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The Western Lands, Page 2

William S. Burroughs

  The President, with his toadies and familiars, is now five hundred feet down in solid rock with enough fine foods, wines and liqueurs to last two hundred years, and the longevity drugs to enjoy them all. (Held off the market, in the interests of national security.)

  A teen-aged President appears on national TV, his well-cut suit hanging loose on his skinny frame, to pipe out in adolescent treble, alternately pompous and cracking:

  "We categorically deny that there are any [crack] so-called Fountain-of-Youth drugs, procedures or treatments [crack] that are being held back from the American people [crack]." He flashes a boyish smile and runs a comb through his abundant, unruly hair. "And I categorically dismiss as without foundation rumors that I myself, the First Lady, my fag son and my colleagues in the Cabinet are sustaining ourselves by state-of-the-art vampiric technology, drawing off from the American pimples [crack giggle] so-called 'energy units'!"

  His hair stands up and crackles, and he gives the American people the finger and barks out:

  "I got mine, fuck you! Every crumb for himself."

  Allen Ginsberg says you got no soul. The ancient Egyptians say you got seven of these bastards, and Pharaohs got fourteen, what they get for being Pharaohs. Like Kim Carsons, a Pharaoh in his little patch. Remember, a man with absolute power in one windblown piece of desert or one backwoods shantytown has more power than the President of the United States. He's got the immediate power of Death.

  So Joe the Dead has two sets playing against each other: Bickford and Hart, both Rens, Directors, with their Sekem Technicians and an army of Guardian Angels. Now we get down to Noncoms and they cop out, don't want no part of the Land of the Dead on human terms.

  Ren is always the first off a sinking ship, like the rat he is. He's got nothing to worry about. Back to the studio, where he picks up a new script. Maybe he wins an Oscar on you, some film credits at least. He's eternal as Hollywood, eternal as the Stage itself.

  "All the world's a stage . . ."

  Players come and go. Ren leafs through scripts. "Yes, I think this one, B.J. Art and box office. The way I see it, it's a classic, see?"

  And Sekem is "permanent party." He knows what buttons to push to get the show moving, soldiers where they are supposed to be, for the most devastating ambush in history. The battle of Dead Souls, fought in the Land of the Dead after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  "The tide is coming in from Hiroshima you dumb Earth hicks. Sauve qui peut."

  So when it got too hot for Renny he took off, leaving Joe there. That's one reason Joe hates all Rens. His souls were hideously burned in the blast. His destiny burned off, in terrible pain from the phantom souls seared by the fires of Hell, pulled back to make slingshots and scout knives, to make more guns, to make more noise and Joe is supersensitive to noise, a slammed door keys in the pain almost gone and then Kim's morphine pinned him back to the Cemetery.

  "The best Technician in or out of Hell, and he wants me to make air guns or brass knucks and blackjacks . . . music-box pistols that tinkle out the Danse Macabre . . . maybe we should open a fucking novelty store with itching powder and plaster turds. Is this what I was brought back for?"

  They say passing a kidney stone is the worst pain a man can experience, and they'll let you pass one right in the ER before they'll give you a shot.

  "Might be an addict . . . gotta run an X ray."

  "Machine's broke, doctor."

  "Well then, there's not a thing I can do."

  Having your Ren burned out is worse, much worse. The searing, throbbing pain is always there, with no purpose to take your mind off it.

  Look at a Man of Destiny. Every step, every gesture is handed to him right on cue. All he has to do is ham it up. But when you have to pick up your dead carcass and move it step by bloody step on jagged hunks of white-hot metal and steaming orange juice . . .

  No studio will touch me with a pitchfork. So I threw in with Kim and Hall.

  You reckon ill who leave me out.

  When me you fly I am the wings.

  And who else is going to get this show into space?

  The Tech Sergeants who know how to get a job done. Hart and Bickford, poor players to strut and fret their hour upon the stage. Mike Chase as their Guardian Angel. The Ba, the Heart, made in Hollywood.

  Bristling with idiot suspicions, Hart and Bickford could never trust a Ka. And anybody been to Hell and back knows that the Ka, the Double, is the only one in the whole rotten lot you can trust, because if you don't make it, he don't make it. Hart and Bickford can never admit that they might not make it.

  Knowing you might not make it . . . in that knowledge courage is born. Bickford and Hart can't take that chance, so they will never know courage. And a coward is the worst of all masters.

  A deserted penal colony with dead ghosts . . . pasture land opposite where implausible ponies graze. Does anyone ride them? Do they pull little carts? Do they lay back their ears and bite with their horrid yellow teeth? I doubt it. . . a line of trees, then white grain elevators crash into the sky like a painting in the Whitney Museum.

  Kafka speaks of the point of no return. This is the most difficult of all points to reach. The game is called Find Your Adversary. The Adversary's game plan is to persuade you that he does not exist. "Why all the paranoia?" That is only one of his game plans. You find out he exists, and you are still a long way from a confrontation, a long way. A dreary abrasive dull way, sad voices, dirtier, older.

  Faces of evil hate and despair. He has guns but no one will shoot at him. Easier to wait him out. From the Place of Dead Roads he gambled on a blast-out. Last of the gallant heroes. His gun rusts in his hand. It's no superweapon from outer space, just a Ruger .357 magnum . . . if winter comes . . . (best seller back in the 1920s, never read it but it seems winter is Old Age, the last test and the toughest). Health can be a curse, keeping the body alive when the souls are dead or gone, your Ren and your Ka walked out in disgust long ago. "The beastliness of Maugham is beyond endurance, I'm gettin out of here, me." It takes a good strong Ka to keep the boys in line.

  "Now look, Ren Sekem Khu." He whips out a straight razor that glows white-hot like a slice of light. "You may jet off to the space station but your wings is going to stay right here."

  That's the way it is with these accursed poets. They go from adolescence to old age without transition. The kid died in a Boulder cemetery. He was there to talk for Joe.

  "Something I been waiting to say for a long time, Mister Kim."

  August 16, 1984, Thursday

  The sheer nightmare horror of my position, of all human positions, waiting for some lunatics or conspirators going to ride out on the blast like a surfboard to explode the atoms we are all made of. A lucky survivor, blind, stumbling about in my ruined house, hungry mewling cats underfoot. How about that, Kim? Kill your dogs and cats. Repeat. Kill your dogs and cats. The boiled eggs were just right. Debonair heartless Kim striking histrionic poses on the buckling deck of a doomed planet . . . reflecting a flawed unbearable boy image in an empty mirror. Radiant Kim, the fearless ostrich, escape child of a frightened old man. Anybody isn't frightened now simply lacks imagination. Is there any escape? Of course. A miracle. Leave the details to Joe.

  An old man in a rented house with his cat, Ruski. So he looks about in quiet desperation for an escape route. That's Thoreau, I think, wasn't he the one drowned himself in Waiden Pond with a dead loon around his neck? Pick a card . . . any card. . . .

  So he writes about desperately for an escape route. Such openings are only there in times of chaos when the cry goes up, "Every man for himself!"

  "Chacun pour soi!"

  "Sauve qui peut!"

  If you're going to slip in somewhere and save your skin it has to be when the ship is sinking, a country falling apart, a time when nobody knows who is who and you can pass yourself off as anybody.

  The Weimar Republic. Cocaine is cheaper than food. Starving boys— die wandervögel, the migrating birds—flock to Berlin to sell th
emselves for a meal. The hero prances out in drag singing, "Einer Mann, einer Mann, einer RICHTIGER Mann!"

  Easy to pick up a pair of shoes in the Weimar Republic. Jeder Mann sein eigener Futbol. (Every man his own football.) They deserved to lose for such vapid nonsense. The Lesbians had a marching song: Wir brauchen keiner Männer mehr. (We don't need men anymore.) And the gays tripped along to: Wir sind anders von den Andern / Die nur im Gleichschritt der Moral geleibt haben. (We are different from the others / Who have only loved in the same step of morality.)

  Three hundred gay bars, bread riots and street fighting and hunger . . . every man his own football.

  SA marchiert. . . .

  Master Levy, when asked for the price of a flop by one of the Wanderbursche who came from all over Germany to Berlin— some queen's jissom may be the first food they have had in three days—so Levy says, "Well, I can't give you any money. But I will give you good advice. Over there under that railroad there is a particularly cold wind."

  He denies the story. He was a strong man, reminded me of Korzybski. Rather heavy, with big arms and a strong voice. At times the strong must commit acts of incredible cruelty to stoke their strength. One sultan used to cut the arm off whoever helped him into the saddle. You have to be strong to live with such acts, very strong. I do not aspire to such strength. Obviously such strength is forced upon the recipient slowly, a bit at a time . . . the door closes behind him, only one door open. A man's arm. Slice . . . he spurs his horse before the blood spurts out. . . .

  At the Russian front, morphine is the most precious commodity, a warm, comfortable blanket against the cold that gets down inside you so finally you don't shiver anymore because there is no place to shiver to. You can tell how long a soldier has been at the front by how much he shivers. The new ones are shaking like they had malaria. The old hands move slow, like lizards.

  Wilhelm was lucky. His colonel in the Waffen SS was an addict. As soon as a town was captured he was into the drugstores and the doctors' offices. Wilhelm had a superb Männlicher with telescopic sights. It's a wunderbar feeling, to tag someone at five hundred yards, like the hand of God, the tiny figure falling in the snow . . . way out there near the skyline. And he practiced with his P38, worked over by a gunsmith and with a butt custom-molded to his hand. He could hit snowballs in the air.

  Back to some requisitioned farmhouse, no need to ask permission from the owners. They have been removed by a work crew . . . had to . . . dead, you know . . . the ampules and syringes and alcohol laid out. The Colonel is a thin, aristocratic man of fifty with a fine thin nose and thin lips and little blue veins hard to hit. But Wilhelm could find a vein in a mummy.

  "Allow me, my Colonel."

  The blood blooms in the syringe and he pushes the plunger home.

  "Sieg Heil!" breathes the Colonel.

  Wilhelm is tying up . . . ahh the blessed warmth.

  "Heil Hitler!"

  "Heil Hitler!" the Colonel echoes.

  Wilhelm knows the whole thing is insane, like Napoléon. He remembers the Victor Hugo poem, "It snowed it snowed it snowed."

  He knows the Colonel is thinking the same thing. How can we get out from under this madman and save our assholes? But such thoughts are better left unspoken. As the Russian offensive gathers momentum and the Allies are close to Berlin, watch what you say and even what you think. The Black Dogs are sniffing for defeatism and disloyalty. One wrong word and you can hang with the Russian partisans with a placard around your neck: "Here is a pig who deserted his comrades. Now he is dead forever." And this is a lieutenant. Officers are not exempt from such summary execution . . . on the contrary. So play it kalt, and watch and wait.

  Shots outside . . . Wilhelm packs the drugs and the syringes. They will have to fall back, though they have been ordered to hold the position bis in der Tod. "Let Goebbels and Goering and Hitler come up here and hold it," growls the Colonel. "I am pulling back."

  The long retreat, the frostbitten soldiers hobbling along on toeless feet. And those with their eyelids frozen off who can never again close their eyes. And the genitals that drop off when you try to take a piss and the concentrated yellow urine seeps out with sluggish black blood . . . back back back . . . to the outskirts of Berlin.

  Berlin is a ruin, without water or food or police or medical facilities. Clearly it is every man for himself. The Russians are in the eastern outskirts of Berlin, the Allies in the west. Wilhelm is following his instincts. He knows that the name of the life game is Survival. The War is lost but the SS is out with ropes, grimly and methodically hanging all deserters and defeatists from trees and lampposts and the projecting beams of bombed-out buildings.

  Ah, a dead major. Wilhelm goes quickly through his clothes. A .25 automatic, which he pockets, and four boxes of ampules and a syringe with extra needles in a little metal box . . . Eukodol . . . what is this? Wilhelm draws up two ampules of .02 grams. He hits and presses the plunger home.

  "Sieg Heil." It's almost a speedball of morphine and cocaine. A real updraft, like he used to feel when he was flying gliders. But he never made the air force. His sight was short.

  Keep moving, get to the Americans! They will believe anything if you tell them what they want to hear.

  The fall of Berlin . . . music from Götterdämmerung . . . thunder and lightning. Dazed citizens dipping water out of bomb craters. Lightning freezes into the lightning insignia of the Waffen SS . . . face of the dancer blazes with alertness . . . WHOOSH! He throws himself to the ground as a shell explodes in front of him. He stands up immobile, watching.

  Dangling from the beam of a bombed-out building is the body of a civilian youth. The body oscillates slowly and the face comes into view. Wilhelm pulls a knife and cuts the boy down, and drags him into the shell of a building. Wallpaper, a shattered dresser, suggestion of a theatrical dressing room. He works quickly, stripping off his uniform. Pulling the body up to remove the jacket . . . shirt . . . he strips off his pants and his underwear, placing his P38 on the dresser. His cock flips out half-hard. He is junk sick, shivering burning junk sick. He hoists the boy's buttocks and pulls his pants down. The shorts are stained with sperm in front. He smiles and pulls the boy's shorts down and puts them on with a bump grind leaving his cock sticking out all the way up now he fingers his cock and goes off showing all his teeth as he spurts over the naked corpse. He tucks his cock in. Pulls on the pants. Fit just right around his skinny waist and ass. Even the shoes fit. Ah, my shoes. He puts on the jacket and reaches into the left inside pocket.

  Carl Peterson. Age: twenty-two. Occupation: mechanic.

  On-screen advertisement: Children's shoes have far to go . . . (An agent's cover, his false identity, is known as shoes.)

  Over the hills

  And far away



  "What are you doing still in that uniform? Are you full crazy?"

  "But Wilhelm, we were soldiers, not policemen. We are entitled to a soldier's treatment under the Geneva Convention."

  "Would you like to explain that in Russian to the Ivans?"

  Wilhelm points to a derelict in rags scuttling past. Hans shoots the derelict in the back of the head. "He deserves to die for stinking like this," Hans grumbles as he puts on the old man's rags. "Nameless asshole didn't have papers. I will probably get typhus from his doss-house lice!"

  "There are worse things than typhus, Hans. . . . We must find the Americans. Go west, young man, go west, and stay well away from the Ivans."

  Say, are we glad to see you guys!"

  "What took you so long?"

  Berlin is swarming with police looking for war criminals. Kim, using the name Carl Peterson, gets a clerical job with the American CID so that he can photograph their list of wanted SS personnel. He accumulates a few thousand dollars trading coffee and chocolate, Spam and cigarettes, for antiques and paintings, P38s and Nazi daggers, which he sells to the American and English officers.

  Kim feels grotesquely miscast as a
black market operator. Look at them—sleek, pomaded, with manicured dirty fingernails, narrow shoulders and broad hips, expensive clothes and dirty underwear.

  Kim singles out a cold-eyed tech sergeant. "Can you get rid of these?" He shows some morphine ampules. "Plenty more."

  The sergeant nods.

  Soon he has ten thousand dollars saved up. Time to move on to Tangier.

  The town is booming, quivering with avarice and money fever like the seismic tremors of an earthquake. There are no rooms to be had in Tangier, but he manages to find a place on Calle Cook in a run-down stucco villa operated by a former madame from Saigon, in return for a small Renoir. He issues a bulletin to the effect that he has money to invest, and is beseiged by operators with money-making ideas: to open another bar, a clothing store, an antique shop, to buy into a smuggling operation. He is just testing the air, shaking the tree.

  So many Arab boys about, Kim decides to take the cure and indulge in sex. He checks into a clinic in the Marshan, run by a French doctor and his wife. The doctor is burly and vigorous, with a black mustache—un vrai bonhomme. The wife fades in and out in a perpetual state of well-founded jealousy. She is soon crying on Kim's shoulder about her husband's indiscretions. Three weeks, and Kim is over the hump.