Survivor, p.13
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       Survivor, p.13

           Chuck Palahniuk
 
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  Reaching around in the dark by my feet, he picks up the other pill bottles.

  According to the agent, the monks who didn’t want to change the way they worshiped fled to remote monasteries. The Russian authorities hunted and persecuted them. By 1665, small groups of monks began burning themselves to death. These group suicides in northern Europe and western Siberia continued through the 1670s. In 1687, some two thousand seven hundred monks captured a monastery, locked themselves inside, and burned it. In 1688, another fifteen hundred ‘Old Believers’ burned themselves alive in their locked monastery. By the end of the seventeenth century, an estimated twenty thousand monks had killed themselves instead of submitting to the government.

  He snaps his briefcase shut and leans forward.

  “These Russian monks kept killing themselves until 1897,” he says. “Sound familiar?”

  You have Samson in the Old Testament, the agent says. You have the Jewish soldiers who killed themselves in the Masada. You have seppuku among the Japanese. Sati among the Hindu. Endura among the Cathari during the twelfth century in southern France. He ticked off group after group on his fingertips.

  There were the Stoics. There were the Epicureans. There were the tribes of Guiana Indians who killed themselves so they could be reborn as white men.

  “Closer to here and now, the People’s Temple mass suicide of 1978 left nine hundred twelve dead.”

  The Branch Davidian disaster of 1993 left seventy-six dead.

  The Order of the Solar Temple mass suicide and murder in 1994 killed fifty-three people.

  The Heaven’s Gate suicide in 1997 killed thirty-nine.

  “The Creedish church thing was just a blip in the culture,” he says. “It was just one more predictable mass suicide in a world filled with splinter groups that limp along until they’re confronted. Maybe their leader is about to die, as was the case with the Heaven’s Gate group, or they’re challenged by the government, like what happened around the Russian monks or the People’s Temple or the Creedish church district.”

  He says, “Actually, it’s awfully boring stuff. Anticipating the future based on the past. We might as well be an insurance company; nevertheless, it’s our job to make cult suicide look fresh and exciting every time around.”

  After knowing Fertility, I wonder if I’m the last person in the world who ever gets caught by surprise. Fertility with her dreams of disaster and this guy with his clean shave and his closed loop of history, they’re two peas trapped in the same boring pod.

  “Reality means you live until you die,” the agent says. “The real truth is nobody wants reality.”

  The agent closes his eyes and presses his open palm to his forehead. “The truth is the Creedish church was nothing special,” he says. “It was founded by a splinter group of Millerites in 1860 during the Great Awakening, during a period when in California alone, splinter religions founded more than fifty Utopian communities.”

  He opens one eye and points a finger at me. “You have something, a pet, a bird or a fish.”

  I ask how he knows this, about my fish.

  “It’s not necessarily true, but it’s probable,” he says. “The Creedish granted their labor missionaries what was known as Mascot Privilege, the right to own a pet, in 1939. It was the year a Creedish biddy stole an infant from the family where she worked. Having a pet was supposed to sublimate your need to nurture a dependent.”

  A biddy stole somebody’s baby.

  “In Birmingham, Alabama,” he says. “Of course, she killed herself the minute she was found.”

  I ask what else does he know.

  “You have a problem with masturbation.”

  That’s easy, I say. He read that in my Survivor Retention record.

  “No,” he says. “Lucky for us, all the client records for your caseworker are missing. Anything we say about you will be uncontested. And before I forget, we took six years off your life. If anyone asks, you’re twenty-seven.”

  So how does he know so much about my, you know, about me?

  “Your masturbation?”

  My crimes of Onan.

  “It seems that all you labor missionaries had a problem with masturbation.”

  If he only knew. Somewhere in my lost case history folder are the records of my being an exhibitionist, a bipolar syndrome, a myso-phobic, a shoplifter, etc.

  Somewhere in the night behind us, the caseworker is taking my secrets to her grave. Somewhere half the world behind me is my brother.

  Since he’s such an expert, I ask the agent if there are ever murders of people who were supposed to kill themselves but just didn’t. In these other religions, did anyone ever go around killing the survivors?

  “With the People’s Temple there was an unexplained handful of survivors murdered,” he says. “And the Order of the Solar Temple. It was the Canadian government’s trouble with the Solar Temple that prompted our government’s Survivor Retention Program. With the Solar Temple, little groups of French and Canadian followers kept killing themselves and killing each other for years after the original disaster. They called the killings ‘Departures.’”

  He says, “Members of the Temple Solaire burned themselves alive with gasoline and propane explosions they thought would blast them to eternal life on the star Sirius,” and he points into the night sky. “Compared to that, the Creedish mess was infinitely tame.”

  I ask, has he anticipated anything about a surviving church member hunting down and killing any leftover Creedish?

  “A surviving church member, other than you?” the agent asks.

  Yes.

  “Killing people, you say?”

  Yes.

  Looking out the car at the New York lights going by, the agent says, “A killer Creedish? Oh heavens, I hope not.”

  Looking out at the same lights behind tinted glass, at the star Sirius, looking past my own reflection with chocolate smeared around my mouth, I say, yeah. Me too.

  “Our whole campaign is based on the fact that you’re the last survivor,” he says. “If there’s another Creedish alive in the world, you’re wasting my time. The entire campaign is down the tubes. If you’re not the only living Creedish in the world, you’re worthless to us.”

  He opens his briefcase a crack and takes out a brown bottle. “Here,” he says, “take a couple Serenadons. These are the best anti-anxiety treatment ever invented.”

  They just don’t exist yet.

  “Just pretend,” he says, “for the placebo effect.” And he shakes two into my hand.

  People are going to say it’s the steroids that made me go crazy.

  The Durateston 250.

  The Mifepristone abortion pills from France.

  The Plenastril from Switzerland.

  The Masterone from Portugal.

  These are the real steroids, not just the copyrighted names of future drugs.

  These are the injectables, the tablets, the transdermal patches.

  People will be so sure the steroids made me into this, this crazy plane hijacker flying around the world until I kill myself. As if people know anything about being a celebrated famous celebrity spiritual leader. As if any one of those people isn’t already looking around for a new guru to make sense out of their risk-free boredom of a lifestyle while they watch the news on television and pass judgment on me. People are all looking for that, a hand to hold.

  Reassurance. The promise that everything will be all right. That’s all they wanted from me. Stressed, desperate, celebrated me. Underpressure me. None of these people know the first thing about being a big, glamorous, big, charismatic, big role model.

  It’s stair climbing around floor number one hundred and thirty you start raving, ranting, speaking in tongues.

  Not that any one person except maybe Fertility knows the kind of day-in and day-out effort it took to be me at this point.

  Imagine how you’d feel if your whole life turned into a job you couldn’t stand.

  No, everybody thinks their whole
life should be at least as much fun as masturbation.

  I’d like to see these people even try to live out of hotel rooms and find low-fat room service and do a halfway convincing job of faking a deep inner peace and at-oneness with God.

  When you get famous, dinner isn’t food anymore; it’s twenty ounces of protein, ten ounces of carbohydrates, salt-free, fat-free, sugar-free fuel. This is a meal every two hours, six times a day. Eating isn’t about eating anymore. It’s about protein assimilation.

  It’s about cellular rejuvenation cream. Washing is about exfoliation. What used to be breathing is respiration.

  I’d be the first to congratulate anybody if they could do a better job of faking flawless beauty and delivering vague inspiring messages:

  Calm down. Everyone, breathe deep. Life is good. Be just and kind. Be the love.

  As if.

  At most events, those deep inner messages and beliefs went from the writing team to me in the last thirty seconds before I went onstage. That’s what the silent opening prayer was all about. It gives me a minute to look down on the podium and read over my script.

  Five minutes go by. Ten minutes. The 400 milligrams of Deca-Durabolin and testosterone cypionate you just spiked backstage is still a round little bolus in the skin on your ass. The fifteen thousand paying faithful are kneeling right there in front of you with their heads bowed. The way an ambulance screams down a quiet street, that’s how those chemicals feel going into your bloodstream.

  The liturgical robes I started wearing onstage are because with enough Equipoise in your system, half the time you’re packing wood.

  Fifteen minutes go by with all those people on their knees.

  Whenever you’re ready, you just say it, the magic word.

  Amen.

  And it’s showtime.

  “You are children of peace in a universe of everlasting life and a limitless abundance of love and well-being, blah, blah, blah. Go in peace.”

  Where the writing team comes up with this copy, I don’t know.

  Let’s not even mention the miracles I performed on national television. My little halftime miracle during the Super Bowl. All those disasters I predicted, the lives I saved.

  You know the old saying: It’s not what you know.

  It’s who you know.

  People think it’s so simple to be me and go up in front of people in a stadium and lead them in prayer and then be seat-belted on a jet headed for the next stadium within the hour, all the time preserving a vibrant, healthy façade. No, but these people will still call you crazy for hijacking a plane. People don’t know the first thing about vibrant dynamic healthy vibrancy.

  Let them even try to find enough of me to autopsy. It’s nobody’s business if my liver function is impaired. Or if maybe my spleen and gallbladder are enormous from the effects of human growth hormone. As if they themselves wouldn’t inject anything sucked from the pituitary glands of dead cadavers if they thought they could look as good as I did on television.

  The risk of being famous is you have to take levothyroxine sodium to stay thin.

  Yes, you have your central nervous system to worry about. There’s the insomnia.

  Your metabolism ramps up. Your heart pounds. You sweat. You’re nervous all the time, but you look terrific.

  Just remember, your heart is only beating so you can be a regular dinner guest at the White House.

  Your central nervous system is just so you can address the UN General Assembly.

  Amphetamines are the most American drug. You get so much done. You look terrific, and your middle name is Accomplishment.

  “Your whole body,” the agent is yelling, “is just how you model your designer line of sportswear!”

  Your thyroid shuts down natural production of thyroxine.

  But you still look terrific. And you are, you’re the American Dream. You are the constant-growth economy.

  According to the agent, the people out there looking for a leader, they want vibrant. They want massive. They want dynamic. Nobody wants a little skinny god.

  They want a thirty-inch drop between your chest and waist sizes. Big pecs. Long legs. Cleft chin. Big calves.

  They want more than human.

  They want larger than life size.

  Nobody wants just anatomically correct.

  People want anatomical enhancement. Surgically augmented. New and improved.

  Silicone-implanted. Collagen-injected.

  Just for the record, after my first three-month cycle of Deca-Durabolin I couldn’t reach down far enough to tie my shoes; my arms were that big. Not a problem, the agent says, and he hires someone to tie all my shoes for me.

  After I cycled some Russian-made Metahapoctehosich for seventeen weeks all my hair fell out, and the agent bought me a wig.

  “You have to meet me halfway on this,” the agent tells me. “Nobody wants to worship a God who ties his own shoes.”

  Nobody wants to worship you if you have the same problems, the same bad breath and messy hair and hangnails, as a regular person. You have to be everything regular people aren’t. Where they fail, you have to go all the way. Be what people are too afraid to be. Become whom they admire.

  People shopping for a messiah want quality. Nobody is going to follow a loser.

  When it comes to choosing a savior, they won’t settle for just a human being.

  “For you, a wig is better,” the agent said. “It’s got the level of consistent perfection we can trust. Getting out of helicopters, the wash of the prop, every minute in public, you can’t control how real hair is going to look.”

  How the agent explained his plan to me was, we weren’t targeting the smartest people in the world, just the most.

  He said, “Think of yourself from now on as a diet cola.”

  He said, “Think of those young people out in the world struggling with outdated religions or with no religions, think of those people as your target market.”

  People are looking for how to put everything together. They need a unified field theory that combines glamour and holiness, fashion and spirituality. People need to reconcile being good and being good-looking.

  After day after day of no solid food, limited sleep, climbing thousands of stairs, and the agent yelling his ideas to me over and over, this all made perfect sense.

  The music team was busy writing hymns even before I was under contract. The writing team was putting my autobiography to bed. The media team was doing press releases, merchandise licensing agreements, the skating shows: The Creedish Death Tragedy on Ice, the satellite hookups, tanning appointments. The image team has creative control on appearance. The writing team has control of every word that comes out of my mouth.

  To cover the acne I got from cycling Laurabolin, I started wearing makeup. To cure the acne, someone on the support team got me a prescription for Retin-A.

  For the hair loss, the support team was spritzing me with Rogaine.

  Everything we did to fix me had side effects we had to fix. Then the fixes had side effects to fix and so on and so on.

  Imagine a Cinderella story where the hero looks in the mirror and who’s looking back is a total stranger. Every word he says is written for him by a team of professionals. Everything he wears is chosen or designed by a team of designers.

  Every minute of every day is planned by his publicist.

  Maybe now you’re starting to get a picture.

  Plus your hero is spiking drugs you can only buy in Sweden or Mexico so he can’t see down past his own jutting-out chest. He’s tanned and shaved and wigged and scheduled because people in Tucson, people in Seattle, or Chicago or Baton Rouge, don’t want an avatar with a hairy back.

  It’s around floor number two hundred that you reach the highest state.

  You’re gone anaerobic, you’re burning muscle instead of fat, but your mind is crystal-clear.

  The truth is that all this was just part of the suicide process. Because tanning and steroids are only a problem if you
plan to live a long time.

  Because the only difference between a suicide and a martyrdom really is the amount of press coverage.

  If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, doesn’t it just lie there and rot?

  And if Christ had died from a barbiturate overdose, alone on the bathroom floor, would He be in Heaven?

  This wasn’t a question of whether or not I was going to kill myself. This, this effort, this money and time, the writing team, the drugs, the diet, the agent, the flights of stairs going up to nowhere, all this was so I could off myself with everyone’s full attention.

  This one time, the agent asked me where I saw myself in five years.

  Dead, I told him. I see myself dead and rotting. Or ashes, I can see myself burned to ashes.

  I had a loaded gun in my pocket, I remember. Just the two of us were standing in the back of a crowded, dark auditorium. I remember it was the night of my first big public appearance.

  I see myself dead and in Hell, I said.

  I remember I was planning to kill myself that night.

  I told the agent, I figured I’d spend my first thousand years of Hell in some entry-level position, but after that I wanted to move into management. Be a real team player. Hell is going to see enormous growth in market share over the next millennium. I wanted to ride the crest.

  The agent said that sounded pretty realistic.

  We were smoking cigarettes, I remember. Down onstage, some local preacher was doing his opening act. Part of his warm-up was to get the audience hyperventilated. Loud singing does the job. Or chanting. According to the agent, when people shout this way or sing ‘Amazing Grace’ at the top of their lungs, they breathe too much. People’s blood should be acid. When they hyperventilate the carbon dioxide level of their blood drops, and their blood become alkaline.

  “Respiratory alkalosis,” he says.

  People get light-headed. People fall down with their ears ringing, their fingers and toes go numb, they get chest pains, they sweat. This is supposed to be rapture. People thrash on the floor with their hands cramped into stiff claws.

  This is what passes for ecstasy.

 
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CHUCK PALAHNIUK SERIES:

Damned

 

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