Those of you who have been following along with this blog, or who know me, know that I am currently “unemployed”, i.e. writing a fuckin’ novel. My novel is an acid western set in the California Gold Rush. In this subgenre, the native american is the hero, the white man is the villain, the journey to the West is not self-actualization of the human spirit but the death and destruction of the natural world, and the landscape is hallucinatory (that’s where the “acid” comes from). My novel follows an unnamed saloon keeper as he begins a journey from Southern California to Northern California, his path wound up in that of two men, The Indian and The Stranger. My narrator begins his story with a statement on the uselessness of words, and this discomfort with words remains with him throughout the novel. The following is a short segment, a musing of the narrator’s that comes mid-novel, after he has journeyed some time, and witnessed many of the horrors the changing world has to offer. I am much indebted to my copy of The Oxford English Dictionary for the following writing.
Again and again, I use the word “horror.” A shock and a shudder, something deep and repulsive. Horror, horrid, horrify, horrific, horrible. There is something jagged about it, that drives deep like a splinter of wood that festers and swells the skin around it. It heats and chills like a fever, it moves like a rippling repugnance over the surface of the mind. The swelling and intensity burn up the spine, into the skull where they settle and simmer after the shock of impact. And somewhere in that impact is “terror,” in the windlessness of it, the dull strike it makes.
I once saw a man said to have “the horrors,” a man who came drinking every day, then came no more for days. I knew what rooms he lived in, and I went there to look for him, to make sure, on the third day he didn’t show up in the saloon, that he hadn’t fallen dead and wasn’t rotting away with nobody to find him. He was lying there in his bed. His hands shook, and his arms and legs moved like snakes. When he saw me, he asked me to lean close to him, to bring my ear to his mouth. I did so haltingly; I thought perhaps he would bite me or do me some violence. But all he did was whisper what was going on in his tortured mind.
“A beast on a wide flat plain,” he said, “its eyes burn, it is coming, it is coming, it burns, it retches, it smells, beast horror beast, the way it moves like water in a storm, beast burning up the night, the sky its eyes, tearing and terrorizing, ripping, beating beast, moaning monster, swelling pride pride gain, love of pain, the pain is mine and it’s at once, the flat plain, pain, moves and dance and the grasses trampled, the eyes like diamonds, diamond spit, ruby drool, fools, fools, the night a fire, fire-eyed, burning up and down, beast eat east beast, beasty beast on fire. The night, the night.”
“The horrors,” they called that kind of talk. “The horrors,” he had. I wonder about what that man said, drying out and shaking as he was. Have always wondered and wonder still now.