When most people think of the end of the world, images of the recent zombie wars flood the mind. Understandably so since we lost nearly 90% of the world's population. What people seem to forget, though, is that TEotWaWKI is a regular, albeit infrequent occurrence, from world-wide cataclysms to local events. The American Plague is a good example of the latter end of this spectrum as it delves into the Yellow Fever epidemic that swept through Memphis in 1878.
Consider the following from page 64*:
A number of nurses, doctors, ministers or nuns later wrote of the fear that accompanied them the first time they entered an infected home. They had nursed hundreds from the halls of sick wards, but it was something else all together to climb the steps of a porch and open a door with a yellow card swinging from a nail. The first thing to strike was the smell. It floated in the streets, a scent like rotting hay. The smell grew stronger and overpowering once the front door was opened, where it mingled with the soiled sheets, sweat and vomit. Inside, one never knew what to expect. Moans, cries, delirious screams, or worse, no sound at all. There was darkness, as windows were boarded shut, and there was the stagnant heat of imprisoned air. Then, as their eyes focused, they saw the bodies. At first, it was hard to tell which ones were living and where were not. If deceased, one could never know how long they had been that way or in what condition they would be.
Sound familiar? It gave me the chills. (Is that a headache I feel?) The similarities don't end there:
- Effective quarantine procedures had been in place, but they were rescinded several years before because it would, as the author wrote on page 48, "create panic, stifling river traffic and delaying cotton shipments." Money always wins out over safety.
- There were gangs roving through the city, robbing the homes of the defenseless infected.
- Many did not die as a direct result of the disease, but rather of other causes exacerbated by the outbreak such as starvation and dehydration.
This happened before the dead rose and it will happen again. Be prepared!
* This and other quotes are from the September 2007 Berkley trade paperback edition of the book which is available from Amazon.com.