Not that long ago I asked what you were reading. A better question might have been what novel or story did you once read and have never forgotten?
For me, that would be the tale of The Scarlet Plague by the American author, Jack London – a story that came into my mind earlier on in this pandemic.
I first read The Scarlet Plague when I was in my early teens. The story tells how the world had been decimated by a plague, leaving few survivors. The narrator, now an old man, is one of the few people left. He tries to tell his sons, who have only ever known this life, how things used to be.
“To think of it! I’ve seen this beach alive with men, women and children on a pleasant Sunday …. And right up there on the cliff was a big restaurant where you could get anything you wanted to eat. Four million people lived in San Francisco then. And now in the whole city and country there aren’t forty all told. And out there on the sea were ships … when I was a boy, there were men alive who remembered the coming of the first aeroplanes, and now I have lived to see the last of them, and that sixty years ago.”
His grandson says .. “Four million. That was a lot of folks.”
“Like sand on the beach, each grain of sand a man, woman or child. .. the world was full of people. The census of 2010 gave 8 billions for the whole world …”
Later one of his grandsons says, “You were telling about germs, the things you can’t see but which make men sick.”
” A man did not notice at first when only a few of these germs got into his body. But each germ broke in half and became two germs, and they kept doing this very rapidly so that in a short time there were many millions of them in the body. Then the man was sick. He had a disease, and the disease was named after the kind of germ that was in him. Now this is the strange thing about germs. There were always new ones coming to live in men’s bodies.
Long ago when there were only a few men in the world, there were few diseases. But as men increased and lived closely together in great cities and civilisations, new diseases arose, new kinds of germs entered their bodies. Thus were countless millions and billions of human beings killed. And the more thickly men packed together, the more terrible were the new diseases that came to be.
Soldervetzsky, as early as 1929, told the bacteriologists that they had no guarantee against some new disease, a thousand times more deadly than any they knew. It was in the summer of 2013 that the plague came. I was 27. The word came of a strange disease that had broken out in New York. There were 17 millions of people living then in that noblest city of America. Nobody thought anything about the news. It was only a small thing. There had only been a few deaths. Within 24 hours came the report of the first case in Chicago. And on the same day, it was made public that London, the greatest city in the world, next to Chicago, had been secretly fighting the plague for two weeks and censoring the news dispatches …
It looked serious but we in California, like everywhere else, were not alarmed. We were sure that the bacteriologists would find a way to overcome this new germ, just had they had overcome other germs in the past. But the trouble was the astonishing quickness with which this germ destroyed human beings, and the fact that it inevitably killed any human body it entered.
… the bacteriologists had so little chance in fighting the germs. They were killed in their laboratories. They were heroes. As fast as they perished others stepped forth and took their places. It was in London that they first isolated it … then came the struggle in all the laboratories to find something that would kill the plague germs. All drugs failed.”
What novel or story did you once read and have never forgotten? Let me know in the comment space below.
© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems