A city was under siege. It was a messy, rotten, idiotic affair. Those inside the sturdy walls, built from the compressed rubble of past cities, were safe. They had nothing but time to kill. Deep-seated water fed the fountains. Plenty of food.
Then the rats got into that food, carrying a septic stain with them, and many of the besieged died, and their bodies became accidental weapons against their ex-neighbors, lovers, citizens, strangers. But they were shoved against those walls, pressed into them, until their bodies became intentional defense, and the living got used to the bacteria and got stronger.
Then those attacking them from outside started lobbing fire in. They didn't care what remained of the city to take, if it was nothing but that strange 17-sided exterior wall made of all the other cities that were there before. They wanted to scorch it out from within. But those inside took the fire and applied it to the bodies of the dead, that infected building material, and made it dark and hard. It shone like wet coal. Blackened even the teeth.
Then there was a giant wooden horse left outside the gate. Its enormous flat white eyes straight across from the sentry patrolling the wall-top. It was sturdy, with deep hammered nails and thick trunk-spoked wheels and painted chesnut with black accents. A large red ribbon around its neck on which hung a red card. Inside it said: SORRY. No one was around to say about what, but it was assumed to be about the months of murdering and clattering at the walls that wouldn't come down.
They decided to bring the gift inside. Troy had fallen 9 months prior, and although they weren't nearby, word had gotten around. They knew very well about the Trojan horse. It seemed their besiegers, having departed from closer to Troy on their long march, had hoped their lead-time beat the spread of the news. The besieged decided to play dumb: why not bring the hollow horse inside and close the gate, so those hidden outside could not see, and then they would lance their spears into the horse, they would take their axes and hew it to chunks, they would saw it to bits and do the same to the warriors hidden stealthy inside the hollow? And then at nightfall, when the plan dictated that those inside were supposed to creep to the gate and open it for the returning army to slip in, they would indeed open the gate and wait just there, to welcome their attackers into a waiting nest of blades and arrows, and finish the whole thing once and for all?
They wheeled the creaking thing inside and shut the creaking gate.
They stood around it and set ladders against it, looked over its uneven joints and sagging belly, its long flanks and piles of brush tied together and pegged to the ass to mimic a tail. Its chiseled grimace.
They stood around it and aside it and on it, and when the cry came, they let their axes fall and shoved their spears through the wood.
Blood seeped out from the first cut. The one who had let his axe fall saw they must be pressed close inside, all those waiting to take the city, squeezed up against the walls through which the blades and heads were tearing.
They pulled back all that steel and bronze and iron, black and red and wet now, and struck again, on the ears, the shins, the throat.
And the red began to pour.
On the fifth blow, it became obvious: there was no one hiding inside. Just the flesh of the horse, its small ocean of blood.
It came hot, spattering and choking them. Lapping at the walls. The splinters bobbed soft.
They did not know how to stop and they hacked and stabbed, madly, gashing their legs in accident, breaking their ladders. They tore and dismantled, hunk after hunk, no organs inside, just a sheer dead silence of meat and its constant pour.
They left late, stained beyond recognition. The horse had been fully separated. Somehow their attack had taken on a logic of its own, neatly parceling the thing out into near cubes. The horse was now stacked in four slick, hulking piles.
And they went home and did not speak and went to sleep. And as they did, fitful sleep to the sound of the blood that rustled in their hallways, splashed lightly around the feet of their beds, the plague it carried, the plague that had been building in their lungs and nodes, began to surge.
One by one by one they awoke and they did not move. Limbs stiff as wood, a frantic heart. A tongue that thought SORRY and a brain that said nothing. They did not move and the air became still.
The four piles, sulking aimless with their plague, they did not move.