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.