Excerpt of A Visible Darkness by Michael Gregorio
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As I gazed on that spider in my gardenthe leg of the dead fly jutting from its jaws like a bent piece of wireI had to wonder whether Helena's dream had been not simply a distempered nightmare, but the vision of a real and terrible danger.
I went to take a spade and quickly buried the stoat, waving off the flies that circled around it in an angry swarm, nipping at my hands and face and neck, as if to take from my flesh the nourishment that I had just deprived them of. Then, wrapping a damp handkerchief around my face, breathing in the essence of lavender in which Lotte had soaked it, I went out quickly through the gate, turning right along the lane in the direction of Lotingen and the procurator's office.
The closer I got to the town, the worse the stench became, despite the lavender, despite the pressure with which I held the cotton to my nose.
By the time I reached the East Gate, I could hardly breathe.
The hot sun had only partly dried the river of yesterday's filth which covered the cobbles leading in the direction of Gaffenburger's abattoir. Beneath the solid crust, there was a semi-liquid mulch. And fresh beasts had been driven into Lotingen that morning, adding their own deposits to those of yesterday, and all the days before. The street was a dark brown carpet, and all above was a dense dark cloud of flies and other insects. If one attempted to pass that way, they would rise up, buzzing angrily at the intrusion, then fall back where they had come from.
The insects frightened us, but Spain terrorized the French even more.
They were facing a new kind war down there; the Emperor's answer was to send more men. Prussia had been subdued, while Spain had not. The campaign was a bottomless pit into which they were pouring money, men and arms. For over a month, the number of soldiers passing through our streets had been growing day after day. The Emperor's . nest were going to Spain; the worst would remain in Prussia.
French horses fouled our streets, as did the cows and the sheep that fed the troops. If an animal dropped dead, they left it there to rot. Bones and carcasses littered every yard of the way to Gaffenburger's stockyard. Wagons crowded with French soldiers rolled in swift succession down to the port, and every imaginable thing was left behind them: the remains of food and drink in every form. Solid, liquid, fully or partly digested. It was a common sight to see defecating French buttocks hanging out over the end of a cart. The flies swarmed in their wake, fell hungrily upon the sewage. Lotingen was sinking beneath a tide of filth. Myriads of insects floated on it, and flew above it. The French would not clean up after themselves. No Prussian would clean up after the French. And to make things worse, the gentle breeze from the sea which generally tempered the summer heat was nowhere to be found.
How long had it been since our lungs had breathed fresh air?
Linnaeus had been quite clear on this point: foul air and filth make flies!
I strode across the bridge.
As a rule, I go straight on, passing along Königstrasse, following the southern wall of the cathedral, then crossing over the market square to my office, which is on the far side, opposite the French General Quarters.
Instead, I turned sharp right.
Fifty yards down the lane stands the yard of Daniel Winterhalter. If one has to travel anywhere that the public coach does not go, and if one does not happen to own a horse or a trap, then a call at Winterhalter's is inevitable. He always has a fine selection of horses and a range of phaetons, flies and berlins for hire.
I went in through the arch, feeling better now that I had made my decision.
In the corner of the empty yardmost of the coaches had already gonestood a most unseasonable carriage for the north coast of East Prussia. Winterhalter must have regretted buying it a thousand times: an ancient landau painted the same colour as the filthy sludge which fouled the streets outside.
Excerpted from A Visible Darkness by Mighael Gregorio.
Copyright © 2009 by Mighael Gregorio.
Published in April 2009 by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.