If any track has been kept, it’s been upwards of a month now of wandering. My comrade and I.

 

“Wanderings,” I think, is the better term — the plural makes it feel more of a piece, like it’s not just something that goes on and on to either nothing or more of the same, but is rather a task to be accomplished, something to put on our resumes, if we ever make it back into the company of others among whom such might again bolster our cause.

 

Like “wanderings” are something you might actually accomplish and be done with, whereas “wandering” you just remain in the middle of until you die or a Deus ex arrives.

 

None of this, strictly speaking, has any effect. In reality, the word I’d do better to use is “waiting.”

 

That’s what we’ve actually been up to since July — just waiting until something intercedes. Or waiting to think of something, or to do something irreversible or impressive enough to constitute a breaking point.

 

Though we’ve been walking at a reasonable clip across (or, better put, “around”) the desert, we would have done just as well to have sat stock still, or to have slept it off or barked at the overhang or facedown into the sand. Told our life stories to shells and peppered them with fibs.

 

Being lost so long has turned me into something of a pedant. Like my priorities have shrunk.

 

 

ALL ALONG there’s been that crackle of ghost porn around the edges.

 

It sounds like something simmering in a covered pot whose flame comes and goes, snuffing itself out and then rekindling of its own accord, or thanks to some wind that passes for that purpose alone, whispering “am I needed?” while there’s still time.

 

Anyway, it’s been long enough and soon something’s going to happen.

 

 

*****

A RUN-IN with Suicide Sam, or the Son of Suicide Sam, who, as we established as best we could a while ago, may as well be treated as the same person because I don’t know any means of distinguishing them short of just asking “are you the same man as your father?” which — if you want to, go right ahead.

 

There’s no real scene change: it’s just my comrade and I, dead bored and dehydrated and repeating ourselves, and then it’s the three of us in a sort of orchard, surrounded by hanging forms somewhere between meat and vegetable, not quite art-seeming but a far cry from natural.

 

Suicide Sam appears either to have been expecting us or to be indifferent to any and all.

 

We end up inside a subsequent cordoned-off area with him, like a crime scene where both crime and investigation are simultaneously in progress.

 

He doesn’t exactly welcome us with a hearty “come right in!” gesture.

 

Nevertheless, we’re drinking warm glasses of Pepsi and eating crackers and nuts, careful not to touch Suicide Sam or let him touch us, since we all know where that leads.

 

It appears that my comrade and Suicide Sam have some shared backstory. Perhaps one intimately related to the particulars of his selective suicide. Perhaps Suicide Sam brokered that deal, or at least notarized it.

 

Unless that was his Dad.

 

Suicide Sam is taking us on a tour of the premises.

 

My comrade and I have seen so many half-formed, notional places lately that it’d take a lot to make any impression on us.

 

This one makes one.

 

It’s full of the damaged and the deformed, derangements worthy of Th. Ligotti himself. Tangles of skin and spirit worse than any Western Deity ever protected its faithful from.

 

A true free-for-all of reek and malignity.

 

“The ones I couldn’t get right,” Suicide Sam explains once we’ve looked as much as we can.

 

“And the ones that wouldn’t work with me,” he adds, careful not to undersell himself.

 

“The Suicide Cemetery wanted nothing to do with them. Said they weren’t fit for burial. Even for the outermost plots, out with the Aberrant and Non-Genre Suicides.”

 

He shakes his head, like the thought of exclusion from the Suicide Cemetery is too ignominious to contemplate for longer than it takes to mention.

 

“I only come out here once a month,” he says. “Routine upkeep. Make sure things don’t get even stranger, as they have a way of trying to get when I’m away.

 

“AND,” he goes on, “I use it for practice. Like a shooting range. Work on my Suicide Technique … the finer points, the kinks that need ironing … and I debut my new moves. Sometimes, if I’m feeling a little rough, I indulge in a little Improv.”

 

He protrudes his hands from their long sleeves, showing off a handsome framework of Suicide Musculature.

 

This pause gives us time to consider whether his last bit of dialogue constitutes a threat. I decide: probably not. Further, if he wants to Practice Suicide on me, all the way out here, then I’m in no position to say no thanks. If it is a threat, it’s not one that carries with it any charge of panic or even quite importance from my point of view.

 

I feel indolent as a cud-chewing cow.

 

 

THEN I remember what I’d been trying to remember since arriving here among these Suicide Rejects, trying so hard that I hadn’t even been aware I was trying: Alien Resurrection.

 

Specifically the scene where she goes into the room of all her failed clones, all the times they tried to remake her after her fiery demise at the end of Alien 3. All the suffering and disruption of the human form, displayed in tanks for her to examine and see how much pain was inflicted for her sake, onto beings that were almost her …

 

The horror of embodiment, the non-negotiable nearness of monstrosity to us all, &c.

 

As I run through this scene and try to remember some lines from a chapter of a film book I read about it once, Suicide Sam says:

 

“Isn’t that the one all the college kids write their papers on?”

 

Then he recedes into a Private Area, clearly done with us.

 

*****

The day is about to go on too long when a new arrival spares it that fate.

 

Evening falls among the rows of ruined shapes, some looking ingrown into their utter final forms and others like uncooked, still-ripening ingredients.

 

From this murk emerges a child-sized skeleton bedecked in bells and whistles with a Christmas wreath around its neck.

 

It stands before my comrade and I, occasioning a silent spell. Even the ghost porn simmers down.

 

I notice that all of Suicide Sam’s Rejects have been bagged and tied off for the night.

 

I look down at the skeleton, feel its attention heavy on my knees.

 

In my head I’m calling it a psychopomp. It’s a relative term, inexact, hauled up from some archaic mythos, but it’s the best I can do in the situation. Plus it’s a word I like to say and, to a lesser degree, think.

 

I can freely admit to lacking access to a rich enough region of vocabulary to do right by what I’ve encountered without even having gone out of my way.

 

The psychopomp looks between my comrade and I, and at the dimming desert all around us. The crackle of ghost porn ceases entirely, and I know it won’t be back. I find that I miss it. Everything sounds too quiet without it. I can’t even hear myself breathe anymore.

 

“It’s over,” whispers the psychopomp. Its voice is that of a very young boy, six or seven, the kind you might try to rope into a choir and castrate.

 

So I’ll call it a “he,” though it truly is a skeleton, with no gendered flesh to speak of.

 

“Time to go,” he repeats. I’ve heard of similar things happening before, wreath-bedecked skeleton boys showing up at the end of what proves to be the last in a series of recurring nightmares. Never at the beginnings, always at the ends.

 

My comrade and I whisper over his head, slowly conferring.

 

His gist is: “I’m not doing anything that little so-and-so says.”

 

My gist is: “I’m ready to go home.”

 

It appears we have a Schism.

 

We shake hands and part ways, he into the rows of sheathed hanging Rejects, me in the direction the psychopomp leads. He doesn’t seem to notice that only one of the two of us is following, or perhaps it was only me he came for.

 

*****

I can see the lights of Dodge City in the distance. Already I feel this whole desert section receding into the category of “boyhood adventures.”

 

The far outskirts are coming into their own the way outskirts always or usually do in those long minutes dozing against the backseat window of a car being driven through the dark by some stranger or tenuous relation after a day out in the countryside — countryside they know well but you not at all — back into town to fall right into a rented or guested bed and sleep well into morning.

 

These far outskirts constitute a dead silent zone, one I’ve never been to or heard of before. They are silent now, at 3AM, certainly, but — the psychopomp doesn’t have to tell me — they’re silent all day as well. They have that air about them, or it has that air about it. The place feels Stained by Silence, stained the way walls are stained with something actually called Stain, a thing whose purpose is just that.

 

Almost a show-town, an ant farm, an example of how things can end up if allowed to go on and on in one direction with no oversight. Dodge City, it would appear, is surrounded by a cautionary buffer of worse towns, such that, ideally, the best town is the realest one, the one in which people really live, in the dead center, the core of rings of desolation and downfall.

 

But we’re not there yet. The silent town spreads out all around us, trying to draw us in.

 

The psychopomp, who’s been silent all this time, speaks up now:

 

“Quiet isn’t it? It’s because of their secrets. Everyone here reached a critical mass in Dodge City and had to move out. No one could say anything about anyone else anymore in there, so here they all are, choked, saying nothing.”

 

Then, by way of demonstration, the psychopomp too falls silent.

 

“WELL, this is me,” he says a while later, walking up the steps of one of those silent houses. I see him feeling around for the key under the front mat.

 

By the time the lights of his house come on, I will have rounded the corner and reentered the circle of the actual Dodge City, where the sounds of my breathing finally return to me, as if something had borrowed them for a few hours and is now finished.

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