“Of such great powers or beings there may be conceivably a survival ... a survival of a hugely remote period when ... consciousness was manifested, perhaps, in shapes and forms long since withdrawn before the tide of advancing humanity ... forms of which poetry and legend alone have caught a flying memory and called them gods, monsters, douchebags of all sorts and kinds.” —Algernon Blackwood
I. The Horror in GIF
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We in Charleston live on a placid peninsula of ignorance in the midst of a black and horrible history, and it was not meant that we should voyage far into who and what we are. The mechanicians of the modern age, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of our sordid past and beneficiaries of it will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and suburbia of Mt. Pleasant.
Travel writers have guessed at the awesome grandeur of the trend cycle wherein our world in Charleston and the rest of the human race form but temporary relationships. They have hinted at strange days ahead — days in which the Holy City is no longer the No. 1 tourist spot in the U.S. — in terms which would freeze the blood if not masked by unyielding PR optimism.
But it is not from them that there came the single glimpse of forbidden futures which chills me when I think of it and maddens me when I dream of it. That glimpse, like all dread glimpses of truth, flashed out from an accidental piecing together of separated things — in this case trailer for a soon to be broadcast Bravo TV show and the expletive-filled notes of a once proud mayor. I hope that no one else will accomplish this piecing out; certainly, if I live, I shall never knowingly supply a link in so hideous a chain. I think that the mayor, too intented to keep silent regarding the part he knew, and that he would have destroyed his notes had not sudden death seized him.
My knowledge of the thing began in the winter of 2014 when I received a batch of emails from George Gammell Angell, a well-known travel writer, epicurean, and bon vivant. Angell was widely known as an authority on the Holy City’s charm — from its cobblestone streets to its history and its reemergence as a tourist haven for foodie and fanny-packed Ohioans — and he frequently been resorted to by the producers of Food Network shows and the editors of Food & Wine magazine; so that his passing at the age of 72 may be recalled by many. Locally, interest was intensified by the obscurity of the cause of death. The author had been stricken whilst returning from a trip to Charleston; falling suddenly; as witnesses said, after having been jostled by a drunken bro-ed who had come from one of the queer dark side streets along Upper King on his way to his hotel room at the Francis Marion. Physicians were unable to find any visible disorder, but concluded after perplexed debate that some obscure lesion of the heart, induced by the consumption of four triple shellfish towers at the Ordinary by so elderly a man, was responsible for the end. At the time I saw no reason to dissent from this dictum, but latterly I am inclined to wonder — and more than wonder.
When I received the author’s email, I had planned to go over them with some thoroughness; and for that purpose moved his entire set of emails to a mailbox folder. Much of the material which I correlated will be later published in the form of a slideshow on Eater and Twitter blasts, but there was one email which I found exceedingly puzzling, and which I felt much averse from showing to other eyes. After I opened it, I was confronted by a greater and more closely locked barrier, an animated GIF. For what could be the meaning of the queer GIF, the Southern Charm trailer, and the disjointed jottings and ramblings which I found? Had the author, in his latter years become credulous of the most superficial impostures? I resolved to search out the illustrator responsible for this apparent disturbance of an old man’s peace of mind.
The GIF was a rough rectangle less than an inch thick and about five by six inches in area; obviously of modern origin. Its designs, however, were far from modern in atmosphere and suggestion; for, although the vagaries of cubism and futurism are many and wild, they do not often reproduce that cryptic regularity which lurks in prehistoric writing. And writing of some kind the bulk of these designs seemed certainly to be; though my memory, despite much the papers and collections of the author, failed in any way to identify this particular species, or even hint at its remotest affiliations, although I latter learned they were a collection of drunk texts that had been hobbled by autocorrect and ample amounts of Yagerbombs.
Above these apparent hieroglyphics was a figure of evident pictorial intent, though its impressionistic execution forbade a very clear idea of its nature. It seemed to be a sort of monster, or symbol representing a monster, of a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive. If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of a bowtie, an eight-ball of cocaine, and a human caricature with several penises coming out of its mouth, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, dick-headed beast surmounted a grotesque Seersucker body with bowtie wings and a line of cocaine across his buttocks and bullocks; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful.
The writing accompanying this GIF was, aside from a stack of press cuttings, was writing by a PR hack and made no pretense to literary style or honesty. What seemed to be the main document was trailer entitled “SOUTHERN CHARM” in characters painstakingly printed to avoid the erroneous reading of a word so unheard-of. And the rest comments on long-surviving secret societies and carefully scripted pregnancy scares, with references to passages in such mythological and anthropological source-books as Pat Conroy’s South of Broad, Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, and the Charleston Receipts. The press release largely alluded to outré mental illness and outbreaks of group folly or mania in the spring of 2014.
II. The Destruction of Charleston the Brand
According to Angell’s emails, Southern Charm cannot be described — there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order. God! This TV show of the idols, the green, sticky spawn of the stars, had awaked to claim the Holy City as its own. The stars were right again, and what gentrification and the BAR had failed to do by design, a band of reality TV producers had done by accident. After vigintillions of years great T. Rav was loose again, and ravening for delight.
Three men were swept up by his polo-clubbed paws before anybody turned. God rest them, if there be any rest in the universe. They were Manigault, Pinckney, and James Beard. Holliday slipped on the slate sidewalks as the other three were plunging frenziedly over edges of the Battery, and Riley swears he heard an otherworldly voice seemingly speak from the sky, intoning in well-rehearsed lines, "Here in Charleston, they’ll say ‘bless your heart,’ ‘no problem,’ then they’ll just stab you in the back.” So only Seekings and Riley reached Market Street Saloon in a pedicab, and furiously dialed 911 as the mountainous monstrosity flopped down the slimy cobblestones and hesitated, floundering at the edge of East Bay Street.
Slowly, amidst the distorted horrors of that indescribable scene, our legs began to churn the lethal waters that had flooded the Market; whilst on the masonry of that charnel shore that was not of earth the titan T. Rav from the stars slavered and gibbered like Polypheme cursing the fleeing ship of Odysseus. Then, bolder than the storied Cyclops, great T. Rav slid greasily down Market Street and began to pursue with vast wave-raising strokes of cocaine-induced rage us. Seekings looked back and went mad, laughing shrilly as he kept on laughing at intervals till death found him one night in the cabin whilst Riley was wandering deliriously.
The awful scaled head with writhing penises came nearly up to Meeting Street. At the doors to Charleston Place, there was a bursting as of an exploding bladder, a slushy nastiness as of a cloven sunfish, a stench as of a thousand opened graves, and a sound of a dire threat, “I will bitch slap you in a second.” For an instant the streets of Charleston was befouled by an acrid and blinding green cloud, and then there was only a venomous beast seething for something stronger than sweet tea, spider-legged eyelashes, and a cliff-hanger paternity test.
That was the trailer that I watched, and now I have placed it in a mailbox folder entitled Douchebags. With it shall go this record of mine — this test of my own sanity, wherein is pieced together that which I hope may never be pieced together again. I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror — this reality TV trailer — and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me. But I do not think my life will be long. As the author went, as poor Riley went, so I shall go. I know too much, and Southern Charm will still air.
However, T. Rav still lives, too, of that I am sure, I suppose, again in that chasm of trust-funds and nepotism that has shielded him since adolescence. But who knows, what has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise. Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep of polo and of driving under the influence, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men. A time will come — but I must not and cannot think! Let me pray that, if I do not survive this manuscript, my executors may put caution before audacity and see that no one ever glimpses at the horrors of Southern Charm.