black feathers

I am taking a 2 week online writing class during this time of social isolation. Every day I will receive a prompt to write from. I figure I might as well put my efforts up here. They are first drafts and not well researched. I am not going to include the prompt because they are from the class and I don’t want to take the teacher’s content. These stories are fresh and raw and I want to share them with you. 

Elizabeth opened her eyes and focused for a moment on the dust motes that seemed to rise against the wall. Ordinarily she would spread out her arms and her legs, just to feel the straw mattress beneath her body. She would make angels in the linens of her parents’ bed. But her skin burned and ached. She held up her hand and her fingernails were still black, blacker than before even.

The plague doctor had stopped coming by, with his terrifying mask and his bag of potions. No one came in anymore, except for her mother, who looked thin and pained, as though her soul had left her body and it was occupied now by something mostly dead. She came and emptied Elizabeth’s bowls of blood and left her with water and the mostly emptied bowl.

Now the door opened and Elizabeth’s mother shoved her littlest brother into the room. “He’s got it now too,” she murmured. “Shove over Lizzy. Make room.”

“I can’t move,” Elizabeth tried to say through tears, but her mother roughly pulled down the blanket and the bed screeched as John lay down beside her, sucking his thumb. “Mama, please stay.”

“You know I can’t. The others need me. Take care of him.” She moved briskly, closing the door behind her.

John was only three years old, and all he ever did was cry and wet the blankets on the floor where the children usually slept. Elizabeth eyed him coldly. He sucked his thumb and looked at her with big brown eyes.

“How do they know you have it?” Elizabeth asked. It hurt to talk, but she also hadn’t realized until now how much she missed it, talking, like she missed the flowers and the clouds and hiding behind the wood piles with her cousins. She missed everything. She had been in this bed forever. That it had once seemed a luxury, this bed. It had now become her prison.

John lifted his arm and she saw it there in his armpit, the plague boil, black and egg shaped. It made her want to cry, but she hadn’t the energy. “Don’t pee the bed,” she said sternly. “If you do you’ll have to sit in it.”

But he would pee the bed. She knew it as she knew that she was going to die, that no doctor and no God could save her, and that it would happen soon, probably before the sun went down. She could already see the black angels in the corners of her vision, pointing, planning. Black wings like crows. They were waiting to carry her away.

“Do you see them too?” she asked John, and he nodded, eyes wide. “They won’t hurt us,” she said, “they’re just here to bring us to heaven.” But she knew there was no heaven. She knew it when she closed her eyes and saw red cows in a field, wide expanses on fire, flames on the inside lids of her eyes. A flurry of black feathers. She knew quite a lot, suddenly. That she would die, and that John would too, and maybe more of them, maybe them all.

But she mustn’t let John know. He was too little. So she told him stories about heaven until his eyes began to close, and when she felt the warm urine at her charred legs, she continued on and on and on.

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