‘Claws,’ an Erotic Horror Novel, Chapter Two

[some sexual content]

As Sandra, or Callie Seaver, as she was now calling herself, was lap-dancing a man in his forties in the VIP Room of The Gold Star, the strip joint she was working in, she contemplated her situation of the past few weeks. She was getting used to her new body, her new life as a stripper, and even her relationship with Kluh, who–it seemed–didn’t need to take control of her body so often.

As the man’s hands were sliding along her skin and caressing her breasts, she thought about how she no longer found it so distasteful being viewed as a sex object; the huge amount of money she was making each night gave her a feeling of power, over the men who lusted after her, that made her objectification seem a trifling disadvantage in comparison.

She rubbed her buttocks on the man’s pointy lap, noting how close the tip was to her anal cleft; but it didn’t frighten her as it had before. She’d already slept with a few clients during her first few days as a stripper, in order to have a place to spend the night until she’d find a suitable apartment; and in the process, the trauma she’d associated with sex was fading away, and she was even beginning to enjoy sex now.

She got up and turned around to face him, then brushed her large breasts against his face; as perfectly round as they were, they weren’t silicone, to his delight. She had the body of a goddess, and he was worshipping her. She could psychically sense his worship of her in his mind, just as Kluh could sense it, and Callie was beginning to like being worshipped, just as Kluh, that self-proclaimed goddess inhabiting Callie’s body, had always liked it.

She sat on his lap and felt his hands on her buttocks as she touched her nose against his. His fingers were creeping like a spider’s legs toward her anal cleft. Being touched in that secret area was bothering Callie less and less, since the memory of her stepfather sodomizing her was drifting further and further away from her. What’s more, Kluh as a goddess of lust and death liked being lusted after and touched lewdly, for the spirit considered the body she was inhabiting to be a temple to be adored at.

Now here arrived an important development: between Callie getting used to these recent big changes in her life, with Kluh inhabiting her body and influencing her decisions, and she and Kluh increasingly enjoying the same pleasures, what was emerging was a growing fusion of their wills, of their very identities. Callie and Kluh were slowly becoming one being.

With this fusion of wills, Callie could sense more and more what Kluh’s intentions were: a wish to have more power, which came as a result of merging contraries. She sensed Kluh’s intentions, and felt herself irresistibly more and more sympathetic to them, though some intentions were still mysterious to her…and still frightening.

Two weeks had gone by without any transformation into that clawed beast, though Callie could vaguely sense an urge in Kluh to let the beast out again, to provoke another transformation. That urge seemed to be set aside for the moment, so Callie didn’t fear having more blood on her hands for now.

Indeed, she was relieved to know, from having read in the newspaper that the detective investigating the case, an Agnes Surian, had all but given up on the case. All Surian had brought to light was that some clawed beast attacked Mort Brahms and jumped out his second-story bedroom window. How the animal got in the man’s house was a mystery.

Another mystery was what had become of Mort’s stepdaughter, Sandra. The shy, chubby eighteen-year-old seemed to have vanished. Callie liked the sound of that. No more Sandra, no more Mort. No more bad past. No tracing of the killing to Callie in Toronto.

The man had one set of fingers between her legs, and the other set between her buttocks. He was arousing Kluh’s lust, making sympathetic Callie feel it, too. It titillated both of them to have their secret places known. Callie was just glad Surian didn’t know anything about the secret identity of the beast.

The closest anyone could trace it to Callie was in a few people having sighted a hairy, anthropomorphic beast running and jumping high in the air through the streets of Hamilton, then heading towards an exit of the city. But where it had gone after that wasn’t at all known. No one had sighted it since.

So as long as no one provoked the monster by trying to rape her, Callie would be safe. All these men lusting after her nakedness, and being lap-danced by her, and fondling her in the VIP Room, seemed less and less of a danger to her; thus, she wouldn’t be a danger to them…if only such assurances could last.

She was licking the man’s ear, then he whispered in her ear, “I’d…love to draw you, Chloe.”

“You’re an artist, Wayne?” she asked, rubbing harder on his erection, and as delighted to hear herself addressed by her mother’s name (now also her stage name) as she was to be so worshipped.

“Yes,” he grunted from the feeling of those rubbing buttocks. “You have…the body…of a goddess.”

She was so surprised to know that a man’s lust didn’t terrify her anymore. Her curvy body no longer seemed to be a risk of rapes, but was now a source of pride. She’d made herself fat as a teen in the hopes that Mort would stop being sexually attracted to her; actually, he’d rape and sodomize her no less than before. But now, sex no longer meant powerlessness to Callie; making hundreds, thousands of dollars every night from sex-addicted customers meant sex was power for her, something Kluh had always understood.

I told you I’d be good for you…Chloe, Kluh told her mentally.

Yes, Callie answered in her mind. You may not be my mother Chloe, but thanks to your help, I am now Chloe, the sex goddess of The Gold Star.

WE are the sex goddess, Kluh corrected. We grow to be more and more one with every passing day, with every sexual contact. Remember what I told you before: the merging of contraries, male and female, sex and death, pleasure and pain, delight and terror, make me more powerful. And as I get powerful, you get powerful. For we are one.

Fuck this man, and we get stronger? Callie asked.

Yes, Callie. Even his attempted rape of us, if that happens, means we kill him with the claws. Sex merged with death makes us stronger, too.

Oh, I hope we won’t have to kill again.

That’s up to Wayne, isn’t it?

*********************

An hour later, they were in his studio apartment, her nude on his bed lying on her back, and him at the foot of the bed with a pencil in one hand, drawing her breasts on a sketchpad.

“Usually strippers look less attractive in the bright light,” Wayne said, his erection poking a visible bulge in his pants that made flattered Callie smirk. “Not you. You’re even more beautiful than I’d imagined possible.”

She giggled. “Thank you.”

“I thought you were blonde in The Gold Star,” he said, detailing her erect nipples. “I see you have bleached white hair.”

“Oh, I change my hair colour a lot, actually,” she said. Kluh made my hair blonde, white, light green, yellow, even pink, all tonight over several hours when I danced in the dimmed lights, didn’t you?

Yes, I did, Kluh answered in her mind. My constant changing of your appearance is how I make it difficult to trace where you are, in case we need to let out the beast again.

Callie shuddered at that thought, but her fear soon changed back to titillation. I can psychically feel Wayne’s lust, she thought. It’s so exciting!

It’s good to be worshipped, isn’t it? Kluh asked her.

Yes, Callie thought. Everyone in high school bullied me for being fat. Mort made me his sex slave; I won’t even call him my stepdad anymore. But now, men are my sex slaves, enthralled by me, they must please me!

That’s the spirit, Kluh told her. The union of his phallus with your yoni, or even your anus, will make us even more powerful, the merging of male and female, of penetrator and penetrated. United opposites make us strong.

Oh, let it not be anal again, she thought. Your lubricating me stops the hurt, but I still feel the fear, the trauma. The painful memories.

Don’t be afraid, Callie. I’m making you stronger and stronger with every lover, not weaker.

“OK,” Wayne sighed. “That sketch is finished. I’d like to do one now of you on all fours, with your ass pointed at me. Will that be OK?”

“Better than OK,” Kluh said. She got into position, with both her anus and vulva showing for him.

“OK,” he grunted, that bulge in his pants straining against his zipper as he began drawing. “No, don’t look at me, Chloe. Face the head of the bed.”

Callie’s heart was pounding. She couldn’t stand being so exposed, so vulnerable to this stranger, yet Kluh kept her body in this position. For the demoness was aroused by Callie’s fears combined with the energy of Wayne’s lust, which she welcomed. She would take his phallic energy and make it hers.

This man was far from being Kluh’s ideal to mate with Callie’s femininity, but he’d give her some power that night, anyway. As for the ideal male, he would arrive soon enough…quite soon, indeed, actually.

Kluh felt Wayne’s desire as he sketched her ass, his urge to penetrate her. The demoness felt his eyes staring at the holes he wanted to enter, just as she visualized entering him in another way. The penetrator would become the penetrated, a fusion of opposites, giving her more power.

Kluh knew he was planning to sneak up behind her, thinking her not seeing him coming meant she wouldn’t know what he was about to do. Callie sensed his desire to come at her from behind, too, and she was terrified–terrified of reliving Mort’s sodomizing of her, and terrified from knowing she’d kill again. But she couldn’t stop Kluh from letting this all happen.

Wayne’s pencil touched the paper softer and quieter with each stroke, sketching the wrinkles on her anus, where he was itching to enter.

Without making a sound, he put the pencil and pad to the side, got up from his chair, and crept over to her ass. He had no idea that both Kluh and Callie could sense his exact movements psychically, every second of them.

He put his hands on her buttocks and opened them, widening the orifices.

Callie yelped and looked back at him with agape eyes and her jaw dropped.

“Am I sexy?” Kluh had her sigh.

“Yes,” he sighed back.

“Am I beautiful?”

“Yes.”

“Do you want me?” (Callie dreamed of an answer of no.)

“Yes.” He unzipped his pants and took it out. “Oh?” He noticed her anus was moistening with lubrication. “How convenient.”

“I’m gonna surprise you in more ways than one tonight, you stud,” Kluh moaned.

“I’m sure you will.” He was surprised to find himself lubricated, too. “What is this, black magic?”

You could call it that, Kluh thought.

He pushed inside, and as he moved back and forth, Callie was having vivid flashbacks of Mort: she could feel, once again, her stepfather’s sweat dripping on her bare back, his bad breath blowing on her right ear, the pain of his pushing and pulling, even though Wayne wasn’t hurting her at all.

Swelling with lust, the man reached around with both arms and grabbed her breasts, squeezing them hard and pinching her nipples. Mort had done that on one occasion, making Sandra scream in between sobs. This was too much for Callie. She shook, her head spinning.

When her eyes refocused, she saw hairs slithering out of the follicles on her arms. Her fingernails were stretching out into claws, each at least six or seven centimetres long.

The last image that flashed in her mind, before giving her consciousness away to the beast, was Bill Bixby’s irises turning white on TV. Before she had time to wonder if the same thing had happened to her eyes–it did, actually–she blacked out.

“What the hell?” Wayne grunted, pulling his dick out. “How’d you get so hairy?” Her hair was no longer the ‘bleach-white’ colour: it was brown, as it was all over her body. Now she was grunting, and her bestial head twisted back to look at him. “Jesus fucking Christ!”

Her claws slashed his face, one of them gouging his eyes and blinding him. The other claws sliced lines of red into his forehead, nose, and lips. He fell off the bed on his back, clutching his bloody face and whining on the floor.

The beast jumped on him. She dug her claws into his guts, tearing his intestines to pieces. His body shook on the floor as a river of blood flowed out both sides from his waist. He was coughing blood.

She stabbed her claws into his chest, and his body lay still.

There was a knock on the front door of the apartment. “I heard a scream,” a male neighbour said. “What’s going on in there?”

She ran at a nearby window and jumped out, splashing shards of glass in all directions.

‘Claws,’ an Erotic Horror Novel, Chapter One

[some sexual content]

Sandra Brahms woke up surrounded in bushes.

“What the–?” she whispered, then looked down at her body.

She was naked.

“Oh, my God!” she gasped, then put her hands over her breasts and crotch. “Hey, why don’t I have any pubic hair anymore?”

She got up and looked up at a cloudless, blue summer sky in the early afternoon. On the other side, opposite the bushes, was a tall chain-link wire fence separating her from a large backyard swimming pool. Since only dirt, mysterious spots of blood, and a few blades of grass were sticking to her skin and covering it, she figured she needed a swim to clean off; but would she get caught?

Don’t worry, a female voice said in her mind. I’ll protect you.

“Mama?’ she whispered, remembering the voice from the night before. “Is that you?”

Yes, the voice said. Your Mama Kluh. You summoned my spirit last night, remember?

You mean, my Mama Chloe? Sandra thought, sensing correctly that the spirit could detect her thoughts. Where am I? What happened to my step-dad?

You’re in Toronto, Kluh mentally told her. You’re safe from that bastard.

“Toronto?” Sandra said out loud, then cupped her mouth, hoping no one (especially no boys or men) heard her.

Yes, Kluh told her. I had to get you as far away from Hamilton as I could, and fast, after what we did to rescue you from him.

What did we do? Sandra mentally asked the spirit. I don’t remember.

Images flashed before her eyes, each one flashing in split seconds: Her stepdad, Mort Brahms, on top of her nude body in bed. A stabbing, phallic pain inside her. Long, sharp, bony claws grow from her fingers. Hair grows all over her body. She growls. Mort gasps at the sight.

“My God!” Sandra gasped, her eyes agape. “Did I–?”

Yes, the spirit answered. It will all make sense to you in time. For now, just get over this fence, go in the swimming pool, and clean yourself up. Don’t worry. I’ve taken care of everything. You’ll be fine.

“But, what if–?”

Impatient with Sandra’s doubts, Kluh took control of her body and made her climb over the fence with ease, then had her run to the swimming pool and jump in the deep end. She swam and swam, getting nice and clean.

As she continued swimming, more flashes of moments from the night before, in her house in Hamilton, went before her eyes: those claws, stabbing into Mort’s chest. His blood splashing everywhere. Him gasping and grunting, then coughing out blood. She shook her head at the images, then went down deeper in the water.

The owner of the house came into the backyard from the back door. He went closer to the swimming pool and saw a curvaceous young woman swimming underwater. He couldn’t make out a swimsuit on her: only the delicious peach colour of her skin. He smiled from ear to ear.

“The Missus will be at work all day,” he whispered to himself.

She poked her head out of the water, and saw him ogling her.

Before Sandra could gasp in fear, Kluh took over her body again. She swam over to the side of the pool and put her feet on the steps. No, no, Mama! she told Kluh in her thoughts, knowing what the spirit was thinking. He won’t like my fat, ugly, hairy body (Oh, wait! My pubic hair’s gone.). If he does like my body, though, will that clawed monster kill him if he tries to rape me?

With a lewd smirk on Sandra’s face, Kluh went up the steps to reveal her frontal nudity to the man. Sandra saw her nakedness in the reflection of the large back window of the house: no fat, no flab. Instead, she saw a flawless body, like that of a porn star. A totally unrecognizable image to awkward, eighteen-year-old Sandra.

That…isn’t me, Sandra thought. Mama, you transformed my body?

Yes, Kluh answered, now completely out of the pool and blithely allowing the man to enjoy seeing her large breasts and hairless crotch. Kluh had Sandra continue smirking at the lecher. “Hi,” she said to him.

“Hi,” he gasped, his smile never leaving his face.

Mama? You’re going to let that man have his way with me?

Don’t worry, Sandra. It’s all part of the plan.

What plan? What if he hurts me the way Step-Daddy used to?

He won’t. I have this all planned out. He’s useful to us.

What if you’re wrong, Mama?

I’m not. We in the spirit world have access to forms of knowledge you mortals never could. I took you here because we need him. He’ll help us set you up for a new life in Toronto. Trust me.

What if he forces me…what if he sticks it in my…?

Then I’ll kill him with the claws.

“What’s your name, honey?” the man asked.

“Callie Seaver,” Kluh had Sandra say, using her middle name and mother’s maiden name.

I don’t think this is my real mother, Sandra thought, even though she knows so many intimate details of my life. My tampering with the spirit world was a mistake. I should never have tried to summon my mother’s ghost to save me from the man she married after Daddy died. Oh, why did both my real parents have to die on me so early in life?

The man took Sandra by the hand and led her into his house.

She saw more flashes from the night before: her claws slicing and scratching deep cuts into Mort’s chest and guts. He falls to her right on the bed. She jumps off it, then jumps through the window, shattering glass everywhere. She lands on the ground outside, then leaves her neighbourhood by running and jumping in huge, high leaps.

Sandra shook and almost fell in the man’s living room.

“Hey, watch your step, honey,” he said, grabbing her left arm to stop her from falling.

“Oh, thank you,” Kluh had Sandra say. She put her arms around his neck and kissed him, her tongue deep in his mouth. He had his hands on her ass, squeezing the cheeks.

Between pecks on the lips, he asked, “Wanna…come upstairs?”

“Sure,” Kluh sighed, though Sandra, without any control over her body, wanted to shake her head.

“Lemme dry you off with a towel first,” he said. “Don’t want the Missus to see water dripping everywhere.” He got a big, fluffy towel from the upstairs bathroom and dried her off, then led her into the bedroom. She got on the bed on all fours, with her ass pushed out and her legs spread so everything was showing. “Damn, those have to be the two most perfect entrances ever.”

Sandra shuddered when she heard the man’s words, his unzipping of his fly, and getting on the bed on his knees behind her, making her even more nervous. Are you sure this is necessary, Mama?

Yes, Kluh told her in her thoughts. Don’t worry. This is how I’ll get him to do stuff for us. We do him a favour, he does us one.

Are you my mother’s ghost, or are you a devil?

I’m a Polynesian goddess of sex and death, Sandra. And I’m making your life a whole new, much better thing. Trust me. I know what I’m doing.

Sandra felt the man begin entering her vagina. A memory of her stepfather raping her several years back caused her to yelp, but she was surprised to feel lubricated–obviously Kluh’s doing. As the man slid in and out of her, Sandra remembered those many times throughout her teens when Mort had been in the same position with her. It hurt every time with Mort, but he’d managed to convince her that she ‘liked it,’ even when he, so to speak, used the back door.

The first memory of the night before flashed in front of her eyes again: Mort’s painful entry, her getting angry–like Bruce Banner turning into the Hulk–and her turning into that hairy beast with the claws.

Sandra didn’t want this man on her back, but she didn’t want to kill him, either. Strangely, as much as she didn’t want the sex, she was getting aroused. Kluh was making it pleasurable for her.

She hadn’t misheard the spirit’s name: it was Kluh, not Chloe, her mother’s name. This wasn’t her mother’s ghost–it couldn’t be. It was some devil possessing her. Summoning a spirit to save her from Mort was a dreadful mistake, Sandra was realizing more and more with every thrust from that man behind her. Kluh wasn’t helping Sandra. This “Polynesian goddess” had an agenda of her own. But how could Sandra get rid of her?

Kluh made Sandra orgasm, a pleasure that made her feel like a prostitute. The man, however, wasn’t finished with her.

He pulled out. Looking down at her ass, he grunted, “What a pretty brown eye.”

Oh, no! Sandra thought. He’s looking at my…he wants to…

Don’t worry, Kluh said. You’ll be fine.

She felt him begin to enter her the back way. But Kluh, my step-daddy used to do that! It really hurt. My trauma will make me go wild. I don’t wanna kill this man.

You won’t turn into the clawed beast, Kluh said. It won’t hurt.

Indeed, as the man went further inside, Sandra felt herself lubricated again, by Kluh’s mysterious abilities. It didn’t hurt at all…not physically. Still, it made her remember…

Another memory of the night before flashed before her eyes: Her running and jumping along the side of a highway leaving Hamilton. Her jumping on the top of a bus headed for Toronto. Her claws digging deep into the roof of the bus. Nobody on the bus noticing the impact of her body when it landed on the bus, for Kluh made the driver and passengers oblivious to it. Her hair flowing in the cool night breeze; the hair on her body keeping her warm.

This doesn’t hurt, Sandra thought as she felt the man still going in and out of her, but it’s really making me tense. I’m scared. Will I turn into that beast again, and claw him to death? He’s a creep, cheating on his wife and reminding me of my traumas, so I’d kind of like to kill him (as I’m kind of glad I killed Step-Daddy); but I don’t want any more blood on my hands.

“You’re…so…tight! Unh!” the man grunted.

Sandra felt his disgusting sweat dripping on her back, reminding her of Mort’s sweat; but Kluh was enjoying the anal. Sandra was terrified, but had no control over her body. Was Kluh secretly planning on killing this man at the end of the sex? She told Sandra everything would be OK, but the spirit had lied before about being her long-dead mother.

Another memory of the night before reappeared before her eyes: the phallic pain in her vagina; her hairy transformation; her claws, stabbing into Mort’s chest; his blood, her growling…

“Oh!” the man groaned, then pulled out and sprayed on the sheets. “Shit! I’m gonna…have to…clean that up. I’ll have to…tell the Missus…I’d been beating off.”

He zipped up his pants. It was over. Thank God, Sandra thought.

Kluh had Sandra look back at him. “I need to borrow…some of your wife’s clothes. Drive me downtown…and buy me some clothes…for myself. Then drive me…to the most popular…strip joint in Toronto. I’ll take it from there.”

“And if I don’t?” he asked.

“Your wife will know what we did.” Her eyes pierced into his with a killer look that showed she meant business.

“O-OK, on all counts.”

They left in his car, her in a blue dress of his wife’s, about thirty minutes later.

Analysis of ‘Midnight Cowboy’

Midnight Cowboy is a 1969 buddy drama film starring Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman. Directed by John Schlesinger and written by Waldo Salt, the film is based on the 1965 novel by James Leo Herlihy. It won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

It was rated R originally, then rated X for its treatment of adult subject matter (gender-bending gay men and other people deemed ‘degenerates’ of the seedier side of New York City) considered discomfiting to moviegoers at the time.

Ultimately, the film is relatable for its exploration of themes of loneliness, fantasy (including dissociation and drug use, as escapes from the ugliness of the real world), melancholia, poverty, and alienation. There’s a recurring manic defence against depression, guilt, and sadness in the film.

Here are some famous quotes:

“Lotta rich women back there, Ralph, begging for it, paying for it, too…and the men – they’re mostly tutti fruttis. So I’m gonna cash in on some of that, right?…Hell, what do I got to stay around here for? I got places to go, right?” –Joe Buck (Voight), to Ralph

“You look real nice, lover boy, real nice. Make your old grandma proud. You’re gonna be the best-looking cowboy in the whole parade.” –Sally Buck, to little Joe

“Well, sir, I ain’t a for-real cowboy. But I am one helluva stud.” –Joe, to Mr. O’Daniel

“I’m lonesome, so I’m a drunk. I’m lonesome, so I’m a dope fiend. I’m lonesome, so I’m a thief! I’m lonesome, so I’m a fornicator! A whoremonger!” –Mr. O’Daniel

[To taxi driver]HEY! I’m walkin’ here! I’m walkin’ here! [bangs hand on car] Up yours you son-of-a-bitch! You don’t talk to me that way! Get outta here! [to Joe] Don’t worry about that. Actually, that ain’t a bad way to pick up insurance, you know.” –Enrico Salvatore “Ratso” Rizzo (Hoffman)

“The X on the windows means the landlord can’t collect rent, which is a convenience, on account of it’s condemned.” –Ratso

“Got my own private entrance here. You’re the only one who knows about it. Watch the plank. Watch the plank. Break your god-damn skull. No way to collect insurance.” –Ratso

“The two basic items necessary to sustain life are sunshine and coconut milk. Did you know that? That’s a fact. In Florida, they got a terrific amount of coconut trees there. In fact, I think they even got ’em in the, uh, gas stations over there. And ladies? You know that in Miami, you got, uh, you listenin’ to me? You got more ladies in Miami than in any resort area in the country there. I think per capita on a given day, there’s probably, uh, three hundred of ’em on the beach. In fact, you can’t even, uh, scratch yourself without gettin’ a belly-button, uh, up the old kazoo there.” –Ratso

“Not bad, not bad for a cowboy. You’re OK. You’re OK.” Ratso, to Joe

[to Joe] I’m gonna use ya. I’m gonna run you ragged…You and me can have fun together. It doesn’t have to be joyless.” –Mr. O’Daniel (John McGiver)

“I’ve prayed on the streets. I’ve prayed in the saloons. I’ve prayed in the toilets. It don’t matter where, so long as He gets that prayer.” –O’Daniel

“Do you love me, Joe? Do you love me? Love me? You’re the only one, Joe. You’re the only one. You’re better, Joe. You’re better than the rest of ’em. You’re better than any of them, Joe. You love me, Joe. You’re better than all of ’em. You’re the best, Joe.” –Annie […]

Cass: I hate to ask you, but you’re such a doll.

Joe: You know, Cass, that’s a funny thing you mentioning money. ‘Cause I was just about to ask you for some.

Cass: You were gonna ask me for money? Huh?

Joe: Hell, why do you think I come all the way up here from Texas for?

Cass: You were gonna ask me for money? Who the hell do you think you’re dealing with? Some old slut on 42nd Street? In case you didn’t happen to notice it, ya big Texas longhorn bull, I’m one helluva gorgeous chick.

Joe: Now, Cass, take it easy.

Cass: You heard it. At twenty-eight years old. You think you can come up here, and pull this kind of crap up here! Well, you’re out of your mind! […]

The film begins with a shot of a blank movie screen at a drive-in. As the shot backs away, we hear the sounds of gunfire in a ‘cowboys and Indians’ shoot-out in an old Western movie. The sound, but lack of cowboy movie visuals, reinforces the sense of fantasy, the fantasy Joe Buck (Voight) has of being a cowboy. But real life is no movie, and he is no real cowboy.

We see him showering and singing about the joys of leaving for New York, where he imagines he’ll prosper as a prostitute servicing rich but lonely older women. As he fantasizes, he’s already aware of the reality of his annoyed coworkers at a restaurant where he’s expected to be to wash the pile-up of dishes. He’s just quitting all of a sudden, and taking a bus to New York, in all irresponsibility.

It’s a beautiful sunny day in Texas as Joe is walking down the streets to catch the bus. This pleasant day symbolizes his enjoyment of his fantasizing about his glamorous life as a “hustler” in New York, ignoring the traffic as he crosses the road. A truck driver honks at the absent-minded dreamer.

Nilsson‘s “Everybody’s Talkin’” is heard as Joe is walking merrily along in his cowboy outfit, carrying his suitcase and radio. Even if he’d been given warnings about what problems he might have in New York, a city he’s never been to, and one he’ll be totally out of his element in, Joe wouldn’t have listened to them.

His fellow dishwasher, Ralph, asks what he’s “gonna do back East,” as if anticipating Joe’s future problems; but it doesn’t occur to Joe at all that there might actually be problems there. “I betcha it’s a mess back there,” Ralph warns in all prescience, though oblivious Joe just thinks he’ll “cash in on some of that.”

Nilsson sings, as if in Joe’s voice, “Everybody’s talking at me; I don’t hear a word they’re saying, only the echoes of my mind.” Joe won’t heed any warnings, because he “won’t let you leave [his] love behind,” his love being his dream of being famous in New York as “one helluva stud.”

“People stopping, staring, I can’t see their faces, only the shadows of their eyes.” Joe won’t heed people’s warnings, nor will he behold their disapproving facial expressions. He can barely make out the disapproving shadows of their eyes. He won’t face the reality of the disastrous future he’s walking into; he barely notices taxis or trucks about to hit him on the road. All he cares about is his fantasy, and his hopes of fulfilling it.

His fantasy is an escape from his painful past, one that included his mother giving him up as a child to his grandmother, the late Sally Buck. His relationship with her was a strange one, only superficially loving. She’d often leave him alone in the house, blowing him a kiss and dropping off a few dollars for him, to be with “a new beau,” the drunk Woodsy Niles. Sometimes she’d lie in bed with little Joe and kiss him: did she sexually abuse him? Is that why he wants to prostitute himself to older women?

Whatever was going on between little Joe and Sally, it’s certain that his family relationships were a failure. Her unexpected death on his return from the military has only increased his feelings of isolation. His sexual relationship with Annie, a girl with a reputation for being promiscuous (boys lined up to have sex with her), was also a failure that has contributed to his loneliness; for those boys who’d lined up to have her grew jealous of her preference for Joe, and so they got revenge on both lovers by surprising the two in a car when they were making love, and gang-raping her, forcing Joe to watch.

Her trauma resulted in her being institutionalized, and Joe was alone again. Throughout his life, he’s been taught that sex is a commodity, an exchange value rather than part of the value of a relationship with a mate. For these reasons, Joe can find only pain and loneliness in the Texas he’s grown up in; so he must leave to escape that pain, his dream of being a desirable “hustler” as his manic defence against the crushing depression he’d feel from facing that pain.

Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein first wrote about the manic defence as part of an infant’s dealing with the pain of transitioning from the paranoid-schizoid position (hostility towards the “bad mother” half of the split mother object in the baby’s mind) to the depressive position (involving guilt over that hostility, fear of the hated object being taken away and/or killed, and a wish for reparation when the infant realizes Mother is a mix of good and bad aspects). The manic defence, however, can be felt at any point in one’s whole life, and D.W. Winnicott expanded on Klein’s idea in a 1935 paper. We can see, in his description of the characteristics of the manic defence, how Joe Buck deals with his pain through an escape in sex.

Winnicott describes one aspect of this manic defence, which we can see as applying to Joe, in the following way: “Denial of the sensations of depression–namely the heaviness, the sadness–by specifically opposite sensations, lightness, humorousness, etc. The employment of almost any opposites in the reassurance against death, chaos, mystery, etc., ideas that belong to the fantasy content of the depressive position.” (Winnicott, page 132, his emphasis)

So, in order to protect himself from the pain of his childhood and failed relationship with Annie, Joe must assume the opposite feelings: hope, enthusiasm, excitement, and joy. To evade feelings of loneliness, he must seek the opposite, to be close to as many other people as possible, so close as to be intimately close, his naked body rubbing up against others in sex. To avoid the pain of reality, he must be constantly daydreaming, in a fantasy world, living inside his mind, ignoring the sobering outside world.

His loneliness is accentuated through his experiences with the others on the bus: he tries to chat with the driver, who ignores him; young women titter when he walks by in his cowboy outfit, his radio in his hands; and the only person who shows any real interest in communicating with him is a little girl who plays some coquettish peek-a-boo…not an appropriate client for his services, to put it mildly.

Elsewhere on the bus, a group of army men are singing “The Caisson Song,” with the enthusiasm of the brainwashed, but at least they have each other’s company. Women on the radio speak of how they want a stud in bed, and Joe is thrilled, but it doesn’t occur to him that these women don’t want a prostitute.

Wherever he sees himself in a mirror, he’s pleased to see a handsome cowboy…but even he knows he isn’t “a for real cowboy.” That mirror is Lacan‘s mirror, in which he sees only his idealized self, his ideal-ego, all together, unified, and cohesive; but this ideal-I is only an illusion, for his real self looking into the mirror is an awkward, fragmented, and unhappy man.

This real man is suited for the most menial of labour, like dishwashing, a job so lacking in glamour that he’s run away from it so quickly, no notice is even given to his boss. He quit because of the alienating nature of the job: it alienates him from any sense of pride in his work; it alienates him from his coworkers and boss; and it alienates him from his species-essence, or his sense of meaning in life. He hopes the cowboy image will restore all that he’s been alienated from, but he’ll soon be even more alienated in New York.

Indeed, as he wanders the streets with his money having run out, and his having been kicked out of his hotel, he walks by a restaurant and sees a dishwasher through the window, a frowning young blond who could be his twin. His reflection in the glass is seen beside the dishwasher, accentuating both their identity with each other and the Lacanian illusion of his reflection. His False Self and True Self are tragically juxtaposed.

Upon his arrival in New York City, he’s been going around trying to connect with his would-be female clientele, but of course with no success. In fact, his only success has been with a call girl who expects him to pay her! The big question ringing in the head of every viewer of this movie is, Where did Joe get the idea that scores of New York women want to pay a man for sex?

Finally, he meets Rico “Ratso” Rizzo (Hoffman) in a bar; this is the one time we see the con man/cripple dressed well, for this first impression Joe gets of him is as Rico’s False Self; for most of the rest of the film, he has his more typical scruffy “Ratso” look, getting sicker and sicker. Thus, Rico is Joe’s double; we have the posturing duo of a “cowboy” and a ‘streetwise man with connections,’ both trying to escape their wretched condition.

As Joe is chatting with Rico in the bar about the disastrous hook-up with the call girl, and Rico is pretending to help Joe get the “management” he needs, we can hear the song “A Famous Myth,” by The Groop, playing faintly in the background. Indeed, it is a famous myth that anyone beyond the 1% will ever “fly so high.” This goes double for Joe’s fantasy of being a glamorous “hustler” or Rico’s fantasy of living the good life in Florida. Note the song’s juxtaposition, of the hopeful aspiration in the lyrics, with the sadness of that unfulfillable longing in the music. The manic defence fails again.

As Joe and Rico are talking and walking down the street on their way to Mr. O’Daniel’s place, we see Rico’s limp. In the famous scene of them crossing the road and a taxi almost hitting Rico, his shouting “I’m walkin’ here! I’m walkin’ here!” (as opposed to him limping) is a wish fulfillment we later see in his Florida fantasy, when we see him actually running with Joe on the beach.

Mr. O’Daniel (played by the character actor, John McGiver) is Joe’s would-be connection with that coveted elder female clientele; but wearing that bathrobe and smiling that maniacal grin, O’Daniel comes across as some kind of sex pervert. When he says Joe will need his “strong back,” we wonder what for.

As it turns out, O’Daniel–who correctly notes that being “lonesome” is what leads to alcoholism, crime, drugs, and sex addiction–has his own manic defence against loneliness and depression: religion. Prayer, even in the toilet stalls, will cure sadness!

(Recall, in this connection, what Marx said about religion: “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” [Marx, Introduction to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right])

Joe, whose childhood traumas remind him of the excesses of religious fanaticism, runs out of the apartment, another attempt to escape from pain. In his mad search for that cheat Rizzo, Joe dissociates in his thoughts, and what ensues is a melange of images of Rizzo found in the subway, Joe’s wish-fulfillment that he’s found the snake, with memories of Annie’s gang rape mixed in. Reveries, dreams, religion, and drug-induced hallucinations all represent the failure of fantasy as a manic defence cure for sadness.

Later, Joe’s money runs out, and he’s kicked out of his hotel room, an obvious example of private property. Homelessness is one of the abused children of private property and capitalism, and Joe has joined Rico as one of those children. Desperate, Joe resorts to gay prostitution (something, in the novel, that he is indifferent to because of having been a victim of homosexual gang rape).

He allows a young man (Bob Balaban) to perform fellatio on him in a movie theatre for $25, which the boy, it turns out, doesn’t even have. Joe tries fantasizing about sex with Annie to get excited during the blow job. His feelings of degradation are mirrored by the science fiction movie playing: in it, an astronaut is cut off from his spaceship, depriving him of his oxygen supply as he drifts off, lost in space. Joe feels similarly lost, his dream of being a lady-pleasing stud also losing oxygen.

The phallic spaceship comes apart into halves, symbolizing castration, as does the severing of the connection of the ill-fated astronaut to his ship. Since engaging in gay male sexual activity is traditionally associated with a loss of manhood, and cowboy-stud Joe believes in such traditional societal narratives, he feels himself to be symbolically emasculated.

The irony of Joe’s belief in the macho cowboy, John Wayne stereotype, his ideal-ego that he sees in the mirror, is that Rico disillusions him by telling him that only gay male prostitutes dress like cowboys. Joe’s manic defence has never protected him from his self-loathing.

Rico has his own manic defences, apart from his con man/thief persona. Just as Joe dreamt of leaving Texas to find his would-be haven in New York City, so does Rico dream of leaving the hell of New York for the would-be paradise of Florida.

And just as Joe has had painful relationships with his neglectful mother and his grandmother, who suddenly died on his return home from the military, so does Rico suffer the memories of his disappointing late father, a shoe-shiner who “was even dumber than [Joe],” and whose headstone should say “one big, lousy X,” just like the building he and Joe are squatting in. They’ve been “condemned by order of City Hall,” part of the bourgeois state that protects private property and throws people like Joe and Rico out onto the street for not having made more of themselves.

The loss of, or traumatic disappointment in, parental objects results in a splitting of the personality into ego-segments that WRD Fairbairn called the Libidinal Ego (connected to the Exciting Object) and an Anti-libidinal Ego (connected to a Rejecting Object). Joe’s pursuit of older women as clients represents the former ego/object configuration, while Rico’s misanthropic rebuffs (e.g., “Take your hands off of me!” at the party) represents the latter ego/object configuration.

This libidinal or anti-libidinal retreat into a world of exciting or rejecting objects is another escape into fantasy, a refusal to face the real world, where Fairbairn‘s concept of the Central Ego is linked to an Ideal Object (“ideal” because it is best to be in relationships with real people [“objects” in relation to oneself, the subject] in the external world, as opposed to the fantasy life of the internal, mental world). At least Joe and Rico have each other as Ideal Objects…that is, until the end of the movie.

One comical scene shows Joe and Rico in their non-heated home, the condemned building, shivering in the winter and dancing to a commercial jingle on Joe’s radio about “Florida orange juice…on ice.” An icicle is hanging from a tap, and Rico’s fantasy of the warmth of Florida makes the jingle into a cruel musical joke on his manic defence.

Another escape attempt from their melancholy comes in the form of a party held by artsy siblings “Hansel and Gretel McAlbertson.” At this party, we can see the difference in the manic defence’s degree of success or failure in Joe vs. Rico. Joe (Libidinal Ego) bogarts a joint that he naïvely thinks is just a regular cigarette, then he’s given a pill to augment his high (Exciting Object). Rico (Anti-libidinal Ego), on the other hand, remains misanthropic, stealing food and picking pockets, and scowling at all the other guests (Rejecting Object). Elephant’s Memory‘s psychedelic “Old Man Willow” is heard in the background.

A woman Hansel is filming grins and says, “I love everything in the theatre. I would like to die on the stage.” Of course: the theatre is a staged illusion, an escape from the pains of the real world; hence, “to die on the stage,” the final, sad acquiescence to reality, would at least be a happy death.

Joe’s brief escape into the euphoria of drugs ends with him scoring with a woman guest (Brenda Vaccaro, another Exciting Object for his Libidinal Ego) at the party, but also with his worries over Rico’s declining health. This worry, along with perhaps the effect of the marijuana and the pill, affects his ability to get an erection for the woman in her bed; hence, the look of abject terror on his face.

Winnicott wrote of the “ascensive” quality of the manic defence (Winnicott, pages 134-135), which can be symbolically associated with an erection. Joe’s failure to get it up thus represents his failed escape from melancholy through sex. Rico never succeeds in escaping his own sadness, especially on that bus ride to Florida; and Joe is so psychically conjoined to Rico, that Rico’s failed escape becomes Joe’s, too.

Rico refuses to accept the reality of his worsening illness; he’d rather be sick and risk dying in sunny Florida than get well in a New York hospital, which could lead to cops and to his incarceration. Desperate to get money for the bus ride, Joe assaults (and possibly kills) a client (Barnard Hughes) to steal all of his money.

The beautiful sight of bright, warm, sunny Florida–Rico’s manic defence against his melancholy, and ironically similar to the sunny Texas that Joe escaped from at the film’s beginning–is tragically contrasted with the continuing decline of Rico’s health. His body’s in pain, he wets his pants, and he’s sweating all over; this symbolizes his psychological disintegration–his body is trying to project his self-hate, just as he was projecting it onto all the people he was robbing, cheating, and rejecting at the party.

Freud, in Mourning and Melancholia, wrote of the similarity between the two, but with the one crucial difference being that, with normal mourning, one fully loves the deceased, mourned love object, whereas with melancholia, the unconscious source of one’s sadness comes from a mix of love and hate for the deceased. One internalizes the deceased–that is, identifies with the object through introjection; so the hated aspects of the object become the hated self, hence the mysterious source of one’s sadness. (Freud, pages 254, 256-260)

Both Joe and Rico have this melancholy after having lost and mourned family members who were far from ideal. Unconscious hostility to Sally Buck and to Rico’s father are thus introjected, and Joe and Rico hate themselves.

Nonetheless, even Freud acknowledged the presence of mania as having a dialectical relationship with melancholia: “The impression which several psychoanalytic investigators have already put into words is that the content of mania is no different from that of melancholia, that both disorders are wrestling with the same ‘complex’, but that probably in melancholia the ego has succumbed to the complex whereas in mania it has mastered it or pushed it aside. Our second pointer is afforded by the observation that all states such as joy, exultation, or triumph, which give us the normal model for mania, depend on the same economic conditions.” (Freud, page 263)

Some, like Joe, are more successful with the manic defence, while others, like Rico, fail at it, and also fail at projecting their self-hate onto others (e.g., Rico‘s homophobia and misanthropy in general). For these reasons, Rico dies while Joe lives, but now Joe has a new loved one to mourn, and to be melancholy about.

The Midnight Cowboy theme, the lead melody of which is played on Toots Thielemans‘s chromatic harmonica, symbolizes this ‘happy sadness’ of the manic defence perfectly. Though a profoundly sad piece of music, the theme is melodically based on paralleled major 7th chords (save the G dominant, so C maj. 7, A-sharp maj. 7, G-sharp maj. 7, C-sharp maj. 7, G7). Major scales and chords seem to sound ‘happy,’ or ‘bright’ (like the sunny skies in Texas and Florida) as opposed to the ‘sad,’ or ‘dark’ (like the darkness inside Joe’s and Rico’s hearts, or the shadows in wintry New York) minor scales and chords. Here, the major melodies are sadder than Nigel Tufnel‘s D minor.

In sum, the movie’s whole message is that, no matter how hard we try to escape our sadness and loneliness with pleasure-seeking or fantasy, we can’t. Our melancholia can be cured only by confronting it.

D.W. Winnicott, Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis: Collected Papers, Brunner-Routledge, London, 1992

Sigmund Freud, 11. On Metapsychology, the Theory of Psychoanalysis: Beyond the Pleasure Principle, The Ego and the Id and Other Works, Pelican Books, Middlesex, England, 1984