I open my eyes. My face is cold. A greyness has come into the dark opposite the river village, as though a long time has passed. I smell flowers, and hear the girl’s whisper from outside the pigpen by the open gate.
“It’s not dawn yet,” she says. “I’m here. I’ve got a lot of food. Come out,” she says, “so we can eat. After we’re done, we’ll go away.”
Now I remember all we talked about doing, and it gives me butterflies in my stomach. Walking around the world with the girl. Finding food with the girl, and lying with her. Ah – more good times are coming than I can imagine. “Quickly now,” she says. “Quickly now.”
I stand up and walk across the pen to the open gate. I think it’s good that she found clothes for me ; it’s so cold, with fall changing slowly to winter. My eyes are adjusting to the dark, so now I see the girl. She’s kneeling outside the pen. In front of her are apples, bread, and many kinds of meat. I smell the food, and smell the flowers, and want to smell them forever. I want the girl to stay with me my whole life, and not to go away like my people. Like my mother. She looks deeply into my eyes. “Come out,” she says. “Come out.”
Now I walk out of the gate and out of the pen. I’m only a couple steps away from her. I smile, but she doesn’t smile back – she just looks into my eyes. Now I hold out my arm – I don’t know if it’s to get food or to take up her long bright hair to rub it.
A hand on my back.
An arm around my neck. Man-smell. Hot skin. His arm is strong around my neck; his belly is against my back. I can’t breathe. I can’t speak. Fear. Fear, and the smell of man, and of his hot penis. My feet are off the ground. The girl looks deeply into my eyes. His big arm hurts badly and keeps me from breathing (oh Mother) and now something comes, bright and quick, and makes a little cold sensation on my neck, followed by a big warmth.
I think the man has thrown warm water down my belly to make me wet, but I don’t understand how. I move this way, now that way, but oh! It’s no help, and more warm liquid falls on my belly and the strength slowly leaves me. His arm moves away from my throat so I can take a breath, and arms comes below my back and my ass to lift me. I’m lying now in strong arms. I look up, and eyes, all white, look down upon me, but there’s no face. Just blackness and night. Now below the eyes comes another white shape. Teeth. Hob is smiling.
Oh, he found us. He knows we’re planning to leave. I turn my head to look at the girl, so I can tell her to run, but a bad taste comes into my mouth so I can’t say anything – I can only spit. The girl ;ooks at me , but she doesn’t look frightened, nor does she try to run. She doesn’t move, and her face is expressionless. Now Hob walks with me in his arms. All my strength goes from me, like I’m sick. I can’t get away. The girl stands up to quietly follow Hob and I. I smell flowers. I smell man. I smell blood.
I cry hot tears and try to say I’ll do anything for Hob if he doesn’t hurt me. I’ll go away. I won’t see the girl. I try to say all of this, but my mouth is full and I can’t say anything. Hob takes me around the pigpen, in front of the white teepee, where there is light as from a little fire, and now I see his black face and his wooden horns, and see that there’s blood on him. And on me. Oh no.
Now he lays me down, like a baby, on a prickly thing in front of the aurochs hut. I feel a lot of pokes on my back and legs, so I understand he’s putting me on the mound of branches that I saw him make. Now he takes his hands off me. I lie on the mound of branches with nothing to hold me, and I try to get , but I can’t move. There’s no strength. I don’t have any strength. I can’t move anything, just my hand to rub my neck.
There’s a hole in my neck, where liquid’s coming out, where blood’s coming out, which isn’t stopping. Hob. Hob put a hand-axe to my neck without me realizing. Oh! All of my blood is coming out onto my belly, my neck, and the branch mound beneath me. I smell no flowers. I smell nothing but blood.
Hob walks away from the mound of branches and from me, to the little fire in front of the hut, where he stoops. His shadow rises high and black on the whiteness of the aurochs skin, and he picks up a burning stick from the fire. Now Hob turns to come back towards me, holding the burning stick in his hand that makes drops of sweat gleam on his belly, on his arms, and on the edge of his black cheek.
I look to the girl, and don’t understand why she isn’t helping me. She stands away from where I lay on the mound of branches, and now takes the aurochs wrap from her hair, and doesn’t look at me. The skin-band falls, a bit of whiteness in the dark. The girl turns her head toward the light, and I see that she wears the band to hide a scar on her head. Above her eyes there’s a frightening tear. There’s no blood, but the skin lifts up at the edges, beneath her whole hairline.
Now my arms and legs start shaking so hard that I can’t stop them. I fart, and shit my legs. I don’t want the girl to see this. I don’t want to look at her. I turn my head slowly and look up. Hob’s come back here and is standing above me. White eyes. White teeth below an empty blackness where there is no face, with antlers rising above it.
“All good,” he says to me, and now puts his burning stick into the mound of branches. From the wood beneath me comes a noise like many bugs whispering “quick,” and “hit,” and “set,” and so forth. Now the noise of bugs becomes the noise of rats, and the rats say “scratch,” and the rats say “stick-it-black,” and so forth. I smell blood. I smell smoke. Oh, now. Oh, where is the girl?
The girl stands up and takes the shirt off her breasts. The clothing is thick, but her breasts are now really small. White there in the light of the fire, it’s like there not breasts at all. The rat-noise becomes a cat-noise now, and it’s warm beneath me and in the mound of branches. There’s a lot of smoke rising from it.
The warmth becomes hot on the backs of my legs, and the heat becomes pain – so I try to move my legs, but they can’t go anywhere that isn’t just as hot. I now smell hair burning; it’s my clothes; I try to make a noise, to cry out in pain, but my voice is thick and wet. There’s blood on my mouth. There’s blood on my chin.
I don’t want to be burned to death like this. It’s not right. It’s more pain than I can take. There’s fire on my back, fire beneath my head, and little sparks rising towards the dark sky above us all. I can’t breathe. It’s so hot that the girl takes off the rest of her clothes. She’s naked. In between her legs is…
She puts her hand to her head, where the frightening tear of skin is, below her hair, and puts her finger to the edge of the skin, where she now pulls and…
There’s smoke and blood in my mouth. Bright hair falls in the dark, with a scalp falling too. Her penis, bigger than mine, that I couldn’t smell because of the flowers. I don’t have the breath to make any sound. The gir’s changed. The girl’s changed to a boy, as the rat became stones and the pig became logs. It’s this change that’s in things. It’s this frightening change that makes the whole world wrong. Smoke rises and falls like a grey river around me, and the pain becomes as big as the sky. I can’t breathe, and my vision darkens.
In the night there are many strange things – many little visions hanging in the smoke. I see fiery-haired men that can make fire run like blood from stones. I see a place where human skin falls black from the sky. I see a path that runs from sea to sea, where lights now go back and forth, faster and more numerous than fishes. I see an object like a skull, big, and black, and all of fire. In its mouth sits a man with fire coming out of his hair, filled with pain. Now I see women held to a log, with fire all around their feet. We look at one another from our fires. There’s no pain now. Only smoke.
Behind the smoke I now see dogs with eyes as big as tree-stumps. Now I lift my hand, to hit them away from me, and my hand is on fire. The skin is rising up in blisters and hissing; it’s all black underneath. Through the smoke I see Hob. The boy sits by him, the firelight on his short-cropped dark hair. Hob is finding little circles of flat clay, and he has a stick in his hand to mark them. It’s not good to make marks.
My hair’s on fire, and it comes this way into my head, and into my belly, so that a thought comes into me with the fire. It’s not a thought of mine, but a thought of the fire’s, full of strange words that no tongue can make. Phror. Becadom, sissirishic and huwf. Hob sits closer to me, to hear. He makes a mark in the clay with his stick, and now another, across.
I open my mouth, to scream, and the voice of the fire comes through me, and rises, and rises, with the sparks, beneath the old black sky.