The wind howls outside with all the operatic gusto of a new Scott Walker EP. The gunshot blazes through my ear and I black out. I did it. I actually did i—
“I’d love to kill myself like Kurt Cobain. One shot–dead. What a great ‘fuck you’ to all the dumb humans.”
“Don’t you like me? I’m human.”
Alfie and Billy lie supine on a bed of old vinyl, staring at a patch of black damp on the ceiling. Alfie has a copy of The Sluts across his chest – dog-eared and read to death. Billy thinks it looks like tar metastasizing over an expanse of wasted human lung. Forest Swords’ 2010 EP, Dagger Paths, is on. The music haunts the room, intense and bassy, simultaneously inspiring Alfie and depressing Billy. Billy turns to Alfie and he can’t see his eyes behind the screen of grayslick spectacles. He thinks he’s about to kiss him, maybe. But no.
“Have you heard Antiphon by Alfa Mist yet?” Alfie asks. Billy shakes his head–no, visibly frustrated. He knows he won’t have heard it, so why ask?
“I’ll put it on after this.”
Alfie has always been more into music than Billy. Alfie knew that from the beginning but deemed his company admissible anyway. Usually they’ll lie together while Alfie marinades in a sea of alienating post-modern noise music–lately it’s been Amnesia Scanner or Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s five-track “In Summer”–and make no secret of his ambivalence, but his love for Billy is stronger than a difference in taste. Alfie is a fantastic fuck, smart and good-looking. They used to kill little girls together. They didn’t feel anything, as if life trained the lines of some forgotten Dennis-Cooper-narrative. But Billy and Alfie led different interior narratives. Billy knew about Alfie’s teenage exorcisms and couldn’t process it.
Apart from an occasional foray into the singles from Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories Billy doesn’t care for dance music at all. If he was pushed to identify an influential artist, he’d probably say someone like Goldfinger or early Green Day, a philistine’s choice in Alfie’s eyes, but this was the stuff he grew up listening to–even then it’s not so much about the songs themselves as what they represent, what they remind Billy about growing up. Dennis Cooper novels scared Billy, yet to Alfie these books were inextricably linked to music like Guided by Voices and Sun O))). Billy couldn’t process the intellectual joy of sadness either. Course, Billy understood that specific events that are bound to music by a convenient, entirely coincidental and nostalgic association. But he knows Alfie didn’t get to listen to music at his grandma’s house. Maybe this was why it meant so much to him.
“You’re not crazy about the album I’ve got on, are you? Did you see the review in Pitchfork?” Alfie asks. The Sluts falls into the pile of Cooper spell-books dispersed across the bedroom floor.
“You know, I’ve never been that bothered about weird music.”
“I know.” Alfie’s glassy visor reflects the moon into his eyes. Billy sees Florence Coffee, the girl they murdered three years ago, in the lights echo.
“You say that like I’m not a real person or something, for not liking music.”
“Well, you know, you’re not a real person.”
“Wha—” Billy rolls away from Alfie like a wounded otter, sits up.
“I’m sorry, I don’t want you to be offended, but I think most humans, you know… like music.”
“Even when you were a kid? Like, before you started caring about lyrics or pretentious stuff?”
“I always loved it, was in and out of pretentious bands since I was about 13, after the Jed Carson thing happened. There are minorities of people, like you, who are biologically incapable of registering any emotional response to music though, and those people are pretty much already dead. You know what I mean? It’s a condition called musical anhedonia and means that the ‘sound’ would fly right over their head. I pity those people. I pity you.”
“Then if not liking music is so awful, why are you going out with me? Why would you date a… corpse?”
“I’m not one for connection or foreplay. We have that in common.” Alfie gives Billy a consolatory smile.
“What does that mean? You think I don’t still have feelings?”
“Well, like, how can you have feelings when music can’t move you?”
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this!”
“Eugh, save me the hyperbolic melodrama.”
Billy stands up, traipses through the envelopes of noisy records. He turns to Alfie who is still lying down looking at the ceiling.
“Fuck you Alfie, you fucking…”
Alfie raises an eyebrow.
Alfie lowers his eyebrow.
“Inspired. See you tomorrow.”
Grandma used to change the weather with her spells, churn a whirlwind of grey-black in the sky and scour it by a howling wind. Yup, that was Grandma. I’m sure she foresaw this whole thing. I’d been exorcised so many times, maybe she dragged some latent personality to the surface. Maybe that’s why I was able to transcend. I found my own spell-books and incantations.
My first exorcism happened 3 days after I arrived at her house. She lived in a low-income housing complex in White Oak but it looked kind of charming from the outside, much homier than the files of Levittown tract housing I was used to. I liked Amber Acre in the beginning. I hadn’t seen or heard from Grandma in years, but I knew she was a religious fanatic and always held her in vague contempt because of this. I wound up living in her reformatory because of the dumbest thing…
I might be a big baby
But I’ll scream in your ear
Till I find out
Just what it is I am doing here
Eyes open to an intense haze of visual static, pounding skull bass-line–Zozobra meets NIN. I feel wet blood mat the back of my hair. I want to reach round and dry it off with something but I can’t move. The body is stubborn and weighted. I’m pinned to the floor by invisible trunnels. There’s some vague sensation along my spine, the wooden back-rest from the toppled chair sits wedged in between my shoulders like a crux simplex and I finally feel like a real saintly martyr. Cue triumphant encores of Blind Melon’s ‘No Rain’ (I always thought that’d make a great victory song).
I’m looking side-on at the front door. Gun-smoke is still in my lungs. I’m too woozy to fully assess the situation, the degree of damage I’ve inflicted on myself, but something tells me I’ve chanced upon a scenario much worse than death. As a cripple I’m no use to anyone. The Ultra-Realists will disown me, the others won’t let a traitor like me back into civilized society. So what–life as trapped consciousness? Come on, what’s new? Maybe a merciless detractor will take pity and put me out of my misery. This is worse than eternal life.
I’m bleeding out pretty badly, I can tell because of the stickiness. Some sensation returns. My hands are cold but sweaty. The gunshot missed the important parts of my brain, must’ve fragmented in my skull causing partial paralysis. I see a pair of shoes coming into the room, mid-cut sneakers with blue accents. Another pair wearing the same brand and style but with red accents. One of the bodies is hacking at my stomach, pulling out bundles of intestines. I can feel a million spiders scurry out from my gut. My vision is flipped 90 degrees and I’m now facing the ceiling. I can’t see their faces but two people are moving my limp body. I knew they’d come.
At first there was just blackness and a sense of dissociation from my body. I thought I was in a coma. But I wasn’t. The sound comes at me with knives in its hands, and with the cruel power and energy of a sexual and psychological threat, left me with a cognitive itch that would never abate. It changes my body, carves it into a new shape. My vision has become clearer, sharper. My hearing became attuned to infrasound. I can hear conversations happening miles away. The world is one massive field recording. Reborn as an earworm. A dream come true.
Billy and I would pass through the busted city-corpse of the city with smooth efficiency, like a swollen flu–indifferent, rigid to its surroundings, bursting newly infected cells like flimsy water balloons and spewing our virus wherever we went. In my olfactory memory, a distant reminder of sweated lino made the nostrils flex. We killed this place good and hard. Dead dogs lay stacked in the alleyways, speared by harpoons, and men shook hands as rough as walrus-hide behind the shining shawl of corporate skyscrapers. Blood whispered over the asphalt and burst, oozing yellow condom sheaths emerged from the dusty shadows, as if some new parasite had moulted in the filth, shed its hide, and worked its way into the city waterworks.
The ritual of work and toil. Get up too early, get dressed in clothes you don’t want to wear, travel through gridlocked traffic to a job you hate and a place where no one respects you. All this for a paltry buck. Even when I was whoring, there were days when I didn’t want to whore, but I had to make a living, square off debts, buy some of Lu’s heroin.
I would look at pictures of a pre-teen me, stoned and heartsick, and wonder what my ritual must have been. Weed? Boys? Money? Transitory happiness? These are exigencies of the self-infatuated mind, I know that now. In many ways I’m the same boy and I think I wanted to destroy myself even then, only now I don’t care so much about the audience. The self-infatuation is gone. There are new goals. There is a new ritual now too–purification, rebirth, honesty. Whatever the outcome, I know that at least it was my choice. The consequences are mine. No matter how awful the outcome, I can own it. I wonder if Dennis Cooper would have liked me? I suppose I’ll never know and that’s ok.
— Chris Kelso is an award-winning, multi-translated author from Scotland. The above excerpt is from his novel The Dregs Trilogy (Black Shuck Books).