Archives for the month of: April, 2013

The very last days before the release of the next wave of Blut Branson’s novel.

Several (hundred) people claiming to be Blut Branson’s assistants have been tweeting updates to the Mayor’s office daily for weeks. The next visit to our man alone in his island resort, which could mean anything, is imminent. They are coming for him by sea. Whether as friends or foes is anyone’s guess. And the guesses are many. They fly high and wide, to the far right and the far left, speculation far wilder than any routine alien sighting out in the crops.

We wait indoors, dressed in our finest. All delivery service has been suspended in these final stages, so we dig into our reserves of canned and dry goods, rationing or not depending on our particular orientation toward the imminent endgame.

Our main phone lines are off the hook. All houses in Dodge City come equipped with a second line exclusively for direct communication regarding the status of Blut Branson’s novel. Usually quiet, this we now monitor in the genuine sense of the word “religiously.” Rarely does it even ring before we answer, so attuned are we to its vibrations.

Updates come daily. Prepare yourselves, people.

On the night before the day of, Michael Shannon arrives in a midnight convoy.

At dawn, he is spotted in the costume and character of Curtis LaForche, his self in Take Shelter. We see him out our windows and on our television sets, tuned to round-the-clock Blut Branson news (all other channels are not only disabled but have ceased all programming).

LaForche makes a broadcast on the dedicated phone line, graciously accepting the invitation to be this year’s mediator of Blut Branson’s message. “I am only too glad,” he enthuses, “to allow my person to serve as the conduit through which this novel will reach us.” Of course new waves of the novel do not arrive yearly, but we understand what he means when he says “this year’s.”

We are only too glad too.

We continue to wait. I eat my last ice cream sandwich and, in a mild End Times gesture, toss the wrapper facedown on the rug and mash it in with my heel.

*****

IT DOESN’T COME.

Our phones remain silent long into the day. Some of us believe it has already happened, that this is it, here we are, so much for all that was.

I’m tempted to think this way too, but I can’t quite. Things seem too similar, sensations too familiar. I’ve never been in Dodge City when any part of Blut Branson’s novel has hit, so what do I know, but … I don’t think it could be just this.

It’s like one of those Polish villages in the 1600’s where some itinerant holy man comes from Istanbul or Thessaloniki proclaiming The End and everyone slaughters and eats all their livestock and gets a bunch of STD’s, and then it’s not The End and their village is kind of fucked, going forward, and that guy is long gone.

I don’t know. Finally, around noon, the phone rings. It’s Shannon / LaForche, reading what sounds like a message written for him by someone else:

Blut Branson’s people report an unforeseen and never-before-experienced hindrance regarding his third testicle, which has on every previous occasion been summoned to the fore in the final stages of completing any part of his novel, transforming him into the super-potent deity-figure capable of “conceiving and completing novel-length work” that we all know and revere him as.

He pauses, and makes a sound like he’s wiping a tear:

On this sad and troubling occasion, credible sources report, Blut Branson’s third testicle has retreated somewhere deep into his body, perhaps lodging inside another organ, and has made itself felt instead as a SEED OF DOUBT. Doubt regarding the efficacy of the novel as a 21st century art form, and of his own aptitude for this work, whether or not it continues to be relevant to the mindsphere we are all currently …

Static, then:

He offers you all, citizens of Dodge City, instead of the novel you’d all been waiting for, two brand new and formally innovative SHORT STORIES. There will be a reading tonight at the …

I hope never in my life to have a better occasion to use the word bedlam.

It is total unadulterated bedlam on the streets of Dodge City. “Two Short Stories!” is the savage cry issuing from all the houses as people stream forth.

There will be tear gas. There will be tramplings, cars on fire, fire hydrants gushing into smoke-blackening sky. Dogs swarm among the rioters as furious creatures surge out of manholes. Stores are looted, telephone poles are torn down. Somehow an entire city block is overturned.

*****

I lay low, keep my head down.

When they storm into my house, I run out the back door and into the woods.

I spend the afternoon wandering in a creek bed, wet in some areas and dry in others. I find a small cave and the remnants of a tree fort.

AROUND DUSK, more or less unintentionally, I find myself in the Superdrome by the highway where the short story reading is scheduled to occur.

I let myself in. All the lights are off and no one’s around. I smell meat though, and am intrigued.

Then Michael Shannon turns up. He’s ditched the Curtis LaForche getup and is just dressed as and playing himself now.

He checks me out, trying to determine whether I’m armed and irate.

When he determines that I’m not, he says, in a loud announcer’s voice, as if the place were full of thousands, “OKAY FOLKS! Let’s get started here.”

He launches right into Blut Branson’s two short stories, written despite or with the help of the seed of doubt.

The first is called “Equilibrium.” Branson, or Shannon, describes it as the more experimental, ephemeral, and unabashed of the two.

The second is called “Neighborhood.” Branson, or Shannon, describes it as the stricter, more fanatical of the two, the one less gently assembled, based more directly on what he calls “compulsive realtime.”

I stand at a fair distance from Shannon, who already looks lost in a trance. I can’t tell if he’s transmitting the stories verbatim, or describing them from memory.

I know enough to steer clear of him, though this is easier known than done since he starts weaving and even lunging erratically while the stories unfold. After a while, we sync into a workable rhythm.

The first story, “Equilibrium,” concerns two figures, both pretty androgynous. One stands in an opulent courtyard, the way you might imagine the King’s courtyard in Medieval Armenia, full of citrus trees, doves, and shooting stars.

The other is in a lower area, like a cistern or catacomb, a place with something hellish about it. The basic action is an exchange of air through a special jewel-encrusted glass breathing pipe. The one from the lower area comes up while the one in the courtyard holds his or her breath, nearly fainting / dying, until the lower one emerges and breathes some of that lower-air through the pipe into his or her desperately waiting mouth.

Then they switch. The one from above brings air to the one below, who holds his or her breath to receive it.

This action, which I suppose it how the Equilibrium is established, repeats an incredible number of times.

Then, long after I’d assumed he never would, Shannon segues into “Neighborhood.” This one, as promised, is more plot-based. It concerns a spate of deaths of elderly people. The initial claim or supposition is that they all die peacefully in their sleep, one after another in a short span of time. For reasons he can’t quite grasp, the protagonist, Ball, goes to all of their funerals. He doesn’t know these people very well — they were all just generic elderly hi-how-are-you? neighbors, but he goes to every single funeral, every day for a week.

After a couple of these, Ball starts to cull faint memories of dreams of sleepwalking, which develop into memories of dreams of having sleepwalked into the houses of these elderly folks and strangled them very gently in their beds. As the deaths mount, all still officially of natural causes, he starts to see other young men at the funerals. They seem familiar but he can’t quite place them. They all wear the same troubled expression, a dawning suspicion of themselves, and are all equally improbable as legitimate funeral guests.

It’s not long until Ball is convinced that he along with all these young men has truly sleepwalked into the homes of the elderly and truly strangled them in their sleep. He even starts to believe that some unseen Mabuse type is controlling the operation, deploying them all as assassins. It’s the only explanation, he believes, though, as the Preacher stresses each time, DEATH IS THE EXPLANATION.

I get the feeling that this story is going to loop on and on as well, with the body count mounting until it becomes a global epidemic.

I don’t find out, though, because of how much I’ve eaten. There was all this BBQ from a place in Kansas City laid out, and a cask of Boulevard beer, enough for all of Dodge City, and I realize that I’ve eaten and drunk almost all of it myself. There are bones and crushed cups all around me, and my fingers are painted with sauce, as is my shirt and the area of my pants near my pockets.

In reasonably short order, I collapse. Then it’s just Michael Shannon traipsing through the hall of these vastly unconsummated festivities, transmitting Blut Branson’s compressed vision of the mounting deaths of the elderly and the young men who will believe at any cost that they are to blame.

He never steps on me, though he most likely comes close.

I feel like a cloth version of myself when I face the task of attempting to convey the magnitude of the writer that Blut Branson is.

This — me, here, now — feels as though it may be the only time and place to try, but also, like all places and times, I see clearly that it’s “neither the place nor the time,” unless my aspiration had been “to leave well enough alone.”

But, well:

Blut Branson’s big, the biggest. He’s everything to the people of Dodge City.

There’s not really another game in town. It’s like, what are you gonna do, read Paul Auster and call it a day?

Sure, there are heretics and splinter-cells, but they tend to find themselves reconnoitering the brushlands with a small group of core followers before getting more than a baby’s-breadth off the ground.

And people maybe have their own privacies, their own places to go (we don’t, for example, deny ourselves Bill Callahan), but by and large our inner world is the world of Blut Branson’s novel. We lie down, we close our eyes, or we space out while driving or waiting, and there we are, in it.

All of print, the whole notion of an alphabet and a lexicon, is hardly more than a fingernail or an earwig on the plane of Blut Branson’s novel. To say that the notion of the conventional novel — words, pages, glue-binding, a picture of a daisy or a mutilée or what have you on the cover, the whole simple matter of printed matter — pales in comparison to Blut Branson’s novel is to posit a comparison so inadequate that to call it laughable is itself a joke.

It’s like if they tried to put even an inch of it on Amazon, the whole site would crash and never recover. Maybe the whole Internet too.

It’s like if he was the earth and some other thing that exists was the moon then

… see? It’s pointless to try.

Blut Branson transcends us, and through him we transcend ourselves. It has no beginning, no ground floor. Or something: I haven’t been in Dodge City long enough, or well enough, to be able to say more than that.

But he does something. That much I can say. Something happens, is made, is moved, through him. Our lives are other lives through him (and would be nothing, not lives at all, without).

He is not so much our reason for living as our means of living.

We almost never see him. He’s almost always away, in one of the rooms offered by the City, at work on his novel. All of his works, and they are legion, are known in most Dodge City circles as “his novel,” though, as I’ve said, that’s no more than as good a word for it as any.

He works on matter, thought, devilment, demonry, night, metal, thread, webbing, until those things are no longer those things, or things at all.

God, I sound like one of those guys.

IT’S MAYBE only important to say that I wanted to bring up Blut Branson at this point because there’s lately been a rippling afoot in town, a stirring, quaking, quickening … a sure indication that a tidal shift in his novel is about to occur.

This puts us on edge, works us up.

We hunker down, stockpile canned goods, talk less and linger less when we’re out and about, find it harder to wait at red lights and while people wearing headphones cross the streets in front of us.

People stop changing their clothes, stop showering, wear sneakers at all times. They seem forever uncertain if they want to be alone or together when it hits.

“It” being one of these seismic shifts in Blut Branson’s novel, which, I’ve been given to understand, tend to occur every five to seven years.

Worse than an earthquake in terms of damage; and better, much better, in terms of shaking up people’s congealment, of reconvincing them that life is not any one thing.

Here’s one birds and bees type metaphor I was given when I first inquired into the nature of Blut Branson’s novel:

“Blut Branson’s novel concerns the inner life of a man alone in a grand Caribbean resort. He was taken here long ago, before he can remember, plucked in the night from where he’d formerly been, expressed straight to the island. When he came to, his captors or chauffeurs were long gone. The resort used to be packed with people so rich their only mode was to glide and flutter, but no more. Now the man’s alone but for the staff, whose instructions or instincts are to ignore him aside from servicing his basic nutritional and hygienic needs. Every day, the heaping buffet is laid out, and stoically, stealthily replenished, and then it’s just silence and sea-waves.

“This man spends years here like this, speaking and speaking without receiving a response from anyone around him, denied all media and technology and all clothing save for the single linen suit he wears when he wears anything, something like a woman’s summer pantsuit.

“He communes with plants and animals, but that too remains one-sided.

“Sometimes he has a blast. He romps, he gropes the willing air.

“Other times he cowers and hovers in his room, sea-fronted, open-aired, waving cotton curtains, at a rolling boil.

“He has two copies of The Recognitions which he’s hollowed out in the fullness of time to fit his two feet — the left and the right very different from one another — and there are runs of days he spends clomping about shod only in these, to and from the bathhouse, his only joy taken in soaking those pages down to pulp under the cool string-operated shower, then sitting in the angry sun until they dry like plaster casts around his toes and ankles.

“This was the compromise he struck with his captors long ago, that he’d be permitted to retain these two books in violation of the no-media condition only if he wore them in this manner, never attempting to hold a foot up by his face long enough to glom a single word.

“He’s been made so docile he doesn’t even try.”

That’s all I was told.

The seismic shifts in Dodge City, I’ve since learned, have to do with sudden visits from this man’s captors, or benefactors, or friends. Every so often, they row up over the horizon and onto shore, and have a meeting with this man, generally over a long afternoon lunch.

When this happens, when these visitors appear after so long away, all of Dodge City, which has entered the state of this man alone in the resort in the meantime, seizes and clamps up, readies for impact.

I can feel them swarming around me in the grocery store now, aware that it may hit at any moment. I’d better grab some trail mix and water before it’s all gone. Next time, if there is a next time, I’ll speak to the way in which Blut Branson is said to have peaked at 19, and speculate on the peculiar ontology of his third testicle.

I’m happy to report that I’ve gotten up the energy to make the trip downtown to where a TV is on. Down here they’re flipping channels like they’re flipping burgers, which is to say … that they are flipping them.

“It’s a travel show, a family show, a show about problems,” claims a narrative voice.

I settle in, unwrapping what may be a lozenge from what must be a wrapper. Some image of a church spire in Krakow, two church spires, passes through me and out the window.

The show starts in with a report about a family — two gals (mom, girl) and two guys (dad, boy) — that’s gone to the remotest province of Uzbekistan on a two week summer break. It has its time there, then returns.

It seems to take a while for the show to convey this. I’ve already eaten several courses by this point.

What happened to this family, it transpires, is that a third child (and fifth member) has entered its midst, returning to Connecticut with them at summer’s end. A feral, sloth-eyed, uncontainable steppe-child, a child not at all of a type they’ve encountered before, not even in lapse or reverie. A child that’s barely a child, barely countable within the species of which this family has long considered itself a definitive part.

And not an orphan, the show continues, neither a stowaway nor any otherwise adopted child. A fresh child, a biological, regular-made one. Somehow sewn into the family unbeknownst (it’s claimed) to any of them. Whether the father had any involvement in the insemination is unknown to the show’s narrator, and even whether the mother delivered the child cannot be determined. “All that’s known,” concludes the narrator, “is that this steppe-child is as much a member of this family as is any other member, indeed, as much a member as any individual can truthfully ever be said to be a member of anything.”

A red-band trailer slasher flick image of the steppe-child’s face, caked in dust and weeds and what looks like pollen, grinning with dagger-teeth and nostrils flared like a Barcelona bull, flashes across the screen.

THEN it’s the next segment, which takes us to a family reunion somewhere in Michigan. I’ve had like thirty plates of food by this point. The reunion is at a lake house; the kids are playing with bottle rockets, the grown-ups drinking and talking. Everyone looks healthy in that pale, average way. It’s all going fine, until, around a family game of Monopoly on the last night, a shocking discovery is made: the discovery of intergenerations, shadow generations, people inextricable from the lineage but impossible to track down.

“What this means, for those of you just tuning in now,” summarizes the narrator, “is that this family has discovered a series of shadow-members between the generations, slid like — I don’t know what, but like something you slide — in between the established lines of paternity and maternity.”

I think what he’s saying is this:

Everyone who’d appeared to be a father is in fact a grandfather; same with mothers/grandmothers. IE, if I’m a kid, hanging out there in Michigan with my dad, it turns out that that guy’s actually my granddad, and some other guy I’ve never met and may never meet is actually my dad. And same for my “dad” (granddad): his supposed “dad” is in fact his granddad too, and his actual dad nowhere to be found. If I believe someone is my son, or daughter, it turns out they’re actually my grandson, or granddaughter — and my actual son, or actual daughter, is someone I don’t know.

Hence the secret generations, the breaks in lineage, the absent but necessary other progenitors and progeny.

This bit goes on for a while, the narrator and various interviewees trying to get clear on what happened.

THEN we get a guest appearance from Harrison Blake, seeker after the long-lost. These are rare and intense. Harrison, since way before my time in Dodge City, has been employed by the county to roam at large, on no fixed route or schedule, in search of the long-lost, those who’ve been missing so long there’s no real hope of ever finding them, those who, in most cases, were declared dead decades ago.

Harrison is paid a pittance, just enough to sustain a single oldster of his variety, to wander and wander, with his backpack, water bottle, sneakers, and   birch walking stick, the back roads, trails, neglected patches, and overgrown miles of track and cattle-path, in search of whatever he can find. I don’t think he’s ever found a human, but, from time to time, he stumbles past the headquarters of Dodge City Community TV (DCCTV), and, if they’re taping or running live, checks in with us all on-air.

So here he is now, holding up two rocks and a bag of dandelions, thistles, and sumac, explaining where and when he found them, how long he’s been carrying them, and what his thoughts so far consist of. He starts talking about a dream he had while sleeping in a patch of heather …

THEN, someone changes the channel to “Something Violent With People”:

“We’ve got a great evening lined up for you folks,” goes this new narrator, taking his stab at it. “Something Violent With People is followed tonight by a very-special encore presentation of Something Violent With Ghosts!”

A light cheer goes up from the tables around me. I see I’m eating a kind of ice cream cake, or pie a la mode.

Some knife things are up on screen: a man comes up behind another man in a gym locker room and stabs him in the spine. As the paramedics rush in, the man says, “I don’t know what comes over me sometimes. I just get these thoughts, out of nowhere, and I have to work so hard to restrain myself.”

“Can you give us an example?” asks the paramedic.

“Well, sure,” says the man, thinking. “Like, just now, I sort of fantasized about stabbing this other man in the locker room in the spine with my knife. I really felt myself on the verge of doing it. I came so close. I had to hold myself back by the skin of my teeth.”

The paramedics all look like they feel foolish now, having raced in to save a man supposedly stabbed in the spine when now they’re learning that the spine-stabber only thought of doing it, then held himself back by the skin of his teeth.

Then there’s a cut to a dingy street scene, late, under buzzing lights. A college kid is walking along with his headphones on when a masked man creeps up behind him, takes out his knife and an old-fashioned sharpener, and sets to work sharpening it. The college kid just stands there, bopping faintly along to his music. The masked man sharpens for what seems like five or six minutes, removing his glove to test the blade on his fingertip several times, before putting the sharpener back in its case and putting that case back in his backpack, and only then stabbing the college kid in the spine.

THEN a commercial break.

Then an ad for “Something Violent With Ghosts.” The first segment tonight looks to be about a man who’s strapped the brain of his enemy over his own brain, as a victory gesture, making of himself what the narrator terms “an amalgam of unrestrained proportion.”

The segment looks like it plans to center on the slippage that has started to occur with the strap, the ways in which the enemy-brain is starting to chafe.

Looking down at my ashtray, I remember why I came here, or at least what my coming here had to do with: Blut Branson, the biggest writer in town.