It was clear that at any moment the attack was to begin.
Out there in the night, rushing towards us, there were hordes of them, breathless, teeth bared, feet moving rapidly and silently over the grass, coming through the empty streets, falling into formation, waiting for the signal to strike.
We peeped through the curtain, sensed the darkness thickening and shifting.
This is your country, I said to her. What should we do? I was confident that she would have an answer.
The night turned inside out, was jettisoned and yanked back in again with a colossal shrieking, the sound of the earth grinding suddenly to halt. Then there was a great, concussive roar. The bombardment had begun.
We ran out through the garden, plunged into the woods. Already they were at our heels. I knew they were in the house now, her parent’s house, passed down for four, five generations, murdering the spirits of her ancestors. Those mild, humble spirits, ripped to shreds.
We ran for a long time. I had my arms up over my face for protection as all around us the bombs fell in such quantities that at times I felt more that I was swimming or gliding than running, the earth a shifting, liquid medium the air semi-solid with soil and debris. As we ran, shreds and flecks of spirit stuff clung me, damp and pale. The whole fabric of the world, the seen and unseen, the invisible support and the surface, the timeless depth and the rich, immediate moment, all of this was what they sought to destroy.
But these are a simple people! I cried out. I myself am a simple man!
The whole world churned around us. The dead bouncing up from their graves to caper through the air, rivers soaring skyward as trees drove down underground and the rocks boiled.
Then it stopped. Now, even more fearful still, the soldiers were coming. Men. The bombs were terrifying, but still, an abstraction of a kind. What I feared more than anything was man. The face of a man who had no pity for me, whose highest pleasure was to destroy what I loved.
They were fast, inhumanly so, coming through the forest it had taken us hours to cross in a matter of minutes, the sound of their panting rising, the air growing tighter and tighter.
We were in a clearing, the moon full and bright above us. Here, in here, she said pointing to the well at its centre. We have always hidden here.
We climbed down, lowering ourselves on the rope, the sky growing more distant, the darkness pressing in around us. My feet touched something cold and viscous, I had lost my shoes somewhere, and I recoiled. Water, just water, but there was a smell of something, salty and ancient.
It’s ok, it’s ok she said, it’s just blood. I remembered now that one of their rites was to fill a dry well with menstrual blood, an old superstition. They would use it to irrigate the land, believing it made the ground more fertile.
I lowered myself into it. It was thick and resistant. My feet touched a layer of sediment at the bottom of the well and sank slightly, the blood came up around my crotch, warm and grasping and I found I had an erection.
This was not surprising. I had read that during wartime many children were conceived, that in the face of death the urge to reproduce became an imperative. The light from the moon angled in against one wall of the well, and so we pressed against the shadowed side, close to each other. I could feel that she too was aroused, shivering slightly, just as I discovered now my own teeth were chattering almost uncontrollably.
I am traumatised. I said to myself. This is understandable.
She wrapped her legs around me. She was naked from the waist down. My feet sunk a little deeper, up to my ankles now. Something brushed against my calf. The blood was full of bodies I hadn’t noticed at first, most of them in advanced states of decay, more and more rising up through the slowly loosening mud I was standing in. Fingers plucked at me. Old, soft teeth took a nip at my thighs.
Make love to me she said.
I pushed up into her, put my head back and saw a soldier silhouetted against the mouth of the well, faceless but somehow intensely searching, completely motionless.
She pressed her face close to mine. I took the lobe of her right ear between my teeth and sucked it.
Up to my chest now in the blood with the dead clawing at me and the soldier, in all his endless patience, looking down.
Oh yes, yes I said. Yes, I’ll make love to you.