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“Oh my God it is so boiling hot today… Is there any point in going outside? I can’t see those swollen corpses anymore,” an old man peered through a small dimmed window to the street. That suffocating summer day the street was empty, except for the rats and the corpses. The people were dying right on the street, falling on the ground with soft thuds. Most corpses were not very neatly stacked on the corners, some still laid scattered on the ground, waiting for carriers. Huge pits were dug out in every area, but they were filled up. There were no fresh people to dig up new pits.
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“Again the church is ringing bells!” Maclean quietly moaned. His left ear was still aching from the yesterday’s bell-ringing. Priests say that the Black Death can be scared off by the noise of the bells. “Well, I don’t know… Last week one of the bell ringers died of plague… They say they gonna fire cannon… Oh, no, please, not today. I’m having a headache.”
“Ugh… what a stench… probably someone of the Shiptons died. But why didn’t they bury them? Can it be that they all died? Hmm… but I need to go to the well to get some water. My old Susan is hardly breathing,” old Maclean heavily shuffled to the corner to pick up the pail. He wiped his wet forehead and brushed grey hair from falling on his eyes. He was in his late 30s. No one knew his exact date of birth. He was a commoner, raised in a charity house. His wife exhaled hissing noises. She coughed blood for a few weeks, had bloodshot eyes for a few days, and could not talk because her tongue swelled. “I’ll get her some water, and she’ll be better. Except that her neck got bigger… If only I had a quarter of a pound I could fetch Doc. Barley. But without money he would not hear of it,” ld Maclean looked at his hands – they slightly trembled, and knuckles were big and swollen. Today, he could hardly make a fist. He’s just tired. Couldn’t sleep this night. And the previous night, too. Too hot. Sweat is streaming along his armpits and down the spine.
Old Maclean stepped into the bright sunshine. “What a stench! A cow? Bloody villagers, why don’t they take their animals back to their pastures. There is no grass for them in London,” Old Maclean staggered in the direction of the well.
“It’s so unfair that I developed a swelling on the top of the right leg,” Maclean sadly floated in his thoughts looking around. With people dying off, landlords began to raise the price of labor just to have work done. The number of people drastically lowered.
“They now pay one pound a day against half a pound last year. Which is good. But I hardly believe I will be able to lift even a bundle of hay. I became so weak,” Maclean signed.
“I heard the whole Dorchester vanished – everyone died from the Black Death!” Maclean quickly whispered prayer. “The priest said that only wicked people catch the Black Death… Snubby Tom always shared his stale bread with me. Died last week. He was nice,” old Maclean came to the well. He lowered the pail and began to pull the drum of the draw-well. When the pail was lifted up, Maclean saw the cool sparkling in the sun water. Having a gulp, he stopped himself from washing with fresh water. The priest warned that it is dangerous to be touched with water.
Raising his head from the pail, Maclean saw a small dot in the distance, growing nearer. Boom-booom! A loud sound exploded on the other side of the river. “Do they really fire cannon?” Ducking in time with cannonade, Maclean could make out that it was a half-naked person who waved something in his hand. Approaching the man, he could hear swishing and swooshing sounds. Maclean understood – it was a flagellant who tried to gain God’s forgiveness by flogging himself with a whip.
“Should I ask him to whip me once or twice? Just in case. To protect me from catching the Black Death…” thinking this thought, Maclean remembered that the priest also said not to eat meat. Hah, where’s the meat coming from these days…
“Well, I could steal a chicken… but who would cook?” That thought woke him up and he quickened the pace.
“At least ma’ Susan can wet her lips,” thought Maclean when we shuffled home.
“And I remember that I put a dry piecrust I stole from Ugly Martha two days ago. How come I didn’t eat it last night?”
However, when he saw Susan on her filthy straw mattress, he understood that she did not need the water. These were her last breathes. Once soft face now became sharp. The last pains twisted her mouth. Susan turned on her side, coughed, gurgled, and got quite.
“Goodbye,” whispered Maclean.
“Bring out your dead,” a muffled voice and a clank of a bell came from outside.
Maclean wanted to drag Susan’s body outside, but he twisted because of stomach cramps.
“I haven’t eaten anything yet!” a thought occurred. Maclean raised his eyes to the low wooden ceiling. He blinked and passed his hand across his forehead. He sweated profusely. “I better lie down. Here. Next to my dear Susan,” Maclean touched himself. Swollen throat, thick arms and legs. His tongue could hardly move.
“Oh gosh, bells ringing again… I’m so tired.”
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