After time and the allure of the new have finished intervening to get me out of that interpolated nightmare sequence, out of which there was really probably no other way out, I find myself back in Dodge City proper, on the sidewalk just outside the hotel where my titular Room is, or was and may still be.

 

I ask myself, “Why have I been standing here so long?” and the answer, when it comes, is that I’m in a line, roped off with velvet, and a bouncer at the head, this guy named Murray that I know from around.

 

When I get up to Murray I show him my ID and he nods and stands aside and in I go, up to Will Call where I explain that I’m just trying to get past all this and up to my Room and they nod and hand me a ticket, and an usher comes over and manhandles me into the theater and jams me down into a seat like otherwise I wouldn’t fit into it.

 

The interior is done up in garish 1850’s Parisian playhouse style, like something out of Nerval. Once I’ve taken this in, sweeping the crowd in the dark, I look up on stage and see Big Pharmakos doing his stand-up routine. The audience falls out of its seats whenever he hits a punchline, falling sideways into the aisles in slo-mo like he’s hit some cell phone operated detonator and blown the whole place to pieces.

 

“No, no, no, but really,” he says, wiping sweat with his sleeve and hanging back on his heels, shoulders loose and rangy like a boxer’s, “seriously, guys, the thing that really gets me is.” And everyone climbs back into their seats, ready to be blown away again.

 

“So, this one time, I was in one of those, what do you call ’em, like a … ” he starts, letting them simmer down, pacing the stage, fingering the detonator, wrapping his hand almost all the way around the head of the mic, foreskin-style.

 

After the audience has flown into the aisle again in that same slo-mo, and again picked themselves up and back into their seats, I settle into a spectating rhythm, impressed with Big Pharmakos’ progress in the realm of stand-up comedy since last I saw him, in the empty hotel convention room at some weird hour of the early morning.

 

THEN something else happens: Big Pharmakos sits down in the empty seat beside me, fuming.

 

“You fucking believe this?” he fumes in my direction.

 

I pause here, trying to relax before leaping to conclusions, looking from the Big Pharmakos on stage to the Big Pharmakos sitting beside me, and back and then back again. I breathe, count up and down from ten, sort of luxuriating in the impossibility spread out before me. The dimensions of the room are such that I can’t look directly at the Big Pharmakos on stage and at the one sitting beside me at the same time — I have to sweep from one to the other, losing direct sight of the first as soon as I lock onto the second.

 

This makes it hard to maintain complete certainty that both are in fact the same man.

 

“That fucker’s stealing my shit,” moans Big Pharmakos.

 

I open my mouth to respond just as another punchline detonates and the audience is blown back into the aisles, the room going silent in that action-movie way that’s often done to indicate the deafness that I guess is supposed to follow in the wake of a real explosion.

 

As they climb back into their seats yet again, Big Pharmakos continues on, like maybe he talked right through the explosion — “and not even just my jokes, man, but my whole deal. My schtick and vibe and delivery and floorwork, and … and my whole basic way of seeming and being. Wholesale ripoff up there, and look at me now, jammed down into some seat next to you like some nobody off the street, but, no offense but, and nobody’ll believe that I — and who is that guy up there anyway? How did it happen? He’s the nobody, in real goddam life if there still is such a thing, and I’m — ”

 

BOOM.

 

Intermission.

 

During intermission, a kid decked out in circus ticket-taker garb (you know, striped button-up vest and red billowing pantaloons and so on) comes around with one of those snack trays hanging around his neck, selling what appear to be pretzels.

 

They are not pretzels.

 

I get one, and one for Big Pharmakos, and the kid shimmies on to the next row, refusing to take my money (“Complimentary, complimentary,” he mutters, in a put-on sounding accent).

 

Holding the thing in my hand, I see that it’s not a pretzel but a big doughy hand, butter pasted onto the back in the places where the knuckles should be.

 

I recoil, recognizing it as my own Dead Hand from that episode a few months ago. I break it open to find a note from Industry Ed. It says, “Celebrate the unveiling after the show! In the park, directly across the street! Cheers, I. Ed.”

 

*****

 

The doughy hand dangling in my hand, and Big Pharmakos beside me, still fuming, we stand in the park, in the same crowd that had until now filled the auditorium.

 

Industry Ed is up on a platform, the kind guys running for Mayor shout from, and beside him is a figure of about his height with a pale sheet draped over it.

 

“As many of you are doubtless aware,” he begins.

 

I see people to my right and left munching doughy hands. THAT’S MY HAND, I want to tell them, but Industry Ed goes on, “not long ago we lost one of our citizens to the vague forces of adventure. He set out from our midst one night, after watching The Wicker Man, as the story goes, and never returned. He is lost to us for good, it saddens me to report. Or,” here his big Cheshire Cat mouth breaks into a grin, “or, I should say, WAS lost to us for good.”

 

I’M BACK! I want to shout. I’M RIGHT HERE! But when I open my mouth, it feels stuffed with that doughy hand material and I gag and heave.

 

“Was lost to us,” continues Industry Ed, striding over to the draped figure, “until … ” he unveils the figure, revealing a perfect copy of me, standing dutifully on a mat and smiling at the crowd, “until now!!”

 

The crowd gets blasted to the sides the same way they did at the impostor’s punchlines in the auditorium.

 

Industry Ed whispers to me up on stage. “Do you see what I see?” he whispers. “Do you see him standing out there, in the crowd, glaring up at us?”

 

“Where?” I ask, leaning toward him to return the whisper, my back stiff and my kidneys weak-feeling.

 

He points and I look carefully out over the crowd until I see me, standing down in there toward the back, beside Big Pharmakos, also glaring, the only two mouths not munching.

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