Monday, July 23, 2012

Port de Peste

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom ruled by a king who was a physician.

You are going to a new land, a land of plenty and opportunity, and you are going there by ship. And it is hell.

The conditions of the ship are brutal and sickening. Those on this coffin ship are packed tight, without regard to safety or sanitary conditions. The plague has struck many times and each time, you must give money to the sailors for them to even toss the body overboard, but it is better to lose money then to let the bodies fester in the heat. You try not to breath the noxious vapors, you try so hard to stay away from others, but there is no room, no room at all.

Until, finally, the ship lands. You are here. You are free.

Joyously, you rush to the top of the ship and prepare to leave. Until you see the men on the dock, the signs that they hold, the word that fills your heart with dread: quarantine.

You have traded one ship for another. Now, you and your fellow passengers must stay in this port for who knows how long. You don't even remember seeing this port on the map, but it must have been set up specifically to serve as a pest-house.

The workers of the port speak barely a word of your language. All you recognize is "quaratine." "Quarantine," they say repeatedly as they lead the sickly passengers away. "Quarantine."

One of the other passengers sidles up to you and says, "I hear they serve the Physician King. That this whole place was set up by him so that he could observe how fast those carrying the plague die."

You don't respond. You don't even want to open your mouth, the miasma is so thick around here.

Over time, more and more passengers of the ship disappear. You see each one being lead by one of the port workers, big hulking men and women wearing white cloaks and bird masks. You never see them again and you know why: the plague has taken them.

Finally, you are alone. The last passenger before you had to be dragged away, all the while screaming about how he had been "careful" and how he didn't have the plague at all. You shake your head and silently curse God.

And then they come for you. Their cloaks are still white and clean, so clean you don't even know how they have kept them in such a state. "Come with us," they say.

"Why?" you ask.

"Quarantine," they say. "Come with us."

You don't want to be dragged like the other man, so you slowly walk along with them. You have never felt the touch of the plague, perhaps they will finally let you go. Yes, that's it, they're going to let you go now, it's all over, you hope.

They lead you to a wooden door and slowly push the door open. Inside, there is a man. He is wearing a cloak like the others, but this cloak is black, as black as the deepest well you've ever seen. He wears a bird mask, too, but you can see there are actual feathers on this one, and the eyes are made of a shiny black glass. And above his mask, he is wearing a small wooden crown that looks like a snake wrapped around a stick.

You realize that this is the Physician King.

"Please," you beg. "I don't have the plague. I don't. Please."

The Physician King steps forward, his movements swift and sudden. With one gloved hand, he touches you on the chest and then moves away.

The port workers grab you and drag you outside. You cannot move, but you can see the sun on your face as they drop you. You stand up, unsure and afraid, and look around. You are outside now. You are free.

You long to ask why, but you know you would never receive an answer, so you simply thank God you are free and alive and start walking.

Until you feel a cough heaving in your throat, a fever burning in your blood, pustules bubbling on your skin.

If you didn't have the plague before, you certainly have it now. You look back, but the port is gone. No more quarantine.

The Physician King has work to do.

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