1. I would’ve liked to be a charlatan, to cure the incurable despite myself & the spooky footlights that would’ve come & gone, turning my cheeks into sudden caverns. I could’ve learned how to capture & breed the small mice of fear. I’d have had a riverboat & floated upstream on the tide, under the sycamores. I’d have told each client to be patient while I made a careful, horizontal incision all around the skin of a pomegranate, then eased it open, revealing who knows what mucilaginous gossip to feed an infinitely malleable appetite for lies.
2. The woman at the cookout says things that no one believes, not even us strangers. She tells us she’s already eaten. She says she & her husband are leaving the United States for some place civilized, some place where more of the people think the way they do, keep their needs within bounds. The campfire makes her young husband’s eyebrows dance like an elf’s; even his smile is eldritch. Her own smile is extremely brief, like an involuntary twitch she has labored to suppress. We talk about music & the pleasures of silence. “I have to have something on all the time when I’m alone,” she says softly. “I guess I don’t like my own company very much.” The night grows cool & the firewood quickly runs out. Everyone gets up to leave, bowing to each other’s silhouette in the darkness & expressing mutual gratitude, warm regards.
3. Call it natural sound if you want, I said, or call it silence: more & more, this is the soundtrack of pleasure for me. I hear music whether I want to or not. Thoughts rise to the surface & burst, pretty little bubbles. I stand outside in the middle of the driveway until my freshly barbered head grows cold. Above, the usual glitter. I try to imagine all the busy little lives going on underground, in the forest litter or in hollow trees. I go back in my house & shut both doors as quietly as I can. If this is loneliness, my friends, it tastes delicious!
4. I do enjoy the company of my fellow misanthropes – preferably one at a time. And on rare occasions when I’m drunk I play loud music to cancel out the unaccustomed roar inside my head.
5. I am still haunted by stories of those child soldiers forced at gunpoint to execute their own parents, then fed a steady diet of drugs & made to rape other children until acts of violence came to seem as natural & urgent as eating, or voiding the bowels. Their leader was a portly, ebullient man who taught them how to cut off the hands of villagers without killing them. At first, the idea was to prevent them from voting or defending themselves, but the children took to it with a special relish – and who am I, said Papa Sankoh, to deny them their pay? From hands they branched out to feet, ears, lips – all of the body’s most delicate instruments. If one cannot go to war against love itself, surely this was the next best thing.
6. Horror movies bore me. They’re like elaborate practical jokes we play upon ourselves. The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out – flaccid penises that suck rather than spurt, vaginas with teeth. Big deal. I’d rather hear about the woman who married a bear, or why coyote’s eyes are yellow. Tell me about the time a snake almost swallowed the sun.
7. The brown tree snake in Guam. Kudzu in the American South. Nightcrawlers in the North Woods. These are only the most catastrophic of our slithering doppelgangers. Upon thy belly… Dust thou shalt eat… I will put enmity between thee and the woman. Who are we to deny the Lord His pay?
8. Beetles by the hundreds & the thousands, coming out of the walls. They crawl everywhere. I brush them from my beard, the back of my neck. Sometimes they bite. By the end of the winter, the house reeks of them. In my dreams, the floor heaves & cracks with their huddled masses. In their native Asia they winter in white cliffs; here, a white house or barn draws them like a beacon. Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home! But they are far more than just a nuisance. Some entomologists believe that dozens of ladybird beetle species native to the eastern United States have already gone extinct, unable to compete – their numbers too low, their habits insufficiently aggressive.
9. We have met the enemy, and he is us. We have. He is. This is authentic horror, the only kind that will matter in the end.
10. Call me Ishmael, then. I am a charlatan; how could it be otherwise? But better that, I say, than the unconscious & unconscionable sorcery of markets & bosses. Follow me, & we will both be lost – I promise. Salvation exists in the present or it doesn’t exist. We will thirst forever.