Watching the penultimate episode of True Detective tonight, I had another Carcosa moment, when Nic Pizzolatto’s fictional world seemed to intermingle in a flat circle with mine.
Early in the episode, Cohle and Hart are holed up in Cohle’s Carcosa-fied storage shed (yellow door, naturally), Rust plays a videotape stolen from a hiding place in one of Reverend Billy Lee Tuttle’s opulent homes. In the tape, we see a young girl, blindfolded, in what looks like a white robe or dress and crowned with horns, being led to a chair in the woods by a group of people wearing robes and animal headed masks. She’s then tied down, her legs spread, as one of the cultists walks toward her. Whatever happens next causes Marty to scream “No!” as he cuts off the tape.
After the episode ended I opened up a version of Blackwater Lights, one of the dozen or so revisions I made with my agent, and the one I sent to my editor at Random House which got me a deal. After we started editing she asked me to cut one scene entirely. I was initially reluctant to do so, but (as is often the case—there’s a reason editors get paid to work at the Big 5) I came around because I knew she had a point. The scene involved children, and she told me that this particular sequence (and one other, which I also cut) could make a reader put down the book. She consulted with her colleagues and they all said the same thing—children being hurt, or even the implication of it, was a no-no. So I cut it.
But tonight I watched something similar playing out on HBO and, well, once again I felt like Nick P. and I were fishing in the deep waters of Lake Hali together.
It is obviously a spoiler if you haven’t read the book, though it probably wouldn’t kill your enjoyment.
To set things up, Ray, the protagonist, is being forced to watch a DVD by Micah, the scar-faced black preacher of a backwoods church in West Virginia, and Mantu, his bodyguard. I’ll let it unspool exactly as it was written:
* * *
“Don’t hide your eyes, Ray,” Micah said. “You need to see this. You need to understand what you’re up against.”
Mantu stepped away from the television, closed his eyes, and clasped his hands, as if in prayer, in front of his face.
The screen went black. Then, white block text: FOR PERSONAL, PRIVATE VIEWING ONLY. DO NOT COPY. DO NOT SHARE OR RESELL. DO NOT MARK OR OTHERWISE IDENTIFY THIS FILM. KEEP IN A SECURE LOCATION. DESTROY BEFORE DISCARDING.
More black screen. Ray’s throat tightened as the scene opened. “No,” he whispered. “Jesus Christ, no.”
A young boy sat reclining in what looked like a dentist’s chair, his face brightly lit. The camera pulled back and refocused. He was strapped to the chair, his wrists and ankles bound. A silent film.
“Turn it off,” Ray said.
A man stepped into view. He wore a stylized goat mask and a doctor’s white coat. The boy looked at him. His eyes widened with fear and went out. Like light switches flipped to off. Completely gone. No one home.
“Micah, enough.” I will snap. I can’t watch this.
The goat-headed doctor lifted a syringe. The boy’s eyes were like cold marbles, black and vacant. The doctor bent over, his horns nearly touching the boy’s face, lifted the boy’s small arm and stuck the needle under the skin.
“Skip ahead,” Micah said.
Ray took a deep breath. “Please,” he said. “No more.”
Micah put his finger to his lips and nodded to the screen.
The TV went black again. This time, the white letters were crisper, and the film didn’t shake. LAM 12 OCT MKMIRROR.
A different boy, in a long, white t-shirt that came to his shins, stood clutching a white rabbit to his chest. He was maybe eight, rail thin, his eyes damp and wide. Around the boy, in a tight circle, stood adults—ten, maybe a dozen, it was hard to tell in the dim light—in silky, dark red robes. Each adult wore an animal head. A bird, a lion, a horse, a monkey, a goat. Giant, obscene heads. A scratchy children’s record played in the background—a singsong rhyme that Ray couldn’t quite make out.
“Shhhh.” He pointed to the TV. His eyes and face had hardened.
The monkey-headed figure knelt down in front of the boy and placed a black bowl at his feet. He returned to his place in the circle. The goat reached into his robe and pulled out a knife—a black handled dagger with a thin, long silver blade. “Give me the rabbit,” he said.
“Micah, turn it off. Turn it the fuck off.”
* * *
The waters of Lake Hali run deep.