I didn’t know how I felt about the story, even long after reading it. I did know that I think about it a lot. The central piece of this literary display often comes to my mind, sometimes when I’m least expecting it, and it startles me: the blood angel. Djarf, one of the Vikings, slices open the skin on the priest’s back, along both side of his spine, then he reaches his hands into the cuts and pulls out the priest’s lungs, watching them flapping and quivering in the wind like a pair of wings.
I love extreme scenes, they are difficult to write and when we read them, we are forced to look deeply into ourselves and ask: is this what it is like to be human?
No one knows if the depictions of Vikings in the story are authentic or not because their world is so far away from ours. On the other hand, their world resembles closely this one we are living in. Everything is ravaged and burned, filled with chaos, savagery, and despair. Admittedly we don’t kill out of superstition now; we don’t yank other people’s lungs out anymore. But have we become better humans?
First published in Fence, 2002 and collected in Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Granta, 2009, and available to read online here