Now that Blut Branson is hard at work on his novel down in the time capsule we buried him in, everyone in town is summoning their shit back together.

Big Pharmakos announces his plans to rebuild his menagerie.

“Remember,” he starts in, “I’m still this town’s main pimp.”

To tell the truth, I’d forgotten. Or just about.

He’d been into various things in the time-peaks and -troughs of the past however long.

“I did the Silent Room for a while,” he fills us in like we’ve all been under sedation for years and years and no one thought we’d ever wake up, “but all who ever came was the Silent Professor, and no one liked not knowing what his deal was.”

The answer to the question “What was The Silent Room?” would have been found in the grassy shadows at the far back of the party tent implied by the word “Brothel,” so to speak. It was as far from being that as something could be while not being closer to being anything else.

The main thing was the Silence. That meant no talking, no giggling, japing, carousing, gaffing, singing, bellowing, belching, etc. No noise or sound of any kind. You came in, paid for your person, and off you went, across rubberized noise-canceling floorboards.

No surprise, I’m thinking, that the Silent Professor was the only taker.

“I had a few good employees,” Big Pharmakos continues, addressing what he seems to take as a group of people although, far as I can tell, it’s only me.

“But they all said the same thing. They said, ‘The Silent Professor comes into the rooms with us and just sits there, totally Silent, not moving, not looking at us, certainly not touching us … but, soon enough, we start to feel weird. Like something isn’t right, maybe physically, maybe in some other way. Like we’ve woken up wrong from naps that went on too long, you know, and we can’t tell how long we’ve been asleep or even how awake we are now, whether it’s as awake as we’re going to get or if it’s still low down on the scale of waking up, and we have a lot more still to look forward to, or to fear … ”

Then the Silent Professor would rub himself down, head to toe, with Purell (from a bottle in his suit pocket, although there was a free dispenser on the wall), then leave.

“They claimed,” here Big Pharmakos lowers his voice, “that he had something Noboru Wataya-ish about him, the whole way he made them feel in there, the whole deal he put them through after he’d paid up front to do whatever he wanted.”

There’s a collective shudder and then some, what you might call, finger food comes our way.

*****

The curtains draw tight. The lights go down.

“Shh,” says Big Pharmakos. “Moving on … ”

I start to feel weird and don’t know why until I allow myself to suspect that the Silent Professor is behind me.

I feel confirmed in grounding what I’d hoped would not remain groundless.

The screen lights up.

There are no trailers.

After the opening salvo a title lets us know we’re watching “Dispatch From a Bag of Mucus Lost Somewhere in California.”

Whether it’s a short film or a feature I cannot yet say.

It’s images of animals being crushed in the shower.

They’re in there showering — like geese, giraffes, lizards, voles — until, all of a sudden or on cue, Big Pharmakos (or an actor portraying his better self) busts in with two big hands and a heart pumping blood and smashes the little things against the soapy tiles on the side farthest from the spigot.

It’s not as gruesome as you’d expect. He cracks them only until a nice seam opens up and then he peels their skins or shells away to reveal not gory viscera but a smaller, younger, healthier version of the same animal inside.

These renewed animals he collects in a pen. They look away from one another; it’s like they know where this is going.

It becomes clear that the film is an advertisement, or more like an informercial, for Big Pharmakos’ new venture.

The voiceover:

I won’t quote it verbatim, but it basically explains that he’s been collecting the youngest, lithest versions of all possible animals, two of each — the Ark references are neither egregious nor subtle — and is planning to put them on offer to the citizenry in what he euphemistically terms the Dodge City Latter-Day Petting Zoo.

At this Petting Zoo, customers are invited to do what they please with one animal of the pair while the other watches, in sympathy or in terror, according to personal taste.

COMING SOON! it concludes, atop a montage of showering animals, now in the shower stalls at the Petting Zoo, as if to imply that the flow of customers has already begun.

*****

“Any questions?” Big Pharmakos asks.

“Yeah, where are the sloughed parts? You know, the old skins. You scrape ’em out of the shower or just leave ’em around or what? That’s the shit I dig.”

I picture these skins breeding slowly in a landfill along the strip of highway between Springfield, MA and Hartford, CT.

I miss Big Pharmakos’ actual answer.

“Any other questions?” he asks.

“Yeah, what’s with the title? Where was this ‘Bag of Mucus’ we were all waiting for?”

“A concession to the director.”

One eye looks a little wistful, a little wry. The other scans the audience, like what wiseass just asked me that?

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