Today we are featuring the first of two excerpts from David Leo Rice’s A Room in Dodge City Volume 2. Weird Fiction Review recently interviewed Rice, a Brooklyn-based Weird author whose work has been published in The Collagist, Black Clock, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Hobart, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. As well as writing, Rice also creates surreal animations and is working on a feature film with Simon Pummell; more info can be found at his website http://www.raviddice.com/. In our interview, Rice touched on splitting realities, the loss of free will, and the difference between sleaziness and seediness: all notable elements of Rice’s A Room in Dodge City series. Much like a television show, Dodge City was published online in linked vignettes and later bundled together into a “first season” which can be purchased as a book from Alternating Current Press. In the first season, a narrator known as the Drifter arrives at Dodge City, a terrifying community of zealots, killers, and historical figures like German Expressionist poet Gottfried Benn, all of whom follow the dream logic of the murky American ruin. Brian Evenson describes A Room in Dodge City as “What might happen if Edvard Munch decided to paint directly on the inside of his own skull rather than a canvas.” The Drifter is pulled into this world and its cast of characters until the season/novel culminates in his decision to remain in this absurdist world.
Volume 2 focuses on the Drifter’s subsequent exploits, namely his attempt to find a foothold in the highly secretive and clannish Dodge City Film Industry, ruled over by the enigmatic and possibly immortal filmmaker Blut Branson. At this point in the story, the narrator is sleeping in Branson Mansion, the home of the aforementioned director Blut Branson, who’s been missing for some time. The narrator—an aspiring filmmaker himself—dreams up a movie, which then, through insidious means, enters the Collective Dodge City Consciousness.
I come to, spluttering in the bathwater. I want to stay in, but I feel so woozy, and so unsure of my identity, that I can tell it’s not a good idea.
So, grudgingly, I towel off, put on a robe I find hanging behind the door, and shuffle down the hall to the Master Bedroom.
In here, I pull the robe off and flop naked and still damp onto Branson’s gigantic foam mattress. It caves in to accept me, and I’m deep in a dream almost right away.
In the dream, I – as Blut Branson, of course – have just finished directing my first movie.
It stars a pedophile on a regimen of highly specialized psychotropic drugs. The moral premise is that pedophiles and child molesters are radically different beasts: both have the same innate, societally abhorrent urge, but one resists it with all its might, while the other gives in, either gladly or under substantial internal duress. The first category, according to the film’s drowsy narrator, “is to be commended for its efforts to deny its basic wiring,” while the second, “is to be punished to the full extent of the Law.”
The name of the male lead is George; the female lead’s called Chloe.
George, a pedophile of the type that’s determined to deny its wiring, has been prescribed a trial dose of a psychotropic drug designed to induce temporary hallucinations in which adults appear to him as children, so that he might perform the typical sex act with a consenting adult while at the same time accessing the sense of peace and inner wholeness that only sex with a child can offer him.
The plot twist comes early: Chloe — who, until now, has been unaware of her boyfriend’s practice of selectively transforming her into a little girl — accidentally ingests one of his pills, left out on the bathroom sink, believing it to be one of the anti-depressants that she has long insisted she doesn’t take but in fact always leaves out on the bathroom sink in order to take just before sex, when she needs them most.
When she returns to the bedroom and witnesses George transforming into a little boy before her eyes, she is naturally (not being a pedophile herself) shaken up. She pulls away, desperate to find her bearings in a room that’s closing in on her, fast ceasing to feel like home.
She crawls backward as her boyfriend — fully-aroused at the sight of her as a child, still under the impression that all is proceeding as usual — pursues, knocking her into a bookcase which falls on them both, rendering them unconscious for a five-minute period of ambient screen time.
When their consciousnesses resume, the two of them have entered an almost sweet regression into early childhood infatuation, though fraught in this case with the memory of intercourse rather than a faint, unvoiced premonition thereof.
I can tell that not only do they look like children to each other, but, thanks to their shared perspective on the other’s regression, they now feel like children as well.
Like a co-ed sleepover gone slightly off the rails, I think.
The middle act finds them in a state close to bliss, living in their apartment as if it belonged to a much older cousin, someone cool and grown-up and out of Town, who would be glad to guide them into the mysteries they’re just starting to long to explore, if only he or she were present.
They raid the pantry for Frosted Flakes and Swiss Miss, acting like they’re on the world’s longest snow day and nothing’s impossible.
My dreaming attention phases in and out during this section, as I’m both watching and Directing the film at the same time now. Part of me is waiting for the other shoe to drop, while part of me fears it never will or that it already has. I’m wondering if the pill she took will eventually wear off and she’ll be forced to watch George revert to being a man, like some terrible switch-out has occurred and she’s now in a situation she very much shouldn’t be in, while he goes on taking the pills so that she remains child-sized in his eyes, or if they’ll both grow addicted, endlessly re-upping their newfound perspective on one another, until one or both of them OD’s, if that’s possible in this case, or until their supply runs out, which surely one day it must.
Perhaps an excess of these pills will culminate only in a mutual regression to apparent infancy, each squinting in the dark to make the other out, like those fetuses in the brine tank from the Unholy Family premiere.
What actually happens comes from further out of left field, drawing me back out of myself for the third act: Chloe is so overcome with terror at the conflicted nature of her relationship with this man she sees as a boy that she becomes convinced he has killed her Father:
THE ONLY REASONABLE CONCLUSION SHE COULD’VE COME TO!!
Reads an unexpected title card in the center of the screen.
This Dead Father, the narrator informs us, is none other than the adult-George, the man she used to live with and now cannot find.
Falling into her psychic disturbance, the boy-George mimics her fear, behaving as though his mother, Chloe, is also gone, replaced by this girl-child he can’t help but lust after, despite the competing depth of his desire to wail in her arms.
The memory of their parents lingers in the apartment, growing so oppressive it forces them out into the hallway.
Now the climactic journey begins: they fall to roaming the massive apartment complex, charging from room to room, knocking on doors, squeaking in baby voices at the neighbors, begging to be taken in or given a clue as to the nature of their orphanhood:
ALONE AND UNLOVED!!
Reads another title card.
By this point, they’re convinced that they’re brother and sister, on the trail of a supreme mystery.
It’s a tribute to my generosity of spirit, as a Director, that I never have them turn hostile and assign blame to one another. They remain united in their search, convinced that a tragedy has befallen them both in equal measure, scouring the building from top to bottom, then spilling out into Dodge City, off the screen, which remains blank, since the dream has ended.
As I sleep, I hear them knock on my door, as I knew I eventually would. It’s either them, I think, or else it’s Blut and his Southeast Asian mistress.
Either way, I resign myself to my fate and open the door, saying, “Come in, come in. Why don’t you sit down for a while?”
They do, still naked on towels on the footstool I’ve set out for them, looking exhausted and shaken up. I let them sit like this for a long time, the TV silent between us, as I put the kettle on to boil, though I have no teabags or instant coffee to offer.
I wait for the boiler to click before venturing to ask what I’ve wanted to ask since they arrived, which is, “Got any more of those pills?”
I’m afraid they’re about to say, “What pills?” but instead they nod and each hands me one, from separate vials, like they’d each had their own prescription all along.
“Are you our Father?” they ask, and I realize, with the pill on my tongue, that their doses are wearing off. Soon I’ll see them as children but they’ll see me and each other as the adults that none of us wants to be.
“Not for long,” I answer, getting up and taking a new pill from each of their vials, putting one on each of their tongues like a communion wafer and taking the kettle off the boiler, pouring three mugs of hot water for us to wash them down with.