I. ON ANIMALS
He found his mom’s Def Leppard tapes when he was five. His step-father whipped her with a belt when he heard what the amputee, not an amputee at the time, was listening to. The night his step-father whipped his mom, the boy had a dream about a deaf leopard. The leopard communicated telepathically. She told him the best use of anyone’s time was to stab a knife into his face, and then she tried to eat him.
II. PORTRAIT OF THE AMPUTEE AS A YOUNG MAN
When he was fifteen, they sent him away to Vista Del Mar, a youth mental facility in southern California. He’d been put on pills by the family doctor several months before, but the pills set him off even worse. The doctor prescribed Zyprexa for schizophrenia and/or bipolar disorder, and Wellbutrin for depression. In Vista Del Mar they excused Wellbutrin from his diet and fed him protein shakes because he was losing weight.
He met decent but troubled people. An overweight Hispanic lesbian claimed to be a Wiccan and a Satanist. He set her straight on her religion. Bobby was sixteen. He had a Jack Skellington tattoo. He was in Vista for shooting at someone.
Nobody received help, and even though the doctors were concerned about his weight, they never gave him the egg salad sandwich he was told he had to eat in addition to the bland, unhealthy meals they fed them. Kids in there were losing weight.
He only stayed in there for a few days. He begged his parents to get him out. Nobody got help in Vista Del Mar. You waited and waited and waited for something to pass that never would. They made the males and females switch dorms twice, for no real purpose that anyone saw. Even the doctors admitted the futility of the place. Most people watched television. The boy read Lovecraft, Eliot, and Plath.
He had seen a demon in the summer prior to this winter visit. That’s why they sent him there. He was depressed, he knew, but not unsound. The demon was gray and eyeless. It stood over him one night. He had experienced ghosts in his childhood as well.
He was straight edge, drug free, so it most certainly was not drugs.
He took Zyprexa until June, when he began slipping the pill under his tongue when his parents gave it to him each night. By the end of summer, he thought he needed to burn down the church where he was baptized as a baby in order to free himself.
Free himself from what, he’ll never know.
He remembers that summer, lying on his bed and feeling up a girl who was three years older. They’d met online. She had big tits, but she wouldn’t let him fuck her. They never spoke again after that.
He hid away and wrote and played guitar. He lost his boyish charm. He grew ugly and fat. He wrote a song a day for several years. He sold tapes of his songs that he recorded in his parent’s basement. This period was characterized by intense focus on his work, fueled in part by insomnia. Never sleep. Even when he drifted off while driving and flipped his car on Highway 41, he still couldn’t sleep. He still can’t. He won’t.
After high school he moved to the beach and fell into his most manic phase. He believed shadowy agents were coming for him. He failed to sleep thirty-odd nights in a three month period. He wrote and recorded up to seven songs a day. He fell in love for the first time in his life. He will not talk about her. When she refused him, he decided to see some of the world and bought a one-way ticket to South America
He was innocent. He was not this angry, violent person you see today. He had damaged many people, but it was nothing compared to the things he’d done to the woman in the House of Agonies. It was nothing like the past few years, the past few days, or the past few hours, but right now he is learning how to open up about the better times.
III. HOW THE AMPUTEE BECAME THE AMPUTEE WHILE IN SOUTH AMERICA
When the witch doctor amputated his legs, it became clear to the man that his diabetes had gotten out of hand. He had lost his entire penicillin supply on his third day in the jungle, when a giant river fish overturned his boat. The fish was insane, Stromboni, his guide, told him later. After decades of toxic runoff from America-owned factories, a parasitic worm had appeared in the river. The worm lived in the brains of river animals. It gave them a taste for human flesh. The river incident happened weeks ago. Now Stromboni was dead.
Until the amputation, the man had forgotten all about the giant fish. He’d seen much worse in the days that followed. He had crossed alligator nesting grounds and outwitted a clouded leopard god. He had fallen in love all over again. He had grown sick.
The witch doctor cauterized his leg stump with the viscous sap of a tree that only grew underground. The sap healed wounds as well as any first world sterilizer, but it burned like hell. The man bit down on the leathery root in his mouth. He buried his overgrown fingernails into the calloused meat of his palms and fought against the ropes that fastened his limbs to the hut’s dirt floor.
The root was removed and a wooden bowl was pushed against his lips. He was forced to drink. The liquid solidified in his mouth. He tried to spit it out, but already his lips were fastened shut. The witch doctor lay a hand on his forehead and told him to breathe. He took a breath, somehow, and another breath.
“You need no words to breathe,” the witch doctor said. “You need air. The cactus mud is full of air. Swallow it and you may breathe in the river.”
IV. THE LAST SONG THE AMPUTEE EVER WROTE BEFORE SETTING FIRE TO HIS GUITAR AND FLYING BACK TO AMERICA, ONLY TO DISCOVER A DEAD, DESERTED COUNTRY (DESPITE THE EMPTY AIRPORTS, THERE WERE THOUSANDS OF COMMERCIAL PLANES IN THE SKY), SO HE WANDERED LEGLESS UNTIL HE CAME TO THE HOUSE OF AGONIES
He drops his pants and falls on hands and knees.
He sheds a tear and bites his tongue, nose against the floor.
His father says, “I’m sorry son. I’m sorry for what it’s worth.
Forgive me for my duty. In punishment is truth.”
The belt cracks down against his back. He feels its leather girth.
“You are strong for you are my son, but what you did was wrong.”
The belt cracks down against his back. He tastes its leather tongue.
He sees his brother wave from the boat upon the pond.
His father says, “I could never bear to lose you.”
He sees the boat keel over. His brother, he goes down.
The belt cracks down against his back. He is warmed by his own blood.
His father says, “I will never let you freeze.”
The belt cracks down, the belt cracks down, the belt cracks down once more.
His father says, “It purifies your blood.”
He sees his brother’s face when they dragged him up on shore.
Someone said, “I’m sorry, for what it’s worth.”
V. CULT DISCOGRAPHY
While the amputee was in South America, before he became the amputee, he picked up a cult following. His home-recorded tapes became rare collector’s items. He’d deleted his MySpace music page prior to leaving the country, so nobody knew who he was for a while. People speculated on blogs and message boards.
The amputee had omitted contact information from the liner notes of his recordings. This, it should be noted, was a totally accidental oversight. He honestly did not set out to be ‘mysterious’ about himself. He’d just never considered the possibility that someone might enjoy his music enough to try and seek him out. He wrote and recorded music, leaving the tapes in public places and sometimes giving them away to people on the street, because he felt driven by an inward light. The same light led him to South America and, eventually, to the House of Agonies.
He played one live show in his whole career, opening for the punk band Total Chaos at Jerry’s Pizza when he was seventeen. They booed him offstage. This was before Against Me! and folk punk. Anarchists did not appreciate acoustic music in those days.
No more than a few dozen copies were known to exist of any of his recordings. Pitchfork got wind of this whole thing when a purportedly one-of-a-kind tape called NOTHING BUT SKIN AND TEETH sold on eBay for $639.23. By this point, most of the amputee’s known discography was available for illegal download, but nobody had heard NOTHING BUT SKIN AND TEETH.
Pitchfork compared him unfavorably to Jandek and David Tibet. The reviewer expressed some doubt over the validity of the Skin and Teeth Auction, as she coined it (the Pitchfork reviewer was a female).
A few months later, the internet disappeared. All record of the amputee’s cult status was erased completely.
He returned, legless, from South America shortly after.
Pity the country was dead.
Pity he wasn’t famous.
VI. THE WOMAN
He found the woman in the gutter. He took her to his room and he tied her up and raped her.
The leopard and the platypus took little interest in the woman. They had been living in the House of Agonies when the amputee moved in. The only thing they asked after he found the woman was that he pay a little more rent. Right from the start, the amputee loved the woman, so he agreed to pay more rent.
He fucked her and loved her and paid higher rent to keep her. He drew her face on the floorboards, drawing her over and over so the faced blurred and the amputee broke down sobbing. He stabbed himself in the wrist with a pencil. The lead tip broke off within.
More than anything, he wanted her to love him.
But he didn’t know how.
The amputee didn’t know how to convince the woman to love him.
If only she could see her face on the floorboards, the black lump in his wrist.
The amputee talked to her about tropical islands. He asked if she would like to go on a vacation.
Sometimes he stared into her eyeless socket for hours.
This one-eyed woman, she was everything to the amputee. He had to keep her tied up. He couldn’t let her get away.
VII. THE WORRY OF HIS DOMAIN
The worry of his domain swelled into a thing that could sit next to him and breathe. Dragging himself along by his hands, the worry followed. He fumbled down streets, swinging a deflated balloon like a limp dog as the worry galloped behind and nipped at his heels. Not himself these days. On other days perhaps, there was the hope or possibility of returning to his former self, but no more than a glimmer. Now he was departing the House of Agonies, gone into a place where and all the roads were made of sand, converging. He would have a final showdown with his worry. Only one of them would return to the House of Agonies that evening. He wondered how easy it would be to stab a knife into something you could always feel but never touch. He wondered, if the worry returned in his place, would the woman notice?