AS WE REACH THE DODGE CITY ANNEX, where FEMA hopes to find its new Cronenberg, the Mayor fills in some backstory.

 

He starts with the Dodge City Annex Civic Fund, which provides opportunities for its citizenry out of a private fortune. Over the years, there’ve been a variety of projects funded this way, all with the aim of affording the citizens of the Annex a higher standard of living than those of Dodge City, still delimited by a Real World after all these years.

 

As we make our way along the dusty trail, a few prone bodies start to complicate our footwork. From the way they’re crawling, it’s hard to tell if they’re living or dead. I feel a bit square for imposing this distinction where it’s most likely not welcome.

 

Hanging over the entrance to the Dodge City Annex is a banner that reads: “YOU TOO DESERVE A CHANCE TO MAKE VIDEODROME.”

 

The bodies, plentiful now, moan like katydids. They churn and grind the ground.

 

In the distance, we see the gigantic hulk of the State Prison, which farmed me out to work on that chain gang about two years ago, if you remember.

 

A huge mass of these bodies crawls toward us, across the field in front of the Prison. They start organizing themselves into a line.

 

“Ah,” the Mayor says, trying to remain gracious in front of FEMA. “They’re lining up in hopes of being chosen as spokesperson for what’s going on here. Each situation gets precisely one spokesperson. That’s the law.”

 

The Mayor chooses the first one in line.

 

The others fall upon each other in a free-for-fall. We know they’ll be destroyed soon, so we start ignoring them now.

 

The chosen one begins, usurping the Mayor’s narrative in a tangent that may never return to where it started:

 

“So we all got this grant money to make our own Videodrome, you know, from the Civic Fund, and we knew what an opportunity it was for us to be able to make it, and not just go on with our little tiny lives, but then we get sidetracked. A veil was lifted, one that we never thought would be, or even knew was there … and it made us a little power-mad. We started to think that if it was possible to know what it felt like to be Cronenberg, it might not be too much to believe that we could find out what it felt like to be immortal. Very quickly, we grew obsessed. The Cronenberg-state came to seem a very long way beneath us, like some stage of evolution our distant ancestors had transcended in their sleep.”

 

FEMA types this, some of it, into its iPad. I recede into a listening mode, letting the things I was about to say go soft inside me.

 

“So,” the spokesman continues, “we’re all sweeping our Videodrome storyboards into our compost piles of juvenilia when word comes to us, via the Annex Internet, that the State Prison is selling off its lethal injection supplies, having chanced upon a “third method” that will no longer involve the torments and humiliations of this one.

 

“One way or another, as these things go, assuming you  believe that ideas have an organic life of their own (which, if you don’t: goodbye), all of us would-be Videodrome directors became convinced that these deadly chemicals, if administered properly, would make us immortal.”

 

“A sort of zombification ritual?” FEMA asks, looking up from its iPad.

 

The spokesman, visibly not pleased at the interruption, nods. “Correct. Of course, there’d been plenty of word around the Annex as to the misuse of these chemicals in the prison system, the botcheries, paralyses, etc … but, in the state we were in at that time, this was music to our ears. This meant one thing to us: TRANSFORMATION. We came to believe, abetted as ever by the Internet, that these chemicals were never intended to cause death, but rather to transfigure the body and spirit on their most fundamental levels, boil them down to their simplest components and start over, at last getting right what biology has for so many millennia gotten wrong.”

 

The Mayor can’t hide his dismay at being cut out of the conversation. He looks like he knows he could leave now and FEMA wouldn’t even turn to watch him go.

 

The spokesman, shaking off two bodies curled lazily against his shins, continues:

 

“Each death row inmate had his own special brand of lethal injection chemical, specifically calibrated to both his body and the moral fiber behind his crime and subsequent reflection upon it. No two doses alike. So, at this point, we underwent a period of interviews and investigations with the inmates, to see which of us fit most perfectly with which of them, ideally to match each one of us with one of them, in a deep spirit-bond, so that in the end we’d buy their doses and they’d go free, living on as us while we’d become superhuman.

 

“Anyway,” the spokesman continues, “I’ll fast forward since I can see you fellows more or less get the picture. We bought our doses, exhausting our Videodrome budgets, and paraded into this field here” — he points at the field which is now littered with bodies in all states of agony and mayhem, the inmates loosed from the State Prison rampaging among them — “to administer our doses, separately in the final moment, each of us turned inward, picturing what we’d come to understand as the locked box of immortal life in our centers, normally stored for subsequent lives, but now about to come unlocked.”

 

“Needless to say, you found it harder than you’d imagined to administer it properly,” FEMA adds.

“Needless,” the spokesman agrees. “A total disaster, as you can see. Zombification in the lewdest possible sense.”

 

We all look at the field, which is truly a sorry sight. Some lie on their backs and howl at the sun; others dig uncontrollably at the dirt, opening pits that still others fall straight into. Some are bleeding from their eyes, others from their ears; others look so pale it’s as if their blood has turned to water.

 

“If you’re so fucked up, shouldn’t you talk weirder?” the Mayor interrupts here, trying desperately to reinsert himself into the conversation. FEMA and the spokesman exchange looks of disdain.

 

The inmates, spared their executions, frolic like children through the field, dancing on the groaning bodies, singing in high voices, crushing the chests of the fallen like grapes in a wine press.

 

*****

THERE’D BE NO DRAMATIC EXIT FROM THIS SCENE were it not for the one guy with the video camera.

 

He appears only belatedly through the desecration, running behind and between the zombies and inmates with his camera rolling, shouting, “Great!! This kind of thing is just great! Let’s get even more of that if we can … ” as if he believes he’s directing the scene, everyone behaving according to a script he’s written two or three drafts of.

 

“That guy,” the spokesman explains, “opted to just still make Videodrome. He said it was enough for him.”

 

FEMA confers, checking its iPad and making a few phone calls.

 

“Great,” it finally says. “Forgive us if our tastes skew traditional, but we’ll take that guy. In terms of delivering a new Cronenberg to the people of this nation, finding one who’s actually willing to still make Videodrome, in spite of everything, will do us a world of good.”

 

“Very well,” the spokesman replies, like a slaver at an auction who’s just made a sale. “I’ll bag him up for you and bring him right over.”

Advertisements