Archives for posts with tag: Psychopomp

Coming back through the outskirts.

 

The psychopomp has lapsed out of my midst and into ancient history.

 

The diner signs come on: BKFST is served.

 

I skip it, feeling unready, too tired, muddled of head, though if I were in there and it were placed before me, I would eat and gladly. It’s the going-in that I’m unready for. The tinkle of the bell on the door, the KENO cards and gum dispensers.

 

Through the window of one such diner I catch sight of Gottfried Benn, or think I do. I always only think I do when it comes to things/people like him.

 

Town is waking up like it’s been just another night among numerous.

 

I remember returning to Krakow years ago after a several-day music festival in the woods in some more distant Polish province … coming back on the train after having not slept for a run of nights, speaking pidgin German with old men at the station in the mid-a.m.’s, the feeling of piss gluing newspaper scraps to our shoes, chewing up the remains of a loaf of bread that was full of the consequences of balling up central crust-free bread balls and sucking them down over the course of several damp and beery days … then back in downtown Krakow, sun rising, fresh newspapers crowding the stations, commuters looking clean, bakeries opening up. I threw out the old bread and bought a new, steamy and still possessed of that smell, having not yet ceded it to atmosphere.

 

Then I balled up its insides too, tossed the husk, took a shower back wherever I was staying, and balled myself up under some covering to wink out and grope the netherworld for restoration.

 

*****

When I come to, I’m in the midst of a giant tag-sale of VHS tapes, components, copiers, and players.

 

There appear to be no DVDs, though one distant table that isn’t accessible by foot carries a selection of Laserdiscs.

 

I’d thought I was just approaching the edge of the Video Market, but now I’m well into its middle, surrounded by stocked tables, browsing hands and faces. (Must have been some residuals from the Krakow Vision that sucked me back in while I kept walking through external space thinking I was conscious of it.)

 

“Videos everywhere!!” I want to shout, but my stomach tells me and my throat confirms that my voice isn’t up to it.

 

The Video Market reminds me of a book I read about Robert Rodriguez and how, when he made the rough cut of El Mariachi, he’d planned to sell it to the Mexican Straight-to-Video Market. At the time (I was home sick from school), I pictured the Mexican Straight-to-Video Market as a sprawling encampment of folding tables, tents, idling trucks, shredded flags, and guys selling single cigarettes and cans of soda under a dust-colored sun on a stretch of cracked concrete with vultures and snakes rounding out the edges.

 

But, according to the Rodriguez book, Miramax got there first.

 

Here at last, where I am now, though a little ways from Mexico, is the Video Market that El Mariachi never made it to.

 

I start picking up boxes, looking at the ratings and the running times, as I have since my thumbs turned opposable. Seeing that big R on the back still does something for me.

 

They’re mostly 80s Erotic Thrillers like Body Heat, Body Double, Indecent Proposal, Fatal Attraction, Sliver, Boxing Helena, Sleeping With The Enemy, and Body of Evidence (okay, that one’s from the 90s … maybe they all are).

 

The Lynch and Cronenberg sections have been pretty well-picked over — the Video Market must have started well before dawn, like a Fish Market — though the names LYNCH and CRONENBERG are represented by two hard-plastic skulls, full of candy and money and still glowing from the dark there recently was.

 

Moving on from this section I arrive at another.

 

Moving on from that one … another.

 

Finally, I arrive at one that’s interesting to me: DESERT, it’s called.

 

I touch the DESERT Videos, tasting a cider donut that has been placed in my hand or mouth. It nests in the beard that’s grown on me since I’ve been away.

 

There comes a subsection of DESERT Videos marked: SUICIDE SAM’S REJECTS / DEEPER INTO DESERT / DODGE CITY GENOCIDE. These pique my interest, for a mix of obvious and somewhat obvious reasons.

 

I work them around in my hands like pieces of athletic equipment or dumbed-down musical instruments, getting their hang. They’re unrated and of various running times.

 

I see myself and my erstwhile companion in the pictures on the backs of the boxes. I see Suicide Sam and even the psychopomp, in one of those star-shaped windows they used to always put on the backs of action movie boxes, usually showing a shootout, a crash, or a building blowing up.

 

There we all are.

 

I surmise one of three things:

 

1: Someone was filming us the whole time we were in the desert and has hastily cut the footage together into these Videos.

 

2: Someone jotted down everything we did and has somehow already scripted and shot a lookalike peopled series of reenactments for the Video Market, like on America’s Most Wanted.

 

3: Our journey was itself a reenactment of the journeys depicted in these Videos, and we are all the lookalikes whereas the actors are the originals … or at least the original lookalikes.

 

In other words (or “more words”), perhaps the whole journey was canonical, like a Bible story, and we were just one iteration of enactors among millions, like pilgrims on the road to Santiago.

 

I try to buy up a few copies but can’t produce the cash.

 

A vendor says he’ll sell me some on credit, but I don’t want to go there just now.

 

*****

The perusal leaves me feeling dirty.

 

The sense of having possibly reenacted an ancient Dodge City legend leaves me feeling dirty.

 

I commute this feeling of dirtiness into my shoes: they, I decide, are the dirty ones.

 

I drag them (and they me) out of the Video Market and over to where a young kid hangs around a shoeshine station.

 

I hunker back at a distance and observe him, and he me. He looks dead bored, like he hasn’t had a customer all day, maybe for many days.

 

He hefts his brush from one hand to another; I kick my shoes together, feeling how dirty they feel.

 

They are not only dirty with desert dirt but with the baggage of “4o Years in the Desert,” a trail of tears scuffing their leather.

 

I want them purged, polished clean, want no filth of Mythos attached to me when I go back into Dodge City proper.

 

The shoeshine kid — he looks barely eight; maybe he’s a runaway — sees me thinking, surely harder than most of his customers tend to think.

 

He looks averse.

 

I begin to approach.
I decide to tell him, “The usual,” and see where he takes it from there. I remember once, in New Orleans, when someone squirted tar onto my sandals and charged me to scrub it off, but I don’t envision this necessarily like that.

 

I almost get lost in thought halfway there, but I shake it off. “Just get there,” I think, and I do.

 

*****

I’m right up in the shoeshine kid’s face when he begins to panic.

 

“I’m just not ready!!” he shrieks, covering his face with his brush in one hand, his tin of oil in the other, spilling it down his cheeks and nose. “I thought I would be, but I’m not! It’s happening too quickly … it’s happening all at once!!”

 

I watch his breakdown and begin to have one of my own:

 

This mini-scene feels profoundly familiar, not like I’ve seen it before but like I’ve always known I would see it one day — not just one day, but actually TODAY … like my whole life has been a countdown to this scene here, today, me with DESERT on my shoes, this little kid sobbing that he’s not ready to give them a shine.

 

I feel like all I’ve ever done is kill time until this moment was ready to occur. Like every thought I’ve ever had has been only a distraction from this one.

 

I stand back and behold it, and the moment writes itself onto a VHS of its own. I look down at my hands and see that I have that VHS in one of them.

 

It’s called: THE SHOESHINE, and it’s Rated-R.

 

On the back of the VHS is a Post-it note. I turn it over.

 

It reads:

 

PURCHASED ON CREDIT / DEBT INCURRED.

 

WELCOME BACK TO DODGE CITY.

 

QED.

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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.