Man of the Mask

The Sickest Time – Chapter Four

Despite all efforts of both spiritual and administrative natures, it seemed nothing would stop the sickness in Villearrièr. The priests and coroners were soon overwhelmed by the influx of bodies, more so when they themselves succumbed to the sickness. The darkest day came when governor Bouchepourri’s own messenger fell ill, just the same as those outside the fine walls of the castle. Of course, it was not the sickness that eventually ended the good scribe, but rather the punishment for allowing himself to catch it; a swift guillotine blade to the neck.

With the remaining scribes too afraid to exit the castle and the townsfolk still locked down, many found their only course of action for the disposal of bodies was to leave them in the streets. As more piled up among the refuse that already ordained the town, the miasma set in. While a perfect habitat for flies and rats, the air hanging low in the streets was even more potent than the most aged of Roqueforts.

One day, a stranger arrived in Villearrièr, desiring to sew hope for a change for the better. Unfortunately, any words from the stranger— calling himself Dr. Malbec— were ignored in favor of the criticisms of his garb.

“You resemble a bird, my friend,” said a villager on the edge of town not long after his arrival.

“Your town here is suffering under the throes of this plague,” he said in response. “I’d love if you could direct me to your governor, so that I may offer him words of advice.”

“Caw! Caw!” The villager teased, flapping his arms like a bird.

Under the pointed mask, Malbec was able to smile and nod, but he knew that wasting the energy on any such thing was pointless. “Oh, well, I suppose that is where your governor resides, up there in the big stone building on the hill.”

“Fly away now, bird man! Caw!”

And so did the fair doctor continue on his way, albeit on foot as always. Upon his terrestrial journey, he saw what had come over the town; human refuse on the streets, those seeming to be homeless passed out among it, others clearly disfigured by the sickness walking freely as if they weren’t a few steps from death. Somehow, though, they acted as if their oozing boils and bleeding gums, and uncontrolled bowel movements were nothing but an everyday occurrence.

“Excuse me sir, but has your governor not imposed a lockdown? It may be healthier for the others to stay at home.”

“Shut your beak, bird man,” came the response. “I need ale.”

“I see.”

“What do you know? Go to hell.”

“I think I may just be there, don’t you worry.”

The smell of the streets had wormed its way into the slits in the pointed mask, but the fine graces of the herbs that inhabited the tip continued to work against the sick air. Even the front of the castle smelled of death and sickness, but the guards blocking the way seemed to not care either way.

“What’s your business?” Asked the man lazily standing at the entrance, closed tight.

“I am a doctor.”

“We don’t need one here, nobody’s sick beyond these gates… or else.”

“Well, I’d very much like to talk to the governor about your situation here in this town.”

“Normally the scribes would see to someone reaching out to the governor, but they are piss-babies that don’t want to work anymore, despite every last bit of recognition and exposure they’ve received as payment.”

“Ah, yes, exposure. So what are my options?” Malbec asked, trying to glance around for any possible way past.

The guard crossed his arms and shifted in the way. “So… your option is to screw off. Isn’t that mask uncomfortable? It is the freakiest thing I’ve ever laid eyes upon.”

“It keeps me safe.”

“Safe from the sickness? Don’t you have an immune system?”

“Yes, same as all the others laying face-down in your streets.”

“Those are just the transients.”

“No, the ones with the boils.”

“I don’t know anything about anything of that sort.”

Malbec nodded. “What do you know, then?”

“I know that I can’t let you through.”

“Hold now, good guardsman,” a new voice came from behind the wooden gate. Malbec spotted a pair of eyes through a port hole that had slid open. “This man speaks in ways that the governor warned us to keep an eye out for.”

Malbec smirked, the sentiment carried by his face luckily hidden away from both parties of the castle. “You can perhaps get me to the governor, good sir?”

“We’ll see,” said the pair of eyes. “Let him through.”

The guard stepped aside, allowing space for the smaller portal of the gate to open for the first proper visitor in some time. The pair of eyes were attached to a man who led Malbec to the courtyard, not quite yet to the interior of the castle and the court of the governor. The doctor looked up at the open sky above, then to the eyed man. “No further, I assume? I see you understand distancing here, at least.”

“Do not move. Someone will be here shortly.”

Shortly turned to longly, but someone did come to replace the eyed man to meet with Malbec finally. “Are you the governor?” he asked, releasing his anticipation like pus from a boil.

“His greatness can not possibly meet directly with outsiders, obviously,” said the red-haired foxy man. “You may call me Renard, I am Bouchepourri’s adviser. If your words are deemed worthy, I shall reach him through me.”

“I see-“

“But first,” the foxy man interrupted, “I ask that you remove that mask.”

“You can hear me properly, though?”

“Not to hear your words, but to see your face. In case you are secretly a man from the east.”

“I can show you my proficiency with a fork and knife, if that would suffice.”

The foxy man snapped his fingers. “Off with it.”

Malbec straightened his face and fiddled with the strings at the back of his head to relinquish the mask from his head and face. “Please do not judge my mask hair,” he said, taking in a worried breath.

Renard squinted at him and nodded, a smile creeping across his face as he stepped back. “So you are not a bird, after all. But we can fix that,” he concluded, clapping his hands loudly.

In a sudden deluge, a wave of tar fell from the wall of the castle above, coating Malbec in its warm, sticky essence. A wash of feathers descended next while he flailed, attempting to free his eyes and nose from the sickening coating.

“Doctors in masks?” Renard huffed. “Such nonsense, the sickness will solve itself. The governor bids you adieu, Mr. Bird.”

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