The doctors decide eventually that the problem with my dead hand is not that it’s sick or injured but actually that it’s a criminal hand, a hand of lapsed judgement and craven character, and must thus be transferred from the hospital into the penal system, its host (that’s me!) along with it, since lopping is no one here’s idea of a good time. “So that’s what’s wrong with you!” exclaims Industry Ed, as if that’d been his suspicion all along and he just, out of decency, didn’t want to be the first to say it.

 

A Priest of the High Hand is called to my bedside, like I’m dying, and, after the necessary ministrations and histrionics, explains that my hand is spiritually, not physically, dead, and thus, rather than more surgery or injections or what have you, what it needs is a solid term of imprisonment in order to strive to articulate its better self and reach, as hands are intrinsically wont to do, for the Outstretched Hand of God.

 

Sure enough, when I look down, the hand is no longer quite as deflated as it was before, but looks rather like a reasonably healthy hand, just not mine: “The Hand of Another,” if you will, if Kobo Abe had bestowed upon us such a work, as a sequel of sorts or just for fun or for the money.

 

So I get transferred out of the hospital in a semi-visionary tripping down the hallways and stairways sort of way, and end up someplace altogether new, a real ol’ time Workin’ on the Chain Gang scene, complete with Alan Lomax standing off in a corner with his tape recorder listenin’ to us sing, or to them sing, since I’m new here and don’t know the words.

 

Next morning we’re all in a holding pen, waiting for our work assignments. It was a military style eat-all-you-can-in-5-minutes breakfast buffet, during which I managed only to unwrap a bran muffin and then was fatally distracted by wiping the grease on my pants when I should’ve been slurping it down.

 

Back out in the boiling sun now, I keep trying to hide my Hand of Another in my pocket, but our jumpsuits have none, so it looks like I have a tic, scratching at my side the way a cow flicks its tail at flies, if that were a tic and not totally normal cow behavior, which, sure, I know, it is.

 

The foreman or warden rides up in a cart and gets out, begins to yell. Lomax, off in the bushes, is fiddling with his recorder, trying not to miss a word. Since I’m the New Guy, I get last pick of work for the day. By the time my turn comes around everything’s taken except either reading aloud the Complete Works of George Saunders in a free Mental Stimulus Seminar at the mall, next to the 10 Hot Tips About Meth booth, or else helping to haul in some Mythos from another town.

 

I choose the latter, thinking, firstly, that exercise might do me well, and, secondly, that staying out of the mall for the time being or forever might be in my best interest.

 

So I get in a van with the Mythos crew and we head down some dusty back roads, the sun blazing something furious overhead. The driver lets us out next to a big parked trailer, about the size of an industrial shipping container, if I’m not mistaken about their size.

 

On the side is painted Lazy Eye Mythos. Chains and shackles are attached all over, and the other guys get right to it, each to his own shackle.

 

I shackle myself to the one remaining shackle, watching the other guys do it and trying to copy along. I can hear something gelatinous squishing around inside the trailer, and allow to enter my mind images of sedated circus animals slowly coming to as the air inside starts to thin.

 

With the shackles tight around my waist, I start heaving when one of the other guys, apparently the chief or captain of this little unit, gives the signal.

 

We haul through the afternoon, taking water breaks every so often.

 

“So what are we actually doing here?” I ask during one such break.

 

The chief or captain looks at me, no doubt trying to determine the basic soundness of my mind. “Consolidating Mythos from another town, just like the man this morning said.”

 

A moment later, taking pity on my I’m sure babyish bewilderment, with a look that either means he incorrectly overestimated my soundness or else that, sadly, it’s just where he thought it was, he continues, “Lots of towns out here, they don’t got space for all their Mythos anymore. Gotta cut some corners, reel a few things in here and there. Focus on priorities. So they pack up their excess Mythos — like, whatever kind of stories usually take place in that town, in the popular imagination and so on — and send it to another town, whoever will take it. In this case, Dodge City. So whatever Mythos is in this trailer — whatever Lazy Eye thing it happens to be, I honestly couldn’t care less — will now, until further notice, take place not in the other town, where it used to take place since time immemorial, but in Dodge City. That’s consolidation,” he says, and nods that the water break’s over.

 

For the time it takes to put our shackles back on and start dragging again, I’m onboard with all that he’s just said, and grateful for it, like I’ve just been lucky enough to learn something.

 

But, as soon as we’re up and dragging again, that goopy Lazy Eye sound doing its thing inside the trailer, I’m on to a new set of associations, going way back to earlier times, images of some brutish, possibly burned, figure shackled to a rough, splintery, also possibly burned, Cross, dragging it through burned up cornfields and wheat fields, just dragging this huge falling apart Cross through the ravages, dragging it at all costs, as if he just has to get somewhere with it before something else, worse, happens, and, if he does, all will be well until the next thing  … I dwell amongst these images for the rest of our workday and then, at the end, when we have the Mythos deposited safely in the center of Dodge City, at the appointed Depot, I undo the shackles and stand back, comparing my two hands, whispering to one of them, “How’d you like all that? Feel any closer to being a better man than you did at breakfast time, when that muffin was too greasy for you and you let us all go hungry?”

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