Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.
Thoughts of the last time the grippe came to these parts fills my mind more and more these days. The order of things truly fell apart, for the dread lord cost so many lives before he could be vanquished. Now we are told we are better prepared, that we understand more the nature of his fearsome magic and have measures to counter them. Quarantine of course is an ancient practice, long proven effective, but the scale on which we will endeavour it now is beyond the imagining of our ancestors.
There are many stories of how the dread lord entered the Lost Quarter. For a time it seemed he was everywhere at once. He took on many different guises and, as a result, was able to slip past every defence constructed against him. In one town, not far from where I currently reside, he came on foot disguised as a peddler, a junk trader in truth. He wore a misshapen hat, set askew on the side of his head in such a way that children laughed at the sight of it. The soles of his shoes were worn at the heels and his clothes covered in dust from the road. Behind him he dragged a small wagon, formerly a child’s toy, one wheel of which squeaked and looked as though it was about to spin off its axle.
In those days men like that passed through small towns in the Quarter all the time, staying a day or two, selling enough of their wares to pay for a meal or a bed, and then trading for more junk to replenish their caravan. As such, no one paid him any mind when he came into town. His wares were all useless trinkets of no value. Those that might have been of use, like pots or pans, were broken and chipped. He set up in the centre of town, right in front of the apothecary, laying out the best of his offerings on a blanket in front of him, calling out to any passersby.
A few children traded some pennies for marbles, picking through his collection to find the ones that had no chips, but otherwise he did no business. The apothecary, upon closing up his shop at the end of the day, noted his forlorn figure, still standing by his wares looking about for anyone who might buy something. The apothecary was about to approach to purchase some little trinket so that he might have enough money to pay for a bed and not have to spend the night on the ground, but there was something in the peddler’s gaze that gave him pause. A fearsome hunger he could not define. He walked on and went home.
Several days later the train stopped at the station outside town, which it did every week, and two passengers disembarked. They were brothers on their way to see a cousin who farmed nearby and had promised them help with starting their own. Heading into town to ask someone for directions, for all they knew was that it was a day’s walk to the southwest, and to purchase some food to sustain them on their journey, they encountered no one about. The streets were empty and every door was closed. The only sound was the chatter of the birds flitting about and the wind, the constant companion of all the inhabitants of the Lost Quarter.
They came to the centre of town and saw a door ajar. It was the apothecary shop and they went inside, calling out, but they received no answer. They found the apothecary sprawled behind his counter, still clutching a bottle of some tincture in one hand, his eyes wide and face contorted with horror. Seeing that they fled the shop, both of them shouting out in terror, for they understood immediately that the grippe had come to the town and no one had survived his foul touch.
They stood in front of the apothecary shop debating what to do for a time, both of them shaking with fear. What if the dread lord was still there? His work had already been done though and there was no sign of the peddler or any other living soul. They agreed the only thing to do was strike out to find some habitation, to see if the dread lord had been there too, and find some folks who might help in laying the townsfolk to rest.
Before they left one of the brothers spotted a marble glittering in the sunlight, lying on the ground not far from where the peddler had laid out his blanket. Without thinking he bent down and picked it up, spinning it between two of his fingers before pocketing it.