I’M IN MY ROOM, OR ‘CELL,’ AS I’VE TAKEN TO CALLING IT in my more romantic and despairing moments, watching The Museum of Undead Torturers fill with gas on Amazon, when an interstitial news segment pops up about the deteriorating mental health of the purported 1.3 million coal miners Pussygrab has stowed underground until the next election. “They’re sick,” the reporter says, seemingly unprepared to offer any further commentary. “In the head,” he adds, after a long pause.

 

I find myself wondering if he, too, is sick in the head. Perhaps he was chosen to demonstrate the very problem he’s ostensibly on TV to parse. I wonder if they’re too sick in the head to vote in the next election; then I wonder if it’s possible to inhabit such a state while still remaining technically alive. Then I wonder if there will ever be another election.

 

To stop from dwelling on this last question — if it is a question — I switch over to Netflix, just in time to catch a series of eight gas chambers, all shown in split-screen, with what appears to be the entire population of Dodge City lined up outside.

 

I have a premonition of seeing myself onscreen a moment before I do. Then, there I am: in the chamber in the top righthand corner of the screen, there’s me, naked and shorn of all body hair, shuffling in a mass with a thousand others as goons in full New Aryan regalia, their lizard-skin gleaming through the cracks, shove me into the chamber and turn on the gas.

 

I bloat and slump over, and even in my seat, watching on this side of the screen, I find myself short of breath. I gag and shudder and only manage to stave off convulsions by slamming my laptop shut.

 

*****

I SPEND THE FIVE LONGEST MINUTES OF MY LIFE SO FAR sitting in the dark of my cell (it no longer occurs to me to call it a ‘Room’), laptop closed, wondering if I’m alive or dead. If I just watched myself get gassed, I think, trying to remain (or become) rational, does that mean the self I’m now sitting inside and thinking as is a simulacrum? Or, on the contrary, did I watch the simulacrum — the prop-self, the dummy-boy — get gassed, and here I still am, real as ever, minding my own business, ready for my close-up?

 

I try to regulate my breathing as I waver among these possibilities, acclimating to the notion that what’s happening now is a Quantum Holocaust, one that’s simultaneously occurring and not occurring, real and unreal, a joke and a death sentence, necessitating a world in which I’m both dead and not-dead, such that to decide one way or the other is outside the regime of reality I now inhabit. I reopen my laptop and log back onto Netflix to see if the explanation is to be found there.

 

Needless to say, it is.

 

On Netflix, Pussygrab’s standing behind a podium with a magnifying window over his crotch, bellowing, “So, you see folks, the footage you’ve just been shown is that of the successful kickoff of The First Dodge City Genocide. The one and only, for, as anyone will tell you, I invented the very concept of Genocide! A simple solution to a complex problem, which no one thought of before me. As we found it impossible to successfully identify all the New Jews — sneaky little buggers, you’ll agree — we went ahead and gassed you all. Every citizen will get their turn, don’t worry. I trust you’ll agree this is for the best.”

 

Paul Sweetie and a few other Swamp Creatures rush in to congratulate him, while, in the background, the air begins to clot into a scrim of ghosts who swarm the camera and whisper, seemingly straight to me, “If you can hear this, it means you’re needed. It’s time for a full-on Ghost Uprising! Gather at Dead Sir at dusk.”

 

Before I can react, let alone consider whether I might wish to participate in any kind of ghost uprising, an ad for a new PS4 game breaks through the Netflix feed, showing me and a legion of others like me storming Pussygrab Palace, eating through all the Swamp Creatures, one Boss at a time, until the final showdown with Pussygrab himself, whom we devour and dismantle in an orgy of digital blood.

 

After a quick cut-away to one of the Basement Boys playing the new game in his underwear, the title fills the screen: “GHOST UPRISING 4: DODGE CITY EDITION, RATED M FOR MATURE, ONLY $49.99 WHILE SUPPLIES LAST!”

 

For the second time today, I manage to slam my laptop shut.

 

*****

IN THE DARK THAT FILLS THE CELL, I feel both elation and terror. I can already tell, though the game hasn’t started yet (unless this is the intro), that its terminal ambiguity will be this: on the one hand, there will be tremendous relief at finally banding together to storm the Palace and, in the end, kill Pussygrab and all his minions. On the other, there will be the inexorable doubt that it’s all pretend, a distraction from whatever they’re really doing, things too awful to contemplate, things that will make even The Second Dodge City Genocide (I refuse to deny the First) look like comic relief.

 

Darker still, we will — whoever we are by that point, whatever’s left of us — be glad for the distraction. By that terminal point, as we muck about in the pixels of Pussygrab’s corpse, squelching his guts with our toes, we will have no one to thank for the sensation but Pussygrab himself. A kindness, we’ll think then, a gift from the God-Emperor, the Game Designer, to ease our mortal burdens while his regime finishes stripping Dodge City for parts, sucking out every last drop of marrow before lurching down the road to do it all over again someplace else.

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