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Thursday, January 28, 2016
A blazing star appeared for several weeks before the plague, passing directly over the city and so very near the houses it was plain it imported something peculiar and the apprehensions of the people were greatly increased.
-Journal of the Plague Year
The comet blazed across the heavens, trailing sparkling gas clouds and creating a spectacular show in the early evening sky. The clear weather brought people out into the gardens and lanes, enjoying the soft air and twinkling stars. Children clapped and cried out in wonder but older denizens cast worried glances at the fiery arrow scorching the London sky. Such sights foretold disastrous events and though they exclaimed they soon began to voice fear and consternation. No good would come of it.
Rumor had it that the plague had arisen again in Venice, brought there from the Levant in the late autumn of last year. That graceful floating city was awash with bloated corpses that rose and sank with the tides, its vast wharves a graveyard of ships that entombed putrefying bodies. The great Doge himself was said to have fled the town with all his family. Thick smoke from sulfur fires intended to cleanse the air filled the streets. Infected citizens were locked away in their own houses. Heavy chains drawn across the waterways bore wooden placards warning of death.
These containment measures were doomed to fail; soon tales of roving, murderous bands of- refugees? penitents? began to filter into outlying lands as towns set up special watches and homegrown militias to guard against their advance. The bands only increased in size after each purported attack and the tales grew more fantastic with the passing months. The refugees were insurrectionists, the refugees were mad, the refugees were cannibals and no one could stop them. Ghost ships, manned by nothing living, drifted on the high seas and foundered in harbors, spilling their dead into the briny waters. The plague leapt from Genoa to Marseilles to Le Havre.
The Bonnie Lass, a 300 ton, storm-battered merchant vessel, had sailed to London from the ports of Istanbul carrying more than just dates from Damascus and spices from fabled India. Unaware they had loaded Death onto their ship, the sailors happily anticipated spending their share of the voyage’s earnings, never imagining they could be dead and pitched overboard to a cold, watery grave by the time they reached the storm-tossed English Channel.
Sailing up the Thames and anchoring at Gravesend, most were too weak to board the skiff their shipmates launched under cover of darkness and were left behind, drowning in their own blood and phlegm. Many would rise to a different existence, unlike any they could have imagined. Those who made it off the ship before London port officials boarded and quarantined them all carried Death and more to their unsuspecting families.
Along the docks of Southwark and through Cheapside the plague slithered from taverns to boarding houses to chapels and took its first victims before anyone even knew it was among them. London began to die.
Two weeks later…
“The house was shut up and sealed properly as ordered, sir. All the family save the mistress were down with the sickness,” said Rolf Wence, watchman for the Shoreditch parish.
“And you say you have heard nothing since that first night? Were they well supplied with food beforehand?” asked Thomas Sand, practicing physician and resident of the parish.
“Aye, sir. They were well supplied. I was sure to send them a plague nurse as soon as I made the report. The mistress screeched something fierce when told they were under quarantine but the signs could not be mistaken. Proof of infection was clear. Two of the children had lain ill for near two days.”
“Would that they had lain somewhere other than Shoreditch. Six more families are now infested with it, with possibly more unreported. I have a house with rooms to let two lanes over and prospects are shying away from the area now,” grumbled the physician.
The parish council had dispatched the men to investigate a house shuttered by order of the council nearly two days ago. Neighbors reported since then there had been no communication from the family thus enclosed.
The street along which they walked was filthy with rotted food scraps and the contents of chamber pots tossed from windows above. Half-timbered buildings built precariously tall loomed over the broken cobbles, blocking out the sun in spots. Both men held vinegar-soaked handkerchiefs to their noses and paused frequently as large rats, naked tails twitching, skittered boldly across their path.
Gradually the streets grew wider and the teetering houses gave way to handsome brick manses set in goodly gardens and they soon stood before a house, stoutly locked and boarded from the outside and marked with the usual ruddy cross painted on the door. A willow, forlorn and weeping, hung over the roof, casting the pale brick into gloom. This was a prosperous area, the dwellings belonging to successful merchant and artisan families, many esteemed members of London guilds.
No smoke rose from any of the house’s several chimneys. Though probably a fancy, to the men the dwellings around it seemed to shrink away from the plague house. The street was deserted and eerily silent. A child’s shoe lay in the gutter, left behind by a fleeing family. Ruts from many wagon wheels marked the earth between the cobbles.
The watchman strode up to the door and rapped sharply on the door with his staff. No response. He walked around the side of the house and knocked on the locked shutters. The sound echoed along the silent lane.
Down the street a door opened and a linen-coiffed woman peered out. From another door emerged a man with two wide-eyed children. A portly man, wearing soft, leather boots and sporting a drooping set of mustaches strolled into view. Slowly, a small crowd gathered outside the plague house.
“Has anyone seen any of the family or given them food?” asked the physician.
“No, sirrah. We have not approached them. There was a great commotion the first night but since then we have heard nothing. The plague nurse the watchman sent could not get them to come to the door,” replied the woman in the mob cap.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Friday, January 8, 2016
Posting a rough draft of The Kirk which should be out within the next few weeks. The YA zombie series is still in progress. Sorry for the delay! LI
Couriers carried back the glad tidings of peace and safety, and a glowing account of rich lands, fine forests, great water courses- rivers, creeks, brooks, and bubbling springs. In short, the land of milk and honey had been found.
Land. Acreage. Daring wanderers left the misty folds of the British Isles in search of it. A small spot in the world where a man could plant crops, pasture his livestock and live free, answerable to no lord and master save God.
The Piedmont region of North America is a lush land of hills and valleys comprising vast, dense forests and fertile meadows ascending gradually to the ancient Appalachian Mountains. Born during the Ordovician period the mountains rose when the North American plate collided with an ocean plate, folding vast layers of rock and thrusting them upward to dizzying heights. In the late 1700s much of the land was still considered the western frontier, a rugged region known well only to explorers, traders, and the natives.
When the first families of European immigrants arrived they were delighted to find that the tales of prime farmland and woodland sent back by explorers were no lie. They entered a land of tumbling streams and sparkling waterfalls that led to deep, slow-moving rivers ideal for transport and irrigation.
At the same time they were surprised at the lack of cultivation. Despite the existence of large populations of the Catawba and Cherokee people above and below the area the soil lay unbroken except by trees and wild plants.
The natives referred to the land as the “dark and bloody ground” and some related rumors and old tales of human sacrifice made by a mongrel, degenerate tribe, who delivered up their children to “pass through the fire” to appease an ancient and powerful being. Fierce battles were fought there between warring tribes but none settled on the blood-drenched soil. To the Catawba the land was, and always would be, cursed, and they did not want to wake what they believed slumbered there.
Undaunted by the Catawba tales and bringing with them their culture and their faith, the intrepid settlers negotiated sales of the territory with the natives claiming ownership and, with their growing families, began to fell trees to create pastures and build their rude log homes. It was then that they came upon the enormous earthen mounds scattered throughout the forests. Being from the British isles they were not unfamiliar with such phenomena and in general knew better than to disturb the ancient mounds. Mounds that were already thousands of years old when Columbus landed on Caribbean shores.
It was the Robard family who laid claim to the mound dotted acres. One of the original settlers, Mr. James Robard soon built his log cabin and sent to Baltimore for the rest of his family. They arrived in July of 1777. By spring of the next year they would all be dead, victims of an arcane horror acted out during the cold and snowy winter of 1777-78.
By most accounts Mrs. Robard was found first. Neighbors discovered her decayed body staked to the ground of the spring house, razor cuts crisscrossed her arms and throat, deep, narrow wounds that must have taken some time to drain the body. Her daughters were close by, hanging upside down from open rafters, small bodies revolving slowly, throats sliced.
James Robard was still alive when three men forced the door of the cabin but were only in time to watch as he slit his own throat.
The Robards were not the only victims of that winter, just the most well-known. The fledgling town closed ranks and kept its secrets.
For a time the land fell into disuse, locals occasionally using it as common grazing pasture.
Game near the mounds was plentiful but often inedible. Hunters sometimes found malformed prey with extra hooves or even vestigial legs. One memorable kill involved a deer with two heads, one of which was capable of a sort of piteous speech before it was silenced. It was burned rather than eaten. Blackberries there, no matter how plump and sweet, were left for the birds.
Farmers soon learned that cattle grazing in certain fields either perished of a wasting disease and/or yielded poor quality milk and beef. Such areas were soon fenced off and in little more than a generation trees soared again into the gentle blue sky, vast canopies creating shaded micro-climates lush with ferns and vines that sometimes quivered when no wind blew.
The ground here was seismically active and occasional mild tremors caused the mounds to dislodge rotting, stained bones which the settlers quietly reinterred with appropriate prayers as they had done in the dark water peat bogs of the Old country. The dead were best never disrespected.