After breakfast I drive over a 100 miles to a forgotten town where my friend Tim lives in a singlewide above a dry ravine. Tim is outside when I pull up, cleaning a handgun on a large, smooth stump. Tim has a big purple scar down the right side of his face. Today it looks greenish, like a big junebug. He doesn't answer any questions about it, ever.
Inside his trailer, on the counter next to his microwave, is a huge noodle of what looks like but doesn't smell like pastrami. He calls it "the effluvia." A pink blob the size of a large Saint Bernard breathes with a wet, heavy noise on his ratty couch. The large rotating fans with tendrilly flystrips blow on it. The pastrami looks like its sweating but Tim is already chopping fat slices off it with a penknife. In this light, with the blinds drawn, seeing his face in left-profile concentrating on making sandwiches, he looks a bit like Woody Harrelson in Natural Born Killers.
Tim puts Miracle Whip & slices of tomato on the sandwiches. He drags two stained fold-out chairs across the linoleum and places them in front of the blob, right behind the fans. The sandwiches smell putrid, curiously earthy, as if he'd pulled a week-dead buried cat out of the ground and dipped it in honey and bacongrease. While we eat, Tim points out to me where all the orifices are. I take careful note, scratchily diagramming them into a pocket Moleskine.
When I get back to the Ramada Inn, Lucy & Trevor's Lexus is gone. I figure they must be out for a late dinner at one of the chains that stretch the next two miles north to the interstate exit. Two girls in bikinis are swimming in the pool, and two more in bikinis are lying out in the sun on their stomachs, tops untied, hair rucked up in ponytails to lie like sleeping cats atop their skulls.
I get the bags out of my car, turn on the cold water in the tub, and make a few trips to the ice machine. The sun is going down and by the time I'm done icing the merchandise & step outside my door wearing swimtrunks, flip-flops, & a Fudrucker's shirt, Lucy & Trevor are pulling into the parking lot, clicking off and on their headlights in greeting & giggling their way out of the car. I wave. "There you are," Lucy drawls, "Look Trevor, Greg is staying another night, and he's going swimming too!" Before Trevor can say anything, Lucy turns toward Greg, her face twisted in mock, self-assured supplication, "May we please, please join you?" "Of course," I say. I take off my shirt and walk to the pool, now empty. From behind Trevor yells, "Great! I just bought some beer! We'll ice it and join!"
To my despicable unsurprise, Lucy has a better body than her Target-bought business casual outfits suggest. She wears a lime-green bikini & with her bobbed pale hair, Natty-Lite-blue-eyes & pale skin, it accentuates her shadows and the curves bright daylight whites out. She does a few laps walking around the pool, dipping her feet daintily, complaining of the "cold." I tell her to take the plunge and wade out into the deep. She slides feet first into the pool and comes up giggling, teeth very white, pushing her hair back. Trevor arrives in a heinously ugly pair of brown and magenta swimtrunks. He puts the cooler next to the shallow-end ladder and does a hysterical cannonball, to no one's surprise, from the diving board.
I get a beer and sit on the edge of the pool. There's a warm breeze and my hair & shoulders dry quick.
"So tell us Greg," Trevor asks, "what brings ya to our neck of the woods?"
"Yes, Greg, do tell," Lucy coos, circles, and pinches my feet under water. "Do tell."
"Well, I got a friend lives pretty close to here. He's an old buddy of mine back from data analysis days, and he's always been a pretty good tinkerer. Know that app that lets you see who's in your area willing to barter & trade & what for?" Lucy looks confused, but Trevor perks up. "Yeah. Yeah! I've used it before! Stuff I know's an asspain to sell I'll list it up. I like to trade with the local farmers so that way helps me meet 'em, get a little rapport hopping. Traded an old grill when I upgraded for some honey & mead. Traded some old bangup buggy ATVS for some veggies. Farmer send me a package once a week got peppers, tomatoes, carrots, whatever's seasonal fresh."
"Yeah, we worked on that app together."
"O wow," Trevor says, pulling himself out of the pool, popping open a beer.
In the hotel room, Trevor stands over Lucy on the bed. His legs are wide and his arms are locked against the wall. Lucy has one hand out choking his cock and I'm fucking her while I massage his prostate with my ringless ring-finger. Trevor can't control himself, to no one's surprise, and he comes with measly substance on the wall above the headboard. A tiny drop of cum falls on Lucy's forehead and I push Trevor off the bed. He falls like a drunk stork to his side on the floor, knocking the lamp & phone off the stand. I take advantage of Lucy's surprise and punch her twice in the nose and box her ears with a hard clap. Babbling, Trevor is up, pulling my arms from behind. I fling myself backward on top of him and catch a hard knee in my buttcheek, but I throw my bows back, gain the advantage, put him in a headlock and watch him pass out trying futilely to do a pushup with all my weight thrown against his back. Lucy's out cold, but her nose is gushing. I get out my duffel bag, unwrap the needles, and inject them both with sodium thiopental. I tie them to the bed, dress, get more ice, and crank the TV loud. I fill the tub with the merchandise up again with ice. I put a bag of ice over Lucy's nose & I wait.
When I hear the merchandise emit a high whistle, almost like a distant teakettle, I begin to perform the tracheotomies. The best position for a tracheotomy was and still is one that forces the neck into the biggest prominence. I restrain them with some pantyhose, duct tape, and load cords, and lay their heads back on stacked pillows I use as a fulcrum. Everything goes pretty well, mostly.
The merchandise doesn't have a name yet, but Tim likes to call it, "The Anthem." I've meditated for weeks on why & I can't figure it. I thought seeing what it did might make his nickname clear, but it didn't. Much has become clear this afternoon however. Suddenly, I hear that wet, heavy breathing. I put my mask and gloves on & go get the merchandise. I let it move across the bed. It takes twenty minutes to diffuse and cover Lucy & Trevor, and in another fifteen minutes enough pheromones have entered the air through the mask that I'm hard again and thrusting slowly into the ninth, middle-lower orifice. The special detector we've installed in the masks are counting up a higher productivity than Tim has yet recorded. Slowly other boldly colored orifices rise on stems from the bed like weird plants near ocean-floor volcanoes. I do what Tim taught me and feed them anything I can find--coins, lint, condoms, jewelry, clothes, the lamp, the telephone, soap, shampoo, towels, the empty beer cans...The level of output is staggering. I go into the bathroom and close the door. I don't even know how to describe the sound but it's sort of like taking your car through a carwash. Enveloping, but not really all that loud, except this sound had a weird high frequency to it. I record it on the phone and bookmark it for further discussion. It smells like burgers fried with doghair & rosewater, healthily decadent I wait a few minutes after the smell hits me, as per Tim's instructions, and I open the door. Everything's clean. The Anthem wheezes on the bed, shrinking itself off the output, evacuating its own vocation. Trevor & Lucy are gone, but if the Anthem worked I can get them back at anytime.
The output takes me a few hours to collect and mold. It diffuses when it comes into existence, spreads out in meaningless shapes, and though it looks like there's some way all the pieces are supposed to fit together, you can't figure it out. The angles don't make any sense. I follow Tim's advice and breathe on the pieces to soften them and then I just roll them up into one big piece, the best I can. I pack everything and go.
Out in the night, I drive north for hours, speaking into the recorder. Somewhere in upper Virginia I come to a rest stop and get out for a piss and a stretch. It's a little after 4 am and there are mostly parked semis, a few sedans, some young couples waiting for one or the other to get done with the bathroom or discussing a snack from the machines. I get my business done and ride on. A half-hour before dawn I reach the renovated courthouse and do what Tim told me to do. I write a note for S. and Brown on the merchandise, bag the output, and leave to find a cheap hotel.
White fog hung low and crept past her window. The crickets loudened and an owl hooted. In the brush outside a small animal scurried, skittling leaves in its mad scramble. S. was involved watching a moth trapped in a lightbulb. The moth flailed near the tip. Its wings flapped, beating a tinny sound, making the yellow light blink. S. sat on the edge of her bed taking off her shoes and pantyhose, watching the struggle, wondering how. Then there was an electric pop and a blue light stabbed the yellow into black. S. waited until her eyes adjusted, and with bare feet, padded across the floor to the utility closet. She got a new bulb and returned. When she had replaced the bulb, she broke it open and pulled out the charred moth. She went to the window and let the fog grope in. She dropped the burnt moth out and quickly shut the window after making sure of the delivery. Outside the room S. stored herself in for the night, dust piled itself into ziggurats on top of the mantelpieces and roaches hurled their young down the steps, playing at sacrifice while other dusts cultured themselves in the petri-dishes of grandfather-clocks.
Two and a half miles northeast of the courthouse, in Golden Finch gated community, Brown listened to the crickets louden and raised his chin toward the sky. He threw the cigarette on the sidewalk above the streetdrain and blindly, looking into the noise of the dogwood, scraped his boot across the sidewalk pulling the cigarette onto the street and kicking it into the drain. The wind he could feel passing his jaw didn’t match the strength of the wind he saw marionetting the dogwood. A gloved feeling came into his stomach, a feeling of latex-fingers attempting to palpate the outside air from inside his gut. He imagined a doctor inside him, one who tried to hold the air’s tongue and depress it with a popsicle stick, checking to see if the body of the outside world revolted against itself. He could see down the street for a little over a quarter-mile before the streetlights went out. In the dark were big mounds next to what looked like hulking beasts, figures which the daylight would show to be big red mounds of clay and dirt scraped into hills before Caterpillars. Dark houseframes made curious geometries behind the machines. Picking at a piece of food stuck in the receding gum below his left incisor, he walked into the dark end of the street, bowlegged, feeling the need for a looming.