Archives for posts with tag: Suicide Cemetery

I’VE SPENT THE PAST TWO MONTHS living in the actual-size replica of the Hotel in the fetus shantytown — specifically inside the actual-size replica Room that corresponds to my original Room in Dodge City, which somehow both exacerbates and alleviates whatever homesickness I might be feeling — working on a script for what I hope will be the first of several movies I’ll make out here with the reanimated fetuses.

 

They certainly seem up for it.

 

My script, about a trio of best friends who unwittingly hire a suicidal prostitute and then stage an elaborate funeral for her in the Suicide Cemetery, where they end up breaking their own hearts by pretending she was the long-lost love of their lives — reading out the eulogies they’d originally written for themselves, to be read by one another many years hence — is overlong, full of digressions I know I’ll never film, but I’m proud that it is, if nothing else, a substantive piece of writing, my first since my entanglement with Branson Entertainments began in earnest last summer.

 

I’m inventorying camera and sound equipment, trying to determine what we’ll need to assemble before we can start shooting, when a green siren in the replica town square brings all activity to a halt.

 

I turn to face it, as do the fetuses, their pickaxes resting on the cardboard cobblestones. A screen above the altar in the replica Church comes to life, showing a newsfeed so surreal at first I think it’s a short film:

 

I watch as Blut Branson emerges from the Dodge City Private Crypt, dusting himself off and blinking through harsh sunlight at the town he left behind. As Dodge City TMZ reporters shove microphones in his face, he says, “Look, everyone, all I’ll say is this: I, like Dante, had to go to hell for a while. That’s where I was. Now I’m back, ready for my Late Career Renaissance.”

 

With that, he pushes past them, hurling a reporter out of his face with enough force to send the rest scurrying. As he marches out of frame, I have the inexplicable but unshakeable sense that he’s coming straight for me.

 

*****

FOR A LONG TIME after he’s gone, the camera lingers on the facade of the Dodge City Private Crypt, a two-story stucco building somewhere in the Outskirts, its glass doors clacking less than gently in the breeze.

 

I first heard about the Private Crypt back in 2012, when there was a lot of talk about reapportioning our cemeteries, what with the new custodian of the Suicide Cemetery stirring up trouble and a rash of desecrations of the graves of formerly luminous directors, Branson’s foremost among them. So, as far as anyone knows, his body was moved to the Crypt after this and has been there ever since.

 

I’ve always thought of it as an even lower-brow Chelsea Hotel, catering to a dead rather than a down-n-out client base. Though I’ve never been inside, I picture rows of rooms along a dingy tile hallway, doors shut but not locked, the dead luminaries of our town posed like junkies on the nod.

 

It’s not lost on me that I’m using what may well be the last of my time before Branson shows up to think about the Private Crypt instead of making any push to set my film in motion, so as to appear to have become a real director in his absence. I feel like a teenager whose house party has spun out of control: I’ve just gotten word that my parents are on their way home early, and there’s no time to clean up, or even to separate whomever’s still screwing in the laundry room.

 

But that’s the way I am: when I start thinking about something, I tend to keep thinking about it in lieu of taking any action.

 

More than a man back from the dead, I think of Branson as a man just released from captivity, as if the Private Crypt were an asylum or a rehab, his bill of health finally clean.

 

I wonder what’s drawn him back — what business does he feel he’s left unfinished? What more could he want from us, given that, in the years since his supposed death, biopics, retrospectives, and conferences on his work have become a cottage industry in Dodge City, employing the vast majority of our scholars and journalists, not to mention a good number of our lesser filmmakers as well.

 

I can feel myself swaying on my feet, looking at nothing in particular, as the fetuses bustle around, dressing the set, oblivious or indifferent to the fact that production’s about to be shut down. My script hangs by my side, dangling between my thumb and forefinger, which are sweating through the pages.

 

*****

I’M STILL IN THIS STATE when Branson snaps his fingers in front of my eyes. I open them and feel my script land on my foot. Slowly, almost robotically, he bends down, picks it up, and begins to page through it.

 

Then we look at each other in earnest. I feel my lower back convulse. Something’s wrong: it’s him but it’s not him.

 

Up close, I see that he’s grown a thin white goatee and his eyes are strikingly bluer than I remember. Minty, frosty blue. I can’t say what shade I remember them being, since I never made a point of noticing, but I can tell they’re off. These are not Blut Branson’s eyes.

 

I can’t decide which is stranger: that he really has died and come back, or that he’d insist on such an improbable story, instead of whatever the truth is. Neither jibes with the Branson I knew. But maybe, I think, if he’s undergone some other change, something fundamental, the fact that he’s become a liar is the least of it … I spit up a little at the thought that the most drastic of his changes may only reveal themselves gradually, when it’s too late to shun him as an imposter.

 

“Hey,” he says, looking up from my script to survey the shantytown. “What’re you up to out here?”

 

This is my set! I want to yell in his face. I’m directing a movie is what I’m up to out here! “Nothing,” I say. “I just, uh …”

 

He nods, like this is all he needs to know. “Well, I have to get back to work.”

 

He bustles off among the fetuses, telling them what to build and criticizing what they’ve built already, checking my script every few seconds.

 

I know that if I don’t start moving right now I’m going to freeze in place. Then, at best, I’ll thaw and trudge back to Dodge City at dawn and chalk this whole venture up to experience, telling Big Pharmakos how we learn more from our failures than our successes over ten or twelve beers at the Hotel bar at noon, until they kick us out to clean before the evening rush.

 

I close my eyes and try to think. I think about gouging Branson in the back of the head with a pickaxe and dragging him back to the Dodge City Private Crypt, telling the door-person, “This one wasn’t ready for life on the outside.”

 

By the time I’ve thought this scenario through, Branson — or the Branson-lookalike — is already deep in rehearsal, reading aloud from my script like he wrote it, the fetuses gathered at his feet.

 

I suffer a moment of complete aloneness, overwhelmed by the vastness of the desert surrounding me and how far from home, security, and any kind of legitimate employment I’ve wandered, or let myself float.

 

THEN SOMETHING BEHIND MY FOREHEAD CLICKS:

 

No, I think. It doesn’t end this way.

 

I leave the shantytown behind, striding into the black desert surrounding it, convinced that if I stride with enough purpose, at least a few fetuses will follow.

 

And I’m right: at least a few do.

 

Several, even. More than I can count in the dark.

 

With my loyal troupe in the open desert surrounding what’s now the set of Blut Branson’s new film — the first of his Late Career Renaissance — I begin to improvise a scenario of my own. It will be a counter-film, a film made in tandem with his, designed specifically to refute it.

 

A film about an imposter, a simulacrum-Branson who broke free from his Private Crypt to hijack the passion project of his acolyte.

 

In a fugue of sudden and temporary confidence, I decide that as well as writing and directing this film, I’m going to star in it.

 

I stand before the fetuses with this resolve firm in my mind: However uncanny it ends up making me feel, I’m going to play Blut Branson, the real one, the one I remember. I’m going to plunge down until I find the thing in me that’s the same as the thing in him, and then I’m going to bring it back to the surface and express it for whomever ends up watching this to see.

 

The imposter-Branson who’s forced his way into our midst is a blessing in disguise, as I see it now, my doorway into the realm of greatness. I explain, in the best Branson-voice I can muster: “The Blut Branson I knew and loved is dead. Or was, for a long time. Now he’s back. I am he. He is me. You are looking right at him, and he will be your director from now until we finish the work it is finally time for us to begin.”

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THE ART CRITIC ONLY MAKES IT TO #61 in his canonical 800 Dodge City Artists speech before the Dr. splits his last AIDS dose among the three of us and starts telling stories about his days in Euthanasia.

 

After a hard ascent in the field, complete with two advisers who rescued his self-confidence at crucial junctures, his breakthrough came in the form of a 12-tier system with which he was able to send his patients to 12 distinct levels of death.

 

“I killed them all, but some I killed more than others. I killed each one in the right way for them, and sent each to the right place. It was very personal.”

 

Astrally, he clarifies, his Euthanized patients were all over the map — if there was a map, of course — while corporeally they remained in a tank in his office, stacked in 12’s. Bereaved relatives were permitted to visit on Thursdays from 2:30-4:30pm, and sit quietly by the part of the tank their loved one had departed to.

 

Only Young, his lab doll, could reach into the tank to rotate them, which he did once a week.

 

“Maybe Young was never precisely a doll,” the Dr. adds after a morose-seeming pause. “Maybe he was always more of a lackey, almost human. Though without much personality to speak of, no offense to him. He was the only one who could remember which body was which. Once in the tank, I lost touch with who they’d been. That side of things never interested me.”

 

This was all before the advent of the Suicide Cemetery, in late 2012. When that happened, the Dr.’s practice came under attack.

 

The Suicide Cemetery director claimed that all those he’d Euthanized over the years must now be considered Suicides and thus be removed from the tank and buried accordingly.

 

“I mean, they’re dead because they wanted to be, right?” the Suicide Cemetery director asked while visiting the Dr.’s office on its last afternoon of operations.

 

Knowing he’d be forced to dismantle his life’s work if he didn’t abdicate on the wings of a substantial malpractice suit, he Euthanized a child who’d shown up for a consultation. The mother was right outside, reading National Geographic. The Dr. ushered the child in, said, “Make yourself comfortable on this chair so we can talk things over,” then went straight for the Euthanasia supplies and sent the child to Tier 7, where there was an empty slot in the tank.

 

He left his office for the last time that day, having pinned a note for the Suicide Cemetery director on the tank’s side. It read, Sort it out yourself.

 

All he kept was Young, his first lab companion and now his last. Actually, his only.

 

*****

THE YEARS THAT FOLLOWED WERE HARD. “I made my way into AIDS, where you see me now, but my only real passion was Movies.”

 

For years, Movies and Euthanasia had combined in him like white and red blood cells, in perfect harmony, but now, mired in the drudgery of AIDS, Movies were his only lifeline.

 

“I started going to Toronto every year in hopes of Euthanizing Cronenberg. I touched Guy Maddin’s shoulder once.”

 

He shudders at the nearness of the memory. “What I’m saying is, there are more Movies than time remaining in my life. So Young helps out. While I work in AIDS, he sits on the couch filling with everything that can be streamed. All of Soderbergh. All of Pasolini.”

 

All the Euthanasia chemicals Young absorbed over the years made him immune to the tragedy of the Dr.’s situation. They also made him unable to stand. Combined, they made him ideally suited to rebirth as a Movie Surrogate. “Young is home right now,” the Dr. boasts. “Watching Movies while I waste my time with you two.”

 

“His head swells as the Movies seep in, growing soft and rich, until it’s time to pluck it. When I do, I bite in like a plum, sucking out its seeds like those of a pomegranate. Each of these was once a Movie, and will be again in my lower intestine.”

 

The Dr. tears up as he describes the Euthanasia taste of the pomegranate seeds, inching him toward his own death with a minimum of friction.

 

“When Young’s head has been consumed, I open a vein and transfuse some of me back into him. Only a stranger’s blood allows him to grow a new head and go on watching Movies. Thought it’s humbling to think of myself as a stranger to him, I’m glad we have a system that works.”

 

“And Young never takes a break?” the Art Critic asks, like he’s been waiting this whole time to interrupt the Dr. after the Dr. interrupted his canonical 800 Dodge City Artists speech.

 

“There’s a subtle answer to that question. If he watches too many in a row, he begins to develop his own consciousness … a little too much for his head to retain its ideal plum flavor. Gets too sweet and juicy. Starts to ferment. On the other hand, if he watches too little before I pluck it, the head is sour and hard. It’s like winemaking. You go by feel. And taste.”

 

As he talks, I start to taste the plum. Then millions of plums, all Movies juiced into one. It has the same trajectory as a smoothie: the fruit makes me strong but too much all ground together and I blackout in a sugar crash.

FOLLOWING THE COPYCAT INSPECTOR’S snap-judgement that Dodge City is a cult and not a town, and his pledge to return with a Warrant in a little while and set in motion the official downgrading process, some of us went kind of hog-wild on the way home from Dead Sir (in which we’d been immersed up to our waists for more than some of a day).

 

I mean, we pretty much lost it. We tore things up, burned them down, squeezed and sprayed fluids from our bodies that none of us had ever seen or felt flowing in us before. We trampled most of the grass of Dodge City’s parks and pulled transdimensional entities out of orbit and onto the concrete, just to spit and puke on them and watch them shrivel.

 

We blew down City Hall and drove all our cars into a single sky-high pileup, with a lot of people and cats and money crushed inside.

 

I saw a crowd urinating on a torso whose arms and legs had been pulled off, washing away the spurting blood until nothing but purpling tissue and yellow goo remained. Someone else sat naked on the torso’s head, rocking back and forth in rodeo-time.

 

I saw two brothers eat each other down to scraps, chewing at the same rate, so that they were both reduced in the end to identical stuffed mouths. It was like a shell game to try to remember which had been which at the beginning … and I saw people in the peripheries playing this shell game, betting on it, winning and losing big like that early scene in Wake in Fright.

 

There were spontaneous reenactments of this event while one guy pretended to be Jodorowsky with a crank camera, grinding it all onto film, until another guy pretending to be a rhino impaled him through the anus and a salvo of window-jumpers landed on them both, pushing all involved through the sidewalk and into a hollow-earth cave city.

 

IT WENT ON AND ON, this renunciation of the pretense of civility we’d abided by before being deemed a cult.

 

When exhaustion finally got the better of us, we huddled inside the few buildings left standing (and even these few were badly burned), and waited, eyes closed, for the exhaustion to pass. A few people stepped experimentally into an elevator shaft, and a few others, unless I misunderstood, seemed to conceive and give birth to fresh children in a single fluid gesture.

 

Someone ordered pizza, but it never came.

 

THE NEXT MORNING, I joined a reconnaissance crew. We went through the streets collecting bodies in a big semi-automatic cart, ferrying them across town to the Suicide Cemetery.

 

The saddest aspect of this reconnaissance, for me, was how no one (NO ONE) debated the rightness of classing these deaths as Suicides. There was no schismatic banter, no splitting of — so to speak — the atom, no one decrying the dangers of allowing our Suicide Cemetery to slip into the impurity of housing bodies dead by hands other than their own.

 

What the fuck? I remember thinking. Why bother burying these bodies at all if this is the level of lassitude we’ve stooped to?

 

AS IT TURNED OUT, I didn’t spend long considering this before something stopped us in our tracks:

 

7 Shed Skins.

 

I remember pausing to wonder whether they were human before it became so obvious that they were that I was embarrassed ever to have wondered.

 

7 Human Skins shed like the skins of snakes, crackling in the heat, losing color.

 

The fact of the skins themselves was not remarkable. What was remarkable was that there were no correspondingly skinned bodies.

 

We’d already gathered all the partial bodies and deposited them in the Suicide Cemetery (near the graves set aside for Bon Scott and John Bonham, in case those venerable Suicides ever came our way), and none were missing skin. That’s not to say that none were skinned, but all the skin from those bodies was found near them (excluding small portions that’d been eaten … small enough to be negligible except in cases when entire bodies had been eaten, which fact, as far as burial was concerned, located them outside the Cemetery’s purview).

 

So here were 7 Skins and no sign of what they’d until recently sheathed.

 

Rather than confront the possibilities, we decided to gather them up and bring them to the Natural History Museum.

 

THE SKINS SPENT LESS THAN 24 HOURS THERE.

 

By the next morning they were as gone as that shriveled monkey New Christ thing from Wise Blood.

 

We looked for them all over town — and on the Internet — as they’d suddenly become very important to us, emblems of the Last Days of Dodge City, before the Inspector returned with his Warrant to demote us to cult status.

 

Those skins were all we had.

 

*****

It fell to the Police Department to figure out what’d happened.

 

We licked our wounds and growled lowly in the dark while they got organized.

 

At 5pm, a representative came out to make a report.

 

“After careful consideration,” the representative began, “we’ve decided to delegate this case to Widget. He’s already in the field, so is unable to take your questions at this time, but if you’ll just … ”

 

PANDEMONIUM / BEDLAM.

 

I didn’t want to see where things were about to go, so I slipped out, went to sit in a field by myself.

 

Widget, the cop they delegated the 7 Skins Case to, is a 9-year-old.

 

He came on the force before my arrival in Dodge City — he must’ve been 5 or 6 then — and, ever since, the joke has been that the other cops (adults) make up pretend cases for him to solve. Really simple stuff, like swapping salt and sugar or mixing up the receptionists’ nametags or that old upside-down glass of water on the table trick … and then they watch him go to work, laughing when he can’t solve them and buying him a sundae when he can.

 

So, to put it mildly (and I’m feeling mild sitting in this field), the question of why delegate what’s probably the highest-profile police case Dodge City has ever seen to a 9-year-old is beyond me.

 

It strikes me that some real cult shit might be involved here — whoever or whatever put those 7 Skins there and then abducted them from the Natural History Museum might well be the real thing.

 

It starts to get cold and I’ll have to find a bathroom soon. I look over and see the burning skyline of Dodge City, visible across this field.

 

I settle back to watch. When next I look up, the copycat Inspector it sitting beside me, pausing his iPhone and putting his headphones away.

 

“Sorry, I was just finishing my podcast,” he says.

 

I nod. In his other hand, he’s holding the Warrant.

 

“I would’ve imagined you’d carry something like that in an envelope,” I say, making conversation.

 

He shrugs. “I can print a new copy if something happens to this one.”

 

We both look at the burning skyline, wondering which of us will make a move in that direction first.

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.

BEFORE my time (the 70s, I’ll say, though I view the entirety of the time before my arrival here as a single longish day), there was a spate of a certain type of Suicide in Dodge City. A hard-to-sort type, as the story goes, because it wasn’t unanimously clear whether these Suicidees were in fact dead. They were still, for what it’s worth, present in town, though they kept to themselves. It was broadly considered to be the case that they’d committed Suicide without any consensus on what, in particular, this meant.

 

At first, the Suicide Cemetery Manager campaigned to bury as many as possible, but very few turned up at their gravesites, even when subpoenaed, and none could be forced into the ground against their will.

 

This began when, one summer, a figure called or calling himself Suicide Sam either came to or arose from Dodge City.

 

What he did was approach people, in broad daylight, and whisper, near enough for them to smell his breath, “Now you may, as do most people, have until now shrunk from serious consideration of Suicide because of your perfectly reasonable reluctance to undergo pain, gruesomeness, agony, suffering … ”

 

He had their attention.

 

“BUT, what if I were to tell you that you — You! –could commit Suicide right here and right now with no strings attached, no blood spilled nor organs ruptured, and, best of all, no work or patience required?”

 

He’d pause, then continue. “By which I mean, would you give it all up if it didn’t hurt and you didn’t have to think twice?” He’d wave a hand suggestively, a calculated mixture of menace and enticement. “Think about it … no more tedium, no more fatigue, no more not-enough and way-too-much … no more worry about next things.”

 

Suicide Sam got a number of Yeses. When he got a Yes, he simply touched the consenting man, woman, or child on the shoulder, and said, “There it is. All done. Welcome to Suicide.”

 

By July, he was to be seen walking around Dodge City with a gaggle of distracted, uncertain looking people, all of whom were very careful not to talk or respond to or even look at any of the living they came in contact with, especially not their own former friends, lovers, colleagues, families, pets, etc.

 

Those lines were cut. If they ate, slept, or attended to any other functions of life, they did so in private. No one knew where they went, only that they could not be gotten-through-to. By August, they’d disappeared for good.

 

*****

SO MUCH FOR THE PAST, except to say that, somewhere in all of this, Suicide Sam fathered or in some other manner produced a Son.

 

Now, this Summer, 2013, is The Summer of Son of Suicide Sam. I see him all over town, propositioning people with the old promise of “No-Step Suicide,” touching them on the shoulder like his Father supposedly did, shutting them up for good. They fall into step behind him, hanging back, not making eye contact, while he works his game.

 

He’s propositioned me several times. I always rebuff him, saying, “If it comes to that for me, I want it to hurt. I want to work for it.” I consider this a core tenet of mine.

 

He always seems taken aback, but he shrugs it off and moves on. I saw him talking to Big Pharmakos the other day, and it appeared as though my old friend was about to accept the offer when he got a phone call and lost interest.

 

BY AUGUST, a new thing is going on: Son of Suicide Sam has retreated from the streets and his Suicidees have begun proselytizing on their own. They’ve broken with precedent.

 

Some say this new crop of Suicidees is nothing but a Band of Rebels, aimlessly stirring up anarchy that will buckle under its own weight by early autumn. But others see a more darkly religious aspect in it, something way beyond the small-time cult trouble we’re by now used to. “Son of Suicide Sam is a darker horse than his Father,” is a popular phrase of late.

 

The Suicidees come right up to you and, their breath awful and copious, whisper, “Do you wanna come back to my place, and … you know?” Always like that, with no variation in inflection or punctuation.

 

They’re good at finding you, too: they’ve cornered me in every restroom in town, many more than once, even the one-person kind that I lock on my way in.

 

No one knows what place “come back to my place” refers to, even whether it’s a physical or metaphysical one. The center of controversy, of course, is the solicitation’s final, ironic, “you know,” since, well, we don’t know. There are those who believe the whole line is simply a rephrasing of the old One-Step Suicide Offer, but these tend be the types who are in the habit of not putting too fine a point on things.

 

Others believe it to be a classic Murder Pickup Line, and are correspondingly wary. Yet others — those who want no part of the possibility that these people are indeed, legitimately dead — hear the line only in its obvious sexual register, believing it to be an entreaty either to spectate or to partake in the realm of the pornographic.

 

Needless to say, any requests for elaboration from the Followers of Son of Suicide Sam are met with silence or, at best, the exact same line repeated.

 

*****

THESE ARE THE general circumstances afoot when, early one evening, one of them approaches me in an ATM stall and asks, “Do you wanna come back to my place and watch some porn?”

 

I’m so thrown by the variation on the familiar theme that I don’t reply.

 

“Both genders,” he adds.

 

The thing in me that makes me do things makes me nod. “Okay,” I say. Something about the concreteness and the clarity of the question … after such a vague summer, I feel not at liberty to say no. Like I might never get another chance to understand something.

 

We walk a long way, past the defunct stores, the weed-cut parking lots, the cars on cinder blocks, the empty billboards, the depots where nothing is any longer delivered. Piles of metal parts, piles of fur and rubber, piles of sawdust and stripped paint. Train stations with smudged chalkboard Departures and Arrivals.

 

It’s safe to say this is farther out than I’ve been before. “Soon we’ll be close,” he says, and I realize it’s the first time he’s spoken since the initial query. “I’d hold off on any Darkness on the Edge of Town jokes you may have been about to make,” he advises.

 

I take his advice. After a lot more silence, we get there. It’s an encampment in a dry riverbed. People are standing around, gawking, moving in a reduced and restricted way.

 

This, apparently, is where The Followers of Son of Suicide Sam are living. Or if “living” is too fraught a word just now, I’ll amend it to “staying.” There are younger and older ones, and, as promised, both genders. The older are, apparently, the crop that the original Suicide Sam brought out of this lifetime all those years ago, in the 70’s if you will. There are bulky dirt-covered forms all around, in the shapes of trees, huts, animals, but with no definition, all equally dusked.

 

There is certainly no fire or smell of cooking food, or, for that matter, smell of human waste. I get very cold very fast. There are no chirping crickets or garter snakes whipping around my toes.

 

There’s nothing to say, but I say, “Okay, so where’s the porn?”

 

Of course, whoever led me out here is nowhere around. He’s melded back in among his fellows, just as dead as they are … as dead as, apparently, now, I am too. I can’t even distinguish people from background shapes like rocks and metal anymore, though I try to hold onto the idea that I’m not alone.

 

I’d say, “I take a moment to process what just happened,” but, suddenly and for the first time, I feel no hurry to get to things. No pressure to deal with them. I sit down and think maybe in a hundred years, maybe in a hundred thousand, I’ll stand up, or shift my sitting position ever so slightly.