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The Place of Dead Roads, Page 2

William S. Burroughs

  He reached a road of yellow gravel unobserved. He followed the road to a store by a bridge...sound of running water...

  "Buenos dias, senor. " Kim stood in front of the counter, an envelope in his right hand. A thin old man in a gray flannel shirt looked up. It was not often that anyone reached his store unannounced. Two young men watched from the back of the store.

  "I bring greetings from Don Bernabe Jurado." Kim passed the envelope over the counter. The old man read the letter.

  "You are welcome, Mr. Hall. My name is Don Linares." He led the way through the store to a back room, where a screen door opened onto a patio...fruit trees, a pump, chickens scratching.

  The old man motioned Kim to a chair and gave him an appraising glance.

  "You are hungry."

  Kim nodded...

  Huevos rancheros with fried beans and blue tortillas and a pot of coffee. Kim ate with delicate animal voracity, like a hungry raccoon. A cat rubbed against his leg. It was a handsome brute, a purple-gray tomcat with green eyes.

  Kim enjoyed the Spanish ritual of talking about everything but the business in hand. They talked about the weather, the railroad's decision to set up the terminal in Lamy rather than in Santa Fe itself. Mostly they talked about mutual friends and acquaintances, Don Linares throwing in a bit of false data here and there; the letter could be a forgery, and Kim an impostor.

  "Ah? But they are already married since June."

  "Yes, to be sure. I am forgetful at times."

  There was a moment of silence. Kim knew he was being tested. Well, he wouldn't mind being reborn as a Mexican.

  "How can I be of service?" the old man finally asked.

  "I need a horse and some supplies and much silence. Sugar, salt, lard, tea, chile, salt pork, flour, a bag of lemons..." Kim looked over the stock of guns...Ah there is something he'd been looking for: a smoothbore 44, chambered for shot shells. You have a room full of turkeys to take care of, this gun could throw a hail of lead three feet wide. Ideal gun for survival hunting. And the only thing for snakes. Kim paid in gold.

  The Jemez Basin, crater of an extinct volcano, looks as though it were scooped out by a giant hand. A river winds down the middle of the basin and a number of spring-fed tributaries feed into the river, so that the whole basin is crisscrossed by water. Some streams are only two feet wide at the top but eight feet deep, with an overhanging bank. The valley is full of frogs, and you can see great yellow tadpoles deep down in the dark slow-moving water of these swampy streams.

  Kim camped on the south slope, his tent hidden by trees. He baited his hook with a big purple worm and dropped it into one of the still, narrow streams, yellow flash of fish side in the dark water.

  He held the crisp fried fish by the head and the tail, eating the meat off the backbone, washed down with lemonade.

  Twilight, fish jumping, a symphony of frogs. Kim saw a vast frog conducting the orchestra, and he thought of Rimbaud's "Historic Evening."—"A master's hand awakes the meadow's harpsichord...they are playing cards at the bottom of the pond..."

  The golden grass, the sinister black water were like the landscape of some forgotten planet. He could see himself eating trout there forever, heaps of bones with grass growing through.


  Kim is a slimy, morbid youth of unwholesome proclivities with an insatiable appetite for the extreme and the sensational. His mother had been into table-tapping and Kim adores ectoplasms, crystal balls, spirit guides and auras. He wallows in abominations, unspeakable rites, diseased demon lovers, loathsome secrets imparted in a thick slimy whisper, ancient ruined cities under a purple sky, the smell of unknown excrements, the musky sweet rotten reek of the terrible Red Fever, erogenous sores suppurating in the idiot giggling flesh. In short, Kim is everything a normal American boy is taught to detest. He is evil and slimy and insidious. Perhaps his vices could be forgiven him, but he was also given to the subversive practice of thinking. He was in fact incurably intelligent.

  Later, when he becomes an important player, he will learn that people are not bribed to shut up about what they know. They are bribed not to find it out. And if you are as intelligent as Kim, it's hard not to find things out. Now, American boys are told they should think. But just wait until your thinking is basically different from the thinking of a boss or a teacher...You will find out that you aren't supposed to think.

  Life is an entanglement of lies to hide its basic mechanisms.

  Kim remembers a teacher who quoted to the class: "If a thing is worth doing at all it is worth doing well..."

  "Well sir, I mean the contrary is certainly true. If a thing is worth doing at all, it is worth doing, even badly," said Kim pertly, hoping to impress the teacher with his agile intelligence. "I mean, we can't all become Annie Oakleys doesn't mean we can't get some fun and benefit from shooting..."

  The teacher didn't like that at all, and for the rest of the school year singled Kim out for heavy-handed sarcasm, addressing him as "our esteemed woodsman and scout." When Kim couldn't answer a history question, the teacher asked, "Are you one of these strong, silent men?" And he wrote snippy little comments in the margins of Kim's compositions: "Not quite as badly as that," viciously underlining the offending passage. At the end of the term the teacher gave him a Β — for the course, though Kim knew fucking well he deserved an A.

  To be sure, Kim was rotten clear through and he looked like a sheep-killing dog and smelled like a polecat, but he was also the most ingenious, curious, resourceful, inventive little snot that ever rose from the pages of Boy's Life, thinking up ways of doing things better than other folks. Kim would get to the basic root of what a device is designed to do and ask himself, Is it doing it in the simplest and most efficient way possible? He knew that once an article goes into mass production, the last thing a manufacturer wants to hear about is a better and simpler article that is basically different. And they are not interested in a more efficient, simpler or better product. They are interested in making money.

  When Kim was fifteen his father allowed him to withdraw from the school because he was so unhappy there and so much disliked by the other boys and their parents.

  "I don't want that boy in the house again," said Colonel Greenfield. "He looks like a sheep-killing dog."

  "It is a walking corpse," said a Saint Louis matron poisonously.

  "The boy is rotten clear through and he stinks like a polecat," Judge Farris pontificated.

  This was true. When angered or aroused or excited Kim flushed bright red and steamed off a rank ruttish animal smell.

  And sometimes he lost control over his natural functions. He took comfort from learning that partially domesticated wolves suffer from the same difficulty.

  "The child in not wholesome," said Mr. Kindhart, with his usual restraint. Kim was the most unpopular boy in the school, if not in the town of Saint Louis.

  "They have nothing to teach you anyway," his father said. "Why, the headmaster is a fucking priest."

  The summers they spent at the farm, and during the day Kim spent much of his time outdoors, hiking, hunting, and fishing. He loved squirrel hunting in the early morning, and usually went hunting with Jerry Ellisor, a buck-toothed, slightly retarded boy who lived next door. Jerry was subject to fits, so Kim carried a leather-covered stick he would shove in Jerry's mouth to keep him from biting his tongue off. Kim enjoyed watching these fits because sometimes Jerry would get a hard-on and shoot off in his pants, and that was a powerful sight. And Jerry had a slinky black hound dog. Everybody knows you can't find squirrels without a dog to bark up the tree where a squirrel is.

  His father had an extensive and eclectic library, and Kim spent much of his time reading during the winter months. Kim read everything in his father's library, Shakespeare and all the classics. Dickens was not for him, and he couldn't abide Sir Walter Scott. Knights and ladies repelled him. Armor was a cumbersome and impractical device, jousting was stupid and bestial, and romantic love was disgusting, rather like the cult of
Southern womanhood. He noticed that he was particularly detested by self-styled Southern gentlemen, a truly pestiferous breed. The animal doctor should put all Southern gentlemen to sleep, along with the knights and the ladies, he decided.

  There were a number of medical books, which Kim read avidly. He loved to read about diseases, rolling and savoring the names on his tongue: tabes dorsalis, Friedreich's ataxia, climactic buboes...and the pictures! the poisonous pinks and greens and yellows and purples of skin diseases, rather like the objects in those Catholic stores that sell shrines and madonnas and crucifixes and religious pictures. There was one skin disease where the skin swells into a red wheal and you can write on it. It would be fun to find a boy with this disease and draw pricks all over him. Kim thought maybe he would study medicine and become a doctor, but while he liked diseases he didn't like sick people. They complained all the time. They were petulant and self-centered and boring. And the thought of delivering babies was enough to turn a man to stone.

  His father had a large collection of books on magic and the occult, and Kim drew magic circles in the basement and tried to conjure up demons. His favorites were the Abominations like Humwawa, whose face is a mass of entrails and who rides on a whispering south wind. Pazuzu, Lord of Fevers and Plagues, and especially Gelal and Lilit, who invade the beds of men, because he did sometimes experience a vivid sexual visitation he hoped was an incubus. He knew that the horror of these demon lovers was a gloomy Christian thing. In Japan there are phantom whores known as "fox maidens," who are highly prized, and the man who can get his hands on a fox maiden is considered lucky. He felt sure there were fox boys as well. Such creatures could assume the form of either sex.

  Once he made sex magic against Judge Farris, who said Kim was rotten clear through and smelled like a polecat. He nailed a full-length picture of the Judge to the wall, taken from the society page, and masturbated in front of it while he intoned a jingle he had learned from a Welsh nanny:

  Slip and stumble (lips peel back from his teeth)

  Trip and fall (his eyes light up inside)

  Down the stairs And hit the wallllllllllllllll!

  His hair stands up on end. He whines and whimpers and howls the word out and shoots all over the Judge's leg. And Judge Farris actually did fall downstairs a few days later, and fractured his shoulder bone. The Judge swore to anyone who would listen that a scrawny, stinking red dog that must have gotten in through the basement window suddenly jumped out at him on the stairs, with a most peculiar smile on its face, showing all its teeth, wrapped its paws around his legs, tripping him so that he fell and hit his shoulder against the wall at the landing.

  Nobody believed him except Kim, and Kim knew that he had succeeded in projecting a thought form. But he was not overly impressed. The Judge was dead drunk every night and he was always falling down. Magic seemed to Kim a hit-and-miss operation, and to tell the truth, a bit silly. Guns and knives were more reliable.

  He read about Hassan i Sabbah, the Old Man of the Mountain, Master of the Assassins, and he was fascinated. How he longed to be a dedicated assassin in an all-male society. He dreamt of the Old Man, who came to him with a white beard and pale blue eyes and told him to go kill Colonel Greenfield, who said he looked like a sheep-killing dog.

  "GRRRRRRRRRRRR...I'll leap at his throat, as seals are said to do if mistreated by their trainers."

  There is a smell in the air after a thunderbolt hits, it's one of those archetypal smells like the smell of the sea and the smell of opium: one whiff and you never forget it.

  Once Kim Carsons and Jerry Ellisor saw lightning strike the cornice of the old school building outside Saint Albans, the smell so heavy you could see it drifting from the shattered bricks in a violet haze and the boys go crazy with the smell like a cat with catnip. They strip off their clothes and caper around masturbating and turning cartwheels and grinning out between their legs and screaming to the sky:


  And Jerry's slinky black hound dog throws back its head and howls, lightning popping all around them as the sky gets blacker and blacker with just a line of bright green around the rim and the next thing we are snatching up our clothes and running for the cyclone cellar, bricks from the school bouncing all around us. We both shit ourselves when the twister ripped the cellar door off and the house went up like matchsticks. And the dog kept on howling. When we come up out of the cellar the house is clean gone, with Jerry's bedfast grandmother. She'd been alone in the house, since Arch and Ma were in town for their monthly shopping, and Jerry was supposed to look after "the old stink-bag," as he called her.

  "Maybe it dropted her in the river," Jerry said as they poured hot water over each other in the sauna and washed the shit off. Everybody was glad to see the last of her, she'd been clean out of her mind the past five years, her breasts all eated away with the cancer and Arch kept buying more morphine to finish her off but she had such a strength for it no amount would kill her and Arch said it was like buying feed for a hawg.

  "She's a marl-hole in the worst form there is, no bottom to her."

  "Well, leastwise she don't eat much," Ma said. "Half a cup of soup a day. She can't last much longer on that."

  And Jerry pipes up: "I heard about an old Saint Woman lived twenty years and all she ever eated was a holy wafer on Sundays."

  And Arch just looks at him and says, "You know any more stories like that?"

  "Sure, plenty. Why, this one old biddy lived forty years after the doctor said—"

  And Arch whops him alongside the head with a ruck-hoe handle.

  Jerry took Kim in to see Grandma once. She reminded Kim of an old rock covered with lichen, and he thought she could live forever like that.

  Now, the sauna was erected by a Finnish boy who witched wells and did tinkering jobs, and he had put some Finn magic on it because he had the power. No one could say his real name, so they all called him Sinki for Helsinki, where all the Finns is borned at. This Sinki had bright red hair, and one eye was blue and the other brown. He could whip a knife out of his sleeve and cut the head clean off a chicken and have the knife put back away before the blood squirted out...WHOOOOSH. Kim recollects when the sauna is finished Sinki, Jerry and Kim is the first to get the cleaning in it. They didn't have to worry about Arch and Ma butting in by this time they is both taking the morphine and taking it heavy only way they can stand up for the aggravations of Grandma when the morphine runned out of her any hour of the day or night she lets out such a bellowing Arch can hear it clear to the end of his cornfield.

  Well, Sinki rubs his long red pointed dick and Jerry grins his buck teeth bare so we all get hard and jerk off with a smell like fucking ferrets. Then Sinki draws a circle on the floor with the jism and says something in Finn talk and tells us he has put a magic on the sauna it will last the house out.

  Thinking about it gets Kim hot. He can feel Sinki's face nuzzling in like a red-haired wolf and Sinki's long thin pointed dick sticking up against his stomach and the two eyes one blue and one brown and the look out of them different and the sauna seemed to open up and he sawed red lights on the skyline like a forest fire at night and he knowed it was the North Lights from a picture in geography it's a wonder of nature.

  So when Arch and Ma got back they was glad enough to have the house gone so long as Granny went with it, and they built on another spot to escape the hant of her. When the moon is full you can hear her bellowing from the old house site and the sauna is there to this day. Nobody uses it. Arch and Ma is like cats with the morphine, can't stand the feel of water on their selves.

  Kim remembers a friend of his father's, an unobtrusively wealthy man who traveled all over the world studying unusual systems of hand-to-hand fighting. And he wrote a book about it. Kim remembers him as looking very safe and happy. He could kill anyone in sight and he knew it. And that was a good feeling.

  The book was fascinating. Chinese practitioners who can stun or kill by a soft twisting blow just at the right place and the right
time. They can even calculate the "soft touch" as it is called, to kill several hours later. You jostle the target in a crowd and—Kim hummed a funeral march happily.

  An Indian boxer who could hit a steel plate with all his strength without sustaining so much as a bruise. And challenged the writer to hit him as hard as he could. The Indian made it clear that if he felt the writer was withholding his full strength the interview was at an end. So the writer, who was a Karate 5 Dan, hit him full-blast and the Indian didn't even blink.

  "You have fair power, sir," he said.

  And there was a magnificent sulky old Indian who specialized in a lightning blow to the testicles. The Golden Target he called it. "He was one of the most unpleasant men I have ever met," the writer reports. "After a scant quarter-hour spent in his company I was impotent for a full week."

  So the writer tries to impress this old Midas by breaking a stack of bricks. The Indian sets up a stack and adds one more brick. Then he lightly thumps the stack. The writer points a disparaging finger at the top brick, which is undamaged.

  The old practitioner removes the top brick. All the bricks under it have been shattered as if hit by a sledgehammer.

  And a bartender in Paris had fashioned a weapon from his breath. By taking certain herbs he had developed a breath so pestiferous that "Then standing almost six feet away he breathed on me. Words cannot convey the vertiginous retching horror that enveloped me as I lost consciousness...And for days afterwards I shuddered at the memory of that awesome breath." And his farts could take out a barroom. So he beats the skunk at its own game but he wasn't as cute as a skunk is. Once Kim found a baby skunk in a field and petted it and decided it was the cutest thing he ever saw.