Survivor, p.16
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       Survivor, p.16

           Chuck Palahniuk
 
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  The agent is in my line of sight just over the journalist’s shoulder, with the writers crowded around him in the dark, clothed.

  Next to the agent, the Teleprompter screen tells me:

  I FELT VIOLATED BY BEING AUCTIONED NAKED AS A SLAVE.

  According to the Teleprompter:

  I FELT DEEPLY HUMILIATED.

  According to the Teleprompter:

  I FELT USED AND DEFILED…MOLESTED.

  The staff writers bunch up around the Teleprompter and mouth the words as I read them aloud.

  While I read all this out loud with the cameras watching me, the journalist looks off into the darkness at the director and touches her wrist. The director holds up two fingers, then eight fingers. A technician steps into the light and pats a curl back over the journalist’s ear.

  The Teleprompter tells me:

  I WAS SEXUALLY ABUSED. SEXUAL ABUSE WAS COMMONPLACE AMONG THE CREEDISH CULT MEMBERS. INCEST WAS AN EVERYDAY PART OF FAMILY LIFE. SO WAS SEX WITH ALL SORTS OF ANIMALS. SATAN WORSHIP WAS POPULAR. THE CREEDISH SACRIFICED CHILDREN TO SATAN ALL THE TIME, BUT NOT BEFORE ABUSING THEM LIKE CRAZY. THEN THE CREEDISH CHURCH ELDERS KILLED THEM. DRANK THEIR BLOOD. THESE WERE KIDS I SAT NEXT TO IN SCHOOL EVERY DAY. THE CHURCH ELDERS ATE THEM. WHEN THERE WAS A FULL MOON, CHURCH ELDERS DANCED NAKED, WEARING JUST THE SKINS OF DEAD CREEDISH CHILDREN.

  Yeah, I say, it was all really, really stressful.

  The Teleprompter says:

  YOU CAN FIND ALL THE VIVID ACCOUNTS OF THE CREEDISH SEX CRIMES IN MY BOOK. IT’S CALLED SAVED FROM SALVATION AND IT’S IN BOOKSTORES EVERYWHERE.

  In the shadows, the agent and the writers give each other silent high fives. The agent gives me a big thumbs-up.

  My hands are numb. I can’t feel my face. My tongue belongs to somebody else. My lips are dead with circumoral paresthesia.

  Side effects.

  Peripheral paresthesia kills any feeling in my feet. My whole body feels as far away and detached as the picture of me wearing a black suit and sitting on a brown sofa on the studio monitor, the way it’s supposed to feel as your soul goes up to Heaven and watches the rest of you, the flesh and blood of you, die.

  The director is waving his fingers at me, two fingers on his one hand and four on his other. What he’s trying to tell me I don’t know.

  Most of what’s on the Teleprompter is from my autobiography I didn’t write. The terrible childhood I didn’t have. According to the Teleprompter, the Creedish are all burning in Hell.

  The Teleprompter tells me:

  I’ll NEVER GET OVER THE PAINFUL HUMILIATING PAIN NO MATTER HOW RICH I GET WHEN I INHERIT THE CREEDISH CHURCH DISTRICT LAND.

  According to the Teleprompter:

  MY NEWEST BOOK, THE BOOK OF VERY COMMON PRAYER, IS AN IMPORTANT TOOL FOR COPING WITH STRESSES WE ALL EXPERIENCE. IT’S CALLED THE BOOK OF VERY COMMON PRAYER AND IT’S IN BOOKSTORES EVERYWHERE.

  According to the journalist watching the director watch the agent watch me watch the Teleprompter, according to her I’m very happy and fulfilled now that I’m free of the Creedish Death Cult. When we come back, she tells the cameras, we’ll take calls from viewers at home.

  The journalist breaks to commercial.

  During the commercial, she asks me if my growing up was really all that terrible. The agent steps up and says, yes. It was. It was terrifying. A technician trailing wires from his belt and from around his head steps up and asks, do I need some water? The agent says, no. The director asks if I need to use the bathroom, and the agent says I’m fine. He says I don’t like dealing with a crowd of strangers asking me questions. I’ve evolved beyond physical needs.

  Then the camera techs roll their eyes, and the director and journalist look at each other and shrug as if I’m the one who sends them away.

  Then the director says we’re taping, and the journalist says that caller number one is on the air.

  “If I’m in a crowded restaurant,” the caller is a woman’s voice coming over the studio speakers, “this is a very expensive restaurant, and someone eating next to me passes gas, not just once but over and over, and it’s horrible, what should I do?”

  The journalist cups one hand over her face. The director turns his back. The agent looks at the writers writing my response for the Teleprompter.

  To stall for time, the journalist asks what the caller was eating.

  “Something with pork,” the caller says. “It doesn’t matter. The smell was so bad I couldn’t taste anything else.”

  The Teleprompter says:

  THE LORD GOD HAS GIVEN US MANY SENSES.

  The Teleprompter is stalling for time, too.

  AMONG THESE IS THE SENSE OF SMELL AND THE SENSE OF TASTE.

  As the lines of copy appear on the Teleprompter, I just read them aloud.

  BUT ONLY MAN JUDGES WHICH GIFTS ARE GOOD AND BAD. TO GOD THE SMELL OF OFFAL IS EQUAL TO THE SMELL OF FINE PORK OR WINE.

  I have no idea where they’re going with this.

  DO NOT SUFFER AND DO NOT REJOICE. BE NOT COMPLIMENTED OR OFFENDED BY SUCH GIFTS. JUDGE NOT, LEST YE BE JUDGED.

  The director mouths the words Burma Shave. The journalist says caller number two, you’re on the air.

  Caller number two asks what I think of thong swimwear.

  The Teleprompter says:

  ABOMINATION.

  I say, After years of presoaking for rich people, I think the people who make thong swimwear and underwear should just make the thong part black to begin with.

  The journalist says caller number three, you’re on the air.

  “There’s a guy I like, but he’s avoiding me.”

  It’s Fertility, it’s her voice, on loudspeakers, talking to me, talking about me all over North America. Is she going to force a spat here on television? My thoughts branch into a flow chart of the lies I’ve told and my possible responses to what she might start.

  Is she going to expose me and my disaster predictions?

  Has she put two and two together and guessed that I coached her brother to commit suicide? Or has she known that all along? And if she knows I killed her brother, then what?

  “This guy who won’t call me, I told him about what I do,” she says. “My job. And he disapproves, but he pretends he’s okay with it.”

  The journalist asks, what exactly is Fertility’s job?

  The Teleprompter is blank.

  Then all of America is about to know a big secret about either Fertility or me.

  Her evil job. My murderous suicide hotline. Her disaster dreams. My borrowed predictions.

  “I have an agent named Dr. Ambrose,” Fertility says, “except he’s not a real doctor.”

  Fertility told me one time that everyone in the world, even garbage haulers and dishwashers, will be signed by an agent someday. Her Dr. Ambrose would find couples with money looking for someone to have their baby. A surrogate mother.

  Dr. Ambrose calls it the procedure. It’s conducted in utero with the birth father in bed with Fertility and his wife waiting outside the door.

  “The wife will be in the hallway, knitting or listing baby names,” Fertility says, “and the husband will be carefully emptying the teeny-weeny contents of his testicles into me.”

  The first time she told me about her job, back when I was a nobody doing crisis intervention at home, she told me Fertility Hollis is a stage name. She said her real name was Gwen, but she hated that.

  “My being with the birth father is more naturopathic, says Dr. Ambrose. That’s his pitch to desperate couples. It isn’t adultery. It’s holistic.”

  It wasn’t fraud or prostitution, she told me.

  “It’s in the Bible,” Fertility says.

  It costs five thousand dollars.

  “You know, Genesis Chapter Thirty, Rachel and Bilhah, Leah and Zilpah.”

  Bilhah didn’t use birth control, I want to tell her. Zilpah didn’t make five grand, tax-free. They were real slaves. They didn’t travel all over the nation getting plugged by would-be fathers hungr
y for an heir.

  Fertility will live with a couple for up to one full week, but every time they conduct the procedure it’s another five grand. With some men, this can mean fifteen grand in one night. Plus the couple has to pay her airfare.

  “Dr. Ambrose is just a voice on the telephone that arranges the arrangement,”

  Fertility says. “It’s not as if he’s a real person. The couple pays him and he sends me half the money in cash. There’s never a return address. He’s such a coward.”

  I know that feeling.

  The Teleprompter says:

  SLUT.

  “All I have to do is not conceive, and I’m a big success.”

  It’s her vocation, she told me, being barren.

  The Teleprompter says:

  HARLOT.

  Over the speakers she says it, “I’m sterile.”

  The Teleprompter says:

  WHORE.

  It’s her one marketable job skill. It’s her calling.

  Here’s the job she was born to do.

  She pays no taxes. She loves to travel. She lives on the road in rich places, and the hours are flexible. She told me, some nights, she falls asleep during the procedure. With some birth fathers, she dreams of arson, of falling bridges and landslides.

  “I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong,” she says. “I think I’m making lemons into lemonade.”

  The Teleprompter says:

  BURN IN THE HOT ETERNAL FIRES OF HELL YOU HEATHEN DEVIL SLATTERN.

  Fertility says, “So what do you think?”

  The journalist is staring at me so hard she hasn’t noticed some hair that’s slipped down over her forehead. The director is staring at me. The agent is staring. The journalist gulps. The writers are feeding copy into the Teleprompter.

  PRAY TO DIE ADULTEROUS DEVIL WHORE.

  All of America is tuned in.

  YOU ARE BEYOND FORGIVENESS EVIL DEVIL GIRL.

  The agent shakes his head, no.

  The Teleprompter screen goes blank for a moment. The writers write. The copy reappears.

  YOU ARE BEYOND FORGIVENESS EVIL DEVIL WOMAN.

  Says Fertility’s voice, “So what do you think?”

  HARLOT

  The agent points at me, points at the Teleprompter screen, points at me, over and over, fast.

  TROLLOP

  “You’re not going to pass some big judgment on me, are you?”

  JEZEBEL

  There’s just dead air going out to the satellite. Somebody has to say something.

  With my numb mouth I read the words on the Teleprompter. With no feeling in my lips, I just say what they tell me to say.

  The journalist asks, “Caller number three? Are you still there?”

  The director is flashing his fingers at us, five, four, three, two, one. Then he pulls his index finger across his throat.

  ♦

  What else I want people to know before my plane crash is I didn’t dream up the idea for the PornFill.

  The agent is always pushing paper in front of me and saying, sign this.

  He tells me, sign here.

  And here.

  Here.

  And here.

  The agent tells me to just initial next to each paragraph. He tells me, don’t bother reading this bit, I won’t understand.

  That’s how the PornFill happened.

  It was not my idea to take all twenty thousand acres of the Creedish church district and turn it into the repository for this nation’s outdated pornography.

  Magazines. Playing cards. Videocassettes. Compact disks. Worn-out dildos.

  Punctured blowup dolls. Artificial vaginas. The bulldozers are out there twenty-four hours a day pushing mountains of that around. This is twenty thousand acres. Two-zero-zero-zero-zero acres. Every square foot of Creedish property. Wildlife is displaced. The groundwater is contaminated.

  It’s being compared to Love Canal, and it’s not my fault.

  Before the flight recorder tape runs out, people need to know who to blame. It’s the agent. The Book of Very Common Prayer. The Peace of Mind television show.

  The American PornFill Corporation. The Genesis Campaign. The Tender Branson Dashboard Statuette. Even my botched Super Bowl halftime special, the agent brain-stormed them all.

  And they all made tons of money.

  But what’s important is none of them was my idea.

  With the PornFill, the agent pitches it to me one day in Dallas or Memphis. My whole life at that point was stadiums and hotel rooms separated by time on airplanes instead of real distance. The whole world was just carpet patterns rushing by under my feet. Low-pile poly-nylon florals or corporate logos on a field of dark blue or gray that won’t show cigarette burns or dirt.

  The whole world was just public toilets with Fertility in the stall next to mine, whispering:

  “There’s a cruise ship hitting an iceberg tomorrow night.”

  Whispering, “At two o’clock PM, eastern standard time, next Wednesday, the Bolivian gray panther will become extinct.”

  The agent is saying, a major problem for most Americans is disposing of pornographic material in a safe, private manner. Throughout America, he says, are vast collections of Playboy magazines or Screw magazines that don’t excite anybody anymore. There are warehouses and shelves full of videotaped nobodies with long sideburns or blue eye shadow humping away to bad pirated music. What America needs, he says, is a place to ship this stale smut where it can decompose out of the sight of children and prudes.

  His pitch to me comes after the agent’s already run a feasibility study on landfilling paper, plastic, elastic, latex, rubber, leather, steel fasteners, zippers, chrome rings, Velcro, vinyl, petroleum- and water-based lubricants, and nylon.

  His idea is to set up collection sites where people can drop off porno, no questions asked. From there, local franchises will ship the porno in the same type of specialized biohazard containers used for sharps and dressings contaminated with infectious disease. The porno will be hauled to the former Creedish church district colony in central Nebraska where it’ll be sorted. The three categories will include:

  Soft Core.

  Hard Core.

  And Child.

  The first category will be allowed to rot on the surface of the ground. The second category will be bulldozed into the ground. The third will be handled only by uninterested people wearing full-body disposable rip-stop coveralls including 50-mil rubber gloves and boots and breathing through masks, who’ll seal the kiddie porn in underground vaults where it can sit out its bazillion-year half-life.

  According to the agent, we need to get people panicking about the porno threat.

  We’re going to push for government action that makes it mandatory to dispose of porno in safe, clean ways. Our ways. The same as used motor oil or asbestos, if people want to get rid of it, they’ll have to pay.

  We’ll show people discarded porno filling the streets, corrupting children, inspiring sex crimes.

  We’ll charge by the ton to accept the stuff. The local collection franchises will pass the cost on to their customers, plus an extra margin for profit. We make money. The local franchises make money. Joe Blow is free to shop for fresh porno. The porno industry gets rich.

  Okay, the agent told me. Richer.

  According to the agent, it was all going to be a win, win, win, win situation.

  Then it wasn’t.

  The agent was already drafting the federal law that now requires you to pay a deposit on all pornographic material. The deposit funnels back through the government to pay for the interment of pornographic materials found abandoned.

  Money from this special porno tax was earmarked for a porno super-fund to clean up illegal dump sites. Some special user tax dollars were going to rehabilitate sex addicts, but not very much.

  Before I ever heard word one about the PornFill, the environmental impact statement was already dummied up.

  The perc tests were faked.

  The pu
blicist had faxes going out to church groups day and night, testing the waters. The lobbyists were making a discreet push.

  There was the twenty thousand acres of the Creedish church district with its ghosts nobody wanted to buy. And there were the millions of personal stockpiles of pornography that no one wanted. It made sense to everybody except me.

  It wasn’t a decision I made. I explored some alternatives. I said The Prayer to Create Extra Storage Space. I swallowed 4000 milligrams of chocolate Gamacease prototypes. I thought that might solve the problem for America. I said The Prayer to Recycle Accumulated Newspapers, but this wasn’t the same. I said The Prayer to Procrastinate, but the agent just would not let the issue drop.

  According to the newspaper one morning, the Sensitive Materials Interment Bill had passed the House and the Senate and the president was signing it into law.

  The agent just kept telling me, sign this.

  Initial here. And here. And here.

  I said the Prayer for Signing Important Documents You Don’t Read.

  According to Fertility, it was the PornFill that drove my brother Adam out of hiding.

  My only part in the project was I signed some papers.

  Since then, everybody in America thinks it’s my fault they have to pay an extra two-dollar deposit when they buy a skin magazine.

  After that, Adam Branson came out of hiding and put a gun to Fertility’s bored head to force her to track me down.

  As if Fertility couldn’t see that coming.

  Fertility knew everything.

  Fertility said to describe my brother’s threat to kill her as well-intentioned.

  Later on, when it was my turn to hold the same gun to the pilot’s head on this airplane, then I understood how fast these things happen.

  Still. I’m the one people hate.

  Me, I’m the brother with the Tender Branson National Sensitive Materials Sanitary Landfill named after me.

  The last time Fertility saw the new buffed, bulked, tanned, and shaved me in person, she said I was improved beyond recognition. She said, “You need a disaster?”

  She said, ‘Look in a mirror.’ Adam was still out hunting me for sport. Adam is the brother Fertility told me to describe as ‘a saint.’

 
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CHUCK PALAHNIUK SERIES:

Damned

 

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