Home > Doomed (Damned #2)(2)

Doomed (Damned #2)(2)
Chuck Palahniuk

Shushing each other, the crew of Whorey Vander-whores chanted, “Show us your secret ghost diet.” This playground taunt reduced them to giggles, toppling them sideways, their shoulders bumping one another. They were sitting cross-legged, soiling my bed linens with their shoes, an occasional foot kicking my former headboard, eating popcorn around some candles burning on a plate. “We’ve got potato chips,” they taunted, and shook a bag of the same. Barbecue flavored. “We’ve got onion dip.” One voice intoned, “Here, Madison … Here, piggy, piggy, piggy …” All the voices combined to sing, “Soooooeeeee …!” Loudly were they hog calling into the frigid Halloween night. “Here, piggy, pig, pig, pig, pig …”

They snorted. They grunted. They called out, “Oink, oink, oink.” Chewing noisily, their mouths crammed with high-calorie snacks, they shrieked with laughter.

No, Gentle Tweeter, I did not slaughter them in my rage. At this writing, they continue to be very much alive, albeit humbled. Suffice to say I arrived in a black Lincoln Town Car and answered their hillbilly yodeling. On the Halloween in question I prompted the infamous enemy trio of Miss Skeezy Skeezenheimers to void the meager contents of their anorexic bowels. So shame, shame on me. In my favor, I was a mite anxious and distracted by my impending curfew.

To linger even one clock tick past midnight meant my banishment to tedious Earth, so I remained hypervigilant as the big hand of my wristwatch ascended minute by minute toward the twelve. Once the three Miss Sleazy O’Sleazenicks were well laminated in pelts of their own fragrant upchuck and gummy doo-doo, I hightailed it for my waiting Town Car.

My trusty getaway vehicle remained where I had left it: parked at the frosty curb beside the snowy lawns of the school residence hall. The keys dangled from the ignition. The dashboard clock read eleven thirty-five, a reasonable allowance of time for my return trip to Hell. I climbed behind the steering wheel and fastened my seat belt. Ah, Earth, I thought somewhat indulgently, even nostalgically as I glanced at the old edifice where once I’d crept, nibbling on Fig Newtons and reading The Parasites. Tonight, every window blazed with light, and many were thrown wide-open to the wintery Swiss clime, their drapes flapping in the frigid wind which blew down from the glacial slopes of the tedious Alps. Of those wide-flung windows all now framed the heads of wealthy schoolgirls who leaned out and puked long banners of foody yuck down the building’s redbrick facade. The sight was vastly too pleasing to abandon, but now the dashboard clock gave the time as eleven forty-five.

Bidding it all a fond adieu, I twisted the key in the car’s ignition.

I twisted the key again.

I stepped my sensible Bass Weejun on the gas pedal, giving it a little stomp. The dashboard clock said eleven fifty. I double-checked that the tranny shift lever was set firmly in Park, and tried the key a third time.

Ye gods! And nothing happened. No car-ish sounds reverberated from beneath the vehicle’s hood. To those of you blogosphere busybodies who think you know everything—especially concerning cars—no, I had not neglected to turn out the headlights and thus exhausted the battery. And, double no, the car was not short on dinosaur juice. Desperate, I tried the ignition repeatedly while watching the clock creep steadily to eleven fifty-five. At eleven fifty-six the car phone began to ring—issuing one old-school bah-ring after bah-ring—which I ignored in my frantic efforts to open the glove box, locate the driver’s manual, and troubleshoot my mechanical crisis. The phone was still ringing four minutes later when, almost in tears, I grabbed the receiver from its cradle and answered it with a curt “Alors!”

Through the line a voice said, “ ‘… Madison was almost weeping in frustration.’ ” A wheedling male voice said, “ ‘Her sweet triumph over her bullying schoolmates had turned to bitter panic as she found her getaway vehicle would not start.…’ ”

It was Satan, the Prince of Darkness, no doubt reading from his dreck manuscript, The Madison Spencer Story—a supposed story of my life which he claims he’d penned even before my conception. In those pages, every moment of my past and future is allegedly dictated by him.

“ ‘… little Madison,’ ” Satan continued reading, “ ‘recoiled in shock at the sound of her supreme master’s voice over the Town Car’s telephone—’ ”

Interrupting, I asked, “Did you monkey with this car?”

“ ‘… she knew,’ ” the telephone voice said, “ ‘that her Great Evil Destiny awaited her on Earth.…’ ”

I shouted, “No fair!”

“ ‘… Maddy soon would have no choice but to venture forth and trigger the end of days.…’ ”

I shouted, “I’m not triggering anything!” I shouted, “I’m not your Jane Eyre!”

The dashboard clock now read midnight. A bell in the steeple of eine far-off alpine kirche commenced to toll. Before even the sixth knell, the receiver in my hands began to evaporate. The entire Town Car was disappearing around me, but the voice of Satan continued to drone. “ ‘… Madison Spencer heard the distant church bell, and she realized that she didn’t exist. She’d never existed save as a puppet created to serve the supremely sexy, insanely handsome Devil.…’ ”

As the driver’s seat dissolved, my tubby, chubby-girl bottom was slowly settling to the pavement. The last stroke of midnight echoed into the canyons and ravines of tedious Switzerland. The windows of the school residence hall were closing. The lights winking out. Their curtains drawn. The safety belt, which only a moment earlier had squished my generous tummy, now became as insubstantial as a shred of mist. Nearby, as if dropped in the street, sat the fake Coach purse that a friend, Babette, had left in the car’s backseat.

With the stroke of midnight the Lincoln had dwindled to nothing more than a nebulous fog bank, a small gray cloud in the shape of a Town Car. I was abandoned, sitting in the gutter with Babette’s soiled, faux-leather handbag, alone in the blustery Swiss night.

In place of church bells, the wind carried only a tinny synthesized dance tune. It was the song “Barbie Girl” by the Europop band Aqua. A ring tone. It was a PDA I found buried among the condoms and candy bars in the purse. Listed on the screen was a Missoula, Montana, area code. A text message said, “URGENT: Stow away aboard Darwin Airlines flight #2903 from Lugano to Zurich; then catch Swissair flight #6792 to Heathrow and American Airlines flight #139 to JFK. Get your butt to the Rhinelander hotel. Go now!” The text, it was from a certain postalive, blue-haired punk rocker currently serving hard time in Hell, my friend and mentor Archer.

DECEMBER 21, 8:00 A.M. EST

My Homecoming

Posted by [email protected]

Gentle Tweeter,

If you asked my mom she’d tell you: “Religions exist because people would rather have a wrong answer than no answer at all.” Meaning: My parents didn’t believe in God. Meaning: My family didn’t celebrate Christmas.

If my parents ever imagined God it was as a towering, mountain-size Harvey Milk healing the ozone hole with winged dolphins in place of cherubim. And rainbows, lots of rainbows.

Instead of Christmas, we celebrated Earth Day. Sitting zazen, we celebrated Swami Nikhilananda’s birthday. Maybe we’d Morris dance, naked, around the base of an old-growth California redwood, its branches lavishly festooned with the soiled hammocks and poop buckets of crunchy-granola tree sitters mentoring spotted owls in passive-resistance protest techniques. You get the picture. In place of Santa Claus, my mom and dad said Maya Angelou kept tabs on whether little children were naughty or nice. Dr. Angelou, they warned me, did her accounting on a long hemp scroll of names, and if I failed to turn my compost I’d be sent to bed with no algae. Me, I just wanted to know that someone wise and carbon neutral—Dr. Maya or Shirley Chisholm or Sean Penn—was paying attention. But none of that was really Christmas. And none of that Earth First! baloney helps out once you’re dead and you discover that the snake-handling, strychnine-guzzling Bible thumpers were right.

Like it or not, the road to Hell is paved with sustainable bamboo flooring.

Trust me, Gentle Tweeter, I know whereof I speak. While my living-alive mom and dad have burned soy-based candles and prayed to John Reed for the better part of a year, I’ve been dead and learning the real truth about everything.

DECEMBER 21, 8:06 A.M. EST

Alone at My Own Welcome-Home Party

Posted by [email protected]ftrlife.hell

Gentle Tweeter,

While hardly the fragile homesick type, in light of my current circumstances I do seek out an old family haunt. For as long as I can recall my parents have kept a penthouse at the Rhinelander hotel. There, sixty-five stories above Lexington Avenue, across from Bloomingdale’s, my first impulse would be to hide in my old bedroom among my stuffed animals and Jane Austen novels and watch on-demand streaming episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs on television until next Halloween. Possibly, I’d reread The Forsyte Saga. The coast should be clear, because, according to Page Six in the Post, my parents are at sea aboard their three-hundred-foot yacht, the Pangaea Crusader. At present they’re in the Bering Straits attempting to foil the wholesale factory ship slaughter of killer whales or some other fancy-pants endangered bluefin sushi fish. All this fuss is being shot as B-roll footage for my mom’s new feature, Sperm Whales in the Mist, where she plays a courageous Dian Fossey–type marine biologist who gets harpooned in her sleep by ruthless Japanese fisherfolk. Principal photography wraps next week, and Page Six says the project has got Academy Award written all over it.

Trust me, for my mom that’s not really acting; she’s been harpooned in bed more times than you can count.

And, yes, in response to the lecherous comment posted just now by HadesBrainiacLeonard, the story line includes three scenes—yet another tip-off from Page Six—wherein my mom’s world-renowned br**sts are fully exposed as she swims, na*ed and blissful, encased in a slippery pod of friendly sperm whales.

The way you, the future dead, experience a motion picture, as a flat-ish visual reality with sounds but sans smells or flavors or tactile sensations, that’s how the living world appears to us ghosts. I can move among living people as their noise and action swirl around me, but alive people don’t see me any more than actors in a film see the audience. At the risk of seeming too self-deprecating, as a blimpy seventh-grader wearing glasses and a school uniform, I’m more than accustomed to feeling invisible in the world. What takes more patience is accepting the fact that I’m no longer limited by physical barriers; I can stroll through closed lobby doors and hotel doormen as easily as you might saunter through smoke or fog, experiencing little more than a tickle in my ghost throat or an overall shuddering chill.

On the downside, not only do strangers look right through me; they also walk right through me. They don’t merely stumble into physical contact, or grope you. You’re actually penetrated. You commingle. You’re violated by the roving physiology of these shopping, eating, fornicating slabs of animated meat. You feel smeared and confused and vertiginous, as does the idiot predead person who’s just barged through you.

And, yes, I fully intend to use words like vertiginous, so get used to it. I might be a dead heifer, but I’m not going to play dumb just because you feel Ctrl+Alt+Insecure about your puerile vocabulary. And, no, nope, I definitely am not going to use slangy Internet lingo. Jane Austen made a deliberate choice not to enliven her wry narratives with emoticons, so I shan’t either.

To repeat, becoming a ghost does take some getting used to. Hotel elevators, for example. Stupid living-alive people just keep cramming themselves into the elevator car. At the Rhinelander, I rode up to the penthouse floor standing half inside some gross collagen-stuffed tax exile and half inside her twitchy overbred Chihuahua. Physically, the sensation is like nothing so much as swimming or diving in silicone-polluted Evian. I can taste the saltiness of her Botox. The sour beta-blockers in her bloodstream make me light-headed, and being immersed in the warm bath of chemicals that make up a Chihuahua—ye gods. After riding sixty-five floors steeped in Mexican dog biology, I cannot wait to take a shower and shampoo my ghost hair.

I dissolve through the hallway door, number PH—no neighbors, no pets, no smoking—where I emerge in the penthouse foyer. For the first moment since I arrived in tedious New York, I step into absolute unalloyed silence. No horns honk. No obnoxious predead people gibber loudly on their mobile phones in gobbledygook United Nations languages. Furniture fills the PH’s main living room, every chair and table and bookcase shrouded in white muslin dustcovers. Even the hovering chandeliers are wrapped in white cheesecloth, the fabric gathered at the bottom of each and trailing like filmy tails of ectoplasm. The overall impression is of a silent party attended by numerous ghosts, but comic-book ghosts wearing bedsheets and ready to wail, “Woooooo.” This roomful of specters feels like a weirdly themed welcome-home party staged to ridicule me. A convention of large and small spooks. To be frank, I feel more than slightly Ctrl+Alt+Offended by this not-sensitive reception.

Out of long habit, following my mom’s official house rules enforced from Tokyo to Managua, I slip off my shoes and leave them inside the foyer door.

Beyond the aforementioned soiree of faux ghosts, the PH’s high, wide windows look down on the architecture of Manhattan. The rows of tightly packed buildings, those grim skyscrapers suggest nothing so much as a field of gray tombstones. These crowded towers look like broken columns and spires and obelisks, a collection of the monuments with which humans mark their burial sites. Beyond the windows lies this cemetery on a stupendous scale. The Big Apple. A burgeoning boneyard of the future dead.

Please understand, Gentle Tweeter, it’s not my intention to be a wet blanket. A deceased party pooper. But I suspect that I’m suffering from a form of postmortem depression. Once the novelty of being newly dead wears off, a sense of malaise does tend to settle in its stead.

To answer the emotionally sensitive post from Mohawk-Archer666, yes, a ghost can get lonesome. If you want to know more, I feel a smidgen sad and discarded, forgotten by the entire world. My heart would swell like a water balloon filled with hot tears, swell and explode if I saw my folks, saw them and had them not see me. Isolated, alone with only my thoughts and feelings, as a ghost with no means to communicate, I’ve become the ultimate outsider.

Not merely godforsaken, I feel forsaken by everyone.

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