Archives for the month of: December, 2011

… but I’m still here, moving down through air. The gravy-faced beings must be down below, farther down than I thought.  The moment of embarrassment, when I arrived too soon, must have been a false start, or else it happened long ago and I’m falling again now, after a fresh departure. I’m back in an image that to me is ancient: I’ve jumped off the balcony in a crowded shopping mall on a Thursday in winter, when it’s gotten dark at four in the afternoon so now, around five, it’s late evening. There’s a giant skylight overhead, black now holding up the nearly night sky and letting rays of it stream down onto the shoppers, and onto me as I fall. I’ve jumped off the third story balcony, overlooking the mall’s hollow core, and I’m going straight down toward the food court. But at the bottom, instead of foot-scuffed white tile, is a pile of the softest pillows that there can be. Silk and goose-feather pillows, pillows stuffed with soft things almost erotically illegal to my mind. So soft that I’ll never hit the bottom. I fall luxuriously, and the pile of pillows recedes, so that I keep falling and never hit it. I can tell that it’s deepening as well, more and even softer pillows floating in under the ones that are already there. I begin to grow impatient, wanting more and more to land and to feel this softness that’s been promised to me. In the air that I’m falling through, I see forms taking shape, replacing the mall forms. They’re the gravy-faced creatures from before, rotating in a geometric rhythm, and watching me fall. I can tell that this rotation is a language, and that they are talking to one another about me. I begin to fear that they’re saying something about the pillows, and I want to know what it is.

WRAPPED IN PLASTIC, I’m in an area set aside for me.

 

Big Pharmakos and I parted ways at an earlier point, and now there’s no sign of him, nor of anyone else. I can’t tell what I’m resting on, but I’m in a warm liquid, thick and hung with particles, like turkey gravy.

 

It holds me aloft and offers no sign of having a bottom.

 

I feel thousands of years passing at high speed, and Dodge City recedes into some barely-reachable side closet, behind others. I fish for it with a hook that won’t catch.

 

Then I let it go, throwing the hook itself into the same non-space, where it clatters and is gone, like a coin down a drain.

 

I think about the past few days and all I get is, “Now they’re part of the same past as the Roman Empire, and the Holy Roman Empire, and no nearer than either.”

 

I picture the three meeting on a cold corner, surrounded by tundra with mud tracks frozen into cement, pulling in their coats and looking to the street, waiting for someone to pick them up.

 

This is all on the surface of the liquid, sculling like pond scum, up in the Safe House, while thousands of years and what might be a tremendous war pass by in Dodge City down below.

 

Now I plummet.

 

I fall straight to the bottom of my bath and land not with a thud but with a disturbance of sediment, whirling up around me like a net that’s just finished lowering me down. When I turn my head, there are creatures, bigger than me but comparably upright.

 

Their bodies keep melting, together and apart in a tidal motion, so I can’t count how many. They turn in my direction, but have no faces.

 

Rather, the fronts of their heads are made of that same pulpy turkey gravy, dripping up and down, straining to congeal into features. Through all this, a bubble-stream of awkwardness and offense passes between us. I can tell that they were expecting me, but not so soon.

 

They were grazing in peace, enjoying time to themselves, and I’ve disturbed it, caught them out in some position that implies to them a kind of shame, maybe a kind unfamiliar to me, but still. They didn’t think I’d plummet so straight down. They thought I’d spend longer on the approach, working my way through one antechamber after another.

THE SITUATION at the Tavern quickly deteriorates.

 

I don’t quite ever figure out what’s happening — Gibbering Pete and Rigid Steve and a few others are up by the door, all with their guns out, and it looks like Drifter Jim is hanging out just outside, whether in a friendly or a confrontational manner I can’t tell, and the guy with his back to me at the bar who I think but don’t know is Barry Dalton just stays there, sucking in thoughts so his head swells and then spitting them out, shrinking back down like a pufferfish, either oblivious to the commotion or directly causing it.

 

Large, Creeping Charlie gets up from the table so abruptly that he knocks it over, and I’m up and running with Big Pharmakos, through a back door past the bathrooms and the pay phones and jukebox. I try to look back as the door shuts behind us, to see what’s going on, but all I see is a fist flying in an arc and the door slamming.

 

Big Pharmakos is lumbering ahead of me, panting, and I’m keeping pace. I keep feeling my pockets to make sure I have everything, but I don’t remember what I’m supposed to have. I think I left my iPod and phone back in the room. I still have my twenty bucks, crisp and crinkly in my pocket, at least. I start thinking of the snack I might buy next chance I get.

 

We’re running through a hallway, flickering blue lights overhead and black tile underfoot. Something smells good, like we’re passing a kitchen on the other side of the wall, frying up some spicy chicken and vegetables. I keep expecting us to burst through another door and end up outside, but it hasn’t happened yet. I can’t imagine how such a long hallway could exist on this block, since, from the outside, the Tavern was a freestanding structure, so I give up trying to imagine it.

 

It’s a relief not to make that effort anymore. Now I can run faster. Eventually, we burst through a door and enter a new space. There was a pounding sound the whole time we were in the hallway, and that frying smell, but that’s all gone now. All is silent here, and I don’t smell anything but my Old Spice coming up my collar. Big Pharmakos takes out a lighter and flicks it on, holding it up so we can see a little. I can’t tell how big a room we’re in, but it’s definitely a room, not another hallway.

 

I see shapes wrapped in some smooth material, like plastic or shiny cloth, reclining on the floor and on ledges up by the rafters.

 

They look like moths, but big. Human-sized. “Here,” says Big Pharmakos, handing me a bundle of the shiny cloth. He’s already wrapped himself in his, so only his eyes are peeping out, like those of a mummy or a piñata.

 

A moment ago I’d felt like we’d just gotten here, I think, but now I feel like we’ve been in here a long time.

 

I’m all wrapped up, smelling old locker room smells inside the cloth, stretched tight across my nose. I lick sweat from the edge of my mouth, and taste those smells. I can’t tell what we’re resting on, but it feels stable. I’m starting to get dizzy. I almost think I’m about to panic.

 

The lump that must be Big Pharmakos leans over and whispers, “Don’t struggle. We’re safe here. We’re in the Safe House. Some people stay here for thousands of years, and they turn out okay. Just take it one year at a time. No one’s themselves around here, anyway.”

 

As he’s saying it, I feel time and self scampering away, back to more willing and able hosts.

 

At first I try to hold on, like to something that’s come at me through the air and that I can almost catch, but I fumble and drop it, and self and time fall down and away for good or at least a while.

 

Now it’s free-floating. My arms are pinned in tight against me, so I don’t have to worry about them getting snagged on passing entities. Dodge City feels like it took place centuries, millennia, ago. I look back on the human era on earth as the brief blight of some invasive species, like a fly infestation, that got smoked out in no time, all its structures eaten back up by vines and panthers and tornadoes and water and rot … I lose the rest of the words, watching them peter out away from me as I rock gently, as in a cradle, in the embrace of a very great distance. I blink, and a trail of dust scatters from me, through the mummy slits, away into the night.

RIP.

DALTON’S VOICE DRONES monotonously like cold waves against a Scottish coastline. All the heat is gone from the air, so that, when a trickle of consciousness spills back into me, I use it to wish that I had a thick traveler’s coat, or that I’d never come here.

 

A pounding at the door wakes me up.

 

“This is Large, Creeping Charlie,” says Big Pharmakos.

 

*****

THE TAVERN is just a nail-stuck black box on a stretch of Strip with nothing around it except a defunct Honda dealership and an insurance storefront.

 

Big Pharmakos notices my limp, carried over from the nerve-damage in the Dalton dream, and assures me it’s nothing to worry about.

 

Manning the door is a heavyset older man in sweatpants and a sweatshirt, with a big serving of white hair drooped over his eyes. He sits on a stool, shuffling through a fistful of what looks like lotto tickets with cash mixed in. He looks at us as we pass, then goes back to it.

 

Big Pharmakos whispers, “That’s Gibbering Pete, bouncer. Likes to charge an entrance fee. Don’t mind him. Unless I’m doing a set here… ”

 

Large, Creeping Charlie goes off to get us drinks.

 

So here we are. I have twenty bucks in my shirt pocket, figuring I’ll fork it over at the end. A basket of peanuts with the shells on comes our way. Up on the bandstand is a guy with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica that keeps slipping out of its neck holder and into his shirt. I never see him replace it, but it slips out several times.

 

He’s playing either an extremely slow or an extremely long cover of John Prine’s “Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone.” All I can tell is that it’s gone on much longer than that song should.

 

Large, Creeping Charlie sits back down with three glasses of dim liquid, panting like the fumes have already gotten to him.

 

“Cheers,” I say. There aren’t too many people out tonight. I wonder what time it is, and what day of the week, and whether this crowd is representative of Dodge City.

 

Big Pharmakos is trying out a new joke but I barely hear it because my attention is tied up in a man hunched over the bar in a sleek black jacket with silver hair down to his shoulders. I can’t take my eyes off him. His head gets larger and smaller, like he’s pumping out used thoughts into some other place and sucking in fresh ones in a kind of dialysis.

 

I begin to sweat, wondering how much material he’s liable to move in the course of a night, and how long until it begins to pour out of him. I’m starting to wonder how long we’re going to be here, how long my twenty bucks will hold out. I’m pretty sure that man is Professor Barry Dalton, and I don’t know if I want to be around when he opens his mouth.

 

I feel traumatized by his speech, like the extent of its damage will only become knowable years down the line.

 

“Excuse me, guys,” I say, limping down from my seat and toward the bathroom, right past the Dalton-figure, as if by eluding his notice he might elude mine.

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