Dennis Cooper, -author of Frisk
Victims is a novel about the final days of a religious cult called The Overcomers. Like the infamous Heaven’s Gate cult, whose mass suicide gained world media attention in the 1990s, they are a small group of lost souls guided by the teachings of a charismatic leader, Martin Jones. The Overcomers go about their lives preparing for the cosmic event that will signal the end of their time on earth. Their struggles to reconcile their faith in Jones’s teachings with the emotional ups and downs of their relationships, jobs and interactions with the natural world form the subject of this exquisitely written and highly original novel.
Based on extensive research into the rhetoric of religious cults, Victims is a novel of ideas. Twenty-three-year-old author Travis Jeppesen uses an episodic narrative, an elegantly direct style and a quirky, sympathetic group of characters to ponder a question raised by Jones’s teachings: If friendship and love are just systems to instill -comfort in our lives, are all human interactions acts of manipulation?
Victims is set in a rural America of the imagination informed by classic American valuesand cleansed of the mundane distractions that characterize American culture. Travis Jeppesen has written a novel with a philosophical bravura rarely seen in the work of contemporary American writers.
Travis Jeppesen was born in Ft. Lauderdale in 1979. His fiction and cultural criticism have appeared in Book Forum, 3am Magazine, The Stranger and other publications, and he is a contributing editor to Pavement Magazine. Victims is his first novel. Jeppesen currently resides in an undisclosed Eastern European country.
About the Author
Writer, filmmaker and visual artist, Gary Indiana has published over eighteen books, both fiction and nonfiction. A second edition of his seventh novel, DO EVERYTHING IN THE DARK, was published by Itna Press in 2015.
Read an Excerpt
By Travis Jeppesen
Akashic BooksISBN: 1-888451-42-4
Chapter OneThe telephone rings. There's nothing else to do, so I answer it. Yeah? It's L.D. He wants me to come over, but I don't know. All we ever do is watch TV and fuck. I can watch TV at home and get myself off better than any guy. Two weeks ago, he tried to fuck me without a condom. That's all I need, to be pregnant with his kid. My parents. They'd force me to have it. It's bad enough as it is, having Jesus shoved down my throat on a daily basis. Makes me wanna barf. I don't even like sex that much, I just love him and wanna make him happy, even though he bores me most of the time. He's still better than the majority of what I'm surrounded by. I tell him I can't come over and hang up. We'll see each other at school tomorrow anyway.
Eight o'clock in the morning, science class, teacher is a fat old black bitch with purple hairs sticking out the top of her head. She's totally senile and always fucks up everyone's name. She calls me Delila for some reason and L.D. L.P. We just giggle and ignore her. She is a total bitch, though. My mom told me that they've been trying to fire her for years, but they can't cos she's black and has tenure.
Anyway, L.D. has some glue, so I throw out my turkey sandwich and we squirt some in the bag and duck down under the lab table. Pretty soon, we're seeing dots floating around us and it's like our brains have been lifted to another dimension and Mrs. Roseboro keeps going on and on about the elements on the periodic table and me and L.D. can't look at each other without laughing.
Herbert falls into holes quite often. When you're down in the ditch, dwelling in your own sacrilege isn't gonna get you out of it. In the end it is always best to fall down. Nonetheless, he finds himself drenched in memory, past lives colliding with his inability to live in the moment.
The Purple Goat Ceremony only occurred once every astral generation. Herbert had started the day by picking flowers in the field behind the compound, the only outdoor location deemed acceptable by the classroom. The field lay across a few acres. A bunch of weeds living in houses made of dead grass. Intended for recreation, it provided a beautiful alternative to the web of sterile hallways aligning the interior of the compound, though it remained empty throughout the year, even when spring commenced exhaling her warm breath into the cold, desolate climate.
The compound was housed in the building of the former Buick Elementary School, which had closed its doors when the town dried up following the economic recession of the early '90s. It was as though a dark cloud had settled over this town, or the cosmos were conspiring to deface its fate. It started with an industrial labor strike at the Buick Mercury factory which was never properly arbitrated. Then, rather suddenly, there was an accident in the school that set the tone for the town's demise.
Some fireworks exploded in a locker. One student, whose name was Bliff, had been unlucky enough to be standing next to the locker at the time of the explosion. Some metal flew into his eyes, culminating in blindness. Many of the other students had been traumatized by the sight of blood squirting out of his eye sockets, also by the pitch of Bliff's screams - for having known Bliff quite well, they had never heard him scream. Following a suite of drawn-out, ultimately unsuccessful lawsuits filed by a handful of financially desperate parents, the school was closed shortly thereafter. The Buick citizens found themselves with no jobs and no school to send their young'uns to, and migrated elsewhere in search of something. Anything.
When the Overcomers moved in, paying rent via an inheritance that one of the group's members had donated, they removed all of the equipment from what used to be the playground, leaving a completely barren field, still and ugly. Most of them appeared to be intimidated by its openness, preferring the serene privacy of their living quarters to such a direct confrontation with the sun. Herbert was the only one who would occasionally go out there to sun himself, stare up at the pale gray sky, pensive, blank.
Herbert brought the flowers in to his mother. She was seated on the cheap knitted couch at the rear of the room, her hands fitted together in a tight clasp. Dwelling quarters consisted of a single cell for each familial unit. Luckily for Herbert and his mother, it was just the two of them. The tight accommodations had taught the two something about survival, but what that something is, no one is really sure. Their Teacher had deemed it necessary to minimize the sleeping compartments - each was given just a small enclave - because the joiners kept joining, popping out babies left and right, who were in turn having babies of their own, and nobody ever left.
School comes to an end, and the bus drops us off back where we started. Suburban inferno. No escape, no exit doors. We put off going home for as long as we can, cos there's absolutely nothing to do there, TV and telephone, maybe, that's all. So we take a long walk and talk and smoke lots of cigarettes, maybe walk through the woods, down to the creek and make out. L.D. always wants to go further than I want to go. I don't understand what's with guys, why they have to go there every time. It's like total madness. I mean, I never get that horny, no girls I know of have even had sex yet. I know he loves me, so I don't really mind, I just don't want to do it every goddamn day.
What else is there to do? Until we're old enough to drive, we're basically trapped here. L.D.'s parents are never around, and my parents won't drive me to anything that's not church-related.
They're always building new houses in our neighborhood, and it usually takes them a really long time. It's a complicated process since the whole neighborhood is surrounded by a forest, so they have to knock down the trees and clear the lot first before they even start building, then the actual construction can take like six or seven months.
So when we're really bored and desperate, we go play in the houses at night, after the construction workers are long gone. We mainly just do stupid stuff, like throw bricks at each other, tear down the plaster off the walls, draw shit on the floors with leftover paint.
Sometimes I wonder what all this'll look like a thousand years from now. All these houses look the same, two-story brick monsters, with only slightly different characteristics. The garage might be in back of a house instead of on the side, or the shutters are painted a different shade of blue. I guess there will be more and more houses until the forest is all gone and there's no more creek for the kids to play in, no more skeletal foundations of houses to destroy, just coming home after school every day to stare at the wall and wonder what Mom's cooking for dinner.
A flash of light bends over the scene. Herbert's foot falls on a daisy. It is all, in a breathy word, senseless: the day, the flower, the cows in the field, memories of past perceptions and present awareness of self melting into each other like two different characters who are really the same person ... How perplexing time may seem when you're standing on its face. In retaliation to the boredom that enslaves him, Herbert begins to burn flowers in the field he is standing in, the new field that has replaced the old one of his childhood. The cows look up when they smell the roasting funk. It hits their big wide sinuses like the taste of a lit match.
I'm standing in front of my mirror naked staring at myself. I smeared black eyeliner around my eyes cos I thought it'd make me look sexy, but it doesn't work, I just look like some cheap whore. I'm sure L.D. would love it. I gave him head for the first time the other day and now he's on this blowjob kick, wants me to do it all the time. I'd rather he just fuck me cos it's a lot less work. He never really eats me out, and when he does, it only lasts for like a minute before he has to get his thing out.
Anyway, I'm studying my body in the mirror. I wish my tits were bigger. I'm such a freak. I don't know why I decided to dye my hair black. At the time, it seemed like a good idea, but now my skin is way too pale. I look blue. Totally sickly, like I'm dying or some shit. Maybe it doesn't matter. I wish I could transform myself into someone else, just disappear into another body for a while. I'm getting fatter, too. There's no way in hell my hips were that wide last month. My stomach used to be flat and smooth, but now there's a roll of flab there. So fucking disgusting.
Okay, so the other thing is I haven't gotten my period in two weeks. I think it's just cos my body's fucked up, I haven't been sleeping or eating much lately, taking lots of caffeine tablets. If I don't get it by tomorrow, I go into panic mode.
Herbert walked the length of the field. Forest in front of him, he stepped off the edge and continued walking. Herbert knew this was forbidden. The penalties were harsh. He didn't care for some reason. He had studied authority his whole life. Understood the fact that authority is only there when it wants something from you. There was nothing that could be asked of Herbert. No authorities ever came searching for him. It was like he didn't exist, as though he were merely a shell in a pile of shells. Maybe that's how he'd felt his whole life.
Anyway, how else could the task be accomplished? The Goat wouldn't be found in the field. Thus, Herbert had to leave the property. His mother knew how risky this was considered; if anyone from the outside world was made aware of where they lived, it could put their task in great peril. It was a risk, but it wasn't her risk, so in a sense it didn't matter.
Who knew if she and Herbert would even have the same relationship in the Next Level? There was no evidence to suggest they would. In the Bible, Jesus addressed his most important messages to individuals, not groups. She realized how important he was, as her son, from a cellular perspective, while respecting the fact that she would never truly be able to identify with him. Relationships of any sort were looked upon as symptoms - or more specifically, desperate failures - of the human world - something they were trying to get past.
Anyway, Herbert was happy to traipse new fertility. Months afterward, he'd take his second jaunt off the property. From there, he'd never return.
Oh, modern life is so mundane. Although that may be a perverted, snobbish thing to think, Herbert doesn't care. He has separated himself from everything: spirit from visage, past from present - a healthy dosage of ammunition. Mother figure a stunning beauty. Sometimes he misses her, despite himself. She had taught him something about memory, a thing that would not be forgotten. The something in her eyes. Humanity, Love, Affection: She had felt them all, and maybe she had even felt something else. Who knows what she felt like on the inside. Herbert only recalls what she felt like on the outside.
To call her Mother is not totally correct. Although the biological bond couldn't be denied, and wasn't, the maintenance of traditional familial relationships was discouraged. It was viewed as another obstruction to the final goal, necessary to "get beyond," and they did it without questioning. They were more like molecules belonging to a larger cellular unit. This is how they had learned to view themselves.
Then there was the night of Micky Tim's birthday. Micky was the biological son of Turnip, the music officer. Turnip was the only black member of the Overcomers. Except for the color of his skin, his outer appearance conformed to everyone else's (shaved head, white robe), other than the indiscreet presence of a golden earring dangling from his left earlobe. As a student, many years before finding the Overcomers, he had been involved with the Black Power movement. He joined a Back to Africa crusade at his university, his comrades encouraging his thesis on American slavery. One of the things that baffled him the most was the fact that, at the end of the Civil War, many former slaves, having been granted their freedom, chose to stay put and continue working for their masters. Supposedly, they did this out of love and devotion to their former owners, but also out of fear of life outside of servitude, the life they had been born and bred into. The world outside was still cold and hostile, leaving subservience as the only feasible option. As a symbol of their compliance, they would wear a golden ring in their left ear.
Having himself experienced this cruel world the freed slaves were so reluctant to join, Turnip found his lost master in Martin Jones, Earth's Representative from the Next Level of Existence. The significance of his obtuse golden appendage was thus known and accepted by all.
The Elder Council came up with the brilliant idea of organizing a karaoke birthday party for Micky, using songs about the spacecraft that Turnip had written. And Turnip tickled those ivories unlike he ever had before. Tina Jones accidentally ate a fingernail and barfed. She had to go to bed, missing out on a chance to sing "Jesus Wants Me for a Moonbeam." (By what measure will the moonbeam rise?!) And so the party went on. And on and on and on and on and on. And on and on and on and on and on and on and on. And on.
Hours later, mother and son lay side-by-side in bed, drained from their involvement in the celebration. Half-asleep, hand accidentally fell on her son's inner thigh. A white light entering through the window lightly brushed the sterile interior of the room, flushed in a harness of darkness chokingly tightened by the strain underlying the ... scenario. Inside the compound, thirty-seven sleeping bodies, each with a black burn on the left shoulder. A harmonic medley, fat and thin, of breaths oozing out of mouths in unison, like pus from an infected wound. The lights from the moonbeam touching. But only Herbert awake to see.
Excerpted from Victims by Travis Jeppesen Excerpted by permission.
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