A Hand Unreachable
* This is an experimental work. As so, expect a bunch of completely random (and unnecessary?) crap happening with the style, syntax, and rhyme. Also note that although a large portion of this story does contain rhyme, I do not consider this a poem. At all.
[The Hand Unreachable]
On a cold night far back in the year of 1721: the city of Marseilles, France: streaks of Lightning and shouts of Thunder sung above a crowd of thousands upon thousands of dead and dying souls. They clogged the streets Marseilles France, as it were in 1721: a beautiful merchant city despoiled by the curse of the Black Death.
"CLAP! CLAP!" the Thunder clapped as a toddler would to his toy. He clapped and clapped and paused and then clapped, deep in all his joy. "Below me lay the bodies of the sinful human race. They've suffered hard and died and rot at such a lovely pace." Thunder, as I have said, is like a toddler to his toy. Sad Thunder, so filled with envy against the bodies he now soils.
But as any toddler he soon grew tired and bored. His attention turned left and right, still keeping Marseilles in sight. A light. On the far outskirts of Marseilles, upon the hills of lush green grass lay a single bed of white cloth. On top of it lay what once was a beautiful maiden of golden hair, pearl white skin, and deep green eyes. Her name: Jaquiette Estrauss. But now her skin was gray with traces of purple. Her eyes once bright green were colored a faded lime. Her time had come and gone; this woman was dead. It is here alongside the corpse of this woman where our story will take place.
Now, Thunder had no eye for beauty, nor much an imagination. He didn't know what this woman was like in her times alive, and frankly he didn't care. It wasn't her that caught his attention, it was the objects next to her emanating the light that did.
Connected to the four corners of the bed were four uncanny machinations of wood, iron, and what appeared to be animal flesh. They connected to the bed via thick groups of copper wires and a few other things that could only be described as "some form of strings." They gave the bed a look as if it was being chained down to the Earth, so that it could not begin to ascend onto Heaven. But it was obviously too late for that. Jaquiette Estrauss was long, long gone, to the dismay of our Hero.
And speak of the Devil.
A lone figure, body thick and draped in white: our scarred Hero, Dr. Estrauss, our unholy Knight. He fumbled his way to the side of the bed, and held up the rotting Jaquiette's head.
"My dear, my love, today is the day," he said. "Just wait, I'll bring you back right away!" He left her head, and walked away from the bed. "Do you hear me, God? I give my word, don't mock it. I will spit on your will and steal from your pocket. Jaquiette may be with you now, but no longer. With me she shall be, ME, for my will is stronger." With that he turned to his machines to get them ready for their performance.
Thunder watched in glee and "CLAP"ed with all his might. It is to his great pleasure that he witnessed this fight. "A man against God, should he exist! Well, He probably does, as humankind persists." It is at this point that Lightning finally entered, but still it was to Thunder to whom the stage was centered. "Simply wonderful wouldn't you say, Lightning? To see the humans soil their souls is so delightening." Lightning said nothing to Thunder's remark. Lightning preferred to bite over to bark.
Thunder continued, "This one would be going straight to Hell, and if one exists his beloved will follow him as well. Or is that what he intends to do? To bring his beloved down with him too…?" Thunder contemplated this and Lightning continued saying nothing.
All the while the doctor continued his noble work, only ever pausing to mutter a line or two of nonsense. There was no rhyme or discernable order to his actions. He would simply move from machine to machine, seemingly randomly, probably remembering what to do only off the top of his head.
Eventually he left.
"He gave up sooner that I thought! At least until he failed I'd think he'd have fought." But he returned carrying a dead crow, one he'd killed only two hours ago. "Oh." He left the crow at the base of the bed. It was apparently an ingredient to bring back the dead.
So continued the doctor, now leaving from time to time to bring more materials to his worksite.
Finally it was all ready.
Amongst the final product was a long metal pole, meant for re-conducting poor Jaquiette's soul. It pointed straight up at the cold winter night to hopefully gather up some of Lightning's light.
Dr. Estrauss lifted his arms up into the air, and directed his attention to one of the beings that was there. "To dearest Lightning, I beg for your aid, to fuel this beast of metal that I have made. It will bring to life my beautiful Jaquiette, and return to me the hope I had almost forfeit. To you, great being, I can give nothing in return; except my gratitude and respect which you will have rightfully earned."
Without a moment's pause Lightning sent down a streak, which gave the doctor some of the power he seeked. The machines twiddled and tweeked but stopped soon after, and this sent Thunder into a furious laughter.
"He lost! He failed! As I had expected. Even with the power Lightning had injected, as long as you're human you'll never succeed in bringing back the dead and accomplishing your deed!" The doctor didn't hear him (I doubt if he could), and so waved his arms about and jumped where he stood.
"More! More!" he yelled into the air. "It takes more than that to get them prepared!"
In a "ZAP!" the machines were brought back to life, getting ready now to bring back the good doctor's wife.
I'll pause the story here to give a few words about Estrauss, and his wife, and the last occurrence of Europe's Great Plague.
Prior to 1720 - the start of the Plague of Marseille - Dr. Estrauss made his daily rounds as exactly that, a doctor. He would spend his days mostly cleaning up and covering the scrapes and bruises of the children and elderly of the city. Every now and then larger cases - life and death cases - would come up and go away to moderate success. Such cases were difficult to treat at the time, and more often than not the best Estrauss or any doctor could do was to make the patient as comfortable as possible in the time before they passed on. Although at times the doctor wouldn't accept it as just that, and often went the extra, stubborn, pointless mile in aiding his patients. These cases would always leave him feeling helpless and weak.
Then the Plague hit, brought in by the merchant ship Grand-Saint-Antoine. Upon its arrival the Black Death quickly did its work, inexplicably taking the life of one and leaving the other for another day, of maybe even spared. Yes, Estrauss was one of the spared; left, as a doctor, to suffer a hundred times more alongside his many patients and friends.
To the doctor, the entire city of Marseilles was a patient of his. Yet even so, even with him as their doctor, all of his patients were dying. As he watched them go one after the other he soon became overcome with helplessness so deep that he felt as if he might as well not existed. In the midst of such overwhelming amounts of death, Dr. Estrauss asked himself, "What did my years of work, learning, practicing, and mastering of medicine amount to?" Estrauss was a man who lived for the sole purpose of healing and saving the lives of those around him. "So why are people dying under my care?"
That's the question; his answer: "Because there's no cure." So he began looking for one.
He researched everything: herbs, alchemy, even dark rituals. At times it would seem he made a breakthrough, and at others it would seem as if he was right back where he started. It would continue that way, on and on. That was how he spent the following months, going back and forth between moderate success and complete failure.
Some days Estrauss would often go out around the city searching for materials for his experiments. On such days, as he walked down the streets of Marseilles, he would distractedly stare at the bodies here and there littering the streets, noting them subconsciously, burning their suffered, rotting faces into his memory. He didn't look at them as just people. When he saw a dead farmer, the skin dotted with purple patches and turning grey, his overalls and straw hat dirtied and caked with vomit, Estrauss didn't see him as "a poor farmer, once a modest man working on the fields growing a family," what he saw was "another dead patient, another one I couldn’t save, one more dead." He tortured himself this way, pushing himself to keep searching and keep working, no matter how much he failed and how far he wasn't getting.
On one such day he suddenly ran into her: Jaquiette Adelais. Adelais, not yet Estrauss. The doctor always, always loved Jaquiette, since the first day he met her some years ago. To him, she was beyond any measure of beauty; honest, a loving personality, to him she was perfect. To her he was the family doctor, and a kind, even caring man. That said, they got along well, and anyone who saw them together back then could immediately tell the bond between them. It was a common sight back then: a successful and reputable man courting a beautiful young maiden. It was clear they'd eventually be together.
In the midst of the death of the city, in the smell of rot and the low wails of the dying was a brightly smiling Jaquiette, clad in a clean, white cotton dress, her gold hair lightly flowing, her eyes looking dead ahead at the good doctor. Surrounded by the darkness of the Black death, she was a beautiful and haunting sight.
Jaquiette spoke first, "Good evening, Dr. Estrauss." It was almost as if she didn't know what was happening around her.
Estrauss was stunned, and in his stunder (a made up word) he couldn't speak a word in return.
Jaquiette continued staring at him for a few seconds and with a slightly thinner smile said, "You seem tired. Ah, I'd expect all of this to be the most difficult for someone like you." She looked around at the scattered bodies, proving she wasn't as ignorant as she seemed.
Estrauss returned from his stunder. "Yes, I guess so…" and silence.
She broke it. "Well, don't give up hope! I'm sure this will all end one day soon, right? It's not like this can last forever, and we've made it this far, right?"
Estrauss couldn't find comfort in her words. To him it seemed like this hell would last forever. But… "You know, I'm making a cure."
"A cure? For the Plague?" She seemed surprised.
"For what else? If I can complete it, a lot, A LOT of lives will be saved. So…" He had to lie. "You may be right. Maybe all of this will end someday soon."
She seemed delighted at what he said, but then again, she always seemed that way. Jaquiette just stared at him after that, clearly in thought. Estrauss guessed at what she was thinking, and couldn't help but feel warmth at the idea of his name somewhere in Jaquiette's head. She finally spoke, and softly, "Yeah, maybe."
Eventually they had to part. "I'll see you around, Estrauss," said Jaquiette as she began walking backwards. "Good luck with your cure. I'm counting on you when I catch the… well." She laughed and ran along, then stopped and turned around. "Don't push yourself too hard." Off she went.
"Catch the…?" She had made the joke so freely, as if she didn't find it strange or frightening at all. Had she already accepted it? Was that why she could walk about the streets so carelessly? Estrauss didn't know, but certainly, the idea of Jaquiette falling to the plague left him rattled. He worked especially hard that night, or tried to. She wouldn't leave his mind.
Months passed, and as his hospital became even more full with the sick and unnoticed dead, the good doctor suddenly became sick himself, but in the head. Maybe the stench finally got to him. Maybe it was the pressure of making it before Jaquiette could catch the Plague. Maybe-- well, why it happened is pointless. In any case, his experiments and "cures" - most of which were done in secret - had become wilder; the least so being when he tried skinning off his patient's purple skin patches, and the most so being when he tried installing a patient's head and spine into a metal box, with the help of a satanic ritual he uncovered, of course.
Eventually came the fated day: Jaquiette came in, branded with the purple marks of the Black Death. Estrauss was horrified. He had no cure. No matter how hard he worked or how crazy his experiments got, there was nothing even close to a cure in his possession. He failed. And upon seeing his broken, tired face on the verge of tears, Jaquiette knew.
He rushed to her, cried to her, and promised profusely that he would for sure find the cure before it was too late. But before he could leave for his quarters she grabbed his coat and said, "It's okay, you don't have to."
Estrauss didn't understand.
"Please, just stay with me, the whole time, until I go." She gave him a sad little smile. "I have no one left and… I don't want to go alone, so please stay with me. Just stay with me until the end…" The doctor came to. For now, he didn’t care about the cure. All he cared about was what was right in front of him, holding his coat ever so weakly. All he could care about was himself and Jaquiette. They were married that day.
There isn't much to note about their short week together. Jaquiette was in a fever the whole time. The doctor, now freed from his slight mental condition, kept his promise, stopped looking for a cure, and sat by her side the whole time, holding her hand, and making her as comfortable as possible in the time she had left, however little he could. Because that was all he could do in such cases. When she died, she died without a word.
And when she died, he thought, "Another patient to the list."
Then he went back to work.
The revival machines clicked and spurred, at times even jumping in place as the electricity gushed from the metal pole into each of them.
Sparks began flying out of them and eventually the bed began unleashing a few sparks of its own. Estrauss was still right over it, now holding what remained of beautiful, poor, dead Jaquiette.
"It's working!" he screamed. "It's really working!"
Above Estrauss, Thunder roared in excitement. Just feet away from him, a river of Lightning poured from the Heavens into his contraption. It was overwhelming, so much so that the excess electricity was starting to spill out of the machinations, arching from them onto the ground in the shape of barbed wire (if I may use a more modern description).
Vapor and smoke began rising from the machines as the various types of meat he used had begun to cook and eventually burn. It left a singed taste in the air but Estrauss hardly noticed.
Suddenly, small brilliant orbs of light began rising out from under the bed. The doctor stopped his smiling and cheering. This isn't what was supposed to happen. Did the experiment fail?
Thunder continued to crash and all of a sudden the doctor noticed the smell of the burning meat and begun to suffocate under it, but he still held Jaquiette close, and through his watery eyes he saw: the orb of light.
It sucked him in. In a flash he found himself in a grassy field of bright green. The sun shone above him in a clear blue sky and birds, although nowhere to be seen, were chirping nonstop, rhythmically, as if in song.
In front of Estrauss was the bed of white cloth and…
The corpse of Jaquiette Estrauss.
Her eyes rolled forward: a faded lime green.
She spoke, "Poor doctor. You failed again."
The birds stopped. Suddenly the clear blue sky cracked apart, revealing what seemed like magma. Black smoke gushed out from these cracks, in seconds covering what was the sky, and in one quick motion, the smoke dove for the doctor.
Dr. Estrauss jumped away from the bed and suddenly found himself back in the cold winter night just at the outskirts of Marseilles, France. He felt a sting and noticed that a portion of his arms had been burnt. In front of him the bed of white was aflame, along with Jaquiette. The experiment failed.
He stared at the fire, noting how beautiful it looked surrounded by the night.
"It failed," he proclaimed to himself. "Back to the beginning."
He began walking back to town. That was all he had to say.
Dr. Estrauss left…
"The doctor is so pitiful," said Thunder, "trying to acquire the unknown. That's why all his work went asunder. That's why for all his suffering he has nothing to show.
"Humans suffer as if it's something they need, but it does nothing, it comes down to null. They can't accomplish their deeds. They just dance in that cock and bull.
"Yes, a dance! That's exactly it. It's a dance they dance on the entire Earth. A fool's dance, of suffering and sin, that they dance to death from birth."
"Plague is about done with this city, so so long to Marseilles, France. So long to this city in pity. Let them die doing their dance."
In a white bed blanketed in white fire on the outskirts of a city known as Marseilles, France there lay the corpse of a once young and beautiful maiden. Her resting place flickered like a kind of candle against the night's cold winds, but it gave no sign of getting ready to give out and flicker into nothingness. No, far from it. Because from this narrator's eyes you could see the body of Jaquiette Estrauss flickering in her own way, her arm trembling momentarily before the flames could consume her whole, and send her falling back into death's cold, welcome embrace.
Then there was silence in the outskirts. A long, cold silence, left as it were by the last character left on this stage.
…Lightning never talked, but Lightning did think…
"Even now they attempt to fly. Even now they attempt to dive… deeper into the sea, where humans aren't meant to be. But that doesn't make them wrong. Just as a bird can sing its song, humans can continue to seek that indescribable, beautiful peak."