The poisoned waters of Apa Moarta
Said to be christened Apa Moarta, or ‘Dead Water’, by a passing Romanian caravan in their native tongue, and tucked away in a far-flung, scarcely populated, staunchly isolationist region of untouched Russian countryside...beyond the grotesque, fantastical stories shared by the more ignorant and morbidly curious of the younger generations, there’s not much to legitimise the existence of Apa Moarta. A few suspect disappearances, but not enough more than the national norm to arouse suspicion.
The most prominent and potentially concerning relevant disappearance was that of Nathan Durand in 1860, a mildly relevant french physician educated in England, and a peer and friend of John Snow, known for his investigations into the cholera-riddled suburbs of london.
Despite Dr Snow’s hand in ending the london pandemic, The theory of cholera spreading via diseased vapours he’d discredited was still widely accepted over his own. Nathan Durand shared his friend’s opinion that the disease was in fact water-borne, and left for an obscure region of Russia to investigate it’s own cholera pandemic, one so aggressive, the affected population of the region was considered already lost by an apathetic government, if it was ever considered at all.
The local authorities were ill-equipped and inexperienced in coping with the disease, which was usually confined to the overcrowded, poorer districts of large cities. Men of any legitimate medical training were few and far between, and no institution dared to provide aid. While the locals blamed Apa Moarta, a regional bogeyman, Durand instead suspected that the old, crude water sources had been contaminated by the people’s sewage, and that the lake’s reportedly fouled water, should it exist at all, was not the cause, but rather a product, fed sewage by an old, forgotten ruptured cesspit perhaps.
Durand treated the sick while he directed the able men in the digging of fresh wells and burying of the old tainted ones. The plague's spread soon stalled, halting entirely to the last few dozens kept in isolation at Durand's directions. Had the Doctor the emotional disconnect of his grim-faced local volunteers, he'd have followed their advice, leaving the rest in their care to write and publish his case study
Instead, he pens a far more morbid story, one never to reach the public; regretably extensive records of each of his patients and their many ailings and treatments along with how ineffective each was, and eventually of a dutiful, truly compassionate doctor, lamenting his own failures in saving those entrusted in his care, forced to watch the pale, bloated corpses of women and children, unceremoniously dumped into their shared grave. Even the raising of the county’s borders, praise heaped upon him by grateful natives, and affirmation in his colleague’s theory by his peers did little to slow his descent into a self-loathing, irritable shut-in.
It was a few days after recieving word of Snow’s death following a stroke, when he moved the few surviving infected into an isolated clinic, a former estate of one of the deceased sick, but his efforts only seemed more futile as time passed. Durand began doubting his original diagnosis as the symptom’s piled on. He began to theorize the psuedo-cholera was merely the preliminary symptoms of an undocumented disease; and as horrific and deadly as they were, claiming the greater number of the inflicted, Durand feared it was a mercy denied to the survivors.
Dehydration, Plump ulcers, inflamed eyes and tongues, bleeding orifices, pus-swollen sores, Delirium and vivid hallucinations were the most notable of the recorded symptoms, although at this point in his diaries, Durand’s validity as a reliable source is starting to become questionable at best...he often make mentions of his patients self-mutilating, breaking the strongest of restraints despite their very fragile condition, during outbursts of extreme, savage violence, and frothing at the mouth, not dissimilar to those infected with rabies, and a bizarre, regular excretion of bile, saltwater, and various trace liquids of implacable origin and nature.
By the beginning of the new year of 1860, each entry rarely consisted of more than a brief, morbid account of the infected’s acts of bloody animal savagery upon one another, and Durand’s own struggle to survive amongst them, quelling them the best he could with generous applications of morphine, along with a little for himself. Soon enough, sombre obituaries began to fill the pages alongside, should Durand’s account be believed, reports of the infected eschewing the rations cautiously provided by the good doctor, prefering the stinking, rotting flesh of their own recently dead.
In Durand’s final entries, he dryly summarises his bleak situation: his patients have reverted to snarling, hideous and pox riddled beasts, cruel mockeries of the men, women and children they once were. Even in their most subdued states, they showed no signs of intelligence or humanity, only restrained aggression and predatorial intention. The doctor daren’t tend to their festering wounds anymore...even if they allowed him close long enough to do so, they seemed to collect them faster than he could hope to heal them. It was a twisted, monstrous equilibrium that came at the expense of the doctor’s sensibilites, as he spent most of his time cowering in his study room with the door barricaded by furniture, but even this god-forsaken state was rapidly becoming unsustainable, with his morphine supplies quickly diminishing.
He’d long given up identifying the affliction as a disease; while it clearly ravaged the infected’s body and irreparably devolved their minds, it also seemed to grant them an impossible vitality, despite having injuries, both self-inflicted and otherwise, that should have enfeebled, crippled, even killed them. His most extreme example was the young girl who’d bitten off her own tongue, had an eye missing, and a massive gash along her gas-swollen belly, that left her festering, rubbery intenstines dragging along the floors behind her as she scurried madly on all fours, with frightening speed.
When Durand first came to the village, he’d been unnerved by the quiet, sombre apathy towards the afflicted, outside of their immediate family. As he relocated his patients to a distant clinic, he heard no objections, and their responses in the regular correspondence was modest and without scrutiny, even as the death toll rose. His only visitor was a curt, sullen old beggar, paid well to pass back and forth letters and supplies. Never once did he pry, despite the shattered, boarded windows and the rearrangement to have the supplies fed through a peephole crudely carved out of the study’s wall, nor did he react to the letter with the termination of his services and his final pay.
Only now did he understand the wisdom of their resignation towards their loved one’s conditions. The people of the village, god help them, were familiar with the malicious nature of the affliction, more so than any outsider could be, regardless of qualifications. They’d long since buried their family and friends in their hearts.
He doesn't bother justifying the euthanising of his last few patients, only stating the method: The last of his morphine was expended in rendering each unconscious, before he slit each throat open with his sharpest scalpel. He describes the blood as pale and thin, as if it was heavily diluted, and reeking of a stench he could only compare to bodily gases built up in the guts of an unpreserved, weeks old corpse.
He then explains his immediate plans, before arranging to have his diaries shipped to the university of London, his and Dr Snow’s place of education, much to the later chagrin of the Russians. He intends to meet with the local informal authorities he’d collaborated with before his self-imposed exile, and arrange to have the clinic burned to ground, offering what little allowance he could spare for the kerosene, then insisting he intends to leave for his home in Toulouse immediately.
In actuality, He would collect provisions in secret, then leave for a modest woodlands a good deal away, one sat slightly off centre of the region; the forest that he believed housed Apa Moarta.
The people of the village he’d been living in for the past year refused to speak of Apa Moarta at any great length, only in occasional passing and in russian, but he’d been able to theorise it’s location with a bundle of maps, one of the Province’s roads and communities, and another of it's generous forestry.
The Province itself had a modest population, made a little more so by the plague, and was very rural and undeveloped in nature, the main export being lumber. He had initially met with the other affected communities to oversee the founding of fresh water sources and the destruction of outdated sewage systems, and had learned that their own numbers in both cases and deaths were significantly lower than his own village’s. with some difficulty, he’d cross-referenced each local lumber mill with it’s source’s of lumber, and found this one untouched. it was also in very close proximity to his former village, the one most badly afflicted.
He’d left a map marked with his intended destination in the diary’s pages, but it’s never been confirmed if he ever reached it, nor if it is in fact where Apa Moarta resides. What is known is the plague, whatever it may have been, was quickly subdued thanks to Durand’s efforts, and the clinic was in fact destroyed, the bodies within likely incinerated or buried in an unmarked mass grave, one of many in the province.
The diary was delivered to the university of london well before the Russian authorities were aware of it’s existence, or it’s contents. it’s authenticity and the sanity of it’s writer were hotly debated for the longest time; expeditions were sometimes planned, but the political instability and occasional outright hostility from the various russian governments over the years weyleighed any solid dates. By the outbreak of the first world war, the name of Dr Nathan Durand fell into obscurity, and the diaries were shelved in the university’s archives.
The province itself has seen surprisingly little development in the century and a half since Durand’s disappearance; Even Stalin’s industrial revolution left it untouched. Intentional or otherwise, Apa Moarta remains a vague, inconsequential horror story of a tiny, backwater populace, and perhaps for the best.
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