Tombstoned, Chapter One: Peru Digs Her Own Grave

Nobody remembers what makes the tombstones work. The fairies, the leprechauns, the nanobots, the carpal-tunnel crippled hand of God. Yeah, you could crack one open and look yourself, but who knows what you’d find. 

A misplaced modifier.  

A hamster wheel designed for rodents with flat feet and Cockney accents. 

A snotty egg yolk that once took Pi out further than ever before, strangled it, and left its dead carcass in a half-dug ditch. 

Who the huck knows and who finn cares? It doesn’t matter. 

Nobody remembers. 

Not even Buck Sparkman, the world’s premier cravedigger. But he knows exactly when everything changed.

Some say it was for the better. Some say it was for the worse. But it at least it wasn’t “Cathy.” Or heaven forbid, “Garfield.” Either way, it wasn’t funny. And neither was that joke. 

The fateful day was April 20 in a year of indeterminate vintage. The time: Somewhere between a power lunch and yappy hour. The place: Peru Nicklaus’ apartment.  

Peru lived in two panic-room closet that grew out of freshly shorn forest field like a cancerous mole. It was surrounded by other growths, each one no different than the next.

The same upside-down mortgage. The same student loans. The same antidepressants and stool softeners in the medicine cabinets. It was a snuff film, but Peru called it home. 

As did her two pet poms, Jeepers and Peepers. 

They mostly just slept and snerfed on their doggie beds, although when were in a spiteful mood, they dropped a retaliatory snerf behind the couch. 

Jeepers liked to do it on the air vent, Peepers on the rug. Neither were fond of wiping. 

With the last bit of credit Peru had on her Beeza Card, she bought herself an iPlot, then a novel little gadget that could replicate whatever the user desired.

Of course, all of this depended on the make and the model. 

Some could conjure up sparkly little baubles and trinkets, while the top-dollar ones could conjure up a full-sized SUV. 

Regardless, its creations were always temporary. Much like last night’s virginity or yesterday’s presidential election.

Peru could’ve bought herself a top-dollar one. She didn’t. Instead, she bought a dozen of the most low-powered iPlots she could. And then she invited all her friends over to her house for a feast like no other. 

When her guests arrived, they stepped up to clearance rack iPlots and thought about what they wanted to eat, and the tombstones provided. They thought about what they wanted to drink and the devices gave. 

Needless to say, they feasted like kings, they drank like failures, and they obited every single bite and purge.

For the next three hours, tombstones around the town rang out with updates from the Green Hill debauchery. 

But all that came to an end in a rather abrupt fashion. First, Peru heard a rumble, a real below the belly gurgle, the kind that will make you break the speed limit on the way to a highway rest stop.

And then it got louder and louder. 

Little did Peru and her crew knew, the world was about to snerf itself.

One guest joked that it was Rodzilla. Another an alien invasion. And another, well, the reanimated corpse of the late, great comedian Chris Biggley on a crank-and-crack binge-and-purge at the nearest Fentynol Feedbag All-American Buffet. Today, each one is part of the weekly news cycle, but then? Not so much.

As much as Peru and the gang were having a good laugh, the laughing stopped when the walls of the apartment began to shake. Beer bottles fell, turkey legs tumbled, the silverware danced to a strange tune on the dining room table. And the poms? Jeepers and Peepers. Well, they huddled behind the couch, each in their usual places, and clinched their snerfs tight. 

The revilers promptly ran outside. 

Outside on her front stoop, Peru and her guests watched as they witnessed the seemingly impossible: two dog biscuits, each the size of semi-trucks, tumbled down the street, crushing everything in their paths — street signs, cars, and yard gnomes. The partygoers took off running when the modest two-panic room closet took one across the chin.

And just like that, Peru dreams went down. TKO.

It would be two weeks before State Farm broke out the smelling salts.

The dog biscuits came to a halt on Sam Torrence’s front yard, ruining the savings-account sod that covered the 10-by-10 foot lawn he called a weekend, but all the neighbors knew as a white beater and three beers. 

His sprinkler system was a wreck, spitting up like a toddler on a merry-go-round, and his front steps were as jagged as a meth head’s teeth. 

Sam wept as he picked up the shredded squares of high-dollar turf with his trembling hands. The grass fell in feeble clumps to the ground.

In days, it would dry out. In a week, it would be brown and dusty. In a month, it would float away on the breeze.

Someone recommended Rogaine, and within just a few weeks, Sam was awarded with a lawn of the month sign which he proudly displayed next to his sago palm. 

However, shortly thereafter his electric razor broke, and, well, his neighbors never bestowed that honor on him again. 

Shamed, he hung himself in bathroom. Stretched behind all conceivable limits, his snerf never recovered.

It was less a snerf and more a tapeworm from that point on out.

But Peru’s dogs were happy. They pounced on the bits of pieces of kibble that had broken off from the monster-sized milk bones. Peepers cut the roof of her mouth on a particularly jagged piece. Jeepers vomited and licked it up, but not before growling at his fellow pom. It was then that everyone realized that Peru was nowhere in sight. The guests immediately began to call her name. 

Ash Likker found her limp body underneath an azalea bush in front of Peru’s now demolished house. Her body was motionless and stiff and wearing a see-through nightie. Tom grew excited. Her turned around to make sure no one was looking and snerfed her lifeless corpse until the sky exploded with fireworks.

Claire Pye ran into Peru two blocks over.

Although Peu was dazed and confused, she was holding two white chocolate pumpkin spice lattes and a bag containing what was advertised as an apple danish but bore a curious resemblance to a glazed snerf, and a hand-me-down one at that. 

They sat down to pow-wow the latest bestseller, a book about a newly divorced housewife who rediscovers her passion for life by sleeping with a younger man and finding a newfound love for selling My Randy Stallion needlepoint pictures on Etsy. 

Claire and Peru laughed and cried and vowed to always be friends, despite the fact that Peru didn’t know that Jean had once given her ex-boyfriend Carl a snerf in the supply closet. It was Arbor Day. 

Burt Plugh did not look for Peru. He had no reason to. He was too busy sending her an obit about this funny thing that he just saw on YouTube. So hilarious. Like, literally, I’m dying.

Even Peru Nicklas found herself.

It was a task she had previously been unable to accomplish over the course of a decade-long diet of self-help mantras, exercise videos, and yoga pants. Finally, she was living her most authentic life. And all it took was the total destruction of reality itself.

But no one knew that then. 

And so, for the next two days, the sound of squeak toys echoed off the houses on this soulless suburban street of two-panic room closets and snuff films, while Pom and Jeepers snerfed wherever the snerfing snerf they pleased.

“The Monolith and the Tombstone: Wyatt Duvall’s guide to rebooting a reality overrun by ‘Star Cars’ and superheroes”

“I’ve got a bad mothersnerfing feeling about this.” –Han Job, intergalactic drug dealer, driver of the Millennium Impala, “Star Cars”

Shortly before Wyatt Duvall halted the publication of what was to be his second novel, “Tombstoned,” he made this curious assertion: the work was a reboot of reality.

This wasn’t a novel concept, of course. Duvall, the prankster behind the discredited self-help tome “Walking Sleep,” trafficked in half-baked homages and mutated memes, not original ideas. So, it’s no wonder many rightly credit the author’s boast as a not-so-subtle nod to Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a cinematic achievement that was intended to be an evolutionary device itself, a monolith of projector light and Dolby sound that would open man’s consciousness to new modes of thinking, much as the black monolith inspired the ape men to first create tools.

That the plug was pulled on “Tombstoned” before its publication, rendering the mission of Duvall’s work moot, the promise of this failure has achieved something of a legendary status among a small but fervent type of pop culture enthusiast, in particular those who oppose the cultural hegemony of superheroes, hobbits, and silly space fantasies populated by blaxploitation anti-heroes spouting Zen koans amidst a background of Arthurian chicanery and laser-tag shootouts at the OK Death Star Corral. 

For them, “Tombstoned” was not so much an indictment of how things were during the early decades of the 21st century — a world that regarded “Star Cars” as not only a universal touchpoint but the defining creative work of all mankind, a piece of corporate-owned intellectual property that was at once infallible and beset by a multitude of heresies — but a sign of things to come. And that future could only be achieved if enough of us dared to admit that the black monoliths each one of us carry in our pockets — our smartphones — were gravestones of a dead culture, a gravestone on which each and everyone of us had etched their own epitaphs in the form of mocking memes, Tik Toks, and trending hashtags.

The deep, dark hole into which Duvall stared was not a universe of himself, much as many, if not, most suspected, but a singularly small black mirrorverse smudged by the fingerprints of every single man, woman, and child. And those fingerprints were, quite sadly, the same. Out of many, one. One mind. One soul. One single thought: Star Cars. Or something of the kind.

These single-celled, single-minded pop culture smudges were not things that Duvall, or you or I for that matter, wanted to see — our common collection of lowest common cultural denominator touchpoints of thrilling car chases, street-smart hot pant and halter topped princess prostitutes, shoot-first-and-crack wise-later afro-pic cowboy samurais in platform heels and leisure suits — but the truth that the true believers in the myth of “Tombstoned” saw for themselves. And these visions caused them to quake, to shake, to shiver in the very marrow of their bones. Now, in what appears to be the only surviving copy of “Tombstoned,” you can even hear Duvall’s bones rattling in their grave, years before his corpse had been placed in the ground, that is if even the worms would allow him to rest by their sides.

Over the course of a life spent searching for the gullible marks in our midst, Duvall understood better than most that the world of the screen was a common stage on which we all performed. Here, we are all free to be whoever we wanted to be and to seek out whatever we wished we had, and yet we chose to fill our days with lesser things, an ad-hoc reality ebbing and flowing according to the whims of a population who favored self-parody over any other pastime, perversion, or activity the present allowed. 

We are a people raised on costumed creations, costumed heroes, and costume changes. For the men and women of the Glass Age, the era of the screen, slipping in and out of identities is less a second-nature diversion then it is a relentless, unforgiving tic. 

At the core of “Tombstoned” is Duvall’s hypothesis that the world is our collective making, an act that actually masks the end of individuality and free will. It is a hollow world on which each successive fantasy is built upon a previously tired trope, until all originality has been trotted out and gawked at for so long that what was once a jaw-dropping beauty was to be transformed into a pinhead gimp eating raw chicken in a sideshow tent, a sad place where the one, if not the only, thing we desired was yet another installment in the “Star Cars” franchise. Mothersnerfing “Star Cars.”

And in the case of “Tombstoned,” the very thing before our eyes is the bathroom stall scribbles in which Duvall operated as a wordsmith, or what passes for a wordsmith in this day and age of emoji hieroglyphics and Rosetta Stone-less gifs — the funhouse mirror version of thought itself — all with the unmentioned promise that the mirror becomes the reality and the reality becomes the mirror and all else becomes an infinite tunnel of reflections of things that are not and never have been. At least before “Star Cars.”

As the intellectual giants once proclaimed, the medium was once the message. But today the medium is a massacre. Now that we have directed our free will to our smartphones, the very vehicles in which we record, explicate, and divine our thoughts, our smartphones –or tombstones as Buck Sparkman, the hero of Duvall’s lost work would say — have mapped a course to, at best, a dead end and, at worse, a brick wall of our own cultural construction.

In the story of “Tombstoned,” all roads lead to “Star Cars.” But with “Tombstoned” in our hands for the first time, we may finally touch the surface of the black monolith, embarking on an odyssey to a destination we have yet to explore, one that doesn’t lead to the very grave of mankind itself.

What if Darius Rucker was a burned out visionary pop-music messiah?

Darius Rucker’s toes are in the sand, and he’s staring out the window at the Atlantic Ocean, as gray-green waves crash on the shores of Sullivan’s Island. The sun is shining; a gentle breeze is blowing — not that the reclusive Rucker feels it. He’s looking out the window of his seaside mansion. And then he picks up his guitar and begins to play.

“The notes come to me with the crashing waves, each one cleansing my mind, washing away the seaweed and the shells and the flotsam and jetsam of the modern-day consumerist-military-industrial megaplex sideshow circus we call the 21st century, the Thunderdome, the Terror Terrarium, the Dog Park, bow-wow, ruff-ruff, bow-wow, ruff-ruff,” Rucker says, closing his eyes. He continues to bark in increasingly hushed tones as the barks become a mantra, soothing and surefooted. He never takes his hands off the neck of the guitar. “Life, man. Life. Feel it. Breathe it. Become it. Mikey likes it. He really likes it.”

This is how Rucker — the legendary frontman for Hootie and Blowfish — spends much of his day. In fact, it’s how he has spent much of the past decade. Eight years ago, the ground-breaking South Carolina band called it quits, and Rucker retreated to his Sullivan’s Island abode. This is the first time he has spoken to the press in five years.

Over that time, the legend of Hootie and the Blowfish has grown, just as the strange tales about Rucker have found their way into the gossip pages and onto tabloid websites like TMZ and

Depending on what you have read, Rucker eats only shrimp and grits, a Charleston area delicacy, and he drinks only purified water from Shem Creek, the very body in which the Hootie frontman was baptized in 2009 following a spiritual reawakening. For a while, Rucker lived at Mepkin Abbey in nearby Moncks Corner. Some say he had designs on becoming a monk. Others say he just wanted to get away from the sound of music — and the weight of his band’s legacy.

Hootie and the Blowfish burst on the scene with Cracked Rear View, a debut record that went on to sell 13 million copies and generate three No. 1 hits — “Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry,” and ” Only Wanna Be With You.” At the time, Rucker and company were largely dismissed as an act appealing to drunken frat boys, superficial sorority sisters, and out-of-touch Baby Boomers longing for easy-listening rock ‘n’ roll. But with the Blowfish’s next release, Recliner, Rucker, guitarist Mark Bryan, bassist Dean Felber, and Jim “Soni” Sonefeld attempted to distance themselves from their brand of sunny, South Carolina roots rock — and they succeeded, critically and commercially.

Rucker recalls the making of the album wistfully. “Recliner, to me, was more than a record. It was a soundscape to the sounds of a generation of sleeping souls who had fallen asleep to the lullabies of their own snores. It was a wake-up call. It was a slap to the snooze button. It was a four-alarm fire to the cerebellum,” he says. “It was mindcraft, pure and simple.”

To this day, Recliner remains one of the most revolutionary LPs in pop music history, admired for both its sheer bravado and its lackadaisical LSD-powered wanderlust. A genre-exploding mash-up of vaudeville, Broadway show tunes, Christmas carols, and flushing toilets — yes, flushing toilets — Recliner never lost touch with the Blowfish’s ability to craft ear-worm pop songs about drunken co-eds and the douchebag boyfriends who left them crying on the curb outside yet another Five Points bar.

After Recliner, Hootie and the Blowfish embarked on an even more elaborate endeavor — a multimedia effort combining all of their loves, psychedelic drugs, house-party sing-alongs, golf, Gamecock football, and laser tag. They called it Herman’s Headtrip. It was a monumental undertaking that stretched the band members to their very limits. Recording sessions alone lasted three years.

During that time, Sonefeld quit the band several times, once for five months. He was tired of fighting with Rucker over the increasingly strange music the Hootie frontman was making. Soni traveled to Machu Picchu and Nepal before finally settling in Antarctica. He learned French. He practiced tai chi. He surfed the internet for cat videos.

“Those were dark days, dark days,” Sonefeld says while he lines up a putt on the 16th hole of the Ocean Course at beautiful Kiawah Island Golf Resort. “Darius had really begun to lose it. The drugs, the gurus, the harajuku midgets — it was just too much.”

He adds, “I mean, who hires a 60-piece orchestra to play selections from Mario Bros. 3 backwards? Backwards, man. Backwards.” The putt hugs the rim of the hole and falls in. Sonefeld kisses his putter and points to the sky.

At the behest of Bryan, the cold war that had erupted between Sonefeld and Rucker had begun to thaw. Soni returned to the Blowfish, and for a brief time, it appeared as if Herman’s Headtrip would finally be released.

But Rucker, ever the perfectionist, never quit tinkering with the project, much to his band’s dismay. Eventually, Bryan left to start a supergroup with the surviving members of Cravin’ Melon and Edwin McCain, the former lead singer of Guns ‘n’ Roses. Together they formed the world’s first heavy metal beach music act, Black Shag, and launched a musical revolution.

“It was actually Ed’s idea, this whole beach metal thing,” Bryan says. “We were hanging out at the Viper Room in Hanahan — Ed owns half of the place with Johnny Depp — and one of the go-go dancers — this real Morticia Addams-looking goth chick in a Vampirella bathing suit — was dancing to ‘Backfield in Motion,’ but the speed was too fast. And just like that, he turned to me and said, ‘Black Shag,’ and then he dove into a pile of dandy-boy dandruff and snorted another line.”

As Bryan, Felber, Sonefeld, and their Black Shag comrades collected Grammy Awards and mounds of filthy lucre, Rucker stayed inside his home and worked on Herman’s Headtrip, toiling away for years with apparently nothing to show for it.

Until now.

Months ago, Rucker mailed his former bandmates, letting each one of them know that the long-awaited album had finally been finished. He invited them to his house for a master cleanse, and they listened to Herman’s Headtrip in its entirety for the first time. Rucker asked them not to speak while it played, and he ushered them out the door as soon as the music stopped.

Two days later, Bryan, Sonefeld, and Felber received customer comments cards from the now-closed Piggly Wiggly on Meeting Street in downtown Charleston. The cards were signed, “Darius.” Each member of Hootie and the Blowfish filled one out, although they refuse to say what they wrote. Rucker, for one, seems pleased with the forthcoming album.

“The bio-digital jazz of the information age is a flashback to the counterculture shock waves in the seventh circle of Hello Kitty trading cards and midnight manifestos to the one, true lord of the dance, and Headtrip captures that better than any sigh, any laugh, any cry, any scream ever has. It’s the art as the artifice, the façade as the promenade, the facsimile as the metaphor. Tawanda!” Rucker says.

The 52-track album is scheduled to be released in weekly installments beginning Christmas Day.