I was a child when I learned blood is life.
On my father’s farm there was a sheep that was dying, tumors in his bones. I sat with it in the field, its head on my lap as it panted for breath. Father had given me a knife. “End the thing’s misery,” he had said. On a whim I opened my palm with a deep cut. The sheep’s eyes went wild, crying desperately as it lapped hungrily at the blood pooling in my hands. The animal lived for another seventeen years until a wolf devoured it alive one night. Even then my father had to burn the head to stop its mewling.
I was a young man when I learned blood is disease.
Syphilis was rotting me away. Bacteria in my polluted veins chewed at my mind and flesh, physicians slithered boiling elixirs in unspeakable places without result. Things began to fall from my body. Then I killed a man. I followed him all night, I was a monster in a penny dreadful. In a secluded alley I pushed him to the ground and sat on his chest, I used a rusty knife and peeled open the flesh of my palm and pressed my bleeding hand against his mouth. He writhed, caught drowning in thirst. My blood was in his veins, and then they became mine.
I was a new man when I learned blood is fear.
Young and healthy again, I was the fashion of London as the plague was sweeping through the city like the Lord’s Judgment. Men blamed the Hebrews, then the Romani, and the poor after them. Those whom God left alive, men finished themselves. Eventually they came for me. “Witch,” they said. They paraded me through the streets, my hands and feet bound together. In St. George’s churchyard they cast me to the bottom of a freshly dug pit, two-dozen feet down and twice as wide. Then they brought the dead. I felt each one pressing down on me, tens and then hundreds claimed by their plague. Before sunrise the pit was full above me, sealed with dirt and a priest’s consecrating words. All they had left me with was a broken old knife.
I was reborn when I learned blood is water
They dig tunnels for trains through the ancient plague pits these days, pushing the dead out of the way with monstrous machines. It’s grisly in a business-like way. But there’s a particular story that some tell to disturb the tourists. It says that every time they churn through another pit, they find the bodies just as you’d expect, on their backs, quiet and romantic in death. But there’s a few that are different. Like a final plague swept through them. Their bones are upright, vertical towards the surface, their arms outstretched and fingers curled, digging upward, trying to get out.
and I have learned where all rivers lead.