Damned, p.2
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       Damned, p.2

         Part #1 of Damned series by Chuck Palahniuk  
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  And, yes, I know the word gender. Ye gods! I may be pudgy and flat-chested and nearsighted and dead, but I am NOT a moron.

  Yes, and I know that when a supersexy older girl with hips and breasts and nice hair wants to take off your glasses and to paint you a smoky eye she's merely trying to enroll you in a beauty contest she's already won. It's a kind of slummy, condescending gesture, like when rich people ask poor people where they summer. To me, this smacks of a blatant, insensitive "let them eat cake" type of chauvinism.

  Either that, or the attractive older girl is a lesbian. Either way, I don't offer my face even as she stands ready, brandishing a gloppy mascara brush like a fairy godmother's magic wand, to turn me into some floozy Cinderella. To be honest, whenever I watch the classic John Hughes film The Breakfast Club, and Molly Ringwald leads poor Ally Sheedy into the girl's bathroom, then brings her out with those hideous 1980s smears of rouge under each cheekbone and Ally's hair tied back with that preppy ribbon and her lips painted that dated red-red like a cheap China doll version of Ringwald's own sellout Whorey Vanderwhore Vogue magazine conformity, poor Ally reduced to a kind of living, breathing Nagel print, I always yell at the television, "Run, Ally!" Really, I scream, "Wash your face, Ally, and just run!"

  Instead of submitting my face, I say, "I'd better not, not until my eczema clears up some."

  At this, the magic mascara wand jerks back. The Avon eye shadows and lipsticks all clatter back into the fake Coach bag even as her eyes squint, searching my face for signs of inflamed, red, flaky skin and open sores.

  It's like my mom will tell you: "Every new maid wants to fold your underwear a different way." Meaning: You have to stay smart and not let yourself be pushed around.

  Other cells cluster around our two, some cells empty, others occupied by lone people. No doubt the football jock, the rebel stoner, the brainy geek, the psycho, all serving detention here, forever.

  No, it's not fair, but chances are good that I'll be in this cell for centuries to come, pretending to suffer psoriasis even while hypocrite people scream and complain about the humidity and the smell, and my Whorey Vanderwhore neighbor squats down to try to spit-shine her cheapo, white plastic shoes with a crumpled wad of Kleenex. Even against the stink of poop and smoke and sulfur, you can smell her dime-store perfume like a mixed-fruit flavor of chewing gum or instant grape drink. To be honest, I'd rather smell poop, but who can hold their breath for a million-plus years? So, simply out of courtesy I say, "Thanks anyway, about offering the makeover, I mean." Out of sheer politeness, I force myself to smile and say, "I'm Madison."

  At this, the teenage girl almost lunges toward the bars which separate us. All breasts and hips and high-heeled shoes, now obviously, pathetically grateful for my companionship, she grins to show me her every mass-produced, porcelain-veneered incisor. In her pierced earlobes, she's even wearing diamond earrings—so very Claire Standish of her—only vulgar, dime-size, dazzle-cut cubic zirconium. Saying, "I'm Babette," dropping the wad of tissue, she thrusts a smutty, stained hand between the bars for me to shake.


  Are you there, Satan? It's me, Madison. Please don't feel hurt, Satan, hut my parents raised me to believe you didn't exist. My mom and dad said you and God were invented in the superstitious, backward pea brains of hillbilly preachers and Republican hypocrites.

  According to my parents, there's no such place as Hell. If you asked them, they'd probably tell you I'm already reincarnated as a butterfly or a stem cell or a dove. I mean, my parents both said how important it was for me to see them walking around naked all the time or I'd grow up to be totally a Miss Pervy McPervert. They told me that nothing was a sin, just a poor life choice. Poor impulse control. That nothing is evil. Any concept of right versus wrong, according to them, is merely a cultural construct relative to one specific time and place. They said that if anything should force us to modify our personal behavior it should be our allegiance to a social contract, not some vague, externally imposed threat of flaming punishment. Nothing is wicked, they insisted, and even serial killers deserve cable television and counseling, because multiple murderers have suffered, too.

  In the spirit of the classic John Hughes film The Breakfast Club, I've begun to write an essay in the same manner the student detainees at Shermer High School were required to write one thousand words on the theme of "Who Do You Think You Are?"

  Yeah, I know the word construct. Put yourself in my penny loafers: I'm locked in a barred cell in Hell, thirteen years old and doomed to be thirteen forever, but I'm not totally self-unaware.

  What's worse is how my mom even said all her Gaia Earth Mother baloney in Vanity Fair magazine when she was promoting her last movie release. The magazine took her picture arriving at the Oscars red carpet with my dad driving them both in a dinky electric car, but really, when nobody's looking they go everywhere in a leased Gulfstream jet, even if it's just to pick up their dry cleaning, which they send to have cleaned in France. That one film, she got nominated for playing a nun who gets bored and unfulfilled, so she ditches her vows to do prostitution and heroin and have some abortions before she gets her own top-rated daytime talk show and marries Richard Gere. A total of nobody went to the film in theatrical release, but the critics creamed all over it. Critics and movie reviewers really, really count on there being no actual Hell.

  My guess is I feel about The Breakfast Club the same way my mom feels about Virginia Woolf. I mean, she had to take Xanax just to read The Hours and still cried for almost a year.

  In Vanity Fair my mom said the only true evil was how big oil companies were using global warming to push innocent baby polar bears closer to extinction. Even worse was she said, "My daughter, Madison, and I have struggled for years over her tragic childhood obesity." So, yes, I comprehend the term passive-aggressive.

  Other kids went to Sunday school. I went to Ecology Camp. In Fiji. Other girls learned to recite the Ten Commandments. I learned to reduce my carbon footprint. In our Aboriginal Skills workshop, in Fiji, we used certified organically grown, sustainably harvested fair-trade palm fronds to weave these crappy wallets that everybody threw away. Ecology Camp cost about a million dollars, but we still all had to share the same filthy bamboo toilet stick to wipe our butts. Instead of Christmas, we had Earth Day. If there was a Hell, my mom said you'd go there for wearing fur coats or buying a cream rinse tested on baby rabbits by escaped Nazi scientists in France. My dad said that if there was a devil it was Ann Coulter. If there's a mortal sin, my mom says it's Styrofoam. Most times they'd spout this environmental dogma while walking around naked with the curtains open so that I wouldn't grow up to become a little Miss Whorey Vanderwhore.

  Sometimes the devil was Big Tobacco. Sometimes, Japanese drift nets.

  Even worse, it's not as if we traveled to Ecology Camp aboard sampans, gently pushed along by the Pacific currents. No, every single kid got there on a separate private jet, burning through about a gazillion fossil-fuel gallons of dinosaur juice the likes of which this planet will never see again. Each child was borne aloft; provisioned with his or her body weight in organic fig bars and free-trade yogurt snacks sealed within single-use Mylar packaging designed not to biodegrade before the future date of NEVER, all of this burden of homesick children and between-meal calories and video gaming systems would rocket toward Fiji at faster than the speed of SOUND.

  What a fat load of good that did... now look at me: dead from a marijuana overdose and damned to Hell, scratching my cheeks raw in an attempt to convince my next-door-cell neighbor I suffer from communicable psoriasis. Surrounded by a million-million stale popcorn balls. On the plus side, in Hell you're no longer slave to a corporeal self, and this can be a blessing to the truly fastidious. Not to put too fine a point on it, but you've no more of the tedious, endless stoking and scrubbing and evacuation of the various holes required to keep a physical body functional. Should you find yourself in Hell your cell will feature no toilet nor water nor bed, nor will you miss them. No one
sleeps in Hell except as a possible defensive posture in retaliation during yet another punitive presentation of The English Patient.

  No doubt my mom and dad meant well, but it's really hard to argue with the fact that I'm trapped within a corroded iron cage boasting a scenic view of a raging excrement waterfall—actual poop, I mean, not just The English Patient—NOT that I'm complaining. Trust me, the last thing Hell seems to need, in a coals-to-Newcastle way, is one more complainer.

  Yes, I know the word excrement. I'm trapped and bored, not brain damaged.

  And it was my parents who told me to act out, a little, and experiment with recreational drugs.

  No, it's not fair, but I guess the worst thing they taught me was to hope. If you just planted trees and collected litter, they said, then life would turn out okay. All you had to do was compost your wet garbage and cover your house roof with solar cells and you'd have nothing to worry about. Renewable wind energy. Biodiesel. Whales. That's what my parents considered our spiritual salvation. We'd see approximately a quatrillion Catholics throwing incense at some plaster statue, or a billion-zillion Muslims all lined up on their knees and facing New York City, and my dad would say, "Those poor ignorant bastards..."

  It's one thing for my parents to behave all secular humanist and gamble with their own eternal souls; however, it's altogether not all right that they also gambled with mine: They placed their bets with such self-righteous bravado, but I'm the one who lost.

  We'd see Baptist people on television waving baby dolls impaled on wooden sticks and dripping with fake ketchup blood in front of some doctor's clinic, and I really could believe that all religions were way-bat-shit loony. In contrast, my dad always preached that if I ate enough dietary fiber and recycled any plastic bottles that had a neck, I'd be fine. If I asked about Heaven or Hell, my mom gave me a Xanax.

  Now—go figure—I'm waiting to get my tongue yanked out and fried in bacon grease and garlic. Probably demons plan to stub out their cigars in my armpits.

  Don't get me wrong. Hell isn't so dreadful, not compared to Ecology Camp, and especially not compared to junior high school. Call me jaded, but not much compares to having your legs waxed or getting your navel piercing done at a mall kiosk. Or bulimia. Not that I'm a totally eating-disordered Miss Slutty von Slutski.

  My biggest gripe is still hope. In hell, hope is a really, really bad habit, like smoking cigarettes or fingernail biting.

  Hope is something really tough and tenacious you have to give up. It's an addiction to break.

  Yes, I know the word tenacious. I'm thirteen and disillusioned and a little lonely, but I'm not simpleminded.

  No matter how hard I try to resist the impulse, I keep hoping I'll still have my first menstruation. I keep hoping I'll grow really big boobs, like Babette in the adjacent cell. Or reach a hand into my skort pocket and find a Xanax. I cross my fingers that if a demon dunks me in a vat of boiling lava I'll get thrown together naked with River Phoenix, and that he'll say I'm cute and try to kiss me.

  The problem is, in Hell there is no hope.

  Who Do I Think I Am? In a thousand words... I don't have a clue, but I'll start by abandoning hope. Please help me, Satan. That would make me so happy. Help me give up my addiction to hope. Thank you.


  Are you there, Satan? It's me, Madison. I thought I saw you, today, and waved madly like some fevered groupie to get your attention. Hell continues to unfold as an interesting, exciting place, and I've begun to learn some rudimentary demonology so I won't feel like an idiot forever. Really, there's almost no time to feel homesick.

  Today I even made friends with a boy who has dreamy brown eyes.

  To be completely technical about the matter, time in Hell doesn't consist of days and nights, only a constant low-light condition accented by the flickering orange glow of flames, billowing white clouds of steam, and black clouds of smoke. These elements combine to create a perpetual rustic après-ski atmosphere.

  Recognizing that, thank God I wore a self-winding calendar wristwatch. Sorry, Satan, my mistake, I said the G-word.

  To all of you alive people walking around, taking your multivitamins and busy being Lutheran or getting colonoscopies, you need to invest in a good-quality, long-lasting wristwatch with day and date functions. Don't count on getting any cell phone reception in Hell, and don't think for a second you'll have the forethought to die with your charger cord in hand or even find yourself locked inside a rusted jail cell with a compatible electrical outlet. That doesn't mean go buy a Swatch. Swatches equal plastic, and plastic melts in Hell. Do yourself a big favor and invest in a high-quality leather wristband or the springy expandable metal kind.

  In the event you neglect to equip yourself with an adequate wristwatch, do NOT scope out some bright, proactive thirteen-year-old chubby girl wearing low-heeled Bass Weejuns and horn-rimmed eyeglasses and then keep asking her, "What day is it?" and "What time is it?" The aforementioned intelligent-albeit-beefy girl will simply feign looking at her watch, then tell you, "It's five thousand years since the LAST time you asked me that...."

  Yes, I know the word feign. I may be a tad annoyed and defensive, but—no matter how nicely you ask with that wheedling tone in your voice—I am NOT your little timekeeping servant bitch slave.

  And before you make the effort to give up smoking, take note that smoking cigarettes and cigars is excellent practice for being in Hell.

  AND before you make some snide remark, based on my general temperament, that I must be "riding the cotton pony" or suffering from a "red-letter day," need I remind you that I am dead, deceased, and rendered eternally pre-pubescent and therefore immune to the mindless reproductive biological imperatives that, no doubt, shape every living, breathing moment of your crummy living, breathing life.

  Even now I can hear my mom saying, "Madison, you're dead, so just calm down."

  Increasingly, I'm not sure to which I was more addicted: hope or Xanax.

  In the cell next to mine, Babette exhausts her time by examining her cuticles and buffing her fingernails against the strap of her white shoulder bag. Anytime she glances in my direction, I make a big show of scratching my neck and around my eyes. It never seems to occur to Babette that we're dead, so conditions like psoriasis would be fairly unlikely to continue into the afterlife; however, when you consider her choice of frosted-white nail varnish, it's clear that Babette is no one's idea of a scholarship girl. A Cover Girl, maybe.

  Catching my eye, Babette calls over, "What day is this?"

  Scratching myself, I callback, "Thursday." Actually, I don't allow my fingernails to make contact with my skin; what I execute is an air-guitar equivalent of scratching; otherwise, my face would be raw as hamburger. The last problem I need is an infection in such dirty, filthy surroundings.

  Squinting her eyes, peering at her fingernail beds, Babette says, "I love Thursdays...." She fishes a bottle of white nail varnish out of her fake Coach bag and says, "Thursday feels like Friday, but without the pressure to get out and have fun. It's like Christmas Eve Eve, you know, December twenty-third...." Shaking the little bottle of nail varnish, Babette says, "Thursday is like a really, really good second date, when you still think that the sex might be okay...."

  From another cell, fairly close by, someone begins to scream. Alone in their cells, other people slump in the classic postures of catatonic stupor, wearing the soiled costumes of Venetian doges, Napoleonic vivandiers, Maori headhunters. They've clearly been able to abandon all hope and clutch their filthy cage bars. They've flailed and thrashed in complete resignation, and now lie stained, staring, and motionless. The lucky bastards.

  Painting her fingernails, Babette asks, "Now... what day is it?"

  My wristwatch says Thursday. "It's Friday," I lie.

  "Your skin looks better today," Babette lies in return.

  I counterlie, "Your perfume smells so good."

  Babette parries my counterlie with, "I think your breasts grew a little."

That's when I think I see you, Satan. A towering figure steps out of the darkness, striding down alongside a distant row of cages. At least three times as tall as any human being cowering within the bars, the figure drags a forked tail which grows from the base of his spine. His skin sparkles with fish scales. Great black-leather wings sprout from between his shoulder blades—real leather, not like Babette's shabby, fake Manolo Blahniks—and thick horns of bone burst through the scaly surface of his bald pate.

  Forgive me my possible breach of hellish protocol, but I can't resist the opportunity. Lifting one hand, waving it above my head as if to flag a passing taxi, I shout, "Hello? Mister Satan?" I shout, "It's me, Madison!"

  The horned figure stops beside a cage wherein a mortal man cowers and screams wearing the frayed, sullied uniform of some football team. With jagged eagle talons instead of hands, the horned figure flips the lock on the man's cage, reaches in, and snatches about in the small space while the screaming football man dodges and evades being caught.

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