Archives for posts with tag: Ghost Porn

AFTER SWEATING THROUGH THE SPRING AND EARLY SUMMER in the Desert, Dr. Gentle and I emerge back at the edge of Dodge City, seemingly by default. How fast the summer goes, we might be thinking, if the heat weren’t so oppressive.

 

We shed the Sancho and Don guises we adopted in the Desert as we trudge past the Dead Mall and down the same streets I must have trudged up in order to leave Dodge City behind, however long ago that was.

 

I’d like to think my expectations aren’t unreasonable — I haven’t been imagining a red carpet rolled out to welcome me back — but the degree to which my return feels trivial is upsetting. It’s almost like I’ve made my way back to some other town, a simulacrum Dodge City in which my long absence is a complete non-issue.

 

Almost no one’s around, and the few people who are seem lost, feebly killing time.

 

By the time we’ve made it through the Outskirts and into the square, it feels like gravity has gone slack, the air pressure so low the buildings look like partially deflated balloons.

 

 

“We came to the wrong place?” Dr. Gentle asks, reading my unease. Then he looks back up the way we came, like maybe we could still arrange to end up somewhere else before nightfall, at the very least back in the Desert. I resent him for considering it.

 

“No, no. We’re here. It’s just … ” I trail off, uncertain how best to explain what Dodge City was, as opposed to what it appears to be now. The notion seems ephemeral. Maybe everything’s fine, or at least no worse than ever. Maybe Dodge City was never a stable entity. Maybe it’s just taken on a certain settledness in my mind, during the lonely months in the Desert.

 

“Let’s take a seat by the fountain here and think.”

 

As Dr. Gentle and I take our seats by the fountain, a mass of people processes past us, glum and silent, dragging their heels and hugging their sides.

 

Discomfited, I snap at Dr. Gentle, “Get us coffee!” It feels good to treat him as my assistant, even if that’s not exactly what he is.

 

He stands, looks around, then runs through the procession, in what I assume he hopes is the direction of a coffee shop.

 

While he’s away, I sit by the fountain and remember the time — at some point in what I’ll simply call the past, since I have no way of saying if it was last year, or three years ago, or five — when the water crackled with the molten celluloid of Ghost Porn.

 

I was young then, I think, squirming where I sit, trying to make myself feel like I felt then.

 

Dr. Gentle returns with two coffees and a grease-spotted white bag, from which he removes a scone and hands me half.

 

“You didn’t get two?”

 

His jaw clacks open and he blushes. I’m being mean now. I should stop.

 

“In the coffee shop over there … ?” he begins, tentatively.

 

I nod for him to continue, chewing my scone half.

 

“In the coffee shop over there, I heard some guys talking about a film festival. ‘The Dodge City Film Festival’s back on ,’ I heard them say.”

 

The Dodge City Film Festival. I’ve heard Big Pharmakos mention it in the context of the Dodge City Golden Age — the 30’s? The 50’s? I’ve never been sure — but never as a real event, present in real time.

 

“Are you sure?”

 

He nods. “It kicks off at dusk. Everyone’s processing out to the Drive-in now.”

 

“The Drive-in?” This, too, would seem to belong to the Dodge City Golden Age. I’ve always pictured it as a bygone thing, a blank screen in a weedy field on the edge of the Branson Entertainments lot.

 

“Should I get tickets?” Dr. Gentle asks.

 

I look up, realizing I’ve burned my eyes on the sunset, scanning it for signs of the Golden Age. I squint and the atmosphere around me feels soft and warm, like partly-melted wax, a mold of a place I’m now receding into. If, in this version of Dodge City, the Film Festival’s back on, I’m thinking, let’s go.

 

“Yeah,” I say, when I remember that Dr. Gentle can’t hear my thoughts. “Get us tickets.”

 

*****

TICKETS IN HAND, Dr. Gentle and I process with what seems like the entire rest of the Dodge City population out to Branson Entertainments, the now-abandoned military complex where Blut Branson made all his films before he died and/or disappeared.

 

Concession stands are set up just outside the gate. Barbecues sizzle with racks of ribs and thick steaks crusted in salt, surrounded by beer trucks and cotton candy stations and rows of porta-potties.

 

Dr. Gentle hands over our tickets and we make our way in, fighting for lawn space between folding chairs and largish encampments of tarps, tents, and trailers.

 

The lights go down in the sense of night falling, and the screen fills with a face I just barely recognize:

 

Professor Dalton looks older, though his voice is still robust. “Good people of Dodge City. It is my great pleasure and honor to welcome you all to the first night of the Dodge City Film Festival. It’s been a long hiatus since the last one, but as of tonight we are, I’m thrilled to report, back in business. Enjoy the show!”

 

He vanishes as the screen flickers and crackles and the main event begins:

 

Fellini’s Amarcord, that sublime vision of life in early Fascist Rimini, with its mix of the sensual and the melancholy, the carnal and the divine, the 42-year-old man-child in the tree, throwing stones at his family and screaming “I want a woman!!”

 

*****

I’M SO ENTRANCED IT TAKES A WHILE to notice when it’s over and Professor Dalton’s face is back onscreen. At first, I conflate him with the film’s lascivious but charming elderly narrator. I wonder how Fellini knew Dalton, I catch myself thinking.

 

“It is my great hope that you all enjoyed the film. It is, without a doubt, my all-time favorite.” He dries his eyes. “However, you are assembled here tonight for a purpose beyond that of entertainment, however sublime said entertainment may be. As you are all doubtlessly aware, a foundation-crisis has occurred in the order of the Dodge City Film Industry.”

 

This is the last thing we want to hear, vulnerable as we all still are to the effects of Fellini. Probably the exact reason Dalton chose to tell us this now, I think.

 

“Blut Branson, longtime scion of our Film Industry and closest thing to a culture-hero this town has ever had, is gone.” Dalton’s face is nearly popping off the screen now, tears streaming down his cheeks. “Dead, disappeared, abdicated … who can say? All we can say for sure is that he is, by this point, unlikely to return.

 

“So, steps must be taken. The Dodge City Film Festival, which commences tonight, is a joyous occasion, but it is not only that. This year, it must be more. Much more. It is to be a competition. A vetting of visionaries. A test to see who among you, with ample funding and resources, can produce a film that convincingly mythologizes our origins, as Fellini has done to such an overwhelming degree with Amarcord.”

 

I hear bodies shifting in the badly mowed grass around me, some kissing like teenagers, others scooting closer to the screen.

 

“Whoever produces the most effective filmed testament to life as it was during the Dodge City Golden Age will be crowned the New Branson, and elected culture-hero for life. He or she will be put in full control of Branson Entertainments, and the full attention of Dodge City will be upon him or her.

 

“Our folk religion will reorient itself around you. A new Golden Age will begin.”

 

He stops to clear his throat, as do I. It’s a lot to process.

 

“You will all receive a duffel bag full of cash for production expenses on your way out. Furthermore, the Dodge City schoolchildren will be at your full disposal, should you wish to recreate scenes from your childhood starring them.”

 

Here he pauses to gesture from the screen at a bullpen full of children in the grass behind us. We turn to regard them, smashed together like asylum seekers at a ferry launch. “Believe me, with the funds we’re sinking into this project, there’s no keeping the schools open.

 

“It’s a tall order, but, at this point, the void in our spirit-life must be filled. May the best Director win! I will see you all back here for the final screening a month from now.”

 

With that, his image boils away and the Drive-in screen goes black.

 

We all sit there, stunned in the cricket and mosquito buzz, until the real Dalton, microscopic compared to his filmed counterpart, shouts “Alright folks!”

 

We look over and see him standing at the entrance, flanked by bodyguards.

 

Dr. Gentle gets to his feet and takes my hand, helping me up. When we pass the entrance, Dalton pries open two duffel bags, showing us the cash inside before zipping them up and handing them over.

 

“Spend it wisely,” he says, as we shuffle past and he picks up the next two, for the people behind us.

 

*****

THE NEXT ORDER OF BUSINESS IS TO CHECK BACK INTO THE HOTEL.

 

It’s strangely emotional, approaching the Front Desk and asking for my old Room, like the very first time I drifted into Dodge City.

 

“Do you mind waiting over there by the fishtank?” I ask Dr. Gentle, feeling myself tear up as I revisit that long-ago morning.

 

“He’s gonna have to pay too,” says the desk clerk. “It’s too late to sneak him in.”

 

I nod. “That’s not the problem,” I say, handing her my credit card. “I just … I just …”

 

She seems to understand. The rest of the transaction goes smoothly and soon, just like the very first time, the porter has shown me (us) to my (our) Room.

 

*****

WHEN WE’VE SETTLED IN, me in my old bed and Dr. Gentle in a child-sized cot the porter wheeled out of storage for him, we pour ourselves whiskeys from the minibar and get down to business.

 

“Okay,” says Dr. Gentle, pen and legal pad open on his lap. “Got any ideas?”

I’VE BEEN WATCHING THE NEWS.

 

 

Tonight features a retrospective on Dodge City’s Porn Village. Its nostalgia for the days before the Village turned bizarre is itself Pornographic, probably not unintentionally.

 

 

The Porn Village, the NEWS REPORT begins, is where the Objects of the Dodge City Pornography were born and bred, living according to some harmonic, inscrutable order of their own, often conceiving and even birthing their next generations in front of the camera, then dying quietly and going to seed.

 

 

The Village keeps to itself, a few miles down a dirt road leading away from Dodge City. In the tradition of sacrifice victims bred like cows in the Outskirts, fed on special mash and informed of their purpose from Day 1, our Porn Objects breed and are born for us, so that we too, in our shy manner, might likewise breed and give birth.

 

 

We watch what Porn we’re given, one VHS per night. Each of us lives alone, and is in that sense a virgin.

 

 

We insert the tape and watch the screen fill with Objects of all ages and sizes, eating, sleeping, showering, defecating, copulating, sometimes committing suicide and watching other forms of TV … all in the nude, or in ripped, too-tight underwear.

 

 

The physical connection between their bodies and our own is just loose enough to be alluring, just tight enough to be familiar (allowing us to believe we can feel what they feel, mapping their nerves onto our own). We recognize ourselves in them, though we also know better than to think we might manage to do what they do, with one another here in Dodge City, without recourse to them.

 

 

After we’ve watched each night’s allotment, we put the tape out with the trash before it starts to stink life half-eaten chicken salad and eggs.

 

 

*****

Our Porn is not for pleasure. We have, over the course of weakening generations, made it the basis of our reproductive system.

 

 

Males, on this diet of one fresh Porn per night, save their resultant sludge in plastic bags, which are collected weekly by kids on bikes – the same kids, androgynous and parentless as far as anyone knows, that deliver the Porn itself, serving as go-betweens to the Porn Village.

 

 

These bags are then emptied in a compost pile in the Community Gardens, where their content mixes with itself and with the soil to serve as both fertilizer and pesticide for our produce as it grows.

 

 

When our produce comes ripe in September – a kind of reddish-black ground meat product, a pre-human substrate pocked with sketches of musculature – the females of Dodge City convene in the Civic Center.

 

 

They dine, then take their Porn into separate rooms, along with their portions of substrate, and, when they are ready, lit by the grinding, sometimes dying Porn Objects onscreen, they implant it in themselves, as far in and up as it will go, until it takes and begins to gestate, as the tape sputters out and begins to stink.

 

 

IN JUNE, the next crop of Dodge City young is upon us, let loose into the parks and YMCA to fend for itself until it too develops the taste for Porn and our species evades extinction once again.

 

 

In this way, our genetics swim in a concentric circle around those of the Porn Village, the two streams touching but never crossing.

 

 

A COMMERCIAL BREAK, THEN:

 

 

RESEARCH HAS REVEALED, the NEWS REPORT resumes, a longstanding practice in the Dodge City Police Dept. of replacing every citizen it executes with an impersonator culled from its own ranks.

 

 

“In tribute,” a spokesperson explains, “to each fallen member of our town’s underclass, without which we would have no buffer between Earth and Hell.”

 

 

In the course of time, the police force shrinks and the town’s seamiest population swells with impersonators, who, naturally, allow the thrill of being “back from the dead” to consume them, to the point where, like swapping in live flowers for dead ones, it becomes incumbent upon the Police Dept. to execute and replace them once again.

 

 

None of which would’ve impacted our Pornography had these impersonators not crossed the line, seeping out of Dodge City and into the Porn Village like swamp gas into the gene pool, turning it from clear to green.

 

 

BUT THEY DID.

 

 

“We wanted to feel what it was like,” I imagine them explaining, in court one day in late summer. “Real flesh for once. The good stuff.” I picture them professing their readiness to be executed, knowing how soon they’ll be replaced.

 

 

THIS WAS A WHILE AGO.

 

 

Since then, their peaceful incest disturbed, the Porn Objects have been on a course of increasing aberration: shrunken arms, bulging heads, protruding vertebrae, glistening spots on their bellies that look semi-solid, like smears of gel in place of skin and muscle.

 

 

And their genitals: squiggles, nests, blurs, double- and triple-protrusions and sticky hanging tangles like distressed gobs of putty, interacting with one another in no set way, finding no happy medium or snug fit, only abrading, slipping past, chafing each other, wearing each other down or peeling each other off.

 

 

Procreating in our solitary fashion on this side of what’s left of the divide, we have no way of knowing how widely this genital disturbance has spread to the citizenry of Dodge City, contagiously through the Porn we continue to ingest.

 

 

We are disgusted by these images, alone in our nights, riveted by our disgust. We feel our genes shifting, our genitals turning foreign in our hands and beneath our fingers, as we work them over again and again.

 

 

The serial contact we make with ourselves, indeed, comes to feel ever more like tampering with models that are not yet finished, smudging their emergent design.

porndisturbance_cropped

The males still fill their plastic bags and the kids on bikes still arrive to collect them, sewing the Community Gardens to grow its tomatoey meat, which the females still implant in September and carry until June, but the fear is that this new crop will resemble nothing so much as the increasingly alien Porn Objects that presided over its genesis, all toothy eye-sockets and sealed-up earholes, fused lips and exposed bladders.

 

 

We fear, like every generation fears, that we will, somehow, be the last, having unwittingly ceded our habitat to a new species that will drag us groaning to the dump.

 

 

THE NEWS REPORT ENDS, followed by a brief teaser for tomorrow night’s show, which promises exclusive footage of the original impersonator rampage. It shows a clip of all those proxy murderers and rapists flooding the Porn Village, loosening their belts to pop its bubble of separatism, stirring the genes that loop and twine through us all in a Walpurgisnacht of hellish abandon.

 

 

I click off the news and warm up my VCR as the kid on the bike shows up with tonight’s tape. I sniff it, pacing around, and taste the tape under the plastic flap. I get my bag ready, already fantasizing about tomorrow night’s show.

THE COPYCAT INSPECTOR’S return-with-a-Warrant, despite all the build-up over the past few weeks, was underwhelming.

 

 

By the time he and I walked back from that field where we chance-encountered one another, into the smoke and wreckage of Dodge City on the verge of being officially deemed a Cult, the focus or locus of attention had shifted.

 

 

It appeared he’d missed his moment and, since I was associated with him at that point, I felt I’d missed mine as well. Like everyone had already acclimated to life as a Cult and discovered that the fundamental crisis of their lives was something else.

 

 

The scene in the town square reminded me of a trip to Morocco I took when I was nineteen (and may have sprung straight from those memories):

 

 

 

There were chicken, tea, and cake vendors set up in a 1:1:3 ratio, and a bonfire, and Widget, the nine-year-old Detective who’d been given his first case in determining the origin of the 7 Shed Skins found in the street after last week’s melee, was holding forth.

 

 

 

The Copycat Inspector and I looked askance at one another, like this loss of fanfare was surely the other’s fault, a waste of a winning hand.

 

 

 

He peeled off into the crowd, hunching his head down into his neck. I had the impression that I wouldn’t see him again until he’d become a regular in town, some middle-aged guy toting his gym bag up and down the sidewalks.

 

 

*****

 

Though I’ve never liked him, I feel bad to see this be his fate. I can dig the story of coming to town as a relatively young man with an urgent message cued up and ready to unveil, and seeing it get absorbed into the general warp of things like like nothing new.

 

 

 

The foundations of this town (now: Cult) have always been soft and game enough to suck down fresh toxins without a burp.

 

 

 

I PAY FOR THE CAKE I apparently just ordered, and try to map my attention onto what’s happening in the center of the square, which is:

 

 

 

Widget has collected 7 children about his age (until now, I’d never seen any around town), and strung them up with ropes, clamps, vises (my throat gags on the terminology here), suspended a few feet above a pool, into which some body-fluid is dripping.

 

 

 

Everyone gathered here, watching what becomes of the bound children, reminds me of the scene last fall with Stokoe Drifter, where an old man’s protruding intestine got inseminated while we all watched … and I can tell everyone else is thinking the same thing.

 

 

 

In fact, I wonder if anyone is taking in what’s happening now, or if we’re all using it as a portal to relive what happened then.

 

 

 

Charged with new urgency, I resolve to be the one person who actually witnesses the present, so I put Stokoe Drifter to bed in my mind and lock in on:

 

 

 

Widget with a crank or remote control in his hand, rhythmically juicing the 7 children, who groan and shiver in their bindings.

 

 

 

I shiver too, alone in my attention.

 

 

 

I’m too late to catch the first part of his address to the Cult of Dodge City, so I can’t tell if his rig with the 7 children here is directly or symbolically connected to his investigation of the case of the 7 Shed Skins … or, perhaps he’s been turned from a Detective to a Copycat, since the Skins of these children look pretty close to falling off.

 

 

 

Perhaps, I’m thinking, his solution to the origin of those original 7 Skins is to produce 7 new ones, so as to illustrate how it might be possible for 7 Skins to appear.

 

 

 

More liquid drips out as Widget turns them, rotisserie-style.

 

 

 

” … and so,” he’s saying, “only after all the Internet has been drained from their young bodies — full lifetimes of absorption, don’t forget –and mixed together in this pool, will we be able to begin gleaning … ”

 

 

 

I picture those children in a state of constant Internet-absorption since the moment of their birth, and pick a pustule on my forehead and feel the liquid running down past my eyes, wondering whether that, too, chemically speaking, is made of Internet.

 

 

 

I try to look at the children’s faces to see how the draining feels, but it’s so far along by now that they’re are collapsed like rotten mangoes, full of seeds and hairy pulp.

 

 

 

I realize I can’t even tell whether I’m looking at the fronts or the backs of their heads.

 

 

 

The distinction is moot, anyway, since my attention is soon diverted:

 

 

 

Behind the draining contraption hangs a small but bold banner with a logo I recognize:

 

 

 

INTERNET FREE AMERICA.

 

 

 

Those people I got involved with a few months ago when I was desperate for a way back to my novel. A genuine Cult if anything ever was.

 

 

 

The logo incites in me a coming-together, like a vision of compatible pieces that I hadn’t until now seen as more than random shards:

 

 

 

Something about Dodge City’s underwhelming reaction to the Copycat Inspector … and Widget’s inexplicable election to the front ranks of the police force … and the emergence of 7 children in a town that had had none … and now this work of draining out their Internet with the support of Internet Free America …

 

 

 

Some grand perspective is almost clear to me when I make the mistake of opening my eyes.

 

 

 

*****

 

WHAT I SEE jolts both wheels of my mind fully off the track we’d been on:

 

 

 

The square is abandoned. Pigeons are feasting on leftover cakes, and there’s a smell of spilled gas.

 

 

 

The pool of Internet drippings in the center shines with an emerald glow (I hate that phrase, but it seems unavoidably true of certain liquids in certain lights), and the 7 children look pretty dead where they hang …

 

 

 

Widget is gone. Now, four very elderly people are slipping naked over the lip of the basin, splashing one another, washing their faces and hair and gargling with Internet.

 

 

 

 

The whole square starts to moan with that familiar Ghost Porn crackle, which I haven’t heard since last summer.

 

 

 

 

I want to move, go home, get out of here before these old folks go too far in front of me, but I’m frozen in place, thanks either to a flaring neurosis or to some chemical property of the Internet.

 

 

 

 

AT FIRST, it seems like the old folks bathing in it have a Fountain of Youth agenda, trying to soak some Internet into their loosened skin, but the orgiastic qualities of their behavior — a bonafide four-way at this point, arms and legs protruding from an undifferentiated and slowly grinding torso-mass — force something else from the bottom to the top of my mind:

 

 

 

 

A story that Big Pharmakos told me about a local boy whose parents divorced, and, instead of allying with their jilted and blameless son or daughter, the four grandparents banded together into a sort of collective to raise the boy communally, under one roof.

 

 

 

 

This started out like you’d expect, but then went kind of far:

 

 

 

 

THE GRANDPARENTS seemed to feel called upon not only to reboot their sexuality in the context of this new arrangement, but somehow to consummate a four-way marriage and then conceive the boy anew, even though he was there all along, as a five-, six-, and seven-year-old, watching them through keyholes and under doors.

 

 

 

 

It was as though they believed the reason for the divorce was that the boy had not been conceived and born in the right way, and so it was their job as guardians to give it another try.

 

 

 

 

Things in that house got increasingly extreme as all permutations of numbers and genders came into play (and the grandparents kept aging, perhaps even more quickly than they would have otherwise).

 

 

 

 

The last straw was when the two grandmothers tried to nurse the boy — now 7 — insisting he suckle from one of each of their breasts, and treat the two of them as his one and only mother.

 

 

 

He escaped.

 

 

 

 

And (this is the part that’s only occurring to me now), that boy must’ve gone on to join the police force as its youngest-ever Detective.

 

 

 

 

I look up now, trying to see the grandparents’ orgy as Widget would’ve seen it as a child, but the crackling of Ghost Porn is overwhelming. They’re churning it up from deep in the Internet, loud and angry.

 

 

 

 

I turn around to clear my mind and see a face I haven’t seen since last summer:

 

 

 

 

Internethead.

 

 

 

 

We acknowledge one another. “Strange, the lengths people’ll go to,” he says, a stock icebreaking line, and I nod.

 

 

 

 

MORE PEOPLE surround us in the dark square, and, after some confusion, I recognize them as the camera crew for Unholy Family, the TV show that the Night Crusher watches when he’s too depressed to do anything else.

 

 

 

 

Makes sense that they’d turn up here. It appears that Internethead is on hand as a consultant for this episode.

 

 

 

 

The old folks are so conjoined, in each other and in the Internet, that they don’t seem to notice the floodlights and elaborate camera equipment … or else they do notice but there’s no change they can afford to make.

 

 

 

 

“Help out?” Internethead asks, handing me a mic cord.

 

 

 

Absentmindedly, I take it and start clipping it in places.

 

 

 

 

The last thing I notice before I get lost in my work is that the Skins of the hanging children have come almost fully off them, dangling down all the way to the Internet basin, totally dry and veiny now that they’ve bled out.

 

 

 

 

They look like massive wings, and serve as curtains around the old folks, partitioning off their sex-act into a spectacle considerably more understated than the kind Unholy Family tends to go in for.

TODAY’S THE DAY.

 

Which means that lots of days, recently, in retrospect, were not the day, though at the time I’d thought possibly they were. Which is I suppose the difference between thinking and knowing.

 

I’ve taken my time wending the backstreets, heading back toward the town square slowly enough to avoid any associated Bends. It’s been, feels like, several weeks, like I’ve taken a day per cobblestone.

 

One of the handles of my paper bag of Mass Black Market Video Market Videos is ripping, so I’m holding hard to the other one — I formulate and think-speak the phrase “my last resort” as if a sizable portion of my interior faculty were not on board / up to speed with what’s going on externally.

 

What I first notice, upon entering fully back into the square, is an octagon of old-timers arranged around the fountain, each in an identical suit of black pants and white missionary shirt and bow-tie, sitting at a fold-out table bedecked with a boombox, a jar of jelly candy, and a vase of roses.

 

I stand in the center and give the scene’s audio component a moment to make sense. At first it sounds like a sort of angry round, a group of children all singing their own mocking version of the school song during music class, but then I can tell what it is:

 

It’s the 8 tracks on Dream River, the brand new Bill Callahan album. Each table is broadcasting its own track over and over, surely not on repeat but rather on a CD containing only that track, so as not to risk contamination.

 

Now that I hear the tracks, I realize they’ve been emanating from windows and vehicles and the humming throats of washerwomen throughout my slow trek home. I sit on the edge of the fountain in the center of the square and listen, giving my inner ear fluids a chance to simmer down.

 

I hadn’t yet moved to Dodge City back in 2011 when Apocalypse, the previous Bill Callahan album, came out, but I came soon enough after to see the remnants of the celebration: since Vic Chesnutt died, the release of Bill Callahan albums marks the greatest Carnivale on the Dodge City calendar, like something straight out of Jodorowsky, or even too rich for his blood:

 

Crushed clown masks and vials of mime makeup in the street, gnawed bones of beast and fowl, confetti, streamers and smashed piñata material, birds and lizards hatched, escaped, and trampled underfoot, overturned meat and fried dough carts, impact dents in the pavement, the ash and remnants of burnt effigies, the bandages of unwrapped mummy costumes, hacked- or ripped-off goat horns and the antlers of other fauna, puzzled over and awl-punctured entrails, spilled gasoline from floats and trucks, and a mess of sleepers who have not yet awoken to begin the appeals process against being considered dead.

 

That’s how central Dodge City looked after the last Bill Callahan album came out, and that’s how it looks again now. I’m sitting on the fountain listening to those old-timers playing the new tracks, trying to calculate in my head the degree measure separating each from the next, assuming the square were a clock face with eight points instead of twelve.

 

The tables all fly flags with the slogan “EACH ONE BETTER THAN THE LAST,” which I’m sure they flew when the last album came out as well.

 

As I sit I feel a stirring behind me and turn to see that the fishpond, where the carp and catfish used to bathe above the shiny coin bottom, is full now of Ghost Porn, crackling like underlit cellophane in time to the music.

 

It moans and leers up at me, clearly aware of who and what I am.

 

It has killed all the fish and incorporated their bodies.

 

I begin to feel cornered, like a beam has been trained on me, or several beams at once: I realize that my exploits in the Desert have already been melted down into the Video Record, fair game for hermeneutical scholars and porn mavens both.

 

I stand up in a hurry while all 8 Bill Callahan songs revert to their beginnings, some surely cut short to accommodate the others. The handle on my Video Bag rips off, and I — fully clumsy and flustered — spill all the Videos into the Ghost Porn, watching them sink under and come unspooled in the staticky white broth. The black tape is sucked out and melted down into the Subcutaneous Video Record, from a solid to a liquid in no time flat.

 

Empty-handed, I break into a run, nearly knocking over the table playing Track 6 (“Summer Painter”) in my haste to get home. I am ankle deep in Carnivale runoff, kicking my ankles to the sides to keep them from drowning in what feels like double-thick shaving cream.

 

*****

My only thought had been to get home, but by the time I make it onto my street, I can see what the situation is: as with any town-devouring Carnivale, everyone has rented out their houses and gotten the hell out for a few weeks.

 

So it’s strangers everywhere. A whole nest of them packed away into the houses on my street, in place of my neighbors. Bill Callahan fiends from all over, with longstanding promises to themselves to see how hard it really gets in Dodge City once before dying.

 

They peer at me through their windows — I can see as well as feel them — and I have to slow my pace, catching my breath and feeling residual sweat creep down from my armpits toward my wrists and belt-loops.

 

I stand in front of my house and contemplate ringing the doorbell, either as a stranger requesting lodging, like in that Greek tale where a couple of gods go around begging to see if anyone’s good enough to take them in, or else demanding reentry as the rightful tenant, kicking out whatever lodger gives me grief.

 

But I’m stopped, midway up the front steps, by a headache-inducing vision of everyone in town hunkered down in the Deep Desert now, right back where I until recently was, watching Videos on portable devices and awaiting their run-in with Suicide Sam & Son.

 

So I hack and wheeze and, like a novice postman who realizes just in time he’s got the wrong address for the package in hand, I turn around and head for the hotel.

 

Back to my first ever Room in Dodge City, I smirk and wince to think.

 

*****

Sipping a milkshake I got somewhere along the way, I stand in the lobby.

 

It’s a mess of flashbulbs, amateur paparazzi and wannabes.

 

After a while, I glimpse Big Pharmakos at the convergence of all that camera aim. “That’s right, I’ve been this town’s main pimp and dark, dark comedian as long as I can remember,” he says to someone writing something down. “But, like, dark, know what I mean? Like, real comedy. Actual human shit, as opposed to pussy shit.”

 

I toss my milkshake cup in the trash and, when the circle admits me, go up to him and ask what’s up.

 

He beams: “Where you been, man? I was on Maron last week! Got my big break. Told my life story. How I got to be so funny … the horrors I suffered … my love of Pryor and Dangerfield … all of it.”

 

Then a bodyguard pulls me back, like, “OK, you had your time, time to shove off.”

 

As I’m manhandled out of the crowd, I hear Big Pharmakos say, “Right, and he asked me about the Desert, Suicide Sam, the Ghost Porn, all my wanderings … and I told him, man. You know how he gets it out of people. I told him everything.”

 

The longer I listen, the clearer it becomes that Big Pharmakos has taken my story. Somehow everything I did out there was known to him, back here — clearly some media ploy has been in play for a long time, something so deep in the Video Record that I can’t reach far enough down to finger it.

 

*****

The bouncer throws me all the way outside and it’s surprisingly cold.

 

I wait a long time, like it’s Springsteen in there and all I want is to watch him walk to his car.

 

Finally, Big Pharmakos comes out. Seeing me, he waves his bodyguards away so we can talk.

 

“I’m Huge now,” he says. “Huge Pharmakos. I’ve been on Maron.”

 

“So I hear.”

 

“A limo is coming for me anytime,” he says, staring longingly at the highway off-ramp, visible behind an Arby’s across the street.

 

“Can I hear the Interview?” I ask, not sure if I want to.

 

He bristles. “It’s not up yet. I just got a rough tape, and that’s for me only.”

 

There’s a darkness to him that I haven’t seen before. The phrase “rough tape” sounds extra rough the way he puts it, and I can tell it’s bound up with the Video Record in a way I may not want to dig into.

 

What appears to be the lung of a hawk blows across the sidewalk and lands between our feet. “Huge shit with the new Bill Callahan,” he says.

 

“So I see,” I reply.

 

“But not as huge as me on Maron,” he reiterates.

 

Then his manager or handler comes for him and he’s gone. I kind of space-out while this is happening, so I don’t register whether he’s gone back inside or into a car or what. Maybe he’s actually just walking away in a direction I’m not looking.

 

I take out my phone and search for “Big Pharmakos / Marc Maron.” Nothing comes up.

 

I type in “Huge Pharmakos / Marc Maron” and still nothing comes up — at least nothing but this post itself, which doesn’t help me much.

 

I can tell that the question of whether Big Pharmakos ever actually went on Maron will or has already become one of those questions you can never ask, like insisting on knowing too much about the personal life of the Historical Jesus instead of just drinking the wine and eating the crackers.

 

There are times when one would be forgiven for suspecting that no one in this town has an actual working Internet connection. Internets of misinformation, Internets of rumor, gossip, and opinion, Internets of plurality, abound, but any link to a system that would allow one to determine the one literal truth of any event … would be heretical even to speculate about.

 

*****

Realizing that I haven’t yet checked into a Room in the hotel, I go back in to the front desk.

 

After explaining my situation seven times — the first three the clerk simply stared, numbers four and five she laughed out loud, and number six she stared again — the clerk says, trying to control the incredulity in her tone, “Where the hell have you been? Don’t you know there’s a new Bill Callahan album out? Every room in the hotel is booked through the New Year!”

 

Tramping back outside, that Arby’s by the highway off-ramp catches my eye more than any Arby’s anywhere has before.

If any track has been kept, it’s been upwards of a month now of wandering. My comrade and I.

 

“Wanderings,” I think, is the better term — the plural makes it feel more of a piece, like it’s not just something that goes on and on to either nothing or more of the same, but is rather a task to be accomplished, something to put on our resumes, if we ever make it back into the company of others among whom such might again bolster our cause.

 

Like “wanderings” are something you might actually accomplish and be done with, whereas “wandering” you just remain in the middle of until you die or a Deus ex arrives.

 

None of this, strictly speaking, has any effect. In reality, the word I’d do better to use is “waiting.”

 

That’s what we’ve actually been up to since July — just waiting until something intercedes. Or waiting to think of something, or to do something irreversible or impressive enough to constitute a breaking point.

 

Though we’ve been walking at a reasonable clip across (or, better put, “around”) the desert, we would have done just as well to have sat stock still, or to have slept it off or barked at the overhang or facedown into the sand. Told our life stories to shells and peppered them with fibs.

 

Being lost so long has turned me into something of a pedant. Like my priorities have shrunk.

 

 

ALL ALONG there’s been that crackle of ghost porn around the edges.

 

It sounds like something simmering in a covered pot whose flame comes and goes, snuffing itself out and then rekindling of its own accord, or thanks to some wind that passes for that purpose alone, whispering “am I needed?” while there’s still time.

 

Anyway, it’s been long enough and soon something’s going to happen.

 

 

*****

A RUN-IN with Suicide Sam, or the Son of Suicide Sam, who, as we established as best we could a while ago, may as well be treated as the same person because I don’t know any means of distinguishing them short of just asking “are you the same man as your father?” which — if you want to, go right ahead.

 

There’s no real scene change: it’s just my comrade and I, dead bored and dehydrated and repeating ourselves, and then it’s the three of us in a sort of orchard, surrounded by hanging forms somewhere between meat and vegetable, not quite art-seeming but a far cry from natural.

 

Suicide Sam appears either to have been expecting us or to be indifferent to any and all.

 

We end up inside a subsequent cordoned-off area with him, like a crime scene where both crime and investigation are simultaneously in progress.

 

He doesn’t exactly welcome us with a hearty “come right in!” gesture.

 

Nevertheless, we’re drinking warm glasses of Pepsi and eating crackers and nuts, careful not to touch Suicide Sam or let him touch us, since we all know where that leads.

 

It appears that my comrade and Suicide Sam have some shared backstory. Perhaps one intimately related to the particulars of his selective suicide. Perhaps Suicide Sam brokered that deal, or at least notarized it.

 

Unless that was his Dad.

 

Suicide Sam is taking us on a tour of the premises.

 

My comrade and I have seen so many half-formed, notional places lately that it’d take a lot to make any impression on us.

 

This one makes one.

 

It’s full of the damaged and the deformed, derangements worthy of Th. Ligotti himself. Tangles of skin and spirit worse than any Western Deity ever protected its faithful from.

 

A true free-for-all of reek and malignity.

 

“The ones I couldn’t get right,” Suicide Sam explains once we’ve looked as much as we can.

 

“And the ones that wouldn’t work with me,” he adds, careful not to undersell himself.

 

“The Suicide Cemetery wanted nothing to do with them. Said they weren’t fit for burial. Even for the outermost plots, out with the Aberrant and Non-Genre Suicides.”

 

He shakes his head, like the thought of exclusion from the Suicide Cemetery is too ignominious to contemplate for longer than it takes to mention.

 

“I only come out here once a month,” he says. “Routine upkeep. Make sure things don’t get even stranger, as they have a way of trying to get when I’m away.

 

“AND,” he goes on, “I use it for practice. Like a shooting range. Work on my Suicide Technique … the finer points, the kinks that need ironing … and I debut my new moves. Sometimes, if I’m feeling a little rough, I indulge in a little Improv.”

 

He protrudes his hands from their long sleeves, showing off a handsome framework of Suicide Musculature.

 

This pause gives us time to consider whether his last bit of dialogue constitutes a threat. I decide: probably not. Further, if he wants to Practice Suicide on me, all the way out here, then I’m in no position to say no thanks. If it is a threat, it’s not one that carries with it any charge of panic or even quite importance from my point of view.

 

I feel indolent as a cud-chewing cow.

 

 

THEN I remember what I’d been trying to remember since arriving here among these Suicide Rejects, trying so hard that I hadn’t even been aware I was trying: Alien Resurrection.

 

Specifically the scene where she goes into the room of all her failed clones, all the times they tried to remake her after her fiery demise at the end of Alien 3. All the suffering and disruption of the human form, displayed in tanks for her to examine and see how much pain was inflicted for her sake, onto beings that were almost her …

 

The horror of embodiment, the non-negotiable nearness of monstrosity to us all, &c.

 

As I run through this scene and try to remember some lines from a chapter of a film book I read about it once, Suicide Sam says:

 

“Isn’t that the one all the college kids write their papers on?”

 

Then he recedes into a Private Area, clearly done with us.

 

*****

The day is about to go on too long when a new arrival spares it that fate.

 

Evening falls among the rows of ruined shapes, some looking ingrown into their utter final forms and others like uncooked, still-ripening ingredients.

 

From this murk emerges a child-sized skeleton bedecked in bells and whistles with a Christmas wreath around its neck.

 

It stands before my comrade and I, occasioning a silent spell. Even the ghost porn simmers down.

 

I notice that all of Suicide Sam’s Rejects have been bagged and tied off for the night.

 

I look down at the skeleton, feel its attention heavy on my knees.

 

In my head I’m calling it a psychopomp. It’s a relative term, inexact, hauled up from some archaic mythos, but it’s the best I can do in the situation. Plus it’s a word I like to say and, to a lesser degree, think.

 

I can freely admit to lacking access to a rich enough region of vocabulary to do right by what I’ve encountered without even having gone out of my way.

 

The psychopomp looks between my comrade and I, and at the dimming desert all around us. The crackle of ghost porn ceases entirely, and I know it won’t be back. I find that I miss it. Everything sounds too quiet without it. I can’t even hear myself breathe anymore.

 

“It’s over,” whispers the psychopomp. Its voice is that of a very young boy, six or seven, the kind you might try to rope into a choir and castrate.

 

So I’ll call it a “he,” though it truly is a skeleton, with no gendered flesh to speak of.

 

“Time to go,” he repeats. I’ve heard of similar things happening before, wreath-bedecked skeleton boys showing up at the end of what proves to be the last in a series of recurring nightmares. Never at the beginnings, always at the ends.

 

My comrade and I whisper over his head, slowly conferring.

 

His gist is: “I’m not doing anything that little so-and-so says.”

 

My gist is: “I’m ready to go home.”

 

It appears we have a Schism.

 

We shake hands and part ways, he into the rows of sheathed hanging Rejects, me in the direction the psychopomp leads. He doesn’t seem to notice that only one of the two of us is following, or perhaps it was only me he came for.

 

*****

I can see the lights of Dodge City in the distance. Already I feel this whole desert section receding into the category of “boyhood adventures.”

 

The far outskirts are coming into their own the way outskirts always or usually do in those long minutes dozing against the backseat window of a car being driven through the dark by some stranger or tenuous relation after a day out in the countryside — countryside they know well but you not at all — back into town to fall right into a rented or guested bed and sleep well into morning.

 

These far outskirts constitute a dead silent zone, one I’ve never been to or heard of before. They are silent now, at 3AM, certainly, but — the psychopomp doesn’t have to tell me — they’re silent all day as well. They have that air about them, or it has that air about it. The place feels Stained by Silence, stained the way walls are stained with something actually called Stain, a thing whose purpose is just that.

 

Almost a show-town, an ant farm, an example of how things can end up if allowed to go on and on in one direction with no oversight. Dodge City, it would appear, is surrounded by a cautionary buffer of worse towns, such that, ideally, the best town is the realest one, the one in which people really live, in the dead center, the core of rings of desolation and downfall.

 

But we’re not there yet. The silent town spreads out all around us, trying to draw us in.

 

The psychopomp, who’s been silent all this time, speaks up now:

 

“Quiet isn’t it? It’s because of their secrets. Everyone here reached a critical mass in Dodge City and had to move out. No one could say anything about anyone else anymore in there, so here they all are, choked, saying nothing.”

 

Then, by way of demonstration, the psychopomp too falls silent.

 

“WELL, this is me,” he says a while later, walking up the steps of one of those silent houses. I see him feeling around for the key under the front mat.

 

By the time the lights of his house come on, I will have rounded the corner and reentered the circle of the actual Dodge City, where the sounds of my breathing finally return to me, as if something had borrowed them for a few hours and is now finished.

I’M DRIVING ALONG WITH and or being driven along by Internethead. Out to the desert to face down the Ghost Detritus of the Dodge City Genocide, whose legacy has gone so long unseen.

He drives fast, with little apparent regard for the territory. We are soon well beyond the highway entrance and the cluster of signs that tell you what fast food and motels to hope for when coming to town for the first time. We pass a Dairy Queen whose parking lot marquee reads, “Another Day Too Sad For Words $1.99.”

I can tell this will be the last establishment we’ll see. I wish we had stopped for a snack. The dark miles beyond this feel like discovering new hours in the night, the first time you stay up later than you ever have before.

Internethead’s face bulges peacefully, not showing off for anyone. It’s made its point, at least taken its stab. It may still burst, but it won’t be a purposive event.

Things right now are, strangely or not, rather boring, like Internethead and I have known each other a long time, like two hitmen or some duo with a show we take on the road, and now we’re just logging the middle miles among millions.

Like one of us will point something out and the other won’t respond … and then he’ll point something out, not expecting a response.

We get off one road after another … it seems we’re always getting off roads and never onto them, though we go on driving.

The oldest of all old Grandaddy songs plays five or six times in a row on the radio, the reception getting steadily worse. It feels rigged, like the same song is playing again and again to make a point about how much worse the reception is getting the further out we get — as if otherwise the fact of this growing distance would be lost on us.

WE ARRIVE.

It’s almost an exact replica of something from Lynch: the ranch in the desert, the broad-shouldered guy in the hat by the gate waiting for us, some message to impart or threat to make.

We pull up a steep hill, all gravel and loose dirt, requiring some fancywork with the brakes and steering wheel, and come to a stop in a cloud of dust.

It settles; we wait; Internethead’s bulge bulges. I play through a quick memory of a night in Krakow when I saw some kids on a backstreet draw knives …

THEN WE’RE out of the car, standing up, coming through the gate as the big man ushers. Closing the gate, he checks the driveway, making sure we weren’t followed.

Once inside, I realize, unambiguously, who it is: SUICIDE SAM (or, the SON OF SUICIDE SAM, which, according to the rules I’m trying to intuit, is I think the same thing).

“Hi,” I say, remembering the scene a few weeks ago where I was lured out to his encampment, outside of town, and died or almost died.

He just smiles. He and Internethead appear to know one another from a venue other than this one.

We begin to stroll. The air is thick as hamburger grease.

The whole place looks like a disused film or TV set, with traces of not just Lynch but Terry Gilliam, Frank Miller, Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Vince Gilligan … ha, now I’m just listing names. But, in all seriousness, it’s a patchwork of a place, equal parts “just weedy” and “immaculately honed to some unrealizable diabolical vision.”

I can’t tell if anything has ever actually been shot here. There are spotlights set up at intervals, dim, like they have no OFF-switches so have been on for years, all through the blazing bright days, helping burn the sand we’re now walking over.

*****

FOR A WHILE, we were moving through tangible human constructions — ranch style stuff, dog kennels, fencing, arrays of tires and engines — but now we’re in open desert.

The air gets even thicker, and I can see Internethead’s bulge attain a new closeness to popping.

Just pop, I wish in its direction. It responds by bulging even further, like an ear stretching out to read my mind.

The air is so thick we can barely move, like that dream-flying that’s a kind of swimming through a soupy, all-surrounding substrate.

“Feel that?” asks Internethead.

I admit that I do. I reach out to wipe my arm, pull away a thick smear.

It only proliferates as I rub one hand against the other.

Suicide Sam is looking away from us, like he’s going to say his piece later on. Internethead continues, “The Ghosts of the Ghost Detritus, as promised.”

He looks at me through a film of air so thick it’s almost a crowd. “Here’s where they all ended up. This is what the Genocide turned them into … the way of all flesh.”

I had until this point suppressed the feeling but now I can’t: the charge in the air is erotic. There’s a crackly, arousing liveness, or litheness, everywhere.

Internethead looks at me and I’m ashamed to realize that he knows I’m feeling it. He smirks.

“This is what the Genocide produced,” he says emphatically, admitting neither happiness nor sadness at the fact.

It’s cloying all over my skin — hard to express the feeling, an encroaching, densening, slimy, good-feeling influx of Ghost Porn.

I try again to scrape it off (thicker than dish soap now), but my hands are trembly and the pads of my fingers feel huge, magnified out of usefulness.

So I just let it flood me. A totally disembodied, objectless pornography — could be worse, thinks a certain non-trivial part of me.

“Could be much worse,” replies Internethead, or Internethead’s bulge, which, I swear to God, truly can hear my thoughts.

THEN SUICIDE SAM TURNS ON ANOTHER SPOTLIGHT — this one apparently mounted with an OFF-switch — and the desert comes alive with pornography. It’s everywhere, in all directions, gnashing itself into a fit.

“The fate of all Ghosts,” he says with a smile. It’s like the longest, hardest outtake from Penthouse’s Caligula you’ve ever hoped to see.
“Porn sets in the deep, deep desert,” mutters Internethead. I’ve started to distrust his voice, no longer able to be certain whether it’s speaking into the world at large, through his mouth, or straight into my mind, through his bulge.

I’ve lost a friend, I think.

*****

“ALMOST THERE,” says Suicide Sam, after the spotlights have been turned off. Internethead has disappeared, coinciding, it would seem, with my renouncing him as my friend, which does little-to-nothing to diminish my paranoia about him.

“Almost where?” I ask, but too late, as the outside world kills my question on the vine: it’s clear that we’ve arrived at a hut.

“Prepare to make a new friend,” says Suicide Sam. “Go knock on the door.” He nods at the hut.

“Why don’t you?” I ask.

“He wouldn’t hear me,” he replies, gravely. “He’s dead.”

No point in stalling, I think, so I go up and knock on the door.

No answer. I knock again. Etc, etc.

Finally, a very disheveled-looking young man, younger than me, comes to the door, and looks upon me with great fondness and relief.

Disturbed, I look away from him and back at Suicide Sam who, clearly, cannot see this young man.

“What is this?” I ask.

Suicide Sam smiles, still clearly aroused from the Ghosts. “He’s yours,” he replies. “Committed suicide not long ago. Stipulated in his Note that you’d be the only person he’d still be alive to.”

I look back at the young guy, and it’s clear that he can’t see or hear Suicide Sam. I feel very weird, stretched like this between two mutually exclusive beings.

“He what??” I ask, aware that I’m just floundering now.

Suicide Sam repeats, “He’s dead, but not to you. He put it right here in his Note, addressed you by name. He said, ‘Goodbye everyone except …’ ”

Suicide Sam hands me the Note, and I read it through. Sure enough, it refers to me by name. I look the young guy over again, trying to determine if I know him.

“It’s never too late to make a new friend,” demurs Suicide Sam, disappearing back into the desert dark. The layer of Ghost Porn sighs as he presses back into it.

*****

SO NOW IT’S JUST ME AND THIS DEAD GUY, who’s not dead to me, it would seem.

Maybe he can be my sidekick, I think, looking him over, trying to assess if it’s possible that, in fact, it’ll be the other way around.