I follow John Darnielle out of the high school gym, away from the Lucian Freud Exhibit. “So that was Exhibit A,” I think, and tell the reptile parts of myself that need to be told and don’t know automatically through thinking alone. Just so we’re all on the same page. “On to Exhibit B,” I think-then-say. John Darnielle gains speed as we cross the parking lot, his guitar slung over his shoulder in a stage-moves kind of way, even as he runs down the Dodge City streets, his signature glasses fixed firm on his face.

 

He’s already humming, almost involuntarily, like a downed power line. I can hear him clearly in the summer night air, and it’s just as I’d hoped: New Material. “The Mountain Goats return,” I think, and then I say it aloud in my movie trailer announcer voice, so people will know what Exhibit B consists of.

 

I chase him around a few corners, away from the center and toward one part of the outskirts. I remember the street we’re on now, though I haven’t set foot on it since probably November. I can hear him humming more New Material, and I listen as well as I can, keeping my distance as a pursuer.

 

Let me tell you: I’m liking what I hear.

 

Finally, John Darnielle stops in front of a house, turns to look at me, and then turns back toward the house and goes inside. I get near, and see that it’s a house I’ve seen recently in a dream. A house halfway between house and prairie-style covered wagon, with a lip or pane of hanging Tyvek house wrap serving as both front wall and door. It was a summer romance dream and I kissed someone’s sister in a 1950s sort of way on the dusty street in front of this house (it was even more of a covered wagon back then), and then her brother came out in his undershirt and baseball cap and she went in.

 

The brother made his front two knuckles into a special kind of fist and smashed me hard on the forehead with a single sharp downward  stroke, cutting me in such a way that a cross of blood trickled down from my hairline to my eyebrows, and horizontally spanned the distance between one eye and the next. It became a tattoo before I had a chance to wipe it off.

 

Goddammit. I just wasted precious time going back over a goddam dream. Nothing gained there. I rub the tattoo on my forehead and think about old Mountain Goats songs (“old songs from nowhere … Los Angeles, Albuquerque … “) I could go on and on, but it’s the New Ones I came out for tonight.

 

I push through the house-wagon’s plastic pane and am inside, smelling the sawdust and hardtack etc etc.

 

I run through the living room and into the kitchen, where food has been left out on the counters and the sink is running and the refrigerator door is open. I see flashes of John Darnielle, so fast I can’t see all of him at once.

 

I follow, picking up the pace.

 

He runs up the stairs, into a child’s bedroom with illuminated globe nightlights, and slams the door in my face. I hear him pushing a couch or a bed against the door, and then quiet. Then he starts strumming, and then singing. He’s clearly trying to be as quiet as possible, but still I can hear him singing though his New Material.

 

I want to shout, “I can hear you in there!” but I don’t, for one reason or another.

 

When I finally succeed in kicking in the door, I stumble over the wreckage of everything he’s pushed up against it only to find him gone. Looks like he leapt through a hole in the wall, and is onto another room. I wish I had a sharp object in one hand, just for form’s sake.

 

I chase him all around this floor and up flight after flight of stairs, putting my door up to each new room he blockades himself inside of, listening to as much New Material as I possibly can. His desperation to play it and not be heard, and my desperation to hear, would seem to be a fair and even match for one another.

 

We go up and up, climbing ladders and ropes and ramps, he always a few steps ahead of me, singing through a New verse or chorus whenever he can, whenever he thinks there’s a chance I’m out of earshot. Without exaggerating, I can report that this is “New Chevrolet in Flames” grade Material here.

 

This might have gone on forever had I not become aware of a THIRD PRESENCE in the house.

 

John Darnielle ducks off into yet another room, shoves yet another couch against the door, and starts in on still more New Material.

 

But this time, as I start on the now-familiar task of kicking in the door, a hand grabs and holds my shoulder. I try to turn, but it has me in The Sleeper Hold. When I finally come to, I’m in a bright solarium on the very top floor, sitting at a low table by a bay window, face-to-face with the THIRD PRESENCE.

 

It’s Craig Finn.

 

He looks at the blood tattoo on my forehead. “I wore a cross to ward ’em off,” I explain. He winces. I go on, “I was seeing double for three straight days after I got born again; it felt strange but it was nice and peaceful and it really pleased me to be around so many people … of course half of them were visions, and half were just friends from … ”

 

He holds up his hand for me to stop. I can see sunlight through his Stigmata. I nod. “I won’t quote your songs to you anymore,” I solemnly promise, but I know it won’t last.

 

We go to the window and look out together. It appears to be a Vision of a 17th century Scandinavian village, and we’re no more than three stories off the ground, even after all that climbing. “Don’t it all end up in some Revelation, with four guys on horses and … ”

 

“Ever seen the bishop part of Fanny & Alexander?” asks Craig Finn, cutting me off before I quote him anymore, and I say I have, and we talk about that for a while, until the Vision abates, and then we have breakfast. “And when we hit the Twin Cities, I didn’t know that much about it … I knew Profane Existence and … ” I quote, as quietly as I can, into my cereal spoon, praying he doesn’t hear me, unable to help myself.

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