Archives for posts with tag: Stokoe Drifter

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.

IN CLASSIC FASHION, the buried do not stay that way.

 

That’s the thing about Dead Sir that I forgot to mention, though I can’t imagine who was fooled. Easy enough to hack extra-matter away and dump it in the deep; harder to keep it down there when it wants to come back up and you didn’t want to let it go in the first place.

 

You know the classic scene: a fisherman alone in his boat, motoring across the still waters at dusk, hoping for a dinner catch before midnight, comes across a finger with a wring, a blue hand, a mealy wrist with a still-ticking watch, an arm that doesn’t stop there …

 

The two bodies are soon bunched into the middle of his boat, weighing it down, and he’s speeding back to shore.

 

Less classic about the scene in our case is that this particular fisherman went looking for them directly, rather than finding them by guileless accident while actually fishing for, say, fish.

 

This is his racket: he hauls up what we cast off, gone soft and slimy in Dead Sir, and brings it back to Dodge City to sell.

 

Guilty abandoners and regretful onetime stewards that we are, we buy it back every time.

 

He doesn’t sell any other type of fish. Anyone into that kind of thing around here belongs in a grocery store several towns away.

 

When he brings them in they look like Joseph Beuys in Siberia, wrapped in wolf-fat and fur, or by wolves in man-fat and skin, depending on your version. I’ll always remember where and who I was when I first got told about Beuys going down in his fighter jet or bomber or scout plane over the ice flats or steppe or tundra, in WWII I believe, and being nurtured there in the wild for a good decade by wolves before returning to Germany as a kind of transhuman maniac superhero to take the Art World by storm.

 

Which is not to say that Face & Star Simpson are galvanized on this level; just that their blocks of fat are similar (that’s where I got the idea).

 

The fat is translucent, like aspic, so the inward-warping bodies can be observed, in some slow rotation, a churn. I stop in to check them out. I wonder if the material has grown out of their bodies in autoimmune response to the Dead Sir environment, or accreted from that environment onto them, like simple pond scum.

 

They sit in the shop a few days and nights, on ice and sprayed with the fish-mist hose every hour, but, still …

 

They start to stink and then it’s someone’s idea to invite them to Thanksgiving. “They’re all alone,” is the reasoning, common enough this time of year.

 

There’s agreement in town.

 

So the call to the fisherman is made and Face & Star Simpson are ordered up, either as guests or as entrees.

 

*****

THIS TIME LAST YEAR I lived in a house, but now that I’m back at the Hotel, the Function Room downstairs is home to the only dinner I’m likely to find out about.

 

Various guests — Big Pharmakos, Professor Dalton, the Silent Professor, Gottfried Benn, whoever else — arrive in stages, the best ones toward the middle.

 

Amongst us is the baby sired by Stokoe Drifter in that old guy Murph’s protruding intestine a few weeks back. Some stand-in parent types bring it in, done up in a onesie, and let us know they’ve named it Ferttle.

 

OK.

 

We lean our heads into the baby’s POV, trying not to telegraph our disgust at its Origin Scene, since, we know, the facts of one’s parentage are no one’s fault.

 

Ferttle, at this point, may be the Only Child in Dodge City. I forget what happened to the last one.

 

We all sit, palming nuts and sesame sticks, beers, waiting for the two Dead-Sir-flavored-fat-blocks to arrive.

 

I don’t know if I should admit to this group that Face & Star Simpson started out as characters of mine, sideliners in what was and is maybe still known as ANGEL HOUSE.

 

A bout of thinking, another beer, some olives, and I’ve decided not to. Let someone else or the world at large claim them.

 

THEY ARRIVE. Someone signs the fisherman’s order sheet, scanning us with one eye to gauge by expression who’s likely to help split the bill.

 

I couldn’t guess what they cost, a lot or a little.

 

The fisherman, in his baseball cap and windbreaker, looks glad to be rid of them. He leaves in a hurry to get on with his (I’m guessing) other, tamer plans.

 

The Hotel staff brings in the standard Thanksgiving set, turkey and all, but the twin blocks of fat in the corner, sitting on metal ice-sculpture stands, dominate our attention.

 

They dominate mine anyway — enough that I can’t speak for anyone else.

 

I have no other appetite.

 

So, though I would’ve been happy not to be the first, I take up a plastic butter knife and a paper plate from the buffet table and go over to the blocks and invite a little of each onto my plate.

 

The slices look like those thick jiggly rice-pasta rolls you get at Dim Sum, or used to get.

 

They even have reddish brown roast-porklike flecks worked in.

 

I taste one and then the other.

 

It’s warm and salty, a little bloody, a little rank.

 

I swoon.

 

Others file in behind me and start slicing as well, powerless before my example.

 

Soon they’re swooning too. We all are.

 

The blocks shrink inward toward their centers; everyone stumbles around, lips greasy, jaws and gullets working hard and automatic in gross ritual.

 

I see someone shoving spoonfuls of it down Ferttle’s throat. The baby wails for more.

 

In the hustle for seconds and thirds, there is no pause for wine.

 

*****

BY THE TIME IT’S OVER, we are passed out on the Function Room carpeting, the cleaning staff waiting by the door, perhaps unsure as to what they’re looking at.

 

Through one eye I fight to keep open, I watch the two exposed bodies stand up from their globular casing, bits of it still sticking to them. They waver on their feet, look about to tip over, and then right themselves, somehow strengthened.

 

They don’t look fully awake, but they zero in on the table and walk over to it, running their hands through the buffet spread.

 

Hands is an overstatement: the ends of their arms are worn down to tips or caps, and the arms themselves are just lengths of generic fleshy material, like hose or tubing cut from an endless roll at a hardware store.

 

Dead Sir has worn them so similar I can’t tell which was which, not even along M/F lines. They could be clones. Their faces have been smoothed over, hair and eyes washed away, skin pulled taut over bones that look hollow and soft, genitals rounded out to geometric templates.

 

After prowling a few times around the table, they plop into adjacent chairs and haul over the cold turkey and mashed sweet potatoes by pulling the tablecloth.

 

The forms that were once Face & Star Simpson fall to chewing and swallowing, thighs and wings, rolls and mugs of wine.

 

The buffet spread diminishes. They don’t look ravenous, but they eat steadily for a long time, their sides bulging outward.

 

They are characters in the most basic sense now, undeveloped, free for any story that’ll have them. My stomach boils the fat down to a narcotizing punch and I pass out to the image of them splitting a pumpkin pie.

BED REST following the Intestine Episode is cut short by the scheduled arrival of an Idol.

 

The baby that Stokoe Drifter sired is tucked away in some nursery or orphanage, attended by specialists and orderlies.

 

If we could have postponed it we would have, just to have a few extra days to lie low, but these things involve multiple towns and the amount of legwork required to disrupt the Idol from its scheduled tour is way beyond what any of us were up to undertaking.

 

In fact, it’s on a fixed circuit of 30 towns, which means it has, max., one day of leeway per month. In February, obviously enough, it has to hit, on average, more than one town per day.

 

Every town gets its turn. Ours is today.

 

The Idol is wheeled in by hooded underlings, big as a Trojan Horse except, instead of wooden and hollow and filled with spies, it’s blobular and gummy, solid, filled with despair and self-doubt.

 

Every citizen of Dodge City, except those living Underground and/or Off The Record, is assembled in the square (the same one in which the Intestine Episode played out — some of the cobblestones are still stained), yawning and shivering in the autumn chill, watching the Idol approach on its titanium casters.

 

The hooded underlings take a few minutes to stabilize it once it’s been rolled into position, anchored with a rope around the fountain in the dead center of the square like it has some astrological significance, something with the sun and the shadow of the clocktower and concentric circles and diametrically opposed shop windows mirroring each other.

 

Once the wobbly gelatinous mass is still enough to be safe-seeming, we separate into four lines of roughly equal length, each facing the Idol from a distinct direction, dividing 360 degrees into chunks of 90.

 

*****

WE WAIT in this formation until the underlings blow a whistle. They hereby Give the Go-Ahead, then disperse into the streets around the square, perhaps for a bite and a cup of coffee, or just to afford us some privacy.

 

One citizen from each of the four lines approaches the Idol, gagging and blowing out air, preparing mouth and throat for the bitter, gooey taste of what’s to come.

 

All four dive in, burying their faces in the mass of the Idol’s side, boring as far into that biology as it’ll let them.

 

I gag in sympathy, watching their heads disappear and then enough of their torsos that their feet lose ground and tip up into the air, kicking and dangling. A few kick so hard their shoes scramble off.

 

It’s dim weather out, hard to stay sharp in — my mind wanders over to 12 Years a Slave and a kind of yarn-ball of jealousy over the critical acclaim bestowed upon Steve McQueen unfurls in my system, quickly re-knotting in new and painful ways. I try to fight it but only end up, predictably, fighting myself.

 

I’m up next.

 

I’m fantasizing about my Gmail account, begging the universe for a story of mine to have been accepted somewhere, anywhere.

 

I would’ve missed my turn if someone hadn’t shoved me in the rib, sending me off-balance toward the Idol, tripping over the knot of jealousy over how far short of Steve McQueen’s my critical fate has so far fallen, which has wormed its way out of my body and is now hanging down like the tassels on a prayer shawl all over my crotch and thighs.

 

Propelled bodily by the rib-shove and mentally by this craven (and common enough) thought-welter, my face ends up in the Idol’s side.

 

The familiar bitter putty taste seeps out to receive me. It spreads my mouth open as surely as a thumb and forefinger squeezing my nose.

 

All the insecurity of the past few minutes serves me well now: I’ve been adequately prostrated on the threshold, brought to my knees in advance of coming face-to-face with it.

 

I wriggle further in, arms pinned to my sides like when I was five and fat and stuck in the tunnel of a snow fort that had become an ice fort overnight.

 

The claustrophobia sets in as the Idol’s blob material forces its way down my throat, covering my tongue with a tongue of its own, stretching all the way into my esophagus to the point where it blots out all other sensation and opens the pathways of thought:

 

Maybe I’m really, truly not good enough, I think.

 

Maybe I just don’t have what it takes to see this — any of this, anything I’m working on — through.

 

Maybe I have the vision but not the chops, simple as that.

 

Maybe I’ll aspire forever, or even give that up, settle for fandom and a kind of select regional knowledge.

 

I mean, what do I know about what it really, like, really, takes?

 

These thoughts rush into me, pumped in from the belly of the Idol, whose sole purpose is to pump us all full of these thoughts, once every thirty days without fail throughout the year.

 

A lot of people can think it up, but only a very, very few can do it for real. Why believe you’re one of them? The thoughts continue, same every time.

 

What indication is there?

 

The Idol slowly and expertly ratchets up the tension, building to the brink of the unbearable. This is what it’s been called to town to do. This is what it is, living proof of the possibility that I am not — that none of us are — the genius I so miserably want to be and, twenty-nine days out of thirty, am mostly able to behave as if I believed I were.

 

The kind of belief that lets you move forward with work that no one else is forcing you to do.

 

I feel internal bleeding everywhere from my ribs on up, and a black soupy mucus pouring down into my stomach as the reality hits me full on: I might genuinely, truly, and, worst of all, simply, not be cut out for it. Not when you seriously size up the competition.

 

I mean, c’mon.

 

And maybe it’s your fault, whispers the Idol, beginning to ease its tongue out of my gut. Maybe you just don’t want it enough. Maybe, years ago, you took a long, sober look at what it actually takes and thought to yourself … eh, I dunno …

 

*****

Finally it pulls its tongue the rest of the way out me. I can feel life returning to my arms, which begin morosely swimming back out of the blob’s interior, pushing back toward the open air of Dodge City.

 

Back on the cobblestones, it’s dark and, compared to where I’ve just been, frighteningly dry and cold.

 

I hang my head low, dog-like, and saunter off to a bar to knock a few back and try to thaw out from the High Sabbath.

 

The bar is full of people who’ve just undergone the same ordeal, all of us shaken in our resolve, our homunculi unseated from their habitual thrones.

 

Each of us drinks like we’re the only one there. Even the bartender looks like he’s asking himself what the point is.

 

When the place gets full enough and some of the taps start running out, I picture the hooded underlings untying the Idol’s anchor from the fountain and wheeling it away through the dark, back through the Outskirts and on to the next town, stopping somewhere unseen to pass the night.

 

I wonder whether they sleep inside or beside it, and all at once or in shifts. And whether they keep their hoods on even when it’s only them and too dark to see.

 

*****

When I get back to my Room, I open my Internet browser: several Email accounts, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Spotify, Pitchfork, The Dissolve, The AV Club, Netflix, and Hulu, along with the Events Schedules of at least five music and comedy venues.

 

Several minutes later, I open my novel draft, thick with several years’ worth of dust and tract marks, odious even to glance at.

 

Then, not to put too fine a point on things, I ask myself what sort of man I am.