AFTER FEMA DEPARTS WITH ITS NEW CRONENBERG IN TOW, bound like a Christmas Tree in the back of its truck, there follows a non-period of the kind that has become familiar. For every incident, it seems, there are at least ten non-incidents, or maybe just one ongoing non-incident, depending on whether you want to break it up.

 

I sit in my Room, arranging my materials, shaving a little of my face at a time, waiting for news. When news finally comes, it comes in the form of a DELIVERY ANNOUNCEMENT from the Mayor:

 

“DEAR PEOPLE,” the email begins, like some update from a talky college dean:

 

“Every few decades, as you likely know, the Horror in this town gets old. Like sitting water, it gets cloudy and full of, well not literally, but pine needles and insects of a non-literal sort. That’s the natural way of it. It turns tepid, or turgid, or both … neither-here-nor-there, you know? Not really Horror at all, just a general unease that imbues our lives with a gross quality, instead of the really sharp and riveted feel of living with True Horror, which is what we all want, whether we know it or not … or at least what I want, which is sort of the same thing when you really think about it, don’t you think?

 

“So, I’m very pleased to announce to you all now that our application for an influx of Fresh Abject Horror has been granted … it’s been years on the waiting list as funding got cut again and again, during which we all had to bite our tongues and watch as wealthier towns, in wealthier counties, got serviced before us, but at last our turn has come. This is a time of renewal for Dodge City. It’s a, not to mix metaphors, freshening of the ground upon which we all stand.

 

“POUR YOURSELF SOME CHAMPAGNE BEFORE READING ANY FURTHER,” the email commands.

 

So I do. This entails leaving my Room and going to buy some (assuming there’s a brand I can afford; otherwise I’ll just get more beer), and taking it (I found a brand) into the street, where the Horror Delivery is already underway.

 

I uncork the champagne (Cava, technically, now that I read the label and not just the price tag) and stand in the crowd in the town square to toast the truck as it unloads the boxes of Fresh Abject Horror that the Mayor is so proud to have secured for us … I see him standing by the off-ramp of the truck, taking selfies with his phone while the crew piles up the boxes, already emanating serious dark energy.

 

The delivery crew wears oven-mitt gloves that reach their shoulders and handles the boxes with the kind of attention that makes it clear they’ve all been bitten/burned/etc at least once before.

 

WHEN ALL THE FRESH HORROR HAS BEEN UNLOADED, the delivery crew quickly siphons our degenerate, stagnant Horror (much of it still person-shaped) into a plastic tub, loads it into the truck, and departs.

 

*****

The people of Dodge City, all drunk on the same Cava, stand around looking at the boxes, waiting for the Mayor to tell us what happens now.

 

He looks like he’s thinking about it.

 

When he’s done, he says, “Alright everyone, go back to your Rooms. All of your old neighbors, you’ll notice, have been evacuated, melted down and carried off, to make room for the new neighbors that will sprout from these boxes. You will each have new, genuinely horrifying neighbors before the night is out. None of you will sleep in peace.

 

He steps back like he’s expecting applause, perhaps already beginning to hear it in his head, but it doesn’t come. We shuffle away in a weird mood, unsure how to pass the time between now and tonight.

 

*****

I’M BACK IN MY ROOM, eating vending machine snacks and reading movie reviews, when I hear a crackling and rumbling next door. My new neighbor is here, I think, giddy despite myself. Maybe some Fresh Horror is what I’ve been needing for a while.

 

I hear a tapping against the wall. Thinking of an old Mitch Hedberg joke on this subject, I look in its direction and notice a discolored patch in the otherwise off-white paint. It appears to be a hazy window.

 

When I go up to it, I see a shape moving on the other side. It’s like extremely dirty glass, showing only the basic outlines of my new neighbor.

 

He looks like a blob, maybe just obese in the belly, or maybe equally large through the shoulders and neck. Maybe he’s still taking shape after his time in the box, or else this is how he is.

 

A sound like a burp traveling through the esophagus before it reaches the throat comes through the wall. The sound is about as grainy as the image, like I’m playing a very old VHS on a VCR that’s sat out in the yard for years before being taken back in as a relic.

 

“Is this a Confessional?” asks my neighbor.

 

Before really considering the question, I reply that it is.

 

“Good. I’d like to tell you about my anal marriage to a nun in Sardinia.”

 

I pour more of that Cava and wheel over my computer chair.

 

“Let me know when I can start,” he asks, after a while.

 

“You can start.”

 

So he does:

 

“I fell into this anal marriage during a period of soul-seeking in my early thirties. I’d just left my job at Bain & Company on the verge of a sizable promotion, and set to roaming southern Europe, as far north as Bavaria and as far south as Crete, focusing on the south of the main Catholic countries — Spain, France, and Italy.”

 

“What about Portugal?” I interrupt, not sure whether I’m supposed to participate in this process.

 

He ignores the question, continuing: “It was in Sardinia where I fell through the final floor, into a basement of self I’d always known was there but hadn’t thought I’d have to inhabit at such a young age. I thought I’d spend my life preparing to inhabit this basement, not actually inhabiting it. I got confused about which life was which, so to speak.”

 

Since I can’t see him well enough to tell, I imagine him sighing behind his hand here.

 

“I was on a beach in Sardinia, outside some tiny town whose name I don’t remember, kicking up sand while considering my low state, when I met the nun. She and I immediately felt a kinship, she fleeing the convent and the circumscribed life of chastity and prayer she’d pledged herself to, me fleeing Bain and the circumscribed life of profit and acquisition I’d pledged myself to. We were in different models of the same boat.”

 

He pauses. “So, that night, with the help of the local olive oil, we entered our anal marriage. She craved connection on a very sincere and human level but was not yet ready to cast off her vows. You know that trick, right? The old anal workaround, to preserve technical virginity for God?”

 

I nod, imagine him able to see me.

 

“Well, each time before we began, she reiterated, like saying Grace before a meal, that her vagina was reserved for God, whenever He chose to make His entrance … during the act itself, she prayed loudly for God to enter her at the same time, as if by my example God might take notice and consent to participate.

 

“It went on like this for most of the summer, us scrounging up what food and drink we could and sleeping on the beach, until, one night in late August, He appeared. The nun and I were having anal sex in our usual way, after a dinner of canned dolma and bread, when I felt a foreign presence within the familiar sheath of her anal canal. Something pressing from the other side, exerting a strange sort of dizzying heat.”

 

“God’s penis?” I guess.

 

He pauses as if shocked by my prescience, or pretending to be. “Exactly,” he finally says.

 

“God’s penis was pressing toward my own, drawn as if by some sublime inevitability, in the middle of this nun.”

 

He stops, and I think his confession may be over. Then he continues:

 

“And the nun seemed cognizant on a base animal level of the event taking place within her. I could tell that she was reaching a kind of total fruition, beyond earthly orgasm … she was host to the union of Man and God, like that famous finger-touching fresco, you know the one I mean? We thrust toward one another, straining to break the flesh-wall and touch, and finally we did. Our penises made contact, and some conversion occurred.”

 

I pour still more Cava and wait.

 

“I’m not a religious man, but there’s no denying that I was altered permanently. In the moment of mutual orgasm, God’s semen flowed through the rupture in the nun’s belly and down into my penis, nullifying my own emission and seeping deep inside, into my testicles and seminal vesicle. It killed my human sperm, severing my bloodline, and made of me a proxy for the unborn progeny of the Creator.”

 

Another pause.

 

“Then what?”

 

“Well,” he replies, cagily, like he hadn’t intended to say more. “The nun died, and God withdrew, disappeared. I buried her in the sand, and found myself alone, fraught with God’s semen and no instructions for how and where, or even whether, to use it.”

 

“I see,” I say.

 

“So the years went by,” he continues, in a conclusory tone. “And I grew ever more uncertain, aware that if I were ever to ejaculate inside another mortal woman, I would kill her, were it anal or oral, or impregnate her with a God-spawn that she and I could by no means raise, were it vaginal. I was in a bit of a bind.”

 

We both pause here.

 

“And, all the while, the pressure in my testicles was mounting. I was descending into a new kind of madness. So I roamed the earth for many long years, afraid even to masturbate lest the seed be found where I left it. When your Mayor’s order for Fresh Abject Horror came through, I applied for the post and got it. That was a Salvation.

 

“I was boxed up and sent here, told I’d be given a Room where I could masturbate freely, releasing the God-seed a little at a time until I was free of it and could die in peace. It’s been a terrible burden to carry. I have come to Dodge City to relinquish it, at long last, in the service of Horror, for the sake of the town. It may take years of dedicated masturbation, but I believe it is possible.”

 

“Huh,” I say, thinking out loud. “And you call that Abject Horror? Seems more seedy than horrifying, to tell you the truth. Not really any less degenerate than whoever was in your Room before you. Kind of amusing, in fact. I feel a little cheated, not that I blame you.”

 

“What are you, some kind of Secular Jew?” he scoffs.

 

I nod that indeed I am and walk away from the Confessional, aware that he can’t see me and is perhaps talking still, trying to justify himself.

 

Or maybe, I think, logging back into my email, I’m the Fresh Horror and he’s its object, unwitting and defenseless in that little Room of his next to mine. I almost go back to the Confessional to propose this possibility to him, but I figure I’ll burn off a little more time first.

 

Then the sounds of his awful masturbation start up and I know we won’t be talking any more tonight.

 

I know that soon I’ll be praying for the sound to abate, and that it will only get louder the louder I pray.

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