

“There is no time. Let the dead bury the dead, eh? It doesn’t matter, Rosaline. You… dying of old age…will be heaven enough for me.”  She coughed again and then jerked violently forward, her head almost in her lap. She withdrew her hand from my knee and grabbed her stomach, her face purpling in a matter of seconds. A strangled noise came out of her throat, almost sounding like ‘ [_Go! Go!’ _] and then she twisted off to the side of the bed, and vomited. I jumped back and watched in impotence as my mother gasped and gagged, a look of abject terror that contorted on her face…and stayed there.

It was over. She was still. And I could not believe it. An hour! She said we had an hour and she was gone in minutes. I wasted what time I had with her…and never told her I loved her, or even goodbye.

*

Dogs snarled at me as I passed but I did not run, only walk at a numb pace. My mother was dead; my father, brother, and sister, too. So many friends and neighbors, dead…One of the dogs eyed me warily as it snapped its jaws around a man’s arm and tugged. It came off with no resistance. He had been dead for some time. I looked upon the owner’s face. Luciano Acardi. He used to court me. I remembered that arm. It used to drape around my shoulders like a sly shawl. His hands once cupped my face as he stole a kiss. They were black now, black as the death that took him.

I passed by the old man, the madman. One glance told me he was dead, and it was not even the Black Death that took him. Not a single bubo on him, but he was blackened in bruises, lying in a stew of blood, urine, and dung. Yet a sly smile played on his lips, like he knew a secret no one else did.

I walked on, indifferent.

A commotion to my left drew my eyes in their direction. There were Jews in the street, bewildered and uncertain why they were pulled out of their homes. Someone had to be blamed. Madness was also contagious.

I looked away. Men, women, children…I heard the familiar sound of metal that screech ed  out of their sheaths then there was screaming, a scurry, and the sound of thuds. There was a snicker, and the sound of spitting. Then I heard no more.

That was all behind me. I continued to walk.

Somewhere, I heard a baby cry. It could be its first ,  it could be its last. It made no difference to me. On and on I walked, walked towards the city gates. As I wondered about the state of my soul, my mother’s voice echoed after me.

“Take only what is necessary.”  

About the Author:

        Rebecca R. Pierce has been writing for 11 years, a published poet, and author of “Lord Coddington’s Window”. Her muse is guiding her down the path of narrative fiction, culminating first in short stories, and finally in a novel. Always a reader, her influences include Anais Nin, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Anne Rice. She currently resides with a darling pug, a darling husband, and an even more darling daughter.

Find her on Facebook! [+ https://www.facebook.com/Rebecca-R-Pierce-506008586125562/ +]

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Plagued

  • Author: Rebecca R. Pierce
  • Published: 2016-04-04 15:20:06
  • Words: 1800
Plagued Plagued