The ring is sparsely decorated: a white mat with pleasant turquoise bands to hold the war in. The crowd’s looking at it. The lights go down. Chad Harbach walks out into the middle of the ring. The crowd goes silent.
He clears his throat. Points a rusty revolver at the ceiling. Fires it.
George Saunders crawls under the ropes with a folding chair and unfurls it, sitting down cross-legged in the corner of the ring. Chad Harbach has retreated to the announcer’s table. Meanwhile, Maria Adelmann walks onstage with her hands in her pockets. She looks out idly at the stage-lights, the thousands gathered in the stands. Suddenly Eric Bennett leaps into the ring with a sheaf of paper and clocks Adelmann in the head with it. He stands there, suddenly mournful, looking at what he’s done. George Saunders still sits on his folding chair with his hands in his pockets, looking mildly perplexed.
Happily, David Foster Wallace’s ghost descends from the hanging jumbotron and transfixes Bennett, staring him in the face. Bennett, frozen, doesn’t see Alexander Chee sneak onto the stage until it’s too late. Chee steps over Adelmann’s body and places his hand on Bennett’s shoulder, gingerly, understandingly, and is joined by Melissa Flashman, her hand on Chee’s shoulder, drawing an ooh of awe from the audience. Everyone can see it: they’re about to inflict the rumored Double Sublimation Move on Bennett. But suddenly, Emily Gould is on the stage, swinging her starving cat around by the tail. The cat’s claws tear across Bennett, Chee, and Flashman, and they’re down. Gould is now swinging the cat in circles for fun, staring around the flattened ring.
When Jim Rutman steps mildly onto the stage, business-suit and calm demeanor, you can see him raise a hand in protest, but he’s prone on the floor of the ring in seconds with Gould’s cat on his face. Lorin Stein, parachuting down from the rafters, finally takes Gould by surprise, staring at her from above with such indifference that she vanishes in a puff of smoke. Jynne Martin climbs into the ring and sits in George Saunders’ lap. The couple, seated quietly in the corner, stares at Lorin Stein. Lorin Stein stares at them. A motor roars in some far-off wing of the stadium and a monster truck (labeled in all-caps “KEITH GESSEN”) comes flying through the air and lands in the ring. Saunders, Martin, and Stein are smashed. Shifting the jacked-up truck into park, Gessen jumps out the driver’s side door into the silent, accomplished violence of the ring.The passenger’s side door opens. Out steps another Keith Gessen, eight years younger. They meet in front of the truck’s hood, clap each other on the shoulder and survey the carnage.
But they’re not there for long. Overcome with some sudden, lonesome envy, Gessen the Younger stabs his older self in the stomach with a keychain bottle opener just as Carla Blumenkranz climbs into the ring, tugging Gordon Lish’s corpse on a chain behind her. Gessen the Younger is disgusted. Blumenkranz looks into Gessen’s eyes. Suddenly, despite their grisly surroundings, they appear to be falling in love. The audience sighs audibly.
But Diana Wagman won’t have any of it. A folding chair comes flying onstage—it was Chad Harbach’s chair, and he’s pissed, yelling from below—and Wagman follows it into the ring. She smacks Gessen the Younger with the chair until he relents, climbing into his monster truck and driving it toward the exit of the arena. But before he can make it, a rocket comes flying across the stadium. The monster truck explodes: in the audience, across the arena, Elif Batuman holds a smoking bazooka, lighting up a cigar. Carla Blumenkranz is horrified. She doesn’t get much respite, though. Wagman comes at her with the chair, and she’s out cold on the cluttered ring floor.
By this time, two monstrous figures are entering the stadium, clothed in silk boxing outfits of black and purple, respectively: Fredric Jameson and Darryl Lorenzo Wellington, lit from behind by powerful spotlights. What remains of the crowd—half of the stadium has already filtered out, either for fear or for boredom—hushes. Jay-Z and Kanye come on the soundsystem. Wellington boosts Jameson into the ring, climbs into the audience, and knocks Batuman out with her own bazooka. Meanwhile, Jameson opens his mouth and swallows Diana Wagman. Swallows her? Yes. Her body disappears down his giant throat, and he’s now the only living person in the ring. He turns to the audience, where Wellington sits, holding Batuman’s bazooka. A fear comes into Jameson’s eyes. Audience members opposite the ring from Wellington start to stand slowly and creep out of the arena, trying not to attract attention.
But they don’t have anything to worry about, if Eli S. Evans has anything to say about it. He hoists Harbach back into the ring, and climbs up himself. He’s got a a stack of unpublished manuscripts cradled in his arms. “Listen,” he says, his voice booming over the soundsystem. Wellington fires. A rocket is halfway to the ring, priming to blow the whole spectacle to bits, when Evans raises his hand placidly. The rocket stops. Literally floats in the air, its fuel-trail burning orange behind it. The problem is, all of time stops too: the audience’s mid-air leaps, Fredric Jameson’s popping eyes, the run of pus and blood over the floor of the ring. The other problem is, time for Evans has stopped too. His mind is on the cusp of something, a really great idea. It has something to do with the desert—and pain—and the writing life—and happiness— But the thought is frozen inside him, just like the rest of the world. The rocket inches forward, though no one’s eyes are available to notice the movement. Still, it’s movement. It’s something. But it could be years before it hits.
Dennis James Sweeney hails from Cincinnati, Ohio. He’s the author of the chapbook What They Took Away and writing that has appeared in Alice Blue, DIAGRAM, Juked, and Unstuck. Find him in Corvallis, Oregon.