Oh, dear. I’ve once again missed a couple weeks of WIPpet Wednesday! *flogs self with wet noodle* I’m afraid I’m chronically overscheduled and that catches up to me on a regular basis! Today I’m participating, though. Hurray! I’m afraid I’m going to inflict a rather morbid snippet on you today, though. I’m working on a children’s nonfiction book about the Black Death and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. There must be some gruesome children out there somewhere that want to read such a thing, right? 🙂
Since today is October 1st, I will post the first 10 paragraphs of Chapter 2. This is nonfiction but I think you’ll see that it does use some fiction techniques. Please let me know if you think this is too heavy and dark for a 12 year old. And any other observations you might have as well, of course!
Agnolo di Tura knelt next to the grave, shoulders slumped and head bowed. His shovel cast aside, he smoothed the last of the rich black soil to form a mound. His eyes burned, but he did not weep. Perhaps he had, at last, run all out of tears.
Nearby, two mongrels fought over the bright blue sleeve of a woman’s dress that stuck out of the ground. One of the dogs had unearthed it from a hastily buried corpse. Snatching up a nearby dirt clod, Agnolo threw it at them.
“Go away, you cursed beasts!”
The clod broke apart at the feet of the dogs, but it was enough to startle them into stopping their fight. Tails tucked and ears flattened, they separated and slunk away a few feet, watching Agnolo with suspicion.
He got to his feet, and took a few steps toward them, repeating, “Go, I say!”
One trotted away, its black tail held high. The other, a small brown and white speckled female, withdrew behind a clump of bushes. She might have been some lady’s pampered lap dog in former days. Now, though, her ribs stuck out from hunger and her coat no longer shone. She would be back after he left. At least she could not get at his child, buried before him. He had made sure to dig the grave deep enough and to fill it in with care.
He had done the same for his other loved ones, including his wife. Graves lay clustered under an oak tree where in happier times, the family had come. The hill overlooked Siena, a fine spot for picnicking while the children laughed and played games around them.
The Beginning of the End
The numbers of the dead had grown so large with such terrible speed that burial had become an option instead of a necessity, as it once was. Once, the dead would be carried through the streets on a platform called a bier, the priest at the head of the line chanting prayers. The death bell would sound. Weeping family members would follow. The corpse would then be buried in the cemetery, in holy ground.
With frightening quickness, that all changed as the plague devoured one after another. One bier now held two or three corpses, often members of the same family. Husband and wife, brother and sister, father and son, and so on. A funeral procession winding through the streets would be joined by two or three others spontaneously. One funeral, then, might start out to bury one or two people, and end up burying six or eight. One grave would bury several people. Then, that would not do. Trenches were dug and hundreds were buried at one time, piled one on top of another like goods on a store shelf. No one could find a priest to speak over the graves. Carts rattled through the streets, piled with corpses. People left their dead in the doorway to be picked up and placed on these carts.
When the plague first came back in May 1348, it seemed no different from other plagues. They came from time to time, an unfortunate fact of life. Some would recover from the sickness, and others would not. Soon, though, the horror of the Black Death became clear. No one had ever seen anything like it before.
Come join the fun, started by K.L. Schwengel, by clicking below to read more excerpts from works in progress, or if you’re feeling REALLY daring, post your own: