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Black Fortune



Estimated reading time — 4 minutes

The trading ships had arrived in Venice from Kaffa only two days ago. The summer solstice had come and past and now the days were hot and heavy with humidity. The piers were alive with the sound of activity and excitement. I could smell the tang of varnished wood , the stale odor of stagnating water, the enticing aroma of goods being unloaded from the ships, exotic spices from the Far East, their scent hinting at the strange and wondrous places of their origin. I was on my way to the market place. Usually, I did not have the money to purchase anything of value, but I still enjoyed the experience. I would sit near the outskirts and watch, a detached spectator, and imagine the luxury goods I would one day be affluent enough to buy. Then no longer would I be merely a spectator, but an open contender in the commerce. A childish daydream, but one that gave me a welcoming reprieve from the daily grind of life.

However, today was different. I was here to buy a gift for my sister’s wedding with a small sum of money I had saved for the occasion. And a splendid occasion it was going to be. Her fiancé was an upper middleclass man, a well-known merchant . This was an opportunity for my family , and, in times such as these, opportunities were not to be squandered.

The marketplace was crowded, too much so to be entirely comfortable. I could hear the irritated voices of the customers, berating the merchants, attempting to bargain down the exorbitant prices. In one vendor’s stall, I saw the drying, blackening carcasses of three pigs, their strong smell mingling with that of exquisite perfumes and spices, meshing to create something disconcerting, almost nauseating.

Finding the perfect gift was going to be difficult. The merchandise was either much too costly or simply raw materials, which would be laughably crude for such an occasion. Then I saw it, an irridescent silken scarf from the far off Orient, elegantly emblazoned with a red and black flower, one foreign to this land. As I started to haggle with the merchant over price, I became distracted by two men at a neighboring stall, heatedly arguing over some outrageous rumor percolating through the market place. “I tell you, the devil was aboard that ship,” said one with an uncomfortable and superstitious fervency. “They said that two men died, their flesh rotting off as they still lived”. “It was six that died,” countered the other, “but it was the spice. It gave them fever and black spots. They are calling it black death. They have thrown away the entire cargo.” “No, the sailors saw the devil, three went overboard.” And so it went. The market place was, generally, rife with such stories, which I found were invariably traceable to the effects of long voyages and the imagination of bored sailors. In my opinion such fanciful devil stories were nothing short of preposterous. I finished bargaining with the merchant, concluded my purchase, and started on my way home.

The day was coming to an end. The sun hung low on the horizon, a bloated sanguinary tinged disk, filling the evening sky with its dull red glow. I was well on my way back. As I walked along the piers, I heard the sound of children laughing. I noticed a group of three boys who looked no older than ten, gathered in a circle. As I got closer I was able to make out words, threats of obscene violence, “stab its eyes out”, “break its bones”, “tear its ears off”. And then I saw it, a small kitten with jet black fur. The boys were tormenting it with the disturbing and unwarranted cruelty of which young boys are so often capable. It almost made sense, the animal had most likely been thrown off a ship due to the recent rumors and prevailing superstitions.

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I felt a hot flash of anger. I had once had a cat, a large male with silky black fur which I had named Zitto. He had brought me nothing but fortune. My father had been a merchant at the time. He had found him on a ship and he was a fine mouser. When my father would leave on long voyages, Zitto would keep me company. He would sit on my bed, while I watched the ships from the window, hoping my father was returning with them. Then one day my father left and never returned. Reports later confirmed, he had died in a shipwreck. I was devastated. Zitto sat with me, comforting me through this time of despair and grief, a last link to my father. Those times were long past now, and, Zitto, like my father, was merely a memory.

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I angrily strode into the group of boys and grabbed one of their sticks and broke it. “Get out of here !” I shouted and roughly pushed the nearest one. They scattered, running off, laughing senselessly. I picked the kitten up. It was trembling, every muscle tensed. I thought of Zitto and stroked it till it calmed. “You will be just like Zitto,” I whispered, “you will be a great mouser and a loving companion and you will bring me fortune,” but, I noted wryly, scratching my arm, “you will not be sleeping in my bed until we get rid of these fleas.” I put the kitten in my coat pocket and continued home.

Credit To – Milo DeOlivares

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32 thoughts on “Black Fortune”

  1. Wow very subtle. But as someone mentioned, every (seemingly unimportant) detail is symbolic and all come together to help you make the assumption that this man is now going to die a horrible death from the Black plague. Love this. It does take a little bit of background knowledge to understand the creepy factor, but I got it right away. I didn’t make all of the other connections until reading someone else’s comment, and now I can see just how intelligent and sneaky the author really is. Awesome.

  2. it took me a while to realise what happened and only really after i read through a few of the comments did i realise my guess was correct … good story but judging by the comments a bit too subtle

  3. The first time I read this, my mind was not really concentrating and at the end I kind of had no clue what was creepy about it. Then I read the comments, decided to read the pasta again and wow… I think this can be called a masterpiece! Very well written story, 9/10.

  4. hollygolightlee

    A thousand pardons! I really jumped the gun a day ago when I weighed in on this pasta offering. I did favorably comment on how strong and descriptive the writing was, but was critical of the tale’s ending. This was due to my ignorance when it came to the Black Plague. Thanks to all the chatters who shared their knowledge of this pandemic. A rating of 6.8 doesn’t give this story justice.

  5. Lol I had to look at the comments to figure it out – then I felt stupid for not getting it..I love the medieval era, and know what caused the Black Plague.This story only has a low rating because a lot of readers (like me *blush*) just won’t get it.When I first found this website I was surprised by how very smart some of these readers are, however.It was really cool to see them figure out that a certain story had a code inside it.Anyways, nicely written♡♡♡

  6. Nice pasta.
    Nothing overly gory or flamboyant, easy to read, good descriptions.
    I like how the protagonist was a regular person and just wanted something to love on.
    I’d almost refer to this as “delayed terror” because of the repercussions.
    9/10 because I had trouble following the sailor arguments, but please do write again.

  7. For those who dont get it it was tge black plague. The flease on cat were carriers in my opinion it was a very good pasta and it deserves a much higher rating 9/10

  8. Sorry I didn’t get it till I read the comments, was written really well and did grab my attention… but it did’t creep me out at all.

  9. This is the kind of subtle, intelligent creepy I love! It is very nuanced, but the fleas in the end make it very clear. You do require some outside knowledge about the bubonic plague from your readers, and you ask us to put the pieces together, but that is what sells it for me. If anything, I wish it went a bit deeper historically! I think the wedding gift idea is interesting, but that felt like an overly modern idea for the narrator to pursue. Still, I would not say it detracted, I just wish that felt a bit more connected to the time period. It also was a bit predictable, but in a way that made me feel the inevitability of impending misfortune rather then boredom or something. I think it is a very creative, subtle story that left me feeling very satisfied with that sneaky ending. Thanks for a great read, and happy writing!

    1. Milo DeOlivares

      You make a very good point. In fact all of the seemingly disjointed details were actually symbols alluding to the historical effects of the Bubonic Plague. The creepy scarf was referencing to how the Plague was foreign to Europe (it came from “The Orient”) and it caused pain and death (red and black often symbolize blood and death), the strange smell of the pig carcasses mixing with the smell of the spices was a reference to the medieval practice of using “Posy” to hide the stench of decay, the morbid description of the sunset was a biblical allusion referring to the book of revelations (when the plague happened a lot of Medieval people thought the end of days was coming) and the sadism from the young boys was a reference to how when the plague hit, many atrocities were committed by the “simple folk”, purely from the belief in superstition.

      1. I was wondering if there was a specific flower associated with the posies carried, or a spice with red and black flowers that was supposed to prevent or cure the plague — poppies, maybe?

        I liked it. While I felt a bit like I was watching a trainwreck in slow motion, it was effective.

  10. I don’t know why this has such a low rating. I think maybe because on the surface it’s not that creepy, but with the bubonic plague lurking in the undertones I think it’s creepy a hell. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of innocence with forthcoming devastation ( although, I suppose the latter is up to interpretation of the reader). I also love the style of prose and voice of the narrator.

    1. Judging by a few comments I suppose that a lot of people didn’t understand what the pasta was about, hence the low ratings.

  11. hollygolightlee

    I feel as though we’ve been delivered the proverbial sucker punch. Strong, descriptive writing here, but somebody needs to explain to me the detached ending. The author seems to have switched gears and begun a completely different tale. What am I missing?

    1. It’s the black death … it was carried by the fleas of rats cats and anything else the fleas could find… he essentially killed his entire family

    2. The black cat has fleas
      The two men were arguing about the deaths aboard the ships
      The black death is a plague carried by fleas

  12. Cora O Riordan

    Have I missed something? Did I skip a bit? Were the prices of the goods meant to be the scary part? Is there more to come? I’m confused. No creepiness as such aside from the 3 mini sadists & too short which is unfortunate as your writing style is lovely to read. Has all the makings of a good pasta but I’m still quite hungry.

    1. The deaths that the two men are arguing about were caused by the bubonic plague (black death), which is carried by fleas.

  13. Short and to the point. Even if I prefer longer stories, this is just the right lenght. Doesn´t drag unnecessarily.

  14. I will be completely honest, it took me a minute to get why this was creepy. However, once I understood, I found it to be a very delicious pasta.

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