The plague came with a pedlar from over the mountains. First I buried my mother, then my wife. I buried my eldest son, then my father, then my youngest son. I buried my neighbours as their bodies lay in the street and even the crows stayed clear. I huddled at home with my daughter and we prayed and tried to keep our minds in the firelight.
As the cold nights crept in, the deaths stopped. I dug our vegetable patch, rethatched the roof and joined the rest of the village who survived in prayers at the church. Together we dragged together plans for the autumn ploughing and sowing. We organised the care of the orphans and the old. But the gaping loss continued. The new priest did his best and blessed our houses.
Then the dead moon came, the turn of the old year, the time the old priest warned us about and the new priest feared. The graves in the churchyard moved and shifted, like the blankets on a bed. We heard murmurs in the night and taps at the window. Dogs had to be chained up as they barked at shadows and cats went missing. Nanna Marie was found dead, savaged by something wild.
The new priest took charge and we scoured the village and he blessed our homes and fields. He blessed the small patches of herbs and roots we kept near our doors and the leaves stopped turning black. He held prayers just before sunset every evening. It wasn’t quite enough.
The graves were more disturbed. We took hunting dogs into the woods but found no wild beasts. Adela was found dead next to her gate, and her husband went mad with grief and hung himself. Rumours started about the dead returning.
I saw my wife, my darling wife, bloated and bloody, at the gate, right at the edge where the priest’s blessing ended, calling to me, calling that she was cold, that she was hungry, how could I turn my back on her love? I hid my daughter under the blankets and prayed by the fire. Nobody slept.
The priest called us together and persuaded us, ordered us and put us under a ban unless we dug up our recent dead. I sobbed as I obeyed. They were foul coloured and writhed in the sunlight. We burned them, all of them, and kept the fire going all that day and through the night and all the next day. We then knew peace and the village is safe now. The spring has come and the fields flourish. Too many of us still suffer and struggle with sleep, but it fades for the younger ones.
I will never forget the screams of those burned.