The Mortality

It began with dreams. Every night, dreams of doom spreading over the land, darkening skies, spreading panic. At this point in my life I had stopped dreaming the way others do- dreams mean that at some subconscious level I have made a connection that my conscious mind has yet to grasp. Of course I did not think in those terms at that time, still I understood the mechanism. It had served me well over the centuries.

After the third night my husband Robert fell ill. As was most often the case at that time we had wed out of convenience rather than affection- he was a widower in his fifties caring for his three grandchildren orphaned when their parents succumbed to pneumonia one long winter. I was a barren spinster from “another village” and we served each other’s purposes well enough. I liked him, which was as much emotion as I could muster for any other human being at that time. I enjoyed his company and the family I married in to.

He complained of a headache that morning, and he appeared quite ill, but he insisted on going about his daily chores. I found him later that morning, out by the barn- moaning with fever, dark swellings in his neck and under his arms. I called to Jacques and together we carried Robert to our bed, then I sent Michelle to run for the doctor. The next morning Robert was dead, and both Jacques and Jean were ill.

I was no doctor myself, but I knew infectious disease when I saw it. The doctor arrived later that morning, alone.

“Tell me,” was all I said, but I made it a command.

“In town, others are sick- travelers on the high road tell of a Great Mortality spreading across the land. Twenty have died in just the past two days…” his voice trailed off, his face stricken.


“She was fevered when she found me. I sent her to the church, with the others…”

“There are many more ill? And you came here? What of your patients?”

“There is nothing… I… I am helpless against this. I am useless…” The man visibly crumpled in upon himself, broken with despair and I understood that a disaster was unfolding.

“Then there is nothing you can do here.” I tried to make that as comforting to him as I could. He was a good man, after all- this was just beyond anything he, or anyone, had witnessed before.

“Should you fall ill…” He said no more, but I understood that he saw my death as a foregone conclusion. I watched him until he turned the bend by the stream.

I had witnessed plagues before, but nothing like this. Little Jean did not last the night, shuddering out his last breath curled in a pool of his own bloodied vomit. Jacques was much stronger than his brother, but after four days he had no strength left and I buried him next to his father and brother out behind the barn.

With nothing to keep me home I packed what I felt might be of use and struck out for town after leaving a sign in the front yard warning that there was plague in the house. The wind turned as I walked, coming out of the north, bearing the scent of mass death. When the path I followed joined the main road I began to encounter people fleeing, many already obviously ill. Those who would listen I directed to my former home. Better to die in a bed under a roof, than in a ditch by the roadside.

The town was a nightmare. All doors were locked, some houses were burned to the ground, and everywhere was the stench of death mingled with incense as people desperately sought to hold the Mortality at arm’s length by filling the air with pleasant scents. I made my way to the Church and found a few desperate souls trying to tend to dozens of ill, dying wretches. I had been counting the corpses- I estimated that nearly a tenth of the people of the town were already gone and an equal number were desperately ill.


“Monique?” He lurched forward, his hands settling upon my shoulders as he gazed in to my face with fever-glazed eyes. ” Amazing… Michelle…” the man was pale, befuddled, so ill he could barely function, yet he remained on his feet.

“She is in a better place, I know,” I whispered to him, “You should rest.”

“No! I still… I have to… Dear Lord, why?” That last came as a shout of despair and he collapsed at my feet. Dr. Dupee was a gallant man, devoted to his craft, primitive though it was. I mourned the loss of my adopted family, but I shed tears over him. His loss was so much greater- the Mortality would not only take his life, it had defeated him.

2 Responses to “The Mortality”

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  2. The above comment was first posted on 02/24/2003.