Haunted, p.27
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Haunted, p.27

           Chuck Palahniuk
 

  “Our humanity isn't measured by how we treat other people,” the Missing Link says. Fingering the layer of cat hair on his coat sleeve, he says, “Our humanity is measured by how we treat animals.”

  He looks at Sister Vigilante, who looks at her wristwatch.

  In a world where human rights are greater than at any time in history . . . in a world where the overall standard of living is at a peak . . . in a culture where each person is held responsible for their life—here, the Missing Link says, animals are fast becoming the last real victims. The only slaves and prey.

  “Animals,” the Missing Link says, “are how we define humans.”

  Without animals, there would be no humanity.

  In a world of just people, people will mean nothing . . .

  “Maybe that's how the folks at the Villa Diodati kept from killing each other, all those rainy days, trapped indoors,” the Missing Link says.

  By having their big collection of dogs and cats and horses and monkeys, to make them behave like human beings.

  Looking at Miss America, her eyes red and her face sweating with fever, the Missing Link says how, in the future, the people protesting outside clinics—those people holding picket signs that show smiling babies, those people cursing and spitting on expectant mothers—in that miserable, crowded world, the Link says, “Those folks will rail against the few selfish women who still choose to give birth . . .”

  In that future world, the world outside here, the only animals will be the ones in zoos and movies. Anything not human will just be a flavor for dinner: chicken, beef, pork, lamb, or fish.

  Miss America clutches her belly and says, “But I needed to eat.”

  “Without animals,” the Missing Link says, “there will be humans, but no humanity.”

  Looking at her engagement ring, the fat diamond of Lady Baglady sparkling on her thin finger, Mother Nature says, “What you said about protesting babies . . . it's so terrible, you sound like Comrade Snarky.”

  The fourth ghost of here.

  “I agree,” says Saint Gut-Free, watching Mother Nature. “Babies are . . . wonderful.”

  Mother Nature and the Saint—still our romantic subplot.

  Then the Missing Link lifts his hands and shakes back the sleeves of his coat. With an index finger pressed to each temple, he says, “Then I'm channeling her.” Channeling Comrade Snarky. And, channeling Mr. Whittier, he's saying that human beings need to accept the wild-animal side of their nature. We need some way to exhaust our fight-or-flight reflexes. Those skills we learned over the past thousand generations. If we ignore our need to hurt and get hurt, if we deny that need and let it pile up, that's when we get wars. Serial killers. School shootings.

  “You're saying we have wars,” Saint Gut-Free says, “because we have a low threshold for boredom?”

  And the Missing Link says, “We have wars because we deny that low threshold.”

  Agent Tattletale videotapes the Earl of Slander, who tape-records the Missing Link, all of us looking for a telltale bit of physical business we can relay to an actor, on a set, someday. Some detail to make our version of the truth more real.

  Reaching one hand up, underneath the layers of her skirts, Miss America lets her eyes roll down to stare at nothing on the carpet. While the fingers of her hand work under her skirts, her breathing, the rise and fall of her chest, it stops.

  When she brings out her hand, the fingers shine, wet with something clear. Not blood. She brings her hand to her nose and inhales the smell. Frowning, her skin pulls together into deep wrinkles between her blue eyes.

  Poor Director Denial has stopped crying, oh, forever ago. Since then, she just sits, watching Miss America. Following her from room to room. Waiting.

  “You have a bacterial infection,” the Missing Link says, looking at the scratches on Miss America's arms. “Bartonella bacterium, an infection of the lymph nodes.” And he stops talking long enough for people to take note. Letter by letter, he spells, “B-A-R-T . . . ,” while the Earl of Slander scribbles.

  “And if I'm not mistaken,” the Link says, sniffing the air, “your water's just broke . . .”

  Miss Sneezy coughs into her fist, and against the quiet, the sound of the pen scribbling on paper is loud as thunder.

  When Miss America's wet hand goes to her nose, Director Denial's eyes follow it.

  Each of us, the camera behind the camera behind the camera.

  Brushing the loose fur from his coat sleeves, without looking up, the Missing Link says, “The common name for your disease is ‘cat-scratch fever.'”

  “I have a migraine headache,” Miss America says, and she wipes her wet fingers on her shawl. Lifting handfuls of her skirt, she topples forward out of her chair. She pulls her shawl up, higher around her scratched neck. On her feet, Miss America starts toward the stairs, saying, “I'm going to my room.”

  The leather seat of her chair is dark. Wet. With water, not blood.

  As Miss America disappears, dropping lower and lower as she steps down the stairs, only then does Director Denial move.

  As soon as Miss America is out of sight, Director Denial starts after her.

  And the rest of us watch, and write this down. The way the Director's hands each hold a fistful of her uniform, a Clara Barton–long skirt and bib apron with a red cross on the chest and a folded nurse-cap pinned to the top of her wig, her fingers grip the skirt so tight they look blue. The way her chin tucks to her chest so her eyes roll up to see out from under the shelf of her brow. Her mouth is shut so tight, the muscle at each corner of her jaw is balled up, big. Without a sound louder than our pens on paper, Director Denial starts off after Miss America.

  The rest of us sit, waiting for the scream.

  Something gristly needs to happen.

  Something ghoulish needs to happen.

  The mythology of us—only with the royalties split one less way.

  Agent Tattletale flops on the floor, resting on his side, panting and shiny with sweat. His caftan showing billowy harem pants underneath, his wig pulled down low and warm on his head. To the Missing Link, he says, “To test your own theory,” Agent Tattletale says, “who did you kill to get here?”

  Evolution

  A Poem About the Missing Link

  “What will you do today?” asks the Missing Link. “How will you justify it?”

  That mountain of dead animals and ancestors on which you stand.

  The Missing Link onstage, his eyes stare out, yellow eyes,

  from deep in the shade of his brow bone.

  His eyes and nose, they're crowded into the clearing, the small open space

  between the hair bushy on his forehead and the forest of his beard.

  His hands hang too near his knees,

  his knuckles hanging with black curls.

  Onstage, instead of a spotlight, a movie fragment:

  The sixteen-millimeter footage of a monster covered with red fur,

  tall as a man on horseback, with a pointed top to its head,

  running away from the camera.

  A sunny day along a river, with pine trees as a backdrop.

  This documentary monster, superimposed over the Missing Link,

  her red-furry breasts swinging,

  she turns to look back.

  Onstage, the Missing Link says, “Every breath you take is because something has died.”

  Something or someone lived and died so you could have this life.

  This mountain of dead, they lift you into daylight.

  The Missing Link, he says, “Will the effort and energy and momentum of their lives . . .”

  How will it find you?

  How will you enjoy their gift?

  Leather shoes and fried chicken and dead soldiers are only a tragedy

  if you waste their gift

  sitting in front of the television. Or stuck in traffic. Or stranded at some airport.

  “How will you show all the creatures of history?” says the Missing Link.
r />
  How will you show their birth and work and death were worthwhile?

  Dissertation

  A Story by the Missing Link

  It turns out this wasn't a real date.

  Sure, it was beer in a tavern with a pretty-enough girl. A game of pool. Music on the jukebox. A couple hamburgers with fried eggs, French fries. Date food.

  It was too soon after Lisa's death, but this felt good. Getting out.

  Still, this new girl, she never looks away. Not at the football game on the television above the bar. She misses every pool shot because she can't even watch the cue ball. Her eyes, it's like they're taking dictation. Making shorthand notes. Snapping pictures.

  “Did you hear about that little girl getting killed?” she says. “Wasn't she from the reservation?” She says, “Did you ever know her?”

  The rough cedar walls of the bar are smoked from years of cigarettes. Sawdust is thick on the floor to soak up the tobacco spit. Christmas lights string back and forth across the black ceiling. Red, blue, and yellow. Green and orange. Some of the lights blinking. Here's the kind of bar where they don't mind you bringing your dog or wearing a gun.

  Still, despite appearances, this is less of a date than an interview.

  Even when this girl's stating a fact, it comes out as a question:

  “Did you know,” she says, “that Saint Andrew and Saint Bartholomew tried to convert a giant with a dog's head?” She's not even trying to line up her next shot, saying, “The early Catholic church describes the giant as twelve feet tall with a dog's face, the mane of a lion, and teeth like the tusks of a wild boar.”

  Of course she misses, but she won't let up. Just: yak, yak, yak.

  “Have you ever heard the Italian term lupa manera?” she says.

  Bent over the pool table, she muffs another easy shot, the two-ball straight in line for a corner pocket. All the time, she's saying, “Have you heard of the French Gandillon family?” Saying, “In 1584, the entire family was burned at the stake . . .”

  This girl, Mandy Somebody, she's around campus for the past couple months, since Christmas break maybe. Short skirts and boots with pointed heels sharp as a pencil. Not any sort of clothes a girl could even buy around here. At first, she hung around the anthro office mostly. In “World Peoples 101,” she was the graduate TA, and it's there her staring routine really started. Then she's hanging around the English department, asking about the prelaw program. Every day, she's there. Every day, she says hello. Still, always spying. Her eyes snapping pictures. Jotting down notes.

  Being: Mandy Somebody, Secret Agent.

  Major eye contact goes on through all winter term, and this week she says, “You want to get a bite?” Her treat. Still, even with hamburgers, the Christmas lights, and beer, this is no date.

  Now, scratching on the six-ball, she says, “I'm a better anthropologist than I am a pool player.” Chalking her cue, she says, “Do you know the word varulf? How about a man named Gil Trudeau? He was the guide to General Lafayette during the American Revolution?” Still grinding that little blue chalk cube on the tip of her cue, Mandy Somebody says, “Or have you heard the French term loup-garou?”

  All the time, her eyes, watching. Measuring. Looking for some answer. A reaction.

  It's the anthropology part of her that wants to meet and go out. She moved here from New York City, all that way just to meet guys from the Chewlah Reservation. Yeah, it's racist, she says. “But it's good racist. I just think Chewlah guys are hot . . .”

  Over hamburgers, Mandy Somebody leans forward, both elbows on the table, one hand cupped to hold her chin, her other hand fingering an invisible design on the greasy tabletop. She says guys from the Chewlah tribe do all look alike.

  “Chewlah men all have a big dick and balls for their face,” she says.

  What she means is, Chewlah men have square chins that stick a little too far out. They have cleft chins so deep it could be two balls in a sack. Chewlah guys always need a shave, even right after they shave.

  That constant dark shadow, Mandy Somebody calls it “Five-Minute Shadow.”

  Guys from the Chewlah Reservation, they only have one eyebrow, a bush of black thatch, thick as a stand of pubic hair on the bridge of their nose, then trailing away to almost reach their ears on either side.

  Between this clump of black curls and their bristly sack of low-hanging chin, there's that Chewlah nose. One long swell of tube, flopped down the middle of their face. A nose so thick and half hard, the fat head of it hides their mouth. A Chewlah nose hangs so long it overlaps their nutsack chin, just a bit.

  “Those eyebrows hide their eyes,” Mandy says. “The nose hides the mouth.”

  When you meet a guy from the Chewlah tribe, all you see at first is pubic hair, a big half-hard dick hanging down, and the two balls hanging a little behind it.

  “Like Nicolas Cage,” she says, “but more so. Like a dick and balls.”

  She eats a French fry and says, “That's how to tell if any guy's good-looking.”

  The table is gritty with the salt she's dumped on her French fries. She pays for everything with a color of American Express card the bartender has never seen before. Titanium or uranium.

  It's her dissertation that brought her out here. You can only bear to build a case like this, in Manhattan, in the middle of all those anthropology graduate students, giggling, you can only tolerate that so long before your advisers start coaching you to do some fieldwork. In her field, cryptozoology. The study of extinct or legendary animals, like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, vampires, the Surrey Puma, Mothman, the Jersey Devil. Animals that might or might not exist. It was her adviser's idea she should come here, to visit the Chewlah Reservation, to study the culture and do a little forensic legwork. To build the case for her thesis.

  Her eyes jumping up and down, looking for a reaction, some confirmation.

  “God,” she says, tongue out, fake-gagging, “does that make me come across like some wannabe Margaret Mead?”

  Her original plan was to live on the Chewlah Reservation. She'd rent a house or something. Her mom and dad are both doctors and want her to follow her dream, not turn out the way they have, no matter how much it costs them. Even talking about herself, Mandy Somebody asked questions. Talking about her parents, she says, “Why don't they change careers? Is that sad or what?”

  Her every sentence ending with that question mark.

  Her eyes, blue or gray, then silver eyes, still always watching. Her teeth take a bite of her hamburger, even though by now it must be cold. Like eating something dead.

  She says, “That girl who died . . .”

  Then, “What do you think happened?”

  Her dissertation is about how the same giant mysterious creatures occur in all regions around the world. Those giants they call Seeahtiks in the Cascade Mountains around Seattle. They're called Almas in Europe. Yetis in Asia. In California, they're the Oh-mah-ah. In Canada, Sasquatch. In Scotland, Fear Liath More, the famous “Gray Men” that roam the mountain Ben Macdhui. In Tibet, the giants are Metoh-kangmi, or Abominable Snowmen.

  All of those just different names for hairy giants that wander through the forest, the mountains, sometimes glimpsed by hikers or loggers, sometimes photographed, but never captured.

  A cross-cultural phenomenon, she calls it. She says, “I hate the generic term: Bigfoot.”

  All of these different legends grew up in isolation, but they all describe towering, hairy monsters that stink to high heaven. The monsters are shy, but attack if provoked. In one case, from 1924, a group of miners in the Pacific Northwest shot at what they thought was a gorilla. That night, their cabin on Mount Saint Helens was pounded by a group of these same hairy giants, throwing stones. In 1967, a logger in Oregon watched as another shaggy giant pulled one-ton rocks out of the frozen ground and ate the ground squirrels hibernating under them.

  The biggest proof against these monsters is, none have ever been captured. Or found dead. With all the hunters in
the wilderness these days, people on motorcycles, it would seem one would bag a Bigfoot.

  The bartender comes by the table, asking who wants another round? And Mandy Somebody shuts up talking, like what she's saying is a big state secret. With him standing there, she says, “Run a tab.”

  When he steps away, she says, “Do you know the Welsh term gerulfos?”

  She says, “Do you mind?” Twisting herself to one side, putting both hands into her purse on the seat beside her, she takes out a notebook wrapped with a rubber band. “My notes,” she says, and rolls off the rubber band, looping it around one wrist for safe keeping.

  “Have you heard about the race the ancient Greeks called the cynocephali?” she says. With her notebook open, she reads, “How about the vurvolak? The aswang? The cadejo?”

  This is the second half of her obsession. “All these names,” she says, staking a finger on the open page of her notebook, “people all over the world believe in them, going back thousands of years.”

  Every language in the world has a word for werewolves. Every culture on earth fears them.

  In Haiti, she says, pregnant women are so terrified that a werewolf will eat a newborn, those expectant mothers drink bitter coffee mixed with gasoline. They bathe in a stew of garlic, nutmeg, chives, and coffee. All this to taint the blood of their baby and make it less appetizing to any local werewolf.

  That's where Mandy Somebody's thesis comes in.

  Bigfoot and werewolves, she says, they're the same phenomenon. The reason science has never found a dead Bigfoot is because it changes back. These monsters are just people. It's only for a few hours or days each year they change. Grow hair. Go berserk, the Danish used to call it. They swell up, huge, and need room to roam. In the forest or in the mountains.

  “It's kind of like,” she says, “their menstrual cycle.”

  She says, “Even males have these cycles. Males elephants go through their must cycle every six months or so. They reek of testosterone. Their ears and genitals change shape, and they're cranky as hell.”

  Salmon, she says, when they come upstream to spawn, they change shape so much, their jaw deforming, their color, you'd hardly recognize them as the same species of fish. Or grasshoppers becoming locusts. Under these conditions, their entire bodies change size and shape.

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
Add comment

Add comment