Archives for posts with tag: Suicide Sam

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.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

*****

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Unless that was his Dad.

 

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

 

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

 

This one makes one.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I feel indolent as a cud-chewing cow.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

*****

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

My gist is: “I’m ready to go home.”

 

It appears we have a Schism.

 

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

 

*****

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WE ARRIVE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

“Feel that?” asks Internethead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve lost a friend, I think.

*****

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

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

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

“Why don’t you?” I ask.

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

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

No answer. I knock again. Etc, etc.

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

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

“What is this?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

This a splinter- or heretical-post, deviating from last week’s dispatch from Suicide Sam.

 

Down in the Dodge City Mythos, competing versions of foundational and luminous events gnash and gnaw without surcease. It is less a competition for canonization than it is the workings of the engine that drives the whole thing forward, affording the town the energy it needs to persevere.

 

What I’m saying is, if one version of what happened (or what’s happening) were ever to beat out all the others, that would be the end of A Room in Dodge City.

 

So another name for Suicide Sam is the Creeping Despair. That’s how some tell it. Some say he came over from Europe, others have him pegged as a “drifted in from the Canadian Wilderness” type, while still others will consider nothing short of “uncut, mentholated L.A.” as an origin story.

 

In my version of the earliest days of Dodge City, there was a Civil War on (not the Civil War, but one of the main ones). Loose among both sides was the Creeping Despair. He was a soldier like anyone else, trying to make his way and a name for himself.

 

He Crept up on people, they Despaired, etc etc.

 

It came to be that a Group of Deserters, freshly pumped with Despair, drifted away from the battle lines, and ended up in the swamp or desert that would in time become Dodge City. They sat there, on a log with their feet dangling just above the lips of the catfish, or in the scorching sand with scorpions ringing them like sweat, and waited.

 

The irony — or just the fact — was that The Creeping Despair had come here with them. He too had Deserted, having grown bored of the Civil War, believing he had done all he could do there. Ken Burns would later disagree, but he was entitled to his opinion too.

 

So the Creeping Despair sat and waited among the Group of Deserters. Lord knows what they ate. Maybe burning bushes, land crabs, Kyuss records, the infrequent instantiation of takeout from on high.

 

In any case, others were in time drawn in. They were drawn inward from the coasts, downward from the skies, and upward from the far bottom of the buried earth, riding elevators like the one in Angel Heart.

 

When enough of a quorum had solidified, Dodge City was founded. The Creeping Despair was highly present that day.

 

Life as usual — we’re talking prehistoric, or at most historic, times — commenced. The Creeping Despair started making the rounds of this new citizenry. Before long, this being a small town, he’d gotten to everyone.

 

THIS IS WHERE THE PROBLEMS STARTED: the Creeping Despair became a prisoner of his own success.

 

Morosely he wandered around Christian bookstores and knickknack stands, sipping flavored coffee and signing autographs for the few who bothered to ask. Nothing but Creeping made him happy. If he could no longer do that, he would simply be the Despair.

 

He was, as they always are, his own last victim.

 

*****

PRESENT DAY: Crippled by the fact of himself to the point where any possibility of leaving Dodge City is out of the question, and needing thus somehow to subsist in the interim, the Despair has taken a job cleaning houses. 

 

His rates being reasonable and there being no competition, the Despair has made of this a tidy, if glum, business. He cleans all of our houses biweekly.

 

Or, he’s supposed to.

 

Something has been going on. He has all of our keys in order to clean our houses when we’re away (like right now, for instance, while I write this). Which he does. But he’s been coming too often.

 

Much, much too often.

 

It started where he’d come every week and only bill us for every other, and it got worse from there. He’d come every three days, every other day, every day.

 

Many people now claim that he’s entering their houses WHENEVER they step outside, no matter how briefly and with how little announcement. Like he’s in all places at once, and knows his targets down to their minutest micro-movements.

 

“Any moment I’m not in my house, the Despair is in there, cleaning and cleaning and cleaning,” is so common a lament nowadays that it’s become a cliché.

 

No one has ever caught him at it, but whenever we return home, we find our presences — the material record of our habitation — undeniably more erased than they had been when we left.

 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have clean living quarters, but it’s unsettling to come home and have no smell of yourself to greet you. To come home and feel as though you are entering the house for the first time, like it’s a display house you have not yet decided to buy.

 

The Despair seems even to be washing our sheets, our clothes, our dishes. The finger-greasy keyboards of our laptops.

 

He is polishing us away, turning us into ghosts, rendering us incapable of impact.

 

 

*****

This seemed like it was going to be the end, but then one further thing happened: A FIRE.

 

The Despair was cleaning one of our houses while one of us was out buying grapefruit juice and fish for dinner, when the whole place went up in flame.

 

Maybe arson from afar, maybe rank accident, a bleach mishap.

 

[RELEVANT PREVIOUS ITEM: https://aroomindodgecity.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/a-burnt-house/]

 

Anyway, the place was blazing to the heavens when the Fire Dept. showed up.

 

Specifically, a firefighter by the name of Paul T. S. Denison. Now, this man has an interesting history: he’d initially been scouted by Peter Straub in Vietnam to play Tim Underhill, the writer and madman, in his novel Koko, but in the end was passed over due to contractual gridlock.

 

So, instead, he was sent to Dodge City to play a firefighter. Here he is, racing to rescue the Despair:

 

As soon as he gets across the lawn, he freezes up. He collapses on the front steps, sobbing, rocking on his haunches, gasping, spitting …

 

The Despair comes out and sits beside him while the house continues to burn, diminishing behind the two of them. Paul T. S. Denison howls with fury and grief while the Despair watches, his body filling with gladness.

 

All is not lost, the Despair thinks to himself. The house finishes burning, so now the scene is two men on a freestanding step-shaped brick platform, with the street in front of them and a smoldering ash-pit behind.

 

“I can’t … I just can’t … ” sobs the fireman, wracked with grief, fear, overwhelmed by his life, the immensity and brevity of it, the futility, the wonderment and … and …

 

He can’t think anymore. The Despair sidles closer, thinking, Okay, time to go to work. Let’s see if you’ve still got it, old boy ….

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.