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Doomed (Damned #2)(6)
Chuck Palahniuk

DECEMBER 21, 8:33 A.M. EST

Ketamine: A Brief Overview

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Gentle Tweakers,

If your parents failed in their duty to introduce you to a wide variety of controlled substances, please let me enlighten you. My own progressive mother and father left nothing to my childhood imagination. Not licking sun-dried toad skins. Nor sniffing oven-baked banana peels ground to a mellow yellow dust. As other parents labored to introduce their finicky offspring to raisin cassoulet or rutabaga goulash, mine were constantly admonishing me, “Maddy, sweetheart, if you don’t drink your glass of Rohypnol you won’t get any tiramisu for dessert.” Or, “You may be excused from the table after you finish every bite of that PCP.”

As children the world over might sneak their spinach or broccoli to the family pet, I was always sneaking my codeine tablets to ours. Instead of being boarded at a kennel, our poor dog was constantly being shuttled off to rehab. Even my angelfish, Albert Finney, had to be dried out because I was forever dropping Percodans into his aquarium. Poor Mr. Finney.

Ketamine, Gentle Tweeter, is a common trade name for hydrochloride. It’s an anesthetic that binds to opioid receptors in brain cells, and is administered most often to prepare patients and animals for surgery. It comforts victims trapped in terrible car crashes; it’s that strong. To acquire it you can either buy ketamine for huge sums of cash via a covert network of third-world laboratories run by organized crime syndicates in Mexico and Indonesia, or you can just give Raphael, our gardener in Montecito, a hand job.

Ketamine comes as a clear liquid, but you can spread it on a cookie sheet and bake it to a grainy powder. Ah, the memories … how often did I walk into the kitchen of our house in Amsterdam, in Athens, in Antwerp, to find my mom wearing pearls and a flowered apron, sliding an aromatic tray of fresh-baked Special K out of the oven? To me the meth-lab reek of cat urine and battery acid evoke the same flood of comforting associations that my peers might find in warm Tollhouse cookies.

Once you’ve chopped the grains to a fine white powder, simply sniff it as you would coc**ne for a euphoric buzz that lasts roughly an hour. Bon appétit. Not that I ever did. Again—our poor dog, Dorothy Barker, never knew a full week of sobriety.

In room 6314, as if to demonstrate all of the preceding, Mr. Crescent City leans over his cache of powdered K. One of his hands holds his braided pigtail to the side of his head lest it flop. His other hand squishes one nostril shut while the other nostril tracks the dusty trail. Like an upstate farmer plowing a dirt field, he completes one line and begins the next. When his nose has left the glass table clean, still bent double at the waist, Mr. Crescent City freezes for a moment. Not looking up, not standing upright, he says, “Don’t be scared, little dead girl.…” His voice muffled near the tabletop, he says, “I’m a professional. This is what I do for a living.…” His arms go limp. His braid flops loose.

“It’s ironical,” he says, “but I’ve got to die to make a living.” At that Mr. Psychic Bounty Hunter pitches forward, crashing face-first through the glass.

DECEMBER 21, 8:35 A.M. EST

Hail, Maddy

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Gentle Tweeter,

In room 6314 a dead scarecrow lies splayed in an explosion of broken coffee table. Strange as this admission may seem, this is not the first time I’ve stood alone in a room with a dead man on the floor at my feet, surrounded by shattered glass. Be patient, and a pattern will soon emerge.

How to describe what happens next? To date, I’ve suffered as an inmate of Hell. I’ve done battle with demons and tyrants and stood atop lofty cliffs overlooking majestic oceans of bodily fluids. Alive, I’ve been born aloft from Brisbane to Berlin to Boston in a Gulfstream as groveling minions plied my greedy mouth with peeled grapes. I’ve watched, albeit unimpressed, as my mother rode the back of a computer-generated dragon to a castle built of simulated rubies while drinking a Diet Coke in dramatic slow motion. Still, none of that has prepared me for the following. I step around the fallen Mr. Crescent City and crouch for a closer look. The floor is graveled in crystals of shattered safety glass. The rolled paper, the cover from Parade magazine, has slipped from his nose and slowly opens, blossoming against the sparkling nuggets. My mom, the perfect version of hair and teeth and human potential for everyone in the whole world. Me, the bane of her existence.

The naturalist in me—the supernaturalist; call me the Charles Darwin of the afterlife—I take careful regard of what occurs. The heap of junkie-filled laundry begins to shine. Something as faint as a memory shimmers on the surface of the body. A glow as insubstantial as a thought begins to rise from the fallen figure. Please note, Gentle Tweeter, that memories and thoughts are the stuff of ghosts. For souls are nothing if not pure consciousness. This spirals up to shape the translucent form I first saw in the foyer of the Rhinelander penthouse. The wasted, wrinkled body remains on the floor, but above it stands a shimmering double. It looks at me and smiles, rapt. “Little dead girl.”

Sitting on the bed, I say, “My name is Madison Spencer.” I nod toward the photo of me and my mother unfurled on the floor.

The figure, I’ll venture, is Mr. Crescent City’s spirit. Anecdotal evidence suggests that ketamine users can depart their physical selves. The consciousness of the intoxicated person detaches. The soul leaves the sedated body and is free to travel, according to the not-exact testimony of numerous drugged-out Special K abusers.

The spirit glances from me to the photo and back to me. He drops to his ghost knees and touches his forehead to the carpet at my feet, his hairy braid flopping against my Bass Weejuns. His voice muffled by the carpet, he says, “Little dead girl … it’s you!”

Out of pure meanness I put a ghost foot forward and step on his vile pigtail.

A foul sputtering noise rends the air.

A second trumpeting blast follows.

The prostrate underling, he’s breaking wind. “Oh, great Madison Spencer,” he whispers. “Hear my prayer.” He lets loose a fresh—fresh?—round of flatulence. “Hurry and accept my tribute and praise, okay? I need to make this quick, because I only have a couple minutes before I go back in my body, but I need to tell you about my holy mission.…”

And the vile monster, he lets another rip.

DECEMBER 21, 8:38 A.M. EST

Boorism: The New World Disorder

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Gentle Tweeter,

The pigtailed phantom of Mr. Crescent City kowtows on the floor at my feet, clearly demented. His face pressed to the carpet, the ghost softly mutters the words, “Piss. Shit. Shit. Fuck. Pussy. Tits. F**ker …” A mantra of expletives. He’s whispering, “Motherfucker. Butthole. Crap. Crap. Crap …” It’s Tourette’s syndrome suffered in an attitude of prayer. In time with his obscene utterances he lifts his open hands, stretching his fingers toward me, beseeching. Nearby lies the inert heap of his earthly body, starfished flat atop a sparkling sea of shattered glass.

From my position, sitting on the bed, I extend one chubby ghost leg and push the toe of a Bass Weejun against his supplicating head. Not kicking him in the skull, not exactly, I just push. I ask, “What’s your problem?”

In response, Mr. Crescent City, his rude ghost, passes gas. A real honker, a real Canadian goose call. Tranced out, he’s muttering, “Please accept the reverent song of my stale bunghole, dear Madison. Accept the humble praise of my ‘Hail, Maddy.…’ ”

Hail, Maddy? Gentle Tweeter, these words form an instant blockage within my brain. Somehow, my name has come to be synonymous with making a stinky?

I say, “Let me confirm something: You’re saying my mom hired you?”

“Accept my butt prayer,” he says, “Sacred angel Millicent Spencer, I petition for your divine guidance.”

I say, “You are disgusting.” I say, “And for your information my name is ‘Madison,’ you pestilent worm.”

“Forgive me, little pissed-off angel girl.”

Me, an angel. As if. I ask, “How much is my mom paying you?” I stand and step closer, asking, “What did my parents tell you?” After all the Gaia agitprop my parents have spouted in Vanity Fair, my former-pagan, former-Buddhist, former-atheist mom and dad, I can’t imagine what faith they espouse now. I snap my fingers to get his attention.

“Camille, great Camille,” the kowtowing ghost says, “mother of the little messiah who will guide all mankind to paradise …” He belches. “Hear my prayers.”

I lift one ghost foot and plant it on the back of his glowing phantom neck. “Let me get this straight. So you toot a fat rail of K and drop into a K-hole. Your soul leaves your body for, let me guess, an hour?” Through my clenched teeth, I warn, “If you break wind again, I’ll rip that mangy pigtail right off your scalp.”

“Thirty, maybe forty minutes,” he says, still facedown. One of his outstretched hands tilts side to side, a gesture of hedging. “I found Marilyn Monroe this way. I found Elvis,” says the spirit, tapping his breastbone, a note of pride in his voice. “I’m the best.”

I say, “That’s a lot of ketamine.”

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck,” he says.

“Stop that!” I say.

“But it’s how I pay tribute,” he whines.

“To me?”

“We don’t have much time,” he says. “I pilgrimaged here on behalf of your old lady. My sacred duty is, I’m supposed to deliver you safely to the Pantages.”

A theater?

“It’s a big ship.”

“Do you mean the Pangaea Crusader?” I ask.

He says, “What did I say? Whatever it is, you’re supposed to follow me back there.” The translucent figure pinned under my foot begins to fade.

“After your spirit goes back into your disgusting …” I gesture toward the pile of flesh and rags. “So I’m supposed to follow you?”

“Yeah,” he says. “I guess.” His brain-damaged attention is wandering. Already, his phantom self is vanishing the way it did in the penthouse. His soul is returning to his drug-ravaged body.

To hold him another minute I’m practically standing on his ghost neck. I’m shouting, “Tell me! I command you, you filthy cockroach!” That’s me. That’s just how I am: imperious. I demand, “What is my devious mother up to?”

Cutting cheese. The belching. The path to redemption is swearing.

I have a terrible premonition.

“You, glorious Angel Madison, you died and your flesh was buried, yet you spoke to your mother from beyond the grave.…” He’s fading, Mr. Crescent City, seeping back to life. “You dictated the path for righteous followers to attain paradise. By farting in crowded elevators … by pissing in swimming pools … by going ‘fuck’ …”

Gentle Tweeter, my ghost self goes cold with dread.

“Since they were visited by your holy spirit,” he says, “your parents have preached your teachings to millions all over the world. To follow in your steps zillions of your disciples are praying ‘Hail, Maddys’ as I do.…” He adds, muttering, “Fuck. Crap. Asshole …” He says, “The Supreme Mother Camille is our fervent harlot.…”

“Zealot,” I correct him.

But it’s too late. Mr. Crescent City is no longer under my shoe. Across the hotel room his scarecrow’s body begins to stir.

DECEMBER 21, 8:40 A.M. EST

A Rude Redemption

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Gentle Tweeter,

Passing gas. Belching. Picking your nose and flicking the boogers. Leaving your used chewing gum on park benches. These are the prayers of a new major world religion, and it’s all my fault. My goal was just to reunite my little family, albeit in Hell. I told my parents to double-park and say the F-bomb and discard cigarette butts on the ground because I knew those acts would surely send them to Hell. And because they couldn’t keep their mouths shut, now they’ve doomed a thousand million souls to eternal misery.

Gentle Tweeter, what I told my folks, I was only kidding. All I wanted to do was cheer them up.

Why do the impulsive notions of a would-be do-gooder always translate into the ideals of the next civilization? It’s possible that Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed were just ordinary dead guys who simply wanted to say “howdy” and offer some comfort to their living-alive friends. This, this is why the dead don’t talk to the future dead. Predead folks always misconstrue every message. Here I was only fooling around, and my mom’s founded an entire theology on my practical joke.

Ye gods. Now we have “Boorism,” an entire international religious movement founded on potty humor and rude behavior.

What can I do? I can try to set my parents straight. That, that’s what I’ve got to do. As Mr. Crescent City drags himself to his feet, I resolve to follow him back to my deranged mother and set straight the flatulent, earthly world.

DECEMBER 21, 8:44 A.M. EST

A World of Boors

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Gentle Tweeter,

Imagine a world where everyone goes about their daily lives with the absolute certainty that he or she is going to Heaven. Everyone has guaranteed salvation. This is the Earth to which I have returned. From room 6314 of the Rhinelander, I follow my derelict guide. Mr. Crescent City, he carries no luggage. With his every shambling footfall crumbs of shattered glass drop from his clothes, but he doesn’t appear to have a cut or scratch after crushing the coffee table. As the elevator arrives at the lobby and the doors slide open, a waiting guest stands aside for us to exit. Nodding politely, this stranger says, “Eat shit, asswipe.”

In response Crescent makes a little bow and says, “A merry faggot, cunt, nigger to you, too.” And he spits a great wad of saliva on the stranger’s shoes.

This is all my parents’ doing! I should’ve known they couldn’t keep their big traps shut. I’m willing to bet that the moment my mom was off the long-distance call with me she was telling her publicist to announce a press conference. No doubt she and my dad have been tirelessly disseminating the advice I gave them for getting to “Heaven.” The Rhinelander lobby, once a sanctuary of reserved conduct and politely hushed discourse, has become a reeking locker room of stale vapors and toilet talk.

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