As a casual introduction to a previously unmatched festival of sweetbread gorging, I guzzle a thick slice of grilled provolone at a local parrilla. Bubbling hot outside; elastically runny and cool inside, with the exterior appearance of a rice cake. Smothered in chimichurri sauce, sporting a stylish jamón jacket and a sweaty red pepper cravat. Drool.
A few hours pass; reading, relaxing, inwardly digesting. You know how it is. I retire. Slumber sneaks in.
It’s not long before I find myself at a remote ranch. I’m hanging around outside, a little way from the saloon, shooting the shit with the horsehands as they play training games with their lassos. We discuss the finer points of ZZ Top; though I don’t venture this opinion, I feel like ‘La Grange’ is a pretty suitable selection for the current scenario. But I digress, as the real action is making its way towards us, with a studied nonchalance I find unconvincing.
Two figures have shown up. Three. They’re strangely attired, like Buddhist monks, with heads like the Mos Eisley cantina band players’. Kind of. Bit more rounded, maybe? Anyway, you know how it is. Takes all sorts.
There’s a strange, eerie sense of calm attached to these guys - and I mean, attached. Bolted on. I’d like to say it emanates from them, but that’s not so - it’s artificially affixed. Never mind my misgivings, though, as they seem to exert an attraction to the animals; they’re calling, somehow, to the horses, and in turn to their handlers. My companions seem to fall in line with their charges, as these silent, strangely ethereal, yet somehow lumpen characters start to lead wordlessly away from the habitation. I’m falling in, too. Though I don’t really know why. It seems like the thing to do.
We trot along while the countryside gradually transforms around us; starting out a mixed, rocky, sandstone grey, verdure creeps increasingly in, and the terrain starts to rise. A couple more of these types appear in the middle distance, their robes ruffling lightly in a low breeze, and I realise I’m feeling more than a bit uneasy about all this. But it’s what’s happening, so there it is. Their numbers swell as we start up what’s now obviously a tree-lined hill, moving towards a growth of forest at the top, and I realise each of them is singing some kind of siren song to a small group of people like us, drawing them as we’re drawn, without reason or explanation, now obviously more herding than guiding.
Breaking through into a clearing as we crest the peak, I feel a sudden urge to kneel. I don’t know why, but it’s immediately as if I’d always wanted to kneel, here, now - and as I do, I see others doing the same, and hear a voice singing a pacifying lullaby inside my head, a lilting, rising, falling musical hook into my brain, reassuring, mollifying, nullifying: “there’s other people here, there’s other people here”. A robed shape comes up behind each of them, like some strangely static dervish, and with a muted horror I realise that the positions, the kneeling people, facing the floor while these creatures move silently toward the back of their heads, form a tableau of mass execution. I see no weapons but I see clear, ineluctable intent. No-one else sees it, no-one’s trying to get away; but I have to run.
With an unexpectedly uncomplicated wrench, I manage to break myself out of what’s become a strange, subdued reverie, and I try to move away without being detected. I see a couple of them noticing me, duck away under branches hanging down from the canopy and try to walk back down the hill, but my muscles start to disobey me. There’s no sense of struggle; the physical sensation’s transformed into conceptual awareness, the realisation dawns that this is how it should be, this is how it was always meant, like some longed-for expedition to Petrin Hill. But I don’t want this! I don’t want this, I don’t want to want it - but it doesn’t matter. It’s what they want me to want. I see how much better they are at this. There was never anything I could have done. The camera angle lowers, two slender, white-garbed figures hove into view as I descend to my knees and I see only their lower halves, my sight starts to swim, it’s inevitable - and I wake.
Jaws clenched, staring intently at the counterpane, stupefied by the cold hard lines of 5am slicing through my vision, I push myself to rise and, staring hard at my reflection in the bathroom mirror to enforce concrete existence, try to block out the ear-worm. There’s other people here … there’s other people here …