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Survivor : A Novel

For Mike Keefe and Mike Smith For Shawn Grant and Heidi Weeden and Matt Palahniuk

The agent in this book is not Edward Hibbert, who represents my work with all his humor, energy, and skill.

No one in this book is as clever as my editor, Gerry Howard. No one anywhere is as relentless and helpful as Lois Rosenthal.

This book would not exist without the Tuesday Night Writers' Workshop at Suzy's house.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chuck Palahniuk's first novel, Fight Club, received the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award and the Oregon Book Award for best novel. A graduate of the University of Oregon, Palahniuk lives in Portland, Oregon.

ALSO BY CHUCK PALAHNIUK

Fight Club

Invisible Monsters

Survivor

Testing, testing. One, two, three. Testing, testing. One, two, three.

Maybe this is working. I don't know. If you can even hear me, I don't know.

But if you can hear me, listen. And if you're listening, then what you've found is the story of everything that went wrong. This is what you'd call the flight recorder of Flight 2039. The black box, people call it, even though it's orange, and on the inside is a loop of wire that's the permanent record of all that's left. What you've found is the story of what happened.

And go ahead.

You can heat this wire to white-hot, and it will still tell you the exact same story.

Testing, testing. One, two, three.

And if you're listening, you should know right off the bat the passengers are at home, safe. The passengers, they did what you'd call I their deplaning in the New Hebrides Islands. Then, after it was just him and me back in the air, the pilot parachuted out over somewhere. Some kind of water. What you'd call an ocean.

I'm going to keep saying it, but it's true. I'm not a murderer. And I'm alone up here. The Flying Dutchman.

And if you're listening to this, you should know that I'm alone in the cockpit of Flight 2039 with a whole crowd of those little child-sized bottles of mostly dead vodka and gin lined up on the place you sit at against the front windows, the instrument panel. In the cabin, the little trays of everybody's Chicken Kiev or Beef Stroganoff entrees are half eaten with the air conditioner cleaning up any leftover food smell. Magazines are still open to where people were reading. With all the seats empty, you could pretend everyone's just gone to the bathroom. Out of the plastic stereo headsets you can hear a little hum of prerecorded music.

Up here above the weather, it's just me in a Boeing 747-400 time capsule with two hundred leftover chocolate cake desserts and an upstairs piano bar which I can just walk up to on the spiral staircase and mix myself another little drink.

God forbid I should bore you with all the details, but I'm on autopilot up here until we run out of gas. Flame out, the pilot calls it. One engine at a time, each engine will flame out, he said. He wanted me to know just what to expect. Then he went on to bore me with a lot of details about jet engines, the venturi effect, increasing lift by increasing camber with the flaps, and how after all four engines flame out the plane will turn into a 450,000-pound glider. Then since the autopilot will have it trimmed out to fly in a straight line, the glider will begin what the pilot calls a controlled descent.

That kind of a descent, I tell him, would be nice for a change. You just don't know what I've been through this past year.

Under his parachute, the pilot still had on his nothing special blah-colored uniform that looked designed by an engineer. Except for this, he was really helpful. More helpful than I'd be with someone holding a pistol to my head and asking about how much fuel was left and how far would it get us. He told me how I could get the plane back up to cruising altitude after he'd parachuted out over the ocean. And he told me all about the flight recorder.

The four engines are numbered one through four, left to right.

The last part of the controlled descent will be a nosedive into the ground. This he calls the terminal phase of the descent, where you're going thirty-two feet per second straight at the ground. This he calls terminal velocity, the speed where objects of equal mass all travel at the same speed. Then he slows everything down with a lot of details about Newtonian physics and the Tower of Pisa.

He says, 'Don't quote me on any of this. It's been a long time since I've been tested.'

He says the APU, the Auxiliary Power Unit, will keep generating electricity right up to the moment the plane hits the ground.

You'll have air-conditioning and stereo music, he says, for as long as you can feel anything.

The last time I felt anything, I tell him, was a ways back. About a year ago. Top priority for me is getting him off this plane so I can finally set down my gun.

I've clenched this gun so long I've lost all feeling.

What you forget when you're planning a hijack by yourself is somewhere along the line, you might need to neglect your hostages just long enough so you can use the bathroom.

Before we touched down in Port Vila, I was running all over the cabin with my gun, trying to get the passengers and crew fed. Did they need a fresh drink? Who needed a pillow? Which did they prefer, I was asking everybody, the chicken or the beef? Was that decaf or regular?

Food service is the only skill where I really excel. The problem was all this meal service and rushing around had to be one-handed, of course, since I had to keep hold of the gun.

When we were on the ground and the passengers and crew were deplaning, I stood at the forward cabin door and said, I'm sorry. I apologize for any inconvenience. Please have a safe and enjoyable trip and thank you for flying Blah-Blah Airlines.

When it was just the pilot and me left on board, we took off again.

The pilot, just before he jumps, he tells me how when each engine fails, an alarm will announce Flame Out in Engine Number One or Three or whichever, over and over. After all the engines are gone, the only way to keep flying will be to keep the nose up. You just pull back on the steering wheel. The yoke, he calls it. To move what he calls the elevators in the tail. You'll lose speed, but keep altitude. It will look like you have a choice, speed or height, but either way you're still going to nose-dive into the ground.

That's enough, I tell him, I'm not getting what you'd call a pilot's license. I just need to use the toilet like nobody's business. I just want him out that door.

Then we slow to 175 knots. Not to bore you with the details, but we drop to under 10,000 feet and pull open the forward cabin door. Then the pilot's gone, and even before I shut the cabin door, I stand at the edge of the doorway and take a leak after him. Nothing in my life has ever felt that good. If Sir Isaac Newton was right, this

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