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To Await the Call of Death

I live… 

I don’t know what I live for. 

My head slips off the bed frame I lean upon. Mismatched eyes open, I jerk awake. I see them in the broken mirror across from me. One red and one silver. A hideous sight. My milk brown skin is also blighted, proof of a scandalous affair. I am the product of my parents’ sins. 

I put my hand on the floor, and my ragged shirt threatens to fall off my too thin shoulder. I pull it up again and grab at the cracked wooden frame at the edge of the bed. It is a struggle just to stand. My legs shake as I stagger along its edge. The stench is worse than it was yesterday. 


What was yesterday? 

What is today?

Does it even matter?

I stare at the figure in the bed. Thick black curls caress gaunt cheeks. Small nose. Dark, plum lips. Red eyes that won’t close. Men used to love her. I adored her. And then… the plague. 

I cast a look at the door. The idea that it might one day open has long since died in my mind. Although, I have never really been one to hope. Fabric bunches in my too thin hands as I drag myself up beside her. My mother. 

Bits of vomit and dried blood cling to the fabric on her face’s either side. The stained sheets have been pulled up just below her collar. Beneath them is a slight body, abandoned. Pallid, the bone below protrudes through the corpse’s skin. I touch her face. Her skin, once warm like brown butterscotch, is dry. Cold. Like ice. I stare without words. Things move in her faded eyes. It is all I can do to stay by her side. No amount of shaking will again bring her back. She stopped breathing a while ago. 


She is rotting. 

Leaves rustle outside the un-curtained window. Broken off a tall tree beyond my sight, they drift past, aimless—blown not of their own accord. Helpless, brittle autumn leaves. Much like me. Slowly, I have begun to starve. 

Tin bowls, small metal bins, and even the small wooden boxes of my mother’s former makeup are littered on the floor. I did it in desperation and thank myself for the modicum of smarts I’ve been given. In the scattered containers, not much remains of the water I gathered from the bedroom’s pump pipe. Most are empty. Their precious water gone dry, disappeared by way of my parched lips. The pumps stopped working after the sun went down on the first night. A smile tints my lips, and a chuckle ensues. Coarse laughter descends into racking coughs. I fall forward, holding my chest. I squeeze. It’s hard to breathe. I exhale with a shudder, half my face buried in the sheets beside the hidden legs of my mother. 

I shift and fix my mismatched eyes on the door. My only salvation. 

When will it open? 

I reach out to it from across the room. My eyes searching. Desperate.

I need it to open. 

Tilting forward, I lose my balance. The air is swift and certain as I fall off the bed—tasteless. I hit the floor with a thud. Pain spreads across my shoulder, having taken the brunt of the impact. In the past, this would’ve hardly phased me. The bed is not high. But my body hurts against the hardwood. It is more solid than I remember, unforgiving. I grit my teeth. My broken nails scrape across the floor’s hardwood. 

I don’t want to die.

I push myself up and lean against the bed frame. Again, my vision is filled with the door. Its warm brown is like syrup. Divots and embellished swirls carve along its wood, the work of an adamant craftsman commissioned long before my birth and perhaps, even my mother’s. The House of Bloom rose over fifty years ago. A despotic byproduct of the era of fabric in the Shanya Region’s past. 

Gilded knob, soft metal. The door will not open, locked, and barred from the outside. I don’t know how many days it’s been. My voice has gone hoarse from screaming. Cordoned off, the brothel has locked me in to die.

Benefit to the population. For the good of those who might survive. 

How long has it been?

How much longer will it be?

My eyes fall then open as sleep again threatens to overtake me. The plague has raged before now and has continued for a while before it reached this place. I have not yet been a victim. 

So when?

When… will I die?

For surely, I will die here. 

My eyes fall, and darkness engulfs me. 

Plague and illness do not discriminate. My mother was not the first to be imprisoned in the room where men had laid her down to bed. Even in the gaudy walls of a courtesan house, it only took a spark to start a fire. Barred from those without money but not those with it, the House of Blooms is not located very near to other buildings in the pleasure district. It is almost secluded, a small world seeming to exist within the confines of its high ornate fence and lush gardens.

Something rattles. A jiggle of keys. A low, muffled voice. I stir, and mismatched eyes open. Groggy, I lift my head. The knob turns with a click, and a man steps through. Fine white silk makes his robes with the trimming black and silver. In one hand, a ball of smoking incense swings, and in his other, a thick book is held tightly. A priest. 

I meet his eyes.

“Great skies!” He exclaims. His incense ball hits the floor, and the book falls forgotten as he closes the distance between us. Behind him, several others move into the room as he takes my hands. I note their sheathed swords hazily. Who’re they fighting?

“Dear child…” he says softly. The tears that spring into his eyes are more compassionate than my mother’s own. He cups my cheek in his hand. “How you’ve suffered.”

I stare at him. Something stirs within my chest. So… this is fondness. Compassion is sweet.

A hand grabs his shoulder. “Sir!” A dark haired soldier looks down at me, his gaze flicking frantically between us and something above.

Ah. My mother. 

 “Let go of her, priest! Look—look at the bed!”

The soft eyed man shrugs off the hand. “Don’t you see?” he asks, not looking back. “This one is alive.”

“But the woman is dead! The girl—she is diseased.”

The priest’s smile is small as he removes his glove and puts a hand to my head. My lips tremble. 

“Her skin is cool,” he affirms and pulls me gently to my feet. My legs are shaky, despite his grasp. 


“She is merely parched and underweight.” He stepped back, turning me along with him. “Her eyes are silver, Erlan. She is a Kertil.”

I struggle past the black armored men, weak on bare feet. My bony fingers cling to the priest’s wrists with hopeful uncertainty, and blurry vision can hardly make out his shorn black hair. I’m frightened by the inclined backs of the bowing soldiers, black gloved hands across their chests. It must be for the priest.

“Is it…?” I try to ask and gasp instead.

He stops and kneels beside me. “What?” 

“Is it over?”

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