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The Black Death - John Clyn by Alastair Milne
October 9th, 1347 John Clyn
I awoke bolt upright, as a blood-curdling scream rifled through the still cold night. I strained my ears to listen for more, to hear movement, but there was none. Just silence and the sound of the wind whistling through the crooked cracks of the window. I, Friar John Clyn, of the Order of Friars Minor, and of the Convent of Kilkenny, walked outside looking for a source of the sound but found none. Turning around, I muttered angrily to myself about imagining things and swiftly walked inside and slammed the thick oak wood door behind me. Hastily I packed my satchel and left for a day of studying in the Church's library.
By the time I got home the sun’s golden fingers of light had already begun to fade and subside with the slow but steady rise of the illuminating silver moon.
October 10th, 1347 John Clyn
Word spread around Kilkenny in the early hours of the morning that a new missionary had taken up residence in the Village for a short period while he waited for some great ‘pestilence’ to pass. His name I am unsure of but I thought it odd that he spoke of some merciless disease spreading like wildfire when nobody in Kilkenny had heard of it before. While purchasing my groceries from Sophie Thompson, who is a rather short woman of golden hair and murky brown eyes, I happened to exchange with her brother, Philip, when I approached him he seemed very anxious:
“John, how’s it going?”
I answered: “Splendid. In fact, I have been meaning to ask you about the new missionary.”
He then quickly grasped my arm and whirled me into one of the quieter alleys and said in a shaky voice: “He’s dead.”
I stood there, and stared at him incredulously, powerless to speak or move and whispered: “Dead? But why?”
He replied: “Apparently his chambermaid woke up and found him stone cold, his skin was a light shade of purple, covered in pus-filled swellings the size of a goose egg from the market.”
I stood there in shock and awe, and my body struggled to react or make sense of the situation. Having gathered my bearings, after a minute or two, I parted with Philip and began to make my way home.
I researched as best I could on diseases which matched Philip’s account and the symptoms he reported, (whom I consider to be a man worthy of credit) but was startled to find that such a murderer had never been recorded on parchment before.
October 11th, 1347 John Clyn
Crack! The sound of someone's knuckles relentlessly rapping against my weathered oak door woke me up as quick as a flash. I muttered to myself, “Why would anybody come making a terrible racket at such an ungodly hour?”
I trudged to the door and opened it gingerly and was astonished to see Sophie. I said: “What's the matter, Sophie?”, as nobody without reason would come knocking at such a strange and unusual hour.
She impulsively replied: “People around the village are suffering from a merciless disease. Many have already been welcomed into the gates of heaven, but countless more are in dire need of assistance. Nobody is valiant enough to help them though. What should we do, John?”
I instantly knew that this ‘killer’ was the same disease that the unfortunate missionary had so quickly succumbed to, meaning that the disease was transmitted through the air and by contact. It was from this moment that I realized the true potential of this foreign pestilence and how it could effortlessly eradicate the entire village.
Quickly I began to comprehend that whatever the great pestilence was, it should be greatly feared as it is quite clearly dangerous beyond belief. With that, I began to contemplate solutions and protective methods that could help save the village from such a dreadful curse. After spending a whole day pondering on the dilemma, and using the Church as a guide, I concluded that the pestilence was circulated and spread by contact with victims infected by it. The methods that I devised to minimise any further spread included, the safe disposal of the dead in burial pits and personal isolation from the outside world thus eliminating all possible contact with infected persons. I intend to meet with Sophie at sunrise tomorrow since I know she will be eager to help me execute my plan based on her kind, gentle and caring personality.
October 12th, 1347 John Clyn
I rose as soon as I heard the rooster’s call and walked decisively to Sophie's house. Banging my fists against her door until I heard sounds emitting from inside, I discussed my newly contemplated plans with her. As predicted, she readily agreed and was willing to meet me shortly with two spades to dig the burial pit. When she handed me the spade I asked her where we were going to dig the pit.
She said: “I thought that you had this planned out!”
I replied: “Well we could dig the pit near the empty eastern side of the village.”
She said: “Well I suppose that’s where we’re going then.”
When we arrived, we swiftly got to work. Beads of sweat trickled off of our faces and splashed onto the dry grass below us like water onto a parched desert. We worked tirelessly like dogs, hour after hour, until we finished the big pit. I stood next to it and gazed into it in admiration... “Heavens above, this is one terrifyingly large pit!”
Sophie said: “This plan of yours, it better save the village.”
I asked Sophie: “Do you know of any carters that could transport the corpses into the pit?”
She replied: “Why I know someone that could do that, he brings vegetables and grain from farmer Jack’s fields.”
I said, “Do you think he’ll move the bodies?”
She answered: “I should think so.”
Hastily I asked Sophie to summon the carter immediately while I hurriedly ran around the village for two hours advising people to reduce contact with the outside world and lock themselves in their houses for safety.
October 18th, 1347 (1 week later)
In hindsight, I think it rather impressive to have advised the entire village to lock themselves away and to have dug an enormous burial pit to safely dispose of the reeking dead.
However, when I arose this morning and dressed, I noticed some scanty purple dots on my chest. These are called ‘death spots’ and symbolize the arrival of the pestilence within me. Needless to say and with heavy emotion, I fear that I am infected by this ghastly epidemic. At least my actions upon this world were not in vain - for I am the last inhabitant of this holy village to succumb to this great plague. For the villagers' sake, I have locked myself deep in the cellar beneath my house where I will perish alone.
Before I die, I want to record one last thought in my journal which is a historical quote taken form 1347 from the book ‘Return of the Black Death, by Susan Scott & Christopher Duncan’,
I write, “And lest things worthy of remembrance should perish with time, and fall away from the memory of those who are to come after us, I, seeing these many evils, and the whole world's lying, as it were, in the wicked one, among the dead waiting for death till it come - as I have heard and examined, so I have reduced these things to writing; and lest the writing should perish with the writer, and the work fail together with the workman, I leave parchment for continuing the work, if haply any man survive, and any of the race of Adam escape this pestilence and continue the work which I have begun.”
Farewell to any of this race of Adam that happens to escape what I have fallen victim to, I hope that my extensive efforts have not been in vain.
Scott, Susan, and Christopher J. Duncan. Return of the Black Death: the World's Greatest Serial Killer. 1st ed., vol. 1 1, ser. 1, Wiley, 2005.