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December 1920. Midnight.

The merciless cold clawed at my body, as snow captured the whole town of Hamsten in restless waves of white. As the dim, crescent moon slithered behind thin wisps of clouds, the last of the great movement stirred to existence. Hundreds of the remaining townspeople trudged through the snow towards the rail-tracks; my family and I were just some of them.

Clad in layers of heavy clothing, the moving crowd of people almost took on the semblance of a perambulating parade of clothes. Snow swished across the air like a rain of ice daggers; I glanced at the far-off hills that stood gracefully, indomitably like pale blue sentinels guarding the cobweb of bare trees and empty houses, and the contours of Hamsten.
I looked around, and then at mother, with eyes that clung to questions which had no answers.

“What will happen to Grandfather? And all the others?”

There was no reply.
And instantly, I knew. They were all going to die. And Hamsten, my town, which once seemed to have a life of its own, would soon become nothing but a desolate land conquered and reigned forever by the ruthless winters, and by the monster that was The Plague.

I saw, although nearly snow-blind, in the distance, a swift, little movement in the snow – a fleeting grey against the endless curtains of blinding white. A rat. The rat. And almost reflexively, a teenage boy draped in weather-beaten sweaters, picked up a rock and flung it angrily at the rodent. It missed. The boy cursed, with utter disgust and agony flashing in his eyes. The rat scurried behind a rock, watching the boy as he left, with glowering, mocking eyes.

Hands and noses were frost-bitten, eyelashes laced with shards of ice. After walking for almost an hour, we reached the rail-tracks. Like a thick, dark metal serpent, the tracks snaked through the heart of the snow-helmed land. We gasped as we saw the infinite stretch of rails, and the regal train – bold and infallible. Our breaths curled up in the air – whitish spumes that settled down as spikes of ice on the wools of our sweaters.

The train stood as if in its throne, railed to the heavy iron tracks – its thick black metallic surface glossy with ice and flurries. The smoke from its engines spiraled out like the spirit of a fuming dragon reaching for the starry skies. The last whistle pierced through the silence of the taciturn night, as head lights burst to life with steady golden beams that cut through the murk.
“Last train from Hamsten! Hurry up, people!” hollered the driver.

In the pool of faint moonlight, we hurried towards the train. I snatched a glimpse of the last Hamsten moon that followed me almost like a faithful horse, as I walked towards the cabin doors. I thanked God, for I was not one of those who had been prey to the incurable Black Death…that I was not being left behind in a place that was going to be locked away from the outside world…and I silently prayed for all those who were going to succumb to the isolation, to the inevitability of their fate. It was hard to believe that I actually had to leave Grandfather behind. It was almost like a dream, that I was riding away from a land strewn with all the memories of my childhood, and indeed, my whole life.

We boarded the train, which offered little warmth, and I missed my friends, my neighbors. A man with a file in his hands stomped up to our cabin, eyes bloodshot. The doctor’s report, I dreaded. “You’re all negative,” he shouted, “except you!” – he pointed at a young boy. His mother started crying and begging for a last chance, but eventually had to step out of the train with her child. My heart beat wildly with all its energy, as a thin film of hot tears misted my eyes. I strained to look outside the fogged window.

In the unforgiving nest of snow, mother and child huddled together and cried, wistful eyes on the final train that promised life. The gargantuan automobile screeched to a start, and roared forward like a hungry metal beast. I took a last glimpse of the moon, the distant hills, the velvety skies pearly with stars, and of Hamsten: the last Hamsten I would ever see.





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