More than anything, it was the smell. Putrid. Debilitating. The rebellions of history welled up in our stomachs each time we passed the streets. Some areas were worse than others. The rich neighborhoods could afford hiring people to remove the sick from the streets. But in the slums...
Oh gods, the slums...
I saw once, in the dead end of an alleyway, a pile of bodies. Only some of them were living, barely breathing, even reaching out. There was such panic. People were on the streets, in a frenzy, or barricaded in their homes, as their mothers begged for wooden doors to be opened, or children trying to climb in through the windows. Oh but it wasn't so noble. Robes were stained brown, trails left behind everywhere by the sick. You could trace the path of every sick man and woman in Rome, where they went, from whom they sought help, and who turned them away, time and again. A network of lines drawn with filth. And each was distinct. Not only by the fabric of the cloth which acted as pen, but just as much so was the shade and color of the ink.
But I could not write them all. I scarcely could write one. Here now, sitting on the second floor balcony, overlooking the sick-ridden streets, I can only cower. The swollen throats as if stung by a dozen bees, the hellish skin like petrified moss and tree bark and stone...
At the sight of them, my hand is stiff. I am a writer no more, for I can no longer write a story-- I may only write about them.
I shouldn't even be out of bed, but I am unable to turn away. I have to keep looking, and try to overcome this block. I must. If the Parthians leave this plague for us, then I won't let them take from me my art. And it won't much matter. This fever I have -- I am told it will go away soon.
Albus Nero Fabianus
An Anthology of Master Works