In Dead Waters
by Sarah Arantza Amador
You think we stayed safe while you discovered the New World.
The calendar marches forward but seasons come in cycles. Spring brought pirates at rosy dawn and we were under attack. We held our fortified port for six weeks while the King killed Protestants in the northern lowlands but the South Gate finally gave way during a fight for fresh bread. So many died in battle that no sacred ground was left for burying the dead. We stacked the bodies one on top of the other in the gendarmerie tower and covered them in salt, of which we had plenty.
Late summer belched forth the marsh’s exhalations and peasants from the surrounding countryside swarmed the port. This plague was Red and bloomed like thrush across the open maws of the swamps and bogs. Crows fed on the corpses of livestock and Good Christians dead in the hamlets. They no longer feared us and would attack travelers on the elevated roads. From the watchtowers, we shot them down with arrows covered in flaming pitch as they approached, making weather in large, black clouds — murders spiralling high above us. Under siege again, we picked maggots from our meal and butchered our workhorses. We boiled the rushes from which we wove our chairs and beds for stew, and we stood over our chamber pots on our roofs, searching the skies for rain. There would be no harvest. Our stack grew in the tower.
Ships refused to come to port after the docks collapsed under the weight of a mob rushing a Maltese brig. We left the bodies tangled in the silt and rotten timbers. Dismayed, forlorn, we barred the gate against the wreckage. Ships signaled from afar only from then on. Our flags, sun and salt-bleached, disintegrated on their masts, and the children would yell out from the highest towers to the sailors in their crow’s nests:
“There are dead!”
“We are hungry!”
“Will you save us?”
“Are you angels sent from Heaven?”
Those of us who did not die in battle or by noxious miasma would perish soon enough. Once we finished eating the salted meats of our neighbors, we slowly starved and died of thirst. The crows came; there were no more watchmen.
What we would have given to find our luck on the sweet waters of the Saint Lawrence or the Mississippi, to turn our backs on the ritual of time and confront the unknown, to snatch victory from the jaws of the Beast:
A string of silver
A first-born son
A succulent leg
Sarah Arantza Amador is a graduate of the Creative Writing BA program at UC Santa Cruz and is a former Ph.D. Candidate in Spanish and Latin American Literatures at NYU. She lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains with her dog Roscoe. She has new words forthcoming/published in CHEAP POP and FIVE:2:ONE‘s #thesideshow. You can find more examples of her fiction, scribbles, and oddities at cheapfruits.tumblr.com. She tweets @ArantzaSarah.
Image of the Ramparts of the Town of Aigues-Mortes, one of the Municipalities of Languedoc, from Project Gutenberg text 10940 via Wikimedia.