The night is dark, reeking with the stench of sickness and death. The houses that are passed are filled with the shrieking and prayers of those who suffer; those condemned to the illness that possesses them. By the lit tallow candles in every window, streetwalkers are able to see the cobblestones illuminated: but they see only horror, only pain, only the vain battles fought of souls that were now lost. Atop the pebbles lay the poor, dead, and the still suffering lives of the victims of the bubonic plague, the Black Death. The sick run about with their crazed minds, flailing their swollen, lumpy gray limbs, screaming for mercy. About their feet scurry the flea infested black rats that breed and spread through London, dripping with blood and parasites: the very black rats that began the death of over 60,000 people in 1665, England.

No one knows for sure just how or where the Great Plague began. Historians believe that the disease first started in the far East, most likely China in the year of 1664. The illness was caused and carried by a parasite in fleas, fleas that attached themselves to rats, specifically black rats. These dark vermin were known to infest many homes, buildings and ships. It was on the vessels that trouble really began. We all know that ships were a source of transportation to travel from one place to another. But it was by this very use that the Eastern ships slowly deposited the black rats that had taken a home on the ships, slowly letting the rodents have liberty to run about the Eastern Hemisphere’s countries, slowly letting the black rats spread their disease.

The plague first hit England in a town called St.Giles-in-the-field in approximately early May or late April. The sickness symptoms started simply as a rough headache in only five or six of St. Giles’ populants. But as hours passed, the sick grew in number and the afflictions grew steadily worse: The tongues of the sick began to grow swollen, swelling and bloating until they were unable to talk. The possessed were constantly vomiting until their stomachs were empty and they began to vomit their own blood. Glands around the groin and armpits became inflamed, burning and growing. The pale skin of the victims began to darken in patches, eventually turning into black lumps, pockets full of the much-feared plague. Finally, the sick would become mad, become crazy with the horrible sickness, become beyond repair or help. In a matter of days, those who had had just a headache to begin with would be dead. The plague had come to England.

Once it had begun, the plague could not be stopped. It spread rapidly from town to town, city to city. The English became frightened, terrified that they themselves would soon be possessed by the symptoms of the deadly plague. Kings, Queens, and other royalty fled the country in desperation to remain alive. Those who also were fortunate to be wealthy left as well. Some of these people were the only physicians that England had. The poor were left to be massacred, forbidden to leave the country in case they spread the affliction. The peasants were forced to their terrible fate.

The people left in England were now without doctors or government. The plague struck every innocent town it could grasp, taking over the peoples’ lives and bodies until they were no more. The people tried as best they could to survive by making themselves sniff herbs and vinegar, thinking that the smells would act as an antidote against the plague filled air. But these acts were in utter vain. More than seven thousand people died from illness each week, wiping out 15% of London’s population in less than a summer. In a desperate struggle to stop the plague from spreading, some towns threw their sick out of the town gates, leaving them to suffer and die alone in the wide world.

Part II continued

on March 23


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