A stupor of uncertain duration seems to have ensued after the John Darnielle / Craig Finn scene — it’s gotten to be Friday now, with Thursday dead and gone or snipped wholesale from the week. A dust storm has come upon Dodge City. The Arkansas River has become a dimness of deeper dust across the shallow plain, all eddying motes and lotto tickets and breath-browned cigarette butts.

 

We’re all walking along it, heads hung low. There are pilgrim figures on both sides of me, going at about my speed. We’re all heading toward breakfast — second breakfast, I suppose, if you count the breakfast in the house with Craig Finn, but that may well have been over a week ago, so the Breakfast Ticker has likely returned to zero.

 

Craig Finn and John Darnielle are mixed into this specter parade, but they’re growing dimmer and less distinct. Soon they’ll blend fully back into the unremarkable and unremarked-upon general populace of the town, back into the mixing bowl from which characters, such as they are, are whipped up.

 

A gout of dust hits me full on and I stumble over something taut and cylindrical near the ground. After grinding the dust away from my eyes, I look down and see it to be a thick (and dusty) power cord. I run my fingers along its casing, trying to fathom it.

 

As I’m trying to fathom the cord, Big Pharmakos appears from the dust beside me. He looks a little off, like he hasn’t been fully reconstituted after a term in confinement, but I know it’s him. He can tell that I want to know about this cord so he says, in an M. Ward dust-rasp, “It’s for circuses, when they come thru. We got lots of inanimates, round this part of the country. Inanimate Circuses, you know. It’s so they can plug themselves in, get some juice. They plug it into their generator or whatever, come to life. Do their song and dance for us, unplug, go inanimate again, move on.”

 

With those two words — Move and On — the dusty pilgrimage scene ends and we’re all in a diner, breakfast being served all around. It’s a festive scene, everyone taking turns in the bathroom, washing off the grey dust that turns black with water as it swirls down the drain. There’s a high spirit of refreshment, or a spirit of high refreshment, all about in the air in this diner, everyone tucking into plates of pancakes and French Toast garnished with powdered sugar and orange wedges, the coffee hot, oily, plentiful.

 

Voices rise, everyone telling everyone about the confusions of the past period, a happy sense of waking up, collectively, or coming down from or off of something that’d had us in its grips for a good while.

 

Under cover of all this comes a cloaked figure. I am the last notice.

 

The diner door’s bell clanks as it closes behind him, and cool quiet and then cold silence falls over the place. Waitresses stop where they stand, holding their trays afloat, and the sizzling eggs on the griddle seize up. I think of that power cord, imagine its having been suddenly yanked out.

 

People start tactfully but efficaciously leaving as the figure makes its slow way into the diner’s main interior. When he turns in my direction, I see it’s Gottfried Benn.

 

He looks similar to how a Google Images search of Gottfried Benn (https://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&hl=en&source=hp&biw=1440&bih=670&q=gottfried+benn&gbv=2&oq=gottfried+benn&aq=f&aqi=g1g-S9&aql=&gs_l=img.3..0j0i24l9.554.4817.0.5033.20.12.4.4.4.1.91.792.12.12.0…0.0.X4b-RvTysmU#q=gottfried+benn&hl=en&gbv=2&tbm=isch&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=1&biw=1152&bih=536) would make you think he’d look.

 

He turns toward me and I can feel the last remnants of whatever mirth I’d had a few moments ago seeping out my fingertips and through the pores of my neck, like a collar of sweat.

 

As he gets close to my table, the hairs lining my spine standing up so straight that they almost break free from my skin and rain down my back to cling to my belt, an old-timer one table over (one of the few who’s still here), leans over the book divider and whispers, “It’s Gottfried Benn, son,” as if I didn’t know. “You have $60? He won’t back off for anything less. Things take a steep, steep downward turn when he shows up, let me tell you.” The old-timer sounds like he’d know and like, in fact, he does know.

 

Just as Gottfried Benn gets to the edge of my table, his eyes narrowing, I reach into my wallet and, to my tremendous relief, find three 20s in there, like they’d been planted for this express purpose. I pull them out and press them into his styrofoamy hand.

 

A moment of hesitation, then he turns, shuffles in his cloak up to the cash register, and asks for change for one of those 20s. With trembling hands, trying to avert her gaze from his, the cashier gives it to him, and he leaves the diner, picking up a free newspaper by the door on his way out.

 

The air stays frozen. The old-timer leans across the booth again and whispers, “Don’t get to thinking you won’t see him again, son. You will.”

 

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