Haunted, p.28
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       Haunted, p.28

           Chuck Palahniuk
 

  “According to my theory,” she says, “this Bigfoot gene is related either to hypertrichosis or to the humanoid Gigantopithecus, thought to be extinct for a half-million years.”

  This Ms. Somebody just yak, yak, yaks.

  Guys have listened to worse shit, trying to get a piece of ass.

  That first big word she says, hypertrichosis, it's some inherited disease where you get fur growing out of every pore on your skin and end up working as a circus side show. Her second big word, Gigantopithecus, was a twelve-foot-tall ancestor of humans, discovered in 1934 by some doctor named Koenigwald while he was researching a single huge fossilized tooth.

  One finger tapping the open page of her notebook, Mandy Somebody says, “Do you realize why the footprints,” and she taps her finger, “photographed by Eric Shipton on Mount Everest in 1951,” and she taps her finger, “they look exactly like the footprints photographed on Ben Macdhui in Scotland,” and she taps her finger, “and exactly like the footprints found by Bob Gimlin in northern California in 1967?”

  Because every lumbering hairy monster, worldwide, is related.

  Her theory is, people around the world, isolated groups of people, carry a gene that changes them into these monsters as part of their reproductive cycle. The groups are isolated, they stay alone on tracts of wilderness, because nobody wants to become a towering, shaggy half-animal in the middle of, say, Chicago. Or Disneyland.

  “Or,” she says, “on that British Airways flight, halfway between Seattle and London . . .”

  She's referring to a flight last month. The jet crashed somewhere near the North Pole. The pilot's last communication said something was tearing through the cockpit door. The steel-reinforced, bulletproof, blast-resistant cockpit door. On the flight recorder, the black box, the last sounds include screams, snarls, and the pilot's voice screaming, “What is it? What's going on? What are you? . . .”

  The Federal Aviation Administration says no guns, knives or bombs could possibly have been carried aboard the flight.

  The Homeland Security Office says the crash was most likely caused by a single terrorist, high on massive amounts of some designer drug. The drug gave him or her superhuman strength.

  Among the dead passengers, Mandy Somebody says, was a thirteen-year-old girl from the Chewlah Reservation.

  “This girl was headed for”—she pages through her notes—“Scotland.”

  Her theory is, the Chewlah tribe was sending her overseas before puberty hit. So she could meet and maybe marry someone from the Ben Macdhui community. Where, tradition holds, giants with gray fur roam the slopes above four thousand feet.

  Mandy Somebody, she's full of theories. The New York Public Library has one of the nation's largest collections of books about the occult, she says, because a coven of witches once ran the library.

  Mandy Somebody, she says how the Amish keep books of every Amish community on earth. An inventory of every member of their church. So as they travel or immigrate they can always be among, live among, mate among their own kind.

  “It's not so outlandish to expect these Bigfoot people keep the same kind of inventory books,” she says.

  Because the change is always temporary, that's why searchers have never found a dead Bigfoot. And that's why the idea of werewolves occurs in all cultures, over all of human history.

  The one piece of movie footage, shot by a man named Roger Patterson in 1967, shows a creature walking upright, covered with fur. A female with a pointed head and enormous breasts and buttocks. Her face and breasts and butt, her entire body covered with shaggy red-brown hair.

  That few minutes of film, which some call a fraud, and others call undeniable proof, that's probably just somebody's Aunt Tilly going through her cycle. Running around eating berries and bugs, just trying to steer clear of folks until she changes back.

  “That poor woman,” Mandy says. “Imagine millions of people seeing a film of you naked on your worst ‘bad hair' day?”

  Probably, the rest of that woman's family, every time that footage is on television, they probably call her into the living room and tease her.

  “What looks like a monster to the world,” Mandy says, “it's just home movies to the Chewlah tribe.”

  And she waits a little window of time, maybe for a reaction. For laughter or a sigh. A nervous twitch.

  About the girl on the flight, Mandy Somebody says, imagine how she must have felt. Eating her little in-flight meal, but still hungry. Hungrier than she'd ever felt before. Asking the flight attendant for snacks, leftovers, anything. Then realizing what was about to happen. Until then, she'd only heard the stories how Mom and Dad would hike off into the woods for a few nights, eating deer, skunks, salmon, everything they could catch. Going wild for a few nights, and coming home exhausted and maybe pregnant. Imagine this girl getting up to hide in the airplane bathroom, but it's locked. Occupied. She stands there in the aisle, just outside the bathroom door, getting hungrier and hungrier. When the door at last comes open, the man inside says, “Sorry,” but it's too late. What's outside that door isn't human anymore. It's just hunger. It shoves him back into the little plastic bathroom and locks them both inside. Before the man can scream, what had been a thirteen-year-old girl snaps her teeth around his windpipe and rips it out.

  She eats and eats. Tearing off his clothes, the way you'd peel an orange, to eat more of the juicy flesh inside.

  While the passengers in the main cabin drift off to sleep, this girl eats and eats. Eats and grows. And maybe then a flight attendant sees the sticky wash of blood coming from underneath the locked bathroom door. Maybe the flight attendant knocks and asks if everything is all right. Or maybe the Chewlah girl eats and eats and is still hungry.

  What comes out of that locked bathroom, soaked in blood, it's nowhere near done eating. What bursts out, into the darkened main cabin, grabbing handfuls of face and shoulder, it walks down the cabin aisle the way you'd walk down a buffet, grazing, nibbling. That packed jetliner must've looked like a fat heart-shaped box of chocolates to its hungry yellow eyes.

  U-pick human heads on this all-you-can-eat flying smorgasbord.

  The captain's last radio transmission, before the cockpit door tore open, he shouted, “Mayday. Mayday. Somebody's eating my flight crew . . .”

  Mandy Somebody stops here, her eyes almost full round circles, one hand pressed to her rolling chest as her breathing tries to catch up with all her talk. Her breath, the smell of beer.

  From the street, the door opens and a lot of guys walk into the bar, all of them dressed in the same color of bright orange. Their sweatshirts. Vests. Orange coats. A sports team, but really a road crew. On the television above the bar is a commercial to join the navy.

  “Can you imagine?” she says.

  What will happen if she can prove all this true? If just someone's race will make them a weapon of mass destruction? Will the government order everyone with this secret gene to take drugs to suppress it? Will the United Nations order them all into security quarantine? Concentration camps? Or will they all be tagged with radio transmitters, the way park rangers tag dangerous grizzly bears and track them?

  “It's just a matter of time,” she says, “don't you think, before the FBI comes to conduct interviews on the reservation?”

  Her first week here, she drove out to the reservation and tried to talk to people. The plan was to rent a place and observe everyday life. Soak up the details of Chewlah culture, how people earned their living. Collect an oral account of their legends and history. She drove out there, armed with a tape recorder and five hundred hours of tapes. And no one would sit and talk. There were no houses or apartments or rooms to rent. She wasn't there an hour before the council sheriff told her about some curfew that required she be off the reservation by sunset. What with the length of the drive, he told her she'd best start on her way back right then.

  They kicked her out.

  “My point is,” Mandy Somebody says, “I could've prevented all this.”
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  The girl's feeding frenzy. The crashed jetliner. The FBI only a few days from arriving here. Then the concentration camps. The ethnic cleansing.

  Since then, she's hung out at the community college, trying to date a Chewlah guy. Asking questions and waiting. But not waiting for an answer. She's waiting for the applause. Waiting to be right.

  That word she said before, varulf, it's Swedish for “werewolf.” Loup-garou is French. That man, Gil Trudeau, the guide to General Lafayette, he was the first werewolf mentioned in American history.

  “Tell me I'm right,” she says, “and I'll try to help you.”

  If the FBI gets here, she says, this story will never see the light of day. All the people with the suspected gene will just disappear into government custody. For the public welfare. Or there will be some official accident to resolve the situation. Not genocide, not officially. But there's a good reason why the government went so hard on some tribes, wiping them out with smallpox blankets, or sticking them away on distant reservations. True, not all tribes carried the Bigfoot gene, but a century ago, how could you identify the ones at risk?

  “Tell me I'm right,” Mandy Somebody says, “and I can get you on the Today show in the morning.”

  Maybe even the A Block . . .

  She'll break the story. Create public sympathy. Maybe get Amnesty International involved. This can be the next big civil-rights battle. But global. She's already identified the other communities, tribes, groups around the world most likely to carry her theoretical monster gene. Her breath, the smell of beer, saying “monster” loud enough so the orange road-crew guys look over.

  She's got guys all over the world she could be flirting with. Even if this date is a bust, she'll find somebody who'll tell her what she wants to hear.

  That werewolves and Bigfoot exist. And that he's both.

  Guys have listened to worse shit, trying to get a piece of ass.

  Even Chewlah guys with their dicks on their face.

  Even me. But I tell her, “That thirteen-year-old, her name was Lisa.” I say, “She was my little sister.”

  “Oral sex,” Mandy Somebody says, “is not out of the question . . .”

  Any guy would be an idiot not to take her home to the reservation. Maybe introduce her to the folks. The whole fam-damnly.

  And, standing, I tell her, “You can see the reservation—tonight—but I really need to make a phone call first.”

  18

  In Miss America's dressing room, in the gray concrete and bare pipes, kneeling beside the one twin bed, Mrs. Clark is saying how having a child isn't always the dream you might imagine.

  The rest of us, we're in the hallway to spy. We're all afraid we'll miss some key event and be forced to take another person's word.

  Miss America curled on her bed, curled on her side with her face to the gray concrete wall, she doesn't have any lines in this scene.

  And, kneeling beside her, Mrs. Clark's huge, dry breasts shelved on the edge of the bed, she says, “You remember my daughter, Cassandra?”

  The girl who looked into the Nightmare Box.

  Who cut off her eyelashes and then disappeared.

  “When she disappeared is the first time I noticed Mr. Whittier's advertisement,” she says. Tucked in a book, in the bedroom she'd left behind, Cassandra had written on a sheet of blank paper: Writers' Retreat. Abandon Your Life for Three Months.

  Mrs. Clark says, “I know Mr. Whittier has done this before.”

  And Cassandra was here—trapped in this place—the last time.

  Kids, she says. When they're little, they believe everything you tell them about the world. As a mother, you're the world almanac and the encyclopedia and the dictionary and the Bible, all rolled up together. But after they hit some magic age, it's just the opposite. After that, you're either a liar or a fool or a villain.

  With the rest of us scribbling, you can almost not hear for the noise of our pens on paper. We're all writing: either a liar or a fool.

  From the Earl of Slander's tape recorder, we hear, “. . . or a villain.”

  All Mrs. Clark really knows is, after Cassandra was gone for three months, they found her. The police found Cassandra.

  Kneeling beside Miss America's bed, she says, “I agreed to help Whittier because I wanted to know what happened to my child . . .” Mrs. Clark says, “I wanted to know, and she would never tell me . . .”

  Poster Child

  A Story by Mrs. Clark

  Three months after Cassandra Clark disappeared, she walked back. A morning commuter driving inbound on the state highway saw a girl limping, almost naked, along the gravel shoulder. The girl seemed to be wearing a dark loincloth and dark gloves and shoes. She had on some kind of bib or a black kerchief tied around her neck and hanging down to cover her chest. By the time the driver had turned his car around and phoned for the police, by then the sun was bright enough to see the girl was actually naked.

  Her shoes and gloves, her loincloth and bib were just dried blood, dried thick and black and swarming, buzzing, busy with black flies. The flies crawling on her, thick as black fur.

  The girl's head was scraped and scabbed. Ragged tufts of hair sprouted behind her ears and around the crown of her bare head.

  She limped because the two small toes had been amputated from her right foot.

  The bib, that layer of blood on her chest, that fur of flies, at the hospital emergency room the doctors swabbed it with alcohol and found a game of tic-tac-toe carved in the skin above her breasts. The X player had won.

  When they swabbed her hands, they found the smallest finger missing from both. On the rest of her fingers, the nails had been pried up and torn away, leaving the fingertips swollen and purple.

  Under the dried blood, her skin was blue-white. The girl's face was the bony knobs of her chin, her cheekbones, and the ridge of her nose. At the temples and above her jawline, the skin sagged into shadowed holes.

  Inside the curtained walls of the emergency room, Mrs. Clark leaned over the chrome rails of her daughter's bed and said, “Baby, oh, my sweet baby . . . who did this to you?”

  Cassandra laughed and looked at the needles stuck in her arms, the clear plastic tubes stuffed into her veins, and she said, “The doctors.”

  No, Mrs. Clark said, who cut off her fingers?

  And Cassandra looked at her mother and said, “You think I'd let someone else do this to me?” Her laughter stopped, and she said, “I did this to myself.” And that was the last time Cassandra ever laughed.

  The police, Mrs. Clark said, they found evidence. They found slivers of wood, thin as needles, embedded in the walls of her vagina. And her anus. The police forensics people dug slivers of glass out of the cuts on her chest and arms. Mrs. Clark told her daughter that not talking wasn't an option.

  They needed to know every detail Cassandra could remember.

  The police said that whoever had done this would kidnap another victim. Unless Cassandra could face her fear and help them, her attacker would never be found.

  In bed, in the sunlight from a window, Cassandra lay propped up on pillows and watched birds soar back and forth in the blue sky.

  Her fingers wrapped big in white bandages, her chest padded with bandages, her pencil-hand only moved to draw the birds, flying back and forth. A sketch pad propped against her knees.

  Mrs. Clark said, “Cassandra, honey? You need to tell the police everything.”

  If it would help, a hypnotist would come to the hospital. The caseworkers would bring anatomically detailed dolls to use in the interview.

  And Cassandra still watched the birds. Sketching them.

  Mrs. Clark said, “Cassandra?” and put her hand over one of Cassandra's white-wrapped hands.

  And Cassandra looked at her mother and said, “It won't happen again.” Looking back at the birds, Cassandra said, “At least not to me . . .”

  She said, “I was a victim of myself.”

  Outside, in the parking lot, the television n
ews crews were setting up their satellite feeds, each van aligning the broadcast dish on its roof. Ready for the toss from the studio anchor. The on-location talent, holding a microphone and inserting an IFD in her ear.

  For three months, the town where they lived had stapled posters to telephone poles. Each poster showing a photo of Cassandra Clark in her head-cheerleader uniform, smiling and shaking her blond hair. For three months, the police had questioned kids at the high school. Detectives had interviewed people who worked at the bus station, the train station, the airport. The local television and radio stations ran public-service announcements that gave her weight as 110 pounds, height five foot six, green eyes, and shoulder-length hair.

  Search-and-rescue dogs sniffed her cheerleading skirt and followed a scent trail as far as a bus-stop bench.

  State troopers in powerboats dragged every pond and lake and river within a day's drive.

  Psychics phoned to say the girl was safe. She had eloped and gotten married. Or she was dead and buried. Or she was sold into white slavery and smuggled out of the country to live in the harem of some oil magnate. Or she'd had a sex change and would be coming home as a boy, soon. Or the girl was trapped in a castle or some kind of palace, locked inside with a group of strangers, all of them cutting themselves. That psychic wrote two words on a sheet of paper and sent them to Mrs. Clark. Folded inside the paper, the shaky pencil lines said:

  Writers' Retreat

  After three months, all the yellow ribbons that people had tied to their car antennas were faded to almost white. Flags of surrender.

  Nobody paid much attention to the psychics, there were so many of them.

  For every Jane Doe the police found, burned or rotted or mutilated beyond identification, Mrs. Clark held her breath until dental records or DNA testing showed she wasn't Cassandra.

  By the third month, Cassandra Clark was smiling and shaking her hair on the side of milk cartons. By then, the candlelight prayer vigils had stopped. The reward fund at the local bank branch was the only part of the case still drawing any interest.

 
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