By Davis Schneiderman

Northwestern University Press
June 2010, Paperback, 240 pages
ISBN: 0-8101-5215-0


Note: The novel details a near-past-then-future in which Lake Michigan empties of water — becoming an endless desert. A disenfranchised population of Cultists (a.k.a. Maneuverians) that worships an arcane “World Worm” called Umma-Segnus moves in, and the Quadrilateral Commission, a planned-community corporation, gradually supplants these people with towns not unlike Disney’s Celebration, Florida. Quadrilateral hopes to make the empty lakebed a new state in the union called Post-America.

Yet all are not so easily supplanted. A partisan leader working against the Quadrilateral communities where she was born, the charismatic Dial-Up Networking leads the Blackout Angels gang in paramilitary activities. A second protagonist, the perpetually coughing Quadrilateral employee Washington Jefferson Lincoln Qui, combs the wasteland of old Lake Michigan in search of the memory of his burned sister, whom he knows now only as “blank hiss at the tape-end.

The narrative passages alternates between the exploits of the two main characters and the style shifts radically between these nodes. In the first and third sections, Qui finds himself the Quadrilateral candidate for Governor of this proposed new state. In the second and fourth section, Dial-Up Networking is a prisoner of the sadistic Signor Clickermink-Lispsmut, a Quadrilateral functionary, arrested for terrorist crimes against the planner community and “inhabitations” of other bodies through sex acts.

—[when we travel by rail, we cultivate the frontier]—

The Digital Record fish wrap pulses under the door of Washington Jef­ferson Lincoln’s private train car at the exact moment the gubernatorial candidate defeats an almost-overwhelming accumulation of thick morn­ing sand: a granular narcotic, an opiate paste applied directly to the skin. The phrase “you’ve got sand in your eye” is neither accurate (since the substance is not sand but rather a mixture of sweat, oil and tears collected in the fleshy caruncle—composed of salt, sugar, ammonia, urea, albumin, citric acid, and lysozyme) nor merely metaphorical. In these chemicals, Qui perceives a tangible obfuscation of the world. His knuckles burn from rubbing. As he flips through the pages of the Digital Record, sips his coffee, and puts in a quick call to initiate his morning security briefing, the distance between Lincoln Qui, 2040, and the Lincoln Qui of only one year prior dissolves as quickly as the accumulated crust of a single night.

The digital record, in this way, creates: collapsing the distance between inky sand-dune sinkholes that populate the long night before vanishing under the first pixilated light of morning. The digital record displays Qui’s campaign manager Bush-Bush Bush, two train cars distant, apply­ing pancake makeup in the broad dabs of a dry sponge, creating a white cloud around her features. Her body glows; the Cultist village burns. Sol­diers bugging out from some weird third-world jungle, hoary defoliant sprays piercing undifferentiated scrub, the edge of a thatched roof lit by the pin of a red-hot cigar. Neither Lincoln Qui nor Bush-Bush ever speak, in this new world, of these dreamy mistakes.

The digital records deceive Qui into denying his own part in those strange events; for days, weeks, he forgets the young girl’s gleaming knife blade as she removes her mother’s pancreas. He forgets the smoky mist that hangs deep in his throat until it forces itself out into a river of paper boats, multicolored, festooned with arcane calligraphy. At times he even forgets his childhood home, in what he still hopes is Calibration rather than the unfamiliar spot by the mud house where his penis first once breathed fire. At times, despite Dooger’s frequent exhortations, Qui even forgets his own twin sister.

The digital record doubles everything, still, and when he does remem­ber, Qui suspects that Fillmore’s soft touch may be nothing more than his body stuck in a tape loop. Everything can be faked. Especially separation. Sure, they slept in the same bed, walked together, composed outland­ish orchestras on a pear-shaped lute. Recorded sonatas on a vinyl disc, falsifying their original performances with intricate gears. A model solar system secreting metal chains behind a southern hemisphere of rotating-revolving plastic balls.

The digital record screams like a castrated banshee so that each whistle-stop crowd flashing blue-and-red pom-poms merges seamlessly along this campaign trail of truncated stump speeches. Through thirty-nine Quadrilateral cities and the ramshackle leftovers of just under seventy-five Cultist shantytowns, Lincoln Qui loses his grip on simple informa­tion transfer: a bumblebee dances a grove of pollen-bearing bells to the brood through the cracked hairline of the sixty-four-year-old Zebediah Dooger, mirrored, as he is, in the dry swells of the desiccated lake bed. His pomade culled from baked clay and margarine.

The digital record shows Zebediah Dooger briefing Lincoln Qui and Bush-Bush Bush in the rickety interstice between the food and club cars. “Polls show the measure will pass overwhelmingly.” Ballot resolution to bring Post-American statehood to the Wildland-Urban Interface. “What a difference a year makes.” Each morning in his private rail car, Dooger soaks in an astringent lemon bath to keep his skin from receding; he foregoes his six p.m. highball as if he had become a Franciscan; the last time Qui caught anything beyond the carefully scripted occurred on that day, just over a year ago, when he returned from Consecration only to be suddenly tapped as the candidate for, as Dooger put it, “Governor of the future state of Quadrilateral.”

“Why me? I thought there were concerns?”

“Lincoln, my boy, think of it, you’ll be governor of the new state, a double whammy. Two blowjobs in a row. You can set policy anyway you choose. You want to outlaw midgets like that simpleton Woodrow Panaflex, keep his kind out of the way? No problem! He met you in Con­secration, yes?”

“Yes, well, we lost track of him after a while. Bush-Bush may have . . .”

“That woman couldn’t keep track of a nine-foot giant if it were stick­ing her up the ass with a blaze-orange bowling pin. She only sees small. Not you, no sir, you’re a visionary. Why the way you handled yourself out there, Qui, well, it speaks highly on the faith we place in you, and I should mention, completely alleviates our previous concerns. Now, any skeletons in your closet?”


“We better start vetting.” The snap of a rubber glove.

The digital record treats Qui as the governor, except for his, er, trou­bles. On the soapbox, in the stump speech, his word hoard narrows to the rocky channel of a deep blue river. “Focus on the sooty eyes of just one of these subhuman trolls,” advises the speech coach, “and she becomes the linchpin, opening her vulva to the warmth of your message. Picture her eyes like spreading legs, Qui, giraffe necks stretching freely into the sky.” Qui’s awkward sentences pull apart the pixels on an enlarged news­paper picture. He grows dizzy, surrenders, in a sort of daze, to the ran­dom swirls of the lizard world.

The digital record, a mirror of another more rational state, whispers to Qui in the middle of the night when the dried-up eyeball of some won­drous sky creature falls to a watery floor, which, over aeons, evolves into a field of pressurized carbon; under the dry inland sea, a body in dark decay sucks all the light from the surface, spreads the cryptic shadow of birthing liquid onto a bed of broken coral. Above, the sky doubles itself, wet only by some ethereal quality of its own flighty substance, reflected on the bronze interior pupils of sleeping crustaceans. Qui thinks this sky may very well be falling up from the center of the lake bed.

In a more fertile environment, the digital record might show Washing­ton Jefferson Lincoln Qui’s gubernatorial Freedom Train crossing a series of lush streams feeding a delta of pregnant seed, mouth harps twang­ing against broken jawbones, chrysanthemums harvested by little girls in white debutante dresses, cotton gins whizzing in thick marigold air. The Freedom Train carries important First Family artifacts: the shroud of Fulcrum Maneuvers’s child-bride, The Woman without a Name; a shard of the knife that pierced the traitor Ari Ollie’s heart in 2002; and in a spe­cially cooled service car complete with armed guard, a hand-reproduced copy of The Book of Maneuvers.

The locomotive’s chimney publishes steam in a fountain of black bile. Dooger’s daily briefings: “You must remember your lines. For worm-sakes, we’re shooting them directly into your fucking ear. You’re a deaf­mute half the time, and when you manage to squeak at all, you sound like a mouse taking a shit while being poked in the ribs. Ah ah ah . . . keep quiet now.

“Thank you, Zebediah.” Qui starts.

The digital record shows Qui choking on the stump, tensing up, freez­ing solid. He squeezes the dry pancreas, still decaying in his pocket, microscopic bits flaking to the floor each time the train curves sharply around the rail to circumnavigate the ferocious fires. The digital record is not a memory for Qui but a living reminder of his failures. He considers placing the base of his tongue against the flesh of the pancreas wrapped in a handkerchief. Salted metal from a deep ocean. Endlessly delightful.

While his personal physician, Madison Mary Todd, dozes on a foam mattress near his king-size bed, Lincoln Qui moves stealthily through three empty train cars to reach the bridge of the Freedom Train caboose. The air is dry and cold. The night threshed with handfuls of eye sand. A carafe of stars twinkles over the platform, pouring uncontained magma onto the earth. The horizon fires pitch a soft green-and-yellow flicker. Qui thrusts his hands into his pocket and fingers the pancreas. He has so often been careful not to . . . lick . . . in the presence of the others. Now, he turns his back to the desert and faces the door of the caboose.

He raises a hand mirror to the expanse behind. The urine-colored glow of the fires recalls the Cultists’ hard dirt, their clay pots, arrowheads. Qui may be a Quadrilateral trespasser, but what claim do these Cultists have? Even Umma-Segnus is an immigrant. “The Worm is beyond this world, little brother little brother.” Qui’s eyes are difficult to parse, hazel sunflow­ers blooming in a field of spring grass. Qui moves his lips, twenty-one years back. Fillmore’s last words. Lincoln watches his mirror lips open in slow motion: the upper jaw mawing the surface of the sky, the lower lip gorging low to the ground; both halves separate into unattached noth­ings overtaken by black dye. Dooger wants her back. The mirror shows Qui nothing of Fillmore’s face, nothing from his memory. He pictures her tongue moving again, and in a flash it comes: [a shadow on the neck of the sun]. Lip-reading in a lightning storm.

A lungful of sand whips into Qui’s open mouth. He squeezes harder on the pancreas and doubles over, coughing. Acid-burn up through the trachea, and he rips the pancreas from his right-hand pocket. Fillmore, lost, somewhere inside. Squeezing tight, Lincoln flings the organ in dis­gust, watching it bounce off a liquid field made hard by the rumbling locomotive before it finally sinks, as the train pushes away, just as Qui vomits little bits of himself, in scatter shot, over the metal grate of the empty caboose.

A prison

The exterior of this Quadrilateral Commission prison appears as a typi­cal industrial nightmare: an oil retention center, enormous white tanks with toy ladders climbing ramrod stiff along the sides. Most Maneuveri­ans shun the crass eyesore of these enormous retention drums, scraggly teeth holding back the remnants of dried and bloody gums receding into the pits of a primeval mouth. Few Quadrilateral residents want to actu­ally see where energy comes from. Circular saws slice an assembly line of feces-bathed chicken, necks smashed against the cold machinery by linemen dumb to the sound of cracking neckbones that goes on forever and ever amen.

And so the kidnapping and mass liquidation of certain intractable el­ements of the opposition party—my Blackout Angels—becomes a sort of medias res for this story. There are no end times for the Cultists of Umma-Segnus; no, the world stops dead on its axis at the first breath of the hoary god’s ancient salt. For the followers of the Worm, time is entirely pliant. But for the Blackout Angels, time is a weapon the Quadri­lateral fucks must never master.

And so, their torture methods are thus staggeringly regressive.

For the dark-night-of-soul scenario, the Quadrilateral troops attempt to win the hearts and minds of their quarry through the mobilization of sacred flowers—campanula and violets, scabious and acorns—photo­synthetic collaborators of ambient light, here, underground, distilled into colorless anodyne. Their apothecary fuck monks cook up wild herbivo­rous injections. I smell the elecampane herb that winged Mercury, god of thieves and turtle shells, shoved down Hephaestus’s throat. With it, they shock me from the Adams Quincy-Adams Quincy corpse.

“Eat shit prepared in a sautéed bilge, you dried-up candy bitches!” I scream, now in my own body. It might be wise for my other captured Angels, None, Nothing, and Number, to cease antagonizing the guards. But I have trained them well. Standing on the small torture stage, naked, amid PVC pipes connecting torment apparatuses to the collection of bodily fluids (stercus in a jar, urine in a lemon milkshake), the trio act like marionettes jerked by a two-bit demiurge run amok on one mother­fucker of a sixth creation day.

I am sectioned off across the room, the leader, in a separate cell along the curved edge of the prison. The guards have drained the Angels, split apart their tongues, triggered cyanide caplets set deep into their most hidden teeth—just enough to make them into pliable zombies. They stagger through death, lifeless and pale.

“Stand up, Dial-Up Networking, it’s time for your regularly scheduled gang rape.”

“Lick my poison twat until your tongue falls out, you obsequious, syco­phantic cur!”

A group of nine guards, all eighteen-to twenty-four-year-old man-pigs sporting commedia dell’arte masks, long-nosed little shits, saunter into my cell like refugees from a dot-com office space. Several sport over­priced watches; all are dressed in expensive Italian suits, shirts of bright, single-color hues, reversible belts set to brown or black depending on shoe color, facial hair trimmed with the numerous humming blades of high-end razors. They circle in my compartment, and at least two of them parry at my body piled into a ball of sexual heat, a purring and cooing declawed kitten. I get them hard with the evolution of my primi­tive backbone. In Mesopotamian Ur, I prescribe medicines for the tired king, his jaw hanging so low that his saliva sizzles on the hot ground. I rub a mixture of sand and mashed berry into the flanks of his penis before the royal court, each member skinnier than the last, the famine sucking them dry while I grow fat and nubile.

“Rise, penis witch!” The same voice, this time louder, and the men begin to chatter about year-end reviews, promotions, 401(k) packages with company matching, stock options offered in a suitcase by overpriced whores swishing their manicured feet in buckets of steaming executive feces; they love it, they say, gets ’em off like a burnt sausage shoved down a well-lubed throat for the money shot of crumbled kielbasa with shots of their asparagus-flavored cum.

“Choke on it, elf-skinned dewberries!”

Tonguing the closest suit, I wiggle my body deep into the crevices of the stone floor. I concentrate on stone and rock, try to cut through layers of congealed molasses. Picture a still life: Vermeer grapeshot, apple core, rotten fish bristling with sharp bones, an emaciated cat frozen above a bread scrap. I’m pulled to my feet and manage to look back once more at the rotten body of Adams Quincy-Adams Quincy maggot cov­ered in my bunk; the prisoners march down a long corridor lit only by a strip of emergency lights and the glimmer of titanium chains double locking the doors. “If you got eyes, ears, and genitals,” they talk at me, “even just one eye, little princess, well then, you’re in here, in your own body, until the Worm comes back again hardy-har-har.”

—[when we speak of the devil, we talk to ourselves]—

The digital record absorbs the charred pancreas as a dark pool might absorb a droplet of muddy rain. The next morning, Qui still coughs. Hacking, sand-encrusted night sweats. Through the window, enormous cacti shrivel fast-forward. The ocean feels solid when encountering high-speed projectiles; why not the opposite? A green carnation wilts in the lapel of his three-piece suit, as Qui walks, again, in daylight, to the bridge of the caboose.

“Unless Lake Michigan pulls a reappearing act in the next two weeks,” Dooger says in the corridor, “You, Washington Jefferson Lincoln Qui, will become the territorial governor, my boy, leader of the statehood transi­tion team.” The digital record will capture the pores of Qui’s face during his acceptance speech, the vast mineral richness of his smile. Today, cov­ered in blackheads, Qui brushes crud from his carnation; lacking water, he washes his fingers with several dry spits into his hand. The wind has cleansed the previous night’s puke from the caboose grate. Disgusted, Qui reenters the train and proceeds to the green-room car, adjacent to his own quarters, where a select group of VIP passengers linger, extras in an Orient Express movie, rimmed around the wet bar, playing hearts on a vibrating table. Video feed from the Post-American mainland. Morning briefing.

“Hey, Joe,” says Qui to one of the many Quadrilateral employees whose name he forgets, never learned. “Gov’nor Qui,” says Joe, playing a trump card, “Don’t want to miss our stop in Jubilation.” He fades into the woodwork like furniture polish. Yes, today. Another opportunity for his recently appointed secretary for indigenous affairs, Tyler Harding Taylor Maneuvers, daughter of Fulcrum Maneuvers, to steal center stage. A for­mer member of the Blackout Angels, in her undercover guise as the agent called Neutron Janey, Tyler Harding Taylor titillates the Interface press corps with tales of her former misbegotten exploits.

A: “I’ll try to answer both parts of your question, Ken. Yes, my alter ego was indeed involved in the Jubilation attack on Mayor Buchanan Gompers. As a double agent, of course. But no, these Blackout Angels don’t actually have supernatural powers. Take one of their stupider agents, goes by the name of Number. Huge blonde Afro, crisscrossing bandoliers, thinks he’s a some sort of albino Black Power character . . . He planted a succession of plastic explosives within the robot mechanisms so that their leader would think she had developed a sort of basic telekinesis. Quite sad, really . . .”

A: “No, that’s only an urban myth. These people don’t have the ability to jump into other bodies, although some of the less-educated Angels believe such mugwumpery. They engage in the most beastly sexual prac­tices, real kinky stuff, in an attempt to inhabit the form of Quadrilateral residents. Take their leader, Dial-Up Networking. Yes, you all know how she supposedly took over the body of Calibration comptroller Adams Quincy-Adams Quincy. Well, most often, yes . . . these crazies actually think they have become their victims. That’s not for me to say, but in this case, Dial-Up Networking had performed a quite ghastly rape on the body of Comptroller Quincy over a period of several hours before don­ning her clothes and makeup and advancing out to wreak havoc at both the Jubilation Senior High School and the Samhain festival. They found the real Quincy locked up in the subbasement of an old water pumping station in the middle of the desert: emaciated, badly bruised from head to toe, and her nose was completely shattered. Most certainly from the devil beatings of these Blackout Angels. Next question . . .”

In this double-agent capacity, Tyler Harding Taylor reports masquer­ading as the one called Neutron Janey with considerable skill, even park­ing a series of empty Ryder trucks outside Quadrilateral governmental buildings in the most populous towns. As local Jubilation executives and the now-paraplegic Mayor Gompers reviewed the Quadrilateral covenants went over budgets jerked themselves off, Janey would crash the truck in a haze of skid and burning rubber, burst out of the vehicle with the speed of coked-up Hermes, and smash the soft flesh of anyone who would dare obstruct her blasts of cotton-candy spooge. All part of the art.

Now, she works the other side as Fulcrum Maneuvers’s daughter; still, her personality became somewhat diffused during in her Blackout Angel stint . . . no surprise since she claimed to the Angels to be Neutron Janey inhabiting the body of what we now know to be herself, Tyler Harding Taylor Maneuvers, on secret missions. Three thousand of her eggs have been frozen in case Qui can’t pull the trigger, and Dooger incessantly forces them together, locks them in the train bathroom as the tracks get bumpy. Qui fumbles with hot-fire lingerie as Tyler Harding Taylor undoes his tie with her manicured nails and middle-income dexterity. “Want to join the mile-long club?” as the train crosses a sallow marsh, a barren meadow.

A series of photographs

The Italian Suits, these scabies-ridden eighteen-to twenty-four-year-old rapists, goose-step back and forth in a semifeudal universe that rewards chest hair with bad cologne. Several of the smaller men fuck us with every­day objects. No imagination. Their leader, a right-wing conservative fundamentalist stock analyst with an auburn beard, goes by the name of Signor Clickermink-Lispsmut. At almost nine feet, he educates through a bullhorn: tells us that dinosaurs lived in the Garden of Eden and rode bareback on Noah’s Ark, hardy-har-har.

Sea creatures, too, forced on to the ark’s wooden deck: “I said two of every animal. You lousy rainbow trout, get ready to hold your breath for forty days forty nights bunking with the triceratops!” He shaves me completely hairless with a flat razor blade and poses me for the digital record. Rats shit over pubic-hair piles in the corner, and he calls me, “My hairless porcelain doll, about to get a taste of the holy ghost.”

For a dance at the gym, I grip None’s pasty arm, and he my waist. They cover my ass with a plaid schoolgirl skirt and paint a widow’s peak out of brylcreem onto None’s bald head. His arms feel clammy as they stick me in bobby socks and insert a tube running from my anus to my mouth. Signor Clickermink-Lispsmut yells at us to look awkward, “You know, a teenage sock hop followed by the old date-rape gambit.” Flash.

“Get bent with a wire-hanger abortion rod!”

For a hot time at the beach party, they pose us behind a blue-screen stu­dio sandlot. Propane and rendered chicken fat power a small, crackling pit. A facsimile of the Interface fires, this one even smells artificial. One of the Suits puts on an old Beach Boys record, “God Only Knows,” as they pose a few of the prisoners warming hands over a vat of bubbling animal lard, fetid, stinking bone: “. . . Life will still go on believe me / The Worm will show nothing to me” They take turns penetrating us with a variety of conch shells and gleaming bivalves. Flash. “So what good would livin’ . . . do me . .. do me . . . do me. . .” Machine scratch.

For “the Upstanding Molesters Club operates on Tin Lizzie,” None, Noth­ing, and Number are bent naked over the engine of an ancient automo­bile. Signor Clickermink-Lispsmut folds an oversized wire hanger fresh from a series of underground abortions into the giant letter M, heats the monstrosity in a two-thousand-degree glory hole where we blow hot glass during mandatory rec time and then, with a casual thrust, brand our white hot asses. Flash.

None drools like a rabid buffalo, and I begin to compromise a bit: “I won’t blame you if you forsake our cause,” I whisper. The Suits take turns nail­ing their already-shriveled Angel dicks against butterfly boards, dangling from chains wrapped around their necks, banging a monkey-wrench symphony against their bloody shins. Flash.

For “sewing argyles for the boys,” my body hangs straight from its arms on enormous meat hooks while a whizzing machine wielding several dozen knitting needles gores my ribs in furious pulsing pricks, drawing blood into a small drizzle from the lowest point on my arm, the crook of my shoulders, streaming onto a pile of half-finished argyle socks wet with cum and industrial surfactant stretched between the posed bodies of two anonymous prisoners. Together, we wear cultured pearls forced on us, Signor Clickermink-Lispsmut tells me, as keepsakes of our womanhood; we hang in a triangle, socks in our hands, yarn wrapped around our feet, the probing needle apparatus reaching up our asses and tickling our vaginas as a dentist drill might entertain a twist of exposed nerve. The Suits wrap a scarf around my neck, checks and plaids, pin the flesh of my head against the fabric and shave along the line of my absent eyebrows.

With my head still down, I flip my eyes from the back of my skull. Nee­dles puncture my skin as the tip of knife might twist through a plastic bag filled with glowing oil. Flash.

And so I absorb, aware, rather than succumb. For I am still a visitor in my own body, detached from the occurrences around me as a desk-bound general decamps from a soldier’s desert beheading. The Interface is a desert, a desert on Post-American soil, a desert of our own making, a collaborative poison composed of the detritus of industrial sludge, E. coli blooms, and the coagulant of human excrement swimming itself into new and better crevices at the bottom of the water, and then, one day, before I was born, the drainage of Lake Michigan begins, and then one day, soon after, nothing but the desert and the fire and the hardy-har-har.

The Suits don’t get it, but their tortures have given me understanding. Fulcrum Maneuvers was on to something at first: the World Worm is emptiness itself, a body filled only with a yearning nothingness that ex­ists in the negation of emptiness. And so I enter this state of emptiness beyond emptiness, this state of never knowing, and press my arms deep into the meat hooks, my ribs into the needles, my pussy harder into the brown plunger pumping my uterus in a water well set miles under the riverbed. I hold my breath while the pressure expands and, according to my will, my desire, pour myself into their machines.

Just as Neutron Janey taught me.