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Authors: Chuck Palahniuk

Tags: #General, #Fiction

Damned

BOOK: Damned
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I.

Are you there, Satan? It's me, Madison. I'm just now arrived here, in
Hell, but it's not my fault except for maybe dying from an overdose of
marijuana. Maybe I'm in Hell because I'm fat—a Real Porker. If you can go to Hell
for having low self-esteem, that's why I'm here. I wish I could lie and tell
you I'm bone-thin with blond hair and big ta-tas. But, trust me, I'm fat for a
really good reason.

To start with, please let me introduce myself.

 

 

H
ow to best convey the exact sensation of
being dead...

Yes, I know the word
convey.
I'm dead, not a mental defective.

Trust me, the being-dead part is much easier than the dying part. If
you can watch much television, then being dead will be a cinch. Actually,
watching television and surfing the Internet are really excellent practice for
being dead.

The closest way I can describe death is to compare it to when my mom
boots up her notebook computer and hacks into the surveillance system of our
house in Mazatlan or Banff. "Look," she'd say, turning the screen
sideways for me to see, "it's snowing." Glowing softly on the
computer would be the interior of our Milan house, the sitting room, with snow
falling outside the big windows, and by long distance, holding down her Control,
Alt and W keys, my mom would draw open the sitting room drapes all the way.
Pressing the Control and D keys, she'd dim the lights by remote control and
we'd both sit, on a train or in a rented town car or aboard a leased jet,
watching the pretty winter view through the windows of that empty house
displayed on her computer screen. With the Control and F keys, she'd light a
fire in the gas fireplace, and we'd listen to the hush of the Italian snow
falling, the crackle of the flames via the audio monitors of the security
system. After that, my mom would keyboard into the system for our house in Cape
Town. Then log on to view our house in Brentwood. She could simultaneously be
all places but no place, mooning over sunsets and foliage everywhere except
where she actually was. At best, a sentry. At worst, a voyeur.

My mom will kill half a day on her notebook computer just looking at
empty rooms full of our furniture. Tweaking the thermostat by remote control.
Turning down the lights and choosing the right level of soft music to play in
each room. "Just to keep the cat burglars guessing," she'd tell me.
She'd toggle from camera to camera, watching the Somali maid clean our house in
Paris. Hunched over her computer screen, she'd sigh and say, "My crocus
are blooming in London...."

From behind his open business section of the
Times,
my dad would
say, "The plural is
crocuses."

Probably my mom would cackle then, hitting her Control and L keys to
lock a maid inside a bathroom from three continents away because the tile
didn't look adequately polished. To her this passed for way-wicked, good fun.
It's affecting the environment without being physically present. Consumption in
absentia. Like having a hit song you recorded decades ago still occupy the mind
of a Chinese sweatshop worker you'll never meet. It's power, but a kind of
pointless, impotent power.

On the computer screen a maid would place a vase filled with fresh-cut
peonies on the windowsill of our house in Dubai, and my mom would spy by
satellite, turning down the air-conditioning, colder and colder, with a tapping
keystroke via her wireless connection, chilling that house, that one room,
meat-locker cold, ski-slope cold, spending a king's ransom on Freon and
electric power, trying to make some doomed ten bucks' worth of pretty pink
flowers last one more day.

That's what it's like to be dead. Yes, I know the word
absentia.
I'm thirteen years old, not stupid—and being dead, ye gods, do I comprehend the
idea of absentia.

Being dead is the very essence of traveling light.

Being
dead-
dead means nonstop, twenty-four/seven, three hundred
sixty-five days a year... forever.

How it feels when they pump out all of your blood, you don't want me to
describe. Probably I shouldn't even tell you I'm dead, because no doubt now you
feel awfully superior. Even other fat people feel superior to Dead People.
Nevertheless, here it is: my Hideous Admission. I'll fess up and come clean.
I'm out of the closet. I'm dead. Now don't hold it against me.

Yes, we all look a little mysterious and absurd to each other, but no
one looks as foreign as a dead person does. We can forgive some stranger her
choice to practice Catholicism or engage in homosexual acts, but not her
submission to death. We hate a backslider. Worse than alcoholism or heroin
addiction, dying seems like the greatest weakness, and in a world where people
say you're lazy for not shaving your legs, then being dead seems like the
ultimate character flaw.

It's as if you've shirked life—simply not made enough serious effort to
live up to your full potential.
You quitter!
Being fat and dead—let me
tell you—that's the double whammy.

No, it's not fair, but even if you feel sorry for me, you're probably
also feeling pretty darn smug that you're alive and no doubt chewing on a
mouthful of some poor animal that had the misfortune to live below you on the
food chain. I'm not telling you all of this to gain your sympathy. I'm thirteen
years old, and a girl, and I'm dead. My name is Madison, and the last thing I
need is your stupid condescending pity. No, it's not fair, but it's how people
do. The first time we meet another person an insidious little voice in our head
says, "I might wear eyeglasses or be chunky around the hips or a girl, but
at least I'm not Gay or Black or a Jew." Meaning: I may be me—but at least
I have the good sense not to be YOU. So I hesitate to even mention that I'm
dead because everyone already feels so darned superior to dead people, even
Mexicans and AIDS people. It's like when learning about Alexander the Great in
our seventh-grade Influences of Western History class, what keeps running
through your head is: "If Alexander was so brave and smart and . .
Great... why'd he die?"

Yes, I know the word
insidious.

Death is the One Big Mistake that none of us EVER plans to make. That's
why the bran muffins and the colonoscopies. It's how come you take vitamins and
get Pap smears. No, not you—
you're never going to die
—so now you feel
all superior to me. Well, go ahead and think that. Keep smearing your skin with
sunblock and feeling yourself for lumps. Don t let me spoil the Big Surprise.

But, to be honest, when you're dead probably not even homeless people
and retarded people will want to trade you places. I mean, worms get to eat
you. It's like a complete violation of all your civil rights. Death ought to be
illegal but you don't see Amnesty International starting any letter-writing
campaigns. You don't see any rock stars banding together to release hit singles
with all the proceeds going to solve MY getting my face chewed off by worms.

My mom would tell you I'm too flip and glib about everything. My mom
would say, "Madison, please don't be such a smart aleck." She'd say,
"You're
dead;
now just
calm down."

Probably me being dead is a gigantic relief to my dad; this way, at
least, he won't have to worry about me embarrassing him by getting pregnant. My
dad used to say, "Madison, whatever man ends up with you, he's going to
have his hands full...." If my dad only knew.

When my goldfish, Mister Wiggles, died we flushed him down the toilet.
When my kitten, Tiger Stripe, died I tried the same deal, and we had to call a
plumber to snake the pipes. What a big mess. Poor Tiger Stripe. When I died, I
won't go into the details, but let's say some Mr. Pervy McPervert mortician got
to see me naked and pump out all my blood and commit God only knows what
deranged carnal high jinks with my virginal thirteen-year-old body. You can
call me glib, but death is about the biggest joke around. After all the
permanent waves and ballet lessons my mom paid for, here I am getting a
hot-spit tongue bath from some paunchy, depraved mortuary guy.

I can tell you, when you're dead, you pretty much have to give up your
demands about boundaries and personal space. Just understand, I didn't die
because I was too lazy to live. I didn't die because I wanted to punish my
family. And no matter how much I slag my parents, don't get the idea that I
hate them. Yes, for a while I hung around, watching my mom hunched over her
notebook computer, tapping the keys, Control, Alt, and L to lock the door of my
bedroom in Rome, my room in Athens, all my rooms around the world. She
keyboarded to close all my drapes after that, and turn down the
air-conditioning and activate the electrostatic air filtration so not even dust
would settle on my dolls and clothes and stuffed animals. It simply makes sense
that I should miss my parents more than they miss me, especially when you
consider that they only loved me for thirteen years while I loved them for my
entire life. Forgive me for not sticking around longer, but I don't want to be
dead and just watching everybody while I chill rooms, flicker the lights, and
pull the drapes open and shut. I don't want to be simply a voyeur.

No, it's not fair, but what makes earth feel like Hell is our
expectation that it should feel like Heaven. Earth is earth. Dead is dead.
You'll find out for yourself soon enough. It won't help the situation for you
to get all upset.

II.

Are you there, Satan? It's me, Madison. Please don't get the impression
that I dislike Hell. No, really, it's way swell. Tons better than I expected.
Honestly, it's obvious you've worked very hard for a very long time on the
roiling, surging oceans of scalding-hot barf and the stinking sulfur smell, and
the clouds of buzzing black flies.

 

 

If my version of Hell fails to impress you, please consider that to be
my own shortcoming. I mean, what do I know? Probably any grown-up would pee
herself silly, seeing the flying vampire bats and majestic, cascading
waterfalls of smelly poop. No doubt the fault is entirely my own, because if
I'd ever imagined Hell it was as a fiery version of that classic Hollywood
masterpiece
The Breakfast Club,
populated, let's remember, by a
hypersocial, pretty cheerleader, a rebel stoner type, a dumb football jock, a brainy
geek, and a misanthropic psycho, all locked together in their high school
library doing detention on an otherwise ordinary Saturday except with every
book and chair being blazing on fire.

Yes, you might be alive and Gay or Old or a Mexican, lording
that
over me, but consider that I've had the actual experience of waking up on my
first day in Hell, and you'll just have to take my word for what all this is
like. No, it's not fair, but you can forget about the fabled tunnel of bright,
spectral-white light and being greeted by the open arms of your long-deceased
grandma and grandpa; maybe other people have reported that blissful process,
but consider that those people are currently alive, or they remained living for
sufficient time to report on their encounter. My point is: Those people enjoyed
what's clearly labeled a "near-death experience." I, on the other
hand, am dead, with my blood long ago pumped out and worms munching on me. In
my book that makes me the higher authority. Other people, like famous Italian
poet Dante Alighieri, I'm sorry to say, simply hoisted a generous helping of
campy make-believe on the reading public.

Thus, disregard my account of Hell at your own peril.

First off, you wake up lying on the stone floor inside a fairly dismal
cell composed of iron bars; and take my stern advice—don't touch anything. The
prison cell bars are filthy dirty. If by accident you DO touch the bars, which
look a tad slimy with mold and someone else's blood, do NOT touch your face—or
your clothes—not if you have any aspiration to stay looking nice until Judgment
Day.

And do NOT eat the candy you'll see scattered everywhere on the ground.

BOOK: Damned
12.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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