Breadcrumbs

By Adele Carcano

“Mum?” Agnes tripped over her dress as she fumbled her way through the dark corridor. “Mum?” Her voice began to break, filling with doubt. “Mum?”

“Agnes? Honey?!” A small constricted voice rang against the church’s walls, reaching Agnes’s ears as she collided against the wall, her vision blurry and unfocused. Agnes picked up her gait, limping frantically toward where she heard the sound. The dim lights bleeding from the candles at the end of the hall revealed a small skinny figure moving slowly in the dark. “Agnes!” The figure stopped, and lifted its hand to wave at Agnes.

“Mum!” Her hands tangled in her mother’s hair as she collided with the figure. “Mum!” Agnes’s voice cracked as she breathed in her mother’s smell. “Mum,” she said again, tears streaming down her muddy cheeks.

“Where were you Agnes? You scared me to death!” Her mother cooed, moving her hand up and down her daughter’s back.

“I was here… to get father a glass of water from…and then…” Agnes could feel tears trickling down her cheeks. “Then… then… the man… he… he–”

2 months earlier…

“Apples? We grow our own apples here.” The merchant watched as the large man bounced up and down, laughing to himself. “Apples!” he chirped again, his bottle of liquor crashing to the ground, spilling beer onto the already muddy dirt. The merchant smoothly sidestepped away from the leaking beer and held out a bag in the man’s round face.

“Sir, I am offering these… sir, look.” The merchant sighed as he watched the bigger man’s eyelids fall shut. “Well, easier than I expected from you,” he said, pulling a dark mask from his coat. Slowly, he placed his hand into the sack, wincing as he pulled something out. “This is your fault, Antonio. Your fault.” The bar continued to buzz, completely ignorant to the small crime the merchant was committing. Everyone was too drunk to decipher why the small man with the dark coat and mask had placed a bright red apple on Antonio Spiner’s temple. And no one noticed as a small rat climbed up onto the sleeping drunk’s large overcoat and took a bite from Abraham Spiner’s nose. No one except one.

~~~

“Honey?” Agnes’s eyes leapt up from her porridge, landing on a small bright blue package wrapped in linen. “Mazel Tov!”

“Awww thank you mum! I–”

“Oh and don’t forget this! Your uncle Leo sent it, he wishes you a great bat mitzvah all the way from… ahh here it is… Spain! Wow that’s a long…” Agnes’ mother’s mumbles faded away as she began to unwrap her gift.

“Oh my goodness! Tell him thank you!” Agnes smiled as she pulled a dark blue necklace out of the box, her hands shaking from excitement. “This is perfect!” she jumped up from her wooden stool and pranced to the mirror. “Is father going to be home soon, mum?” Agnes watched in the mirror as her mother’s face sunk, her eyes avoided collision with Agnes’s.

“Soon, Honey, he just went to the… the apothecary, he had a cough of some sort… I don’t know.”

“What?!” Agnes twisted around, her necklace dropped to the dirt as she began pacing back to her mother. “He has a cough?”

“Honey,” her mother grabbed her arm, shaking Agnes as her eyes began to shift out of focus. “Honey, he’s fine! A cough… it’s nothing!”

“Nothing? Mum? Mrs. Cornwell coughed and died two days later! Two days!” Agnes shouted, her heart beginning to race. She could feel her mother run her hand through her hair softly. For a while, the two of them just sat there in the dirty kitchen, hidden under that shadows of the sun. The only thing Agnes could think about was her father. She had heard about the Black Death from a couple of her friends, but she never thought anything would actually happen. Her town hadn’t had any mysterious deaths until a week ago, when Antonio Spiner had dropped dead at Hog’s Head. No one had thought anything of it, he was just a drunk who had a little too much whiskey. But then Mrs. Cornwell. And Sebastian Clark. People who everyone knew, but didn’t really know. But everyone knows her father, her father who…

“Honey?” Agnes was ripped from her thoughts as her mother moved to stand up. She watched as her mother’s puffy eyes landed on the necklace still sitting in the dirt. “Pick that up, and get ready for today’s crowds. Don’t worry, your father will be back in time for temple.” Her mother gripped her hand as she helped Agnes up from the stool.

“I hope so,” Agnes mumbled as she picked up the dusty star and tucked it into her dress.

~~~

It had been two days. Two days since her mother had told Agnes that everything would be all right. Two days for her to worry and worry and worry about her father. Two days without a single sign that her father was alive. The bakery went on, the meals were still cooked, the money still made, but he wasn’t there. Two days at the apothecary. No one spends two days at the apothecary. Only Mrs. Cornwell did.

“Mum,” Agnes whispered under her breath as she began to fold her dough over the black olives. The bakery smelled musty and grey, much unlike it did when Agnes’s father roamed the halls, smiling as he carted the loafs of bread around.

“Yes, Honey,” her mother answered, her voice trembling slightly. Agnes had only begun to notice the crying echoing through the bakery that morning, but she could tell it had been going on for longer. “No, I haven’t heard anything about your father,” she said abruptly, bringing her flour-covered hand to her face to rub the vanilla on her bright pink nose.

Agnes sighed as she shifted her gaze away from her mother. She continued to fold the dough carefully as her thoughts drifted away. She watched out of the front window as Mr. York skipped down the dusty road, passing out flyers to his new play at the theatre. Her father used to take her to the theatre, only on rainy days though, when the sun was hidden deep beneath the clouds. She would always run into Margret, who even though was only five, would somehow manage to tell her the funniest stories about how her brother couldn’t herd the sheep correctly. She could barely remember the last time she went, the only thing she could recall was how the actors were mediocre and the bread was the best she had tasted, considering it wasn’t her father’s. Agnes could still taste the bread on her tongue, it was much unlike the one she making, dry and overrolled. She hated making bread, yet she loved watching her father do it. His hands were rough and big, which made each loaf perfectly imperfect. Agnes looked over at her mother’s hands, they too were chafed and rough, yet smaller and more delicate. Her mother and her father could not be any more different. He was a baker, soft just like bread. She was a seamstress, cold and calculating, the best at her job. She made no mistakes, no errors, until she met Agnes’s father. He said they met in a bar, but she said that it was really the market. She had dropped either a beer glass or a flower, it depended on the story, and he picked it up for her. She said the first mistake she ever made was falling for him, yet she always said it with a laugh and a twirling of his hair. Agnes had always laughed and punched her father in the stomach when her mother would tell the story.

“Where is he?” Agnes let out, immediately regretting her words as her mother whipped her eyes from her delicately folded bread. “Sorry.”

“No, Honey, it’s fine, he’s at… well they took him away for a little while. He is in… well… Florence.”

“Florence? Mum, that’s not too far from Milan, we can see him!” Agnes jumped up to bounce at her mother’s chair, tugging on her arm aggressively.

“Agnes, that is at least a week or two to get there! We cannot afford to go away for so long,” her mother groaned as she shoved Agnes off of her arm. “The village will be half dead by then without our bread!”

“Mother, the village will not starve without us, and we can get Burnace to take care of the place!” Agnes whined, silently wishing that she hadn’t mentioned Burnace, considering he was the only person in the village who couldn’t even put his boots on the right feet. “Come on!” she cried again, stomping her feet against the ground, setting off a layer of dust billowing out from under her dress.

“Fine,” her mother sighed, “I’ll try and make it happen.”

“Yes!!” Agnes squealed as she hopped around the kitchen joyfully, full of hope, unlike much of what was to come…

~~~

“Come on mum, we’re almost there! Wait, is it this the building?” Agnes beamed as she danced around the bustling streets of Florence. The twinkling white buildings gleamed in the sun as their reflections danced in the river right beside them. The people waltzed around the market like bees around a hive, diving in and out, always trying to be the one in front. The only thing Agnes could notice, though, was the bread. It was everywhere, she could taste it in the air, see it in the shops. The only thing she could think of was her father.

“Honey,” her mother yelled as she chased her through the grey mobs of people. “Honey, come here.” She grabbed Agnes by the petticoat and gently turned her around. “They, well, they took him to a church.”

“What?” Agnes’s eyes fell away in confusion. “But–”

“I know, but they thought it would be safer for him,” her mother said quietly.

“Who said that?” Agnes couldn’t think of any person in her whole town who would possibly send her father this far away just to go to a church. “Who? Was it Mr. Break?”

“No, no, I…” she hesitated and shifted her eyes away from her daughter’s. “I don’t know exactly who took him. I… I… well after he didn’t come home that day from the meeting with the merchant, I thought I would go ask Mr. Bradley at the market where he was. And well, he told me that your father had a cough, just as I told you. So, I went home and asked no further questions, until… Well, until I realized that he would’ve told me if he went off, so I went back to the market that same day and asked again. This time he told me… told me that they had taken him to a church. That was where they had taken Mrs. Cornwell and Antonio Spiner. And they gave me these numbers and told me to be on my way.” She opened up her palm, revealing pen blotches seeping into her skin. Agnes grabbed her mother’s hand quickly, turning it over to examine the words written on them.

“Vio Maggio, 16? Mother…”

“I know, it will be strange, but we must get him, so we can return home. All right?”

“All right.”

Anges looked back up from her mother’s hand, and as she did so, the world around her seemed to get a little bit greyer.

~~~

Agnes hit the ground hard.

“Signore!”

“Mmm.” The man was much bigger than Agnes’s mother. His tall overcoat cast a shadow down over the small silhouette her mother made. “Casa mi hai detto?”

“Basta spinto mia figlia, ti invitiamo a chiedere scusa?” she replied, her voice rising above the chatter of the surrounding crowd.

“Mum, its okay! It’s fine, bene!” Agnes looked up at the man, trying her best to look polite and disgruntled. “Bene!” she said again, using the little Italian she knew. Even though her family was born and raised in Italy, they mostly spoke to each other in Hebrew. Her mother, though, was still fluent in Italian. Agnes walked up to her mother and pulled her away from the man, apologizing profusely as he continued to stand there, watching them disappear into the crowd.

“I am so sorry, Honey, that was so rude of him and I just couldn’t let him get away.”

“Mum, look it’s all right. I’m fine. Va bene!” She let out a laugh as she said the last word, hoping her mother would join in. She laughed again, seeing her mother’s eyes light up as she did. “He wasn’t looking where he was going! He didn’t mean to, that poor man, we need to focus on more important things like where is this church?” Agnes grasped her mother’s hand and looked at the ink again. Slowly, her laughter died away, and the two of them went back to silently searching for the street sign that read Vio Maggio.

“Mother! There is is!” Agnes almost tripped over her dress and she sprinted through the masses. She halted at a large wooden sign reading Vio Maggio.

“Yes, yes!” her mother cheered, taking Agnes’s hand to spin her around. “There it is!” she pointed across the street, her fingers shaking with excitement. The two of them charged across the street, narrowly avoiding carriages as the rushed to and from the market. Agnes pranced up the pristine steps and charged through the doors, her face filled with excitement.

“Perdonami padre, è possibile portare ummm … l’ospedale?”

“Si, e in fondo al corridoio,” the priest said, pointing his finger to a long corridor leading to a small wooden door.

“Grazie!” Agnes replied, grabbing her mother’s hand and moving as fast as she could down the hallway. “I can’t believe we are going to see him! I bet he will be all fine and better and–” She stopped dead in her tracks, sending her mother charging down the hallway.

“Honey, he’s right down here!” Agnes could feel the hope seep into her mother’s tone. Yet it couldn’t comfort what she thought she had just seen.

“I’ll meet you there, mother.” She said absently as she stepped backwards slowly.

“Honey–”

“Mum, go!” Agnes kept her eyes locked on the marble floor. “I’ll be fine.”

“Alright,” her mother said as she speed off to the door. Agnes lifted up the soles of her shoe, her dark brown hair falling into her face. Using one hand to push her hair into her dress and the other to take her shoe off, she maneuvered her way onto the ground. Her eyes focused intently on the tiny red dot smudged right beside where her biggest toe would stand.

“Blood?” she whispered to herself, glancing back up and down the hallway. There were some people lingering. A man in a dark coat with wrinkles and a cane crept through the shaded corridor. A small girl, no older than Margaret, was stalking around in bright red boots much too big to be hers, as her mother guided her around. But there was no more blood. Just this one dried drop attached to Agnes’s shoe. Checking the ground once more, Agnes pushed herself up and cautiously made her way down to the end of the hallway.

~~~

Agnes sat intently, her mother’s hand sweaty and warm in her own. It had been well over an hour, and he still hadn’t awakened. The nun said that he had spoken a few words, things about apples and some other sort of food, but nothing more than that. Agnes fiddled with her mother’s fingers, unaware of the scratches she was digging into her mother’s palms. The room around them was filled with people. People on beds, people beside them, nuns rushing around and tending to the sick. Everything seemed dark and grey, the curtains were pulled down, hiding the painted glass from the view of the patients. Agnes and her mother sat near the edge of the large room, hidden from the others surrounding them.

She couldn’t stop thinking about the blood. Why was it there? Why not in the monastery? Why so small? She looked down at her father again, his eyes were closed, lightly fluttering as he slept. His dark hair was tied in a bun-shape, “to keep his face clean,” the nurse had said.

“Cosa sta succedendo?” she muttered to herself, closing her eyes and resting her head on her mother’s shoulder.

“Agnes? Leah?” A small warm voice leaked into her eardrums.

“Father!” Her eyes burst open, and she collapsed onto the bed, rustling her face into his shirt. She breathed in, hoping for the smell of bread and flour. Yet though she did find it, she also found a whole new smell had settled into her father’s aura. Something dark, musty. “Father,” she gasped, opening her eyes and pushing herself off his chest. “Why are you here? In a church… of all places. Why are you not at home? We traveled for weeks to get here, and we even left Burnace in charge! He will be fine though, we taught him how to make the bread, he can figure out the matzo balls on his own. And–”

“Honey, maybe just… let the man speak?” Her mother laughed as she gently pulled Agnes off her father.

“Hello my–” he started, his speech abruptly interrupted by a cough. His whole body shook as he covered his mouth to shield his flying drool from hitting Agnes and her mother. “Wa… water?” he managed, still coughing.

“Yes, yes. I’ll get you some. I’ll be right back!” Agnes jumped from her stool and began to weave herself through the beds to the door.

~~~

Agnes stepped back into the large corridor, startled by the darkness that had overtaken it. Three candles hung from the ceiling over a tall metal door to the right of her, throwing shadows luminously against the wall.

“Hello?” Agnes shouted into the dark, her voice echoing off the walls. She could feel her heart beating faster and faster. “It’s just the dark, nothing to be afraid of Agnes,” she said to herself quietly. Her hand crept up and grasped the necklace that hung low against her dress. She tiptoed slowly to the metal door, hoping there would be someone or something that could give her water. Her hand began to shake as she released her grip from the Star of David. As slowly and carefully as she could, she opened the door.

Her heart stopped, her body froze. She couldn’t breath, she couldn’t move. There in front of her lay the body of Antonio Spiner. His eyes were glazed over and dead, his hands were grey and rotting at the fingertips. His hand still clutched around a small bottle of whiskey, his mouth stuffed with a apple, as deep red as blood, still fully intact.

“Oh,” Agnes let out, unable to make any other sound.

~~~

“Leah,” he said quietly, “why are you here?”

“Abbot, my husband! I am so sorry, I’ve never made a mistake like this, letting them take you away. I didn’t know, I didn’t… I thought–”

“Honey, look at me.” Their eyes met, hers teary and his glazed over and puffy. “I thought the only mistake you ever made was falling in love with me.” She let out a laugh, high-pitched and loud, before covering her mouth and smiling at her husband through her teeth.

“Yes, obviously.” She smiled again, trying to muffle her laughs by her hands. “Agnes went to fetch you water.”

“Wait, she went where?” His face dropped, his smile falling. “Where, Leah, tell me?”

“I don’t know, she went outside the monastery. Monastery. I can’t believe we are here, Abott–”

“Where exactly did she go?”

~~~

“Oh,” Agnes repeated, finally regaining strength. Her first move was to bounce back, hitting her head against the door. “Ow,” she groaned, her heartbeat spiking.

“Are you all right?” Agnes felt her heart drop into her stomach. That wasn’t her voice.

“Hello?” she managed, shaking from head to toe, her hands grasping her necklace. In the dim candlelight, she could make out a figure. It stood high over Antonio’s corpse, looming in the dark. Agnes began to shift her shoulder towards the door to leave, but watched in horror as the man stepped over Antonio and grabbed Agnes by the hand.

~~~

“Why is it so important to know?” Leah said quietly to her husband, trying to signal that he should have been more quiet.

“Because he’s here. The one who poisoned Antonio Spiner, the one who started all of this.”

“This, what this, Abott, what is going on?”

“Marquise Gardner, a merchant, he infected Antonio Spiner. He gave the town the Black Death. The Black Death, Leah!” He screamed, tossing the sheets off of his bed. We need to get her back here–” He was once again stopped mid-sentence by a coughing fit.

“I’ll get her, don’t worry…don’t worry.”

~~~

“Please stop,” Anges whispered, her voice weak and rough.

“Look at me, you saw nothing. This never happened, all right?” His face was shaded by the night, yet Anges could still feel the stare he had sent down upon her.

“All right…all right.” Agnes looked down at where her wrist met with the man’s cold fingers. Her arm was shaking so hard that the man had started to loosen his grip. “I need to go now,” she said, still staring at her wrist. “I need to… go.”

“No, first you tell me your name.” His voice echoed in Agnes’ ears, sending even more shivers through her body.

“No.”

“No?”

~~~

“Agnes?” Leah stepped out into the dark corridor, straining her eyes in the dark. “Agnes?”

~~~

“I said no,” Agnes said again, her voice raising just the slightest.

“If you don’t,” the man paused and glanced at Antonio’s corpse, “you and him will have a lot more in common.”

“Ho detto di no si ass!” Agnes screamed, pushing the man’s fingers from her wrist and pushing her foot into his groin. Taking advantage of his head being down, she thrust open the door and stumbled out into the hallway. But before she could move away, she felt something sharp sink into her thigh. Screaming, she turned around to see the man returning to his feet. “No,” she said again, pushing the door as hard as she could to stop him from escaping. She screamed again as she found the lock on the door, closing it shut and jamming her dress into the lock. Ripping away at the fabric, Agnes began to run.

~~~

“Mum?” Agnes tripped over her dress as she fumbled her way through the dark corridor. “Mum?” Her voice began to break, filling with doubt. “Mum?”

“Agnes? Honey?!” A small constricted voice rang against the church’s walls, reaching Agnes’ ears as she collided against the wall, her vision blurry and unfocused. Agnes picked up her gait, limping frantically toward where she heard to sound. The dim lights bleeding from the candles at the end of the hall revealed a small skinny figure moving slowly in the dark. “Agnes!” The figure stopped, and lifted its hand to wave it at Agnes.

“Mum!” Her hands tangled in her mother’s hair as she collided with the figure. “Mum!” Agnes’s voice cracked as she breathed in her mother’s smell. “Mum,” she said again, tears streaming down her muddy cheeks.

“Where were you, Honey? You scared me to death!” Her mother cooed, moving her hand up and down her daughter’s back.

“I was here… to get father a glass of water from… and then…” Agnes could feel tears trickling down her cheeks.

“What happened, Honey?”

“Then…then…the man…he…he–”

 

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Adele Carcano lives in sunny California and loves running, reading, and writing.

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