'He has, in his imagination (all that's left him), slashed his way through the briars, scaled the castle wall, and reached her bedside. He had expected to be aroused by the mere sight of her, this legendary beauty both doelike and feral, and indeed, stripped naked by the briars, his flesh stinging still from the pricking of the thorns which he seems to be wound in now like a martyr's shroud, he is aroused, but not by the grave creature who lies there before him, pale and motionless, wearing her ghostly beauty like an ancient ineradicable sorrow. His sense of vocation propels him forward and, pushed on by love and honor to complete this fabled adventure, he leans forward to kiss those soft coral lips, slightly parted, which have waited for him all these hundred years, that he might unbind her from her spell and so fulfil his own emblematic destiny. But he hesitates. What holds him back? Not this hollow rattle of bones all about. Something more like compassion perhaps. What is happily ever after, after all, but a fall into the ordinary, into human weakness, gathering despair, a fall into death? His fate to be sure, whether he makes his name or not (what does it matter?), but it need not be hers. He imagines the delirium of their union, the celebrations and consequent flowering of the moribund kingdom, the offspring that would follow, the joys thereof, the pains, the Kingship, the Queenship, her obligations, his, the days following upon the days, the exhaustion of the "inexhaustible fountain of their passion," the disappointments and frustrations and betrayals, the tedium, the doubts (was it really she after all? was it really he?), the disfigurements of time, the draining away of meaning and memory, the ensuing silences, the death of dreams; and, enrobed in pain, wilfully nameless, yet in his own way striving still, he slips back into the briars' embrace.'
'In the bathtub, cooking in the broth of her own blood, Cecilia had released an airborne virus which the other girls, even in coming to save her, had contracted. No one cared how Cecilia had caught the virus in the first place. Transmission became explanation. The other girls, safe in their own rooms, had smelled something strange, sniffed the air, but ignored it. Black tendrils of smoke had crept under their doors, rising up behind their studious backs to form the evil shapes smoke or shadow take on in cartoons: a black-hatted assassin brandishing a dagger; an anvil about to drop. Contagious suicide made it palpable. Spiky bacteria lodged in the agar of the girls' throats. In the morning, a soft oral thrush had sprouted over their tonsils. The girls felt sluggish. At the window the world's light felt heavy, slow-witted. Household objects lost meaning. A bedside clock became a hunk of folded plastic, telling something called time, in a world marking its passage for some reason. When we thought of the girls along these lines, it was as feverish creatures, exhaling soupy breath, succumbing day by day in their isolated ward. We went outside with our hair wet in the hopes of catching flu ourselves so that we might share their delirium.'
'When she came home at night, he greeted her with raucous demands for more food, rooting ravenously in her bag to see if she'd brought him anything interesting while purring loudly in a brazen pretence of affection. Heidi knew it was only cupboard love but it was hard not to be beguiled by it.
Yet if he was so hungry, why didn't he eat any of the victims of his nightly pillaging? Every morning when Heidi let him into the flat, the cat dropped some small, bloody corpse at her feet with the air of one paying a rather tedious tribute. Perhaps it was some kind of tithe the cat was under an obligation to pay her. Heidi had no idea what the secret protocols of the cat order might be.
The cat was laying waste to the city, he was the barbarian inside the gate, and it was Heidi who had let him in. She had never previously suspected the variety of wildlife that lived in the city and which now turned up on her doorstep as a result of the cat's slaughtering. And so many birds! The owls and larks, the robin-redbreast and the featherweight wren, bushels of sparrows and pecks of pigeons, flocks of starlings and white doves, a secret cache of dodos, the odd phoenix or two, not to mention the unfortunate capture of the (surprisingly tiny) hawk-headed sun god Ra – an event which caused the world to go dark until Heidi helped him escape from the cat's clutches.'