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Febraury 18, 2014: The Black Plague

Updated: Dec 18, 2021

While this piece was something that I was assigned to write in my history class, I still vividly remember being very proud of this little bit of prose. These characters and topics almost certainly won't make a return but I feel like this is still a very fun example of my writing at the time, as my younger self put real work into this one.

 

(tw: disease and death)


He stared at the piles of bodies that were strewn on either side of the river; a bridge connected the two sides of the river Rhône. He had volunteered to help wrap the bodies of the dead, of those whose souls would never again see the light of day.


He was strong for his age, a ripe thirteen, older than most of his friends had lived to be, but he let the older men actually dump the bodies, he was fine where he was. Though, with each body he covered, he thought more and more of the loved ones that he had seen go, with each pair of eyes that he closed he saw his sister’s light, gorgeous blue eyes, frightened and pained as the horrific bumps made a home on her skin.


A light smack came to the back of his head, bringing him sharply from his thoughts, “Hurry up, boy, the Pope wants to give each body a blessing before we let them go,” snapped the large, but feeble looking man. At one point this man may have been as terrifying to the young boy as facing a live grizzly bear, but no one was the same as they used to be. Food was becoming short with the lack of people willing to sell it and the lack of people alive to even produce anything, though the fear was what kept most people from coming out of hiding. There was so much fear… so much fear


The boy sighed, running a hand through his scruffy blonde hair, “Don’t worry, this is the last one,” he mumbled, not meeting the man’s, or anyone else’s, eyes as he finished covering the last of the dead. He couldn’t look into another’s eyes, for fear that his scarred soul may project and worsen their own, or that their own miseries may rub alcohol into his own wounds. Either way, it was fear that drove him, fear that ate him alive, fear that was slowly killing him from the inside out, more painful than that of the mysterious sickness.


He backed away from the bodies, trying not to look at them a moment longer, he may have volunteered to help, but that was only for the food that he could possibly get from the Pope if he were to be in a generous mood. Which he almost always was, he was the Pope for Pete’s sake. That did not, however, mean that he wanted to be around them any longer than absolutely necessary, with each second he stayed there his eyes tricked him further, with images of his father, gagging and choking on his own vomit, dead a day later. His mother, gentle and kind and loving and everything that a child could ever want of a mother, coughing up the life blood that she so needed to survive, gone less than two days later, leaving her precious son and daughter to fend for themselves in the cruel world. And, finally, his sister, black bumps spreading and marring her once flawless skin, shivers wracking her body even in the harsh heat the sun provided. She lasted longer than their mother or father, but the boy had never been certain whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.


“Brother, brother, do you wanna play a game?” A voice, that couldn’t possibly be there, asked from beside him.


He jumped back, not even noticing the person that had come to stand beside him while he had been trapped by the memories, until he had run into the man, of course.


Peeking up at the man, he noticed white robes of purity and a blood red shawl, the color that had been used to wipe clean the slate of every living being. The boy stared in shock, before dropping to his knees; hands folded together, not even bothering with the dizziness that engulfed him from the sudden drop. “I’m so sorry, Holy Father, please forgive my clumsiness.” he begged.


The elderly man gave a slight chuckle, the lines of stress on his face were obvious even to the young boy, though he still did not meet the eyes of the elder. Pope Clement VI held out his hand to the boy, allowing the young one to kiss his ring, before offering him a hand up, in which the boy took gratefully, if not a little nervously.


“Thank you, Holy Father,” he mumbled, eyes glued to the rough, stone covered ground of the river edge, “I must be making my leave now, I apologize again for disturbing you.” He spoke, remembering the teachings of manners that his mother had managed to instill in him.


And he began to walk away, the spinning in his head getting worse with the passing seconds, though he ignored, to not make a bigger fool of himself in front of the men.

“My child,” the boy glanced back, eyes accidentally lifting from the ground he had pinned them to, meeting the man’s tired eyes, the souls of which brushed across his own like a soft healing balm. “Would you tell me your name?”

He blinked, dark blue eyes finding it difficult to leave the Pope’s once they had met, “My name’s Edmund.”


The man smiled again, “Well, Edmund, I do hope we meet again, maybe under better circumstances.”


Edmund couldn’t help but smile as well, despite the ache that still tore at his heart, “Yes, Father, I think that I would like that.” And the boy turned and ran from the area, the smell of rotting flesh still fresh in his nostrils, though the smile did not leave his lips till the last light of the day.


His breath came in quick, gasping spurts, the world around him was a blur, everything that came into his sight rapidly spun like it was trying to confuse him. If that was the case, then it was doing a rather fine job of it.


His chest hurt like nothing he had ever felt before, like hundreds of spiders under his skin, nipping at his insides looking for a way out. “Please…” He coughed, hacking and choking, his vision stopping its twists and turns long enough for him to register the dark red liquid that was coating his hand.


Sweat poured out and over his skin like a river was flowing over him, “Please, God, help me…” mumbled the poor boy, who had been the image of good health just hours ago, while he was still basking in the glow of meeting the Pope and having been acknowledged as worth meeting again.


Now, it seemed, that would never become a reality…


Thoughts spinning as much as his eyes seemed to be, Edmund found himself tumbling over something that he hadn’t seen coming. Not that he even was sure of where he was, he had been lost for a while, and it looked like he would never find his way.


Edmund did not move, he lay on the ground, pitiful as a newborn pup, capable of nothing but suckling from its mother. He dragged his dark blue eyes towards the sky, or in the direction he had hoped the sky was in, and he prayed for forgiveness from whatever sins had brought this sickness upon him.


“Our Father, who art in Heaven-”


“Brother, you should see my new room-”


“Hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done-”


“Oh, my son, how I wish I could have been there for you-”


“On earth, as it is in Heaven, give us this day, our daily bread-”


“My sweet boy, how strong you have grown, if only I could’ve brought more peace to your short life-”


“And forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us,” he sighed, peacefully, the pain that had been flooding his body was slowly dimming to a light throb, though the world still ambled in circles around him. “For thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever-”


“Come with us, brother, we can play another game together-”


“Son, please, let go of you pain and come to us-”


“My boy, oh, how I have wished to hold you in my arms once again-”


“Amen…”


Edmund smiled, dark eyes growing glossy and drifting shut as the last of the pain finally disappeared, leaving the hollowed out shell of a boy whose soul had finally returned to happiness among those he loves.



Dark blue, glassy, dead, eyes stared up peacefully at the midday sun, they held none of their old light, not seeing anything they seemed to glance at.


“Father?” One of the Bishops, that he had brought to help him bless the bodies, called from behind him, watching the exchange between lifeless boy and honorable Pope. “Are you okay?” His voice held concern, though the elderly man did not answer him, he was trapped by those dark eyes, they had held so much pain and distrust of the world. But there was still a spark of life, a spark of hope, for what, no one would ever know now, but it was there.


And now it never would be again.


The Bishop gave the official a small smile, “Come now, Your Holiness, we must continue with the blessings, we cannot risk you being out here anymore than necessary.”


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