At First I Tried to be Someone

David Rice

I wanted everyone to have to change because of me. I wanted to become a wrathful god, to write something that would become the only thing ever written.

I took grim stabs, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, then in my twenties, and meant it. Opened a direct line to the bad place where the things that are true hide out.

“I will be the one,” I declared in my room. “It will be me and no one else. I will be my coward’s murderer.”

I pictured drowning him in the tub, whoever was in me who craved peace, nailing him soggy to the wall so I’d never forget.

I lived alone in a housing block outside of town, free of all need but this one, and it grew uncurbed, taking over the neighboring rooms, the neighboring floors, the co-op garden.

I put in slave hours, pounding away, cooking my belly organs in gusts of steam.

Got skinny, livid.

There got to be drafts, files, bloats of text.

I crushed sugar and oil down my front, whatever to keep going, suet under my nails and lemon juice in my eyes.

I got close to bringing the first one to life, milking it out of me and onto its own two feet, snarling and sweaty, rougher than I could teach it to be, my arm veins rigid as spined reptiles as I typed, when something happened to me, or I did something.

I was summoned to court, and the magistrate squinted down from his perch and said, “Did you do it? Why did you do it? What did you do?”

When asked to describe it and swear my innocence, I went into a swoon, not quite sleep but a swimming head from which I could carry out no action in my defense.

Very faint images of what they could not utter – body, blood, scales, smoke, gauze, muslin, hooks, water, nails – fled through me, but whether from memory or fantasy I could not, and did not, say.

I made no admission, though they ran footage of my housing block quarantined, survivors dying in hospital.

“He did what we’d all lived with the hope could not be done,” said the enemy-lawyer.

Those in the courtroom, behind veils, softly groaned.

“You will never live this down. You have rotted clear through your name, summoned down the years of decay overnight,” warned the magistrate. “You cannot go on as who and what you’ve been. We can prove nothing, and will keep no file, but here is your terminal. Jettison if you care to persist.”

So I did.

Out back of the courthouse, June, hatched creatures from the countryside fresh-wandered into town for the summer, I loosened my belt and opened my mouth and, digging a pit with my sneaker, emptied in my name, bundled with the contaminant of what I’d done, and with it also all of my work.

Goodbye to all that, then, everything I’d begun and would leave now unfinished, ordering a steak sandwich and fries at a diner like some drifter from Jim Thompson, refills on coffee, and thought about what to do now that I was nameless.

Waiting for the Greyhound, I skulked past the pit, already sealed over, my name and work dwindling back down and in, gangly stalks and stems trying to stuff themselves back into seeds. Perhaps they’d be received again into the portent-pool, to be fished up and used by others; perhaps they were already too tainted by me to be touched again and would wander the loneliest borough of hell, safe from all attention, from now on.

Years (seriously) went by and I wrote a crate of bestselling paperbacks and became good at wasting a lot of time while seeming only to waste a little.

Spy novels, long novels, love novels, black on white, WWIII, terror of the many in the eye of the one, blood oaths and intelligent design…I papered over what grocery store people left open in their lives and bodies and got to eat tartufo’s with tastemakers and have my picture snapped at the Oscars.

I became the preeminent something of something, barely alive in a pre-fab in Florida, blacking out for hours of the day.

Nothing caught my eye, all these years, while my kids came and went, and wives, agents, until there surfaced a report about a new story by an author no editor claimed ever to have met.

He called himself Blut Branson and had written something that readers were drowning in, “Like,” the front page report put it, “ants in a bowl of fermenting sugar-water left on a windowsill in direct sunlight at the very end of the planet’s final summer, when the stakes are highest.”

The story was emailed just before dawn to an intern at the magazine, the report claimed, and there was never any question about printing it, nor ever any follow-up from the account it’d been sent from, subject line DO NOT REPLY.

People in the tens of millions were falling under this story, falling into it, opening themselves to lie naked and spinning at this story’s feet.

I sent away for a hard copy.

Before it arrived, another report surfaced of another story, in a rival magazine, credited likewise to Blut Branson, whom no one there could recall any dealings with except for the same late-night email submission, subject line the same, to an equivalent intern.

The regular books and stories, mine included, blew away like burnt crusts shaved off a hock of cooking meat, down the grease spout to the drain.

Libraries and bookstores were junked; no one would read anything else ever again. The burden of human literature was lifted as the burden of Blut Branson slammed home.

When the truck came to my door requesting my manuscripts, I announced they’d already been torched, flashed a photo of the pyre.

Forty more reports of Blut Branson stories surface. I order all the magazines.

Like a secret army that’s spent years planning its takeover of a decadent nation, the reports (the only world news by this point) posit that he’s spent years silently and secretly at work, in some secure locale, anonymous until this vast fruition.

A manhunt is called on and the press and the police and the Weirdo Nation scour the highways and message boards in search of Blut Branson embodied.

I barely bother to confirm that they’ve found nothing.

There are riots, mass suicides, massacres, mass pregnancies, forced weddings, Church bombings, a rush on guns and dry goods.

The day the magazines arrive, twined together in a bundle by a postman wearing gloves and looking insomniac, I charter a boat into the Everglades.

I stop at some place that seethes Indian significance, swamp totems half submerged. This will do.

The boatman takes his iPad behind a lean-to, and I am left in quiet.

I slice the twine with my hunting knife, which I’ve carried ever since my court appearance, when they claimed it was found on my person, unconscious at the scene of the crime, handed it back to me at the end in a Ziploc bag.

I’ve stared at it often while waiting for the next page of a novel to materialize, creeping up to the very edge of the break in my memory, sticking its tip around me in the dark, feeling for a tatter of what I jettisoned, a single letter of my lost name.

Perched on a log, I don’t have to read the Blut Branson stories to know they are mine.

Indeed, I could not have read them: a quick scan of the words, their shapes on the page, their feel under my palms hovering half an inch above the paper, the way they seep when I turn the magazine upside down …

I wait until we’re out of the Everglades to say it, thinking it might help my mind to spend the return journey in a state of delayed awareness, a la-la land.

I’m in the shower—a man in his fifties, burning through a whole bar of soap— when out it pours, my vessels bursting: “I’m Blut Branson!” I shriek, loud enough for my housekeeper to assume I’m soused again, which I am.

It feels triumphant, frightening. “I’m Blut Branson!” I shriek again. “After all these years in hiding, I’ve finished what I started!”

I get out and dressed, burn my Florida house to the ground, and board the Greyhound to Washington. The station is a chaos of masked men and tear gas, but the bus makes it out eventually.

Appearing before the court, filthy with press, surrendering my knife, I admit everything.

“I did it. It was me. Blut Branson did what you accused me of all those years ago, but it was me, as him, or him, through me,” I struggle to make sense, though I doubt it much matters if I do.

Today’s magistrate is the same one as then, his expression the same.

I go on: “Your advice to me then was to jettison him and all he’d begun through me, into a pit behind this courthouse, and I, fearful, did. I jettisoned enough to trick all of you and most of me, but something down there kept hold. Now, and I never thought it would, that thing has come to bloom and cast its awful shadow over this world.”

The magistrate appears to listen.

“I am correct in understanding you wish me to bind this name to you?”

I tell him yes and stand at attention as he sentences me to death.

“When you kill me, I will become Blut Branson entirely. What I grew into, the coward you see here, will evaporate. Blut Branson will be all that is left,” I inform my executioner, like a precocious child going in for his first overnight surgery holding hands with the kindly anesthetist saying I can choose a flavor for the gas.

But when he hangs me he doesn’t use a rope.

The floor drops beneath my feet and I fall, hands tied, head hooded.

It’s dark down here. I can feel the heat and mixture of hardness and softness of a great many others, wriggling and crawling in a padded pit.

They’re whispering and whimpering, sometimes nonsense and sometimes, when, after many days, I agree to open my ears, the words, “I’m Blut Branson … I’m Blut Branson … no, Blut Branson is me.”

I don’t know if this is how it ends, but it’s how it is for now, all of us sentenced the same, food and water raining down at night, in through the holes we’ve chewed in our hoods, all of us crawling over one another toward some valve at the top, our mouths open like baby birds squabbling in a nest for the wormy beak of our mother, as if there at the very top lurks the magistrate, who will decide, if only we can make him remember us, who gets to wear that name amidst so much shit-reek and human jelly.

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David Rice is a writer and animator from Northampton, MA, currently editing his first novel. His interests cluster around horror, noir, experimental and science fiction, and the grotesque. He has stories in Black Clock, The Last Magazine, Identity Theory, Spork Press, The Bad Version, The Night Café, and The Harvard Advocate. He writes the ongoing fiction project A Room in Dodge City (aroomindodgecity.com) and the graphic novel Lazy Eye Stories (lazyeyestories.com). He’s online at: www.raviddice.com.