It strikes as though I’ve always lived as hearsay. Overheard, admired without substance, dreaded without context, all things that delivered me safely to that fetid cemetery. I disembarked from our island with fifteen heralds, all of us in identical hoods. At the shore, we split into eight. At the second fork in the road, we split into four. Any group could have held the king of lepers. After two villages, only Helen was with me, her clinging to my cape, and those mariners far too confused to follow the correct band.
In my haste to meet my author, I brought nothing save money. Helen carried with her the fruits of her garden, and a pillow. I ought to have asked her why she carried that. I wish I could ask her now.
Helen departed me at the third village. Every one of them was damned, tainted, stinking of human rot, even though every denizen looked upon me with clear eyes. She sobbed that their clarity would not last, that those villages we had passed were already lapsed to such doom, and that the plague would swallow these souls without her help. She lingered to feed them with the fruits of her garden. She had a force of will about her.
All I ever asked of them was to find me a book, yet my heralds discovered the author instead of his work. Locals still spoke of the lynching, boasting that slaying a witch had saved them from the plague that swallowed so much of the mainland. For their rumors, I was happy to repay them with malignities. Their private waters streamed into the gutters as I mounted the outskirts of their cemetery.
Cemeteries have always been of unparalleled comfort to me. There sleep no leeches. No one to take healing from my person. Only Cecil ever appreciated the exhaustion of carrying so many ills. I prayed over the grave for a night, until I was certain this was the particular Arab. He and his family were murdered by Spaniards and heaped into a single casket. By my miracles or his, the bones of his fingers were prying at the lid of the casket. I comforted myself briefly that it was not I who raised him from death, for the woman and three children beneath him appeared as still as the day they were planted. I apologized to their memories as I rummaged through their person in hope of finding a book about myself. They lacked even a scrap of paper.
Such a somber march I made, misstepping and returning for Helen’s village, hoping for her solace, for her to define what I was. My self-pity deserved to die. Locals had torn her apart and eaten her flesh, having exhausted her fruits of their miracles. Even her heart failed to cure them, and the cannibalism attracted crusaders. They set such a blaze to burn me with the sin. I abided in the last house, breathing what air I could through Helen’s bloody pillow, until the crusaders became so ensickened that their private waters ran out through their eyes. Unseen, I flew for home. And that was the worst of my decisions.
What is a field without rain? What is a lantern without pilot? What is a rumor with no…
They lay in the dirt, and their filth, and their beds, and some drifted in the tides. Decades of diseases finding opportunity at once. Cecil sat in his rocking chair, though it rocked no longer. Lydia, Ruth, Old Gregor, Geraldine, Saul… A hundred martyrs for a failed son. Oh, Cecil. How I fought to make your chair move again.
Of them all, Mallory was alive. He danced on the docks and raved about demons waging war on nests of angels in his palm, until my boat moored nearby, and his pitch remained equally fervid, words merely running canny, now arguing what a good thing my departure was for my sundry works to come. Both mad and unmad, he ignored the dock workers who had perished all around him in favor of chanting that I ought not to have returned, and fell upon me with a knife to compel me away.
I dragged Mallory into the tide myself. His hands clutched at my wrists like the Arab’s fingers at the lid of his casket. I cannot raise the dead, but I can lower them.
There were fifteen fat vessels loitering as I labored, voyeurs armed with spyglasses. They fired cannons at my feet, dashing the tides, as though I could be crippled. Mallory became as smoke between my fingers. They’re coming with their muskets and clerics and cleansing blazes. Already the island reeks of incense. I’m a story coming to an end. Soon I’ll lapse into hearsay again.
Am I only the result of a thing a man once wrote? Is all this?
And what gave him the right? What gives any? Who is any more than the result of something two people once did?
Tonight I’ll eat from the garden that an enormously wise girl once believed healed all ills, and sit beside the rocking chair of the kindest man I’ve ever had the privilege to know. The supper may cause my people to rise. My presence may cause them to rise. Or, I may be a failure.
Regardless, the ships will come in the morning, and I will not be felled. I will meet them. I will cure them of their blight.
This serial concludes next week,
on Friday, March 29th,