EXCERPT: Outré and Usurper by D. Harlan Wilson

13 min read

These condensed novels from D. Harlan Wilson’s recent relesase Outré and the upcoming Usurper are brought to you by Hawgstruffel Media, Inc.

Nature. The rustle of trees is overrated. So is the smell of fresh ocean air. The shadow of a distant mountain still holds some clout, but it’s nothing compared to a blank sky and a beeline horizon. There hasn’t been a wave in weeks. The only ripples in the water form when horseflies and mosquitos land on the surface and drown in the scum. The city behind me beats like a pulsar. I put a conch shell to my ear and it screams like a goat. In fact, the shell is a goat head, severed and tied at the neck. I toss it aside and it rolls across the sky, which falls into a timelapse loop—now we can see how the clouds rorschach into mundane shapes that signify The End. I look away. These plastic clouds are more than mere Petri dishes for my thoughts; they are the universe’s quiet carrion, twice removed from my power and resolve. Strewn across the shore as far as the eye can see, beached whales rot beneath the forgotten sun. Decomposing blubber is among the worst smells on earth; its stench transcends the describable, and its impact is corporeal; one vomits or dry-heaves before even breathing it in; in this instance, proximity is stronger than assimilation. The gray bones of a rib cage encircle me like Stonehenge. A liana of strychnine reaches out of the sand, slithers around my forearm, and constricts the flesh, inflating the veins in my wrist and hand. I see a memory in the vascular pattern. It is a one-man show set in the playroom beneath the stairs. My mother used to hide me there when the Turks came for blood. Induced by Herod the Great, a lost Shakespearean play recovered by Jacobean archaeologists from a dig in Bishopsgate, they murdered all of the male children in the neighborhood. Only one boy survived the holocaust. He grew up to become a vengeful god, just as the tragicomedy predicts. After he frees the whores and liquidates the elders, he retreats to the Lake District to dress his wounds. The landscape of the region rivals the layout of his psyche. Beyond this cue, there is no concrete description in the screenplay; readers must conjure the vista themselves. Curd used to enjoy this practice when he was a young man full of ambition and positivity, when every failure instantly became a new learning experience, a hopeful challenge, another excuse for rebirth. Now he has been reborn too many times to care, remember, or shirk his redundancy. He is a docile robot. He is a mechanical object, subject to the clockwork that usurped his dead soul. This is neither unexpected nor unique. What happened to him happens to everybody: born a vegetable, become a monkey, die a machine.

Heliocentrism. I can’t remember my line. “Prithee,” I say. The DSM says, “Born a vegetable, become a monkey, die a machine.” I hear him, but it doesn’t register: I forget the line before I remember it. “Prithee,” I repeat. The DSM says, “Born a vegetable, become a monkey, die a machine.” I think about it. “That line’s horseshit,” I say. “Like, the syntax is fucked up. Give me another line. I’m not saying that bullshit, you fuckin’ dummy.” The DSM says, “Born a vegetable, become a monk—” I attack the DSM. He’s bigger than me and uses his height and weight to his advantage, but I’m too fast, and my training is wholly automated; all I need to do is decide to destroy somebody and my neurons take care of the rest. I break the DSM’s arm and wound at least ten stagehands that come to his aid. I knock out a rigger with one punch, dislocating his jaw. Everybody gets mad at me. I don’t apologize—I never apologize—I blame them for not being on their toes, for being out of shape, for lacking fighting experience, sharper reflexes, and better genes. I feel badly for the crew. It’s more sympathy than empathy. Perhaps only sympathy. They know who I am and they know what to expect, but it’s hard to be an insect, no matter how aware you are of the giant that stomps on you. The ASM replaces the DSM. We backtrack and repeat the last scene. Several minutes later I can’t remember the line again. The same thing happens, only I kill the ASM. To prove a point, the Studio has me fined, arrested, and released on bail, all in the same breath; in the next breath, my lawyer makes them pay the fine and the bail. I still can’t remember the line. My therapist looks at the script and reads it aloud to me: “Born a vegetable, become a monkey, die a machine.” I say, “You sound like the goddamn Vice President of the United States, reading that.” We talk about the rumors surrounding the Vice President, how he’s an imposter, a simulacrum, my father, me, my surrogate, etc. I describe another dream and we dissect it. The next day, I remember the line, but I refuse to deliver it. Standing off-camera, my therapist heckles me, calling me loaded names, telling me I’m a product of culture, and threatening my alpha-masculinity. I lose track of time. There’s another fight during which I scream, “Prithee! Prithee! Prithee!” at nobody in particular. Later, sidetracked by a chain-reaction of bad memories, I hear myself utter the line. I have come full circle. The last thing I hear is my heart powering off like a turbine.

Scene. Curd blinks … and finds himself in a café. Outside: the red skyscape … He remembers walking here, but he doesn’t know what city he’s in, and he can’t remember sitting down at a table by the window. He mixes stevia into an espresso with a small spoon. The stranger sitting across the table looks familiar. She smells familiar, too. Her peroxide hair is straight and sharp—the guillotine of fibers that hang above her shoulders looks like it could pierce the skin. He wonders if he slept with her. He wonders if she loves him. Curd says: “I played a Vice President in six movies. In two of the movies, I was the same Vice President, only at different stages of his life. In the other movies, I played completely different Vice Presidents. Three of the Vice Presidents weren’t based on anybody real. One was. I can’t remember his name. He wrote a book, though, and they made a movie about it. That wasn’t the subject of the movie I was in. I like your top. It’s perfect for your breasts. Not too much cleavage. Nor too little.” She pulls a six-shooter with an oversized barrel from beneath the table and levels it at Curd’s face. He blinks … and she fires. He feels his ears and jaw fly apart from his head as his nose, eyes, brain, and skull explode against the wall behind him. A nearby waiter gasps. The bartender vomits. Curd says: “You can address me as Mr. Vice President, if you like, but most people call me by my real names. There are a lot of them. I forget who I am sometimes. Don’t take it personally. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you as much as you love me. I don’t like to connect with people, but I like to think I’m capable of connecting with people. I’m not afraid of meaningful connection.” She’s having difficulty holding the gun up, especially after the kickback from firing it. She grips it with two hands and fires again, this time at his chest. His back snaps into a question mark, his ribs shoot like tusks in every direction, and his internal organs erupt from his body in an obscene surge. One of his arms falls off. Patrons scream and faint. Curd says: “It all goes back to Donny Ennui. Many of my fans got this idea that he’s me. People who hate me think he’s definitely me. I can assure you: Donny Ennui is not me. He’s somebody else. He used to be anyway. He was my campaign manager in the 70s. We had a few good runs. This was before I fell out of the sky and ate the world. He tried to shake me down and I had to let him go, and then my running mate killed him during a rally in a swing state. He beat him with a crowbar in front of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Those crazy broads just loved it. He had a resurrection clause in his contract, unfortunately, and he became an actor. He was even in a few of my films, although I never saw him on set. I keep to myself. I hate leaving my trailer. I’m going to kiss you now. Is that all right?” He is two legs and a broken spine. She twitches and shakes, horrified by what she has done, but determined to see it to the end. She stands and fires again and again into his lap, liquifying it. His spine sinks like a flag into the carnage as his legs slosh onto the floor. There’s almost nothing left of him now. He’s almost gone. Curd says: “No matter what happens, I want you to know that I never intended for things to end this way. Things should only end the way we intend them to end. Why shouldn’t everybody get what they want? That’s what I always tell my constituents. This means I lie a lot, but I live for the rare instances of good fortune that allow me to follow through on my promises. We are only as true and good as our incapacity to sustain a lie. You can quote me on that. I said it, after all. I’ll include it with my signature, if you like. Do you have a pen? Have you purchased a headshot yet? You can get one fairly cheaply in the Dealer Room. Thank you. I appreciate your attention. I wish there were more extremists like you in this world. I do hope you’ll stop by my room later. Here’s my key. Wear a garter belt. I prefer crotchless lingerie. I’ll be there forever and always, waiting for you.”

The Choreography of Dining. “I miss the days when we would all eat together,” remarks Starke’s father, an ex-military stereotype with a shaved skull and an absurdist belief in his own special wisdom. He’s sitting at the head of the table. One of his ears has fallen onto his plate and he may or may not be dead. He continues: “The children would hang from the rafters like icicles while the adults spoke about manly things. All the while, everybody would carefully pace their intake of food so that we finished at the same time. Literally. We would take our last bite together, put down our utensils together, rub our bellies together. It was glorious.” Starke Sr. glances disparagingly around the table at his lineage. “It’s sad to see what the world has become,” he concludes. Blinking at the ear, Starke Jr. reminds himself that he is an embodiment of his father despite his ideology. The same goes for mankind, which lingers in the window of his psyche like a MacGuffin. Revisionist history may be superfluous, if not ridiculous, but it’s still potent: despite the ear, the last time Starke Sr. was resurrected, he upgraded his skin and supercharged his collagen and elastin production. Now he looks younger than his son. If only Starke Jr. could counter the aged patriarch’s misinformation with logic. But logic has become more volatile than common sense. The authenticity of this history, like all histories, is as equitable as the immensity of futures that will never come to bear.

Behind the Law. This reality prides itself on its instability, shuffling back and forth between revised pasts, the turnstile present, and infinite racetracks of impossible futures. In a forthcoming scene, officers in Indiana arrest a man at a traffic stop for making lewd gestures at passerby. He tells them his name is Logan Fiber. They search his vehicle and discover four proscribed items: a canister of uranium, an open bottle of whiskey, a semi-automatic rifle, and a live rattlesnake. It is later revealed that the vehicle, a Buick Cilantro, had been stolen. Moreover, the perpetrator is not Logan Fiber, but nomad named “Curd,” according to fingerprint analyses. Efforts to identify a surname fail. Officers arrest the man on multiple charges, including possession of a stolen vehicle, possession of an open container of liquor, and possession of a firearm without a permit; they also cite him for loitering, public indecency, and operating a vehicle on a suspended license. No charges are brought against Curd for the uranium, which does not exceed the legal amount, and which, he jokes, “I got to test metals. I use a Geiger counter. I’m gonna make a super snake.” The reptile is removed from the scene and euthanized. In custody, Curd dies of natural causes. He will be kept on ice until his court date, at which point the State will resurrect, fine, and incarcerate him for an indefinite period of time.

Seven Days of Nudity. Acapulco isn’t an ideal venue for a retreat, but the Studio owns a large timeshare in the bay area, and the nightlife could be worse. We spend the first few hours in meetings. This turns out to be a scare tactic. Near lunchtime, the director descends into the complex and unleashes his personal swat team, who orders all of the actors to remove their clothes at gunpoint. They shoot us with rubber bullets for a few hours, chasing us through a nearby woods full of elaborate booby traps, then round us up and ridicule our genitals until dinnertime. Finally, the director’s second-hand man says: “Welcome to the Pleasuredome. That’s a joke. I hope you’ll find your stay here productive and restful. That’s another joke. Your task is to be nude for a full week—seven days and nights, a full 576 hours. Nobody will fuck with you. What happened today has no valence whatsoever beyond allowing us to get some exercise instead of going to the gym.” Another ruse. Day and night, the entire week involves unmitigated antagonism. The actors adapt to it quickly; we have all been trained to negotiate both fictional and nonfictional fallout. What we don’t get used to is being nude. In general, people take the support of brassieres and jockstraps for granted, and the constant sway and joggle of penises, testicles, and breasts not only produce physical pain and suffering, some of the actors suffer nervous breakdowns and must be airlifted back to civilization in shame. Doubtless this tactic is a means of weeding out the weaker sheep. I remain strong and capable, receiving multiple compliments for my uniform inattention to my unbound corporeality. Still, one wonders how primitive man survived in the wild. Clothing began as a means of protection when humans first migrated to colder climates and higher altitudes. It evolved into a source of vogue and personal identification, an insignia of the wearer’s character and internal constitution. In effect, clothing rendered the wearer soft, meek, docile—lesser than god’s chosen monsters. Skin is strength. If only we actors could unbury our ancestors, this world might be a better, more realistic place.

In the Daze of the Caveman. I spend most of my downtime at a condo in the Hairy Florida precinct where it’s easiest to retain my anonymity. As I enter the condo after a grueling twelve-hour shoot, I spot him right away. Oversized cranium, bristled limbs, chimplike stance, lambskin cloak—a caveman. He may be an actor in a costume or he may be a temporal anomaly. Either way, he’s clearly been waiting to kill me. He grins when he sees me, then leaps across the kitchen like a cheetah, exploding through the pots and pans that hang over the island sink. He’s growling. He’s drooling. He’s deranged. I punch him squarely in the jaw just as he converges on me. There is a cinematic knuckle-against-skull report. He flies backwards across the kitchen as if sprung off of a trampoline. I’m always ready for a fight, even in my sleep. I remove two pair of brass knuckles from the inner pocket of my suit and slip one on each hand. The caveman tries to rally, but he’s dazed, and I don’t give him time to recover. I charge him, tackle him, pummel him with right and left hooks until his head turns to pulp. His outsides smell worse than his insides. I make a Long Island Iced Tea as I call the authorities and tell them what happened. They send over as many police officers and coroners as the do horologists and time bandits. I hand out beers and shots of tequila to everybody who wants them. Some girls stop by; a minor bacchanalia ensues. Later, I help the paramedics bag the corpse of my antagonist and load it into an ambulance. Only one officer asks for a roadie.

Buy Outré by D. Harlan Wilson from Raw Dog Screaming Press.

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