by Arnold Snyder
“Flash!” I said sharply.
And he was there.
He took one look at Lulu, who was asleep, naked, on the elevator floor.
“She sleeps a lot,” he said.
“Never mind her. I need to talk to you.”
“Don, you know what you’re going to ask me and you know what I’m going to answer, so you don’t need me.”
“I need reassurance,” I said. “You said that it’s because humans whine that they have become the dominant species on Earth.”
“That’s right. They have a whining gene that other life forms lack.”
“And if I remove the whining gene from humans and instill it into another species that species would soon rule the planet, with humans as its … pets. Right?”
“Not necessarily pets. Humans could be viewed as food.”
“But the whining species would domesticate man, one way or another?”
“I’ve been considering removing the whining gene from my own self.”
“Then you won’t be able to perform as God anymore.”
“My chosen successor will take over.”
“You’re not seriously considering giving up your Godhood after such a short time, are you? You’ve barely started.”
“And I can’t wait to be done with it. It’s a thankless job.”
“Tell me about it. But if you remove the whining gene from yourself, you won’t really be fully human anymore.”
“That’s fine with me. After I do one test, I’m going to pass the torch to Lulu.”
“I’m going to take a peek at the world fifty years after Lulu becomes God.”
“I don’t know why. Maybe I don’t trust her and I want to be sure I’m doing the right thing.”
“But that could be dangerous. If Lulu’s God, you’ll no longer have the power. You won’t be able to manipulate time anymore.”
“Hmmm … What if I jump forward in time to see the world fifty years into Lulu’s reign, but I specify I’m only going to look at that world for one hour, after which time I’ll come back to the present?”
“Don, you’re omniscient, so let me ask you. How safe is that?”
“Lulu could foil it any time if she wanted, being God and all. But she won’t.”
“How do you know that?”
“Flash, I’m omniscient. I know everything.”
I knew I was in Lulu’s world as soon as I saw the giraffes. Uncountable giraffes. Walking the streets like they owned the place.
The first thing I realized was that I’d lost my omniscience. I didn’t know anything other than what I was experiencing in the moment. I had no idea where Lulu was or how I might go about finding her. I had no power. I couldn’t perform miracles. Somehow I’d have to make it through an hour, at which point I’d find myself back in Vegas, with Lulu, fifty years earlier when I was God.
One fucking hour, that’s all I had here in this swatch of time in Lulu’s world.
I was terrified.
I remembered that I’d placed myself in San Francisco and I could see that’s where I was, in a downtown area of the city that I knew, but nothing was the same. Market Street was bustling, cleaned up, no homeless people. There was no litter on the street. The sidewalks were clean. The restaurants looked elegant. The shops were chic. And there were brothels everywhere.
At first I thought they were gay establishments. Naked men were posing in the display windows. Then I noticed that only women were going in or out of the venues. And some of the women coming out came with men in tow, literally on leashes.
Then I noticed a sign on the entry door of one business:
No Admission for Unescorted Men
Another sign in a window showed hourly rates for “man rental” based on the number of men being rented and whether for incalls or outcalls, “all services provided.”
Then I noticed that all of the men on the street were with women and in all cases the men were on leashes and wore very little, if anything. And many of the men had humungous scrotums, bulging with enormous testicles, as if they’d had a couple of large apples stuffed in their nut-sacks. Many appeared to have permanent erections.
The women, on the other hand, were all well-dressed and socializing with each other, as if they were church matrons gathering to gossip, ignoring the men they had on leashes beside them.
About the time I was realizing that I looked very out of place in this neighborhood, two female police officers approached me. One was very tall for a woman, taller than me.
“Are you lost, sir?” the tall one asked me.
“No, I’m just taking a walk,” I said. “Getting a little fresh air.”
They looked at each other curiously, then back at me. “A walk?” said the tall one. “Where is your escort?”
“Escort?” I said.
“What’s your escort’s name?” she pressed.
As I stood there with my mouth hung open, the short one walked around behind me and before I knew what was happening she’d cuffed my hands behind my back.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “My escort is Lulu.”
Apparently, that was the wrong answer. The tall one took some sort of plastic gizmo off her belt, pointed it at me and zapped me with an electrical charge that made the world go away.
When I awoke, my hands were no longer cuffed behind me. My upper body was wrapped in a straightjacket. I was on the floor in a small square room with padded walls. A few windows that were no more than slits up near the ceiling allowed a bit of daylight into the room. There was a single door with a peephole at the far end of the room. No furniture, save for a bedpan in one corner. The room smelled like old urine. The floor was thick black rubber.
I felt claustrophobic, not so much from being in that dark little room as from being confined in the straightjacket. I lay there on my side, making no effort to get up. I felt dizzy.
Someone was looking through the peephole. I heard the door handle click and clack as a lock was being unlocked. The door pushed open.
A nurse entered. A typical old-fashioned starched white nurse. She was wearing shoes. I wasn’t. I was in underpants and straightjacket.
She smiled at me. “How are you today, Mr. Huxton? Are you ready for your review?”
I said nothing. I struggled to get to my feet without the use of my arms. I didn’t want her to touch me.
“Do you know who I am, Mr. Huxton?”
I remained silent. I had no idea who she was. A nurse, that’s all. I was on my knees, trying to catch my breath.
Two orderlies entered the room to help me up. Then they walked me down a long hallway behind the nurse to a conference room where a pair of white-coated doctors were seated at a long table shuffling through papers.
“Donald Huxton,” the nurse said, not to me but to the doctors. “Appears to be disoriented. Still doesn’t recognize me after all these years.” She led me to a chair across from one of the doctors and I sat down. The nurse and both orderlies remained in the room, standing behind my chair.
One of the doctors, who was reading from a sheaf of papers, looked up at me. He had a thick graying mustache and a friendly face.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Huxton. I’m Doctor Holmes. We’re just going to go over a bit of your history here. Do you know what year it is, Mr. Huxton?”
“Where’s Lulu?” I said.
“And who is Lulu?” he said.
I decided to remain silent. This is Lulu’s world and I knew if I could get in touch with her everything would be okay. But I had no idea where she was and no one in her world seemed to know anything about her.
The other doctor, who was younger, and had been staring at me intently since I’d entered the room, said, “How long did you say he’s been in here?” speaking to Dr. Holmes, not to me.
“Since nineteen-sixty-seven,” Holmes said. “Bad acid trip. Still hasn’t come down. Almost fifty years. He’s our longest patient. Thought he was God for a long time. This is the first I’ve heard of Lulu.”
No! This was not possible!
Had my entire life been spent in a padded cell in San Francisco?
Was my entire life a figment of my imagination?
What about my 27-year marriage to Bev? All the places we went? The crazy love affair? The fights we had? All imagined?
What about the years—decades—I’d spent working for the university? The staff meetings I sat through? The colleagues I had incredible discussions with?
This is insanity. I have not been locked up for 50 years. That’s impossible.
“You may return Mr. Huxton to his room,” Doctor Holmes said to the nurse.
“Please remove the jacket,” I said to one of the orderlies when we’d gotten back to my cell. I asked the one with the kinder face, the one who touched my arm so gently as we walked down the hall.
“Can’t do that without doctor’s orders, Mr. Huxton.” He seemed young, maybe 19 or 20.
“Please,” I said.
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“Would you send a doctor to my room?”
“I can’t send nobody nowhere. But I’ll tell Nurse Wilson you want to see her. Maybe she can take the jacket off.”
The orderlies disappeared, locking me away in that dark, barren, pissy room. How could I have spent my life here when I don’t recall having been here? Do they bring me food? Have I been shitting in that bedpan? Do they bathe me? Shave me? I have no memory of any of it!
It was striking me that I’d just entered a new phase of my life. For fifty years I had been living in a fantasy world, having experiences with fantasy people who were never even there. But now I knew where I was. I was in an institution for crazy people. I finally knew where I was. I simply had to tell my captors that I was no longer crazy. I now knew for certain I wasn’t God.
The straightjacket was too tight. My shoulders were starting to ache and my hands were numb.
Someone peered into the door peephole and I heard the click and clack of the lock being unlocked.
When the door opened, I thought it was the nurse’s silhouette in the doorway. She stepped in. It was Lulu.
She started laughing at me. I didn’t know why. In fact, I assumed I was hallucinating. Maybe it was the nurse and she just appeared to be Lulu … I couldn’t trust my senses anymore.
She was dressed elegantly in a colorful silk blouse and tight black skirt. Her hair was black with silver streaks. She looked like a professional model for some designer clothing line.
“Why are you laughing at me?” I said.
“I got you good, didn’t I?”
I just stared at her.
This made her laugh harder. “You really fell for it!” she said. “I convinced you that you’d spent your whole life in a padded cell! You were scared shitless, Don. Admit it!”
I just stared at her.
“I have to say, Don, I love your outfit.”
“Get me out of this jacket,” I said.
Almost before the words were out of my mouth, my arms dropped limply to my sides. I looked down to see I wasn’t wearing the straightjacket. The sense of relief was overwhelming.
“Thank you,” I said, and I meant it. “Even though I know you’re not real …”
“Don, please, stop! I’m going to split a gut here! You did not spend your whole life in a padded cell. I was just pissed at you for spying on me. I gave you a scare and you deserved it. You just had to come see my universe before you transferred the power to me. You thought you could just sneak in and sneak out. You sonofabitch, you didn’t trust me.”
“You’re not real.”
“I’m real. Don’t freak out on me now. It was a joke. A practical joke.”
“I have to talk to the nurse. Nurse Wilson. I have to tell her I’m not crazy anymore. I know I’m in a nuthouse. But I’m not dangerous. I should be let go.”
“Don, there is no Nurse Wilson. We don’t have nuthouses in my world. I just set this scene up to prank you. Look, come here.” She motioned toward the door. As I walked to the door I considered running, trying to get away. Jesus Christ I was in my underpants. Where could I go? All I knew was that I was somewhere in San Francisco.
But when I got to the door I didn’t see the long white hallway that led to the conference room. I saw the ocean. I saw the beach. The sun was shining brightly and the air was balmy.
“I know it’s not real, Lulu.”
“It’s real. Don’t you recognize it? It’s our beach in Kauai.”
“But I’m in San Francisco.”
“You were in San Francisco. Now you’re on the island of Kauai. I brought you here. I’m God, remember? I can do anything.”
“But the nurse …”
“Not real. We don’t have institutions like that anymore. I did away with all that. The world is a really cool place right now. I’m still working on it but I love my job. I really really really want to thank you for giving me the power. I absolutely love being God.”
“So all those male brothels were just a setup?”
“The brothels you saw on Market Street? Oh, those were real. That was my world you arrived in. But that old-fashioned nut house, that was phony. Just me having fun. That’s the best part of having miracle power. Tricking people.”
I was trying to process this. Was I back in full hallucination mode? I had no miracle power, no omniscience. I wasn’t God anymore. Always in the past, in full hallucination mode, I had the power. Now, I had only confusion.
“So what do you think of my work?” Lulu said.
“I don’t get it,” I said. “Why were all the men on leashes?”
“Believe me, Don, I didn’t put them on leashes. It’s just the way it’s worked out. After I saw what the world had turned into when you were God, I knew I had to use a different strategy. It took me a while to figure it out. I felt there had to be a better way to deal with the human dissatisfaction gene. I knew it was the reason mankind had risen to dominate the planet, but people were miserable. I also knew if I put the whine into another species, then that species would eventually dominate man. I considered putting it into giraffes, but—much as I love giraffes—I didn’t want to be subservient to them. Don, I know you’re still trying to figure out if I’m real or if any of this is real.”
“Just tell me why all the men I saw were on leashes.”
“I took the dissatisfaction gene out of men, but kept it in women. Just an experiment. I wanted to see what would happen. And I liked it. Women liked it. And men liked it.”
“But all the brothels …”
“They’re called ladies’ clubs. Women now rent men by the hour, for their pleasure. Many men are living as whores. They have no real say in it. They’re assigned their positions by women. The healthiest and most attractive ones are used for sex. Many men work as domestics, or do maintenance, or gardening, or various types of manual labor. Most men can’t read. It isn’t required of them or taught to them. They’re a servant class and they’re very accepting of their position. Most heterosexual men never have sex. Women simply aren’t available to them. Women call the shots and some guys are never called. There’s no social stigma associated with renting men for pleasure. Women consider it harmless fun. They all do it. That’s what men are for.”
“What about those guys with the monstrous balls?”
“Oh, that’s just cosmetic. Some women develop a big ball fetish so men get silicone injections to please them. Men aren’t forced to get the injections. They’re just docile and they like to please, so they do it voluntarily. Well, most of them anyway.”
“What do you mean most of them?”
“Some men are mistreated, used, abused … Women still have the dissatisfaction gene, so they’re far from perfect. But, still … This is a pretty cool world. Tell me what you think of my creation.”
“I’ll have to see a lot more of it to make any judgment. I like the giraffes. But I know none of this is real.”
“Please, Don, believe me, it’s real. I’m sorry I pulled that stunt. You knew I was like this when you made me God. I like playing jokes. Remember when we put those two Oakland cops on this very beach?”
It made me laugh to think about it.
“Remember the grasshoppers?” she said.
It seemed so long ago.
“What is Las Vegas like now?” I said. “How did you change it?”
“You’re going to love it and I’m going to take you there. Unfortunately, you’re time is up, Don. You only came for an hour, remember? But when you make me God, I’ll see to it that we’re together.”
“I forgot. Where am I going?”
“Back. Give me a hug before you go.”
I wanted to ask her, “Back where?” but I just put my arms around her and closed my eyes, feeling the warmth of her body against mine. “I’m sorry I didn’t trust you, Lu.” And like that, she disappeared.
When I opened my eyes, I was back in that casino elevator where I’d been talking with Flash. Flash was gone, but there was Lulu, still lying on the floor naked, from our maraschino cherries party, still sleeping. There was cherry juice all over the elevator floor. I decided not to wake Lulu.
I knew what I had to do.
Go to Chapter Eighteen