Archives for posts with tag: Novels

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.”

The very last days before the release of the next wave of Blut Branson’s novel.

Several (hundred) people claiming to be Blut Branson’s assistants have been tweeting updates to the Mayor’s office daily for weeks. The next visit to our man alone in his island resort, which could mean anything, is imminent. They are coming for him by sea. Whether as friends or foes is anyone’s guess. And the guesses are many. They fly high and wide, to the far right and the far left, speculation far wilder than any routine alien sighting out in the crops.

We wait indoors, dressed in our finest. All delivery service has been suspended in these final stages, so we dig into our reserves of canned and dry goods, rationing or not depending on our particular orientation toward the imminent endgame.

Our main phone lines are off the hook. All houses in Dodge City come equipped with a second line exclusively for direct communication regarding the status of Blut Branson’s novel. Usually quiet, this we now monitor in the genuine sense of the word “religiously.” Rarely does it even ring before we answer, so attuned are we to its vibrations.

Updates come daily. Prepare yourselves, people.

On the night before the day of, Michael Shannon arrives in a midnight convoy.

At dawn, he is spotted in the costume and character of Curtis LaForche, his self in Take Shelter. We see him out our windows and on our television sets, tuned to round-the-clock Blut Branson news (all other channels are not only disabled but have ceased all programming).

LaForche makes a broadcast on the dedicated phone line, graciously accepting the invitation to be this year’s mediator of Blut Branson’s message. “I am only too glad,” he enthuses, “to allow my person to serve as the conduit through which this novel will reach us.” Of course new waves of the novel do not arrive yearly, but we understand what he means when he says “this year’s.”

We are only too glad too.

We continue to wait. I eat my last ice cream sandwich and, in a mild End Times gesture, toss the wrapper facedown on the rug and mash it in with my heel.



Our phones remain silent long into the day. Some of us believe it has already happened, that this is it, here we are, so much for all that was.

I’m tempted to think this way too, but I can’t quite. Things seem too similar, sensations too familiar. I’ve never been in Dodge City when any part of Blut Branson’s novel has hit, so what do I know, but … I don’t think it could be just this.

It’s like one of those Polish villages in the 1600’s where some itinerant holy man comes from Istanbul or Thessaloniki proclaiming The End and everyone slaughters and eats all their livestock and gets a bunch of STD’s, and then it’s not The End and their village is kind of fucked, going forward, and that guy is long gone.

I don’t know. Finally, around noon, the phone rings. It’s Shannon / LaForche, reading what sounds like a message written for him by someone else:

Blut Branson’s people report an unforeseen and never-before-experienced hindrance regarding his third testicle, which has on every previous occasion been summoned to the fore in the final stages of completing any part of his novel, transforming him into the super-potent deity-figure capable of “conceiving and completing novel-length work” that we all know and revere him as.

He pauses, and makes a sound like he’s wiping a tear:

On this sad and troubling occasion, credible sources report, Blut Branson’s third testicle has retreated somewhere deep into his body, perhaps lodging inside another organ, and has made itself felt instead as a SEED OF DOUBT. Doubt regarding the efficacy of the novel as a 21st century art form, and of his own aptitude for this work, whether or not it continues to be relevant to the mindsphere we are all currently …

Static, then:

He offers you all, citizens of Dodge City, instead of the novel you’d all been waiting for, two brand new and formally innovative SHORT STORIES. There will be a reading tonight at the …

I hope never in my life to have a better occasion to use the word bedlam.

It is total unadulterated bedlam on the streets of Dodge City. “Two Short Stories!” is the savage cry issuing from all the houses as people stream forth.

There will be tear gas. There will be tramplings, cars on fire, fire hydrants gushing into smoke-blackening sky. Dogs swarm among the rioters as furious creatures surge out of manholes. Stores are looted, telephone poles are torn down. Somehow an entire city block is overturned.


I lay low, keep my head down.

When they storm into my house, I run out the back door and into the woods.

I spend the afternoon wandering in a creek bed, wet in some areas and dry in others. I find a small cave and the remnants of a tree fort.

AROUND DUSK, more or less unintentionally, I find myself in the Superdrome by the highway where the short story reading is scheduled to occur.

I let myself in. All the lights are off and no one’s around. I smell meat though, and am intrigued.

Then Michael Shannon turns up. He’s ditched the Curtis LaForche getup and is just dressed as and playing himself now.

He checks me out, trying to determine whether I’m armed and irate.

When he determines that I’m not, he says, in a loud announcer’s voice, as if the place were full of thousands, “OKAY FOLKS! Let’s get started here.”

He launches right into Blut Branson’s two short stories, written despite or with the help of the seed of doubt.

The first is called “Equilibrium.” Branson, or Shannon, describes it as the more experimental, ephemeral, and unabashed of the two.

The second is called “Neighborhood.” Branson, or Shannon, describes it as the stricter, more fanatical of the two, the one less gently assembled, based more directly on what he calls “compulsive realtime.”

I stand at a fair distance from Shannon, who already looks lost in a trance. I can’t tell if he’s transmitting the stories verbatim, or describing them from memory.

I know enough to steer clear of him, though this is easier known than done since he starts weaving and even lunging erratically while the stories unfold. After a while, we sync into a workable rhythm.

The first story, “Equilibrium,” concerns two figures, both pretty androgynous. One stands in an opulent courtyard, the way you might imagine the King’s courtyard in Medieval Armenia, full of citrus trees, doves, and shooting stars.

The other is in a lower area, like a cistern or catacomb, a place with something hellish about it. The basic action is an exchange of air through a special jewel-encrusted glass breathing pipe. The one from the lower area comes up while the one in the courtyard holds his or her breath, nearly fainting / dying, until the lower one emerges and breathes some of that lower-air through the pipe into his or her desperately waiting mouth.

Then they switch. The one from above brings air to the one below, who holds his or her breath to receive it.

This action, which I suppose it how the Equilibrium is established, repeats an incredible number of times.

Then, long after I’d assumed he never would, Shannon segues into “Neighborhood.” This one, as promised, is more plot-based. It concerns a spate of deaths of elderly people. The initial claim or supposition is that they all die peacefully in their sleep, one after another in a short span of time. For reasons he can’t quite grasp, the protagonist, Ball, goes to all of their funerals. He doesn’t know these people very well — they were all just generic elderly hi-how-are-you? neighbors, but he goes to every single funeral, every day for a week.

After a couple of these, Ball starts to cull faint memories of dreams of sleepwalking, which develop into memories of dreams of having sleepwalked into the houses of these elderly folks and strangled them very gently in their beds. As the deaths mount, all still officially of natural causes, he starts to see other young men at the funerals. They seem familiar but he can’t quite place them. They all wear the same troubled expression, a dawning suspicion of themselves, and are all equally improbable as legitimate funeral guests.

It’s not long until Ball is convinced that he along with all these young men has truly sleepwalked into the homes of the elderly and truly strangled them in their sleep. He even starts to believe that some unseen Mabuse type is controlling the operation, deploying them all as assassins. It’s the only explanation, he believes, though, as the Preacher stresses each time, DEATH IS THE EXPLANATION.

I get the feeling that this story is going to loop on and on as well, with the body count mounting until it becomes a global epidemic.

I don’t find out, though, because of how much I’ve eaten. There was all this BBQ from a place in Kansas City laid out, and a cask of Boulevard beer, enough for all of Dodge City, and I realize that I’ve eaten and drunk almost all of it myself. There are bones and crushed cups all around me, and my fingers are painted with sauce, as is my shirt and the area of my pants near my pockets.

In reasonably short order, I collapse. Then it’s just Michael Shannon traipsing through the hall of these vastly unconsummated festivities, transmitting Blut Branson’s compressed vision of the mounting deaths of the elderly and the young men who will believe at any cost that they are to blame.

He never steps on me, though he most likely comes close.

I feel like a cloth version of myself when I face the task of attempting to convey the magnitude of the writer that Blut Branson is.

This — me, here, now — feels as though it may be the only time and place to try, but also, like all places and times, I see clearly that it’s “neither the place nor the time,” unless my aspiration had been “to leave well enough alone.”

But, well:

Blut Branson’s big, the biggest. He’s everything to the people of Dodge City.

There’s not really another game in town. It’s like, what are you gonna do, read Paul Auster and call it a day?

Sure, there are heretics and splinter-cells, but they tend to find themselves reconnoitering the brushlands with a small group of core followers before getting more than a baby’s-breadth off the ground.

And people maybe have their own privacies, their own places to go (we don’t, for example, deny ourselves Bill Callahan), but by and large our inner world is the world of Blut Branson’s novel. We lie down, we close our eyes, or we space out while driving or waiting, and there we are, in it.

All of print, the whole notion of an alphabet and a lexicon, is hardly more than a fingernail or an earwig on the plane of Blut Branson’s novel. To say that the notion of the conventional novel — words, pages, glue-binding, a picture of a daisy or a mutilée or what have you on the cover, the whole simple matter of printed matter — pales in comparison to Blut Branson’s novel is to posit a comparison so inadequate that to call it laughable is itself a joke.

It’s like if they tried to put even an inch of it on Amazon, the whole site would crash and never recover. Maybe the whole Internet too.

It’s like if he was the earth and some other thing that exists was the moon then

… see? It’s pointless to try.

Blut Branson transcends us, and through him we transcend ourselves. It has no beginning, no ground floor. Or something: I haven’t been in Dodge City long enough, or well enough, to be able to say more than that.

But he does something. That much I can say. Something happens, is made, is moved, through him. Our lives are other lives through him (and would be nothing, not lives at all, without).

He is not so much our reason for living as our means of living.

We almost never see him. He’s almost always away, in one of the rooms offered by the City, at work on his novel. All of his works, and they are legion, are known in most Dodge City circles as “his novel,” though, as I’ve said, that’s no more than as good a word for it as any.

He works on matter, thought, devilment, demonry, night, metal, thread, webbing, until those things are no longer those things, or things at all.

God, I sound like one of those guys.

IT’S MAYBE only important to say that I wanted to bring up Blut Branson at this point because there’s lately been a rippling afoot in town, a stirring, quaking, quickening … a sure indication that a tidal shift in his novel is about to occur.

This puts us on edge, works us up.

We hunker down, stockpile canned goods, talk less and linger less when we’re out and about, find it harder to wait at red lights and while people wearing headphones cross the streets in front of us.

People stop changing their clothes, stop showering, wear sneakers at all times. They seem forever uncertain if they want to be alone or together when it hits.

“It” being one of these seismic shifts in Blut Branson’s novel, which, I’ve been given to understand, tend to occur every five to seven years.

Worse than an earthquake in terms of damage; and better, much better, in terms of shaking up people’s congealment, of reconvincing them that life is not any one thing.

Here’s one birds and bees type metaphor I was given when I first inquired into the nature of Blut Branson’s novel:

“Blut Branson’s novel concerns the inner life of a man alone in a grand Caribbean resort. He was taken here long ago, before he can remember, plucked in the night from where he’d formerly been, expressed straight to the island. When he came to, his captors or chauffeurs were long gone. The resort used to be packed with people so rich their only mode was to glide and flutter, but no more. Now the man’s alone but for the staff, whose instructions or instincts are to ignore him aside from servicing his basic nutritional and hygienic needs. Every day, the heaping buffet is laid out, and stoically, stealthily replenished, and then it’s just silence and sea-waves.

“This man spends years here like this, speaking and speaking without receiving a response from anyone around him, denied all media and technology and all clothing save for the single linen suit he wears when he wears anything, something like a woman’s summer pantsuit.

“He communes with plants and animals, but that too remains one-sided.

“Sometimes he has a blast. He romps, he gropes the willing air.

“Other times he cowers and hovers in his room, sea-fronted, open-aired, waving cotton curtains, at a rolling boil.

“He has two copies of The Recognitions which he’s hollowed out in the fullness of time to fit his two feet — the left and the right very different from one another — and there are runs of days he spends clomping about shod only in these, to and from the bathhouse, his only joy taken in soaking those pages down to pulp under the cool string-operated shower, then sitting in the angry sun until they dry like plaster casts around his toes and ankles.

“This was the compromise he struck with his captors long ago, that he’d be permitted to retain these two books in violation of the no-media condition only if he wore them in this manner, never attempting to hold a foot up by his face long enough to glom a single word.

“He’s been made so docile he doesn’t even try.”

That’s all I was told.

The seismic shifts in Dodge City, I’ve since learned, have to do with sudden visits from this man’s captors, or benefactors, or friends. Every so often, they row up over the horizon and onto shore, and have a meeting with this man, generally over a long afternoon lunch.

When this happens, when these visitors appear after so long away, all of Dodge City, which has entered the state of this man alone in the resort in the meantime, seizes and clamps up, readies for impact.

I can feel them swarming around me in the grocery store now, aware that it may hit at any moment. I’d better grab some trail mix and water before it’s all gone. Next time, if there is a next time, I’ll speak to the way in which Blut Branson is said to have peaked at 19, and speculate on the peculiar ontology of his third testicle.