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Doomed (Damned #2)
Chuck Palahniuk

NOVEMBER 1, 12:01 A.M. PST

Life Begins at Preconception: A Prelude

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Good and evil have always existed. They always will. It’s only our stories about them that ever change.

In the sixth century B.C. the Greek lawmaker Solon journeyed to the Egyptian city of Sais and brought back the following account of the end of the world. According to the priests at the temple of Neith, a cataclysm will sweep the Earth with flames and poisonous smoke. In a single day and night an entire continent will founder and sink into the sea, and a false messiah will lead all of humanity to its doom.

The Egyptian seers predicted that the Apocalypse will begin on a quiet night, on a lofty hilltop perched high above the kingdom of Los Angeles. There, the ancient oracles sing, a lock will snap open. Among the great walled houses of Beverly Crest, a stout bolt will slide aside. As recorded by Solon, a hinged pair of security gates will swing wide apart. Below these, the realms of Westwood and Brentwood and Santa Monica await, sleeping, laid out in a spider’s web of streetlights. And as the last clock tick of midnight echoes away, within those wide-open gates will dwell only darkness and silence until an engine can be heard rumbling to life, and two lights will seem to lead that noise forward. And from out of that gateway will issue a Lincoln Town Car which slouches forth to begin its slow descent down the hairpin curves of upper Hollywood Boulevard.

That night, as depicted in ancient prophecy, is tranquil, without a breath of wind; nevertheless, with the Lincoln’s slow progress a tempest begins to mount in its wake.

As it descends from Beverly Crest to the Hollywood Hills, the Lincoln stretches as long and black as the tongue of someone strangled by a noose. With pink smears of streetlights sliding down the burnished black shell of it, the Town Car shines like a scarab escaping a tomb. And at North Kings Road the lights of Beverly Hills and Hancock Park blink and go dark, not house by house but blocks and blocks of the grid are blotted out in their entirety. And at North Crescent Heights Boulevard, the neighborhood of Laurel Canyon is obliterated; not merely the lights but the noise and late-night music are vanquished. Any shimmering proof of the city is erased as the car flows downhill, from North Fairfax to Ogden Drive to North Gardner Street. And thus does darkness wash over the city, following in the shadow of the sleek car.

And so, too, does a brutal wind follow. As foretold by the priests of ages past, this gale makes thrashing mops of the towering palm trees along Hollywood Boulevard, and these sweep the sky. Their clashing fronds cast down horrible, soft shapes that land with screams against the pavement. With beady caviar eyes and scaly serpent tails, these fierce, soft shapes hammer the passing Town Car. They drop squealing. Their frenzied claws scratch at the air. Their slamming impacts do not break the windshield, because the glass is bulletproof. And the rolling tires of the Lincoln rumble over them, pulping their fallen flesh. And these plummeting, shrieking, clutching shapes are rats. Cast to their deaths, these are the flailing bodies of opossums. The tires of the Lincoln burst this red carpet of crushed fur. The windshield wipers clear the driver’s view of the still-warm blood, and the crushed bones do not puncture the tires, because the rubber, too, is bulletproof.

And so relentless is the wind that it rakes the street, pushing along this burden of crippled vermin, trundling this tide of suffering always in the wake of the Town Car as it reaches Spaulding Square. Fissures of lightning fracture the sky, and rain is pushed into great curtains that strafe the tiled roofs. Thunder blasts a fanfare as the rain plunders the city’s garbage cans, loosing plastic bags and Styrofoam cups.

And hard by the looming tower of the Roosevelt Hotel the boulevard is otherwise deserted and the army of trash advances on the city unimpeded by traffic lights or other automobiles. Every street, every intersection is deserted. The sidewalks are empty, as the ancient soothsayers have promised, and every window is dark.

The boiling sky is without the roving lights of aircraft, and the choked storm drains leave the streets awash in rain and fur. These streets slippery with offal. And by Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is all of Los Angeles reduced to such butchery and chaos.

Yet not far ahead of the car, in the 6700 block—there the neon lights still shine. In that single block of Hollywood Boulevard the night is warm and still. No rain wets the pavement, and the green awnings of Musso and Frank Grill hang motionless. The clouds above that city block are open like a tunnel to reveal the moon, and the trees along the sidewalks are motionless. So coated in red are the headlights of the Lincoln that they cast a scarlet path for the car to follow. These glaring red beams reveal a young maiden on the sidewalk, and she stands across the street from the Hollywood Wax Museum. And there in the eye of this awful storm she gazes down on a star shape cast in pink concrete, sunk flush in the sidewalk. In her earlobes she wears dime-size, dazzle-cut cubic zirconia. And her feet are shod in counterfeit Manolo Blahniks. The soft folds of her straight-line skirt and cashmere sweater are dry. Masses of curled, red hair cascade about her shoulders.

The name cast in the pink star is “Camille Spencer,” but this maiden is not Camille Spencer.

A pink gob of dried chewing gum, several gobs, pink and gray and green, deface the sidewalk like scabs. Printed with the marks of human teeth, the gum is also printed with the zigzag tread of passing feet. The young maiden pries at these with the pointed toe of her faux-Manolo until she can kick the scabrous gum away. Until the star is, if not clean, cleaner.

In this bubble of still, placid night the maiden grips the hem of her skirt and brings it close to her mouth. She spits on the fabric and kneels to polish the star, buffing bright the name cast there in brass, embedded in the pink concrete. When the Town Car pulls to the curb beside her, the girl stands and steps around the star with the same respect with which one would step around a grave. In one hand she carries a pillowcase. Her fingers, their chipped white nails clenched in a fist, hold this sack of white cloth sagging heavy with Tootsie Rolls, Charleston Chews, and licorice whips. In her opposite hand she holds a half-eaten Baby Ruth.

Her porcelain-veneered teeth chew idly. A margin of melted chocolate outlines her pouting, bee-stung lips. The prophets of Sais warn that the beauty of this young woman is such that anyone seeing her will forget any pleasure beyond eating and sex. So physically appealing is her earthly form that her viewer is reduced to nothing more than stomach and skin. And the oracles sing that neither is she alive nor dead. Neither mortal nor spirit.

And parked, idling at the curb, the Lincoln is dripping red. The curbside rear window hums down a crack, and a voice announces itself from the plush interior. In the eye of that hurricane, a male voice asks, “Trick or treat?”

A stone’s throw in any direction, the night remains churning behind an invisible wall.

The maiden’s lips, glossed with a red-red lipstick—a color called “Man Hunt”—her full lips curl into a smile. Here, the air hangs so calm that one can detect the scent of her perfume, like flowers left in a tomb, pressed flat and dried for a thousand years. She leans close to the open window and says, “You’re too late. It’s already tomorrow.…” She pauses for a long, lustful wink blanketed in turquoise eye shadow, and asks, “What time is it?”

And it’s obvious the man is drinking champagne, because in that quiet moment even the bubbles of his champagne sound loud. And the ticking of the man’s wristwatch sounds loud. And his voice within the car says, “It’s time for all bad girls to go to bed.”

Wistful now, the young woman sighs. She licks her lips, and her smile falters. Half-coy, half-resigned, she says, “I guess I violated my curfew.”

“Being violated,” says the man, “can feel wonderful.” In turn, the Lincoln’s rear door swings open to admit her, and without hesitation the maiden steps inside. And that door constitutes a gate, the prophets sing. And that car is, itself, a mouth gobbling candy. And the Town Car shuts her within its stomach: an interior as thickly upholstered with velvet as a casket. The tinted window hums closed. The car idles, its hood steaming, its polished body streaming, edged now with a red fringe, a growing beard of coagulated blood. Crimson tire tracks lead up whence it came to where it now sits parked. Behind it, the storm lashes, but here the only sounds are the muffled ejaculations of a man crying out. The ancients describe the sound as a mewing, like rats and mice being crushed to death.

Silence follows, and after that the rear window once more slides open. The chipped white fingernails reach out. Dangling from them is a latex skin, a smaller version of the girl’s white pillowcase, a miniature sack hanging heavy. Its contents: something murky white. This latex sheath is smeared with the red-red lipstick. It’s smeared with caramel and milk chocolate. Instead of dropping this into the gutter, still seated in the car’s backseat, the girl brings her face to the open window. She places the latex sack against her lips and breathes it full of air. She inflates it and deftly knots the open end. The way a midwife would secure the umbilical cord of an infant. The way a carnival clown would knot a balloon. She ties the inflated skin, sealing the milky contents within, and her fingers twist it. She bends and twists the tube of it until the shape becomes that of a human being with two arms, two legs, a head. A voodoo doll. It’s the size of a newborn babe. This foul creation, still candy-coated from her lips, murky with the man’s mysterious soupy contents, she flings into the center of the waiting pink star.

According to the prophecies writ down by Solon, that small effigy is a sacrifice of blood and seed and sugar, laid there on that sacred pentagram shape, an offering made beside Hollywood Boulevard.

On that night, with that ritual begins the countdown to Doomsday.

And once again the automobile’s mirrored window fills its frame. And at this instant, the storm, the rain and darkness, these swallow the car. As the Lincoln departs the curb, bearing the young maiden away, the winds herd her castoff thing-baby. That knotted bladder. That graven image. The wind and rains shepherd their bountiful harvest of slaughtered vermin and plastic trash and dried chewing gum, tumbling and driving it all in the direction of gravity.

DECEMBER 21, 6:03 A.M. CET

I Eat; Therefore I Am

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Gentle Tweeter,

It’s worth noting up front that I have always conceived of my mind as a digestive organ. A stomach for processing knowledge, if you will. As a looping, wrinkled mass, a human brain unmistakably looks like gray intestines, and it’s within these thinking bowels that my experiences are broken down, consumed to become my life story. My thoughts occur as flavorful burps or acrid barf. The indigestible gristle and bone of my memories are expelled as these words.

Writing an honest blog is how you unlive your life. It’s like uneating an entire peanut butter cheesecake, and just as messy.

The convoluted, creased, and folded gray entrails of my mind exist as a kind of tummy of the intellect. Tragedies ulcerate. Comedies nourish. In the end, rest assured, your memories will long outlast your flesh—witness me. My name is Madison Desert Flower Rosa Parks Coyote Trickster Spencer, and I’m a ghost. Meaning: Boo! I’m thirteen years old, and I’m somewhat overweight. Meaning: I’m dead and fat. Meaning: I’m a piggy-pig-pig, oink-oink, real porker.

Just ask my mom.

I’m thirteen and fat—and I will stay this way forever.

And, yes, I know the word ulcerate. I’m dead, not illiterate. You’ve heard the term midlife crisis? Simply put, I’m currently suffering a “mid-death crisis.” After some eight months lodged in the fiery underworld of Hell I now find myself stranded as a spirit in the living-alive physical world, a condition more commonly known as Purgatory. This feels exactly like flying at Mach 1 aboard my dad’s Saab Draken from Brasilia to Riyadh, only to be trapped circling the airport in a holding pattern, waiting for permission to land. Plainly and simply put, Purgatory is where you unwrite the book of your life story.

Regarding Hell, you mustn’t feel sorry for me. We all keep secrets from God, and it’s exhausting. If anyone deserves to burn in the unquenchable lake of eternal flames, it’s me. I am pure evil. No punishment is too severe.

For me, my flesh is my curriculum vitae. My fat is my memory bank. The moments of my past life are archived and carried in every obese cell of my ghost blubber, and to lose weight would be for Madison Spencer to disappear. Bad memories are better than none. And rest assured, whether it’s your fat or your bank account or your beloved family, someday you’ll struggle with this reluctance to abandon the living-alive world.

When you die, trust me, the most difficult person to leave behind is yourself. Yes, Gentle Tweeter, I’m thirteen and a girl and I know the term curriculum vitae. What’s more, I know that not even the dead want to fully disappear.

DECEMBER 21, 6:05 A.M. CET

How I Came to Be Cast out of Already

Being Cast out of God’s Good Graces

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Gentle Tweeter,

I would not be stuck here on the stony Galápagos that is Earth, drinking the warm tortoise urine that is human companionship, were it not for the Halloween caper cutting of a certain three Miss Slutty O’Slutnicks. On the Halloween in question I’d been strangled to death with my blood flushed out for only eight months, tops. I’d been damned, yes, for committing a horrible murder that will be revealed here soon enough. One of the chief torments of Hell is that we all know, secretly, why we deserve to be there. How I came to escape is, as per custom, on All Hallow’s Eve the entire population of Hades returns to Earth to forage for salted nut clusters and Raisinettes from dusk until midnight. I was thus gainfully occupied, scavenging suburban neighborhoods for Twixes and Almond Joys to enrich the treasury of Hell, when a breeze carried my name out of the nighttime distance. A chorus of girlish voices, these wheedling, piping tweenaged voices were chanting my name: “… Madison Spencer … Maddy Spencer, come to us. We command you to come do our bidding.”

To you predead people, like it or not, postalive people are not your bitches. The dead have better things to do than respond to your dumb-ass Ouija board queries concerning lottery numbers and who’s going to marry you. You and your séance games, your table-tipping, ghost-baiting shenanigans. I had, at best, four hours of darkness to gather Kit Kat bars, and here I was getting summoned by a giggling cadre of Miss Coozey Coozenheimers. They sat on my former bed, in the room of my former boarding school in Locarno, Switzerland, and bade in unison, “Appear to us, Madison Spencer. Let’s see if your big ass looks any skinnier dead.” And they laughed into their slender hands.

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