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Blessed By the Plague (standard:drama, 3810 words)
Author: Kenneth MoonAdded: Jun 05 2003Views/Reads: 3275/3052Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
Gregory sees death all around him, but the deadly disease never strikes him. And he wants to know why.
 



Click here to read the first 75 lines of the story

understand. 

In a city of thousands, there were only a handful left to do the grisly
work of cleansing the streets.  The plague had claimed its due and then 
moved on to the next village or city.  Such was life for the past six 
months.  Word of the sickness had trickled in at first, vague rumors 
that no one believed but loved to talk about over a mug of ale.  And 
then the rumors became true.  And then they became a nightmare. 

Turning from the flames, Gregory took out his cloth and wiped the shiny
sweat from his neck, his clean, white neck.  The dreaded purple marks 
hadn't yet appeared.  Nor had they struck any of the other people who 
now surrounded him- nobles and paupers alike.  He didn't understand. 

Some of the others said it was because they were chosen by God, that God
loved them more, that the others were wicked.  But Gregory noticed the 
same vices among his fellow survivors as any other.  Master Kremen was 
the kindest man he had ever known, and he was not spared.  If this was 
an act of God, it wasn't to weed out the wicked.  This he knew as he 
saw furtive looks as guilty men and women hefted the bodies of many 
they knew to be just and fair. 

What is this madness?  Why am I still here? 

He stayed in his old rooms for a time, but soon left.  He left the city.
He set out toward home, or at lease what he used to call home.  The 
city was his true home.  Not now.  Not with the horror that had swept 
through its confines.  And Gregory had a small inkling to see what had 
become of his kinfolk.  Not out of love or concern, he had been away 
since a small prentice, hardly knowing his family at all.  His skill at 
copying had taken him away, never to return.  Or so he always supposed. 
But he had an inkling. 

He needed to get away from the dirt, away from the grime.  Before now he
had never noticed it.  He hadn't noticed how brown his hands got within 
just few hours of waking up.  And this from copying script!  Imagine 
the servants, the farmers, the beggars! 

But where could he go?  The dirt would always be there, in every
village, every city, between the cracks on his hands, on his feet, in 
his clothes.  No amount of washing his hands could rid him of the grime 
that surely stuck to his hands, whether he saw it or not.  It was the 
invisible dirt that killed everyone, he knew.  The thought hit Gregory 
the night he washed his arms until they were raw, welcoming the pain, 
hoping it would drown out the sting of losing his entire existence.  
And the purple splotches never came.  They never came because he washed 
himself raw.  He was sure of it. 

And so, with stinging arms and hands, he struggled down the side of the
dirt road, walking on grass and weeds as often as possible. 

* * * 

Squirm knotted her forehead, looking down at the lopsided castle she was
making.  The mud was too moist, she knew.  She would have to come back 
later when much of the morning's rain had dried away.  Her real name 
was Catherine.  At home she knew herself as Catherine, but outside, 
amongst the others, she was Squirm.  She couldn't remember why she was 
Squirm.  It was a name given to her by a large boy, meant to be 
demeaning.  The name stuck somehow, reinforced by her wiry frame and 
her talent for creating mischief. 

Wiping the mud from her hands with her dress, she only accomplished in
smearing it into new places.  Next came her dress; already caked in 
mud, it only accepted a small amount more.  Her small head flipped 
around and her body followed toward the nearest pond.  She had her pick 
of several but it so happened that she was nearer to the furthest one 
from the village. 

Up one hill, down another, she was momentarily distracted by a large
dragonfly before she crested the hill leading toward the waterhole.  
There was a man there.  And he was washing blood off of his arms. 

Squirm crouched behind the tall grass, picking a few choice blades to
suck on.  This she did out of habit.  Her attention was on the man down 
below.  It wasn't blood he was washing off, she realized.  His arms 
were just so pink that she thought it was blood.  Blood wasn't that 
light in color, but arms weren't pink like that either.  Confused, but 
curious she trotted down the hill.  Besides, she couldn't hardly go 
home caked in mud could she?  Momma wouldn't be pleased at all. 

The man jerked up the instant she started down the hill.  Cautiously he
edged away from the water, or was it away from her.  The look on his 
face told her it was the latter, as if she had a terrible disease.  But 
that was silly.  No one was sick in the village.  One man was sick a 
few months ago and died within a few days, but that was all.  Squirm 
remembered those few days well.  Everyone walked around with silly 
looks on their faces.  Some were sad, some jumped at everything that 
touched them.  Others who were always mean were meaner and Momma hugged 
her and cried for almost the whole time.  Squirm had to sneak out of 
the house a few times just to play. Boy, momma had licked her good that 
night; her bottom hurt for days.  And just after that she hugged and 
kissed her and cried some more. 

But that was a few months ago.  Now some people walked around still with
silly faces, but different.  As if they were confused, looking for 
something.  But mostly people were normal again and still no one would 
tell her anything.  Oh, she asked and asked, but people would just pat 
her on the head and ask her about her mother.  Momma wasn't talking 
neither. 

Little Edward (he was also of nine years, like Squirm, but he was almost
a full head shorter) said it was because everyone in the world was 
dying, and that's why people walked around all silly.  Squirm didn't 
believe him though and threw a rock at him to prove it.  If the whole 
world was dying they would be dead too.  And they weren't, so Little 
Edward was a liar. 

But the man by the pond, who she didn't recognize (he did look a little
bit like John the Smith though) also had a silly look on his face.  And 
he wasn't from here.  He was from the ‘whole world.'  Maybe Little 
Edward wasn't such a stupid liar after all. 

This last thought got crowded from her head the second she opened her
mouth.  “Why are you washing your arms so much?  You'll wash the skin 
right away,” she said. 

“Oh, I suppose it might,” the man replied, looking abashed.  “But I'm
still alive aren't I?” 

Squirm didn't answer; the question was too stupid.  She just stood there
waiting for the man to say something that made sense. 

“This is Homefort right?” he asked.  Then, more to himself, “Of course
it is.  I remember everything.”  Turning his attention back to her, 
what little hair he had, flapping in the wind, “Can you take me to John 
Berkmann?” 

“The smith?”  Squirm said. 

The man looked surprised.  Again, to himself, “A smith now?” 

“Course he's the smith.  Always been the smith.  Don't you know
anything?” 

The man showed a half smile.  “For at least eight years he has been,” he
muttered.  “My name is Gregory.  What's yours?” 

“Squirm, no Catherine, no both.”   Pausing for breath she said, “My
momma calls me Catherine, everyone else calls me Squirm.” 

“Ok Squirm, lead on.” 

She offered her hand, but he declined with a murmur, explaining that he
could keep up just fine.  They climbed up one hill and down another 
before the small town came into view.  With a gasp, Squirm saw the man 
fall to the grass, a dumb look on his face.  But before she could offer 
help he was up and almost overran her to the village.  She pointed her 
small, still muddy arm toward John the Smith's place and he with a 
short ‘Thank you', hurried past her.  Squirm forgot her muddy hands and 
dress and ran toward the home, anxious to tell Momma about the man with 
the pink arms who looked like John the Smith.  And in the telling, her 
mother almost forgot to scold her for being dirty. 

* * * 

Why are they still alive?  All of them, alive? 

Gregory's stinging hands shook as he scuttled closer to the pounding
hammer.  An old man he recognized passed him on the right.  A man 
leading a mule passed him on the left.  A woman with a young boy in 
hand brushed close enough to him that her sleeve irritated his 
throbbing arms.  He knew she must not have seen him – otherwise she 
would have veered away with a look of bewilderment, as the other 
villagers had done.  Gregory didn't discourage this reaction in the 
slightest.  He knew his face must mirror their own. 

The forge was just as he remembered it:  blisteringly hot even from a
distance, dark wood stained even darker from the smoke and the heart 
glowing a sickly yellow.  John with his back turned, looked like very a 
large version of Gregory, glistening muscles bulging in the heat.  With 
steady rhythm the hammer fell, forcing a shape into the metal. 

For a long moment Gregory just stood there, nonplussed.  He dared not
touch the man with such a large hammer in his hand and he knew that no 
amount of shouting would conquer the bellowing fires and clank of the 
hammer.  So he waited. 

A short moment later, the big man turned, staring at the shape of a
horseshoe, red like the fires.  The shoe hit the ground with a soft 
smack, making an impression in the dirt.  Wide eyes stared and he 
whispered.  “Gregory?” 

“Are you really alive? Or are we both dead?” was all that Gregory could
say. 

A tear washed down the smith's blackened face, leaving a whitened streak
from eye to chin.  “Alive,” he choked.  “I think we are still alive 
brother.”  In a flurry they embraced for the first time in life. 

“But how?” 

There was no response. 

* * * 

“It is something unseen!  I know it!” Gregory exclaimed. 

“Of course its unseen.  I saw no ghosts about, touching people with
death,” John replied wiping chicken grease from his chin.  A clean, 
white cloth lay next to his plate.  “And I ain't never seen the finger 
of God neither.  But it still touches me just the same.” 

John cast a nervous glance at Gregory's arms, now wrapped in white as he
had insisted.  “And no amount of scrubbing is going to stop the finger 
of God.” 

Gregory sighed, holding an arm up.  “I haven't been able to quit since
the night Master Kremen caught the disease.  And then I had to carry so 
many-“ he could finish, scratching his arm wildly before John stopped 
him.  “If it is the finger of God then why did he spare us?  We are no 
better than those who died.” 

John nodded in agreement.  “Maybe he spared our children's children. 
Who am I to know?  I know only that excepting Horatio the Spaniard, we 
all lived.” 

Gregory's brow furrowed at that, deep in thought.  “He was from Spain?” 
John nodded.  “Perhaps only those with Spanish blood caught the 
sickness?  No, that can't be.  Everyone died in the city, not only the 
Spaniards.”  He stopped short, shaking. “John, do you remember cousin 
Elizabeth?” 

“Of course, she left upwards of ten years ago, went to the city with
that man who came through.” 

“She lived John!” Gregory exclaimed.  “So did her children!  But her
husband died!  Do you see it John?” 

“So what?  That happened in the surrounding villages just the same,” he
replied with a shake of his hand. 

Gregory shook his head furiously, took hold of one of his bandages and
pulled.  With a strength he never knew he had, Gregory ripped the 
bandage clean in half as a trickle of blood crept toward his underarm.  
“This blood is the answer John!”  He laughed as he slid his finger 
under the blood and lifted a drop toward John.  “This is the answer!” 

“I don't understand,” John replied.  He eyed Gregory as man might look
at a madman. 

“You will, John.  Trust me.”  And he did. 

* * * 

It was many months later, as she was building a moat around her castle
that Squirm saw Gregory for the last time.  He had a bag draped over 
his shoulder and looked to be leaving.  She was more than a bit 
disappointed as he passed her by and threw a small ball of mud at him.  
For the first time she could remember, she hit something – his shiny 
head to be exact.  Giggling she crouched behind her castle as he spun 
around.  Irritation gave way to delight as he caught the trail of her 
muddy feet darting behind the pile of mud. 

“Squirm, I'm sorry.  I didn't see you,” he said.  “I wanted to say
goodbye.  I should have known you would be out here.” 

Squirm's face turned the sort of pink that the boys would mock her for. 
Fortunately she was alone.  “Where are you going?”  she asked, pulling 
on the long grass to the side of the mud hole. 

Gregory glanced at the mud, smiling.  His arms were no longer pink and
his gaze didn't dart all about like it used to.  The silly look on the 
faces in the village were gone with his coming.  “I'm going to the 
city,” he said quietly. 

“Why?” she asked almost before he finished speaking. 

“I need to do some family research.” He replied. 

“What's that?” she asked.  “Your family is here.  Just stay here.” 

Gregory laughed, scooping her up in his arms.  “Just remember one thing
Catherine.  You and I are kin,” he paused.  “In a way that matters most 
of all.”  He set her down and she landed with a bounce. 

“Of course we are,” she retorted.  “Everyone here is brother or sister
or cousin.  Even I know that.” 

Gregory opened his mouth, about to make his point, but he caught
himself, looked past Squirm's head at the mud-castle.  “Your castle is 
missing the east tower,” he said.  “That's the most important tower of 
all.  It's where the king sleeps.”  And he jumped into the mud. 

* * * 

Like millions of others in the city of New York, Charles wasn't sleeping
well lately.  Unlike most of those millions, however, Charles was too 
elated to sleep.  As giddy as he could ever get, onlookers might have 
seen him smiling at the ceiling. 

A cure for AIDS!? 

Who would have thought it might be found in such and unlikely place? 
Or, more accurately, in such and unlikely person? 

Two weeks ago to the day, Parker Smith stepped into his lab.  He wore a
bright blue t-shirt, khaki shorts and matching flip-flops.  Hands in 
pocket, he teetered on the balls of his feet as he looked around at the 
various glass beakers and petri dishes. At the time, Charles could 
barely hold his contempt for the man.  He still felt contempt for the 
man, but was grateful for his existence just the same. 

Parker had called a few days earlier and glibly explained his situation.
 For years he had lived a promiscuous lifestyle of unprotected sex and 
drug use.  He and a close group of friends shared every mind altering 
substance they could get their hands on.  And then Rick joined the 
group- Parker never knew his last name, but would never forget his 
first name.  Rick had a sickly look to him. 

“We were trying to recreate free love, you see,” Parker had stated. 
“Anything goes, you know.  And it did.” 

And then Jerry and Sue got sick.  And, see, they started to look just
like Rick.  And soon after that we heard of AIDS.  But we knew it was 
just a gay man's disease, so we never thought . . . well we couldn't 
stop.”  And then, with a chuckle, “I still can't.  And don't have to.” 

Charles had then asked him to get to the point. 

“I don't have AIDS, you see.  I never even got HIV.  Every one of my
friends has it.  Only two of them are still alive, Jill and Jen.  But 
they won't be long.  I should be dead right now.  But I'm not.  I'm not 
in very good with God, you know, so I know that can't be it.  I want 
you to tell me why I'm still here.” 

As much as Charles didn't agree with Parker's former promiscuity, he
could forgive that, if only the confounded man had learned from his 
mistakes.  Briefly the smile left his face at the memory.  Only briefly 
however as he fingered the binding of the book resting on his chest. 

Parker was immune to the HIV virus.  Countless petri dishes had proven
that- countless because Charles couldn't believe what he was seeing as 
the virus died every time it came into contact with Parker's sample.  
Still this was not the cause of the little smile that Charles couldn't 
erase. 

Sure the possibilities were now endless, and millions of lives could be
saved, but Charles would face that as if it were Thursday night poker.  
He might even now picture himself on the cover of Time and Newsweek, 
straight-faced of course.  He would have to smile when the President 
shook his hand, but that would be forced. 

The only things that made Charles smile were the strange and ironic
occurrences in life.  He had a scientist's sense of humor, the type 
that not even a mother could love. 

Charles closed the large volume and set it on the nightstand, the smile
still on his lips.  It was a history written by a blacksmith who lived 
in old England.  To be fair, the author was former scribe as a young 
man and the history was more of a genealogy than history.  But that 
suited Charles' purpose all the more.  It was the connection.  Charles 
knew it, and he would soon prove it.  The title of the 
history/genealogy was “The Miraculous Survivors of the Plague.” 


   


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