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A year or two ago I picked up a book called something like The Black Death: a Statistical Analysis. This was the driest book on the Plague I'd ever read. The figures were gruesome, the facts nightmarish, but it was all numbers. Nine days for all clergy in a town to die; Three days for first cases in town to die, with priests administering the last rites taking fleas back to their own beds, three more days for the Plague to crash the rat population at the churches and cloisters, and the starving fleas to start biting the clergy, and three days for the priests themselves to die.
Fascinating, but morbid, and again incredibly dry. The book had a huge citation list nearly half the length of the book itself. I looked at this bibliography and noted a book simply called "The Black Death," a book my mother has sitting on her shelf. This book is a far more human depiction. It's outdated. So, outdated it refers to the Plague as Pasteurella pestis and not Yersinia pestis. Despite its datedness and its brevity, it tells the human story. This book has the account of a black dog that stands on its legs and kills men. It tells of how a pope lit a fire around himself to ward it off. It relates a monk closing the doors of his monastery because he was the last one left alive.
The scale of the disaster is hard to comprehend. 30-60% of Europe's population died. Imagine riding on the city bus, now subtract the passengers, deleting them from your mind's eye. The startling loss of life, and then consider that most are going to school, to work, and you'll see how economies collapse. 100 million people died worldwide, by some estimates.
Imagination is largely a form of synthesis. At the same time as reading the dry, dry book, I went to the local zoo to see their new Tasmanian Devils.
The city zoo has for some time been engaged in the recovery effort of the Tasmanian Devil. The devils were then and are now, under the scourge of a great plague: a contagious cancer. Such cancers are rare. Humans don't have any. There's a cancer of dogs that acts like an STI and there's a cancer of hamsters transmitted by mosquito bite, and there's one of soft shell clams. There are, as of this writing, no other contagious cancers known. There are a few viruses that can cause cancer, but what we are talking about here is a cancer that is itself contagious.
The devil cancer is particularly horrific in that it doesn't outright kill the devils themselves but rather starves them, or blocks the air passages. It looks horrible too, but appearance is hardly a concern. It distorts the jaw, pushes out the teeth, can grow over the eyes. A horrible death.
I applied it to people and wrote a story.
The creation of stories is seldom straight forward. Once I had the premise, I had to have a person to observe it. I could write a description of a plague, and I'm sure it'd be catching enough, but without an actor it isn't much of a story. I pulled Motley up, set him out on his adventure to describe the world I would be destroying. The world of the story is closer to Byzantium than it is to classic Rome and the faith of the Empire is Catholic-esk.
I originally thought I'd start in the middle of the plague, but that didn't make much sense once I began, so I changed it, very little of those original plague chapters survived to the final draft. At some point, while writing one of the more apocalyptic sections, I was in the University of New Mexico's new art library. It's on the top floor of the architecture building and it has a spectacular view of the Sandia Mountains. I was working long hand, as I always do, and the bright sunshine lit New Mexico summer seemed about as far away from Adea and its plague ridden streets as I could get. I had pulled out a book on the Holocaust, and it was sitting open next to me, big glossy pictures of dead people, and I'd been sketching with words what I saw on the page. Cheerful stuff.
I don't know if there is supposed to be a moral to the story, but my due to recent events, my mind is drawn to darker stories these days, a trend I'll try to reverse at some point, maybe when the political weather is a bit more like a New Mexican summer day.
The story was supposed to be the first of three novellas in a collection I was calling the "Dystopia Franchise" because the name pleased me. They were all supposed to have downer endings. However, after the second story's first draft, I got too depressed to continue. Lighter fare. Lighter fare is the ticket.
Anyway, pleasant reading,
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