Courier in the Bird Mask

There once was a town, alone and cruel, all alone and isolated. It was branded an outsider by the rest, sitting in the steppe. A town so empty, almost ghost-like despite the thousands that live there. Welcome to the cold dark, where the town breathes and feasts off the citizens, and the town-goers feed off the town’s resources, an endless feedback loop of parasite-like hunger. 



I stopped talking when I was six years old, I didn’t feel like I had anything to say- I was happier being quiet. Being a rural town in the middle of the Russian Steppe, my parents couldn’t do anything but try and get me to talk, there weren’t any real doctors in town. To their dismay, none of it really worked. None of it really mattered, as I was happy. Happy being alone with me and Lady Loneliness, no one but my own thoughts and my dolls. With such a small town, a child that refused to speak was interesting to the townspeople who haven’t had an interesting day in their lives. The town doctor took an interest in me, though taking me under his wing didn’t work like it did with most children. I simply refused to talk. I simply refused to… not connect. This “phase” in my life eventually ended when I was around 13. But for the longest time, it was just me and my mind. It was because of my town.

The Town-On-Gorkhon’s a unique town that… you couldn’t really understand unless you lived there. It had a culture rooted so deep in mysticism, colonialism and solitude that would be impossible to explain to outsiders, especially those who came from the Capital City. 

That doesn’t mean I won’t try to explain it though.

Imagine a town, brown and dreary- a town in the middle of nowhere with only one way in and one way out. Do you know what a steppe is? It’s a vast wasteland, a grassy plains without trees, only separated by rivers every now and then. It’s muddy and disgusting and there’s no redeeming qualities. I hate this town, and I hate that it exists. It’s surrounded by twyre, a family of herbs very specific to the steppe. Every September, they bloom. They smell of musk, they smell of blood- and the headaches they cause hurt more than anything else. I hate twyre, the buzz of the bugs that conglomerate near the herb or the hunger it causes. The steppe is wild, it’s cold. It’s harsh, lonely, it’s not a place for the faint of heart. I’ve spent a paragraph talking about how much I hate twyre, which might seem like it’s overzealous, but it’s not. You could never understand just how important twyre is to my town. It’s the foundation of medicine. It’s the foundation of our culture. The Steppe and twyre… they’re why the Town-On-Gorkhon exists.

Standing in the steppe, you’d smell the murky swampwater, damp and musky, strong against your nose. A dirt film would be left on your mouth, the taste of mud and dust stuck against your tastebuds. You’d hear the distant, strong, throbbing sensation of the world’s heartbeat against your feet, like a form of tinnitus- but one so quiet it drove you near insane. You’d hear women dancing, their wails like a siren song coming from the rivers nearby. You would be uncomfortable, drowning in the thick air and heavy buzz. 

And beyond the rivers, you’d see the town itself. The elusive… town I’ve spent so long describing the outskirts of, and yet none of the town. 

How do you describe the town? The History of the Town-On-Gorkhon book quotes:


“It’s a small place, isolated from the world in the Eastern Steppe. The main source of income comes from the bull meat-making industry… approximately 17,000 people live in it… and 30% of them work inside of the factory. Due to it’s isolated nature, the Town heavily relies on outside sources to provide supplies- such as sugar or medicine. The Train Station is what keeps the town from ruin, as without it, the Town-On-Gorkhon would have barely anything. 

The town is separated into three parts, a river bordering everything. The three districts- 

The Earth Quarter- where the workers live and where the factory lies. 

The Knots- where most of the middle class occupants stay.

THe Stone Yard- Academics, and the rich.

What makes our town magical… is the Polyhedron. A beautiful machination of what humanity, science and the future holds. A place- free from the confines of earth. A building, betraying all laws of gravity and physics and what we thought humanity was confined to.

A miracle, humanized and gratified- existing beyond all comprehension. A testament to what humanity could be, is, and will always be.


[ID: on the right is a rough sketch of the Polyhedron Blueprints, provided to us by Peter Stamatin]”


And yet, this encyclopaedia explanation could never describe the town like I know it. I know it from the eyes of someone who’s grown up in it, silent, and observant. A historian know it from the facts, cold hard truth, but no one can know it like someone who lives there, knowing the people, the alleys. I hear the town, it speaks to me.

I see the mix of both traditional, indigenous traditions (no one shall pierce the ground- for it harms the Earth and makes her bleed, no one shall pierce a body but those certified to), and the architecture that comes from the colonization of the Kin’s land. 

Playgrounds, rusted and falling apart, signs of a town that despite the beauty of the Polyhedron, the town leaders ignore the people themselves. 

Ignore the history, ignore the facts, what the town IS objectively. Raise the hair of your necks, tune into the city, listen to the shivers. Imagine-

The Gale Wind blows through your hair, as the playground laughs with the children, the children are playing hop-scotch, trading buttons and useless knick knacks. Engaging in two cultures, the Kin and those who colonized them. They are like me, those who were born in a land colonized and torn- but fundamentally a different culture no matter how much you try and assimilate to a land. They- you, are uniquely from the Town on Gorkhon. Nothing will change that. The Town-On-Gorkhon is our home, and even our name comes from the Kin’s language. Gorkhon, river. The Town-On-The-River. Looking at the rust colored water of the river that traps you, a birdcage of humanity’s making- you see just you.

That’s how I know the Town, a place so alive it might as well be its own person. 


The Town-On-Gorkhon is old.

The Town-On-Gorkhon is the Kin.

The Town-On-Gorkhon was prophesied to be doomed. 

The Town-On-Gorkhon died.

The Town-On-Gorkhon rose again.


I am not the three heroes of the Town-Of-Gorkhon. I didn’t cure the plague, I don’t have magic. I am a girl with paper and pencil- I am a girl who knows how to write, thus I could speak to the dead and the dying.

My name is Angelika Zakharova, my path was that of The Courier in the Bird Mask. Invisible to you, and to the game they played. The play that they wrote.

I transcribed the final words of those in the hospital, dying and begging me to tell their family words they couldn’t tell themselves. 

Day One

Today ended in a panic. Rumors started to circulate that the end is near. Let me explain. 

           Five years ago, there was a pest. A plague. Five years ago, I was fifteen. I lost both of my parents to this plague. This plague, the Sand Pest, would kill you if you caught it. There was no cure, no chance that you could live if you caught it. It would tear you apart inside, it would maim you and it would break you. 

The symptoms are cruel- I watched firsthand as my parents died from the sick. I saw it all, first you’d feel your skin dry up. That’s where the “Sand” part of Sand Pest came from. Your skin would feel like sand, gritty and cracking. It would become unbearable and you’d scratch at it, there would be welts that would pop up under that newly scratched flesh, bubbling and simmering underneath your skin to the point it felt like bugs. Bugs consuming you as you whimpered, groaned and felt your muscles spasm. 

You’d start to hallucinate, which might be one of the worst symptoms- you’d hear this voice, this deep, gravelly voice, overlayed with a feminine one, tell you that you don’t have long left. It’d whisper to you- 

“Your lips crack, a feverish embrace holding you. That’s me, you feel. Me. Take my kiss, embrace me… I am not your foe. Do not push me away, I love you. You need me, and I need you. I complete you. Flies… rats… blood… skin… flesh… cold… hot… all of it is us. There is so much more to us, there is so much more to you. You are me, I am you. You are part of me, the hive mind of the plague. You will be loved, you will love me, and everyone else will love you… .” 

Everyone reports the same voice whispering into their ear, everyone reported the same theme being put across, and yet no one listens to it deeper other than the indigenous tribe that the town was built on.

The Kin are a group of people that worship this mother Buddho… their rituals would be rhythmic dancing in the fields, listening to her heartbeat as they dance to a melody-less beat. They would sacrifice bulls to the mother as women would be wed to the Earth, giving up their innocence to please the Mother. Mother Buddho… or Mother Earth as she is called, would reward them with twyre. 

A mystical herb that remedies ailments of all kinds.

They’re immune to the sickness- at least the Herb Brides are.

If there really is another outbreak… I’m not sure how we will cope. Isidor Burakh- the town doctor- the town’s only doctor- will have to administer enough of the cure to prevent a pandemic. I’d offer to visit him tomorrow but I’m sure he’s swamped with work. The thought of the sandpest tears me apart. I lost my family to this plague and I spent the last five years picking myself back up, and yet- I don’t want to be strong, like they said I was. I don’t want to have to do this again- god, families dying, losing their parents or sisters or brothers- do you think I want to see people lose their families like I did?! 

I’m not a doctor, nigh, I am an author. One of the few people in town that can read. Do you think I can help them? They’ll all suffer… I can’t do anything.


15:00 update: The plague has been all but confirmed. A traveler has come to our town, a doctor… Daniil Dankovsky. I’ve heard of him, but I have not yet caught a glimpse of the Bachelor. In horrid news, one that sinks any hope I had, Isidor Burakh is dead. That’s all I know. I hear my neighbors scurrying about, they’re heading to the nearest grocery store to stock up on food in the light of this pandemic. I am too. I can’t write more, god, this panic is eating me alive, like the flies do to twyre. I don’t want to do this again.

I can’t be this monster anymore. 

Last Sand Pest- I was but a watcher. I didn’t help cure it, I didn’t catch it. I only watched my parents die from it, like a bird on the rooftop, too afraid to join in on the mayhem. To try and help.

Damn this birdcage of a town, give me back to the ground where dandelions and dirt lay, cover me in mud and rocks and free me from this damn town!




  • Bread x3 
  • Canned veg x2
  • Fish x10 
  • Eggs x12
  • Kashk x3
  • Pemmican x12
  • Coffee Beans x3
  • Nuts (to trade)


Check all trashcans for glass bottles, fill with water. 




Day Two

I’ve been summoned to the town hall- I’m terrified. What do they want from me? What could I possibly do for them? Part of me thinks… knows it’s because I’m one of the few authors in the town. I’m literate, much more literate than anyone else- I mean, read my diary. Who writes like this but an author? Jokes aside, I still wonder. I wonder and wonder and think- why do they want me? 

The anxiety is eating me alive, and yet I can’t do anything. I left my peace of mind in July, in a box hidden underneath unwritten manuscripts.

Nothing to do but wait.


10:00 update: There has been no wronging in my end, no- they asked me to be the scribe for their boring council meetings. I sit there while important people wax on and on about official matters. Things like funding, plans- or worst of all… plague. They were speaking quarantine talk, frustrated that they couldn’t get Saburov absolute power or whatever. I couldn’t really get my brain to focus on anything other than the mind–numbing jargon of old white men talking about laws or whatever when I know damn well that a plague is starting and I could be preparing myself from the plague. Apparently half of the board members or whatever they’re called don’t even believe the plague is a thing until tangible evidence is proven. Excuse me? 

What do you want? People to die?! Wasn’t there enough proof with the deaths of Isidor Burakh- isn’t it enough proof that two doctors say the plague is most likely upon us? Nigh, the end is near and none of the damn government officials believe the end is even possible. Apparently, two new figures have entered the town- all on the same day. 

I mentioned Bachelor Dankovsky before, but apparently he’s a doctor from the Capital City trying to… defeat death? I’m just as quizzical as you are, but whatever, Capital City-folk are absurd in their ideals. I met him briefly at the council meeting, but we didn’t exchange words, he spoke briefly and quoted latin gratuitously- you could even say “ad naseum” hahaahahaha. I hope he knows quoting latin only makes him look silly.

There is a serial killer apparently- Isidor Burakh’s son, Artemy Burakh. The Ripper; the one who murdered his father. If it was a case of patricide, I don’t know what to say. Dankovsky seemed to argue that Burakh was innocent, kudos to him after all. Isidor died from the plague- not a murder.

Finally, the odd little girl and her twin sister. They seemed to have been adopted by the Saburovs which if true, fascinates me a little. Three odd people enter the town on the same day the plague starts? 


Day Three


I write letters now. The final words of those dying from the pest. Do you know who I first wrote for, do you want to know? A woman. She’s dead, one foot in the grave as I wrote for her, screaming and crying midway through her story I’m supposed to tell with accuracy… god.

I don’t know how to write this to you. In my delirious fever dreams, I see you. Your face, contorted in horror as you see me as I am. Sick, dying, the skin flaking off my face and my inner organs aflame. I don’t know if you’ll ever see me again. I see you… I see you in my dreams. So I wait here, wrapped in rags and laying in a hospital bed like I have been for the last six years for me to get better and see you smile again. This incurable illness refuses to kill me— and it forces you to suffer. I’m not talking about the Sand Pest- no, Before I even had the Pest, I was sick. Sick to you, awful to you. I’m so sorry, Pyotr.


I never meant it when I said I hated you and that I never wanted to see you again. I didn’t mean it when I said if I got better, I’d leave you. I was scared. I was so, so scared, I didn’t want to think that maybe my life was going to end before it started. I love you, I love you more than anything. The way your smile lights up the night, your gentle voice, it’s all I hear and see when I close my eyes.


The doctor said I’d get better, that I’d be able to go home soon. Once Isidor finished the treatment, I’d be able to walk again. I would be able to finally have children with you. Then the Sand Pest hit, oh god Pyotr. The Sand Pest is killing me and I can’t even write this, I’m having the Courier do it! The tears running down my cheek sting my cracked skin. It’s like every tear is made of flame and acid instead of salt. Pyotr, tell me. Is it too late? Is it too late to apologise for my actions?! To ask for forgiveness? No, it’s selfish. It was terrible of me to treat you like I did. Everyday I stare at the wall, the Pest eating me alive as I think of you.


It’s been two days, it feels like three years. This is my final day, I can feel it. I don’t think you deserve this, to see your wife die pathetically and I understand if you despise me, or are disgusted by my sickness. I’m sorry. I need to tell you this. Goodbye Pyotr. I love you— I’m sorry. I wish I could’ve given you the wife you deserved. I hope you can find her, the wife that you can love and hold without her crying in pain.


Forever waiting for you, Yana.


Day Four


Today. A small child came to me, asking to read her the note in her hand. I read it. I read it to her and then gave her to the council. Another orphan.


To my daughter. 

In my memories, I dance with the pidgeons and the murder of crows. 

They sing in their roundabout language of love and generosity and life beyond this.

I want that again. I want to dance with lady death herself, a gentle dance. Macabre as she holds me.

In my memories, we laugh and smile and it’s better with death.

In my future, I see myself, dead, in a grave. If I see her again, it is with my hands. 

In my future, I only see rivers of blood, feather and paper falling from the tinted red sky.

Purple prose, I write as my final words.



And- today… a girl asked me to write her final words to her parents. I don’t know what to put here… clad in the Executor’s bird mask, I stand above their beds and write their final words with stoic apathy, tears hidden behind that mask of mine.


Mother, Father—

A tragedy, I have to admit. To tell you this is where I die, this small backwater town— the town on Gorkhon is my grave. The Jury and Executioner to my heart. A deadly plague consumes my body with her vivacious hands and gentle soothing kisses of feverish delusions. 

Mother, father. I’m going to die here. I’m going to die and I can’t stop it. Everytime I think I’ll get better, it gets worse. It’s been two days and I’ve been told I’m lucky to last even one. Mother, Father, do you understand what I’m saying? I’m dead, I took a train to my deathbed all those weeks ago and now I’m going to die without ever saying true goodbyes. I wish I never came here, this dammed hellish town. People are on the streets covered in rags begging for anyone to fucking help them and the doctors are trying to make a cure but I can’t help but wait until it rains acid and this town will be destroyed. Until then, this is goodbye. Goodbye, Mother and Father.


Day Five

Do it for yourself. You are protected in your Executor outfit.

Do it for the town. Listen to her scream.

Do it so you can figure out what the hell is going on.

Do it because you have to. The military arrived today. What will they do? Shoot. Kill. You can’t shoot a plague, what do they want me to do!?

I wrote the dying words of an eight year old today.

The world is cruel and unjust.

I still she him, coughing and crying as he’s faced with the fact he is going to die. There is no cure… I can’t do this.

Mama. I’m sorry I had to go this way. I’m sorry that I had to leave you with Joseph and Papa. I love the dinners you made. I love bedtime stories you read. I’m sorry I couldn’t be a better son— I’m sorry I got sick. You told me that I couldn’t go outside but I did anyways looking for a schmowder just in case. I love you, Mama. I hope Joseph can be the son I couldn’t be. Take care of Papa.


Papa. Listen to Mama when she says not to go outside, I learned my lesson! Papa, I loved the walks in the Steppe and the time you taught me how to clean a shoe. I loved when you put on the Gramophone for the first time- and I loved when you told me it’s okay to cry. I’m crying right now, isn’t that funny? I’m crying, and you taught me it’s okay. Don’t get sick, please, Papa. Joseph needs you.


Joseph. I hope you can be the son that Mama and Papa needs. I hope you can live through this and if a guardian angel is real, I’ll be yours. I’ll protect you once I die. I love you, Joseph.


I love you all so, so much and if I could redo it all, I’d never go outside and get sick. 





each memory is a message. each thought and idea is a story. each word i say could be engraved forever in the hearts of those who hear it. each moment I spend with another person is another memory. another memory becomes a message— it’s a cycle. don’t you hear it? a shame it is that that cycle ends here, today and now. let this be a memory, and let this be a message in the end.

these words are my final- let them be engraved in your heart. this is what my legacy will be, ignore the poems and the past fame i might have. this is the most important thing i’ll ever write to you, my dying child. 

if my words will be a memory in your heart, and I know i will not be forgotten, why can’t I shake this feeling my poems and songs will be forgotten? why can’t I make it leave me, the feeling that you will move on. i want you to move on, i want you to be happy but I can’t feel this envy knowing you’ll be living and I won’t. I won’t get to see you grow up, I won’t get to see you smile and laugh with your new wife or husband, or get to see you dance along the steppe bare footed with your child like I did all those years ago.

guilt. atonement. love. those go hand in hand to me, guilt that I feel envy in your life. atonement in I will write a final letter, one that is full of my unending love for you, my child. so tell me, what will you do?

when your mother is gone and there’s no one but yourself, no one but the emptiness in your heart will remain, right? you’re wrong, what remains is your drive and ambition, your competitive flame which tells you to keep on living and I’ll make sure you do. ignore the feelings of guilt and don’t atone for your non existent sins, just love. love your sister and your mother, my wife. love who you have left, love me when I’m dead.

live for me, love for me when i can’t anymore. I love you.



Day Six

The inquisitor arrived today. Aglaya Lilich. She is killing us. Hanging us.


Im not sorry. I’m not sorry for stealing for you, I’m not sorry for anything besides the fact I have to leave you. I will be dead tomorrow, the Inquisitor will ultimately kill me without hesitation, I can’t leave without telling you goodbye.

Anzha, Helika, my true love. At first, I thought I was unable to feel love. At first, I felt nothing but detest when I saw you. Thought you were annoying when I first met you. I wanted a rich wife, someone to feed me and house me. And then you told me something I’d never forget. “I think you’re an asshole.” That broke me.

I am an asshole, I was an asshole. And you told me outright, none of the lies people tell me non-stop. When you told me that, I laughed. I laughed so hard and then you started to laugh.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m leaving you, but I’m not sorry for why. Helika, my only love. I have one thing to ask you before I die, its my only regret. I already know your answer.

Will you marry me?



To Vlad’s family,

My name is Robert. I am a father of three and a fellow survivor of the Sand Pest- until today.

On the third day of the outbreak, I stood in what was a dark alleyway. On the third day or the outbreak, there was nothing but desperation. On the third day there was nothing but agony and starvation. On the third day, there was nothing but unending guilt eating me alive as the tendrils dragged me to hell. A bullet to your father’s head, a deadly invitation to hell, and I took it. The dread building in the pits of my stomach was all I fed off of as I stole that piece of bread for your father. I found out from asking around where his family was and it led me to you. Enclosed is 100,000 coins— I know it won’t replace what I’ve done. I hope you know the guilt is killing me, I’m dying from the Sand Pest and I can’t help but want it to. His life is gone, his family is mourning and I caused all that agony.

It’s insane. One pull of a trigger and I can change a family’s life forever. Why can’t I control when I die but I can control when someone else does?! I feel sick, I feel horrible and awful and nothing but sorrow in my stomach and agony in my brain. I haven’t stopped thinking of his face, of his face twisting in agony as blood pooled underneath me. I took the bread, a single loaf, and watched as he bled out.

I can’t die without apologising.

I’m sorry 



Day Seven

The plague spoke to me. 

There’s a second wind, howling as the animal inside me claws to get out.

The plague sings to me, her mouth the heart of the Earth, laughing at me. Can’t you hear it? She can hear you, she can hear me. 

The plague spoke to me.

Her laughter rattled the cages around me.

These days melt together, the scratching louder and louder behind my eyes as the hollow heart within me frees the bird inside me.

Then my dream ended. She spoke to me- it spoke to me. The plague SPOKE to me- and I am unaffected from the effects of her touch. Why? Why me? Why am I free?


One year ago, I sat there. I was entrenched in the war— unable to feel emotion as I shot and killed people of my own kind. Hollowed inside, I wondered if I could love or even feel for another person- remorse, grief, sadness, anything to prove I was human. One year ago, I watched as men became nothing but empty dolls— they could have emotion, they could feel things I couldn’t do. Things I wanted to do. They could say “I love you.” to another person and mean it — and in one bullet to the head, their words and emotion became nothing as the hollowness grew inside of me with each life I took. It felt like that hollowness was an empty void that ate and ate and on days I starved, that was what I fed on. One year ago, I was simply a being of war. Born into it, continued into it, and eventually I left it. I can’t tell you what about the war made me stop fighting, but I knew I had to leave because the little bit of emotion I had left was begging to leave me. I think it was when I was posed this question- what is the war being fought over? Why do I keep killing people with families, killing people with emotions I thought I lacked when I deserved it more because I could not feel.

So I journeyed the world and asked the stories of others. I felt so much, so many stories and so many emotions I thought I’d never feel. I learned things, remorse, guilt, patience, longing for a time better than this, hope that the future is better than the war, even if that time has never existed. Hope that things can get better, even if it seems like there’s nothing but agony and suffering— that maybe one day I could feel these things too. I learned of agony and suffering. I learned OF LOVE. The feeling of family, of unconditional care. I learned of these but never ever felt them, at least not yet. I learned what Love was, but not what it was like to experience it. But I learned empathy, the one thing that stuck with me. How to feel for others, and soon I’d learn to feel for myself.

Six months ago I met you, a cold and unfeeling person on the outside. Much like myself, except you know how to feel and you did— you just brilliantly hid it. I asked you what your story was, and you laughed. You laughed and asked why I had the right to know as the smell of twyrine filled my senses. I responded with a few words “Because I want to learn how to feel.” You dampened and softened, almost cracking a smile as you took another drink, commenting on how “I need a lot of alcohol to get through this.” You told me about your family, how you lost all of them in the First Outbreak, unable to be there and unable to say goodbye to your mother. How you grew up 4 years as an orphan, now a fresh 18 year old trying to get ahold of your life. As another 18 year old trying to get ahold, I laughed and took a drink too, explaining how I lied my way into the war and didn’t know how to feel… except when you put your hand on mine and told me I was able to feel, I think I learned. I have to feel because that’s what makes us all human— I just forgot what it was like to be loved. Maybe I drank too much twyrine, maybe you just felt like you could relate, but I decided to stay with you because you offered me a bed.

Because of you, because of your actions and because you told me I could feel, I did. I felt love, I felt like I belonged when you took me into your home and gave me shelter. When we kissed for the first time, when I fell into bed with you and we laid, staring at the ceiling, listening to each other breathe, your head on my chest, our hearts in sync like a rhythm of the Earth. I felt sadness when we first argued, remorse when I saw you cry and scream at yourself because you blame yourself.

Now I feel agony, grief, genuine true fear knowing you might die from this damned Pest like your family did. I would offer my life and soul to the birds of death if that means you are alive and I’m dead— and I think that’s love. To want to love another so much, to care and agonisingly hurt when they’re gone. To miss their embrace in bed as all hell breaks loose outside. It’s silent inside of our home, nothing but my own yearning for you, nothing but awaiting the day my lover will return home, no longer sick.

I know what love is, I know how to feel, and I have friends and a real family because of you, because of someone who told me I wasn’t a lost cause.

Thank you, Nikolai. For telling me I could feel, and for loving me endlessly for these six months. If you don’t make it, I’ll keep trying to live, for our children and our friends- to feel that hope I learned of just a few months before I met you. If you live, I promise we will get married within days of recovery in hopes you can be my husband.

— With all love, your Fiance, Konstantin.


Day Eight

My dying words.

I often forgot how life outside of the cruel harsh reality of war is. Before the Sand pest— a soft morning light pouring into my room, a gentle orange light filling my eyes. It was a peaceful moment, it was moments like those that made me value this town.

The war— a tsunami of terror, a stench of Death. Their pale faces, covered in dirt and soot and blood and vomit, covering them with hands that were calloused and dry, blisters of blood popping from them, small volcanoes of pain. Men on the trenches, bathing in their own vomit and shit, coughing up their measly meals of stale, mouldy bread and water mixed with urine and mud.

It’s exactly the same here— in the Sand Pest. I’m in the hospital, the heart of all evils. The stench of death is loud, everyone’s faces covered in tears, snot and blood. They’re not in the trenches but they’re in beds, doubling over to vomit as the doctors try and fail to fix us. Images of sharp, moulding, decomposing faces with the expressionless faces of dead children haunt my memories, a spector I can’t quite ever forget. Faces clear as day, a framed photograph in the museum of my memories, centre stage next to the events of the plague.

I’m old. I don’t have long left.

I wish it was all over.



Day Nine

Today, I documented someone’s prayer. It wasn’t a letter, no- it was a beg to god for redemption because she could not bear being sent to hell, and she wanted a witness that she actually did it. That she poured her sins to god, and admitted her wrongs. Her name was one Anna Angel- and today I questioned if people are even worth saving anymore.


Forgive me father— for I have sinned.

Forgive me father, for the Earth swallowed up the bodies of those whose blood I have shed. This face is not mine, this voice is neither. This body is not mine, and this life is no one’s. I do not deserve to live, but ending it early would be wasteful. I have come to confess my sins- to a God I do not know exists, just because- I pray to you, because if Redemption and Mercy is true, then this is it. I have murdered, kidnapped and stolen. I have pride and lust and I have all the sin, for Satan is human and he flows in my veins like syrup. I will start at the beginning. I have a woman, the Courier in the Bird Mask documenting this prayer

The Caravan is my biggest mistake. The Caravan, a travelling circus I worked for. Voices of my past sing and scream, the children I have hurt and stolen haunt me in their dreams. Each and every one, I know the name of. Voronika, the first girl I was told to take. She was beautiful, and so was Anya. The second girl I stole away from loving parents. Ekaterina, Tatiana, then the first boy I stole. Viktor, the twin of Vera, whose life fell into my hands. I was only a teenage girl, Father. Please forgive me, for my pride blinded my good intent. I wanted my Caretaker, dear Igor to love me, to validate me, to praise me. He was my everything and I was nothing to him. He’d tell me what to do, and I’d follow it blindly, for he’d react with a smile and extra meals for that day. If I didn’t, he would tear me apart and prod at all my bursting seams until the Sand would fall out of this puppet of a body. 

They kidnapped children, forced them to perform and I was implicit in their crimes.

If that’s where my crimes ended, I would be more innocent than now. I fled here, where you see me today. Found myself in front of the Willow’s household, and then lust overtook me. Their daughter, Willow, was beautiful beyond comprehension. She was charming, funny, she could strike up conversation with any and I fell for her charms. I loved her. I wanted to be her. As the Willows’ household rotted away, me as the disgusting tumour within it… I killed her.I opened her body, savouring every bit as the seams unravelled and the sand fell from her limbs. I opened myself, placed my spindle, my buttons, my needles, and put them where hers used to reside. I sewed myself back together, I am now her. The lust I felt was gone because now her body is contaminated with the soul of I. She is no longer Pure, she is Anna Angel.

And yet, I do not hold a charm to what she was. I often wonder if she felt the same, if she loved me and lusted sinfully for me too. Father, you must understand- this was a sin and I needed to stop lusting, for if her family found out, I may have been burned alive. Instead the Lust that was set aflame was turned into Guilt. I find myself missing her so often, clutching her bed sheets that smell like her, touching my own hand that I knew were hers.

I am older now, Father. I have her beautiful, deep blue eyes, her blonde hair, her fair and pale skin, and her perfect body. I am an empty soul puppeting her perfect marionette body. I dance in her skin, I crawl underneath it and suck the lifeblood from her soul. I am cruel, I am a killer. The harbinger of death- I am not an Angel. I am the devil incarnate.”

And I am a sinner. Let me repent, let me fall into bed with Earth and let her take me without worry I am sinning. I am weak, I am vulnerable, and I am willing! Take me, oh take me! This is… this is torture. Having me in her skin, staring back at her in the mirror. I cannot contaminate this body more than I have, I cannot ruin her and make her like me! I’m sorry! 

Anna may beg for mercy, but I can’t help but wonder if god truly cares. I refuse to believe in a god that obviously does not care for his people. 

Day Ten

I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do this anymore- I can’t do this- I can’t keep watching people die, helplessly begging me to help. I’m useless, as I transcribe their final words. I can’t get attached to people anymore, everyone I talk to will die. It’s sad, I’m the world’s most pathetic grim reaper. Messenger of death, but not in a lyrical epic sort of way,  but in a pathetic, falling apart, depressed way. Sometimes, I wonder why I chose to be an author. It was my literacy that doomed me to writing these letters. If I never turned to writing- I can’t imagine how much they feel, how terrible the thoughts of existing haunt them every single day. How much pain they’re in, both physically and mentally. Losing your family, losing your loved one- HOW DO THEY WANT ME TO EXPRESS THESE FEELINGS THAT REAL LIFE PEOPLE HAVE GONE THROUGH?!

I can only write so much, and none of it will ever ever hold a candle to the emotion that people go through every day of this damned plague. My words will never be enough for them, will it?! I can’t do this, take me back to the ground, let me rest in death. Why do I get to live?! Why do I get to keep going, while people a thousand times more deserving get to be alive? When the sick see me, they know. I’m still in the birdcage, but I am the canary in the coal mine.

There’s something burning in me, something that wants to put these abstract feelings- like the stars not looking quite right and the world being an uncanny painting of what used to be… and I can never do it accurately no matter how many metaphors I make. 

Closer and closer the plague kills everyone around me but me.

Darkness crawls over my skin. When I made my bed, that of being an author, did I invite the demons in it. The moon shone bright tonight as there were no streetlights to dampen the light…

I’m the suicidal canary in the coalmine.


My father, I must sorrowfully admit… the fact I have to face you’re my father, no matter what I want to believe or think. No matter how I wish you weren’t my father, you are. I hate that. I hate that you are connected to me inexplicably through blood and blood alone.  No matter how much I wish that you would take your final breath and never speak to me again, I also can’t bear you dying without me saying goodbye. You- you ruined me, You destroyed me and I need you to know, call it petty, call it revenge but I feel so much towards our history together. For me, it’s more than I can seem to handle. It’s the pain in my mind late at night, me laying in bed, regretting my birth because you destroyed and ruined my will to live.

I remember those deep nights. I remember you drunk on twyrine and laughing with whatever woman you picked up on the street while you hurt me and mama senseless. I thought about this so much.. all my memories and I feel like I waited too long. Before I knew it was the end for you, I thought I had time to tell you what I’ve always felt. And here you were on your deathbed and I can’t even hear you- I need to tell you through this faceless beaked monster in front of me.

Here’s the truth— you lied. You said you would change and you’d love me— yet every time you said it, you didn’t. I hate you. I always will and yet I still want your validation. I still crave you telling me you’re proud of me, I want you to say that I’m enough. But I know it doesn’t matter because no matter what you say, it will mean nothing to me in the long run.

When you’re dying, you’ll be taking a part of my heart with you to the underworld, a part of me will die. I think it’s the part that’s scared of living, it’s the part that’s scared of you. Now that you’re going to be gone, I think I can start to live again. You’re taking a piece of my heart and I know you don’t care.

And yet I’ll still miss you. I’ll miss the part of me that’s scared to live because oh god the feeling is comforting, being miserable is so comfortable and I hate it. And I want things to change but the idea of changing sounds scary. I don’t want to change, I want this illusion of safety, this normality. I hate you so much, and yet I can’t bear to see you go.

I’m so happy you’re dying.



Day Eleven

I walk through the town, and I see a stranger. Lit in red, bodies line the theatre as they lay, surgeons and doctors doing their work by candlelight. Executors and their bird masks stand against the walls, each one more cryptic than the last. The hospital is red, covered in blood and silent. I can’t hear anything other than the wails of those who we must operate on without anaesthetic. I sit there for hours, the smell of blood strong, and the taste permanent in my mouth. As I write this, I listen to their begs, it’s too loud and too silent all at once.

Leaving the theatre- it’s no better. The sounds of rain fill your ears, almost calming if it weren’t for the distant screams. As you take steps, the muddy swampland underneath your feet would make horrible noises. The streetlights flicker as you traverse through a camp of soldiers, passing by dead bodies covered in fabric. Nameless, faceless casualties to a war that they chose to not fight in. Dogs, without owners, bark as glass breaks from a street fight between a plagued and a healthy. Birds fly overhead, barely visible against the dark nighttime sky. 

A vignette of experiences in front of you- 

A woman, burning as the fire-men would burn the sick. Their groans and screams and cries all too human, the sound of flames just quiet enough to prop up the sounds of terror and pain. The fire doesn’t smell welcoming like one might find a campfire. No, it smells like burning, rotting flesh, the smoke thick in your mouth, 

People stand against a wall, soldiers in gas masks pointing guns at a couple who assumedly killed a man, his dead body lying on the floor, testament to the fallen. Blood paints the brick behind the assailants, their hands covered in warm red, and tears rolled down their cheeks, mixing with the pungent blood. They almost made it out- if only… and you look away as you hear gunshots. 

You continue down the wet street, stone brick under your feet as you hear glass shatter- a parade of fire leaving their confines once called windows. Black swarms of plague litter this street, this was the worst part of the town yet. It’s covered in small fires, spreading from building to building as the wails and screams seem louder here than before. You hear banging, begs to be let out of their homes as a large red X- an indicator that the plagued must be kept inside- marks their door. There are walls of sandbags, a barrier to keep the sick in. 

It’s so dark, it’s so cold, the September twyre suffocating as you continue past this infected district. The lights, the framing, the entire town seems to be guiding you past all the dead, and to the brightness in the sky. What was once a beacon for hope to a town so caked in isolation and solitude.

The Polyhedron.

Defying all laws of gravity, it sits there, laughing, watching as the ants, the worms, the bugs, squirm and die from a plague of its bringing. It laughs at you, watching as you watch- a mirror reflection twisted by misery and impossibility. 

It stares at you, knowing that no matter what you try, no matter what you do, you will die just like everyone else. You will get sick, you will perish.

Looking at the town, it doesn’t feel like the Town-On-Gorkhon you knew, grew up in.

It’s not the town I grew up in. 

The town is so loud, it hurts. I can’t find a single spot of quiet, but yet in the steppe, it’s too quiet. A ghost town to the outside eyes, I want to leave, I should’ve left long ago, but the trains have stopped, and this birdcage wont let me go. I want to leave, abandon the town, I have no family here- and my only reputation before this plague was that of “author.” Now, I’m the damn “Courier in the Bird Mask”- sending only messages from the dead or to the dead. If I indulge in a bit of purple prose- I raise the dead in a way, I say the final words of those who are dead, I raise their spirits, name, thoughts from the grave and let what they want to be known, known to their families and friends. The dead surround me as they hollow out my heart. If my heart were more than hollow, I might end up one of those deaths. I can think about what I’ve been through after the plague. Right now, I have a job, and I will work at it.



How long has it been since I’ve last seen you? My heart aches, it’s killing me, this rotting body of mine hurting me endlessly as the plague shakes through me like a stranger. I can’t see the mirror anymore, but if I did I’m sure I’d see someone I can’t recognize. How long has it been since you left us?

How long has it been since you’ve ran away to the Capital and abandoned us all? Your memory hangs like a corpse above us, Ivan. Mother weeped for you, over and over and for years without a letter, she’s dead now. Dead, hanging like your memory but physically. I saw her, I was the one who took her down. Grace, the gravekeeper, took care of her. We tried to send you a letter and you never ever came back.

The dark body of your memory hangs over us. I wish it were real and I almost wish you were dead so she could be alive and you don’t— [scribbled out] you don’t deserve to have us as your family. You abandoned and left us for what? For your own gain?! I don’t care about academia, I just care about you. I wish you were dead because God, that would be better than knowing you’re alive and happy and in school while we are dying here.

The Sand Pest is going to kill me and I never got to tell you how much I hate you but I just want you back. Goddammit, Ivan. I hope you’re happy with your education and new life because we weren’t enough.



Day Twelve

It’s over now. 

The pride and joy of the town fell, the Polyhedron, a testament to humanity overcoming Earth caused this plague. 

The doctors refuse to give more detail, but I took a vaccine and those infected drank a panacea. It’s over now. We’re free.

Yet, all they did was put the key closer to me as I sit in my birdcage.

The scrawling, the sobbing, the crying, the wails of those who didn’t live through it- they won’t let me sleep. I still hear the thumping of the Earth underneath my feet, telling me that Mother Boddho will continue to live despite all the pain she’s been through.

It’s over now- I am free, but the pretty little lies that the ruling families tell us, that we can recover, is such a lie. I still hear mothers begging me to see their child, on their knees, wanting to wake up from this twelve day nightmare that we call the Sand Pest. I still remember the way mothers and fathers would cry over their children as I inscribed a 5 year old’s final words. Do you know what that’s like? To watch such innocent souls die, fall, perish- and I’d have to stay brave, stay strong to help those five year olds die easier, knowing their final words to their families would be delivered. I watched children die, one of whom died in my very arms, and yet the world expects me to move on-

This. This was a tragedy, this was a testament to how weak the town was, and all it took was a plague to show all the cracks covered in putty. Words to describe what happened don’t exist- to try and put into the English language the pain that this town went through would be insulting. The ghosts that haunt this town will linger forever, I know it. 

It’s over now- and I get to think about it. Think about the fact I told their stories- reworded their incoherent thoughts into something sensible, but oh god, did I portray their messages right? What if the deaths that I failed to communicate causes their family grief, lead to suicide?! Did their voice shine through what was my voice, or was it just mine speaking, telling their families false stories and empty lies? 

I’m so tired. I’m tired of being that glue that kept families from breaking apart, and I want to sleep. I don’t want to think about what I’ve done, what the plague did to people- what it did to me. I stopped crying by day six. Am I a monster, desensitised to death in the cruellest, rawest form.

Am I just the angel of ellipses of quiet, of the voices of the dead? 

The world is enough now- it has to be. This is all I have, the mess of atoms put together to create this isolated town that I used to call home, but I’m not sure it ever was truly my home. I wish it were one of those stories that end in learning to love what you hate- but I don’t think I can truly love the Town-On-Gorkhon like I did before. I’ve learned to love things outside the town. I’m going to the Capital City, go to college, live my life because I think I deserve it… but on the other hand, why did I get to live? I’ll speak to a therapist too, then. 

I spoke to the healers today, the three doctors. They saw me in the hospital more often than not, they asked my name and formally introduced themselves… well. Burakh introduced the three. Clara looked startled, afraid, wringing their hands in anxiousness. Physically, I could tell, she was unwell. Like a part of her was taken away, and if the rumours were right, it was most likely her magic that was taken away. Dankovsky, on the other hand, seemed to be mentally unwell. He was repeating himself, eyes darting around the room, standing close to Burakh the whole time, arm to arm. He looked scared, paranoid- and I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly he went through those plague infested days. Burakh, on the surface, seemed fine, but despite his cold, stoic, yet warm and welcoming demeanour, he seemed to be just barely holding himself together. I don’t think a single person will go through this unscathed, I’m not sure recovery is even possible anymore. Perhaps the town should assimilate with the Capital City, as we lost the Polyhedron, our only identity. The only thing we were good for. Give the land back to the Kin and let the few thousand of us that remain move away. 

I don’t know how to word my own personal feelings on this. Do I laugh, do I smile that it’s over, do I cry over the dead? Do I do all of the above? Damn, I feel so many things. I feel like I don’t deserve to feel relief, I didn’t do anything important or useful in the long run, and yet was treated as essential as the doctors. What did I do? Write some letters? Talk to some half dead people? Feel sorry for myself because this is my job, tune into the dying, hone their words into a focused piece of more fiction than reality? 

They took me out of my coal mine.

But I’m still in the birdcage.


Day Thirteen and beyond- Epilogue

Mama, Papa.

Emotions. I have never felt real emotion like I did when I lost you two. Emotion. A mental reaction like anger or fear towards a strong reaction. Emotion. To feel deeply. Emotion, what makes us human. There’s no way to truly describe the things we express— no way to use these words to express how much I miss you. It’s like everyday a hole is carved and filled up with useless items only for it to be carved again but this time deeper. In my thoughts, I talk to you two.

I dance with a memory that I know never existed, one where I’m 15 and you’re alive and well, dark hair and dark eyes, smiles bigger than the sun and eyes brighter than the moon. Over these last few days I’ve felt a lot of emotion, empathy. Konstantin and his lover, learning Yekaterina died from her own hands or… seeing Young Isidor just another dead body in the piles. So many bodies, hundreds, thousands of them piled in front of a theatre only to be burnt with words never sent. Words never told, dying alone in a deathbed— who were they? Was that woman a mother of six, with six letters to send that never went? Or is the man a lover of another? The child is just three years old, mercy killed by their parents? Are they like you, Mama and Papa? Leaving behind someone in the wake of tragedy. I write their feelings- emotions I can never even think of expressing properly because goddammit, I’m human, I can’t do it. But I couldn’t let their final words go unsaid like mine did. 

My words went unsaid, my words to you, my feelings, my grievances, my agony went unsaid, unsent and unpublished for five years as I watched your bodies burn, faces burned into my heart— and I still can’t tell you how I feel. I think words aren’t strong enough to tell you how much that hole in my heart aches, how much I wish I could feel your embrace. All those letters— I wrote them. I put their incoherent sobs and dying breaths into words and gave them to their families. I sat next to them in an Executor costume and read aloud all the things their family said. I comforted the families when I told them that their friend, father, lover, died and I was the last one to hear their voice. I felt so helpless, there was nothing I could do but tend to the almost dead.

So– I think I know how to tell you this. I [the rest is scribbled out.] love you. I don’t know what Love means anymore, I’ve seen love shattered and betrayed so much over those 12 days, but I love you and that’s all I know. It’s this feeling, this deep pit inside me that feels intense. Like a fire, but on days where it doesn’t do anything but flicker, it feels like a warm hug. That’s what I think love is, in its most abstract form. And I miss you— I miss my parents who I haven’t missed in 5 years. That’s a lie, I did miss you, I just didn’t let myself miss you because admitting that I’ve lost something is harder than pretending I never had it.

Given, I was 10, but I was also alone. I had no one but you, so I became just another orphan on the streets, alone and wordless without a true understanding of what it meant to love— how am I supposed to love and feel if my love was taken away by a disgusting plague before I could learn?! I know now, I know how to express this. And I’m going to do it— I know I can. I just need to— [the rest is scribbled.]

I want you to know that every second I was with you two was more than I could ever ask for, I don’t remember you two much besides how much Papa loved music and art, Mama loved science and logic: perfect halves, the right and left.

If God is real, I hope you and your Polyhedron dreams are above the clouds. If there’s no afterlife, I hope you’re in peace now, the plague can’t hurt you in death anymore.

I love you. I know what that means now.



And that’s the end of the diary. This memoir- short and sweet, retells the plague through my eyes… and yet nothing will compare to living through it. This feels like a sad parody of reality. How do you do it? How do you cope with what legacy you’ll leave behind, feeling like every piece of “art” you make won’t ever hold a candle to the mysticism that is living in the real world? How do you regain that love of creation again when you feel like everything you make is just a sad rip-off of reality? How do you live knowing everything you make, everything you are, everything you express will never be the truth, be what you wanted to express. 

Sitting here, in front of my typewriter, I struggle to come up with even a rough draft- of both this epilogue and the prologue. I ask myself- how do I write something like this?! How do I explain what the town is and how do I explain recovery when my story isn’t inspirational? I don’t become a famous writer, I don’t go on radio shows and talk about how difficult it was to live, and how brave I was for going through it. No, this memoir will end up in a thrift store in the back alley, next to copies of shitty romance novels and cookbooks. My life, all the heart, emotion, pain, agony- all of it will be read by a dozen people maximum. How do I pour my heart out, sing and tell the stories I’ve helped write? How do I do this- how do I portray reality accurately, the intricate emotions that I can’t express through words but only abstract ideas. I know that many might not even believe me. Part of the population doesn’t even think that the Sand Pest happened, and I can’t blame them. Sentient plague sounds like a made up story, like something children write, but yet- it happened. To me, and the only reality that I know is mine. 


Grin and bear it. I do- I write this, I relive those days in painful detail because I am Angelika Zakharova- I have to protect, to listen, to write, to be the keeper of words they can’t quite write down themselves. 



Through the Sand Pest, there were a litany of letters which I did not document in my journal. You may find them here. 

I am sorry. I’m so fucking sorry, B- I never… I never meant to hurt you like I did. Know that- know that I wasn’t made to love, I was never made to hold people close and let them into my heart. I’m a stupid stuttering asshole- I was never meant to have feelings. It complicates things, it makes me weak and stupid and it makes the things you say hurt. I try not to hurt, but drugs can only do so much to compare to you. I was never meant to treat you like this, treat you like my world. That’s why I could never truly love you like I wanted to. I’m a coward. I’m scared, I’m lost, I’m afraid- and I love you. My anger-… it… I’m speaking in circles here. I don’t know how to express this but do know that no matter how much I say otherwise, I truly loved you. But I’m an angry, useless, ugly asshole who never deserved someone like you. 


I’m not dying. You’re not dying, neither of us are sick (yet), and this entire experience… has completely changed how I see you. I love you, and I’m so sorry I never told you. 


You know where I am, and if we both survive, please let me talk to you again. Please let me try and convince you… that I am worth loving.


What is wrong with you?! You break things off because you claim to love me- and you come back to me once we are in a life or death situation?! Do you understand how painful things were after you left? I was nothing without you… I thought I was nothing without you, and now that I’m finally put back together, you want to try again!? You… you were distant. You claimed to love me and yet you pushed me away and- I love you still. It’s easier to pretend I hate you, but it’s so blatantly obvious I still want to love you, want to hold you close at night like we used to, want to wake up in the morning with you by my side.


Maybe in another life… maybe in another time we could’ve worked out.


Did you ever get the therapy I recommended? If you even want a sliver of a chance with me again, you need to see someone. Please.


B, I have. I have been seeing him.

But maybe you’re right.

Maybe in a little longer, when things are better.

I love you, I really do. Maybe in another lifetime we didn’t hurt each other so badly. Maybe in this lifetime, things can get better. 



I will visit you after all this is over.

Maybe in this lifetime.