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WARNING: Stories on this site may contain mature language and situations, and may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

BLACK DEATH by Patrick Turner
June 14, 2011  Short stories   Tags:   

This day, the Twenty third Day of July in the Thirteen Hundred and Forty Ninth year of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I, Father Maurice Apuzzi, do commit to documentation all of the events that I have witnessed heretofore with all the honesty and truth that Our Lord God would command of one of his servants.

I have under great pain of conscience been forced to risk excommunication from the Holy Church for daring to spread the absolute truth about the events outside Your Lordship’s mighty walls so that you may know and reflect, as all benevolent rulers who are trust by God with provenance over his fellow man may from time to time. So that you might prepare for the true enormity of what is slowly creeping towards you from the Italian March.

I personally do not agree with the Holy See’s position that the full truth regarding this “Black Death” as the Saxons call it, or “La Grande Mortalitie” as the French are calling this pestilence should be hidden from the various Lords and Princes that rule across Europe.  Perhaps the Holy Father, in his “divine” inspirations with the Almighty may perhaps see spiritual benefit in such censorship, but I however do not.

I’m sure that you have heard the “official” explanation from the Vatican. No doubt you have heard of terrible symptoms that afflict those who have caught this pestilence. I can assure you that much of what you have heard is truth, but only half so.

The victim does indeed come down ill as described in the latest dispatches, with the horrid buboes and hemorrhaging all over the body. The smell of rot does indeed infest the poor soul and yes, the disease is indeed 100% fatal as far as anyone can really tell.

What the Holy See has deemed fit to leave out however, is the true hellish nature of this disease. It is no doubt highly Satanic in origin, and the Holy Father perhaps fears this truth more than any other. Those afflicted with this disease and expire from it, rise like Lazarus in the Scriptures and attack the living.

Even now I assume you and your courtesans laugh at such a notion. The dead rising to murder and consume the flesh of the living is a terror no follower of Our Lord Christ would wish upon anyone, including the Heathen Saracens, Moors, and Mohammed Worshippers to our East. Who apparently have been afflicted  greater than any of us in Europe have been suffering thus far. It is however just that God would punish the Heathens while chastising his Faithful.

Forgive me your Lordship, for my hand wanders much like my brain and I must return to the matter at hand which is the Italian form of this affliction as witnessed by me over these last months whilst executing my official duties as a humble parish priest near Naples.

It all began quietly enough. A beautiful day last year in which I happened to be having a stroll near the docks at Naples with several of my flock discussing matters of that day when one of my parish shouted ‘Hark! Do you see what I see?” and pointed towards the boundless Ocean and there, rapidly approaching the docks at full sail was a merchant galley. Its sails were at full mast and its oars were stowed. However this ship was behaving quite strangely. It wasn’t keeping station very well, drifting lazily about a zig zag course through the bay and it was obvious that the pilot of the vessel was either a complete lunatic, or not at the helm at all.

We stopped and strained our eyes as the vessel grew rapidly closer and yes, the crew could be seen on board however they were simply milling about the deck. They made no attempts at all to drop sails and slow the ship down. There was a helmsman at the rudder but he seemed to not be doing much of anything in the way of actually navigating the ship!

The ship ran over several skiffs as it barreled its way towards the docks, throwing their occupants into the bay and when it  became clear to the various longshoremen that this ship was not going to stop they scattered in all directions as the vessel carved clean through several quays and at a speed entirely to fast struck and then split like a gourd upon the rocks of the shoreline spilling crates and barrels and the bodies of crewmen all over the beach accompanied by the sound of shivering  and cracking timbers.

A crowd had gathered around the broken vessel and began to advance towards  the prone bodies of the shipwrecked crew when the bodies began to rise of their own accord from the sand, and a few even pulled themselves out of the brine and stumbled about the beach in what appeared to be confusion.

The confusion was short lived however as several of the crew of the ship took notice of the crowd and began stumbling towards them with their arms outstretched as if seeking help. By the time I and my companions arrived the first crew had reached the crowd and suddenly threw themselves onto several of the people who had come to render assistance. The crowd drew back in shock and horror as the ravenous crew, stinking of the rot of death and looking themselves like disheveled, starving ghouls proceeded to tear several of the people who had come to assist them to pieces and consume them right on the beach!

I know this all must seem quite insane to Your Majesty and I can completely understand such sentiments as I myself could not believe what my own eyes were presenting before me! Surely this was some sea brought insanity, some sickness that afflicts those who spend too long out at sea! If I only knew then what I know now I would’ve fled right then and there and never returned to Naples.

The crowd began to flee in terror as more crewmen crawled from the sea and made their way towards the frightened people. I was caught in the press of the crowd and as we made our way away from the docks several armed men on horseback galloped past heading towards them where the crazed crewmen were put to the sword summarily.

The sickness spread rapidly over the next week. It began among those who had been wounded by the crew of the plague ship and as they developed the buboes and the bleeding from every orifice, the vomiting of blood and black bile that reeked of death would grow more violent. The spasms would become ever stronger until finally the victim would expire, only to rise within several minutes to attack their own kith and kin as if they were mad dogs!

Every cure was tried, every prayer to Our Lord Jesus Christ chanted, nothing seemed to stop the spread of the pestilence to the living due to the fact that many family members refused to leave the afflicted and would instead stay to aid the family member and despite all attempts by the authorities to demand that the dead be brought out to the carts for disposal by removal of the head, family members saw this as a blasphemy and would attempt to protect their risen from the authorities who were soon forced to fight not only growing crowds of afflicted but their family members as well and social order broke down within the city in a matter of several weeks.

Riots began to consume much of the merchant district as citizens went wild with vandalism, looting and other sinful behaviors as authority faded in the streets. The armed militia had eventually given up the fight and moved themselves to within the walls of the citadel where they cruelly murdered within arrow shot anyone that wasn’t one of their numbers. The bodies of both the afflicted and not were strewn in hundreds before the citadel walls, struck down by arrows expertly placed from the walls through the skulls of the victims.

Packs of the afflicted wandered the streets, attacking any and all living humans upon which they set their rotten eyes upon. They would moan incessantly and their cries could be heard from blocks away when they were gathered together and having found a victim, or group of victims. Then the screams and cries of mercy to the Lord would break the stillness of the night as the moans increased in volume and the packs of ghouls grew larger as the warm days passed.

Men armed with stave, pitchfork and torch wandered the streets at all hours of the day and night as well killing not just the afflicted but anyone with whom they might have a quarrel, or might possess something they wanted. Rape and murder were the order of the day and Your Majesty would not be wrong in worrying about such things coming to pass within your own castle walls, as strong as they may be and able to keep the enemy without, being trapped inside those walls while the disease spreads within is perhaps a worse fate than being locked outside.

I must now pass on to Your Majesty the sad story of the death of Bishop Sparza, that great and holy man to whom your sister’s husband is related and you know well, as he is the man who provided the baptismal rites to your own heirs.

As you well know the Good Bishop was a soldier in his younger years, and had always had a sense of duty to his flock. In the terrible last days, as I myself was packing my bags and about to flee the afflicted city, the Bishop gathered together all the clergy and any remaining militia that had been trapped outside the walls of the citadel before the Gates were closed for good.

He gathered the men, about 3 dozen or so together with what weapons and implements could be found, blessed and then led them. Sparza, himself at the vanguard took his tiny militia and charged against the plague infested hordes that now gathered themselves in extremely large numbers.

As the militia made first contact with the wave of ghouls a sharp skirmish broke out and the cries of battle echoed through the alleys and streets towards the refugees attempting to flee the city by any means necessary. I myself saw the Bishop fall. As I mentioned he was at the fore and he had with him a stout wooden cudgel that he used with devastating effect on the skulls of the afflicted that came towards him. “In the name of the Father!” then a skull splitting crack could be heard as he took down yet another fallen victim of the plague. “In the name of the Son!” he would cry and take down another.  “In the name of the Holy Ghost!” he intoned, chanting the last rites at the top of his lungs as he released the obviously trapped souls of the dead from their bodies and sending them to final rest with Our Lord.

The only sure way to release the soul of the afflicted is the removal of the head itself from the body, or smashing it open. Anything else at best will merely cripple the demon possessed body but does nothing to ease its deadliness.

It was at this point that, unforeseen to the Bishop a second crowd of afflicted had entered from a side alley, apparently drawn to the sounds of battle and his small militia was overwhelmed in the square in front of the great basilica the Bishop used for his masses every Sunday. The marble steps of the basilica were strewn with body parts and caked in blood. The dead were fighting over the dismembered parts of militia and clergy who had bravely held out until the last on the steps of the basilica. The old Roman statue of Caesar that sat in the same blood stained Forum as the Basilica looked out over a scene of death and destruction that can only be described as apocalyptic.

Now having seen the last resistance of both secular and divine authority broken by the Devil, I was forced to flee for my life from the city. I have continually travelled North over the last year, attempting to hide from the spread of the pestilence as it continued up the Italian Peninsula and into the rest of Europe.

I now compose this letter from one of your Lordship’s walled estates outside of Reims. We have been under siege for several weeks now by thousands of afflicted who stand at the walls and never retreat, only growing in number despite all manner of killing devices poured down into the crowd. Boiling Oil and such does no good against a creature that cannot feel pain and our arrows are now so low in number that the local magistrate has ordered them reserved.

Daily your men at arms on the walls look out upon a ravening crowd of dead peasants, noblemen and merchants whose pitiful moans and cries never cease in their calling for the flesh and blood of the living. Food is running short now and we’re all on half rations, soon to be reduced to quarter rations if no help arrives within the next few days. The smell of the dead, both within and without our walls is quite overpowering here in the summer heat of your Kingdom and daily people lose hope and throw themselves from the walls into the arms of the cannibalistic demons that inhabit the bodies of good Christians.

I have sent this letter out to your Lordship with the last royal messenger available and pray that it reaches you in time to prepare yourself for the evil that is even now spreading throughout the lands of France. I implore Your Majesty to come to the aid of your subjects and pray that the Lord God watch over you and keep you safe from the Devil in these most trying of times.

Your Humble and Faithful Subject, Servant and Friend,

Father Maurice Apuzzi.


  1. Love the explaination for the black plague!! This story was very well written and had a great medevial feel to it. I look forward to reading a sequel!

    Comment by Jacob F on June 14, 2011 @ 1:36 pm

  2. That…. Was absolutely brilliant. This has got to be one of the most original and best written stories on this site. Well done

    Comment by The Britannian on June 14, 2011 @ 9:39 pm

  3. Great story and a really fun twist on a historical catastrophe; I hope you follow this up with more of the same in the near future.

    Comment by Tim on June 14, 2011 @ 10:08 pm

  4. Niothing I like more than an original twist on an established genre … keep writing.

    Comment by Eljay on June 15, 2011 @ 7:17 am

  5. excellent writing, can’t wait for a sequal…I had a similar idea while back for a movie, but never implimented it to film, so its just a script lol. anyways great job with the research on the language of the time, and the discription of the boat crashing was fantastic

    Comment by Sherri on June 15, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

  6. My GOD… This is the kind of story I’ve been wanting to read for ages! I’ve got an idea sort of like it (soon-to-be knights get trapped inside an infested castle and have to find a way out), but this is a great story.

    Can’t wait for a sequel!

    Comment by Liam Perry on June 16, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

  7. I really liked this. Not only was the story itself engaging, but it was so cleanly written. I really got a feel for the character of the narrarator. I could actually picture him because of the way you had him form his words and phrases. You wrote this like a true wordsmith, which I’m sure clergy was at that time.

    Comment by RandyB on June 17, 2011 @ 10:02 am

  8. Also, I am amazed at your versatility. This is such a change of pace from your wonderful Ohio VM, stories.

    Comment by RandyB on June 17, 2011 @ 10:05 am

  9. I genuinely believe this is one to watch. I am not religious in any way, shape or form but this is a brilliant twist on religion and the black death. Absolutely brilliant and I hope you come first of second in the 2nd period of 2011. Great piece of writing.

    Comment by Zombie_Hunter_6 on June 18, 2011 @ 12:58 pm

  10. Wow! wonderful!

    Comment by Ashley on June 18, 2011 @ 1:24 pm

  11. As an author note, any fans of Bernard Cornwell will instantly recognize the influence. He pretty much defines the medieval historical fiction novel in the journal format and has literally VOLUMES of work that anyone who loves medieval history would enjoy reading. I suggest his historically accurate retelling of the Arthurian legend, and The Saxon Chronicles series of novels. I’m a die hard fan of Cornwell and his writing style stood as my template for this tale.

    Alexandre Dumas also has some influence in this work. Also John Kelly’s wonderful non-fiction work The Great Mortality.

    I had something like this floating in my mind awhile and while I had writers block regarding the First Ohio(resolved) and thought it would be a nice change of pace. I always thought the way the plague creeped through Europe over a couple years time was exactly liked what a zombie plague would probably be like and much of the same social order breakdowns would occur. It was natural to put the dead into such a tale.

    Anyway thanks all. There will be more to come I’m sure.

    Comment by Patrick Turner on June 19, 2011 @ 7:08 am

  12. Great story & homage to the World War Z book (the history of zombie incidents portion).

    Comment by D.Mc on June 19, 2011 @ 2:12 pm

  13. Pretty Good, if a little short. I’m glad to see a different kind of zombie story. I get sick of modern time settings. Medieval zombie epicness!

    Comment by Brandon on June 19, 2011 @ 6:08 pm

  14. I knew the Italians were responsible !!!

    Comment by FRANK on June 20, 2011 @ 5:17 am

  15. That was an impressive story, undoubtably. I enjoyed the setting and use of historical side information, which only increased the depth of the story. It was immersive and interesting, definitely one of my favorites so far!

    Comment by Ian on June 21, 2011 @ 8:38 am

  16. I love this. I’ve not been able to catch up with the stories on here recently but this caught my eye. Great use of language, and I’m a bit gutted as I was going to do something similar. Never mind.

    My only criticism, and I feel like a right bastard for saying this, is that the idea of percent didn’t come until the fifteenth cenury and even then they used “20 p 100” rather than the symbol. Patricks 100% is about 150 years too early.

    It looks like I’ve really nitpicked, but the 100% didn’t sit right so I researched it. (God help me if I mistake in my next story).


    Comment by Pete Bevan on June 21, 2011 @ 9:33 am

  17. No actually I didn’t know that. 🙂

    Maybe we can get the editor to change it from “100% fatal” to “universally fatal”.

    Comment by Patrick Turner on June 21, 2011 @ 9:36 am

  18. A pox upon your house Pete!

    Comment by Barrett on June 22, 2011 @ 9:24 am

  19. Fantastic tale! Very well done. I look forward to hearing more of the poor, beleaguered Father’s plight.

    Comment by Retrobuck on June 22, 2011 @ 5:58 pm

  20. Beautiful story! Very well done!

    Comment by Floyd Patterson on June 24, 2011 @ 8:45 am

  21. @ Patrick: Again my apologies

    @Barrett: If its a pox of back backs then your curse has worked!

    Comment by Pete Bevan on June 28, 2011 @ 3:18 am

  22. *bad backs (oh for an edit function)

    Comment by Pete Bevan on June 28, 2011 @ 3:20 am

  23. Loved it.

    Comment by Terry Schultz on July 2, 2011 @ 10:41 pm

  24. Very nice tangent twist in history, I was raised as a catholic and this touched me in ways that might cause a lawsuit…. LOL. Write more works of pure awesomeness.

    Comment by Oppressed1 on July 10, 2011 @ 3:42 pm

  25. Well done and original. Kudos, sir. The percentage thing went right past me. Of course, the military history geek in me wonders what would happen when a formation of heavy knights in plate charged a zombie horde….
    As an aside, I had a military zombie story that Dale decided wasn’t quite suitable for the site, some similarities to your Ohio Volunteer stories. If you might want to see it, email me at Author2c@yahoo.com and i’ll be happy to send you a copy.

    Comment by T.J. M cFadden on July 16, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

  26. sorry, my bad- author2c@att.net

    Comment by T.J. McFadden on July 17, 2011 @ 6:48 pm

  27. The percent thing bothered me, too. It was very jarring and took me right out of the story. This is the challenge of writing historical fiction: if your reader knows history well, any slip up is going to ruin the illusion that this was truly written by someone in that time.

    Other little things, like the writer referring to his “brain” rather than his “mind” (the connection between the physical brain and the workings of one’s thoughts wasn’t developed for several centuries after the time frame of the story during the Enlightenment), stood out as well.

    I hope you research the writing styles of medieval people a little more thoroughly for your next iteration of this type, as it was otherwise very enjoyable.

    Comment by cory on July 18, 2011 @ 9:56 am

  28. Truly, one of the best and most original of the stories here. I absolutely loved it! The idea would make one hell of a movie. I can see this letter buried today in the bowels of the Vatican archives, forever suppressed.

    Let me know if you want to do a screenplay, i would love to write it.

    Well, well done.

    Comment by Andre on July 26, 2011 @ 1:33 pm

  29. Awesome work. The Black Death was the closest we’ve had to an all consuming plague… Apart from the McDonald’s franchise

    Comment by Whitehawk on August 2, 2011 @ 7:15 am

  30. Needs a lot of development,the constant switch between old english and modern day caused me to become really alienated from the story. 🙁

    Comment by Gabe on September 4, 2011 @ 1:59 am

  31. Very Original , impressed… keep it up..

    Comment by waqas on September 18, 2011 @ 9:13 am

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