In The Ticket That Exploded, William S. Burroughs's grand "cut-up" trilogy that starts with The Soft Machine and continues through Nova Express reaches its climax as inspector Lee and the Nova Police engage the Nova Mob in a decisive battle for the planet. Only Burroughs could make such a nightmare vision of scientists and combat troops, of ad men and con men whose deceitful language has spread like an incurable disease be at once so frightening and so enthralling.
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January 01, 1971
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Excerpt from The Ticket That Exploded by William S. Burroughs
It is a long trip. We are the only riders. So that is how we have come to know each other so well that the sound of his voice and his image flickering over the tape recorder are as familiar to me as the movement of my intestines the sound of my breathing the beating of my heart. Not that we love or even like each other. In fact murder is never out of my eyes when I look at him. And murder is never out of his eyes when he looks at me. Murder under a carbide lamp in Puya rain outside it's a mighty wet place drinking aguardiente with tea and canella to cut that kerosene taste he called me a drunken son of a bitch and there it was across the table raw and bloody as a fresh used knife . . sitting torpid and quiescent in a canvas chair after reading last month's Sunday comics "the jokes" he called them and read every word it sometimes took him a full hour by a tidal river in Mexico slow murder in his eyes maybe ten fifteen years later I see the move he made then he was a good amateur chess player it took up most of his time actually but he had plenty of that. I offered to play him once he looked at me and smiled and said: "You wouldn't stand a chance with me."
His smile was the most unattractive thing about him or at least it was one of the unattractive things about him it split his face open and something quite alien like a predatory mollusk looked out different well I took his queen in the first few minutes of play by making completely random moves. He won the game without his queen. I had made my point and lost interest. Panama under the ceiling fans, on the cold winds of Chimborazo, across the rubble of Lima, steaming up from the mud streets of Esmeraldas that flat synthetic vulgar CIA voice of his . . basically he was completely hard and self-seeking and thought entirely in terms of position and advantage an effective but Severely limited intelligence. Thinking on any other level simply did not interest him. He was by the way very cruel but not addicted to the practice of cruelty. He was cruel if the opportunity presented itself. Then he smiled his eyes narrowed and his sharp little ferret teeth showed between his thin lips which were a blue purple color in a smooth yellow face. But then who am I to be critical few things in my own past I'd just as soon forget..
What I am getting at is we do not like each other we simply find ourselves on the same ship sharing the same cabin and often the same bed welded together by a million shared meals and belches by the movement of intestines and the sound of breathing (he snored abominably. I turn him on his side or stomach to shut him up. He wakes and smiles in the dark room muttering "Don't get ideas") by the beating of our hearts. In fact his voice has been spliced in 24 times per second with the sound of my breathing and the beating of my heart so that my body is convinced that my breathing and heart will stop if his voice stops.
"Well," he would say with his winsome smile, "it does give a certain position of advantage."
My attempts to murder him were usually direct. . knife . . gun . . in some one elses hand of course I had no intention of getting into social difficulties . . car accident . . drowning . . once a shark surfaced in my mind as he plunged from a boat into the tidal river . . I will go to his aid and clutch his torn dying body in my arms like a vise he will be too weak from loss of blood to fight me off and my face will be his last picture. He always planned that his face should be my last picture and his plan called for cinerama film sequences featuring the Garden of Delights shows all kinds masturbation and self-abuse young boys need it special its all electric and very technical you sit down anywhere some sex wheel sidles up your ass or clamps onto your spine centers and the electronic gallows will just kill you on a conveyor belt the Director there bellowing orders:
"I want you to shit and piss all over yourself when you see the gallows. Synchronize your castor oil will you? And give the pitiless hang boy an imploring look for Chrisakes he's your ass hole buddy about to hang you and that's the drama of it..."
"It's a sick picture B.J."
Well it seems this rotten young prince gives off whiffs of decay when he moves but he doesn't move much as a rule has eyes for one of the prisoners wants him for his very own fish boy but the younger generators are on the way. Partisans have seized a wing of the studio and called in the Red Guards . . . "Now what do you boys feel about a situation like this? Well go on express yourselves . . This is a progressive school . . These youths of image and association now at entrance to the garden carrying banners of interlanguage . . Her fourth-grade class screamed in terror when I looked at the 'dogs' and I looked at the pavement decided the pavement was safer.. Attack enemy over instrument like pinball . . Shift tilt STOP the GOD film. Frame by frame take a good look boys . ."
"They got this awful mollusk eats the hanged boys body and soul in the orgasm and they love being eaten because of this liquefying gook it secretes and rubs all over them but maybe I'm talking too much about private things."
"You boys going to stand still for this? Being slobbered down and shit out by an alien mollusk? Join the army and see the world I remember this one patrol had been liberating a river town and picked up the Sex Skin habit. This Sex Skin is a critter found in the rivers here wraps all around you like a second skin eats you slow and good . . Well these boys had the Sex Skin burned off by the sun crossing the plain they could just crawl when they reached the post quivering sores they was half eaten mostly shit and pieces of them falling off so I called the captain and he said best thing was bash their skulls in and bury them in the privy where he hoped the smell might pass unnoticed but there was stink in congress about 'unsung heroes' and the President himself nailed a purple heart to that privy you can still see where the old privy used to be other side of those thistles there . .
"Now that should show you fellows something of the situation out here and the problems we have to face . . take the case of a young soldier who tried to rescue his buddy from a Sex Skin and it grew onto him and now his buddy turns from him in disgust . . anyone would you understand and that's not the worst of it it's knowing at any second your buddy may be took by the alien virus it's happened cruel idiot smile over the corn flakes . . You gasp and reach for a side arm looking after your own soul like a good Catholic . . too late . . your nerve centers are paralyzed by the dreaded Bor-Bor he has slipped into your Nescaf? . . He's going to eat you slow and nasty . . This situation here has given rise to what the head shrinkers call 'ideas of persecution' among our personnel and a marked slump in morale . . As I write this I have barricaded myself in the ward room against the 2nd Lieutenant who claims he is 'God's little hang boy sent special to me' that fucking shave tail I can hear him out there whimpering and slobbering and the Colonel is jacking off in front of the window pointing to a Gemini Sex Skin. The Captain's corpse hangs naked at the flagpole. I am the only sane man left on the post. I know now when it is too late what we are up against: a biologic weapon that reduces healthy clean-minded men to abject slobbering inhuman things undoubtedly of virus origins. I have decided to kill myself rather than fall into their hands. I am sure the padre would approve if he knew how things are out here. Don't know how much longer I can hold out. oxygen reserves almost exhausted. I am reading a science fiction book called The Ticket That Exploded. The story is close enough to what is going on here so now and again I make myself believe this ward room is just a scene in an old book far away and long ago might as well be that for all the support I'm getting from Base Headquarters."
"You see the action, B.J.? All these patrols cut off light-years behind enemy lines trying to get through some fatassed gum-chewing comic-reading Technical Sergeant to Base Headquarters and there is no Base Headquarters everything is coming apart like a rotten undervest . . but the show goes on . . love . . romance . . stories that rip your heart out and eat it . . Now how's this for an angle? Are you listening B.J.? This clean-living decent heavy metal kid and a cold glamorous agent from the Green Galaxy has been sent out to destroy him with a Sex Skin but she falls for the kid and she can't do it and she can't go back to her own people because of the unspeakable tortures meted out to those who fail on a Mission so they take off together in a Gemini space capsule perhaps to wander forever in trackless space or perhaps?"