by Guy Walker
Get ready world, you’ve arrived at Burning Man.
Dust devils swirl haphazardly around the rangy frontier. The white silt effluvium is so fine and prominent, it feels like pulverized air, blinding your eyes immediately as you step out from your rented RV. A vulture with one large white blind eye limps across the playa, dragging his baggy gizzard on the ground behind him. You take your first promising footstep into this new world, like a Neil Armstrong in your re-issued H&M moccasins and green grip tape over your nipples, ready to Instagram your way to nirvana.
But something immediately looks wrong. In the dusty forlorn infinity, the temporary city shimmers and hums like the nightmarish echos of Pompei, those petrified corpses who were perfectly preserved in molten ash for two thousand years. Ancient mummified castaways stir from their fetal position, two lovers embracing one another, or a boy running away from the cascading inferno, are all jolted back to life. From space, Burning Man looks like a fungal scab, a menacing ulcer of a greying crust emulsified with florescent specs of a cosmic turbulence. From the ground, the garish otherworldly architecture and fashion comes to life.
But still, you remind yourself, you’ve arrived, under the miasma of a dust-choked sky. What was once the normal sedentary loneliness of the desert, and its strange otherworldly milieu, now clamors with posh squadrons, armies of bohemian zombies. The clouds creep away sullenly, leaving the scorching sun overhead just an evil all-seeing eye. Days go by. You’ll never know how many exactly. Days are just a construct anyways. Your posse has just crawled from your kuddle puddle, leaving the cloistered air of the tent whispering with strange gasses left behind. Your best friend, Alchemy, got a tattoo of an eagle’s feather on her forearm a week ago, and now it’s infected, festering like the gurgling ponds that brought the first forms of life to earth. Then there’s Leaf, a thirty-five year old trust fund prodigy, with really great energy. He starts one of his usual bits about various conspiracy theories. Katy Perry is actually JonBenet Ramsey. Chipotle’s E. coli outbreak was a manufactured bioterrorism because of their anti-GMO policy. Pokémon Go is a government ploy to spy on our location. California’s drought is geoengineered, and you should actually water as much as you like. There’s Indigo and Bear, a polyamorous couple from Venice Beach, who carry their baby in an olive green linen wrap (Bear also uses this as a loin cloth when using his personal cryo-chamber, so he still gets the full-bodied benefit but his wife doesn’t see his cock shrunken down to a root nodule). Indigo is on a tangent from the California drought topic: ”That’s really interesting. Because I ‘water’ my plants with my mensuration—I prefer to say ‘my monthlies,’ honestly. Menstruation is so clinical, and women aren’t clinical things are we? You don’t study us in a lab do you?!—and they’re thriving!” As Bear continues nursing the baby from his teet, Indigo takes another blotter tab of acid, and proceeds to collapse to the white ashen earth, her limbs writhing with expressive freedom, her sunburnt tits now covered in the enviable desert patina. She moans and gasps for air, but only inhales the weightless sediment, choking and coughing violently until she passes out and slowly cooks down to a shriveled hunk of jerky over the remaining days. Finally, there’s Areola, a sapiosexual boho chic creature, more accoutrements of free-spiritedness than flesh. The delicate chain that used to connect her nose piercing to her ear medallion is now the size of an anchor chain, the dead weight dragging on the ground behind. Her gold and hemp bracelets have swollen into pointless heaps of jewels and rope. She murmurs something incoherent from behind the mulchpile of glittering flare.
You know something is wrong. Burning Man was supposed to be better this year. But none of the events went as planned. Every yoga session is some predictably sepulchral rehearsal of people trying to do headstands, and falling and kicking each other in the teeth and balls. You were told there were going to be lectures of varying topics—communal living, benefits of psychedelic mushrooms, nuclear energy—but now the speeches are spoken word diatribes about how the land we’re temporarily residing on is land stolen from the Paiute. Where was once a vendor giving out free vegan cupcakes sits a puppeteer’s haunted den of curdling blue frosting, and a Smerdyakov character hunched on all fours, shoveling the candied slop into his toothless mouth, his lip-smacking greed a violent masticated torrent of offense. Even the sex orgy tent, once a reliable triumph of polyphagous voyeurism, is now a shamble of coruscating gore, the edges of the tent fluttering its tattered wind flaps against the sanguinary sky, its skeleton of acacia wattles cracking into anemic splinters, dry sotols and tumbleweeds clustered at the edges of the abandoned entryway like lost artifacts from a time when things actually grew from the soil. Most of the famously garish art structures are just rotting heaps of warped lumber under the sky of a seething cauldron.
An Andean condor lands crookedly atop the circus-tent-point of the huge shade structure, and stares directly at you. He stretches out his wings like a cormorant, and blocks out the sun, the ominous eclipsing shadow sending a cool shiver rippling across the citified badlands. You turn to Alchemy. “Wh-Wha-What’s happening?” you whisper through trembling glittered lips. “I want to go home.” She turns to you, and she too glares at you directly in the eyes. “But we are home,” she smiles, and clenches your hand harder, her talons crunching your hand into a nub of broken bones.
Someone dressed in steampunk post-apocalypse leather walks by on their thirty-foot stilts, teetering across a lifeless army of strewn bodies, looking more like a Dali painting than the typical swollen haze of fun you’re used to out here in the desert. You’ve always identified as being homefree rather than homeless, but still, you know this is not the place you were promised. You scream, and flail your arms like a child having a temper tantrum. You wake from this nightmare. Thank god. You’re in the warm dark cocoon of your bedroom, and flip the pillow over to the cool side, and flop your head back down in relief. But then, your bedroom door creaks open slightly, and you jolt up in terror.
A woman steps in, mostly naked, with half her head shaved and the other half with unwashed dreadlocks down to her ankles. She is dressed in this perverse silvery space lingerie, and tip-toes toward you with every floorboard beneath her creaking violently. She pirouettes with long pink and purple ribbons, like predatory ivies sprouting from each finger. She dances in front of you, for you, like a menacing mating ritual, trying to seduce you into her torture chamber. She smiles like a cartoon serpent, and her eyes widen, the glossy whites of her eyes shimmering with mother-of-pearl. “You’re home,” she slithers. “Welcome back.” And you smile, fading away again to sleep.