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The Elysian Fields are for the Dead
The smell of decaying flesh clouds the air. They futilely try to swat away the flies that feast on open wounds. Disgusting. Revolting. Putrid. This is what they have become, forgotten, left alone in the streets as the people walk by refusing to acknowledge they exist. Their loved ones have left them for dead when it started to spread. No priest would hear their prayers, no friend or family offers a comforting touch, and no Good Samaritan offers an aiding hand. They are the Lost Souls of the Alleys, infected with a disease that no saintlyhood or witchcraft could cure. They used to be a part of society: loving mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and workers that played an important of society. Now they are alone, left to suffer from the excruciating pain as the disease leaks the life from their bodies.
Ring around the rosy
Trying to avoid the moans coming from the rotten bodies in the alleys is proving to become difficult for me. I can hear their cries for help, yet I refuse to stop and lend a hand. Who wants to become one of them? Lonely and falling apart from something that mothers are willing to murder their children for in order to prevent the sickness from spreading. Our city has run out of room to store the bodies, so they lay broken in fenced in alleys mourning the life that they lost or will never come to have. Many have tried to leave our small city of Ashbourne, but the towns near us have put us under quarantine. The queen has made it well known that the disease is to spread and kill off those only in our town, leaving the healthy with no escape. Some could see the logic of keeping us here like caged animals. Others who tried to rebel found themselves killed for attempting to escape. I can understand their frustrations. Why must the healthy remain with the virtually dead? However, some see this as God punishing us for our unknown sins, and we must stay to receive our punishment in full. I think it’s just a whole bunch of hogwash, and the other cities are too afraid to let anyone leave in case someone infected tries to leave the city limits claiming they are healthy. The infection takes days to spread throughout the body, but the symptoms: bloody tears, decaying flesh, sensitive skin, excruciating pain, and the brittle bones that follow are abrupt giving no warning to those around them that they could also be infected.
I step over a leg that sticks out onto the sidewalk from the holes in the fence making sure no part of my body is exposed to it. I pull my red scarf closer around my face in order to lessen the pungent order coming from alleys. Heat makes their body rot faster. The vapors from skin make the disease easier to spread through touch or inhalation. My eyes start to water as the cries for help get louder. I know I can’t stop to help, yet it doesn’t stop me from slowing down to whisper a prayer before reaching my aunt’s bakery.
“Lilly! Come in the store before you breathe in too much of the air.” cries Aunt Lucinda from inside her bakery. Spending too much time around the Lost Souls is thought to be one of the easiest ways to catch the illness. I briskly walk into the store and watch her firmly shut the door behind me.
“What in heaven’s name were you thinking by walking around outside in this weather?” she scolds. “You know good well what the heat does to those bodies, and the last thing I need is to add you to the growing pile. Soon enough there won’t be any healthy people in this city.”
“I’m sorry Auntie Luc. I’ll try to be more careful,” I mumble.
She has a right to be worried though. She lost her husband, son, daughter-in-law, and my parents to the disease. I’m all she has left, as she is mine. I hate to think what would happen to her if I were finally to succumb to the sickness that seems to be unavoidable. However, it is nearly impossible for me to sit inside of a bakery kneading bread all day or doing my studies when I could be in the horse fields with Allie, galloping on Midnight and watching the clouds float by without thoughts of death and blood. When St. Agatha’s grammar school closed down, parents no longer saw a use for education. Some, like my aunt, saw education as our way to get rid of the disease and made their children study at home. Auntie Luc would be furious if she knew I was outside tending horses instead of doing my studies, but what she doesn’t know can’t harm her.
“Well, go on and wash up. When you are finished come to the kitchen, lunch should be ready.”
“Yes ma’am” I reply. I walk into the bathroom in the back of the shop to wash up. Another rumor is that the filth on our hands is what causes the disease to spread. It hinders our willingness to touch other people. It terrifies most that just one brush of the hand while walking down the street could cause us to be the next one thrown into a side alley as forgotten trash. Leather gloves have become a necessity when going outdoors. It’s really just a precaution; people still catch the disease no matter what they do to protect themselves. There is no safety in our city. Everyone has already been damned to a fate of death by the disease. Gloves and scarves just buy us borrowed time.
After I finish scrubbing my hands, I climb up the stairs into the small living quarters above the bakery to find the little table in the kitchen wearing two bowls of beef stew and my aunt standing near the stove.
“Go ahead, sit. Start eating before it gets too cold,” Auntie Luc says as she sits down into the seat in front of me.
After we finish eating, she tells me to put on my scarf and gloves as we are going down to the local market for food. I hate the scarf; though, I knew it was necessary. It suffocates us, covering our mouth and nose in hope to prevent breathing in the polluted air.
A pocket full of posies
The sun is already beginning to set as we try to avoid contact with the strangers that bustle in the pavement along with us. The noise from the carriages on the cobblestone compete with the moans and cries that turn into pained sighs of relief as the shadows from the buildings begin to reprieve their bodies from the heat. One would be disturbed to see the bruised pink and purple hued skin and bleeding gashes if they had the bravery to look into the holes that neglect has left behind. Allie had dared me to look between the fences last spring; it still brings me nightmares at night.
“Quick, hurry along now Lilly,” Auntie’s voice breaking me from my thoughts, “the faster we get there, the faster we can go back into the safety of indoors.
I always wonder how we could be considered safe in our homes when air is everywhere. Shouldn’t the polluted air be able to seep into our homes and infect us if it really wanted to? I don’t dare voice my thoughts though. I don’t want to be the one to take Auntie Luc’s sense of security away from her. It would be cruel to point out that no matter how hard our city tries they can’t seem to find away to stop the disease from spreading or find a cure, let alone find the cause of our dying city.
“Lilly!” shouts a familiar voice as I’m tugged into a fierce hug on our way home from the market.
“Allie!” I shriek as try to pull my body gently away from her arms before my auntie notices. Too late.
“Get you filthy hands off her, child!” she screams at a shocked Allie.
Allie was an affectionate child. It’s why she spends so much time in the fields playing with her horses. Since the disease doesn’t harm the animals, she can pet and touch them all she wants. However sometime she would make a slip, hugging someone when she knew it was harmful; nevertheless, that’s Allie. She acts first and thinks of the consequences later. I honestly think if it weren’t for the fences and disease that kept us separated from the Lost Souls, she would be pulling them all into a comforting hug trying to calm their groans of pain.
“What is wrong with you? Lilly, step away from this disgraceful child before you become sick.” She says as she shoos me in the direction of the bakery.
“Sorry Allie but I have to go. Maybe, I’ll see you tomorrow?” I tell her before fully allowing my auntie to pull me away. If I were to stay a moment longer, I would have noticed the red tears forming in her eyes.
Upon entering the bakery, Auntie Luc immediately tells me to strip and sit in the bathtub without touching anything while she boils water on the stove. A simple hug sent my aunt into a frenzy making me glad I never told her I spend my mornings riding with Allie. She probably would scold me on the spot and send me away for my reckless behavior. The unexpected feeling of scorching water on my skin jerks me from my thoughts.
“Auntie it’s too hot!” I scream as I try to get out of the bath. A hand yanks me back down into the tub as I squirm in the overheated water.
“Hush child, this is what you get for having that horrible girl touch you. She should have known that the disease could spread through touch.” She uses the bristled haired brush to turn my flesh red as she scrubs whatever illness from my body. When the water begins to cool, she forces me out of the tub with sufficiently pink skin and blotchy red patches on my lower body where the water touched me the most.
Three days later and three days of not seeing Allie, I went to her home hoping to find her. Turns out my auntie’s raving had been correct. She is now in an alley by the south side of Ashbourne. I feel tears well up in my eyes as I tell her parents that I am sorry for their lost before abruptly turning away and running back to the bakery. Auntie Luc is shocked to see me run into the bakery with red tears running my face.
“Child, what have you done?” Auntie Luc whispers.
“Auntie, she had it. Allie had it, and now she is gone with them probably already rotting in the dumping grounds.” I choke out.
“Lilly, you foolish girl, what have you done? Must I lose another? What have I done wrong?” She whispers as she backs away covering her nose and mouth with her hands.
“Auntie what’s wrong? You’re scaring me,” I ask trying to get her to explain the sudden fear that has etched its way onto her face.
“Child, look at the color of your tears. That wench infected you,” she replies clear tears forming in her eyes. I let my fingers brush against my damp cheek. I gasp when I see red staining my fingers.
“N-no, no Auntie it can’t be it. I’m sure there is another way to explain it.” I sob as I try to walk towards her only to have her step back.
“Why, you too, Lilly?” she asks herself. “Did I not pray hard enough after you took away my husband? Did I not repent all my sins when you took away my son and daughter? Yet you sentence me to send the last bit of sanity to that cesspool? Why?” She starts sobbing into her hands.
“Please don’t send me there…please,” barely understandable, desperation in my voice.
“Do you think I have a choice? Do you think I would want to send you away? I want to keep you here with me. I want to hold on for as long as I can, but I…I just can’t. Just…just please leave before it becomes any harder.”
“I said leave. Leave before you contaminate me with your continued presence. God has taken another away from me. Just go,” she says refusing to look me in the eye.
“I said go,” tears making her voice crack.
I stood there watching my brave and strong aunt slowly fall apart. Sobs ripping from her body unhindered.
“I love you,” I reply before finally walking out the back door.
“And I love you” I hear before the door shuts behind me.
I know I should immediately begin heading towards the nearest alley to my aunt’s bakery, but I have the need to see the horse fields before I’m locked away. I see Midnight grazing in the pasture when I arrive.
“Hey girl,” I greet her as she nuzzles my hand.
“I’m going to be gone for awhile, and I thought I would just say… goodbye. I know Allie probably never got the chance, but I’m sure she would have wanted me to tell you that. Do you mind telling the other horses? I’m sure they would like to know that will not be seeing us for awhile, too.” Midnight just continues to eat, raising her head in a bobbing motion every once in awhile. I wonder if she understands what I am saying. Does she realize that Allie and I won’t be coming back?
“I have to go, girl, but I’ll miss you okay? And if you see another pair of girls coming to play in the fields, be nice to them. I’m sure they would love to have the escape you brought me?” She just keeps bobbing her head. I hear her neigh for the last time as I leave the meadow, ready to accept my fate.
Unavoidable is what this disease is. Spreading and sucking the life from love ones like a parasite. My borrowed time has run out demanding me to pay my debt. I stay in shadows as I try to open the fence that will lead to my grave. I look back one last time to the city I have called home before I enter through the gate and join the Lost Souls.
The smell of decaying flesh clouds the air. We futilely try to swat away the flies that feast on open wounds. Disgusting. Revolting. Putrid. This is what we have become, forgotten, left alone in the streets as the people walk by refusing to acknowledge we exist. Our loved ones have left us for dead when it started to spread. No priest would hear our prayers, no friend or family offers a comforting touch, and no Good Samaritan offers an aiding hand. We are the Lost Souls of the Alleys infected with a disease that no saintlyhood or witchcraft could cure. We used to be a part of society: loving mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and workers that played an important part of our society. Now we are alone, left to suffer from the excruciating pain as the disease leaks the life from our bodies.
We all fall down.