Bad Survivalist: Sebastian Castillo
“It’s when you gallop that your parasites are most alive.”
I used to be a poet of great fame and intellect, but now I’m a dairy farmer. The circumstances under which I came to this station are not particularly unusual. Like many poets, I grew tired of the attention and accolades. I couldn’t leave my house for a trip to the grocers without the gauche fawning of young men and women. The display was grotesque. They would plead, “Lord! Recite me one of your blithe sonnets, the one with the speckled mermaid and horse,” all the while pointing their camera phones in my face. My everyday existence was a pornography.
So, one day, without telling a soul, I departed from my cherished city to a farm in the north. I left with only the clothes on my body, and a few dollars from the sales of my latest monograph. Despite my public stature, I had lost most of my funds from gambling with the local street urchins—my greatest and most persistent vice. Not to mention that a few months prior, my wife and her lover had absconded with much of my life savings.
I passed a few, attractive farms at the outset of my clandestine journey, but none of them had been to my liking. Then, early one morning, I came upon the gold-plated sign for Farm Gustav. Little did I know at the time, but my tenure at Farm Gustav would mark my life in an irrevocable manner—more so than my poetry, my absent wife, the street urchins, the unending praise of my admiring fleet. I would be able to speak of the weather and say the exact thing I meant.
When I arrived, I was greeted warmly by its sole proprietor, Gustav Farm. I was hesitant to mention my name, but upon touring his home and grounds, I was certain that old Gustav seldom opened a book or watched television. He didn’t even have internet connection. All of this elicited in me a great pleasure. I could become a new thing, again. A steward of milk, of the fields, of its dim, sorry creatures.
I spent my time there in relative solitude. Every day, Gustav handed me a ledger of tasks, offered a few banal pleasantries, and then retired to his indoor arboretum. We would eat dinner together in silence, which he graciously prepared for the both of us. I washed the dishes, laid in bed for what seemed like only a few seconds, and then fell asleep from the exhaustion of my pleasurable but taxing labor. I would occasionally hear the sound of a beast scratching on wood, though it felt consigned to my dreams, as if my mind was gently accepting that I had finally escaped the life that had tormented me; a simurgh destroying the landscape of the past.
One morning, a man I had never seen before came to Farm Gustav. He was covered in leather—his shirt, his tie, his jacket. Even his face appeared cracked and tawny. He smiled in my direction before entering the house, while I was shoveling mounds of dung into a plastic container. The ledger requested this of me every day; my first task. Some detest the smell, but it warms me, hewing so close to another being’s inner, secret life—even if it’s only a collection of grass and alfalfa. When Leather smiled it appeared as if a vulture were smiling inside his mouth on his behalf. He remained indoors for close to an hour, and then left with a large, writhing satchel—larger than his frame. Despite this, he carried it with relative ease, juggling it to and fro.
That night, breaching our taciturn custom, I asked Gustav about the man. He told me that Leather was an old friend, a confidant, and a business partner—but—he warned me never to speak to him directly. If I had any questions for Leather, I was to address them first to Gustav, and he would then relay the message. This decorum seemed somewhat irregular to me, and besides, I couldn’t think of a situation where I would need to express anything beyond a greeting to Leather. His gait and affect turned my stomach to acid. I told Gustav as much, and he was pleased. “One’s friends should always dislike each other,” he said, and that was the end of our dinner. Gustav smoked cherry tobacco from a pipe as I washed the cutlery. I heard the thrum of a distant helicopter above us, the mineral-rich water passing over my hands—hands once dedicated to the lyric, now to shit.
That evening, deep into my slumber, I was woken by a man clapping loudly in my room. Was I the performance, and he, my audience? It was Leather. “You should have never come to this place,” he said. “We’re already in the third act. I want to show you the end.” I realized then I was not in my bed, but stuffed in a large, black leather bag, somewhere alien. Squirming. Outside of the bag, Leather and Gustav were having a conversation.
LEATHER: What do we do here at Farm Gustav?
GUSTAV FARM: We murder timorous poets.
LEATHER: And what is he?
GUSTAV FARM: He is a poet of some repute, but idiotic in his habits, and gruesome in his beliefs.
LEATHER: Do you have anything to say for yourself?
NARRATOR (IN A BAG): I just wanted to be a farmer.
LEATHER: And why was that such a great idea?
GUSTAV FARM: To be a farmer is to understand that the absolute worse will come upon on you. And you? Well, you can barely appreciate the pleasures of gambling, or understand why your wife left such a disreputable lout. You: a poet with a mashed brain!
LEATHER: And what shall we do with him now?
GUSTAV FARM: Let’s drive him off a cliff.
LEATHER: Hearing this, Gustav, I spasm with joy, and wrap leather around my body.
They put me in the backseat with Gustav. The future felt like a cold glass of water in a sauna, hydrating and futile. Gustav spoke ceaselessly, telling me agonizing stories of his childhood with brio. Perhaps a display of memory, for him, was a form of taunting? I, who would never remember again? Leather was silent. A dull moment passed where I felt the pulse of thinking run through me, though the thoughts themselves were blanketed. I asked Gustav and Leather if they wanted to hear a poem, the only poem I’ve ever committed to memory. They grunted—not like animals, but humans. We had been driving for a while. The poem was by Miguel James. I recited:
My entire Oeuvre is against the police
If I write a Love poem it’s against the police
And if I sing the nakedness of bodies I sing against the police
And if I make this Earth a metaphor I make a metaphor
against the police
If I speak wildly in my poems I speak against the police
And if I manage to create a poem it’s against the police
I haven’t written a single word, a verse, a stanza that isn’t
against the police
All my prose is against the police
My entire Oeuvre
Including this poem
My whole Oeuvre
Is against the police.
They cried in unison. And hugged each other in unison. Leather rubbing skin. And they shot their instruments at the Lord’s blue in unison. And veered off the dirt road in unison. And drove off the mountain cliff, all of us together, plunging thousands of meters toward the rocks below, cool and indifferent, where I’m now writing this. And it might have been a million years, I stopped counting. I’ve scarcely left my bag. I’ve been sitting here, waiting for the history that begins at the end of other, less trivial things.
Sebastian Castillo is the author of 49 Venezuelan Novels (Bottlecap Press). You can find his writing in Queen Mob’s Tea House, Hobart, Peach Mag, X-R-A-Y Lit Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives in New York, where he teaches writing. Twitter: @bartlebytaco.