Flesh. Destined at some point to return to its maker. To decay and become once again part of the Earth from whence it sprung. Death. Comes naturally to many, but for a select fraction, death visits in a most unnatural way. Plague. One of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. A rare breed of demon that spills its evil wrath in a most unpleasant and painful way. It is amusing to link the most unrelated of objects together, but it is all I have left to do. I can no longer play amongst my friends. I can no longer feel the warmth of the sun shining on my face. And! Above all, I may never again feel the sweetness of life surging through my veins. Why, you may ask. Ah, the answer it simple and shall be given through the telling of my tale. First, I shall introduce myself. My name is Rebecca Barkowitz. I am an eighteen year-old Jewish girl that once inhabited the time-period known as the fourteenth century. I am also, dead. My story begins in the seaside-trading colony of Kaffa, Italy where my illness was first introduced. At the time I was seventeen years old, the eldest daughter of a poor fisherman. Little did I know that I would be the first victim of my village to die from the infestation you now call the Bubonic Plague…

            The day was sunny, warm, just beautiful, I remember it as if it were yesterday—that fateful, evil-singed day. I curse it now; I curse it with every flame of my being, but at the time. It was just that, a beautiful, carefree day. I awoke early and began my daily routines as if it were any other day. Because my mother had died some years earlier of the brain sickness, I had to assume her responsibilities. I made breakfast, took my seven younger brothers and sisters to the market to buy what little food we could afford, and then took them home to wait for Father while I made a small dinner and completed some mending and other such housework.  Around six o'clock I judged, I heard someone outside exclaim that a fishing boat was entering the harbor. I gathered the children and we journeyed down to the dock. As the vessel was tied into the dock, I noticed the rats racing down the ropes and running through the streets. Marta, my youngest sister, cornered one. Forgetting the other children and my father, I ran over to her and pushed her away just as the rat was about the bite her. The sudden motion further upset the rat, which took this opportunity to scamper off. It was a very close call. My father, who had finally stepped off the boat, had witnessed the entire fiasco and ran over to make sure everything was fine. Once he was certain there were no problems, he escorted us home and entertained us with stories from his day.

            When I awoke the next morning, I noticed a tiny painful, itchy red spot on my ankle. I had no idea that would be the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak. It is hard to believe that the small fleabite I dismissed at that time was actually the one reason I prematurely exited this world. It was not until about six days later that I began to feel sick. I awoke with a fever, chills, and a headache. Every part of me ached and I was extremely weak. Over the next twenty-four hours, all I could do was moan pitifully as the illness overtook my body. My father called the doctor; by this time the buboes (as they have come to be known) had appeared on my groin. They were painful red, hot, pus-filled swellings. I became increasingly sick. I began to vomit. I began to cough. I began to have diarrhea and abdominal pain. I wanted to die. The doctors were baffled. Their main treatment was bloodletting. Ah… I lost so much blood. It's a wonder I lasted as long as I did. If I had lived in your time, I would have received antibiotic treatment of streptomycin or gentamicin. I would have also been hospitalized and quarantined, so as not to spread the bacteria yersinia pestis (also known as, the plague bacteria). My outlook would be good. I would have a fifteen percent chance of dying even with treatment, which is definitely better than the one hundred percent mortality rate of my time period.

Soon, many villagers began to come down with the illness. Isolation was ordered for the sick. My family and I were not allowed out of our home. Doctors, dressed in strange garb, came to assess my condition. Soon my skin began to darken as the ecchymoses set in. For this reason the disease became known as the "Black Death" even though it's medical name and most familiar name, in your time period, is the "Bubonic Plague." By the figures of later time periods, I have noticed that the Bubonic Plague kills more males than females. I have also had the luxury to notice that the disease kills over fifty percent of people under the age of twenty. However, thus was only partially my case. Soon, theories began to spread as to the whereabouts of the disease's origin. Wild stories were created and suddenly, as it always seems to turn out, the Jewish community was blamed for spreading the illness. We, my people that is, were accused of poisoning the water in the wells. As I lay dying, all I could think was that this was an outrage! Preposterous! And above all inconceivable! However, I could do nothing in my present state, and neither could my family, my poor starving family.

            A few days after my body began to blacken, I awoke to the sounds of pounding. The light that had once flowed through my window like water down a stream was now only seeping through small almost invisible cracks. The people were boarding up my house, as they had done with each and every Jewish person's house. They wanted nothing to do with the people that had "started the plague." They wished nothing more than to see the Jewish people rot in infinite misery—carried out of the very world by the same plague they introduced to it. Ha! I laugh at their stupidity now. It is I who enjoy the last laugh here. The Jewish people did not in fact, introduce the Plague into existence, fleas did. Xenophsylla Cheopsis, to be exact--rat fleas. The fleas would bite plague-infested rats and then bite humans. This is how I received my illness and how most of the rest of the plague victims received it. In very rare cases the disease was spread by some other vector, however, at the time, this was an unknown factoid. Over one-third of Europe's entire population lost the battle to the disease. As I watched the sunlight disappear from my home, I heard the angry crowds shouting. It hurt that the people I used to live in peace with could treat someone in such a way, but what could I do? My body was decaying in front of my family's eyes, our people were being accused of starting the whole mess, and finally we were not only being confined to our house now, but trapped within it! Things did not get better either. Not only was I trapped, but I also became increasingly delusional as the disease progressed. I began to see my mother, or so I thought. I would describe it now as talking to my wall, but at the time, I saw my mother standing at the foot of my bed at least once a day reassuring me that everything would be all right. It was so bad at times, and then I would be fine. It was awful, simply awful. AH! It makes me crazy now to think about it, even after the disease has exited my body!

            The day it all finally ended began as the day it had all started, ironically. I could tell the day was beautiful. I could feel it in my decaying body. I heard pounding in the distance—another Jewish family being imprisoned, no doubt. However, today was only slightly different. I heard the angry mob, but I also smelled burning, which was abnormal. I assumed there was a bonfire, but… no. I heard the mob come closer. I heard my father begin praying. I heard my brothers and sisters beginning to cry as my father prayed harder and harder for things I thought, at the time, were beyond even God's control. I heard snapping and popping of wood. I heard screams. It was all on top of us now. I smelt the smoke. I felt the warmth fall over me like a blanket and then smother me like a pillow. I began to pray. I could vaguely see the smoke fill the room. It was already hard enough for me to breath, but as the smoke filled my lungs, I began to cough and then choke. There was no air left. I could no longer hear my family. I could no longer feel anything. As I drew in my last breath of heat-blasted, smoke-filled air, I passed out and never awoke. It is funny though, where plague turned my flesh black, death took me from the world. I suppose they weren't such unrelated topics after all…