The scourge of God spared not a soul, nor a place. For those living at the time of judgment, it seemed as if the entire world was coming undone. The entire universe seemed to suffer from the wrath of the divine. First, the demonic steppe heathens from the east arrived to terrorize Christendom. With their insatiable hunger for destruction and inhuman lust for the blood of the civilized people, they scorched the earth beneath the hooves of their horses. A token to their infernal masters, one would assume.
After the Tartar menace, came a great famine which was so severe formerly God-fearing people resorted to infanticide and cannibalism. The great hunger had driven humanity to consume its own. Many a soul had died during those two dreadful years of crop failure, famine, and cattle pestilence.
After the great famine, the worst of the plagues had arrived upon humanity. It spread from the east via the seas and trade routes, an unseen plague that spared none in its path. A massive calamity that has taken innumerable human lives. Some have called it the Great Pestilence, others, the Great Dying. The danse macabre was a plague that had killed most humans living at the time of its outbreak. The catastrophe laid entire cities to waste. Thousands of people vanished from the realm of the living. The dead outnumbered the living soon enough, and society was on the brink of collapse. The situation had turned so dire, there was no space or time to bury the dead properly. Masses of humanity had to be thrown together into pits without a name or any proper burial rites. The stench of death haunted the living and the towns that have turned ghastly and silent. The pitch-black wings of Samael and Abaddon hung across the sky. The end times were upon humanity.
Jaroslav Nemec was a plague doctor in the Bohemian lands during the time of the outbreak of the great dying. He did the best he could to save those who still clung to life. Despite his efforts, he rarely saved anyone from the jaws of the Leviathan that was the great dying. Jaroslav stood at the entrance to the hut of his friend, Jan Kovar, who had suffered the terrible affliction himself. That is, after all of his family to the plague in months prior. Jan Kovar also took part in burying the masses of corpses that kept on piling up before he suffered the wrath of the pestilence himself.
Jaroslav shoved open the wooden door and carefully stepped inside. A rancid smell permeated his nostrils, straight through the rag that covered his face, making him wince in discomfort. “It never gets easier.” The stench of death hung inside the small hut. Jaroslav could almost make out a pale green cloud hanging in the space surrounding him. He braced himself and walked deeper into the hut.
“Who’s there?” called out a gruff voice in the distance. It was clearly weak and pathetic.
“Thank the Lord. You’re still alive!” Jaroslav called out in excitement, “It’s me, brother, Jaroslav, the physician.”
The weak voice, seemingly ignoring the physician’s call, asking once more, this time attempting to sound more intimidating, “Who is there?”
The plague doctor marched into the room from which the voice came, calling out in delight, “It’s me Jan, it’s me, your physician, your friend!”
In the small room stood a small table, with a bed in which lied a thing more resembling a corpse than a man. His skin sickly pale, his shirt covered in blood, a massive swollen black scar formed all over the side of his neck. His eyes were red and wild. His breathing hectic and shallow. The man seeing Jaroslav screamed, “Get out of here, demon!”
The doctor taken aback for a moment, tried calming down the plague-ridden blacksmith but to no avail. The sick man yelled out again, waving a stump where his right hand used to be. “Begone D…” a violent cough cut his call short, blood and sickening yellow sputum flowed out of his mouth as he coughed.
Jaroslav rushed to the sick man, urging him to lay back down and relax, trying to reassure him he was just the physician. Surprisingly, the sick man managed to shove him with tremendous force using his healthy arm before he pulled out a knife from underneath his pillow.
“I will kill you, Devil, if you don’t leave my home now.” He hissed out between bloody coughs.
“Jan, you’re burning with fever, lie down! Lie down, please and calm down, lest the plague kills you here and now. Please, listen to me and lie back down.” The plague doctor beckoned the sick man, who refused to listen. Instead, Jan threw away his blankets and tried standing up on his feet, waving his knife in the air. His grip was pathetic, and he couldn’t even stand up straight. The man rocked back and forth, attempting to stand up without any success. His room seemed to spin all around him and the plague doctor appeared like a multi-headed monster before him. A multi-headed beast whose heads danced around in a circular motion – almost taunting him to try to hit one of them.
Jan coughed once again, this time spitting out only the yellowish phlegm before collapsing onto his bed, unconscious. His knife fell down, grazing the stump that remained of his right arm. The plague doctor looked at the mess of a man with sheer bewilderment. The entire scene was painful to watch.
First, he had to see the man’s family die out a horrible death, and now the man himself, Jaroslav’s friend of many years, was a fever drunk fool who could kill himself just by standing up.
The physician sighed, before approaching the unconscious body of the blacksmith and examined the knife wound. “I think that’s fine… I was going to give him another course of bloodletting, might as well use this wound.” He then pulled out a small bowl from his pouch and placed it under the limp arm of the sick man. Jaroslav let the red humor flow freely into it for long minutes.
The physician stayed with the sick man until he woke up with a pained groan. By that point, Jaroslav had fallen asleep in the other room of the hut. Jan groaned and moaned in pain before coughing violently again and spitting loudly on the floor. Jaroslav was woken up by the commotion and dragged himself towards his patient.
“Doctor!” he managed to yell out once he saw Jaroslav standing at the entrance to his bedroom. “Kill me, doctor…”
The plague doctor stared at him with bewilderment once more, “No, I can’t do that. It’s not my job to decide the fates of…” His speech was cut short by the labored laughter of his patient.
“I was pretty sure I am already dead, Jarik. I saw a multi-headed serpent crawl into this room and try to devour me before everything turned black. I didn’t even have the chance to cut off a head or two… It’s like I’m in hell, tortured by all sorts of apparitions and demons.”
“That was me, actually, Jan. You were burning with fever when I came here. Hallucinating,” the plague doctor said bitterly as he walked towards the bedridden man. Placing his hand onto the man’s forehead, he sighed a sigh of relief, “The fever broke…”
“I still feel like a rock being dragged against the silver currents of the Styx,” remarked the sick man.
“How would you know about the Styx, blacksmith?” the plague doctor questioned in amusement.
“I might possess a lot of brawn, but I also possess a keen mind, Good doctor.”
The two men shared a laugh before the doctor remarked, “You’re lucky you were my last patient today. If it weren’t for my bloodletting, the disease might’ve eaten at you faster.”
“Yeah…” the small sliver of light suddenly faded from Jan’s eyes. The atmosphere in the room suddenly shifted, it turned heavy and cold. “You know, that part about wanting to die – I wasn’t joking.”
“You’re more likely to recover than die, old friend,” the physician remarked, placing his arm on the sick man’s shoulder. “Most people don’t make it this long, and your cough seems to turn less bloody with each passing day.”
“Jarik… I saw her…”
“Who, Jan? Who did you see?”
The sick man’s eyes turned dead, almost as if the light was completely drained from them. He looked straight into the eyes of the plague doctor as if trying to stare straight at his soul, and with a quivering voice he mentioned a name, “M-m-Michae-l-la”
The plague doctor felt his blood run cold. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as he reared back in disbelief. His heartbeat became increasingly audible. The shock of the revelation forced him to recoil in disgust and pace back and forth around the room. Itching his hair manically as he periodically looked into the tearing eyes of the sick men. “It can’t be, Jan, it can’t be. She was dead… Your…”
He was cut short by the blacksmith’s tearful protest, “I know, I know. She was dead. My daughter was dead, as were the rest of my children. But I saw her…” The plague doctor stared at him in disbelief.
Something wasn’t right, perhaps another fever-induced delusion. He wanted to mention the idea but opted to let the distressed patient finish.
“She appeared in the middle of the night, skeletal, pale, barely resembling herself. She just stood there over the bed.” Jan said as he frantically pointed into the air. “Her once lush golden hairs were thin and black. Her green eyes, they were so… red… She just stood there and stared at me until I woke up. When I saw her, When I saw her, I cried out in terror. I was in hell. The room was so cold, and there wasn’t even moonlight shining through like now. Nothing, pitch, pitch black. I swear. I was in hell. I was sure I was in hell.”
Jaroslav turned around as the man rambled on and walked out of the room, unable to handle the absurdity of the situation. He had seen many delirious victims of the pestilence, none who claimed to have seen their dead relatives rise up. The girl couldn’t have been alive, and if she were a ghost, why was she the only one? So many people were buried improperly, and yet this one Czech kid was the one who couldn’t cross the veil. Nonsense.
“It was just your imagination, Jan, I’ll return in a few days. I hope you stay alive until then. There’s nothing I can do to help you currently. Your life is in the hands of our Lord, have faith.”
The sick man cried out inaudible things as he sobbed while the plague doctor left his hut. A pig approached him as he walked outside. He recognized the beast, Jan’s favorite swine – Pes, named so for its dog-like intelligence. He petted the beast and continued walking home. The next day was to be a busy one. The nobles were always a pain to deal with, especially in times like these.
Three days later, Jaroslav returned to the hut of Jan Kovar, the deathly stench still hung inside the small wooden construction. This time it was mixed with some other smell, something meaty and almost sweet. Something familiar. The plague doctor tightened his incensed rag around his face and walked into the room in which the blacksmith was resting.
“Doctor, hello!” the sickly blacksmith remarked, slurping a stew.
“You seem better today, Jan, did you make that?” he questioned his patient as he sat beside the bed, unpacking his pouch.
“Of course, who else could’ve done that, the ghosts that haunt me?” the blacksmith remarked before coughing straight into his stew, droplets of blood and phlegm landed inside the nutritious concoction. “Barely managed to do this much. My whole body aches, I feel like the pestilence is trying to grind down my bones every time I move a joint. It doesn’t help I only have one hand now.” He finished his dribble and went on to take another slurp of the stew, disregarding his own humors landing into the dish.
The plague doctor winced at the sight and thought to himself that the blacksmith must have been losing his mind to the disease. “That’s good,” he remarked towards his patient. “Well, how have you been these three days, Jan?”
The sick man stopped eating and stared at him dead in the eyes, “I spent one night hearing some sort of dog tearing apart one of my pigs. There was a lot of growling and squealing and then something popped and cracked and there was more growling, but the squealing stopped. Later, more dogs came around and I assume ate the whole thing whole. I wish I could’ve stopped them. I needed that pig. I need all of them. Did you see anything outside?”
“No. I haven’t seen anything,” the plague doctor remarked.
“Ah, probably drank every last drop of blood and devoured every last bit of flesh and bone the swine had on it. Seems like these dogs are getting bolder by the day. Humans are growing scarce and the dogs are multiplying. What a world we live in. Would you like some stew, Jarik?” the sickly blacksmith offered nonchalantly.
“No, I’m not interested. I think we could use some leech therapy today, Jan. Might help you with your mobility,” the doctor said as he pulled out a small vessel with leeches inside it.
“Well, suit yourself,” the blacksmith said as he pulled the blanket away from his legs and pulled up his trousers. “Alright, doctor, I’m ready.”
The plague doctor attached a few leeches to the sick man’s legs and they sat in complete silence throughout the entire session. The room felt chilly and almost eerie. The sweetened meaty smell started dissipating from the air, and only the stench of bloated corpses remained. Jan seemed to have fallen asleep as he finished eating his stew. Jaroslav just sat and stared at him as the leeches did their work, sucking away at his plague-ridden blood. Occasionally Jan groaned in his sleep and twitched painfully.
The movements and sounds kept the plague doctor on edge, but his patient remained asleep throughout the whole ordeal.
When the session was finished, Jaroslav woke Jan up telling him he’s about to leave. “See you again soon, if the Lord wills so…”
To which Jan laughed before retaliating with, “Your lord seems to be very interested in keeping me chained in this hell between the heavens and the earth. Where I am suspended by chains that eat away at my flesh for his own sick entertainment.”
“That’s unlike you, blacksmith,” the plague doctor spat back.
“What’s unlike me? Being mad at the fact that I had to watch my family wither away to this biblical plague, just like cattle? Or maybe it’s being furious that they’re now stuck in hell and something keeps showing me their anguished faces… Is it unlike me to not enjoy being haunted by the ghastly apparitions of my children and wife? Maybe it’s unlike me to be mad at a God that let so many innocent people die like this. Never mind Anna. She was a woman. She sinned as all humans do, to procreate is to sin. We all enjoy the act, that’s what it is.”
“But the children, what did they do? How did they break the laws of the divine? I thought there were no more punishments for the crimes of the previous generations… Why are my children dead, why are your children dead?”
Hearing that, the plague doctor wanted to snap but had to act more professionally than that. He gritted his teeth as his blood started boiling under his skin. “You need to rest, Jan, I’ll see you in a few days. Hopefully, still alive.” With that he left the hut, wondering how his friend could spew such sacrilege and insult him in such a manner. He knew the death of his wife and newborn were a painful subject. Jaroslav thought that the disease had eaten away at his friend’s reason and tried his best to ignore the verbal heresy. Making his way to his next patient, he noticed something that looked like the top of a pig’s head under a pile of rocks. An itch in his inner thigh cut off that thought, he scratched his leg and carried on.
The itch hadn’t been the reason his thoughts shifted elsewhere, the obvious implication of said itch was. He knew the creeping touch of death had infected him. He also knew he would be soon dying from the pestilence himself too. He wanted to help as many people as he could before the lord took him as well.
Three days later, he returned to the hut of Jan Kovar. The stench of pus and rot was stronger than ever before. He walked into the hut with an obvious limp. The lymph nod beside his groin had swollen causing him to alter his gait. The blacksmith looked like he hadn’t eaten or drank in days. His body seemed yellowish, almost like the cloud of putrid gases Jaroslav envisioned in his head every time he walked into that hut. The man was barely breathing, blood coated his shirt and blankets heavily.
Jaroslav approached the dying body of his friend and knelt beside it. Breaths were shallow and infrequent. He rose back up to his feet, wincing in pain himself. Jan opened his eyes weakly.
“I’m dying… I’m dying... I’m dying…” the blacksmith weakly uttered.
“Hold on just a little bit longer, Jan, I’m going to bring father Pawel here. Hang on, confess, and then pass on to the next life. You deserve this much. Hold on just a bit longer,” the plague doctor said before walking out of the room. As he exited the hut, he heard Jan Kovar cough so hard he assumed he might choke on his own saliva and die.
He marched as fast as he could to the church. He gritted his teeth in pain as his leg and groin burned as a result of the bubo swelling in the region. He walked so fast he failed to see a pig’s skull staring at him from a small pile of rocks. Had he noticed it, he’d have found it extremely strange, because the pig skull looked like it was placed on a rocky altar.
An hour later, the plague doctor returned with the priest to the hut of Jan Kovar. The priest walked inside the hut with great discomfort, with the doctor following behind him. The stench inside the hut made the clergyman wince in discomfort and shift around. He muttered under his breath that he hoped this would be quick. Jaroslav was visibly distraught hearing that, but he couldn’t afford to show that. He had no desire to be tried for heresy.
Once inside Jan’s room, the priest was visibly disgusted by the appearance of the dying man. He must’ve seen hundreds of victims of the pestilence but could never come to accept the gruesome imagery that the plague generated.
He approached the dying man, trying his hardest to hide the visible disgust from his face. Touching the man’s hand, Jan opened his eyes and looked at the clergyman, exclaiming a simple but sharp. “Father, I am dying.”
The priest signaled Jaroslav to leave the room and stood beside Jan, “I can see that, my son. Do you have any sins you’d like to confess as the Lord is our witness?”
“Confess, and repent, my child.”
“I’ve sinned with my heart, Father Pawel. I’ve received a vision of a tall and shining man, with three faces and three heads. His light was almost blinding. I looked up at his faces and bands made of gold covered his eyes so he could not sin or speak of our earthly sins. And he stood over a sea of crosses, wielding a great and mighty flaming sword.”
“It is not a sin to see the image of God, my child.” The priest reassured Jan, “Would you like to confess anything else?”
“No, Father, that was not the holy trinity. The three-headed man spoke to me, in three unique voices all combined into one, and he told me that he cast this plague upon us for following the wrong god, for encroaching on his domains. He offered me salvation, and I accepted,” Jan explained slowly.
“I see, in a moment of crisis, you’ve abandoned your faith and let the devil take hold. That is alright, however, dear child, for our lord and savior is a forgiving one. Renounce the false idol and be saved by his holy light,” the priest responded, barely holding back his disgust.
Jan smirked, “You see, Father Pawel, in my vision, the crosses were decorated with swine skulls and the three-headed man had gone on to strike each and every last one of those crosses. Each cross his flaming sword touched did not burn, instead, they withered and rotted away as ravenous flies consumed them from top to bottom.”
At that moment the body of Jaroslav Nemec fell into the room, blood leaking out of his abdomen. The priest recoiled in fear and Jan leaped out of his bed.
“What is the meaning of this?” the priest demanded to know.
Standing before the priest, Jan looked him dead in the eyes and proclaimed, “Father, my God, the Lord of this land, he’s angry at you… at your God… and he has cast this pestilence upon you, the false believers. My heavenly master has decided to punish you all, Christians with a plague of pigs. For only pigs could worship a god that thrives on the senseless mass murder of innocents.”
“You here…” the priest’s words were cut short as a sharp stabbing pain shot through his lower back. He turned around to see a girl standing behind him, her hands firmly holding onto the large crucifix lodged into the back of the priest.
“Y… Y…You can’t be… I buried…” the priest tried saying, as blood crawled out of his mouth.
“Oh, she’s alive, Father, Michaela is alive and well. She escaped the burial pits. You see, priest, my God would never let a child be buried alive like that. Our Lord actually cures his subjects when they fall ill, unlike your serpentine god,” Jan remarked, smiling from ear to ear.
"Sadly, every last one of you has to go, even good men like Jaroslav Nemec."
Written by MLycantrope