Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: The United Kingdom (01/22/09)
TITLE: Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down
By Loren T. Lowery
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In the spring of 1665 such nobility was difficult to find in the English aristocracy. A black plague held London in a grip of death and disease; and their king, Charles II, fled to Salisbury while their parliament adjourned to Oxford.
Yet, true nobility would not be denied. It would not flee like the monarch or the parliamentarians, but rather found its remedy by planting itself into the soil of a flea-infested bundle of cloth delivered from London to a tailor, George Viccars, in the small village of Eyam in the English countryside.
Nobility, it seems, must be birthed in adversity with faith and hope as it midwife. And so it was, an unthinkable horror delivered upon the town of 350 souls. Time did not stop, but futures did as the townsfolk made a choice to stand and fight and possibly die.
And, if nobility can be refined, if it were to have degrees of perfection, its distillation would be made clear by the actions of the residence of that tiny town, who by fate or happenstance, the plague had vomited its chum.
Eyam’s Revered Mompesson had asked that families bury their own dead and to separate themselves from their parish church of St. Laurence to Cucklett Delph. They were to burn hops in the streets as an astringent for the air to defend them against a gathering of harrowing agony.
Yet most telling, to wit only history could measure their valor, they were to quarantine their village to prevent further spread of the plague. They became their own prison and jailor - inmates to death and disease, by faith sacrificing themselves that others might not suffer as they.
Surely, in those early days of May when spring should have held its strongest reward for a winter well endured, it brought Eyam despair rather than promised joy. When it was to have been golden daffodils on distant hills; it was instead dark clouds meeting their gaze.
Upon Eyam’s streets, men set torches to piles of bramble. Fires sparked in the bellies of the briers to flicker the wood like skeletons of malicious beasts. Black, acrid, pepper-scented smoke billowed upward to be swallowed by a still darkening sky.
Winds rose, whisking the branches of twilighted trees to a rhyme once thought childish and quaint, but had now returned to become obscene portending poetry.
“Ring around the rosie
Pocket full of posies
We all fall down”
Sixteen months into the plague, Phoebe, one of the surviving villagers, drew a labored breath. It scalded her lungs and she brushed at a sudden rash of heat from her cheek. A fleeting touch like the landing of an errant fly upon her skin, dancing to the music of the canting winds.
“Ring around the rosie,” the winds taunted.
She fumbled in the pocket of her apron, putridly stained with the black, vile excrements of lanced boils from her daughter and husband - stained with the dark soil used to cover their graves – fingers fumbling to squash heady herbs between aching fingers to herald the threat of death.
“Pocket full of posies,” the winds jeered.
She has no tears; they have been drained by too many deaths, dried by a boiling fever crashing over her in waves. There is no solace; no gentle ebb in the pain, such comforts are vanished like the hollow left in water from a scooping ladle – there, and then gone. She sneezes, “Ah choo, ah choo.”
“Ashes, ashes,” the winds echoed.
She prayers, silently, unheard. Her thoughts bounce as a pebble against the walls of a deep well as it falls in the dark water below; she follows, swallowed by the darkness.
“We all fall down,” the winds mocked, indifferently.
Phoebe’s life, unselfishly and faithfully given, repeated over 250 times. How does one measure such acts that they forbear such grief from others? It is only by faith.
The people of Eyam have shown us that we are not only human, but humane as well. Something virtuous does resides within us as indomitable spirits that can transcend our earthly shells. Showing us that indeed, we all fall down, but we may also rise up by faith, escaping us most nobly from this fallen world.
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