Short Story
                                    The Brief Adventure of Bodo
                                                                            By Trevor Kroger


    The air always felt like so much cold water at this time of year. Especially at this time of night. Bodo, his
tunic dirty and his leggings damp, trudged through the once familiar woods on the way to the little cottage
he'd shared with his family on the mense. He'd carried a heavy stick for protection halfway from
Courbevoie, but had to let it go as his shoulder ached with every step.

    Things just kept getting harder every day. Ever since the Plague drove them all from their homes,
claiming both prince and pauper, the clergy and the laity, the old and the young and all those in-between.
The Church blamed it on miasma and lack of piety while Bodo's neighbors - the few who still lived -
claimed it heralded the End of Days. The timing was right, for did not the Savior himself say He would
return after a thousand years?

    Would that he hurried along, Bodo thought blasphemously to himself. For every day since their flight,
he'd been needed in the fields along with all the other surviving men. His back couldn't take it anymore!
He'd grown too used to Gerbert, his eldest son, doing the hardest plowing while he worked in the Abbé's
house repairing shoes. But the Plague took Gerbert and so many others. Only Bodo remained to care for
little Wido and Hildegard and he wouldn't be able to much longer...

    But if he could just get his tools back. His cobbler’s affects, left behind in the Abbé's house with
everything else while the survivors fled the mense, if Bodo could just reclaim them he might be able to
make enough from repairing shoes again to feed his children and himself.

    Under the dim light of the waxing moon, Bodo saw the outline of his little cottage. Though shrouded in
darkness, he could see the roof had caved in since they'd left and the little garden Ermentrude had tended
out back for so many years had grown tangled with weeds and neglect. As Bodo drew closer and the
shadowed shapes took on more familiar forms, he saw one such shadow move. And shift and rise to its
feet.

    Bodo crossed himself and ducked behind a nearby tree. The moving thing held the familiar shape of his
son Gerbert, the first of his family taken by the Plague. The boy, no more than fourteen but of sturdy frame,
had not lasted long and been buried by sunset. But Bodo and his family did not know how to keep those
victims of the Plague settled in their graves and Gerbert soon came crashing back into the cottage,
seizing and savaging his own mother as Bodo escaped with the smaller children.

    He wondered if Ermentrude still haunted the cottage with their son. Even one of the Plague-driven
shook Bodo's resolve, compelling him to turn back...

    But how he needed those tools! Another week in the fields and his heart would break, leaving Hildegard
and Wido to the mercy of the already overworked Church. Fighting down his own fear and revulsion, Bodo
slowly crept from his hiding place.

    Gerbert - or the thing that had in life been Gerbert - shambled to and fro before the little cottage. His
movements stiff and slow, as though not even the Plague could hold off the rigidness of the grave.

    If he saw Bodo, he gave no indication. And those taken by the Plague were not known for cunning.

    Emboldened, Bodo quickened his pace - though not enough, he hoped, to draw Gerbert's attention.
Moving from one shadow to another until he'd cleared the trees, he squatted down to hide within the tall
and wild grass. His knees ached at the effort and he worried their popping might draw the thing that had
once been his son.

    Fortunately, Gerbert proved just as oblivious in death as he'd been in life...

    Not even starlight penetrated the dark inside of the cottage. Bodo shuffled in, thankful for the security
afforded by the darkness but terrified that any step might disturb some refuse, might call the attention of
his dead son just outside. Dropping to his hands and knees, Bodo groped for any sign of his old tools, the
tacks or the stock or the good sturdy mallet. But his hands found nothing but the dirt and gravel of the
cottage floor. Bodo grew frantic, hearing his own desperate heartbeat as he searched with less and less
thought given to how much noise he might be making. His groping knocked a lopsided table, sending an
empty pitcher crashing to the floor. The sound might as well have been a thunderbolt and Bodo froze in
place.

    Outside the cottage, he heard the dull groan of Gerbert. But his shambling son did not enter the cottage,
did not even change from his usual routine - or if he did, Bodo could not hear. And in that terrible moment
of silence, he remembered where he'd left his tools...

    The Abbé's house! Of course - he'd been in the great hall with all the other craftsman when the first word
of Plague arrived. They'd all fled at that moment, no thought paid to their belongings or even their half-
eaten mid-day meals. What good could either be to a man without his family when the dead began to rise?

    Bodo knew well enough what good it could do. The dead may rise but men must still have bread - and
the charity of Christ's Church only went so far. He crept to the doorway of his cottage, ears straining for any
sound of dread Gerbert. Bodo crawled from his cottage, trembling from shin to shoulder, ever mindful of
his dead and hungry son.

    But Gerbert was nowhere to be. No sound passed in the night, not even the song of crickets. In terror
and unbelieving of his Fortune, Bodo crawled on his hands and knees the whole mile and a half to the
Abbé's house. A mile and a half through tall, unkempt grass and soil gone untilled for nearly a year. And
yet he felt none of the worms or vermin that so often made their home in the earth. And still he heard no
sound in the night save his own heavy breathing. The world around him stood as dead and empty as the
corpses who'd driven him from his home all those months ago...

    His palms aching, his leggings torn and muddy, Bodo found himself within the looming shadow of the
Abbé's house. If Bodo's poor little cottage had decayed in the months since everyone fled, the big house
had rotted. The main door, once sealed by two huge and mighty oak doors - a gift from Charlemagne
himself, the Abbé had often bragged - now hung ragged and open. Scraps and ruddy planks of rotted
wood jutted out, looking like the terrible maws of the Plague-ridden themselves.

    Not even starlight penetrated the gaping black hole leading into the great house as Bodo crept inside.
The chill night air whistled through long open windows, sounding like the mournful souls of all those taken
by the Plague. Unable to rest as long as their defiled bodies still walked. Picking through the broken down
refuse of the house, Bodo made his way by blind touch until he stumbled upon a candle. Really stumbled,
making a clatter as he again found his footing. He froze for a moment, letting the sound echo out and
listening for any restless dead who might come running…

    Reaching down, he drew a bit of flint from his belt and struck it one too many times, echoing all through
the cold stones of the house, before a little spark caught the dusty wick. From the small orange flame,
Bodo received barely enough light to see three feet in front of him, but he hoped that made him less visible
to whatever might still prowl the darkened hallways. Walking on stiff and tired legs, he made his way
through the once familiar house to the long and narrow room where he'd spent so many days crafting and
repairing shoes.

    Within his meager circle of light, Bodo found the shop to be just as squalid and decaying as the rest of
the great house. Approaching the long work table, he rooted through the tangled mess of smith's clamps
and carpenter's hammers, his heart creeping up into his throat. They had to be here, they just had to -

    "God be praised!" Bodo whispered to himself in triumph as he came across the familiar tackle. "Oh,
God be praised!" He dropped the candle as he rushed to gather everything up - the tacks and leathers
and his trusty old mallet - leaving the flickering light to roll away across the floor.

    It stopped against something of course. Something that let out a low and gurgling moan.

    Mallet in his hand, Bodo spun about and swung wildly. He connected with something and heard more
than saw the intruder tumble to the ground. Dropping to his knees and with more purpose to his swings,
Bodo struck at the fell creatures head - or at least where he assumed the head to be - until he felt it cave
under the blows, heard a sickening squelch and crack of skull, and smelled something more raw and
putrid than he ever imagined.

    Bodo reared back, the stench raising his gorge so much he vomited the meager bread and lentils he'd
eaten before setting out that morning. So very long ago. He hurriedly wrapped up the gore-coated mallet
with the rest of his affects and snatched up the candle. On his way out of the shop, he spared a glance and
a prayer for whatever poor man he'd freed from the Plague's grip and sent on to God's everlasting reward.

    In the dim flicker of the candle, he saw it was no man at all but a woman. And while the face sat in a
pulped ruin, he easily recognized the plain dress so often worn by his Ermentrude.
About Trevor Kroger

Trevor Kroger is an
independent author
residing in New York City.
His first novel, Fiend, was
released in November of
2010 and his second
novel, One Nation Under
God, in November of 2011.
To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.