Waking up this morning I realized it was not morning at all, but well into the afternoon. It appeared I have slept the morning away, which was very irregular for me. Normally, I’m up with the morning sun, but I suppose everyone earns a day to sleep in from time to time. Getting up and then dressed, I quickly scanned the floor to make sure my furry friend had not returned. To my satisfaction he had not. Now lacking only my mask from having on my full attire, I walked into the kitchen to fix myself something that would satisfy the pangs of an empty stomach. Grabbing a pot from the cupboard, I filled it halfway with water and the rest of the way with freshly grounded up oats. I stirred my delicious concoction until the water evaporated and the oats turned a light brown. While my meal boiled I went and began to replace the vinegar sponge and the spices I had stored in the beak of my mask. Careful not to put in so much that I wouldn’t be able to breathe I repacked the hollowed out area and then returned to my cooking. I poured myself a cup of cider to help wash the meal down with as I sat it on the table and walked over to my simmering pot. The aroma was deliciously intoxicating as I spooned out some of the oatmeal into an awaiting bowl and eagerly walked back over and sat down to enjoy my meal.
Not two bites into it though I heard a knock at the door. Running to put on my freshly scented mask I remember thinking why couldn’t this have waited until later. I walked over and unlatched my door, opening it with angered haste to see who the person was who interrupted my breakfast. Standing before me was a tall, shabby dressed man by the name of Everett. I’m not sure what his last name was, however I do know that his occupation was a searcher. The pungent odor imitating off this man seemed to waft its way through my mask despite the fresh spices I had just installed. As I looked at him he took one step forward and said, “I need you to accompany me to the plague fields.”
My heart sank within me. That was the last place on God’s earth I wanted to go and the countless nightmares I had had about them only amplified those feelings! Catching my breath I asked, “Why should I accompany you? The burning of human flesh is your occupation, not mine.” He responded by saying I had to come along as a witness to reassure all the towns people that the plague victims were being disposed of properly. Every fiber of my being screamed out against it, but it was my responsibility and I must oblige him.
Finally, I consented and nodded my head in agreement to his request. I stepped back in for a moment, long enough to grab my cane and give one last lustful glance at my breakfast before returning outside once more. Walking out, I saw he had already positioned himself in front of his cart and was getting ready to start. I stared solemnly at all the dead human flesh he managed to collect all piled up on it. While scanning the bodies, my eyes saw the face of a man I had known. It was Mr. Balingraff, the poor man had finally met his fate; the same fate that had been so cruel and unjustly dealt to so many others.
We began our journey toward the fields with Everett pulling the cart and I walking beside it. With each step I took I couldn’t help but stare down into the faces of all those whom he was pulling. Every hole Everett hit in the road made their bodies jolt up in the air as if trying to escape their fate. I gazed into their eyes thinking who some of them might have been. Perhaps a mother or father, son or daughter, someone’s friend or neighbor, each struck down wrongly while in the prime of their life, depriving all who knew and loved them of their company any longer.
As we made our way to the top of the hill I saw the billowing black smoke rising up from the earth below. My heart once again sank as we made it over the top and I saw the valley below. Desolate wasteland that seemed to go on for miles covered the earth’s surface. Grassless and void of life, the only thing to look at were the wooden pillars and the scorched places where they once stood. Makeshift altars dedicated to the devastation of the black plague. Several had been built across the span of earth that lay in front of me and the majority of them were already aflame. I saw many carts wheeling in the dead bodies the searchers had collected from their normal rounds that were to be offered. As Everett continued onward to one of the pillars yet to be set a blaze, I stopped not wanting to go any farther than I had to. Looking to my left, I saw a multitude of people gathered watching the same sight as I. No doubt friends, family, and relatives who had come to pay their last respects. Amongst them I saw Mrs. Balingraff standing there with a Bible clasps in her arms to help comfort her.
One by one each of the carts were unloaded and the pillar grew in size with each delivery the searchers made. Other plague doctors, such as myself, then encamped round about it with lit torches in their hands waiting on the signal to throw them on the pile. People in the crowd began to weep bitterly, crying and screaming out for their loved ones. I stepped back in shock of the whole spectacle, thinking surly this must be what hell is like. As I had expected and feared I spotted a priest, dressed like the one in my nightmare, walking up toward the soon to be lit pillar. He opened a book he was carrying and began to read aloud the words that were in it. After a moment he raised his hand, gesturing a cross in the air, and then turned to walk away. As he turned, the plague doctors all threw their torches onto the pile, setting it on fire. I stood there and watched in horror as the bodies of the deceased were consumed in the flames. The agonizing cries of the crowd grew louder and more sporadic. I remember wanting desperately to cover my ears, but I couldn't persuade my arms to move. I just stood there motionless.
Unable to bear the sight or sound any longer I finally turned to walk away. As I turned I saw another priest, who was standing directly in front of me with one hand folded over the other. I froze dead in my tracks not knowing what to do or expect! Was he the same priest in my nightmare? Had he come to do away with me like in my dream? I stared at him, afraid to move or speak. The countenance of his face was one of genuine concern and sorrow, the complete opposite from the one in my nightmare. As he looked past me at the flaming pillar he sighed and said, “It is well that the plague is so terrible, that we shouldn’t grow too accustomed to it.” Not saying anything, I walked past him in an attempt to leave the scene as fast as I could. I heard him over my shoulder say, “Goodbye my friend, go with God.”