Archives for posts with tag: Cavernous

AFTER A WELCOME TROUGH OF ACTIVITY following the Blood Drive, we get shaken up by a group Email.


I’d just reached the end of a two week free trial of a popular pay-as-you-go scam called Internet Free America, which promised to “reintegrate my top-shelf attention into my so-called life and re-situate my subjectivity in my given body,” so I was checking my inbox with a genuinely feral hunger, like that which Kinski and McDowell harbor for one another in Cat People, when the group Email came in.


“Dear People of Dodge City,” it began.


“Your communal Blood Drive results have been analyzed by me and a couple friends of mine, and we have determined enough overlaps in plasma-type and DNA-structure to suggest that you are more closely related, ideologically speaking, than is considered safe for the citizenry of a town of your size to be. If anyone would like to see my sources on this, or the results themselves, just let me know and I’ll forward them to you.


“The upshot here is that tomorrow I’m going to pay you all a visit and examine your ideas, one by one, in private. If you can convince me that your ideas are, in all ways that count, meaningfully distinct and antithetical to one another, I’ll leave with no further ado, and you’ll be free to go on calling yourselves a town.


“If, however, as I suspect, your ideas prove more convergent than divergent, collapsing and narrowing down toward a single fiercely held belief, unalienable at the expense of all others, it will be my displeasure to demote your status from town to cult.


“Lastly, just so there’s no misunderstanding when I show up, I am an impersonator of the Inspector whom you all hosted on your streets about a year ago. I am a copycat-Inspector by trade, but, make no mistake, this only bolsters my authority; it in no way undermines or invalidates it. I am such an exact copycat, indeed, that you will be unable to distinguish me from the Inspector himself. You may tell yourselves now, as you read this Email, that you’ll absolutely remember, that nothing can fool you or pry you off your certainty, but you’ll see when I show up …


You will treat me as the Inspector himself, and I will know very quickly whether Dodge City is in fact a cult.”


THE FIRST THING I DO, after reading and deleting the Email, is delete all my correspondence with Internet Free America (all physical letters, naturally, since they deal in clients cut loose from Email), motivated by some medium-grade fear that my entanglement with them is connected to the coming of this copycat Inspector, or that I might at least be accused of this, Witch Trial style, if Dodge City ends up being declared a cult …


Which possibility, I think, as I shower off the sweat I worked up shredding the letters, seems a mile or two less than remote. I don’t know exactly what the fallout from being declared a cult might be, but it’s easy to imagine some harsh tax penalty or mass emigration or, more fearsome still, immigration, if we come to be seen in that light.


I towel off, shave, and lie down, trying to think what my ideas are, aware that, first thing in the morning, I’ll have to head down to Dead Sir and ditch them all. I can picture everyone I know down there, purging and trashing their entire mental collections like a mass drug dump on the eve of an historic raid.


Whatever the truth of Dodge City actually is, I don’t want to be the one to convince the Inspector that it’s a cult. I shiver as I recognize the potential commonality of this idea — if he catches us all thinking this when he comes, I think, he’ll know we’re a cult for sure.


It’s rough going as I flip through everything in my head. The combination of withdrawal-agony and cleanse-ecstasy that Internet Free America stimulated the past few weeks returns now, severalfold, as I endeavor to gut out my whole deal, ball it up into some huge, weird boulder and roll it down through the streets to Dead Sir when the sun comes up.


I envision myself like the last survivor of a stricken family during the Black Plague, rolling my dead on a cart through the streets of some skanky French village, shunning eye contact with my fellow survivors as we head grimly to the pit or the incinerator.



NEXT MORNING, the scene at the diner is madness. Everyone’s nervous before the trip to Dead Sir, trying to eat a heartening breakfast without ordering the same thing as anyone else, lest there seem to be a morning ritual.


Infantile cries of “I ordered it first!” and “He’s copying me!” squirt out everywhere, and the kitchen scrambles to combine ingredients in new and, ideally, random ways, to keep from seeming to have a signature dish or even a menu determined by consistent taste.


No one knows when the Inspector will arrive.


I order a bowl of powdered sugar and, much as it pains me to skip my coffee, a cup of cool lemon tea, as if that’ll deter the Inspector from seeing me as I really am.


Gottfried Benn works the tables, trying to shake people down for his usual $60, but no one will acknowledge him, noxious as his presence is.


He gets folded into the procession to Dead Sir, everyone tramping out of the diner without paying, the manager too flustered to call us out.


We lurch through the streets and into the woods taking care not to march or in any way fall into step with one another. This reminds me of how, in Dune, everyone always had to walk totally without rhythm across the desert so as not to alert the slumbering sandworms to human passage overhead … thoughts of Dune lead naturally to thoughts of Lynch and Jodorowsky, which lead to …




I stop myself here, before I get any more carried in the direction I don’t want to go.


I try to focus, totally purging my mental space. I picture it like a room filled with boxes and clothes and suitcases and busted furniture all tipped over and piled crooked. Then I start warming up a mental wrecking ball, swinging it in power-hungry arcs just outside the window.



I’M WAIST DEEP IN DEAD SIR, along with everyone else in Dodge City — all the Cavernous, the Editors, spitting out the parts of my novel I’ve stuffed them with (so much for editing, I suppose), and Gibbering Pete, Rigid Steve, Fiscal Steven, Professor Dalton, Internethead … literally everyone.


I keep losing track of what I’m doing here, looking around at everyone else, ambiently dreaming of checking Email.


Cultish forces circle me like hawks, waiting to swoop down and take a bite of where I’m softest.


Just don’t stop purging, some way-inner taskmaster commands. Open your mouth, fat boy.


I do, and feel my whole collection blasting itself out, spewing up my throat and over my tongue and into Dead Sir (whose name I’m soon to forget), filling in the watery brine around me, thickening it and upping its temperature.


Last thing I see before the purge overwhelms my optical nerves is everyone I know ceasing to be everyone I know, becoming scarecrows in some bath that’s getting so hot their skin turns red and starts to bubble.



“… right, exactly, they’re all just standing here in this, um, sort of outdoor tank, like a pit they must’ve dug and filled in, and it’s kind of, I think you’d have to say, fulminating all around them …”


My eyes drift open and I can see it’s late afternoon and we’re all in the water and someone I don’t know is standing on the shore, talking into an iPhone.


I can tell I won’t be able to move until some external condition changes, so I stand where I am and listen:


“… totally vacant expressions, that’s correct sir, like dead cow, or sub-cow, eyes, and kind of swaying at the knees and hips … thoroughly entranced. A few are looking in my direction, but I don’t think they can really see me. I told them I was coming. You’d think they’d make at least some effort to disguise their ritual, but I guess not with these folks. Pretty baldfaced cult, gotta hand it to them.”


The Inspector — somewhere way back in myself I remember this is his name — continues, “And some are mumbling repetitive sounds like ‘vu vu vu vu’ and ‘tn tn tn tn tn,’ along those lines. And this thing they’re standing in is making sounds too, like a call and response. Uncanny to behold, sir. I don’t like it. They all look similar too, like they’ve taken pains to make themselves outwardly identical. Probably all respond to the same name too, not that I want to know what it is.”


I have an instinct to do something erratic right now, anything, just to shake things up, remind me that I’m me and stick my foot in the door that I can see is about to slam shut on all of us, but my body won’t respond. I’ve purged too much of what made it tick.


“Any further questions, sir?” the Inspector asks. “I really can’t see any ambiguity at all in this case … great, well I’ll book them then. I’ll let you know once the paperwork’s filed. Speak soon, sir … yup, you too. Give my best to Raquel, and … um … oh yeah, Henry. My best to Henry too.”


He hangs up and looks directly at me and our eyes stay locked like that until he turns away, opening his briefcase to extract the paperwork and a pen.


ROUNDABOUT THE POINT at which there’s no one left in Dodge City except stuffed Cavernous, the Editors, each lumpy with novel in his own way — and some gone female, crowding the Wayfarer’s Tavern with the rest of us, barking out phrases at no one and nothing between one drink and the second — a citywide blood drive is called.


A stocktaking, a time to juice ourselves out and see what’s afloat in us.


I wouldn’t volunteer, but it’s mandatory and I’m not in fighting shape.


On the day of, I wake up early in my Room, eat a sweet breakfast of fruit and sugar, do a kind of prayer / meditation regimen like I did in the basement of my childhood home at dawn before I took the SAT’s … then I put away all my editing tools (though no Cavernous is with me now — the last one claimed his Reinforcement would be a few weeks in coming, as he’d been engaged by another novel across the country when the call came), and cap all my bottles of Barbicide, the chemical smell so familiar it has a laxative effect, and shower and check my visible veins, counting how many I have left.


WHEN I exit the lobby, I can’t remember the last time I did so in daylight. It feels like a season has shifted, like the last one was one long night and this one is, by the looks of it, shaping up to be one long day.


On the walk to the hospital, I fall in with hordes of Cavernous, the Editors, exiting the houses they’ve started to live in now that the prior population of Dodge City is over with. I look at them, not too inconspicuously, and try to remember which parts of the novel are stuffed into which body. The procession reminds me of the Funeral of Harry Crews, which I haven’t thought about in well over a year.


THEN, LIKE I JUST FRITTERED AWAY ALL THE PREP TIME I’D BEEN ALLOTTED, I’m lying on a bed with a needle in my forearm and blood’s shooting out into a tube.


I’m swooning hard. The ceiling looks like one big ceiling fan.


I follow its rotation as the sound of blood fills my ears and I see it all running together into an uncovered pool in the center of the room … and what is this room? It’s like the whole hospital is just one empty interior … flowing together into one stew, despite how, I believe, blood drives are meant to be run with each blood being stored and tagged separately, according to type, genre, etc.


All this blood-mixing puts me in a Faulkner cast of mind (which I picture like a helmet, slamming down over my head and neck), and now all I can see is:


An old man in a mansion in an archaic Mississippi, capacious grounds gone to seed, a long-dead wife buried out back, three beautiful and slightly insane daughters aged 14 to 17.


The old man roams the hallways of his once-great mansion wearing a Chinese silk nightshirt, blue and crimson, muttering, bumping into statues and rotting chests.


Paintings hang crooked from the walls and the walls themselves sit crooked on their floors, soft as wet cork.


The old man sees Death in every crud-covered window and dusty glass door, taunting him with the baleful wiping-away of his life and its failure to make a mark, even an indentation, on this estate inherited from his father and grandfather and on and on, all more notorious figures than he.


In moods like this he passes his daughters in the halls, drifting in gowns on feet that seem barely to touch floor, and he plays at pretending he cannot tell them apart, and then wonders, indeed, whether he can.


ON ONE SUCH A DAY — and they’re all like this — a terminal idea blooms up in him:


I will end my life an Incest Father, surrounded by children who are also my grandchildren, my daughters defiled and damned.


A parting bid at lasting shame.


There is a long and vaunted tradition, in his Southern gothic mind — I think in my blood drive stupor — of old men implanting in their young daughters the children who will one day to inherit the estate, and one day bury their mothers on its grounds.


Indeed, such is the story of my own parentage, thinks the old man, as if this were a fact he’d long forgotten and just now remembered.


If I can bring this shame upon myself, I will die with a measure of dignity within the tradition I belong to, he thinks.




Starting that evening, after dinner and cocktails, he fucks each of his daughters, each in a different place — pantry, basement stairwell, laundry room — whispering to each not to tell the others, trying to work into his tone a note of threat that he and she both know he cannot back up.


The daughters suffer his incursions with a kind of formalized and ironic disdain, playing at trauma and disgust, aware of the cliche in his behavior, the conformity to stereotype, and their own roles in the classic scandal.


Each pretends to promise not to tell her sisters, and then tells her sisters, and this too, of course, is part of it.


The atmosphere in the house stabilizes for a while, the old man doing his best to keep his strength and stay consistent, waiting for one or two or all of his daughters to take pregnant and for the shame-babies to start their months-long Southward crawl.


But it doesn’t happen.


He’s just too old; he’s waited too long, spent too many years wandering in celibate delusion, forestalling the idea he should have had as soon as the first daughter reached puberty.


There is nothing, it would appear, of the genuine Incest Father left in him.


He starts drinking heavily and eating rare meat at every meal, but his potency will not increase. He can hear his daughters laughing at him in the echoes of the house, and it’s little more than a mockery, now, whenever he corners one of them and rucks his nightshirt up.




He lies there a long time, but Death will not take him. He stands above the frail old man and says, “Prove to me you’re worth it.”


Here, at the bottom of his life, the old man uncovers an idea. A last resort, certainly, but a viable option nonetheless.


He sits up, showers, and leaves the house for the first time in a decade.


Asks the shed-dwelling groundskeeper to ready the Cadillac and drives off to the next town, seven miles north, toward Memphis, across a broad tract of swampland.


Here, the old man fetches a young man, strong, healthy, naive.


THE YOUNG MAN IS INSTALLED IN THE HOUSE, and — my head slipping off my paper pillow on the blood drive gurney, blood still shooting from my arm — I watch as the old man sits the young man down at the dinner table with his three daughters and explains how it’s going to be:


“You will fuck them as me,” he explains, handing the young man the silk nightshirt to wear, “and they will become pregnant with my children, and I will be the Incest Father after all, and after I die, you will go into a grave in the basement and remain in there forever, so that my daughters may be left alone in this big house to grow old with these children fathered in shame, losing hold, year by year, of the memory of anyone but their Father … you, young man, will become to them a vague fantasy, a kind of long-lost Incubus … any questions?”


The young man and the three daughters shake their heads.


“Then you may begin,” says the old man.


THEY DO. The house fills with sex-noise and nine months later four babies arrive: one each for two of the daughters, and twins for the youngest.


The old man calls the Church and says he’s dying and would like a pastor to pay him a last visit. The Church says one will be right over.


“Okay,” says the old man. “A witness is coming. Ladies, please arrange to be around with your babies. And you,” he says to the young man, “are finished here. Please crawl into your grave in the basement now.”


The young man, though something of a simpleton, appears to understand.


The old man prepares to meet his demise, scorned in the eyes of the Church as yet another Incest Father from a long line of them, a notoriety he’s certain he deserves at the end of such a long and lonely life.




The old man begins dying on the divan, and the pastor comes to his side and opens his briefcase, and the daughters, on cue, emerge with their babies, and the pastor, also on cue, puts two and two together, whitening with shock …


BUT THEN the young man enters the room, in good cheer, drinking milk from a gallon bottle in his boxers, his massively chiseled, tattooed torso in full view, and the lustiness with which the daughters regard him, combined with the degree of resemblance in the babies’ faces, reorders the pastor’s assumptions entirely.


“Ah,” says the pastor, relieved. “I didn’t know the babies’ father was … at home. For a moment, sir,” he says, gazing now lovingly at the old man, “I’d wrongly assumed that … ”


AND THUS THE OLD MAN DIES, from shame, but a genuine rather than a generic shame, a shame of impotence, a true shame that Death cannot expiate, a damning shame, SHAME-SHAME RATHER THAN PRIDE-SHAME, mortally humiliated by the pastor’s Last Rites.


When he’s buried in the backyard later that day, he is not at all looking forward to meeting his forebears in hell, all those legitimate Incest Fathers lined up to receive him, wrongly believing that he is one of them … he wonders, as the dirt falls on his face and lands in his mouth, whether it is possible to lie in hell, or if down there all things are transparent.



I WAKE UP as the needle comes out of my arm, and, eating the Snickers bar the nurse hands me, waddle over to the pool where all the drawn blood has collected, the Faulkner helmet loosening somewhat but still heavy on my head and neck.


Through its eyeholes I gaze at the pool, mottled with veins of red and black novel-plasma from all the Editors, swampy and hot, steaming up at me. I open a window and a few leaves and sticks blow in, and bees and mosquitoes, all easing into the blood, helping to stir its many substances into one.

CAVERNOUS, the Editor and I make our way up the Strip, after lunch, to ULTRA MAX, across its empty quarter of parking lot.


A few Italian tour buses are parked in the X-Wide spaces – an image that always comes to mind when I dream of this place, though I’m still fairly surprised and gratified every time I see them there for real, as if I’d otherwise have to aspire to mistrust the part of myself that tends to see things before they happen.


In through the automatic doors, facing all those crinkly push-pinned sketches of missing children, Cavernous explains his principles of editing – at first he calls them his “6 Principles,” then revises them down to 5, then finally 1:


“Just put it in me.”


This much, as we’re perusing the Hardcore Knives section, crushing bugs with our sneakers, I promise I can do.


ALONG THE VERY back wall, so far back there are no price tags or descriptions on the items (which include a basketful of posters for Peter Jackson’s early alien romp Bad Taste, a title that used to mean more to me than, sadly, it does now), we run into Face & Star Simpson, the moment I’ve been dreading and wondering about since Thanksgiving (and now it’s the day after Christmas).


Cavernous seems to know them, exchanging shrewd half-glances like there’s something each knows about the other that neither wants me to know. Like they all did time in the same joint, where things went down that no one wants to talk or hear about ever again.


No one looks at me, and I look nowhere.


When this glance-lock loosens up, Face & Star Simpson hurry away into the Homesteaders’ Clothing section, riffling through bonnets and aprons like a couple that’s just moved out here on some government grant to raise a couple of kids and till an acre or two, the year 1900 still a long ways off.


Cavernous leads me on, shuddering.


“Was she pregnant?” he asks.


I laugh the question off, to show him how focused on the present and not the past I am.


SHE WAS, though. Thoughts of her child, whether sired by Face in the usual way or somehow drummed up by Dead Sir, will stick with me, lapsing out of view and then bobbing back in, inducing in me the sense of myself as a soon-to-be grandfather.


Perhaps my failure to responsibly father that baby’s parents can be rectified in my relation to the baby itself – perhaps I’ll find it in me to build a short story, even a novella, around what- or whomever is born, something sturdy and dignified, though, because of the novel, I can’t go there just yet.


The actual Knives and Needles are bought with no input from me. I’m sent off into a playland of popcorn and sno-cones while Cavernous, the Editor takes care of it, charging it all to some expense account he appears to have come equipped with.



BACK IN MY ROOM, Cavernous lays the tools out.


They look different arrayed side by side rather than all conjoined and entangled in the ULTRA MAX bag.


“Gather your attention,” shouts Cavernous, the Editor.


It looks like it’s work-time already.


He pulls my older editing implements out of their Barbicide and chucks them in the trash, then removes his shirt and pants. He is not a young man.


“Okay,” he says. “Step A: remove the belly organs.”


The thing about our novice-mentor relationship, so far, is that I seem to know what he means.


The work gets off to a start. I press into his side with a medium-sized Deer Knife, along the lines of scars that are already there, and find the blade slides in with barely any resistance.


Some gas escapes his side, but I find I can breathe it. I find, even, that I prefer to breathe it. It clears the parts of my head I don’t need for this work, and sharpens those I do.


It doesn’t sound like he’s breathing at all, but there’s no alarm latent in this lack of sound.


I drop the removed organs into the bottles of Barbicide and avert my eyes as they fizz and splutter.


WHEN ALL THE GUT-MEAT IS OUT, I take a first handful of novel from behind a loose chunk of plaster in the wall inside my closet.


I heft it in my hand, all slippery with moss and hair, like a soft potato that’s sprouted roots after a while submerged in a dank bucket.


“In,” whispers Cavernous, hoarse now, and turns to expose the hole under his ribs.


I close my eyes, as if there were something I ought not to see here, not quite sexual but private along those lines, and, squeezing past the tendrils of remaining flesh, slip the whole handful in.


I can’t quite describe what it feels like to lose it in there. I’m doing it, but, thanks to modesty or simple dearth of vocab., I can’t quite say what I’m doing.


Pieces of my novel are disappearing into him, being taken up, like things planted that find the dirt familiar and begin right away to extend roots, punching into the substratum and refusing to be shaken.


I order room service coffee, two cups in case Cavernous wants one, though I prepare to drink both and, in short order, I do.



WE WORK through the night. Outside, it’s snowing. This reminds me of something, but I’m too busy, for once, to think of what.


Soon his gut-carriage is stuffed, and too hot to touch, like his body is combusting the novel slops I’ve been feeding it, living off them, thriving already.


N’wonder he didn’t have room for coffee.


“I’m nearly full,” he gasps, his accent still decorously British despite appearances.


He nods toward a giant pair of bone shears we haven’t used yet, and I understand it’s time to open his chest cavity.


I take a nap first – he doesn’t seem to mind, or notice.


WHEN I WAKE, clotted in meaty runoff that’s hardened into a kind of shell or crust, I grab the shears and, overcoming squeam before it has a chance to build up, crack his sternum and crunch through ribs two at a time.


He doesn’t so much scream as pant, but I can tell he feels it. I remove the heart, Temple of Doom style, and drop it into a fresh bath of Barbicide, where it shrivels like a slug into the size of a kidney.


His chest open, I use the same shears to chop into a fresh section of wall in my Room, and remove an untouched pile of novel, ranker than anything before because I haven’t once looked at it since the first draft all those years ago in Germany. An artifact from a previous life just about, something undead.


Prime heart material for an Editor like Cavernous, I think.


Holding so much it leaks down my shirt, I pitch forward and shove it into the chest cavity, holding my hands in there as his body reacts, fresh arteries snapping out of remission and connecting up.


He moans with relief and passes out.


So do I.


A WHILE later, maybe a great while, Cavernous, the Editor, barely moving his mouth, mutters, “Please, I need to make a phone call.”


I see that he’s put his clothes back on, though his torso is so bulbous and misshapen his dress shirt no longer buttons shut.


I hand him my cell phone and he uses it to make a please step outside gesture, so I do.


When I come back, Cavernous, the Editor has his shoes on and his briefcase, tremblingly, in hand.


“I am full up,” he says, both sadness and pride in his voice. “I will repair to a sort of camp to process what you’ve put in me. I’ve called for a reinforcement. See you around.”



WITH THAT, he’s gone.


I take a long shower. The Room feels draftier with less novel in its walls.


There comes a knock at the door. I know who it is, but still I shout, “Who is it?”


No response.


When I open up, there stands Cavernous, the Editor.


His reinforcement, that is, who looks like a pretty good if not a spot-on rendition of the pre-surgery man I knew.


I let him in and he says, “So, tell me about this novel.”


We talk. Then the tools come back out.


LIKE SO a routine is established.


Each Cavernous stays until he’s full up, always with the heart last, and then calls for a reinforcement.


The removed organs keep shrinking in their bottles of Barbicide, so that now the older ones are barely the size of almonds, and probably just as hard.


I enter my debit card info into Barbicide’s website so they can keep sending me fresh bottles on a rolling basis, and use it to order more coffee and Chinese food as well.

After the Holiday, we are: BACK TO OUR LOTS IN LIFE.


No one speaks of the return of Face & Star Simpson, nubbed down by Dead Sir but alive enough still. They’ve been redistributed into our daily lives like some unexpected substance that bubbled up to the surface of a pot and was then stirred back in rather than skimmed off.


By which I mean they’re out there somewhere, close by, but I haven’t seen them yet. Maybe they’ve already taken on the guises of nondescript strangers, or else they’re lying low, feeding on delivery and hasty takeout.


I don’t know whether they hate me, nor I them. Perhaps it doesn’t have to be that way; perhaps it does.


I’M BACK AT my novel, tools out, rubber gloves on, knives and scissors and other slicing tools floating in bottles of those glass bottles of blue disinfecting liquid that barbers use — which, when I bought my first few from the barber here in Dodge City, I remembered from my earliest days in the barber’s chair (trying to delineate, in nonstop 4-year-old chatter, some hard difference between PG-13 and R) was and is called Barbicide.


Barbicide keeps my implements clean, allowing me to draw them out one at a time, slice away at the carcass on my desk, all for the sake of isolating one strip of viscera out of a great many, praying for there to be enough spare life in the universe to animate one muscle or limb of this thing at a time, so that, once liberated from the great crush of all the hungry, half-born others, perhaps the sync-up into actual life will become possible.


Or at least the thing will be shorter, which would be nice too.


It’s getting grim though, these days, cutting through gut and heart, swapping tools in and out of the Barbicide almost interchangeably, the blue liquid turning orangey with all the blood and fat and skin that clings to the blades I put away, even after I wipe them with gauze.


Like Mach3 blades, they go dull, and I go on using them a while, abrading what I mean to incise, and then I throw them away, into the same bucket of slops that houses everything I’ve cut, none of which I have any logistical or psychic strategy for throwing away.


The slop bucket sits there festering throughout the early winter, letting off the usual meat-reek along with something more generative — a close-quarters sex-smell of new copulation, the sliced-off pieces bobbing up and down on each other, mixed up and tangled, beginning to engender.



TODAY’S THE DAY that the smell and — now that I think of it, a certain whining, gasping sound as well — becomes unbearable.


I creep around back of the Hotel and take the metal lid off a trashcan, and creep back in and clamp it down over my slops bucket, silencing the incursion of all that I’ve cut (a whole new novel taking shape in the dark down there, perhaps), basking my Room in a rare and unsettling silence.


This spells the end of my workday, so, as it’s early still, I figure I’ll go outside and roam the streets in a — it strikes me thus as I’m looking forward to it — classical British mode, like a gentleman lurker in the dank of the 19th C. London of a Peter Ackroyd or an Iain Sinclair.


I shave with nice almondy cream and a sharp razor (yes, an editing tool also, but one I haven’t dulled yet), and pull on a wool cap and scarf, slapping on two palmfuls of spicy, citrusy aftershave, and prepare to go outside and ruminate in peace while my novel-runoff fucks itself into new forms in its bucket without me.


BUT WHEN I OPEN THE DOOR, a different set of plans veers out of the unknown to hit me: Big Pharmakos with a gaunt, pale fellow by his side, as if they’d been waiting a long time.


“We’ve been waiting a long time,” says Big Pharmakos. “But we didn’t want to barge in while you were … working.”


I can tell they’ve been standing here listening to the copulation sounds from my slops bucket and doubtlessly believe they’ve heard me masturbating at length.


It strikes me, looking the pale fellow over, that he is somehow the embodiment of the 19th C. London fantasy I’d constructed for myself, as if I hadn’t been fully wrong to envision that as part of today’s agenda. Various theories of occult British psychogeography poke around the middle-interior of my attention for a minute before abating to let me hear what’s being said:


“Ever since I went on WTF w/Marc Maron,” Big Pharmakos is saying, “things around here have changed. There’s been an influx of media professionals, unprecedented interest … promotors, agents, scouts …”


“Most of that interest is in me, of course,” he continues, “but there’s been some overflow, runoff … more than I can take advantage of, my comedy career having already obliterated the human scale.”


He looks up at the ceiling of the Hotel hallway where we’re all standing now, as if expecting to find his head way up there, in a hole through the ceiling and even the roof, perhaps.


Then he looks over at the man beside him, who isn’t looking at either of us or at anything at all as far as I can tell.


“This is Cavernous, The Editor,” says Big Pharmakos. “He came to town on the same wave as all the others, looking for a piece of me, but I can’t use him. My shit’s too tight.”


Cavernous, The Editor doesn’t look aware that he’s being talked about. Big Pharmakos shoves him hard in the side and his hand crunches through The Editor’s coat and into his skin. Big Pharmakos recoils and yanks away, wiping grease on the flowery Hotel wallpaper.


Now at least everyone has everyone’s attention.


Cavernous and I are formally introduced. Tentatively, unsure if it’s going to fall off, I meet his outstretched hand halfway. It stays on its wrist, though it feels hollow and I barely squeeze.


Big Pharmakos averts his eyes. “Anyway,” he says, backing toward the elevator, “I thought maybe he could help you with your, you know, novel edits. I know you’ve been spinning your wheels. Figured it’d be worth a try …”


THE ELEVATOR DINGS OPEN and bears Big Pharmakos away.



I CLOSE MY EYES for about thirty seconds, centering. I figure that if Cavernous, The Editor is still there when I open them, he’s the man for me.


Turns out he is.


Still standing in the hallway, I start telling him about the novel and my dark experience of editing it.


He inclines his capped head toward me, mouth open, a smell of cardboard and kindling on his breath. His teeth flap and flutter.


Inside my Room, me still talking, I look over and see him taking my knives and tools out of their Barbicide, one by one, drying them on a flannel cloth, holding them up, putting them away with a disappointed expression.


I stop talking when he cuts a line down his forearm, straight through his dapper coat. We both stand back and watch the blood seep up, a weak liquid like barely-brewed tea.


“These won’t do,” he says finally. His voice is somehow both grave and childish, fraught with an intention out of keeping with its physiology, like an instrument forced to play a tune it wasn’t designed for.


“If you want me as your editor,” he continues, “you’re going to need some other knives. All my clients cut me, and stuff the cut material in, removing my organs as need be … ” here he rucks up his coat and shirt and shows me a brutal array of scars, bruises, and stitches crowding his belly, sides, and back, like one of those dotted-lines body outlines in a medical textbook, “but I only permit the usage of certain tools. Need to be careful. Is there a good hardware store within walking distance? As I came to town in a caravan of other editors, I have no vehicle.”


I think it over.


“ULTRA MAX,” I tell him. “About an hour up the Strip if we stroll.”


“Very good,” replies Cavernous, The Editor, sucking at his cut forearm. “Let’s stop for some red meat on the way. Once we get down to real editing, I will subsist on the excised matter you stuff into my organ housings, but, until then, two steaks and a burger will keep me lucid enough.”