Setting

 

Prologue: The Plague

Spread

The Plague of 2010 began in northern Italy and spread rapidly to the south. Just as the first Italian victims were buried, more cases began to appear in other countries, especially in Western Europe and North America. As the World Health Organization promised they would soon be able to contain the disease, the medical community desperately tried to determine how such a new disease could spread so far in so little time. Just after the contagion debates began, a number of businesses appeared, selling herbal drugs that promised to prevent the virus, and were immediately deluged with orders. That was when Eileen Woodlawn, watching the pandemic unfold from the U.S., began to stockpile food.

Symptoms

The virus was entirely airborne in its transmission. The damage started in the digestive system. The first symptom was a spell of diarrhea that eventually turned bloody, straining the immune system and leaving the body malnourished. When finished with the intestines, the virus then attacked the kidneys, until it caused renal poisoning and internal hemorrhaging. Any patient who survived that stage soon experienced liver failure, with the toxicity that came with it, followed by even more internal hemorrhaging, until the virus perforated the heart. It soon became apparent that anyone who presented with the telltale bloody diarrhea was going to die within a few months. Most people didn’t survive the kidney stage. The first to present with symptoms in Western Europe and the American continents were transplant recipients, cancer and AIDS patients, and other people with compromised immune systems, but thousands of cases in previously healthy people immediately sprang up. Schools, hospitals and prisons became conduits for infection.

Breakdown

As more people died, services disappeared and life became more chaotic. American health authorities made a few attempts at quarantining Plague patients. The endeavor killed a number of healthcare workers while new cases proliferated outside. The radio told of nothing except the mounting death toll. The herbal drugs promising to protect against the Plague had no demonstrated effects except to cause liver failure. Nearly all doctors and nurses caught the Plague from their patients and died, which meant that people with other medical problems didn’t get the care they needed. People who had lost their jobs but not yet fallen ill took to looting stores, while there weren’t enough police left to attempt any control. Briefly after Eileen barricaded herself in her house, about a year after the first victims were reported, a neighboring state attempted a reverse quarantine program in which they isolated healthy people to protect them from the virus. The project was unsuccessful. The disease was slower to reach the more remote parts of the world, but no country avoided the pandemic. Cults sprang up around the idea of a special place in Heaven for people who escaped the Plague, which led many healthy young people to commit mass suicides.

When the last victims died in May of 2012, only 0.0125% of the world population remained. Electricity, running water, gas pipelines and mass communication were no longer functional. Large cities were the most thoroughly devastated, while rural areas had the highest percent survival. Farmers had been the last to go. The survivors had nothing left except land. It was in this environment that 20 survivors, including Eileen, founded the village of Paleola.

Chapter 1: Paleola

Eileen knew about an old farm located along the Paleola River, and when the Plague pandemic was finished, she brought her fellow survivors there and they made it their new home. By the year 2130, there are over 150 people living in that community, and they get along with the neighboring villages also settled along the river following the Plague, but they are known for being a strange bunch of people. Their neighbors think the Paleolans are rather odd because, for example, they do not rise livestock for slaughter. They have chickens for eggs, sheep for wool and milk, horses for work, and when they want meat, they shoot it in the woods or catch it from the river. Even worse, they have no tradition of lifelong marriage; instead they form avuncular families. About a third of Paleolans are properly religious like their neighbors while the majority are uninterested in the divine.What makes Paleolans strangest of all in the post-Plague era is that they are literate. Eileen insisted that the survivors’ children should learn how to read and write, and she became the community’s first teacher. She was also the only one of the original community who put her experiences on paper. In 2130, the school is still running with Charlinder as its teacher, and Eileen is his connection to the pre-Plague world.

The author takes the reader on an atypical journey through a genre that has become even more popular as of late. It would have been easy to make the story about the journey itself, the hardships of walking such a great distance, but she chooses to make the story about the people and the societies that Charlinder meets on his quest to discover the great truth that has plagued his village since its founding.

–Eric Swett at My Writer’s Cramp

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