"From Ashes, Arise"
When life's wounds have become too great to heal on their own, God is a brutally efficient surgeon: the 1666 conflagration that destroyed London ended both the great plague and my precipitous plunge into debt. Unfortunately, cauterizing a wound is only the beginning.
"We're making good progress clearing the wreckage."
I held out my arm for Widow Connyingham to balance against as she stepped over a pile of loose debris. Around us, my hired laborers still worked to remove the remnants of what had once been a sturdy townhouse.
"The surveyor comes tomorrow."
"And the bricks?" Widow Connyingham asked anxiously.
Her son, Joseph, darted past us to the ladder that led down to the former cellar.
"Careful, lad!" I called after him.
Unsurprisingly, he didn't listen. My son never had either, though growing up on construction sites had made Henry more familiar with the dangers of such places than any merchant's son could be.
"Joseph, pray, do not disturb their work!" Widow Connyingham added her own useless exhortations to mine. As if their appearance during the middle of our day had not already disturbed everyone on the site.
"The bricks are expected Thursday," I said, attention still on Joseph. The boy grabbed a warped piece of metal and began to poke at the disturbed earth. The laborers had to maneuver around him, but at least the activity itself was safe. Henry had been similarly fond of digging. "I will inspect them at the wharf to confirm their quality."
"If they are flawed-"
"I have worked with this brick maker before," I reassured her, struggling to rein in my impatience. Yes, bricks were in short supply, but it was hardly the crisis she made it out to be. It was obvious that she was one of the privileged elite who could afford to flee the city during the plague and had never known the meaning of true hardship.
I tried not to resent her for it, especially when her coin was paying off the last of my debts.
"Mother, look!" Joseph snatched a giant rock up from the dirt and ran to the edge of the cellar pit, holding his prize up for inspection.
I knelt at the edge of the pit and he eagerly turned towards me. It was actually a chunk of flint, shaped like a sharp-edged teardrop. "That's a faerie thunderbolt."
Joseph's eyes went wide, as Henry's had once done. "Did we make the faeries angry? Did they send lightning to burn our house?"
"Oh, for God's sake! Joseph, get back up here. We're leaving." Widow Connyingham rounded on me. "I'll thank you not to put nonsense in his head."
"I know of no other name for it," I barely kept from snapping. Money or not, she had no right to criticize when she'd brought a child to run amok underfoot at my work site.
"He didn't ask you.” Widow Connyingham stalked back to where her servants waited with the carriage, nearly turning her ankle twice as she misplaced her feet.
A tug at my sleeve alerted me to Joseph's presence at my side. He hugged his thunderbolt to his chest. "Did they?"
"The fire started in Billingsgate Ward, not here."
"So it's not my fault?"
If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine it was Henry begging for the same reassurance as his mother coughed her last and the buboes spread over his chest. My throat tightened, my vision darkening, as grief threatened to suffocate me all over again. I wanted to drown myself in gin and never emerge again.
"Master Overton?" Joseph sounded more anxious than his mother now. My non-response was as good as confirmation in his mind.
He didn't deserve that.
"No lad," I forced myself to choke out the words. To my astonishment, the pain receded a little - enough for me to continue.
"It's not your fault."
"Thank you." Joseph said, solemnly, then scurried after his mother.
I waited several seconds for the pain to intensify again, to crush me to the earth beneath my feet. To reveal my wounds to the world.
"Master Overton," a laborer called from the cellar. "About this crossbeam-"
I drew in a deep, shuddering breath. By the mercy of God, I lived. With time, I might even heal. My voice was tight, but steady, as I called out to my men, "I'm coming."
The house we rebuilt from the ashes would never be the same as what was lost. But that didn't mean we could refuse to try.
Kat Otis lives a peripatetic life with a pair of cats who enjoy riding in the car as long as there's no country music involved. Her fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, and OSC's Intergalactic Medicine Show. She can be found online at katotis.com or on Twitter as @kat_otis.