It’s difficult to talk about the work of David Leo Rice and not mention his natural predilection toward painting all of his protagonists as spectral (sometimes quite literally, as the dead narrator of “Joey in Vermont” in The Opiate, Vol. 2 showed us). His knack for the details–cutting to the core of what “minutiae” really means–only enhances the natural hyper-surreality of his style and preferred tableaus (desolate, sparse and often contingent upon a screen of the porn variety).

This time around, it’s Dodge City, Kansas, an amalgam of every city in the west: lavished in languor, liquor and larceny. No longer the representation of its immortalized silver screen incarnation, the days of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland have faded into a hollow shell. The crime and carnage Dodge City became known for in its true wild west days of the nineteenth century have faded into something far more…

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A new story of mine …

Life in the surveillance state sure has its perks, as Gribby will be the first to tell you. Like this morning, for instance, as he’s drinking his Ovaltine and Googling guppies – he has a tankful in the living room that won’t quit dying – he comes across a site called PornME that sounds interesting so he clicks it open and it is.

It says, “We’re watching ya all the time anyway, at work and home and everywhere and stuff, so why not pay a lil’ extra to have yr vids porned up, bubba xoxo?” Gribby’s intrigued. He likes porn as much as the next guy, and more especially, he figures, the kind made of vids of him and his coworkers – there’s this gal Kellyanne he’s always been kinda into, for one thing – so, what the hell, he figures, sure, why not pay $12.99/mo. and see if…

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I FINALLY MAKE IT BACK TO MY ROOM, or what looks like my Room but may in fact be a replica set up in the cramped closet off the hallway I’ve been in all this time, somewhere in the bowels of what used to be the Hotel and is now Pussygrab Palace.

 

My attention, as ever, is quickly absorbed by what’s up next on my laptop: a Netflix News special entitled “The Dodge City Basement Boys: a Key Component of Pussygrab’s Electorate,” billed as “an exclusive look into the depths of The Dodge City Pizza Basement, which is, depending on whom you ask, either Hell, Purgatory, or The Ark.”

 

As the opening titles fade, the screen makes a diving motion, like the camera’s being shoved down a hole, slowly coming into focus in a dim grotto thick with dust motes, Akira posters, and several generations of Playstation controllers balanced on a stack of waterlogged copies of Steppenwolf and Notes from Underground.

 

A skinny, nervous-looking boy in sweatpants and a Tool T-shirt sits scowling at his computer screen while an off-camera reporter clears her throat and says, “Ahem, so … can you tell us what’s been going on with you boys since Pussygrab became Mayor?”

 

The boy, who looks to be around thirty, shrugs and says, “No, but I’ll show you.” He presses Play on a video window on his computer, and the scene zooms in, into a similar basement, where a similar boy sits, grinning and ready to talk like he’s just been tapped-in on a wrestling tag team.

 

“So there was this breeding experiment about thirty years ago,” he begins, fondling a Playstation controller,”set in motion by Mayor Paul Broth, right before he hung himself on the Edge of Town instead of serving the life sentence for war crimes that all previous and subsequent Dodge City Mayors have served immediately after leaving office. In this experiment, a group of neuroscientists set out to discover if it was possible to breed people to have a sort of hyperawareness that would enable them to see beyond the fundamental idiocy, jingoism, and cowardice of the human race. It was, without doubt, Dodge City’s most significant post-humanist attempt to transcend its ancient animosities and superstitions, and thus finally approach Genuine Rational Thought, regardless of any loss in empathy and compassion that might go along with it.

 

“The answer to this experiment was yes, it is possible. The only problem?”

 

He grins and presses the X button on his controller, which sends us deeper into The Dodge City Pizza Basement, which seems to have many nested chambers.

 

Another boy snaps into alertness and says, clearing his throat, “The only problem was they only experimented on boys. Not a single girl among the initial control group. Make of that what you will. What did we make of it? Well, we tried to make the best of it. We got on 4chan and connected up.”

 

He presses Play on his computer screen and turns to face it, motioning for the camera to watch over his shoulder. Onscreen, a hulking samurai paces the ground with an angry erection protruding from his tunic. The boy on the near side of the screen blushes a little as he eases his pajama pants down and fits a joystick-sheath over his groin.

 

“Okay, here goes,” he says, as he starts manipulating the joystick while the samurai onscreen begins fucking a curvaceous anime princess in a nest of thorns. Tentacles, pincers, and other wild appendages grope the screen from all sides. It’s unclear whom they belong to, but they waste no time getting in on the action. Soon the scene looks like an orgy, although it still has only two main participants, as far as I can tell.

 

Each time the boy thrusts in his seat, the samurai thrusts onscreen, and the anime princess moans out a cloud of digital oohs and aahs.

 

Then the boy shudders and hunches over his desk. As he comes inside the joystick, the samurai comes onscreen, pumping the anime princess full before pulling out to reveal gouts of digital semen leaking onto the pixilated ground.

 

“I did it quick since you all were watching,” he says. “Normally I last a lot longer.”

 

Wiping himself off with a sock and pulling his pajama pants back up, he says, “In nine hours, my son will be born. He’ll be half-human and half-Game. Though of course that’s an over-simplification, since I myself am half-human and half-Game, my father being a 4chan Boy like me and my mother being a, well …” He nods upward at a poster for Ghost in the Shell, “you know.”

 

*****

The phrase “NINE HOURS LATER” flashes across my screen, but I can’t tell whether nine hours have actually passed, or only in screen-time. The two are hard to distinguish at this point.

 

Now I’m watching the anime princess give birth to a screaming bundle of pixilated flesh, which then stands, cries, wanders for a while and, after a cross-dissolve, ends up in a basement of its own, bleary-eyed, surrounded by half-eaten chicken nuggets and Chinese takeout, staring at a web browser with at least thirty tabs open.

 

After checking 4chan and posting some garden-variety Hate on a few of its message boards, he cries out, “Mom! Ice cream!”

 

A few moments later, the anime princess from the previous scene — middle-aged now — trudges into the Pizza Basement with an Ikea bowl full of Cherry Garcia, and leaves it near her son’s typing hand, wary of interrupting him. The boy seamlessly incorporates it, spooning ice cream into his open mouth with one hand and Tweeting slurs with the other.

 

*****

“EVERYTHING JUST STARTED TO SEEM FUTILE,” one of the boys says, many generations later. “Like it was all fake, a sham within a sham within a sham, you know?” He adjusts his crotch joystick, which appears to be in foreplay mode, not yet impacting his ability to speak. “Like we were a bunch of mules … an evolutionary dead end. An experiment that was called a success but wasn’t.”

 

“So us Basement Boys started to circle the notion that it was all a Game. You know, like Nietzsche said: the outside world was nothing but neo-liberal hand-wringing and rich bitches crying themselves to sleep in multimillion dollar penthouses. A bunch of smirking bleeding heart coastal dickweeds who insisted on taking everything way too seriously. I mean, how dumb do you have to be to believe that — and please quote me here — Good and Evil still exist? Even with so much obvious evidence to the contrary.”

 

He gestures at his basement bedroom here, as if to imply that this is the evidence he means.

 

“So all of us, through 4chan and through our characters in all the individual games we were playing, began to formulate the theory of The Game.”

 

“The Game?” the reporter asks.

 

The boy nods. “Yeah, the idea that it was all networked together at the very top. That the Apocalypse had already happened, and we were now living in its aftermath. We’ve come to believe that The Game — a fully unified field, the ultimate convergence of all human endeavor — is the only refuge of whatever survivors there are. The Pizza Basement’s an Ark that contains the entire world. The entire universe, even. Underlying all of Dodge City, it opens onto the infinite.”

 

“And Pussygrab?” the reporter asks, looking at her watch. “What does all this have to do with him?”

 

The boy yawns and presses his controller, taking us to a yet-deeper echelon. The air in the room I’ve been watching Netflix in gets tighter and ranker, the smell of old pizza boxes and Big Mac wrappers close to overwhelming.

 

*****

A NEW BOY LOOKS UP from his screen and says, “Well, Pussygrab was a test case. A Swamp Creature we all knew from The Game, a Boss if you like, a natural outgrowth of the Hate we’d been fomenting for years, but the fact that he was somehow also on the ballot in the so-called real world, in Dodge City itself … it was too much to resist. We had to see if, by electing him, Dodge City would prove incapable of accommodating his victory and collapse into chaos, thereby proving that The Game is not ubiquitous, or, as we suspected, whether he would be seamlessly integrated into his new role as Mayor, thus proving that The Game is indeed everything, and that there is no world outside of it. No rules but its rules.”

 

He takes a long slurp from a Big Gulp he’s apparently been cradling in his lap all this time. “And so far, I have to say, all signs point toward the latter. He’s been Mayor for two months now, and Dodge City’s still standing — from what I gather, since I admittedly haven’t been outside yet this year — so what does that tell you? I’d argue that it tells you there’s no getting beyond The Game. The fact that Pussygrab’s both a leering ghoul from the digital depths of Dead Sir whom we elected with our Playstation controllers, and also the actual, real-life Mayor? Doesn’t that pretty much prove that Dodge City can’t be a real place?

 

“At the very least,” he adds, taking another Big Gulp, “isn’t it the funniest thing ever?”

 

“Is it though?” I hear myself ask, shocked to discover I’m now Skyping with him. “I mean, people are going to die.”

 

He nods, unsurprised to be Skyping with me. “True, but think about it: somehow, we made him cross over. The human embodiment of the festering heart of 4chan is now Mayor! And not just our Mayor, but yours too. How could that not be funny? The Line’s been crossed and no one even gets it. You libtards still think the old rules apply.”

 

I stifle a cough and ask, “So what does that mean about the Pizza Basement?”

 

He waves his arm at the dank walls and taped-over windows surrounding him, eyeing a bowl of melted ice cream like he’s weighing the pros and cons of polishing it off. “It means, if you’re watching this, that you’ve survived the collapse of humanity and have, whether you like it or not, succeeded in uploading yourself to The Game. It’s all pretend, so there’s nothing to worry about.”

 

He blushes and stirs the melted ice cream, tasting it carefully. “On the other hand, we’re aware that if it’s all pretend that means we’re pretend too, so in a sense it’s also real. If we and The Game are made of the same code, then we’re not impervious to what goes on here. Which is why we’re kinda hoping Pussygrab doesn’t do that much damage in the end. In The Game, if you die, you have to restart the level. No biggie, in theory, but I’ll admit that we haven’t figured out a way to save our progress yet. And so, yeah, no one wants to go all the way back to the beginning if they can avoid it.”

 

He falls silent here, a bit shamefaced as he stares at me through the Skype window, which is somehow embedded in Netflix.

 

A while later, he says, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, it looks like my wife’s in labor.”

 

The broadcast cuts to the screen he’s watching, where the now-familiar sight of an anime princess giving birth is well underway.

 

*****

THE NETFLIX NEWS SPECIAL ENDS with the termination of the Skype call, and I end up back in the room I started in, though the smell of old pizza boxes and Big Macs and bowls of curdled ice cream and discarded Big Gulps and cum-rags surrounds me, and I have to say I’m not as surprised as I wish I were.

 

Sighing, I log onto Twitter to see what Pussygrab’s been up to since last I checked, thinking, I’ll just clear my mind a little before watching Paul Sweetie Vs. The Dodge City Dead, which is already starting up on Netflix in one of my thirty open tabs.

I’M BACK IN THE ROOM IN THE HALL IN PUSSYGRAB PALACE, where I seem to do the vast majority of my TV-watching these days. It’s not a comfortable room, but it’s one that, by dint of time served, has grown comfortable to me.

 

Onscreen is a parade of Pussygrabs, dying one after another beneath the blade of a guillotine operated by a giant in a Ronald McDonald costume and a leathery white face mask.

 

“Ketchup to my mustard!” he shouts, each time the next Pussygrab’s blood splatters him, though the comparison is strained at best since the blood’s green.

 

After ten such executions, the real Pussygrab (or another Pussygrab) strides onstage and gleefully executes the Ronald McDonald. He pulls the mask off the head, revealing — what else? — another Pussygrab head, dripping green tendrils like pumpkin strands.

 

“Yes!” he shouts, holding the head high for the cameras. “Yes, yes. I am Pussygrab. We are legion. Screw us and we multiply! All assassination requests will be honored. Many of you have called for my head, so here it is!”

 

He kisses the severed head on the lips before kicking it offstage to raucous applause and desperate laughter (my own included).

 

 

*****

THEN A SMASH CUT to a sweaty red face so large its eyes define the upper left and right corners of the screen, its mouth the entire bottom:

 

“For years and years,” it’s saying, as drool pours from its lips and onto my feet under the desk, “I’ve been trying to tell you guys about the Lizards at the top of the pyramid. I’ve been trying to warn you that behind every President, behind every Governor, behind every Mayor and Schoolmarm even, lies a slithering, conscienceless, extra-dimensional Lizard-God whose name must never be spoken, not even in dreams.”

 

He pauses, consulting his notes and sucking down so much spit he has to swallow in two glugs.

 

“Well,” he resumes, momentarily dry-mouthed, “it now appears that I was either very wrong or very, very right.”

 

The screen cuts to footage of the numerous severed Pussygrab heads on the execution stage, rolling gently in the wind, tongues lolling out like Fruit-by-the-Foot.

 

In voice-over, the commentator continues, “You see, the Lizard-Gods are now either unmasking themselves — showing their faces, at last, as they really are, perhaps to call an end to their grand experiment, or to ratchet it up to a new, heretofore unimaginable level — OR, and I stress this possibility, they’ve simply cloaked themselves in new and even more disingenuous forms by appearing to be Lizards, when, all along, they’ve actually been something very, very different … worms, for instance, or slugs. And all this time, using highly sophisticated intergalactic mind-control, they duped us all (myself included, and you know how hard I am to dupe) into believing they were Lizard-Gods, and now, by appearing to be Lizard-Gods, they’re merely –”

 

 

*****

THE SCREEN TEARS IN HALF like a shredded piece of paper, while the words BREAKING NEWS flash across the torn part:

 

We cut to Paul Sweetie in his white wedding dress, weeping in a meadow.

 

Through his sobs I can just make out the words, “I found God! I found God! Look at me mom, I found God!”

 

The camera zooms in as he gets up, brushes himself off, and stretches his frayed New Aryan Skin back over his knees and elbows, covering the lizard-green beneath. Catching his breath as the mic is shoved up to his mouth, he says, “My whole life I’ve been searching for God. The real God, you know? The one I knew when I was a boy. The one that made me feel safe and secure in the universe, like I was at the center of things. Like I was being protected while others weren’t … I’ll never know why that God went away for so long, but now, thank God, He’s back!”

 

He starts crying again here, batting the camera away, shielding his face.

 

“Sorry, sorry,” he says. “I just … it’s just all so emotional.”

 

He points at the meadow, where the camera pans over to reveal a mess of wires, glass, sawdust, wood, goo, slime, and other industrial and extraterrestrial materials.

 

“God,” Sweetie continues, walking into the rubble now, barefoot beneath his wedding dress, “must have been hovering deep in the sky, too high to see. I don’t want to say I ever lost faith entirely, but there were years in there when I couldn’t be sure He wasn’t gone. I just felt abandoned, you know? I felt like the blacks, the gays, the poor … I just felt like they were all ganging up on me.” He starts crying again, looking upward at the clouds.

 

“But, with the ascent of Pussygrab and all the wonderful things that’ve been happening since, well, it looks like God decided to show Himself again! It’s a miracle. A Dodge City Miracle. As simple as that.”

 

 

*****

THE SCREEN RIPS again here, and then — though I thought the feed was live — it flashes on a banner that reads TWO WEEKS LATER:

 

Now it’s showing a Chain Gang in the meadow, with all of Dodge City’s dark-skinned people, and all of its women, and all of its Jews chained at the ankles as they labor to put the fallen God back together and erect a scaffolding to hoist it back into the sky.

 

Paul Sweetie, meanwhile, sits on a wooden lifeguard chair sipping a mojito and fanning himself with a rolled-up magazine.

 

The camera zooms back in for a statement:

 

“It’s just so wonderful,” he says, “to see our citizens working together in harmony for the greater good. Just watch them! Together, as one, they’re restoring God to His rightful place in the firmament: just high enough to be safe from harm and just low enough to be always visible!”

 

The camera pans over to the Chain Gang, where a young woman has collapsed, knocking down her row of conjoined workers. On their knees, those closest to her set about chewing through her ankle so they can cut her loose and get back to work.

 

 

*****

THE BROADCAST JUMPS BACK to the raving commentator who says what I’m already thinking:

 

“So it looks we have a classic battle of Aliens vs. Christians here. Which one ultimately controls The Dodge City Deep State, and what do they want? And which side, if either, is Pussygrab on? Are they attempting to depose him or to make him invincible? Was Paul Sweetie duped by a temporary psychosis into perceiving God amidst all that rubble, or can he see what we cannot? Is Paul Sweetie our next Mayor? All this and more answered on … ”

 

Now the screen goes fully black, and silent too, like someone’s pulled the plug. The drool begins to freeze on my feet as I face the unique terror of having nothing to do.

 

I shiver in the silence and cold of the room, unable to block the sense that a Deep State Tentacle is reaching up from the depths to pull us all — Pussygrab and his clones and Paul Sweetie and his God, and all the rest of us with them — under.

NO SOONER HAVE I CROSSED OVER INTO DALTONLAND, the theme park in which Dodge City’s old-guard, centrist candidate won the election and life went on as normal, than I find myself behind a console, watching what is either the news or a hastily assembled TV Movie on Amazon Prime.

 

In the news-or-Movie, one of the biggest Swamp Creatures, whose New Aryan Skin is bunched up like a shawl around his shoulders, is being sworn in as Director of the CIA. He grunts and drools over the Bible, pulping it with his claws.

 

Clearing his throat after the swearing-in’s complete, he says, “Ladies and germs, my first act as Director of the CIA is to declare all of Dodge City a Black Site.”

 

“What does that mean, exactly?” shouts an off-screen voice.

 

“What does it mean? It means that, from now on, anything goes. Torture works. Whatever we need to do to get to the bottom of what we believe, or imagine, is going on here, we’ll do. With impunity. With secrecy. Without interference. Without oversight. Did I mention that torture works?”

 

He clears his throat again, spits phlegm, and then looks straight at the camera, straight at me. “Torture works,” he says, his voice pinched as he attempts to tighten his New Aryan Skin around his collarbone. “From now on, whatever happens in Dodge City is what was meant to happen. God has returned to this town, after many years in the wilderness.”

 

 

*****

THE SCREEN BOILS and buzzes and then Zizek, the Slovenian Marxist philosopher and bro-provocateur par excellence, appears in a plush brown armchair in front of a tacky photo of an Eastern European cityscape.

 

Deploying some of his signature tics as he scrapes at his tatty beard and neck and wipes spittle from his lips, he says, “Now, what does it mean that Dodge City is a Black Site? In what sense, if any, is such a pronouncement to be understood as meaningful?”

 

I lean closer to the screen, genuinely intrigued by the question. At the same time, I focus on keeping my expression neutral, as I’m wary of being watched. Furthermore, I’m trying to determine if the man onscreen is Zizek himself, or an impersonator. If so, he’s a good one (or else the real Zizek is growing less authentic with age).

 

“What it means,” he says, “is that all contact between Dodge City and the outside world has been suspended, perhaps even permanently walled off. Now, for those of you who’ve lived here for any amount of time, this won’t feel much different from life as it’s always been. After all, who in Dodge City can rightly claim to have maintained a true relationship with the outside world?”

 

He pauses here, as if expecting me to respond. I don’t.

 

“What’s different in this case,” he eventually continues, “is the awareness that it’s now official policy. That there is now, quite literally, no one to hear you scream. Everything that happens in Dodge City from now on is part of the Pussygrab Regime. Assume it’s all intentional, even the chaos. Especially the chaos. Assume that all news is internal, even this news. Even me …”

 

I lean even closer to the screen, trying to determine which possibility scares me more: that I’m being warned of a true terror by an accurate outside source, or that I’m being entertained by an actor from The Dodge City Film Industry, as I’ve been so many times throughout my life … almost consistently throughout my life, to the exclusion of all other experience, now that I think about it.

 

I find that I can’t remember what the real Zizek is supposed to look like and I have no phone or other means of getting online (and who’s to say the whole Internet isn’t controlled by the Black Site now, assuming it hasn’t always been?) … So, the longer I stare at the image onscreen, which goes on talking to me, the less certain I can be about what I’m hearing, and whether to believe it.

 

“The precise nature of the torture that will go on in this Black Site is still unclear,” the man (I’ve grown wary of calling him Zizek, even in my mind) goes on. “Whether the classic tortures — waterboarding and thumbscrews and electrocution and so on and so on — will go into effect, or whether daily life in Dodge City itself will simply become torturous — if it hasn’t been all along — is the question we’re all asking ourselves, as well as the question I’m asking you, aloud, right now, on Live TV.”

 

He winks and vanishes from the screen, leaving his chair empty.

 

My spine seizes up and I turn around, terrified that he’s in here with me now, watching over my shoulder. Is this, I wonder, the first official act of torture undertaken against me? And if so, to what end? What do I know, or do they think I know, that could be of use to them?

 

 

*****

WHEN I LOOK BACK AT THE SCREEN, the CIA Director is sitting in the armchair, cradling a black VHS tape. “This,” he begins, “is the only extant record of the history of torture in Dodge City up to this point. As a token of his largesse and transparency, the Colonel is making it available to the public to reassure them that our torture program has always been entirely civic-minded and aboveboard. He wants you all to see that there is no, so to speak, funny business going on. I want to make it abundantly clear that the Colonel doesn’t have to offer this for viewing. He has chosen to do so. Any Dodge City citizen is free to view this video. Just line up one at a time!”

 

He smiles and his teeth glisten, like in a toothpaste commercial, except they’re dripping yellow sludge and his gums are only partially attached.

 

 

*****

AFTER A LONG AFTERNOON spent watching viewer testimonials about the video — “Beautiful! Just beautiful!” one housewife shouts, as if trying to drown out another voice in her head; “A torture program we can all be comfortable with!” shouts another, munching popcorn from a microwave bag — the screen I’m watching opens to reveal a screen-within-the-screen.

 

This inner screen shows the tape being inserted into a VCR.

 

Now I’m watching the torture video right where I sit, in the supposed sanctity of DaltonLand, deep inside the Black Site.

 

A chair, a naked lightbulb, Paul Sweetie in a white wedding dress … my eyes are peeled, ready to see the horror for what it is … to bear witness and stand up for the truth …

 

BUT:

 

Next thing I know, I’m sitting on a chaise lounge sipping lemon spritzer in a room I don’t recognize (back in the Hotel?), thinking, as I try to remember what I’ve just seen, Well, that didn’t seem so bad … surely if that’s all we’re doing, it’s for the best … isn’t it? I mean, keeping Dodge City safe and all …

 

And then, becalmed, I let myself drift into a cool and dreamless sleep.

THERE’S NO PERCEPTIBLE INTERVAL between the end of one Movie and the start of the next. Now I’m watching what appears to be an architectural walk-thru video in which the Hotelier (played here by a razor-burned egghead in an ill-fitting dress shirt who looks like he’s 20 at most) takes us up and down what he refers to as the “Corridors of Power,” constructed last night by an architect known only as the “American MC Escher.”

 

The architect, or an actor playing him, follows along, staring at his feet like he doesn’t want the Netflix crew to see his face.

 

“The American MC Escher,” explains the Hotelier, all too happy to be photographed, “did a real bang-up job for us. As soon as Col. Pussygrab emerged victorious, and the question arose of where Pussygrab Palace would be located, we knew we had some superimposing to do, and fast. No location save for the Hotel itself would suffice, but, at the same time, the Hotel was far from adequate for accommodating such an august and entitled ruler.

 

“So, in short, the American MC Escher, who turned out to have been living a quiet life in one of our Rooms all along, patiently developing a method for superimposing one Hotel upon another” — ‘just as art!’ the American MC Escher interjects, still hiding his face in the background of the screen, ‘just to prove it was possible!’ — “got straight to work superimposing Pussygrab Palace onto the old Hotel, so that Pussygrab and his Inner Circle could move immediately into the most luxurious and elegant residence Dodge City had to offer, bar none.”

 

The Hotelier clears his throat and adds, “To give you a sense of the wealth disparity we have succeeded in creating here, there are 884 guests in the Hotel, and only 8 members of Pussygrab’s Inner Circle, each group occupying the exact same amount of space! This, I think we can all agree, is truly what we as a society ought to be striving for.”

 

He clears his throat, then adds, “And, for the low price of $999,999, you too can purchase a timeshare in the Palace. Leave your email in the Comments section of this video for more info …”

 

Disconnecting from the image-feed as the Hotelier attempts to wipe off the shame in his eyes, I look around, finding myself still in the drafty side room where I ended up after my Conversion Therapy, and I wonder, not for the first time, whether I’m in one room, or two.

 

“Two, clearly,” says the Hotelier, winking at me before returning to the walk-thru, the American MC Escher dawdling behind him. “Here, as you can see, is one of seven Access Portals” — he touches what appears to be a solid section of wall — “a means of traveling, for those at the correct clearance level, between the Hotel and the Palace. A means of stepping, as it were, from the old Dodge City, the one we knew, in which the Rule of Law held sway and we felt as though the train was, so to speak, still on the tracks, and into the new one, the Empire of Pussygrab, the Glorious New Nation he has pledged to usher us — well, some of us — into.”

 

With that, the Hotelier disappears from the screen, presumably out of the Hotel, still visible on Netflix, and into the Palace, which no camera is yet able to record.

 

*****

SO I’M ALONE in the Superimposed Hotel, or alone watching myself in the Superimposed Hotel on Netflix, when the idea comes to me that perhaps, if I try leaving the room I’m in right now, I’ll emerge into the hallway I just saw onscreen and will thus manage to escape through the Access Portal. Perhaps, I think, the purpose of the Movie was to show me the Portal’s location, and to encourage me to find it before it disappears. An instruction video, not a mere entertainment.

 

And if I can just slip through, I go on thinking, perhaps I’ll wake from this nightmare and emerge back into the Real Dodge City, the one where …

 

I’m not so naive as to imagine that the Real Dodge City still exists — it is, in essence, a Pretend City now, a diorama, an ant farm — but I’m not sure this distinction holds any water. So I’m determined to find it anyway.

 

I can’t say exactly what gives me the confidence — perhaps the Conversion Therapy has indeed altered my way of thinking — but once the thought occurs to me, it remains embedded. So I get up, close the laptop, and try the door.

 

Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, if this is all part of a sinister masterplan, or a symptom of reality’s total collapse) it’s unlocked!

 

Now I’m wandering a carpeted hallway I’ve never seen before, in the Hotel or the Palace, like a cardboard cutout on a Chutes & Ladders board, hoping to emerge through one of the Access Portals before it’s too late — though I can’t imagine how things could get any later than they already are.

 

When I find the Portal, I go through, setting off an alarm so loud I start running in terror, through the American MC Escher hallways, up staircases that lead down and along corridors that warp upward, until I make it outside, into the static of the Town Square, past the throngs of goose-stepping swamp things, and into … DaltonLand?

 

*****

I CATCH MY BREATH INSIDE A SCALE MODEL OF YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, under a big sign that reads Welcome to DaltonLand: in SwampWorld, this park no longer exists!

 

Savoring the fresh air (even if it’s artificially flavored), I pass geysers and canyons — all shrunken down to scale and made of cardboard — avoiding the distant signs that read ChaosLand (the near future or the distant past): Keep out! though I don’t doubt that, sooner or later, I’ll find myself among the cave people and giant spiders I can already see massing along the horizon, restrained only by what appears to be a velvet carnival rope.

AT SOME POINT during my foray into the Lobby to see the American Takashi Miike receive his award from the Hotelier for writing and directing The New Jews on such short notice, I find myself instead watching Netflix on a strange computer, alone in a drafty side room.

 

Someone must have escorted me in here, like a child who sneaks down late at night to see what his parents are discussing in the kitchen and, unwilling to go back to sleep, is set up with a video and a bowl of popcorn in the den. I can just make out the crackle of voices beyond the closed door, but I’m too tired to get up and check if it’s locked (either that, or I’m afraid of what I’d do if I found it was).

 

Turning my thoughts away from the door, which I’m now pretty sure is locked, I have a moment of vertigo as my consciousness wavers between that of the me sitting in this drafty side room and the me onscreen (do I really look like that??), but as soon as the Movie’s opening credits fade I lose all awareness that there’s any part of myself outside what’s going on, which is that Paul Sweetie, Col. Pussygrab’s First Mate, is dragging me down a cement hallway toward what appears to be an electric chair, muttering, “it’s only set on stun, it’s only set on stun.”

 

“We always begin on stun,” he adds, once I’m strapped in, feet outstretched on the footrest like I’m about to be treated to dinner and a Movie. “What we end on is, well, up to you.”

 

“So this, uh …” I ask, hoping some question will sound implicit in my trailing off.

 

“Conversion Therapy, yes,” Sweetie answers, “your name came up on a list. Don’t worry, it’s a free service.” He pauses, perhaps giving me the chance to ask a follow-up question.

 

Cautiously optimistic, I follow up with, “conversion from what to what?”

 

Sweetie smiles, donning a pair of yellow rubber gloves and a clown mask as he charges up the chair. “From what you are to what you will be.”

 

Here I do recoil, if only for a moment, into my more remote self, the one watching this all on Netflix, in the (comparative) comfort of the drafty room off the hall somewhere in the Hotel, which, come to think of it, is remarkably similar to this drafty room off the hall of …

 

I lose my train of thought when the electricity hits my gonads, zapping them long and hard, making my teeth knock together like wooden puppet teeth, woodchips raining down my throat.

 

When I gag loudly enough to disturb him, Sweetie pulls the plug, panting like he’s the one who just got zapped, and asks if I feel different yet.

 

Though part of me knows I should say yes and spare myself whatever future pain is coming, another part of me shakes its head. Whether the urge to defy is an end unto itself, or is based on some half-formed desire to undergo the therapy a second time, or simply to continue watching it on Netflix rather than facing whatever comes next, I can’t say. I just know I’m not ready for it to be over yet.

 

Sweetie clears his throat and says, “Then proceed,” and proceeds to shock me a second time, this time with more juice, like in Milgram’s obedience experiments at Yale.

 

Weird liturgical symbols fly inside my lids as Sweetie grunts in my ear, unless that’s the sound of my brains frying.

 

Next time he stops, I plan to shout “I’m changed! I’m changed!” But, once again, when he asks, I say, “Nope, gimme more.”

 

*****

SO HE DOES.

 

This time, my eyes vibrating like two eggs about to hatch, I’m rocketed out of my self and into a free-floating vision of Dodge City as a series of concentric towns, nested Dodge City’s, each presided over by its own Pussygrab, each one giant and green and sitting on an inflatable throne, bouncing with glee like a six-year-old who’s chugged a gallon of Diet Coke.

 

And beside each Dodge City is a smaller, nearly-identical one with a sign that reads DaltonLand: a theme park in which the moderate, even-tempered Professor Dalton won the election and became our Mayor instead.

 

Beyond these, marking the Outskirts of my vision, are a series of ChaosLand‘s, theme parks ruled over by lumbering cavemen and huge spindly birds, and what I’m left to wonder — as Sweetie eases up on the juice again — is whether what I just saw is real outside this building or only inside of it, in the vast fake kingdom of Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu …

 

“What?” he asks, and I realize I’ve been speaking aloud.

 

“Nothing,” I reply, struggling to retain the image of DaltonLand and my determination, though I know it’s a form of denial, to get myself out of this room and through the theme park gates as soon as I’m physically able, assuming such a theme park exists.

 

“Okay then,” he says, pulling up his clown mask to lick sweat from its neck flap. “Let’s get ya cleaned up.”

 

*****

SHIVERING WITH ICE WATER AND LYE, I find myself alone in the drafty room in the hall — one or the other of those rooms, if there are indeed two — watching a floating clown face that resembles Sweetie’s stare at me from the center of the strange computer I’ve been watching this all on.

 

At first I think it’s a screen-saver, so I just stare back, but then it grows agitated and says,”so …”

 

I shrug. “So … what?”

 

Now it smiles, and the purple smoke clears, revealing either that it really is Sweetie talking to me through something like a Netflix version of Skype, or else it’s a very good actor speaking from within a Movie scripted to sync up with whatever I say.

 

“So how do you feel, now that your Conversion Therapy has taken place?” he bats his eyes seductively, glowing with pride.

 

I feel fuzzy and unwell, not quite sure what he’s talking about, though it sounds more familiar than I wish it did. “I … I feel the same as I always have.”

 

Here he resumes laughing and the purple smoke gushes back up around his neck and begins to gush from the sprinkler system overhead as well, so now I’m choking and coughing in addition to everything that was already wrong with me.

 

“Oh you’re changed! You’re changed alright!” the clown-Sweetie cackles. “You just can’t remember what you used to be!! What you are now … that’s the new you!! Anything you think now, anything you see or feel or do … it’s the new you! It’s what we made you into!! If you don’t believe me, just check your gonads.”

 

*****

THE SCREEN TURNS BLACK as I’m taking this in, wondering how much is true and, if so, how I could ever tell. I certainly don’t, for the time being, have any intention of checking my gonads.

 

As I’m wavering in the limbo of these thoughts, trying to remember the way to DaltonLand, the next Movie automatically begins to play on Netflix.

 

Entitled The Superimposed Hotel, a tagline over the opening shot (of a man alone in a dingy room, coughing on purple smoke) reads: THE MOVIE THAT FINALLY ANSWERS THE QUESTION OF WHETHER YOU’RE LIVING IN ONE HOTEL OR TWO!!!!

I SIT WITHOUT BLINKING BEHIND MY COMPUTER as the next Movie automatically begins. Billed as a “Spiritual Sequel” to The New AryansThe New Jews picks up where the last left off:

 

Col. Pussygrab and his recently bleached Swamp Creatures are sitting in a lake house modeled pretty convincingly on Wannsee outside Berlin, eating croissants and discussing how best to kick off the Second Dodge City Genocide, itself a “Spiritual Sequel” to the First.

 

“Well, our main goal naturally is to kill as many possible,” says one of the New Aryans.

 

The others sip their cappuccinos and nod, savoring what appears to be both the coffee’s rich velvety flavor as well as the delicious notion of catalyzing mass murder.

 

“For old times’ sake,” another adds, “why don’t we begin with the Jews?”

 

More nods of assent.

 

“Once they’re pretty well exterminated, we’ll be able to move on to other, more motley demographics in relative peace.”

 

“Indeed,” adds another. “These things must be done right. A little respect for history, in terms of annihilating the Dodge City Jews, will go a long way. Where the First Dodge City Genocide left some Jews alive to breed and re-infest the town, ours will not. We must, like all great thinkers, learn from the mistakes of the past.”

 

I yawn, pretty sure I know where this is going. But then, like the Director has gauged the exact moment of audience disengagement, a curveball gets thrown in:

 

The most sinister of the New Aryans, who appears to be Pussygrab’s advisor — I’ll call him One-Fang Larry in honor of the dripping fang that protrudes like a necktie from his mouth to his bellybutton — clears his throat and says, “I hate to complicate matters, especially on such a festive occasion, but it must be pointed out that the Dodge City Jews are no longer as easy to identify as they once were.”

 

All eyes are on him, in a wide shot that takes in the whole table. Then the camera zooms in on his fang as he says, “Much as it pains me to say this, what we’re dealing with now is a race of New Jews …”

 

Here the action freezes and the title THE NEW JEWS: A RACIAL SPECTACULAR fills the screen, the letters vibrating over a Spaghetti Western synth track.

 

I’d like to say I shut my laptop here and go to bed, but that’s not what I do.

 

*****

AFTER THE TITLE CREDITS, the conference table discussion resumes, the synth fading out.

 

“As I was saying,” One-Fang Larry resumes, “the Jews grew smart in the decades since the First Genocide. Like cockroaches, which grow stronger from what doesn’t kill them, these surviving Jews are not the sitting ducks they used to be. They’ve cloaked themselves in clever, insidious ways. Names, addresses, faces, even blood-types … none of it’s as overtly Jewish as it used to be.”

 

Here Pussygrab cuts in, eyes wide with anger. “Are you saying, then, that these New Jews could be crawling among us?”

 

He itches his New Aryan skin as the camera swoops out to take in the frightened, suspicious expressions of those gathered around the table. Everyone’s eying everyone else, trying to sniff out the New Jews among them while, at the same time, surely preparing to defend themselves as well.

 

“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” One-Fang Larry replies. “They could be anywhere. They could be you,” he looks at one of the New Aryans, “or you,” he looks at another …

 

By the end of the scene, he’s looked at everyone except Pussygrab, whose gaze he’s studiously avoided.

 

“Well then,” Pussygrab says, standing up and motioning for the others to follow. “Bring me the most accurate New Jew detection software on the market. I want state-of-the-art. This Dodge City Genocide is going to be done right. Find me the very best!”

 

 

*****

THE SCREEN goes black here and I doze off until a knock on my door rouses me. Stumbling over to open it — though I know I should start being more careful — I see a minor Swamp Creature (a henchman or handmaiden) standing in the hallway, hand outstretched.

 

“Yes?” I ask, once this pose has been held longer than I can bear without responding.

 

“I’m here to collect your submission for the New Jews Identification Project,” he, she, or it says.

 

When I don’t respond, the Creature adds, “each Dodge City Citizen is required to submit their best attempt at devising a foolproof method for identifying the New Jews lurking among us. The Glorious Genocide that the Good Colonel has envisioned cannot take place without our dedicated participation.”

 

I look frantically around the Room until my eyes settle on a Room Service receipt, itemized with roast beef, mashed potatoes, and extra horseradish. I hand this over and say, “Here. Here’s my list.”

 

The henchman or handmaiden scoffs at my pitiable submission, but accepts it and shuffles off, leaving the door open wide enough to whisper, “If this or any other method implicates you as a New Jew, know you’ll be seeing us again.”

 

 

*****

IN THE QUIET of my Room after the list has been collected, my attention has nowhere to turn save for back to my computer, where, come to think of it, I can’t be sure it hasn’t been all along.

 

The Genocide’s ramping up: Pussygrab has assembled the entire Dodge City Population in Sacrifice Square and appears to be testing each New Jew detection method in turn, skewing, naturally, toward those that identify the widest possible swath of people.

 

This is skipped over in fast, brutal montage, and soon firing squads are executing row after row of men, women, and children, all lined up against the exposed brick facade of City Hall, blood pooling in a trough that runs along Main Street like a half-dug subway tunnel.

 

First to go are those Dodge City citizens whose Jewishness is overt — about seven in total — and then, according to the various New Jew identification schemes that Pussygrab has received, the executions spread outward, to incorporate the rest of the Dodge City Population. Everyone, it would seem, is outed as a New Jew by one method or another.

 

Then, inevitably, the deaths start hitting closer to home:

 

Now the Movie shows Pussygrab executing his junior advisors — “Just to be safe!” he shouts, over the noise of the firing squads, who’ve moved indoors — and now he’s executing his senior advisors, pacing his Palace (where in Dodge City is this located?) in agitation, until it’s just him and One-Fang Larry, ankle-deep in viscera.

 

They stand together, poring over the New Jew results, each wielding a jeweled saber.

 

“I’m sorry it’s come to this,” Pussygrab begins, “but the Second Dodge City Genocide will mean nothing if we are not thorough. We will fail to transcend the First if we let even a single New Jew slip through the cracks. History will not remember us kindly in that event.”

 

One-Fang Larry smiles and kneels down, head inclined in a pose of supplication that finds the tip of his fang resting on the floor. “Believe me, if there’s even the slightest chance that I am a New Jew, the last thing I’d want is to live on. By all means, kill me now.”

 

And Col. Pussgrab does, with a single deep slash across the throat.

 

 

*****

THE MOVIE PAUSES again here, giving its viewers (or viewer, if I’m the only one) a moment to breathe and reflect before the grim finale commences.

 

Then the grim finale commences:

 

Pussygrab’s alone in his Throne Room, cradling the slaughtered body of One-Fang Larry, his closest advisor and perhaps his only friend.

 

Surrounded by piles of data — the results of each New Jew identification method he’s tried — Pussygrab wades through the blood and mutters, “Now, the moment of truth, now the moment of truth … I mustn’t let my Genocide fall short, I mustn’t … ” over and over, until the Movie cuts to him sitting on his Throne with his jeweled saber in one hand and a strip of litmus paper in the other.

 

“Okay,” he mutters, “time to find out. If I’m a New Jew, I too must die. And if I’m not, I will rule this town forevermore, in untrammeled glory.” He turns to the screen here, breaking the fourth wall: “This is the evil of the New Jew, you see — it can lurk anywhere. Anywhere at all, inside any of us, in you, in me …”

 

Looking away from the camera, the synth score comes back up as he cuts his forearm with the saber and catches the blood on the litmus paper. He watches as it soaks through, turning red and pulpy in his hands, until it falls apart, apparently without yielding any definitive result.

 

He scowls and cuts himself again, this time catching his blood in a beaker, but, again, no verdict emerges.

 

Now, he looks imploringly at the corpse of One-Fang Larry, even going so far as to kick it with his jeweled slipper. “Hey, Lar’? Lar’?” He kicks it again, growing frantic. “Hey! A little help here? How do you work these damn things?”

 

When One-Fang Larry remains dead, Pussygrab starts slashing his wrists indiscriminately, bleeding onto more paper, more beakers, as well as buckets, sponges, sugar cubes and tea towels, each method claiming to be the best for identifying New Jews wherever they lurk.

 

“Am I one or not? Am I one or not?? Am I one or not???” he shrieks, louder and louder, as his New Aryan skin sloughs away and his green Swamp Skin shows through, losing its luster as his blood pours out.

 

The Movie ends with Pussgrab collapsed on his throne, translucent as a supermarket chicken.

 

Just before the credits, a banner crawls across the screen. It reads: and so the question remains — did the Second Dodge City Genocide succeed where the First fell short, or are the New Jews alive and well, in some dark corner of The Dodge City Gene Pool, already preparing to rise again?

 

When the screen goes black, I catch a reflection of my face and think, not without a certain glee, Here at least is one you didn’t kill!

 

 

*****

A KNOCK ON MY DOOR cuts this reverie short. My immediate reaction is to panic, certain that they’ve come for me at last, but when the Porter shouts “Room Service!” I get up and answer it.

 

Finding that the Movie has compressed my appetite into a hard lump in my lower intestine, I step over the steaming tray and drift, dazed, out into the hall and then down the main staircase to the Lobby, where it appears that a local version of the Great Japanese Horror Auteur Takashi Miike is being feted by the Hotelier for having written and directed The New Jews on such short notice, while, in the conference room directly adjacent, the KKK are preparing to hold a rally entitled Born This Way: A Celebration of Hooded Life.

WHEN I’VE COME BACK TO MY SENSES IN MY ROOM, I determine that the only reasonable course of action is to get on my computer and find something soothing to watch.

 

So I click onto Hulu and let stream the first thing that loads: a made-for-TV Movie called THE NEW ARYANS.

 

At first I disregard the set’s obvious similarities to Dodge City, but by the time Col. Pussygrab and his retinue of Swamp Creatures appears onscreen, it’s impossible to deny that what I’m watching is actually some form of news — either that, or else what I believe has been going on in reality has actually been nothing but some form of Cinema.

 

I sincerely hope it’s the latter, but now I’m so transfixed by the screen I can’t remember the distinction I was just trying to draw.

 

*****

SO I GO ON watching as Pussygrab and Co. schedule appointments at the Dodge City Bleaching Clinic to have their lips, assholes, and even their eyes bleached. This segment is done in choppy montage — we watch as their jaundiced eyes and weeping brown assholes are buffed to a gleaming white, as a lederhosen-clad children’s choir chants the word Purity over and over in the background.

 

Then the Swamp Creatures parade past the cameras to the Dodge City Skin Dept., where the shed skins of various past heroes and villains hang on shelves, somewhere between museum pieces and costumes for rent.

 

Here they ask the Proprietor to take down the skins of the Dodge City Aryans, unused since the last Dodge City Genocide finally wore itself down decades ago, and the perpetrators were skinned alive in Sacrifice Square, their bodies thrown into Dead Sir to decompose.

 

Now, with Pussygrab at the fore, the Swamp Creatures make a grand ceremonial gesture of donning these old Aryan Skins, covering their green scales and pustules as fully as possible.

 

Except, it’s not very possible at all: try as they might, their Swamp Bodies are too bulbous, too tentacular, to be zipped up and called white.

 

So, in a rage, Pussygrab directs the Camera Crew to follow him back to Sacrifice Square, where he calls on Dodge City’s last surviving Kosher Butcher to perform a crucial service:

 

“Shave us down,” he says. “Do not delay. It must be done. These Skins are miniscule. The last batch of Dodge City Aryans was nothing compared with us! We are men where they were mere boys!!”

 

The Kosher Butcher, wilting with a look of infinite resignation, runs an extension cord into the Square and warms up his Electric Flensing Knife, whispering under his breath in Hebrew, despite the none-too-subtle growls of the Swamp Creature nearest him.

 

Once the Knife beeps red, he pulls on a set of safety goggles and, still muttering, begins shaving the Creatures down.

 

This part, I have to admit, amuses me: I’m slouching behind my computer, eating Room Service pasta that must have appeared sometime during the last segment, as the Butcher flenses off a tremendous flurry of goiters, tumors, snouts, and tentacles, greenish-yellow blood spurting in all directions as Rammstein’s “Tier” plays unironically on the soundtrack.

 

*****

BY THE TIME IT’S DONE, the New Aryans are complete: the Swamp Creatures have vanished inside their Aryan Skins, which, now that they’ve been shaved down, cover all of them except their penises.

 

It’s strange to see Pussygrab and his retinue goose-stepping across Sacrifice Square, zipped into suits of gleaming white and platinum blonde, green erections in hand, dripping on the cobblestones.

 

TO BE CONTINUED … says the Hulu homepage, and immediately starts loading what appears to be a second feature in this series, entitled, predictably I suppose, THE NEW JEWS.

 

*****

I PASS OUT. When I come to, I can’t tell whether I’m looking at my computer screen or out my window.

 

Either way, what I see is a pile of tumors and tentacles in the Square, twitching gently and then less and less gently in the moonlight.

 

Soon, they’re twitching frantically, slithering around one another, jittering and conjoining like cut lizard tails struggling to regrow. I watch as a Swamp Totem creates itself in the Heart of Dodge City, pulsing and twitching in a way that slowly or quickly (by this point, I can’t tell) hypnotizes me.

 

My vision goes green and I enter a frenetic reverie in a mossy grove on the banks of Dead Sir, where the New Aryans have unzipped their white skin to reveal their green chests, and are wearing bulls’ horns and drinking from severed goat heads and burning children in a pit and howling — at the moon, or at some unseen effigy or god — and all I can think is, Swamp Mode is real, Swamp Mode is real, remember that Swamp Mode is real …

 

I pass out again in front of my computer, afraid that I will have forgotten whatever I’m supposed to remember by the time I wake up, which I don’t necessarily hope is anytime soon.

IN A SHOW OF SELFISHNESS AND APATHY I NOW DEEPLY REGRET, I kept to myself in the run-up to Dodge City’s 2016 Mayoral Election. I figured, as most people I know did, that Professor Dalton was a shoo-in, being, as he was, the only candidate officially running.

 

The race shaped up this way because Dodge City was empty for awhile after the resurrected Blut Branson led everyone but me back to the Desert.

 

After a few weeks, however, Nature decided to abhor the vacuum Branson left in his wake and the town re-filled with shitty new people. The populace grew quickly enough that a new Mayoral Regime was deemed necessary, but not so quickly that it produced a candidate to oppose Dalton (who, like me and Big Pharmakos and a few others, turned out never to have left Dodge City behind), so the Election was seen as a formality, a friendly cusp between the Old Era and the New.

 

I thus felt secure whiling my summer away in thrall to Movies, as I’d whiled away all my summers before it, planning to emerge from my Room just long enough to vote in the Booths set up in the Town Square on November 8, before returning to the comfort of my bed and the security of the knowledge that Dalton would rule the town with fairness and aplomb.

 

*****

BUT, IN AN HISTORIC TURN NO ONE SAW COMING, something very different transpired instead.

 

On the night before the Election, a rumbling and a groaning was heard throughout the Dodge City Airspace. I won’t pretend I didn’t hear it too, though I tried my best to tune it out, pressing my pillow over my head and thinking, Well, it’s just something going on out there, and I’m in here, safe and sound, so why worry?

 

In the morning, however, I could tell that something was off. My stomach was knotted up and my breath tasted foul, like I’d swallowed a family of sandflies in my sleep. I brushed my teeth and drank a pot of coffee, but this did nothing to dull the taste, nor did the box of Orange Tic Tacs I consumed on my way across the Lobby and out of the Hotel.

 

By the time I made it to the Town Square, I was pink-eyed and gagging as I waited in line with a lot of other people who looked about the same as I felt. I remember going into the Booth, I remember picking up the pen to box in Dalton’s name, and then …

 

*****

… I’m in the Bar, on a stool beside Big Pharmakos, watching Dodge City’s Cable Access News Station on the wall-mounted TV as someone I vaguely recognize sits at a desk beside someone else I vaguely recognize announcing that the Mayoral Election has gone, by an incredible landslide, to someone or something called Colonel Pussygrab.

 

Footage appears of an obese green-skinned Satyr, dripping algae and brackish water, dancing in the Town Square with both hands on its erection, pumping it furiously while belching and shouting, “I’m gonna fuck you all! Every last one of you!”

 

The footage cuts out just as the creature comes, thick greenish gouts spurting from its midsection, its head tilted back in laughter that seems to echo off the surrounding buildings.

 

“It would appear,” one of the anchors begins as the laughter fades out, “that this creature, which goes by the name Colonel Pussygrab, emerged from the depths of Dead Sir, the brackish swamp out back of Dodge City where we throw all our undesirables, sometime between midnight and two a.m. last night and, in a coup whose nature is still under investigation, managed to add his name to our Mayoral Ballots at the very last minute.”

 

The anchor beside him nods and cuts in with, “Now, how exactly this entity swayed the Vote of the majority of the Dodge City Populace is another matter entirely. But, yes, at the moment it does appear that Colonel Pussygrab is our new Mayor.”

 

Whatever else she was about to say is interrupted by the other anchor vomiting onto her lap. The camera zooms in on the steaming pinkish pile before cutting to a photo of Professor Dalton’s face, bruised and streaked with tears in what looks like an enhanced interrogation room.

 

The atmosphere in the Bar is tense, all of us drinking, none of us making eye contact, while we wait out the commercial break.

 

*****

“Now, live from the Town Square,” says another anchor after the break, “we bring you Colonel Pussygrab’s Victory Speech.”

 

“I vow to make Dodge City um, um, um,” the Colonel intones into the microphone he holds with one hand, crushing the head of a kneeling body wearing a Dalton mask against his crotch with the other. “I will … uh … uh … oh God!”

 

He breaks into frenetic cackling as he ejaculates into the kneeling subject’s mouth. Then he removes the Dalton mask and holds it up so we can see his green snotty semen dripping onto the cobblestones.

 

The Bar, silent before, is even more silent now. The time for groaning and jeering and perhaps even discussion will come, I assume, but it isn’t here yet and it feels a long way off.

 

I look at Big Pharmakos beside me, but he won’t turn to meet my gaze, so I look back at the screen as a parade of Satyrs, all green, all naked, all sporting angry erections, marches from the background to stand beside the Colonel on the podium, staring straight at the camera and grunting. They lick their lips and snort through their noses and some of them spit gobs of phlegm at what I can only imagine is the crowd gathered below them, just off-camera.

 

“I think I’m gonna head back to my Room,” I whisper to Big Pharmakos after I’ve choked down as much of my beer as I can. “Try to relax a little.”

 

When he doesn’t reply, I show myself out.

 

*****

CROSSING THE TOWN SQUARE from the Bar to the Hotel is an upsetting interlude. I hurry with my head down, past the cameras and the crowd and the smell of swampwater in the air, through the Lobby where everyone’s transfixed on the same broadcast we were all watching in the Bar — now the Colonel’s shouting, “I’m gonna try it anal! Everybody watch me try it anal!” — and up to my Room, where I lock the door and boot up my MacBook.

 

As I get online, I find myself torn between a desire for raw escapist entertainment and a desire for cold hard news. On the one hand, I want to be anywhere but here; on the other, I can’t look away from whatever here’s becoming.

 

To postpone the decision — I have tabs for Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu all open in my browser — I pick up the landline and call for Room Service. “Hi,” I say. “Can you book me three meals a day until further notice? I think I’m gonna be in here awhile.”

 

The scared-sounding Porter says “sure” and hangs up.

 

Waiting for dinner to arrive, I lie on my bed and fall into a dream. In the dream, everything’s green and smells like rot and there’s a slurping sound echoing off the walls of … a chamber of some sort? A dungeon? The green’s so thick and the smell so revolting it’s hard to tell, but then, just as the Porter’s knock on my door wakes me, I catch a glimpse of myself hunched over a soggy sheet of paper, crayon in hand, putting a fat wet X beside the name Pussygrab in some hellish simulation of the Dodge City Mayoral Election.

 

Spluttering, I roll out of bed, open the door, and fall upon my steak and eggs before the Porter’s removed his hand from the tray.

 

Munching steak and knuckle-skin once the Porter’s extricated himself, I settle back behind my MacBook and press Play on the first option Netflix gives me.

 

For a minute, the screen boils green. Then the image resolves into what — much as I wish it weren’t — is clearly the Town Square.

 

In the Square, as this Movie has chosen to represent it, a scale model of Dodge City has been laid out, filling the open space with miniature versions of the buildings we all occupy, including the Hotel I’m watching it in now.

 

As soon as I’ve recognized this for what it is, the Satyrs descend upon it, romping from building to building, smashing them and tearing them off the their bases and, in some cases, eating them.

 

One Satyr stabs another in the eye with the radio antenna from the model Cable Access Station and green blood spurts out, covering the screen, and his shrieks are so loud I turn my MacBook’s volume down to zero and run into the shower with my clothes on, holding onto the tiled wall as the whole building shakes when, I assume, the Satyrs rip the model Hotel off its pretend foundation.