In Which A Plague Is Discussed
March 16, 2012
Today’s a weird day. I’m feeling especially vulnerable for a lot of reasons, mostly emotional ones, and I’m not sure what to do with myself. I also couldn’t shower this morning because the building the shower’s in was locked. So I feel grimy as well as insecure and kind of worthless. It’s been stars all around, let me tell ya’.
I also missed even starting my post for today by almost an hour, let alone finishing it and posting it. Once more, you get fresh and unedited work thanks to my ‘lifestyle’. Today, though, it’s a little bit of insight into my physical condition through my steampunk mouthpiece, Patience Argyle. I hope you like it. Or at least learn something interesting.
Many people think that Locke’s Plague is a new affliction, something that spawned randomly from some failed chemical test or some destructive military machine. Especially since Commander Locke worked with such things. However, doctors and medical scientists have looked back into records going back to the First Empire and see similar symptoms but no causal thread drawn between them. No one thought that they had any categorical connection, whether it involved dismissing the symptoms or treating the wrong ones. Sometimes ascribing the wrong cause, or even a totally false cause as in some of the earliest having to do with demon possession or “terminal malassertiveness” or, as it is colloquially known, laziness.
The first part of Locke’s Plague is the pain. We’re consumed by pain constantly. Sometimes it’s a dull ache, sometimes it’s a haunting roar that consumes your senses and drives you into temporary madness, cringing and hiding from the pain. Sometimes it’s in just one spot, like a sensitive tooth or perhaps the ankle you twisted last summer. Sometimes it sheaths the body and pervades places you did not know could hurt. Your muscles twist around under your skin trying to make sense of what your mind is telling them, pulling from the pain and pushing away from every nerve that screams at discomfort. You twist and stretch trying to shake off the constant thunder of pain but it won’t go away. You’re trapped, staring down the caverns of pain and not knowing when it will abate. If ever. This is what we smoke dreamweed for. It alleviates the pain, it calms the nerves, it whispers to our minds that everything is fine. That we’re not actually in danger of being harmed. It always works, as if by mechanical majesty, as if oiling a squeaky wheel. The body rights itself and the pain subsides where it was before just phantom scarring and screaming.
The pain, though, is just the beginning. Over time, all of this twisting and pulling cracks the bones and changes the joints. It causes the body to warp under the skin and bone and muscle grow twisted because of it. Arthritis sets into your joints as early as your mid twenties. Your muscles shudder every morning and evening as you rise and fall. Your breathing is slightly irregular as the pain limits how deeply you can inhale. You grow winded and exhausted quickly but find your second wind just as quickly as your capricious body alternates between taxing and relaxing the joints and muscles. Many of these things are permanent damage from the phantom pains of the first part, damage from too little treatment too late. The joints ache and scream constantly, on some level. This is another place the dreamweed helps. When it turns off the phantom pain, it also dulls the real pain and fire from the twisted joints and shuddering muscles. It quiets the roar for a while and lets us think.
The last part of the Plague that settles, though, is one the mind. While the body is wracked with pain, a fog rolls over the mind. It clouds the edges of your perception and makes it difficult to concentrate. You become more focused on your immediate surroundings, things get further away, and people feel more distant and more angry. Many with the Plague crave physical connections, people to hold them and reassure them, because when the Fog comes that’s all we can trust. That’s all we know. Things we can’t see or hear are unreal. Things we can see and hear are aggressive and dangerous. Many have compared the Fog to a migraine that doesn’t have the headache. Lights are too bright and sounds too crass, tastes are intense and thoughts are jumbled and disjointed. The personality of those under the Fog is paranoid, worried, afraid. Nothing is real, nothing is sacred, and everything is frightening. The Fog is what makes socializing hard, it’s what makes our loved ones abandon us. The constant need for reassurance, the haunting sense of oppression and emotional pain, the fear that seeps into our minds. It’s the final phantom that settles its hand on our hearts. I never knew exactly what it meant to hurt for a hug until I contracted the Plague, and now that sharp pain will never leave me. That need to just be held by someone and reassured that I’m still worth something, that I have some form of value to the people around me.
As the Plague overtakes the body, we become worse and worse at what we used to do. Unless the sufferer was lucky enough to be an artist of some kind before hand. Smiths continue to hammer out blades and gates of quality, painters create wonderful portraits though slowly, writers produce winding tracts of influence, sketchers draw up wonderful studies of beautiful plants, even analytic designers continue to program the machines and automata that operate our cities and our homes. Any occupation dealing with people, though, or manual labor immediately flounders under the Plague victims. They cannot focus, they cannot concentrate, and they cannot keep time. It’s impossible to manage what you have no sense of. The Fog forces us to take unplanned breaks where we sit and stare off into space, sometimes for minutes other times hours, with no warning. There is, as well, the legality of dreamweed. The Magistrate does not look kindly on dreamweed smoking and many occupations consider it a terminal offense if you are a user of the stuff. It isn’t that the Plague makes is poor workers, it’s that we cannot do the work that is time sensitive and reliant on interacting with other people constantly. It’s that our suffering is only alleviated by something that is illegal to possess or use under the Magistrate and if we don’t use it, we instead find ourselves strapped to tables or injected with enough morphine to turn the entire world into a dull and hollow place. Our predecessors, before the dreamweed was found to work so well, became wards of their families. Drains on society. This is a fear that every Plague victim I know suffers from. The idea that we will become useless, the idea that we will become a strain on those we care for. A burden born of sacrifice rather than joy.
I am not the worst off among my sisters and brothers of the Plagued community. I am not the brightest, nor the most able, nor the most pitiable. I am not the greatest speaker, I am not the greatest leader, I am not the greatest philosopher. I have no answers, at least not yet, but I do have the will to give voice to our suffering. To cry out to the world understand us. To ask those around us, “Have you listened to our fears and our hopes? Do you know what you do when you turn away? Do you know how the Plague wracks our hearts and minds?”
Someone needs to talk to those around us so that they can know what we need, what we labor under. And so that we can learn how to tell them. So that when they see us they know that, underneath all of our fears, all of our sacrifice, and all of our pain that we just need to be held close and reminded that we’re not creatures of inequity and suffering. That there are reasons to endure longer, to get up, to stretch and carry on.
Journals of Patience Argyle