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awaken not, nor stir up love, until it please

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18 Ventôse 93 RE

Buried Miss Takano today. A crushing blow to the family; not only was she sweet-tempered and very much beloved, but also a diligent worker. It is hard to see how Mr. and Mrs. Takano will feed all the little ones without her. They are too proud to accept contributions from the Poor Fund--not, indeed, that there is much I can offer them.

Her illness came suddenly. Tuberculosis is the diagnosis written on the death certificate, but Mrs. Takano will have it that her daughter died of a broken heart. Poor woman!

Elizabeth waxes larger, and continues in good health, but she complains of backache and is full of anxieties. It is only to be expected of a woman in her condition, I suppose. I trust in God that all will be well. We spent an hour praying together, and it seemed to comfort her.

28 Ventôse 93 RE

The illness has spread through the city with alarming rapidity; I hear even the wealthy and fashionable neighborhoods are affected. Young men and women are the most susceptible, although it is by no means unheard of for the middle-aged and elderly to be stricken as well. Children, curiously, rarely if ever succumb. That is one comfort, with the blessed event that Elizabeth and I are expecting in the coming weeks.

The doctors have dubbed the illness floraculosis, after the odd, flower-petal-like expectorate that the sufferers produce. In Nihonmachi, however, they call it hanahaki, and say that it is frustrated desire that brings on the disease, and that the consummation of love can cure it. I hear that certain herb-men are doing a brisk trade in love-philtres and such.

I confess that these rumors disturb me. I feel as if I am returned to childhood, before I went to school, and I used to get underfoot in the kitchen, begging for treats and listening to my aunts’ tales of spirits and ghosts from the old country.

29 Ventôse 93 RE

Miss Takano’s grave has been disturbed; the work of medical students, no doubt. Her parents are grieved and alarmed, but do not wish the police to be involved. I fully comprehend their feelings, and indeed it is unlikely the police would bestir themselves to help in any case. Still, I wish the blackguards might be brought to justice!

2 Germinal 93 RE

Seven more dead this week in my parish alone. I try to be a pillar of strength for the community, but I confess it is beginning to wear on me.

Nor are funerals the only ceremonies I have been called upon to perform. Since the outbreak, I have joined no less than a dozen souls in holy matrimony, whether in the hope that marriage will protect them from the illness, or in the aftermath of such acts of passion as they hoped would protect them--I have not dared to inquire.

One of those I buried--a young man named Honnami--was not struck down by floraculosis. He was the victim of an attack, almost as it seemed by a wild animal. He was disemboweled, and his flesh covered with lacerations, his face entirely torn away. The police have made inquiries, but I could tell them little, and there are few enough in Nihonmachi who will speak to them at all.

They say something silently stalks the streets at night. Mothers will not allow their children to leave their homes after sunset.

Produce at the markets is becoming scarce. Farmers are afraid to come to the city.

5 Germinal 93 RE

The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. -- Job 1:21

I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. -- 2 Samuel 12:23

6 Germinal 93 RE

I buried the poor scrap of a thing beneath the sweet bay tree. Elizabeth insensible and unable to rise from bed. I cannot write of it.

10 Germinal 93 RE

Elizabeth recovers but slowly. She will take some broth and a little rice--and indeed, what else could I give her, if she had the heartiest appetite in the world? She will say a short prayer to oblige me, but I do not think it gives her any comfort, and in truth it gives me but little. She has rubbed her silver locket, the one with a lock of her mother’s hair, as shiny as new with her fretting.

There is no more room to bury the dead. They haul the corpses outside the city in great carts to burn; this is also intended to prevent them from rising again. And I can no longer doubt that they do rise--I have seen the shoots growing beneath the skin of a corpse, at the wrists and the throat, where in a living person the blood flows close to the surface. And though I bar my door and shutter my windows when evening falls and the curfew bell rings, I hear them moving through the streets, like the sound of wind through trees, and I hear the screams of their victims.

A cloud of smoke covers the city continually. By day the sun is a smudged, angry red. By night, the stars cannot be seen. And always, the sharp smell of burnt sap.

Anyone who could flee has already done so. Now Navy vessels patrol the harbor, and National Guardsmen man barricades in the streets. They say it is to prevent the contagation from spreading, but I fear it is much too late.

In any case, it is not the soldiers or the law which prevents me from leaving. It is not even, may God forgive me, my duty to those of my parishioners that remain.

Elizabeth cannot walk yet. How could we go?

God help me, what am I to do?

15 Germinal 93 RE

Thunder all morning. Just after noon, the heavens opened, as if God had forgot his promise never again to drown the world.

What will happen when they cannot burn the dead?

17 Germinal 93 RE

Lord, be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee. -- Psalm 41:4

18 Germinal 93 RE

I have killed a man. And what is worse, I cannot in my heart repent of it. I have confessed my sin before God, I have prayed, but I have not cast away my stolen rifle, and I will not. For--I may need it.

Has it only been three days since the creatures overran the barricades? It seems a lifetime ago. And yet, as I sit here in this stable where we have taken shelter, writing by the guttering light of a kerosene lamp, with Elizabeth’s head pillowed on my lap--when my strength fails, and I can no longer keep watch but fall into a slumber, it seems no time at all, as though it is all still happening before my eyes.

I can still smell the petrichor, the filth of the previous month seemingly washed clean by the rain. I hated to shutter the window against it, and yet, when the curfew bell rang out, I did. There was no sound of wind through trees that night--it was a gale, a whirlwind, a roar like the ocean. Rifle shots rang out and were silenced, and howls and shrieks mingled with the sounds of splintering wood and snapping bone. I knelt by the bed where Elizabeth lay, clutching her hands and gabbling prayers as the sounds grew closer.

Then it was our wooden shutter that groaned, then tore, as a branch tipped with blood-red flowers broke through it. The twigs at the ends of the branch twitched as if seeking something, and as the thing thrust further into our apartment, it brought with it a dangling hand, and the livid, lacerated wrist from which the branches had once sprung.

“Run,” Elizabeth whispered, her hands spasming on mine as if she would clutch them and release them at once. Her voice was dry and husky, her lips bloodless, her eyes wide and dark with fear.

I staggered to my feet and pulled on her hands, asking, “Can you stand?”

She hesitated another moment, then, seeing I would not leave her, swung her legs over the edge of the bed. She fell, and I lifted her to her feet, and one wall of our apartment tore away entirely. I threw my overcoat over her (it had this diary in the pocket) and she leaned heavily on me as we fled out into the street.

Rain was still falling, though not as heavily as it had in the afternoon, and blood and God knows what else mixed with the water that swirled around our feet. The darkness was a curse and a mercy, for we fled blind and directionless, but if we had had to see continually before us what the brief flashes of lightning occasionally illuminated--the broken, scattered bodies, and the creatures, each one like a great tree with the tattered remains of its host hung in its branches--I do believe we might have gone mad.

Once, a stray swipe from one of the creatures tore a cut across my shoulders, but I did not even notice at the time--only that it was close, and we must run faster, and Elizabeth was at the end of her strength, her breath coming heavy and ragged as I half-carried her along.

We stumbled through the streets, finding our direction more by feeling than by sight, and every time we crossed a broken barricade, or stepped over a slain Guardsman, I told myself we were closer to being free of the city at last.

Until we came to a barricade that was manned. By that point, dawn was breaking through the mist, and in the gray half-light I discerned a pair of Guardsmen still holding their position. One of them leveled his rifle at us.

“Go back! Return to your home!” he shouted.

“What home?” Elizabeth cried. The whole night, I had been supporting her, but now she stumbled forward on her own, holding her hands out imploringly. “Our home is gone! Please, sir--”

A look of wild, grim determination flashed across his face, and Elizabeth flung herself on him, knocking his shot wide. I ran after her and wrested the rifle from the man’s hands. As his companion turned towards us, I shot him in the face, and we ran on.

It seems so cold as I write it. But I see it before me still, that burst of fire and blood, like a flower.

By noon we were free of the city and the skies had cleared, but we could run no longer. We thought to take shelter at a farm that seemed abandoned, but as it turned out, we were not the first ones to arrive there. As we approached, we found ourselves again threatened by hard-eyed men with guns.

“Move along; there’s nothing for you here,” said one of them. He held his gun steady and regarded us over its barrel--a giant white man, yellow-haired and ruddy-faced, a leader of some sort, as it seemed.

“We only need a place to rest,” I pleaded. “My wife has recently given birth, and she has been running all day, in nothing but a night-dress and slippers--”

“Man and wife, eh?” the man grunted.

The farmhouse he guarded was full of the sounds of busy domestic activity and the piping voices of children. If the group was only taking in families, that was perhaps a sensible precaution. His eyes traveled over us for several moments more, and I cannot say what he was seeing, or judging--my obvious mixed heritage, Elizabeth’s wedding ring, our disheveled appearance, the way we clung to each other--but finally he lowered his gun.

“If it’s rest you want, there’s some room in the stables,” he said, with a jerk of his chin at the building he meant. “It’s dry, and there’s plenty of hay. Could be as there’s some oats stored in there too.”

And so we have been here for the past day and a half. We have slept, and dried our clothes, and found Elizabeth a horse-blanket to cover herself with, and rags to wrap her poor blistered feet, her slippers being torn entirely to shreds. We have not precisely been accepted into the group, but we have not been left to subsist on dry oats, either. Twice a woman has come by and left bowls of porridge and a canteen of water at a cautious distance. Several times, too, men have come in or out with horses, though they have given us as wide a berth as they may. One of the horses is stabled in here with us now--a poor-looking nag, though doubtless if she could speak she would say the same of us.

Elizabeth is sleeping now, fitfully. Her breathing is labored, and her left hand clutches her locket. I ought to join her, but I am afraid of what may come upon us while we slumber unaware, and afraid of what I will see if I close my eyes.

I should put aside this writing. I must not waste kerosene.

20 Germinal 93 RE

Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? -- Exodus 14:11

21 Germinal 93 RE

The second morning when we awoke in the stables, Elizabeth doubled over in a fit of coughing, then swiped and beat desperately at the blanket covering her. I could not understand--until I saw what she had tried to sweep away.

Flower petals, bright red.

“How can this be?” I whispered.

She looked at me with stricken eyes and said nothing, but her hand crept to the locket around her neck.

“Is it--it is not your mother’s hair in the locket,” I said.

She shook her head. Tears, bright as jewels, clung to her lowered eyelashes for a moment before sliding silently down her cheeks.

And I, like a fool, as if this were the thing to be most concerned about in that desperate moment: “You don’t love me?”

“Oh, I have tried,” she sobbed, and was seized with another fit of coughing before she could go on. “I have tried to be a good wife to you--I have never strayed, not since we wed--but I could not put him out of my heart--and--the child was not yours--”

I should have guessed, shouldn’t I? Indeed, I had scarcely believed it when Elizabeth, who had seemed indifferent to me for so long, had suddenly allowed me to court her, and had agreed to such a hasty marriage. I should have suspected something amiss, should I not, when she told me she was expecting a child so soon? But no such idea had ever crossed my mind.

I should have blamed her, shouldn’t I? I must be missing some essential, manly component in my disposition that I cannot.

“She would have been,” was all I said.

“It is a judgement on me,” she sobbed.

“No--” I said. “There is nothing God cannot forgive.”

“Nothing, if we give it up to Him. But the sin we hold close to our hearts--that we cannot give up--”

I could not argue with her; indeed, her thoughts ran parallel to my own. My rifle--I would not give that up. I would need it with me now more than ever.

“You will be well,” I told her. “You will learn to love me--I will make you love me--and then you will be well. But we cannot stay here; they will shoot us if they find you like this.”

I tried to pull her to her feet, but she could not stand. She is weaker now than when she lost the child. My poor Elizabeth. How had I not seen?

In the end I had to tie her to the horse, cushioned her as well as I could with blankets and straw, and a rope wrapped around her chest and the horse’s neck. I took with me a sack of oats and a canteen of water, and my rifle. I led the horse away as quietly as I could. We were lucky--we were not spotted until we were nearly out of sight. Once we were spotted, we ran.

It has been two days of dry oats and dandelion greens and carefully rationing our water--the poor mare has not gotten any--and no one has caught up with us yet, and so I suppose we are not being pursued.

Elizabeth is no better.

22 Germinal 93 RE

The mare is dead. God help me, I would have butchered it, eaten it raw and drunk its blood, only I have not so much as a penknife on me. I left it where it fell, picked up Elizabeth and kept walking. Somewhere in this wilderness there must be water and shelter.

Or indeed, other people--though we cannot seek them out until Elizabeth is recovered.

I have asked her to tell me, in between bouts of coughing, what she loves about the man whose lock of hair she carries, who got her with child and left her. She says he made her laugh, so I dredged up from memory a few witticisms from a joke-book I once read, but neither of us could find much humor in them. She speaks of his touch, his kisses--and pulls back when I embrace her, though she tries not to.

She says it is a judgement on her--but is it a sin in her to love a man unworthy, to keep faith with one who has broken faith with her? Has not God done the same?

She has a loving heart. If we had time, I know she would come to love me. But I fear we do not.

28 Germinal 93 RE

I will write the rest, and then I will hide this diary and Elizabeth’s locket among the rocks, and perhaps someday someone will find them, and learn what has become of us.

Suicide is a sin, but that is not what stays my hand. It is only that I have no bullet left for myself.

I held Elizabeth while she struggled for breath. I watched the vines grow beneath her skin, and whispered prayers with parched lips as she grew weaker. Crows followed us, at a distance at first, and then grew bolder as they sensed fresh carrion would be theirs soon.

Then, as I held her in my arms, her back, which had been so limp and still, suddenly stiffened, and her arm lashed out with terrible strength, and a branch burst forth from it, flaying my cheek bloody and bare to the bone. Red flowers, red blood--mine. She had none left.

I saw, as illuminated by lightning that dreadful night, the bodies hung in the rampaging trees, but it was Elizabeth’s body, Elizabeth’s empty, staring eyes--

I staggered backwards, unslung the rifle from my back and emptied it into her chest. She fell. The crows descended on her. I screamed and wept, but I was too feeble to frighten them off. It was all I could do to wrest her locket away from one who was about to fly off with it. I was forced to leave her body to the rest.

And yet, that was not the end. For although she did not love me, I loved her--how could I not? God help me, I love her still.

It is hard to breathe. I have seen the vines growing beneath the skin of my wrist.

I commend my soul to God. I pray I will harm no other soul when the transformation is complete.

There is nothing else I can do.