House of War - Extract

A sudden, hard click.  The crash of a door being forced open.  A loud bang bursting like a firecracker, then another, and another.  Claire finds herself falling, tumbling onto the floor, each movement she makes punctuated by the gunfire erupting around her.  It is a familiar feeling, this eerie sense of suddenly, violently, being disconnected from the world; and the instincts she has developed over the years come flooding back.  It could be a dream, or, more accurately, a nightmare, happening around her, but she knows it’s not.  She’s been here before – too many times.  Someone is trying to kill someone else and she is caught in the middle of it.

Around her, the bar explodes into pandemonium.  The young blonde prostitute sitting near her screams, holding her hands to her face; the businessmen around her are diving off the armchairs and scrabbling for cover on the carpet.  Claire finds herself pulling the camera out of her backpack, cursing, fuck it, fuck it, fuck it as the lens gets caught on the zip.  As she turns on the palmcorder with trembling fingers and flips open the viewfinder she forgets what’s happening around her and disappears into the tiny slightly blurred world of the viewfinder.

Inside its rectangular limits, two men with Makarov pistols are moving in the far corner of the bar near the emergency exit.  The American soldiers in jeans and T-shirts who had been sitting there are now slumped over the table in front of them.  Blood pours from the back of their heads, mingling with the ice and the spilled Coke on the glass table top.  One of the killers drags the wounded body of an American sideways across the table.  There is another bang as he pumps a shot into the man’s temple.  The force of the blast erupts into the victim’s head.

The doorman from the lobby runs into the bar.  He is wearing the absurd gold-buttoned uniform that he greets guests with downstairs, but now he is carrying an AK-47.  He starts pouring bullets into the corner of the bar where the killers are.  The rapid sound of the shots hammer through the air.  There is more screaming and the crash of glass shattering.  The wood panels spring large gaping holes.  Another of the male hotel staff rushes in with an AK.  He looses a burst of fire into the ceiling and then sweeps the gun over the bar.  The businessmen hunker down even lower.  One of them puts up his hand as if to plead for his life.

She doesn’t know why she does it, but she pans the camera over at where Sebastian had been sitting.  Inside the viewfinder, she sees him crouching amongst the others who are huddled on the floor, screaming, some of them even sobbing.  But Sebastian is silent, and his eyes are watching, flickering over the scene of chaos in the bar around them.  She sees the clarity in his eyes, and she knows, that like her, and unlike most of the rest of the people around them, he is not panicking.  She knows immediately that he has been in this kind of chaos of gunfire and blood before.  She sees through the electronic haze of the tiny viewfinder screen that he is looking, searching for something, for a way out, perhaps, or, maybe a weapon – for some way of fighting back. 

Claire pans the camera away towards the action as rapidly as she panned it over him.  The doorman with the AK-47 is turning inside the viewfinder, holding his gun in his hands.  Then he runs past her crunching through the snow of broken glass on the blood-spattered carpet, chasing the killers into the shadows.

 . . .                   
Dionysus, the ancient god of blood and ecstasy, part beast, part human, has the power to unleash the deepest primeval forces that beat in our hearts, those of cruelty and lust.  According to Greek myth, in the earliest times, Dionysus and his crazed Maenads erupted into Asia, conquering everything before them in a frenzy of madness and violence.  None could stand before them and the truth of their unleashed desire.  Alexander believed he embodied Dionysus, that in his march, he was following in the footsteps of the god himself, and that his drinking bouts were a form of worship.

Men, women, love, sex and power became an increasingly riotous, intoxicating mix in Alexander’s own march.  These were all people in their late twenties or early thirties – all at their sexual peak, let loose on the greatest orgy of conquest, looted splendour and untrammelled lust that the world had ever known.
Like the Maenads of ancient myth, they killed and raged down the Royal Road to Persepolis, the Holy City of Zoroaster, filled with its winged palaces and temples of light.

Drunk with the pleasures of victory, the Greeks sacked the city, carrying away its treasure on the backs of a vast train of mules and camels.  For months, they seethed in their masses through the wonders of the city, looting, drinking and indulging in orgies with each other and with the whores who followed in their wake, or with the Persian women they had enslaved.  There were no limits to the debauch.  Banquet followed banquet.  One wild night, the alluring Thaïs, already at 17, a famous, high-class prostitute from Athens, who, too, had found her way into Alexander’s bed, stood up and drunkenly taunted him to burn the city in revenge for the Persian destruction of Athens.

A wine-flushed Alexander rose to his feet and cried out: ‘Why do we not avenge Greece, then, and put the city to the torch?’  A wild Dionysiac frenzy began.  To the sound of singing, pipes and flutes, first Alexander and then Thaïs flung blazing torches into midst of the magnificent Hundred-Columned Hall.  The fires blazed through the night and by morning there was nothing left but ashes and blackened stone columns standing like giant gravestones.