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A new story of mine ..

Before reading this sequel, it is highly recommended that you confer with the first installment of David Leo Rice’s all too prescient work, PornMe. The below work also appears in the print version of The Opiate, specifically Vol. 14.

Poor Gribby’s on his last legs, so to speak, dying in the bathtub with the other Gribby standing over him, filming it all on his phone, uploading the shower scene to the central PornMe server, so that Gribbys the world over can get a sweet, sweet taste of what they’re missing.

Now Gribby’s huddled, fetal, stinking the ol’ drain up with his dumpling-salty blood and gamey panic sweat, color leaving his skin like a lychee that’s been soaked too long in ice. He’s looking up at the other Gribby, the one he glommed onto in all that porn he watched of himself getting busy with everyone who will now…

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I’M STILL IN THE HOTEL CONFERENCE ROOM WITH BIG PHARMAKOS when the Rebels parade through the hallway, carrying what appears to be a head on a pole.

 

I turn to watch, but feel my body stranded in place, sluggish, unable to wrest control of itself away from …

 

“We’re in a cut scene,” Big Pharmakos murmurs from somewhere behind me, his voice lost in the uncanny valley between how it really sounds and how that of an obviously-digitized version of it might. “Gameplay will resume in a moment. In the meantime, why don’t you come over here?”

 

As soon as he says it, I find I’m gliding toward the window to survey the Town Square, where Dalton, dressed in solemn black robes, is shoving the pole into a freshly-dug pit, twisting it to make sure it’s steady.

 

Col. Pussygrab’s head (there’s no mistaking it now) tilts, swivels, and drips, leering down at the swelling crowd, its expression as sinister and moronic in death as it ever was in life. But now, devoid of power, I find it somehow endearing, a relic of a hideous past rather than a threat of a hideous future.

 

“Guess they finally got him, huh?” I whisper to Big Pharmakos, finding that I can talk again, unless it’s just my character talking in the cut scene. I don’t say it, but I’m wondering what he’ll do now that his Mephisto days are behind him. What does an artist who caved for the Regime do once its dictator’s head ends up on a pole in the Town Square? I find myself feeling a little sorry for him, a little scared for his future, even though — lest we forget — he turned against humanity the first chance he got, and would have kept going down that road had the Rebels not intervened.

 

My attention is pulled (am I actually playing the game now?) back to where Dalton is on a ladder, pruning Pussygrab’s face with an electric hedge-trimmer, going all around the head, cutting off the lizard skin in long wet flaps, to reveal … that of Blut Branson?

 

My shock is quickly sublimated into redoubled interest, as the last of Pussygrab’s skin falls away and the crowd swells under the shadow of what is now unmistakably Blut Branson’s head, grimacing down from the pole, where, I think, it will remain until it rots like a Halloween pumpkin in November, a temporary monument to the man who, until just now, had seemed like the permanent overlord of Dodge City.

 

“So,” Dalton booms, shouting from the top of the ladder, “it would seem that both the short-lived dominion of the Pussygrab Regime as well as the much longer-lived dominion of Blut Branson over not just The Dodge City Film Industry but the entire Collective Dodge City Dreamlife, has at long last come to an end. It would seem that the entire grotesque spectacle of the Pussygrab Regime was, in essence, yet another Blut Branson film. A bout of pathologically extended performance art. He is — or, I should say, was — nothing if not innovative in his storytelling approach. Ever in search of cinema’s outer limits. That much must be said for him. What must also be said is that The Pussygrab Project will now stand as not only the apex but also the capstone of his cinematic career. That era of film history, good people, has now ended.”

 

Dalton pauses here to dry his eyes, or pretend to. Then he continues, “In light of the circumstances I have just described, I’m happy to announce my bid for de facto Mayor. I can promise an era of relative tranquility, sobriety, and consensus in Dodge City. Anyone wishing to challenge my bid, please step forward now.”

 

The crowd is motionless.

 

“Very well,” Dalton announces, beginning to climb down from the ladder, hedge-trimmers slung over his shoulder. “Then I am happy to stand before you today as your new Mayor. Welcome to the next chapter of Your Lives in Dodge City.”

 

Muted applause; sighs of relief.

 

*****

Remembering that I’m still in the Hotel, not in the crowd, I turn to face Big Pharmakos, who’s now sitting at one of the abandoned banquet tables, massaging his forehead with his fists. I pull up a chair beside him.

 

“I really fucked up. Turning for the Regime and all,” he wails, his voice no longer dissonant, either because it’s reverted to normal or because I’ve normalized the distortion that, even a moment ago, I could still perceive. “They’re gonna kill me, aren’t they?”

 

Probably, I think, but I keep myself from saying it. Instead, I start to wonder how far back in time it might be possible to go. Who’s to say, I’m thinking, that we can’t revert to my first year in Dodge City, long before all this happened — long before I’d ever heard of Blut Branson, let alone Col. Pussygrab — and simply relive the events of which I now have nothing but fond memories?

 

I start looking at the ceiling, wondering how I might go about asking the Game’s designer to be set onto that mode — and what might it be called? If those who voted for Pussygrab were set onto Swamp Mode, what name might be given to those who’ve chosen to pretend they just saw his head impaled on a pole in the Town Square? Peace Mode?

 

In the back of my head, I hear one of the Basement Boys cackle, “What kind of little bitch plays on Peace Mode? What do you think the point of this Game is?”

 

Nevertheless, I get up from the table and say, “Look, we’re both exhausted, me from my trip into Town, you from the hours you’ve just spent rehearsing your act. Why don’t I go up and settle into my Room, you know, unpack a little, and then we meet down here in an hour and get a drink at the Bar? I’m assuming there is one in Dodge City?”

 

Big Pharmakos nods, a little sadly, as he begins to understand where I’m coming from. I can see in his eyes that he’s accepting the regression, agreeing to pretend that we’re both five years younger, and at least ten times more innocent. “There’s actually a pretty decent Bar just up the street,” he says. “I’ll see you in the Lobby in an hour and we’ll head over.”

 

*****

SO NOW THE PORTER HAS SHOWN ME TO MY ROOM. My Materials are unpacked all around me, and a washcloth’s draped over my eyes as I lie in bed. I rub the musty fabric over the bridge of my nose, willing myself to forget that I’m in a Game and that, in reality, the Pussygrab Regime is still in full force, carrying out its Genocide, decimating what’s left of Dodge City and rebuilding it into some deranged simulacrum of an Aryan paradise.

 

No, I think. That’s just a story I heard once. Maybe a movie I saw. Maybe a video game I played as a kid. No, all that’s real now is that I’m a nameless Drifter in a new town, in a strange but relatively comfortable Hotel.

 

And what’s more, I go on thinking, or telling myself, I’ve made a new friend, a local comedian named Big Pharmakos, not especially gifted, perhaps, but he seems like a decent guy, someone I wouldn’t mind getting to know, and getting to know this new town through.

 

All in all, I think, leaning up in bed to check my watch, not a bad start to my tenure here, however long or short that turns out to be.

 

So, with this in mind, I put on a fresh pair of jeans and a plaid shirt, fold twenty dollars into my back pocket, and leave my Room to meet Big Pharmakos in the Lobby.

 

As we walk out of the Hotel together, through the Town Square, I recall a dream I must’ve had during my nap a few minutes ago: in this dream, Dodge City had been ruled by a genocidal Regime of Swamp Creatures, all of its citizenry subjugated to their sadistic will, until a brave band of Rebels rose up and, storming the Creatures’ palace, managed to impale their leader’s head on a pole and parade it through the Town Square, where I’m now walking, en route to the Bar.

 

As there’s no pole and no head to be seen now, I must choose one of two possibilities: either I dreamt the whole Regime, and Dalton has always been and is still the Mayor; or Pussygrab is still very much in charge, and the dream was thus a pathetic hero fantasy hatched from the bowels of intractable defeat.

 

As we enter the Bar, where a guy’s playing either a very long or a very slow cover of John Prine’s “Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone,” Big Pharmakos says the first round’s on him. Even if this is all a dream, I think, or all a Game played on Peace Mode, there’s nothing to stop me, given how deep I now am within it, from believing that the life I’m living is my own, and that it’s the only one, and that all’s well that ends well.

 

“Cheers,” Big Pharmakos says, holding up his frothing mug. “Welcome to Town. If you can get past how things look and see them for what they are, I think you’re going to enjoy yourself in Dodge City.”

 

I cheers him back. “Thanks. I’m looking forward to it,” I say, and swallow my first mouthful of post-Pussygrab beer.

 

 

THE END.

I FIND MYSELF OUTSIDE MY CELL, INSIDE THE GAME, ON THE BANKS OF DEAD SIR, TAKING MY PLACE AMONG THE REBELS. We wait by the inky black waters from which the Pussygrab Regime emerged last fall, just in time to steal the election from Dalton, watching as more and more rebels, armed with pitchforks and clubs, fire pokers and bats, come out of the woodwork to join our ranks. Those on the front lines have distinct faces and bodies, but those behind them look like hastily-rendered clones.

 

“We’re playing on Easy, right?” someone asks.

 

No one answers, though I’m probably not alone in wondering the same thing. The power structure within our little Rebel Faction, if that’s not too grandiose a name for ourselves at this point, is still too nascent to tell if anyone here is qualified to determine what level we’re playing on. Still, I hope we make at least some progress before the Swamp Creatures — played, perhaps, by the Basement Boys — annihilate us. It’d be nice to take a few of Pussygrab’s goons out first, assuming, of course, that we’re not already dead in the Quantum Holocaust, which I know is more than I can assume.

 

Still, I’m ready to skip this cut-scene and get straight to the fighting.

 

Ask and ye shall receive: next thing I know, we’re hoisting our weapons high, ready to begin our raid on the Palace.

 

*****

WE MARCH ACROSS THE MIDDLE GROUND — the abandoned midnight streets of Dodge City, the theater where Blut Branson’s films are shown, and the lobby of what used to be the Hotel — and find ourselves on the ground floor of the Palace, hacking guards to bits with pitchforks, axes, and machetes, peeling off their pasty New Aryan skin to slash into the green viscera below, clotting the walls green as we force our way upward, level by level, toward the uppermost floor where, we imagine, Pussygrab himself, the Ultimate Boss, is waiting.

 

It’s easier than I thought possible — we must indeed be playing on Easy — and more gratifying. Soon, the thrill of dicing up goons is so overwhelming I find myself forgetting that it’s just a Game. Maybe it’s real, I start thinking, as I puncture a goon artery with an awl I picked up off the ground. Maybe the fake part of the story was the idea that it was just pretend, and the real part, the one in which we topple the Regime and restore liberty to Dodge City, has now officially begun!

 

Who’s to say the Pussygrab Era doesn’t end like this? Why can’t it be this easy?

 

I’m on a blood-rush, willfully suppressing the last remnants of my doubt, turning into a berserker as I hack apart one goon after another, jamming my awl into one set of eyes after another, eyes that have looked favorably upon Pussygrab and Paul Sweetie throughout this entire awful year … whatever world I’m killing you in, I think, my foot on the neck of a goon bleeding out on the rug beneath me, all I can say is I’m glad you’re dying.

 

The goon winks up at me and whispers, “But I’m not really dying … you’re just a loser playing a PS4 Game that lets you pretend I am, and you know it,” so I kick his teeth in and run to catch up with the other Rebels, who are already onto the next floor, one level closer to the ultimate showdown.

 

*****

WE FIGHT THROUGH SEVERAL MORE SUCH FLOORS, like in that movie The Raid, forcing our way upward, until a glimpse into a side room catches my attention. I let the others go on ahead as I peer through a half-open set of doors, where, if I’m not mistaken, Big Pharmakos is rehearsing his comedy routine.

 

I tiptoe into the room, unsure if my footsteps make any sound outside of the main levels of the Game (it seems clear that this room is a non-narrative space, beyond the purview of the Game Designer’s vision, though of course I can’t rule out the possibility that this very thought is an absolutely integral part of that vision).

 

In any case, I lean against the wall and watch Big Pharmakos strut around the stage, quipping about Pussygrab’s largesse, his disavowal of good taste, his manly hatred of shrinking violets, warming up an imaginary crowd for the Colonel, who’s supposedly “Gonna be out in a sec guys, I swear!”

 

As I watch him mock-perform, a memory of my very first morning in Dodge City, years and years ago, a lifetime ago, comes flying back into me. It was in a room just like this, the Hotel Function Room, and I was new in town, still a Drifter, lost, confused, in need of a friend … and there Big Pharmakos was, rehearsing his routine then as now, in a rhinestone suit and white studded boots, then as now, choking the mic in his fist then as now, looking over at me then as now … the jokes the same, then as now.

 

My thinking freezes as I feel the moment when I could have repressed the malignant spread of deja vu disappear. Now I’m lost in it, drenched in the feeling that this — all of it, in its exact dimensions — has happened before, or even that it’s happening now for the first and only time, reverting me back to the very beginning of the entire Dodge City saga, Day One of Book One, Big Pharmakos choking the mic and staring at me from the stage, an evil glint in his eye, not hiding the fact that he knows exactly what I’m thinking.

 

My knees go rubbery and I swoon, thinking, as I fall, please, let this all be part of the Game. I’m willing to lose the Game, I think, as my head smacks against the edge of a table, anything to reboot the level and play it again. Just give me one more chance, I think, beseeching the Game Designer, and I promise I won’t leave the main storyline. I won’t wander into this side room again.

 

“You hear that, folks?” Big Pharmakos simpers. “He wants to play again! He wants one more chance at the main storyline!”

 

The room, though empty, explodes in laughter.

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.

ALL DODGE CITY ACTIVITY THIS PAST MONTH has gone toward prepping for The Second Dodge City Genocide, which the Colonel has made clear on numerous occasions will be known as The First. “The one and only, the best Genocide ever,” as both he and Paul Sweetie have been putting it on all the daytime soaps, in what they openly claim is an effort to create “a kind of week before Xmas free-for-all atmosphere.”

 

Everything’s running smoothly except for the small issue of there being quite a few Torturers left over from The First Dodge City Genocide, some of whom grow piqued at the looming prospect of their life’s work being Denied.

 

And the worst of these Torturers, we soon find out, are in a union: The Dodge City Torturers’ Anti-Defamation League, which starts holding rallies in the Town Square, chanting, “We will not go easily into that good night! We will rage, rage against the Denial of The First Dodge City Genocide!”

 

Many other townsfolk — some of them surely just looking for trouble in whatever form it presents itself in, but still — join the chanting, and soon a series of riots are underway. The human tide swells until it reaches the gate of Pussygrab Palace, at which point the Colonel is forced to take action.

 

The action that the Colonel takes — through his Generals, naturally — is to announce the execution of all the so-called Retired Torturers in the Town Square. After making a speech about how, “As I’ve already told you guys, no Genocide but mine will be recognized in Dodge City from this day forward,” he turns his back as the Generals get to work stringing the numerous Retired Torturers (no one’s quite sure how many, as some of the townsfolk in the crowd squirm in on the action, and some of the Torturers onstage slip away at the last minute) up by their necks, then inviting the lowliest hangers-on in the Pussygrab Regime to whack them with whiffle bats, piñata style, until they’re dead.

 

*****

OR, as we soon learn in an Amazon pay-per-view special (my account’s on auto-play, so I find myself watching it without having chosen to), nearly dead. Their bodies are carted out to Dead Sir, as usual, but before they sink under, the Night Crusher appears and drags their bodies into a clearing in the woods where, along with a small skeleton crew, he proceeds to reanimate them using some sort of Haitian zombie-magic, a ritual that, in Amazon’s presentation, veers between the hokey and the gut-churningly grotesque. “Two parts Nightmare Before Christmas, one part Cannibal Holocaust, as a 3-star review beneath the video window puts it.

 

Suffice it to say that, by dawn, the Torturers of The First Dodge City Genocide are alive and well, or at least certifiably undead. They look on as the Night Crusher (nice to see him working again, I think) begins cobbling together planks from a cluster of abandoned shacks in this part of the woods. By nightfall, he and his skeleton crew have assembled a makeshift Museum.

 

“Someone had to make sure this history wasn’t lost,” he says to the camera, as, in a languid montage, we watch his crew setting up the exhibits, scrawling notes across the lapels of each Torturer that explain his (or her — there are a few Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS-type women in the group as well) role in The First Dodge City Genocide, leaving nothing out. When they’ve finished, they drill coin-slots into each Torturer’s throat, hang a crude wooden OPEN sign across the door, crack a round of Miller High Life’s, and sit back to wait for the children to arrive.

 

*****

AND ARRIVE THEY DO. Over the course of a few sweltering late October weeks (no one knows why it’s so hot, or they do but they won’t say), the Museum becomes the most popular attraction in town.

 

It fills with children like ants on a spilled glass of Hi-C, overwhelming the Night Crusher and his skeleton crew, who lead the Amazon camera-people through the Halls of Undead Torturers while hordes of children feed quarters into the taxidermied slits in their throats and listen to stories of the millions slaughtered in Dodge City during the First Genocide, many of them buried in the Mass Watery Grave (MWG) in the Desert.

 

Others, according to some Torturers, were incinerated, eaten (by sharks, by termites, by crows), dissolved in baths of acid, affixed to papery wings and launched into the sky, and a thousand other means of dispatch, some so purple they beggar belief.

 

It thus comes as no surprise that the Colonel, when word of the Museum reaches him via his daytime soaps, denounces it as a complete and utter forgery. “Not one iota of what’s in there is real,” he bellows from the press podium in Pussygrab Palace, reading off what looks like a cocktail napkin. “It’s all made-up. The First Dodge City Genocide is still coming folks, just hold your horses. Nothing like this has happened before. But soon — very soon, believe me — it will have. Then you’ll all have me to thank! You’ll all have to tell me what a good boy I’ve been!”

 

He wipes tears from his eyes with the cocktail napkin, smearing ink across the lids — is the Colonel starting to melt down? I wonder — and wanders off stage, his mic still clipped to his collar.

 

*****

AS IT TURNS OUT, the Colonel’s denunciation only makes the Museum more popular. Further hordes now pile in to see what all the fuss is about, delighting in the made-up stories of the Torturers, who are starting to come apart at the seams, their voices reduced to harsh whistles and staticky hisses. After all, I think, the Night Crusher and his skeleton crew did a pretty hasty taxidermy job. It’s no wonder they’re not holding up under so much attention.

 

In due course, other countries hear about the Museum and begin to donate their own Undead Torturers: Indonesia, Turkey, Myanmar, Rwanda, Serbia … the list goes on and on. Each country sends an XL box full of stuffed Torturers with a note to the effect of, “Here are the perpetrators of the worst so-called Genocides from our nation’s past. We thought your Children’s Fake-News Museum would appreciate the gift. Please make it very clear that whatever these windbags say they did is all in good fun, like dressing up as dragons on Halloween.”

 

*****

WHEN THE MUSEUM OF UNDEAD TORTURERS grows so popular that all of Dodge City is seen there at the same time — the vast majority anyway, since I for one am still in my Room, watching this all on Amazon — the Colonel has no choice but to reverse course.

 

He appears in the middle of the crowd with Paul Sweetie in his white wedding dress beside him, and announces (reading off another cocktail napkin), “Beloved citizens, loyalists, toadies, stooges, turncoats, one and all: I was just kidding before when I said this Museum was a sham! Just having a laugh with you all, ha ha. What it really was — what it’s been all along, of course — is a trailer for the Genocide I’m now ready to kick off! A preview of coming attractions, just to wet your whistles! Now, please join me in a round of applause as we get The Real First Dodge City Genocide up and running!”

 

Everyone — mothers, teachers, cripples, kids — applauds, as Pussygrab gives a signal and is spirited out of the room just as the gas begins to spew in.

 

The camera lingers on the inside of the Museum as the crowd gags, bloats, and quickly succumbs, piling up in enormous, balloon-like blobs, crowding the Torturers until it’s impossible to tell who’s taxidermied and who’s freshly dead.

 

*****

CUTTING BACK TO THE WOODS OUTSIDE, the Amazon special ends with Pussygrab, Paul Sweetie, and his newly appointed Torturers cracking a bottle of champagne and toasting to the official start of The First Dodge City Genocide.

 

“Don’t worry, folks,” the Colonel says, looking straight into the camera with champagne running down his lips and onto his shirt, “you’re all going to get your turn!”

 

Just before the end credits roll, I think I catch a glimpse of the Night Crusher and his skeleton crew running into the woods, but when I try to stop and rewind, an error message says my single viewing has been used up, and that the next Movie is starting in 14, 13, 12 seconds.

AT LOOSE ENDS AFTER MONTHS IN MY ROOM, doing nothing but watching AmazonNetflixHulu, I decide to cruise Craigslist for a job. Under “part-time gigs in and around Dodge City,” I come across a listing for a “junior writer of Fake News, paid $15.75 per published article.”

 

Seems reasonable, I think, though I have no point of comparison. After corresponding a little with someone named XGurl69, I’m told to “just write about whatever you think is happening here, since that’s the easiest way of making sure anything you publish is fake.”

 

Fair enough, I reason, setting out onto the Internet to see what I can find. The first story that catches my eye (which forms the basis for the article I’m writing now) has to do with a confluence of snakes that vanished into Dead Sir upon Pussygrab’s inauguration. According to eyewitness accounts, they swarmed in from numerous surrounding counties, desperate to partake in what some claim they saw as a chance at a New World Order. “A snake revolution,” as one blogger put it, in between posts demanding the complete eradication of paper money and public schools.

 

In any case, the snake-pit grew increasingly dense over the early months of the Pussygrab Regime, until their bodies absorbed all the nutrients Dead Sir could offer and began to degrade into oil, trapped deep beneath the shale ledge upon which the bog wobbles.

 

Several months later, the snake oil is declared ready for extraction. Naturally, hundreds of snake oil salesmen (in the literal sense of the term) swarm into town, in a mini-Gold Rush of epic proportions. They’re all holed up in the same Hotel I’m writing this from, busy trying to steal one another’s claims, tarnish one another’s reputations, and poison one another at the Bar (the dead bodies are dragged out with the empty bottles at the end of each shift).

 

Over the course of a week of frantic activity, they drain Dead Sir and pipe the snake oil out of the shale, bottling it for wholesale distribution. Costco, some sources report, has already put in a bid for a billion metric tons, as has AmazonWholeFoods.

 

But there’s a hitch: when the snake oil salesmen have finished their extraction and loaded their trucks, they’re stopped at the newly militarized Dodge City Border, where Pussygrab officials demand to know just where they think they’re headed with such precious cargo. When they answer, “Back to America,” they are executed on the spot.

 

The bodies of all 600 snake oil salesmen are tossed into the now-dry pit of Dead Sir, and the product is returned to Dodge City, where Pussygrab claims, on an impromptu Netflix Special later that same night, “no longer will our most cherished products be exported for the benefit of foreign markets. No, good people of Dodge City: I promise you, from now on, all Dodge City snake oil will remain right here, where it belongs.”

 

So now there’s a glut: a billion metric tons of snake oil is far more than any town can absorb, and besides, as noted economist Larry Finkelbaum puts it on a Netlfix 2 expose of the phenomenon, “the cardinal rule of the snake oil trade is that it must always be sold far from where it’s extracted. Otherwise, all public credulity in its potential use as an aphrodisiac or miracle cure or whatever it’s being marketed as tends toward zero. I mean, all of us here in Dodge City know it’s from a bunch of dirty snakes that drowned in a swamp, right? Who’s gonna believe that cures blindness?”

 

And, indeed, no one does. The snake oil sits undistributed in its crates until it starts to rot and the Pussygrab Regime has no choice but to begin marketing it as water. “Regular, secular water,” Paul Sweetie announces during Sunday Worship. “Nothing funny about it. Just good, honest water, folks.”

 

But, of course, it’s not. No one forgets that it’s snake oil except those who, according to another Netflix 2 expose, begin a campaign claiming that, “the Pussygrab Regime is poisoning our drinking water and turning our children into snake-people. Resist! Resist! Don’t drink the water!! Better to die of thirst than live as a snake-boy!!”

 

 

*****

With that, I finish writing my first piece of fake news and send it off for review, fingers crossed, since I’m not ashamed to admit that I could really use the money. In the meantime, I fire up Amazon to see what’s new with the so-called “First Dodge City Genocide,” which I’m sure has been drawing nearer by the day, if it isn’t already in progress.

AFTER CNN’S BREAKING NEWS RECEDES, I return to my usual programming only to notice that Netflix has split into two channels, each taking up half of my laptop screen. The Movie I find myself watching seems to use the same footage in both instances, but it quickly becomes clear that one of them is spinning it as a pro-Pussygrab story, the other as anti-.

 

Though the dichotomy disturbs me, I see no option other than watching both at once.

 

From what I can tell, the story focuses on how Big Pharmakos made the decision to offer his services to the Regime as — both halves agree on this term — the “official comedic warm-up act for the coming First Dodge City Genocide.”

 

Old newsreel footage of the actual First Dodge City Genocide (the one I remember learning about as soon as I arrived here) plays behind Big Pharmakos strutting on a huge stage in Pussygrab Palace, doffing a top-hat and doing vaudeville tricks with a cane. “This, friends,” he says, pointing his cane at the atrocity footage, “which many of you have probably been taught in lie-school is footage of the First Dodge City Genocide, is actually just the trailer! That’s right folks, the real First Dodge City Genocide is still coming, thanks to — you guessed it — the Good Colonel himself! So, no need to worry. You haven’t missed a thing. With your help, and the Colonel’s guidance, we’ll have ourselves the best little Genocide this tired old world has ever witnessed!”

 

Riotous applause across both halves of the screen.

 

Semi-consciously, I make a face imploring Big Pharmakos to return to decency, though I remind myself that he can’t see me from where he is.

 

“What we have here,” says Netflix 1, as the volume on Big Pharmakos’ giddy routine fades to a murmur, “is the patriotic awakening of a formerly degenerate artist. A man who, by his own admission, spent the first half of his life ‘wallowing in the filth of my own self-image,’ only to finally heed the call of duty, upon the historic occasion of Pussygrab’s unanimous victory last fall, and step up to the plate to pave the way for the First Dodge City Genocide, which, let me tell you folks, is going to make us all, as citizens of this fine town, damn proud.”

 

Netflix 2 interrupts with its own narrative. “What we’re seeing here is a disgraceful moral collapse of the sort that is sadly all too common in the ascendency of fascist regimes. A collapse which is, indeed, a key component of such ascendencies, a component without which no fascist regime can ever fully take hold. The poisoning of the culturati, if you will, which is in many ways a darker and more sinister process than the provoking of the angry mob which was, after all, nothing but an angry mob to begin with, even before Pussygrab whipped it into a murderous frenzy. What do you think causes a comedian of Big Pharmakos’ stature to turn like this?”

 

Here the camera pans from the first pundit, who looks somewhat familiar (I find myself wondering if everyone on both channels is an extra from Dodge City TV, dressed up as a partisan expert), to the second, who looks even more concerned.

 

“Well, Bob, that’s certainly a good question. I think it has to do with validation, quite simply. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves. Big Pharmakos was hardly at the height of his comedy career when Pussygrab came to power. And, to be even more honest, did he ever make it as big as he’d like to have us think? Was he really on Marc Maron’s podcast, as we all know he loves to claim? If so, have you heard the interview? I haven’t. I’d argue that he was, along with so many other members of the Regime and even Pussygrab himself, nothing but a washed-up hack who saw the dark glimmer of opportunity after last fall’s trainwreck of an election and, well, was either smart or dumb enough to seize it, depending on your point of view. When regimes like Pussygrab’s come along — regimes in desperate need, you might say, of entertainment value, since no dictator can go very far without comedy to lubricate his path — there’s always a Big Pharmakos waiting in the wings.”

 

*****

MY FIRST INSTINCT is to defend my old pal — it hurts to hear him discussed like this — but when the screen cuts back to him mincing onstage, with Paul Sweetie and all the higher-ups seated behind him, smiling moronically and fanning themselves with oversized photos of Pussygrab, it’s hard not to agree.

 

As if reading my thoughts, the camera zooms in on his grimacing face, covered in sweat-streaked pancake makeup and black eye shadow, leading the crowd in a chant of, “Kill the Jews! Kill the Jews! Kill the New Jews and make Dodge City gentile again!”

 

So what mental calculus is there left to perform? I begin the hard work of denying that he was ever my friend. As I watch him reiterate to the crowd that the First Dodge City Genocide never occurred and that Pussygrab will soon rectify this problem, I think, you do your Denial, old friend, and I’ll do mine.

 

As soon as I think this, I open a new window and start searching for a Netflix Movie that shows my time in Dodge City free of Big Pharmakos’ friendship — one that, ideally, shows me rejecting his creepy fascistic advances early in my time here. I find I can no longer evaluate whether it’s reasonable to expect such a Movie to exist, but I know I’ll feel soothed if it does.

 

*****

WHILE I’M SEARCHING, both Netflix Movies I just watched end at the same time and a box pops up asking me to rate my experience. I hover my cursor over both 1 and 5 stars, unsure how to rate both versions at once, until I decide to split the difference and give it a 3. A safe bet, I find myself thinking, trying to suppress my sense of irony for the time being.

I’M VEGETATING IN MY VIEWING SPACE — it no longer seems right to call it a living space, since there’s nothing I do here aside from watching whatever my laptop sees fit to stream — wondering about the lobotomy that Dr. Schlitz may or may not have performed, when whatever I was watching before is interrupted by a CNN consumer report, starring Big Pharmakos in his new role as a shameless Pussygrab apologist. He’s interviewing Dr. Schlitz, who’s taken on the role of a consumer safety expert.

 

“And so tell us, Dr. Schlitz, about these snazzy Personal Ethnostates that ULTRA MAX has been selling …”

 

“Well,” the doctor begins, “as you know, they’re flying off the shelves. Orders are backed up till next month. So I’m not quite sure whom this consumer report is for, but, if anyone out there hasn’t preordered yet, let me explain. What the good people at ULTRA MAX wanted to do, to serve the resurgent racial purity market in the wake of Pussygrab’s unanimous victory last fall, was to give the people of Dodge City the chance to create racially pure Ethnostates for themselves. You know, to experience the singular joy of life in a racially pure environment, free of, well, not to be insensitive here, but free of the filth, squalor, and disease of Otherness. The rank sweat of outsiders … aliens … undesirables. You get the idea. So, in consultation with the Colonel’s Health & Sanitation Commission, ULTRA MAX’s CEO (who chairs the Commission) ingeniously pioneered the notion of the Personal Ethnostate: a small tentlike enclosure each Dodge City citizen can pitch in his or her backyard and simply sit in alone, basking in the knowledge that the din and clamor of other races is, for a brief blessed moment, nowhere to be found.

 

A screen behind them shows a shirtless white man zipping himself inside his enclosure in his backyard, with the words “MISCEGENATION-FREE ZONE” painted in blood over the flap. It’s unclear whether this is an advertisement for the product or live footage of someone actually using it. I muse, for a moment, on what the distinction, at this late point, might be.

 

The man gives a little Nazi salute and goes in. Then comes a moment of silence, before a whirring of blades and a sickening shriek.

 

Big Pharmakos looks to Dr. Schlitz and says, “Can you tell us a little about what’s going on in there now?”

 

The doctor nods. “Well, what you’re hearing now is the man shaving what I believe may be either his arm or his leg off, if not both. You see, racial purity is a trickier subject than some may think. It’s not simply a matter of appearing on the outside as though you belong to one race or another, or of having one last name or speaking one language or another. It’s really a granular, microbial issue. It goes deep. So, in the Personal Ethnostate Starter Pak, ULTRA MAX sells what they’re calling a ‘piece-by-piece body part DNA testing kit,’ which is pretty much what it sounds like: it allows the user to test each part of his or her body for racial purity, and, should he or she discover any unwanted dark genes in, say, the left forearm, or the right buttock, he or she is free to simply shave them off with an electric flensing knife, also sold standard in all Premium and Deluxe Personal Ethnostate Paks, and available for an extra $29.99 if you opt to go with the Basic Family Values Pak, which I wouldn’t recommend.”

 

“Very interesting,” Big Pharmakos replies, looking a bit warily at his fingers splayed out on his knee. I also hold my fingers out and look at them, wondering, a bit uncharitably perhaps, about their true nature.

 

“And now?” Big Pharmakos continues.

 

The camera on the screen behind them zooms in through the flaps of the Personal Ethnostate as the now arm-less, leg-less man opens a sleek metal canister and lets out what appears to be a horde of warrior ants, which start ripping his remaining flesh apart with amazing efficiency.

 

Dr. Schlitz smiles at the image, like it’s helping him relive a fond memory. “Well, now the man is simply carrying out his Personal Final Solution, which is a decision we believe very strongly ought to remain in the hands of the consumer. The warrior ants are gnawing away his racial impurities on a microscopic level. Each piece of offending flesh is being separated, with great force, from the others, so that only the core, that of absolute irreproachable purity, remains.

 

The screen behind them now shows a gleaming white skeleton, the black warrior ants absconding with the last of the man’s red flesh dripping from their mandibles.

 

WHEN THE ANTS have departed the Ethnostate, the camera cuts to the front of the man’s house as a crew of robots breaks down the door and begins looting. They take his flatscreen TV, his wife’s jewelry, his guns, his gold trophies, his iPad, and even his signed Ted Nugent concert poster. When they’ve taken everything of value, they glide back onto the street and into the house next door.

 

*****

HERE THE CONSUMER REPORT ENDS and the screen bifurcates into two separate anchors debating what we’ve just seen. One argues that CNN is still, however subtly, an anti-Pussygrab network, revealing the nefarious workings of the Colonel’s race-baiting plutocracy — “don’t you see? He’s driving his own base to suicide in order to plunder their stuff with impunity,” she insists — while the other anchor swears it’s been coopted by Pussygrab loyalists and is now openly flaunting the Regime’s corruption, utterly unafraid of showing the public what it’s up to, since, as this pundit puts it, “subtlety and secrecy are the tactics of yesteryear. The era of naked, shameless greed — greed that is praised for its nakedness and shamelessness by the very people who stand to lose the most from it — is upon us. Hallelujah.”

 

Though I know I shouldn’t, I put this window on mute and open that of ULTRA MAX’s online shopping network, just to see how deep the backlog of Personal Ethnostate orders really is. Deep enough, I find, that even if I put my order in now, I wouldn’t be able to be alone with my purest self until after Christmas, at the earliest.

 

Until then, I think, cueing up Netflix, all of whatever’s in me is stuck here together, wondering how much further down this all goes.

WHATEVER I WAS JUST WATCHING IS INTERRUPTED BY BREAKING NEWS FROM CNN (AN AMAZON COMPANY):

 

“After the tragic massacre in Sacrifice Square last night,” Big Pharmakos (who’s apparently become a newscaster, or at least started playing one) tells the camera, “a new theory has grown too compelling to ignore. Dr. Schlitz, over to you … ”

 

Dr. Schlitz, a cut-rate Mengele lookalike, clears his throat and says, “What I would like to speak with you all about today is the very real possibility that the man, or should I say creature, you all call Col. Pussygrab, your so-called Mayor, is in fact nothing but a mass hallucination brought on by a fungal infestation of the brain.”

 

“And from where, Dr. Schiltz, might such an infestation have arisen?” Big Pharmakos looks like he’s struggling to read cue cards that are either too small or too far away.

 

“Oh, who knows. Dead Sir, I’m guessing. Or bad meat, bad potatoes, bad soap. Airport security machines. Exhaust. Such spores can find any number of ways in. The question now is whether a procedure involving the frontal lobe — ”

 

“A lobotomy?” Big Pharmakos interrupts.

 

Dr. Schlitz winces at the term, but nods. “Sure, if you like. My crew and I will be setting up a mobile brain unit — a van — and making the rounds throughout Dodge City immediately after this broadcast. We would like to look inside the heads of each Dodge City citizen, nothing invasive, just to check for brain disease. To see if Pussygrabism is indeed, as I suspect, a neurological rather than a political phenomenon. And to see if a simple procedure can neutralize the source of this phenomenon before another, well –” he gestures at the photos of the carnage on the screen behind him.

 

Big Pharmakos looks stranded, like he’s hoping some producer behind the camera will tell him how to respond. When no one does, he coughs into his fist and says, “Well that’s our time for today, folks. You heard the doctor. Please be ready for his, um, van whenever it comes by.”

 

*****

AS THE SCREEN freezes briefly between segments, I wonder if our complicity in submitting to this brain exam (I can already tell there won’t be any resistance) is itself a symptom of Pussygrabism. If we weren’t so rotten-through already, I wonder, would at least some of this strike us as strange?

 

I lose my train of thought as the next set of images fills the screen. Naturally, it’s of Dr. Schlitz and his crew inventorying Dodge City citizens. One at a time (a mobile CNN unit is filming) they load people into the van, sedate them with a blast of Pussygrab imagery straight from a hyper-bright flatscreen, and saw the tops of their heads off. Dr. Schlitz then pokes around in their brains — a number of such procedures are spliced together into a montage, set to a Fleet Foxes tune — with an array of wires, prods, and scalpels. Then he scowls and glues the tops of their heads back on.

 

*****

AFTER THE MONTAGE, the doctor appears back in the studio with Big Pharmakos (was this all filmed before the van scenes?), and says, “Sadly, the brain rot among the people of this town is too advanced. I was unable to perform frontal lobe surgery because said lobe was already mostly gone. Nothing left to do for these people, I’m afraid. Pussygrab is here to stay, folks. Hallucination of not, better get used to him.”

 

Here he makes a strained hiccoughing sound, like he’s suppressing a laugh, and stands up so abruptly the cameraman fumbles and loses the shot. CNN cuts to commercial.

 

*****

ALREADY, from inside the chamber where I sit watching this, I can sense the controversy brewing: what if, while pretending to examine our brains, Dr. Schlitz actually performed the lobotomy that made Pussygrab permanent? What if he was working for the other side all along, and the brain rot was merely an excuse to get in our heads?”

 

As soon as this thought occurs to me, I know it’s true. It has that ring to it, at least in my head. But what about my head? What about my lobotomy, or lack thereof? When’s it coming? Or what if — this is surely the more terrifying possibility — it already has? What if they came in here hours ago, dragged me into the van, snipped my lobe, and dropped me back off, none the wiser?

 

I start to panic, staring at the door, unsure whether I’d rather see it open, thereby proving that they haven’t gotten to me yet, or stay closed, thereby proving …

 

I find I can’t quite complete the thought.

I FIND MYSELF AT THE END OF A TRAILER FOR A MOVIE WHOSE NAME I DON’T CATCH but which seems to depict the formation of 100 soldiers into a Victory Parade in Sacrifice Square. According to the trailer’s narrator, “our troops so thoroughly defeated the enemy that all memory of the war has been erased. No one, today or ever after, will be able to say what the war was about, whom it was against, nor even where it took place.”

 

The question I’m left with (other than whether to see the movie — I know I’ll end up seeing it eventually) is how we can be sure these soldiers are actually the same as the ones who departed Dodge City to fight the forgotten war. They look completely standard-issue, like a random sampling of 100 action figures from a ValuPak of 1000 … so who’s to say these are the same Dodge City boys that supposedly set out all those months or years ago? At the same time, I think, treating myself for once as a rational debate partner, let’s not be too insensitive: who’s to say that the war itself didn’t burn their personalities so thoroughly away that these faceless brutes are all that’s left?

 

I chide myself for either my gullibility or my heartlessness (though not both). Then the next trailer begins. This one’s called Coal Country, and promises to tell the story of how “Pussygrab sent all the unemployed coal miners back underground until the next election.”

 

*****

THEN THE TRAILERS END and the main feature starts up.

 

It’s a sequel to The Dodge City Basement Boys, a special I remember watching a few months ago, back when the Pussygrab Regime still seemed young, before he’d called a snap-referendum and run a second, unopposed campaign in order to be voted “Double Mayor,” a position he then declared “at least twice as powerful as any Mayor in history, maybe three times.”

 

This time around, the narrator tells us that The Dodge City Basement Boys voted for Pussygrab on the promise that he would completely destroy the outside world and thus free them from the bad faith of dwelling inside the Game while knowing that an outside world continued to exist, a world in which they’d made no progress and had no prospects for success or approval.

 

At the same time, the Normcore Voters — most, if not all, of Dodge City’s adults — voted for Pussygrab for a diametrically opposed reason: that he would add entertainment value to their TV viewing because now reality TV would actually be real. “We wanted to feel like what we were seeing on the TV, even when it went beyond belief, was really happening. Like it was news, you know? Otherwise, we feared that watching TV would someday get old, and then where would we be, in terms of our lives and stuff?” says a man identified as Roland Epps, dentist, 43.

 

“So,” the narrator says, “Pussygrab and his Swamp Creatures have a dilemma on their hands. A dilemma that, if they’re not careful, could fracture into an outright Schism: on the one hand, their mandate is to destroy the entirety of Dodge City’s External Reality, leaving nothing but the Game. On the other hand, their mandate is to make Dodge City realer than ever, such that those watching at home might feel their TV diet growing fresher rather than increasingly stale. Ball’s in your court, Pussygrab. What’s your move?”

 

*****

Now the Netflix Movie begins in earnest. In one half of a split-screen, a team of Regime-loyalist hackers is hard at work creating a prototype of “the destroyed Dodge City,” which they plan to import into the Game hoping that the Basement Boys will accept this in lieu of actual destruction of the outside world. (“I mean, if they live full-time in the Game anyway,” one of the hackers says, “how will they even know the difference? They’ll look up from their in-Game lairs and see the ravaged post-Dodge-City wasteland we’ve designed, and believe the Colonel has made good on his campaign promise.”)

 

In the other half of the split-screen, another delegation of Swamp Creatures, led by Paul Sweetie, is hard at work torturing various Dodge City citizens, trying to put them on Permanent Swamp Mode so as to tether them forever to the belief that what they’re watching on TV constitutes the hyperreal world they all believe they voted for, while, presumably, the Regime carries out its real work in secret.

 

“What could go wrong?” Pussygrab is caught asking on a hot mic, his tone seemingly non-rhetorical.

 

*****

THE HACKER TEAM GETS RIGHT DOWN TO WORK, lifting the lid off the Game (which they apparently managed to commandeer right after the election, perhaps taking the reins from the previous administration — no two Dodge City citizens agree as to the Game’s origins, if they even agree about its existence) and beginning to sow destruction.

 

I watch on Netflix as they turn Sacrifice Square into a pile of smoking debris, boil Dead Sir into greenish vapor, reduce the Bar to digital boards and nails sweltering by the side of the road, and even reduce the Hotel (the same one I’m sitting in, the one that doubles as Pussygrab Palace) to a pile of rubble that reminds me of Berlin circa 1947.

 

As a finishing touch, they create an in-Game version of Pussygrab himself, incarnated here as a tribal warlord with sharpened teeth and a necklace of skulls, on the assumption that the more they can do to convince the Basement Boys that all of Dodge City now exists solely within the ravaged landscape of the Game, the less they’ll have to worry about the Boys’ interference aboveground.

 

The Basement Boys initially rejoice at this upgrade, burrowing that much deeper into their basements secure in the knowledge that there’s nothing outside to miss out on. “At last,” one of them says to the camera, “we can breathe free knowing that the basement’s the only place to be. Sex, money, prestige … finally, not having these things makes us stronger, not weaker. Thanks, Pussygrab, for fucking up all the shit you said you were gonna.” He addresses this comment to the in-Game Pussygrab, clearly acknowledging him as the real thing.

 

Then, finishing his ice cream and shouting for his mom to take the bowl, he picks his controller back up, unpauses the Game, and drives his avatar into the smoking remnants.

 

*****

“BUT WHAT OF THE NORMCORE VOTERS, AT HOME WATCHING TV?” the Netflix narrator asks. Indeed, I think. What about them?

 

It turns out that, at first, they’re satisfied too: Dodge City, outside the Game, looks the same as ever, so the entertainment value of watching Pussygrab poison its drinking water, imprison its journalists, and shutter its hospitals has lost none of its pizzazz. They sit at home eating takeout (“Does this Chinese food taste worse?” they wonder. “What happened to all the Chinese people that used to live here?”), laughing and cheering along with the Regime, secure in the knowledge that, just as they always wanted, the reality TV they’re watching is now truly real, and thus no longer a diversion from the lives they might otherwise have to wish they were living.

 

*****

ALL MIGHT HAVE REACHED A DETENTE AT THIS POINT HAD THE HACKERS NOT LEFT THE SEAM TO THE GAME OPEN. But, in their haste to escape the Basement Boys’ notice, they did. They fled the Game after destroying the virtual Dodge City and forgot to patch things up on their way out.

 

So, as is only natural, the air of apocalyptic decay from within the Game begins to ooze out into the real (so-to-speak) Dodge City. Pretty soon (unless Netflix has cut a lot out of this section) one-eyed humanoid hulks are wandering out of the Game and onto the streets of Dodge City, brandishing sharpened sticks and rocks in slings, led by the digital warlord version of Pussygrab himself, who’s now bellowing about burning the corporate overlords alive and eating the hearts of the faithless for lunch.

 

The split-screens merge here. The left-hand side looks slightly more digital, the right-hand side slightly more analog, but it’s clear they’re now both on the same level of reality, one whose consequences will surely apply to everyone watching, myself included.

 

The digital Pussygrab rips a cobblestone from the ground of Sacrifice Square and smashes it over his head, shrieking, “From now on, no Apocalypse is pretend!!”

 

The Basement Boys, I think, must be loving this.

 

The Netflix special stops here for a BREAKING NEWS interlude, featuring Paul Sweetie in his white wedding dress, shouting into a mic:

 

“A contingent of highly undesirable aliens has just poured across our border,” he tells the cameras, as screens behind him show those same faceless soldiers from the Victory Parade shoving the Game characters into armored vans. “This wouldn’t have happened had adequate border security measures been taken by the previous administration, but let’s let bygones be bygones. What matters now is how we respond. And let me tell you, we’re going to respond with extreme violence. The dawn of a new Dodge City Genocide is upon us, folks!”