FOLLOWING THE COPYCAT INSPECTOR’S snap-judgement that Dodge City is a cult and not a town, and his pledge to return with a Warrant in a little while and set in motion the official downgrading process, some of us went kind of hog-wild on the way home from Dead Sir (in which we’d been immersed up to our waists for more than some of a day).

 

I mean, we pretty much lost it. We tore things up, burned them down, squeezed and sprayed fluids from our bodies that none of us had ever seen or felt flowing in us before. We trampled most of the grass of Dodge City’s parks and pulled transdimensional entities out of orbit and onto the concrete, just to spit and puke on them and watch them shrivel.

 

We blew down City Hall and drove all our cars into a single sky-high pileup, with a lot of people and cats and money crushed inside.

 

I saw a crowd urinating on a torso whose arms and legs had been pulled off, washing away the spurting blood until nothing but purpling tissue and yellow goo remained. Someone else sat naked on the torso’s head, rocking back and forth in rodeo-time.

 

I saw two brothers eat each other down to scraps, chewing at the same rate, so that they were both reduced in the end to identical stuffed mouths. It was like a shell game to try to remember which had been which at the beginning … and I saw people in the peripheries playing this shell game, betting on it, winning and losing big like that early scene in Wake in Fright.

 

There were spontaneous reenactments of this event while one guy pretended to be Jodorowsky with a crank camera, grinding it all onto film, until another guy pretending to be a rhino impaled him through the anus and a salvo of window-jumpers landed on them both, pushing all involved through the sidewalk and into a hollow-earth cave city.

 

IT WENT ON AND ON, this renunciation of the pretense of civility we’d abided by before being deemed a cult.

 

When exhaustion finally got the better of us, we huddled inside the few buildings left standing (and even these few were badly burned), and waited, eyes closed, for the exhaustion to pass. A few people stepped experimentally into an elevator shaft, and a few others, unless I misunderstood, seemed to conceive and give birth to fresh children in a single fluid gesture.

 

Someone ordered pizza, but it never came.

 

THE NEXT MORNING, I joined a reconnaissance crew. We went through the streets collecting bodies in a big semi-automatic cart, ferrying them across town to the Suicide Cemetery.

 

The saddest aspect of this reconnaissance, for me, was how no one (NO ONE) debated the rightness of classing these deaths as Suicides. There was no schismatic banter, no splitting of — so to speak — the atom, no one decrying the dangers of allowing our Suicide Cemetery to slip into the impurity of housing bodies dead by hands other than their own.

 

What the fuck? I remember thinking. Why bother burying these bodies at all if this is the level of lassitude we’ve stooped to?

 

AS IT TURNED OUT, I didn’t spend long considering this before something stopped us in our tracks:

 

7 Shed Skins.

 

I remember pausing to wonder whether they were human before it became so obvious that they were that I was embarrassed ever to have wondered.

 

7 Human Skins shed like the skins of snakes, crackling in the heat, losing color.

 

The fact of the skins themselves was not remarkable. What was remarkable was that there were no correspondingly skinned bodies.

 

We’d already gathered all the partial bodies and deposited them in the Suicide Cemetery (near the graves set aside for Bon Scott and John Bonham, in case those venerable Suicides ever came our way), and none were missing skin. That’s not to say that none were skinned, but all the skin from those bodies was found near them (excluding small portions that’d been eaten … small enough to be negligible except in cases when entire bodies had been eaten, which fact, as far as burial was concerned, located them outside the Cemetery’s purview).

 

So here were 7 Skins and no sign of what they’d until recently sheathed.

 

Rather than confront the possibilities, we decided to gather them up and bring them to the Natural History Museum.

 

THE SKINS SPENT LESS THAN 24 HOURS THERE.

 

By the next morning they were as gone as that shriveled monkey New Christ thing from Wise Blood.

 

We looked for them all over town — and on the Internet — as they’d suddenly become very important to us, emblems of the Last Days of Dodge City, before the Inspector returned with his Warrant to demote us to cult status.

 

Those skins were all we had.

 

*****

It fell to the Police Department to figure out what’d happened.

 

We licked our wounds and growled lowly in the dark while they got organized.

 

At 5pm, a representative came out to make a report.

 

“After careful consideration,” the representative began, “we’ve decided to delegate this case to Widget. He’s already in the field, so is unable to take your questions at this time, but if you’ll just … ”

 

PANDEMONIUM / BEDLAM.

 

I didn’t want to see where things were about to go, so I slipped out, went to sit in a field by myself.

 

Widget, the cop they delegated the 7 Skins Case to, is a 9-year-old.

 

He came on the force before my arrival in Dodge City — he must’ve been 5 or 6 then — and, ever since, the joke has been that the other cops (adults) make up pretend cases for him to solve. Really simple stuff, like swapping salt and sugar or mixing up the receptionists’ nametags or that old upside-down glass of water on the table trick … and then they watch him go to work, laughing when he can’t solve them and buying him a sundae when he can.

 

So, to put it mildly (and I’m feeling mild sitting in this field), the question of why delegate what’s probably the highest-profile police case Dodge City has ever seen to a 9-year-old is beyond me.

 

It strikes me that some real cult shit might be involved here — whoever or whatever put those 7 Skins there and then abducted them from the Natural History Museum might well be the real thing.

 

It starts to get cold and I’ll have to find a bathroom soon. I look over and see the burning skyline of Dodge City, visible across this field.

 

I settle back to watch. When next I look up, the copycat Inspector it sitting beside me, pausing his iPhone and putting his headphones away.

 

“Sorry, I was just finishing my podcast,” he says.

 

I nod. In his other hand, he’s holding the Warrant.

 

“I would’ve imagined you’d carry something like that in an envelope,” I say, making conversation.

 

He shrugs. “I can print a new copy if something happens to this one.”

 

We both look at the burning skyline, wondering which of us will make a move in that direction first.

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