BED REST following the Intestine Episode is cut short by the scheduled arrival of an Idol.

 

The baby that Stokoe Drifter sired is tucked away in some nursery or orphanage, attended by specialists and orderlies.

 

If we could have postponed it we would have, just to have a few extra days to lie low, but these things involve multiple towns and the amount of legwork required to disrupt the Idol from its scheduled tour is way beyond what any of us were up to undertaking.

 

In fact, it’s on a fixed circuit of 30 towns, which means it has, max., one day of leeway per month. In February, obviously enough, it has to hit, on average, more than one town per day.

 

Every town gets its turn. Ours is today.

 

The Idol is wheeled in by hooded underlings, big as a Trojan Horse except, instead of wooden and hollow and filled with spies, it’s blobular and gummy, solid, filled with despair and self-doubt.

 

Every citizen of Dodge City, except those living Underground and/or Off The Record, is assembled in the square (the same one in which the Intestine Episode played out — some of the cobblestones are still stained), yawning and shivering in the autumn chill, watching the Idol approach on its titanium casters.

 

The hooded underlings take a few minutes to stabilize it once it’s been rolled into position, anchored with a rope around the fountain in the dead center of the square like it has some astrological significance, something with the sun and the shadow of the clocktower and concentric circles and diametrically opposed shop windows mirroring each other.

 

Once the wobbly gelatinous mass is still enough to be safe-seeming, we separate into four lines of roughly equal length, each facing the Idol from a distinct direction, dividing 360 degrees into chunks of 90.

 

*****

WE WAIT in this formation until the underlings blow a whistle. They hereby Give the Go-Ahead, then disperse into the streets around the square, perhaps for a bite and a cup of coffee, or just to afford us some privacy.

 

One citizen from each of the four lines approaches the Idol, gagging and blowing out air, preparing mouth and throat for the bitter, gooey taste of what’s to come.

 

All four dive in, burying their faces in the mass of the Idol’s side, boring as far into that biology as it’ll let them.

 

I gag in sympathy, watching their heads disappear and then enough of their torsos that their feet lose ground and tip up into the air, kicking and dangling. A few kick so hard their shoes scramble off.

 

It’s dim weather out, hard to stay sharp in — my mind wanders over to 12 Years a Slave and a kind of yarn-ball of jealousy over the critical acclaim bestowed upon Steve McQueen unfurls in my system, quickly re-knotting in new and painful ways. I try to fight it but only end up, predictably, fighting myself.

 

I’m up next.

 

I’m fantasizing about my Gmail account, begging the universe for a story of mine to have been accepted somewhere, anywhere.

 

I would’ve missed my turn if someone hadn’t shoved me in the rib, sending me off-balance toward the Idol, tripping over the knot of jealousy over how far short of Steve McQueen’s my critical fate has so far fallen, which has wormed its way out of my body and is now hanging down like the tassels on a prayer shawl all over my crotch and thighs.

 

Propelled bodily by the rib-shove and mentally by this craven (and common enough) thought-welter, my face ends up in the Idol’s side.

 

The familiar bitter putty taste seeps out to receive me. It spreads my mouth open as surely as a thumb and forefinger squeezing my nose.

 

All the insecurity of the past few minutes serves me well now: I’ve been adequately prostrated on the threshold, brought to my knees in advance of coming face-to-face with it.

 

I wriggle further in, arms pinned to my sides like when I was five and fat and stuck in the tunnel of a snow fort that had become an ice fort overnight.

 

The claustrophobia sets in as the Idol’s blob material forces its way down my throat, covering my tongue with a tongue of its own, stretching all the way into my esophagus to the point where it blots out all other sensation and opens the pathways of thought:

 

Maybe I’m really, truly not good enough, I think.

 

Maybe I just don’t have what it takes to see this — any of this, anything I’m working on — through.

 

Maybe I have the vision but not the chops, simple as that.

 

Maybe I’ll aspire forever, or even give that up, settle for fandom and a kind of select regional knowledge.

 

I mean, what do I know about what it really, like, really, takes?

 

These thoughts rush into me, pumped in from the belly of the Idol, whose sole purpose is to pump us all full of these thoughts, once every thirty days without fail throughout the year.

 

A lot of people can think it up, but only a very, very few can do it for real. Why believe you’re one of them? The thoughts continue, same every time.

 

What indication is there?

 

The Idol slowly and expertly ratchets up the tension, building to the brink of the unbearable. This is what it’s been called to town to do. This is what it is, living proof of the possibility that I am not — that none of us are — the genius I so miserably want to be and, twenty-nine days out of thirty, am mostly able to behave as if I believed I were.

 

The kind of belief that lets you move forward with work that no one else is forcing you to do.

 

I feel internal bleeding everywhere from my ribs on up, and a black soupy mucus pouring down into my stomach as the reality hits me full on: I might genuinely, truly, and, worst of all, simply, not be cut out for it. Not when you seriously size up the competition.

 

I mean, c’mon.

 

And maybe it’s your fault, whispers the Idol, beginning to ease its tongue out of my gut. Maybe you just don’t want it enough. Maybe, years ago, you took a long, sober look at what it actually takes and thought to yourself … eh, I dunno …

 

*****

Finally it pulls its tongue the rest of the way out me. I can feel life returning to my arms, which begin morosely swimming back out of the blob’s interior, pushing back toward the open air of Dodge City.

 

Back on the cobblestones, it’s dark and, compared to where I’ve just been, frighteningly dry and cold.

 

I hang my head low, dog-like, and saunter off to a bar to knock a few back and try to thaw out from the High Sabbath.

 

The bar is full of people who’ve just undergone the same ordeal, all of us shaken in our resolve, our homunculi unseated from their habitual thrones.

 

Each of us drinks like we’re the only one there. Even the bartender looks like he’s asking himself what the point is.

 

When the place gets full enough and some of the taps start running out, I picture the hooded underlings untying the Idol’s anchor from the fountain and wheeling it away through the dark, back through the Outskirts and on to the next town, stopping somewhere unseen to pass the night.

 

I wonder whether they sleep inside or beside it, and all at once or in shifts. And whether they keep their hoods on even when it’s only them and too dark to see.

 

*****

When I get back to my Room, I open my Internet browser: several Email accounts, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Spotify, Pitchfork, The Dissolve, The AV Club, Netflix, and Hulu, along with the Events Schedules of at least five music and comedy venues.

 

Several minutes later, I open my novel draft, thick with several years’ worth of dust and tract marks, odious even to glance at.

 

Then, not to put too fine a point on things, I ask myself what sort of man I am.

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