[Below is an excerpt from Brooks Sterritt’s new novel The History of America in My Lifetime. Get your copy here!]

 


 

The first powder they provided for our enjoyment sharpened something inside me, and dulled something else. My body ceased functioning in the way I was accustomed. Reagan switched on speakers in the room’s corner, filling the air with what may have been a brown note. The two of them flanked a lamp, and sort of shimmied there, watching me. I was reminded of Giotto’s Death and Ascension of St. Francis, for the angels of course but also for what was hidden inside the cloud. In foreground: corpse, mourners, roughly ten haloed angels (some with illegible faces), and the ascendant St. Francis. The cloud, though, contained the face of what could only be a devil, demon, imp, daemon, fiend, or fallen angel. What else watches from a cloud?

 

The better question: what did “demon” really mean? Even if you reject the label, some things shined with enough intensity to make direct viewing of the source impossible. Some had an ability to control brightness, to blur certain aspects of themselves, even to cloud a mind or two. 

 

The second powder they gave me caused my body to sink into what felt like a jelly-filled bag. A series of sounds: paper being shredded in slow-motion, a chainsaw backwards, the sound of a single finger snap echoing, extended until it sounded like a hiss of flame. I breathed heavy electricity. A layer of clear glass emerged between my eyes and surroundings, which then shattered, reemerged, and shattered, until the ceiling extended into an infinite corridor. Woodland paths and streams became visible in the tile, a maze buzzed into the hair on someone’s gargantuan head. The pair of attendants were sitting on the edge of the bed, talking.

 

“They always say they can go forever,” Reagan said.

“Like, I’m going to fuck you for hours,” the other said.

“Then, a few minutes later…”

 

They were laughing. The room grew smaller as pieces of my body elongated, siphoned off into a zone of immense pressure. I became convinced the two of them were planning to kidnap, torture, and kill me. I could hear them discussing this while I was paralyzed. I heard one whisper the phrase “make him disappear for good.” Their plan, as I heard it, was to render me unconscious with an electroshock weapon, tie me up, and load me into the trunk of a little gray Honda: a Civic or an Accord. They wouldn’t stop on the way to the countryside. They would weight the handcuffs and legcuffs binding me so that I’d be unable to generate noise by striking the trunk’s roof. Their plan was to drive to a secluded rural area, forested, park the car, and tie me to a tree. The final component of this plan, of which I grew more certain with each passing second (though each passing second, due to time dilation, felt stretched to at least a minute and a half), was to take out my gag and torture me to death while filming the process.

 

Most purported snuff films are not only hoaxes, but highly unoriginal. In fact, none have been verified, if one considers the definition of “snuff” as a commercially sold film containing an actual murder. Though tapes have been seized as evidence in murder cases, none of them, so far, have featured the actual moment of death. More importantly, the murders themselves were not undertaken for the purpose of commercial entertainment. Numerous films contain footage of dead bodies, though never the final moment. More than one entirely fake film, from the 1970s in particular, has been crafted in such a painstakingly elaborate and realistic fashion as to incite a panic. Accidental deaths don’t count. Wartime footage doesn’t count. According to my research, however, Charles Manson and his Family did perhaps record a snuff film in 1969 using equipment stolen from an NBC-TV truck. More concretely, signs point to a snuff film of Al Goldstein’s last moments, authorized by the pornography and free speech agitator himself.

 

Even more concretely, according to what I was about to learn, one of the biggest snuff games in snuff town, the Coca-Cola Company of Snuff, the Francis Ford Coppola of Snuff, the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus of Snuff, The Oscar Mayer of Snuff, The Vladimir Putin of Snuff, The Steven Spielberg of Snuff, The Cirque du Soleil of Snuff, the Queen Mother of Snuff, the Maersk Triple E Class Container Ship of Snuff, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man of Snuff, the Queen Mary 2 Ocean Liner of Snuff, the Cthulhu of Snuff, the Warren Buffett of Snuff, the Son of Sam of Snuff, the Big Black Monolith of Snuff, the King Ghidorah of Snuff, the Rasputin of Snuff, the Godzilla of Snuff, the Issei Sagawa of Snuff, the Mount McKinley of Snuff, the Superorganism of Snuff, the Great Barrier Reef of Snuff, the African Bush Elephant of Snuff, the Sauropod of Snuff, the Saltwater Crocodile of Snuff, the Blue Whale of Snuff, the White Whale of Snuff, the Cleopatra VII Philopator of Snuff, the Holy Ghost of Snuff, the Emperor of Snuff, the Godfather of Snuff, the Man Behind the Curtain of Snuff, the Caesarion of Snuff, the Taipei 101 of Snuff, the Sultan of Snuff himself, was none other than Lucian Bevacqua.

 

***

 

I was immersed in an online search for one of Bevacqua’s rare films, a love story of sorts called Friendly Fire. The film was a split-screen affair that tracked the movements of two strangers—a man and a woman—as they went about their business for one year in the same city. Though initially unknown to one another, the film depicts the two strangers shopping at the same grocery store, strolling through the same neighborhood, watching the same television shows alone in their separate apartments. The film culminates in a series of encounters in which the two become more than strangers, more than friends.

 

Unfortunately, every file I downloaded of the film turned out to be pure static. I had to give up for the moment, but did locate another Bevacqua offering called Faces of Gaddafi, assembled out of the five known mobile phone videos of the dictator’s final moments. Artful, slow-motion repetitions of Gaddafi emerging from a drain, walking down a hill, touching his head wound, and staring at his bloody fingers in confusion. I read on a number of fan sites that Bevacqua became obsessed with footage of Gaddafi’s death after learning that Vladimir Putin had reportedly become fixated on the footage as well, watching it over and over with the fear that he would be the next to go. On both counts, I could understand completely.

 

***

 

I typed the president’s name, attempted to retrieve footage from inside the White House, to no avail. Recalling that Michael Bloomberg’s social security number had once been leaked online, I found and entered the digits, bringing up a menu of the former mayor’s homes in Colorado, Bermuda, The Hamptons, London, and so on. Footage from inside his limestone mansion on the Upper East Side yielded overhead camera views from a number of mostly empty rooms, footage of a housekeeper on a smoke break, a head-on shot of an immense Sunpan Modern Bugatti Grain Leather Sofa in white, the vantage point suggesting a nearby smart TV as the source of the footage, camera view from inside a private elevator, camera views from five flights of stairs the mayor claimed to use in lieu of the elevator, close-up footage of the man himself, head framed by white tile, a small soft blue painting glass-protected against moisture over his shoulder, his face contorted in some act of physical exertion.

 

***

 

A wave of starlings or blackbirds or the usual mass-traveling dark things poured out of a nearby field and continued in a nearly unbroken undulating mass for far longer than seemed possible. It turned out they were fleeing the sound of a distant helicopter, its rotor blades circulating while appearing still, a solid ring made by the revolving blades slicing through air so quickly that their image remained behind. A film projection of sorts.

 

***

 

The area around the stranger’s face undulated, was impossible to hold in view for long. I’ve since learned that this effect is called “fogging,” or “tiling” in television and film. One couldn’t help but think of the reality TV series involving law enforcement in which the faces of perpetrators were often blurred, or any number of true crime shows featuring surveillance footage. With a glance, I tried to take in the floating flesh-colored squares that obscured his head and shoulder region. Struggling for something fixed, my eyes settled on a black lapel pin featuring a symbol: a little letter.

 

 

Brooks Sterritt is the author of The History of America in My Lifetime and assistant professor of English at the University of Houston-Victoria. His writing has appeared in The Nation, The Believer, The New Republic, and Subtropics.

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