Survivor, p.22
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       Survivor, p.22

           Chuck Palahniuk
 
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  The dust and smoke swirl in the air.

  The only sound is the car engine dripping something, oil, antifreeze, gasoline.

  Until Adam starts screaming.

  The dust is from the air bags protecting us at our moment of impact. The air bags are collapsed slack and empty back onto the dashboard now, and as the dust settles, Adam is screaming and clutching his face. The blood coming from between his fingers is black against the talcum white coat.

  In one hand, Adam holds the statuette smeared with blood, more of a devil now than ever.

  With his other hand, Adam grabs at the ground beside him and drags an open magazine across his mutilated face. The magazine shows a man and woman copulating, and from under it Adam says, “When you find a rock. Bring it down on my face when I tell you.”

  I can’t.

  “I won’t let you kill me,” Adam says.

  I don’t trust him.

  “You’ll be giving me a better life. It’s in your power,” Adam says from under the magazine. “If you want to save my life, do this for me first.”

  Adam says, “If you don’t, the minute you go for help, I’ll crawl away and hide, and I’ll die out here.”

  I weigh the rock in my hand.

  I ask, will he tell me when to stop?

  “I’ll tell you when I’ve had enough.”

  Does he promise?

  “I promise.”

  I lift the rock so its shadow falls across the people having sex on Adam’s face.

  And I bring it down.

  The rock sinks in so far.

  “Again!” Adam says. “Harder.”

  And I bring the rock down.

  And the rock sinks in farther.

  “Again!”

  And I bring it down.

  “Again!”

  And I bring the rock down.

  Blood soaks up through the pages, up to turn the fucking couple red and then purple.

  “Again!” Adam says, his words distorted, his mouth and nose not the same shape anymore.

  And I bring the rock down on the couple’s arms and their legs and their faces.

  “Again.”

  And I bring the rock down until the rock is sticky red with blood, until the magazine is collapsed in the center. Until my hands are sticky red.

  Then I stop.

  I ask, Adam?

  I go to lift the magazine, but it tears. It’s so sodden.

  Adam’s hand holding the statuette goes slack and the bloody statuette rolls into the grave I dug to find something solid.

  I ask, Adam?

  The wind carries smoke over us both.

  A huge shadow is spreading toward us from the base of the pylon. One minute it’s just touching Adam. The next minute, the shadow has him covered.

  Ladies and gentlemen, here on Flight 2039, our third engine has just flamed out.

  We have just one engine left before we begin our terminal descent.

  The cold shadow of the Creedish church monument falls over me all morning as I bury Adam Branson. Under the layers of obscenity, under the Hungry Butt Holes, under the Ravishing She-Males, I dig with my hands into the churchyard dirt.

  Bigger stones carved with willows and skulls are buried all around me. The epitaphs on them are about what you’d imagine.

  Gone but Not Forgotten.

  In Heaven with their mistakes may they dwell.

  Beloved Father.

  Cherished Mother.

  Confused Family.

  May whatever God they find grant them forgiveness and peace.

  Ineffectual Caseworker.

  Obnoxious Agent.

  Misguided Brother.

  Maybe it’s the Botox botulinum toxin injected into me or the drug interactions or the lack of sleep or the long-term effects of Attention Withdrawal Syndrome, but I don’t feel a thing. The insides of my mouth taste bitter. I press my lymph nodes in my neck, but I only feel contempt.

  Maybe after everybody dying around me, I’ve just developed a skill for losing people. A natural talent. A blessing.

  The same as Fertility’s being barren is the perfect job skill for her being a surrogate mother, maybe I’ve developed a useful lack of feeling.

  The same way you might look at your leg cut off at the knee and not feel anything at first, maybe this is just shock.

  But I hope not.

  I don’t want it to wear off.

  I pray not to feel anything ever again.

  Because if it wears off, this is all going to hurt so much. This is going to hurt for the rest of my life.

  You won’t learn this in any charm school, but to keep dogs from digging up something you’ve buried, sprinkle the grave with ammonia. To keep away ants, sprinkle borax.

  For roaches, use alum.

  Peppermint oil will keep away rats.

  To bleach away bloodstains from under your fingernails, sink your fingertips into half a lemon and wiggle them around. Rinse them under warm water.

  The wreck of the car is burned down to just the seats smoldering. Just this ribbon of black smoke flutters out across the valley.

  When I go to lift Adam’s body, the gun falls out of his jacket pocket. The only sound comes from a few flies buzzing around the rock still clutched with a print of my hand in blood.

  What’s left of Adam’s face is still wrapped in the sticky red magazine, and as I lower first his feet and then his shoulders into the hole I’ve dug, a yellow taxi is bumping and crawling toward me from the horizon.

  The hole is only big enough for Adam to fit curled on his side, and kneeling on the brim, I start pushing in the dirt.

  When the clean dirt runs out, I push in faded pornography, obscene books with their spines broken, Traci Lords and John Holmes, Kayla Kleevage and Dick Rambone, vibrators with dead batteries, dog-eared playing cards, expired condoms, brittle and fragile but never used.

  I know the feeling.

  Condoms ribbed for extra sensitivity.

  The last thing I need is sensitivity.

  Here are condoms lined with a topical anesthetic for prolonged action. What a paradox. You don’t feel a thing, but you can fuck for hours.

  This seems to really miss the point.

  I want my whole life lined with a topical anesthetic.

  The yellow taxi humps across the potholes, getting closer. One person is driving. One person is in the backseat.

  Who this is, I don’t know, but I can imagine.

  I pick up the gun and try to wedge it into my jacket pocket. The barrel tears the pocket lining, and then the whole thing is hidden. If there are bullets inside, I don’t know.

  The taxi rushes to a stop about shouting distance away.

  Fertility gets out and waves. She leans down by the driver’s window and the breeze carries her words to me, “Wait, please. This is going to take a minute.”

  Then she comes over with her arms raised out at her sides for balance and her face looking down at every step across the sliding, glossy layers of used magazines. Orgy Boys. Cum Gravers.

  “I thought you could use some company about now,” she calls over to me.

  I look around for a tissue or a crotchless underwear to wipe the blood off my hands.

  Looking up, Fertility says, “Wow, the way the shadow of that Creedish death monument thing is falling across Adam’s grave is so symbolic.”

  The three hours I’ve been burying Adam is the longest I’ve ever been out of a job. Now Fertility Hollis is here to tell me what to do. My new job is following her.

  Fertility turns to gaze around the horizon and says, “This is so totally The Valley of the Shadow of Death here.” She says, “You sure picked the right place to smash in your brother’s skull. It’s so totally Cain and Abel I can’t stand it.”

  I killed my brother.

  I killed her brother.

  Adam Branson.

  Trevor Hollis.

  You can’t trust me around anybody’s brother with a telephone or a rock.

  Fertili
ty puts a hand in her shoulder bag and says, “You want some Red Ropes licorice?”

  I hold out my hands covered with dried blood.

  She says, “I guess not.”

  She looks back over her shoulder at the taxi, idling, and she waves. An arm comes out the driver’s window and waves back.

  To me she says, “Let me put this in a nutshell. Adam and Trevor both pretty much killed themselves.”

  She tells me, Trevor killed himself because his life had no more surprises, no more adventure. He was terminally ill. He was dying of boredom. The only mystery left was death.

  Adam wanted to die because he knew the way he’d been trained, he could never be anything but a Creedish. Adam killed off the surviving Creedish because he knew that an old culture of slaves couldn’t found a new culture of free men. Like Moses leading the tribes of Israel around in the desert for a generation, Adam wanted me to survive, but not my slave mind-set.

  Fertility says, “You didn’t kill my brother.”

  Fertility says, “And you didn’t kill your brother, either. What you did was more like what they call assisted suicide.”

  Out of her shoulder bag, she takes some flowers, real flowers, a little bunch of fresh roses and carnations. Red roses and white carnations all tied together.

  “Check it out,” she says and crouches down to put them on the magazines where Adam is buried.

  “Here’s another big symbol,” she says, still crouched and looking up at me.

  “These flowers will be rotten in a couple hours. Birds will crap on them. The smoke here will make them stink, and tomorrow a bulldozer will probably run over them, but for right now they are so beautiful.”

  She’s such a thoughtful and endearing character.

  “Yeah,” she says, “I know.”

  Fertility gets to her feet and grabs me on a clean part of my arm, a part not crusted with dried blood, and she starts walking me toward the cab.

  “We can be jaded and heartless later, when it’s not costing me so much money,” she says.

  On our way back to the taxi, she says the whole nation is in an uproar over how I wrecked the Super Bowl. No way can we take a plane or bus anywhere. The newspapers are calling me the Antichrist. The Creedish mass murderer. The value of Tender Branson merchandise is through the roof, but for all the wrong reasons. All the world’s major religions, the Catholics and Jews and Baptists and whatall, are saying, We told you so.

  Before we get to the taxi, I hide my bloody hands in my pockets. The gun sticks to my trigger finger.

  Fertility opens a back door of the taxi and gets me inside. Then she goes around and gets in the other side.

  She smiles at the driver in the rearview mirror and says, “Back to Grand Island, I guess.”

  The taxi meter says seven hundred eighty dollars.

  The driver looks at me in the rearview mirror and says, “Your mama throw out your favorite jerk-off magazine?” He says, “This place goes on forever. If you lose something, no way are you going to find it here.”

  Fertility whispers, “Don’t let him get to you.”

  The driver is a chronic drunk, she whispers. She plans to pay with her charge card because he’ll be dead two days from now in an accident. He’ll never get the chance to send in the charge.

  As the sun comes up to noon, the shadow of the concrete pylon is getting smaller by the minute.

  I ask, How is my fish doing?

  “Oh, geez,” she says. “Your fish.”

  The taxi is bumping and rolling back toward the outside world.

  Nothing should hurt by now, but I don’t want to hear this.

  “Your fish, I’m really sorry,” Fertility says. “It just died.”

  Fish number six hundred and forty-one.

  I ask, Did it feel any pain?

  Fertility says, “I don’t think so.”

  I ask, Did you forget to feed it?

  “No.”

  I ask, Then what happened?

  Fertility says, “I don’t know. One day it was just dead.”

  There was no reason.

  It didn’t mean anything.

  This wasn’t any big political gesture.

  It just died.

  It was just a damn fucking fish is all but it’s everything I had. Beloved fish.

  And after everything that’s happened, this should be easy to hear. Cherished fish.

  But sitting there in the back of the cab, the gun in my hand, my hands in my pockets, I start to cry.

  In Grand Island, we had a little son crippled with lupus so we could stay a couple days in the Ronald McDonald House there.

  After that, we caught a ride in half a Parkwood Mansion headed west. This was nothing but four bedrooms, and we slept apart with two of them empty between us.

  In Denver, we had a little girl with polio so we could stay at another Ronald McDonald House and eat and not feel the world going by underneath us while we slept at night. In Ronald McDonald’s House, we had to share a room, but it would have two beds.

  Out of Denver, we caught a Topsail Estate Manor headed for Cheyenne. We were just drifting. This wasn’t costing us any money.

  We caught half a Sutton Place Townhome headed for we didn’t know where, and we ended up in Billings, Montana.

  We started playing house roulette.

  We didn’t wander into the truck stop diners to ask around about which house was headed where. Fertility and me, we just cut our way inside and sealed the way shut behind us.

  We rode three days and nights sealed in half a Flamingo Lodge and only woke up when they were setting it on a foundation in Hamilton, Montana. We stepped out the back door just as the happy family who bought it was coming in the front.

  All we had with us was Fertility’s tote bag and Adam’s gun.

  We were lost in the desert.

  Out of Missoula, Montana, we caught one-third of a Craftsman Manor going west on Interstate 90.

  A sign went by saying, Spokane 300 miles.

  Past Spokane, a sign went by saying, Seattle 200 miles.

  In Seattle, we had a little boy with a hole in his heart.

  In Tacoma, we had a little girl with no feeling in her arms and legs.

  We told people the doctors didn’t know what was wrong.

  People told us to expect a miracle.

  People with their real kids dead or dying of cancer told us God was good and kind.

  We lived together as if we were married, but we almost never talked.

  Headed south on Interstate 5 through Portland, Oregon, we rode inside half a Holly Hills Estate.

  Before we feel ready, we’re home home, back in the city where we met, standing on a curb. Our last house is just pulling away and we let it.

  I still haven’t told Fertility that Adam’s last wish was she and I would have sex together.

  As if she doesn’t already know.

  She knows. All those night I was passed out, it was all Adam talked to Fertility about. She and I have to have sex. To set me free and give me power. To prove to Fertility that sex could be more than just a wealthy middle-aged marketing consultant squirting his DNA into her.

  But now there isn’t any place either of us live here, not anymore. Her apartment and my apartment have both been rented out to other people, Fertility knows that.

  “I have a place we can stay tonight,” she says, “but I have to call ahead.”

  In the pay phone booth is one of my stickers from a million years before.

  Give Yourself, Your Life, Just One More Chance. Call Me for Help. Then my old phone number.

  I call, and a recording tells me my number has been disconnected.

  Right back at the recording, I say, No kidding.

  Fertility calls the place she thinks we can crash. Into the phone she says, “My name is Fertility Hollis, and I was referred to you by Dr. Webster Ambrose.”

  It’s her evil job.

  It’s the agent’s closed loop of history. Fertility’s being omniscient
is looking pretty easy. Nothing new ever does happen.

  “Yes, I have the address,” she says. “I’m sorry about the short notice, but this is my first opening I’ve had. No,” she says, “this is not tax-deductible. No,” she says, “this is for all night, but there’s a separate charge for each attempt. No,” she says, “there’s no cash discount.”

  She says, “We can work out the details in person.”

  Into the phone she says, “No, you don’t have to tip me.”

  She snaps her fingers at me and mouths the word ‘pen.’ Then on the sticker for my crisis hotline she writes an address, repeating the number and street into the phone.

  “Fine,” she says. “Seven o’clock then. Goodbye.” In the sky overhead, it’s the same sun watching us make the same mistakes over and over. It’s the same blue sky after everything we’ve been through. Nothing new. No surprises here.

  The place she’s taking me is the house I used to clean. The couple she’s breeding for tonight are my speakerphone employers.

  The trip to Fertility’s bed is lined with streaked windows and peeling paint.

  Mildewed tile and rust stains. Everywhere along the way are clogged drains and scuff marks. Sagging curtains and snagged upholstery. All the stations of the cross.

  This is after the man and woman I worked for were upstairs with Fertility doing God knows what.

  This is after I’ve crawled in through the basement window Fertility knew would be unlocked. This is after I hid out among the fake flowers in the backyard, each of them stolen from a grave, and after Fertility rang the doorbell at seven sharp.

  Dust coats everything in the kitchen. China coated with microwave leftovers fills the sink. The inside of the microwave is crusted with exploded food.

  Bred and trained and sold little slave that I am, I go right to work cleaning.

  Just ask me how to get baked crud out of a microwave.

  No, really, go ahead.

  Ask me.

  The secret is boiling a cup of water in the microwave for a few minutes. This loosens the crud so you can wipe it off.

  Ask me how to get bloodstains off your hands.

  The trick is to forget how fast these things can happen. Suicides. Accidents.

  Crimes of passion.

  Fertility upstairs doing her job.

  Just concentrate on the stain until your memory is completely erased. Practice really does make perfect. If you could call it that.

 
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CHUCK PALAHNIUK SERIES:

Damned

 

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